BRITISH AMBASSADOR Tom Phillips and his wife Anne had a reunion of the four-legged variety this week when Daisy the Labrador - a guide dog they had fostered for over a year - popped round with puppies Romy and Rocko to pose for a family photo. Romy and Rocko have just started guide dog school at the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind in Beit Oved, outside of Tel Aviv. Training lasts for six months, after which Romy and Rocko will be fully employed as seeing-eye dogs.
The photo was taken ahead of a special event to be hosted by Phillips at his Ramat Gan residence on October 15 to raise awareness about the use of seeing-eye dogs in Israel. Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog will join the ambassador in addressing the guests and will watch the dogs go through a special obstacle course in which they will lead blindfolded people. There will also be musical performances by Israeli singers Danny Robus and Nili Zeidel, who is herself a guide-dog user. There are around 26,000 people currently living in Israel who are registered blind or partially-sighted, including 1,200 children. This number grows by an additional 2,000 every year.
Although their embassies and their residences (except in the cases of consulates located in the capital) are far removed from Jerusalem, many diplomats candidly admit that they prefer Jerusalem to other parts of the country and find many reasons to visit the holy city. Not the least of these is to dine at Spoons, the picturesque restaurant in Ein Kerem run by Australian immigrant Hila Solomon. Several years ago, when Solomon started her initial restaurant venture in Yemin Moshe, it was out of her home. Patrons loved the concept of being in a homey rather than a commercial environment. The genuine ambience added to the intimacy of the occasion, and Solomon always found time to step away from the stove to mingle with her guests. But popularity has its price. Solomon's gourmet cooking attracted people no less than the surroundings in which it was served, and soon the house in Yemin Moshe proved too small to meet the demand. Solomon relocated to even-more-picturesque Ein Kerem, where her beautiful house in the Ein Kerem hills is surrounded by a small orchard and looks out on a broad panorama of magnificent views. Many diplomats have found their way there, sometimes declining invitations to more official events in favor of relaxing in Solomon's dining room or in her garden. Some have come by invitation so they can get to know the place, and others who are already familiar with the premises and the cuisine come with delegations from their countries, or simply for private dining with spouses and friends. Many business people looking for somewhere discreet to conduct negotiations over dinner have also found Spoons conducive to their needs.
On the eve of the holiday period, Solomon hosted a diplomatic lunch for Australian Ambassador James Larsen and his wife Antoinette Merrillees; Mexican Ambassador Federico Sallas; Thaddeus Hamoy, chargÃ© d'affaires and vice consul for the Philippines, and AttachÃ© for Trade, Tourism and Cultural Affairs Chester A. Omaga Diaz; Italian Consul-General in Jerusalem Luciano Pezzotti; Austrian cultural attachÃ© Gabriele Feigl; and Giorgia De Parolis, first secretary - political affairs at the Italian Embassy, Tel Aviv, as well as a couple of foreign correspondents and sculptress Kristin Jai Klosterman. To add to the spice of the table talk, Solomon also invited her friend, master musician Idan Raichel, to talk to her guests about his project. Although some of them had heard him in concert in the past, there was a special quality in sharing a table with him - chatting, sharing jokes and hearing him discuss his work. Already looking ahead to next year, Solomon plans to launch a series of Friday-morning brunch events next spring and summer with concerts, and opera talks and performances. She's also considering supper parties with late-night film screenings in the garden. Her guests have included Cinematheque personalities such as Lia van Leer and Ilan de Vries, so getting hold of films for screenings should be relatively easy.
PEOPLE WHO were on the invitation lists of a series of Turkish ambassadors are wondering whether there will be a Turkish national day reception this year. Turkish Ambassador Namik Tam concluded his tour of duty last week, and his deputy followed him only a few days later. Certainly someone of a lower diplomatic rank can host a national reception, but it doesn't carry the same weight as when it's hosted by an ambassador or a charge d'affaires.
ANYONE WHO may have wondered why Mabat news presenter Merav Miller suddenly disappeared from the small screen should be aware that it has something to do with a change of status. Toward the end of last week - in fact, the night before Succot - Miller became a married lady when she linked her future with that of Eyal Sherman. TV personalities among the 400 guests included her on-screen partner Yinon Magal, as well as Uri Levi, Ayala Hasson, Lilach Sunin and Yigal Ravid. Following the reception, the newlyweds headed for the Daniel Hotel, Herzliya, where they were given a newly installed suite which in all probability will be advertised in future as a bridal suite. In addition to the upgraded dÃ©cor, the couple received wine, exotic fruits, bathrobes for each of them, and, of course, spa treatments. Not a bad way to start off a marriage.
