Grapevine: A right royal treat

Describing queen Elizabeth as an “indispensable queen,” Peres said that she is the queen of the hearts of the people

Queen Elizabeth with Vivian Wineman, Jewish leaders 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Queen Elizabeth with Vivian Wineman, Jewish leaders 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It didn’t quite equal last year’s reception hosted by British Ambassador Matthew Gould and his wife, Celia, in honor the royal wedding, possibly because a wedding is a celebration of the future whereas a diamond jubilee is a celebration of the past.
Nevertheless, the event hosted by the couple in their Ramat Gan residence, which the ambassador prefers to call his home, was quite a stunning affair, and if Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II would have cared to at long last make a long overdue royal visit to Israel as she has done to so many other parts of the world, she would have found a large representation of her loyal subjects who would greet her with the same degree of affection that more than a million people who took to the streets bestowed on her at home. In fact, given the number of Union Jacks fluttering in the streets of Ramat Gan, the Queen might have been forgiven for putting Ramat Gan in the same category as Gibraltar and the Falklands.
Gould was both upbeat and nervous, especially as he had decided to deliver a major portion of his address in Hebrew, a language in which he is not yet quite comfortable – though he has made remarkable progress given his busy schedule. However, his sense of humor did not desert him and he welcomed guests to “a home with one of the most beautiful gardens and the worst parking facilities.”
He was proud of the technical cooperation between the UK and Israel, which has put Britain on the global hi-tech map, primarily via the BIRAX Regenerative Medicine Initiative, through which £10 million will be invested in 15 major UK-Israel research projects over a five-year period. As for boycotts against Israeli products among some sectors in Britain, Gould said that the best response to them was a 34 percent increase in bilateral trade.
Gould said that the last few days have shown the extraordinary loyalty that the queen commands in the UK and her realms as well as the respect that she receives from the whole world. The queen, he said, embodies the British values of democracy, tolerance, rule of law and determination in the face of adversity, which are values that are also shared by Israel. She also embodies the notion of service to her country, he said, underscoring that there are few who can match her period of service. Turning toward President Shimon Peres, Gould noted that Peres is among those few. Just as the queen is described as the unifying presence of British life, so Peres is the unifying presence at the heart of Israeli life, said Gould, adding that no one in Israel is more appropriate to toast Her Majesty.
As a former British subject and a citizen of Israel, Peres, who received an honorary knighthood from the queen in 2008, said he wanted to express the deep gratitude that Israel owes to Britain. Preferring to overlook the negative aspects of the Mandate period, Peres spoke of Gen. Allenby’s defeat of the Ottoman army.
That same year, at a time when Jews were being persecuted in the various countries of their dispersion, Lord Balfour showed concerned sympathy for the Jewish people, said Peres and three years later, Sir Herbert Samuel (later Viscount Samuel) became the first high commissioner of Palestine. Among the peers of the realm who were in attendance at the Diamond Jubilee reception in Ramat Gan were his grandson, Viscount David Samuel, Lord Michael Levy, Sir Ronald Cohen and Sir Ian Gainsford.
■ DESCRIBING QUEEN Elizabeth as an “indispensable queen,” Peres said that she is the queen of the hearts of the people because she inspires and she serves. Included in the fare served to guests were British staples such as fish and chips, although unlike in other years, they were not served in newspaper but in white cardboard containers decorated with a Union Jack. Guests were able to view photographs of the queen from the time that she was a bride up to the present day. Of particular interest to Aura Herzog and her son MK Isaac Herzog was a photograph of the queen with the late president Chaim Herzog and his wife. Chaim Herzog, who was born in Ireland, served as an officer in the British Army during World War II.
■ FORMER EMBASSY employee Marilyn Lyons, who worked there for some thirty years prior to her retirement, often graced embassy events with her beautiful singing voice, and continues to do so. She sang both the British and Israeli national anthems, joined by Ambassador Gould on the podium and his wife, Celia, in the forefront of the crowd below.
Peres joined in the singing of “Hatikva.”
■ IN RECENT weeks, the theme of freedom has been integral to formal and informal speeches made by Peres, who leaves early next week for the United States to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from US President Barack Obama. Peres, who also writes about freedom on his Facebook page, has invited his friends to respond. The overwhelming majority associate freedom, or the wish for it, with Jonathan Pollard. Seldom has a single human being attracted such a strong consensus in Israel. While everyone wanted to see Gilad Schalit released from Hamas captivity, there was strong disagreement over what his freedom should cost.
The toughest request that Obama could make for Pollard’s freedom would be for Israel to suspend construction across the green line.
A lot of die-hard right-wingers might be prepared to make that sacrifice if it meant that Pollard could come home to Israel. Peres has said that he will do all in his power to persuade Obama to relent on the Pollard issue.
Nothing would give Peres greater joy than to have Pollard sit next him on his return flight.
Perhaps the Ministry of the Interior should prepare a passport for Pollard just in case.
■ WHEN IT comes to distributing honors in relation to the Israel Museum, director James Snyder is the emcee at the awards ceremony.
On Wednesday, he found himself at the receiving end when Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, in a ceremony at Jerusalem City Hall, conferred on him the Honorary Citizenship of Jerusalem in recognition of his inspirational management and renewal of the Israel Museum.
On hand to applaud Snyder were his good friends, museum board of directors chairman Itzhak Molho, governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer and mega philanthropists Charles Bronfman, Michael and Judy Steinhardt and Lynn Schusterman, among others who had nominated him for this distinction.
