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Grapevine: The silver lining in the cloud
60 years of ties with Canada marked with joint stamp, new Czech ambassador is 2nd-generation envoy and Austrians here mark Herzl’s 150th.
CONGRATULATIONS ARE in order to former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his wife Aliza, who despite the legal problems confronting them, nonetheless have reason to smile as their family keeps growing. Their son Shauli and his wife Vardit recently presented them with a new granddaughter, and their daughter Dana expects to give birth to her first child in the near future. Aside from that, their son Ariel completed his studies at the Sorbonne and returned home.

OTHER THAN the justice minister who almost always has a law degree, even if he hasn’t necessarily been a practicing lawyer, most cabinet ministers do not have the professional backgrounds to give them a foundation of knowledge for the ministries which they head. One of the exceptions to the rule is Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, who prior to becoming an MK and a member of the government, was a senior member of the faculty at the Technion.

Ministers are often parts of groups of dignitaries distributing scholarships and university degrees, but when Hershkowitz briefly returned to the Technion this week, he was on the receiving end. He was one of scores of veteran faculty and staff members who received special citations and a gift from Technion vice president and director-general Avital Stein for having been employed there for 25 years or more. In the course of his career, Hershkowitz was also dean of the Faculty of Mathematics. He actually has a much longer association with the Technion, which was not only his place of employment, but also his alma mater.

INDIAN AMBASSADOR Navtej Sarna and his wife Avina last week hosted a well-attended reception in honor of historian and author Dr. Ramachandra Guha, who was here to deliver the keynote address at the Ninth Asian Studies Conference at the University of Haifa. His books and essays cover a wide range of subjects including political history, environment, anthropology and cricket. He has been widely translated and is the winner of several awards, including the UK Cricket Society’s Literary Award and the Leopold-Hidy Prize of the American Society of Environmental History. He is, most recently, the author of India after Gandhi: The History of World’s Largest Democracy. Foreign Policy magazine included Guha in its list of 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008.

At the reception at the ambassador’s residence Guha delivered an address on “The world’s most unnatural nation? How India survives,” followed by a lively interactive session with the audience. Among those present were: Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Justice Esther Hayut, MK Einat Wilf, Ambassadors Baija Nath Thapala of Nepal, Petronila Pena Garcia of the Philippines and Andrea Faulkner of Australia, as well as Issa Sarid, the grand niece of Hermann Kallenbach, Mahatma Gandhi’s close Jewish associate during the period he spent in South Africa.

GETTING READY for an important August wedding is Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger. No, he hasn’t been approached by some prominent family to do the honors. This time the groom is his son Moti, who celebrated Independence Day by announcing his engagement to Tehilla Silberson of Bnei Brak. Metzger, with the input of his wife Ofra, is now busy compiling a guest list. When you’re a chief rabbi, the list tends to be rather long.

At his induction ceremony in Jerusalem seven years ago, Metzger, who has faced some severe criticisms in his career, set a wonderful example for his son to follow in terms of spousal respect. He publicly thanked his wife “for walking with me in the wilderness.” Such public acknowledgements are rare in the sector that Metzger represents.

CANADIAN AMBASSADOR Jon Allen and his wife Clara Hirsch celebrated the 60th anniversary of Canadian-Israeli friendship and diplomatic relations with the launching of joint Israeli-Canadian commemorative stamp designed by Karen Henricks, Yarek Waszul and Miri Nistor featuring the national symbols of both countries – the Maple Leaf and the Star of David, which are represented by human figures making up the separate national groups and then blending with each other. The stamp also features the flags of the two countries. In Israel it is worth NIS 4.60 and in Canada C$1.70, reflecting the strength of the Canadian dollar in relation to the US dollar.

Allen disclosed that he’d been quite enthusiastic when Yaron Razon, director of the Israel Philatelic Service, told him that the anniversary must be commemorated with a stamp, but the Canadian authorities put a damper on his ardor, telling him that there was no way in which they could produce a joint stamp within six months. It would take at least two years.

However, according to Avi Hochman, president and CEO of the Israel Postal Company, the project was saved by Ambassador to Canada Miriam Ziv, who was celebrating her birthday on the day that she had to meet with Minister of Transport John Baird who is also the minister responsible for Canadian post. “It’s my birthday,” she told him, “and you can’t say no to anything I ask.”

