February 14, 2008
Israel @ 60:The day that Israel came to town
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"The place was a backwater at the time, without even an art museum," she remembers, "There was only one industry, and that was Hollywood."
She and Reuven, who had lived and breathed Zionism from childhood on, were occasionally taken aback by the relative naivetï¿½(c) of many resident Jews.
"We really had to explain some of the basic concepts and facts about Israel, and that we were struggling for our survival," she says.
Establishing Israel's first diplomatic outpost on the West Coast was not an easy job.
The Dafnis had bought a car in New York and driven across the country, along with two young Israeli women who were to constitute the entire staff of the consulate-general.
The new state was strapped for money, but allocated a small dress allowance so that its representatives would be properly attired. However, there was no money to pay the apartment rent for the two employees, so the Dafnis turned over the dress allowance for that purpose.
No one was assigned to handle press relations, so Rinna put out a newsletter for the consulate and served as her husband's unofficial media adviser.
As the Dafnis' circle of friends expanded, it included many noted artists, such as violinist Jascha Heifetz, cellist Gregory Piatigorsky, actor Lee J. Cobb, writer Michael Blankfort and directors Fred Zinnemann and Jules Dassin.
Then, as now, the support of the entertainment industry was important to Israel, and Hollywood's biggest Jewish event of the year was the UJA fundraiser.
A key part of the evening was the card-calling drill, during which the attending machers announced how large a check they were signing for the cause.
Dafni was the main speaker, and when he got home he told his flu-stricken wife of a remarkable incident.
After the card-calling had ended, a man sitting in the back of the Beverly Hills Hotel ballroom stood up to complain that his name had not been called.
"And what is your name, Sir?" asked the UJA official, and the man responded, "Cary Grant."
Israelis even then were excited to come to Los Angeles and see Hollywood: Among the early visitors were Abba Eban, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, and Teddy Kollek, the future mayor of Jerusalem.
The initial distinguished guest was Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett, and for the occasion the Dafnis had invited the top community leaders for an elaborate luncheon at their home.
As Rinna went to the dining room for a last-minute check of the preparations, she was met by a horrifying sight.
"I couldn't even see the table because all the food was covered by swarms of flying termites," she recalls with a shudder.
The luncheon quickly adjourned to a nearby restaurant.
After three years, the Dafnis, new daughter in tow, returned to Israel. Reuven Dafni went on to a distinguished career in the diplomatic service and at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial authority. He died in 2005.
Rinna Samuel, whose second husband was David Samuel, a prominent Weitzman Institute scientist, is the author of widely read books on modern Israel and its leaders and served as editor of Rehovot magazine, published by the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Looking back on the solid relationships they helped establish between the new Jewish state and the American Southwest, Rinna can justifiably claim, "We helped to create history."
- Los Angeles' first Israeli Consul General Reuven Dafni at his desk. Photo courtesy of Rinna Samuel
- Ruth and Max Nussbaum at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy Gabriel Nussbaum
1 | 2