Grapevine: From Russia with love

Slovenia marks 19 years of independence, ‘Post’ journalist Ruth Eglash honored by UN and HU gets eighth Ginges computer center.

  • FEW PEOPLE would argue with the contention that of all the heads of foreign missions here, Russian Ambassador Petr Stegny and his wife Margarita have the largest constituency of expatriates. Never is this more evident than at the annual National Day celebrations of the Federation of Russia, where many Russian immigrants, some of whom live a hand-to-mouth existence, become VIPs and rub shoulders with cabinet ministers, business leaders and cultural icons. The Russian National Day reception is always distinguished, not only by the massive attendance, the incredible amount of food and the cultural offerings, but also by the former heroes of the Red Army who wear their medals and ribbons with pride.
    This year, as Russia marked the 65th anniversary of its triumph over the Nazis with major commemorative events in the motherland as well as here, the display of battle decorations was greater than ever, in many cases taking up the whole width and length of both sides of suit jackets. Some of the former heroes of the Red Army maintained the trim figures of their youth, and came in uniform, which made the display of medals and ribbons all the more impressive.
    From a cultural standpoint, members of the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra provided the musical background, as they have done for more than a decade, but the real treat was 10-year-old musical prodigy Daniel Pruzanski, who has an amazingly rich and powerful voice for a boy his age, and absolutely delighted the audience, including Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, with his rendition of three popular Russian songs. Though shy and modest off-stage, on-stage Pruzanski, dressed in a tuxedo and bow tie, has tremendous professional presence.
    Usually, when it comes to the official part of the event, there are three people in the vicinity of the microphone – the master or mistress of ceremonies, the ambassador and the representative of the government. Sometimes, there’s also a translator. On this occasion there were the MC, the ambassador,Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov who represented the government, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, Immigrant and Absorption Minister Sofa Landver and political affairs counsellor and press attache Anatoly Yurkov, who is also an excellent translator from Russian to Hebrew. The presence of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was acknowledged. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, was summoned to the stage for photo opportunities when the speeches were over, but organizers apparently didn’t catch sight of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, so his name was not mentioned from the podium.
    Stegny, speaking in Russian with Yurkov translating into Hebrew, spoke of today’s disquieting world “in which we face new challenges.” He stressed that to meet and overcome these challenges there was greater need for solidarity and cooperation. While acknowledging that there had been occasional differences between Russia and Israel, Stegny said: “Today, we are on the same front.”
    Misezhnikov’s opening remarks were in Russian. He explained that protocol required him to speak in English, though he could just as easily deliver his address in Russian. In fact, his English has improved enormously in recent months. Whereas he used to stumble over his speeches, his delivery this time was fluent, with the right emphases in speech and only one mispronunciation. He said that as a former resident of Moscow, he felt privileged to address so large a gathering of native Russians, and noted that next year Israel would mark the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation after decades of hostility.
    There is good political dialogue, he said, noting the exchange of high level representatives of both countries. During the past year, President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Lieberman have twice been to Russia and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been once. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who has been here on previous occasions, is due to come again at the end of this month. There are hopes that President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will also come, along with other high ranking Russian officials. Misezhnikov expressed Israel’s eternal gratitude to the Red Army for its vanquishing of the Nazi evil and for what it did to rescue the Jews of Europe. Many Red Army veterans and their families live here today, he said.
    Livni declared that the fact that she was present with other members of Kadima was indicative that when it comes to relations with Russia “there is no coalition and no opposition. We are all together.” Israel is facing difficult days she said, especially because there is a gap between what Israel is, and the image of Israel outside. She believed that Russia understands the true nature of the State of Israel.
  • IT’S ALWAYS edifying to be on the ball in predicting the future. In the April 20 Grapevine column the question was raised whether British Ambassador Tom Phillips, who winds up his current posting in July, was in line for a knighthood. It was noted that the idea was not far-fetched, given that with only one exception all his predecessors over the past 15 years have been knighted. Thus it was with no small degree of satisfaction that the news was received this week that he had been listed in the Queen’s Birthday honors. At the recent Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association farewell event for Sir Tom, Yigal Levine, senior trade and investment adviser at the embassy, described him as a wonderful boss.
