GRAPEVINE: Stars and Stripes

Shapiro is his country’s longest- serving ambassador to Israel in a period of three decades.

An American Independence Day fireworks display at the Washington Monument (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
An American Independence Day fireworks display at the Washington Monument
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Although it was not mentioned, the reception hosted last Thursday by US Ambassador Dan Shapiro and his wife, Julie, in honor of the 240th anniversary of America’s independence may have been their swan song as far as hosting Fourth of July receptions in Shapiro’s present capacity.
This month he will mark the fifth anniversary of his arrival in Israel, and next month the fifth anniversary of the presentation of his credentials. Shapiro is his country’s longest- serving ambassador to Israel in a period of three decades. Only two other US ambassadors to Israel served longer. Sam Lewis served from May, 1977 to May 1985, and Walworth Barbour served from June 1961 to January 1973.
Shapiro quipped to President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he comes to their offices so often with the president, vice president, secretary of state, cabinet secretaries, members of Congress and on his own, “that I am tempted some days to ask for my own desk and cubicle and parking place.”
■ SHAPIRO ALWAYS makes a point of acknowledging the hospitality, good deeds and achievements of others, but this time there were so many thank-yous and remarks of appreciation and admiration that it was almost akin to a farewell.
If the Democrats win the upcoming US presidential election, it’s quite possible that Shapiro will be asked to stay on, but in that case, his response may depend on whether his wife is willing to continue to put her own career on hold. Shapiro’s thank-you list included diplomatic “spouses and partners who make enormous sacrifices, including interrupted careers, yet who contribute to our mission in innumerable ways, and our family is no different – let me also offer a special acknowledgment to our spouses and families.”
It just so happens, that Julie Fisher is president of the Diplomatic Spouses of Israel.
The fact that Shapiro was appointed by President Barack Obama did not deter billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is currently visiting Israel, and who is a die-hard Republican putting his money behind Donald Trump, from attending the Independence Day reception. But there was political balance with the attendance of Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch from Florida. Also standing out in the massive crowd was Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who was instantly surrounded by admirers and well-wishers.
■ THE REASON the reception was held on June 30 instead of July 4 is that Netanyahu was in Entebbe on July 4 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Entebbe rescue operation by an elite Israeli commando unit. July 4 is also an important date in the private life of Jewish Agency chairman and former Prisoner of Zion Natan Sharansky, who with his wife, Avital, celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary.
■ NATIONAL DAY receptions always include the national anthems of the home country of the ambassador hosting the reception plus the national anthem of the host country. In the case of member states of the European Union, the EU anthem is also played. Sometimes the anthems are performed by live singers or choirs, but most of the time they are canned music.
The Americans always have live singers, and this year their singers, in addition to having good, powerful voices, also sang with tremendous feeling. Brett Loewenstern gave a tremendous rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and Kinneret Hendeles did a great job on “Hatikva.” Rivlin, who is exuberantly pro-American, went so far as to put his hand on his heart, American-style, during the singing of the American anthem. But the gesture was not reciprocated. Although former British ambassador Matthew Gould, who like Shapiro and his wife is Jewish, had no problem singing “Hatikva,” Shapiro and Fisher are very careful not to sing it.
■ DESPITE THE generally festive atmosphere, neither Shapiro, Rivlin nor Netanyahu could ignore the brutal murder of 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel, and all three expressed their outrage in their respective speeches. They also spoke out strongly against terrorism, and it goes without saying that each of them emphasized the long-standing alliance between Israel and the United States, with Shapiro also paying tribute to the American Mahalniks who came to fight, shoulder to shoulder, with the newly born State of Israel in the War of Independence.
Shapiro focused some of his remarks on the founding fathers of the US, noting that Broadway is experiencing a whole new love affair with founders, in particular Alexander Hamilton, “who left an indelible imprint on the US Constitution, the armed forces, and on the financial system. Hamilton has been resurrected in a musical that tells his story, and has won 11 Tony awards to date. Shapiro also referred to first president George Washington’s stoic resolve in the face of adversity, and “his steady, calming hand guiding the fragile new country through its birth and infancy”; Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration of Independence; and James Madison, who authored the first drafts of the Constitution.
This prompted Netanyahu to bring up the subject of Israel’s founders and how they would relate to those of America.
“I think Washington and Herzl would get along quite well; Ben-Gurion and Jefferson would have a lot to talk about; unquestionably so would Madison and Begin, for sure.”
As for Alexander Hamilton who came from the Caribbean, Netanyahu disclosed that his nanny was a Sephardi Jewess who taught him to read the Ten Commandments in Hebrew.
