The Right Kind of Notorious

A tribute to the extraordinary Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg

By Rolene Marks

It has been said that if someone passes away during the High Holy days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they must have been a righteous soul.  This past weekend, US Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, died at the age of 87 due to complications from pancreatic cancer. It was first day of Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year.

(Illustration Credit :Casey Wood ’23/The Hawk)

Ruth Bader Ginsberg or Kiki, as she was affectionately called; was one of the most loved and respected public figures in the United States. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the promising young lawyer earned her Bachelor’s degree at Cornell University before studying law at the prestigious Harvard University. One of 9 women in her class of 500; she had married Martin D. Ginsberg and became a mother and balanced all of this with her studies. Theirs was a love story for the ages, and the jurist often referred to her falling for her husband because he valued her for her brain. Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated joint first in her class. After law school, Ginsburg entered academia, becoming a professor at Rutgers Law School and Columbia Law School, teaching civil procedure as one of the few women in her field.

Apart from her stellar academic record, Bader Ginsburg  was a trailblazer for women’s rights, having spent much of her legal career as an advocate for gender equality and winning many arguments before the Supreme Court. She was famous for saying, “women belong in all places where decisions are made” and certainly made sure that women were represented – not merely token placements. Five of the most significant gender based laws that she  helped pass include employers cannot discriminate against workers based on reproductive choices, state-funded schools must include women, the right for women to have financial independence and equal benefits, men being entitled to the same caregiving and social security rights as women and juries to include women.

These were landmark cases and earned Bader Ginsberg the respect and support not only of her colleagues and peers but civil rights activists around the world. A feminist who supported not only gender equality, LGBTQ+ and civil rights, Bader Ginsburg was called a new nickname from the one she grew up with – Notorious RGB.  This was a reference to the late Brooklyn-born rapper The Notorious B.I.G., and she later embraced the moniker. RNG was the right kind of “Notorious”!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court during the Clinton administration, becoming the second woman and first Jew to serve on this most esteemed body. Her Jewish heritage was something the jurist was extremely proud of and had a clear bearing on her career and decisions.

“I had the good fortune to be a Jew born and raised in the U.S.A. My father left Odessa bound for the New World in 1909, at age 13; my mother was first in her large family to be born here, in 1903, just a few months after her parents and older siblings landed in New York. What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York’s garment district and a Supreme Court Justice? Just one generation, my mother’s life and mine bear witness. Where else but America could that happen?

My heritage as a Jew and my occupation as a judge fit together symmetrically. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition. I take pride in and draw strength from my heritage, as signs in my chambers attest: a large silver mezuzah on my door post, [a] gift from the Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn; on three walls, in artists’ renditions of Hebrew letters, the command from Deuteronomy: “Zedek, zedek, tirdof” — “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Those words are ever-present reminders of what judges must do that they “may thrive.”

More recently this famous self-confessed dissenter expressed her outrage that Jewish women who are Zionist were told that they could not be both Zionists and Feminists. “That is simply not true”, the indignant RBG told Zioness, a movement founded in response to this ridiculous accusation.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg will become the first woman to lie in state until her funeral. This is testament to her massive legacy and extraordinary reputation and level of respect she commanded.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s passing leaves a gaping hole in the continued global feminist movement.  She joins the great women of Jewish history who  left an indelible mark on the world. She was more than notorious, she was righteous.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG) with Israeli Chief Justice, Esther Hayut



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

His Name was Navid Afkari

Iranian Wrestling Champion murdered by the regime for protesting.

By  Rolene Marks

His name was Navid Afkari. His life was full of promise. A talented sportsman, Afkari was a champion wrestler, proudly representing his country, Iran. He was 27 years old with a glorious future ahead of him. The Iranian regime recently executed champion wrestler, Navid Afkari.

Navid Afkari. Former wrestling champion executed by Iran despite calls to stop death sentence.

Iran is not a country that is synonymous with human rights. In fact, their record is as dismal as it gets. Some of their gross violations include the hanging of members of the LGBTQ community by crane, regardless of age, using lethal force to subdue protests, sometimes even killing hundreds of protestors, suppressing any rights to the freedom of expression and gender discrimination with women’s rights activists also face abuse. Ethnic and religious minorities endure entrenched discrimination. Torture and other ill-treatment, including through the denial of medical care, remain widespread and systematic; and committed with impunity. The right to fair trials is often denied and cruel, inhuman and degrading judicial punishments are carried out. Scores of people have been executed, sometimes in public; several under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.

Iran is routinely called out by human rights advocates for their ongoing violations.

The irony is that global powers who are aware of this, still allow Iran place on international bodies like the UN Commission on Criminal Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration and various others.

Looking Back with Anger. Iran executed champion wrestler Navid Afkari despite widespread pleas to spare him, prompting angry reactions from Iranians at home and abroad on social media platforms.

Why would Iran execute one of their star sportsmen? The circumstances surrounding this execution, which many are calling cold-blooded murder smack of conspiracy because Afkari dared use his voice.

Navid Afkari was among the vast crowds who took to the streets during the 2018 protests in Iran, opposing the totalitarian dictatorship of Khamenei and the rapidly deteriorating living conditions. He was arrested and charged with multiple offenses shortly after the protests. Among his charges were “insulting the supreme leader”, “waging war against God (aka. moharebeh)”, and the alleged case of “Hasan Torkman’s murder”.

Hasan Torkman was a secret security agent of IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) which were tasked with silencing the protests and after his death he was buried as a “martyr” by the regime, signifying his position. Akfari strongly denied this blatantly bogus murder charge and there was no evidence linking him to the case. The court sentencing was influenced by two sources that they claim showed him as the murderer. It was obviously a situation where Afkari was framed but what was the Iranian motivation?

Crushing an Icon. Afraid of his influence, Iran executes 27-year-old champion wrestler, Navid Afkari.

It could only have been his high profile as a young champion posed such a threat that he had to be silenced permanently. They could ill afford having their tyrannical views challenged by young people following in his example and demanding change and a better way of living.

Akfari was given two death sentences. 

While Afkari initially confessed to the murder charge, he would later retract stating he had been tortured into making a false confession.  During the hearings he stated:

   “I told the inspector that neither do I know the secret agent (that has been killed), nor have I heard his name! But under torture, and to save my family, and for Vahid (one of his imprisoned brothers), I gave them what they wanted.

Once I had been freed from the pressure of solitary confinement, the basement, and the tortures, once I stepped back onto the prison, I immediately wrote to the judicial offices and filed my complaint (against their use of torture) and screamed that I am not a murderer. I requested them to take me to the forensics bureau (for medical examinations of his scars). Per their report and eye-witness account (of my torture) and other evidences, it was made clear that I had been tortured. No matter the countless times I wrote and pleaded that all my confessions were obtained under torture; or how there is not a single shred of evidence in this damned case that could prove my guilt, but they did not want to hear our voice. I figured they were looking for a neck for their noose.”

Many campaigned to save his life. From human rights groups, online social media campaigns by Iranians, to important people and organisations including U.S. President Donald Trump, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, and UFC President Dana White. A global union representing 85,000 athletes called for Iran’s expulsion from world sport if it executed Afkari. All appealed for Afkari’s life to be saved, but to no avail!

On Saturday, the 12th of September 2020, Navid Afkari was executed. For many, this was cold blooded murder.

The European Union (EU), Olympic Committee and countless others condemned the killing of Afkari:

The European Union condemns this execution in the strongest terms. Human rights remain a central feature of our engagement with Iran. We will continue to engage with Iranian authorities on this issue including through the local EU representation in Tehran and also on individual cases such as this recent execution,” an EU foreign affairs spokesperson said in a statement.

A German foreign ministry spokeswoman also condemned the execution, saying, “There were considerable doubts about the rule of law in the proceedings, and we also take very seriously the allegations that Navid Afkari confessed only under torture.”

The Olympic Committee expressed their outrage and shock.

Condemnations are not enough. Many are calling for Iran to be banned from sports and political bodies for their gross violations of human rights. It cannot be forgotten that Iran is not only guilty of gross human rights abuses; but is also the world’s foremost supporter of state sponsored terror and is responsible for the loss of life in attacks from Buenos Aires to Jerusalem. The killing of a champion to push a political agenda and make him an example to the millions who want to exercise their fundamental right to protest is extremely concerning.

