Grapevine: Saluting the land of the free and the home of the brave

Israel’s capital was mentioned again and again by both Friedman and Netanyahu in their respective addresses to the enthusiastic, cheering and applauding crowd.

By
July 4, 2019 21:29
Grapevine:  Saluting the land of the free and the home of the brave

President Reuven Rivlin together with US ambsaador David Friedman and his wife Tammy raise a toast in honor of American Independence Day. (photo credit: MARK NEIMAN - GPO)

American Independence Day celebrations traditionally finish with a magnificent fireworks display, and the fact that the US Embassy was hosting it in Jerusalem for the first time during a period of acute tension and large-scale demonstrations did not diminish the sense of awe as thousands of guests exited Teddy Hall in the Jerusalem International Convention Center to see the capital’s night sky lit up in a blaze of exploding colors.
 
US Ambassador David Friedman had quipped earlier in the evening that it was not easy to arrange a fireworks display in Jerusalem, and he thanked Mayor Moshe Lion for his cooperation, saying that if the display worked, the embassy would take the credit, and if it didn’t, the municipality would take the blame.
 
Press photographer Sharon Altshul took photos of the fireworks over the Knesset from her balcony at home and posted them on social media. Within far less than 24 hours, she had 5,000 hits.
 
Although the official ceremony was timed for 8 p.m., with the doors opening at 5:30 p.m. to allow for security checks, more than 200 of the invitees were lined up at the entrance at 5 p.m.
 
Contrary to what sometimes happens at Israeli events in which security is tight, all security personnel were polite and pleasant, and the flow of human traffic went very smoothly. Once inside, guests were greeted to the strains of the Dr. Jazz Dixieland band playing medleys of golden oldies. There was an incredible choice of food offerings by sponsors of the event, including vegan nuggets that tasted remarkably like chicken. In his address later in the evening, Friedman remarked on the growing excitement over the event being held in Jerusalem and the resultant increase in sponsors. There were well in excess of 50 sponsors – mostly global enterprises. Friedman also thanked embassy staff and volunteers for the success of the event, and reminded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that last year, the Fourth of July festivities had been held halfway between the American residence in Herzliya Pituah and Jerusalem, and that Netanyahu in his speech then had said “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Friedman was happy to be able to say “This Year in Jerusalem” – and he said it in Hebrew.
 
Well before the official ceremony got underway, there was a livestreamed congratulatory message from US President Donald Trump broadcasting his greetings from Air Force One, mentioning not only Jerusalem but the Golan Heights. Noting the significance of American Independence Day celebrations, Trump said: “This time we’re doing it in a special place – Jerusalem.”
 
Israel’s capital was mentioned again and again by both Friedman and Netanyahu in their respective addresses to the enthusiastic, cheering and applauding crowd. It was not surprising that Friedman had a big grin on his face for most of the evening. Friedman noted that American involvement with Jerusalem went back to way before statehood, when the United States opened a consulate in Jerusalem in 1844, and the new consul-general planted an American flag at the Jaffa Gate and declared that the United States thereby extended its protection to the Jews of Jerusalem.
 
Even before that, Friedman commented, pilgrims risked their lives in the 17th century to reach a new world and established what many of them referred to as the new Jerusalem.
 
Friedman was extremely pleased at the presence of a 12-member bipartisan group of members of Congress, whose names he recited, saying that they had come together showing their love for Israel.
 
Whoever might be under the impression that Netanyahu is losing it in more ways than one, would have definitely drawn the opposite conclusion after hearing the whoops, cheers and deafening applause as Netanyahu approached the microphone, and the encores of such accolades during his speech, part of which was impromptu.
 
Full of praise for Trump, Friedman, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt for what they have done for Israel and Jerusalem, Netanyahu referred to Friedman as “a yeshiva bocher who knows scripture in Hebrew.”
 
