Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Mr President - Open letter to President Obama on Remembrance Day



Dear Mr President, Mr Obama

Today is Remembrance Day in Israel and the only television or radio programmes tell the stories of the families left behind, memories of their loved ones who died for their country. The Knesset station station shows names and photographs of each and every one of those who died and gentle, sad songs tell the stories of those lost for the full 24 hours, from the eve of Remembrance Day until the following sunset - so that each and every one of those who fought for Israel from the very beginning until today; from before the founding of the State until now when our very existence is questioned. When one sees the elderly parents who mourn their child, yet have enormous pride in what he/she did or the children who never knew their parents other than to go to their graves; young widows, brothers, sisters, school friends all of whom grew up with memories of one whose children were never born and whose life was barely lived.

Schoolchildren stand in schoolyards holding ceremonies appropriate to their age, wearing white and standing to attention during the siren listening to the stories of children in their school who lost family members. Today in Israel everyone comes together to honour the dead of many wars, we become one people; Jew, Christian, Druze, Bedouin, we all lost loved ones.

The ceremonies, both for those who died within the IDF and for those who died as a result of acts of terror are held in the presence of the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief of Staff, religious leaders and many diplomatic and parliamentary representatives. The ceremony for those who died in horrific terror attacks is separate yet part of this day - something you could do too because you too have victims of terror.

I well remember after Vietnam was the absolute disdain with which America greeted its returning soldiers, no matter how brave they were or the horrors that they suffered in the diabolical guerrilla war the fought, it was only Mi Lai that Americans spoke about. I believe it was a beginning for a loss of values that are hard fought. The USA has many wars as do we, although yours are held many thousands of miles from home and ours are just beyond our frail borders and sometimes within those borders. You fought WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, now the Middle East and yet you have nothing like Remembrance Day that touches the heart and soul of an entire nation.

I just feel that in order to redeem what there is of true American Pride, without the racism that often accompanies it, is to honour those who died preserving the American way of life that now affords freedom to all. 
Just a thought - as I sit and ponder your situation across the Atlantic as we mourn those who died and honour their lives yet prepare ourselves to celebrate the freedom they enabled us to enjoy with a huge national Independence Day celebration tonight.

With deep respect Mr President

Sheila Raviv, Jerusalem, ISRAEL

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Israel at 64 - Eshet Chayil


24th April 2012

Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzma'ut
Remembrance Day and Independence Day

Israel at 64 – Eshet Chayil

I often describe Israeli society as schizophrenic, we accept the trials of life but refuse to be beaten down. Our emotions run the gamut from deep sadness to joy with barely a breath between. This is most apparent as we lament our losses tonight and tomorrow, the loss of lives cut short by wars we never wanted nor called upon ourselves. Long before Israel was declared a state by the United Nations vote in 1947 our enemies chose war not jaw - a constant war of attrition, a slow and painful battle against incursions and bombings and more recently of calumny. We mourn those who died in uniform and those who died as a result of terror. The nationwide wail of siren aptly express our deep sadness and mourning.

Tomorrow night a huge crowd will sit on Mount Herzl for the State ceremonies. As the changing of the guard takes place, the proud flag bearers presenting the colours the final taps are played and as the sun goes down the mood changes, lightens and bursts into song and dance, fireworks and parades – we celebrate the Independence of this beautiful land our heroes died to create and maintain.

Israel is a 64 year old woman, growing more beautiful every day her character maturing and her abilities multiplying. She invents, creates and innovates, reaching out to the world to help and sustain those less fortunate without thought of reward. Every day she rises above the beatings and emotional abuse of a cruel world to reach higher and higher levels of Tikkun Olam.

Israel, beautiful woman of 64 years. Every day you show us how to live, how to overcome and how to educate and be educated; every day we examine ourselves and our society without casting judgement on those societies which pass judgement on you; every day you embrace and adopt new children and protect them with intensity, ensuring the pain is momentary; you tend and nurse the children of those who would kill you in the hope that one day they will learn to love; you reach out to nations in pain and send teams who can ease their suffering; you are a fine woman, a fine example. Israel you are Eshet Chayil – a woman of worth.

