Heartwarming

Syrian baby “Usayed” brought to Israel for lifesaving heart surgery

By David E. Kaplan

While international media covered this June an Israeli airstrike on an Iranian controlled warehouse in Syria suspected of storing weapons, there was no such global coverage of another Israel flight this month – this time saving a 10-day-old Syrian infant.

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Healing Hands. Under special care, 10-day-old Syrian baby, “Usayed” boards the flight from Cyprus to Israel for emergency surgery on June 11, 2020. (Sammy Revel/Twitter)

Suffering from a severe heart defect, a newborn son of Syrian refugees, was airlifted from Cyprus to Tel Aviv to undergo an emergency operation at Israel’s esteemed Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. In 2020, Newsweek ranked Sheba Hospital, situated outside Tel Aviv, as the 9th-best hospital in the world.

The delicate ‘operation’ was no less diplomatic than it was surgical, involving the cooperation between the Israeli embassy in Nicosia, the Cypriot Health Ministry and Cypriot and Israeli doctors.

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Baby on Board. On route to Israel, 10-day-old Syrian “Usayed” is monitored throughout the short flight. (Sammy Revel/Twitter)

It all came as a whopping surprise to the baby’s father, Ahmad, when he was told that his son needed specialist treatment that could not be provided in Cyprus and hence led him – accompanying his child – to a country “that I never imagined I would ever see” – Israel!

A relieved daddy revealed to i24NEWS:

I don’t care about the relations between Israel and Syria. My problem is not political or religious; it is a health problem. My son’s life is the most important thing in the world to me. I said right away I will go to Israel if needed; I will go anywhere.”

According to the head of Sheba’s Congenital Heart Center, Prof. Alain Serraf, who operated on the infant:

 “The baby would not have survived more than a month without the surgery.”

Usayed was in the best of surgical hands. Apart from being Chairman of the Edmond J. Safra International Congenital Heart Center, Prof. Serraf is a leading expert in Congenital Heart Diseases, a graduate of the Medical School Paris XII, and a Visiting Professor in several universities worldwide.

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Lifesaver. Dr. Alain Serraf, head of the International Congenital Heart Center at Sheba’s children’s hospital following the surgery on a 10-day-old Syrian baby on June 14, 2020. (Sheba Medical Center)

The Israeli doctors expressed cautious optimism following the complicated heart surgery which will be the first of three procedures the infant will require to address the rare congenital defect. Known as ‘hypoplastic left heart syndrome’, the defect means that the left side of the heart fails to develop properly, leading to poor blood circulation.

Following the first operation, the second will be performed in six months’ time, and the third when Usayed is two years old.

I can say that the procedure went well,” said Serraf, “and we are guardedly optimistic that the child will be okay as we slowly wean him off the various machines.” Serraf performed what is known as the Norwood procedure. This involves placing a shunt in the heart to connect the pulmonary artery, which carries oxygen-rich blood, to the aorta, from which it is pumped throughout the body.

The first procedure is always the most difficult,” said Serraf. “We have experience in doing the Norwood procedure on a number of children who come from throughout the region.”

Over the coming weeks, the baby will recover from this first surgery and then return to Cyprus. In six months, he will return to Israel for the second procedure and then again a year and a half later for the final one.

If everything goes according to plan, the child can have a normal lifestyle,” Serraf said.

Speaking through the hospital’s spokesperson, the jubilant father and Syrian national thanked the governments of Cyprus and Israel for coordinating the emergency surgery.

I feel much more relieved and have complete faith in Sheba’s medical staff for all of the help they are giving my child.”

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Father and Son. Syrian refugee Ahmad with his baby son Usayed at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. (Photo: Screenshot)

While according to a hospital spokesman this was the first such case from abroad for Sheba since the outbreak of Coved-19, emergency situations were not uncommon before the Coronavirus pandemic. What is more, they involved not only countries that Israel has friendly relations with but also such countries like Syria and Iraq that Israel has no diplomatic ties.

Israel’s ambassador to Cyprus, Sammy Revel, said the effort to bring baby Usayed to Sheba required “special approval” from Jerusalem, which was pleased and proud to provide. Israeli medics have a long and impressive history of treating critically ill children from hostile countries. From 2013 to 2018, Israel maintained a programme along the Syrian border allowing residents of the area in Syria, who were affected by the country’s civil war, to enter Israel for medical treatment. Unfortunately, politics intervened! Israel’s lifesaving programme of Syrians formally ended in the summer of 2018 when Syrian dictator Bashar Assad retook control of southern Syria.

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In Safe Hands. Despite hostilities in the region, parents in neighbouring Arab countries know that their children receive the best care at Israeli hospitals like  this baby from Gaza being treated for a heart defect at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. (Photo: Save a Child’s Heart)

In the meantime and away from politics, Israel’s envoy to Cyprus Sami Rabel, is calling for all to pray for Usayed’s speedy recovery.

Solidarity during the coronavirus epidemic and the special bond between Israel and Cyprus, granted the special permission for the baby to be operated at Sheba Medical Center,” he said.

Long live Usayed. LeChaim – “to life”!

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

The Union of Jewish Women South Africa

Proudly serving the Jewish and broader communities

By Bev Goldman

Founded in 1931 with the aim and objective of serving both the Jewish and broader communities, the Union of Jewish Women South Africa provided welfare projects during the depression years and later during the racially restrictive period of the National Party rule.”

These are the opening comments on the webpage of the Union of Jewish Women South Africa (UJW): inspiring, impressive and edifying.  They encompass how Jewish women rose to the fore to alleviate the incalculable distress suffered by those in South Africa who were most disadvantaged by both international and local happenings and legislation.

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And for almost 90 years, the organisation has faced, and done its utmost to mitigate and ameliorate the profusion of challenges which have confronted citizens in this beautiful yet troubled country.

Today the UJW continues to carry out the invaluable welfare projects which were the reason behind its establishment, but they have broadened, multiplied, increased in size, scope and diversity; and most important, they are nation-wide – from Johannesburg and Pretoria through Cape Town and Durban to Port Elizabeth and East London, as well as rural areas across the country.

I often think of the words of Albert Einstein which resonate so strongly with me:

The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.” 

This perfectly describes the women of the UJW – they give and give, they give of their time and energy, their commitment and dedication, their sympathy and understanding, their love and support, but with no thought of receiving and no wish to receive.  They nurture, they nourish, they educate, they empower, they feed, they strengthen and support, because for them it’s the giving that matters, but the giving with a purpose and an end in sight, understanding that “It is only in the giving of oneself to others that we truly live” (Ethel Andrus).   

So, what exactly does the Union of Jewish Women do?  Who are its beneficiaries?  Who are its recipients?  And, where are they?

Whew! Such questions require reams of answers, reams of details, and a long and comprehensive history more suited to a book than an article.

So instead I’ll give a brief overview of many of the projects, bearing in mind always that the beneficiaries and recipients are the needy, the dispossessed, the indigent, the homeless, the desperate; infants, children, adults and the elderly; those unable to care for themselves, unable to feed themselves or their families, lacking the basics of education or the ability to be financially self-sufficient, lonely and isolated, impoverished and despairing.

