Friday, 30 August 2013

Shabbat Shalom letter- Syria, UK, Vancouver Transit...........


30th August 2013

Shabbat Shalom dear friends.

Syria is on almost everyones lips. What should be done now that the West, the policemen of democracy, have waited too long? Had something been done a year ago, whether through sincere warnings or financial reward to the Assad government to stop the diabolical killings could we have stopped it? There are so many powers pulling those poor unfortunate civilians apart at enormous cost. Iran is obviously a big player, supporting the “evil” rebels; religion is another huge and negative issue in the entire Middle East which has acted as a fermenting agent of war – Shi'a, Sunni and in Syria Alowite. One question on the lips of the naive West is”How could two people, Assad and his wife, who received the best of Western education, possibly commit such foul crimes.” The answer is quite easily. Perhaps the answer is in the words of William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham and British Prime Minister from 1766 to 1778, who said in 1770: "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it"

Despite the strong efforts of British Prime Minister Cameron the House of Commons yesterday voted against action until such time as absolute proof is found as to who used the chemical weaponry. According to Israeli reports citizens were told to go into their bunkers or shelters before the chemical weapons were dropped – not to protect them but because the chemicals work better at ground level. A further report in a British newspaper shows evil beyond words as buses filled with prisoners are moved to military targets in case the allies attack,7340,L-4424180,00.html

Could it be true? Could a leader seriously do such things? Could they be Iranian weapons to detract from their urgent determination to produce a nuclear weapon? Anything is possible. Should Assad be stopped? Of course but then we knew that when he “just” killed a hundred thousand of his citizens. Should the threats of annihilating Israel if the USA attempts to stop the killing be taken into consideration? Actually that is the only one that has a clear answer – no – we can take care of ourselves.

Ex-Pat Brit Michael Horesh wrote a very interesting analysis

What amazes me concerning the Syrian/Iranian/Egyptian/Yemen/Iraq/Afghanistan situation is that it does not give cause to stop the BDS movements denigration of Israel – but then dehumanisation of the Jewish State never needed cause! In Vancouver, Canada, yes even in Canada, the mass transport system Translink decided to accept advertisements from an anti-Israel group to the dismay of Vancouvers citizens.

Israel had a problem. It sounds like a non-PC problem on the surface but it is very real nonetheless. Until about a year ago, illegal work-seekers were pouring over the border from Sinai emanating from Eritrea, Sudan and other countries in that region. Almost all were Moslem and very, very few were genuine asylum seekers. Most had paid thousands of dollars to the Sinai Bedouin who brought them across Sinai (beating, raping and killing many en route) despite the abject poverty of most which suggests that they were “helped” on their way. They settled in Tel Aviv and Eilat predominantly causing a collossal rise in theft and personal crime. Eritrea agree to take back their own citizens but not others. Finally Uganda, at huge financial cost to Israel, has agreed to take these unfortunates in. Only when you understand how tiny Israel is and how hard it is to keep our own diverse population employed you understand. It clearly is not a matter of skin colour since two days ago we celebrated the last official Aliya of Ethiopian Jews.

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen has yet again given us pause for thought on Rosh Hashana. You really should read and absorb his words.

Israel wins gold in Judo!Yarden Gerbi became the first Israeli woman to win gold at the World Judo Championships on Thursday night.

I knew this week would be special and it was. Beginning with a beautiful “mothering” ceremony at my friend Danby's home – for her daughter Talya who decided to become a Mum and brought her husband and tummy to Jerusalem to listen to the words of her Mothers friend on their pregnancies, births and raising babies. It was really amazing.

We babysat Zvi's baby grand-daughter in Tel Aviv on Sunday and she was amazing. I love watching the first stretching and squirming of a little one preparing to walk! From there we drove to Nes Ziona to pick up three more little girls, aged 1 ½, 4 and 6 who came back to sleep at our place and they were angels. Next morning, after breakfast we set off for Shouk Ramle where they were amazed and enthralled by the variety of goods and the throng of diverse people.. and of course they chose their gifts. After Shouk Ramle we went to Kibbutz Tzuba where they hold a “ Chocolate course” for children at Galita. They chose to make a very complex chocolate house but had great fun. Obviously the little one didn't make anything but she loved the movie about how chocolate is made.

