The view from my veranda

Kippur, Kindness and Songs

30th September 2022

5th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei in the year 5783

Shabbat Shalom! I hope your New Year, the first day of Tishrei, was sweetened not only by the traditional honey but by a sense of renewal.

This is the period of time in which we wish each other “Hatima Tova” which literally means a good signature, but actually refers to the manner in which our fate is written in the book of life for the coming year. We can atone, change, regret and so change what is written to ensure our long life, but only if we really mean it.

This period of the High Holy Days, also known as the Festivals of Tishrei, is a time of deep reflection, time to think about what we may have said or done that may have hurt others, or committed any of the endless list of sins that we recite on Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, we meaning we as a people rather than we as a person. Fasting is not because we want to punish ourselves fasting is because we are so deeply in our state of repentance that we cannot think of anything else, including food.

Many years ago, when my children were young, I was a Sunday School teacher in our small community in Reading, Berkshire, in the magnificent 120 year old synagogue. Each year, as the High Holidays approached I used to remind the children that while is was easy to recite the sins without thought, there is one sin for which one does not beg forgiveness from the Almighty, but rather from another human being. What is that sin? If by word or deed you hurt or embarrassed another human being. The most interesting aspect is that if you ask forgiveness 3 times and the other person refuses to accept your apology the sin reverts to them. Think about it. A fascinating fact on both levels, that of facing your wrong and theirs for being unable to accept an apology. Basically, it proves that Judaism is a very down to earth religion, based on human contact rather than dry laws. I’m not claiming that the laws serve no purpose – I am a very law-abiding person – but in the final analysis, human to human contact is of the ultimate importance.

A horrific hurricane hit the West coast of Florida, overturning boats, flooding entire towns and causing general havoc and even death. My heart goes out to all those who have suffered.

Once upon a time such a storm hit a boat bound for Tarshish, carrying one Jonah, who was supposed to go to Nineveh (today’s Mosul in Iraq). Jonah had gone against the word of God who commanded him to go to Nineveh and speak out against their wickedness, presumably he was afraid to stand up to the evil people of Nineveh and chose to flee to Tarshish. As the storm worsened and the boat was in danger, the sailors, who felt that Jonah was responsible for their near shipwreck in the tempest, at his behest threw him into the sea where he was swallowed by a whale which saved him, regretted his cowardice and finally went to Nineveh where he returned the people to being God-fearing thus saving the city. Sounds cut and dried and not a little like a fairy tale but, I feel that even if it is an allegorical narrative, it is relates to our world today. It is the Haftorah for Yom Kippur. You make your own decisions.

One thing that is for sure, there are an awful lot of politicians of all persuasions who need to pray very hard for forgiveness on Wednesday! I loathe the run up to elections when one cannot begin to weed out the truth from the rhetoric. At the moment nobody will achieve the required 61 seats in the Knesset to form a government, even a coalition government and since we seem to be on a Groundhog Day of repeat elections, less people are going to the polls and more people are getting angry at anyone who doesn’t think like them. As it stands in the most recent poll the major parties, let’s call them the centrist parties, are  Likud led by Netanyahu 32 seats; Yesh Atid led by Lapid 24 seats; National Unity led by Gantz 13 seats but then the most distressing change is that the next party in size is the Ultra-right Religious Zionists, a combination of Otzma Yehudit led by Ben Gvir and Noam led by Smotrich. Labour, Meretz and Israel Beitenu (Liberman), together have another 16 seats for a centrist government but there are too many lines that cannot be crossed.  I can only hope that the proven leadership of Yair Lapid over the last months will bring the complacent people out to the polling booths on November the first.

The brave women of Iran have led an ever growing rebellion against the harsh theocracy led by the Ayatollahs in that once free thinking, educated country. The danger to those taking part in the demonstrations has not stopped their determination for change, determination to topple the already shaky government. Iran is yet another proof that democratic elections does not bring democracy. It is not a jump from dictatorship to democracy, it must be a gradual progression so ensure that chaos doesn’t fill the vacuum as it has done in Yemen, Iraq, Libya and many others. The dictatorial theocracy of Iran, with endless funds, has given us world terrorism and a very real nuclear threat.

A Palestinian child died, collapsed, after Israeli soldiers came into the village to arrest stone throwers. The IDF spokesperson said that the soldiers called up to the parents to stop the children throwing rocks from their balcony. The parents claim that as a result he died of fright, despite saying that he was haemorrhaging on the way to the hospital. Vedant Patel, Deputy spokesman of the State Department “mourning the death of an innocent Palestinian child”. While sympathising with parents who lost their son, why on earth would the State Department of the USA see fit to demand an inquiry? Do you think Patel knows that 23 were killed and 27 wounded in a suicide blast in Kabul?

Sabra is a fictional character who first appeared in 1981 but hit the headlines this last week or so as the announcement was made that the character will appear in the new Captain America film to come out in 2024. What was acceptable in 1981 has been condemned by a woke world because the heroic character is Israeli and will be played by an Israeli actress Shira Haas. The NYT printed an article quoting “By glorifying the Israeli army & police, Marvel is promoting Israel’s violence against Palestinians & enabling the continued oppression of millions of Palestinians living under Israel’s authoritarian military rule”

What on earth have we come to?

I’m going to be controversial. I try not to be but I cannot make my mind up about Zelensky, the Ukrainian leader. Is he a hero? On the one hand Zelensky visited the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial to commemorate the 81st anniversary of the Nazi massacre of over 30,000 Jews, but on the other hand he publicly derides Israel for “doing nothing to help” despite the fact that we sent 17 tons of medical aid, a field hospital, emergency water equipment and much more. I feel that he is manipulating his Judaism. On the other hand, he is fighting a horrific battle with a giant and his desperation shows through his façade of bravery. It is worth mentioning that since his rise to leadership the Ukraine consistently voted against Israel in every international forum.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the losses they have encountered anti-Semitism is rife in Russia. Ever the scapegoat.

Lev Tahor translates to mean Pure Heart, a misnomer of gigantic proportions. The religious Jewish cult which makes the Taliban look mild has been chased out of Israel, the USA, Canada, Guatemala and now Mexico. Their very lifestyle is the antithesis of Judaism denying its members, especially children, the basic human rights and have been accused of child abuse and worse. Those who have escaped tell tales of horror. I can only hope that the leaders will be extradited to Israel where they will spend the rest of their lives in jail.

King Abdullah of Jordan stood before an international audience and claimed that Israel had broken the status quo by allowing Jews onto the Temple Mount. Status quo? In the original agreement with his father Jews were never banned from the Temple Mount! I am surprised at his speech for two reasons. One, it was the Jordanians who destroyed synagogues in the Old City before 1948 and secondly because we met him in the Palace in Amaan and his private views are 180 degrees from his public rant.

Oh boy, so much to write about and I haven’t even spoken about our week! We had lovely friends over for tea, a real tea time which I love. Relaxed, simple food on the table and chatting about the world and each other.  They all waxed lyrical about our veranda and the view, of course! Our lovely friends Merle and Frank Friedman brought their daughter Wendy to meet us which was a delight even though I was amazed to find that Frank doesn’t take milk in his tea! Sorry Frank, only teasing. My honey cake came out incredibly moist and yummy and the bread I had baked was scoffed very quickly. We dipped our apple in honey, chanting the ancient blessing over the fruit of the tree and then there was the annual discussion as to whether or not one also dips one’s challah bread in honey. What about you, do you also dip your challah? My family certainly did!

As Yom Kippur ends and the festive meal to break the fast is being prepared, the air all over the country is filled with the sound of hammers, saws and the dragging of sections of the succah! The Succah or tabernacle is a temporary structure which reminds us of the years of wandering through the desert and so much more. Inside we display the seven species, wheat, barley, grape, fig, pomegranate, olive and date representing the harvest and prepare for guests, in Aramaic ushpizin . We also have a lulav and etrog, palm fronds and a citron. Succot is one of the three “foot festivals” in Judaism, festivals of pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. This tradition is carried through to Christianity and during the week of Succot/Tabernacles, thousands of Christians of all denominations come to the joyous parades and events, many organised by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.

Throughout Israel you will hear the blessing I referred to at the beginning of this missive “May you be written in the good book”.

When an Israeli over the age of 60 hears the words Yom Kippur their thoughts immediately go to that fateful Yom Kippur when the men interrupted their prayers to go to war. Israel was invaded from all directions and the then Prime Minister Golda Meir was caught unawares. Too many died.  

Unetanney Tokef translates as “Let us speak of greatness” and here the IDF Chief Cantor Shai Abramson sings as we see scenes of the emergency enlistment outside synagogues on that fateful day in 1973

I have to admit that I don’t normally like the jolly, parody festival songs in English but this one really sets the mood for Succot! Livin’ in a Booth!

This last song fits any time of year. Written to give an emotional boost during the darker days of the pandemic it is a song of hope. Basically “We Got It”

For personal reasons I will not be writing for a couple of weeks but that doesn’t mean that you can’t write to me! I would love to hear your stories about your festivals, your families and of course your views on what is happening in this troubled world.

It is irrelevant how you wish people a good year, what is important is that you do so. All people, everywhere. If we can only learn about tolerance, kindness and a better life rather than vengeance and pain just imagine what a wonderful world this could be.

Be well and remember Jerusalem, the beautiful, spiritual centre of this earth.

Shabbat Shalom, chag Sameach