The view from my veranda

Fears, Faith and a Happy New Year

30th December 2022

Shabbat Shalom dear friends, Shabbat Shalom and a happy new year!

Tomorrow night the Gregorian calendar tells us that even though it feels as if 2022 just began we are already into 2023! A new year and hopefully a better one.

Israel has a new government. Both the outgoing and the incoming Prime Ministers spoke in the Knesset before going to the President’s House for the official ceremony. Yair Lapid outlined the multiple successes of his government, a long list of political, financial and diplomatic successes in the short period of both his and Naftali Bennet’s governments emphasizing the extensive security measures conducted through Defence Minister Benny Gantz. “I want to tell you what we have achieved so that history will not be changed” His careful listing of achievements was impressive and clear. Mr. Netanyahu then spoke listing the intentions of the incoming government and here the emphasis was on security, Iran, the cost of living, including the cost of housing and the denial that the religious status quo would change. I pray that the last statement is true because the rest is a natural part of governance.

Perhaps the most emotional of appointments is that of Speaker of the Knesset, Amir Ohana. Speaker Ohana is a homosexual and has thankfully, never hidden the fact. He took his position on the podium watched by his partner of 18 years and their two children. I wish him and his lovely family the very best of luck, he has his work cut out keeping the rowdy and opinionated Israeli Knesset quiet! I am always reminded of the late Georgie Thomas (from Cardiff and a friend of my father’s) who became famous for his triple call of “Order, order, order” when the Members of Parliament became a little rowdy for his taste. In fact yesterday became rather rowdy as the outgoing parties decided to imitate the cat calls of Likud when they came into power!

Yesterday, President Isaac Herzog held a large reception for the many Christian religious leaders whose centres are in Jerusalem. Copts, Catholic, the many Orthodox sectors, Protestants, Evangelical and many others, indeed all who celebrate this blessed period. There is nothing exceptional in that, the Israeli Presidents throughout time have had a close relationship with all the Christian leaders, there is also nothing exceptional in the presence of the Minister of the Interior, and yesterday was no exception. The new (and old) Interior Minister Aryeh Deri greeted all those present with great warmth, giving them a blessing for the New Year.

Living in the UK I never knew what Sylvester was – the new year was simply an opportunity for a party, a knees-up, a celebration and a kiss at the end of the evening. Auld Lang Syne was obligatory even if you couldn’t quite get the exact words written by Robbie Burns! In many parts of Eastern Europe, however, Sylvester is a semi-religious holiday which made Aliya with the various Eastern European immigrations. The daft thing about Israelis celebrating Sylvester is that it is the anniversary of the death of St. Sylvester who as Pope brought in a law banning Jews from Jerusalem! In Yorkshire they would say “There’s nowt as queer as folk”

I have to return to the new government and the dismay, nay fears, raised in the Diaspora that the question of “Who is a Jew” and of course the subsequent Right of Return will be changed. This is not a government I would have chosen, you already know that, but one can be reassured that such changes cannot be introduced because the majority of those in this government would not allow it. Likud still holds sway and although the person holding the position of Minister of the Interior is an orthodox Jew, Aryeh Deri, this is not his first time in that position and in the past he upheld the status quo.

I hear the anger, the assumptions that this government will change the status quo on so many levels. “I’ve had it with Israel, I can’t identify with the new direction” Wait! Before you throw out the baby with the bathwater, wait! The media has had a field day ensuring that their prognosis of a changed country, a extreme right wing highly religious country that will exclude everyone and everything that they stand for has become the assumed truth – but then sensationalism is the manner of today’s media! Please, give us a chance, don’t abandon us, the checks and balances of democracy are firmly in place and the extremes will not be allowed to control the future of this country or our relationship with the Diaspora.

Amichai Chikli, the son of a Conservative Rabbi who was active in the Masorti Movement’s Noam youth group as a young man, has been chosen as the Minister for Diaspora Affairs and Social Equality. Chikli was active in the Masorti Movement’s Noam youth group. His path will not be easy at the beginning as he has to change the preconceptions about this government. I wish him success and hope that he renews faith in our beautiful country.

Ron Dermer, former Israeli Ambassador to the USA is the new Minister for Strategic Affairs, a position which entails contact with the White House and relations with the countries of the Abraham Accords

The incoming Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu needs no introductions as he enters his 16th year in that position, admittedly with breaks, a world record for a democratically elected leader, but too few understand the achievements of the outgoing government, until yesterday led by Yair Lapid. A highly impressive few months.

Gosh I’m ready to write happy news and surprisingly there is lots of it!

Azerbaijan is opening an Embassy in Israel, completing the enhanced diplomatic relations with that predominantly Moslem country

President Biden signed a budget bill including $3.8 billion for Israel. Yes, I know it isn’t direct financial aid but rather monies returned through the US aeroplane and arms industries, but it shows the President’s adherence to his promises.

