‘RESCUING’ HOLOCAUST SURIVORS TODAY

Christians and Jews unite in providing a helping hand

By staff correspondent

The timing may be coincidental but there are no coincidences.  This week, two parallel, complementary organizations – one run by an Orthodox Israeli American Jew, and one run by a Chinese American Christian – announced a partnership to bless and comfort Holocaust survivors in Israel.  The need and opportunity is great, and time is of the essence the aging population of Holocaust survivors are dying at an alarming rate.  As they age, they also find themselves in challenging and stressful situations where fixed incomes do not cover all their increased needs. They are literally inviting people from around the world to join them.

The Genesis 123 Foundation is a US based 501(C)3 non-profit whose mandate is to build bridges between Jews and Christians and Christians with Israel in ways that are new, unique and meaningful.  Jonathan Feldstein is its Orthodox Jewish, Israeli American president.  Years ago, Feldstein connected with Shirley Burdick, a Chinese American Christian, and founder of the Israeli based non-profit, Ten Gentiles, whose mission is to equip and engage Christians to participate in God’s restoration of Israel alongside the Jewish people.

Helping Hands. On a mission together are founder and CEO of Genesis 123 Foundation Jonathan Feldstein  and founder of the Israeli based non-profit, Ten Gentiles, Shirley Burdick

Feldstein and Burdick became friends and have partnered together on various projects including providing fresh, homemade, hot kosher soup to bless Israeli soldiers guarding at night, keeping Israelis safe, in the Judean mountains. This partnership started with Ten Gentiles purchasing a large soup pot and Feldstein and Burdick preparing and delivering soup one cold winter night. Since then, hundreds of servings of soup, and infinite love and appreciation for the soldiers, have been served.

Recently, Feldstein and Burdick learned of a need and opportunity to be a blessing to elderly Holocaust survivors, and to partner together in a way that neither could do on their own. As they age, and die by the thousands each year, survivors have increased needs medically and economically that create financial stress and trigger PTSD, reminding them of the trauma of suffering and survival that they endured as young people. 

Genesis 123 and Ten Gentiles agreed to partner, with Genesis 123 receiving financial offerings from donations as a US non-profit, and facilitating Ten Gentiles to disburse the funds to benefit Holocaust survivors in need.  Some of the very tangible needs presented include massage and physical therapy to help with healing after a physical trauma (ranging from $500-$700), replacing an AC unit for survivors in the heat of summer ($875-$1,000), home renovation to replace a bathtub with an accessible shower  ($1,780), urgent dental treatment (from $826- $2,105), new eye glasses ($859), hearing aids and eye surgery ($1,071), purchasing a new convertible couch/bed ($780), purchasing a new TV ($560), and a new washing machine and freezer ($800 + $600), laser eye surgery ($820), providing a new computer ($1,156), and offering a rent increase subsidy ($1,500).  This week, Ten Gentiles gave out gift cards to a major Israeli grocery store chain to survivors to be sure that they have basic food supplies going into winter.

Room to Improve. Appalling conditions at homes of Holocaust survivors (Photo: The Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel)

These needs are just some of the specific examples of things that have been done by mostly Christian donors so far, and an illustration of what kinds of needs are expected coming up. Most needs fall outside the kinds of things that local government and civil service agencies can do, and involve one-time expenses that are unaffordable for those living on a fixed income.  With about 25% of survivors living below the poverty line, any one of these can push someone over, the stress of which would be compounded by the trauma the survivors suffered in Nazi Europe.

All the survivors for whom needs are being provided are vetted by local social service agencies so that the funds donated will make the biggest impact to those most in need. The more money that is donated, the more survivors that can be helped. 

Mindful of the six million Jews who were murdered, Genesis 123 and Ten Gentiles have established a modest goal of $600,000 as stage one, and agreed to steward the funds with no overhead.  If just 6000 people were to donate $100, the goal could be reached by January’s observance of International Holocaust Memorial Day.

Working through churches around the world, Genesis 123 has also provided handmade holiday cards along with the ability for donors to send their personal blessings and words of encouragement to the survivors directly.  

In announcing their partnership, Feldstein and Burdick realized that it could not be timeous.  As November 9 is the anniversary of the 1938 nationwide pogrom that engulfed Germany’s Jews known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, while the horrors of the past cannot be undone, a redeeming partnership between Jews and Christians to support the shrinking number of remaining survivors can be a blessing and is redemptive.

On Kristallnacht, Jewish institutions and synagogues were vandalized and burned, along with countless private Jewish businesses and homes. Jews were arrested, assaulted, and murdered across Germany in what became the foundation of the systematic mass murder of the Holocaust. 

Because so much of the persecution of the Jews in Europe took place by Christian Europe, this partnership between Jews and Christians is not just a comfort to the survivors but healing in the sense that it mends the relationship that was overcome by hate.  Anyone who wishes to be a blessing and participate in comforting the survivors in the twilight of their lives can visit: genesis123.co/hug-a-holocaust-survivor.  





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).

SIX DAYS IN JUNE

If it took the Almighty six days to create the world; 55 years ago it took the almighty IDF six days to perform another miracle

By David E. Kaplan

When Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran in May 1967 to Israeli shipping, it also opened the minds and hearts of Jews around the world who knew that war was coming. In the weeks that followed – before, during and immediately following the cessation of hostilities  – over 5,000 – mostly young people from Jewish communities across the globe, put their lives on hold to volunteer in Israel.

Unlike the earlier wars of 1948 and 1956, this time it was not to hold a rifle but the metaphoric rake, not to grab a grenade but the teat of a cow as they mostly served on kibbutzim taking the place of those who were in uniform. It kept the wheels of Israel’s still a very much agrarian economy turning.

