Defenders of the state of Israel, woman heroes in the line of fire

By Rolene Marks and Marc Kahlberg

When police in Israel’s southern community first started to receive calls from terrified residents in the kibbutzim and small communities that came under brutal attack by Hamas terrorists, Israel’s police responded as quickly and forcefully as they possibly could.

Israel’s valiant police defended as hard as they could with the limited firepower they had at the time – and many paid with their lives. Hamas murdered at least 58 police officers and women – and that number is expected to rise. Brave women joined their male counterparts, fighting with all their might to eliminate the enormous threat of Hamas.

As the days go on, we learn more details about that horrific day when Israeli civilians were murdered, tortured, raped and kidnapped in the most barbaric and depraved way. We are also starting to hear the stories of those that were first on site, the first responders of the Israel Police alongside local community security personal, who witnessed the carnage and fought it with all their might.

Israel is now at war against Hamas and the police are in the frontlines of not only classic policing, but also dealing with an existential daily terror threat.

Many police officers have been called up for reserve duty in the army. It is the women of the Israeli police that are our frontline of protection in our cities and communities across the country as most of their male counterparts move from protecting our cities and communities to protecting our borders.

Those that serve in the Israel Police represent a cross-section of Israeli society – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Bedouin, Druze and are a mosaic of the diversity that is Israel.

These are a few of the Israel Police real life heroes;

Meet Israel’s Policewomen:

Major Moran Etedgi (Picture Credit: Israel Police International Spokespersons Unit)

Saturday morning 7 October 2023, a Jewish holiday celebrating happiness, “I woke up together with my family to the sound of the sirens indicating that we were yet again under rocket attack from the terrorists in Gaza. I quickly gathered my family and hurried downstairs to the protected and sheltered area. After a few minutes the alarms blared again, and then again and again and at this point, I understood something unusual was happening; I realized that the rockets being launched were far beyond that which we have grown accustomed to in such situations.”

Moran Tedgi, is a major and in charge of operations at the Aror police station in the Negev. She lives in Ofakim, and is the mother of two young children.

I received a report that there were dead and injured in the Aror community, a predominantly Bedouin community and began to give instructions to strengthen our station and alert off duty officers, after fully understanding that we were under attack by terrorists.

At the same time, I turned on the walkie-talkie and listened in on the Ofakim [a large city] police radio channel, and heard commanders and police officers reporting on various encounters with terrorists. I made an instinctive decision to put on my uniform to protect myself and go out. On my way, I picked up another police officer from my station and together we went to the scene.”

Arriving at the first scene:

we became aware that three police officers were murdered and many police officers were injured. The sight was one of immediate shock. The initial picture of the situation was four terrorists in a house with civilian hostages. As I took command, it was only a matter of seconds before we received a barrage of automatic weapons fire that included grenades and a RPG.

During this never-ending battle, an officer and a police officer were injured and were rescued under fire. We then faced a standoff – not uncommon in a hostage situation – until the arrival of our skilled tactical units.”

When the senior commander of the area arrived at the scene, “I briefed him of the situation while still under attack and returning fire , when suddenly an officer appears and reports that there are three terrorists in his friend’s house on the opposite street. I asked him to show me the photos he took on his cell phone.

The commander of the area asked me to take some police officers and take command of the situation. We approached very carefully until we understood fully which house it was.

I examined the area from all angles to understand where it was possible to counter attack until we became aware that the terrorists were hiding in the backyard of a house.

During this chaos and in the middle of a battle, I had to stop and call my children and tell them that I love them and that their mom is taking care of herself. We surrounded the house in the initial phase from two directions; we saw a body in the house lying lifeless through a hole in window.

In the initial phase, we managed to get some of the family members out safety.

I gathered strength and gave instructions to fire to try to draw out the terrorists that were hiding and waiting to surprise us. We opened up and the terrorists returned the fire wounding an officer. Then the terrorists threw a grenade which injured several more police officers. I was struck in the face by a  fragment of the grenade but I knew must keep calm, and I give a directive to retreat and reorganize.”

Constantly reporting on the dire situation:

  “I asked for help from our helicopter to size up the situation from above, relay photos, and to instruct residents not to leave their homes due to the security situation. I decided to enter again and this time we encircled the house completely.

