No surprise when it has ‘academics’ like Oscar van Heerden peddling lies and falsehoods against Jews.
By David E. Kaplan
Where does one even begin in responding to University of Johannesburg academic, Oscar Van Heerden’s scurrilous diatribe posing as an article in the Daily Maverick (24th January 2019) that opens with inflammatory lies:
“The Palestinians are being decimated. Bombs are being dropped on them, rockets are deployed to kill them, and snipers are at the ready to finish the job where the other methods failed.”
This is classic antisemitism when you resort to antisemitic rhetoric blaming the Jews of Israel with such transparent falsehoods.
Even the words “finish the job” is a term taken straight from the intentions of the Nazi’s “Final Solution” and referencing it to Palestinians.
He intentionally neglects to mention Israel’s attempts at negotiation since the 1967 war being rejected. On September 1, 1967, the Arab League summit delivered the “Three No’s” – ‘no to peace with Israel’, ‘no recognition of Israel’, and ‘no negotiations with Israel’.”
Van Heerden does not mention this nor does he write of the constant terrorism, rockets fired at Israeli civilian populations and tunnels built for terrorists to enter Israel and murder civilians.
And how does this South African armchair academic portray this murder and attempted mass murder of Israelis:
“After all, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
It bothers not that this “academic” resorts to propaganda joining an infamous company that goes back 2000 years using hatred of Jews to deflect confronting the truth of societal problems. In the first century, the Jews were blamed for the death of Jesus; the 7th century Jews were persecuted by the Muslims for denial of the prophethood of Mohammad; in the Middle Ages, Jews were accused of the Black Death, the plague that decimated half of Europe; in 1881, Jews were accused of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II; from 1933-1945, Nazi propagandist referred to Jews as rodents and sub-humans (untermenschen) paving the way for factory-style mass extermination. Since 1948 and the Declaration of the State of Israel, the “Jewish enterprise” of Israel is a colonial blot on a Muslim landscape that requires being expunged.
At no stage does van Heerden address Palestinian intransigence – only blaming Israel. But the reason is clear, for Van Heerden is not seeking a solution for the Palestinian people but the dissolution of Israel’s Jewish people. He reveals his true agenda when not even supporting the official South African position of a “Two-State Solution” when he quotes:
“…So as we stand here on the 70th anniversary …of the Nakba, we have an opportunity to not just offer solidarity in words but to commit to political action, grassroots action, local action, and international action that will give us ….. a free Palestine from the river to the sea.”
In other words – no Israel.
And who is he trying to fool when he writes: “Palestinians are routinely punished for their political views rather than any actual threat of violence.”
Threats of violence?
How would he describe the firing of 500 missiles at Israel in November 2018? Lobbing over marshmallows?
South Africa that same November welcomed a delegation of Hamas from Gaza. Does South Africa want to play a role and support the ‘Two-State Solution’ or does it prefer to subscribe to the dark agenda of Hamas and Van Heerden of “a free Palestine from the river to the sea.”
Hamas has long proved its terror bona fides in line with its 1987 covenant expressing its religious duty to destroy the Jewish people and its nation state. Since 1993, Hamas has killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in mass-casualty suicide attacks throughout Israel. Hamas’ current terror crusade in Gaza has been engineered by Muslim Brotherhood groups in Europe and by Yahiya Sinwar, Hamas’ president, a former commander in the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, Hamas’s military wing.
Sinwar is widely considered to be Hamas’ most ruthless leader since the organisation’s founding in 1987.
Is Pretoria aware that the Iranian regime has put Gaza “in play” as a chess piece as part of its regional strategy to destroy Israel and subvert countries across the Middle East?
Accordingly, Tehran’s $100-million funding of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in 2018 stands behind the terror campaign as the Islamic Republic’s southern front to destroy Israel. Simultaneously, the regime has placed some 175,000 Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon, pointed at the Jewish state, while tens of thousands of Iranian military operatives are ready to attack from Syria.
Iranian operatives under the command of Iranian Quds Force commander, Qasem Soleimani, together with Sinwar and the Hamas leadership, have been planning, financing, inciting and compensating tens of thousands of supporters, many of them young teenagers, to storm the internationally recognised border fence with Israel even at the risk of death. This is a far cry from how van Heerden describes the situation in the opening of his article!
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, referring to the Jews living in southern Israel near the border with Gaza:
“We will tear down the border and we will tear out their hearts.” Hamas operatives, camouflaged in civilian clothing to appear like innocent civilians, reportedly receive $1,000 to commit cross-border attacks. Hamas pledged $3,000 to the families of those killed by Israeli fire.
Palestinians injured by Israeli troops in the clashes receive $200-$500 in compensation, depending on the level of injury, while the Palestinian Authority pays thousands of dollars monthly for life if they are captured or killed, in line with PA legislation.
This is not a popular protest; it is part of Iran and Hamas’s grand strategy in its war of attrition to destroy the Jewish state.
Hamas leader Mahmoud Al Zahar – who visited South Africa in November 2018 – confirmed Hamas’ strategy in a May 13 interview on Qatar’s’ Al Jazeera network with:
“The Gaza protests are not peaceful resistance… It is supported by our weapons.”
Iran is using Gaza’s civilians to execute a new “popular warfare” strategy. According to a senior Palestinian Authority security official in Ramallah, Iranian elite Quds Force officers are entrenched in Gaza tunnels, assisting in the overall strategy and execution of the fence-storming terror campaign.
What van Heerden’s article also fails to address is that the fault lines of the Middle East have little to do with Israel. As Matti Friedman wrote last week in The New York Times:
“They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunni and Shiite; between majority populations and minorities. If Israel’s small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.”
Rather than subscribe to the propagandist writings of van Heerden, far better for South Africa to use its diplomatic influence to convince the Palestinians to stop incentivizing its youth to commit terror attacks and instead create a secure and stable and flourishing society based on human rights and equality – values South Africa has struggled for.
Israeli doctors develop revolutionary eye drops that could replace eyeglasses
ByDavid E. Kaplan
More than 6 in 10 people in the world wear glasses or contact lenses. Amongst the elder, it is extremely rare not to use glasses or contact lenses.
However, in the foreSEEable future, advanced eye drops may allow you to chuck out your glasses or contact lenses.
It’s a no-brainer:
If the choice to see well would be: glasses, contact lenses, laser surgery or drops in your eyes, the last option would probably be your first.
This is now a real possibility as new scientific advances in Israel make corrective eye drops possible.
In Israel, two startups are in the clinical stages of testing their corrective eye drops that can radically alter the way people improve the convenience of their vision.
Soon you may read this without glasses!
Orasis Pharmaceuticals of Herzliya are on the warpath against reading glasses. Sure, reading glasses are effective but they are also inconvenient and easily misplaced.
How many of you have at some time lost them and had to replace?
Orasis recently raised $13 million to continue developing pharmaceutical-grade eye drops intended to improve near vision so people won’t need their reading glasses.
Its CEO, Elad Kedar, says presbyoia (the inability to focus on close objects) affects most folk over age 45, giving the company a potential market of nearly 2 billion people around the globe; 120 million in United States.
“Like any other organ, the lenses in our eyes age and gradually lose the flexibility to change shape to focus on near objects,” explains Kedar. “The reduction in flexibility makes it difficult to focus on near objects and eventually you need reading glasses.”
While it has been a long journey to find alternative solutions such as contact lenses or inlays, they have all come with problems of efficacy, safety or convenience of use.
“We developed a pharmacological solution,” says Kedar, “using a combination of existing molecules already used in the eye for other indications. You just put a drop in each eye, and you can potentially see well for several hours. It can be very safe and convenient.”
More than five years of R&D have gone into Orasis’ CSF-1 patented formula. Following studies in humans in a few centers in Israel and Europe, the results are soon to be published. The next step is a Phase 2b study in the United States.
Another ‘eye-catching’ innovation is NANO-DROPS that means -“No more blurry vision.”
Israeli ophthalmologists at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University’s Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials (BINA) revealed last month that they have successfully developed eyedrops that repair the corneas, improving near-sighted and far-sighted vision. These “nanodrops” were successfully tested on pigs’ corneas and are expected to be tested on humans in clinical trials later this year.
If proven successful on humans, the groundbreaking discovery could remove the need for eyeglasses.
The nanodrops are made up of a synthetic nanoparticle solution, which helps correct cornea-related vision problems.
Dr. David Smadja, a research associate at BINA and the Head of the Ophthalmology Research Unit at Shaare Zedek who led the team of ophthalmologists, made the announcement at Shaare Zedek’s second annual research conference last month. He said the nanodrops could “revolutionize ophthalmological and optometry treatments of patients with myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) and other refractory conditions.
Even more ‘far out’, Smadja believes that the drops could eventually replace multifocal lenses and allow people to see objects from different distances.
The inspiration for the eye drops says Smadja, “was personal.” Suffering for years with headaches from working at his computer for long periods of time, “I knew I needed a small visual correction, but my choices were limited. My correction was so small that I was not eligible for any laser operation,” and hence “My options at the time were either wearing glasses or contact lenses.”
Smadja recognised that the standard solutions for visual correction failed to cure dry eyes, a symptom common among screen users, and decided to create a better alternative:
“I thought, why not make eye drops that could correct my vision with a refractive index?”
The Future Is Ours To See
The researchers are currently working with investors on a biotech startup and plan to place their Nano-Drops product on the market by the summer of 2020.
Smadja says the aim is to sell the drops at a competitive price, “somewhere between the price of eyeglasses and the price of contacts.”
In addition to the nanodrops, the researchers are developing a small, smartphone-compatible laser device that will allow patients to easily apply the drops at home using a mobile application.
“Once you have your prescription, you enter this number into a computation software that we developed, and we match specific patterns to your number. The laser painlessly marks a tiny spot and etches a pattern on the corner of the cornea,” explains Smadja who adds that the laser “is not like the laser used for complicated optical procedures.” He assures that the application process, “while seemingly complicated, is simple and non-invasive.”
As they say, Israel is a country of ‘VISIONaries”!
While in November 2018, a Hamas delegation from Gaza visited Cape Town and called for Jihad against Israel, in January 2019, it was visiting Israelis doing the talking – but with a different message.
Debating teams from Israeli universities won top honours at UCT (University of Cape Town) against the best universities in the world.
ByDavid E. Kaplan
Israel is full of surprises. Situated in one of the most dry regions on the planet, Israel has far less of a water problem than Cape Town, which for Israel has an enviable supply. The answer to this anomaly might explain how a Hebrew-speaking country bested in debate, teams from the best universities in the world – notably Oxford and Cambridge.
The World University Debating Championships – the largest student-run event globally – was hosted by the University of Cape Town from the 27 December 2018 to the 4 January 2019 and included students from Malaysia, Germany, Mexico, Nigeria and the United States who descended on the city in hopes of becoming world champions.
That honour went to Israel.
It was Israel’s prestigious Hebrew University of Jerusalem debate team that won the World Universities Debate Championship in South Africa’s ‘Mother City’, in the English Second-Language category, in other words, not in their ‘mother’ tongue.
Roy Shulmann and Elaye Karstadt competed against thousands of students from 20 countries winning the judges over “on stances on a multitude of current events.”
In addition to Shulmann and Karstadt’s defeat of the Russian, Malaysian and Japanese teams in the final round of the championships, the Tel Aviv University (TAU) team, made up of Israeli Debating League chairman Amichai Even-Chen and Ido Kotler, made it to the final rounds of the general Open competition, which included native English speakers from around the globe. They competed against some of the top universities in the world, including Oxford and Harvard.
“Debate is not only a sport, but rather a unique tool for the development of logical and rhetorical capabilities,” said Shulmann. “It exposes students to a wide range of opinions, challenges their positions, and gets them to truly listen to the other side and answer the heart of the issue instead of the heart of the person.”
Shulmann said he hoped to “encourage a different ‘discussion culture’, one that allows us as a society to hold a real dialogue regarding disputes.”
This was a far cry from the Hamas spokespeople who in November proudly signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) at Cape Town’s parliament that stated South Africa “will work towards the full boycott of ALL Israeli products and the support of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) against Israel; and will ensure that ANC leaders and government officials do not visit Israel.” And this MOU was signed only weeks after 500 missiles were fired in under 24 hours into Israel from Hamas-ruled Gaza – one of which struck a bus.
While Hamas in Cape Town championed support for murder, Israelis in Cape Town spoke about holding “a real dialogue regarding disputes.”
And who won?
Hebrew University debate team chairman, Naama Weiss, said that the Israeli teams are “used to meeting students at the competitions from countries hostile towards Israel.”
They have to be.
