IT MAY have been prescience or simply that the Foreign Ministry wanted to cut red tape as quickly as possible, but when Nitza Raz-Silbiger, the Director of the Foreign Ministry's Protocol Department, rushed through the presentation of credentials of four new ambassadors last Monday week, she had no idea of the turmoil that would engulf Beit Hanassi on the following day.
Generally speaking, new ambassadors are given a little time to unwind, to get to know their colleagues and to see a little of the country and the people with whom they will be dealing. Not this time. The ambassadors of Portugal, Turkey, Uganda and Estonia arrived in Israel between 36 and 24 hours before presenting their credentials.
Uganda Ambassador Umar M. Lubuulwa, who is stationed in Cairo, did not have his letters of credence and had to make a special flight to Kuala Lumpur to obtain them, before continuing on to Israel. Turkish Ambassador Nemik Tan, who arrived with his wife Fuegen on Sunday, January 21, met up with old friends, the Anti-Defamation League's National Director Abraham Foxman and his wife Golda, who hosted them at a luxury seaside restaurant in Herzliya and introduced them to ADL Israel managing director Phyllis Gerably and ADL Israel spokesman Arieh O'Sullivan. It just so happened, that other restaurant patrons included a number of key Israeli personalities whom Foxman made a point of introducing to Tan, who will no doubt meet them again on many occasions including receptions and dinners in his own residence. Tan, whose most recent assignment prior to that of ambassador to Israel was that of spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry in Ankara, previously served in Washington, DC where he forged strong links with the American Jewish community.
The new Russian and Brazilian ambassadors, who are due to arrive within a few weeks, may have to wait a longer period before their ceremonial presentations, and will probably be the first to be received by Dalia Itzik.
MEANWHILE A steady stream of Foreign Ministers keep on coming to Israel. Due Thursday is Hungarian Foreign Minister Kinga Goncz, who is one of 22 female foreign ministers serving in governments around the world. The daughter of Arpad Goncz, who in 1991 became Hungary's first democratically elected president after the fall of communism. Goncz, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist by profession, is known to be a staunch feminist as well as a champion of the underprivileged. She arrives hot on the heels of Hungary's Minister for Education and Culture Istvan Hiller, who was in Israel in mid-January.
Also visiting this week is Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern, and due soon are Kenyan Foreign Minister Raphael Tuju and Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabrika. It will be the first visit to Israel by a foreign minister of Latvia. Pabrika is coming within the framework of celebrations of the 15th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between Latvia and Israel. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga was in Israel almost exactly a year ago.
NOW IT'S official. At a ceremony that took place at the Foreign Ministry on Sunday, entertainer and current events commentator Yehoram Gaon was formally named Honorary Consul of Chile.
LARRY WACHSMAN, a regular congregant at morning services in the Beit Hanassi synagogue, was asked over and over by a television interviewer to describe the mood in the synagogue last Thursday morning, the day after President Katsav's own version of J'Accuse made headlines all over Israel and abroad. According to Wachsman, the mood was not one of depression and there were more congregants than usual. However that was not what the interviewer wanted to hear and he tried again and again to get Wachsman to say the opposite. On the fourth attempt, Wachsman told him: "You've asked me three times already, and I've given you the same answer every time. I'm not going to change my mind."
Wachsman and other regulars were back at Beit Hanassi this week. They pray with Katsav at 7.30 a.m. from Monday to Thursday, and as far as Wachsman can recall Katsav has been late only three times, and then only by a few minutes, with a valid excuse on each occasion. The last time, said Wachsman, "he told us not to wait for him if he's late, but to go ahead and start the service."
Wachsman and the other regular congregants are somewhat concerned about what will happen to the synagogue once Katsav is out of office. The synagogue, constructed at Katsav's initiative, was donated to Beit Hanassi by the Rennert family of New York. The big question is whether the new incumbent at Beit Hanassi will agree to daily morning services, and whether he or she will also participate. Women occasionally do participate in the services, said Wachsman.