HIS FATHER Abba Eban was renowned for his oratory, and clarinetist Eli Eban is renowned for his music, both as a soloist and a member of a chamber music ensemble. When his childhood friend, conductor and violinist Prof. Robert Canetti asked him to participate in a benefit concert for musically talented youngsters who represent Israel around the world, Eban immediately agreed. After all, diplomacy is a matter of communication in which speech does not necessarily have to be the key.
IT HAS become an annual custom for representatives of Chabad to deliver an etrog and lulav to Beit Hanassi. The items presented last Thursday to President Shimon Peres by Chabad rabbis Binyamin Lifshitz, who is the chairman of Kfar Chabad, and Gershom Ohana were not imports, but grown in Israel. According to Lifshitz, the etrog and all the components of the lulav were grown in Kfar Chabad.
ISRAEL AND Lithuania have a common hero in the person of professional basketball player Sarunas Jasikevicius, who was a member of the Maccabi Tel Aviv teams that won two Euroleague titles as well as national Israeli titles, Lithuanian Ambassador Darius Degutis told Peres when he presented his credentials last week. Because of changing borders and political situations in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, all four lay claim to Peres as a native son, and Degutis, as a representative of his country, was no exception, though he was careful not to push the matter too hard. Unlike fellow heads of diplomatic missions whose residences are mostly in Herzliya Pituah and Kfar Shmaryahu, Degutis and his wife Nida (who bears a striking resemblance to MK Anastasia Michaeli) have chosen to live in Tel Aviv because they are enamored with its readily accessible cultural offerings, such as the opera and the theater. The personable Degutis had previously met with some of the Beit Hanassi staff and had made an excellent impression. Vilna-born Yona Bar-Tal, the deputy director-general of Beit Hanassi, was particularly excited to meet him, since he represents the capital of her native country - even though she has been living in Israel since she was three years old. According to Bar-Tal's mother, she's a descendant of the Vilna Gaon.
There was also excitement around Bernardo Greiver, the ambassador of Uruguay. Foreign Ministry photographer Isaac Harari is from Uruguay, so he was happy to be on hand for the occasion, especially since Greiver, his wife and their children are Jewish. Jerusalem Post photographer Ariel Jerozolimski was even more excited because he and Greiver had attended the same Jewish school in Montevideo, though not at the same time. Jerozolimski's sister Jana Beris, who represents the BBC's Latin American service in addition to working for media outlets in Chile and Spain, was also on hand, though she rarely covers such events. Although she brought her tape recorder, she was there more as a personal friend of the family, having hosted them in Jerusalem over Rosh Hashana. There was also a certain degree of excitement over French Ambassador Christophe Bigot, who had previously served in Israel as deputy chief of mission and who is well known to Israeli officialdom. Bigot has maintained contact with the Schalit family ever since his return to Israel and has pledged that France will do everything in its power to secure captive soldier Gilad Schalit's release. Following the screening of the video clip in which Schalit sent a message to his family and the government, French President Nicolas Sarkozy telephoned Gilad's father, Noam Schalit, to express his joy that the family had finally received a sign of life.
WRITERS FOR The Jerusalem Post Group of newspapers and periodicals have frequently been among the prize-winners in the Search for Common Ground awards. It happened last year, and it's happened again this year. Mona Eltahawy, whose interview with Dr. Isseldine Abouelaish was published in English in the March 2 edition of The Jerusalem Report, as well as in Arabic in Qatar's Al-Arab newspaper, has been named the recipient of the Eliav-Sartawi Award for Middle East Journalism. Conceived by veteran American journalist Zel Lurie, whose own reporting of the Middle East began during the British Mandate, the Eliav-Sartawi Awards are named for internationally recognized peace activists Dr. Issam Sartawi, who was assassinated in Portugal in 1983, and Aryeh "Lova" Eliav, a veteran Israeli diplomat, politician and educator. The awards are meant to encourage journalism that contributes to better understanding and ongoing dialogue between peoples of the Middle East. Eltahawy's sensitive interview with the Palestinian physician from Gaza, who lost three daughters when Israeli shells struck their home during Operation Cast Lead, depicts a remarkable human being who, though grieving, does not allow the tragedy to embitter him to the point of hatred. Abouelaish, whom Eltahawy calls "the loneliest man in the world," remains dedicated to showing the humanity on both sides of the Gaza-Israel divide.
