Grapevine June 12, 2020: Globally speaking

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

GERMAN AMBASSADOR Rolf Pauls kisses the hand of foreign minister Golda Meir, after presenting his credentials at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem in 1965. (photo credit: MOSHE PRIDAN / GPO)
GERMAN AMBASSADOR Rolf Pauls kisses the hand of foreign minister Golda Meir, after presenting his credentials at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem in 1965.
(photo credit: MOSHE PRIDAN / GPO)
Who would have imagined before 1965 – and even for several years afterwards – that in a time of global crisis the first visit to Israel by a minister from a foreign country, would be the foreign minister of Germany, Heiko Maas.
It was in August 1965 that Rolf Friedemann Pauls, a former officer in the Wehrmacht, albeit not a Nazi, arrived in Israel as Germany’s first ambassador to the new/old state, presented his credentials to president Zalman Shazar, kissed the hand of foreign minister Golda Meir who could not hold back the distasteful expression on her face, and then sat in conversation with the both of them.
“You cannot ‘make’ relations between Germans and Jews be normalized,” Pauls said at the time. “Those relations have to grow. And that is an arduous process that will take generations.”
Since then, the special relationship between Israel and Germany has flourished in many directions, Germany has become Israel’s most reliable ally in Europe and there are arguably more Israelis living in Germany than anywhere else in Europe.
Moreover, German chancellors, presidents, foreign ministers and other dignitaries have consistently visited Israel, some on more than one occasion.
At the Foreign Ministry this week, Maas, who was allowed to enter the country without having to go into isolation, knocked elbows with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, but toward the end of the meeting, when an official wanted to shake hands with both Ashkenazi and Maas, Ashkenazi shook the man’s hand, but the more cautious Maas grabbed the man’s forearm instead.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was in Israel in January for events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz coupled with commitments to fight antisemitism in all its forms, was due to return for Independence Day and to combine this with a state visit marking the 55th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany. The coronavirus pandemic put that visit on hold.
In Germany on May 12, Maas issued a statement in which he said: “Today we celebrate 55 years of diplomatic relations with Israel. We are deeply grateful that this even became possible after the horrors of the Shoah. Since then, our two countries, Germans and Israelis, have always come closer to each other. Today we are connected in friendship, trust and cooperation in basically all aspects of life. What is really important besides regular government consultations, official visits or formal rituals – are the encounters between the people. Germans and Israelis do research, make music, work and live together side by side. Given our history, this is anything but self-evident, and it fills me with gratitude and joy.”
■ ON THE day prior to the visit by Maas, President Reuven Rivlin spoke to Steinmeier, with whom he has met on several occasions both in Israel and Germany, and with whom he travelled to Poland and then to Germany for liberation of Auschwitz commemoration ceremonies. In their conversation on Tuesday, the two presidents discussed regional issues and agreed that Steinmeier’s delayed state visit would take place at the earliest opportunity.
■ ON THURSDAY, Ashkenazi, who is no stranger to diplomatic receptions, was guest of honor at the Russia Day reception. Ashkenazi used to attend such receptions when he was IDF chief of staff, and has been to several since leaving the army. But this week, the Russia Day reception, hosted by Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov, was the first that he attended in his present capacity. One suspects that Viktorov may be in cahoots with the Tourism Ministry, because each of his national day receptions has been at a different venue in a different part of the country. His first, soon after arrival, was in Jerusalem at the impressive Sergei’s Courtyard in the Russian Compound. The second was at the Dan Accadia Hotel on the Herzliya beachfront, and the third, this week at the St. Peter and Righteous Tabitha church compound in Jaffa. At the first reception the guest of honor was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At the second, it was Rivlin, and this time around it was Ashkenazi. Few of Viktorov’s colleagues, with the notable e
xception of US Ambassador David Friedman, can unfailingly attract the top of the top.
The Russians, for all their romantic songs and literature, are known to be practical people. A notice dispatched from the embassy on Tuesday advised female guests not to wear high heels because the reception was taking place outdoors on the lawn.
■ EACH YEAR, an Israeli who has contributed to the good relations between Israel and Japan is conferred with the Order of the Rising Sun. This year’s recipient is Tel Aviv University Prof. Zvi Serper of the Department of Theater Arts and the Department of East Asian Studies. Serper is also a former dean of the institution’s Faculty of Arts, and former chairman of the Department of East Asian Studies in the Faculty of the Humanities.
The emperor of Japan’s award will be bestowed on him in recognition of his unique contribution to the research of Japanese traditional theater and cinema; to the promotion of scientific and artistic exchange between Japan and Israel and between Japan and the rest of the world; and to the development of Japanese studies in Israel. The date of the award ceremony has yet to be announced.
■ CHINESE PHILOSOPHER Lao Tzu’s saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, applies to everything. This week, Kalman and Malki Samuels celebrated the 30th anniversary of the opening on June 10, 1990 of the nucleus of what has become the world-recognized Shalva center for the treatment and social integration of children with physical and cognitive disabilities. The couple started out with six children, including their own blind and deaf hyperactive son, Yossi. It was because no suitable setting was available for Yossi that his parents were motivated to create a facility that would cater to youngsters such as Yossi. Today, Shalva provides services for 2,000 individuals with a broad range of disabilities, helping to develop their potential from babyhood to adulthood.
■ THE CURRENT era will be recorded historically not only as a pandemic calamity, but as a Zoom period in which people who are geographically distant from each other are brought together on their cellphones, PCs or television screens. It’s not always pleasant to look at people who are virtually locked inside frames, and very often so acutely conscious of the fact that their every move can be seen by so many others, that they sit almost like statues. Still, there’s no denying that Zoom has facilitated connections that might otherwise never have taken place.
A case in point was the annual general meeting of Voices Israel Group of Poets in English, whose members live as far apart as Metulla and the Arava, and some also live abroad. One of the organization’s stalwarts, Wendy Blumfield, who lives in Haifa, reported that thanks to Zoom, there was a record attendance at this year’s AGM, because people living in peripheral areas, who would balk at traveling to the center of the country, were able to plug in, as did two members from the US.
There was also a changing of the guard. Susan Olsburgh of Netanya, who has been president for the past five years, congratulated newly elected president Judy Koren of Haifa, who in addition to being a poet is also active in the Haifa English Theatre. Membership secretary Susan Rosenberg, also from Haifa, and one of the founding members of the organization, decided that at age 96, it was time to retire, and was succeeded by Edit Gavriely who is also from Haifa. It seems that Haifa may be the English language poetry capital of Israel.