The view from my veranda

If I forget Thee Oh Jerusalem

19th May, 2023

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Jerusalem Day!

Jerusalem Day is the celebration of the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. I’m sure that all of us remember the incredible words that fulfilled the prayers of 2,000 years “The Temple Mount is in our hands”, the iconic photograph of the 3 soldiers looking up at the Kotel, senior officers of the IDF praying, heads bent, the war that gave us huge pride and made our lives more complicated. As Ephraim Kishon wrote “So sorry we won”. It was the immediate change in perception of Israel by the world, suddenly we were not the humble Jews of Europe, we became feisty Middle Eastern Jews who fight for their rights. It wasn’t a popular perception; we apparently didn’t know our place.

It was the night before Rosh Hashana 1967, the New Year, and I walked with my father, Jack Silver z”l, and my brother Ronnie, toward the Western Wall, the Kotel, then still known as the Wailing Wall because it was the place closest to the unattainable Temple Mount. I still remember the wonder and I was overcome with tears. The Kotel was then about half the height one sees now, surrounded by the rubble of destroyed buildings. During the interceding years, from Roman to Ottoman period, homes had been built atop arches and other homes to reach the height of the Temple Mount. Al Aqsa Mosque stood, as its name suggests, on the far corner and the Dome of the Rock was a relatively simple black domed construction. The magic was all around us and all comers mingled freely, long before it was cleaned up and excavated to reveal the actual height of the supporting wall. This was the place we had dreamed of, now all our prayers would be answered. Somehow, the beautiful plaza, the pristine buildings, nothing can quite give me the thrill of that first sight, the doves nesting in the cracks, the capers growing randomly, as if decorating the stones of the towering wall, the sheer roughness of the return took my breath away.

Incredibly, Jordanian rule over the Old City was just 19 years, but in that time, Jews were not allowed to go to their holy sites and even the headstones of the Jewish and Christian cemeteries on the Mount of Olives were broken and used for paving stones. I remember going to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and being distressed at the state of the building. One of the first actions of the Israeli government was to shore up the crumbling walls and save the church.

Let’s go back a few weeks before the Six Day War to the Israel Song Festival Israeli songwriter and poet Naomi Shemer wrote a song about Jerusalem and our yearning to return to our ancient places, it was sung by a young singer called Shuli Natan and won first place. Nobody knew that within a short time our neighbours would declare war and that little Israel would beat them! Naomi Shemer added that famous last verse “We have returned to the pools, to the market and to the market-place.
A ram’s horn calls out on the Temple Mount in the Old City.”  Yerushalyim Shel Zahav became a song of return.

Now fast forward to today, or rather to last evening. The once joyous Jerusalem Day Flag Parade has somehow become a highly contentious event. Perhaps because it has, like everything, become politicised, as a right wing event. I remember when it was a parade from the Rav Kook Yeshiva at the entrance to the city to the Kotel whereas today it is still an expression of triumphant return, it has some belligerent participants. Thank heaven last night’s parade was peaceful, thanks to the vigilance of our police and border guards who control the wild elements of both sides of the issue.

Yesterday was not only a celebration, it was also a memorial to those who perished on the treacherous trek from Ethiopia through the Sudan. So many died, through hunger, bandits, horrors one cannot imagine, with just one aim, to arrive in the promised land, the city they had dreamed of for 500 years. I can never forget the morning of the 25th of May, 1991, when we arrived at the Diplomat Hotel in Jerusalem to welcome the brave new immigrants from Ethiopia, who had arrived the night before, their only belongings on their backs, their white Shabbat robes. I had never before seen such dignity, such beauty. Uri Gordon was responsible for the rescue mission and as he came into the hall each and every one of them silently held out a rose toward him in a silent, exquisite accolade.

Their dream came true. They were in the city they had prayed for hundreds of years….. JERUSALEM

The exceptional Rabbi Leo Dee has called for CNN senior reporter Christiane Amanpour to be censured for her disgraceful description of the terror attack in which he lost his wife and two daughters as “a shootout” suggesting that they were responsible for their own deaths. Amanpour has simply gone too far this time.

This has been an incredible week. It began with Friday night dinner with Raquel Birman and David Finkelstein who arrived earlier that day. They were thrilled with the conversation and just being back in Israel! We got on so well that we took them to Yonatan’s 9th birthday party next day! Sunday evening we all set off for Tel Aviv and the Opera “Theodore” together with Raquel, David and Dr. Motti Friedman, a world expert on Theodore – Herzl that is. I am a great believer in the right for poetic licence, but sometimes it is taken just too far. The opera bore little resemblance to the actual story of a dreamer who set all the wheels in motion to create a Jewish Homeland. Glorious voices but the storyline was so far from the truth that it became very distressing.

