Grapevine: In memory of Nechama Rivlin

Just before Shavuot each year, Nechama Rivlin would distribute cheesecakes to soldiers at the roadblocks around Jerusalem.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN gives cheesecake and cold lemonade to soldiers from the Erez Brigade. (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN gives cheesecake and cold lemonade to soldiers from the Erez Brigade.
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN/GPO)
This week, President Reuven Rivlin and his family marked the first anniversary, according to the Hebrew calendar, of the death in June of last year of his wife, Nechama, from complications following a lung transplant. The first anniversary of her death according to the Gregorian calendar will be next week.
Just before Shavuot each year, Nechama Rivlin would distribute cheesecakes to soldiers at the roadblocks around Jerusalem.
In her memory, the president decided to continue the tradition, and on Monday of this week, armed with cheesecakes and cold lemonade, visited the Military Police of the Erez Brigade at its roadblock. He told them that this was his wife’s way of expressing gratitude for what they were doing and showing them that she loved them.
■ APPROXIMATELY A dozen countries with which Israel has full diplomatic relations celebrated national days during the lockdown and limited-socializing period. Not all the ambassadors of these countries host receptions for Constitution Day, Independence Day, the official birthday of a monarch, or in the case of Ireland, St Patrick’s Day. Most do, but not this year. 
The first to break out of diplomatic isolation was Georgian Ambassador Lasha Zhvania, who on Tuesday night celebrated his country’s Independence Day with a modest reception at the entrance to the Tower of David Museum, alongside Jerusalem’s Old City walls, which were lit up with giant-sized flags of Georgia and Israel. Co-hosting and moderating the event was Yigal Amedi, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, who is currently an honorary consul of Georgia with responsibility for Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.
Among the guests was his fellow Honorary Consul Meni Benish, who is responsible for the Southern District. Zhvania has a great affinity for Jerusalem, which is one of the reasons he chose to celebrate his country’s independence in Israel’s capital. More than that, Georgians first came to Jerusalem 1,500 years ago and left their imprint on the Old City. 
Georgia’s most famous poet, Shota Rustaveli, who wrote the immortal “Knight in the Panther Skin,” is buried in the Valley of the Cross. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post last year, Zhvania said that his favorite place in the world other than Tbilisi was Jerusalem. 
“I feel every stone, corner and person,” he stated. When asked if Georgia would move its embassy to Jerusalem, he replied, “In time.”
To add spark to the Independence Day festivities, the Georgian Embassy produced a video of greetings in Hebrew, English and Georgian by well-known personalities, including actress and singer Rivka Michaeli, who was born in Jerusalem and has a Georgian background. She delivered her greeting in Georgian. 
Some of the other personalities on the clip include Georgian and Israeli composer Josef Bardanashvili, media personality and singer Rafi Ginat, discount supermarket tycoon Rami Levy, and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, among others.
Amedi spoke of how Georgia had initially gained its short-lived independence in 1918. In 1921, the country was taken over by the Red Army, and it was not until 1991, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, that Georgia was able to regain its independence. Amedi was thrilled that Georgia’s Independence Day was being celebrated in Jerusalem for the first time, and was confident that this, together with establishment of a Georgian Cultural Center in the capital, was yet another step toward moving the embassy.
Delivering his address in fluent Hebrew, Zhvania started out with the sheheheyanu blessing for having lived to see this day. He said that Georgia had experienced many difficult moments in its history, but like the Jewish people, it had defied extinction and had risen time and again to defend its national identity. Referring to the long and strong ties of Georgia with Jerusalem, he said he was proud that Georgians had contributed to the beauty of the city.
Catching sight of Rami Levy while speaking of investments and tourism, Zhvania thanked him personally for having brought 40 business people to Georgia last year.
Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz, in making his maiden speech in that capacity as the government representative at a diplomatic reception, declared how pleased he was to be doing so in Jerusalem at the entrance to the Old City. He too praised Levy, not so much in relation to Georgia, but for lowering the price of tomatoes to make them affordable for everyone. 
