No matter the opposing odds and tough terrain, Aussies charge ahead. They did it over a 100 years ago in 1917 in Beersheba in helping to boot the Ottoman Turks out of Palestine and they will be doing it again in July 2020 when Australian singer/songwriter Nick Cave and his band, The Bad Seeds, will be returning to Tel Aviv.
“Bad Seeds” is a misnomer if ever there was one. We need more of these ‘seeds’!
And may they flourish.
The show will take place at Bloomfield Stadium, as part of a world tour promoting Cave’s album Ghosteen, which deals in part with the tragic death of his 15-year-old son in 2015; after a fall from a cliff.
When he takes to the stage in Tel Aviv – he will again be giving the finger to BDS.
When last appearing in Israel to a packed Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv in 2017, Cave defied pressure from the BDS movement and said he came to Israel “not despite of” but “because of BDS.”
What did he mean?
Calling a press conference, the rocker said “After a lot of thought and consideration, I rang up my people and said, ‘We’re doing a European tour and Israel.’ Because it suddenly became very important to make a stand against those people who are trying to shut down musicians; to bully musicians, to censor musicians, and to silence musicians.”
He went on to say that he “loves Israel,” and that he wanted to take “a principled stand against anyone who tries to censor and silence musicians.” He concluded by inferring the BDS Movement’s strategy is backfiring.
“So really, you could say, in a way, that the BDS made me play Israel.”
On his website last year, Cave slammed ongoing efforts to impose a boycott on Israel, calling them “cowardly and shameful.”
And this is not to say that he is a supporter of the government of Israel. He is clearly not.
“I do not support the current government in Israel, yet do not accept that my decision to play in the country is any kind of tacit support for that government’s policies. I am aware of the injustices suffered by the Palestinian population, and wish, with all people of good conscience, that their suffering is ended via a comprehensive and just solution, one that involves enormous political will on both sides of the equation.”
This kind of balanced understanding is a far cry from the venomous position of Roger Waters the most visibly public advocate and roving ambassador of BDS that openly promotes – not the “Two State Solution” – but the dissolution of the state of Israel. Cave would have none of it from the Pink Floyd cofounder with his giant-size inflated pig-shaped balloons emblazoned with a Star of David alongside fascist symbols customarily released during concerts.
If his ancestors took on the Ottoman Turks over a 100 years earlier, Roger Waters and hid BDS cohorts prove they are no match for this principled rocker.
Prior to his 2017 concert, Cave had previously performed in Israel ’93, ’95 and ’98 and enjoys reflecting that when “we came to Israel 20 years ago or so, did a couple tours of Israel, I felt a huge connection. Not just ‘people-talk’ of loving a country, but I just felt on some sort of level, a connection that I can’t actually really describe.”
“At the end of the day,” explained Cave in Tel Aviv in 2017, ‘there are two reasons why I’m here: one is that I love Israel and I love Israeli people, and two is to make a principled stand against anyone who tries to censor and silence musicians. So really, you could say, in a way, that the BDS made me play Israel.”
Waters can remain at the ‘Dark Side of his Moon’ as there has been no letup of artists touring Israel from pop queen Jennifer Lopez, to the 2019 Eurovision Song Competition held in Tel Aviv.
In keeping with the lyrics of Rhianna who has performed numerous times in Israel:’:
“Don’t Stop The Music”
*Feature picture: Australian musician and writer Nick Cave has elaborated on his stance regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. https://www.irishtimes.com/ (Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images).
This week I have been thinking a lot especially about sports. It could be because I am still feeling the high many of us, including ex-pat South Africans are feeling after watching the Springboks (South Africa’s national rugby team) serve England’s team a thumping to win the Rugby World Cup.
It wasn’t just rugby that won that day, it was a nation. The Springboks proved that it is possible to rise above your circumstances, your race, religion and past prejudices and that, coupled with tenacity and a will to win, delivered one of the greatest moments in sports. It was more than the speeches from coach, Erasmus and team captain, Siya Kolisi – the guys in green and gold played for unity. They played for hope. And they delivered.
