The view from my veranda

Beirut, Bibi and Birds

7th August 2020


Shabbat Shalom dear friends. I hope this missive finds you well.


It’s really hard to stay pragmatic, let alone positive, at this moment in the history of the world, but pragmatic we must stay because it doesn’t help to be anything else!


A horrific tragedy struck Lebanon this week. Sheer negligence and maleficence caused a massive explosion in the port of Beirut, leaving devastation in its wake. Apparently the port held a huge arsenal of Hezb-Allah arms and silos of ammonia nitrate – which is used for both agricultural fertilizer but also an essential element in making explosives. Both the armaments and the chemicals had been there many years, left to disintegrate and become even more volatile, until one spark – as yet its source is unknown – created a lethal chain reaction.  Sadly it isn’t only Beirut. Hezb-Allah stockpiled ammonia nitrate in London and in Germany too


As we saw the level of devastation, Israel immediately offered help, opening the Galilee Medical Centre in Nahariya, virtually on the border with Lebanon to the injured and offering both financial and practical help, but as yet the offer has been rejected. Lebanon is crippled and help is just over her border but such is the hatred that they cannot bring themselves to accept. Lebanon, brought to its knees already by Hezb-Allah and the huge influx of Syrian refugees fleeing war but still…………….


Perhaps the most diabolical insinuation of all is that Israel is offering aid purely for PR purposes. Israel, first to fly to the aid of any country that suffers disaster, Israel, Lebanon’s only neighbour to offer aid, and we did it for PR purposes?


I often get upset and the complacency of Diaspora Jews when faced with clear anti-Semitism, especially when it is in school curriculum. It not only affects children today but our children and how they think about their identity and Israel for future generations. I believe I wrote about the situation in California and in Toronto and the proposed introduction of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic material into their schools. Toronto, or rather Canadian Jews and non-Jews united against the proposal and the material was taken out. I was not so confident with the California situation but I was wrong. An Amcha initiative grew and grew and they succeeded in taking the offending and offensive material out of the schools. Well done. Teachers are supposed to teach tolerance and acceptance of our differences. Sometimes, in fact too often, Anti-Semitism is the acceptable face of racism.


The Loneliest Hatred  “Historian Robert Wistrich famously called anti-Semitism “the longest hatred.” But it might also be the loneliest. In the midst of a farseeing vision of racial justice at the heart of the movement sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, there is a destructive blindness: “Anti-racism,” as it is conceived and practiced today—months after a wave of intermittently murderous attacks on Jews in and around New York—has not just a shallow understanding of the peculiarities of Jew-hatred, but no inclination to confront it when expressed by people who have suffered racism themselves.”


Two incidents in Israeli politics distressed me this week. Israel, quite rightly, has basically closed her skies, virtually no incoming flights amid a major problem controlling the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Taking that into consideration, why on earth would the government consider allowing some 8,000 pilgrims to fly to Uman, Ukraine for Rosh Hashana, to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav. They promise to wear masks but what about when they return? Will they keep to the 2 weeks of isolation? Will they cause another wave of contagion?  The second relates to MASA, a magnificent programme for young people from all over the world to come and work or study in Israel, to encourage ultimate Aliya It was predominantly a Jewish Agency programme and over the years has been highly successful. This year, due to Covid, is different although some groups are coming anyway. Last Monday, Channel 13’s Nadav Eyal reported that the Israeli government decided to allow the entry of about 20,000 yeshiva and seminary students, not Israeli citizens, and who would stay in preferential isolation conditions after their arrival. The Israeli government would pay for coronavirus tests for all of them, and they would not be required to be tested before boarding the planes. If these young people paid for their studies themselves I would welcome them, but the fact is that our tax money pays for them! At a time when grandparents cannot see their grandchildren and vice versa because only Israeli citizens are allowed into the country this is just not fair. I’m sorry if this offends anyone, I’m sorry but the Prime Minister of Israel has prostituted himself to interest groups in order to hold on to his seat. I know I shouldn’t be shocked but I am – is there not a modicum of honour left in leadership?


Gosh now I am truly depressed but as always there are some amazing things happening here – despite the government.


Israel’s Institute for Biological Research in Nes Ziona is about to begin human trials on a Covid-19 vaccine. The vaccine has already shown success in animal trials and there is hope that it will be released before too long through the US biotech company Moderna. The news was released after Defence Minister and DPM Benny Gantz visited the Institute this week.


