The view from my veranda

In Nova’s Fields

1st March, 2024

October 144th

Shabbat Shalom, I wish you a peaceful weekend

I want you to imagine a beautiful sunny day, driving down road 232, the verges covered in fabulous carpet of wild red anemones, so famous in the south of Israel. We had driven down this road many times in the past to see the “Red South” or Darom Adom, to walk through the fields of calaniot (anemones) as far as the eye could see. On Monday, we didn’t wander through any fields and the red flowers reminded me of Flander’s Fields, the killing fields of World War One. As we drove along the road, between the Kibbutzim of Re’em and Be’eri, the bus fell silent, in all our minds, the ghosts of running young people seemed tangible, almost visible, as they ran from the barbaric savagery of Hamas.

I wanted to go south to the killing fields of the Western Negev, perhaps “wanted” is the wrong word, but somehow we hadn’t managed to go , which became a blessing since being on an organised tour, hearing the explanations, meeting Kibbutz members, meant that we saw and understood what one can never understand when alone. The World Zionist Organisation, as part of their annual meetings, had arranged buses to several Kibbutzim in the area and we chose Bus number 2 which was supposed to go to Kfar Aza but due to an “incident” we went to Kissufim instead. At first one is struck by the sheer beauty of the Kibbutz; it’s not just a matter of agriculture, there are sculptures, gardens, each home growing their own private patch of colour, or so it had been before October the 7th. All we could see now were burnt homes, each with a number on it to show that the IDF, Zaka, forensic pathologists and archaeologists (yes archaeologists) had been through to ensure the removal of all human remains and evidence. In fact, Kissufim was terribly damaged, hostages taken but “just” one family was murdered.   Their elder son and daughter were not at home, but the parents and little brother were. When they refused to leave the safe room, the terrorists simply set their home on fire with obvious results. Itay, Etti and 15 year old Sagi burned alive, hugging each other

We met their daughter Tomer, an amazing young soldier, just 26 years old, who took strength from her mother’s teachings to turn even the most tragic of events into something positive. Tomer told us about her family, life in Kissufim, in all but perfect English, her positivity magical, but I couldn’t concentrate on her words, I was transfixed by the bright pink bicycle in its stand next to what had been the front door. A bright pink bicycle belonging to Ettie, untouched by the fire and destruction, as if waiting for her to come and ride around the kibbutz.

Although I was with Zvi, with the group of eminent leaders, I felt strangely alone. When we arrived at the memorial to both the slaughtered and the kidnapped, I left the group and walked alone among the fields of red anemones, sensing the terror, the utter confusion, of those running where I walked. They came to Re’em for a weekend of love, just like in the ‘60’s, in my youth, but instead of love it became hate of such proportions that it shook our world to its very core. I felt their cries “Where is the IDF? Where are the Police? Who let this happen?” I didn’t have an answer for them.

Eylon Levy, the excellent MFA Israel spokesman, wrote a Nova Festival version of “In Flanders Fields”. It is only available on Facebook but hope you can see it

Every single day we learn of fallen soldiers, their names and photographs on our television screens. It has been said that the faith of the parents in our beautiful country can be compared to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Each parent, spouse, child, is showing their faith in the country they love by sending their loved ones into battle never knowing if there will be a ram hiding in the bush that will save their child.

The Gazans are suffering horribly. No, not from the IDF response to October 7th, although that is a dreadful situation, but rather from the actions of Hamas. Hundreds of trucks brought staple foodstuffs into Gaza yesterday, as they do every day, and as happens every day, none of it goes to the people. As the trucks rolled in starving Gazans rushed the trucks, too many getting trampled to death in the rush. Hamas claimed (of course) that Israeli soldiers killed “hundreds” but the IDF drones prove their lie. The IDF fired in the air to stop the frenzy, but it was the stampede,  the risk taken to feed their families, that killed them.

The WZO (World Zionist Organisation) meetings were held this week in Jerusalem. The closing plenum was very special for Zvi, and for me. After decades of effective and important contributions to the workings of the Jewish world, representing Maccabi World Union, Zvi retired from his position. The WZO chose to give him a special award for his untiring work and honourable representation. It is so well deserved, an honour and recognition from the leaders of that venerable organisation. It’s a shame that not one of the leaders of Maccabi was there to see it although the delightful young woman who will take his place in the WZO was there with a big bouquet of flowers that she bought herself.

I know it seems strange to you, but simultaneously, we had a good week. On Shabbat, accompanied by our wonderful friend Kim Taylor, we went for a glorious walk in the nature reserve opposite our home. We were rewarded by a carpet of wild cyclamen, (rekafot), which came out to greet the sun after weeks of rain. Of course they were joined by the almond blossom (shkediot) and the sudden appearance of spots of red anemones. Luck was on our side when we found a group of lovely Israeli tourists sitting on our favourite bench, overlooking the reservoir below. The moved over to make room for me and while Zvi and Kim continued on the path I spent a delightful twenty minutes discovering where they were from, that they were here to visit friends in Bet Zayit, and they promise dot come and visit us at home on their next time.

On Monday, as I wrote, we left early for the journey southward, ending our experience with a mind-blowing Israeli meal in Ashkelon and a visit to the Absorption Centre for Ethiopian immigrants. The Absorption Centre was an antidote to the sadness of the morning, beautiful little girls dancing, a brilliant young man who initiated a Hi-Tech course for young Ethiopian immigrants, families and a a wonderful man who blessed the special bread which he gave to each of us.

On Tuesday we went to vote in the local elections then collected Kim and went to the plenum of the WZO where Zvi received his honour. I then came back home to prepare for a special meeting of my “Mind and Movement” group. Since the hall where we normally meet was in use for the elections, I offered our home and everyone brought food while I provided a huge pot of soup. The 10 of us managed to dance, to music our leader, Gali, had chosen specially for me, in other words, of the ‘60’s. It was so much fun! Wednesday went by too quickly racing back and fore and in the evening Zvi took our Kim to the airport for his interminable flight to LA and then home to Marianne in Alberta. Yesterday was a highly pleasurable Creativity group in the library and that brings us to today. March the 1st; St David’s Day; the special day for all Welsh men and women wherever they may be in the world, the Welsh Saint’s Day. I’m off to a St David’s Day gathering in Jerusalem where I will see old friends from my childhood, some of whom are Welsh speakers, all of whom have a warm place in their heart for Wales.

Before we sing together I want to give you two videos that I feel are important. One is a young Israeli explaining why it’s important to him that he’s a Jew.  The second is truly heartwarming as Assita Kanko, Member of the European Parliament on UNWRA, speaks about anti-Semitism. Assita grew up in Burkina Faso   

My first song takes us back to Woodstock in 1969, the exceptional Joe Cocker and the song that has taken me through my hardest times, With a Little Help from My Friends. Without you, our friends, we’d be lost

Avishai Cohen sings a Song of Hope. If ever we needed it it is now.

Finally, Hope, Tikvah, HaTikvah

Shabbat Shalom dear friends. I send you love from Jerusalem and wish you peace, security, a sense of self, a determination that we will cope yet again.