Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Letter from Jerusalem


27th June 2012

Shabbat Shalom! No I didn't get confused, I know that today is Wednesday not Thursday and certainly not Friday but since this is a special week and tomorrow is the wedding day of Zvi's eldest son Amiad and his lovely bride Noga – I don't think I will have time for anything, even writing to you!!

This was a strange week in which the Moslem Brotherhood won the Egyptian election by a whisper and while their new leader told the world that he would keep all peace treaties while one of his first internal statements was that Jerusalem would be the capital of Egypt .

In the meantime Syrian dictator Assad continued slaughtering his citizens to feeble complaints from the world and missiles rained upon Southern Israel, to ensure a few headlines for the Gazans who felt left out of the news, then another Hudna as they promised to stop! Israel received a visit from Vladimir Putin which resulted in the worst traffic jams I can ever remember a visit to Netanya and a surprise for my son-in-law Igal who went to the Western Wall to pray and found himself next to the Russian visitor!!!!

The BBC realised it made a mistake for callously ignoring the heinous killing of the Fogel family last year and the Israeli police arrested the criminal who defaced, among other places, Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum. Surprise surprise they were Neturei Karta

Germany decided that circumcision is brutal while Israel trained African female doctors to circumcise baby boys to help prevent AIDS in a programme called Operation Abraham. Which is the is a product of the Jerusalem AIDS Project (JAIP).

In the USA Congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen chairwoman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs said she would not be surprised if reports that Hezbollah has established a base in Cuba are true. The Castro regime has long been designated by the State Department as a State Sponsor of Terrorism,” Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement Wednesday.Read more: When will the USA understand that Israel is just the hors d'ouevres and the USA is the entree?

The Jewish Agency Board of Governors meetings took place in Jerusalem and hopefully good decisions were made to improve the Israel Diaspora relations and greater understanding of our interdependence. London is racing to be ready for the upcoming Olympics and we all watched the Euro Football, whether voluntarily or forcibly!!! And............... and........ of course the Raviv Family celebrated and continues to celebrate the wedding of Amiad and Noga.

Last Friday was phenomenal! Zvi and I set out to meet our guests, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv buses, at the entrance to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Gavat Ram campus, loaded with bottles of water and baseball style caps with the bride and grooms names for each of the participants. We set off right on time, the Tel Aviv bus under the supervision of Esti and the Jerusalem bus Eitan. First stop was at the incredible site of the City of David in the Old City of Jerusalem where we split into three groups, 2 in Hebrew and one in English. It was a tough walk, in intense heat but no one complained, the sheer joy of listening to incredible guides and learning about our history, our ancient history, the past which made us what we are today. Walking in the steps of the Bible. Ir David's tortuous path led us down from the Dung Gate, down down to the original David's City, the wall's still apparent and recent archaeological finds show the way people lived, our people lived. Many Arab houses have grown around this site over the last 90 years and today it is called Silwan. Until 90 years ago there were just three houses on the land now occupied by the Arab neighbourhood of Silwan, at the spot where our ancestors would come to gather before climbing, ascending to the Temple Mount. Those of us who could not walk any further took the shuttle bus back up to the Visitors Centre while others continued through the tunnels to emerge victorious as they ran to the bus!

Next came the toughest part of our journey, trying to arrive at Emek Tzurim through the unreal traffic and horrendous parking (actually car abandonment) of the masses who came to pray on the Temple Mount (Harm el Sharif) at Al Aqusa Mosque. Gosh there were the worst traffic jams I ever saw!!! Our journey was worth it though as we arrived at the archaeological site of our lovely friend Professor Gabby Barka'i about whom I wrote last week. Here we were at the site to which Gabby bravely brought all the hundreds of truckloads of earth taken from beneath the Al Aqsa Mosque by Sheikh Raeed Salah and his cohorts in one short weekend, nearly toppling the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount and intentionally destroying priceless pieces of our history, without reckoning with Gabby!!! Gabby explained to us the history of returning the truckloads to Emek Tzurim, beside the beautifully eerie Mount of Olives, and the seven years already spent finding incredible artifacts. The methods developed for this painstaking work now serve many other archaeologist who bring their finds for sifting. Our friends sat entranced at Gabby's explanations and his clear enthusiasm for his subject, helped by his erudition and ability to transmit his message. This is one thing I would highly recommend to any tourist to Jerusalem.

