THE GREATEST BRITON

A tribute to ‘The Queen’ of our times

By Rolene Marks

Grief is the price we pay for love”. These were the words spoken by Her Majesty, The Queen on September 11th, 2001. The Queen passed away peacefully at the age of 96, at her beloved Balmoral residence in the Scottish highlands last week. The world’s collective grief is the price we are paying for the love she never commanded but most certainly inspired. 

The Queen seemed immortal. A constant, reassuring presence whose historical 70 year reign spanned some of the most iconic moments of the last century, her loss is being keenly felt by millions around the world. To put it into perspective, David Ben Gurion was Israel’s Prime Minister when Her Majesty ascended the throne.

Pure Majesty: The young Queen pictured here at her Coronation, 2 June 1953.

The late Queen who celebrated her platinum jubilee just several months ago, was universally loved and respected – not just because she could jump out of a helicopter with James Bond, or take tea with Paddington Bear; but because her life was dedicated to duty and service and was a constant reassuring presence in our lives when the world became ever more turbulent. At the height of the pandemic when the Monarch invoked the blitz spirit of her youth; and the words of Vera Lynne to tell us “we will meet again”, we believed her. Because we did. We did meet again. There she was, that steady, guiding hand that not just her people, realms and Commonwealth adored, but the world. Her trusty hairstyle never changed, neither did her beaming smile or twinkling eyes and for many, that continuity provided strength and succor. World leaders, often filled with their own sense of self-importance, jostled each other out of the way and their knees shook when meeting a tiny, old lady whose wisdom they sought and whose leadership they greatly admired – but could never emulate.

A heartbroken Paddington Bear: “Thank you Ma’am, for everything”.

The Queen was also a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and over the last two years, we have all wanted to hug her as she cut a solitary, dignified figure at her “strength and stay”, Prince Philips funeral at the height of the pandemic, smiled at her delight as she chatted to her exuberant great grandson, Prince Louis, during her jubilee celebrations and felt sorrow at the sight of daughter, Princess Anne, dipped in a deep curtsy out of respect to her mother’s coffin.

The unprecedented number of people who have lined the streets of Scotland, from Balmoral to Edinburgh; and are prepared to line up for an estimated 30 hours in London as the Monarch lies in state or the mountains of floral tributes at royal residences are just a small glimpse of the out pouring of love and grief. When the Queen made the journey home to Buckingham Palace, London’s streets were crowded with tens of thousands of people, waiting for that opportunity to just say, “Thank you”. Her funeral is estimated to be the most viewed event in history.

 Her beloved Balmoral: The Queen in her Order of the Thistle robes at Balmoral.

Israel’s President Herzog, who will represent the Jewish State at her funeral released this statement:

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was known far and wide simply as The Queen. Her passing is the end of an era. Together with the Israeli people, I grieve her loss and extend my deepest sympathies to the British people and all nations of the Commonwealth, who have lost their matriarch.

“Queen Elizabeth was a historic figure: she lived history, she made history, and with her passing she leaves a magnificent, inspirational legacy.

As the eleventh President of the State of Israel during Her Majesty’s long reign, and on behalf of the whole State and people of Israel, I express my condolences to the Royal Family, to the King and the Queen Consort, to the people of the United Kingdom, and to all nations of the Commonwealth.

“Throughout her long and momentous reign, the world changed dramatically, while the Queen remained an icon of stable, responsible leadership, and a beacon of morality, humanity and patriotism. In her life and in her service to her people, the Queen embodied a spirit of integrity, duty and ancient tradition.

“My late mother and father had several audiences with the Queen over the years. Her fond welcome and warm hospitality left a profound impression down the generations.”

Queen of the World

Over the last week, the world has witnessed the centuries old traditions that give the 1000 year old monarchy its magic. For the people of the United Kingdom, their monarch is the connection to their history, the living, breathing embodiment of their constitution and even though there may be many reading this who do not understand it, we should respect it.

During her annual Christmas speech in 1957, The Queen said:

“I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice. But I can do something else. I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.”

And devoted she was – working right up until two days before her death when she accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson and swore in her 15th Prime Minister, Liz Truss. In the now famous “when Liz met Liz” photograph, we could see how frail the 96- year-old monarch was but could not imagine that just two days later, she would pass away.

The Last Photo: The Queen pictured two days before her passing. (Photo: Jane Barlow)

The Queen dedicated her entire life to her duty and her people.

Her promise made in 1947 as a 21 one year old Princess, in Cape Town, South Africa was a promise kept until she drew her last breath.

I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great Imperial family to which we all belong.”

While the Imperial family evolved into a Commonwealth of Nations as the British Empire devolved, that commitment as her grandson, the Prince of Wales said in his emotional tribute, was absolute.

The Queen’s motto of “never complain, never explain” was welcome relief from the performative emoting from many celebrities who push “their truth” as opposed to THE truth. Perhaps that is the enduring appeal of royalty. Royalty is not celebrity. The values that The Queen held dear of duty, service, modesty and selflessness may be just what this world needs to tilt it back on its axis.

As the world prepares to bid farewell to the greatest of the greatest generation, there are calls in the media to assign her the moniker, ‘Elizabeth the Great’.

 It is most fitting for she was, indeed, the Greatest Briton.

You Tube commentator, HG Tudor narrates this beautiful tribute to Queen Elizabeth, the Great.






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 (0&EO).

HONOURING ELI

Soldiering on, the indomitable spirit of Eli Kay- murdered by a terrorist in Jerusalem in 2021- is today back at his base

By David E. Kaplan

Soon after arriving by bus at a training camp for some of Israel’s toughest highly-trained soldiers – Tzanhanim (paratroopers) Training Base in the Jordan Valley – our group soon understood the poignant symbolism behind the insignia of this ‘Paratroopers Brigade’ of the snake with wings. A history of “carrying out special forces-style missions”, it operates “like a deadly snake striking quickly with the element of surprise and then rapidly withdrawing,” explained our army guide. One of the biggest surprise raids in its illustrious history was the famous Operation Entebbe when on the morning of July 4, 1976, a counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission  headed by Brig. Gen. Dan Shomron succeeded in rescuing 102 passengers and crew of a hijacked Air France aircraft at Entebbe, Uganda. The 102 rescued hostages were flown to Israel via Nairobi, Kenya, shortly after the raid.

Strike Force. The insignia of the snake with wings of Israel’s prestigious Parachute Brigade.

Turning into a day “full of surprises” as the day was advertised, no less surprising for our group, was learning that for these young soldiers it was not only about protecting the citizens of Israel but protecting “our history and connection to the land of Israel.” We heard how for the past year, these soldiers, as part of their training, teamed up with the Israel Antiquities Authority to  excavate a nearby archaeological site of a 5th century Jewish dwelling. As was explained:

Being a soldier in the Israeli army is more than about combat in the field; it is also about connecting to the land, the history, the geography and to understand that we are part of the nation of Israel embedded to this land.”  The discovery of the fifteen hundred year old Jewish dwelling in the confines of this army base, affirms the link of the Jewish people to the land and the need of a strong army to ensure ‘never again’ to be conquered and sent off into exile to be at the mercy of others. ‘Mercy’ it never was!

BOOTS AND ALL

We looked at the young men addressing us – all lone soldiers from abroad  –  who were telling us their personal stories and who look forward proudly to the day when they too will wear their regimental maroon beret with the infantry pin and reddish brown boots that will clearly identify them as being in the distinguished ‘Paratroopers Brigade’.

Eli Kay, a South African immigrant who at 25 was gunned down last year on the 21 November in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem’s Old City, had worn that highly prized maroon beret with the infantry pin, and his once calloused feet from the rigorous training had  proudly walked, ran and marched in those reddish brown boots.

Serving his People. Eli Kay proudly displaying his hard-earned maroon beret and parachute wings.

We were here today because of Eli, who although his physical presence could no more grace his base, his spirit most certainly permeated as we entered into the newly renovated soldier’s clubhouse renamed in his memory with funds generously donated by EMEK Lone Soldiers, Keren Magi and Roger Ademan & family (London) through YAHAD, theEnglish Speaking Branch of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers.

All listened spellbound, as Eli’s father Avi Kay spoke movingly about his beloved son and his journey that although murderously cut short – had nevertheless been jam-packed with enriching experience and self-fulfillment.

Thank you to the hosts and the young soldiers here without rank because you are at the beginning of your journey. When Eli came to Israel, he first went to the Yeshiva in Kiryat Gat and thereafter signed up for Tzanhanim,” began Avi.  

Field of Dreams. Whether in the field on army manoeuvres or for recreation, Eli loved the open space of the outdoors.

He fought very hard to get in here and fought no less hard to stay in this unit. This was his home. As a lone soldier at the time, before we, his parents, made Aliyah, this was his family. And when the opportunity arose to do ‘Course Makim’ (commanders course), he grabbed it because firstly it was an honour and secondly because he could impart the hard lessons he had learnt to the next intake of soldiers.”

These endearing themes about the son’s army experience in Tzanhanim – of ‘home’, ‘family’ and ‘preparing the next generation’ – was brought home to the father when “I was with Avi walking through the shuk  – Mahanei Yehuda  in Jerusalem – and he received a WhatsApp on his cellphone about one of his soldiers becoming a Katzin (a commander). I watched his animated reaction. It was almost like the expectant father standing outside a delivery room, who had just heard the cry of his first child….that’s how proud Eli was. And that is what I think this unit represents. Once you are part of it like Eli was, you are part of a family.”

Celebrating a Life. Rabbi Shalom Myers (right) and Avi Kay at the ceremony of the newly renovated clubhouse in the name of Eli Kay (Photo: David E Kaplan).  

Working alongside Ian Walbaum and Ian Fine of  YAHAD that has been making an invaluable contribution to the welfare of Israeli soldiers by finding donors around the world to sponsor clubhouses and provide recreational equipment at military bases across the country, has been a very special rabbi from Jerusalem. Like Eli, Rabbi Shalom Myers is also a former South African. From helping English-Speaking lone soldiers to engaging and embracing soldiers from the Haredi community, Rabbi Myers pursues his vision of ensuring Israel’s lone soldiers are never alone. Most importantly, he has been providing spiritual as well as material support to the ever-increasing Haredi soldiers in the IDF.