From Kibbutz Tzuba we drove back to Jerusalem to meet with my daughter Rachel's children in Hedgehog Park where they had a marvellous time climbing all over the huge spikey hedgehog and running in the grass, swinging on the huge tyres with rope webbing. I love seeing the children playing so beautifully together – a real his and mine situation without the ours. We each have children but happily share our grandchildren!!!!

Talking of grandchildren, we have a new one!! To his absolute delight 6 year old Joshua has a new little sister called Callie, in New York. Callie, born just two days ago has brought so much joy to the entire family and Joshua's prayers are answered......... he desperately wanted a little sister! She is absolutely glorious and I can't wait to hold her – which I will do on September 8th. What a wonderful gift for the New Year – nothing better.

So dear friends, after announcing Callie's arrival I really cannot think of anything to add! My joy is complete!

Yesterday I went to visit the Yuri Shtern Foundations amazing clinic again, this time with two friends, Andrew and Rosa. Rosa is currently enjoying the therapies of the centre and Andrew is part of an international organisation for medical information both in the UK (DIPEX ) and at Ben Gurion University detailing the efficacy of complimentary medicine on cancer patients and their families. It was as enlightening as always spending time with Lena Shtern and Roni Gilboa.

The lateness of this weeks missive means we can see the beauty of Shabbat's arrival is descending on Jerusalem. I popped down to Shoshana to show her the photos of Callie only find her busily preparing the “Marak Kubeh” for her children all of whom arrived for lunch then crossed the hallway to show the pictures to the Mor family – who had not yet cooked but had a house-full of shopping in preparation! As promised last weeks Shabbat meal at Shula and Moshes was everything and more than I wrote to you. The Chamin was amazing, the meat falling apart in delicious gravy, the eggs, peeled not in the shell, were brown and amazing, the kasha and lentils absolutely amazing and every one of the salads as delicious as expected. This week I am making lots of different things – to satisfy the tastes of each member of the family. We will start with chicken soup and kneidlach followed by ribs, long cooked in wine and mushrooms; chicken patties for the children sweetened slight with a touch of apple as per Stephanies recipe; meatballs in sauce and of course red rice and vegetables. Dessert will be a medley of wonderful local fruits.

The sun has gone behind our building and the wonderful white stones of Jerusalem are beginning to change colour to pink, then red and then the wonderful gold that gave modern Jerusalem her name. Jerusalem, what a wonderful name.

We enter a new year of uncertainty but most importantly we must look at the beauty around us and remember that we are strong, that Israel is real.

Talk to you soon, before Rosh Hashana I promise

With much love from Jerusalem, heart of our world, Ir Shalem, Ir Shalom, city of peace.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Shabbat Shalom letter from Jerusalem. Syria, Egypt,Rockets and weddings


22nd August 2013

Shabbat Shalom dear friends. I hope you are well. We have so much to talk about this week that I don't know where to start. Chaos reigns in the Middle East, chemical weapons were used again near Damascus, riots continue in Cairo and it seems every day that the hopes of the Arab Spring are dashed into smithereens. Day, by day, by day.

4 rockets fell on the North of Israel yesterday, narrowly missing an old peoples home for Shoah Survivors. Iron Dome downed one and the others fell on two kibbutzim causing severe damage to homes but thank G-d no-one was hurt. We didn't wait around, the Israeli Air Force simply went out last night on a foray and destroyed the rocket site with no injuries on the ground. It is amazing that in almost all forays from the air there is huge human collateral damage (USA is 90%) yet we did this yet again without any fatalities.

King Abdullah of Jordan, while hardly a paragon of democracy and freedom has chosen to speak out about the situation. He expressed distress at the warring Islamic factions that are taking the entire area into an inferno of religious insanity. The internecine Islamic jealousies and fighting has resulted in a war which no-one can win and hundreds of thousands are dead. The Christians and Jews are caught up in the intense fury and who knows what the home release of former President Mubarak will ignite.,7340,L-4420149,00.html

The Egyptian army is systematically bringing order back to Sinai by taking out gangs of Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad and others of their ilk. It is just another absurdity of the conundrum that is the Middle East that a military junta brings more freedom than a “democratically elected” President! Hopefully the army will also control the killing spree against Christians and Bahai in their country.