Hochman, who was in Ottawa last week for the Canadian launch of the stamp, said that it had been a most impressive ceremony hosted by the Canadian Parliament. Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon commented that nothing was more fitting to symbolize the good relations between the two countries than a stamp. He also noted that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government is “the friendliest Canadian government in memory.” Kahlon likewise had high praise for Allen, who he said was doing “a great job” toward the enhancement of bilateral relations. MK Yohanan Plesner, who heads the Israel-Canada Parliamentary Friendship Association, said that Canada has an important moral voice in the world and that its relationship with Israel was warm and getting warmer.

Nearly all speakers referred to the fact that Canada was one of the 33 countries that voted in favor of the partition of Palestine at the fateful United Nations vote of November 29, 1947. Allen also announced the publication of a commemorative coffee table book in French, English and Hebrew which highlights points in the relationship including exchange visits by high-ranking officials.

RARELY IF ever was the ratio of Jerusalemites among the guests at a reception hosted by the French ambassador as high as it was last Thursday night. The reason: Two of the four honorees who were being conferred with the title of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres were Jerusalemites – though only one, Yossi Tal Gan, director of the Israel Festival, is a native of the capital. James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum, is a transplanted New Yorker, who has lived in Jerusalem for 15 years.

The Jerusalemites who cheered them included family, friends, colleagues and staff. Snyder’s friends also included someone who works in Jerusalem, but doesn’t live there – Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer, who came with his wife Rhoda, and whose presence was commented on by Ambassador Christophe Bigot, who was particularly appreciative that he had taken the time and trouble to attend. The other two honorees were Dubi Lenz, music director at Army Radio, and internationally acclaimed French Israeli filmmaker Raphael Nadjari. All four have imported various aspects of French culture to Israel.

Although there had been no discussion between the honorees, the embassy and the guests as to color coordination, it was quite amazing how many people had chosen to wear shades of violet, lavender, lilac and magenta. These are the signature colors of Lia Van Leer, founding director of the Jerusalem Cinametheque and a previous recipient of French honors. Looking at her and comparing his own tie to that of Bigot’s, which was almost an identical shade of lavender, Snyder exclaimed: “We’re in the same palette!”

For Tal Gan, the occasion was particularly moving because he was a second generation Chevalier. His father, Gavriel, had been sent at 14 in 1925 from Jerusalem to Paris where he spent four years of study. The experience turned him into a lifelong Francophile. He had been a student at the Alliance Israelite Universelle in Paris and later taught at and headed the Alliance school in Jerusalem. His contribution to French culture here was recognized by the French authorities, and now his son is carrying on the tradition.

CZECH AMBASSADOR designate Tomas Pojar is a second generation diplomat and a second generation Czech ambassador to Israel. His father Milos Pojar was the first Czech ambassador after the renewal of diplomatic relations 20 years ago, and after concluding his tour of office, has returned at least once a year. The senior Pojar was a panelist last Friday at the resumption of the Czech Embassy’s discussion series “Czech the Issues.”

Other panelists included Yoel Sher, the country’s first ambassador to Czechoslovakia as the Soviet Union was crumbling, and Moshe Arens, who was then foreign minister. Pojar noted that his grandson was also in Israel, and voiced the hope that 20 years from now, he would be the third generation Czech ambassador here.

There can never be a discussion about Czech-Israel relations without reference to the training provided by Czechoslovakia to the nascent IAF in 1948 or to the arms and military equipment that it supplied during the War of Independence. Hugo Marom (Meisl), a living witness to that period, was among the people in the audience. Marom, one of the country’s top pilots, was born in Czechoslovakia and was sent on a kindertransport to London. He later went to what was then Palestine and joined the air force of the fledgling state.

GUESTS ARRIVING at the Ramat Gan residence of British Ambassador Tom Phillips for the celebration of the 84th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II could hear the sound of bagpipes long before they reached their destination. As always, some of the ambassador’s neighbors came into the street to watch the kilted piper marching up and down. Some of the politicians, diplomats, businesspeople, journalists and members of Israel’s vibrant Anglo community arrived late, having first attended a lecture at Tel Aviv University by Egyptian Ambassador Yasser Reda.

