Israa Ghrayeb was 21 years old. Like most millennials, Israa was social media “obsessed” (to use the vernacular) but little did she know that the platforms so many of us take for granted every day to share the titbits of our lives that are envy inducing to our online communities, would lead to her death.
Israa’s only crime was that she dared meet a young Arab man in a restaurant and document it by sharing it to social media platform, Instagram. Millions of people do this every day and while this meeting was innocent enough, it inspired the rage of the male members of her family to severely beat her. Israa did not meet a stranger that she did not know, she met the man she was intending to marry.
When the family found out, Ghrayeb’s brother, Ihab, allegedly beat and tortured her in their family home.
Trying to escape the violent blows inflicted on her, Israa then fell from the second-floor balcony of her parents’ home and was reported to have broken her spine.
Her brother, who is a Canadian resident, was apparently incensed by the video – saying it “dishonoured” the family by presenting herself with her husband-to-be ahead of the actual wedding, according to local media. Her father had allegedly ordered her brother to beat her after family members witnessed the footage online.
After being admitted to hospital following the initial attack, Ghrayeb said she would not be able to work for the next two months as she waited for a spinal cord operation in a post on her Instagram account.
“I’m strong and I have the will to live – if I didn’t have this willpower, I would have died yesterday,” she said. “Don’t send me messages telling me to be strong, I am strong. May God be the judge of those who oppressed me and hurt me.”
After posting this message, her brother, along with other male relatives, reportedly brutally beat her in the hospital. Footage surfaced on social media of her screaming and begging for her life during the attack.
Israa succumbed to her wounds and passed away. Israa Ghrayeb became the latest horrific statistic in an “honour killing”.
Palestinians took to the street to protest Israa’s death and an end to honour killings.
Israa’s death is not isolated.
Honour killings are not a new phenomenon. In fact, this heinous occurrence has been practiced from as early as Roman times and is prevalent today in North Africa and the Middle East but don’t think that western countries are exempt – incidents of honour killings have been reported in the UK, USA, Canada and others.
The term “honour killing” sounds like a really ridiculous paradox, after all there is absolutely no honour in killing anyone – how could there be? But the issue here isn’t really about honour but more about control over reproductive power. This being said it is not always sexual in nature or about controlling sexual behaviour but rather about fertility.
Now I am scratching my head in confusion as much as you are but these horrendous events occur because in some communities that are patrilineal in nature, a woman’s right to govern her own reproductive freedom. In these societies, women are seen as reproductive factories not seductive sirens.
This makes this barbaric act a lot more complex than originally thought, but in most cases, honour killings occur because women in communities that adhere to strict religious doctrine are expected to toe the line and behave in accordance. In Pakistan for example, women’s right to life are conditional on their “obeying certain norms and traditions.”
Nighat Taufeeq of the Women’s Resource Center Shirkatgah in Lahore, Pakistan says: “It is an unholy alliance that works against women: the killers take pride in what they have done, the tribal leaders condone the act and protect the killers and the police connive the cover-up.”
Honour killings are seen as less serious than murder. Sounds like a contradiction but women are being killed for “infractions” ranging from dressing more western to adulterous affairs. This is becoming more and more common, especially in societies that adopt Islamic sharia law even though in centuries past, they have occurred in ancient Rome or medieval times. In some communities, where women are gaining economic power and adopting more customs, there are men that feel that they have to act out in some way, usually violent, to regain some control.
Women who have been raped are also seen as bringing “disgrace” to their families and it is shattering that they become victimized twice over. Should pregnancy result from this, the consequences are catastrophic.
Homosexuality is also seen as legitimate grounds for killing. The United Nations and other NGO’s are alarmed by this phenomenon and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees state that “claims made by LGBT persons often reveal exposure to physical and sexual violence, extended periods of detention, medical abuse, threat of execution and honour killing.”
So surely divorce or a court injunction against possible perpetrators would be the solution?
Sadly, this is usually a trigger for violence against women and for many; the feeling is that hope is lost.
What can be done, if anything, to stop honour killings or as they are called in some countries “crime of passion”?
The first step would be to be to really understand the “honour code” and learn from the lessons in history. For some cultures this practice is repugnant but in others it is acceptable “code”. One solution that has been discussed is “naming and shaming”. Another possibility is in communities where honour killings are seen as part of religious doctrine, to prove that this is not the correct interpretation of the Quran.
The battle to end honour killings is a long and arduous one but necessary. Perhaps the starting point is learning to respect life – not end it. That is the true shame and dishonor. The right to live in dignity and safety is a woman’s right.
If Helen of Troy is mythically remembered as “The face that launched 1000 ships”, then Jennifer Lopez’s short stint in Israel boasts an even more impressive outreach.
As Ynetnews.com reported:
“A thousand ambassadors would not have been able to improve Israel’s image in the eyes of the world the way Jennifer Lopez, who has over 100 million followers on social media, has done during her five day visit to the Holy Land as part of her concert tour.”
The ‘contours’ of Israel’s strategic thinking were instantly outmatched by Jennifer Lopez’s ‘contours’, as the “slayer of red carpets” disembarked from her El Al flight wearing a leopard-print crop top and matching leggings. She was happy to be in Israel – her first visit – and wanted the world to know it. Unlike other artists of J-Lo’s stature, she didn’t make it hard for photographers, or media in general, to get a hold of her.
And get a hold of her, Israelis did.
The Bronx-born actress, singer, dancer, fashion designer, producer and businesswoman who turned 50 on July 24, began her international “It’s My Party” tour on August 1 in Tel Aviv. And what an open-air party it turned out to be in Yarkon Park – nearly 60,000 fans!
Earlier, Lopez had intimately shared on Instagram her feelings towards her fiancé – former baseball star Alex Rodriguez, known as A-Rod – with a heartfelt caption:
“… you are one of a kind, my hurricane…”
This would also describe J-Lo on stage at Yarkon Park – “one of a kind” and “hurricane”.
Experiencing a Lopez concert is extraordinary. Each number comes with its own theatrical act with riveting choreographed dances, props of all imagination and stunning costumes. This mother of two was in and out of costumes throughout her 90-minute performance that ranged from a one-legged body suit for the opener “Medicine” to a shocking red salsa-style gown in honor of the late Selena Quintanilla (for which Lopez starred in the 1997 biopic Selena) and then to glimmering gold heeled boots that ran up the thigh, to a final electric green bodysuit.
And that didn’t even cover it all. In fact, the less ‘covered’, the more welcomed! Cracking jokes on stage, she teased that her one-legged jumper only showed off part of her bottom.
Actually, getting to the “bottom” of it, J-Lo was making a statement.
While efforts were made to sabotage her tour to Israel – nothing too unusual – she would have none of it. Her manager, Benny Medina, assertively expressed that made a headline in one newspaper:
“There Was Nothing That Was Gonna Stop Us from Being in Israel”.
Despite social media appeals from BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) activists to cancel her “It’s My Party” tour to Tel Aviv, Medina told Israel’s Channel 12, “Nothing was going to stop” Jennifer Lopez’s party in Israel.
BDS’s failed fiendish efforts included a July the 5th letter to Lopez urging the singer to boycott Israel arguing:
“Tel Aviv, where you are about to perform, is used as a tool for marketing the State of Israel as a ‘cool’ and ‘cultured’ democracy, while hiding a brutal history of colonisation, even that of the city itself.”
Like foul laundry that it was, it didn’t wash!
Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters frequently pressures artists to not perform in Israel and to boycott the Jewish state. Experiencing declining success, such efforts with J-Lo also proved “wateroff a duck’s back!
Only a few months earlier, David Draiman, frontman for the heavy metal band Disturbed, said in a May 30 Facebook video on the band’s fan page:
“The very notion that Waters and the rest of his Nazi comrades decide that this is the way to go ahead and foster change is absolute lunacy and idiocy. It makes no sense whatsoever. It’s only based on hatred of a culture and of a people in a society that has been demonized unjustifiably since the beginning of time.”