Protests Abroad. Iranian opposition supporttyers of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) protesting the execution of Iranian wrestling champion Navid Afkari on September 12, 2020 in Berlin, Germany

While there were many campaigns and condemnations, the killing of Navid Afkari did not dominate headlines or garner major global reactions. There will be nobody taking a knee for Afkari. Hollywood celebrities will not be putting out impassioned social media statements.

There needs to be justice for Navid Afkari and the countless others killed by the despotic Iranian regime. This will only come when the global outrage is so strong that Iran feels the shame of exclusion from major international agencies and bodies and is roundly condemned and isolated.

His name was Navid Afkari. He was a champion. May his memory be blessed.

Navid Afkari’s last audio message from prison before his execution





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

Remembering Munich

Survivors recall the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

By Rolene Marks and Yair Chelouche

“They’re all gone”.

They were the words that reverberated around the world. Television viewers across the globe were glued to Jim McKay, who anchored ABC’s coverage of the unfolding terrorist attack in Munich during the 1972 Olympics. The words are seared into our conscience. We can never forget that moment when we heard that 11 members of the Israeli Olympic Team had been murdered by Black September terrorists. Germany, once emblematic of painful memories for the Jewish people, had become a place where Jews were targeted for murder yet again.

Proud Presence. The Israeli delegation at the opening ceremony in Munich. (Credit: Agence France-Presse-Getty Images)

On the 5th of September, we will remember how these terrorists first killed two members of the Israeli delegation and held another 9 hostage, until they too, were slaughtered.  Israelis are far too familiar with terrorism, having endured attacks from terror groups since the birth of the modern state; but for it to happen like this on foreign soil, at the Olympic Games, the very essence and symbol of brotherhood and the human spirit, made the pain that much more acute.

Several weeks ago, history was made when the Israeli Airforce entered German airspace for the first time to train with the country’s Luftwaffe.  Apart from practicing complex maneuvers, the premise of the joint exercise was to strengthen ties – and pay tribute to the past. Sharing the commitment to fight antisemitism and declaring “Never Again” the two allied forces flew over the Dachau Concentration Camp in tribute to victims and survivors of the Holocaust as well as those who were murdered on that tragic day in September, 1972.

Yehuda Weinstain has often been called the “Flying Fencer”.  Weinstain was just 17 when he participated in the Olympics as a Fencer.  He recalls the excitement of being in the Olympic Village, sharing the camaraderie with his team, being a bit star struck at seeing the famous athletes and practicing with intense focus. It was the Olympics after all! The Olympics symbolise the best of the sporting world and the very spirit of international goodwill, devoid of the partisan politics that plague global discourse. This was shattered with the attack on the Israeli team.

“Flying Fencer”. Future Israeli pilot, Yehuda Weinstain  was just 17 when he participated in the 1972 Munich Olympics as a Fencer. 

Yehuda Weinstain recalls how it was a twist of fate that saved his life. Having visited the city to acclimate so that when it came to choosing his accommodation, he chose the same room that was in between that of the coaches and other team members. This decision would prove lifesaving.

The sportsmen were assigned a room in a complex with three bedrooms, with two in each room.

Touché. Israeli fencer Yehuda Weinstain (right) scores a hit in a fencing bout in the 1972 Munich Olympics before the massacre.

When the terrorists started their deadly attack, they went to the rooms on either side of Weinstain and roommate, Dan Alon; but not theirs. They heard the shots that killed wrestling coach, Moshe Weinberg. They knew that something horrific had occurred. Weinstain remembers seeing a blood puddle at the place where Weinberg’s body lay as he peered through the window.

“It could’ve been me,” he says, “Because the terrorists, passed by my window twice and didn’t come in. Later on we believed that the terrorists’ omission on our door was a deliberate act by Moshe Weinberg who wanted that the people who will face the terrorists are those, he thought, could resist stronger. So it was my luck”.

Desperate Situation. Held hostage, fencing coach Andre Spitzer (right) and marksmanship coach Kehat Shorr (left) negotiating with the German police.

He recalls making the decision to run to safety. “I ran about seven metres around the corner. It felt longer. I had the feeling that someone could shoot me in the small of my back”, he says. It was Alon’s turn, then some of the others to make the run for safety and he, Weinstain and the remaining survivors were taken to safety by German police and isolated before being sent home to their worried families in Israel.

40 years later (2012) – “The 11th Day” – Munich ’72 massacre survivors.

Yehuda Weinstain, Olympic athlete for Fencing enlisted in the army as is required of Israeli citizens and became Lt Col Weinstain, a combat pilot in the IAF, flying many important missions for the Jewish state.

 His latest mission was addressing the delegation from the IAF that participated in the training exercise in Germany – a poignant and important moment.

As Young fencerAvishay Jakobovich at the Munich Olympic village
Dr Avishay Jakobovich

Dr Avishay Jakobovich was also at those fateful games – albeit in a different role. Host country Germany, wanted to show the world that it had moved forward from its Nazi past and invited all participating countries to send separate delegations  of youth under 21 that would serve as cultural and social Ambassadors. In retrospect, many would criticize the lack of police presence and security. Jakobovich, delighted to be part of the Israeli delegation, remembers the incredible happy and inclusive vibe, with dancing and singing amongst the different global representatives and enjoying the games as a spectator.

Israel’s Young Ambassadors. Avishay Jakobovich (left) as a member of the Israeli youth social ambassador’s delegation to the Munich Olympics.

This was until the massacre of the Israeli coaches and athletes. “We were quickly removed from where we were staying and isolated. I called my parents to let them know I was okay. The hardest parts were when we represented the State of Israel at the main memorial held by the Olympic committee the day after the massacre and accompanying the coffins of the victims and the flight was difficult and emotional, knowing the bodies of those murdered were underneath us, in the belly of the plane. I sat next to Ankie Spitzer, now the widow of Andre Spitzer the Fencing coach. Very hard,” he recalls.

Dr Jakobovich served as Chief Gynaecologist for the IDF and is a leader in his field today.

This and every September, we remember them – the 11 coaches and athletes, slaughtered in their prime in one of the most nefarious and infamous terror attacks in recent history. The recent IAF-Luftwaffe flyover may have been history in the making and a great tribute to remember and heal wounds but it is the message of that auspicious occasion that we take heed of – NEVER AGAIN!

Munich Olympics Opening Ceremony. Israeli Delegation enters the Olympic stadium onr the 26/08/1972 (left). The ceremony (centre). Ending the opening ceremony by freeing pigeons of peace (right).

Murdered in Munich. The 11 Israeli sportsmen killed at the Munich Olympics on the 05/09/1972

Right handed fencer. Co-writer Rolene Marks (L) with the “Flying Fencer” Yehuda Weinstain (R), Sept. 2020


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

Fabulous Phyllis

Lifetime volunteer for Israel and WIZO turns 100

By Martine Maron Alperstein

Seven months after the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) celebrated its centennial at a conference in January 2020 in Tel Aviv attended by leaders of Jewish communities from 40 countries around the world,  one of its devoted volunteers turned 100.

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Family Ties. Phyllis with her daughter Devorah (right), and granddaughter Simone (Left) at Protea Village, Israel.

Born on the 29th July 1920 in Glasgow, Phyllis (Wolf) Lader moved to Newcastle with her husband Benni Lader in 1940 and then to Bournemouth where she raised her family. At the tender age of 90, Phyllis made aliyah to Protea Village – a retirement home in a rural setting in central Israel. It was to this scenic spot where we visited her just a week after her 100th birthday.

Love it. Love it. Love it….. They are all mine,” says Phyllis as she gazes lovingly at a photo of her children, 23 grandchildren, 95 great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren.

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Letter from the Queen. Queen Elizabeth congratulates Phyllis on turning 100.

Phyllis is an absolute delight and a force of nature. She came shooting down in her motorized scooter, burning up the sidewalk. She was moving so fast that her helper could not keep up and was almost running behind. I was so expecting to see mag wheels and racing stripes. Once she’d applied brakes and come to a gentle (!!) stop, she smiled and her whole face lit up.