Shapiro had good news for American expats who observe the Jewish dietary laws and are yearning for the flavor of the old country.
Among the delicacies served at the reception was kosher American beef, the first to be imported to Israel in more than 20 years.
The meat comes from Nebraska, and Shapiro was sure that it will be enjoyed by Israeli consumers.
In fact, he promised Netanyahu that they would eat a Big Mac together afterward.
Netanyahu seemed pleased at the idea, and mentioned it in his own speech. Whether they actually got around to it or not remains a mystery.
■ WHILE THERE may still be a question hovering over the length of Shapiro’s stay in Israel, there is no doubt that the Bastille Day reception that is being hosted next week by French Ambassador Patrick Maisonnave will be his last in Israel. He is due to complete his tenure this summer. France’s next ambassador to Israel will be a woman. She is Hélène Le Gal, an expert on matters pertaining to Africa, which will undoubtedly come up in any conversation that she has with Netanyahu, now that Israel and Africa are upgrading relations.
Le Gal was previously President Francois Hollande’s adviser on African affairs.
The 18th French ambassador to Israel, Le Gal is the first female envoy to be sent to represent her country in Israel.
■ MEMBERS OF the French community who missed out on being invited to Maisonnave’s reception can still celebrate Bastille Day in Netanya, which is one of the larger of Israel’s French enclaves.
Billed as a Parisienne Happening for the entire family, the event begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 14, in Independence Square, with broadcaster Chmouel Benguigui and singer Uzo Jordan presenting the most popular and timeless of French chansons. There will be lots of artists and caricaturists on hand, photo areas, makeup spots and more.
■ AND IN Jerusalem on July 14 the ambience at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel will be Jewish rather than French, with an art auction hosted by the International Young Israel Movement in conjunction with the Jerusalem Fine Art Store, with proceeds targeted for IYIM’s Jewish Heritage Program for the Deaf. Works on sale will be by contemporary Jewish artists such as Baruch Nachshon, Yoram Raanan, Geula Twersky, Leah Laker, Johanan Herson, Boris Shapiro, Tzvi Berger, Nataly Grossman and others, and all have an extraordinary array of Jewish themes. Viewing begins at 6 p.m. and bidding will take place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Art auctions can be very exciting just to watch, even when one isn’t bidding. All the works can be seen online, helping art lovers and collectors to make up their minds even before they see the actual painting.
Presumably, the Music Square owned by French millionaire Laurent Levy, which is just a 10-minute walk from the hotel, will have a Bastille Day celebration of some kind to cater to the ever-growing number of French expats who are making their homes in Jerusalem – and of course there’s always a celebration at the French Consulate, which will also undergo a changing of the guard this summer.
■ AMONG THE guests at the iftar dinner hosted by Rivlin this week was Turkish chargé d’affaires Cem Utkan. On the following night, Amira Oron, the nonresident Israeli chargé d’affaires for Turkey, was in Ankara as a guest at the iftar dinner for foreign ambassadors hosted by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. Utkan and Oron are currently the highest-ranking diplomats accredited to each other’s countries since the start of the diplomatic rift between Turkey and Israel six years ago. Ambassadors are expected to return to both countries some time in the near future.
■ AT THE same time that Israel is courting South America both for trade and political purposes, it is planning to close down embassies, with an immediate target being the embassy in San Salvador. The closure, for budgetary reasons, was announced at the beginning of this year, and the Salvadoran government urged Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, to reconsider.
More recently, a group of Israeli legislators together with Latin American diplomats met in the Knesset to seek ways in which to avert the closure. In the forefront of this effort, aside from Salvadoran Ambassador Werner Matias Romero, is Likud MK and Knesset Deputy Speaker Nava Boker, who also heads the Israel-Paraguay-Uruguay Friendship Group, but is interested in strengthening ties with all Latin American countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations.
El Salvador is a special case for several reasons, not the least of which is that it was the last embassy to move out of Jerusalem, leaving just under 10 years ago, soon after Costa Rica. Jerusalem once housed 12 Latin American embassies. But no less important is the fact that in November 1947, El Salvador voted in favor of the United Nations resolution on the partition of Palestine, and before that Salvadoran diplomat Jose Castellanos was instrumental in saving the lives of 40,000 Jews during the Holocaust, and has been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations.
After many years of trying, Israel in 2014 finally gained observer status in the Pacific Alliance, a Latin American free-trade bloc that includes Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Costa Rica, but is still aiming for observer status in the Central American Integration System.
Closing down embassies in Latin America could very well impede such aspirations.
