Grapevine: Of kings, princes and presidents

A royal day at the King David, comparing histories – and food – with Australia, and mourning the FPA’s founding chairman.

prince felipe_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
prince felipe_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
IT’S PAR for the course at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel to have heads of state and the occasional royal in the hotel at more or less the same time. But never during the 12 years that he has worked there has the hotel been in the position of having to prepare a luncheon attended by the prime minister and a dinner hosted by the president on the same day, said an exhausted Sheldon Ritz, the famous hotel’s deputy general manager and director of operations and diplomatic delegations. That’s what happened on Monday, when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu attended a luncheon hosted by Ambassador Andrew Standley, head of the European Union delegation for ambassadors of all EU countries, and in the evening President Shimon Peres hosted a dinner for Prince Felipe of Spain and his wife Princess Letizia.
Ritz was running back and forth among the kitchen, banquet rooms, lounge, lobby and private meeting rooms from the pre-dawn hours. The prime minister’s security detail arrived at 5 a.m. to ensure that all necessary precautions had been taken for the premier’s safety, and at 11 p.m., Ritz was still on the job, attending to the prince’s breakfast order and taking instructions from Yona Bartal, the deputy director-general of Beit Hanassi, on the president’s meals and meetings for the next two days. He managed to do it all without getting flustered, and refused to retire to his room while members of the prince’s entourage were still in the lounge, in case they needed him for something.
■ ALTHOUGH NOT many royals visit Israel, the Spanish royal family has a record of visiting the country since long before statehood, and each time choosing to stay at the King David. Felipe’s grandfather King Alfonso XIII stayed there soon after the hotel was built; his father King Juan Carlos stayed there in 1993.
■ NOTWITHSTANDING THE many dignitaries who attended – and who stood patiently in line to greet their royal highnesses and to shake hands with them – the person who unwittingly stole the show was Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, who came with his wife Miri Shafir. Navon, who was instrumental in the reconciliation between Spain and the Jewish people, was halfway down the line, and didn’t use his status to get ahead. However, once he did get to stand in front of the guests of honor, he launched into a brief conversation in Spanish, and then moved on to make room for the next person.
After the official speeches, Ahinoam Nini made a pretty welcome speech and sang two songs to the royals, after which Bartal led her to Navon’s table to sing “Happy Birthday.” Navon turned 90 last Saturday. Everyone stood up to salute the young nonagenarian with his full head of white hair, his straight back, his clear mind and his jovial demeanor. Navon, who was sitting opposite Peres, shook a finger of mock reproof at him, while Peres grinned like a Cheshire cat. When Navon, who doesn’t use a cane, was called on to make a speech, there were shouts for him to speak in Spanish, which he did unhesitatingly, talking about the gifts that God gave man. Afterward, guests came from all over the room to shake his hand and wish him well, and the prince rose from his table on the dais and came to embrace him.
Among those who came to greet their royal highnesses were Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who shook hands with the prince and bowed to the princess; Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who sat next to the prince at dinner and had an intense discussion with him; Apostolic Nuncio Antonio Franco; singer Yehoram Gaon, whose roots go back to ancient Spain and who, with his late brother Benny, established the Moshe David Gaon center for Ladino Studies at Ben-Gurion University in memory of their father; Standley, who was dining for the second time that day at the King David, albeit from a different menu; Ruth Cheshin, president of the Jerusalem Foundation; Dr. Bishara Bisharat, the medical director of Nazareth Hospital; Shay Doron, international basketball star and captain of Elitzur Ramle, which recently won the Eurocup Championship; and numerous diplomats, academics and businesspeople who all have relationships with Spain.
■ IN HIS speech, Peres called on Spain and the European Community to come out strongly against Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza targeting innocent Israeli civilians, and to put an end to this terrorism.
In response, Felipe said that Spain, in full cooperation with the European community, would continue to try to foster mutual understanding between the two sides. He noted that this year marked the 20th anniversary of the Madrid Peace Conference that “opened the doors to hope.” Peace will not come to the Middle East as a result of despair, but through a determined effort by Israel and the Arab States – especially between Israel and the Palestinians in a two-state solution that will guarantee peace and security for each, he said.
■ ONE OF the constant sponsors of events organized by the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce is Bank Hapoalim, whose representative, American-born Joel Rabinowitz, used to welcome Australian delegations to seminars and dinners hosted by the bank. Then he got sent to Australia to be Bank Hapoalim’s representative down under, and came to Israel last week as part of a 33-member trade mission.
Invited to give the vote of thanks following a reception and addresses at the Azrieli complex in Tel Aviv by Graham Bradley, president of the Business Council of Australia, and Paul O’Sullivan, CEO of Optus, Australia’s secondlargest telecommunications company, Rabinowitz said that he got a completely different perspective after crossing to the other side and that he was enjoying himself immensely. Looking at the similarities and differences between Australia and Israel, Bradley said both were relatively new countries with relatively small populations and driven largely by international immigration. More than a third of Australians are born outside the country or are the offspring of immigrants, he said. Among the differences was the fact that whereas Israel is short on both territory and natural resources, Australia is an abundant land, rich in minerals and natural energy endowments – but while Australia may be the lucky country, Israel is the start-up nation, he said.
O’Sullivan noted that people in international business could be forgiven for thinking that Israel was much larger in size than it really is, “because the Israelis are everywhere.” Every major conference in the world, he said, has Israeli representation.
Jerusalem lawyer Zalli Jaffe, who also attended the reception, had been in Australia two weeks earlier to address a Deutsche Bank seminar and is going back to Australia soon after Pessah. As vice president of Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, he invited the largely non-Jewish delegation to experience a Friday night service at the synagogue and then to join him for dinner at the David Citadel Hotel. He proved to be a gracious and witty host, giving interesting explanations for Jewish traditions, telling a lot of jokes and interspersing both with a little history. His guests were genuinely enthralled.
Rabinowitz was thrilled for another reason: He could introduce his family to his Aussie friends, especially his daughter Adi and her fiance Noam Bedein, who operates the media center in Sderot and who travels the world, including Australia, to create awareness of what Hamas is doing.
One of the guests, Cassandra Kelly, CEO of Pottinger – an independent financial and strategic adviser – was celebrating a birthday, and to her surprise, waiters brought out a yummy birthday cake with the appropriate inscription in chocolate frosting. Kelly, who often finds that people spell her first name incorrectly, exclaimed that she had to come all the way to Israel to have it spelled right. Everyone agreed that Israeli food was superior to Australian, but that there was too much of it. Heather Ridout, the CEO of the Australia Industry Group, drooled over the quality of fruit and vegetables, while Lisa Cronin of Optus wanted to know how Israelis could eat so much and remain thin. There was consensus from both Australians and Israelis that everything the Chamber of Commerce did ran smoothly because of the laid-back efficiency of its executive director, Paul Israel.
■ THE FACT that there has been no Turkish ambassador to Israel since the departure a year ago of Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, who was recalled after less than a year in office, does not mean that the residence of the ambassador is not put to use. There is still quite a large diplomatic representation at the Turkish Embassy, headed by the personable charge d’affaires Tolga Uncu, who on Friday, April 22, will host a children’s festival at the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Kfar Shmaryahu for children aged five to 12. In 1929, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, dedicated April 23 to children because they represent the future. Ever since, Turkey has celebrated this children’s day with all kinds of festivities. Because April 23 falls on Shabbat this year, Uncu has moved the festival up by a day.
■ VETERAN MEMBERS of the Foreign Press Association in Israel were saddened by the recent passing in Tel Aviv of their founding chairman, Francis Ofner, who was a diplomat, scholar, and journalist of the old school, an intellectual with an amazing fund of knowledge. He was Axel Springer’s man in Israel and his most respected confidante. He also wrote for the Christian Science Monitor, and his material was syndicated to some 200 newspapers around the globe. Ofner, who was 98 at the time of his death, worked almost until the end. What prompted him to found the FPA was the realization that regardless of their rivalries and differences, foreign correspondents working in Israel needed an association to represent them and safeguard their rights.
