Grapevine: Forever young

Peres receives “forever young” smart card, a tribute to the president’s unflagging energy, and ever-inquiring mind.

Ayalon (center) with Yasser Reda and his wife, Nahla 370 (photo credit: Courtesy MFA)
Ayalon (center) with Yasser Reda and his wife, Nahla 370
(photo credit: Courtesy MFA)
In the course of a career than spans close to seven decades, President Shimon Peres has received many accolades, certificates and citations, which have meant different things to him at different times of his life, but the one he received this week from Ramat Hasharon Mayor Itzik Rochberger was probably the most gratifying. Peres, who will celebrate his 89th birthday next month, was in Ramat Hasharon on Wednesday night to launch the city’s 90th anniversary celebrations and to tour the main streets and inspect the street art on the pavements..
What he received from Rochberger, in addition to honorary citizenship of Ramat Hasharon, was a “forever young” smart card, a tribute to the president’s unflagging energy, ever-inquiring mind, innovative ideas and ability to keep pace with new technologies and the new media.
While in Ramat Hasharon, Peres presided over the official opening of the renewed Yad Labanim building.
In his address, Peres noted that he was only a year younger than Ramat Hasharon and quipped that he wished he looked as good. He also congratulated Ramat Hasharon on being a model city with numerous praiseworthy achievements to its credit, some of which include first place in education in the Tel Aviv district, a zero percentage of high school drop outs, 97 percent recruitment in the IDF, first place in Israel for volunteerism by youth; and impressive results in nearly all fields of sport.
In the name of all the residents of Ramat Hasharon and the citizens of Israel, Rochberger told Peres what a beloved president he is for having brought so much honor and glory to Israel. In view of the fact that Peres often argues that age is not a matter of chronology but is based on how the individual feels, Rochberger presented him with the city’s Youth Card, saying “in our eyes that makes you forever young.”
■ WHEN SHE heard that Thailand’s Princess Chulabhorn Mahidal, who was last in Israel in May 2011, will be returning this October, President’s Bureau deputy director-general Yona Bartal was reminded of a mission she had undertaken on behalf of the princess last year.
It may be remembered that the car in which the princess was traveling was involved in a traffic accident and the princess, who has a very fragile physique, was hurt. Bartal had accompanied her to Hadassah University Medical Center, but the princess was somewhat agitated – not over her own condition, but over that of King Bhumibol, who was severely ill. The princess, though not Israeli and not Jewish, wanted to go to the Western Wall to place a note in one of the crevices with a plea that the king be restored to good health. The doctors at Hadassah told Bartal that the princess was in no condition to go the Wall and that she should do whatever she could to dissuade her. Realizing the importance of the matter to the princess, Bartal offered to be her emissary, saying that she would take a photographer with her so that the princess would have evidence of her putting the note into a crevice, and she would then come to the Tel Aviv hotel in which the princess was staying to give her the photo. The princess agreed, and the mission was successful. When Thailand’s new ambassador, Jurk Boon Long, presented his credentials this week, he told Peres that the king’s health is much improved.
■ IT IS customary for the Foreign Ministry to host a luncheon or dinner for a departing ambassador, not only as a matter of courtesy but as an opportunity for people with whom the ambassador worked closely to express appreciation for efforts made by the ambassador to enhance bilateral relations between his or her country and Israel. Some of these bilateral relationships go back 60 years or more, and though they’ve had their ups and downs, the friendship has survived and even flourished.
In this context, appreciation for the work of the Egyptian ambassador is more than doubly valued due to the extreme sensitivity of the relationship between Israel and Egypt, the first Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel. In the case of Ambassador Yasser Reda, who also had to cope with the uncertainties generated by the upheavals in his country over the past year, Israel was even more appreciative of what he has succeeded in doing during his four-year tenure, and this was expressed by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and several other diplomats at the festive, yet somewhat sad gathering at the Mount Zion Hotel in Jerusalem this week where Reda and his wife, Nahla, were honored.
The highly popular Redas, who are due to leave for home at the end of August, are separately and together being feted at a round of farewells, especially within the different circles of Israel’s international community.
Among the people attending the dinner hosted by Ayalon were members of Reda’s family, his deputy, Moustafa Elkouny, friends from the diplomatic corps such as French Ambassador Christophe Bigot, South African Ambassador Ismail Coovadia, MFO director general representative in Israel Michael Sternberg and other friends, such as Yair Hirschfeld, who was one of the key architects of the Oslo Accords, Netanyahu’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians and special envoy to Egypt Yitzhak Molcho, who was in Cairo at the end of June at a meeting with top military and intelligence officials, and National Security Council deputy director Eran Lerman.
Among those representing the Foreign Ministry were deputy directorgeneral for the Middle East Aviva Raz-Shechter, director of the Egypt desk Amira Oron and Nitza Raz-Silbiger of the protocol department.
