Grapevine: Spanish harmony

Two presidents of Israel attend the reception hosted by Spanish Ambassador Eudaldo Mirapeix.

juan carlos 88 (photo credit: )
juan carlos 88
(photo credit: )

There were two presidents of Israel at the reception hosted by Spanish Ambassador Eudaldo Mirapeix to celebrate Spain's national day on October 12, commemorating Christopher Columbus's 1492 arrival in the Americas.

Israel's fifth president Yitzhak Navon, a frequent visitor at events hosted by Spain's ambassadors, was there as usual, but so was President Moshe Katsav, who visited Spain in June as the guest of King Juan Carlos, and may go again next year within the framework of the series of events celebrating the twentieth anniversary of diplomatic ties with Israel.

Noting that the national day this year fell between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Mirapeix said it was a privilege for foreigners living in Israel to be able to share in the collective unity of Israelis. He also made the point that since the disengagement from Gaza, Israel's international standing has grown stronger. "People are becoming more aware of the successes in Israeli society, culture, technology and sports," he said. In acknowledging the presence of Navon, who together with Spanish intellectual Jorge Semprun will head the committee that will plan a broad range of bi-national events in politics, culture, economics and science to mark the twentieth anniversary of diplomatic relations, Mirapeix singled him out as one of the people "who despite our mistakes carry Spain in their hearts and memories." Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who conveyed the greetings of the government, remarked that bilateral trade between Spain and Israel currently stands at $1.22 billion.

JEWS take pride in the achievements of their own, even when they may not be well disposed to the host countries in which their own live. Take Morocco for instance. Although Israelis are permitted to visit, and Moroccan goods are seen in ever greater quantities on the Israeli market, diplomatic ties do not exist. The Moroccans, however, keep a watchful eye on the progress of their expatriates in Israel, and Ma'ariv has quoted the French edition of the Moroccan morning publication Al-Sabah, which mentions Moroccan-born Israelis or Israelis of Moroccan parentage, such as former president Yitzhak Navon, who have risen to social prominence. Others mentioned include former Shas leader Arye Deri and present incumbent Eli Yishai, Histadrut leader Amir Peretz, Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit, former foreign ministers David Levy and Shlomo Ben Ami, the late Shaul Amur (who held several public positions, the last of which was ambassador to Belgium), actor Ze'ev Revah, singer Shlomo Bar and others.

The article does not overlook the terrible conditions Moroccan immigrants endured when they first came to Israel.

KNOWN AS Russia's unofficial cultural ambassador, Elena Tarasova, wife of Russian Ambassador Gennady Tarasov, has been absent from Israel for several months, supervising massive renovations of the couple's Moscow apartment. According to her husband, the vivacious and dynamic Terasova will return in a few weeks, but not in time for the Russian Film Festival which opened in the presence of Russia's Minister for Culture and Mass Communications Aleksander Sokolov. Asked whether Sokolov was Jewish, bearing in mind the great Hebrew writer and journalist Nahuam Sokolov, an early secretary-general of the World Zionist Organization who was involved in obtaining the Balfour Declaration and after whom Beit Sokolov (the Journalists' House in Tel Aviv) is named, Tarasov said no, Sokolov is an old Russian name - and that they had it first.

LAST YEAR, when he hosted a reception at his residence in honor of Nobel Prize laureates Aharon Chekhanover and Avraham Hershko, Sweden's Ambassador Robert Rydberg said he hoped this would be the beginning of an annual tradition. Rydberg intends to host a similar reception this year for Robert Aumann, and looks forward to continuing the tradition next year. Noting that 2006 will mark the 40th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to S.Y. Agnon, Israel's first Nobel laureate, Rydberg thinks it's high time that an Israeli again be a recipient of the prize. He wouldn't be at all surprised if the jury chooses Amos Oz, who was on this year's short list, and whose most recent book, A Tale of Love and Darkness, has just come out in Swedish.

Rydberg, whose fluency in Hebrew delighted those attending the press conference called by The Hebrew University to announce the honor accorded to Aumann, was heard the following evening in Hebrew conversation with Oybek Usamov, Ambassador of Uzbekistan. Although both are fluent in English, they prefer to converse in Hebrew. Not to be outdone, Chile's Ambassador Sally Bendersky joined the conversation, proving that Hebrew is not as difficult to learn as some might think.

BACK TO the Nobel Prize. Although Harold Pinter, who is this year's literature laureate, makes no secret of his Jewish background, and in fact traces his decision to become a dramatist to his experiences with anti-Semitism, Israel has little cause to rejoice in his win, which turned out to be a 75th birthday present. Pinter has been outspokenly pro-Palestinian on issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and was a signatory to the British campaign to boycott Israeli products. He was previously active in trying to secure the release of Mordecahi Vanunu, who served 18 years for blowing the lid on Israel's nuclear secrets.

ALL ROADS will lead to Jerusalem on Thursday, October 20, when President Moshe Katsav and his wife Gila open the presidential succa, and Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger receive pilgrims as well as local residents at the Western Wall.

ABSENT FROM the wedding of Yediot Aharonot publisher Noni Mozes to advertising executive Dalit Bar were his two sisters Judy Shalom Nir Mozes and Tami Mozes Borovich. It was a second marriage for both the bride and the groom. It's not all harmony and light among the Mozes siblings; TMB sold her Yediot Aharonot shares to Eliezer Fishman (who was at the wedding), and rumor has it that JSNM is looking for a buyer for her Yediot shares.

IN ITS programs on the morning prior to Yom Kippur, Israel Radio asked several well-known personalities whether they thought they should ask forgiveness for any specific transgressions, and whether they thought they should ask forgiveness from specific people. Following a general interview with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who said no person is without sin, Arye Golan asked the rabbi whether he thought he should ask forgiveness for not knowing what was going on under his roof when his son beat up his daughter's boyfriend. Amar didn't think that he had anything to ask forgiveness for on this score, and said he had acted properly. Meanwhile, his daughter has become engaged to someone else.

ACCORDING TO his wife Marsha, Larry Wachsman was only briefly in the Boy Scouts in the US, but that was enough to teach him to be prepared. Wachsman, who is one of the stalwarts of the Hazvi Yisrael Congregation in Jerusalem (whose membership comprises a large number of expatriates from the US, Canada, England and Australia), frequently leads prayer services, and did so for a large part of the Yom Kippur services. The Ne'ilah prayer marking the closing of Yom Kippur was led by Rabbi Eddie Abramson, who felt unwell during the Kedusha and was unable to continue. Wachsman stepped in without missing a beat. Some congregants were a little nonplussed by the change of voice, but once they raised their eyes from their prayer books they realized it wasn't just a different voice, but a different man.

WHEN HE was mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert made it a practice to attend the Great Synagogue for High Holy Day services. He maintained the tradition after returning to the Knesset and becoming a minister in the government. Thus it was no surprise to see him in the front row for Kol Nidre. However, Binyamin Netanyahu, his predecessor as finance minister, and who sat alongside him in previous years, was noticeably absent. At the conclusion of the service, synagogue vice president Zali Yaffe publicly expressed appreciation to Olmert for his attendance. The words were hardly out of his mouth when a young member of the choir interjected, calling Olmert a criminal who destroyed synagogues. Jaffe remonstrated with the young man, who refused to be quiet. Two nights later, Maj. Gen. Elazar Stern, head of the IDF Manpower Branch, was insulted and abused by worshipers at the Western Wall when he and members of his family went there for Sabbath prayers.

How can anyone expect divine forgiveness when we have not yet learned to forgive each other, and worse still, when we cause others to be humiliated during the holiest period in the Jewish calendar?

TEL AVIV Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau was interviewed on Channel Two's Meet the Press by Aharon Barnea and Sivan Rahav. Lau proved to be extremely au fait with current events, even to the extent of knowing that Yehuda Sa'ado had won the A Star is Born contest. Lau neatly avoided awkward questions, but with such grace and humor that Barnea and Rahav generally refrained from pressing. Lau also succeeded in turning some questions to his own advantage, or at least that of the religiously observant. Asked what it was like to be chief rabbi of the nation's most secular city, Lau, former chief rabbi of Israel, replied that there were more secular places than Tel Aviv, and made a point of saying that he was not referring to secular kibbutzim. Noting that Tel Aviv's annual Gay Pride Parade gets enormous media coverage, Lau said Tel Aviv has 544 synagogues, but the fact that people in Tel Aviv congregate in these synagogues on a daily basis, and that some of the synagogues operate not only morning and night, but from morning to night is largely ignored.

On the possibility of his becoming Israel's ninth president, Lau, whose name is being mentioned in this regard, confessed that he had not yet given himself an answer to the question. It was too early to think about it, he said. The president, like the state comptroller, is elected by the Knesset. There will be new Knesset elections before there are elections for the next president, noted Lau, so there is no point bothering with the subject until a new Knesset is in place. If he is elected, he will be the first chief rabbi - and the first Holocaust survivor - to hold the post.

IT LOOKS as if biological motherhood will continue to elude cosmetics queen and political hopeful Pnina Rosenblum. Very soon after the announcement that she was pregnant, Rosenblum, 51, suffered complications that necessitated the termination of the pregnancy. Fear of the evil eye is one of the reasons that Orthodox Jewish women keep their pregnancies private until nature reveals them.