The Volunteers of the Six Day War – 50 Years Later – Featuring former Director Solly Sacks, who takes a look at those volunteers who came from abroad to Israel in 1967 to assist the State of Israel during and following the Six Day War.

Leading the pack of countries from where volunteers came was England with 1,295.One of those volunteers was 23-year-old Barry Kester, who was articled in a West End accountancy practice and due to take his finals in December of that year. That was all to change Barry writes on his blog:

On the 20th May 1967 I was at Wembley Stadium cheering on my beloved Spurs as they defeated Chelsea in the F.A. Cup Final.  Had anyone told me on that day, that just a couple of weeks later I would be in Israel working on a kibbutz close to the Golan Heights, I would have thought them crazy.”

Following England in the largest number of volunteers was Southern Africa with 861. For a region with a small Jewish community – never more than 120,000 Jews in South Africa and 5000 in then Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe) at its peak – the figure of 861 Southern Africans represented an extraordinarily high percentage. It also repeatedly matched with the over 800 volunteers who came from this same region in 1948 to fight in Israel’s War of Independence.

Responding to the Call.  Young adults, probably students, volunteer on a kibbutz in 1967.

Capturing the atmosphere at the time –  from the anguish in the build-up to the war to the jubilation following the overwhelming victory –  are the contemporaneous accounts and later recollections of people that lived through it. Apart from people I have interviewed over the years, we are fortunate to have letters written by many of these young people that were collated by the late Muriel Chesler in her book, ‘A Shield About Me’. In it, she writes:

 “I was in Cape Town during the Six Day War and thought the end of the world had come.”

She was hardly alone experiencing those apocalyptic thoughts!

Joy & Jubilation. Young men and woman in the IDF following victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.(Terry Fincher/Express, via Getty Images)

RESPONDING TO THE CALL

I was petrified of having to inform my accountancy firm of my decision to go,” recalls Solly Sacks of Jerusalem then living in Johannesburg. As head of Bnei Akiva, he would serve on the screening committee of his group. “People were shocked and tried to dissuade me,” but Solly would have none of that and by the time “I arrived at the third floor of the Fed [South African Zionist Federation] building, it was crowded with hundreds of people. I was unable to get out of the elevator.”

Having ensured that most of his youth movement group were booked or had already left for Israel, “I managed to ensure that the remaining few of us got on that last flight.”

One in his group is the founder of Carmit Candy Industries Ltd., Lenny Sackstein. Back in June 1967, Lennie was a 21-year-old law student at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). 

Studying was a serious business. You attended classes wearing a tie, submitted papers on time, and passed your exams or you were history.”

Having a Field Day. Volunteers from abroad being driven early in the morning by a tractor  to the fields on a kibbutz in 1967.

However, history was precisely what Lenny and his fellow volunteers were about to make!

On Thursday, the 11th June, Sackstein presented himself to Professor Ellison Kahn, the dean of the Faculty to advise him he was off to Israel as a volunteer.

He looked at me straight in the eye and said, “Sackstein, if you do not present yourself at class on Monday, you will be removed from the course for the year.”

A Fruitful Experience. Young volunteers from abroad picking fruit in a kibbutz orchid in 1967.

Having discharged his duty as dean, Kahn then went on to say, “Well done Sackstein! Can I assist you in any way?

The Jewish community was united.

Lenny arrived with his group to Kibbutz Shluchot in the Beit She’an Valley in northern Israel .in 40-degree heat – a far cry from Johannesburg’s crisp winter. Welcoming them, the kibbutz representative said:

 “Freirim; vot you come for? Ve have already von ze var.”

Hearing this, the 40-degree temperature “was nothing in comparison to my blood pressure.”

The upbeat in Cape Town was no different.  In May 1967, Sidney Shapiro – who would later become Director of TELFED, the South African Zionist Federation in Israel – was then a student at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Being National Vice-Chairman of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) and Chairman of the Student Jewish Association (SJA), he felt it was only natural that it fell on him to make the appeal on campus for volunteers. “We called a meeting during the day at the SJA centre in Mowbray hardly expecting too many students to pitch during lecture time.”

In High Spirits. Volunteer Gerald Abelson from Cape Town (top) on the ladder picking fruit at kibbutz Gadot.

How wrong he was!

The SJA hall was bursting at the seams with students piling into the garden and into the street. There I was, standing in front of these hundreds of students ready to read from a prepared speech, when I was suddenly caught up in the excitement and set aside my notes and spoke from the heart.”

Sidney had reservations about volunteering as “I was in my final year. However, I got caught up in my own words and volunteered.”

The excitement peaked when “some of the students grabbed the podium, turned it on its head and the next thing, students began throwing money in it.”

Sidney, like many Jewish students throughout South Africa, would have good reason to be apprehensive – not only because of the impending danger in Israel, but “we had to break the news to our parents. I knew I would be flying out on the first plane available, which meant not completing my degree that year. As difficult as this was, I knew there was no way that I could not have volunteered. My parents understood.”

In 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, Michael Cohen, Vice-Principal of Bialik College, Melbourne, recounted the atmosphere in Cape Town in the period leading up to the war when he was undertaking postgraduate studies in History at the University of Cape Town. “The local Zionist offices were flooded with applications from would-be volunteers; meetings were held in synagogues and at other venues to raise money for Israel, whose very survival was under grave threat; and potential volunteers, of whom I was one, were taken to outlying Jewish-owned farms to learn to drive tractors in preparation for work on Kibbutzim. The aim was to replace young Israelis who were being called to arms.”

