Grapevine: Italian empathy

Grasso promised to raise his voice all over Italy, with the aim of gaining support for the safe return of the abducted youngsters.

Carving fruit at Thai Embassy event, June 24, 2014.  (photo credit: NATHAN WISE)
Carving fruit at Thai Embassy event, June 24, 2014.
(photo credit: NATHAN WISE)
The amazing and admirable attitudes of the families of the three kidnapped teenagers, Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, have touched the hearts of Israelis and non-Israelis from all walks of life, including people who have little in common with them ideologically or religiously.
The grace with which they conduct themselves, their focus on thanking everyone and anyone who helps, and their refusal to cast blame has done more to enhance the image of the national-religious camp than any public relations campaign could achieve. They are simply good people, sustained by faith and currently, by each other. “One family” stops being a cliché and evolves into a reality, when one sees the three mothers together.
The families have received messages and visits from high-ranking officials, MKs, diplomats, dignitaries from abroad and ordinary rank-and-file Israelis. Among the diplomats who visited them was Italian Senate President Pietro Grasso who, accompanied by his wife and Italian Ambassador Francesco Maria Talo, visited the Yifrach family in Elad and said that in order to achieve peace in the Middle East, it was essential for common sense to prevail and the values of life and respect for all to be upheld.
Grasso and his wife can empathize completely with the families of the missing yeshiva students, because some years ago, there was an attempt by the Sicilian Mafia to kidnap their son. Fortunately, the plan was intercepted and the would-be perpetrators were arrested. However, the possibility of a less happy scenario continues to haunt them.
Grasso promised to raise his voice all over Italy, with the aim of gaining support for the safe return of the abducted youngsters.
■ COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER Gilad Erdan is not backward in coming forward.
At the poolside reception at the Tel Aviv Hilton to mark the joint issue by the Israeli and Thai philatelic services of a stamp that celebrates 60 years of diplomatic relations and friendship between the two countries, he listed areas of cooperation such as agriculture, water management, advanced technology, science and medicine, and spoke of his desire to include communications technology and posts in the list.
“For that I will need an invitation to come to Thailand,” he said. It would not be his first visit. Erdan revealed that when he completed his army service 22 years ago, like many young Israeli backpackers he headed for Thailand, and spent almost six months exploring what he said was his favorite country after Israel.
Erdan is known to be a keen surfer, but that is not his only athletic ability. When called to the stage, he ignored the stairs and literally bounded from the ground to the dais in a single leap.
Thai Ambassador Jukr Boon-Long was proud of the long friendship his country has enjoyed with Israel; Thailand was the second Asian country after Japan to establish diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. Noting that Israel was only in its sixth year of statehood at the time, Boon-Long said Thailand was “a childhood friend of Israel’s,” and that he was pleased some 140,000 Israelis visit Thailand each year.
The close relations between the countries have been demonstrated by high-level visitors in both directions, including visits to Israel by members of the Thai royal family. In addition, there have been many Thai students in Israel, and Thai workers have proved to be a great asset to the economy, especially in the sphere of agriculture.
The commemorative stamp designed by Rinat Gilboa features two traditional fruits: the Thai mangosteen, which as of yet does not grow in Israel, and the Israeli pomegranate. A shipment of mangosteen, a most delicious and aesthetically beautiful, soft, sweet and juicy fruit, was flown in for the occasion.
The Thai buffet was varied and more than plentiful. There was also Thai Singha beer, and as a cultural treat, a group of Thai musicians were flown in to play ancient Thai musical instruments for the guests. A display of Thai handicrafts included a demonstration of spinning silk, plus a selection of finished products by way of Thai silk scarves; an exhibition of colorful parasols, on which the names of those who had acquired them were written as a sign of both ownership and friendship; and, of course, the inevitable Thai fruit sculptures that Israelis never cease to admire.
The ambassador’s wife, Kamolrat, who always looks as if she just stepped out of the pages of Vogue, wore a superbly cut, white silk, form-fitting Thai dress with silver accessories, and scurried among the guests making sure that everyone was enjoying themselves, urging them to sample the Thai beer and cuisine.
■ SLOVENIA’S RELATIONS with Israel are of somewhat shorter duration – only 22 years – but nonetheless important, in that they were established only 10 months after Slovenia gained independence in June 1991. Ambassador Alenka Suhadolnik, whose residence faces the sea in Herzliya Pituah and is diagonally opposite the Daniel Hotel, hosted her country’s National Day on the same evening as her Thai colleague hosted the reception for the unveiling of the 60th-anniversary stamp.
Although there were also musicians at her reception, there was no government representative, to the surprise of many of the guests. It was not the first time there was no government minister at a National Day reception hosted by one ambassador or another.
Henri Etoundi Essomba, the ambassador of Cameroon and dean of the Diplomatic Corps, was angry. The minister who was supposed to attend the Cameroon celebrations a few weeks ago had not shown up – supposedly because he had been summoned to an emergency meeting of the government. In some other cases, the Foreign Ministry had encountered difficulty in finding someone among the ministers who was willing to perform the task. Occasionally, an ambassador prefers informality and would rather not have a government minister attend.
Essomba said he protests the fact that his colleagues are not able to have someone representing the government at their National Day celebrations. It’s not a matter of begging for someone, he said, but simply diplomacy. “What is the meaning of relations with other countries if you can’t send a representative?” he declared.