We know that South Africa is fraught with problems and that winning a global sports championship will not provide an instant fix, but they proved what could be accomplished when you pull together and focus on the greater good. Growing up during the Apartheid years in South Africa, where rugby was emblematic of the regime, it was inconceivable that the Springboks would be a team of players from all races, with a black captain. I don’t think there was a dry eye across South Africa (well, save for a few spoil sports – pun intended – who see unity as anathema) or for many who knew we were witnessing history. The late human rights icon, Nelson Mandela, recognized the role that sports could play in healing and reconciliation. The Springbok win took many back to the day in 1995 when Madiba weaved his magic and mistrust and old hatreds seemed forgotten.
The Springbok win got me thinking a lot about the power of sports in healing conflict in other parts of the world.
Sport plays an important role in trying to heal rifts in the Middle East as well. While sometimes respect and sportsman – like behavior is a casualty and some pay a heavy price for their efforts to be conciliatory, there is no doubt that whether it is facing off on the soccer pitch or wrestling on the mat, people are brought together for the common goal – winning.
The power of sports to bring people together has also been recognized by entities like BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanction) who will try every trick in the book to try and scupper any attempts for normalization between Israelis – and anyone else. Their belief that boycotts, be they culture or sports, will force Israel to change policies they see as racist.
Their latest pet project of hate is trying to encourage a boycott of the sports apparel company, Puma, who sponsor the Israeli soccer/football team.
This has backfired spectacularly. The Team is a microcosm of Israeli society, including Bedouin, Circassian, Muslim and Jewish players and nobody is interested in BDS’s divisive tactics. Needless to say, the boycott failed miserably.
At the same time BDS were whining about boycotts, Brazil and Israel were planning a match to be played in Haifa. The Shalom game, a friendly match between Brazil and Israel was played on the 29th of October, 2019. This was billed as a celebration of “Football, Peace and Fraternity” and featured legends Ronaldinho, Kaka, Rivaldo, Batu, and other major Brazilian team players who have won the World Cup and visited the Jewish State to promote the message of peace and brotherhood. Ronaldinho took to his social media to speak about how happy he was to be in Israel and faced a barrage of hatred. It didn’t bother him at all – the message of brotherhood and peace is greater than hate.
Some have not fared as well.
This lesson was learnt the hard way by Iranian Judoka, Saeid Mollaei who was instructed not only to lose his match with Israeli counterpart, Sagi Muki, but said that even his family were threatened should he face off against his rival. Mollaei was afraid to return home after exposing and criticizing his government’s pressure on him to deliberately lose and avoid a potential bout against an Israeli opponent.
Moallei fled to Berlin after the championships, where he had been hoping to secure a place at the 2020 Olympic Games. He was recently granted asylum.
International Judo Federation has suspended Iran indefinitely for the regimes’ discriminatory treatment of Israel.
Sport has the unique ability to unite and inspire and improve the prospects of tolerance and brotherhood.
It doesn’t matter what kind of sport it is or what level, when unity and tolerance trumps conflict, this is the ultimate championship. Just ask Siya Kolisi.
I saw him from across the road, his eyes darting towards the entrance to the Aden Jewish heritage museum in Tel-Aviv . I could tell he was thinking about coming in for a visit even before he stubbed out the cigarette he was smoking; and crossed the street.
From his unhurried gait he didn’t appear like a tourist, but neither did he look like a local. He greeted me in accented English – Australian, as it turned out to be. He told me that he is posted here for a year, working for an international organization. But I could tell his origins weren’t from Australia, as he confirmed, while I answered his questions about the history of the Jewish community in the region of Aden and Yemen; and he told me his family was from around that region.
“From Yemen?”, I asked.
“Nearby. My father is from Sudan and my mother from Egypt.”, he replied.
He grew up in Australia. One foot in the west, the other in the east – retaining something of the heritage and Islamic faith of his family, and speaking both English and Arabic. But he also surprised me with a few sentences in Hebrew which he’d learnt at university in Melbourne.
I took him around the museum, telling him about the exhibits. And I pointed out a couple of pictures that I thought would be of particular interest.
“That was the synagogue in Port Said, Egypt. There was once a large community there, many of whom came originally from Aden.”
‘What happened to them, did they eventually integrate into the rest of the population?’ he asked.
‘No,’ I whispered. ‘They were all forced to leave in 1956 – along with most of the Jews living in Egypt.’
The shock was evident on his face. And so he came to learn something of the history of the vanished communities all around the Middle East.
As we continued, he asked if he, as a Muslim, was allowed to visit a shul (synagogue). In all his time in Israel, he hasn’t yet done so. I told him of course he could and took him up to visit ours. He donned a kippa, and he gazed around in wonder, admiring everything. I explained the various features to him. For example, that the person who leads the services faces the same direction as the community.
‘Just like in a mosque,’ he replied.
The reason why you won’t find any depictions of our prophets or pictures of Rabbis there.
‘Just like in a mosque,’ he said.
We talked about how the problem isn’t all the different religions, but those who come and turn it to their advantage – and as something to use against others. There was no dispute, just agreement.
I pointed out the Aron Kodesh (the ark in a synagogue that contains the Torah scrolls) and explained to him, ‘Every synagogue around the whole world faces in the direction of Jerusalem. Just like every mosque faces Mecca.’
‘I never knew that,’ he replied.
He gazed up at the stained glass windows and to my surprise he then said a Hebrew phrase about God. Contemplating, we stood in silence for a few moments. Two people from different worlds, backgrounds, religions but who pray to the same God.
We stood there, facing Jerusalem.
Sarah Ansbacher is a writer and storyteller. She also works at the Aden Jewish Heritage Museum in Tel Aviv.
*Feature picture: Two faiths, one prayer: Muslims and Jews come together to pray. (Photo:Jewish Journal)
Looking at the best cities for travelers who love street food, the data for its Street Food Index 2019 drew from a survey conducted over three months – mid-July to mid-September – of 92,000 business travelers and 1,400 corporate travel agents in 86 countries.
Preceding Tel Aviv’s 7th’s lot was Singapore which took the top spot, followed by Bangkok, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Mumbai and Rome.
The familiar proverb “When in Rome…” apples as much to Tel Aviv, so when in the coastal town ranked by Time Out as the N0. 1 city in the Middle East with “a notorious reputation as a wild non-stop city with a great nightlife and music scene”, tuck into its unique street cuisine.
Despite the availability today in Tel Aviv-Jaffa of cuisine from all over the world, what remains most popular is its signature ‘street food” that is definitively local and an ‘appetizing’ introduction into Israeli culture.
After exploring antiquities to art galleries and still have an ‘appetite’ for more, where better to sink your teeth deeper into Israeli culture, then trying its cuisine, and where better to take your first bite than on Tel Aviv’s bustling, pulsating streets.
Blaming the weather for all manner of things is fashionable the world over. Less so in Israel!
It may be that our tasty, popular street food is indebted to Israel’s perennial sunny and warm weather. The fact that one can walk outside and eat outdoors, has created an easy laidback cuisine that gels with the Israel temperament – open, candid and ‘catering’ for loud and boisterous conversation.
Most countries have some indigenous street food, so what’s Israel’s most popular and where best to look?
Some Like It Hot!
The one indisputable street food that has developed into a national dish is falafel. These are balls made of hummus and spices and fried in deep oil.
It is usually served in a fresh pita (round pocket bread) with a variety of salads, tahina (paste made from ground, hulled sesame seeds) and pickles, and if you enjoy fiery hot sauce then you must add skhug (a hot green or red Yemenite chili sauce). Folk with more sensitive palates might dismiss this relish more suitable for gas tanks than gullets, but for most seasoned falafel eaters, it’s a vital component.
“You don’t eat a hot dog without mustard. Same as falafel – you add skhug,” says Avi from Ramat Gan, who the writer met tucking into his falafel in pita at Dr. Shakshuka in Jaffa. “This is one of my favorite places for falafel and Shawarma,” says Avi. His wife Ruti was tucking into a shawarma, but without the skhug. “Not for me,” she says, with Avi adding, “she’s hot enough already!”
If in the typically Israeli family of street-food, falafel is the favourite son, then its favourite daughter is shawarma. It comprises cuts of meat (usually turkey, but originally shawarma was made of mutton) which is packed into a pita or laffa (a large Iraqi pitta, which one fills and rolls like a huge taco), with salads and French fries. And if you are wondering why the French fries, it’s a case of mid-east meets west.
One of the most popular ethnic eateries in Jaffa, Dr. Shakshuka takes its name from the dish Shakshuka, which is a pan-fried casserole of poached eggs and spicy tomato sauce, the restaurant’s most popular dish. Dr. Shakshuka’s many versions of this dish emanate from Libya and have solidly cemented a reputation in Jaffa over three family generations in the business.
