Christmas Eve In The Upper Galilee

By Stephen Schulman

The pretty village of Jish is situated on a picturesque hillside in the Upper Galilee. However, unlike most others in the Arab sector, its skyline is not dominated by the ubiquitous minaret of the village mosque; instead, the cross stands proud, for Jish is home to 10,000 Maronite Christians who constitute 65% of the village’s population.

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Overlooking the Christian Galilee village of Jish, the cross stands prominent (Photo: Stephen Schulman).

In the afternoon of the 24th December, I was one of a group that was graciously hosted at the family home of Shadi Khaloul, a leading member of the Maronite community. In his 40’s, affable, articulate and outspoken, Shadi filled us in on its history, its contemporary status and regaled us with his own story.

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Shadi Khaloul, a leading member of the Maronite community (Photo: Stephen Schulman).

   The Maronite Catholic Church, although having formal communion with Rome, maintains its own rites and canon law is unique in having its own liturgical language: Aramaic, spoken in Israel in the time of Jesus and shared with Judaism. The church was founded by Saint Maron, whose followers moved from Syria to Lebanon where many of them live today while the rest are dispersed around the globe.

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Interior of modern Maronite church in Jish. (photo by Shmuel Bar-Am)

Whilst being Arabic speaking, they see themselves as Aramean Maronite Christians with their own distinct identity and in 2014 they officially gained the status of a national minority. They are not required to do military service but most of them prefer to serve. Shadi is no exception, having done his stint as an officer in the paratroopers.

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The new Maronite church in Jish (Photo: Stephen Schulman).

After completing his army service, Shadi, like so many other post-service young people decided to see the world and seek his fortune. He worked for some years in Las Vegas and with the passing of time found his true ‘pot of gold’. “I was studying at a comparative religion course where I discovered that the lecturer and students were completely ignorant of my religion and its vernacular, so I was asked to prepare a presentation. I then felt that more important to me than material wealth was to return home and devote myself to the cultivation and learning of Aramaic in my community.”

He has been true to his word and his tireless efforts have borne fruit. Aramaic studies in the Jish schools have been given an official status and the Ministry of Education approves and funds their study. While it is not compulsory, the great majority of students opt to learn it. Children who never understood the prayers now not only take delight in understanding the words but in also speaking the language!

Concerning the present situation, Shadi sees the Maronite community as an integral, contributing part of Israeli society where they have security, equality and freedom to freely worship and perpetuate their culture. “The Maronites have always felt an affinity with the Jews. After all, we have a common language. In 1948 in the War of Independence, we did not side with the Arabs.”

He does not mince his words.

In 1860 in Lebanon under Turkish rule, we sought a measure of autonomy where we could live peacefully side by side with our neighbors. The result was a massacre of our community where approximately 20,000 were killed. Learn from our bitter experience. Here in the Middle East, the reality is that you must be the majority to ensure your safety!”

Leaving Shadi’s home, our group strolled through the village to savor the festive atmosphere. Many of the homes were gaily decorated and festooned with lights. Before leaving, we congregated next to the beautiful new church with a tall Christmas tree in its courtyard.

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Delivering presents to the community (Photo: Stephen Schulman).

Our final stop was Mi’ilya, a small village north of Nahayaria whose approximately 4,000 residents are Melkhite Greek Catholics. A distinguishing feature is the King’s Castle: the ruins of a Crusader fortress upon which a church has been built. Walking up to the ruins to visit the church, we were met by the local inhabitants, many of whom were dressed in their red Santa Claus costumes. The atmosphere was festive and as Chanukkah and Christmas coincided, our greetings of Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday), as in Jish, were happily returned.

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Built For A King. King’s Castle in Mi’ilya was built over the ruins of the 12th century Crusader fortress that first belonged to the Crusader King Baldwin III, and was called the “King’s fortress” (Photo: Stephen Schulman).

Leaving the fortress, our group visited the village community centre that was humming with activity. The village has a special pre-Christmas custom when families bring their Christmas presents to the centre for safe keeping. The Scouts then store them in separate rooms according to the neighborhoods before being fetched on Christmas Eve. We arrived as the presents, with the aid of many happy young volunteers, were being loaded on light vehicles on their way to their happy recipients!

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Two young girls posing at the grotto scene at the church in Mi’ilya (Photo: Stephen Schulman).

On the way home towards Tel Aviv, there was much time for reflection. Here we were, on Christmas Eve, returning from a visit to two Christian villages whose residents, living within the Jewish state, enjoyed complete freedom of worship. I remembered the words of Shadi Khalloul and of a fellow Maronite Brigitte Gabriel of the sad plight of Christian communities in the Middle East. How distressing those basic rights that we take for granted in our country and about which much of the world remains silent, are not accorded in many of our neighboring states.

 

About the writer:

image001 (4).pngStephen Schulman, is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist Youth Movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. Stephen, who has a master’s degree in Education, was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.

 

 

“Shaken, Not Stirred”

Aliyah In The Age Of Covid-19

Israel must be the only country in the world that is today welcoming new immigrants

By David E. Kaplan

In a country where its friendly citizens typically love to kiss and warmly embrace, “social distancing” is now the name of the game. Schools, universities, kindergartens, movie theaters, restaurants, pubs, gyms, parks, libraries, museums and beaches are now off limits. “All social interactions,” says the Ministry of Health should be conducted on the phone or by other digital means. Pessimistically paraphrasing the  iconic line from the 1970 romantic movie ‘Love Story’, Israel’s Prime Minister appeals:

Love is keeping your distance

As the novel Coronavirus pandemic continues to proliferate, each day brings with it new challenges and restrictions for Israeli society. Where one day the restriction is not to meet anywhere where there are NOT more than ten people present, the next day it is not to meet at all – unless it’s a dire emergency.

Where one day an instruction is an appeal, the next it is a pre-emptory order.

“This is not a game. It’s a matter of life and death,” asserted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his update on Tuesday.

And yet, there is something quite unique about Israel. Despite  the dwindling few still entering the country going straight into a mandatory 14-day quarantine, new immigrants (olim) are still arriving at Ben Gurion Airport with Israel absorbing them like returning family.

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One ‘FLU’ Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Like something out of the movies, travelers wearing masks chat in the arrivals terminal after Israel said it will require anyone arriving from overseas to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus at Ben Gurion International airport near Tel Aviv, Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS/RONEN ZEVULUN)

In the first half of March 2020, 163 immigrants arrived in the country, according to the Jewish Agency’s statistics.

One of them is Craig Evans from Sasolburg in South Africa who came with his wife Meghan and their 9-year-old-son. An older 14-year-old daughter, Jade, was already in Israel, enrolled at the Mosenson School in Hod Hasharon. The first Craig and Meghan heard that they would have to go directly from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport into quarantine was when they were standing in the departure queue at the A1 gate at Oliver Tambo International Airport. “There we were, about to board our El Al flight and we received a phone call from the Israel Centre in Joburg informing us and that there would probably be no-one in Israel to officially welcome and process us through immigration. We must make our way alone as best we could and then head straight to our apartment and wait for someone to contact us!”

