The View From My Veranda
Sheila's Letter From Jerusalem
20th January 2023
Shabbat Shalom! I hope you are all well, or at least feeling better than yesterday and if not, that the blue skies look down on you.
Malcolm X was highly controversial on many levels but this quote was conceivably his wisest.
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
I really enjoyed writing last week’s missive, avoiding the elephant in the room, but this week I have to get down to “tachlis” to a few facts before cheering you up! Hope you don’t mind. Most of the news can be written in one line because it’s easy for you to catch up fully on what interests you and if not, you can write to me and I’ll happily fill you in- but one subject has gone beyond elephant, it fills the room, so let’s get it out of the way.
As you already know, I have a major problem with leaders who have either served time or are indicted on criminal charges, admittedly white collar but nonetheless criminal, leading our incredible and precious country. I know all the jokes about politicians and honesty, most of them true, but those are jokes and we live in a strange reality when responsibility for crimes is not considered an impediment to power. Rabbi Arieh Deri is a very clever man who leads the Shas Party, founded in 1984 by the former Sefardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ovadiah Yosef. The party was created to care for the interests of the Mizrachi (Eastern) Jews and level the social playing field. However, rather than levelling the playing field Shas has widened gap by creating “the Second Israel” which claims that that particular sector is not given equal chances in life despite the fact that many Members of Knesset, the top businessmen and academics are indeed from the Mizrachi community. OK. That’s the background, now for the issue. Arieh Deri, who served prison time for fraud was given the position of Minister of the Interior with unlimited funds, control over immigration, indeed a position second only to the Prime Minister.
His suitability for the position was questioned and it went to the Supreme Court and a decision was taken by a majority of 10-1 that he was not suitable for the position, for public office, and should leave immediately. This may well have opened the door to other cases denying the right to serve for Netanyahu and some say this was just a test case for him. Sadly, Deri’s supporters turned it into a racial issue claiming that the Supreme Court judges are all Ashkenazi (Western Jews) and the decision was not based on legality but anti-Mizrachi. For your interest, the panel of eleven judges consisted of the full range of sectors. So that is the issue absorbing and dividing our society at the moment. The peaceful Saturday evening demonstrations against this government continue in most towns and cities and only time will tell if this coalition holds or will fall apart.
Apart from that life in Israel, while always interesting, is still wonderful as long as we don’t discuss politics!! In case you are wondering why I chose to tell you the whole truth, let me explain. Every Tuesday Zvi and four or five other friends meet for a mini-parliament in a coffee shop a shopping mall nearby. Much less formal than their usual and larger parliament on a Friday. I had some chores to do in the mall so went with Zvi and then met the guys. I asked them about my dilemma, should I tell you the whole truth or just the freshly varnished truth. Almost everyone said yes but one man, Meishi Schreiber, who has great experience with both every sector of Israeli society and the Diaspora, said yes, as long as you temper it with our everyday experience which is fair, happy and democratic, so that is what I am doing today, telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, including the split in our society to which I have only hinted in the past.
A situation blew up again around the Temple Mount and was “leaked” to the news media. King Abdullah spoke of his concerns about changes in the status quo (which do not exist) and then suddenly, two days ago, the Jordanian Ambassador arrived on the Temple Mount, without the essential prior arrangements and unannounced! Of course, the young soldier guarding the entrance asked him to stop, the Ambassador walked off in a highly publicised huff, hoping to create a diplomatic incident but the situation was immediately righted and the Ambassador came back officially, as he should have in the first place and prayed in the Al Aqsa Mosque. Ordinary prayer goers have no problem but official visits by diplomats have to be pre-arranged.
The United Arab Emirates have been wonderful partners in the Abraham Accords, on every level.
Their decision to include Holocaust education in their school curriculum is the latest and conceivably the most important in changing perceptions for children. https://www.jpost.com/diaspora/article-728016
On the subject of the Holocaust and teaching those who do not understand the implications of the past, there is a new Yad Vashem Holocaust Centre in the Negev, at the Ariel Sharon IDF Base. I didn’t understand how exceptional this place is until speaking to the wonderful Harold and Rebecca Finger who are here in Israel at the moment. Harold and Rebecca use their time well every time they come all the way from Australia and as Harold described the centre I knew that it has to be on the visit list of everyone coming to Israel. https://www.yadvashem.org/events/26-april-2022.html
Do you know what Dugo Day is? It is far more important than just another day for oak trees or whatever and the story was published in the Jerusalem Report. David Leitner, nickname Dugo, was 14 years old on the 18th of January, 1945 when he went on the death march without food or warm clothing in the freezing weather, starving but holding one thought in his mind, the felafel that his mother told him about, the felafel of Eretz Yisrael and the thought of that felafel kept his hope and him alive. Dugo and his brother survived and came to Israel, went to Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem and for the first time in his life saw the felafel that his Mother spoke about. Since then, January the 18th is the day he eats felafel with a blessing of thanks. His story has spread and now Dugo Day is official! When invited to eat felafel with General Kochavi, Israeli Chief of Staff and he said “Who would have believed this just 75 years ago” https://www.yadvashem.org/events/26-april-2022.html
Herzi HaLevi has a family tree to be proud of. The son of Haim Shalom HaLevi who fought for the founding of Israel and Tzila, the daughter of Rabbi Kook and niece of Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Kook, the father of religious Zionism, Herzi is named after his uncle who died in the Six Day War. Herzi HaLevi is the new IDF Chief of Staff taking over from the outstanding Aviv Kochavi. The swearing in ceremony showed the true character of Israel as both the outgoing and the incoming Chiefs of Staff praised one another and stressed the importance of their life partners. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herzi_Halevi