Determinedly ignoring the human rights abuses which surround Israel, Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd, has opened his big mouth again and is calling for a total boycott of Israel and Israeli goods because of the supposed apartheid nation! My response to Roger Waters in words that he may understand -  “I don't need your education. I don't need your thought control. I don't need your dark sarcasm. Roger leave Israel alone. Hey Roger! Leave Israel alone!!! All in all you're just another brick in the wall “
Bar Rafaeli may have avoided the draft but she stands up to the inanity of Roger Waters and BDS. Rafaeli on Twitter “Roger Waters, you should remove my picture from videos at your concerts. If you’re going to boycott, then go all the way.” Waters should consider boycotting the Yemen if he bothered to watch this 11 year old warrior who fought being married off and left her family

Khaled Abu Toameh hits the nail on the head again “Today it has become evident that that leaders and members of the Islamic Movement in Israel enjoy more freedom and rights than the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Jordan, and even -- under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank”

Esther Meshoe is the daughter of a South African parliamentarian, Dr. Kenneth Meshoe, and Esther believes that as a Christian one should always tell the truth and stand up against those who tell lies. Esther refutes all allegations that apartheid plays any part in Israeli life.

The King David Hotel in Jerusalem is again the centre of attention as talks take place between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under the watchful eye (?) of Martin Indyk. This time the talks are held in camera, preventing the possibility of premature news scuppering hopes before they move forward. These talks are not based on hopes for agreements on every issue, as they shouldn't, they are based on the economic possibilities of working together to better the lives of two groups of people. It isn't a new idea and indeed President Peres has always said that peace will come when the Palestinians have something to lose. Life in the West Bank is looking better and many Israeli companies are working in tandem with Palestinians. Economically life there is better than it has for a long long time- ever since the Intifada killed people and peace in one fell and evil swoop. The fact that the West Bank (Yehuda and Shomron) is a separate entity to Gaza creates a greater sense of hope than before. Realistically we are talking about relative co-existence and life without children being taught to hate. It isn't tomorrow, maybe not next week but if we have patience and the leaders and negotiators keep their mouths shut, it will happen.

This was a busy week, especially since we had hourly conversations with our internet, TV and phone provider trying to leave them since none of the three services are provided by a lousy provider!!!! Have you ever tried the same process of endless waiting on the phone line????

On Sunday evening Zvi and I took Zvi's son Leor, wife Shiri and three little girls to “Ha Tachana” - the site of the old Ottoman Railway Station. It has become the “in” place to go and we were not disappointed! As we left the car park we turned onto the wonderful boardwalk which runs through from Baka along the old railway lines and turn into the Tachana. We not only found great restaurants but the children made pottery jugs, others made colourful T shirts, there were oversized Betta Bilda sets, mini cars and bicycles for the children to ride and all sorts of other activities and crafts. Adults were not left out of the loop as the central area was taken up with folk dancing (rikudayam) everyone smiling and having a ball. It was so wonderful to see. This is the real Jerusalem

On Tuesday night we drove up into the Jerusalem Hills, way above the city, through the forest to the very top where the air was so clear and pure, to celebrate the wedding of the son of our friends Igor and Liliana Sarni. It was small, intimate, delightful in Nes Harim a beautiful village in the forest, out on the veranda under the moonlight looking out at the spectacular views while enjoying the age old ceremony of Jewish nuptials. Under the star studded skies beside Jerusalem, Dan broke the glass cup to remind us of the frailty of life, of marriage and of the Jewish people. He said the words “If I forget thee Oh Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its power and my tongue cleave to my cheek” It was then that Liliana told me that she and Igor were married under a chuppa just a few years ago because their marriage in Russia had to be secular – Judaism was not allowed. I looked across the table at Igors friend, artist Ruslan Sergeyev- and thought of how he blossomed and grew here. Ruslan knows that Israel is the land of opportunity!

