The view from my veranda

Schisms, Marches, Herzog and Canon Andrew

21st July, 2023

Shabbat Shalom.

I always try to remember other important days in the world calendar so here goes. Happy Invite an Alien to Live with You Day, Legal Drinking Age Day, National Be Someone Day, National Junk Food Day, National Lamington Day, National Tug-Of-War Tournament Day, Take a Monkey to Lunch Day. On second thoughts, those are inane made up days, keeping the Sabbath is conceivably the most important social law to come out of Judaism, a day of rest and contemplation which is still a mere dream in many countries.

Just as my introduction is longer than usual, in order to answer questions asked by your good selves, this may well be a long missive, partly because I too ask those questions of myself!

This has been a strange week, sometimes sad, sometimes angry but mostly amazed at the goodness of people. Laws that deny all sense of reasonableness are flying through the Knesset, ironically in order to deny the Reasonableness Laws! The very laws that this government is trying to deny is the law which will prevent it passing when it reaches the Supreme Court. Indeed, changes in the judicial system on all levels can be stopped by the very Supreme Court whose powers are being threatened. Israel doesn’t have two chambers in the Knesset so the Supreme Court is the brakes, the rational voice which can prevent extreme sectorial or party papers becoming law. The new laws also give much more power to the Chief Rabbinate over marriage, divorce and even death. I hope I have explained a unique, complex situation because it is very hard to understand.

I have written about the demonstrations, the camaraderie of fighting for a common cause, but a few days ago something quite exceptional happened. A spontaneous decision to march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was taken by people of all ages. Obviously, the marchers/walkers first had to get permission from the police, which was almost immediate, the route was chosen along road number one, always on the hard shoulder with the police carefully guarding their flanks from other drivers. Where there is no hard shoulder they walk on side roads or even fields. Clearly, the 70 kilometres would not be attempted in one day and rest sites were organised, small tents in fields, but the most moving aspect was the opening of homes in neighboring towns and villages, offering beds and showers to those who wanted it. I don’t know if we will succeed in preventing these changes to the law, changes which will ultimately give too much power to the government and split our society even more. For anyone who believes the claim that it is only “anarchists” and secular people who are demonstrating, this morning, before setting out there was a large group who said the morning prayers – shacharit – to set them on their way.

I am angry! Have you ever heard of the Mass Formation Syndrome? Most recognisable in the mass disinformation of Goebbels which led normative people to believe the lies against other groups, it can be used for good or evil and for the entire mass or a sector causing a rift in a formerly united society. The society currently under this disinformation attack is the IDF, the backbone of Israeli society. The word most used in this disinformation is that one sector of society is “privileged” suggesting that one sector gets all the “good” jobs in the army – pilots specifically. I want to tell you about one privileged lady, call Alla Raviv. She paid for her own Aliya from Poland in order to study in the newly formed Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She lived in abject poverty when the minimal financial help from her parents stopped, we now know that both of them had been taken to Auschwitz. To ensure continuing her studies, Alla and her best friend cleaned the university bathrooms in lieu of payment for their studies. No, I don’t want pity, Alla did what had to be done to better herself and was never ashamed of it. However, of late, a certain sector of society would class Alla as privileged because she studied and became a headmistress – because they were humiliated, degraded because they arrived as new immigrants and lived in tent camps (like all of them) and cleaned toilets. The current government is guilty of this angry divide, encouraged every day by their representatives, led by our Prime Minister who is, after all, one of the accused Privileged.

I am especially angry at an incident near the Kotel when a “Guardian of the Western Wall” actually asked a Priest, the Abbot of the Dormition Church, to hide his cross! First of all, how dare he? Secondly, or perhaps firstly, one tends to forget that the Western Wall has no religious significance! It is the supporting wall of the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is holy, but the supporting wall became famous because we were denied the aliya to the Temple Mount, which is why it became known as the Wailing Wall. How dare anyone deny another the right to show his beliefs? I have been inside many a church wearing a Star of David necklace and no-one ever thought anything of it.

I said that there are good aspects to the week, and for me, one of the proudest moments was when President Isaac Herzog stood before the combined Houses in Washington, as his father, also President Rabbi Chaim Herzog, had done before him He was received with a resounding standing ovation and gave the speech of his life. Here you have the full speech both written and visual.

The two excerpts that most impressed me were “I am not oblivious to criticism among friends, including some expressed by respected members of this House, I respect criticism, especially from friends, although one does not always have to accept it. But criticism of Israel must not cross the line into negation of the State of Israel’s right to exist. Questioning the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, is not legitimate diplomacy, it is antisemitism.” and ”Israel’s democracy has always been based on free and fair elections, on honoring the people’s choice, on safeguarding minority rights, on protection of human and civil liberties, and on a strong and independent judiciary. We had free and fair elections, and yes, the people’s choice should be honoured – this government is an entirely legitimate government. BUT…What to do when that legitimate government attempts to wipe out the other elements in that description of Israeli democracy: protection of minority rights and civil liberties, and a strong and independent judiciary? Then, we must resist.”

