The Jerusalem Post

Grapevine September 22, 2023: Happy Birthday, Mr. President

 Israeli President Isaac Herzog is seen receiving the new Irish ambassador, at the President's Residence, on September 19, 2023. (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Israeli President Isaac Herzog is seen receiving the new Irish ambassador, at the President's Residence, on September 19, 2023.
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Will the cake be large enough to accommodate 63 candles? That’s the question that any pastry chef commissioned to bake a birthday cake for President Isaac Herzog will be pondering today.

As for the president, he would like more time to finish the fascinating book that he is reading about Benjamin Disraeli, who though converted to Christianity in his youth, never hid his Jewish origins.

Herzog does what he does best: Diplomacy

■ EARLIER THIS week, Herzog was doing one of the things he does best, which was engaging in diplomacy. Naturally curious, and therefore a good listener, the president immediately puts guests at their ease by being obviously interested in what they have to say. On Tuesday, he spent half a day chatting to diplomats – seven of them, one after another, who presented their credentials. With all the political and legal strife and chaos that has contributed to Israel being a nation in turmoil, one might think that the president who is trying to mend rifts, would not have time to bone up on current events in other countries, but he proved that he certainly has his finger on the global pulse.

Herzog asked all the right questions and in making comments showed that he was intellectually familiar, and in some cases physically familiar with all the countries, moving easily from topic to topic, such as geography, climate, bilateral and multilateral relations, economics, culture, sport, tourism, and more. He also asked questions that might not be considered politically correct but asked them in a manner that guaranteed that his interlocutor would not take offense.


For instance, when talking to Frederico Meyer, the ambassador of Brazil, Herzog asked whether there was a Jewish connection to his surname. The latter replied in the negative but acknowledged that it was not the first time that he had been asked, because his middle name happens to be the Portuguese version of Solomon. Moreover, as Meyer was concluding his posting in China and his foreign minister asked him where he would like to go next, his spontaneous reply was “Israel.”

 CLOSE ENCOUNTER between US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)
CLOSE ENCOUNTER between US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

To add to the impression of a hint of Jewish DNA, Meyer rattled off a store of Jewish community history and anecdotes, the best of which was about a rabbi who was rumored to be a miracle worker. When he died, there was no Jewish cemetery in the town, so he was buried by the wall in the Catholic cemetery. Because so many miracles had been attributed to him in his lifetime, members of the local population started to visit his grave and to light candles around it. In time, the Jewish community grew, and its members did not like the idea of a rabbi being treated as a Catholic Saint. So they arranged for his remains to be removed and sent to Israel for reburial in hallowed Jewish ground. However, the people in the town created an uproar and refused to allow the implementation of the transfer. “He’s still there and they still light candles by his grave,” Meyer told Herzog.

The other six ambassadors were Fe’ni Kouakou, Manuel Sousa Velazquez, Kornelios S. Korneliou, Simon Walters, Frederic Journes, and Sonya McGuinness who respectively represent Ivory Coast, Peru, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, France, and Ireland.

Kouakou came with an invitation from President Alassane Ouattara. Ouattara, prior to entering politics was an internationally well-known economist. Among other roles, he worked with the International Monetary Fund where he got to know Jacob Frenkel – a former governor of the Bank of Israel – who had previously been director of research at the IMF. Herzog mentioned the historic visit to Israel in 1962, by then-Ivory Coast president Houphouet Boigny, and expressed interest in visiting Ivory Coast and any other African state to which he is invited.

With Sousa Velazquez, Herzog discussed the natural beauty of Peru and its popularity with the Israeli traveler.


Four generations of Herzog’s family have visited Cyprus for business and pleasure, but the main thrust of Herzog’s conversation with Korneliou was about the trilateral relationship between Israel, Cyprus, and Greece and its potential for multilateral expansion. They also spoke of how British Mandate authorities had prevented Holocaust survivors from entering what was then Palestine and had sent them to camps in Cyprus, where some 2,000 Jewish babies were born.

Simon Walters, who is proficient in both Hebrew and Arabic, is familiar with the region having served in different capacities in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Yemen. From 2008 to 2011, he served as British Consul in Jerusalem – though now located in Tel Aviv and living in Ramat Gan – he’s very happy to be back in Israel.

Journes and Herzog were equally concerned about the barring of inspectors from Iran’s nuclear sites. They also talked about the history of the Jews in France.

