Victor in Name and in Life

Remembering Victor Gordon, an award-winning playwright, artist, musician, community leader and strong literary advocate for Israel

By David E. Kaplan

It came as little surprise to hear on Sunday 11 July at the opening of the Zoom memorial service to Victor Gordon of Pretoria, South Africa, to hear his widow, Shirley reveal that she had been phoned that morning by Jonathan Pollard, today a free citizen of the State of Israel.

It had been an emotional yet profound conversation – about ones man’s too soon passing and another’s belated freedom. Their disparate lives were eternally linked by Victor’s  poignant prose.

My Word. Victor Gordon, whose words in the media and on stage,  enthralled , entertained  and challenged. (Photo: Diane Wolfson)

Jonathan Jay Pollard, a former intelligence analyst for the United States government, pleaded guilty in 1987, as part of a plea agreement, to spying for and providing top-secret classified information to Israel. He was sentenced to life in prison making him the ONLY American to receive a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally of the U.S.

Believing that Pollard was the victim of a terrible miscarriage of justice, Victor wrote the play titled “Pollards’ Trial” which was translated into Hebrew opening shortly thereafter in 2011 at the famed Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv. Not only did it receive a five-star rating from the critics,  but became the only play in the history of Israel to receive an invitation to mount a private performance at the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) before an invited audience of 350, hosted by the former President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, who was then Speaker of the Knesset. “Since Pollard’s conviction, the Berlin Wall came down but he is still surrounded by the walls of the federal prison,” Rivlin had said. “At first, we thought that if we could act behind the scenes, we could restore trust with the US and bring about a breakthrough that could bring about Pollard’s release. Too slow, we learned that acting quietly wouldn’t help and we needed to act openly to help him become free.”

Victor’s play did just that and ran on-and-off throughout Israel for over two years having a huge impact in galvanizing support for his eventual release.

The issues that Victor drew attention to in his play were troubling.

Set in Pollard’s jail cell, the accused presents his imagined case to the judge – something he was never actually permitted to do when he was sentenced to life. Exposing the American judicial process as ‘twisted’ and ‘double-dealing’ when it came to its treatment of the Jew – Pollard –  it reveals how this accused was deprived of his most basic rights.

Monumental Man. Playwright, artist, activist and communal leader, South African Victor Gordon and wife Shirley. (Photo: Diane Wolfson)

It was hard to believe that anyone at the time who saw this play could remain indifferent to Pollard.  

One man who assuredly was not indifferent was Victor Gordon!

Neither was he on the many fundamental issues effecting the Jewish state. As a member of the South African Zionist Federation Media Team Israel committed to monitoring media bias against Israel and antisemitism, Victor’s articles – well researched and balanced, were a regular feature in the press both in South Africa and abroad. Speaking from Israel at the memorial service on Zoom,  Lay of the Land’s Rolene Marks, who had worked closely with Victor as colleagues on the Media Team Israel since it had been formed 20 years earlier as well as representing Israel’s Truth be Told (TbT) committee, said:

If you are lucky in life, you have the blessing and benefits of truly remarkable mentors. I have been doubly blessed to be able to count Victor as one of mine – both as a friend and as a mentor.”

Words were Victor’s stock-in-trade and Rabbi Gidon Fox, who moderated the Zoom memorial service tearfully wrestled with a conundrum :

 “What words can one say about one of the world’s finest wordsmiths?”

Victor’s passion on spotlighting milestone events impacting the Jewish people  – some forgotten as minor but in truth were monumental –  was the plot of his 2009 play Harry and Ed.

So ordinary sounding – Harry and Ed – yet they were extraordinary men who pulled off the extraordinary.

This play reveals how a hometown friendship between a Jewish boy, Edward “Eddie” Jacobson born in New York’s Lower East Side in 1891 to impoverished Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and  the future US President Harry Truman would shape the destiny of the Jewish People. Following their childhood friendship, they would go into business together – not terribly successfully – from running a canteen to opening a haberdashery but it was the “business” of creating the Jewish State that history would record as a resounding success!

A Friend in Deed. The unique friendship of Harry S. Truman (right) and business partner Edward Jacobson (left) that together influenced the establishment of the Jewish State, captured on stage in Victor Gordon’s illuminating play, “Harry and Ed”.

Irritated by incessant Jewish lobbying for statehood, Truman had issued instructions that he did not want to meet any more intermediaries and so it was left to Ed – the most unlikely of diplomats – to urge the reluctant president to meet one more  –  Chaim Weizmann

As a friend the President could not ignore, and with the weight of a future Jewish state on his aging, tired and stooped shoulders, Ed skillfully beseeched the President:

Your hero is Andrew Jackson. I have a hero too. He’s the greatest Jew alive. I’m talking about Chaim Weizmann. He’s an old man and very sick, and he has traveled thousands of miles to see you. And now you’re putting him off. This isn’t like you, Harry.”

Truman agreed to meet with Weizmann and the rest is history.

The United States became the first nation to grant diplomatic recognition to the new state of Israel on May 14, 1948.

Although Victor did not live in Israel, he  was finely tuned to its peculiar nuances which he explored in his play “You Will Not Play Wagner”. The play examines Israel’s unofficial ban on performing works by “Hitler’s favourite composer” and charts the fictional conflict between a young Israeli composer, Ya’akov, who wants to perform Wagner in the final concert of a prestigious musical competition in Tel Aviv, and an elderly Holocaust survivor, who is the event’s patron.

Sounds of Silence. Poster for Victor Gordon’s thought-provoking play “You Will Not Play Wagner”  that questions the dividing line between politics and art that sets Israeli society on edge.

Set against a backdrop of impassioned protests over the years in Israel to attempts by musicians and composers to defy cultural mores and Shoah sensitivities, Victor expressed in deference to survivors, “I appreciate the fact that there is a place in the world where you won’t hear Wagner.”

Himself an accomplished clarinet and saxophone player, the playwright in Victor struggles to separate the man from his music through his character Ya’akov, who asks:

How can music be antisemitic?”

Victor’s answer was:

You have got one of the greatest composers that ever lived and one of the greatest antisemites that ever lived, and the two meet at the Third Reich. You can’t get worse than that.”

No you can’t.

While I corresponded with Victor on media and Israel related issues, I had never personally met him until 2016 when I was invited as an overseas speaker to the Limmud Conference in Johannesburg.  How fascinating that when I sat down for lunch at the conference,  on my right sat the late anti-Apartheid activist Denis Goldberg, hardly favourably disposed to Israel, although it was to Israel that he left for after his release from prison, and on my left, Victor Gordon, a strong advocate for the Jewish State.  If the next day I was to moderate a debate with four fiery panelists on the then upcoming 2016 US election, this lunch provided some entertaining preparation as I had to deftly ‘moderate’ a riveting discussion on Israel and its policies between these two verbal pugilists holding diametrically opposing views.

It was a lunch that we all left the table with more than the food to chew on.

And in truth, although Victor has left the proverbial ‘table’, he  leaves a lasting legacy and hence shall remain active by inspiring others.







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).

Battling for our Boys

From helping English-Speaking lone soldiers to embracing soldiers from the Haredi community, a Jerusalem Rabbi pursues his vision of ensuring Israel’s lone soldiers are never alone

By David E. Kaplan

Rome was not built in a day,” said Rabbi Shalom Myers  of Jerusalem describing a personal journey that began 8 years ago helping English-speaking lone soldiers from abroad to more recently widening the ambit to include Hebrew-speaking Israeli soldiers from the ultra-orthodox Haredi community. However, “we are well on our way,” Shalom affirms enthusiastically of his groundbreaking vision.

There was a particular resonance in the Rabbi’s use of the word “ROME”, which had begun the Jewish exile from the land of Israel 2000 years earlier, and which Rabbi Myers is working to ensure will never happen again as he helps lone soldiers in the Israeli Army protect and preserve the hard-fought Jewish state of Israel.

Home Not Alone. Rabbi Shalom Myers with lone soldiers – all paratroopers in a combat unit –  in a renovated and fully-furnished ‘Emek Lone Soldiers’ apartment in the German Colony Jerusalem

“Never again” means doing not only talking – and Rabbi Shalom Myers exemplifies both. He had just returned with his architect wife Lynne, “my partner” in his Emek Lone Soldiers’ initiative from an Ikea  outlet with a truckload of furnishings “for our apartment in Jerusalem for the Haredi lone soldiers.” The apartment at present houses  six soldiers, “three Israelis and three from abroad, two of whom are from orthodox communities in the USA.” Describing as “our pilot”, Rabbi Myers hopes to have apartments “for 30 plus by the end of 2021” but in the near future to have  a home-away-from-home complex “exclusively for Haredi soldiers.”

