The view from my veranda

150206 Burning of Jordanian Pilot, PM before Congress, Tu b’Shvat

6th February 2015
Shabbat Shalom dear friends. Shabbat Shalom.
The moment Zvi and I heard that a Jordanian pilot had been captured by Da’ ish/ ISIS we looked at each other in dismay. We knew that he would not only be horribly tortured, not uncommon for their captives, but would suffer horrifically simply because he was a fellow Moslem and deemed to have joined the enemy. In our worst nightmares we could not have imagined that they would put him in a cage and burn him alive. The sheer extent of their barbarism is a direct reflection of their danger.
The bruhaha over Prime Minster Netanyahus visit to speak before Congress is building, and building. I don’t know what is best, who is right and who is being adamant. The fact that it is being played out in public rather than a quiet word in Mr Netanyahus ear infuriates me however. What happened to diplomacy? When a leader is invited by the speaker of the House to speak, well before we knew that elections would be imminent, it seems rude to decline. When the invitation is withdrawn very publicly by the President it put Democratic Congressmen who support Israel in a very difficult position and for the Speaker to retract the invite of for Mr Netanyahu to refuse the invite was already a matter of principle.  Yet another public embarrassment for the Israeli leader. I truly don’t know what to think except that it seems a very strange way to treat your greatest ally, indeed your only ally in the region.
Sir Martin Gilbert was arguably the greatest biographer of his time, certainly the greatest Jewish biographer of our time. Sadly Sir Martin passed away this week. I quote his words‬ on Israel: “It is the country I have lived in, taught in, played in, seen my children grow up in — and hold in the highest esteem, for all its faults, which are in my view far outweighed by its virtues.”
Baruch Dayan Emet Sir Martin. One of the world’s preeminent historians on the Holocaust, Israel & the Jewish people. An official Churchill Biographer. Zionist. Intellectual. Mensch! You may no-longer be with us, but your words and books will live with us forever!
I remember my high school geography lessons about the rotation of crops and laying fields fallow to regenerate the soil and now, here we are in the middle of that very concept, but the ancient variety, Jewish ecology. Not only is it a year of laying the land, trees, soil fallow during the mandatory seventh year – Shmitta – but we just celebrated Tu b’Shvat, the New Year for Trees. Children all over Israel plant new trees or bushes but this year they refrained, because it is a shmitta year, the seventh year of the cycle and thus the land must lay fallow.
Although trees are not bearing fruit at this time of year we delight in eating loads of dried fruits, fresh fruits and so on. Indeed the shopping malls, supermarkets and shouks were filled with delicious baskets of dried fruits of Israel. Plump prunes, dates, raisins, sultanas and cranberries to say nothing of the unbelievable dried pineapple. Our dried pineapple bears no resemblance to the ones you buy! No sugar, no additives they are simply slices of sun dried pineapple of such intense flavour that your tongue immediately expressed delight. “Wow”. What is Tu b’Shvat?
Talking of nature, do you know what a large synchronisedflight of starlings is called? I found out this week. It is a murmuration. The news stations around the world were full of a miracle in the South of Israel, a murmuration of starlings over the Bedouin town of Rahat. It is breathtaking.
Anti-Semitism is the mark of Cain of modern society. It is the canary in the coal mine, it is the proof of the collapse of our society as we know it, it is proof positive that we learned nothing from history. Goebbels is alive and well and living in the minds of our enemies but Winston Churchill is not here to expose their evil  and fight back.
Last Friday night we went to our friend Itzik Mussachy for supper. It was such a delight to take part in their traditional Shabbat dinner. There were some differences, like the zatar oil that they pour over the challah after it is broken, but it was Shabbat, Shabbes, Friday night dinner with the self-same traditions that our ancestors brought to that same table. Itzik has four daughters, each very different and each absolutely wonderful. We loved it to say nothing of Itziks amazing cooking!!!!
On Shabbat, Ella Raviv reached the vast age of 2!!! She was so excited by the fuss, although too shy to say anything. She loved the fact that we sang happy birthday in English, Hebrew and then sang Yom Huledet Sameach too!!!! Ella, as I told you, so called because she was born on Tu b’ Shvat. The foods all related to trees, nature, fruit and veggies…….. delightful.
