DECEMBER 2008 is a happy time in the families of the sisters Ambache, who have made significant contributions to boosting Israel's image. On December 24, Aura Herzog, the younger of the two sisters will celebrate a milestone birthday, which this year coincides with Hanukka. On the last day of Hanukka, Suzy Eban will officially launch her book, A Sense of Purpose: Recollections that was so intelligently reviewed by Colin Shindler in the UpFront section of last Friday's Jerusalem Post, as well as by Ina Friedman in Haaretz. In addition to that, Isaac Herzog, the son and nephew of the two sisters, scored the highest number of votes in the Labor primaries last week. According to The Marker, Herzog also garnered the most financial backing in his campaign, with contributions totaling slightly in excess of NIS 207,000, and contributors including Michael Steinhardt, Daniel Abraham, Charles Bronfman and David Kolitz. Herzog's father, Chaim Herzog, who was Israel's sixth president, was also a Labor MK before being elected to the presidency, and by professional training a lawyer, as is Isaac Herzog, whose uncle by marriage, Abba Eban, was also a Labor MK and, inter alia, foreign minister. Abba Eban and Chaim Herzog were each eloquent spokesmen for Israel, especially during their respective periods of service as Israel's ambassador to the UN. Eban was also Israel's ambassador to the US. Isaac Herzog likewise serves as a frequent spokesman for Israel, and like his father, his biological uncle Yaacov Herzog, who was also an impressive spokesman for Israel especially when serving as Israel's ambassador in Canada, Eban and his grandfather, Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, who was Israel's first chief rabbi, is engaged in fighting anti-Semitism on a global scale. His grandmother, Rabbanit Sarah Herzog was energetically engaged in social welfare both as President of Ezrat Nashim and of Emunah, so his appointment as Minister for Social Affairs and the minister responsible for fighting Anti-Semitism was almost a genetic legacy. Aura Herzog was the founding president of the Council for a Beautiful Israel, and held the position for many years. Suzy Eban headed the Israel Cancer Association for three decades - and all this is only the tip of the iceberg in the amazing saga of a remarkable family dedicated in so many directions to the service of its people. Few, if any, could boast of such a dynasty. All things considered, it would come as no surprise if Isaac Herzog were to be elected as the 11th or 12th president of Israel.
ON THE morning following the Labor primaries, Judy Shalom Nir Mozes, via her weekly program on Israel Radio, called Herzog's wife, Michal, to offer congratulations and to ask her if she had enjoyed accompanying him from time to time on the campaign trail.
"I've been there," said JSNM, referring to the times she had accompanied her own husband, Likud MK and former foreign minister Silvan Shalom. The two women agreed that the campaign trail provided some of the most fascinating experiences in their lives, taking them to places in Israel that they would never have seen and to people they would never have met outside of the political arena.
NO ONE COULD have dreamed up a better present for MK Gideon Sa'ar on his 42nd birthday than the one that he received from voters in the Likud primaries on Monday. He topped the list, and will be in second slot after party leader Binyamin Netanyahu.
WITH THE Labor primaries behind him, Isaac Herzog was free to attend the Korean cultural festival hosted at the American International School in Even Yehuda by Ambassador Ma Young-Sam, who congratulated him in Hebrew. When invitations are sent out, it is usually with the expectation that only 50-70 per cent of the invitees will show. But this time so many people came that there was simply no room to seat them all in the large auditorium of the AIS.
The gallery was also packed, and people sat two and three abreast along the whole length of the staircases. The event included a magnificent display of traditional Korean garments in ornate fabrics woven with pure gold thread, traditional dancing, music and singing.
The ambassador, who was also attired in traditional garb as was his wife, noted the steady friendship between Israel and the Republic of Korea since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1962.
Both countries, he said, were small in size with security concerns always on their respective agendas. Both were also ancient countries - though he conceded that Israel was older - that had established modern democracies and thriving economies at around the same period, and he was confident that both would overcome the economic crisis that has overtaken the world.
Herzog also mentioned the historic parallels between Israel and Korea and said that both countries were challenged by enemies and the axis of evil and rogue states that have a philosophy of evil and hatred. Both countries also boasted populations with an inner strength to withstand many difficulties, he observed.
As a former tourism minister, Herzog also welcomed the return to Israel of Korean Air, and stressed the importance of strengthening ties not just between the governments of both countries but also strengthening ties of the people.
Among the lucky door prizes were a round trip to Korea provided by Korean Air, and various electronic goods provided by LG and Samsung. There was great amusement when two of the LG prizes were won by Samsung representatives.
PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES on two consecutive days shared reminiscences about two of Israel's pioneer politicians - David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founding prime minister, at the annual state ceremony at his gravesite in Sde Boker, and Golda Meir, at her gravesite in Jerusalem on the 30th anniversary of her death.
Meir, who was prime minister during the Yom Kippur War, was often quoted as saying that "peace will come when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us."
AFTER READING the insightful and intriguing review by Judy Siegel of former president Ephraim Katzir's autobiography, Larry Rich, director of Development & International Public Relations at the Emek Medical Center, recalled his own meeting and friendship with the Katzirs.
The lucrative American business world bored him, so at age 26 he bought a 750cc Honda motorcycle and traveled the world, arriving in Israel in late 1972.
He was living at Kibbutz Degania Aleph when the Yom Kippur War erupted in October, 1973, and wanting to do something to help, decided to donate his motorbike (the only one of its kind in Israel at the time), to Keren Nurit, a fund established by Nina Katzir to support soldiers and their families.
A member of the kibbutz put him in touch with Nina Katzir, whom he told that his only condition was that the bike be sold and the money be given to the family of a soldier who had fallen. He asked her to send a truck to pick it up as an anonymous gift. She said that he must present it to her personally at the Katzirs' private residence within the Weizmann Institute.
When he arrived with his girlfriend and future wife Yoka, Nina Katzir said she didn't really want the bike, but that she just wanted to meet him, and invited the young couple to lunch.
They were joined by President Katzir, who commented on the motorcycle, saying that he too had once been a rider. Rich and Yoka remained as the Katzirs' personal house guests for the next four days.
When Rich asked the Katzirs why they accepted two young strangers as family, they answered: "Because we're tired of the false faces and formalities. We need to be close to some real people."
NEW YORK stock exchange trader David Quint has a large family in Israel, including his parents Rabbi Emanuel and Rena Quint, his daughter Tzipi Quint, who is on a year-long study program, his three sisters, 19 nieces and nephews, plus the children of two of them and a few other relatives, which means that there are plenty of reasons for celebration.
Quint doesn't manage to come to Israel for all of them, but he does make a point of coming for weddings and bar mitzvas, and will probably make it to his parents' milestone wedding anniversary next year. He also brought his two sons to Israel for their bar mitzvas. His most recent visit last week for the wedding of his nephew Eli Silverman, the son of his sister Naomi Silverman and her husband Bob to Jocheved Wyler, was one of the briefest yet. Quint, who arrived with his son Yisroel, landed at Ben-Gurion Airport at noon, and took a cab to the Western Wall, which is one of his first stops whenever he comes to Israel.
He then went to his parents' home in Jerusalem to have a shower and accompanied them to the wedding hall in Nes Tziona from where he went to the airport and took a 1 a.m. flight back to New York.
The wedding ceremony was performed by Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg, the head of Kerem B'Yavneh hesder yeshiva where the groom, who also served with the Givati Brigade, is a student.
Many of his fellow students as well as soldiers who served with him under his command in Givati attended the wedding, and after the ceremony each came to him for a blessing that he too might soon become a bridegroom. It was quite an amazing sight to see them standing in line. The bride blessed several of the single young women at the wedding, but there were more males seeking a blessing than females.
TOM PHILLIPS, the British ambassador to Israel, recently hosted a Scotch whisky promotion at his residence in Ramat Gan.
The purpose of the event was to create awareness of Israel's exorbitant and discriminatory excise duty on Scotch whisky in relation to other imported alcoholic beverages.
While brandy, rum, gin, vodka and liqueurs are taxed at NIS 3.53 per liter, the minimum tax for Scotch whisky is NIS 19.58. Even so, Israel in 2007 consumed nearly 2 million bottles of Scotch whisky with Johnnie Walker Red Label as the top blended brand and Glenfiddich as the leading malt brand.
Phillips and Commercial Attache Richard Salt had initially intended to make the event a small, intimate affair with invitees limited to a select number of people who might be able to influence a change in the status quo vis-a-vis taxation on whisky.
But somehow or other the guest list mushroomed and in the final analysis there were some 100 people happily imbibing. Among them were Foreign Ministry officials, representatives of the diplomatic community, members of the Knesset Finance Committee, business leaders and well-known electronic and print media journalists who were offered more than a dozen types of Scotch to both whet and wet their whistles. In fact, about an hour into the event, one guest told British Embassy spokeswoman Karen Kaufman that people were getting a buzz just from the air in the room.
