9th April, 2023
18th Nissan, 5783
Ramadan 18, 1444
Moadim le Simcha, Chag Pesach Sameach, a Blessed Easter, Ramadan Kareem
I didn’t write on Friday, before Shabbat, because for some of you, outside Israel, it was still the holy first days of Passover. I admit I do not fully understand why Israel celebrates one day at each end of most festivals while the Diaspora celebrates two. Once upon a time there was no way to know which days were actually the celebratory days because one couldn’t see the beacons on the hill tops but today we have internet….never mind that’s a whole different subject!
Growing up I was taught that there were certain words that should not enter my vocabulary. Obviously, it included swear words which seem to be commonplace today, but top of the list of “don’ts” was the word hate. Hate is the most destructive word in the English language. This week we have yet again been the victims of hate. I refuse to be political at such a tragic time, but the numbers of dead and injured rose in a terrifying round of terror attacks.
The grassy slopes of the Tel Aviv promenade on a balmy spring evening was the site of a terrorist’s determination to mow down anyone in his path with his car. An Israeli Arab who worked in schools, a man who was loved by the students, rammed several tourists out for a walk and killed an Italian tourist who came to Israel for Easter. Earlier in the day, the Dee family was on its way to a hiking trail when they were ambushed, their car crashed and shot at until Maya and Rina were dead and their mother in critical condition, attacked just because they were Jews. Their father, Rabbi Leo Dee, was in a separate car ahead of them, and only when he heard on the radio that there had been an attack he turned around and found his wife and daughters were the victims. The foreign media insinuated blame on the site of the attack which is the main road down from North to South passing through the PA, indeed from Beit Shean to Jerusalem, and that the family were “settlers”, which is not strictly true. They live in Efrat in Gush Etzion.
For British Jews the tragedy hit home because so many knew the family, were congregants of the father in Radlett and Hendon. Sadly I know what it means to lose a child but to lose a child to hatred, inculcated, taught hatred is somehow even more tragic.
Rocket fire has rained down upon the North of Israel, on the South of Israel and attacks in the centre. There were no human casualties from the rocket fire thanks to the Iron Dome Defence system. It would appear that Hamas is flexing its muscles in the only way they know how – by senseless, hatred and killing to prove they are the Masters of their hate-filled universe. Incredibly Hezbollah in the North and Islamic Jihad in the South have distanced themselves from the current wave of terror which bears the mark of Iranian interference through Hamas. I know we will survive and thrive, we always do, but why? What is so terrible, so hateful, about this tiny stretch of land?
By strange coincidence (or not) there have been continuing demonstrations outside the Gaza offices of UNWRA, against you know who……. https://www.impact-se.org/ after our revelation that UNWRA were writing the hate filled schoolbooks used by Hamas in both Gaza and the PA, incurring funding costs to that dreadful organisation.
Today’s missive was meant to be an apolitical account of our trip to Eilat last weekend but events took priority, as they so often do. Actually, I wanted to write about the journey in both directions rather than the arrival because Eilat is, to me, just another seaside town.
So driving down, and down, and down to the lowest inhabited place on earth, the journey is fascinating in itself. Through Jerusalem, turning at French Hill, past Issawiya, an Israeli/Palestinian/Arab neighborhood where they built many empty, unfinished, apartment buildings ready for the influx of Palestinians to take over Jerusalem. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus now above us we drove down, past Maaleh Adumim, Mishor Adumim and its huge new furniture emporium and continue downward. At the sides of the roads, ever increasing Bedouin encampments and goat herds. Soon the rolling hills are replaced by the moonscape-like hills as we continue the descent beyond sea level. Sea level is a known tourist spot with the usual camel rides to prove you were there. The signs beside the road let us know how far below Sea Level we are and then we see the near edge of the Dead Sea, passing Kibbutz Ein Gedi, the caves where King David hid from King Saul, Massada on the right, the Ahava factory, the Kumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, finally coming to Yotvata, both kibbutz and the best chocolate drinks in the world! We stopped for a quick coffee and walkabout on the way down and met an amazing group of young athletes on their way to Eilat for a competition. Of course, we chatted to them, their ages from 6 to 17, and with their trainer. Such a gorgeous group of young people!
Quite apart from unexpected fauna in the stark, arid landscape there are strange, flat topped bushes, an acacia, found only in the Negev Desert. Very prickly with hard leaves it survives the hardest, hottest of atmospheres, unlike the wonderful flash of colour, the flowers that the waters and floods of the winter rains bring to the desert, they survive for hundreds of years.
As with all resorts, the welcome to Eilat is through an outdoor shopping mall, tax-free! Eilat itself is very pleasant, touristy and despite being a great place to relax not particularly Israeli, but the grandchildren of all ages and their parents adored the indoor skating rink, the Rope Farm, a real Ninja Adventure with camel rides and horses; the Desert Jeep Trail; Swimming with Dolphins – indeed a highly enjoyable time with Zvi’s boys and their families, time to relax and enjoy the children.
We chose to return home the long way round, also including the long climb back to sea level, which we discovered is not the cleverest thing in the world when driving an electric car! We miscalculated the extra effort for the battery, but luckily found a petrol station with super-fast electric refill stands – more and more frequent in Israel. Again, I digress!
