‘FRANK’LY SPEAKING

Recalling my interview with a foot soldier – Leib Frank – who participated in the decisive Battle of El Alamein 80 years ago.

By David E. Kaplan

This past October 2022 saw the 80th anniversary of the Battle El Alamein pass undeservedly without much fanfare. One can only imagine the concern of the Jews in Palestine at the time fearing the worst. Their fate and the fate of a Jewish state hung in the balance – it hung on the outcome of one battle that proved a turning point in the war, halting the advance of the Axis powers in North Africa and paving the way for final victory. British leader Winston Churchill said famously in the wake of the victory:

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Pressing Forward. Troops in the thick of battle at El Alamein in the Egyptian desert. (Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

However, for Jews around the world, it might  have meant “the end of any beginning” of a future Jewish state if Rommel had not been stopped dead in his tracks on Egyptian soil. We may well ask, “What if the Nazis had won the Battle of El Alamein?”

They would have swept into-then-Palestine destroying any chance of a future Israel and massacred Jews wherever they found them. Hence, it could be argued that the Battle of El Alamein shaped the history of the Holocaust by restricting the “Final Solution” to Europe.

On this 80th anniversary, I revisited my interview in 2002 with the late Leib Frank at his home in Kfar Shmaryahu in central Israel. In 1942, Leib had been a young 5th Brigade signaler among the South African troops attached to the Rand Light Infantry.

One thing was certain,” said Leib, “was the feeling amongst the troops that the major battle that was looming,” on the parched, flat and barren North African desert “would dwarf” all that preceded it. But there was another more personal dimension as well!

Although there was this sense among the troops that the impending battle had to be one to save civilisation, for our group of Jewish boys, it was more focused – we felt it was a war to save the Jews.”

High Anxiety. An anxious crowd gathers around a radio shop in Tel Aviv Street to hear news of the war.

There was “a new spirit of optimism,” says Leib, “once Monty took command” of the 8th Army following crushing defeats in the preceding months, notably the fall of Tobruk. “We now had at the helm a commander that did not include the word ‘defeat’ in his vocabulary.” He then with a smile added:

 “I mean insofar at it applied to his own troops.”

As an example of this, Leib recalled an incident  that when Monty came upon a platoon digging trenches way to the rear. “He bellowed in his high pitched voice, ‘Stop digging there at once – you’ll never need them.’ The troops grasped the salient truth – there would be no further retreat.”

Shortly before battle, Monty issued a personal message to his officers and men:

The battle which is now about to begin will be one of the decisive battles in history. It will be the turning-point of the war. The eyes of the world will be on us, watching anxiously which way the battle will swing. We can give them their answer at once. It will swing our way.”

Mighty Monty. Determined to reverse the defeats in North Africa, General Bernard Montgomery is seen here ready for action in 1942.

The men were left with no illusion as to what was in store.

Although from August to October 1942, some 41,000 British reinforcements had streamed into El Alamein, Leib and his comrades had been sweating it out since June preparing for the big onslaught. “It was a daily grind of digging trenches and training exercises. The one consolation,” recalled Leib, “was that we were positioned on the coastline. After a hard day, we would relax and bathe in the sea.”

But were they ready?

Battle hardy we were not. The only action we had experienced until then were night patrols in jeeps. We would come upon enemy positions and get off some shots. There would be a token exchange of fire, but in relation to what was to follow, it didn’t feel like ‘real’ war.”

The ”Real war” as Leib described it, began on the night of the 23 October. Monty had retired early to bed.  It is said that hanging on the wall of his trailer was a portrait of the Desert Fox Erwin Rommel, beside which he had scribbled a quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V:

 “O God of Battles! Steel my soldiers’ hearts.”

At Ease Soldier. Leib Frank in front of his tent in the desert in Egypt.

For soldiers in the field – whether armed with pikes or longbow on the green fields of fifteen century Agincourt or clad n Khaki on the desert plateau at El Alamein – pre-battle jitters are inevitable. One can only imagine what occupied the thoughts of the young lads as they mentally prepared during the final countdown. Many would write letters home or make entries in their diaries. For Leib and his Jewish comrades, David Wacks, Sam Caplan, Melville Levin and Wally Hochstater:

 “the time had finally arrived. We had been through so much together embarking on the Il d’France at Durban and were rearing to give ‘Jerry’ a thrashing. It seemed a lifetime ago that Wally and I had been lavishly entertained at the Moshal mansion the night before we left Durban and Sol Moshal taking us aside for a lecture on ‘staying away from brothels’. The next morning we were chauffeured to the quayside in the Moshal’s black limousine, surprising the troops who all braised up to attention, thinking the top brass had arrived. I would only think back to that sumptuous ‘Last Supper’ when faced later with typical army slop of bully beef and dog biscuits.”

