The View From My Veranda

Sheila's Letter From Jerusalem

Lessons, Loss and Paul Mirbach

By sheila | June 13, 2024

13th June, 2024

Shabbat Shalom! I hope this letter finds you well.

On Monday, I sent myself an email message so that I would remember to tell you about the hundreds of Iranian rockets that were launched by Hezb-Allah, 950 missiles 146 drones. That was Monday. Over the beautiful harvest festival of Shevuot, the festival of lightness and new crops, Hezb-Allah has rained a constant barrage, burning wooded hillsides, endangering the lives of farmers, of kibbutzim – not a fighting army, ordinary people. They are trying to goad us into an all out war. Not a war against Lebanon, most definitely not the Lebanese people, but against Hezb-Allah, who invaded a Christian country and now hold a place in government and conduct a reign of terror.

Benny Gantz was just interviewed on Channel 13 Israel, to explain why he left the War Cabinet. His exit was not unexpected since he warned that he would leave if the current government did not create a “day after” plan. Despite having been burned twice by PM Netanyahu one may ask why he went in to the War Cabinet risking another snub but he did so for Israel, to stand up for us, the ordinary folk. He tried to influence, to use his and Gadi Eizenkot’s vast understanding of all things military but they hit a brick wall of political interest in conflict with the country’s security. Gantz and Eizenkot left, leaving a vacuum that will be impossible to fill.  

The swing to the political right all over the West is/was inevitable. Incredibly Israeli-born Gideon (Gidi) Markuszower, has been appointed deputy Prime Minister and Immigration Minister of the Netherlands. How’s that for a turnaround?

Almog Meir JanAndrey Kozlov, and Shlomi Ziv were captured together but were not allowed to speak to one another. Their jailers kept them silent, punishing them if they spoke, and in the intense heat they ensured their constant state of dehydration by piling heavy blankets onto them. They were undernourished, surviving on tiny portions of pita and ful or fava beans. Andrey was weak and barely spoke until the IDF brought his parents from Russia. Andrey fell to the ground at his mother’s feet, sobbing and began to speak. Who was his captor? Am Al Jazeera cameraman whose father knew of the cruelty of his son’s actions. The father is a head of department in a Gaza hospital (which one of the 39 Gaza hospitals I don’t know). A doctor!!!

Noa Argamani was held in captivity for 250 days undergoing untold cruelty. Her captors forced her to speak Arabic and on the rare occasions she was allowed into the air outside her tiny cell, she had to wear a full hijab. When the troops of Mission Arnon (names for their officer who fell in the mission) reached Noa, her only question was “Is my Mother alive” To which the young soldiers said “Yes she is. That’s why we are here, to take you home to your Mother” This incredible young woman, immediately upon her release from hospital, has taken over the treatment of her mother, holding discussions with the doctors to try and save her mother’s life. Her mother has an aggressive form of brain tumour. Everyone in the hospital and all who meet her say that she is a sunny, kind and thoughtful young woman.

Virtually every day we hear of more IDF soldiers dying. It breaks our communal heart. We all know someone who has lost someone. This is a tiny country made up of communities, be they Druze, Bedouin, religious or village communities. It’s hard, so hard.

Life has taken on a different form and, as I wrote in my last missive, wrong is constantly wearing the clothes of right, twisting truth, berating the victims and lauding the oppressors. Anyway, I was sitting outside on our veranda – our mirpesset – looking around me at the sheer beauty of nature, at the trees as far as the eye could see and of Jerusalem in the distance, and thinking about the last 8 months, the 8 months since the 7th of October. I allowed myself to acknowledge that I’m angry with the world for accepting lies in favour of truth, I’m angry with the UN, but hardly surprised that they stayed true to form and sued us in the International Court, of course I am furious with the women’s movements and their “Me Too, unless you are a Jew” but perhaps top of my list – no you’re wrong, I wouldn’t put our own government at the top, they are right up there for very many things but not when it comes to the hostages, I am steaming furious, beyond angry with the Red Cross!

Why the Red Cross? Because they failed to perform the very acts for which they were formed, to be a humanitarian and medical force. They failed on every level. Had those hostages been anywhere else in the world the Red Cross would have fought to visit, tried to help, ensured medical treatment, told the world of their plight. Not a peep, not a moment of remorse, nothing, cold refusal to help……. again. We don’t forget that easily. Echoes of the Holocaust when they ignored the plight of the Jews, making a pretend visit to Theresienstadt.

Perhaps most of all I am angry at all of the above because anger is a stranger to me and I want to exude love and hope again. I don’t want to be angry, it is against everything I believe in.

Of course, I am not alone. I believe that even the most tolerant and gentle of us is angry and probably for similar reasons to the causes of my distress, and do you know what? We are right!! My anger is not all consuming, I still have plenty of room for the joys of every day life but I am constantly surprised by the callous injustice of the world outside.

Paul Mirbach is a friend on Facebook, a fellow Israeli by choice. We don’t always agree, but that’s fine because our basic moral compasses point in the same direction. Although Shevuot has been and gone, his writings about the story behind Shevuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, reached into my heart. It’s about tolerance, acceptance and the story of the Jewish people. See what you think.