Israel is on her way to a population of 10 million! In fact, the Bureau for Statistics latest census for 2022 shows a population of 9,449,000 about 45% of the world’s Jews. 73% are Jews, 21% Arab and 5% others. When one thinks that the population of the nascent state was about 806,000 that’s pretty good going! The number of new immigrants has gone up directly as a result of the Russia/Ukraine war.

97 autistic new recruits to the IDF completed their basic training last year. Three more have just begun officer’s training. 

Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian community is growing. 87% of Christians declared themselves happy to live in Israel.

Israel’s junior science team won six medals at the 2022 International Junior Science Olympiad, in Bogota, Colombia

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performed an historic concert at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi and played Hatikva. The first time that the National Anthem was played in an Arab country.

Sindyanna is an organisation which encourages independence in Moslem Israeli women together with Jewish Israeli women

Just in case you think we all sit around discussing politics and waiting for terror attacks, I thought I’d show you what the tourist will find in Israel in 2023.  Quite apart from events and festivals, one thing for sure is that you will find great food and burgeoning tables wherever you go! In fact, I decided that since Israel is always left off the list of great food countries, we should make our own website and all of you will vote us to the top!! How about the “Best Breakfasts in the World”?  Every visitor to Israel has already experienced the Israeli breakfast but for those of you who have not, let me give you a glance at the average menu in restaurants and hotels.

Breads: Pita, croissant, crusty French baguettes, Rye, Wheat, gluten free and Spelt breads

Burekas: cheese, spinach, mushroom

Eggs: Boiled, hard boiled, shakshuka, omelettes by request with various options, fried, scrambled, poached and coddled.

Salads: Israeli freshly chopped salad, potato salad, corn salad, tuna salad, egg salad, lettuce, peppers ad infinitum!

Fish: Smoked salmon, pickled herring in various sauces, sardines, gravadlax

Fruit: Fresh fruit salad, prunes, apple sauce, plum compote, citrus salads

Hot dishes: Porridge, semolina, mini quiches

Add to this fresh fruit juices, tea and coffee and you may begin to understand why I want to start this competition. I know we would win! What do you think? If I start a web competition would you vote for us?

At this precise moment our lovely Shelley Silver is talking to Zvi about her upcoming post-IDF trip to North, South and Central America. She has set out her intended destinations but because she is an exceptional young woman, she wants to know everything Zvi has learned on his multiple trips to those places – the important places to visit and learn about the history and culture of each country. She really is a special person and anyone who wants to entertain her will benefit from her wonderful personality and ability to communicate about her Israel. Luckily Zvi has lots of friends and family in all of the above locations so she will find a welcome wherever she goes. Let me know if you want to meet her! Incidentally, Shelley’s IDF service was in the very camp where the autistic recruits begin their IDF service.

I am back to walking and am beginning to do so without the neck brace! The sense of freedom is surprising! My physiotherapist is a marvellous young man and to the surprise of most non-Israelis, I get one-on-one attention as often as I need without charge! Just another aspect of Israeli life!

So dear readers, please, please, please, don’t jump to conclusions about our future – remember we have been through worse times as have most of your countries. We don’t always get the governments we want, but that’s democracy.

What songs are appropriate to our mood this week? Something about unity, hope…… hmmmm let me think…

The Ruderman Foundation is all about bringing people together, about US/Israel relations, about inclusion. This is a song about “Yachad” togetherness, inclusion with Koolulam in a project by the Ruderman family

I had never heard of this song or singer but while searching for a song for you, I found it and loved it. “Chaverim”, meaning friends, is all about honouring our differences and being able to empathise and connect.

Finally, the song we all love, even the most cynical must admit a sly smile or tear at Satchmo’s rendition of “What a wonderful world”. We can either sink into despair or follow this song of hope, of love and unity.

What do I wish us all for 2023? I wish us health, first and foremost. I wish us greater tolerance, greater understanding, greater patience (by the way patience and tolerance have the same root in Hebrew. Savlanut is patience and sovlanut is tolerance). I wish us a year in which we celebrate our differences finding beauty in the traditions of the other. Most of all, as an Israeli, I want Israel to be judged on her achievements, on her incredible pluralistic community, on her rainbow population, on us, the ordinary, everyday citizens who pray for peace, rather than the NYT, BBC headlines. In fact, I pray that the media begins to write the whole truth instead of the half truths that condemn Israel and gloss over the racism of our region. Finally, and maybe most importantly, come and see for yourselves. As my young great-nephew James kept repeating when he came to Israel with his future wife (my great niece) “but wait a minute that’s not even remotely like the reports on the telly, everyone is just going about their own business”!

Good Shabbes, Shabbat Shalom, Happy New Year, Happy Hogmanay, a good Sylvester and a 2023 full of hope

With much love from Jerusalem, the most enchanting city in the world.