Year of Open Mind…

More than 600 people joined the Israeli consul general at San Francisco's Herbst Theatre recently for a celebratory concert and a toast in honor of the 52nd anniversary of the state of Israel.

"As you can see, our birthday events are growing," Consul General Daniel Shek observed as he spoke to the crowd in San Francisco. "Someday we'll hold it at Pac Bell Park."

Promoting a theme of cultural diversity, the celebration featured a concert by the popular Israeli musical ensemble Bustan Abraham.

"It's not entirely a coincidence that Bustan Abraham will perform here tonight," said Shek, prior to the performance. "They're outstanding Jews and Arabs with diverse talents and heritage," he added, calling 2000 "The Year of the Open Mind."

"Let's let the old things out and the new things in," said Shek. "Let's encourage a dialogue and an exchange of ideas — creativity, curiosity, convictions and beliefs. With a feeling of big change [toward peace in the Middle East] palpable in the air, we are impatient. We're inches away from everything falling into place."

Along with peace in the Middle East, Shek expressed his hope for harmonious relations between Israelis and Jews worldwide. He also highlighted the growing relationship between California and Israel, citing a visit by Gov. Gray Davis to Israel in October. The trip culminated in an agreement to create an Israeli-California economic task force.

"Our relationship has had a past, an active present and it's fair to predict they will also have a future," he said.

California's secretary of trade and commerce, Lon S. Hatamiya, echoed Shek's words.

"We're proud to have you as a partner in trade and friendship," said Hatamiya. "As we move through the new millennium I encourage the growth of trade and other cultural ties we share."

Hatamiya added that Israel was the 25th largest export market for California in 1999.

Besides strengthening its ties with California, Israel spent the year leading up to its 52nd birthday engaged in many important issues, said Shek, citing "a new government, one papal visit, summits, unfortunately more violence and one lost [European Nationals] basketball championship."

While the year 52 may seem a "small, banal" number, he said, "it's ours and we're proud."

Janice Brenner, assistant to the consul general, invited guests to a celebratory toast, following the three-encore performance by Abraham, pointing out, "What would a birthday be without cake and a glass of wine?"

As for a birthday wish, Brenner asked for health and prosperity.

"As on a birthday we blow out a candle and make a wish," she said, "this is a time to wish for a secure, prosperous future in the state of Israel."