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. 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. . Elie Wiesel, man of peace and dignity, Holocaust survivor, was publicly insulted yet stood proud in the face of his berater.

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" 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 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!

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 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.

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.

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