JERUSALEM HOTELS are becoming more competitive in their desire to serve the diplomatic community. For many years, the King David was without question the hotel of choice. Following the construction of the Hilton (now the Crowne Plaza), some visiting dignitaries found it more convenient to be at a five star hotel that was much closer to government offices and the exit from the city. When the Laromme (now the Inbal) went into business and took in some of the King David's diplomatic surplus, it started a fresh bout of competition. Then came the David Citadel (formerly the Hilton) and the competition intensified.
Also competing, but mainly for diplomats from Cyprus and Eastern Europe, is the Mount Zion Hotel, which has a VIP cottage removed from the main building and guaranteeing absolute privacy. It doesn't end there, because once the Waldorf Astoria opposite the David Citadel goes up, it will have even greater snob value. And of course there's the recently opened Mamilla, which belongs to Alfred Akirov who also owns the David Citadel. Then again there's the Eldan which is frequented by low-ranking diplomats and UN personnel, and also the historic YMCA, a plus for people who don't particularly fancy kosher food.
Realizing the extent of the competition, the Inbal - which last year accommodated a glut of foreign dignitaries and former heads of state who were here at the invitation of President Shimon Peres, who hosted a three-day conference in honor of the country's 60th anniversary - appointed a special sales and guest manager for the diplomatic sector. Anani Klir gets to meet visiting diplomats and government officials from all over the world, and recently greeted US Middle East envoy George Mitchell. The Americans are actually quite fair in distributing their custom, and their people stay at nearly all of the major hotels in the capital. Klir will have her work cut out in October when Peres hosts another international conference similar to that of last year.
ANYONE WHO accepted the invitation of Swiss Ambassador Walter Haffner to celebrate Swiss National Day at the Jaffa Port, but wasn't quite sure of the exact location, was easily guided by the emblematic red balloons with white crosses that fluttered all over an enclosed area outside the Na Laga'at (Please Touch) restaurant that is part of a complex that includes a theater of deaf and blind actors. The restaurant is run by deaf actors, who nonetheless are brilliant at communicating with people who are not deaf.
The invitation promised kosher delicacies, and early birds might have been forgiven for thinking that these consisted only of Osem munchies which were displayed in the nonkosher enclosure outside the restaurant. Osem is related to the famous Swiss Nestles conglomerate. But no. Na Laga'at is kosher and featured a full buffet that was decidedly different from the Swiss fare outside. Staff members ensured that nothing from inside went outside and vice versa, thus guaranteeing that there was no interference with the kashrut.
Sausages served outside were specially flown in from Switzerland that morning, and guests also drooled over raclette, a Swiss delicacy in which huge rounds of Swiss cheese are partially melted on rotating heaters and then scraped onto bread and served with pickled cucumbers and fresh vegetables.
The whole outside dÃ©cor was decidedly Swiss. Musicians played Swiss music on long Alpine horns. A high white table ringed by some 40 chairs was the centerpiece. Smaller white tables and white sofas and armchairs, whose pristine color was occasionally broken by red beanbags, provided comfort for all the invitees.
Haffner, who did not evade the troubling political relations between Israel and Switzerland over the past 15 months, insisted that there's more than meets the eye in relations between the two states. "We're always willing to pay for bad news, while good news is available free," he said, alluding to Israel's displeasure with Switzerland for holding diplomatic discussions with members of Hamas, while on all other levels, the relationship is good. Emphasizing Swiss neutrality and recognizing its distance from the realities of the Middle East, given that Switzerland has been without a war for more than 150 years, Haffner said that Switzerland has a policy of dialogue, which he believed would in the final analysis prove beneficial to Israel.
SOME OF guests at the Swiss reception had to do a super balancing act because they were also invited to the Peruvian National Day reception hosted by Ambassador Jose Luis Salinas, and to the Chinese Armed Forces Day reception hosted by Ambassador Zhao Jun - so they put the Swiss reception first on the list because the other two were in Herzliya Pituah.
Salinas, who has been here for less than a month, has already succeeded in making firm friends, judging by the people who kept engaging him in conversation and embracing him. Some of the guests wandered out to the swimming pool to listen to a trio of Latin American musicians. A few sat in the front garden, but most preferred to be in the rooms inside the spacious house, where there was some relief from the grueling humidity outside. The constantly smiling, even-tempered Salinas said that he has set himself two tasks: One is to learn to Hebrew and the other is to understand Israeli politics. Some of his guests were of the opinion that he would find it easier to learn Hebrew.
CHABADNIKS AROUND the world this week marked the 69th anniversary of the purchase, in 1940, of 770 Eastern Parkway, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. 770 Eastern Parkway, which is generally known as Chabad or Lubavitch headquarters, was purchased by Agudas Chassidei Chabad (the Chabad-Lubavitch community) to house the living quarters, study and office, yeshiva and synagogue of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, who had arrived in New York after being rescued from Nazi-occupied Warsaw. It also served as the headquarters of his son-in-law and successor, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and continues to be the vortex of Chabad-Lubavitch's global network of institutions that encourage Jewish education and outreach.