As a correspondent for the London Observer at the time, he interviewed David Ben-Gurion, who was strident in his criticism of Britain’s Anthony Eden for suggesting that Israel allow Egypt and Jordan a corridor through the Negev that would have blocked Israel’s outlet to the Red Sea. An official who had sat in on the interview subsequently spoke to Ofner and asked him to tone down Ben-Gurion’s remarks. Ofner refused on the grounds that he was not the prime minister’s censor. The official threatened to have him arrested.
Undeterred, Ofner sent the story intact. It made the front page under the headline “Israel Accuses Britain: ‘Buying Arab Friendship with our Dismemberment.’” The story was picked up by news agencies and leading Israeli papers. Ben-Gurion was asked in the Knesset whether he had been misquoted. The Old Man didn’t duck the issue. “I was correctly quoted. That’s what I said,” he replied, to the satisfaction of Ofner, who had been sitting in the press gallery and listening intently.
In 1957, Ofner began campaigning among his colleagues to join forces in the fight against bureaucracy, rather than each of them trying to fight it on their own. That was the genesis of the FPA, whose inaugural luncheon at the Armon Hotel on the Tel Aviv beachfront was attended by 32 journalists and addressed by Peres, who has frequently spoken to the FPA over the years. Ofner was elected founding chairman and held the post for two years.
Like many of the journalists who worked in Israel in its early years, Ofner was of European birth. He was born in 1913 in the erstwhile Hungarian town of Ujvidék, and studied law in Zagreb, Besançon and Lausanne.While at university, he engaged in anti-Nazi activities, but when the Gestapo came to arrest him, he was fortunately not at home.
In 1942, he fled from Hungary to Turkey, where he was hired by the US Office of War Information as the Balkan Press liaison officer. Once the war was over, he headed for what was then Palestine, which in 1945 became his home base, though he did do a lot of traveling as a roving reporter in an era of typewriters and telexes and long waits for the processing of international phone calls. Today, he could have sent his story from a cellular phone with a built-in keyboard.
■ AFTER NEARLY quarter of a century at The Jerusalem Post, diligent copy editor Dave Gross reached retirement age. Many members of staff gathered to wish him well in the next stage of his life. Gross admitted that he didn’t know what he was going to do next, though he would return briefly to the US to visit his 88-year-old mother. If the Post is still in need of a copy editor in six months’ time, he said, they can give him a call.
■ STOP ANYONE anywhere and ask them what Manpower does, and in the overwhelming majority of cases among those who’ve heard of this international enterprise, the answer will be that it specializes in matching human resources with job vacancies. Actually it does a lot more than that. Manpower Israel has a division called Manpower Care that runs protected living retirement homes for senior citizens and also cares for people with special needs. This is the fifth consecutive year in which it is providing a free Seder in its Motza Illit facility for senior citizens who have no immediate family, or who are cut off from their families, and may also be in dire financial straits.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of elderly people who spend Seder night alone,” says Manpower Care director Michal Dan Harel, at whose initiative the Seder for seniors is held at Manpower’s Maon Harofe Neve Amit, in Motza Illit, just outside Jerusalem. The hospitality is not limited to Seder night, but includes the intermediate days of Pessah, during which they are given meals and medical supervision and have an opportunity to interact with the residents and to participate in all the activities of Maon Harofe.
“We’re very pleased to be able to offer lonely seniors the opportunity to escape from their solitude and isolation and to make new friends,” says Dan Harel. All the activities that are available to them throughout the year are free of charge. To find out more, contact the Motza branch at (02) 534-7198, the Ramat Gan branch at (03) 575-8372 or the Haifa branch at (04) 822-8132.
■ “HOW WILL Oprah find me?” The question is posed half in jest by Anne Kleinberg, a New York transplant and successful cookbook writer and restaurant reviewer. Kleinberg, an interior decorator by training who lives in a gorgeous house in Caesarea that she and her husband Oded designed, spent the best part of four years writing and rewriting her first novel, Menopause in Manhattan. A Bette Midler-type character who is both shrewd and funny, with amazing entrepreneurial skills – not to mention a talent with words – Kleinberg also knows a thing or two about marketing, and has had a couple of highly successful book launches. She organized the first one herself at the Boccaccio restaurant in Tel Aviv, which is where she and her husband met on a blind date some 17-and-a-half years ago, and which also gets a mention in the novel. Proprietor Nizza Ben-Shalom has become part of the couple’s extended family, and every time they have something to celebrate outside of their home, they choose Boccaccio.
