The view from my veranda

Signs, Omens and Welcome Home

22nd October 2021

Shabbat Shalom! I’m home after a truly magnificent 10 days in New York City – but more of that later.

English speakers in Israel spend every journey along the roads and highways of Israel in a state of permanent “cringe” at the spelling of the road signs and names of towns and cities in Israel. For instance Petah Tikva is spelled Petah Tiqwe; Kibbutz Daniel is spelled Danniyyel; Caesaria is Queysaria; Sea of Galilay; Yam Kineret  and to top them all, at one time the Ben Gurion Airport was written as “Natbag” because that is the shortened version of that airport in Hebrew, rather than writing it in full, somewhat confusing for non-Hebrew speakers looking for the place with the aeroplanes!……and on and on and on. Some of us laugh, some cannot believe their eyes or as I once did – offered themselves as the corrector of spelling to the Minister of Transport!! Finally, this past week, the Knesset voted 33-0 to hand the duty of signs to the Academy of the Hebrew Language to decide upon the spellings and have given cities and towns across the country 5 years to correct their signs. The problems is – what on earth will we all complain about as we travel from place to place?

Another extremely welcome decision by the Knesset and the Health Commission is that as of the first of November visitors, non-Israeli citizes, will be allowed into Israel. The requirements are stiff as they should be but if you have had your booster or your second vaccine is less than 6 months old you can gain entry and visit. Of course you need to go through the same series of tests and permits that Rachel and I did in order to travel (multiple PCRs prior to and after travelling, declarations etc) but that is to protect us all, you and us, and thank Heaven the government demands it. Finally, we can all be together for family occasions and events.

Apropos vaccination, it has been found that the Pfizer vaccine among adolescents is effective to 97%.

Yesterday my regular newspaper didn’t arrive so they offered me the New York Times and Haaretz instead. Since I love doing the quick crossword (I’m not a cryptic type) I said yes. Reading the NYT is painful, it poses as a newspaper for the intelligentsia but tends to pander to any anti-establishment or anti-Israel audience. As to Haaretz, it’s hard to read that Yitzchak Rabin was the only Prime Minister who offered peace with the Palestinians when both Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert did exactly that. I adored Yitzchak Rabin but to make such a claim is to suggest that every other PM was a warmonger. Haaretz also panders to its “thinking” audience as if there is just one absolute truth– whereas the purpose of a newspaper is to inform, to be a journal of our times.

While both the above newspapers have a tendency to criticise every decision of the Israeli government they sadly neglect to address the horror of Israeli Arab violence. There are two aspects, one is family feuds which tends to take place in the North of Israel and is criminally motivated within the Arab sector the other, much more ominous, is in the South, the Southern Bedouin, very different from the Northern Bedouin, where the young men tend to burgle, attack young women and perhaps most prevalent, drive at high speed in a dangerous manner on the roads causing accidents to themselves and others. In both the North and the South firearms have become the main cause of death. The level of violence has risen dramatically after the riots of a few months ago and Arab Members of Knesset have demanded action from the Government, IDF and the Police to fight crime within their sector causing a conundrum of huge proportions as both soldiers and police need to enter previously “no-go” areas. It is a sad situation and one that most Israeli Arabs of whatever religious persuasion cannot abide.

Most people remember where they were when they heard of the collapse of a slag heap in the tiny Welsh mining village of Aberfan. 60 years ago, after heavy rains, the slag heap – the dusty remains of mined coal, began groaning and then in a thunderous moment slid down, engulfing a primary school, killing most of a generation of children. The sheer horror touched the hearts of parents around the world. Mining took the lives of many but these were children, small children and the cemetery of Aberfan in the Welsh Valleys is proof of tragedy caused by negligence.

Travelling anywhere outside Israel today involves a vast amount of paperwork and medical tests. One needs a permit to leave the country entailing a PCR test, proof of vaccination etc before one is allowed on an aeroplane with others. Add to that the papers to enter the USA and one begins to lost the natural fear of travelling in a cigar shaped vehicle with hundreds of others. Eleven hours with a mask on isn’t great but well worth the end product – seeing my amazing grandchildren, Rachel’s niece and nephew, for the first time in nearly 2 years, for the first time since their Daddy’s tragic accident.