Meanwhile, Boker, together with former MK Uriel Lynn, who is the president of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, maintains close contact with Latin American diplomats and last week led 18 of them, including ambassadors, consuls and commercial attachés, on a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Aside from strengthening diplomatic ties, Boker was keen to have the diplomats understand both the historic and the spiritual bond that Jews the world over have with Jerusalem.
“The roots of the Jewish nation are deeply embedded in this soil,” she told the diplomats, who explored the City of David and visited the Herodian drainage channel, which was built during the Second Temple period, and which served as a place of refuge for the last of the Jewish fighters of the First Revolt against Rome, following their defeat at the hands of the Roman legions.
Despite all the loose talk about boycotts, the enthusiasm with which the tour was received was proof that Israel is not isolated among the nations, said Boker, noting that many nations understand that because Israel is a role model in many fields, it is to their benefit to strengthen economic ties with Israel.
Later this month, Boker will lead an official seven-member Knesset delegation to Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay to extend and to reinforce existing bonds of friendship, and to enhance economic ties.
According to Lynn, Israel’s trade relations with the countries of Latin America are still far too limited. “We want to open a new era in these relations, with the cooperation of the Knesset lobby headed by Nava Boker,” he said, adding that the Latin American market is one of the most promising markets in the world today. Latin America could become an important factor in Israel’s trade relations and a genuine alternative to some of Israel’s traditional import/export trading partners, he said.
In the course of the tour, the diplomats, comprising ambassadors of Uruguay, Paraguay, Costa Rica and El Salvador; consuls of the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Honduras, Panama, Mexico and Costa Rica; and commercial attachés of Brazil, Guatemala, Paraguay and El Salvador met with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who told them: “Jerusalem is a united and a uniting city, and will continue to be so. As a united city, Jerusalem has in recent years become a bustling, attractive center for all kinds of activity: cultural, hi-tech, tourism, and commerce. We shall continue to develop all parts of the city, for the benefit of all of its inhabitants, of whatever faith or religion.”
■ ENTERTAINMENT MOGUL Bennett Kaplan, who specializes in the unusual, last month launched a rooftop cinema at the peak of one of the Azrieli towers in Tel Aviv, which is believed to be Israel’s first pop-up movie theater.
For those who have not yet caught up with the trend, so popular in New York, London, Amsterdam and other big cities, a pop-up cinema is not your traditional venue. It can be in an old warehouse, a dingy basement, on the deck of a ship, in a disused train station or, as is the case in Bennett’s investment, on a high-rise rooftop. The whole idea is to give audiences an additional sensory experience.
Anyone who has been to the topmost floor of any of the Azrieli buildings, be it by day or night, knows that it offers the most breathtaking views of Tel Aviv. Now there’s yet another reason for taking the elevator to the roof.
Bennett is the principal owner of GlobusMax, which he purchased from Yoram Globus in December 2014. Joining him on the roof for the launch was Arnon Toren, the CEO of the Azrieli Group. Films will be screened on the roof’s amphitheater throughout the summer. This is the first of a series of ventures that Bennett will have with the Azrieli Group. He reached an agreement with Toren that, as of next year, there will be a pop-up theater on the rooftop of every Azrieli tower. Prior to the launch Bennett and Toren co-hosted a rooftop reception to ensure that invited guests were well sated while watching the movie.
■ SOME 900 people joined Shiri Maimon in singing and dancing at Banana Beach in Achziv at a fund-raiser jointly organized by the Friends of the Galilee Medical Center and WIZO Israel. Proceeds from the event were targeted for the new cardiology division currently under construction in Nahariya. GMC director Dr. Masad Barhoum said that in recent years, the hospital’s cardiology department had earned a reputation for excellence, especially with regard to the rehabilitation of patients who had suffered a heart attack.
Seen mingling among the guests were Raya Strauss Ben-Dror, who supports almost every Nahariya project, chairman of the Friends Michael Iluz, chairwoman of WIZO Israel Gila Oshrat, Banana Beach owner Nevo Doktori, who donated the venue for the evening, and Prof. Shaul Atar, the head of cardiology at GMC.
■ MANY PEOPLE expected that Nobel Prize laureate and prolific author Elie Wiesel would be buried in Jerusalem and not in Westchester.
Wiesel came to Jerusalem many times, was married in Jerusalem, defended Jerusalem in the international arena and was even an early recipient of the Guardian of Zion Award. But for whatever reason, he or his family decided that he would be buried in New York.
Though raised in a haredi environment, Wiesel, who lost so many close relatives in the Holocaust, afterward had an ambivalent attitude toward God and religion. Nonetheless, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau said in a radio interview this week that while in Auschwitz before being transferred to Buchenwald, Wiesel found a pair of tefillin and, at the risk of losing his life if he was discovered, laid tefillin every day for 40 days.