Off to War. Leib Frank (2nd left) and his Jewish comrades before embarking on Durban docks to join the war in North Africa.

BRAISED FOR BATTLE

Monty picked the night of October 23 for the attack, assured that there would be a full moon. In fact, the wide, golden glowing moon, hanging low over the silhouetted desolate terrain, was so bright that the noncombatants to the rear, trying to sleep, tugged blankets over their heads to block out the light. This augured well, for it would provide sufficient natural light for the sappers to clear paths through the enormous minefields that Rommel had laid in front of his position. The sappers had 8 hours before dawn to clear the area before the infantry and armour advance. Leib and the soldiers of the Rand Light Infantry were waiting.

The attack started with a thunderous artillery barrage. As skilled a tactician  as Monty was, not all was going according to plan. “Our surveillance was not as good as it should have been,” said Leib. “We soon found to our distress that we had been dropped from our transport short of the designated spot and what’s more, at the bottom of a ravine. To get out and back to ground level,  we had to scale a perpendicular rock face. Some of the boys made it up by themselves, and then very quietly helped pull us up by with our riffles. But ‘Jerry’ was not caught napping. The moment they picked up on our movement, they opened up with massive rapid machinegun fire.”

Leib was one of the many early casualties.

“I was hit in both legs. Lying in pain on the battlefield, I watched the troops advance. Fallen comrades lay on both sides of me, although at some distance. I did not know whether they were alive or dead. Stray bullets were spitting in the sand all around.”

Digging In. Preparing for the Battle of El Alamein.

HANGING ON

There were no natural obstacles on the battlefield to provide any form of cover. Virtually incapacitated, Leib focused his sapping energy on removing his helmet and positioning it in front of his head to afford some limited protection. “I lay  there in that position for four hours until the stretcher bearers arrived at midday. Bleeding profusely, I could do nothing to stop the flow. Over the hours that I lay there, sand got into my wounds and the sun was sizzling hot. Running out of water, I thought I had little chance of survival. Inevitably, I began to reflect how my life was drawing to a close before I even had an opportunity to make a success of it.” Managing to hang on, Leib was barely conscious when the stretcher-bearers finally arrived. “Their training left much to be desired as they offered me cognac instead of water. That was the worst thing they could have done as it accelerates the heartbeat leading to an increased loss of blood.”

Leib’s legs were in bad shape. As a result of the hours lying on the sandy battlefield without medical attention, gangrene had set in. It is doubtful that Leib’s stretcher-bearers or the medical orderly, who quickly applied bandages to the wounds to stop the bleeding, expected him to survive. He was taken to a field hospital where he received medical attention that saved his life. From there, Leib was taken to an underground hospital, where he was operated on and thereafter moved to the South African Hospital in Alexandria. It was there that Leib would learn that the battle in which he had heroically participated in the first act had moved to the final act of a crushing victory. After 12 days, Rommel had lost some 90% of the 500 tanks with which he had begun the battle. Facing annihilation, the Desert Fox had no alternative but to order a complete withdrawal on November 4th. While the final curtain call for the demise of Nazi Germany would only come some years later, Leib, who was to see no further action and would to the end of his days endure the wounds of war, could look back with immense pride. Not only did the outcome at El Alamein signal that the tide of the war was changing, but for Leib and his Jewish comrades who saw it also as “The war for the Jews”, the future of the emerging Jewish State of Israel was ensured.

Leib would later settle in the new State of Israel that he fought to secure.

Still Serving. Surviving the Battle of El Alamein, Leib Frank (l) would later emigrate to Israel from Zimbabwe (Rhodesia at the time) where he would serve as Director of TELFED assisting the immigration of Southern African to the new state of Israel and in that capacity is seen here together with his chairman, Leo Kawalsky (r) meeting with former Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion.Leib Frank.





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).

FORGOTTEN HISTORY REMEMBERED

The heroic past shall be ‘unveiled’ at an upcoming ceremony at Johannesburg’s Jewish cemetery illuminating ‘bloodlines’ between South Africa and Israel

By David E. Kaplan

On the 27th November, people of all faiths and races – some wearing medals of battles past – will gather at the South African National Jewish War Memorial at West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg. They will do so to remember those South African soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the world wars of the twentieth century that not only “changed the course of history” but profoundly impacted on the destiny of the Jewish people. The acts of bravery by these soldiers – whether aware at the time or not – contributed to the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in their ancestral homeland in 1948.

