Grapevine: An unparalleled friendship

Olmert and Itzik praise the US, the new Chinese ambassador hosts a reception, and Houston's Bernard Aptaker dedicates Yad Vashem's Warsaw Ghetto Square Garden.

itzik 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
itzik 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
BOTH ACTING President Dalia Itzik and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke of the extraordinary friendship that exists between Israel and the US at the 231st Independence Day celebrations of the United States of America hosted on July 3 by US Ambassador Richard Jones and his wife, Joan, in the garden of their residence. "We have shaped a friendship that has no parallel in the family of nations," said Itzik, who spoke warmly of America's enduring support for Israel throughout the years, and of the belief of the United States that peace cannot be achieved without security. Itzik, who spoke in English and referred to what the United States has given to the world, had a little trouble reading the prepared text and rolling her tongue around the Gettysburg Address, and was a little less impressive than when she delivers a speech in Hebrew. Olmert, on the other hand, speaking entirely without notes, waxed eloquent in Hebrew for the Israeli electronic media and then, without missing a beat, translated his remarks into fluent English for the benefit of those who didn't understand Hebrew. "There is no country in the world other than ourselves that we love more than the United States, because the US stands for the same principles and basic values that make it possible for Israel and other countries in the world to live in freedom and democracy," said Olmert. "That is the basic commitment of America." The US spreads its power to fight against terror, to fight against evil and to fight against those who are determined to break these basic principles, he continued. "That is why we respect you so much and why we are so grateful for the friendship that you manifest towards our country," he said. Jones drew a parallel between America's founding fathers and Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl who were all dreamers united in a common goal of a nation free of tyranny from without and within. Jones praised Israel for having built not only a Jewish State but a multi-ethnic democratic society and a robust civil society. "Peace is still elusive," he said, "but today we stand at the crossroads of history of the Middle East. The dream of our age is to defeat extremism and to secure lasting peace in the region." Part of the realization of that dream, Jones emphasized, was bringing home Israel's kidnapped soldiers, Gilad Schalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Jones also dreamed of the day when there would be no bomb shelters in Israel and no check points in Palestinians areas, and no need for either. Gene Cretz, the deputy chief of mission who will be winding up his tour of duty next month, was the master of ceremonies, and explained that although American Independence Day is on July 4, it is not unusual to celebrate it on July 3 which was the date in 1776 on which General George Washington took control of the Continental Army, thereby beginning the process of independence. Jones went a step further with the history lesson, recalling that it was on July 2, 1776, that the resolution proposed by Richard Henry Lee that the United Colonies ought to be free and independent states absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown was adopted by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. However, the documents were not signed till July 4. Getting 56 signatures within two days in a pre e-mail age was no mean feat, said Jones. RECENTLY ARRIVED Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jun hosted a "getting-to-know-you" reception at his residence for a crowd somewhat smaller than that which is invited to national day affairs or to the numerous charitable events for which his predecessor made the house available. Many of the guests had not been there before in the daylight hours and were charmed by the beauty of the garden. In addition to the sumptuous, strategically placed buffets that included a fruit table for health addicts and those who only eat kosher, the garden was decorated with colorful Chinese parasols and fairy lights at the far end, and with pots of lilies around the pool near the patio leading from the living room. Recorded Chinese music played softly in the background. Most of the guests had other commitments, and could not stay into the evening. Australian Ambassador James Larsen had to run off to Haifa to open the Australian film festival there. Some of the other diplomats were invited to a reception hosted by Brazilian Ambassador Motta Pinto Coelho in honor of a visiting Brazilian entertainer, while others had to rush off to the residence of the new Slovanian Ambassador Boris Sovic, who has yet to present his credentials. The Chinese Embassy seldom hosts a reception without making literature on China available to the guests. This occasion was no exception and the literature included a beautiful book on Food in Chinese Culture. IT'S NOT every day that a foreign singer can come to a country and give a perfect performance of a song that has become a national hymn. But that's exactly what happened when Japanese singer, Hisako Ikedo, performed Jerusalem of Gold at the residence of Japanese Ambassador Yoshinori Katori and his wife, Etsuko. Ikedo, who is primarily in Israel to perform in Madame Butterfly with the New Haifa Symphony Orchestra, was invited by the Katoris to perform for a select audience in their living room. Accompanied by Japanese composer and pianist Itzhak Fujita, who has been living in Israel on and off for 10 years and speaks fluent Hebrew, Ikedo