Government Press Office director Nitzan Chen had every reason to be pleased with himself on Wednesday evening. The annual New Year reception that the prime minister hosts for the media, the diplomatic corps and senior government officials had been a huge success. Aside from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mellowed attitude toward the media and his declaration that a free and fair press is vital to society, the warm-up prior to Netanyahu’s appearance was top quality.
Sand animation artist Ilana Yahav created some extraordinary images, and mentalist Lior Suchard wowed the audience at the well-attended event at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem, especially when he picked on Hungarian Ambassador Andor Nagy and asked him to solve the famous Rubik’s Cube. Nagy admitted he couldn’t. Suchard pulled Philippines Ambassador Neal Imperial out of his seat and onto the stage and did a mind-boggling numerical act with him.
He was about to engage Nigerian Ambassador Enoch Pear Duchi when Netanyahu walked in – and, wonder of wonders, not a single journalist asked him to comment on the damning information in the recording of his son Yair, who had shot off his mouth in a manner most embarrassing to his parents. Netanyahu was obviously prepared for the worst, but relaxed visibly when questions that he might not like were not forthcoming.
Toward the end of the evening Netanyahu challenged Suchard to tell him what he had just drawn and written down. Suchard came close, but not close enough. It was his only failure of the evening. Netanyahu had drawn a menorah. Suchard, using his drawing on a board technique, had drawn a Star of David.
In essence, that meant that he could not be used to get some very pertinent information from the prime minister’s brain. Asked afterward what happened, Suchard explained that when he’s posing the challenge, he always wins. When someone challenges him, he’s inclined to lose.
■ “ISRAEL’S ‘CURRY queen’ to visit India along with PM Netanyahu, to gift Modi a good luck Hamsa” ran the headline in an issue of the Hindustan Times this week. The curry queen is of course celebrated restaurateur Reena Pushkarna, a native of India who has spent well over half her lifetime in Israel. When she goes back to India, she promotes Israeli culture and cuisine, and in Israel, she promotes Indian culture and cuisine. She will be among the people traveling to India with Netanyahu at the beginning of next week.
In 2003, she accompanied then prime minister Ariel Sharon to India. As he was the first prime minister of Israel to travel to New Delhi, his visit marked a watershed in Israel-India diplomatic relations. Pushkarna is very excited to once again be traveling in the prime minister’s entourage.
Last July, she cooked Indian vegetarian dishes in his residence in honor of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She may not do any cooking this time, unless Modi specifically asks her to, but she will be carrying a small gift for him – a hamsa, which is a general good luck symbol in the Middle East. Pushkarna wants him to have it so that he will experience good fortune and be successful in all his endeavors. Netanyahu and his wife are also appreciative of Pushkarna’s culinary skills, and in their courting days used to eat in her restaurant in Tel Aviv.
■ BRITISH AMBASSADOR David Quarrey and members of the Man Group hosted a dinner in honor of David Grossman, winner of the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for his novel A Horse Walks into a Bar which was translated by Jessica Cohen. The event, at the ambassador’s residence in Ramat Gan, was attended by guests of the Man Group and the UK’s Department for International Trade.
Man Group is an active investment management firm, managing $103.5 billion for clients through its five investment management businesses. It has sponsored the Man Booker International Prize since its inception in 2005. The prize is awarded annually on the basis of a single book translated into English, with the aim of encouraging the publishing and reading of quality fiction in translation.
■ THE INVITATION featured a grainy photo of a young man playing touch football. The text clarified that Zaide Mike’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were hosting a dessert reception in honor of his 95th birthday. The festivities took place at Nofim, the sheltered- living complex in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Yovel neighborhood, which was officially opened in 1984, and which was among the first of the capital’s sheltered-living facilities in which residents are able to function independently and live in apartments and not in single rooms.
Zaide Mike is Dr. H. Myer Weiner. He’s the oldest resident at Nofim and has been living there for 15 years. He came to live in Israel in 1988 after practicing as a dentist in Boston and volunteered at Yeshivat Bnei Chayil run by Dr. Stuart Chesner, tutoring young men with special needs, many of whom have remained in contact with him. He was also a member of the volunteer police until he was forced to retire at age 80.
One of his lifelong dreams was to get rabbinic ordination. He had studied for many years with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, but when he went to the rabbinate to take the exam, he was told that his learning was not sufficiently scholarly, and that he would need at least another five years of study before he could apply again. Disappointed but undeterred, Mike joined Rabbi Moshe Goldenhirsch, who had started a rabbinic studies program for professionals who were interested in adding the title of rabbi to their curriculum vitae. After five years, he decided that he didn’t really need the ordination, but he did want to continue studying, and has been doing so ever since.
Among his many interests is baseball, and he acted as a baseball coach to his grandchildren, and was also individually involved with the studies of each of them. He has been and continues to be engaged in many other activities and is also in charge of the synagogue at Nofim, making sure that there is a quorum for services, and that religious festivals are properly celebrated. He also gives a regular class in the weekly Torah portion, which is well attended by residents. He was delighted to have three generations of his family as well as friends from near and far among the 70 people who attended his birthday party.
■ THE NEWLY launched Israel Division of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce will hold a networking evening at the King David Jerusalem Hotel on Sunday, January 14, from 7 p.m. The event is geared toward facilitating contacts between business proprietors in all sectors, with particular emphasis on those from English-speaking countries. Keynote speaker will be former education minister Gideon Sa’ar. Orthodox in this instance does not mean an absence of women. There will be a roundtable on women in the workforce. Dubi Honig, the founder and CEO of OJC, will speak on networking effectively, and Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg, who is OJC ambassador and an internationally acclaimed marketing wiz, will also give a few pointers.
The event will have a sophisticated New York-style ambience and is designed to foster heightened business cooperation between America and Israel. Publicity about the event has already generated considerable excitement among Orthodox CEOs, venture capitalists, insurance executives and manufacturers.
■ AT THE beginning of this week, Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem hosted a working breakfast at the ministry for a delegation of 30 young ambassadors for Israel, aged 17-18 and comprising both Jews and non-Jews, religious and secular, from Israel’s school of young ambassadors, which is run by former Foreign Ministry chief of protocol Yitzhak Eldan.
Aside from teaching them the finer points of diplomacy, Eldan, with the cooperation of foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel, takes the young students on trips abroad, so that they can learn about bilateral relations through personal experiences and can also see the realities of life in other countries. The breakfast meeting was also attended by senior ministry personnel, including spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon.
Rotem spoke to the youngsters, who are all potential bona fide diplomats, and outlined the importance of diplomacy in efforts to achieve Israel’s goals. He congratulated them on their active interest and involvement in youth diplomacy and encouraged them to contribute to Israel’s diplomatic endeavors through public diplomacy and youth-to-youth contacts. He also listened eagerly to what they had to tell him, after which he expressed his hope to see them join the ministry in the future, and most responded that this was their dream and ambition.
The breakfast was followed by presentations on the importance of digital diplomacy and how the young ambassadors can play an important role in this field. The half-day visit to the ministry ended with a quiz on international subjects, which is something that should be put to genuine diplomats once in a while, to ensure that their fingers are on the pulse of evolving world events and personalities.