Heads of state and government, members of the nobility, academics, musicians, poets, authors, scientists, economists, mathematicians and more have been among the recipients of honorary doctorates from Tel Aviv University. But until this week there had never been a genuine royal. There had been a few knights and a dame or two but no royals. The highest-ranking nobleman was Baron Edmond de Rothschild.
But this week a true blue blood from the House of Grimaldi, which was founded in Genoa in 1160 and which has ruled the Principality of Monaco since 1297, was conferred with an honorary doctorate at TAU’s Porter School of Environmental Studies. The venue was an ideal location for the ceremony, given that Prince Albert II is a dedicated environmentalist who is committed to saving the planet.
TAU president Joseph Klafter, who spoke of the university’s connection with Monaco, said that he was delighted to reciprocate the gracious welcome that a TAU delegation had received when visiting Monaco in December 2017. The environment and sustainability bond that was forged then is being reinforced, he said, adding that TAU’s ecology campus is the largest biodiversity center in Israel. In this respect he paid tribute to the vision of Dame Shirley Porter and the Porter Foundation.
Describing the prince as a forward-looking national leader, influential statesman and tireless humanitarian who has made a unique contribution to the inspirational Grimaldi legacy, Klafter also noted the prince’s warm ties with Monaco’s Jewish community and his long-standing friendship toward, and advocacy for, Israel and the Jewish people.
The soft-spoken Albert, when mounting the stage, shook hands with compere Leah Zinder, who was the longtime co-anchor of the now defunct IBA News, and who has lost none of her stylish delivery.
It was a small gesture, but one illustrative of his character.
In his address to TAU supporters, including some who came with him from Monaco, Albert presented a detailed report of the dangers to the planet, and what his own foundation is doing to prevent or counteract the effects of climate change, water pollution and other adversities. He is particularly concerned about the future of endangered species. He called for greater awareness of, and cooperation on, environmental issues, saying that multilateral organizations must be mobilized in the effort to save the planet.
■ THERE ARE many firsts in the Foreign Ministry, especially for the chief of protocol, who meets every visiting head of state and government, as well as foreign ministers and other dignitaries.
The arrival of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was definitely another first for Meron Reuben, the current chief of protocol. When the red carpet was rolled out on the tarmac, it wasn’t for an official plane or for Austrian Airlines. Kurz, in a bid to save Austrian taxpayers’ money, flew to Israel on EasyJet.
■ IN HIS lifetime, Shimon Peres met every world leader who visited Israel.
Even after he was out of office following the completion of his term as Israel’s ninth president, visiting dignitaries beat a path to his door, including presidents and prime ministers. The attendance at his funeral spoke volumes to the esteem in which he was held. Even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was there.
Now, many of those dignitaries go to Mount Herzl to pay a graveside tribute to Peres. In the beginning, such visitors were escorted by his son Chemi, but the task soon fell to Chemi’s son Nadav, who this week escorted Kurz and presented him with a copy of his grandfather’s autobiography No Room for Small Dreams.
Apropos Shimon Peres, he was the third of three siting Israeli presidents to visit Latin American.
No sitting prime minister went to Latin America until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit last year. But in 1966, president Zalman Shazar visited Uruguay, Chile, Argentina and Brazil; and in 1977, president Ephraim Katzir spent a week in Guatemala, where he signed a deal for the supply of Israeli arms, which has been ongoing ever since. Peres went to Argentina and Brazil in 2009 in an attempt to stave off Iranian penetration and influence in the South American continent.
■ HARDLY ANY reference was made to the canceled friendly soccer game between Argentina and Israel at an emotional gathering this week at the Embassy of Argentina in Herzliya Pituah.
As part of Israel’s 70th anniversary celebrations, ambassadors of several countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations have hosted special events. Argentina was the first Latin American country to send an ambassador to the nascent State of Israel.
There is a common erroneous belief that Guatemala, which was the first Latin American country to recognize Israel, was also the first to open a legation in Israel, but Guatemala’s first ambassador, Jorge Garcia Granados, presented his credentials to president Yitzhak Ben- Zvi in 1956, whereas Argentina’s first ambassador, Pablo Manguel, presented his credentials to Chaim Weizmann in 1949.
