Grapevine: A historic anniversary

Israel and Egypt celebrate three decades of peace; a memorial ceremony is held in Budapest for Hannah Szenes.

grapes 88 (photo credit: )
grapes 88
(photo credit: )
FOREIGN MINISTER Tzipi Livni will deliver the keynote address this coming Sunday, November 18, on the 30th anniversary of the launching of the Israel-Egypt peace process. There is no more appropriate place for the commemoration than the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, where there will also be an exhibition entitled "No More War." Other speakers at the event will include Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Assem Ibrahim, and Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation founder and president, Harry Hurwitz. It is unfortunate that so few of the players in that pivotal chapter in the history of the Middle East are still around. Rehavam Amir, who was then the Foreign Ministry's Chief of Protocol, was the first representative of Israel to greet Egyptian president Anwar Sadat when his plane touched down on the tarmac of Ben Gurion Airport on November 19, 1977. Amir lives in retirement in Beersheba and though he was approached to attend, thought that the journey to Jerusalem would be too arduous. Ephraim Katzir, who was president at the time and who drove with Sadat from the airport to Jerusalem is now a nonagenarian in a wheelchair. Although he still attends important events such as Independence Day ceremonies at Beit Hanassi and the inauguration of President Shimon Peres at the Knesset, he is no longer able to deliver an address. Of the people who were members of the Begin government at the time, the only ones still living are former Mossad head Meir Amit, Gideon Patt, and Yisrael Katz. Begin's trusted aide and bureau chief, Yechiel Kadishai, is still around, as is Arye Naor, who was cabinet secretary during the first Begin administration.
  • APROPOS IMPORTANT anniversaries, the Sadat visit to Israel was not the only significant November anniversary for Rehavam Amir. Prior to the establishment of the state, Amir served as an instructor and a member of the 37-member British trained parachute unit of Jewish volunteers from Palestine that in the last two years of the Second World War was dropped into Nazi-occupied Europe. The unit included Hannah Szenes (Senesh) who in March, 1944, was dropped into Yugoslavia and arrested on the border of her native Hungary. She was carrying a British military transmitter, which in all probability cost her her life. Tortured for months without revealing any information, Szenes was eventually tried for treason and executed by a firing squad on November 7, 1944. Her closest relatives live in Israel. On the 63rd anniversary of her execution, a memorial ceremony was held in Budapest last week, organized by the Budapest Holocaust Museum and Documentation Center in the Hannah Szenes Park. The Jewish Telegraph Agency reported that two of her Hungarian cousins took part in the ceremony, as well as Israeli Embassy First Secretary Yahel Vilan and members of the Hungarian Jewish community.
  • THREE THINGS unfailingly distinguish Latvia's Independence Day receptions. One is that the ambassador's wife, Inara, appears in her country's national costume. Another is that Ambassador Karlis Eihenbaums makes the briefest of speeches without waffling on about the nature and volume of bilateral ties or the commonality of values. And the third is that the national anthems of Latvia and Israel are sung by the choir of the American School where the Eihenbaums' daughter is a student, and from which their son is a graduate. There's actually a fourth distinction. As soon as the official ceremony is over, Inara Eihenbaums cuts the huge cake decorated with the national flag and distributes it to the children in the choir. This year, there was an addition to the ceremony, primarily because the government representative happened to be Culture, Science and Sports Minister Raleb Majadele to whom Eihenbaums presented a Latvian pin, saying: "It's the first time that we decorate an Arab Israeli who is also the first Arab government minister." What he did not say was that Majadele appears to be more willing than most of his colleagues to represent the government at such events, and it's never a hit-and-run affair with him. He always stays around afterwards to talk. Majadele said that in the 16 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries, Latvia had proved to be Israel's good friend in international forums. He also expressed appreciation to Latvia for introducing a policy to memorialize the Holocaust.
