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.
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 ifPrime 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!
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.
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.
“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.”
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!”
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.”
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”.
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”.
“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.
Next, we walked on to the Nahum Gutman Fountain.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
The Great Synagogue on 110 Allenby Street, served as Tel Aviv’s spiritual and religious center long before Israel’s independence.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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!
(*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.
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.”
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!
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.
A letter to Israel’s iconic first female prime Minister
By Rolene Marks
I have often wondered what I would say to you if I ever was to meet you. What would an immigrant to the beautiful country that you helped establish, say to one of the greatest leaders of all time? You were Israel’s fourth Prime Minister and very first female leader at a time in the world when this was virtually unheard of; and remain an inspiration to this day. You gave the impression that even though you were a formidable leader, you were still “savta” (grandmother: Hebrew) Golda, with your trademark bun and cigarette, an approachable “bubbe” (grandmother: Yiddish) who we could count on for advice.
It is 2020; and the tiny little country that you helped birth is a thriving, cosmopolitan and beautifully flawed democracy. Women’s rights have grown in leaps and bounds since you paved the way for us to realise we can become so much more than we ever thought we could. We are pioneers and trailblazers, entrepreneurs and home makers, politicians and doctors, ballerinas, soldiers and teachers. We are nation builders. In a neighbourhood where many women are silenced, persecuted, raped and denied basic human rights, Israel’s women are the backbone of our great state.
A lot of this we owe to you.
You mentioned in your memoir of how emotional it was to sign the Declaration of Independence. I wish you could see us now!
Dear Golda, Israel has always been the birthplace of ideas. You were so proud of this fact and always encouraged education and now we are world leaders in science, medicine, agriculture and technology. We have been renamed “The Start-Up Nation”. You would be amazed at the incredible creativity bursting from our young, innovative citizens. We even sent an unmanned vehicle to the moon and arrived with a bang! It wasn’t the landing we were hoping for; but we did it regardless and now we have our sites set even higher. The sky is not our limit – we seek to explore the universe!
One of your most memorable quotes was that there would be peace “when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us”. Golda, it breaks my heart to tell you that this has not changed. You wrote in your memoir “My Life” that you worried about preparing the next generation of 9 and 10-year-olds for the army. Sadly, the same incitement and terror that you worried and opined about has not stopped and we have had to fight several more wars and endure two “Intifadas” as a result of such hostility. But you know we are a stubborn people and we sanctify life and will never lose our hope for peace. We never lose hope that our neighbours will choose to educate their children to become members of the start-up generation instead of educating them with hate filled rhetoric. We face a brutal enemy in the form of Iran and its proxies, but our hope lies with the Iranian people who seek to overthrow this brutal regime. While this is happening, many Arab countries are starting to see the benefits of warming ties with us. Who would have thought that this could happen!
Dear Golda, we have mourned together and suffered loss as a nation. Our heads have been bowed but our spirits have never been broken. Our defiant love for life sustains and motivates us to carry on. At a time when stones are weapons of war, we use ours to build homes. When barbaric terrorists behead their victims, we use ours to look for groundbreaking solutions and at a time where women are maligned and mistreated in our neighbourhood, we endeavor to follow in your trailblazing footprints.
Dear Golda, you raised the ire of some, but I reckon if people applaud every single thing you do, you probably aren’t doing your job effectively enough. You sometimes made decisions that were not always popular but as a true leader, always had Israel’s best interests at heart.
Africa held a special place in your heart, and you believed that many of the countries shared a similar history and yearning for statehood that we did. You would be delighted to see the contribution Israel is making on the continent in helping with sustainability and growth. We pride ourselves in living up to the tenet of Tikkun Olam and wherever there is a crisis or natural disaster, you will find Israel leading the way. Our enemy Syria has been engaged in a civil war for many years and despite this, Israel has saved over 2000 lives. Wherever there is a call in distress, we answer immediately and send our finest to help.
You would be amused that some of your most awe-inspiring quotes are used by us, generations later, to effectively communicate how much we love our country and how we share the same frustrations you did. You had a way with words and in today’s technologically driven world I cannot help but wonder what you would have thought about social media and its importance in telling Israel’s story? Today we will not be silent in the face of adversity and rising antisemitism and even though you are no longer with us, your words continue to inspire us and give us fortitude.
Dear Golda, we may not share the same taste in shoes but I would so love to join you in a celebratory glass of your favourite Israeli wine and toast to Israel, to her pioneering people and to you, a venerable leader who burst through the ceilings, raised the standards and blazed a glowing trail.
Tel Aviv’s oldest Jewish district, Neve Tzedek is young at heart.
With its 19th century gentrified homes, trendy cafés, boisterous bars, beautiful boutiques and exquisite art galleries along its narrow cobbled leafy lanes, Neve Tzedek (“oasis of justice” in Hebrew) is one of Tel Aviv’s most fashionable districts and also where the story of Tel Aviv really began.
By David. E. Kaplan
People believe that the story of Tel Aviv began with a seaside lottery in 1909 but in truth, the story of modern Jewish settlement in this coastal metropolis began nearly two decades earlier with the first house built in 1888 by Aharon Chelouche who arrived in Palestine in 1838 as a young boy with his family from Oran, Algeria.
The writer stood with a group of mostly former South African Israelis outside his house at No. 32 on the street that bears his name and had as our guide, Yair Chelouche, a direct descendent from the father of Aharon, the patriarch of the family – Abraham Chelouche.
“Abraham is believed to have stated before he left Algeria in 1838,” said Yair, “that unlike many others who were migrating to the Land of Israel at that time, “I am not going there to die – but to live!””
Unlike his biblical namesake of 3000 years earlier who came close to suffering the sacrifice of a son, this 19th century Abraham endured the sacrifice of two sons only meters away before he set foot on “The Promised Land”.
“In those days there was no port of Haifa only a beach next to a few coastal villages. And so, small dinghies used to row out to the sailing ships that anchored offshore and bring the passengers ashore. Tragically, one of these dinghies capsized, and Abraham’s young sons, Yosef and Eliyahu, drowned,” related Yair.
After settling briefly in Nablus, Abraham Chelouche moved his family to Jaffa, where Aharon, then nine years old, grew up. Later, when Aharon married and had children, he named his second son Yosef Eliyahu in memory of his two drowned brothers.
“Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche is my great grandfather”, says Yair
Strong Arm Tactics
The Chelouches spoke fluent Arabic and had no difficulty settling into life in Jaffa, a thriving, colourful mainly Arab port town that must have shared similarities with the family’s native Oran.
Young Aharon grew up to be a shrewd businessman – a goldsmith and money changer. His sharp mind and keen eye for a good deal soon made him a wealthy man.
Yair relates a story that has become part of the family folklore: “Aharon calculated that the mineral content of one particular Ottoman coin was worth considerably more than the monetary value of the coin itself, and so he collected these coins, smelt them, and then sold the mineral or used it to craft valuable jewelry.”
Aharon was not only an entrepreneur – but a visionary. Emerging as the leader of the Sephardic community in Jaffa, “He believed,” says Yair, “that Jews should build their own town, and in 1883, bought the first plot of land north of Jaffa that would become NeveTzedek. This was over twenty years before he joined a group of about 100 people on the sand dunes in 1909 to acquire plots by way of a seashell lottery that became Tel Aviv.”
In those days, indicates Yair, “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 continues, “Aharon must have had a very strong arm because the family ended up with a huge chunk of land.”
Reshaping a Landscape
To attract Jews to join his large family, Aharon built a Beit Knesset by his house located today close to the magnificent Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater. Established in 1989, just over a century after Aharon culturally transformed this barren landscape of sand dunes and brushwood, the Suzanne Dellal Center today is the home of dance in Israel and premier presenter of Israeli and international contemporary dance companies. Situated in the center of Neve Tzedek, Yair points out where the original synagogue stood, the water well and a school, and where a plaque remains of the builder’s name – “Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche” – Yair’s great grandfather. “He became one of Tel Aviv’s important builders and apart from building many of the city’s first homes and schools – his most famous construction was the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, originally known as HaGymnasia HaIvrit (lit. Hebrew High School).”
