The View From My Veranda
Sheila's Letter From Jerusalem
17th March, 2023
Shabbat Shalom! Shabbat Shalom from wonderful, democratic Israel.
The demonstrations here in Israel are not the storming of the Bastille, although it is said that we have our own version of Marie Antoinette; it is nothing to do with Guy Fawkes and the 5th of November plot nor is it the rather violent storming of Congress just a couple of years ago, no, it is an expression of our democratic objections to being governed by an administration which includes extreme right wing idealists. That is the statement being made by hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have taken to the streets proudly carrying their Israeli flags.
There is always a danger of becoming over zealous, of taking the argument one step too far, but in 10 weeks of demonstrations that has not happened. However, there is one instance which really made me angry. A group of Ex-Pat Israelis went to the German Parliament to ask that they decline to meet with the Prime Minister! That is beyond the pale on so many levels! Like it or not he is our Prime Minister and to ask (demand) another government to shun him defies imagination, especially a German government. It dishonours our beautiful country. Do these people have no memory no understanding of history?
Unfortunately a mistaken antipathy toward religion has emerged, which is a rotten shame because we have a beautiful religion and just one country, a tiny little country which is ours, ours to share, but ours, and without recognising that it in order to be a Jewish country we need to abide by certain elements of our faith we lose our mutual respect. I don’t want us to become a secular state, I want a Jewish State which includes freedom of choice and respect for those who make different choices. I want a Jewish State in which everybody takes responsibility for the whole by accepting that rights carry obligations.
A fellow moderate, positive defender of Israel, a man who hung up his sword and took up a ploughshare, Robert Wolf, with whom I have much in common in our Facebook conversations, suggested that we look around us at the countries with whom we share a continent and realise just how lucky we are. There was a joke during the big Aliya from Russia and the FSU. A man was being interviewed about his former life “What was life like back in Russia” to which he responded “I can’t complain”, “How was the education back in Russia?” again “I can’t complain” the interviewer ran the gamut of questions and each time got the same response “I can’t complain”. Finally, he asked “What about your new life here in Israel?” Smiling the new immigrant responded “Now here I can complain!”
So, ladies and gentlemen, that’s what’s happening right here in Israel, we can complain. When one considers what was before the State of Israel, those Jews would have given anything to be in our position – with a phenomenal country that is a light unto nations, most of the time!
President Herzog is the adult in the room in our current conundrum. He made a calm and presidential speech to the people of Israel, recognising that this could descend into a diabolical chasm in our society, and put forward a plan to bring together the various sides in the leadership battle. He called it following the Golden Path to a calm resolution. Thus far only Benny Gantz has agreed to his suggested terms and the PM has rejected it, but I am hopeful that an agreement will emerge. Please excuse the long link but this article explains well https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2023-03-15/ty-article/.premium/herzog-to-present-second-compromise-plan-to-netanyahus-judicial-overhaul/00000186-e5b9-dacd-a9a7-ffbf675b0000
Professor Mohammed Dajani Daoudi became the recipient of a Simon Wiesenthal Prize this week. Professor Daoudi is a member of an old Jerusalem family whose history goes back hundreds of years. He is a proud Palestinian who believes in peaceful co-existence, has created an inclusive method of teaching, is on the International Advisory Board of Impact-se and is a fine man who took a group of students from Bir Zeit University to Poland and to Auschwitz. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammed_Dajani_Daoudi
I met some wonderful people this week when the amazing Rachel Heisler, the Director of the American Friends of Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva, invited me to meet some of her Board members. Of course, the first questions were about the political dilemma that we face in Israel at the moment, and the possibility of introducing Holistic Therapies into Soroka’s Oncology Department following the Yuri Shtern Holistic Therapies in Shaare Zedek. I was deeply impressed by the openness and interest of the people around the table and their determination to make Soroka a hospital to be reckoned with. Quite apart from the fascinating conversation, meeting good people on the veranda of the King David Hotel is special. The atmosphere is magical, far beyond the sheer beauty of the view, one is surrounded by history and the echoes of the myriad of important visitors, treaties discussed, Presidents, Prime Ministers, film stars and great musicians who sat on this very veranda and whose signatures decorate the white strip along the entire length of the lobby are tangible. Ah to be a fly on the wall ever since its opening in 1931.
As I write to you there is a great deal of puffing and panting in the streets of Jerusalem as the fit and unfit run alongside each other in the Jerusalem Marathon. Luckily the weather is perfect, sunny with a crispness in the air as the contenders struggle with the many hills that make up Jerusalem. Although it is taken very seriously by Marathon runners of a high calibre, it includes options of 5 kilometre, family runs, half marathons and full marathons so that everyone can take part including, obviously, wheelchair marathons. The Marathon Digest (yes there is such a thing) describes the Jerusalem Marathon as combining competition and history as no other. Beginning at the Knesset the runners wind their way past the Israel Museum, through the Valley of the Cross all the way to the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus.
Ishmael Khaldi is an exceptional man who I am proud to call friend. Having served in both Israeli Consular and Ambassadorial positions he is now the Israel Ambassador to Turkmenistan. Ishmael grew up herding the family’s goats on a hillside in the North of Israel, in a Bedouin Village, and after serving in the IDF, chose a path so contrasting the free and easy country life that it is hard to imagine. He served as the Information Officer in the London Embassy, travelling to Jewish Communities and Christian churches all over the UK, and now, he is in Turkmenistan. He sent me a photograph of the view from his apartment overlooking the mountains of Iran. I was fascinated to hear that he is really enjoying his appointment because Turkmenistan is an open and tolerant society, unlike her dangerous and belligerent neighbour. Oh, I assume you realise that Ishmael is a Moslem, a proud Moslem and a fine Israeli.
