Grapevine: A season for shamrocks

Busy times for the Irish ambassador, Spanish royals are coming for a visit, and Lod takes cricket’s India Trophy.

IT’S BEEN a very patriotic period for Irish Ambassador Breifne O’Reilly. Aside from the St. Patrick’s Day reception he hosted at his residence in Herzliya Pituah last Thursday, the previous week he hosted another reception at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque to mark the opening of the annual Irish Film Week, and this week he was at Murphy’s New Irish Pub in Netanya for the combined Purim and Paddy’s Night celebration hosted by the Israel Ireland Friendship League.
Although there were people from the Foreign Ministry at the St. Patrick’s Day reception, there was no official government representative – not because we’re giving Ireland the cold shoulder but because, unlike most of their colleagues from other embassies, the Irish don’t make speeches on their national day. It’s a tradition that he inherited from his predecessors, said O’Reilly.
There’s one parliamentarian who always shows up at the St. Patrick’s Day reception – Labor MK Isaac Herzog has a particular affinity for Ireland, where his grandfather was chief rabbi and where his father and uncle were born.
Herzog arrived with his mother Aura, and in conversation with deputy chief of mission Conor Long was thrilled to learn that his good friend and fellow lawyer, Dublin-born Allan Shatter, had a week earlier been appointed minister for justice, equality and defense.
Long said that as far as he is aware, Shatter is the only Jewish defense minister in the world other than Ehud Barak. He also admitted that before his posting here, he had not expected Israelis to be so warm and welcoming and attributed his erroneous preconceptions to the negative image that Israel has in the international media.
At the IFFL event, attended by throngs of Irish expats, O’Reilly did have something to say. He elicited loud cheers when he announced that Ireland had scored a resounding victory over England in the Rugby World Cup match the previous day.
This gave IIFL chairman Malcolm Gafson yet another cause for celebration. In addition to Purim and Paddy’s Day, Gafson was also celebrating the 30th anniversary of his aliya. He also read greetings from Ambassador to Ireland Boaz Moda’i.
■ VERY FEW institutions can boast of having had more than one president among their members. One that can is the Knesset. Of the country’s nine presidents, only Chaim Weizmann and Ephraim Katzir were not MKs before their elections. Another institution, the Ben Shemen Youth Village, had two students who became president. One of them, Shimon Peres, is scheduled to be there tonight for a cross-generation reunion of former students.
It’s doubtful the other, Moshe Katsav, will put in an appearance.
In addition to former students, invitees include leading businesspeople and industrialists, cultural icons and household names from the world of entertainment. Ben Shemen provides educational facilities for approximately 1,000 youngsters aged six- 18. Some 400 are boarders. Peres also has another reason for visiting Ben Shemen. His met his late wife Sonia there when both were adolescents, and she chose Ben Shemen as her final resting place.
■ WHEN HE was in Spain last month, Peres invited Crown Prince Felipe of Asturias and his wife Princess Letizia to visit – and the invitation was accepted. They will arrive next month and will be staying at the King David, where Peres will host a dinner in their honor.
Prince Felipe is a descendant of Queen Victoria on both sides of his family, and, on his mother’s side, from both his grandparents. If he enjoys his visit, perhaps he’ll be able to influence his distant cousin Prince Charles to follow suit – though it’s doubtful, since the overseas travels of the British royals are the purview of the Foreign Office.
■ BEFORE THAT, the peripatetic Peres will be off on yet another trip abroad – well actually three. Next week, he will travel to Geneva, and from there to London to join in the gala 80th birthday celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, and from there to the United States where efforts are under way for him to meet with President Barack Obama.
■ BECAUSE PURIM is such a gift-oriented festival, it also includes many fund-raising and social awareness events on behalf of the less fortunate. It is also a time when entertainers make a point of visiting sick children in hospitals.
Sometimes, it works the other way around, with organizations that are dedicated to sick children, particularly children with cancer, taking them on fun-filled outings. This was the case last Thursday with Zichron Menahem, which supports children with cancer and their families. Fifteen of them spent time in Jerusalem, including a visit to the Prime Minister’s Office, where Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cleared his calendar to be able to talk with them and pose for photographs. His wife Sara also came to give the youngsters a little cheer. Netanyahu was charmed by another Sara, aged four, who kept climbing onto his lap. But it wasn’t just talk, cuddles and posing for pictures. Haredi singer and comedian Yishai Lapidot showed up and contributed to the happy mood.