Our guests curiosity was now fully sated but their tummies were rumbling and we had to manouevre our way out of the second set of prayers in Al Aqsa before reaching lunch! My poor daughter Rachel was dealing with the staff at Zion ha Gadol who wanted to go home and these pesky people were now an hour late!!!! Rachel and her three beautiful children entertained those who met us at the restaurant until we arrived and then................... Shefa! Shefa means abundance..... a cornucopia of Israeli foods. Five tables aching with salads (remember none of these salads has lettuce) of every nature and variety; hot pita, freshly baked,; hot spicy salads and gentle rice salads; followed by spears of juicy kebabs, chicken livers, chicken hearts, and my favourite, young chicken gently fire roasted on spears. I was so busy trying to keep everyone happy that I forgot to eat, so Uzi, the manager, suddenly came to the table, sat me down and began to feed me my favourite baby chicken, carefully cutting it as only the father of six could!!!
Our friend Gadi and Russo sang, everyone clapped and joined in and then Zvi stood up and sang along with them to the amazement of most friends who had never heard his glorious bass baritone voice.
Our guests slowly began to leave, the buses went back to the Hebrew University and to Tel Aviv and Zvi and I went home and collapsed!!!!!

Shabbat morning was the Shabbat Chatan, when the groom is called ot the Torah and everyone threw sweets at them, then the family all came back to us for lunch. In the evening we had a meeting of IMPACT-SE out on our veranda......... with the glorious view of Jerusalem before us. What a way to end our weekend!

Tomorrow Amiad and Noga will marry at a small wedding hall in South Tel Aviv together with a very few, very special friends. Zvi is very lucky because his cousin Jack flew the thousands of miles from Mexico City to be with him and dear friends, Sam and Debby Bettsak, Barry Slawsky, Danny Liwerant, Jill and Victor, and incredibly our dear friend Khaled came all the way from Dubai to his home in Jordan, fought hard to get his visa in time and will come, with his cousin, to join our happy event. How wonderful when family rallies round.

Shabbat Shalom to you dear friends, wishing you a fabulous weekend of family and send you love coming all the way from Jerusalem.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem


21st June 2012

Shabbat Shalom lovely friends!

This is a wonderful though busy day, tomorrow will be even better and even busier as we take friends on a tour of Jerusalem, to the new finds at David'sCity and then to the huge pile of earth taken out from the Temple Mount by Sheikh Ra'eed Salah and saved in a bold move by Professor Gabby Barka'i to hear and see the incredible artifacts he found. From there to a thoroughly Jerusalem lunch all in celebration of the future bride and groom, Amiad, Zvi's eldest son who is marrying the lovely Noga Shiloach next week and to be with friends we couldn't invite to the small wedding. Saturday, Shabbat will be beautiful too as we are making a Shabbat Chatan (Shabbat blessing for the imminent groom) and, as if that isn't enough it will be our 17thwedding anniversary!

We are so immersed in the arrangements that we barely had time to see our wonderful friends from abroad who came for the Presidential Conference on Tomorrow, President Peres fascinating and essential think tank on tomorrows world. The opening plenum was impressive as President Peres presented a medal of honour to Dr Henry Kissinger. These two highly intelligent and eternal men prove that age does dim their wisdom. The keynote speaker was former British PM Tony Blair, now representing the Quartet in this region. Tony Blair gave light relief and spoke brilliantly of the two great men, saying that when a junior Minister he was utterly green and was told to spend time with Henry Kissinger to understand world politics; ha said that in one hour with Dr K he learned more than four years at Oxford University. He joked that Henry Kissinger was a world power before he was even born! His speech received a standing ovation – the Brits may not like him but Israelis adore him!!!!

President Peres interjected a prayer into his speech – a prayer for the people of the South of Israel who suffered 50 rockets attacks and the Border Guards who were injured.

I was thrilled to see Professor Irwin Cotler and his wonderful wife Ariella and congratulated Irwin on his great initiative in the Canadian government which voted unanimously to back the Israeli effort to achieve a minutes silence at the Olympics in London in honour of the Israeli athletes massacred in the Munich Olympics. The International Olympic Committee is against it of course............ because it may distress the athletes from a country that doesn't exist and shouldn't, by Olympic rules be there at all. Of course I am talking of the Palestinians.

