The view from my veranda

Tokyo, Theocracy and Trees


6th August 2021

Shabbat Shalom to everyone! Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem, well, just outside Jerusalem but with a wonderful view over the city.

Gosh it’s been hot, but then this is the Middle East and it is August after all. I don’t know why everyone is surprised at the high temperatures, I still remember my first visit here in 1963 and my disbelief that every day was hot and sunny as opposed to rainy days and sunny interludes! Of course the ground is parched, the grass brown and the chances of spontaneous combustion in forest areas almost inevitable, especially when the above conditions are helped along by political conflagrations.

Talking of trees, yesterday Zvi and I drove from Motza to Eli and Eva’s home in Tsur Hadassah for a wonderful Swedish lunch. As we travelled through the rolling, tree lined hills of the Jerusalem Forest I found myself wondering who came up with the idea of trees in Israel as the perfect gift for the Diaspora. Thanks to KKL or JNF or whatever it is called in your country, Israel is the only country in the world with an annual increase in forestation!

I’m not trying to avoid the news, I just wanted you to join me on my journey through the winding lanes and great beauty of the Jerusalem Hills. Artistic gymnast Artem Dolgapyot won Gold in the Tokyo Olympics, proudly standing on the highest podium as Hatikva played. Of course this is Israel so it had to cause either political or religious tsunamis, and it did. But, take a second look at the situation. Artem’s mother is not Jewish, he was not raised as a Jew and his fiancée is also not Jewish, thus they are not eligible for a Jewish religious marriage, but the media has taken the opportunity to create a fuss that neither of the young people want. The young couple are distressed at the politicization of their situation and they are happy to marry elsewhere and that marriage will be accepted, or to marry in any of the other religious, non-Jewish ceremonies available.

Artem’s situation brings me nicely to two fascinating articles I read this week. One is by an amazing lady, Brenda Katten, for whom I have great respect and not a little love. Last week I wrote about the intrusion of religious Jews to the Conservative, Masorti and Reform section of the Western Wall and the lack of tolerance in a tiny section of that community. Here Brenda takes it one step further.

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen wrote “You can obey the law in a mean-spirited, literal, automatic way and ignore feelings and exclude sensitivity. The law is supposed to blind, yes, but not soulless.  There can be times to be flexible. This is true with charity, as much as with other laws. This is precisely why the Torah emphasizes the spirit that matters just as much, if not more than the letter. If only people paid more attention to what is actually written in the Torah.”

Fatah and Hamas have a long-standing, very violent past and apparently things have not improved although the open killing of Fatah members in Gaza seems to have tapered – on the other hand perhaps they are either gone underground or are already under the ground. This week The Palestinian Authority decided not to transfer Qatari funding to Hamas. I quote “The Palestinian Authority’s (PA) banking and humanitarian systems are refusing to take part in an outline to facilitate the transfer of Qatari aid money into the Gaza Strip, fearing such cooperation would expose them to legal actions on the grounds of supporting and funding terrorism” Very clever, they appear clean of supporting terror and of course Israel will be blamed for “the siege of Gaza” even though we are providing all their staple needs every single day!

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz spoke this week of the Iranian Nuclear Programme. I am afraid he is absolutely right when he says that Iran is just 10 weeks away from full nuclear capacity. During the Presidencies of both Bill Clinton (Dem) and George W Bush (Republican), a leading light of the Moslem Brotherhood headed the International Nuclear Watchdog Organisation (IAEA). Mohamed El Baradei hid his affiliation behind a warm, erudite exterior but I cannot believe that the authorities of the USA were unaware of his leanings yet accepted his assessment that Iran was not a nuclear threat. Sadly, I believe that Benny Gantz is right. It should also be said that if we need to we are prepared to attack the nuclear sites in Iran, particularly since the election of a very dangerous new President, Ebrahim Raisi, the country is still very much in the control of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. It would appear that a brave few are still taking their lives into their hands and demonstrating against the Iranian Theocratic leadership.