The challenges were many, continues  Moran with, “constant terrorist fire, grenades, injured police officers, hostages, and logistics, trying to control the additional officers and now IDF soldiers that arrived, over 50 in total. It was imperative that we were all on the same page and to prevent friendly fire between the Police and IDF. My first thoughts were constantly Command and Control, even under fire.

Ordering the firing each time from a different direction, Moran had to scream “since we were barely able to talk on the walkie-talkie and not everyone had walkie-talkies. I also had to ensure I screamed the orders clearly. We then used grenades accompanied by aggressive firepower.”

During one of the firefights, “we shot two terrorists. Another officer was on the roof and started shouting at the last terrorist to surrender, who refused. After further confrontation, the terrorist became visible and I give instructions to shoot him.

Once we neutralised all the terrorists, our bomb squad sappers arrived and disabled several booby traps and other lethal devises designed to kill us. Then it was the job for the medical teams.”

The place now secure, Moran gathered her officers, reorganized and proceeded to the previous scene.

At this point, I assumed command of the entire city of Ofakim under the direction of the commander of the area. Together with other forces, we responded to dozens of events that happened throughout the city on what can only be described as a bloody Saturday.”

Attending a situation assessment together with the mayor and the commander of the IDF officer’s school, “we divided the city into combat and reaction sectors.”

Reflecting back starting from Saturday 7 October at 7.30 am when the war began, “I participated at the battles of Ofakim, and then continued until Tuesday 10 October and then went back to aid my police station. Certainly, the longest days of my life.”

Every day the brave officers of the Israel Police protect us on the home front. We owe these exceptional men and women a massive debt of gratitude. They would never ask for it or expect it, but they deserve it.

Major Hodaya Loyani

“The late Major Hagai Bibi told his soldiers before he fell in battle in the Kissufim area: “Some will call us fools, but I call it Zionism, giving and true love,” recalls Major Hodaya Loyani, Commander of Municipal Police, Jerusalem district municipal policing.

Major Hodaya Loyani. Commander of Municipal Police, Jerusalem distric municipal, Israel Police, (Picture Credit: Israel Police International Spokespersons Unit).

“In these complex and difficult days, the State of Israel and in particular the Israel Police, experienced a great disaster and lost some of the best of its sons and daughters.

The Israel Police officers, who responded first, directly into the line of fire, sacrificed their lives as heroes.

For the past 14 years, I have been privileged to wear the Israel Police uniform every day with pride and true love for the people of Israel and the State of Israel.

As a woman and as a commander in the urban policing unit in the Jerusalem district, I have the privilege to lead the police officers who do holy work.

The people of Israel have known quite a few wars and many battles, but have never been defeated, and this time too, we will win with God’s help.

We will stand at the front and be called to stand up for whatever it takes to protect the citizens of the country. We will maintain governance in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel and in the country because the people are determined and not afraid of the difficult long road ahead.”

Inspector Sharon Cohen

For me, ever since I was recruited into the Border Guards,” says  23-years-old Sharon Cohen from Pardes Hana, “I had no doubt that I was going to stay a soldier until the end. I would do the officer’s course and, above all, advance in the core duties”.

                                            Inspector Sharon Cohen (Picture Credit: Israel Police International Spokespersons Unit)

Sharon enlisted in November 2018 and serves in a reserve unit of the tactical brigade team in a command position.

Following the war that befell us on 7 October, I realized that this was the moment for which I enlisted, for why I am an officer.

The sense of mission deeply embedded in me, even at times of great duress, did not leave me for a moment, saving the lives of residents in the State of Israel. All that I was trained for and taught since enlistment, as a soldier, served me well and allowed me to do my duty and save as many lives as I could.

More than ever, I am proud to belong and proud to serve. I am a defender of the State of Israel.”

About the writers:

Rolene Marks – Freelance Broadcast Journalist & Marc Kahlberg Israel Police (retired)

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).


