■ Changes in protocol accompanied the visit to Israel this week of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee to Israel. The usual protocol for a visiting head of state is to meet with Israeli hosts and politicians, then go to Yad Vashem, and in some cases to also meet with academics, scientists and business leaders, and only midway or at the tail end of the visit to go to the Palestinian Authority. However, in the case of Mukherjee, he went to the PA first and subsequently, accompanied by President Reuven Rivlin, visited Yad Vashem on the day prior to the welcome reception hosted by Rivlin in his honor.
In addition, there were changes in the positioning of the IDF band, the military honor guard and the reception line at the President’s Residence. To the dismay of press photographers, nothing was as it had been in the past.
This also applied to the state dinner that Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, hosted for Mukherjee and his delegation as well as various diplomats, Israeli dignitaries and businesspeople in the evening. Rivlin is a vegetarian and Mukherjee is a vegan, so there was no meat, although there has been meat at other state dinners hosted by Rivlin – but not on his plate.
Earlier in the day, Mukherjee said that India attaches great importance to its relationship with Israel, with which it is cooperating and collaborating in a range of areas, from defense to agriculture as well as to science, research and innovation.
India is also identifying new areas of complementarities, where there is significant potential to be realized, he said.
He noted that in his talks with Israeli dignitaries, the focal point in the discussions would be the many global challenges confronting both countries, specifically the growing menace of terrorism and extremism.
India condemns terrorism and extremism and seeks peaceful resolutions to all disputes, he said.
Rivlin, in welcoming Mukherjee in what has been widely heralded as a historic visit, also referred to common concerns about the effects of terrorism and fundamentalism and the need to keep the peoples of both countries safe. In the course of the welcome ceremony, two bilateral agreements were signed, one on the avoidance of double taxation and the other on cultural exchanges.
■ CARNIVORES INVITED to the state dinner discovered that the only non-vegan concession on the menu was fish, which was optional for those guests who felt that they had to eat something a little more substantial than vegetables.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who attended in a dual capacity as both prime minister and foreign minister, said that he loves Indian food – in fact he loves it too much, he admitted. He was actually referring to the food available in the restaurants owned by Reena and Vinod Pushkarna. But Reena Pushkarna wasn’t cooking that night. She was among the guests, and the caterers were Meggi and Tuly.
Also among the guests was Yossi Gal, who recently completed his term as ambassador to France and is now vice president of the Hebrew University.
Rivlin, who is leaving next week on a visit to the Czech Republic, announced that he was happy to accept Mukherjee’s invitation to visit India, and Mukherjee in turn said that he would be happy to welcome Rivlin in Delhi.
Rivlin referred to an article written by Azriel Carlebach, the founding editor of Ma’ariv, the Hebrew sister publication of The Jerusalem Post, in which the latter, in a conversation with India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, asked what to do, and Nehru’s reply was that it was not a question of what to do but of what to be.
Mukherjee said that it was a privilege to be the first president of India to ever visit Israel, and described relations between the two countries as “excellent.” Referring to the Lost Tribes of Israel, which are believed to have settled in India, Mukherjee said that Hebrew was taught in the Indian school system long before the establishment of the State of Israel.
Noting that both countries achieved independence almost 70 years ago, Netanyahu observed how much time had elapsed for the first visit to Israel by an Indian president and termed it “a momentous occasion” in which the president of “the only democracy in the Middle East” could host the president “of the largest democracy in the world.”
At the conclusion of the dinner, Rivlin and his wife escorted Mukherjee to his car, while Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, were mobbed by guests – especially the Indians – who wanted to be photographed with them. The Netanyahus smilingly obliged and were stopped every step along the way for more photos until they were almost out of the building en route to their waiting car, when they were joined by Rivlin, who was also photographed with them, and who put his arm around Sara Netanyahu in a gesture that signified the mending of fences.
■ DESPITE A heavy schedule Mukherjee also found time earlier in the day to meet with former president Shimon Peres. Like Peres, Mukharjee held a series of ministerial portfolios before his election to the presidency.