To easy understand J-Lo’s position, is to have read an earlier interview when she asserted:
“I have no patience for anything that’s not real. Just no bulls–t.”
“We feel you, girl,” replied the interviewer, “ain’t nobody got time for that!”
And if Israeli fans thought they couldn’t love J-Lo any more than they already did, the singer gave every reason to love her more.
She told the Tel Aviv crowd she loved them multiple times and even had an upfront on-stage whisper with a fan translated in Hebrew for all to hear. Fans screamed in delight.
Her message for the night resonated:
“You are capable of accomplishing anything you want, so long as you believe.”
Israel is a country of believers, but its people are also family-oriented and so J-Lo connected even more with her audience when she turned the concert into a “family affair”.
Lopez’s fiancée Alex Rodriguez who was in the crowd appeared on the big screen during the event; Lopez’s daughter, Emme, made an on-stage appearance singing a brief duet with her mother and her 11-year-old twin – who appeared bashful at first – hit a couple of impressive notes to show she too has the Making of her Mom.
The Day After
The next day, after wowing 57,000 fans in Tel Aviv, J-Lo, A-Rod and their kids visited Jerusalem’s Western Wall. It was Friday and bustling with people. A video posted on social media showed the singer amongst the jostling crowd, touching the stones at the holy site and whispering in the ears of her children.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez kept his social media followers up to date.
In a clip posted to Instagram the previous day, A-Rod showed JLo and himself looking around at the Mediterranean from the balcony of their Tel Aviv hotel room. The clip is embellished with a heart at the top and the words, “The mother land Israel” next to an Israeli flag and exclamation points, then the words:
“First time I’m here. I’m in love!! #energyoffthecharts!!”
The following day the celebrated couple’s message from the Western Wall to their millions of followers around the world:
“Jerusalem, you are unforgettable. What a perfect finale to our first trip to this beautiful land.”
Moscow On The Yarkon
J-Lo has come and gone. Well not quite. She has come but she not quite gone for she has left an endearing and enduring message of love and understanding.
But not only, for she has taken some of ‘lively’ Israel with her!
So impressed was J-Lo with Israeli singer Maor Rayri’s performance during her opening act in Tel Aviv, she invited him to perform as part of her upcoming Moscow concert. The Israeli singer – known as ADL – recently gained world-wide attention after he performed with American rapper Snoop Dogg and Columbian singer Maluma (Juan Arias).
She Came, She Saw, She Conquered taking away some Israeli spoils.
It was election day in Israel and that meant that we got the day off. No school and no work, so once my husband and I had voted, we gathered the kids, hopped on a train and went into Tel Aviv to visit the Eretz Israel Museum.
We wandered around looking at the various exhibits and then we came across the David Rubinger, I Captured the Truth, 1947-1997 exhibit. Being a photography nerd, my husband was fascinated and spent a bit more time in the exhibit than the kids or me. So, we headed outside and sat on a bench to wait for him.
The photographer, David Rubinger, who won the 1997 Israel Prize in Communication and died in 2017 was one of a small selected group of photographers whose works are etched on local and international memory. His career began at the end of the enlisted “Zionist photography” period, that dominated the local photography scene until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. His iconic picture of the three soldiers at the Western Wall is an image that is seared in the collective consciousness of Jews around the world. It is a symbol of hope and our shared connections. His photographs have recorded some of the most important and poignant moments in Israeli history.
Rubinger took his photos with analogue reflex cameras, in other words, he never saw the image at the moment it was photographed, and this exhibition was a journey into his memories.
Once the husband was done, he headed out of the exhibit and seeing us sitting together, stopped to take a photo of us.
As he took the photo, the usher for the exhibit came rushing out, ‘No, no, no, you cannot take a picture there!’ She exclaimed (in Hebrew). My husband, who has been shouted at before for taking photos where he was not allowed to, started looking for a no picture sign. ‘No’, she said again. ‘You cannot take a picture here, that wall, that wall is old and ugly!’
She then pointed across the courtyard, ‘That is where you must take a picture!’ She was pointing at a shady spot with a colourful flower bed.
‘Here. Here is a pretty wall covered in Jerusalem stone, and look at these beautiful flowers. This is where you must take a photo!’
And so, slightly bemused, we proceeded to let her direct us to sit in front of the pretty wall and pretty flowers.
‘No!’ She cried again. ‘Abba (dad), must be in the photo too!’ while taking my husband’s camera out his hands and directing him to sit with us.
She even laid her uniform jacket on the bricks for the children to sit on while shuffling us around to best show off the pretty blooms.
After a few misfires with the camera, and my 11-year-old popping up to show her what to press, she snapped a beautiful family photo of us, and the pretty Jerusalem stone wall and the pretty flowers.
We thanked her and she told us that she had planted those flowers herself and was very proud of them. We also had a conversation about where we came from, ‘Oh, you are not tourists, why did you make aliyah? How long have you been here? How are you settling in?’
She told us that she is also an immigrant, from Uzbekistan, and that she came to Israel many years ago. She then took our map and showed us the best exhibits for the children to enjoy and wished us well before going back to the photography exhibit.
It may not have been an iconic picture that captured Israeli history, but it was a picture that recorded Israel’s present. This is a country whose diverse population is reflective of those who have been here since the birth of the state and those who for a variety of reasons have chosen to come home. Capturing the simple delights of a family outing after a democratic election, speaks about the optimism that encapsulates Israel. It also creates a lasting memory of all the country has endured and its unpredictable but hopefully bright future.
We had a wonderful day, voting, exploring the history of our country and generally relaxing, but the best part of the day for me, was a photo, with my family, in front of some gorgeous flowers!
Gina Jacobson is a mom, a wife, a dreamer. She hates mornings and loves coffee and when she’s not reading, she’s writing.
In the town of Tir’a in central Israel, a group of teenagers have gathered for a rehearsal. Over the cacophony of greetings in both Hebrew and Arabic, the strumming of a tiny instrument can be heard.
The humble ukulele has been “instrumental” in bringing together teens from Arab and Jewish backgrounds and the result is not just the creation of beautiful music, but the building of bridges that ultimately will lay the foundations of peace in this part of the world often mired in conflict – and mistrust.
The brainchild of musician, Paul Moore, who was fed up with the situation after the Second Intifada, Ukulele’s for peace aims to bring together children from different backgrounds who can find common ground by doing something creative and unifying – playing music together.
“I thought that if peace was possible between Israel and Egypt and Jordan then perhaps the same could happen with its Palestinian neighbours. Israel has a dynamism that is extraordinary and I felt that I had to either leave or do something. The hatred had to stop”, says Moore.
Moore is a vibrant personality. Dressed in beach chic short, his sartorial nod to his passion for the ukulele is the lei tucked around the brim of his hat. A seasoned performer, Moore is dedicated to helping build positive bridges between people and what better instrument than the ukulele. Small and easy to use (it only has 4 strings) ukuleles are very versatile and as a result, there is a burgeoning global ukulele movement.
Paul Moore’s love of the ukulele coupled with his experience and passion for performance sparked an idea. What if he brought children from opposite sides of the conflict and creates a space where they could get to know each other – and play a little music.
The result was the birth of Ukuleles for Peace in 2004. Moore’s dream was that the children would really integrate into each other’s lives and become friends, not just live parallel lives.
How did it all start?
Moore approached the mayor of Tir’a and in literally a day, found a cooperative partner in the Democratic School. And so Ukuleles for Peace was born. Parents became involved because after all, it was them who were doing the major schlepping with carpools and lifts. Initially, some of the parents were resistant to coming to Tir’a but the project has become such a communal success that families meet up for picnics, holidays and recitals.
Ukuleles for Peace hasn’t just shared joy through music – it has created real and lasting friendships between children who under different circumstances would never have had the opportunity to meet each other.
Singing in Arabic, Hebrew and English, Ukuleles for Peace has grown beyond the neighbourhood of the Middle East. The groups which through the years have been about 11-12 strong have played at schools, different towns, coexistence events, Holocaust survivors and autistic therapy.
