Grapevine: Together in joy and in sorrow

Rosh Hashana toast hosted by US Ambassador Dan Shapiro is overshadowed by the terrorist attack and murder in Libya .

Dan Shapiro 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Dan Shapiro 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Rosh Hashana toast hosted by US Ambassador Dan Shapiro and his wife, Julie, at their residence was overshadowed by the terrorist attack and murder in Libya of US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three members of his consular staff.
In the course of his diplomatic career, Stevens, prior to being elevated to the rank of ambassador, had also served in Israel. In an address which he delivered mainly in Hebrew, Shapiro asked his guests to stand for a minute’s silence for his deceased colleagues.
Although he built his address around Rosh Hashana and Succot, Shapiro’s main focus was on the strength of relations between the United States and Israel, which, he noted, have stood by one another in good times and bad. It is easier to deal with difficult moments when surrounded by friends, said Shapiro, noting that the previous day, September 11, had also been a difficult day. The Americans, in their pain and sorrow, had been joined by Israelis who, through own suffering, “understand what we suffered,” said Shapiro.
Noting that Succot is a festival of hospitality in which the visitor is made so welcome in the succa that he or she begins to feel like a member of the family, Shapiro said that this was the kind of feeling that he, his wife and their three daughters have experienced from all sectors of society in Israel. Wherever they went in any part of the country, they were made to feel at home – and they intend to make all their guests feel at home in their succa on the grounds of the residence.
Turning to the relationship between Israel and the US, Shapiro said that as he looked back over the past year, he could see that the ties are strong “not just between governments but between people.” Students from both countries study together in the US and in Israel. There is success in joint ventures in business, research and cultural institutions; and doctors in both countries are learning from each other and working together to find a cure for cancer.
There is strong cooperation on the intelligence and diplomatic fronts, and the US continues to give its unqualified support to the Iron Dome anti-missile system. Both countries are determined to overcome terror and to build even stronger ties based on common values of freedom and democracy. America remains committed to the safety and security of Israel, said Shapiro, and will help Israel against any threat, especially that of a nuclear Iran. “We will not allow that threat to become a reality,” he pledged.
Raising his glass, he sent good wishes for the New Year to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, members of Knesset and the people of Israel, wishing them all “a year of peace and security.”
Embassy staff mingled with the guests to ensure that everyone was having a good time. Spotted in the crowd were Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, government ministers Uzi Landau and Ehud Barak, former government minister Rabbi Michael Melchior, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, Governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer, director of the Peres Peace Center Ido Sharir, the prime minister’s personal envoy Itzhak Molcho model business tycoon Stef Wertheimer and former Israel ambassadors to the US Moshe Arens (who is also a former government minister) and Sallai Meridor.
The diplomats from other countries didn’t seem to mind that Shapiro had chosen to speak in Hebrew. They all positioned themselves next to Hebrew speakers, who translated for them.
■ AMONG THE highlights of the 20th-anniversary celebrations of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Israel was the project launched by China Radio International to enhance the strong ties that have been flourishing between the two countries. Conscious of the work in diplomatic bridgebuilding by the Association of former China Residents in Israel and the Israel China Friendship Society, which were both founded by the late Teddy Kaufman, who was born in Harbin in September 1924 and died in Israel in June this year, CRI some eight months ago launched a short story contest wherein it invited Israeli Jews who had lived in China or their descendants to enter the “My Chinese Experience” contest by writing the history of their families in China for publication on CRI’s Hebrew website.
CRI, which was established in 1941 to foster mutual understanding between China and other countries of the world, introduced its online service toward the end of the 1990s and now broadcasts in 61 languages, including Hebrew. CRI launched its Hebrew website three years ago to familiarize Hebrew-speaking web surfers with current events in China as they happen, as well as to allow them to virtually tour China and familiarize themselves with its scenic geography.
Winners of the short story competition were taken to China by CRI and were introduced to the more tangible history of Jewish China. At a special event the Renaissance Hotel in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, members of the Chinese Embassy, CRI, Israel’s Foreign Ministry, the Knesset, the Israel China Friendship Society and the Association of Former China Residents in Israel came together to mark the conclusion of the project and the opening of a CRI Bureau in Israel. Aviva Oren, who led the Israeli group that was taken to China as the guests of CRI, spoke in emotional terms about learning about her father, Boris Zacks, who died in Israel when she was an infant. She felt that he was with her in Harbin and Shanghai, especially when she visited the Jewish cemetery in Harbin, where she found the graves of members of her family.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert, whose parents were born in Harbin and whose grandfather is buried there, was unable to attend, but in a videotaped message he described Harbin, which he visited both as deputy prime minister and as prime minister, as his second home.