A “lone soldier” is a soldier in the IDF with no family in Israel to support them. This could mean a new immigrant, a volunteer from abroad, an orphan or an individual from a broken home. Highly motivated to serve in the Israeli army, most lone soldiers are placed in combat units. At any given time, these soldiers are guarding Israel’s borders by land, air and sea.

Time Out. Rabbi Shalom Myers (centre) enjoying an afternoon  BBQ with active duty lone soldiers near the front lines.

While regular soldiers regularly spend weekends and holidays at home where their parents provide for all of their needs such as food, laundry and a hug, “these basics” are absent for a lone soldier when they leave a base.

There are over 7,000 lone soldiers currently serving in the IDF of which about 45% are new immigrants, coming from Jewish communities all over the world. Another 50% are Israelis who are orphans or that come from low socio-economic backgrounds. And then there are those that come from ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods who are shunned by their families and communities because they decided to go to the army. Of the total, there are up to 1000 English-speaking religious lone soldiers serving annually in various units of the Israel Defense Force. They come from America, England, Canada, Australia and South Africa. Most have no immediate family in Israel and no place to call home.

Securing Israel’s Future. Combined English-speaking and Haredi lone soldiers at an army base with Rabbi Shalom Myers.

This is where the Emek Lone Soldiers – A ‘Home -away- from from home’ framework for religious lone soldiers wanting to maintain their religious lifestyle while serving in the IDF – came in 8 years ago with Rabbi Shalom Myers leading the proverbial charge. The Emek Lone Soldiers is an off-shoot of the flourishing Emek Learning Center in Emek Refaim, the German Colony’s main street, co-founded and headed by Rabbi Myers. So what began years earlier providing for English-speaking lone soldiers has in recent years expanded to embrace the Haredi community. Rabbi Myers  – who has had four sons serve in combat units in the IDF –  explains:

 “they are all our children, all our soldiers – I make no distinction.” It is the Beit Midrash (learning centre), the synagogue  and “our community” that are “our three pillars that we offer to the religious lone soldiers.”

Soft Landing. Far removed from the life they had planned, lone soldiers affixing mezuzot in their new fully furnished Emek Lone Soldiers’ apartment in Jerusalem.

It takes a village to raise a child” reminds Rabbi Myers of the African proverb that means that an entire community of people must provide for and interact positively with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment.

A child himself of Africa, Rabbi Myers is well familiar with the military. Formerly of Cape Town where he was the Reverend of Rondebosch and Parow synagogues, a Chazan at the Claremont shul, he was also a chaplain in the South African army as part of his compulsory military service.

In The Army Now. Rabbi Shalom Myers with lone soldiers at a pre sabbath dinner in the German Colony, Jerusalem organized by  Emek Lone Soldiers.

Shalom recalls when as army chaplain for Western Province Command, the Christian chaplain was suddenly unable to deliver his weekly sermon to the men on parade and “suddenly, I was called upon to fill in”.

I’m the Jewish chaplain,” he answered, “besides I’m unprepared.”

Maak nie saak nie, Myers (“makes no difference” in Afrikaans), proceed,” barked his superior.

Officer Myers looked out at the sea of men standing before him, and the words flowed. Afterwards, the officer congratulated him on the most inspiring sermon he had ever heard and his stature in the military henceforth was rock solid. “The point is,” Shalom asserts, “You need to be prepared not only with knowledge but the confidence to impart that knowledge when you might least be expected to.”

Bonding at the Base. Rabbi Shalom Myers following his shiur (Talmudic study session) to combat lone soldiers at an army base.

Such attributes are serving him well today as he pursues his vision.

Asking what inspired him in this direction, Shalom replies:

“Let me say this. When you get involved in the Rabbanut and you want to teach, influence and help, the Rabbanut is the ultimate Chesed.” And in helping the lone soldiers, “not only are we helping individuals but we are helping the Jewish people.”

I was reminded of the revered Rav Soloveitchik who was very meticulous and stringent in every phase of Hilchot Tefillah, the laws of prayer. However, when once visited by a student serving in the IDF and asked by the soldier in a tank division that involved cleaning and maintaining the tanks whether he needed to change his uniform when covered in oil and grime before davening Mincha, the Rav looked at him in amazement and said out loud:

 “Why would you need to change? You are wearing Bigdei Kodesh – holy clothes!”

Father and Son. A proud Rabbi Shalom Myers with youngest son Moshe at his induction into Sayeret Nachal. 

Rabbi Myers’ pursuit has not come without opposition from within his community. The following exchange is instructive.  He recalls some years ago a well-meaning friend cautioning him:

 “You should choose, either focus on the shul (synagogue) or  the lone soldiers; you cant do both.”

Capable of doing both and much more, Shalom is also a former practicing accountant,  has Smicha from Machon Ariel and taught for 14 years at Ohr Somayach, heading the Mechina program before founding in 2013 the Emek Learning Center.

So while there was no need “to choose”, Rabbi Myers is quick to add that had he had to choose, “I would have chosen the lone soldiers because while the learning centre could be done by others,  what I am offering the lone soldiers particularly now with the Haredi lone soldiers is unique.” Of all the soldiers, the ones “closest to my heart,” says Rabbi Myers are the Haredi Israelis.

Why?

They were not brought up from this; it is not their world and they are giving to their people but at a huge personal price; they have to start their lives all over again. They are the most in need, not only in preparing then for the army and offering them a warm environment during their military service but most important helping them after the army service in guiding them to then study to provide a financially sustainable future. Feeling abandoned, we are like their new parents.”

It’s a long and hard process but it is a fruitful process with huge rewards  not only for individuals but for Israeli society.

The Graduate. Rabbi Shalom Myers (right) at the graduation ceremony of a lone soldier.

Rabbi Myers could not have received a more enriching endorsement for his vision then from the late Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who expressed back in 2018, the following:

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 is at the heart of the mission and work of the Emek Lone Soldiers Initiative. By caring and looking out for those who have no other support, we are taking responsibility for them in the most Jewish of ways. Linking this work to the writing of a Sefer Torah is a beautiful idea. We know that for a Sefer Torah to be kosher, every letter has to be correct, and no letter, word or phrase is more important than any other. Such is the same with the soldiers who risk their lives in defense of the State of Israel. Each soldier has put himself or herself on the line and as such we, as Am Yisrael, must do everything possible to ensure they are looked after both during and after their service. I wish all at Emek Lone Soldiers, blessings and best wishes for the future.”

Tucking In. Undergoing fitness training in preparation before their draft,  lone soldiers enjoying a meal at the Emek Learning Center in the German Colony, Jerusalem.

Trained for the temporal world with a lifelong passion for the spiritual – “I was born in a shul” – Rabbi Myer’s journey has been one of absorbing and processing experiences along the way that “has served as my GPS” directing him precisely to his present destination  – founding and heading first the Emek Learning Center and now the Emek Lone Soldiers.

May he continue his outstanding service to his community, the state of Israel and today and tomorrow’s lone soldiers.

I am very proud that when I stood under a chuppah 39 years ago, with my bride Hilary, the Rabbi officiating was Shalom Myers!



Having a Ball. Lone soldiers enjoying a game of American football  during a Shabbaton In Herzliya.





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).

Of Men and Mensches

By Craig Snoyman

South African social media has been scorching hot this week.  The former President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, was sentenced to 15 months direct imprisonment for contempt of a court order. The order was handed down by the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Court. It also ordered his imprisonment. Virtually the whole of South Africa was sure that he would do something to prevent his arrest, after all his so- called “Stalingrad Defence” has managed to stall criminal corruption charges against him for at least ten years . Cell phones were literally burning as discussion, speculation, conspiracy theories and humour jammed the internet.

One of the pictures widely disseminated was a photo-shopped pictures was of President Zuma disguising himself as an Arab, with him thinking of going to Dubai.  It is widely rumoured that many of his illicit millions are there. What we do know, is that his son owns a very expensive apartment there.  The Gupta brothers, who are alleged to have looted billions of rand from the South African fiscus in cahoots with Zuma, are also hiding out there.

Former South African President, Jacob Zuma has started his prison term

Normally it is completely politically inappropriate even refer to “black-face” or in this case “brown-face”, let alone circulate such a picture but these are very strange times in South Africa. President Zuma, once referred to “Msholozi” (number one) and now in whispered references as “Jailkop Zuma”, is likely to spend some of his immediate future behind bars. At the same time as he sets out on a new path, so does Israel’s former President, Reuven Rilvin.  Two pictures tell the difference between the two Presidents.

On his last day as President, photographs of President Rivlin in disguise, were released to the press. In the picture that appears in the Israeli press, President Rivlin is heavily disguised with a dark-haired wig, a bushy beard and spectacles (and possibly an altered nose and shoulder padding) and a long black overcoat. He certainly did not look like an 81 year old man.  His security detail said that he spend several hours walking around, disguised and incognito, amongst his fellow citizens. 

Deep Undercover. The President in his disguise, happily mingled amongst unsuspecting Israeli citizens.

From our perspective at the bottom of Africa, it never looked like President Rivlin put a foot wrong. He was the image of the perfect statesman, (almost perfect because he looked a little too cuddly) representing the State of Israel in an extremely dignified manner. And then these pictures were released! Not furtively onto a site on the internet, but publicly released to all the national newspapers.  Clearly an affectionate gesture by his secret-service protection, with his full consent.

All of a sudden, President Rivlin is seen in a different light! No longer the upright, ceremonial state representative.  In one fell swoop, he is seen as an avuncular scamp – a man with a sense of humour, your favourite uncle playing a trick on you! He is transformed and now, he’s just an ordinary person, one of us.  Sometimes we forget that the politicians are human to.  For me, this is probably going to be my lasting image of President Rivlin, all his other accomplishments will slip into the recesses of my memory. Farewell President Rivlin, may your future journeys be filled with joy and wonder and much good health and happiness… and lots more impish humour. I doff my kippa to you, President Rivlin, a People’s President.



About the writer:

Craig Snoyman is a practising advocate in South Africa.





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).

Crystal Clear

A co-recipient of the 2021 Wolf Prize, Israeli scientist – a former South African – solves a 140-year-old complex riddle

By David E. Kaplan

Israel’s prestigious Wolf Prize – an annual international award given to outstanding scientists and artists from around the world –  have been handed out for the past 43 years to 354 leading scientists and artists including Israel’s Prof. Ada Yonath, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 2009. To this illustrious list, we can now add  the 2021 recipients,  that includes a former South African, Prof. Leslie Leiserowitz  who with his longstanding collegial partner Prof. Meir Lahav, both of the Weitzman Institute’s Molecular Chemistry and Materials Science Department for their collaborative establishment of the ”fundamental reciprocal influences of three-dimensional molecular structure upon structures of organic crystals.”

Awarded for “achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among people … irrespective of nationality, race, colour, religion, sex or political views,” there is no doubt that Leslie and Meirs’ scientific discoveries have truly contributed towards “the interest of mankind and friendly relations among people”.

They have at the same time solved a riddle!

The Wolf Prize ceremony at the Knesset, Jerusalem

Resolving a Riddle

Crystal formation is one of the most fundamental phenomena in chemistry and the structure of organic crystals is of particular importance because the crystal shape (morphology) reflects the three-dimensional structure (stereochemistry) of the molecules assembled in that crystal. In 1848, the famed French chemist microbiologist. Louis Pasteur conducted his famous experiment, physically separating the two crystalline forms of a tartaric acid salt, which mirror one another. Pasteur’s experiment became the basis for modern stereochemistry, and it was followed by the study of the first Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, Jacobus H. van’t Hoff from Holland. However, neither Pasteur nor van’t Hoff, nor many of the other famous chemists  that followed would come to understand the relationship between crystal morphology and molecular stereochemistry until 140 years had passed and two Israelis, Professors Lahav and Leiserowitz conducted their milestone experiments in the Mid-1980s. These experiments demonstrated for the first time that the absolute configuration of molecules can be derived from their crystal morphologies. They not only solved the long-standing puzzle; but according to the Wolf Foundation press release:

they also pioneered the science of organic crystals’ stereochemistry. They directly related the stereochemistry of the individual molecule to the shape of the macroscopic crystal. They founded the links between molecular structure, crystal morphology, crystal growth’ dynamics, and molecular chirality (the structural property of an object, which makes it different from its mirror image, like the human hands). Their findings laid the foundation for our current knowledge of the selective self-assembly of organic molecules. In this way, their rules powerfully complement our understanding of organic chemistry for covalent assembly and macromolecules’ self-assembly.”

When Prof. Leslie Leiserowitz was awarded the 2016 Israel Prize for ‘Chemistry and Physics’ with Prof. Meir Lahav, he was only the third South African Israeli to receive Israel’s highest civilian award. The other two recipients had been Dr. Ian Froman in 1989 for his contribution to society through sport, and the late Hillel Deleski in 2000 for the study of English literature.

Interviewing Leiserowitz at the time, he explained to me by posing these questions:

How and why do artery-blocking chunks of cholesterol form?”

What happens at the very first stage of the transition from water to ice?”

What can be done to prevent the formation of gallstones or the crystals in the joints that cause pain in gout?”

These are all questions about one of the more important processes in nature: crystallization, and Leslie and Professor Lahav have worked separately and together over their careers to investigate this process.

Collaborating on Crystals. Recipients of the 2021 Wolf Prize in Chemistry,  Prof. Leslie Leiserowitz (Left) and Prof. Meir Lahav of the  Molecular Chemistry and Materials Science Department at the Weizmann Institute.

Indebted to Mom!

Born in Johannesburg in 1934, Leslie obtained a BSc. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Cape Town (UCT) and during an ensuing 18-month period “of work, unemployment and travel,” he became fascinated in a field of chemistry that drew him to an illuminating work – “The Crystalline State” by Brag & Bragg. “The symmetry of the crystal structures therein,” intrigued Leslie, reminding him “of the patterns my mother worked with as a dressmaker in Johannesburg.”

This curiosity, coupled with a knowledge of “microwave interference”, led him to his next marker on his academic path – “The Optical Principles of the Distraction of X-rays” by R.W. James, who was Professor of Physic at UCT. With now a clear direction, the young budding scientist studied for an MSc in X-ray crystallography in the Physics Dept. at UCT.

Following his travels to London and then on to Israel “with my good friend”, the future South African Jewish leader Mervyn Smith, who he knew “from our Bellville days,” he joined in 1959, the research group of Gerhard Schmidt at the Weizmann Institute of Science as a PhD student in solid-state chemistry.

Leslie’s journey of research, took him to academic posts abroad, and in more recent years, focused on a childhood fascination with the study of malaria – a project, which he says, “in some ways is a continuation of my original research with Prof. Lahav on crystal growth. It was not generally appreciated that this infectious disease is intimately connected with crystallization.” Leslie reveals that growing up in Johannesburg, “I learnt from my father, who had spent long stretches of time in Central Africa, the full ravages of the disease.”

It was an area of study that Leslie felt compelled to study and most assuredly gels with the spirit of the wording of the Wolf Prize of contributing towards “the interest of mankind and friendly relations among people”.

If Leslie’s mother, who died young – “only in her forties” – was today looking down from her celestial perch, she would be amazed and proud that from the simple patterns of her daily dressmaking, lay the complex mysteries that would inspire her brilliant son to pursue a journey of scientific exploration culminating in the 2016 Israel Prize and the 2021 Wolf Prize.

Maybe, she had a “crystal ball”, and foresaw it all coming!

The 2021 Wolf Prize in chemistry that was awarded to Prof. Leslie Leiserowitz and Prof. Meir Lahav.






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).

Monumental Man

A tribute to the passing of Israel’s internationally renowned sculptor – Dani Karavan

By David E. Kaplan

Internationally famed for making his monuments blend into their environment, Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan – who died this past May 2021 at the age of 90 – blended into the public, hardly recognized when walking about his native Tel Aviv.

Monumental Man. Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan became recognized for making his monuments blend into their environment.

I put this question to the artist in a  co-interview with Moshe Alon in 2013 when we asked:

“While you are an internationally acclaimed artist, admirers of your work might not recognize you standing alongside one of your masterpieces? Does this bother you?”

Not at all. I think you hear about the noisy ones more than the quiet ones but this is true of any group. People hear about the extroverts and less about the introverts. Some artists prefer to create their work in peace and quiet, and you don’t hear much about their personal lives.”

Karavan’s work can be found across Europe, Asia and Israel. It’s hard to escape his distinctive style that blends sculpture, architecture and the landscape into unique and monumental pieces. Through molding and meshing of the environment, Karavan’s works showcase the urban or natural elements of their respective surroundings. As such, his materials range from concrete – in the construction of large geometrical structures – to the lands natural offerings – trees, water, grass and crusty surface.

We noted that “Your works are not ‘sculptures’ in the traditional sense – pieces that are exhibited in a museum or placed in the middle of a public square,” and asked. “You integrate the natural environment using the land – as if sculpting the landscape?”

That’s correct. This is what characterizes my work which is rooted to a physical environment and not to an atelier [artist workshop]. I was once privileged to meet the distinguished sculptor Henry Moore and observe him work in his environment – how he molded a model the size of a suitcase handle and enlarge it ninny-nine times its size.

For me it’s the opposite, because the large environment where I work emerges as part of my composition.

One example is the wall at the Knesset, rooted to the environment –  physically and conceptually. Another is the Negev Brigade Memorial – my first big piece as a sculptor – and which was a groundbreaking project. Up until then, “site-specific” environmental sculpture did not exist. To some degree, it is similar to architecture, where the architect designs specifically for a particular environment.

Monumental Impact. The Monument to the Negev Brigade is in memory of the members of the Palmach Negev Brigade who fell fighting on Israel’s side during the 1948 Arab Israeli War. The perforated tower alludes to a watchtower shelled with gunfire and the pipeline tunnel is reminiscent of the channel of water in the Negev defended by the soldiers. Engraved in the concrete are the names of the 324 soldiers who died in the war, the badge of the Palmach, diary passages from the soldiers, the battle registry and verses from the Bible and songs.  In addition to its strengths as a memorial, it was a precursor to the land art  movement.

In effect, I am a sculptor that does not search for a place, but rather the place seeks me. Michelangelo said that the statue already exists within the stone; I say that the sculpture already exists within the environment. I just unearth it. This is essentially my contribution to the evolution of sculpture. I wanted that sculpture be something people can climb and children play on – that it will be full of life and not pieces where people visit once a year to lay flowers.”

How true when I think of Karavan’s massively monumental work at the Edith Wolfson Park on the eastern edge of the city of Tel Aviv. If its Tuesday, “we, the grandparents”, are usually there with our grandson. Perched high, the park offers a magnificent view of the city from its most iconic KaravanThe White Square”, the monumental work overlooking “The White City” as Tel Aviv is famously known because of its white Bauhaus architecture. Karavan’s sculpture is a complex geometric work that is an ode to the city itself.

Fun in the Sun. An activity all to familiar to the writer, a father and son slide down the sundial of Dani Karavan’s ‘White Square’ sculpture at Edith Wolfson park, overlooking Tel Aviv. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

If Tel Aviv is a city not so much to see but to experience, then so too is Karavan’s sculpture where it is less viewed than it is walked, climbed, roller-skated and rollerbladed upon. I invariably join the “kids” in sliding down the sculpture’s colossal “sundial” on carboard as well as scampering up the large “pyramid”. The sculpture exudes physicality  – it is a metaphor for Tel Aviv of open-ended action befitting its reputation as “the city that never sleeps.” If you are generally “into art”, then visiting The White Square you literally, “get into” this art as you climb in, over, upon and through it!

Feeling his Way

On several occasions, he was commissioned to create memorials for victims of Nazi Germany.

The horrific atrocities suffered by Jews, and others during World War II, was a key theme in Karavan’s work, not least because his parents’ families lost many members during the Holocaust.

On Track to Death. Dani Karavan poses on part of his installation “Homage to the Prisoners of Gurs” during the presentation of his exhibition “Dani Karavan Retrospective” at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum in Berlin. After the Vichy government signed an armistice with the Nazis in 1940, Gurs became an internment camp for mainly German Jews. (Courtesy of Michael Kappeler/AFP/Getty Images).

Another notable example is the “Way of Human Rights” at the Germanic National Museum in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg.

Karavan’s  “Passages” memorial in Portbou, Spain, also became well-known since its unveiling in 1994. It commemorates the German philosopher Walter Benjamin, who died in the small Spanish border town in 1940 while fleeing from the Nazis.

It was named “Passages” in remembrance of Benjamin’s final passage from France to Spain, as well as his enormous unfinished work Passagenwerk (Arcades Project) on 19th-century Paris. The name also refers to the several passages visitors make during their time at the memorial, from the journey down the steps to the glass view of the ocean whirlpool and back up to the rectangle of sunlight in the dark.

War and Remembrance. Inaugurated on 15 May 1994, marking the 50th anniversary of his death, “Passages” in Portbou, Spain  pays homage to  the philosopher Walter Benjamin in his failed flight from the Nazis.

Taken from Walter Benjamin’s On the Concept of History, etched in German are the words:

It is more arduous to honour the memory of anonymous beings than that of the renowned. The construction of history is consecrated to the memory of the nameless.”

That “nameless” Dani also ‘rectified’ in his memorial created in 2005, depicting the foundation of the Regensburg Synagogue in Bavaria, Germany that was destroyed during a pogrom in 1519. On February 21, 1519, the Jewish community of Regensburg  –  that had lived in the city for 500 years – was ordered to leave but only after its members had demolished the interior of their 13th-century synagogue.

Demolishing more than a synagogue, they were forced to demolish their past.

Despite his international fame, when asked which award among all those he has received touched him the most, he answered unwaveringly:

The Israel Prize which I received at the age of 46. It stands today as my greatest honour. I received it during a very special year and the person who shook my hand at the ceremony was Yitzhak Rabin… an added honour. While I hardly mention the international awards I have won, I am never reticent about my Israel Prize.”

Visitors surround the memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims in Berlin
Remembering Roma. The Berlin memorial for the Sinti and Roma murdered by the Nazis during World War II Many relatives of Dani Karavan were killed during the Holocaust and the atrocities and those affected by them became an important theme for the Jewish artist.

‘Portrait of an Artist’

The recurring flower motif  in Karavan’s work is reminiscent of his memories of his childhood and of his father’s garden. The ‘sights and smells’ of nature from his home in Tel Aviv – before it was the bustling city it is today – continued to influence the artist’s’ work.

Dani probably drew his inspiration from his father who had been a landscape architect. He studied art in Israel (at Bezalel), Florence, and Paris. During his youth, he was also involved in the establishment of kibbutz Harel, located in the Jerusalem Corridor. A week following our interview in 2013, he travelled to Berlin to dine with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A man of the world, he relished in recalling “raising mice and lizards” as a child and “weeding my father’s garden in order to earn a small allowance to buy falafel and soda.”

Forgotten People Remembered. Dani Karavan and Chacellor Angela Merkel at the opening ceremony on October 24, 2012 of the Memorial for the Murdered Sinti and Roma. (Photo Stephanie Drescher)

Known for creating poignant monuments in Israel and around the world, Karavan’s most recognized local work is the huge wall carving in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, named “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem”.

While Karavan could mold material to articulate his dreams and visions, he lamented “an inability to influence better relations with our Arab neighbours. My father arrived in Israel in the 1920s. He came as an idealist, and I inherited that idealism and what better vision to work for, than the pursuit of regional peace and happiness. If you ask what I still want to do, yes, I need to finish my autobiography but also, to collaborate with a Palestinian artist on a project toward peace.”

Writing on the Wall. To inspire all before it at work on guiding Israel’s destiny, Israeli artist Dani Karavan’s ‘Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem’ on the wall of the plenum hall at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, May 13, 2015. – REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Not all endeavors “towards peace” are invariably fulfilled. However, that task, even though Dani Karavin has passed on, still maybe possible. If Dani Karavan is no more, his most notable work in Israel, the huge wall carving decorating the plenum of the Knesset – is.

Appropriately named, the stone mural of an abstract Jerusalem landscape depicting surrounding hills and the Judean desert, faces the elected members of ALL the people of Israel – and under the shadow of Dani Karavan’s creative mind and hands, they can continue his ‘unfinished work’  – to pursue peace.




Some of Karavan’s important works:

A walk in the park7 The “Path of Peace” sculpture by artist Dani Caravan. An environmental sculpture which is one of the attractions of Nitzana


A Walk In The Park5


UNESCO Square of Tolerance – Homage to Yitzhak Rabin, Paris, France



A Walk In The Park6
The Axe Majeur, Cergy-Pontoise, France









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).

From Bombs to Babies

Israel at 73

By David E. Kaplan

Not sure how the field of psychology would view it but there is something strangely unique in Israel’s character and calendar  that only a split second separates joyful Independence Day  from the sad day that precedes it. Possibly perplexing to non-Israelis – the shift from grief to joy in the space of a heartbeat  – but that is what Israelis do each year. For 24 hours we remember and honour those fallen in defense of the State of Israel as well as victims of terror, and the next 24 hours we celebrate the fruits of that sacrifice – an independent Jewish State after 2000 years of exile and unrelenting persecution. Coming a week after Yom HaShoah where we remember and honour the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Jews know the PRICE of statehood because  they also understand the NEED for statehood.

