Tuesday, 28 April 2009

090428 Yom Hazikaron/Atzmaut Daniel Gordis

Erev Yom Ha-Atzma'ut:
A Brief Reminder About Purpose
April 24, 2009

Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End, has now been published. The two photographs discussed below are discussed at greater length in the book, as part of a larger discussion of the purpose of the Jewish State.

There's a certain look to a widow who's in her mid-twenties, whose husband was killed in Gaza in January. Eyes swollen with tears, yet with steely determination at the same time. A certain vulnerability on her still very young face, and a face that seems too old for her age, all at the same time. An image of pain and of unspeakable sadness, but not asking for pity. Was it just me, or was it clear that even in the midst of her unbearable burden, she knew full well that she - like the young husband who was taken from her far too early - is part of something much larger than she is? Is that why, looking at her, I had a sense of - more than anything else - strength?

I would have liked many more people to see her. President Obama, for example, as he prepares for another stab at Middle East peace-making. Hillary Clinton, who's now telling us to make peace lest we lose American support in the looming confrontation with Iran. All those Jews out there, beating their breasts, despondent that the Jewish state is so "un-Jewish" in its seeming unwillingness to make peace.

We hear all those people - of course we do. And as we do, we can't help but wonder if the world has begun to tire of us, to regret the decision that it made on November 29, 1947. (We know without doubt, for example, that were the UN to vote today, Israel would not be created.) Calls for Israel to negotiate with Hamas despite the latter's commitment to Israel's destruction, the poisonous environment of Durban II and the Obama administration's willingness to engage with Iran even as it continues to enrich uranium, all contribute to this sense.

So to all those who are wringing their hands about Israeli intransigence and inflexibility, on this eve of Israeli Independence Day, a brief word about nations, and states, and purpose. For without understanding purpose, there's no understanding Israel.

Israelis elected Ehud Barak in 1999 because he promised peace with the Palestinians. When Barak put the majority of the West Bank and even parts of Jerusalem on the table, most Israelis went along. The deal fell apart because Palestinians unleashed the Second Intifada. The majority of Israelis supported Ariel Sharon's decision to disengage from Gaza and to uproot all the Jewish communities there. They even elected Ehud Olmert in 2006, after he ran on a platform of further withdrawal from the West Bank. How did a country that has continually favored painful concessions for peace end up with Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman as Prime Minister and Foreign Minister respectively? It is that which Obama, Clinton and all the hand wringers must understand if they have any hope of being heard here.

To appreciate today's Israeli sentiment, all those people would do well to keep in mind two iconic photographs on which virtually every Israeli is raised. These images have come to represent two radically different eras - Jewish powerlessness under the Nazis, and Jews at the height of their power, when they captured the Old City of Jerusalem from the Jordanians.

The former period is represented in the minds of many Israelis by a black and white photograph of a Jewish boy, probably no older than nine or ten, dressed in his finest coat and hat, his black dress socks pulled up almost to his knees. He is the model of innocence, of European-Jewish financial and social success, and yet, he is pitiful - the very picture of vulnerability. His parents are not at his side, and no onlookers have come to comfort him. His hands raised high in surrender as a Nazi points a gun in his direction, the boy's fate depends entirely on the whim and will of his enemies. He might as well already be dead.

A very different image was taken at the Western Wall in the aftermath of the paratroopers' conquering of the Old City during the June 1967 Six Day War. This photo, by David Rubinger, is equally iconic. It, too, portrays Jews and soldiers - three, in fact. But now, the Jews and the soldiers are one and the same. No longer is the Jew the frightened boy looking away from the Nazi's gun somewhere in Europe. He is home, in Jerusalem, responsible for his own destiny.

Nothing in this image celebrates war. The soldiers' weapons are nowhere to be seen. Their helmets have been removed. The figure in the center ­is young, almost boyish. What captured the Jewish imagination was not the Jew as soldier, but image of a Jew whose existential condition had been entirely altered in the period between those two photos, all because of the creation of the Jewish state. The Jewish state, Zionism promised, would radically alter the condition of the Jew in the world. No longer would Jews live and die at the whim of others. No longer would our children's safety be dependent on what our enemies decided.

Today, Israelis are concerned that that has begun to change, that we are sliding inexorably back to the reality represented by the first image. For eight years, Palestinian rockets and mortars turned Israeli childhoods in Sderot and other cities into years of incessant fear. Thousands of Israeli children studied and slept - and some died - at the whim of Palestinian Kassam-launchers. And when Israel finally did respond, the world's outrage was instantaneous.

Now, Israelis wonder if the Americans have quietly resigned themselves to a nuclear Iran. If Israelis become convinced that that is the case, it will be not Netanyahu or Lieberman, but American policy, which will have caused Israeli intransigence. For an Iranian nuclear weapon, even were it never used, would reverse the change in the existential condition of the Jew that Israel made possible. Once Iran has nuclear capacity, every Israeli parent will put their children to bed at night knowing that once again, our survival and that of our children will depend not on what we do, but on what others decide our fate should be. An Iranian nuclear weapon would represent not only a failure of American deterrence, but the failure of the promise of Zionism, to create and sustain a Jewish state that could keep its citizens safe.