Live stream link on Sunday 27/11/22, 10:30 (SA time) – https://www.facebook.com/SAZionistFed/

The drama of three long forgotten and for many never even known events, will be ‘unveiled’ together with the stones embodying their pulsating pasts.

STORY OF A STONE

When only a year ago, students at  UCT ( University of Cape Town) tried to expunge the memory of South Africa’s famed wartime Prime Minister Jan Smuts by defacing and covering his bust with plastic bags and ultimately removing it from the campus as well as renaming the historic men’s residence from Smuts Hall to Upper Campus Residence, the upcoming gathering on the 27 November has a contrary agenda of honouring his memory as it connects with the Jewish people. If UCT students sought to ‘cover’ Smuts’ bust, the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), JNF (SA), the South African Jewish ex-Service League together with its committee member, Selwyn Rogoff and its former Chairman, Peter Bailey also representing the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee in Israel, have sought to uncover Smuts’ less known past, notably his contribution to the State of Israel.

Century of a Stone. The cornerstone originally unveiled by Prime Minister Smuts in 1922 to be again unveiled by his great-grandson Gareth Shackleford on the 27 November 2022 at West Park Cemetery, Johannesburg.

When it was brought to Bailey and Rogoff’s attention that a cornerstone honouring South African Jews who had fought and died in the Great War that had been unveiled by Prime Minister Smuts in November 1922 at the old Jewish Guild War Memorial Building in downtown Johannesburg had after a century of travels to different locations  resurfaced in the garden of a bowling club, they felt a special memorial event marking the centenary should be held. Bailey felt further that it should include two other monumental contributions of South African soldiers who died in the service of that biblical land that would in time emerge as the state of the Jewish people – Israel. Through this writer’s intervention, he contacted Benji Shulman of the SAZF that set in motion the upcoming event that will have Smuts’ great-grandson, Gareth Shackleford, who will unveil again the cornerstone that his grandfather originally unveiled a century earlier reminding the world of the love Smuts had for the Jewish people and his role in the creation of the Jewish state.

Dead at Delville. Included amongst Jewish South African soldiers killed in WWI was the writer’s grandfather’s brother, Victor Kaplan, who volunteered for overseas service and was killed in the Battle of Delville Wood in 1916. (Family photo)

Too few are aware that when Smuts and Chaim Weizmann met in London during the Great War, the two began a close friendship that lasted for the rest of their lives and greatly influenced events in Palestine. In an essay on Smuts and Weizmann, Richard P. Stevens writes:

perhaps few personal friendships have so influenced the course of political events during the twentieth century as the relationship between General Jan Christiaan Smuts, South Africa’s celebrated prime minister, and Chaim Weizmann, Zionist leader, and Israel’s first president.”

Meeting of Minds. They emerged friends with shared visions – Chaim Weizmann (left) and Jan Smuts, circa 1915 (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST ARCHIVE)

Research reveals that Smuts played a monumental backroom role in the drafting of the Balfour Declaration, providing Weizmann with a direct conduit to the War Cabinet. Another of Smuts’ great-grandsons, Philip Weyers, said of his great-grandfather, who he fondly refers to as “Oubaas” (old boss) that:

he was the anonymous partner to the Balfour Declaration. The spirit and even some of the wording of the Balfour Declaration came from the Oubaas’ mouth. His thoughts and views carried a lot of weight, and is imbedded in that fateful document.

It is little wonder that kibbutz Ramat Yohanan – founded in 1932  – was named in honour of Jan Smuts; ‘Yohanan’ being the Hebrew translation for the Afrikaans ‘Jan’ or English ‘John’, in recognition of his unstinting efforts on behalf of the Jewish people.

LETTER TO LEGEND

However, Israel’s ‘Magna Carta’ – the Balfour Declaration of 1917 – would have meant very little beyond a letter or footnote in history had not the actual ‘feet’ of commonwealth soldiers – including the Cape Corps comprising members of South Africa’s Coloured community – fought valiantly to relieve Palestine of the Ottoman Turks. Some 54 Coloureds  – Christians and Muslims – lost their lives in what became known as the Battle of Megiddo, opening the road for General Allenby’s breakthrough to Damascus. Most important from a Jewish perspective, while it “opened the road” for Allenby, it cleared the region of the occupying Turks, paving the way for a British Mandate and ultimately Jewish statehood in 1948.

Jubilation in Jerusalem. One month after the Balfour Declaration, General Edmund Allenby enters the Old City on the 11 December 1917 to accept the surrender of Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks. Next battle to follow – Megiddo.

A year following the famous battle, Field Marshal Viscount Allenby, GCB, GCMG had this to say about the men of the 1st Cape Corps:

 “I heard you are creating a Roll of Honour containing Cape Corps names. I had the honour of serving with many of the Cape Corps in Palestine and I should like to add my tribute of appreciation. The record of those of the Cape Corps who fought under my command is one that any troops might envy. Especially on September 19 and 20, 1918, they covered themselves with glory, displaying a bravery and determination that has never been surpassed.”

A descendant of this battle, Cmdr. M. Adeel Carelse MMM (Ret.), whose grandfather Cpl. C. H. Carelse fought bravely at Square Hill and Kh Jibeit that were decisive battles within the larger Battle of Megiddo and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, will unveil on the 27 November a plaque to the Cape Corps. Today in Cape Town’s suburb of Retreat, there is Square Hill School that is named after this famous battle that too few remember or the sacrifices made.  However, these mostly forgotten battles fought in a biblical land, ended Ottoman Turkish rule and led to the eventual establishment of the independent states of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and ISRAEL!

Valiant Fighters. Men of the 1st. Battalion, Cape Corps(160th Brigade, 53 Welsh Division) in Palestine 1918.

WORKED TOGETHER, DIED TOGETHER

The third stone of history to be unturned at the ceremony, will be to remember and honour the 644 black Southern Africans who went down with 140 Yishuv Jews on the SS Erinpura during WWII.

They had all worked together as volunteers on a British labour project in Palestine for the war effort and were together in a convoy in the Mediterranean in May 1943 . The SS Erinpura was carrying more than 1000 troops, including Basuto and Batswanan members of the African Auxiliary Pioneer Corps and Palestinian Jewish soldiers of 462 Transport Company of the British Army when on the evening of 1 May 1943, German bomber aircraft attacked the convoy 30 nautical miles (56 km) north of Benghazi.

They Made History. On parade but soon to be tested in battle are soldiers of the Cape Corp during WW1 who performed so heroically at the Battle of Megiddo in 1918 against the Ottoman Turks.

In one wave of the attacks, a bomb hit the Erinpura in one of her forward holds, causing her to list to starboard and sink within five minutes. The crew of her 12-pounder anti-aircraft gun continued to return fire until she sank with a loss of life of 800 that included the 633 Sotho, 11 Tswana soldiers and 140 Palestinian Jewish soldiers.

Lives lost at Sea. The ‘SS Erinpura Memorial’ on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem is dedicated to the 139 Jewish soldiers of the British Army  462 Moving Unit in British Mandate of Palestine  that lost their lives on the SS Erinpura  that was sunk in an attack  by the Luftwaffe on 1 May 1943.

The monument on Mount Herzl  to the 140 Jewish soldiers who drowned aboard the SS Erinpura is shaped like a ship  with a pool of water representing the sea where on the bottom appear the names of the fallen. Above the pool is a turret adorned with the Hebrew text of Psalm 68, verse 22:

The Lord said, I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea.”

Ship of Soldiers. The ill-fated SS. Erinpura that went down with South African and Jewish Palestinian soldiers in WWII.

This did in a sense happen with the emergence five years later  with the gathering of Jews and the established of the Jewish state in 1948.

It is only fitting that  Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotsercovsky, will unveil a memorial plaque at the West Park Cemetery ceremony to the tragic loss of life of both the Yishuv Jews and black South Africans who lost their lives together in a cause that others may live.

Entrance to West Park Cemetery, Johannesburg

EPILOGUE

The years have rolled by and like packed away old unread books, heroic lives were lost tucked away in forgotten chapters in recedingly remembered conflicts. The upcoming ceremony on the 27 November 2022  in Johannesburg is designed to address this amnesia and all across the world are invited to attend on ZOOM

https://www.facebook.com/SAZionistFed/

Before all these events played out, the instruction of ‘being careful not to forget’ was already present in Deuteronomy 4:7–9:“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy son’s sons.





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).

‘WARRIOR’ AT WAR TO ‘WORRIER’ FOR PEACE

A drive up north on Yitzhak Rabin Day led to recollections and reflections of more than a life cut short

By David E. Kaplan

While Americans of a certain age will ask each other where they were when they first heard the news in 1963 that President Kennedy was shot, Israelis are more likely to question of their own leader assassinated on November 4, 1995:

What would have happened had he lived?”

Reflections of “WHAT IF” have persisted unabated  every year around the time of the anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who was gunned down in office while addressing a peace rally in Tel Aviv on November 4, 1995. Despite his physical absence, his spiritual presence remains profoundly felt – even at places far beyond the borders of the country he so valiantly served.

Man of Destiny. Yitzchak Rabin as a young Major General in the IDF.

