The view from my veranda

Presidents, Purpose and Athletes

15th July 2022

16th Tammuz 5782

Shabbat Shalom world!

A truly incredible week which began with the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, continued with the visit of President Biden, the arrival of friends from all over the world for the Maccabiah Games and finally showing Tel Aviv and the sea to our dear friend Kim Taylor on his 60th visit to Israel. Every prior visit was spent in Jerusalem!

I’ll try to describe each of the above because each in its own way was exceptional.

The Jewish Agency for Israel was established on August 11th 1929 and for its first 19 years it was, to all intents and purposes, the government of Israel. Formerly known as The Jewish Agency for Palestine,[5] is the largest Jewish non-profit organization in the world. It was established in 1929 as the operative branch of the World Zionist Organization (WZO). The stated mission of the Agency is to “ensure that every Jewish person feels an unbreakable bond to one another and to Israel no matter where they live in the world, so that they can continue to play their critical role in our ongoing Jewish story. Indeed David Ben Gurion was its Chairman of the Board from 1935 and in that position declared the establishment of the State of Israel. In recent years the Jewish Agency has facilitated the “Aliya” of over 3 million Jews or those of Jewish descent in particular those whose very Jewish identity put them in danger. Once in Israel the Agency provides housing, education, the learning of Hebrew a process described as absorption – absorption into Israeli society.

OK so now you know the purpose of the Jewish Agency so let me describe one of the plenum sessions. We sat at a large round table for 10 people, 3 or 4 of those at the table were young emissaries, about to go out into the world to help young people understand the real Israel. We talked and listened, got to know why youngsters would give up a year of their lives to travel to communities unknown, a truly diverse and amazing group. Then we were asked to take a piece of paper and divide it into 4 sections with our name in the middle and draw, our favourite books, what we think worth demonstrating for, a map of Israel and a boat representing the Jewish people, but a boat with a hole in it! I still like my drawing of a small boat, a few people drowning, some trying to save them and others just giving up. As I said to the young people at our table “This represents the state of the Jewish people and you are the ones who will plug the hole in our leaky boat”

President Biden’s visit has been a resounding success. It began with a ceremony at the airport, celebrating the warmth of our relationship with this President and with the USA. On a personal level I was very moved when Prime Minister Lapid insisted that his predecessor, Naftali Bennett, be present. When told that it was against protocol he said “I am rewriting the protocol he deserves to be here”

Of course, every road and highway on the way to, in the centre of, and around Jerusalem was closed to traffic. Indeed that’s how Kim Taylor got to see Tel Aviv, we escaped early because otherwise we couldn’t have reached the airport for him to go home! The first stop for the President was Yad Vashem (the exceptional memorial to the 6,000,000 who perished and those who survived the Holocaust), as every dignitary and leader does on arrival in Israel. Two beautiful ladies, survivors, were invited to the ceremony but told not to engage the President in conversation. After the formalities were over the President went over to the ladies, bent down and spoke to them with tears in his eyes, held their hands and kissed them. This was Joseph Biden whose father had drummed into him respect and love for Holocaust Survivors

This was a different Presidential visit, I would go so far as to say exceptional. Obviously the topic most discussed was Iran and both leaders basically agreed that Iran was dangerous, that something must be done and PM Lapid emphasised that if necessary Israel would put a credible military action on the table, but President Biden reiterated American policy that although recognising that military action may be essential he will always prefer diplomacy. He stressed time and again his determination that Israel has the right to self-determination and safety and this time, unlike most former Presidents, I felt that he really meant it, he was not giving lip service to gain votes. Most impressive of all was our brand new Prime Minister Yair Lapid. He did not kowtow, stood firm ground on Israel’s security and rights, but behaved with great dignity and respect.

Yesterday President Biden received the Medal of Honour from our President, the wonderful Isaac (Bougie) Herzog in a ceremony at the President’s home. After the short ceremony Israeli singers Yuval Dayan and Ran Danker sang Lu Yehi/Let It Be to the delight of the President. Isaac Herzog sang along.

The President’s final visit was the cause of a flurry of activity in the offices of Kfar Maccabiah (Maccabi Village) since after four years of preparation, initiation, organisation the American President decided he would love to come and visit the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games to be held in Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem! I watched on television and Zvi, with our dear friend Caryn Adlelman beside him, sat in the VIP section for Maccabi Members, not realising that they were just two metres from the President! Anyway, the President came in very informally and asked to meet a large group of Team USA athletes, encouraging them and asking for a Maccabi USA hat, even singing Happy Birthday to one team member!

The opening ceremony was phenomenal! Here’s a video of the entire ceremony and the moment that President Biden stands before the crowd with President Herzog and PM Lapid is at about 45 minutes into the video. I love watching the teams walk into the stadium, so proud, having so much fun. When one thinks about it, this Jewish Olympic Games is conceivably the greatest victory of the Jewish people over adversity. Over 10,000 athletes from nearly 80 countries are here in Israel right now!

