The view from my veranda

Demokratia and Freedom

29th March, 2023

Shabbat Shalom, almost Pesach Sameach, Ramadan Kareem and a Happy Easter

This is what I wrote on Monday morning

“Last night the rational people of Israel, the centre right and left, stopped hoping everything will be alright and became lions that roared their discontent! Within five minutes of the announcement that Netanyahu had sacked Defence Minister Gallant for speaking out and suggesting that the judicial reform takes a different form and the coalition cabinet slow down the procedure, ordinary folk who had never demonstrated in their lives, people of every age and socio-economic level, left home, taking their flags with them, and joined spontaneous demonstrations. Almost every town and village, every bridge, everywhere they stood with their flags, singing Hatikva and “Ein li Eretz Aheret” – I have no other country. On the main thoroughfare in Tel Aviv, the Ayalon Freeway, the demonstration grew and grew to over 100,000 people; in Jerusalem they began on Aza Street opposite the Netanyahu home and then marched to the Knesset; every town and village expressed its dismay. Of course, not everyone is disturbed by the questionable behaviour of the government, there are always the dyed in the wool party members who believe their leader is right no matter what, but they are slowly becoming a minority. The post-Shabbat organised demonstrations have given way to a Crie de Coeur across the country. A friend who was at the Jerusalem demonstration was amazed at the police who she said did their job to keep the peace but without enthusiasm. We are witnessing history and true democracy, the ultimate form of democracy, the people’s voice.”

Sadly, there was a change the next evening. Itamar Ben Gvir, and to a certain extent the Prime Minister, called for a reaction to the peaceful demonstrations of the last 40 days. “Go out into the streets and fight back” was Ben Gvir’s call. They did. Supporters of this government, instead of demonstrating, instigated physical fights with the police, throwing of police barriers and there were many arrests. Yossi Eli, a senior reporter with Israel’s Channel 13, a man who was the first on the ground in Ukraine frightened of nothing, was attacked, beaten up and terrified, he’s in hospital with broken ribs and a damaged spleen, it was very clear that it was a targetted attack on Channel 13. According to Yossi Eli, Ben Gvir was actually in the crowd, but I cannot verify. In a flash the relief of the most recent announcements of the PM that there would be a delay in passing the judicial reform bill until after the Passover break, went up in a cloud of smoke and our fears returned. It must be said time and time again that the demonstrators of the last 12 weeks covered the gamut, the mosaic of Israeli society, people of every sector who just want us to be one people, that all decisions of our government be democratic without causing harm

Yes, dear friends, I know that you are worried sick, as are we, but I have not lost hope that it will all be worked out. On the positive side the PM has withdrawn his demand that Major General Yoav Gallant resign his position as Minister of Defence; both Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid have agreed to sit down and talk with the Prime Minister as to how to move forward. The one thing that amazed even me is that apparently the current Cabinet has not met as a unit since they came to power!

Perhaps one of the most emotional points in the entire period happened just 5 days ago. For many of the demonstrators the terms “rights demand responsibility” and “equality in burden” referring to the fact that many, by no means all, of the Haredi community do not serve in the IDF or do National Service by volunteering in hospitals etc, in fact for many, just recognising the State of Israel. Anyway, they chose to march through Bnei Brak, a Haredi enclave next to Tel Aviv. I was worried, I didn’t want anyone to be hurt, then it happened. Instead of counterprotesting, the community came out with flowers, drinks and sandwiches for the protestors. It had two effects. Perhaps the most important being that it took the air out of the protesting crowd. The Rabbis of Bnei Brak were so clever – now that is leadership.

One part of the service, or the order (seder) read from the Haggadah (story) of Pesach, refers to the 4 sons. Perhaps we had all of them these last weeks. The wise son—the Chacham, then the evil/rebellious son—the Rasha, followed by the simple son—the Tam, and finally, the son who doesn’t know to ask. The scene of these four sons plays a pivotal role in the seder. Are we a mixture or does the Haggadah refer to the subsequent generations of Hegel?

Most of us have been leading our lives, simultaneous to the deep concerns, and Mr. and Mrs. Netanyahu are not the only ones who go away for the weekend! In fact, I think we met some even more fascinating people last weekend. We got on the coach really early on Friday morning and headed off northward. Oh, by “we” I mean Zvi’s choir, Hakol Yachassi. Our main stop on the way to Beit Shean was at Mishmar ha Emek, a beautiful Kibbutz overlooking the Jezreel Valley with phenomenal views over the entire area, but that’s not the reason we were there. Mishmar ha Emek is/was a Palmach kibbutz before the nascent state was born, the site of training and preparing the various elements of the Palmach . The Palmach was supported by the British Mandate and the two worked together in training and fighting the Germans in North Africa. We stood in the natural cave where Jews of German extraction were trained in the idioms and mannerisms of the German Army, down to the finest details, in order to infiltrate and spy. The Jews of Arab countries learned to the idioms and mannerisms of the Arab forces and so it went on. The secret was in the details and it was one detail that caused one “German” group to fail. Apparently in Germany at the time, the gesture to show the number three was using the thumb as one of the numbers, accidentally one of the pseudo Germans used the three fingers without the thumb and so was discovered and they all lost their lives. We had a wonderful guide through the kibbutz history and then a delicious Druze lunch of Druze pita, humus, salads, stuffed vine leaves, and all the trimmings ending with knaffe. We learned so much, even those of the group who like Zvi, are specialists in Israeli history. I highly recommend a visit to the Kibbutz and be ready to be amazed

From there we drove straight to the Beit Shean Youth Hostel to prepare for Shabbat. Freshly scrubbed we made our way to the dining room, where a family had gathered to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of one of the children. I was thrilled to see the full rainbow of Judaism in one family! From Haredi to secular all loving and accepting and singing their hearts out with Shabbat songs. They were enjoying themselves so much but suddenly stopped and were silent when Zvi began Kiddush for the choir. For those who don’t know him, Zvi has a voice that can carry kilometres and silence the most noisy of crowds! After a very satisfactory supper we headed off to one of the conference rooms and sang our hearts out until the witching hour of 23:00, the hour that the law demands we fall silent!

