The view from my veranda

Chanuka, Christmas and Coalitions

16th December 2022

22 Kislev 5783

Shabbat Shalom dear friends. Almost Chanuka and the 19th day of Advent

“Jews are the canary in the coal mine. When Jews feel compelled to leave, the light of freedom is being extinguished”

Gosh that sounds so dramatic, even melodramatic, except that it has proven sadly true. Being Welsh, home of the coal mines, we learned all about the canaries, the beautiful little birds that sang until the poisonous gas levels became too high to survive.

It feels that every day brings new attacks, physical and verbal, whether on the streets of New York, Amsterdam, London or Los Angeles or in the United Nations as yet another anti-Israel vote is carried. Nothing new about anti-Semitic attacks, or for that matter votes in the United Nations, in fact it is all too familiar. The sad fact is that I don’t see a new Judah Maccabee in our near future, someone brave enough to stand up and fight. Rabbi Jeremy Rosen wrote an excellent essay on the subject. His introduction “If we were to go back two thousand one hundred and ninety years ago, to the time of Antiochus IV and the Maccabee Revolt, we would find a state of the world and Jewish affairs in many ways similar to today.”

For anyone who doubts the veracity of the Chanuka story, or indeed of any of the festival stories, seeing them as a nice legend, the story was proven this week in a magnificent find by Israeli archaeologists – a container of silver coins from the period!  

The anti-Israel lobby on campuses, particularly in the USA, is not a new thing. Khaled Abu Toameh is conceivably one of Israel’s greatest protagonists in the world of journalism and hasbara (information). He wrote this article in 2009. The first line stated. “During a recent visit to several university campuses in the U.S., I discovered that there is more sympathy for Hamas there than there is in Ramallah.” Khaled continues his campaign to convince students all over the world to recognise the truth not the cant pumped at them from morning to night. One would think that his words would carry more weight, since he is a Moslem, but his fight gets harder and harder. Talking of Moslems, anyone who puts all Moslems into one basket, claiming there are no “good” Moslems is not my friend. Not only Khaled abu Toameh, but young Israelis like Yosef Haddad, Yahya MahamidMagde Qasim and Mohammad Kabiya put their lives on the line every day as they travel the world talking to students. Yahya was a senior officer in a fighting unit of the IDF and a wonderful human being with a smile that lights up the room.

In the same vein, when Rishi Sunak was voted Prime Minister of Great Britain, I heard the mumblings about a Moslem Prime Minister, but in fact he is Hindu and time and again he has proven the doubters wrong. Yesterday, the House of Commons fell silent, in the presence of Survivors, to commemorate the anniversary of the day that Sir Anthony Eden made that horrific announcement to the House. “On 17th of December 1942, Jewish Labour MP Sydney Silverman asked Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden if he would make a statement on the Nazi plan to “deport all Jews from the occupied countries to Eastern Europe and there put them to death before the end of the year”.

Mr. Eden replied: “Yes, Sir, I regret to have to inform the House that reliable reports have recently reached His Majesty’s Government regarding the barbarous and inhuman treatment to which Jews are being subjected in German-occupied Europe.”

It was then that MPs first learned that Jews were being exterminated, and they were so stunned that they stood in silence. A journalist at the time wrote: “I can tell you there were many eyes which were not dry and there was not, I dare swear, a throat without a lump in it.”

We still don’t have a government, despite the 10 day extension given to Netanyahu by President Herzog. As I believe I mentioned, Netanyahu is not keen to give sensitive positions to the extreme members of his coalition but may do so to ensure his seat. In order to “calm the qualms” of our allies he just made an announcement that all major decisions will be made by him not his Ministers, which also disturbs me! There have been moves by former Israeli politicians suggesting a totally different coalition, entailing middle-of-the-road Parties joining the coalition instead of the extremists, thus forming an ideal coalition, but sadly I cannot see anyone accepting the challenge.  

In Arabic it is called Qasar El Yehud translated to English “Tower of the Jews” showing yet again the link between the Christians and the Jews. Qasar El Yehud is where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist. This week Jordan announced a huge expansion of the site on the Jordanian side of the river, to be named “Bethany Beyond the Jordan”. Qasar El Yehud is on a particularly narrow section of the Jordan River, just a few metres between the Jordanian and more famous Israeli side. Pilgrims, in white gowns, dip into the waters, with or without priests, emerging with a greater sense of being, a knowledge of who they are. A Christian holy site in both Jewish and Moslem countries, close enough to hold hands. It is a truly spiritual place.