The UJW runs feeding schemes and soup kitchens for those who have no food.

It gives blankets and warm clothing to those who have none.
It provides special Baby Bags, filled with all the necessities for new-borns, to new mums, many of whom having given birth in clinics or hospitals then must leave with their babies wrapped in newspaper or towels.

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Facing the Future Today. Through its passion, commitment and dedication, the Union of Jewish Woman South Africa are committed to the country’s future

It sustains pre-school and nursery school children with food and clothing and educational material like stationery and craft supplies to stimulate their little minds.
It provides for children who are sight-impaired, a handicap which adds to their distress.

The UJW does outstanding work in South Africa’s outreach communities, in a country which has the highest incidence of unemployment in the world, almost the highest gini coefficient, and where sadly poverty and crime are rife because living standards of millions are so pitiful.

It assists creches in townships with construction needs and play equipment, with full day care, with early childhood development programmes, with meals.

It provides food for children of refugees and foreign nationals, for those who live on the streets and have neither shelter nor sustenance, for patients in hospices.

It packs parcels for Rape Crisis victims; it feeds new moms who have just given birth.

It brings light, life and succour to thousands who are marginalised, who have fallen through the cracks, and who receive no support from either government or local council bodies because they are deemed ‘invisible’.

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Durban. Guests from the Open Air School, Tafta (Frail Care Centre) and community members making sandwiches on Mandela Day.

The UJW takes great care of the elderly in the communities.
It offers assistance in the form of meals and clothing to Jewish families wanting to celebrate the Sabbath and/or religious festivals in the traditional way.

It provides meals 365 days a year to 160 elderly members of the Jewish community; it offers elderly lonely people opportunities for socialising through its luncheon clubs; and at its various Friendship Club events attendees are given birthday gifts, bingo prizes and treats for tea.

It hosts pre-Rosh Hashanah and Pesach braai luncheons and annual Chanukah parties.

It runs special club projects for the elderly.

It provides panic buttons to senior citizens living on their own which reassure them that in the case of any emergency, help is almost immediately there.

The UJW always assists local Municipal Emergency Services with household equipment, blankets and clothing in times of disasters like shack fires and floods.

It upgrades and improves facilities at homes for the aged, at hospitals, at synagogues, at schools.

It empowers women – and some men – through its Sewing Schools and Literacy Centres, providing opportunities for them to become self-sufficient or gainfully employed.

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Helping the Blind and Partially Sighted. Donations from the Union of Jewish Women are essential in ensuring that no blind child or adult coming to the Nkosinathi Foundation or visited by the Foundation goes hungry.

It nurtures and stimulates people with early symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer by encouraging them to participate in regular group meetings.

It holds Domestic Workers Appreciation mornings where domestic workers are cherished and spoiled with lectures, teas and goodie bags.

Mitzvah Day is a Jewish-led day of social action that brings together thousands of people all over the world, on one day, to give their time rather than their money to make a difference to the local community around them. In South Africa the UJW spearheads this wonderful initiative in a number of different ways, including entertaining residents at retirement homes; providing special lunches for the indigent who reside at shelters for the homeless; providing lunches for the residents of state-run institutions for adults with mental and physical disabilities and simultaneously assisting with gardening and painting some of the houses; brightening up playgrounds at schools to give the children something exciting to which to look forward when they return to school after holidays; giving solar lights to families living in abject poverty and squalor in squatter camps to “bring light to the people”; holding blood drives; distributing knitted beanies and teddies to children in oncology wards; preparing sandwiches for hospital outpatients.

Mandela Day is marked every year on Nelson Mandela’s 18 July birthday, and it celebrates Madiba’s life and legacy in a sustainable manner.  The UJW plays a pivotal role in Mandela Day celebrations across the country, and just a few of the initiatives have included providing many hundreds of new school shoes and pairs of socks to school children, some of whom go barefoot all year long; distributing hundreds of toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste to children who have never had their own, and simultaneously educating them in the importance of brushing and caring for their teeth and general dental healthcare; baking and donating cupcakes to children who for the first time in their lives taste and enjoy a cupcake; providing blankets to residents at aged homes; kitting out soccer teams with uniforms and soccer boots; giving jackets and coats to homeless persons battling the winter cold; entertaining children at homes for abandoned children with a fancy dress party and a super tea and gifts afterwards; gift bags for “gogos and grampas” (the African words for  grandparents); toys, clothes, blankets and books for schools, homes for vulnerable children and creches; soup and sandwiches for the many street people in various regions.

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Cape Town. One of UJW’s 2019 Mandela Day projects in Cape Town was a special fancy dress party hosted by the Simcha Group at Noluntu Kitchen.

The International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW) is an umbrella organization representing Jewish women and women’s organizations in 35 countries on 5 continents. Its mandate is to confront and respond to the concerns of the Jewish community and women in general in the countries where its affiliates are active. The Union of Jewish Women of South Africa is the only South African body affiliated to the ICJW, and members have held, and hold, executive positions on the body.

While all the above information is more than merely a nutshell of who the UJW is and what it does, it doesn’t adequately describe the effect of these actions on the innumerable beneficiaries and recipients.  It doesn’t describe the joy and excitement of the children who receive their first ever cupcake, their first ever pair of shoes, their first ever and their own toothbrush and toothpaste, their first ever set of crayons, pens, colouring books, storybooks, soccer kits.  It doesn’t describe the gratitude of the elderly who for the first time in many years can see the winter months through with warm blankets and wholesome food in their tummies.  It doesn’t describe the astonishment and thrill of the homeless who had long accepted being invisible in society but are suddenly recognised and nurtured and give their dignity back again.  It doesn’t describe the immense gratitude of the senior citizens who are able to participate in social events to assuage their loneliness and to know that their needs are being met.

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Johannesburg. Weekly Friendship Club lunches are attended by seniors who enjoy a 3-course lunch and entertainment. Once a month birthdays are celebrated with a delicious birthday cake.

The smiles on the faces of the recipients, the hugs from the children, the handshakes from the men who believed assistance was only ever given to women and children – all these are what fill the hearts and souls of those who work for the UJW and who do so not for reward or acknowledgement but because they believe so strongly in Tikkun Olam – healing the world in the best way that they can.

The late President Mandela once called the UJW the community’s “best-kept secret”. But it is not a secret – it is there for whoever needs it and wants it, and it never fails to honour its mandate.

To quote Erich Fromm:

Not he who has much is rich but he who gives much.”

About the writer:

Bev Goldman.jpgBev Goldman national vice-president of the Union of  Jewish Women South Africa, worked for many years in education and journalism, and she holds a master’s degree in Feminist Literature. Prior to joining the SA Zionist Federation where she dealt with media and education for 12 years, she was the editor of the ‘Who’s Who’ of Southern Africa; a member of WordWize which taught English language skills to Russian and Polish immigrants in South Africa; an occasional lecturer in English at RAU (now the University of Johannesburg); and Director of Educational Programmes at Allenby In-Home Studies.  Currently, she runs the Media Team Israel for the SA Zionist Federation; she sits on the Board of Governors of the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre (RCHCC); she is an executive member of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW); and she edits and proofs Masters and PhD dissertations.