  • IT WAS definitely a family affair when Slovenian Ambassador Boris Sovic and his wife Ana hosted a reception at their residence in Herzliya Pituah to mark the 19th year of Slovenia’s independence. Their daughter Nives Sovic, playing the flute, accompanied singer Jelena Ettinger in the performing of the anthems of Slovenia and Israel.
    The occasion was also used to bid farewell to First Secretary and Deputy Head of Mission Tanja Miskova, who is completing her tour of duty after four and a half years. The government was represented by Michael Eitan, minister for improvement of government services.
    Some 250 guests including diplomats, representatives of government ministries, mayors, leaders of the business community and Slovenian expatriates gathered in the house and the garden.
    Slovenia is no less a miracle than Israel, having been under the rule of many different countries over the centuries, yet never losing its true cultural identity. Most recently, Slovenians began working towards independence from Yugoslavia, and in a December 1990 referendum overwhelmingly voted for independence, which was declared on June 25, 1991.
    Slovenia and Israel established diplomatic relations in April 1992. The Republic of Slovenia opened its embassy in Tel Aviv in August 1994, followed by a consulate in April 2002, headed by honorary consul Adi Rosenfeld; and a second consulate in Tel Aviv on May 6, 2007, headed by honorary consul Eival Gilady, which covers the consular region of central and southern Israel.
  • ISRAEL’S DIPLOMATS abroad have been working overtime in an attempt to repair the cracks in the country’s image. The next generation of diplomats may have to work even harder to contend with ever increasing negativism. With this in mind, the Foreign Ministry is giving its current 28 member cadet corps, which includes five representatives of minority communities including one Druse female, more in-depth training, and greater exposure to facets of the country that they might otherwise not come across.
    A few weeks ago they attended a ceremony for the presentation of credentials by new ambassadors at Beit Hanassi and were permitted to sit in on the private meeting between each ambassador and President Peres. More recently, they went to Tefen and met with industrial park innovator Stef Wertheimer, who took them on a tour of a production plant, the Tefen Museum and other parts of the park, which they said was definitely value added to everything else that they learned.
  • CONGRATULATIONS ARE in order to Ruth Eglash, the Social Affairs correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, where she has worked in a variety of positions over the past 11 years. Together with a Jordanian journalist, she became the first co-recipient of the United Nations Alliance of Civilization and the International Center for Journalists’ X-Cultural Reporting Award. Their work was honored at a recent ceremony at the UN Alliance of Civilization Conference in Rio de Janeiro. Eglash and her partner researched and reported on the dismal state of relations between their respective countries 16 years after the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.
    The two researched educational efforts in both countries to disclose what each nation was really learning about the other. However, the disappointing results of their findings failed to comply with the goals of the competition, which were to find common ground between different nations. This spurred the two journalists to use the material at their disposal to write a joint op-ed on how the current status quo in both countries has to change to fulfill the aspirations of their peace treaty.
    Their opinion piece “Why we can’t write this story...” was published by numerous media outlets, including The Jerusalem Post, the on-line newspaper The Huffington Post, Jordanian news Web site AmmonNews.Net and The Palestine Note. It was also translated into seven languages, including Arabic, by the Search for Common Ground News Service. The two journalists were also interviewed on Radio Chicagoland by US-based Palestinian journalist Ray Hanania, who offered to make the two a permanent feature on his syndicated show.
    The competition was launched at a conference on “Freedom of Expression in the Digital Age”,  held in Alexandria, Egypt, in February. The conference was sponsored by the UN Alliance of Civilizations and the Anna Lindh Foundation and administered by ICFJ, with the support of the Alexandria Library.
    Prior to her current beat at the Post, Eglash was arts and entertainment editor for five years and also worked as a feature writer and columnist. Previously, she worked as assistant editor at Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle in the US, and before that she worked at Jerusalem Capital Studios.
