The Best of Humanity

The Paralympics showcases the best of the human spirit, resilience, triumph and sporting excellence

By Rolene Marks

I am completely devoid of sporting ability. The only thing I have been able to run for successfully is a shoe sale; I can swim in a pool of emotions and if it requires a bat, stick, racket, hoop and a ball, count me out. It is for this and so many reasons that I love watching the Olympic Games. I marvel at the magnificent sporting prowess of the athletes, celebrating and competing at the pinnacle of their careers. The spirit of sportsmanship evident in the competition transcending politics. I have a healthy appreciation for the sheer tenacity, talent and sportsmanship.

I love the Paralympics even more.

The Paralympics are the embodiment of the triumph of the human spirit and the best of humanity, a sentiment echoed by Andrew Parsons, the President of the International Paralympic Committee when he opened the latest games in Tokyo, Japan.

Andrew Parsons, the President of the International Paralympic Committee

The Paralympics brings together the best international athletes with disabilities and takes place after both the summer and winter games.  

This year, the games are taking place against the backdrop of the omnipresent Corona virus pandemic which means that these amazing sportsmen and women have competed with virtually no spectators but this has not diminished their spirit.

Israel had the best Olympics in its history. Known more for being more of a start-up than sporting nation, we surpassed our expectations with a 4 medal haul – two gold and two bronze. Our Paralympians have even surpassed that! At the time of writing this, our medal tally stands at 4 gold 2 silver and a bronze.

Monumental Medalists. Medal-winning Paralympic swimmers back in Israel on August 20, 2018, from left (seated), Ami Dadon, Iyad Shalabi and Inbal Pezaro; (standing) Mark Malyar, Erel Halevi and Yoav Valinsky. (Photo courtesy of Israel Paralympics Committee)
 

The story behind how the Paralympics started is quite extraordinary.

The games were the brainchild (quite literally!) of Sir Ludwig Guttman CBE FRS, a German-British neurologist. Born on the 3rd of July 1899 in the town of Tost, Upper Silesia, Guttmann always had an affinity with medicine. In 1917, while volunteering at an accident hospital in Königshütte, he encountered his first paraplegic patient, a coal miner with a spinal fracture who later died of sepsis. That same year, Guttmann passed his Abitur at the humanistic grammar school in Königshütte before being called up for military service. Guttmann started studying medicine in April 1918 at the University of Breslau. He transferred to the University of Freiburg in 1919 and received his Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1924 and by 1933, Guttmann was working in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) as a neurosurgeon and lecturing at the university.

Founding Father. Portrait of Professor Sir Ludwig Guttmann the father of the Paralympic movement.

The world would soon dramatically change with the Nazi rise to power and so to for the Guttmann family.

The Nazis assumed power in 1933 and immediately began to target Germany’s Jews. The antisemitic Nuremberg Laws were introduced and as part of these discriminatory measures, Jews were banned from practicing medicine professionally. Guttmann was assigned to work at the Breslau Jewish Hospital, where he became Medical Director in 1937. After Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938 when synagogues, Jewish property and individuals were violently attacked, Guttmann ordered his staff to admit any patients without question. The following day, he justified his decision on a case-by-case basis with the Gestapo. Out of 64 admissions, 60 patients were saved from arrest and deportation to concentration camps.

Man of Vision. Sir Ludwig Guttmann, the Jewish doctor who escaped the Nazis and founded the Paralympics.

In early 1939, Guttmann and his family left Germany, fleeing Nazi persecution of the Jews. An opportunity for escape had come when the Nazis provided him with a visa; and ordered him to travel to Portugal to treat a friend of the Portuguese dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar. Guttmann was scheduled to return to Germany via London when the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) arranged for him to remain in the United Kingdom. He arrived in Oxford, England, on 14 March 1939 with his wife, Else Samuel Guttmann, and their two children: a son, Dennis, and a daughter, Eva, aged six. CARA negotiated with the British Home Office on their behalf, and gave Guttmann and his family £250 (equivalent to £16,000 in 2019) to help them settle in Oxford.

Guttmann continued his spinal injury research at the Nuffield Department of Neurosurgery in the Radcliffe Infirmary. The family became members of the Oxford Jewish community, and Eva remembers becoming friendly with Miriam Margolyes, an actress famous for her role in Harry Potter as Professor Pomona Sprout.  The Jewish community in Oxford grew rapidly as a result of the influx of displaced academic Jews from Europe.

Actress Miriam Margolyes

Guttmann’s skill and reputation in the medical field began to grow.

In September 1943, the British government approached Guttmann with an idea to establish the National Spinal Injuries Centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. The initiative came from the Royal Air Force to make sure that the treatment and rehabilitation of pilots with spinal injuries, “who often crashed on approach with their bombers damaged”. The centre opened on 1 February 1944, and was the United Kingdom’s first specialist unit for treating spinal injuries. Guttmann was appointed its director, a position he held until 1966. He believed that sport was an important method of therapy for the rehabilitation of injured military personnel, helping them build up physical strength and self-respect.

History of the Paralympic Games

Guttmann became a naturalised British citizen in 1945 and organised the first Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled war veterans, which was held at the hospital on 29 July 1948, the same day as the opening of the London Olympics. All participants had spinal cord injuries and competed in wheelchairs. In an effort to encourage his patients to take part in national events, Guttmann used the term Paraplegic Games. These came to be known as the “Paralympic Games“, which later became the “Parallel Games” and grew to include other disabilities.

Early Days. Javelin throw with Ludwig Guttmann watching.

Guttmann was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1950 King’s Birthday Honours, as “Neurological Surgeon in charge of the Spinal Injuries Centre at the Ministry of Pensions Hospital, Stoke Mandeville”. His other investiture honours include being made an Associate Officer of the Venerable Order of Saint John on 28 June 1957, promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1960, and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1966, becoming Sir Ludwig Guttmann!

Right Royal. Her Majesty the Queen congratulating an Israeli participant at the 1969 Stoke Mandeville Games with Ludwig Guttmann looking on. (left)

In 1961, Guttmann founded the International Medical Society of Paraplegia, now the International Spinal Cord Society (ISCoS) and was the inaugural president, a position that he held until 1970. He also became the first editor of the journal, Paraplegia (now named Spinal Cord) and retired from clinical work in 1966; but continued his involvement with sport, seeing the incredible healing effect it had on participants.

Sir Ludwig Guttmann suffered a heart attack in October 1979, and died on 18 March 1980 at the age of 80.

His lasting legacy is the Paralympic Games.

The Paralympic games now include sports as diverse as fencing, basketball, swimming, table-tennis, football, cycling, equestrian events and so many, many more and have inspired other such events such as the hugely popular Invictus Games, founded by Prince Harry for disabled war veterans from different armies from around the world.

Enter Israel. Athletes from Israel enter the stadium during the opening ceremony for the 2020 Paralympics at the National Stadium in Tokyo, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
 

Today’s Paralympic athletes are a reflection of their great founder, Sir Ludwig Guttmann. The athletes that compete are the embodiment of the human spirit, of tenacity, endurance, courage, perseverance and fortitude. I cannot help but think that Sir Ludwig Guttmann (MD) would be so proud of how the games have grown and the joy they inspire.

This is the human spirit at its best!

A Cry for the Women of Afghanistan

The swift pullout of allied troops leaves a human catastrophe in its wake as the Taliban take over Afghanistan.

By Rolene Marks

For a brief moment in time, the people of Afghanistan had hope. The presence of allied troops in their beleaguered country, sworn to fight the war on terror and topple the oppressive, fundamentalist Taliban meant that the Afghan people could envision a future for themselves, they could have agency again and the most important, women and young girls could feel more safe, they could have access to education again and they could be treated as human beings.

