Friday the 22nd of September, 2023
27th day of the month of Tishrei, 5784
Shabbat Shalom, Shana Tova (a Good Year) and G’mar Hatima Tova (a wish that you should be written in the good book)
It is almost Yom Kippur, the culmination of the period of repentance, of atonement, for all our collective sins. There’s no automatic forgiveness, one has to accept responsibility and pledge to follow a better path. When I lived in Reading, Berkshire, I used to teach cheder (Sunday school) and each year would explain to the children that there is just one sin for which one cannot ask forgiveness from the Almighty but rather from the person that one has hurt. It’s a fascinating aspect of forgiveness because that one sin is when one has publicly shamed another. In a world where expressing one’s opinions is considered more important than caring for the feelings of another the idea of facing anyone we may have hurt, or even harmed, is of ultimate importance. Even more incredible is that one must ask forgiveness thrice and then if they refuse to accept the sin reverts to them. So clever and an important lesson.
The last years, turmoil has reigned, a situation exacerbated by Covid and isolation, political turmoil in particular which filters down into our very lives with occasional rays of light. So, let’s take a quick look at the last week centered in New York City and a quick trip to Florida. Prime Minister Netanyahu, accompanied by Sara Netanyahu, met with several leaders most of them political and one business leader. Elon Musk is a very clever man but has a tendency toward megalomania, admittedly he earned it, but he also misuses his power. There was a great deal of discussion here as to whether this meeting was essential and I was distressed that the Israeli Prime Minister had to travel to Musk rather than the other way around. In fact I believe it was a very clever move on the part of the PM due to the Israeli leadership in the AI field.
Zelensky? Vlodomir Zelensky rose to power and was almost immediately faced with the Russian Giant invading Ukraine. I have deep sympathy with the Ukrainian people but I feel he is using his Jewish heritage to blackmail Israel into doing something we cannot afford to do, anger the Russian Bear. Russia sits in Syria, right on our northern border, and with one swipe of its’ paw can change the military balance. Putin is a vengeful enemy, with a very long memory.
President Biden met with Netanyahu, greeting him with warmth and a clear declaration of his love for Israel. As you know, I have never doubted it. The two met both before the public eye and in camera, able to discuss the truly important issues. Unquestionably the issue of the Palestinians and Saudi Arabia were raised, but fear not, the American President is fully aware of the complications. The important negotiations with Saudi Arabia brought a demand from Biden to take the undoubtedly toxic elements in the Israeli government out, to allow closer ties and calm the situation.
Despite a public outcry, I must congratulate the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, for his brave decision to silently disrupt the speech of Ebrehim Raisi of Iran with a poster of Mahsa Amini, the Iranian women’s rights leader who was killed after being arrested by the infamous morality police. Erdan was roughly removed from the plenum but not arrested. Iran was ironically chosen to lead the Human Rights Council Social Forum, surely a decision which in itself is an insult to human rights and morality.
As you know, Zvi and I have demonstrated against the draconian changes in the laws of the current government. The demonstrations have been, in almost every case, well organised and orderly, a true expression of democracy. However, I am ambivalent about some aspects, in fact many aspects of the demonstrations held in the USA. I was very disturbed by the insulting poster of Netanyahu on Alcatraz; the sign on the UN building and the highly vociferous demonstrations in NYC at the hotel and the UN. Before anyone claims that it is the remains of my diaspora attitude, no it isn’t. It is about showing support for Israel and opposition to the government reforms in equal proportions rather than rowdy anti-Bibi washing of our dirty laundry to the delight of our opponents. I understand those who demonstrate but find it hard to accept.
This week in Israel we remember the fallen in the Yom Kippur War, the trauma of incompetent leadership and lost friends as all the surrounding countries waged war on an unprepared Israel. We learn that our leaders were warned of impending war by both King Hussein and Sadat’s son-in-law but nobody listened. The feet of clay are exposed and we mourn our innocence. Perhaps innocence was an element in the signing of the Oslo Accords 30 years ago, or was it innocence, naivete or were we duped? We were all excited at the prospect of an end to terror and constant threats, but the papers signed were unclear, partial and Yitzchak Rabin didn’t want to sign, indeed in the celebratory “meeting” he told President Clinton that he would sign on condition that he would not have to shake hands with Yasser Arafat, but even on that level he was forced to comply. Incidentally there were violent demonstrations by the right wingers in Europe and the USA after the signing of what they called a treacherous act.
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s enough about our crazy mixed up world and its relationship with Israel. I think it’s time to talk about what’s going on in Israel! Despite the threats from the Iranian proxies in our region, we Israelis just get on with life and in direct opposition to most of our neighbours it really is a very good life! This is such a vibrant society that despite both internal and external strife, we love life!
