IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF HERZL

Musings and thoughts from the 125th anniversary of the World Zionist Organisation and Congress recently held in Basel, Switzerland

By Rolene Marks

It doesn’t matter where I am in the world or what I am doing, if I hear the opening strains of Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, my heart swells and my eyes tear up. The feeling of pervasive pride is visceral. It is not just that I am a proud Israel, it is the knowledge that the words have sustained Jews in our darkest times – and also our greatest triumphs. Whether it be the scenes of Jews singing in Bergen-Belsen after liberation or Linoy Ashram standing proudly on the podium as she receives Olympic gold, I get the feels.

So you can imagine what I felt last week in Basel, Switzerland as I joined my WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) delegation and over a thousand others as we stood in the Stadtcasino, 125 years after the first Zionist Congress and sang the anthem of the country that had been but a dream a century and a quarter before.

Members of WIZO delegation

Over a hundred years ago, when a young journalist called Theodore Herzl, recognising the growing threat of antisemitism and motivated by the sham trial of French Jew, Alfred Dreyfus, wrote an article and then two books called The Jewish State and Altneuland, where he presented his vision of what that would be. Herzl recognised that this state could only manifest in the ancestral and historical homeland of the Jewish people – Eretz Yisrael, then called Palestine. The Romans, seeking to wipe out any reference to Jewish history and culture had named it thus. 

“The Jews who will it shall achieve their State. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die. The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind,” Herzl said.

Herzl also famously said, “If you will it, it is no dream”. And so they gathered in Basel, laying the foundations of willing a Jewish state. From these seeds would spring forth the World Zionist Organisation, the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Just a couple of years later, the Women’s International Zionist Organisation would be founded. All of these organisations, would help prepare the land and the ingathering of the exiles for what would be the fulfillment of the Zionist dream – a Jewish state.

“Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word- which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly- it would be this: “At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. If not in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will know it,” mused Theodor Herzl.

Dr. Theodor Herzl.

Herzl, like Moses millennia before him, would lead his people to the Promised Land – but never enter it himself. Herzl died on the 3 July 1904, in Edlach, a village inside Reichenau an der Rax, Lower Austria, having been diagnosed with a heart issue earlier in the year, of cardiac sclerosis. A day before his death, he told the Reverend William H. Hechler: “Greet Palestine for me. I gave my heart’s blood for my people.” He certainly did.

Herzl’s vision would come to life with the birth of the modern state of Israel in our ancient, ancestral homeland. The Jewish people had come home.

In Basel some 125 years later we would gather to celebrate this vision and pay homage to the man who inspired hope in so many. And gather we did from the four corners of the world, 1 400 Zionists, representing different communities and ages and holding many different opinions. We were all there – the organisations, the social media personalities, familiar faces, those whose opinions veered to the right, those firmly in the centre and those to the left. In the city that birthed the modern Zionist movement, we debated, argued, agreed and discussed.

A stand out moment for me was the honouring of Druze Sheikh, Mowafaq Tarif and the presence of Emirati Sheikh Ahmed Ubeid Al Mansur.

 WIZO delegates with Sheikh al Mansur

Yaakov Hagoel, the chairperson of the World Zionist Organization, said of Al Mansur, “Herzl never dreamed that the day would come that a brave Arab leader would participate in a Zionist Conference together with thousands of Jews from all over the world whose goal is to strengthen and develop the independent and sovereign state of Israel.”

This gathering in Basel was not just a prime opportunity to pay tribute to Herzl or to discuss the challenges facing the Jewish world like rising antisemitism, the Iranian threat or how we will contribute to the fight against climate change; but also allowed us a moment to stop and take stock and marvel at the miracle that is the embodiment of our dream – the state of Israel.

In the presence of our President, Isaac Herzog, whose own family story is a reflection of Jewish history and First lady, Michal, we took a moment to look back – and forward to the future – of what Israel has achieved in a matter of a few decades. When Herzl envisioned a state that would see “the world be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness and whatever we attempt there for our own benefit would redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind”, I don’t think even his wildest imagination could see what we have achieved.

In that hallowed halls, in the presence of the President and in the company of those who from generation to generation take up that promise to keep building, singing Hatikvah has never sounded so sweet.

 In the footsteps of Herzl on the balcony of Les Trois Rois Hotel

Standing on the balcony of “Les Trois Rois”, where the iconic visionary once stood I contemplated what he must be thinking as he watched on from high in the heavens.

How proud he must be. His will is no longer a dream. It is a reality. And it is ours.



Herzl and I reflect





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).

FLIGHTPLAN TO FREEDOM

Reflecting on the impact of a Russian Jewish pilot’s plot to hijack a Soviet plane to freedom

By Jonathan Feldstein

I’m relaxing on the beach in Tel Aviv reading a book that I’ve been enjoying. More than enjoying, it’s an important piece of our history as a people, specifically related to the struggle to free the Jews of the Soviet Union of which I was active in my teens and early adulthood, and which is so important to remember.

Hijack for Freedom” is the memoir of Mark Dymshits. Unlike other memoirs with the writer’s intention to be published, Dymshits’ writing was only discovered after he died, and only then published.

Made his Mark. Mark Dymshits’ writings were discovered after his death and published as a memoir.

Mark Dymshits was a former Soviet Air Force pilot who, discriminated against as a Jew, sought to leave the USSR which was nearly impossible in 1970. He and others planned to hijack a plane and fly themselves out of the USSR to freedom, eventually to be able to go to Israel. It’s a compelling read.

Unlike many of the most prominent refusenicks and Soviet Jewish activists of the time who became a household names, Dymshits’ personal history  was different.  From being a loyal Soviet citizen he would in time resent the increasing discrimination until he realized that the Soviet Union was not his true homeland and could never be. This pilot ‘plotted’ a course of action that went beyond a flightpath and would change the course of how Soviet Jews looked at their own identity.  Unlike many others, Dymshits did not spend years learning or teaching Hebrew in secret, studying or practicing Judaism, nor was he particularly involved with any of the Zionist groups and leaders at that time. He only wanted to leave the USSR and immigrate to Israel.

Breacher of the Iron Curtain. Soviet pilot Mark  Dymshits whose brave plan inspired a generation of Soviet Jews to set their sights on freedom in Israel.

As a pilot, he spearheaded a plan – “Operation Wedding” – to hijack a small plane that would be filled with other Soviet Jews, and fly himself and them to the west and freedom. Perhaps, because he didn’t spend years hiding his identity as a Hebrew teacher or live the lives of other Jewish or pro-Israel activists, he was less sensitive to the dangers of h the KGB and how it had effectively infiltrated these groups. Dymshits and his co-plotters were caught, arrested, and tried and in December 24, 1970, a Leningrad municipal court sentenced former military pilot Mark Dymshits, age 43, and a dissident Eduard Kuznetsov, age 30, to death by firing squad. Seven defendants, ages 21 to 30, were sentenced to 10 to 15 years in labor camps, with two receiving shorter sentences. With two exceptions, all the defendants were Jews.

‘Mark’ed Man. KGB file on Mark Dymshits.

This case of the “Leningrad hijacking plot” caused an uproar in the west, and was a catalyst for other Soviet Jews to begin their own ‘flight’ to freedom. In a way the Dymshits case was not unlike that of the case  Alfred Dreyfus  that had such an impact on Theodor Herzl to “hijack” the complacency of Jews in “enlightened” countries and set a goal to establish a Jewish state.

