Friday, 8 May 2009

Shabbat Shalom from Sheila


8th May, 2009.

Shabbat Shalom!

Israel is preparing for the Papal visit of Pope Benedictus 16th to the Holy Land. Maps of roads to be closed to allow him clear passage are available on the internet and are posted on Post Office notice boards; police barriers are in place ready to close said roads; volunteer traffic police are cleaning their uniforms and the residents of Jerusalem are working out how on earth to get to work. The Israeli Philatelic Society has published an outstanding set of commemorative stamps as a truly beautiful tribute and the Ministry of the Interior and the relevant Police Department are swamped by Christians from the PA wanting permits to visit Jerusalem. Officially there is great excitement; the people are a little less sure.

When His Holiness Pope John Paul, Karol Józef Wojtyła, came to Jerusalem he brought with him concern and love for Israel, a sense of deep spirituality and a rich knowledge and understanding from his youth in Poland. He brought enormous joy and hope and left us feeling that there was a friend in the Vatican, a dear friend. This Pope has a different background and a less open outlook and Israelis are concerned. I hope and pray that we are wrong, that he will understand and that his advisors will tell him of the plight of Catholics, indeed all Christians, in the Palestinian Authority. If he will listen to the last remaining Christians, predominantly Catholics, in Beit Hanina, Beit Jalla, Bethlehem and Ramalla then maybe he will finally speak out and save them and their churches. There is fear that the Vatican will claim land around Jerusalem (funnily enough not the Temple Mount which the very essence of Christianity through its basis in Judaism) yet is not willing to give up some 800 Jewish manuscripts and many other precious antiquities held since the Inquisition.

I pray for a peaceful, spiritual visit and I wish his Israeli parishioners a time of deep reflection, prayer and hope and His Holiness Pope Benedictus 16th a long reign filled with compassion and determination to look beyond Rome to Jerusalem.

The new Government and the Ministry of Finance put forward a financial programme which may help to put more money into the State coffers but is extremely harsh on the poorer classes. Health Minister Littman is particularly incensed at the loss of funding for hospitals and health funds after the current government broke the contract of Mr. Olmerts' government to improve Health care and provide more neighbourhood clinics. Minister Litzman and is now fighting tooth and nail to ensure comprehensive and sufficient health cover for all classes.

President of Israel Shimon Peres is a man of peace, a great statesman and a determined and outspoken proponent of Israel. He made Israel's untenable position clear to President Barak Obama in the hope of reaching out to a man who may understand that Israel is not to blame and he could not hold back his anger at the United Nations clear bias and unequal process of blame while talking before Ban Ki- Moon, Secretary General of that once august organization now tainted by oil-power and greed. The one-sided condemnation of Israel during and after Operation Cast Lead, in the full knowledge that United Nations posts and aid convoys were constantly attacked and used as cover by Hamas was the cause of this exceptional outburst. Thank you Mr. President, at least someone is speaking out and being heard, albeit in a deeply echoing cavern.

Israels young and handsome new Minister of Tourism, Stas Misezhnikov, is determined to woo you to the most beautiful country on earth. He intends "selling" Israel and her multitudinous delights to the world. He intends to ensure that the glory of the Galil, the magic of the Sea of Galilee, the beautiful beaches of the Mediterranean coast, the stark wonder of the desert, the fun of Tel Aviv, the history, stones, stores and vivaciousness of Jerusalem and the sheer magnificence of its Old City are promoted.

Zvi's cousins Ruth and Billy are visiting from Mexico, don't worry they left Mexico 3 weeks ago and are not infected, and although they are regular visitors they are stunned by the changes in the short while since their last visit. Israel is vibrant, modern, changing, exciting and very beautiful. No road is built without phenomenal landscaping, no town is built without thought of greenery and statuary, no shopping centre without sculptures and colour….. even the Hi-Tech park near our home was built with wide white steps leading to a lawn and terracing and the inevitable sculptures. In other words, for anyone who has not been here or was here many years ago, Israel has changed beyond recognition, and all for the better!

