THE WRITE STUFF

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

By David E. Kaplan 

            

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

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

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

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

 “Nobel Prizes have been given for less.”

His response:

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

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

His face broadening into a wide smile, he concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I see this book as my finest achievement.”

How is it different from your other novels?

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

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

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

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

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

What do you mean by failure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

 

ISRAEL’S FUTURE UNCERTAIN 

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

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

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

This is his story.

(Editor David E. Kaplan)

RECOLLECTIONS OF A 1967 VOLUNTEER

By Allan Wolman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



About the writer:

Birds of a feather4

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





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

A MAZEL TOV FIT FOR A QUEEN

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

By Rolene Marks

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

Princess Elizabeth, South Africa, 1947

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

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

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

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

The Queen at her coronation.

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

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

The former President described their meeting as:

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

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

Arise, Sir Peres. The Queen knights Shimon Peres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prince William plays volleyball in Tel Aviv

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

Prince William at the Kotel (Western Wall)

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

The Duchess of Cambridge photographs Holocaust survivors.

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

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

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

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

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

The Duchess of Cambridge marks Holocaust Memorial Day

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

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

 The Queen and her heirs at the Platinum Jubilee

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

MAZEL TOV !!!






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Farewell to Rodney Mazinter

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

By David E. Kaplan

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

Rodney Mazinter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rodney captures it all……

ICU – TRUE HEROES OF RAMBAM

By Rodney Mazinter

A capsule of pain and fear − or an airlock

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

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

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

Or worse, by bullet, knife or car,

Victims of those weaned on hatred,

Bullied by brutes bereft of − bankrupt of − compassion.

Across the way in a darkened room,

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

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

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

To her fine Semitic face.

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

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

Monitors, the Argus-eyed guardians for the physicians,

Blink codes and messages to those trained to read them.

Through all this, doctors and nursing staff

Meander among the beds performing minor miracles,

Like a team of lifeguards constantly on duty

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

They fight the battle and mostly win,

But there is no triumphant parade with flags waving,

And boastful thumbs stuck in lapels.

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

There are lines to set and veins to pierce,

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

On the road to recovery, if not survival.

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

….

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

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

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

A mensch is always there


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





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

He Died so that Others may Live

Remembering Christian Arab-Israeli officer Amir Khoury who bravely gave his life to save Jews

By Jonathan Feldstein

Normally, when one goes to express condolences to a family mourning a deceased relative, you know one of the family members, if not the deceased.  At a certain age, one goes to console a friend whose parent died, but with whom you didn’t have a personal relationship, if at all.  It’s rare to show up at the home of someone you don’t know, grieving over the loss of a loved one who you also didn’t know either.  But that’s what I just did.  Here’s why.  

During my last week of nearly a month’s trip throughout the US, there were four terror attacks in Israel. Eleven people were killed, and dozens injured. There have been many more attacks in which, thank God, there were no injuries, and as many as fifteen others reportedly prevented due to good intelligence followed by swift military operations.

With too many Israeli families in mourning and many more suffering injuries and trauma, I took a full day to visit one of them.

Face of a Hero. Police officer Amir Khoury from Nof Hagalil put himself in the firing line without hesitation in Bnei Brak on March 29, 2022 (Courtesy of the family)

As of this writing, the deadliest recent terror attack took place in Bnei Brak, a city in central Israel with a large ultra-Orthodox population.  Five people were killed including two Jewish Israelis, two Ukrainians, and a Christian Arab Israeli police officer, Amir Khoury. Some may be confused by the idea of a Christian Arab Israeli being a victim, much less a hero as one of the security forces that stopped the terrorist. Amir is credited with racing to the scene of the terror attack, opening fire and neutralizing the terrorist. But he was also mortally wounded in the process.  His partner, who finally killed the gunman, would later eulogize his fallen comrade with these shining words:

My children will grow up and remember your name because you were my flak jacket, dear brother.”

This week, I visited Amir’s family. Hailed as a national hero, this Christian Arab family were receiving visitors from all over the country in tents outside their home adorned with Israeli flags.  Had Amir not acted as decisively as he did, the carnage would have been much worse. 

In Jewish tradition, mourners remain seated on low chairs and visitors approach them.  As soon as I walked into the larger of the two tents, Amir’s father rose and embraced me, speaking to me with warmth, wanting to know who I was, were I came from, and why. As we spoke, we stood together, hands clasped.  He pegged my American accented Hebrew and asked where I was born, when I immigrated to Israel, and about my family. If one didn’t know that he was mourning the murder of his son, one would never imagine that he was not just being a gracious host. As I sat down, I was served strong black coffee.

I spent considerable time speaking with Amir’s father, mother, brother, sister, and brother-in-law.  As we sat together, I couldn’t help but recall the verse from Psalm 133:

 “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.”

The original Hebrew says “shevet achim gam yachad” which can be interpreted as dwelling, but also sitting.  There we sat together, mourning a victim of a hate-inspired terrorist who wanted anything but for us – Jew and Arab –  to dwell together in unity.

The terrorist failed.

Visitors came from across the country to pay tribute to this hero – Amir Khouri. There was one person who drove six hours from Eilat, visited for thirty minutes, and then drove back. There were Jews of every background, Arabs, government cabinet members, present and former ambassadors and rabbis. People emerged from the family’s distant past like a former neighbor in Tel Aviv from decades earlier when he was first married.

While I didn’t come from the furthest distance, the family was impressed that I came from Gush Etzion in the Judean mountains south of Jerusalem, because there is a stereotype about “settlers” and Arabs. That’s part of the political baggage with which we live and, like many stereotypes, is built on myths.  We didn’t talk politics at all. It was a wide-ranging visit about Amir, about them, and about our shared society.

They were moved that Bnei Brak, a mostly ultra-Orthodox Jewish city, will be naming a street after their Amir, a Christian Arab. I sensed that all the family wanted was for Amir to be remembered.

He undoubtedly will be and by you reading this, you’re contributing to Amir’s remembrance and ensuring his legacy.

Final Journey. Casket draped with the flag of Israel, Amir Khoury is carried to his burial site by his fellow police officers. (Getty Images)

I didn’t just go visit myself, but brought with me dozens of condolences and prayers from others.  The night before, I posted through my social media and chat groups that I was going to visit the Khoury family. I invited others to send notes. In just a few hours, dozens of people sent their condolences and prayers, along with donations, so we can do something meaningful in Amir’s memory. That so many people sent their condolences in writing was a comfort.  More continue to do so.

