Grapevine: A diplomatic tour

US Ambassador Dan Shapiro sent Mimuna greetings in Hebrew on his Facebook page.

US Ambassador Dan Shapiro (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
US Ambassador Dan Shapiro
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
US AMBASSADOR Dan Shapiro sent Mimuna greetings in Hebrew on his Facebook page. The page is bilingual and includes a lot of talkbacks in both languages from the friends Shapiro has accumulated in the less than a year he and his wife, Julie Fisher, and their children have been in Israel.
In the week prior to Passover Shapiro and his wife were taken on a tour of Mea She’arim and other religious neighborhoods in Jerusalem by Matityahu Cheshin, a ninth-generation Jerusalemite who has been dubbed by diplomats as the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) “consul.” Cheshin makes a point of introducing diplomats to the lifestyle of the haredi community as well as to various haredi leaders.
He also invites diplomats to his succa in the Ramot neighborhood on Succot and has them dancing together with his haredi guests, who are usually a mix of Litvaks and hassidim. Shapiro’s Facebook page contains a delightful YouTube link which is a documentary of the visit to Mea She’arim and the Beit Israel neighborhoods, with Shapiro narrating. Talk about public diplomacy – this was it.
During the tour the ambassador and his wife were able to not only witness the hustle and bustle of pre-Passover preparations, but also to participate to a limited extent. The tour included a rooftop view of the Temple Mount from the great Synagogue of Breslov, which was as close as anyone could get prior to the Six Day War.
They also went on a walking tour of the self-sufficient, 120-year old Batei Ungarim (Hungarian Houses) enclave, and dropped into a local elementary school where very young children were being taught the alphabet and the four questions for the Seder night.
Shapiro had a great time with the youngsters and joined them in singing a Passover song. At a Mea She’arim matza bakery, the ambassador himself had a chance to hand grind some of the meal and to witness the thin dough shuffled in and out of the oven with lightning speed to prevent it from rising.
The tour also included the famous Lendner Halla Bakery, which is around 100 years old and where Shapiro and his wife had the pleasure of removing giant hallot from the oven which spelled out “USA.” The tour concluded at the Belz Great Synagogue, which stands out in splendor against the horizon as one traverses the highway leading to Jerusalem. Some Jerusalemites regard it as the model for the Third Temple. The huge house of prayer with its amazing acoustics can seat 6,000 people in its main sanctuary.
■ NOTWITHSTANDING ALL those nasty jokes about the negative relations between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, there are many cases in which mothers-in-law and daughters-inlaw enjoy extremely close relationships, as for instance Jerusalemites Ruth and Felice Friedson, who happen to be the best of friends and unabashed admirers of each other.
“I don’t think of her as a daughter-in-law; I think of her as a daughter,” says Ruth. For her part Felice Friedson can’t speak highly enough of her husband Michael’s mother. Thus when Ruth Friedson celebrated her 90th birthday last Saturday her son and daughter-in-law insisted on making a small afternoon tea in her honor. Although the guest of honor is a great cook and her recipes are frequently used by all branches of her family, this was one time that she was not allowed into the kitchen.
Felice, who in addition to her journalistic and artistic talents is a gourmet cook, prepared a feast that not only delighted the palate but also the eye with its riot of color and the overall presentation.
Ruth announced that she didn’t feel any different than when she was 80.
Still straight-backed and immaculately attired, she continues to volunteer for Bikur Cholim Hospital and for the League for Special Children. An accomplished pianist, she often gives recitals for fund-raisers for these and other causes. Her 23-year-old grandson Gavi Friedson, who had been designated to propose the toast in her honor, had to leave temporarily because he is on duty 24/7 as a volunteer paramedic for Hatzalah.
But he made it back to the party, saying that when he eventually finds the woman he wants to marry, she will be very much like his grandmother, whom he loves dearly, and who had been an inspiration to him all his life. It was her example that set him on the path of volunteerism, he said. Longevity apparently runs in Ruth Friedson’s family. She has a sister who is 94.