Israel's Anthem is Hatikva – The Hope. Hope for peace, hope for safe haven, hope for existence, hope for us her people. We have no other country so let's ensure this one has all the support she so truly deserves.
Ayn li Eretz Acheret- I have no other land

With love from Jerusalem, Capital City of the Jewish people

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

120418 Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day


April 18th 2012

Yom ha Shoah – Holocaust Memorial Day

Dancing under the gallows.
Alice Herz-Sommer, at 108, is the oldest Holocaust Survivor in the world. Her secret is in her music, which she still plays for hours every day, and the fact that she loves people. Her neighbour in North London laughingly tells us that people “stand under her window to hear her music”. Surviving Theresienstadt she understands the meaning of evil but chooses to laugh and live and play her music for the multitude of visitors at her London flat every day. “I love people and every day in life is beautiful”

Artist Itzchak Belfer passed away at the age of 98. He was a survivor who discovered how to express the horror through his art, through infinite patience and creating beauty out of the ultimate ugliness.

In the summer of 1942, as the persecution of Belgium's Jews began, an underground Jewish group, in cooperation with the Belgian underground, set out to rescue Jewish children by hiding them all around the country. The most active team consisted of twelve women, mostly non-Jewish, who hid some 3,000 children. This admirable clandestine campaign was unique in the complexity of its structure and the degree of its success. The only living member of that team is Andrée Geulen, and on September 4, children who she had saved celebrated her ninetieth birthday. The celebration included a screening of a song which singer Keren Hadar performed in her honour.

The song, composed just before the event, was the impulsive composition of one of the hidden children — Shaul Harel, a professor of paediatric neurology.

One warm summer day the Harel family was at the Dead Sea Resort for a performance of the opera Aïda at Massada. Shaul Harel was in the jacuzzi and in the warm water he wondered what gift he could bring to Andrée for her birthday. "After all, she already has everything. After the war, she married a Jewish attorney, they were blessed with two daughters and with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and to this day she is surrounded by the love of the children she rescued." Suddenly, the warmth of the water brought words tumbling into his mind and he burst into the hotel room and asked his wife Dalia to transcribe his thoughts so they would not "get away" from him and soon a poem was on paper telling Andrée's story. Shaul's knew that the poem should be set to music and his favorite singer, Keren Hadar, should perform it. Keren, in turn, recommended Rafi Kadishzon, a prolific and well-known composer; Rafi recommended Dan Almagor, a master of the Hebrew word, to adjust the text for the music. This is the result.

This is a tribute to the heroes of the Holocaust – those who risked their own lives to save others.

The theme linking all three of these stories is survival, is the ultimate revenge of thriving and laughing and making music.
Tonight is the eve of Yom ha Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) in Israel. We will pray, we will honour, hold ceremonies and we will stand to attention as the entire country falls into a reverent silence as the wail of the siren envelops us all in our mourning of those who could not live to see this day. Buses stop in their tracks, cars stop where they are whether on by-way or highway as the country hangs its head and sheds a tear while standing to attention until the eerie wail of the siren fades away.

I never met anyone who died in the Shoah, nor did my children, but I will honour them and those who lived to tell their story by repeating their stories and ensuring that my grandchildren do not forget what was and what could be again if we are not very careful. We are our collective history and we must use it to make us a better people making this a better world. We should not accept derision and dehumanisation any more – we have pride in who we are and we must stand up to bullies not bow to them.

May the souls of the millions whose graves are unmarked rest in peace and may this world learn from its mistakes.

With love from Jerusalem, heart of our dreams and prayers – my home, our Israel.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Shabbat Shalom Chag Pesach Sameach


12th April, 2012

Moadim le Simcha, Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach

Imagine the scene, a famous German writer and poet comes to Israel in the late 60's and the cultural officer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is asked by the Ministry to arrange events for him. “He denounces the Shoah, he wants to come and talk to young Israelis to support Israel” was basically what they told him. The Cultural Officer of the Hebrew University was Zvi Raviv and the German writer was Gunther Grass. Only 4 years ago Grass finally admitted he was in the Waffen SS during the Holocaust and every word he told the Israelis was a lie. This is the man who received every prize for literature and he is the “trusted” source of criticism, writing a poem calling Israel the source of world unrest. Yeah right.

On a day when groups and individuals are coming to Israel by plane in the “Flytilla” in support of the “Palestinian People” against the cruel and tyrannical Israeli Government I wonder why the general public is so ready to accept the invented truth over the real truth despite the obvious. Pilar Rahola, the lauded Spanish journalist and politician feels the same. “The fact is that in Israel nobody is being massacred for demonstrating, there is no dictator killing the civilian population and the bellicose conflict of decades continues to be nourished for all eternity by Israel’s neighbors in a war that never ends. I include the Iranian menace of massive destruction and although missiles may daily land in Israel amidst its population and fanatical groups of an Islamist army in the South and North continue to rearm, when Israel fires a single bullet, our streets erupt in indignation. Israel has never had the right of self-defense and for many, neither the right to exist. But when the bullets fall are those of old time friends of the Socialist International, those that until a short time ago were considered as the liberators of peoples, - What a powerful silence! “

Mitt Romney is the Republican Candidate for the Presidential race. I tell you time and again that I know little of the system int eh States – so very different to ours – but he seems a very able and honest contender for the title. Let's see what the next year brings with a confrontation seemingly inevitable with Iran.

