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(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
If you've taken a holiday in Croatia in the past few years, the person you have to thank is Shmuel Shlesinger, whose home in Savyon doubles as the consulate of that small Eastern European country.
Shlesinger, the honorary consul of Croatia, is the man who single-handedly changed Israeli attitudes to what had been a fascist state during the war. He was born there and, although he suffered as a small child during the Holocaust and lost hundreds of relatives, he felt the time had come to rehabilitate Israeli-Croatian relations.
"I felt for many years a big discrepancy in the attitude of our Foreign Ministry between policies towards Germany and Italy compared to small Croatia," says Shlesinger. "For 60 years a black cloud hung over the country - we had no relations and no tourism - and I decided there must be an end to it."
He says he didn't start from zero, but from minus. About eight or nine years ago he called a meeting of several like-minded friends, and the Israel-Croatia Friendship League was born "in this house," he emphasizes.
Shlesinger had his eye on the house, which was built in 1978, for many years and as soon as it came on the market, after having been rented out for years, he bought it.
It had been designed by Rhodesian-born architect Harry Watson, who has built several large homes in Savyon, and Shlesinger was attracted to his approach to space. The enormous house, which he shares with two golden retrievers, was built for a diamond merchant, and many diamond-like features have been incorporated into the design. Shlesinger points out faceted walls and diamond-like windows around the house.
"It was love at first sight when I saw the house," he says. "I liked the private room down a half-flight of stairs which I use as a study/library. I liked the huge spaces which are perfect for entertaining, the garden and swimming pool."
At the massive front door the two flags of Israel and Croatia flutter in the breeze. The impressive entrance hall is almost empty and the eye is drawn to the vast expanses of the living room and beyond it, the three dunam garden. White marble floors and crystal mirrors create a rich effect. When I ask him if the house isn't too big for him, he laughs and says that sometimes it's too small.
"It's actually a very active house," he says. "Besides being used for business meetings, I often have diplomatic receptions as well as family gatherings. And as I'm a hoarder and don't like to throw anything away, much of the space is taken up with things I love."
In the study, Shlesinger, who owns bonded warehouses in Ashdod, points out some of the many photos lining the shelves. The display is a who's who of Israeli and international movers and shakers as well as a family portrait gallery.
The lounge has two separate sitting areas, a formal one on the left and a less formal grouping around a fireplace on the right.
"It's very practical," says Shlesinger, "because if there is a large number of people we just turn the seats around. Receptions for 200 to 300 people are quite common."
He points out the wall above the curved window which has been cut into facets resembling a diamond. On the windows the white drapes prove to be, on closer examination, lengths of white cord.
He proudly points out the dining room table, made entirely of glass, which he planned and executed.
"If you stand on the stairs going down to the study, the side of the table gives the effect of Manhattan skyscrapers," he says.
The wood and steel kitchen with its own sitting area looking out to the side garden is placed conveniently next to the dining room.
Upstairs, the master bedroom is surprisingly feminine, with a wall-to-wall beige carpet, pink curtains and white linen. The wardrobes are fronted with glass so the garden view is reflected in them. The main bathroom is tiled from floor to ceiling in brick red Italian marble.
Another half-flight up the glass-sided staircase leads to a games room with a green baize card table and view over the front garden. In the guest bedroom, the entire bathroom is covered in beveled glass and includes a sauna.
Shlesinger can trace his family roots back 600 years in Croatia and, in spite of the war-time experience, feels the rapprochement with Israel is an achievement of which he is proud. The two flags which fly proudly outside turn this house into more than just a beautiful home.
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