Snyder and his wife, Tina, were also celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary, and had come to Israel, only because she had said yes, when the job of Israel Museum director had been offered to him by the late Dov Gottesman. The Snyders, accompanied by Barkat, received a standing ovation when they entered the council chambers, and Snyder received a second standing ovation at the end of the ceremony.
During Snyder’s tenure as director, the Israel Museum has become one of the leading art and archaeology museums in the world. Since its renewal, completed in 2010, the museum has won international recognition. It has doubled in size, developed new visitor facilities, entered into new collaborative agreements with other major museums around the world and added breathtaking new artistic masterpieces to its collection Only two days earlier, Snyder, who has been at the center of events related to the four-day meeting of the Israel Museum International Council, happily oversaw the awarding of honorary fellowships to South African-born Wendy Fisher, who has homes in her native country and in London and New York; Jerusalem-born best selling author David Grossman, second-generation donors to the museum Linda and Michael Jesselson of New York, whose children have also become involved with the Israel Museum; Cleveland-born Barbara and Morton Mandel, whose names are indelibly engraved in a number of educational and cultural projects in Israel; New York-born Evi Musher Shechter, who is on a frequent commute between New York and Jerusalem and is keenly interested in the Museum’s Youth Wing for Art Education and the Wing for Jewish Art and Life; and Brazil-born Lily Safra, whose philanthropy in her capacity as chair of Edmond J.
Safra Foundation has become legend and who, together with other museum friends, commissioned Anish Kapoor’s “Turning the World Upside Down” in tribute to museum founder Teddy Kollek.
Among the guests at the International Council’s gala closing dinner at the museum were Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, former Israel Museum board chairman Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, former MK Colette Avital and former diplomat Nava Barak, both of whom Snyder dubbed as ambassadors of culture, Amos and Osnat Kollek and their families, and representatives of several diplomatic missions including the ambassadors of Belgium, Benedikye Frankinet; Brazil, Maria Bittencourt Berenguer; Canada,, Paul Hunt; China, Gao Yanping; Denmark, Liselotte Plesner; Italy, Luigi Mattiolo; Spain Alvaro Irenzo Gutierrez and USA, Dan Shapiro. Snyder has cultivated warm relationships with members of foreign diplomatic missions, and with their cooperation has organized many bilateral, high-quality cultural events. This was the last museum function for Mattiolo and Gutierrez in their present capacities, as they are winding up their tenures in Israel.
■ ALMOST ALL the big money supporters of the Israel Museum also give generously to other causes in Israel, and on the day that she was named an honorary fellow of the Israel Museum, Lily Safra was also at Yad Vashem for the unveiling of the plaque and dedication of the Edmond J. Safra Lecture Hall in memory of her husband, who was an internationally renowned philanthropist and a generous benefactor to Yad Vashem. The 330-seat lecture hall is located in the new International Seminars Wing of Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies. The dedication ceremony was attended by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, board members of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev, and German and Mexican educators who are currently participating in seminars at the International School for Holocaust Studies.
Almost overcome by emotion, Lily Safra said that the foundation had been pleased to support Holocaust Education programs. “It is only through education that we can hope to prevent future generations from repeating the tragedies of the past,” she said, adding that she knew how proud her husband would have been to see his name associated with this important work. Safra missed the International Council’s closing dinner at the Israel Museum because she was in Tel Aviv for a ceremony in which the International Sephardic Education Foundation, which she also chairs, was honoring 10 outstanding achievers in medicine, science, business and hi-tech.
■ PUBLISHERS AND booksellers, fearful that the people of the book will become, in the words of Shimon Peres, “the people of the Facebook” and will stop reading anything that has more than a paragraph of text, are offering almost irresistible incentives such as a second book for only one shekel or four books for NIS 100. One would imagine that writers would be thrilled that more people may be reading their works.
But some 150 Israeli writers are opposed to what they call the cheapening of their creativity, and have written an open letter of protest saying that they do not want their books to be included in the bargain basket.
Amos Oz, David Grossman, Haim Be’er and Meir Shalev set the ball rolling, and after their announcement was published in the Hebrew media, other writers got on the bandwagon.
People who still read books and were looking forward to reading the recent output of authors such as Yoram Kaniuk, Orly Castel Blum and Yehudit Katzir may have to pay more than they expected. As it is writers, in Israel don’t earn very much by way of royalties, and if the prices on their books are drastically reduced, the royalties will sink even further unless reading of books becomes a popular pastime again.
■ VISITORS TO Jerusalem will have much faster and easier access to information about the city following the launch this week of the Jerusalem Development Authority’s wide-ranging website, which currently appears in English and Hebrew but will soon be available in Russian, Spanish, Italian, German and Arabic. The website will provide Internet and smartphone users with the best that Jerusalem has to offer, at their fingertips anytime and anywhere. The new website was launched at a reception co-hosted by Mayor Nir Barkat and JDA chairman Moshe Leon.
“Jerusalem is not just about religion and historical sites, it is also a vibrant and all-encompassing city filled with a diverse range of cultural events,” said Leon. “We have begun to focus on individual tourism – those tourists who require a totally different approach to group tours. To meet this demand we have created an easily accessible source of information suitable for everyone from first-time visitors to native Jerusalemites.” Barkat, who is aiming for 10 million visitors a year to the capital, noted that Jerusalem is fast becoming a hub for cultural tourism and that the new website, with its wealth of information about what to do and where to go in Jerusalem, will serve to enhance interest in what the city has to offer in terms of cultural, historical, scenic and culinary delights.
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