Grapevine: France in the foreground

FRENCH AMBASSADOR Hélène Le Gal, flanked by Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (left) and cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman (photo credit: ELODIE SAUVAGE/FRENCH EMBASSY)
FRENCH AMBASSADOR Hélène Le Gal, flanked by Communications Minister Ayoub Kara (left) and cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman
"Thank goodness for Gisele," said one of the guests at the Bastille Day reception hosted at the French residence in Jaffa by French Ambassador Hélène Le Gal. The Gisele in question was not the ballet of the same name, but Gisele Abazon, the veteran interpreter and translator, who inter alia has been the interpreter and translator for the state visits to Israel by French presidents Chirac, Sarkozy and Hollande, as well as during reciprocal visits to France by presidents Katsav and Peres.
In addition to her admirable abilities to translate in six languages, Abazon is also a born actress, who often puts more spice and animation into the translation than is conveyed by the speaker for whom she is translating.
She is a permanent presence at official events involving Israel and France, and is held in such great esteem that Laurent Fabius, when he was French foreign minister, nominated her as Chevalier de l’Ordre national du Mérite. She has also managed teams of interpreters at international conferences, especially those under the auspices of Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
Actually Le Gal, who is a seasoned speaker, did very well in Hebrew, French and English, and Communications Minister Ayoub Kara did well in Hebrew. Unlike some of his colleagues, Kara is always willing to represent the government at the national day events hosted by heads of foreign missions in Israel.
As always, the humidity at the residence was unbearable, but the atmosphere, with live music throughout, was so enjoyable that many of the guests lingered for a long time after the official proceedings had concluded.
The entertainment, in addition to a band, featured talented female singers, whose repertoire included French chansons, with a large dose of Édith Piaf, as well as several well-known, internationally popular songs in English.
Another reason that people stayed was that while liquid refreshments were served before the speeches, the food didn’t come out till afterward. There were well-laden buffet tables in the garden, in the lounge area and on the patio facing the sea. There was also a kosher buffet, courtesy of Panzer delicatessen in Netanya, which stocks both meat and dairy products.
For many years there’s been a kosher table at Bastille Day receptions, but until the large influx of French immigrants, it was a small table hidden from view, and found only by those who cared to look for it, and it offered very little variety. For the past three or four years, there have been large kosher buffets and many more kippot seen on the heads of male guests.
During the official ceremony – which, in addition to many diplomats and members of Knesset, was also attended by cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman, visiting members of the French Navy, military attachés, representatives of the IDF, nuns, representatives of companies that do business with France, and prominent personalities from Israel’s French community – both Le Gal and Kara spoke of the France-Israel cross-cultural season in which 120 events in the fields of innovation, science, contemporary art, film, dialogue, literature, music, theater, education, economics and gastronomy will be held in the two countries during the period June-November 2018. The season was inaugurated by French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the latter’s visit to France in the first week of June.
Le Gal also noted that France and Israel share the values of liberty, equality and fraternity, and are united in their fight against terrorism, in their efforts to bring security and stability to the Middle East. Le Gal insisted that a way must be found to stop the chaos and to promote peace through dialogue.
Kara said that even though the long relationship between France and Israel has been extremely close, there are still new areas of cooperation on the horizon. He added that Israel is looking forward to the visits of Macron and French premier Édouard Philippe. Kara was profuse in thanking Macron for France’s no-tolerance policy on antisemitism and for the manner in which the French government treats its Jewish citizens.
“Israel is no longer the problem in the Middle East,” he said. “Iran and terrorism are the problem in the Middle East.” Kara is hopeful that Israel and France can work together in a common effort to help the peoples of the Middle East peace.
■ AT A similar event hosted in Jerusalem on Sunday by French Consul-General Pierre Cochard and his wife, Carol Marchewka, guests who were interested in watching the World Cup Final on Sunday were asked to come early to the Bastille Day reception. They were surprisingly well behaved, considering what happens to spectators when emotions run high. Though delirious with joy over France’s win, they refrained from attacking the food till after the game and after the official ceremony presided over by Cochard, who said that France is a friend of both Israel and the Palestinians, and that he hopes that the two will learn to live in peace with one another.
However, he does object to Israel making unilateral decisions about Jerusalem.