IT'S RARE for the true heroines of a movie to be in the audience when the movie is screened, especially when the story on which the movie is based took place more than six decades earlier. But Holocaust survivor Marga Spiegel, now 97, and Anni Richter-Aschoff, whose German-Catholic family and their immediate friends saved Spiegel, her husband Mene and their daughter Karin from the Nazis, were members of the full-house audience at the premiere at the Jerusalem Cinematheque of Saviors in the Night. The still-spry Spiegel - who has lectured widely on the Holocaust, has brought numerous groups of German youth to Israel and has made a point of taking them to Yad Vashem - insisted that the film be shown in Israel before its German screening this week. Award-winning film director Ludi Boeken, the son and grandson of Holocaust survivors who saved hundreds of Jewish children in Holland, agreed with her. It was important, he told the audience, that the film be screened in Jerusalem first. Aside from financial difficulties which held up the production of the film, there was considerable opposition in Germany, of all places, to making a film that showed that there were also good Germans during the war who drew red lines between humanity and inhumanity and who chose humanity even at the risk of their own lives and those of their families. Boeken noted that celebrated actress Veronica Ferres, who plays Spiegel in the film, had actually called him after reading a newspaper article about production difficulties, saying that she had been moved by the story and that she wanted to be part of the production. Her voice breaking with emotion, Ferres confirmed the story, saying that three or four years ago she had read a newspaper article about a movie that should have been made 10 years ago.
"I am German. I am not proud to be German," she said. "But if with our profession we can help people to learn history, this is the biggest success and fulfillment. Marga has enriched my life and that of my family."
Spiegel, who sat holding the hand of Richter-Aschoff, said of Ferres: "Nobody could play my life as well as she."
Also present were actresses Lia Hoensbroech and Margarita Broich, who played Anni and her mother in the film; other members of the cast; and the production team, including producer Jan von Mengershausen, director of photography Dani Schneor and Israeli associate producer Noemi Ben-Natan Schory. For Ben-Natan Schory, who is the daughter of Asher Ben-Natan, Israel's first ambassador to Germany, this was the closing of a circle. It was her father who presented the Yad Vashem medals of the Righteous Among the Nations to the families who had saved the Spiegels. Naturally, the group also visited Yad Vashem.
HIS UNSWERVING loyalty to his Bundist philosophy precluded Warsaw Ghetto hero Marek Edelman, who died this week, from ever receiving an honorary doctorate from any Israeli institution of higher learning. Although he visited Israel on several occasions, Edelman opted to remain in Poland after the war and was highly respected, even in an era of rampant anti-Semitism. He was one of the last survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising leadership. Another is Jerusalem-based Simcha Rotem (born Szymon Rathajzer), known as Kazik, his nom de guerre. Rotem and Edelman maintained a close friendship until the end. Rotem last year accompanied Peres to Poland for the 65th anniversary commemoration of the uprising. In 1993, Stefan Grayek, who had been the long-time chairman of the World Federation of Jewish Fighters, Partisans and Camp Inmates, and who was also one of the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto, accompanied then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to Poland for the 50th anniversary of the uprising. Both Grayek and Edelman had initially been scheduled to speak, but Edelman refused to share a podium with Grayek, claiming that he had not participated in the uprising. In the end, neither of them spoke at the ceremony, though Edelman did accompany president Lech Walesa when the latter laid a wreath at the Warsaw Ghetto monument. Grayek died in June last year at age 92 in Tel Aviv. The feud with Edelman was never resolved.
MOUNT SCOPUS College, one of the largest Jewish day schools in the southern hemisphere, and indeed in the world, is celebrating its 60th anniversary not only in Australia but also in Israel. Current principal Rabbi James Kennard will be in Israel next month to preside over a November 3 reunion of former students and staff at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem. The first school captains (then called prefects) were Peter Medding, Daniel Lew, Felicity Bartak and Louise Goulburn (now Louise Israeli), who took office in 1951. Medding and Israeli live in Israel. Lew used to live in Israel and was honorary consul-general for Papua New Guinea. Hundreds of Mount Scopus Old Collegians from the school's first class to last year's graduates have made their homes in Israel, living in kibbutzim and moshavim as well as in urban areas, and contributing to the nation's development in many spheres. Perhaps the best-known Mount Scopus Old Collegian is Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
AMERICAN FRIENDS of Magen David Adom mounts blood drives in major hotels and in public squares, thus making it easy for passers-by - both tourists and locals - to give a unit of blood that may help to save an Israeli life. MDA is conducting a Succot blood drive this Thursday, October 8, from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. To date, AFMDA blood drives in 2009 have resulted in donations of more than 1,400 units, reflecting a 40-percent increase over the same period last year. Toward the end of September, American diplomats and business leaders, along with hotel staff, participated in a blood drive at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv.
David Intercontinental general manager David Cohen set the pace for hotel staff members. Donors from outside the hotel came from various American business enterprises operating in Israel and the US Embassy.
Noah Miller, sales and marketing manager for Ford Motors in Israel, stated: "We want to do our part to help raise awareness about the ongoing need and responsibility to give blood in Israel. Ford is proud to have an important role in Israeli society, and many of Israel's ambulances are Ford vehicles. If every Ford owner in Israel were to give blood just twice a year, we'd make a great impact. There is no better way to give back to the community than giving the gift of life."