By Yaakov Hagoel, Chairman of the World Zionist Organization

When talking about the Declaration of Independence, one usually focuses on its resounding opening sentences:

 “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books“, or in one of the following paragraphs, which talk about the natural and historical right to the land, the call for peace with all the inhabitants of the land and the partnership in the fight against Nazi evil.

All this is good and important. The Declaration of Independence is truly a work of thought of precise wording, every word of which was examined and weighed by the heads of the Jewish population on the eve of the establishment of the State. But no less is the last part of the scroll, dedicated to signatories.

David Ben-Gurion at the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1948 (Photo: GPO)

Thirty-seven people were privileged to sign the founding document of the State, headed by David Ben-Gurion of course, and among them also Golda Meir, Moshe Sharret, Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaCohen Fishman Maimon and many others. Every time I look at the signature section, I come across David Remez‘s signature.

Why specifically  Remez’s signature? Because it is the most prominent of them all. Most of the signatories used a pen brought especially for the event by the People’s Administration that intended  uniformity for the signatures. Remez brought his own pen with him, a special and thick pen, and to this day  his signature stands out as the most prominent name among the signatories.

For me, the story of David Ramez’s signature – he has many accomplishments to his credit since the early days of the Yishuv, as a Knesset member and cabinet minister – is not just a historical anecdote. There is an important message, especially during  these days. Recently the Declaration of Independence has become a symbol of the national controversy that is burning within us. Some say it is all mine, and others say it is all mine. There are those who maintain  that the values that they support  are the correct balance between the different levels of government and the other side  which says that these values are actually the opposite.

But the truth is neither here nor there. The Declaration of Independence belongs to the entire Israeli public, and besides the thirty-seven actual signatures on it, there are millions more transparent signatures of every citizen. Everyone signed the scroll – each of us with his own special pen, values, stories and hopes. Over the years we learned to unite around the scroll, to add more and more signatures at the bottom, and today the Declaration of Independence is the place where all these signatures are gathered, and on the basis of which the Israeli partnership grows.

The Declaration of Independence must not be read as if it supports only one side of the political map. Such an appropriation will erase from it many signatures of Israelis, partners on the way. What we must do is the opposite: take out each and every one of us his special pen, re-sign the scroll, find our unique place within this founding text – and then take all these pens and continue to write, together, the great Israeli story.

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).


From driving “me crazy” to “no place I’d rather be” the author writes to her beloved Israel on her 75th Birthday

By Andi Saitowitz

Dear Israel,

I sit here listening to the radio programmes preparing for tomorrow, tears streaming down my face, each story and song piercing my heartstrings. 

How deeply you are cherished. 

How precious you are to us. 

Even now, especially now.

You are protected by living and fallen heroes, brave and courageous, and you are an eternal treasured sacrifice that our people make every day just to ensure your survival. 

As this difficult week will slowly turn into a festive one, I wanted to take a few minutes and wish you a very happy 75th Independence Day! 

Just as everything about you is extreme, that’s how I feel today; extreme loss and pain and extreme gratitude and will for better. I feel privileged, grateful and blessed to be able to celebrate you. Even when things feel as messy as they feel these days. 

I realize more and more as my life unfolds, how this honor was denied to many before me and painfully many today who don’t get to experience your glory and share their everyday with you. 

I know that despite all the fragility at the moment, there is no place I’d rather be.

You continue to amaze me in countless ways and with each passing year, your growth and accomplishments leave me in awe. And yes – you sometimes drive me crazy too….and what’s happening within you, this turmoil, upsets me more than you can imagine. 

While the uncertainty, division and unrest keep me up at night, I hold on to faith and hope, knowing we’ve come this far, despite all odds. 

And I specifically want to acknowledge all that you are, because all that you’re not, is what everyone is focusing on and what we focus on grows so I want to look for your good and grow that. 

In just 75 years – you have achieved unparalleled greatness. 

In every field, you excel.

How utterly proud you should be, knowing that you are a pioneer and world leader: in medicine, technology, agriculture, science, security, education, sport and culture and above all – the willingness to help whoever you can, wherever possible – no matter what. 

You have earned stature and status, recognition and power, you are often considered the center of the world’s stage and your position is so well-deserved.

