Grapevine: Hebrew in Romania

Former Romanian ambassador to Israel Pastarnac, who has the advantage of speaking Hebrew with greater fluency than many Sabras, was recalled just after Christmas and informed of her new appointment.

PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN with Romanian Minister for the Diaspora Andreea Pastarnac. (photo credit: PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON OFFICE)
PRESIDENT REUVEN RIVLIN with Romanian Minister for the Diaspora Andreea Pastarnac.
NOT EVERY Israeli couple who married on Valentine’s Day this year realized the significance of the Hebrew calendar date, which was the 18th of Shvat. Eighteen is a particularly lucky number in Jewish tradition because it means life in the gematria equation. Chronologically in their late 70s, neither the bride, Pessy Krausz, nor the groom, Mel David, are spring chickens, though the starry-eyed looks they gave each other indicated that they are very young in spirit and quite obviously in love.
Surrounded by their children and grandchildren, they happily posed for photographs at the reception prior to the ceremony at the Hanassi Synagogue in Jerusalem. Many of the synagogue’s regular congregants, along with the couple’s relatives and friends, were there to wish them well, and in fact packed the men’s section for the ceremony conducted by Rabbi Berel Wein.
The whole affair was like a US-UK alliance. The groom and the officiating rabbi made aliya from the United States. The bride, born Pessy Markowitz, made aliya from England. The rabbi who read the ketuba – the marriage contract – was Rabbi Edward Jackson, former spiritual leader of the Young Israel Congregation of north Netanya, who, like the bride, made aliya from England. Other than the formalities related to the ceremony, the language of the day was English, with conversations in mainly British and American accents.
Both the bride and the groom are musical. He serenaded her on her walk to the prayer-shawled bridal canopy by singing the Carlebach version of the prayer to welcome the Sabbath, which is the bride of the week, and includes the words bo’i, kala (come, bride) within and at the conclusion of the text. After the groom broke the glass to commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, he and the bride turned to each other and sang Psalm 137: If I forget thee O Jerusalem.
The seven blessings were read by various rabbis, and in the sections of the ceremony in which singing was appropriate, the crowd joined in with gusto. The delighted expressions on the faces of all present spoke volumes of how happy they were that the bride and groom, who had each been widowed, found each other and were such a perfect match.
■ COINCIDENCE IS the name of the game. On the day that Lithuanian Ambassador Edminas Bagdonas presented his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin in September, 2014, three other ambassadors participated in similar ceremonies. The others were Shigeo Matsutomi, ambassador of Japan; Paata Kalandadze, ambassador of Georgia; and Promise Msibi, ambassador of Swaziland.
The Lithuanian and Japanese envoys formed an instant friendship that remained strong until Matsutomi was transferred to Poland. Both he and his wife, Kaori, made many friends in Israel, and made no secret of how much they loved the country. Kaori Matsutomi maintains social media contact with numerous friends, and at the end of last week returned to Israel for a brief vacation. Her visit coincided with the celebration of Lithuanian Restoration Day, and, naturally, she attended. But before that, she was feted at two luncheons hosted by members of the International Women’s Club and had joyful reunions with women she cherished. There were even reunions at the Lithuanian event, as people caught sight of her and rushed to embrace her.
It’s not surprising that the vivacious Matsutomi is so popular. What is surprising is that she managed to amass so many friends in so relatively brief a period. A journalist by profession, she writes a blog in Japanese and has 20,000 followers.
While in Israel she did a lot of shopping, and her purchases included several Jewish ritual objects.
One of the things she misses most about Israel is walking along the beach in Herzliya. Poland is very cold in comparison to Israel, she says. It was also somewhat of a culture shock for her to go from overly aggressive Israel, where people don’t hesitate to speak their minds, to excessively polite Poland, where it is difficult to tell what anyone really thinks. However, she does enjoy the Polish tradition of having her hand kissed whenever she meets a Polish male. She also enjoys and admires the attention that Poland gives to culture.