Competing against the team from Malaysia in the finals, the Israeli debaters could not have put entirely out of their minds that the antisemitic Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, has banned entry to Israeli paraplegic swimmers to compete in his country that will be hosting the World Para Swimming Championships in July.
Despite this, there were only “good vibes” between the participants of the competing countries at UCT.
“We never felt different,” said Weiss. “We actually become friends with them. It is important that we hold discussions with those that disagree with us, as well.”
Pity the Hamas delegation didn’t visit Cape Town a month later and hear these messages!
Mark My Word
Israeli debate teams achieved multiple successes throughout 2018. The same team of Even-Chen and Kotler, won last August the European Universities Debating Championship in Serbia in the English Second Language category. In that same competition, Noam Dahan and Tom Manor, also of Tel Aviv University, won the Open competition.
However, the international competition in Novi Sad, Serbia was not all fun and ‘debates’. The Qatar representatives repeatedly refused to participate in debates in which they were competing against Israel, stating on multiple occasions that they refuse to debate alongside an “apartheid state.” This is the same Qatar that is spending billions to build hotels, subways, shopping centers and stadiums ahead of the World Cup in 2022 but those working on the projects are mostly foreigners who are poorly paid and poorly housed, hidden from the rest of Qatari society, like outcasts. These wretched and abused workers live on the edge of the dream that they help build but are precluded from experiencing.
If ever there is apartheid, it is in Qatar!
Nevertheless, despite Qatari hypocrisy and attempts to politicise a major debate tournament by refusing to engage with students from Israel, the two Israeli teams topped the European Universities Debating Championship in Serbia.
If there were a prize for epic boycott failure, Qatar won it!
Its efforts to boycott debating Israel, ended up by getting BDS banned from European debates.
School Of Thought
Israeli university debating teams doing so well internationally may partly be explained because Israeli schools too are doing so well.
Afterall, one feeds the other.
Debaters are given topics – sometimes with just an hour or two to prepare – and told which side they represent. They often find themselves arguing the opposite of their personal beliefs. “That’s the idea,” said Maya Levi, 18, of Ohel Shem school in Ramat Gan. “In debate, beyond learning rhetoric, you learn how to think and see an issue from both sides. The challenge is stepping into someone else’s shoes when it’s not your point of view.”
The Israeli national high school debate team won the EurOpen debate competition in Stuttgart, Germany in November 2018, raising eyebrows for going undefeated for all 12 rounds of the competition.
The team beat 37 of the best debate teams in the world, including those of Germany, China and the USA.
Unbeaten throughout all twelve rounds was a rare achievement in debate, particularly for a team comprised of non-native English speakers.
Two of the members on the team, Maya Carmon and Omer Zilberberg, are students at the Atid High School for Arts and Sciences in Lod. The other students on the team, Tamir West and Tomer Zucker, study at the Israel Arts and Science Academy in Jerusalem and at Oleh Shem High School in Ramat Hasharon, respectively.
“It was a privilege to witness the team making history,” said Elijah Kochin, the team’s coach who accompanied them to Stuttgart.
“This generation of debaters is very talented,” said Miriam Kalman, a coach assisting the team leading up to the world championships in Sri Lanka. “We are looking forward to more success at the World Schools Debating Championships in 2019.”
Retired senior examiner for the English matriculation in Israel and who co-authored two English school textbooks, Stephen Schulman, expressed “hats off to our debaters” on hearing the results of the debating teams from Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University at his alma mater – UCT. Shulmann felt a particular pride that Israel debaters made their mark in Cape Town where he grew up and was a member of his school’s debating society. “A true debater needs to be imbued with powers of eloquence, be a good listener, be sensitive to his or her audience and have a quick and ready wit to win over others. Our university teams showed that they possessed all these qualities to an outstanding degree and I feel a great pride by their showing South Africa and the world the fine intellectual standards of our students.”
This all augurs well for Israel spokespeople for the future.
Recollections, Revelations and Remorse from the Descendants of the Perpetrators of the Holocaust
The United Nations designated January 27 – the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau – as a day for member states to honor the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism.
With the alarming rise today in Holocaust denial and antisemitism – even in the very lands where the Holocaust happened – LOTL explores the hatred of the Shoah (Holocaust) by interviewing Pastor Jobst Bittner, who heads the movement of the descendants of Nazi perpetrators to openly confront the hatred of the past that it will foster a genuine healing, and hopefully – “Never Again”.
ByRolene Marks and Lindy Hoffman
This was a profoundly emotional and moving experience. It takes an enormous amount of courage to delve into the past, especially that of your family and navigate a painful past. To explore this can also bring about great healing. After Apartheid in South Africa came to an end in 1994, there were many attempts through the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to try bring healing and understanding between victims and perpetrators but too few sat down with each other on a one-to-one basis and shared the experience of the other. Perhaps March of Life sets an example that the traumas of the past, when spoken about and addressed openly, fosters great healing.
Jobst Bittner greets you with a warm smile and twinkling blue eyes. He immediately puts you at ease when he shakes your hand and his presence is reassuring. Bittner, apart from being a Pastor, is the Founder and President of March of Life – a movement of the descendants of the German Wehrmacht, the SS and the police forces of the Third Reich, and who organise memorial and reconciliation marches at sites across Europe where atrocities were committed.
How did it all begin?
Sounds of Silence
The German city of Tübingen was a hotbed of training for the Nazi party. A university town, many of the intellectual elite of the Nazi party would gather in Tubingen where they later created an institute known as the Institute for Racial Hygiene. This “institute” would in time decide who was an “Aryan” and who was an “untermensch” (subhuman); who was a “superior” and who was an “inferior”; and was responsible for the ‘selection process’, which saw millions of Jews and other “undesirables” sent to their deaths.
The March of Life was born is 2007 when Pastor Jobst Bittner and his wife Charlotte decided that something had to be done about the history of the city. Growing up in the post-war generation, Bittner and his wife realised that their parents and grandparents never spoke about the war or their experiences. The past was related by sticking to just the historical facts; never a mention of the experiences of those persecuted by the Nazi regime.
“My parents”, says Bittner, “never spoke of the deaths of six million Jews and this was the same for all of Germany. People pushed aside or repressed their guilt or played it down.”
Up Close And Personal
“But once we realised we needed to take responsibility, at least in our own city, we had to engage with our own family histories – to make it personal. We started training members of our church to take a careful look at their own family history which in Germany is simple because Germans are so thorough and everything was recorded. So we started training our members to ask their families “What happened?” and “What did you do?” I found a term for it – ‘Breaking the Veil of Silence’. It is now a recognized term in Germany because the two decades after the war are known as the decades of silence,” says Bittner. “Most families don’t talk about what really happened, preferring instead to say that “nobody was involved”. But this was not the case. The perpetrators of the Nazi genocide against the Jews were still able to resume normal lives and careers after the war. Many returned to their careers, resumed positions as judges, in government, in the civil service and academia – they simply returned to their normal lives and professions in society.”
The members of Bittner’s church started to research their family backgrounds and each one of them discovered terrible details about the involvement of their own families. One member discovered that his father had been in the Wehrmacht in Poland and active in genocide there. Others were involved in the Ukraine, and in general, it was expressed that “Nazis were somebody else”. The Bittners believe that in some way, every single German was involved. Nobody could say: “I was not involved.”
Someone learned that their grandfather had been a guard at Dachau – but the family made the excuse that he was “just a book keeper” or “just sitting around”. On closer investigation, it was discovered that the system at Dachau ensured that all duties rotated and everyone had the chance to do each “duty”.
Face to Face
Pastor Bittner feels an incredible sense of duty and responsibility to face the pain of the past so that the trauma that affects both descendants and victims of the perpetrators can be healed.
“Traditionally, Germans have played down the magnitude of of the atrocities. We teach them to speak the truth and own up to the past. Yes, my father was involved in the genocide. My parents remained silent and were just as guilty. The vast majority remained silent. It takes something to say my parents were silent as our Jewish neighbours were taken away, dispossessed, sent to concentration camps and killed. They were as much an accessory to the Holocaust as pulling the trigger on a gun. And so a movement was birthed. I wrote a book on the veil of silence. The same silence we saw from perpetrators, we saw from the descendants of the victims. The tragedy is passed down through the generations. The silence of the fathers became the silence of the sons,” says Bittner. “We can understand the silence of the generations of victims; the pain would be too much and the silence was passed down as pain. We realized that as long as the pain was still there through the generations, we have a responsibility to the victims to do something about it. In our experience, when we speak to survivors, we needed to find ways to ask the forgiveness our fathers and grandfathers would not ask. Only then can we start to heal the pain.”
As one could well understand, the eventual meetings between survivors and descendants were extremely emotional. Both parties were extremely touched and opened up their hearts to each other. This created the space for healing.
During the war, “Tübingen had been surrounded by concentration camps,” says Bittner. “Not large but terrifying; and towards the end of the war they were razed to the ground and the surviving prisoners forced on death marches. Over 250 000 people perished in plain sight on the streets of Germany. They were either shot or died from sheer exhaustion. Nobody could say, “I didn’t know”. So what we started to do was to trace the route of one of those death marches from Tubingen to Dachau. This is why we called it ‘March of Life’ – to reaffirm life that the death marches could become a march to sanctify life.”
March of Life is connected to the annual educational programme called March of the Living “which invited me to address 25 000 participants in Budapest. While March of the Living is connected to the survivors, what we say is that we are so closely connected to them because we are the descendants of the perpetrators. “
Before participating in their first march, “we had not met with any survivors and during that march, we received a call from a survivor who asked to walk with us. Rose was a survivor of six concentration camps and liberated from Dachau at the age of sixteen. We considered it an honour, and then Rose asked to bring thirteen more survivors. For some it was their first trip to Germany and many were fearful to hear German, the language of the persecutor. We were at a loss what to do. We knelt and we washed the feet of survivors and at first they did not know how to react but after a while were so deeply moved at the healing taking place at the moment. We started to embrace each other. We thought this is what we can do to bring healing.”
A Movement Is Born
This was one of the most pivotal moments of Bittner’s life and from these deep, emotional roots, a movement was born. Healing for descendants who carry guilt and shame as their heritage is just as important as that of the survivors. As we lose more and more survivors, so the responsibility to teach the next generations becomes ours. While there are many who say we must move on, the importance of memory and bearing witness is so important, especially as antisemitism rises around the world.
March of Life advocates that we cannot be silent in the face of antisemitism and hatred. Delving into the past is painful. But the results are evident. The media started to pick up on this extraordinary story in The Jerusalem Post, and The New York Times and the message started to spread. It grew organically, gaining momentum.
“We were invited to Poland and the Ukraine. By telling our story it encouraged others to do the same. In Poland and Lithuania where they had previously denied involvement, they began to talk. Our message as Germans was if we could face this, so can you. Now we educate – we are in a university town. So historians are considering how the culture of commemorating is done. Memorial events or historic remembering of facts is important but antisemitism is exploding. It has become disproportionate in the last five years. History can only come alive if we make it personal. If not us, then who? In the recent issue of Der Spiegel, we were the main cover story with personal stories but there is so much more to do with people still reluctant to talk about it,” laments Bittner.
Many people are resistant to the descendants telling their personal stories, feeling it dishonours the memory of their parents. Nevertheless, the descendants took a conscious decision to press on and the grandparents started to talk. “They found it easier to talk to their grandchildren than their children,” says Bittner.
Silence Is Not Golden
One could call March of Life a truly pioneering movement. While the government of Germany feels that working through the past is a high priority and share a sense of responsibility for the state of Israel, many ministers resist revealing their family history. March of Life has exhibited true courage to go where many dread – the past; and work closely with Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial museum and education centre. And this has found a welcome response from Germany’s Jewish community, and in 2017, the Jewish Community of Halle in Germany, awarded the March of Life with the Emil L. Fackenheim Prize for Tolerance.
Marches take place all over the world from Germany to Switzerland, Poland, South America and Jerusalem.
The impact is massive, reaching to millions of people.
Pastor Bittner says that despite the fact that they march proudly with Israeli flags and in cities like Paris where security is vital, they have faced no aggression, something “ We don’t take it for granted.” In Austria, they marched at the Mauthausen Death camp and taught seminars. “People revealed symbolic Nazi paraphernalia that had been in their family’s possession for years and some were shocked to discover what they meant. We even had reformed neo-Nazis in our congregation. Bittner believes that “antisemitism will cease to exist once it leaves the church.” They are also present in schools teaching about the Holocaust. “I take some experts from Israel to schools and we are invited on a regular basis and we take survivors. Hearing from a survivor has a profound impact. We have seen this with Muslim students who have never been exposed to this. One story from a survivor is more important than fifty lessons.”
