Grapevine May 1, 2020: Saluting the flag

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Israelis mark Independence Day 2020 by watching an air-show   (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israelis mark Independence Day 2020 by watching an air-show
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
When two consummate professionals host a program, everything else seems to fall into place. That’s what happened with the official Independence Day launch on Tuesday night that was hosted by Ester Rada and Guy Zu-Aretz. Both are professional singers and actors who are equally at home on stage or screen - and it showed. They didn’t try to upstage each other, and they complemented each other beautifully. In fact, they did a much better job than the four Eurovision presenters last year.
■ ON WEDNESDAY, the main presentation from the President’s Residence was decidedly different from that of previous years, accentuated by the fact that after compere Rotem Abuhav announced that it would be without a live audience and without a band, there was an immediate flashback to the crowded 70th anniversary celebrations with the IDF orchestra, the 120 outstanding soldiers, their families and various dignitaries. Although the overall message on Wednesday was one of patriotism and volunteerism with Zoom togetherness, regardless of the circumstances or rather despite the circumstances, one of the other messages that emerged was how desperately entertainers need an audience. The usually exuberantly effervescent and spontaneous Abuhav was lacking in her characteristic pazazz. Some of the other entertainers on the program were also missing the spark that comes from contact with an audience. Hopefully, that contact will soon return.
■ WITH ALL the changes that took place during Remembrance Day and Independence Day, at least one thing remained constant: the influx of messages from heads of state and governments, as well as leaders of Jewish community organizations around the globe to President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that flowed into their offices in great numbers - perhaps even greater than in the past. Most world leaders did not distinguish between their messages to Rivlin and Netanyahu and sent identical texts to each.
US President Donald Trump wrote inter alia: “Exactly seven decades to the day after Prime Minister Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence, Israel and the United States shared another historic moment when the United States opened its embassy in Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem. This achievement has been one of many significant actions by my Administration to rebuild the US-Israel relationship.” Russian President Vladimir Putin wished Israel “well-being, peace and prosperity.”
■ SONGS ARE intrinsic to Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day ceremonies, but never more so than this year when nearly every Memorial and Independence day program was pre-recorded and featured on television channels and social media platforms. Not only that but some print media outlets also featured lyrics of songs sung over the years on these two important days in the national calendar, accompanied by background information as to who wrote the lyrics, who composed the music and who sang the songs. Several of the personalities featured are no longer living, but to revive their names and jog the memories of listeners was important. Some of the songs are frequently played on radio or chosen by competitors in television talent contests, while others are all but forgotten.
Among the deceased lyricists, composers and performers were: Natan Alterman and his daughter Tirza Atar, Lea Goldberg, Yossi Banai, Ehud Manor, Sasha Argov and others. The living included Yehuda Poliker, Shiri Maimon, Dudu Fisher, Yehudit Ravitz, Yehoram Gaon, Yardena Arazi, Mati Caspi, Tzipi Shavit, Yankele Rotblit, Avihu Medina, Hava Alberstein,Gidi Gov, Miri Aloni, Shlomo Artzi, Amir Benayoun, Omer Adam and many more. There was considerable nostalgia in the plethora of Remembrance Day and Independence Day programs, but hardly any reference to Shoshana Damari and Yaffa Yarkoni, who were once the nation’s most popular female singers, known for performing at military bases and outposts all over the country, and for braving the vicissitudes of war to sing to the troops. Surely, when so many programs were being devoted to the heroes of yesteryear, they deserved to be commemorated.
■ SEVERAL EMBASSIES posted congratulatory greetings to Israel on their websites and Facebook Pages, and some also sent greetings of Ramadan Mubarak and Ramadan Kareem to Israel’s Muslim population. On Wednesday, 85 ambassadors, honorary consuls and friends of the Ambassadors’ Club of Israel participated in a ZOOM toast, and several of them sent congratulatory messages via the ZOOM Chat.