Bravo Team Maccabiah – especially our friends the ever patient Ilana Ben Namer and of course the wonderful Roy Hessing.

The President visits the Augusta Victoria Hospital, situated between the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus and the Mount of Olives. This visit is fraught diplomatic tension since the Biden advisors have refused to accept Israelis with the President on this visit. Is this a return to “corpus separatum”?  Are the Presidential advisors suggesting that the Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is again questioned?

On a lighter note, I have to tell you how Augusta Victoria came about! Kaiser Bill 2 came to Jerusalem and wanted to go throughout the Old City in his carriage. The ancient Jaffa Gate was too narrow to allow a carriage to pass through, so Kaiser Bill demanded it be broken to widen it. Of course his demand was denied unless he built a much needed hospital in Jerusalem. He promised, Jaffa Gate was widened, he took his carriage into the Old City and the Hospital, opened in 1910, was name for his wife Augusta Victoria. From there he went the few kilometres to Bethlehem where he was to meet Mahmoud Abbas then on to his historic meeting in Saudi Arabia. Interestingly enough, Abbas wanted to meet Biden in Saudi Arabia but his request was rejected. I was really pleased to see the President greet Salaam Fayyad with great warmth. Salaam Fayyad tried to build a feasible administration in the PA when he was PM but he was summarily thrown out by Abbas.

So this week has been incredibly busy for Israel rather than just for the Ravivs!  Friday night dinner with the Raviv clan which is always great then on Saturday lunchtime we went to meet our lovely friends Roselyn and Michael Freeman. We will always be grateful to Helene and Martin Lindenfeld for introducing us to this lovely couple who are so interesting that instead of heading off to the Old City to meet his friends Kim stayed with us and a good time was had by all, the conversation covering Israeli history, family history, traditions and Jewish continuity.

Ellie and Pablo Nankin have brought their children and grandchildren up to love Israel. Although he grew up in Mexico he has lived in LA for many many years. Ellie and Pablo brought their entire family to Israel to celebrate their granddaughter Taylor’s Bat Mitzva and we had the honour of being invited to join them for lunch in the centre of Jerusalem, in Piccolino on Yoel Solomon Street. It was a wonderfully noisy, happy, joyous occasion and I have to congratulate Ellie and Pablo for doing a wonderful job!

I can’t remember which day Ilana and Eddie and Jessie Podolsky came to visit but I know that it was wonderful. They are proof positive that one can live in the Diaspora yet be aware of everything that happens here and care deeply. Ilana is the daughter of Zvi’s cousins Billy and Ruth Shapiro in Mexico City and Eddie is the son of old friends also from Mexico. Zvi is 100% Israeli – actually his birth certificate says he is Palestinian – but his heart lies also in the 5 years he spent in Mexico City when his parents were teachers in the Jewish school. In fact, an entire generation of the Mexican Jewish Community speak excellent Hebrew thanks to Kalman and Alla Raviv. Given half a chance Zvi speaks Spanish and sings Mexican songs – in fact he is probably one of the only students who can still remember every word of the school’s anthem, which is really long!

I almost forgot, on Tuesday evening Zvi, Kim and I decided to go out for dinner to a lovely super-duper dairy restaurant right near us. Rachel and Yosef took Ayala to a pop concert right near us so we asked them to join us and then our friends Ronit and Yossi called to say that they would also join our table. That’s the difference between Israel and elsewhere. I booked a table for 3 in an utterly crowded restaurant, we were joined by two more so they added chairs then another two so they simply added another table to ours, all done with a smile. I spoke to the owner of Pop Up Café, who also happens to be the owner of another 4 restaurants, all kosher, all closed on Shabbat and all of the highest culinary standards. “how did you manage to fit us in?” “You are regular customers and you always smile, so how could I refuse?” there is a joke “When a Frenchman comes for dinner, what does he bring? Wine. When a Brit comes for dinner, what does he bring? Flowers. When an Israeli comes for dinner, what does he bring? A friend of two!” When it comes to hospitality, whether professional of just at home, we are flexible, we love people!

By the way, Ayala and her friends had a ball at the concert!

So that’s it! I didn’t write about politics, haven’t mentioned that Benny Gantz and Gidon Saar, quite probably with Gadi Eizenkot, will form one party instead of two. Funny, another interesting aspect of Israeli politics, former Chiefs of Staff tend to be somewhere between soft right and very pragmatic.

So what music befits an American President and a new Prime Minister?

A Revolution of Joy with Koolulam of course!

Each morning as we wake up we say a prayer/blessing before doing anything else. Modeh ani- I am grateful. We thank God for waking up, for returning our soul. Here Omer Adam sings beautifully.

The talks with the American President, indeed our every breath, our every thought, our every being is Jerusalem, without Jerusalem Israel has no reason to be. Jerusalem is the heart of Judaism and of Israel. So what song? Yerushalyim Shel Zahav – Jerusalem of Gold, sung by the Shalva Band

Have a beautiful Shabbat, a peaceful weekend.

With much love from Jerusalem. Farewell President Biden, you were the perfect guest.