  • THERE ARE some people who simply love to give. Among them are Australian philanthropists Berel and Agnes Ginges, who 10 years ago donated a state-of-the-art computer center to the Hebrew University, at the suggestion of former HU president Hanoch Gutfreund, who had seen one at Columbia University and had been impressed. Since then, in addition to their other gifts to the university, the couple has made a habit of donating computer and information centers to HU campuses. Last week, they donated their eighth a day before Berel Ginges’s 80th birthday, and announced they would be back next year for the inauguration of a ninth at the HU’s Rehovot campus.
    Proceedings at the inauguration of the Ginges Library and Information Center for the Sciences at the Edmond J. Safra campus were delayed because a busload of their Habonim friends from northern kibbutzim and surrounding urban areas had not yet arrived. Every time there is a dedication of a Ginges project here, it is accompanied by a reunion lunch, bringing together people who have known each other for some 60 years. Hotelier Michael Federmann, who is chairman of the HU International Board of Governors, said that his parents had also been members and leaders of Habonim in Germany, and he recalled that as a child he had frequently been taken to Kibbutz Galed where many of his parents’ friends from Habonim had settled.
  • LANDMARK CELEBRATIONS are usually held on round number or quarter century anniversaries. But in superstitious and gematria-conscious circles, 18 – which translates as life – is an equally important number. Public relations executive Aviram Balzar celebrated his 18th anniversary in business and the opening of luxurious new offices in Ramat Gan by inviting past and present politicians, business leaders, people from the communications field and other well known personalities to his housewarming or rather office warming.
    Literally hundreds of them turned up, including Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, who affixed the mezuza and wished the enterprise continued success, Bank Mizrahi chairman Jacob Perry, former government minister Ophir Paz-Pines, Club Hotel CEO Roni Pivco, former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval and his wife Kena, Jewish National Fund chairman Efi Stenzler, broker Roni Mena, lawyers Yehuda and Tami Raveh, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan and numerous MKs, among them Amir Peretz, Danny Danon and Daniel Ben-Simon.
  • AUSTRALIAN DELEGATES attending the World Zionist Congressand Jewish Agency Assembly will participate in a commemorative eventfor Frank Stein, the long-time, highly esteemed director of the ZionistFederation of Australia’s Israel office. Working above and beyond thecall of duty, Stein was a father figure to hundreds of Australians whomoved here or who were here on volunteer or study programs. He was theperson to whom they turned with all their problems, and most of thetime he was able to provide solutions. He also invited many of thesepeople to dine at his home.
    Stein, who died nearly 15 months ago, following a losing battle withcancer, will be honored by the Jewish Agency at its campus at KiryatMoriah in Jerusalem, where a memorial plaque has been placed on a wallnear what used to be his office. Speakers at the memorial event on June22 will include Jewish Agency director-general Alan Hoffman, ZionistFederation of Australia president Philip Chester and his predecessorRon Weiser, who was a close friend of Stein’s.
  • THE OPENING of Jerusalem’s annual Festival of Light was yetanother clear demonstration of one man’s meat being another man’spoison. While there were several thousand people in attendance, therewere nonetheless huge blocks of empty seats. A packed block in thecenter of the stands began booing within five minutes of the opening,but not because of any flaw in the performance by the JerusalemSymphony Orchestra. The booing was a herd mentality protest against thespeeches, which were neither that prolonged, nor many, but nonethelessmet with the loud disapproval of that sector of the audience.
    However when Mayor Nir Barkat delivered a very brief speech in which heannounced that there would be more than twice as many summer events inJerusalem this year as last, the sector of the crowd that had booedeveryone else, especially Eyal Gabai, the director-general of the PrimeMinister’s Office, gave him a lusty cheer. Neither the concert nor thelight effects appealed to everyone, and quite a surprising number ofpeople walked out long before the concert ended. Although neither theconcert nor the lighting effects were particularly inspiring, theopposite was true of lighting effects throughout the Old City.Jerusalem Development Authority director Reuven Pinsky announced thatnext year’s Festival of Light will be held June 15-22.