A person I spoke to wept while recounting how the family found out about Amir’s death.  They were watching the news with live reports of the terror attack.  They had a bad feeling because calls and text messages to Amir went unanswered.  Each shared how they dealt with this, but that they had each lost it when seeing the police outside their front door a little after 10:00pm, two hours after initial reports of the attack. At that moment, all their fears were realized. As they were recounting, I held back the tears seeing the dark circles under their eyes testifying to their endless tears and lack or sleep. 

Condolence Call. Khoury’s father Jereis (center) and Amir Khouri’s fiancée Shani with Police officers paying a condolence call on March 30, 2022. (Channel 12 screenshot)

While hailed a national hero, the sad tragedy is that by the enemies of peace he is not considered a hero to all! There are those extremists who look at him as a traitor. It’s hardly a public secret that Christian Arabs live under threat from Muslim extremism and another visitor confided in me that Amir’s death was being celebrated amongst some within the Palestinian Authority and among extremists in Israel. There was fear to talk too much about this because with Amir’s heroism being cast into the spotlight, there was a concern that others in the Khouri family might find themselves possible targets.

Sitting with this family of devout Christians, I couldn’t help but think that Amir, like Queen Esther, was put in a situation “for such a time as this.”(Esther 4.14)

I couldn’t bring myself to pose this thought to Amir’s family. Both saved lives and I wondered if like Esther (Esther 4:16), Amir raced to the scene of the terror attack thinking:

If I perish, I perish

One thing for sure is that Amir was an angel for a whole community.  Had it not been for Amir, it’s unthinkable how many more people would have been killed. 

In meeting and speaking with people, I avoided saying “nice to meet you” but rather “it’s an honour to meet you”. I’d have preferred that I never had the occasion to know them, or know of them for it was brought about by personal loss. However, the reality is that tragedy brough us together and in parting, an Amir  family member poignantly expressed:

We not just friends; somehow God ordained it.”

Mourning a Hero. Thousands including ultra-Orthodox residents of Bnei Brak were among the mourners at the funeral of 32-year-old Christian Arab Amir Khoury from Nof Hagalil. “He gave his life for others,” said Yaakov, an ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak resident interviewed on Channel 13. One of the buses transporting ultra-Orthodox Israelis from Bnei Brak to the funeral. displayed the message: “Amir Khoury, hero of Israel.”

While the formal mourning period has ended, the grief and loss have not and anyone who wishes to send a note to Amir’s family can do so at https://genesis123.co/blessasoldier and send condolences, prayers, and words of comfort which will be delivered to them directly.  A donation of any size will go toward a project in Amir’s memory.  For further information, please be in touch at Gen123Fdn@gmail.com.

Please join us to be a blessing to Amir’s family, honor his memory, and pray that he will be the last victim of hate-inspired terror.


EPILOGUE

I would later learn that on the previous Sunday, Amir Khoury had sat at home with his fiancée Shani Yashar watching the news of a terror attack in Hadera, in which two police officers were killed.

He had said to her “If I see a terrorist in front of my eyes, I’m going to crush him. I’m not going to let anyone get hurt; that’s why I’m a cop.”

Shani recalled pleading with her beloved to “not be a hero”.

He could be nothing else – he lived and died a hero.

  • At the time of publishing this, another attack took place in Tel Aviv and three Israelis were killed.



“Hero of Israel”. Amir Khoury’s grieving comrades at the funeral.  
 



About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.





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).

Final Landing of one of those “Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines”

Farewell to a hero who participated in the greatest adventure for a Jew in 2000 years

By David E. Kaplan

Less than two years ago on the occasion of his 100th birthday, Lay of the Land interviewed Harold ‘Smoky’ Simon, who passed away this week a few months shy of his 102 birthday.

Thumbs Up. At 100, Smoky Simon in 2020 again takes to the skies over Israel in a Tiger Moth he once helped repel the enemy in the War of Independence.

And what did this former South African and Chairman of World Machal (Mahal is the Hebrew acronym for Mitnadvei Hutz La’aretz – volunteers from abroad who came to fight in Israel’s War of Independence) do on that occasion?

Most blokes of a seriously senior age might settle for a thin slice of birthday cake or a “medicinal” scotch; but not Smoky. Donning a helmet and goggles and grinning from ear to ear like a mischievous teenager, the centenarian climbed  into a single propeller Tiger Moth and flew over the very area where in 1948 he and his comrades helped repel the advancing Egyptian attack.

Dubbed the “Flight of the Century”, the video made of the 2020 historical flight went viral on YouTube.

Exhilarating,” was the way he  described to this writer in one word of that flight.

It had truly been a “family Affair” for in separate planes alongside their dad’s aircraft were his two proud sons, Saul and Dan, who after their schooling, followed in their father’s ‘flightpath’ by becoming top pilots and flight instructors in the Israel Air Force (IAF). What a joy for the birthday boy when he alighted  from the plane an hour later to be met by his adoring grandchildren screaming proudly, “Saba,Saba” (“grandfather, grandfather”).

If the experience at 100 felt personally liberating”, the nuance was not lost on Smoky who told this writer:

 “You know, the area I just flew over  – the central Negev – was the very first area to be LIBERATED in the War of Independence.”

While the War of Independence was Israel’s longest war lasting eight months from May 1948 to January 1949, “it was also its costliest with 6,373 military and civilian lives lost out of a population of 650,000,” said Smoky. “What’s more, it was also Israel’s most fateful war for if this war had been lost, the prayers, hopes and dreams of 2000 years would have vanished into thin AIR.”

To ensure that did not happen, it took the likes of this plucky South African aviator, who in 1948,  – took to the AIR to fight for Jewish survival and independence.

Fine Tuning. Final preparations before taking off on his 100th birthday.

LOVE IS IN THE AIR

There are not too many couples who can say  they selected a war to come on honeymoon, but that is what Smoky, and his young bride Myra did in 1948. “When the South African Zionist Federation began recruiting ex-WWII servicemen and it became clear there was going to be an imminent war, we brought our wedding date earlier.

“Howcome?” I asked. 

“Well, when  I said to Myra,  ‘We have got to postpone our wedding,  because I’m going to Palestine,’ she replied, “Not postpone, advance because IF YOU’RE GOING, I’M GOING!” 

Dynamic Duo. Saluting one of the last living heroes of Israel’s fight for independence in 2019, Harold “Smoky” Simon displays his Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Sylvan Adams Bonei Zion Lifetime Achievement Award, together with wife Myra, who had been a meteorologist in the SAAF and  joined the South African Zionist Federation group to volunteer to fight alongside her husband for the emerging Jewish state. (Source: Nefesh B’Nefesh via Facebook Sept. 24, 2019.)