This all came to a crushing halt as over a matter of days, the Taliban swept through the country, taking territory after territory until the capital, Kabul fell into their control. The former President, Gharni, fled and the images of the Americans hastily evacuating their embassy will now live on as a new day of infamy. The speed and haste of retreat was staggering and many compared it to images of the USA retreating from Saigon during the Vietnam War.

Traumatised by Taliban. Prepared to go to any lengths to escape,  horrific scenes as people fall from a plane in Kabul in bid to escape the Taliban.

The enduring image for me is the footage of human beings falling to certain death as they lose their grip on the landing gear of the airplanes they cling to as the plane climbs in altitude. This shows me the desperation and lengths that people will go, to escape what we all know will be a brutal future – if they are not caught first. It reminded me of those awful images from 9/11, when people jumped to their death out of the burning towers to avoid being incinerated. The irony is that the war on terror started with those images and came to an end in Afghanistan with eerie similarities.

In the wake of the fall of Kabul, the situation for women has deteriorated rapidly and is getting worse by the day. Prominent women have had their homes or business daubed with paint by the Taliban so that they are easily identified, female journalists have been taken off air and axed, rape squads roam the streets and there have been reports of Taliban men going from house to house, rounding up young girls to become sex slaves or wives for their “fighters”. It is a human rights catastrophe.

Homira Rezai, who grew up in the war-torn country until she was 13 and now lives in Dudley, described how the militants were already drawing up lists of women to target for future punishments.

Fear for the Future. Women in Afghanistan face an uncertain future

She told BBC Women’s Hour:

Just an hour ago, I received an update from Kabul where they are going house to house searching for women who were activists, women who were bloggers, Youtubers, any women who had a role in the development of civil society in Afghanistan.

“They are going door to door targeting those women and marking the doors with bright pink or bright-coloured paint to ensure ‘this is the house we need to come back to and do something about them‘.”

Afghan women, girls fear return to ‘dark days’ as Taliban enter Kabul 

I am watching Afghanistan with a broken heart. I am a woman, who enjoys all the freedoms and privileges that we women in western culture often take for granted. I live in Israel, a tiny spot of hope in a neighbourhood where many of our sisters in Gaza, Syria, Iran and other places don’t enjoy the freedoms that I do. I have the right to vote, enjoy the freedom of movement, own property, make decisions that govern my body, pursue education and a career and so much more. I can use my voice, as loud and as often as I want – and I think of the Afghan women who are now voiceless and who have been silenced.

I am watching Afghanistan like so many of you are, with a broken heart. I cannot help but think of the young girls forced to marry against their will, some as young as 12-years-old. They have barely begun to understand the changes in their bodies, how will they cope with the advances of men who will treat them as their property? I think of the brave, brilliant females now robbed of the right to an education. I think of Afghanistan’s first female Mayor, Zarifa Ghafari who said she is now waiting for militants to come and kill her.

Living in Fear. Afghanistan’s first female mayor, Zarifa Ghafari is now fearing for her life with the Taliban takeover.

Ghafari, told media on Sunday:

I’m sitting here waiting for them to come. There is no one to help me or my family. I’m just sitting with them and my husband. And they will come for people like me and kill me. I can’t leave my family.”

I also have tremendous sorrow for the brave men and women of the armed forces who served so valiantly. Many paid the ultimate sacrifice and many have been wounded, carrying the wounds of war on their bodies and deep in their souls. Was their sacrifice, their fight in vain?  I think of the thousands of workers translators, embassy staff and others who helped allied powers in the region and are now left to their own devices and certain harm from Taliban militia.

Afghanistan’s last Jew Zebulon Simentov decides to stay on amid humanitarian crisis. Kabul Crisis.

I have watched as our neighbours and sworn enemy, Hamas, congratulated the Taliban who declared the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” with gleeful celebration of their “victory over America”. I am reminded of how grateful I am that despite global indignation, Israel can defend itself; our country against a regime that aligns itself with the Taliban.

Dark Days Revisited. Women’s rights activist, Zarmina Kakar cries during an interview with AP in Kabul where she recounts as a child when her mother took her out to buy her ice cream, back when the Taliban ruled the first time and her mother was whipped by a Taliban fighter for revealing her face for only a few minutes. “Today again, I feel we will return back to the same dark days.” (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

The withdrawal of the USA and other allied troops empowers other terror groups like Al Qaeda, Al Shabab, Hamas and many others.

The response of the social media activists, the Squad, talk show hosts and many others who were very vocal during Israel’s defensive operation against Hamas in May, has been staggering silence. World leaders and institutions like the United Nations and New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern appealed to the Taliban to respect human rights. The Taliban claim to have “changed” and want international recognition but their actions of the last few days speak louder than placating tones for media consumption.

There will be reams of analysis written about what went wrong. We will debate over who is to blame politically for years to come. We will discuss this decision which will leave a human catastrophe in its wake.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we will count the toll of the human cost of the last two decades and wonder if history will repeat itself.

I watch Afghanistan with a broken heart and I feel powerless watching the unfolding human tragedy. We cannot be silent for who will tell their story if not we?



Afghanistan’s first female mayor, Zarifa Ghafari waits for the Taliban to kill her.






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).

History Is A Cruel Teacher

Jews have had to learn to rely on themselves

By Justin Amler

It is horrifying seeing what is going on in Afghanistan today.

It is terrifying knowing that even after America and many other countries spent 20 years there, lost thousands of lives, spent hundreds of billions of dollars – the terrorists still won.

It is extremely sad seeing desperate people clinging onto the wings of US army planes as they flee – yes flee – that country.

And it’s a moment of absolute dread and despair when you think about what awaits ordinary men, women and children whose fate has been placed in the hands of monsters.

From Collapse to Chaos. Panicked Afghans flee in the streets of Kabul following the swift collapse of the Afghan government.

Make no mistake – America lost today. And they didn’t just lose the battle – they lost their moral compass, leaving people to a fate that can only be described as hell.

But there’s a lesson in this – a sobering lesson. It’s one we Jews know already and have always known. It’s one that has been a constant drum in our consciousness throughout our history. It’s one that we are reminded of time and time again. And in case there are those who may have forgotten, it is a timely reminder.

Jews can only rely on themselves.

Whenever we have had to rely on others for our security, living under their rule, we have been let down. Not just let down – betrayed, murdered, massacred.

The Romans did it massacring our people in Jerusalem, destroying our city and sending us into exile.

The Russians forced us to live in certain areas only, launching pogroms against us at their will.

The Poles did it – inviting us in, promising us security and freedom – only to turn later against us.

In Europe during the Holocaust, lifelong neighbours happily turned in their Jewish neighbours to the Nazis and the local collaborators who dragged us to pits and shot us. It was a good deal – they got to steal our property and our possessions.

In the Ukraine children and their parents would chase us in the streets, beating us to death with clubs while many ordinary people looked on approvingly.

In France, there were no widespread condemnations when we were forced into the Vélodrome d’Hiver without water or food or shelter, only to be taken to death camps from which very few returned.

The British, after defeating the most evil empire in modern history, rather than giving us security in our homeland, forced us back into the countries where the blood of our families still soaked the ground.

And America, at the dawn of the rebirth of our State, placed an arms embargo against us, even as we stood alone against the might of the Arab world.

When we look at history, it is scary to think what we have gone through without the security of our own homeland.

And it is terrifying to think what would happen if we lost that security again.