■ IF, IN THE course of some future official visit to Bucharest, President Rivlin or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is invited to address Parliament and chooses to do so in Hebrew, at least two people present will not require simultaneous translation. One is Romania’s recently appointed state secretary, Ilan Laufer, a 33-year-old Israeli expatriate who was born in Rishon Lezion and became a successful businessman in Bucharest. The other is former Romanian ambassador to Israel Andreea Pastarnac, who is now minister for Romanians abroad – or as she herself termed it this week, the minister for Romanians in the diaspora.
Pastarnac, who has the advantage of speaking Hebrew with greater fluency than many Sabras, was recalled just after Christmas and informed of her new appointment. The identity of her replacement in Tel Aviv has not yet been announced.
She returned to Israel for a week to tie up some loose ends, and the Foreign Ministry took the opportunity to give her the farewell luncheon it had been unable to give her due to the suddenness of her departure. There were several European Union ambassadors in attendance, including, among others, the head of the Delegation of the EU, Laars Faaborg-Andersen, Bulgarian Ambassador Mikhaylov Dimitar (who also speaks fluent Hebrew), and Austrian Ambassador Martin Weiss, who served in Cyprus at the same time as Pastarnac, from 2009 to 2012. Weiss recalled that they had both been invited to a party hosted by the Israeli ambassador, and how amazed he was to hear Pastarnac chatting away to the ambassador in Hebrew.
While she was ambassador here, Pastarnac arranged for official guests from Romania to stay at the King David Hotel, where the luncheon in her honor took place, and Sheldon Ritz, who, as operations manager at the hotel, deals with visits of all foreign dignitaries, was more than delighted to see her again.
Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis was not sure he wanted to congratulate Pastarnac on her new post because he would have preferred for her to stay in Israel, but he had no doubt that she would be as dedicated and successful a minister as she had been an ambassador. MK Yossi Yonah, who chairs the Israel-Romania Parliamentary Friendship Group, praised Pastarnac as “an ambassador so deeply immersed in the country where you are serving,” adding that he now looked at her as an ambassador for Israel in Romania. Faaborg-Andersen said he was pleased that the Romanian government had chosen a civil servant “who knows what she’s talking about.”
Earlier in the day, Pastarnac paid the customary courtesy call on President Rivlin to take her leave from him and to present him with a catalogue of water colors of Israel – primarily Jerusalem – which had been painted by her mother, a professional artist. Rivlin eagerly scanned the paintings, identifying even the most obscure places. But in one case where he saw a bridge, he said it was a figment of the artist’s imagination. Pastarnac demurred and explained exactly where it was, and Rivlin had to acknowledge that he had been mistaken.
Pastarnac’s ministerial role will demand a lot of travel in keeping track of Romanians abroad, as well as their descendants. In Israel alone, there are some 40,000 Romanian expatriates. Altogether, she said, some 10 million people collectively make up the Romanian diaspora. Close to four and a half million live in EU countries, mostly those on Romania’s borders. The rest are scattered in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, the Emirates and Qatar.
■ THE EDEN CENTER, in partnership with Hadassah Medical Center and Torat Hamishpacha, will host its first national conference for mikva attendants at Hadassah Mount Scopus on Wednesday, February 22. The aim is to emphasize the medical and psychological knowledge that augments the work of an attendant.
Following greetings by Rabbi Itzhak Melber and Rabbi Moshe Klein, Prof. Simcha Yagel, director of the gynecology at Hadassah; Prof. Drorit Hochner, director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mount Scopus; Dr. Aviva Yochman, a member of the faculty of medicine at Hadassah-Hebrew University focusing on sensory disorders; and Prof. Amnon Bez’zinski, director of the Women’s Health Center at Hadassah, will participate in a medical panel. Mikva attendants will hold small roundtable discussions to share their experiences and the challenges they face.
Facilitators will be Adi Samson and Lizzie Rubin, as well as industrial psychologist Dr. Abira Reisman. The concept is to make the mikva a wellspring of women’s physical and spiritual health and well-being.