Among those that I was extra delighted to see was Daniel Schwartz – who I adore; Daniel is a mensch – a good person and utterly involved in Tikkun Olam. Daniel invited us to breakfast at the historic King David Hotel where we sat thoroughly entertained, and somewhat in awe of his longtime friend Dr Ruth...... a great deal of energy and might in a very tiny body!!!! Talking of “mensch” Saul Same was at the conference, and everyone greeted him with such warmth I loved it! Another person I was thrilled to meet up with was Adil visiting from Turkey, indeed it was an outstanding experience in people watching while learning so very much and a chance to meet others who don't sit on the sidelines but rather get involved in making this world a better, cleaner, safer and happier place. We really missed our friend Kim Taylor from Canada who sadly had to cancel last minute due to family illness.

I discovered that many of you send my letters on – thank you so much – and that people kept coming up to me upon seeing my name tag and introducing themselves as readers - “Harold Finger got us involved” was the most familiar sound!! Thanks Harold – you are deeply appreciated! Tell Stanley that the veranda is looking amazing!

Yesterday Zvi and I skipped the Conference and got down to the preparatory arrangements for both guests and events over the next week. In the evening we said goodbye to lovely Saul and Joshua Same and collected Jill and Victor to go with us to a very very special event – a very Jerusalem event; a very Jewish event which carries an incredible story, Hachnast Sefer Torah – the gift of a new Torah to a synagogue. It also gave Victor the great honour of saying Kaddish (prayer for the dead) in Jerusalem.

Gabriel Bresslauer was born in the Budapest Ghetto on 20th of June, 1944, a time when celebration was difficult even at the birth of a beautiful son. Gabby's father worked in the bourse, the stock exchange in the crops division and his mother was a teacher of Jewish Studies. Gabby's mother proudly breast fed her son, not that there was a choice under the dreadful conditions of the Ghetto and when the little boy was just one year old, the war ended and the Ghetto dispersed, the family continued to live in Budapest but now it was under the oppressive Soviet rule and having already seen what oppression leads to they made the decision to make their weary way to the nascent State of Israel. Their name already changed from Bresslauer to Barka'i in preparation for their voyage to Israel, a statement of Zionism. Gabby, just 6 years old at the time, still remembers his joy at his first sight of Israel, as the ship neared Haifa port, the heights of Mount Carmel.

The family came to Jerusalem with their meagre belongings, including a small Sefer Torah which had belonged to Gabby's mothers grandfather, one David Weiss. The little family settled well in Jerusalem and Gabby, an outstanding student, chose archaeology as his profession and his passion and he excelled in it. Indeed Professor Gabby Barka'i, the man that little Gabby Bresslauer blossomed into, became an honoured archaeologist with exceptional finds to his credit and a grasp of languages that made him a much desired speaker in many countries.

While speaking in Toronto, Gabby and Ester went to visit an elderly relation of Esters aunt, who, as fate would have it, reached out to a man turned out to be Gabby's Mother's cousin. As they talked of Budapest the old man disappeared for a while and when he returned he brought a small bag down from its hiding place and gave it to Gabby. Inside that small bag which had been kept for so many years was the Parochet, the cover of the ark (Aron haKodesh) which belonged to Gabby's family and where the family Sefer Torah was once housed.

As fate would have it, just a few months ago, Gabby was invited to speak at a major London Synagogue, and despite his love of antiques, he and his beloved Ester, were thrilled to discover that their host was not just a well known lawyer but had been the Beatles lawyer! In his introduction at the synagogue their host mentioned that Gabby was born in the Budapest Ghetto in 1944, which aroused the interest of one person in the audience, the author Tom Keve who invited them to his beautiful old Victorian home. Tom Keve was excited ot hear from whence Gabby came and as they spoke it became apparent that Tom was also born in the Budapest Ghetto, just a month before Gabby. Tom told Gabby that his life was saved when his own mother was too weakly to feed her baby boy herself, another woman with an even newer baby became his wet-nurse, thus saving his life. The research is not final but few babies were born in that horrific period in the Budapest Ghetto and it would appear that the wet-nurse was none other than Gabby's mother.

