Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Shabbos in Davos

January 28, 2013 11:49 am 0 comments

Shimon Peres and Saeb Erekat at the World Economic Forum.

Shabbos in Davos. Almost rhymes, like the two are meant to be together.

And so it felt this past weekend at the alpine World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Every year, on Friday night, the Forum hosts a Shabbat meal that, longtime attendants say, started with a handful of people, including leading Israeli economists, but now boasts world leaders and Jewish personalities from around the globe.

One of the principal purposes in my attending the Sabbath meal was my intention of introducing President Paul Kagame of Rwanda – whose government announced at a press conference that we organized in October that they will be opening an Embassy in Israel – to more of the Jewish community. But I also marveled at a great celebration of Jewish observance and pride right in the middle of a renowned global gathering.

We sang Shalom Aleichem, the traditional welcoming poem for both angels and humans. We said the Kiddush blessing on the wine. The Rabbis in attendance were asked to jointly say the Hamotzi blessing on the bread for the assembled crowd. They did it without rancor or division (I’m being humorous here just in case you thought I was making fun of Jewish religious politics).

While the meal featured heads of State, Nobel laureates, and people of world renown, it had a homely feeling where noone in particular was made to feel more important than the next person.

But it was also a nice opportunity to say Good Shabbos and catch up with an assembly of Jewish leaders who were now under one roof, all celebrating God’s holy Sabbath together.

I greeted President Peres of Israel whom I had hosted in Oxford and whom I still visit in Israel. Peres will turn ninety in a few months, God willing. Where he gets the Herculean strength to jet set around the world is a mystery that can only be explained by having to be President to seven million Presidents. But he looks and sounds amazing.

When I saw Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defense minister, who had made headlines that morning at the Forum with an interview implying that Israel had shelved its plans to attack Iran, I reminded him of a bizarre meeting. He and I were guests on the Dan Shilon TV program in Israel years ago. I was on talking about my book Kosher Sex that had just been published in Hebrew. He was launching his bid to be Prime Minister of Israel. The TV host started skewering Barak and his wife, asking them if they had read the book. Going further, he asked if they had ever joined the mile-high club. It was an interview to remember. It turned out the Defense Minister did not forget. He smiled and patted me on the back, as if I was privy to some state secret.

A big and very pleasant surprise was seeing Eric Cantor, the House Majority leader, at the dinner. Eric is a very committed Jew who keeps a kosher home and is arguably the most stalwart defender of Israel in the United States Congress. A few years ago, when Eric addressed a Birthright group I was leading, at the Kotel in Jerusalem on Friday night, he walked 45 minutes to dinner at his hosts’ home because he did not wish to drive on the Sabbath in the holy city. His security detail may have had their complaints. But it was inspiring to our Birthright young adults to see the highest ranking Jewish elected official in American history showing such deference to the Sabbath.

A couple I truly enjoyed meeting was the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson and his Israeli-born wife, Dorrit Moussaieff. When I visited Iceland in the summer of 2009 with my family, Icelanders were excited, seeing a Jewish family, to tell us about their Jewish-Israeli first lady. Our arrival in Iceland had increased the Jewish population in the country orders of magnitude and it wasn’t every day they got to see people wearing Yarmulkes. Every time I asked for directions, I heard from Icelanders how proud they were to have an Israeli first lady.

Then, tragedy struck. After a few nights in Reykjavik, I heard the terrible news that Michael Jackson died. I did TV interviews via Skype from remote locations in the country, sometimes right by glaciers. It was the most beautiful scenery imaginable, discussing one of the saddest stories. I related to the President and first lady our unforgettable experience in Iceland. Dorrit said, “Why didn’t you come and visit?” I told her I figured she was busy. “No, you should have visited.” I promised her that I would now definitely take her up on her invitation, especially since I was looking for any excuse to visit Iceland, one of the most beautiful places on earth, again. I discovered in the electric, warm, and engaging personality of Iceland’s first lady someone who could make all that ice melt.