Nearly all the portfolios that he held were the same as those held by Peres – among them Foreign Affairs, Defense and Finance.
Peres characterized Mukherjee’s visit as a symbol of peace and hope and praised India as a country that, despite all the risks and challenges involved, had demonstrated great achievements. Mukherjee returned the compliment and said that since the normalization of relations between the two countries, there have been significant cooperative developments between them.
■ AT AGE 92, there seems to be no letup for Peres. Every day is filled with activity.
Early this week, emulating the joint ecumenical prayer session for peace initiated in June last year by Pope Francis, in which Peres and PA President Mahmoud Abbas had both participated, Peres called an emergency conference with leaders and representatives of the various religious communities across Israel.
Among them were the chief rabbis of Jerusalem, Shlomo Amar and Aryeh Stern; Rabbi David Rosen, honorary adviser on interfaith relations to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel; Rabbi Dr. Ratzon Arusi, a member of the Rabbinical Council of the Chief Rabbinate; Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III; Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, custos of the holy land; Sheikh Hamad Kivon, chairman of the Association of Muslim Clerics; Kadi Doud Zini, chairman of the Shari’a Appellate Court; Sheikh Muafak Tarrif, the head of the Druse community; Mohammed Sharif Ouda, head of the Ahmadi community; Sheikh Suleiman Satel from Jaffa; Sheikh Jamal al-Obra from the Negev; Sheikh Ruksan Atamni, the imam of Kafr Kari; Josh Lincoln, secretary- general of the Baha’i International Community, plus several others who came together to issue a joint call to stop the bloodshed and to prevent further, needless grief which has become so pervasive in Israel.
All the invitees joined Peres in a conference aimed at finding ways to contain the violence, and at its conclusion prayed together and sang with strong voices the verse from the Jewish liturgy that has become an international hymn: “Oseh shalom bimromav” (He who makes peace in his high places). There was consensus that violence does not lead to anything worthwhile and that the path to peace is through dialogue.
■ AMAR’S PRESENCE at the ecumenical gathering explains his absence from the opening session at the Knesset of the inaugural congress for connection with descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities, at which he had been listed as one of the speakers.
In fact, the absence of haredi MKs and establishment rabbis was duly noted from the podium, where it was suggested that if the government and rabbinate of Israel had not found a solution for the three hundred thousand plus immigrants from the former Soviet Union who want to be identified as Jews, how could they possibly deal with the problem of tens of millions of the descendants of the Jews exiled from Spain and Portugal? Future historians will record it as another missed opportunity for the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
■ WHEREAS 40 was not so long ago considered middle-aged or older, it seems that 80 is the new 40, because now there is a move afoot led by Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel to bring seniors back into the workforce and either benefit from their knowledge and experience or retrain them.
Increasing numbers of seniors remain physically and mentally active, regardless of whether they are employers, employees or simply going after those things in life that interest them.
Two who qualify in that category are octogenarians Morris Kahn and Buzz Aldrin, who are each 85 and who love to go deep-sea diving. Consistently included in the Forbes lists of the world’s richest people, Kahn, who made aliya from South Africa in 1956, made his fortune in software investments. He now spends much of his time diving and is a co-founder of Coral World International, of which his son Benjamin, a marine biologist, is president.
Aldrin was the second man on the moon, and he and Kahn have known each other for some 20 years because both are among the multinational partners in SeaSpace, which is where they met. They go diving together at least twice a year and apparently don’t suffer from creaking joints.
When Kahn, who is one of the funders of the Israeli SpaceIL team which is attempting to land a spacecraft on the moon, learned that Aldrin was coming to the International Aeronautical Conference that was held in Jerusalem this week, he immediately suggested that they go diving in Eilat – which is exactly what they did. Kahn also wined and dined Aldrin during his stay, entertained him in his home and took him out to some of Israel’s fine restaurants for dinner.
Their motto seems to be that of the late US president Lyndon Johnson – “Seize the moment.”