In your humble, quiet and unassuming way, you have embodied the very meaning of transformation. Against all odds – you have not only endured tremendous pain and suffering, loss and agony – but you have thrived and shone and continue to be a bright light unto the nations.

It’s not easy having so many people wish you harm. I don’t doubt that for a second.

I can’t imagine the pressure you feel every day from trying to progress, using all of your might to advance and reach new goals, develop and expand and at the same time, facing harsh resistance internally and externally – every single step of the way. 

So many people want to see you fail. And yet so many people want to see you win. Because when you do, we all do. Everything in the world is better when you are at your best.

You know your values, you know your principles and your worth and you continue to live by them with integrity and authenticity. I wish all our leaders would live your values more. I wish we all would. Truthfully. 

It’s not always easy to like you – believe me, we’ve had our ups and downs, frustrations and reconcilements, I don’t always understand you, but it is completely effortless to love you – unconditionally. 

And I know there are huge improvements to make – internally – we all do. We all have to do better. We all have to work on ourselves.

I wish I could heal some of your deepest wounds. 

I wish I could tell you that next year will be so much simpler for you. 

I wish I could guarantee that your obstacles and enemies will soon see your magnificence. 

I wish I could promise that your contributions to the goodness of the world will be celebrated by everyone – but I can’t. 

I can only promise that we will keep trying to make you proud.

We will keep creating, inventing, contributing, helping, giving – and in time, more and more will know your worth and acknowledge your legacy.

I can only share with you that the people who already love you – want to see you win – and the same very faith and unwavering belief in justice and G-d’s miracles will always continue to guide and support you. 

I love that my children think in Hebrew. 

I love that the supermarkets and gyms light a Chanukiah and the buses and highways wish us all a Chag Sameach

I love that the entire country is wearing white tomorrow night and that on Yom Kippur, there isn’t a car to be seen. 

I love the “only in Israel” moments because they are uniquely ours and one has to be here to feel it, to truly appreciate and understand it – you and your incredible polarities and idiosyncrasies. 

I love the chutzpah, the deepest love and energy of your people for what they believe in and for one another. 

I love that this tiny country has such a vibrant non-profit charitable sector.

I love representing you in the sports arena, you have instilled a spirit in your people that is filled with passionate fire and I try my hardest to showcase your beauty to all those who don’t know you well, or haven’t had the utter nachas of spending time with you and getting to know your incomparable personality.

Israel – thank you for inspiring me.

Israel – thank you for challenging me.

Israel – thank you for allowing me to live a meaningful life.

Israel – thank you for being my home.

I only wish you peace. In every single prayer.

G..d knows, it’s more than anything I wish you. 

You bring me joy. 

You make me smile and give me so many reasons to be thankful.

May you be showered with Hashem’s richest blessings. 

May you grow from strength to strength. 

May you remain true to your spirit and continue to drive change, empower others to bring out their best, and leave your indelible mark of greatness, excellence and contribution to whatever you develop, create, touch, grow and share with us and the world.

Here’s to many more happy, healthy and wonderful years ahead filled with plenty of new dreams coming true.

I know that when things seem like they’re falling apart, very often it means they just might be falling into place. Hold on. 

Hold tight. The craziness inside you right now is necessary for transformation. It’s how all worthwhile change occurs; with cracks, discomfort, fear, pain, courage and hope. 

We haven’t lost hope. 

עוד לא אבדה תקוותנו

About the author:

Heroes of Israel4

Andi Saitowitz, a mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, published author and lover of inspiration. Also a Personal Development Strategist, Life Coach, Mentor and Transformation Leader.

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).


Reflections during Purim of a latter day heroine, Marzi, a defiant and brave Iranian Christian

By Jonathan Feldstein

Marziyeh  “Marzi” Amirizadeh is not a Persian queen.

Unlike the biblical Jewish queen, Esther, an orphan in Persia expelled from Judea following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and exile of the Jewish people, Marzi is a native of Persia. Today that is Iran. She lives in the United States, her adopted country where, like Esther, she has risen to the occasion “for such a time as this.”  Like Esther who put her life on the line to approach the King, her husband, and to save her people, Marzi also put her life on the line.  She did not go before the modern “King” – the ayatollah – to save her people from imminent death, but rather worked stealthily behind the scenes – against the ayatollahs – to affirm her faith and for the well-being of Iran.