Eddie and Ilana Podolsky are very special people who happen to be Zvi’s family. They have a remarkable relationship with both Judaism and Israel. Eddie wrote to me about a group of Israeli soldiers who came to San Diego and stayed with families. I did the same many years ago but Eddie’s story really reached my heart. “There’s an Israeli organization called Metiv that helps people deal with psychological issues. Metiv has a program called Peace of Mind ( to treat IDF soldiers with mild to medium cases of PTSD resulting from their army experience. This is an amazing organization. It is a 9-month program where they take 15-20 soldiers that served together in one unit and treat them with therapy. One of the final portions of the program is a week in a city in the diaspora, where soldiers spend their mornings in group therapy and their evenings with families and the community. There was one soldier in particular, who has an amazing musical ability and voice, found a way of channeling his issues through song. He has written some amazing songs, full of meaning where you can see he is pouring his heart in every word he sings. Worth listening to them all, but the one that impressed me the most is Lo Nigra ( , where he talks about his relationship to his son. The video has some animations that were designed by him. I still cry when I listen to it.”

We had another busy week, but mostly in things that are of little interest to you, what in Israel are called “siddurim”! You know, shopping, tidying, hanging paintings (finally) cooking, meeting friends, normal everyday stuff, but last night was a special event. About 17 years ago Zvi told me about a group of young Jerusalemites of every centrist persuasion both politically and religiously, who wanted to change Jerusalem back to being a place that young couples want to live, work and bring up their families, led by a fireball called Ofer Berkovitch. Fascinated, I went along, Zvi was on the committee to elect them. I was impressed by their youthful enthusiasm but uncertain that they could convince the voters enough to claim a seat on the Municipal Council. Well they did! In fact that first year they had one seat and went on to have four seats but they really fought well above their weight, doing their very best to make this holy city attractive to young families. Last night, 15 years after the Hitorerut (Awakening) party was officially founded, Ofer resigned, to take up a place in the general workforce – after all altruism is all well and good but he now has a wife and three children to support!

The farewell party was in Kedma Restaurant in the Mamilla Mall, opposite the walls of the Old City. Kedma has huge windows overlooking the footpath alongside those ancient walls, giving me a prime view of that impressive site. What amazed me is that at 9:30 at night, hundreds of people were making their way from the city to the Jaffa Gate and onwards, a constant flow of people of every persuasion. Of course, the media would never report this normal, happy, friendly activity because it didn’t include anger, shooting, beating or fighting! That’s life in this part of the world! We do normal things; indeed, we are very normal people who live in a problematic neighborhood! Jew, Christian and Moslem we all head for that most fascinating of places, the Old City of Jerusalem so important to us all.

Yitzy Kasovitch is a Haredi man from Florida who loves Lego! He makes all kinds of Jewish orientated pieces and figures and this weekend he will light the biggest Lego menorah in the world at a Tel Aviv Lego store! It has136,000 Pieces, is 4.5m tall and 4m wide. I wonder if it is in Guinness!!

Tonight we are going to our friends Ora and Avner Rosengarten for Shabbat Dinner. It should be great fun because we love all the other people who are invited, and Ora and Avner’s amazing children too. Tomorrow morning we have visitors, I never know how many, but they will include Gideon Selinger who has come back from New York where he visits his son, who incredibly knew my Daniel.

If music be the food of love play on.

Believe it or not I think I have found a Kuloolam that you haven’t heard yet! It’s a gorgeous rendition by a Federation Mega Mission together with the people of Carmiel and Misgav. “One Day”

In Jewish tradition we give thanks for just about everything! There are so many blessings that it is hard to find the right one. One blessing, one thanksgiving that I particularly love is the one we give after a meal, actually just a part of a much longer grace but very special on its own. Tsur Meshelo Achalnu, with translation

Bob Dylan wrote the words in the ‘60’s and they stand even truer today. When will the question be answered? Who knows because the answer my friends is blowing in the wind. “And how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free? Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind The answer is blowin’ in the wind” The answer is truly blowin’ in the wind.

Chanuka is almost upon us. Although it we developed a way to engage children with the promise of gifts, it has nothing to do with gifts, indeed most people think it is all about the miracle of a single cruse of oil that lasted for 8 days, but in truth, or in my truth, the miracle is not so much the oil but rather that we stood up for ourselves, as Jews, for the first time. In today’s Israel we see the living history from those brave men, from the story of the Macabees in three towns, three thriving communities, Maccabim, Reut and Modiin and visit the graves of the original Maccabim. We live our history every day of our lives and try as they may, nobody can deny.

Shabbat Shalom dear friends. Shabbat Shalom on a glorious day, blue skies and slight chill in the air promising to be a fine Shabbat with the sun shining on Jerusalem, her white buildings covering the hilltops in the distance.

With love