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RSVP : Big Thoughts of Peace at a Smallish Gathering

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Leah Rabin, first lady of Israel, and Jehan Sadat, widow of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, embraced Saturday night in the garden of the kind of Italianate mansion that gives Bel-Air its good name.

The power hug came at the end of a fund-raiser for the Sheba Medical Center in Israel, a smallish gathering of 160 at the home of Chicago’s Farley Candy Co. President William H. Ellis and his wife, Diana.

If houses could talk, this one would have a few stories. It has been successively the abode of Tony Curtis, Sonny and Cher, and Larry Flynt. Now Farley’s Butter Toffee candies and Clearly Fruit drops have replaced Hustler magazines.

“I’m at a time in my life when doing things that are helpful make you feel so great, and I can afford it now,” said William Ellis, explaining why the couple opened their doors to a group that included only a few of their friends, plus the requisite mix of Hollywood stars (Cheryl Ladd, Suzanne Somers, O.J. Simpson, Earl Holliman, Piper Laurie, Wink Martindale) and serious philanthropists who were required to pledge $25,000 (payable over five years) to attend.

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It was the sort of evening--so pretty and impeccable with space heaters to ward off the evening chill; centerpieces of orchids, roses and tulips; a Patina-catered dinner culminating in a killer five-variety chocolate dessert; and a silky performance by Natalie Cole--where it was easy to go home thinking, what Middle East peace crisis?

That explains why U.S. Ambassador Dennis Ross, the special Middle East coordinator in the State Department, was invited to speak. “Even if we haven’t turned the corner,” he said, “at least we can see the corner.”

It was obvious that Rabin and Sadat are distant but genuine admirers of each other. “Two women married to soldiers who dared to fight for peace, it’s rare that you find the two of them together,” pointed out Kirk Douglas, who presented them with matching humanitarian awards.

Rabin said news anchor Peter Jennings once told her that if she ever sat with Jehan Sadat on a sofa, they would never get up. “I can tell you, when I sat with her on the sofa, I didn’t want to get up,” Rabin said.

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Sadat called Rabin “a wonderful lady, wife of a courageous leader who is changing the map of the Middle East and bringing about peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

“I think she is the most important person here tonight,” Rabin said of Sadat. “Had it not been for her late husband, his vision, his courage, his sacrifice, I don’t think all of us would be in the chapter of our lives that we are.”


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