MK Dalia Itzik, who heads the Israel China Parliamentary Friendship Association and just returned from her fourth trip to China, said that considering how close the bonds between the two countries have become, she can’t help wondering why the leaders of both sides waited so long to establish formal ties. If she were prime minister, she said, she would appoint a minister for China affairs in her government.
Speeches made in Hebrew were translated into Chinese and those made in Chinese were translated into Hebrew by Amit Elazar, an Israeli who studied Chinese at Tel Aviv University and is now stationed in Beijing, where he is the chief editor and translator at CRI, which is part of the China International Broadcasting Network.
“How I envy you,” said Itzik to Elazar as he moved seamlessly from one language to the other.
Ma Weigong, the deputy head of CRI, recalled having visited Israel almost 20 years ago and interviewing then-foreign minister Shimon Peres, who was waiting at Ben-Gurion Airport to receive his Chinese counterpart.
Ma Weigong said that he was happy to be in Israel again and made a presentation to Ran Weinerman, the deputy chairman of the Association of Former China Residents in Israel. The presentation, in tribute to the work of Teddy Kaufman, will be forwarded to the Kaufman family.
Weinerman spoke of how Kaufman had made contact with former Jewish residents of China in different parts of the world and had organized reunions so as to facilitate reminiscences and to keep the legacy alive.
Chinese Ambassador Gao Yanping, who was lauded by Itzik for the energy that she has put into enhancing relations, said that she was very glad to see both old and new friends of China who had been involved in CRI’s ambitious project, which she considered to have great significance. During the World War II, she noted, China had opened its doors to Jews fleeing the scourge of Nazism when almost all other doors were closed. At a point in history when the Chinese were also suffering, Jews and Chinese could identify with each other and support each other, she said. Today, when relations between China and Israel are constantly advancing, a project such CBI’s can helped to bring the countries even closer, as there has been a lot of Chinese interest in the stories of the Jews of China, she said.
The ambassador also described her own visits to places in China where Jews once lived.
■ Singer David D’Or who has toured China extensively, said that he was not surprised that the Chinese had been so helpful and welcoming to the Jews. Music is the language of the heart, he said. He had met beautiful people wherever he went in China, and had been most gratified by their understanding of Jewish music.
British Ambassador Matthew Gould returned from vacation with his wife, Celia, and infant daughter Rachel in time to celebrate the Jewish holidays in Israel. He says that Rachel adored Italy.
Gould, who is an expert swimmer, is also keen for tiny Rachel to follow suit and supervised her floating in Italy. She hasn’t quite mastered the art of swimming, he explained, because she’s not sure what to do with her legs.
Gould and his wife will host a summer charity fair at their Residence in Ramat Gan today, September 14, under the sponsorship of Dan Hotels.
The embassy partnered with more than 20 charities to mark the end of summer in a typically British outdoor charity fair.
The charities range from women’s shelters to a Holocaust survivors’ club, therapeutic riding center and Ohr Simcha boarding school. The organizations will be selling their various products, including woven baskets and rugs, baked goods, olive oil, papier- mâché art, jewelry, ceramics and more, with all the profits going to charity. The sunny weather and the positive ambience augur for a funpacked day for all.
Gould said that he and his wife were thrilled to host this particular event and thereby introduce a British tradition to Israel. “The charities we have invited make an enormous difference in their communities. The fair is a way of celebrating their work and connecting them with the international community,” he said enthusiastically.
There will also be entertainment provided by some of the organizations; Al Manar has promised to bring an Oud player, and a band of talented teenagers from Kibbutz Eshbal will also be displaying their musical talents.
■ IN NETIVOT, Rabbi Yaacov Ifergan, also known as the X-Ray, oversaw the distribution by the Yad Yehudit Foundation of food packages to thousands of needy families, including single parents, senior citizens and lone soldiers.
The foundation, which is headed by Ifergan, recruited leading businesspeople from Israel and the Jewish world as well as social welfare agencies and local authorities to join in the effort to ensure that no one in Israel goes hungry during the holiday. The food packages included fish, eggs, poultry, vegetables, fruit, wine, cakes and candies, which were packaged by hundreds of volunteers from all parts of the country and from various sectors of society.
■ MEANWHILE, TEL Aviv Hilton hotel management and staff packed and delivered more than 300 boxes containing basic products for the Rosh Hashana dinner. Hilton Tel Aviv managers, housekeeping maids, restaurant waiters, kitchen cooks, bellboys and members of numerous departments throughout the hotel collected endless bottles of oil, containers of spaghetti, jars of honey and packages of rice and flour. The products delivered to the Neshot Hauma organization, as well as to Chabad and Breslov associations which will distributes the packages to families in need.