This has also taken these talented and open-hearted youth overseas to play in places like Hawaii, Croatia, Italy, Poland and Georgia. It is proof that the even the most humble instrument when paired with the greatest intentions, can bring much needed positivity to the world.
It is not only the children that have benefitted from friendships – but their parents as well. During our visit to a rehearsal in Tir’a it was hard to see who was having more fun – the parents or the ukulele band!
“It is a joy to see these children blossom as musicians and performers,” says Paul. “I would love to turn up at the United Nations and just simply play our Music to them as a statement of what is possible words seem to only divide whereas music unites us all in harmony” he continues.
It is evident as the music flows seamlessly from Arabic to Hebrew and then to English that Paul Moore’s dream of bringing children together to know and appreciate each other’s cultures and build friendships that it has come to fruition.
Ukuleles for peace is living proof that the foundations of coexistence and peace will be built from the ground up through every day interactions between people. There may even be ukuleles involved.
Following on from a bellicose response to the above article on social media, see the writer’s response:
Tel Aviv’s oldest Jewish district, Neve Tzedek is young at heart.
With its 19th century gentrified homes, trendy cafés, boisterous bars, beautiful boutiques and exquisite art galleries along its narrow cobbled leafy lanes, Neve Tzedek (“oasis of justice” in Hebrew) is one of Tel Aviv’s most fashionable districts and also where the story of Tel Aviv really began.
By David. E. Kaplan
People believe that the story of Tel Aviv began with a seaside lottery in 1909 but in truth, the story of modern Jewish settlement in this coastal metropolis began nearly two decades earlier with the first house built in 1888 by Aharon Chelouche who arrived in Palestine in 1838 as a young boy with his family from Oran, Algeria.
The writer stood with a group of mostly former South African Israelis outside his house at No. 32 on the street that bears his name and had as our guide, Yair Chelouche, a direct descendent from the father of Aharon, the patriarch of the family – Abraham Chelouche.
“Abraham is believed to have stated before he left Algeria in 1838,” said Yair, “that unlike many others who were migrating to the Land of Israel at that time, “I am not going there to die – but to live!””
Unlike his biblical namesake of 3000 years earlier who came close to suffering the sacrifice of a son, this 19th century Abraham endured the sacrifice of two sons only meters away before he set foot on “The Promised Land”.
“In those days there was no port of Haifa only a beach next to a few coastal villages. And so, small dinghies used to row out to the sailing ships that anchored offshore and bring the passengers ashore. Tragically, one of these dinghies capsized, and Abraham’s young sons, Yosef and Eliyahu, drowned,” related Yair.
After settling briefly in Nablus, Abraham Chelouche moved his family to Jaffa, where Aharon, then nine years old, grew up. Later, when Aharon married and had children, he named his second son Yosef Eliyahu in memory of his two drowned brothers.
“Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche is my great grandfather”, says Yair
Strong Arm Tactics
The Chelouches spoke fluent Arabic and had no difficulty settling into life in Jaffa, a thriving, colourful mainly Arab port town that must have shared similarities with the family’s native Oran.
Young Aharon grew up to be a shrewd businessman – a goldsmith and money changer. His sharp mind and keen eye for a good deal soon made him a wealthy man.
Yair relates a story that has become part of the family folklore: “Aharon calculated that the mineral content of one particular Ottoman coin was worth considerably more than the monetary value of the coin itself, and so he collected these coins, smelt them, and then sold the mineral or used it to craft valuable jewelry.”
Aharon was not only an entrepreneur – but a visionary. Emerging as the leader of the Sephardic community in Jaffa, “He believed,” says Yair, “that Jews should build their own town, and in 1883, bought the first plot of land north of Jaffa that would become NeveTzedek. This was over twenty years before he joined a group of about 100 people on the sand dunes in 1909 to acquire plots by way of a seashell lottery that became Tel Aviv.”
In those days, indicates Yair, “There were no land surveyors. The seller and the buyer would meet on the land to agree on the size of the land and the price. To measure the plot from one end to the other, the buyer took a stone and threw it, and where it landed was the end of the plot.”
Smiling, Yair continues, “Aharon must have had a very strong arm because the family ended up with a huge chunk of land.”
Reshaping a Landscape
To attract Jews to join his large family, Aharon built a Beit Knesset by his house located today close to the magnificent Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater. Established in 1989, just over a century after Aharon culturally transformed this barren landscape of sand dunes and brushwood, the Suzanne Dellal Center today is the home of dance in Israel and premier presenter of Israeli and international contemporary dance companies. Situated in the center of Neve Tzedek, Yair points out where the original synagogue stood, the water well and a school, and where a plaque remains of the builder’s name – “Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche” – Yair’s great grandfather. “He became one of Tel Aviv’s important builders and apart from building many of the city’s first homes and schools – his most famous construction was the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, originally known as HaGymnasia HaIvrit (lit. Hebrew High School).”
Only a short walk from Neve Tzedek, the cornerstone ceremony of the school took place in 1909, the founding year of Tel Aviv and was the county’s first Hebrew high school. The design was inspired by descriptions of Solomon’s Temple and remained a major Tel Aviv landmark until 1962 when “it was regrettably razed for the construction of the Shalom Meir Tower on Herzl Street,” laments Yair.
One of the most visited tourist sites in Tel Aviv, the Suzanne Dellal Centre’s beautiful and sprawling multi-level campus, consists of four performance halls, numerous rehearsal studios, a restaurant and cafe, and wide plazas that host various outdoor performances and events throughout the year.
Yair points out where his great grandfather’s factory stood – “Fabrique Chelouche Frères”. The name, painted in French and Arabic, was still clearly visible until building started a while ago on that plot, and, standing beneath its place, Yair relates that “the building material produced here was used for most of the early construction of Ahuzat Bayit (Hebrew meaning “Homestead”) the forerunner to the naming of the city – Tel Aviv. “One can still see the brightly patterned floor tiles of Chelouche Frères in some of Tel Aviv’s oldest buildings,” says Yair.
Neve Tzedek boasts a variety of architectural styles from Bauhaus to eclectic and at the beginning of the 1900s, it was the intellectual and cultural hub of Tel Aviv, attracting artists and writers. To appreciate their legacy and the impact it had on the cultural destiny of the future State of Israel, “a visit to the Nachum Gutman Museum is a must,” asserts Yair.
Only a short walk from Beit Chelouche (Chelouche Home), the museum is located on the east end of the narrow cobbled Rokach Street, named after another celebrated Neve Tzedek resident, Israel Rokach, who became the second mayor of Tel Aviv, after Meir Dizengoff. On the way, Yair relates family stories of the political shenanigans in the 1936 mayoral election between Rokach and his opponent – Moshe Chelouche, brother of Yair’s grandfather, Avner, son of Yosef-Eliyahu. Although Moshe won the election, the British High Commissioner intervened in the support of Rokach, and despite the public uproar about British intervention in the Jewish democratic process, “Moshe served little more than a day, while Rokach went on to serve as mayor of Tel Aviv until 1953.”
Rokach would also go on to head the Maccabi World Union, sit as a member of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament), serve as an Israeli Interior Minister and be awarded the title of ‘Officer of the Order of the British Empire’. Rokach’s house in Neve Tzedek is today a museum – possibly the oldest museum in Tel Aviv – and is often used to showcase cultural events.
A Brush with the Past
The Nachum Gutman Museum used to be known as Beit HaSofrim (the Writer’s House) due to the large number of famous writers who lived here and gathered for literary meetings and discussions, such as the poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, S.Y. Agnon, who would later win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Joseph Aharonovitz, editor of the newspaper HaPoel HaTzair (The Young Worker), Dvora Baron, labeled as “the first Modern Hebrew woman writer” and Nachum Gutman’s father, a renowned Hebrew writer and educator who wrote under the pen name S. Ben Zion.
Nachum grew up in the neighborhood, absorbing as a child the local lifestyle and intellectual culture of a young vibrant expanding city. This impacted Nachum’s art enormously, depicting a culturally explosive city in vivid vibrant colors.