The festival of Purim has passed and we have entered a period of intensive spring cleaning. The supermarkets have begun the scrubbing process of their shelves, almost every shelf holding a display of household cleaning products on special offer; and slowly but surely, they are preparing to stock their Passover products. During the week the aroma of cooking n most neighborhoods has been replaced by that oh so popular Israeli cleaning product that we call Economika – basic ordinary bleach. No matter how many expensive products we buy, we tend to fall back on Economika at the run up to Passover. For my lovely non-Jewish readers, this annual process is a mixture of traditions, rules and preparations for the changing of dishes to receive the foods, special foods that have not come in contact with raising agents …….gosh it’s much more complex than that. Each country of the Diaspora has its own permitted foodstuffs but the cleaning crosses all borders and origins! As we approach Passover, I will give you a closer run down of the delicious and the compulsory of the special meal at which we will tell the story of our Exodus, of the Children of Israel and their journey from slavery to freedom and ultimately a home of our own, including all the trials and tribulations of that journey.
On Wednesday one of Zvi’s singing groups came to rehearse at our place. I love it when that happens, because they are a group of five wonderful people including their special musical director Ronit. I wouldn’t call it a choir but rather a group of singers who go to homes for the aged or to Holocaust survivors and sing the songs that they love. Their range is wide from Yiddish to Ladino, from modern to liturgical, and many old Israeli songs from when these folks were young. I love all the songs they sing but when Zvi sings Adio or together they sing in Yiddish it really reaches into my inherited soul. As always, every Israeli event or meeting begins with……food! Zvi went out and bought some fresh pastries so that they could simultaneously chat and whet their appetite for music!
Yesterday the rainy weather gave way to glorious wintry sunshine so my neighbour Naomi and I set off for a delightful walk along the trail above the reservoir formed by the Beit Zayit dam. Oh the profusion of flowers! I think we found just about every colour of the rainbow up there beside the track, marvelling at how the few days of rain had encouraged the growth of just about everything! Not even the fact that the reservoir will empty soon as the steamy days of summer lengthen, the simple beauty of the stretch of water among the hills will satisfy me until next year. In the far distance we could see the golden onion domes of the Gorny Convent and below it, the tower of the Church of the Visitation, both in Ein Kerem, the buildings of the northern edge of Jerusalem, the beautiful houses of old Motza, the new Road 16 as it disappears into the hillside, the vineyards beneath us beside the reservoir and the rolling, tree covered hills surrounding us. The rain washed air was superb and each and every person we met greeted us with warmth.
I realise that I am more optimistic than most, about everything, but I really believe that our current dissatisfaction with the government will sort itself out. I dislike extremes whether in government or in dissent. There is always, but always room for discussion even between those whose views are existentially different. We have seen the dire effects of uber-democracy, it leads to anarchy and violence – I may feel that certain members of Israel’s government are not suited to govern for a myriad of reasons, but I will defend their right to be freely elected just as I will defend our right to express our dismay. To me, what is happening in Israel right now is the ultimate expression of a democracy, I just pray that the moderate majority will continue to proudly hold their flags and not be drawn into illegal action.
Tonight will be a Mexican Shabbat! Zvi’s family will come and a few special friends because in three days it will be Zvi’s birthday. Since my husband doesn’t trust me to make Mexican food, despite the fact that this Welsh Israeli successfully made a Mexican meal for Mexican friends a while ago, he doesn’t want me working too hard. We ordered the full range of Mexican food from the wonderful Rosie, which we will serve after a very traditional Kiddush (blessing over the wine) and breaking the bread (Challah). I’m not sure about the younger children’s reactions to guacamole, but as long as my husband is happy…… I think I’m going to prepare some pasta to keep on the side just in case. There is one Shabbat ceremony that I love more than any other. Once the table is laid, the food prepared, the house clean, then and only then, one hour before sunset I light the Shabbat Candles. On the one hand it is beautiful if the grandchildren join me, but to be quite honest, I love the sense of peace and calm that flows over me as I chant the age old blessing, standing before the candlesticks, one that I used to light with my mother, a pair that we received as a wedding gift and two brightly coloured ones. My mother use to light one for each child and so do I, one for each of our children and their families plus something I learned from my late son Daniel’s best friend Justin, aka Paddy, the brightly coloured candles are for Daniel, never to be forgotten.
Music time! It’s funny how this has become an essential part of the newsletters, it kind of evolved over the years. I’ve been writing newsletter for 25 years or more, every Friday I think of you, write to you, each and every one of you is important to me. I may not have met you but we became friends.
What better expression of positivity than the movie Life is Beautiful. https://youtu.be/aq9ScwF7pZ8
One of the most incredible performers is undoubtedly Stevie Wonder. I went to his concerts in three continents, the most incredible was in Sultan’s Pool Jerusalem where the entire audience was on its feet dancing. This song expresses the mood of all rational people of this crazy world https://youtu.be/GkUuohzhZGQ
Did you know that a few weeks have passed without Koolulam! This song could have been written for me, the belief that love conquers all. https://youtu.be/J98XBmoZAi4
Shabbat Shalom dear friends. May your Shabbat be peaceful, never forgetting that despair should never be in our lexicon, there is always hope, always love, always kindness, we just have to make it for ourselves, one at a time. Never forget the power of one.
With love from glorious Jerusalem.