The view from my veranda

Doughnuts, Doldrums, Christmas and Chanukah

23rd December 2022

Shabbat Shalom, Happy Chanukah and almost a Merry Christmas!

It is hard to believe that 2022 is almost over, can it really be 12 months since the beginning of the year? Time seems to race and the world around us to become more frenetic by the minute! To slow down our racing thoughts I will very briefly skim over the politics and then try to talk about simple everyday things that will put a smile on your faces!

Michael Siegal has devoted his adult life to US-Israel relations between people and last week he was awarded the coveted Presidential Medal of Honour for his work, together with his wife Anita, for the Jewish community in fostering ties between Israel and the USA. Michael served as Board Chair of the Jewish Federations of North America and more recently as Chairman of the Board of the Jewish Agency. Michael has worked assiduously, and I must say, with great good humour, never expecting or chasing rewards, which makes this award so well deserved.

There is no choice but to broach the subject because I know that most of you are disturbed and somewhat confused by the current trend in Israeli politics, or should I say in the choices set before the Prime Minister elect. The elephant in the room is undoubtedly the potential changes in the law of return, with the emphasis on the word potential. I think that it is fair to say that most are not worried by the introduction of more Jewish studies in schools, as long as the quality of the 3 Rs is not affected or academic studies in senior schools, after all this is a Jewish country, however, and this is a big however, to think that men who have never served in the IDF (and whose children will not serve in the IDF) will be involved in security decisions, is beyond the pale for most of us. To contemplate changes in our basic principles is a major source of discussion even before it happens.

Prime Minister elect Netanyahu firmly believes he has a handle on future attempts to change the above, and it is true that any changes to fundamental laws, indeed any laws, have to pass the Knesset and then can be taken to the Supreme Court before they are enacted, but our connection to the Diaspora, our connection to the international community is sacred and must not be endangered. Prof. Alan Dershowitz explains the Israeli Parliamentary system

United States President Biden came down clearly on the side of Ukraine, sending an official aeroplane to bring the Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky to the United States. Zelensky did not take his best suit out of mothballs, but rather came wearing his bottle green sweatshirt and cargo trousers, in an act of defiance much as Winston Churchill wore his famous boiler suit. No, I am not in any way shape or form making a comparison of the leaders! Zelensky wanted to show that he is a man of the people and his people are in a war situation and cannot be concerned with dress protocol. United States support is essential to the Ukranians and the natural resources of Ukraine important to the United States, in fact many countries in the West. Never forget that countries don’t have friends, countries have interests and right now support of Ukraine is of interest to the US and rightly so. The big question is whether this can be considered a slap in the face, a loss of face internationally, for Vladimir Putin, who becomes more dangerous as he loses face time and again.

As always, any threatening situation in Russia causes a huge rise in anti-semitism and over 60,000 new Olim have come to Israel over the last 10 months, predominantly from Russia.

I love new words, in fact, even when I write to you my thesaurus is my best friend! This week I learned a spectacular word which is not intended as a comment on the new government elect, it is almost onomatopoeic, KAKISTOCRACY! Doesn’t it sound amazing? The antithesis of a Meritocracy, it means government by the least suitable or least able of the community.

King Charles III had a busy Chanukah! At the beginning of the week he visited the Community Security Trust who do incredible work fighting antisemitism in the UK indeed his Mother was deeply impressed by the organisation which protects British Jews, to the extent that she always invited representatives to the Royal Garden Party (including my amazing nephew and niece Steven and Claire Bloom); on to the South Hampstead Girls School where the students were preparing toys and puzzles as a special addition to food parcels for refugees, indeed he himself brought foodstuffs to add to their parcels; he then went on a Chanukah visit to JW3 and a reception for Jewish Seniors and Holocaust Survivors including dancing the Hora with Anne Frank’s stepsister.

Talking of Chanukah, too many people have no idea of what it’s all about! Here the late Chief Rabbi Jonathan Saks explains the connection between Chanukah past and present and its relevance to today.

As we are all too aware, antisemitism is rife all over the world, especially in schools and universities and a decision has been made in the UK that in addition to Holocaust education, which has always been part of the curriculum, the subject of antisemitism (racism) is to be taught in British schools.

Both Chanuka and Christmas play a huge part of Israeli life. In both Nazareth and Jerusalem, the festivities are already underway, Israelis of all persuasions are enchanted by the highly decorated, huge Christmas trees and the streets lined by festive lighting, special markets and churches lit with multi-coloured lights. The sense of expectation is high and the sheer joy in the air is apparent. Jerusalem municipality dispenses free Christmas trees to her Christian citizens. A friend spent a few days in Nazareth, showing her grandchildren what Christmas looks like here in Israel and she was overjoyed with the celebratory atmosphere which reminded her of her childhood in Wales where we were surrounded by Christmastide! Similarly, in Jerusalem, both the old city and the road to Bethlehem, called Hebron Road, decorations herald our proximity to Bethlehem. The Brigham Young University holds its famous Carol Concerts as does the YMCA, the beautiful building right opposite the King David Hotel. Just one aspect of the incredible rainbow of humanity that makes up Israel, the wonderful Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, a devout Moslem and Palestinian educator who is on the International Advisory Board of Impact-se, fills his Facebook page with greetings for both Chanukah and Christmas! Mohammed is from one of the oldest Jerusalem families.

