The view from my veranda

Turkey, Gratitude and Charity

10th February, 2023

Good morning, Shabbat Shalom! I hope this missive finds you well.

Today, this week, this contentious world came together to help a country that has suffered a horrific tragedy. Turkey is no stranger to the horrors of earthquakes but the sheer proportion of this quake and its consequences has left the country bereft and the tens of thousands dead or missing. The quake also affected Syria and even Israel although we barely felt it. The reaction of every country that has the ability to help, to send aid, has been heart-warming. The Israeli IDF team has set up field hospitals and search and rescue teams in the hope that they may find people alive in the rubble; IsraAid has set up clinics to provide psychological and practical help not just now but into the future; and many others. In the small town of Antakya the bodies of Saul and Fortuna Cenudioglu z”l, leaders of the small Jewish community were identified by the rescue team of Zaka. 

When tragedy hits a country, especially with the speed and magnitude of this one, politics, diplomacy even wars are irrelevant, the ultimate goal is to alleviate, to rescue, to help the people.

Back to the inanities and insanities of political life here in Israel. When one is brought back to reality by such huge human tragedies just across the Mediterranean, we should take a more balanced view toward our own problems. I have a sneaky feeling both sides of the argument will consider my next statements somewhat controversial, so hold on to your seats. A bill was put forward in the Knesset by Shas leader Arieh Deri to limit the activities of women at the Kotel causing the expected furore in both the media and the secular community. The bill suggested that women who dress or act immodestly (a rather general description) at the Kotel, the Western Wall, could be liable to either six months in prison or 10,000 shekels fine. There are two aspects to this bill, one being that it is a distraction by the politically wily Deri who made the headlines until the PM came riding in on his white horse and proclaimed that nothing would change the status quo, however it is still lurking in the background and the secondly, that there is a small group of women whose aim is provocation, and has been so for the last twenty years or more. Led by Anat Hoffman, this group is not satisfied with the egalitarian section of the wall, where they can do, dress and act as they wish, but use provocation to gain attention when entering the regular section. I am all for women taking part in services, prayers, traditions but not for the sake of provocation. Israel is not the Taliban nor does it ban women from taking part as in Mosques or Christian Orthodox Churches but centuries old rules should be negotiated not shattered. The actions of this very small group of women plays right into the hands of the extremists.

Somehow, ghosts of the Holocaust keep reemerging into our lives. I don’t mean the tragic, horrific loss of family, the cruel and highly organised death camps, I mean the proof that giants of industry, predominantly but not exclusively, American giants of industry and society who were complicit in the Nazi killing machine. This video tells the story of the Fords, Rockefeller, Bush, indeed far too many who supported Hitler’s aims. The funding of Nazi Germany by American Billionaires.

Israeli Presidents, unlike American Presidents, have a predominantly titular leadership role. They greet visiting diplomats and world leaders and present the acceptable face of politics to the world, a job that most do with distinction. President Herzog is presented with a dilemma, his political and social view is diametrically opposed to that of the current government particularly in the case of judicial reform. President Herzog has spoken out on the issue, asking for more debate and less demand. The Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin, promised in depth discussion of the proposed reforms but the fact is quite the opposite as reforms are being rushed through the Knesset without the opportunity of rebuttal. There are several Likud Members of Knesset who are against the manner of the reform and only time will tell if they have the courage to speak out. Democracy will allow for a reversal of the reforms, in four years’ time.

And so to theocracies, or should one say imagined theocracies or accusations thereof. Did you know that in Britain the Monarch is the Head of the Anglican Church yet it is as far as one can imagine from being a theocracy? In the USA “In God we trust” is basic to the very core of that democracy and each session of both the Congress and Senate is opened by a prayer. Israel is a Jewish state, the only Jewish state in the world based on Jewish principles, a simple statement of fact. But this is no more a theocracy than those countries whose populations are mainly Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Shinto and recognise their significance. Are they all theocracies? Of course not and neither are we. Our identity is as a Jewish State which brings with it a responsibility to grant freedom of faith, prayer and creed to all who live here. Rabbi Jeremy Rosen explains it far better than I ever could.

Did you know that Barcelona and Tel Aviv were twinned cities? Well they aren’t any more because the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, decided that she didn’t want to be twinned with an Israeli city which abuses human rights. Yes I know it is ludicrous but that her perception. However, the Mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, immediately decided that Madrid would twin with Tel Aviv! Of course, being politicians, one Liberal one conservative, it was probably a knee-jerk decision with political gains, but I like it anyway.

Israelis are really good at the Japanese martial arts! I am not sure if it is the athleticism or the competitiveness but we are! Gili Shahrir has just won a gold medal at the Paris Grand Slam Judo Competition.  Well done!!

My physiotherapist, Yonatan, lives in Tekoa. Tekoa is what most of you choose to call a settlement! The name means to blow a trumpet or horn or shofar (ram’s horn) and originates in the Bible as the home of Amos. What fascinated me is that the town abuts the Arab village of Te-koa, with the same origins. As I was doing my exercises Yonatan explained that despite the outside view of Tekoa, the cooperation between the two towns is a constant and their local industry of mushroom growing is a shared enterprise, with workers from both the Israeli and the Palestinian towns. As he spoke I thought about the huge difference between perception and fact of most of these small towns especially since until the woke description of a settlement it usually referred to a pioneer town, a positive description – it is only when describing anywhere outside the green line of Israel does it become an insult an offensive descriptive noun.

