Grapevine: Travels and travails

Yes, there was a red carpet when Olmert left for Washington, but not much else in the way of fanfare.

grapes 88 (photo credit: )
grapes 88
(photo credit: )
LONG BEFORE he became a journalist, the flamboyant and somewhat eccentric Danish-born foreign correspondent, Richard Oestermann, dreamed of being an actor. Indeed, in his youth, he had not only the talent, but also the looks, as proved by a film shown at his 80th birthday party in Jerusalem's Beit Shmuel. In his twenties, Oestermann could have easily passed for a movie star. A Hans Christian Anderson buff since childhood, Oestermann delighted his guests with the reading of an Anderson tale - in Danish. He had the foresight to circulate a translation before taking to the podium. Even if the beauty of the language was lost on some of Oestermann's listeners, his performance was not, and he was roundly applauded at its conclusion. Oestermann makes a practice of giving things away on milestone birthdays - useful things like a bench in a public place. A frequent participant at events for the foreign media that are organized at Mishkenot Sha'ananim, he approached director Michael Shilo, and offered him a gift. But when they toured the immediate area around Mishkenot, they saw that the Jerusalem Municipality had already gone on a bench "binge," and had installed numerous benches all over the place. What Shilo wanted, but wasn't sure he could put on permanent display, was a menorah. Every Hanukka, he said, he had to bring a menorah from home. Mishkenot has an art director, he explained, who does not allow anything that he has not personally approved to be on permanent display. When Shilo mentioned the menorah he had in mind to the art director, the reaction was extremely negative. When he said that it had been created by leading Judaica artist Zelig Segal, who inter alia designed the Hebrew University logo, the response was: "Why didn't you say so in the first place?" Oestermann's relatives and friends absorbed the cost of the truly beautiful menorah, which fuses modernity with tradition. To demonstrate what it would like on the last day of Hanukka all eight candles - one for each decade in Oestermann's life - were duly lit. The party, a combination of cabaret and tributes, was organized by Oestermann's companion of the last six years, the totally charming and efficient Iris Fishof. One of the highlights was a Danish vaudeville act by brothers Werner and Bob Buchman, who were dressed in Denmark's national colors and carried cardboard national flags that featured Oestermann's portrait on the obverse side. As is so often the case in Jewish life, where joy and tragedy are locked in an eternal embrace, Oestermann's celebration was overshadowed by the severe illness of his sister, Else Nathan, who was literally hovering between life and death. He had considered cancelling the party, but her children in Copenhagen insisted that she would have wanted him to go ahead with it. She died the following morning. CONSIDERING THAT it was his first trip to Washington as prime minister, Ehud Olmert had a decidedly low-key departure. Yes, there was a red carpet, but not much else in the way of fanfare. There were no long lines of dignitaries to wish him farewell. Part of the reason for this was that several government ministers were en route to the World Economic Forum in Sharm e-Sheikh. Perhaps there will be more people on the tarmac when Olmert comes home. WHILE ON the subject of Olmert, all those who have admired his fluency in English - and the ease with which he delivers an address in either English or Hebrew straight off the top of his head without resorting to notes - might be surprised to learn that at least two English teachers think that both his body language and his speech need polishing. Channel One news anchor Yigal Ravid invited Susie Miller, who used to teach English through songs on Educational Television, and Berlitz Israel manager Mira Mines-Cohen to discuss the pros and cons of Olmert's delivery in comparison to that of his predecessors. There was consensus that no one holds a candle to Binyamin Netanyahu. Miller, who's convinced that Netanyahu is really incomparable as an orator in terms of command and choice of language, style and body language, thinks he should open a school for diplomats. As for Olmert, she faulted both his body language and his delivery. Mines-Cohen was kinder, but said that he could do with a course at Berlitz to improve his English vocabulary. Mines-Cohen, in a general reference to the way Israelis speak English, blamed teachers who spent too much time on the rules of grammar and not enough on conversation. SINCE THE appointment of a new government, it has been much easier for the Foreign Ministry to recruit ministers to represent the government at national day events hosted by heads of foreign missions based in Israel. Thus, National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer attended Cameroon's national day festivities at the residence of Ambassador Henri Etoundi Essomba, whereas Minister for Culture, Science and Sport Ophir Paz-Pines attended the Norwegian Constitution Day reception at the home of Norwegian Ambassador Jakken Biorn Lian. In recent months the previous government had often been represented by a deputy minister who was not scheduled for re-appointment, or even by a senior member of the Foreign Ministry. Now there are ministers galore to do the job. AMONG THE guests at the Cameroon affair was Chinese Ambassador Chen Yonglong, who had been summoned earlier in the day to the Foreign Ministry where deputy director general Raphael Schutz registered Israel's strong protest at China's policy towards Hamas. Whereas other countries are shunning Hamas, China has invited Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Mahmoudal Zahar, a member of Hamas, to attend a conference in China. Schutz was equally critical of the Chinese Ambassador's meeting with Zahar. The discussion between Schutz and Chen had received wide media coverage, as a result of which those of his colleagues attending the Cameroon event immediately gathered around him to hear a horse's mouth version, and take note with regard to their own governments. THE CHAMPIONS League final between Barcelona and Arsenal attracted a lot of attention in Israel, and thousands of soccer fans turned up at the Heineken-sponsored event at Nana Beach where the match was shown on a giant screen. Most had come to demonstrate support for the Spanish team. Undeterred, British Embassy staff, led by Ambassador Simon McDonald, turned out in force to cheer for Arsenal. Manchester United fan McDonald even donned an Arsenal shirt as a sign of loyalty to the English team. ISRAEL'S SPECIAL Olympics team for the intellectually challenged, prior to leaving for competitions in Belgium, was hosted along with family members and representatives of Akim, at a reception by Belgian Ambassador Jean-Miguel Veranneman de Watervliet, who spoke to them with such warmth that he impressed all those present with the depth of his empathy - so much so that it became a talking point at various diplomatic functions for several days afterwards. IT'S ALL in the jeans - at least that's what started the Nakash family empire that is headquartered in New York but which is spread in many parts of the world. The Nakash brothers were born in Tel Aviv to parents of Syrian and Iraqi background. Times were really tough in Israel when they were young, and Joe Nakash, the eldest brother, went to New York in 1962 to seek his fortune. He had $25 in his pocket and not many prospects. He couldn't afford to rent accommodation, so he slept in railway stations. His two brothers, Avi and Ralph, followed him to America in 1966. They set up a small chain of retail clothing stores, one of which went up in flames in 1977. With the insurance money and a government compensation fund, they established Jordache Jeans, which quickly became snob-value best-sellers and enabled them to expand their business interests to real estate, tourism, aviation and food processing. The brothers have been investing in Israel in general and in Eilat in particular for the past 25 years. In Eilat last week for the official launch of the new Shangri-La wing in their Orchid hotel and resort complex, Avi Nakash told The Jerusalem Post that although a lot of people think that Jordache is pass , Jordache Enterprises, under its own label and other labels which it has acquired, is selling more jeans today than ever before. The company's only non-profitable venture is its Israel-based olive oil production plant, which markets under the Halutz label and which the brothers have no intention of closing. "It doesn't make any money," said Nakash, "but it gives you a lot of health - and if you drink a lot of it, it gives you a lot of weight." The Nakash brothers are also generous philanthropists who give to many causes in the US and Israel. LEAVING FOR Europe today, Wednesday, are Avi Granot , the political adviser to President Moshe Katsav, and Yitzhak Eldan, the Foreign Ministry's Chief of Protocol, who are going to prepare the groundwork for official visits by Katsav to the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, scheduled for the last week in June. The peripatetic president had to curtail travel plans during the immediate pre-election period and during the period in which Ehud Olmert was busy forming a government. But before he leaves for Europe, Katsav will host three foreign presidents in Israel - President Ahmet Necdet Seze of Turkey and Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko, as well as Tommy Remengesau, the president of the Pacific Nation of Palau. FORMER CZECH president Vaclav Havel, who came to Israel to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa, called on President Katsav on Monday to discuss developments in the region, the upcoming elections in the Czech Republic and the stance taken by the European Union vis- -vis Hamas. Commenting on the fact that he is no longer in office, and perhaps hinting at what awaits Katsav from August 1, 2007, Havel told Katsav: "You can be a president for a term or two, but you are an ex-president for life." Asked by The Jerusalem Post to comment on the fracas back home on Saturday between former presidential adviser Miroslav Macek and Czech Health Minister David Rath, which started when Macek, who was about to commence a speech at a dentists' convention, stepped away from the microphone, walked across the podium to Rath and slapped him on the back of the head, Havel was quick to deny any relations with either man. "These people were not my advisers - not the man who beat the Minister of Health and not the minister. They are young and temperamental," he said, divorcing himself from the embarrassment which the televised fisticuffs had caused to his country. Havel and Katsav will in all likelihood meet again during Katsav's visit to the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. TOGETHER WITH Frank Stein, the Israel representative of Australian Zionist Federation, Danny Lamm and Ron Finkel, president and vice president respectively of the State Zionist Council of Victoria, organized a video conference to mark Jerusalem Day. Participants in Israel included students who are doing a year's leadership course with new and veteran immigrants. Although they did manage to some extent to stick to the topic, the three organizers of the event discovered that they'd set up a family reunion network, with Melbourne-based relatives and friends of the participants taking turns to dominate the screen to wave and exchange chit-chat. Several parents of the young leaders of Zionist youth groups will be arriving in Israel over the next few days, during which time reunions will become more tangible. Lamm and Finkel will also be coming in mid-June to attend the 35th World Zionist Congress ON THE first anniversary of his death, relatives, friends and former colleagues of Prof. Avner Hai Shaki, a former leader of the National Religious Party, a former minister for religious affairs and deputy minister for education, congregated at the Chabad Yeshiva at Beit Milman in Ramat Aviv to inaugurate a synagogue in his name. The honor of cutting the ribbon was given to the head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Haim Yosef Ginsburg. Other well-known rabbis who attended included former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu; head of the Ma'alhe Adumim Yeshiva, Rabbi Haim Sabato; Rabbi Dr. Yigal Shafran, head of medical ethics in the Jerusalem Religious Council; and Rabbi Mordechai Ashkenazi, the Chief Rabbi of Kfar Chabad. Shaki served three terms as a member of Knesset. THERE MUST be something very special about Emunah, considering that the first Israeli president of the International Council of Women and the first Israeli president of the International Council of Jewish Women came from its ranks. The late Pnina Herzog was the first and only Israeli elected to the presidency of the ICW, and Leah Aharonov was recently elected president of the International Council of Jewish Women, the first Israeli to hold that role for almost 40 years. Unlike Herzog, who was born in Israel, Aharonov was born in the US, but has lived and worked in Israel for 36 years. Both women served in many spheres in national and international bodies, and both chaired the Council of Women's Organizations in Israel, an umbrella body in which most of the women's organizations in the country are represented. Aharonov came to the Council of Jewish Women in which Herzog was also active, as a representative of Emunah.