14th April 2023
Shabbat Shalom dear friends, Shabbat Shalom. Today is the 8th Day of the Counting of the Omer.
So much Matza has passed under the bridge since my last missive, some tragic, some beautiful and some miraculous. I am seriously going to try and leave politics out of the equation, other than to tell you what must be told.
Since Sunday, when I wrote about the tragedies of the Maia and Rina Dee z”l and Alessandro Parini, killed by pure, unadulterated hatred in two separate terror attacks. Lucy Dee, mother of Maia and Rina, also passed away despite the untiring efforts of the doctors in Hadassah Hospital. The courage and deep faith of Lucy Dee’s family gave life to five patients as they chose to donate her organs to save others. Rabbi Leo Dee, in his eulogy, said “We were a family of seven and now we are four” May their souls rest in peace.
If you think that the terror attacks are a local issue, that settlements, occupation, religion are the cause of what is happening here, think again. First of all, the rockets from both Lebanon and Gaza should give you a clue but now, as we near the last Friday of Ramadan, the Iranians have come out of hiding behind terror groups and openly call for an uprising against Israel in the name of Allah. Iran is behind our troubles; Iran is funding our enemies and Iran is calling them to kill Jews. It is incredible that as we near Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day here in Israel, the call of death to the Jews still rings out from the insane leaders of a rogue nation and the world is silent. Iran is known as the enemy of the West but no Western leader seems capable of condemning the call to wipe out the Jewish nation.
Not only Matza passed under the bridge as the heavens wept and thunder roared our distress as yet more young lives, more siblings, were taken by sheer hatred.
Heavy downpours washed country creating incredible waterfalls and flooding. Let me explain. Jerusalem is split in two – no not the political imaginary line but the actual line between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. When it rains in Jerusalem, King George Street becomes the divider. I’m not very good at east and west, north and south because I come from a country that uses left and right not east and west to describe directions! However, to the west (left) of King George St the waters flow down to the Mediterranean, not really making an impact, but to the east (right) of King George St, the waters run down to the Dead Sea creating incredible waterfalls, rivers of water rushing over the formerly parched earth, down the dry wadis, cutting across roads and taking anything in their path. It is spectacular and there are those who do not realise the danger, or power of water. What looks like a wonderful cleansing downpour on our veranda becomes a torrent as it finds its way to 1,300 feet, 400 metres below sea level. Some risk all to watch the incredible power of these floods, but I am quite content to watch on the news and thank heaven that we went to Eilat last week not his!
The political situation was not calmed by our wonderful festivals neither was the diplomatic situation.
Orthodox Christian tradition holds that the Holy Fire happens annually in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, on the day preceding the Orthodox Pascha. During this time, blue light is said to emit within Jesus’ tomb, rising from the marble slab covering the burial site. The light is believed to form a column of fire, from which candles are lit. This fire is then used to light the candles of the clergy and pilgrims in attendance. The area is very limited and last year it was dangerously overcrowded so that in concert with the Church, this year the police requested that the number of pilgrims attending be limited to prevent accidents such as that in Meron. Sadly, the Palestinians sent false messages to the Christian world telling them that Israel was not allowing pilgrims to pray in the Christian Holy sites. We cannot allow lies to split us apart, to take sides. It desecrates our very beliefs.
The lovely Rachel Heisler is the Executive Director of the American Friends of Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, a hospital that has grown into the third largest hospital in Israel serving the most diverse community in the south of Israel. Rachel invited us to a private concert of Cantorial music in Hechal haTarbut in Tel Aviv. The two Cantors, Shai Abramson, Chief Cantor of the IDF and Cantor Natanel Hershtik, son of Naftali Hershtik former Cantor of the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. They sang so beautifully, both in tandem and individually, accompanied by the Raanana Symphony under the baton of Ofir Sobol, who entertained us with his narration. Natanel sang the prayer for the State of Israel then he and Shai dedicated “Ve Hi Shamda” to the Dee family. I love liturgical music, from the hymns of the deep South, the choirs of King’s College or the tearful minor key of Eastern European prayer. I think the high point of the evening (apart from getting a hug from Shai Abramson) was before the concert even started when Natanel Hershtik rushed into the reception hall and hugged and was hugged by his parents – discovering that his Mother still calls him her baby! This world-renowned Cantor with the voice of an angel was still his Mummy’s baby. Only in Israel!
Pesach continued in a flurry of Matza Brei and cooking, as usual. Zvi’s cousins Sergio and Sara came for Shabbat dinner with Sergio’s daughter Rebecca and her boyfriend Arturo. Zvi’s Mother Alla always used to say that she was jealous of anyone coming to Israel for the first time (she arrived in 1934), their reaction of awe at the miracle that is Israel. Well, it was Arturo’s first visit and I loved the way he sat in rapt attention as Zvi explained some history in a nutshell. Even after hearing him speak many, many times, I still learn new things too.
