The view from my veranda

Trees, Terror and Travel

3rd February 2023

12th Shvat, 5783

Good morning, Good Shabbes, Shabbat Shalom!

The wonderful healing rains came down this week, preparing the earth for Tu b’Shvat, the new year for trees – Jewish Ecology! The custom of planting trees and eating fruit began in the 16th century in the town of Sefat by the followers of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the father of Kabbala, as a time of purification and was then adopted in 1801 by the Jewish Teachers Union and the Keren Kayemet to encourage tree planting in the Holy Land. So, the very welcome rain will ensure the growth of healthy young saplings that each child will plant on Monday.

I wish the healing rains could wash away our political predicament but it isn’t that easy. In truth the PM is, thus far, succeeding in quashing any extreme moves on the part of his cabinet, but that leads to a different problem. What has warmed my heart is the form that the demonstrations has taken, a quiet, orderly and deeply emotional rebellion in which rather than expressing anger and disorder the “rebels” wave the Israeli flag and gather to hear speakers and personalities before disbanding and walking home. It is happening in most villages, towns and cities.

Last week, after Shabbat, a man from East Jerusalem took his car and a gun and headed for one of the poorest areas of Jerusalem, a neighborhood of predominantly new immigrants and the poorest sectors of Israeli society. First he saw a woman crossing the street and shot her dead, she wasn’t Israeli, was not a Jew and was from Ukraine; he went on to find a group of people outside the synagogue and began shooting, killing and maiming in cold blood. A couple, one a guard and one a dinner lady in Hadassah Hospital, heard the shots and rushed out of their home to help, they both died. The first person on the scene was a paramedic from East Jerusalem, a Moslem, a good and important part of Israeli society – such is life in Israel. The following day a 13 year old boy took a gun, an illegal gun, from his home, walked in to the street in the Old City and shot Jews walking by on their way home from prayers. It later came out that he was a student at a PA school, Al-Furqan Islamic School for Boys, that was reported on by Impact-se for hate education, sadly, yet again, proving that terror is taught in PA schools.

The IDF operation in Jenin had nothing whatsoever to do with Neve Yaakov or the Old City; the IDF operation in Jenin was to wipe out a gang of terrorists planning a major attack. Friends, I know I say this all the time, but, shootings and stabbings happen all the time in most Western countries, here, each one is a tragedy, each killing, shooting, destroys families especially when those killings are religiously based, hatred, it kills the family of the perpetrator and the perpetrated against. Somehow Israel has become the headline country, maybe to deflect attention from the failings of others?

Talking of guns, the Neve Yaakov terror attack raised a huge question. Because the neighborhood is predominantly religious or new immigrants, there are very few reserve soldiers so nobody carries a gun to protect the residents against exactly such attacks. As a result, the national requests for a gun licence has increased enormously. In Israel in order to receive a gun licence, which does not allow anything further than a handgun, the process takes about 9 months. The applicant needs to undergo psychological tests, training, proof that he/she is physically capable and proof that he/she has no criminal past. The only people one sees with handguns are guards, police and soldiers and those who have passed all the above requirements. The only problem is that criminals and terrorists do not exactly abide by the laws for carrying arms. 

I am not normally given to quoting the National Post, a somewhat right leaning publication, but this piece by Brendan O’Neill exposes with stark honesty the question of bias in the media. Brendan O’Neill: “The woke hatred for Israel is no longer just strange — it’s dangerous. They made more noise over a massacre that exists mostly in their imaginations than they did over a massacre in the real world.”

If I gave you a map of Africa could you put a finger on Chad? Chad is in Central Africa, right between Niger and North Sudan, is named after Lake Chad, was part of the French colonies and is predominantly desert. The north of Chad is predominantly Moslem, the South is Christian, both Protestant and Catholic with a small minority of Moslems. This week, after a long period of negotiation, Chad decided to open its Embassy to Israel, to renew full diplomatic relations. Now South Sudan has begun direct talks to renew diplomatic relations with Israel. What strange times we live in, right is wrong and wrong is right. As the West becomes more and more antagonistic toward Israel the Islamic countries become warmer and warmer in their attitude toward us!

Judicial Reform is top of the news here and apparently in the world, incredibly reaching headlines and the inevitable suggestions of instability which can have a detrimental effect on our economy! Quite honestly, it is an internal affair which we need to address not an international outrage! The proposed changes are the basis of the demonstrations all over Israel, although it is not the reforms themselves which has angered the populace but the manner of the intended implementation. A case of a sledge hammer rather than a judge’s gavel. The fact is that some form of judicial reform is essential, some need updating and others need change, but not forcibly it must be democratic change. It is so complex I don’t want to bore you but I maintain that a judge’s gavel is preferable over a sledgehammer when it comes to the banner of democracy.

This week has been busy (what week isn’t?) but not crazy! It began with the wonderful Poodle, aka Alex, and my Rachel. We met, intending to have lunch in Caffit in the Botanical Gardens, partly because I wanted to tell you about (nay wax lyrical) the beauty of the pond and its water lilies, but lo and behold, it was closed for “shiputzim” which is a general word for repairs or renewal or any building work. We were so disappointed but remembering that all we wanted was to be together to talk we walked 50 metres to the coffee shop in the plant nursery. It really wasn’t the same, to begin with it was self service and limited menu and I had to do without my favourite salad, Oreganatto with sweet potato. However, we managed anyway and the quiche was delicious. We spoke of cabbages and kings and family and of course of Daniel and Dr. Dan’s Room in Shalva. Poodle, so named for her hairstyle so many years ago in Carmel College with Daniel and Justin, is an exceptional woman who exudes warmth and love. Rachel and I will walk a million miles for one of her smiles!!