Beauty and the Beasts. Former Iranian prisoners Marziyeh “Marzi” Amirizadeh, (l), and Maryam Rostampour (r)  were sentenced to death in 2009 for spreading the message of Christianity but the regime’s punishment backfired when they evangelized hundreds of fellow prisoners – even prison guards – in the 259 days before they were released following intense international pressure. “God had a purpose for being in that dark place,” says Marzi.

Marzi is an Iranian-born Christian who fled the land of her birth, the land in which she found her faith.  Just doing so put her life at risk. Christians, like Jews are persecuted, as is pretty much anyone who does not fit into the narrowly defined version of extremist Shia Islam that hijacked Iran in 1979.  Sunnis, Kurds, Bahais, and other religious and ethnic minorities are all in the regime’s crosshairs.

Coming to faith as a Christian in Iran is not something to be taken for granted.  While there is the morality police enforcing Islamic dress code, such as ensuring women in the country wear hijabs, simply being a Christian and affirming that in any way publicly can be dangerous, if not life threatening. Marzi knows all too well!

Arrested and thrown into one of the most brutal prisons in the world – the notorious Evin Prison outside Teheran – Marzi was subjected to months of physical and mental hardship, including intense interrogation before being brought to trial, where she was sentenced to death by hanging for the ‘crime’ of “apostacy”.

Behind Bars for Beliefs. The notorious Evin Prison in northwestern Tehran has held during its brutal history, hundreds of peaceful activists, journalists, intellectuals, human rights lawyers and Christians like Marziyeh Amirizadeh and Maryam Rostampour who chose to take the dangerous step of sharing their faith inside the very walls that was meant to silence them.

But like Esther, Marzi is not only brave, she is astute.  In her interrogations and even at her trial, when accused of ‘apostacy’ -the  renunciation of a religious belief – which she did by converting from Islam to Christianity, Marzi simply said:


Although forced to study Islam, Marzi never considering herself a Muslim, despite that under Islamic law a child born of a Muslim man is Muslim, and that children born as such in Iran are registered as Muslims. Marzi never avowed Islam; never embraced it and so she could never disavow it. Baffling her accusers, they were left without much to challenge her, despite that she and everything about her so enraged the Iranian regime.

Living on the Edge. Marzi was arrested and imprisoned in 2009 for converting from Islam to Christianity, an offense which carries the death penalty. Placed in Evin prison’s notorious Ward 2-A, which is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Marzi was denied a lawyer and contact with her family for three months.

But she didn’t stop there. Marzi shared her faith with her accusers, her captors and her interrogators. If Allah was really God, why could she not have a personal relationship with him?  Why could Allah not speak to her directly? There were many “whys” in her search for faith, and then her affirmation of it.

Marzi related that their God is a God who is distant, with whom you cannot have a close relationship, is always ready to punish, even inflict torture for the most minor infractions. She never accepted Allah as the true God.  She was always searching for a personal relationship with God, to find the truth.  Even something as mundane as only praying to God in Arabic, not in Persian or any other language, challenged her and caused her to challenge their theology. If their God was God, he would surely be multi-lingual and receive prayers in all languages?

She understood her accusers were lying, and her eagerness to find God intensified. Eventually, God spoke to Marzi in a dream, revealing the true face of Islam, and God’s love for her and all people. A God of love was comforting, made sense, and upended her accuser’s God of fear. After this, God made Himself present in her life, and became her rock.

In coming to faith in the land whose Islamic leaders brand Israel “the Zionist entity” and “the little Satan”, Marzi also had a spiritual awakening about Israel and the Jewish people, how important they were to her faith and very existence as a Christian. This alone could have earned her another death sentence.  Even in our conversation for the Inspiration from Zion (podcast), she dispassionately notes how that this would assuredly be used by Iranian extremists to demonstrate her “spying” for Israel.  She is aware that should the Iranians arrest her in the future, she will be accused as a spy.