Wednesday was a celebration too as I met my dearest friend for breakfast at the Botanical Gardens to celebrate the fact that she finished her chemotherapy. As we sat enjoying a beautiful breakfast together with my little grand-daughters who came to feed the fish in the lake, I looked out over the water, the fantastic water lilles, the trees and the animated diners and I could but think that this was the perfect place to find peace, quiet and healing and celebrate her freedom from chemo.

We were joined by Lena Shtern, widow of the late Yuri Shtern. During Yuris' illness Lena discovered that she was able to relieve his pain and symptoms through her knowledge of alternative medicine and gathered therapists around Yuri to help with his holistic care. After his death Lena decided to form an army of therapists who give their time and abilities for free at Shaare Zedek Hospital Oncology Unit and in the Yuri Shtern Foundation clinic where patients and their families receive treatments and therapy for a minimal charge. My friend and I have decided to join the Board of the Yuri Shtern Foundation and I am so proud that Lena asked us

My cooking this Shabbat is minimal!! We turn into one of those families emerging from the car before Shabbat with the containers of aromatic food. We will spend Friday night with Zvi's children and grandchildren then on Shabbat we go for lunch to our friends and neighbours Shula and Moshe where they present a truly Kurdish Shabbat lunch of Chamin, at least ten salads and a myriad of other dishes. Chamin is the Eastern Cholent – without the ghastly Kishkeh but with brown, long stewed eggs in their shells in the dark brown rich gravy of the meat and vegetables. I love the Kurdish Shabbat food, I love the different tunes for the prayers and the different traditions.............. actually – the same traditions with different music!

So that is the week that was! Jerusalem is preparing for Rosh Hashana with the hundreds of different types of honey on display– all Israeli! Here everyone buys gifts for everyone else!! In my day it was new clothes for the children for Chag, here it is gifts gifts gifts....... for all and sundry!!!

Shabbat Shalom from Zvi and I. Shabbat Shalom as Ashkenazi Jews enter the period of selichot, of atonement or apologies, Sefardi Jews have already been doing selichot for three weeks. It is a very important “mitzva” demanding that we accept that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes, that we harm others even accidentally, that we are sorry for it. So let me take this opportunity to apologise for any words that may have hurt you in any way, for omissions or exaggeration, I am truly truly sorry.

With love from Jerusalem, beautiful, beautiful Jerusalem. Remember the words that Dan, and all Jewish bridegrooms say as they stand under the wedding canopy? If I forget thee


11 year old Michel Cohen sings of all our prayers for the New Year – Shir l'Shalom, the song for Peace the song that Yitzchak Rabin sang just minutes before his assassination.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem - Kerry Konfusion


16th August 2013

Shabbat Shalom dear friends

I don't know about you but I am extremely confused. The world seems to be upside down and morals, friendship and ethics a thing of the past. Truthfully I feel betrayed. Israel feels betrayed. Israel is betrayed. If you look at the service to the world of all our neighbours, yet our neighbours ae accepted, pitied, empathised with while Israel is vilified. I truly don't understand why.

We are more tolerant, less violent, more democratic, educated, giving, innovative and generous than all the neighbours put together yet they garner sympathy while we are dehumanised and hated, yes real unadulterated hatred. It doesn't stop us sending doctors and nurses to Haiti or aid to New jersey; It doesn't stop us reaching out to the Palestinian Authority to bring sick children to Israel for life saving treatment; it doesn't stop us reaching for the skies in Hi-Tech, medicine and agriculture – the latter saving countries in Africa from famine............. so what is the reason?

The easy target is the media which has successfully sewn a complex tapestry of half truths portraying the Palestinians as the indigenous peoples of this piece of land, denying any Biblical, historic or actual truth, and Israelis as the parvenus, the violent occupiers. Did I say easy targets? Prime targets would be much more accurate. We are portrayed as worse than Assad, Ghaddaffi and Osama bin Laden, every terrorist killed is a victim while Assad and the rebels have caused a death toll of 110,000 one drone hit by Israel is considered an international crime! Perhaps the Egyptian army will continue to do our work for us in Sinai so that no-one can blame us for that situation!

