The view from my veranda

Shabbat Shalom letter


Friday, November 27th 2009.

Shabbat Shalom and to all my American friends, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, commemorating a time when Christians were persecuted, founded a nation and “settlers” was not a dirty word.

I want to write a different Shabbat Shalom letter today. Of course I will give you the news but I want to take you around my Jerusalem – as if you were a journalist who was trying to suggest that this is not a just society.

Mendel Kaplan z”l was a strong, fervently Zionist, outstanding Jew who gave his heart and soul to Israel. Mendel and Jill, his devoted and loving wife and partner, walked the walk – intolerant of those who just talk the talk. Always one to speak his mind and seek justice without “niceties” Mendel was a great Jewish leader and a fine man. Before the 1988 elections for Mayor of Jerusalem Zvi suggested and Teddy Kollek approved the initiative to persuade Mendel to become Mayor of Jerusalem but he chose to become Chairman of the Jewish Agency instead feeling his talents better served. His honesty will be missed in the double-speak world of Jewish Diaspora Affairs. May his soul rest in peace and his family know no more sorrow.

I was horrified to read that a Florida middle school has decided not to take criminal action against 10 pupils who organized a “Kick a Jew” Day at school but to suspend them for a day and hold 20 minute lessons on tolerance in the school. No wonder our society has no concept of responsibility for their actions.

The world is turning on its head, Kick a Jew Day and then this in Australia – a country which has zero tolerance for terrorism or its values. Watch it and absorb.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a 10 month moratorium on building in Yehuda and Shomron (West Bank disputed territory). While I am more than aware that it takes a hawk to make peace and a dove to make war this does not seem to fit either category. Not a man to take decisions lightly I am certain he was in a “no choice” situation, but I would understand it far more if the demanded “freeze” were even handed. I recognise that Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat has not made the PM’s situation easier by his strong and possibly inflammatory statements but it is surely racist to insist that only Jews stop building homes without demanding the same of the other side of this complex equation. Maybe I could accept it if our enemies, whose demands are constantly appeased, would stop planning our annihilation.

A particularly Israeli paradox- a couple was waiting at the “trampiadah” – a hitch-hiking point- beside a petrol station in Kiriat Arba, close to the Biblical City of Hebron when a terrorist leapt at them with a knife shouting Allahu Akbar as he stabbed them. An off duty security guard stopped the terrorist who was seriously injured. All three were taken to Hadassah Hospital in Israeli ambulances for treatment. They will all receive the best of Israeli medicine. Israeli paradox or not?

Now for your tour. Imagine you are a journalist from CNN or the New York Times and I have been given 24 hours to convince you that Israel is a democratic, multi-cultural society. I assume you have a skimming knowledge of the Biblical meaning so I will take you to my Jerusalem rather than the Old City.
Let’s start in Gilo, currently in the news. As we climb the wide road from Pat to Gilo we see the marvelously colourful metal statues of people running, waiting climbing and standing which run the full length of the grassy central reservation (go on Arlene laugh)we turn left to a breathtaking vew of Jerusalem, from Nebe Samuel to the Old City, the town centre to Baka to Talbieh. Up to the top of the hill and to the glorious view of Bethlehem and its multitudinous minarets, the lone steeple of the Church of the Nativity proof of its former glory. We drive slowly to take in the brilliant artists who painted the wall built during the Intifada when Palestinians were shooting from Beit Jalla – give us lemons we always make lemonade! Back through the busy commercial centre we head back down the hill to Beit Safafa and my favourite store. Inside you will hear the stories of the head family in Beit Safafa, who recognize their freedom here in Israel where they suffer from bureaucracy just like us!
Down the hill to Pat, a poor Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem where we see the difficulties of poverty and lack of education so familiar to a big city and then on to Bet Hanina and its grand villas with “Eiffel Tower” satellite receivers to get the Arab stations.

Shouk Ramle and its cornucopia of trivia, delicacies, spices and cheap clothes reflect the rainbow although no place reflects it more vividly than Mahane Yehuda. The costermongers and the throng reflect the full gamut of humanity. From ultra-orthodox Jews to black clad Orthodox Christians; from noisy tourists to even noisier customers; from the famous falafel stand to the elegance of the coffee shop; Jews, Arabs, Christians, Moslems, Druze, religiously reverent and impiously scantily clad the atmosphere bears no tension nor antipathy, just mingling and a zealous determination to choose the finest produce for their home. The jokes among the costermongers are in both Hebrew and Arabic since most of them are either Israeli Arabs or Jews who fled Arab countries.

The Malha Shopping Mall and the City Centre complete the openness and from there our tour takes a strange turn as we head for either Hadassah or Sharei Zedek Hospitals. The emergency rooms and the wards reflect the equality of this society far more than any other place. Israel has socialised medicine we do not differentiate between the insurance haves and have nots and the array of patients, doctors and nurses reflect the fact. We do not discriminate; Israel was created with specific and strong moral codes which are in place today despite the attacks upon our very existence.

If I could I would then take them to the United Nations Central Command which is in the former British Governor Generals home in Talpiot. It is an exquisite building with views over both Jerusalem and Bethlehem and the seat of one of the most influential people in the world – but I can’t. We were in the building just once many years ago and it was only because the then Central Commander of UN in the ME was General Ganguza an open minded Italian who invited us to supper and was kicked out for doing so. 98% of the staff are Palestinian and Israelis are not welcome!!!

To complete our day I would invite them to supper on our “mirpesset” our veranda. I would suggest they bring anyone they wish to sit with us and talk freely and openly on any subject they wish; in particular I would ask them to discuss our day and what we saw and heard. We could discuss the fact that Israel protects the right of Moslem prayer on the Temple Mount to the detriment of Jews and Christians at the demand of Moslem leaders who claim that for non-Moslems to walk on the Temple mount would defile the site! We could discuss that while it is difficult for Arabs to pass through barriers it is harder for Jews who are not allowed through at all! We could discuss the fact that Israel gives medical, agricultural and financial aid to developing countries and has first response teams to fly to disasters all over the globe and whereas the PA only takes and never gives.

My virtual tour was somewhat selfish since I haven’t left home for 12 days having been struck down by some virus – and I miss my usual traipsing around – wandering through the streets, alleyways and markets of this fascinating city.

Being a good Yiddische Momma I must return to my pre-Shabbat preparations. Zvi has gone to his Parliament in the coffee shop at the petrol station so I can do some cooking without him sending me to bed!

I wish you a beautiful Sabbath – remember that every day is Thanksgiving – with or without the turkey!!!

Shabbat Shalom