Despite the enormous popularity of US Ambassador Tom Nides, and the fact that this week he hosted his first American Independence Day reception in Israel, contrary to custom in previous years, photographs of the event were not featured the following morning on the front or back pages of daily newspapers, and in fact, in most cases, were missing altogether.
In another departure from the custom of bygone years Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu were not sitting on stage together with the ambassador and his wife and the president of the State. Actually, there were no wives on stage, though both Nides and President Isaac Herzog made mention of Nides’s wife, Virginia Moseley, and Nides also mentioned his daughter Taylor, who was present, and Herzog’s wife, Michal. Referring to Herzog and Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Nides said of them: “These gentlemen are the real deal.”
He also paid tribute to Deputy Chief of Mission Jonathan Shrier, for whom the Independence Day reception at Jerusalem’s David Citadel Hotel, was by way of a farewell before he leaves to take up his next post. Nides, who described him as a friend and colleague, said that over the past three years, Shrier had been a positive force and a spectacular diplomat.
Shrier is one of several State Department officials who are descendants of Holocaust survivors. His Polish father, grandparents and great-grandmother were among the many people helped by Japanese consul in Lithuania Chiune Sugihara and Dutch honorary consul Jan Zwartendijk.
Language acquisition before chutzpah acquisition
■ INVITATIONS TO the American reception had been issued when Bennett was still prime minister and not alternate prime minister – a title Nides found amusing. In any case, Prime Minister Yair Lapid would have been unable to attend because he was still in transit from France to Israel after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. Judging from the photographs, there was good chemistry between the two, and in his address, Macron said, “Mon ami, Yair Lapid” and “Mon cher, Yair Lapid” – and the body language and facial expressions indicated that this was sincere and not just diplomatic politeness.
As for Bennett, as the son of American-born Jews and as someone who spent part of his childhood in America, and later several years as an adult, even though he had to renounce his American citizenship when he became a member of Knesset in 2013, was the ideal person to be sharing the spotlight with Nides.
While complimenting Nides on having picked up a little Hebrew, Bennett wasn’t sure as to whether he had simultaneously absorbed Israeli manners, and proceeded to tell him that if he was entering a room or public transport, he was not to stand aside and let others exit. He was to simply barge in. A similar behavioral pattern exists in conversation. You must never let anyone finish a sentence, said Bennett, who had been the victim of such an onslaught when making his maiden speech as prime minister. You just barge in and without allowing the other party to finish, he said.
Seen at the reception was another prominent personality who had to renounce his American citizenship – former Israel ambassador to the US and former MK Michael Oren, who is actually a native son of America. Some years ago, in an address to the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI), Oren said giving up his American citizenship was one of the hardest things he had ever done.
The key entertainer at the reception was singer Marina Maximilian, who one suspects was chosen not only for her star quality, but for the fact that she was born in Ukraine, which provided yet another opportunity for American expressions of support for Ukraine in its current conflict with Russia.
Betraying her values or respecting others' practices?
■ INSTEAD OF leveling criticism at Merav Michaeli for putting her feminist values on the back burner at the wedding of the granddaughter of MK Moshe Gafni or of cursing her for her political standpoint, it might have been more logical to praise her for her “when in Rome” conduct. Michaeli showed up at the Bnei Brak wedding hall in a high necked, long-sleeved maxi dress, which was perfectly in harmony with Bnei Brak fashion. She danced with the bride because that is what one does at religious weddings – the women dance with the bride and the men with the groom. And she joined in the group dancing with other women, because that is also what one does at a wedding. The Shas legislators who were so angered by her presence should bear in mind that Tisha Be’av is only a month away, and that the temples were destroyed precisely in response to an attitude like theirs.
Haredi and Israel-Diaspora journalism awards
■ WITHIN THE framework of its annual journalism awards for excellence in reporting on the diaspora, the B’nai B’rith World Center Jerusalem, introduced two new features. One was to recognize the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) media, and the other was to bestow a name on its prize for fostering Israel-Diaspora relations through the arts. Although there have been haredi journalists among the recipients of the journalism awards during the 30 years since their inception, they all worked for mainstream media, whereas Yisrael Katzover works for Hamodia, a haredi newspaper. He received his award for a series he wrote about Jews in Muslim countries, thereby bringing their existence and their various situations to public attention. Many people were totally ignorant of the fact that there are Jews in such countries.
