EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT CHANUKAH BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK

By Jonathan Feldstein

Recently, I was asked to teach about Chanukah with a church group in Dallas. I entered the conversation thinking it was really quite straight forward, that most Christians at least in America surrounded by a Judeo-Christian culture, know at least the basics about the holiday.

I began by relating a story about when I did a teaching two years ago with a group of pastors in Africa, who have no interaction with Jews or Jewish culture. One pastor stated excitingly that it seemed like such a great holiday, we should celebrate it more often. I always found that one of the most charming jumping off point for discussion, even with Christians in America who know much more, but typically don’t know as much as one would think.

Chanukah is the celebration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Greek enemies of Israel. Rather than destroying the Temple, again, they desecrated it, which left it unfit for ritual use.

The answer to my African pastor friend as to why we don’t celebrate Chanukah more often is because Chanukah is always celebrated on the 25th of the Biblical month of Kislev, the day that the Temple was rededicated, some 2200 years ago.

The restoration of the Temple was made possible by a military victory under the leadership of Judah Maccabi. The name Maccabi has become synonymous with strength and overcoming enemies. It has also been adapted for use in popular culture, among other things the name of a popular musical group and a line of frozen kosher foods in America, as well as the name of one of Israel’s largest health funds.

Most Christians know that Chanukah is an eight-day holiday commemorating the miracle that during the rededication of the Temple enough pure oil was found to light the menorah for one day, but which miraculously lasted for eight days. For eight days we light candles, increasing one candle each night. We eat traditional foods that are fried in oil commemorating the miracle of the oil. Not so healthy but decadent and tasty.

Chanukah is also a musical holiday during which it is customary to sing Psalms 113 to 118, called Hallel, thanking God for the miracles He has performed. There are also many songs celebrating the miraculous victory over Israel‘s enemies.

But even if you were a biblically literate Christian with a deep knowledge of Judaism, how would you know all this about Chanukah since it is not featured prominently in the Bible. For answers to this and other questions delving into the how and why of what we do, I hosted Rabbi Avi Baumol on my Inspiration from Zion podcast.

During my teaching in Dallas, I received questions relating to who lights the candles and why. There were questions relating to the giving of presents as well, with a popular misconception that every family gives every member a present every night. I explained that each family has its tradition.

Also, because Chanukah is not one of the Biblical pilgrimage festivals during which all forms of labor are prohibited as instructed in the Bible, it offers an opportunity for families to have larger social gatherings, employ different traditions. Especially in Israel where it is a public holiday and schools are closed, it’s common for people to travel throughout the country, or even overseas during our popular winter vacation.

I also related how in Israel, weeks and sometimes months before Chanukah, the whole culture begins to focus on the holiday. This includes Chanukah displays in stores, the increasing number of Chanukah delicacies on offer such as latkes and brisket to kugel and jelly doughnuts –  and more. And it’s as mundane as hearing Chanukah songs as background music in malls and other public places, replete with seasonal sales that also employ the holiday themes.  

As much as this was new information for many of the participants, I especially liked engaging them about the place in the New Testament where Chanukah is mentioned. It’s so subtle that if you don’t know what the first century Jewish culture is about, you wouldn’t necessarily know that John 10:22 is talking about Jesus celebrating Chanukah in Jerusalem. But if you don’t know what “the Festival of the dedication” is, you would have no idea that Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate the holiday.  

As an Orthodox Jew with less familiarity with the New Testament, this raised many interesting questions which we discussed, but many of which were still unanswered.

Since Chanukah is not a pilgrimage holiday like Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost), Sukkot (Tabernacles) when Jews were expected to worship and bring offerings to the Temple, I asked why Jesus was in Jerusalem anyway.

I wanted to understand why this one reference in all of the New Testament was there to begin with. Was it the only time that Jesus came to Jerusalem for the holiday and if so why and what was going on? Or is there something that was unique about this one particular visit, and it’s assumed that Jesus spent many winters celebrating Chanukah in Jerusalem. Unlike today when one can drive between Nazareth and Jerusalem in under three hours, making a pilgrimage by foot or donkey would take days, and days of planning. Forget the time off work.