Which brings us to the major question - why is Israel blamed, before the fact, for the failure of the latest round of talks – indeed any talks – with the PA when we have fulfilled all of the requirements and they have not fulfilled even one? Why have we, time and again, released murderers, terrorists; and America just demanded we release even more, when the mere suggestion of releasing Guantanamo prisoners in exchange for bringing Al Qaeeda to the table would be considered treason of the highest order since the USA does not negotiate with terrorists? David Horovitz thinks we shouldn't.
“ Netanyahu does not want to see Israel blamed for the failure of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s relentless efforts over six visits to the Middle East to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians. “ I wish it was all as easy as this wonderful little cartoon about compromise

The current situation in the Middle East is dangerous, overflowing into chaos, lethal and horrific – yet called the Arab Spring. Why? Because no one understands the underlying fierce religious jealousies and internecine Islamic fighting (Shi'a, Sunni, Alowite) and the ever growing ethnic cleansing of Christians and Bahai – not Jews since they already fled. This is true of Egypt, of Iraq and just about everywhere in this insane region. As if you needed proof

Right now – Israel is the victim of the new America/Russia Cold War – with Israel as a pawn and China waiting in the wings to see who wins. Indeed they know which side to back and we realise that our best friends are not always looking after our interests

This week I went with my daughter for some regular medical tests. As I looked around the patients I was struck yet again by the multi-cultural aspect of Israeli society. Clerks, doctors, radiologists were a mixture of races and colours. We then went to several stores in the centre of Jerusalem, Ben Yehuda, Jaffa and King George streets and again we shopped, ate and promenaded together, indeed helped each other choose shoes or find the right room for the ultra-sound or X-ray. If only the politicians would leave us alone life could be so good!!!

I love Danny Seaman. Zvi knows about it and approves! Danny was the head of the Government Press Office dealing with the foreign press here in Jerusalem, not an easy task. Danny was supposed to take up his position in the Prime Ministers Office specialising in Hasbara – surely the most important single task at hand. Danny however wrote some uncomplimentary things on his private Facebook page and is now in deep trouble, probably losing his chance at turning the hasbara situation around. I think it is harsh and unwarranted punishment – literally biting off our nose to spite our face. Listen to Danny address the Jerusalem Conference in January 2009 on the complexities of a democracy managing a biased foreign press in Israel and the Disputed Territories particularly during Palestinian-manipulated media-events designed to damn Israel

I just got back from my Friday visit to see the grandchildren in Givat Zeev. Driving there has one kind of expectation......... of love and hugs and kisses, driving back is a different kind of feeling. You have heard me describe (ad infinitum) the glorious view from Nebe Samuel (Samuels Tomb) and the sudden burst of colour as the marigold -planted central reservations (yes Arlene I know it sounds funny) of Ramot come into sight and I thought of the profound difference between Israeli towns and villages with bright flowers and landscaping and statuary and the plain un-beautified sight of Ramallah on my left. Strange because Ramallah has fine houses, big shopping malls and so on but for some reason, no colour, no flowers, no joi de vivre!

As I was driving through Ramot a bus behind me had a big poster on its front “Habonim Dror UK” clearly filled with young Brits from that wonderful organisation and it took me back to my youth, my wonderful youth, and how I came to love Israel. Of course it came from my parents whose love was shown through my beloved Mothers unstinting work for WIZO, my fathers joy when he spoke of Israel and also from Habonim Dror. There were several mentors within the organisation but for me it was Norman Berg and his Chanich, Andrew Stone. Their incredible enthusiasm and love of Israel encouraged many of us to come on Aliya although they themselves did not. They were part of the reason that 500 out of 3,000 Welsh Jews came to live in Israel, that and the fact that the entire community was staunchly Zionist.

Here we are, back in Jerusalem and everyone is smiling and wishing each other Shabbat Shalom – from the bus driver, the shopkeepers, the neighbours and the soldiers – all smiling because they know that Shabbat is nearly here. The cars with sleeping children are pulling up – everyone laden with pots and cake tins ready to put together all the parts of the Shabbat family meal. Since it is summer salads are the main menu – aubergines, huge misshapen wild ones, are charred over flames then chopped with celery and spring onion and loads of lemon or left whole and served with freshly made tehina over the top. Red peppers are similarly charred, peeled and served with olive oil and garlic. Mushrooms, cooked up with Moroccan spices served hot over a big dish of humous and of course the traditional chopped Israeli salad with a hint of lemon juice and mint.

