The view from my veranda

Miracles and Misanthropy

23rd March 2023

1st of Nissan 5783

Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov (a good month)

Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, actually the real Hebrew new year, the month from which the year is counted. What is special about this month? As is indicated in its name, it is the month of miracles. The Hebrew word for miracle is ness, thus this month brings hope for new beginnings. Right now, we really need a miracle to get us out of the mess that we are in.

I love the fact that on this day we bless the new trees, the new blossom, the new life that spring brings, our history and our traditions are deeply rooted in the earth, in ecology and in being grateful for each flower, bud, sapling and nascent fruit. Birkat Ha’ilanot, or blessing of the trees, during the month of Nissan is one of the blessings we recite on seeing wondrous things, for example, the ocean, lightening, a rainbow or passing through a place where a miracle occurred. Birkat Ha’ilanot is recited on seeing the wondrous renewal in nature, as the fruit trees blossom, in anticipation of the future harvest, while acknowledging the deeper aspects of Mother Nature’s renewal, and the connection of humankind with the earth.

Today is a day of “Shituk” in Israel. The word has many meanings. It can mean paralysis, silence or closing down, which is what the demonstrations are attempting today. These are not angry demonstrations, as I have tried to explain, and those who have joined the ordinary people include, today, the acting head of the Israeli Lawyer’s Association, Members of Knesset, teachers, Professors, students, observant and secular Jews, people from the left, right and centre. This is a true people’s uprising of a most orderly fashion. It is not a group of disgruntled extremists; it is truly representative. Is it still about the judicial reform? Probably not, it is about the manner of the rushed through reforms on many levels including the judicial reforms, but last night a law was rushed through its third reading. Whereby, previously, the decision as to the suitability of a Prime Minister to continue that position was made by the Attorney General (whether physically or mentally capable as in the case of Ariel Sharon and Menachem Begin) was rescinded, making the decision by the Prime Minister himself as to his suitability to govern!! I know that the United States was disturbed by the passing of a law to allow building and settlement where it was previously limited but this vote is the final straw for many.

The question on everybody’s lips is “Where are the rational members of the Likud Party? Why aren’t they voting against these changes?” Well, the rumblings have started among the Likud Members of Knesset and a very few have begun to express their concern, led by Former Speaker of the Knesset Yuli (Yoel ) Edelstein who as a Refusnik understands exactly what it means to live under a non-democratic government; Nir Barkat has said that he will abide by the final decision of the Supreme Court but has not attempted to vote against the coalition.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, was called to the State Department after the rescinding of the Law of Disengagement, allowing Israelis to enter the areas that were evacuated in the Disengagement Accords, guaranteed by the United States. As if our internal problems were not enough, there were three serious diplomatic gaffes by members of this government this week. Smotritch declared that the are not and never were Palestinians, and the other stupidity was by our Minister of Transportation Miri Regev, who was treated like a Queen on her visit to Dubai, then came back to Israel and said, publicly, that she didn’t like Dubai!! The last one may seem funny but our relationship with the Emirates is of ultimate importance not only in creating the Abraham Accords but in all the diplomatic moves since that time, including Impact-se’s work in the Moslem world to introduce tolerance into their education. Perhaps the worst was the rejected intention of the United Torah Judaism Party to ban the use of the word Jesus in Israel. Yes, of course it was rejected, but to even raise the question is ghastly beyond words. Our Christian citizens and our Christian Allies do not deserve such disrespect.

I’m sorry to go on about it but I see this incredible, democratic country in trouble. It is very far from a death knoll; indeed it could be said that through the demonstrations we are proving, yet again, our true democracy, but it is sad to see so many happy Israelis sink into depression and our relationship with other countries change overnight.

On the other hand, we have just been voted number four among the happiest countries in the world, the highest we have ever been since the rating began! Admittedly that was during the period 2021-2022, incidentally during the previous government, but it is true, even with our political problems of today. Israel is a happy place, it really is. We have everything; glorious nature that we go out and explore at weekends, beaches that suit tourism and surfing, amazing history, archaeological treasures, Biblical wonders, food, aaaah food! The range of restaurants is incredible, from shwarma and felafel to haute cuisine, from Ethiopian to Swedish dishes, from Arabic or Eastern (twenty starters before you get going) to the teeny-weeny artistic designer portions of modern plating!  In general, we are a happy people who love to complain and argue, yet enjoy and love every moment and every inch of our Israel. Finland is yet again number one but sorry Australia, UK, US and Canada, you are well behind us!!

Back to reality. Teachers and schools at the UN agency that runs education and social services for Palestinians call for the murder of Jews, and create teaching materials that glorify terrorism, encourage martyrdom, demonize Israelis, and incite antisemitism, reveals a new report by two independent research and monitoring groups. Entitled “UNRWA Education: Reform or Regression,” today’s joint report — presented yesterday in the U.S. Congress, which is considering new legislation in the House and the Senate to cut funding for UNRWA and at the US State Department – uncovers 47 new cases of incitement by UNRWA staff, in breach of the agency’s stated policies of zero tolerance for racism, discrimination, or antisemitism in its schools and educational materials. I must give a shout out for the Impact team, headed by Marcus Sheff and Arik Agassi, who work night and day to bring this to the attention of legislators.

