The view from my veranda

Truths and Stories

17th February 2023

Shabbat Shalom! How are you!

Since I promised you to always tell the truth I will begin with the situation here in Israel, but on condition that it is taken in context with what is happening in the rest of the world, with the natural and man made disasters happening at this very moment. It’s as if man is not content with the hurricanes, earthquakes, cyclones, man has the needs to impose far greater tragedies of his own. I don’t want to list them all but just remember that Israel is not an island of dissention and belligerence, even though the UN seems to think so!

So, what is happening here? On the one side we have an example, the ultimate example of democracy at work with quiet determined demonstrations, last week no less than 300-350,000 people found their way to Jerusalem to express their dismay at the actions of our government. They came in by packed trains when Miri Regev, Minister of Transport, refused to put on additional trains, crowded buses, sat quietly in long traffic jams and then walked to the Supreme Court. Not lefties, as the current coalition labelled them, people of all beliefs, with and without Kippa, left, right and centre, just ordinary families expressing their dismay at what is happening.  There was no violence, just proud Israelis carrying flags. I am not yet physically up to joining in the crowds yet, but waved, tooted and supported anyone walking toward Jerusalem. If that demonstration is not the ultimate expression of democracy I don’t know what is.

Now to the intended judicial changes; yes there are changes needed, reforms, but as I said last week, they must be considered and well thought out, with a gavel not a sledge hammer. During his term as President of the Supreme Court Aharon Barak made many changes to the judiciary, some of which need reversing, some of which are totally acceptable, but the fear of most Israelis is that the changes on the table now are very personal – hardly surprising when the Prime Minister himself has been indicted and a man who was accused and indicted for incitement to terror is in the position of Minister of National Security. There are those who stand up (not enough) and when exceptional Israeli journalist Alon Ben David was given the “speak out” slot on Channel 13 he turned to the real heroes in the current government, heroes of Israel, and asked why they developed feet of clay and are scared to speak out against the travesty.

That’s it, I have so many wonderful things to tell you that I think that’s enough depression!

First of all, Maccabi Tel Aviv has made history! They are the first Israeli team to get through to the final round of the European Volleyball Challenge Cup! Well done the team, well done Israel!

As I told you last week, my lovely friend Jill is here with me while Zvi is gallivanting around LA, San Diego and now in his beloved Mexico City with more friends and family than he can count. I’ll tell you very quickly why he loves Mexico and why his family are there. After Zvi’s Bar Mitzva, his family, Kalman, Alla and the two children, Zvi and Meir, set off on an adventure – as representatives (shlichim) of the Jewish Agency, Hebrew teachers in the biggest Jewish School in Mexico City, the Yiddische Schule. In order to do this David ben Gurion said that anyone leaving on a mission had to change their name to an Israeli sounding name, to Hebraisize their name, so the family became Raviv instead of Rybak. The newly named Raviv family were happy to go to far off Mexico because almost all of Kalman’s family, except he himself, had gone to Mexico City from Europe before the war. Kalman, of course, was saved from the Holocaust by coming to Israel, sadly all his siblings were lost, as was Alla’s family, so the cousins in Mexico were the closest they had to family.

As usual I digress! So Jill and I have been very busy. Friday night at Rachel’s was absolutely wonderful. She is an astonishing cook and Jill was thrilled to find all her favourites on the menu. Rachel had made a special Challah for me without any seeds on top, as always delicious! The children had guests staying over for Shabbat and Igal sang the very beautiful, very different melody for the blessing over the wine to start the meal. On Shabbat Jill and I went for a walk along the newly replenished reservoir in nearby Beit Zayit (meaning House of Olives), what Jill loved most was the fact that all the walkers, whether families or very intense, suitably attired runners, called out “Shabbat Shalom” some even reminding us how far it was to the dam. It was so refreshing!

After Shabbat we went to visit one of my very favourite people, the amazing Tema Gaba and of course her daughter Sue who is my lovely friend. Tema is over 100 years old and bright as a button, full of stories from Cardiff, South Wales where Sue and I grew up and hasn’t lost her amazing sense of humour. I was such a delight to see her in her new home and sip a good cup of tea together.

On Tuesday we went to Shaare Zedek Hospital where I am happy to say my surgeon is absolutely thrilled with my progress and proud of my determination to get stronger, walking every day and doing my physio. From there, we went to the Deer Park, one of the many green lungs of Jerusalem, where we saw lots of deer, grazing in family groups next to the natural lake. Finally for the most exciting, emotional part of the day – Shalva!

Shalva is a miracle. This was the first time Jill had seen Shalva and especially Dr. Dan’s Room. Covid had kept her away for too long. After a delicious lunch we met Gaby, the wonderful Gaby, who took us directly to Dr. Dan’s Room and the acting class that was in session. As Purim approaches the youngsters were in the first stages of a play all about Esther, Mordechai and the wicked Haman….still at the ad lib stage. They were amazing, clever funny and having so much fun! Whoever said that children with Down’s Syndrome cannot act is crazy, they really hammed it up especially Benzi who did a real “drag queen” effect as Esther! The minute we walked in the room he started acting and had us giggling. At the end, as the lesson finished, the drama teacher, Edna, asked each of them to step forward and say what were the best things of their week, what were they grateful for. Some spoke more some less, some clearly some mumbled but each and every one of them said that their drama session with the incredible Edna was the highlight of their week. I admit a tear or two amid the laughter because one thing I am absolutely certain of, that my amazing son Daniel z”l would have loved it.