If the Jewish partisan and poet Abba Kovner wrote in a pamphlet  in 1942 “Let us not go like lambs to the slaughter!” to inspire his fellow Jews in the Vilnius area to take up arms against their German invaders, then look only to the following year of 1943 and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II, the uprising by a civilian population, untrained and without sophisticated weapons – men women and children – held off the might of the Nazi invader for nearly a month. Very impressive when you compare it was nearly the same length of time as the trained Polish army took to be defeated by the German army – one month!

Lions not Lambs. Abba Kovner (center) with Rozka Korczak-Marla (left) and Vitka Kempner-Kovner after the liberation of the Vilna ghetto(Yad Vashem).

Far from “lambs to the slaughter”, they were heroes to a man, woman and child.

Twenty-four hours preceding Israel’s annual sound of  fireworks is the sound of the siren, when traffic stops and people stop talking in mid-sentence. Life in Israel is frozen for those two minutes encapsuling so many bitter and tragic memories. I for one always think first of the names of those I know who were either killed in uniform or perished in a terrorist attack – I rattle them off in my mind as I stand solemnly, their faces flash by as if flipping over the pages  of a cerebral picture album.

Defiant until Death. No military uniforms or helmets, Jewish fighters in civilian attire, take on the might of the German army during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

According to the Defense Ministry, the country’s total number of people killed in war and terrorist attacks now stands at 23,928 They are not numbers – their names and faces are known throughout the land – each and every one of them!

On the flip side, as we celebrate Israel’s 73rd Independence Day, and reflect  on the loss of 6,000,000 Jews mourned only a week ago on Yom HaShoah, today we can celebrate Israel’s population standing at 9,327,000 million – over a third more than was lost in the Shoah – and growing.

Light unto the Nations. The last public Independence celebrations before Corona, people watch fireworks during a show to mark Israel’s 71st Independence Day in Jerusalem on May 8, 2019.

If on a national note we take pleasure that 167,000 babies have been born over the past year, I take personal pleasure that one of those babies is my grandson. I take further pleasure that another is on the way.

Yes, the country can feel proud of its inventions and innovations from hi-tech to Smart Mobility but this Independence Day, I reflect on our successes in the baby manufacturing business that all Israelis are super active in.

Be Fruitful and Multiply. Israelis delight in fulfilling the divine injunction from Genesis.

What can bring more delight that looking upon these  ‘products’ in nappies under the ‘blue and white’ brand:

“Made in Israel”!




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 Man for all Seasons

By Rolene Marks

HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh leaves behind a tremendous legacy including support of Jewish and Pro-Israel causes.

He was the dashing naval World War II veteran and hero who was the very symbol of dedication and duty. The quintessential alpha male, he was to Her Majesty, The Queen, the love of her life for over 70 years, her unconditional support, her “strength and stay” and theirs was a love affair for the ages.

Theirs was love for the ages. Prince Philip and Her Majesty the Queen

At the great age of 99, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh passed away peacefully at his home, Windsor Castle.

When someone passes away, it is often only after their death when we find out the magnitude of the work that they have done or causes they supported. Prince Philip was no exception. Tributes have poured in from all corners of the globe and knowledge of his tremendous dedication and patronages to over 800 charities and endeavours, including various branches of the British armed forces; it appears that each community has been impacted by his work. Minutes after the news of his passing broke, tributes from Jewish leaders across the United Kingdom and Commonwealth were sent, expressing  gratitude for an extraordinary life, well lived.

HRH Prince Philip with Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, in an interview with the BBC shared the following anecdote. He recalled being invited to visit the Royal family at Windsor Castle, where Prince Philip “particularly wanted me to see one particular gift that Her Majesty the Queen had received in the 1960s. And in the Royal Library, he showed me a Torah scroll that she had received as a gift. And he wanted me to explain it to him.”

“It was one of the Czech scrolls, and I was able to first of all describe what a Torah scroll is; and that in addition, this particular scroll had been rescued from the former Czechoslovakia,” he said. “It had been intended to be part of what the Nazis wanted to be a museum to the people that used to exist. And therefore, in Czechoslovakia, none of the Torah scrolls were destroyed. A whole lot of these scrolls were brought to London and one was presented to the queen.”

Israeli leadership was no different and statements from President Rivlin, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry, Lior Haiat and Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely paid tribute to Prince Philip, highlighting his exceptional dedication to duty and extending their condolences not just to the Royal Family whose loss is irreplaceable, but to all citizens of the UK and Commonwealth. It was noted that he would be missed amongst Israel’s people as well because we share a very special connection to the man affectionately known as The Iron Duke.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, third from left, poses with the Duke of Edinburgh, left, Queen Elizabeth II, right, Israeli President Ezer Weizman and his wife Reuma at a State Banquet in their honor at Buckingham Palace, London, in this February 25, 1997 file photo. (AP Photo/John Stillwell/pool)

Israelis have had a complicated relationship with the British Royal Family. Many have wondered over the years why there had been no official visits from Her Majesty, The Queen. Was it an unofficial boycott because of uprisings against the British Mandate before 1947? Was it to not anger Arab Royal Families? Or was it simply because the Foreign Office had not requested it?

Prince Philip and his sister, Princess Sophie, laying a wreath at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial on October 31, 1994. (Photo by Beni Berk from the Dan Hadani Archive, Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel)

This was until 1994, when HRH Prince Philip became the first Royal to visit – albeit in a personal capacity. The reason for his visit was very special. His mother, The Princess Alice was being honoured by Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial and museum for being a Righteous Amongst the Nations. Princess Alice had been assisting the Swedish and Swiss Red Cross to help care for refugees, heard of the Cohen family who she knew personally and would soon be deported by the Nazi’s and opened the doors of the palace on the outskirts of Athens to them. The Cohens remained in the palace for 13 months, with the Princess regularly visiting and talking at length with Rachel the mother and assigned the family two Greeks who helped the family keep in contact with the outside world. Helping a Jewish family came with great risks, especially for Princess Alice. Three of her four daughters had married German princes, who were serving as SS officers. Suspicions of her loyalty were rife, and Philip, her only son had much earlier enlisted to the British Royal navy at aged 18 where he served throughout the war with distinction.

Prince Philip watering a maple tree planted in memory of his mother at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, October 31, 1994. (Photo by Beni Berk from the Dan Hadani Archive, Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel.)

“I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special. She was a person with deep religious faith and she would have considered it to be a totally human action to fellow human beings in distress,” said Prince Philip when commenting about his mother’s heroic actions.

During his trip to Israel, Prince Philip also met with members of the Jewish Legion who served in His Majesty’s Army. In 2018 Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, made the first official visit to Israel and was received with great enthusiasm and admiration and Prince Charles has visited several times, one of them being for the funeral of slain Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin.

Jewish and Israeli causes were of great interest to the Prince. He often addressed Zionist organisations like the Jewish National Fund and critics of this were firmly ignored by him. The Prince did what he felt was right and did not suffer fools. He is famous for some of his salty gaffes which only endeared him more to people, especially at a time when woke culture seems to be taking over the world.

Prince Philip jokes with British WWII veterans Nathan Kohaen (right) and Arthur Stark, who immigrated to Israel, during a ceremony at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Ramle, Israel, on Oct. 30, 1994, where he came to lay a wreath (AP Photo)

He was a great promoter of interfaith dialogue and was extremely dedicated to this work but for me, it is his Duke of Edinburgh Awards aimed at encouraging youth to excel, adopted here in Israel by WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) that is particularly sentimental.

The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme was set up in the UK in 1956 and operates in 140 countries around the globe. In 1982, Israel adopted the scheme, known locally as ‘Ot Hanoar – The Israel Youth Award Scheme. “It’s what I like to describe as a do-it-yourself growing-up kit,” HRH Prince Philip once said of the scheme, “it has helped countless young people on their sometimes difficult path to adulthood.”

The project involves four main principles set out for youth from the ages of 14-25, which enhances their abilities and potential, increases their awareness of the importance of public and communal affairs. The four main principles are: developing a hobby, physical exercise, volunteerism within the community, and challenging expeditions.

The scheme has changed the lives of so many young Israelis in WIZO Youth Villages and schools who have benefitted greatly from the vision of the late Duke of Edinburgh to become the very best version of themselves – going out in the world as ambassadors for WIZO and Israel. The hundreds of stories from graduates from this scheme are testimony to the living legacy of the man who dedicated his life to Queen, country and duty.