From Plight to Flight. Aeroflot’s An-2, the same plane the Dymshits–Kuznetsov group tried to hijack.

Fifty years after Herzl, the dream of establishing a Jewish state was realized and 50 years after Dymshits and the others involved with “Operation Wedding”, the majority of Jews who wished to leave the USSR were able to do so.

BACK ON THE BEACH

As I wiggled my feet in the soft sand, I became aware of a family speaking Russian behind me, clearly three generations: grandparents, their children, and their grandchildren. I understand some basic Russian from teaching myself in order to get by on my own in the USSR back in the 1980s. One of the little boys had a unique way he rolled his ‘R’s which I attributed to his growing up in Israel but speaking Russian at home among his immigrant family.

At one point as they chatted behind me, I read the following passage related to Dymshits’ arrest, trial and imprisonment and how in many ways that was a catalyst in the USSR to inspire Jews to try to leave, and a catalyst in the west to advocate on their behalf.

He wrote:

The KGB had a choice to make between (charging us with violating Soviet laws of) article 83 with short prison terms, or article 64 with long prison terms and even execution. If the KGB had chosen article 83, and given us prison terms of up to three years, they would have made themselves look humane in the world’s eye. After serving our short sentences, we would have gone off to Israel without causing a fuss, but without a fuss there would have been no large scale aliyah. They would have given exit visas to a few thousand Jews, and everything would have gone quiet for a few years.”

Rising Tide against Soviet Russia. A protest rally is held against the death penalty in Russia at Kikar Malchei  – today Rabin Square – Israel in Tel Aviv.

As I’m reading these words and hearing the Russian behind me, I see Dymshits’ vision being fulfilled. Eventually, the Jews of the Soviet Union would have come home. But if the high-profile nature of the bold plan, then the trial, and subsequent protest of the verdict had not taken place, it is indeed possible that at that point there would have not yet been a large scale movement, or exodus, of Soviet Jews.

Welcome Home. In the years following, Jews emigrated en mass to Israel as seen here with then Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin shaking hands with new Russian immigrants on their flight from Russia to Israel. 27 April 1994.

Friends who are former Soviet Jews who live in Israel have articulated what a hero and how pivotal Dymshits was. His book is a personal memoir, much about his early life and leading up to the hijack plan, and then the imprisonment, trial, sentence, and serving his time in successive prisons.  Spoiler alert, he was not killed. The sentence was commuted to fifteen years in a Gulag, and he was free after nine years thanks to an American-Soviet prisoners exchange in 1979. He then emigrated to Israel where he lived until the age of 88.

As much as Dymshits and the other defendants were pivotal in changing the dynamics, I’m sure that if I had asked the Russian speaking family sitting behind me on the beach who Mark Dymshits is, they’d probably have no idea.

We have a lift off. Jewish emigration from USSR to Israel ‘takes off’.

Today, it is not uncommon to see planeloads of new immigrants landing in Israel from different parts of the world. It’s important to know and never forget that only 50 years ago the Jews of the Soviet Union were prohibited from leaving and discriminated against. It is the heroism of people like Dymshits who changed the paradigm.

Especially as this week, I celebrate my 18th anniversary of making aliyah, thank God we’re all home.


Hijack for Freedom. The Memoirs of Mark Dymshits: Soviet Pilot, Jew, Breacher of the Iron Curtain

Gefen Publishing





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).

‘Ruck’ & Roll

From rugby to netball, squash to tennis, the 21st Maccabiah is “rocking”

By David E. Kaplan

When cynics scoff that the Maccabi Gamesis not real sport” or

it’s not front page, back page or any page news” or even more disparaging, “Who cares?” they are wrong.

In sport parlance – “It’s on track”.

In one 24-hour period – in full view of the international media -visiting US President Joe Biden was introduced to two polarized but defining components of the Jew of the 21st century – a journey from the depths of near oblivion to Jewish national sovereignty when in the morning he visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center and in the evening the opening of the 21st Maccabiah, commonly referred to as the “Jewish Olympics”.

Let the Games Begin. Raising his USA cap as the USA delegation marches onto the field in the Opening Ceremony at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022, Joe Biden becomes the first USA president to make an appearance at the Maccabiah or ‘Jewish Olympics’. Joining him in jubilation are Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog (left), and Prime Minister Yair Lapid. (Ronen Zvulun/POOL/AFP via Getty Images).

When Joe met the two American Holocaust survivors at Yad Vashem, he was meeting not only  Giselle Cycowicz and Rena Quint but a stark reminder that only a few years before the State of Israel was born in 1948, Jews  were lining up to be mass murdered while much of the world stood by and yawned. At same day’s end, as the golden summer sun’s rays settled over the sublime skyline of Jerusalem, the American President waved as Jewish athletes – over 10,000 from 80 countries including the USA, the largest overseas delegation – marched  proudly onto the field at Teddy Stadium for the 2022 21st Maccabiah. These athletes were the living embodiment of “Muscular Zionism”, the concept conceived by Max Nordau who sowed the seeds for a “Jewish Olympics” when at the Second Zionist Congress in Basel in 1898, he spoke about forging a new Jew – far removed from the stereotype Ghetto image – who would be strong in appearance and resolute in spirit.

Moving Meeting. Giving both women and hug and kiss on the cheek, President Joe Biden speaks with Holocaust survivors Giselle Cycowicz (r) and Rena Quint in the Hall of Remembrance during a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem on July 13, 2022. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Image.
 

While the concept of “Muscular Zionism” was born, it took a further three decades before the first Maccabiah opened in 1932 in Tel Aviv with a colourful parade through the streets of Tel Aviv led by Mayor Meir Dizengoff riding his iconic white horse.

That triumphant march in what was nicknamed the “White Horse Olympics” would culminate in 1950, the first Maccabiah held in a sovereign State of Israel. Edna Kaplan who I interviewed  some years ago was a participant in the South African delegation that year.

Rose among the Thorns. Edna Kaplan (centre) was the only woman in the South African running squad at the 1950 Maccabiah.

I was the rose amongst the thorns,” she said chuckling. “I was not the only woman in the South African athletic squad, I was the only woman in the entire delegation.” A sprinter, Edna described the conditions of the rough track, with Tel Aviv’s Reading Power Station in the background. In keeping with the family’s sporting tradition, her daughter Janine, literallyran’ in her mother’s footsteps, participating in the1973 Maccabiah also as a sprinter.  Janine was then part of the Rhodesian (later Zimbabwe) delegation. Such an impression did it make, that within six months, she immigrated to Israel.

This has frequently proved the impact of the Maccabiah.

Running for Gold. In the first post-WWII Maccabiah in 1950, South African Edna Kaplan competes in the Woman’s 100m at Reading in Tel Aviv.

A South African ‘Israel Prize’ recipient, Dr. Ian Froman – the driving force behind the Israel Tennis Centers – credits representing South Africa at the 1961 Maccabi Games in tennis – having competed in the men’s singles at Wimbledon in 1955 – leading to him to making Aliyah (immigrating to Israel) shortly thereafter. As a young graduate in dentistry “I fell in love with Israel” and then got his teeth into tennis instead of dentistry!

