In an exclusive interview ahead Bookfest, the Israeli ambassador to Romania, H.E. Mrs. Tamar Samash revealed what’s behind Israel motto at the book fair: Never Stop Dreaming. She voiced her opinion about the challenges ahead women nowadays, ahead the current Israeli society, confessed about her plans as ambassador in Bucharest, about the cultural bridge she intends to (re)create between our countries, about the investors’ concerns, about Romania’s pros and cons and last, but not least, about the future and hope embodied by the younger generation.
Israel is the result of a dream.
It’s the extraordinary melting pot that makes the Israeli culture very vivid.
Women are 50% of the world and they should take 50% of the credit for what is happening in our world.
In Israel there are about 400,000 citizens that have Romanian descents. They do have roots and contacts here in Romania and that represents a real bridge between the two countries.
The contact with the press is very important for me, I never say NO to an interview.
Investors are a little bit cautious today because of all the noise made by the DNA on things that are not always that important. However, they are coming, but cautiously.
The Romanians are very warm, very receptive. I like their willing to go ahead, I like their disappointment that it’s not going fast enough. What I don’t like is that they are not sure enough of themselves.
Six renowned Israeli authors are coming to Bucharest at Bookfest. Let’s talk about them a little bit. Are there any book launches expected?
We really appreciate that we have been invited as Bookfest’s guest of honor this year. We approached a great deal of Israeli authors to propose them to come to this great event. There are a lot of international book fairs and most of the time Israeli authors like to go where they are known, like in the USA, Germany, France. Fortunately, many of these Israeli authors have been already translated to Romanian and we were able to get positive answers and finally we had to eliminate some of them and bring only six, because there are only six days of the Bookfest.
But there was a real response from the Israeli authors to come to Bucharest.
We have a lot of events in different places. As I said, some of the authors have been translated into Romanian so, it’s going to be very easy to have discussions on these books. Some of them are very special authors. One of them is a renowned cook in Israel, he writes gastronomy books. Unfortunately his books have not been translated in Romanian, so he is going to show what he knows to do, so we’ll have some cuisine demonstration (editor note: Gil Hovav). Another one (e.n. Rony Oren) is a claymator and he will present his ‘clay’ work. So, it’s going to be a much different presence than the traditional one with authors just presenting their books.
“Never Stop Dreaming”. What’s behind this motto?
Well, Israel is the result of a dream. For 2,000 years the Jews all over the world dreamt that they would come to their land and now, 68 years since the Declaration of Independence, the dream is still here. You cannot stop dreaming because it what’s makes you go further, so that explains this year’s motto at Bookfest.
Besides constructive dreaming, what else is characterizing the current Israeli society? What is the national identity most focused on? (faith, language, culture, education)
It is a very heterogenic society. We have people coming from all over the world who integrated in the Israeli society, bringing with them their culture, habits, beliefs and philosophy and this is an extraordinary melting pot that makes the Israeli culture very vivid.
You can have on the same evening a classical concert in Tel Aviv, then exhibitions by immigrants from Russia and a dance group from Ethiopia or Israeli young hard rock band. It is something very lively which gives the Israeli society a great deal of diverse possibilities to develop art and to develop itself.
Reviewing Amos Oz-Fania Oz book “Jews and Words”, they talk about some ancestral equations: family concept focused on parent/child relationship and the teacher/student concept. Seruya Shalev also seems to have the family concept in the pipeline. Are these still at the base of the current Jewish society?
Family has always been the centre of the Jewish society and now of the Israeli society. What is interesting is that they talk (e.n. Amos Oz/ Fania Oz) about the place of the mother in our society. The woman is in charge of the education, she is the one who gives the basis of the education to her children. In most Israeli families nowadays both parents are working but it is still the role of the woman to take care of the family’s education more than the husband. In Israel she has older rights and possibilities to develop herself, is she wants to.
Where the woman stands in the modern framework? Our newspaper has launched a project by interviewing the women ambassadors accredited in Romania to hear their opinions about woman’s condition nowadays, the values close to her such as family, children, career, etc. What challenges do you think the contemporary woman is facing right now?
I am talking here about all the Western societies, because in other under developed societies there other problems and women haven’t yet reached the emancipation level they have asked for. So, in the Western world despite a so-called equality between men and women, there is still a gender gap, there is still a difference in wages, women don’t get the same wages as men for the same work. In Israel, too. Women do need to feel they are equal and not because people do that because they are women. There is legislation in Israel to encourage women, but I want to be sure that I got the job I got because I am good and not because I am woman. This is one of the biggest challenges. The other one is to have the state helping women who want to make a career with her families. I have never told my children “I don’t have time”, that’s a phrase they’ve never heard. But the reality is that took some time off of my career and I resent that. But I didn’t have enough help to go on with my career and to be sure that my children would be taken care of properly. That’s also a big challenge.
Education is the most important thing. There are still families where people don’t think that educating girls is important, so they just go to school because they have to, they are not given an opportunity to continue their studies. And it’s very important if we want to have educated children that the mothers be educated in the first instance.
So these are the main three challenges in my view, equality, education, help from the state.
….if you are to make a comparison on the women’s situation in Romania and Israel…
I don’t know the Romanian society very well, so I cannot compare. However, we have our own problems in Israel, we have inside the state various groups, Israelis, the religious Jews, the 20 percent of Arab Israelis. In the two last religious groups, the women don’t have the place they deserve. They are confined at home, they don’t go out to study or to work and this has repercussions on the position in the society. We are a very modern society, they have all the rights, but these women should go and study and develop themselves, but the societies they belong to, their culture keep them at home.
And doesn’t this impact on the society, economically and socially speaking?
