Grapevine February 26, 2023: The play’s the thing

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 MICHAL HERZOG, flanked by President Isaac Herzog and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, watches a film about youth at risk. (photo credit: BRUNO SHARVIT)
MICHAL HERZOG, flanked by President Isaac Herzog and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, watches a film about youth at risk.
(photo credit: BRUNO SHARVIT)

As mentioned last week by Gil Troy in his weekly column, Israel’s former ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub advises that his play Winner’s Curse which is being performed at the Park Theater in London, will close on March 11. Anyone visiting the UK and wanting to see it, should be aware of the limited time slot.

Written together with comedy writer Dan Patterson, the play, which has received several favorable reviews, may serve as a lesson for Israel’s own fractured relationships.

Combining humor and audience interaction, it is about two fictitious countries locked in a battle over a strip of land. A fragile ceasefire provides a chance for peace. Cynical diplomats, idealistic peacemakers and meddling mediators sit across from each other at the negotiating table to try to find a path to peace as war looms ever larger and closer.

Humor can often be very serious, and Taub who has had personal experience at the negotiating table knows how to merge gravity with wit.

■ US AMBASSADOR Tom Nides simply cannot stay out of the news. This time it was less controversial than over the preceding few days. Nides attended the Ecommunity Conference at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation that was conducted in partnership with USAID. As part of the conference, Nides, together with Peres Center Director General Efrat Duvdevani, met with Arab and Jewish youth who took part in the “Under the Same Green Roof” project, together with the mayors of the participating cities of Kfar Saba, Kfar Kassem, Kadima Zoran and Tira.


“The future is with you all,” Nides told them. “We’re here to celebrate the idea that 16, 17, and 18-year-old students, Arabs and Jews, can sit in a room and talk about a topic that happens to be climate, and our planet, but it could be anything. And it should turn into anything.” Also present was, Mayor of Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut Haim Bibas, who heads The Federation of Local Authorities.

■ NEW FACES are appearing on the diplomatic circuit, while familiar faces are disappearing or have already gone. Six new ambassadors will present their credentials to President Isaac Herzog on March 9. The ambassadors of Malawi and Surinam are non-resident. The four other ambassadors from Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Ecuador and Guatemala have embassies in Israel, with Guatemala being the second country after the US to locate its embassy in Jerusalem. 

Actually, that’s not quite true. In 1956, Guatemala was the first of several countries to open embassies or consulates in Jerusalem, with Jorge Garcia Grenados as the first ambassador of his country in the holy land and the holy city. Guatemala closed its Embassy in Jerusalem in 1980, and returned in May, 2018.

“Welcome Home,” said Likud MK Nir Barkat, who was then Mayor of Jerusalem. Since then, other countries have opened embassies, cultural centers and economic and trade centers in Israel’s capital. It was often thought that Jerusalem could not accommodate all the embassies stationed in Tel Aviv and Herzliya, but with the glut of residential, commercial and office construction in Jerusalem, that is no longer a problem.

UNLESS THEY spend a weekend in Jerusalem, most ambassadors don’t get to see much of the city beyond the Foreign Ministry, the Knesset and the King David, Waldorf and David’s Citadel hotels where many diplomatic events are held. Khaled Al-Jalahma, the Ambassador of Bahrain makes a point of scheduling as many appointments as he can on the days that he visits Jerusalem. This is because the time spent traveling between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and back, takes up half a day, given the chaotic traffic situations in both cities and on the highway. 

Last week, some of Al-Jalahama’s meetings finished earlier than anticipated, and he found himself with significant time on his hands before his next meeting. So he went to Baka for a cup of coffee, and was almost instantly recognized by someone at a neighboring table. 

Then, because he likes exploring markets, he went to Mahaneh Yehuda and was twice recognized, once by a member of the Arab community and once by a member of the Jewish community. Although this was flattering, he would have preferred to remain an anonymous visitor in the crowd.

Lone soldiers

■ NOT ALL lone soldiers who come to Israel are halachicly  Jewish even though they may have been brought up in a Jewish community, and practiced Jewish customs at home, knowing that there was a missing link in their identity. Nonetheless, they wanted to be part of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and those who had not had bar or bat mitzvah celebrations felt a certain sense of emptiness. 

During their army service, lone soldiers who are not halachicly  Jewish are given the opportunity to study Jewish law and to convert. This in turn makes them eligible for bar and bat mitzvah, and on Monday, February 27, 13 such soldiers will realize a dream they have long carried - which is to celebrate their bar and bat mitzvah, just like any other Jewish boy and girl. 

Every year, literally hundreds of young boys and girls find the courage to come to Israel alone, join the army and begin a new life. This year, it will be a double celebration as the Big Brother Organization for Lone Soldiers, is celebrating its own bar mitzvah – namely that this year is its 13th anniversary year. 

Most of the volunteer big brothers are former lone soldiers themselves. Based on their own experiences and the struggles of young soldiers far from home, they become surrogate siblings and mentors, providing information on how things work in Israel – where to go and what to do. When soldiers have completed their service, they still turn to their big brother or big sister for help and guidance. Following their bar and bat mitzvah ceremony, the soldiers will continue onto the president’s residence to be blessed by President Isaac Herzog.

■ THE PRESIDENT’S wife, Michal Herzog, on Family Day last week hosted foster parents and young men and women who had been in foster care, and learned of the challenges and triumphs on both sides. Also present at the event were Social Services Minister Yaakov Margi, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Summit CEO Yoni Bogat as well as representatives of other organizations dealing with foster placement and care.

Herzog said she was very excited to be hosting foster families who are deserving of every honor for opening their hearts. It was difficult to find words that would accurately describe the level of giving and volunteering that is needed, she said. It’s not just opening the door of one’s home, but opening the door of one’s heart and taking in a boy or a girl and expanding the limits of family intimacy, opening one’s arms and embracing, while confronting all the accompanying challenges.

All those attending later watched a film: Children on condition…, which featured the stories of youth at risk who were removed from the custody of their parents and put into foster care until they were 18 years old.

■ FEARFUL OF the impact of Israel’s new reforms on the justice system and the economy, the executive board of the Tel Aviv Chamber of Commerce which is headed by former MK Uriel Lynn, a lawyer, who is also the President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, has issued a call to delay further progress in the enactment of reform bills until such time as there is consensus.

Without taking sides on the issue, the board notes that everyone who lives in Israel cannot ignore the reality of what will happen if the reforms proceed in their present format. Israel has been criticized around the globe to the extent that her credit rating has become imperiled, her relations with the US will be harmed, as will her relations with international business, economic and academic organizations and institutions.

Bearing this in mind, the board urges that the legislation not be finalized until there is agreement between the coalition and the opposition.