So dear friends, Zvi is on his way back from his Parliament at the University coffee shop, having completed his examination in tourism today. He loves his course and it really stimulates his mind. The table is set, the white cloth covering the table, the challot in place under their cover, the candles ready for lighting and the dishes ready for the special foods. As it grows quieter and quieter, the traffic slowing, the sun growing softer over the beautiful white building of this amazing city and family and friends gathering in traditional fashion.
The tunes may differ but the songs are the same – for two groups of people this Shabbat is their first as Israelis, 120 young Americans who came to serve in the IDF as Israelis and 27 Yemenis who are finally free to be, pray, laugh and live as free Jews.

I wish you a Shabbat Shalom with this song, my favourite of all Israeli songs because it talks of the honey and the sting, the bitter and the sweet and above all never ever to forget hope. and also the incredible song Sh'ma Yisrael by Sarit Hadad – Please G-d listen to me now that I am alone., give me strength to go on.................

With love from Jerusalem, heart of our world.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem. Home from Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece


8th August 2013

Shabbat Shalom dear friends. We are back home with amazing stories from our travels.

The first thing I opened upon my return was this quote from author and academic John Ronald ReuelTolkien, sent by Gerald Gaffin, Tolkien was asked by a German if he was Jewish. His response.....
If I am to understand that you are inquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am a British subject—which should be sufficient.
I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army.
I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.”

While giving the amber light to action against Iran, American Embassies have been forced to close in most countries of the Middle East due to clear and present danger particularly in Yemen which has become a crucible of terror. It seems ironic that the only Embassy which remains unthreatened is in Israel which is the only country which is denied an Embassy in her capital city as a sop to those who want to blow the USA to pieces! For the second time Congress is trying to correct this abomination and contact your congressperson
HR 2846 states that “The United States maintains its embassy in the functioning capital in every country except in the State of Israel.The bill also recognizes that the government of Israel has met all of the standards for establishing a capital city according to the international law set forth by the 1907 Hague Regulations stating “Israel has far exceeded the 1907 Hague Regulation as directed by international law. Israel has taken all measures to restore and ensure public order and safety in Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been far safer and more protected under Israel’s administration than under any previous authorities.”

Now back to our incredible journey
A dear friend, Pablo Nankin, told me that he loved Sofia because the Bulgarians defended and took care of their Jews, against Hitlers demands whereas the Macedonians did not however Bulgaria controlled Macedonia and the King of Bulgaria ordered his police to send the Jews to the camps thinking he would not have to do so with Bulgarian Jews.
S From Skopje
To Ohrid 
To continue our journey from Ochrid to Bitola or Monastir We went to the Jewish cemetery. Once the town of Bitola had a thriving Jewish community and the entire community was wiped out in the Shoah ; again their ashes were the only remains. Cousins Miriam Friedman nee Ovadia and Mazal Levi cried as they saw that the entire cemetery had become a field, the gravestones undoubtedly taken for secondary use. How were they to look for their families? Suddenly Zvi called to them, inside the tiny prayer room and memorial he found their family names on the wall among a list of families of Bitola that were taken by the Nazis - Koen, Kutiel, Aruti . - Zvi said Yizkor and Kaddish as we cried together in their pain. Miriam, 79 years old, finally found evidence of her lost family. She and Mazal had searched the world to find some memories of their predecessors without success and suddenly, in the cemetery, they had tangible truth, photos of the community. We cried together for the horrendous loss caused through foul all-encompassing hatred. It began with dehumanisation (like today), so that the locals in the various countries would not feel that their diabolical acts were anything but just rewards. In Bitola, the second largest Jewish community in Macedonia, there is a memorial to the Jews taken by the Nazis, written by the people of the city. The words on the memorial were simple. "In memory of our friends, family and brethren who were taken from us by the Fascist regime"

En route we stopped at the breathtaking monastery and church of Rila One of the most beautiful aspects are the paintings on the walls and vaulted ceiling which included scenes from the Old Testament.