The family Sefer Torah once faded and old, could only be used for the traditional dancing of Simchat Torah as we celebrate the renewed reading of the story of our people, has now been completely refurbished, each letter clear and bright, tears repaired and the family Sefer Torah will now be read by Professor Gabby Barka'i and his Ester in their own synagogue in the Jerusalem, heart and soul of the Jewish people. Gabby's story serves as proof of the ability of our people to survive and thrive everything and anything. Mazal Tov lovely Gabby, your late parents would be so proud of you.

So dear friends, I am sure you are as moved as we were at the incredible story of one old Sefer Torah which is the essence of who we are. I wish you a Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem the city I love more and more every day.

With love as I look out on the city and wonder at “The View from Our Veranda”

Friday, 15 June 2012

Shabbat shalom letter


15th June 2012

Shabbat Shalom dear friends. This week there is lots of news, good and bad, so I will try to inform you rather than depress you and give you brief information so that you get an overview and can click the link if you want more.

In a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday, President Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom to Shimon Peres, the President of Israel. Proud and dignified President Peres accepted the medal, saying that this medal was not for him but rather for the State of Israel. His phenomenal career spanning 60 years culminated in his becoming President of Israel and we are grateful for the love he engenders around the world. The usual nay-sayers who cannot bear to recognise a good news get things wrong as always....... Shimon Peres is not responsible for Oslo, Yossi Beilin is. Read

Talking of historical documents, Zvi found this at the National Archives while doing research and found himself looking at the exchange of letters between President Truman and Chaim Weizmann,frameless.htm?NRMODE=Published and I found this wonderful statement by Winston Churchill Minister for the Colonies in 1922 In Palestine as of Right and Not on Sufferance ...”
When it is asked what is meant by the development of the Jewish National Home in Palestine, it may be answered that it is not the imposition of a Jewish nationality upon the inhabitants of Palestine as a whole, but the further development of the existing Jewish community, with the assistance of Jews in other parts of the world, in order that it may become a centre in which the Jewish people as a whole may take, on grounds of religion and race, an interest and a pride. But in order that this community should have the best prospect of free development and provide a full opportunity for the Jewish people to display its capacities, it is essential that it should know that it is in Palestine as of right and not on sufferance.”

Clever analysis of how the media twists and edits in order to make the news what THEY want it to say

Israel has a problem. The very freedom which we take for granted has proven a magnet for illegal immigration, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, looking for work in Israel. They pay huge amounts ot get here and most are Moslem. A dear friend is an anaesthetist in a large Tel Aviv hospital and when one of these women are given free treatment for childbirth, including epidural etc, she turned ot him and said 'You will get out of this country, this is our country not yours'. The Israeli government has taken the first steps to return these immigrants to their countries of origin and for this we are portrayed as racist. There is no country in the West which does not do the same yet we are vilified as racist.

As always Iran is in the headlines and as always the finger points at Israel as if other countries are not equally threatened. Ex-Mossad Chief: Israeli Attack Would Help Iran Go Nuclear- Meir Dagan says Bibi and Barak are serious about attacking the Islamic Republic.
However, I believe the headline is misleading. If anyone attacks us we will respond but to assume that Israel will attack alone - is not realistic. Also "attack" has so many connotations today and it is my guess that we will attack in a very different way - not by land and only by sea if the Allies join us.
Closing down facilities works and does not unite a currently very divided people.

Professor Irwin Cotler is an exceptional politician who is true to his principles. Prof. Cotler just succeeded in passing his proposal that the Canadian government demand a minutes silence at the London Olympics to honour the sportsmen so cruelly murdered in the Munich Olympics. Bravo Irwin, bravo to the Canadian government for yet again caring more for what is right than what is convenient.

The country is in shock at the diabolical graffiti on the walls of Yad Vashem. 'Thank you Hitler for the Holocaust which brought the State of Israel upon us' and other such foul words. The police are looking toward the extreme Hareidi community but Rabbi Lau says the terminology is not appropriate. Whoever did it should hang his head in shame.