As Pesach ends and the process of returning all the special dishes to their boxes for another year, the Moroccan/Algerian festival of Mimouna enters. For many years it was a tradition, or festival that only took place in Moroccan Jewish homes but today we all get to enjoy the extravaganza of foods and décor. Because of the pouring rain we only went to one home this year, cutting through the underground parking to our neighbours, without going outside! Last year we went to several homes, always open doors and sharing of the glorious display. The table in the Zvidetzky home was laden with unbelievable goodies, each sweeter than the next. The Moroccan décor was glorious and Yehudit, Zalman and their family wore traditional djellabas. It’s really difficult to describe each of the sweet delicacies, recipes that Yehudit brought with her from her parent’s home creating a perfect combination with Zalman’s Ashkenaz heritage! I think this article best describes the joyous festival, its origins and gorgeous photos of delicious foods. https://www.ynetnews.com/article/by6qq11efn My only problem is that it is a cornucopia of nuts, seeds, sugar, honey and confectionary delights since Zvi is diabetic and I have a nut allergy! We found comfort in the excellent company and the mouflettas, a paper-thin pancake which is smothered in honey. OK so Zvi cheated a bit!
Yesterday Zvi’s cousin Elizabeth Bourde came to Jerusalem with two of her daughters and their daughters. Zvi met them at the beautiful Soldier’s Memorial on Mount Herzl then, limited in venues thanks to the downpour, they went to the Friends of Zion Museum https://fozmuseum.com/ in the centre of Jerusalem, brainchild of Dr Mike Evans. While the girls went on to Mahane Yehuda and the Western Wall, Elizabeth came home with Zvi. It was a delight as we sat and played catch-up on our lives until the girls came to go back to Tel Aviv. We had a week of Mexican memories, which Zvi loves and I do too.
Tuesday will be Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. In Israel it is a day on which we mourn, honour, remember and pray that Never Again will be a reality. A state ceremony is held at Yad Vashem, every military base, town, city, village, and public institution has a ceremony to mark the event. In schools the children dress in white and a Holocaust Survivor comes to talk to them, although sadly fewer and fewer are still alive to tell their tale of horror. At 10.00 am, Israel comes to a stop when the siren wails around the country. For two minutes everyone comes to attention. Buses stop at the side of the road as do cars, the drivers and passengers standing silently beside their vehicles. The single note of the siren seeps into one’s soul as 6 million ghosts remind us of what happened when lies convinced entire peoples that we were the devil incarnate, the cause of the world’s troubles and must die for our sins. The sin of being Jewish, of being handicapped, of being homosexual, of being non-Aryan. Zvi and I always stand on our veranda, the silence around us, and think of those members of our families who lost their lives to the ultimate hatred.
We are a people that survives and ultimately thrives but why oh why does hatred haunt our history and follows us even today. Why are we the Chosen People only to be chosen for all the wrong reasons? Is it because we are different? We really aren’t that different any more – on the whole we blend in rather well; is it because we pray differently? In truth too many of us don’t even pray any more; is it because we eat different foods? Yet again many of us don’t follow the dietary rules; is it because we look different? really not. So why? Because we are Jews.
Passover, Pesach, is a time when we celebrate our freedom from slavery, our tortuous journey to the Promised Land, the Children of Israel who spent more time disobeying the words of God given to Moses than just getting on with the job of walking to the promised land, yet here we are! We stood up to every enemy, past and present, we bend to no man. Many of those who survived the horrors of the Holocaust came to Israel and built families, families filled with love. Listen to and understand the words of this Passover song. I wish I had the rendition with Natanel and Shai, but this rendition of Vehi Sheamda by Yonatan Razel and Yaakov Shwekey is superb. I warn you though, once heard the melody will haunt you in the most delightful way. https://youtu.be/Y784Uw96Rbs
Imagine an atheist, rock singer and an observant cantor coming together to sing about their shared values, lives, fears and belief in love and listen to Aviv Geffen and Avraham Fried sing of mutual support. B’Zman Betzoret, at a time of drought. https://youtu.be/069WNgtAsJ4
Now what? What song would really cheer us all up. There is so much to be grateful for, perhaps we should begin with just being alive and able to love our families. I was going to play Satchmo and Wonderful World, but then I thought, “What song embodies all my values and makes me feel there is hope in this complex world” and I thought immediately of one song and one place that is may special place, my peaceful place. It’s noisy, funny, bright, cheerful and so full of love you have to be there to understand. Shalva – even the word defies translation! Shalva means calm/peace/contentment all at once and that’s what I find when I go there, especially when I visit Dr. Dan’s Room. Here the Shalva Band and “All You Need is Love” https://youtu.be/wvhhae73wnk
After the downpour of the last few days, the sun came out today and the air is warmer, and as soon as I finish writing I’m going for a walk with my friend and neighbour Naomi here in our complex. Tonight we will be with Amiad, Noga and family and tomorrow with Zvi’s friends from his University days.
With much love from Jerusalem, from Israel. Wish you a peaceful, contemplative Sabbath