Welcoming his visitors, we were ‘met’ by Nachum or rather by one of his large colorful paintings. A juxtaposition of images of Tel Aviv, it captures its iconic architecture, and outdoors way of life as a coastal city, with the sea in the background and ships coming into dock. We see outdoor cafés with people sitting around tables on the sidewalks, chatting, reading and watching the passing show. This is quintessential Tel Aviv – a vibrant city with people on the move. In this sense, little has changed. Gutman captured the essence and spirit of a city that stands the test of time.
“And it all began with a house that now stands at 32 Chelouche street,” Yair reminds us.
Keen to learn more about the personalities of the Chelouche pioneers and how they shaped the future, Yair ‘unveiled’ this intimate heartwarming historical gem!
A Tale of Two Families
When the founder of Neve Tzedek, Aharon Chelouche, was still living in Jaffa, an incident occurred that that would connect two Palestinian families – the Jewish Chelouches and the Arab Samarras – for over a century.
Sometime in the early 1860s, a caravan of merchants passed through Jaffa on camels on the way to Alexandria and neglectfully left behind a young Arab boy. By the time his father Sheikh Samarra realized, the caravan was too far travelled to return.
The young boy was brought before Aharon Chelouche who said:
“No problem, he will live with us until his father returns from Alexandria”
And so, three months later, on the return, his father Sheikh Samarra from Tul-Karem collected his son who, by all accounts, had enjoyed his stay in Jaffa with the Chelouches who had cared for him well.
Nothing more of the Samarras was heard until the Great War of 1917. The Turkish authorities, fearful that the Allies would invade Palestine from the sea, considered Jaffa’s Jews a threat to national security and exiled them inland. The Chelouches, who were exiled to Kfar Jamal near Tul-Karem, found themselves in a pitiful situation. Their funds had run out and had little to eat. Aharon was then 90 years old, and his sons Yosef Eliyahu and Abraham Haim now headed a family that was destitute.
Help then came from an unexpected source!
One day, a pair of camels, preceded by a donkey, appeared on the path. The rider came down from his donkey and asked:
“I am searching for the refugee Aharon Chelouche. Is he here?”
Brought before the old man, the visitor said, “You do not know me. My name is Hajj Ibrahim Samarra. I am the youth to whom you once gave a majida (Arabic: glorious) in Jaffa. Your benevolence will never be forgotten. And I heard that your family were refugees here.”
Hajj Ibrahim then unloaded from his camels, sacks of flower and beans, and leather bags of oil. That young boy left behind in Jaffa nearly four decades earlier, was now a rich man, the Sheikh of three villages.
There was more to come – a lot more!
He invited Aharon’s sons to his home, broke through a hole in the wall with an axe, and removed a red handkerchief holding 500 gold pounds, which he handed over to Yosef Eliyahu – with whom he had played as a child during his three month stay in Jaffa – and said:
“Take it, I have enough. Return it when the war ends, Inshallah. It will be my shame if you do not take the money.”
Yosef Eliyahu thanked him and offered a promissory note.
“Why?” asked Hajj Ibrahim.
“What if we all die in the war,” replied Yosef Eliyahu.
“Then neither of us will need the money,” protested Sheikh Ibrahim.
In 1981, while a student at Tel Aviv University, Yair Chelouche, the great-grandson of Yosef Eliyahu went into the office of his great uncle Aharon Chelouche, named after the founder of Neve Tzedek, who was then Dean in charge of student affairs.
“Sit down Yair” he said, “I have a story to tell you”.
Aharon then related that the week before, an Arab female student had come in to see him about a certain problem. When he saw her surname, he began asking her questions, and not too long thereafter he said to her:
“We are connected by 100 years of history. You have a wonderful family.”
“How do you know my family?” she asked rather puzzled.
And so, Aharon began:
“When your great-great grandfather was a little boy, he was left in Jaffa…”
At story’s end, she burst out crying and the elder Jewish Chelouche and the younger Arab Samara hugged.
Today, while Neve Tzedek still retains its quaint character with colourful buildings and small narrow streets, the district is an upscale suburb of Tel Aviv, attracting the rich and famous.
Where “in the old days” its residents included the likes of great literary luminaries like Nobel laureate, S.Y. Agnon, and Y.H. Brenner, pioneer of modern Hebrew literature, in modern times, residents have included billionaire Roman Abramovitch, the owner of the English professional football club Chelsea F.C., and superstar Gal Gadot of ‘Wonder Woman’ fame.
It is little ‘wonder’ that Neve Tzedek, where the story of Tel Aviv began, is once again in the limelight – attracting residents, investors, pursuers of culture and tourists.
Yair, who created in colorful concentric circles the family tree for the a Chelouche family reunion (2004) that attracted over 500 members from Israel and abroad and held at Beit Chelouche, relates:
“It was wonderful meeting all my family, young and old, and who all descended from our patriarch, Abraham Chelouche, who not only founded a dynasty, but whose progeny helped create this great city of ours – Tel Aviv.”
Zubin Mehta – “The crown Jewel of Israel’s cultural life”.
By David E. Kaplan
13 July 2019 in Tel Aviv was a Saturday night like few others!
Music lovers came out in their multitude to bid an emotional farewell to Maestro Zubin Mehta on the fulfillment of his impressive 50-year tenure as musical director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO).
The grassy expanse of the Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv was filled with a huge crowd of all ages, who rose almost simultaneously as the charismatic Maestro took the stage, opening with the orchestra’s moving rendition of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah”.
The sad realisation of an iconic era coming to an end was poignantly punctuated with this quip from the 83-year-old conductor:
“When I started my work in Israel, all the members of the orchestra were twice my age, and now everyone is three times younger.”
This is understandable since the Maestro’s debut with the IPO was 1961!
Mayor Ron Huldai hit the right note hailing Mehta as:
“The Crown Jewel Of Israel’s Cultural Life”.
Sitting on the lawn amongst the crowd, noting how the Maestro’s unmistakable stature and gestures of his hand dominates an orchestra, I thought back only three years previously to 2016 when I interviewed Zubin Mehta on the occasion of his 80th birthday in his private office named after the acclaimed Italian conductor, Arturo Toscanini.
It had been not only the Mehta’s 80th but also the 80th of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. “Yes, we share an 80th together.”
He revealed how this milestone marked 80 years since Toscanini conducted the inaugural concert of the (later named) Israel Philharmonic Orchestra on December 26, 1936.
Attendees including Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, and Golda Meir.
It represented not only the culmination of Jewish Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman’s courageous efforts to provide refuge for nearly 1,000 European Jews fleeing Nazi Germany by establishing an “orchestra of the Jewish people,” but also the creation of a world-class musical institution.
Since 1961 when the IPO was first introduced to Zubin Mehta who came to fill in for an indisposed Eugene Ormandy, there has been a ‘love affair’ between the conductor and the people of Israel.
Over 2000 concerts later, the Maestro welcomed me into his office in the prestigious Charles Bronfman Auditorium with his arms warmly outstretched – a sight familiar to concert audiences around the world usually with a baton in hand.
I was keen to understand from the outset the nature of the relationship between Mehta and Israel, after all, the conductor – a Hindu Indian and the Jewish state may seem an odd coupling.
“Not at all,” says Mehta who revealed he fell in love not only with the Israeli orchestra but with the country itself.
“It reminded me a lot of my home, Bombay. Israelis, like Indians, are opinionated, and they have the habit of all speaking at the same time, which made me feel at home. People think this is a Jewish characteristic. It’s not. It’s also very Indian.”
From Bat to Baton
Recognising my unmistakable South African accent there was initial talk when he conducted a concert in Durban, our love of Indian cuisine, “the hotter the better” and of CRICKET! As if reaching a crescendo in Beethoven’s 5th, the Maestro became so animated when describing a 1-day limited overs match he watched the previous year at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai when the South African nation team, the ‘Proteas’, thrashed the hosts by 214 runs thanks to “blistering centuries from AB de Villiers, Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis. I sat there stunned – These South Africans gave us a ‘master class’ lesson in batting.” Mehta was well versed with the names of the SA cricket squad and the score as he was with any classical musical score.
