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 *


  • Arts and Culture Features Opinion Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Late Friday night, on November 13, I was headed for bed when an ominous news bulletin flashed across my computer screen – something about a shooting in Paris. It wasn’t long before the “small number” of shootings and casualties began to double and triple and quadruple. The locations of attacks seemed crazily disorganized, and the tweets and videos became more and more horrifying. It was a long night for many stunned observers. We tried to understand what was happening, and […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Theater BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    In an interview with the Israeli site nrg on Wednesday, Belgian-Jewish stage actress Noemi Schlosser recounted immigrating to Israel after her career in Europe was destroyed by BDS. Schlosser said she had enjoyed success in Belgium and international acclaim until she was targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for her pro-Israel stance during Operation Protective Edge — last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. She described watching the theaters where she performed go from packed to nearly empty over a short period of […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →