The view from my veranda

Shabbat Shalom from Sheila


Thursday 30th July 2009- Tisha b’Av 5769

Today, Thursday, is Tisha b’Av – the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, the culmination of 3 weeks of mourning, a day when Jews fast and mourn the destruction of both our Temples in Jerusalem. Tisha b’Av was the final date set by King Ferdinand for the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. The history of Tisha b’Av is far from ancient. The beginning of the end of the Warsaw Ghetto coincided with Tisha b’Av; on Tisha b’Av, July 23, 1943, the first trainload of Jews arrived in Treblinka from where they were sent to the gas chambers. Israel will be silent. The theatres, restaurants, clubs and coffee shops close their doors tonight and many, many people will flock to the Western Wall – the Kotel – to pour forth their lamentations. As always Ambassador Yoram Ettinger explains Tisha b’Av in a brilliant manner.

The sages tell that the Temple was destroyed as a result of committing “unknown sins”, and Sinat Hinam – baseless hatred. When guilty of internecine quarrels and hatemongering, one rarely believes oneself to be at fault; we feel that the other party rightly deserves the abuse or derision heaped on him! While baseless hatred is perhaps the most overt of sins, few actually recognise their guilt. Our infighting cannot cause the destruction of the Temple any more but let’s ensure that it does not cause the destruction of the Jewish State. To quote Rabbi Hillel “He who refuses to learn deserves extinction.”

We judge those around us on their appearance believing that it indicates their thoughts and concerns are different to ours! Instead of enjoying the incredible diversity of humankind, we use it as a weapon in our arsenal of hate. When I lived in the Diaspora it was a fashion decision as to whether to wear a skirt or trousers; long or short sleeves; hat or hair; pony tail or a cute scarf; today, in modern Israel, it is both a political and religious statement! Kippa, yarmulke, scull-cap; crocheted or silk; coloured or black; large or small. The black kippa silk or velvet depending upon the depth of religiosity and then there is the variety of hats! My favourite is the B’nei Akiva knitted kippa which is always at a jaunty angle over one ear! Under each of those hats, within each of those garbs lies a person, a human being with hopes and fears – just like you. As for me – I dress to suit myself – I enjoy confusing people!!!!!

One of the most popular “anti-religious” claims was that circumcision of new-born boys was unnecessary, barbaric and disfiguring. How strange that time and horrific diseases have proven the ancient Jewish ritual to be a simple way to stop the wildfire AIDS virus spreading in Africa. African doctors have come to Israel to learn how to perform the operation and save lives.

The malaise of the free world is self-loathing. We despise and deride our leaders or put them on a pedestal so high that their feet of clay become apparent and we hate ourselves for electing them. Whether it is the USA, UK, Canada or Israel, we play into the hands of our greatest enemies – whose zealous desire is to use our self-loathing to advance their power in the world . It is time to change our view of ourselves. We have all the answers if only we would trust ourselves and if our leaders would clean their own houses before turning their citizen’s eyes elsewhere. Remember when Margaret Thatcher was faced with huge economic problems in the UK? She declared war on Argentina after an invasion of the Falkland Islands uniting the entire country against a common enemy. A Royal Prince (Andrew) fought as a Naval helicopter pilot! Clearly the movie “Wag the Dog” is too late for the Falklands but not too late to watch and learn today.

“A light unto the nations” refers to the Jewish people, not only to Israel. We, as a people, must behave responsibly since our collective reputation depends upon the actions of each and every one of us. Israel is a marvellous inventive nation filled with people of incredible brilliance and initiative but not everyone is perfect. We have given so much to the world and have created a nation the Diaspora can be proud of…… but when it comes to the bottom line, we are just people and we must care for ourselves and our collective reputation. Again Rabbi Hillel spoke the appropriate words “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Deputy Health Minister Litzman have placed an order for an inoculation which has not yet been created in the hope that it will encourage the development of immunization for the Swine Flu which has overtaken the world. Israel has also been hit, no more and no less than other countries and since it is the children who are most at risk we must find a solution.

On Tuesday, PM Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the graduates of the National Defence College, I think it is worth reading and taking note of his words.

Yesterday morning I took two of our grandchildren to the phenomenal Bloomfield Science Museum, close to the Hebrew University Campus on Givat Ram, here in Jerusalem. They had a ball! There were huge pools of water and Yosef age 4 and Talia age 3 filled tanks and set in motion water-wheels; filled tubes which filled tanks which filled rockers and splashed everyone – very Heath Robinson; they created electrical currents by turning wheels and lighting lamps; they looked through microscopes, saw themselves a hundred times in folded mirrors and generally had fun without realizing how much they learned. The museum was packed. There were about 80 children of all ages from Ashkelon wearing yellow T-shirts; Arab teenagers from the north wearing white T-shirts with Shalom in English, Hebrew and Arabic and many, many children who came with their grandparents since Mummy and Daddy were at work! The assistants and supervisors, mostly science students, were also Jews and Moslems, religious and secular so the children learned that we can all have fun, play and learn together and hopefully live together. Israel at her best.

Another Shabbat, and this week promises to be special since we have Zvi’s little grand-daughter Amit staying with us and then Arlene, my lovely Arlene, is spending Shabbat with us so that she can fill her heart with the amazing view of this exceptional city, right here, from our veranda.

With love from Jerusalem