IN THE initial scheme of things, Russian Ambassador Gennady Tarasov was supposed to wind up his tour of duty some time last summer. Due to unforeseen circumstances, his stay was extended, and he and his enormously popular wife Elena were feted in recent weeks to numerous farewell bruncheons, luncheons, dinners and suppers, finally hosting their own last week and telling everyone that they were leaving last Saturday.
They're still here. A delegation from Russia arrived this week, and in the absence of his successor, Tarasov had to be on hand.
Meanwhile, Elena Tarasova has also been running around from one last-minute farewell to another, and this week even acted as a model at a fashion show. It was not the first time that the beautiful and statuesque Tarasova had joined professional models on the runway, but this time it was also by way of a farewell to the International Women's Club under whose auspices the show was held.
At the farewell that he hosted at the Dan Panorama in Tel Aviv, Gennady Tarasov expressed confidence that Russia's relations with Israel will continue to get better and said that he and his wife were returning with good memories. "We feel a strong attachment for this country," he said, "because we are leaving behind a lot more friends than we made in any other country in which we served." It was a case of mixed feelings, he said.
AT THE IWC event this week, some 120 women were hosted at the palatial Rishpon residence of the Korean ambassador by his charming wife Sosan Shin. The collection was that of couture designer Bari Mayer, a native of Tel Aviv, and the grandson of noted philanthropists Sara and Moshe Mayer, who generously supported numerous cultural organizations and institutions in Tel Aviv. Most notably, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tel Aviv Museum received many valuable works of art in addition to cash contributions from them.
The family fortune came mainly from real estate, including the family's best-known property the Shalom Mayer Tower in Tel Aviv. However the highly talented and creative Bari was reluctant to enter the family business. He wanted to focus on fashion, went to New York to study and graduated with honors from the Parsons School of Design. He spent 15 years in New York and Paris working with fashion icons such as Marc Jacob, Issac Mizrahi, Tom Ford, Anna Sui, Donna Karan and fellow Israeli Eli Tahari. In introducing him, IWC President Esther Mor declared: "He's blue and white. He's all ours. He's Israeli."
Contrary to the axiom that no prophet is heard in his own country, Mayer drew repeated ripples of applause that sometimes erupted into a crescendo for his ultra-feminine, fluid and flattering creations, which included a lot of nouveau vintage. Though this may seem a contradiction in terms, it's not really an oxymoron, because Mayer has mastered the art of giving the aura of yesteryear to completely new styles and fabrics. A classicist who believes in understatement, meticulous attention to detail and soft curves rather than sharp lines, Mayer has a keen sense of what attracts the international woman.
Indeed a group of French speakers kept exclaiming, "Tres jolie, tres romantique," and after the show, several women made their way to the dressing room to compliment Mayer and to find out if he had the garments they liked best in sizes other than those worn by the models. Enhancing the eminently wearable clothes were exquisite pendants and ear-rings designed by Ramat Gan-based jeweler Yanush Manasherov, whose clients include the wives and daughters of the Russian oligarchs.
Mayer's and Manasherov's admirers this week included Anna de Bernardin, wife of the Italian ambassador, Hai Rydberg, immediate past president of IWC and wife of the Swedish Ambassador, Jelena Isakov, the wife of the Serbian Ambassador, Adina Gottesman, former Consul General for Nepal, Shuqin Liu, the wife of the Chinese Ambassador, along with former IWC presidents and other numerous Israelis such as Elise Einhorn-Biran, Sali Ariel, Miriam Ben Haim, Gaby Levin, Grace Bartur, Chjava Rotman, Pamela Loval, and Maxine Levite.
THE MA'AGAN fund-raiser was originally intended as a tribute to MK Yuri Shtern who, fighter that he was, unfortunately succumbed to cancer earlier this month. Ma'agan is a unique project with centers in Beersheba and Jerusalem that provide the best in physical, psychological, emotional and social support services at absolutely no charge. Ma'agan operates under the philosophy that nobody should have to face cancer alone, and that people with cancer should be given every encouragement to continue living as normal and productive a life as possible.
