Beit Hanassi sings 'Hallelujah' to Sarkozy

Residents of Jerusalem's Rehavia and Talbiyeh neighborhoods who feared their streets would be sealed off for the visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla, as they were last month for US President George W. Bush, were pleased to discover Sunday that French security agents are not as paranoid about the safety of their president as the Americans. The streets were wide open, including Rehov Balfour outside the official residence of the prime minister, which was like a fortress during the Bush visit. At Beit Hanassi, there were frantic preparations for France's first couple. The red carpets stretched from the entrance all through the main reception area and out into the garden. The stand for video cameras and stills photographers was in place and masses of fresh flowers were brought in to replace those left over from last week. Still in bloom, they were nonetheless discarded. A choir from the Alliance School in Tel Aviv was being put through its paces by Zahava Weiman, their deputy principal. They were singing "Hallelujah," the Israel Eurovision winner from 1979, in both French and Hebrew to canned music. They rehearsed for the best part of three hours, with the choreography never quite in sync, yet almost perfect when the song was eventually performed for Sarkozy and his wife, who applauded in delight and together with President Shimon Peres joined the youngsters for a photo opportunity. The presidential couple was greeted in French by Maayan Goldenfeld, and part of the song was sung solo by Michal Reshef. The two students had practiced the introductory bit at least a dozen times, and two of their teachers had arrived at the edge of the red carpet by car and stood in for the Sarkozys during rehearsals. The couple was ushered into the grounds by a 13-member police motorcycle escort. Sarkozy signed the visitors' book in his own name and that of his wife, Carla, but left no message for posterity. In the garden, Peres showed him the hybrid fig and olive tree that symbolizes peace. At the close of the meeting, the Sarkozys were treated to yet another rendition of "Hallelujah."