The view from my veranda

Shabbat, Shevuot, Trials and Tribulations

28th May 2020


Shabbat Shalom dear Friends, Shabbat Shalom, Happy Shevuot and Whitsun or for both of us, Pentecost


I woke today to a beautiful morning, the sun was just rising, a bright red ball behind wispy clouds and the air was still cool with a slight breeze. It is worth waking early just so that I can raise the blinds and see our view, Jerusalem stretching in front of us all the way to the horizon.


Malka Leifer dresses as an observant woman, but she denies and defies every aspect of Judaism and of decency. Malka Leifer is wanted on 74 counts of sexual abuse and rape of minors in Australia yet has claimed mental illness since extradition proceedings were initiated in 2014. Her case has gone from appeal to appeal finally two days ago Jerusalem District Court Judge Chana Miriam Lomp ruled on Tuesday that alleged sex offender Malka Leifer is mentally fit for extradition and to stand trial in Australia. Leifer’s lawyers are set to appeal yet again on July 6th. Her trial, appeals and very expensive legal representation has been paid for by the Gerr or Gur Hasidim. If I may be very British for a change and say “It’s about bloody time this disgusting excuse for a human being was sent back to the scene of her crimes so that her victims can finally see justice.”


Talking of trials and the misuse of the democratic legal process, Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers succeeded in pulling a legal conundrum out of the hat at the opening of his trial this week. They claimed that new evidence had been introduced and thus could not proceed with the hearings until they had learned the new information. This gave us another two months of trial-free leadership. I don’t have words to describe my distress at this abuse of our democratic court system. I know two of the judges and I can promise you that they are fair and honest, unswayed by politics and their decision was based on purely legal considerations, but it is driving the country crazy. There were the expected demonstrations both for and against Netanyahu but above all, it causes instability in leadership – there has been no handover of power in any capacity and the PM carries on as if nothing happened ignoring General Benny Gantz and continuing business as usual.


Talking of carrying on as if nothing has happened, the PM has announced annexation of disputed territory just a few days after the White House expressed its determination to continue the Two State Solution Plan. In a very strange press conference the PM stood, mask-less, 10 or 12 of his closest political allies crowded around him, all with masks, and declared the legal institution and the “trumped up charges” politically motivated – a strange claim since he chose the Attorney General and the Government Legal Comptroller himself.


As part of my determination to be a fair reporter, I follow the unsympathetic media articles about Israel too and sometimes they understand the situation more clearly. RT’s Finian Cunningham wrote an incisive article about Netanyahu, his leadership, trial and the annexation proposals


This week every sane person in the world was rocked by the sight of a Minneapolis policeman kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, who when one sees the full video, did not resist arrest. To kneel on a man’s neck for 7 whole minutes as the life breath leaves his body and nobody, not one of the other officers, came to save him, is brutality of inhuman proportions. All of those involved should be charged with murder. The inevitable riots are the only protest left to a devastated community. I wish I could say that this is not a racist incident but I cannot convince myself.


Now that I have thoroughly depressed you it is time to move on to better things


Tonight we light the candles and chant the blessing over the wine and challah to welcome Shevuot, the festival of weeks. This festival has so many meanings, symbols and every one of them is relevant to our daily life.


The end of the 49 days, the counting of the Omer, from Passover to Shevuot, in which one doesn’t hold celebrations, shave ones beard, akin to Lent and Ramadan which helps one to see through the differences and recognise the similarities. The number of days is not only between the festivals but from the offering of barley as a sacrifice in the Temple to the first harvest of wheat.


Shevuot celebrates the giving of the Torah. It is said that the Torah was offered to all peoples who want to follow its teachings, and it was the Jews, the Children of Israel who chose to take the Torah and use it as the basis for everyday life.


Cheesecake! On this festival, as opposed to the meat-fest of other festivals, we eat only dairy. There are so many myths and legends surrounding this tradition, the one I learned as a child was that when we were given the rules of Kashrut until we learned them thoroughly we decided to eat only dairy – although when one thinks about it, we were in the middle of the desert so perhaps fresh meat was simply not available and Tofu wasn’t available yet.


We read the story of Ruth, of a loyal young woman who married well, fell upon hard times in a distant land and chose to follow her beloved Mother in law and her traditions, gleans the wheat which remained after the harvest and thus met and married Boaz who had already married off 30 sons so was many years her senior. Ruth then bore the grandfather of King David. So relevant to today when the entire question of “Who is a Jew” is in the headlines. Clearly a lesson to be learned. Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, as always, puts everything into perspective.


This has been a fascinating week as schools slowly return, restaurants and hotels open their doors. New rules of cleanliness in all three have been demanded by the government as every surface, light switch, desk, bed, toilet and telephone are disinfected – school toilets have not been opened yet however. The mask and distancing rules are still in place which involved staff carefully measuring space between chairs and tables and the usual Israeli Breakfast taking on a new look, no self-service any more, service from behind Perspex screens and the bread is individually served in a paper bag. Eilat is at 90% occupancy after a horrendous few months of closure and we are slowly slowly moving back to normal. The last stores to open are toys stores since the worst scare occurred when a toy store manager returned from vacation in Italy and spread Covid to hundreds of people.


For us the best part is that the parks and museums have reopened. My beautiful grand-daughter Talia and I went for a walk in the Deer Park. She had a ball, leaving her ladylike teenage character behind, climbing ancient olive trees and running through the wild grasses. We set off looking for the gazelles, enjoying the wind and fresh air when our adventure was cut short as the rains came down. It was really strange that just a day before we were sweltering in 40+ degree heat and here we were in coats and still cold!


As hard as it is being unable to see my grandchildren in London and New York, one wonderful aspect of the internet revolution is that I can babysit on WhatsApp! Callie is 6 years old and the closure, lockdown, isolation by any other name has been hard on her. With her Mummy Karen and big brother Joshua they go across the road to Central Park to run around each day but that doesn’t satisfy her, so, I among others babysit on WhatsApp. This week I filled a page with little circles, as her Auntie Rachel had done many years before, sent it by email and they printed it off for her and for an hour and a half we turned each little circle into a face – me on my page and Callie on hers. It was so much fun.


The London family showed me their barbeques, garden fun and made me jealous with Stephanie’s culinary prowess! Yes Gideon, I know you cooked too. Talia, Olivia and Amit baked and iced incredible cakes and I got to be part of it all! My family loves to take a daily tour of our veranda – the Day Lilies are out, the pelargonium and geranium, the hibiscus and fuchsia, the herbs and spices and of course the citrus trees. I then lift the viewfinder to the view – ah the view from our veranda.


Today I will go to see Rachel and the children. Today I will get my aromatic challah straight from her oven and as I travel back over the hill at Samuel’s Tomb I will glance right to take in the panorama of Jerusalem……… yes we are slowly returning to normal life after Corona.


Our musical journey takes an unusual yet obvious turn today. Alan Yentob introduces a brilliant BBC programme about Jews and Musicals. Imagine- the Jewish legacy in Broadway. A fascinating hour and a half


The next song doesn’t have English subtitles but I feel it’s self-explanatory. Love for the Torah is the basic lyric


Intolerance never leaves us, no matter how we try, no matter that we are told that we are all made in the image of the Almighty. Sadly, Bob Dylan’s words ring true today as they did 60 years ago when he wrote them – at a time when we thought we had changed the world. Blowin’ in the Wind.


I wish you good health, someone to talk to even if it is on the other side of a phone or computer, and the knowledge that everything will be alright.


Whether you are celebrating Eid el Fittah, Shevuot or Pentecost I hope you feel that we all love the same God, whatever way we choose to reach Him. He made us all equal so let’s make sure that we follow His lead.


With love from Jerusalem, slowly opening up so that in a short time you can share my joy at being right here at the centre of the world.


Chag Sameach!