The view from my veranda

Out with the old and in with the new

1st January 2021


Shabbat Shalom lovely friends. Shabbat Shalom as the world is looking just a little brighter every day.


The first day of the first month of the new Gregorian year. Phew! 2020 is behind us.

This Irish New Year blessing sums up what I wish for you


“May your pockets be heavy and your heart be light,

May good luck pursue you each morning and night.

May you always be strong in your journey.

In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship and never in want.”


This past year was challenging at best, frightening at worst, but in so many cases it brought out the best in us, the fighting spirit that kept our heads above water.


A medical catastrophe brought out the very best in medical science when it was discovered that an existing vaccine could be adapted to inoculate against a horrific new strain of virus that emanated from Hunan Province in China -Covid-19. Laboratories all over the world worked at full pace and the results were nothing short of miraculous!


There are always silent heroes in these battles. Here a husband talks about his wife who worked together with the CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, a Jew from Thessaloniki whose family was taken to Auschwitz and who swore that if the opportunity ever presented itself to give thanks for the fact that his father survived the Holocaust he would take it.


Benita Alkon Baitner (to be honest, my wife), the director of the Vaccination Unit of the global Pfizer company in Israel, succeeded in performing this job with modesty, discretion, seriousness and courtesy, connecting, mediating and promoting both sides, with her dual loyalty. Because, on the one hand Benita is the Pfizer representative in Israel and on the other hand she is an Israeli citizen who wanted the vaccine to arrive in Israel as soon as possible … She did all this while completing two periods of quarantine and with her daughter with verified Corona in the next room”


Israel has now inoculated 10% of its population. Enormous thanks must go out to our Health Funds. They managed to get organised in record time and utilize the Pfizer vaccines that the government had bought in the most efficient manner.


The Middle East is heading toward a very different, kinder face as accords, treaties and agreements are signed with Moslem countries. It began with the Abraham Accords between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, a true agreement, one of two friendly countries. The Abraham Accords were quickly followed by Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco and even Saudi Arabia is reaching out to us. The incredible “behind the scenes” workers of the Foreign Ministries involved, not just the leaders, deserve accolades, they too are silent heroes.


The greatest upside and, by the same token, downside of the closures is that many parents, if they are working, are working from home, spending real time with their children who are home learning. Of course there is a serious downside, many families have fallen into poverty and in countries that do not have socialized medicine they cannot afford medication, let alone housing.


Here in Israel the very best in people has come to the fore with neighbours, municipalities  and even Facebook groups organising food for the sick and elderly who could not leave their homes and ensuring that nobody goes without.


Ask Israelis what they miss most they would almost inevitably say “a flight to anywhere” in their top 5. Israelis have an inbuilt wanderlust and guided tours to understand far flung places are number one. A side effect of the Abraham Accords was the rush of some 50,000 Israelis who travelled to the Dubai, and some brought back Covid! More importantly Emeratis who came to Israel were amazed to find everyone so friendly, helpful and the freedom of prayer excited them.


Political change is on the cards here in Israel. The demonstrations were echoed within the Knesset as dissatisfaction with the determined braggadocio of Prime Minister Netanyahu and as a result we head to the fourth elections in less than 3 years. Israel does not have a Presidency like the United States, although our titular President Reuven Rivlin has been the voice of reason during this period, coaxing Members of Knesset to reach an agreement and prevent yet another highly costly round of elections.


Our athletes have been winning Gold Medals all over the world! European Golds in Windsurfing, Gymnastics both individual and team, Judo………. And more!


What have Zvi and I been doing during the past year? We have been preparing for our eventual move to the new apartment although it is hard to know where to start! We have walls and floors and even the bare-bones of the kitchen is in place, we met many of our future neighbours, but the move is still on the distant horizon! Maybe for Passover


We are both very involved in community and national organisations. We successfully raised the funds for an apt memorial for my Daniel in “Dr. Dan’s Room” giving voice not only to the children who cannot speak for themselves but to a joyous and beautiful organisation “Shalva”. The moment we can go to Shalva after this closure, we will give a full report.