■ ON THE subject of space exploration, Sabra Barak Stoltz, 20, who was born in Tel Aviv and is a junior at the University of Illinois (Chicago) studying mechanical engineering and physics, was recently accepted into a Mars surface simulation program in Utah, which is run by the Mars Society.
Together with five other crew members, Stoltz will be participating in a two-week field visit in December to Mars Desert Research Station, simulating what astronauts would go through to survive on the surface of Mars.
His father, Michael Stoltz, is also connected with the group, serving as their volunteer media coordinator. The senior Stoltz was Benjamin Netanyahu’s aide in the Knesset from 1993-96 and then worked as deputy director of communications in the Prime Minister’s Office from 1996-99 under David Bar-Illan, who was head of communications and media relations after having previously served as editor in chief of the Post. Stoltz currently serves as a senior development officer in the Chicago area for Loras College, a school located in his hometown of Dubuque, Iowa.
■ GETTING BACK to Gamliel, the minister, who has never been afraid of speaking her mind since the days in which she was a student leader, was in New York where she met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of a UN Security Council conference on “Women, peace and security.”
Gamliel chastised the council for its silence on the wave of terrorism confronting Israel.
“We would expect to hear loud condemnation of such violence. But when it comes to terrorist attacks on Israelis, the international community, and this council, seem to lose their voice,” she said in her keynote address.
■ FESTIVITIES IN Israel continue despite the efforts of terrorists to cast a pall on the whole country. Rivlin and Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev joined Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel at the opening this week of the Ma’aleh Adumim Cultural Center. Regev, who has taken a lot of flak since admitting that she has never read Chekhov, had to endure another classic example of Ashkenazi culture by watching a production of Fiddler on the Roof.
■ AND CLOSER to the scenes of violence and conflict, 150 participants of the Singing Men of Georgia defied all the fear-mongers and came dressed in black tuxedos last Sunday night to perform on the stage of the Tower of David Museum within the ancient walls of the citadel. The concert, “Bringing Hope to the Peoples of the Holy Land,” was an 80-minute choral and orchestral program. Sitting in the audience were 150 guests from Georgia, USA, as well as guests from local churches in the holy land. The concert was conducted by Dr.
Jon Duncan. The Singing Men of Georgia managed to cover the Tower of David in a special layer of magic, faith and hope, making it feel as if, despite the situation outside, Christmas had come early in Jerusalem, and if not Christmas – Thanksgiving was just around the corner.
■ ISRAELIS WHO move in diplomatic circles discover that every two or three years they are bidding farewell to a batch of ambassadors and lower-ranking diplomats and having to learn the names and faces of their replacements. For some people who have developed close friendships within the diplomatic community as well as for the diplomats themselves, this can be quite a traumatic experience.
In November, in two separate ceremonies, at least 10 new envoys will be presenting their credentials to Rivlin. However, it is unlikely that Egyptian ambassador designate Hazem Khairat, whose appointment was announced in June after there had been no ambassador for three years, will be among them. Khairat has yet to arrive in Israel. However, there is such a flock of new ambassadors that there will probably be yet another presentation of credentials ceremony in December.
■ ORGANIZATIONS PROVIDING lectures and study sessions have these events sponsored by individuals in order to help defray the costs incurred. Among the sponsors of an upcoming study session at the OU Center in Jerusalem are Esther and Jonathan Pollard, in memory of deceased relatives and in honor of their wedding anniversary, 13 Heshvan.
■ OUT OF five candidates in last year’s presidential elections, former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner came fourth, with 13 votes, compared to 44 for Rivlin and 31 for Meir Sheetrit in the first round.
Her defeat in the race for No. 1 citizen in no way impacted on her influence as president of the Israel Press Council, to which she was first elected in 2006. Now aged 81, Dorner was once again elected for another term.
■ A GOLDEN wedding anniversary is as good a reason as any for a second honeymoon.