Now to the happy news. Our very favourite Australians, some of them at least, have been in Jerusalem for the Hebrew University Board of Governors meetings. Robert and Anita Simons, Victor and Judy Berger and of course the incredible Saul Same with his delightful grandson Joshua. Spending time with Saul is a life lesson in love and history. Born in Beer Tuvia, Palestine in 1918 Saul's parent emigrated to Melbourne, Australia when he was just 6 years old and life proved to be excellent for him. He married the love of his life, the wonderful Lucy z'l, and they built a truly Jewish home, welcoming and proud, and while serving Australia with devotion Saul never forgot his roots. His stories are fascinating and we are honoured he calls us friends.

Zvi was Saul and Josh's main guide, I just joined in the food.......... they went to the Herzl Museum, to the Old City and the Kotel and did the driving tour to show them all the aspects of Jerusalem that even after all these years Saul still hasn't seen.

Next week we are taking many of our friends on a tour of Jerusalem. We begin at Emek Tzurim the site to which our friend Professor Gabby Barkay brought all the remaining earth dug out of from under the Temple Mount Sheik Raeed Salah and rescued by Prof Barkay. Our guests may just find a pre-1st Temple artifact as they sift the fine earth – from there we will go to David's Village, finally ending up at Zion ha Gadol for a truly Jerusalem feast. Salads galore – egg-plant, carrot, houmous, tehina, mushroom, garlic and lemon, mejadara, cabbage slaw, chopped Israeli salad, spicey tomatoes, burning hot green hawaj - the Yemenite version of jalapenos but much hotter and so many more and that is just the first course. We will show those Tel Avivim what Jerusalem hospitality means eh.

Some favourite people arrive this week. Our lovely Kim Taylor will make his way from Cardston, Alberta, Canada to see us – oh and to come to the Presidential Conference which takes place this week. The Presidential Conference is a fascinating exchange of views and ideas, great minds come to inform us and teach us, to answer our questions and look for solutions to our complex world. My old friend Jill is coming too, with her friend Victor, to be in her adored Jerusalem and explore and show Victor just what she loves about the place.

So dear friends, it is almost that time. Shabbat is nearing, the aromas gathering and rising to tempt the palate and remind us that Shabbat food is an ethnic cornucopia, just as our music and our traditions are. The dispersion served to create variety so that now, now that we are home we can merge our traditions, whether culinary or religious, making this such a fascinating conglomeration of humanity.

The searing heat, today was 38 degrees, is beginning to find its way into the shadows of evening as homes prepare for Shabbat. The Parasha, Bible portion, this week is Shelach and talks of the 12 spies that Moses sent into the land of Canaan to see if it really was the place to take the Israelites. 10 returned and said it was a land of giants and inhospitable but two, Joshua and Caleb came back with huge bunches of grapes a pomegranate and a fig as proof of a fine and fertile land. Had we listened to the nay-sayers we would never have come here, and today the nay-sayers still outweigh those who see the truth- that we have great abundance and beauty and innovation and freedom and that this really, really is the land of Israel. Read it, it is as if it was written yesterday, or today.

Shabbat shalom dear friends

Always remember the cup is half full and smile.

With all our love from Jerusalem


Friday, 8 June 2012

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem


8th June 2012

Shabbat Shalom dear friends, Shabbat Shalom to you all with a very special one to my adored big sister Doreen....... happy birthday my love. Thank you for being the most amazing sister in the world and standing by me through thick and thin. Happy birthday to you and your Melvyn.

Now to more serious issues then back to the joyous side of life.

The biased and unfair reporting of Israel's indecisiveness concerning the work-seekers from Eritrea and Sudan who flood over our border with Sinai has infuriated me. As always I chose to write about it. Israel is kinder than other countries and trying to find a humanitarian answer to a problem that is tearing us apart. There are very few asylum seekers and have you ever wondered from where people who have nothing to eat found the 4,000 dollars to pay for their transportation here are my thoughts on the issue
Syria, words fail me. Secretary Clinton says that they can't do anything because China and Russia are against it........ sorry but that is a lame excuse for the most powerful country in the world.

Ulpana is a neighbourhood in the Israeli 'settlement' of Bet El. Ulpana was built with government approval yet it is being pulled down in order to ensure the building of other settlements. Gosh politics is devious.

