The view from my veranda

Merry Christmas and Shabbat Shalom

24th of December 2021

Shabbat Shalom and a blessed Christmas to everyone.

In our strange, surreal circumstances brought about by a virulent virus I think all of us have lost touch of time passing. Yes it is almost the end of 2021 and our hopes are for a kinder 2022, one in which we can hug our families.

The other day I was talking to my sister Doreen, reminiscing our childhood as we often do, and the fascinating facts of Christmas in a traditional, Masorti, Jewish home. We always had a turkey dinner but never on Christmas day, always on Boxing Day which is an important day in the British calendar. Mummy used to do the turkey, roast potatoes, Brussel sprouts etc, although we always started with Lokshen soup and ended with her special bread pudding – my Bubbey’s recipe! It represented a day on which the whole family was together because nobody was working. It was also a celebration of my big sister Eddie’s birthday!

Growing up in Wales, which at that time was a devoutly Christian country, gave the small Jewish community an insight into the lives of others, we didn’t close ourselves within our own religious enclave, which created an acceptance of the other, of other religions that could only come from shared experience. My children grew up in a similar environment in the town of Reading in Royal Berkshire, the sense of sharing continued. We used to invite our Christian neighbours to our Chanuka parties and the children used to help them dress the Christmas tree – they also invited us for a glass of traditional, highly alcoholic, punch; a wonderful mixture of apple cider, spirits and spices – especially cinnamon bark, cloves and cardamom. Mutual respect was the order of the day and it brought so much joy!

What’s Boxing Day I hear the non-Brits say! Well there are many responses so let’s try a few and you choose which one you prefer.

  1. It was a day off for servants and employees who had worked so hard cooking and preparing for Christmas lunch in the big houses and mansions and they went home with boxes of delicious left-overs.
  2. It was the day that public servants called to get their “Christmas Box” which instead of food turned into a great big tip – and if your tip wasn’t big enough then the Bin-Men (garbage collectors) used to forget to empty your bins or even worse, would tip them over!!
  3. The 26th of December (Boxing Day) is also St. Stephen’s Day. St. Stephen was the patron saint of horses so it has become the day for horse racing, hunting (no longer with foxes) and as a by-product for Rugby matches too.
  4. It was the day that one took boxes of gifts to the Alms Houses in recognition of the giving at Christmas
  5. I shouldn’t have said that if you aren’t British you won’t know what it is because it is celebrated in the entire British Commonwealth and Ireland!

Christmas in Israel is different, the neighbours don’t have trees but Jerusalem and Nazareth have Santa Claus, sometimes arriving on a camel rather than reindeer, but still wearing the essential red outfit, white beard and padded stomach, who hand out gifts for the children. The Jerusalem municipality gives out trees that are small enough for an apartment but big enough to carry the traditional baubles. This year everything will be quieter because the pilgrims cannot get here thanks to Covid. Bethlehem will have the tree in Manger Square and of course Midnight Mass will take place but in a very limited fashion, as will St John’s Church, St. George’s Church and the exquisitely beautiful YMCA. I always remember when I first arrived in Israel; Zvi took me to a Carol Concert at the Brigham Young University Campus on Mount Scopus. The decorations were amazing in the concert hall and the view over Jerusalem from the huge windows behind the choir took my breath away and I will never forget Zvi’s expression as I merrily sang along with all the Christmas Carols, but that’s how I grew up, religious Jewish but able to enjoy my surroundings!

A few Christmas tree facts!

Did you know that originally they had nothing to do with Christmas? They began in Europe, on the 24th of December, which apart from being Christmas Eve, is actually Adam and Eve Day! No I didn’t know that either! My goodness how things evolve!

The Jerusalem Music Academy has many international students and in their honour a big Christmas tree was erected to help them celebrate since many cannot get home.

Since the huge Russian immigration many trees are appearing yet they are not Christmas trees! In Russia the traditional pine tree represented Novi Grod or New Year, after all it is the Gregorian Calendar!!

I ought to give you a quick insight into the goings on here in Israel, as much as I would love to continue my journey down memory lane and Christmas trivia!

Hazza Al Mansouri isn’t Israeli, yet two years ago when, as an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates, he flew to the International Space Station, he took an Israeli flag with him. Remember that this was before the Abraham Accords. This week, Hazza took that flag to the Israeli Pavilion in the Dubai Expo and presented it to the representatives.