More than killing a man, the assassin killed a peace process leading to an accelerated and deepening polarisation in Israel  that has influenced the country’s domestic and foreign policy ever since. One wonders if Rabin had not been killed by Yigal Amir that fateful November Saturday 27 years ago, would Israel be different today?

These were the thoughts that I pondered as I traveled north with a JNF (Jewish National Fund) delegation from South Africa, who together with members of our Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee (Israel), were meeting with the Mayor of Megiddo, Itzik Holawsky and members of the Megiddo Regional Council to discuss joint projects in a region that is so enrichingly connected to the Jewish community of South Africa.

Memorable Meeting. With the photograph of Yitzchak Rabin in the background, members of the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee (Israel) and a delegation of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) South Africa meet in the Mayor of Megiddo’s office on Rabin Day. (l-r) Mayor Itzik Holawsky, Hagar Reuveni, Isla Feldman, Bev Schneider, David Kaplan, Peter Bailey, Michael Kransdorff and Nati Vierba (Rob Hyde absent). (Photo D.E. kaplan)

The day’s programme, although not intentionally connected with Rabin,  resonated with the spirit of Rabin from the moment we peered out the vehicle’s window as we headed north and saw the sign in bold – Yitzchak  Rabin Highway – the official name of Highway 6. Seeing that sign, jolted my memory back to my interview with Rabin’s trusted friend and confidant, the late Eitan Haber who said “that it was most fitting that Israel’s Cross-Israel Highway (“Highway 6”) was officially dedicated as the ‘Yitzhak Rabin Highway’. He was such a powerful force behind this project as he was in pushing ahead with road development throughout the country.” Nevertheless, the irony was not lost that on this anniversary of a nation mourning the loss of its visionary leader, the leader of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu was forming a coalition – whose collective mindset represented the antithesis of what Rabin stood and for what he was gunned down for.

On Track. Highway 6 (Hebrew: כביש 6, Kvish Shesh), also known as the Trans-Israel Highway or Cross-Israel Highway is officially dedicated as the Yitzhak Rabin Highway.

Our day would play out with constant  interludes of Rabin from entering Mayor Holawsky’s  office and noticing the photograph of Rabin on the wall behind his desk to visiting a school where the young students – boys and girls – were all singing songs from the Rabin era.

We all joined in. As I watched these youngsters,  I wondered what they knew of the life of the former Prime Minister.

Rabin Remembered. Members of the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee (Israel) and a delegation of JNF South Africa attend Rabin Day activities at Megiddo School with representatives of the Megiddo Regional Council.

My father was a happy man; he loved life and loved his tennis,” Rabin’s daughter Dalia Rabin told this writer in an interview at the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv in 2010. We were standing next to the glass-encased cabinet of Rabin’s rackets and tennis balls, testimony to the relaxed side of a personality that carried the weight of a nation on his broad shoulders.

Earlier in the interview, Dalia explained the importance of the Center in outreaching to the children of Israel:

We need to reach today’s young generation. We are all concerned about the increased level of violence, a thread, I believe, traceable to the night of the assassination. People woke up the next day to a new reality they were not prepared for. Unfortunately, the shock was never dealt with by the leadership of all political parties at the time and that has impacted on our culture. When you have tensions that are not addressed, when your minorities do not have adequate platforms to express their ideas and beliefs, it leads to frustration. Seeking an outlet, this pent up frustration can lead to violence. We believe that our initiative to ensure every schoolchild in Israel should visit the museum and hopefully thereafter attend our workshops will help address some of the pressing issues confronting our society.”

Revealing Rabin. The writer interviewing Dalia Rabin about her illustrious father at the newly opened Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv in 2010.

I thought too of another image of Rabin that Haber had raised, a far cry from the  ‘cigar and champagne’ image of some of today’s leaders and that would be important for children of today to know about. Haber had told me that “The trappings of high office never got to Rabin, as it might others with less moral stature.” Supporting this observation, Haber revealed a feature of Rabin’s personality that was quite unique for a leader of a country.

Say your Peace. Eitan Haber reads lyrics from the anthem “Song of Peace” at Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral in 1995. The sheet of paper had been retrieved from Rabin’s pocket after he was shot by the assassin at a peace rally. (Photo Nati Harnik/AP)

He constantly voiced to me the need to justify his monthly salary. He might have held the highest office in the land, but this man never forgot he was a servant of the people and that he had to give it his all.” It was that “all” that would later cost him his life.

On the return drive home later in the day and seeing once more the sign as we got onto Yitzchak  Rabin Highway, the name again sent my mind back in reverse, this time directly relating to ‘highways’.  I though back to the meeting I attended in the Prime Minister’s office in 1995 representing TELFED with a delegation of the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) leadership from South Africa. After welcoming us each individually – there must have been twelve of us altogether –  he said:

I am not sitting behind a desk, please grab a chair and let’s sit in a circle.”