  • In an invitation issued by the Polish Embassy to an exhibition of "Amazing Poland," an intriguing artistic photo exhibition by Israeli tour guide Yecoutiel Bloche, Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska wrote: "I am aware that here in Israel, Poland is mainly associated with one of the most painful periods in the Jewish nation's history - the Holocaust. "But I would like to get you to know another Poland - amazing Poland. My hope is that maybe it will be easier for you to understand why many of your ancestors chose our country for their homeland where - for several centuries - they wanted to live and develop. By inviting you to the exhibition, I invite you to Poland." Bloche's family on his own and his wife's side were caught up in the Holocaust. Some managed to escape to Russia - and yet, though he did not ignore the painful past, he found great beauty in the present. The exhibition is hanging on the fence of the Polish Embassy in Soutine Street, Tel Aviv, and has attracted the attention of many passers-by, arousing varied reactions. "It doesn't matter what they do," said one. "It won't change anything." A woman who was looking carefully at each of the photographs said in reaction: "What does he know? My family was saved by Polish partisans. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them." The exhibition is much larger than the fenced area surrounding the Embassy, so the exhibits will change from time to time - but the exhibition will remain on view for six months.
  • SOMEONE PLAYED the anthem of Cyprus slightly ahead of time at the Independence Day celebrations hosted at the Daniel Hotel, Herzliya Pituah by Ambassador George Zodiates and his wife, Militsa, but the crowd took little notice and just kept on talking. Someone else might have been put out, but Zodiates who has a delicious sense of humor and who is also a realist, took it in his stride. He hadn't prepared much of a speech he admitted, because he'd miscalculated, and had thought to write it on Sunday when things are usually quiet. But there were too many invitations to coffee and friends to visit and the speech or statement as he called it, was somehow left in abeyance. Zodiates didn't see this as a tragedy. "Success in our business is being out and meeting people," he said. "Who really pays attention to statements at receptions like this? Probably nobody. We make statements so that we can send home a report about what we said and how everyone applauded." He then asked everyone to applaud so that he could note that in his report. Despite the ups and downs in political relations Cyprus and Israel have been friends and neighbors, and have agreed to disagree with understanding and respect, he said. The two countries are linked by a steadfast dedication to human rights and democracy, and both had to fight to survive under adverse conditions, he continued. Recalling that the ancient Greeks and Israelites used to argue about whether the center of the earth was in Israel or Greece, Zodiates asserted that Cyprus had solved the problem by telling them it was in Cyprus where Aphrodite the goddess of love and spirituality was born. Zodiates also made the point that Cyprus is mentioned in both the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmud. Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim could not resist referring to Zodiates's talent as a dancer. In fact most of the ambassadors sent to Israel by Cyprus and Greece, have been great dancers, but at Zodiates's parties, guests also dance on the tables. After congratulating Cyprus on its 47th anniversary of Independence, Boim looked back beyond that period to the days when Cyprus provided shelter to Jewish refugees. "We cannot forget the warmth offered by Cyprus to so many Jews who survived the Holocaust and tried to find their way here," said Boim. "Cyprus accompanied my people during the most difficult of times." Boim also paid tribute to the memory of the late Prodromos Papavassiliou, who for many years was Israel's honorary consul in Cyprus, and who had been among those Cypriots who aided refugee Jews before the advent of the state. Papavassiliou, who passed away last year has been replaced by his son-in-law, Adamos Varnava. Israel and Cyprus face common challenges, said Boim, "but most of all we share a dream of true peace with our neighbors."
  • WHEN SHE arrived in Israel a little over a year and a half ago to serve in her first diplomatic posting, Larisa Miculet, the ambassador of Moldova, had an inkling that she would spend her 50th birthday in Israel, but she had no idea at the time that she would be hosting a Moldovan-Israeli Economic Forum or that she would be making sure that everything flowed smoothly for the visit of Marian Lupu, the chairman of her country's parliament and members of his delegation. In the course of his visit, Lupu, accompanied by Miculet, called on President Shimon Peres, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai and Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu and dined with Uriel Lynn, the president of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce. But he probably had his most frank and easy discussion with fellow Moldovan, Avigdor Lieberman, who currently serves as Israel's Minister for Strategic Affairs. Lupu also visited the Western Wall, where he donned a kippa and left a message in one of the crevices, Yad Vashem and Beit Hatefutsoth. Before he left Jerusalem for Tel Aviv, Dalia Itzik hosted a dinner in his honor at the King David Hotel, and the two of them hit it off so well that when he invited her to come on official visit to Moldova, she told him that even if she did not come in an official capacity, she would come privately. At the end of the economic forum at ZOA House in Tel Aviv, there was a lot networking around Moldovan wines, and then everyone gathered to listen to Vasile Iovu, one of Moldova's leading pan-pipe performers who played for Itzik the previous evening in Jerusalem. After he had demonstrated his extensive repertoire for some 15 minutes, he was tempiorarily silenced by Gheorghe Cucu, the chairman of Moldova's Chamber of the Commerce and Industry, who wished Miculet a happy birthday and heaped compliments upon her before presenting her with a beautifully framed large hamsa on a black background. Fashioned from Swarovski crystals, some of which were in the shade of turquoise blue that is considered good luck in this part of the world, the gift brought tears of surprise and joy to Miculet's eyes. She was left temporarily speechless, and all she could do was to go around and kiss the senior members of the delegation who were all delighted with her reaction. Iovu also played a special birthday tune for her.