Celebrating 73 years of marriage. The last picture of the Duke of Edinburgh with Her Majesty The Queen, look at an anniversary card made by the children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Prince Philip was the man for all seasons. Steadfast and strong, modest and universally admired, his passing will leave a void in the world. It is humbling to see the tributes flowing in and the people of Britain, despite restrictions due to the pandemic, expressing their love and admiration across the generations. We extend our condolences to Her Majesty, The Queen, the Royal family and the people of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.

Goodnight sweet Prince, may flights of angels wing thee to thy rest.






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)

Message from Megiddo – A Wrong Righted

Celebrating the centenary of Isaac Ochberg’s 1921 daring rescue of orphan children from war-torn Eastern Europe

By David E. Kaplan

Chairman of the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee (Israel)

Motorists in the Megiddo region could once have been excused when driving past signs marked “EVEN YITZCHAK”, designating a picturesque plateau of rolling green hills in Israel’s Lower Galilee,  and wondering:

 “Which Yitzchak?”  

Is it the Isaac from the Bible or the late Prime Minister, war hero and pursuer of peace – Yitzchak Rabin? Apart from local residents, few would have known it honoured the South Africa businessman, philanthropist, saviour of Jewish children and Zionist visionary – Isaac Ochberg.

No more …..

Man with a Mission. Isaac Ochberg (1878-1937) Ukrainian-born South African businessman, Jewish community leader, saviour of Jewish orphans in Eastern Europe and passionate supporter of  a Jewish State in Palestine.

Finally, one of South Africa’s greatest Jews, Isaac Ochberg (1878-1937), received the recognition he deserves when an estimated 13,000 people across the world linked on through Zoom and YouTube on the 14 March 2021 to participate in  the South African Jewish Report webinar marking the centenary of his heroic rescue of Jewish orphan children from Eastern Europe in 1921.  

“Daddy Ochberg”. Isaac Ochberg  (centre) wearing a hat with the selected orphans before leaving Eastern Europe for the UK on route to Cape Town, South Africa in 1921.

It did not matter that it was 4.00am in Sydney, 2.00am in Perth, 5.00pm in the UK, 7.00 pm in South Africa and Israel or 12.00 pm noon in New York City, the descendants of those rescued children joined a global viewership, enthralled by the wonders of a man that to this day, impacts the lives of so many thus embodying the dictum from the Talmud:

He who has saved one life is as if he has saved the entire world

Ochberg Centenary. Ochberg orphan descendants and members of the South African community  in Israel join representatives from JNF-KKL, Knesset, Telfed, the Megiddo Regional Council and members of the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee at an Ochberg  centenary ceremony at the Ochberg Park, Megiddo on the March 2021.  Covered by the national Hebrew daily, Yedioth Ahranot, the writer together with Hertzel Katz  (front left) hold up a portrait of Isaac Ochberg. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)
 

With the Covid pandemic preventing a planned centenary celebration at the Ochberg Park – inaugurated at the 90th anniversary in 2011 with visitors attending from all over the world – the Centenary instead was brought into the homes of thousands across the world. Initiated and organized by the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee, the Megiddo Regional Council and supported by the JNF-KKL that had originally sponsored the creation of the Ochberg Park, the Centenary webinar was hosted by the SA Jewish Report with Howard Sackstein moderating a panel of speakers ranging from historians, members of the Ochberg family to descendants of the Ochberg orphans. This was followed by a ceremony from the Ochberg Park filmed by Dr. Les Glassman in Megiddo with addresses from the State President in Israel, Reuven Rivlin, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog, Chairman of KKL, Avraham Duvdevani, the Mayor of the Megiddo Regional Council, Itzik Kholawsky, Megiddo Planning & Development, Ayal Rom, Member of the Knesset, Ruth Wasserman Lande, the Chair of Telfed, Batya Shmukler and the Chairman of the Isaac Ochberg Committee, David Kaplan. These  addresses were interspersed with singing from youth choirs from Megiddo and the event concluded with the national anthems of Israel and South Africa, signifying the bridge built by Ochberg between his two pursuits – helping South Africa and helping the creation and development of a future State of Israel.

Member of Knesset, Ruth Wasserman Lande addresses the gathering in front of the memorial to Isaac Ochberg  Megiddo at the centenary event. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Apart from the daring rescue of 187 Jewish orphans and bringing them safely to South Africa, and whose names are embedded on plaques on the ‘Hill of Names’ at Megiddo’s Ochberg Park,  what was largely forgotten was his substantial support for a Jewish state, in the days when it was still a farfetched dream. The bequest he left in 1937 through Keren Hayesod to KKL- JNF  – the largest to date ever made by an individual – was used to acquire the land that became two large kibbutzim in this area, Dalia and Gal’ed, both established before Israel’s independence and by Jewish youth movements, and both absorbed survivors from the Holocaust – precisely fulfilling Ochberg’s legacy of Jewish salvation.  If Ochberg personally saved lives of children in 1921, his legacy ensured that next generations of Jews were saved in the turbulent  years that followed. Is it little wonder as Megiddo Mayor Kholawsky  reminds us  why huge swathes of this region was called ‘Even Yitzchak’ – Hebrew for the ‘Stone of Isaac”. How appropriate that the Ochberg saga is solidly  embedded in the topography of Megiddo.

Past Preserved. Erin Kumin, points to the plaque of her great-grandmother, Janie Odes, one of the orphans saved by Isaac Ochberg in 1921 at centenary event at the Ochberg Park on the 12 March 2021. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

The Megiddo Regional Council and the Ochberg Committee are planning an expansion of the park  with a promenade and facilities to perpetuate the Ochberg legacy and attract tourism – a message that Ochberg himself conveyed way back in 1926. In an interview with South Africa’s The Zionist Record following his visit to Palestine with his beloved wife Polly that year, Ochberg urged all South Africans to spend their holidays in Eretz Yisrael, saying:

Even outside of political and national reasons it is well worth while. The glorious scenery, the fine climate, and its many historic places make a visit to this land a most enjoyable and certainly an unforgettable experience.”

Field of Dreams. Ochberg dreamt of a green fertile Israel such as this field with youngsters cycling at the Ochberg Park, Megiddo.(Courtesy Megiddo Regional Council)

What is quite fascinating is the entrepreneur and visionary characteristics of Ochberg’s personality being revealed in this same 1926 interview when he says:

I came away with a feeling of confidence that the Jewish problem can and will be solved ultimately in Eretz Yisrael and in Eretz Yisrael only.”

Alive Because of One Man. Descendants of Ochberg orphans from all over the world attend the inauguration of the Ochberg Park, Megiddo in 2011 are seen here at nearby Kibbutz Gal’ed, founded in 1945 by members of Habonim from Germany. The kibbutz was built on land purchased by the JNF-KKL from the Isaac Ochberg bequest.  (Photo D.E. Kaplan)
 

He then continues:

As a commercial man, I could not help but be genuinely impressed by the fine progress of industrial development in so young a country. There is every prospect of most important industrial development in Palestine as the country grows.”

For 1926, prophetic words indeed!

Always a man of action, Ochberg puts his words into action following his visit to Palestine, where he was deeply moved  by the new Hebrew University taking shape on Mount Scopus,  and set about financially supporting practical education in Palestine by sponsoring Chairs of Agriculture – which he felt was essential for an emerging Jewish state – at the new Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute.

Educating about Ochberg. Award winners of a 2019 Ochberg Essay Competition at Alon Shool, Ramat Hasharon Israel organized by Hertzel Katz and the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee and judged by Steve Linde, editor of the Jerusalem Report. The Ochberg Saga was the cover story of the Jerusalem Report, copies of which the winners are holding up. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Still on education, it was most revealing to note that in his will, the £10,000 bequest he left to the University of Cape Town for a trust in which the income was  to provide scholarships, there was a condition that “there be no differentiation between the students by reason of colour, creed or race”. Clearly reflecting his  character and his values, Ochberg specified that “should this policy ever be changed, the £10,000 would then devolve upon the Isaac Ochberg Palestine Fund.”

Forgotten Man Remembered

If my first article 20 years ago on Ochberg which was titled  ‘Righting a Wrong’, today I can safely title an article on the same subject – ‘A Wrong Righted’.

Set Out To Save. Poster to the 2005 documentary about Isaac Ochberg’s rescue of Jewish orphans by Oscar award-winning director, Jon Blair.