Ayalon praised Reda for having made a significant contribution to relations between Egypt and Israel, especially during the past year of turmoil in the region, which was a critical year in many respects. He thanked Reda for his outstanding efforts during such trying circumstances and surprised him with a gift of 18 trees to be planted in his name in the Ambassadors’ Forest on the outskirts of Jerusalem, so that that Reda’s name will be linked with Israel in perpetuity. He also presented him with a parchment containing the traveler’s prayer and wished him well in all the future paths he takes in life, adding that he was confident that Reda would continue to advance relations between their two countries.
For his part, Reda assuaged any fears that the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel was in peril. The peace agreement, which has lasted for so long, is strong and sturdy, he assured his listeners, and will withstand the recent upheavals.
He suggested that more could be done toward the advancement of economic and cultural relations and said that a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would have a very positive impact on Israel’s relations with Egypt.
Reda’s successor, Suleiman Atef, will have a relatively easy time in adapting to his new role, as he was formerly an Egyptian consul in Eilat and already knows his way around Israel.
■ NEXT WEEK Foreign Ministry personnel will bid farewell to Belarus Ambassador Igor Leshchenya, who is returning home after six years of service in Israel. The period of duty for an ambassador is usually between two and four years, but some have been here for as long as a decade, and dean of the Diplomatic Corps Henri Etoundi Essomba, who is the ambassador of Cameroon, has been here since 1998. He is the only ambassador who has been here in that capacity since the 20th century.
■ CONSIDERING THAT we’re in the three-week period between the 17th of Tamuz and Tisha Be’av, when we are constantly taught that the woes that have accompanied the Jews throughout history can be traced to the public humiliation that one Jew brought upon another through baseless hatred, it is an appropriate time to right any kind of wrong in which people have been hurt by insults, lack of consideration, forgetfulness, oversights, et al. The Israel Museum did this with regard to Ralph Goldman, honorary executive vice president of the American Joint Distribution Committee. Goldman, a spry 97, has been and is involved in many Jewish and Israeli endeavors, but is best known for his work with the JDC.
Although Teddy Kollek was credited with building the Israel Museum, which is today Israel’s largest and most important cultural institution, the idea for a museum was actually Goldman’s. He told David Ben-Gurion that it was important for the nation’s capital to have a significant museum, and Ben-Gurion yelled out to Kollek, who was then director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, that he needed to build a museum. Kollek secured the land, raised the funds, enlisted and sometimes employed world-famous artists to endorse the museum or to be professionally involved in its creation.
Goldman remained somewhere in the background. Unfortunately, he disclosed in the film Teddy’s Museum, which was shown this week at the Jerusalem International Film Festival, hey forgot to send him an invitation to the museum’s opening nearly half a century ago.
Fortunately, Goldman is not the type to bear a grudge, and he remained engaged with the museum throughout the years and was of course in the audience for the screening of the 50-minute documentary about how the museum started and flourished. In fact, producer director Gilad Tocatly gave him quite a lot of screen time. The original idea for the documentary was to have an oral history featuring the 16 people who were there as the museum developed from an idea to a reality. It wasn’t easy because not all were alive. Aside from that, Tocatly and his staff had a wealth of information to juggle and edit. What they were left with was extremely interesting, often nostalgic and sometimes sufficiently funny to provoke ripples of laughter. What was missing was the voice of Teddy Kollek, which could have easily been culled from any number of archives.
There were some people in the audience who would have liked to have seen a longer film. For them, it was just too short. Of the people who were interviewed, most, including present and past directors James Snyder and Martin Weyl, were in the audience. The film was designed to show how and by whom the dream was translated into reality. It stopped at the opening of the renewed museum. That was another opportunity for the museum to try to compensate Goldman, who was among the invitees the second time around. Yitzhak Molcho, chairman of the museum’s board of directors, said that with the making of the film, he believed that the debt to Goldman had been fully paid.
Among the interviewees was internationally renowned art historian the late Bezalel Narkis, whose father had been involved with the important but very small Bezalel Museum which preceded the Israel Museum.
Tocatly and his crew took Narkis to the Rockefeller Museum to film the interview with him. Narkis wasn’t well, and to make matters worse, it was a bitterly cold Jerusalem winter’s day. The crew did everything to make Narkis comfortable, but it was obvious to Tocatly that he was suffering.
“Let’s get it over with quickly,” he told Tocatly. “I want to go home.” However, as soon as the filming started and Narkis began to speak, his face took on a radiant expression, particularly when talking about his father, and there was absolutely no sign of his discomfort.
He died six months later, having left this most moving and informative interview as a legacy to posterity.
■ AMONG THE many congratulatory messages that former prime minister Ehud Olmert received in the immediate aftermath of his acquittal of most of the charges for which he had been tried was from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Kadima MK Roni Bar-On, who is a long-time friend of Olmert’s and who served as finance minister in the Olmert-led government, told Geula Even in an interview on Channel 1 on Tuesday night that Abbas had been among the well-wishers.
Bar-On had come to the studio from Olmert’s home. Later in the evening, Dalia Itzik, Kadima faction chairwoman Dalia Itzik, who has maintained regular contact with Olmert during his four-year ordeal, told Oded Shachar on Channel 1’s Politica program that no one has the strength of character that Olmert has. She would have not been able to withstand the pressures he had been under for a single day, let alone four years, she said.