THE GREATEST BRITON

A tribute to ‘The Queen’ of our times

By Rolene Marks

Grief is the price we pay for love”. These were the words spoken by Her Majesty, The Queen on September 11th, 2001. The Queen passed away peacefully at the age of 96, at her beloved Balmoral residence in the Scottish highlands last week. The world’s collective grief is the price we are paying for the love she never commanded but most certainly inspired. 

The Queen seemed immortal. A constant, reassuring presence whose historical 70 year reign spanned some of the most iconic moments of the last century, her loss is being keenly felt by millions around the world. To put it into perspective, David Ben Gurion was Israel’s Prime Minister when Her Majesty ascended the throne.

Pure Majesty: The young Queen pictured here at her Coronation, 2 June 1953.

The late Queen who celebrated her platinum jubilee just several months ago, was universally loved and respected – not just because she could jump out of a helicopter with James Bond, or take tea with Paddington Bear; but because her life was dedicated to duty and service and was a constant reassuring presence in our lives when the world became ever more turbulent. At the height of the pandemic when the Monarch invoked the blitz spirit of her youth; and the words of Vera Lynne to tell us “we will meet again”, we believed her. Because we did. We did meet again. There she was, that steady, guiding hand that not just her people, realms and Commonwealth adored, but the world. Her trusty hairstyle never changed, neither did her beaming smile or twinkling eyes and for many, that continuity provided strength and succor. World leaders, often filled with their own sense of self-importance, jostled each other out of the way and their knees shook when meeting a tiny, old lady whose wisdom they sought and whose leadership they greatly admired – but could never emulate.

A heartbroken Paddington Bear: “Thank you Ma’am, for everything”.

The Queen was also a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and over the last two years, we have all wanted to hug her as she cut a solitary, dignified figure at her “strength and stay”, Prince Philips funeral at the height of the pandemic, smiled at her delight as she chatted to her exuberant great grandson, Prince Louis, during her jubilee celebrations and felt sorrow at the sight of daughter, Princess Anne, dipped in a deep curtsy out of respect to her mother’s coffin.

The unprecedented number of people who have lined the streets of Scotland, from Balmoral to Edinburgh; and are prepared to line up for an estimated 30 hours in London as the Monarch lies in state or the mountains of floral tributes at royal residences are just a small glimpse of the out pouring of love and grief. When the Queen made the journey home to Buckingham Palace, London’s streets were crowded with tens of thousands of people, waiting for that opportunity to just say, “Thank you”. Her funeral is estimated to be the most viewed event in history.

 Her beloved Balmoral: The Queen in her Order of the Thistle robes at Balmoral.

Israel’s President Herzog, who will represent the Jewish State at her funeral released this statement:

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was known far and wide simply as The Queen. Her passing is the end of an era. Together with the Israeli people, I grieve her loss and extend my deepest sympathies to the British people and all nations of the Commonwealth, who have lost their matriarch.

“Queen Elizabeth was a historic figure: she lived history, she made history, and with her passing she leaves a magnificent, inspirational legacy.

As the eleventh President of the State of Israel during Her Majesty’s long reign, and on behalf of the whole State and people of Israel, I express my condolences to the Royal Family, to the King and the Queen Consort, to the people of the United Kingdom, and to all nations of the Commonwealth.

“Throughout her long and momentous reign, the world changed dramatically, while the Queen remained an icon of stable, responsible leadership, and a beacon of morality, humanity and patriotism. In her life and in her service to her people, the Queen embodied a spirit of integrity, duty and ancient tradition.

“My late mother and father had several audiences with the Queen over the years. Her fond welcome and warm hospitality left a profound impression down the generations.”

Queen of the World

Over the last week, the world has witnessed the centuries old traditions that give the 1000 year old monarchy its magic. For the people of the United Kingdom, their monarch is the connection to their history, the living, breathing embodiment of their constitution and even though there may be many reading this who do not understand it, we should respect it.

During her annual Christmas speech in 1957, The Queen said:

“I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice. But I can do something else. I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.”

And devoted she was – working right up until two days before her death when she accepted the resignation of Boris Johnson and swore in her 15th Prime Minister, Liz Truss. In the now famous “when Liz met Liz” photograph, we could see how frail the 96- year-old monarch was but could not imagine that just two days later, she would pass away.

The Last Photo: The Queen pictured two days before her passing. (Photo: Jane Barlow)

The Queen dedicated her entire life to her duty and her people.

Her promise made in 1947 as a 21 one year old Princess, in Cape Town, South Africa was a promise kept until she drew her last breath.

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

While the Imperial family evolved into a Commonwealth of Nations as the British Empire devolved, that commitment as her grandson, the Prince of Wales said in his emotional tribute, was absolute.

The Queen’s motto of “never complain, never explain” was welcome relief from the performative emoting from many celebrities who push “their truth” as opposed to THE truth. Perhaps that is the enduring appeal of royalty. Royalty is not celebrity. The values that The Queen held dear of duty, service, modesty and selflessness may be just what this world needs to tilt it back on its axis.

As the world prepares to bid farewell to the greatest of the greatest generation, there are calls in the media to assign her the moniker, ‘Elizabeth the Great’.

 It is most fitting for she was, indeed, the Greatest Briton.

You Tube commentator, HG Tudor narrates this beautiful tribute to Queen Elizabeth, the Great.






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

“WHAT THE WORLD SAYS ABOUT ISRAEL IS UNFAIR, UNTRUE AND UNACCETABLE”

Tribute to the passing of Freda Keet whose inimitable “VOICE OF ISRAEL’ carried from Jerusalem across the globe

By David E. Kaplan

Backtrack to a time when Israel was struggling to survive.

The Jewish state faced multiple enemy states waging war as well as multiple terrorist groups attacking Jews on planes, ships and murderous infiltrations across Israel’s borders. All this, while struggling to establish a viable economy and absorbing Jews from all over the Diaspora. It was in this vulnerable and fragile milieu, that anxious Jews around the world would tune in to listen to the English service of Kol Yisrael – the ‘Voice of Israel’

Radio Royalty. Foreign journalists, diplomats and opinion-makers all tuned in to listen to Freda Keet broadcasting to the world in English on ‘The Voice of Israel’.

Those older enough, may well remember hearing the unmistakable commanding but eloquent voice of Freda Keet – born and bred in the former Rhodesia, today Zimbabwe – who passed away this August in Israel.

As well as an investigative journalist and war correspondent, Freda anchored the English radio news during Israel’s tumultuous years from 1963 -1985. She was one of a handful of journalists granted permission to travel to the Suez Canal during the War of Attrition (1967-1970) and again in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. Following her retirement from fulltime broadcasting, Freda became deeply concerned about the growing crises with Israel’s public relations, and went on to  lecture widely – at her own expense – across the world, particularly throughout the United States. In 2002, I interviewed Freda for Telfed Magazine on how the media had changed and its implications for Israel.

Look, with radio it was very different. There was no TV in Israel in the early days and everybody used to be glued to their radios for news. We all recall how passengers sat quietly in a bus while the news came on. Radio was king and the English service was well respected – foreign journalists, diplomats and opinion-makers all tuned in. We made a huge impact.”

How familiar her voice was  – even in lands that had been at war with Israel – is revealed in this chance meeting she had following the 1967 Six Day War, when as a war correspondent, she crossed over into the liberated sector of Jerusalem that had been occupied by Jordan and visited the Russian Orthodox Church on the Mount of Olives.

 “It was unbelievable. The Mother Superior, who had never seen my face, knew all about me from my voice on Kol Yisrael. She, and all the nuns, used to listen to the English news. We were truly a bridge to the outside world.”

Broadcast News. Investigate journalist Freda Keet taking notes to later use in her international radio broadcast on Israel’s national news service, Kol Yisrael.

In a talk she presented in 2014 at Beth Protea, the South African retirement home in Herzliya in central Israel, she spoke about her youth growing up in a vibrant Jewish community in Bulawayo:

Looking back, I can see quite clearly that everything I became, or did in my life came from growing up in Bulawayo. My Judaism, my commitment to Israel, my love of theatre – I started acting very young in school productions – so looking back now,  not only was it an amazing life,  it molded the person I am. I grew up in a home full of books; all very left-wing and we grew up on these books. My father had come from Belarus and had actually fought in the Russian Revolution; my mother was from Lithuania. They met in Bulawayo. My Dad had earlier settled in South Africa and rumours spread that  gold had been discovered in Rhodesia, so he rushed up to Rhodesia; he never found gold. Instead he found my mother.”

Freda was the product of that lucky strike!

Most influential said Freda, was belonging to the Jewish youth movement Habonim. “It was my or should I say our lives. I remember the Sunday mornings, the scramble to get dressed and always spending hours,  looking for this thing called a ‘woggle’ – that platted piece of leather that held together your blue and white scarf. I thought about it later…. We used to stand by this little palm tree – simbolising the land of Israel –  that never grew an inch in all the years I knew it,  and which we used to recite the Habonim pledge:

“The upright shall flourish like the palm”.

The palm may never have grown in all those years, said Freda, but she and all those idealistic youngsters did as did Israel.

When later as a roving goodwill ambassador for Israel, Freda carried the symbolism of that palm tree with her. “I travel constantly. I’m on the road morning, noon and night, spending my life at airports and I always wear something like a scarf or a broach that identifies me as an Israeli.”

Maybe a throwback to the impact of the Habonim ‘woggle’ – holding it all symbolically  – like a scarf – together!

Zionism in Africa. All in their youth movement uniform, Southern African Habonim in the 1950s. Note the scarf and woggle on each member fondly referred to by Freda Keet.

Freda, who dedicated her life to Israel outreach, explained in the 2002 interview about the unique Israeli word of ‘Hasbara’ (loosely meaning public relations):

Israel’s obsession with Hasbara is understandable. Foreign to any other nation’s lexicon, the need for Hasbara is tied in with the history of the Jewish people. Being a pariah people reviled and abused for over 2000 years, we finally made it into the ranks of the family of nations. We have paid a price, an appalling price, for this membership.”

Freda stressed three reasons why Hasbara should remain an obsession.

Firstly, for the dignity and honour of the Jewish people.  What the world says about us is unfair, untrue and unacceptable. We are obliged to fight it. Secondly, the war that was once against Israel has become much wider. Today, it’s a war directed at the Jewish people worldwide and we are obliged to fight it on their behalf.”

The third reason, asserts Freda, is:

for our survival. If initially the strategy of the Arab world was to delegitimise the State of Israel, they have now gone way beyond that. We are now defending an attempt to delegitimise the very existence of the Jewish People in their land, in effect, to delegitimise Jewish history. The plan is to eat away at the roots, the very bedrock of this nation. The message is clear. What is taught to Arab children, appearing on Arab websites and TV networks, is that Jews have no historical belonging in this land.”

Freda articulated this point by citing Arafat’s behaviour at the Camp David talks.  “With his back to the wall, Arafat had to come up with a reply to the offer made by Israel. Arafat’s response was, ‘I can’t negotiate with the Jewish people over Jerusalem. There is no historical evidence linking these people to Al Kuds. There is no evidence linking the Jewish people with our land of Palestine.’ True, this diatribe is not new. We’ve heard it all before. But to have said it before the President of the USA and that it hardly solicited a ripple of protest was staggering. If the Arabs can be so brazen in the articulation of these lies eating away at the very legitimacy of the Jewish people to this land, then the whole existence of this country is a fake and a bluff and therefore unacceptable to the family of nations. The disappearance of the State of Israel will become an absolute matter of course. It is for our sheer survival that we have to fight back by whatever means possible.”

CRISS-CROSSING AMERICA

On the lecture circuit, mainly in America where she had become  a familiar figure to thousands of Christians, she was often asked:

Why is the world so obsessed with Israel?” A classic example of this obsession was the case Freda cited at the time of “the UN Geneva Convention of Human Rights, which passed into International Law after WWII. “It has met only once – not to address the massacres that took place in Africa’s Rwanda or Burundi, or in Europe’s backyard of Bosnia and Kosova. The only occasion it saw fit to assemble for Human Rights violations was to condemn Israel.”

Trains Planes and Automobiles. Freda Keet used to crisscross the US addressing audiences on Israel.

Opening today’s papers in August 2022, an Israeli can be justified in asking what has changed since Freda’s observations nearly two decades ago in 2003. The editorial in The Jerusalem Post (29 August 2022) reads:

Despite  the critical refugee problems taking place around the world as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and the Ethiopian-Tigray conflict – to give just a few examples – only the Palestinians merit an ongoing UNSC monthly spotlight….”

The obsession with Israel is unrelenting!

In answer to the obvious question of “Why?”, Freda replied:

They attack Israel because it’s easy. Israel is the equivalent of a cheap date. There are no consequences. Attacking Israel exacts no price. You can’t attack any other country because they all belong to geographic blocks and the members protect each other. You cant raise the issue of Tibet because you would offend the Chinese. Zimbabwe is taboo at International Conferences. There was recently a meeting at the UN where Zimbabwe was on the agenda, but South Africa insisted that it be removed. So if you cant discuss Africa because it will annoy the Africans, can’t raise violations in Muslim countries because it will offend Muslims, what are you safely left with? Israel! It will not annoy anyone.”

Bringing Israel to Jews Abroad. Lecturing overseas, Freda Keet addressing a synagogue in the USA.

Freda amusingly reveals how easy it is to misread a situation. “I share a birthday with VE Day, the 8th of May marking the end of the war in Europe. I recall when I was very young the Church bells in Bulawayo ringing on that day and I always thought it was to celebrate my birthday. It was a knock to my pride to discover later it was not.”

Freda did not need church bells to herald her presence. For that she had her unique voice.

The woman who was “The Voice of Israel’ and thereafter for over two decades waged an unrelenting public relations campaign for Israel abroad leaves a lasting legacy. Her eloquence and passion won her a huge Jewish and non-Jewish international following.

If Israel “radio was king” Freda Keet was its queen.


Freda Keet addressing Beth Protea on growing up in the Jewish community of Bulawayo, Rhodesia, today Zimbabwe. This clip was filmed by Dave Bloom as part of his Zimbabwe Jewish Community project started 20 years ago with a website www.zjc.org.il  (currently being rebuilt) and a Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/zimjewishcommunity






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

MY FAVOURITE GENTLEMAN

Remembering a pioneer, a Lay of the Land writer but most of all, a wonderful gentleman and friend, Jonathan Danilowitz.

By Rolene Marks

We make a living by what we get; but we make a life by what we give”. These were iconic words once spoken by Winston Churchill. Jonathan Danilowitz epitomised this. Jonathan lived his life dedicated to helping others; and he leaves behind an extraordinary legacy.

Fought for Change. Jonathan Danilowitz fought to earn partnership benefits for gay and lesbian people in Israel.

I used to tell Jonathan he was my favourite gentleman. And he was. His quiet dignity, integrity and the elegant way that he carried himself was the embodiment of being a gentleman. In the wake of his death, the tributes coming in from all over the world were a testament to the great legacy that he leaves behind – but seldom drew attention to. This was his way of doing things – quietly making an enormous impact without wanting or needing the spotlight on him.

Born in Krugersdorp, South Africa, Jonathan made Aliyah to Israel in 1971.

Jonathan was a pioneer and made his mark in the world with his customary grace and dignity. 

Jonathan’s first job was working for El Al, the national airline as a flight attendant and would later become an in-flight manager. He would make his mark not just through sterling on-board service to his passengers; but would change the landscape for Israel’s LGBTQ+ community.

In one of Israel’s most widely publicized legal cases which made history with the precedent that it set, Jonathan sued the airline in 1989 in the Tel Aviv Regional Labour Court to receive an airline ticket for his longtime partner. For many that may seem a trivial issue to take to court but the reality for same-sex couples was very different.

The suit was filed as a response to El Al’s agreement with the Histadrut labour federation that entitled employees to two free tickets a year, one for the employee and one for his or her “spouse”. At the time this excluded same-sex couples and Jonathan fought for the right to have his same-sex partner recognized as his common-law spouse so that he would enjoy the same civil rights as his colleagues.

Flying High. The man who took Israel’s national airline all the way to the Supreme Court and won – Jonathan Danilowitz.

The case would eventually go to the Supreme Court in 1995.

The Supreme Court agreed with the National Labor Court ruling in 1992 against El Al, saying the national airline’s discrimination against Danilowitz and his partner was illegal and obliged it to grant equal benefits to LGBTQ+ partners. This ruling is considered to be a landmark case in the history of Israel and is featured in the Supreme Court Museum in Jerusalem.

Reflecting on his trailblazing legal victory in his book “Flying Colours”, Jonathan wrote:

 “Deep down inside, I harbour a chip of pride that I played a small role in the way the world views homosexuality. ‘Gay Pride’ – I savour the true meaning of those words.”

Book of Revelations. Writing of his experiences with pathos and humor, Jonathan Danilowitz cracks open the closet and many other doors in his intimate yet revealing book ‘Flying Colours’ that deals with issues ranging from Apartheid to airlines, Israel and the struggle for gay rights.

Jonathan didn’t just fight for what is right in the courtroom but also in the battlefield of public diplomacy. Jonathan, or Jonny as he was known to so many of us was a tireless advocate for Israel and Jewish issues, taking on some of the most preposterous invective with his usual aplomb. He took great pleasure in supporting many of us. I was so honoured to have Jonny in my corner, cheering me on, especially on those days when facing the tsunami of hate just became too much to bear. He would remind me exactly for what I was fighting for and I have no doubt I was not the only one.

I clearly remember attending a protest with him and how he relished being in the trenches.

Along with all of Jonny’s amazing activism, he still worked tirelessly for LGBTQ= rights and served as Chairman of Aguda, Israel’s LGBTQ= task force. In 2020, he was awarded Tel Aviv’s Yakir Ha’ir in 2020 in recognition of his struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Jonathan was a pioneer, a trailblazer and activist but more than that he was just a wonderful human being who enriched the lives of all of us who knew him.

“He was a life lived to its fullest, a friend to all, a loving and loved being who will be sorely missed” says cousin, Vanessa Fisher.

He will be sorely missed. Rest in peace Jonny, you remain my favourite gentleman.





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

THE WRITE STUFF

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

By David E. Kaplan 

            

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

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

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

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

 “Nobel Prizes have been given for less.”

His response:

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

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

His face broadening into a wide smile, he concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I see this book as my finest achievement.”

How is it different from your other novels?

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

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

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

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

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

What do you mean by failure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

 

Farewell to Rodney Mazinter

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

By David E. Kaplan

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

Rodney Mazinter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rodney captures it all……

ICU – TRUE HEROES OF RAMBAM

By Rodney Mazinter

A capsule of pain and fear − or an airlock

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

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

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

Or worse, by bullet, knife or car,

Victims of those weaned on hatred,

Bullied by brutes bereft of − bankrupt of − compassion.

Across the way in a darkened room,

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

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

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

To her fine Semitic face.

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

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

Monitors, the Argus-eyed guardians for the physicians,

Blink codes and messages to those trained to read them.

Through all this, doctors and nursing staff

Meander among the beds performing minor miracles,

Like a team of lifeguards constantly on duty

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

They fight the battle and mostly win,

But there is no triumphant parade with flags waving,

And boastful thumbs stuck in lapels.

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

There are lines to set and veins to pierce,

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

On the road to recovery, if not survival.

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

….

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

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

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

A mensch is always there


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





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

He Died so that Others may Live

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

By Jonathan Feldstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The terrorist failed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I perish, I perish

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

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

We not just friends; somehow God ordained it.”

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

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

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


EPILOGUE

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

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

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

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

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



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



About the writer:

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





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

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

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

By David E. Kaplan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE IS IN THE AIR

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

“Howcome?” I asked. 

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

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

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

And fight they did!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AGAINST ALL ODDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incredulous, I ask:

Wasn’t this very dangerous?”

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

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

AN OFFICER AND A MENSCH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MODERN DAY MIRACLE

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

Amplifying on the contribution, Smoky continued:

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

Taking a deep breath, Smoky continued:

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

So who flew these planes to counter the Egyptians?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘NO SMOKY WITHOUT FIRE’





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

Farewell Arnie

A tribute to a kibbutz icon

By David E. Kaplan

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

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

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

It’s never too late”.

What did he mean by that?

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

“THE GRADUATE”

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

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

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

It had been a  long time coming.

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

However, for Arnie, it would lead nowhere!

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

Studying at university was thus put on hold.

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

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

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

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

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

UCT would again have to wait!

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

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

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

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

THE BATTLE OF THE BABES

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

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

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

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

This was a declaration of war!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DREAM FULFILLED

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

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

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

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

If you will it, it is no dream.”

That summed up the Life of Arnie!

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

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

SWIMMING AGAINST THE CURRENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE RIGHT TRACK

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

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

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

Wonderful memories – farewell my friend.

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





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

Tefillin against Terror

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

By Michael Kransdorff

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

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

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

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

How would we respond?

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

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

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

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

The response has been phenomenal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am Yisrael Chai!






About the writer:

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







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

Farewell Eli

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

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

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

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

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

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

This belated response fooled few.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What actions?

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

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

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

In the words of Nachman Shai at the funeral:

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










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