 

 

 

 

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

 

Wanted: A Runner with Soul

By Stephen Schulman

In the cold winter pre-dawn darkness of 2005, in a parking lot in Tel Aviv, Offer and Gai Ben Dor, father and son, were expectantly waiting for a meeting. Both Offer and Gai, seasoned long distance runners, had come to volunteer in response to an internet ad:

“Wanted: A Runner with Soul!”

The sender was Beza, a young Ethiopian born Israeli in his early twenties. Blind from birth, deserted by his father, at the age of seven he had immigrated to Israel with his mother and now wished to fulfill his long held dream of becoming a runner.

The mission was a daunting one for them all. Gai recalls: “Here in front of us was someone of my age who was completely physically unfit who could barely run twenty meters. Not only that, but he was a heavy smoker too! To achieve any result involves a grueling regimen of daily runs often in inclement weather that demands physical stamina and mental discipline. So, we knew that a long road lay ahead of us.”

A blind runner needs a companion to run beside him/her and they are joined together by a short strap with wrist loops. With the passing of time, a closeness and comradeship evolves where they can sense each other’s status and needs. Being the eyes of the blind person, the sighted runner develops sensitivity to perceive any obstacles that might hinder his/her partner’s physical progress – something a sighted runner takes for granted.

With the passing of time, Beza’s determination together with the love and dedication of the Ben Dors, began to pay dividends. Graduating from 5 to 10 kilometer runs, they ran 21 kilometer half marathons. From there, it was a natural advance to the full marathon – an exhausting 42.2 kilometers! Beza had heard that the Paralympics were to take place in Beijing in 2008 and expressed his eagerness to take part in the marathon. There was only one obstacle – you had to be in the global top 30 of blind runners, have a minimum qualifying time to earn a place and Beza was very far from it!

With this aim in their sights, all three of them started training in earnest and participating in overseas events. Failing to achieve the desired result in the Berlin Marathon, they had one last chance in the forthcoming event in Amsterdam. Gai recounts: “We were close to the finishing line and looking at my watch, I realized that we were going to make it. I unfurled the Israeli flag in my pocket and with tears of joy, together we crossed the finishing line – Beijing awaited us.”

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 Marathon Man. An advocate, CPA, entrepreneur and social activist, 180°’s  Gai Ben Dor with blind Beza at the 2008 Paralympics (photo Raz Livnat).

The Beijing Marathon was arduous: Beza sustained a leg injury and was flagging, but with the continual support of Offer and Gai, he persevered. Entering the stadium for the final lap, the roar of encouragement of the 91,000 spectators infused him with fresh strength. They released the wrist strap and Beza ran alone and unaided for the last 30 meters to the finishing line!

Fresh from his accomplishment and with Nepal in close proximity, Beza expressed a further wish – to climb Mount Everest! Once more, all three of them accepted the challenge and made the climb of 5,500 meters all the way to the base camp: Gai recalls the difficulties encountered: “You not only have to cope with the difficulty of breathing in the oxygen depleted air, but have to deal with guiding over rocks, crossing rivers and transversing crevasses”. Upon finally reaching the base camp, an exultant Beza exclaimed: “The view here was worth the climb!”

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Seeing is Believing. Offer and Gai Ben Dor climb Mount Everest with Beza who is blind in 2008. (Photo: Gai Ben Dor)

Helping Beza achieve so much had been an enlightening and transformative experience. Returning home, Gai decided to help other handicapped people and in addition to his studies became a running instructor to help disabled people through sport.

In 2016, Gai, together with his wife Adi and his parents Offer and Orit, decided to promote their vision by founding the social organization, 180°, aimed at the empowerment and social integration of people with disabilities and special needs through sports and educational programs.

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On Track. Sights set on the finishing line for this blind participant in the Tel Aviv Marathon.

 Since its inception, 180° has gone from strength to strength and now runs many groups that encompass participants of both genders and all ages, irrespective of their backgrounds. Each of the groups is headed by a qualified running instructor and each participant has his/her own permanent volunteer. This approach is mutually beneficial since a bond develops between the two, the volunteer gains greater empathy and understanding whilst helping the partner regain self confidence and belief in self.

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In The Vanguard. Members from 180° that aims at empowering and socially integrating people with disabilities through sport participating in the Tel Aviv Marathon with Gai and Offer Ben Dor (left).

Gai and Adi are aware that those with disabilities are not granted the same opportunities as others, very often in sport. There is a lack of the appropriate frameworks, a lack of understanding of their needs and very often social exclusion that leads them to lose faith in their own abilities. The founding of 180° created a framework that brings people together and through sport has helped those physically less advantaged and those with special needs to attain greater self-esteem and consequent self-actualization.

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V for Victory. Gai Ben Dor (left) and wife Adi, a  running trainer and responsible for the marketing and collaborations of 180° with young volunteer (right).

A few years ago, Gili joined the group. With a severe case of cerebral palsy and confined to a wheelchair, his main physical exercise was limited to manipulating the joystick. Nevertheless, his dream was being able to walk. With the aid and dedication of Gai and his volunteers, he began to stand on his own feet and progress. After two years of practice, with support on both sides, he completed a 5 km walk at a special event in Berlin. “Helping Gili was physically demanding but seeing the finishing line  approaching and crossing it with him, for us all, was intensely satisfying and a profoundly moving experience!”

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Go Go Gil. Gai Ben Dor and his father Offer accompany Gil who has cerebral palsy, across the finishing line during a 5K race in Berlin. (Photo: Gai Ben Dor)

Another project of 180° that is close to Gai and Adi’s heart has been the initiative to establish 180° Education – running groups in elementary schools to inculcate in young people the values of tolerance, understanding and helping others less fortunate.

 These are running groups in elementary schools with the intention to inculcate in young people the values of tolerance, understanding and helping others less fortunate. Handicapped children are teamed up with classmates in order to train together in preparation for athletic events. By so doing, the helper learns empathy by aiding a partner and facilitating his/her social inclusion.

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Helping Hands. Volunteers from 180° guiding a visually impaired participant in the Tel Aviv Marathon (courtesy 180°)

 Gai states: “I truly believe that when people are doing sports activities together, they go through a process that creates a relationship and removes the barriers between them. I also believe that sports help people to develop self- confidence, a sense of ability and higher self esteem!”

What a wonderful way of making our world a better place!

 

 

180° is a social organization aimed at empowerment and social integration of people with disabilities through sport and educational programs

Read more: https://www.180sport.org/en

 

 

 

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

 

Storming Statues

Frenzied removals from their proverbial pedestals

By David E. Kaplan

Well, there should be some comfort in that it is less harmful to fell an enemy made out of stone or metal than human flesh but where and when will it end?

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World’s protector needs protection. Statue of Winston Churchill boarded up ahead of Black Lives Matter protest in London.

What heroes of history that inspired at the time a statue, can structurally stand the test of time? If the pulling down of General George Washington’s statue, as occurred last Thursday in Portland, Oregon and that a statue of Sir Winston Churchill in London’s Parliament Square had to be boarded up, then few kings or queens, generals or their soldiers, philosophers, writers or poets, adventurers and explorers or even religious leaders are safe!

