The view from my veranda

Shabbat Shalom letter from Jerusalem


4th August 2011

Shabbat shalom dear friends. I hope you are well.

Israel’s social demonstrations are taking a very different turn to those of the Arab Spring. Our demonstrations are an expression of our democratic right to complain! Students for whom accommodation is too expensive, young couple who cannot find affordable housing and families who cannot upgrade because the cost of housing in the larger towns and cities is prohibitive. The government often talks about improving job opportunities in the “periphery” which means almost everywhere other than Jerusalem and Tel Aviv but not enough has been done; on the other hand too many people expect to much for too little effort. The junior doctors are also striking – they feel it unfair that they work horrendous hours for ludicrous salaries. Junior hospital doctors have always been poorly paid for courageous work but here one must not forget that all of these junior doctors served in the IDF before beginning their studies (starting aged 21 to 26) and most already have a growing family. They perform a most essential, life or death, job and deserve due recompense

Norway’s Ambassador to Israel made a disgraceful statement in response to Israel’s condolences on the heartless slaughter of so many young people in Norway last week, was to say the “Israel brings terror upon herself but Norway doesn’t deserve it”. Personally I would have discredited him and sent him home with a note to the Norwegian government suggesting we just don’t need their support, but we are too polite.

Grad rockets fell on the South this week, one actually reaching Ashkelon. The Code Red sounded over the South – Israelis from Sderot, Nahal Oz, Ashkelon, had 15 seconds to find a safe place without knowing where the rockets may fall. Did anyone hear the cries of dismay and anger and censure on Hamas from………………….. anyone?

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appeared in court this week on charges of corruption. It is a disgrace to the “new” Egyptian leaders that they took a man who led their country, stirpped him of any dignity, brought him to court in his hospital bed. Shame on them for showing how dismissive they are of the human rights they claim to embrace.

I was asked to join the board of a truly essential organisation based at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. IMPACT-SE, headed by Shelley Elkayam, performs research to give us insight into the world of education, both in our region and worldwide; testing the temperature of hate and tolerance through education. IMPACT-SE not only examines the educational material of Arab nations but of our own, Israeli, home grown, educational material ensuring they teach tolerance. Situated in tiny premises the library of IMPACT-SE has become a resource for students and professors alike when studying education, tolerance and the Middle East. Only last week Shelley demonstrated their work to a group of British Lords including 2 Lords who are Jewish and from my home town of Cardiff!!! I am very proud to be associated with this august organisation.

The silence of the violin – the victory of music. A story of a violin that survived Auschwitz.

Monday is Tisha b’Av, the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, a fast day to honour the destruction of the Second Temple. We are taught that the cause of the destruction was “needless hatred” – sinat chinam. What can we learn from it? What can we do other than fast? We can start by loving each other; we can start by caring for those who love us; we can start by doing unto others as we would have others do unto us; we can start by not inciting hatred; we can start by being kind and forgiving…….. then we can begin to fight our enemies with an overpowering ability to prove that hate achieves nothing but greater hatred.

Jill left on Monday after a month of healing sunshine and her beloved Israel. I am so proud to tell you that my great-niece Carly and her fiance James came to stay with us, their first time in Israel, beating both their parents (and most of my family) to this achievement. It was such a joy to see their amazement as their preconceptions were shattered. “From what I heard I thought that there were only Jews here, not all the Arabs I see walking freely everywhere or the church bells I hear!” said James. “I expected a backward country and I found a modern, vibrant and happy country” After they arrived at the beautiful Terminal 3 of Ben Gurion Airport I drove them back to Jerusalem and gave them a “drive through” tour of Beit Safafa, Gilo, Talpiot and the Sherover Promenade which overlooks the whole city, a glorious panorama set out before us. Driving through Hebron Road and down to the Old City took their breath away, then through to French Hill and around the huge and leafy Campus of Mount Scopus, overlooking the Old City and of course the beautiful Brigham Young University site. Home to supper and preparations for tomorrows plans! Zvi took Carly and James to the Old City wher ethey joined a tour of the Southern Wall Excavations and the Davidson Centre with its virtual reconstruction of the Temple and the Temple Mount. From there they went to the Western Wall and the Western Wall Tunnels walking back up through the Arab shouk to the Jaffa Gate and the Mamilla Mall. In the evening we went for Jill’s final and Carly and James first, wonderful hot and delicious FELAFEL which bears no resemblance to anything you tasted anywhere else! James polished off a huge one in an Iraqi Pita!

On Monday I took them to the Herzl Museum, as unlike a traditional Museum as one could imagine as it carries one through from Herzl’s childhood, to the Dreyfus trial, Altneuland and the first World Jewish Congresses. From Mount Herzl we took the short journey to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial and Educational Centre . The Holocaust – the ultimate expression of “Sinat Chinam”, the deadly proof that a lie told often enough becomes the perceived truth and that lie/truth can kill millions. To bring their shocked souls back to the reality of beautiful Israel we went out to the German Colony in the evening, to eat a sumptuous hamburger and just walk on a balmy Jerusalem evening among the crowds. On Tuesday they went down to Massada, to bathe in the Dead Sea and to see the phenomenal moonscapes of the panorama. Massada is overwhelming – the story so very familiar – the Romans, again “Sinat Chinam”, again Jewish resistance, and finally death. As Zvi’s old professor once said “We were hated by the Holy Roman Empire which is no longer Holy, barely Roman and most certainly not an Empire!” Strange how that seems to happen! Carly and James are now in Tel Aviv, sunning themselves by the hotel pool and walking to Old Jaffa for a delicious “Abulafia”- where they give the word pita a whole new meaning!! I can’t wait to hear their new stories as they come to us for Friday night supper on our veranda and hear once more, Zvi’s mellifluous voice chant the Shabbat Kiddush over the wine. We will be surrounded by young people as we sit down for the traditional meal.

Yesterday I met with my eldest son Daniel’s oldest friend Justin, his wife Daniella and their beautiful children Rafi (Justin’s double) Mimi and Orli, at the botanical gardens. Apart from the delicious food the children were thrilled ot be joined by my daughter Rachel and her children Yosef and Talia who happily jumped around the pond and all of them enticed the black swans, fish and turtles with bread, taken from us and cadged from anyone who wasn’t eating theirs!!! They had such a ball, admittedly not the usual peaceful haven but we had fun!

The Voices of Peace Choir epitomises beautiful Israel. Here with Dudu Fischer and David d’Or they sing prayers of and for peace before Pope Benedict and President Peres in the Presidents Garden.

I wish you Shabbat Shalom, Shabbat of Peace, and a world that understands that “sinat chinam” brings only sadness and poverty whereas love – ah love…………………….