17th April, 2020
Charles Dickens wrote a brilliant opening speech for his central character in the novel “A Tale of Two Cities”, a story of Paris and London. Sidney Carton (Dirk Bogarde), a young Barrister, stood on a bridge in Paris and said ““It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” So it is today.
The virus, the pandemic, Corona or Covid-19, by any other name, has brought out the best and the worst in people all over the world. Our common aim, to work for a cure, or simply to survive the next uncertain period, has brought out both the best in us and the worst. For many it is just an excuse, yet another excuse, to hate those who are different or the political party you didn’t vote for, or the religious expression you didn’t grow up with. In truth, we, most of us, are no better than we were before isolation, we didn’t learn to be more tolerant.
Deeply observant religious communities, by definition, are separate, enclosed and their family units are large and include many children. Their very separation from society at large means they do not understand the demands of government, their belief that everything comes from above gives them a perspective that changes their behaviour and in general governments have not done a good job of reaching out to them. I’m not just talking about the Jewish sub-groups who have been targetted by both unbelievers and anti-Semites alike, but many groups who simply do not understand the implications of their lifestyle on the current situation. They are now paying a heavy price and we need to express a more sympathetic attitude. Of course I am not talking about the anti-State, hyper aggressive, tiny minority but rather those who simply follow the teachings of the Bible and their Rabbis. Perhaps this is the opportunity to understand each other.
That is an obvious bête noir, the other is the inadequacy of just about every government around the world to deal efficiently with a crisis which covers every aspect of life – from health to our economic survival. Here in Israel it has taken us to new levels of self-orientated determination to retain power despite the need for relevant, non-partisan government. The current date for probable new elections, set by President Rivlin, is August the 4th, unless someone’s head comes out of the sand for long enough to recognise that the virus is trauma enough and we do not need to be in a constant state of political uncertainty. Elections, using up vast amounts of money that is desperately needed by a population desperately trying to feed its children. The current fight may appear to be about who gets what Ministry, but it is so much simpler, it’s about an inability to relinquish power.
There are some positive aspects of this strange period. Parents are discovering their children!! Instead of chasing the “better life”, the higher salary, the biggest promotion and the corner office, parents are discovering the sheer satisfaction of developing a deeper relationship with their children through crafting, painting, games or simply cooking together, eating together and talking about what they all really think and feel. We have gone back to the days when the primary job of a parent is to be a parent! It’s a way of life that can only be positive – as long as there is enough money to pay for food and the mortgage.
Our life in solitary confinement really isn’t bad. In fact most of the time I think it has been very productive. We have been in contact with friends around the world through WhatsApp, celebrated Sue and Uri’s Golden wedding on Zoom and Zvi has sifted through at least 8 large cartons of history. I discovered that there is hoarding and hoarding, one type which is just pointless collecting of “things” and another which is the source of discovery of history. History of family; history of self; history of one’s country and the discovery of the part that the collector played in the narrative of a new order of life. Zvi’s Mother Ala, perhaps through her own tragedies, kept a record of her life that ran parallel with the history of Israel, the reasons we are here, the process and the reality. Zvi’s travels through his parent’s lives has been truly magnificent.
Through my travels through life most of the artefacts that tell my parents story have long been destroyed by others who didn’t know or care. I intend delving through the small amount that remains after many trials, tribulations and 17 house moves. Sloughing off one’s history can never replace rediscovering it.
