The Story Seldom Told

By  Rolene Marks

This week, two momentous dates in history were remembered. Not with much fanfare but with the odd tweet or posting on social media platforms; but these were dates and events that altered the course of history and the profound effects are felt to this day. The first was the partition vote at the United Nations in 1947 that would pave the way for the creation of the Jewish State, the other was the commemoration of the expulsion of Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries.

On the 29th of November 1947, the United Nations voted to divide what was then British Mandate Palestine into two – land for the Jews and for the Arabs. The Jews accepted, and the modern state of Israel was on its way to being born. The Arabs refused and would soon declare war on the fledgling Jewish State. The State of Israel would be formally declared by David Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister, on the 14th of May 1948. The Arab response would take place on the night of 14-15 May, when the forces of Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon invaded. The Egyptian Foreign Minister informed the United Nations Security Council that “Egyptian armed forces have started to enter Palestine to establish law and order” (his cable to the Security Council, S/743, 15 May 1948). Arab leaders at the time encouraged their citizens to leave until they had “driven the Jews into the sea”.  Israel would mobilise as many of its able citizens as possible and the Haganah and Palmach (part of Haganah) forces would combine to form the Israel Defense Forces. By the end of the war, Israel was victorious and had made significant territorial gains. Many of the Arab citizens declined to return, despite the invitation by Ben Gurion in the Declaration of Independence to be equal citizens and help build the new state.

2014

What is a seldom discussed story (at least until recent years) has been the experience of Jews living in MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) countries during this time. For centuries and even millennia in some, Jews thrived in these countries. At the time of the Muslim conquests of the 7th century, ancient Jewish communities had existed in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Jews under Islamic rule were given the status of dhimmi (second-class citizenship), often subjected to a special dhimmi tax, along with certain other pre-Islamic religious groups. These groups were accorded certain rights as “People of the Book”. In medieval times, many Jews found refuge in Muslim lands; but there were other times when Jews fled persecution in Muslim lands and found refuge in Christian lands. Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula were invited to settle in various parts of the Ottoman Empire, where they would often form a prosperous model minority of merchants acting as intermediaries for their Muslim rulers.

Jews would live there for centuries, speaking the same language and observing many of the same customs and integrating well with their fellow citizens. This would change dramatically in 1948.

By 1948 Jewish communities in MENA countries, were flourishing in their numbers. In Morocco the community numbered 265 000, Iran 100 000, Algeria 140 000, Egypt 75 000 and in substantial numbers in other countries.

With the birth of the State of Israel, the reaction from the Arab world was hostile. Some Jews started to leave these countries but were forced to leave their belongings behind; for the majority, their fate was more terrifying.  Here are some accounts of what happened to these communities:

Iraq:

In Iraq, where a large community of Jews lived for 2,600 years, violent riots known as the Farhud erupted in June 1941. These riots targeted the Jewish population, mainly in Baghdad.  Soldiers who attempted a failed coup took advantage of the power vacuum left by a lack of leadership; and swarmed into Jewish communities together with a bloodthirsty mob, killing 179 innocent people, injuring more than 2,100, and leaving 242 children orphans. This act of violence was celebrated across the Arab world and in Nazi Germany.

Death to Jews. On 1 June 1941, a Nazi-inspired pogrom erupted in Baghdad, bringing to an end more than two millennia of peaceful existence for the city’s Jewish minority.

In 1948, as a response to UNGA Resolution 181 (“the Partition Plan”) and Israel’s independence, laws were passed making Zionism a criminal and even a capital offense, allowing the police to raid and search thousands of Jewish homes for any evidence of Zionism. Between May 1950 and August 1951, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government succeeded in airlifting approximately 110,000 Jews to Israel in Operations Ezra and Nehemiah. At the same time, 20,000 Jews were smuggled out of Iraq through Iran. A year later, the property of Jews who emigrated from Iraq was frozen, and economic restrictions were placed on Jews who remained in the country.

Morocco

Prior to World War II, the Jewish population of Morocco was approximately 265,000, and though they were not deported by the Nazis, they still suffered great humiliation under the Vichy French government. Following the war, the situation deteriorated.

In June 1948, bloody riots in Oujda and Djerada killed 44 Jews and wounded many more. That same year, an unofficial economic boycott was instigated and by 1959, Zionist activities were declared illegal. In 1963, at least 100,000 Moroccan Jews were forced out from their homes and approximately  150,000 Jews sought refuge in Israel, France and the Americas.

Last Man Standing. Most the Jews in Morocco today are dead and buried. In this 2018 photograph, Joseph Sebag is the last Jewish man in the seaside Moroccan town of Essaouira.

In 1965, Moroccan writer Said Ghallab described the attitude of Moroccan Muslims toward their Jewish neighbours:

The worst insult that a Moroccan could possibly offer was to treat someone as a Jew. The massacres of the Jews by Hitler are exalted ecstatically. It is even credited that Hitler is not dead, but alive and well, and his arrival is awaited to deliver the Arabs from Israel.”

Egypt

In the 1940s, hostility against the Egyptian Jewish community, which numbered around 80,000, increased. Laws were passed limiting the employment of Egyptians of Jewish descent, as well as requiring majority shareholders of companies to be Egyptian nationals. Since Jews were denied citizenship as a rule, many Jews lost their jobs and businesses.

During the 1948 War of Independence, thousands of Egyptian Jews were put into internment camps, forced out of their jobs, and arrested for supposed collaboration with an enemy state. Synagogues, homes, and businesses were bombed, and many Jews were killed and wounded. More than 14,000 Jews immigrated to Israel during this time seeking safety. Between 1948 and 1958, more than 35,000 Jews fled Egypt. 

End of an Era. Jews forced to leave, a former Jewish school, Abbasyia, Cairo.

Between 1956 and 1968 another 38,000 Jews fled Egypt, many to Israel, to escape systematic persecution such as government expropriation of their homes and businesses and arbitrary arrests.

Yemen

The Yemeni Jews endured some of the worst persecution. At the end of November 1947, the Arab population of Aden held a 3-day strike in protest against UNGA Resolution 181 (the Partition Plan). The protest quickly turned violent. Over 80 Yemeni Jews were slaughtered, more than 100 Jewish-owned businesses were looted, and homes, schools, and synagogues were burnt to the ground. This was one of the most violent attacks on any Jewish population in the Arab world.

Fleeing for their Lives. A Yemenite family walking through the desert to a reception rescue camp near Aden.

The Israeli government embarked on a unique plan to save the persecuted Yemeni Jews. From 1949 to 1950, “Operation Magic Carpet” (known in Hebrew as “On the Wings of Eagles”) went into effect. US and British aircraft were used, flying o Aden and airlifting the Jews from Yemen and bringing them to Israel. By the end of the operation, over 47,000 Yemeni Jews were rescued.

 Libya

 Jews lived and thrived in Libya for more than 2,300 years, with a population of over 37,000. During World War II, the Libyan government implemented their own Nazi-inspired policies; and more than  2,000 Jews were transported to desert concentration camps where hundreds died. In post-war Libya, Arab nationalism grew in popularity, resulting in violent attacks against the Jewish community.

Thriving Jewish Life. City Jews of Tripoli, Libya, 1925. (Photo by G. Casserly/Royal Geographical Society via Getty Images)

In 1945, in the city of Tripoli, more than 140 Jews were killed in a violent antisemitic riot, and a few years later in 1948, violent attacks resulted in 12 dead and the destruction of over 280 Jewish homes. In the three years between 1948 and 1951, 30,972 Jews fled to Israel due to hostile government policies.

Inside Story. Interior of a former Jewish Home in Libya. Jews had lived in Libya for over two millennia.

Syria

By 1943, the Jewish community of Syria numbered approximately 30,000.  After Syrian independence from France, the new Arab government prohibited Jewish immigration to Palestine, severely restricted the teaching of Hebrew in Jewish schools and called for boycotts against Jewish businesses. Attacks against Jews escalated with no intervention. In 1945, in an attempt to thwart international efforts to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the Syrian government fully restricted Jewish emigration, burned, looted and confiscated Jewish property, and froze Jewish bank accounts.

When the UN partition was declared in 1947, Arab mobs in Aleppo devastated the 2,500-year-old Jewish community and left it in ruins. Many Jews were killed, and more than 200 homes, shops and synagogues were destroyed. Thousands of Jews illegally fled as refugees, 10,000 going to the United States and 5,000 to Israel. Their remaining property was taken by the local Muslims.

Road from Damascus. A Jewish family in Aleppo, Syria, circa 1910.(Library of Congress)

Syrian Jews that remained were in effect hostages of a hostile regime as the government intensified its persecution. Jews were stripped of their citizenship and experienced employment discrimination. Assets were frozen and property confiscated. The community lived under constant surveillance by the secret police and the freedom of movement was also severely restricted. Any Jew who attempted to flee faced either the death penalty or imprisonment at hard labour camps. Jews could not acquire telephones or driver’s licenses and were barred from buying property.  The road to the airport was constructed over the Jewish cemetery in Damascus and schools were closed and handed over to Muslims.

The story of the Jews from MENA countries is a very important part of modern history that has gained traction in recent years. Concerted efforts have been made by the government to remember and commemorate this and the 30th of November has been declared an official day of commemoration of Jewish Refugees.

Today, the majority of Israelis are descendants from those who had to flee MENA countries with an estimated 1 million who can trace their roots back to Morocco.  It is incumbent on us to bear witness and tell their stories.

Theirs cannot be the story seldom told.




While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

The Oscar Winner and Plungė

Recent passing in the UK of celebrated Academy award-winning scriptwriter brings back memories of his Lithuanian roots

By Danutė Serapinienė

First appeared in the local Lithuanian newspaper and translated into English with the help of the writer‘s  daughter, Rita Williams.

On September 8th 2020, at the age of 85, the South African-born British author, playwright, and screenwriter, Sir Ronald Harwood passed away. Best known for his plays for the British stage as well as the screenplays for The Dresser and The Pianist, for which he won the 2003 Acadamy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, Harwood‘s roots trace back to Plungė (in Yiddish Plungyan).

Cape Town born, Sir. Ronald Harwood in his study in London.

The writer‘s  father was born and spent his childhood in our city and this year marks the 15th anniversary of this celebrated writer‘s first and last visit to his father’s homeland.

Two classmates from Cape Town

Ronald Harwoods father was Isaac Horwitz. As a teenager, in 1902 he arrived in Cape Town in South Africa, and in 1934, his son Ronald was born. The boy found himself in the same class throughout his schooing at Sea Point Boys School as Abel Levitt, whose father was also from Plungė, but the two were unaware of this at the time. After matriculating, the friends parted ways.

In 1951, Ronald moved from Cape Town to London  to pursue a career in the theatre, and following an English master telling him his surname was too foreign and too Jewish for a stage actor, he changed it from Horwitz to Harwood.

In 1959, he married Natasha Riehle (1938-2013), the granddaughter of a 7th generation descendant of the Russian Empress, Catherine the Great and had three children – Anthony, Deborah, and Alexander.

From 1993 to 1997, Harwood was president of the International Club of PEN (Poets, Essays, Novelists),  and from 2001 to 2004, he served as president of the Royal Literary Society. The creative legacy of this writer would span 24 stage plays, 20 screenplays, 33 books and publications. Nominated 32 times for various awards, Harwood won eight, his most presigious being the Oscar for The Pianist, which revealed his strong interest in the Nazi period, especially the situation of people who either chose to collaborate with the Nazis or who faced strong pressure to do so and consequently had to work out their own personal combination of resistance, deception and compromise.

Sir Ronald poses with his Best Adapted Screenplay award for “The Pianist” during the 75th Annual Academy Awards in 2003 (Credit: Getty)

His schoolfriend Abel settled in Israel. Together with his wife Glenda, they pursued a path of honouring the memory of Abel‘s relatives and other Jews of Plungė killed during the Holocaust in Kaušėnai, and helped to establish the Tolerance Education Center at the Saulė Gymnasium. For their outstanding efforts in preserving Jewish history and culture in the Plungė district, Abel and Glenda Levitt were awarded in 2014 our Municipaliy‘s Badge of Honor. This was followed in 2019, when the Lithuanian Embassy in Israel awarded the Levitts‘ the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs badge of honor, the “Star of Lithuanian Diplomacy” for fostering relations between the Republic of Lithuania and the State of Israel and perpetuating historical memory.

Relations between the two classmates were resumed when Abel read Harwood’s novel “Home” and learnt that Ronald’s father had emigrated to South Africa from Plungė. Abel called Ronald and suggested “What about you and Natasha joining us in a trip to our shtetl Plungyan?” They immediately agreed.  

“Our Shtetl”. Plunge before World War II from where the fathers of both Sir. Ronald Harwood and Abel Levitt came from before emigrating to South Africa.(Photo Collection, 181co)

Returning to their Roots

On May 25, 2005, Ronald and Natash Harwood and Abel and Glenda Levitt arrive in Plungė and visit Jakov Bunka, known as “The last Jew in Plungė”. Next, they visit the Kaušėnai memorial, where 1,800 Jews from Plungė were murdered in July 1941. Although Ronald’s family had allready left before the Holocaust, he walked in silence, deeply moved, shrouded in the sanctity of the moment.

Next, our  guests visited Saulės Gymnasium, where in an open lesson held in the Assembly Hall, Ronald addressed the gathered students and teachers and spoke about the making of the film “The Pianist”, basing his script on the memoirs of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Jewish pianist living in Poland. After the Nazis occupied Warsaw, the musician, separated from his family, went into hiding for several years. The idea of ​​the film, explained Ronald, was not to give in to the terrible force of events and to remain a spiritually unbroken person. The screenwriter recounted how the lead actor, the talented American Adrien Brody, had to starve to appear physically like a hunted and hungry man. Not eating normally, the actor was naturally and constantly melancholy – contibuting to the realism of his performance. Admitting that he had  initially agonised how to begin the screenplay – the opening being so important –  he revealed that it was the film’s director, Roman Polanski whocame up with the idea of the main character playing the piano in the opening scene. The screenwriter took advantage of that advice – then came the inspiration to ‘compose’ all the frames and present the protagonist playing the piano in the finale. This film won three Oscars – Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay. Harwood took questions from the audience.