March of Life is a living memorial to history and a testament to the power of dialogue, no matter how painful it is. Silence and indifference propagate hatred. After the Holocaust, Jews took the vow “NEVER AGAIN”. Never again would we allow hatred to rise to the levels that it results in genocide. Never Again would we be silent. Never Again would we allow the wholesale slaughter of our people.
Our gratitude to Pastor Bittner and March of Life – they have given wings to our vow and a tailwind to our voices.
With the passage of time, Southern African volunteers who fought in Israel’s 1948 War of independence are passing away, and with them, a living link to the genesis of modern Israel
By David E. Kaplan
Israel’s 1948 War of Independence , despite all the odds was won decisively.
So how come we are still fighting it?
Mainly because of the nature of what is “decisive”. The current theatre of battle is not “On the Ground”, “in the Air” and “at Sea” but “in the court’ of world opinion”. Today’s “Battleplan” involves documenting and securing the truth, so that the history of the War of Independence is not subverted by revisionists and purveyors of falsehood as is wont by BDS in South Africa that ‘attacks’ Israel not over its dispute over territory but its very existence. It opens the file not of 1967, when Israel conquered the West Bank in a defensive war, but the “1948 file” that transforms the Israel-Palestine debate from a negotiation over territory, into an argument about the conflict’s older and deeper roots – the establishment of a Jewish state.
Who has been spearheading the campaign of recording the role of volunteers who came to fight in Israel’s war of birth in 1948 is former South African, Smoky Simon, Chairman of World Machal, today 98 years old. (The word MACHAL is an acronym for the Hebrew, Mitnadvei Chutz L’Aretz, meaning “Volunteers from Overseas.”)
Once a fighter plane navigator, Smoky is still ‘navigating’; this time securing a flight path towards educating the young and the old, Israelis and foreigners on the existential contributions to the 1948 war by the 4500 volunteers from abroad – over 800 of them Southern Africans – who put their futures on hold, and risked their lives to fight for a nation in the making.
Sir Winston Churchill’s apt depiction after the Battle or Britain that “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” could equally apply to the debt the State of Israel owes to these volunteers.
They left jobs, interrupted their studies, and some even postponed weddings, while others brought their weddings forward to come on ‘honeymoon’ to fight in Israel’s War of Independence as did Smoky and his wife, Myra, who was the first meteorological instructor in the Israeli Air Force. “Many of her graduates became squadron and base commanders,” reveals Smoky proudly.
Literally rescheduling their lives, they dropped everything to come and fight for the fledgling Jewish state. In cockpits and on board ships, in tanks and armored vehicles, treating the wounded in hospitals and on the front lines, these young idealistic men and woman – Jews and non-Jews – helped change the tide in Israel’s War of Independence and forged the birth of a nation.
One in this illustrious “band of brothers” who participated in the most exciting adventure for a Jew in 2000 years was another former South African from Johannesburg, Joe Leibowitz, who passed away in January 2019 in Hod Hasharon in central Israel. It is important with the passing of these Machalniks to record and relate the service they performed.
Joe was born in Lithuania “where a Jew knew what anti-Semitism was” and came to South Africa at the age on nine. Then, three years after WWII and the prospect of a Jewish state, “I was torn to pieces inside. I had a strong feeling that we had a moral pact with the slaughtered Six Million of Nazi Europe. This was the first chance to fight back against a world that hadn’t cared.”
He reveals in writings recorded in Henry Katzew’s “South Africa’s 800 – The Story of SA Volunteers In Israel’s War of Birth” that his thoughts at the time were “mixed up with other things.” He felt he was “in rebellion against the old supine ways. Our rabbis used to snatch us indoors when we threw stones at Gentiles throwing stones at us. The rabbis broke our spirit before we could develop it. Turning the other cheek was no answer.”
Then when Philip Zuckerman of the South African Zionist Federation approached him to serve, 21 year-old Joe volunteered without hesitation. “The battle inside me was resolved. I could be helpful to my people.”
The ‘Plane’ Truth
Arriving in pre-state Israel on the 10th May 1948, this ex-SAAF air gunner WWII veteran with 102 sorties under his belt in North Africa and Italy, noted at Sde Dov airfield in Tel Aviv, that the strength of the nascent State’s “Air Force” comprised “two Rapides, a Fairchild and a Bonanza (ZS BWR).”
Hardly a force to hold back invading armies coming in from all directions!
With no option of being an air-gunner, Joe teamed up with South African pilot, Elliot Rosenberg, becoming a “bomb -chucker” of one of the Rapides, a fabric covered bi-plane. “Bomb-chuckers” as they were called, carried 25 and 50 pound bombs on their laps, and on reaching the enemy target, the safety pins were released and the bombs were manually dropped onto the target.
It was a nerve-wracking business – so much could go wrong!
With the door of the plane removed, “there was always the possibility,” said Joe that “in leaning over while chucking out the bomb to slip, and follow the bomb.” The plane carried no parachutes and communication between the pilot and “chucker” was by torch with “a flash from the pilot, indicating “Over target” , and a flash from the “chucker” “All bombs unloaded.”
Despite the lack of sophistication of the nature of this war over the skies of Israel, there was some compensation for the airman recalled Joe: “We were so admired by the local Israelis that we were always treated to free meals in restaurants and free haircuts at the barber shop.”
Joe recalled the strains of those early days of the war. One morning the legendary Moshe Dayan came striding into Airforce O.C. Aharon Remez’s office demanding to know why the Air Force was “sitting on its arse.” He had reason to be angered; Israeli units were being hard pressed at several points by the invading Arab armies. However, the men on the ground had little understanding of the war in the air and “how the bombs thrown out could as easily fall among the Israeli men on the ground as among the enemy.”
Joe recorded an experience when the Israeli forces were pinned down along the “Burma Road” to Jerusalem and a Palmach unit was surrounded and radioed in for support. “We had to drop by parachute, two Piat guns and two bags of ammunition.” Complicating the mission, “we had no wind intelligence and no calculation of drift allowance and a real danger of the Piat and the ammo falling into enemy hands.”
With the door of the Rapide removed, there was only the metal handle on the side with the ammo bags tied to the handle until ready for the push. Joe used his feet against the banking of the plane. Then, “a mysterious thing” happened over at the 4th attempt of the drop. The metal handle broke and Joe would have gone hurling into space with the bag had not the pilot, Elliot Rosenberg, at that precise moment tilted to port. “The mystery is that from the cockpit, Elliot could not see me and had no logical reason to tilt. Some mysterious instinct came into play that ensured that Joe’s passing was delayed by over seven decades – “How did Eliot know something was wrong, we spoke about it for years afterwards.”
