Grapevine: A red-carpet profession

Chef Gordon Ramsay poses at the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles (photo credit: DANNY MOLOSHOK/ REUTERS)
Chef Gordon Ramsay poses at the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles
Arguably the most likely non-political figure in Israel to have shaken the hands of more heads of state, prime ministers, foreign ministers, royalty and entertainment and sports celebrities than anyone else over the past decade-plus is Sheldon Ritz, the affable deputy general manager and director of operations at the King David Hotel. Ritz has been promoted and as of next month will be working out of Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem.
The promotion results from the retirement of Ronit Federmann after 30 years as director of sales for the whole of the Dan Hotel chain.
Ritz will be succeeded by Eran Hendler , a former director of operations at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv.
The fact that Ritz is moving to the Dan head office, just a few doors from the Dan Hotel, does not mean that he’s severing his ties with the King David. In fact, his reputation for organization, attention to detail and unflappable demeanor are such that part of the deal is whenever a major delegation – such as those led by the presidents of the United States, France or Russia or the Chancellor of Germany, as well as others who come with an entourage of 70 people or more are at the King David – Ritz will be brought back to attend to their needs. In addition to being in charge of operations, Ritz has taken care of the needs of delegations, not only from when they arrive, but for periods ranging from a day to a month before they arrive.
He has to be available to them 24/7, not only because of changing or multiplying demands, but also because of different time zones around the world. When foreign representatives call Israel, they’re doing so during their working hours, not Israel’s.
It often happens that when a delegation headed by royalty, a president or a prime minister is in the hotel, Ritz doesn’t go home to his family in Modi’in, but sleeps in the hotel. If there are no rooms available, he puts a mattress down in his office.
It’s a job with a lot of glamour, but also one with a lot of responsibility and pressure, and one that requires infinite patience.
In his new position, he says, he’ll still be hobnobbing with foreign diplomats, but there will be minimal pressure attached to the meetings, and a lot of time will be spent in introducing diplomats to all the hotels in the Dan chain.
Fortunately the chain has four hotels in Jerusalem, three of which are within walking distance of each other. So when there are not enough rooms available to accommodate mega-delegations, the people of lower rank are allocated to the other hotels in the chain or to nearby rival hotels which always cooperate in such situations.
Sometimes the hotel is given a month’s notice about an important visit, but at other times only 24 hours. For the funeral of Shimon Peres, it was given 48 hours. That was a massive headache because, aside from the usual problems, there was so much protocol involved that wedding receptions and bar mitzvahs had to be moved elsewhere. In terms of protocol, Prince Charles , though a royal, is not a head of state, and was therefore not entitled to the presidential suite. He was given a luxury suite of course, but the three most luxurious suites were given to heads of state. Entourages from different countries began arriving at 10 p.m. and the flow kept going till 7 a.m. Ritz had to be on hand to greet them all and explain the workings of the hotel.
Technically, Ritz should be leaving at the end of this month, but he’s staying for almost an extra week so that he can welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel , who will be arriving on October 3 on her seventh visit to the King David, and her fourth for a government-to-government meeting, known in diplomatic parlance as a “G-to-G.” These G-to-G meetings between the government of Israel and the governments of other countries were actually launched at the King David in 2008, and the first of these was between Israel and Germany.
During her upcoming visit, which coincides with the 28th anniversary of the reunification of Germany, Merkel will also receive, on October 4, an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa. Due to time constraints, the ceremony will take place in Jerusalem at the Israel Museum.
The G-to-G, which is usually a one-day marathon, comprises 16 simultaneous meetings between Israeli government ministers and their counterparts, a get-together for a signing of agreements, and a plenary session at which each of the ministers gets to speak.
All these ministers have individual needs and demands, and the hotel has to attend to them all.
Also among those participating in the G-to-G will be Germany’s new ambassador to Israel, Dr. Susanne Wasum-Rainer , who has yet to present her credentials and who previously served here in a lower rank from 1991-1993.