sang both Japanese folk songs and Hebrew songs of both a religious and popular nature and won herself a standing ovation not only for the quality of her singing, but also for her charming personality, her acting ability and her triumph in mastering a foreign language and overcoming the hurdles that some Japanese have with the letter "r." Her enunciation was just perfect. vShuli Nathan would have liked her rendition of Jerusalem of Gold, and somewhere in heaven, Naomi Shemer might have been smiling with pleasure. The audience fell in love with Ikedo, and eagerly crowded around her after the performance, not wanting to let her go. INITIALLY, IT was thought that former president Moshe Katsav and his wife, Gila, might make their way from Kiryat Malachi to Modi'in to celebrate the birth of Itamar Shalom Peretz, the first-born son of Danny Peretz and his wife, Hagit Cohen, who happens to be the spokeswoman for Beit Hanassi. The Katsavs, who are known to adore children, were at the couple's wedding two-and-a-half years ago, and had indicated that they would be delighted to come and greet the baby. However, the date of the festivities coincided with that on which Attorney General Menachem Mazuz was supposed to explain a plea bargain decision, and Katsav obviously wanted to hear what he had to say, and so gave Modi'in a miss. Nevertheless, a large representation of the Beit Hanassi current and former staff was there, including Miriam Milo, the most veteran member of staff who worked for Ephraim Katzir and every president since. Former director-general vMoshe Goral, who used to suffer from serious weight problems, turned up looking remarkably svelte and 20 kilos lighter. His doctor was still not happy with him, he said. If discretion is the better part of valor, Beit Hanassi staffers can be counted among the most valorous people in Israel. The half dozen plus journalists who attended the event thought that once outside Jerusalem, the staff might be more talkative about the presidential scandal. But no. None of them would say anything. All of them resisted every journalistic ploy and said they knew nothing more than what they had read in the newspapers. As of the end of last week, a team for President-designate Shimon Peres had not yet visited Beit Hanassi to decide on how things will be done in future and who will do what. Ziona Rosenthal, who has been the personal assistant to the wife of every president from the late Ophira Navon to Gila Katsav, also said that Sonia Peres had not yet been in touch with her. BECAUSE SHE has stayed so much in the background of her husband's career, Sonia Peres unfailingly arouses curiosity, and the $64 million question at the moment is whether she will be at the Knesset for his presidential swearing in ceremony on Sunday. When asked by The Jerusalem Post whether Sonia Peres would be at this important ceremony, Yona Bartal - who is one of Peres's closest confidantes - replied that the media would have to wait and see just like everyone else. A few weeks ago, NRG, the Maariv Internet site, published a story claiming that Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik had decided to invite a large number of world leaders to the event, but this was denied by both Knesset spokesman Giora Pordes and by Bartal. There will, however, be a large number of local personalities reflecting the mosaic of Israeli society including settlers from across the green line, haredim and representatives of the performing arts. There will also be Gen. (Res) Raphael Vardi, who is Peres's oldest friend. The two were schoolboys together at the Balfour School on Tel Aviv's Mazeh St. They met in seventh grade soon after the Persky (Peres's original name) family arrived from Poland. Other guests from Peres's peer generation include actress Hannah Meron, Rachel Rabin, the sister of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Ruth Dayan, the first wife of Moshe Dayan, who was both friend and colleague to Peres, and of course Israel's fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, who together with Peres was a disciple of David Ben- Gurion, whose grandson, communications expert Yariv Ben Eliezer, is also among the invitees. THE INVITATION to the Slovenian reception had been issued by the charming first secretary and charge d'affaires, Tanja Miskova. She explained that the national day festivities had been postponed by two weeks because it was known when the ambassador would arrive and it was thought that this would be an excellent opportunity for him to meet people. A former mayor of Maribor, Sovic declared how happy he was to be able to see the Israeli sunset and the stars and so many friendly people. It was his first time in Israel, he said, and before leaving Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana, he had met with the foreign minister, who had told him that "Israel is our friend." Indeed, he recalled diplomatic relations with Israel had been forged 15 years ago, only a year after Slovenia gained the independence that it had been dreaming of for centuries. And like Israel, almost immediately after the declaration of independence, Slovenia had been plunged into war. But today things are different. Sovic was happy to report that an Israeli water polo team is currently visiting his home town of Maribor - and not for the first time. Like all ambassadors, Sovic's aim is to improve relations between his country and Israel, but not just on an official level. He wants to foster people to people contacts because that's the best way for people to learn about each other's cultures. Deputy director-general at the Foreign Ministry, Mark Sofer, who is responsible for countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc, observed that even though Slovenia is a small country with a population of only two