The choice of venue for the reception, Peretz said, emphasized the shared commitment of Israel and Georgia to a heritage that goes back centuries. There has been a Jewish presence in Georgia for 2,600 years. Political relations between Israel and Georgia are at a high peak, he said, and tourism is also encouraging. Last year, 200,000 Israelis visited Georgia.
As for moving the embassy, Peretz said that he and Lion would do everything possible to help Zhvania find suitable premises. He expressed hope that all countries that are friends of Israel will eventually move their embassies to Jerusalem.
Pursuing this theme, Lion echoed Peretz, quipping that in the worst case, Zhvania could move into the mayor’s office. Lion lauded Zhvania for making a courageous decision to have his reception in Jerusalem, and said if anyone could influence an embassy move, it would be Zhvania. Lion also said how happy he was to be working with Peretz, who is a personal friend.
For the first part of the evening, there was a semblance of social distancing, though after bumping elbows, many people embraced and even shook hands, including the mayor and the minister. Hardly anyone wore masks. 
The limit of a maximum of 50 participants was adhered to, until the speeches, when suddenly there was an influx of Georgian nationals, including children. Some of the Georgians waved flags, some had larger flags draped over their backs, and some wore white T-shirts with Georgian emblems. They joined lustily and emotionally in the singing of the Georgian national anthem. It was one of those rare occasions in which “Hatikva” was far less audible than the anthem of the hosting ambassador’s country.
■ MAGEN DAVID Adom has many significant achievements to its credit, and now appears to have entered the field of diplomacy. In its press releases on delivery of Taiwan’s gift of 100,000 surgical face masks, it referred to the Taiwan Embassy. There is no Taiwan Embassy in Israel, because although Israel and Taiwan cooperate closely on many levels, they do not have diplomatic relations. And although Members of Knesset attend Taiwan’s national day receptions, representatives of Israel’s Foreign Ministry do not. 
Taiwan has for many years operated an Economic and Cultural Office in Israel, and Israel operates an Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei. Each serves as a quasi-embassy, but there is no official Israel Embassy or consulate in Taipei. The title of the head of the Israel office in Taipei is that of director, but his counterpart in Israel is often referred to as ambassador.
That is because in most cases, such as that of current incumbent Paul K. Chang, he actually is a professional diplomat who has served as his country’s representative elsewhere, in addition to senior positions at home, including director general of the Department of Special Affairs in the Office of the President, chief of protocol and director general of another unit in the President’s Office, and director of protocol in the Government Information Office. There is also some confusion in that conditions for applying for an e-visa to Taiwan are listed under a Taiwanese website headed “Taiwan Embassy in Israel.”
As far as the link between Taiwan and MDA goes, there is an indirect diplomatic connection. Anne Ayalon, the president of Christian Friends of Magen David Adom, is the wife of Danny Ayalon, a former deputy foreign minister and former Israel ambassador to the United States.
■ THE JERUSALEM Unity Prize, cofounded by former Jerusalem mayor and current Likud MK Nir Barkat, will be awarded next week at a ceremony at the President’s Residence.
The prize in memory of Eyal Ifrach, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frankael, the three yeshiva students who were kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in 2014, was established by their families in conjunction with the Gesher organization and Barkat in a desire to continue the spirit of unity demonstrated by people of all backgrounds in reaching out to the grieving families. In tandem with the prize, which is awarded in different categories, Jerusalem Unity Day, which falls on June 2, was also established.
Prize winners can be individuals, organizations or initiatives in Israel and anywhere in the Jewish world whose actions are instrumental in advancing mutual respect for others among the Jewish people, during crises and in daily life. This year’s ceremony will not be open to the public but will be broadcast online.
The winner in the international category is Hakhel, whose general director Aharon Ariel Lavi said that a substantial part of the monetary prize will be dedicated to a global campaign to honor and support communities that fought on the social frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic, and are now trying to figure out how to prepare for the aftermath of the crisis.
Hakhel, the Jewish Intentional Communities Incubator, has been recognized for its relentless efforts to cultivate emerging Jewish communities around the globe and to forge connections between them and the State of Israel. Working in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, it is the first global incubator for intentional Jewish communities, of which there are 130 in 30 different countries.
Hakhel helps them with advice, funding and the building of networks to advance all forms of Jewish expression.