21st April, 2023
Shabbat Shalom and Eid Mubarak
I woke up this morning, opened my newspaper and found a strange folded piece of fine cardboard. I unfolded, opened and found that it was a metre-long copy of the Israeli Declaration of Independence! A beautiful and stark reminder of exactly why we are here and what is expected of us.
We are in that strange week whereby an entire country goes from deep sadness, to deep mourning then instantly taking a huge leap into sheer joy and celebration. From mourning those who perished in the Holocaust, to mourning our young lives lost fighting to establish then defend our country. Ceremonies abound and despite tensions between the various sectors of our society, we will dance, sing and celebrate our amazing democracy in a flurry of parties, barbeques and picnics.
Hopefully for just one day, perhaps two, politics can be put aside.
I was amazed to discover that 147,000Holocaust Survivors live in Israel, 462 of them over the incredible age of 100. 521 are new immigrants from Ukraine.
The major debate, currently, is whether politicians should appear at the military cemeteries on Memorial Day, Yom haZikaron, when the families of soldiers buried there over the years go to visit the graves. For the parents, siblings, grandparents of those who fell in battle, it is a shared day of private mourning, not a time for political speeches and certainly not a time for disruption. Although in the past Ministers joined the mourners, in the past they themselves had served in the IDF and it was a shared experience, which is not necessarily so this time. All I pray is that on Tuesday their grief will be honoured.
The demonstrations against the Judicial Reform continue, quietly, with dignity, although patience is running low. Only time will tell.
Nahalal is a Moshav. A Moshav, as opposed to a Kibbutz, is an agricultural village of private homes who share agricultural equipment but live individual lives, or that was the original intention, but today Moshavim have become highly prized places to live. The name Nahalal is mentioned in the Bible as home to the tribe of Zebulun, and it is situated in the beautiful Jezreel Valley. Designed in a circle with roads forming spokes, like a wheel, Nahalal today has only 1,200 residents, but many who rose to or were born into, fame, Ruth Westheimer (Dr Ruth) lived there and graves in the cemetery hold the epitaphs of the famous, in particular of the Dayan family. Shmuel, Moshe, Ruth, Yael and Assi Dayan and today their highly talented cousin Yonatan Geffen will be buried alongside them, alongside his dear friend Meir Shalev who passed away last week. Yonatan Geffen, songwriter, story teller and Meir Shalev, author and storyteller, were both loved for their talent and their principles.
Hannah Szenes is not buried in Nahalal, she is buried in the military cemetery on Mount Herzl, but she lived there for a short time after emigrating to the nascent Jewish State from Budapest. Hannah Szenes, famous as a poet and of course for parachuting into………… She joined the British Auxiliary Air Force where she trained as a parachutist and ultimately was sent by the Yishuv on a mission into Yugoslavia with two others. She was caught, tried for treason and executed. Most of us know that part of her story, but there is more, much more.
Zvi and I went for a delightful lunch at Mickey and Shlomit Keren’s home, together with a few of Zvi’s old friends, from “back in the day”. In an effort to steer the conversation away from politics I told everyone about a fascinating exercise Zvi’s choir had performed. Each person had to tell a secret, something none of the other people knew about them, no matter how long or well they knew each other. At first reticent everyone opened up. Then it was the turn of Prof. Gabby Barkay, who as you may well know, is the archaeologist who returned and sifted the earth excavated and thrown away from under the Temple Mount. As usual I digress, but this is important. Gabby told us (with more than a little urging from Zvi and I) that it was his mother, Rachel Bresslauer, who in Budapest, had been Hannah Szenes’ Hebrew teacher, was the woman who encouraged Zionism and convinced the young Hannah to emigrate to Palestina. Not just a story, Gabby has all the documentation of his Mother’s work, of Hannah Szenes’ emigration papers and of letters written between his mother and Hannah. Incredibly, the others did know, only Zvi and I. It is time someone took on the Herculean task of going through the masses of historical documents that are in cartons in Gabby’s former apartment. Any volunteers?
Analysts in Middle Eastern Affairs have emphasised that the rocket attacks last week were not causus belli as suggested by the media but rather a few rogue Hamas gangs defying the orders of the governing entities in both Lebanon and Gaza! When you live in this neighborhood you have to be prepared, and we are! In the meantime, we are developing new allies and during the last government Azerbaijan grew closer and we have full diplomatic relations and this week those talks led to the opening of a new Embassy in Turkmenistan, just 17 kilometres from the border with Iran!
As a nation we love to complain, sometimes with very good reason, yet always coming together for tragedies and celebrations. This is a special country a fantastic place to live, a truly free democracy where every faith is represented and protected. As I said we moan and of course journalists tend to emphasise the problems but ignore the positive. Yaakov Katz, former editor of the Jerusalem Post decided to right that wrong. He puts everything into perspective https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-739845
I was thrilled to receive this from the lovely Gaby Hirsch, who became a dear friend during the preparations and creation of Dr. Dan’s Room in Shalva. This is a fabulous success story of dreams come true. Ellie Goldstein lives in Ilford, Essex in the UK. Ellie has Down’s Syndrome but it has never stopped her dreaming or fulfilling her dream to become a fashion model. Not only on the front cover of Vogue, she has represented Gucci, Adidas and Victoria’s Secret to name a few. This has to be the most important front cover ever, showing that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Well done Ellie!