Because the reality is that those who try pressure Israel into giving up their security by giving up their land or creating a fictitious Arab country for others, asking us to trust them and to rely on them for the promises of peace and security are not doing it for us, but for themselves. For those are promises written in fairy dust and clouds that will evaporate as easily and as quickly as the morning dew on a crisp spring morning.

Every Jew in this world today should be so grateful we have a State of Israel – a Jewish state that has an army whose primary mission is to protect us and fight for us, not against us. Without it, we are as helpless and as desperate as those poor people clinging onto wings of departing aircraft.

Reality Check. Since the establishment of the state of Israel, Jews understand that when their lives are collectively threatened, they can depend on Israel.  Seen here in July 4 1976, Israeli commandos , in a daring mission, rescued 102 Jewish hostages from terrorist hi-jackers at Entebbe airport in Uganda.

History is a cruel teacher, but a teacher none the less whose lessons cannot be ignored.

It has taught us through a long and painful history that we can ultimately only rely on ourselves for our own protection, for our own security and for our prosperity.

Because if we do not look after ourselves, no one else will.




About the writer:

Justin - bio.jpg

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).

Kabul Falls, Jerusalem Beware

A cautionary tale of trust and mistrust

By David E. Kaplan

Twenty-one years ago in 2001 in Toronto Canada,  584 million dollars was raised at a benefit concert by Music Without Borders for Afghan refugees.

Will there be a need for another?

Reporting on CNN from Kabul, Clarissa Ward described how “People woke up to the news in the morning that Taliban were at the gates just outside Kabul; there was chaos in the streets, everyone clambering to get to the airport, the road completely overrun;  others locked up in their homes; no idea what the future will bring; and no sense of clarity from their government as to what the situation is.”

Staying at her Job. Although risky for foreign reporters, particularly women, Clarissa Ward remains reporting from Kabul.
 

No “clarity” from their government – for sure, “their’ President  – now ex-President Ashraf Ghani – had fled the country!

Astute Israelis woke to this unfolding horror story with their antennae out   – extremely concerned!

With Iran at the gates of Israel through their proxies in Lebanon, Gaza and Syria and Defense Minister Bennie Gantz warning envoys from UNSC members that “Iran is 10 weeks away from amassing enough weapons-grade material for a nuke”,  Israel  must be questioning –  in the light of the Afghan debacle – how reliable and dependable is Israel’s “best friend”? There is more to concern Israel over and above the soon-to-be declared ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ turning into a hotbed of global terrorism.  With all the US’s best intentions to its allies and friends, can they be relied upon to safely revive the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) with a belligerent Iran, when they got it so wrong with a numerically smaller and inferior weaponised Taliban?

New Reality. Taliban fighters stand guard at the main gate leading to the Afghan presidential palace after taking control of the capital (Photo: Rahmat Gul/AP)

However the US spokespeople try spin the spectacular collapse of Afghanistan, people recall the words of President Biden who only as recently on the 8 May 2021 said:

 “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”

How did the President come to this disastrous delusion? Refuting the comparison to the defeat and optic retreat in Vietnam, Biden went on national television to explain:

The Taliban is not the south – the North Vietnamese army. They’re not – they’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.”

Countdown to Chaos. Joe Biden speaks on April 14, 2021 from the Treaty Room in the White House about the withdrawal of the remainder of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool, File) 

From his Camp David retreat – an unfortunate added meaning today – the President can only look on with despair as he had to authorise sending more armed forces back into Kabul than they had left behind in order to safely rescue its embassy staff and other important personnel.

The human drama playing out on our TV screens is being characterised as one of the worst foreign policy blunders in half a century? Even US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, reluctantly admitted on CNN that that the Taliban advance and takeover was “more rapid” than expected.

Rushed Rescue. In America’s “Saigon Moment”, a U.S. helicopter is seen here landing at Kabul’s U.S. Embassy to begin the rescue of diplomatic staff amid the Taliban advanced on the Afghan capital. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gu)

Israelis have good reason to be worried!

As a US president that particularly prides himself on his foreign policy experience, we can expect that Biden’s delusional July predictions on the Taliban were not mindless musings but based on daily briefings from his intelligence agencies and the Pentagon. Are these the safe hands that Israel is being cajoled to place its future in as the US remains on course to pursue reviving or rejoining the JCPOA and removing the strategically-structured sanction regime? Does the US administration really believe that Iran, now since June 2021 with an even more extreme President Raisa that it can seriously restrict its nuclear ambitions as well as limit its ballistic missile programme and its support for groups that even the  U.S. considers terrorists?

New Leadership. Taliban fighters take control of the Afghan presidential palace on Sunday evening
(Photo: Zabi Karimi/AP)

The Biden administration’s hopes of a quick re-entry into the 2015 nuclear accord thankfully did not happen. What has happened can only be described as a stalemate compounded by Iran’s technological advances with reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has taken steps to make metal fuel plates with uranium it has enriched to 20% purity. This is banned by the “deal” with the world powers and marks a significant step toward the production of a nuclear bomb.

Desperate Departure. People struggle to cross the boundary wall of Hamid Karzai international airport as they try to flee the country (Photo EPA)

Such explosive revelations are worrying to a tiny country – the primary target of belligerent Iran.

As America’s longest war ends in ignominious defeat,  maybe its opportune to reflect on the cautionary counsel of the Chinese general, military strategist and philosopher  Sun Tzu who in his The Art of War wrote:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Fleeing in Fear. Women with their children try to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport
(Photograph: Reuters)

Reflecting on these words, does a such divided USA over so many far-reaching issues and grappling to understand its own national persona, truly understand the culture of its enemies?

Israel cannot afford the risk for such failures in monumental misunderstanding when it comes to Iran. The implications are existential.

Targeting Israel. A Shahab-3 long range missile (left) and Zolfaghar missiles (right), are displayed during a rally marking al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran on June 23, 2017. (AFP Photo/Stringer)

For Israel, a nuclear Iran hellbent on destroying the Jewish state,  cannot be understated. Will the fall of Kabul wize up a befuddled Washington on its perspective on Iran and herald the demise of the JCPOA?

Israelis are watching the news very attentively!








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).

Surfside Strong

By Ruthy Benoliel

It is hard to put into words the anguish that so many people in Miami and all over the world have suffered over the last two weeks since the collapse of Champlain Towers South on June 24, 2021. In seconds, our whole community was put to the most dreadful test ever imagined. The pain we feel is a surreal and an overwhelming sense of loss. As we watched the news over and over again, nothing made sense. Within hours our community came together to help support and comfort the bereaved families and pray for miracles.

People embrace at a makeshift memorial outside St. Joseph Catholic Church in Surfside on Monday, June 28. (The Associated Press)

Immediately, organizations and thousands of volunteers came together to collect, pack, deliver, feed, find accommodation, lend a helping hand, or be there to give a hug. People put a pause on their lives to be on call for whatever need arose. Teams of first responders from the USA and other countries, including police, firefighters, engineers, governmental authorities, mental health professionals, and our dear IDF rescue soldiers, became our hope. The search and rescue mission became the priority for all those heroes that not only had to deal with the consequences of the collapse, but with several fires, rain, hurricane winds, the shifting of the remaining structure, the controlled demolition of the left-over structure, and exasperation of not finding people alive. Each corner of our streets was filled with police, checkpoints, and access by car was almost impossible.

It felt like a war zone!

Soriya Cohen shows a picture of her husband, Brad Cohen, who she said was missing after the partial collapse of the 12-story condo tower that he was in on June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.

