The view from my veranda

170407 Syria, Haredi Tour, Pesach


7th April, 2017

Shabbat Shalom dear friends.

In 2013 President Obama said that if the Syrian regime used chemical weapons he would respond swiftly and firmly. Two days ago the Assad regime bombed the town of Idlib with Sarin, a deadly gas which caused children to foam at the mouth, seize and have great difficulty breathing. Assad denied using Sarin despite the autopsy results on those who died. It is not the first time Sarin has been used in this horrific civil war – patients who were treated at the IDF field hospital on the border were found to suffer from Sarin poisoning. At least a 100 died in that attack. In April 2017, the day after the horrific attack,President Trump ordered the bombing of the airfield from whence the Syrian aeroplanes left on their deadly mission. Swift and righteous punishment.

The prelude to the decision – Ambassador Nikki Haley describes the situation to the United Nations, again challenging their choice to ignore the abominations of Assad and the Russian choice to veto a resolution condemning Assad.

After the deaths of 500,000 Syrian citizens, many by the cruel regime of Assad, Russia intends putting forward a motion at the UNHRC against the USA for their gross indifference for human life for bombing the airfield!!!

Hosni Mubarak was a tyrant. Zvi and I learned the extent through Azzam Azzam who was imprisoned on a pretext in Egypt by Mubaraks regime. Hosni Mubarak was able to frighten his neighbours sufficiently to keep some form of order in this region. Mubarak was abandoned by his Western allies leaving chaos in his wake and a Moslem Brotherhood President. When Al Sisi deposed the “democratically elected” President Morsi he was ignored by the previous US administration. Understanding that the two unquestionably antidemocratic leaders are the only way forward President Trump invited both Al Sisi and King Abdullah of Jordan for a parley in Washington on how to deal with the currently even more volatile Middle East.  One cannot ignore the situation any longer, it must be addressed. Politics are not pretty, pragmatism and a show of strength are the sole winners.

Dumisani Washington, an American Pastor said “From North Korea to Syria to Iran to China to Russia…to Boko Haram to ISIS to Al Qaeda to Al Shabaab to Hezbollah to the Muslim Brotherhood…to Nigeria to Yemen to Libya…to the UNSC the UNHRC, UNESCO and UNWRA…we’ve witnessed 8 years of appeasement and indecision, and the slaughtering that always comes with it. While military intervention will not be the answer to the vast majority of these situations, vain threats, fake red lines, and ransom payments to terrorists are clearly not the answer”

It would appear that the weapon of choice for terror is the humble family car. What kind of insanity can cause a normative human being to take his car and intentionally ram other human beings? Last week was London, this week Jerusalem. Sgt. Elhai Teharlev z”l was standing with his friend at a regular bus stop when a car mowed into them, killing Elhai and injuring his friend. Elhai, always smiling, the middle son of 7 children, was killed instantly. Insanity. May his sweet soul rest in peace.

Sadly we see the effect of teaching children to hate every day and everywhere. To understand its implications and methodology, please see the webpage of Impact-se, an important research facility, based at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which researches and teaches about tolerance in education and its lack thereof. Head of Research Prof. Eldad Pardo and the Director Marcus Sheff recently presented their findings to senior USA politicians. I am proud to sit on the Board beside such people

Not all is sad and not all is bad.

Rasha Atamny, Israeli, Moslem, is the first female Arab diplomat for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There have been many males but Rasha is a first.

“I listened to the speeches from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and Egypt condemning Israel’s systematic violations of women’s rights’ while I, an Arab-Muslim woman of Palestinian origin represents Israel at the UN General Assembly,” she said. “That day at the UN, which made me desperately disappointed, pushed me to take the matter into my own hands. I believe in peace because I believe that people can make a positive difference in the world, and I want to be part of the change. So I started by choosing to join the Foreign Ministry cadets course.” Brava Rasha.

This week the Jerusalem Press Club organised a fascinating talk and tour of Jerusalem’s Haredi Community. We are quick to criticise, and my criticism is genuine, of their predominant refusal to defend our country, but we often forget or ignore the enormous contribution of Haredi organisations to the general population. Magen David Adom has many religious volunteers; Zaka continues it’s blessed work all over the world; the Gemach (giving to those who have not) is a Haredi principle; and so many other that I want to tell you about.

We began our tour at the central command of Hatzala. Hatzala operates worldwide but the origin is here in Jerusalem. 100% volunteers their vehicles are the first responders with a 3 minute response time. Trained responders, religious, secular, Druze, Christian and Moslem, have a special app which tells them of any situation in their close vicinity, from a child choking to a terror attack. They do not ask name or religion, there is no charge and they operate in the PA too. In fact they were the responders to my grand-daughters school bus accident a few months ago, for which I will be ever grateful.

From there we went to the Tikvah Fund – a brilliant organisation whose work is to integrate the Haredi Community into the general society without losing their identity or religious integrity. The explanation was given by Yehoshua Pfeffer, Yeshiva scholar who while a father and a teacher who was accepted to study law at the Hebrew University (no mean task even for those with regular education) and is now both writing his doctoral thesis while a member of the Rabinical Court of Appeal.

We crossed the road to Meir Panim. Meir Panim feeds the poor, simply and elegantly. They set it up as a restaurant and no-one is turned away. Good wholesome food, a smile and welcome. Again volunteers every one.

Finally after walking through the Haredi neighbourhood of Geula and its teeming streets (pre-Pesach) we were welcomed with great warmth by Rabbi Miller and his wife. We sat out on the veranda because the apartment was already cleaned for Passover, and were presented with a traditional feast of 3 types of Kugel (Potato, Jerusalem and sweet apple and cinnamon) stuffed vegetables, chicken soup with kreplach (kind of Jewish ravioli!) and the story of the Millers who came from Gateshead in the UK. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the day was seeing it all through the eyes of my friend Leo Mao, a Chinese journalist for whom it is all new and fascinating.

There is a misconception that all Haredim are the same! Oh boy, you couldn’t be more wrong! The easiest way to define it is through the headgear – in fact let’s start with Jewish headgear from secular through to ultra-orthodox. White silk kippa (skullcap) is for those who wear it once or twice a year; knitted kippa is for traditional Jews but with sub-groups (white knitted, coloured knitted, tiny over the left ear, medium size to cover a bald patch, huge so it will never fly in the wind) then we get to black knitted, silk and velvet and so to hats. Fedora, large black hats on the back of the head with the black kippa showing, tall shtreimels (fur Cossack-like hats, short shreimels, wide and flowing ones – indeed it all depends upon the birthplace of your chosen Rabbi or his sub-sect.

The tour was a huge eye opener, the joy of those who live in apparent poverty may come from the fact that they are among the largest percentage of individual donors to charity in Israel.

Pesach. The sense of purity and cleanliness of the entire house makes it all worthwhile. Everybody moans. Above the heavy scent of bleach and household cleaners one hears the cry “There’s no food in the house” as we clear out the old before bringing in the new and different. I already did most of the shopping, almost all the cupboards already have the “Pesach” sign up on them to remind me what is done and changed and what is yet to happen. I love it!! My hands are red and raw but I don’t care – it is all for a very important purpose TRADITION. On Sunday I will start to cook and on Monday night we will celebrate the Seder. I can’t wait to see the faces of Ella (4) and Yonatan (2) as they hear the story and say the 4 questions; I remember our joy as Tomer did Ma nishtana the very first time when he was 4;

Music music music.

The song which always wakes the children up at the end of the Seder is Chad Gadya – Only one kid. Here is a phenomenal version sung by Haredi Cantor Shulem Lemmer

This song is not only fun it explains Passover for everyone.  See what you think, I loved it.

Perhaps this song, sung by two beautiful children, sums up our lives. Matanot Ktanot – Small Gifts.

Shabbat Shalom, Pesach Sameach. May your Pesach be filled with small gifts, shared with friends and family alike, an appreciation of the small gifts of everyday life.