The view from my veranda

Rosh Hashana, Presidents and Paralympics

3rd September 2021

Shabbat Shalom dear friends, This is the last Shabbat of the Hebrew year of 5781 and the start of 5782, yes five thousand, seven hundred and eighty two years of history, Despite innumerable attempts to wipe us out we are still here!!

Today’s Jerusalem Post made me angry! The headline read something like “US synagogues prepare defence over the High Holidays” – US synagogues? Synagogues all over the world have guards at the gate, police protection, volunteers patrolling, not just the USA. It is a sad fact whether one is in Melbourne or Manchester, New York or Naples, it has become dangerous to be a Jew. Should we hide our Jewishness or decide to stand up and be counted? You tell me!

Storm Ida has wreaked havoc in several States but for most of us, seeing the familiar sights of New York City over the last two days brought the incredible power of water to heart. Horrific flooding of the Subway, of main roads and as one went further afield destroying homes. It isn’t that we don’t care that both India and Thailand also flooded over the same period, it is the familiarity that brought our greatest fears home.

Prime Minister Bennett spent at least two hours of private time meeting with President Biden, a meeting in which reports suggest that both men are in agreement on virtually all subjects raised. Israel needed to repair damage to our standing with President Biden, to ensure that we are his best allies in the Middle East, that Israel and the USA, the tiny country and the huge world leader, are an essential alliance to counteract the ever more confident Iranian theocratic occupation of too many of our neighbours. The President assured Israel’s PM that Iran would never achieve nuclear weapons.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz had a meeting with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Rumours suggested that Gantz did not consult with the PM but that is clearly just gossip! Hopefully the result of the meeting will be further collaboration. Few understand either the extent of collaboration with Israel or the importance of strengthening Fatah and weakening Hamas, undoubtedly yet another subject of the Washington discussions. One very important aspect concerns the Qatari money for Gaza which now is monitored by Fatah, by the PA, ensuring that the money goes to needy individuals and not to Hamas warmongering.

After 3 long and troublesome years without a budget, last night the budget proposed by the new government passed its first reading without problem, proving that Minister of Finance Avigdor Liberman understands both the problem and the solution.

I often speak about the work of A tiny team in a shared Tel Aviv office are changing schoolbooks in the Middle East to introduce tolerance in education. This week we made major inroads into changing the hate education of the Palestinian schools. The long-awaited report by the Gerhard Ekert Institute confirms that PA-issued textbooks contain material that is anti-Semitic, glorifies terrorism and endorses violence. The study’s findings corroborate IMPACT-se research, cited in the report several times. As Chairman of the Board of Impact I am so proud of the team which has brought important reports to the attention of governments around the world, all of whom finance the PA heavily. Members of the EU Foreign Affairs, Budgetary Control and Cultural committees weighed in to condemn hate teaching in Palestinian textbooks. This on the tail of the EU condemnation of UNWRA’s involvement in biased PA educational material, again, following a report produced by Impact-se.

The Paralympics is every bit as tough, competitive and fascinating as the Olympics. We were saturated with news and views of the recent Tokyo Olympics yet virtually bereft of news from the Paralympics! Something is wrong here! Anyway, for those who understand the sheer heroism of the Paralympians, Israel came home with 9 medals . Six of Israel’s nine medals have been gold, and eight of them have been won by swimmers: three by Dadaon, three by Mark Malyar and two by Shalabi. The remaining medal was achieved by rower Moran Samuel.  So proud of each and every one of them!

Israeli children went back to school on the first of September. The form that each school takes depends on the head teacher and I whether the town or city is green, amber or red in terms of Covid cases. Children in Red towns will have to learn at home again but all others will be in school with all the natural fears of going back into strange environments. I love to see the children of “Kita Aleph” first grade, being welcomed on their first day – red carpet, balloon arches, signs saying “Shalom Kita Aleph”, greeted by smiling teachers – all of the children having already passed the Covid test. Strange times do not have to elicit strange behaviour.