Next morning after breakfast, we met up for our walking tour right next to the Youth Hostel. Beit Shean was one of the Roman Decapolis, the ten cities and excavations are not only vast but exceptional, showing the way of life of the residents very clearly. It is almost certain that Jesus visited the ancient city since he made a point of visiting all of the Decapolis yet none is mentioned in the New Testament. Our guide spoke of the Roman times and of the present city which evolved with the State of Israel.  Exhausted, dusty but very happy we returned for lunch, rested and then the choir met to sing until Shabbat was out. We then climbed aboard the coach and snoozed our way back home.

I love the Israel Museum. Not only, but also because it is included in the 10 best Museums in the world. This time it wasn’t for a tour, it was to celebrate the birthday of the lovely Betty, friend and incredible organiser of all the volunteers, a full-time job she does as a volunteer! The restaurant was busy, the food good and the discussion amongst 6 women went beyond the demonstrations and what we all felt about the PM, it was a celebration of strong and active women all of us over the age of 70!

In case you are wondering why this week’s missive is early (and long), we are off again this weekend, this time to Eilat to gather strength before the final leg of the marathon preparations for Passover!  I am well and truly into the Passover preparations! We succeeded in doing most of the shopping of the special foodstuffs on Monday, carefully checking f the products have “kitniot” or pulses, such as wheat, rice, chick peas, and such like, because they are permissible for Mizrachi (North African) Jews but not for Eastern European (Ashkenazi ) Jews – don’t ask, it is a bone of contention in our house because Zvi insists that we are all from the Middle East anyway, but in the meantime since I do the work I get the choice! So, where was I, we did most of the shopping and then went to the butchers and chose the various meats and chicken finally getting the salmon. I had already cleaned the freezer (Passover cleaning is probably the precursor to Spring Cleaning) so could put it all straight in. The dishes are all up here already so that as soon as I get back from Eilat, oh, that’s where we are going with Zvi’s boys and families, I will have all the makings of the Seder night for the 26 diners (I told you it would grow) and can just get on with cooking. It’s all about TRADITION.

On the eve of Passover, the 27th of March, 2002 a suicide bomber walked in to the Park Hotel, Netanya and blew himself up, killing 29 people, Mothers, Fathers, children, grandparents, who had arrived to celebrate the festival together. Yes we have had worse times. 

Thursday the 30th of March. 21 years ago, in the evening, we were driving back from Herzliya when we received a phone call from Orly. “Something terrible has happened. Kinneret was in a terror attack in Tel Aviv and she is in critical condition in hospital, they don’t give her much chance of survival” Kinneret was burned on 85 percent of her body and I managed to record every moment of her recovery. 21 years later and Kinneret Chaya is a married lady with four children, you see, miracles do happen.

Ramadan has started. A month of fasting and celebrating, it is a holy time for Moslems but in our region it has become a time to wreak havoc and death. I pray that this time it will be a time of peace. Easter is still a while away, and although it is no longer a time of Easter Bonnets and fewer and fewer people go to church it is still a beautiful time and in many churches the blessing of animals, pets of every nature still takes place. I love it! The church bells of Jerusalem will ring out true and clear, St. Johns up on the Mount of Olives, the Dormition right near the Scottish Church and of course the Church of the Nativity. It is said that each has a carillon that when all played in sequence forms a beautiful tune. Despite Zvi’s best efforts during the Jerusalem 3,000 celebrations, it never happened. Of course the Notre Dame Church and the Italian Hospital, the Russian Orthodox and the Ethiopian Orthodox, the Church of Mary Magdalene and the Greek Orthodox Church and of course the exquisite Mormon Church, all will be full of prayer goers.  I love the rainbow of some 42 Christian denominations (Zvi says 52)

Why am I writing to you now and not on Friday? Because we are off to Eilat of course! We come back on Sunday and ……. I go full pelt into the final cooking for the multitudes, or 26 of them.

So what music would you like? I fancy some very positive Israeli songs, how about you?

The main part of the reading of the story of our Exodus from Egypt begins with the youngest child asking four questions as to why this night is different from all other nights. I love this rendition by Gad Elbaz because you see the purity, the joy of a family sitting at the Seder Table, singing together.

Noladeti le Shalom – I was born for peace – as we all are. Uzi Hitman sings with joy

The last song is both a prayer and a statement. This last period and for the next while, Israel has been like a pressure cooker, not from the enemy without but rather the enemy within – intolerance and power – the two most dangerous aspects with any society, but we are not any society, we are a people who know what racism is, a people that has suffered oppression yet came together to form a wonderful democratic society for all. We opened our arms to refugees from Arab Countries, from Eastern Europe, from the Soviet Union, from Ethiopia and from the West, but instead of describing them as refugees we said they are coming come -making Aliya. We were, are and will be one people again, it will take time to ease the pain of the enforced rift between us, but we will make it. Why? Because that’s who we are ‘Ze Katan Aleinu” which loosely translated means it’s easy-peasy for us.

I wish you a good week, a Shabbat Shalom and a truly wonderful Passover. Remember you don’t have to be Jewish to read the story of the Exodus from Egypt!

With much love from Jerusalem. I hope that the song, prayer, lamentations at the end of the Passover Seder will come true for you. Le Shana Ha’baah b’Yerushalyim. NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM  – or maybe this one?