Somber Note. Adrien Brody in the role of Wladyslaw Szpilman, the real-life concert pianist who spent two years hiding in the ghetto of Warsaw during the German occupation of Poland in World War II seen here in Roman Polanski’s Holocaust The Pianist, screenplay by Sir. Ronald Harwood. 

Visiting that afternoon the Samogitian Art Museum, Harwood was met as he entered the hall with a melody by Frederik Chopin played by the pianist of Plungė‘s Mykolas Oginskis Art School. It was a moving introduction to his next encounter as it was the same melody from the opening sequence in The Pianist. It powerfully resonated; after all, the movie’s soundtrack symbolises a belief in life and human purpose that man can find in himself the strength to restore a shattered world even while enduring the horrors of Nazism.  

Music was his Passion, Survival was his Masterpiece. Poster for the award winning film, ‘The Pianist’ about Wladyslaw Szpilman.

Again speaking about the making of the film, Harwood also spoke  about himself and his father who came from Plungė, and answered questions from the audience. The meeting concluded with a photograph of all the participants.

The next day, the Harwoods and Levitts visited Kazys Vitkevičius, the last surviving rescuer of Jews in the Plungė district.

In 1941, at the age of 14, he helped his mother Emilia Vitkevichienė hide and feed Jewish girls. He did this by digging pits in which he hid the girls covered by branches, and bringing them food. Both his mother and Kazys were honoured by Yad Vashem as ‘Righteous among the Nations‘. Ronald and Natasha were visibly moved by the experience of meeting this special man.

At the special reception for our guests at the Municipality, Abel and Glenda Levitt were most impressed by Harwoods words to Algirdas Pečiulis, the mayor of Plungė:

Mr. Mayor, I know you have difficulties with the budget. I appeal to you no matter what you decide, don’t cut the cultural budget so as not to harm your community.”

These words inspired Abel and Glenda to organize with the Saulė Gymnasium Tolerance Centre, “The Ronald Harwood Holocaust Art competition”. Since that time, the Competition has grown from a local, then to a regional and presently to a national event.

Exposing the Past. Drawing by Karolina age 14, a participant in the annual Ronald Harwood Holocaust Art Competition. Note the open eye, an admission of seeing and knowing.

Seeing Light Beyond Darkness

The aim of the Ronald Harwood Holocaust Art Competition is to encourage students to explore a dark chapter in their history and to  express their understanding of it through art. Simply put, school children would be invited to dance, sing, write or paint their insights of the Holocaust.

Confronting History. ‘A Stain on History’ by student Bernadetta Plunge a participant in the annual Ronald Harwood Holocaust Art Competition.

In the spring of 2007, the final event of the first competition took place, which was attended by students and their teachers from Plungė, Palanga and Mažeikiai. Abel and Glenda Levitt came from Israel to assist in judging the competition, while Harwood, who was unable to attend due to commitments of work, sent a letter to the participants, which was read aloud to everyone. He wrote of his strong family roots to  Plungė and the memories from his last visit that gave him strength in his daily life. He believed that his late father, “would be deeply moved, knowing that I could breathe the same air he breathed as a boy and that I could look up at the same sky he did.”

Gone Forever. “Oblivion” by student Albertas from Plunge captures generations of young Jews lost forever in the Holocaust.

He recounted the impact it had on him hearing of the massacres and seeing the graves in Kaušėnai and meeting the heroic rescuer of Jewsish girls – Kazys Vitkevičius:

 “I learned that, despite the horror he experienced, he has survived as a bright example of goodness and courage. He showed the light where I saw only darkness.”

Your Ronnie”

In 2010, Ronald Harwood was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of England and became Sir. Ronald Harwood and his wife Lady Harwood. The Tolerance Education Center at the Saulė Gymnasium congratulated  Sir. Ronald Harwood who replied with thanks ending his email – “Your Ronnie”.

Signing off with such familiarity from someone who mixed in social circles from world leaders to celebrity film stars, as well as being hosted  for a dinner by Prince Charles and Camilla on the occasion of the writer’s 80th birthday, truly resonated with the people of Plungė.

Sir Ronald Harwood receives a knighthood for Services to Drama Investitures at Buckingham Palace (Credit: Rex Features)

In the 13 years of the Ronald Harwood Holocaust Art Competition, over 800 students have participated. Over the years, interest in the competion has expanded geographically with particiation from schools in Ariogala, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Šiauliai, Vilnius, Alytus, Marijampolė and Kėdainiai. Such support for the goals of the competition offers hope that the current generation can help to create a more beautiful world.

In countries and cities abroad, Abel and Glenda Levitt have exhibited many of these fine artworks by students at schools  confronting the haunting question of “What happened to our Jewish communities during the Holocaust? ”

Towards A Tomorrow Of Tolerance. Lithuanian Ambassador Edminas Bagdonas (left) awards Abel and Glenda Levitt with the Medal of Honor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Lithuanian Embassy in Tel Aviv on the 4th June 2019. (Photo D.E. Kaplan.)
 

They are confronting through art their past to seek a more enlighened future.

At these exhibitions  – which have been held at Plungė Public Library, Biržai, the Israeli cities of Tel Mond, Netanya, Kfar Saba, Jerusalem, Herzliya, Ra‘anana, Tel Aviv, South African cities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, as well as London, Toronto and Washington – the Levitts speak about Lithuania and the Tolerance Centre in Plungė, which promotes the values of humanity and tolerance through art. So thank you to Abel and Glenda in helping to  bring the better angels of our city to the outside world. Let me end with the words that “Ronnie“ concluded in his letter to the first contestant of the art competition:

Politics is temporary, but art is eternal.”

It can be said too that the life of Sir Ronald Harwood was temporary but his message eternal. He has left us a legacy that illuminates the road ahead for those that remain to follow.

Revealing the Truth. The writer Danutė Serapinienė (centre) receives an award from the President of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda (right) for her contribution to educating about the Holocaust that took place in Lithuania.


The Lost Names of Lithuania. The first of two documentary films telling the story of the Jews of Birzai. This poignant film chronicles the astonishing group tour to BIrzai last year. The second documentary, now being made, will tell the depressing story of modern Lithuania (Click on the picture or caption).




About the Writer:

Danutė Serapinienė is a retired schoolteacher in Plungė. She recently received an award by the State President of Lithuania for her role in educating about the Holocaust in Lithuania.







While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 29 November 2020

Unveiling the contours and contrasts of an ever-changing Middle East landscape
Reliable reportage and insightful commentary on the Middle East by seasoned journalists from the region and beyond

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Beauty and the Beach

An architectural masterpiece on Tel Aviv coastline will elevate city’s global cultural status

By David E. Kaplan

Marvel on the Med. A ‘shape’ of things to come, an emerging cultural icon -Tel Aviv’s World’s Jewish Museum.
 

Picturesquely positioned  between the deep blue of the Mediterranean and the Yarkon River, Tel Aviv’s future World’s Jewish Museum will  lift the city to new prominence in the world of contemporary design by packing ‘art’ into ’architecture’. Designed by the legendry Frank Gehry, the future museum will explore the contributions that Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel have made to civilization over 3,500 years of human history.

Beauty and the Beach

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First & Foremost

Allow our bodies to perform the way they were designed for

By Lionel Phillips

Breath of Fresh Air. Breathing correctly contributes to improved health and less taxing on country’s health services.

Each system in our body relies on the proper function of all other systems.  Should one be unable to function efficiently, all other systems will be adversely affected. International Fitness & Health Instructor, Lionel Phillips, instructs on how we can achieve the best of our bodies.

First & Foremost

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Weathering the Storm

Setting a course for family survival

By Gabi Crouse

Shush! Daddy Needs to Focus. Working from home while ‘managing’ the kids requires skillful parenting.

Coping with Corona is hardly a ‘breeze’! Employment concerns, financial uncertainties, working from home, managing the kids, ensuring healthy eating,   and monitoring school studies takes its toll on families. A wife, mother and new immigrant in Israel, the writer reveals with insight, wit and warmth, how to chart a course and emerge with a smile.

Weathering the Storm

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While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Beauty and the Beach

An architectural masterpiece  on Tel Aviv’s coastline canvas will enhance the city among the leading cultural capitals of the world

By David E. Kaplan

It is said that the 21st century is destined to be the century of cities rather than countries. This forecast is evident in the vocabulary of today’s tourists –  at least before Corona –  of visiting Paris, Barcelona, St. Petersburg or Shanghai rather than mentioning the countries in which they are situated – France, Spain, Russia or China!

Down by the Riverside. On the banks of the Yarkon River and a few steps from the sea, Tel Aviv’s future World’s Jewish Museum.

More than half the world’s population has already moved to cities and this is expected to rise to 80% by the middle of this century. With so many cities vying for center stage, Tel Aviv is now going beyond its branding of being the “Bauhaus Capital of the World” – reflecting early 20th century clean, utilitarian architecture – to an uncertain and exciting future of flirtations and fluctuations. This has given rise to one of the most poignant descriptions of Tel Aviv as a city “waking up each morning and deciding what it’s going to be.” The  new spectacular sculptures ascending to the heavens across the Tel Aviv landscape,  attest to this branding and in a few short years’ time, there will be a major addition that encapsulates the city’s essence and affirms its rising global status. That addition will be the new  World’s Jewish Museum designed by the legendary award-winning Canadian-born American architect – Frank Gehry, whose masterpieces have disrupted the very meaning of design within architecture. These “disruptions”  are powerfully projected in such monumental works as the La Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

It was hoped before the Corona pandemic that this world-scale museum, cultural and entertainment center would have been completed before May 2023, in time for the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence. However, when completed, the World’s Jewish Museum on the 22-dunam (5.5-acre) site overlooking the Mediterranean along the bank of the Yarkon River at the northwestern edge of Hayarkon Park and steps from the Namal ( Port of Tel Aviv), will be the hub of cultural and recreational activity and the heart of the city’s vibrant waterfront.

Marvel on the Med. Adjacent to the Medetrrnean and the Hayarkon Park that attracts over 15 million visitors a year,  a model of Tel Aviv’s  World’s Jewish Museum.

While engendering great excitement, there are however, those that remind us that society cries out with so many pressing needs from education and health to socio-economic inequalities and criticize the need for such expansive and expensive adventures.

There is however a strong counter argument.

Look to Bilbao in Spain and what Gehry achieved for the status of that city and just as important – the benefit for Bilbao’s citizens!  

From Bilbao to Tel Aviv

Architects and city developers talk about the “Bilbao Effect” referring to the “WOW factor” that followed the opening in 1997 of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in northern Spain. From being a lack-luster industrial city totally off the tourist’s map, Bilbao emerged virtually overnight as one of the most popular destinations in Europe. Frank Gehry’s stunning monumental structure hailed as “one of the most admired works of contemporary architecture” and which the late esteemed architect, Philip Johnson, called “the greatest building of our time”, rapidly reversed the city’s fortunes which had fallen victim to an industrialization that had either aged or moved elsewhere. Within the first year, the museum with its distinctive titanium curves and soaring glass atrium attracted over 1,300,000 visitors exceeding all expectations and infusing $160 million into the local economy. In its first five years, the Museum generated more than a billion US dollars for the Basque country, more than ten times the museum’s cost. Whatever the staggering costs of financing alluring cultural magnets, the returns far exceeded the outlay. Widely credited in putting Bilbao on the map, Gehry’s masterpiece has subsequently inspired other iconic structures around the world, which will soon be joined by the World’s Jewish Museum in Tel Aviv.

Maestra and Masterpiece. Famed architect Frank Gehry with a model of the future World’s Jewish Museum in his office.

Back to the Roots

It may at first seem strange that Gehry, who doesn’t identify as Jewish, took on a uniquely Jewish project in the Jewish homeland?

His explanation is a long journey – nearly as complex as his architectural designs, but it includes this admission:

 “There’s a curiosity built into the Jewish culture. I grew up under that. My grandfather read Talmud to me. That’s one of the Jewish things I hang on to probably— that philosophy from that religion. Which is separate from God. It’s more ephemeral. I was brought up with that curiosity. I call it a healthy curiosity. Maybe it is something that the religion has produced. I don’t know. It’s certainly a positive thing.”

What intrigues the architect  – who was born Frank Goldberg – is that “The Talmud starts with the word ‘WHY’.”

So little surprise that on the model of the museum sitting in Gehry’s offices, the word Lamah (“why” in Hebrew) is carved into one of the buildings, although the architect remains usure whether it will be included in the final construction.  

 Reframing the Jewish Narrative and Showcasing Achievement. Gail Asper holding a World’s Jewish Museum folder in the Frank Gehry-designed Galleria Italia at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in March, 2018. (Photo by Etye Sarner).

Fellow Canadian Gail Asper of the Asper Foundation – the visionary behind the museum – explains that “The site will have the greatest story that’s never been told about the Jewish people. It will celebrate the joys not the oys. The museum is more about how Jewish values have transformed and improved the world.” 

For Asper, having Gehry bring her vision to fruition “is like hearing angels sing,” she says. “Frank immediately loved the vision. I know that beautiful architecture inspires the soul and Frank designs incredibly breathtaking, inspiring buildings. I love Bilbao. I love the Disney Concert Hall. I love what he does. And for all the countries in the world to not have some extraordinary breathtaking Frank Gehry building, Israel absolutely deserves that. And Israelis deserve that. They put up with an awful lot living in Israel. They pay high taxes. They’re dodging rockets, even in Tel Aviv.” 

Inside Story. An artist’s impression of the inside of the World’s Jewish Museum Tel Aviv.

The Museum will provide a cutting-edge, educational and inspirational experience that explores the contributions that Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel have made to civilization in numerous fields over the past 3,500 years, from the Bible to enterprise, science, education, culture and social justice. Says Gehry:

Most of the buildings until this point to represent Jewish causes and issues have included the Holocaust  because that was such a searing, burning, terrible issue in our lives. This museum will really be about celebrating the achievements of this culture over time, and some of it is extraordinary, and a lot of it has not been told as it will be in this museum.”

Shape of things to Come

Gehry is passionate about restoring art back into architecture. He laments that “a lot of the world no longer considers architects as artists. So I think what’s needed is architects who are artists.” Historically, he asserts, “architecture was considered an art”, but that changed following WWII when “it got mixed up with other issues like commercial developers.” In the aftermath, a debate has persisted over whether architecture is an art or just the creation of a solid structure for the benefit of society.  For Gehry it is both as we will one day see and be bedazzled by the allure of his first building in Israel, Tel Aviv’s World’s Jewish Museum. Israelis and tourists from abroad will visit the museum to see the building  as much as its exhibits within. The packaging will be no less fascinating than its contents. This was the case of Bilbao.

Taste of Tel Aviv to Be. Gail Asper with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, center, and Moe Levy, executive director of the Asper Foundation in Winnipeg. (Courtesy)

Alluring Architecture

Since the Bilbao success –  a deliberate choice in using contemporary high-profile architecture as a tourist draw card – the term, ‘Architourism’ has gained currency. There is no doubting the seductive value of these highly photogenic and iconic buildings  to lure visitors. Apart from Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, one has only to think of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York, Danish architect, Jørn Utzon’s Opera House in Sydney, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and Cesar Pelli’s Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur that has featured in movies and TV productions, most notably the film Entrapment, where the building ‘starred’ alongside the late Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones.

The building was no less the star of the show!

There is no denying the power of man-made marvels capturing people’s imagination. From ionic structures in ancient times such as the Acropolis and Colosseum to the more  modern examples such as the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben or Empire State Building, all achieved celebrity status as powerful visual metaphors of their cities. Imaginative architecture brands a city to lure visitors and commerce.

Success of Structure. Hardly any other city has benefited from a museum as much as Bilbao. The Guggenheim Museum has made Bilbao so alluring that it attracts millions of tourists annually  from all over the world.

In a few years, adding to this illustrious list of iconic global edifices, will be Frank Gehry’s World’s Jewish Museum that will further lift Tel Aviv to new prominence in the world of contemporary design.

I marveled at this thought when last Friday morning, I stared at the vacant sight where construction has yet to begin and with the model of the museum in my mind, thought  of Tel Aviv’s exciting tomorrows.


World’s Jewish Museum architect and visionary Frank Gehry discusses his vision for the design of the building.






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

The Israel Brief- 23-26 November 2020

The Israel Brief – 23 November 2020 – Bibi in Saudi? Rockets and Corona. Panel on anti-Semitism features arch antisemites.



The Israel Brief – 24 November 2020 – Normalization updates! Israel to get Pfizer vaccines next month? Israel ranks 1 for female entrepreneurs!




The Israel Brief – 25 November 2020 – Soldiers in tragic crash identified. IAF strike targets in Syria. Israel vocal on combatting domestic violence.



The Israel Brief – 26 November 2020 – Israel to pilot test opening 15 malls. Marhaba to the first commercial flight from the UAE. Canada appoints special envoy on antisemitism.




While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Weathering the Storm

By Gabi Crouse

Just about everything you read these days is corona-related. There are a million articles by know-it-all’s suggesting “5 ways to keep fit during Corona” or “How Corona saved my marriage” and I’ve even seen one titled “Corona and the great depression”.

Really?

Let’s not kid ourselves, nothing in our lives has not been affected by this pandemic and anything you read will somehow relate to the upside down world that has now become the ‘norm’ – including this article!

Allow me to reflect on some of my observations as a mother, employee and an Olah (“immigrant”).

The Mask Mistaker!

So, the first thing I need to say about all this is that I have accepted that ‘Karen’ is my new nemesis. For the sake of clarity I will admit that I’m not so brazen to be above wearing a mask. Of course I’m not – I wear my mask! On the contrary, I have mastered the choreographed new corona dance called “Oy, I forgot my mask!” The steps are easy: it’s a brisk three-step forward – quick left spin with a simultaneous perfectly timed slap on the forehead – back three steps into the house. That’s it!!! In fact any idiot can do this dance – and often does.

As I was saying regarding the Karens of the world – you know who they are – the power trippers that seem to have nothing better to do than wield their power over suspected corona carriers. They seek out to destroy the slightly falling-off-the-bridge-of-the-nose’ mask wearer. Heaven forbid your nose sticks out by mistake!

So whenever I encounter one of these ‘police’, I take full advantage of my hidden mouth and I spew forth a few profanities that I know they can’t see. Although the eye-roll is a little harder to disguise.

‘Lift’ the rules?

One of Karen’s many duties includes being the bouncer to entrances to stores. This, you should know, is not an easy job. She has to count the amount of people entering and leaving the store as to keep the 2 meters distance between shoppers. Then by waving her magic thermometer-charged wand, allows/denies entry.

Put Your Mask Where Your Mouth Is. Jerusalemites at the Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem’s Old City on June 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

My confusion comes in when all shopping is said and done, and we gather round the elevator – or lifts. I have noticed that most people don’t seem to be as enthusiastic as Karen. Everyone squeezes into that small space and I just know that good old ‘Rona’ rubs hands together relishing at the all-you-can-infect buffet.

In those situations, I don’t need Karen to remind me to lift my mask!

Inspector Zoom

It’s easy enough to laugh at these idiosyncrasies, but when it comes to the education of our children, or lack thereof, the situation becomes less humorous. What does make tears roll down my cheeks (maybe laughing / maybe crying / perhaps both) is the amount of pressure applied on parents, students and teachers. Parents who work full time jobs with homes to run, now find they have a new role. I, for one, do not remember applying for position of teacher/principal/personal assistant. It is not a job I want or am

qualified to do! Besides that, I am not pro pro-bono work! And I am still expected to pay school fees.

Accepting my fate though, I decided to be the best I can be under the circumstances. I printed out forthcoming schedules, set up work-stations for each of my non-obliging students and ensured they each had what they needed. I was ready … I was so ready!!! The cables, the work stations, the time slots for each child who share one laptop and the time prep for food breaks etc. Boy was I ready. This quickly faded.

Once the group chats started firing away like explosions of the 4th of July, my head began to spin. I know I must have reprinted those schedules a hundred time before I finally gave up and left them to stew for a while on my desktop folder.

Some of the WhatsApp groups look like this: ‘Tap this link for this week’s schedule’, followed by ‘no sorry, this one’, then a new one the following week. Then this ‘teacher may not be available today’ and we are sorry but ‘we’re experiencing technical issues’ followed by ‘this class to reschedule in place of the other one’. It’s frenzied. And that is just for one of my children! Did I mention that these are in a language foreign to me and I spend my life jumping to google translate?

It’s one thing to be on top of class schedules for the day but it’s a whole different story getting your students to comply. Some children – God bless them – are willing participants but there are other kinds of children also.

A Student unto Himself

Appealing to the other kind of student with bribery negotiations, warnings and scary face tactics become less and less affective and rewarding for good behavior becomes nonsensical – leaving us parents feeling pretty hopeless. Why? To threaten with punishment or offer a reward is a double edge sward!

What’s the leverage?

What do kids want these days? Screen time, junk food and hanging out with their friends.

If you don’t do your school work, I’ll take away the phone/screen… wait what? That’s not going to work out too well – they need those.

Alternatively, I’m not thrilled by the idea of offering more screen time as a reward all the school screen time. Junk food so they can get sugar highs and crash while sitting at their screens? I think not. And as for friends during lock-down? Poor kids – they lose all round.

Shush! Daddy Needs to Focus. Managing the kids and work at home.

On a more serious note, kids have borne the brunt of the situation from all sides. However, if a positive is to be found, the kids have had to become self-reliant and assume responsibilities. They have had to take ownership of their own education in a lot of ways. This is at best very overwhelming and even more so for olim chadashim (new immigrants) who have yet to come to grips with Hebrew.

