The view from my veranda

The new Ottoman Empire, Kippur and Succot

10th October 2019


Shabbat Shalom dear friends. I wish you a day of peace and reflection as Succot, Tabernacles, and the joy thereof is before us.


Yom Kippur is over and we have all made promises to be better people, kinder people, but the world goes on around us in its ever spinning descent into intolerance. A German neo-Nazi, armed and wearing protective gear, tried to break into a synagogue and when his attempts were frustrated by the protective entrance he chose the next target on his hate list, a Doner Kebab – presumably a Moslem. Intolerance knows no mercy, only hatred.


Simultaneously, according to a report by journalist Tom Gross, Turkish forces have attacked the Christian minority in the Kurdish town of Qamishli. The positioning of American and Allied troops in Syria was temporary, hopeful that they could bring order to chaos after over 500,000 Syrians were killed in the fighting, but once again, withdrawal has proven at least as complex as Iraq and Afghanistan, it will take months, maybe years to disengage and in the meantime the Allies will continue to fight the bad guys. The Sunni-Shia infighting is only superseded by the determination to retain land belonging to the Kurds. Kurdistan is occupied by Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran – 30,000,000 Kurds are held by occupying countries. Turkish leader Erdogan wants to rebuild the Ottoman Empire. Each time we remove an extremist group in the Middle East, an even more extreme one takes its place. This is the Middle East folks, nothing is straightforward, don’t judge it by Western standards.


So, we still don’t have a government! That is we have an interim, pro tem government but since Netanyahu has been unsuccessful in forming a government in the time allotted and I am not 100% sure that Blue and White will succeed we are back to stalemate, with Avigdor Liberman calling the shots. Of course, if Netanyahu were to step down from office, or accept that Benny Gantz take to first rotation, we could have a broad-based, centrist government tomorrow. Mr. Netanyahu’s hearings before the Attorney General took place, appropriately, in the four days before Yom Kippur, the decision may be made for him, but not until December!


Yesterday there were large demonstrations led by Ahmed Tibi and Ayman Odeh, Senior Arab Members of Knesset, calling for greater policing of Arab communities to lessen the rising gun violence. The MK’s met with Interior Minister Gilad Erdan to set out their demands and his programme. In principle, I agree with their purpose but there must be a level of cooperation in the reduction of illegal weapons, an increase in Arab policemen and the banning of family feuds by religious leaders. Most of the killings recently have been within families. The MK’s cannot support the violence of the PA without accepting responsibility.


On the night before Yom Kippur, tens of thousands of people go to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount to pray, to complete the last day of Selichot – literally apologies – the prayers of atonement said for the period before Kippur. When I say Jews I don’t mean only religious Jews, every level of observance honour this tradition.


Zvi and I go to a tiny synagogue in the next neighbourhood, Ramat Sharret. When I say tiny, I’m not exaggerating. 20 seats for women and about 45 seats for men – perfect! I find huge synagogues beautiful to look at but for me, there is nothing quite like the intimacy of a small community and the familiarity of the songs. I don’t need a great Cantor or a choir, I just want to recognise the niggun, the words follow naturally. Tradition. I use my parent’s prayer book, indeed Mummy’s writing on the frontispiece, announcing that “This book belongs to J. Silver” is a sharp reminder that she left us 56 years ago, yet a sweet reminder of her beautiful presence. Tradition. It is a bit of a schlepp but not as far as Gideon and Zachary walked to their synagogue in London, a full five and a half miles!!!


On Yom Kippur we read the story of Jonah. Jonah who ran away from God’s commandment to go to Nineveh (Mosul in Iraq) and sort out the evil that existed there, he just didn’t fancy the trouble involved so he came to Jaffa, got on a boat, terrible storms, Captain blamed Jonah and chucked him off the boat where he was swallowed by a whale, saved then when asked again by God to go to the huge city of Nineveh, 120,000 citizens, he went, with the intention of wiping out evil but wasn’t successful. Some things never change in the Middle East.


Yom Kippur is different in Israel. No cars on the roads, the only sounds are of dogs barking, children squealing in delight as they ride their bicycles on the empty streets, the only vehicles passing are ambulances. If someone needs to drive, doctors, nurses etc, then they do so with great care. The silence lends itself to contemplation and prayer. I didn’t go back to the synagogue on Yom Kippur Day, it was just too far for me to walk, and sitting out on the verandah, surrounded by beautiful flowers, trees and overlooking Jerusalem, I found my place to pray. Since there are several synagogues in our vicinity, the silence allowed me to hear the blowing of the shofar from every direction! The blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn) to signify the end of the fast, is said to open the pathway to heaven, to allowing our prayers to be heard – but then here in Jerusalem it is a local call.