There were quite a few kippot in view here, just as there had been last week in Jaffa, and many more Christian clergy. There were a few Palestinians in attendance, though someone said that there had been another reception the previous day at which the bulk of the guests had been Palestinian. Refreshments were an ecumenical affair, with wine from the Latrun monastery and desserts from Les Délices de Sophie, a kosher French patisserie in the capital.
■ THERE ARE simply not enough days in the year. The Ambassadors’ Club of Israel annually makes a point of inviting ambassadors to the opening of the Jerusalem Film Festival, and many diplomats gladly accept the invitation.
But this year they are in a bind because the date coincides with that of the farewell reception of Japanese Ambassador Koji Tomito and his wife, Norika. The Japanese reception is at 7 p.m. and the opening of the film festival is at 8 p.m. The trouble is that the Japanese residence is in Herzliya Pituah, and even when the roads are clear, it takes more than an hour to travel from Herzliya Pituah to Jerusalem. On a Thursday night the road in both directions is hardly ever clear.
Obviously, some diplomats will opt for the Japanese reception, while others, despite the fact that their governments do not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, will opt for the Jerusalem Film Festival. It will be interesting to see who goes where and who goes to neither.
■ APROPOS INVITATIONS to two or more events on the one night, Emanuele Giaufret, the head of the Delegation of the European Union to Israel and his wife, Min-Ja Masson, were invited to the Bastille Day reception at the French residence, but Giaufret was also the guest of honor at a welcoming dinner hosted by the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel at Herod’s Hotel at the Herzliya Marina.
The club’s founding president, Yitzhak Eldan, who is a former chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry, makes a point of hosting welcome dinners for new ambassadors, but sometimes the ambassadors have been in the country for six months or longer before the event. Their own schedules may be too crowded, and occasionally Eldan, who teaches diplomacy to senior high school students, takes groups of them abroad to meet with overseas counterparts, or takes them to meet foreign ministers and parliamentarians and diplomats working in Israeli consulates and embassies. For the youngsters, many of whom may later defend Israel on college campuses in the US, Europe and South Africa, the experience is extremely valuable.
Just as it was noblesse oblige for Giaufret to attend the French reception, it was equally noblesse oblige for people with EU connections to attend the dinner in his honor. Thus Nathalie Mimoun, one of the honorary consuls for France in Israel, also tore herself away from the French reception in order to honor Giaufret, who had to excuse himself during the dinner to take an important phone call, which put a slight but very temporary damper on the festivities.
■ RABBIS FROM all over Israel will converge on Jerusalem’s Ramada Hotel this Wednesday evening for an emergency conference aimed at maintaining the Chief Rabbinate’s control over conversion, marriage and divorce. Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau will be the keynote speakers. Participants will include chief rabbis from cities and towns across the country, community rabbis, rabbinic court judges and heads of yeshivot. Among the other speakers will be former chief rabbis Yisrael Meir Lau and Shlomo Moshe Amar.
The former was until recently the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, and the latter is the Sephardi chief rabbi of Jerusalem. Other speakers will include rabbis Yosef Gliksberg, Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, Dov Lior, Reuven Elbaz, Hershel Schachter, Haim Steiner, Eliezer Igra and Shmuel Eliyahu.
■ JUST AHEAD of Tisha Be’av, President Reuven Rivlin will on Thursday of this week host a discussion on “Remember what befell us.” Memory, or at least the retelling of Jewish history from generation to generation, is part and parcel of Jewish tradition – a warning against complacency and yet another opportunity to give thanks for the good things that have happened. Rivlin will be among the opening speakers together with outgoing and incoming Jewish Agency chairmen Natan Sharansky and Isaac Herzog, and Avinoam Bar-Yosef, president of the Jewish People Policy Institute.
Rivlin hosts a similar event each year with the participation of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and secular scholars, who collectively symbolize what unites the Jewish people rather than what divides them.
Speakers from the different streams of Judaism will include Rabbi Yaakov Medan, head of the Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut; Prof. Nili Vazana, head of the department of Bible studies, the Hebrew University; Rabbi Dubi Hayoun of the Moriah community in Haifa and director of the Midreshet Schechter program; and Rabbi Talia Avnon-Benveniste, head of the Israeli Rabbinical Seminary, Hebrew Union College. Moderator will be internationally known journalist Shmuel Rosner, who is a JPPI senior fellow.
