GRAPEVINE: The Russians are coming

The property, which was initially Russian Church property, supported by Russian royalty and nobility, was handed over to the Russian government.

Snow covers the Russian Church 390 (photo credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)
Snow covers the Russian Church 390
(photo credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)
A delegation of some 50 Russian dignitaries is expected to arrive in Israel on July 16 to participate in the July 18 ceremony marking the completion of renovations to the Russian Compound in Jerusalem. The delegation will include cabinet ministers and members of the Duma.
The Russian Compound was for years the subject of ownership controversy.
Media reports state that in 2003 then-prime minister Ariel Sharon promised President Vladimir Putin that Israel would transfer ownership of St. Sergius Mission to Russia in exchange for the latter’s avoidance of selling Russian weaponry in the Middle East. The decision to transfer ownership drew fierce criticism from Israeli political circles, especially those on the right of the spectrum. An appeal against the transfer was filed with the High Court of Justice, but was retracted by the appellants on the judges’ advice, after the state presented “confidential information” to the court. The final transfer agreement was signed in 2009 by then acting-prime minister Ehud Olmert.
In March 2011 Russia demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu evacuate the Agriculture Ministry from the mission premises, as a precondition for his visit to Moscow. Netanyahu ordered the evacuation the same day.
The property, which was initially Russian Church property, which in pre-Communist times was supported by Russian royalty and nobility, was in the final analysis handed over to the Russian government, which since 2011 has been conducting extensive renovations of the mission– a 19th-century building named after the son of czar Alexander II, and considered to be one of the most important of Russian holy sites in Israel’s capital.
Igor Ashurbely, a seasoned Russian politician who was previously CEO of Almaz, which produces antiaircraft missile systems, was put in charge of developing Russian properties in Israel.
In line with the Kremlin’s extensive program to strengthen Russia’s presence in its territorial properties in Israel, a luxury boutique hotel adjacent to St. Sergius Mission was built, with 24 rooms awaiting Russian pilgrims.
The rooms are much more elegant than those that served the original Russian pilgrims. The investment in construction and renovation was unprecedented by Russian standards. An Orthodox school for Christian children living in Jerusalem opened nearby as well. The site also contains a building to be used as a museum for the 135-yearlong history of the organization in charge of the mission.
Last November, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, while on a state visit to Israel, inspected the site and received updates on the renovation process, with the emphasis on the importance of Russia’s renaissance on its historical grounds in Jerusalem.
In all probability, the delegation arriving on July 16 will also visit the Ein Kerem Russian cathedral with its gold onion domes, which was also established in the 19th century.
■ THE MAKE-A-Wish Foundation manages to get to everyone who’s anyone in order to grant the wishes of children and young people who are suffering from cancer. It’s very hard for a celebrity to refuse to grant the wish of someone under the age of 20 who may be dying of cancer or some other life-threatening illness. Thus, after the conclusion of her show in Yarkon Park on Monday night, Britney Spears took time out to meet with 15-year-old Noam and 18-year-old Muhammad, whose individual dreams to meet her were realized.
■ FINALLY, IT’S official.
Alexander de la Rosa, the ambassador of the Dominican Republic, is the dean of the diplomatic corps in Israel. The previous dean, Henri Etoundi Essomba, the ambassador of Cameroon, who had spent 17 years in Israel, was transferred to Washington, where he has been his country’s ambassador since April 2016.
It was a sudden appointment, and when he left Israel to take up his new position, he promised to return for a farewell.
There was plenty of time in which to do this, because he did not present his credentials until the end of June. But he never came back, and de la Rosa filled the role of acting dean until it became obvious that Essomba had put his time in Israel well and truly behind him.
To celebrate the fact that de la Rosa is now the dean for as long as he continues to serve in Israel, the Ambassador’s Club hosted a reception in his honor at the Canada Israel Group offices in Herzliya Pituah, where Asi Tuchmayer, the honorary consul of the Dominican Republic, has his own office. Several businesspeople were in attendance, including the honorary consuls of Belize, Latvia and Paraguay.
Yitzhak Eldan, the president and founder of the Ambassadors’ Club, recalled that when he was chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry, he had the honor of introducing de la Rosa to president Shimon Peres when de la Rosa presented his credentials. All deans of the diplomatic corps automatically become honorary president of the Ambassadors’ Club, and Eldan named de la Rosa as such.
De la Rosa said that he loves Israel, where he is serving for the second time. In his previous role he was his country’s consul. Altogether, he estimated, he has served in Israel for 15 years, and he was looking forward to strengthening both the diplomatic corps and the Ambassadors’ Club by organizing a series of meetings between board members of the Ambassadors’ Club and chairmen of geographic diplomatic groups. Groups are divided into Europe, Scandinavia, Asia and the Pacific, Africa, North America, and South America.
■ IT’S NOT generally known that Daniella Baron Cohen, the mother of famed British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and of Erran Baron Cohen, an accomplished musician, and Amnon Baron Cohen, a specialist in computer sciences, is a Sabra.
Last month she was in Israel to dedicate two medicycles (as distinct from ambucycles promoted by another lifesaving organization) to Magen David Adom. Family and friends, with the exception of Sacha, who was unable to be present, attended the dedication ceremony at the Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv.
The medicycles were dedicated in memory of Daniella Baron Cohen’s late husband, Gerry Baron Cohen, and her late father, Dr. H.I. Weiser.
Her brother Gil Weiser was the founder of Israeli Friends of MDA and still serves on the board.
■ WHILE THERE are certainly second- and third-generation diplomats in many parts of the world, including Israel, not all diplomats are to the manor born. They don’t all have the best table manners, nor are they always familiar with the protocols governing various diplomatic or quasi-diplomatic situations, nor are they necessarily wine connoisseurs, regardless of the number of cocktail parties that they might attend in any given week.
To improve their knowledge in the latter sphere, Gilles Assouline, the CEO of Barkan Wine Cellars, gave 25 commercial attachés whose countries are part of the European Union a grand tour replete with wine tastings at the Barkan vineyards in Hulda.
In his introduction to the world of wines, Assouline produced and uncorked bottles from the Superieur, Altitude and Assemblage series and stressed the importance of high-quality grapes. The tastings took place in the Barkan Visitor Center, which offers a wine experience that excites more than just the sense of taste. The Visitor Center, which was opened in 2012, is believed to be the largest of its kind in the whole of the Middle East.
The countries represented by the diplomats included Portugal, Italy, France, Denmark, Germany, Bulgaria and Greece. By the time the visit was over, the diplomats had learned more about wine making than they had ever imagined they would know.
■ TV CELEBRITY chef Moshik Roth, who last year, with a group of investors, opened the budget-priced kosher meat sandwich bar known as Eight, which signifies that nothing on the menu costs more than NIS 8, has now opened a branch in Tel Aviv’s Ibn Gvirol Street, which is packed with a variety of eateries. Now, people on a tight budget have an additional option. Currently, there are 15 active outlets in the chain, with eight more in the pipeline to be opened in coming months. The target is for a total of 50 eateries across the country.