Diplomatic spouses – more than coffee and cake

Wives of Australian, UK and Chilean envoys discuss life in Israel.

DIPLOMATIC SPOUSES Johanna Stegen (Chile) Rachel Lord (Australia) and Celia Gould (UK). (photo credit: Courtesy)
DIPLOMATIC SPOUSES Johanna Stegen (Chile) Rachel Lord (Australia) and Celia Gould (UK).
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For years, the marital partners of diplomats were known as diplomatic wives, because there were hardly any female diplomats.
But with the breaking of the glass ceiling in the Foreign Services, men began putting their jobs and careers on hold as they accompanied their wives to their postings, and the organizations of partners of diplomats around the world changed their name from diplomatic wives to diplomatic spouses.
The Diplomatic Spouses Club in Israel has more than 150 members from upwards of 50 countries – husbands, wives and companions of diplomats who are stationed here.
The club organizes two events each month – a speaker and a trip – as well as information sessions on Jewish holidays and free classes for members to study Hebrew, English and art.
In addition to charitable projects undertaken by individual members, the DSCI supports various charities. Annual galas are held to support a different charity each year. The charity chosen is one that benefits all sectors of Israeli society. The current president of DSCI is Rachel Lord, the wife of Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma.
This is her husband’s first ambassadorial posting; he was previously counselor at the Australian Embassy in Washington and third secretary at the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
Lord is a diplomat in her own right, but is on leave, which gives her the luxury and what she considers to be the privilege of being a full-time mother to their three small daughters.
She is an employee of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and worked most recently on Australia’s successful campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council. She has also worked as an adviser on international law and human rights to former attorney-general Philip Ruddock, in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Attorney-General’s Department.
She has a master’s degree in international law with distinction from the University of Nottingham. Her thesis on the definition of torture in international humanitarian law was published in the Melbourne Journal of International Law.
With typical Australian informality, Lord invites me into the kitchen where she is baking yet another batch of chocolate chip cookies. She makes coffee for me, places a chicken in the pot to make noodle soup and cuts up luscious-looking strawberries for her daughters.
Not long afterward, we are joined by Celia Gould, the wife of British Ambassador Matthew Gould. Although her husband is a seasoned diplomat, this is his first ambassadorial posting and her first experience in being a diplomat’s wife. She studied economics at Cambridge after which she fell into banking and hated it. She later worked as a stock broker, then a head hunter and then went back to university to get a master’s degree in development studies. She was introduced to her husband by a friend from the Foreign Office who had worked with him in Pakistan, and when she decided to return to university, he was very supportive, and hung around and helped her while she was studying. Matthew Gould runs one of the most intensive embassies in Israel, with numerous events at his residence almost every day, sometimes as many as three or four in the one day beginning with breakfast meetings, seminars and lectures and ending with a dinner or a mega reception.
Did his wife expect to work so hard in her new job? “It’s hardly a job,” she laughs.
“It’s not paid, and the Foreign Service tells you that you’re not obligated to do anything, but we’re handed a lot of work.”
Before coming to Israel, the Goulds were told what to expect by former British ambassadors to Israel and their wives.
Completing the group is Johanna Stegen, the wife of Chilean Ambassador Jorge Montero.
Stegen’s youthful appearance belies the fact that she’s been accompanying her husband around the world for 40 years.
He is due to retire next year, and she is considering opening a jewelry business. She designs unusual eye-catching jewelry, and although she is looking forward to spending quality time with her two children and three grandchildren, she is also looking for a stimulating challenge.
Lord and Stegen go by their maiden names. Gould has somewhat of a multiple identity.
Stegen explains that in Chile, “We’re born with a name and die with a name” and that married women, with rare exceptions do not take on the surname of their husbands.
Lord says she kept her maiden name because “that’s who I am. It would be silly changing my last name,” , explaining she isn’t part of her husband’s family history.
Gould has some of her documents in her maiden name and some of her documents in her maiden and married names without a hyphen. Her two daughters were born in Israel, and under Israeli law her children’s surnames had to be in accordance with whatever is written in her passport where she is listed as Leaberry Gould and that’s what’s on the birth certificates of her children. If after returning to England the Goulds decide that their daughters don’t need to have double barreled names they will have to change them by deed poll.
Gould designs gorgeous scarves that are produced and marketed in London.
“It’s another reality” being in Israel, says Gould, who developed a deeper understanding of the country during Operation Protective Edge. “If you’re going to spend time in the country and you want to understand it, you have to experience war.”
All three women say that unlike other countries suffering from conflict, Israel is a pleasant place in which to live.
“When you’re not here, you think it’s consumed by conflict and religious and racial hatred, and it’s not like that. People are not war mongers and there’s diversity of opinion, like anywhere else, Lord says.
She’s noticed a lot of cooperation between Israeli Jews and Arabs and between Muslims, Christians and Jews. “They’re all people working at making Israel work,” she says.
While visiting Syrian patients in hospitals in the Galilee she has seen Arabs, Druse and Jews working together in harmony.
When Stegen’s husband was recalled for consultations during Operation Protective Edge, it was in part due to pressures exerted by the large Palestinian community in Chile. Stegen traveled back to Chile with him and everywhere she went people expected her to say bad things about Israel.
“The news is harsher than the reality,” she says.
Palestinians and Jews had lived harmoniously in Chile, and this was the first time Stegen was aware of trouble between them.
Gould observes that “It’s easy to have a strong view if you don’t know much about it.”
“But the longer you’re here, the more complex it becomes, and you start to doubt your own views,” comments Lord.
The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference will take place on December 11 at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, including speeches by President Reuven Rivlin, former president Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Interior Minister Gilad Erdan.