Books, articles, a documentary “Ochberg’s Orphans” submitted for an Oscar, essay competitions, addressing conferences, lecturing students at schools in South Africa and Israel and the opening of an Isaac Ochberg Park in Megiddo that emblazons in plaques along its ‘Hill of Names’ the names of all the children Ochberg saved, have all contributed to ensure that “The man from Africa” as he was called before he arrived to save them and “Daddy Ochberg” ever after, is known to future generations.

All in the Family.  Three generations of Ochberg Orphans at the Ochberg Park, Megiddo – Leon Segal, Benny Penzik , (both parents were Ochberg orphans), descendants of Archie Ruch and Cecil Migdal on the 12 March 2021. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)
 

The Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee apart from the writer of Bennie Penzik, Hertzel Katz, Ian Rogow, Peter Bailey and Joel Klotnik (both on the advisory board to the Megiddo Regional Council), Leon Segal, Rob Hyde and Lauren Snitcher (Cape Town) and Lyanne Kopenhager (Johannesburg) are committed to preserving the legacy with the take away message that:

One good deed today can impact on the lives of many tomorrow

Celebrating Ochberg. Members of the Ochberg Committee, (l-r) Hertzel Katz, Ian Rogow and Bennie Penzik (whose both parents were Ochberg orphans)  together with family  descendants of Isaac Ochberg, Tessa Webber and Cynthia Zukas at the 90th reunion in 2011 at Kibbutz Dalia, which was build on land purchased by the JNF-KKL through funding from Isaac Ochberg.(Photo D.E.Kaplan)

You have only to ask the over 4000 descendants of the orphans Ochberg rescued in 1921 or heard what some of them said on the SA Jewish Report webinar. Many with tears in their eyes, like Lauren Snitcher, Paula Slier and Andi Saitowitz said:

If it weren’t for this one man, I would not be here today.”

Honouring Ochberg. Granddaughter of an Ochberg orphan, Lauren Snitcher (right) and daughter, Machala at the Ochberg memorial, Ochberg Park, Megiddo in 2011. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

With his ‘family’ having expanded into the thousands,  with Palestine being a Jewish State of Israel absorbing Jews from all over the world, its universities in the vanguard for superlative education, and thriving kibbutzim in Megiddo due to his vision and generosity, Isaac Ochberg can look down from his celestial perch and smile.

His legacy will always be identified with:

He who has saved one life is as if he has saved the entire world







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)

From Ben to Charlie

A saga of ships and the men who ‘sailed’ into modern day Israeli history

By David E. Kaplan

I sat enthralled listening to a recent webinar on the globally popular “Lockdown University” – born out of the Covid-19 pandemic  – on Ben Hecht, the famed Jewish American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, journalist, and novelist.

Ben Hecht. The American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, journalist and novelist who went on to write 35 books and some of the most entertaining screenplays and plays in America.

It was interesting to learn that his indifference to Jewish issues changed when he met Hillel Kook, also known as Peter Bergson, who was drumming up American assistance for the Zionist group, Irgun. Hecht wrote in his book, Perfidy, that he used to be a scriptwriter until his meeting with Bergson, when “I accidentally bumped into history” – that is, the burning need to do anything possible to save the doomed Jews of Europe.

Golden Boy. Ben Hecht was a master of cinema’s golden age as well a writer on the world’s blackest age  penning articles and plays about the plight of European Jews, such as ‘We Will Never Die’  and ‘A Flag is Born’.

He did!

When our superb lecturer Trudy Gold mentioned that following Hecht’s support for a Jewish State through his writing, noting that the proceeds of his successful play  “A Flag is Born”  – dealing with the subject of illegal immigration and the fight against the British – were used to help purchase a ship to support that cause and was named the S.S. Ben Hecht, I suddenly recollected a South African connection.

The Stage is Set. Bringing the cause of the Jewish state to the hearts and minds of Americans. New York City opening of Ben Hecht’s A Flag is Born at the Alvin Playhouse

Back in 1996, I interviewed a former South African in Israel who served on that vessel during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. His name was Charlie Mandelstam.

On deck of the SS Ben Hecht was a world away both geographically and atmospherically from Charlie’s small agricultural hometown of Standerton on the Vaal River, east of Johannesburg. He came from neither a Zionist nor a religious background, but Charlie too was about to “bump into history” when “my older brother and I started reading in the press about the Jewish struggle in Palestine – it fascinated us. We both felt that the creation of a State of Israel was vital and that our family should be represented in the struggle. We had both served in WWII, me in the navy but this was now personal. Only one of us could go as someone had to stay with our widowed mother and run the family furniture business. At that time, all I was interested in was golf and girls and I certainly didn’t want the responsibility of running a business, so I volunteered.”

A young Charlie Mandelstam serving on the convoys off the east coast of Africa during WWII.

If Charlie had seen little action  on his convoy runs between Mombasa, Madagascar and the Seychelles during WWII, that would not be the case in his next war. It was the end of June 1948, and Charlie had only been in Israel for ten days when below deck on his first ship – the Eilat –  an ex-American ice-breaker that had been converted to bring across illegal immigrants – Holocaust survivors from Europe –  and then turned into a patrol boat, he suddenly heard the rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire above as three Egyptian spitfires staffed the upper deck and the bridge.

Here I was, my first day in the Israeli navy, and a fellow shipmate lay dead on the deck!”

A short while later, Charlie was transferred to a sub-chaser – the S.S. Ben Hecht. “It was only called a subchaser because it was the only ship with radar” explained Charlie, “but it didn’t have any anti-submarine equipment.”

Ready for War.  A new ‘chapter’ for the Ben Hecht now recommissioned to patrol Israel’s coastline.

It has an interesting and intriguing history before Charlie graced its deck.

Built originally as a private yacht by the German firm Krupp, it changed hands and was used, at one time, to smuggle the gold of the Republican Government from Spain to Mexico, shortly before its fall in the Spanish Civil War.  Later, it was acquired by the US Navy and used as a coastal patrol vessel until 1946 when it was purchased by a company serving as a façade for the “American League for a Free Palestine”, an organization that was connected to the Revisionist Movement. It was then that the ship was re-named for the author and screenwriter Ben Hecht who was active in Revisionist circles and financed  the purchase of the ship from the proceeds  of “A Flag is Born”.

The March to Independence. Ben Hecht’s ‘A Flag is Born’  advocated the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people in the ancient Land of Israel.

Ben Hecht vs Emir Farouk

On March 1st, 1948, the Ben Hecht sailed from Port de Bouc, France, carrying 626 Ma’apilim (Jews who illegally immigrated to British controlled Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s – known as Aliyah Bet)·. The crew of 18 was made up – for the most part – of American volunteers and when the vessel was close to Palestine, it was intercepted by two British destroyers, towed to Haifa, and the Ma’apilim transferred to an internment camp in Cyprus.

Bound for Palestine. Two child refugees aboard the SS Ben Hecht that will be intercepted by the British and its passengers interned in Cyprus. ( Courtesy the Institute for Mediterranean Affairs).

The crew was imprisoned by the British authorities in Acre Prison, and assisted in the preparations for the famous Acre Prison break.

The S.S. Ben Hecht would know greater success in the next chapter of its history with the young South African on board although Charlie relates the famed incident that followed with humour in keeping with his colourful personality.

An American friend of mine aboard the ship got the address of some girls from Ma’agan Michael who were stationed in Rehovot. We got to know them and they used to tease us, “You guys came all the way from the States and South Africa to have a good time sailing between Haifa and Gaza! Why don’t you join a fighting unit?” Soon after there was the famous incident where four speedboats, three of them homemade kamikaze torpedo boats, were launched from our ship – the Ben Hecht. When they got close to the Emir Farouk the Egyptian flagship and an accompanying minesweeper anchored outside Tel Aviv harbor trying to prevent Israel from rearming by sea, our guys jumped safely into the water, and the torpedo boats exploded on impact, sinking both enemy ships. Although the sinking of the Farouk was Israel’s most dramatic naval victory in the War of Independence, all I really saw of the whole thing was the explosion in the distance from on board our ship. However we couldn’t rush fast enough to tell the girls of how we sank the enemy ships. Well, how they laughed at us. It turned out that the guys who had actually been on the torpedo speedboats were friends of theirs from their Kibbutz – Ma’agan Michael.”

Israel Strikes at Sea. The Emir Farouk, the flagship of the Egyptian navy before Israel’s attack off the coast of Tel Aviv.

