25th December 2020
Shabbat Shalom to all and a special wish for a blessed Christmas Day to all my Christian friends.
“Peace on earth and goodwill to all men” What a beautiful wish, one which we should wish for every day of our lives. Can you imagine how wonderful life would be if we could let those words out of our mouths and into our hearts?
The Christmas tree in Nazareth is spectacular this year, a thousand coloured lights shining in a perfect triangle pointing up to heaven; Bethlehem Road in Talpiot has the usual decorations, sparkling and welcoming on the short road to the City of Bethlehem, even though visitors to both places are very limited. Watching both on television is something of an anti-climax but it’s the best we can do during this very strange period of our lives.
I’m going to write a short summary of events in Israel, because I hope you are all, whatever your religion, enjoying the prospect of a beautiful day.
We are going into our third closure, lockdown, quarantine, curfew, sequestration – whatever the word or description is means that so many people will be lonely and without work or the money to feed their families that it makes this Christmas a difficult one. Hotels and restaurants that have stocked up for the holiday season are left with food that will go to waste unless donated to the poor. The Covid-19 situation has been mismanaged the world over, with a tsunami of repercussions that nobody could fortell. The world order has changed and it is basically up to us to ensure that it changes for the better.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has been on a vaccine hunt for many months now, cajoling and coaxing the major drug companies to ensure that Israel received the maximum number of vaccines, and he succeeded. Israel tops the world chart of inoculations per capita. Quite an achievement. The Health Funds really got their act together and created large inoculation stations. Zvi had his first vaccine this week (I’m on the 28th) and the efficiency was truly magnificent. The vaccination station was in the Pais Basketball Arena, just near us. Plenty of parking, a huge reception hall with well spaced chairs for the pre- and post-vaccination waiting. First he registered, showing his ID card and was given a number; we sat and waited, an LED sign showing the numbers and a voice calling each number proved that the patients were called at a surprisingly fast rate. There were 10 stations with a nurse and a volunteer checking that the right person came for their jab and that they had no recent medical problems which could interfere with the inoculation. We then sat for the obligatory and usual 15 minutes to make sure there were no sudden surprises and went home! It really was amazingly efficient.
That efficiency has resulted in Israel being top of the world chart for inoculations per capita – next in line is the UK then the USA.
Yet another repeat situation that has overtaken the country is……you guessed it….another round of elections, our fourth in two years! The party map is changing by the minute with defections and new parties being formed. In may cases it is out with the old and in with the new. The entire process is too complicated to bore you on Christmas Day and for those masochists among us here is a timeline from Gil Hoffman https://www.jpost.com/israel-elections/election-timeline-all-the-important-dates-until-the-election-and-beyond-653046 and an analysis of the economic repercussions from Joshua Schuman https://www.jpost.com/israel-elections/israel-pays-economic-price-for-fourth-election-in-two-years-653149
All passengers arriving from the UK this week have been taken to compulsory isolation in various hotels in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem after the discovery of the “UK Variant” Covid-19. The entire operation was horribly botched since there was no forewarning and the passengers had none of their requisites for an overnight stay let alone a 10 day stay. Of course, in the day of the cellphone video proof of their situation became obvious. The army did its best to rectify the situation since none of the hotels were prepared, no staff because there were no guests and – oy a balagan! I was, however, very proud of the “Brits Living in Israel” Facebook group led by Anton Delin who immediately jumped into action and provided everything needed to the “incarcerated” Brits. I would not fly anywhere right now but many think differently even though 4 passengers were found to have the new variant.
Just to make things worse, an even more potent variation has appeared from South Africa. The Israeli Cabinet made the decision that all countries are considered red and all arrivals have to go into a 10 day isolation, mostly in Corona Hotels, until they test negative.
That’s enough doom and gloom although the truth be told there was one terrible incident when a beautiful, joyful, mother of 6, Esther Horgen z”l, went running through the countryside near her home, as she did virtually every day, and was brutally murdered in a terrorist attack. Our amazing IDF has virtually halted all terrorist activity and I know that a single murder in over a month is not impressive to anyone living in the West, but this is different, this perpetrator had been taught hatred on a daily basis in his school, hatred of Jews, hatred of Israelis irrespective of their beliefs.
Observant Jews will not be celebrating today since it is a minor fast mourning a major event. The 10th day of the month of Tevet remembers the siege of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar which ultimately led to the destruction of King Solomon’s First Temple and the conquest of the Kingdom of Judah. Fascinating to think that if that had not been the case the constant battles over Judea and Samaria might never have happened. I know “if only” has never helped anyone but it links nicely with Bethlehem, Jesus and Judea and of course the claim that Judea and Samaria are not Jewish at all.
Back to Christmas and a story that fits everyone, everyone who loves a happy ending. My children grew up on a wonderful television and book series called Ivor the Engine, written and narrated by Oliver Postgate. It was set in Wales and held the children enraptured by the soft Welsh accent, Jones the Steam, Idrys the Dragon and the sheer beauty of the stories. Daniel Postgate, the late Oliver Postgate’s son, happens to be my nephew and here he reads “Bluebell’s Christmas Mission” https://youtu.be/0eKEpzrbgZg
This morning I woke to a glorious sunny morning, after two days of blessed rain. The panorama before me glistened in the sun, the pinky white Jerusalem stone showing its true beauty after nature’s laundry had washed the Saharan dust of last week.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if “goodwill to all men” could be our motto for the coming year? Tikkun Olam is exactly that – to leave this world a better place than we found it. Just imagine if those harsh words that were on the tip of your tongue were swallowed instead of being spat out? Tikkun Olam is not giving to charity, it is not instead of our prayers and it isn’t something to replace our identity, Tikkun Olam is to be proactive, to make our street, town, city, country a better place for those who are unable to help themselves. After all, a country is judged on how it provides for the weakest sectors of its society.
This week’s Torah reading teaches us about tolerance and forgiveness as we reach the climax of the story of Joseph. After Benjamin finally travels to Egypt and stands before the great Joseph, Joseph finally reveals who he is to his younger brother. His first question is after his father’s welfare and then, when Benjamin asks if his brother is angry Joseph tells him “No, everything has a purpose and G-d wanted me here so that I could save my people in a time of famine and distress” As we know the story ends well and Joseph is able to hug his father etc, but think about what he said and its depth of meaning. He didn’t eat himself up in hatred of his brothers or thoughts of revenge, who had, after all, thrown him into a pit and sold him to Egyptians out of jealousy since he was his father’s favourite, he recognised that nothing happens in a vacuum, every situation, no matter how seemingly hopeless, can be turned into Tikkun Olam.
Here’s a happy Shabbat song and it’s in English! Remember to be proud of who you are and your age old traditions, irrespective of how you pray. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_L_1wuOqLQ
Imagine a Jewish immigrant, Irving Berlin, writing the greatest Christmas song ever written! Sounds crazy but it’s true and I love it! Here Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra sing White Christmas. May your days be merry and bright! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMl4Pls41qI
People often ask me “What do you really want from this world” or “What do you pray for Israel and for the world”? It expressed in this song The Prayer. Simple and pure for us all to be kind and tolerant of others………… can you imagine how beautiful it would be? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYJCYr1I-Sk
I wish you well, however you pray, whatever your identity, whoever you love, wherever you are.
I wish you a Shabbat Shalom and much love from Jerusalem where it all starts for us all. This beautiful city that I am proud to call home.