Marzi enraged the judge in whose hands her life precariously lay, by recounting how God spoke to her. This was totally at variance with the judge’s and Islam’s belief that God only speaks to prophets and holy people. Some of her captors even admired the strength of her faith for standing up to the many forms of intimidation and threats of consequences of not renouncing her Christianity, even while challenging fundamental principles of Islam.

But Marzi does not do anything in half measures.  Though Iran is the land of her birth, and the United States is where she’s now a citizen and where she has even run for elected office, Israel is a dream on her radar. Next month she’ll get to fulfill her dream and visit the Land of the Bible, the Land in which her faith was born, where Jesus lived. She wants to see all of Biblical and modern Israel, and be inspired in her own faith.  But she also wants to bring a message of love to Israel that while the Iranian regime hates Israel, average Iranians do not. She knows that just as she was arrested and sentenced to death, and only a miracle saved her, the Iranian threat to Israel is very real, but that God will also protect Israel.

Fate Uncertain. Iranian women prisoners sit at their cell in Tehran’s Evin prison. While allegations of sexual abuse and rape against Iran prison officials have been made by former female political prisoners, information about the alleged number of rapes committed by IRGC officials in Iran’s prisons remains unclear.

2500 years ago, Esther beseeched the Jewish people to pray and fast for her, that she should be able to use her position to save the Jewish people from the death decree forced by Haman.  Today, Marzi represents Esther’s bravery and boldness, and is very much a bridge between Jews and Christians.

Purpose in Prison. In ‘Captive in Iran’, cowriters Marziyeh Amirizadeh and Maryam Rostampour who knew they were putting their lives on the line by sharing their Christian beliefs, recount how God used their 259 days in Evin Prison to shine His light into one of the world’s darkest places, following their arrest in 2009.

We should join her in prayers for Iran, that somehow miraculously the Iranian people can be saved from its evil rulers.

About the writer:

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

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


Step below modern Jerusalem to enter ancient Jerusalem and walk in the footsteps of  the pilgrims

By Jonathan Feldstein

Samuel 2 verse 11 recounts the beginning of the relationship between King David and Bathsheba. Wouldn’t it have been fascinating if, as part of his plan, David sent a letter to Uriah – the husband of Bathsheba – after he left for battle, so as to provide plausible deniability for Uriah being killed so David would be free to pursue the beautiful Bathsheba?  What if that letter was not only never delivered, but if it were found today, complete with King David’s seal, and if it were marked in ancient Hebrew with the phrase “Undeliverable. Return to sender”. Where would David’s letter been returned to?

If such a letter was discovered, it would be just one of numerous archaeological finds in recent decades pointing to the veracity of the Biblical account of King David and the Jewish people’s unbreakable connection to Jerusalem.  Until the City of David was discovered some 150 years ago, and excavations began just a few decades back, people could legitimately point to the lack of actual proof of King David’s existence, undermining the Biblical narrative as speculative.  Since then, the indisputable proof of all the evidence makes it impossible to refute with any integrity, and casts a cloud of dishonesty on those who would still deny David’s existence, establishing his kingdom in Jerusalem, making it the religious center of the Jewish people and remains so to this day 3000 years later.

‘Stairway to Heaven’. The Jerusalem Pilgrim Road – also known as The Stepped Street – was used in the ritual processions ascending from the pool to the Temple, Judaism’s holiest site.

The City of David is exactly where King David’s palace existed.  That’s where his letter to Uriah would have been written, and be returned to. Standing there, reading the account of him first setting sight on Bathsheba bathing, you can imagine exactly where that took place. In recent decades, the archeological evidence unearthed has been extraordinary. It includes something as mundane as an ancient toilet from which scientists have been able to determine what Jerusalem’s residents ate while under siege. It includes the excavation of the Pilgrim’s Road, upon which multitudes of Jewish pilgrims walked as they ascended to the Temple.  These pilgrims – that included ordinary Jews to more famous ones such as Jesus, would make their journeys from all across the Land of Israel to Jerusalem to visit the Temple Mount, significantly on the three major Jewish holidays of Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth), and the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot). Among the remarkable evidence discovered on the Pilgrim’s Road are first century coins, and a bell from the garment of the High Priest.  But there’s much more.