Close shaves were Joe’s calling card, even when not in the air. On one occasion during a UN brokered truce, Joe had an unsettling encounter with Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN Security Council mediator, known to be most unsympathetic to the new State of Israel.
“We had just landed with supplies at Sdom in the Negev desert, and who surprisingly was there was Bernadette who came up to me and asked what supplies we had brought.” Only knowing a few Hebrew words, Joe said:
“Ani medaber rak ivrit” (I only speak Hebrew)
Bernadette tried German.
“Rak Ivrit,” Joe repeated.
This went on until Bernadotte was distracted, never discovering that among the crates of carrots were hand grenades, certainly a violation of the truce agreement, “but this was a fight for survival.”
In truth it was.
The Machalniks’ contribution represents one of the proudest chapters in modern Jewish history, when ordinary people – like Joe Leibowitz and the over 800 Southern African volunteers – behaved quite extraordinarily. As Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben-Gurion said:
“This was a war not won by heroes. It was won by ordinary men and women rising above themselves.”
Above and Beyond. Short clip of volunteer fighter pilots in Israel’s War of Independence.
In honour of Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Lay of the Land pays tribute to this great civil rights leader and his tremendous support for the State of Israel and Zionism as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. At a time when Zionism is being maligned by many, we pay tribute to his support by examining who is a Zionist and historical ties to the civil rights movement in the article below.
There has been a lot of debate, discussion and social media brouhaha lately over who is or what defines a Zionist.
In simple terms Zionism is nothing more that the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland. The great civil rights leader, Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, was rumoured to have coined this definition of Zionism and I reckon he knew quite a bit about human rights. And he was a Zionist! And he wasn’t Jewish!!
The reason that I am writing about this is important.
After thousands of years of being made well aware that Jews are unwelcome in many countries, we have returned en masse to our ancient and ancestral homeland. The word ‘Zion’ refers to those biblical ties since time immemorial. It is proven that Jews have “indigenous people’s rights to the land” and in case anybody has doubt, antiquities are being unearthed every day in solid support.
Zionism is also the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people. It is a guarantee of our rights to organize ourselves politically and assign it a name that hearkens back to our ancient roots and love for Zion. Many thought that with the realization of the modern state of Israel, antisemitism would disappear but instead it has reared its head in a new form – anti-Zionism.
To say that Jews have no right to organise themselves politically, and calling it Zionism, is racism. And many agree – that is why we have a phenomenal support base that includes many Christians who work tirelessly in support of the Jewish state and Muslims, some of whom put their lives at risk to support Israel.
The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. identified strongly with Jews and proudly marched alongside us as we mutually supported each other’s activism for civil rights. Today, many have forgotten the noble history and historical relationship between Jews and African Americans and have tried to hijack this to serve a different agenda. Christians in America are and remain some of Israel’s most ardent supporters.
Sadly, there are many that denigrate this relationship and demonise those of us who proudly identify as Zionist – Jews and non-Jews alike.
I am a card carrying, loud spoken, flag carrying, Hatikvah singing Zionist. I don’t care much for labels or wings but take exceptional pride in the fact that our beautiful flawed democracy – the State of Israel – is brilliantly multicultural, and allows for divergent opinions. Robust discussion and debate is a point of pride in a neighbourhood where you can be killed for disagreeing with the leaders or following a different religion.
Are we all not heartbroken by the visuals coming out of Syria or news of Christians being slaughtered in our region?
Is Israel perfect? No – sometimes we are guilty of an epic fail or many, but I believe part of being a Zionist is being able to criticize and self-correct. I believe that Zionism means you want to see an exemplary Israel. An Israel that is tolerant and welcoming and grateful for all who support her. This is dignified; this is keeping with the tenets of our founders who envisioned this. There is room in the Zionist tent for everyone – Christian, Muslim, left and right.
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
I am proud of the many Arab, Druze, Christian and other minority groups who proudly serve in our diplomatic corps and IDF, laying their lives on the line every day for our safety. The rights of minorities, while not always respected (and this must be corrected), are enshrined in our Declaration of Independence.
The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recognised this.
His support was not contingent on perfection but rather the shared values of what both Zionism and the civil rights movement represent.
The world is becoming a hostile place for Zionists. Ask the students on campus that are bullied and sometimes physically threatened for their political beliefs. Or the store owners in Europe who find their shops ransacked for carrying Israeli products. Or the travelers turned away from accommodation for being Israeli. The rise of the alt-right in the USA with their Nazi salutes and propensity for spray painting swastikas or the neo Nazis and BDS supporters in Europe or South America and South Africa has many Jews feeling afraid and isolated.
It is a fear shared by many who worked hard and fought for equality for all.
It was the dream of another great Zionist who while addressing civil rights in America in the 1960’s, voiced a sentiment that is universal and as relevant today as it was then when he said:
“We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. The time is long overdue to make it come true.
SA Rugby Legend Wilf Rosenberg Passes Away In Israel
By David E. Kaplan
January 14th 2019 saw the passing of a legend Wilf Rosenberg at age 84 at Beth Protea, the retirement home for South Africans in Herzliya Israel.
It was only six months ago that I enjoyed a good laugh with this illustrious Jewish Hall of Famer when following a string of recent defeats by the South African ‘Springboks’, I suggested “they should recall you to the squad!”
The octogenarian, who immigrated to Israel in 2009, replied:
“Yes they should; they have nothing to lose.”
Considered one of the greatest South African rugby players of all time, Wilf was dubbed “the flying dentist,” because of the way this periodontist would fearlessly hurl himself over the try line. The son of a rabbi, he first made it big with the South African Springboks and later with the Leeds Rugby League Club where in 1960-61 he broke the single season scoring record with 48 tries – a record that still stands nearly five decades later!
The other record that still stands is that Wilf is the only Jew to have ever played Rugby League.
“Jewish people came out in droves to see me, a Jewish boy, playing rugby league. It was wonderful,” recalled Wilf.
This Jewish rarity on the English playing fields was not the case in South Africa where there have been ten Jewish rugby Springboks, amusingly referred to as the “Minyan” (the male quorum required for Jewish communal worship):
Morris Zimmerman, Louis Bradlow, Fred Smollan, Dr. Cecil Moss, Prof. Alan Menter, Joseph ‘Joe’ Kaminer, Ockey Geffin, Syd Nomis, Dr. Wilf Rosenberg and Joel Stransky.