While the conversation was going on, one person googled and shared some information which affirmed that it was customary for first century Jews to go to the Temple. After all, the military conquest and rededication of the Temple was relatively modern history to them.

This did not answer my questions, but did affirm something that should not be forgotten and that is that Jesus was a first century Jew, his life and culture were Jewish, and he worshiped in the Temple according to Jewish tradition. In a world where ‘Replacement Theology’ (i.e. that God has rejected the Jews and they are no longer his chosen people) remains widespread, and some try to erase the centrality of Jerusalem to Jews (and therefore Christians), it’s important that we remember this, and that Christians understand that everything Jesus did was essentially Jewish.



About the writer:

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





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

MUSICAL DIPLOMACY

Rhetoric from Iran is met by melody from Israel

By David E. Kaplan

Isn’t it ironic  that while the leadership of Iran threatens Israel with destruction, people in Iran are being inspired by the music of an Israeli, as they bravely take to the streets to protest against this very regime .

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Islamic Republic of Iran has considered the Jewish state an enemy, making visiting – and even artistic cooperation – a punishable offense. Now that a song by an Israeli artist has now emerged as the Iranian “protest anthem”, I wonder if the self-proclaimed master of English irony  – Jeremy Corbyn  – appreciates Iranian ‘irony’?

Opening Doors. Liraz Charhi seen here photographed by Rotem Lebel in the Jaffa neighborhood of Tel Aviv for ROSE & IVY.

Resonating across Iran are Israeli  Liraz Charhi‘s lyrics:

 Until when will we be silent, until when will we keep our head down?”

With the people no longer “silent” nor keeping their “heads down”, it is little wonder Liraz Charhi’s music has emerged as the soundtrack to Iran protests that were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police after being arrested for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code.

Women are saying Eneough. Iran is witnessing one of its worst unrests after the country’s morality police physically assaulted a 22-year-old Kurdish girl Mahsa Amini to death for wearing her hijab inappropriately. Her death has sparked a global protest against restrictions on women in Iran

It makes little difference to Iranians of every class and culture who are protesting for a regime change that Chardi has worn the uniform of the Israeli army. As a conscript, music was Chardi’s weapon serving in the military band of the Education and Youth Corps.

Born in Ramla in central Israel to a family of Persian origin, the Israeli actress, singer and dancer is a niece to Israel’s internationally famous singer and actress – Rita. Frequently singing in her native Persian language, Rita has been referred to as a cultural ambassador between Israeli and Iranian citizens hoping to “puncture the wall of tension” between their countries. In this quest her niece Liraz Charhi has joined her.

Female Freedoms. ‘Zan Bezan’ translated to ‘Women, Sing’ is an invitation to join Liraz’s private revolution of song and dance, calling on women in the Middle East and around the globe to build on the positive language of female freedoms.

Charhi told Israel’s Channel 12 that her first album, “NAZ”  – which featured Iranian artists  – was well received in the Islamic Republic after it was released in 2018.

Very quickly I received videos of women dancing in underground parties and removing their chador and dancing to these songs,” she said.

Clearly, Charhi was having an impact. She was as the headlines proclaimed:

“….. SINGING FOR HER SISTERS

Inspired perhaps by the changes that came about in the 1960s fueled by the freedom-loving music of the period, Charhi observes events in Iran with a mixture of fear and hope as her “sisters” protest against the repressive regime by burning their headscarves. “I’ve always believed women can make the revolution in Iran – we have the force to create change!”

Singing for her Sisters. Iranian women demonstrate against repression, Israeli-Iranian singer Liraz Charhi’s new album was made for them.

Especially these days she asserts:

I’m very proud of my sisters and I support them and am with them in every breath.”

While Charhi grew up in a traditional Iranian home with Farsi-speaking, Persian-Jewish parents, as an Israeli she has never been allowed to visit the land of her heritage. But profoundly connected she is.

If unable to visit Iran with her body, she does so with her personality and talent.