A Step in the right Direction. A recent analysis of more than 100 coins found beneath the Stepped Street point to the start and completion of its construction under Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who presided over the trial of Jesus and ordered his crucifixion. (photo Jonathan Feldstein)

Recently, I asked Ze’ev Orenstein, director of international affairs for the City of David, “What’s new in the ancient City of David?” As well as talking about the ongoing excavations of the Pilgrims Road – still unopen to the public – he shared some of the fascinating ancient findings recently unearthed. Prior to our conversation, I had a private tour with Shira, an outstanding guide, who brought to life what life was really like  in ancient Jerusalem. This included walking along much of the Pilgrim’s Road which is not yet open to the public, and seeing how the excavations are progressing.

Beneath the Surface.  There is no denying the connection of Jews to Jerusalem observes the writer as he personally witnesses a buried past literally unearthed. (Photo Jonathan Feldstein)

Ze’ev revealed that in addition to the current excavations, plans were announced to excavate the remaining two-thirds of the Pool of Siloam, a Biblical site significant to Christians and Jews. The Pool of Siloam sits at the lower foot of the Pilgrim’s Road and is the place where the pilgrims would participate in a ritual purification before ascending the last stretch of about a half a mile to the Temple itself.

Christians point to the Pool of Siloam as the site at which (according to John 9), Jesus healed a blind man.  Indeed, there is little if anything about the City of David that’s not as significant to Christians as much as it is to Jews. Jesus was a first century Jew and literally walked and worshipped there.  Understanding his life and the centrality of the Temple as part of Jewish Biblical history is significant to understanding the Jewish roots of Christianity.

From Roman Helmets to Hard Hats. 2000 years later, still working on the same street. (Photo Jonathan Feldstein)

Miracles are not uncommon in Jerusalem, but even some seem unbelievable. Ze’ev also shared the ‘miraculous’ way in which the Pilgrim’s Road was only by chance rediscovered during repairs to a burst sewage pipe that had inadvertently covered a series of ancient stone steps that led to the pool of Siloam – and the rest is literally history.

Affirming the veracity of Jerusalem’s Biblical history is not just a matter of affirming one’s faith, although that is very important. Today, when people don’t know history, or know and deliberately revise history to fit their own narrative, the thousands of years evidence from the City of David debunks that. Denial of Biblical history in Jerusalem is particularly egregious because it endeavors to undermine the convictions of the faithful of both Christians and Jews. This tactic by antisemites is to so loudly voice opposition to Israel’s right to exist on the basis that Jews have no historical connection to Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular. Despite the historical evidence refuting this lie, it nevertheless is a narrative frequently promulgated by Palestinian Arabs, notably at the United Nations. Their aim is to try erase the Jewish people from their ancestral homeland.

Jubilation in Jerusalem. An artist’s impression of the Pilgrim’s Road during a Jewish festival. (Photo credit: Kobi Herati, City of David)

In the City of David, it is possible to play a Biblical version of connect the dots. One can see landmarks and artifacts that point to numerous Biblical verses, and to historical records by Josephus and others.

In a few years time, 21st century pilgrims will be able to walk the full length of the Pilgrim’s Road, starting at the Pool of Siloam up to the southern steps of the Temple Mount. While not yet able to purchase the items needed for offerings in the Temple at one of the many shops along the way, they can marvel at the archaeological evidence affirming their Biblical scripture of the precise places where it all took place. What is being unearthed is providing undeniable proof of the Biblical account of King David and the connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem – literally at the feet of everyone.

Dipping into the Bible. Young tourists at a section of the pool of Siloam where Jewish pilgrims in antient times would purify themselves before the final assent to the Temple.


When the Pilgrim Road reopens to the public slated in two years’ time, it will be the first time in two millennia, since the Romans conquered and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, that this ancient path will be open.  

I want to be there and welcome you to join in that celebration.