     The human touch and sensitivity towards each other were always present. We witnessed IDF soldiers break down and cry; the sergeant who gave us the daily reports kept trying to control his tears, and rescue teams needing emotional help as this tragedy consumed their lives. Grieving families, rescue teams, volunteers, people from different faiths and religions became one.

Champlain Towers was extremely special for my family. It was my home for many years. It was the place where my husband picked me up on our first date, where we got engaged, where three of my four children were born, where beautiful memories were made and will never be erased. Many of my old neighbours, friends, and acquaintances were there the night of the collapse; some were spending only one night in the building.

Col. Golan Vach receives the honour of being called to the Torah.

Over the last two weeks, we all have felt numb, waiting for the next briefing to give the latest answers, holding hands, crying collectively, and feeling the agony of the victim’s families. There is nothing to be said that can alleviate this grueling pain.

A few days ago, the search and rescue mission transitioned into recovery with a moment of silence. When the IDF colonel spoke, he said:

 “Look at me in my eyes. I promise we did everything possible to find your loved ones.”

Even though there was despair and agony in hearing those words, there was gratitude and love that filled the room. Many have started to mourn their loved ones, who unfortunately did not survive this catastrophe.

There are no answers, just tears.

Rabbi Sholom Lipskar (right), of The Shul of Bal Harbour, prays during the search-and-rescue operation after the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside on Thursday, June 24, 2021, with Rabbi Mendy Levy(left), and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. (ALEXIA FODERÉ FOR MIAMI HERALD)

Where do we go from here? It will take an exceptionally long time to process what has happened and to ease this ache. I know for sure that we will be there for each other every step of the way. We are blessed to live in this loving community. We will forever have in our hearts the beautiful children, and people who perished on the collapse of Champlain Towers South, and we will continue to pray for their Neshamas.  (“souls”)

Surfside strong!











About the writer:

Ruthy Benoliel is Vice-President of WIZO USA and is based in Miami.









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).

Battling for our Boys

From helping English-Speaking lone soldiers to embracing soldiers from the Haredi community, a Jerusalem Rabbi pursues his vision of ensuring Israel’s lone soldiers are never alone

By David E. Kaplan

Rome was not built in a day,” said Rabbi Shalom Myers  of Jerusalem describing a personal journey that began 8 years ago helping English-speaking lone soldiers from abroad to more recently widening the ambit to include Hebrew-speaking Israeli soldiers from the ultra-orthodox Haredi community. However, “we are well on our way,” Shalom affirms enthusiastically of his groundbreaking vision.

There was a particular resonance in the Rabbi’s use of the word “ROME”, which had begun the Jewish exile from the land of Israel 2000 years earlier, and which Rabbi Myers is working to ensure will never happen again as he helps lone soldiers in the Israeli Army protect and preserve the hard-fought Jewish state of Israel.

Home Not Alone. Rabbi Shalom Myers with lone soldiers – all paratroopers in a combat unit –  in a renovated and fully-furnished ‘Emek Lone Soldiers’ apartment in the German Colony Jerusalem

“Never again” means doing not only talking – and Rabbi Shalom Myers exemplifies both. He had just returned with his architect wife Lynne, “my partner” in his Emek Lone Soldiers’ initiative from an Ikea  outlet with a truckload of furnishings “for our apartment in Jerusalem for the Haredi lone soldiers.” The apartment at present houses  six soldiers, “three Israelis and three from abroad, two of whom are from orthodox communities in the USA.” Describing as “our pilot”, Rabbi Myers hopes to have apartments “for 30 plus by the end of 2021” but in the near future to have  a home-away-from-home complex “exclusively for Haredi soldiers.”

A “lone soldier” is a soldier in the IDF with no family in Israel to support them. This could mean a new immigrant, a volunteer from abroad, an orphan or an individual from a broken home. Highly motivated to serve in the Israeli army, most lone soldiers are placed in combat units. At any given time, these soldiers are guarding Israel’s borders by land, air and sea.

Time Out. Rabbi Shalom Myers (centre) enjoying an afternoon  BBQ with active duty lone soldiers near the front lines.

While regular soldiers regularly spend weekends and holidays at home where their parents provide for all of their needs such as food, laundry and a hug, “these basics” are absent for a lone soldier when they leave a base.

There are over 7,000 lone soldiers currently serving in the IDF of which about 45% are new immigrants, coming from Jewish communities all over the world. Another 50% are Israelis who are orphans or that come from low socio-economic backgrounds. And then there are those that come from ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods who are shunned by their families and communities because they decided to go to the army. Of the total, there are up to 1000 English-speaking religious lone soldiers serving annually in various units of the Israel Defense Force. They come from America, England, Canada, Australia and South Africa. Most have no immediate family in Israel and no place to call home.

Securing Israel’s Future. Combined English-speaking and Haredi lone soldiers at an army base with Rabbi Shalom Myers.

This is where the Emek Lone Soldiers – A ‘Home -away- from from home’ framework for religious lone soldiers wanting to maintain their religious lifestyle while serving in the IDF – came in 8 years ago with Rabbi Shalom Myers leading the proverbial charge. The Emek Lone Soldiers is an off-shoot of the flourishing Emek Learning Center in Emek Refaim, the German Colony’s main street, co-founded and headed by Rabbi Myers. So what began years earlier providing for English-speaking lone soldiers has in recent years expanded to embrace the Haredi community. Rabbi Myers  – who has had four sons serve in combat units in the IDF –  explains:

 “they are all our children, all our soldiers – I make no distinction.” It is the Beit Midrash (learning centre), the synagogue  and “our community” that are “our three pillars that we offer to the religious lone soldiers.”

Soft Landing. Far removed from the life they had planned, lone soldiers affixing mezuzot in their new fully furnished Emek Lone Soldiers’ apartment in Jerusalem.

It takes a village to raise a child” reminds Rabbi Myers of the African proverb that means that an entire community of people must provide for and interact positively with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment.

A child himself of Africa, Rabbi Myers is well familiar with the military. Formerly of Cape Town where he was the Reverend of Rondebosch and Parow synagogues, a Chazan at the Claremont shul, he was also a chaplain in the South African army as part of his compulsory military service.

In The Army Now. Rabbi Shalom Myers with lone soldiers at a pre sabbath dinner in the German Colony, Jerusalem organized by  Emek Lone Soldiers.

Shalom recalls when as army chaplain for Western Province Command, the Christian chaplain was suddenly unable to deliver his weekly sermon to the men on parade and “suddenly, I was called upon to fill in”.

I’m the Jewish chaplain,” he answered, “besides I’m unprepared.”

Maak nie saak nie, Myers (“makes no difference” in Afrikaans), proceed,” barked his superior.

Officer Myers looked out at the sea of men standing before him, and the words flowed. Afterwards, the officer congratulated him on the most inspiring sermon he had ever heard and his stature in the military henceforth was rock solid. “The point is,” Shalom asserts, “You need to be prepared not only with knowledge but the confidence to impart that knowledge when you might least be expected to.”

Bonding at the Base. Rabbi Shalom Myers following his shiur (Talmudic study session) to combat lone soldiers at an army base.

Such attributes are serving him well today as he pursues his vision.

Asking what inspired him in this direction, Shalom replies:

“Let me say this. When you get involved in the Rabbanut and you want to teach, influence and help, the Rabbanut is the ultimate Chesed.” And in helping the lone soldiers, “not only are we helping individuals but we are helping the Jewish people.”

