The view from my veranda

Knesset, Rosh Hashana and Old Friends

4th of October 2019


Good Shabbes, Shabbat Shalom, Shana Tova, Hatima Tova………. So many blessings but then one can never have too many!


I have to admit I wasn’t going to write to you today, I was going to wait until next week and Yom HaKippurim, but I have so much to tell you that I decided to go ahead anyway!!


Let’s get the insanity of politics out of the way and I will try to use language appropriate to this time of repentance!!


Let’s begin at the end, or rather the middle. I love watching Members of Knesset, old and new, at the swearing in ceremony. All they have to do is stand up and say “I swear” in response to the Speakers oath, but it amazes me how a slight change in intonation or stance can say so much! The Members of the Arab Joint List were not present at the swearing in – and the knee-jerk reaction is one of anger and shrugged shoulders, but although the timing was inappropriate, the purpose was clear. All of them joined a quiet, well organised demonstration against internecine violence in the Arab community, town and village, which has reached terrifying proportions. Only two days ago three brothers died in a family feud, shooting in the street. Their claim is that the police do nothing about it and the government is lax in its response. While agreeing in principle, it must be remembered that policing these areas is not simple and the Arab community must also work toward helping the police in their job. I would suggest that an amnesty for giving up all illegal guns would be a good start.


Three major changes in the Israeli political map occurred yesterday.

  1. The long lasting leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu over the Likud Party is being challenged by Gidon Sa’ar, one time protégé who Netanyahu sent packing.
  2. Speaker of the House Yuli Edelstein announced that Netanyahu was willing to take a leave of absence if indicted.
  3. Yair Lapid announced that he is willing to step down from the leadership rotation of Blue and White thus lessening confusion, leaving Benny Gantz and Netanyahu as the potential Prime Ministerial rotation – if Netanyahu will still be in the game.
  4. PM Netanyahu is undergoing hearings at the Ministry of Justice with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblitt. The hearing involve several accusations of illegality.


President Rivlin gave a deeply emotional speech at the opening of the Knesset Session asking all parties and participants to act responsibly and come forward with a logical coalition because Israelis are tired of confusion and need unification of purpose among their leaders.


Rosh Hashana this year was very special – Zvi discovered a way to take out the pomegranate seeds without getting the juice all over the walls!! It really is incredible!


I love the Rosh Hashana foods, the ceremony and the sense of starting over. First night and the table looked pretty spectacular, if I say so myself! Two things were different this year, firstly, we learned about the Rosh Hashana Seder Plate, a beautiful Sefardi tradition that we adopted it ; the second was indeed special, we had two soldiers at the Seder, both of whom we have known since before they were born! Tomer and Shelley, whose parents Ira and Valeri became members of our family after emigrating from Moscow, making Aliya just one year after I made Aliya, and now their children are both in the IDF. It really was a joyous evening and Zvi’s grand-daughters were thrilled that in my family one doesn’t only have apple and honey but also challah with honey! The weather was perfect so all our windows were open and Zvi’s beautiful Kiddush resonated all over our neighbourhood!


The first day of Rosh Hashana was restful, basically spent in prayer and relaxation, and of course setting the table for the second night. We decided to be spontaneous and a wonderful mix of friends came to spend the festival meal with us. The normal chatter and getting to know one another changed when Dvorit (prompted by Zvi) asked her husband Meishi Schreiber to tell the story of searching for and finding his great-grandfather’s grave in Germany, a fascinating tale of detective work. As he finished Gabby Barkay told the story of his birth in the ghetto in Hungary and his ultimate arrival in Israel after which the normally quiet Shaul Perlberg began to tell the story of his childhood in Belgium.


When he was just two and a half years old Shaul’s mother understanding the danger of her child being Jewish, asked an elderly neighbour to keep little Shaul (or his taken name Paul) as if he were her grandson. Apparently another neighbour told on them and a Gestapo bully came to the old lady’s apartment and ask if she was harbouring a Jewish child. When she denied it he said “There’s only one way to discover if he is a Jew” and tried to pull down the child’s trousers. Having been taught by his parents that no stranger was ever allowed to do such a thing, little Shaul pulled his trousers back up. The “tug of war” went on for a few moments and the old lady’s dog, sensing his little friend’s distress attacked the Gestapo officer who fled from the building. How such a tiny child had the initiative to fight is incredible. Shaul was taken to an “orphanage” and at the age of five, war ended, and the child didn’t know whether his Mother was alive or dead. One day, a group of adults came to the orphanage to search for their children. Shaul was walking down the stairs, looking very different to the two year old his mother had saved by giving him to the neighbour, when he saw her and ran into her arms. They came to Israel where his Mother remarried with another survivor and they made the decision to remove all memories of the Shoah, all papers and relics, to the extent of having the numbers removed from her arm. However, Shaul used to listen in to the conversations his mother had with her contemporaries and gradually put together the whole story.


Remember the story of the trousers and the Gestapo? Well Shaul went on to become a highly respected urologist in Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. He and Zvi met when Zvi was a Sergeant in charge of an IDF field hospital during the Yom Kippur War and Shaul was one of his doctors –Shaul met his wonderful wife Raya there too. Shaul and Raya have four children and two grandchildren, he says that’s one for each million slaughtered.


So you see, sitting around a Rosh Hashana table with friends can teach us so much about the strength of a two year old under the most dire of conditions and his ability to turn tragedy into healing.


We must learn from the past. As a people we tend to be complacent, to enjoy the present and believe everything will be alright, but just as my wonderful Father used to say “Don’t expect God to come and rescue you every time, you have to use the intelligence he gave to all of us to understand your situation”  Shaul’s story, indeed Meishi, Gabby and Shaul’s stories are a lesson to all of us, now. Look around you and don’t just react, preempt!


Perhaps one of the most important teachers of our generation was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Since more and more African Americans are following Islam and have become perpetrators of racist crime, perhaps now is the time to quote the great man. He knew that both peoples were shaped by the tragic experience of slavery. He knew that both peoples were forced to live in ghettoes, victims of segregation. He knew that both peoples were subject to laws passed with the particular intent of oppressing them simply because they were Jewish or black. He knew that both peoples have been subjected to oppression and genocide on a level unprecedented in history.


And so to Kippur. If at any time I have hurt or offended you I beg forgiveness, I promise it was never intentional. A time of contemplation and atonement the eve of Yom Kippur has deep meaning. Here Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains


Unetanei Tokef is a prayer said on Yom Kippur and here Shai Abrahamson, the Senior Cantor of the IDF sings to the background of scenes from the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the war that took Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir by surprise, it is said because she did not listen to her Chief of Staff.


A very different Kol Nidre, “all vows” the opening prayer of Yom Kippur, from a pious man who never fitted description! Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. The words are written in Aramaic and represent all the vows and promises that are made null and void as we enter a new sense of responsibility.


Finally, as they used to say on Monty Python, time for something entirely different. My prayer is for understanding, tolerance and vowing to change our perceptions. Shalom Aleinu as you’ve never heard it


May you be written in the Good Book for health, contentment and the determination to fight for your identity in a world that is becoming harder and harder.


Gmar Hatima Tova


With much love from Jerusalem, from Zvi and I and all our family.