This week we had two 12 year olds staying with us which was amazing, but coincided with a large number of meetings, both Zooms and actual! We still managed to have fun, including a visit to the Galita Chocolate Farm in Kibbutz Tzova. A great experience but rather expensive! The weather was so hot that on the second day they enjoyed the peace and quiet of sibling-less, girlie television series and then decided to wash and clean our car!!

Back to the meetings. Marcus, CEO of Impact-se is back from a highly successful visit to the States and we had a catch-up Zoom with my Vice-Chair David Lui. Gosh, you wait until the report comes out of the acceptance and respect that Impact-se gets in the Political and diplomatic world. My second meeting also involved Marcus as he and I have chosen to help with a project that has won both our hearts. It is not Impact-se related but also involves education, of a very special nature. Danny Adeno Abebe arrived in Israel aged 9 after a horrific trek through Sudan with his parents. Family were lost to starvation and cruelty, but they made it. Danny, always a brilliant student was chosen to serve in the IDF radio “Galgalatz” as an editor and writer, his mentor ensuring that Danny achieved his huge potential. Today Danny is married to Aviva, a nurse and is the father of 4 children, one of whom was born in South Africa but that’s another story! He a journalist with Yediot Aharonot and the author of a fascinating book, From Africa to Zion the story of his life from the wastes of Gondar to renowned Israeli. I will tell you all about it next week but Danny has a dream which he is turning into a project. Apparently education for the rich in Ethiopia and most of Africa is excellent. The problem is that exceptional children do not have a chance and the children of the rich go to Oxbridge and never come back Danny wants to create boarding schools for exceptional children from the remote areas and educate them to be leaders, to stay and change their country. He ultimately wants to create 4 schools in 4 countries. I am so full of admiration for him.

Last night, oh my goodness last night! Right up the road from us there is a 4,000 seat open air amphitheatre and last night the phenomenal Idan Reichel Project performed and we were there! In order to sit in the seated area one had to show one’s “Green Pass” to show that one had been inoculated and despite the searing heat I still wore my mask. The youngsters ware all on the grassy area well behind us! Idan Reichel is exceptional, his humility and determination to stay in the background and allow his singers and musicians to hold the limelight singing his songs is a joy. The audience knew every word of every song and as the last ten or so songs grew in volume and tempo the kids were all up and dancing and even a few Alte Kackers (in polite language OAP’s) were jiggling away!! Zvi and I were so hyped that we walked home down the old Jerusalem Road, the 7 Sisters, enjoying a break from the heat of the day.

Obviously the first song has to be from the Idan Reichel Project, not last night’s concert but an earlier one. The chorus translates as – Here is home, here’s the heart, And from you I’ll not depart, Our forefathers, our roots, And we are the blossom, the music  – A tribe of brothers and sisters

Simon Cowell’s influence reached Israel long ago with Israel Got Talent and a Star is Born, and every so often real magic happens on stage. Caryn Rosen Adelman sent me a video of a couple singing Leonard Cohen’s Halleluya. I was simply blown away, as were the jury.

As we near the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, days of contemplation and atonement, we see a fascinating difference between the Sefardi (Spanish and Portuguese) and Mizrachi (Eastern or North African Jews) and Ashkenaz or Eastern European Jews. The former beg forgiveness for 40 days whereas the latter for just 10 days! I fell in love with this prayer for Selichot, for forgiveness by David D’Or Adon Selichot

Isn’t it strange how suddenly something small can brighten one’s life and bring tears of sheer joy? Well it happened to me this week. My adored, incredible grandson Sammy, who is complex needs, received an end of term letter from his teacher of 3 years. She spoke of his kindness, humour, cheekiness and most of all, how Sammy, who cannot communicate with words, looks deeply into one’s eyes, into one’s soul, as she said “even more than her optician”. I am so proud of her pride in his progress and his sheer amazing Sammyness.

Never forget to see beyond the exterior of people, there is often a depth and wisdom that cannot be seen to the naked eye.

Wishing you a beautiful weekend, a thoughtful Shabbat and the Torah reading this week is fascinating as it introduces what is kosher, introduces the Tithe, talks of the priesthood and Jerusalem…..well worth a quick scan, or even a deep read.

With love from us to you, from Jerusalem to the whole world.