The view from my veranda

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem

21st June 2012
Shabbat Shalom lovely friends!
This is a wonderful though busy day, tomorrow will be even better and even busier as we take friends on a tour of Jerusalem, to the new finds at David’sCity and then to the huge pile of earth taken out from the Temple Mount by Sheikh Ra’eed Salah and saved in a bold move by Professor Gabby Barka’i to hear and see the incredible artifacts he found. From there to a thoroughly Jerusalem lunch all in celebration of the future bride and groom, Amiad, Zvi’s eldest son who is marrying the lovely Noga Shiloach next week and to be with friends we couldn’t invite to the small wedding. Saturday, Shabbat will be beautiful too as we are making a Shabbat Chatan (Shabbat blessing for the imminent groom) and, as if that isn’t enough it will be our 17thwedding anniversary!
We are so immersed in the arrangements that we barely had time to see our wonderful friends from abroad who came for the Presidential Conference on Tomorrow, President Peres fascinating and essential think tank on tomorrows world. The opening plenum was impressive as President Peres presented a medal of honour to Dr Henry Kissinger. These two highly intelligent and eternal men prove that age does dim their wisdom. The keynote speaker was former British PM Tony Blair, now representing the Quartet in this region. Tony Blair gave light relief and spoke brilliantly of the two great men, saying that when a junior Minister he was utterly green and was told to spend time with Henry Kissinger to understand world politics; ha said that in one hour with Dr K he learned more than four years at Oxford University. He joked that Henry Kissinger was a world power before he was even born! His speech received a standing ovation – the Brits may not like him but Israelis adore him!!!!
President Peres interjected a prayer into his speech – a prayer for the people of the South of Israel who suffered 50 rockets attacks and the Border Guards who were injured.
I was thrilled to see Professor Irwin Cotler and his wonderful wife Ariella and congratulated Irwin on his great initiative in the Canadian government which voted unanimously to back the Israeli effort to achieve a minutes silence at the Olympics in London in honour of the Israeli athletes massacred in the Munich Olympics. The International Olympic Committee is against it of course………… because it may distress the athletes from a country that doesn’t exist and shouldn’t, by Olympic rules be there at all. Of course I am talking of the Palestinians.
Among those that I was extra delighted to see was Daniel Schwartz – who I adore; Daniel is a mensch – a good person and utterly involved in Tikkun Olam. Daniel invited us to breakfast at the historic King David Hotel where we sat thoroughly entertained, and somewhat in awe of his longtime friend Dr Ruth…… a great deal of energy and might in a very tiny body!!!! Talking of “mensch” Saul Same was at the conference, and everyone greeted him with such warmth I loved it! Another person I was thrilled to meet up with was Adil visiting from Turkey, indeed it was an outstanding experience in people watching while learning so very much and a chance to meet others who don’t sit on the sidelines but rather get involved in making this world a better, cleaner, safer and happier place. We really missed our friend Kim Taylor from Canada who sadly had to cancel last minute due to family illness.
I discovered that many of you send my letters on – thank you so much – and that people kept coming up to me upon seeing my name tag and introducing themselves as readers – “Harold Finger got us involved” was the most familiar sound!! Thanks Harold – you are deeply appreciated! Tell Stanley that the veranda is looking amazing!
Yesterday Zvi and I skipped the Conference and got down to the preparatory arrangements for both guests and events over the next week. In the evening we said goodbye to lovely Saul and Joshua Same and collected Jill and Victor to go with us to a very very special event – a very Jerusalem event; a very Jewish event which carries an incredible story, Hachnast Sefer Torah – the gift of a new Torah to a synagogue. It also gave Victor the great honour of saying Kaddish (prayer for the dead) in Jerusalem.
Gabriel Bresslauer was born in the Budapest Ghetto on 20th of June, 1944, a time when celebration was difficult even at the birth of a beautiful son. Gabby’s father worked in the bourse, the stock exchange in the crops division and his mother was a teacher of Jewish Studies. Gabby’s mother proudly breast fed her son, not that there was a choice under the dreadful conditions of the Ghetto and when the little boy was just one year old, the war ended and the Ghetto dispersed, the family continued to live in Budapest but now it was under the oppressive Soviet rule and having already seen what oppression leads to they made the decision to make their weary way to the nascent State of Israel. Their name already changed from Bresslauer to Barka’i in preparation for their voyage to Israel, a statement of Zionism. Gabby, just 6 years old at the time, still remembers his joy at his first sight of Israel, as the ship neared Haifa port, the heights of Mount Carmel.
The family came to Jerusalem with their meagre belongings, including a small Sefer Torah which had belonged to Gabby’s mothers grandfather, one David Weiss. The little family settled well in Jerusalem and Gabby, an outstanding student, chose archaeology as his profession and his passion and he excelled in it. Indeed Professor Gabby Barka’i, the man that little Gabby Bresslauer blossomed into, became an honoured archaeologist with exceptional finds to his credit and a grasp of languages that made him a much desired speaker in many countries.
While speaking in Toronto, Gabby and Ester went to visit an elderly relation of Esters aunt, who, as fate would have it, reached out to a man turned out to be Gabby’s Mother’s cousin. As they talked of Budapest the old man disappeared for a while and when he returned he brought a small bag down from its hiding place and gave it to Gabby. Inside that small bag which had been kept for so many years was the Parochet, the cover of the ark (Aron haKodesh) which belonged to Gabby’s family and where the family Sefer Torah was once housed.
As fate would have it, just a few months ago, Gabby was invited to speak at a major London Synagogue, and despite his love of antiques, he and his beloved Ester, were thrilled to discover that their host was not just a well known lawyer but had been the Beatles lawyer! In his introduction at the synagogue their host mentioned that Gabby was born in the Budapest Ghetto in 1944, which aroused the interest of one person in the audience, the author Tom Keve who invited them to his beautiful old Victorian home. Tom Keve was excited ot hear from whence Gabby came and as they spoke it became apparent that Tom was also born in the Budapest Ghetto, just a month before Gabby. Tom told Gabby that his life was saved when his own mother was too weakly to feed her baby boy herself, another woman with an even newer baby became his wet-nurse, thus saving his life. The research is not final but few babies were born in that horrific period in the Budapest Ghetto and it would appear that the wet-nurse was none other than Gabby’s mother.
The family Sefer Torah once faded and old, could only be used for the traditional dancing of Simchat Torah as we celebrate the renewed reading of the story of our people, has now been completely refurbished, each letter clear and bright, tears repaired and the family Sefer Torah will now be read by Professor Gabby Barka’i and his Ester in their own synagogue in the Jerusalem, heart and soul of the Jewish people. Gabby’s story serves as proof of the ability of our people to survive and thrive everything and anything. Mazal Tov lovely Gabby, your late parents would be so proud of you.
So dear friends, I am sure you are as moved as we were at the incredible story of one old Sefer Torah which is the essence of who we are. I wish you a Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem the city I love more and more every day.
With love as I look out on the city and wonder at “The View from Our Veranda”