Grapevine August 4, 2023: A matter of protocol

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and his wife, Michal, with Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema and his wife, Mutinta.  (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG and his wife, Michal, with Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema and his wife, Mutinta.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

The custom may vary slightly from one country to another, but the accepted practice in honoring the arrival of a visiting head of state, is fundamentally the same. The guest president, escorted by a police motorcycle convoy, enters the grounds of the palace or residence of the host president to a trumpet or bugle fanfare, is greeted by the host, and then they and their spouses stand to attention for the national anthems of both countries, played by a military or police orchestra. The two presidents then review a military honor guard, and meet dignitaries in the reception line before they go inside for a tête-à-tête.

In Europe and South America, the soldiers are dressed in much more eye-catching uniforms than those in Israel – but otherwise, it’s much of a muchness.

Everyone is supposed to be in place for at least a half-hour prior to the arrival of the visiting president.

This week, the guest president was Hakainde Hichilema, the President of Zambia, whose mostly male delegation attired in suits and ties, waited together with similarly dressed Israeli dignitaries and uniformed soldiers in the sweltering heat of the Jerusalem summer.

President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal experienced some of this discomfort for five or 10 minutes when they emerged to await the arrival of the luxury vehicle transporting Hichilema and his wife Mutinta.

 THE KAMINETSKY family makes music at Shaare Zedek. (credit: DAVID OLIVESTONE)
THE KAMINETSKY family makes music at Shaare Zedek. (credit: DAVID OLIVESTONE)

Fashion-wise, the two presidential wives were a study in contrasts. Michal Herzog wore a white pants suit, while Mutinta Hichilema wore a long-sleeved, ankle-length gown in midnight blue.

At the State Dinner hosted by the Herzogs in the evening, Michal Herzog, who is seldom seen in a dress, wore a pants suit in the palest shade of silver, embossed with an all-over pattern in a deeper shade of silver. Mutinta Hichilema chose a striking sequined gold and black diagonally striped dress which was more form-fitting than the one she had worn earlier in the day.

Eylon Levy, Isaac Herzog’s former spokesman for the international media, is also a former broadcaster with a sophisticated British accent. He was temporarily brought back to act as Master of Ceremonies for the evening.

Among the other guests was Edna Halabani, the legendary head of international visits and relations in the Prime Minister’s office, who retired earlier this year after a career that spanned half a century. She worked with every prime minister from Golda Meir to Benjamin Netanyahu, and almost stole the show from the guest of honor. Everyone who had ever been anyone in Israeli officialdom, and several who still are, greeted her with great enthusiasm and embraced her.

Also present were Nir Barkat, Economy and Industry Minister; Martin Mwanambale, ambassador of Zambia; Ofra Farhi, Israel’s ambassador to Zambia; Simon Fisher, Executive Director of Save a Child’s Heart, the organization that has saved the lives of several Zambian children and is training physicians from Zambia, two of whom were at the dinner, to do the same; Yossi Abramowitz, human rights activist entrepreneur, and global solar energy czar; Prof. Zohar Kampf of the Department of Communications and Journalism in the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Social Science; Brigadier General Victor Chiboma, the Defense Attache at the Zambian Embassy; and Rabbi Mendy Hertzel, who with his wife Rivky has been living for just over a year and a half in Lusaka.

The Chicago-born and Israel-raised Hertzel, who grew up in the Golan Heights, visited Zambia several months earlier to check out the possibility of establishing a permanent Chabad presence there. Although there are less than 50 Jewish residents in Lusaka, there are Jewish business people from abroad who come to check on their investments, and therefore Sabbath services sometimes have as many as 50 congregants.

Hertzel is hopeful that the number will soon swell to 200 as increasing numbers of people around the globe become aware of Africa’s potential.

Chabad emissaries, when sent to any destination, are aware that when they are still single, they’re in training for when they get married, and that the visit is short term. But when it’s married couples, it’s usually for life. Hertzel is prepared for that, and said that his wife, who grew up in Alaska, is no stranger to living in a small, isolated Jewish community. Meanwhile, they are providing whatever is needed in Jewish life, including kosher food for anyone who asks for it.

He is the community’s first permanent rabbi in more than 75 years, and is inviting anyone who happens to be in Lusaka on August 28, corresponding to the 11th of Elul, to join in the dedication of a new Torah scroll, which is also a first in a very long time.

