The view from my veranda

Gratitude and Solitude

4th April 2020


Good morning, Shabbat Shalom, a Blessed Holy Week, almost Ramadan Kareem


As a Jew, each morning I thank the Almighty for giving me back my soul with a very simple prayer. Some say this prayer as soon as they wake, some say it once they have washed their hands, but all of us should say it in some form, in our own way, in our own faith, to express our gratitude for every moment, especially in these uncertain days.

We really shouldn’t take anything for granted.


Each morning I wake, say “Modeh Ani”, “I give thanks before you, my living and eternal King, for You have given me back my soul with compassion; In Your abundant faith in me!” and head off to the lounge, press the button to raise the electric shutter and wait with bated breath for the view from our verandah! This morning the sun was shining on all my work of yesterday, clipping back, sweeping up dead leaves, taking cuttings, refreshing the soil and preparing for spring. Our 40 square metres of veranda is the closest I can get to nature in urban Jerusalem! There is an eerie sense of silence, or near silence as the roads are nigh empty, the mall car park has not had a single vehicle for 2 weeks now, the only signs of activity are those going to the underground car park to reach the supermarket on the ground floor – but even that is very slow, most people are ordering online and the stores, not just food stores but every type, are delivering to doorsteps, the goods ready for washing, spraying and cleaning!


Our morning walk has been curtailed, for now, although many older people (that’s us) do venture forth just to get some fresh air, keeping a careful distance and not more than 100 metres from their place of residence.


We had a lovely surprise two days ago. Danny Robas, a very well-known Israeli singer/songwriter, arrived in the parallel road beneath ours, on a flat-bed truck with a small band, armed with full speakers and police escort, and gave us a concert!! It was so much fun! Everyone came out onto their verandas, so happy to see each other, and we danced and joined in his concert, waving Israeli flags. It was a joy. Apparently they basically covered Jerusalem, stopping and setting up in every neighbourhood. Rachel said they came to their street too!


Everyone is trying to be positive about the fact that we will have a lonely Passover Seder; children far away from parents and grandparents away from grandchildren. Whatever ones religion, we will not be going to traditional places of worship, but on the other hand our very solitude will change the manner of prayer to a much more personal one, a genuine spiritual connection rather than a social event.


I have no choice, I have to speak a little about politics and “the situation”. Above all I firmly believe that this is not the time for political disputes – the war of words has to cease, for now anyway. That is why I am so full of admiration for Benny Gantz, who decided to be the adult in the room, to take a chance and form an emergency government despite that obvious fact that his apparent acquiescence would be taken advantage of. He did it out of an almost altruistic understanding that Israel needs leadership now, not political ambition. I love what one political correspondent said “One cannot argue with Benny Gantz – he will always bring it down to a quiet discussion with good nature” Surely that is what the world needs right now.


Attacking our leaders is a fascinating game under normal circumstances but since virtually every leader of every country made bad assessments of the situation, let’s just pray they find solutions. It isn’t the time for dissent but rather for unity.


Talking about solutions, the Shabak, the Israeli Secret Service, has played a most unexpected role in providing solutions! They found the desperately needed masks and ventilators for hospitals. The difficult decision to allow them to use surveillance to enable discovery of contacts of known virus patients has, in fact, been of the utmost importance in isolating contacts. In fact soldiers have become a very important social aid as they bring Passover packages to the needy and help the elderly by collecting prescriptions or doing shopping. Our very own Shelly couldn’t get back to her base so she is volunteering, helping those who cannot get out.


The Ultra-Orthodox community in Israel (and elsewhere) is in real trouble, albeit to an extent, self-imposed. Their insistence upon gathering in synagogues, markets etc., refusing to abide by the isolation laws has created a very sad situation whereby in some communities up to 32% are infected. The neighborhood/town of Bnei Brak has actually been curfewed, nobody in or out without a permit. Finally, several, if not all of the big Rabbis have demanded their flocks follow the rules and have closed places of worship – big and small.  My beloved father, Jack, was a partially lapsed Yeshiva student. His teachings to all his children was simple – The Almighty created us with a brain so we must use it and never follow any human like sheep, but use that God given brain to assess every situation on its merit and help ourselves.