From what could have been a typical formal meeting separating the Prime Minister from his guests,  he immediately transformed it into a relaxed gathering with friends. He made us feel we were meeting with the first name, ‘Yitzchak’, and not the revered surname – ‘Rabin’.

And then, at some stage during our discussions, Rabin did the unexpected by breaking off from the intense conversation with this surprising question:

Do you know what still excites me?”

We all sat there puzzled.

The question, which came out of nowhere, was of course rhetorical, so no-one ventured an answer. No-one was expected to. But for sure, most were probably pondering:

 “What could still excite a man who was in his second term as Prime Minister; had previously been a Minister of Defense, an Ambassador to the USA, Chief of Staff and participated in some capacity in most of the major national events, from all the wars to the most famous rescue operations in history – The Entebbe Raid?”

What was realistically left?” all must have thought at the time.

We did not have to wait long.

Rabin answered:

Waking up on mornings knowing that I would be cutting a ribbon that day opening a new stretch of highway, a bridge or an underpass.”

After a lifetime of excitement, I thought that this sounded so mundane!

I was so wrong!

Only on that 1995 drive back from the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem to Tel  Aviv, did the proverbial shekel drop! It was not so much the “stretch of highway, bridge or underpass” where Rabin was cutting the ribbon that was so significant – it was what potentially lay ‘down the road’. The roads, bridges and underpasses were metaphors – signifying to the Prime Minister easier access to a better future – for they would lead to expansion – new towns, new factories and new lives as Israel developed. Rabin was a man of foresight; he looked not only at the road but down the road and beyond!

Of the many photographs of Rabin throughout his military, diplomatic and political careers, the one that resonates for me the most is one with the late King Hussein of Jordan, taking time out to enjoy a smoke together. It was taken at the Jordanian royal residence in Aqaba after the signing of the historic peace treaty between their countries on the  26 October 1994. Rabin is guiding Hussein’s hand as he lights his cigarette. Rich in symbolism, it captures the atmosphere of two former enemies who had waited a long time for this precious moment who were not only enjoying a ‘smoke break’ but enacting the symbolic ritual of smoking the proverbial  ‘peace pipe’.  

Light Up. King Hussein lights a cigarette for Yitzchak Rabin after their signing the Israel-Jordan peace treaty. Aqaba, October 26, 1994.

As they puffed away,  they had moved on from warriors of war to worriers for peace.

Later reflecting on the singing children at the Megiddo School, we welcome the day when future leaders will be ‘cutting ribbons’, opening new sections of the road ahead – to peace and prosperity.




Visiting a school where the young pupils – boys and girls – were all singing songs from the Rabin era.





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 ELIZABETH LINE

A personal account of what it was like to be a part of the historical Queue to pay tribute to Her Majesty, The Queen as the late monarch lay in state.

By Rehna

I found the experience of seeing her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, lying in the state at Westminster hall, profoundly moving.

The silence as you enter the hall and walk past the catafalque (the raised platform on which the closed coffins rests) is almost otherworldly. The emotion on the faces of the people paying their respects is very real. The admiration and love is palpable. It’s not an experience anyone lucky enough to enter that hall is likely to forget. As one of my group quietly said as he exited, “Well, that was powerful stuff!”

The magic of it also is that, as you bowed or curtsied or simply filed past the coffin you forgot the many hours in the queue that brought you there.

The Queen’s Queue. People standing in lines to pay their respects to Queen Elizabeth II near Westminster Hall (Photograph:Reuters)

THE QUEUE

Many have joked that ‘the queue’ was the queue British people have been waiting for all their lives. Joke or not, it’s probably true. It was indeed the mother of all queues!

But, it’s not actually a real queue at all. Not in the proper sense of people shuffling along one by one. Instead, it was like going for a walk along the river Thames with 100,000 of your nicest mates.

Wittily dubbed ‘QueueE2’, it was a large mass of people constantly moving along, in a sort of order, to get to a common destination. I’ll grandly call the queue I was in, ‘my queue’ with no disrespect intended to others in it.

WHERE IT STARTS

My queue started in Southwark Park. The nearest tube station was Bermondsey and it was signposted from there. There were friendly, helpful stewards along the way from start to finish. Towards the end they cheered you on just as you were flagging. At the start they gave you their time estimates for the whole exercise. People took the estimates with a pinch of salt. They were mostly on the pessimistic side, probably not to raise hopes early on.

Well-wishers and stewards make their way up the South Bank. (Stephen Chung / Alamy Stock Photo)

There were over 44,000 people in front of me and more behind.