Lau, a child Holocaust survivor who was liberated from Buchenwald at the same time as Wiesel, has been witness to a number of incredible incidents in his life, but even he, so many years later, remains in awe of the fact that someone could lay tefillin for 40 days in Auschwitz.
Two-and-a-half years ago, in an interview that he gave to Yoel Rappel, the project manager of the Wiesel Archives at Boston University, Wiesel said: “It’s clear to me that one can’t be Jewish without Israel. Religious or nonreligious, Zionist or non-Zionist, Ashkenazi or Sephardi – all these will not exist without Israel. The state’s existence is the oxygen of the image and ideas of the new anti-Semitism.” The underlying message was that if Israel ceases to exist, this would be another form of “extermination of the Jews,” another “holocaust.”
■ SOME PEOPLE simply cannot stay away from Holocaust-related films and literature.
The Austrian Cultural Institute draws the attention of film buffs absorbed with the Holocaust to a recently made Austrian documentary, A German Life, to be screened in the Panorama program of the Jerusalem Film Festival. While telling the story of Brunhilde Pomsel, secretary of the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, the film confronts the viewers with timeless questions about morals and humanity. Pomsel is still living at the age of 105, and although she always presented herself as someone inconsequential, she could hardly fit that description as secretary to Goebbels. Directed by Christian Krönes, Olaf S. Müller, Roland Schrotthofer and Florian Weigensamer, the film was originally scripted by Florian Weigensamer.
■ ALTHOUGH WIDELY regarded as the name of the game in Israel, protekzia doesn’t always work. Shulamit Rubin, a former longtime comptroller at the Jerusalem Municipality, wants to name a street in memory of her husband, Yaakov Rubin, a well-known lawyer and a former head of the Jerusalem Bar Association. But the Municipal Committee for the Naming of Streets is unwilling to honor the request, and at best will add his name to an alleyway or a staircase that leads from one street to another.
This despite the fact that Rubin’s youngest son, Hanan Rubin, is a member of the city council, in charge of the portfolio of young people, students and young families; chairman of the Committee for Municipal Grants; and a member of the Local Planning and Building Committee. He also sits on the boards of directors of the Moriah Jerusalem Development Company and the Israel Museum.
Incidentally, Shulamit Rubin’s request was accompanied by a letter from Supreme Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, who held Yaakov Rubin in great esteem. But that, too, failed to sway the committee.
There are streets in Jerusalem named for far lesser personalities than Yaakov Rubin, and under the circumstances one can’t help wondering whether this is some form of petty revenge against Shulamit Rubin, who did not hesitate to disclose mismanagement and corruption in the municipality, especially the huge waste in public funds.
■ NOW THAT Bob Dylan has turned 75 and has mellowed somewhat but is still producing new and thought-provoking material, there seems to be renewed interest in him by Jewish publications, which are reviewing his impact on the world of music and the way in which he influenced America; while in Israel, the opening exhibitions in the new wing of Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People include one called “Forever Young” which is dedicated to Dylan.
Few people in Israel knew the young Dylan as well as artist Sali Ariel, who, together with her first husband Terry Noble, spent a lot of time in his company and he in theirs. Ariel and Noble split up 40 years ago, and Ariel has been married for most of the period since then to Yaakov Kirschen, better known as “Dry Bones,” whose cartoons have appeared in The Jerusalem Post for decades. Compared to the Bohemian existence they used to live, Ariel and Kirschen are quite conservative these days, though the décor in their home in Herzliya Pituah still carries hints of a colorful past.
As far as her art is concerned, Ariel, who is a fine equestrian, used to be known for painting horses, but in recent years switched to painting Bauhaus scenes in Tel Aviv, many of which have been purchased by diplomats who are friends and neighbors and want something memorable and eye-catching from their stay in Israel to take with them to future postings.
■ IT’S NOT easy to try to stay anonymous when you’re famous. Brits visiting or living in Israel got wind of the fact that Jason Donovan was staying at the Tel Aviv Hilton. He was followed through the lobby and onto the beach by enthusiastic fans. Donovan came direct from the London West End, feel-good international hit sensation Priscilla Queen of the Desert and is currently performing in Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim Arena till July 9.
Interviewed on Israel Radio and asked whether he hadn’t been afraid to come to Israel, Donovan replied that, given all the security precautions that Israel takes, it’s probably the safest place in the world. He wasn’t the least bit concerned about his safety, when making plans to come here. He’s been out on the beach every morning since his arrival, he told Hilton head of public relations Motti Verses, saying that he loves being on the beach and taking a dive in the Mediterranean. Israel is Donovan’s last stop on a world tour.