After discussing their respective families, with McGuinness commenting on the similarity between Irish mothers and Jewish mothers, the conversation turned to a common trait for innovation in both countries. While the Irish leadership is neither antisemitic nor anti-Israel, these attitudes have not filtered down to the general public which tends to have a negative view of both Israel and the Jews. Acknowledging this, McGuinness said: “I have a lot to do.”

Biden wants Netanyahu to sweat

■ GIVEN THEIR long association, it’s not exactly surprising that US President Joe Biden eventually invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House. He just wanted him to sweat a little. The fact that he addressed him as Bibi, was an instant sign of things to come.

Commemorative events for Yom Kippur War

■ MANY COMMEMORATIVE events have been and will be held all over the country to mark the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War which was so costly in human life, but marked a turning point in Middle East history. What will arguably be the largest gathering of YKW veterans, will take place on September 27 at the memorial site for fallen soldiers in Latrun. The event, organized by the Bereaved Families unit of the Defense Ministry, will be attended by many public figures including Herzog, who recently spoke at another memorial event in Latrun. He will be back again in the near future for the opening of the Chaim Herzog Museum which will be dedicated to Jewish soldiers who fought in various armies during World War II, as did Chaim Herzog himself.

Meanwhile this morning, Friday, veteran and somewhat younger singers will gather at the Habimah Theater in Tel Aviv for a nostalgic YKW sing-along under the title of “Lu Yehi” (Let it be). Performers will include Sassi Keshet, Shuli Natan, Miri Aloni, Hanan Yovel, Lea Shabat, Esther Shamir, Uzi Fuchs, Ben Artzi, Adi Cohen, and the Habimah chorus, who will sing some of the poignant songs that conveyed the feelings of individuals and the nation during the war.

Israeli law firms play basketball for United Hatzalah

■ LAST TUESDAY, 10 leading Israeli law firms participated in a charity basketball tournament designed to pay for the purchase of an ambucycle for United Hatzalah. The event, which was spearheaded by attorney Jeremy Lustman, head of DLA Piper Israel Group, was held at Hashalom Sports Center in Tel Aviv.

The participating firms were: Arnon, Tadmor-Levi; Barnea & Co.; Gornitzky-GNY & Co.; Goldfarb Seligman; Herzog; Naschitz, Brandes Amir Co.; Fischer (FBC); Furth, Wilensky, Mizrachi, Knaani – Law Offices | FWMK; S. Horowitz & Co; and Shibolet. Each firm donated funds toward the ambucycle and competed in the 4-on-4 tournament. Cheering them on were high-ranking members of the legal profession and United Hatzalah representatives.

The winning team was Gornitzky-GNY, which defeated lawyers from S. Horowitz & Co. in the championship. Roi Kantor from Gornitzky-GNY was crowned MVP of the tournament. The MVP trophy was presented by former Israeli-American basketball player Tamir Goodman who was selected for the list of the best 25 basketball players in Maryland and was called the “Jewish Michael Jordan” by Sports Illustrated and ESPN’s basketball magazine.

The tournament raised NIS 150,000 to purchase an inter-city ambucycle, which will be used by volunteers throughout Tel Aviv and surrounds. A dedication ceremony for the new ambucycle was held at the end of the evening.

Lustman said: “We are so proud to be spearheading this charity tournament for the second year and to provide the opportunity to showcase the generosity and partnership of the Israeli legal community. The ambucycle we collectively donated to United Hatzalah will truly save lives. I can’t think of any greater honor than to be involved in making that happen, especially right after Rosh Hashanah.”

United Hatzalah President Eli Beer said: “At this time of year, we are in the middle of the High Holy Days, where people spend time reflecting on their actions and where we pray that we are all written in the Book of Life. The ambucycle that was donated from the funds raised in this tournament will help save more lives in Israel and there is no greater blessing than that.”

Eyal Golan on good terms with the mothers of his children

■ POPULAR SINGER Eyal Golan has sired four children – two with his first wife Ilanit Levi, one with model Ruslana Rodina, with whom he had a five-year relationship but never married, and one with model Daniel Greenberg whom he married after she became pregnant and divorced a year and a half later. Golan has also been plagued by scandals of alleged statutory rape, but so far has managed to stay out of prison. Despite the juicy news stories, he still has a tremendous following and is on excellent terms with the mothers of his children. In fact, he’s been on such good terms with Greenberg, that they vacationed together overseas, and on Rosh Hashanah announced a reprise. It still remains to be seen whether they will remarry or simply live together. Either way, given the high divorce rate in Israel, it’s nice to see that some couples give each other a second chance.