The view from my veranda

161125 Haifa, Arson, Walls, Thanksgiving


25th November 2016

Shabbat shalom dear friends. Sadly I cannot write the letter I intended writing, one of Thanksgiving, because Israel is ablaze. Hundreds of fires were set, using simple but clever devices, all over the country, using the tinder dry trees, undergrowth and high winds to fan the carefully planned flames. Over 60,000 people have been evacuated in Haifa including a hospital and an old peoples home.  The fires were set with simple but ingenious devices.

Help has come in the form of firefighting aeroplanes from Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Croatia, Romania and Russia but the help we really need is to stop the arson – todays form of terrorism. I couldn’t help thinking of the difference in outlook. Israel ensures that her tree population grows each year and the Palestinian’s ensure that they burn down and destroy that beauty. If only they used their ingenuity for good instead of evil they could thrive.

A map of conflagrations

We Israelis are inclined to say “Who is going to take over the country when our generation goes. There is no-one who is capable or charismatic enough”. Yesterday I met two. I would happily put Israel into their capable hands. Amir Ohana, MK for Likud and Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin  MK for the Zionist Union

Their debate took place at the Jerusalem Press Club, in the beautiful Yemin Moshe neighbourhood, and the very first thing they did was hug, say they are great personal friends and that their approach is similar despite being in different parties. Both are strong Zionists, both are pragmatists, both are wonderfully polite…….. not a given in Israeli politics! They agreed that we must find a path to peace, but that security is out prime goal, indeed our search for security should be the impetus to find peace, or at least agreement. After much discussion and agreement they were asked whether they had a future plan; they both feel that it is an Israel/Palestinian problem, no interference wanted, but that Egypt is the common denominator to finding our way. Only with economic security can we find our way to bringing hope to the next generation of Palestinians toward a 2 State solution. When opened to questions mine was short; “Is there a way to reintroduce Salaam Fayad into the picture?” Salaam Fayad was very short-lived as Palestinian Prime Minister because he didn’t want to waste the vast aid monies, he wanted to build infrastructure, both physical and administrative. Unfortunately the moderator didn’t let them respond fully but both agreed he was one of the important factors. What fascinated me was the level of agreement and debate, not argument, between the two. I also learned that the PA Government Building in Ramallah is named for Yahya Ayyash – chief bomb-maker of Hamas and leader of Izz Adin al Qassam – a terrorist of huge proportions.

Another point of agreement was that education was our only tool to teaching the next Palestinian generation to live without hate and I told both MK’s about the work of IMPACT-SE in that field

According to the media, fed disinformation by the Palestinians which is then hungrily swallowed, the Israeli security fence is the main cause of the “troubles”. Well try this – When you consider how many photographs of the Israeli Security Fence (aka THE WALL) are in the media one would think it is the only wall in the world. Well it isn’t! There are at least 65! See and be amazed.

The sun just came up and the winds are slightly lessening; the incredible Israeli fire men and women have the fires under control; several countries came to our help with aeroplanes and equipment; so now, I can concentrate on Thanksgiving and Judaism – my original theme for this Shabbat Shalom.

I have wonderful American friends and most importantly I have an American son who has an American family, my amazing Daniel, Karen, Joshua and Callie; this in itself brought me to understand what Thanksgiving really is and its relevance to us all. For many it seems to have been degraded to a matter of pumpkin pie and turkey, but somewhere, deep inside, the idea of giving thanks for what we have is still of great importance.

Just in case you hadn’t already worked it out, I am a lateral thinker. One subject always links to another in a constant chain of thought and Thanksgiving is no different.

The Pilgrims suffered terrible oppression which caused them to go in search of a homeland, a place where they could live in peace and flourish. They cleared the land and planted crops and began farming animals. Thanksgiving was a day for giving thanks to G-d for bringing them to their first harvest, although since then it has become a day for barbeques and sales. Thanksgiving is still a tradition, an important tradition of giving thanks and celebrating as a family.

So what does that have to do with Judaism? Tradition!

I see young Israelis, although it is much wider than Israelis, who see no purpose in traditions, in Shabbat, in standing before Shabbat candles, ones children’s faces shining in the light. They see no reason to bless the wine (thanksgiving for the vines which gave us the fruit) or the Challah bread (thanksgiving for the rich land which gave us the crops) and certainly not to say grace after meals. Indeed Shabbat has for many become a weekly Black Friday for shopping. In Israel we are lucky because one tradition has remained – Friday night is family night for secular and religious families alike. It is sad to lose the traditions, whatever our religion, whatever our faith – it is what keeps us together as people and teaches us respect for others. Thanksgiving is just that, giving thanks for freedom, for civil rights, for the ability to pray and believe as you choose accepting the rights of others to so do too.

This has been a full week beginning with Jill’s arrival on Sunday. I love our airport. It is not Tel Aviv airport by the way, it is Ben Gurion Airport, once known as Lod Airport, and its site was chosen as the first flat-lands between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Since it is a Jewish airport it is also a very greeting friendly airport – the meeting place is a large round area so that more people can wave and smile and cry and race toward the grinning arrivees! It is the site of both Rachels and my Aliya. Jill is never as happy as when she walks through the automatic doors and finds herself in Israel, her gait lightens and her face relaxes.

On Monday Irit and Yitzik Lev, Ron and Rena Katz came for lunch. They intended going out but I had all the usual salads and soups and general food ready, just waiting for guests in the fridge – and to Rena’s amazement it was sugar free and tasty!!!!  Then on Tuesday Jill and I met with Dana and Betty, great friends, in Bet Hakerem, to catch up on all our family news. Wednesday we travelled up north for fun with my beautiful Rachel who calls Jill her second Mum! We already noticed the vast number of fire engines, police and ambulances racing up the main highway, which was when we understood that the fires were even worse than we thought. Thursday was the Jerusalem Press Club debate and that brings us to today!

This Shabbat we are going to stay with Rachel’s family. Zvi, Jill and I will enjoy a beautiful Haredi Shabbat with Rachel, Igal, Yosef, Talia and Ayala. I am very excited although Rachel is even more so, it is quite difficult to organise but we made it! I think she has prepared just about every traditional dish in the book! Two types of fish- hot white fish in tomato marinade and beautiful fresh salmon for Friday night and chicken cholent (Hamin) for Shabbat. The additions will be matboucha, aubergine, tomato, cucumber, tabouleh, bean, potato, egg salads and incredible roasted vegetables, she is an amazing cook.

So that’s about it. Just the music now. As I was researching my choice one song jumped out. Yismachu ha Shemayim – May the skies rejoice. May the skies rejoice and the tears of joy fall – in the form of life giving rain.

We are a miracle. Yes we are. The great Empires of our enemies have all fallen, the Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Ottoman and Reich but here we are. This is not the first time they have tried to burn us but here we stand. Yaacov Shwekey “We Are the Miracle”

Shabbat Shalom dear friends. Remember to give thanks for who we are and what we are.

With all our love from Jerusalem