So how did it happen that Wilf emerged an all-time rugby great that earned him an induction into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1994?
No Stopping Rosenberg
Born in Sea Point, Cape Town in 1934, Wilf spent his childhood in Australia where his father Phillip was the Chief Rabbi. It was there where he began to play rugby at the age of six and was quickly singled out as “an exceptional talent”. In my interview in 2012 with Wilf at Beth Protea, he recalled every last detail, how his coach at the Sydney Grammar School asked Ron Rankin, a decorated WWII airman and a fullback for the Wallabies, to visit the school and assess the best players. “Pointing to me – and I was 13 at the time – Rankin said, “Look after the boy. He will play for Australia”.”
That prophesy would never “play” out as Rabbi Rosenberg moved his family back to South Africa despite a “very upset” Sydney Grammar offering “to put me in a boarding school. My mother was adamant, ‘No way, my son comes with me‘.”
Returning to South Africa, the Rosenberg males were making a name for themselves in Jeppe, the father as the new rabbi and the son at Jeppe High School where he developed his “three-quarter play”. Soon Wilf played for his province, Transvaal, at under-19 and then senior level.
“We had a great schoolboy back line,” he recalled. “Playing centre, I’d swing away outside my opponent, then, when I got the ball I’d dummy the full back and be away. Opponents used to shout, ‘Stop Rosenberg‘.”
Literally, there was no stopping Rosenberg.
His big break came in 1955, when the legendary Danie Craven took a fateful decision and: Wilf was well on his way!
Don’t Cross Craven
A stellar player, coach, administrator and one of the most influential figures in the history of the sport, Dr. Danie Craven believed that South Africa would not win a test series without a Jew in the side. “He not onlybelieved this passionately” said Wilf, but “put it to the test with me during the British Lions tour of South Africa in 1955,” the first Lion’s after the Second World War.
Following defeat by one point in the first test at Johannesburg by what rugby history buffs consider to be the best ever Lions team to visit South Africa with the likes of Cliff Morgan, Geoff Butterfield and Phil Davies – the ‘Boks’ needed to change things around. At the selectors meeting for the 2nd test, “Craven threatened to resign if they did not pick me.”
While Wilf at seventeen had been the youngest player in the Transvaal squad, “I was largely unknown, but they knew Craven and went with his instincts.”
It paid off.
“We beat them 25-8 at Newlands,” with Wilf scoring, as the newspapers at the time described – “a stunning 50 yard try.”
Scoring on his Springbok début, it was also noted in talk and print at the time, that “Wilf won the hearts of the segregated black spectators” who cheered him wildly when he ran out to play. Was it because he was a Jew, whose people like them had endured insufferable prejudice? Who knows? Wilf responded by directing his waving at the segregated section of the stadium making as well his début statement against Apartheid. He would later cherish his meeting with Nelson Mandela when ‘Madiba’ ascended from prison to president. “He invited me to his house for tea and we spoke about his days on Robben Island where he spent 27 years in exile.”
But here was the irony that did not escape Wilf who at the time was also promoting boxing in South Africa, a sport Mandela excelled in as a youth.
“Mandela was a mad keen boxing fan,” Wilf related and “we always had ringside seats for him and his staff.”
This was a far cry from when Wilf made his début for the Springboks in 1955 in Newlands and there were no preferential but segregated seats for South Africa’s Black majority. Acknowledging this inequality, Wilf waved to those who were honouring him.
“I think about my début often,” recalling how ecstatic fans jumped the fence when he scored before being restrained by police.
With the game only five minutes old:
“I sensed their strategy – to target me, the smallest guy on the field.”
As if it was yesterday, Wilf recalled in minute detail how Davies, a giant of a man, “called for the ball and set off. I took off and hit him. Bang! The crowd erupted.” The plan was “to keep it from the backs and attack in the second half. I cut right through the Lions back line for my try. Fans still say it’s one of the best they’ve seen.”
The Springboks won 25-9 and at full time, the Lions lined up and started clapping. “I wondered why and then the Springboks stepped back and clapped. It was for me.”
By the Grace of god
And so began Rosenberg’s career as one of South Africa’s most beloved players, where he dazzled the crowds with his speed, fearlessness and signature stunts. With his head thrown back, he would outsmart his opponents with a “dummy” – a fake pass – by cutting through the backline and then diving over the try line to score. “It looked as if I was diving into nothing,” said Rosenberg, who was now well on his speedy way to earning the sobriquet – “The flying dentist.”
So how did the son of a rabbi (Jeppe synagogue) end up being allowed to play on Shabbat (Sabbath)?
The rabbi had a smart answer:
“My son is born with a G-d given talent. Who am I to argue with G-d.”
This rationale proved reminiscent of a test-winning decision by the great Louis Babrow during the victorious 1937 Springbok tour in New Zealand. The final test fell on Yom Kippur but Babrow decided to play, arguing that, with the time difference, he would have played the match before the Day of Atonement dawned in South Africa.
He displayed the same cerebral maneuverability as he did physically on the field!
Twice inducted into the Jewish Hall of Fame at Wingate, Wilf’s Springbok jersey, socks and boots are there on display. It was a proud moment when “I led the SA delegation, carrying the flag in the 1997 Maccabi Games.”
Wilf might have participated in the 1957 Maccabi Games had he been allowed to join Nachal (Fighting Pioneer Youth in Israel) in 1956. “Craven would not hear of it, insisting I could not let South Africa down with the upcoming 1956 tour to New Zealand.”
Taking on the All Blacks was “manageable” compared to “taking on Danie Craven; that was bordering on suicide – he nearly exploded when I suggested it.”
‘Tackling’ the Past
It was Wilf’s father, the rabbi, who clinched the deal for Wilf to go professional.
While on honeymoon in Durban with his first wife, Elinor, he received a telegram from “my Dad that read ‘Pack your bags. I’ve signed you up for Leeds’.” It transpired that while on a visit to England, agents for Leeds surprised Rabbi Rosenberg at the airport and offered his son an astounding ₤6,000 to sign with them – an offer Rabbi Rosenberg could not refuse.
“I knew about rugby league growing up in Australia, but I never had any dreams of playing the game until my father made it a fait accompli,” revealed Wilf.
Adding to the allure was the fact that Rosenberg would be the only Jew to play rugby league – a distinction that holds to this day.