On arrival in Israel, “we were sorted into groups after interviews. A select number of us, mainly those who had youth movement leadership experience or spoke Hebrew, were dispatched to Jerusalem to work as non-combat members of the Israeli army. We were accommodated in East Jerusalem, at the Jordanian Police School next to Ammunition Hill in tents while the girls were located in nearby hotels. Our task was to collect the ‘booty’ left in retreat by the Jordan army. We joined with Israeli soldiers, and each day we were transported to locations in the West Bank where we loaded equipment – barbed wire, army boots, large bombs in canisters and other items – into trucks.”

Later relocated to Shech Jerach in the Sinai Desert, “our duty was to collect the hundreds of abandoned Egyptian armed vehicles. I recall, on one occasion, being given a gun and being asked to accompany a group of Egyptian prisoners on the back of a truck to a nearby army base. My anxiety levels were exacerbated by the fact that I did not know how to use the weapon! I chatted briefly with one of the prisoners whose English was passable and who told me about his family back in Egypt. Those Egyptian prisoners who had earlier escaped, making their way to the Suez Canal in an effort to return home, and who had survived on water from the radiators of abandoned Egyptian armoured vehicles, quickly gave themselves up to our forces when they discovered that Egyptian soldiers returning to Egypt were being shot to prevent news of Egypt’s defeat spreading.”

UNDER FIRE

Not a volunteer but a conscript in the Israeli army was 31-year-old Ian Rogow, a former South African, fighting fiercely on the outskirts of Jerusalem. He recounts the battle in this letter to his family in Cape Town:

On Monday, 5th June, my company was moved after dark to the front where kibbutz Ramat Rachel, east of Jerusalem, forks the border with Jerusalem. That night we took a terrible hammering, and the shells of heavy 120mm mortars and long-distance artillery beat down on us like hail storms.

It was a long night and the machine gun and rifle fire found only brief moments of respite during the dark hours.

Homecoming. The war over, Ian Rogow returns to his wife Pearl and kids in 1967 after having fought at kibbutz Ramat Rachal, Mar Elias and the Jordanian front.

I shall carry with me to the end of my days, the memory of the long, drawn-out, sibilant whistle that so ominously precedes the explosion of a mortar shell. At first, you’re frightened as hell, and you strain to push your whole body into your steel helmet like a snail retreating into its protective shell as you dig into mother-earth tighter, and wish your trench was deeper, and you think of God and pray. But you have to fight back, and soon you condition yourself against hitting the dirt with every bone-chilling shriek of an incoming shell.

By the time dawn broke, Ramat Rachel was safe and by nightfall, we were in Bethlehem; white flags flying from the rooftops and the Royal Jordanian army not in sight. The next day we were in Hebron, and here too, the white flags fluttered prominently from every roof-top.”

Preparing for the Worst. High school boys digging trenches in a Tel Aviv street on the eve of the Six Day War.

The remaining danger, Ian writes were:

 “unseen snipers. We lost many a life to the bullet of a rifle fitted with a telescopic sight and triggered by a well concealed finger.”

Ian concludes this long letter of further wartime encounters through Gush Etzion with:

Let our political successes match our military victory as some small compensation for the heavy price we paid – so as not to let down those who gave their lives for the gain we have made by the sword.”

One of the many South Africans who fought in the Six Day War was the late David “Migdal” Teperson. No surprise here – he held the exclusive honour in the IDF of having participated in every war from 1948 to Protective Edge – most in combat. It was only from the Second Lebanon War, he was no longer allowed in the frontline but could bring supplies by truck “to my boys.”

On the 5th of June 1967:

 “we were lined up under our camouflage nets, amongst the trees at the side of the road in company formation. We had orders not to move around too much so that we would not be spotted by the Egyptian air force. At daybreak, we saw our airplanes fly over us, flip their wings in salute, and continue towards the Sinai. Suddenly a dispatch rider on a motorbike came charging down between our columns shouting, “switch on your radios.” As soon as we did, we heard the password “red sheet” and the orders “move, move, move”! We launched our attack against the Egyptian forces in Sinai.”

Migdal’s division was ordered to break through a fortified stronghold at Rafiah, situated between the Gaza strip, Sinai and Israel. For Migdal, it felt like déjà vu. Following the War of Independence, the 1956 war and “now again in 1967 – this was the third time I was fighting in the same area.”

His division’s objective was to cut off El Arish. “We captured close to 800 Egyptian prisoners of war, who we kept in a temporary stockade. I had taken prisoners of war around the same position in 1948 as a corporal; in 1956 as a platoon commander, and now again, in 1967 as number 2 company commander.”

While waiting to move on and listening to the Israeli news, “we heard that east Jerusalem, and the Western Wall had been captured by our paratroopers. On hearing the news, the boys cried, especially the old soldiers who had fought in the 1948 war.”

Migdal would fight all the way to the Suez Canal and remained there after the ceasefire.

HOME FRONT

Capturing the atmosphere at home are revealed in these letters to family in South Africa that appear in Muriel Chesler’s book.

A week before the war, Raie Gurland writes on the 28th May 1967,  to her family in Cape Town:

Blankets, sheets, towels and hot water bottles were collected. No-one refuses. We all give and more. It’s like caring for a child in danger – Israel is our child and we want to protect her. How extraordinary to be in a country expecting war. The stillness and partially empty streets – its ominously frightening, and I often feel butterflies in my tummy, but then it passes.

Journalists, like vultures are flocking in from the four corners of the earth with the prospect of disaster. The panic at the airport is over and most of the tourists have left….

No job is too menial or too small. Rabbis – with a special dispensation concerning the Sabbath – were digging trenches at the school yesterday, driving delivery trucks and writing out instructions – all on Shabbat!

….I would not be anywhere else – as a Jewess, this is where I belong.”

Dig This! Digging trenches on kibbutz Gan Shmuel in northern Israel before the Six Day War.