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On The Move. Still “driving” at 100, Phyllis Lader with Rolene Marks (L) and the author, Martine Maron Alperstein (R) 

Phyllis grew up surrounded by WIZO chaverot. She relayed stories of garden parties, coffee mornings and other WIZO related events. Her mother would knit feral sweaters in pastels for the summer and fall colours for the winter that were donated to WIZO to be sold to raise funds. She would also donate a very special white sweater to be used as a raffle prize. The WIZO chaverot were fiercely Zionistic and worked to support Jewish women and children in Palestine. Glasgow at the time had a very large Jewish community that was centered around 12 different Synagogues. On a Wednesday, her mother took her to the Board of Guardian’s soup kitchen in a very poor part of Glasgow where they helped to feed Jewish refugees who had fled Europe. Every day was something else. Wednesday was soup kitchen, Thursday was a clothing and boots bazaar. Everyone helped. No Jew went hungry.

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The Phyllis Files. All you ever wanted to know – and more – about Phyllis.

Over the years, Phyllis spent time as both the WIZO chapter co-chairman and the secretary. Her daughter remembers the dining room table would always be covered in WIZO logoed paper.  Women’s week was an annual event where the chaverot would go door to door, educating about WIZO work and projects, and raising money for the women and children in Palestine. At 42, 4 older kids and very involved with both WIZO and Emunah, she discovered she was pregnant. But even a young baby did not hold Phyllis back. Baby Sharon attended committee meetings, events, coffee mornings and was pushed door to door in her pram while Phyllis went about collecting donations.

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Star Centenarian. Celebrating 100 Years of WIZO (1920-2020) a timespan share by the women’s organization star volunteer, Phyllis Lader.

To celebrate her Silver Wedding Anniversary, Phyllis flew to Israel for a 3 week tour with WIZO. Her husband did not like to fly, so she filled the freezer and came on her own while he stayed in Bournemouth and took care of their 5 kids. Phyllis and the chaverot spent a week in Haifa, a week in Herzlia and a week in Jerusalem, spending time with the group and visiting various WIZO projects around the country. In Haifa, she broke away from the group, deciding to explore a bit on her own and low and behold what did she discover??? A WIZO shop. She was so excited and would not leave without buying something. She bought a gorgeous amber ring which she loved for all the right reasons and is now worn affectionately by her granddaughter, Simone.

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Ring True. A gorgeous amber ring purchased at the WIZO Haifa store today worn lovingly by her granddaughter, Simone.

Phyllis’s message to the younger women of today, is get involved, give of yourself and of your time. Charity is not only about money, it is about doing. Helping and enabling someone who is mentally, physically or financially challenged, is priceless. You change their lives by helping them in whatever way they need, and you can. It is a team effort and every part, every effort, every gesture big or small, is valuable and makes a difference.

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Full Bodied and Smooth. Phyllis is a perfect example of a single malt.

Corona virus has forced us all to pause, take a look at our lives and think carefully about what is important and meaningful. Take the time to appreciate the flowers.

Places to go! Things to do! Turning 100 has not slowed Phyllis down!

About the writer:

Martine Maron Alperstein.jpgMartine Maron Alperstein Chairman of WIZO Modi’in English Speakers, made aliyah from Cape Town 21yrs ago. She currently resides in Modiin with her husband, kids and kitty cats.

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

Along Came a Hero

He rescued not only lives – but faith in humankind as Arab world mourns Israeli who died saving Bedouin family from drowning

By David. E. Kaplan

Yesterday’s heroes in parts of the Western world are tumbling but others are emerging. Unlike the ingloriously departing generals, politicians, presidents and traders that included humans in their merchandise, today’s heroes are ordinary people who seek not fame or glory.  They are simply doing their job.

But it is anything but “simply” as they risk their lives doing it, and all too often, pay the ultimate price!

How can one not be moved by seeing the frequent profiles on CNN of doctors and nurses after months of dealing with Corona patients, succumbing to the disease themselves. You see their photographs and learn of their experiences. You hear their stories of putting in 18-hour shifts a day, not seeing their families and sleeping in congested passageways before returning to their wards.

To this growing list of heroes – ordinary people called upon to perform the extraordinary –  add the name of 45-year-old Michael Ben-Zikri, an Israeli who drowned while rescuing a Bedouin family from drowning in a lake near Ashkelon on July 3.

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Michael Ben Zikri (45), who drowned while rescuing a Bedouin family from drowning in a lake near Ashkelon on July 3, 2020 (Courtesy)

The family, all residents of the Bedouin town of Hura in Israel’s southern Negev region, three children, aged 14, 10 and 7 and their 40-year-old aunt, found themselves caught in turbulence. Luckily, their frantic cries caught the attention of Ben-Zikiri. Successfully rescuing them, he then – while still in the water – suffered extreme exhaustion and disappeared from sight. Rescue forces were called to search for Ben-Zikri and sadly found him without any signs of life. Magen David Adom medics pronounced him dead at the scene.

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Salvation in the South. Rescue team arrives to search for the man who saved a family of four from drowning. (photo credit: FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICE)

 

His brave action will not be forgotten and following the Foreign Ministry sharing the story on its social media accounts in Persian and Arabic, Ben-Zikri emerged “a symbol of co-existence between Jews and Muslims”.

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Lifesaver. One of the many messages on social media from across the Arab world praising the Israeli who saved the Bedouin family.

The positive responses across the Arab world were quick, like this from an Iraqi commentator:

This is true humanitarianism. There is no difference between humans; God has taught us to love one another.”

While all too often, politicians across the divides will call each other names that should embarrass them, ordinary people can tell a different story as revealed by numerous internet users from all across the Arab and Muslim world who were touched by the story of Michael Ben-Zikri and shared their condolences with his family.

Humanity has no religion, may he dwell in heaven and blessings come upon his families and loved ones for his noble act,” wrote another user.

A user from Saudi Arabia by the name of Othman, mentioned in his comment a passage from the Quran in which God said that whoever saves a single soul is considered as if he saved all people.

Is this not reminiscent from the Mishnah’s (Talmud) original text of the famous Jewish idea that:

 “Whoever saves one life […] saves an entire world.” (Sanhedrin 4:5).

A user from Egypt hit the nail on the head with:

The fact we have political differences with you guys doesn’t mean there is a disagreement between us about humanitarianism.”

Clearly, these users recognise that “there must be another way”,   reminding this writer of the song of that name by the 2009 Israeli Eurovision musical duo, Noa who is Jewish and Mira Awad who is Arab. This sentiment was captured by another user from Iraq who wrote:

This is the people of Israel who love all and help all.”

The London-based pan-Arabic Saudi news outlet Asharq Al-Awsat published rare words of praise for an Israeli. On the outlet’s website, it ran an article describing the many Palestinians Bedouins who visited the family of Michael Ben-Zikri to pay condolences and gave a detailed description of how the Israeli saved the Bedouin family.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry’s social media manager in the Arabic language, Yonatan Gonen, said that the post was shared all around the Arab and Muslim world.

Users from Morocco to Iraq, from Oman to Syria, could identify with the story and unanimously pointed at Michael’s heroism on a very large scale, some even pointed Israel’s coexistence as a role model.”

When he was laid to rest in Ashkelon cemetery, dozens of Hura residents attended his funeral. Ben-Zikri is survived by his wife and three children.

In a historic first, Michael Ben Zikri’s family will be awarded the Civil Medal of Distinguished Service, to commend “exemplary behaviour in Israeli society.”

Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin will present at the end of the shiva mourning period, Ben-Zikri’s wife, Cheli, and their children the award. Attending the ceremony at the president’s residence in Jerusalem will be the al-Karem family from Hura.

How noble acts can so change perceptions and public discourse.

Only a few days earlier in July, Israel Arab lawmaker Ayman Odeh, was subjected to a barrage of insults from his Jewish fellow parliamentarians for participating in a video conference against the proposed “annexation” such as:

“Ayman Odeh belongs in the Ramallah parliament.”