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How the mighty have fallen. A statue of George Washington was pulled down from the lawn outside the German American Society in Northeast Portland on June 18, 2020. Rebecca Ellis/OPB

Maybe Israel is thankfully free from attack here! Apart from a bust of David Ben Gurion at Israel’s international airport and a comical statue of the first Prime Minister on a beach in Tel Aviv doing a handstand in a bathing costume, there are no official statues of its leaders or anyone else for that matter.

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Only time BG had his head in the sand. Statue of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion doing one of his famous handstands on the Tel Aviv beach.

Of course, statues are not just material but are the embodiment of ideas and beneath the veneer in the current climate, lies the heinous legacy of slavery. However, to Israelis and Jews, coupled with the systemic racism embedded in American society is the concern of the spike in global antisemitism. It is hardly surprising why there is increasing immigration of Jews to Israel from those regions where it is most felt.

From a parochial perspective one can ask if there is a global calling for the pulling down of statues, why mostly focus on the 19th century; why not start say in the ancient land of the Pharaohs? There are the statues of Ramesses II, considered the principal villain of the Exodus story. Unlike the pha­raoh “who knew Joseph”, the pharaoh of Moses was cruel and vindictive and when Moses asks him to release the Israelites, Pharaoh makes the slaves work even harder. (Exodus 5:7-8). So evil was this Pharaoh, it took no less – according to the Bible –  God’s intervention to free the Jews from bondage, annually celebrated on Passover each year.

Should we expect today’s Egyptians to tear down statues associated with ancient slavery?

Of course not!

There are no shortages of statues in England to “the hammer of the Scots”, King Edward I who in 1290 ordered the expulsion of the entire Jewish community from England. The edict was only overturned during the Protectorate more than 350 years later, when Oliver Cromwell permitted Jews to return to England in 1657.

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“Hammer of Scots” To ‘Expeller of Jews’. Statue of Edward I “Longshanks” near Burgh by Sands who expelled the Jews from England in 1290.

Do the lives of Jews matter enough that there should be a demand for the removal of the statues of King Edward I and some of his royal predecessors who had little problem persecuting the vulnerable Jewish community of their realm?

In Germany there is no shortage of statues to the influential and esteemed religious thinker Martin Luther – the seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation but who would clearly qualify today as a racist.

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Close to home of the ‘Black Live Matter’ movement is this bronze statue in Washington DC of Martin Luther who advocated setting fire to Jewish homes, synagogues and schools.

In a paragraph from his “On the Jews and Their Lies” , Luther deplores Christendom’s failure to expel the Jews. Moreover, he proposed “What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews”:

First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools … “

Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.”

Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them

Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb …”

Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews. For they have no business in the countryside …”

Sixth, I advise that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them …”

Seventh, I recommend putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow …”

Considered a powerful influence this 14th century thinker on the 20th century Nazis, should not the statues of Luther who advocated the felling of Jewish life, so too be felled?

Of course not!

While for a time, the French crown was happy to have Jews in its lands paying taxes, however, that all changed in 1394 when Charles VI suddenly demanded they leave the country once again. Permitting a brief period to sell their possessions, the Jews of France were given the royal boot and there was hardly a Jewish presence in the land again until the 1700s, when Jews fleeing violence and discrimination further East arrived in Alsace and Lorraine. By the eve of the French Revolution, there were roughly 40,000 Jews in France.

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Royal Boot. Statue at the Palais de Justice in Poitiers of King Charles VI who expelled the Jews of France in 1394.

Should the many statues of Charles VI inspire a storming today for the people of France that over two centuries ago lead to the ‘Storming of the Bastille’?

Of course not!

What of the statues of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon who sponsored the exploration of the Americas but also spearheaded in 1492 the expulsion of the Jews of Spain with the edict known in Spanish as Decreto de la Alhambra, Edicto de Granada? Only in December 1968, was this vile edict formally and symbolically revoked!

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End of an Era. Statue in Madrid of Isabella of Castile who together with her husband, Ferdinand of Aragon ordered the expulsion of Jews from Spain.

Should their statues not go the way of today’s discredited racists?

Of course not!

Systemic racism as with antisemitism should be addressed seriously not cosmetically. It is easy to ‘attack’ statues, but to assail deep-rooted hatred is far more complex.

But this is what is required!

The images in the media of the storming of statues reminded me of that famed dystopian novel by the American writer Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 that so intrigued me as a teenager. First published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 presents a future American society where books are outlawed, and “firemen” burn any that are found. Irrespective of its content, all history and knowledge recorded in books are to be destroyed. Could ‘suspect’ statues face a similar fate?

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Hot Stuff. As resonant today as it was when it was first published in 1953.

Personally, as a lover of history – I enjoy being exposed to the statues of historical characters as I do exploring castles and cathedrals, fortresses and forts as well as the battlefields of Waterloo, Crecy, Agincourt, Towton, Yorktown, Gettysburg and closer to home – Megiddo and the Old City of Jerusalem. There will always be reason to find fault with the relics of the cataclysmic encounters of the past, but should we expunge their presence?

Monumental Milestones

It was illuminating however, to discover gestures of monumental understanding by Israel following its wars with Jordan and Egypt with whom it now enjoys peace agreements. Soon after the 1967 Six-Day War ended, East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents wanted to erect a monument to the Jordanian soldiers who had died in the battle for the city.

Faced with this request was Meron Benvenisti, the new Israeli administrator over Jerusalem’s eastern sector and later a Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. He understood that there was formidable opposition to the idea among the Jewish residents of the recently unified city. As he later explained, “it was as if relatives of World War II German Luftwaffe pilots killed in bombing raids over England were demanding a memorial in Trafalgar Square.”

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Honouring Jordan’s Fallen. The monument for the Jordanian soldiers who died during the 1967 Six-Day War near the Muslim Cemetery along the Eastern Wall of the Old City near Lion’s Gate in East Jerusalem Israel.

Navigating delicately through a labyrinth of emotion and sensitivities, Benvenisti approved the erection of a simple marble obelisk commemorating the Jordanian soldiers who died defending what had been the Jordanian-held sector of the city. Benvenisti hoped that it would help reduce intercommunal hatred and consolidate coexistence and while that may not yet have materialized, the monument still stands at the northeast corner of the Old City.

No less remarkable is that not far from the “Ad Halom” Bridge in Ashdod, stands a memorial to the Egyptian soldiers who died invading Israel in 1948. It was constructed as part of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, where  Egypt agreed not to dismantle and to protect two existing memorials in the Sinai to fallen Israeli soldiers.

As was pointed out in a 2012 Times of Israel article:

  “Imagine a memorial in Paris to the German soldiers who died invading France in May of 1940 or a statue honoring the 65 Japanese airmen who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

It would be unthinkable!

Nevertheless, an obelisk of red Egyptian granite with an inscription honoring the Egyptian war dead, in four languages – English, Hebrew, Arabic and Hieroglyphics – stands for all to see and honour.

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Pursuance of Peace. The obelisk memorial to the fallen Egyptian soldiers from 1948 in Ashdod, Israel is an inspiring monument to creative diplomacy and reinforcing the quest for peace.