For example: each of my children have several different ways of on-line learning and interacting with their schools and teachers. Mashov, Teams, Zoom and one other which is beyond my spectrum of memory (I am NOT tech savvy and God help the child who isn’t!). The kids have to know how to access the lessons using the codes provided, know their schedules which keep changing and have enough Hebrew knowledge to know what to do. It all takes twice the amount of time back and forth to google translate before they even get started. The scope of pressure on these poor olim kids is beyond the realm of reasonable expectation.

Credit Due

I will say that some schools are supportive and worthy of appreciation. In our family, we are exposed to three different school institutions but only one of the schools fully understand the difficulties the olim kids experience. They are helpful and concerned and do everything in their power to support. For the other kids, whose schools are less compassionate, I am forced to outsource assistance which comes at an additional cost. So it goes.

Full House

On the plus side I get to have my kids at home all the time. All day. Day in and day out. How lucky am I?

In addition to keeping me company while I work, they are free to raid the kitchen at any time they feel a slight peckishness – I know this because of the evidence they leave behind. I mean, who needs a clean house anyway? Goodbye to shining clean floors, hello to friendly footprints and crushed pretzels to remind me of my full house.

I am a little sad that my dishwasher handed in its resignation and I am slightly concerned about the black hole in the fridge where there used to be food. Also, the laundry basket has disappeared under its heavy burden along with the cat.

School at Home. An Israeli youth seen during a remote learning at their home in Moshav Haniel, on March 18, 2020. (Photo by Chen Leopold/Flash90)

Change of Heart

Finally though, I would like to mention that we have been dealing with this for long enough to know that we, as humans, are adaptable. However, when we fail to exercise a willingness to adjust some of our ways to accommodate the needs and interests of others, this frequently results in conflict – personal and social.

In the final analysis, while different and divergent thinking around the world is welcome as it reflects the beauty of individuality and creativity, when it is met by intolerance, the results can be regrettably  – and avoidably – destructive.

Perhaps adaptability and flexibility is exactly what the world needs today.



About the writer:

Gabi Crouse1.JPG

Gabi Crouse – Based in Israel, Gabi writes opinions in fields of politics, Judaism, life issues, current social observations as well as creative fiction writing. Having contributed to educational set works and examinations, as well as interviews, Gabi will usually add in a splash of humour.



While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

First & Foremost

Ensure that our body has been given the chance to work efficiently by providing simple actions

By Lionel Phillips

In light of the current serious situation that has taken all humanity by storm, it was hoped that the political echelon to whom we gave our vote – no matter their convictions – would be willing to devote 30 minutes of their time, to analyzing logical and well researched facts related to the human body needs, as well as its obvious connection to THE COVID-19 virus. WRONG!

Every human being should see themselves as extremely privileged and fortunate. We have been provided with a more than remarkable machine – our very own Human Body.  Not only is it perfectly produced time and again in the most miraculous fashion, every one of the numerous systems are absolutely mind-boggling in design and function, as are their connections and messaging facilities between each other, involving multi millions of transactions 24/7, many on-going for 100 years and more.

In addition, for better or for worse, each system relies on the efficient function of all the other systems.  Should even one system be unable to function as required, all other systems will be adversely affected.  

There is one snag however. All the systems rely on us to provide a few very specific actions in order for our greatest asset to function in a healthy and energetic way. One would imagine that it would be undertaken with gusto, especially as they are non-invasive on our lifestyle and extremely simple.

After all, Prevention is universally regarded as being better than Cure.

Due to the presence of the horrid COVID-19 Coronavirus, and its major effect on the Respiratory System (Oxygen supply, Lungs and Blood), the essential basic requirements are – NOSE BREATHING and WATER consumption. This may seem to be over-simplifying the need or the crisis, except for the fact that Oxygen and Water are the two most essential elements that relate to every Human Body System.

Nasal (Nose) Breathing ( also referred to as Diaphragmatic Breathing)

Our bodies are designed for nose breathing. The mechanisms through which we inhale and exhale through nose breathing correctly as well as consistently – has numerous health benefits. The ultimate aim is to advise as many citizens as possible, of all ages, to commence Nose breathing as a matter of extreme urgency.

Some Israelis who seemingly recovered from COVID-19 and then fell sick with symptoms a second time told Channel 12 in September that the second round was more difficult.

Prof. Arnon Ofek, deputy director-general of Sheba Medical Center, told Channel 12 that while this kind of situation is relatively rare, it is showing up in literature around the world.

Your nose is the only organ which is enabled to properly “prepare” the air you breathe. In the human body, the Oxygen is absorbed by the blood stream in the lungs, being then transported to the cells where an elaborated change process takes place.  The sinuses in the nasal cavity, but not the mouth, continuously produce Nitric Oxide (NO). The NO produced in the nasal cavity is chemically identical to the NO that is used clinically by inhalation. So, by inhaling through the nose, you are delivering NO directly into your lungs, where it increases both airflow and blood flow and keeps micro-organisms and virus particles in check. The American pharmacologist, Louis J. Ignarro, along with Robert F. Furchgott and Ferid Murad, was co-awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering how nitric oxide is produced in the body and how it works.

Breath of Fresh Air

The nose is fully equipped with an inbuilt thermostat, so the air is warmed before it reaches the lungs.  The ultimate design also ingeniously put tiny hairs in the nasal cavity – called Cilli – which catch dirt and particles coming in with the air as it enters the nose.

The nasal mucosa, also called respiratory mucosa, lines the entire nasal cavity, from the nostrils (the external openings of the respiratory system) to the pharynx, the uppermost section of the throat.

Research has linked mouth breathing to many unhealthy issues. In a 2017 study, a group of highly anxious people were assigned to take a course in diaphragmatic breathing. After eight weeks, they reported feeling less anxious, reduced anxiety, lower heart rate and slower breathing.

The diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle at the base of the lungs, plays an important role in breathing — though you may not be aware of it. When you inhale, your diaphragm contracts (tightens) and moves downward. This creates more space in your chest cavity, allowing the lungs to expand. When you exhale, the opposite happens — your diaphragm relaxes and moves upward in the chest cavity. Besides separating the upper and lower organs, it is a massager to both.

But it’s especially important for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In COPD, air can become trapped in the lungs, which keeps the diaphragm pressed down. This causes it to weaken and work less efficiently. Diaphragmatic breathing can help people with COPD to strengthen the diaphragm, which in turn helps them use less effort and energy to breathe.

Diaphragmatic – Nose – Breathing Technique

Below are illustrations and explanations, so as to assist one achieve the correct NOSE BREATHING actions.  A wonderful new HABIT in the making!

No matter whether you lead a sedentary or action-packed lifestyle, young or middle-aged or elderly, male or female, positive results are assured.

  • Lie on your back on a flat surface or in bed, with your knees bent and your head supported. You can use a pillow under your knees to support your legs. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move up and down as you breathe.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach extends up against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
  • Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips.  The hand on your upper chest should remain unmoved.
  • When you first learn the diaphragmatic breathing technique, it may be easier for you to follow the instructions by lying down, as shown above. As you gain more practice, you can try the diaphragmatic breathing technique while sitting in a chair.