Friday saw us cross another border to Thessalonika or Saloniki in Greece. We went to the synagogue and on way we stopped at the railway station from which the Nazis sent the Jews of Saloniki to the camps. Mazal's father among them. From there we walked to the Holocaust memorial and so to Shabbat morning prayers. I was amazed that the entire service, not just the prayers, was held in Ivrit (Hebrew). We were warmly welcomed, we sang for them and then we had kiddush. From the synagogue we walked the area to absorb the atmosphere. Later we saw the homes of the Jewish families who lived in Saloniki before the Holocaust and their obvious participation in life here.

After Shabbat we went to a local Taverna where we sang and were sung to. For Yossi Russo it was a moving and special treat as he sang in the city, the songs and the style his ancestors sang

As we left Greece and travelled back to Bulgaria for our flight home we stopped at a petrol station. We were all happy and chatting until a group of yobbos stopped next to one of our group and yelled AUSCHWITZ at her. Some things never change.

This was a truly incredible experience made possible by our guide Michael Shir from Jerusalem and our Macedonian hosts Angel Ivanov (Adriatic Travel and our local guide Willy ( We were the guinea pigs for this particular tour and they worked their hearts out to ensure our enjoyment and fascination.

Our journey was intertwined with our inevitable connection to the Shoah. The children of the perpetrators are not always like those yobbos - sometimes the sins of the father or grandfather are not visited on their ancestors – sometimes those ancestors take responsibility for the sins of the fathers and try to right them. The grandchildren of Nazis did the Walk of Life. Their words are very moving and enlightening

Dr Mehmet Oz, Turkish/American Moslem, the famous doctor on Oprah Winfrey, came to Israel with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. This is what Rabbi Shmuley wrote about their visit.

Mehmet is a Muslim, perhaps the world’s most famous who is not a head of state. He is a righteous and proud ambassador of his faith and feels an innate kinship and brotherhood with the Jewish people.
At the tomb of Maimonides we noted the role reversal. Maimonides, a Jew, was the world’s most famous physician, and he served the Muslim ruler Saladin.

It is so special to come home to Israel- as always but especially good to come home to fresh and crispy foods! No more stodge, the incredible fruit and veg picked yesterday, not last week; the salads made today not last week; the incredible variety of local foods, the freshness, freshness freshness of everything you eat..................... gosh I missed that!!!!
I loved the moment I walked onto the El Al aeroplane, the smiles and outstanding service of the stewardesses, the good food, the sound of Hebrew without translation, the feeling of being at home to discover we missed two wonderful sporting events
Messi and the Barcelona Team in a game with and for children battling cancer on their Peace Tour
Amar’e Stoudemire, NY Knicks star and co-owner of Hapoel Yerushalaim Basketball team, connected to his Jewish roots at Beit Hatfutsot with his family

Here are many of the friends of HaKol Yechassi – the Hora Jerusalem Choir with whom we travelled
The songs we sang
Adio Querido the story of the pain and bitterness of Spanish (Sefardi) Jews at their motherland Spain
The Kabbalist prayer Ana b'Koach
At each site that demanded prayer for those who perished we sang Kaddish

So here we are, back with the view from our veranda, the grandchildren, the preparations for Shabbat and the knowledge that we are home, sweet and beautiful home.
With love from Jerusalem – heart of our world

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Shabbat Shalom from Ohrid

1st August 2013

Shabbat Shalom dear friends - Shabbat Shalom from Ohrid in Macedonia!!!!!