Zvi became Chairman of the Board of the Jerusalem Teacher’s Training College and a Member of the Board of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and I became Chairman of the Board of Impact-se. Impact has had some exceptional successes this year, both in the totally revised school curriculum for East Jerusalem and cooperation with the UAE education authorities on their excellent new curriculum which leads the way in Moslem countries. 2021 promises to open many doors to teaching children tolerance instead of hate. It is a team effort but Marcus Sheff leads the way and Nir Boms does everything behind the scenes!


I got a new hip which has changed my life! Nearly every day Zvi and I go for a walk of at least 2 kilometres. Sometimes we walk through the park opposite, nodding to neighbours although it’s difficult to recognise them with their masks; sometimes we go to the “Park haMessilah” a beautiful 7 kilometre walk from the neighbourhood of Baka along the old Ottoman tracks all the way to the Biblical Zoo, I do about 3 kilometres! Another favourite of mine is the Deer Park, just down the road. It is such a delightful, utterly unspoiled green lung of Jerusalem and I love the feel of the countryside and if we are lucky we see a tell-tale scut in the near distance indicating that a herd of deer is coming out to feed. Zvi is convinced they hide from us since deer are shy creatures indeed.


We have spent as much time as the rules allow with our Israeli grandchildren who discovered that a small birthday party with just close family members can be just as exciting as a fancy big affair. Ayala’s Bat Mitzva was a prime example of just parents, siblings and grandparents attending and sticking to the rules. Rachel made each party exciting by providing her amazing pinatas. @lala.pinata on Instagram


You all know that this year has been a year of tears as our entire family tries to come to terms with the loss of Daniel, my beautiful eldest son. We all turned our eyes toward Karen, Joshua and Callie in New York who faced their loss and Covid with true fortitude and bravery. If only we could all be together but Covid dictated that we be on 3 continents. We must look toward our future, to do his memory justice by living life to the full as he did.


What do I wish for the coming year? If I gave myself 10 wishes what would they be?

  1. I wish for leaders who care for us more than their comfortable and elevated seat
  2. I wish for tolerance, tolerance for the beliefs of others, be it religious or political, tolerance which goes both ways
  3. I wish for honest, civilised debate rather than contentious verbal altercations from our leaders and our television pundits.
  4. I wish for the return of good old fashioned manners. The fact that someone opens a door for me doesn’t demean me it elevates me!
  5. If only we accepted each other’s manner of prayer as valid, as equal.
  6. I wish I was more computer literate than our 6 year old grand-daughter Ella!
  7. I wish that all my family, siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews would come and visit us here rather than us going there!
  8. I wish I knew what to do with all the books and paintings we have when we move to our new home!
  9. I wish that young people understood that a lifetime’s experience means that you have so much to give
  10. I wish that you would all write back to me so that I know I am not whistling in the wind! Really, I’d love to hear from you. I feel that you are my friends and care about you.


Finally, we must ring in the new with song, but which songs?


For the first part, herewith two full concerts and a message from Zvi

“As you may know, I have always been interested in music, so I was happy when a year ago I was asked to be a member of the Board of Management of the famed Jerusalem Academy of Music.

As its 2021 greetings for the New Year, the Academy sent its friends a student concert that I thought you would enjoy!

So, let us all hope that 2021, will be the light that awaits us after the darkness of 2020

May we all see our loved ones in person, instead of through Zoom, and may we all be happy and HEALTHY!”


There is just one song which sums up all our prayers for a kinder world – One Love, sung by a Koolulam gathering of Jews, Moslems and Christians in the Tower of David


Don’t Worry be Happy was hardly the expression of 2020 but hey… this is 2021, we are allowed to be happy!!!


I wish you a Shabbat Shalom, a time to begin looking forward not back, a time for hope of a better, healthier, kinder year.


I send you love from Jerusalem, from both of us thinking of all of you.