Thirteen of the ambassadors headed by Dean of the Diplomatic Corps Hennady Nadolenko conveyed messages on screen, though consecutive technical hitches created the impression that they would be neither seen nor heard. In the final analysis, all of them were uploaded. Collectively, they congratulated Israel and praised the country for its accomplishments, but even more than that they expressed appreciation to the Ambassadors’ Club and its founder and president, retired ambassador Yitzhak Eldan, who inter alia is a former MFA chief of protocol whose purpose in creating the club was to connect as many ambassadors as possible to Israel. He was well aware that not every diplomat posted to Israel is favorably inclined toward the country, and in such cases, he wanted to change perceptions.
Eldan lauded diplomats worldwide for the important role they have played and continue to play in the war against an unseen enemy in difficult and unprecedented conditions. The foreign ambassadors in turn were grateful to the Ambassadors’ Club for all it does for them and for bringing them together at this time - albeit virtually. They looked forward to the day when they can meet each other again in person.
The first ambassador to speak after Nadelenko was Philippines Ambassador Neal Imperial, who is dean of the Pacific Group of ambassadors. It was fitting that he be the first, as the Philippines was the only Asian nation to vote in favor of the partition of Palestine at the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947. Imperial was followed by Anjan Shakya, the ambassador of Nepal who had been chosen as ambassador of the year, and who was scheduled to have the title conferred on her at the club’s annual International Women’s Day reception. However, due to the crisis, the reception was postponed to a date yet to be announced.
Other ambassadors who conveyed their greetings personally were Thessalia Salina Shambos of Cyprus; Hector Celarie of El Salvador; Emanuele Giaufret of the European Union; Hannah Nyarko of Ghana; Elita Gavele of Latvia; Max Haber Neumann of Paraguay, who is dean of the Latin American Group of ambassadors; Joseph Rutabana of Rwanda; Saddha Waruna Wilpatha of Sri Lanka; Pannabha Chandraramya of Thailand; and Martin Mwanabale of Zambia, who is dean of the African Group of ambassadors.
Greetings were also conveyed by David Freeman, the Jerusalem representative of Bahá’í who said, “We are all one human family and we have to take care of each other.” Amnon Dotan, who is president of the Industry and Trade Club and honorary consul of Lithuania, revealed that his grandfather had been a delegate to the First Zionist Congress, and had migrated to the Land of Israel in 1922. Dotan himself, as a small boy, had been present in the Tel Aviv Museum hall when David Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence 72 years earlier. Vice president of the Ambassadors’ Club and Honorary Consul of Belize Yoram Naor thanked the ambassadors for their act of solidarity with Israel. Giaufret emphasized that at this time of crisis, cooperation and international solidarity are more important than ever.
Conscious of Israel’s impressive record of medical inventions and discoveries, Haber Neumann voiced the hope that “Israel will find a vaccine to eradicate the epidemic.” It might comfort him to know that Ruth Arnon, who together with her Weizmann Institute of Science colleagues Michael Sela and Dvora Teitelbaum developed the Copaxone miracle drug, is one of the Israeli scientists who are working against the clock to find a vaccine to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Gavele, who has been in Israel for nearly four years, said this was the first time she had been alone on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars, and Israel Independence Day, and that this had given her a lot of time to think about what the Jewish people and Israel have endured.
Nitza Raz Silbiger, the director of the MFA’s Protocol Department, retired on the day following Independence Day, after 30 years as a public servant. She was also present at the ZOOM meeting. She had been selected for the Woman of the Year award by the Ambassadors’ Club and will have to wait until a new date for the awards is determined. She said she always enjoyed coming to work and was never bored because she had such wonderful colleagues among the ambassadors, as a result of which she has many friends around the world.
■ JEWISH AGENCY chairman Isaac Herzog never misses an opportunity to salute the achievements of his parents or of his grandparents, all of whom have impressive and enviable records. Speaking at the Bible Quiz on Independence Day, he recalled that the Bible Quiz was established at the initiative of his mother, Aura Herzog, on Israel’s 10th anniversary of independence. The number 10 figured again in the person of Ruth Cohen, who as winner of the Bible Quiz brought glory to Israel as well as to the abilities of female students. She is the first female to win the annual quiz after a 10-year hiatus.