The view from my veranda

Tragedies, Medals and a New Year

8th of September, 2023

Shabbat Shalom!

For the many of you who didn’t receive last weeks missive, I apologise, but I don’t honestly know what happened, apparently Gmail went crazy! Everything will change very soon because thanks to a wonderful lady called Rochelle Gilbert, you will receive my mailings through MailChimp! Don’t forget, if you miss a week, you can always check on the website

We begin this week with tragic memories, with the horrific Munich Massacre of 11 Israeli sportsmen on the 5th of September 1972 in the Summer Olympic Village. Members of the Black September terrorist organisation broke in to Conollystrasse 31, climbing through the entrance and walked up to the 2nd floor, killed two members of the Israeli Olympic team and took a further 9 hostage to exchange for imprisoned Palestinians. The terrorists demanded an aeroplane to escape with their hostages and were told that a helicopter was waiting instead. The rescue operation by the German police went horribly wrong after they refused the assistance of the Israeli security forces and all the athletes were killed. Israel was in mourning and when the bodies of the sportsmen came home, among those who went to receive their bodies was one Kalman Raviv, Zvi’s father, who took Zvi with him leaving an indelible imprint on his son’s life. May the souls of those brave sportsmen rest in peace.

The government archives concerning the Yom Kippur War have been released revealing mistake after deadly mistake on almost every level by the leaders in government, secret service and IDF. The writing of an imminent attack by the enemy states which surround us was clearly on the wall, we even had a warning from an Egyptian spy, yet those in charge didn’t believe the signs and we were unprepared. To understand the extent of the “feet of clay” revealed is distressing as leaders one held in esteem prove to be inept. From Golda, Dayan, heads of the Mossad and IDF who didn’t believe that war was imminent, especially when one hears the personal stories of friends, watch non-stop programmes as soldiers finally tell their stories. We were attacked on all sides and lost too many soldiers but the greatest emotional trauma was understanding that the peace of Yom Kippur was broken as the silent streets were filled with soldiers racing to their bases.

The government attempts at changing, dissolution, of the legal system and the vilification of both the President of the Supreme Court and the Attorney General (both fine women) is just a small part of the laws passed in the Knesset recently, but as long as the Reasonableness Standard remains, the Supreme Court can deny their passing. I have a feeling that we are nearing the end of this government, particularly since President Biden has made it clear that if they continue on their extremist path the Prime Minister will not be invited to the White House. Under normal circumstances I would be insulted by such interference but in this case I feel that the American President is right.

Seeing the feet of clay of our politicians everywhere has become a regular occurrence these days but back in those days we still had heroes. Today, sadly politicians don’t make mistakes, much worse, they are so determined to hang on to power, sometimes it is their only agenda, that they are willing to forfeit all moral standards. We are definitely in a ghastly situation, but I promise you two things – ONE that more and more ordinary people whose views are not extreme, who have never felt the need to defend our democracy, who have never taken part in a demonstration in their lives, we will not give up. We are joined by politically diverse movement whose sole motivation is to return to good leadership. TWO that  despite the obvious threats from our enemies, Israel is still the amazing place to visit, you will be safe and life goes on, beaches, restaurants, museums, theatre, cinema, parties, prayers all go ahead as usual!

Each year exceptional people whose devotion to the people and the State is above and beyond the call of duty, receive the Presidential Medal of Honour from the President. This year, as always, each of the recipients was deserving, but for me, and this is an entirely personal viewpoint, two people stand out. Former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler has spent his life defending justice, in his case it isn’t just a title, it is his vocation. Defender of Israel, he and his wife Ariella are among the finest defenders of this country before those who would defile our name, they were both students together with Zvi at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1969 when Zvi began the struggle for Soviet Jewry. The second person has been a military correspondent for many years, since 1974, her gravelly voice telling every story from the point of view of the soldiers. Every soldier in trouble, every lone soldier, Carmela Menashe is there, quietly helping, behind the scenes. I once needed to help a young lone soldier who was very troubled emotionally and she immediately took on his case, talked to him, spent time helping him, finding a suitable place for his army service, none of which became a “story” all done out of pure motive, love of the soldiers. A journalist who really cares. She deserves a hundred medals.

This week Zvi and I met an incredible young man. His name is Bilal and he is a nurse, but not just a nurse, he just won the “Nurse of the Year” in the Assuta group of medical institutions. Bilal lives atop the Mount of Olives and besides being an exceptional nurse, he does everything he possibly can to bring calm, peace to what was the Jordanian side of Jerusalem. In the short time we met he expressed a need to meet with the Mayor of Jerusalem to discuss ways to overcome the current volatile situation and the hold the terror groups have over the ordinary population. He told us about the beautiful new school that was built by the Jerusalem Municipality in one of the Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. A few days before the new school year started Islamic Jihad burned the school down because they were about to teach the Jerusalem Municipality curriculum not the PA/UNWRA syllabus of hatred. We are already in touch by WhatsApp and I will invite Bilal to our home, there is so much I can learn from him about understanding between us.

