THE INBAL Hotel has hosted many famous international personalities such as heads of state, political figures, entertainers and leaders of the business world, but seldom has there been as much excitement as there was with the arrival on Saturday of members of the Barcelona Football Club. The hotel’s general manager, Bruno De Schuyter, was proud to host the team on what many people termed a historic visit, though it would have been more historic according to comments from both political and sporting circles had there been a match against a mixed Israeli- Palestinian team.Although the soccer players stayed at the hotel for only one night, management went out of its way to accede to all requests and to ensure a warm welcome. The hotel’s special arrangements on behalf of the team included king-size mattresses, which may have to become the norm in all hotels, as the younger adult generation worldwide is considerably taller than its predecessors, and athletes are generally taller still. One of the special requests was that no junk food or cookies be placed in the players’ rooms but only highquality natural nutritious foods, primarily fruit. A hundred rooms were put aside for the Barca delegation, who had to wade through hordes of fans who congregated in the lobby to catch a glimpse of their favorite soccer stars and ask for autographs.The Barca stars held training sessions with Palestinian soccer players in Dura on Saturday and Israeli soccer players at the Bloomfield Stadium in Jaffa on Sunday, with President Shimon Peres kicking the ball to soccer forward Lionel Messi and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, proving that whatever the PM’s troubles may be in the cabinet, he can do just fine on the field. Netanyahu has often said that one of his favorite memories of his childhood is of his father playing soccer with him and his two brothers.AN EVENT organized last week at Binyenei Ha’uma with the aim of helping new immigrants with matters of employment, finance, real estate, health care, education, communication, car purchase, insurance and much more, attracted a huge crowd of mainly Orthodox immigrants, ranging from national religious to haredi. It is arguable as to whether there have ever been so many baby carriages on the premises at any given time. What appeared to be a favorite pastime of many of the visitors was to see how many different tote bags they could collect from the various stands where advisers and brochures on a huge range of subjects were readily available. Although English was heard more than French, there was a huge French representation.One glimpse at the people running the booths and display centers dispelled the myth that haredim don’t work. A lot of them certainly do, and a large area that was taken up by a major Jerusalem-based automobile retailer was manned entirely by haredim. There was also a fashion show with dresses and modest swimwear by Sea Secret, whose website does not reveal the name of the owner/designer but whose styles bear a remarkable resemblance to those of Marsea, which is run by Marci Rapp, who is originally from Toronto.Also shown was bridal wear from Julie Cohen’s Cala concept store on Jaffa Road. The Sea Secret offerings were super classic with a touch of chic. Although they conformed to all the religious rules of modesty, including sleeves below the elbows, the dresses would not look out of place at any formal or informal event. The wedding outfits were for the most part very romantic, with masses of fabric in the bouffant skirts. Most of the necklines were high, and all the sleeves, both fitted and flowing, extended to the wrist. Cohen proved that she can also design for the more flashy and immodest bride by featuring a couple of gowns with low-cut, heart-shaped necklines. She also showed some gorgeous lace-trimmed long veils.There were only two problems. There were no dressing rooms, so the models had to change outfits behind a screen, which was not really conducive to bridal wear. The other was that although the models were tall, they were not quite tall enough for the very long gowns and had trouble not stepping on the hems as they paraded along the catwalk. CELEBRITIES FROM Israel’s entertainment industry frequently offer their services gratis for children who are ill or have special needs. Sometimes the entertainers appear in benefit concerts; other times, they visit children in hospitals or summer camps and play with them and perform for them.It is less common for an international star from abroad to visit an Israeli hospital for the purpose of entertaining sick children. But David Serero, a charismatic French opera singer whose repertoire ranges from classic opera to Broadway, with several other genres that he can summon up spontaneously, is the president of Young Hadassah France in Paris. Therefore, when he came for a singing engagement to Israel, it was natural that he should utilize his talents at Hadassah University Medical Center. Last month, he also gave stirring renditions of the French and Israeli national anthems at the annual Bastille Day reception hosted by French Ambassador Christophe Bigot.Serero, who comes from a traditional Jewish family, is the product of a “mixed” marriage. His Sephardi father comes from Morocco and his Ashkenazi mother from Israel, granting him a broad Jewish cultural heritage. He has appeared in major concert halls in Paris, London, Moscow and New York, plus a host of other cities.Serero has particular empathy for children who are sick or have special needs, because up to the age of 11 he was deaf, and between the ages of 11 and 20 he underwent numerous surgical procedures.As an infant, he had developed an infection that robbed him of his hearing, and it took several years before suitable antibiotics to treat his malady were discovered. Thankfully, his hearing has been fully restored.Serero also plays the piano, which for many years he could not hear but could feel through its vibrations.ALTHOUGH HE was born and raised in Tel Aviv, Yotam Halperin, one of three stars who are at the forefront of the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team, declared that he was now “100 percent Jerusalem.” Halperin, an international hoopster who has played with various European teams, has signed a three-year contract with Hapoel Jerusalem. He told reporters this week that before returning to Israel, after playing for a year with Bayern Munich and before that with Spartak St. Petersburg, he really had no idea which way the wind would blow for him.Halperin played basketball with Maccabi Tel Aviv Juniors from the age of eight. When he joined the senior team after finishing high school, he spent most of his time warming the bench, which was very frustrating. Then in 2005, he received an offer from Union Olimpija Ljubljana and proved to be one of the team’s star players, helping it to win the Slovenian National Cup and the Slovenian Championship. He has also played on the Israel national team. After coming home and surveying the basketball scene, he opted to sign up with Hapoel Jerusalem because he believed in its potential.WHILE ON the subject of Hapoel Jerusalem, part owner of the team, New York Knicks player Amar’e Stoudemire, who recently discovered his Jewish roots and decided to convert, explored aspects of his Jewish background during the time he spent in Israel.Stoudemire, who is in the process of converting to Judaism, came to Israel as an assistant coach for the Canadian basketball team competing in the Maccabiah Games. He has changed his first name to Yehoshafat, which is going to be even more difficult for sportscasters to pronounce than his original name.When Stoudemire arrived in Israel last month and met with President Shimon Peres, the president invited him to join the Israel national team. At that time, Stoudemire just smiled politely and didn’t say yes or no. Later, when he was asked by a reporter whether he would be playing for Hapoel Jerusalem, he said he didn’t know.Meanwhile, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has reported that he is seriously considering applying for Israeli citizenship. According to the report, Stoudemire’s agent, Happy Walters, told New York Magazine that Stoudemire has already applied for citizenship.Stoudemire, who says he is not a religious person, does observe several Jewish rituals. He wore a kippa and a prayer shawl at his wedding last year, he studies Torah, he observes the High Holy Days and is in frequent contact with New York rabbis.This week, on his last day in Israel, he and his family visited Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv at the invitation of the museum’s director, Irit Admoni Perlman, and all were very interested in viewing the ongoing story of the Jewish People as presented there.