Sunday, November 15, 2015

When is terrorism not terrorism?

What happened this weekend in Paris is horrific, a heinous act of terror against innocent civilians. It is however only the most recent such attack this year against innocents by radical Islamist terror groups affiliated with Al Qaeda/Islamic State/Boko Haram/Al Shebab.

Over 200 Russian civilians were murdered recently when ISIS/Da"esh blew up a civilian airliner. Facebook didn't suggest changing my profile pic to the Russian flag. 100 Turkish civilians were murdered in a recent bombing of a pro-Kurdish peace rally in Ankara. No rash of Turkish or Kurdish solidarity flags. In recent days scores have been killed in terror attacks in Beirut and in Iraq. Most Western news outlets barely covered the story. in August 20 civilians were killed and over a hundred wounded in a terror attack in Bangkok. It drew media coverage and concern largely because of fears for Western tourists.

In April this year 147 Kenyan students, mostly Christians, were massacred by Al Shebab terrorists in their college. The New York Times described the murderers as "militants" and no one changed their FB profile to a Kenyan flag in solidarity with the people of Kenya.

20 people were killed in Cameroon by a 13 year-old suicide bomber this July. One of several such attacks in this West African nation. Last month 38 people were murdered and dozens injured in a double suicide bombing in the Chadian capital N'Djamena. There have been numerous terrorist shootings and suicide bombings in Mali and Nigeria this year, many "small" scale Boko Haram attacks on villagers in neighbouring Niger and Chad, shootings, throat slittings, beheadings and the like. They were barely reported in the international media. When is the last time anyone changed their FB picture to the flag of Mali in solidarity with this nation's suffering at the hands of al-Qaida/Boko Haram?

The only reason you heard about the massive terror attack in Sousse, Tunisia in June was that most of the 38 people murdered were Western tourists, hence it was a terror attack and the perpetrator was not simply a "militant".

And you wonder that no one seems to care about the wave of terror attacks in Israel or cares about a few murdered Israeli civilians?

If it doesn't happen in Western Europe or North America it hasn't really happened and probably isn't really terror and those probably aren't really innocent victims.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The twist is in the headline

It is stunning to watch the foreign press report on Israel, headline after headline screams that Israel is killing Palestinians, apparently for no reason, just because. Any time an Israeli is killed or hurt the headlines read that they were mysteriously "attacked" or "killed" or "hurt" but some entity, never actually identitfying who is doing the attacking, killing and hurting, it just happens, like a force of nature. 

A particularly egregious headline appeared in today's British "Independent" newspaper: "Israel kills pregnant mother and baby in revenge attack" - you know, Israel just went out and found a pregnant woman and her baby and executed them in revenge, as one does, when what actually happened was Jihadi folks in Gaza launched missiles at Israel, Israel responded by attacking a Gaza munitions factory making rocket parts and just plain bad luck meant that the explosion triggered a civilian house collapse nearby, killing the poor woman and her child inside. Very different story. Yes she is still dead, but there is a big difference between a "revenge attack" intending to kill her and an attempt to stop the manufacture of rockets being fired at Israeli civilians.

God Dies by the Nile and other stories

I first discovered Nawal el Saadawi in my early teens when I came across her novel about women in rural Egypt "God Dies by the Nile", and I was instantly fascinated, delving in to whatever books of hers I could find translated in to English.

Probably not the way most Orthodox Jewish teenage girls discover modern political feminism. My poor mother had no idea what I was reading - boy do I sympathise with her trying to keep up with the stacks of books I brought home from the library. Incredibly well read in several languages she encouraged me to read widely, though I suspect she didn't quite mean her young teen to read quite that widely.

Nawal El Saadawi taught me the harsh realities of life in rural Egypt, especially for young women. If until then I had some idea that there was extreme poverty and subjugation of women in rural areas across the Middle East her writing brought it in to stark relief, complete with graphic details that once learnt could not be erased. I was at once horrified and impressed by her courage and openess. Having both grown-up in these areas and returned to them as a doctor she was more than qualified in conveying just was it like to be a woman living in such circumstances.

Her work in promoting womens' health and education in Egypt, her fight against FGM, her campaign for womens' most basic and fundamental rights under such difficult circumstances, including imprisonment and threats against her life, made her one of my heroines alongside Hannah Sennesh and other Zionist icons I had grown-up with. I felt that she was one of those women who could change the Middle East for the better. Her story inspired me. 