Did you know that Christmas is not always celebrated on the 25th of December? The Armenian church for instance celebrates on the 6th of January and the Copts on the 7th of January. In fact, the Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Russian and Syrian Christians all celebrate on the 6th and 7th. Jews complain that we have four or five denominations within Judaism, although few will admit it, but Christianity also has much more than Catholicism, Protestantism (and dozens of sectors within that heading), LDS, all of the above and so on and so forth in fact just in Jerusalem we have 52 denominations of Christianity – who knew?. It sometimes feels that the leaders of each and every one of the sectors encourages splits rather than gathering our strength in prayer.

Once upon a time, in the UK, Chanukah meant latkes, very specific potato fritters, not even remotely like potato pancakes, they are very fried, very potato and very crispy and who cares about diets! However, since coming to Israel I have discovered sufganiyot! In fact, the streets, supermarkets and patisseries have all become one big sufganiya! They used to be simple doughnuts with jam in the middle, usually strawberry jam, and when eaten would land in your stomach and sit there reminding one of their presence for hours to come. Today, however, they have become an epicurean experience, as gourmet sufganiyot emerge on display to tempt us into purely sinful ecstasy. Roladin began as a bakery, became a coffee shop, continued to grow branches all over the country and has turned the simple Chanukah experience into an outrageously delicious sin. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at these creations

Just one topic of conversation managed to put politics into second place, Messi! Actually Messi and Argentina and the truly phenomenal game played out against France in the World Cup Final in Qatar. I don’t know if the Israeli love of Argentina stems from the telenovelas on Israeli television or the Israeli love of Latin music, but even I found myself shouting in delight and groaning in disappointment at every goal and suspected foul! I enjoy the game of football and its incredible athleticism, but have never been as involved, would never choose football over a good movie, but this time Zvi and I didn’t miss a game! There was, of course, a big question over the big diaphanous djellaba draped over Messi’s shoulders at the ceremony but I don’t think it detracted from the sheer joy of the fans.

So far Zvi has performed candle lighting at four separate events and parties, glowing in the light of the candles and the delight of the participants! The only night that we lit the candles at home was on Tuesday when we had two grand-daughters staying over. Gili (daughter of Zvi’s son Leor) and Ayala (Rachel’s daughter), speak at least ten times a day and decided to spend time together at our place which was wonderful. Zvi took them to Mahaneh Yehuda market, Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall and Yoel Solomon street and its fascinating family compounds, all in the city, doing his best to give them a little history between their delight at the fashion shops, jewellery stores that are of far greater interest to two 14 year old girls!

I swear that Israelis are on the move every night of Chanukah! The main road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is one continuous snake of cars, in both directions! Parties abound, Israelis love to entertain and Chanukah is a great excuse to bring all one’s friends in. So far we have been to an event organised by Ronit Dagan in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Massua, or Beacon Hill, so named for the beacons lit to announce Shabbat or Festivals; on Monday we went to the 80th birthday party of Rabbi Jeremy Rosen at the home of his brother David. It was a wonderful evening because I got to talk to David and to Angela, the little sister I hadn’t manage to meet. Angela was fascinated by my stories of her two eldest brothers over the decades. David spoke of his big brother’s mischievous nature, the aspect of Jeremy’s personality which makes him an incredible mentor, teacher and leader, always questioning, always taking the intellectual tack while remaining an observant Jew. Tuesday we were home and then Wednesday we went to a group of Zvi’s old friends in Ramat Aviv. Again, Zvi did the lighting to the delight of all. Yesterday we went to Irit and Itzik Lev’s home in Tel Aviv, candle lighting and the delight of seeing old friends. Tonight we are with Zvi’s boys and families and I am responsible for the latkes. My recovery is such that I not longer have dispensation from bringing cooked goods to the celebrations!! Tomorrow more old friends but at our home. Dina and Yoram Grinspan and Tommy Segev and anyone else who wants to turn up are coming for afternoon tea and the lighting of the last candles, the eighth night. I wonder which Chanukiah, the nine branched candelabra, we will use. Maybe the one made of empty shell cases from the War of Independence made especially for Zvi’s wonderful father Kalman by one of his soldiers – making ploughshares from swords eh?

So we come to the end of another week and the beauty of Shabbat. Time for some meaningful songs methinks.

The Byrds took the words of Ecclesiastes with the music of Pete Seeger and created a song or all seasons, Turn, Turn, Turn

For my Christian readers, a beautiful song which expresses the spirit of Christmas more than any other song, for me. The Little Drummer Boy

How can I end the missive without Koolulam? Of course I won’t! Lean on Me, something we do not do enough. Lean on me the essence of friendship, amity, peace between brothers, a wonderful song so catchy that I am sure you will just sing along. However, please really take the words to heart… can always lean on me, irrespective of whether you eat sufganiyot or Christmas pudding.

I wish you a peaceful weekend, a Gut Shabbes, a fine Christmas, whether you go to synagogue, temple, Cathedral, church or tabernacle. All I ask is that you show respect to the other, to those who differ from us. Different is beautiful, different is colour, just imagine a rainbow of grey!

With love from Jerusalem, conceivably the most diverse city in the world which most certainly upholds her 9/10th share of beauty