Believing they are “specialists” in this cuisine, explains the “Dr” in the restaurant’s name. But there’s much more here to enjoy: Tripoli-style couscous with mafrum (potato stuffed with ground meat, served with stewed beef and vegetable soup); stuffed vegetables; kishke (North African-style intestine stuffed with meat and rice); grilled lamb patties; and fresh grilled or fried fish. Main courses come with a spread of fresh pita and eight Middle Eastern salads.
Best Kept Secret
While hummus, falafel, and even shawarma, are well-known outside the Middle East, sabich – described by one food critic as “the ultimate Israeli street food” – remains one of the country’s best-kept secrets.
Sabich is a pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, hummus, tahina, and vegetable salad, while some versions contain boiled-potatoes as well. Pickled cucumbers, chopped parsley, and onions seasoned with purple sumac are usually added, as well as the sauces skhug oramba.
While making sabich may seem simple enough, true lovers of it say that preparing it “just right” is an art form that few truly master. One, who according to Tel Aviv folklore has earned this title of ‘master’, is Oved Daniel, referred to as the “Diego Maradona of Sabich”. Like the revered Argentinean who dominated football in his day, Oved, has been dominating Israel’s sabich scene from his little corner on Sirkin Street in Givatayim, adjacent to Tel Aviv, for nearly three decades. Customers are reputed to flock there from all over the country. Tel Avivians now no longer have to make the trek as Oved subsequently opened a branch in Tel Aviv on Karlebach Street.
Oved reveals that “People eat here from all over the world, and many ask about opening branches in the States. I tell ’em, “Forget it, it can’t be done!” They won’t be able to find the right ingredients and importing them will impair the quality.”
Oved offers a sound solution to their problem – “Visit Israel often
While some might assert that hummus and falafel are essentially Arab dishes ‘adopted’ by Israelis, sabich is unarguably a local Israeli concoction. The core ingredients can be found in the traditional Shabbat-breakfast of Iraqi Jews, but the idea of putting them into a pita and eating them as a sandwich is purely Israeli. Apparently, the credit for this culinary achievement rests with one Sabich Halabi, an Iraqi immigrant who opened what is believed to be the first sabich stand in Ramat Gan in 1961.
One central quality sabich eatery is on the corner of Dizengoff Street and Frieshman Street simply called – Sabich Frishman. It is reputed to be the first place that locals recommend, and as one food critic wrote:
“If lines and smell give any hint of quality, it’s hardly a surprise why.”
While many of these street food eateries are referred as “hole-in-the wall” establishments, one must not be put off – this is part of their charm, and often the less attractive on the outside, might be a cover-up for the best food in town. This is typical of Tel Aviv cuisine deception.
Another top Sabich establishment that comes highly recommended is Sabich Tchernichovsky whose food one food critic described, “rivals my grandmother’s.”
Could you ask for a better endorsement?
“From the moment you walk in, you know you’re in good hands. Despite the ever-existent line, the employees take their time constructing each and every sabich. Each ingredient is layered artfully in the perfect pita, providing the ideal combination of flavours in every bite. The delicious eggplant is thin and crispy, packing a flavourful kick with its unique and unidentifiable seasoning. It combines well with the soft creaminess of the boiled egg and pickled flavor of the amba.” There is also the option of ordering your sabich with a cheese that “is both gentle and tart, balancing the smoky eggplant and flavourful egg yolk.”
Yemen On The Yarkon
Included in the long list of tantalizing Israeli delights, dishes necessitating salivating overseas visitors to board a plane is Jachnun, described as “heavenly Yemen pastry.”
While Jachnun is available at eateries across Tel Aviv, you may want to enjoy it in an absolutely authentic setting – its Yemenite Quarter.
A charming, twisting enclave of cobblestone streets, low-slung buildings and some of the best home cooking, Tel Aviv’s Yemenite Quarter – also known as “Kerem HaTeimanim” or as locals call it “The Kerem” – is one of the world’s last thriving communities of Yemenite Jews.
Described poignantly; as well as poetically by Debra Kamin in Fodor’sTravel as “a community with a stopped clock…. where stout grandmothers stir rich, cartilage-thick soups and gossiping neighbors gather in courtyards under the hush of flowering pink mulberry trees,” where better that to savor Yemenite cuisine and in particular Jachnun.
Left in a slow oven overnight, Jachnun is prepared from dough which is rolled out thinly, brushed with shortening (traditionally, clarified butter or samneh), and rolled up, similar to puff pastry. turns a dark amber colour and has a slightly sweet taste. It is traditionally served with a crushed/grated tomato dip, hard boiled eggs, and the traditional hot sauce Zhug. The dough used for Jachnun is the same as that used for the Yemini flatbread – malawach.
Another delight, malawach resembles a thick pancake consisting of thin layers of puff pastry brushed with oil and cooked flat in a frying pan. It is traditionally served with hard-boiled eggs, Zhug – of course – and a crushed or grated tomato dip. For those who prefer a sweet taste, it is frequently served with honey.
A staple of Yemenite Jews in Israel, it has become a favourite “Street Food” for all Israelis irrespective of background or ethnic origin.
Best GPS – Your Nose!
No serious ‘explorer’ of Israeli street food can avoid a visit to Abulafia in Jaffa. It’s almost ‘universal’ popularity is best expressed by an overseas patron sounding more like a frequent ‘pilgrim’:
“Here are your directions. (1) Board plane for Tel Aviv, (2) Clear immigration and customs, (3) Ask taxi driver to take you to Abulafia. You could tell him that it is in Jaffa, but he already knows.”
Open 24-hours a day, this street-side bakery has been located at the same corner in Jaffa just south of the Jaffa clock tower since 1879, and there are always crowds ordering at the counter. It’s hard to walk past without stopping to order, the smells draw you in, and “once hooked, you’re an addict,” said one customer from Holon who was buying to take home a huge supply of fresh and flavored pitot, bagels, sambusak (stuffed pastry with mushrooms, egg and different cheeses), and a variety of sweet confectionary. “Was it for a party?” I curiously inquire.
“Nope, I have a big family with healthy appetites.”
And while in Jaffa, one must try the local bourekas, a puffed pastry introduced mainly by Jewish Bulgarian immigrants. Its filling is either white cheese, potato or mushrooms. While it’s as easy to find bourekas in Israel as it is to track down falafel, however, just like snowflakes, no two are alike. And like the quest for the best falafel, shwarma or sabich, bourekas-makers have their “to-die-for” customers.
‘Bourikas Leon’ on Oleh Zion Street is the oldest Bulgarian bakery in Jaffa. The owner Avi Cohen is a third-generation Bulgarian in Israel and the bakery, named after his father, was started by his ‘Grandma Julie’ who arrived in 1948 “and was the first to make the phyllo pastry that people would come from all over Israel to buy. This was even before she went into the bourekas business.”
Is bourekas still such a popular food today?
“Absolutely,” answers Avi. “Each year we have more and more new customers while still keeping our local, loyal customer base. It’s funny,” he says, “many of the young people who come today for a bourekas are the children of my father’s customers and the grandchildren of customers ‘Grandma Julie’ served.”
While street food is generally labeled ‘fast food’, and assumed unhealthy, this is not necessarily the case in Israel, where Israelis tend to eat more turkey than red meat, and always accompanied by mounds of fresh salad. It’s practically unheard of to have a meal in Israel – whether at a restaurant or a sidewalk eatery – without lots of salad.
This is why cities like Tel Aviv are vegetarian and vegan friendly.
Most people might not know but Tel Aviv is considered to be the world’s VEGAN capital! There are over 400 vegan-friendly places in Tel Aviv and new ones popping up every week or so that “vegan-friendly” means at least 25% of menu items are plant-based.
While the Tel Aviv’s ‘Street Food’ scene, cannot escape the big-name international chains such as the hamburger behemoths, they however, do not dominate the market. They may allure their customers by illuminating their presence with big, bright colorful lights; still, they are no match still for the small, unassuming sidewalk eateries attracting their loyal customers by offering quality, wholesome Israeli street cuisine.
People in Tel Aviv certainly love their side-walk food.
The rhythms of life on the Israeli side of Gaza border
By David E. Kaplan
A planned dance performance on the Gazan border reminds me of the Gulf War of 1991 when Iraq were raining Scud missiles down on Israel and maestro Zubin Mehta raced back from New York to conduct concerts. “I had many obligations in New York that should have prevented me from coming, but I couldn’t imagine not being here,” he said at the time, while he was director of the New York Philharmonic. He conducted full-house concerts keeping his gas mask nearly as close to him as his baton, “just in case!”