This week’s Torah reading is Nitzavim -Deuteronomy 29.9-30.20 in which Moses, given the words of god, sets out the difference between good and evil and basically what are the rules of both. The fascinating aspect is that one is given a choice. One can choose to take the path of goodness, kindness, that is set out before us in performing the duties of our religion or go the other path. There is no absolute in this and sometimes, as Robert Frost so clearly stated one can walk the path less taken and still be a good and observant Jew – or indeed a good and observant Christian. There is nothing about one path to goodness being better than the other, there is none of the uncompromising form of religion one tends to see today.

This has been a good week. Family and friends who have suffered Covid are getting better and while I have been busy preparing and freezing the food for the Eve of Rosh Hashana, Zvi has been busy with his singing preparing for producing shows for the Aged which will include lectures on history from Motti Friedman, and rehearsing with the Hakol Yachassi choir for their upcoming performance.

We had lovely visitors this week, one in the shape of Marcus Sheff, the CEO of Impact-se who brought me up to date with everything and then, yesterday, a very special couple came to visit. Liz and Melvyn Harris are the parents of Richard Harris who was one of my Daniel’s best friends. The boys went to Carmel College together and remained friends over the years. I always loved Liz and Mel and somehow distance meant that we just didn’t see each other for far too many years. Well, all I can tell you is that we pretty much made up for it yesterday! They are here for their daughter Louise’s son’s wedding. What fascinated me was that Zvi joined the conversation and thoroughly enjoyed hearing our stories, not an everyday occurrence!

As I told you last week I have been feeding the freezer, the only way that I can cope with the 27 family members coming on Monday evening. I wish I could invite more but the Covid rules are absolute. A maximum of 30 people outdoors, which is where we will all sit, remember that there will be police checks. The weather has changed somewhat and when asked what to do if it is cool out on our veranda I simply suggested they bring sweaters! Slightly cool to anyone from the Tel Aviv region is anything under 25 degrees Celsius! What was that you asked? What have I already cooked? OK, here goes. Chicken soup and kneidlach; leek, sweet potato and carrot  aka “Orange” soup; potato kugel; Rachel’s brisket; a huge pot of stuffed veggies; apple cake, lemon cake, honey cake, plum pudding, and in the fridge I prepared jars of home-made pickles. I admit to buying the gefilte fish since I refuse to make it from Carp (which I cannot abide) but rather from white fish mix – and I cannot bear to see the look of dismay on Zvi’s face!!!

This has been a very difficult year on every level. Harsh weather conditions, harsh, political conditions, anti-Semitic violence, terror and dealing with the new isolation and non-hugging societies. It doesn’t look like most of the above will change but we can change. We can change our own environment, our own attitudes to others. I know that some of you misinterpret TOLERANCE, to mean to tolerate, but it actually means to introduce more tolerant speech, less violence, less bias, less racism……. Less intolerance. We can all do it whether with family members, neighbours, friends or colleagues, a kind word can change a person’s life, especially for a child.

So when I thought about music I obviously wanted to give you some traditional Rosh Hashana tunes. The first is “be Shana Haba’a” This rendition not only has a translation but also transliteration so that you can join in!

The next song isn’t traditional, not even in Hebrew but it really explains what Rosh Hashana, “The Days of Awe” and starting over by being more thoughtful to others. Although the singers are Orthodox Jews the purpose of the song covers all of us, whoever we may be

Searching for songs sometimes takes longer than writing the newsletter! This song just jumped out at me, it shows that we are not only all over the world but are a diverse and fascinating people.

Before ending I want to wish Zachary David, my beautiful, Chelsea supporting, car loving and ever kind grandson, a great birthday today. Zacky, you are my hero!

I have a sneaky feeling that I won’t manage to write to you before Rosh Hashana so I want to wish you all, whatever your religion, faith, a year of kindness and justice, of friendship and forgiveness.

With much love from Motza Illit, overlooking Jerusalem