Remembering Rabbi Sacks – Giant of the Jewish World

Global Jewry mourns one of its greatest.

By Rolene Marks

Acts of kindness never die. They linger in the memory, giving life to other acts in return.” – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

The Great Communicator. Towering intellectual giant and warm endearing personality, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

This past weekend, on Shabbat, the Jewish world lost one of its greatest. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l, passed away at the age of 72 after a battle with cancer. As tributes pour in from around the world, from people of all faiths and backgrounds, we too, add ours to the growing international chorus wishing to show our deep appreciation for a true gentleman whose work impacted many and transcended boundaries.

A titan of the Jewish world, with a towering intellect, whose voice could at once stir and soothe, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was more than just the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth; he was seen by many as the Jewish people’s Ambassador to the world.

Ambassador for Faith and Morality. Former prime minister Tony Blair (right) presents Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (left) with a Lifetime Achievement award at the Jewish News’ Night of Heroes (photo credit: BLAKE EZRA PHOTOGRAPHY)
 

Known in equal parts for his majestic intellect, unwavering faith as well as his commitment to interfaith dialogue, Rabbi Sacks was a noted bridge builder and humanitarian whose wisdom and dulcet toned voice appealed to the religious and the secular, Jewish and non-Jew alike.

For many, regardless of faith, his gentle wisdom delivered in his unique soothing timbre would make any challenge seem surmountable, any conflict, resolvable.

Hope and Courage. Facing the future, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s TED Talk #174 was on “Navigate the corona pandemic with hope and courage”.

Renowned for his exceptional intellect, Rabbi Sacks penned many articles, books and other notable writings and would parlay this into a successful career as a speaker and media personality.  He was a sought after speaker on issues such as war and peace, religious fundamentalism, ethics, and the relationship between science and religion, among other topics. Sacks wrote more than 20 books and was lauded by many for making Judaism accessible to all.

Rabbi Sacks served as Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013 and was knighted by her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II in 2005; he was awarded a life peerage four years later in the House of Lords.

Rabbi Sacks made no secret of his great love for the State of Israel – or his concern for growing antisemitism and the threat it posed to world Jewry. He was a fierce advocate for the Jewish State and often her most vocal supporters in times of strife.  Rabbi Sacks was passionate about engagement with the youth, encouraging them to feel proud to be both Jewish and Zionist. He raised the alarm on rising antisemitism in a recent address to the UK parliament, warning that there were no longer any countries in Europe where Jews feels safe. He also courageously took a stand against former UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn who was emblematic of rising antisemitism in the UK.

The Prince and the Rabbi. Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks in conversation with Prince Charles (left) at the Chief Rabbi Sacks royal tribute dinner.

Rabbi Sacks was the consummate English gentleman. Perhaps it is HRH Prince Charles who said it best in his moving tribute when he said that Rabbi Sacks would be missed more than words can say.

We may never see the likes of this great scholar and humanitarian again. His passing poignantly reminds us of what we so sorely miss – and need.  Our deepest condolences to his family.

May his memory be eternally blessed.





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

Rabin Remembered

From the personal to the political –  25 years on from the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

By David E. Kaplan

While senior Americans may still ask each other where they were when they first heard the news on November 22nd 1963 that President Kennedy was shot, most Israelis are more likely to question of their own leader assassinated on November 4th, 1995:

What would have happened had he lived?

A Nation Stunned. Outside Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, Eitan Haber announces the death of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Saturday, Nov 4, 1995. (AP PHOTo/Eyal Warshavsky)

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

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

Whatever one’s perspective today on the Oslo Accords  – that had earned Rabin  the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize together with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat – it was a daring gamble. What made the Prime Minister pursue this course was a question I put to his daughter, Dalia Rabin in an exclusive interview for Hilton Israel Magazine following the opening in 2010 of the  Yitzhak Rabin Center, which she serves as Chairman.

A Noble Affair. The architects of the Oslo Peace  initiative, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin share the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts at reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

A former Member of the Knesset and former Deputy Minister of Defense , Dalia explained it this way:

Look, for many years he was trying to deal with the local Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. He set up a forum, when they used to meet in his office on Friday mornings, but he realized that no sooner had they returned to their offices in Ramallah, they would call the guy in Tunis who called the shots.

So he reasoned, rather than talk to Tunis via Ramallah, why not talk directly to the guy in Tunis. If he is so strong, respected and charismatic, maybe he is the one who can deliver the goods and bring peace and so began the dialogue between my father and Yasser Arafat.”

The writer David Kaplan interviewing Dalia Rabin at the newly opened Yitzchak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv in 2010.

It was a huge risk on the shoulders of someone who caried the weight of the future of the Jewish state. He knew that to openly negotiate with Arafat would confer legitimacy on an international terrorist, whose oranisation had been associated with such atrocities as  the Coastal Road Massacre in March 1978, the Munich Massacre of Olympic athletes  in September 1972, and the Achille Lauro hijacking in October 1985.

Was it worth the risk

Depends on the man taking it said the late Eitan Haber who was one of Rabin’s closet friends. I interviewed the late Haber in 2015 on the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination.

Yes, I met him in 1958. I was eighteen, drafted into the IDF and serving as a reporter for ‘Bamachaneh’, a military newspaper when the commander of the Northern Command befriended me. Little did I know that he would one day become Prime Minister?”

It was the beginning of a long and enriching journey. In 1985, when Rabin was Minister of Defense, he appointed Haber – then the military correspondent with Yedioth Ahronoth – as his special media adviser. The relationship peaked, when following Rabin’s election as Prime Minister in 1992, he appointed Haber as his adviser and bureau chief.

So why the risk of legitimising Yasser Arafat and the PLO (Palestinian Liberation organization)?

From Bullets to Handshake. (left-right) Yitzchak Rabin in his suit and  Yasser Arafat in military uniform, shaking hands at the White House, ensconced in Clinton’s wide embrace, immediately after signing their historic peace agreement in 1993. (Ron Edmonds/Associated Press)

Haber directed the conversation to one of Rabin’s biggest risk-taking decisions –  Operation Entebbe in July 1976. On Rabin’s orders, the IDF performed a long-range undercover raid to rescue passengers of an airliner hijacked by terrorists and brought to Idi Amin’s Uganda.

Haber says that “Rabin felt that the Entebbe Operation was probably the hardest decision in his life. Think of it, to send your best soldiers, thousands of kilometers away in Africa to rescue passengers guarded by highly-trained terrorists with the support of a crazy, unpredictable ruler like Idi Amin! Think of the odds. This was a ‘Mission Impossible’ – it was the stuff of a far-fetched movie. And yet, as it turned out, what was ‘far-fetched’, emerged within anxious hours a ‘stunning success’. Movies were later made – many of them – only it was based on fact not fiction, and it was a very, very brave decision of Rabin to give the go-ahead.”

In the end, only one Israeli lost his life – the commander of the operation, Lt.-Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of Israel’s current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

‘You left a worried country, return to a proud one’. In one of the greatest rescues of all time, Shimon Peres (left) and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (right) shares emotional moments with the rescued hostages following the Entebbe Raid in 1976.

Haber cited another example of Rabin’s risk-taking recalling when the broad, straight-back shoulders, always projecting the physical stature and demeanor of a military man showed emotion.

It was when the news came in during Rabin’s second term in office that Wachsman had been killed.”

The kidnapping in 1994 of 19-year-old IDF soldier Nachshon Wachsman by Hamas terrorists, was a traumatic event that emotionally drained the nation. Held hostage for six days, the incident ended in a failed Israeli rescue attempt during which Wachsman was executed by his captors. Three of the terrorists were killed. Tragically however, an Israeli officer was also killed in the operation, reminding Israel’s leadership of the high cost involved in authorizing risky rescue missions.

Rabin was sad, very sad and he showed it,” says Haber. “The political echelon was hopeful that Wachsman would be rescued; after all, they knew where he was held. Instead, we lost an Israeli officer as well.”

It nevertheless sent a resounding message that Rabin was ready to take risks to save the threatened lives of Jews – whether for a soldier close to home like Nachshon Wachsman or a plane-load of Jewish passengers on foreign soil, on a foreign airline, hi-jacked by terrorists. “Rabin gave credence to the policy that Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People, would come to the rescue of Jews in peril anytime, anywhere,” said Haber.

Servant of the People

In contrast to the ‘cigar and champagne’ image of some of today’s leaders, “The trappings of high office never got to Rabin, as it might others with less moral stature,” says Haber. Supporting this observation, Haber reveals a feature of Rabin’s personality that was quite unique.

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

And in the end it cost him his life, not as a warrior on the battlefield but as a warrior for peace.

Maybe, Rabin subconsciously had a premonition. “He was obsessive with time,” revealed Haber. “He even used to eat quickly – within minutes his plate was empty. It’s not that he was being impolite – it’s that eating was boring, a diversion of doing something important; food for him was like gas for the car – you needed it to get somewhere.”

Arriving late anywhere was against his nature said Haber. “While I have known Prime Ministers who didn’t think being late was a big deal, this was not the case with Rabin. I recall when we were abroad, he always made sure he left early for a meeting or function and typically questioned his driver how long it would take to where we were going and had he considered the amount of traffic there might be on route. He had this nagging feeling that time was short; that it was against him and so he had to make the most of the time he had.”

“Did he fear his life might be cut short – that he would not live out his term of office?” I asked.

Who knows?”

Roads of Revelation

While streets in Israel are typically named after those that have contributed to the Jews in their land over four thousand years,  “I believe,” said Haber, “that it was most fitting that Israel’s Cross-Israel Highway (“Highway 6”) was officially dedicated as the ‘Yitzhak Rabin Highway’. He was such a powerful force behind this project as he was in pushing ahead with road development throughout the country.”

The Road Ahead. Instrumental in changing the landscape of Israel, Rabin championed Israel’s road building surge in the 1990s.

Haber’s observation resonated with this writer who recalls a meeting he attended in the Prime Minister’s office in 1995 with a delegation of the Jewish leadership from South Africa. After welcoming us each individually, he said, “I am not sitting behind a desk, please grab a chair and let’s sit in a circle.” We complied.

Well into addressing us on the political, economic and security situation, the Prime Minister suddenly paused and asked:

Do you know what still excites me?”

The question was rhetorical, so no-one ventured an answer, but for sure, most were thinking, “What could still excite a guy who was in his second term as Prime Minister, had previously been Minister of Defense, Ambassador to the USA, Chief of Staff and participated in most of the major national events, from all the wars to the Entebbe Raid?”

What’s left?” all thought at the time.

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

After a lifetime of excitement, this sounded so mundane!

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

On friendship and Loyalty

Rabin’s  character reveals itself in a spat he had with Israel’s first Prime Minister – David Ben Gurion, following the latter’s insistence of the dissolution of the Palmach (elite fighting force of the Yishuv during the period of the British Mandate for Palestine), which Rabin had fought in.   Rabin – who was naturally proud of his Palmach record – found he faced a crisis of loyalty following his appointment in 1949 as commander of the Negev Brigade.

Yitzchak Rabin while serving in the Palmach.

While he had agreed with his Prime Minister that it was right to disband the Palmach – for the sake of one nation, one army – he could NOT bring himself to cut the strong ties of friendship and brotherhood that bound him to his wartime collogues in the strike force.

All this came to a head when the Palmach called its third international conference in October 1949 at the Tel Aviv Stadium. IDF officers, who were Palmach veterans were placed in an awkward position, since Ben Gurion had ordered his most senior ranking officers not to attend. Rabin, as the most senior ranking Palmach veteran was in a dilemma. Not wanting to disappoint his erstwhile Palmach comrades by not attending while at the same time did not want to jeopardize his career following rumors that the Prime Minister would dismiss any officer who did attend, Rabin nevertheless attended.

This act of defiance on Rabin’s part might be considered “as courageous or foolish,” as expressed by the late Robert Slater in the 2015 biography ‘Rabin – 20 Years Later’, but “it certainly demonstrated his integrity and strength of his convictions.” As Rabin later said, “I saw in Ben Gurion’s order a demand to disassociate myself from my friends, with whom I had fought and passed through the seven circles of hell, both before and during the war.”

As it turned out, the premier did not dismiss him but two days later he was reprimanded for breach of discipline.

This episode proved that Rabin was a man of principle who stood by his friends and comrades and a credit to the ethos of the Palmach that forged a nation.


Makers of History. Chief of Staff Yitzchak Rabin  (right) congratulates David Ben Gurion on his 80th birthday.

Leader’s Legacy

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

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. To promote democratic values, narrow socioeconomic gaps and address social divisiveness, the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv is dedicated to the legacy of the late Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

Earlier in the interview she had stressed the expectations of the Center having an impact on future generations. She explained:

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

Adieu

Saying farewell to the daughter, I left with the pictorial image of the father  captured in a black and white photograph with the late King Hussein of Jordan, both conferring in private and puffing away at their cigarettes. It was taken at the royal residence in Aqaba after the signing of the historic peace treaty between their countries.

Time Out. From warriors in war to worriers in peace, King Hussein of Jordan and Prime Minister Rabin celebrate the fruits of friendship and peace at the royal residence in Aqaba after signing a peace treaty.
(photo credit: YAACOV SAAR/GPO)

 

From Warriors at War, they appeared as ‘Worriers’ for Peace.

It is this transition that Rabin is likely to be most remembered.



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

Herbert had a Dream

Farewell to the lyricist of the world’s longest running musical, Les Misérables

By David E. Kaplan

It’s quite amazing how Jews from dorps in South Africa managed to dream way beyond their small towns and make it big in the wide world,” remarked international lawyer David Kretzmer from Kochav Yair at the time of his father’s passing in 2015.

Wordsmith in Israel. World famous lyricist Herbert Kretzmer (right) with his nephew David Kretzmer in Kohav Yair, Israel in 2015.

Born and bred in the “dorp” or “one horse town” of  Kroonstad in the Orange Free State (OFS), his father Elliot Kretzmer,  would emerge as the mayor of South Africa’s largest city – Johannesburg.

Small Town, Big Visions. Historic town hall in Kroonstad, South Africa where Herbert Kretzmer grew up.

Included in this observation of meteoric rise out of rural obscurity was his uncle visiting from the UK – Elliot’s brother, Herbert Kretzmer, the world famous lyricist who died this month in London at the age of 95.

With tributes appearing in newspapers around the world of the passing of the lyricist to the world’s longest running musical Les Misérables, the writer reflects on his 2015 interview in Israel with Herbert Kretzmer then aged 89.

Herbert’s voice was a low rumble who as one journalist had described:

 “If a coffee percolator could talk, it would sound like Herbert Kretzmer.”

Charming and witty, it was a delight passing time with Herbert  over copious amounts of his nephew’s 12 year-old Chivas Regal. The stories flowed as one was taken back to the world of film and stage and a ‘Who’s Who’ of the sixties and seventies. Herbert, as a top Fleet Street journalist – “before I was a composer” – had interviewed them all. He refers to a thank-you letter from Frank Sinatra, not for composing the lyrics to a song, but for an article he wrote on the singer: “Your column was most compassionate and sensitive, and I am most grateful to you,” wrote ‘ol’ Blue Eyes’.

Herbert dismisses the missive “on a loo level,” displaying as much reverence as pride, The letter appears in his publication ‘Snapshots – Encounters with Twentieth Century Legends’, a compilation of interviews with Tennessee Williams, Louis Armstrong, Truman Capote, Cary Grant, John Paul Getty, Marlene Dietrich, Marcelle Marceau, Groucho Marx, Niel Simon, Muhammad Ali, Judy Garland, David Niven the director of Exodus, Otto Preminger, Peter Sellers and many others. A Jewish angle is frequently evident. Sellers, he notes “as a supreme example of a man smothered by his mother,” while Marcelle Marceau, “the son of a kosher butcher, was in the French resistance, and escorted groups of children to safety using mime to keep them amused during dangerous crossings.” Most these ‘living legends’ would become his friends with one exception – Leni Riesestahl, Hitler’s favourite film maker. In that interview he abandoned his urbane charm. “If I had a stance, it was adversarial.”

One could hardly blame him.

Almost all of Herbie’s patrilineal cousins, grandparents, uncles, and aunts were murdered in Lithuania during the Holocaust. According to Michael Kretzmer whose late father was the songwriter’s first cousin, the mass murder took place on the 8 August 1941 in the family’s hometown of Birzai. Noting the “unimaginable sadism, torture, and rape on the part of the eighty Lithuanian murderers, fifty of them townsfolk and neighbours, Herbie Kretzmer,” asserts Michael “was the perfect response to that enduring wickedness.”

Stargazing

Herbert’s insights of the stars were riveting. Over breakfast with Yul Brynner – “owner of the most celebrated skull  in the world” – Herbert discovered a “shy philosopher”, while Walt Disney, “the creator of the most famous rodent in the world, confided mice frightened him.”

Although journalism played a major part of Herbert’s professional life, it is as a lyricist that he will be most remembered.

Old songwriters don’t die,” he says, “they just de-compose.”

The Write Stuff

It was way back in 1953 that Herbert moved from Johannesburg to Paris where he played the piano by night in a bar in return for a meal. A fair exchange for those struggling days but Herbert was on course with destiny.

A year later, he hopped over the Channel to the heart of the global media world – LONDON  – in pursuit of his dream that would reward him with award-winning journalistic career that included stints at the Daily Express and Daily Mail.

However, while his fingers pounded the typewriter penning his world famous interviews, his mind seldom strayed from his faithful mistress – MUSIC. It was a love affair that would change his life unimaginably, “beyond my wildest dreams.”

The swinging sixties saw Herbert writing weekly songs for the BBC’s groundbreaking satirical show “That Was the Week That Was,” that helped launch the careers of such luminaries in the world of television as John Cleese and David Frost. It was no less a launchpad for Herbert who would write humorous songs such as “Goodness Gracious Me,” to more poignant melodies like “In the Summer of His Years,” a tribute to President John F. Kennedy that was written hours after his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

The lyricist was fired up and inspired.

It’s Personal

There were further songs, including “She” which he wrote with French singer Charles Aznavour and which topped the British singles charts for a month in 1974. (*see below the lyrics)

While speculation as the song’s meaning ranged from about a lady who’d had a particularly volatile relationship with Charles Aznavour as “She sounded like quite a handful” to intended as the theme tune for a television series called “The Seven Faces Of Women”, Herbert would later reveal otherwise.

No, it was not about Charles but a British woman with whom Herbert had recently broken up following a yearlong affair!

How telling:

She may be the song that summer sings
Maybe the chill that autumn brings
…”

Just His Cup of Tea

However the really ‘big time’ was still in the future – as they say, written in the tea leaves. This time quite literally, when Les Misérables producer Cameron Mackintosh invited Herbert to tea in June 1984, a meeting that would transform his life.

Mackintosh would later express that Herbert was instrumental in bringing Victor Hugo’s classic tale of defiance and redemption in early 19th century France to the stage in English in October 1985, five years after it had opened in Paris. “His wonderful words for Les Misérables will live on in his memory forever more,” he said in a recent statement.

While the expanded English version of “Les Misérables” had mixed reviews initially, it would emerge one of the biggest successes of 20th century theatre.

Were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic, it would still be running in London, testament to the enduring popularity of the story as well as the songs, such as “I Dreamed a Dream”, “One Day More” and “Do You Hear the People Sing?

Glowing at the Globes

Arriving at the Beverly Hills Hilton for the 2013 Golden Globes, Herbert noted that his table “was an awfully long way back,” from the stage. No matter he thought, “I will not be making that walk.”  How wrong he was when the announcement came that ‘Les Miz’ won the award for Best Musical. “I’m in pretty good nick for 87 but by my calculations it was going to take me about half  an hour to get there. But adrenalin and applause are potent drugs,” he said. So along with Claude-Michel Schonberg, the French composer who wrote the score, and Alain Boublil, who first conceived the idea for a musical version of Victor Hugo’s novel and wrote the original French lyrics, “I positively cantered to the stage.” It was there, amid the blinding television  lights “and the gratifying cheers and whoops of the audience, that something rather special happened.” 

As he stood there, catching his breath and savouring the moment  “I felt someone gently slip their arm through mine – a much appreciated gesture of support and comfort.” It was academy award winner Anne  Hathaway. “Almost 30 years ago, I wrote a lyric — ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ – and Anne sings it so beautifully in the film that it can break even the stoniest of hearts.” Recalling when he sat in his Knightsbridge flat all  those years ago, “agonizing over whether the line about ‘but the tigers come at night’ would work or not, I never dreamed of what Les Misérable would become. Like Hugo’s novel, it’s one part chase story, one part moral fable and one part love story, but when you put those elements together the result has proved irresistible.” And yet, without Herbert, there might have not been the award winning movie.

‘Les Miz’ had been ticking along very nicely – the longest-running musical in the West End (27 years), the  third-longest running Broadway musical (16 years) and the second-longest running musical in the world, with openings in every major city having garnered eight Tony Awards – and then something phenomenal happened that even Herbert could not have “dreamed” possible. “This dumpy little lady walks on to a stage and within minutes she’s a universal legend. Everything about her is stardust as she revived interest not only in the song ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ but in the show. She gave it new life.” Susan Boyle’s show-stopping rendition of Herbert’s lyrics on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, brought Les Miz to a new audience globally. “It proved too “irresistible” not to take the stage production to the next level – Hollywood!

Nearing the much depleted bottle of scotch, I wondered how many of Herbert’s famous interviewees – captured in “Snapshots” – would have guessed that he would become as celebrated as any of them by writing the English lyrics for the stage behemoth Les Misérables.

I am not a religious man,” Herbert reflects, “but I do feel I am in some way born under a rhyming planet,” one whose celestial path passed over Kroonstad.

As a 12 year-old country boy, Herbert had a dream.

“I saw myself on a hilltop with a microphone in my hand and the wind blowing in my hair. I knew that somehow, somewhere, I would be a communicator.”

A communicator he was.

Seen by more than 70 million people in 44 countries and in 22 languages around the globe, the stage production of the world’s longest running musical, Les Misérables is still breaking box-office records well after 30 years.

The boy from Kroonstad would emerge a worthy  recipient of the Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French government and an OBE (Order of the British Empire) from the British monarch.

The song that made him most famous  – ‘I Dreamed a Dream’  – probably best encapsulated Herbert Kretzmer’s life!

As I sat opposite the great lyrist throwing back our last scotch, all that was left to say was – L’Chaim (“to life”).


She

She may be the face I can’t forget
The trace of pleasure or regret
May be my treasure or the price I have to pay
She may be the song that summer sings
Maybe the chill that autumn brings
Maybe a hundred different things
Within the measure of a day

She may be the beauty or the beast
May be the famine or the feast
May turn each day into a Heaven or a Hell
She may be the mirror of my dreams
A smile reflected in a stream
She may not be what she may seem
Inside her shell

She, who always seems so happy in a crowd
Whose eyes can be so private and so proud
No one’s allowed to see them when they cry
She may be the love that cannot hope to last
May come to me from shadows in the past 

Charles Aznavour – She 1974



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

Passing of a Pioneer

The early years of Les Sheer who left a legacy on the landscape of Israel

By David E. Kaplan

Johannesburg-born, Les Sheer would frequently say to people, “Thank God for Israel, for without it I would never have had the most interesting life I have had.”

Times were Tough. An animated Les Sheer addressing his guests at his 80th birthday party where kibbutz Timorim was first established in 1948 on a picturesque hilltop opposite Nahalal in the Yizreel Valley.

How right he was!

The passing of Les (“Chaim”) Sheer at the age of 93 on the 13th October in the city of Rehovot  in central Israel, brought back memories of when I attended his 80th birthday party thirteen years ago. It was an illuminating history lesson that began for his 50 plus guests of family and friends packing into a bus and learning about the pioneering life on Timorim. Included among the guests was the late South African industrialist and philanthropist and former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, Mendel Kaplan, whom Les had been his anchorman in Israel for his multifarious business and philanthropic interests. On this day, we were like schoolkids as Les held court as schoolmaster.

His personal history mirrored the history of Israel.

Young and Idealistic. Les and Tzippy Sheer on kibbutz Timorim in 1950.

The bus did not head south to where moshav Timorim is situated today near Kiryat Gat, but north to a picturesque hilltop opposite Nahalal in the Yizreel Valley. It was here in 1948 that Timorim was originally established as a kibbutz by a core group of some 20 South Africans, all members of that country’s Bnei Zion youth movement. Many of them, like Les and Tzippy Sheer, got married before leaving South Africa. The bus puffed its way up the steep serpentine hill, where perched on top, stands the modern-day  community-settlement of Timrat.

The trees on the side of the road were planted by Tzippy,” says Les proudly, manning the bus microphone. “We were paid the princely sum of one pound a day by the JNF. It was hell climbing up this hill at the time, particularly through the mud in winter, and so one of our first jobs was building a road.”

An idealistic poster of Timorim established the same year as Israel in 1948.

It was on this road – albeit it improved over time – that the bus in high gear strained its way up to Les and Tzippy’s early life in Israel.

FRONTIER LIFE

Life “at the top” then was a far cry from today’s Timrat referred to as the “Savyon of the Lower Galilee”. Savyon in central Israel is one of the wealthiest municipalities in Israel.

Learning from Les. Presenting a history lesson, Les Sheer addresses his birthday guests in front of one of the few remaining buildings on kibbutz Timorim. The plaque in Hebrew reads that the cooperative settlement was established in 1948 by discharged soldiers, immigrants from South Africa and Europe and moved in 1954 to the south of the country. The name ‘Timorim’ was taken from a carving in the shape of a palm in the Temple (1 Kings 6:29)

The group only stayed there some three years.

The cataclysmic schism that tore apart the Kibbutz movement in 1952, “splitting families and friends, affected us even though we were a community unconnected with the conflicting ideologies,” explained Les.  Even in South Africa, the ideology of Bnei Zion was politically neutral, other than the firm conviction of settling in Israel. With the sudden and dramatic splitting of kibbutzim on ideological grounds – depending which side of the Cold War lay one’s allegiance – more land was needed “and they wanted ours,” said Les.

Having a Field Day. Out in the fields on kibbutz Timorim are (L -R) Barney Rosenberg, Dov Sender and Les Sheer  age 21.

Not that it upset Les who as Merakez Meshek was responsible for the management of the settlement. “We have wonderful memories, but economically it was impractical.” The kibbutz fields were nearly a two-hour drive away by tractor, east of Afula, near the Jordanian border and “being so far away, we used to set up camp there in season spending periods of a week to ten days at a time.”

As for showers! “In our dreams!,” bellowed Les.  “We had no such luxuries. The water was brought in a mobile tank and used only for cooking, drinking and very sparingly for washing.”

“So where was the water for irrigation?” I enquired.

We farmed only “dry” crops – wheat, barley, corn and hay, all reliant on rainfall. If there was a drought, you had it.”

Life was harsh.

House on the Hill. Kibbutz Timorim in the early 1950s.

Our wives used to take turns cooking. Life was also dangerous. We always had to be watchful for Arab marauders. There was no fence separating us and Jordan and we used to have an extra person on the tractor with a rifle over and above the driver who had his Sten gun beside him. We had some close shaves, but that was frontier life.”

And to the question “What did you live in?”, Les replied:

 “Converted wooden crates that the immigrants in those days brought their furniture in. We carved out doors and windows and could house up to four in a box.”

Back on the hill, business was better. “We had a few guys who had been sheet metal workers in South Africa. They set up a business and our first order was to supply the ducting for air conditioners to the first Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv. This business became so successful; it was the precursor for Miromit (the world’s first solar heating factory), which is Timorim spelt backwards.” Another big order, reveals Les, “was to make the ducting for Peres’ textile plant in Dimona.”

All laughed at Les’ hush-hush verbal substitute for Israel’s nuclear reactor!

THE MILKY WAY

All over these hills,” Les pointed out to his guests “we had a huge herd of sheep. One day I offered to help with the milking. To this day I still do not understand why they have to do this at 2am. Nevertheless, I reported on time and was directed to the six sheep down the row. It was pretty dark as there was no electricity, only paraffin lamps. I followed their lead by squeezing the teat in a downward motion and the next moment found myself sprawled on my back. Determined not to let a sheep get the better of me, I attacked the teat again and…thump! After being kicked a third time, the boys were hysterical. They had set me up with a bloody ram!”

On another occasion, when “we were on hachsharah (preparation) on Gvat before moving to Timorim, we were working with these young guys who had just been released from the Palmach and they thought they knew everything. This was the period of the Tzena (period of austerity when Israelis stood in line for rations) and I was learning about growing fodder. This bloke comes in, sees no milk in the cooler, so opens the fridge and helps himself to some bottles. I tried to stop him.”

“What are you interfering for?” he bellowed at Les, “so I walked on into the dining room for lunch. About ten minutes later the man in charge of the cows came storming in, shouting:

 “What the bloody hell is going on here! The expert has come to do the artificial insemination of the cows and all the semen in the fridge is gone. Who the hell is responsible?”

The question needed no answer. Everyone turned to the only person in the dining room who had vomited!

The South Africans were joined by a group of survivors from the Holocaust. “They were a wonderful bunch of hard-working young people, who had lived on their wits to survive. For the most part they had missed out on an education and some of them did not even know their own birthdays. One fellow took the name of ‘Pesach Purim’, because he remembered celebrating his birthday sometime between the two chagim. (festivities)”

It was for the most part hearing about the horrors of the Shoah (Holocaust) in Johannesburg in 1945 that made Les determined to settle in the new Jewish State. “My parents were dead against it, but the Shoah was the final straw. All the memories of my schooldays came flooding back of being taunted – “Jew boy, go back to Palestine.”

At age 21, Les took their advice.

Timorim’s Trying Times. An old newspaper article including an interview with Les Sheer about pioneering life on Timorim.

Fruits of his Labour

The intervening years in the 1950s between leaving Timorim and being sent on Shlihut (emissary) to South Africa on behalf of the Jewish Agency, saw him working on a major national project for the government and the Jewish Agency impacting on the lives of thousands of new immigrants. Supported with another South African, Yitzchak Abt, Les organized a team which planned the development of the Lachish Region. This was an area of a million dunams of land stretching from Ashkelon to Beit Guvrin, encompassing the “new” Timorim that was no more a kibbutz in the north but a moshav in the south. Les was the overall strategist, Abt the expert in agriculture. Their mission – a race against time to settle the thousands of immigrants mostly from North Africa – Tunisia and Morocco –  who were pouring in and earmarked to settle in this region. The real challenge was that these new immigrants knew little about farming and yet, with large families, would have to survive by engaging in agriculture.  

From North Africa to South Israel. Immigrants from Morocco leaving the ship in Haifa port in the 1950s. Some would settle in the Lachish Region that Les Sheer was tasked to structure to absorb this new wave of North African immigration. (Keren Hayesod collection)
Israel Assisting Developing World. Les Sheer’s colleague , Yitzchak Abt, lecturing in Panama in the 1960s with a map of Lachish behind him.

Through Les’ strategic planning and Yitzchak Abt’s innovative genius in irrigation and agriculture, they succeeded with Lachish becoming home to thousands of immigrants and their children who established moshavim, kibbutzim and towns. A drive today through this region, we see greenhouses, vineyards, orchids, fields and forests – a topographic testimony to the labours of Les and Yitzchak who helped transform this once rocky and sparce terrain into Israel’s verdant heartland. What is more, so successful were their labours that their ideas emerged as the prototype of regional planning beyond Israel to other developing countries around the world. In the ensuing years would see Apt lecturing in Panama, Venezuela and Malawi with a map of Lachish behind him, revealing –  “How we did it!”

Forging a Future. Les and Tzippy Sheer with their young children Dafna and Avner.

Son Avner Sheer,  remembers those days as a young kid living in a small apartment in Kiryat Gat, which had only been established in 1954. However, in the same way as his father on his 80th remarked that the trees on the way up to Timorim in the north of Israel were planted by “my wife Tzippy,” Avner reveals that, “When I pass through in my car the region of Lachish, I think these trees were planted by my Dad.”

Back to our Roots

Love of the land was in Les’ DNA and on his moshav, Kfar Bilu B near Rehovot, he developed one of the finest private bonsai gardens in Israel. It was little wonder that he was enlisted into the Friends of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens Society and soon became its head. It was in this capacity while being responsible for the Kaplan-Kushlick Foundation in Israel that  he then brought  Mendel and Jill Kaplanto get this garden moving…..We have to do something!” That was back in 1979.

And moving they did.

Today, the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (JBG) stands as an island of serenity amid the din of a city that resonates to the four corners of the earth.

Garden of Eden. Les Sheer stands next to the entrance to the fynbos section of the South African part of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens (Photo by: Gerald Hoberman).

Having the largest collection of living plants in the Middle East the JBG displays over 6000 species in geographical sections simulating the local landscape of bio-diversity hotspots around the world.

The Jewel in Jerusalem’s CrownThe pride of Les Sheer’s many projects,visitors enjoy a guided tour of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens’ Tropical Conservatory. (Photo by Tom Amit)

On my last visit, it was heartwarming to see all the schoolchildren there digging with spades instead of texting on their smartphones. Indeed, over 1,200 young pupils visit the botanical gardens each week to plant flowers and vegetables. With 92% of Israel’s population living today in cities, “it is vital for these youngsters,” asserted our guide, “to discover that produce does not grow on shelves in their neighborhood supermarket.”

Imparting knowledge by example was so much what Les Sheer was about.

To know him was a “Sheer Delight”!




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

Major Contributing ‘Faktor’

The passing this September 2020 of Dr. Jossy Faktor in Israel brings back memories of his role in the famed Entebbe Raid of 1976

By David E. Kaplan

The announcement of the passing of a former South African doctor in Israel, brought back memories of one of the bravest and most successful rescue operations in history.

Many, who were around in 1976, will recall where they were on July 3 when the story on the Entebbe Raid broke. I was then a law student in South Africa in 1976 travelling by car between Durban and Cape Town and was sitting in a Wimpy Bar in in the small town of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape when the restaurant’s TV broke to Breaking News to announce the unfolding drama. Little did I know at the time that years later I would interview for The Jerusalem Post  a former South African from Pretoria, Dr. Jossy Faktor who participated in the raid that would later be made into  a number of Hollywood movies.

A gynaecologist and obstetrician who died from lymphoma on September 17, 2020 in Herzliya Pituach, Faktor was drawn into the crisis that began on the 27th June, when four terrorists seized an Air France plane, flying from Israel to Paris with 248 passengers on board. The hijackers – two from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two from Germany’s Baader-Meinhof gang boarded the plane during a stopover in Athens, Greece and diverted the aircraft, ‘Flight 139’ to Entebbe, Uganda. There, the hijackers were joined by three more terrorists who then demanded the release of fifty-three of their associates held in jails in Israel and four other countries. The clock was ticking.

If the detainees were not released, they would begin killing hostages.

Merchants of Death. Three of the hijackers of Air France Flight 139: Jayel al-Arja (right to left) Wilfried Bose, and Fayez Abdul-Rahim al-Jaber (photo credit: CANVA.COM)

Shades of the Shoah

The plot of the unfolding saga drew in a global audience mesmerized by the twists and turns of a modern-day Homeric epic. Abduction and rescue – the stage was set for a cataclysmic clash of wills. On the one side, an anguished Israel, while on the other, German and Palestinian terrorists aided and abetted by one of Africa’s most notorious dictators, President Idi Amin. Stories abounded by this man’s evil proclivities, notable that he had a certain taste for literally devouring his enemies.

It was said that his palace fridge had been a ‘Who’s Who’ in Ugandan politics. Some 3,400 kilometres away, a nervous Israeli government was agonizing which way to move.

No options were risk free.

The terrorists then played a card that simplified the decision of Israel’s leaders.

They separated the passengers – Jews from non-Jews – releasing the latter!

Shades of the Shoah coloured the unfolding drama and Israel now stood alone.

It also knew what it had to do.

It was a proud cast of characters who participated in the mission dubbed by the Israeli military – “Operation Thunderbolt”. Amongst the medical team on board one of the four C-130 Hercules aircraft, was Dr. Jossy Faktor who at the time was serving in the permanent force of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) and would later rise to become its Surgeon General.

Honouring Heroism. Formally of Pretoria, South Africa, Dr. Jossy Faktor (right) of ‘The Entebbe Raid’ medical team, receives a Lieutenant Colonel rank from Chief of Staff, Ehud Barak (left) later to be Prime Minister of Israel.

“No Going Back”

When the call came summoning the 36-year-old doctor to report for duty, Jossy and his wife Barbara were clicking champagne glasses celebrating the tenth wedding anniversary of their good friends from their South African youth movement ‘Habonim’ days, the Kessels in Ra’anana. Little did they all know when Jossey hurriedly stepped out of their front door to report for duty, that he was about to enter the history books.

Dreaming About Tomorrow.  Planning for life in Israel, Jossy Faktor (sitting far right) in the late 1950s together with the national leadership of South Africa’s Jewish youth movement ‘Habonim’ in Johannesburg. (credit Habonim Dror)

The next day saw Jossy being briefed by the Surgeon General, the late Dan Michaeli. “I was instructed to quickly put together an aero-medical team.” Although Jossy’s specialization was gynaecology, he had been trained in aviation medicine that included ensuring the health of aircrews and aero-medical evacuations. While there had been missions and escapades in the past, nothing would come close to what he was to experience in the next few days. “The success of the operation was secrecy, and because the public at the time was well aware of the hostage crisis, we had to come up with something to deflect attention. Also, we needed to obtain a large supply of blood from Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross), and that necessitated a credible cover story. We did not want anyone – least of all the media – questioning why we suddenly needed so much blood. Because nothing quite like this had ever been attempted, we had no idea of what casualties to expect. Anyway, the word went out that a crisis was developing on the northern border with Lebanon, and we would need medical teams and blood. The story held, and we took off with only those involved in the operation in the know.”

The final briefings were divided according to the different roles to be performed by the various participants. “We were briefed by Dr. Ephraim Sneh, who was the overall commander of the medical teams.”

Jossy describes the flight as long and uneventful.

We left Friday morning and landed at Sharem el Sheik, stopping for essentially two reasons.  Firstly, for refueling. We had enough to get us to Entebbe, but no more. And as we did not expect the ground staff at Entebbe to accommodate us by refueling our planes, we needed sufficient fuel to take off after the rescue and make it to Nairobi.”

The other reason for the stopover was no less intriguing.

When we took off in Israel, the Cabinet had still not decided to go through with the mission. The risks obviously weighed enormously with them and so wanted to keep the option to abort open until the last moment. On the runway at Sharem El Sheik, we received the final green light. Now there was no going back.”

The last stretch of the flight to Entebbe “we flew at a very low altitude to avoid radar detection. The turbulence was heavy, but it did not bother me,” said Jossy. “I recall there was very little chatting; everyone was so wrapped up with their own thoughts. I spent much of my time in the cockpit as the captain, Amnon Halivni, was a good friend of mine.”

Jossy traveled with the medical teams in the fourth Hercules. “Our plane was virtually empty as we were to bring the hostages and wounded back.” Some of the unusual equipment they took along, revealed Faktor, “were empty milk cans. We expected some of our surprised passengers to be sick on the return flight and so had to provide a suitable alternative to pretty airhostesses going around with paper bags.”

The other three planes carried the ground forces, with the black Mercedes Benz and Land Rovers on board the first aircraft. The word out on the street was that the Mercedes was owned by an Israeli civilian and was apparently sprayed black so it would appear as the Ugandan’s president’s car when approaching the terminal building. However, the intelligence was dated. The two Ugandan sentries on duty that morning were well aware that their President had recently purchased a white Mercedes replacing his black one. They ordered the motorcade to stop. Had they had the opportunity for a closer look they would have also noticed that the steering wheel was on the wrong side of the car, but by that time, they were both dead.

Planed To Perfection. The Black Mercedes used to fool Uganda soldiers in the Israeli raid on Entebbe parked aboard an Israeli transport plane upon return from the July 4 operation. (AP-Photo)

In fear of prematurely alerting the terrorists inside the terminal, the subterfuge motorcade sped up and the assault teams quickly went into action.

“Sitting Ducks”

Faktor’’s aircraft had been the last to land. Throughout the operation “we stayed on board, preparing for the arrival of our passengers. It took just under forty minutes for the first casualties to arrive. The waiting was the worst. We felt like sitting ducks as the battle ensured. In the end we needed only six stretchers, one of which was used for Yoni Netanyahu, who died on the way to the aircraft.”

A Tale of Two Leaders. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Ugandan President, Idi Amin.

Describing the mood on the return flight to Israel, Faktor recalled:

While there was jubilation, the passengers also appeared in a state of shock. This was expected. They had been captive for a week and then unexpectedly rescued in a shootout, where they could so easy have lost their lives. Three of the hostages did. Compounding their trauma had been the constant fear of execution if the demands of their captors were not met. So while there was the obvious feeling of elation, it was also mixed with sorrow at the loss of life.”

The enormity of what these daring men had pulled off “only sunk in,” said Jossy “when we touched down at Tel Nof Airbase and were met by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres. It was only then, safe on Israeli soil, that people felt free to express their emotions.”

Fake News. Rather than report that Israel recues its hostages, a Ugandan newspaper reports that “Israelis invade Entebbe”.

The Aftermath

Following the rescue mission, the government of Uganda convened a session of the UN Security Council to seek official condemnation of Israel for violating Ugandan sovereignty. The Security Council ultimately declined to pass any resolution on the matter. The words of Israel’s Ambassador to the UN at the time, Chaim Herzog, in his address to the Council resonates no less today:

We are proud not only because we have saved the lives of over a hundred innocent people – men, women and children – but because of the significance of our act for the cause of human freedom.”

Escape from Entebbe. In July 6, 1976, the world learns a word – Entebbe

The Entebbe raid continues to be a source of pride for the Israeli public, with so many lives shaped by the experience. Dubbed ‘Operation Thunderbolt’ by the Israeli military operatives who planned and carried it out, it was retroactively renamed ‘Operation Yonatan’, honoring Yonatan Netanyahu, who was the only soldier to lose his life in the raid. His brother Benyamin Netanyahu stands today as Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister.

Joy and Jubilation. Free in Israel, Air France hostages after being rescued from Entebbe Airport. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Shimon Peres, who served as Defense Minister during the Entebbe raid  went on to become Prime Minister and President of the State of Israel.

Overall Commander of the rescue operation, Dan Shomron, became Israel’s 13th Chief of Staff, while Ephraim Sneh, who headed the medical team on the mission, would later serve as a Minister of Health.

“The Butcher”. A smiling  conniving President Idi Amin visits the hostages at Entebbe Airport, who following the successful Israeli rescue said “Israel should be condemned in the strongest possible terms for this aggression,” and took his revenge by murdering of one of its passengers  left behind, the elderly Dora Bloch. (Photo: AP)

Ugandan President Idi Amin, humiliated by the surprise raid and believing Kenya colluded with Israel in its planning, vented his rage by massacring hundreds of Kenyans living in Uganda. However, after the raid on Entebbe, his regime began to crumble and two years later was forced into exile settling in the only country that would take him, Saudi Arabia. He died in Jeddah in August 2003.

Dr. Jossy Faktor would serve for twelve years in the IAF, attaining the rank of Surgeon General before returning to private practice.

To whatever lives each of the participants on the Entebbe Raid would henceforth pursue, they will for eternity be honoured for the special role they played in the greatest rescue operation of all time

Operation Entebbe – The Greatest Hostage Rescue in History (Documentary)





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

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

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.

Israel Elections
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

 

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!

The Knockout2
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.