The Egyptian Presidential race is on and there are two feasible candidates who will prevent that country falling into the utter chaos of its neighbours and ten candidates in total.

Talking of Egypt..................
I have come to the conclusion that Pesach in Israel proves that we still can't keep still – we wander every day of the chag mostly to the north but many still walk around the desert! Most people live in apartments and do not have gardens for children to play in they take them out – anywhere!!!

The roads are packed bumper to bumper, and museums, exhibitions and activities are jam packed to say nothing of the parks – every conceivable space has families eating and billowing smoke from the “mangal” or barbeque! I took my daughter and grandchildren to Mini Israel alongside another 30,000 people!! It was hard to see the miniature buildings, prophets tomb, Tel Aviv tower or River Jordan baptismal site for the crush of humanity! The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, Nayot Kdumim, Haifa has its Flower Show, Holon has a festival at the Childrens Museum, the caves of stalactites and stalagmites at Beit Guvrin and an archaeological dig.

Traffic was enhanced in Tel Aviv when it was discovered that Bono the lead singer of U2 and genuine human rights fighter was in Tel Aviv – iphones appeared from every pocket for photo ops as he ate in Max Brenner on Rothschild Blvd and visited the youngsters at all the Tel Aviv bars and clubs.

If only Emma Thompson thought as deeply about what genuinely happens in this part of the world as Bono does. Here is a wonderful open letter in response to Emma Thompson's inane and ignorant remarks concerning the visit of Habima to the Globe theatre festival.

Last night Zvi and I went to a phenomenal show with raconteur Jackie Levi and legendary Israeli singer Hanan Yovel in Tsidkiyahus Cave situated between Flowers Gate and Damascus Gate. We drove to Mount Herzl where we, together with an awful lot of others, waited moments for the light railway to begin its journey down through Beit Hakerem, Kiriat Moshe, over the Calatrava Bridge to the Central Bus Station, on past Mahane Yehuda Market, down Jaffa Street and finally to our destination at the Damascus Gate. Each of Jerusalems Gates has a name appropriate to its purpose. The Damascus Gate is thus named because the caravans to Damascus left from there. We walked for a few moments and arrived at the tiny entrance to Tsidkiyahus (Zedekiah) Cave.

Walking in the narrow entrance one is shocked at the sheer enormity of the central cave and the multitude of natural caves leading off it was staggering. Huge and ancient, its towering domed ceiling elicited thoughts, ones imagination running wild imagining who walked here in Biblical times. The central cavern was set incongruously, with stage and seating and cushions thrown on dhurries on the sandy ground. The varied audience began to arrive, welcomed by the inimitable Michli who runs the ancient sites of the Old City. Suddenly Hanan Yovel began to sing, almost prayers, and Jackie Levi began to tell tales of Jerusalem, his childhood and made us roll about in laughter as Hanan Yovels songs brought a tear to our eyes. Jackie Levi noticed that before the show began a number of men stood facing what they thought was east to pray the afternoon prayers. “Why did they face east”? he asked “here in the only place in the world where you just face upwards because we are directly below the Holy Temple” As Hana Yovel was singing Shir HaMaalot – I looked around and above me at the miracle of a cave so ancient, so magical, so huge and the privilege of sitting there listening to a beautiful song sung by a true Israeli singer.

This year Pesach is “extended” because of Shabbat. When Shabbat goes out the Maimuna begins. Everything eaten at this Moroccan festival is sweet. Sweet cakes, sugary fruits, sugary vegetables, sugared almonds sugared, led first and foremost by the mufletta – a crepe drowned in sugar syrup and honey! Everything with wonderful loud eastern music. Maimuna celebrates life!

I must run. Our grand-daughter Amit is asleep on our bed, the last cake is in the oven and the myriad of salads ready for tomorrows visitors. Matza Brei a la Zvi will be a major part of the menu but you already know I cannot let anyone out of the house without at least 6 salads and 4 cakes!!!

As a final treat here is a wonderful video entitles “4 minutes in Jerusalem” produced by The Jerusalem Student Philharmonic and Bezalel Academy of Design. I loved it!

Chag Sameach, Shabbat shalom and much love from Jerusalem, heart and soul of our world.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Holy Easter Chag Sameach


April 8th 2012

To all my Christian friends, of whom there are many and much loved, I wish you a Holy Easter.