The police were also on hand to help with the queue. We met two officers who told us that it was their day off but they wanted to help out “for Her Majesty.” They said they would be on duty in Hyde Park on the Monday during the funeral, and that they would ‘bow their heads’ for a moment to pay their respects. We met people who were passing by who cheered us on and expressed similar sentiments all along the way.

Initially you just started walking with the crowd. Then near Tower Bridge there were stewards handing out wristbands. You couldn’t go further without a band. The wristband was a different colour each day, presumably to prevent people returning and jumping the queue.

Towering Figure. The queue for The Queen at Tower Bridge on the Thames River.

THE ROUTE

It was a pretty, scenic route along the river.  You walked through parts of Southwark which looked like they could have been used as locations for Oliver Twist.  The queue then headed towards London Bridge, past Tower Bridge, the Cuttysark, Shakespeare’s Globe, the Tate gallery, the London Eye, heading towards Southbank and then, finally, further along the river, opposite the Houses of Parliament, over Lambeth Bridge towards Westminster gardens.

In the Public Eye. The queue as it forms a loop beneath the London Eye. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

There were lovely tributes to the Queen all along the way. The Tate gallery had a series of portraits in front of it. The BFI (british Film Institute) had a film about the Queen playing outside its entrance. There were displays of photographs and posters in many shops and restaurants.

COULD YOU LEAVE THE QUEUE BRIEFLY?

Yes, for brief periods.  There were portaloos provided all along the route. But some people preferred to avoid the ‘Glastonbury experience’ and went into one of the shops and Cafes along the way, bought a coffee and used their facilities. Your wristband had a number on it and if you moved out of the queue for a few minutes, you simply looked for the group and rejoined them. You broadly stayed within your group number rather than strictly according to your individual one because the queue was not a straight line.

WHAT WE TOOK

Comfortable walking shoes. Food and drink. I took a book with me but didn’t open it once because I was chatting to people in the queue, as we were walking and there was no time.

The People’s Queen. On and on people of all ages queued as seen here on Tooley Street.

THE CROWD

I spoke to a lot of people in the queue. They were all extremely friendly and just plain nice!

People shared food, sweets and bought coffees for strangers they had just met. It was wonderful – even the woman who tried to share her homemade marmite (!) sandwiches and the young woman  desperately trying to offload a big bucket of flapjacks!

Route of Revelations. There were plenty of Union Jack umbrellas and Paddington Bears to be found along the seven-kilometre route. (Vuk Valcic / Alamy Stock Photo)

Don’t let social media tell you otherwise – the crowd was diverse in every respect. Lots of young people. (I’ve been pleasantly surprised at all the events I’ve covered, so far, by how many young people came out for the Queen. Outside Buckingham Palace on the Thursday after the death of the Queen was announced, the majority of the thousands who were there, in the pouring rain, were in their late teens and early 20’s. On Saturday there were whole families, including thousands of children).

In my queue there were people of every age group, different ethnicities, nationalities and sexualities. Women in hijabs, men with dreadlocks, people from Scotland, Yorkshire, Suffolk, everywhere, tourists from the USA, Japan, China , gay couples holding hands, suited professionals carrying briefcases, older people using walking sticks. Obviously the majority were white because that’s the demographics of the country.

 I will also say this, in response to the ugly posts of Americans like Uni Anya who wrote a cruel tweet about the Queen and the ‘journalism’ of once respected The New York Times on the subject – I can’t think of any another head of state who would draw crowds of this number and this diversity. Only The Queen could draw such crowds for her Platinum Jubilee just three months before; and now she was drawing them 24/7 for her last ‘public engagement’ on earth.

THE BANTER

People were chatting to each other throughout the entire walk. Obviously people talked about the Queen. They spoke of her younger years, of the programmes they had watched about her life, the commemorative supplements they had bought in the recent days as a collection of ‘history’.

Bird’s Eye View. A 30-hour wait allows plenty of time for feeding seagulls. (David Ramos/Getty Images)

For many, it seemed that the television coverage, the documentaries and tributes were proving to be a living history lesson. Teachers told me that children who usually have little interest in learning were genuinely interested in the media output about the Queen and royalty. “Queen Elizabeth” was a big trend on social media platforms like Tik Tok! (Rejoice! This year kids on TikTok have discovered Kate Bush, Elvis and the Queen)!

The Friday after the Queen died, I tried to buy one of the newspaper special editions printed to mark the death of the longest serving monarch in British history. Every single newspaper had sold out everywhere. I haven’t seen that happen in decades. In fact, I personally can’t remember it ever happening. Maybe it did forPrincess Diana too. That should give the British press pause for thought as to what their readers appreciate, which is namely Royals who have a sense of duty and who display class and regal behaviour.