“It was a slaughter” he lamented, and went on to describe his schooldays in Bombay (preferring to use its old name than Mumbai when speaking in English) where he showed talent with a cricket bat in the very hands that would one day mesmerize audiences around the world with a baton.
It could so easy not have been!
“I first studied medicine for a year in Bombay before switching to music. I was brought up in a typical middleclass Parsi family in Bombay where there were about five professions to choose from, and usually the parents made the choice. My brother studied accountancy and became a Chartered Accountant, while I ditched medicine and moved to Vienna to study music.”
However, music was very much in the Mehta family. His father founded the Bombay Orchestra, was its conductor, concert master and the soloist in a string quartet. “My dad was known as “Mr. Music of Bombay”. His dream was to create an environment in Bombay, which would enable talented young Indians to study Western classical music and perform professionally in their country. This is why our family is so proud that there is today a foundation in India bearing his name – the Mehli Mehta Trust -devoted to fulfilling his dream. He would be smiling if he could see the 150 kids studying classical music there – they represent his living legacy.”
Conductor with a Cause
What impressed me was the number of causes Zubin has identified with and brought the full weight of his talent to spotlight global attention on them.
In 2013, he conducted the Bavarian Orchestra in Kashmir, one of the most militarized regions of the world. An area contested by both India and Pakistan over religious divisions, the event was organized by Germany’s ambassador to India, Michael Steiner, with the aim of reaching “the hearts of the Kashmiris with a message of hope and encouragement”. Although the event was not without controversy, Mehta believed the concert had a positive impact on Kashmir.
“We are musicians; we cannot change boundaries, but we can start a process of healing. Hindus and Muslims sat together in complete harmony. We cannot force them to smile at each other; but we can bring them together and enjoy the same music. That is a good start.”
During the first Gulf War of 1992, “or what Israelis talk of as the ‘Scud War’, we performed many solidarity concerts both in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv.”
After Iraq launched Scud missiles into Israel, Mehta raced to Israel. As Director of the New York Philharmonic at the time, “I had many obligations in New York that should have prevented me from coming, but I couldn’t imagine not being in Israel.”
Another notable musician who rushed to Israel was solo violinist Isaac Stern and “at our concert in Jerusalem, we were both presented on stage with gas masks – just in case. We never needed them, and we only performed during the day, as the scuds were mainly at night when the country was in total darkness. And yet, Israelis showed their grit – we performed to packed audiences. Think of it, missiles were raining down on Israel, and its people wanted to hear classical music.”
One such “Under Fire” concert was organized by former South African Solly Liebgott a governor of the Hebrew University who told the writer at the time, “People said I was crazy; nobody would come. We had a waiting list; it broke my heart as a fundraiser to return cheques.”
It proved that if Zubin Mehta was prepared to conduct, the people would attend his concerts.
Bullets, Bombs, Music
Intrigued to learn of other ‘Hot Spots’ where the Maestro conducted, Mehta reflects:
At the outset of the 1967 Six Day War, “a conductor who was slated to perform with the IPO dropped out, and I saw the situation as a musical emergency.” He rushed to board an ammunition-filled plane from the USA to Israel and “turned out to be the last plane allowed to land in the country before Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport closed during the fighting.”
Mehta conducted a performance and stayed in the basement of a Jerusalem concert hall for the six days, along with pianist Daniel Barenboim and the celebrated cellist Jacqueline du Pré.
“I’m not sure how good the concert was musically — we weren’t exactly prepared!” Mehta later reflected, “but Daniel played the Beethoven Emperor Piano Concerto and Jackie played the Elgar Cello Concerto.”
A lesser known anecdote, a week after the war ended, Mehta pretended he was Jewish in order to act as a witness at Barenboim and du Pré’s wedding at the Western Wall.
When Israel was at war in Southern Lebanon in 1982, Mehta brought – assisted by the police – the orchestra’s musicians a few kilometers across the border into a Lebanese tobacco field. “We erected a stage under a tent and played for a group of local Lebanese citizens.” After the concert, Mehta said “the concertgoers rushed the stage to hug the musicians.”
“How I would love to see that sight again today – of Arabs and Jews hugging each other. I’m a positive thinker. I know that day will come.”
In 1994 during the Bosnian War, “The Italian impresario, Mario Dradi, organized a concert of the Mozart Requiem in the bombed Islamic Library of Sarajevo. I conducted the Sarajevo Orchestra, which included musicians from other parts of the disintegrating Yugoslavia to make up those in the orchestra who had been killed in the fighting. We had no audience as there was nowhere for people to sit, so the concert was filmed, and the proceeds from the sale of the movie went to the UN Refugee Fund to help the victims of this war.”
They did however have an audience for the rehearsals in Sarajevo’s Opera House, “which fortunately was not bombed. The sound of bombs could be heard throughout the night, and in the afternoon of the concert, a young boy was killed nearby in the street.”
Magic Of Music
And then there have been concert performances – not during wars but following wars or disasters and one of the most emotional was in 1999, when Mehta conducted an enormous orchestra comprising the IPO together with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra outside of the Buchenwald concentration Camp. “We played Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection). It was very moving.”
It was the first concert in Germany that featured the Israeli Philharmonic playing with a German orchestra, and apart from the German orchestra being the Munich-based Bavarian State Orchestra – “sensitive because of its historical connotations” –
the concert took place just beneath the hill that had housed the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp. Mehta accompanied musicians from both orchestras on a tour of the camp before the performance.
Mehta revealed that during the walk through the camp, he could not avoid thinking:
“Will the Israelis be able to sit together with Germans this evening and play music?”
However, he detected no feelings of resistance and my feeling now is that “if Jews and Germans can be together near Buchenwald after 50 years, one day there will be reconciliation with Arabs, too.”
Four years after Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by Hamas in June 2006, “we took the IPO to the Israel-Gaza border to protest his imprisonment.” The goal was to pressure Hamas into letting the Red Cross visit Shalit to make sure he was okay and to pressure both Israel and the leaders of Gaza to negotiate a deal for Shalit’s release.
“I hope he knows we are doing this concert and one day very soon he will know every note we play goes out to him,” said Mehta at the time.
Shalit was freed in a prisoner exchange the following year!
Citizen of the World
Being so closely rooted to India, Israel, the USA and Europe, I asked the Maestro if there any one city he can call home?
“I feel at home in at least five cities – Bombay, Tel Aviv, Vienna, Florence and Los Angeles,” he replied.
I enquire further that with the warming of relations between two of his “homes” – India and Israel – was there a role for improved cultural ties?
“Bilateral relations between the two countries have blossomed particularly in the areas of diamonds, agriculture, hi-tech and tourism,” responds Mehta. “Young Israelis visit India in droves. As far as the IPO is concerned, two years after India and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1992, we performed in India for the first time, and since then we have toured there periodically. Every few years we perform in Bombay. Music has this transformative ability to bring people together.”
Maestro and his Masterpieces
Away from musically spotlighting war and human disasters, the Maestro took little time revealing one of his most fun-filled memorable concerts!
The recording of this debut concert became the best-selling classical album of all time, leading to additional performances and live albums. Around 1.3 billion viewers worldwide watched their second televised performance four years later at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. They last performed together at an arena in Columbus, Ohio on 28 September 2003.
Describing the concerts with The Three Tenors, and all the great performers he has collaborated with over six decades, one can understand when Mehta says that “I have been blessed to be in the best profession in the world, constantly surrounded by masterpieces.”
To the final question of the future of classical music appreciation, Mehta is unfazed: “Never mind classical music, can you imagine any one day in the history of mankind without music? No, we can’t.”
How fortunate for the world that one young man decided at the age of eighteen to change professions and, instead of healing bodies, touched people’s souls.