Yesterday the Cardiff 6 met again in Shilat, the industrial area near Modiin. Inside a huge garden centre the coffee shop nestles in a shaded corner, 6 women who, to outsiders, may be past their first flush, suddenly became 16 again. All 6 of us, find it hard to share with our families our satisfaction with our decision to be in Israel. One friend came at 17, three in their 20's, one in her 30's and me, I came in my 40's. We all feel that while there was nothing pushing us away from what we had there was a strong magnet pulling us here to Israel; that is what is so hard to explain. It is innate, it is fulfilling and our homecoming was inevitable. Ain li Eretz Aheret – I have no other country watch it – it has translation for the wonderful words.

Economics and financial disasters seem to be on everyone's lips and around every corner – wherever you may be. One can see the wisdom of the Jewish way of handling ones possessions- one third in land, one third in cash and one third in investment. No matter how small ones stockpile, it sounds pretty sensible to me. I always say that if a pessimist predicts calamity often enough it will ultimately become reality……..Jack de Lowe sent me this quote which proves the point!!! “Economists are pessimists: they predicted 8 of the last 3 depressions.”

It is now 15:30 Erev Shabbat (Sabbath Eve) and the traffic is thinning, car parks emptying, stores closing their doors, buses turning into the depot, workmen packing up their tools as the aromas of each household's kitchen remind them it is worth returning home in time to rest before the Friday night meal. Crisp white tablecloths gleam on tables already burgeoning with a huge variety of salads. The Israeli table is always filled with salads, chopped roasted aubergines, grated zucchini and egg, (Zvi's invention and apparently "the best salad in the world", roasted red pepper, ratatouille, noodle and vegetable, tomato and garlic, home pickled cucumbers and peppers, babganouche and the king of Israeli salads -finely chopped cucumbers, red peppers and tomatoes in fine local olive oil and fresh lemon juice with a touch of purple onion and parsley.

Now is the time for a slafstunder, siesta, nap, kip, shut-eye…….. in other words Shabbat Shalom and much love from sleepy Jerusalem, ready to wake up and don her white clothes to welcome the bride of Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom and much love from Jerusalem


Friday, 1 May 2009

Shabbat Shalom from Sheila


1st May 2009.

Shabbat Shalom to you! I hope this missive finds you well and that you have not encountered any type of flu – be it Swine, Avian, Asian, Hong Kong, or any other variety!!!

This was a terrific week! Israelis are not allowed to dwell on their sorrow or their pain, it is not in our collective nature and when the pain seems overwhelming one must pick oneself up, as a nation, and move on to hope and the hope-filled future. Our national anthem is Hope – Hatikva.

The preparations for Remembrance Day are intense. Families of the fallen from the wars with our neighbours and the terrible war of attrition called terror – congregate at the military and local cemeteries to gain solace from their togetherness as the sad words of the mourner's kaddish are sung. The main ceremony is held at the Western Wall Plaza – the Kotel – as the siren wails over the entire country. This year we have a new IDF Chazan, a young technological officer who was found singing his morning prayers and immediately made the Chief Chazan (Cantor) of the IDF. I thought that no-one could ever replace the haunting rendition of Arieh Braun but this young man brought tears to the eyes of a nation.

And so to Mount Herzl where the closing ceremony of Remembrance Day runs directly into the joy of Independence Day – Yom HaAtzma'ut. The ceremony of the changing of the guard, this year the flag bearers are the Navy, and the parade of pride as the young soldiers spell out the words "Tikvah" "Israel" and "Shalom" to the emblems of Israel, the Star of David and the Menorah (seven branched candlestick). The young soldiers march off the central stage and the young dancers enter in joy and celebration. Singers, dancers, musicians and of course the 12 torch lighters representing the 12 tribes. This year the torch lighters were from Tel Aviv to celebrate 100 years since the founding of Tel Aviv. The announcements suggested that Tel Aviv was the first Jewish City built from scratch by Meir Dizengoff but I thought that Petah Tikva was the first – maybe you can put me and the nation right!!!!