An international community committed to significant progress in the Israel-Arab conflict must first convince Israelis that we are not being abandoned, that the world is committed to the purpose for which Israel was created. Very few of us relish sending our sons and daughters off to war, to bear for life the scars of battle, or worse. We, too, would like nothing more than an end to this horrific conflict. Our voting record proves it.

But as we prepare to celebrate independence once again, one fact must remain clear: we will not end the conflict at all costs. That is what the international community must demonstrate it understands. For on this Erev Yom Ha-Atzma'ut, as on all the others, we, at least, know well what is at stake. Given the choice between sending our children off to fight yet again, or of returning to the world of that first photograph in which someone else will decide if we live and for how long, almost all of us will choose the former.

[RESPONSES AND REACTIONS can be posted at http://danielgordis.org/2009/04/28/erev-yom-ha-atzma%e2%80%99ut-%e2%80%93-a-brief-reminder-about-purpose/
. Go to the end of the column and post your comments.]

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Shabbat Shalom from Sheila


23rd April 2009.

Shabbat Shalom

As Israel stood to attention in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust a Persian tyrant stood before the world and told the equivalent lies that Hitler and Goebbels created to dehumanise the Jews in preparation for their heinous plan to wipe us out. http://www.memri.org/bin/latestnews.cgi?ID=SD232109 Ahmedinejad uses the same rhetoric of hate- Jewish animals, Jewish child killers/eaters, Jewish sub-humans. He was welcomed as key-note speaker in a United Nations conference on human rights (Durban 2) in order to put forward his abhorrent views. Thank G-d most of the attending European delegates walked out on his hate-filled diatribe. http://www.bicom.org.uk/news/news-archive/dozens-of-delegates-leave-geneva-conference-during-ahmadinejad-speech . Elie Wiesel, man of peace and dignity, Holocaust survivor, was publicly insulted yet stood proud in the face of his berater. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zV3rw_QOD7U

Who will carry the candle for those who perished when the world has become convinced that the Holocaust was an excuse invented by the Jews to grab their own land? Who will deny the deniers? Who will tell the stories of suffering when the last of the living human stories die with the last of the survivors? Who will stand up and say "This is no horror movie, no invention, I saw it. It happened. The ultimate cruelty of humankind unfolded before my eyes ". Who will be our witness?

I feared the torch would be extinguished by apathy; apathy that our generation created in our determination to ensure that our children don't suffer as we did. I feared that no-one would re-kindle the flame of altruistic love of Israel and the Jewish people – without the self-interest of sectarianism. I feared, until this week when I met young people who have raised the torch higher than any of us could imagine.

The amazing youngsters of "Stand with Us" www.standwithus.com who live up to their name and travelled to Geneva to stand up before the world in the name of those who perished in the Shoah and those who will face another Holocaust at the hands of liars and tyrants like Ahmedinejad.

Boaz Albaranes, the son of close friends, who not only took an active role in forming a website for young Jews travelling around the world http://www.jewgether.org but took precious time out to travel North America and speak at campuses and communities on behalf of Israel. Boaz is not alone in these efforts, but we love him and his amazing talent for speaking the truth and transmitting his love of Israel.

Not many 40 year olds are interested in inviting us to their birthday parties these days, but Johanna "Yockie" Arbib is exceptional on every level. Italian, beautiful, charming, exciting and clever, she stood head and shoulders above the rest when she came on a "Yachdav" KH-UIA young leadership mission organized by Zvi in 1992. Even then she was clearly bound for leadership. Yockie, businesswoman, mother of 3 gorgeous little girls and busy wife to her surgeon husband Dario, is the new Chairperson of the Board of Governors of Keren Hayesod, a role of enormous responsibility, safe on her young shoulders. Brava! http://www.kh-uia.org.il/EN/AboutUs/Organizational%20structure/Board-and-Committees/World-

Yockie didn't choose a fine ballroom in Rome to hold her birthday celebrations, but followed her heart and chose Israel, a tent in the desert, a concert by Idan Reichel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH6Hs7P2xW0 on the wonderful Ayalim project in Ashalim - to show us that Zionism and altruism are alive and well south of Beersheva!

The bus left the King David Hotel in Jerusalem soon after 15:30, half full with a smattering of Israelis and many Italians – predominantly Christian. Zvi struck up a conversation with a delightful couple from Rome and it soon became apparent that this was their first visit to Israel, that they had seen very little and knew less and that Luca's grandmother was a Righteous Gentile. Zvi immediately called Yad Vashem's Director of Public Relations who called back with the news that they not only found the tree planted in her honour but if Zvi would bring them to Yad Vashem the following morning, the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, they would get a special tour.