In tribute to Johnny Clegg (7 June 1953 – 16 July 2019)
By Rolene Marks
Every immigrant will tell you that we take a small piece of our country of origin to our new home. For some scatterlings of Africa, it is biltong and braaivleis and for others it is something else. For me, the little piece of South Africa that I brought with was the soundtrack to my childhood and its pervasive memory – Johnny Clegg.
I will never forget the first time I heard his unique blend of traditional Zulu music and modern rock. Sitting in the cinema watching the movie, Jock of the Bushveld, I was enamoured by its star, a rather robust and gorgeous Staffordshire terrier but it was the theme song that evoked the strongest reaction in me. “Great heart”, the hit song transported me to wide open African plains, blue skies and reminded me of the power of courage. I was courage. You were courage.
And so began a lifelong love of Johnny Clegg’s music, joined by his trailblazing bandmates, Juluka and then Savuka.
Music has always had a great ability to unite, and throughout South Africa’s darkest years when Apartheid sought to build impenetrable walls between people of different races, it was Clegg and his band that were then called Juluka, pulled them down with their unique sound.
Blending Zulu and rock elements coupled with traditional, energetic Zulu dancing, they electrified South Africans who could not get enough. It was unlike anything we had ever heard and Clegg who faced harassment and sometimes censorship and the risk of arrest was the front man whose lyrics were both overtly and covertly political. Juluka disbanded in 1985 but would re-band in 1986 as Savuka.
Clegg had succeeded in doing the impossible – uniting the fractured folk of South Africa and flipping the Apartheid regime the proverbial finger.
Clegg and his band’s crossover appeal were not just restricted to South Africa.
The artists whose first album was titled Universal Men has universal appeal and attained tremendous global success which was then virtually unheard of for South African artists who were enduring a cultural boycott.
Such was Clegg’s global success as the front man of the band that in France he became fondly known as “le Zoulou Blanc” (the White Zulu) and was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (Knight of Arts and Letters) by the French Government in 1991.
This was not the only international honour that would be conferred on him.
In 2011, Clegg received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from City University of New York School of Law and in 2015, Clegg was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Clegg spoke famously of his Jewish roots and while not observant, he never hid or denied it. He was proud of it even incorporating aspects of his identity in his music, most notably in his songs “Jericho“, “Jerusalem“ and “Warsaw 1943“. Clegg also had a favourable relationship with Israel and lived in the country for a short time during his childhood and saw the country as a spiritual homeland.
During the second Intifada (Palestinian uprising) when approached by notorious anti-Israel activist (and Jew) Ronnie Kasrils to sign a petition that he and his group had written castigating the Jewish state, he had quietly refused to do so. He felt that the issue was more complex.
Johnny Clegg was a humble man with the heart of a warrior and this was how he fought pancreatic cancer that would eventually lead to his death. Faced with this major health battle, he embarked on a final tour to thank his fans for their support throughout his tremendous career.
Johnny Clegg passed away on the 16th of July 2019 was laid to rest with quiet modesty in Westpark’s Jewish cemetery. South Africans will gather on Friday 26th of July to pay tribute to one of the nation’s greatest sons and icons.
Dear Johnny, as you make your crossing, it is we who should be thanking you. Hamba Kahle Johnny. Thank you, Ngiyabonga for the music, for the memories, for being the light in the darkest days of our history, for uniting us and for your pride in your identity. Thank you for being our Great Heart.
*Feature picture:Jo Hale/Redferns via Getty Images
Creative Pursuits Make Change in the World — A tribute to Johnny Clegg
July 18, 2019
By R. K. Mayer
It has only been two days since the great Johnny Clegg left us. In those two days, like most others, my time has been spent listening to old favourites, reminiscing, eulogising and paying respects. For those of us — children of South Africa — who were brought up on his music, this is a loss that is felt on so many levels: individual, communal, national, international, and more. It’s not just because of the fact that he was a great singer and musician. It was not just because of the surreal juxtaposition (at that time) of this white man stomping and dancing African style to the beat of African drums. For those of us in South Africa, Johnny Clegg and his entourage represented a beacon of light and validation for a country in the midst of terrible times. We were not just a sum total of bad politics, inhumanity and racism.
Despite the fact that international sanctions were in place, Johnny and his music still played in the international arena. His music crossed borders and grew wings. Johnny broke the barriers of apartheid. He was blind to the racist doctrines. He broke the stigmas about who you can hang out with, work with, sing like, be like, look like. In a time of terrible compartmentalisation, he was an example to all of us that things could be different. That was the power of his music and the example that he set. We can never underestimate what it did for the children of South Africa to see Johnny on the international stage. For our impressionable minds, he was someone to admire and emulate.
We too could choose to transcend.
We too could embrace and join together.
That is the power or music and creative pursuits.
That is the power of Johnny Clegg.
I have never met Johnny Clegg, although I have stomped and jumped with him across his sound tracks. I have no idea, whether he was political or not. I don’t know whether he wanted to be the one to influence a generation. I don’t know whether he consciously used his art to break the boundaries and challenge the norm, or whether it all just happened serendipitously. His music served to unite, gather and to show that our similarities were far greater than our differences.
So, in the spirit of our times, wherein boycotting people and places because of their nationality, religion, political beliefs and ideologies has become commonplace, Johnny Clegg teaches us, that creative and artistic pursuits will always prevail. They will always transcend. For all of those in favour of trying to cut off these pursuits, just imagine if my generation had not had a Johnny, Just imagine if Johnny, by the power of inertia, apathy or ignorance, had enforced the segregation laws and not lead the life he did. We would not only have missed out on his music. We would also have missed out on seeing a person be the change that the country needed to see.
In an elegiac and soulful anti-apartheid song “Asimbonanga“— a song that sparks a crazy nostalgia in me for my home town, Cape Town— Johnny Clegg sings:
A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me
I know the answer to that question. You did Johnny. You broke the silence and closed the distance between us.
Ronit Kaplinski Mayer – a blogger, novelist, change management consultant and entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of “OtailO” a startup with a smart and sustainable solution for online product returns management.
* With thanks to Larry Ger — another child of South Africa — for letting me share his painting
The news broke in 2015 that the British-born South African musician, who blended western and Zulu music had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. However, he continued to perform while receiving treatment. Then in September 2017, came the announcement that he was embarking on a final international tour that he called “The Final Journey”.
That journey came to an end this July when the icon who had defied the country’s apartheid-era racial barriers, celebrated its new democracy under Nelson Mandela and taken his Zulu-infused rock music around the world, finally succumbed to his terminal illness.
Clegg’s mother’s family were Jewish immigrants from Poland, and the singer describes his upbringing as “secular Jewish.” As a child he spent several months living in Israel, which he again visited in 2003 when his sister living in Ra’anana passed away.
He had planned a much-awaited revisit to Israel – this time to tour with his band in 2010 – hence the reason this writer called him on phone to interview him for Telfed, a South African community magazine in Israel that I had been editor of at the time. I tracked the musician down while on tour of New Zealand to a hotel room in Auckland. Within hours of a press release that Clegg would be performing in Israel, the Telfed office, which had undertaken to promote the concert in Israel, was inundated with inquiries.
A world away in Auckland, Clegg was happy to hear this upbeat update. “Israel is probably the country closest to my heart in terms of-ex-pats,” with close members of his family living in the Jewish homeland. “I have visited on two occasions, butthis will be the first time that I will be performing there,” he enthused.
One of the many hits he would be singing would be “Scatterlings of Africa” which rocked the charts in the UK “enabling me to give up lecturing in Anthropology at Wits University and focus on music.” In 1988 the song was featured on the soundtrack to the 1988 Oscar-winning film Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise.
Clegg had once explained the inspiration for the song in a live concert, saying “When we wrote this song, the oldest human bones in the world had just been discovered at Olduvai Gorge, in Africa. So this is a song about how everyone can claim to be African … if they want to, that is.”
Harassment To Harmony
Prior to his overseas success, “making a living exclusively from music in apartheid South Africa was difficult.Our racially integrated band was refused airtime on the radio and our concerts were routinely broken-up by the police, who would barge onto the stage with dogs and shotguns.”