Despite the hatred and threatening nature imbedded in the rhetoric of Israel’s once neighbouring enemies, Israel is proud to honour with these monuments, the dead of those Jordanian and Egyptian soldiers it once fought against.

There will be no dismantling in Israel of these monuments. Rather, they serve as structural reminders on our landscape to preferably pursue peace rather than war.

Maybe the only contribution I can safely add to this complex debate is to suggest that statues or monuments in the near future should be to our heroes in the medical profession who during the current Corona pandemic are risking their lives and of their families. These are men and women who soldier on not to HURT but to HEAL.

In this, we may find a global consensus.

 

 

 

 

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

Heroes for life – Changing lives around the world!

By Rolene Marks

For many young Israelis, service to others is part of their DNA. In fact, Israel is renowned for its incredible spirit of volunteerism and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t give of their time and energy in some form or another. Also part of the Israeli culture is compulsory service in the army and for many finishing their time in uniform, the question remains – what do you do when you finish serving your country? The solution is simple.  You take what you have experienced and learnt, and serve communities around the world.

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Return To Roots. A Heroes for Life volunteer Belihon Elbatzau connecting with youngsters in his place of  birth neighbourhood  in Gondar/Ethiopia  (Photo: Lior Sperandeo)

This is what many who have served their compulsory time in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) do once their service is over.  A year of travel and exploration is just what is needed after three years of compulsory service for males and two to three years for females. After stringent routines and following orders, losing yourself amongst the wonders of the world is a welcome respite.

Many escape to the serene hills and mountains of Nepal, or to the exotic jungles of South America and Ashrams of India to explore new territories and cultures and fall in love with the people they meet.

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True Colours. Heroes for Life volunteers painting in a village in Nepal. Photo: courtesy

Travelling to far off destinations where many of the inhabitants live below the poverty line or in areas where they are disadvantaged has an impact on the lives of these former soldiers who want to share their knowledge and expertise and uplift the people that they meet.

This is where Heroes for Life is making a significant difference.

Heroes for Life is an extraordinary organization that has a simple vision – to turn Israel into a superpower of helping developing countries, notably of running volunteer humanitarian projects in four different countries across the world. They want to help others through Tikkun Olam (fixing the world) and strengthen the image of Israel and the IDF around the world.

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Israel Cares. Heroes for Life volunteers Ofir Shalgy and Guy Arnon with children at a South African orphanage. (Photo: courtesy)

Heroes for Life, was founded in 2013 by three IDF officers who had served in the same elite unit. Like most soldiers, they travelled once they had completed their army service. After witnessing the gross poverty in some of the countries that they visited, they decided to start an organization founded on a very simple principle –  help make the world a better place.

And so far, they are exceeding expectations!

From Gondar in Ethiopia to Buenos Aires in Argentina, Israel’s finest sons and daughters are fulfilling a different kind of mission – Tikkun Olam. The aim was to initially start off with four countries but this has expanded rapidly and they are now improving lives in six. In September 2018, Heroes for Life began to work with blind and mute children in Mexico, helping to teach English, math and basic life skills, like personal hygiene. A similar project already exists in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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Making A Difference In Mexico. Heroes for Life volunteer teachers in a rural village in Mexico. Photo: courtesy

Mission In Life

Back in 2015, Heroes for Life inaugurated a project in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Every December, volunteers travel to the slums of San Fernando in Buenos Aires. Volunteering lasts for two weeks and is focused on educational activities with children from the slum. Volunteers engage in renovation and painting projects that are planned and executed by the delegation (for example the delegation of 2015, built a dining room for the children of the neighbourhood) and teaching children a variety of classes such as English, math, music, life values and principles and personal hygiene.  This is similar to what Heroes for Life have done in Mumbai, India. Volunteers also repaired a shelter-residence in 2018 in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

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Helping Hand. A Heroes for Life volunteer and a new young friend in Argentina. Photo: courtesy

These soldiers do not expect ‘thank-you’s’ and recognition – the work and happy faces is all the reward that they need but their projects have caught the interest of the global media. Heroes for Life has been featured in the media from Argentina to the Arab world proving that the ethos of the IDF which is to respect human life is a message that transcends borders.

For these everyday heroes, it looks like it is mission accomplished.

For more information about Heroes for Life visit: http://hfl.org.il/en/

 

 

 

 

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

The Intersection of Hatred

By Rolene Marks

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“I Can’t Breathe”. George Floyd’s last words have become the slogan of global protests.

George Floyd. Remember his name. George Floyd was murdered. We all watched him lynched before our very eyes as a police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt for nine minutes with this knee on Floyd’s neck. Crying that he could not breathe, pleading for his mother while 3 other officers stood by and did nothing. They preferred that the crowd disperse, rather than stopping the carnage.  Bystanders called out in horror and paramedics begged to help him, to no avail and no mercy.  Floyd who was in police custody for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 dollar note to pay for a purchase, died. He died before our eyes in some sick kind of murder pornography film.

Sadly, George Floyd is another name added to the increasing list of black men and women who have died as a result of police brutality in the United States of America. The role of the police is to serve and protect and Chauvin and his 3 accomplices have made an ever increasing chasm between civilians and law enforcement worse, much worse.

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And people are angry. All over the United States and across major cities around the world, including Tel Aviv in Israel, people are taking to the streets to say enough is enough. This needs to end. Some protests are extremely peaceful. There have been very moving images of people of all races embracing each other and police officials laying down their “arms” to hug protesters and march alongside them.

But many of these images are not peaceful at all. The images are shocking. Cities are being looted and businesses have been destroyed. Crowds are turning against each other and the police in rage and at least 11 people have lost their lives in vain.

This has created an opportunity for the most insidious to stir up even more racial tension. There have been several accounts of white supremacists infiltrating so that they can physically act out their racist prejudices.

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Solidarity From Israel. Demonstrators in support of US protesters over the death of George Floyd on June 2, 2020, in Tel Aviv. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

This has not been limited to the right. Far left ideologues like Antifa (the self-proclaimed anti-Fascist movement) and the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement have joined and stirred the ranks of looters and chaos mongers. At the outset of the protests, these opportunistic hate-groups managed to instigate violence, looting and destroying businesses. These businesses provide much needed employment in an economic climate that has been dealt a significant blow as a result of Coronavirus shutdowns.

Just as nefarious has been the exploiting and hijacking of the memory of George Floyd and the pain felt by many for their own political agendas. BDS used the opportunity to take to social media and allege that Israel is to blame for the methods used by Chauvin to kill George Floyd. They blamed Israeli counter-terror training used around the world for the methods used by Chauvin. There is no proof that Chauvin has ever encountered Israelis or was trained by them.

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Blame The Jews, Again. Hateful cartoons suggesting Jews were responsible for the murder of George Floyd as a result of US police officers being trained by Israeli Police.

In Los Angeles, rioters also felt the need to deface a synagogue. The Congregation Beth Israel, one of the oldest in Los Angeles was daubed with the words “F*** Israel, Free Palestine”. Commenting on this, Richard S. Hirschhaut, the Los Angeles Regional Director of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement to the Jewish Journal, “It is deplorable that certain protesters in Los Angeles today resorted to violence and vandalism.”

