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. 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."

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. 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.

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.


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