On Monday Rachel and I headed off to Tel Aviv, thoroughly excited in the knowledge that we were going to meet one of our very favourite people, Poodle! Of course, Poodle is not her real name but I only discovered that her real name is Alex a very short while ago! Poodle, along with Paddy (Justin) were Daniel’s closest friends in Carmel College. Anyway, we were to meet at a small Italian restaurant on Dizengoff Street and as Rachel, Ayala and I neared the restaurant we saw dozens of memorial candles at the side of the road, memorial candles for Or Eshkar the young man killed in the recent terror attack. After paying our respects we met with Poodle, ate and then walked to the beachfront. Rachel and Poodle talking all the way and Ayala and I having our own private grand-daughter, cool Safta talks. We discovered all sorts of tiny alleyways and skinny roads as we wandered back to find the car!
Two days later and Zvi collected Talia and two girlfriends from school and they came to our place to interview Saba Zvi for a school project (all 16 years old). They asked him predominantly about his father, Kalman, and his life before and after emigrating to the nascent state and his involvement in the founding of the State of Israel. It was fascinating! One recorded Zvi while another wrote with great speed and all three listened to him in rapt attention. All while munching on pizza and edamame!
The 38th World Jewish Congress special meetings opened on Wednesday in Jerusalem, and Zvi was in attendance. The World Zionist Organisation special meetings cover many essential and even controversial subjects. If you want to keep up with them just go to https://www.wzo.org.il/page/english/press/en
Last night we were invited to a housewarming of a dear friends Aliza and Yossi, for “couscous and wine”! You cannot imagine the cornucopia of phenomenal dishes that she and her husband laid out, to say nothing of the constant array of meats on the barbeque! The food literally didn’t stop. Every conceivable kind of salad and roasted vegetables; liver pate, egg pate, avocado pate all in little pastry cups and all that was just hors d’oeuvres! The star of the evening was the hand made couscous with wonderful vegetables cooked in a tasty soup. Their new apartment is beautiful in a brand new neighborhood next to Nes Ziona, and their hospitality unmatched. It was such a delight.
Which brings us back to Shabbat! Apparently the latest food fad in Israel is cholent on a Thursday! Yes really! I knew about Kubeh soup on Friday but cholent of Thursday is a new one on me! Cholent is a stew like concoction which Eastern European Jewish families would make on Friday, cook overnight in the oven to be eaten for Shabbat lunch. Seriously heavy, with meat beans, potatoes and vegetables, I wonder if it will last into the searing hot days of summer!
Shabbat is central to life in Israel. Obviously there are those for whom it is a day of prayer and family, others who use the only day without work to take the family out into nature and hike, others use the opportunity to gather family and friends at home and then people like us who love to go for long walks and count the flowers and birds.
Yonatan Geffen z”l was, as I said, a lyricist. Together with musician David Broza he wrote the beautiful song, Yihye Tov, “It will be alright”, that oh so Israeli expression. Here David Broza sings https://youtu.be/qtI7h5A9eEQ Let’s pray that it really will be “Yihye Tov”
To honour Ellie Goldstein, Shalva and all the beautiful children who stand up to their challenges and those who see the beauty within and help them reach their potential, Yaakov Shwekey and “I Can Be” https://youtu.be/C3nF2KHmQ60
“I see something good in you”. A beautiful, introspective song, music composed by Sara Samuels, daughter of Kalman and Malki Samuels, founders of Shalva, Sara’s smile lights up the video every so often, and produced by the band themselves with lyrics by Anael, one of the two singers, both blind, who front the Shalva Band, and documents each member’s personal journey with disability, some obvious some unseen. https://fb.watch/k1ZeR-sc0f/
Time to gather my thoughts and prepare for Shabbat! I hope to go to see Rachel today and sit in her kitchen, as she plies me with freshly baked challah and good old Yorkshire Tea! It’s funny how children become the provider of memories of wonderful hot challah just as I used to bake little challah rolls for them as they came in from school on a Friday, hot from the oven and dripping with butter! Rachel’s challahs are the absolute best, soft and tasty, and the best part is she always bakes extra for sick friends. We haven’t decided if we will be home tonight or with one of Zvi’s boys, but whatever happens we will not starve, nor will they!
Please, I beg of you, don’t see the demonstrations as a breakdown of Israeli democracy, because, to the contrary, it is proof of the strength of Israeli democracy. It is clearly time for rethinking, for remembering exactly what is written on the Declaration of Independence https://main.knesset.gov.il/en/about/pages/declaration.aspx
We wish our amazing friend Kimball(Kim) Taylor a safe journey to Israel for the Keren Hayesod meeting and hopefully a few days with us! Our week will be a busy one, but I’ll tell you all about it next week!
Shabbat Shalom. With much love from our home to yours, from the view from our veranda overlooking Jerusalem.