Grapevine: Departing diplomats

Richard Jones celebrates his last 4th of July in Israel, outgoing UN ambassador Danny Gillerman explains why it's a crazy world out there, and Hadassah presents its Women of Distinction Awards.

greer fay cashman (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
greer fay cashman
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
US AMBASSADOR Richard Jones will host his last American Independence Day party in the role of ambassador tomorrow. Like his two predecessors, Daniel Kurtzer and Martin Indyk, Jones is leaving the diplomatic service. Given that the United States was the first country to officially recognize Israel in 1948, this year's Independence Day celebrations will also honor Israel's 60th anniversary and the 60th anniversary of US-Israel relations. Israel's first ambassador to the United States, Eliyahu Elath, presented his credentials in 1948. It took a little while longer for James Grover McDonald, America's first ambassador to Israel, to present his credentials, which he did in March, 1949 - the year in which future ambassador Kurtzer was born. It was a short-lived mission of 15 months, but not as brief as that of Edward Djerejian, who served for only seven months in 1994. Djerejian was the immediate predecessor of Martin Indyk, who was the only US ambassador to be sent back to serve a second time following the tour of duty of Edward Walker. The longest-serving US ambassador was Walworth Barber, who was here for just under 12 years, and endeared himself greatly to Israelis, but perhaps not as much as Samuel Lewis, who served for eight years, and arrived in Israel in tandem with the political revolution that swept Menachem Begin into power. Lewis developed a very special relationship with Begin, and was also extremely popular in Israeli jazz circles, where he frequently played with local bands. Lewis has returned to Israel several times on private visits and to participate in political conferences and debates. Sallai Meridor, Israel's current envoy to the US, is the 16th ambassador. Unlike the Americans, Israel never had an ambassador to the US who served for as long as 12 years, though it did have an ambassador who served in two separate tours of duty. Zalman Shoval served from 1990 to 1993 and again from 1998 to 2000. The other Israeli ambassadors to the US were: Abba Eban, Avraham Harman (the longest-serving ambassador in the post, at nine years), Yitzhak Rabin, Simcha Dinitz, Ephraim Evron, Moshe Arens, Meir Rosenne, Moshe Arad, Itamar Rabinovich, Eliahu Ben-Elissar, David Ivri and Danny Ayalon. n MEANWHILE, ON Monday of this week, Jones and his wife, Joan, were the guests of honor at an American Independence Day cum farewell reception hosted by the Israel America Chamber of Commerce at Van Gogh on the Tel Aviv Port, where IACC Chairman Chemi Peres, while bidding farewell to Jones, also welcomed a Silicon Valley delegation representing Silicon Ventures. Peres said that if he were asked to speak on the most important date for humanity, he would choose the fourth of July. He praised Jones for having done "a great job" and for having been "a good friend to Israel." He also noted that Jones was the key figure in promoting business relations between Israeli and Palestinian organizations. "A lot of people say I've hardly been here," said Jones, "but you're so busy you hardly notice the time." Of all his postings in 32 years with the foreign service, his longest stint has been in Israel, he said. He was proud of the fact that president Harry S. Truman had recognized Israel 11 minutes after its declaration of independence. In making comparisons between the US and Israel, Jones did not dwell on the usual shared values and democracy angle, but made the point instead that the citizens of both countries know the words of and proudly sing their national anthems. Almost everyone in Israel knows the words of Hatikva, he said, and most Americans know the words of the Star Spangled Banner. "We sing them because we love our countries and we still get excited." Jones and his wife are leaving Israel at the end of next week, "but we will leave a little of our hearts, and you will always be in our thoughts and prayers wherever we are for the rest of our lives." Jones is heading to Paris to take up the post of deputy executive director of the International Atomic Energy Agency. For the first time in some 12 years, Jones will be able to move around without a bodyguard. He and his wife are looking forward to their new freedom. n KEYNOTE SPEAKER at the Israel America Chamber of Commerce event was Danny Gillerman, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, who winds up his tour of duty at the end of July. Like Jones, he also referred to Harry Truman, emphasizing that against the advice of the State Department and the secretary of state, Truman had decided to recognize the State of Israel - "which shows that sometimes it's not a bad