Guess what? El Al is not only one of the last airlines to feed us on our flights, but now top Chef Assaf Granit has created a wonderful menu so that even in tourist class the food will be delicious! Yeah, let’s here it for Israel’s amazing airline!!!

Comedian Elon Gold doesn’t speak Hebrew! As he says “I went to Yeshiva for 15 years but I can’t speak Hebrew” which of course is the problem of all of us who learned our Hebrew parrot fashion without knowing what we were saying then come to Israel only to find that we don’t understand a word that is spoken!! A bit of fun to lighten your day

As if it isn’t enough that I learned modern Hebrew, spoken Hebrew, I decided to study Yiddish! Why? Because every time that Zvi tells a joke in Yiddish I understand most of it but always miss the punch line!  Every story sounds more interesting in Yiddish, certainly there’s much more pathos, every joke told in Yiddish is funnier, just the sound of it makes me laugh, so yesterday I went to my first lesson. Of course the office forgot to tell me that everyone else was already on their 7th lesson and that I would have to learn grammar as well as conversation, but I am determined to give it a go. I think my parents would have been very proud of me, and I know my grandparents would have been thrilled!

For those of you who have visited Israel you may still be confused by the myriad of head coverings, for both men and women. One of the most important socially defining images in Israel is one’s head-gear, here it’s all about hats. Fact is stranger than fiction!

Let’s take the simple Kippa, yarmulke, skullcap. What can be special about that little circle of fabric, how on earth can that define who you are? Well let’s begin with the knitted kippa, often home made, but in this case colour and size count, and the position on one’s head. If it is small and on the left side of the head, that indicates that you are happy-clappy religious Bnei Akiva, the bigger the disc the more religious, and if it is white with a pompom on top then you follow the Bresslauer Rebbe! The black kippa gets bigger with one’s piety and changes fabric from crocheted to silk and then to velvet, until one arrives at the big black Fedora perched on the front of the head with a black kippa underneath. Finally, the world renowned furry shtreimel, its height, colour, fur and position the indication of which Haredi Rabbi one follows. Beware of the very large coloured kippa of the extremist youth I doubt that you would enjoy their determination to take Judaism to a political extreme.

Then there are women. Covering one’s crowning glory, one’s hair, is common to almost all religions, east and west, but the level of covering and style are exceptional here. A small piece of cloth, what once we called an Alice Band, indicates religious leanings but not extreme; then a simple pretty scarf tied at the back graduating to a large scarf with a false bun, most obvious is the next step, a huge “construction” of brilliant colours which is perched atop an often beautifully made up face. Finally, the lucky ladies who wear a wig, a sheitl, which means that they never need to worry about dying their hair, or bad hair days because their perfectly coiffed wigs cover all sins! When I was young a sheitl mean a simple pulled back hairstyle with a bun at the back, but today the women often wear long wavy stylish wigs which to me defeats the object of humility!  So when you walk the streets of this amazing country, remember that the head-gear identifies the men and women – from Nuns and Priests, to Moslem women and Imams. I challenge you to guess which is which sometimes!

So yet another week has passed.  I won’t be going to visit Rachel today although I managed to be with her twice this week!!! We are off to Tel Aviv for Shabbat, to take care of Yonatan and Ella, Zvi’s wonderful grandchildren. I love being with them, they are such interesting, delightful children, not like those who demand “screens” all the time, they play general knowledge games, do puzzles, sport and are great fun!

It’s already time to combine Shabbat Shalom with Shana Tova and wish people to be inscribed in the good book. It’s so strange, it feels as though it was only yesterday that we walked back from the Yom Kippur service up in Mevasseret. It is quite a walk, down the ridiculously steep Seven Sisters Road but at least there is no danger from vehicles, since there will not be a single car on the roads! That’s Yom Kippur in Israel!

Jerusalem is right in the middle of the political argument, the site of demonstrations of both sides, the home of both the Prime Minister and the President, who is doing his very best to bring a safe conclusion to the situation.

Jerusalem is home to over fifty Christian denominations (long may it continue), 8 Moslem denominations and then, oh boy, a conglomeration of hundreds of Jewish denominations. Left to our own devices I’m sure we could find a common denominator! I wanted to tell you how gorgeous Jerusalem is, both from street view and from the vista points on the Hass Promenade and Samuel’s Tomb, but as usual I got sidetracked.

So, what music do you want? Happy, sad, religious? Let me think.

Ahinoam Nini (Noa) singing two of the most familiar of all songs for the New Year, along with young musicians. Songs of hope and good wishes, about how wonderful next year will be as we sit on our verandas.

The next song is about the relief of ending the week with a day of rest. It is also about breaking impressions about the Haredi community, the danger of generalisation. Perhaps that’s why I chose this particular song as Haredi men end a day of hard work to welcome the Sabbath. “Barush Hashem it’s Shabbes”

“Blowin’ in The Wind” written by Bob Dylan so many years ago, at a time of Vietnam and social upheaval, asks all the questions we ask every day of our lives. Here the version sung by Peter, Paul and Mary

I wish you a good weekend, a Shabbat of contemplation, of family. I promise to write to you next week, before Rosh Hashanah, with a letter of hope and joy…. Two things we need so desperately.

With love, Sheila