The youngsters then continued on to Tel Aviv, where a mega event awaited them at Hangar 11 on the Tel Aviv Port. Past and present staff and volunteers were on hand as well as other youngsters with cancer, along with their parents and siblings. There were country and western singers, the Ethnix rock band and others. There were also game booths and a huge choice of food and drink. The cost of the event was underwritten by a group of businesspeople who preferred to remain anonymous.
■ WHEN FOREIGN rulers leave a country that they have dominated, something usually remains. It may be language, cuisine, architecture or even fondness for a particular sport. For example, after the British left, the Indians continued to play cricket. Those who came to live here brought the game with them, and found additional enthusiasts among immigrants from other Commonwealth countries. Cricket fever has risen to a pitch over the last month, with the cricket World Cup matches in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Taking advantage of the upsurge in interest, the Indian Embassy decided to use the game as a public diplomacy tool, and in cooperation with the Israel Cricket Association and various other cricket clubs organized a Twenty20 Knockout Cricket Tournament, with the competing teams vying for the India Trophy.
The eight participating teams were Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Ambassador’s XI, Dimona, Lod, Petah Tikva, Beersheba and Ramle. The matches were held between February 26 and March 19, with Lod emerging the winner after an intensely fought final at the Beersheba Cricket Ground. The matches were held in locations in which there is a significant Indian presence. At the closing ceremony Ambassador Navtej Sarna remarked on how nice it was to see the Indian community keeping the game alive. Although Lod went home with the trophy, none of the teams went home empty handed. Prizes were distributed to all of them.
■ ON A sadder note, friends of one of Sarna’s predecessors, Raminder Singh Jassal, gathered at the Indian Embassy this week to pay tribute to his memory. Jassal died in Ankara, Turkey on March 11, two days before his 58th birthday. He had been an extremely popular ambassador during the time he served here, made friends easily, and was noted for his intelligence, wit, humor and generosity as well as his diplomacy. Because his wife Smita Tewari Jassal is an academic who joined academic institutions in the countries of his various postings, Jassal also had many friends in academia.
For Sarna, the memorial was more than a pro forma tribute to a fellow diplomat. Jassal had been his friend and mentor. Sarna first met him at university in 1976. Jassal was older than Sarna and was an adjudicator at a public contest in which Sarna was one of the competitors. “He gave me the prize,” Sarna recalled. Jassal went into the diplomatic service and so did Sarna, and for most of the careers of the two, Sarna followed Jassal.
It was rare to follow someone to the extent that he had followed Jassal, Sarna said: Sarna’s first posting had been in Moscow. Jassal had just left and everyone was talking about the positive impression he had made.
When Sarna went to Poland, Jassal was already there and instantly made a two-page list for him of people to meet. The first time Jassal served in Washington, Sarna followed him again, and later followed him into the spokesman’s job at the Foreign Ministry in Delhi. When Sarna was posted here, he called Jassal who was then in Washington for the second time, and Jassal had told him the posting was the best thing that could happen to him. After Jassal was sent to Turkey, Sarna continued to call him regularly for advice.
Restaurateur Reena Pushkarna, who is known as the unofficial ambassador for India, regarded Jassal as an extension of her family. She and her husband Vinod had been planning to travel to Ankara for Jassal’s birthday. When she asked him what he wanted for a gift, he had replied: “You know what I want.” It was a pen. Jassal was an avid pen collector and a member of the Israel Pen Club whose founder Dov Randel related how excited Jassal had been to learn that there was a Parker pen that had been specially created for Israel’s 50th anniversary.
Jassal was determined to have one, but it had been produced in a limited edition of only 500 which were quickly snapped up.
Jassel had frequently spoken to Randel about the pen, but Randel told him that even if one was available, he would have to pay at least $2,000 for it.
When Jassal was winding up his term of office, he went to take his leave of prime minister Ariel Sharon who asked if he could do anything for him. Jassal told him how much he wanted the pen. Sharon instantly summoned a senior aide and told him to go get one. The Government Coins and Medals Corporation had only one – the prototype. But on Sharon’s orders, they hunted around and finally came up with a pen from the series that was duly presented to Jassal, who was elated.
Jassal was interested in everything, including Jewish tradition. Shalva Weil, an expert on India’s Jewish heritage, recalled that he had come to her son’s bar mitzva, was curious about everything and had a whale of a time. Amotz Weinberg, the former president of Shenkar College, had been impressed by Jassal’s grasp of Hebrew literature and his ability to quote Bialik; while Yossi Hadas, a former Foreign Ministry director-general, was amazed at Jassal’s comprehension of Israeli politics and his ability to analyze situations.
■ POET AND partisan leader Abba Kovner proposed that the permanent exhibition at Beth Hatefutsoth be divided into six thematic parts.