Rachel and I hit the ground running, arriving in JFK airport at 05:30, at the apartment so kindly lent to us at about 07:30 and immediately racing out again to take Callie to the park near her school to eat her snack lunch. We were so excited that she not only remembered us (she is 8) but that she was so pleased to see us! From there we did a shop for food in the apartment, then met with Karen, Joshua and Callie in the Park – such excitement! We travelled for the best reason in the world, for Joshua’s Bar Mitzva, finally. We were so lucky with the weather so being outside was a joy and Central Park as beautiful as ever. The next few days were filled with seeing the children, mostly Callie because Joshua is now attending Bronx Science, an hour away from home and a long day of learning, but every moment with them was a bonus. Philip and Barbara arrived before the Bar Mitzva  (having spent 2 weeks in Canada to become eligible to enter the USA) and the children were so thrilled to have so many grandparents all at once, in addition to Nana Ellen who lives in New York, not many children are lucky enough to have three grandmothers and a grandfather waiting to give them treats!!!

On the Friday night before the Bar Mitzva we succeeded in having a very few dear friends over for a spontaneous Shabbat Dinner. Rachel and I went to a deli on the East Side and bought provisions (far too much of course) and Sari, Heddy and Daniel came to dinner. It was wonderful. Heddy and Sari came in time to light candles together and Daniel made the blessing over the wine and challah and we rekindled our friendships after 2 years separation.

The Bar Mitzva was incredible. Joshua performed his Torah reading with great prowess, each of us standing proudly beside him, each taking part in the service. Naturally emotions ran high but most of all we were all so proud of Joshua and the incredible young man he is today that our love for him ensured our joy. Karen, my beautiful daughter in law created a day in which Daniel was very much part of the celebrations, as he had been during his life, but in a joyous and deeply thoughtful manner – she really did an incredible job.

New York today is not the New York of 2 years ago, New York today is a city of homelessness, of great wealth and abject poverty, regressing 20 years. Still beautiful and fascinating it just isn’t the same.

As Rachel and I prepared to leave, so sad to leave everyone beind, we did our PCR tests and reversed the process and paperwork to return home. I love flying El Al, it’s like coming home before we even take off! After a long flight, totally packed because airlines cancel and combine flights in an attempt to recoup the expenditure of crew and fuel etc, we landed at Ben Gurion Airport. The new system of passport control for Israelis is incredible, no queues, just a quick touch of the passport on a scanner and off we went. Our luggage came through quickly and we followed the signs to the PCR testing stations, a quick test and we were out, having to sit in the back of the car, masked and isolate for the few hours until our results came through. So simple. We were horrified to realise that none of the above are necessary for travel within the USA …..I am happiest when I know that the rules can save my life and the lives of fellow passengers.

That’s it for today. I hope to gather more news for next week but in the meantime we have guests for lunch and I need to get going. It must be said that Zvi prepared the apartment beautifully, kept the plants watered, the laundry done, the floors cleaned, in fact he really did me proud and even managed to clear out several boxes in the store-room, finding great treasures as he did so.

I couldn’t decide what music to play for you this week so I went along with Joshua’s choices at the Bar Mitzva.

Hinei Ma Tov Umanai’im . “Behold how pleasant it is for us to dwell together” Psalm 133

Shehechyanu – Blessed art Thou who has sustained us and brought us to this occasion. Here sung by the wonderful cantor Helfgott, Yaakov Shwekey and many others, A truly joyous rendition

The last song could be Christian or Jewish, a hymn or a prayer, all I know is that I love the song. It makes me cry and makes my heart grow – and it reminds me of my beautiful son and the glorious family he left behind. You Raise Me Up

With much love from Jerusalem, from the city of gold, the city of King David, the city so incredible that it is the dream of three monotheistic religions. Shabbat Shalom to each aqnd every one of you, my home