■ ON SUNDAY evening, Rivlin who is a great soccer fan, invited youngsters from the Gaza border communities to come to Jerusalem to join him in watching the World Cup Final on a giant television screen set up in the main reception hall. Here and there the president took time out to pose for selfies with his guests, and was scheduled to possibly see some of them again on Monday, when he planned to visit Sderot and tour the kibbutzim and moshavim along the Gaza Strip. He even canceled a meeting with Montenegrin Foreign Minister Prof. Srdjan Darmanovic in order to travel south in the morning.
However, at the last minute, the trip to the southern border was canceled – presumably because Netanyahu got there first, though he visited only Sderot and not the kibbutzim.
Darmanovic visited Yad Vashem on Monday, and later met with various dignitaries.
Earlier this month Foreign Ministry director- general Yuval Rotem was in Montenegro for what he tweeted was a good meeting with Darmanovic, whom he described as “a man of deep and interesting political thought,” and stated that he was looking forward to meeting him again in Israel. Rotem was in Montenegro on his first visit to the Balkans. Among other things, he wanted to see what potential Montenegro has for Israeli investments, because eco-diplomacy is a very important factor in cementing bilateral relations. He also met with Montenegrin Defense Minister Predrag Boskovic, Minister of Sustainable Development and Tourism Pavle Radulovic and Minister of Culture Aleksander Bogdanovic. In the latter case, he discussed cooperation in archaeological research.
Notwithstanding a long history, the Jewish community of Montenegro is very small, with only 100 or so people who are actively Jewish, although it is believed that some 400 Jews live in the country. Until last year, there was no synagogue and no rabbi. A cornerstone was laid in December 2017 for a synagogue in Podgorica, on land given to the community by the Montenegrin government.
Until the synagogue is completed, religious services are held in the home of Rabbi Ari Edelkopf, who with his wife and seven children took up residence in November 2017, and who needless to say is a Chabad rabbi, because Chabad takes on the challenge of bringing Judaism to even the smallest and most assimilated of Jewish communities in the world, and, curiously enough, wherever Chabad sets up its community services, the community grows.
■ TRILINGUAL AUTHOR and journalist Michelle Mazel, whose mother tongue is French, but who also writes in Hebrew and English, is thrilled that her prizewinning book Julius Matthias – A Pact with the Devil, which was originally written in French and translated into Romanian, has finally seen the light of day in the language in which it was conceived. Mazel later translated it into English herself, and it was published by New Meridian Arts. It took the French publishers a little longer, perhaps because they were tired of books with a Holocaust theme, though this book is not entirely devoted to the subject, and Mazel has almost completed its sequel.
The setting for the plot is Romania (or Transylvania, as it was known in the time frame of the novel), where Mazel’s husband, Zvi, served as ambassador during the Romanian Revolution of December 1989, which marked the end of the Ceausescu era and of Communist rule. The Mazels have kept up with their Romanian connections, which may account for the fact that getting the book published in Romania was comparatively easy.
■ AMERICAN JEWS have figured prominently in the Israeli media in recent months, primarily due to the controversy over an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall. But there is no single definition for American Jews, just as there is no single definition for Israeli Jews. They or their forebears came to America from every part of the world in which Jews resided. They are divided in their levels of religious observance, in their political ideologies, in their socioeconomic status, and in their identification with Israel.
Nonetheless, they are treated as a homogeneous entity in discussions related to the Western Wall and other issues.
To cast a little more light on the subject of American Jews and Israel, Prof. Mervin F.
Verbit, professor and chairman of sociology at the Touro College and University System and professor emeritus at Brooklyn College of The City University of New York, where he was also founding director of CUNY’s Program for Study in Israel, will on Wednesday, July 25, present a morning address at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on “American Jews and Israel: What We Know and What We Need To Know.” Verbit has served as national chairman of American Professors for Peace in the Middle East, chairman of the Zionist Academic Council, and as a member of the Jewish Agency’s Commission for Jewish Zionist Education.
■ MATCHMAKING IS a time-honored Jewish profession, but Chaya Lifschutz, an Orthodox woman from Brooklyn, is not your usual matchmaker. She doesn’t work toward uniting people under a bridal canopy. She works toward uniting them in hospitals.