“The epithets scrawled on the synagogue wall do nothing to advance the cause of peace or justice, here or abroad,” he added.

Fighting racism by propagating antisemitism is utter hypocrisy. One form of prejudice cannot be fought by allowing for another. This is not justice for George Floyd and the countless others who have been murdered as a result of racism.

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Spillover Effect. The synagogue Congregation Beth El on Beverly Blvd in Los Angeles Graffiti was vandalized and spray-painted with the writing “Free Palestine” and “F**k Israel”.

At the centre of this, is the concept of intersectionality that alleges that all suffering is equal; however, there is a glaring double standard when it comes to Jews.

Jews have always been inextricably linked with civil rights movements across the world.  Jews marched in Selma in the USA for equal rights and for years fought Apartheid in South Africa, and those are just two examples.  Wherever there has been injustice, Jewish communities around the world have been engaged in combatting it. Propagating hatred to promote a divisive and hate-filled agenda only serves to polarize people and create barriers, especially at a time when listening to each other is more important than ever.

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It is this interaction that will honour the memories of those who have lost their lives as a result of hatred and brutality the world over. We should endeavour to meet at the intersection of tolerance and understanding, rather than exclusion and discrimination. This will honour those social justice giants on whose mighty shoulders we stand.

George Floyd. Remember his name.

WIZO On The Front Line

By  Rolene Marks

There is nothing like a major global crisis to test the mettle of even the strongest people. During this Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen global leaders either flying – or flailing. It has tested our own personal strength and endurance. Non-Profits and social welfare organisations have been called to step up stronger than they ever have. One organization has more than risen to the challenge and has proven yet again why it is the backbone of Israel as the country navigates its way through this corona crisis – WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation).

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Celebrating its centennial in July, WIZO has for the last century been a bastion of support since its founding and today is no different! WIZO is working on several fronts to make sure that Israel’s citizens of all ages are well taken care of and protected – especially the most vulnerable.  The Covid-19 is unprecedented in modern history and requires new, creative ways of doing things – while maintaining optimal safety and health guidelines.

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WIZO has worked closely with the authorities to ensure the best possible solutions in  the most efficient time.

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“WIZOoming”. The World WIZO Executive conduct all-important meetings via Zoom

Helping Combat Gender Based Violence (GBV):

As the global community battles the Covid-19 virus that has killed so many, ravaging economies as it continues its spread, so another silent and potentially deadly phenomenon grows – domestic violence.

There are many vulnerable women and children trapped at home in lockdown with someone who could be or is abusive. This is not a situation that is unique to Israel, but it is making headlines. Since the start of the pandemic, 5 women in Israel have been killed.  These are just the statistics that we know of – many cases, physical or emotional, are not often reported.

“We aren’t prepared for the tsunami that’s going to happen; we’re talking about an extreme situation that we’ve never seen before,” says Rivka Neuman, Head of the Advancement for the Status of Women division at WIZO, which operates shelters and hotline. “We are seeing normative families reporting violence for the first time, and a worsening of the situation in families that have been in the cycle of violence.”

WIZO runs hotlines, including two for men with the hope of breaking the cycle of violence. The organisation recently opened a third shelter where women and their children can be removed from danger and protected while having to undergo the quarantine that is expected.

WIZO’s hotlines are operating at capacity and the men’s hotline is no different. Established six years ago, the hotline provides counseling for men who are in distress and allows them to have an initial, accessible dialogue about the difficult feelings they have. The line provides mediating facilities along with continuous professional care. Manned exclusively by male volunteers who have been trained by professionals, men are able to call while remaining anonymous.

“We are trying to change the public discourse in Israel and to implore men who are in the cycle of domestic violence, whether they are abusive or abused, not to remain alone with their pain and suffering, to call and receive assistance in order to escape the violence cycle, “says Avi Mor, Coordinator of the WIZO Men’s Hotline.

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Can We Talk?    The WIZO Men’s Hotline    (Nationwide emergency hotline 1-800-220000)

With news about rising domestic violence around the world making headlines almost daily, WIZO once again proves its mettle at the vanguard of fighting this growing scourge.

Taking Care Of Children Of Frontline Workers

Israel’s frontline workers are protecting lives around the clock – but who is looking after their children? WIZO is ensuring that our medical professionals and many others who are performing vital services have peace of mind while they work.

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Kid Gloves. Staff at a WIZO Day Care Centre make sure that it is ready daily for its children.

WIZO was the only organization that was given permission to keep day care centres open at four hospitals – Hadassah, Ichilov, Assaf HaRofeh and Barzilai. This is testament to the trust that the government and the citizens of Israel have in WIZO.

Children of healthcare workers who normally do not attend these particular day centres were able to attend and their parents were able to focus on the task at hands while knowing their children were in the best possible care.

Protecting Our Elderly

Making sure our savim (grandfathers) and savtot (grandmothers) are safe!

Looking after the most vulnerable in society is one the things that WIZO does best! When it was announced that extra measures would have to be taken to protect Saba and Savta (grandpa and grandma), WIZO immediately mobilized. The big concerns apart from potentially contracting the virus, was the emotional and psychological toll being separated from family, especially grandchildren.

In WIZO’s Parents Home in Tel Aviv, every precaution that ensured the most sensitive emotional support was deployed. One of the greatest concerns was how to hold the traditional Pesach seder. Many were dreading this holiday where families traditionally gather; but the staff found a solution which brought residents together while keeping with social distancing laws. Each resident had their own table and was able to happily participate. This was repeated for Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day), allowing for happy residents to participate in a sing a long and truly make the best of celebrating during lock down.

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Corona Free. Magen David Adom conclude Corona Virus checks at the WIZO Parent’s Home and find the facility 100% Covid-19 free!

Residents were so happy with their care, that they awarded their caregivers with this beautiful award:

A DECLARATION

We, the residents of the WIZO Parents’ Home in Tel Aviv,

Hereby award a Medal of Honour

to all those involved in the management of this residence during the Corona crisis.

We declare the WIZO Parents’ Home in Tel Aviv to be a shining example to be followed for all facilities and organizations responsible for the care of seniors, both independent living and those requiring nursing care.

This  Medal of Honour recognizes the dedicated and thorough care and treatment provided by the staff to the residents from the outbreak of the Corona crisis till now. The staff has taken excellent care of all the residents and does not compromise on the health and comfort of those in their care.

We are deeply appreciative of the endless devotion of the staff of the Parents Home, led by Chairperson Riki Cohen and Director Yair Efrati, and proud to have such a wonderful, professional and caring institution carry the WIZO name and tradition.

May you continue to care for Israel’s seniors for years to come in health and happiness.

WIZO is delighted to report that Covid-19 tests were carried out on all residents and staff and there are no infections. WIZO’s Parents Home is Corona free!

This is just a snapshot of the work that WIZO is doing. There is also legal aid, especially for women in the workplace and the protection of their rights, protecting our students in a variety of schools, many of whom come from difficult situations at home, counselling for parents and a host of other supportive services.

