The view from my veranda

Rockets, Respite and Reflections

12th May, 2023

Shabbat Shalom!

There is a famous Chinese blessing “May you have a boring year” and the Chinese curse? “May you have an interesting year” Unfortunately we are having a very interesting week.

The Iranian funded Palestinian Islamic Jihad, originally an offshoot of Egypt’s Moslem Brotherhood, has been behind many of the attacks in and around Jenin and any rocket attacks on the South. Israel decided to “remove” three of their leaders in Gaza and as a result over 800 rockets have rained upon the ordinary folk of Israel. Mostly along the Gaza border, Sderot and farming communities, and along the coast, one aimed at Tel Aviv. Israel’s defence system is highly effective but nobody can defend against the trauma of the warning siren and the dash to somewhere, anywhere safe. When a missile landed in Rehovot, Israel suffered her first, and hopefully only, death from this bombardment. Hamas, funded predominantly by Qatar, claimed to have refrained from joining the fray, but on the other hand, as warlords of Gaza, nothing happens there that they do not approve of. On day 3 of Operation Arrow and Shield another 2 PIJ leaders were “removed”.

It’s important to note that the Israel action did not appear out of thin air or a politician’s whim. A week or so ago, a man accused of terror activities and a highly unpopular man among prisoners,, Khadar Adnan, died after a long hunger strike and in response over 100 rockets were launched from Gaza. In response to those rockets Israel decided to pinpoint 3 PIJ leaders. In response… and so it goes in the Middle East, our very own Groundhog Day.

The comparative cost of saving lives as opposed to taking lives is staggering. The numbers are purely an example. Kassams costs about $500 each, at least 600 have been launched at us in the last couple of days which is 1,275,000 shekels. Iron Dome interceptions x 600 = $30,000,000 which is 109,337,250 Shekels.

Families all over Israel have volunteered to take in families from the Gaza border during the Arrow and Shield operation. Suddenly politics are forgotten and we pull together. The greatest fear is not that the combined forces went in and did what was necessary, although this time it was not pinpoint which is tragic although those killed were in the same house as the terror leaders; the fear is that unlike during the last few years, this government will not want to get out fast. Even during the cease fire talks led by Egypt the rockets continued in a seemingly never ending volley.

If anyone doubts Israel’s status as a democracy for all, Raeed Salah, yes the one who excavated hundreds of truckloads of earth and archaeological artefacts from under the Temple Mount; the one who was denied entry to the UK for his terror connections; that Raeed Salah from the Israeli Arab town of Umm el Fahem in the Galilee, organised a demonstration against Israel’s actions in Gaza!

Djerba, in Tunisia, was an island of safety when the remaining Jews of Tunisia fled and today the beautiful El Ghriba synagogue is a known tourist site. Sadly this week a terrorist killed five people and injured more near the synagogue, he tried to go into the synagogue and would have succeeded in killing far more Jews had it not been for the intervention of the Djerba security forces. Does it never end?

Turning our thoughts on a sixpence, because that’s life in the Middle East, a fun report. Noa Kirel, the beautiful and highly talented young woman representing Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest, is through to the final. Although I have admittedly outgrown most of the music, it is very exciting. Good luck Noa!!

This week Impact-se was in Paris for the ELNET meetings and simultaneous had meetings with the EU. As a result the EU parliament passed a resolution for 4th consecutive year ‘deploring’ Palestinians for production and teaching of antisemitic and violent materials with EU taxpayer money. The resolution insists that EU freezes funding from PA until it aligns its textbooks with standards of peace and tolerance. It is not an overnight change, the team has been working toward this resolution for a long and difficult period and the result is hopeful.

Our dear friend Dr. Michael Meir is in Israel and we had the honour of spending time with him. On Tuesday Zvi had the excellent idea to go to the Islamic Museum, near the Jerusalem Theatre. He immediately called Gilad Levian, the director and a long time friend, who opened the museum after hours specially for us. In a sense the Islamic Museum is a misnomer, because, although it most certainly has displays of Islamic art and culture, the central display is a phenomenal permanent horological exhibition, unique and fascinating, which includes a priceless watch, actually two, one of which took many years to create for Marie Antoinette, and another which she actually used. Well worth a visit

On Wednesday, Michael and I visited Shalva. The wonderful Gaby Hirsch met us in the lobby and explained the story of the founding of Shalva to Michael, who is a wonderful listener. Please watch this incredible video to the end to understand the sheer joy and beauty of Shalva.  We learned that both the Respite areas and the car park were ready to receive families from the South should they need it. The Car park undergoing an instant change into safe living accommodation. At the end of our tour Gaby took us to “Dr. Dan’s Room” the performing arts studio which we built to honour my eldest son Daniel who died in an accident in New York. Michael and his late wife Rivka knew and loved Daniel which made the visit all the more emotionally important to me.