I was reminded of the revered Rav Soloveitchik who was very meticulous and stringent in every phase of Hilchot Tefillah, the laws of prayer. However, when once visited by a student serving in the IDF and asked by the soldier in a tank division that involved cleaning and maintaining the tanks whether he needed to change his uniform when covered in oil and grime before davening Mincha, the Rav looked at him in amazement and said out loud:

 “Why would you need to change? You are wearing Bigdei Kodesh – holy clothes!”

Father and Son. A proud Rabbi Shalom Myers with youngest son Moshe at his induction into Sayeret Nachal. 

Rabbi Myers’ pursuit has not come without opposition from within his community. The following exchange is instructive.  He recalls some years ago a well-meaning friend cautioning him:

 “You should choose, either focus on the shul (synagogue) or  the lone soldiers; you cant do both.”

Capable of doing both and much more, Shalom is also a former practicing accountant,  has Smicha from Machon Ariel and taught for 14 years at Ohr Somayach, heading the Mechina program before founding in 2013 the Emek Learning Center.

So while there was no need “to choose”, Rabbi Myers is quick to add that had he had to choose, “I would have chosen the lone soldiers because while the learning centre could be done by others,  what I am offering the lone soldiers particularly now with the Haredi lone soldiers is unique.” Of all the soldiers, the ones “closest to my heart,” says Rabbi Myers are the Haredi Israelis.

Why?

They were not brought up from this; it is not their world and they are giving to their people but at a huge personal price; they have to start their lives all over again. They are the most in need, not only in preparing then for the army and offering them a warm environment during their military service but most important helping them after the army service in guiding them to then study to provide a financially sustainable future. Feeling abandoned, we are like their new parents.”

It’s a long and hard process but it is a fruitful process with huge rewards  not only for individuals but for Israeli society.

The Graduate. Rabbi Shalom Myers (right) at the graduation ceremony of a lone soldier.

Rabbi Myers could not have received a more enriching endorsement for his vision then from the late Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who expressed back in 2018, the following:

One of the core ideas within Judaism is contained in the famous Talmudic phrase: Kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh, meaning all of Israel are responsible for each other. This is at the heart of the mission and work of the Emek Lone Soldiers Initiative. By caring and looking out for those who have no other support, we are taking responsibility for them in the most Jewish of ways. Linking this work to the writing of a Sefer Torah is a beautiful idea. We know that for a Sefer Torah to be kosher, every letter has to be correct, and no letter, word or phrase is more important than any other. Such is the same with the soldiers who risk their lives in defense of the State of Israel. Each soldier has put himself or herself on the line and as such we, as Am Yisrael, must do everything possible to ensure they are looked after both during and after their service. I wish all at Emek Lone Soldiers, blessings and best wishes for the future.”

Tucking In. Undergoing fitness training in preparation before their draft,  lone soldiers enjoying a meal at the Emek Learning Center in the German Colony, Jerusalem.

Trained for the temporal world with a lifelong passion for the spiritual – “I was born in a shul” – Rabbi Myer’s journey has been one of absorbing and processing experiences along the way that “has served as my GPS” directing him precisely to his present destination  – founding and heading first the Emek Learning Center and now the Emek Lone Soldiers.

May he continue his outstanding service to his community, the state of Israel and today and tomorrow’s lone soldiers.

I am very proud that when I stood under a chuppah 39 years ago, with my bride Hilary, the Rabbi officiating was Shalom Myers!



Having a Ball. Lone soldiers enjoying a game of American football  during a Shabbaton In Herzliya.





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).

Punching Above Our Weight

Israel on the frontline of support and rescue in a time of disaster.

By Rolene Marks

If we measured countries in weight according to their size, Israel could be determined to be a flyweight, at the very most a bantam weight. Boxing metaphors aside, Israel is so tiny, that it is almost impossible to find the country on a map of the world.

But when a disaster of any kind be it natural or otherwise occurs anywhere in the world, it is tiny Israel that packs a mighty punch by responding immediately where needed.

When the call goes out – and even sometimes when it doesn’t – Israel is the first to respond. This even extends to countries that Israel has no formal diplomatic ties with because humanity and helping your fellow man in a time of crisis trumps politics every time.

Israel has a long history of sending humanitarian aid and it is woven into the fabric of our society. Just ten years after the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948, the country adopted an official humanitarian aid agenda, providing vital relief to more than 140 countries.

This effort does not just come from the IDF or government resources, but also NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) such as ZAKA, IsraAid, F.I.R.S.T, United Hatzalah Latet and others and is truly remarkable – even the United Nations has recognized Israel for its contributions. Rare praise from this embittered institution!

Israel has a unique ability to dispatch search and rescue teams and field hospitals fast and effectively. Unfortunately, we have had to learn this through difficult and sometimes tragic circumstances but it has become a skill that can be used to help others in times of distress.

“We Come to Help”.  Israeli government Minister Nachman Shai (6th from the left) and the IDF search-and-rescue delegation arriving on Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Surfside, Florida, to aid in recovery efforts at the building collapse. (Diaspora Affairs Ministry)

Called in Times of Crisis:

Since 1953, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) has sent help for those in need, regardless of their location. Just this past week, a team of Home Front Command elite search and rescue soldiers departed for Miami, USA following the devastating collapse of a 12-floor apartment building, “Champlain Towers”. A short while after the news broke, Israel’s United Hatzalah’s psychotrauma team was deployed to help families and survivors cope with the profound trauma and stress of a catastrophe of this kind. Israel’s national carrier, EL AL said that they would cover the travel costs. Several days later, the Governor of Florida accepted Israel’s offer of IDF assistance and a team of ten elite search and rescue professionals including engineers, departed for Miami.

Sizing up the Situation. IDF Home Front Command delegation on site in Surfside, Miami

The scene on the ground is devastating. While the official cause has yet to be determined, the main priority now is rescue and recovery. Hope may be slim but it is still there.

Crushing Catastrophe. Workers search in the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo, Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. One hundred fifty-nine people were still unaccounted for two days after Thursday’s collapse, which killed at least four. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

I have had the immense pleasure and privilege of visiting Miami and spending a little bit of time with the Jewish community, many of whom come from South America. This is a strong, close and cohesive community, proudly Zionist and is as dedicated to Israel as they are to each other. This past week the women of WIZO USA Florida have rallied around the community of Surfside, doing as much as possible to try and help ease the burden of suffering. These exceptional women, who anxiously await news of their friends, associates and family members are working around the clock to feed and comfort the bereaved and provide nourishing kosher meals to rescue workers, sensitive to their religious dietary requirements as well as collecting necessities for those who have lost everything.

Helping Hand. Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai (right) speaks to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at the site of a building collapse near Miami on June 27, 2021. (Diaspora Affairs Ministry)

Israeli teams are joining their American counterparts working day and night, trying to recover the lost loved ones for anxious families. The United States may be a juggernaut in comparison to tiny Israel and may have many resources equipped for these kinds of disasters but for Israel this is a chance to help out our greatest ally, show our love for our brothers and sisters affected and also share our tremendous, world leading skills. Our prayers and love remains with all who have been affected by this tragedy.

Wonderful WIZO. Coordinating help and aid coming in from the community for those affected by the collapse of Champlain Towers are WIZO USA Florida’s Ruthy Benoliel (left) and Judit Groisman.

Other countries where Israel has helped include Mexico, Armenia, Cambodia , Pakistan, Haiti, Nepal, Romania, Argentina, Croatia, Kenya, Turkey, Democratic Republic of Congo and more.

Humanitarian aid in time of war

Every couple of years (and as recent as May this year), Israel seems to be embroiled in another flare up with Hamas in the neighbouring Gaza strip. As rockets and mortars fall on Israel and we defend our civilian population with retaliatory strikes on military targets, so we also ensure that much needed humanitarian aid continues to enter the beleaguered strip. During this recent flare up, humanitarian convoys were fired on with mortar shells but this did not stop them coming through. Israel continues to maintain a humanitarian corridor and works closely with the United Nations and necessary authorities and NGO’s on the ground, despite an ongoing precarious security situation.

Israel has sent much needed Covid-19 assistance as well as medicines, food, perishable good, fuel and other necessities.

Friends in Deed. Grateful Kenyan expresses thanks for  the help Israel sent that country in a time of crisis.

Tikkun Olam

Theodore Herzl, the founding father of modern Zionism had a vision for his future Jewish state. He wanted the Jewish tenet of “Tikkun Olam” (repairing the world) to be something that was synonymous with the country. In keeping with this philosophy, Israel’s Foreign Ministry has a special department called “MASHAV”, which is the Hebrew acronym for “Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation” and today there are projects all over the world, most notably on the African continent.

The work of MASHAV is to contribute to developing countries and this is done in fields where Israel has relevant expertise accumulated during its own history as a young country facing similar challenges.

Agents for Change. MASHAV trains women from around the world so they can be agents for change in their communities. (photo credit: MASHAV)

The belief is that ‘training the trainers’ and human capacity building activities are the best way to achieve maximum impact for development. Education and the transfer of skills is empowering and guarantees sustainable growth.​

​​​The seeds planted by MASHAV are bearing real fruit that will grow from generation to generation.

Saving the Children

Operation Good Neighbour

For years Syria has been embroiled in a bitter civil war that has had a devastating impact on civilians. Witnessing the shattering impact of conflict on civilians, especially children, the IDF launched “Operation Good Neighbour” with the intention of bringing civilians into Israel, at great risk to them and our soldiers, to give them access to life-saving medical attention.

Saving Syrians. Seen here in 2017, an IDF soldier feeds a Syrian baby in Israel as part of the army’s humanitarian aid program to assist Syrians impacted by the civil war in their country. (Israel Defense Forces)

In the cloak of night as battle raged around them and with no help from the UN stationed close by, Israel’s soldiers brought thousands of civilians into the country and gave them the help they needed. The IDF also helped transport members of the NGO, White Helmets and their families out of Syria and into safety in nearby Jordan.

The impact of Operation Good Neighbour will last generations as Syrians who were raised on the education of incitement that Israel is the enemy have now seen first-hand that when the world pretty much turned its back on them, it was Israel who opened her arms.

Save a Child’s Heart

Their mission is simple. Perform as many life-saving procedures on children with life-threatening heart problems. Israeli humanitarian organisation, Save a Child’s Heart, treats children suffering from congenital and rheumatic heart disease who have little access to care in their own countries.

Israel in Africa. The prestigious UN Population Award was awarded to Israel’s non-profit medical charity ‘Save a Child’s Heart’ for saving the lives of thousands of children around the world. Seen here in March 2018, an Echo Technician from Wolfson Medical Center in Israel, examining the heart of a child at the Save a Child’s Heart clinic in Zanzibar. (Nati Shohat/FLASH9)

To date, over 5000 children have been brought to Israel from nearly 60 countries where they have little or no access to the medical care that they need and given them the paediatric care they need as well as providing an in-depth outreach post-graduate training program for medical personnel from these developing countries, some who Israel has no or even hostile relations with. Countries have included Ethiopia, Iraq, at least 50% from Gaza and the West Bank, Syria, Ghana, Haiti, Rwanda, Somalia, Moldovia, Romania, Vietnam and many more.

In 2018, Save a Child’s Heart was honored with the UN Population Award, in recognition of its outstanding contributions to population and health.

Israel may be a real bantam weight in size but the tiny Jewish State knows how to deliver a knockout punch when it comes to contributing and helping the world. Size does not matter when it comes to punching above your weight – skill and the right intentions are what is needed – and appreciated.



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).

Cadena – Bringing Dignity Back to Young Women

Breaking taboos, Jewish non-profit on a mission to repair the world

By Rolene Marks

There is an old and wise African proverb that says:

Educate a woman and you educate a village.”

Access to a good education saves and improves the lives of girls and women the world over, ultimately leading to more equitable development, stronger families, better services and better health for children. Educating young girls has a wide-ranging impact as well as long term benefits. It is often said that the future is women – and who can forget such extraordinary young women like Malala Yousafzai who literally risked her life for the right to be educated and the countless others, who dream of what so many take for granted?

The simple act of going to school every day is one that many of us don’t give a second thought to; but what of the millions of young girls living in poverty around the world who miss out on a week of school every month because of their menstrual cycle? During this time, young girls who live in areas that are either rural or poverty stricken do not go to school because of a lack of access to safe, hygienic sanitary products, and/or who are unable to manage their periods with dignity, sometimes due to community stigmas. Many of these young girls are made to feel ashamed of their bodies and that they are dirty.

There is a connection between the confidence of women who are able to take care of their bodies and their ability to be able to take care of their education and their communities. At a time when we are having important conversations around issues of body positivity and breaking the stigma about menstruation which is a natural function, we need to draw attention to the many suffering from period poverty, that is – the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and waste management.

Young women deserve the basic human right to menstruate with dignity. Diminished capacity, even for just a week, creates barriers to opportunities. It does not just affect the ability of young girls to go to school but women to go to work.

Proud to Help. Young volunteers from the Jewish non-profit Cadena helping a  community in South Africa to replace unsafe and unsanitary pit latrines.

It also impacts on physical health. Lack of access to the right feminine hygiene products may lead to greater risk of infection. In some cases, women and girls do not have access to menstrual products at all. They may resort to rags, leaves, newspaper or other makeshift items to absorb or collect menstrual blood. They may also be prone to leaks, contributing to shame or embarrassment.

Humanitarian organization, Cadena has found a solution to these issues.  Cadena was formed in Mexico in 2004 with the intention of assisting with victims of natural disasters. Since then, Cadena which now has a global presence in many countries around the world, has expanded its focus to include education, the launching of rescue missions, community rebuilding programmes and many, many more important projects. Cadena also firmly believes in a philosophy of “hand to hand”, preferring direct contact with the people that they are helping. The organization became more and more concerned hearing about the situation for young women in poverty stricken areas of South Africa where a decision between buying a loaf of bread or sanitary protection for girls is a heartbreaking but common occurrence. At least 50% of young women in South Africa have seen their education disrupted during their menstrual cycle!

Project Preparation. Volunteers planning and preparing to  replace and upgrade latrines in rural community.

What could Cadena do to help alleviate the situation and ensure that the education of these young women and girls is not interrupted?

The first order of the day was to break the taboos. Cadena had to educate these young girls and women that there was nothing “dirty” or horrible about a process that is a very natural part of being a woman. Sadly today, taboos around this subject are not just in struggling communities but worldwide which is why an article like this can help a lot with breaking down stigmas and taboos.

Team Work. Cadena volunteers help communities with solutions to replace deadly pit latrines and help host workshops to help alleviate period poverty.

Cadena is determined that young girls and women get their dignity back and are committed to equipping them with the tools and material necessary!

Cadena is launching workshops in the townships where women will not only be taught about health and hygiene but will also be supplied with fabric and materials to help them make their own ecological, washable and reusable menstrual pads. This not only helps to empower the women attending the workshops but helps them to share the same skills with their families and communities. These workshops have been held with great success in South America.