A Blast from the Past. Bringing everone together in a spririal embrace with our ancient past, Rabbi Shalom Myers blows the Shofar at Tzanhanim Training Base (Photo: David E Kaplan).

To this end, Rabbi Myers is a frequent visitor to the Tzanhanim Training Base, engaging weekly with religious soldiers and it was in this context where he had earlier met with Eli. His Emek Lone Soldiers’  – a home away from home for religious soldiers – is thus a proud partner in the newly renovated honouring Eli Kay clubhouse. Explaining his role following a quote from Rav Kook, Rabbi Myers said  of the soldiers who are there to defend and protect us:

 “If I can serve those that serve that is my biggest honour.”

Proud Parents. Devorah and Avi Kay about to cut the ribbon at the opening of the army clubhouse in the name of  their late son, Eli (Photo: David E Kaplan).

On that fine note, Rabbi Myers hit another fine note  – literally – when he surprisingly took out his shofar (rams horn), put it to his mouth and blew a sound that reached out to the heavens inviting Eli to join us in a warm spiritual embrace that connected our ancient past with our future. To safeguard Israel’s future and avert the Jewish tragedy of the past 2000 years, we need our brave soldiers like Eli.

Rabbi Shalom Myers in full throttle with religious soldiers at Tzanhanim Training Base Chetz synagoge.

TUNNEL VISION

Our group of fifty would later in the day reflect on the services of these young boys and girls in uniform and think again of the symbolism of the regimental emblem of the snake with wings when we visited on the Gazan border a thankfully discovered-in-time Hamas tunnel. Seventy metres underground, emerging 600 metres on the Israeli side in an open field on a kibbutz, what would have happened if it had not been discovered by soldiers like Eli and killers emerged to wreak murder and mayhem?

We know only too well the answer to this horrifying question!

Light at the End of this Tunnel. Lt. Colonel (Res) Shirley Sobel Yosiphon, Foreign Affairs Director of the LIBI Fund the Association for the Wellbeing of Israeli soldiers (left) with Dr. Hillel Faktor at the entrance to the discovered Hamas tunnel, 600 metres inside Israel (Photo: David E Kaplan.

I would later further reflect on the words of Eli’s father, Avi, in an interview following the funeral of his beloved son. Speaking about the warmth he and Devorah felt from people in Israel and around the world, he said:

 “Know when your child goes into the Israeli army, the whole Jewish world is behind you.”

It should be, because when Jews around the world are today threatened, they can rest assured who will be there for them. As the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks expressed in 2018:

One of the core ideas within Judaism is contained in the famous Talmudic phrase: Kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh, meaning all of Israel are responsible for each other.”

This was something Eli understood and this message will resonate with all the exhausted and fatigued young soldiers who enter daily the newly renovated clubhouse at Tzanhanim Training Base. 


Avi Kay, Eli Kay’s father: This is my son’s message to the world




________________________

For more information on the English-Speaking Branch of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, contact volunteer Ian Waldbaum at Tel: (054) 4745 092.

Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers

To learn more of the work Rabbi Shalom Myers with Lone Soldiers in particular the Heredi soldiers, visit Emek Lone Soldiers’ at 64 Emek Refaim Jerusalem or contact by email at: shalommyers56@gmail.com and/or +972586355207.





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 (0&EO).

107 Years Late for Dinner: How I Uncovered My Grandmother’s Lost Identity

By Grant Gochin

(*First appeared in the “Lithuanian Jewish Community” blog)

Dinner between cousins was scheduled for Shabbat on Friday, May 14, 1915. How was I to know that the Shabbos meal never took place? Without warning, Russian forces launched a genocidal mass deportation of Baltic Jews into the depths of Russia. Families were torn apart, lives were destroyed, and communities of Jews devastated.

The first inkling I had was on my grandmother’s deathbed. Her final lucid words to me were: “I wish I knew my name. I wish I knew who my family was.” We thought we knew her name – Bertha Lee Arenson. We were wrong.

My grandmother had been adopted. She had a genetic brother and maternal cousins. I knew her youth had been traumatic; nothing more. A deathbed plea for her own identity from a beloved grandmother is nothing a grandson can turn away from. The search for my grandmother’s identity became my life’s mission. It was the only act I could still perform on her behalf. There were clues to her real identity, but in a then-pre-internet age, they were not viable.

Throughout the years-long research, MyHeritage was critically important in tracing the family connections.

Uncertain country of origin

My grandmother had not known her country of birth. At times, she had claimed she was born in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and even Russia.

I hired 6 different researchers in five different countries.

Her date of birth had been randomly imposed upon her, yet she remembered her mother’s first name had been Sirella, her father Jankel, and their last name approximated Novosedz. Novosedz just means “new settler” in Russian – it was not a hint of any value. I had little to work with.

 Jankel and Sirella Novosedz. (personal archive)

The discovery of my grandmother’s identity was accidental, a series of random searches where the puzzle pieces fit. Sirella was the diminutive of Sire Elke.

Jankel was the abbreviation of Iankel Ber. Novosedz was Lithuanian. Bertha Lee was actually Brocha Leya. Her fictional date of birth, December 7, 1912, was actually July 10, 1911. My grandmother was Brocha Leya Novosedz, born in Birzai Lithuania, to Sire Elke Garrenbloom and Iankel Ber Novosedz. The Garrenblooms and Novosedz families were both well-established, prosperous families, living in Lithuania for hundreds of years. It was a good marriage!

Birth record for Brocha Leya Novosedz

Lankel, my great-grandfather, worked for Baron Von Fredrichshof on the Fredrichshof estate in Riga. Sirella’s family, the Garrenblooms, were a prosperous family in Raguva, Lithuania. The children were well cared for, education was primary.

Deportations

Jankel, Sirella, and all of their relatives were deported into Ukraine in a mass deportation of Jews from Lithuania and Latvia on Saturday, May 15, 1915. The Russian-instigated deportations were sudden and brutal. Immediately, and sometimes even before the Jews were forcibly removed from their homes, Lithuanians plundered their possessions. Ordinary people’s lives were utterly destroyed simply because they were Jews.

From being a wealthy successful family, they were placed on cattle cars and transported into the Russian hinterlands without food or means of survival. My grandmother was 4 years old. Her younger brother Moshe was two. Criminals indeed! The Shabbat dinner obviously never happened.

In Ukraine, Sirella, her sister Sonia, and their mother Esther sold candy at the roadside trying to eke out pennies to survive. Sonia (mother of the South African national hero Esther Barsel) swept the cemetery, begging for crumbs.

Pogroms and prison

These were the times of massive pogroms in Ukraine. Jews were forbidden from trading in grain. They were not allowed to possess food, they were not allowed to trade food, they were not supposed to remain alive. Jankel was thrown into prison for the crime of trying to feed his family. He was beaten and starved. He contracted typhoid in prison from the torturous and filthy conditions in which he and other Jews were held. On the very morning of his death, prison guards threw his almost lifeless body outside of the prison so they would not have to deal with yet one more dead Jew. He died that same day.

Pogroms against Jews in Ukraine were considered a “national good.” They were planned with the approval of local authorities. Often Jews would know their intended date of murder and rape. They were helpless against the hordes and officials that sought their eradication.

Sirella died of deprivation and illness while Jankel was imprisoned. Brocha and Moshe were made orphans, fending for themselves, living with their Aunt Sonia and their grandmother Esther. They were exhausted, starved, and persecuted. How could children understand that they were made orphans just because they were born Jewish?

Sonia and Esther took the children and relocated to Kharkov where Sonia met and married a Ukrainian Jew, Joseph Levin.

Holodomor

Stalin and Lenin imposed their first Holodomor on Ukraine in 1922. There was no intention that disposed Jews should survive. Sonia and the children somehow made their way back to Lithuania in hopes of survival. There is no trace of Esther.

Officials in the newly independent Lithuania cared just as much for Jewish wellbeing as Stalin. The newly created Lithuanian government tried to prevent the return of Jews. Nonetheless, Sonia and her wards reached Raguva to live in the old Garrenbloom home.

Sirella’s siblings Sarah, John, and Abraham had previously emigrated to South Africa. Sonia reached out to Sarah. She told her that she could no longer care for their sister’s children, and to send rescue.

Rescue

Sarah’s husband, Abraham Arenson, was dispatched to Lithuania to collect the children. This was simultaneous with the Ochberg Orphan rescues (the rescue of Jewish orphans from the Ukrainian pogroms who would otherwise have starved to death).

When the Novosedz family was deported in 1915, a Lithuanian friend entered their home in Birzai and removed Esther’s gold watch (see the photo above), and some silver serving pieces. They held these few remnants in safekeeping on the slim hope the Novosedz family would survive.

While Lithuanian officials did not want Jewish children inside Lithuania, they also did not want Jewish children to survive anywhere else. Abraham had to smuggle the children out of Lithuania. Along with the children, he packed Esther’s gold watch and chain, and the silver saved from the Novosedz home. Abraham stated that when he found the children in Lithuania, they were starving, wearing only rags, and were living on the streets.

South Africa

Abraham brought the children to the safe haven of South Africa. Abraham and Sarah transformed my grandmother, Brocha Leya Novosedz, into Bertha (Bee) Lee Arenson. Her relationship to the Garrenbloom family remained. The Garrenblooms knew nothing of Sirella’s husband’s family, Novosedz. That connection was destroyed. The Arenson family was poor. At age 14, Brocha was removed from school and sent out to work. Russians and Lithuanians had ensured her life opportunities were taken from her.

Esther Garrenbloom with her grandson Moshe (Morris) and granddaughter Brocha. Photo taken in Ukraine in about 1919. (Source: personal archive).

Traumatic memories

Brocha and her brother Moshe’s memories were so horrific that they psychologically blocked them out. Their adoptive parents tried to protect them by reinventing their identity. All memories of Lithuania and Lithuanians were so traumatizing that Sarah and Abraham forbade Lithuania from ever being mentioned in the home (PTSD was unknown at that time). It was only on my grandmother’s deathbed that she referred to her past for the first time. When she expressed her terminal losses, I was simply unable to not try to discover her identity.

There had been Novosedz survivors from the 1915 deportations, but they too were murdered by Lithuanians during the Holocaust. No Jews were intended to survive in Lithuania, they were supposed to be completely eliminated, and so the ethnic cleansing by Lithuanians was almost total. Just 0.04% of Lithuanians rescued Jews during the Holocaust, a miniscule number. The only reason any Jews survived in Lithuania was because Lithuanians hadn’t reached them yet. Had my grandmother not been smuggled out of Lithuania as an orphaned child, Lithuanians would have murdered her also.

Cemeteries ransacked

For decades I searched for clues. The Garrenblooms had been from Raguva, the cemetery in Raguva Lithuania should have offered clues. After WWII, Lithuanians dug up the cemetery in Raguva looking for gold fillings on “rich Jewish skeletons.” They stole the Jewish gravestones for use as building materials. Thus, there were no clues coming from the dead.

 Brocha Leya Novosedz became Bertha Lee Arenson who
became Bee Smollan. Born July 10, 1911, in Biržai, Lithuania.
(personal archive)

Birth record

It was an accidental search that led to the discovery of my grandmother’s birth record and began to unravel the mystery of her descent. The Novosedz family was a storied family from Birzai, Lithuania with a traceable history back to the 1700s. Even before the arrival of Nazis into Birzai, Lithuanians chopped off the heads of rabbis and displayed them in storefronts for the entertainment of the local population. Lithuanians raped Jewish girls, and murdered Jewish families, leaving only scraps for Nazis to finish off. Lithuanians ended the known survival of the Lithuanian Novosedz family.

Upon her death, my grandmother entrusted to me with her grandmother Esther’s gold chain and watch. She gave me the napkin rings and cutlery taken from her childhood family home in Birzai.

Through MyHeritage DNA testing, I found a Novodesz cousin — Cantor Daniel Singer of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York. His Novosedz family came to America before Lithuanians, Russians and Nazis seriously began to murder Jews.

On July 10, 2022, Daniel Singer and I met in person. Two Novosedz cousins breaking bread on Shabbat, 107 years and 7 weeks late for dinner. We used the cutlery last used by the Novosedz family in Birzai in 1915. The table décor included the Novosedz napkin rings. The candles in the candelabra were given to Brocha as a wedding gift by Sirella’s sister, Sarah. July 10, the day of our reunion, is both Daniel’s birthday and my grandmother’s Brocha Leya Novosedz birthday. It is also Daniel’s grandfather William’s birthday.

Despite the annihilationist efforts of Lithuanians, Nazis, and Russians to eliminate all Jews, two remnants of the Novosedz family remain alive to represent our Jewish people. Today, Lithuania celebrates the murderers of our Jewish families as their national heroes. A simple dinner between myself and Daniel proves they did not have a total victory. 3.6% of us survived and have gone on to bring incredible benefit to the world.

My grandmother has her name back. Her family is now known. I have given her back some of what was so brutally taken from her. Dinner is ready. There is life and joy and family at our Shabbat table. They tried to murder all of us. Lithuanians and Nazis did not win. Let the Shabbat dinner begin.



About the writer:

Grant Arthur Gochin currently serves as the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Togo. He is the Emeritus Special Envoy for Diaspora Affairs for the African Union, which represents the fifty-five African nations, and Emeritus Vice Dean of the Los Angeles Consular Corps, the second largest Consular Corps in the world. Gochin is actively involved in Jewish affairs, focusing on historical justice. He has spent the past twenty five years documenting and restoring signs of Jewish life in Lithuania. He has served as the Chair of the Maceva Project in Lithuania, which mapped / inventoried / documented / restored over fifty abandoned and neglected Jewish cemeteries. Gochin is the author of “Malice, Murder and Manipulation”, published in 2013. His book documents his family history of oppression in Lithuania. He is presently working on a project to expose the current Holocaust revisionism within the Lithuanian government. Professionally, Gochin is a Certified Financial Planner and practices as a Wealth Advisor in California, where he lives with his family. Personal site: https://www.grantgochin.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 (0&EO).

“WHAT THE WORLD SAYS ABOUT ISRAEL IS UNFAIR, UNTRUE AND UNACCETABLE”

Tribute to the passing of Freda Keet whose inimitable “VOICE OF ISRAEL’ carried from Jerusalem across the globe

By David E. Kaplan

Backtrack to a time when Israel was struggling to survive.

The Jewish state faced multiple enemy states waging war as well as multiple terrorist groups attacking Jews on planes, ships and murderous infiltrations across Israel’s borders. All this, while struggling to establish a viable economy and absorbing Jews from all over the Diaspora. It was in this vulnerable and fragile milieu, that anxious Jews around the world would tune in to listen to the English service of Kol Yisrael – the ‘Voice of Israel’

Radio Royalty. Foreign journalists, diplomats and opinion-makers all tuned in to listen to Freda Keet broadcasting to the world in English on ‘The Voice of Israel’.

Those older enough, may well remember hearing the unmistakable commanding but eloquent voice of Freda Keet – born and bred in the former Rhodesia, today Zimbabwe – who passed away this August in Israel.

As well as an investigative journalist and war correspondent, Freda anchored the English radio news during Israel’s tumultuous years from 1963 -1985. She was one of a handful of journalists granted permission to travel to the Suez Canal during the War of Attrition (1967-1970) and again in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. Following her retirement from fulltime broadcasting, Freda became deeply concerned about the growing crises with Israel’s public relations, and went on to  lecture widely – at her own expense – across the world, particularly throughout the United States. In 2002, I interviewed Freda for Telfed Magazine on how the media had changed and its implications for Israel.

Look, with radio it was very different. There was no TV in Israel in the early days and everybody used to be glued to their radios for news. We all recall how passengers sat quietly in a bus while the news came on. Radio was king and the English service was well respected – foreign journalists, diplomats and opinion-makers all tuned in. We made a huge impact.”

How familiar her voice was  – even in lands that had been at war with Israel – is revealed in this chance meeting she had following the 1967 Six Day War, when as a war correspondent, she crossed over into the liberated sector of Jerusalem that had been occupied by Jordan and visited the Russian Orthodox Church on the Mount of Olives.

 “It was unbelievable. The Mother Superior, who had never seen my face, knew all about me from my voice on Kol Yisrael. She, and all the nuns, used to listen to the English news. We were truly a bridge to the outside world.”

Broadcast News. Investigate journalist Freda Keet taking notes to later use in her international radio broadcast on Israel’s national news service, Kol Yisrael.

In a talk she presented in 2014 at Beth Protea, the South African retirement home in Herzliya in central Israel, she spoke about her youth growing up in a vibrant Jewish community in Bulawayo:

Looking back, I can see quite clearly that everything I became, or did in my life came from growing up in Bulawayo. My Judaism, my commitment to Israel, my love of theatre – I started acting very young in school productions – so looking back now,  not only was it an amazing life,  it molded the person I am. I grew up in a home full of books; all very left-wing and we grew up on these books. My father had come from Belarus and had actually fought in the Russian Revolution; my mother was from Lithuania. They met in Bulawayo. My Dad had earlier settled in South Africa and rumours spread that  gold had been discovered in Rhodesia, so he rushed up to Rhodesia; he never found gold. Instead he found my mother.”

Freda was the product of that lucky strike!

Most influential said Freda, was belonging to the Jewish youth movement Habonim. “It was my or should I say our lives. I remember the Sunday mornings, the scramble to get dressed and always spending hours,  looking for this thing called a ‘woggle’ – that platted piece of leather that held together your blue and white scarf. I thought about it later…. We used to stand by this little palm tree – simbolising the land of Israel –  that never grew an inch in all the years I knew it,  and which we used to recite the Habonim pledge:

“The upright shall flourish like the palm”.

The palm may never have grown in all those years, said Freda, but she and all those idealistic youngsters did as did Israel.

When later as a roving goodwill ambassador for Israel, Freda carried the symbolism of that palm tree with her. “I travel constantly. I’m on the road morning, noon and night, spending my life at airports and I always wear something like a scarf or a broach that identifies me as an Israeli.”

Maybe a throwback to the impact of the Habonim ‘woggle’ – holding it all symbolically  – like a scarf – together!

Zionism in Africa. All in their youth movement uniform, Southern African Habonim in the 1950s. Note the scarf and woggle on each member fondly referred to by Freda Keet.

Freda, who dedicated her life to Israel outreach, explained in the 2002 interview about the unique Israeli word of ‘Hasbara’ (loosely meaning public relations):

Israel’s obsession with Hasbara is understandable. Foreign to any other nation’s lexicon, the need for Hasbara is tied in with the history of the Jewish people. Being a pariah people reviled and abused for over 2000 years, we finally made it into the ranks of the family of nations. We have paid a price, an appalling price, for this membership.”

Freda stressed three reasons why Hasbara should remain an obsession.

Firstly, for the dignity and honour of the Jewish people.  What the world says about us is unfair, untrue and unacceptable. We are obliged to fight it. Secondly, the war that was once against Israel has become much wider. Today, it’s a war directed at the Jewish people worldwide and we are obliged to fight it on their behalf.”

The third reason, asserts Freda, is:

for our survival. If initially the strategy of the Arab world was to delegitimise the State of Israel, they have now gone way beyond that. We are now defending an attempt to delegitimise the very existence of the Jewish People in their land, in effect, to delegitimise Jewish history. The plan is to eat away at the roots, the very bedrock of this nation. The message is clear. What is taught to Arab children, appearing on Arab websites and TV networks, is that Jews have no historical belonging in this land.”

Freda articulated this point by citing Arafat’s behaviour at the Camp David talks.  “With his back to the wall, Arafat had to come up with a reply to the offer made by Israel. Arafat’s response was, ‘I can’t negotiate with the Jewish people over Jerusalem. There is no historical evidence linking these people to Al Kuds. There is no evidence linking the Jewish people with our land of Palestine.’ True, this diatribe is not new. We’ve heard it all before. But to have said it before the President of the USA and that it hardly solicited a ripple of protest was staggering. If the Arabs can be so brazen in the articulation of these lies eating away at the very legitimacy of the Jewish people to this land, then the whole existence of this country is a fake and a bluff and therefore unacceptable to the family of nations. The disappearance of the State of Israel will become an absolute matter of course. It is for our sheer survival that we have to fight back by whatever means possible.”

CRISS-CROSSING AMERICA

On the lecture circuit, mainly in America where she had become  a familiar figure to thousands of Christians, she was often asked:

Why is the world so obsessed with Israel?” A classic example of this obsession was the case Freda cited at the time of “the UN Geneva Convention of Human Rights, which passed into International Law after WWII. “It has met only once – not to address the massacres that took place in Africa’s Rwanda or Burundi, or in Europe’s backyard of Bosnia and Kosova. The only occasion it saw fit to assemble for Human Rights violations was to condemn Israel.”

Trains Planes and Automobiles. Freda Keet used to crisscross the US addressing audiences on Israel.

Opening today’s papers in August 2022, an Israeli can be justified in asking what has changed since Freda’s observations nearly two decades ago in 2003. The editorial in The Jerusalem Post (29 August 2022) reads:

Despite  the critical refugee problems taking place around the world as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and the Ethiopian-Tigray conflict – to give just a few examples – only the Palestinians merit an ongoing UNSC monthly spotlight….”

The obsession with Israel is unrelenting!

In answer to the obvious question of “Why?”, Freda replied:

They attack Israel because it’s easy. Israel is the equivalent of a cheap date. There are no consequences. Attacking Israel exacts no price. You can’t attack any other country because they all belong to geographic blocks and the members protect each other. You cant raise the issue of Tibet because you would offend the Chinese. Zimbabwe is taboo at International Conferences. There was recently a meeting at the UN where Zimbabwe was on the agenda, but South Africa insisted that it be removed. So if you cant discuss Africa because it will annoy the Africans, can’t raise violations in Muslim countries because it will offend Muslims, what are you safely left with? Israel! It will not annoy anyone.”

Bringing Israel to Jews Abroad. Lecturing overseas, Freda Keet addressing a synagogue in the USA.

Freda amusingly reveals how easy it is to misread a situation. “I share a birthday with VE Day, the 8th of May marking the end of the war in Europe. I recall when I was very young the Church bells in Bulawayo ringing on that day and I always thought it was to celebrate my birthday. It was a knock to my pride to discover later it was not.”

Freda did not need church bells to herald her presence. For that she had her unique voice.

The woman who was “The Voice of Israel’ and thereafter for over two decades waged an unrelenting public relations campaign for Israel abroad leaves a lasting legacy. Her eloquence and passion won her a huge Jewish and non-Jewish international following.

If Israel “radio was king” Freda Keet was its queen.


Freda Keet addressing Beth Protea on growing up in the Jewish community of Bulawayo, Rhodesia, today Zimbabwe. This clip was filmed by Dave Bloom as part of his Zimbabwe Jewish Community project started 20 years ago with a website www.zjc.org.il  (currently being rebuilt) and a Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/zimjewishcommunity






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 (0&EO).

MY FAVOURITE GENTLEMAN

Remembering a pioneer, a Lay of the Land writer but most of all, a wonderful gentleman and friend, Jonathan Danilowitz.

By Rolene Marks

We make a living by what we get; but we make a life by what we give”. These were iconic words once spoken by Winston Churchill. Jonathan Danilowitz epitomised this. Jonathan lived his life dedicated to helping others; and he leaves behind an extraordinary legacy.

Fought for Change. Jonathan Danilowitz fought to earn partnership benefits for gay and lesbian people in Israel.

I used to tell Jonathan he was my favourite gentleman. And he was. His quiet dignity, integrity and the elegant way that he carried himself was the embodiment of being a gentleman. In the wake of his death, the tributes coming in from all over the world were a testament to the great legacy that he leaves behind – but seldom drew attention to. This was his way of doing things – quietly making an enormous impact without wanting or needing the spotlight on him.

Born in Krugersdorp, South Africa, Jonathan made Aliyah to Israel in 1971.

Jonathan was a pioneer and made his mark in the world with his customary grace and dignity. 

Jonathan’s first job was working for El Al, the national airline as a flight attendant and would later become an in-flight manager. He would make his mark not just through sterling on-board service to his passengers; but would change the landscape for Israel’s LGBTQ+ community.

In one of Israel’s most widely publicized legal cases which made history with the precedent that it set, Jonathan sued the airline in 1989 in the Tel Aviv Regional Labour Court to receive an airline ticket for his longtime partner. For many that may seem a trivial issue to take to court but the reality for same-sex couples was very different.

The suit was filed as a response to El Al’s agreement with the Histadrut labour federation that entitled employees to two free tickets a year, one for the employee and one for his or her “spouse”. At the time this excluded same-sex couples and Jonathan fought for the right to have his same-sex partner recognized as his common-law spouse so that he would enjoy the same civil rights as his colleagues.

Flying High. The man who took Israel’s national airline all the way to the Supreme Court and won – Jonathan Danilowitz.

The case would eventually go to the Supreme Court in 1995.

The Supreme Court agreed with the National Labor Court ruling in 1992 against El Al, saying the national airline’s discrimination against Danilowitz and his partner was illegal and obliged it to grant equal benefits to LGBTQ+ partners. This ruling is considered to be a landmark case in the history of Israel and is featured in the Supreme Court Museum in Jerusalem.

Reflecting on his trailblazing legal victory in his book “Flying Colours”, Jonathan wrote:

 “Deep down inside, I harbour a chip of pride that I played a small role in the way the world views homosexuality. ‘Gay Pride’ – I savour the true meaning of those words.”

Book of Revelations. Writing of his experiences with pathos and humor, Jonathan Danilowitz cracks open the closet and many other doors in his intimate yet revealing book ‘Flying Colours’ that deals with issues ranging from Apartheid to airlines, Israel and the struggle for gay rights.

Jonathan didn’t just fight for what is right in the courtroom but also in the battlefield of public diplomacy. Jonathan, or Jonny as he was known to so many of us was a tireless advocate for Israel and Jewish issues, taking on some of the most preposterous invective with his usual aplomb. He took great pleasure in supporting many of us. I was so honoured to have Jonny in my corner, cheering me on, especially on those days when facing the tsunami of hate just became too much to bear. He would remind me exactly for what I was fighting for and I have no doubt I was not the only one.

I clearly remember attending a protest with him and how he relished being in the trenches.

Along with all of Jonny’s amazing activism, he still worked tirelessly for LGBTQ= rights and served as Chairman of Aguda, Israel’s LGBTQ= task force. In 2020, he was awarded Tel Aviv’s Yakir Ha’ir in 2020 in recognition of his struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Jonathan was a pioneer, a trailblazer and activist but more than that he was just a wonderful human being who enriched the lives of all of us who knew him.

“He was a life lived to its fullest, a friend to all, a loving and loved being who will be sorely missed” says cousin, Vanessa Fisher.

He will be sorely missed. Rest in peace Jonny, you remain my favourite gentleman.





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 (0&EO).

BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HOTEL

Reflecting on a South African ‘dreamer’ and ‘doer’ at Rosh HaNikra – Israel’s rocky border outpost with Lebanon

By David E. Kaplan

I started the week with a visit to Rosh HaNikra, the scenic grotto with a cable car reputed to be one of “the steepest in the world”. It’s the most northern point in Israel’s Mediterranean coastline – next stop lies an historic enemy – Lebanon.

Poetry in Motion. A kaleidoscope of colours and sounds pervades the alluring grotto at Rosh HaNikra.

A turbulent past of thunderous shelling, this day I was happy to absorb the thunderous crash of the waves on the rocks which reminded me of those onomatopoeic lines of  W.H. Auden in his poem ‘On This Island’:

“…Oppose the pluck
And knock of the tide
….”

These words resonated as I listened to the “pluck” of the wave as it receded within the grotto back to sea and then returned with a crashing “knock” against the rocks. It was an endless noisy battle from time immemorial  – much of what transpired only metres above as armies ‘crossing’ from the ancient to the modern world physically crossed here on the coastal road. Among them were the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, the Crusaders up to and including the British who in the 1940s paved a rail line between Haifa and Tripoli in Lebanon. Bombed by Jewish fighters in June 1946 in the prelude to the War of Independence, it was at this rehabilitated relic of a railway line – today a historic site – that I was looking at when I noticed in the information plaque of the contribution of the South African engineers as part of the South African Engineering Corps. It was then that I remembered that this was the very spot that Norman Lourie, the founder of the South African Habonim youth movement in 1930, had come to cover as a war correspondent attached to a South African engineer unit.

Stopped in its Tracks.  The railway line at Rosh Hanikra from Haifa to Beirut and Tripoli in Lebanon that was inaugurated in 1942 but abandoned only three years later.

Was it fortuitous, I thought, that the Habonim movement reached its 90th in 2020 but due to COVID, will be celebrating this milestone event this coming October 2022 in Israel?

While studying at university in the UK in the late 1920s, Norman Lourie heard a young man like himself, Wellesley Aron, speak about starting a Jewish youth movement in the poor East End of London. So inspired, Norman returned to South Africa with his ‘dream’ and what emerged was to become the largest Jewish youth movement in Southern Africa. Initially modeled on the scout movement, it soon emerged into an ideological powerhouse, whose young bogrim (graduates), would settle in Israel making a superlative impact in every field of human endeavour.

Eye on the Future. Holding his camera, South African visionary Norman Lourie was a poet, war correspondent, pioneer film producer, successful hotelier in Israel and the founder of the Habonim Jewish youth movement in South Africa.