After donating a kidney in September 2005 to someone she didn’t know, Lifschutz became hooked on the idea of saving lives through kidney donations. Her own personal donation to a stranger was made as a result of having seen an advertisement in a Jewish newspaper. Afterward, she kept seeing such advertisements and realized that there was a desperate need. Three months after donating one of her own kidneys, Lifschutz took a booth at a New York City Expo in December 2005 and began educating the public about the importance of donating a kidney. Suddenly, she found herself in the role of kidney matchmaker, but dealing with all the letters she received was very time-consuming, so she decided to build a website. She didn’t know exactly how to go about it, and the cost factor for paying a professional was quite high. So she advertised on one of the Yahoo groups to which she subscribes, and along came Jonathan Kaplan, whom she had not known before, who built a site for her, entirely free of charge.
Lifschutz has been interviewed on radio, television, and in the print media about the work she does, and this of course has brought more responses from people in need of a kidney, and from those willing to donate one.
It’s a form of contagious altruism. Her brother also donated a kidney. Her work is not confined to New York or even the United States.
Recently, she matched up two people living in Israel who had made aliya from different parts of the world. Nahva Follman, a 41-year-old mother of eight, who moved from Brooklyn to Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood 14 years ago, saw one of Lifschutz’s advertisements, got in touch with her, and said she wanted to donate a kidney. Lifschutz knew of Dr. Roman Grenshpan, a 59-yearold father of two, who had immigrated to Israel from Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) 28 years ago and now lives in Petah Tikva.
Following preliminary tests, it was decided that Follman was a suitable match for Grenshpan, and the transplant duly took place at the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv. Two days later, the two, looking quite healthy, were photographed together.
■ JEWS AROUND the world, no less than Israelis, are fed up with the general media bias against Israel and the omission in media reports of what Israelis have to suffer before retaliating against terrorists attacks. A complaint of this nature was posted on Facebook by human rights activist Malvi Martiester of Melbourne, who wrote: “The recent drawnout drama in the depths of a flooded cave in north Thailand amazed me that we could all immediately observe everything, by apparent direct link, [regarding] those trapped children and their football coach stranded on the ledge, once they were found. I suspected it was only made possible by some amazing Israeli technology, though I never heard it mentioned. Kol hakavod to the company, MaxTech Networks, which provided it, and to CNN, which eventually interviewed the CEO and founder, Uzi Hanuni.”
Come to think of it, we didn’t see much credit being given to Hanuni in the Israeli media either, although the story was disseminated by ISRAEL21C. But then again, in Israel, we’ve come to take genius for granted.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement people would really do well to sit down and think of what the world would be deprived of, if all Israeli innovation were withdrawn. To criticize Israel is legitimate, even when such criticism is faulty in its facts.
But to boycott Israeli products which are helping to improve the quality of life of untold millions of people around the world is not only stupid but immoral.
■ NOTWITHSTANDING THE decline in newspaper readership, the power of the press is still alive and well. Case in point was a human interest story published by Yediot Aharonot about Oshri Bitau, a 10-yearold boy from Nazareth, who just over four months ago sat down at a piano for the first time in his life and discovered that he was a musical prodigy. Inna Kravitz, the music teacher at his school, who discovered his talent and enrolled him in a music course in February, said that she had never seen such rapid development in a music student.
Bitau, who comes from a single-parent family, practices whenever he gets the chance, but until this week he didn’t have a piano at home. On the day after his story appeared in the paper, he was invited to come to the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, where coincidentally there was a film about a boy like him who desperately wanted to be a musician. Bitau was asked to play, and the packed auditorium went wild after listening to his rendition of Beethoven.
Several Yediot readers offered to give him a piano, including former prime minister Ehud Barak, who is a pianist in his own right. Barak, who was emotionally moved after reading about Bitau, did not offer him a secondhand piano but went out and bought him a new one of his very own. The piano was delivered to Bitau’s home in Nazareth this week, and no one could have been happier.
Maybe one day, he and Barak will play a duet.
Meanwhile Bitau’s mother is thrilled that he has the piano that she could never provide, and Ronen Plaut, the mayor of Upper Nazareth, who is the former director-general of the Knesset, has decided to give Oshri Bitau a scholarship that will enable him to continue his musical studies at the Nazareth conservatory free of charge.
If Barak reenters politics, he will certainly have Kravitz’s vote. “He’s got a big, open heart,” she said.
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