Yes, it surely does, as it means there are fewer workers to support the welfare system. They receive aids from the Government to secure social security for the children, so there is a burden for the 60% of the workforce, while the other 40% are Arab Israelis and religious Jews who are not contributing to the social system. I believe it’s pretty much the same situation in Romania.
…yes, quite the same, yet from different reasons… Do you believe that the younger generation, even if originating precisely from these religious groups, could have a wider perspective and change this situation?
Yes, we have some incentives for that. The school system is favoring that. If they are introduced in the school system, English, mathematics, sociology, history of the country, they get more money for the school. The religious Jews, the Arab Israelis get more knowledge little by little, they have to get jobs outside their communities and they are more and more involved in Israel’s economy and life.
What would you be your personal advice to the contemporary woman from Romania, as a woman of diplomacy?
Never stop dreaming (laughing). We can do it. When I was a very young diplomat I had a secretary who was always complaining that she cannot do this, she cannot do that. I told her “if I can do it, you can also do it”. You must believe in yourself and you must acquire the tools to advance and your family must support you. If someone believes in you, you have also to believe in yourself. I have never stopped learning, I am still writing my PhD, I am going to still go to the university and continue to study. If you don’t have the ability to study it must be something else that you are doing the best.
Women are 50% of the world and they should take 50% of the credit for what is happening in our world.
Israel has been quite prolific this year from the cultural point of view (Bookfest guest of honor, there were an Israeli curator of the largest art fair in Romania, etc) What other upcoming events are in store this year?
Bookfest is really the jewel on the crown. We have so many art manifestations in Israel, in cinema, I am sure you all know the modern Israeli movies which are dealing with all aspects of the society, the general society and not necessarily the Israeli one. We are present at various film festivals.
We have musicians who come to Romania, and not only to Bucharest, we want to extend the variety of locations to other cities; we have marvelous soloists, groups and dancers and even puppeteers who performed here at puppets festivals. We really feel that the Israeli culture is really appreciated in Romania. You know that in Israel there are about 400,000 citizens that have Romanian descents. They do have roots and contacts here in Romania and that represents a real bridge between the two countries. So, we do receive demands from Israelis involved in art and who know the Romanian language to come in Romania.
On the other hand, I would like to develop a little bit more the bilateral academic contacts because there is much to learn from the cooperation between Romanian and Israeli universities in all fields, and especially in culture. I intend to do a lot in the cultural field, I have huge ideas, I hope I can make only half of them and that would be enough (smiling): concerts, exhibitions, student programme exchanges, teaching Hebrew in universities, developing the knowledge of the Israeli literature because literature is a way of knowing a country. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to go and visit that country, you can start by understanding a little bit of how people are thinking. And this is one of the reasons that we are very pleased to be at Bookfest.
I was very surprised to see that there are teachers outside Bucharest who teach pupils about Israel, about the history of our country and then they sent us the drawings or the essays the students wrote about Israel and for me it’s the most important way of cooperating by letting people know about the realities of Israel.
I am also involved in some social projects, in contact with several NGOs, Necuvinte for instance, which is an organization which protect women from domestic violence. I’ll see what else I can do, I am here only for eight months (smiling).
It’s almost a year since you came as ambassador in Bucharest. What is your strategy plan to boost bilateral relations?
I want to bring more Israelis here to meet Romanians from different fields, I want Romanians to go to Israel, to have more tourists coming from Romania to Israel. The contact with the press is very important for me, I never say NO to an interview, because I want our voice to be heard in all domains. We are developing a lot of economic relations in all fields, agriculture, water, health. We are inviting now several specialists to come and learn in Israel new techniques that we have developed and that could be good for Romania.
I have very good relations with various ministers and MPs.
The attitude of Romania towards Israel is extraordinary, I really appreciate everything that Romania is doing. You know this year Romania takes over the IHRA presidency, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Romania has done a lot in combating anti-semitism and in teaching the history of the Jews in Romania. This thing has been cleaned and a new road can be started in the relations between our countries.
What signals have you from Israeli investors? What would be the Romanian key business sectors good to invest in?
I am somehow disappointed because there is a great possibility here and we don’t do enough in terms of economic exchanges. We are working very hard in this respect.
What would be the reasons? It depends on both sides?
Yes, on both sides, but it depends more on the Romanian administration which is a little cautious today when coming to deal with strangers. Again it’s a result of the domestic situation, but I think that can be overcome. Investors too are a little bit cautious today because of all the noise made by the DNA on things that are not always that important. However, they are coming, but cautiously.
On the other hand, we want to develop cooperation different from investments, in fields such as health, water, agriculture. For instance, we need the Romanian expertise in the energy field, as we are now discovering sources of energy in Israel and we are not really experts on that yet, so we need the Romanian help. So, there is a great potential and I am sure that it will be developed during my term.
What would be Romania’s pros and cons? What do you like best about our country and what do you dislike most?
You know that I’ve been here before, from 1988 to 1991 and I found a very different country. The most remarkable thing that I discovered coming back to Bucharest is the people’s openness, the difference in the way people react. The Romanians are very warm, very receptive. I like their willing to go ahead, I like their disappointment that it’s not going fast enough. I like Romania being sure of its own culture and patrimony, I like turning on the TV and seeing all the channels with Romanian music and dance. Romania has a lot to give.
What I don’t like is that they are not sure enough of themselves. Romania could be one of the leading countries of the European Union, but they are not confident enough in themselves and they have the ability to do that.
…it’s not up to us all the time, we are still stuck in all kind of issues, scandals…
It will all pass and I am sure that Romania will find its way, I believe in the new generation. I see people that I’ve known 25 years ago, they have changed but not so much, but as concerning young people, there is absolutely no reason that they cannot go ahead and conquer the world.