INVITEES TO the inauguration of Shimon Peres were asked to come early to avoid the chaos of huge crowds putting a strain on the Knesset's security system. Not many people heeded the call, but amongst those who did was Greek Catholic Archbishop Elias Chacour, who was pounced on by every television crew positioned in the Knesset plaza. Dressed in his long, black robes, and equally fluent in Hebrew, Arabic and English, the dignified but obliging Chacour was the perfect choice for news teams seeking statements about Peres. Chacour lauded the new president as "a man of vision" and voiced the hope that Peres realizes his dream for peace in the Middle East "so that people can respect each other and coexist in harmony." Chacour characterized Peres as "a very special man" who he was sure would influence the authorities to make life easier for Christian clergy to come to Israel to do their work among their own people.
ASIDE FROM the spontaneous standing ovation that Peres received at the conclusion of his address, one of the highlights of the event was the upbeat moods of those who had also craved the position. Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, who had become comfortable in her position as acting president, and might have enjoyed removing the adjective, sacrificed her own ambitions as soon as she knew that Peres was an official candidate, and because he had done so much to promote her political career, she went all out to ensure that this great day in his life was something truly special. In her own address she expressed the gratitude of the nation and the Knesset to a man whose efforts have not always been sufficiently appreciated, and she also apologized on behalf of the Knesset and the nation for the many things that had been done to torpedo his plans and his ambitions. MK Colette Avital (Labor), who had hoped to be the first elected female president, had obviously overcome her disappointment and was running around with a big smile on her face as she chatted with many. Reuven Rivlin (Likud), wearing a white buttonhole mounted on a blue ribbon as did most of the male MKs, managed to look cheerful despite having had to concede victory to Peres. After the ceremony, Vice Premier Haim Ramon, who's known a few disappointments of his own lately, went to Rivlin and gave him a big bear hug. The two were joined by Opposition head Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud), who also made a point of empathizing with Rivlin.
AT THE post inauguration ceremony in which the thousand or so guests filed past Peres to shake his hand, congratulate him and wish him well, a Knesset usher supervised the pace at which invitees mounted the podium. As veteran, prize-winning actress Hannah Meron waited her turn to step up, he put out a restraining arm. "I do know when it's my turn to make an entrance," protested Meron.
CONTRARY TO his practice in previous years, Peres did not attend the Bastille Day celebrations hosted by French Ambassador Jean-Michel Casa and his wife Isabella. Peres, who was often a popular figure at the national day events hosted by various embassies, stopped attending them following his election to the presidency a month before his inauguration. The minister representing the government was Ya'acov Edri, who has taken over from Peres as the minister responsible for the development of the Negev and the Galilee in addition to taking over the Immigrant Absorption Ministry. Other ministers present were Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri and Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim. Casa opened his address in Hebrew, no novelty for him since only a couple of weeks earlier he had given a speech in flawless Hebrew at the opening of the new French Institute. This time, however, it was only the introduction of his speech that was in Hebrew. After all, on Bastille Day, there was a sense of noblesse oblige to the French language. Of course one cannot talk of Bastille Day without mentioning its underlying principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. In this context, Casa noted that kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Schalit was also a French citizen and pledged that France would do everything possible to secure his release. With Casa making his introduction in Hebrew, Edri had no choice but to make his in French - which was not a problem for the Moroccan-born minister, who speaks fluent French. Ben-Yizri, who was also born in Morocco, gave his whole address in French at Cameroon's recent national day festivities.
FRANCE IF not French was also the order of the day at the multi-purpose party hosted by Jerusalem socialite and businesswoman Michal Isaacs who was celebrating a birthday, having a house-warming, hosting a fund-raiser for the Israel Cancer Association, and promoting the Mausner fashion house, whose downtown store is located in premises that she owns. With less than a handful of exceptions, all the guests were women.
Amongst the few males present was Francophile Emanuel Halperin who gave a scintillating talk on the changing face of France, because he said, though President Nicolas Sarkozy was born in Paris, he can hardly be described as a true Frenchman. His father was a minor Hungarian aristocrat and his mother comes from Greek-Jewish stock. His wife Cecilia is of Spanish-Jewish ancestry. Among those present was lawyer Ettya Simcha who is the new head of ICA's Jerusalem branch, her predecessor Nitza Ben Elissar, Dassie Stern, Ludmilla Tichon, Bruria Pressburger, Kitty Shenkar, Elizabeth Berkowits (who is second in command at the Jerusalem Music Academy), Meira Eliash (who opened the first Pilates studio in Israel), fashion designer Rivka Mausner and her exquisitely beautiful daughter model Yasmin Kotlitski-Mausner, image builder Yardena Ezion and many others who are seen in both Jerusalem and national high society.