On this particular occasion, it transpired afterwards that his wrath had been misplaced. According to Suhadolnik, she had not asked for a representative and by the time the ministry offered to find one, it was a little late in the day. “I just wanted us to have fun,” she said, explaining that she did not want to get too bogged down in formalities.
She was actually much more pleased by the presence of Nobel Prize laureate and former presidential candidate Prof. Dan Shechtman, who had been one of the keynote speakers in Slovenia at a conference on Israel’s Day of Innovation, and had spoken on technological entrepreneurship.
Suhadolnik was also pleased that Israelis are increasingly discovering the beauty and hospitality of her country, and that Israeli tourism to her country has been increasing at the rate of 30 percent per annum.
She was likewise very excited about a joint project undertaken by students of the WIZO college in Haifa and architecture students from the University of Ljublijana, in which each group learned everything there is to know about the workings of an embassy. The Israeli students then designed what may be a future Israeli Embassy in Ljublijana, with the Slovenians designing what may be a future Slovenian Embassy in Tel Aviv. Copies of the plans with explanations were available for guests to see.
■ BELGIAN AMBASSADOR John Cornet d’Elzius on Thursday hosted the launch of the Belgian-Israeli Business Club at his residence in Herzliya Pituah.
The club will give Israelis additional opportunities to engage with internationally operating professionals and innovative entrepreneurs during receptions and special events, he said. It will bring together like-minded business leaders, both on- and off-line, and will also put Israeli members in close contact with the well-connected commercial sections of the Belgian Embassy.
Speakers at the event included Labor MK Erel Margalit, who prior to entering the Knesset was a most successful entrepreneur and the founder of Jerusalem Venture Partners, and Dr. Martin Hinoul of Belgium, a well-known author and entrepreneur who helped pioneer his country’s innovation policy.
■ IF YOU have noticed more young Chabad men in the streets this past week urging male passersby to don tefillin, and if on the last few Fridays you have seen more Chabad women distributing Shabbat candles, it was in advance of this coming Tuesday’s worldwide commemoration of the passing of the last of the seven Lubavitcher Rebbes, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, on the third day of Tamuz.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of his death, and as in previous years, tens of thousands of people are expected to hold a 24-hour vigil at the old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, New York, where he is buried. There will also be gatherings at Chabad synagogues, Chabad houses and private homes across Israel to disseminate the Rebbe’s teachings.
The Rebbe considered Shabbat candles to be a powerful weapon against assimilation, and in fact the Hebrew acronym for “holy Shabbat candles” (Nerot Shabbat Kodesh) is neshek, which means “weapon” in Hebrew. He believed that so long as the Shabbat candles were kindled, the flame of Judaism would continue to cast its light.
■ FOOD WRITER Sybil Kaplan, who also reports from Israel on other issues for American Jewish publications, will be taking on a different role next week when she appears as a narrator for Ballet Mink of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, at Beit Shmuel’s Hirsch Auditorium in Jerusalem. The lunchtime performance on July 4 and evening performance on July 5, under the heading of “TRANSIT(ION) Trilogy: Immigration, Transformation” comprise an epic ballet depicting Eastern European Jewry leaving Russia in the 1880s, coming to Ellis Island, and settling on the Lower East Side. The ballet moves forward to follow the artistic contributions of their descendants to mainstream American culture.
■ ISRAEL’S EXTRAORDINARY talents are not limited to hi-tech. It is incredible how many children are born with well-above-average musical talents. Some of these youngsters, who live in Israel’s northern periphery, are developing their talents through musicians of tomorrow under the pedagogic direction of Dr. Anna Rosnovsky, a former first violinist in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and cello teacher Leat Sabbah.
These young performers, known as Musicians of Tomorrow, have on more than one occasion been invited to tour abroad, and are now preparing for a return visit to England for a 10-day, eight-concert tour beginning in Manchester on July 1, followed by a music festival in Leeds, and then on to London for a series of performances in schools and private and public venues. The tour will culminate with a special concert hosted by Israel’s Ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub.
The first visit to England by the Musicians of Tomorrow was with Maestro Maxim Vengerov, a co-founder of the project.
■ SOME 70 OUT-OF-THE-BOX innovators in their 20s and 30s from around the world will run a non-athletic marathon in Nazareth next week, as they compete to invent prototypes of tools for people with disabilities using cutting- edge digital and 3D printing technology.
The Tikkun Olam Make-a-Thon (TOM) under the slogan “72 hours to make a better world,” will take place from June 29-July 1. Participants, who were selected from among more than 200 applicants worldwide, hail from Israel, the US, Argentina, Chile, India and Singapore.
Sponsored by Schusterman Connection Points, an offshoot of the Schusterman Foundation, TOM is an intensive international gathering of artists, engineers, designers and occupational therapists, who will produce working prototypes of products to help people with a range of disabilities, using digital fabrication tools including 3D printers, laser cutters and other rapid manufacturing equipment.
Working in a specially constructed laboratory called a “makerspace,” in the recently opened Nazareth Industrial Park founded by Israel’s leading industrialist Stef Wertheimer, these young inventors will create open-source tools that allow innovators all over the world to build on and enhance the models. The event is in line with Lynn Schusterman’s belief that young people hold the key to building a vibrant global Jewish future.