On Monday I went to visit our lovely friend Dina who sadly lost her mother recently. The Jewish tradition of Shiva, seven days of mourning in which people come to visit and console, is very special and of huge importance in the grieving process. Dina sings with Zvi, a beautiful soprano, and a dear friend. Zvi wanted to come with me but was called to an urgent babysitting stint in Nes Ziona, with Leor’s 4 girls, a task he loves! Tuesday morning and Rachael Risby Raz came visiting! It is always fun to hear the latest news from Rachael, whose enthusiasm is contagious. Actually Rachael brought me a most appropriate gift – cans of seeds! Really! Apparently an Israeli idea, one takes the plug out of the bottom of the can, open the top, add water and hey presto! Herbs grow! Obviously we spoke of the current political situation and how different it was when Rachael worked for our former Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert.

Yesterday we popped in to see our friends Yossi and Ronit Dagan. We went for a few minutes and before we knew it Ronit had prepared a three course meal for us! A wonderful Hummus soup, borekas, salads – a very Israel light supper. Such an Israeli situation, popping in for two minutes and receiving the warmth of a family meal and hospitality. Yet again the topic of conversation ran the gamut of discussion of the current government and our determination to be vessels of change. Ronit runs courses for retirees in the community centre in the neighborhood of Givat Massuah, in Jerusalem and Yossi is an historian, concentrating on Jerusalem. Givat Massuah means the height or hill of the beacon, because once upon a time before iPhones, the hills was the site of the beacon announcing Shabbat, festivals or any important situation. Today it is a lovely neighborhood overlooking the road to Bethlehem, Beit Jallah and a large part of Southern Jerusalem.

Now that we are back to being a two car family, yes I am now allowed to drive after 3 months post-surgery, I hope I will manage to see Rachel and the children before Shabbat. Zvi will go to his parliament and I will prepare supper for Leor, Amiad and families, just 12 of us which is very manageable. We decided on a simple meal – Veggie soup to suit the cool and rainy weather, a side of beautiful salmon, roasties, stuffed mini vegetables (tiny sweet peppers and courgettes, and of course onion, which is separated into layers which then wrap the stuffing) a big green salad and Amiad is bringing his famous cabbage salad and a chopped salad and various ice-creams to go with the fresh fruit for dessert. Oh, I almost forgot! I make a petit beurre and chocolate brittle with all kinds of treats inside! Zvi will sing the Kiddush, the blessing over the wine and then we will sit down and do what all families do, chat, argue, discuss and try to listen over the noise!

Rachel just called me to sing happy birthday and of course Zvi joined in! Today is my Hebrew birthday and I didn’t realise. It’s fine to have two birthdays as long as I don’t grow by two years each time!!

Tomorrow night Zvi is off to Los Angeles, San Diego and Mexico City on a family and friends visit. He really earned this trip by being incredible during my recovery period, not that he needs an excuse to see the family. It never fails to amaze me how he has remained in touch with schoolfriends from the Yiddische Shule, the Jewish high school in Mexico City where his parents taught for five years on behalf of the Jewish Agency from 1958 to 1963. I wish him a wonderful trip and hopefully he will not be too busy to call me every so often! While Zvi is away my friend Jill will come to stay for two weeks. Covid stopped her regular travels to Israel ad this was the perfect opportunity. We will go to Jill’s kibbutz, have lots of visitors and generally enjoy our time together.

So it’s that time! Time to say farewell for this week and think about how each and every one of us can change our crazy world for the better. Remember my motto? The power of one. We can each do something in our own way, writing a letter, creating a group who care, so many ways.

The first song is called “Ayn Li Eretz Aheret” or I have no other country. The lyrics are clear, even if we are dissatisfied with changes and will not keep quiet, this is till our only country, the country I love, this is my only home. I wish it was in English but this version is so beautiful

What happens when a secular American Jew finds religion after being utterly lost? He becomes a Reggae singer! Matisyahu created a wonderful song of peace and brotherhood. One Day.

The Shalva Band was created as a natural progression of the Shalva Centre in Jerusalem. Shalva was created by Malki and Kalman Samuels to show the world that people with special needs of every imaginable type, can reach the peak of their abilities. Just as their son Yossi, who is blind deaf and has ADHD learned to communicate and today is a fully fledged sommelier. The Band travels the world singing, is living proof that its members are stars, beautiful, talented stars. Here they sing Leonard Cohen’s Halleluyah in Canada. Breathtaking.

Sending you all our love from beautiful Jerusalem. Hopefully the rain will stop long enough to go for a walk and see the incredible almond blossom, those pink puff-balls that cover the hills, the wild flowers, cyclamen, poppies, quills, anemones, so much joy to be found if we just choose to look. This weeks Torah reading shows us that instead of talking of the difficulties of leaving Egypt the Almighty sweetened bitter waters, split the waters of the Red Sea, provided Manna from heaven (incidentally that’s why we have two challot instead of one on Shabbat because we received two portions before the Sabbath) so dear friends, we can see the bad in the world but life is so much better if we recognise the good. After all as the song says – Ayn Li Eretz Aheret – we have no other country.

Shabbat Shalom