So, imagine driving past fantastic geological striations, on and upward to two huge natural erosion craters. The largest is the Ramon Crater, some 500 metres deep, it is considered a natural wonder. Here you see it and the Syrian-African Rift Valley clearly from above https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/146528/israels-heart-shaped-crater We have reinhabited the crater with creatures on the brink of extinction, creatures that adapt beautifully to the unspoiled and uninhabited life in the crater. As we came close to Dimona we could see an Israeli miracle in the distance. Even in the heat of the full midday sun, the bright light of the solar tower shone through, powered by thousands of solar panels. I remembered being astonished when we spent the weekend in the South. Seeing this phenomenal achievement. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashalim_Power_Station
We arrived home to the final frenetic arrangements for Passover! Quite apart from the vast amount of cooking for 28 people, we had to work out the logistics of fitting them in to our non-square room! Zvi went to buy folding tables and borrowed plastic chairs from the synagogue next door. All the lounge furniture was moved outside, luckily rain was not forecast! I laid the tables with the fine Passover china from Zvi’s parents, prepared my parent’s Seder plate with the charoset (combining) to my Zeidy’s recipe, the tear inducing grated horseradish (maror), the shank-bone representing the sacrifice, the burned egg and the parsley. All represent the journey, the Exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Holy Land, the Land of Israel. In fact the entire Passover story is that of the journey and Zvi read the Israeli Declaration of Independence so that the younger generations would understand the relevance of our freedom to their lives today. From the 4 questions to the final song, we all sang and tried to entertain the younger children. As the evening drew to a close the young couples all washed the dishes, cleared the tables, brought back the furniture and left us exhausted but happy! Friends keep saying that at the age of 77 I should give up the reins and let someone else do the work, but for me, it is an essential part of life and as the story of the 4 sons explains, each generation understands the symbolism less and less.
Two nights before Passover and we made our way to Shalva, this time it was not to visit Dr. Dan’s Room but rather for a family Bar Mitzva celebration. Yehonatan Daren, son of Sagi and Ditty, grandson of Shuli and Steve. It was a small, warm, fun, joyous occasion and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing everyone dancing, from the littlest member of the family up to the grandparents. Mazal Tov to all the Darens
Jerusalem is full of pilgrims of all religions. Christian pilgrims are here to celebrate Easter, Jews to celebrate Passover and Moslems to pray at Al Aqsa for Ramadan. The Christians have many ceremonies https://www.itraveljerusalem.com/article/easter-in-jerusalem/ Jews will flock to the Western Wall, this very morning, for the Priestly Blessing, Birkat ha Cohanim https://www.jerusalem.muni.il/en/experience/allevents/birkat-cohanim-23/ . I pray that the pilgrims of each and every faith, will concentrate on praying, on building, not on the destruction of those who choose to pray in a different manner.
After the huge Seder night, we spent the next day recovering then on Friday had a delightful surprise visit from our lovely friends Merle and Frank Friedman with their son Kevin. It was really light relief, just good conversation, lots of laughter and a wonderful way to use up left-overs!!
Yesterday Zvi and I went for a walk along the trail next to the reservoir of Bet Zayit just near our home. The path is paved and easy to walk, the wild mimosa trees are putting on a spectacular show as did the wild poppies, sweet peas, cyclamen, honeysuckle and so many others. I love it and Zvi has decided that rather than fight the fact that I stop and exclaim over every flower, he now finds them for me and is happy to climb muddy hills to take a photo for me! Perhaps the most special aspect of these walks is that as people pass, we all say “Shabbat Shalom” “Chag Pesach Sameach” “Moadim le Simcha” and we all chat to one another. It is so Israeli! Families took picnic baskets to sit beside the receding waters of the reservoir and in the 28 degree centigrade heat, quite a few took containers with sweet water melon. In fact, at one point I sat down on a wall, hot and tired and overdressed, and a group of 4 young women stopped and offered me cold water melon!
Last night Zvi went together with our friends Ronit and Yossi Dagan to a demonstration in front of the President’s House. I’ve told you time and again, these are not like demonstrations elsewhere. As the crowd of perhaps 3,000 people stood holding their flags, they heard the words of four young women speaking about equality for women. A 16 year old Israeli Jewess, a young Arab woman from Umm el Fahem, a Haredi feminist from Bnei Brak and a former Member of Knesset; all four spoke of unity, justice, equality, democracy and most importantly hope for the future.
Sadly we cannot get away from violence in this world. Where you live the violence is criminal, it is gangs and insane teenagers who walk into schools because someone offended them and kill their schoolmates willy nilly, but here, it is different somehow. If I go back to the beginning of this missive, it is the word my parents never let us use – hate.
I couldn’t think of which songs could possibly be appropriate this week. Then I came across this one. It’s so obvious! All You Need is Love! https://youtu.be/_OuYLGHkrBk Paul McCartney and a myriad of stars sing together at the Jubilee celebrations. It’s true, if we could replace one single four letter word (hate) with another (love) this would be a different world.
Imagine my favourite song and your favourite singers together on April the 9th 5 years ago, for a recording to celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday. Al Kol Eleh, Shlomi Shabbat and Koolulam https://youtu.be/_OuYLGHkrBk
The last song, prayer, invocation, is so important on every level, especially right now. The Prayer for the State of Israel, sung by Shai Abramson. https://youtu.be/_Q5–mNIZhU
I wish you peace, I wish you and yours a blessed time, may your prayers, be they in Church, Chapel, Synagogue, Temple or Mosque be for peace and understanding.
With love from Jerusalem