As we headed for Beersheva, and beyond, the vista changed from mountainous to the barren flatlands of the Negev. We marvelled at the agricultural wonders creating oases in the desert, the reward for putting ones mind to creation rather than destruction, refusing to wallow in past tragedies but rather building the future. Just outside Beersheva a young, vibrant woman boarded the bus. Myriam began to speak with rare enthusiasm about Project Ayalim. The project was started by two Jerusalem students at Beersheva University who bemoaned the fact that we, their parents' generation, did not give them a sense of "mission". Once they left the scouts and finished their IDF service they were expected to "go out and find themselves" in India, South America or wherever, whereas in truth they wanted responsibilities. They wanted a mission in life and if we wouldn't give it they would create it. The two began a movement by going straight to Ariel Sharon with a proposal – to create inexpensive student accommodation in the Negev and in the Galilee, in underprivileged areas, giving the students free tuition in exchange for 400 hours a year voluntary work within the community. The idea was accepted, hundreds of students applied (few received) and the first houses were built by the students themselves, from home-made adobe bricks, in Ashalim. The students so loved their work with the children of the community that slowly, as they met and fell in love with other Ayalim members and started families they began to buy homes in the area and continue their volunteer work. The programme was so successful that other projects –eight already – sprung up over the country. This was why Yockie brought us all the way to Ashalim; not for the food, the music of Idan Reichel or the glorious desert sunset - this is her pet project, together with the Israeli government and Keren Hayesod. The dream of two students came to life and Israel's future is clearly in capable hands. I promised Myriam that I would send you the information and I know that any donations to Ayalim would make Yockies birthday the best ever. http://www.jewishagency.org/JewishAgency/English/Israel/Partnerships/Regions/Ramatnegev/News/2005/news-0511-ayalim.htm http://www.ayalim.org.il/files/bnya.pdf http://www.kh-uia.org.il/EN/Our-Work/High-Priority-Programs/Pages/Ayalim.aspx

My daughter Rachel and I, with Ayala and Talia, two of her three children, travelled to the Florentine district of Tel Aviv for a very special date; we were going to Kinneret Chaya's home for lunch, with KC's mother Yaffa, to meet KC's baby girl Odaya for the first time. The three of them were waiting in the street to greet us as we drove up, all of us aquiver with excitement. As we climbed up the steep stairs to Kinneret Chaya and Amir's tiny apartment my fears that Talia (aged two and a half) might be bothered by KC's scars dissipated. Talia didn't see them – she saw this fun lady with a beautiful little girl. Kinneret Chaya is happy with her life, her husband and her family. She is replete with the succour afforded by her deep belief in Judaism and sense of belonging within the Bresslauer Hassidic community. Above all Kinneret Chaya, our very own living miracle, is fulfilled by her role as "Ima" (Mother). She is a relaxed and content woman, Odaya barely leaving her hip. Yaffa is the incredible support she always was, but now I see a different Kinneret Chaya, independent and at peace.

Hope, Hatikva, Esperanza - never lose it; be proud of who you are and what we have achieved as a people and express that pride to all who would deny it.

With all my love from Jerusalem


Our friend - a good and gentle man and great Zionist, Chicago's Lester Rosenberg, was involved in a serious car accident last Friday. Please pray for his speedy recovery (Levi ben Sophie) and Chicagoans, if you speak to Norma, remind her that Jerusalem is waiting for them to come back and that we love them very much.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Yom haShoah -2009 Holocaust Remebrance Day 2009

Today, Monday, April 20, 2009, is the eve of Israel's National Holocaust Day and the opening of the Durban II Conference in Geneva.

Today, on the eve of Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day President Ahmedinejad fo Iran stood before the United Nations Conference on Human Rights and claimed that the Shoah never happened and is an excuse created to allow the establishment of a racist Zionist State.

Today, on the eve of Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day the world was silent while a fanatical dictator called for the segregation and ultimate annihililation of the Jews.

Tell Ahmedinejad to come back in a few years when the survivors are no longer here to tell their stories and give evidence of the Shoah.

Tell Ahmedinejad to speak to our friend Mark and ask him of his very first memory as a four year old child and Mark will tell him "I ws only four and yet I still remember the taste of the metal of the Nazi gun in my mouth as they threatened my mother that they would kill me - before passing on to another."

Tomorrow, as the siren wails over Israel, an entire country will stand to attention where they are, to honour the fallen and recognise the survivors. Never again, never forget is not just a phrase it is our survival.

President Shimon Peres's Address at the Opening Ceremony of Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day 2009

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,

Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin,

President of the Supreme Court, Justice Dorit Beinish,

The Chief Rabbis, Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar and Rabbi Yona Metzger,

Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau,

Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, Mr. Avner Shalev,

Holocaust survivors,

Righteous Among the Nations,

Distinguished guests,

Six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, simply because they were Jewish. 1.5 million children were annihilated just because they belonged to the Jewish people. They were called Moshe, Avraham, Rivka and Leah – even though they were yet to understand the meaning of their names. One out of every three of our people was murdered during those six cursed years. Each victim had a name. Each murdered Jew had a future. The genocide committed by the Nazi murderers was a historic crime of unprecedented proportions.

The State of Israel is our historic victory over the Nazi beast that left no stone in Europe Soul-searching about the Holocaust is not yet over, and may never be over, not for us, and not for the world at large. Nazism was defeated, but anti-Semitism is still alive and well. The gas has dissipated, but the poison remains. There are still Holocaust deniers and hot-headed skinheads in the world, those who bear the sort of visceral hatred that leads to racist murder. unturned.

The conference opening today in Geneva constitutes an acceptance of racism, rather than the fight against it, and its main speaker is Ahmadinejad, who calls for the annihilation of Israel and denies the Holocaust.