The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth the Second. Pomp, circumstance and a huge show of love from her subjects who admire the enormous job she has done with great dignity, despite the odd 'annus horibilus'. For the first time for a long long time Britain seemed to return to being British with the quintessential quirks and eccentricities that so identify the British nature. Watching the sea of union jacks gave me a great deal of pleasure and most importantly – my niece, beautiful bride-to-be Carly, became the princess she always deserved to be, overnight. My childhood community in Wales is holding a royal dinner, with a top table peopled by Her Majesty, Prince Philip – miraculously recovered from his renal infection – and of course Charles, Camilla, William, Kate, Harry et al. Even my two very favourite anti-monarchists thrilled at the sheer beauty of the flotilla of small boats on the Thames – one waving from the balcony of the House of Lords and the other from his home, and my little grandson Samuel received a friendly wave from Prince Charles. My Father bought a TV back in 1953, just to watch the coronation of this beautiful young woman, and Britain was a different place then, indeed we lived in a different world. In those days people understood the horror of war, their memories untarnished by time. Brits traditionally pulled together in the bulldog spirit and no-one had even invented the 'me' generation. When Elizabeth was crowned she and her family were admired deeply for refusing to leave London when the bombs were raining down on their reign, when princesses donned overalls and worked on the farm or on the ambulances to boost the morale of a physically devastated country and Vera Lynn sang 'we'll meet again'. Immigrants to Britain were a bonus because they wanted to become part of this proud and elegant nation...... and did. Jews who arrived broken and poverty stricken from Europe flourished and children of the Kinder transport found warmth, love and homes. I am sorry to wax lyrical of times I barely remember but it was a Britain with a population which fought Nazism with zeal, fought Oswald Mosely's facism and put the whole before the individual.

Winston Churchill was conceivably the wisest leader of modern times. On the 4th of June 1940 he said these words, both wise and prophetic
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old. “

This week began with a delightful and gentle breakfast with our lovely friends the Oppenheimers and from that moment on the Energiser Bunny, aka Zvi, took over my life..........from the bar mitzva of a dear friends son, just a little party with about 1,500 guests, to a funeral in Ashkelon, then meeting dear friends Jacobo and Miriam Eizen to see the end of year performance of Hora Yerushalyim dance troupes – the 'hora efrochim' the fledgling dancers – to a walk through jerusalems old city for the unbelievably beautiful festival of lights which begins with a colossal, multi-coloured Moroccan style pergola at the Jaffa gate, through holograms and an immense 20 metre harp which shows a light display on one of the ancient buildings finally eating in the jam packed Mamilla Mall. Yesterday I took personal time and met with my childhood friends for lunch, driving back to Jerusalem to meet with our dear friend Pastor Leo Giovinetti who brings me wonderful Californian chocolates and his own delicious gourmet coffee – home roasted at the Mission Valley Christian Fellowship in San Diego – or rather Holy Roasted! From meeting Leo we boarded the bus for Masada. Last night was a phenomenal night as we sat in the audience, thanks to the persuasion of Gideon Sellinger of the Hebrew university, and saw a performance of Bizet's Carmen at the foot of Masada. The story of defiance, persuasion and the refusal to be enslaved by false love seemed appropriate to that site of great heroism and deep sadness. President Peres spoke to us before the performance, without notes he spoke clearly with great wisdom of the character of Carmen and the site of the performance 'each woman is a universe' he said and we should never forget it.

Riding back to Jerusalem in the wee small hours we dozed off and awoke as we reached the entrance to Jerusalem next to the Hebrew university campus at Mount Scopus, so relevant to our fight for independence and recovered after 19 years in Jordan. The view was breathtaking. In the gentle pre-dawn light I saw Jerusalem in her entirety before me. What a panorama. Jerusalem, Ir Shalom, Ir Shalem, Shiloh, Ariel, Heftsiba........ so many names for one beloved city, actually 70 in all – 70 names in the bible and they say it isn't ours. humph. The Temple Mount stood high proud and centre, admittedly surmounted and imposed upon by the golden dome of a memorial – not a mosque, but surrounded by sheer beauty and indelibly imprinted upon our spiritual heart. Gosh I love this city even at 04:00 in the morning.