In honor of and in memory of Manguel, current ambassador Mariano Caucino decided to affix a plaque on a wall of the embassy to record Manguel’s name in perpetuity.
Members of Manguel’s family were present, as was former ambassador Atilio Molteni, whose final posting prior to his retirement in 2010 was in Israel. Also present were Argentinean expatriates living in Israel, other members of the Latin American community, Dorit Shavit, a former ambassador to Argentina, Mario Mortoto, the president of the Argentina-Israel Chamber of Commerce, and Tel Aviv University vice president Raanan Rein, a historian specializing in Latin American and Spanish history, who has authored several books on Argentina and on the Peron era.
Rein also presented a review of relations between Israel and Argentina, which have had many ups and downs, but which according to Caucino are now the best of all time.
Rein said that despite the many allegations that Argentina welcomed Nazis who fled Europe after the Second World War, president Juan Peron and his wife Evita had been very sympathetic to the plight of the nascent Jewish state.
Just as a matter of interest, even though Argentina was the first Latin American country to send an ambassador to Israel, it was not among the 13 Latin American and Caribbean countries that voted in favor of the partition plan at the United Nations General Assembly in November 1947. Argentina was among the 10 countries that abstained, but which over the years entered into diplomatic relations with Israel. Of the 13 that voted against, four have diplomatic and trade ties with Israel.
■ THE TWO Crusader knights, dressed in full armor and holding their lances in an upright position, stood just a little over a meter apart. A red ribbon was suspended between the lances, tied to them at each end as if to ensure that they would remain in a vertical position.
This was not part of some ancient ritual. It was simply a matter of convenience, because the opening of any new project is often accompanied by a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
As there was nowhere to actually pin or tie the ends of the ribbon, someone came up with the brilliant idea to use the Crusader lances so that Baroness Ariane de Rothschild, who chairs the Rothschild Foundation, could cut the ribbon to mark the official opening of the new promenade and the renovation of the ancient Crusader market.
In the daylight, the extensive excavations that give contemporary visitors insights into the area’s history, from the Herodian period through the Roman and Byzantine eras and that of the Crusaders, are quite breathtaking, but the twilight ceremony was almost like entering a time machine. The whole area was lit up by giant candles; the market area was laden with fruit and vegetables; waiters and waitresses mingled with the crowd, serving small helpings of succulent dishes, including lamb, from dishes resembling those of ancient potters. There were several people in period costumes, just walking around, dancing, or working at crafts that were once main sources of income. It was all wonderfully atmospheric.
The fairy-tale magic was enhanced by huge clusters of white flowers, displayed in urns and antique receptacles along the length of the promenade.
If the dream of the baroness is realized, Caesarea, Israel’s most well-preserved and most comprehensive treasure trove of antiquities, will become one of the most important tourist attractions in the Middle East. The Baroness was so excited at the ceremony that she abandoned her rewritten speech and spoke with great enthusiasm from the heart.
■ CHABADNIKS AROUND the world are marking the 24th yahrzeit of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last of the seven leaders in the Lubavitch dynasty.
His teachings and philosophy of life live on. The legacy continues to be dispersed by his disciples, one of whom, Rabbi Sholem Ber Groner of South Africa, will speak of the rebbe’s life and inspirations on Saturday from 12 p.m. onward at a get-together, which the Chabadniks call a farbrengen, meaning that there will be a lot of food and vodka. The farbrengen will take place on June 17 at the Chabad Center Rehavia, 52 King George Street, Jerusalem.
All the Australian Chabadniks, along with other Australians who may not be affiliated with Chabad, will in all probability flock to hear Groner, whose late father, Rabbi Yitzchock Dovid Groner, was sent by the rebbe to be his emissary in Melbourne, where he established 16 Chabad centers.
Sholem Ber and his siblings all grew up in Melbourne, and some became Chabad emissaries in other countries.
This month, they all came for the funeral of their mother, Rebbetzin Devorah Groner, who died in Melbourne at the end of May, and was brought to Jerusalem for burial alongside her husband on the Mount of Olives. The Groner siblings stayed on afterward for the 10th anniversary of their father’s death. Yitzchok Dovid Groner was a giant of a man, with a personality that was even bigger than his physique.
He was a beloved community leader and an incredible achiever.