THERE'S A new chairman of the board at Bank Hapoalim. Yair Saroussi last Sunday replaced Dan Dankner, who was forced to step down because the Bank of Israel didn't like his way of doing things. In a farewell message that he sent out to staff, Dankner wrote: "It is with a very heavy heart that I leave my position as chairman of Bank Hapoalim. This was one of the most difficult decisions that I ever had to make in my life, but I have no regrets because the good of the bank, its employees and its customers were my chief concern."
Dankner also expressed warm appreciation to Shari Arison, the bank's controlling shareholder, who had supported him during the crisis and had stood up to the dictates of the Bank of Israel "because of the principles that she values."
Tisha Be'av is not the best time to induct a baby into the faith, but Halacha decrees that if the baby is healthy, the circumcision has to be performed eight days after the birth. Circumcision ceremonies are usually held very early in the morning so that guests can continue on to work, or late in the afternoon after most of the guests have already finished work for the day. Ariel and No'a Goldsmith of Jerusalem, who are the proud parents of newborn twins - a boy and a girl - decided that they would put off the circumcision ceremony and the naming of their son and daughter till 7 p.m. so that guests would be able to break the fast immediately after Ma'ariv. Timing is everything, and the service at the Ramban Synagogue finished earlier than expected, so everyone had to hang around the buffet tables for the best part of half an hour waiting until it was permissible to eat.
TISHA BE'AV also intruded on the birthday celebrations of business tycoon Lev Leviev, who celebrated his 53rd birthday on July 30.
ON THE subject of birthdays, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, who celebrated his 51st birthday yesterday, and who has never made a secret of his ambition to one day be prime minister, shares a horoscope with US President Barack Obama, who was also born on August 4 and celebrated his 48th birthday.
AS ISRAEL's largest fashion company, Castro is traditionally among the first to show off the new season's collections. Thus some 40 models, headed by presenters Gal Gadot and Jonathan Wagman, showed off fall/winter fashions for 2009/2010 to the usual large crowd that congregated in one of the hangars at the old Tel Aviv Port.
Gadot, a former Miss Israel and budding Hollywood film star, was visited backstage by former international super model and actress Michaela Bercu, who by virtue of her past status has carte blanche to go behind the curtain when other people are denied. Bercu brought her daughter Talya, who was really the one who was interested in seeing Gadot beyond the limelight. Bercu, who is currently living in Los Angeles where her husband is doing business, exchanged phone numbers with Gadot.
Among the other Israeli celebs living in LA is international soccer player Haim Revivo, whose palatial mansion in Ashdod has just been put on the market.
Other celebrities invited by Castro codirectors Eti and Gabi Roter to see the upcoming winter trends included singer Einat Saruf and her daughter Yarden, who is studying medicine at Tel Aviv University, former beauty queen Dana Wexler-Spector and her daughter Coral, who is also studying medicine at TAU; Yamit Sol, one of several other former beauty queens; fashion designer Sasson Kedem, whose own unique style bears no resemblance to anything on the Castro runway; Sandy Bar, who was the Castro presenter before Gadot and who also went to Hollywood, had a baby, split up from her husband actor Aki Avni and came home; and Leah Peretz, who heads the fashion design department at Shenkar College. Several of her students who are now brand name designers, started their careers with Castro. By the way, the key colors for the next season are black, shades of grey and ultra deep blue.
IT'S TAKEN a while, but Nissim Zvili, a former ambassador to France, is reaping the rewards of the contacts he made during his tenure. Alstom, the French global infrastructure group, has announced his appointment as Alstom Israel country president. Alstom has been operating here for more than a decade through its fully owned representative office, and has won tenders for major energy and infrastructure projects. Among its significant clients are Israel Railways and Israel Electric. Zvili, 67, who served as ambassador to France from 2002-2005, was previously secretary-general of the Labor Party and as a Labor MK. While in France he forged and strengthened bilateral economic and business relations, and obviously left a good impression.
DESPITE THE general perception that much of the world is against Israel, there have been several world leaders who have been very pro-Israel, most notably former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke who was known to be a true friend. Hawke, who visited several times, beginning in 1971 as president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, was the first sitting Australian prime minister to pay a state visit, which he did in 1987, after his initial visit in 1971 to forge stronger ties with the Histadrut and in 1976 for the dedication of a forest in his name.
He has also received an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University Jerusalem and a Shield of Jerusalem award from Teddy Kollek and Simcha Dinitz, who was then chairman of the World Zionist Organization. Hawke was also among the international dignitaries who flocked to Israel in 2003 to celebrate the 80th birthday of Shimon Peres.
Hawke achieved a bipartisan vote in Parliament opposing the UN resolution that equated Zionism with racism, was a great supporter of the struggle for Soviet Jewry and a great believer in the kibbutz system - so much so that in the 1970s he encouraged his elder daughter Susan to spend a year as a kibbutz volunteer. Moreover, long before the Oslo Accords, he envisaged an economic federation in which Israel and Jordan would join forces with the Palestinians.