A Chabad emissary dynasty

■ IN CHABAD families, it is not unusual to find three and even four generations of emissaries, including siblings, living and working in different parts of the world, and coming together for family life cycle events, or for the annual gathering of emissaries in New York. Mendy Hertzel comes from such a family. Just as he and his wife moved to Zambia soon after their marriage, his grandparents Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kaplan and his wife Sarah, at the behest of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, moved from New York to Safed in 1973 to restore the glory of Judaism that had once been prevalent, but had faded.

They renovated the city’s original Tzemach Tzedek Chabad synagogue and learning center, and established kindergartens, elementary schools, yeshivot, seminaries for girls, and more. Rabbi Kaplan was killed in a car accident 25 years after his arrival in Safed, but his wife has been continuing with his work, and according to Hertzel, is a truly remarkable lady.

Meeting the president of Zambia

■ BACK TO the state dinner. There was a long period in which there were minimal changes to the menu, but under the present administration at the President’s Residence, the menu changes every time, the service is totally professional and the food is always a worthwhile culinary experience.

Catered by Mattiya, the first course of mushroom filled tortellini in corn cream and miso broth was an interesting starter. The main course of Lamb Osobuko also served with corn cream and crumbled pistachio and citrus was a delight to the palate.

Tender and succulent, the meat literally fell off the bone.

For vegetarians, there was a grape leaf cake filled with rice, herbs, and root vegetables accompanied by vegetable ratatouille with cherry tomatoes and tahina.

The creamy chocolate truffle dessert was somewhat rich, but irresistible.

Everyone present got a chance to meet the President of Zambia who is generally known as HH, because his full name is a bit of a mouthful. The two presidential couples went from table to table with the Herzogs performing introductions of Israeli guests and the Hichilemas introducing Zambian guests. There was a lot of hand-shaking and posing for selfies, and at the end of the evening, the two couples who obviously hit it off very well, kissed each other good night.

Playing music for the sick at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek

■ MUSIC IS a temporary and sometimes permanent panacea for all kinds of ailments. It certainly hit the spot for patients at the new Helmsley Cancer Center building at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, who came together last week to hear 13-year-old musical twins Yehonatan and Ofri Kaminetsky play a mix of classical and Israeli music. The concert took place around the beautiful baby grand piano donated by the brothers Ellis, Cedric, and David Olivestone, in memory of their mother Helen. As the piano is located next to the broad open stairway in the lobby, the building’s atrium carried the musical sounds through all its floors.

Yehonatan, who plays the piano, and Ofri, the flute, are students at the Sadna Music Conservatory in Jerusalem. Their talent for music is clearly inherited as they were accompanied for part of the program by their father, Dr. Lior Kaminetsky, who is a noted violinist. Among those in attendance, in addition to patients, was Lior’s uncle, Dr. Rafi Catane, one of the world’s leading oncologists, who founded the oncology department in Shaare Zedek. Plans are in the pipeline for the talented twins to play several more times during the summer.

Award-winning journalist moves to New York

■ PRIZEWINNING JOURNALIST and filmmaker Judy Maltz, who early in her career worked as an economics reporter for The Jerusalem Post, but for a considerably longer period as a mostly Jewish-world reporter for Haaretz, is relocating – not to another newspaper, but to another country.

She and her husband are moving for two years to New York, or rather the New York metropolitan area (AKA New Jersey), where Maltz will serve as Haaretz correspondent in North America covering Jewish life. Though very excited to be back in the US where she was born, Maltz also feels uneasy leaving Israel at this particular time:

“As a journalist, I imagine there are few stories in the world that are as exciting to cover at this moment. And as someone who has spent most of my life in Israel, I find it difficult pulling away smack in the midst of the battle for its soul,” she wrote on Facebook, adding: “To all our good friends who are fighting the good fight out in the streets and everywhere else, this is to let you know that even though we will be far away, our hearts will be with you”.

To her Facebook friends in North America, she extended an invitation to “hit me up with your story ideas – the quirkier and more outlandish, the better.”

Over the years, Maltz has been corresponding with many of her American FB friends and fans, and is looking forward to meeting as many of them as possible over the coming two years and sitting down over coffee for a face-to-face chat.