Capturing what a young wife must be feeling not knowing of the whereabouts or fate of her soldier husband are these two letters by Avril Shulman to her parents in Cape Town.

On the 9th June, she wrote:

I am so proud to be the wife of a sabra. In the last three weeks, I have lived a lifetime. Even as I write, I do not know where Amnon is or how he is. I hope and pray and wait.”

Avril had to wait until the 20th June when she again wrote to her parents:

It was two o’clock in the morning and there was a knock at the front door. I jumped out of bed, daring to hope, and on opening the door, there stood a hunk of man dressed in an Israeli uniform with Egyptian boots, a Russian gun, and a South African tog bag, covered from head to foot in Sinai dust, but looking very familiar. The reunion is something I cannot describe.”

On the 9th June, Muriel receives a letter from her sister Pat Slevin, a resident of Eilat.

It seems it’s all over bar the jubilation and the heartache of the families who have lost loved ones, and the pain and suffering of the wounded.

Who could have thought on Monday morning when the Egyptian tanks crossed the border, that on Friday morning I would be writing to you like this! Last night at 10 o’clock, we received the news of Egypt’s consent to a cease-fire; this morning at 7 o’clock Syria’s, and at 8 o’clock, the telegram from our Southern commander that our men were on the banks of the Suez Canal. I’m privileged to have been here and to have lived through this moment in Israel’s destiny.”

Fifty-five years on from the Six Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem, the nation is strong. Israel is a vibrant democracy in a neighbourhood of autocracies. Its economy is booming and its universities are churning out graduates that will spearhead our small country into a big future.

While the history of this land may read like a chronicle of ‘War Stories”, the Israel of 2022 is a resounding ‘Success Story’.


_____________________



List of countries from which volunteers came and their number as at the 5th July, 1967.

England                   1,295

Southern Africa          861

France                        607

USA                            301

Belgium                      285

Argentine                    277

Spain, Germany, Switzerland & Austria  262

Canada                        236

Scandinavia                135

Uruguay                       117

Australia                       111

Italy                              110

Holland                           90

Brazil                              68

Chile                               66

Venezuela                      55

Other Latin countries    164

Total                          5,043





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).

Dear Golda – The Sequel: A Shining Star

If Golda Meir was alive today, would this be the conversation we have?

By Rolene Marks

Dearest Golda, we haven’t had a chat for a while and the last time we spoke, we certainly had a lot to talk about. This time it is no different. Golda, you continue to inspire so many around the world, not just because you blazed a trail in many arenas, including becoming Israel’s first female Prime Minister; but because in times of strife and hardship, we still continue to seek your wise council. It is your words of wisdom that are as relevant today as they were when you led our country through war, insurmountable tragedy and also great triumph.

I write this, wondering what you would say to the world or offer as we watch with horror and broken hearts as yet another war ravages lives.

Dear Golda, I cannot imagine what you must be thinking as you watch on from high. You were born in Kyiv, Ukraine, during a dark time in our people’s history. You have often recalled that your early memories were of your father having to board up the front door because of an imminent pogrom. Even though you would move from Ukraine to the USA and finally come home to what was then British Mandate Palestine in 1921, you never forgot your roots. You were imbued with the fire of Zionism and longed to see our hope of 2000 years realised.

Israeli medical personnel off to Ukraine where they will help man the “Kochav Meir” field Hospital in the western Ukrainian town of Mostyska to provide medical care and humanitarian aid to war refugees. (Marc Sallem, Jerusalem Post)

As the years progressed, you would see many pioneers arrive from the Pale of Settlement and then you would watch with sorrow and frustration as our people endured the darkest time in our history. The soil at Babyn Yar on the outskirts of Kyiv still cries with the voice of our ancestors.

Our memories of Ukraine are painful but over the decades something extraordinary happened. The once decimated Jewish communities started to grow again. Jewish life was once more present in Kyiv and in Kharkiv, in Dnipro, Odessa, Lviv and more. The image of Tevye leaving Anatevka, bowed, broken and with his fellow villagers was replaced with the Chabad synagogue giving spiritual strength and shelter to many. To top it all, a Jewish President had been elected, who is proud of his roots and family history – and who is very much the man of the moment for his outstanding leadership. Volodymyr Zelensky’s unshaven face in his combat green, leading from amongst his people is in stark contrast to the anemic, bloated looking Putin, dressed in a suit and seated at a bizarrely long table.

Equipment for the Israeli field hospital being loaded onto a plane at Ben Gurion Airport, March 17, 2022. (Sivan Shahar/Anaba/GPO

As I write this, Ukraine enters the fourth week of a brutal war with Russia, who invaded under many pretenses, one of which was intention to “denazify” the country. Most countries have appalling elements within society; but the accusation of “denazification” is particularly painful given the dark past and resurgence of Jewish life in Ukraine.

Dear Golda, millions have fled, becoming refugees – but many have stayed to fight. Dearest Golda, it is your example that many cite as their inspiration. They quote you by comparing the will of the Ukrainian people to live to a famous saying about the enemy laying down its weapons and brave soldiers like Aleksander Gorgan, who made sure you are with him when he went into battle by taking a copy of your autobiography in his combat backpack.

None of us can watch what is happening in Ukraine without feeling a profound sense of sorrow. We all want to help as much as we can.

Dear Golda, you were one of the founders of the modern state of Israel, your signature is on our founding documents; and you had a clear vision of how our tiny country could live up to the tenet of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). We have always said NEVER AGAIN after the Holocaust and try wherever we can to help and Ukraine is no different.