From Paul

Shavuot is my favorite Hag. Every year I am amazed how viscerally I connect to the magic of it all. I am reminded of the Children of Israel from biblical times, who for seven weeks toiled arduously, in a race against time to complete the wheat harvest, which begins on the second day of Pesach, before the picking of the first fruits, which begins in the summer months. The 49 days of the Omer, which we count, reminds us of the urgency to finish the harvest before beginning to pick the fruits – so much so, that our forefathers had no time to shave, or cut their hair, or be distracted by celebrations, which is why those of us who observe the Omer eschew such grooming habits during this period, even today.

Every year, I find myself spellbound by the rustic enchantment of the hag. Part of this is because of a feeling only those of us who made Aliya from the Southern Hemisphere could understand – the way Shavuot aligns with the right season. In Zimbabwe, when we were asked to prepare a basket for Shavuot, it was autumn. We would decorate it with the red and yellow leaves that fell from the trees. The first fruits were from the wrong season – winter fruits; oranges, lemons, bananas, and avocado. And the ceremony would be held indoors, or we would be bundled up in jumpers and jackets against the chill. When I made Aliya, it all came together. It was a completion of the alignment. Not only seasonally, but emotionally. NOW I understood it all: the counting of the Omer, the hay bales. the ceremony of the presentation of first fruits, like the Temple priests would receive from the Israelites, who made the pilgrimage. It became so much more meaningful!

Shavuot on Tuval (Paul’s Kibbutz) is simply sublime. The whole community comes together. Generations reunite as our children – both those who live here and those who have left, who make their own pilgrimage back home for the hag, come together, and for this day our family home is complete again. It becomes a reunion for them too with their childhood friends, and the camaraderie in the atmosphere is so tangible you can almost touch it. You just want to embrace it and cherish these moments. I delight in seeing our children’s generation grown up and with their chosen partners, enjoying the hag together. It fills me with a deep, serene satisfaction.

There is another aspect of Shavuot which I love:

“Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me GOD—not even death itself is going to come between us!”

The story of Ruth. The first convert. The Moabite woman who chose to become a Jew.

I dedicate this Shavuot to all Jews by choice. Those who fell in love with our religion and our people. I think there is something noble in the character of a person who made an active choice to become Jewish.

As much as I love being Jewish and embrace my identity, that was bestowed upon me at birth, sometimes being Jewish in this world is a burden. We all know what I mean. We are destined to endure perpetually being seen as “different”. For us, grappling with antisemitism is a perennial struggle, an onus thrust upon us, that we must live with forever. A never-ending threat or sore point, woven into our collective psyche. We have no choice.

Jews by choice had a choice – and they chose to become one of us. It takes a special kind of courage to literally make a leap of faith to join this tribe, and to voluntarily take upon oneself this burden, and join their destiny to ours. Not to mention undergoing the arduous process of conversion – no less arduous than the toil of our biblical forefathers during the weeks of the Omer. We sure don’t make it easy to convert! In a way, there is no solidarity more meaningful and fundamental than that.

This year especially, when antisemitism has become a morally accepted norm in so many societies, when we are being vilified and accused of the most heinous evil, denounced as a moral blight on humanity, as much as it is not easy for us Jews by birth to withstand this prejudice and rejection, for Jews by choice – converts – it must be doubly hard.

So this year, I salute you, Jews by choice. I feel honored to have you among us, in our community, as one of us. “Where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people” has never held more significance on Shavuot, than it does this year.”

This week was hot, in fact today was unbearable! 37 degrees Celsius which is 98.6 degrees F. A day to stay indoors! The week started with a delightful lunch with girlfriends in our old neighborhood of Bet Hakerem. It was fun and delicious. Then a week of meetings and wonderful cheesey Shevuot food, culminating in babysitting 7 children in Leor’s house! It sounds scary but in fact the children (aged between 6 and 18) were wonderful and we slept like logs!

I am writing today because tomorrow morning we will drive to Ashkelon to be with Ira, Tomer and Sheli for the stone-setting of our lovely friend, their husband and father, Valeri z”l. Here in Israel we set the stone just one month after the funeral. Zvi will perform the duties of the ceremony and speak about Valeri, how they met and how we have been together since Valeri and Ira came on Aliyah just one year after I did. We have been through a great deal together, the joys and the tears, as a family does.

So my lovely friends, that’s it. The music I chose for you this week is very special, chosen with even more care than usual.

We pray for Shalom, for peace, all the time, in song, poetry and in prose, most of all we sing the song that says we come in peace, Hevenu Shalom Aleichem https://youtu.be/P4gzlpuZ59I?si=kXB79rWKhJCcYvQY

To all our prayers for peace, let us say Amen

Finally, a moving rendition of “Ayn li Eretz Aheret” I have no other land – by a young couple whose gentle voices sing out our pain and our determination to survive and thrive – again. Yonina. https://youtu.be/rJIXzk4DC9Y?si=rKBP8GpM6lVbPsJI

What do I wish you? I wish you kindness, patience, tolerance and ultimately good news, or in Hebrew that’s Chemla, savlanut, sovlanut and b’sorot tovot, in your lives. May you always give love and receive in return, may your families thrive and your homes be full of friends.

Shabbat Shalom dear lovely friends, wherever you are in the world

Sheila

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