idea to ignore your secretary of state." Coming to the UN from the business world, Gillerman thought in view of all the anti-Israel resolutions taken by the UN, that he would be isolated and hated. But that didn't happen, and when he walks through the corridors of the UN he walks with his head held high, "because I represent a country that is far better than most member states of the UN with the possible exception of the United States." Noting the negative images of it on television screens around the world, Gillerman said that he had worked with some degree of success to get people at the UN and in the US to realize that Israel is "an incredible country" - a country of innovation, creativity, beauty, industry, technology and excellence. Suggesting that the United Nations is somewhat of "a crazy world," Gillerman observed that this craziness goes beyond the UN. "You know you're in a crazy world when world's greatest rapper is white, the world's greatest golfer is black, the world's greatest soldiers are Jewish, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the French accuse the Americans of being arrogant," he quipped. On a more sobering note, Gillerman declared that most of the terror, violence and bloodshed in the world today is within Islam, in the battle between moderates and extremists. The greatest number of victims are Muslims, he said, "because Muslims are killing Muslims. When Christians kill Muslims, it's the Crusades. When Jews kill Muslims it's murder, and when Muslims kill Muslims, it's like talking about the weather. Nobody really cares about it." n GEORGIAN AMBASSADOR Lasha Zhvania bade a highly emotional trilingual farewell to his many friends at a very Georgian event at the Dan Panorama Hotel, Tel Aviv, where the banquet room was decorated with miniature Georgian flags with a red cross on a white background lacing every table. On each table, there was also a small white vase bearing two roses, one red and one white. In addition, there were red and white balloons suspended from the vases, and at the back of the stage there was an archway of red and white balloons over which there was a white banner bordered in red with a message in red Italics stating "We'll miss you." One of the buffet tables was laden with Georgian delicacies, and the dessert table also featured Georgian pastries. A group of Georgian child dancers, some aged as young as five and six, performed traditional dances with grace, verve and aplomb, not to mention perfect synchronization. Speaking in English, Hebrew and Georgian, Zhvania (who was recently elected to his country's parliament where he will be chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee) recalled that three years ago, following his appointment as ambassador to Israel and Cyprus, he did the usual ambassador's tour of getting acquainted visits to other ambassadors. When he met Dan Kurtzer, who was then US ambassador, he told him that he thought that Israel is a complicated assignment and added: "If I can succeed in Israel, I can succeed in everything." Kurtzer's response according to Zhvania was: "If I hadn't come to Israel, I would have failed in everything." An ecumenical affair, the farewell party included Rabbi Yaacov Kagulashvili, who is regarded as chief rabbi of the local Georgian community, plus senior representatives of the Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches. US Ambassador Richard Jones and Russian Ambassador Piotr Stegny were also on hand, as was Latvian Ambassador Karlis Eihenbaums, who has already had his official farewell party and was scheduled to return home this week. He had stayed to eat the kosher hamburgers at the US Independence Day festivities he quipped, but the real reason for the delay in his departure was that Latvian Jewry commemorates Holocaust Day on July 4, and he thought that he should be in Israel to commemorate with the local Latvian community. Also present was Hungary's honorary consul in Jerusalem, Josef Weiss, who together with his wife, Anita, will host a farewell next week for Hungarian Ambassador Andras Gyenge and his wife, Aniko. Cyprus deputy head of mission Antonis Mandritis, who like Ambassador George Zodiates, is also leaving this month, told Israel Foreign Ministry officials that he had been to the Kotel (Western Wall) and had inserted a note with a prayer for peace. Many of the guests at the Georgian farewell continued from Tel Aviv to Herzliya Pituah to the residence of Austrian Ambassador Michael Rendi, who hosted a screening of the final of UEFA Euro 2008 in the match between Spain and Germany. Historically speaking, his Jewish guests had reason to be in favor of neither, but the majority cheered for Spain. n IT'S EXTREMELY doubtful that Polish Ambassador Agnieszka Magdziak Miszewska and German Ambassador Dr. Harald Kindermann will be among the members of the diplomatic community networking on the lawns of the US ambassador's residence tomorrow. They