There are also the Righteous Among the Nations – we will never forget their heroism.

Criticism of the Jewish State is also tinged with chilling anti-Semitism. Among those who collaborated with the Nazis, and those who stood by and let the Holocaust happen, there are those who criticize the one state that rose to grant refuge to Holocaust survivors. The one state that will prevent another Holocaust.

Anti-Semitism is not a Jewish disease, and its cure is incumbent upon those who perpetrate it.

It is hard to fathom why despots such as Hitler the Nazi, Stalin the Bolshevik and Ahmadinejad the Persian chose the Jews as the main target for their hatred, their madness and their violence. Perhaps they targeted the Jewish people because of its spiritual power – a nation poor in material possessions, but rich in values - for he who is infected with megalomania fears the power of the spirit. The Jews did not worship idols or authority, and their God gave mankind its conscience. We were the first to believe that every person is created in God’s image, and we were commanded to sanctify life and prevent murder and discrimination.

We have learned that our spiritual heritage is dependent on physical security. A people which lost a third of its members, a third of its children to the Holocaust, does not forget, and must not be caught off-guard.

The first lesson we took from the Holocaust, therefore, was the need to immediately establish a Jewish homeland – a Jewish state. Without it, the survivors would have been left homeless, and their lives would have remained exposed and prey to destruction. The State of Israel is not merely the Jews’ protective shield, but an ideal of historic import: to be a nation with a moral message.

Existence and heritage are inextricably linked. We never asked other nations to defend us, and we have made the decision that spiritual conflict will not divide us.

We must not let the memory of the Holocaust diminish, and we must ensure that the memory-bearers do not lessen in number. The Jewish state must ensure the continuity of the Jewish people, for our people has just one country. Our forefathers gave the world the Ten Commandments over 3,000 years ago, and yet there is no need for an updated version. The greatness of the Jewish people is derived from the might of its spirit.

Israel must be an example to its children, and a source of pride for those Jews who do not live here. The Jewish people helped establish the State, and the State must now help its people, preserve its identity, give its children a Jewish education, and enable the Jews to ensure that their descendents remain Jewish.

The IDF has given security to the State of Israel, whose soul thirsts for peace. In Israel’s eyes, peace is not just a matter of political wisdom, but a fundamental Jewish imperative.

We never set out to conquer. We did not rush towards domination. We rejected lordship, we fought discrimination, we protested slavery, we forbade violence. We believe in the preeminence of man, and we pray for Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and world peace.

We are struck not just by the unprecedented horror of the Holocaust, but also by our people's extraordinary fortitude. This is also a lesson for the future – to combine faith and power. To be a just people in a just world. Whoever tries to break our spirit will learn that the spirit cannot be extinguished. Even though our ship may be narrow, it is a mighty wind that blows through its sails.

The Holocaust will always be in our hearts, and we realize that there is much work ahead of us: to build a state that is worthy of its fathers’ sacrifice, and is an answer to its sons’ prayers.

On December 1, 2008, Amendment 40 to the Communications Law came into effect, banning unsolicited mail. If you do not wish to receive the Shabbat Shalom letters please let me know

Sheila's blog http://shabbatshalom-theviewfrommyveranda.blogspot.com/
Sheila's Archive www.lingomatics.com/shabbatshalom/index.html,
www.tomgrossmedia.com/mideastdispatches http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/site/home/default.asp

Friday, 17 April 2009

Shabbat Shalom from Sheila


17th April 2009.

Shabbat Shalom

On the eve of the last night of Passover we had our daughter-in-law Shiris family over for the traditionally festive dinner. We sat around discussing the world situation, Israeli politics, the stupidity of Israeli tourists who spend their Passover in Sinai despite the government warnings, and the effect of Matza on our digestive system. I am not a big crowd person, much preferring to sit apart and watch, or sit with another person who doesn't like crowds! I already knew that Lior and Keti, (Shiri's sister's in-laws), came to Israel in the late '70's with one son, with the determination of those who understand that Israel is the only place on earth to be. After coming on Aliya, their second son, our family member, – Alon (meaning Oak tree) was born.

Zvi and I don't allow smoking in our house but if guests wish to brave the weather, be it steaming hot, high winds or very cold – they can sit out on the veranda and do whatever they wish. Something made me follow Lior and Keti onto the veranda and I am so happy I did! I heard the most phenomenal stories of life as the only Jewish officer in a unit of 10,000 soldiers in the former Soviet Union.

"You had to be stronger and cleverer than everyone else" Lior said. "I used to sleep with my men, not in the officers quarters, because I wanted them on my side and because that way I could monitor what they said. The other officers didn't understand my lack of desire for privileges, but I had the most loyal troops. The only privilege I accepted was sleeping on the lower bunk instead of climbing up to the top one".

