Grapevine: India's birthday bash

MORE THAN two weeks of cultural events celebrating India's 60th anniversary of independence and the 15th anniversary of diplomatic ties with Israel came to a close at the end of August, by which time several thousand Israelis, including many who have never been to India, had experienced various forms of Indian culture and cuisine at one of many events in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. While it is not uncommon to see women here in saris and other traditional Indian garb, it is less usual to see men in Indian attire. However, for the opening of the cultural festival at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, Ambassador Arun K. Singh chose to wear a dark Nehru suit; Singh usually appears in Western clothes. Among the guests were Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim, Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Nathan Walloch, Foreign Ministry Chief of Protocol Yitzhak Eldan, various members of the diplomatic community and, of course, a fairly large representation of Israel's Indian community, with some of the women clad in gorgeous saris. Singh spoke movingly of India's 150-year struggle against colonial rule, its success in promoting tolerance and pluralism, and its ongoing efforts to eradicate poverty. Today, he said, there is an important Israeli presence all over India, and now Indian companies are beginning to invest here. Nearly 40,000 Israelis visit India every year, and when they return, many form "little Indias." Boim observed that even though diplomatic ties with India have existed for only 15 years, "we have been close to each other for much longer." Commenting on the positive image that India enjoys here, Boim noted that both peoples represent ancient civilizations and new democracies. A FEW days later, at the opening of the Indian Film Festival at the newly renovated Jerusalem Cinematheque, director Rituparno Ghosh delighted the audience in the packed auditorium when he disclosed that two months earlier, when the Indian Embassy had asked him to visit, "just the name of the country was enough. I said I'm coming." It was not an easy decision because he was in post production for his latest film, which will be shown at the Toronto Film Festival on September 9. Yet despite the stress and the tension surrounding both completion of the film and getting ready for the journey, Ghosh considered the trip worthwhile "just for the time I spent in the Old City of Jerusalem." A confessed atheist, Ghosh nonetheless "felt blessed in the Old City." Enthusing about Israel, he characterized it as a country that "put a date on mythology and made it history." He had experienced the sense of history when walking through the city and feeling some of the many emotions Jerusalem generates. Speaking of his film Dosar, Ghosh noted that it was in black and white, and lamented that facilities for producing black-and-white films are rapidly disappearing. In his opinion "black and white is the most eloquent color in cinema." The day color came to cinema, he said, "it made everything so vivid and unimaginative." ANYONE WHO may have doubted the genuine desire of people from all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide to find a just and viable solution to their conflict should have come to the Palestine-Israel Journal's lecture series marking 40 years of what it regards as Israeli occupation. The opening event was hosted at Notre Dame, the speakers were Jewish and Arab, and the overflow audience comprised Jews, Christians and Muslims. Much of the talk centered on problems regarding the custodianship of the holy places in and around Jerusalem, prompting Hillel Schenker, a co-editor of the journal, to remark that although he spent part of his youth in Jerusalem, he was happy to be living in Tel Aviv, "where we are fortunate not to have any holy places." NOVEMBER IS chock-a-block with important anniversaries, among them the 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the 60th anniversary of the UN resolution on the partition of Palestine and the 30th anniversary of the historic visit to Jerusalem by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. At the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, plans are already well under way to celebrate the latter anniversary. A group of people who were in one way or another connected with the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt met at the center recently to work out how to best commemorate this historic turning point. Among those present were former ambassadors to Egypt Ephraim Dubek and Zvi Mazel. Also present were Dov Segev-Steinberg, representing the Foreign Ministry; Dan Pattir, Menachem Begin's media adviser; and Yechiel Kadishai, Begin's closest aide who accompanied him to Camp David. The center, which is preparing a wide range of activities that will stretch from the anniversary of Sadat's visit to the 30th anniversary of the peace treaty signed in Jerusalem in March 1979, was represented by its founder Harry Hurwitz, chairman Herzl Makov and academic coordinator Moshe Fuksman-Sha'al. Joining the steering committee on future occasions will be Meir Rosenne, a former ambassador to the US and France, who was Begin's legal adviser at Camp David.