AFTER A long hiatus that featured a significant downturn in tourism caused by travel restrictions resulting from the pandemic, Ben-Gurion Airport is once again overcrowded with incoming and outgoing travelers, and is ironically short of staff to handle them. Hotels, which were on the brink of disaster for lack of occupancy, are beginning to fill up again for Passover.
In the interim, several new hotels have opened, with investors confident that once life returns to normal, there will be surge of incoming tourism – especially to Jerusalem, which is visited by the overwhelming majority of tourists, particularly those of the three monotheistic faiths, each of which has several important holy sites in the capital.
When a new luxury hotel opens – particularly if its construction was the cause of controversy, as in the case of the German Colony’s Orient Hotel, which rook four years to build and was officially opened in July 2017 – everyone flocks to it. Local residents were afraid that it would spoil the character of the neighborhood. But the owner and the architect took note of the various objections and set the hotel back from Emek Refaim Street, which is the main road, and made sure that the exterior harmonized with the architectural landscape.
But it’s not so easy for the new manager of a veteran hotel, which has gone through different ownerships, managements and name changes. Sheldon Ritz – who spent 19 years at the King David, rising through the ranks to become chief of operations and the senior member of staff, who took care of the visits of heads of state and other foreign dignitaries – was appointed general manager of the VERT Jerusalem hotel during the height of the coronavirus. The hotel, previously known as the Crowne Plaza, and before that as the Hilton, had been downsized to 138 rooms and suites.
In his previous job, Ritz had close dealings with the Foreign Ministry and with almost all the embassies. He developed a strong reputation for service, efficiency and flexibility, with a phenomenal memory for detail, personal likes and dislikes, names and rankings.
The upshot is that he’s already hosted heads of state, international conferences, and, best of all, the hotel will be almost full for the holiday period. This week, the trilateral summit on energy, with the participation of ministers of energy from Greece and Cyprus, took place at the hotel. The ministers arrived the night before and stayed at the hotel, where they were later joined by their Israeli counterpart. At the same time, the hotel hosted the information technology minister from Estonia.
Aside from all of Ritz’s attributes, the hotel is conveniently located near the entrance to the city. With all the construction that’s going on and the ever increasing traffic congestion that has resulted from closure of roads bordering certain construction sites, a lot of visitors, if they don’t need to go to the other side of town, prefer to stay at the VERT or any other hotel within easy walking distance of the train station and central bus terminal.
■ POLITICIANS ARE reputed to have the hides of elephants – a very necessary requirement for the number of insults to which they are subjected in their careers. But politicians are human, too, and can give way to emotion, just like the rest of us.
Any television viewer watching the pro-Netanyahu rally at the government complex in Jerusalem on Wednesday of last week, could not help but notice the kaleidoscope of expressions on Benjamin Netanyahu’s face. After dozens of anti-Bibi mega demonstrations around the country that led to his leaving the Prime Minister’s Office and the house on the corner of Smolenskin and Balfour streets, which has stood empty ever since, Netanyahu was almost overcome by the sight of so many supporters bearing placards with his portrait.
Great orator that he is, Netanyahu was not at his best that night. He had a running nose, a cough and a frog in his throat, which necessitated frequent sips of water – straight from the bottle. Nonetheless, he could not help but feel elated at the sound of the cheering crowd, which came with posters and national flags. To anyone who may have been unaware of what was happening, it looked as if Independence Day or Jerusalem Day had come early.
■ ELSEWHERE IN the city, in Teddy Stadium, some 30,000 people, mostly Chabadniks, were celebrating the 120th anniversary of the birth of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The event, which was heralded as the largest gathering anywhere in the world of Young Chabad, was used to launch a Jewish education campaign.
The Rebbe set great store by education, possibly in the realization that even if anyone strayed from the path, but had been well educated, the knowledge would stay with him, though he was no longer observant. This is obvious in one of the well-known journalists in a national Israeli newspaper, who comes from a religious background, but has chosen a different path. Nonetheless, because of his religious education, when praising, criticizing or simply clarifying by quoting from religious texts, it is obvious that he knows his Judaism.
Chabad organizers had planned the event for a long time, but to quote the English adaptation of the famous line by Scottish poet Robert Burns that he wrote in his poem “To a Mouse”: The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. That’s what happened on this occasion. Through some technical hitch, the stadium was plunged into darkness. The screen went blank, and there was no sound. Everything resumed briefly, but the power failure returned, and no one knew how long it would take for sound and light to be restored.
Popular Chabad singer Avraham Fried, who was in Israel for the event, found a microphone that actually worked, and he jumped off the stage onto the playing field and strode across it, singing without any musical backup. He urged the crowd to join him. There was enthusiastic response, not only vocal but with a spotlight created by people who turned on the lights in their cellphones and aimed them in his direction.
One has to hand it to Chabad Hassidim. Regardless of the nature of the crisis, they are always ready to deal with it and to overcome it. Needless to say, they managed to fix the sound and light problem as well.
■ THERE’S A first time for everything. Over the years, it has become quite common for women to get together to knead dough and fashion challot. But this week, with little time to spare before Seder, the Friendship Circle organized a marathon matzah bake, plus entertainment and dinner at the First Station. So many women have gotten so much satisfaction from baking their own challot that the Friendship Circle took baking a step further to enable anyone who wanted to do so to bake their own matzah. How often has anyone attended a Seder in which the host or hostess could say: “I baked this matzah myself”?
A happy and kosher Passover to all.