Now, almost quarter of a century after his death, his influence still dominates the exhibition.
Kovner was a man who spent much of his life in the limelight. His wife Vitka, also an active partisan, preferred to remain in the background, even after he died, although she achieved an enviable reputation as a psychologist. Known as a totally fearless fighter, Vitka was awarded the Soviet Medal for Valor, but never made a big deal of it.
Nor did she make a big deal of the fact that while part of the resistance movement in the Vilna Ghetto, she succeeded in sneaking out every night. Vitka did agree to talk to student groups about life in the ghetto and in the Rodniki Forest. Eventually, she allowed herself to be persuaded by documentary filmmaker Yael Katzir and photographer Elik Ritvas to tell her story.
The film premiered at Beth Hatefutsoth last week, just a few days before Vitka’s 91st birthday. The auditorium was packed mostly with members of the Lithuanian community, several of them former partisans.
■ A COUPLE of weeks ago, Matthew Gould made minor history by being the first British ambassador to visit the main building of the Jewish Agency. This is not his only first, aside from the fact that he is the first British ambassador of the Jewish faith to be sent here. He also happens to be the first British ambassador to move out of the embassy while still in office. The embassy, on Rehov Hayarkon, across the road from the Tel Aviv Hilton, will be vacated in May for 18 months to allow for extensive renovation and remodeling. In the interim, the staff will be relocated to the Migdalor building on the corner where Allenby Street becomes Ben- Yehuda.
■ LAST WEEK Gould, acting on behalf of Queen Elizabeth presented Aviva Ben- Raphael of the Israel Youth Awards with an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of her services to UK-Israel relations and youth links. Traditionally, the UK ambassador hosts an annual Gold Awards Ceremony for the Israel Youth Awards, honoring some 200 impressive young people for the work they have done in contributing to the community, hiking and challenge activities, developing personal skills and hobbies and physical education. The program is linked to the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
This year Ben-Raphael was also honored.
Gould, 39, quipped that he was really happy to be hosting this particular event because it was “one of the very few events where I know that I am older than most of my guests.” He told the 200 young people from the Jewish, Muslim, Beduin, Christian and other communities that they had achieved something really amazing.
Turning to the MBE presentation, he praised Ben-Raphael’s dedication to the program, saying that she “has given for many years her heart and her soul to the Israel Youth Awards.” Ben-Raphael paid tribute to the IYA staff and the dedication of the youth leaders. She also thanked philanthropist Michael Gross for his generosity and for all the moral support and mentoring he has given her throughout the years.
■ THE EXTREMELY sociable Gould and his wife Celia also hosted a Purim party at the residence, not only to celebrate the deliverance of the Jews of Shushan, but also to celebrate the countdown to London 2012.
Even the British-style drizzle failed to dampen the enthusiasm for the upcoming Olympics. Among the guests were MKs Yoel Hasson and Robert Ilatov, cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser and Labor Party secretary-general Hilik Bar, along with several other political figures, businesspeople and media representatives.
Favorite costumes among the 250 guests were tennis togs and football uniforms.
Gould came as international football star Yossi Benayoun, while his wife, who is due to give birth in the first week of April, came as an Olympic Gold Medal.
■ THE JERUSALEM Post this week bid farewell to its environmental issues reporter Ehud Zion Waldoks, who is embarking on another sphere of communications after six-and-ahalf years. Waldoks doubted that he would have received the experience and opportunities that were given to him at the Post elsewhere.
He was also proud of the fact that he had been given the leeway to turn the environment beat into a full-time beat.
■ PRIOR TO coming home from Japan last week, Nathalie Eldan became something of a media star. Electronic and print media journalists were busy interviewing whichever Israelis they could find, and Eldan found herself talking to a series of reporters. Her parents heard her on radio by chance. Last week, she finally yielded to family pressures and arrived in time for a combined birthday party with her sister Karin, who would not have felt in much of a festive mood had Nathalie remained in Japan.
■ MK AND former journalist Uri Orbach was a panelist last week at a discussion on whether religious journalists have dual loyalties – to the ethics of the profession and to the values that they learned at home.
Orbach noted that no one asks a religious banker or lawyer about dual loyalties. Only journalists are asked this question, he said.
While some of his fellow panelists were critical of left-wing journalists who seem to wield greater influence than those on the right, Orbach contended they don’t sit around all day scheming about how to tear down religious ideologies. “It’s just that they come from a different mind-set,” he said. If the right had greater media prominence, he observed, “our objectivity would be in a different direction.”
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