All around the world, WIZO’s venerable global army of volunteers; are working around the clock to make sure that all of this work is supported. Our Chaverot have been champions – holding events via Zoom (or “WIZOoming” as we call it) to make sure that not only do we stay in touch; but hold activities to support our cause. The Corona virus has challenged us to be as creative as we can and in this uncertain economic time, where non-profit organisations have been particularly hard hit, creativity is a necessity.

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Keep On Smiling. Friendly teachers at WIZO’s Nachlat Yehuda School waiting to welcome students.

In the last 100 years, WIZO as a global organization has endured wars, fascism, communism, Apartheid and now a global pandemic. While we know that this too shall pass, the commitment and dedication of WIZO leadership, staff and volunteers, both in Israel and globally, is the secret to our resilience and is the reason why when it comes to a crisis – you will find WIZO on the frontline.

Soaring Stuff

Susan’s House in Jerusalem inspires youth through art

By Stephen Schulman

Most of the buildings in the industrial zone of Jerusalem do not greatly differ from those in many other parts of the country. In their functionality, they tend to be rather uniformly drab and dreary. One building in particular with its wide external corridors lined with doors of many workshops is no different from the rest. Nevertheless, what makes it so special is that opening one of the doors leads you into a very special workplace – Susan’s House.

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I was fortunate enough to be part of a group that visited, toured, saw this magnificent project in action and learned of its history.

Started in 2002, Susan’s House is a living memorial to Susan Kaplansky, a gifted artist who had prematurely passed away at the age of 38 leaving her husband Eyal and four young children behind her. Susan, a gifted artist, fervently believing in the healing powers of art, had used her talents to work with disadvantaged children. After her death, Eyal started this workshop and artists’ studio to continue her work and perpetuate her memory.

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Inspirational Couple. Eyal and the late Susan Kaplansky in 1991.

The workshop produces and sells a wide range of arts and crafts ranging from special glassware, jewelry and ceramics to unique stationery and greeting cards made from recycled paper. All of these products have two things in common: they are carefully crafted, and they are made by a dedicated group of thirty youngsters whose ages range from fifteen to eighteen. Each of these young people comes from a difficult background both Jew and Arab. Most are school dropouts and currently unemployed, socially marginalized and at risk – a sad reminder of problems that exist in both communities.

 

At the beginning of the tour, we listened to an introductory talk by Avital Goel, the workshop supervisor who explained that Susan’s House gives them employment and a wage. He went on to explain that under the guidance of a team of social workers and volunteer artists, the teenagers are given vocational rehabilitation, guidance and real life work experience that enables them to become contributing members of society.

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Creative Hands. Learning skills that will empower these teens towards rewarding futures.

They gain self-esteem and the ability to respect others. They not only learn a trade but become part of a working community that is also a home where they learn social skills and in so doing, gain self empowerment. “They work together as a team learning how to manufacture and sell. They also learn the value of money, how to spend it correctly and be a wise consumer. All the youngsters not only eat a wholesome lunch together every day but are also, in turn, given the responsibility to buy the provisions and help prepare the meal.”

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Noble Art. Made from recycled material, exquisite arts and crafts for sale made by youngsters at risk.

The real highlight was a talk by two seventeen year olds – Aviva from a poor Jewish neighborhood and Ahmed, a Muslim Arab from East Jerusalem. Both of them, with complete self-assurance, spoke about themselves, their lives, backgrounds and their work at Susan’s House. Their honesty, openness and sincerity was palpable, their enthusiasm for their workplace was genuine and infectious and there was not one of us sitting and listening to them who was not moved!

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Youngsters Fine Art. for sale from jewelry, glassware and ceramics to greeting cards made from recycled paper. Fine Art. Youngsters at risk are discovering their talents and creating fine artworks

During our stay, production continued, and it was business as usual. We walked around, watched work in progress and then visited the aesthetically arranged shop, which was staffed entirely by the youngsters, to purchase items to take home both as presents and as memoirs of a most illuminating and rewarding visit.

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Young Craftsman. Finding their path through creative expression

Susan’s House is proud of the fact that its five hundred or more graduates have acquired life skills and gone on to become functioning and positive members of society with more than sixty percent serving in the army or doing national service. As a result of its success, another branch has opened in Eilat.

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Creating Fine Futures. The workshop supervisor Avital Goel (centre) with staff and talented teens in the workshop.

Coincidentally, Susan’s House is located on 31 Wings of Eagles Street (31 Canfei Nesharim –  31 כנפי נשרים). A most appropriate address for a noble institution that has been giving so many young people the means to soar!

 

*For more information: Phone: 02-6725069 or email: susanshouse.j@gmail.com

 

 

 

About the writer:

image001 (4).pngStephen Schulman, is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist Youth Movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. Stephen, who has a master’s degree in Education, was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.

 

 

 

Captain Extraordinary!

By  Rolene Marks

Not all heroes wear capes. During this time of crisis, most wear masks of a different kind – medical grade and protective gear to prevent a tiny but potentially lethal microbe from spreading. This particular hero, wears a smart navy blazer with his medals from his service during World War II polished and displayed proudly across his chest. His weapon is a walker to help him walk. And his superpower? This hero’s particular superpower is inspiring many from all around the world to support him on his noble mission – raising money for Britain’s NHS (National Health Services).

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Meet Captain Tom Moore, a 99 year old World War II veteran who is walking to raise funds for the NHS. This extraordinary man, who turns 100 on April 30th, pledged to do 100 laps of his 25 metre long garden before his birthday at month’s end, which he has since completed. His goal? Raise one thousand pounds for the NHS.

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Honouring A Hero. A guard of honour for 99-year-old WWII veteran Captain Tom Moore (image BBC)

His family thought this may be a goal too high and took to social media to support him but Captain Tom as he has been dubbed, with his captivating charm and noble intentions has raised a staggering £12 million at the time of writing this article – and the money continues to come in! Celebrities, businesspeople, ex-pat Brits and citizens all over the UK are contributing. At four million it was estimated that funds could contribute to 800 ventilators, 850 nurses and 10,000 beds – imagine what 12 million (and growing!) can do!

 

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(*By the time that this article is published, the amount has already exceeded that sum by far and is still rising!)

Who is this ordinary man turned extraordinary superhero?

Tom Moore was born in Keighley, West Yorkshire.  He was conscripted into the British Army when he was 20, along with – as he likes to put it – his role model, the Queen.

“She and I were in her father’s army together – she was a subaltern,” he says. Her majesty served as a mechanic during the war. Captain Tom loves the Queen. ‘She is fantastic and so strong and sensible, and her heart is in the right place,” he says. “I don’t think anybody anywhere has had a Queen like we’ve got. We’re very lucky.”

Moore joined the 145th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps, was selected for officer training in 1940 and rose to the rank of Captain. He was posted to India where he fought in the Arakan Campaign of 1942-3, when the Allies pushed back against the Japanese in Burma. His late sister, Freda, was also conscripted and joined the ATS in Lincolnshire, plotting the German planes as they came over.

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In His Majesty’s Army. Captain Moore serves in WWII (image daily mail)

Today, Captain Moore is serving Queen and country in a different way.

A few years ago, Moore endured a battle with skin cancer. He also fell in his kitchen and broke his hip and gashed his head.