Apart from the Queen, the people I spoke to, in the queue, admired the new Prince and Princess of Wales (William and Catherine), Princess Anne and Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex. They want to see more of them in the media. Nobody wanted to see more of actress Meghan Markle – or at all. The dislike for her amongst everyone I spoke to in the queue was intense. Her malodorous jabs at the Royal family and everything the Queen stood for have not gone unnoticed. People of different backgrounds said they simply “do not want to see her face pushed upfront by the media” when those who truly knew and loved the Queen and were genuinely grieving her loss, such as her granddaughters Beatrice and Zara, were barely visible.

By contrast, there was a lot of love for little Prince Louis. His antics at the recent Platinum Jubilee had charmed many and they wanted to see more of him in the future.

Overall, people welcome a slimmed down monarchy.

There was also a lot of love all along the queue for Major Jonny Thompson! For the uninitiated, the dashing Equerry for King Charles, previously worked for the Queen and quite the fan club on the internet. But that, er, admiration is expanding!

Generally there was much light, enjoyable conversation about all sorts of topics. It was like joining a huge picnic where you fear you won’t find anyone to talk to but end up making friends you arrange to meet for drinks in the future. It’s not quite “We’ll always have Paris” but it is close. Paris is eternal. The queue was a once in a lifetime experience, albeit a lengthy one. When we got near Lambeth Bridge we saw what looked like Christmas trees. “We’ve been here longer than I thought” quipped one woman.

MEDIA

There were television crew all along the way at various points. So, if you fancied your moment to wave to your mum, you could dive in and accept their invitation to talk about your queue experience.

LEAVE IT AT HOME!

You couldn’t take liquids or food into Westminster Hall. Ladies had to leave their make-up lotions and potions at home, especially the expensive ones. One journalist had £80 worth of make-up taken off her!

Solid lipsticks were okay but not lipgloss. Creams, foundation, –  all were confiscated. 

SECURITY

The security check was just before you entered the hall. It was like airport security – but tighter. It was very quick and efficient however, unlike at many airports.

THE HARDEST PART

The first few hours passed easily and quickly. My queue got stuck for a while outside County Hall but that was bearable. The hardest part was definitely the zig zag section (snake lines) inside Westminster Gardens. You could see the hall, it looked tantalisingly close –  but the queue is so huge that even though it was still constantly moving, it felt like you would never get there.

By this snake line point, even my lively queue looked tired. Feet and backs were finally complaining. One young boy just lay down on his skateboard and had to be pushed along by his mother. A toddler woke up from his sleep and looked bewildered. A few rows back a man seemed to lose it – and a couple of police officers had to quietly ‘assist’ him.

THE END

Going through security was quick and painless. We were asked to switch off our phones. Suddenly everyone forgot their tiredness. We all stood straighter and dumped our half eaten sandwiches and flapjacks.

A Nation Mourns. Emotions ran high as many tears were shed. (BEN STANSALL/Getty Images)

THE HALL

We all divided into four lanes, two on each side. The girl in front of me started sobbing before we even mounted the set of steps leading to the hall. She was clearly overcome with emotion. I lightly touched her arm as a gesture of comfort. She gave me a small, sad smile.

INTO THE HALL

Total silence. To say the sight before us was majestic is both obvious and true. The man to my side began to cry silently. My throat constricted but I didn’t cry.

I looked at the crown on top of the coffin. I looked at the guards. I looked at the coffin. And I thought of the young Queen taking on a role she was not born for at the age of 25. The image of her at her Coronation came into my head. Many other, more personal thoughts too, came to mind.

It seemed like we were all floating through a dream sequence as we walked closer to the coffin.

I bowed my head. In the queue we had joked about whether we would bow or curtsey. Our attempts to curtsey were not elegant. So a bow.

At the doors I looked back, trying to take it all in. The royal purple, the red and black of the guards uniforms, the vastness of the hall, the magnificent ceiling and most of all that coffin.

Farewell to The Queen. Members of the public file past the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II lying in state on the catafalque in Westminster Hall. (Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA)

Then we were out. Everyone silent and reflective. The girl who been crying saw me and gently squeezed my arm this time.

Hours earlier, halfway on our queue journey, a passerby had stopped to chat. He said, he had waited 10.5 hours the day before. “Don’t give up,” he said. “I promise you it will be worth it.”

It was.



About the writer:

Rehna is a practicing Barrister in London, specialising in Family Law cases. She is also a freelance writer and commentator who contributes to the national press in the UK, print and magazines and radio.





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 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).