The next day Zvi took Raquel and David to the exceptional Herzl Museum in Jerusalem, Motti’s brainchild, and they understood the real Theodore Herzl before heading off to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. In the meantime, I went to the excellent Museum of Islamic Art together with Professor Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, a proud Palestinian Moslem whose family goes back many generations here in Jerusalem. Professor Dajani, an incredibly dignified gentleman, is introducing the Wasati form of education into his community, a man of peace, and tolerance. We were met and taken around by Gilad Levian, the director of the museum and an old friend. This underestimated museum is quite wonderful, apart from the excellent Islamic art it also has an exhibition of art related to the 5 women so prominent in the fight against the cruel regime in Iran. Most fascinating, the horological collection of Vera Bryce Salomon including two exquisite watches made for Marie Antoinette.

Professor Dajani is on the International Advisory Board of Impact-se and he was very pleased that our CEO Marcus is now in Australia, explaining the importance of tolerance in education to the Australian community, an exceptionally aware and informed community both in Sydney and Melbourne. Harold and Rebecca Finger helped enormously in the preparation of Marcus’ trip for which we are ever grateful. Indeed, all the participants, the Simons family, the Gandels, indeed all the hosts and committee members, thank you so much. I dare not give a full list because someone may be left out and that is the last thing I want!

Perhaps, for me, the crowing glory of the week was taking Raquel and David to Shalva. As I told them when I collected them from the light rail, “You have no concept of what you are about to see”. Whatever preconceptions anyone may have of an “institution” for people with special needs, forget it. Malki and Kalman Samuels changed the paradigm and created a place of sheer magic, joy and beauty, a haven and a beacon of inclusiveness. As we arrived, I heard their intake of breath, the entrance hall is decorated with a huge butterfly mobile created by Israeli artist David Gerstein, each butterfly hand painted to honour his late wife. The butterfly theme runs throughout Shalva as an analogy for the difficult start in life for many children with special needs and how Shalva helps them to fly as high as they possibly can. We were met by the exceptional Gaby Hirsch, who has been my rock throughout the last 3 years. Gaby took us from the basketball court to two of the three pools, from the dining room for the thousand children each day to the synagogue where Raquel found so many names of donors. The last stop on the tour was Dr. Dan’s Room, the studio for performing arts we created to honour my beautiful son, Dr Daniel Cammerman z’l. We then went to the coffee shop to meet with Kalman Samuels, the founder where he told the deeply emotional story behind the founding of Shalva.

And so to tonight when Raquel and David are coming for Shabbat Dinner before heading off on a tour of the north of Israel with our friend Eva Yaron, a great tour guide.

Our veranda is looking phenomenal! Spectacular Tiger lilies show off beside the delicate colours of the day lilies, the various citrus trees are either in blossom, their glorious scent filling the evening air, or have tiny green fruits promising a tasty crop. The apples re growing nicely having avoided the pecking of the Indian Minah birds. I sit outside and just soak in the view, flowers, trees and Jerusalem in the distance. I never take it for granted. The sensation of leaving the horrors of the past behind us as the Yitzchak Rabin, Uzi Narkiss and Moshe Dayan drove through the Lion’s Gate into the Old City, Rabbi Shlomo Goren blew the Shofar, the Ram’s Horn and even Moshe Dayan, the most cynical of secular Jews wrote a note to put into the cracks of the ancient stones of the Western Wall. This clip is shows the emotional entry into the Old City, despite the rather strange music!

The music I have for you today is not strange, I promise it is beautiful. Jerusalem is in our prayers, whatever our religion. It is in our prayers, our dreams and she opens her arms to welcome all-comers.

The beautiful song takes us from the Rivers of Babylon, the sadness of prayers in a strange land as we look toward Jerusalem

If I forget you, Oh Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
If I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.

Here the children of those who made the trek from the hills of Ethiopia to the hills of Jerusalem sing of their journey. Ha Masa

Jerusalem of Gold has become an anthem, a truly beautiful song to the most beautiful city in the world, the city which received nine tenths of the world’s portions of beauty. Here we have the original song and then in an Andre Rieu concert you will see and understand our emotional attachment to this incredible city

I wish you Shabbat Shalom dear wonderful friends. I sometimes wonder if you understand how much you mean to me because I don’t always hear from you and then, then I meet you in person and you tell me that you read every word, that it keeps you in touch with what really happens here in Israel and I am so pleased. Of course I’d love it if you wrote, told me what you think, how you feel, but that’s OK, old friends don’t need that……….but on the other hand!!

With love from Jerusalem where every day is Jerusalem Day.