The view from my veranda

160811 Portugal, 9 b’Av, Yarden Gerbi, Oprah Winfrey Hassidim


1th August 2016

Shabbat Shalom dear friends. Did you miss me? We were touring the amazing country of Portugal and I just didn’t manage to gather my thoughts last week.

So much has happened in the interim but I want to start with the past. On Sunday we honour the most fatalistic date in the Jewish calendar, one cannot say we celebrate this day, we honour the events and learn from them. Sunday or rather the 9th day of the month of Av is the culmination of 9 days of deep contemplation in which many things are sent to try us.

  1. In1313 BCE The 10 Spies sent to scout out the Land of Israel as a homeland for the Children of Israel after their miraculous Exodus from Egypt, claimed it to be a barren and ugly land, unlike Joshua and Caleb. Their bad judgement and mistrust made G-d angry and prolonged wandering in the desert for another 38 years, before settling the Promised Land;
  2. In423 BCEThe First Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar who massacred 100,000 Jews and exiled the remainder.
  3. Exactly 500years later, to the day, the Second Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed by Titus of Rome, massacre and expulsion of 1 million Jews
  4. Bar Kochba Revolt against the Romans ended with his execution and  yet again Jerusalem was destroyed, 600,000 Jews murdered by the Roman Empire and one year later on this date the Temple Mount plateau was flattened.
  5. The First Crusade (1096-1099) massacred tens of thousands of Jews in Germany, France, Italy and Britain;
  6. The expulsion of Jews from from Britain (1290);
  7. The Spanish Inquisition and final order of expulsion of Jews (1492);
  8. The First World War (1914);
  9. The 1942 deportation of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka extermination camp.

Nine of the most fateful events in Jewish history. Most certainly a day to pray, a day to fast, a day to contemplate why. Incredibly, it was the tears and prayers of the Jews, their recognition of the history of this day that reached Napoleon’s heart and caused him to free the Jews.

One event that has taken on a deeper meaning for me is the Spanish Inquisition. Our journey through Portugal taught me so much, helped me understand the repercussions of yet another Jewish Dispersion and the difference between the Portuguese people and all the others who exiled and killed us. Portugal has not only taken responsibility for the events of 500 years ago, they celebrate their Jewish heritage (nearly 20% of all Portugal has Jewish ancestry), Anusim and those rare Jews who succeeded in retaining their Jewish purity throughout 500 years. We prayed in the synagogue of Belmonte and in and met withJose Levy Domingos who is working determinedly to build the Isaac Cardoso Center in Trancoso  – he needs donations and visitors!

As we stood in the synagogue in Belmonte we sang and then stood outside for a photograph. Zvi brought the flag of Jerusalem and he quietly folded the flag and gave it to the synagogue President who could not hold back his tears. My Zvi is such a special man.

Almost all the Jews of Portugal and Spain became hidden Jews (Anusim) and melted into their surroundings retaining only some “strange” traditions. Reconectar, the brainchild of Ashley Perry, is helping people to connect to their ancestry

As you know we travelled with Zvi’s choir and I became curious as to the provenance of each of the members families as they returned home from dispersion. Yemen, Turkey, Poland, Tunisia, Kurdistan, Germany, Sweden, Czech, Morocco, Iraq, Syrian Halabi, Chile, Wales, Iran – and that was out of 34 people!! Many talk of a melting pot, but in Israel the pot came home. The Lul is a TV programme of the 70’s showing the reactions of each Aliya

There is a new “inquisition” taking place right under our noses and no-one seems to care. It is the persecution of Christians.

Avi Dichter, Head of the Knesset Defence Committee, says that 100% of UN aid workers in Gaza are members of Hamas. This of course is just the tip of the iceberg as we discover that World Vision, a Christian aid organisation, gives over one and a half million dollars to Hamas in cash

On the other side of the coin IsraAid and the marvellous Navonel Glick have been awarded the Muhammed Ali Award for their incredible work throughout the world

We won a medal!! Our beautiful young Judo champion Yarden Gerbi won the bronze medal. So proud of her achievement as she won her bout she touched her Israeli badge in pride. No matter how many buses they refuse to allow us to board or sports they refuse to compete – we are the champions and we. Little Israel, upholds the Olympic tradition of NO POLITICS.

On the 8th of August Zvi and I celebrated our first meeting – the day I walked into his office in Keren Hayesod in Jerusalem – hoping to learn how to do my job and met the man who would give me back my confidence and return me to be the woman my parents raised me to be by loving me, just loving me. Actually our first date was on the 14th of August but since that is Tisha b’Av this year I don’t want to chance fate!!!!!

Yesterday Rachel and I met and incredible lady. Her name is Miri, she is Haredi and Miri simply spreads joy in unlikely places. Many years ago, depressed because she just couldn’t get pregnant, she decided to spend her time helping others after she was told that giving of yourself could change ones fate. From her humble home she began making sandwiches, buying snacks and giving them to people in hospital waiting rooms for free, pushing her trolley with a smile and a kind word. She now serves in 3 hospitals, still privately from her home, because since starting her act of tsedaka she has 3 beautiful children. “I can’t stop” she said “I can’t stop giving joy”. If you want to help Miri you can send me a donation and Rachel will make sure it gets directly to her.

Last night we went to the memorial seuda, meal, for our friend Bernardo Romanowsky. It is a year since he passed and we still miss him. His widow Rosa really did him proud and the gathered friends spoke of his exceptional strength and kindness. Rosa was surrounded by friends but her loneliness was tangible without him. The food was amazing and I had the honour of sitting with one of my favourite people Pola Sztrigler, while Zvi sat with her husband Jorge. Best of all my proximity to Pola meant I had first dibs of her unbelievably tasty herring dishes!!!!

The Haredi community is at best misunderstood and at worst despised. The renowned Jewish tolerance for others seems to end when it comes to our own. Oprah Winfrey went into the Haredi world of Brooklyn and her series was an eye opener for her and for all who have dire misconceptions of Haredi life.

My favourite Jerusalem supermarket is a Haredi one called Osher Ad. I call it Haredi because they have only very, very kosher foodstuffs that suit a specific clientele but they have all the American brands and wonderful fresh produce. Actually the produce is the best fun. They don’t have a few cucumbers or tomatoes or aubergines or any fruit or veg – they have mountains! When choosing cucumbers one is faced with the edges of thousands of crisp green fruits piled high……. And of course there is always someone who wants the one at the bottom!!! Best of all one sees every variety of Israeli people shopping there irrespective of race, colour or leaning………….it is so much fun!! No silence at the checkouts here – everyone is helping everyone else and of course guarding their place and trolley in the line so they can run to get “just one thing I forgot”!!!

Since I have given you so many links, perhaps we should be satisfied with one Shabbat song. I’ll see………………….

Lecha Dodi – Welcome my Beloved – refers to the welcome for the Bride of Shabbat. The words are wonderful and this is a Chassidic niggun with English translation.

Oh alright then I will find just one more!  Mi ha Ish – Who is the Man the song of tolerance from the words of King David’s Psalms written here in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and still sung in the original language.

Tomorrow I will go to Givat Zeev to see Yosef, Talia and Ayala before Shabbat then come home to prepare to welcome Shabbat with Leor, Shiri and family. We leave for Holland on Sunday night, on our annual vacation with Zvi’s boys and families. I hope I will be able to write to you next week but it all depends upon the WiFi where we stay!!!

I wish you Shabbat Shalom from our Jerusalem, each time I come home from afar I am dazzled by her beauty and the view from our veranda. By the way Stanley, my little lemon tree has at least 35 lemons on it this year!!!!

With love