Despite the rain, the wind and the cold, some 500 people representing an amazing mosaic of Jerusalem society paid NIS500 a ticket, without getting any dinner in return. The cause was much more important than the meal. Shtern, who was an ardent supporter of Ma'agan long before he himself was stricken with cancer, was eulogized by several people including Ma'agan Executive Director Liat Nevo, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Yigal Amedi and Jerusalem City Council member Nir Barkat. All three, as well as other speakers, spoke with great warmth of the amazing atmosphere at Ma'agan and how this contributes to the quality of life of cancer patients.
"I came here willingly to thank all those engaged in this holy work," said Amedi. "Sometimes we think the world is without mercy, but this country is full of good people, who with grace, kindness, compassion and most of all love" are doing a phenomenal outreach job. Ticket sales were augmented by an auction in which one of the items was a shirt belonging to entertainer Zvika Pik. It was purchased for $300.
COSTA RICAN Ambassador Noemy Baruch, speaking last week to the Friends of Tel Aviv University on Latin America: A changing continent, was expecting to be asked at question time why her embassy had moved from Jerusalem to the Coastal Plain, and had prepared a carefully worded answer. But whether out of politeness or indifference, no-one asked. Baruch figures she won't get off that lightly if she's invited to address the Friends of the Hebrew University. There were several ambassadors of South American countries in the audience, and none laughed as heartily as they at the joke that Baruch used as an ice breaker: Pedro Gonzales died and went to heaven. When he arrived he was told that new arrivals are asked to do the same kind of work in heaven as they had done on earth. He said that his whole village had been destroyed in a flood and that he, as the sole survivor, had made it his life's work to go around and lecture about the flood damage and his own survival. "That's fine," said the interviewing angel. "You can continue to do that here, but I should warn you that Noah is in the audience."
THE SEASONS restaurant at the David Citadel Hotel, Jerusalem, is introducing a guest chef every month, to be hosted by the hotel's executive chef Eric Attias. The aim is not only to frequently introduce new dishes, but to engage in social responsibility. The first guest chef was Omer Ben Gal, the owner of the Lilith restaurant in Tel Aviv, which for the past four years has been running a program in conjunction with Elem, the organization that seeks out and cares for youth at risk. The program is similar to that of famous London chef Jamie Oliver. At any given time, there are between 13 -15 youth at risk training and working at Lilith. The intake is staggered so that newcomers will be inspired by veterans who have already mastered the intricacies of the kitchen and the dining room.
Ben Gal, who maintains contact with the youngsters after they have completed their training and found jobs in restaurants and hotels, is quietly happy to be able to give them the tools that will help them to improve their lives and their socio-economic status. He brought two of his trainees with him to Jerusalem. Attias, who is in touch with the social welfare department of the Jerusalem Municipality, has attempted a similar experiment on a smaller scale, but is eager to expand it.
MEANWHILE, DOWN the road apiece, the Inbal Hotel is preparing for its month-long "Roots" festival that begins next week. Executive Chef Itzik Mizrachi, a native Jerusalemite who spent a long time abroad and then worked at the prestigious Herod's hotel in Eilat before returning to his own roots in the holy city, has conceived a dairy menu that includes a variety of fish and root vegetable dishes, with breads flavored with root vegetables as a major festival draw.
AND IN Tel Aviv, the Sheraton Hotel last Friday hosted invited guests to breakfast and a Broadway show starring Isaac (Tzachi) Sutton. The hotel ballroom was transformed to something evocative of the Big Apple, and filled with colorful balloons and other decorations. Sutton, who stars in the Cameri Theater production of All That Jazz, presented a rich selection of songs from some of the most successful Broadway musicals.