This week has been a bit crazy. As my Facebook friends know I was meant to undergo a very small surgery last Monday but it was deferred for further checks and test by a truly incredible surgeon who does not like to take chances with his patients. Dr. Aviad Hoffman really is exceptional and a lovely person too. Anyway – between us we decided to save the date after my beautiful New York family comes to spend time with us in Jerusalem. I just want to be able to cuddle my little grand-daughter and play with Joshua who is so much fun! The food is all cooked, all of my son Daniel’s childhood favourites, just because he is well over 40 doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be spoiled with fried gefilte fish balls, potato kugel, chicken soup with kneidlach, stuffed peppers and red rice, beouf bourguignon………. and so many other foodstuffs all ready for their arrival. For my lovely daughter in law Karen I also bought some beautiful fresh fish, both whole and filleted so that she would not be forced into eating only Dan’s favourites!
The weather has been a beautiful this week. Gentle sunshine, relatively warm with glorious red, dappled skies at both sunrise and sunset. Next week we expect anything from snow on Tuesday to gentle rain – hopefully the latter. I am not worried about amusing the children, we have so much for them to do in Jerusalem even when it rains. The Bloomfield Science Museum which has experiments and activities for every age, from 1 though to 90!!!! The Ruth Wing of the Israel Museum too and hopefully the weather will be good enough to go out to the Latrun Tank Musuem where they can clamber over the old tanks where they have cut the sides out so the children can see the workings. Nothing to do with teaching war, just about tanks and adventures.
My downstairs neighbour Shoshanna just popped up to say hello. Actually everyone is our downstairs neighbour because we are on the top floor of what are called step housing. Jerusalem is all hills so rather than flatten a hill (remember that Jerusalem is rocky) we build on the slope like steps. Anyway, Shoshanna was hoping to see what I am cooking for Shabbat but my kitchen is surprisingly clean and tidy today- we are out for both meals!!!!  Yesterday she came with a gift for Zvi, some delicious pasta dishes!
Israel is all about food and family – hardly surprising since we are Jewish after all. Talking of Jewish and food, I had a note from Canon Andrew White, who is doing really well, to say that he was in the King David with the British Ambassador Matthew Gould, and they were eating his very favourite dish……….. gefilte fish!!!!
So here we are! Another Shabbat, another chance to contemplate on the week that passed and try to change what will be. As Zvi gets ready to go to his Parliament, we stand together in front of the windows, looking out from the veranda on the blue skies, small clouds scudding across the blue sky, the sun warming Jerusalem after a cool night. The spring bulbs are beginning to emerge, fooled into believing that spring has sprung by the warm air and giving hope for future colour and joy.
On the way down to the Dead Sea the desert is blooming from the rains of a few weeks ago. The land is fertile and the sleeping seeds suddenly wake up and provide a carpet of red poppies and anemones over the formerly sandy ground. Israelis flock to see the wonder of the flowers in the desert and the black Iris in both Nes Ziona and Netanya. Gosh this is a beautiful country.
To honour Tu b’ Shvat and the national flower of Israel here is the late Shoshanna Dimari singing Calaniot (Anemones)
The Almond blossom, harbinger of spring, turns the Jerusalem hills into clouds of pink and the open fields and parks are covered in poppies, anemones and wild pink cyclamen which seem to grow out of the very rocks which are an integral part of the Jerusalem landscape.
I wish you a Shabbat shalom and remind you to stay positive and hopeful in a seeming terrifying world. More than any other song, my feelings are expressed by Al Kol Eleh – Above all this. Read the words and feel the melody and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it. We have so much to be thankful for
My favourite quote of the week is from actor, satirist and traveller Michael Palin – I know that we shall meet problems along the way, but I’d far rather see for myself what’s going on in the world outside, than rely on newspapers, television, politicians and religious leaders to tell me what I should be thinking.
I must rush because I am very excited to tell you that my girlfriend Sheila (we call each other ” my friend Sheila”) is about to come and visit me.
With love from Jerusalem