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The Evens Family. New immigrants to Israel, Meghen and Craig Evens and their children Kai and Jade from Sasolburg, South Africa.

Like the intrepid MI6 agent of “Shaken, but not stirred’ fame,  Craig told Lay Of The Land “Yes, obviously we were concerned but there was no turning back. Our minds and our destination were determined. We were going to Israel, and contrary to the warning, we received 5-star treatment. They literally welcomed us from the moment we got off the plane in Israel. We were met by the representative from Telfed and the Jewish Agency who stood there holding aloft a sign with our names on and who then guided us through the process of receiving all our necessary documentation – most importantly for Kupat Holim (health care provider). We were out of the airport in 30 minutes;  and then the rep organized a huge transport vehicle for all our masses of baggage and in less than one hour, we were  in our apartment in Netanya.”

So how did it feel for this on-line marketing man and dance teacher wife to be alone in quarantine in a new country?

“Who’s alone? We have an incredible circle of friends  all over the country as well as new friends. Within 40 minutes of arrival, there was a knock on the door from the local South African community to welcome us and bring food.  We have been inundated with people contacting us, even if only over the phone or through the narrow gap of the front door.” Seeing “a silver lining” in the situation, “if it was not for the quarantine, we would never have met so many new people. This would never happen anywhere else in the world.”

Immigration to Israel is a complex process and during a global health crisis even more so. “We are advising people to postpone their immigration, but it’s not so easy,” explains the South African immigrant organisation, Telfed’s CEO, Dorron Kline. “People have sold their homes and cars and even so, people want to come and are determined to brave these challenging times. Whatever they decide, Telfed will be there for them,” asserts Dorron. “Telfed was born in challenging times when it was established in 1948 during Israel’s War of Independence and we are at war now against an unseen enemy and we are all ready to meet this challenge.”

Such determination is evident with a young man immigrating next month  from South Africa who will be going straight into the IDF. “Not only is he still determined to enlist during these trying times,” says Dorron,  “but he wants to come earlier to Israel to enable him to complete his 14-day quarantine period before his call-up date.” Only the day before, “we had a 19-year-old, young woman from Australia who just made Aliyah, so yes, despite the situation, people are still coming.”

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Fear Of Coronavirus. Usually crowded with tourists, the empty square outside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Even with the enormous pressures on Telfed’s staff who are alternating between working from home and the head office in Ra’anana, “we are calling all immigrants who arrived in the last six months from South Africa and Australia  to  find out how they are coping and if their need any assistance. We have also created a special Coronavirus platform on our  Telfed website where people can on-line ask for any assistance and others in the community can volunteer to help them. We are connecting those in need with those who can help.”

An example of how successfully the project works, Dorron sites “a new South African immigrant who was in quarantine and who ran out of her medicine. She posted this on the Telfed website  and in a few minutes, someone responded and offered to go the pharmacy and bring her the medicine.”

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Welcome To Israel. An empty arrival hall at Ben-Gurion International Airport on March 11, 2020. Photo by Flash90.

Yael Katsman, Vice President of Public Relations and Communication at Nefesh B’Nefesh – which supports Aliyah from North America and the UK –  told The Jerusalem Post earlier in the week that in spite of the coronavirus crisis and despite the restrictive conditions, “Aliyah is continuing. We have a group of 24 olim arriving Thursday who are going to be remotely processed, which is a first.” The composition of the group are of diverse backgrounds and ages – families, retires and singles and that only a few of the elderly had decided to postpone. And as to the immediate future, Katsman says that in the period leading up to Passover in April, “We are expecting about 60 to 70 olim. At the moment, a very positive indicator is that people who had planned to come are still coming regardless of this new reality.”

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Happy To Be Home. American David Bassous, who made aliyah from Highland Park, N.J. Credit: Courtesy.

One recent arrival is David Bassous who made aliyah over a week ago from Highland Park, N.J. “I didn’t realize how hard quarantine would be,” he admits. “The hardest part being unable to go outside or see the kids and grandchildren.”

However, he  figured that Israel “is one of the safest places to be right now because of its proactive policy—one of the strictest in the world.” Nevertheless  “I was still shocked when I landed and witnessed Ben-Gurion Airport deserted.”

Still, says Bassous, he’s “so happy to be home after a 2,500-year exile.”

There are a lot of Jews around the world  – Coronavirus or not – who share his enthusiasm. They can live for a while being two meters apart from the next person, but not being apart from their ancestral homeland.

 

 

At this time of difficulty and danger, here is a  Healing Prayer from Jerusalem

 

 

 

*Feature Picture: New Immigrants to Israel Jump Right In to Coronavirus Quarantine – Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau, World Chairman of KKL-JNF Daniel Atar, and Co-Founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh Tony Gelbart with Olim moving to Israel’s periphery (photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN COURTESY OF NEFESH B’NEFESH)

When All’s Said And Sung

Away from Coronavirus, a young Ethiopian singing Israel’s 2020 Eurovision entry in four languages is just what the doctor ordered

By David E. Kaplan

 WOW! It was Purim this week but it did not feel like it.

One of Israel’s most widely celebrated festivals that is traditionally embraced by religious Jews in Jerusalem and secular Tel Avivians alike was a damper. Instead of parents joining their kids in donning colourful costumes, they donned anxious expressions as public areas were eerily quiet. From my highrise balcony in Kfar Saba, I would normally have a grand view of the Purim Parade down the main street and the piazza. Not this year – for March 2020 has been hijacked by something I had never heard of until two months ago –  CORONAVIRUS!

Too frequently writing on the other more familiar virus of global antisemitism, this one caught me off guard together with the rest of the world.

Only hours after Italy announced that its entire population was under lockdown, Israel followed with its most extreme measure to date of requiring ALL people entering the country to go into immediate 14-day isolation.

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No Kidding. A popular toy shop just before the Jewish holiday of Purim, ‘The Red Pirate’ in central Israel, was fumigated following its owner having recently returned from Italy.(Photo: Yariv Katz)

Turn on the TV news networks, open the newspapers, it’s all about Coronavirus – facts, figures, measures and counter-measures. The customary news of Israel’s failure to form a government and the USA’s Democratic Party’s primary elections were sidelined to the proverbial smaller print. Coronavirus  has captured the world’s attention and in so doing, dislodged our set perspectives on news. Suddenly we did not fear Iran over any nefarious activities seeking our destruction but  shared common concern that “54 Iranians had died from the virus in the past 24 hours recording the highest toll in a single day since the start of the outbreak in the country.” Borders were blurred as we showed concern for people effected from Wuhan in China to San Francisco in the USA and the worst – in between in Italy.

We were forced to recognise how fragile our world is and how vulnerable we are as individuals!

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Purim Under Pressure. Refusing to let the virus ‘infect’ their Purim partying, celebrations in Bnei Brak, Israel, Tuesday, March 10, 2020.. (AP/Oded Balilty)

With the constant infusion of distressing news of cancellations of conferences and sporting events, airlines grounded, hotels closing, people quarantined, economies paralyzed, and forecasts of a global recession but too early in the day for a medicinal scotch, I turned off the news and tuned into Israel’s latest entry into the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest.

While the 2020 Eurovision in Holland may end up another Coronavirus casualty, Israel’s singer and song are a sheer delight. Watch and listen – it is a well-deserved הפסקה (“hafsaka”) or “break” as we say in Israel from the daily dose of news.

“My Love”

Last month, when we were thinking less about Coronavirus, Eden Alene,  a 19-year-old Ethiopian Israeli won the country’s “The Next Star” and became this year’s representative to the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam.

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Language Of Love. Israel’s song entry to the 2020 Eurovision is in four languages, English, Arabic, Hebrew and Amharic.

On stage she hugged her mother – that emotional embrace watched in living rooms across the nation, spoke volumes – it had clearly been a long road for this mother and daughter pair.

Alene’s win has been significant for Israel and its Ethiopian community, as she will be the first Israeli of Ethiopian descent to represent the Jewish state at Eurovision.

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Mother And Daughter. Eden and her mother Zehava, after winning ‘HaKochav Haba’ (‘Rising Star’) making her Israel’s representative to the 2020 Eurovision (Courtesy HaKochav Haba)

The song ‘Feker Libi’  – co-written by Israel’s 2018 winning entry ‘Toy,’ Doron Medalie and Idan Raichel, a top-selling singer-songwriter – is described as “a colourful pop gem that fuses together African dance beats with an infectious middle eastern sound.” The lyrics of the song are made up of four languages – Hebrew, Arabic, English and Amharic – and the name of the song, means “My Love” in Amharic. The song connects with Eden’s roots, having both parents originally hail from Ethiopia.

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The Face Of Israel. Israel’s Eden Alena to represent her country at 2020 Eurovision in Rotterdam, Holland.

Interestingly,  the roots of the cowriter of the song, Doron Medalie is also African.

If Medalie’s lyrics were “daring” in his song “Toy”, sung by Netta Barzilai, that won for Israel the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, it’s because he comes from a lineage of daring. His late grandfather, Dr. Jack Medalie, left his private practice in Johannesburg, South Africa, to volunteer – serving as a doctor in Israel’s War of Independence. What’s more, before leaving in early 1948, he quickly rushed to marry his sweetheart and came on his honeymoon to a country at war, all ready to provide ‘a healing hand’.

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United We Stand. The country is YOUnited behind Eden.

“Love” and “healing” are what we need right now – so take a “hafsaka” (break) from Coronavirus and listen:

 

 

 

Holding On To Jewish Pride

By Justin Amler

Last night I watched a movie about a journey.

It was a journey about a man and even the actor that played a man.

Maybe it was a journey about me, or you, or all of us.

It was a journey that resonated in my soul, tugging at my heart and moving me on so many emotional levels.

Because it was a journey about a certain time – yet it was also a journey about all time.

It was a journey about the Jewish people and what it means to have a home – a home that you are forced to defend with everything that you have, because without that home, you truly are alone.

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Birth Of A Nation. Poster for the 1966 Hollywood movie ‘Cast A Giant Shadow’ on the birth of the State of Israel. It starred Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Yul Brynner, Topol and Senta Berger.

The movie I watched was an old Kirk Douglas movie called Cast a Giant Shadow.

It was about an American army officer, Mickey Marcus, who was born Jewish yet never really cared much about it. He always saw himself as American first and the Jewish part was just something he was incidentally born into – yet never really formed a part of his essence. But he suddenly found himself thrust into the very centre of Jewish life as pre-state Israel Jewish agents asked for his help in early 1948 just as the new country was preparing to declare independence. All of this was happening while being threatened by the entire Arab world. And even though many were saying it was a lost cause, there was a hope and a stubbornness in its people that refused to accept that.

For Israel was a country that truly stood alone. While an arms embargo was in force against it, the British were continuing to arm the Arab legions around her as well as providing training and actual British officers.

It was a country that was without weapons, without an air force, without an army and without international friends who would support it.

It was a country surrounded by fanatical enemies who were dreaming of unleashing a campaign of terror that would fill the streets and the alleys and the beaches with the blood of the Jewish people.

It was a country made up of many of those who had survived absolute hell on earth in Europe, only to be fighting for their lives once again.

Yet it was not a hopeless country. In fact it was a country in which hope was its biggest asset.

Hope and belief that the People of Israel were back in the only place on earth that could truly be called their home.

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Breaking The Siege Of Jerusalem. An action seen with Kirk Douglas as US army Col. David “Micky” Marcus (seated back) who during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War became Israel’s first modern general. Hebrew: Aluf

At the time, the British, who had betrayed the Jewish people by reversing their promise to create a Jewish homeland, were trying desperately to stop Jews from entering the country in the hope of appeasing the Arabs. They turned away ships full of Holocaust survivors returning them to the lands on which the blood of the families still soaked the soil. And those they did make it to the Promised Land, were being herded off to internment camps on Cyprus, rather than being allowed to remain there.

But the will of the Jewish people is strong – stronger than the mightiest armies on earth, and the Jews continued to make their way to Eretz Yisrael – enduring harsh conditions on leaky boats just to get home.

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Mighty Mickey. US Col. Mickey Marcus in 1948, the first modern Israeli general (Aluf)

In a scene that was particularly moving, a group of survivors, Jews who had lost everything and everyone in the world, managed to get ashore only to be confronted by a British army patrol. The British officer ordered the survivors to step forward so that they could be detained. But from over the hills, Jews who were already living there, including Micky Marcus who had come to see what was happening, flocked towards them, mingling with the new immigrants, making it impossible for the army officer to distinguish who had just arrived. So the British officer once again ordered the new arrivals to step forward, ordering his men to fire a warning shot over their heads.

And yet, the people didn’t flinch and didn’t take a single step forward. A battle of wills ensued with the army officer warning them that the next shots would be aimed at them. His soldiers lined up their weapons, aimed at the ragtag group of people. And yet, they continued to stand defiantly, refusing to move. The officer warned them again that on the count of ten, his men would open fire. But still the people continued to stand, bracing themselves for what would come, knowing that they would and could no longer bow to anyone in their own land. The countdown continued, closer and closer – and yet there was no movement. Perhaps in that moment, Micky came to understand just how strong the will of the Jewish people – his people – was.

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Kirk Douglas and Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion in 1953 when filming The Juggler, the first Hollywood feature to be filmed in the newly established state of Israel. Douglas later recalled that while there, he saw “extreme poverty and food being rationed” but found it “wonderful, finally, to be in the majority.”

Eventually the count reached ten and the army officer realised that these were indeed a stubborn people who could no longer be bullied anymore. So he ordered his men to lower their rifles and the people cheered. “I suppose they’re going to dance now,” he quipped, as the people rushed past him to join their fellow Jews in Eretz Yisrael.

Jews are a stubborn people. A people who refuse to die and refuse to bow and refuse to give up on being Jews. It’s our strength and our belief and our hope that has sustained us through thousands of years of persecution and oppression and even genocide.

Because there exists a spark in all of us – a Jewish spirit if you like – that continues to defy what the world tells us and refuses to give up our identity. A spark that that will continue to fight for our rights and our dignity despite so many wanting to take that away.

Micky Marcus, who always saw himself as American first, realised that no matter where he was or where he lived, he was and always would be a Jew – and that was a part of him that couldn’t be ignored, even if he tried. It called to him, igniting that spark and making it burn inside him with such fierce pride that it was a flame that could never be extinguished. It was that spark that made him ignore his comfortable life in America to throw himself into helping the newly formed Jewish state – his people – to survive.

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Kirk Douglas at the Western Wall in 1977. (Douglas Collection)

In a way, Kirk Douglas was the same. He was born to poor immigrant Jewish parents, and fought hard to fit into American society, ignoring his Jewish side. And yet throughout his life, he was drawn to Jewish projects and Jewish stories – including making this movie about the birth of the Jewish state. The spark within him never died. It was always simmering. And later in life, when he rediscovered his Jewish roots, that spark – that small flame that was always inside him – ignited and his Jewish soul took flight. He became a fiercely proud Jew who stood up for his people and stood up for his Jewish country of Israel. So much so that when he died, he left behind a Jewish legacy that all Jews can be proud of.

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Kirk Douglas prays at Jerusalem’s Western Wall in 2000. Douglas celebrated a second Bar-Mitzvah ceremony in 1999, aged 83 and a 3rd one at 100.

The Jewish spark lives in all of us. It calls us, sometimes in quiet voices in the night, sometimes in loud booming trumpets in the middle of the day. Sometimes we hear it early in life and sometimes much later. And tragically there exists those among us, who don’t simply ignore it, but do everything in their power to put it out.

Yet, it is a flame that cannot be put out, because it continues to burn in all of us, igniting a pride that we feel deeply, a pride that causes our hearts to swell, our chests to rise, and allows us to walk a little taller among the nations of the world. We need to hold onto that pride and to guard it jealously, because it is our strength – an unflinching belief in who we are as a people, and a stubbornness to never let it go.

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Justin - bio.jpgJustin Amler is a noted South African-born, Australia-based writer and commentator on international issues affecting Israel and the Jewish world.

My journey as an Olah (Immigrant)

By Justine Friedman

To make Aliyah in the literal sense of the world is a process of going up. Going up from a place that would assume to be on a “lower level” up to the land of Israel which is therefore assumed to be on a “higher level”. And while this is true for the most part, and I imagine the ultimate result will be one of ascension, this process of going up sometimes feels a lot like a long slide down a snake in a game of snakes and ladders.

I may still be very fresh and green in this process as I have only recently arrived from South Africa in November of 2019, but already I see a trend that I can imagine will continue to emerge no matter how long the period from my actual date of Aliyah.

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Living in the land of Israel still feels quite surreal. I can’t believe I am actually here. I feel that from the time my husband and I decided to start the process towards making this monumentous change in our lives until today, that there was always another force at work ensuring that once we got on board that Aliyah train there was not a single exit stop on the way until we disembarked at Ben Gurion airport.

All olim (immigrants) have their own story to tell and some sound and seem more glamorous than others; but the truth at the end of the day is that we all want to be here and we all miss and mourn the loss of what we have left behind. No matter where in the world you have come from, what we gain has come at the cost of a loss as well.

For me one of my biggest losses was walking away from the private practice I had built up over 17 years in Johannesburg as a dietician. I had just started giving more talks and using coaching in sessions to help my clients with the skills and tools they needed to make lasting lifestyle and behavioural changes. With the ability to work online I am so lucky to still be able to connect and help some of my clients. However, to practice in Israel I need to convert my degree and sit an exam. Imagine after 20 years going back and studying an entire syllabus all over again! So each day, I sit down with my new brand of coffee and my water from my mehadrin water machine and tackle the next chapter of nutrition.

As I slowly settle into a new home, culture, language, grocery store, foods, driving on the opposite side of the road, medical system, the list goes on… my desire for the familiar screams out to me. Having a sense of humour is definitely a priority when countless times I have to remind myself which side of the car to get into if I want to be the driver. The first few times I reached for my seat belt over the wrong shoulder and every time I am in the passenger seat it feels weird that I can’t look up at the rear view mirror and see what is behind me.

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Waze (the GPS navigation app) has become my best friend.  I really don’t know how people made Aliyah before this incredible app existed. A small victory for me is when I am able to get from one point to another without needing to use this super intelligent driving buddy!

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If I can reflect on the last 3 months my highlights have been davening  (praying) at the Kotel (Wailing Wall) , seeing our container drive up to our front door and offloading our possessions from home, receiving my permanent Teudat Zehut (identity card), receiving my Israeli drivers licence and my children finally telling me that they are enjoying being here and that it is starting to feel like home.

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I know I have a long way to go.  A doctor recently told me, after 25 years I will feel settled, but I am so grateful to be where I am with the incredible community of olim (immigrants) around me who make friends feel like family. There is a process to the rungs up this ladder of Aliyah that I need to climb and I will learn to embrace the slides down the snakes as well because in my heart I know that I am finally home.

 

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Justine Friedman (nee Aginsky) made aliyah from Johannesburg, South Africa in November 2019 with her husband and their two children. In Johannesburg she was a successful clinical dietician, coach and speaker who ran her own private practice for 17 years. Justine is passionate about helping people, and women in particular, achieve greater degrees of health in their mind, body and soul. She achieves this with her own blend of a holistic approach which includes nutrition, skills and tools for improving thoughts and healing emotions and energy healing which includes visualisations, meditation and hypnosis. All consultations that she offers can be done both face to face or online. She is based in Modi’in and loves the challenges and successes that living in Israel has to offer.

 

 

Feature Picture – Credit : RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS

 

Delight in Diversity

Israel is a country of minorities and this will show again on stage at 2020 Eurovision

By David E. Kaplan

Following her win in Hakokhav Haba (The Next Star) aired on Israel’s Channel 12 with the  Beyoncé’s mega-hit Halo, 19-year-old Eden Alene will be the first Israeli of Ethiopian descent to represent the state of Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest – watched by over 180 million –  when she takes to the stage this May in Rotterdam.

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Hands Up. Victory for Eden Alene, Israel’s 2020 Eurovision representative and winner of the reality show “The Next Star” during the final in Neve Ilan studio near Jerusalem on February 4, 2020. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)

There have been other Israeli FIRSTS for minorities in the Eurovision Song Competition. In 2009, singer Mira Awad, an Arab represented Israel together with Jewish singer Achinoam Nini with their entry that had a message – There must be another way.  The lyrics did not reveal what that “other way” should be, but merely representing their country together – on stage – was already indicating their “way”.

Israel won its first Eurovision way back in 1978 with Izhar Cohen, the first entry of an Israeli of Yemenite descent, and in 1998, Dana International, who won the coveted competition with “Diva”. Dana is a transgender singer who identifies as female.

Diversity is ingrained in Israel’s DNA as sometimes frustratingly exposed in Israeli elections where there are 17 parties represented in the Knesset and another 30 parties contesting to join them.

Is it any wonder there were no results in the two elections in 2019 and the Israeli electorate is going back to the polls for a third election soon dreading that there might be a fourth!

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The Face Of Israel. To represent her country at the 2020 Eurovision Song Competition, Eden Alene.

On becoming the first Israeli of Ethiopian descent chosen to represent the country at Eurovision, Eden told Channel 12’s Nadav Bornstein following her victory, that “This is my country, and it is amazing that an Ethiopian will represent the country for the first time.”

Alene was raised in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood by a single mother who immigrated from Ethiopia, and later moved with her family to Kiryat Gat. Said her mother Zehava, “Eden represents pride for all Ethiopians. Everyone is behind her, supporting her and loving her.”

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Mother And Daughter. An emotional Eden Alene hugs her mother Zehava, after she was announced the winner of ‘HaKochav Haba,’ making her Israel’s representative to the 2020 Eurovision (Courtesy HaKochav Haba)

Road To Rotterdam

My poor mother, she had a hard time taking it in. She collapsed in my arms,” Alene said on the Chadshot Haboker (The Morning News) show.

It was all too evident onstage as Eden, surrounded by judges, presenters and other contestants, clutched a small Israeli flag under her arm while she wrapped her other arm around her mother and hugged her tight. Singing again as the winner that will take her to the 2020 Eurovision in Rotterdam, her perfect voice suddenly broke slightly, as she looked into her mother’s eyes.

It has clearly been a long road for this mother and daughter pair.

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Singing Her Heart Out. Eden Alene, winner of the 2020 “The Next Star to Eurovision.” Photo by Shlomi Cohen/FLASH90

On hearing the name Eden over and over again as the present pride of the Ethiopian community in Israel, I thought back to another Ethiopian young woman by the same first name – Eden – who I had interviewed some years ago as a 26 year-old-student at the IDC Disciplinary center Herzliya.

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Making Of A Star. Alene performing at Israel’s 70th Independence Day at Karmiel in 2018.

Eden Senai was one of the many in the mass ‘exodus’ of Ethiopian Jews rescued by Israel from Ethiopia as part of Operation Solomon. She arrived in Israel aged six in 1989 with her mother.

A diminutive child, Eden’s journey ‘out of Africa’ was almost entirely on her mother’s back. She relates a traumatic experience when they were robbed by brigands on route to the Sudan. “They started shooting and threatened to kill us, but my mother pleaded for our lives and somehow, they let us go.” Arriving in the Sudan, they fell under the protection of a rebel militia.

For four months while we waited for the trucks to fetch us, I was separated from my mother and the rest of the Jews. My mother was insistent; she felt that if the camp was attacked, at least I might survive.”

When the trucks finally arrived, “we climbed in and they covered us with straw in case we were stopped and searched. They drove us by night to the plane which brought us to Israel.” Arriving in Israel, “I was diagnosed as suffering with malaria and the doctors thought I had little chance of surviving.”

Eden survived!

The name Eden – in Hebrew עֵדֶן – is derived from the Biblical Garden of Eden, meaning ‘delight’ in the book of Genesis. Like the older Eden who is today in all probability a successful practicing lawyer, Eden Alene  today is a young lady with a future of music before her.  When she takes to the international stage  for the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam on May 16, Eden will have turned 20 only 9 nine days earlier!

With “delight”  being in the meaning of her name, Eden has been delighting listeners in public since “she was in nursery school,” says her mother and later, “at an elementary school talent show.” Today, Eden is a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces and is no novice to winning big competitions.  In 2018, she won Israel’s “X-Factor” reality TV show.

And while dikes hold water back in Holland, nothing holds Eden back as she heads for Rotterdam!

 

 

 

 

Feature Picture: Eden Alene (Photo – Ortal Dahan).

Hollywood, Hebrew, Holy Land

Winning a Golden Globe, Quentin Tarantino is Glowing– and expecting his first child in Tel Aviv

By David E. Kaplan

While most Israelis sigh over having to be subjected to a ‘ho-hum’ third election in less than one year, Tel Aviv’s celebrated new resident, Quentin Tarantino jokes, saying:

 “I wish we had a third election in the US. Unfortunately there was only one.”

Married to Israeli singer/model, Daniella Pick, who is pregnant with their first child, Tarantino told the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot  following his 2020 Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay for his movie ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’,

he not only feels “at home” in Tel Aviv; but  “this really is my home now.”

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Dynamite Duo. Quentin Tarantino and Daniella Pick attend the “Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood” U.K. premiere in London, July 30, 2019. (Karwai Tang/WireImage/Getty Images)

And when the occasion arises, the award-winning director enjoys breaking into basic Hebrew. Hardly short of such ‘occasions’, so when accepting from the Beverly Hills Hilton in Los Angeles his Golden Globe, he thanked his wife who was watching the ceremony on television from Tel Aviv with:

 “Toda geveret,” meaning “Thanks, Mrs.” in Hebrew.

The birth of his baby, he says, “will inspire him to learn more.  “Obviously, I’m going to learn. I don’t want my boy or girl to speak a language I can’t understand.”

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Tying The Knot. Quentin Tarantino and Daniella Pick exchange vows in a private wedding ceremony.

‘The writing is on the wall’ literally for Tarantino because hanging in his new Israeli home in north Tel Aviv are posters in Hebrew of his movies “Reservoir Dogs”, “Inglorious Bastards”, “Django Unchanged” and “The Hateful Eight”.

Tarantino’s first connection to Israel changed his life and is introducing a new one. How so? It was when Tarantino was promoting ‘Inglorious Bastards” in Israel 10 years ago that he met his future  – now pregnant – wife who is the daughter of the famous Israeli pop singer/songwriter, composer and television personality Svika Pick.

Tarantino and Pick got engaged in July 2017 and tied the knot in November 2018 in an intimate ceremony at their Beverly Hills home.

When he was asked at the time about his daughter’s engagement to the famous director, Daniella’s dad who was  ‘Israel’s Male Singer of the Year’ in the 1970s and penned the song which won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998, replied, “There is joy in our family.”

Well in a few months’ time there will be more joy.

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Cozy In Cannes. Quentin Tarantino and Daniella Pick were the epitome of true love as they cozied up at The Specials premiere during the Cannes Film Festival.

While it may be hard to imagine Tarantino – whose films tend to spotlight dark violence and bizarre quirks – as a stay-at-home dad, he told Jimmy Kimmel on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that was precisely his “plan”.

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Picture Perfect. Poster of Tarantino’s latest movie for which he won a 2020 Globe Award.

Asked by Kimmel if he was going to play golf, the director said, “I just got married, I want to have kids.” Maybe Tarantino did his homework in family planning too! According to a 2015 survey Israel is one of the best countries in the world to raise a family. InterNations, the world’s largest network for people who live and work as expats abroad, ranked Israel third on their list of 19 countries for raising a family.

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Time Out In Tel Aviv. Daniella Pick and Quintin Tarantino catch a cuddle on sidewalk bench in Tel Aviv.

With the couple living much of the time at their new home in north Tel Aviv, Tarantino says  “I have some short trips back to the US planned for the Oscar awards ceremony. And of course, we’ll be here for the birth and after.”

His new life includes riding his bike around Tel Aviv, going to movies and says, “I love the country and the people are really nice, very nice to me and they seem excited that I’m here.”

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Capital Screening. Attending a special screening in Israel’s capital of a documentary about his work at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Dec. 14, 2019, Quentin Tarantino and wife Daniella. (Photo: Courtesy/Shaul Weinstein)

 

To a question of any concerns about missiles fired from the Gaza Strip, he replies “I’m not scared at all. Like everyone else here, I don’t really notice it.”

Clearly, very few foreigners do.

In its list of top 20 destinations for 2020, Forbes Travel Guide placed Tel Aviv the 2nd best city to visit in the world.

Maybe one day inspired by his new enriching surroundings we can expect not only more kids but a sequel:

 “Once Upon A Time …in Tel Aviv”

 

 

 

 

Feature picture: American filmmaker and actor Quentin Tarantino in Jerusalem. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Group Chats – Level Israel

By Gabi Crouse

The reality of the WhatsApp group chat is as simple as “you can’t live with it and you can’t live without it”.

As a mother, you have no choice but to be involved in a group chat for your child’s class because you cannot afford to miss important information about goings-on. This misinformation may result in an inevitable melt down when your child is the only shmendrik in a coloured shirt when everyone else is wearing white. So to avoid such calamities or worse, we join the group chats. BUT, this is only the beginning… make no mistake, it’s a trap.

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Reality Bytes. As a mother, you have no choice but to be involved in a group chat.

Usually there is a group for the child’s grade with the teacher as a member and who is the one to send out any important information. However, there is another separate group just for the parents. It is more acceptable for the second type to have ‘chatter’ whereas the first group is meant for important notifications. This is not the case. It’s all too easy to pop out one quick message but when everyone gets going, before you blink, there are 47 new unread messages. One would think there is a crisis at the school only to discover that Moshe is having a birthday party, and everyone wishes him Mazaltov.

Moreover, this same child of yours probably does one or more extra murals and, of course, each activity MUST have a communal forum for information exchange. Gone are the good old days whereby your child came home with a letter pinned to the back of his or her shirt. I sometimes wonder if my children would actually be capable of relaying any information to me, then I fear that this simple skill might eventually disappear from humanity.

Some of things that are announced on these groups never cease to amaze me. Absolutely everything! Everything from school complaints to the weather, to the latest sale at the local grocery store, warnings of a strange dog running in the road and the all-time winning one was that so and so had found a worm in her rice! My great challenge is saying “who cares” in such a way that I don’t offend anyone!

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New Nursery Rhyme. This little finger goes to WhatsApp!

This is just groups pertaining to one child. Bli ayain Hara, I have four children. The traffic flow of messaging in my WhatsApp is multiplied by four! I may as well be an air traffic controller. These groups by the way, could prove to be a real game changer for people considering having more children. This influx of messaging happens on all the groups, all day long. It becomes a lot to deal with when you are trying to manage a stressful life juggling many things all day long. The truth is that a mother has a huge pile on her plate that never seems to clear  – much like the dishes in the kitchen sink. After one issue is sorted out, the next one reveals itself. This is most likely the reason the WhatsApp groups are so annoying – because they present the constant nagging cherry on top of a mountain of mental submissions.

What about the unwanted invitation to a group chat?

A friend of mine, Etana Hecht, has coined the term Whatsnapped. (Look it up on urban dictionary). This is where you are added to a group without your consent, and which you now find yourself serving a life sentence trapped within the wallpapers of the app. Exiting this group could label you a snob or stuck up. (Truthfully, I’m sure some would be jealous of the courage that would take). Leaving a group is scandalous and doing so may provoke questions and concerns and even the evil Lashon Hara!! This is not a road one wants to travel on, so we remain, like loyal participants, in the prison chat.

Let’s talk about the struggle IsRael! This, as an olah chadasha (new female immigrant to Israel), is the clincher! My WhatsApp incoming messages are all in a foreign language now – the writing is literally backwards! This is where ‘fast pace’ checks of instant messaging has become a thing of the past. And back and forth trips to google translate quadruple the time spent reading messages!

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Keeping In Touch. Let your fingers do the talking.

What once was a lovely ping on my phone indicating that someone, somewhere was thinking of me has now become trigger for anxiety, denial and the perpetual eyeball roll. Upon opening WhatsApp and seeing 57 unread messages no longer makes me happy. In fact, my stress levels shoot through the roof, my hands become clammy and my heart starts palpitating. And because of the Hebrew names and I have to consciously remind myself to check for which child (name in Hebrew letters / grade / extra mural activity (chug) the notification is intended. Furthermore, I think I’ll just mention at this point that the ‘google translation’ is a serious cause for trust issues. Sometimes when I see all the messages, I simply close the app, gently place the phone face down on the table and happily pretend I hadn’t seen anything. Out of sight, out of mind.

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Ping-headed. Being part of a parents’ WhatsApp group expect plenty of pings.

Based on a recent Facebook survey, I have put together a list of ‘code of conduct’ rules for group chat users:

  1. Any group created must have an official permission request before adding a person. A strict ‘no offence but no thank you’ is to be widely acceptable without judgement!
  2. All comments made must be beneficial to ALL members of the group, if not, Private message (PM) the person of interest.
  3. Please think 5 million times before you post anything at all. Then reconsider it once more. Should you ultimately decide to send a message, use minimal wording.
  4. We all know its cold out. This does not need to be a public statement on a group and if you haven’t yet put a jacket on your child in 8 degrees, no WhatsApp group message is going to make you a better mother.
  5. Birthday party invitations are always welcome, individual RSVP’s however are not. Please PM these.
  6. Unless you are handing out personal gift vouchers, we don’t care about the 20% sale at the local supermarket, and while we are on the subject, I really don’t know where to buy yellow plums this time of year.
  7. At all times, keep to the topic relevant to the group. I was so busy trying to scroll past ‘how to repair a broken zip’ that I missed the part about the money which needed to be handed in for the school trip.
  8. When your two year old gets hold of your phone and sends a cute voice note, just delete it.
  9. (Optional) Appoint a group birthday person to wish the birthday lady a onetime wish on behalf of everyone. We all have good wishes for you, what we don’t have is 7 hours to sift through all the heartfelt messages. (That is what Facebook is for).
  10. Finally, remember that we all love each other dearly but we do all run very busy lifestyles. We all agree that phone time should be kept to a minimum so that we can focus on more important things. So let’s try keep life as simple as possible for each other.

SEND.

 

 

 

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Gabi Crouse – Based in Israel, Gabi writes opinions in fields of politics, Judaism, life issues, current social observations aswell as creative fiction writing. Having contributed to educational set works and examinations, as well as interviews, Gabi will usually add in a splash of humour.

 

 

Be A Pebble Or Be A Flame

By Martine Maron Alperstein

Someone recently told me that you cannot change the world, that we need to learn that the world is not our problem, and we can’t fix the things that we can’t fix. All we can do is fix ourselves and help others. The rest will fall into place. No form of education will accomplish anything. The only way to make a difference is to lead by example.

Really?

Surely, I have a responsibility to try?

Even the minutest little pebble will cause a ripple when it hits the surface of the water. Even the tiniest of flames will illuminate the path when walking in total darkness.

The butterfly effect.

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Ripple Effect. Even the minutest little pebble will cause a ripple when it hits the surface of the water.

 

The  murder of 6 million Jews was not so long ago. Most of my generation have (or had) close relatives who were survivors, and family members that were not so fortunate to survive. Most of my generation have witnessed the sight of a tattooed arm at some stage, heard the horror stories firsthand, experienced the consequences of being raised in a home that was tormented by PTSD and the obsessions that resulted.

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Path Ahead. Even the tiniest of flames will illuminate the path when walking in total darkness.

And yet, we are once again living in a world that not only appears to be strife with anti-Semitism, but a world where anti-Semitism is widely accepted, and acts of hate and terror are becoming tolerated and a common event.

And I cannot just sit back and watch, while trying to be a better person and leading by example. I have a voice. I need to use it. And if I only get to influence one person, if I only enable one person to see the light and change their perspective, then I am proud to have used my voice.

ואהבת לרעך כמוך   Ve’ahavta Le’raecha Kamocha

Love your neighbor as yourself.

What exactly does that mean?

What does it mean to love others as you would love yourself? How do we interpret this basis and foundation of Judaism, and of many other religions?

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“Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Rabbi Akiva says: This is the great principal of the Torah. J.T. Nedarim 30b

Well, for me the answer is simple and is probably something you have heard many times before.  In order to be able to love your neighbor, your fellow Jew, your fellow Human Being, the residents of this world……YOU first need to love yourself. And to love yourself means to know yourself. And to know yourself means understanding your heritage, valuing your culture and treasuring your traditions. Loving yourself means being proud to be a Jew, to hold your head up high and stand fast in your meaningful traditions – traditions that connect you to your people of thousands of years. Once, and only once you know who you truly are, will you have the ability to love yourself, and fully love your neighbor.

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Jews do not bow down or kneel to anyone except the Almighty. We do not lower ourselves nor do we prostrate ourselves in front of any human being, any idol or any other set of customs and traditions. We are proud of our heritage. We stand by it. We uphold it. Always.

It’s from this position of pride, confidence, strength and respect that we have the power to help others, to educate, to make a difference in this world.

Take the time to practice your religion. And by this I am not asking you to become Sabbath observant, Kosher or follow the laws of family purity. I am asking you to learn and understand who you are and where you have come from, to stand proud and strong, to celebrate our traditions and to embrace the religious practice of loving yourself and then loving others.

And maybe, just maybe from this place of love and strength, we will be able to reach out and be that minute little pebble that makes gentle ripples or that tiniest of flames that illuminates a path in the darkness. And slowly, one person at a time, we can change perspectives, remove hatred, animosity and violent acts of terror in this world that we call home.

In the words of Shuli Rand and Amir Dadon:

והמסע הזה כבד וקצת גדול עליי
אני צריך לגדול מזה ודי

Hamasa haze kaved ve’ketsat gadol alie

Ani tsarich ligdol mezeh ve’die

This journey is heavy and a little too heavy for me

I need to grow from it, it’s enough

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facebook_1556193840564.jpgMartine Maron Alperstein made aliyah from Cape Town 21yrs ago. She currently resides in Modiin with her husband, kids and kitty cats.

 

A Taste Of Tel Aviv

Israel’s Vibey City Also Vegan Capital of the World

By David. E. Kaplan

I recall some 25 years ago, the celebrated English novelist and former politician, Jeffrey Archer, addressing an ESRA (English Speaking Residents Association) public lecture at City Hall in Ra’anana. It was a riveting talk on his bestsellers interspersed with anecdotes and a revelation that he still had his sights on residing at “10 Downing Street”.

He had plenty of positive things to say about the Holy Land but concluded with one negative – its cuisine. “OMG where am I to go for dinner after this lecture. Your country may have plenty to offer, but good food is not one them!”

The audience laughed.

A quarter of a century ago, Archer was dead right.

Today he would be dead wrong!

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Affirming this transformation is none other than that esteemed writer’s country’s public service broadcaster – the BBC. Its ‘Good Food’  ranked Tel Aviv in the Top 10 Destinations For Foodies In 2020. Israel’s “City that never sleeps” came in seventh following  Galway in Ireland, Lyon in France, Los Cabos in Mexico, Holland, Malta and Marrakesh in Morocco.  In ranking Tel Aviv so highly, the BBC’s Good Food spotlighted the city’s well-deserved moniker as “the vegan capital of the world.”

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Vibey & Vegan. Tel Aviv has been designated the “Vegan capital of the world”.

 

Writes BBC Good Food:

With vegan dishes at the heart of Tel Aviv’s culinary tradition, it’s always been a great destination for lovers of plant-based food. Backed by vast agricultural land, this seaside city serves up veggies that often travel farm-to-fork in the same day. In recent years, Tel Aviv has upped its game to become the world’s self-designated vegan capital, with slick vegan coffee shops, and local chains such as Domino’s offering animal product-free pizza. This young, LGBT-friendly beach buzzy city has boutique Bauhaus-style hotel hangouts with cool cocktail bars, and a burgeoning crop of cheffy restaurants, but the budget-eats steal the show. For stellar street food, there’s nothing like Tel Aviv’s hummus, falafel and shakshuka, served at hole-in-the-wall joints, street stands, and stalls lining local markets such as the sprawling Shuk Hacarmel. Just four-five hours’ flight from the UK, this is an exotic break that doesn’t require a long-haul schlep.”

BBC’s Good Food picked up on Israel being in the vanguard of healthy eating, focusing on what grows in the field rather than what dwells on it. For one Israeli company, Aleph Farms, its philosophy is that man’s eating experience should not be at the expense of the life of an animal. In October, Lay Of The Land published an article Israel leading A Slaughter-Free Revolution For A Healthier World revealing this company served the world’s first lab-grown steak.

However, not only is Israel looking to ‘cultivate’ meat involving no slaughtering of animals but is catering to the ever-increasing appetite of VEGANS which was glowingly acknowledged by BBC Good Food. It highlighted that the country has in recent years “upped its game,” offering “slick vegan coffee shops, and local chains such as Domino’s offering animal product-free pizza.”

Tel Aviv is home to at least 400 vegan and vegan-friendly kitchens and hosts annual vegan festivals.

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Smooth Operator. Bana is one of Tel Aviv’s super-cool, new vegan-friendly restaurants (Bana)

Viva La Vegan

So, with 400 vegan and vegan-friendly kitchens serving most of Israel’s 200,000 vegans, going meat-free isn’t only easy, it’s a chance to chew on the best chow in town.

As one food critic noted:

 “Thanks to the sun-kissed climate, high quality fruit and veg is never too far – you can see it in the colour, taste it in the flavour and smell it in the aroma of what’s on your plate.”

In Tel Aviv, “there is a real emphasis on freshness of produce,” says vegan restaurant owner Merav Barzilay. Though he founded Meshek Barzilay on an organic farm 15 years ago, he says it was an easy move to the city. Tel Aviv’s proximity to fresh vegetables “means a customer can eat a tomato the same day it was picked in the field”.

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Looks Good, Tastes Good, Is Good. A vegan burger at Meshek Barzilay in Tel Aviv (Meshek Barzilay)

For Tel Aviv’s green chefs, preparation for the day ahead, starts with a stroll through the kaleidoscope of colour and chaos  of its “shuks” (markets) selecting fresh produce.

“That’s the beauty of the marketplace – everyone is feeding each other,” says Cafe Kaymak’s Jo Cohen, one of the first vegetarian coffee shop owners in Tel Aviv. Sourcing for his multicultural kitchen from the nearby Carmel Market, “We draw from many different wells,” he says, “Turkey and Greece as well as Japan, Morocco, Tunisia and, of course, the Middle East.”  His signature vegan dish, galean mjadra, is a spicy hot-pot of lentils, paprika, almonds and berries cooked and presented on a bed of bulgur wheat and topped with salsa and tahini.

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By George! Nanuchka has a been a culinary institute in Tel Aviv for the last 20 years, it started as a Georgian restaurant and bar but during the last 5 years changed its skin and became fully vegan.

In the past seven years, the explosion of plant-based restaurants has transformed Israel’s population of just eight million into the largest vegan nation, per capita, in the world. Israel’s Tourism Ministry now promotes the country as a “vegan nation” – and Tel Aviv is at the heart of this culinary movement.

Nothing surprising in this phenomenon, explains Sharon Berger in the Forward:

“Unless you have been living under a rock you will probably already know that Israel has become the leading vegan country in the world, with 5.2% of the population eschewing all animal goods in their daily diet. This number has more than doubled since only 2010 when 2.6% of the population was vegan or vegetarian.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Israeli staples naturally includes a large amount of vegetables, fruit, grains and legumes already, including hummus and falafel, the country’s best-known dishes.

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Culinary Unveiling. In colorful Levinsky Market in South Tel Aviv, OPA is the highly curated work of vegan chef extraordinaire Shirel Berger. Working exclusively with produce from a farm 40 minutes north of the city, Berger creates understated Mediterranean-style dishes such as squash with maple-smoked pumpkin relish, jalapeño and lemon; and guava with macadamia milk, sourdough crumbs and betel leaves. (Photo by Tommer Halperin)

“The fresh produce is top quality and the Mediterranean diet has lots of flavours in its naturally vegan dishes,” says Ruthie Rousso, a Tel Aviv-based food historian and critic. “The Israeli diet is based on the meze (the little salads you eat before the meal). So giving up on meat is not the biggest sacrifice.”

Inbal Baum, a former attorney and founder of Delicious Israel, a company that offers culinary tours, sees veganism’s popularity as a natural evolution of Israelis’ relationship with the land.

“Veganism makes so much sense historically in the Israeli diet because eating from the land has always been significant,” she explains. “Eating vegetables was a way of survival. We don’t call it ‘farm to table’ here, but this style of local-produce-based eating is how my grandfather was able to live when he arrived at the kibbutz back in the 1930s – they ate what they grew.”

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Fresh At Frishman. Anastasia at Frishman St 54, Tel Aviv-Yafo.

Times They Are A-Changin’

You must know that change is about when even ‘the one and only’ shawarma – that Middle Eastern sliced-meat sandwich beloved by all the world over – is being popularised in its vegan form – most notably at Sultana, a completely vegan eatery in Tel Aviv.

Sultana uses ‘forest mushrooms that have a texture reminiscent of chicken’ and promises to be ‘the original shawarma experience, only 100 percent vegan. Chef Harel Zakaim is bent on changing the rules of the game regarding everything we knew about vegetarian-vegan shawarmas.

Weighing in on why veganism is so increasingly popular in Israel,

Israeli-based international promoter of vegan culture, Ori Shavit, believes there are a number of unique reasons why Israelis are leading this global trend. Over and above the sensitivity to animals, she adds “the country is very young and still evolving so people here are less attached to traditional eating and are used to trying new things, love innovations and  not scared to making changes in their diet.”

Shavit points out that when in 2013 Domino’s Pizza launched its first vegan pizza with non-dairy cheese, it was ‘pioneering’ and “only now just becoming available in other countries.” Israel is also the first country outside of the USA to offer Ben and Jerry’s VEGEN ice cream flavours. “As Israel has a relatively small population,” writes Shavit,  “it’s interesting that these two major international chains both chose to launch their dairy-free products in the holy land.”

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Going Green. Pizza goes vegan at The Green Cat, Tel Aviv. Photo: courtesy

Interesting but not surprising.

With Israel in the vanguard of the global vegan trend, it was little wonder that the Holy Land came in the BBC’s Good Food Top 10.

It’s indicative of who we are and how we would want to live.

“No matter where you live,” says Shavit, “the greatest effect an individual can have on the world starts on his or her plate — so no wonder that people who understand that will try to make a better choice for their food.”

Bon Appétit!

 

*Feature Picture: From The Field To The Fork. Each day, Tel Aviv’s top vegan chefs shop  for fresh produce at the ‘shuks’ like the famous Carmel Market