The next day we went to collect Rachel and then on to Modiin, a fantastic new town half way between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, situated right next to Maccabim and Reut, towns that trace back to Judah Maccabi and the very first Jewish fight for independence. Next day my friend and neighbour Naomi Baba came for lunch. Naomi told us of her family’s origins right here in Israel, their sojourn in the States then return. I love hearing the stories of dispersion and return.

Yesterday, wow! Yesterday we set off for the Kibbutz that was Jill’s home for two years, Berot Yitzchak, right near Ben Gurion Airport. It was the first time that Jill had been back since the passing of her teacher and mentor Katy, which was hard but we were welcomed with open arms by Katy’s daughter in law Tsippi and son Eliahu. The stories we heard were real “only in Israel” stories! We notice that the civilian aeroplanes overhead, on the flight path to Ben Gurion airport, were almost incessant, which prompted Tsippi to tell us this story.

One of the kibbutz members passed away and the funeral was to take place but the family ralised that the noise of the planes overhead would make eulogies impossible. They called the Airport Authorities, explained the situation and the landings were re-routed for the duration of the funeral!

One of the friends who came to Tsippi’s home to visit Jill was Ada, who was a nurse, like Jill, both in hospital and on the Kibbutz. When I mentioned that Zvi and I had moved and now live outside Jerusalem, Ada’s eyes lit up and she talked of her childhood and Motza Illit! “There used to be a Convalescent home in Motza Illit, it was a beautiful building and my mother worked there as a nurse” I told her that is where we live, that the convalescent home is now our cultural centre! She was so excited.

Today we will take a walk as always but hopefully just around our complex, believe you me it is beautiful enough here that we don’t need to go anywhere in search of beauty. Tonight we are back at Rachel’s for Friday night dinner, then home to rest after a crazy week!

I often ponder the fact that despite awful things going on around the world, as I pointed out earlier, not only the natural disasters but wars, famine, cruelty, invasions, ethnic cleansing, each and every day in this insane world of ours, indeed right here on our doorstep, so why concentrate on Israel? Why does the United Nations ignore the horrors, the utterly undemocratic behaviour of leaders throughout our region yet find the time to censure Israel at every step. Do we do it too? Do diaspora Jews tend to be ashamed of this miraculous little country? Do you assume that what you read in the NYT, the Guardian, the LA Times is the truth – that Israel is anti-democratic, an apartheid state? The current government, which I don’t necessarily support, is a million times better than almost any country to the south of us, indeed to the east and west of us. So why? Why is there one rule for the Palestinians and one for Israel? Anti-Semitism is the first port of call and undoubtedly part of it, a major part of it, but not the only one. So why? I’d love to hear your theories, your reasoning why a huge media giant like CNN, that purports to support human rights blah blah blah, concentrates on this small piece of real estate because I am at a loss. I know that friends in India, particularly Hindu/Indian friends (indeed the PM of Britain) recognise the similarities between our countries yet nobody doubts the existence of India as she is, LDS friends who understand persecution understand. What is even worse – maybe, is the infighting. Perhaps Zvi is right, we are living Hegel’s prophecy. So confusing.

Enough of this down in the dumps attitude, back to the joys of Shabbat. As I came up in the lift (elevator) from our underground car park I could easily distinguish which country of their dispersion each neighbour came from by the aromas rising. There is a joke that if a Kurdish mother doesn’t prepare Kubeh Soup on a Friday lunchtime the family is so confused that they set off for work on Saturday! Even there, from whence you came decides the type of kubeh soup. Kubbeh Khamo (yellow kubbeh), Kubbeh Khamusta (sour kubbeh), Kubbeh Adouma (red/beet kubbeh), Kubbeh Bamia (with okra and tomato paste), Kubbeh Za’atar (with Hyssop and Lemon juice); then there is chraime, a spicy fish dish from Morocco, gefilte fish and kneidlach soup from the Eastern European kitchen, the Yemeni Jachnun being prepared to sit in the oven overnight beside the Cholent, aka Hamin. If ever a country marched on its stomach, it’s Israel!

And so to music. Victor Hugo said “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”

The late Ehud Manor wrote about Israel. He loved this country, understood her foibles, used his songs to remind us that this is the only Jewish state in the world. Ayn Li Eretz Aheret, I have no other country is on my regular playlist. I particularly like this rendition.  

If anyone understood what it meant to be persecuted it was Paul Robeson. Black, he won a scholarship to Rutgers University in 1915, received his law degree from Columbia University which history buffs will recognise as nothing short of a miracle at a time when being black in the USA excluded you from further education. Paul Robeson, with his incredible, operatic bass baritone, loved Judaism and later became a very vocal supporter of Israel. His rendition of Go Down Moses reminds us that we left slavery and came to this very land to find freedom.

To end this missive I wanted to share a song by the Shalva Band, for obvious reasons, when I came across this incredible video. In addition to wonderful songs it tells the stories of members of the band; Tal who learned sign language so that his friends who are hard of hearing can enjoy the music too, Dina who came from India as a child, suddenly blind and hopeless in her home country she prayed to come to Israel, Anahel, all of them come with stories that Shalva brought them hope and joy. Listen to their spoken word as well as their beautiful songs. I promise that you will come away a better person, a happier person.

I wish you a Shabbat Shalom from beautiful Jerusalem. As I sat here, writing to you, I looked out of the window to the blue skies above and realised that our very own almond tree is in blossom! Delicate pink blossoms on the sapling right next to our study, if that isn’t a sign of hope I don’t know what is!

Sending you all much love and wishes for joy this week, hope that our world will be just that little bit kinder.