million, it has quickly developed into a country with a high standard of living and a volume of trade with Israel in the realm of $100 million. Some 80,000 to 100,000 Israelis visit Slovenia each year, said Sofer, suggesting that tourism should be a two-way street, with more Slovenians visiting Israel. He also mentioned Sovic's predecessor, Iztoc Jarc, who, he said, had been one of the best ambassadors ever sent to Israel. Jarc is now his country's minister of agriculture. Sofer recalled that at last year's Slovenian national day celebrations, Jarc's wife, Helena, had sung Hatikva. Sofer won't be around next year to see whether Sovic's wife will do the same. As Sovic remarked of Sofer, "His mind is already somewhere else." Sofer is Israel's ambassador-designate to India, so he's weaning himself off Europe. LOQUACIOUS LAWYER Daniel Jacobson is known for his amazing gift for language and his delight in playing word games. In fact, he's a walking Thesaurus. So it was not at all surprising that the most recent donation to the Reut Medical Center in Tel Aviv by Jacobson, who is one of its most veteran supporters, would be a speech therapy department. Many dignitaries attended the dedication ceremony, including Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who was among the speakers. "What would I do without the power of speech? I'd probably hide away in a cellar until the coming of the Messiah!" said Lau. In the Book of Genesis, he continued, the creation of man is described with the words: "And man became a living spirit," which according to the Rashi interpretation means that he was given understanding and speech. "Human beings are the only creatures who express themselves through speech," said Lau. "This wonderful place helps people who have lost the power of speech rejoin the family of man." Others present at the ceremony included Reut chairman David Friedmann, executive director Eliezer Jeselsohn, deputy executive director Miriam Frankel, director of the Medical Center, Dr. Nissim Ohana, and head of the Speech Therapy Department, Aviah Gvion, who described the great frustration and difficulty, as well as the enormous satisfaction, that go hand in hand with the laborious rehabilitation process. The new department, with its state-of-the-art therapeutic infrastructure, will open a host of professional possibilities, she said. The Speech Therapy Department specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of speech and swallowing impairments that result from brain damage. In addition to its clinical work, the department is involved in research and academic activities, collaborating with Tel Aviv University and other therapeutic centers throughout Israel. MANY DOORS in eastern and central Europe are open to Israeli investors, especially those who have large-scale property interests in various European countries. Thus, when real estate tycoon Yuli Ofer and his wife, Ruthie, went on a three-day visit to Eastern Europe - primarily to inspect Ofer's vast property interests as well as to investigate new projects - the whirlwind trip took them to Serbia, where they stayed at the presidential palace of President Boris Tadic; to Montenegro, where they met with President Filip Vujanovic in his presidential chambers; and to Slovakia, where they met with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Rober Kalinak, who hosted a luncheon for them. They also met with representatives of Prince Albert of Monaco. In Romania, where Ofer was born, they went on an inspection tour of his numerous real estate properties, and relaxed briefly at the Meridian Hotel, which he happens to own. THE MOST common request at the start of concerts, theater performances, conferences et al, is for people to turn off their cellphones - and invariably there is someone who doesn't. Lawyer-turned-political-strategist Ruth Preminger, who was the mistress of ceremonies at the annual Roaring Lion awards presentations of the Israel Public Relations Association at the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv, acknowledged that she couldn't ask people in the communications business to turn off their phones, but she could ask them to put them on silent mode and to depend on the buzzer. Yet even with this latitude, someone's phone did ring. ALTHOUGH MANY Holocaust survivors in Israel and other parts of the world live in acute economic distress, there are others who though penniless after the war, amassed huge fortunes and became generous philanthropists, contributing to many causes and institutions, including Yad Vashem. One such philanthropist is Polish-born Bernard Aptaker of Houston, who recently dedicated Yad Vashem's Warsaw Ghetto Square Garden, designed by noted landscape artist, Shlomo Aronson. Several Holocaust survivors attended the dedication ceremony, including Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Also present was Avi Dichter, the minister for internal security. Aptaker, 81, and two of his siblings survived the war after being in various camps and migrated to the United States in 1947. Initially Aptaker worked in a deli and later as a dance instructor before becoming a successful real estate developer and businessman in Houston. At the emotional dedication ceremony in Jerusalem, he noted that it was the Holocaust that made him so aware of his Jewish identity. "We try to preserve the memory and tell the stories and hope the suffering is lessened as time goes on," Aptaker said. "I'd write a check for $5 million right now just to have a picture of my mother." To those who would deny the Holocaust, Aptaker said in a separate testimony: "I was a witness. My eyes have seen it… As long as I'm alive, they can't say that such a thing didn't happen. I was there. I lived through this nightmare; I survived it, perhaps to tell this story."