will be otherwise engaged at the opening of a photographic and short film exhibition at the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv, illustrating the many facets of Polish-German relations. The exhibition features the works of some 30 young Polish and German artists and is the result of a joint initiative by the Polish Institute and the Goethe Institute. It was originally shown during the Polish-German year 2005/2006 and serves as yet another example of how once bitter enemies can overcome the animosities of the past and move forward to a better future. The exhibition will be on view at Beit Asia until July 29. n MANY PEOPLE expecting an invitation to Canada Day festivities this week were disappointed. Canadian Ambassador Jon Allen and his wife, Clara Hirsch, decided to make it a native Canadian affair and invited only people with genuine maple leaf backgrounds. It was a much smaller crowd in which more people knew each other or of each other. n SYRIA IS in the news, not only politically but gastronomically. People of Syrian extraction, whether Jewish or not, insist that Syrian cuisine is the best of all food in the Middle East. Thus the current promotion in Israel of Poopa Dweck's Aromas of Aleppo - The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews is more than timely. In fact, Dweck firmly believes that just as the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, the way to peace may very well be in the same direction. Dweck, who lives in Deal, New Jersey, said at her book promotion event at the Steimatzky flagship store in Jerusalem's Mamilla last Friday that she had been approached by the Syrian ambassador to the US to have the book translated into Arabic because the recipes are so authentic. Dweck would be happy to oblige, but only on condition that the Arabic translation also includes the Jewish content, which tells the history and traditions of Syrian Jews. A relative of Dweck met a Muslim of Syrian descent who had been so nostalgically enchanted by her book that he bought a copy for every member of his family. Once, when giving a cooking demonstration in Brooklyn, Dweck saw an elderly woman beckon to her. She went over and the woman hugged her so tightly that Dweck thought her bones would crack. The woman thanked her for helping to preserve tradition for her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. Dweck, a slim, dynamic, well-groomed mother of five, researched the recipes together with Michael Cohen, a New York attorney and food-and-travel writer. At the Jerusalem promotion, Dweck also prepared several of the recipes in the book, including an utterly delicious apricot, nuts and rosewater dessert which is served to bridegrooms and could easily pass for an aphrodisiac, although that's not the intention. The book in itself is a work of art, but as is generally the case at Steimatzky, more expensive here than abroad. Steimatzky is charging NIS 198 per copy, whereas in the US it's available for $32.97. You don't have to be a mathematician to work out the difference. Although the book was on display in abundance over the weekend, it was far less visible this week, and in some stores it was not on display at all, which is a shame. It sheds light on many things that Ashkenazis may not know about - such as the fact that Syrian halla for Shabbat comprises 12 pitot - far tastier than the ones we're used to here. There's also a lot of history that's not in the regular Jewish text books. But then history is relative. The Steimatzky bookstore that opened in Jerusalem's Jaffa Road in 1925 and was a city landmark, is now in shambles since Steimatzky decided that its capital flagship should be in the building that Theodor Herzl stayed in on his only visit to Jerusalem. Soon, no one will remember that there was a bookstore on the Jaffa Road site. n IT WAS an interesting coincidence that on the day that the Hadassah Zionist Organization of America was at the Knesset presenting its Women of Distinction Awards, the Foreign Ministry put out a release announcing the appointment of Israel's first woman ambassador to the UN. Hadassah Medical Center director-general Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, who would have ordinarily attended the Women of Distinction Ceremony, was absent due to the fact that he was otherwise engaged with Carla Bruni Sarkozy, who was visiting with child oncology patients in Hadassah's Ein Kerem facility. Among former honorees of the Women of Distinction award who came to the Knesset was retired Supreme Court judge Miriam Ben-Porat, who celebrated her 90th birthday in January of this year, and continues to remain active in legal affairs. A former deputy president of the Supreme Court, and later a daring State Comptroller who tested the patience of then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, Ben-Porat is also an Israel Prize laureate. Also present was fellow Israel Prize laureate Lia