Our need to drink sufficient pure WATER daily       

Most of the human body is made up of Water, H2O, with bone cells, for example, being comprised of 31% water and the lungs 83%. 

The amount of water a person needs to drink varies according to:

  • their age
  • their sex
  • the amount of physical activity they do
  • whether someone is pregnant or breast-feeding
  • the temperature and other environmental factors.

Kidneys are the controllers of this body fluid                                                             

Humans are 60% – 70% Water.

  • Kidneys filter it, purify it and keep it at the right volume to give you a healthy blood pressure. Water you drink is processed by the Kidneys and then excreted (gotten rid of) in the urine.
  • Most people have two kidneys, which are organs shaped like kidney beans, each one about 10-15cms long, located either side of the spine, deep in the abdomen.
  • When we drink water, we may have to go to the toilet in about half an hour. That is what your kidneys are there for, to keep the right amount of water in the body and purify the blood.
  • On average, food provides about 15 – 20 percent of total water intake, while the remaining 80 – 85 percent comes from water and beverages of all kinds.  Pure water is the ultimate.
  • Most mature adults lose about 2.5 to 3 liters of fluid per day. Elderly people lose about 2 liters per day.
  • An air traveler can lose +- 1.5 liters of water during a three-hour flight.
  • If the body is in a satisfactory balance, approximately 80% of ingested fluid is excreted within an hour.
  • Water is absorbed in to the blood stream through the small and large intestines.
  • The water absorbed from the digestive system is taken around the body in the bloodstream and used to top up our body fluids. Only about 7% of your body’s fluids are in the blood. The rest of it is in our body tissues, in our cells and in the spaces in between the cells.
  • If we don’t get enough fluid, the cells dry out and our blood pressure drops. This condition is known as dehydration.
  • Blood plasma is a yellowish liquid component of blood that normally holds the blood cells in whole blood in suspension. In other words, it is the liquid part of the blood that carries cells and proteins throughout the body. It makes up about 55% of the body’s total blood volume.
  • Water is of major importance to all living things.  The brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water. Muscles and kidneys are 79%, our bones 31%.

This is a summary of the route and the important role of Water –

  • Water enters your mouth and when swallowed, it travels down the              esophagus. The water takes about 6 seconds to reach your stomach   
  • In an empty stomach, the water mixes with stomach acids 
  • The water is later passed to your small intestine
  • On an empty stomach it takes about 5 minutes and on a full stomach it can take up to 2 hours. If there is food in your stomach, the water mixes and is absorbed in the food  
  • The water is then absorbed into the blood stream from the intestines     
  • It is later absorbed from the blood by different organs for different purposes, such as cells to maintain water and ion balance 
  • Later on, the water from the bloodstream is filtered by the kidneys
  • Useful water and ions are absorbed, while excess and toxic water is expelled you also sweat some water and there is water in the breath that you exhale
  •  Ultimately you urinate. Although some water is excreted in the stools.

Final Word

Added to the billions being invested in two or more COVID-19 vaccines, which one hopes will provide positive results without too many side effects, Israel, like all other countries, has also been facing an ever-increasing cost in the Health Care Crisis. As at the year ending December 2019, it was reported as being US $ 28,125.00 Million Dollars for the year – in excess of NIS 278 Million Shekels per day! 

This must surely be a further reason for urgently recognizing the need to have at least two of our related body functions, in optimal working order according to the NEEDS of our magic machine – The Human Body.


About the Author:

Lionel Phillips is a Doctor of Osteopathy (1975), an International Fitness & Health Instructor, Consultant and Lecturer. He has researched and designed ‘The Needs & Functions of the Human Body’ as an educational subject for inclusion in all School Curriculums World-Wide. A past Federation Member and Israel Liaison Representative of IHRSA (International, Health & Racquet Sportsclub Association) and member of their worldwide “Panel of Experts”, Phillips is a recipient of the “Prime Ministers Award of Merit” (PM Menachem Begin).

Lionel is contactable at: global@globalhealth-education.com







While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Lay of the Land Weekly Newsletter- 22 November 2020

Unveiling the contours and contrasts of an ever-changing Middle East landscape
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Reach for the Stars

Israel preparing to send its second astronaut into space

By David E. Kaplan

From Ilan to Eytan. Close friends and colleagues, Eytan Stibbe (l) continues where Ilan Ramon (r) left off.

Go in peace and return in peace” was President Rivlin’s message to  Israel’s second astronaut, Eytan Stibbe set for lift off in 2021. The writer revisits his interview with Rona, the late widow of Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who perished with the crew of Columbia 17 years ago and muses over the pursuit of a nation’s dream.

Reach for the Stars

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The Year of “Awokening”

By Rolene Marks

Can It! An exasperated reaction to the tidal wave through every facet of western culture of ‘Wokeism’.

If coping with a Corona pandemic was not crazy enough, we have also had to contend with another bizarre global epidemic – ‘Wokeism’! As much a fashionable buzzword as a set of forever changing set of values, the writer tries to break it down and make sense of it all.

The Year of “Awokening”

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The Arab Voice

Arab writers from the Middle East opine on Sudan’s advantageous deal with Israel and on the perceived danger to the region of Erdogan remaining president of Turkey.

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While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

The Israel Brief- 16-19 November 2020

The Israel Brief – 16 November 2020 – Israel to send second astronaut into space. Israel demands an apology from CNN over Amanpour’s Kristallnacht comments. Assassination of Al Qaedas second in command.



The Israel Brief – 17 November 2020 – Did Trump want a strike on Iran? BAHRAINI official expected in Israel. Amanpour apologises.



The Israel Brief – 18 November 2020 – Israel welcomes delegation from Bahrain. IDF strike targets in Syria. Rivlin and Netanyahu phone Biden.



The Israel Brief – 19 November 2020 – US State Department designates BDS as antiSemitic. Palestinians return Ambassadors to UAE and Bahrain. Corona updates.




While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

Reach for the Stars

Israel preparing to send its second astronaut into space

By David E. Kaplan

Today, you become the envoy of everyone. Go in peace and return in peace, and do not forget to wave to us from up there. We are waiting for you here at home,” so spoke Israel’s State President

Reuven Rivlin at a special ceremony to announce that 62-year-old Eytan Stibbe, a former IDF fighter pilot is preparing to be Israel’s second astronaut in space.

Next Year in Space. Message from Jerusalem at the president’s residence, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin announces that a second Israeli astronaut will be sent into space in 2021. (Mark Neyman / GPO)

Stibbe, who is scheduled for takeoff from Florida at the end of 2021, will spend 200 hours at the International Space Station where he will perform a number of experiments using Israeli technology and scientific developments thus fulfilling the dreams and aspirations of the Start-Up Nation, resolute on pursuing its path in space.

Announcing the name of the second Israeli austonaut to visit space in 2021. (L-R) Chair of the academic advisory committee Inbal Krais, CEO of Ramon Foundation Ran Livne, austonaut Eytan Stibbe, President Rivlin, Minister of Science and Technology Yizhar Shai, Tal Ramon, DG of Beit HaNasi Harel Tubi (Photo: Mark Neyman /GPO).