This is how Smoky and Myra were part of the first group of volunteers from South Africa. “We arrived on the 9 May 1948 and the next day we signed on to serve in the new-born Israeli air force, although on that day we did not know yet it was Israel – we spoke of Palestine.” While Myra had served in the SAAF during WWII as a meteorologist  and became the first instructor in meteorology in the IAF, Smoky, who had flown for the Royal Air Force (RAF) over the deserts of western Egypt, Libya and Tunisia and later over Sicily and the rest of Italy, was about to again ‘take off’ into history. “Fighting the Nazis gave us the skills and the experience we needed to fight for Israel,” he said.

And fight they did!

Hearing from a Hero. South African-born accountant Smoky Simon, who became chief of air operations of the nascent Israeli Air Force in May 1948, speaks at Tel Aviv’s Beit Hatfutsot Museum. (PHOTO JUDY LASH BALINT)
 

On the 14 May 1948,  while David Ben-Gurion was declaring the State of Israel in Tel Aviv, Smoky was one of three people who had a clear disturbing view of what was about to befall the new state. The other two were fellow South African, Boris Senior and an Israeli photographer, Shmulik Videlis who were flying in a Bonaza in what was the first reconnaissance flight over enemy territory. Boris was the pilot, Smoky, the navigator.

They observed with sinking hearts; the roads leading from Transjordan and Syria lined with hundreds of vehicles, tanks trucks, half-tracks, and armoured cars, “all moving in for the kill.”

They could see Kfar Etzion “had already been overrun and was on fire,” and would soon learn that some 200 members of Kfar Etzion had been killed in its defense, including South Africans.

Returning to Tel Aviv for their debriefing, they could hardly conceal their anxiety.

We know,” said Yigal Yadin, Head of Operations.

What Smoky did not know but discovered on landing was that while he had been in the air, Ben Gurion had declared independence and the new state had a name – “ISRAEL

I always say,” said Smoky, “that when I left on that reconnaissance mission,  I took off from Tel Aviv Palestine but when I  landed at the same location it was  Tel Aviv Israel! Our world had  changed forever.”

AGAINST ALL ODDS

The anxiety felt by all was understandable. “All we had were a few Tiger Moths, Cessnas and Austers. This made up our ‘Bomber Command’. Egypt had 62 frontline aircraft, including British Spitfires and Italian Macchis and here we were completely exposed without a single combat aircraft or anti-aircraft gun. I keep reminding myself – and I thought of this when flying again for my 100 birthday in the Tiger Moth –  that we are really living in a miracle.”

Planning & Plotting. With Israel’s future ‘up in the air’, standing around the table are (l-r) Aharon Remez (Chief of Israel Air force), Smoky Simon (Mahal – Chief of Operations), Shlomo Lahat (Squadran Commander and latyer Mayor of TYel Aviv) and Chris (Map section of Air Force).
 

The leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine at the time were aware that a declaration of statehood would be met by an immediate invasion by Arab armies.

And the warning was clear in the words of US Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal:

 “There are thirty million Arabs on one side and about six hundred thousand Jews on the other. It is clear that in any contest, the Arabs are going to overwhelm the Jews. Why don’t you face up to the realities? Just look at the numbers!”

Jew could expect no quarter. These words by the first Secretary-General of the Arab League, Abd Al-Rahman Azzam Pasha were chilling:

 “It will be a war of annihilation. It will be a momentous massacre in history that will be talked about like the massacres of the Mongols or the Crusades.”

What was going through Ben Gurion’s mind to proceed with a declaration of independence?  “You know,” says Smoky, “I have asked myself a 1000 times, what sort of inspiration  and courage and determination  he had. Only answer I can find, is  Ein Br’eira – “No Choice

Israel’s position was bleak. It was a David and Goliath scenario of bringing the proverbial staff and sling to a battlefield against five well-equipped armies.

In our few Austers and the few Cessnas brought over from South Africa, we flew off into battle with a pilot, navigator and what we called “bomb-chuckers”. These fellow held the bombs on their laps  – 20 and 50 kilograms –  and at a height of 1500 to 2000 feet,  they would chuck ‘em out and drop them on the  enemy. We would then fly back to base  counting our lucky stars, ‘reload’, and then off again on our next trip.”

Incredulous, I ask:

Wasn’t this very dangerous?”

Well, before opening the aircraft’s door and pitching-out the bombs, we would tie the bomb-chuckers to each other with rope, so that they would not fall out of the plane along with the bombs. Sometimes, for good measure, we also threw out crates of empty bottles which made a terrifying noise scarring the hell out of the population below. If we did not have the goods, we had to pretend!

This is how the IAF in this modest way, developed into this amazing world class air force of today.”

AN OFFICER AND A MENSCH

MODEST” it was, as Smoky attested in this delightful anecdote. On being made Israel’s first Chief of Air Operations in 1948 with the rank of Major or the equivalent of “Squadron Leader”, he needed to display his new rank. However “we didn’t have any.”

Man on a Mission. Air navigator, Smoky Simon, Machal – Chief of Operations in 1948.

So what did you do? “Not me, Myra. She went to a haberdashery shop in Allenby Street and purchased a few pieces of ribbon and sowed it on to my uniform to display my rank.”

To lighten the tension, the night before Smoky’s aerial attack on Damascus on the 10th of June 1948 – the first attack on an enemy Arab city – Smoky said to Myra:

 “Now at least if I get shot down, they will know I am an ‘Officer and a gentleman’!”

Smoky’s plane did six runs over Damascus that night creating the impression “that we were part of a large formation.”

As it was mostly subterfuge causing negligible  damage besides  “a few fires”, the next day, “all the foreigners fled Damascus as they feared our ‘air force’ was about to hammer them.”

MODERN DAY MIRACLE

While Egypt and Jordan were equipped by the British, Syria and Iraq in the early days of the war, Smoky reminded that “Israel had only one friend in the world and that was Czechoslovakia. You know, we owe such a debt to that country. It was Israel’s lifeline and I still keep in touch with guys in Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic) to this day.”

Amplifying on the contribution, Smoky continued:

Firstly, they provided 25 German Messerschmitts,  and what was so remarkable was  – I call it a miracle within the bigger miracle – was that the first four Messerschmitt’s,  which  were brought in parts to Israel and reassembled under the strictest security,  were ready on the 29th of May –  two weeks after the declaration of the State – for an operation that literally saved the war and the State of Israel.

Taking a deep breath, Smoky continued:

“The Egyptians had overrun the kibbutzim in the south and reached Ashdod,  and the next day they would have been in Tel Aviv, where Ben Gurion and the provisional government was located, and the War of Independence would have been lost.”