His band Juluka was an unusual musical partnership for the time in South Africa, with a white man (Clegg) and a black man (Mchunu) performing together. The band, which grew to a six-member group (with three white and three black musicians) by the time it released its first album Universal Men in 1979, faced harassment and censorship, with Clegg later remarking that it was “impossible” to perform in public in South Africa.
Clegg made it ‘possible’!
The group tested the apartheid-era laws, touring and performing in private venues, including universities, churches, hostels, and even private homes in order to attract an audience, as national broadcasters would not play their music.
The year that Clegg planned to tour Israel, was proving “very busy.”
Earlier in 2010, he told the writer, “We performed at a 9-day concert in Rabat, Morocco,” where his group joined some of the biggest names in music, such as Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys and Kylie Minogue. Clegg had also recently finished recording his own compositions for a Nelson Mandela audiobook with narration by some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. He had enjoyed a strong association with the iconic former state president and performed frequently to raise funds for the Nelson Mandela Foundation to combat AIDS.
As an adolescent in Johannesburg‘s northern suburbs, he related befriending Charlie Mzila, a flat cleaner by day and musician by night, “drawing me into the city’s Zulu migrant workers’ music and dance scene. Through Charlie, I mastered the Zulu language and the maskandi guitar as well as the isishameni dance styles of the migrants.”
Johnny was on the way to becoming a “White Zulu”.
Clegg’s close association with black musicians frequently led to his arrest. His first arrest was at the age of fifteen and – in SA legal parlance – it was for violating the Group Areas Act that prohibited people of different races from congregating together outside select areas and at select times.
However, it was his meeting with Sipho Mchunu that had the next major impact on his life and music. “I was seventeen and Sipho was a Zulu migrant worker; we just clicked and that led to Juluka.”
He explained that “Juluka means “sweat” and also had been the name of a bull owned by Mchunu.
Clegg had a talent for integrating his knowledge of Anthropology with his music, which led him in the early stages of his musical career, to include in his songs snippets of Zulu culture.
Later, his lyrics would contain coded political messages and references to the battle against Apartheid, although Clegg maintained that Juluka was not originally intended to be a political band. “Politics found us,” he told The Baltimore Sun in 1996. In a 1989 interview with the Sunday Times, Clegg denied the label of “political activist”. For him, “a political activist is someone who has committed himself to a particular ideology. I don’t belong to any political party. I stand for human rights.”
Nevertheless, Juluka’s music was both implicitly and explicitly political; it proved a thorn in the flesh of a political system based on racial separation – Apartheid. As a result of the political messages imbedded in their music, Clegg and other band members were arrested several times and concerts routinely broken up. While harassed at home, Juluka managed to tour abroad playing in Europe, Canada and the USA , and had two platinum and five gold albums, emerging as a major international success.
In one instance, the band drew such a large crowd in Lyon, France that Michael Jackson cancelled a concert there, allegedly complaining that Clegg and his group had “stolen my fans”.
During a concert in 1999, Clegg was joined onstage by South African President Nelson Mandela, who danced as he sang the anti-Apartheid protest song dedicated to the President, “Asimbonanga“. Meaning – “We have not seen him” – Asimbonanga was one of the first songs to call for Nelson Mandela’s release while still imprisoned on Robben Island.
Unfortunately, Israelis would not get to hear Clegg live in 2010 with those great hits ‘Scatterlings of Africa’ and ‘Asimbonanga’because the tour to Israel was cancelled, much to his regret.
Paying tribute to his father, his son Jesse Clegg, expressed: “Johnny leaves deep footprints in the hearts of every person that considers him/herself to be an African. He showed us what it was to assimilate to and embrace other cultures without losing your identity. An anthropologist that used his music to speak to every person. With his unique style of music, he traversed cultural barriers like few others. In many of us, he awakened awareness.”
“They are the scatterlings of Africa
Each uprooted one
On the road to Phelamanga
Where the world began
I love the scatterlings of Africa”
Asimbonanga was an anti-apartheid song by Savuka, from their 1987 album Third World Child. It was a tribute to Nelson Mandela, imprisoned on Robben Island the time of song’s release, and other anti-apartheid activists.
*Title picture: WHITE ZULU: Johnny Clegg (Picture: Tsheko Kabasi)
Short In Distance, Bialik Street Is Long In History
By David E. Kaplan
There was sound reason why the organizers of Israel’s 2019 Eurovision Song Competition in Tel Aviv chose to hold the Semi-final Allocation Draw at the city’s former City Hall in Bialik Street.
While Bialik Street does not project the grandeur of Paris’ ‘Avenue des Champs-Elysees’, or the allure of New York’s 5th Avenue, it personifies the cultural journey of Tel Aviv – a journey where visitors require not tough shoes but adventurous minds.
Bialik street can take five minutes to casually stroll or five hours for a true experience – it all depends on your pace, for each pause is poetry. A side road off the pulsating Allenby with its cafés, pubs and restaurants, one exits the traffic and tumult of one world, to enter another of tranquility and charm. With its fine examples of Bauhaus architecture, Bialik Street is a UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Starting at the T-junction of Allenby and Bialik, we began its tour. The writer strolled down the little brick road, admiring the diverse architectural styles of the buildings, until arriving at the former home of one of Israel’s most celebrated artists, Reuven Rubin (1893-1974). Today it is the Rubin Museum and the writer met with its curator, Carmela Rubin, the daughter-in-law of the late artist.
Established in 1909 on desolate sand dunes, Tel Aviv in the 1920s drew like a magnet, many of the leading writers, artists, musicians, actors and journalists. Carmela attributed this to the arrival in 1924 of one man – Chaim Nachman Bialik, who would emerge in his lifetime as Israel’s National Poet and the celebrated resident of the street that would take his name.
“That he chose to settle in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem influenced others to follow him. People today are hardly aware of the monumental impact Bialik had on his generation.”
“Firstly, he arrived with such stature, a towering intellectual whose poetry and prose, calling for a reawakening of the Jewish people, resonated with a new breed of emerging Jew in Eastern Europe,” explained Carmela.
In this quest, language was the key and “Bialik was in the forefront in the renewal of the Hebrew language. Jews in Eastern Europe at that time spoke Yiddish; Hebrew was the language of the prayer book, reserved for the Sabbath. The Zionist movement had its central platform, the revival of Hebrew as the conversational language of Jews and Bialik was the spearhead in this mission.”
The generation of Hebrew poets who followed in Bialik’s footsteps, notably Jacob Steinberg and Jacob Fichman, would be referred to as ‘the Bialik generation’.
“Bialik was so much more than a renowned poet – he was a leader, and by choosing to settle in Tel Aviv in the 1920s, he transformed a small parochial city in Palestine into the center of contemporary cultural activity.”
Acknowledged as a leader of his city’s renaissance – as the Medici were to Florence – it was little wonder that his good friend, Meir Dizengoff, the mayor of Tel Aviv, not only assisted him to acquire a mortgage to build his house but also to rename the street in his honor before even the first brick had been laid. To so honor a person while still alive is rare in Jewish tradition – only for exceptional human beings.”
Bialik was one such person.
It was through the likes of Bialik that a fledging city transformed from sand dunes to cultural oasis.
Portrait of an Artist
It was into this milieu that the artist Reuven Rubin arrived in Palestine in 1923, this time to settle. At an exhibition in Tel Aviv in 1927, Bialik wrote in the catalogue: “Blessed is Rubin who has had the privilege of bonding with Eretz-Israel while his talent is in bloom. Eretz-Israel, presented as Rubin sees it – with its mountains and cities, its gardens and valleys, its old people and women, its Jews and Arabs, its donkeys and goats, its stones and plants, joined in unexpected combinations on one small square of canvas – looks like the legend of Eretz-Israel.”
But it’s Rubin’s art of Tel Aviv that provides “a visual documentation” of a strip of land transformed from sand dunes to city,” explains Carmela. “When I show groups around the museum, I talk less about the theories of art and more on that thin line where art meets and reflects life so that when visitors leave the museum, they will feel they have touched the soul of Tel Aviv. After all,” asserts Carmela, “art is long, human life short; Rubin is dead, but his art is alive and tells a story for future generations.”