"In April 1968 we began to move towards Prague, to Czechoslovakia. I can never forget when we arrived on the streets in our tanks and there were children and toys spread all over the place. I refused to move the tanks forward telling my superior officers that we are not animals to kill demonstrators like that, especially not children. I wasn't punished but after we retreated they simply brought in troops from behind, from the satellite states, Uzbekistan and so on, Moslems, and they did the job without blinking an eye. They saw only enemies not children http://www.radio.cz/en/article/44313

"This was not my only experience" he continued "as a very young soldier I was on a ship bound for Cuba. We arrived in Havana, Cuba and were told we were about to face our greatest enemy, the United States. Now they try to say that there were not really missiles or plans to invade, but it isn't true, I was part of the group that took the missiles off the ships and placed them on the launch pads, quite apart from the missiles and rockets which were already in place. Until the order came to stand down and unload, we were ready for war, and it would have been terrible."

"One of my worst experiences was when I became privy to and part of a plan to attack Israel. This was not going to be an attack with ground troops or any such thing. The plan was to lob a dirty rocket into the Kinneret to poison the waters. It is a fact, it is true" he said in response to my incredulous expression "that is when I knew we had to come to Israel. As Jews we couldn't be anywhere else"

Israel was the closest associate and ally of the United States. Then as now, Russia, the Former Soviet Union, chose the Arab side. When I think about it, so little has changed, so little in alliances and unions, even then Europe sat on the fence. Indeed, today the war is of words to justify a later war of far greater consequence against Israel and the Jews. It takes step two next week.

Durban 2 is not going away. The fact that it is led by some of the world's worst human rights offenders is irrelevant to the fact that the subject on every journalists lips will be Israel. We cannot just let it go – form your ownconferences within your communities to work out how to counter the undoubted news reports, write and respond to all and every article which suggests that Israel is deserving of such hypocrisy and cant. http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1239710711631&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull In the UK Joy Wolfe, Carol Gould and an entire army of good people are appearing on any and every radio show and debate to support Israel against the far left and Moslem leaders and they will continue to do so during Durban 2 – will you? For full information http://www.eyeontheun.org/durban.asp

This Passover, as all Passovers, was a time for family. My dear cousins Cyril and Irene Silver were visiting their two Israeli daughters and Zvi and I went to visit them at Debbie and Zeev's home in Gannei Tikva (Gardens of Hope). There is something so comfortable about being with people who knew you even before you were born! I am thrilled to say that they both look amazing and ill-health has not removed the smiles from their faces or the quick wit from their hearts. From there we went to family/friends Steve and Shuli Daren in Nes Ziona (Miracle of Zion) where we sat around a table with them and their sons Ofer and Sagi and Sagi's wife Ditti – chewing over the situation of country, family and friends…. From there we returned to Jerusalem to take part in the official and huge Mimuna festival attended by President Peres, Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat (decked out in fez and robe!) and the Sefardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar. Star of the evening was Zvi dressed in his Moroccan Jelaba which he bought in a market in Marrakesh with Barry Slawsky. I would love you to check out the map of Israel to understand how tiny she is and how easy to get from place to place and when you enlarge the map you will see how tiny Israel is! http://www.abmaps.com/#lt=31.940002568216684&lg=34.8&zl=-8

Mimuna is a festival of Moroccan origin a celebration of sweetness, joy and music on the night after Passover. Mufletas (crepe-like dough pancakes drenched in honey) every possible cake and pastry made with sweetened ground almonds and hot sweetened mint tea everywhere! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QWpmMC-YYU I apologise for the fact that the video is in Hebrew but you get a real feel of the festival from this family in Modiin and the official Modiin celebrations. The man of the house who explains the festival is Ashkenazi (his family is 8 generations in Israel) married to a Moroccan woman who adopted the warmth and joy of the festival with both arms.

I hope you have enjoyed being introduced to some real Israelis. Like the USA, Europe, Australia and so many other places, we all come from different cultures and countries. The difference is that we didn't come to a new country without expectations or history – we came home. We came back to the land from whence we came, from which we were banished. Just as I described the joy of reconnecting with family and old friends, so is the sense of belonging and emotions felt only by those who share your inherited history- that is how we feel, those of us who came home and those of us who want to come home.

Dear, dear friends, only the blind cannot see what is happening in the world. We must stand up and be counted. Whether you prefer to act as an individual and respond to newspaper articles or television reports or to organize groups to promote and praise Israel's gift to the world of knowledge, innovation, initiative and Tikun Olam is your choice, but choose one.

Yom haShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom ha Zikaron (Remembrance Day for the fallen) and Yom haAtzma'ut (Independence Day) all come within the next short time to remind us of our past and future. Let's make a choice to be part of the future and not let the past fail us – again. We left Egypt and slavery behind us – remember?

Shabbat Shalom and much love from Jerusalem


Monday, 13 April 2009

Chag Pesach Sameacah and a Peaceful Easter


13th April 2009.

It all started at 07:30 on Wednesday morning as the sun was rising in the sky. My daughter called to remind me to go outside and experience a miracle… this sunrise was really different to all other sunrises! On Wednesday morning the sun was in the exact position it had been when the Jews escaped from Egypt and the cruelty of slavery under Pharaoh and set out on the journey toward Israel – the story of the Passover Haggadah. I stood on our veranda, Jerusalem before me and said the Birkat ha Hamah blessing. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/practices/Ritual/Prayer/Blessings/Birkat_HaHammah.shtml This was an exceptional day because although the blessing is said every 28 years, the solar position on the 14th of Nissan has happened only three times in the 6,000 years of Jewish history; before our delivery from Egypt; before Mordechai and Esther saved us from slaughter in Persia and this year. Pray for a miracle this time too – that Israel's neighbours will want peace as much as we do and all the anger in the world will dissipate.