One of the most colorful of Australian prime ministers, Hawke, 79, was last week honored by current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who at the National Conference of the Australian Labor Party awarded him life membership in the party which he had led to victory four times. Hawke is one of three people to have received life membership in the ALP.
THERE ARE many ways in which to promote goodwill and coexistence and an Australian national symbol - the kangaroo - is one of them. In the belief that every child has the right to take delight in the joys of nature, Yehuda Gat, manager of Gan Garoo, the Australian nature reserve at Kibbutz Nir David, decided to give Elinor, a red Australian kangaroo, plus a pair of grey kangaroos to the Kalkilya zoo. The kangaroos are not the first animals to be transferred from Israel to the zoo inside the Palestinian Authority, but they are a little more unusual than the lions transferred from the Safari in Ramat Gan. There's a strong cooperation between the zookeepers in Kalkilya and those in Israeli zoos because their mutual concern for the welfare of animals overrides any political differences.
CYCLISTS, THOUGH a great nuisance on narrow pavements in urban areas, are also in need of their own space - bike trails. Where the pavements are wide, one can see bike trails in Tel Aviv and some other parts of the country, most recently the Jezreel Valley where a bike trail was inaugurated in the Balfour Forest by the Jewish National Fund of Ireland. A large representation of the Irish expat community participated in the ceremony which was organized by the Keren Kayemet Leyisrael in conjunction with the Israel Ireland Friendship League. John White, chairman of JNF Ireland, and wife Linda made a special trip from Dublin for the occasion.
THERE IS no retirement age for MKs or heads of state or for that matter members of boards of directors of public companies. But there is cutoff age for civil servants, which forced the retirement of Micha Yinon, who headed the cultural administration in the Ministry of Culture for 12 years, starting out with then education minister Zvulun Hammer and continuing under Shulamit Aloni, Amnon Rubinstein, Yitzhak Levy, Yossi Sarid, Limor Livnat, Meir Sheetrit, Matan Vilna'i, Ophir Paz-Pines and Raleb Majadela.
Yinon enjoyed a good relationship with cultural institutions and did his utmost to find solutions to their problems. He was also present at nearly all their important events. In a departing letter that he sent to heads of cultural institutions, he said that it was an honor to serve them and to witness their incredible professionalism and creativity.
A lawyer by training, Yinon's previous positions included director of the Israel Bar Association, chairman of the executive board of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, a member of the Second Channel Council and member of the executive board of Bar-Ilan University. Yinon worked twice under Livnat - initially when she was minister of education, culture and sport and more recently in her current position as minister of culture and sport. His most difficult period was under Majadela, who some said saw him as a political rival and tried unsuccessfully to oust him. In the final analysis, it was Majadela who was ousted when he failed to gain a realistic spot on the Labor list for the Knesset elections.
MADONNA IS reportedly planning to take her children to Auschwitz next week prior to the Warsaw leg of her Sticky and Sweet tour. When the Kabbala student comes here in September, she intends to visit the Western Wall. Fans should not jump to conclusions that her preoccupation with things Jewish will lead her to cultivate the Esther side of her personality and to relinquish Madonna. Although she will probably do very well at the box office in Israel, there is no way that she will outdo Leonard Cohen.
AFTER ALL the trouble and worry that filmmaker and actor Assi Dayan has caused his mother Ruth Dayan, he's giving her some pride and pleasure. At the upcoming Ophir awards in September, Dayan, who is considered to be a superb professional regardless of his personality problems, will be given a lifetime achievement award. This is not the first time that his talent has been recognized by the Israel Film Academy. He has previously won seven awards for his work as a director and an actor. The only remaining question is whether he will show up to take possession of his award.
PRESIDENT SHIMON Peres last Sunday attended the 80th anniversary celebrations of Bnei Akiva. One of the interesting changes in his life since taking up the presidency two years ago is that the neutrality of his position makes it incumbent on him to honor ideological streams that are different from those which were for so many years were part and parcel of his identity. He's made positive speeches about Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin, and on his birthday which coincided with the Bnei Akiva festivities, he traveled to Beersheba where he spoke to some 1,000 Bnei Akiva members and alumni from around the world and presented a dissertation on Rabbi Akiva, whose characteristics of love for Torah and humanity, work ethic, moral temperament and concern for and assistance to the less fortunate members of society embody the ideals of the movement.
Peres cited as an example of the best of Bnei Akiva Major Roi Klein, an alumnus and deputy commander of a Golani Brigade battalion who was killed during the Second Lebanon War when he jumped on a grenade and sacrificed his own life to save the lives of other soldiers. The strength of Bnei Akiva, said Peres, lay not in the number of its members, the number of its branches or the number of its settlements. Its strength was in its spirit as personified by Klein, who was intelligent, a talented engineer, a member of the settlement community and a courageous commander who was willing to give his life for his comrades, his people and his homeland.