Our Health Minister, Rabbi Litzman, a member of the Gur Hassidim, despite imposing isolation laws on the people, did not abide by them himself, has the Corona virus and has possibly infected the entire political leadership.


The World Health Organisation has, surprisingly, praised Israel for her control of the virus. The full cooperation on all levels between the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry and the Israeli Ministry of Health is absolute and Israel sent 3,000 test kit and 50,000 masks to Gaza.


I don’t know about you but we are sick of hearing about the virus, whatever you call it. Zvi and I are not complaining about the isolation, we just pray that it will work and that once we come out into the wide world again we will not be vulnerable. We are still carrying out meetings online and talking to the grandchildren through the various Zoom, WhatsApp, Facetime etc, but personally I cannot bear the ensuing cacophony, I’m a one on one person!!


The opening words of the Passover meal, the Seder, “We were slaves” open the Passover story. We then ask “Why is this night different to all other nights?” which this year will have even deeper meaning than before! The purpose of the service is to tell the story, especially to children, so that what happened, our fight for freedom, our fight to return to our land, will not be forgotten by those who follow us. If the children are ignorant of their history then we have no future. If well told, the story is an adventure story with huge characters and clear heroes. It teaches the children the results of their actions and also how to listen. The four brothers are the perfect example. The Wise brother, the Wicked, the Simple and the one who doesn’t even know how to ask. Think carefully, it is the explanation of mankind, not just Judaism. Which one are you and what are your children? As you know I’m far from being a Torah scholar but I know someone who is and he talks about Passover in his singular and wonderful manner, Jeremy Rosen.


On the subject of the Rosen Family, Rabbi David Rosen broke through the previously solid barrier to Jews, religious Jews, going to an inter-religious conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Bravo David, so proud of your work. Here he describes his incredible experience.


If nothing else, a consequence of this insane situation is appreciation of the most incredible, selfless, hard-working, amazing healthcare workers, from the top professors to the simple ancillary staff. They are deserving of our admiration, gratitude and hopefully, our governments will show they’re appreciation by paying them the salaries they deserve.


This Shabbat is called Shabbat ha Gadol, the Great Shabbat or my favourite name the Special Shabbat. Just five days before the Jews left slavery in Egypt it has many special aspects


So we come to music, yes I know that lots of you wade through  my words so that you can enjoy the music at the end!!


Biglal Ha Ruach – because of the spirit, is a beautiful song for tough times. Ninet Tyeb sings and it has English subtitles.


We have an exceptional President. Reuven Ruvi Rivlin was a very outspoken politician but since becoming President he has become the Saba, the Grandpa, of the nation. His determined effort to bring us all together, young and old, left and right, orthodox and secular, are exceptional. Here he sings Halleva’i ( a prayer saying I wish everything would be alright) with Boaz Sharabi.


David Broza sings Yihyhe Tov – It will be alright. Surely the most appropriate song for our times


There’s one more – a Passover Song – THE Passover song. Vehi Sheamda, in case you hadn’t guessed – I love it!! The words of this prayer speak to us all “And this (Hashem’s blessings and the Torah) is what kept our fathers and what keeps us surviving. For, not just one arose and tried to destroy us, rather in every generation they try to destroy us, and Hashem saves us from their hands.”


I just took a break to join Zvi and half the country in front of Avri Gilad on Channel 13 to do our daily 10 minute workout!!


So, wonderful people, this is going to be a challenge but it’s one we are more than capable of dealing with.  We will be in our own homes but tradition will keep us together as it has done for a thousand, thousands of years. Tradition! To all our family whether blood relatives or deep friendship, we will miss you but, never forget………throughout those thousands of years we sang just one song “Next year in Jerusalem” and for everyone who cancelled their trip to our table – next year!!


Be strong, be safe, do as you are told and then some. Don’t visit relatives, don’t let your children play with others, by protecting yourselves you protect everyone in your building, your street, your neighborhood and your town.


Wish you a beautiful Shabbat with time for prayer and contemplation, appreciating every bloom and blossom heralding the time we can go out and greet our loved ones in person. A hug has taken on new meaning eh?


Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem, beautiful, golden Jerusalem and of course, the view from our veranda.