El Saadawi is unfortunately no friend of Israel, her radical Marxism putting her on the side of the extreme anti-Israel camp, but as a young teen I always hoped that her zeal for justice and compassion might one day change that view of her Jewish northern neighbours.

She is still going strong in the new post-post Arab Spring Egypt, hoping that the leadership of General Sisi will bring the greater freedom, modernity and positive change that she has always hoped for.

Reading Nawal El Saadawi led me to other regional feminists and writers, like the writings of Lebanese/Egyptian/French author Andree Chedid, Palestinian feminist and PLO activist Raymonda Tawil (Yasser Arafat's mother-in-law) and a selection of women authors from the Maghreb countries and Lebanon.

What I discovered was a world full of unfamiliar and strange concepts, of incredible brutality, mindblowingly strict tradition and hard hearted men, but also full of women with the vision and hope to try to create something new, though in practice often running up against a very high and thick stone wall, sometimes quite literally.

It wasn't all feminism and theories of the patriarchy though. There were descriptions of the Westernised decadent middle and upper classes in Egypt and Lebanon, clashes of identity among the Francophone educated classes of the Maghreb, beautiful rural retreats and villages where the illusion of freedom could be reached just beyond the last house or among the circle of female relatives within the secure confines of the enclosed courtyard.

Very cliched sounding I know, but a huge eye opener to my teenage self, a window on places I could likely never visit, people who I would likely never know because along with their quest for freedom within their own societies and their rejection of many of the supposedly sacred truths of the Arab world, they generally still embraced a very firm hatred of Israel, be it framed in terms of the Marxist struggle against Western colonialism or the cultural/nationalist insistance on maintaining a united Arab front across the Middle East.

Most of these books were written in the revolutionary cultural fervour of the 1960s, 70s, even 80s, barely broaching the Islamist revolutions that were just starting to ferment in the region, replacing the secular Socialist and Marxist Arab nationalisms that had held sway among the revolutionary classes.

Looking at the post-Arab Spring Middle East it seems that the only perhaps Egypt and Tunisia have had revolutions that in any way matched the aspirations of these authors. Looking out over the broiling burning early 21st century Middle East I think often of their books and feminist ideals and I wonder if any of the women dashing off to join Da'esh may have read them too, and if not, perhaps they should. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Fifteen years later - The song remains the same (or at least similar)

I'm having a weird feeling of deja vu at the moment thinking back to events exactly fifteen years ago in the autumn of 2000 when I first started writing this blog. Can it be a coincidence that pretty much fifteen years to the day of the start of the Oslo War/Second Intifada a new Palestinian terror campaign has begun?

Back in autumn 2000 all hell was breaking loose, apparently random attacks on Israeli Jews by our Arab neighbours, riots in Arab Israeli neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, Jaffa and parts of the Galilee, some so severe that their Jewish neighbours were effectively under siege, cut off from the rest of the country by attacks on their roads. All this aside from violent confrontations in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. 

Israelis were stunned by the ferocity of it all, the hatred from people they had worked with, shopped with, ridden the buses with. Suddenly then, as now, you found yourself looking at each Arab you met in a different light. 

Was the nice hijabi woman next to you on the bus going to blow you all to kingdom come or or coo over your baby? If you stopped by a local Arab village to eat some of their excellent hummous or to buy some value furnishings would you get lynched? Could you trust the Arab sales clerk you worked side by side with in a local clothing store or might he or she suddenly knife you in the back? How safe was your Arab dentist or the Arab electrician doing repairs at your kids' school? 

How does society continue to function under such pressure? How do people manage to continue working together when one side is terrified of being murdered by their colleagues, their neighbours? 

Somehow Israel made it through that one, resisted the Palestinian terror war and despite all the pain and suffering, people started to trust each other again. Not as completely as before, few Israeli Jews resumed visiting or shopping in Palestinian areas, but little by little Jews began visiting Israeli Arab communities again, the tension subsided, coexistence remained a fixture of Israeli society.

The daily terror onslaught is back again now, in a slightly different format, less severe riots, many more stabbings and car rammings, but still assaults with the same dizzying frequency, Arab attack on Jews in towns and on roads across Israel, many concentrated in and around the Israel capital, Jerusalem. Parents have been killed in front of their children, and Israelis young and old have been wounded in grisly attacks. 

I wasn't a mother back in 2000, I am now, and it is a thousand times harder to negotiate this frightening uncertainty when you have to worry about your kids' safety as well as your own. Social media is abuzz with anxious parents trying to figure out how to carry on their lives without being reckless. 

In a country where kids are usually independent from a young age, walking to friends houses or to school alone, parents are suddenly insisting on driving them, even if its just around the block. Other parents are accompanying their kids on the buses, just in case. Youth groups have changed their outdoor meetings to enclosed spaces protected by armed guards. Kids aren't being allowed to hang out at the mall or in the park, certainly not without watchful parents armed with pepper spray. 

The latest wave of attacks on Israelis are sudden and seemingly random, Arabs who seem like ordinary people, a repairman, a law student, a graduate of Israel's prestigious Technion university, even a 13 year-old schoolboy, suddenly knifing Jews or ramming them with their cars. These aren't last summer's rocket attacks where we at least had a minute or so warning and sirens telling us to dash for cover, all the warning you get is someone lunging at you with a knife or charging their car at you. 

I hate the way I suddenly have to think twice about where the kids are likely to meet Arabs in our small town. Should I have them avoid the mall with its many Arab employees and shoppers? What about the park tended by an Arab gardening crew? The Arab doctors and nurses at a nearby urgent care clinic? Do I have to be nervous about the Arab construction company doing renovations in the building nextdoor? What about Arab bus drivers potentially ramming people walking in the streets? What about all our decent, law abiding Arab neighbours caught in the middle of this madness?

My heartbreaks from the horror of having to live this way, any of us, all of us. 

I don't know what the answer is, I don't know when it will end, if it will escalate, if someone somewhere will manage to calm the situation - it certainly doesn't seem as if the Palestinian leadership is that interested in doing so. 

Friday, October 09, 2015

Considering the massive international press presence in Israel you'd think one of them would have noticed that there seem to be rather a lot of our Palestinian neighbours trying to kill Israelis lately, rather than, you know, just those wicked Israelis randomly deciding to shoot people and all this disembodied "violence" floating around making mischief.

I realise the concept of Palestinians running around Israeli towns stabbing Israelis is a revolutionary and unprecedented one, but perhaps someone in the foreign press corps should investigate?

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Righteous neighbours

With all the horrific insanity of recent weeks, especially the bloodcurdling video of local Arab shopkeepers taunting the critically injured young Jewish mother and her baby in the Old City,I just wanted to mention an article I read recently, can't remember where.

It was the story of a Jewish family living in Hebron during the 1929 pogrom against the Jewish community there by their Arab neighbours. One family was saved by an Arab friend of the family. She hid them in her house. It turned out that her husband was one of the rioters out massacring Jews and he realised she was hiding a Jewish family. An Arab mob besieged the house and demanded that she hand them over. She responded that they'd have to kill her first. The mob relented and the Jewish family were saved.

More recently a car of visiting American yeshiva students took a wrong turn in Hebron and they too were set upon by a mob. A local Arab man rescued them from the bloodthirsty crowd, sheltering them in his home until Israeli security forces could arrive to take them to safety.

Our Arab neighbours are being egged on by their leadership to glorify the murder of Jews, to go out and perpetrate more acts of terrible bloodshed and scores of young Arabs have heeded this call in recent days.

In these times of once again feeling like we have to second guess every Arab we meet to see if they have a knife it's important to remember that there are also many good and level headed people among our Arab neighbours, though tragically not among the mainstream leadership, be they from the Palestinian Authority or even Arab members of Israel's Knesset.

Even with new campaign of attacks sowing terror in Israeli towns there are courageous men and women among our Arab neighbours who are trying to make their voices heard, continuing interfaith dialogues and peace prayers with their Jewish neighours, or speaking out on public television, like the mayor of Nazareth, pleading for calm and berating the rabble rousing and hate mongering of so many Israeli Arab politicians.

The decent and righteous among our Arab neighbours are the hope that one day the madness will end.

I pray that speedily and in our day their voices will be heard loud and clear.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Hallah for all

Observed waiting at the doc's office today:

Nurses, one with big Breslov style tikhel, chatting about getting together with a local hallah maven to do hafrashat hallah and workshop.

Elegantly dressed Russian accented woman joins in excitedly "I just did hafrashat hallah this morning too, can I join?"

Nurses enthusiastically welcome her to their hallah baking group.

Russian accented woman suddenly looks a little pensive "Your group is kosher though, right? Because I'm a goya."

Breslov tikhel nurse doesn't miss a beat, smiles warmly "Of course, this is Israel, all your ingredients are kosher, you're welcome."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Yom Yerushalayim Part II

Today, Jerusalem Day, I see throngs of Jewish youth and families clad in blue and white, clutching flags and glowing with the joy of the day as they pour in to Jerusalem from all over Israel.

Call me a soft touch but I still get a warm fuzzy feeling from seeing parents and children all clad in their Sabbath finest in honour of Yom Yerushalayim, starched white shirts gleaming in the sun, their faces overcome with the awe and gratitude of meriting to live in an era when Jews are free to come to the holy city once again ruled by a Jewish government after the millennia of our exile.

I too am awed at the privilege of being able to so casually walk over to the Western Wall to pray, of riding a bus whose route just happens to take us past the iconic walls of the Old City. I remember only too well my family's stories of visiting Jerusalem in the 50s and 60s, when not only were Judaism's holiest sites barred to Jews by the Jordanian occupation, but the city itself was divided through the centre by barbed wire and concrete barriers and walking through much of the city centre put Israelis at risk of Jordanian snipers who would from time to time take pot shots at civilians on the Israeli side of the armistice line. 

For all the problems and disputes faced by modern Jerusalem, how different it is today when older border areas like Mamilla, once a slum in the shadow of Jordanian snipers are now a glittering shopping and entertainment district where Jews, Arabs, Christians and tourists mingle in the just outside the walls of the Old City. I am not so naive as to think that Jerusalem's problems are solved, but neither am I so ungrateful as to ignore the improvements made in the last decades since the city was reunited. There is still much work to be done, but I am always hopeful.

More than anything though it is this everyday coexsitence, whether born of ideals or of practicality, that inspires me on Yom Yerushalayim. 

At one of my classes this morning the lecturer, a gifted man who is Bible scholar, historian and local tour guide, was talking about ancient Jerusalem in the time of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. Not the most joyous of periods. The most striking concept I took away from that talk was his idea about Isaiah's prophecies in that bleak period.

A new world order was developing thoughout the region, Assyria ascendent was a new power bent on military and cultural domination on a scale not seen until then.

Assyrian kings like Tilgat Pileser and Sanheirib marched across the ancient Middle East sweeping the smaller ancient kingdoms and city states before them, relocating vast numbers of people in what was effectively cultural genocide, erasing historic cities, nations, faiths and languages in their wake, uniting the region under a cruel regime, one language and by default, increasingly one culture emanating from Ninveh. 

Alone in this tide of destruction Jerusalem managed to survive, even as Sanheirib's forces laid waste to the northern kingdom of Israel and the other major cities of the kingdom of Judah, most famously Lakhish. Jerusalem herself suffered siege, waves of refugees flooding the city, but at the end of the day whether one calls it divine miracle or luck, Sanheirib was forced to retreat in disgrace, the walls of Jerusalem unbreached, a lone beacon of resistance.

This was the backdrop for Isaiah's famous prophecies of peace, brotherhood, the wolf and the lamb and swords in to ploughshares, an ideological resistance to the crushing militarism being broadcast from the Assyrian capital Ninveh, its palaces adorned with images like the famous Lakhish frieze depicting in gruesome details the destruction of that Judean city, the torture of captured Judean officers and the pitiful Jewish refugees fleeing the scene. Isaiah's response was to respond with a rival vision for the region, embodied by emphasising the message of Jerusalem as a city of peace, compassion and the humanity.

The modern day ruins of the ancient Assyrian capital Ninveh are adjacent to the modern Iraqi Kurdish city of Mosul. It sits on the frontline of the regional war between the forces of the Islamic State (ISIL) and those Kurds, Shiites and Iraqi government forces opposing their advance. Modern Mosul and the nearby Assyrian ruins have been sacked by ISIL, the proud remnants of Assyrian power, their idols, temples and friezes, laid waste by ISIL weaponry because of their heretical pre-Islamic character. Were the Lakhish frieze not safely ensconsed in the Assyrian gallery of the British Museum it too would have met the same fate.

Jerusalem stands in stark contrast to the flames whipping around our region. Despite the conflicts and tensions, occasional acts of violence, its message is one of people who on a daily basis are managing to live together, to make the city work, whether by accident or design the closest emodiment of Isaiah's prophetic vision in the Middle East today. Jerusalem is far from perfect, but one of the messages of Yom Yerushalayim is very much this voice of Isaiah, an Israeli ruled Jerusalem which is open to all faiths and all peoples, a message that we can live together in this most sacred of cities.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Yom Yerushalayim Part 1

I'm delighted that this year I've been able to return to my Torah studies in Jerusalem, even more so that it's with my daughter in tow, having a chance to share with her not only the pleasure of in depth Bible study with some amazing scholars but also to have a weekly date with her in Jerusalem.

One of my greatest joys has always been spending time in Jerusalem, just walking her streets, riding the buses, being part of this wonderful frustrating holy impossible city and giving my daugher a more in depth knowledge of the city beyond its holiness and major historic sites, an appreciation for how special she is even in the mundane workings of her streets, neighbourhoods, markets and buses.

The Jerusalem stories that make the headlines tend not to be the everyday observations that are truly what make this city function. News reports only seem to pick up on points of tension, of Arab against Jew or rigid old school religious populations clashing with the city's more liberal populations. And it's true, yes, there is no shortage of problems here, of cultural conflict, of political and national aspirations doomed to butt heads it seems for all eternity.

And yet for me this is not the true headline of Jerusalem, this isn't the real news story. I can never read books when riding the buses, I'm too busy watching the people, my fellow passengers, the stories of the people outside my window. My Jerusalem is one which despite the international news reports to the contrary is one of de facto coexistence, disparate peoples thrust together and united by their love and connection to the city.

My Jerusalem is the young Hareidi ultra-Orthodox man hopping off the bus to aid an elderly lady, her gnarled hands trying to juggle hoisting herself on to the bus and her bulging bags of produce from the market. He nimbly grabs her bags in one hands, offers her his other to help her mount the steep step up from the street, and then gives up his seat to her so that she can sit quickly near the front of the bus before it lurches off on it's route.

It is the middle aged woman who sees a heavily pregnant woman and her frail elderly companion get on a crowded bus and who immediately sets about rearranging the passengers, Jews, Arabs, Christian clergy and tourists, so that these women will have somewhere to sit near the front. 

Or the older man who looks like he's doing an impression of the Fonz, all slicked dyed black hair, tight white t-shirt and gold medallion who sees an elderly couple struggling to get off the bus at their stop and hails the driver loudly "Driver, driver, wait up, what if these were your grandparents trying to disembark!" while at the same time holding the door open for them and lending a hand as they gingerly step down to the pavement, then helping a mother with a baby pram on to the bus, offering to go to the front to swipe her bus pass for her so she can stay with the unwieldy buggy and baby.

It is the teens and college students who've organised a sort of voluntary squad of helps who offer to carry heavy shopping for those doing their groceries at the Mahane Yehuda Market. The Arab produce vendor who seeds a poor Hareidi woman telling her children they can't afford the latest in season fruit and they'll have to make do with just the basics, so while she's rummaging in her purse he slips a an extra bag with fine winter red oranges and strawberries into her meagre shopping basket without her noticing. Turning to me, the next customer, he says, "It's a big holiday coming up you know (this is just around Hannukah), and the Sabbath soon, she should have something special for the children."

It is the fact that according to several studies and surveys beggars make more money in Jerusalem than anywhere else, this despite Jerusalem being one of Israel's poorer cities with many populations who struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis.

It is the young modern Orthodox Ethiopian yeshiva student in his white shirt and knitted yarmulka learning Gemara while riding the bus. An older Hassidic man gets on and sits next to him, peers over his shoulder at the page of Gemara, hesitates, and then in heavily Yiddish accented Hebrew asks the younger man about his studies. They spend the rest of the ride discussing the sugya. I'm sitting behind them and can just about make out that the matter at hand is Masekhet Brakhot, the section dealing with the blessings one makes over fruits and how one decides which to bless and eat first.

It is the ambulance pulling up to help someone who has collapsed in the street, and the paramedics who leap out of the vehicle are a modern Orthodox young woman and an Arab man. The ambulance driver looks Hassidic.

This is what I see every week as I wend my way across neighbourhood after neighbourhood, through the bustling Mahane Yehuda market and central bus station, quiet suburbs and historic stone clad streets in the heart of ultra-traditional Hassidic Jerusalem. This is my Jerusalem.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Giving thanks

So now we've had the week of horror at "nothing to eat" because of no kitniot, the other posts about how yom tov is "too much food" and today the endless complaints about rain in the spring, and yes, I get that it's fun to complain, but if I may be pardoned a rant of my own a few days before Yom Hashoah.

Barukh Hashem we have matza and wine and fresh fruits and veg and eggs and meat and fish for those who eat them and nuts and quinoa for those who don't. We are free to openly celebrate Pesah and have access to enough food that we and our families have the choice of what and how much to serve, safe in the knowledge that no one will either arrive or leave the yom tov meal starving. We have choices and bounty that even pre-Shoah Jews in comfortable communities would be in awe of.

Even in our days of comparitive comfort though there are families who cannot afford enough food for Pesah, and Barukh Hashem we live in communities where people donate and contribute and volunteer to help those who need it and invite those with nowhere to go.

It's true, the last few days in Israel have been unseasonally cold and wet, but please remember that every bit of rain is a brakhah that sustains life in this arid region. We are not so rich in water that we can complain about an extra "windfall" of rain so late in the season, especially after so many years of drought. And it isn't as if we didn't have plenty of days of sun to enjoy the beautiful Israeli spring before the weekend's cloudburst.

I'm not saying one can never complain (I would appear to be complaining right now) but please people, some perspective, some hakarat hatov.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Elections

OK, some Israeli election facts for folks abroad who asked:

25 parties competing

120 seats in the Knesset (Israeli parliament)

Threshold required to enter the Knesset 3.25% of the vote

The third largest party in the Knesset is now Arab (United Arab List) 

This Knesset has the highest number of Arab MKs of any Knesset. The new Knesset also has more women MKs than ever.

Head of the Central Election Committee: Supreme Court Justice Salim Jubran

When the official tally is in the president (whose position is mostly that of ceremonial head of state) will give the head of the party he considers most likely to be able to form a majority government of at least 61 Knesset members the opportunity to create a coalition. If they cannot do so in the allotted time the president can suggest the head of another party to try.

As for why Binyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu won?

I think many Israelis consider him a relatively safe pair of hands. Even if he isn't their favourite person he seems to be able to keep the Israeli ship on an even keel, negotiate the perilous region reasonably well. Not that he isn't without his mistakes, misteps and miscomments. Israelis are wary of experiments though, burned by the Oslo peace talks which erupted into the bloody Oslo intifada, waves of terrorism and the poorly handled Second Lebanon War during the government of Ehud Olmert (in which Tzipi Livni was also foreign minister). 

Netanyahu proved himself capable but cautious during last summer's conflict with Gaza. He did not rush in to military action except as a last resort when there were no other options and Israel had to act in self-defense. He kept a realistic view of what the aims of that war should be, he did not shoot his mouth off with bombastic statements, focusing on getting the job done and protecting Israelis from Hamas rockets and terror. No one is under any illusions that he is perfect, but so far his has done a reasonable job.

One other reason I think people voted Bibi. Tzipi Livni has been in charge of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in the outgoing Netanyahu government. Despite her willingness for compromise there was no deal to be had. Obama's pressuring of one side, ie Israel helped to entrench Abbas' view that he could dig in and reject Livni's offers because time was on his side and more could be squeezed out of the Israeli negotiating team. 

The outgoing Netanyahu led government released large numbers of Palestinian terrorists convicted for violent offences, including multiple murders, took the groundbreaking measure (for a Likud led government) of freezing construction over the Green Line, including the (for a Likud led govt) unheard of step of freezing construction in Jerusalem itself. Livni's negotiating team did all it could to go the extra mile. Yet the end result was complete rejection on the part of Abbas and more unilateral moves on his part to fight Israel on the international stage with BDS, the Hague and more. This is the background to Bibi's comments about 2 state solution and this is why many Israelis felt that Bibi and Livni had done their best but there was no deal to be had, so the best option was electing a "manager", someone like Bibi who would make the best of maintaining the "status quo" as it is.




Sunday, March 15, 2015

Jerusalem's everyday kindness

Today in Jerusalem riding a very slow bus through Shivtei Yisrael/Haneviim through to the centre of town had plenty of time for people watching:

1) Bus couldn't pull in to the stop due to parked cars, older Hareidi man was getting off the bus and noticed a frail elderly lady having trouble walking from the bus shelter to the bus, he stretched out his hand, offered her physical support and let her lean on him to get off the curb and up on to the bus and into a seat.

2) Heavily pregnant lady was having trouble getting on the bus with her heavy bags. Young Hassidic guy walked up to her and lifted her bags on to the bus, took them to his seat near the front and offered her his seat while he moved to the back of the bus.
3) Pair of tourists dressed in skimpy vests and tight jeans buying falafel at a kiosk, Hareidi man behind the counter serving them with a smile and good humour.
4) Man in a large knitted kipa, peyot and beard guiding a blind Arab man on to the bus.
5) Young Hassidic couple walking in the street, she in pink blouse and headscarf and light grey skirt, their similarly attired young daughter between them each holding one of her hands and swinging her while the three of them walking down the street laughing and chatting together.

Every time I go in to Jerusalem I see scenes like this and I feel like dropping a note to the world, not because the problems of this city aren't just as real, but to remind folks, especially those outside of Jerusalem and Israel that this is also part of the reality of life here, it is far from just modesty signs and disputes and tensions. Gmilut hassadim, loving kindness to one's fellow human being, is still very much alive and part and parcel of everyday life and coexistence in the city and that is what gives me hope for our nation, our future and the Middle East.

Alone in this crazy, combustable region of the world Jerusalem still manages to keep Isaiah's vision of peace and brotherly love real and tangible. Not through great projects and initiatives and politics (though there are many worthy individual engaged in such work), but through the simple practicality of throwing so many different people together in a patchwork city and creating a situation where they have to mix and mingle and cooperate in order to keep their city functioning, in order to live, and through the simple act of everyday living even the most polarised ideological foes have to experience the humanity of the other. I am not so naive as to believe that this will bring real peace tomorrow, but I do know that it is a great deal closer to realising that dream than just about any other city in the Middle East. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Loopy for lupins

This spring we have made several visits to the wonderful Tel Sokho nature reserve, site of the biblical and Talmudic era town of Sokho. The reason to visit this site right NOW is to see the glorious amazing lupins, great swathes of them spread over the ridge and down some of the slopes, one of the greatest seasonal wonders of central Israel.

A flower trip with the our family has to involve a critter safari so here, along with some of the wonderful flowers are some of the more interesting reptiles and bugs we met (the butterflies were too elusive to capture on camera, but we saw some beauties my daughter declared to be courting couples)






























Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Uri Orbach, may his memory be for a blessing

Today Israel lost one of her finest, children's author, journalist, politician and finally government minister Uri Orbach z"l.

Many leading rabbis, politicians, journalists and public figures have written tributes to this special man, people who knew him well and less well, who worked with him, appeared on tv and radio with him, served in government with him.

I am by no means one of those, I barely knew him personally, but what I did know of him was that every sterling testiment to his goodness you'll read in the press is 1000% true.

Uri Orbach prayed at our local synagogue. He sat a couple of rows behind my husband's seat. A leading public figure but he sat in a regular seat in a middle row pew just like any ordinary synagogue goer, not special honours, no place of privilege. He greeted everyone with the same genuine smile and shabbat shalom.

My oldest child has always loved his books; from kindergarten onwards they were some of the Jewish themed stories she liked to take to synagogue with her. One Friday night Uri Orbach noticed that she was reading a book he had written. Without revealing that he was the author he asked her about the book, whether she liked it, what she liked or didn't like and all with a gentle humour and smile that put the little girl at her ease.

This became a sort of ritual, he'd see her with a book, often one of his, ask her about it, she'd chat a little about the book, he'd wish her shabbat shalom and that was it. He never let on that he was the author of some her books.

Only later did another congregant let alone who the man who liked to talk about books was. And she was thrilled, a real live author of some of her favourite books who prayed in the same synagogue as her.