The narrative of a city emerging out of sand dunes is poignantly portrayed in the two paintings Carmela shows this writer. In Self Portrait with a Flower, painted in 1922, the young artist with black curly hair stands proudly in front of the barren yellow sand dunes from which the city of Tel Aviv is still to arise. There are three small homes and the Mediterranean coast is seen in the background. Rubin is holding in his left hand a vase with a white lily symbolizing fertility and in his right, his paint brushes. “The painting is a commitment to the future; both hands visually express the promise of the artist to impact upon the barren landscape of Tel Aviv – through his personal life and through his art.”
He succeeds in both.
In Les Fiancées, painted seven years later in 1929, the artist appears – still with his paint brushes in his left hand – but now, seated on his right is no longer a vase of with a lily but his beautiful bride-to-be. They appear regal in dress and demeanor on a balcony overlooking an established city; conspicuously absent are the barren sand dunes. A small plane is seen flying over the Mediterranean, symbolizing modernity and civilization. Clearly, the personal life of the artist and the development of Tel Aviv have merged and matured – the fruition of the idealism that embodied the earlier 1922 painting.
These paintings reflect Rubin fulfilling the Zionist dream and when the artist’s work was exhibited in New York and bought by Jews in the 1920s, “It was bringing a visual image of Jewish enterprise in Palestine to a Diaspora who had little idea of what was happening here,” asserts Carmela. “Rubin’s work was performing a pivotal role. If the content of his paintings portrayed Jews physically planting seeds and cultivating the land, the ideological impact of his work was achieving precisely the same result in the mindset and perceptions of Jews abroad.”
What Bialik had achieved in literature, Ruben set out to enhance and enrich through art.
The Rubin Museum is on three floors, where apart from the works of the artist and his splendidly preserved studio on the top floor, the second floor presents a pictorial lifeline in photos of the artist. There are also rooms allocated to temporary exhibitions unrelated to Rubin. On the day of this writers visit, on exhibit were photographs of the different architectural styles prevalent in Israel.
I leave the Rubin Museum and walk to Kikar Bialik (Bialik Square) which is encircled by architectural diversity – the former Tel Aviv City Hall, the Felicja Blumental Music Centre and Library, the Bauhaus Museum, (sponsored by Ron Lauder, displaying Bauhaus-designed furniture, graphics, lamps, and glass and ceramic-ware by Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, Christian Bell, Willhelm Wagenfeld and others) and the Jewel in the Crown, the Bialik House Museum.
Ayelet Bitan Shlonsky is the curator of the Bialik House Museum and manager of the Bialik Center, which includes running eight major “happenings” a year, notably in mid-summer, the annual White Night celebrations that attracted thousands to the square, as it does each year when local Tel Aviv musicians entertain till the early hours of the morning. “The concerts in the square are free and we celebrate Tel Aviv’s birthday each year with a different theme or genre of music from all over the world. Not only are we establishing Bialik Street as the city’s center for culture and history but also as a place for music and fun.”
Standing in the middle of the square, Ayelet points out the buildings in Bialik Street and explains the variety of architectural styles, notably Neo-classic, eclectic and Bauhaus. “In one short road,” she says, “we have it all – the phases and faces of Tel Aviv architecture. It’s all staring at us!”
Entering Bialik’s house is like opening a treasure trove. The eye feasts on a kaleidoscope of diverse designs and colors. The architect, Yosef Minor, a disciple of the Eretz-Israel school, integrated European and Arab architecture, and Bialik’s house is an outstanding example of a merger of contrasting styles. “This pleased Bialik,” explains Ayelet, “who preferred not to simply transplant western culture as the Bauhaus architects would do a decade later but rather integrate western concepts with the east.”
Despite the influence of the Orient with its arches and columns that beautify every corner of the house, the architect does not allow one to ever doubt that the house was built for one who was revered as one of the main spokesmen of the yishuv (the pre-state Jewish community of Palestine). The hearth and pillars on the reception floor are covered in tiles decorated with Jewish themes, the products of the Bezalel workshop in Jerusalem. The hearth depicts the journey of the Ark of the Covenant and the story of the spies Moses sent to scout the land, while the pillars are illustrated with the twelve tribes and the months of the Hebrew calendar. And if this was not enough, a further element underlines the connection between Jewish history and Zionist belief: On one side of the pillar appears a replica of the Roman coin Judea Capta and on the other, a coin of captured Judea freed from chains with a caption reading: “Judea liberated”. This theme of Jewish courage and revival are at the core of Bialik’s philosophy.
In 1903 Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg) sent a firsthand report to Bialik on the Kishinev pogrom where Jews were massacred. Based on Ahad Ha’am’s detailed account of the bloodbath, “A year later,” says Ayelet, “Bialik published his epic masterwork, ‘The City of Slaughter’, a searing condemnation of Jewish passivity.”
… the heirs
Of Hasmoneans lay, with trembling knees,
Concealed and cowering—the sons of the Maccabees!
The seed of saints, the scions of the lions!
Who, crammed by scores in all the sanctuaries of their shame,
So sanctified My name!
It was the flight of mice they fled,
The scurrying of roaches was their flight;
They died like dogs, and they were dead!
The Kishinev pogrom was instrumental in convincing tens of thousands of Russian Jews to leave for Palestine and became a rallying point for early Zionists.
“It is said that Bialik’s onslaught on Jewish passivity in the face of anti-Semitic violence,” says Ayellet, “inspired the idea of founding Jewish self-defense groups in Russia and later the Haganah in Palestine. You can see why Bialik was so important on so many levels.”
In 1922, Ahad Ha’am, now himself an established philosopher and writer and resident of Tel Aviv, attended the foundation stone-laying ceremony for Bialik’s house.”
Bialik’s original ‘The City of Slaughter’ is housed in the museum.
Across the square from the Bialik Museum is Beit Hair – Hebrew for ‘Town Hall’. The writer’s guide is Ruthie Amoma an instructor at the Bialik Center. Beit Ha’ir is both a museum and a cultural center. Here visitors will find a permanent exhibition focusing on the life and work of Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv’s first mayor, alongside a photo exhibition that sets out to reflect and debate different aspects of the city’s history. Entitled ‘Revealing the Hidden City’, Ruthie explains that “the idea was to tell the story of Tel Aviv not from the writings and studies of historians but from the pictures and interviews of the residents of Tel Aviv. We set out to not only record what is known but to explore that which was unknown, hence the title of the exhibition.”
Who better to tell the story than the people themselves?
“An appeal went out to Tel Avivians,” continues Ruthie, “to submit photographs and to be interviewed. We anticipated receiving from some 3000 residents, which would have been sufficient to open the museum. But we were not banking on the enthusiasm of the residents of Tel Aviv. We received a staggering 28,000 photographs leading to new insights on the history of Tel Aviv!”
It is this enthusiasm that so characterizes the personality of Tel Aviv today.
The magnitude of the transition from the sand dunes of 1909 to the city of the 1930s is brought home when Ruthie guides me to Mayor Dizengoff’s majestic office that overlooks Bialik Square. Hung upon the wall behind the solid desk of Tel Aviv’s first mayor is a giant size original 1930s plan of the city, depicting in detail the spread and sizes of land ownership. Some of these lots would have been owned by those very founding families that participated in the beach lottery on the sand dunes in 1909 and seen in the iconic photograph, also in his office.
Clearly, if Tel Aviv of the 1930s was a ‘City on the Move’, it is even more so today, testifying to the best definition I have heard of Israel’s cultural capital:
“A city that wakes up every morning deciding what’s it’s going to be.”
Continuously evolving and redefining itself, Tel Aviv is a smorgasbord of ideas and it’s all captured in one short street called Bialik.
It’s well worth a visit.
* Title photo: Bialik Street viewed from the plaza with Bialik’s house on the left. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)