ROYA IS REALISED

The saga behind the production of her latest album ROYA is most revealing. It was something like out of the Israeli award-winning spy thriller ‘Tehran’ in which Charhi stars as a Mossad agent. Cutting the album ROYA became a covert mission necessitating  to secretly meet with the Iranian musicians – including women – at a recording studio in Istanbul. It was so risky that Charhi only revealed to her family only the day before she left Israel. “Not evern my manager believed it would actually happen,” she says.

 “Liraz, this is dangerous. Are you sure?’ he said to her to which she replied:

 “It will happen.”

Tough Call. Liraz Charhi as Mossad agent Yael Kadosh in “Tehran.” (AppleTV+)

Turkey was selected as it’s one of the few countries Iranians can travel to without a visa. Nevertheless, the artists came on the condition that their faces would be blurred in any photographs taken and that their names would not be published anywhere.

It could have been out of the script of  the ‘Tehran’ mini-series. While quietly buying the air tickets for her Israeli band members, Charhi then hired a Turkish company to look after the ‘unnamed’ Iranian musicians, who would be met by security at the airport in Istanbul and taken secretly to the studio.

I knew that they would come,” she says. The fact that they were participating anonymously “meant they did not do it for money or publicity. They did it because we’re sharing the same dream and the same hope of meeting together and bringing our music and our love to the world.”

This resonated with the name of the album
ROYA, which in Persian means ‘fantasy’ or ‘dream’.
For all her conviction, until the minute the musicians landed in Istanbul and were united in the underground studio with her Israeli band of three women and three men, Charhi was more than anxious.
I kind of fainted in the recording,” she says. “I felt that I could not sing.” This fear permeated in the song recorded Tunha, meaning “alone”. It came through in a slight quiver in her voice lending authenticity to what these musicians were going through just to make a recording!

She could so easily have been “alone”  – in the sense without her Iranians – but as Herzl wrote, “If you will it, it is no dream.”

It turned out it was no dream. ROYA had been realized.

Charhi was moved by their bravery.

I waited all my life to meet my friends and family from Iran; the fact that you weren’t afraid and were brave is… WOW,” said Charhi as she welcomed the musicians on their safe arrival at the studio in Istanbul.

One of the musicians told Channel 12:

I know this might be dangerous, but I do what I love.”

Message of the Music. The music of Israeli singer and actress Liraz Charhi, recorded in collaboration with Iranian artists, has become widely associated with recent protests in the Islamic Republic.

Music mission

Charhi’s cause-driven cultural mission continued unabated. Following the recording of the album, she went on tour over the summer when she was offered an opportunity by the Jewish Culture Festival to perform with her Iranian musicians at the Old Synagogue in Krakow, Poland.

Incredibly, the Iranians agreed as long as they were masked so golden hijabs were woven to conceal their identities.  However, one of the artists insisted on showing part of her hair and was later identified and suffered repercussions in Iran for performing with an Israeli.

I Have a Dream

Since the outbreak of protests in Iran which have claimed over 200 lives so far – including over 28 children – at the hands of the security services, Charhi has received messages of support from fans in Iran over Instagram.

Thank you for being our voice, I will never be forgotten,” one message read.

I love your songs in Persian and hope that one day you will sing in beautiful Tehran,” another supporter wrote.

This second message brought back memories for me when I interviewed Charhi’s aunt Rita in in 2014 for Hilton Israel Magazine. Iranian-born Israeli pop singer and actress, Rita has mesmerized audiences globally from concert halls to Britain’s House of Lords and the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York. Her message has always one of love – that music unites people irrespective of their religion and nationality.

Aunty Rita. “There’s no quarrel between Israelis and Iranians, just between governments,” says Liraz Charhi’s aunt, Israel’s premier female vocalist, Rita  Jahan-Foruz seen here in 2014 with then US President Barak Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres.

When I asked, “What’s next?” she replied:

.“There is a saying in Arabic that says, ‘Throw your heart forward and fetch it.’ It does not matter if the dream is realistic or reasonable but one has to chase it.  My dream is to sing in Persian in Iran.”