As for Israel’s relations with the United States, Netanyahu spoke of them as “an indispensable alliance,” and as far as the venue for the US Independence Day reception was concerned, Netanyahu declared: “For the first time, the Fourth of July celebration is being held where it should be held – in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.” Netanyahu attributed the closer than ever relations between Israel and the US to Friedman’s “critical role” and, in alluding to past history when Jews of the Holy Land were subjugated by the Romans, Netanyahu declared how wonderful it was to have “the greatest power on earth not opposing the Jewish state but supporting the Jewish state.”
 
His address so obviously made an impression on Tammy Friedman, that when he turned away from the microphone to return to his seat, she jumped from hers and kissed him.
 
Netanyahu, who spent several years in America as a youth and a young man, kept silent during the singing of the American national anthem, but both David and Tammy Friedman joined in the singing of “Hatikvah.”
 
When it came to the toasts, Friedman recited the traditional blessing over the wine in Hebrew, something other ambassadors of the Jewish faith have never done.
 
Entertainment prior to the ceremony included the Skyraider United Air Forces in Europe Band with Staff Sgt. Denver Murphy as the lead vocalist who later sang the American national anthem, and X-Factor 2018 winner Eden Alene, who later sang Israel’s national anthem. Alene, a member of Israel’s Ethiopian community, also appeared at Israel’s Independence Day celebrations. Her repertoire this week was all in English, and while protest demonstrations by members of her community were taking place in different parts of the country, primarily Tel Aviv, where anger led to violence at the killing by a policeman of Solomon Tekah, an unarmed member of their community, she gave special emphasis to the song “Freedom.”
 
Meanwhile, ultra-Orthodox demonstrators in Jerusalem blocked the main artery into the city to protest the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox draft dodger. Jerusalem Post columnist Ruthie Blum, who lives in Tel Aviv and who was invited to the Fourth of July bash, took a cab to Jerusalem. Ordinarily, depending on the amount of traffic on the highway, the ride would have taken somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour. It took two and a quarter hours due to the traffic chaos caused by the protest demonstrations. Many other guests suffered similar discomfort.
 
There’s no knowing whether there was some kind of color coordination between the US Embassy and the Prime Minister’s Office, but it was interesting that America’s national colors of red, white and blue were reflected in the outfits of Tammy Friedman, who wore a red dress with a white inset at the shoulder, and Sara Netanyahu, who wore a classic blue dress. The prime minister’s white shirt was adorned by a red tie, and Ambassador Friedman’s tie had subtle red, white and blue stripes.
 
At the close of the official proceedings, the crowd waved and blew kisses to the Friedmans and the Netanyahus while they were still on stage, and enveloped them in warm appreciation as they came off to sit down and listen to the fabulous Shalva Band comprised of youngsters with different disabilities. Both Netanyahus were visibly entranced, and at the end of the performance posed for photos with the band together with the Friedmans. One of the band members, an affectionate young man with Down syndrome, gave the prime minister a big hug, and got one back in return.
 
Trump has been speaking of the possibility of another meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. How the ambassadors who represent the administrations of the two leaders relate to each other in other countries is anyone’s guess, but in Israel, Friedman and his Russian counterpart Anatoly Viktorov meet quite often, including at each other’s national day receptions.
 
While Friedman is naturally proud of hosting the first US Embassy Fourth of July reception in Jerusalem, Viktorov with a little brinkmanship points out that Russia hosted its reception in Jerusalem last year.
 
The difference is that Russia went to Herzliya this year, but America will still be in Jerusalem next year.
 
■ NOTHING LASTS forever, and for someone who has reached the pinnacle of his or her career, it is better to step down than to constantly look over one’s shoulder to see who is trying to usurp one’s position. Thus Gary Rosenblatt, one of the world’s leading figures in Jewish journalism, is stepping down in September from his position as editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week, a position he has held since 1993. He was previously editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times for nearly two decades, and before that was editor of the Detroit Jewish News for nine years.
 
He is known for being fair and for bringing as many sides as possible of a story together so that readers can have a comprehensive picture from which to formulate their opinions.
 
Stepping down, does not necessarily mean stepping out. Rosenblatt, 72, will continue to write for the NYJW from time to time and will remain involved with some of the paper’s educational projects, but will be free from the headache of running the show.
 
greerfc@gmail.com


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