Yesterday, the 18th of Nissan, was the 7th anniversary of the homicide bombing of the Matsa Restaurant in Haifa and the official death toll rose to 16. Hili and Shimon Shiran sat laughing and eating in the restaurant with their 17 year old daughter Adi when the bomber walked in – Adi died instantly and her parents were taken to hospital in critical condition – unable to attend their own child's funeral. Hili slowly recovered but Shimon never rose above his horrific injuries and yesterday, exactly seven years later, he died. "Finally I can now also mourn my beautiful daughter" Hili said in an interview. "Finally I can mourn my husband and my daughter as I go to the cemetery and bury him." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matza_restaurant_suicide_bombing

We had a visit last week. An old, old friend (I can say that because we are the same age!) who I hadn't seen for 45 years came to visit with his wife – Stephen and Stephanie Goldstein – and we had a marvelous catch-up. We talked of old times and of current events and exercised the freedom to express our views – diverse as they may be. As I get older I appreciate old friends more and more.

Passover in Israel is a time to travel this amazing little country, matza sandwiches in hand! There was less time this year with Shabbat in the middle but we headed north with our friends David Efron and Kathy. Travelling north one sees the immense difference between Israeli land and Arab land. Israeli land has been recovered from the desolation and soil erosion imposed by the tree cutting of the Ottoman period. The hills on the right are barren but the Israeli land is green with trees planted by the KKL, by agricultural miracles and blooming gardens. First we visited the Druze village of Daliyat el Carmel, near Haifa. The Druze are one of three Moslem denominations who are loyal Israeli citizens; the Druze, the Circassians and to an extent the Bedouin. Danny, is the owner of a fine restaurant "Taboun al Balad" and a former member of an elite IDF unit. "I am a devout Druze but if anyone were to ask me what am I first – Israeli or Druze – I wouldn't hesitate. I am a proud Israeli who happens to be Druze. It is irrelevant whether I am a Jew or a Druze" It is an aspect of our life that is not recognized and it annoys him "Apartheid" he spits "Apartheid. That is the most ridiculous misinterpretation of Israeli life I have ever heard." If it had not been Passover I would have accepted his hospitality; amazingly there are several KOSHER restaurants in the north run by Druze and Bedouin!

From Daliyat el Carmel we headed south to Kibbutz Gaash, between Netanya and Raanana to the home of David's family, Susanna and Yitzchak Zylber who came to Israel from Cuba at the founding of the State. There were ten of them, in tiny caravans without even the barest of necessities, in the middle of a sandy coastal wasteland to protect the narrow neck of tiny Israel. I saw the pictures of how they slowly watered the land, filtering the sea salt down and fertilizing to make the barren sand dunes fertile. Today, only three of the original ten are alive, Susanna, Yitschak and their neighbour Shoshana, but one looks at this green and fertile kibbutz and back at the photos of the sandy wasteland and one recognizes the miracle of determination. Today, not only is it exquisitely beautiful and blooming but their herd of fine cows has the highest yield of any in Israel – over 60 litres! As we sat on their veranda, watching the setting sun reflecting on the calm Mediterranean Sea I couldn't help but think – only in Israel!

Our travels for the week ended in Ayn Kerem near Jerusalem where we visited "St John be Harim" the Franciscan Monastery and Church where John the Baptist was born and the well where Mary visited and rested. http://www.trekker.co.il/english/ein_kerem/. The monks were busily preparing the church for Palm Sunday and pilgrims of every nationality searched out their language on the prayer around the courtyard. Zvi counted 37 languages! The area is stunning, the village is breathtaking, the history unending and as always intertwined.

The most moving events this Passover were on the Seder night (we only have one).

One was when Valeri spoke to his children, Sheli and Tomer, of their incredible fortune in being born as Jews to whom practicing Judaism comes naturally, having been born in Israel – and reading from the Haggada at our table. Valeri and Ira came as a young couple from Russia just 17 years ago, without knowing the luxury of being able to practice their faith openly and proudly. I am so proud of our "little sister and brother".

The second was the dramatic and theatrical rendering of the Haggada by Zvi's amazing mother Ala. 95 year old Ala, whose memory is fading fast except for the numerous tragedies of her life, understands the importance of relating our history. She above all at the Seder Table knows what it was to be without our own country. She lost all her family in the Shoah and survived because her parents heard the call and sent her to study in safety in the nascent state in 1934.

The last event also related to Ala. In Daliyat el Carmel, Zvi and I were talking with a couple in our group about Jerusalem, and of Bracha Duda'i (z"l) and the Hora Dance troupe. A young woman sitting with her family, separate from our group, turned to Zvi asking about Bracha telling of how Hora had changed her life and that she is now a teacher like her parents before her. They continued speaking and it became apparent that this young woman was a student of both Ala and Kalman (Zvi's parents) and her parents were their friends too. It reminded me what Ala always says. "If two Jews meet and talk they always find they are family. And what if they don't discover they are family? It means they didn't talk long enough!"