Tell me, do you know the traditions behind baking Challah? There is the obvious one of “Hafrashat Challa” separating of challah https://www.kosher.com/learn/resources/hafrashat-challah but so much more. Did you know that immediately after Passover, for the first Shabbat after Passover, one bakes a Shlissel Challah, a Challah Mafteach or Key Challah? The tradition’s origins are lost in time but it is a Segulah, or amulet for parnassah – or the ability to earn a living and support your family – although today it is considered a blessing to make it and it covers whatever type of good luck you need. I was reminded about the Key Challah just now in a conversation on WhatsApp video in which Rachel and I swapped stories of how we were going to pass our day, including constant interruptions from Yosef who was busy making his own breakfast of beautiful avocado salad on soft bread rolls. Rachel is back to making her delicious Challot after the Passover break of matzos and although I can’t get there to get my share, she told me about the “Key Challah”. Apparently some people eat it hot from the oven while others freeze it and use it for selling their “chametz” next Passover. Personally I like the idea of eating any bread fresh from the oven so as soon as I finish talking to you I’m getting out the flour and yeast. https://jamiegeller.com/holidays/what-is-key-challah/
Actually Rachel has been having great fun following in my family’s footsteps and growing things from nothing!! She took lettuce “bottoms”, leek bottoms, celery remains and all sorts of other bits that normally go into the bin, put them into the earth and is growing sprouts!! When my children were growing up, I had a big greenhouse in which I grew fruit and vegetables from seed to put into our big garden veggie patch. It was our quiet place. I may not have artifacts but those memories live on in the next generation. I too have been enjoying the fabulous colours of the blooms on our verandah. Each morning as I take my morning coffee and newspaper to sit an enjoy the view, the incredible quiet of recent days and the clear blue skies, I think about those who don’t have anyone to share it with or alternatively have to share a tiny apartment with another 8-9 or 10 people. I have the openness of an unobstructed view, the luxury of space to sit, the joy of the scent of the opening orange blossom and someone to share it all with.
Of course we miss all our children and grandchildren but manage to talk to them most days. Leor and Shiri send us photos of their daily culinary trip around the world; Amiad and Noga send us the beautiful drawings of Ella and Yonatan; Gideon and Stephanie give me daily reports of life in London; Karen, Joshua and Callie of life in Manhattan and Joshua’s latest epicurean adventures and even Rachel and Igal, so close yet so far, report on life in a small apartment with 3 teenagers!! In Bet Shemesh we heard of the celebration because Tomer came back from the army for a few days and Shelly continued her deliveries to those in need. We are lucky to live in a time of internet communication.
Most Shoah Survivors are now elderly and alone and as Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches Amcha, the organisation which takes care of Holocaust Survivors, is doing much more than ensuring daily sustenance. They have launched a campaign whereby during the 2 minute silence indicated by the wailing of a siren on the 21st of April, we all stand on our balconies or verandas or in our windows holding a sign which says “Remember the Past – Live for the present” in support of those who can never forget, to express our gratitude to them for their part in shaping our country. There are obviously no ceremonies this year. If I may quote Brenda Katten’s words of last year “The words of Holocaust survivor and poet, Aba Kovner, ring loud and clear: “Remember the past, live the present and trust the future.” It is incumbent upon us to remember the past and, thereby, to live and appreciate the present. But to trust the future is not enough; we have to ensure it. Our younger generation must know the facts. Only then will they understand how blessed we are to have Israel.”
If we do nothing else this coming week, move away from political back-biting and try to form a united front to fight one of the toughest enemies we have all faced, irrespective of who or what we are. I still find it hard to understand what began this ghastly challenge, why it began and what the purpose of its consequences, but whatever the questions or doubts, we are in this together.
We have now entered the period of the Counting of the Omer – the 49 days following the first night of Passover until the festival of Shevuot or Pentecost (Whitsun) for Christians. This year from the 9th of April until the 28th of May. The date is important for me because the 28th of May was the chosen birthday of my late Father – I say chosen because they knew he was born on Shevuot in Brzezini, Poland but not the Gregorian date. When he met my Mother and they decided to marry, he needed a regular date for the marriage certificate and she chose that date because it was the first day of Shevuot in 1935. Oh what a fascinating history we have. https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/256073/jewish/Why-Do-We-Count-the-Omer.htm
Shalom Aleichem (Hebrew: שָׁלוֹם עֲלֵיכֶם, ‘Peace be upon you’) is a traditional song sung by Jews every Friday night upon returning home from synagogue prayer. It signals the arrival of the Jewish Sabbath, welcoming the angels who accompany a person home on the eve of the Sabbath. Here Avraham Fried sings a wonderful upbeat version.
Every Jewish child of the Sixties hero, the hippie Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, sings the song of welcome to the bride of Shabbat Lecha Dodi https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NC19kaPCMYM
Finally, Sassi Keshet of the Yiddish Shpiel Theatre and Dudu Fischer sing Shabbat songs and a few more in Yiddisch. This is one for Zvi and I and our late parents in the hope that our children will love it too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FeG0YFFjGGw
So I wish you a safe Shabbat, a productive isolation, good health and enough boxes of treasured memories, whether actual of in your heart, to keep you busy. If you don’t, write them yourselves so that your children and grandchildren will know who you are.
Shabbat Shalom and love from beautiful Jerusalem