Charlie would find his “girl” after the war on moshav Habonim where many his shipmates and other South Africans had settled.  “I used to work in the fields and brought feed for the dairy. Lucy used to milk the cows early in the morning. She wore shorts and I couldn’t help notice her legs. They were beautiful; they still are,” he said chuckling. Charlie married Lucy and eventually left the Moshav in 1960 and taking a job as the coach of the newly opened Caesarea golf course, despite his mother’s reservations:

 ‘Fun golf ken men machen a leben ?’ (From golf can you make a living?”)

Charlie remained there for the next 35 years.

Life after War. Looking ever so debonair,  Charlie Mandelstam at home on Moshav Habonim.

Over those years, many of the golfers, Charlie rubbed shoulders with either on the course or on the ‘19th hole’  included Danny Kaye, Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery, Micky Rooney, Peter Lawford and Zubin Mehta. Charlie related  a game he played with US diplomats, Asst. Secretary of State Joseph J. Sisco,  whose career in the State Department spanned five presidential administrations and who played a major role in Secretary of State Henry Kissinger‘s shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East and Alfred Atherton, who helped in the negotiations that led to the 1978 Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt.

Astute diplomats, they could plot the course of the political destiny of nations but on a golf course, Charlie was frank:

 “they were poor golfers!”

The night following the game, “I got a phone call from Ted Lurie the then editor of The Jerusalem Post asking what the scores were. I politely skirted the question. That Sunday, the paper ran a piece about Sisco and Atherton playing the local pro, Charlie Mandelstam who wouldn’t divulge the scores. On Monday, I received a call from Joseph Sisco telling me he had just called Abba Eban suggesting he recruit me into the diplomatic corps.”

Down to a ‘Tee’. (L-r) At a 1963 exhibition round at Caesarea – Rex Moss, club champion, Isabel Blumberg, two times South African woman’s champion and club champion; Herman Barra, most famous Jewish golfer and world senior champion and Charlie Mandelstam, club pro.
 

Charlie Mandelstam from Standerton, South Africa came to patrol Israel’s shores, but stayed captivated  by the land and its people, and of course, “a fine pair of legs!”










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 Man who said “Yes”

A man who shied away from the spotlight all his life but spent a life never shying away from helping others. South Africa’s “Man of Steel’ philanthropist Eric Samson passes away in the USA

By David E. Kaplan

Eric was a visionary leader and nation-builder and a man of unsurpassed generosity, one whose multifaceted legacy will benefit our country long into the future,” voiced the South African Jewish Board of Deputies in a statement following the passing of South African steel magnate and philanthropist Eric Samson who died at his Newport, California home on Tuesday at the age of 83.

Lasting Legacy. South African steel merchant Eric Samson –  A man who left his mark on the lives of  many.

No less a beneficiary of his generosity was the State of Israel.

The founder and majority shareholder of the Macsteel Group, I recall last speaking to Eric at the funeral in Cape Town in 2009 of his good friend, the steel industrialist, Mendel Kaplan. They had been more than good friends. While partnering in many shared interests in the steel industry, it was their partnership in collective causes that they left their mark in making the world a better place. Eric stood right behind me at Mendel’s funeral service at Cape Town’s Pinelands Jewish Cemetery, shocked and devastated and said that he was on board his private plane flying to Europe when he heard the news and related how he immediately asked the pilot to change the flight path and “head to Cape Town.” That was Eric – decisive at being where he feels he needs to be.

He has been like that together with his wife Sheila with causes in South Africa and Israel.

In South Africa “Innumerable organizations and individuals benefited from his support throughout his life,” revealed the South African Board of Deputies in a statement. A great friend of the late South African State President, Nelson Mandela,  Eric served on the board of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund for two decades and donated to it every July to mark the South African leader’s birthday.

The Visionaries. Eric Samson (right) with South African President Nelson Mandela.

In Israel, the Samsons ‘directed’ their generosity to such causes as Keren Hayesod that had been established in 1920 to serve as the fundraising arm of the Jewish People and the Zionist Movement, the Barzilai Medical Center, the Eric and Sheila Samson New Emergency Surgical Hospital in Ashkelon, the Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, the South African retirement home in Herzliya Beth Protea, and the Eric and Sheila Samson Prime Minister’s Prize – a prestigious international award, launched in 2013, which grants a million dollars annually for groundbreaking innovation in the fields of smart mobility and alternative fuels for transportation.

Rooted to Israel. The Samson family at the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Office in Jerusalem.

I attended the sixth ceremony of The Eric and Sheila Samson Prime Minister’s Prize held on the 29th October 2018 at the Hilton Tel Aviv Grand Ballroom as part of Israel’s 2018 Smart Mobility Summit.

I could not help feeling proud both as an Israeli for what my country was achieving for all mankind, and as a former South African, for the contribution of its Jewish community in enriching the State of Israel. And in the quest to “transform transportation”, it all began a little over six years ago, explained the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, “with ONE phone call to my friends Eric and Sheila in South Africa.”

Smart New World. The 2018 Smart Mobility Summit at the Hilton Tel Aviv where the 6th  ‘Eric and Sheila Prime Minister’s Prize’ was awarded to two outstanding recipients currently making critical advancements in the fields of alternative fuels for transportation and Smart Mobility.

Aiming to reduce 60% of Israel’s oil consumption by 2025, the Prime Minister revealed his concerns to the Samsons that “we have to free the world from the stranglehold of oil and the biggest culprit in the consumption of oil is transportation.” Therefore, persisted the PM persuasively, “we have to work on transforming transportation.” In pursuance of this vision, the PM appealed to the Samsons to consider sponsoring an annual prize that would not only help reduce the world’s dependency on oil but would further help revolutionize mankind’s modes of transportation.

Peering upon the large audience from across the globe that included delegations from 36 countries, including all the states of Europe, Israel’s Prime Minister bellowed proudly:

 “It took only 60 seconds for Eric and Shelia to answer with one wordYES!”

A co-recipient of the Samson award was Prof. Doron Auerbach of Bar-Ilan University for his contribution to breakthroughs in the field of battery development that included the development of advanced batteries for electric vehicle applications. “Every electric car anywhere in the world is partly powered by our research,” said Auerbach in accepting the prize. “I feel great pride for Israel.”

Israel’s then Minister of Science and Technology, Ofir Akunis said,

We are changing the world. Israel is investing in the future and our Ministry could not ask for a better partner in this critical mission than Eric and Sheila Samson who have made this possible through their contribution towards the Prime Minister’s Prize. We know from our history, knowledge is strength and when used properly, we can make the impossiblepossible!”

The South African retirement home Beth Protea would not have been “possible” were it not for Eric saying “YES” to a vision that skeptics said was “impossible”. It was not too long after that then President of South Africa and future Nobel Peace Laurette, F.W. de Klerk laid the foundation stone to Beth Protea during his visit to Israel in  November 1991.

For the Community. Beth Protea, Israel’s South African retirement home ‘of the community, by the community for the community’.

Enter Beth Protea today and there in the lobby, hangs a large portrait painting of Eric amongst  the other founding fathers. What began as a “vision” over a quarter of a century earlier, this South African ‘flower’ flourished to emerge as the benchmark  of excellence in caring for seniors leading in the ensuing years with the name ‘protea’ resonating across the land as its ‘seeds’ sprouted with other retirement complexes carrying the brand name. Such is the impact  of a man who said “yes” to the callings that touched his heart.

Turning 13. Sheila and Eric Samson with Beth Protea senior staff member and member of the Beth Protea Foundation Lyn Bach (left) in 2005 at Beth Protea’s ‘Bar Mitzvah” party.

And on the question of “heart”, one could have asked 106-year-old Avraham Barry who made an incredible recovery from heart surgery at the Samson Assuta Ashdod University Hospital. The hospital’s oldest patient,  Avraham who had immigrated to Israel from Yemen as a young child with his family only days after his surgery, returned to his home in Ashdod.

Heartwarming. Born in Yemen, a 106-year-old patient,  Avraham Barry from Ashdod in Israel, makes an incredible recovery from heart surgery at the Samson Assuta Ashdod University Hospital. It was the oldest patient in the Hospital’s history.

In a statement from Keren Hayasod at the time, “Eric and Sheila Samson, through Keren Hayesod, have provided unparalleled support for patients like Avraham by giving residents of the periphery greater access to healthcare and advance medical facilities.”

The Business of Caring. Businessman Eric Samson addressing a Keren Hayesod fundraiser at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Courtesy)
 

His namesake in the Bible, Samson, was noted for his great strength. Such too was this softly spoken ‘Man of Steel’ who impacted the lives of many – young and old. He will be sorely missed.







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)