The second innovation was the naming of the prize for fostering Israel-Diaspora relations through the arts in memory of songwriter, composer, musician and singer Naomi Shemer – and the award naturally went to Shuly Nathan, who needless to say, performed “Jerusalem of Gold” as well as some other works by Naomi Shemer. The interesting coincidence was that when Natan had been contacted by BBWC director Alan Schneider to check whether the proposed date for the award ceremony would suit her, neither of them had consulted the Hebrew calendar. By coincidence, it happened to be the date of the 18th anniversary of Shemer’s passing. There could have been no better time to name the award in her honor.
Shemer’s daughter Lely was in the audience. It was she who had actually discovered Nathan, then a young soldier, singing on a radio show for amateurs. Lely Shemer loved Nathan’s voice and told her mother that she must hear it. Naomi Shemer was equally impressed, and had the shy, young and anonymous woman sing “Jerusalem of Gold,” which became the unofficial hymn of Israel and the Jewish people. In telling the story, Nathan said Shemer had always wanted to be a soprano with a high voice, and that she, Nathan, had wanted to be a writer. Neither had achieved her aim, but together they achieved something greater. “I was an anonymous soldier that no one knew of, and Naomi opened the gates of the world for me.” Incidentally, Nathan’s mother had tried to dissuade her from becoming a professional singer and guitarist, saying that no one prospered from such a career.
■ NOTHING QUITE beats the pride of a grandmother whose progeny has been recognized for scholarship, sports ability or musical talent.
One such grandmother is Sabine Himmelfarb, who has a grandchild in the Wind Instrument Orchestra of the Jerusalem Conservatory of Music. For the first time ever, the wind orchestra was chosen to compete in the international youth music festival in Vienna, and in competition this week, won the first prize. Aside from the competition, they performed in several venues in Austria, as did orchestras from other countries. Each country’s orchestra was asked to perform a composition representing their homeland. The Jerusalem group performed a specially composed selection called “Old City,” which included sounds that were recognizably Jewish, Christian and Muslim, thereby representing the diversity of cultures in Israel’s capital. This composition began and ended with the blowing of a shofar.
For Himmelfarb, the orchestra’s success was more than simply grandmotherly pride. As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, it was particularly poignant for her that almost 80 years after the Holocaust, her grandchild should be among 66 young Jerusalemites in a country from which tens of thousands of Jews, including talented young musicians, were denounced, lost their positions and were deported and murdered. Her grandchild was not the only musician from Israel who is a descendant of Holocaust survivors. To Himmelfarb, it was wonderful that these youngsters could represent the Jewish state and the Jewish people in Vienna.
New hotels in old cities
■ NEW HOTELS are under construction all over Israel, with Tel Aviv and Jerusalem leading the pack, despite the difference between the two cities. Whereas the overwhelming majority of Tel Aviv hotels are built on the seafront, or within a few minutes’ walk of the sea, there is no sea in Jerusalem, where the most important incentive is that the hotel is within easy walking distance of the Old City and the Western Wall. There’s also a difference in style between the mayors of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion is almost always seen in a suit, especially at ceremonial events, whereas Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, an ex-kibbutznik, is seldom seen in a suit, and didn’t wear one this week at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the luxurious David Kempinski Hotel, at the conclusion of its three-month running-in period. Other males participating in the ceremony, Kempinski CEO Bernold Schroeder, Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov, Henry Taich, representing the hotel’s ownership, and the hotel’s general manager, Guy Klaiman, all wore suits. But Huldai opted for an open-necked blue shirt.
Klaiman has an international history of opening luxury hotels. He was the opening general manager of the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria, and before that was director of operations at the David Citadel Hotel, when it was still known as the Jerusalem Hilton.
He also opened the London Tower Bridge Hilton, which is the flagship of Hilton hotels in Europe, and also managed Hilton hotels in Turkey. Before his appointment to manage the first Kempinski hotel in Israel, he was general manager of the Ritz Carlton in Herzliya.