The second launch, hosted by ESRA (the English Speaking Residents Association), was beneficial to both the organization and Kleinberg, and in honor of her origins and the setting of the book, ESRA decided to hold a New York-style brunch at the Carmel Bistro adjacent to the Carmel Winery in Zichron Ya’acov. The bagels were not exactly New York bagels, but the event, with some 70 people in attendance, proved to be a resounding success.
On Wednesday night, a friend, Eve Black, is hosting a book-signing party for Kleinberg. Menopause in Manhattan, which illustrates that life passes by only if you let it and that it’s never too late to follow a dream or to grab ambition by the horns, is a self-published volume – not because Kleinberg was afraid of being rejected by big name publishers, but because once she’d finished writing, she was impatient to see the product in print and very much wanted to display it at the recent Jerusalem International Book Fair. Her application was late, but the fair organizers accepted it.
The US Cultural Division agreed to exhibit it on its stand, as did Israel’s premier bookseller Steimatzky, which subsequently took several copies for its stores. Better still, they’ve put in repeat orders, because the book, the cover of which was designed by world-renowned pop artist Charles Fazzino, is selling quite well. At the Boccaccio launch, Kleinberg related how the concept for the book was born, and paid special tribute to Karine Wagamakers, who edited the novel throughout its many rewrites, made suggestions about how to build up the characters, mercilessly slashed superfluous verbosity, and through it all remained a close friend.
Among the friends who came to share in Kleinberg’s moment of glory were artist Sali Ariel, along with Nida Degutiene, wife of the Lithuanian ambassador; Lilla Madaras, wife of the Hungarian ambassador; Patty Willis, who has been nominated as the next president of the International Women’s Club; Naomi Furman, a past president of the IWC; Dutch author and historian Wally de Lang Lynn; George Apple; Anna-Maijia; Joe Oren; Aml Bisharat Hana; Eman Bisharat Baransi; Nimrod Litvak; Veronique Shenkar; Mary-Clare Adam, a former honorary consul for Papua New Guinea; Liliane Avidor, a US Embassy employee; Wagamakers; and Black. Now that she’s on a roll, Kleinberg will be back temporarily in the Big Apple next month – in quest not only of Oprah, but also of an American publisher.
■ IN TANDEM with memorial ceremonies in Poland on Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the tragic air crash near Smolensk, Russia, on April 10, 2010, that took the lives of Polish president Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria and 94 others, including high-ranking government and military officials, a well-attended memorial service for all the victims was conducted in Polish on Sunday evening by Father Apolinary Szwed at St. Peter’s Church in Jaffa, the main house of worship for Israel’s Polish Catholic community.
The service was attended by members of the Polish Embassy, including Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, Consul Piotr Starzynski and defense attaché Col. Ireneusz Drazyk, who in the hushed atmosphere of the church read out the names of all the victims. Kaczynski was one of the architects of Polish-Jewish reconciliation and was a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people.
■ JEWISH AGENCY Chairman Natan Sharansky and his wife Avital were recently in Argentina, where they were honored by Taglit-Birthright Israel and the World Jewish Congress at a Buenos Aires luncheon hosted by Eduardo Elsztain, president of Taglit- Birthright in Argentina. Elsztain praised Sharansky’s outreach campaign toward Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora, and noted that Sharansky’s personal story was a source of inspiration for Taglit-Birthright and for all young Jewish adults. Sharansky in turn praised the organization for its work in reinforcing Jewish identity and support for Israel. The Sharanskys met with Taglit-Birthright alumni Jonathan Cohen Lozie, 31, Valeria Felder, 23, Victoria Akerman , 27, Florencia Storch, 22, Matías Dobzsewicz, 23, Maximiliano Grosman, 35, and Matías Schvatrs, 30, who took them on a tour of Buenos Aires that included the famed Plaza de Mayo, the Casa Rosada, the Cabildo where Argentina’s independence was declared, and the site of the old Israeli Embassy that was the target of a terrorist attack in 1992.