So who flew these planes to counter the Egyptians?

Two Mahalniks (volunteers from abroad), Lou Lenart an American who led the attack and Eddy Cohen a South African, who was sadly killed in the operation, and two Israelis, Ezer Weitzman, later President of Israel and  Modi Alon.  And I call that day, Israel’s day of survival. It was one of the IAF’s greatest moments.”

War & Remembrance. Mahal heroes (l-r) Migdal Teperson, Smoky Simon, Joe Woolf and Ruth Stern at a Guard of Honour of Mahal volunteers at the Mahal Memorial on Yom Hazikaron 2011

The attack came as a shock to the Egyptian commanders who had believed Israel to be without combat aircraft and suddenly this air attack by the four Messerschmitts halted their advance. Says Smoky, “The Egyptians fell on the defensive and would not be in Tel Aviv in 48 hours as their government-controlled media had boasted. Tel Aviv receded from their grasp! I always think of Churchill’s words of the Battle of Britain, “Never has so much been owed by so many to so few”.”

Amongst that “few” was Smoky, who served until his passing as Chairman of World Machal (Organisation representing the volunteers from overseas in the Israel Defense Forces). In the words of Israel’s founding father and  first prime minister, David Ben Gurion:

The Machal forces were the Diaspora’s most important contribution to the survival of the State of Israel.”

Saviors of the State. Two of the founders of the Israel Air Force, Smoky Simon, Chief of Air Operations (left), Sid Cohen (right) who commanded 101 Squadron and Maurice Ostroff (centre), commander of radar station Gefen seen here in 2005 at a TELFED (SAZF in Israel) event honouring all the MACHAL volunteers, some who attended from overseas.  Click here to listen to a March 2015 Voice of Israel interview with Smoky Simon telling the authentic story about the creation of the State of Israel.

Seventy-two years on from those fateful days, Smoky – at the wonderful age of 100 – was back in the cockpit, revisiting in a similar plane over a familiar terrain and reflecting “what was achieved.”

In his professional life after the war, Smoky would make a huge impact on the insurance industry in Israel eventually selling his agency to one of Israel’s largest insurance companies. However, it was because of people like of Smoky that offered the best INSURANCE for Israel’s survival.  Ensuring that story of survival remains alive for future generations, Smoky dedicated his life to engaging with youngsters in Israel and abroad, including recruits in the IDF, educating them on the vital role of the ‘Machalniks’ in securing a future Jewish state.

Smoky was a man of initiative and action, and what better way to paraphrase that there was:

‘NO SMOKY WITHOUT FIRE’





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Farewell Arnie

A tribute to a kibbutz icon

By David E. Kaplan

For me as I’m sure for sure for many generations over many years, Arnie Friedman – who passed away  earlier this month on kibbutz Yizre’el in the Jezreel Valley near Afula in north-eastern Israel – was the wide,  warm, welcoming outstretched arms of his beloved community.

You did not need a sign at the entrance that read in Hebrew “Welcome to Yizre’el”, you just needed Arnie standing there to meet you.

I recall as a journalist, my last published article on Arnie. It was two years before corona and his line:

It’s never too late”.

What did he mean by that?

The story that unfolded revealed so much of the character and humour of Arnie, of selfless service to others, his commitment with the capital ‘C” to the Jewish youth movement in South Africa ‘Habonim’, and of finally fulfilling dreams, no matter how long it takes!

“THE GRADUATE”

Special People. Arnie and Peggie Friedman in their garden on kibbutz Yizre’el. (Photo David Kaplan)

In 2018, I wrote that 83-year-old Arnie Friedman would be walking down the aisle. Not the one that comes first to mind – being happily married to Peggie – but another aisle that he missed walking down over sixty years earlier in Cape Town, South Africa. Due to circumstances having denied him the opportunity of enrolling at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 1950, in 2018 Arnie walked down the aisle at the Max Stern Academic College of Emek Yezreel in Israel to receive his Bachelor of Arts degree.

And Peggie, who stood with Arnie under a Chuppah in 1957, stood beside him again as he was conferred his degree – the fulfilment of a lifelong dream.

It had been a  long time coming.

In his final years at SACS in Cape Town in the late 1940s, “I, like my mates, already started taking preliminary subjects at UCT in preparation. You could do that in those days.”

However, for Arnie, it would lead nowhere!

The family were in dire financial straits and could not afford university tuition fees. Following his father’s return in 1944 from the war in North Africa, he opened a business with an uncle “that struggled,” said Arnie. “Having battled the Nazis, I did not have the heart to pressure my Dad who was now battling financially.”

Studying at university was thus put on hold.

It remained on my to-do list; just a question of – when.”

Arnie took a job with Woolworths, where much of his salary went to help support his family, but when after a few years, it became feasible to enroll at UCT, “Habonim in Cape Town asked me to be Mazkir Klali (Secretary General), which I accepted.”  And then, at the end of 1955, when Arnie again thought that “the time is right” to study, it was not his family that now needed his support, but the State of Israel.

From Cape Town to Cairo! Preparing for the Suez Campaign, Arnie Frieman (standing right) training with his Nahal comrades in 1956.
 

Habonim in South Africa had received a letter from Shimon Peres (later president of Israel) who in the mid-1950s was Director-General of the Ministry of Defense and involved in the planning of the 1956 Suez War, in partnership with France and Britain. “In his letter, which he addressed to Jewish youth movements all over the world,” said Arnie,“he revealed that there was a strong likelihood for war sometime in 1956, and that the State of Israel would welcome young men volunteering to fight.”

Licking their Wounds. An amused Arnie Friedman (right) having his leg attended to by Harld Kaufman during the 1956 “Suez Campain following the Battle of the Babes in Tel Aviv.

UCT would again have to wait!

A whole gang of us from the Movement – some students, some not – volunteered, and on the third day of arriving in Israel we were drilling in uniform.”

However, “our katzin (“officer”) was less than impressed. He took one look at our overweight and scruffy crowd standing before him and bellowed in broken English, “Why did they not send us money instead to buy arms instead of you useless lot. What are we expected to do with you?” We were really shaken.”

That night, Arnie and his mates met in their barrack, “and we decided to show him. We pulled ourselves together, lost weight, trained seriously” and proudly emerged a formidable fighting unit.

“We were ready for battle,” but their first skirmish however was not against the Egyptians in the ‘Suez Campaign’ but what became known as ‘The ZOA Campaign’.

THE BATTLE OF THE BABES

On the eve of their paratrooper course, the South African Zionist Federation in Israel (Telfed) together with Nahalsplashed out on a party at the Tel Aviv headquarters of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) for us.”

After all, this was the first group of Southern African Nahal volunteers.

We arrived washed, combed, boots shinning and clean uniforms,” says Arnie. “To our delight, also invited to the party was a group of girls from some college as our dancing partners. The atmosphere was most convivial – good food, a band, dancing partners, plenty of beer, as well as a bit of the more potent stuff !!!”

Suddenly the party was ‘INVADED’ by a group of tough-looking paratroopers. “Not only did these gatecrashers polish off all our refreshments but without a “by your leave”, butted in and took over as the dancing partners with our girls.”

This was a declaration of war!

Tempers were kept in check until the final notes of Hatikvawhen the first fists started to fly and within seconds, the scene was something out of Western saloon brawl. The Nahal commander and Telfed staff member, Simie Weinstein tried to calm everyone down, but to no avail. He was pushed backwards into a large glass door which shattered into piece. Tables and chairs went flying.

Our officers called for a ‘retreat’ and we were herded into waiting buses.” On the way back to base, first aid was administered to cut cheeks, bleeding noses and hurt pride.

No doubt about it,” says Arnie, “the paratroopers were a far more experienced fighting unit. Nevertheless, our SA Nahal boys acquitted themselves very well.  We carried our bruises with pride. This was our first military battle in Israel.”

However, Arnie had further internal ‘battles’ – either to return to South Africa and university or stay in Israel with his garin (group) that had just been joined by a Habonim garin from Australia on Kibbutz Ginegar near Afula.

Arnie did return to South Africa, not to UCT however, but to marry his beloved Peggie with whom he returned, and together settled with his garin on the young kibbutz of Yizre’el.

Times were tough, and Arnie recalls “we were given a hut without a toilet or shower” and only with their first-born, “were we provided a hut with a bathroom.  But those were the days, and everyone in the country, one way or another, was roughing it. We were young; we did not come to a built-up country but to build the country. We were idealists.”

Studying at a university seemed ever-further away as the days, months and years would turn into decades and Arnie would establish his reputation as kibbutz head of volunteers and young groups studying at Yizre’el’s  ulpan programmes.

Imbued with the ideology of Habonim – “The Builders” – Arnie was living the ‘collective’ dream, but he never ever gave up on his personal dream of studying for a degree.

DREAM FULFILLED

And then, one day some seven years ago, “Now a pensioner”, Arnie saw a poster on a notice board addressed to the “over fifties” who were looking to study for a BA at the local college.

Finally, my time arrived, and with permission granted by the kibbutz, I signed up. Although it was for the over fifties, for most of the four years that I took, I was the oldest student.”

Arnie’s only sorrow was that his sister in Australia, who so supported him studying for this BA and assured that she would attend his graduation, passed away a month earlier at the age of 93. “At least she knew that I had finally fulfilled my dream.”

Noting in 2018 that it was the 120th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Arnie recalled Herzl’s most famous line:

If you will it, it is no dream.”

That summed up the Life of Arnie!

It also reflected the idealism of Arnie and his comrades on Yizre’el when their idealist was really put to their test. I remember Arnie telling  me the story.

The Usual Suspects. Following the Gilboa Walk and lunch as kibbutz Yizre’el in 2007, participants (l-r) Henrietta and David David, Hilary Kaplan, Daniel Klug, Michelle Wolff, Rossie Klug and the writer enjoy the home hospitality of Arnie and Peggie Friedman (right) in their garden. This was a tradition for many years, inspired and organised by Arnie.

SWIMMING AGAINST THE CURRENT

In  2012, after a stormy meeting, Kibbutz Yisrael members turned down a massive offer at the time for a majority stake in the kibbutz’s swimming pool robot cleaning company, Maytronics. It was modeled after the South African Kreepy Krauly, but taken to a whole new level of sophisticated robotics.

It would have made each member of the kibbutz exceeding rich.  But as Arnie explained, what does the word “rich” mean?

Apparently at the meeting that was leaning towards accepting the offer and would have changed the nature and social fabric of the kibbutz,  a South African member got up and asked the question: “If we accept the offer, could the buyer then relocate the business elsewhere, off the kibbutz?”

When the answer came in the affirmative, a debate ensured, which the South African members proved persuasive. As Arnie explained: “Yes, we will be rich, but we will be poor in sacrificing the lifestyle and values we cherish.”

Arnie told me that a member of the kibbutz came up to him afterwards and said:

 “We are indebted to you South Africans. You reminded us  of why we chose to live on a kibbutz and the importance of holding onto its values.”

On a personal level, I remember the close relationship we enjoyed –  in contact daily –  when I chaired the organizing committee of the Habonim 75th anniversary in 2005 on kibbutz Yizre’el, where some 1,700 ‘chevra’ from all over the world descended on this socialist emerald patch in in Jezreel Valley. During the daily grind of organizing, Arnie was that anchor that kept everything on an even keel. He moved mountains with such ease and always with a smile.

The Dream Team. Planning and plotting are Arnie Friedman (sitting centre) at a meeting of the organizing committee of the Habonim 75th Anniversary. Top (l-r) Bennie Segal, David Kaplan, Dave Bloom, Howard Gordon, Mikael Hanan’; (middle) Sean Wasserman; (bottom l-r) Stephen Schulman, Eddie  Solow, Arnie Friedman and Bruce Oppenheimer. ((Photo collection David Kaplan)

THE RIGHT TRACK

It was Arnie that thereafter introduced me to the famous annual Gilboa Walk, where people of all ages and from all over Israel and abroad participate as well as all the youth movements in Israel. It was moving to see all the kids from the youth movements walking in their uniforms and singing songs of idealism. It was poignantly described as a “remnant of Israeli togetherness”.

Each year, Arnie would call me to organize our friends from the south to join the Yizre’el members for the walk, followed by lunch on the kibbutz. It truly was an experience of warm “Israeli togetherness”.

The highlight was always afterwards, tea with Arnie and Peggy in their delightful garden.

Wonderful memories – farewell my friend.

Having a Field Day. Arnie Friedman and Rona Stander  visiting from Sydney, Australia at a rugby match on kibbutz Yizre’el. (Photo David Kaplan)





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).

Tefillin against Terror

Jews around the world honour the memory of Eli Kay by doing good deeds in his name

By Michael Kransdorff

Eli Kay was 25 years old. He was deeply committed to Israel and the Jewish people. He made Aliyah from South Africa to Israel as a Lone Soldier. Eli worked as a tour guide at the Western Wall, guiding people through the sacred tunnels.

A few weeks ago, he was gunned down by a Hamas-affiliated terrorist on his way to pray at the Kotel (Western/Wailing Wall) with his Tefillin in his hand.

While this act of terrorism was an unimaginable tragedy for his family and friends, it was also an attack on Klal Yisrael (all of Israel). It was an attempt to deny the Jewish people’s right to pray at our holiest site.

Honouring Eli. A Young visitor to the Eli Kay family during the week of shiva hold up Eli’s Tefillin bag and lay his Tefillin that was recovered after the murderous attack in the Old City, Jerusalem

How would we respond?

Rabbi Ari Shishler, a Chabad Rabbi based in Johannesburg and a close friend of the Kay family, said in an online address after the attack:

 “We are all in shock over the heinous murder of our friend Eli Kay. This was not an attack on an individual. It was an attack on Jews, Judaism and the conscience of all civilised people“. 

We felt this required a response. With the help of Rabbi Ari Shishler, Rabbi Eitan Ash and Josh Maraney, we decided to launch the #TefillinAgainstTerror campaign. We began by calling on people to post selfies of themselves putting on Tefillin with the hashtag #TefillinAgainstTerror in Eli’s memory and as an act of defiance against terror and Antisemitism.

Honouring Eli. A Young visitor to the Eli Kay family during the week of shiva lay his Tefillin that was recovered after the murderous attack in the Old City, Jerusalem.

The response has been phenomenal.

The campaign has gone global. Thousands of people from all over the world including far flung places like Aruba and Mexico have responded on social media platforms, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. In Israel, people have embraced this call by coming to the Shiva house and asking to put on Tefillin. The family has been overwhelmed by the love and support.

Honouring Eli. A Young visitor to the Eli Kay family during the week of shiva hold up Eli’s Tefillin bag and lay his Tefillin that was recovered after the murderous attack in the Old City, Jerusalem

Women also wanted to do something special to honour Eli’s memory because laying Tefillin is a commandment fulfilled by men.

The campaign was broadened to include candle lighting for the Sabbath in Eli’s memory. The recent festival of Hanukkah provided an opportunity to once against reaffirm our right to freely practice our faith. Just as the Maccabees were able to keep the oil burning in the Temple against all odds, we will not let terrorism deter us now from bringing light into the world.

Honouring Eli. A Young visitor to the Eli Kay family during the week of shiva hold up Eli’s Teillin bag and lay his Tefillin that was recovered after the murderous attack in the Old City, Jerusalem

To date, many around Israel and the world have done acts of kindness to share light against terror. A popular journalist based in Jerusalem and her husband donated sufganiyot (donuts) to soldiers on duty. A group called “Friends of WIZO” who support a WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) shelter against domestic violence, dedicated a Hanukkah party in his honour.

The most high-profile act of memorial was by popular hard rock band, Disturbed’s front man, David Draiman. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post from his home in Hawaii, Draiman said he wanted to make a statement by coming to Israel after seeing the coverage of the attack.

The coverage was reprehensible in the vast majority of American and European media,” said Draiman. “It’s scandalous how they presented it. Headlines like ‘Palestinian shot dead.’ Well, why was the Palestinian shot dead? Because he was perpetrating a terrorist attack. I love how the context is always flipped around.”

Disturbing News. David Draiman  American singer and songwriter and lead vocalist of the heavy metal band Disturbed, was horrified by the international media coverage of the terrorist murder of Eli Kay, came to Jerusalem and lit a candle at the spot where Eli was brutally gunned down.

Draiman, who noted that he has some 200 relatives living in Israel, said that his candle-lighting ceremony is intended to say that:

 “we will not be intimidated, we’re not going anywhere. People need to learn to live with us [Jews].”

Remember Eli. Young pupils at King David School, Victory Park, Johannesburg lay Tefillin in memory of Eli Kay.

He made good on his word by coming to Jerusalem and lighting a candle at the spot where Eli was brutally gunned down.

The word Hanukkah means “dedication”. Eli was dedicated to his family and friends, Israel and the Jewish people. And many responded in kind by dedicated acts of kindness in his name.

Am Yisrael Chai!






About the writer:

Michael Kransdorff is a Harvard educated financial innovation consultant. In addition to crunching numbers, politics and Jewish history are his passions. He cut his teeth in Jewish activism as one of the SAUJS leaders at the infamous UN Durban Racism Conference and has remained involved in Jewish communal affairs. Michael is chairman of JNF SA, sits on the South African Zionist Federation EOB and also heads up a Litvak heritage research group for the Zarasai (North Eastern) region of Lithuania. 







While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Farewell Eli

His passing reveals the best of a South African family and the worst of its government

By Lay of the Land Co-founders David E. Kaplan, Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche.

The cruel murder on the 21 November 2021 in the Old City of Jerusalem of Eliyahu (“Eli”) Kay (25), a recent immigrant from South Africa has shocked the nation as it has the ex-pat community in Israel and the Jewish community in South Africa.

Who it has not shocked  – which is shocking – is the political leadership in South Africa!

Future cut Short. Raised in Johannesburg and moving to Israel on his own in 2017,  Eliyahu David Kay was shot while heading to prayer at the Western Wall and died of his wounds in  hospital.

The fact that it took the South African government nearly a week – and only after disappointment and disgust was expressed from the Jewish leadership in press releases as well as letters to the media from dismayed members of the Jewish community – did the government  finally –  and one senses reluctantly – send a letter of condolence addressed to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) and with a request to pass it on to the Kay family.

This belated response fooled few.

The wording “…we are deeply saddened…” rings rather hollow from a government that is more  receptive and responsive to the opinions and sentiments of Africa4Palestine than the SAJBD.

Formerly known as BDS South Africa, the organisation Africa4Palestine issued a statement following the brutal gunning down in cold blood of the 25-year-old former South African, describing Eli as a “South African mercenary” who was not murdered but “was  killed in gunfire with the indigenous population” and that he “loved Apartheid – a disgrace to our South Africa.”

Yes, there IS a “disgrace to our South Africa”, but that disgrace is the ANC government that lends a warm ear to the disseminators of such vile accusations and lies as Africa4Palestine.

Compare South Africa’s belated reaction to the murder of Eli Kay with its embarrassingly hysterical response to its beauty queen, Lalela Mswane, participating in the 2021 Miss Universe pageant next month in Eilat, Israel.

Only last week, Lay of the Land published an article on the ANC government’s vehement opposition of  South Africa participating in the beauty competition.

While this issue riled up the South African government influenced by the BDS movement, the brutal murder of a South African national on the other hand was met with initial official silence. The common denominator or explanation to both sets of calculated conduct by the ANC government was ISRAEL – the national homeland of the Jewish People.

Eli’s Final Journey.  The young man, Eliyahu David Kay on his way to his final resting place in Jerusalem, the city he loved, studied and worked as a tour guide at the Western Wall.

After 2000 years of exile and persecution, Jews have a name for this – ANTISEMITISM.

Compare the week’s reticence of the South African government with the choice words of the representative of the Israeli government at the funeral of Eli in Jerusalem. Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs, MK Nachman Shai – who in 2017 led a 5-member delegation of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) to South Africa “to promote dialogue, understanding and cooperation between Israel and South Africa” – spoke of strangers to the Kay family who at the funeral, felt like family:

So many people came today to say goodbye to you. Many  never had the opportunity to meet you, who only learned your name yesterday and decided they wanted to be with you to say goodbye.”

In sad contrast, the only “goodbye” the South African government would truly be happy to say would be as a final farewell to the State of Israel! After all, compare South Africa’s ANC government downgrading its diplomatic relations with Israel – with no ambassador since 2018 – while in 2015, it welcomed to South Africa a Hamas delegation, even hosting it in the South African Parliament in Cape Town. This is the same Hamas that is committed to the destruction of Israel and who only this week was declared a terrorist organization by the UK, joining the US, the EU and other powers.

Laying Eli to Rest. Israelis far and wide, join family and friends attending the funeral at Har HaMenuchot Cemetery in Jerusalem on November 22, 2021of 25-year-old Eliyahu David Kay from South Africa who was murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack the day before in Jerusalem’s Old City. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

This is also the same Hamas that praised and took credit for the murder of Eli Kay. Official Hamas media identified the assailant Fadi Abu Shkhaydam as a “leader of the Hamas movement  in East Jerusalem” saying “the operation” was designed to be a warning to Israel, which it said would “pay for the inequities” at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Writing in the South African national daily, Business Day, Kenneth Mokgatlhe, makes the observation before posing the astute question:

A hysterical SA government withdraws its support for a young woman to participate in the Miss Universe contest in Israel, but doesn’t say a word about a South African Jew killed by terrorists. Surely there is something wrong with this?”

Is this  the direction South Africa is morally heading – associating and identifying with the murderers of Jews?

Clearly concerned at the government’s silence of a  murder of a fellow South African by a Hamas gunman, the South African Zionist Federation released the following statement on the 22 November 2021:

It has been over 24 hours since Eliyahu David Kay, a Jewish South African national who emigrated to Israel, was murdered in an act of terrorism in Jerusalem by a Palestinian gunman affiliated with Hamas. The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) condemns the deafening silence from the South African Government and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) on this issue. There has been no message of condolence to the family of the deceased, nor any public condemnation of this attack. DIRCO has in the past issued statements against terrorist attacks in the City of Jerusalem, and it is appropriate for them to do so now in respect of a South African national. 

Hamas is an extremist organisation, as recently confirmed by the United Kingdom which designated Hamas as a terrorist organisation and has outlawed support for the group. This antisemitic and anti-Israel hate group gladly claimed responsibility for the killing of an innocent civilian and injuring others as the gunman opened fire in the Old City of Jerusalem.

We call on the South African Government to publicly condemn this heinous incident and to offer support and assistance to the family of the deceased.”

Finally, the ANC felt the heat and on the 25th November – after five emotionally-charged days following the horrendous murder – sent out its official letter of condolence. The circumstances surrounding South Africa’s response, reveals its antisemitic perspective, namely:

The killing of Jews when carried out by Palestinians is understandable.

Note the carefully selected wording in its belated letter of condolence.

The South African government condemns the actions which led to the death of Mr. Kay…”

What actions?

The implication in this cunningly crafted verbiage is that it could be the behaviour or “actions” of Israel’s Jews that is responsible for the death of Eli Kay. In other words, Israel is responsible for what happened to Eli Kay not the murderer, who will soon be honoured as a victim and martyr in Palestine and within some sectors in South Africa.

The SA government is sending a chilling message to its Jewish community and it’s a message that is being read loud and clear and may explain why in 2021 there will be more Olim (immigrants) to Israel from South Africa than over the past 25 years.

These Olim will be following in the heroic example of Eli Kay and his family, taking a journey that is securing the Jewish state for all eternity.

In the words of Nachman Shai at the funeral:

 “Eli, you died a hero, an example to us all.”










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

Up-Start Nation

A pulsating powerhouse, Israel clocks up a Noble Prize Bar Mitzvah bringing her tally to 13 with Joshua Angrist co-winning for economics

By David E. Kaplan

Not bad for such a tiny nation.

And to those eyebrow-raisers kvetching, “Hmnn….. but Angrist lives in the US,” this writer sides with the wife.

Following the announcement that Israeli-American economist Joshua Angrist was awarded together with David Card and Guido Imbens the 2021 Nobel Prize for economics prize, Angrist’s wife, Mira, told Israel’s Channel 12,  she and her husband are Israelis “with every bone in their bodies.”

She explains “We met in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem after he made aliyah… our lives are run between Israel and Boston… We’re very excited right now.”

So are Israelis and justifiably so!

Miniscule Israel has long punched far above its demographic weight when it comes to the Nobel Prize. “There are not many countries who have won so many Nobel prizes,” said the late Shimon Peres, Israel’s President at the time, himself a Nobel laureate who shared the Peace Prize together with then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in 1994.

Noting Israel’s stunning trajectory, it is little wonder that as of October 2021, NINE of the TEN Israeli Nobel laureates since 2002, have been for either chemistry or economics. Over the same period, vastly larger countries with larger economies failed to outperform the small Jewish State. Israel’s surge as a pulsating powerhouse shows how it belts way above its weight.

Nobel Men. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the three  – David Card, Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens  – have completely reshaped empirical work in the economic sciences.

With a souring hi-tech and cyber based economy, Israel is revered today as “The Startup Nation” – the appellation derived from Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s bestseller by the same name – which examines how a young nation with a small population was able to achieve rapid outstanding economic growth. Today, Israel is the envy of many foreign countries and understandably why. Israel has the second-largest number of startup companies in the world after the United States, and the third-largest number of NASDAQ-listed companies after the U.S. and China.. Driven by gumption and grit and abundant ‘chutzpah’, the Start-Up Nation is as much for this writer – amusingly yet profoundly – the  ‘Up-StartNation’ – cherishing its yesterdays but gung-ho about its tomorrows.

It’s only Natural

Covering in their studies the fields of  ‘education’, the ‘labour market’ and ‘immigration’, Angrist and his co-winners were awarded the 2021 Nobel economics prize for pioneering the use of “Natural Experiments”, which are real-life situations that economists study and analyse to determine cause and effect relationships.

It was fascinating to learn – although I assume less pleasing to some US politicians and businesses  –  that Angrist’s colleague and Nobel co-winner, Canadian David Card had successfully in 2019 dispelled some serious erroneous economic beliefs, notably, that an increase in the minimum wage would destroy jobs as it would make it more expensive for companies to do business.

Israeli-American economist wins Nobel Prize. MIT Prof. Joshua Angrist, who taught at Hebrew University in the 1990s, is the 13th Israeli citizen to win the prestigious award.

Together with the late Alan Kruger, they compared the labour markets on both sides of the border between the US states of New Jersey – where the minimum wage had been increased – and Pennsylvania, where it had not. Their research showed that in that context, the minimum wage increase had no downward effect on the number of employees. Their finding went against the prevailing theory that assumed that an increase in the minimum wage would destroy jobs.

Despite endless jokes about economists such as “Economists have predicted six of the last two recessions” or “Economists were invented to make astrologers look good”, they do get plenty right, and since the new millennium, Angrist is the third Israeli to win the Nobel Prize for economics. The other two were Daniel Kahneman in 2002 and Robert Aumann in 2005 and their experiences and insights on the road to Stockholm remain eternally illuminating.

Calculated Risk

Although Israeli Daniel Kahneman received in 2002 the Nobel Prize for Economics he was a  psychologist who had never “taken a single economics course.”  The Tel Aviv-born Kahneman was recognized for changing the way economists grapple with decision-making, particularly during periods of uncertainty.

Kahneman explained the nature of his research to the peculiarity of people who are prepared to risk much more to get back money lost than they are to make the same amount. “For instance, if a gambler is losing steadily, the risks he would take to try to win back his losses and break even, are about twice as great as the risks he would take to gain the same amount of money had he been winning all along.”

Go figure!

Mind over Matter. Nobel Prize laureate Daniel Kahneman received the 2002 Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work in applying psychological insights to economic theory.

Top Of His ‘Game’

How prescient these words of  Israeli Nobel 2005 for economics Nobel Laurette, Robert Aumann, who also was not an economist but a mathematician:

  “Science is exploration, exploration for the sake of exploration, and for nothing else. We must go where our curiosity leads us; we must go where we want to go. And eventually, it is sure to lead us to the beautiful, the important, and the useful.”

This “exploration’ led Aumann to Stockholm where together with Thomas Schelling, they shared the 2005 Nobel Prize for Economics for their work on conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis. Professor at the Center for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Robert Aumann titled his acceptance speech “War and Peace” honouring Leo Tolstoy who he lamented did not receive a Nobel Prize but “like me, also had a long white beard.” War, unlike the popular view, “is not irrational – it is very rational, and we have to understand that to try preventing it.”

For me, life has been – and still is – one tremendous joyride, one magnificent tapestry.”

Highlighting the “good times”, Aumann cited:

 “The excitement of research, of groping in the dark and then hitting the light. The satisfaction of teaching, of meeting someone at a party who tells you that the course in complex variables that he heard from you twenty-five years ago was the most beautiful that he ever heard. The exhilaration of climbing on an almost vertical rock face; the beauty of a walk in the woods with a four-year-old grandchild, who spots and correctly identifies a tiny wild orchid about which you told him last week; dancing with your wife at your child’s wedding; unraveling an intricate passage in the Talmud with your eighteen-year-old granddaughter; slipping on a ski slope; tumbling two hundred meters down, and then going back and doing the same slope again – this time without slipping, or seeing the flag of Israel fluttering in the wind, right next to that of Sweden, from the roof of the Grand Hotel in Stockholm.”

Game Changer. Prof. Yisrael (Robert J.) Aumann received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in  2005 for his work on conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis. He shared the prize with Thomas Schelling.  (Photo personal website)

Well, that blue and while flag will again be “fluttering” in Stockholm, despite some in the Israeli media focusing less on the achievement and more on the issue than Angrist lives mainly today in the USA. What a loss for Israel they write, instead of what a win for all mankind.

Through decades of research, Angrist and his colleagues have demonstrated that many of society’s big economic questions can be answered. Through their methodology of using “natural experiments” – situations arising in real life that resemble randomised experiments – we now have a considerably better understanding of how the labour market operates than we did 30 years ago.

Why is this important?

Because if we are to make good decisions, we must understand the consequences of our choices and this applies to individuals as well as public policy makers. For example, young people who are making educational choices, says Angrist, want to know how these might affect their future income. Choosing to go to “an expensive private college,  does that change your life course in the form of higher earnings?” Also, how much more would people earn if they chose to study longer? Will adding extra years of study improve one’s personal financial situation either through higher salary or  inspiring entrepreneurial ambition?

All this was less important to some in the Israeli media making more of Angrist living in the US. The Jerusalem Post went so far on its front page with an article “A dent in the Aliyah message” The sweet and less sweet in a Noble Prize”, where the writer compares Angrist leaving Israel for greener pastures to the biblical Abraham who makes Aliyah to Israel but leaves shortly afterwards because of a famine.

Big deal. Angrist relocated back to the USA to become an Associate Professor in MIT’s Economics Department and  by his own admission he did so “for more pay”. In other words the economist took a decision for sound economic reasons. The world today is a global village so no big surprise here.

Furthermore, what these articles neglected to consider in their critique, was that Angrist’s return to the US was way back in 1996, long before Israel’s economic miracle and the surge ahead in the hi-tech industry. It is a different Israel today with different opportunities. Even Angrist himself says that the reports on his leaving for financial reasons stemmed from a 2006 Jerusalem Post article on Israel’s brain drain at the time, no longer the situation today. Speaking with Israeli media, Angrist said he was proud to have won the prize as an Israeli and played down reports that he had left Israel because of low wages.

The Times They Are a-Changin. Israel’s reception into a changing Middle East as reflected on this  front page of the UAE’s English daily, Khaleej Times.

“Israel has a very respectable place in science and I am proud to contribute to that,” he told Channel 13 news.

Since Angrist’s relocation back to the States in 1996 for greener pastures, today Israel is the “greener pasture”. How else would you explain that  Israeli tech investment shattered all records in the first half of 2021 with Israel leading the  world in funding growth with a 137% year-over-year increase in the first half of 2021, reaching $10.5 billion.

With this new economic reality, this writer advocates less focus on Abraham leaving because of famine thousands of years ago and more on the 2020 Abraham Accords which has Israel increasingly integrating into the Middle East and Arab world with infinite economic opportunities. Israel today with her Arab partners is leading the way of showing the potential impact of peace on economics.

Now that will be monumental material for a future Nobel Prize, whether for ‘economics’ or ‘peace’.








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