But the nicest part of the dinner was connecting with so many unsung heroes who do their extraordinary work without much fanfare. There was Rabbi Mendy Rosenfeld, who has headed Chabad in Switzerland for three decades and who showed me and my wife hospitality when we were in Switzerland for our honeymoon nearly 25 years ago. There was my former Oxford student, Charles Small, who runs an incredible academic program at leading universities, combating anti-Semitism. And there was my friend Eli Beer, who heads United Hatzalah of Israel, rescuing countless Jewish and Arab lives daily.

And, someone to whom all of us who participated in the magical Shabbos dinner should be grateful, there was Eduardo Elsztain, a well-known Jewish philanthropist who showed me hospitality when I visited Argentina and who has quietly sponsored the kosher Shabbat dinner at Davos for many years, introducing the peace, serenity, and togetherness of the Jewish Sabbath as a great gift to some of the world’s most influential people.

Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” has just published his newest best-seller, “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Features Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    JNS.org – About two-dozen people file into Dodd 175 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus on a Thursday night, scouting out seats and picking at the kosher pizza in the back of the lecture hall. Miyelani Pinini knows the drill. A former student president of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, she’s attended and even organized her share of free-pizza events. But now she and a fellow South African student leader were the stars of this […]

    Read more →
  • Food Spirituality/Tradition The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    JNS.org – It’s widely known that Israel has penetrated the wine market, with some of its sophisticated Israeli blends surpassing historically excellent wines from areas such as the Napa Valley or Bordeaux. But what about beer? For decades, Israel has offered solely the Maccabi and Nesher brands. Not anymore. “There is a huge push of people making beer at home. The country is approaching over 30 craft breweries in the last year or two, making nearly 200 beers,” says Avi Moskowitz, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Actress Natalie Portman acted like a typical “Jewish mother” on the set of her latest movie, Jane Got a Gun, the Israeli-born star told the New York Post‘s Page Six on Sunday. The 34-year-old, who also co-produced the western, said she made it her job to look out for everyone involved in the project, because the film has had to overcome “so many obstacles,” such as losing its director early on. She explained: “Actors changed. We suffered financial and legal challenges. We endured so many replacements. There were delays. […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    “We’re looking very much forward to coming back to Israel this summer,” said the lead singer of the German rock band Scorpions in a video on Monday. “Make sure you don’t miss it because we rock you like a hurricane!” said a jovial Klaus Meine, quoting the band’s seminal 1984 anthem, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” The hard rock band lands in Israel for a show at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena on July 14 as part of its 50th anniversary tour. It will be the band’s third time […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel were the two most immediate and authentic literary voices who gave witness to the Holocaust. Wiesel was an extrovert and a very public figure who wrote initially in French. Levi was a modest retiring chemist who wrote in Italian. Whereas Wiesel was rooted in the Eastern European Jewish Hassidic world, Levi was the product of an assimilated, secular Italian society that saw itself as Italian first and Jewish as an accident of birth. As Levi himself said, “At Auschwitz I […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Lifestyle Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    JNS.org – Wine has long been considered a social lubricant, and it’s Nir Lavie’s hope that wine from his Har Bracha Winery in the Samarian hills will serve as a social lubricant between the city-goers of Tel Aviv and the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, two locales split geographically, and often politically, on the left and right of the country. The new flagship store of Har Bracha has recently popped its corks on 190 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Actor Zachary Levi said casting directors have denied him roles for being “too Jewish,” despite the fact that he is not a Jew, the New York Daily News‘ Confidenti@l reported on Wednesday. “I guess they were looking for more of a corn-fed, white boy look,” he said. “My family is from f****** Indiana! Come on, I’m like dying here!” The Thor star clarified that he is Welsh, and that Levi is actually his middle name, while his real last name is Pugh. He said he […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Spirituality/Tradition Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    The secret of Chabad’s worldwide success is revealed by veteran Chabad shliach (emissary) Rabbi David Eliezrie in his new book, The Secret of Chabad. The Chabad movement was founded by Rabbi Schnur Zalman of Liadi, Belarus, in 1775. Years later it came to the US with the arrival of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn in 1940, after his escape from Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Upon his arrival in New York, a number of his co-religionists advised him that there was no place for traditional […]

    Read more →