At the special ceremony at the State President’s residence, Rivlin continued:

 “My dear Eytan, up there, beyond the seventh heavens, you will do Israeli technological experiments, some of which have been developed by our young people. You will be the envoy of those brilliant brains, the present and future generations of Israeli research, and will help them understand how the world works when we look at it from afar. You will be Israel’s representative in a human effort to understand the wonderful workings that allow life on this planet and uncover the secrets of the universe.”

Rocketman. Eytan Stibbe, set to become Israel’s second astronaut in space, speaks at the president’s residence on November 16, 2020 (Mark Neyman / GPO)

To the Heavens and Back

Rivlin’s choice of words “RETURN in peace” was not lost on Israelis who were traumatized by the loss of their first astronaut, Ilan Ramon 17 years earlier. In 2003, this nation was unprepared as they joined billions of people staring in disbelief at their television sets as the Columbia space shuttle – with Ilan Ramon on board –  disintegrated in flames as it reentered the earth’s atmosphere.

Space Heroes. Ilan Ramon (far right) and the crew of the Columbia that perished on reentry into the earth’s atmosphere  in 2003.

After 16 days of almost constant news coverage about “our Ilan’s” exploits in space from how he spent Shabbat (Sabbath), the various experiments he was conducting in space and what special mementos he took with him such as a prayer book to recite the Kidush (blessing)as well as a Kidush cup, a picture drawn by a 14 year-old boy who perished in Auschwitz and a Torah scroll that survived the Holocaust – Israelis felt they knew him personally.

He was family!

As one newspaper at the time expressed it:

“He represented us all – our country, our people, our past and our future. He was our hero at a time when we sorely needed one.”

Face of the Nation. Ramon was the first Israeli astronaut to go on a mission to space, a huge accomplishment for the country’s relatively young space programme.(NASA)

The son of Holocaust survivors, he represented a nation’s rebirth – the young, proud modern Israeli rising from the ashes of the Shoah (Holocaust) to a child of a new nation, reborn in its ancestral homeland and who in one generation was seeking answers to earth’s problems in the heavens.

Nearly two decades later in 2020, how perceptive and prophetic were Ilan’s words from space:

The world looks marvelous from up here, so peaceful, so wonderful and so FRAGILE.”

In an age today, when the world’s peoples are living in fear and under restrictions due to the Corona pandemic, Ramon’s observation of “FRAGILE” was poignant and prescient.

This was clearly on Rivlin’s mind when he embellished with: “Because of the VIRUS, we have come to realise how many great concepts – like science, medicine and research – can fundamentally shake our lives. We have come to realise how much we do NOT know, not only about distant planets and infinitely huge galaxies, but even here on our small planet.

Reach for the Sky. Former fighter pilot, future astronaut Eytan Stibbe.

“Dealing with this microscopic virus, in an effort to find a vaccine, we must work together – scientists from different countries and peoples. This is the power of science. It reminds us that we are part  of something much bigger that speaks to the human spirit that is within us all.” 

Stibbe to the Stars

It has taken more than 17 years to reach a decision to send another Israeli into space following the disintegration of the Columbia space shuttle in February 2003 as it reentered the earth’s atmosphere. Stibbe, who had been a close friend and colleague of the late Ilan Roman, said to his widow, Rona Ramon following the tragedy, that he would like to continue her husband’s dream.

In an exclusive interview I had with the late Rona Ramon in 2014 for Hilton Israel Magazine,  she said of her husband:

He has never left us – his spirit, his values and his message to future generations lives on for all time.”

Rona could so easily as well have been referring to her beloved son Assaf Ramon, who followed in his father’s footsteps becoming a pilot and was tragically killed in an Air Force training accident in 2009. Sadly, as the news later broke in 2018  that Rona too was taken before her time – at age 54 from cancer – the Jewish world could have said also about Rona, “her spirit, her values, and her message to future generations lives on for all time.” In the years following the deaths of her loved ones, she showed the same bravery, determination and grit as her husband and son as she spearheaded the perpetuation of the family legacy through the Ramon Foundation, which promotes academic excellence in Israel.

Following in his Father’s Flight Path. Israeli President Shimon Peres (left), embracing Assaf Ramon at his Israel Air Force pilot’s graduation ceremony in June 2009. (IDF)

All this was evident after the first anniversary of her husband’s death, when she received the programme of the first anniversary ceremony of the Columbia tragedy to be held in 2004 at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. She saw that it did not include Hatikvah – the national anthem of Israel – so she called her friend at NASA who explained to Rona that the protocol at such ceremonies allows only for the American national anthem.

In which case, I will not be attending,” Rona replied.

There was silence at the other end of the phone “and my friend replied he would call back. It apparently went all the way to President Bush who approved. It was the first time a foreign national anthem had ever been played on such an occasion. I felt truly proud when I stood at Arlington Cemetery listening to Hatikva.

The personal legacy of Ilan for me is his wonderful smile. I suspect he was looking upon me that day for having stood my ground defiantly and smiling.”

And so it was left to the musician of the Ramon family, Tal Ramon, to represent the Ramon family at the State President event who said of the family friend Eytan Stibbe:

“I’m very excited because I know if my mother were standing here she would put up her hands in victory like this, and speak very proudly about our friend, a friend I remember from my very first memories.” The Stibbe family, he continued,  “escorted us through the years through everything we went through, the good and the bad, and their family has become our family.”

Pursuing the Dream. Arms outstretched imitating what his late mother would be doing to embrace Eytan Stibbe for pursuing the dream, Tal Ramon, son of the late Ilan and Rona Ramon, speaking in Jerusalem on November 16, 2019 (screen grab: Israel Government Press Office).

He said it was very moving that Stibbe had chosen to make this “contribution” to the citizens of Israel.

President Rivlin became poetic in expressing the loss of Ilan, Rona and Assaf:

their absence reverberates in the heavens.”

Addressing Stibbe directly, he continued, “You are joining a family that is a shining example. A family that is a source of true Israeli inspiration and pride. The family never stopped talking about the stars, even when they fell from the skies. I am proud to stand with you today on this emotional day.”

Emphasizing the role that his mission will play in enthusing Israeli kids about science and technology, Rivlin said

You’ll conduct a series of experiments in Israeli technologies, some of which were developed by Israeli boys and girls. You will be the messenger of those brilliant minds, present and future generations of excellent Israeli research.”

This reminded me of what Rona has said to me back in the 2014 interview after quoting from the writings of her late husband and son. From Ilan she read, ““The children and youth are the future of the development and advances in space research, especially since they are open to new creative ideas and not prisoners to old ways and therefore so important to our future in space.”

Ilan and Rona Ramon. “We met on my 22nd birthday party at a friend’s house in Kiryat Ono – this 32-year-old good looking guy with a million-dollar smile. Ilan was my 22-birthday present.”

And from Assaf, she found this note in his diary following his graduation:

My siblings and I were lucky to grow up with parents who helped us to fulfill our dreams and reach our unique potential.”

Humbled and moved when first reading these passages, Rona said these profound musings served as “my Magna Carta in founding the Ramon Foundation.”

A board member on the Ramon Foundation, Eytan Stibbe is ready to pursue the dream.  

Said Stibbe at the event: “As a child, on dark nights I looked up to the stars and wondered what there is beyond what I saw.”

As an adult he is preparing to see for himself.

No doubt Eytan Stibbe will adhere to the warm request of the State President:

 “do not forget to wave to us from up there.”

The people of Israel will be looking up!



While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs