The view from my veranda

Vayikra, Ukraine, Despots and Generosity

11th March, 2022

Shabbat Shalom. Today we sense the need for Peace, Shalom, Salaam, Mir and Myr.

These last two weeks we have learned to say Lviv instead of Lvov, Kharkiv instead of Kharkov and Kiv instead of Kiev – and watched in horror as a people who just recently learned what freedom means are bombed without mercy – and for what? I always say that there is nothing new under the sun, which is iterated by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen’s explanation of this week’s Torah reading ( ). Vayikra.

“The Book of Exodus that we have just completed, provided us with two examples of leadership. On the one hand, there was Pharaoh, an omnipotent autocrat, rooted in a static and immovable mindset, who was unable to comprehend the inhumanity of his policies or an alternative narrative. On the other hand, Moses, a revolutionary, was animated by ideals and spiritual inspiration. Both sought order, one through oppression, the other through inspiration. Pharaoh was concerned only with the preservation of power through force and oppression expecting others to carry out his orders. Pharoah expected his inner circle of oligarchs, priests, magicians, and advisors to support and reinforce his policies. Moses was brought up in different societies and therefore was able to evaluate and differentiate systems and policies. Moses challenged authority and fixed ways of thinking.

I have in mind the revolting Putin who is so blinded by his ambition that he brooks no opposition and like Hitler and Stalin (and of course Pharaoh) he cannot see how counter-productive force is in the long run. He is reinforced by his yes men and facilitators.  He has sown the seeds of his own failure and will be remembered not as the man who rebuilt Russia but as the bully who so violently attacked civilians and tried to crush the spirit of Ukraine.”

We are all horrified and somehow helpless as we sit glued to the news, appalled by the execrable tragedies unfolding before our eyes. I have asked the question “Why are we moved by this war, this invasion, when such horrific acts take place every day in the MENA region and in Africa, even South America, is it because they are white, European, Christian”? I have some less pleasant answers but somehow, this one feels near to home. Our countries help where possible but need to hold back before it becomes a world war, something Putin undoubtedly recognised. Israel has opened her doors, clearly to Jewish refugees who are offered instant citizenship but also to many non-Jewish refugees who immediately upon landing are given work permits. Israel is accepting refugees at a rate far above her size; hotels are filled and schools are hurriedly turned into dormitories for orphans…. Jewish orphans cared for by Chabad in Ukraine and brought by them to Israel. Israel has no orphans and this is a sad turn of fate. Orphans who cannot be adopted because their parents are still alive but abandoned their babies and have not signed any document allowing these children to be adopted. Our field hospitals are already on the ground, our first responders have been working furiously for over a week and the field hospital is in place. A fascinating, but sad reality is that suddenly, understanding the urgency of the situation, over 14,000 Russian Jews have also applied for Aliya. They have seen the writing on the wall. If you think this is the first time Russia has killed Ukrainians, you are wrong.

Ironically, a pre-Holocaust Yeshiva in Poland is being used to house refugees from the evil of war.

President Herzog flew to Istanbul to meet with Turkish President Erdogan. When one remembers that Erdogan is conceivably the most openly anti-Israel leader in the region one may wonder why! Israel and Turkey have many economic ties, although very little in the way of diplomatic ties after the Marmara Affair but, as always, Erdogan see beyond the bitter words to “What’s in it for me” and his aim is to initiate relations so that he can benefit from Israel natural gas and create an Israel- Turkey gas line which will then allow him to carry natural gas into Europe. What he didn’t expect is that instead of a belligerent representative of Israel who would come with his own demands he met with a gentle, polite softly spoken Isaac (Bougie) Herzog, a negotiator supreme. President Herzog completed his time in Istanbul with a visit to the Neve Shalom Synagogue, scene of 3 horrific terror attacks. Today we saw that Neve Shalom not only stands, but stands proudly.  

This week many Maccabeans arrived from all over the world. Lovely, lovely people. I dare not begin to name names because I will undoubtedly offend someone by leaving them out but – among those people was Sadi Beceren. Sadi, a lovely man and a long time Maccabi leader in his native Istanbul and after the usual hugs and niceties our conversation led to Erdogan. What became clear is that the vast majority of Turks have no quarrel with Israel and cannot wait to get back to full diplomatic and friendly relations. In his quest for power Erdogan courted just about every evil leader in our region, a courtship which demanded anti-Israel rhetoric after being refused entry to the EU.

When one looks at all of the above, of cruel leaders and in Herzog’s case a quiet diplomat, it leads directly to Purim which takes place next Wednesday. Purim is not just fancy dress and being too tipsy that one cannot tell good from bad; Purim is about an evil, megalomanic leader, his evil Prime Minister and quiet diplomacy, admittedly using the wiles of a beautiful girl but nonetheless, it proves that nothing changes. “Ve’Nahafochu” means basically – we will turn upside down. On Purim you determine to turn the current situation on its head, to turn evil to good, to change things that don’t work. CocaCola simply turned their labels upside down….

Away from gloom and doom! We had a great week! We met with Rebecca and Harold Finger from Sydney, Australia. Rebecca and Harold are the perfect recipe for a Jewish leader, as a couple. They do everything, every wonderful act of being a Jewish leader, together with grace and kindness. They are also fun! I have to thank Impact-se for bringing us even closer together! While talking about Sydney, the news media has been so caught up with Ukraine that few know that beautiful city of Sydney has been inundated with torrential rain, flooding and storms. Thankfully, so far, our Sydney friends have written to say they are alright.

Last night we got to meet with Nattie and Yolli Zonszein, Irit and Itzik Lev and Judit and Danny Liwerant for a quadruple birthday celebration. Al four men have birthdays, but Danny’s was actually on the day. I loved the reaction of the young waitress when she heard that there were four Piscean men “All of you are Pisces? I pity your wives” A quiet female giggle was heard but luckily none of the men realised. We met in Tel Aviv and on the way home were met by unbelievable torrential rain – hard to drive, but luckily great roads. In Israel, even at midnight the roads are busy, as Telavivim come to Jerusalem events and Jerusalemites go to events in Tel Aviv!

Tonight we will go the opening Shabbat dinner of the Begin Symposium together with Barry and Monica Gurland. Menachem Begin, who fought when he had to and made peace when he knew he must. A true leader without any illusions of grandeur.

After Shabbat I have a fun event – right here in Arza – at the pool. Ladies of a certain age and over are all invited to a ‘Girl’s Evening” at the pool, bathing costumes and all (sorry but not me) for a pre-Purim party!!I’m really looking forward to it!

Almost done, about to have my breakfast then get myself ready to go to Rachel’s and get my cuddles from Yosef, Talia and Ayala. I won’t see them for a couple of weeks because……… finally and at last I am going to London to see Gideon and Stephanie, Sammy, Olivia and Zachary. To make everything perfect, my niece and nephew, Claire and Steve Bloom (who did an incredible job of collecting goods for refugees) will bring my siblings, Doreen, Ronnie and Sandie, to London to see me! I am bot nervous and excited beyond imagination that I will be with everyone (but especially the children) after nearly 3 long years.

Before I go I have to tell you about a wonderful initiative by an amazing young woman, a dear friend of Daniel’s from Carmel College. Her name is Rachel Feuerstein and she puts together beautiful sets of Shabbat necessities for travel. Rachel decided that every set that people buy go toward the Ukrainian refugees coming to Israel. I’d love you to take a look. They are gorgeous gifts whatever the situation.

Rachel just called to tell me that I must finish on a happy note. “Tell them about the flowers” Well, Zvi and I usually go into Jerusalem through the back road, toward Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem. I love it and drive Zvi crazy with my oooohs and aaahs ever two seconds as I see the puff balls of the almond blossom (shkediot), the carpets of wild rosemary, crimson calaniot (anemones), pink wild cyclamen which seem to grow out of the very rocks, tall, stately asphodel and purple lupins….spring is around the corner even if it is pouring rain outside!

The first piece of music that I could not resist was sent to me by my niece Rochelle.

A violinist in the London Symphony Orchestra initiated a video in which 94 violinists from around the world play (virtually) together with violinists in Ukraine, from their bunkers and homes. Moving and exceptionally beautiful

It was another war, another fight, another time but when Bob Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” it was all wars, all freedom, the story of the human plight, the human right to be free of oppression.

I am stepping right outside my comfort zone with the next song! I wanted to give you “Rozhinkes mit Mandlen (Raisins and Almonds) a traditional Yiddish lullaby, but instead you get a hip hop Purim song about strong Jewish women! Actually it makes sense after International Women’s Day because, Esther, the heroine of the story was a strong woman, prepared to plot, together with her Uncle Mordechai, for the downfall of Haman, the Chief Vizier of Shushan, Persia.

Time to go! I wish you a wonderful weekend, a great Shabbat. It is irrelevant to me how you pray or if you pray, as long as your invocations never turn to imprecations and your heart is open to all who need it. Zvi’s wonderful Mother used to say “If someone asks for something it is a sign that they need it” Both of our Mothers gave with a full heart and a helping hand.

Under the shadow of modern day Hamans, my prayer for this week is that human beings, wherever they may be, lift their heads from under the heavy boulder of oppression and raise their children in freedom and tolerance.

With love from Jerusalem, the city of gold, the city which embraces the full rainbow of humanity.

Shabbat Shalom and a wonderful Purim. Remember to read the story of Purim to your children. Teach them that they can be brave.