As Zvi and I go on our daily constitutional, indeed also when I drive through our area, I noticed something interesting about the local flora. In early spring the wild flowers are predominantly pink and red but May is in and gorse is everywhere! Bright yellow gorse colours the hillsides interspersed with the remaining mimosa. I love our area, our walks and two days ago we chose to walk out of our estate onto what was once the main road to Jerusalem – incredibly so since it is a narrow road with 7 hairpin bends – until 1967 when Road Number One was completed. There is a lovely walking path, bordered with flowers and bushes, which runs alongside the road, which incidentally is call the Seven Sisters because of said hairpin bends, and this path leads to the village of Motza and back up onto our estate. As we reached one of the first beautiful homes, we saw two people trying to repair a flat tyre! Of course, we stopped to chat, offer help and sympathise. As it turned out one was our neighbour and the other young man, was a volunteer with a wonderful organisation called Yedidim (meaning friends) who for a tiny annual fee can be called out to help stranded drivers, was also a neighbour!! Unfortunately, despite his best efforts he didn’t have the right spanner to take the wheel off so Zvi immediately offered to go home and get a repair kit. On his return, the lady was so grateful that she invited us for a Tunisian meal at her home next week! Now that is a typically Israel experience!

I feel it is of ultimate importance that you understand that Israel is still one of the safest countries in the world. Compared to Switzerland we appear dangerous but compared to the USA we live in a haven of peace; it’s just that ours are the result of years of hatred and incitement and always hit the headlines.  Imagine, as of early May, the Gun Violence Archive has counted more than 200 mass shootings in the United States this year. Last year, the group counted 647 mass shootings. Of those, 21 involved five or more fatalities. Why am I making the comparison? Because there are those who fear coming to Israel, even those in Latin America where in most of the countries leaving home can entail taking your life into your hands.

OK back to happy things – you should be used to my penchant for digression! Tonight, we have friends coming over for Shabbat Dinner. Raquel Birman and Zvi went to the Yiddische Shule in Mexico City together when Zvi’s family was in that city as teachers, Emissaries for the Jewish Agency, and of late have been in close contact. Raquel and her partner David Finkelstein are landing in Israel today and coming to us for Shabbat. Another close friend and classmate from that period is Joel (Yolli) Zonszein with his wife Nattie who will be with us as will Prof. Shimon Shetreet and his wife Miri friends from right here in Jerusalem. Since Nattie is making dessert I just have two courses to prepare so decided to make slightly different style Shabbat Dinner. Again digressing, in my family we tended to have fish for Friday night Dinner, absolutely nothing to do with Catholicism, not many Catholics eat gefilte fish!! Back on track, our hors d’ouevres will be antipasti of roasted and grilled local vegetables, followed by oven baked sea bream in white wine with a great big salad, sweet new, baby potatoes and baked cauliflower.

Zvi is off to meet with Philip Bloom (aka Rami Salami) of Boston who will accompany Zvi to his Parliament. Philip comes regularly to Israel to volunteer in the IDF and perform as a clown and balloon magician in Paediatric Oncology Departments and also in Sderot. Since Philip’s Hebrew is excellent, he will have no trouble following the conversation, although he may be confused by the logic of some of the members!

Tomorrow we will celebrate the ninth birthday of “Yonatan haGibor” Zvi’s delightful, funny, bright and handsome grandson, at Amiad and Noga’s home. My contribution? Stuffed peppers since Noga’s father, Yossi, is vegan and relies on my imagination!

My meandering musings had a purpose, especially this week. Israelis love life; we refuse to hide away in our homes, quivering and afraid of those who’s purpose in life is to cause us to cower and run. We will pick ourselves up, rebuild the damaged buildings, treat the traumatised children and return to our lives. The occasion that most definitely expressed this determination not to be cowed was the huge, open-air Aviv Geffen concert in Tel Aviv last night. 40,000 people chose to snub their noses at Palestinian Islamic Jihad and dance in the warm Tel Aviv air. That’s Israel! We don’t ignore the danger but will not be ruled by it. Before you cancel a visit, remember that where you live is much more dangerous than this beautiful little country.

I wish a fantastic trip to Australia to Marcus Sheff, the CEO of Impact-se, with grateful thanks to all the fabulous friends who will welcome him into their homes and hearts to hear all about our work to make this world a better, more tolerant place.

And so to music. Gosh what songs are appropriate to this insane week?

In 1979 the dulcet tones of Gali Atari led the group Milk and Honey singing Halleluya, representing Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest. Written by Shimrit Orr and Koby Oshrat, the song is on everyone’s lips since that day!

The exquisite voices of Cantors Azi Schwartz, Natanel Hershtik and Yaakov Lemmer sing the prayer for the State of Israel. Our Father in Heaven, stronghold and redeemer of the people Israel: Bless the State of Israel, the beginning of our redemption. Shield it with Your love; spread over it the canopy of your peace. It is worth noting that a Conservative, a Modern Orthodox and a Haredi Cantor represent unity in their love of Israel.

Perhaps the most poignant song to emerge out of the mass exodus from Europe to the USA was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. The lyrics were written by Yip Harburg, the youngest of four children born to Russian-Jewish immigrants. His real name was Isidore Hochberg, and he grew up in a Yiddish-speaking, Orthodox Jewish home in New York. The song’s music was written by Harold Arlen, also a cantor’s son. His real name was Hyman Arluck, and his parents were from Lithuania. Their dream? That one day over the rainbow there would be a land of their own. Well, we are here! Israel is the pot of gold

I wish you a beautiful Sabbath, whatever your faith, whatever day is your day of rest, may you always be free to celebrate. As Abu Yosef, the wonderful Palestinian fishmonger in Givat Ze’ev, said to me yesterday “May God be with you and peace be among us”

Shabbat Shalom dear friends.