Only a short walk from Neve Tzedek, the cornerstone ceremony of the school took place in 1909, the founding year of Tel Aviv and was the county’s first Hebrew high school. The design was inspired by descriptions of Solomon’s Temple and remained a major Tel Aviv landmark until 1962 when “it was regrettably razed for the construction of the Shalom Meir Tower on Herzl Street,” laments Yair.
One of the most visited tourist sites in Tel Aviv, the Suzanne Dellal Centre’s beautiful and sprawling multi-level campus, consists of four performance halls, numerous rehearsal studios, a restaurant and cafe, and wide plazas that host various outdoor performances and events throughout the year.
Yair points out where his great grandfather’s factory stood – “Fabrique Chelouche Frères”. The name, painted in French and Arabic, was still clearly visible until building started a while ago on that plot, and, standing beneath its place, Yair relates that “the building material produced here was used for most of the early construction of Ahuzat Bayit (Hebrew meaning “Homestead”) the forerunner to the naming of the city – Tel Aviv. “One can still see the brightly patterned floor tiles of Chelouche Frères in some of Tel Aviv’s oldest buildings,” says Yair.
Neve Tzedek boasts a variety of architectural styles from Bauhaus to eclectic and at the beginning of the 1900s, it was the intellectual and cultural hub of Tel Aviv, attracting artists and writers. To appreciate their legacy and the impact it had on the cultural destiny of the future State of Israel, “a visit to the Nachum Gutman Museum is a must,” asserts Yair.
Only a short walk from Beit Chelouche (Chelouche Home), the museum is located on the east end of the narrow cobbled Rokach Street, named after another celebrated Neve Tzedek resident, Israel Rokach, who became the second mayor of Tel Aviv, after Meir Dizengoff. On the way, Yair relates family stories of the political shenanigans in the 1936 mayoral election between Rokach and his opponent – Moshe Chelouche, brother of Yair’s grandfather, Avner, son of Yosef-Eliyahu. Although Moshe won the election, the British High Commissioner intervened in the support of Rokach, and despite the public uproar about British intervention in the Jewish democratic process, “Moshe served little more than a day, while Rokach went on to serve as mayor of Tel Aviv until 1953.”
Rokach would also go on to head the Maccabi World Union, sit as a member of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), serve as an Israeli Interior Minister and be awarded the title of ‘Officer of the Order of the British Empire’. Rokach’s house in Neve Tzedek is today a museum – possibly the oldest museum in Tel Aviv – and is often used to showcase cultural events.
A Brush with the Past
The Nachum Gutman Museum used to be known as Beit HaSofrim (the Writer’s House) due to the large number of famous writers who lived here and gathered for literary meetings and discussions, such as the poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, S.Y. Agnon, who would later win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Joseph Aharonovitz, editor of the newspaper HaPoel HaTzair (The Young Worker), Dvora Baron, labeled as “the first Modern Hebrew woman writer” and Nachum Gutman’s father, a renowned Hebrew writer and educator who wrote under the pen name S. Ben Zion.
Nachum grew up in the neighborhood, absorbing as a child the local lifestyle and intellectual culture of a young vibrant expanding city. This impacted Nachum’s art enormously, depicting a culturally explosive city in vivid vibrant colors.
Welcoming his visitors, we were ‘met’ by Nachum or rather by one of his large colorful paintings. A juxtaposition of images of Tel Aviv, it captures its iconic architecture, and outdoors way of life as a coastal city, with the sea in the background and ships coming into dock. We see outdoor cafés with people sitting around tables on the sidewalks, chatting, reading and watching the passing show. This is quintessential Tel Aviv – a vibrant city with people on the move. In this sense, little has changed. Gutman captured the essence and spirit of a city that stands the test of time.
“And it all began with a house that now stands at 32 Chelouche street,” Yair reminds us.
Keen to learn more about the personalities of the Chelouche pioneers and how they shaped the future, Yair ‘unveiled’ this intimate heartwarming historical gem!
A Tale of Two Families
When the founder of Neve Tzedek, Aharon Chelouche, was still living in Jaffa, an incident occurred that that would connect two Palestinian families – the Jewish Chelouches and the Arab Samarras – for over a century.
Sometime in the early 1860s, a caravan of merchants passed through Jaffa on camels on the way to Alexandria and neglectfully left behind a young Arab boy. By the time his father Sheikh Samarra realized, the caravan was too far travelled to return.
The young boy was brought before Aharon Chelouche who said:
“No problem, he will live with us until his father returns from Alexandria”
And so, three months later, on the return, his father Sheikh Samarra from Tul-Karem collected his son who, by all accounts, had enjoyed his stay in Jaffa with the Chelouches who had cared for him well.
Nothing more of the Samarras was heard until the Great War of 1917. The Turkish authorities, fearful that the Allies would invade Palestine from the sea, considered Jaffa’s Jews a threat to national security and exiled them inland. The Chelouches, who were exiled to Kfar Jamal near Tul-Karem, found themselves in a pitiful situation. Their funds had run out and had little to eat. Aharon was then 90 years old, and his sons Yosef Eliyahu and Abraham Haim now headed a family that was destitute.
Help then came from an unexpected source!
One day, a pair of camels, preceded by a donkey, appeared on the path. The rider came down from his donkey and asked:
“I am searching for the refugee Aharon Chelouche. Is he here?”
Brought before the old man, the visitor said, “You do not know me. My name is Hajj Ibrahim Samarra. I am the youth to whom you once gave a majida (Arabic: glorious) in Jaffa. Your benevolence will never be forgotten. And I heard that your family were refugees here.”
Hajj Ibrahim then unloaded from his camels, sacks of flower and beans, and leather bags of oil. That young boy left behind in Jaffa nearly four decades earlier, was now a rich man, the Sheikh of three villages.
There was more to come – a lot more!
He invited Aharon’s sons to his home, broke through a hole in the wall with an axe, and removed a red handkerchief holding 500 gold pounds, which he handed over to Yosef Eliyahu – with whom he had played as a child during his three month stay in Jaffa – and said:
“Take it, I have enough. Return it when the war ends, Inshallah. It will be my shame if you do not take the money.”
Yosef Eliyahu thanked him and offered a promissory note.
“Why?” asked Hajj Ibrahim.
“What if we all die in the war,” replied Yosef Eliyahu.
“Then neither of us will need the money,” protested Sheikh Ibrahim.
In 1981, while a student at Tel Aviv University, Yair Chelouche, the great-grandson of Yosef Eliyahu went into the office of his great uncle Aharon Chelouche, named after the founder of Neve Tzedek, who was then Dean in charge of student affairs.
“Sit down Yair” he said, “I have a story to tell you”.
Aharon then related that the week before, an Arab female student had come in to see him about a certain problem. When he saw her surname, he began asking her questions, and not too long thereafter he said to her:
“We are connected by 100 years of history. You have a wonderful family.”
“How do you know my family?” she asked rather puzzled.
And so, Aharon began:
“When your great-great grandfather was a little boy, he was left in Jaffa…”
At story’s end, she burst out crying and the elder Jewish Chelouche and the younger Arab Samara hugged.
Today, while Neve Tzedek still retains its quaint character with colourful buildings and small narrow streets, the district is an upscale suburb of Tel Aviv, attracting the rich and famous.
Where “in the old days” its residents included the likes of great literary luminaries like Nobel laureate, S.Y. Agnon, and Y.H. Brenner, pioneer of modern Hebrew literature, in modern times, residents have included billionaire Roman Abramovitch, the owner of the English professional football club Chelsea F.C., and superstar Gal Gadot of ‘Wonder Woman’ fame.
It is little ‘wonder’ that Neve Tzedek, where the story of Tel Aviv began, is once again in the limelight – attracting residents, investors, pursuers of culture and tourists.
Yair, who created in colorful concentric circles the family tree for the a Chelouche family reunion (2004) that attracted over 500 members from Israel and abroad and held at Beit Chelouche, relates:
“It was wonderful meeting all my family, young and old, and who all descended from our patriarch, Abraham Chelouche, who not only founded a dynasty, but whose progeny helped create this great city of ours – Tel Aviv.”
Zubin Mehta – “The crown Jewel of Israel’s cultural life”.
By David E. Kaplan
13 July 2019 in Tel Aviv was a Saturday night like few others!
Music lovers came out in their multitude to bid an emotional farewell to Maestro Zubin Mehta on the fulfillment of his impressive 50-year tenure as musical director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO).
The grassy expanse of the Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv was filled with a huge crowd of all ages, who rose almost simultaneously as the charismatic Maestro took the stage, opening with the orchestra’s moving rendition of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah”.
The sad realisation of an iconic era coming to an end was poignantly punctuated with this quip from the 83-year-old conductor:
“When I started my work in Israel, all the members of the orchestra were twice my age, and now everyone is three times younger.”
This is understandable since the Maestro’s debut with the IPO was 1961!
Mayor Ron Huldai hit the right note hailing Mehta as:
“The Crown Jewel Of Israel’s Cultural Life”.
Sitting on the lawn amongst the crowd, noting how the Maestro’s unmistakable stature and gestures of his hand dominates an orchestra, I thought back only three years previously to 2016 when I interviewed Zubin Mehta on the occasion of his 80th birthday in his private office named after the acclaimed Italian conductor, Arturo Toscanini.
It had been not only the Mehta’s 80th but also the 80th of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. “Yes, we share an 80th together.”
He revealed how this milestone marked 80 years since Toscanini conducted the inaugural concert of the (later named) Israel Philharmonic Orchestra on December 26, 1936.
Attendees including Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, and Golda Meir.
It represented not only the culmination of Jewish Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman’s courageous efforts to provide refuge for nearly 1,000 European Jews fleeing Nazi Germany by establishing an “orchestra of the Jewish people,” but also the creation of a world-class musical institution.
Since 1961 when the IPO was first introduced to Zubin Mehta who came to fill in for an indisposed Eugene Ormandy, there has been a ‘love affair’ between the conductor and the people of Israel.
Over 2000 concerts later, the Maestro welcomed me into his office in the prestigious Charles Bronfman Auditorium with his arms warmly outstretched – a sight familiar to concert audiences around the world usually with a baton in hand.
I was keen to understand from the outset the nature of the relationship between Mehta and Israel, after all, the conductor – a Hindu Indian and the Jewish state may seem an odd coupling.
“Not at all,” says Mehta who revealed he fell in love not only with the Israeli orchestra but with the country itself.
“It reminded me a lot of my home, Bombay. Israelis, like Indians, are opinionated, and they have the habit of all speaking at the same time, which made me feel at home. People think this is a Jewish characteristic. It’s not. It’s also very Indian.”
From Bat to Baton
Recognising my unmistakable South African accent there was initial talk when he conducted a concert in Durban, our love of Indian cuisine, “the hotter the better” and of CRICKET! As if reaching a crescendo in Beethoven’s 5th, the Maestro became so animated when describing a 1-day limited overs match he watched the previous year at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai when the South African nation team, the ‘Proteas’, thrashed the hosts by 214 runs thanks to “blistering centuries from AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis. I sat there stunned – These South Africans gave us a ‘master class’ lesson in batting.” Mehta was well versed with the names of the SA cricket squad and the score as he was with any classical musical score.
“It was a slaughter” he lamented, and went on to describe his schooldays in Bombay (preferring to use its old name than Mumbai when speaking in English) where he showed talent with a cricket bat in the very hands that would one day mesmerize audiences around the world with a baton.
It could so easy not have been!
“I first studied medicine for a year in Bombay before switching to music. I was brought up in a typical middleclass Parsi family in Bombay where there were about five professions to choose from, and usually the parents made the choice. My brother studied accountancy and became a Chartered Accountant, while I ditched medicine and moved to Vienna to study music.”
However, music was very much in the Mehta family. His father founded the Bombay Orchestra, was its conductor, concert master and the soloist in a string quartet. “My dad was known as “Mr. Music of Bombay”. His dream was to create an environment in Bombay, which would enable talented young Indians to study Western classical music and perform professionally in their country. This is why our family is so proud that there is today a foundation in India bearing his name – the Mehli Mehta Trust -devoted to fulfilling his dream. He would be smiling if he could see the 150 kids studying classical music there – they represent his living legacy.”
Conductor with a Cause
What impressed me was the number of causes Zubin has identified with and brought the full weight of his talent to spotlight global attention on them.
In 2013, he conducted the Bavarian Orchestra in Kashmir, one of the most militarized regions of the world. An area contested by both India and Pakistan over religious divisions, the event was organized by Germany’s ambassador to India, Michael Steiner, with the aim of reaching “the hearts of the Kashmiris with a message of hope and encouragement”. Although the event was not without controversy, Mehta believed the concert had a positive impact on Kashmir.
“We are musicians; we cannot change boundaries, but we can start a process of healing. Hindus and Muslims sat together in complete harmony. We cannot force them to smile at each other; but we can bring them together and enjoy the same music. That is a good start.”
During the first Gulf War of 1992, “or what Israelis talk of as the ‘Scud War’, we performed many solidarity concerts both in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv.”
After Iraq launched Scud missiles into Israel, Mehta raced to Israel. As Director of the New York Philharmonic at the time, “I had many obligations in New York that should have prevented me from coming, but I couldn’t imagine not being in Israel.”
Another notable musician who rushed to Israel was solo violinist Isaac Stern and “at our concert in Jerusalem, we were both presented on stage with gas masks – just in case. We never needed them, and we only performed during the day, as the scuds were mainly at night when the country was in total darkness. And yet, Israelis showed their grit – we performed to packed audiences. Think of it, missiles were raining down on Israel, and its people wanted to hear classical music.”
One such “Under Fire” concert was organized by former South African Solly Liebgott a governor of the Hebrew University who told the writer at the time, “People said I was crazy; nobody would come. We had a waiting list; it broke my heart as a fundraiser to return cheques.”
It proved that if Zubin Mehta was prepared to conduct, the people would attend his concerts.
Bullets, Bombs, Music
Intrigued to learn of other ‘Hot Spots’ where the Maestro conducted, Mehta reflects:
At the outset of the 1967 Six Day War, “a conductor who was slated to perform with the IPO dropped out, and I saw the situation as a musical emergency.” He rushed to board an ammunition-filled plane from the USA to Israel and “turned out to be the last plane allowed to land in the country before Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport closed during the fighting.”
Mehta conducted a performance and stayed in the basement of a Jerusalem concert hall for the six days, along with pianist Daniel Barenboim and the celebrated cellist Jacqueline du Pré.
“I’m not sure how good the concert was musically — we weren’t exactly prepared!” Mehta later reflected, “but Daniel played the Beethoven Emperor Piano Concerto and Jackie played the Elgar Cello Concerto.”
A lesser known anecdote, a week after the war ended, Mehta pretended he was Jewish in order to act as a witness at Barenboim and du Pré’s wedding at the Western Wall.
When Israel was at war in Southern Lebanon in 1982, Mehta brought – assisted by the police – the orchestra’s musicians a few kilometers across the border into a Lebanese tobacco field. “We erected a stage under a tent and played for a group of local Lebanese citizens.” After the concert, Mehta said “the concertgoers rushed the stage to hug the musicians.”
“How I would love to see that sight again today – of Arabs and Jews hugging each other. I’m a positive thinker. I know that day will come.”
In 1994 during the Bosnian War, “The Italian impresario, Mario Dradi, organized a concert of the Mozart Requiem in the bombed Islamic Library of Sarajevo. I conducted the Sarajevo Orchestra, which included musicians from other parts of the disintegrating Yugoslavia to make up those in the orchestra who had been killed in the fighting. We had no audience as there was nowhere for people to sit, so the concert was filmed, and the proceeds from the sale of the movie went to the UN Refugee Fund to help the victims of this war.”
They did however have an audience for the rehearsals in Sarajevo’s Opera House, “which fortunately was not bombed. The sound of bombs could be heard throughout the night, and in the afternoon of the concert, a young boy was killed nearby in the street.”
Magic Of Music
And then there have been concert performances – not during wars but following wars or disasters and one of the most emotional was in 1999, when Mehta conducted an enormous orchestra comprising the IPO together with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra outside of the Buchenwald concentration Camp. “We played Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection). It was very moving.”
It was the first concert in Germany that featured the Israeli Philharmonic playing with a German orchestra, and apart from the German orchestra being the Munich-based Bavarian State Orchestra – “sensitive because of its historical connotations” –
the concert took place just beneath the hill that had housed the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp. Mehta accompanied musicians from both orchestras on a tour of the camp before the performance.
Mehta revealed that during the walk through the camp, he could not avoid thinking:
“Will the Israelis be able to sit together with Germans this evening and play music?”
However, he detected no feelings of resistance and my feeling now is that “if Jews and Germans can be together near Buchenwald after 50 years, one day there will be reconciliation with Arabs, too.”
Four years after Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas in June 2006, “we took the IPO to the Israel-Gaza border to protest his imprisonment.” The goal was to pressure Hamas into letting the Red Cross visit Shalit to make sure he was okay and to pressure both Israel and the leaders of Gaza to negotiate a deal for Shalit’s release.
“I hope he knows we are doing this concert and one day very soon he will know every note we play goes out to him,” said Mehta at the time.
Shalit was freed in a prisoner exchange the following year!
Citizen of the World
Being so closely rooted to India, Israel, the USA and Europe, I asked the Maestro if there any one city he can call home?
“I feel at home in at least five cities – Bombay, Tel Aviv, Vienna, Florence and Los Angeles,” he replied.
I enquire further that with the warming of relations between two of his “homes” – India and Israel – was there a role for improved cultural ties?
“Bilateral relations between the two countries have blossomed particularly in the areas of diamonds, agriculture, hi-tech and tourism,” responds Mehta. “Young Israelis visit India in droves. As far as the IPO is concerned, two years after India and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1992, we performed in India for the first time, and since then we have toured there periodically. Every few years we perform in Bombay. Music has this transformative ability to bring people together.”
Maestro and his Masterpieces
Away from musically spotlighting war and human disasters, the Maestro took little time revealing one of his most fun-filled memorable concerts!
The recording of this debut concert became the best-selling classical album of all time, leading to additional performances and live albums. Around 1.3 billion viewers worldwide watched their second televised performance four years later at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. They last performed together at an arena in Columbus, Ohio on 28 September 2003.
Describing the concerts with The Three Tenors, and all the great performers he has collaborated with over six decades, one can understand when Mehta says that “I have been blessed to be in the best profession in the world, constantly surrounded by masterpieces.”
To the final question of the future of classical music appreciation, Mehta is unfazed: “Never mind classical music, can you imagine any one day in the history of mankind without music? No, we can’t.”
How fortunate for the world that one young man decided at the age of eighteen to change professions and, instead of healing bodies, touched people’s souls.
In tribute to Johnny Clegg (7 June 1953 – 16 July 2019)
By Rolene Marks
Every immigrant will tell you that we take a small piece of our country of origin to our new home. For some scatterlings of Africa, it is biltong and braaivleis and for others it is something else. For me, the little piece of South Africa that I brought with was the soundtrack to my childhood and its pervasive memory – Johnny Clegg.
I will never forget the first time I heard his unique blend of traditional Zulu music and modern rock. Sitting in the cinema watching the movie, Jock of the Bushveld, I was enamoured by its star, a rather robust and gorgeous Staffordshire terrier but it was the theme song that evoked the strongest reaction in me. “Great heart”, the hit song transported me to wide open African plains, blue skies and reminded me of the power of courage. I was courage. You were courage.
And so began a lifelong love of Johnny Clegg’s music, joined by his trailblazing bandmates, Juluka and then Savuka.
Music has always had a great ability to unite, and throughout South Africa’s darkest years when Apartheid sought to build impenetrable walls between people of different races, it was Clegg and his band that were then called Juluka, pulled them down with their unique sound.
Blending Zulu and rock elements coupled with traditional, energetic Zulu dancing, they electrified South Africans who could not get enough. It was unlike anything we had ever heard and Clegg who faced harassment and sometimes censorship and the risk of arrest was the front man whose lyrics were both overtly and covertly political. Juluka disbanded in 1985 but would re-band in 1986 as Savuka.
Clegg had succeeded in doing the impossible – uniting the fractured folk of South Africa and flipping the Apartheid regime the proverbial finger.
Clegg and his band’s crossover appeal were not just restricted to South Africa.
The artists whose first album was titled Universal Men has universal appeal and attained tremendous global success which was then virtually unheard of for South African artists who were enduring a cultural boycott.
Such was Clegg’s global success as the front man of the band that in France he became fondly known as “le Zoulou Blanc” (the White Zulu) and was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (Knight of Arts and Letters) by the French Government in 1991.
This was not the only international honour that would be conferred on him.
In 2011, Clegg received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from City University of New York School of Law and in 2015, Clegg was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Clegg spoke famously of his Jewish roots and while not observant, he never hid or denied it. He was proud of it even incorporating aspects of his identity in his music, most notably in his songs “Jericho“, “Jerusalem“ and “Warsaw 1943“. Clegg also had a favourable relationship with Israel and lived in the country for a short time during his childhood and saw the country as a spiritual homeland.
During the second Intifada (Palestinian uprising) when approached by notorious anti-Israel activist (and Jew) Ronnie Kasrils to sign a petition that he and his group had written castigating the Jewish state, he had quietly refused to do so. He felt that the issue was more complex.
Johnny Clegg was a humble man with the heart of a warrior and this was how he fought pancreatic cancer that would eventually lead to his death. Faced with this major health battle, he embarked on a final tour to thank his fans for their support throughout his tremendous career.
Johnny Clegg passed away on the 16th of July 2019 was laid to rest with quiet modesty in Westpark’s Jewish cemetery. South Africans will gather on Friday 26th of July to pay tribute to one of the nation’s greatest sons and icons.
Dear Johnny, as you make your crossing, it is we who should be thanking you. Hamba Kahle Johnny. Thank you, Ngiyabonga for the music, for the memories, for being the light in the darkest days of our history, for uniting us and for your pride in your identity. Thank you for being our Great Heart.
*Feature picture:Jo Hale/Redferns via Getty Images
Creative Pursuits Make Change in the World — A tribute to Johnny Clegg
July 18, 2019
By R. K. Mayer
It has only been two days since the great Johnny Clegg left us. In those two days, like most others, my time has been spent listening to old favourites, reminiscing, eulogising and paying respects. For those of us — children of South Africa — who were brought up on his music, this is a loss that is felt on so many levels: individual, communal, national, international, and more. It’s not just because of the fact that he was a great singer and musician. It was not just because of the surreal juxtaposition (at that time) of this white man stomping and dancing African style to the beat of African drums. For those of us in South Africa, Johnny Clegg and his entourage represented a beacon of light and validation for a country in the midst of terrible times. We were not just a sum total of bad politics, inhumanity and racism.
Despite the fact that international sanctions were in place, Johnny and his music still played in the international arena. His music crossed borders and grew wings. Johnny broke the barriers of apartheid. He was blind to the racist doctrines. He broke the stigmas about who you can hang out with, work with, sing like, be like, look like. In a time of terrible compartmentalisation, he was an example to all of us that things could be different. That was the power of his music and the example that he set. We can never underestimate what it did for the children of South Africa to see Johnny on the international stage. For our impressionable minds, he was someone to admire and emulate.
We too could choose to transcend.
We too could embrace and join together.
That is the power or music and creative pursuits.
That is the power of Johnny Clegg.
I have never met Johnny Clegg, although I have stomped and jumped with him across his sound tracks. I have no idea, whether he was political or not. I don’t know whether he wanted to be the one to influence a generation. I don’t know whether he consciously used his art to break the boundaries and challenge the norm, or whether it all just happened serendipitously. His music served to unite, gather and to show that our similarities were far greater than our differences.
So, in the spirit of our times, wherein boycotting people and places because of their nationality, religion, political beliefs and ideologies has become commonplace, Johnny Clegg teaches us, that creative and artistic pursuits will always prevail. They will always transcend. For all of those in favour of trying to cut off these pursuits, just imagine if my generation had not had a Johnny, Just imagine if Johnny, by the power of inertia, apathy or ignorance, had enforced the segregation laws and not lead the life he did. We would not only have missed out on his music. We would also have missed out on seeing a person be the change that the country needed to see.
In an elegiac and soulful anti-apartheid song “Asimbonanga“— a song that sparks a crazy nostalgia in me for my home town, Cape Town— Johnny Clegg sings:
A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me
I know the answer to that question. You did Johnny. You broke the silence and closed the distance between us.
Ronit Kaplinski Mayer – a blogger, novelist, change management consultant and entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of “OtailO” a startup with a smart and sustainable solution for online product returns management.
* With thanks to Larry Ger — another child of South Africa — for letting me share his painting