Helping communities also creates opportunities for other volunteers to be involved. Students from Johannesburg’s Jewish day school have been eager to help. Cadena is primarily a volunteer organization. While they cannot take anyone under the age of 18 into the field, students were really keen to help as much as possible by packing materials, helping with content creation for distribution and helping to raise awareness. After all, who better to help than their peers of the same age! It also proved a great opportunity for them to learn about the situation for many in their own country who don’t enjoy the same comforts and privileges that they do.

Making a Difference. Braving heat and dust for three weeks in a row, CADENA volunteers in South Africa went from house to house in Plot 89 to deliver PitFix by Enzyme Genie that has made such a difference in a short amount of time.

Cadena has also been instrumental in making sure that rural communities have safe, hygienic latrines following a tragic accident where a 5-year-old little boy drowned. CADENA South Africa will be using PitFix, a locally produced product by the company Enzyme-Genie that removes wastes, breaks down organic solids resulting in a dramatic reduction in smell and the presence of flies in both traditional pit latrines and septic tanks.

This Should Not Happen! The mother of a five-year-old South African boy who died after falling into a pit latrine at school breaks down in court as she described finding his body.

Every person deserves to live a life of dignity and for the truly vulnerable, including women and girls, Cadena is playing a vital role in ensuring that that their personal health is protected and that they never have to miss out on receiving their education.

The future is clearly women!


For more information about how you can help by donating or becoming a volunteer, please visit: https://cadena.ngo/en/southafrica/






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 Man for all Seasons

By Rolene Marks

HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh leaves behind a tremendous legacy including support of Jewish and Pro-Israel causes.

He was the dashing naval World War II veteran and hero who was the very symbol of dedication and duty. The quintessential alpha male, he was to Her Majesty, The Queen, the love of her life for over 70 years, her unconditional support, her “strength and stay” and theirs was a love affair for the ages.

Theirs was love for the ages. Prince Philip and Her Majesty the Queen

At the great age of 99, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh passed away peacefully at his home, Windsor Castle.

When someone passes away, it is often only after their death when we find out the magnitude of the work that they have done or causes they supported. Prince Philip was no exception. Tributes have poured in from all corners of the globe and knowledge of his tremendous dedication and patronages to over 800 charities and endeavours, including various branches of the British armed forces; it appears that each community has been impacted by his work. Minutes after the news of his passing broke, tributes from Jewish leaders across the United Kingdom and Commonwealth were sent, expressing  gratitude for an extraordinary life, well lived.

HRH Prince Philip with Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, in an interview with the BBC shared the following anecdote. He recalled being invited to visit the Royal family at Windsor Castle, where Prince Philip “particularly wanted me to see one particular gift that Her Majesty the Queen had received in the 1960s. And in the Royal Library, he showed me a Torah scroll that she had received as a gift. And he wanted me to explain it to him.”

“It was one of the Czech scrolls, and I was able to first of all describe what a Torah scroll is; and that in addition, this particular scroll had been rescued from the former Czechoslovakia,” he said. “It had been intended to be part of what the Nazis wanted to be a museum to the people that used to exist. And therefore, in Czechoslovakia, none of the Torah scrolls were destroyed. A whole lot of these scrolls were brought to London and one was presented to the queen.”

Israeli leadership was no different and statements from President Rivlin, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry, Lior Haiat and Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely paid tribute to Prince Philip, highlighting his exceptional dedication to duty and extending their condolences not just to the Royal Family whose loss is irreplaceable, but to all citizens of the UK and Commonwealth. It was noted that he would be missed amongst Israel’s people as well because we share a very special connection to the man affectionately known as The Iron Duke.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, third from left, poses with the Duke of Edinburgh, left, Queen Elizabeth II, right, Israeli President Ezer Weizman and his wife Reuma at a State Banquet in their honor at Buckingham Palace, London, in this February 25, 1997 file photo. (AP Photo/John Stillwell/pool)

Israelis have had a complicated relationship with the British Royal Family. Many have wondered over the years why there had been no official visits from Her Majesty, The Queen. Was it an unofficial boycott because of uprisings against the British Mandate before 1947? Was it to not anger Arab Royal Families? Or was it simply because the Foreign Office had not requested it?

Prince Philip and his sister, Princess Sophie, laying a wreath at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial on October 31, 1994. (Photo by Beni Berk from the Dan Hadani Archive, Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel)

This was until 1994, when HRH Prince Philip became the first Royal to visit – albeit in a personal capacity. The reason for his visit was very special. His mother, The Princess Alice was being honoured by Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial and museum for being a Righteous Amongst the Nations. Princess Alice had been assisting the Swedish and Swiss Red Cross to help care for refugees, heard of the Cohen family who she knew personally and would soon be deported by the Nazi’s and opened the doors of the palace on the outskirts of Athens to them. The Cohens remained in the palace for 13 months, with the Princess regularly visiting and talking at length with Rachel the mother and assigned the family two Greeks who helped the family keep in contact with the outside world. Helping a Jewish family came with great risks, especially for Princess Alice. Three of her four daughters had married German princes, who were serving as SS officers. Suspicions of her loyalty were rife, and Philip, her only son had much earlier enlisted to the British Royal navy at aged 18 where he served throughout the war with distinction.

Prince Philip watering a maple tree planted in memory of his mother at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, October 31, 1994. (Photo by Beni Berk from the Dan Hadani Archive, Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel.)

“I suspect that it never occurred to her that her action was in any way special. She was a person with deep religious faith and she would have considered it to be a totally human action to fellow human beings in distress,” said Prince Philip when commenting about his mother’s heroic actions.

During his trip to Israel, Prince Philip also met with members of the Jewish Legion who served in His Majesty’s Army. In 2018 Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, made the first official visit to Israel and was received with great enthusiasm and admiration and Prince Charles has visited several times, one of them being for the funeral of slain Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin.

Jewish and Israeli causes were of great interest to the Prince. He often addressed Zionist organisations like the Jewish National Fund and critics of this were firmly ignored by him. The Prince did what he felt was right and did not suffer fools. He is famous for some of his salty gaffes which only endeared him more to people, especially at a time when woke culture seems to be taking over the world.

Prince Philip jokes with British WWII veterans Nathan Kohaen (right) and Arthur Stark, who immigrated to Israel, during a ceremony at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Ramle, Israel, on Oct. 30, 1994, where he came to lay a wreath (AP Photo)

He was a great promoter of interfaith dialogue and was extremely dedicated to this work but for me, it is his Duke of Edinburgh Awards aimed at encouraging youth to excel, adopted here in Israel by WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) that is particularly sentimental.

The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme was set up in the UK in 1956 and operates in 140 countries around the globe. In 1982, Israel adopted the scheme, known locally as ‘Ot Hanoar – The Israel Youth Award Scheme. “It’s what I like to describe as a do-it-yourself growing-up kit,” HRH Prince Philip once said of the scheme, “it has helped countless young people on their sometimes difficult path to adulthood.”

The project involves four main principles set out for youth from the ages of 14-25, which enhances their abilities and potential, increases their awareness of the importance of public and communal affairs. The four main principles are: developing a hobby, physical exercise, volunteerism within the community, and challenging expeditions.

The scheme has changed the lives of so many young Israelis in WIZO Youth Villages and schools who have benefitted greatly from the vision of the late Duke of Edinburgh to become the very best version of themselves – going out in the world as ambassadors for WIZO and Israel. The hundreds of stories from graduates from this scheme are testimony to the living legacy of the man who dedicated his life to Queen, country and duty.