From Mount Herzl, where we collected Danit Farwell, a Boston Israeli friend, and set off for the long drive to Moshav Kadima near Netanya. For the entire length of the long drive the night sky was lit with the multi-coloured stars of firework displays as we passed town, village and city. We arrived at our friends and sang Israeli songs, ate excellent Israeli food, told Israeli jokes and danced Israeli dances…… with a group of people who love this country. It was amazing. We arrived home at 04:30 (am) and were amazed to see that the centre of Jerusalem was still alive with youngsters out enjoying life and all the coffee shops, clubs and bars were still open!!!!

The next morning, very late, we crawled out of bed and prepared to set off on a guided tour of Neve Ilan and the entire area of the original Halutzim (pioneers) who opened up the Jerusalem corridor and made life possible for the Jerusalemites who had no access to food and drink after being cut off by the Arab invasion. As we stood overlooking the area with our guide and elderly man walked up to us and began to explain what went on – he had a book of faded photographs and spoke animatedly – he was the original settler of Neve Ilan and one of the greatest heroes. A group of traditional young French people 17 boys and 14 girls came to Israel and settled this highly unprotected hill, under attack from the surrounding Arab villages. They not only staved off each attack they built a beautiful moshav which became the most important strategic point on the road to Jerusalem and opened up Shaar haGai. After a fascinating and extremely dusty tour, partly by foot and partly by car, we wound up next to Shaar ha Gai and sang the wonderful words of Bab el Wad Here are the lyrics and the original song by Yaffa Yarkoni with video clips of that time It seemed incredible that only 61 years ago there was nothing in this place – it was utterly deserted on rocky treeless hills. The KKL planted over 24 million trees on land throughout Israel which they bought and paid for with the money given by a Diaspora hungry for a land to call its own; planting Israel, making the land fertile and the Jerusalem hills green and shady. Israel is the only country in the world with a net growth in its forestation. Today a huge highway passes beside this hard-won passage to Jerusalem but the remains of the armoured cars still stand as testament to the incredible bravery of those who fought to give us a future. We have so much to be proud of today and so much that we owe to the pioneers who were willing to endure the toughest of conditions to ensure our future.

As with any Jewish affair, after hiking around the site of victories, losses and bravery – we all went to David and Dana's home to eat!!! Again, delicious Israeli food – falafel, grilled meats and kebabs, a cornucopia of salads and fresh vegetables and of course dessert – who can live without dessert? We sang Israeli songs of yesteryear to the marvelous piano of Betty, then tired but satisfied wended our way home. As I got home I walked out onto the veranda and amongst the flowers and blossom I felt a tear come to my eyes at a different sound- that of flags and bunting in the breeze, each veranda in our building paying respect to the past and showing their commitment to the future. Blue and white all the way. Your commitment to the future should be to buy blue and white- indeed demand it from your local stores….. please.

To complete our joy and excitement yesterday morning our family grew by one gorgeous little girl. Zvi's son Leor and his excellent wife Shiri gave birth to a little girl. Thank G-d mother and baby are fine and Amit is very happy with her little sister….so far!

Here in Israel we have two major expressions "Rak b'smachot" (we should meet only on joyous occasions) and "Toda le El" (Thank G-d). I pray that we will meet "Rak be Smachot" and "Toda le El" for every child born and joyous occasion we have to celebrate.

With much love from this amazing 61 lady of Israel who grows more beautiful each day and each year as we make the desert bloom, the bare rocky hills green and the vineyards produce some of the best wine in the world – long gone are the days of Palwin Kiddush wine – these days it is Merlot, Shiraz and Sauvignon!!!

Shabbat Shalom