WHEN THEY completed their tour of duty in Israel two years ago, former US ambassador Dan Kurtzer and his wife Sheila promised that they would be back often. People only half believed them because so many diplomats make that pledge and then get caught up in other things. Some never return. Some come at long intervals, but the Kurtzers have been true to their word and are almost regular commuters. Aside from all else, Sheila Kurtzer has a lot of school friends from her days at the Flatbush Yeshiva living in Israel, and she also has more recent friends from the International Women's Club - many of whom treat her as a member of the family. One of her very close friends is artist Sali Ariel, whose various one-woman exhibitions have been opened by either Dan or Sheila Kurtzer. This week it was Sheila's turn. It was Ariel's second exhibition at the Bauhaus Center Gallery in Tel Aviv. Ariel is particularly keen on Bauhaus architecture, and that passion is reflected in her paintings. Thus it was hardly surprising following her previous success that the Bauhaus Gallery invited her for an encore.
The exhibition, called 'Dog Days in the City,' focuses on pet dogs in Tel Aviv, but the Bauhaus architecture is almost always in the background. Shortly before the opening of the exhibition, Ariel was given a subsidized studio by the City of Tel Aviv. Curiously, the studio space is in a shelter near Tel Aviv's new Gan Meir Dog Park. Dan Kurtzer, as Commissioner of Baseball in Israel, is on a summer visit, and his wife was delighted to join him.
The Kurtzers, who plan to remain in Israel till mid-August, are ardent collectors of Ariel's work. At the opening, Sheila Kurtzer had the opportunity to catch up with some of her many friends as well as getting introduced to many others. Among those present were public relations consultants Rolly Kohansky and Rachel Neiman, Louise Weisglas, wife of celebrated lawyer Dov Weisglas, artist Rajul Mehta, Clara Hirsh, the wife of Canadian Ambassador Jon Allen, interior designer and artist Sylvia Rosenberg, Chava Rotman, Leumith Goldberg and Grace Bartur, who, like Ariel, are all former presidents of the International Women's Club. Other IWC members who can always be seen at Ariel's exhibitions included Daphne Josman, Dalia Ganor, Dalia Pazi, Suzie Feigin and Hana Minsky. Ariel's husband, internationally acclaimed cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen was one of the few men at what was primarily a female attended event.
ARIEL IS not Sheila Kurtzer's only artist friend. A few days earlier, both Kurtzer and Ariel attended the opening at the Givatayim Theater of an impressive multi-media exhibition by Ruth Beker, who showed photographs, paintings and poems. Beker covers a wide range of subjects, because she is more interested in capturing beauty than a particular theme. Her exhibition was under the auspices of Givatayim Mayor Reuven Shachar. Among those attending the opening were Adina Gottesman, Joanna Yehiel and Yael Amishav. Beker and Amishav were friends many years ago but lost touch with each other. Beker tried to find her to invite her to the exhibition, but did not succeed. Curiously, someone else, who had been invited, but was unaware of the connection, took Amishav to the exhibition without telling her the name of the artist. When they caught sight of each other Beker and Amishav fell into each other's arms.
WHILE MOST of those of the former Soviet Bloc countries that celebrate the 15th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties with Israel, which was one of the first countries to recognize each of them after they proclaimed independence, chose to have receptions and cultural events, Moldova's ambassador, Larisa Miculet, decided to explore ways in which to enhance bilateral ties, and together with MK Lia Shemtov (Israel Beiteinu), who chairs the Moldova Friendship Group in the Knesset, organized a meeting at the Knesset which was also attended by representatives of the Foreign Ministry and by politicians, academics and other distinguished figures who are of Moldovan background - among them Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu).
AFTER FIRST discussing the matter with her Israeli counterpart, Tzipi Livni, Nepal's Foreign Minister Sahana Pradhan, announced in an address to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations that Nepal will soon open an embassy in Tel Aviv. Diplomatic ties between Israel and Nepal go back a long way, and even though Nepal did not have an ambassador in Israel, Israel does have an ambassador in Nepal in the person of Dan Stav. Pradhan, the first of her country's foreign ministers to address the ICFR, outlined the unrest that during the years of insurgence threatened Nepal's stability, but said that all parties are now agreed on the roadmap to peace. Nepal-Israel relations have been characterized by friendship and mutual trust since 1960 when Israel did not succeed in cultivating relations with many other countries, she said. Nepal has consistently taken the position of abiding by UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 believing that Israel should have the legitimate right of existence within internationally-recognized boundaries. Pradhan in fact cited Nepal's support for Israel at the UN on major issues. She also mentioned Israeli assistance to Nepal in the fields of agriculture, education, rural development water resources and tourism.
AFGHANISTANI AMERICAN best-selling novelist and physician Khaled Hosseini, whose books A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner brought him international acclaim, will become more accessible to Hebrew readers today, as a result of a visit to the International Book Fair in New York by Israeli publishers Moshe and Itzhak Triwaks of Matar Publishing House. The two Israelis met Hosseini at a cocktail party. He was amazed that The Kite Runner had sold more copies in Israel, in relation to the size of the population, than in any other country in the world, and expressed the hope that A Thousand Splendid Suns will be no less popular. Matar's first printing of the Hebrew translation of the book is in 35,000 copies. In the US, where the book was first released two months ago, sales have already exceeded two million copies. Publishing rights have been sold to 35 countries.