When I first came to Jerusalem in 1963 the city was divided, in grave danger and the country was under constant attack from the Syrian Golan Heights upon the kibbutzim of the north, from Jordan to the East and Egypt in the South. Here in Jerusalem, we could not visit the Western Wall, nor the Hurva Synagogue, we could only look from afar and continue our prayer “Next year in Jerusalem”. We did not take anything that belonged to another “people” we fought a war imposed upon us by many huge neigbouring armies and won – the spoils of war included a return to Jerusalem, Ir Shalem, a complete city, a whole city not a half. Just before the miraculous 6 Day War, in June 1967, Naomi Shemer wrote a song which Shuli Natan sang in the Israel Song Contest. It won and just a short while afterwards the yearning of the song which echoed our deepest prayers came true and the triumphant final verse was written. Jerusalem of Gold – Yerushalyim shel Zahav says it all. Here sung by Ofra Haza

Where were you during the 6 Day War? What did you feel? What did you do? I really want to hear from you.

I wish you a Shabbat shalom wherever you may be and hope you will come and visit us in Jerusalem, this year or next, just come.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Work seekers to Israel

I wanted to put the current discussions about the work seekers who flood into Israel from The Sudan and Eritrea into perspective and understand the International uproar at Israels determination to return them from whence they came, excepting the very few genuine asylum seekers.

There are many theories as to why they chose Israel, below are a few, but has anyone truly thought about who is backing them? How many Eritreans have 3 or 4,000 dollars to spare on paying the Bedouin for their passage? Who is backing them? The premier suspect is Iran to ensure the demographic overthrow of the Jews.

If you go through the NORTH KOREAN border illegally you get 12 YEARS IN PRISON WITH HARD LABOUR
If you cross the border into IRAN illegally you ARE INCARCERATED FOR AN UNDETERMINED SENTENCE (possibly life)
If you cross the border into AFGHANISTAN illegally you are SHOT AND KILLED ON THE SPOT
If you cross the border into SAUDI ARABIA illegally you are INCARCERATED FOR AN INDETERMINATE PERIOD
If you cross the border into CHINA illegally – YOU DISAPPEAR FOREVER
If you cross the border into CUBA illegally YOU ARE THROWN INTO JAIL TO ROT
If you cross the border into RUSSIA illegally YOU ARE SENT TO SIBERIA AS A SPY

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Defiant Requiem in Jerusalem

31st May 2012

Shabbat shalom dear friends. It is almost midnight, nearly the first of June, but I had to write to you tonight and now when I am so full of admiration, emotion, hope, sadness and defiance.

We just got home from the most incredible, incredible evening. We went to the International Conference Centre in Jerusalem to hear Verdi's Requiem but this was no ordinary performance, this was a performance of the DEFIANT Requiem.

The birth of this performance came out of a short comment in the history of Theresienstadt, a small comment about a Maestro who managed to bring people to song and music through the most extreme of dire straits, having reached the limit of human emotional endurance. Maestro Murray Sidlin, in far off America, put an advertisement on the internet asking for information on Maestro Rafael Schachter, the Maestro of Theresienstadt and received a response from the niece of Maestro Schachter in Israel. That led to lengthy and deep research on the part of Murray Sidlin and the formation of The Defiant Requiem Foundation and an incredible story began to unfold. This is not the first concert of the Requiem, indeed Maestro Sidlin took it to the Czech Republic, to Theresienstadt (today called Teresin) but tonight represents the culmination of Murray Sidlins dream as the Defiant Requiem played itself out on a Jerusalem stage, in the independent Jewish State with the soaring voices of the Prague Kuhn Choir, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and Israeli soloists. It was everything one could expect and more! It was phenomenal! It was musically brilliant interspersed with film documentation and witness reports of survivors of the original choir, with narration by the Maestro, and Israeli actors Yona Elian and Sasson Gabbai, bringing to light the heroic story of one mans determination to give hope to the helpless and dignity to those who had the most basic of human dignity stripped from them in a place without hope. In the audience sat survivors of the original choir, watching their own lives play out in front of them.

They deep irony of Jewish voices soaring to the music written in defiance of the Catholic Church by an Italian in Latin is clearly apparent throughout yet, yet the very style of music tells us that even in this hell-hole the Jews were looking for a way to express their feelings to G-d. Maestro Schachter was a mild mannered man yet he demanded absolute attention and perfection from his choir. He taught them the massive piece by rote since he had but one score, one libretto, one possibility to draw the final vestiges of human pride in their achievement from themselves as a group, as Jews, and from each and every one of the singers. Under-nourished, sick, threatened daily, ill-treated and a truly sorry lot, he transformed them into great performers with a purpose in life – he gave them hope.