The buying of wooden sections and laths began immediately after Rosh Hashana although the palm fronds for the “schach” or roof covering, will wait until after Yom Kippur. What am I talking about? The building of the Tabernacles, the Succot. The temporary structures suddenly appear on balconies, verandas, roofs and pavements all set up and ready to entertain friends and for the braver, to sleep in as a reminder of our ancestors wandering in the desert. Each country has its additional traditions – for instance in Britain we always had fruit hanging from the lattice roof of the Succah whereas in Israel any fruit would rot within hours so most succahs have what can only be described as Christmas decorations! The street fairs of decorations, Lulav (palm leaves, myrtle and willow) and the venerable etrog or citron. The choosing of the citron is a very serious matter, ensuring that the stem is intact and the fruit pure. They come in all sizes and are either very knobbly or smooth, but the effort put into choosing is of ultimate importance. The combination of all of the above create a very special aroma, scent which pervades the entire area.
This isn’t only a Jewish period. We share our faith with Christians as the Tabernacles celebrations begin and Evangelical Christians come in their thousands for the parade and huge gathering arranged by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. A period of great joy and gratitude.
In the meantime, life continues as usual, classes, singing, cousins from Mexico and meeting friends. The Mexican cousins have been a joy, their thirst for learning is so refreshing, they have toured and left no stone unturned, ending up with us on Wednesday evening at a bustling restaurant on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem called HaMotzi, which is part of the blessing we say on bread. The restaurant was fun, noisy as hundreds of diners enjoyed their very Jerusalem food, accompanied by pitas freshly baked in the Tamboon, that fiery rounded oven. We sat and as we ate, we spoke about everything they had seen from the Golan Heights to the Galilee and the enormous difference between hedonist Tel Aviv and spiritual, historic Jerusalem. Sandra, Moi and Jonathan are rare tourists who absorb the country and its delights and troubles. Moi has only been to Israel twice, once about 10 years ago and now, and he was fascinated by everything he saw, understanding the bitter sweet of our past but impressed by the determination to enjoy life to the full. Ater eating our fill we walked up the road to Mahane Yehuda Market. After the “bastot” the market stands, are closed, the shutters come down to reveal the graffiti of famous local faces, and the chairs and tables come out as the market becomes one big pub, with food, and the narrow streets fill with young and old alike, dancing to the music, eating and drinking. We wove our way through the happy throngs, Zvi stopping in delight as he saw a stand with perfectly formed guavas, his favourite fruit! To understand the vibrancy of nighttime Mahane Yehuda this 16 second video will help you to understand that Jerusalem is great fun! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkvzuPXUWGE&t=16s
Yesterday Rachel and I had the joy of spending time with one of our favourite people in the whole wide world. She gained the nickname Poodle while at Carmel College and Poodle she has stayed. A wonderful true friend to my Daniel z”l she has remained a true friend to us too. A rare beautiful character she brings light wherever she goes.
That’s it dear friends. I won’t be writing next week because Zvi and I are going away so I will wish you a Gmar hatima Tova or as we used to say “Well over the fast”. Remember it is isn’t about not eating, it’s all about being so deeply involved in your prayers that you have no need to eat, even though I must admit that as the day progresses, I find myself counting the remaining pages!
In the space of just over a week we go from the solemnity of Kippur to the joy of ending the cyclical reading of the Torah to return to the beginning again. The proximity of the sadness and joy is typical of Jewish life throughout the centuries, the millennia, and we express it though our music, as the song says, from major to minor. We leave the sadness of Moses standing on Mount Nebo, unable to enter the Promised Land to the joy of the very Genesis of our world.
The eve of Yom Kippur begins with the prayer Kol Nidre. Cantor Natanel Hershtik has the voice of an angel. His father was the Cantor of the Jerusalem Great Synagogue and Natanel proudly follows in his footsteps, albeit in the USA. Not only does he have a beautiful voice but when we met I was charmed by his sweet personality and gorgeous smile upon seeing his parents at the concert. The prayer was first sung in 1565 and is still the entry to a day of atonement. https://youtu.be/Qj5rouyKZ9Y?si=8bELVrjY0Q1qcr0Y
Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father, Our King, is sung in the Yom Kippur service, speaking of the need for charity and kindness in our lives, our world, which is what will save humanity. Rather than giving you another Cantor here a beautiful couple known as Yonina sing https://youtu.be/mZotLSlGUgY?si=6_J2s-C7VA1tCr9k
As a direct result of the Yom Kippur War Naomi Shemer wrote this beautiful song. Despite rumours to the contrary, it is not a translation of the Beatles Let It Be, but the words rang true for her, that all we pray for will come to fruition. Lu Yehi, Let I be. Here sung by Chava Alberstein. https://youtu.be/mZotLSlGUgY?si=6_J2s-C7VA1tCr9k
I wish you a Shabbat Shalom and remember on Yom Kippur, as you spend time in contemplation, that vengeance and resentment should be forgotten. You don’t have to like everyone, indeed you can be totally against what they do, how they act, but holding it in destroys you and all around you. Teach your children to be too busy in self improvement to see the faults in others. A little bit of love goes a very long way and a smile changes lives.
Be well, with love from Jerusalem where it all starts.