As you know, Israel’s position is very precarious. We face an ever growing threat from Iran and the presence of Russian troops on our borders who control the airspace over Syria means that we are able to strike when our security is threatened. We have to carefully coordinate this with Russia. We have good bilateral ties with both countries and are now faced with the role of mediator, however delicate it may be. President Zelenesky thinks Jerusalem, our capital could be a venue for mediation but we have endured many wars and realise how cautious we have to proceed with negotiations but it is our moral duty to do what we can for the sake of saving lives.

While some have derided Israel for not sending military aid (other countries could also do more but singling out Israel is preposterous!) and Iron Domes (which are not effective against the kind of Russian military strikes being used), it must be understood that we have to protect our citizens against opportunistic attacks that could come from Iran and proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas.

It is not just in mediation where Israel is playing a vital role. We have endured several wars throughout our existence and this has given us an ability to mobilise help quickly. As I am writing, the Israel Population and Immigration Authority report that 13,500 Ukrainian refugees have entered Israel with 5,000 making Aliyah under the country’s Law of Return.

Israeli national emergency response service Magen David Adom send four armored ambulances to war-torn Ukraine to help treat the wounded and evacuate them from the field.

Dear Golda, today those same Olim who come from what was the Pale of Settlement come into Israel as refugees with one major difference – they are home. As soon as the Russian tanks rolled in, we mobilised our diplomats from Ukraine, Romania, Poland and Slovakia along the border to evacuate Israelis.

Tasked with providing initial aid, assessing needs, and building a comprehensive long-term treatment plan, seen here is the first group (jump team) of United Hatzalah’s humanitarian aid mission from Israel to Ukraine comprising 12 EMTs, paramedics, doctors, a dentist, and members of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit.

Israelis aren’t the only ones they are helping – they have evacuated civilians from Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Gaza and the Palestinian Authority who were stranded by their leadership. I cannot keep up with all the aid Israel and Jewish organisations are sending but a basic account  says four armoured ambulances from Magen David Adom, United Hatzolah and IsraAid medical care in Moldova and Romania, including safe spaces for moms and babies; Ukrainian and Russian speaking police from Israel’s Police Force to help refugees find out where to go; Jewish Agency emissaries along 14 points on the border; 100 tons of humanitarian aid from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; aid packages from Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer club in partnership with organisations; ZAKA rescue; 6 large generators for hospitals in Lviv and countless others.

The real shining star is the field hospital, organised by Israel’s Ministry of Health and Sheba Medical Centre. Operation “Shining Star” has commenced with over 17 tons of medical aid and over 50 medical personnel. So far, it is the only field hospital on the Ukrainian side of the border. It will have wards and state-of- the-art equipment and provide sanctuary and medical care for civilians and soldier.

Trucks carrying equipment for Israeli field hospital in Ukraine. (photo credit: Construction team for Kohav Meir hospital)

Dear Golda, the hospital is named “Kochav Meir”. Yes, Golda, it is named in your honour.

Dearest Golda, all these decades later, through tragedy and triumph, war and peace, the building and rebuilding of countries and communities, you continue to inspire and empower. I hope the next time we chat, it will be a conversation about peace in both the country you were born in and the one that you helped build.

Erecting the Israeli “Kohav Meir” (Shining Star) field hospital in Mostyska, Ukraine.
(photo credit: Construction team for Kohav Meir hospital)





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).

Read the Room!

Ukrainian suffering and the Palestinians cannot be compared

By Rolene Marks

For nearly two weeks, the world has watched with horror as Putin’s troops have invaded Ukraine, decimating and laying siege to cities and creating a grave humanitarian crisis. The United Nations estimate that the number of Ukrainian refugees is roughly 1.45 million; and growing by the day.

The world has also been inspired by the incredible courage of the Ukrainian people, men and women taking up arms against the invading Russians, led from the front by their President Volodymir Zelensky (who is Jewish and has compared his country’s fight against Russia to Israel saying “we should become like the Israelis defending our territory”) and have taken to the streets, social media platforms and philanthropy to show their support. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter et al is awash with the blue and white colours of the Ukrainian flags and passionate cries of “Slava Ukraini” (for the Glory of Ukraine). In a world that has become so polarized along so many different lines, solidarity behind the Ukraine and her people has been unifying.

The Power of One. Inspiring his nation and the world, Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, addresses his people by video from an undisclosed location in what has become his customary morning address.

With attention rightly squared on the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation, the anti-Israel folk have ramped up their efforts in chastising the media and the west, to lament that the focus of the world is on Ukraine and not the Palestinians and that the situation for both peoples is the same.

The lack of concern about the plight of Ukrainian refugees and Russia’s merciless bombing of civilians, including humanitarian corridors is staggering. The “whataboutism” is astounding – and more than a little obscene.  There can be no comparison between the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign state and the situation for Palestinians, whose leadership have refused every offer of a state and have engaged in steady incitement for decades.

Anti-Israel activist, Iqbal Jasset, tweets on response to Rolene Marks.

Unlike the Palestinians, egged on by decades of incitement of hate against Israel and the Jewish people, the Ukrainian people have not fired thousands of rockets into Russia, have not dug tunnels to kidnap Russian civilians, thrown Molotov cocktails into fields and cars, stoned Russian drivers or shot and stabbed civilians in malls and on streets. President Zelensky, like a modern day Maccabee, is leading his people from the front. Nobody can forget his famous refusal of President Biden’s offer to airlift him to safety when he responded with “I need ammunition, not a ride”. This is unlike the leadership of Hamas who enjoys 5-star hotel and private jet hospitality in Qatar or Hezbollah’s Nasrallah who is hunkered down in his bunker, while doling out his threats against Israel.

