The view from my veranda

Heroes, Harmony and Hamantaschen

26th February 2021


Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach. I hope this missive finds you well.


Purim, so many traditions which depend upon the land of the dispersion, taking on the flavours of wheresoever your family found safe haven – or not. I was fascinated to see an invitation to a Purim event by the Jewish community of the Gulf, yes the Arabian Gulf. Last night the keynote speaker was His Excellency Dr Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the King Hamad Center for Peaceful Coexistence. Megilla reading by Rabbi Dr Ellie Abadie.  Wonderful news of unexpected friendships. Impact-se discovered that the Emerati school syllabus already contained a class in Moral Education…an example we should follow.


The story of Purim goes far beyond hamantaschen (Triangular cookies representing Haman’s hat or ears) and noisy greggers (noisemakers) to drown out Haman’s name when reading the story of Esther. It is a story of a brilliant plot which included much feasting and bribery, a plot created by Esther’s Uncle Mordechai (the real hero of the piece) and carried out by Esther. It is the story of how gullible a leader can be when he spends too much time in revelry and relinquishes power to his Grand Vizier who convinces him to kill an entire people. Of course “the people” refers to the Jews of Shushan, the Jews, the ever convenient scape-goat – a situation repeating itself today. We need a Mordechai to lead us out of the mire of the current rampant anti-Semitism whose claws reach far beyond the borders of Shushan and reach a town near you.


Israel is suffering the terrible results of an enormous oil spill along her shoreline. Whales and turtles alike are being washed up along the beaches and fishing is banned due to the tar and oil that make the fish inedible, a tragic situation. How? When? Who? The greatest tragedy is that it appears to be intentional.


Saturday Night Live show’s co-head writer and presenter Michael Che’s remark “Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half of their population, and I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.”  horrified me. That a presenter on a major television programme feels free to make such a clearly racist remark is a sad reflection on American society. If allowed to pass without demanding a retraction American Jewry will suffer repercussions or have to deny their connection with Israel. Che is so misinformed that he doesn’t know that we gave thousands of vaccines to the PA and 100,000 Palestinians who cross into Israel each and every day to work, received the vaccine at the border.


This heartwarming story shows the true relationship between Israelis of all faiths. Maher Ibrahim ensured that an Orthodox Covid patient heard the Shema Yisrael prayer as he lay on his deathbed  “I knew it was important, we have one God”  The patient’s daughter said: “This is where peace begins” The family did not manage to say goodbye to him and pray for him before his death. Medic Maher Ibrahim knew what must be done and without knowing the exact words he prayed for the patient in his final moments. In an interview he said: “We wanted to do something, it was the obvious thing, we have one God. I don’t know all the prayers but I knew how important it was for him to even hear the words ‘Shema Yisrael’, I realised that the family was stuck in traffic and could not get there before he passed away. We knew he was a religious man, having bonded with him for a month, and we knew the family wanted to come for the prayer. We said it for them so that he would it would be the last thing he heard. I told his daughter when she arrived, it was important to me that she knew. Our mission is to be human before we take care, regardless of race, religion and gender.”


Sport is supposed to be apolitical but rarely is! Saeid Mollaei, a 2018 judo world champion, fled Iran for Germany after Iranian authorities put pressure on him to drop out of the 2019 world championships in Tokyo to avoid a potential final round against Israeli contender Sagi Muki. Saeid just won a silver medal in the Tel Aviv Grand Slam world judo championship, thrilled that he is now free to challenge whoever he wishes!!


Another piece of sports news –If the COVID pandemic in Europe is still serious enough in May and June of this year that athletic events will have to be held without spectators, there is a possibility that the UEFA Euro2021, as well as key games in the Champions League and European League, might be held in Israel, president of the Israel Football Association Oren Hasson announced Sunday. What a turn around!


So how are you celebrating Purim? The government has put a “Seger Lila” a night closure restriction for last night, tonight and tomorrow night, in other words banning parties. Tel Aviv and Rishon le Zion decided that it didn’t suit their lifestyle and have been holding huge parties, raves etc, without masks or green passes to prove they have been inoculated. It infuriates me because for them Purim is an excuse for a party, knowing nothing of the incredible story of Purim. On the other hand, the traditional “Tisch” (feast filled with Torah study and dancing) of the Haredi communities will be almost impossible to halt – proving Zvi’s theory that the defiant actions against the Covid restrictions are “those who have no God and those who only have God”


It was so much fun to see children, finally able to go to school, dressed up in fancy dress for Purim. From tiny pre-schoolers to 18 year olds, they take their costumes very seriously. These days there are fewer Queen Esthers and more characters from Frozen but all want to be heroes and heroines! My favourite is the “Covid” microbe – a child inside a huge balloon with disposable cups around it! I love the home-made costumes not the shop bought ones – that’s a cop-out! Incredibly one of the favourite Haredi costumes is a soldier in the IDF and a favourite secular costume is a Haredi man! Even newsreaders wear funny wigs!


One very important tradition is that of “Mishloach Manot” a tradition which began by giving food to the poor but today involves sending little baskets (or great big ones) containing sweet foods. Again I love the home-made rather than the bought ones! Another tradition is that one should imbibe until one cannot tell the difference between evil Haman and heroic Mordechai. The purpose? So that one doesn’t hold grudges, doesn’t develop hatred for ones enemies but rather that one finds forgiveness for everyone. Out of this tradition came the “Adloyada” celebration, parade and street parties. Adloyada – Ad Lo Yada – until he didn’t know.


Zvi’s fall made the Jerusalem Post!! We couldn’t believe it but Greer Fay Cashman thought it an event worth reporting on! He is healing at an incredible rate, his bruises fading fast, his arm hurting less and he has already had three of the eight stitches removed, the remainder on Sunday. He still looks like he went 3 rounds with Evander Holyfield but basically back to his normal self.


Yesterday we went to see the progress (or not) in our new apartment. The trees are planted in the public gardens, in fact the public areas (within the project) are coming along beautifully. Perhaps the best part of this move is not the beautiful apartment and new beginnings (even at 75 one can have new beginnings) but rather the amazing cooperation between all future neighbours. We have 4 or 5 WhatsApp groups to help each other solve problems, to pass on names of good electricians or plumbers etc. and when we met up with the project manager for the builder, once he got over Zvi’s wounds, he and Zvi swapped jokes in Yiddisch. This move feels right. Of all the 17 moves I had until I met Zvi, only 4 since we met, this one makes me happy. Our building only has 5 apartments and all the neighbours are open to good neighborliness, even friendship. I will not run out of a cup of sugar this time.


So what next? Tonight, since we live in Jerusalem, it will be a normal Shabbat candle lighting and a normal Torah reading – everywhere else in the world last night and today the Story of Esther is read and festival feasts prepared, the reading in the synagogues tomorrow will be from the Book of Esther. In Jerusalem, indeed in walled Jewish cities, Purim is celebrated on Sunday, Shushan Purim. Shushan was the walled city where Esther, Mordechai, Achasuerus, Haman (boooooo) and most of the Jews lived. Jerusalem, still special in every way.


So what music should I choose this week?


The Maccabeats tell the story of Purim in Song


The Shalva Band sings about raising your eyes to the sky, of course the two lead singers are blind but still they lift their eyes to absorb the warmth of the sun. We have so much to learn from them


Uziah Zadok was only 12 when he pulled at the heartstrings of everyone who heard him sing. Here he sings “Shma Yisrael” with English subtitles. Truly magnificent and so appropriate as we live in surreal and distressing times of uncertainty. The words give us strength and his voice lifts our heart.


I wish you a Shabbat Shalom and please, read the story of Purim, Megillat Esther is available in whatever language you are comfortable with. The message is so strong and sadly appropriate for our times. Queen Vashti’s refusal to dance naked before the King’s drunken guests was an incredibly brave act of feminism and our heroine Esther used her feminine wiles to change history and ensure that Haman received his own cruel medicine.


Don’t worry, even though the view from our veranda will change, this view, the whole of Jerusalem before us in its beauty, the sunrises over the horizon inspiring me to optimism and our walks, exploring our surroundings, will continue………. Just a different panorama but my emotions stay the same.


With much love