The 9th day of the month of Av, Tisha b’Av, is a day of fasting and mourning, so appropriate in its purpose and reason. It falls on the 29th of July this week, A series of disasters befell the Jewish people on this day, the greatest being the destruction of both Temples. The cause? Sinat Chinam, literal translation Free Hate, more precisely unwarranted internecine hatred. It is really worth reading through the causes of many of the disasters, including the Temples, Gerush Sefarad – the Spanish Inquisition, and the lies of 10 of the 12 scouts sent forward by Moses to check out the Land of Israel, coming back with stories of giants and rotten fruits. As always, each festival is still relevant. Even if we choose not to observe the rules, we should do so from a position of knowledge – and educated choice.

It’s been a busy week in general, mostly normal things, nothing specific. Sunday night Ayala and Gili came to stay. Granddaughters are always special and it was fun to entertain these two warm and affectionate young women because we both decided that as grandparents, we let them decide what they want to do.

On Wednesday I got a lovely phone call from Canon Andrew White! We talk from time to time but his health issues and other commitments have prevented his arrival in his beloved Jerusalem. Well this was a special call “Hello dear friends. What are you doing this evening? I’m in the Dan Boutique can you come for supper?” Of course, we dropped everything and went to collect the wonderful Lola Cohen from her home and set off for the Dan Boutique! Lola and her late husband Norman were very involved in Judeo-Christian relationships particularly concerning Israel and met Andrew through their work. Simultaneously we met Andrew for utterly different reasons but the crux of the matter is that we are all great friends! To our amazement Andrew looked better than we have seen him in years and our conversations were both serious and witty, he is always ready for a laugh! I suppose that when you have seen the horrors that he experienced in Iraq and other callings, a sense of humour is essential. When in Israel Andrew wears a Kippa and eats only kosher food, he also prays in Hebrew, prayers learned while studying at the Karliner Rabbi’s side. Sometimes it is a knowledgeable Christian who teaches us to be good Jews.

Yesterday we spent the day with Yonatan and Ella, gorgeous grandchildren, and yet again we saw that when parents give children that most precious of commodities, time, they learn to play fun games and tell great stories! We played a memory game and Rummikub which incidentally is an Israeli game based on Rummy – obviously, we watched a movie and went for a walk to buy them their schoolbooks in a nearby shop. They had carefully made a list – although Yonatan decided that Ella should choose the books and he took the very important task of choosing a new football – a white one with blue trim to support his favourite team – Israel under 20’s.

After that rather serious missive I’m going to have to run soon. We have a very busy schedule in the run up to Shabbat and I really want to go to see Rachel and family before it kicks off! I love the anticipation of seeing my daughter, stopping at the flower stand to get her some flowers for Shabbat and then, my nose starts sensing the aroma of freshly baked Challot as soon as I am within a kilometre of her home!! She bakes for her family obviously, but what I love best is that she also bakes for any friends who may be under the weather or just sad. She’s a very special woman. Tonight we will be with Zvi’s boys for Shabbat dinner and then to other friends nearby. Yes, I know you always think we are crazy at our advanced ages of 77 and 78, that we do so much but I have a theory “It’s better to regret the things you do rather than the things you don’t do”

This song was written during the Vietnam War when we all understood the importance of good leadership and the effects of bad leadership. Blowin’ in the Wind Joan Baez and Bob Dylan

Peace, such a short word, just one syllable but it is the prayer and the goal of all sane folk, what we want for our children and grandchildren, what we want to leave behind us. It is the song that Yitzchak Rabin sang in his growly voice just minutes before his assassination and Israel lost its naivety. Here Shiri Maimon sings Shir ha Shalom in Caesaria Look at the audience, look at who sings a peace song loudest and strongest. Our youngsters of the IDF.

To end, a “mashup” of Israeli songs and all of them are songs of peace. Almost all of the Israeli songs are about peace, salaam, shalom, we crave it. I love this one, although without translation it speaks for itself. Filmed in Tel Aviv-Yaffo, it gives a true picture of our dreams and achievements.

So dear friends, forget about all the wishes for all the ridiculous “days” at the beginning of this missive, except for one. Shabbat Shalom. Such depth of meaning in two words which are the expression of a desire for peace, an intention to remember the Sabbath Day and of course, to express blessings to those we wish a day of peace.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem, from Zvi, from me and from those weary marchers for peace and democracy.