Some  would emerge recipients of the country’s highest civilian award –  the  Israel Prize – for reaching the pinnacle in their field. This year, on Independence Day, Prof. Ruth Berman who was born in Cape Town in 1935, and grew up in Sea Point and attended Habonim – which she says “influenced my decision in 1954 to make Aliyah” – was awarded the Israel Prize for her trailblazing work in linguistics.

In an interview with the SA. Jewish ReportProf. Berman (née Aronson)  expressed that she dedicated the award to her fellow South Africans:

 “who came to Israel in the 1940s and 1950s, who haven’t always received acknowledgement for their tremendous contribution to building Israel. This is especially in regard to those who came from the Zionist youth movements and went on to become leaders in their fields, from medicine to academia to the arts. This award isn’t only mine, but theirs.”

Riveting Ruth. A graduate of the Habonim movement in Sea Point, Cape Town, Ruth Berman is an Israeli linguist, Professor Emerita, Tel Aviv University and the 2022 Israel Prize laureate in linguistics.

One such individual from this early period deserving of recognition is Norman Lourie, whose dream of the youth movement was to influence the lives of so many.

But Norman himself had another dream. While Habonim means ‘the builders’, it was about building in Israel, that Norman’s next dream physically took shape and not too far from where I was standing at Rosh HaNikra.

The seed of that dream germinated during World War II, when Norman, as a war correspondent attached to a South African engineer unit tasked for maintaining the stretch of rail from Haifa to Beirut, found himself on a train that stopped at a sandy station “in the middle of nowhere.

Norman alighted.

Where are we?” he asked.

Shavei Zion,” someone told him. He quickly learnt it was a moshav on the coast started by German immigrants who fled Nazi Germany in 1938. He instantly fell in love with the place and pledged to return.

After the war, he returned and negotiated with two sisters for the purchase of their small hotel that in their advertisement, boasted “running water in each room.”

Norman’s dream was to transform it into a luxury hotel. He formed a syndicate of South African investors and over the next few years built a 5-star hotel, called Dolphin House (Beit Dolphin).

It became the summer home of Israel’s state presidents and a favourite resort for visiting dignitaries and celebrities.

Hollywood in Holy Land. Dolphin House , the meeting place for visiting celebrities to Israel, didn’t just bring Beverly Hills style living to Shavei Zion (Return to Zion), it raised the entire quality of life of the moshav.

Israel’s presidents of the fifties – Chaim Weizmann and Yitzhak Ben Zvi – mixed socially with the likes of Danny Kaye, Sophia Loren, Ralph Richardson, Israeli actress, singer and model Daliah Lavi who was born on Shavei Zion, and many others of the movie industry’s celebrities – most notably, the entire cast of the movie blockbuster – Exodus.

5-Star Hotel for the Stars. The famed Jewish film star Danny Kaye at Dolphin House in the 1950s was a “regular” at the hotel on moshav Shavei Zion.

Dining with the Stars

During the filming of Exodus, another South African fell in love with Shavei Zion and experienced a brush with stardom. In 1960, Ivor Wolf of Ra’anana was in Israel as a volunteer in Nachal. The movie’s director, Otto Preminger, had negotiated with the IDF, to hire some Israeli soldiers to play the part of British soldiers stationed in Acre during the famed breakout scene of the prison, where on May 4, 1947, 28 Irgun and Lehi prisoners were freed. “I was one of those British soldiers and was happy to let the Jews escape,” laughs Ivor. During shooting, Ivor would frequently share meal tables at Dolphin House with the likes of Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint, Peter Lawford, Lee J. Cobb, Sal Mineo, Hugh Griffith and Ralph Richardson.

All ‘Set’. Staying at Dolphin House, Paul Newman and director Otto Preminger on the set of the film Exodus (1960).

Shavei Zion had also a more direct connection to the movie’s plot. Following the breakout of the Acre prison, all the prisoners killed in the action, were carried by the escapees and buried on the moshav, the first refuge on route following the escape.

Well into the 1960s, Dolphin House was riding a crest of a wave, “actually a metaphor,” says Ivor, “because it still stands next to one of Israel’s finest beaches.” On Sundays, an orchestra used to play on a band-stand and people from all over the north came to enjoy open-air music “in this piece of paradise.”

The movies and the music however did not last. The ‘final curtain call’ on this era came when the property was acquired by Kupat Holim Klalit and turned a 5-star resort into a medical facility. Even this use of ‘Norman’s Dream’ had its time as the property fell into disuse until Ivor again stepped into ‘the picture’, this time not as a ‘walk-on-part’, but as a major actor in the on-going saga of Shavei Zion and Dolphin House.

Shifting Currents. The Prime Minister of Ghana at Dolphin House, the first African country to have diplomatic relations with the State of Israel.

Representing a group of investors, like Norman had done before, “we bought the premises comprising the old, desolate hotel and adjacent buildings and built 22 fully-equipped holiday bungalows called Dolphin Village.”  Norman’s vision was restored – from Dolphin House to Dolphin Village.

Ivor, who had been a leader in the Betar movement in South Africa before making aliyah, is proud of promoting a project that was the brainchild of the founder of Habonim. “After all,” says Ivor, “the bottom line is that our youth movements at the time were all about promoting and building a strong Jewish state. This is what we did, and this is what I feel I am still doing today.”

Shavei Zion is a far cry today from when its founders absorbed the illegal immigrants off the ships evading the British blockade, or when Norman Lurie alighted from a train at a stretch of dirt and saw a property that prided itself on offering “running water”.

‘Sign’ of the Times. Joshua Malka (right) watches as the Prime Minister of Burma (today Myanmar),  one of the first countries in Asia to recognise Israel, signs the guest book at Beit Dolphin (בית דולפין / Dolphin House.)

It is somewhat poignant that  Norman Lourie, who would go on to become as well a prizewinning filmmaker was born in South Africa in 1909 – the same year the first Tel Aviv dwellings were erected on empty Mediterranean sand dunes.  But there is another striking meaningful coincidence. When in 1935, Norman captained a team of South African athletes to the second World Maccabiah Games in Palestine, he met Lord Melchett (Sir Alfred Mond, Bt), a British industrialist and ardent Zionist, who wrote to Norman’s father on his behalf urging him to allow his son to remain in Palestine. Although it would take another decade for Norman to follow his dream and settle permanently in Palestine in 1946, Lord Melchett’s support was never forgotten and when in 2014, a luxury boutique hotel named after Norman Lourie called ‘The Norman’  opened in Tel Aviv, its location was none other than on the corner of –  Melchett Street!

The Norman Conquest. Drink a L’Chaim to Norman Lourie at Tel Aviv’s top boutique hotel ‘The Norman’ named after the visionary who founded the South African Habonim youth movement in 1930.

Tel Aviv today is not short of good bars and pubs but when the former members of South African Habonim  from all over the world gather in Israel this October to celebrate the long-awaited 90th anniversary, they may want to pop into the Champagne and Wine Bar  or the Library Bar at The Norman and toast a L’Chaim to their founder.

EPILOGUE

Staring at the long unused railway line at Rosh HaNikra – a casualty of war –  one can only add to the ‘dreams’ that one day in the not to distant future, that line that Norman came to film will be reopened as Lebanon gets on track in pursuing peace.

But that’s a script that still needs to be written by future dreamers and doers.





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 (0&EO).

THE WRITE STUFF

The writer’s message – Jews need to vote not only with their hands but their feet

By David E. Kaplan 

            

The passing last week of A.B. Yehoshua – described in The New York Times as “a kind of Israeli Faulkner” – brough back memories of my exclusive interview of him in 2010 as editor for Hilton Israel Magazine. That year, the movie of his critically claimed A Woman in Jerusalem was receiving rave reviews and widely expected to be in the running for an Oscar nomination in the Foreign Film category.

On the ‘Write’ Track. Writer A.B. Yehoshua (left) with David E. Kaplan during exclusive interview for Hilton Israel Magazine in 2010 in Haifa.

Sitting down in the lounge of a hotel on the Carmel in Haifa, the writer’s hometown, I quickly discovered how scintillating and physically animated A.B.  – or Aleph Bet as he was commonly called -was in conversation. The more intense he wanted to make a point, the more he enlisted his entire body to join in the discussion!

Having received many prestigious awards for literature both in Israel and abroad, I asked whether he had any aspirations of one day standing on the coveted podium in Oslo?  After all,  The Village Voice – in praising A.B.’s writing -wrote that:

 “Nobel Prizes have been given for less.”

His response:

“I am most proud in the meantime to have made the much shorter journey to Jerusalem to receive the Israel Prize. Let me explain. While for the sciences the Nobel Prize is a true measure of the laureate’s contribution to his or her discipline, this generally has not proved the case with literature. If you look back over the past 110 years or so since the Nobel Prizes were awarded, some fifty percent of the recipients for literature were mediocre writers who have either been forgotten or made little impact beyond the parameters of their national readership. Even more astounding, some of the greatest writers of the 20th century – Virginia Wolfe, Robert Musil, Vladimir Nabokov, Franz Kafka and Leo Tolstoy to name a few – were passed over.

Think of it, Tolstoy, possibly the greatest writer of the 20th century did not receive the Nobel! I am compelled to ask: What are the criteria when minor writers were so honored and the great literary luminaries passed over?”

His face broadening into a wide smile, he concludes:

One would be among no less illustrious company if one did not receive the Nobel than if one did!”

It was said by one critic of your book ‘The Liberated Bride’ that you explore human relationships – husband and wife, parent and child – exposing thoughts that people are often too embarrassed to admit. That you have the ability to reach into people’s minds. Your response?

Relationships are journeys that by their very nature are coloured with clashes and tension. However, it’s not all tempestuous – there is also the beauty of love and friendship. I differ from many writers, who present relationships focusing mainly on the storms, leaving little room for the sunshine to shine through. I, on the other hand, while exploring the interpersonal conflicts, never lose sight of the underlying inter-personal love and friendship that exists between my characters and that is what frequently finally triumphs.”

Totally Animated. A.B. Yehoshua activates much of his body in expressing himself.

To what extent does your fictional writing reflect the realities of life?

I’m a far cry from say the 19th century French novelist and playwright Balzac [Honoré de Balzak 1799-1850 one of the founders of realism in European literature] a wonderful observer of reality who depicted life in his society so precisely in his writing. I on the other hand, while I explore and express reality, I mesh my narrative with allegory, symbolisms and fantasy. As a young writer, I was influenced by Kafka, the abstract writings of Agnon [the Israel writer S.A. Agnon, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966], Camus, Sartre and Faulkner. Of course, over time and with accumulated experience, ‘the reality’ permeated more into my writings.

While the themes of my book are imbedded into the modern Israeli landscape, its history and its people, my writings are not autobiographical. Many writers like to tell their own story in their writings – this is not the case with me. That is not to say, that life’s experiences have not shaped my writing.”

Riveting Retrospective. In 2012, A.B. Yehoshua won France’s Medicis literature prize – “awarded to a writer whose fame has not yet matched their talent” – for a translated version of his novel “The Retrospective”. (photo Bertrand GUAY )

On this point, did your experiences as a paratrooper in the Israeli army in the mid-1950s impact on your work?

Sure. While my first-hand experience of jumping out a plane gave me the insight to write about a German paratrooper in my book Mr. Mani, it was my military service in the period culminating in the Sinai Campaign of 1956 that gave me credibility when I campaigned later for peace. When I argue for making the necessary comprises to achieve peace, I’m doing so from someone who has experienced war. It is much easier to take a public stand or write on contentious and critically existential issues when you have taken personal risk on the very issues you are espousing on.”

In the mid-1960s you served as Director of WUJS (World Union of Jewish Students) stationed at its world headquarters in Paris? How important was this experience?

Very important. My wife was studying for her doctorate in psychology at the Sorbonne while I was organizing seminars, workshops and conferences for young delegates and participants from Jewish communities from all over world. At the epicenter of global Jewish student life, this experience presented me a window of opportunity to understand Jewish life in the Diaspora.

It was during this period that I began to analyze the phenomena of the Diaspora. Since those early days I have been trying to understand the nature of antisemitism which I set out in an essay in 2008, called, “An Attempt to identify the Root Cause of Antisemitism”.

Jean Paul Sartre who too would have been in Paris at the time you were there, also wrote a piece on antisemitism where he came to the conclusion that antisemitism is an enigma that defies rational comprehension. What conclusion did you arrive at?

I approached the subject from the prism of Jewish identity. And here lies the problem. Jewish identity is unclear, even to Jews. You ask today “Who or what is a Jew?” and you will not hear a definitive answer. What’s more, it’s no clearer today than it was over a thousand years ago. Is Judaism a religion, a nation, a race or people or an amalgam in different proportions of all these elements? Jews do not speak the same language; are scattered around the world and differ in appearance and culture from one place to another. A Jew from Yemen is totally different from a Jew in Russia, as is a New Yorker from a Jew from Kazakhstan or Addis Ababa. Because it is so difficult to determine the nucleus or core component of Jewish identity, antisemites are free to project their own demons and frustrations onto the persona of the Jew and create an identity sustainable for their own designs. Incidentally, the converse is no less true.  Positive perception too may be projected onto the persona of the Jew with different results.”

Fingers doing the Talking. Caricature of A.B. at work.

Nevertheless, you don’t see religion as the core element in your analysis?

The mistake I believe is that people were trying to understand antisemitism mainly through the question of religion; this approach is a cul-de-sac. The antipathy towards Jews has emanated from other religions as it has from secular national ideologies like Nazism. The fact that it precedes Christianity, led me to analyze the subject not through religion but the notion of identity. My conclusion is the abstract nature of the Jewish persona invites others to impose their failings and insecurities upon the Jew’s unclear identity leading to cataclysmic consequences. Ambiguity works against us.”

Of your nine novels, Mr. Mani published in 1990 and adapted for television in a five-part series, has probably received the most critical acclaim. Why is that?

I see this book as my finest achievement.”

How is it different from your other novels?

First of all because of its composition – the structure is original. The book is arranged in the form of five “conversations,” with the speech of only one of the two speakers present on each page. The reader has to imagine what the other would say and therefore is drawn into the narrative, not as a passive observer but as an active participant. Throughout the book, the reader is compelled to remain cerebrally alert.

The dialogue opens in 1982, going back to 1848 tracing dark domestic dramas occurring against the backdrop of historical events. It mirrors pivotal moments in Zionist history with the history of the Mani family where decisions, both national and familial, were made leading to dramatic consequences. Although Mr. Mani is never one of the speakers, the conversations always concerned a Mr. Mani – the father, the grandfather, the great- grandfather and so on going back generationally. 

The speakers include a contemporary Israeli woman, a Nazi soldier stationed in Crete during WW II, a British Jewish soldier in Palestine before the Balfour Declaration, a Jewish doctor in Galicia and a Jewish merchant in Athens.

Threaded throughout this work is one of my fundamental concerns and which brought on the controversy when I addressed Jewish audiences in the USA saying that for all the successes of the Jewish people, we have been a failure.”

Powerful & Poignant. A.B. Yehoshua’s  tour-de-force, ‘MR. MANI –  six generations of the Sephardi Mani family are chronicled in this profound and passionate Mediterranean epic.

What do you mean by failure?

“The Jewish people have journeyed through history blind. The red lights were time and time again flashing, warning Jews, and yet, we ignored these beacons walking into one life-threatening calamity after another. For me the Shoah – the Holocaust – is totally unacceptable in another fundamental way. We lost six million, a third of our people, wiped out for what? For nothing, this is why I say ‘failure’ – not for religion, not for ideology, not for territory – for nothing. How could we as a people, have allowed this to happen because, as always, the signs were there.

The thread in ‘Mr. Mani’ is that the State of Israel could have been established in the 1920s. My ancestors came to Palestine in the middle of the 19th century. If they could come, why not thousands of others – en mass? Can you imagine if a half a million Jews had come – the difference it would have made? The Holocaust if not averted at least Jews would have a place of refuge. Sure there were the Zionist Conferences but we needed greater commitment – Jews to vote not only with their hands but with their feet.”

Explain the controversy that ‘erupted’ with American Jewry was when you addressed a symposium in Washington saying Judaism over the last 100 years has failed and that the future of Jewish people rests on Israeli identity and not on religion?

Yes, they never really understood me in way that those Jews who have come to live in Israel would. As I told them, my identity is Israeli and territory and language – not religion – is what creates my identity. This upset them countering that the Jewish religion, culture, texts and literature have been with us for 3000 years, why should I narrow it down to ‘Israeliness’? My argument is that one’s identity is crafted by one’s environment and the land he lives in. A Jewish Israeli is not the same thing as a Jewish Frenchman; every Jew has an identity linked to the territory he lives in. We, who sit in Israel and daily make the fateful and relevant decisions for the continued existence of the Jews, are the ones ensuring Jewish continuity.

Anyway, if they were angry in the beginning – no more – now they are inviting me to repeat it.”

You are a strong and vocal supporter of the peace movement and attended the 2003 signing of the Geneva Accord. Does your involvement here and thinking on these issues manifest itself in your writing?

My involvement in the Peace Movement is separate and I freely air my political views in essays and interviews. In most my fictional writing, I try to present the humanity of the Arab character, particularly the Israeli Arab through their encounters with Jews in Israel. In this way I try to foster understanding as well as encourage the pursuit of peace.”

Self-Exploration. A.B. Yehoshua, who died this month at the age of 85, was accustomed to rattling the cage like when he claimed that Diaspora Jews are only “partial” Jews, while Israeli Jews are “total” Jews.

While A.B. Yehoshua’s work’s  (much of it published in translation in 28 countries and been adapted for film, television, theatre and opera ) reveal so much about the human condition, this published quote revealed much about this late celebrated writer as a Jew living in Israel:

Diaspora Jews change nationalities like jackets. Once they were Polish and Russian; now they are British and American. One day they could choose to be Chinese or Singaporean..

For me, Avraham Yehoshua, there is no alternative… I cannot keep my identity outside Israel. Being Israeli is my skin, not my jacket.






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 (0&EO).

 

ISRAEL’S FUTURE UNCERTAIN 

Overseas volunteers in 1967 ‘certain’ where they needed to be

Following Lay of the Land’s article ‘SIX DAYS IN JUNE’ by its editor celebrating 55 years since the Six Day War of 1967 that secured the future of the State of Israel,  a lively conversation began with calls and emails of seniors who recalled the days  of their spirited youth when they suddenly put their young lives on hold and volunteered for Israel in its hour of need.

It was a momentous moment in Israel’s history; it was a momentous moment in the personal lives of many who volunteered from abroad. One such is Allan Wolman today from Israel but in 1967 was a young man in Johannesburg, South Africa.

This is his story.

(Editor David E. Kaplan)

RECOLLECTIONS OF A 1967 VOLUNTEER

By Allan Wolman

“On the 5th June 1967, the Six Day War broke out between Israel and her Arab neighbours. Tensions between Israel and Egypt began building up about 4 – 5 weeks prior to the outbreak of war and as these hostilities increased, it seemed that war was inevitable. I had heard that South African volunteers might be accepted to go to Israel and immediately signed up. The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) occupied a building in downtown Johannesburg and was a hive of activity in those weeks leading up to the war. It was an exciting time with daily visits to the centre to see when we would be sent to Israel. After a selection process and obtaining army and police clearance and a host of other necessary documents, we were ready to leave.

Seeing is Believing. Only a year after the new Knesset building in Jerusalem was dedicated on August 30, 1966 (background) and only days after Jerusalem was reunited and restored to Jewish sovereignty after 2000 years, volunteer Allan Wolman explores Israel’s reunited capital.

When war did break out on the 5thJune, I felt a sense of disappointment as one group had already departed for Israel, and I was not part of it. With ears glued to the radio constantly, as well as almost camping at the Zionist Fed, the  days ticked by until I received the call to be ready to leave that evening!

The excitement was overwhelming. I called my parents and next my Dad arranged $300 – money that he could ill afford at the time – and rushed around to pack and get ready to leave.