Israel has placed a Covid travel ban to many countries including the USA, Canada, UK, UAE etc, in an act of self-protection. Some claim that it is an act against Olim who want to fly to see their families while others claim that it is an act against the Jewish Diaspora that wants to visit Israel. Of course, to rational thinkers it is neither, it is purely and simply to protect against the rampant advance of new mutations and variants coming into Israel.

Israeli medical innovation is alive and well. A new drug which halts the progress of Covid in those severely affected has gone for approval to the FDA. There is hope. Also the nasal spray which prevents contagion of Covid and many other viruses.

Mansour Abbas is a Member of Knesset, and the current government, for the United Arab List and a Member of the Moslem Brotherhood. He is also one of the Deputy Speakers of the Knesset. Abbas has never identified as anything but Pro-Palestinian but this week he spoke out about the Israel denial attitude of most of his fellow Arab politicians. “The State of Israel was born as a Jewish state, and the question is how we integrate Arab society into it. We are at the beginning of the partnership,” he added, “but I believe in it. You can’t wait for change without creating a new reality. We always demanded change without moving forward. Instead of waiting for it to happen before there would be a partnership, Ra’am came along and said ‘Let’s form a partnership that will bring the change.” A true sign of hope

The Knesset discussions on the Egalitarian Section of the Western Wall have come to a temporary halt. It isn’t that they don’t want to pass the new regulations allowing a broader congregation to pray at the Wall, but rather discussion as to how it will be carried out. Prime Minister Bennet is very much in favour but this is a democracy and discussion is essential. Misunderstandings of this subject have caused a rift with communities in the Diaspora, essentially in the USA.

Over 27,000 new immigrants arrived in Israel over the last year. They emigrated from (we call it coming home) from every corner of the globe and every type of community finding themselves a new life. Welcome home to each and every one of them.

Rain, rain, don’t go away!! We have had four days of real rain! It was classed a storm and given a name, “Carmel” and although most of the country didn’t feel the storm quality there were certainly incidents. Trees uprooted and Tel Aviv, Holon and other stretches along the coastline suffered flooding but we were lucky it wasn’t worse. When we look at the tragic storms of Kentucky and the Philippines we have to thank our stars. Hopefully the parched earth will benefit and the winter rain will lead to a green spring. Our veranda has certainly benefitted, the rain washing away the dust and sand of the summer and autumn, emitting a beloved aroma of new life. The early mornings brought many fabulous sunrises over the misty panorama of Jerusalem, shadows of the hills peeking through the rain. I love this season – it isn’t spectacular but it brings hope of Spring hope of a new and better year.

If you aren’t European you won’t remember Anne Marie David who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1973 for Luxembourg despite being French/Moroccan! She is not Jewish but has always loved Israel and she arrived here this week to sing with the wonderful Sassy Keshet who is moving away from his usual Yiddish songs to sing with her in French. Here’s her 1973 winning song – see how formal everyone was then!

New Year resolutions are usually forgotten by January the 6th, but in Judaism the atonement, the change of heart, is supposed to continue throughout the year. The next song, performed by Sassi Keshet and David d’Or is about the promise we make to change. ‘Master of Forgiveness, Examiner of Hearts, we have sinned before Thee, have mercy upon us” It’s an acceptance that we aren’t perfect but pray to be better – surely good for 2022.  

Tom Jones is essentially Welsh, has never tried to hide his Pontypridd accent; he is also, by chance is a regular visitor to Israel. Here, a very young Jones reads from Dylan Thomas’s witty, descriptive “A Child’s Christmas” along with the Treorchy Male Voice Choir singing all our favourite Carols. I love it!

Last week I found it difficult to tell you all that it was two years since losing my beautiful eldest son Daniel. I just couldn’t put it on paper because it made it real. However, since then I have been reading the beautiful words written by his patients and parents on the website of Uptown Pediatrics and Mount Sinai Hospital where he worked and it helped. Also knowing that all of us, all the family wherever we may be, are ensuring that his good name and incredible generosity of spirit will endure.

I wish all my amazing Christian readers a beautiful and Blessed Christmas. I hope you will be able to spend it with family but even if it is on Zoom, I hope you will feel the love.

I wish you all a Shabbat Shalom, Happy Birthday to my big sister Eddie in Toronto and remember – there are always blessings, you just have to recognise them.

With all my love