A native of Durban, South Africa, where he earned his degree in hotel management at M.L. Sultan Hotel School, Ritz came to Israel in 1992 after having worked at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Durban and the Sandton Sun Hotel in Johannesburg.
He’s been with the Dan chain for close to 20 years, 18 of them at the King David, and 13 as deputy general manager.
His working day begins at 6.45 a.m. and frequently finishes after midnight. He often has to work on weekends and Jewish holidays – something he won’t have to do in his new role.
Since the beginning of this century, the King David has hosted four American presidents and one former US president, two British princes and three British prime ministers, a Russian president and a Russian prime minister, two presidents of France, a Spanish prince who is now king of Spain, and many more heads of state and governmental leaders from around the world, as well as foreign ministers, defense ministers, et al, and Ritz has met them all.
■ THE MALE staff at the Australian Embassy from Ambassador Chris Cannan down, are all football fans, and most of them from very early this coming Saturday morning, September 29, will congregate at La Mer, 29 Herbert Samuel Street, Tel Aviv, where they will be watching a live screening of the Grand Final of the Australian Football League. There will be some pre-game entertainment beginning at 6.30 a.m. The live broadcast get-together is co-hosted by the Australian Embassy and the Israel-Australia Chamber of Commerce (IACC).
Food and drink can be purchased at the La Mer Bar. Participants who have queries en route to the venue can call La Mer at 03-523 7822.
For many years now, the IACC has organized similar events to enable Australian expatriates living in Israel to get together to watch the AFL Grand Final. Sometimes there’s even been a supply of Australian beer, though there’s no guarantee on this occasion.
■ WHEN CELEBRITY chef Gordon Ramsay came to Jerusalem on his first-ever visit this month, there was speculation as to the reason. It was thought that he had come to do a commercial for Nice Software. That may or may not have happened while he was here, but the real reason for his visit was that he was accompanying Michel Ohayon , the new owner of the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria. The Casablanca-born Ohayon, 56, is reputed to be one of the wealthiest people in France. Among the various hotels he owns in several countries, the one which affords him the greatest pride is the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace in Versailles, which was built more than a century ago adjacent to the Palace of Versailles to provide luxury lodgings for the aristocracy of Europe. It just so happens that Gordon Ramsay au Trianon, one of the many high-class restaurants owned by Ramsay, is located in the hotel. So Ramsay more or less came along for the ride to Israel, and was taken on a tour of the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria by general manager Avner On .
If Ramsay commented on the cuisine, those remarks have not been made public.
Ohayon, who controls the luxury hotel group Financière Immobilière Bordelaise, purchased the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem from Canada’s Reichmann family who built it. The purchase price was reportedly $160 million. Originally known as the Palace Hotel in the pre-state period, the premises were later taken over by the British Mandate administration and also served as studios for the Palestine Broadcasting Service. After the establishment off the state, the building served for years as the headquarters of the Ministry for Commerce and Industry and the property was eventually sold to the Regency Group headed by the Pritzker family, which owns the Hyatt Hotel chain. The Regency Group had considered building a luxury hotel on the site, but changed its mind. The late Paul Reichman, who died in 2013, had always wanted to build a luxury hotel in Jerusalem, and had happily acquired the property from the Regency Group but did not live to see the realization of his dream. Under the Reichman ownership, the hotel catered largely to an upscale haredi (ultra-Orthodox) clientele. Whether this will continue under Ohayon remains to be seen.
■ AMERICAN ISRAELI actor, singer and film maker Mike Burstyn last Saturday night attended the opening of the opera season in Los Angles where his good friend Placido Domingo was starring in Verdi’s Don Carlo , for which he subsequently received rave reviews. Burstyn went backstage after the performance and he and Domingo, who are both multi-lingual, began reminiscing in English, Hebrew and Spanish about the relatively long period that Domingo spent in Tel Aviv early in his career singing with the Israel Opera. It was in Tel Aviv that Domingo acquired his basic tenor repertoire.