Relic of War. Allan Wolman leaning back on a burnt out Jordanian Jeep on a tour of the West Bank shortly after fighting ceased

All the volunteers for that evening  – the second flight out of South Africa – congregated at the office of the Zionist Fed and bussed together to the airport. Parents and friends made their own way to the airport which was bedlam with thousands of people coming to wish our group well. Our SAA plane was a Boeing 707 that took about 250 passengers – all full of volunteers! The excitement at the departure hall was so memorable with proud Dad, tearful Mom and all my ‘envious’ friends who clubbed together and gave me $100 – a fortune in those days!

As SAA in those days was prohibited from overflying African countries, to get to Israel we were forced to fly round West Africa with stops at Luanda, Lisbon and Rome where we were allowed off the aircraft and walked around Rome airport in wonderment  – this was for most of the group their first trip out of South Africa. After Rome, we flew on to Athens where an EL AL aircraft was waiting to take us to Tel Aviv with a fighter jet meeting us en-route to escort us in as the war was not yet over.

My first impression disembarking at then Lod Airport was a bunch of bearded rowdy looking soldiers looking fearsome. After the necessary arrival requirements, our group was bussed to a senior citizen’s home in Herzliya – by that time it was already dark, enhanced by the enforced blackout. I remember those first few hours so vividly – the residents of the home were clapping and cheering us. After an almost 24-hour flight and the excitement of landing in Israel, some of our group walked down to experience a swim in the Mediterranean and then –  even with the war and the “blackout”–  hitch that evening a ride into Tel Aviv.

Sometime before midnight, we arrived at Dizengoff Street – the only place we had heard of – when the cease-fire came into effect and the lights were turned on and the euphoria was simply indescribable. After six days of anxiety, the nation breathed a sigh of relief.

Having a Field Day. Fellow volunteers of the writer (including Raymond Lowenberg and Peter Edel) join a group of  army Nachalniks working on kibbutz Kvutzat Schiller’s cotton plantation.

The following morning all the volunteers were assigned to where they were needed, mostly on various Kibbutzim to assist with agricultural work as most of the men were still in the army. Arriving on kibbutz Kvutzat Schiller  (Gan Shlomo) was like landing on another planet. Following orientation, I was billeted in a room with three other young guys from England, two of which have remained lifelong friends. There were also a few South African chaps in our group, Alan Heitner and one or two others. After some weeks, Peter Edel and Raymond (“Rafi”) Lowenberg joined ‘our’ Kibbutz. Peter, Raymond and I eventually shared a room for some months which were some of the most memorable times spent in Israel. Raymond remained in Israel, married, but was tragically killed on the first day of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. I have hardly ever missed a memorial day in honour of Raymond – a brilliant guy, had his matric before he had a driver’s license and a degree at age nineteen.

Dig This. Sitting on a destroyed Jordanian military earth-mover, are (left-right) volunteers Allan Wolman, Peter Edel and Raymond Lowenberg.

Such incredibly vivid memories of those times in Israel, touring around with those wonderful friends and discovering the country on our own was an adventure in itself. One time we decided to visit the Suez Canal (not too long after the war ended) and witnessed the endless lines of destroyed Egyptian army trucks and tanks. We hiked through Gaza, and Gaza City was a dingy backward town with no building higher than two stories. Also hiked to El Arish, again a pretty backward little town. We never made it to the Canal but pretty close as it was a military security zone. Hiking back to Israel proper, Peter, Raymond, Alan and I were given a ride by an Arab Taxi who en-route back, decided to turn off the road into an Arab refugee camp, which was a pretty hostile areas for Jews to venture in. Anxious and afraid of what lay ahead for us, we discussed in broken Afrikaans to knock the driver unconscious and take over his car to avoid the danger we feared lay ahead. Such bravado, came to nought as the taxi stopped outside a house where his wife and children came out to collect fruit and vegetables he was delivering to his family. We felt ashamed for suspecting the worst. 

What struck me was the coming together of everyone in support of each other. There was such unity. This was so visibly evident when traveling around the country and seeing at every town or settlement, refreshment tables set out by the women of the area preparing sandwiches and refreshments for the soldiers who were either leaving or joining their units as the army remained on full alert.

My time in Israel in the immediate aftermath of the Six Day War was one of the most profound and memorable experiences of my life. Firstly, this was my very first trip overseas and in a country celebrating (with much relief) one of the most astounding military victories in modern warfare, the mood was one of exuberance and happiness after the anxiety leading up to the war. Most of the time was spent working various jobs on the Kibbutz from working in the chicken sheds shovelling chicken ‘sh..t’,  to working in the various orchards and apple packing plant and weeding the cotton fields. You knew you had ‘made it’ – I am talking here serious ‘upward mobility’  – when you were trusted to drive a tractor. This was a status symbol; a far cry from the chicken coup!

Evenings were amazing, a living metaphor of the sixties. We sat around our rooms drinking coffee and socializing with the girls; Raymond would be playing his guitar and we would listen mesmerised to the music and lyrics of the latest Beetles classic –  “Sergeant Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band”.

For sure, we were anything but ‘lonely’; we all felt part of something great happening, so much bigger than ourselves.

Field of Dreams. Having “lots of fun, laughter and discussing girls” says Allan Wolman (left) followed by Peter Edel and Raymond Lowenberg while picking apples in the orchids.

But all good things must come to an end and one morning I came to the realization that if I didn’t get off the Kibbutz, I would remain there for the rest of my life, so I packed and said my goodbyes and left to spend a few weeks with my cousin Cyril Swiel in Tel Aviv which proved a real learning experience seeing the other side of life in Israel. I met up with some friends from South Africa and decided to travel through Europe and “see the world”.

But “seeing the world” was unlike “being in Israel” in 1967

The impact of this experience sowed the seed for eventually, decades later, settling in Israel.



About the writer:

Birds of a feather4

Allan Wolman in 1967 joined 1200 young South Africans to volunteer to work on agricultural settlements in Israel during the Six Day War. After spending a year in Israel, he returned to South Africa where he met and married Jocelyn Lipschitz and would run  one of the oldest travel agencies in Johannesburg – Rosebank Travel. He would also literally ‘run’ three times in the “Comrades”, one of the most grueling marathons in the world as well as participate in the “Argus” (Cape Town’s famed international annual cycling race) an impressive eight times. Allan and Jocelyn immigrated to Israel three years ago.





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 (0&EO).

A MAZEL TOV FIT FOR A QUEEN

Celebrating the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth 2 as the monarch celebrates 70 years of an extraordinary reign.

By Rolene Marks

“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

Princess Elizabeth, South Africa, 1947

We don’t know her thoughts or opinions – a rare feat in in today’s world where everyone is obsessed with sharing everything on social media. She has never given an interview – also a rare feat when most in the public eye are clambering over each other for a few minutes with a camera. We only found out this past weekend what the most famous and respected woman keeps in her chic Launer handbag (besides her lipstick!) and this revelation came courtesy of a beloved fictional bear. When Paddington Bear and her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II took tea last weekend in a clip for the Platinum Jubilee, we discovered that Her Maj keeps a marmalade sandwich safely tucked in there.

While we may now know this delightful titbit, what many don’t know about is the long and sometimes complicated history that the Royal family have with Jews and Israel.

Many have criticized the Queen for never visiting Israel. What many don’t realise is that foreign trips are made at the request of the British Foreign Office wanting to deploy the soft diplomacy and convening power that royalty has. The Queen cannot send anyone to The Tower (although I think she may have been tempted a few times with her family over the last two years!) but the monarch and her family wield an ambassadorial and convening power that is second to none.

The respected historian, Andrew Roberts, once said that the British government had a de facto ban in place on state visits by Queen Elizabeth II to Israel. “The true reason of course, is that the FO [Foreign Office] has a ban on official royal visits to Israel, which is even more powerful for its being unwritten and unacknowledged. As an act of delegitimization of Israel, this effective boycott is quite as serious as other similar acts, such as the academic boycott, and is the direct fault of the FO Arabists. It is, therefore, no coincidence that although the Queen has made over 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, neither has ever been to Israel on an official visit,” said Roberts, addressing attendees at a gala dinner in London.

The Queen at her coronation.

The Queen has received Israeli dignatories including former President Shimon Peres who was awarded an honourary knighthood in 2008. Peres was knighted with the Grand Cross of the order of St Michael and St George.

For 30 minutes, Peres spoke to the Queen about Israel’s history and current situation and gave the Queen two gifts: a letter written by her father, George VI, upon the official recognition by Britain of the state of Israel, and two silver candlesticks in the shape of pomegranates.

The former President described their meeting as:

 “friendly and informal; the Queen asked me a lot of questions on Israel. I was very moved to be the representative who received this honour for the state of Israel. The whole ceremony was not for me as an individual but a mark of respect for the country. I felt I was a shaliach mitzvah (emissary dispatched to do a mitzvah).”

Mr. Peres spoke to the Queen about the suffering of the town of Sderot and said that “the British learnt from the bible and we learnt from the British democracy.”

Arise, Sir Peres. The Queen knights Shimon Peres

Even though the Queen has never visited Israel, she has had strong ties with the Jewish community (even hiring a Jewish mohel to perform a royal circumcision) and has met with Holocaust survivors on many occasions.

One such meeting was at an event marking 60 years of liberation of Bergen Belsen. The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l who was present, later recounted: “When the time came for her to leave, she stayed. And stayed. One of her attendants said that he had never known her to linger so long after her scheduled departure. She gave each survivor – it was a large group – her focused, unhurried attention. She stood with each until they had finished telling their personal story.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, spoke of meeting the Queen and Prince Philip in his memoirs and how they took a keen interest in his work and Jewish traditions.

Over the years, members of the Jewish community have been honoured at investitures for their work and contribution in a variety of fields including Holocaust and Jewish education. WIZO’s founding mother, Rebecca Sieff, was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) as has former WIZO UK President, Lorraine Warren and other WIZO Presidents from the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries.