I am really out of touch with what is happening in Israel, other than the obvious. We sadly missed the closing ceremony of the Maccabiah after a truly impressive games. Fine athletes in many fields, some surprises some disappointments, lots of medal and friends for life.
I was rather surprised to read that we put up Palestinian flags near the Knesset to welcome their diplomats/politicians/negotiators, because last time I looked there were no Israel flags near Ramalla even though it is almost on top of the Ramot neighbourhood of Jerusalem and getting closer every day with major building projects.
I find a few things difficult ot understand, actually rather a lot of things but the whole "We are Israel's closest allies" then demanding the release of numerous prisoners with blood on their hands because they were incarcerated before Oslo yet the outright refusal to relase Jonathan Pollard who spied for a friendly nation which had already given the USA all the information and information gathering they needed or wanted  How is that one fair?????? There is a Scottish saying "False friends are worse than bitter enemies." Which addresses the fact that it is easier to deal with someone you know is not on your side than someone who you thought was a friend but is not.
So let me tell you about our trip. I am not a person for organised tours. I hate being told when to wake, when to look, when to go up ordown and when and where to be anywhere!!!! Having said that, this was a trip arranged with friends within Zvi's choir and I have to admit that even this rebel is having fun!!!
Sofia, Bulgaria was a bit of a disappointment wiht too many areas that resembled downtown Gaza!!! In fact it wasn't until we crossed into Macedonia that I began to understand the difference between communist regimes and socialist regimes - a world apart. Actually I must admit that my views were coloured by the fact that the bus were travelling in was old, it broke down and despite 43 degree temperatures the A/C broke!!!!!
Skopje, Macedonia is fabulous -everything about it including the people.Here we saw the difference between Yugoslavia and Bulgaria at it sharpest. They took their mixed history - created some of it and recorded some of it and turned it into the most beautiful and positive reconstruction through the most wonderful staturary I have ever seen anywhere in the world. We all sang both Hebrew and Ladino songs for the leaders of the Jewish community in an impromptu concert at the Synagogue (even our police guards joined in and one of them became very emotional and showed me a photo of himself at the Kotel and told me he had Jewish ancestors). We really didn't need a police guard but this is the first group to come from Israel and they wanted to make sure everything went smoothly. They were just sweethearts and enjoyed our tour as much as we did!!!!! 
From the synagogue we went to the Holocaust Museum which is absolutely amazing. - nearly 11,000 Macedonian Jews, virtually the entire community, were taken to Treblinka (all Sefardim) and and not a one survived. Someone in the community went to Treblinka and brought ashes back to Skopje. As you may remember Zvi's Uncle Yosef was the doctor of Treblinka and was killed with his wife na dlittle daughter Zvi'a days before liberation. As the only child of the only survivers of boths parents families Zvi had never found cosolation, never had a place to mourn. For the first time in his life Zvi had something tangible from that hell hole and of his family all of whom perished. As he stood before the urns I prompted him to say kaddish (the prayer for the dead) since no-one was left to mourn them at the time. I think in a strange way he actually found some sense of closure. I was a blubbering mess of course as wer emost of our group!!
From Skopje we drove toward Ohrid, another city on a glorious natural, pure water lake which had been home ot many of the wealthiest Jews. As we walked around, seeing incredible churches, citadels and monasteries, I spoke to Willie, our guide and he told me that his father remembered when he was a very young child, watcing the Jews being gathered into a factory and put onto railway carriages. He remebred his mother pushing some bread and water into his little hands and telling him to get past the Germans and give the starving children the bread and water. He wanted, even as a small child, to grab a child and bring him to safety but knew it was impossible.
Macedonia worth visiting, has amazing sites and sights, is inexpensive and welcoming and best of all just two and a half hours flight from Israel!!
So tomorrow night I won't watch Jerusalem put on her best dress for Shabbat. We cross into Greece tomorrow morning and head for Salonika and another Jewish story, another community and our third country in 6 days!!! The choir music has been amazing, our guides adorable, the food ghastly and the Macedonians among the kindest funniest most welcoming people I can remember!
One question I was asked several times was " How come you are so successful and your young people so mature and focused"? I can only answer you with one of my favourite songs and htis video "Ayn le Eretz Acheret" I have no other country and the pictures of our amazing young IDF. These are young people who are given huge responsibilities, not told to follow anyone blindly, while being good soldiers they are expected to act with responsibilty, loyalty to their fellow soldiers and kindness even to our enemies. I am so proud.
Shabbat Shalom dear friends. Shabbat Shalom 
I leave you with a prayer Ana bekoach
With much love