This week the skies opened and the rains came down with a vengeance. While it made life temporarily uncomfortable, Mount Hermon’s ski slopes are covered with wonderful fresh snow and just a few hundred kilometres drive away the desert is blooming! Just in time for Tu b’Shvat! Israelis are going north to ski or south to see the sea of red, the wild anemones, which change the rich desert earth from arid to green and red. I haven’t gone south this year but on the other hand there isn’t a park or nature walk that is not covered in the wild flowers that I love so much. Perhaps tomorrow, Jill and I will go for a little walk over the road so that I can show here the reservoir filled by natures irrigation. Oh by the way, Jill arrived in Israel during one of our heaviest downpours but even that couldn’t cast a shadow on her delight at being back in Israel after a Covid break of 3 years.

We have been busy in the best possible manner, seeing old friends and sightseeing what we could through the curtain of rain! We met with Dana and Betty at the Israel Museum, starting our day in a most delightful way, catching up on the intervening years. Betty is a volunteer at this incredible museum, which incidentally has been designated as one of the finest 10 museums in the world, in fact she is now responsible for the entire army of volunteers and organised for us to join a tour. The tour was of the works of Sigalit Landau who has her studio in Tel Aviv but her works express her love of the Dead Sea and her distress at the ecological disaster caused by the dredging works of both Israel and Jordan. Sigalit grew up in Jerusalem and at every chance her family would travel down to the Dead Sea Forming her special relationship with the salty depths. Her art is based on shapes, each of which has deeper meaning than appears, which are then immersed in the waters of the Dead Sea for months until encrusted withsalt crystals. Absolutely phenomenal especially when explained by our exceptional guide Barbara.

When we got home two telephone calls changed out plans! One from Rachel, Yosef and Talia who informed us that they were on their way to see Jill and from Jill’s lovely friend Uriel who also wanted to hug Jill. It was a delightful evening, supper for everyone was on the table within minutes and the conversation didn’t stop!

Yesterday we took it relatively easy and had an early lunch at the delightful “Pop Up” café in Kiriat Anavim. There was great excitement since the resident chef just won the Israeli Chef Games! Pop Up isn’t a fancy shmantzy restaurant but rather a lovely, welcoming, wooden table coffee shop with delightful young waiters and a garden which bears resemblance to a bower, filled with flowers!

Today will be a delight. I don’t even have to cook! We have been invited to meet with Cheryl Schur, a friend from Canada in the small town of Ein Keren. Home to Hadassah Hospital, St. Mary’s Well and the golden onion domed Russian Orthodox Convent, St John the Baptist Monastery and the Sisters of Zion Convent, another 4 churches and at least a dozen fun restaurants. It will be fun to introduce Jill to Cheryl and catch up on Cheryl’s news.

Tonight will be extra special as Jill and I are going to Rachel’s for Shabbat Dinner. First of all it is very special for me to be with my Israeli grandchildren at a dinner table, a Shabbat Dinner table, apparently together with several other surprise guests and to hear my son in law’s kiddush (blessing over the wine). He has a delightful voice and sings a very different melody to Zvi’s. His is a Kurdish melody, an Eastern Jewish melody, really beautiful. I can’t wait!! Rachel is a phenomenal cook, truly delicious and varied. Her chraime style fish, a zillion salads and as many roast potatoes as survive the day of Yosef, Talia and Ayala pinching them! I can already imagine Jill’s face as we sit around the table – all of us trying very hard to refrain from filling up on her challot. Incidentally talking of challot, she baked me the most incredible heart shaped challah for my Hebrew birthday….it was scrumptious and very well appreciated!

Zvi is having so much fun! He has left Los Angeles and is now in San Diego having spent time with both family and old friends unencumbered by my complaints because they always speak Spanish! Zvi’s wonderful parents, Alla and Kalman Raviv, were teachers in the Yiddische Schule, as I believe I told you last week, and at the ripe old age of 13, just after his bar mitzva, they headed off to Mexico City to serve as Hebrew teachers. The LA and San Diego sections of his journey are to spend time with the family members who have moved to the USA, and included a visit to the Magic Castle with Alan Cohen! After the weekend he will head off to Mexico City where he will have reunions galore of the school and of course with the family too numerous to mention. I know he will return exhilarated and exhausted. I’m so thrilled he kept up his contacts.

I couldn’t decided whether to give you this first song. It is sung by an Arab and a Jew in Arabic with subtitles and speaks of peace among neighbours, peace among faiths, of tolerance and love. It is so different to my usual choices but I felt it important. I hope you like it.

How can I go yet another week without Koolulam? Actually I can’t, this song written by Arkady Duchinfits the theme of caring for our world and exuding love. “I have love inside me and it will triumph”

The Shalva Band broke barriers, as one says these days, they burst through the glass ceiling. They prove in the most beautiful manner that disabilities need not hold you back, that it all depends upon what the world is willing to see in everyone, to find the best they can ever be. Shalva proved that each person has beauty and abilities that emerge given half a chance. A Million Dreams

I am always amazed at how the weekly reading from the Torah mirrors our daily lives. This week we read from Jethro, Moses father in law, who advises Moses to appoint magistrates and judges to help him in the task of administering the Children of Israel, a team, a board, a group of those who understand and can help, rather than unilaterally making decisions. Jethro was a wise man, and gave his son in law good advice. As I said, each week the Torah reading seems to mirror our lives today.

I wish you Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem, our city, the city loved by the three monotheistic religions and revered by two of them.