“I tangled up my own feet and fell over and hit my head on the dishwasher,” he says.

“It still has a little dent!” But thanks to the NHS, he soon bounced back into his smart navy blazer and slacks and he will always be grateful.

“They’re wonderful. Amazing. They’ve seen me through and cared for Pamela, my wife when she was ill. I just wanted to thank them.” Well he’s done that, many times over. Captain Moore’s heartwarming mission is not just dominating headlines in his native UK but also around the world. Even The Times of Israel has been following his extraordinary fundraising journey. With all the Corona virus coverage, perhaps Moore is the perfect dose of good will.

Journalist Piers Morgan, who has interviewed Captain Moore,  has called for him to be Knighted for his service to Queen and country and many agree. While there may not be a medal adequate enough to express gratitude, this gentleman deserves the highest honour in the land – a Knighthood.

Asked about how he feels about a possible Knighthood, he responded:

“It would be marvelous to have such an honour but I don’t expect anything like that. I think it would be absolutely enormous if I was knighted, to be Sir Thomas Moore, I have never heard of anything like that before. I think the Queen is marvelous and doing such a terrific job because all the time she’s been Queen, she has been the leader of the country – and I have the highest regard for her. I hope she continues as Queen for a very long time.”

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When asked about his 100th birthday on April 30, Captain Moore said: “Well originally we were going to have a big party here with all my friends and relations and we were all imagining what it would be like.”

Captain Moore, you deserve a party – with everything your brave heart desires, you have earned it!

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Captain Tom Moore reacts as he completes the 100th length of his back garden in Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire, yesterday

On April 5 2000, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth hearkened back to a bygone era when she delivered a magnificent speech in what many are calling the greatest of her 68-year reign. In this speech, she spoke about separation from family during the war years and quoted another icon of her generation, Dame Vera Lynn when she gave the rallying cry “We’ll Meet Again”. It reminded many of us of the spirit of that generation, the greatest generation. Today, it is a war veteran, resplendent in his medals , who shows us it is possible to keep calm and get going.

Captain Tom Moore, Sir, we salute you! You are the epitome of  the Greatest Generation.

 

No One Left Behind

El Al – Israel’s National Airline – missions to bring stranded Israelis home during the Corona crisis

By Rolene Marks

This is Am Yisrael (the people of Israel) – we never leave our brothers or sisters stranded.

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Marathon Flight. Four El Al 787-9 Dreamliners headed to Peru to rescue around 1,000 stranded Israelis. The 16 hour plus flight times, made them the longest flights ever flown by El Al. (Photo: Jacob Aviation)

I recently enjoyed the distinct pleasure of interviewing Captain Ofer Aloni, a veteran pilot who has had a renowned career both in the army flying Cobra helicopters; and for El Al – Israel’s national carrier.

Captain Ofer Aloni is warm and engaging. A pilot with an enduring passion for music, Captain Aloni recently participated in a historic mission – to bring back stranded Israelis from Peru because of international travel bans due to the global spread of the Corona virus. He graciously shared some insight into this extraordinary mission, one of several to various countries.

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Hitting The Right Chord. When not flying, music is a big part of Captain Ofer Aloni’s home life. (Photo: Courtesy of Ofer Aloni)

What makes these missions extra special, is that this is the first time the Boeing airplanes, with their tails proudly displaying the Israeli flag, have flown to these countries. Australia, Peru, Colombia, Nigeria, Costa Rica and various others – Israel has proven that we will dispatch our national carrier to the far flung corners of the world to bring our citizens home safely.

First Direct Flight To Melbourne Lands. Rescuing stranded Israelis, the flight on the 2 April 2020 from Tel Aviv Israel to Melbourne Australia took 16 hours and 24 minutes.

Captain Aloni describes how the mission started. “We heard that there was a mission being planned to go to Peru and everyone wanted to be a part of it,” he says. Israel does not have an Embassy in Peru but the prospect to fly to a place where El Al had never been before, proved intriguing.

Before the planes could take off on their extraordinary mission, a sterile environment had to be created on board because of the highly contagious nature of Covid-19. A sterile area was created behind the cockpit – business class became a no-go area. Pilots and cabin crew took great pains to keep a distance from each other, and social distancing rules means that there was absolutely no contact between pilots and passengers and cabin crew had to wear masks and what has now become de rigueur Corona accessories.

With a sterile environment set up on board, it was time for the two El Al flights to depart for Lima, Peru.

Flying into the unknown is very exciting for a pilot and this time we were flying over countries and in weather we had not previously experienced,” says Aloni.  The flight path soared over the magnificent Amazon Rain Forest and high above the Andes mountains, with its unusual clouds and the weather was eye opening.  High clouds above the Andes Mountains are fertile ground for storms.

For this long haul flight that took over 30 hours with no layover, the six pilots took shifts. Usually, the pilots that are off shift, are able to rest comfortably on proper cots with sheets and blankets but in this case, nobody seemed to mind catching a few z’s on the floor of the cockpit. “It was special, and the atmosphere was different – we knew that we doing something completely out of the ordinary,” says Aloni.

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The flight path from Tel Aviv to Lima.

It was certainly out of the ordinary. With the whole world engaged in a war against encroaching Corona virus, airports were closed and for the first time, flight traffic was quiet.

After flying for so long, it was time to notify air traffic control that El Al was coming into land.

This was the most incredible feeling. It was so exciting not just for us, but for the air traffic controllers at the airport in Lima. This was the first time ever that they were greeting El Al pilots and having planes land in the empty airport. I felt so lucky! Prime Minister Netanyahu phoned to congratulate us but we are Israel – we never leave our people behind,” says Aloni.

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The notes of an emotional speech given aboard by captain Ofer Aloni on the return flight from Peru.

With a 1000 enthusiastic and grateful passengers on board, it was time to head home.  This was a flight like no other and while Aloni and his crew had to keep a safe distance from the passengers, the affable Captain took to the on-board microphone to address everyone. For Israelis and Jews around the world, this was defining moment. It was a moment that would signal light and collective brotherhood.

August 2018 – Captain Ofer Aloni, son of Holocaust survivors, with his guitar, making a special emotional gesture with passengers returning from Poland to Israel , after delegations visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and other Nazi death camps.

I used the opportunity to speak about using this opportunity of quarantine to appreciate our togetherness. I said to them that I would love to hug all of them, we couldn’t at this time, but we can focus on each other,” says Aloni.

Footage of the speech and ensuing singing was posted to social media channels and had people the world over singing – and shedding a few emotional but joyful tears.

Home sweet home – and was homecoming ever this sweet?!

The reception waiting for crew and passengers was simply extraordinary! There were about 30-40 parents, clapping, crying and thanking us and I could not contain my tears,” says an emotional Aloni. “This was the greatest reward! There are moments in life that you cherish. For me, it has been the rescue of four soldiers I rescued during combat, and now this mission is definitely another one. We don’t leave anyone behind – on the battlefield and in crisis,” says Aloni.

Israel has proven the ancient tenet that we are all responsible for each other – even if it means flights to every corner of the globe, including the unexplored that bring with them new terrain, and that every life is precious which is why we never leave anyone behind.

 

Going home – Sweet home!