PRESIDENT CARTER'S recent headline-making brings to mind a subtle reference in a letter that Teddy Kollek wrote to Carter in February, 1990. The letter, typed by Libby Bergstein, who was assistant political adviser to Kollek - she had started her career at City Hall as a secretary, and continued like other senior staff to type his missives - reads: "It was with great pleasure that I learned from our national news services that you will soon be visiting Jerusalem. There have been many developments and changes since your last visit. In case you know only of the ones connected with the Arab Uprising which are generally reported in the media, I would be happy to show you some of the positive ones. I very much look forward to welcoming you back to our city. We shall be happy to arrange your 6.00 a.m. jog."
APROPOS KOLLEK, a memorial session will be held for him Thursday by the Jerusalem City Council to mark the shloshim since his passing. The session will open with a reading from Psalms by Shaar Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa, and a former deputy mayor during one of Kollek's terms in office. Kollek's son Amos will recite Kaddish. Speakers will include people who worked with Kollek in his various capacities. Among them will be Jerusalem Foundation chairman Dan Meridor, Mayor Uri Lupolianski, Amos Mar Haim, a former vice mayor under Kollek, and the man whom Kollek initially tipped to be his successor before changing his mind and switching to Nachman Shai, who after a brief campaign experience bowed out of the race. A couple of nights later, Kollek's family and co-workers will gather at Mishkenot Sha'ananim and swap reminiscences about him.
JEWISH VISITORS to Poland should make a point of being in Lublin on February 10 and 11 to participate in a celebration that marks not only the ongoing renaissance of Polish Jewry, but also its independence as a community. The numbers will probably never reach the magnitude of those of pre-war Greater Poland, which boasted the largest Jewish population in the world, but what is encouraging is that the reopening of the synagogue of Jeszywas Chachmei Lublin was achieved without the financial assistance of Jewish organizations and individuals outside of Poland. The project is the first Jewish project since World War II that has been financed entirely by Polish Jewry, says Jan Gebert of the Polish Union of Jewish Students, who sees the event as "the rebirth of Jewish life in Poland."
Most Jews who travel to Lublin do so in order to inspect the Majdanek concentration camp that is situated within its boundaries. But in 1930, Lublin's Lubartowska Street housed the world's largest Talmudic school. More than 20,000 people participated in the festive opening of the school that was founded by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the first Orthodox Jew to serve in the Seym, the Polish parliament. The high standards of the school attracted students from around the globe. Following the war, the building was taken over by a medical academy, and the premises were returned to the Jewish Religious Community of Warsaw only three years ago.
The community decided to restore the building to its former glory. It has been entirely renovated. On Saturday evening, February 10, festivities celebrating the renovation and rededication will be highlighted by a Klezmer concert. The rededication ceremony will take place the following day with the affixing of the mezuzah, a cantorial concert, exhibitions by Jewish painters of the 19th and 20th centuries as well as more contemporary Jewish artists, a panel discussion on the future use of the building, lectures by Poland's Chief Rabbi, American-born and raised Rabbi Michael Schudrich, and leading journalist Constantin Gebert. Numerous dignitaries from Poland and elsewhere have indicated that they will attend, as will natives of Lublin who no longer live in Poland but who were students at the Yeshiva. Schudrich will come to Lublin bearing new Torah scrolls which he will deposit in the Holy Ark. Anyone planning to attend what promises to be an emotional event should be aware that Lublin has only one hotel.
IT TOOK a while for Israel's fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, to get around to visiting the Begin Heritage Center. He finally did so this month and brought along his son Erez. Instead of one of the regular guides, the Navons were taken around and briefed by the center's director-general Herzl Makov. Impressed by what he saw, Yitzhak Navon asked many questions about the project's development both in terms of its physical facilities and its programs. At various stages during his tour in the museum area of the complex, Navon saw photographs of himself with Prime Minister Begin, and launched into animated discussions as he recalled the backgrounds to each of the photographs. At the conclusion of the tour, Navon wrote in the Visitors' Book: "A center rich in content and wonderful in form; a riveting project worthy of a magnificent personality. Begin's life story is intertwined with the chronicle of the nation's struggles, presenting his endeavors, his burning faith and his acts in a tangible and informative way. Thanks to those who initiated the project and to those who direct it."