But not everyone takes their friends with them on a three-day celebration that is meant to have an aura of romance. However, when you have 10 couples who all grew up in London and whose friendship dates back to when they were together in the religious- Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva, and they all happened to get married in 1965, and all happen to be living in Israel, it becomes a multiple, not second, honeymoon, but in their cases a repeat of second honeymoons, because this is not the first time that they all went away together.
The 10 couples are Renee and Laurence Becker, Leila and Andrew Braude, Daphne and Jack Coleman, Rose and Sydney Faber, Pat and Alfie Frei, Ruth and David Marriott, Vivien and Lionel Shebson, Judith and Peter Sheldon, Beverly and Victor Weisz, and Shuli and Martin Whitefield. They went to Hagoshrim for three days to celebrate their Golden Wedding together. For their 40th wedding anniversary, when, with the exception of one couple, they were still living in England, they went to Paris. Now, they all live in Israel.
While in Hagoshrim, they did some touring – to the Hula Valley, Banyas, a chocolate factory and a Druse village for a lecture on the Druse lifestyle – and of course shared a number of festive meals. For much of the time they wore tee shirts imprinted with their photos and a logo proclaiming 50 years together.
■ ITS HAS become a somewhat trite expression over the centuries, but it continues to carry the ring of truth – children are the future. Or at least they should be. But too many children are being deprived of a childhood, let alone an adulthood, in the wave of terrorist attacks in which children are not only the victims but also the perpetrators, after having been brainwashed by their elders or by what they read on Facebook and other forms of social media.
Yet for all that, the innocence of children has not been entirely erased and appears in a new book, by Eva Weiss, which was launched last week at the Tmol Shilshom literary café in Jerusalem. Titled I am Israeli, the book, which was released last month, is designed to introduce readers to some of Israel’s beautiful children, including children who are not Jewish.
Conscious of the violence in the city and of the families mourning children whose lives were lost on the altar of violence, Weiss, in speaking about the book, said that she could not do so without thinking of the families who have lost a child, or of children who will begin the Jewish year bereft of one or both parents.
From among the children in the book, Weiss started off by introducing her audience to Qais, an Arab-Israeli boy who loves to swim. She became acquainted with his parents when she wrote the book and in the light of this believes that as long as there are people capable of acknowledging each other’s humanity, there is hope for the future.
The book tells the stories of five Israeli children in the first person. The book is being distributed in North America and internationally by Mitchell-Lane Publishers. Weiss, who hails from New York, is a longtime resident of Jerusalem.
■ THE CYBER era is well and truly upon us.
WeWork will open a workspace facility in Tel Aviv’s Sarona neighborhood on November 1.
The facility will be WeWork’s third in Israel and features 3,800 sq.km. of uniquely designed office space to promote community and collaboration, including 506 desks, meeting rooms, kitchens, boardrooms, private offices, as well as an open desk area. The decision to open in Sarona, one of Tel Aviv’s cultural hot spots, was driven by the successful launch of the buildings in Tel Aviv and Herzliya.
In addition to the Sarona facility, WeWork is also expanding beyond the Center and launching in Beersheba, the capital of Israel’s South. The facility is to open on December 1 in the Gav-Yam Negev Advanced Technologies Park, in cooperation with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Beersheba Municipality.
The cyber park, situated opposite the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, near the train station and the IDF’s upcoming technology campus, is hosting over 35 international and local hi-tech companies, including the National Cyber Bureau, the Defense Ministry, Lockheed Martin, Deutsche Telekom, Elbit, WIX, Paypal, Ness and JVP.
The WeWork facility will spread over 2,700 m., featuring 470 desks including enclosed offices and open desk areas as well as seven meeting rooms, a kitchen and unlimited coffee and beer on tap.
Beersheba, which used to be Israel’s backwater, is making rapid strides. When David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, spoke of making the Negev bloom, he was probably thinking about the greening of the Negev, but Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich, who was born in Beersheba, is intent on turning his city into a thriving metropolis, and toward this end has been working in many directions, not the least of which is boosting the city as a hub for science and technology.