In 1944 the Germans seized the opportunity that the camp presented and decided to make a propaganda film to convince the world that this was a “Jewish Village, a retreat for the Jews”. Only the fittest were filmed and children who had no food were given candies and filmed relishing the prospect, sand pits and toys for those who had nowhere to lay their heads; adults given clothing and told to lounge around as if at a holiday spa and of course the orchestra and choir performed for the Red Cross who chose to believe the Nazis – as they do today believing our enemies against Israel.

When the heart wrenching power of the performance was reaching its end, Murray Sidlin asked the audience to remain standing in silence in honour of those perished and those who survived, some of whom were in the audience, rather than applaud. In silence the choir and orchestra left the stage one at a time, slowly filing out until just one violin softly played Oseh Shalom – please G-d make peace

What struck me so deeply tonight is the terrifying similarity to today's world and the expendability of Jewish lives. We, Israel and the Jews, are today's Czechoslovakia.

The magnificent Kuhn Choir, which filled the enormous hall with its elysian voices, came especially from Prague for this amazing performance. They were brought to Jerusalem by the Czech Government with a great deal of help from Czech Ambassador to Israel Tomas Pojar, whose late father was also a Czech Ambassador to Israel. In his short but moving speech after the performance Ambassador Pojar made it clear that we have at least one friend in Europe, one ally. Tomas worked diligently together with the amazing director of the Israel Festival, our dear friend and fine gentleman, Yossi Tal-Gan, to ensure the success of this project.

This message from Prime Minister Netanyahu reminds us of the close relationship between Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) and Israel and the Jewish people. 
I thought a great deal about the meaning of a friendship which comes out of a shared past indeed Jews lived in Czechoslovakia close to a millennium..............

The Czechs understand what it means to be a small democracy, constantly challenged, constantly struggling to have its truth recognised and constantly struggling for the its freedom under enormous threat. These common challenges created a strong connection between the Czech people and the Jewish people..................
The connection between our two countries came to fruition tonight in this very special rendition of Verdi's Requiem, The Defiant Requiem Concert honours the memory of those Jews who were taken to the Theresienstadt Camp and forced to take part in the pretence of normal life which almost convinced a willing world. In Theresienstadt they appeared to have a full cultural life, a library of 60,000 volumes, concerts and theatre, culture under the shadow of death. They played their instruments and sang until the Nazis chose to send them to their death in far more sinister camps

Culture and the Jewish Spirit flourished under the threat of the death camps but culture was not enough. The human spirit and artistic creativity of great artists could not deter death. For creativity and beauty to flourish we must retain the power to arrest the machinery of destruction, the power of our own destiny.”

Zvi and I sat in the auditorium in Jerusalem, Capital City of a Jewish State entranced by a performance of Verdis Requiem some 68 years after Eichmann sat and heard the Terezin Choir perform for him. Zvi and I sat in Jerusalem, where Eichmann came to justice, where the Jews built a phenomenal, innovative, generous, democratic country and watched the horror of Terezin, Teresin, Theresienstadt when Jews had no home.

Zvi, my husband, whose parents were the sole survivors of two fine upstanding Jewish families, was born in Jerusalem and brought to tears by the power of the music, the dignity of Maestro Schatcher and ever grateful to Murray Sidlin for honouring us with this magnificent performance.

Dear lovely friends, as Shabbat nears and we have time for contemplation, consider the implications of Maestro Rafael Shachter, a man who understood that only through the defiance of success could he bring hope to his people. His choir changed, time after time as members were sent to the death camps, but he persevered until finally this brave and proud man was taken to Auschwitz and put to death. He defied his detractors, he brought beauty where there was none. The relevance to today is excruciating, we must stand up and be defiant, not go like self-satisfied sheep to the slaughter of demonisation and dehumanisation. Be Defiant – do not succumb to the comfort of complacency, your children and grandchildren need you to stand up and be counted.

With all my love from Jerusalem, our Jerusalem, Capital of the democratic State of Israel.
Shabbat Shalom