  • AMONG THE Moldavan business people traveling with Lupu were leaders of the Jewish community such as Alexander Bilinkis, the president of the Jewish Congress of Moldova, who is a wine-maker by profession and who brought along some of his products for Israelis to sample. No, his wine is not kosher, he admitted, but there was kosher wine on hand from other Moldovan winemakers. According to Bilinkis, there are some 20,000 Jews in Moldova of whom 10,000 live in Kishinev, which is sorely in need of additional synagogues. There are only five synagogues in Moldova, he said, and two of them are in Kishinev. There are two Jewish schools - one run by ORT and the other by Chabad. There is also a Jewish community kindergarten. There is a lot of Jewish community activity said Bilinkis, noting that there were 600 people at the community Seder last Pessah. Relations with the Joint, which used to be good in the days when Moldova was under Communist rule, have deteriorated, said Bilinkis, primarily because the Joint operates out of the Jewish Community Center, which the Jewish Congress says is Jewish community property, whereas the representatives of the Joint are acting as if the property belongs to the Joint, and this is causing a lot of friction, said Bilinkis.
  • ANOTHER PROMINENT figure from the Jewish community was dual national Anatoly Leibovich, a co-founder of the Moldova Jewish Congress and chairman of Darkon, the Association of Israeli Businessmen in Moldova. ("Darkon" is the Hebrew word for passport). The association is made up of some 25 people, some of whom are native Israelis who have set up business in Mokdova, and others who like Leibovich are dual nationals who were born in Moldova, but who spent much of their youth in Israel, and returned in the 1990s after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Leibovich came on aliya in 1977, and following his army service in Lebanon during the first Lebanon War, enrolled at the Technion and graduated with an engineering degree in computer science, working in senior positions for companies such as Motorola Semiconductors when the Semiconductors were still part of Motorola and for Compro Software Industries which is now Ness Technologies. Like many Israelis, Leibovich was coping with a long-term mortgage, and he wasn't too happy about the monthly payments which took a large chunk out of his salary. Then along came an opportunity for a business deal in the Ukraine which earned him enough money to get rid of the mortgage. After that, he returned to Moldova to see what he could do for himself there. The country was just emerging from the cobwebs of Communism and the food in the restaurants was so awful that he simply could not eat it. So he decided to open his own restaurant, and learned how to cook. "I didn't care if no one else came," he said. "I just wanted to eat well." He now has a chain of restaurants and plans to open more, including a kosher restaurant because there is an increasing demand from Jewish visitors to Moldova as well as from a sector of the Jewish community. He is also active in real estate development, and says that there are excellent opportunities in Moldova for Israeli investors.
  • THE GLUT of foreign dignitaries visiting Israel continues unabated. Peru's ambassador, Luis Mendivil Canales, is busy with his agriculture minister, Ismael Binavides Ferryros, in whose honor he hosted a cocktail reception at his home on Tuesday night. Ivory Coast's ambassador, Prof. Koudou Kessie Raymond, has been busy with the organization of his country's Economic Promotion Week, which is chaired by his country's first lady, Simone Gbagbo, whose delegation includes Leon Emanuel, minister for mines and energy. Similarly, Kazakhstan Ambassador Vadim Zverkov has been occupied with the visit of Kairat Kelimbetov, chairman of Kazakhstan's Fund for Sustainable Development for whom he is hosting a gala dinner on Thursday at the King David Hotel. And of course there is the state visit this week by Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko, which will keep Ukrainian Ambassador Ihor Tymofiriev on his toes for the next couple of days.
  • ENGLAND'S PREMIERSHIP soccer team, Tottenham Hotspur, found a new mascot at the Hilton Tel Aviv, its home away from home in Israel for last weekend's UEFA Cup game. The players had an excellent rapport with the hotel's chief security officer, Rachel Gamrasni, who made sure that their visit and stay was not only enjoyable, but also safe.