Perverted Competition. In twisted form of obscene jealously, pro-Palestinian supporters are upset with images such as this horrendous damage to residential building at Koshytsa Street in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on February 25, 2022 as it diverts focus from their story. (GENYA SAVILOV / AFP)

More than 1 million children have fled Ukraine in the less than two weeks since Russia first invaded the country, says UNICEF spokesperson James Elder, calling it “a dark historical first.”

This means that children represent around half of the more than 2 million people that have fled the war, an exodus that the UN refugee agency has called the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

Comparing the situation in Ukraine is astoundingly disingenuous and shows a spectacular lack of self-awareness. Not content to appropriate the South African narrative and suffering during the Apartheid years, the grave, lived experience of the Ukrainian people and the many civilians from other countries who are trying to flee the military onslaught is up for grabs. Heaven forbid they get any news coverage!

They put the blame squarely on the west and render the media complicit. Palestinians have dominated the headlines for several decades and there is a disproportionate focus on the nearly 80-year-conflict between Israel and her neighbours. A conflict that the world is growing weary of. In the last two years, several Arab countries have normalized ties with Israel with others poised to do the same. The Kuwaiti editor-in-Chief of the Arab Times Ahmed al-Jarallah stated in a recent op-ed that “When [the Palestinians] are happy, they curse the Gulf leaders and people. When they are angry, they use all of the defamatory and abusive words in their dictionary against us.” The editor-in-chief continued:

We, the Gulf nationals, overlook all that by sending them aid.”

In an editorial, titled “Normalize, let insulters fend for themselves,” al-Jarallah pointed to the Palestinians support for Saddam Hussein, Jamal Abdul Nasser, former Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi and IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, saying that this was “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Strong words indeed.

The world is focused on assisting Ukraine while isolating Russia through aggressive sanctions and other means. Failure to do so could lead to a war that threatens to engulf Europe and there is no doubt that China and Iran are watching with bated breath, looking to see how the West reacts and if they can flex their military muscles on China and Israel respectively.

Striving for Peace.Tying to mediate  an end to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrives for a cabinet meeting at the PM’s Office in Jerusalem on Sunday, on the heels of his talks in Moscow and Berlin.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

At the time of this writing, Israel’s Prime Minister has embarked on a shuttle diplomatic mission to Moscow and has spoken several times to Putin in an attempt mediate, at the behest of President Zelensky. This serves to emphasise the increasing role Israel is playing on the world stage and the regard that the Jewish state is afforded. Israel has also sent an extraordinary amount of humanitarian aid, including 100 tonnes and three plane loads of medicines, supplies, tents, blankets and more. In addition, Israel’s Ministry of Health is building a field hospital that will be manned by 50 medical personnel from Sheba Medical Centre on the Ukrainian side of the border, while United Hatzalah and IsraAid are already manning field hospitals in neighbouring Moldova.

Israel Field Hospital for Embattled Ukraine. The emergency room tent that is part of the field hospital going to Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)

Diplomats from Romania, Poland and Slovakia are stationed on the border helping to evacuate not just Israeli citizens but have helped many from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Gaza and others. Israel’s Interior Ministry announced that in addition to absorbing 100,000 Jewish Ukrainians as citizens, Israel will host 25,000 other Ukrainians until the danger subsides in their country.

Israel Responds.  From trying to mediate an end to the hostility to sending aid to Ukraine, Israel is in the vanguard of support.

Israel will likely be the country offering safe refuge to the most amount of people from Ukraine from a non-bordering country. Jewish organisations like Chabad whose Rabbi’s will never abandon the communities they are sent to serve, are also giving shelter and help to many, including this Palestinian doctor and his family:

It is a pity that the anti-Israel contingent aim their focus, much like the Soviet era propaganda that gave impetus to the narrative they peddle, in scuppering peace and not building bridges. It is astounding that they are disgruntled that they are not dominating the headlines like they are used to doing. This is what separates the true social justice warriors from the imposters.

This is a great pity – but not as staggeringly disingenuous as trying to appropriate the suffering of Ukrainians. As the kids would say, READ THE ROOM.


A team from United Hatzalah, Arabs and Jews welcome 120 Ukrainian refugees to Israel






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).

NOTHINGNESS

It’s not a matter of whether Russia waging war on the Ukraine is politically motivated. It is simply a matter of good versus evil.…” writes Charlotte Cohen from South Africa.  Distraught, anguished, frustrated and questioning the direction of humanity at what is monstrously unfolding in Ukraine,  the poet weighs in on the horrific repercussions for all mankind when the  reigns of leadership are held by those with unbridled evil intent.

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


By Charlotte Cohen


The world needs an alien invasion

By unknown creatures from outer space

For us to know that despite our differences

We’re all part of the human race


That whatever our upbringing or culture

Or language or colour of skin

Our DNA is snipped from the self-same strip

We are all family.  We are all kin


But there are some who demand deference

And command subservience to domination 

Who compel control and impel their will

By executing destruction and ruination




Without respect for life, we’ll demolish and kill

We’ll strike again and again and again

Till we blow up the planet and everything that’s in it

Only then will we cease  – only then ….



But then, annihilated and eliminated 

It will finally be too late

A once-inhabited planet extinguished

No edifice left to hate


No more man-made hell on earth

Just vacuous, numbing peace

No consciousness, no living thing

No day begins; nor will it cease


And when we are knocked into nothingness

Our demise won’t dent the sky

When our planet finally perishes

No angel will blink an eye



In the timeless stillness of no future or no past

Will these tyrants hang in shame?

Will these demonic maniacs be accountable –

The diabolic madmen who were to blame?





But all spirit is regained and retained

And the aberration of each fanatic weighed

And for those whose delusions destroy life itself

An undreamed-of debt remains to be paid.



