Someone Else’s Simcha / David Ben-Shabbat’s Top Secret Birthday Bash

In elegant, historical environs, David Ben-Shabbat celebrates his 60th surrounded by friends and family, much to his surprise: "He wouldn't have let us have a party if he knew about it in advance.”

Location: Havat Allenby (Allenby's Farm), Netzer Sereni

Time: 8 p.m.

In the neighborhood: A verdant hill, sitting atop long stretches of open fields and overlooking the 431 highway running, running from nearby Rishon Letzion to Modi'in. Tall, noble eucalyptus trees shade a dusty old road leading up to a compound of about half a dozen onerous stone structure, erected by German Templers who settled in the area in 1890. The building housing the simcha, nicknamed Allenby's House, after Field Marshal Edmund Allenby, who at one time used the structure as his headquarters, is an imposing and well-preserved three-story Templar structure, with newly installed wooden window shutters reddening in the late summer sunset.

Venue: Allenby House's lawn, dotted with innumerable flowerpots, enclosing every color of petunias and begonias known to man. A square, wooden bar is positioned at the center of the yard, engulfed in a soothing bubbling sound, coming from a nearby water feature. A few steps on the decked path lead to an enclosed seating area, with about ten square wooden tables, draped in white embroidered cloth. A large tree grows out of the center of the room, with the waning light allowing the last glimpses of the valley below from the broad windows positioned all around.  

Simcha: David Ben-Shabbat's surprise 60th birthday bash

Number of guests: 70

Home: David (60, the owner of a shoe import and marketing business) and wife Hanna (56, who works at the customs authority) live in a private home in Rishon Letzion, where they spend their time working, going out, going out some more, sleeping, and, of course, anxiously waiting for any or all of their six grandchildren to visit. Daughter Meital (32): "He's crazy about them." 

A brief history of time: David and Hanna met at the beach, where the young man, looking to read a book and enjoy the surf, spotted a sunbathing beauty. David: "That's where it all started. And from that we have three children." Those children are Rina (34) who lives in Tel Aviv with her three children; Meital, who lives in Ness Tziona with the other three of David's grandchildren; and Hanan (26), who lives with the folks at home. 

Family history: David was born in Morocco in 1952, the fourth child, and eldest son, of nine brothers and sisters. The family made aliyah when the young David was seven years old (David: "For completely Zionist reasons. My mother's brothers made the move, and she nagged my father until he agreed"). The family initially moved to Jaffa, where David's father Hanania bought and operated a shoe factory. Soon after marrying Hanna in 1977, David completed his studies and went to work for First International Bank (Beinleumi) for nine years. After that, he felt he had enough ("I made the bank money, so it was time I made some for myself"), and founded Rina Shoes, naming his new company after his mother.

Grandchildren: David: "They're the biggest dividend life ever gave me, it has just changed my life. I started appreciating things that I never did before." Like what? "Trying to get home as soon as possible, so I can be with them. I used to work until 10 or 11 p.m. Time was never an issue. As soon as they were born, that changed. I just start up the car, and go." 

Rites: Guests and family assemble, waiting to pounce on the birthday boy. After a delay of a few minutes, David and Hanna finally materialize, with the visibly surprised man of the hour struggling to keep up with the deluge of loved ones ("Hey, what's with all the kisses? I came to party, not to work!"). Turns out, that David was told he was having a quiet dinner with three other couples ("not really three couples, but it's great. Great to see how much you mean to other people and how much they love you").  Hanna: "We walked through the [packed] parking lot, and I said: 'there might be more people than I told you about, and he said: 'don’t tell me all those cars are for me!'" Hanan: "I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't catch on until the last second. He can walk in and not understand the party's for him."

The happy crew then moves on to seat themselves at the table, allowing the birthday boy a few moments to let it all sink in. A middle aged man, jet black hair tightly combed back, picks up the mic and begins crooning dinner songs. The man, henceforth "Ehud the Singer," then displays another surprising talent: He approaches random tables and, seemingly out of the blue, calls out the names of those sitting there, drawing upon some inexplicable power of memory. At first, the baffled guests don't know what hit them, but soon everyone pretty much gets used to being called out in the middle of songs, their names popping up like a vocal jack-in-the-box.

After cleaning off the first course from the white plates, and amid Ehud's continued nomenclature attack, the family begins coming to the dance floor, congratulating David on his big day. Hanna speaks of the man "who makes me laugh,” and wishes for many more years with the grandchildren "that fill both of our lives with love." Ehud then takes a break from the phone-book act, and proceeds to sing a song written by Hanna ("full of love, you walk over to me, bringing joy and peace to my life").

Next, the three children speak: "we're lucky to have had a father and grandfather like you.” Meital's younger daughter Adi (2 1/2), with a head filled with spirally curls, wishes that her grandfather gets "lots of kisses and presents," while David's eldest grandson, Rina's boy Ido (8) says: "May you live 120 years." The congratulatory portion ends with a long line of friends and relatives and with Ehud the Singer addressing everyone by name (all 70!) one after the other (Ehud: "This is easy, I can do it with 240 too").

Next, everyone's attention is directed to a screen where a musical slideshow displays images from David's life: from black-and-white images of his childhood in Morocco and Israel, to richly colored shots from his military service, and – to everyone's surprise – video footage from David and Hanna's 1977 wedding.

Meital: "We found this rectangular, unidentifiable kind of cassette. It was huge." David: "That's 8mm footage. It was all the rage back then." The show then culminates with the couple's many trips around the globe, and naturally, as many pictures of David and his grandchildren as the screen could contain.          

Music: The one-man powerhouse that is Ehud, singing mostly contemporary Israeli pop.

Food: Appetizers: Two stands offering freshly made focaccias and tuna carpaccio along with kebabs with tahini and meat empanadas. An intermediate course of blackened salmon with cherry salsa. Mains: A choice between tandoori chicken breast with apricot chutney and a slow roasted asado beef.    

Drink: Run-of-the-milljuice selections, along with a dominant presence of both beer and red wine.

Word in the ear: Meital: "All his life he's been giving and doing and working. It was mainly just an opportunity to thank him for everything he's done for us." And the surprise element? "He wouldn't have let us have a party if he knew about it in advance. He doesn't like to put himself at the center of things."

In my spiritual doggy bag: The ability to do things for others in a way that circumvents their own aversion to having things done for them.

Random quote: Seconds after the surprise trap was set into action, David's grandchildren Ido and Omer (4) excitedly tell their father Yigal about how they hid up front. Ido: "We jumped and he saw us!" Yigal, smiling: "So you ruined the surprise!" Ido and Omri think for a second and say: "No, he didn't see us!"

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