My friend Elisabeth Gelb sent me a glorious video about a bird, an orphaned fledgling and a drone.

Whenever we think of drones we think of warfare but drones are used by conservationists to monitor the wellbeing of their charges. Israel may be a tiny country but we boast at least 400 nature reserves and Israelis love to visit, to camp or trek. Most people who haven’t visited Israel tend to picture an arid, beige landscape devoid of real nature, but then that is just one of many misconceptions about our glorious country! Bird-watchers, or Twitchers as they are called – love the Hula Valley and its incredible avian variety. Originally drained swamps, the Jewish national Fund realised that their hard work on draining left no place for the wild-life so allowed the swamps to reform and then came the miracle of migrating birds, predominantly Cranes and White Pelicans, stopping off on their long journey to rest in Israel, in the waters of the Hula Valley. Stunning


I’m free again, driving and feeling good, so we’ve ventured forth from our apartment and have been visiting old haunts!! Yesterday, as I came home from a visit to Modiin with Rachel, Yosef, Talia and Ayala (I don’t recommend shopping with 3 teenagers!), dropped them off in Givat Ze’ev, and passed the little shopping centre near the entrance, a little parade of shops which express the possibility of living together. I love the fact that the registration plates on the cars are equally with a P or an IL – and the customers cover the full range of religiosity of both Moslems and Jews. In fact the lovely owner of the garden centre bends down in prayer next to the fuchsias when the time is appropriate. I drove up the steep hill with olive groves and camels on either side until upon crowning the hill comes the reward – the view from Samuel’s Tomb. Gosh I missed it!!  White houses, green trees, rolling hills, bridges, church spires and towers and tall apartment blocks creating a perfect panorama.


A piece of excellent news is that my friend Ish, now Israeli Ambassador Ishmael Khaldi, is headed off to Eritrea to represent Israel there. His journey from a Bedouin child who tended sheep and lived in a tent to become a highly respected Israeli diplomat is nothing short of magic.


Last week I forgot to tell you that we went to Zvi’s son Leor and Shiri’s home for Shabbat Dinner and it was so joyful to be with them and watch the girls light the Shabbat candles with their Mummy and then Zvi sang Kiddush and we ate the gorgeous Challot made by Amit, the eldest of Leor and Shiri’s 4 girls. Today Ira, Valeri, Tomer and Shelly are coming to our veranda, together with Prof. Gabby Barkay. Tomer is testing his independence, having completed his IDF service, he moved into a shared apartment in Jerusalem and Shelly begins her IDF Officer’s Course on Sunday. They make me so proud. As we sit in the wonderful breeze, on a balmy Jerusalem evening, Gabby will regale us all with stories of Israel’s amazing history through his incredible archaeological adventures. Here is a short video of his explanations to visitors to his Sifting Project


I haven’t really started cooking yet although I’m not going crazy tonight. I think we’ll start with a soup, probably a light veggie soup, I already made two great big sweet potato and onion quiches (without pastry cases) and beautiful sweet new potatoes. I think I’ll make a great big salad and fresh spinach sautéed with garlic and some baby peas. Dessert will be mouthwateringly delicious, bright red, icy cold water melon. Our Israeli water melon is just amazing without those annoying pips………. Although I must admit that when my children were little a regular summer pastime was “squishing” water melon pips at each other!!!


On that note it time for a little music!


This isn’t a song but when Richard Friend sent it to me a few minutes ago I had to share it!! Asthrid Baltzan explains and plays Rhapsody in Blue


Hannah Senesh wrote a poem which has become a prayer for all religions all faiths.  “Eli Eli”


Mosh Ben Ari is a dreamer and a songwriter. When he wrote these words they became an invocation for peace “Peace will soon be upon us (3) and on everyone.​
Salaa​​m Upon us and upon the whole world, Salaa​​m, Salaam”


I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who gave so generously to “Dr. Dan’s Room” the music therapy room in Shalva which we created in loving memory of my son Daniel, who was so tragically killed in an accident in December. We have achieved the funding of the room – almost – but, before we close the campaign I wanted to give you a chance to say thank you for all the years of writing from my heart. It’s so easy! Just click on Sponsor.


I wish you peace, in your heart and in your country. Enough anger and hatred, it destroyed two Temples and now it’s destroying our very being. Let’s create a better world one person at a time.


With much love from Jerusalem