I apologise for missing Good Friday but I was busy cooking for the Passover Seder. Let's celebrate our similarities and accept our differences with love and tolerance and remember how close we are.

On Good Friday the Old City of Jerusalem was filled with white clothed pilgrims, priests and participants in the procession to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, through the winding narrow streets, along the Via Dolorosa and the stations of the Cross.

It was a truly emotive scene, redolent with the heavy, smokey scent of incense and thousands of white candles carefully held as the procession, wound through the ancient alleyways of this incredible city.

It never fails to amaze me, as I tread these ancient stones, that this is where King David wrote his psalms and Jesus walked, speaking gently to the hearts of ordinary folk, determinedly bringing social reform and hope.

Each of the 52 Christian denominations has its own rites. The Greek Orthodox perform the Easter ritual on Easter Eve in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the Miracle of Holy Fire whereby the fire of G-d is sent to earth, bursting forth of flame at the sacred tomb, lighting the candle held in the hand of the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem. Upon receiving the miraculous flame, he passes it to his followers who are throughout the church.

The Anglicans perform the Washing Of The Feet Easter Ceremony At Anglican St George Cathedral, Jerusalem
The Ethiopian Orthodox perform the ceremony in the exquisite Ethiopian Church on Ethiopia Street off the Street of the Prophets
The Catholic Church in Jerusalem

Passover, Easter, Jerusalem – we must celebrate our differences not just accept them because we have so very much more in common than we could ever find to separate us.

Our Passover Seder was amazing, small but amazing, and as we recited the age old story of slavery, bravery, plagues and freedom I couldn't help but remember that our freedom was hard earned and well worth celebrating. As I think of Moses standing on Mount Nebo, unable to enter the Promised Land because of his former disbelief, I recognise how lucky I am, not only because I too stood on Mount Nebo but because I then came home, to Jerusalem.

Joining us at the Seder Table were our friends David Efron and Kathy from Florida and Lauren Efron, Davids wonderful daughter who made Aliya this year and read her portions in Hebrew. Kol ha Kavod Libah!! Also Ira and Valeri Silver, who made Aliya from Moscow 19 years ago and gave us Sheli and Tomer, their amazing children who have not missed a Raviv Seder since their birth; Amiad, Judith, Zamir, Esti and Yagil completed the Kahal. Zvi sang beautifully and yes, we did the cat's chorus of Only One Kid. Maybe one year we will record it on youtube!

The house is covered in a snow of matza crumbs and I am happy. My children were not with me but I know above all else that they love each other, support each other and will never ever let anyone break the bond of their shared womb, shared life, shared love and shared traditions. I was thrilled that each of my children called to ask for family recipes or told me that they were making them. It brings my parents, grandparents and traditions into our lives wherever we may be. I spoke to my siblings and felt their love - family, family family.

So to all of you, I wish you Chag Sameach – a Happy Festival. Whether it be Passover or Easter – we are FAMILY.

With much love from Jerusalem,


Friday, 6 April 2012

Shabbat Shalom Chag Pesach Sameach


April 6th 2012

Shabbat Shalom and a Happy and Kosher Festival of Freedom

This is going to be a very fast and short letter – my cooking is underway but unfinished; my dishes are changed; the shopping is over, the cakes baking, the fridge full and everything is wonderful just waiting for the table to be set and the Seder plate to be placed with its special story.

In the meantime let me get the news out of the way before we move to the happy events!!!!
The International Court of Human Rights in The Hague decided that the Palestinians can't lodge complaints because it is not a country!!! The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court says the PA cannot file complaints against Israel because it is not a state but rather an observer on the United Nations. Finally someone noticed!!!

The Globe Theatre, London's Shakepearian theatre, invited the Habima Theatre, among other troupes, to perform in a festival. The usual “yafeh nefesh” - beautiful soul actors protested because Habima actors perform in the “occupied territories”. That Emma Thompson is an ignoramus doesn't surprise me but that Mike Leigh, a Jew, signed the boycott angers me. Strangely enough his ex-wife, the marvellous Alison Steadman is quite the opposite! The Globe Theatre thankfully believes in free speech and refused to bow to pressure and Habima is performing in the festival

A Grad missile fell on on Eilat two nights ago. It fell near the housing areas rather than the hotels and no-one was injured but yet another missile on Israel that no-one, especially Emma Thompson or Mike Leigh, seems to be bothered by. Hamas denies all connection to the event and denounced the action. It comes to something when the moderates in Gaza are now Hamas!!!!