About the writer:

Charlotte Cohen  writes in diverse genres –  inspirational articles, poetry,  memoirs, short stories and  political commentary. A recipient of several  literary and poetry awards that include: The first South African three-time winner of English Association’s  annual writing competition; Winner of the Gitlin Library’s 25th anniversary  short-story writing competition; National award for a book on Drug and Alcohol Abuse; 1st prize:  Old Mutual’s ‘Siyakula’ Poetry competition; Winner of West Coast Writers  Poetry and Writing competitions 2013 and 2015.  Her articles and poetry have been published in ‘Jewish Affairs’ since 2006 and her poetry has been recited at Jewish Literary Festivals.





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 United Nations Is Giving the Names of Uyghur Dissidents to China

By  Josh Feldman

(Article appears courtesy of Newsweek)

The Chinese government’s violent oppression of the primarily Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang is no longer a secret. From forced sterilization of Uyghur women to the internment of millions in prison camps to the eradication and destruction of religious institutions, the Chinese Communist Party’s actions against the Uyghurs have been deemed worthy of the name genocide to many in the human rights community.

The ethnic Uighur population used to be the majority in China’s Xinjiang region

Many – but not all!

The United Nations, the very institution created to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,” is assisting China in its violent efforts to wipe out the Uyghurs by helping the CCP cover its tracks. These were the findings of a recent report in Le Monde about the efforts of UN human rights officer-turned whistleblower Emma Reilly. Reilly claims that prior to every UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in recent years, China has requested the names of Uyghur and other Chinese dissidents who were scheduled to speak. And despite this being explicitly forbidden by the UN’s own rules, the UN, according to Reilly, has made it a practice to share this information with Chinese authorities, who use it to harass the dissidents’ families who are still based in China.

It’s one thing for China to try to cover up its genocide; China boasts a long history of reprisals against human rights activists, Uyghurs included. But it’s quite another thing for the body charged with protecting human rights to lend them a hand.

Reilly says she first discovered the practice in 2013, when China’s Geneva delegation requested confirmation that certain “anti-government Chinese separatists” were set to speak at the Human Rights Council. Listed individuals included, among others, Dolkun Isa, current president of the World Uyghur Congress.

Le Monde reports that Reilly suggested that the request be rejected, just as the UN had rejected Turkish demands regarding Kurdish activists. But leaked emails appear to show Reilly’s superior, Eric Tistounet, head of the Human Rights Council Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), advising staffers that the names be shared with China because the meeting was public, and delaying sharing the names would merely “exacerbate the Chinese mistrust against us.”

The Uyghurs are the largest minority ethnic group in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang.

The UN in fact confirmed Reilly’s allegations in 2017, when the OHCHR acknowledged that it confirms attendees’ names with Chinese authorities who “regularly ask the UN Human Rights Office… whether particular NGO delegates are attending the forthcoming session.” So too, did a 2019 UN tribunal confirm “the practice of providing names of human rights defenders to the Chinese delegation.”

But while the UN has at times acknowledged this indefensible practice, it has simultaneously provided contradictory statements denying it. When asked about the allegations in March 2017, Tistounet dismissed them as “extreme right-wing” propaganda—a mere month after the OHCHR’s admission that it did currently confirm Uyghur activists’ names with China. Two months later, in a letter sent to UN Watch, the OHCHR asserted that it “does not confirm the names of individual activists accredited to attend UN Human Rights Council sessions to any State, and has not done so since at least 2015.”

China is accused of committing genocide against the Uyghur population and other mostly-Muslim ethnic groups in the north-western region of Xinjiang.

Then, in an August 2017 letter to Human Rights Watch, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein acknowledged that the UN “often receives communications from… China” with a list of individuals who the Chinese claim “represent possible threats to the United Nations.” Once UN security services determine the allegations are baseless, wrote Al Hussein, China is informed that its concerns are unfounded, and “no other information is transmitted to the State.” A UN judge, however, rejected Al Hussein’s assertions in 2020, stating that in 2017, the “OHCHR misrepresented the practice of giving names to a Member State’s delegation to ‘Human Rights Watch.”

Alarmingly, UN Secretary-General António Guterres is aware of the allegations; in 2018, his office ordered Al Hussein to “resolve” the dispute with Reilly, Le Monde revealed. And yet, since objecting to the practice in 2013, Reilly says she has been ostracized and “publicly defamed,” her career “left in tatters.” And despite being recognized as a whistleblower in 2020, she was fired the day after the Le Monde story’s publication.

What Reilly’s reports reveal is that the UN is more concerned with appeasing China than with combatting the Chinese-led Uyghur genocide. China, meanwhile, continues to retaliate against Uyghur activists. In a 2019 witness statement regarding the OHCHR sharing his name with China, a Uyghur dissident, Dolkun Isa, revealed that he didn’t know where his 90-year-old father was, or if he was even alive. His mother died in a Chinese detention center in 2018, aged 78.

Shockingly, world leaders are also aware of the practice. In 2019, UN Watch Executive Director, Hillel Neuer, sent letters to the Geneva delegations of the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, France, Germany, and Sweden, detailing instances of Chinese dissidents’ names (some of whom are citizens of Western nations) being shared by the UN. Citing China’s history of retaliating against human rights activists, Neuer explained that “providing China or any other government with names of dissidents accredited to attend UN sessions in advance of the sessions is harmful and potentially life-threatening to dissidents and their families, particularly family members still in China.”

Satellite images show rapid construction of camps in Xinjiang, like this one near Dabancheng. Human rights groups believe China has detained more than one million Uyghurs against their will over the past few years in a large network of what the state calls “re-education camps”, and sentenced hundreds of thousands to prison terms.

Not one country responded to Neuer!