You really believe this will happen,” I asked

Yes,” she said and then with a broad smile, “and still when I have my own teeth.”

Who knows, maybe sometime soon, niece and aunt will  fulfill their dream of singing in Iran in Persian.

May the Tehran of tomorrow be the location not of spy thrillers but musical concerts.

As a plan  it ‘SOUNDS’ GOOD!







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

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF HERZL

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

By Rolene Marks

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

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

Members of WIZO delegation

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

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

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

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

Dr. Theodor Herzl.

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

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

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

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

 WIZO delegates with Sheikh al Mansur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Herzl and I reflect





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

FLIGHTPLAN TO FREEDOM

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

By Jonathan Feldstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BACK ON THE BEACH

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

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

He wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Gefen Publishing





About the writer:

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





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

‘Ruck’ & Roll

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

By David E. Kaplan

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

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

In sport parlance – “It’s on track”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This has frequently proved the impact of the Maccabiah.

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

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

FAMILY AFFAIR

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

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

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

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

What was interesting, continues Stanley:

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

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

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

SHOOTING STARS

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

 “This place is rocking.”

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

 “What a VIBE!”

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

Who would indeed!

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

UPROAR IN THE STANDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

THE WRITE STUFF

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

By David E. Kaplan 

            

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

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

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

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

 “Nobel Prizes have been given for less.”

His response:

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

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

His face broadening into a wide smile, he concludes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I see this book as my finest achievement.”

How is it different from your other novels?

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

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

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

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

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

What do you mean by failure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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

 

GOOD vs EVIL

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

It means many will die.

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

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

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


A WORD – A NAME

By Charlotte Cohen

A single word imprints perception and relativity  

The difference between honour and horror

Between freedom and captivity

Humanity and brutality  


Often deserving of the hatred and anger

Stemming from extortionate cruelty and danger  

Even offering justification for the killing of an abuser

One still earns the egregious classification of  ‘murderer’


But those who brutally and remorselessly

Kill anyone at random – including themselves 

Caused by inveterate irrationality and hatred

With which they have been indoctrinated

– Or even for a gratuity or family security

Are described by what almost gives legitimacy

To fanatical iniquity:  That word is ‘terrorist’

Now often ascribed with a sense of normality


Yet one single person   

Living and languishing in luxury

Never getting his own hands dirty

With no indoctrinated hatred – but rather fixated

On self-love, land acquisition and addictive power 

Can decree the destruction of a country

And order massacre and mass murder

With one word:    

‘War’.


Names also leave an unchanging word image:

And just as Adolf Hitler epitomises evil     

To the diabolic list of heartless and vicious

Persecutors, oppressors , tyrants and villains 

We can now add that of Vladimir Putin.

And to leaders who gained worldwide respect and fame 

Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela ….

`            We can also now attach another name:


Out of Ukraine devastated by Putin

Arose a man of extraordinary talent and diversity

Suddenly thrust with the horrific responsibility

Of a not-sought-for war forced upon him

And though he did not expect it

He never neglected to meet it                                                        

A man of intelligence, conscience, spirit and heart 

Of principle, resolution and tenacity –

He never gave in or gave up

Or abrogated his duty

Volodymyr Zelensky’s name will remain in history

Making commitment and courage his own story

So as a word-name reflects a representation

Of how a mental image will be retained:   

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

 a cruel pitiless despot,  a tyrannical dictator

   ‘Zelensky’ –  a hero, an inspiration

a champion, a protector,  a warrior, a victor





About the Poet:

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





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

CELEBRATING JERUSALEM EVERY DAY

By Jonathan Feldstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s when it hit me. 

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

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

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

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

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

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



About the writer:

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





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

Israel – Kaleidoscope of Cultures

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

By Rolene Marks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

Celebrating Passover

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

By Justin Amler

The greatest story in history is upon once again.

And oh… what a story it is.

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

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

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

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

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

But it didn’t end.

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

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

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

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

We cannot afford to remain silent.

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

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

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

We were Israelites.

We were Jews.

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

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

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

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



About the writer:

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






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