The view from my veranda

Yom Kippur 2012


24th September 2012.

“The Middle East is replete with both new and old threats. One should not underestimate these threats, but not be alarmed by them either. Israel is stronger today than ever.” — Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel

It is almost Yom Kippur or Yom haKippurim – the Day of Atonement. My apologies have been made, my intentions reviewed and along with Jews wherever they may be- I promise G-d to be a better person this year than I was last.

Netanel Yahalomi, z”l aged just 20, was killed when terrorists opened fire on IDF soldiers securing the construction of the fence along the Israel-Egypt border. The terrorists, dressed in civilian clothing, followed a group of African migrants. When the migrants arrived at the border, several soldiers left their post to offer them water. The terrorists emerged from behind the migrants, and opened fire killing Netanel. When our soldiers returned fire, killing three terrorists, a suicide belt worn by one of the terrorists exploded. IDF sappers found a large number of firearms and explosives on the terrorists, including and RPD machine gun, a rocket propelled grenade, Kalashnikovs, ammunition, grenades, and more.

The riots and killing spree engendered by an ill conceived and badly made video, began with the rape and assassination of, Ambassador Christopher Stevens, a fine American diplomat who was dragged alive through the streets of Benghazi (I will not show you the horrific photographs I received as a journalist or refer to his diary because it is disrespectful to his memory) expresses an intolerance not seen in this world for 70 years. The rampages and attacks upon American Embassies throughout the Moslem world, the burning of American flags shows unbelievable ingratitude and bestiality unseen outside their own countries. The misuse of freedom of speech in OUR countries and its consequences was behind my short essay in the Times of Israel. Never in their wildest nightmares did those who fought hard to achieve freedom of speech believe it could be turned on its head to deny democracy rather than defend it.”

Jon Stewart got it right. Reaction to a stupid internet video? What about Monty Python? What do Jews do if really riled by anti-Jewish material? We write a letter to the NY Times! Assessing the situation with humour he really hit the nail on the head. Pat Condell, on the other hand, also made a video about the riots – his views are somewhat less delicate!

Sadly this letter began with some less than pious (but essential) thoughts but as Yom Kippur fast approaches I want to change my tone to a more contemplative and beautiful direction. I want to think of Jerusalem as she dresses herself for Yom Kippur. At first the city closes down much as she does on Shabbat, but the silence is deeper and the sense of prayer descends tangibly over the entire country, not just Jerusalem. Traditional “aruchot mafsekot” (pre-fast meals) are prepared as families sit down to foods their families have eaten over the generations. Some eat a hard boiled egg and bread whereas others eat a full meal with chicken soup and roast meats – each insisting that their way to prepare for the fast is the most effective!  Then each family dresses in white and as the siren calls out the beginning of Kol Nidre. Suddenly the streets are silent, not a vehicle moves, Israel is atoning, their entreaty as one for a kinder world. One cannot appreciate the beauty of a country without the daily hubbub and clamour until it happens. The silence encourages prayer, contemplation, peace and contentment while the chest beating promises to better ourselves are accompanied by atonement for the worlds ills.

Actually, I am not telling a whole truth. While it is true that the silence is (almost) complete; families walk to synagogue dressed in white and the sense of piety is tangible, there is another sound which pervades the “holy silence”……. Children having fun!!! The empty streets become one giant playground of scooters, bicycles and rollerskates. Young children run and play and yell and giggle in the streets without the fear of a car coming round the corner an activity that tends to continue until their parents come out of synagogue after Kol Nidre and well beyond.

Kol Nidre is a truly beautiful, mournful prayer which opens the Day of Atonement. Particularly soulful it has been sung by great and small my two favourite versions are a million light years apart – Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer” and Johnny Mathis, a non-Jew who puts so much soul into his prayer My Kol Nidre and Kippur will be spent on our veranda, quietly praying to myself from the prayer book I used as a child sitting beside my Mother in the old synagogue in Cardiff. My reasons for praying at home are multiple – the synagogues near us are Moroccan, Iraqi, Kurdish, Sefardi, Reform and many other unfamiliar forms – all perfectly good but unfamiliar –  and the Ashkenaz synagogue, our family synagogue, which prays with my childhood tunes and follows my Machzor, is too far for my legs to take me. In truth, I love the solitude which allows me to pray undisturbed. My style of religion is my own; my prayers go out over Jerusalem which lies before me as if a prayer within herself.

Jerusalem, ah Jerusalem. It is time to pay heed to King David and the Prophet Isaiah who understood that Jerusalem was our heart and if we do not honour Jerusalem and protect her she will stop beating. Come travel with me through Jerusalem, If I forget thee..

Finally, Benny Gatz, Commander in Chief of the Israel Defence Forces wishes you all a Shana Tova, a Happy New Year.

Gmar Chatima Tova dear friends – may you be inscribed in the good book and let’s all pray that next year will bring enlightenment where there is darkness; wisdom to our leaders, whoever and wherever they may be; that the oppressed will break free; that the ideals of democracy may just filter through the wall of hatred that brings only bitterness and fear and that joy will come into all our lives.

With love from both Zvi and I and our beloved home, Jerusalem


PS If you go into my blog on Times of Israel please leave a comment