Dutch parliament too, is well-aware. In a January 2019 letter to Dutch lawmakers, Foreign Minister Stef Blok noted both the OHCHR and UN Ethics Office’s admissions that the UN hands Chinese authorities “lists of names” of Chinese dissidents set to speak at the UNHRC. World leaders, however, have refused to confront this abomination.

For years and with total impunity, UN officials have aided China in committing one of the greatest human rights atrocities of our generation. It’s high time for world leaders to press the UN for answers and bring those responsible for such an abject betrayal of the UN’s guiding principles to justice.

History won’t judge them kindly for turning a blind eye.






About the writer:

Josh Feldman is an Australian freelance writer. His work has appeared in leading American, Israeli, Australian, and international publications, including Newsweek, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Jerusalem Post, the Age, and the Forward. Twitter: @joshrfeldman







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).

Tefillin against Terror

Jews around the world honour the memory of Eli Kay by doing good deeds in his name

By Michael Kransdorff

Eli Kay was 25 years old. He was deeply committed to Israel and the Jewish people. He made Aliyah from South Africa to Israel as a Lone Soldier. Eli worked as a tour guide at the Western Wall, guiding people through the sacred tunnels.

A few weeks ago, he was gunned down by a Hamas-affiliated terrorist on his way to pray at the Kotel (Western/Wailing Wall) with his Tefillin in his hand.

While this act of terrorism was an unimaginable tragedy for his family and friends, it was also an attack on Klal Yisrael (all of Israel). It was an attempt to deny the Jewish people’s right to pray at our holiest site.

Honouring Eli. A Young visitor to the Eli Kay family during the week of shiva hold up Eli’s Tefillin bag and lay his Tefillin that was recovered after the murderous attack in the Old City, Jerusalem

How would we respond?

Rabbi Ari Shishler, a Chabad Rabbi based in Johannesburg and a close friend of the Kay family, said in an online address after the attack:

 “We are all in shock over the heinous murder of our friend Eli Kay. This was not an attack on an individual. It was an attack on Jews, Judaism and the conscience of all civilised people“. 

We felt this required a response. With the help of Rabbi Ari Shishler, Rabbi Eitan Ash and Josh Maraney, we decided to launch the #TefillinAgainstTerror campaign. We began by calling on people to post selfies of themselves putting on Tefillin with the hashtag #TefillinAgainstTerror in Eli’s memory and as an act of defiance against terror and Antisemitism.

Honouring Eli. A Young visitor to the Eli Kay family during the week of shiva lay his Tefillin that was recovered after the murderous attack in the Old City, Jerusalem.

The response has been phenomenal.

The campaign has gone global. Thousands of people from all over the world including far flung places like Aruba and Mexico have responded on social media platforms, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. In Israel, people have embraced this call by coming to the Shiva house and asking to put on Tefillin. The family has been overwhelmed by the love and support.

Honouring Eli. A Young visitor to the Eli Kay family during the week of shiva hold up Eli’s Tefillin bag and lay his Tefillin that was recovered after the murderous attack in the Old City, Jerusalem

Women also wanted to do something special to honour Eli’s memory because laying Tefillin is a commandment fulfilled by men.

The campaign was broadened to include candle lighting for the Sabbath in Eli’s memory. The recent festival of Hanukkah provided an opportunity to once against reaffirm our right to freely practice our faith. Just as the Maccabees were able to keep the oil burning in the Temple against all odds, we will not let terrorism deter us now from bringing light into the world.

Honouring Eli. A Young visitor to the Eli Kay family during the week of shiva hold up Eli’s Teillin bag and lay his Tefillin that was recovered after the murderous attack in the Old City, Jerusalem

To date, many around Israel and the world have done acts of kindness to share light against terror. A popular journalist based in Jerusalem and her husband donated sufganiyot (donuts) to soldiers on duty. A group called “Friends of WIZO” who support a WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) shelter against domestic violence, dedicated a Hanukkah party in his honour.

The most high-profile act of memorial was by popular hard rock band, Disturbed’s front man, David Draiman. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post from his home in Hawaii, Draiman said he wanted to make a statement by coming to Israel after seeing the coverage of the attack.

The coverage was reprehensible in the vast majority of American and European media,” said Draiman. “It’s scandalous how they presented it. Headlines like ‘Palestinian shot dead.’ Well, why was the Palestinian shot dead? Because he was perpetrating a terrorist attack. I love how the context is always flipped around.”

Disturbing News. David Draiman  American singer and songwriter and lead vocalist of the heavy metal band Disturbed, was horrified by the international media coverage of the terrorist murder of Eli Kay, came to Jerusalem and lit a candle at the spot where Eli was brutally gunned down.

Draiman, who noted that he has some 200 relatives living in Israel, said that his candle-lighting ceremony is intended to say that:

 “we will not be intimidated, we’re not going anywhere. People need to learn to live with us [Jews].”

Remember Eli. Young pupils at King David School, Victory Park, Johannesburg lay Tefillin in memory of Eli Kay.

He made good on his word by coming to Jerusalem and lighting a candle at the spot where Eli was brutally gunned down.

The word Hanukkah means “dedication”. Eli was dedicated to his family and friends, Israel and the Jewish people. And many responded in kind by dedicated acts of kindness in his name.

Am Yisrael Chai!






About the writer:

Michael Kransdorff is a Harvard educated financial innovation consultant. In addition to crunching numbers, politics and Jewish history are his passions. He cut his teeth in Jewish activism as one of the SAUJS leaders at the infamous UN Durban Racism Conference and has remained involved in Jewish communal affairs. Michael is chairman of JNF SA, sits on the South African Zionist Federation EOB and also heads up a Litvak heritage research group for the Zarasai (North Eastern) region of Lithuania. 







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 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).