Professor Mohammed Dajani Daoudi is an exceptional man. As a proud Palestinian who seeks a peaceful resolution to the conflict through education, indeed he is on the International Advisory Board of Impact-se. This week he wrote “How to solve the conflict over Jerusalem? Looking at this painting by David Roberts drawn in the 1850s, one may notice that the historic Jerusalem mentioned in the holy Jewish, Christian, and Islam is within the walls built by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I The Lawmaker, back between 1535 and 1538. So there is no religious significance for the land outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Inside the walls, the area is divided into four quarters: Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim. Here are all the holy places where followers of all religions can practice their faiths and beliefs freely. https://pixels.com/featured/jerusalem-david-roberts.html
If you want to read about the good news from Israel, then this site has it all, as long as you don’t stop reading mine!! https://verygoodnewsisrael.blogspot.com/
Back to my good news and there is plenty! First of all, I had a wonderful birthday, full of friends and good food as predicted. The best of all Yonatan and Ella wrote me birthday messages of such beauty that they are about to be framed, although currently on the fridge for all to see. On Monday Zvi and I went for a glorious walk on the path down to the reservoir in Beit Zayit which begins right opposite our complex. Truthfully, I am not yet up to the 7 kilometre walk all the way down but we stood at the top of the hill and looked down on the gorgeous sight of the reservoir, the recent rains doing a good job of filling it, and enjoyed the wonderful sunshine and blue skies which brought out the wild cyclamen, the almond blossom, forming clouds of pink in all directions, olive trees which cover the land and of course the breathtaking sight of Jerusalem and the golden onion domes of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ein Kerem in the distance. Incidentally Ein Kerem has several Christian sites worth visiting. The Benedictine Monastery and Mary’s Well among them. It felt so good to be back walking especially when greeted by such an amazing sight!
Last week Yosef and Talia surprised us and on Sunday evening Rachel and Ayala did the same. I love being near to my amazing daughter and her family!
On Tuesday we had the regular mini-parliament and then various neighbours popped in for a cup of coffee or just to say hello. I love it when they knock on the door and just visit, just like once upon a time, so much nicer than the formalities of invitations! On Wednesday we decided it was high time to hang all the photos that we used to have in the study in our old apartment. I call it the “Rogues Gallery”! During Zvi’s long professional life we met many people, political leaders, even Royalty. Then came the test, who would recognise whom. I can’t wait to see.
Talking of neighbours, tomorrow, Shabbat, we have invited five young couples to have “Afternoon Tea” with us. All Israeli, I hope it will amuse them to have scones – fruit, plain and cheese – and many other very British treats, ending with Apple Crumble. When I arrived home from hospital and rehabilitation, these young couples not only called Zvi to check on me but sent the most beautiful platter of cut fruits – the perfect gift for a recovering patient. I was deeply moved and accepted their expressions of love with many a tear. So, they will come and I can learn more about them and their lives, not just meet them in our park. That’s just one of the wonderful aspects of living in Israel, we don’t just get to meet our neighbours, we don’t just nod good morning or good evening, we really get to meet them and they so frequently become friends. I know, for instance, that if I have difficulty when out on my daily constitutional, I can call on anyone and they will come running.
And so life goes on despite the political mayhem. The sheep will follow the call to noisy and sometimes violent rebellion against democracy and the rest of us will quietly demonstrate or just get on with our lives, determined to hold on tight to the incredible melding of faiths, beliefs and the most important thing that binds us – we are one people, irrespective or maybe in honour of where our parents and grandparents were born. The very strength of the Jewish people is that we never made a difference in where you came from, it was enough that you wanted to be part of the family. The very strength of the Jewish people is that while upholding all our traditions we were proud to sing God Save the Queen, the Star Spangled Banner, Advance Australia Fair, Hen Wlad fy Nhadau, or any anthem of the country of our adoption so please, I beg of you, express the same pride when singing Hatikvah and be as proud of our blue and white flag as you are of your adoptive country’s flag.
Almost Shabbat, tomorrow’s afternoon feast is prepared, tonight’s Shabbat Dinner is already on the stove, or should I say the induction hob (!!), the Challot (plaited loaves) are rising and waiting to be plaited, and Zvi is about to go to his parliament, the big one in the Botanical Gardens as opposed to the local mini-parliament. I’m thrilled he will spend some down time because he works so hard on the Boards of so many organisations and brings new and interesting solutions to everyone. The sky is blue, the air crisp and I hope to have time to go for my walk. I sense the anticipation in the air as Shabbat approaches, houses are cleaned to sparkling, tables set with white tablecloths, the air redolent with the aromas of a hundred traditional dishes, so different yet so similar, just with more or less jalapeno peppers!
So let’s put politics and worries aside and think of music. Music calms the fevered brow so that even politicians become almost human!
I know that you are with us as we are with you and this song expresses that so beautiful – Ten Li Yad – Give me your hand. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVm0bVmLChA&t=5s
Rak b’Yisrael which means Only in Israel can be used both as a compliment and an insult! See for yourselves https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-7EvfJje88&t=1s
The haunting voice of Mosh Ben Ari expresses our deepest prayer Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu, Peace will come to us and to everyone. Shalom, Salaam. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4HViPVymlo&t=2s
May we all know peace, tolerance and kindness, perhaps the most important prayer this Shabbat
Shabbat Shalom dear friends, you are so important to me; you make me think, force me to put into words of tolerance instead of anger, surely the most important aspect of religion, of all religions, of all beliefs, that is forgotten in the need to prove who’s best. So Shalom Aleinu and Shabbat Shalom.
With love from Jerusalem