Speeches were kept to a minimum, allowing time for the brews to talk for themselves. Salt recounted the one story he said that he knows about whisky.
It's about a set of parents who decide to test their son by placing a ten-pound note, a bible and a bottle of Scotch on a table and then hiding to see what he does. The reason: If he chooses the money, he will go into business; the bible - he will be a man of God; and the Scotch - a drunk.
The son returns home, sees the money on the table and quickly pockets it. His eyes then turn to the bible; he leafs through it and pockets that too. Finally, he takes a swig of the whisky and takes that off to his room.
"What does this mean?" the wife asks her husband. "Well, my dear, it's worse than we thought," he replies. "He's going to be a politician."
Commenting that because his wife was French, he was more accustomed to wine parties, Phillips said that it was nonetheless important for him to host an evening in which Israelis would get to know the taste of Scotch whisky. David Williamson, head of Public Affairs at the Scotch Whisky Association, who flew to Israel especially for the event, told the guests that there was no particular way to drink their Scotch.
"Try it in different ways - you may be surprised," he said, adding "if you don't like Scotch, you just haven't found the right blend yet."
The only instance of a non-Scotch whisky making an appearance was in order to test the taste buds of resident Embassy Scott, Senior Trade & Investment Advisor Yigal Levine and Bob McKinnon from the US Embassy. They were given Scotch and a Bourbon to taste and had to guess which was which. Happily, neither let down their country!
THERE WAS also a good supply of Scotch at the bar at the reception hosted on the same evening by Thai Ambassador Chatchawed Chartsuwan at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv to mark the 81st birthday of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the National Day of Thailand.
Chartsuwan was speaking literally when he told guests that the evening afforded them the opportunity to taste Israeli-Thai cooperation. Thai chefs had been imported for the occasion to work together with Dan Hotel chefs to produce a colorful and mouth-watering array of traditional Thai cuisine.
Several of the guests, who are regulars on diplomatic invitation lists, noted that both the menu and the venue provided a welcome change from the Dan Panorama which is the favorite choice when heads of foreign missions decide to host a kosher affair.
"I have to sacrifice myself," said Irish Ambassador Michael Forbes, as he appreciatively sampled the food, and commented that it was decidedly different and delicately spiced.
Referring to the King's birthday, Chartsuwan said that he was a revered monarch who had won the love and respect of the Thai people because of his unswerving devotion to their welfare. He was confident that the "political hiccups" which Thailand has been experiencing would be resolved in a democratic framework, and said that Thailand's relations with Israel were based on mutual values of freedom, justice and respect for all. He congratulated Israel on its 60th anniversary and commended Israel's extraordinary achievements. Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon had been scheduled to represent the government in conveying greetings to the King and to the government and people of Thailand, but because of the glitch in the Labor Party primaries that caused a re-vote on the same date as the Thai reception, he had to bow out.
Instead, the government was represented by Ruth Kahanoff, the Foreign Ministry's deputy director general for Asia and the Pacific, who emphasized the long relationship between Israel and Thailand that dates back to 1954. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Israel Embassy in Thailand, she said, noting that the excellent relationship between the two countries is reflected in the visits to Israel by various members of the Thai royal family.
AMONG THE dignitaries at a gala dinner hosted by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation at New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel, were French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, internationally acclaimed Israeli artist Yaacov Agam who lives in Paris, numerous diplomats and a total of 1,500 guests.
Agam presented Sarkozy with his painting of a rainbow that not only symbolizes the connection of God with all living creatures, but the variety of the human mosaic caught in its many colors.
The rainbow, said Agam, also represents what the foundation stands for - which is tolerance among all for all, and is therefore a symbol of peace. He felt that Sarkozy was more than worthy of receiving the painting in recognition of all that the French President has done towards peace not only in the Middle East but in all places of conflict.
NEW MEMBERS of the International Jabotinsky Center's Public Committee include Judge Hadassah Ben-Ito and actor and portrait artist Haim Topol.
The center is under construction in Ramat Gan. At a meeting with the executive of the Jabotinsky Institute in Tel Aviv, Topol said that the work that they do is extremely important, and the role that they play is much more significant than they realize. Topol has a particular interest in the Jabotinsky Institute because his parents, Rela and Yaacov Topol, met in the 1930s when they were both members of Betar, the Zionist youth movement established by Jabotinsky. Yaacov Topol was one of Jabotinsky's bodyguards in Warsaw.