Celebrating 73 years of marriage. The last picture of the Duke of Edinburgh with Her Majesty The Queen, look at an anniversary card made by the children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Prince Philip was the man for all seasons. Steadfast and strong, modest and universally admired, his passing will leave a void in the world. It is humbling to see the tributes flowing in and the people of Britain, despite restrictions due to the pandemic, expressing their love and admiration across the generations. We extend our condolences to Her Majesty, The Queen, the Royal family and the people of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.

Goodnight sweet Prince, may flights of angels wing thee to thy rest.






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)

Music to Our Ears

Separated by more “land” than “water” but far too much “trouble”, Israel’s Shalva band sings ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ with artists from the United Arab Emirates

By David E. Kaplan

The horizons of the people of the Middle East are constrained by self-inflicted ‘limitations’ but all share similar dreams and aspirations. This coincides with the message from Israel’s famous band made up of musicians with disabilities that this month collaborated with Emirati artists to celebrate the nations’ 2020 Abrahams Accords normalization deal.

“WE HAVE LIMITATIONS, BUT WE ARE ALSO LIKE EVERYONE ELSE’ was the bands message when they first broke into the national spotlight in 2019, competing in Israel’s top TV talent show Kochav Haba (“Rising Star”) before making it internationally.

Rising Stars. The Shalva Band takes to the stage on The Rising Star in Israel in the hopes of representing the Nation in May 2019 at the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv. (Courtesy of Shalva)
 

Today, with its music heard worldwide, its message of hope and overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges is resonating internationally.

This month’s groundbreaking performance took place on the occasion of the 31st anniversary of The Israel Association for Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, better known as Shalva. Performing with United Arab Emirates singer Tareq Al Menhali; and accompanied by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the lyrics of the Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” classic  – sung in Hebrew, Arabic and English – resonated far and beyond. The celebration was held under the theme – “Building Bridges to the Future”.

Building Bridges. ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ performed for the first time in Arabic , Hebrew and English.
 

Guest speaker the UAE’s ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, said:

 “The United Arab Emirates shares Shalva’s unwavering commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities. In the UAE, those with intellectual disabilities or special needs are referred to as people of determination in recognition of their achievements across different fields. The collaboration to create the special rendition of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ demonstrates how we must all continue to work together – regardless of nationality, religion or culture – to promote positive social change and foster more inclusive societies.”

Emirati Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba at an event with then-US House speaker Paul Ryan, at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, January 25, 2018. (AP/Jon Gambrell)

With Shalva actively engaged with its UAE counterparts aiming in advancing the field of disability-care across the region, its founder and president, Kalman Samuels explains:

We have chosen ‘Building Bridges to the Future’ as the theme for our 31st Anniversary Celebration to reflect the way in which Shalva is inspiring a more inclusive society, building bridges between individuals with disabilities and their broader community with a particular focus on our newly developing relationships in the Arab world as part of the Abraham Accords.”

“We are Family”

The journey of Shalva Band is one of those ‘only in Israel’ stories’.

When Shalva Band – whose 8 members all have disabilities – took Israel’s top TV talent show ‘Kochav Haba’ – Rising Star – by storm in 2019 and may have gone onto to win and represent Israel in May in Tel Aviv at the Eurovision Song Contest – the world’s most watched live music event – it was not to be!

Shalva Sensation. Seen by global audience of 200 million at the 2019 Eurovision in Tel Aviv, Shalva Band with Eurovision Host, international Israeli supermodel, Bar Refaeli.

Israelis will recall that they withdrew from the competition due to suddenly discovering that the European Broadcasting Union’s insisting that  they had to rehearse on the Shabbat (the Sabbath or Jewish day of rest). The organisers refused to budge on the group’s request not to perform on Shabbat.

By refusing to break the Shabbat and turning down a chance to represent Israel in the 2019 Eurovision, the popular band, several of whose members are religiously observant, won the bigger competition – placing one’s values above all else. It was not only about religious observance – one member in the group is an atheist – it was respect to for those that are and standing together as a team! As the band members remarked after the fateful decision:

 “We are family.”

The Shalva Band’s two lead singers are blind, the lead keyboard player is visually impaired, and of the bands four percussionists, two have Down Syndrome, one has Williams Syndrome, and another is a disabled war veteran. The pioneering Jerusalem-based Shalva National Center where the band was born, provides services for thousands of children and young adults with disabilities.

Inspirational Outreach. Located in the heart of Jerusalem, Shalva’s headquarters is Israel’s beacon of inclusion and an international leader of innovative programs and research.

Providing care, education, vocational training, and community for people with disabilities, Shalva gives equal access and opportunity to all participants regardless of religion, ethnic background, or financial capability. It was established In 1990 by Rabbi Kalman Samuels and his wife, Malki, after their son Yossi – who was born healthy in 1977 but was rendered blind, deaf and hyperactive after receiving a faulty DPT vaccination – achieved what they call “a Helen Keller breakthrough”, showing that he can communicate. Yossi has proudly shared the Shalva Band’s progress on his Facebook page.

Expanding Family. A journey that began for one son emerged a journey for many sons and daughters. Founder and President of Shalva, Rabbi Kalman Samuels Samuels and son Yossi . (photo Marc Israel Sellem) 

And so, what began as an after-school programme caring for eight children out of an apartment, today serves over 2,000 people, including its house band of eight musicians – Tal Kima, Dina Samteh, Yosef Ovadia, Anael Khalifa, Yair Pomburg, Guy Maman and Naftali Weiss, under the directorship of Shai Ben-Shushan.

It’s through music that I can be an equal,” says singer and percussionist Yosef Ovadia who has a developmental disorder known as Williams Syndrome and began attending Shalva at age seven. “Music lights up my life,” he asserts as it does fellow band member Tal Kima who has Down Syndrome and whose talent for the drums was discovered at the age of six during music therapy.

It’s my favourite thing to do!” he says.

“People of Determination”. Members of the Shalva band perform Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge over Troubled Water,’ accompanied by Emirati musicians and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, March 2021. (YouTube screenshot)

Dare To Dream

Their compelling story is one of overcoming adversity and coming out on top, literally, ‘on a world stage’!

Despite initial reservations of the band members of competing ‘live’ on one of the most watched television shows in Israel, with each progressive stunning performance on Season 6 of The Rising Star, there was not a dry eye amongst judges and audience as they captivated the hearts and minds of a nation that rooted for them  -“to go all the way”.

Although they did not “go all the way” having pulled out from the competition, they nevertheless took to the largest live music event in the world – Eurovision 2019 as entertainers and totally blew their audience of almost 200 million away. It was a performance that dominated the Eurovision conversation and the applause was heard around the world. BBC Eurovision tweeted it; newspapers from around the world highlighted them, and the performance was #2 TRENDING on YouTube, garnering more than double the views of most of the other contest participants.

The Eurovision organisation called the band “inspirational” for “inspiring us to think differently about challenges and acceptance,” while many viewers at home said the performance brought them to tears.

Their performances changed how millions of people view and embrace disability. They strengthened children and families to believe in their amazing potential.

Now their talents  are combining with their Arab counterparts with disabilities in the UAE.

Shalva on Tour. The Jerusalem-based Shalva Band released its first professional music video ahead of its world tour to Canada, the United States, Mexico and the United Kingdom in October and November 2017.

Shalva’s Global Chairman Kalman Samuels is very upbeat about

the upcoming special cover version which “we believe for the very first time, in English, Hebrew, and Arabic represent the coming together of our respective countries and the optimism we share that with love, understanding and co-operation we will make the world a better place.”

To paraphrase The Bard:

 “If music be the food of love, play on, Shalva Band”






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