The moment food has passed the lips of those who have fasted, a strange sound is heard…. tap tap tap, and then again tap tap tap, as families build their Succah, Tabernacle, on their verandahs – some perched precariously from the upper stories, front gardens, car parks and even in the street! After all, it’s almost Succot (Tabernacles). The streets in the religious areas will be filled with stalls of wonderful Succah decorations which to those of us who grew up outside Israel, look incredibly like Christmas decorations!! The stands selling the Etrog, Palm leaves, willow leaves and myrtle, together known as the Lulav. Finding the perfect Etrog (citron or citrus medica) is essential, many will spend hours, going from place to place to choose their etrog. As with everything we do there are many interpretations but my favourite is this – “The Etrog represents the heart, the seat of our emotions. The Hadas (myrtle) has leaves shaped like an eye. The Lulav (date palm) represents the spine, from where our actions emanate. The Aravah (willow) represents the lips, our speech.”


There are many forms of Succah or Tabernacle, the serious ones made of interconnecting wooden panels covered by decorative fabric inside; multi-coloured fabric cobbled together by enthusiastic children, the form is irrelevant as long as it has palm leaves which form the roof tied together with bamboo sticks. Many municipalities take the opportunity to prune their palm trees and leave them at the side of the road for collection by whoever wants them.


To fill one’s Succah with visitors is traditional and this year we are “honouring” many others with our presence! Usually we have everyone to our Succah but since I still have limited strength we are going to a different Succah every night! Leor and Shiri and the girls on first night; Rafael and Baya on second night; Rachel and Igal, Yosef, Talia and Ayala on third together with Zvi’s boys and their families; Alan and Bonnie Cohen on the fourth; Cousin Rachelle and Jonathan’s son Jack’s barmitzva and the ICEJ Tabernacles/Succot event in the evening and then home for Shabbat – hopefully the children will come to us. Zvi’s wonderful cousins Billy and Ruth will arrive from Mexico to spend the last day of Succot with us and of course to stay for a few days and then Kim Taylor will be with us for the Jewish Agency meetings – but that is another week and the subject for another letter!!!


Last night I took part in an excellent Impact-se Board meeting. I am so proud of the motives and execution of the essential research of curricula which is used by the Education Depts. Of many governments introduce tolerance in education. Our CEO is Marcus Sheff and Founder Professor Yohanan Manor. See for yourselves in the reports Of course I have been co-opted to more tasks, but, as with the Yuri Shtern Holistic Centre – I have chosen very carefully which organisations I put my heart into.


After the meeting I went to a barmitzva celebration for Rachel’s close friend Nehama’s son, together with Rachel, Talia and Ayala. Nehama belongs to the Karliner Hassidim, and the party was separated into men and women. I wish you could meet Nehama. She has 8 children and works helping tourists and English speakers to navigate the labyrinth of medical bureaucracy when hospitalised. Her children are highly educated and the family is in various fields of medicine. I wore appropriate clothing but Nehama wouldn’t have cared if I hadn’t. I had a ball, it’s fun with women only! Of course it helps to see how everyone loves my daughter and so proud to be known as “Rachel’s Mum”! It reminded me that it is irrelevant how someone prays; it matters how we behave toward others; just one of my reasons to serve Impact-se’s tolerance education.


One can wish friends and family “Gmar Hatima Tova”, that they be written into the book of life, until the end of Succot. My very favourite blessing of all time is “Today 3 people asked about you and they wanted to know if they could stay by you for a few days. I asked them what their name is. They answered mazal, simcha and health so I gave them your address and I told them to stay with YOU forever. Gemar chatima tova!”  My wish for you is that the three guests Good luck, Joy and Good health stay in your home forever.


A theme runs through our prayers during the High Holy Days. Rachem which translates as mercy or compassion, an element sorely missing from our world today but we can still pray for Rachem.


I read a survey of the Jews of the United States. There are now over 7 million Jews in the USA, making it the largest Jewish community in the world, which is wonderful. Two and a half million declare themselves as traditional, but a frighteningly large number declare themselves as “Jews in name” whatever that means! I was looking for a song that encourages our sense of identity, and accepts the frightening turn of events in our world when I remembered this wonderful song by Koolulam. Holocaust Survivors and their families gathered to sing together to sing a song of hope “Ani od hai” – “I am still alive, the people of Israel are still alive. The words that grandpa told my father remind me who I am!” We must remember the past to accept our future.


Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu, Salaam Aleinu v’al kol ha Olam.

Peace will come to us, Peace to us and the whole world.


We are going to stay with Amiad, Noga, Ella and Yonatan for Shabbat so I have little to cook but lots of games to think up! In a while, when I have finished talking to you, I’ll drive over the steep hill through Ramot, past Samuel’s Tomb, back down again past the young camels in the field to the right and so to Givat Ze’ev. I’ll go to the little shopping mall at the petrol station to collect my fresh salmon and the fish to make my gefilte; then fight my way through the insanity of Nehama’s bakery to choose my Challot and on to see Rachel, Igal and the children for my pre-Shabbat hugs.


With much love from Jerusalem, from our veranda and the view that wakes my soul every morning.


Shabbat Shalom



I thought I had finished writing but then as I sat out on the Verandah to eat my breakfast, I opened the Jerusalem Post Magazine and saw this wonderful article. “Twenty-five reasons to live in Israel” Enjoy!