IT IS difficult for diplomatic correspondents of the Israeli media to imagine the public diplomacy department of the United States Embassy without Yael Feldboy, who has spent the last 27 years as a senior media adviser, having started as a Hebrew teacher to ambassadors and senior embassy staff.
Feldboy began working at the US Embassy in the late 1980s. The first US ambassador with whom she worked was Thomas Pickering. After him were William Brown, William Harrop, Edward Djerejian, Martin Indyk, Ed Walker, Indyk again, Daniel Kurtzer, Richardrd Jones, James Cunningham, Dan Shapiro and David Friedman. She also got to meet former US secretaries of state George Schultz, James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, and she was given a career achievement award signed by present incumbent Rex Tillerson. Over the years, she’s also met quite a few US presidents and vice presidents, as well as other high-ranking US civilian and military personnel.
A comprehensive video screened at the charming and spacious Herzliya Pituah residence of US Deputy Chief of Mission Leslie M. Tsou this week at a farewell that she hosted for Feldboy included footage of Feldboy whispering in Hillary Clinton’s ear during a press conference that the then US secretary of state held with former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
Of all the ambassadors with whom Feldboy worked, Dan Shapiro (who came with his wife Julie Fisher) was the only one in attendance, though Daniel Kurtzer sent a farewell video with the message that he and his wife, Sheila, are coming to Israel soon and look forward to catching up with Feldboy.
Past colleagues now stationed in other parts of the world sent farewell messages by email and video extolling Feldboy’s professionalism and talents, and stating that they could not believe that she is retiring.
Geoffrey Annisman, press attache at the US Embassy in Kiev, worked with Feldboy in Tel Aviv when he was spokesman for the embassy in Israel and flew in for one night especially to attend her farewell. He had a reunion with embassy friends and colleagues as well as with some of the many journalists present.
Feldboy herself was surprised by the extent of the media turnout, but then again, she recalled that she had known media stars such as Udi Segal and Yonit Levy since they were rookie reporters at Army Radio.
Other media celebrities present included inter alia: Aluf Benn, Ya’akov Eilon, Boaz Bismuth, Yossi Melman, Ben Caspit, Oded Ben Ami, Itamar Eichner, Michael Karpin, and Avi Benayahu. Government Press Office director Nitzan Chen also attended.
Segal dubbed Feldboy “the Israel ambassador in the US Embassy” and said that it was good to have an Israeli who could explain anomalies, such as why Colin Powell chose to have a press conference on Israel Independence Day.
In private conversation, Feldboy had said that the most memorable event of her career was in her involvement in the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin, coordinating the attendance of Clinton and 150 media representatives while simultaneously mourning the assassination of her own prime minister. “She worked through tears on preparations for Rabin’s funeral,” Annisman recalled.
He added that everyone at the embassy has Feldboy on speed dial, and will in all probability continue to call her to help sort out problems.
In addition to praising Feldboy’s abilities and her character, ambassador Shapiro said he empathizes with her. “I used to be somebody,” he said, adding that it was a little odd for him to be standing in front of the microphone, as he was currently not in the habit of attending embassy events.
“Her contribution to US-Israel relations was enormous and her departure will leave a gaping hole,” he said, adding that she brought “unparalleled understanding of the Israeli media and incredibly sophisticated understanding of the Israeli press and politics and unbiased analysis” to the table at daily briefings.
“Yael helped us read between the lines and that helped us to learn what we needed to do in interacting with the Israeli press and dialoguing with the Israeli public and explaining American policy,” he said. “She taught us team work, trustworthiness, and sharing credit and was unfailingly generous with her time and her wisdom. She understands human nature, and she made everyone around her better.”
Feldboy, whose job meant that she had to be available 24/7 to deal with any unexpected crisis or emergency, said that the main beneficiary of her retirement would be her husband Yigal. When she came to work at the Embassy, she had a four-year-old daughter, she noted.
Now she has two daughters and seven grandchildren.
She added that what had helped in her job was that, in addition to being a Hebrew teacher, she was also a qualified psychologist. While she firmly stood her ground on every issue, she tried to avoid fighting with those who initially disagreed with her.
Feldboy has no plans for future activities, though everyone present is convinced that she will not remain idle. Her one ambition at the moment is to visit America as a tourist. She has been there many times for work, but so far never really had a chance to explore and enjoy the country.
Embassy spokeswoman Valerie O’Brien presented Feldboy with a binder full of messages from people who had worked with her, learned from her and benefited from her wisdom.
■ SOMETIMES IT’S very difficult here, but that’s not a reason to hate, President Reuven Rivlin declared Wednesday night at the Slihot service he hosted at his residence for some 400 participants, who included regulars who pray each morning at the President’s Residence synagogue. Among them numbered soldiers combining military service and religious study, young men and women undergoing preparatory courses for the army and students – many of them American – at various seminaries for young women throughout the country.
The synagogue itself is very small, so most of the participants were seated on the lawn outside. The service was conducted by popular singer and instrumentalist Yonatan Razel. The service began with Rivlin giving a full throated solo rendition for part of the Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father Our King) prayer, and the rest of the service was interspersed with readings and songs, concluding with a rousing tribute to Shlomo Carlebach which brought nearly everyone to their feet in a mega embrace, followed by dancing in separate groups of males and females.
During the early part of the service, Rivlin spoke against the needless hatred of whole sectors of people, both on an individual and national basis, simply because they are different and don’t think as we do. On a national level, he said, each and every one of us should ask forgiveness for things that we have said and done against others.
He stressed that over the past year Israel’s national discourse had deviated many times from good taste, logic and what is correct behavior. Prior to the service Rivlin held a conference call with leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and spoke with chairman Steve M. Greenberg and executive vice chairman Malcom Hoenlein.
Rivlin concurred that there had been low points in the relationship in the past year, saying, “Many of them were deep disappointments. When expectations were not met, some people were quick to let go. They talked of separation, of a growing gap, of a crisis that cannot be stopped. That is not our way,” he insisted.
“We will never let go of you. We will never turn away from our family, outside of Israel.”
Taking note of the advice that he gives to others Rivlin said:, “It is time to listen and learn. It is time that we learn to really understand each other better. It is time to face, not only what ties us together, but also what makes us different.”
■ SOME Israeli statesman and politicians long ago realized that politics is not the only track in the peace process. In some cases cooperation in the spheres of economy, security and prevention of natural disasters has led to the establishment of diplomatic ties. In other cases people linked to clergy of different faiths meet frequently to explore common denominators as a foundation for the easing of ideological hostilities.
One of the leaders in this respect in Israel is Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish, the founding director of the Interreligious Coordinating Committee. Relating to his personal experiences and encounters of more than 25 years, Kronish in his latest book, The other peace process
, describes the theory and practice of interreligious dialogue, education and action in Israel and the disputed territories in the context of the political peace process, as well as the peace-building processes and programs in Israel and the region. The book will be launched at the Jerusalem Press Club, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, on Monday, October 2, at 4.30 p.m.
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