Talking of family – the Maccabi World Union family and many friends have been praying for the recovery of Lita, WMU President Jeanne Futerans daughter, who suffered a life threatening disorder and is now miraculously on the way to recovery and coming home. What a marvelous Passover gift to the Futeran family!!!

Today the cooking restarts for the last day of Passover –we have about 16 people coming! Yesterday, recognizing the oncoming feasts, I spent time with my daughter Rachel and my littlest grand-daughter Ayala on the veranda while their Daddy took Yosef and Talia to the zoo. We watched the Tsufit, Israel's smallest bird, dart from flower to flower. The Tsufit a gorgeous iridescent black and its sweet song often wakes me gently in the morning as it sits on the bougainvillea. http://creagrus.home.montereybay.com/sunbirds.html

The first scarlet flower on the pomegranate tree is promising to open and the tiny orange tree is bursting with white sweet-scented blossom, indeed the whole veranda is bursting with colour and the promise of a fine summer. I love spring- the reawakening of nature. To make the veranda perfect for summer I will use dishwater and slops to keep the soil moist and the flowers and fruit producing – water is becoming even scarcer than peace in this area - and strongly related.

Wishing you a thoughtful and joyful Passover and Easter, in freedom.

With much love from Jerusalem, heart of the world.


Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Happy Passover


7th April 2009.

Chag Pesach Sameach

Our hearts go out to those Italians who lost their homes and their lives in the horrific earthquake which hit Italy early yesterday morning.

Our dear friends David Efron and Kathy Rundell arrive from Miami, as they do each year to be part of our family at the Seder table. Today David will dedicate the Efron Dance Center in Jerusalem in memory of his parents. The Hora Dance Troupes, young and old, have a marvelous facility to practice and meet whenever they wish in beautiful, happy surroundings. What a marvelous way to remember ones parents.

The house is ready, the table set. The Seder plate and the Haggadot in place, and apart from the inevitable sand-storm in Israel which each year successfully dirties the gleaming surfaces, all is well.

The acrid smell of cleaning fluids which hung over the country has been replaced with the aromas of fish and fowl – the type of fish dependent upon the origins of the household. Gelatinous Polish gefilte fish or spicy fish croquettes in fiery tomato sauce. The Sefardi (Spanish and Portugese) and Mizrachi (Eastern) kitchens have the advantage of using pulses and rice, but notheless the hallways tell the tale of in which Gola (Diaspora) ones family spent 2,000 years of dispersion.

Yoram Ettinger, erudite former Ambassador for Israel in the United States, writes a marvelous column each week combining an economic outlook, political tidbits and religious interpretation . This weeks "Passover Guide for the Perplexed 2009" is a must! http://yoramettinger.newsnet.co.il/Front/NewsNet/newspaper.asp

A special quiet will fall over Jerusalem tomorrow evening as an entire nation sits around a table, whether in private homes with loved ones, in a hotel, in the civic Seder for those who haven't the means to provide for themselves, to read the story of how we left slavery behind us forever. Each Pesach is linked to fear for my friend Naomi Ragen who still remembers her family's near tragedy as they prepared to partake of the Seder in the Park Hotel Netanya seven years ago. Naomi, we all wish you and all Am Yisrael a happy seder to create new memories. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2002/3/Passover%20suicide%20bombing%20at%20Park%20Hotel%20in%20Netanya

"LeShana ha'Baah be'Yerushalyim" don't forget to repeat it, sing it and do it. We will sing Chad Gadya, Only one Kid – with all the appropriate sounds – the kid's bleat, the cat's meow, the dog's bark, the stick's tapping, the fire (fire engine wow wow!), the Angel of Death (booooooooooooooh) and of course HaKodesh Baroch Hoo (G-d) who receives a huge cheer for saving us all. The Seder should be filled with joy and unanswerable questions so we never forget this story of our history.

To end I wish you my late Auntie Lena's favourite blessing

"May all your troubles be as thin as Matzo and they will surely Passover"

With much love from Jerusalem. Have a wonderful Pesach, Pascha, Easter or whatever way you choose to pray.


PS By the way Stanley, we met Irit and Itzik again yesterday. Ramat Hasharon with friends!!!!! Love you!

Friday, 3 April 2009

Shabbat Shalom from Sheila

4th April 2009.

Shabbat Shalom!

The 32nd Israeli Government was announced on April 1st and this site gives you their names, positions and biographies. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Government/Current+Government+of+Israel/
It is the largest and most expensive government in Israeli history, but the only alternative was holding new elections. I wish the new Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Government great success, for their success is Israel's success. I admit to some trepidation however – it is a shame that the position of Foreign Minister did not go to someone with international experience and a greater sense of delicacy, diplomacy and tact.

On Tuesday, after a delightful lunch with Judit and Danny Liwerant in the Caffit restaurant in the glorious Jerusalem Botanical Gardens – bursting with a rainbow of bright spring colours and elegant trees, Zvi and I drove to Tel Aviv to the Tsafta Theatre with Irit and Itzik Lev to see new production by commentator and author Efraim Sidon. The women performers were outstanding but the production missed the delicacy of clever satire and became destructive lampooning, irreverent and uncaring undergraduate absurdity. It annoyed me intensely; we have so much to be proud of. In other words it was a perfect play for the Tel Aviv audience who loved it!!