The late Prince Philip was well known for his politically-incorrect gaffes which some attribute to an attempt to make people laugh and put them at ease. While the foreign office forbid royal visits to Israel, the Duke of Edinburgh visited in a private capacity several times for a very honourable reason. His mother, Princess Alice, who is buried in Jerusalem, has been honoured by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Amongst the Nations for saving the lives of a Jewish family during the Holocaust.

In recent years, two future kings, Prince Charles and Prince William have visited the Jewish state.

Prince Charles represented Her Majesty at the funeral of slain Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin and has supported Jewish causes and visited Israel in recent years.

Prince Charles, once ridiculed for his propensity to prefer conversing with plants than politicians and intellectuals, has said that he prefers to regard himself as the defender of faiths rather than of the faith, that being the Church of England which the monarch heads. To this end, he works hard to promote coexistence between the faiths. The Prince of Wales counted Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks as a close friend and lamented his passing. He has also written personal messages in several books including Lily Eberts, “Lily’s Promise”.

The Prince of Wales talks to Holocaust survivor, Lily Ebert.

Prince Charles is patron of World Jewish Relief as well as the Holocaust Memorial Trust, a patronage that once belonged to the Queen but as the monarch hands over more of her patronages to members of her family, the heir to the throne has received this one. He is also patron of the Jewish Museum, JLGB for Jewish youth across Great Britain and numerous others. To coincide with International Holocaust Memorial Day, the Prince commissioned portraits to be painted of several Holocaust survivors accompanied by a documentary on the BBC. The Prince gave a very moving speech the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz hosted by Yad Vashem and met privately with survivors, away from the prying eyes of the media. He gave a notable private donation to The Peres Centre for Peace. His wife, the Duchess of Cornwall visited Auschwitz, representing the Queen to mark the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz.

The Duchess of Cornwall (Camilla) lights a candle of remembrance at Auschwitz.

Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall is also known to enjoy a hora or two. During her visit to Jewish Care’s Brenner Centre in East London to celebrate the organisation’s 80th anniversary, the Duchess danced with delighted residents.

It was a lovely, wonderful experience, I think I’m dreaming,” said Abraham David, who danced with the duchess. “She put her hand out to mine and wanted to dance — I couldn’t believe it. I won’t sleep tonight I’m so excited.”

Having a Swinging Time. The Duchess of Cambridge dances to Hava Nagila at a Jewish Community Center in East London in 2019.

Prince William was the next king in waiting to visit Israel albeit without his lovely wife Catherine (Kate Middleton) who had recently given birth to their third child, disappointing many Israeli fashionstas (okay, me) wanting to catch a glimpse of what she would be wearing but mother duty comes first and we understand. The Prince struck all the right notes visiting the Kotel, Yad Vashem, the grave of his late great-grandmother, met young innovators, took a stroll with Eurovision sensation Neta, and even played volleyball on the beach and football with young Israelis and Arabs – all without breaking a princely sweat.

Prince William plays volleyball in Tel Aviv

The prince also proved that he could navigate some tough political terrain, shuttling between Israeli and Palestinians leaders, without going “there”. Royals are above politics.

Prince William at the Kotel (Western Wall)

On a state visit to Poland, Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge visited Stutthof Concentration Camp. It would be a life-changing experience for the Duchess. The Royal couple met Holocaust survivors, Manfred Goldberg and Ziggy Shipper who both came to England after the war as Windermere children.

The Duchess of Cambridge photographs Holocaust survivors.

Since this seminal meeting, the Duchess has dedicated herself to Holocaust education and has taken photographs of survivors for the Imperial War Museum’s exhibition, included them in her book “Hold Still”, engaged with survivors and young educators via Zoom, met with Windermere child survivors, attended Holocaust Memorial Day events and more.

Judge and TV personality, Rob Rinder, who accompanied the Duchess when she met with Windermere survivors tweeted in response to a royal fan “She was – truly – amazing .. Anybody with doubts about the future & purpose of our Monarchy should spend an hour with her. Quite extraordinary.”

Hosting a garden party at Buckingham Palace on behalf of the Queen recently, fascinator firmly fixed, umbrella in hand, the Duchess made a beeline for her good friend Manfred, who along with his wife was a guest. “Manfred,” Catherine said, “It’s so lovely to see you again. How are you?” The two shook hands, whilst Manfred replied: “It’s my pleasure and privilege to see you again.”

The Duchess of Cambridge is delighted to see Manfred Goldberg at Buckingham Palace.

When I saw your name on the guest list I thought ‘yes!’ I am so happy to see you! Are you keeping well?” asked the Duchess. The pictures of the delighted trio were beamed around the world to the happy reaction of many young people who knew exactly who Manfred was and his story of survival. This is the power of royalty. Through their work, generations are learning the stories of the Holocaust because the platform to tell them does not come bigger than the royal family. The Cambridges have spoken publicly about how they are talking to their children about the Holocaust so that it is never forgotten.

The Duchess of Cambridge marks Holocaust Memorial Day

While the history of the royal family, Jews and Israel may have had its awkward moments in  history, it looks like the future seems extremely positive.

The young princess who made that sacred, lifelong vow in South Africa on her 21st birthday has more than delivered and the joyous celebration this past weekend as she marked her Platinum Jubilee is proof of the love and respect she commands through duty and service to her people, Commonwealth and realms.

 The Queen and her heirs at the Platinum Jubilee

We lift a glass of the best kosher champagne and toast to Her Majesty, the Queen on the remarkable achievement of 70 years on the throne. Mazel Tov, Ma’am, the future you have ensured, is in good hands.

MAZEL TOV !!!






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 (0&EO).

Farewell to Rodney Mazinter

A tribute to a South African Zionist who fought for his people through word and deed

By David E. Kaplan

Living in Israel, I knew this Cape Town-based writer, poet and published novelist, Rodney Mazinter, mostly by  his pen and what a mighty pen it was.

Rodney Mazinter

Imagining him like the proverbial knight  on his sturdy horse wielding in jousting position a pen as his lance, he pressed forward to do battle for his beloved Israel and the Jewish people. His extensive writings in support of causes close to his heart were warmly embraced by readers beyond South Africa.

In his first novel available through Amazon, the author recreates “the European world of the Jewish people in the first half of the twentieth century – a world of unimaginable hardship and hatred, culminating in the Holocaust.”

We at Lay of the Land in Israel, welcomed his contributions as did our readers across the world, and in paying tribute to this inspiring lover of Israel and community leader (he was a former vice-chair of the South African Zionist Federation, Cape Council), we are proud to publish one of his poems that so poignantly resonates as each stanza shares intimate similarities of his final days.

Having suffered a heart attack and finding himself in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Cape Town, it was a subject that Rodney had previously thought intensely about when he composed this poem set in an ICU not in South Africa but in one of Israel’s premier hospitals – Rambam in Haifa.

The most renowned of the Jewish medieval scholars, Maimonides changed the face of Judaism.

With so many superlative hospitals in Israel, why did Rodney choose Rambam?

Named after and honouring Rabbi Moses Ben-Maimon, called Maimonides or the “Rambam” an acronym of his name in Hebrew, Maimonides was a preeminent medieval Sephardic rabbi, physician, and philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. He is credited to  being among the first in Western thinking to propose that the health of the body and soul should be combined, in other words that the body is the home of the soul, and the soul guides the body  revealing the body and the soul as one unit. The Rambam’s medical writings constitute  a significant chapter in the history of medical science.

The setting of Rodney’s poem, Rambam Health Care Campus commonly called Rambam Hospital, is the largest medical center in northern Israel and is named for the 12th century physician-philosopher Rabbi Moshe Ben-Maimon (Maimonides), known as the Rambam.

All this I believe, intuitively, percolated in Rodney’s creative mind as he poetically applied his craft to his subject.

Whether Jew, Muslim or Christian brough to Rambam’s ICU due to illness, accident, war, crime or act or terror, the actions and thoughts of all who busily occupy this space from those seeking salvation to those trying to provide it “Like a team of lifeguards constantly on duty”, the poem moves to the rushed rhythmic beat of a pulsating heart.

Rodney captures it all……

ICU – TRUE HEROES OF RAMBAM

By Rodney Mazinter

A capsule of pain and fear − or an airlock

Waiting for travellers to pass through to a place they’re loath to enter?

Are there those among us who care enough to bring them back?

Jew, Muslim, Christian, some brought low by illness,

Or worse, by bullet, knife or car,

Victims of those weaned on hatred,

Bullied by brutes bereft of − bankrupt of − compassion.

Across the way in a darkened room,

A man struggles to bring his pulse down and his blood pressure up.

A woman whose teary eyes still hold the captured images of visitors,

Lies dying of the illness of old age, an oxygen feed clamped firmly

To her fine Semitic face.

Down the line of serried beds a man cries out incoherently −

It is a high-pitched supplication of dread, pain and pleading. Is he talking to God?

Monitors, the Argus-eyed guardians for the physicians,

Blink codes and messages to those trained to read them.

Through all this, doctors and nursing staff

Meander among the beds performing minor miracles,

Like a team of lifeguards constantly on duty

Ready to pluck a sinking life from the jaws of eternity.

They fight the battle and mostly win,

But there is no triumphant parade with flags waving,

And boastful thumbs stuck in lapels.

There is no time for that − a new patient is wheeled in from ER.

There are lines to set and veins to pierce,

And all focus is on the never-ending stream of humanity

On the road to recovery, if not survival.

Medical personnel wearing protective equipment treat a COVID-19 patient in an intensive care ward at Rambam Hospital, December 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

….

Following Rodney’s passing, a close friend  and fellow literati of his from Cape Town, Charlotte Cohen, sent me her poem What is a mensch? republished earlier this month in ‘Jewish Affairs’ a monthly publication issued by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, in which she asserts “epitomises the person who Rodney Mazinter was.” Who can disagree with her?

In selecting only two lines, I felt drawn to these:

“ A mensch sees the world as ‘we’ not ‘I’

A mensch is always there


Our sincere condolences to his wife Mavis and all the family from Lay of the Land.





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 (0&EO).