“A Jew playing rugby league? Unheard of!” said Rosenberg.
While playing rugby league, Wilf was also in dental school, earning the highest marks and specializing in periodontics. As he remembered it, “I lived a very fast life, juggling my dental practice with rugby and a growing family.”
To the day of his passing, Wilf remains fondly remembered with fans recalling matches well over half a century ago as if they were yesterday.
Writes Hull FC Pete Allen a club that Wilf had played for as well: “He was my first real hero. I was eleven when he signed for the club and it was at the time when the great team of the 1950s had all-but fizzled out. It was a tough time for the club. He made his debut against Bramley and scored twice, featuring the amazing dive he did in the corner. From that day onwards, he’s been a lifelong hero of mine. He’d take off two or three yards away from the line and dive horizontally over. There were always a bunch of photographers hoping to catch one of his famous dives. It was his trademark.”
Another describing Wilf’s inimitable talent is Len Lillford who recalls as a schoolboy watching Wilf in a game against Huddersfield. “He ran along the right wing and just had their fullback, Frank Dyson, to beat. Wilf lobbed the ball over the fullback’s head and ran round him and caught the ball to score under the posts. This was one of the best tries I had ever seen.”
Lawyer Charles Abelsohn of Kfar Saba, Israel, who played rugby at Stellenbosch University and later refereed rugby in Israel, describes his meeting with Wilf at Beth Protea in 2014, as “the second time in history.” Their first “meeting” was “when I was 11 years old sitting in the stands at Newlands watching with my Dad that famous 1955 Springboks match against the British Lions.”
“Yes, that was when Craven took a chance with me,” said Wilf.
“No, it was not a chance; Craven recognised talent and you proved him 100% right,” said Charles.
Wilf’s glory days at Leeds was well recalled by Derek Hallas who said:
“Wilf was such a nice guy and the best winger I played with. For a man of his size, he was one of the bravest players I have played with and he was a terrific finisher.”
Small in stature, Wilf was a giant of a man on the field. “One of the bravest players” and “a terrific finisher”, Wilf crossed the line of his life at 84 remembered fondly by fans all over the world.
Israel welcomed an estimated 150,000 Christians for the festive 2018 Christmas season, according to the Tourism Ministry, with many joining the celebrations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, and visiting the very locations where the Christmas story unfolded.
More than half the tourists – some 56% – who visited Israel in 2018 were Christian. By denomination these Christians were 41% Catholic, 27% Protestant, and 28% Orthodox.
One such recent visitor was award-winning author and novelist and third generation Oklahoman, Margy Pezdirtz, a leader in the Christian Zionist movement.
Below is her report from her recent visit to a Christian town, Gush Halav, on Mount Meron in northern Israel.
A Village Called ‘Jish’
In nearly every country in the Middle East, Christians are persecuted, frequently killed at the hands of their Muslim neighbors. The only country in which this does not happen is Israel, where Christians are welcome and free to worship. A classic example of this freedom of worship is the lovely village of Gush Halav, ‘Jish’ for short, sitting atop a steep hill in the foothills of Har Meron (Mountain of Meron), thirteen kilometres north of Safed, in Israel’s Upper Galilee. This small village of 3,078 citizens – according to the last census – proudly worships as Maronite Christians, a branch of the Catholic Church.
The village is a center for the Aramaic revival, an initiative by local Maronites. In Israel, we can speak of ‘revival”, elsewhere in the Middle East, only of Christian ‘suppression’.
We visited Jish just prior to Palm Sunday, the Christian feast falling on the Sunday before Easter commemorating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We found teenagers happily preparing for the upcoming Easter parade, which they will lead with a full corps of drums escorting a large cross carried by leaders of the village. Almost every citizen will joyfully line the streets to pay silent tribute to their Savior as the cross weaves its way upward to the top of the hill where it will rest for the holiday. Looking down on this parade from the rooftop of St. George’s Church, will be the three permanent crosses that bear witness to the faith of the village. All of these crosses are lighted every night – not just Easter – to testify to all around that thisis a Christian community.
There is frequently confusion as to where these Christians came from. Are they Arabs? Christian Arabs? No, not really. They are quick to make it clear that they are Aramean Maronites, not Arabs. According to Wikipedia, Arameans are a Semitic people who originated in what is a combination of the western, southern and central parts of Syria generations ago.
As to where the Christian portion came to fit, generations ago a priest by the name of Maroun felt drawn to isolate himself in the mountains of Syria to meditate and draw closer to God, the Father, through his Savior, Jesus Christ. In doing so, others were attracted to his dedication to God and began following him. Thus the name “Maronite” was attached to his followers who, today, remain dedicated in their worship of the Heavenly Father through the auspices of the Catholic Church. All Maronites are Catholics.
Originally, the Maronites spoke and prayed in Aramaic; however, over the years, the language was lost other than for prayer which only the very elderly could speak or understand. In recent years that has changed. Now students are offered the ability to learn the Aramaic language in public school through to the 8th grade, which is encouraged by the Israeli government.
While the United Nations lambasts Israel with resolutions accusing it of false human rights abuses and unfair treatment of her minorities, a hilltop in northern Israel tells another story – a beacon of truth. Here at ‘Jish’, a religion other than Judaism and a language other than Hebrew is encouraged and promoted by the Israeli government. The village youth are proud Israeli citizens. While Christians are not obligated to join the IDF, many chose to do so as volunteers upon graduating from high school. And, those who prefer not to serve in the military are quick to volunteer for Sherut Leumi an alternative national service where participants engage in programmes such as working in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, health clinics and disadvantaged communities. These are young Christians giving back to a society that has given to them – a phenomenon unheard of elsewhere in the Middle East other than in Israel.
Life is good in Gush Halav. Those interviewed expressed: “we have everything we want or need” and “are happy to live where we live and to be Israelis”.
Life is good indeed, in Gush Halav, Israel.
About the author
Margy Pezdirtz has been a leader in the Christian Zionist movement for over twenty-five years. Born a third generation Oklahoman, the granddaughter of pioneers who were the first to break the sod on their homestead in Grant County, she learned early on the significance of establishing a foundation toward building a future. Coming from a family of farmers she was taught self-reliance and the value of standing strong during the wildest of storms and hard times. She believes the lessons learned from her farm family taught her the values and determination that is necessary to establish her support for Israel. An award-winning author and novelist, Mrs. Pezdirtz is an avid student of the Bible.