FAMILY AFFAIR

How important is the Maccabiah today?” was a question I put to veteran Israeli squash player Stanley Milliner originally from Cape Town. A multiple Maccabiah medal recipient over five Maccabi Games – including gold – Stanley says that “While there is a lot of feeling in Israel that the Maccabi Games has passed its time,” he disagrees. “It brings together Jews from all over the world. What’s more, it bring them together IN ISRAEL. This remains so important today as it affirms the centrality of Israel to global Jewish life in such a warm and entertaining way.  There is nothing like sport to achieve this. It creates this feeling of ‘mishpocha’ – of getting together for a ’family affair’.”

Super Siblings. Holders of multiple Maccabi Games medals, including gold, former South Africans Stanley Milliner for squash and sister Jillian Milliner for tennis will be again proudly competing for Israel

Stanley elaborates that this feeling was all-pervasive at the opening ceremony attended by Biden, “who we knew was there but we did not see.” Says Stanley:

 “You have never seen these people before  from all over the world, speaking different languages  and yet you feel you have known them all your life. This is what I mean – like long-last family coming together.”

What was interesting, continues Stanley:

 “was that for some of the Israelis in squash who had never before participated in a Maccabiah, it was a new experience for them. For the first time they realized that they were part of a huge Jewish global experince. “

Staying within ‘the family’ is Stanley’s sister, Jillian Milliner who has also participated in five Maccabiah and is a three time Israeli gold medalist in tennis. Now playing in the 65-plus age category, I caught up with Jillian following her hard-fought victory against a  Chilean in the soaring heat. She collapsed and required treatment from the para-medics, “but only after I won the match in a tie-breaker!

Striving for gold both in singles and doubles, Jillian is “so proud to be again representing Israel. For me it’s very meaningful. I was speaking with someone from the US delegation that said it was the largest US delegation in history – over 1,600 athletes and this is in the age of Covid.  They so much wanted to come, to be in Israel. This is the spirit of the Maccabiah. Despite the cynics and those who want to denigrate and pull Israel down, the Jewish world with Israel at the core is thriving.” While looking for gold on a personal level, “for the Jewish world,” says Jillian, “this is our Golden Age.”

SHOOTING STARS

Manning the kiosk at the Maccabiah Netball venue in Ra’anana was  Carol Levin, Treasurer of Netball in Israel, Carol was not exaggerating when she said:

 “This place is rocking.”

I had not yet stepped into the hall but could hear the high pitch screaming. Then entering, I was met by a kaleidoscope of colour and a cacophony of cheering supporters. I understood this is what Carol meant when she said only minutes before:

 “What a VIBE!”

This “vibe” represents netball’s popularity at the Maccabiah and in Israel which has come a long way since its founder, Jodi Careira,  arrived in Israel over 25 years earlier with her family “and a netball that I got for my Bat Mitzvah. My friend Yoni Weil called me and said let’s go play outside and here we are at the Maccabiah, with Israel competing with top teams from all over the world.  Who knew then, what would be today?”

Who would indeed!

Golden Girl. Prime mover for netball in Israel,  gold medalist Jodi Carrera at a rugby match at a previous Maccabiah.

UPROAR IN THE STANDS

It was a treat watching – or ‘experiencing’ – the rugby at Wingate.

Irrespective of who was playing or the scores, it was refreshing for Israelis who instead of arguing over divisive issues plutzing the nation, could plutz instead over the decisions of rucks, mauls, scrums and lineouts – “important stuff”. After all,  the ref couldn’t see what us experts were seeing in the stands enhanced in our observation skills by copious tall glasses of  frothing beer from the pub that was doing a roaring trade!

Having a Field Day. South Africa beats Israel in a round robin match on the 15 July 2022 at Wingate. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Sitting in the stands at the semi-finals, I noted with the banners, giant flags and national team T-shits there was always the Magen David – Star of David –  reflecting the ultimate victor – the Jewish people.

Following  the first Friday afternoon’s packed match between South Africa and Israel, everyone shook hands – nothing to do with the rugby. Spectators from across the world were wishing each other “Good Shabbos”.

Cruising while Watching the Bruising. Supporting Israel – as well as the local pub – at the rugby at Wingate are former South Africans (l-r) Leigh Freedman, Barry Kornel and Phillip Levy.
 

Beyond the sights and sounds, the message of the Maccabiah is clearly – A Jewish world divided by geography is united by history.

I only hope, Max Nordau is a “spectator” watching and smiling from above.





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).

 

GOOD vs EVIL

President Zelensky  is leaving his mark not only on Ukrainian but world history inspiring all across this fragile planet that sometimes to survive and sustain your humanity, one needs to unify, defy and fight.

It means many will die.

Little wonder the Ukrainian leader has made the 2022 TIME list of 100 most influential people. With relentless determination, Zelensky has galvanized the tailor, the truck driver, the housewife, the schoolteacher, the engineer, hi-tech entrepreneur and greengrocer to become soldiers as they fight for their homes and freedom.

Verbally voyaging into the more intimate battle of wits and values between the two adversaries  – Zelensky and Putin – award-winning South African short story writer, essayist and poet, Charlotte Cohen peels off the layers to reveal the WORD – the word that is a NAME.

(Lay of the Land editor, David E. Kaplan)


A WORD – A NAME

By Charlotte Cohen

A single word imprints perception and relativity  

The difference between honour and horror

Between freedom and captivity

Humanity and brutality  


Often deserving of the hatred and anger

Stemming from extortionate cruelty and danger  

Even offering justification for the killing of an abuser

One still earns the egregious classification of  ‘murderer’


But those who brutally and remorselessly

Kill anyone at random – including themselves 

Caused by inveterate irrationality and hatred

With which they have been indoctrinated

– Or even for a gratuity or family security

Are described by what almost gives legitimacy

To fanatical iniquity:  That word is ‘terrorist’

Now often ascribed with a sense of normality


Yet one single person   

Living and languishing in luxury

Never getting his own hands dirty

With no indoctrinated hatred – but rather fixated

On self-love, land acquisition and addictive power 

Can decree the destruction of a country

And order massacre and mass murder

With one word:    

‘War’.


Names also leave an unchanging word image:

And just as Adolf Hitler epitomises evil     

To the diabolic list of heartless and vicious

Persecutors, oppressors , tyrants and villains 

We can now add that of Vladimir Putin.

And to leaders who gained worldwide respect and fame 

Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela ….

`            We can also now attach another name:


Out of Ukraine devastated by Putin

Arose a man of extraordinary talent and diversity

Suddenly thrust with the horrific responsibility

Of a not-sought-for war forced upon him

And though he did not expect it

He never neglected to meet it                                                        

A man of intelligence, conscience, spirit and heart 

Of principle, resolution and tenacity –

He never gave in or gave up

Or abrogated his duty

Volodymyr Zelensky’s name will remain in history

Making commitment and courage his own story

So as a word-name reflects a representation

Of how a mental image will be retained:   

           ‘Putin’– who mistook the word ‘sin’ for ‘win’

 a cruel pitiless despot,  a tyrannical dictator

   ‘Zelensky’ –  a hero, an inspiration

a champion, a protector,  a warrior, a victor





About the Poet:

Charlotte Cohen is an award-winning short story writer, essayist and poet, whose work has appeared in a wide variety of South African publications since the early 1970’s.





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).

CELEBRATING JERUSALEM EVERY DAY

By Jonathan Feldstein

This week, Israel and Jewish and Christian friends all over the world celebrated Jerusalem Day, 55 years on the Biblical calendar (the 28th of Iyar) corresponding to the day on the secular calendar in June of 1967 when Jerusalem was miraculously reunified during the Six Day War.  Indeed, the restoration of Jewish sovereignty to all of Jerusalem for the first time in 2000 years is yet another fulfillment of the many promises God made to the Jewish people, and many prophesies that continue to play out before our eyes right here in the Land.

For Jews and Christians, there is no place more central or significant to our faith than Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is the place that Kings built, prophets prophesied, where the Temples stood, where Jesus preached and was crucified, and much more.  Jerusalem is mentioned several hundred times in the Bible. It’s the only place by name that God specifically tells us to pray for, and to be guardians on the walls of. 

Sadly, not everyone understands that and the significance of Jerusalem to us today.  Not only doesn’t everyone understand that, but some people deny the significance of Jerusalem to Jews and Christians, deny that there was ever a Temple on the Temple Mount, and talk about Jerusalem being “defiled” by Jews and Christians, and “Judaized”.

David Rubinger’s iconic photo showing Israeli paratroopers (from left: Zion Karasenti, Yitzhak Yifat and Haim Oshri) standing in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, June 7, 1967 .(Photo credit: David Rubinger/GPO)

This narrative is not only not Biblical, but it undermines the very foundation of Judaism and Christianity. It is the mother of all replacement theology, to erase actual Biblical history and our deep roots in Jerusalem as Jews and Christians to the Holy City. 

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre sacred to all the Christian faiths as the site of the Resurrection of Jesus following his Crucifixion. (CC-BY-SA Anton Croos)

This is all the more reason why we need to celebrate. Last year, Hamas and other terrorists used the occasion of Jerusalem Day to start an 11-day war, launching over 4000 rockets at Israeli communities.  As bad as that is and was, I prefer to look at the cup half full.  Yes, we have our challenges, but there are far more blessings. In fact, our cup runneth over.

While I am not a prophet, this year I felt a little bit like a prophet of doom, joking with friends that we should hold off plans until after the war starts.  My daughter, with a two-week-old baby, nervously told my son-in-law that if there is a war, he has to tell the army he can’t go and be among the first 5000 reservists called up as he was a year ago. Thankfully, no major war or conflict broke out and Jews were able to march and celebrate throughout the city.

Being a Jew in Jerusalem, I feel the blessings every day. From the balcony of my apartment, I can see the golden dome on the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount . I am overcome with joy and emotion that 17 years ago, my youngest son was born in Jerusalem. He is named for two relatives who were murdered in the Holocaust and no doubt prayed for the restoration of Jerusalem.  I suspect that they could never have imagined how that has become a reality today as a thriving diverse city that is the capitol of the State of Israel.  As overjoyed as they would be seeing a young man carrying their name, born in Jerusalem, who is finishing high school and preparing to go serve the country as a member of the IDF, they would be speechless to know that now, I also have three grandsons born in Jerusalem, representing another generation of Jewish life thriving in Jerusalem.

But don’t believe me. This month I had conversations with two dear Christian friends who live in Jerusalem and have been part of life here for decades.  We discussed modern and Biblical history, the blessings that they experience being here, and the significance of Jerusalem’s reunification and why we celebrate today.  Chris Mitchell is the veteran head of the CBN Jerusalem bureau for more than two decades.  He’s reported on thousands of aspects of life here and is well known to Christians around the world.  He’s a journalist with the highest of integrity who speaks about being at the intersection of history and prophesy. Hear his invaluable insight here.

Orthodox Christian worshippers take part in the Good Friday procession, along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City, on 22 April 2022. (AFP)

John Enarson works on a theological basis to help Christians understand the significance of Jerusalem to them.  He has had the privilege of living and raising a family in Jerusalem and speaks with unwavering moral clarity rooted in Biblical tradition.  Together, Chris and John offer extraordinary personal testimony and insight about living in Jerusalem and the significance of how and why celebration of Jerusalem Day is so important.  

Yesterday, I was watching a TV talk show broadcasting from Jerusalem with the Old City as the backdrop.  The panel was discussing the significance of Jerusalem’s reunification, in light of current events including the annual “flag march”, as well as the threats from Hamas, Hezbollah, and others.  This is particularly relevant given that last year on the eve of Jerusalem Day, Hamas used this as an excuse to launch rockets at Jerusalem (to “protect” Jerusalem!), beginning an 11-day conflict during which terrorists fired more than 4000 rockets at Israeli communities.  I suppose that “protecting” Jerusalem means different things to different people.

Organized by the Elijah Interfaith Institute, Abrahamic Reunion, and the Tantur Institute for Ecumenical Studies, a multi-faith prayer in Jerusalem welcoming Jews, Christians and Muslims. (Courtesy Abrahamic Reunion)

One of the panelists talked passionately about the significance of Jerusalem’s reunification and our celebration. She spoke ardently, as a proud Israeli. Before my mind could ascribe any political association, she described herself growing up in a (left-wing) kibbutz environment and noted that even for her, celebrating Jerusalem and not caving in to Hamas threats was a priority. 

That’s when it hit me. 

The reunification is indeed a national thing. Jerusalem’s reunification is not something I take for granted.  Years ago, I was moved to hear from a friend’s father, Moshe, how that very year, hundreds of thousands of Israelis flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate its reunification.  For him, it was like a heart transplant, bringing a new pulse to the State and people of Israel, one for which we waited and prayed for nearly 2000 years. 

Cobbled street through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, Jerusalem

Today, too many do take Jerusalem’s reunification for granted.  That’s wrong. Jerusalem is our heart.  Its reunification is fulfillment of a Divine promise on which we could bank, and is now fulfilled. Even if it took two millennia.

Not everyone looks at the significance of Jerusalem’s restoration from the same perspective. Some look at it as just part of modern history, some as fulfillment of a Divine promise, some as one of the greatest things to happen in the State of Israel, and some, a combination of all these.  But remembering Moshe’s moving words, along with the passionate comments of the “left-wing” woman on TV, things clicked in a way that haven’t before.  That’s part of the beauty of living here. It’s not just academic.  I live in my own Petrie dish.  I am part of the experiment and can observe the outcome all at the same time.

The Church of All Nations also known as the Basilica of the Agony  on the Mount of Olives next to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Our joy and celebration should be unbridled. No exceptions. This year, thank God, it was, more or less. But we don’t have to wait once a year to celebrate Jerusalem. Like our heart, it’s part of who we are, central to Judaism and Christianity. Let’s celebrate Jerusalem every day.



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).

Israel – Kaleidoscope of Cultures

Ahead of Israel’s Independence Day, we look at the country’s incredible diversity

By Rolene Marks

Israel is a land of many paradoxes. In this glorious juxtaposition of the ancient and modern, you can walk in the footsteps of the prophets but also be amazed by some of the world’s leading cutting edge technology, you can hear the church bells toll at the same time you hear the muezzin call the faithful to the mosque to pray; all while hearing the steady prayers in Hebrew at the Western wall. Israel’s cities have their unique personalities that serve to reinforce the country’s history, position in the region and story.

As Israel celebrates 74 years of Independence, we cannot help but marvel at all the achievements, extraordinary history and enduring legacy.

But it is Israel’s people who are the country’s true treasure. Israel is a kaleidoscope of cultures and much like a kaleidoscope, if you seek to look at a different, vibrant picture, all you have to do is adjust your focus.

Flight to Freedom. Over a million citizens of the former Soviet Union (FSU) immigrated to Israel since the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and now make up 15% of the Israeli population, transforming Israeli society.  

While Jews have had a presence in the land of Israel for millennia, we have been joined over the centuries by other nations, some have stayed but most have left and following the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948, the country has served as home not just for the many Jews who have been here through the generations; but to those who responded to the invitation from Prime Minister Ben Gurion, to participate in the ingathering of the exiles.

From all four corners of the world they have come. Diaspora communities from every conceivable country, some voluntarily – but many because the threat of persecution meant they needed to leave – and leave quickly.

Israel’s modern history is a tale of daring and chutzpah, in the attempt to rescue Jewish communities under threat. No sooner than the State of Israel had been declared, then 850 000 Jews from Arab countries were forced to flee. Many made Israel their home and today the majority of Israel’s population trace their roots back to Morocco, Iraq, Yemen and other Arab countries. One of the great advantages of the recently signed Abraham Accords is that many Israelis of Morocco descent now have the opportunity to revisit and trace their roots.

True Magic. In 1949,Israeli transport planes flew “home” 250,000 Jews from Yemen in Operation Magic Carpet. The operation was secret and was released to the media only several months after its completion.

Following the devastation of the Holocaust which saw the genocide of two thirds of Europe’s Jews, many of the survivors who had lost their families and loved ones and saw no future for themselves on a continent that felt hostile, made their way to what was then British Mandate Palestine, joining the ranks of those pioneers that would help defend and build the fledgling country in the years after Israel was declared a state. Slowly, the exiled were returning home.

Hearty Hug: A cross-cultural embrace of a rabbi and Palestinian greeting each other as they meet at the Gush Etzion junction to hold prayers together in the summer of 2014. (photo: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

In the decades to come, Israel would send rescue missions to Yemen and Ethiopia to bring distressed communities home.  The result today is an Israel that has absorbed Jews from all corners of the world – from India and South Africa, Australia and America, Ethiopia and Russia – 82 countries, with many different languages and cultures all calling Israel home. Israel is once again helping the distressed come home. Over the last two months, thousands of Ukrainian Jews, including many Holocaust survivors, have found sanctuary away from a brutal war that is ravaging Ukraine in Israel.

Out of Africa. New Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia exit an airplane during a welcoming ceremony after arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, Israel, Aug. 28, 2013. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Image)

Jews are not Israel’s only citizens. At least 20% of the Israeli population are Israeli Arabs. Israeli Arabs are fully franchised members of Israeli society and have contributed enormously to the country. While there are still many areas that need improvement, Israeli Arabs are represented in the Knesset, holding ministerial positions, lead civil society, serve in the military and are amongst the IDF’s most decorated officers, serve in the judicial system as judges, head multi-billion dollar corporations and more.  Arab Israelis follow either the Muslim or Christian religions. Arab Israelis are exempt from compulsory military service but recent statistics released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) see a steady yearly increase in the amount of volunteers from the community signing up to perform national service.

Seeking Sanctuary. Fleeing the war in Ukraine, passengers disembark from an airplane carrying Jewish immigrants upon arrival in Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on March 6, 2022. – (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

“A covenant of blood”. The relationship between Israel’s Jewish and Druze population is so sacred that it is referred to as bond forged by blood. Israel’s Druze population makes up about 2% of the population and are fiercely loyal to the country. There are other significant Druze communities in Lebanon and Syria and Israel’s community live mostly in the Golan region in the north. Not much is known about the Druze religion but recent Pew research revealed that nearly all Druze (99%) believe in God, including 84% who say they are absolutely certain in their belief. But there are no set holy days, regular liturgy or obligations for pilgrimage, as Druze are meant to be connected with God at all times. Druze are active in public life and subject to the military draft. In fact, for more than four decades, the Israeli military had a primarily Druze infantry unit called the “Herev”, (sword battalion).

Coulourful Culture. Druze soldiers in the Israeli Army behind the Druze flag which combines 5 colors representing the 5 prophets of the Druze secret religion.

Israel is the one country in the Middle East where the Christian community is growing. Christians face persecution in many parts of the Middle East and constitute at least 2% of Israel’s population and this number is expected to grow. Christians make up 7% of Israel’s Arab population, and 76.7% of Christians in Israel are Arab. The largest Arab Christian population centers in Israel are Nazareth (21,400), Haifa (16,500) and Jerusalem (12,900). Arab Christian women have some of the highest education rates in the country.

Israel is often maligned in the media and definitely misunderstood but on closer inspection, this tiny, vibrant country is not only fascinating because of all its many paradoxes packed into a small patch of land but because of its people, the greatest national treasure.

This Yom Ha’atzmaut we drink L’Chaim to this plucky, innovative, passionate and diverse country and her people. The future looks bright for Israel – no matter what view you choose to see this vibrant Middle Eastern jewel from.





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).

Celebrating Passover

From a people to a nation we relive the long journey to freedom

By Justin Amler

The greatest story in history is upon once again.

And oh… what a story it is.

It is a story about a people who went from slavery to freedom, from hopelessness to belief, from an uncertain future to one filled with destiny.

It is a story about courage, about faith, about belief and about miracles – one that took the natural order of life and flipped it around.

And even though many others will try to culturally appropriate it, as they do with everything else about us, and claim it’s about all humankind, it was and is and remains a quintessential Jewish story.

For it is our story – perhaps our greatest story – of a time when we grew from a people into a nation.

About 3500 years ago, we were slaves in Egypt, condemned to a life of hardship and bondage, a seemingly bleak existence. And if it wasn’t for the actions of one man, guided by God, the story of the Jewish people might have ended right there.

But it didn’t end.

Instead, it led to the greatest adventure in all of Jewish history – an adventure continuing today.

And through all the wanderings in the desert, the many miracles Hashem performed, the gift of the Ten Commandments, and of course the ultimate return to our land of Israel – where we remain today.

Pesach is a story of such inspiration, because although thousands of years have passed, we continue to celebrate it as if it just happened.

And in a way it did. Because every single moment of every single day, Jews continue to fight for their homeland, their identity, their culture, and their history. And we have to fight, because every single moment of every single day there are those who continue to try take it from us, to uproot us from our land, to appropriate our history as if it’s their own, to rob us of our past, of our stories, of our nationhood and of our identity.

We cannot afford to remain silent.

But the Jews, while few in number, are a strong people whose foundations are built on stronger things than crumbling empires and dusty buildings. Our foundations are built on almost 4000 years of a promise, of a mission, and of a shared destiny among us.

And even though there are some, even among us, who continue to try spread division through arbitrary things like skin colour and food, they will fail in the end, because we, as a people, are far stronger than the petty divisiveness they sow.

When we left Egypt, we were not white or black or brown and we were not Mizrachi or Ashkenazim or any other designated identity that some are overly obsessed about these days.

We were Israelites.

We were Jews.

We were a people forged in the sands of time and held together by a promise of a God we could not see – a promise without an expiry date. A promise that, despite the many differing views among us, has held us together.

 We don’t need to get ‘woke,’ because we’ve been awake for a very long time.

So, on this Pesach and on every other day, let’s celebrate our freedom, our history, our culture and all the things that make us who we are.

In this world in which we are constantly under attack, let’s stand together and keep our Jewish identity alive, for it is one we should all hold onto proudly.



About the writer:

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






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 truth about the Sydney Festival boycott

By Judy Maynard

The 2022 Sydney Festival was one of the most controversial ever, but not for artistic reasons.

At the festival management’s request, the Israeli Embassy in Australia provided $20,000 to help stage a production by the Sydney Dance Company of “Decadance”, a work that has been performed in theatres and festivals all over the world since its creation 20 years ago by renowned Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin.

From Tel Aviv to Sydney. Crafted from excerpts of Israeli visionary choreographer Ohad Naharin’s works over a decade with Tel Aviv’s Batsheva Dance Company, Decadance is  a contemporary dance that speaks to everyone – except haters of Israel!

The donation was acknowledged on the festival’s website by an Israel logo alongside those of other government and community partners.

This angered local pro-Palestinian activists, who demanded the festival return the embassy’s donation and remove the logo. When the board of the Sydney Festival refused to meet their demands, the activists launched a boycott campaign, supported by the global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, calling on artists to withdraw from the festival, nonsensically branding it a “culturally unsafe” environment for Palestinian and Arab artists.

A number of artists acceded, some willingly. But as festival chairman David Kirk revealed, the only unsafe environment was caused by boycott supporters – many of whom subjected artists to blatant bullying, name-calling and moral blackmail.

On Jan. 13, Kirk told the ABC Radio National “Breakfast” audience that many of the artists were being pressured to withdraw their performances. Some were receiving an unacceptable “battering” on social media, and were as a consequence feeling “unsafe and compromised”.

The Australian newspaper reported Kirk’s comment that some artists and festival staff had been subjected to “emotionally damaging” attacks. He called on activists to behave like “decent human beings”.

In a tweet on January 13, Jennine Khalik, one of the boycott organisers, said that claims that the “artists were bullied + pressured to withdraw [were] completely untrue.”

This article will demonstrate otherwise.

The production of “Decadance” by the Sydney Dance Company choreographed by Israeli Ohad Naharin, was supported by a small grant from the Israeli Embassy.

BDS goals and tactics

The anti-Israel boycott movement likes to present itself as a non-violent resistance, encamped on the high moral ground, but its tactics in securing martyrs for the cause show otherwise. In many cases, it claims it has gained the solidarity from those it has in reality intimidated.

BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti does not prevaricate about the movement’s real goals, having declared “No Palestinian will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.” In a recent interview, he expressed the view that “Jewish culture is part of Arab culture,” negating any concept of self-determination for Jews after centuries of persecution.

As the BDS movement cannot physically eliminate Israel, it aims instead to “cancel” the Jewish state in whatever ways possible, trying to render it unseen and unheard. Activists campaign for the ostracisation of Israeli artists and academics internationally, and attempt to sabotage the normalisation of relations between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Israel and Arab states.

Having no success with the latter, as the Abraham Accords attest, the ire of BDS is directed at vulnerable targets – and this often does not involve simply putting one’s case and asking nicely.

In June 2018, the BDS movement claimed a campaign victory after the Argentinian national football team cancelled a friendly match scheduled in Israel. BDS activists shared widely a “quote” from star player Lionel Messi in which he supposedly said he could not play against “people who kill innocent Palestinian children. We had to cancel the game because we are humans before we are footballers.” But Messi never said any such thing.

Claudio Tapia, head of the Argentine Football Association, said the team actually had been forced to cancel due to serious threats against the players, and would try to play in Israel at a future time. The then Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said the threats had exceeded those of Islamic State.

Jibril Rajoub, the President of the Palestinian Football Association, who claimed he had only been involved in peaceful protests against Israel, was suspended by FIFA for a year and given a hefty fine for “inciting hatred and violence”.

Another own goal for BDS was its “triumphant” campaign against the Israel-based manufacturing company Sodastream. As a result of activist bullying, the company relocated a plant in the West Bank to the Negev region, resulting in 500 Palestinians losing their jobs.

Yet the welfare of Palestinians has never been the real focus of the anti-Israel boycott movement; its ultimate desire is the elimination of Israel, as Barghouti noted.

Anti-Israel activists are always seeking new ways to “cancel” Israel. A recent example is the Australian “Do Better On Palestine” campaign, which called for media coverage that avoids “bothsiderism” – a euphemism for insisting that only the Palestinian viewpoint should be aired when news organisations report the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The same local activists who introduced that campaign to Australia are also responsible for attempting to disrupt the Sydney Festival because of the Israeli logo on its website. That logo is to them symbolic of Israel being afforded a space like any other country in international affairs and in the public consciousness, and must therefore be removed. They seek to impose on Australia their discriminatory view that Israel must be always treated as uniquely, irredeemably evil.

Going Gaga. Israeli choreographer, contemporary dancer, and creator and teacher of a unique system/language/pedagogy of dance called Gaga, Ohad Naharin. 

Denying the Ugliness

These anti-Israel stoushes always become ugly, but the boycott organisers’ strategy entailed depicting themselves as principled and noble, simply setting out their case while remaining above the fray.

Responding to Festival chairman Kirk’s bullying allegations, Khalik tweeted “we have approached artists with love and empathy… and left the decision with them.”

Co-organiser, Sara Saleh, told the ABC that they “had approached their conversations with artists with care and sensitivity” and that they were trying to “build a movement and a future… on freedom, liberation, love and equality.”

But even from information available on the public record, it is obvious that many of the targeted (and pro-Palestinian) artists were not feeling the love.

The Abuse of Katie Noonan

Well-known Australian singer-songwriter Katie Noonan posted on Facebook on January 7:

    “I decided to not get involved in this boycott, despite repeated, vigorous and quite aggressive attempts to do so. I simply said I was not contracted by Sydney Festival and was in fact contracted by SIMA [Sydney Improvised Music Association] – an awesome and very important independent cultural org [sic] I love, and I could not ask my fellow indie artists to turn down paid work after the hardest 2 years of their lives. Simple.”

She continued that she was “deeply saddened by the nature of online discussion and wish we could have respectful robust discussions without vitriol, but it does not seem possible in these difficult times.” She also revealed that she’d been called “a racist, mysogonist [sic], anti-feminist, POC [people of colour] hating, WOC [women of colour] hating, homophobic, transphobic, Palestinian hating, colonial loving, cis white, pink washing priveliged [sic] hetero c**t.”

This post then received over 1,000 comments, a mostly negative pile-on, in which Noonan was accused of being racist, Islamophobic, ignorant and a liar. Many claimed to be disappointed fans.

A couple of the more supportive comments suggested “that a group of people who likely never even followed Katie in the first place have been told to come on over here and play stack’s [sic] on”, and “this isn’t public sentiment, this is organised mob outrage.”

At no point had Noonan suggested that any of the unacceptable messages she’d received had come from the boycott organisers, but several of them nonetheless took the opportunity to attack her as if she had – while saying she was a “racist” for making such claims.

Khalik posted a series of tweets on Jan 8:

    “So Katie Noonan claims she was repeatedly and aggressively told to withdraw. There was one exchange on behalf of the campaign… Not sure why she is lying — feels like some nasty racism towards Palestinians…I’m literally stunned lmao [laughing my arse off] how do people lie through their teeth like this. She told us she wouldn’t withdraw and we said best of luck, and we’re always here to chat. but this is aGgReSsIvE [sic] the crocodile tears here are next level.”

In a tweet on January 9 Khalik called Noonan’s statement “impossibly racist and untrue”.

Saleh commented on Noonan’s Facebook page:

    “Katie, with all due respect, as one of the organisers I have screenshots of the conversation that took place, and your replies, which ended congenially. We would never be anything less than respectful because what we are fighting for is our freedom – underpinned by justice and love…I’m sorry you felt you needed to implicitly smear us this way…”

Another organiser, Fahad Ali, also left a comment on Noonan’s Facebook page:

    “We were immensely respectful when we reached out to you and we have the screenshots of these interactions and your replies.

    This post is dishonest and disingenuous. There was no reason to smear our movement and delegitimise the Palestinian struggle for freedom because you felt personally offended in some way. You have put your own ego before millions of Palestinian lives…”

To both Saleh and Ali, Noonan gave the identical response:

    “pls [sic] don’t presume the boycott organising peeps [people] were the only people who contacted me.

   Unfortunately that is a naive and incorrect assumption. Unfortunately they have disingenuously shared parts of our exchange, rather than the entire exchange and that unfortunately created another incorrect narrative.

    I never accused the boycott organizers of anything.  The incorrect and nasty slander has been v upsetting but I choose to rise about it and not engage.”

Yet these organisers, having called Noonan a liar and a racist, have not publicly apologised for, nor retracted, their potentially inflammatory comments, despite Noonan’s response and the lack of any basis on which to allege that she was actually attacking them.

It is also curious that they seemed oblivious to the possibility that some of their fellow travellers just might have engaged in aggressive exchanges, especially when Saleh and Ali’s comments on Noonan’s January 7 post appear alongside many that are openly demeaning. Did they really not notice them?

They did, of course, but took no responsibility.

Indeed, both Saleh and Ali implicitly acknowledged the aggression – even while condemning Noonan for calling attention to it. Saleh told the ABC she “could not control the actions of passionate fans who felt strongly about the issue,” while Ali was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying, “We can’t control the reactions of fans or other commentators.”

Meanwhile, Ali, displaying his “immense respect”, tweeted on January 8:

    “So my best guess of what happened with Katie Noonan is this: she saw [comedian] Judith Lucy coming thru with now something like 7k likes on FB for withdrawing from Sydney Fest and she thought “hey, I want some of that” but figured she could get even more attention if she went pro-Israel.”

Ali is correct in one respect: Noonan certainly received attention. On January 12 she posted again on Facebook:

   “It’s been an educational and very upsetting 5 days. I have listened and learned from various disparate points of view – informed and ill-informed, from lived on-ground experience and from the anonymity of a faceless keyboard 14,000 kms away, and I have observed behaviour I abho,r and behaviour I admire.

    …Twitter is a new hellhole of mentall [sic] illness and vitriol that I am quite happy to never engage with again, and I am really disappointed my name was used in am[sic] inaccurate post that was presumptive and incorrect.

    …I am saddened a twitter shitshow was incited without my consent (as I posted no twitter content regarding this issue)…Sending peace/shalom/salaam and kindness to all.”

Noonan was subjected to bullying and aggression, but not just because she refused to join the boycott. It started before she made that decision. What clearly emerges is the harassment and intimidation of artists by persons probably unknown to try to force compliance with boycotts.

Katie under Pressure. Famed Australian singer-songwriter Katie Noonan experienced “vigorous and quite aggressive” social media pressure to join boycott of Israel.

Victimised, even after complying with the Boycott

Musician Sarah Mary Chadwick sides strongly with the Palestinians and did withdraw from the Sydney Festival. She wrote about the experience, posting the following on her Instagram and Facebook accounts after she’d already withdrawn:

    “Me and my baby Filter are getting pretty pissed off … by pressure exerted on artists to boycott festivals and events. I do not appreciate unsolicited mail from people who have zero understanding or knowledge of my financial situation or life in general. Before you contact your ‘favourite’ artist and encourage them to ‘do the right thing’ maybe consider the following.

    – do you have any knowledge as to whether the artist currently has any income due to Covid?

    – is it really your place to instruct other people essentially to make significant donations to causes YOU have prioritised, regardless of the validity of the cause?

    – do you have any knowledge of medical or personal costs the person you are contacting is managing and do you kno (sic) if they are in fact, able to manage them at all?

    is it the artists (sic) role to give up their livelihoods when the gov[ernment] continue to underfund arts? Anyway, stop telling me what to do, strangers. I have my own moral compass and I use it effectively.”

Again, Chadwick did not directly accuse the organisers of aggressive tactics. As she had already withdrawn, it was courageous of her to blow the whistle on the bullies.

Yet this “respectful” response was received from someone operating the “Boycott Sydney Festival” Instagram account:

    “This post is gross, Sarah. Yes, it’s been a rough year for artists. On the other hand, Palestinians are resisting 7 decades of massacre and dispossession. You’ve made your choice, but don’t centre yourself. And don’t try to police the ways that Palestinians or their supporters choose to expand a boycott against literal violent oppression.”

Another response comes from an account which appears to belong to Matt Chun, an organiser of the boycott:

    “A public post about choosing the wrong side of a picket line is weird. You have agency, as you’ve pointed out, and you’ve used it. Nobody has prevented that. But manufacturing victimhood in opposition to those who are resisting an apartheid regime is appalling.”

Protesters outside the production of “Decadance” by the Sydney Dance Company (Image: Twitter)

Boycott organisers frequently boasted of the number of artists who withdrew, and posted their photos in a gallery on their Instagram account. Yet strangely Chadwick’s photo is missing, despite her stance.

Some of the artists who were heavily critical of festival management for putting them in what they regarded as an invidious position also confirmed the bullying tactics used to encourage withdrawal.

The band Tropical F**k Storm, led by Gareth Liddiard, issued a strongly worded statement, saying the decision to accept Israel as a sponsor “would inevitably mean that hundreds of unwitting artists (who are having a rough enough time with the pandemic as it is) would become the targets of online harassment, bullying, smear campaigns, ridiculous accusations, misrepresentations and abuse from total strangers who have no idea what’s actually going on behind the scenes, what any artist’s position is or even what they’re talking about.”

Performer Jaguar Jonze joined the boycott in mid-January and released a statement criticising the festival for creating “an environment where artists and audience are put at risk and forced to endanger their careers and well-being. Because of this, the safest decision that is left – to protect myself, my team and the audience in a way the festival has decided not to – is to withdraw and cancel my performance at Sydney Festival.”

Saleh retweeted this, calling it a “principled, sensitive show of solidarity”, which is surprising as it seems to indicate a more immediate fear of harm to one’s physical “well-being” from supporters of a boycott.

Crocodile Tears

The boycott’s organisers give an impression of respectful direct dealing with the performers. Statements by the few artists who dared go public give a glimpse into the murk below.

And then there are the crocodile tears.

In response to Festival chairman Kirk’s apology to artists for putting them in a position “whereby they’ve felt pressured or compromised to withdraw their acts,” Ali demanded the board divest itself of the Israeli funding to protect artists. “If [the decision to accept the funding] has had the effect that it has left artists feeling compromised and unsafe, why continue to put artists in harm’s way?

Such impeccable logic – as if it were the funds that endangered the artists, and not the menacing BDS trolls.

In similar vein, how touching the concern expressed in Saleh’s tweet of January 15:

We hope that Sydney Fest board recompenses artists for harm and loss incurred.”

Anti-Israel boycotts have never achieved anything for the Palestinian people. They have only hurt them and now, in the case of the Sydney Festival boycott, also hurt vulnerable local artists coping with the aftermath of a pandemic.


About the writer:

Judy Maynard policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.









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)

A BDS Black Eye from Black Eye Peas

By David E. Kaplan

It was music to our Israeli ears. What’s more it was LIVE music, something foreign to Israelis for nearly two years because of the pandemic.  And if Covid was the enemy  preventing international bands performing in Israel, BDS thought they would provide the perfect  ‘backup’ – just in case.

WRONG!

The Black Eyed Peas with will.i.am born William James Adams, Jr., apl.de.ap, Taboo, and new member J. Rey Soul, performed at Jerusalem’s Pais Arena on November 29, 2021, the first major international show in Israel since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Ahead of the concert, the BDS-supporting Artists for Palestine UK released a statement calling on Black Eyed Peas to cancel the show. It was a call emphatically rejected by the  Grammy-winning group.

“Hello Mishpocha”. Taboo, will.i.am, J. Rey Soul and apl.de.ap of the Black Eyed Peas performing at Pais Arena in Jerusalem, on November 29, 2021. (Ethan Freedman/The Times of Israel)

At a press conference will.i.am explicitly responded to the call to boycott Israel saying:

I’m a musician and a tech enthusiast and people like our music. Do I turn my back on people that live here because of politics? No, that’s not the way we were built. So, you know, there’s beautiful people here as well as beautiful people in Palestine. And one day we want to go there too.”

Not only has the frontman for the Black Eyed Peas over the years

consistently resisted calls to boycott Israel, but will.i.am has strengthened his ties with the country through his “core passion” – technology. Back in 2016, his tech firm i.am + acquired an Israeli startup Sensiya and regularly visits the country “catching up” on Israel’s vibrant tech scene.

In fact, on the morning the Black Eyed Peas performed on the 29 November in Jerusalem, will.i.am participated in a panel discussion at an innovation conference organised by Improvate, an Israeli organisation that works to advance Israeli technology.

Introducing will.i.am as “Musician, producer and frontman for the supergroup, Black Eyed Peas that you can hear tonight,” the panel moderator then continued, “you can hear him now about his second career as a technology entrepreneur and futurist who is sought out by corporations to get insights how technologies, innovations behavior patterns could impact their business.”

Man of Many Talents. Advertising both the Black Eyed Peas concert in Jerusalem and band’s frontman will.i.am’s participation in the IMPROVATE innovation conference.

Before questioning wil.i.am on technology,  the moderator asked how he coped with the harassment from BDS about visiting Israel.

Every time we are asked to come to Israel, we come.” And the reason he says can be summed up in one word “Mishpocha” (Yiddish for “family”) 

He explained how one of his childhood friends inspired him to throw some other Hebrew words into one of the band’s most popular songs, “I Gotta Feeling” – a big hit at most Israeli weddings, where guests invariably go wild on the dance floor, familiar with all the words. In that song, will.i.am famously shouts out “mazel Tov”, explaining how so many Israelis refer to it fondly as the “Mazel Tov Song”.

How did this “mishpocha” develop?

Will.i.am explains:

I have friends and family here; my first girlfriend ever – when I was 16-years-old –  was from Israel. When you have friends and family you don’t follow the babble; you follow your heart. I remember her saying, “I am moving back to my homeland”  you will one day come to Israel. I said I’m from the Ghetto, be realistic, I’m never going to get to Israel. And I came… And when they [BDS] told us not to come, I said I’m going to see Orly and her family. I wanted Orly’s mom to see what we became. So every time I am asked the question, I think of family, I think of friends.“

When they started the group, “it was in my friend Benjamin’s bedroom; and sometimes it was late Friday’s and I ended up having Shabbat dinner with them…and when I said Mazeltov and LChaim,  Benjamin’s dad said, “We are so glad to have you here, you are Mishpocha.

So when I say mishpocha, I mean that dearly because I am connecting you to my upbringing, my friends, the people that encouraged me, and this place – ISRAEL- is magical to me.  And I wont let politics get in the way of where my heart is.”

Where there is a “will” there is a Way. “I always wanted to come to Israel growing up in Los Angeles, a lot of my friends are Israelis,” said will.i.am at technology conference.

Will.i.am also worked the word “mishpocha” into a music video for a song the Black Eyed Peas made with the Israeli pop duo Static and Ben-El in 2020. “What’s up, mishpocha?” he asks at the beginning of the music video.

In recent years, the musician cum innovator has created a series of wearable devices, including smartwatches and headphones, that have yet to be widely adopted. But he said he measured his success “not by sales, but rather by how much he learns from his experience.”

So, while BDS has had some success in influencing the likes of Lorde and Elvis Costello to cancel  concerts in Israel, it lost big time with the Black Eyed Peas.

You don’t mess with “mishpocha”!

Making it Work. American musician will.i.am, frontman for Black Eyed Peas (second left), speaks on a panel at an innovation conference held by Improvate, in Jerusalem, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

As a show of defiance on stage, will.i.am gave a shout-out to producer Yonatan Goldstein as an example of his “mishpocha”. Goldstein co-wrote or co-produced much of the Black Eyed Peas’ latest album, and produced their collaboration with Israeli musical duo Static & Ben El.

Crowning Glory

Unlike the rapturous reception to the  music of Black Eyed Peas,  the call for boycott by BDS fell on deaf ears.  Less than two weeks after the Black Eyed Peas concert in Jerusalem, the 2021 Miss Universe pageant took place in Eilat, Israel, which was won by Miss India. To ‘crown’ it all,  Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane, who bravely resisted pressure from her own government to withdraw from the competition was second runner up.

Bravo Miss SA! Defying her government and BDS, Miss South Africa participated  and was crowned as the second runner-up at the 2021 Miss Universe in Eilat, Israel on the 12 December {Photo: Creative Community for peace).

Responding to this good news, South African Friends of Israel penned the following in its press release:

Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane, has brought pride and honour to our nation by being crowned the second runner up at the 2021 Miss Universe pageant in Eilat, Israel.  South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) congratulates and celebrates Lalela’s stunning achievement. She has raised the status and visibility of South Africa across the globe. We are bubbling with joy to witness how she had the courage and conviction to stand up as a proud South African on the world stage, and against the anti-Israel bullies and hatemongers who tried to intimidate her for going to Israel, including the short-sightedness of the South African government. Lalela truly represents the millions of South Africans who are standing behind her and celebrating her achievements.”   

Not cowering to pressure and standing up for what they believe is right, that is the message from the Black Eyed Peas and  Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane  as we close out 2021. Taking to heart the emotive lyrics of the Black Eyed Peas,  let’s embrace 2022 in the spirit of “mishpocha” and remember:

I gotta feeling that its gonna be a good good night….”







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).