It certainly appears that Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican Candidate for the Presidential elections. I don't fully understand American politics but although it is rare for an incumbent to lose the elections Mitt Romney seems to be an exceptionally strong contender with an excellent leadership record. It has been fascinating watching the debates!

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, oft quoted in my letters, is one of my favourite people because he intellectualises our beautiful religion and makes sense of the nuances! Here he responds to Thomas Friedmans article in the NY Times which quotes an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study showing that there is a negative relationship between the money countries extract from natural resources and the knowledge and skills of their high school populations. Rabbi Rosen responds with Israels achievements to disprove the claims!

Two nights ago we went to a wedding that was held in a “Bedouin Camp” called Eretz Bereshit, out in the Judean Hills. The chuppa or wedding canopy was made of rough hewn wood and white sheeting and as the groom completed the tradition of breaking the glass, the sun was going down over the barren, eerie, incredibly beautiful Judean Hills. It was magical! It was the most Jerusalem of weddings, so spiritual and natural. The parents Ora and Avner joined Zvi's choir to sing ot the young couple and celebrate their love. It was wonderful!

In the week leading up to Passover, Jerusalem takes on a whole new personality. The supermarkets develop entire shrouded areas as the Chametz or non-Passover foods are hidden from the clientele and new, delicious foods appear. Street corners sport old men sitting beside large balloons of gas attached to enormous “pilers” or metal vats of boiling water so the locals to dip their pots, dishes and cutlery to purify it for passover. I admit that I do my own “kashering” not wishing to share this utensil bath with others! I collect three perfect stones, boil my water while heating the stones and then put the stones into the water causing it to bubbe wildly before putting my utensils in to make them ready for Passover! Not only the dishes change - the aromas have changed too. The usual chicken soup is obvious but the aromas of Eastern and Western foods become even more diverse since Eastern Jews can eat pulses (including rice) and Ashkenazi Jews do not making food purchases very complex.

The centre-piece of the Seder table is the Seder plate, ours came from my parents home, beautifully decorated with small bowls to contain the salt water, horseradish root, bone, burned egg, parsley, Charoset (combining) and grated horseradish each with their own relevance and meaning referring to the crossing of the Red Sea, the mortar of the Pyramids, the tears of slavery and new life and spring. Our table will have a white cloth, 14 place settings using the dinner service which is all that remains of Zvi's fathers family from Poland. This is the first year we don't have Ala, Zvi's amazing mother with us and it will be sad but our memories of her reading her sections loud and clear, in the voice of a fine actress, leading the Seder as she always led in her life. My adored Zeidy, Joseph Glicker will be remembered as we eat the grated horseradish and his delicious charoseth (grated apples, ground almond, wine, cinnamon and finely chopped lettuce).

After the blessings over the seder dish and the wine, Zvi's fabulous bass-baritone lifting our hearts as he starts the proceedings. As each of us sings the familiar blessings along with him leading to the breaking of the matzo in half to hide for the children to find, we will eat the hard boiled eggs in salt water we move on to the Chicken soup and kneidlach. As if that isn't enough we move on to the main course of baby chicken, shoulder of lamb, meat balls, roasties, salads and sauces. Dessert – for those who still have space, will be fresh orange salad, chocolate cake and stewed fruit.

I love the second half of the Seder. My work done as the guests are replete, we settle down to welcome the Prophet Elijah and to sing silly songs about young goat, Chad Gadya, sung in Aramaic, we make the sounds of the various creatures and beings as we go from verse to verse with the Cat (miouw), the Dog (woof woof) the Bull (moo) etc etc ending with the Angel of Death (booooh very loud) and of course The Almighty (Yeah Whoops of joy and hands in the air!). We count the ways of faith and end with the eternal prayer NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM. Next year in Jerusalem was our prayer, the prayer of the Diaspora, but we in Jerusalem and no matter what anyone in the State Department tries to tell us Jerusalem is our capital city – always was always will be!!!

The young soldiers of the IDF, especially the lone soldiers, wanted to wish you a happy Pesach. Enjoy this wonderful video
This is the festival of freedom - freedom from slavery, freedom to be Jews - indeed to celebrate being both free and Jewish as we relate the story of our liberation. Today looks so depressing with anti-Semitism on the rise and anti-Israel actions growing daily, but remember, never forget – the honey and the sting, the bitter and the sweet – over all these we are here, we are here and strong and vibrant and thriving. Who'da thought it?

As my house is cleaned, my food cooked and spring is springing over Jerusalem I thank G-d for the beauty set out before me as I stand on my veranda and view the wonders we have created.

Shabbat shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach dear friends. Wherever you may be
With love Sheila