Imagine a group of friends meeting up after 40+ years! 6 Cardiffians (from Cardiff, South Wales, UK) who grew up in each others pockets, all of whom live in Israel, meet up at a coffee shop in an Australian plant nursery in Shilat near Modi'in, central Israel. Each of us said the others hadn't changed – and even though we obviously have outwardly, we suddenly became 14 years old again with no need to explain who is whom or what and when. The question was asked "What brought you here to Israel?" The others all came as young women, whether through pioneering spirit, devotion to the ideal, looking for something new or a determination to raise their children in this wonderful country. I came much later but have never regretted one second having found fulfillment. Not one of us regret the decision, all of us feel that it has enriched our lives which have widened and encompass so much more experience, understanding, depth and quality from stepping outside our comfort zones to come home. We all came home.

I raced home from Shilat my mind filled with conversations and the memories they engendered – rushed in to the apartment washed my face, grabbed Zvi and raced out again……. to Tel Aviv, waving at Shilat on the way!!!!! We were going to the Kadima Party farewell function for Ehud Olmert. Isn't it amazing how differently those who work with and are friends with a good man see that person in an entirely different light to those who simply hear gossip and news-speak? Mayor of Haifa Yona Yahav reminded us that he beat Ehud Olmert as President of the Student Council of the Hebrew University – and his assistant was none other than the now Aliza Olmert who he introduced to her husband! Minister after Minister walked to the podium and tearfully expressed their love and admiration for the man, many declaring him one of the greatest Prime Ministers Israel has known –each saying that history would be very kind to this man. Tsachi Hanegbi described him as "Navigating the ship of Israel for 3 years, through exceptionally stormy waters, in a manner of great leadership". People who did not need anything from him talked of his absolute determination to do the right thing for Israel, of his ability to make decisions, to listen and accept advice, of his incomparable analytical brain and ability to cut through all the political dross which accompanies every issue, but most of all, what I have been saying for years - each and every one of them expressed undying love for the man, the mensch and regret at the mistreatment and slurs aimed at him. Tsippi Livini said that they had their differences, some public, but that once the "discussion" was over Ehud Olmert was back to business with only one issue on his mind – the good of Israel. Former Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert stood to speak and the rowdiness of the gathering dissipated as the room fell silent. He spoke quietly, filled with emotion. "I have the strange feeling that this is the last time I will stand to make a public speech. I have very mixed feelings about leaving office, especially under the current circumstances but for the sake of the country and the party there was no other option…… It took enormous diplomatic and political effort to gather unaffiliated states for the Annapolis Summit. It was an event that branded the consciousness of millions of people around the world who realized that Israel is an existing fact. The first thing that happened when we left office was a denouncement of the process!" The outpourings of love from the room and from those who know the man well were overpowering and I pray they will strengthen him for the upcoming period. I can only hope that the slings and arrows aimed at him return to sender with force and that the Olmert family can enjoy some well earned quiet before he returns to the scene in a big way! http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1076196.html

The rain followed by gentle warming spring sun brought the spring flowers and the hedgerows are filled with colour! Red poppies, anemones and tulips; Yellow wild mustard, broom and mimosa; Purple wild rosemary and lavender; Blue harebells and pimpernels; Pink wild cyclamen, cherry trees. See for yourselves!! www.flowersinisrael.com

The cleaning is well on its way, cupboards sparkling, stove devoid of any signs of former delicacies and the silverware reflecting our pleased faces…and poor Zvi carried the umpteen boxes of Pesach (Passover) dishes up three flights of stairs from our machsan (store-room). I love the cleanliness, the newness the sense that this night is really different from all other nights yet emotionally familiar. I love tradition and knowing that we are reading the same story of freedom from slavery that my parents, their parents and their parents read to their children. I love knowing that we will eat my Zeidy's recipe for Charosis (the mortar) and tell everyone how he used to go into the garden to grate the fiery horseradish because I couldn't bear his tears; the table set with the white and gold china that Kalman, Zvi's late father, received as meagre compensation for their family home in Bialystok, Poland; my parents seder dish, lovingly stands in the centre of events even though they are long gone; the inevitable hard boiled eggs in salt water and the various ridiculous explanations. I love that we will eat gefilte fisch, kneidlach soup, roast chicken and roast veggies just as I did as a child. It is all about the aromas, the memories they evoke and the incredible Jewishness of the combination. This year our own children are not with us for Seder night but we do have Ira and Valeri, with their wonderful children Tomer and Sheli. Ira and Valeri came from Russia just a year after I came to Israel and we adopted them as our family and they us. Life's cycles are miraculous – Zvi started the world struggle for Soviet Jewry and 27 years later Ira and Valeri came from Russia, became our family, built themselves a successful life, had two amazing children and then went back to Russia as emissaries of the Jewish Agency to bring others into the cycle. Now they are back home and we are very happy they are at our table. As we sing "le Shana ha ba'ah b'yerushalyim" (Next year in Jerusalem), unlike our forefathers we don’t have fear and doubt – we will be here!

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem – I swear that the city is gleaming even whiter after all the Pesach cleaning!!!!
With love