Canadian Ambassador Jon Allen and his wife Clara came after deferring an Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association event that had been scheduled at their residence. Considering that Canada is part of the Commonwealth, Allen could hardly ignore the queen’s birthday. Aside from that he’s a good friend of Tom Phillips’.

A special consignment of smoked salmon that has annually been flown in from Scotland for the event had to be cancelled due to the volcanic ash cloud. Guests were probably unaware of the absence, because resident chef Emmanuel Tellier still had a stock of smoked salmon in his pantry. This was the last queen’s birthday celebration that Phillips and his wife Anne hosted here. They are due to wind up their posting in four months, but it was obvious from the way that Phillips spoke that they will be back to visit.

Representing the government was the ambassador’s friend and neighbor, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, who referred to the ups and downs in bilateral relations, but also remarked on the legacy that the British left at the end of the Mandate. He said that like the English, Israelis are extremely keen on Premier League football. He regretted that Israel was not participating in the World Cup in South Africa, but assured the ambassador that he would support the British team. Shalom is known to be an ardent football fan, so it was not an idle promise.

The national anthems were sung by veteran embassy staff member Marilyn Lyons, who on a previous occasion, honoring members of the Yishuv who had served with the British forces during World War II, had sung the songs of the era to the great delight and participation of all those present.

WELFARE AND Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog had a twofold reason for being in China last week. He was representing the government at the opening of the Shanghai Expo 2010, but he also had an extremely personal reason: He attended the launch of the Chinese edition of his late father’s book Living History: A Memoir which was prominently displayed in the largest bookstore in Beijing. Chaim Herzog, who was the sixth president, in 1992 was the first Israeli head of state to visit China.

The store manager told Herzog that the Chinese are very interested in history and that his father’s book had aroused considerable curiosity. Uncertain as to whether this was merely polite small talk or whether it was true, Herzog decided to investigate for himself, and in the evening after the launch, returned to the store on foot to see whether the book was still featured in the showcase. Indeed it was, while inside the store, there was little doubt that the book was selling well because the pile of copies had been considerably depleted.

DESPITE THE special relationship between Germany and Israel, it is not too often that Israel bestows honors on German citizens. Among the German citizens singled out for honors is Eva Luise Koehler, the wife of President Horst Koehler. For the past five years, she has been the honorary president of the German Friends of Sheba Medical Center, whose annual events take place at Schloss Bellevue, the official residence of the presidents of Germany.

For her efforts on behalf of Sheba, Koehler was invested with the Sheba Humanitarian Award which was given to her last week by President Shimon Peres and Sheba CEO Ze’ev Rotstein in the course of her private visit to see the progress of the medical center and to learn of its current needs.

IN ADVANCE of Europe Day, May 9, Ambassador Andrew Standley, head of the European Union delegation here, will be among the speakers at a symposium at the Hebrew University sponsored by HU’s European Forum and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Standley will speak on “The European Union, Israel and the Challenges of the 21st Century.” Lior Herman of the European Forum will look back on “Helmut Kohl, the Reunification of Germany and the Economic and Monetary Union.” There will also be a short video showing President Peres congratulating Helmut Kohl on his 80th birthday, and a screening of the French film Welcome to the Land of Shtis.

ALTHOUGH ZIONIST visionary Theodor Herzl was born in Budapest on May 2, 1860, the Austrians also lay claim to him because his family moved to Vienna when he was 18, and Vienna was an important influence on his life. Thus it stands to reason that Austrians here and people with Austrian roots will participate in the rounds of celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of his birth. The Austrian birthday party will be held at the residence of Ambassador Michael Rendi on May 26 within the framework of the Red and White Clubbing Nights that Rendi introduced two years ago, to enable young Israelis of Austrian background to reconnect with their roots.

Rendi held a press conference on Herzl’s actual birthday which happened to coincide with Lag Ba’omer, to announce details of the upcoming event which will be attended by Austrian Vice Chancellor Josef Proll, who by happy coincidence will be on an official visit. Among the young clubbers will be Sagi Eckhaus, grandson of Gideon Echkaus, the chairman of the Central Committee of Austrian Jews in Israel.
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