To honour Passover, Ramadan and Easter the President of Israel has invited members of the public to request pardons and erasure of criminal records to grant Haninot, especially to young people in the hope that by erasing their criminal records, especially for minimal crimes, that they can begin a new life of rehabilitation and change. It is traditional, not a new thing, but this President has emphasised his determination to turn young offenders into law abiding citizens.

Ramadan, the Moslem festival of fasting, reflection and community, lasts a month. The fast is from dawn to dusk each day and ends with a celebratory meal and traditional dishes often with guests from one’s community joining in. In the same way that the period of Lent means forgoing unessential foodstuffs and ends in a feast, or in Judaism the period between Passover and Shevuot (Pentecost) we have so much in common and so little understanding. Sadly, Ramadan in the Palestinian Authority has become a month long hate fest, indeed if you include the run up to Ramadan it is even longer. They, like all extremists, have turned religion into a weapon, even worse, they have twisted Islam into a weapon. So very sad and at least 14 Israelis have lost their lives to that hatred that no-one in the PA has the courage or the will to stop. Of course, there are beacons of light, people of honour who fight the hatred, like Prof. Mohammed Dajani about whom I wrote last week, but there are few who like him are willing to stand up to death threats.

Or Ashkar z”l lived the perfect life. He lived in one of the most beautiful Moshavs (villages) in Israel, Nes Harim, high in the Jerusalem Hills. He was a renowned Iron man and a terrific friend. On March the 9th, Mutaz Salah al-Khawaja headed for the famous Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, walked up to a group of young people enjoying a cup of coffee in the sun, and started shooting. He succeeded in taking the life of this young man who had his entire life in front of him. Two people died that day, the terrorist, inculcated with hatred so great that he was willing to sacrifice his own life to take that of another, and Or Ashkar the victim of decades of hate teaching. Or, his name means light, a light extinguished.

Zvi’s birthday celebrations have gone on all week, with phone calls from all over the world! We actually didn’t invite anyone home after he Friday night family meal, but somehow, we had a houseful most days! A bit of a challenge since I lost my voice and felt really lousy, but hey, we love visitors! Last night instead of performing at an old people’s home, or rather after their performance Zvi was taken out by his fellow quartet to celebrate and I had a quiet evening at home!

Today we are thrilled to have brother and sister, Jyl Bell and Phil Levy at home. They come all the way from Down Under, from Melbourne Australia. The plan was to go to their hotel but since it is much easier to leave the centre of Jerusalem than come in we chose to avoid the traffic of the demonstrations and have them with us. As I write they are having the “Zvitour” of our compound, a full history lesson of Motza. We will then go off into nearby Kiriat Anavim for lunch.

Tomorrow, at the crack of dawn we will park our car at the Mevasseret Community Centre and get on the coach, filled with friends from Zvi’s choir “Hakol Yachassi”, heading off to the ancient city of Beit She’an, one of the ten cities of the Roman Empire, the Decapolis, where we will spend Shabbat with the choir. Admittedly, once we have had our Shabbat meal tonight, they will be singing, which gives me a chance to go to bed early and rest my still croaky voice. Tomorrow, Shabbat we usually go for a long walk before Shabbat lunch but since the outlook is for heavy rain we’ll probably just hang around the Youth Hostel/Hotel. Hey, one must learn to appreciate a weekend without cooking before starting the real run-up to Passover!!

Before Zvi took Jyl and Phil back to their hotel I asked Phil what he would like as my first song today. “Two Yiddishe boys singing a song that is very appropriate today”. I dedicate this song to President Isaac Bougie Herzog. “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” but I’m going to cheat. This version is not sung by “the two Yiddeshe boys” but rather the Shalva Band with two famous Moslem singers to honour our collective festivals.

Lu Yehi – Let it be – was written by Naomi Shemer during the Yom Kippur War to honour those who were lost. It has become a symbol of hope, that all our wishes come to fruition, wishes for our beautiful country.

I have given you the Koolulam version several times so this time I thought you should hear the original, Matisyahu and “One Day”. It’s such a hope filled song, sung by a Haredi Jew for the world.

There are too many people who find my optimism either naïve or misplaced but for me these demonstrations show the incredible strength of Israeli democracy in action. We don’t need anyone else to tell us that what is happening will affect us long term in ways that we can only imagine and we are out in the streets showing our determination that it won’t happen. One scene today really warmed my heart. A man was standing on his open-roofed car waving his flag, blocking the traffic. A policeman came up to him and spoke too softly for the nearby camera to catch, but there were smiles on both sides and the man quietly slid back into his car and drove off. As I said this week, these demonstrations cannot be compared to anywhere else in the world. THIS IS ISRAEL.

Shabbat Shalom from the most incredible country in the world, and yes, I know I am biased!

With much love, because without it the world doesn’t turn.