This was no way to talk of the head of the Joint List faction who, whether one agrees or disagrees, had every right to oppose the annexation as do many Israeli citizens, which according to a recent opinion poll, more oppose than support the annexation.

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Looking To Heal. Head of the Joint List alliance in the Knesset, Ayman Odeh says: “ We will make sure his noble act will influence the next generations of Jews and Arabs.”

 

Odeh, however, was unfazed. Only days after being verbally assaulted by his parliamentary peers, he reacted to Ben-Zikri’s bravery commenting:

We will make sure his noble act will influence the next generations of Jews and Arabs.”

The Joint Arab List Chairman said further that “humanity is what will win” and that the Bedouin town of Hura will name a street after Ben-Zikri.

A frequently outspoken critic of the Israeli government, former Arab MK Taleb el-Sana attended the funeral and vowed that Ben-Zikri’s memory will also be honoured by the naming of a street after him in Lakiya, the Bedouin town in Israel’s Southern District, where el-Sana lives with his wife and five children.

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Streetwise. The former member of the Knesset Taleb al-Sana and its longest-serving Arab Member suggests naming a street after Michael Ben Zikri.

He told the grieving family that “the entire Arab community, from the north to the south, each house, shares your pain.”

Naming streets after Israelis in Arab towns would really be a new: ‘sign of the times’!

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Presidential ‘Leak’

How Israel’s fortunes can spin on a single call of nature

By David E. Kaplan

Watching on TV the ceremony in the Knesset of the new incoming government accompanied by the rousing heckling by the disgruntled,  many were left with the question:

 “Yes, maybe the leftovers of overripe produce at the shuk (market) but what was the alternative?”

In the midst of a global health and economic crisis, a fourth election was hardly desirable – simply a prelude to another wasteful two billion shekels boring pitstop on the track to then a 5th election.

And then what?

We needed to escape this seemingly endless electoral carousel. It reminded me of that song in my youth by The Kingston Trio called “The man who never returned” – about a man buying the wrong ticket and stuck forever on a Boston train  – hence never to return.

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Feeling imprisoned in a Corona lockdown, Israelis were worn-down waiting for a leadership to “RETURN” the country to some semblance of normalcy.

Budgets need to be passed and monies allocated to move the country forward.

People nevertheless will ask, what if neither Bibi nor Benny  – the revolving PMs – had said NO!

“What If?” is always a fascinating question in wondering how differently things might pan out!

Thinking to past pivotal, some even apocalyptic, moments in Israel’s history, we can ask:

What if  Rommel’s African Corp had not lost the Battle of El Alamein in 1942, leaving the German Wehrmacht free to steamroll northwards to Palestine?

What if Prime Minister David Ben Gurion had not demanded the unification of ideologically diverse Jewish armed forces during the War of Independence to forge a national army?

What if Commander of the Irgun Zva-i Leumi (Etzel) Menachem Begin had not said the words, “Do not shoot back”, when the Irgun cargo ship,  the Altelena came under attack off the coast of Tel Aviv?

What if Israel had not taken out the Egyptian Air Force in the opening round of the Six Day War?

What if Prime Minister Menachem Begin had not embraced the peace process with Anwar Sadat of Egypt or authorized the surprise bombing of the nuclear facility in Iraq in 1982?

To this list we can add another “What If?” – an act so insignificant at the time of its commission but over time monumentally consequential!

“Barbeque Diplomacy”

It is generally agreed that the bedrock of Israel’s foreign policy to this day has been its unshakable relationship with the United States and its dependence on it supplying sophisticated weaponry to retain its qualitative edge. This was achieved at a meeting between Israel’s Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol and the US President, Lyndon Baines Johnson. The meeting was of existential importance, particularly so following France – Israel’s longtime backer – suddenly imposing an embargo on the very eve of the 1967 Six Day War.

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Forging Ties. Deep in intense discussion, Prime Minister Eshkol and President Johnson on the president’s Texas ranch.

I recall in my interview in Jerusalem with the late Yehuda Avner who had been the advisor to Levi Eshkol and accompanied him on his trip and meeting with “with the beefy, vigorous six-foot-three, President Lyndon B. Johnson”.  The meeting took place at the President’s Texas ranch, where Johnson liked to entertain heads of governments in what he dubbed, “Barbeque Diplomacy” because it enabled him in a relaxed country atmosphere; to get a measure of people that could never happen in Washington.

“After an exchange of “Howdy’s”,” recalled Avner, the President said he wanted to show us around his ranch and so, taking over the driver’s seat of his station wagon from a brawny fellow in a ten-gallon Stetson, he told us to hop in.” The Prime Minister, “portly, mild-mannered, stooped, bespectacled and balding with a wise, family-friend countenance,” sat in front with LBJ. while Avner squeezed into the back with two others in the Israeli delegation.

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Genesis Of Understanding. A relieved and thankful Levi Eshkol (left) following the critical meeting with President Lyndon Johnson at LBJ’s Texas ranch in January 1968.

“The president drove at high speed across white-fenced fields and gunned the vehicle down dirt tracks, causing all to bounce crazily about. As we approached a pasture, a cluster of cows bolted in alarm, leaving one cow that stubbornly refused to budge.

“That’s Daisy,” LBJ roared with laughter. “She’s as pigheaded as a Texan senator with colic.”

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Who Is Kow’towing. An amused LBJ trying to boss “Daisy.”

Holding firmly onto his homburg for fear it might fly off, Eshkol turned round to us in the back and with a bewildered expression asked in Yiddish: “Vus rett der goy?” –  “What’s the goy talking about?”

The meeting that followed was tough, with the Americans taking the position that “by providing Israel with arms; this would only escalate an arms race during a time when America was embroiled in an unpopular war in Vietnam. After two days of talk, Eshkol finally won the day when President Johnson indicated that Israel would receive the aircraft, and a deeply relieved Prime Minister responded:

 “Thank you, Mr. President. I thank you from the heart.”

Lyndon B. Johnson kept his word. Historically, a profound change in the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington was set in motion. America threw in its strategic lot with Israel, so that, henceforth, it would become Israel’s main source of sophisticated weaponry.

“This strategic alliance, for all its ups and downs,” said Yehuda, “endures as a bedrock of U.S. bipartisan support, for not only does it enable Israel to retain a qualitative edge in the face of extraordinary odds, it is the indispensable key to any process of peace in the future.”

Eshkol’s dogged determination showed he could stand tall alongside the defiant personality the likes of a cow named “Daisy!”

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Taking The Bull By The Horns. Tackling issues directly and with confidence, LBJ on his Texan ranch.

All this however would not have happened, had LBJ not decided at a precise moment in 1942 to relieve himself at an airbase toilet.

Already in the Naval Reserve since January 1940, Johnson had been a 33-year-old Representative from Texas when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7, 1941.  Then, on the 9th June 1942, Lieutenant Commander Johnson boarded a plane called the Wabash Cannonball for a mission in the South Pacific. While the Wabash Cannonball was on a bombing mission, Johnson’s participation was as an observer to inspect and report back to President Roosevelt; of Japanese troop movements over New Guinea. No sooner had he boarded the B-26, nature called. Toying with the decision to “hold it in” or go to the toilet and catch the next bomber, he chose the latter and alighted from the plane. After relieving himself, he then joined the crew of another bomber, the Heckling Hare, that was crippled in the middle of its mission by a failed electrical generator, and then had to struggle back to base under enemy fire.

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Date With Destiny. A luckily timed bathroom break during WWII saved LBJ’s life and secured Israel’s security.

LBJ was lucky. The  Wabash Cannonball was hit by enemy fire and crashed with a total loss of life.

To the list of Israel’s “What Ifs?”, one can add:

Where would Israel’s relationship be today with regard to the US, had a young Lyndon B. Johnson not had the desperate need to take a pee!

 

 

* Title Picture: A bathroom in the White House and Lyndon B. Johnson. US National Archives/Mike Nudelman/Business Insider

The Knockout

From Lithuania to South Africa –  a ringside vista from Tel Aviv down memory lane

By Dr. Gail Lustig

If anyone should be telling this story it should be my late father, Donny Loon, who passed away on the 16th January 2011 in Israel. It is the kind of story he liked hearing,  reading, telling and retelling!

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Donny Loon z’l (1924-2011)

My first taste of his storytelling was when I was in my teens and he was hospitalized in a nursing home for a collapsed vertebral disc. It had been caused by Brucellosis contracted by drinking unpasteurized milk while doing a house call at a patient`s farm. He wrote a riveting short story which he read to me during a visit, telling me it had been written “by the priest next to him in the room!”

This story has taken decades to tell and was written in the days of lockdown in Tel Aviv , while going through some photo albums and discovering two old black and white photographs that aroused my curiosity more than usual.

Their story begins in Ponevezh, Lithuania where my grandfather, David Loon, and most of his five brothers, Arthur, George, Lazar, Issy and Maurice  and one sister, Hetty, were born. David was born with clubfeet; proving a serious handicap in his motor development. The congenital problem for which he was teased endlessly might have spurred him on to take up boxing which was popular amongst the Jewish youth of Lithuania. He excelled at the sport and before long he was given the nick-name of “Siki” after a French-Senegalese light heavyweight boxer and world champion in the early part of the last century.

The Loon brothers were close; they enjoyed life, were social creatures, and supported one another in many ways.  The family connection was always particularly important to them and their children developed close ties. David took time to teach his son Donny the punches and rules of boxing and although he never formally took up the sport, he certainly had a good knowledge of it.

In the early 1950s, Donny left the family and settled in Cape Town with Rita his young wife  – my mother – who had grown up in the southern most city in Africa.  He set up a general practice and soon became one of the popular young doctors in Bellville; where he treated people from every background and walk of life.

Donny hankered after his childhood environment with its warm atmosphere and exciting prospects, and a spirit that filled him with hope. He hadn`t taken to Cape Town, the city of his wife`s family. He was irritated by the soft, white sea sand that got in between his toes.  He did not like biting on chicken pieces coated with sand on Muizenberg beach where he sat on a beach-chair with a towel over his legs while his family dived into the warm waves of the Indian Ocean.

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Lapping It Up. The writer, Dr. Gail Lustig (née Loon) at nine months on the lap of future word champion Jimmy Carruthers from Sidney, Australia in Magaliesburg.

It was perfectly natural, that as soon as circumstances permitted, he would pack his Chevrolet and head northwards on the National Road with his young family to visit his parents and cousins in Johannesburg. And so in August, after a brief stopover in Beaufort West, Donny forged ahead, hour after hour along the lonely road until they reached Magaliesburg, near Johannesburg. The family had been booked in at the Moon Hotel, a modest holiday venue.

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On The Way To World Champion. Jimmy Carruthers working his jab in training.

How thrilling it must have been to discover that the Moon Hotel had been chosen as the training base for the young Australian boxing champion, Jimmy Carruthers, an Australian bantamweight champion who was in his early twenties and had come to fight the South African World Champion, Vic Toweel in November 1952. This would be the first time since 1908 that an Australian would be fighting for a world title. Toweel, of Lebanese roots, was the first South African to hold a world title.

Within a few hours of settling into the hotel, it was completely natural  that  Donny and Jimmy meet, and an instant rapport developed between them. He learnt that Jimmy was one of eight children born to an English wharf worker in Sydney who had developed boxing skills at an early age. Jimmy was friendly, a little lonely, with an open personality and although devoted to a tight and demanding schedule for training, enjoyed Donny`s lighthearted and warm interest in him, his stories and jokes and knowledge of boxing.

He and his trainer shared some pleasant hours talking to Donny and Rita who loved a laugh and the fact that her baby had taken to the boxer who clearly had a way with children.

Before long, Donny found himself drawn into the pending fight between Toweel and Jimmy. It was clear to him that Jimmy had a great chance of beating the favourite but he didn`t seem to have a clear plan of how to go about it. Toweel was defending the title for the fourth time.  He had won 200 bouts before turning professional, and now, on home territory, it seemed that everything was in his favour. What was apparent was that Vic was slow to get started in the ring whereas Jimmy was quick and agile with a machine -gun like hand speed.

Within no time, Donny realized that the way to go about beating Toweel, was to move like lightning, straight after the bell, pull as many punches as possible, thus surprising his opponent and hoping for a knockout.

He proposed his plan to Carruthers` trainer, teaching him how to use the stopwatch he had with him (a useful instrument in a doctor`s medical bag), in the training programme, timing Jimmy`s responses and reaction time.  And so it happened that every morning for the next week, just as the sun rose, Donny would get up early, secretly meet Jimmy in the training ring, before Toweel`s team appeared. Over and over he would demonstrate to Jimmy how to improve his performance straight after the bell, until he literally reacted within a split second.

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World’s Bantamweight Champion Jimmy Carruthers following his fight in South Africa in 1952. On the left hand corner of the photo (below) is written : “To Don, Rita and Gail, Wishing you every happiness from Jimmy Carruthers 17.8.1952

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A ‘Fist’ful Of Pounds

Of course the Loon uncles and cousins were in on the story and immediately understood that if luck were on their side, it might be the perfect opportunity to back the underdog and score a personal small betting victory.

Before the match, we returned to Cape Town. Donny continued with his routine and but for the photos, Jimmy Carruthers faded from his mind.

Before long it was the 15th of November. Everyone in South Africa who enjoyed competitive sport, crowded around the radios to listen to the match. The Loon brothers and Donny, by now, loyal supporters of Jimmy, were in on the excitement on opposite sides of South Africa.

And of course you`ve guessed it!

The bell was sounded; Carruthers pounced on Toweel, and in just on 2 minutes 19 seconds and 110 accurate punches, knocked Vic Toweel out to become the new light bantam weight champion of the world!!

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Victory Over Vic. Jimmy’s left hand was a potent weapon against Toweel.

The tactic of moving like lightning after the bell sounded, had worked like a charm.

And today, while tidying my photos, I came across these two, which in their naiveté, reveal so much!

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The Rematch In Joburg. In March 21, 1953 Carruthers defended his title against the man he took it from, Vic Toweel. Carruthers knocked Toweel out in their first meeting and did it again in this fight in the 10th round. Offered here is a rare, original, official program for this event.

Jimmy Carruthers gave up competitive boxing in 1954 at a young age, having made enough money to settle down, marry and run his pub in Sydney, Australia.  In one article I read on him, he was described as a unionist and a proponent of world peace!

And that`s when I really understood what had bought the two men, Donny and Jimmy together – hardly the ability to knock out, but rather to change the world in a very different way. Each dreamt of world peace; it would unite them forever and more important be passed down in the image of a chubby baby secure and fearless on the knees of a champion boxer – me!

 

 

About the writer:

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Gail Loon-Lustig, born in Cape Town, lived in Bellville. After completing Medical School, Gail made Aliya in 1976 and runs a Home Care Unit  in greater Tel Aviv area. Inspired to “give back to society”, she counsels young doctors and health workers and has guided the teaching of ‘home care’ at her alma mater UCT. Gail has volunteered at Telfed and the South African retirement home Beth Protea where for many years she focusses on medical issues of the residents.  Interested in many different aspects of life, especially those that involve her family.

Heritage Hike

Stuck at home this Independence Day because of Corona? Take a virtual journey of Israel’s Independent Trail. From Hebrew city to Hebrew state, the trail begins with the founding of Tel Aviv in 1909 and ends with the Establishment of Israel in 1948.

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Embedded in the ground are 10 markers along the one-kilometer brass strip of Independence Trail.

 

By David. E. Kaplan

Walks these days are mostly to the supermarket or pharmacy. While hardly fun, adventurous or cerebrally challenging they are essential. However, no less “essential” is to ensure the mind remains active even if our legs are taking ‘a back seat’!

Prior to Corona, Lay Of The Land toured Independence Trail that was inaugurated in 2018 in honour of Israel’s 70th Independence Day. Only one kilometre (0.6 miles) long, it is rich in 40 years of intense nation-building history. Opting to use a guide rather than the free Municipality of Tel Aviv’s Independence Trail App, our guide began:

 “It was 40 years of wandering before the Biblical Hebrews entering the Promised Land of ancient Israel, today you will be exposed to those 40 tumultuous years of establishing modern Israel during the first half of the twentieth century.”

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Exploring History. A golden path takes these young visitors on an interactive walking route through the history of Tel Aviv along Independence Trail. (Photo by Ricky Rachman)

How better to begin this hike of 10 stops with a cup of coffee and where better to enjoy it than where the hike officially begins – The First Kiosk Of Tel Aviv at the intersection of Rothschild Boulevard and Herzl Street, one of the most central spots in Israel.

Kickoff at the Kiosk

The aroma of coffee was irresistible and adhering to the adage “When in Rome”, we all ordered “café hafuch” – Israel’s famous “upside down coffee”.

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Frequently compared with a latte, it is creamier and is also made in reverse. If in a latte, the milk goes on top of the espresso, a café hafuch uses steamed milk on the bottom, and then a shot of espresso is carefully poured on top of the steamed milk and finally topped with milk froth as well as nutmeg or cocoa powder.  The most iconic aspect is the “reverse” – so typically Israeli of hitting the right button but ‘Israeli style”.

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“The First Kiosk Of Tel Aviv”. The trail begins here at Tel Aviv’s first kiosk built on Rothschild Boulevard in 1910 the year after Tel Aviv was established on sand dunes in 1909.

“Today, as you can see,” said our guide, “Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard is lined with restaurants and cafés but when the street was first established in 1909, not all the residents were in favour of any commercial activity. While some were agreeable about setting up shops in the neighborhood, others were against, but a year later a small kiosk opened where we are today.”

Situated in the exact same spot where the original once stood and modeled after the eclectic architectural style of the time, the small kiosk is today called Espresso Bar.

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Bustling And Boisterous. Much of ‘Independence Trail’ is along Rothschild Boulevard the social nerve centre of downtown Tel Aviv.

Next, we walked on to the Nahum Gutman Fountain.

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Fountain of Knowledge

Gutman’s mosaic fountain reflects the simplicity of the early days of the “First Hebrew City” as it was once the fashion to call Tel Aviv.  Israel’s famed artist, who was also an accomplished illustrator, photographer, and writer “went to school here, played in these streets, absorbed its sights, sounds and smells and projected them in his colorful exuberant art,’ informed our guide. “He was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize in 1978 and as you can see, the mosaics around the fountain tell the history of Jaffa – the ancient port city from which Tel Aviv was born.”  In a kaleidoscope of color – the artist’s leitmotif – myths and stories from Jewish and Israeli history are emblazoned, from Jonah and the whale to Moses Montefiore and Theodore Herzl.

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Colourful Past. The Nahum Gutman Fountain depicts the history of Jaffa from ancient times until the creation of Tel Aviv. (Photo by Ricky Rachman)

Our next stop was the personal home built in 1909 by Akiva Aryeh Weiss, whose name is literally cemented to the beginning of Tel Aviv.

 Home Truths

Akiva Aryeh Weiss was one of the founders of the Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood, which later evolved into Tel Aviv. As President of the then newly established Building Society, Weiss presided over the famous 1909 lottery in which 66 Jewish families drew numbers written on seashells to determine the allocation of lots in the about-to-be established city of Tel Aviv.

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Weiss, who immigrated from Russian Poland to Palestine in 1906 “was a jeweler and watchmaker, and founded the textile industry in Mandatory Palestine, building the earliest textile factory, the Lodzia House,” continued our guide.

“One of Weiss’ dreams, which became a reality was the establishment of a Jewish diamond industry in Palestine.”

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The House That Akiva Built. Built, planned and erected by Akiva Arieh Weiss himself, the cornerstone of the house, the first in the new area known as Ahuzat Bayit, was laid in the summer of 1909.

Now restored, the cornerstone of Weiss’ Tel Aviv house located at 2 Herzl Street was laid in 1909. Originally a single-story structure, the upper floor was added in the 1920s.

Towering Truths

Our third stop was the visitor’s center with its history of Tel Aviv in the Shalom Meir Tower in Herzl Street. Although once the tallest building in Tel Aviv  – and when built in

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Busy Builder. Several constructions built by Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche are today’s heritage sites all around Tel Aviv.

1965 was the tallest building in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Oceania – far more historically significant is its prestigious predecessor – the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium. The country’s first Hebrew-speaking high school and originally known as HaGymnasia Ha’Ivrit (High School in Hebrew),  the cornerstone laying for the school took place on July 28, 1909, the same year as the city’s founding. Designed by Joseph Barsky and inspired by descriptions of Solomon’s Temple, it was built by Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche, whose family founded Neve Tzedek (“Oasis of Justice”) in 1887 and were again among the founding settlers of Tel Aviv in 1909. These are the proud ancestors of Lay of the Land cofounder, Yair Chelouche who was too enjoying the tour and contributing to the history of the area.

“The school was a major Tel Aviv landmark until 1962 when the site was razed for the construction of the Shalom Meir Tower,” added Yair.

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Major Landmark. Designed by Joseph Barsky inspired by descriptions of Solomon’s Temple and built Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche, the Gymnasia Herzliya on Herzl Street was the country’s first Hebrew high school. It was a major Tel Aviv landmark until 1962 when the site was razed for the construction of the Shalom Meir Tower.

Some of the schools celebrated alumni include Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, the poet Nathan Alterman, the artist Nachum Gutman, the physicist Yuval Neeman, the present mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai and the journalist and chairman of the Yesh Atid party in the Knesset, Yair Lapid.

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Did Alterman write poetry about Tel Aviv?” asked a member of our group.

Sure,’ replied our guide. “An immigrant from Warsaw, Alterman viewed Tel Aviv as the successor to the cities he had known in Europe. In contrast to the Hebrew poets who preceded him, who felt more connected to religion and biblical landscapes, Alterman was an urban poet who shaped an abstract theatrical world of music boxes, horse-drawn carriages and streetlights in Hebrew poetry.”

Looking up at the tall Shalom Tower, the guide told us a popular joke in Tel Aviv of the 1960s after the tower went up that encapsulates the trajectory of modern Israel.

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Tel Aviv On A High. Housing the Visitors Center with the history of Tel Aviv, the Shalom Meir Tower commonly known as Migdal Shalom was Israel’s first skyscraper

“A Tel Aviv taxi picked up a New York tourist who was boasting about his city, how skyscrapers appear suddenly like wild mushrooms when suddenly the taxi turned into Hertzl street and the tourist, who was looking up at the tall Shalom Tower, bellowed:

“WOW! What building is that?”

To which the taxi driver replied:

“I don’t know; it wasn’t there yesterday!”

The imagery of Alterman’s Tel Aviv was a far cry from the city of today, but that vibrancy portrayed by the poet’s pen was all too evident as we proceeded along bustling Rothschild Boulevard to our next stop – the Great Synagogue.

Spiritual Centre

The Great Synagogue on 110 Allenby Street, served as Tel Aviv’s spiritual and religious center long before Israel’s independence.

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These Walls Have Ears. Completed in 1926, the Great Synagogue of Tel Aviv on 110 Allenby Street is rich in history some of which is revealed in memorial slates recording historical events that occurred here during the British Mandate period.

“People who attended services here included Tel Aviv’s first mayor Meir Dizengoff, prime ministers David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett and Menachem Begin. It also hosted the inaugurations of Israel’s chief rabbis and the funerals of national icons such as the pioneer of modern Hebrew poetry Haim Nahman Bialik and the Zionist leader Haim Arlosorov, assassinated in 1933 while walking on the beach in Tel Aviv.”

 

We marveled at the building’s features, notably a huge dome, elaborate lighting fixtures, and magnificent stained-glass windows – replicas of synagogue windows that were destroyed in Europe during the Holocaust.

“Not widely known,” revealed our guide, “The Declaration of Independence was meant to be declared here on the 14 May 1948.”

“So why was it not?” I asked.

Ben Gurion knew that the moment he made the announcement Israel would be under aerial attack and if the new State’s leadership were altogether under one so identifiable a roof as the Great Synagogue, it would make for an easy target for low-flying enemy planes. Instead, the Declaration took place around the corner at a much smaller building, which will be our last stop on the tour.”

Ben Gurion’s concern was “not unreasonable,” continued our guide. “Arab planes bombed Tel Aviv three times and one Egyptian pilot was taken prisoner when his plane was forced down nearby.”

Also “nearby” was our next stop: the Haganah Museum.

Freedom Fighters

Located on Rothschild Boulevard, the Haganah Museum was once the home of Eliyahu Golomb the founder and first commander of the Haganah. A paramilitary organization, the Haganah was the forerunner of today’s Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and from1930 to 1945, this house was the Haganah’s secret headquarters.

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Initially protecting the pioneers on kibbutzim (cooperative farming communities) from an attack in the 1920s and 1930s, the Haganah went on to facilitate the illegal entry of more than 100,000 Jews into Palestine after the British government’s 1939 ‘White Paper’ restricting immigration. “In this way,” explained the guide, “the Haganah paved the way in providing the essential manpower that proved so critical in the War of Independence.”

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Elijah Golomb Defense Museum. This four-story museum display is one of the most advanced and sophisticated of its kind. Designed with huge video screens, models, backdrops and stories from the organization’s history from its inception to being an IDF, the historical story is told through the personal story of a young Palmach member and a Holocaust survivor who takes part in prominent events during the struggle, such as ‘The Night of the Bridges’.

So tranquil is Golomb’s residential room and office on the ground floor today, it is hard to conceive that this was the nerve center of a war for the survival of the Jewish People in Palestine.

“It’s one thing to fight but without finance little can be achieved,” said the guide as he led us to our next stop – the historical headquarters of Israel’s national bank.

Money Matters

The Bank of Israel Visitor’s Center showcases the history of the Jewish State’s financial system. The historical headquarters of Israel’s national bank, the Centre’s exhibits reveal the country’s historical development of money with exhibits from ancient coins to banknotes, and coins issued from pre-State days to the present.

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Particularly entertaining were the interactive activity stations that explain, by means of computer games, the functions of the Bank of Israel, the history of money, and the contribution of the central bank to the economy. No less fascinating were the short films on the essential role of the Bank of Israel in maintaining price stability, supporting economic growth, employment, and reducing social gaps in Israeli society. It is sure going to have “one job on its hand” in the immediate post-Corona era!

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In Safe Hands. The Bank of Israel Visitor’s Center on Lilienblum Street presents the historical development of money in Israel.

Back then, our next stop was the Tel Aviv Founders Monument.

The ‘Plot’ Thickens

The Founder’s Monument and Fountain is dedicated to the men and women who established Tel Aviv in the first half of the 19th century. Nestled into a green space on Rothschild Boulevard, it is a serene spot, dotted with benches, centered around a small pool and fountain, and located opposite the home of the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, on 16 Rothschild Boulevard.

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Founder’s Monument And Fountain. Located opposite the home of the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff on 16 Rothschild Boulevard, it was here that the historic lottery for the distribution of plots held on April 11, 1909, took place.

The historic lottery for the distribution of plots was held on April 11, 1909. As the families could not decide how to allocate the land, they held a lottery to ensure a fair division. Sixty-six grey seashells and sixty-six white seashells were gathered with the names of the participants written on the white shells and the plot numbers on the grey shells. A white and grey shell formed a pair, assigning each family a plot.

It was on this very site that the founders’ monument was planned 40 years later and established in 1951, on Dizengoff’s birthday.

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Designed by Aaron Priver, on one side is a sculpture divided into three sections. The bottom shows sand dunes and wild animals that roamed the area before the establishment of Tel Aviv. The middle section depicts the first homes, mostly one-story, and the top represents the Tel Aviv of 1949, with specific landmarks, and the Tel Aviv of the future as envisioned at the time.

On the other side of the monument is the list of the sixty-six founding families of the city of which includes the Chelouche family that founded the quaint neighboring district of Neve Tzedek over twenty years earlier.  Pointing out his family’s name on the monument, Lay of the Land co-founder Yair Chelouche related how his great-great-grandfather Aharon Chelouche acquired the plot of land that became part of Chelouche family folklore.  “There were no land surveyors. The seller and the buyer would meet on the land to agree on the size of the land and the price. To measure the plot from one end to the other, the buyer took a stone and threw it, and where it landed was the end of the plot.” Smiling, Yair continued, “Aharon must have had a very strong arm because the family ended up with a huge chunk of land.”

Two decades later, representatives of the Chelouche family would join other family members in 1909, this time not throwing stones but picking up shells with their plot numbers on it.

The genesis of Tel Aviv was brought “home” to us when passing 9 Rothschild Boulevard.  “Stop,” bellowed Yair, and then revealed, “here was the house of my great-grandparents, the first house that my great-grandfather, Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche built for them when they left Neve Tzedek for the “new” city of Tel Aviv.”

And so began the saga of “the city that never sleeps” – Tel Aviv.

Horsing Around

Our second last stop was at a statue. While most cities in Europe and the Americas are replete with leaders and warriors perched defiantly on horses, such artistic depictions are rare in Israel. So, it is with some curiosity that we looked upon the bronze statue opposite the Founders Monument of a man riding a tired-looking horse. The rider is not a general but a civil servant – Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff. He may not have made his mark on a battlefield, but he left a far more enduring legacy.

For miles and miles in every direction from this small statue, the rich urban development that is Tel Aviv today, can be traced to the superlative efforts of Tel Aviv’s first mayor who encouraged its rapid expansion and conducted daily inspections, paying attention to details. How did this indefatigable mayor travel each day to inspect the progress of the projects throughout his growing city?

By horse of course!

No wonder both rider and horse look exhausted.

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Giddyup. The statute of Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv’s first mayor riding his horse from his home to City Hall, then located on Bialik Street. With cars on the side, the image conveys how commuting has transformed over the century.

Created by the artist David Zondolovitz, the statue was unveiled in front of the mayor’s historic residence, our final and tenth stop and the most important of all.

What was the end of our trail, was the beginning of the modern State of Israel!

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Independence Hall

On May 14, 1948, the house on 16 Rothchild Boulevard – then serving as the Tel Aviv Museum of Art – hosted the historic ceremony of the Declaration of Independence.

Our guide related the events and atmosphere of that day.

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Crowds began to swell in the afternoon at cafés and balconies along the boulevard. People were waving little flags and singing and then at three o’clock, journalists from around the world started filing into the Tel Aviv Art Museum. They were joined by dignitaries to the rapturous applause of the crowd.

At exactly four o’clock, David Ben-Gurion started the ceremony by banging the gavel.

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Israel On Day 1. Seventy-three years ago, David Ben-Gurion declaring independence in 1948.

Outside and around the country, people were listening to the ceremony in the first broadcast of Israel Radio.

Ben-Gurion read the declaration, which opened with a historic prologue on the Jewish connection to the land and then it went on to assert that:

 “We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, named the State of Israel.”

He was followed by Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon who with a cracked voice, read the ancient prayer:

 “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.”

The crowd shouted “Amen!”

Ben-Gurion signed the declaration, then the members of the People’s Council were invited one by one to come up to the stage and sign the declaration alphabetically. The ceremony ended with the singing of “Hatikva,” the national anthem.

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Birth Of Israel. The Hall of Independence on Rothchild Boulevard is best known as the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the 14th of May 1948. The chairs are set out around the table as they were in 1948 and the names of those who attended the signing of the declaration are written on the chairs. Visitors can listen to a recording of the declaration ceremony and see a 16 minute film about the historic event. Two of the signatories were women Rachel (Kagan) Cohen and Golda Meir; three of the signatories went on to become Prime Ministers; one became the President and 14 of the original signatories served as cabinet ministers in the Israeli government.

As we finished the tour of Independence Hall, we came out and saw again the Espresso Bar formally The First Kiosk Of Tel Aviv where it had all begun.

All agreed.

It was time for another cup of café hafuch.

 

 

 

 

The Changing Of The Guard

By Rolene Marks

The numbers are far too many to bear. Their names are etched in our national consciousness. We take succour in tales of their incredible bravery and courage, their daring and chutzpah, their duty and sacrifice. The young men and women who through 72 years of the modern state of Israel have paid the ultimate price in defense of their country and the many who have fallen simply because they were targeted for being Israeli.

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Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Remembrance day and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day are upon us. At the founding of the modern state of Israel, it was decided to have these two national holidays together – a genius idea because we have a heightened sense of the sacrifice and the cost of many for us to have the flourishing, democratic State we call home.

As the sun sets and the flags lowers signaling the start of Yom Hazikaron, our thoughts will turn to those we have lost, and our hearts open a little wider to welcome in their bereaved families. The first siren will wail its mournful cry, which pierces the soul and calls the nation to attention.

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The Cost Of Survival. A nation mourns each year for the loss of loved ones in the defense of the State of Israel.

This year, commemorations will be even more poignant. The threat posed by Covid-19 and new social distancing norms means that visits to military cemeteries which bereaved families and many citizens consider sacred; will be forbidden. There will be no unified ceremonies at the call of the second siren, there will be no heart wrenching poems and prayers.

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Chief of staff, General Aviv Kochavi, salutes and respects, alone, the fallen soldiers.

This Yom Hazikaron, solidarity will take a different form, but it will be as strong as ever. We are at a time when we are acutely reminded of the fragility of life. As those sirens wail, so we will bow our heads and tears will fall. We take 24 hours to go back in time and remember the name of those felled in battle and those whose lives tragically ended. We will remember the names. Names like Yoni Netanyahu, Roi Klein and Michael Levin. Names like Hadar Goldin, Oron Shaul and so many who fell in our defense.

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(L-R) Yoni Netanyahu, Roi Klein, Michael Levin z’l

We remember the names like Taylor Force, Dafna Meir and Hallel Ariel. They suffered stabbings, shootings, suicide bombings and other murderous acts. So many, too many. We will listen to the stories and we will remember them.

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(L- R) Taylor Force, Dafna Meir, Hallel Ariel z’l

We will remember 23,816 soldiers and security forces personnel fallen since the birth of the modern state in 1948. This year, 42 more fallen were added to a list that nobody wants to be on. The IDF also recognizes  83 that were disabled who passed away and are regarded as fallen soldiers and 3,153 citizens who have died from terror attacks.

Behind every number, is a name – and a story. Behind every number are bereaved families, for whom every day is a bitter reminder. Yom Hazikaron is that one day where the whole nation wraps its arms around them. This year we will have to find a new way to do it.

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Memorial Day 2020 without the bereaved families and friends, yet we will remember 23,816 soldiers and security forces personnel fallen since the birth of the modern state in 1948 (Photo: Reuven Castro)

And then in a matter of moments, everything changes.

And as the clock changes, so too, does the mood in Israel. We observe that annual changing of the guard as we move from the intensity of grief to that of gratitude and celebration, understanding full well what sacrifices so many made so we can live in freedom. This year it is even more poignant as the flyovers and fireworks have come to a halt. While the barbecues may be lit, there is a tinge of sadness in the atmosphere as the threat of Coronavirus and social distancing means that we will not gather in each other’s homes, on the beaches and in the forests.  We will celebrate as one – from the safety of our balconies as individuals and families. As we toast to the State of Israel, there will be deeper, meaning to that salute to life – L’Chaim!

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Switchover. Following the end of Yom Hazikaron, Israelis display their nation’s flag as they revel in Independence Day celebrations, May 8, 2019. (Photo/Hadas Parush-Flash90)

There will be a changing of the guard both in traditions and emotions, but distance and restrictions will in no way diminish the unity and pride of Israelis. This is our strength.

 

Captain Extraordinary!

By  Rolene Marks

Not all heroes wear capes. During this time of crisis, most wear masks of a different kind – medical grade and protective gear to prevent a tiny but potentially lethal microbe from spreading. This particular hero, wears a smart navy blazer with his medals from his service during World War II polished and displayed proudly across his chest. His weapon is a walker to help him walk. And his superpower? This hero’s particular superpower is inspiring many from all around the world to support him on his noble mission – raising money for Britain’s NHS (National Health Services).

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Meet Captain Tom Moore, a 99 year old World War II veteran who is walking to raise funds for the NHS. This extraordinary man, who turns 100 on April 30th, pledged to do 100 laps of his 25 metre long garden before his birthday at month’s end, which he has since completed. His goal? Raise one thousand pounds for the NHS.

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Honouring A Hero. A guard of honour for 99-year-old WWII veteran Captain Tom Moore (image BBC)

His family thought this may be a goal too high and took to social media to support him but Captain Tom as he has been dubbed, with his captivating charm and noble intentions has raised a staggering £12 million at the time of writing this article – and the money continues to come in! Celebrities, businesspeople, ex-pat Brits and citizens all over the UK are contributing. At four million it was estimated that funds could contribute to 800 ventilators, 850 nurses and 10,000 beds – imagine what 12 million (and growing!) can do!

 

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(*By the time that this article is published, the amount has already exceeded that sum by far and is still rising!)

Who is this ordinary man turned extraordinary superhero?

Tom Moore was born in Keighley, West Yorkshire.  He was conscripted into the British Army when he was 20, along with – as he likes to put it – his role model, the Queen.

“She and I were in her father’s army together – she was a subaltern,” he says. Her majesty served as a mechanic during the war. Captain Tom loves the Queen. ‘She is fantastic and so strong and sensible, and her heart is in the right place,” he says. “I don’t think anybody anywhere has had a Queen like we’ve got. We’re very lucky.”

Moore joined the 145th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps, was selected for officer training in 1940 and rose to the rank of Captain. He was posted to India where he fought in the Arakan Campaign of 1942-3, when the Allies pushed back against the Japanese in Burma. His late sister, Freda, was also conscripted and joined the ATS in Lincolnshire, plotting the German planes as they came over.

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In His Majesty’s Army. Captain Moore serves in WWII (image daily mail)

Today, Captain Moore is serving Queen and country in a different way.

A few years ago, Moore endured a battle with skin cancer. He also fell in his kitchen and broke his hip and gashed his head.

“I tangled up my own feet and fell over and hit my head on the dishwasher,” he says.

“It still has a little dent!” But thanks to the NHS, he soon bounced back into his smart navy blazer and slacks and he will always be grateful.

“They’re wonderful. Amazing. They’ve seen me through and cared for Pamela, my wife when she was ill. I just wanted to thank them.” Well he’s done that, many times over. Captain Moore’s heartwarming mission is not just dominating headlines in his native UK but also around the world. Even The Times of Israel has been following his extraordinary fundraising journey. With all the Corona virus coverage, perhaps Moore is the perfect dose of good will.

Journalist Piers Morgan, who has interviewed Captain Moore,  has called for him to be Knighted for his service to Queen and country and many agree. While there may not be a medal adequate enough to express gratitude, this gentleman deserves the highest honour in the land – a Knighthood.

Asked about how he feels about a possible Knighthood, he responded:

“It would be marvelous to have such an honour but I don’t expect anything like that. I think it would be absolutely enormous if I was knighted, to be Sir Thomas Moore, I have never heard of anything like that before. I think the Queen is marvelous and doing such a terrific job because all the time she’s been Queen, she has been the leader of the country – and I have the highest regard for her. I hope she continues as Queen for a very long time.”

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When asked about his 100th birthday on April 30, Captain Moore said: “Well originally we were going to have a big party here with all my friends and relations and we were all imagining what it would be like.”

Captain Moore, you deserve a party – with everything your brave heart desires, you have earned it!

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Captain Tom Moore reacts as he completes the 100th length of his back garden in Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire, yesterday

On April 5 2000, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth hearkened back to a bygone era when she delivered a magnificent speech in what many are calling the greatest of her 68-year reign. In this speech, she spoke about separation from family during the war years and quoted another icon of her generation, Dame Vera Lynn when she gave the rallying cry “We’ll Meet Again”. It reminded many of us of the spirit of that generation, the greatest generation. Today, it is a war veteran, resplendent in his medals , who shows us it is possible to keep calm and get going.

Captain Tom Moore, Sir, we salute you! You are the epitome of  the Greatest Generation.