“Can you imagine,” he told this writer in an exclusive interview on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 2016 in Tel Aviv, “Scuds where dropping out of the sky, possibly with chemicals but this did not deter Israelis from wanting to hear classical music.”
It sent a powerful and poignant message not to the likes of Saddam Hussein – a waste of time – but to the people of Israel who were asserting, despite the dire situation, their grit and love of culture.
Fast forward to the present and again that characteristic is being expressed by Liat Dror‘s Sderot-based dance company which is staging a performance on the Gazan border to express “our humanity” in the face of living under constant attack. “It’s my responsibility to put on a show even under rocket fire,” says a proud and defiant Liat, artistic director at the Sderot Adama Dance Company.
So, what is daily life like, living “Under Fire”?
Senior social work supervisor at Ben Gurion University in the Negev (BGU), Yehudit Spanglet is a post-trauma specialist who established the Connections and Links Trauma Center, a mobile unit that frequently brings her to Sderot – a city under fire.
“Without question there are hundreds of people in Sderot and southern Israel who live in a state of continuous trauma. Not only from the rockets which fall, but also from the booms of the Iron Dome defense system; which thankfully intercepts most of the incoming rockets. The blasts which resound in the sky can continue to echo in a person’s ears long after the attack. Many victims of trauma live in fear, even during extended periods of ceasefire. Every time the siren wails and people have to run for cover, the trauma damage from previous attacks is reinforced.”
She cites a visit to Sderot when the city came under attack, and outside on a street, “a woman stood paralyzed, staring up at the sky. Her neck had frozen in fright when the warning siren sounded. Before she could reach a bomb shelter, the missiles of the Iron Dome exploded, seemingly over her head. Her husband didn’t want to take her to the hospital in Ashkelon, so we slowly walked her home with her head still gazing up toward heaven. When she was back in her house, after speaking with her for half an hour, her neck muscles loosened and finally her body relaxed.”
Caught In Crossfire
In defiance of this situation of unrelenting danger for Israelis living near the Gaza border, a dance troupe from the Sderot Adama Dance Company will be staging a performance to emphasize what it is like to be caught in the crossfire – not only of aerial missiles but of “duty, humanity and the importance of the self.”
Liat and her partner Nir Ben Gal, say their new show titled “Love Is Strong as Death” will convey what it means to dance under rocket fire and create art under the thunderous sounds of air-raid sirens and the pounding booms of the missiles.
“Life near the Gaza Strip.” says Liat, “is constantly presenting us with difficult questions regarding the value of art when it’s not exhibited in a museum or safely appreciated in an air-conditioned theater hall.”
The dance company’s latest work balances the situation of national pride and the need to personally defend one’s people – hence the inclusion of martial music in the musical score – but also the human desire for personal space.
“This meeting between the two is very real in my everyday life in the studio,” reveals Liat. It began with her experiences serving in the IDF (Israel Defense Force) “and continued with the very difficult experience of being a parent to soldiers.”
She says the show tackles the real-life questions “of choosing love over war, of dealing with a complex reality and of accepting others – be it a spouse, a neighbour, or someone with opposing political views.”
She asserts that life in Sderot always highlights these questions and “keeps me on constant alert.”
While dance instructors anywhere else in the world might be concerned over issues of students facing personal problems or being ill, Dror is anxious:
“Will we be able to rehearse? Will we get to finish that rehearsal or will the rocket sirens go off? After all, it’s my responsibility to put on a show even under rocket fire.”
She says the troupe uses recordings of “live music from past performances,” including “laughter from the audience, the creaking of the chairs and the sounds of breathing by those present.” To Liat, “it’s a form of correspondence, both with our past, and with its relevance to what’s going on right now in Israel, Sderot, or any place where the gaps are greater than the chance for peace.”
Music To Our Ears
When Israel was at war in Southern Lebanon in 1982, Zubin Mehta brought the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra 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, said Mehta, “the concertgoers rushed the stage to hug the musicians.”
Reflecting years later, “How I would love to see that sight again today,” said the Maestro, “of Arabs and Jews hugging each other. I’m a positive thinker. I know that day will come.”
* Featured Image: From ‘Love is strong as death’ (Photo: Gal Dor)
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.”