Van Leer, now in her mid-eighties and famous for her contribution to Israeli appreciation of cinema, named a Woman of Distinction in 2000, a year after Ben-Porat and was also present. But active nonagenarian Ruth Dayan who preceded both of them as a Woman of Distinction was absent, not because of age but because she and fellow honoree, Rivka Michaeli, broke ranks with Hadassah in 2003 when right-wing firebrand Geula Cohen was selected to receive the honor. The committee selecting honorees went to great pains to explain that Hadassah is an apolitical organization and that whether one agreed with Cohen or not, it could not be denied that she was a woman of distinction. Dayan and Michaeli remained unconvinced. Businesswoman Ofra Strauss, who had accepted the honor and was supposed to receive it in the same year as Cohen, on learning that they would be together, also bowed out and decided to forego the recognition. This year's honorees were Ben-Gurion University president, Prof. Rivka Carmi, Zionist historian Prof. Anita Shapira and Israel Prize laureate, celebrated actress and children's theater director, Orna Porat. When her citation was read out, Porat was also referred to as "Professor." The recipient of a slew of honorary doctorates, Porat clapped her hands in delight and exclaimed: "I didn't finish school and you've made me a professor!" n YOU DON'T have to be religious or a believer to be moved by the fact that so many rabbis are being ordained at the same time in Poland, which lost most of its Jews in the Holocaust, said Israel Radio's Polish-born Arye Golan, who is far from religiously observant, when reporting on this week's ordination ceremony in Warsaw of ten Chabad rabbis from the US and Israel. They were ordained by Polish-born Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi and child Holocaust survivor Rabbi Israel Meir Lau in a ceremony presided over by Poland's chief rabbi, American-born Michael Shudrich, and Kfar Chabad's Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Stambler, head of the two-year-old Chabad Yeshiva in Warsaw. These were the first rabbis to be ordained in Poland since the Holocaust. It was particularly poignant and significant because pre-war Poland boasted the largest Jewish community in the world. No one knows exactly how many Jews there are in Poland today. Most of those who remained in Communist Poland hid their Jewish identities. Many people were unaware until recently of their Jewish roots, and some who have discovered that they are of Jewish descent - especially those who are halachically Jewish - have chosen to identify as Jews. The post-Communist activities of Shudrich, the Lauder Foundation, the Nussenbaum Foundation, Chabad, Shavei Israel and more recently the Reform Movement in Poland are all contributing to the revival of Jewish life in tandem with which more Jews are coming out of the woodwork. Stambler and his brother, Meir Stambler, a businessman, play an important role in the spiritual and physical revival of Jewish Poland in that they not only rehabilitate the Jewish soul but also Jewish community property and buildings that belonged to Jewish individuals. The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn, the father-in-law of the seventh and last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, was rescued from Nazi-occupied Warsaw in 1940, and transferred Chabad headquarters to New York. n GREGARIOUS ISRAEL Ireland Friendship League chairman Malcolm Gafson acknowledged that even for him, competing with the Finals of Euro 2008 was no easy task as he welcomed a much larger then expected audience that came to the Gala Benefit Concert organized by the league in association with Friends of Meir Hospital in aid of the hospital's new Intensive Care Unit, with the eventual dedication of two Irish beds. The event was initiated in conjunction with Dublin-born Dr. Daniel Briscoe, a senior staff member at the hospital and grandson of the famed Jewish former mayor of Dublin, Robert Briscoe. Guest of honor, Irish Ambassador Michael Forbes, read out a letter of congratulations on the occasion of the league's 40th anniversary from newly appointed Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin, which was greeted with loud applause from the mainly expat Irish audience. Fellow guest of honor, Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization chairman Ze'ev Bielski, nostalgically recalled his days as mayor of Ra'anana with his then and still ongoing close association with the Sharon area's general hospital. At the reception prior to the concert, Gafson, who was surrounded by well-wishers congratulating him on the engagement of his youngest daughter, Rhona Gafson, to Menachem Bauer of Petach Tikva, assured members and friends that the wedding set for mid-August in Jerusalem was in no way planned as part of the ongoing events of the Israel Ireland Friendship League's 40th anniversary year of festivities.