The Pool of Siloam (Episode 9) – City of David: Bringing the Bible to Life

About the writer:

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

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


By Jonathan Feldstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the writer:

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

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


The heroic past shall be ‘unveiled’ at an upcoming ceremony at Johannesburg’s Jewish cemetery illuminating ‘bloodlines’ between South Africa and Israel

By David E. Kaplan

On the 27th November, people of all faiths and races – some wearing medals of battles past – will gather at the South African National Jewish War Memorial at West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg. They will do so to remember those South African soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the world wars of the twentieth century that not only “changed the course of history” but profoundly impacted on the destiny of the Jewish people. The acts of bravery by these soldiers – whether aware at the time or not – contributed to the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in their ancestral homeland in 1948.

Live stream link on Sunday 27/11/22, 10:30 (SA time) –

The drama of three long forgotten and for many never even known events, will be ‘unveiled’ together with the stones embodying their pulsating pasts.


When only a year ago, students at  UCT ( University of Cape Town) tried to expunge the memory of South Africa’s famed wartime Prime Minister Jan Smuts by defacing and covering his bust with plastic bags and ultimately removing it from the campus as well as renaming the historic men’s residence from Smuts Hall to Upper Campus Residence, the upcoming gathering on the 27 November has a contrary agenda of honouring his memory as it connects with the Jewish people. If UCT students sought to ‘cover’ Smuts’ bust, the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), JNF (SA), the South African Jewish ex-Service League together with its committee member, Selwyn Rogoff and its former Chairman, Peter Bailey also representing the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee in Israel, have sought to uncover Smuts’ less known past, notably his contribution to the State of Israel.

Century of a Stone. The cornerstone originally unveiled by Prime Minister Smuts in 1922 to be again unveiled by his great-grandson Gareth Shackleford on the 27 November 2022 at West Park Cemetery, Johannesburg.

When it was brought to Bailey and Rogoff’s attention that a cornerstone honouring South African Jews who had fought and died in the Great War that had been unveiled by Prime Minister Smuts in November 1922 at the old Jewish Guild War Memorial Building in downtown Johannesburg had after a century of travels to different locations  resurfaced in the garden of a bowling club, they felt a special memorial event marking the centenary should be held. Bailey felt further that it should include two other monumental contributions of South African soldiers who died in the service of that biblical land that would in time emerge as the state of the Jewish people – Israel. Through this writer’s intervention, he contacted Benji Shulman of the SAZF that set in motion the upcoming event that will have Smuts’ great-grandson, Gareth Shackleford, who will unveil again the cornerstone that his grandfather originally unveiled a century earlier reminding the world of the love Smuts had for the Jewish people and his role in the creation of the Jewish state.

Dead at Delville. Included amongst Jewish South African soldiers killed in WWI was the writer’s grandfather’s brother, Victor Kaplan, who volunteered for overseas service and was killed in the Battle of Delville Wood in 1916. (Family photo)

Too few are aware that when Smuts and Chaim Weizmann met in London during the Great War, the two began a close friendship that lasted for the rest of their lives and greatly influenced events in Palestine. In an essay on Smuts and Weizmann, Richard P. Stevens writes:

perhaps few personal friendships have so influenced the course of political events during the twentieth century as the relationship between General Jan Christiaan Smuts, South Africa’s celebrated prime minister, and Chaim Weizmann, Zionist leader, and Israel’s first president.”

Meeting of Minds. They emerged friends with shared visions – Chaim Weizmann (left) and Jan Smuts, circa 1915 (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST ARCHIVE)

Research reveals that Smuts played a monumental backroom role in the drafting of the Balfour Declaration, providing Weizmann with a direct conduit to the War Cabinet. Another of Smuts’ great-grandsons, Philip Weyers, said of his great-grandfather, who he fondly refers to as “Oubaas” (old boss) that:

he was the anonymous partner to the Balfour Declaration. The spirit and even some of the wording of the Balfour Declaration came from the Oubaas’ mouth. His thoughts and views carried a lot of weight, and is imbedded in that fateful document.

It is little wonder that kibbutz Ramat Yohanan – founded in 1932  – was named in honour of Jan Smuts; ‘Yohanan’ being the Hebrew translation for the Afrikaans ‘Jan’ or English ‘John’, in recognition of his unstinting efforts on behalf of the Jewish people.


However, Israel’s ‘Magna Carta’ – the Balfour Declaration of 1917 – would have meant very little beyond a letter or footnote in history had not the actual ‘feet’ of commonwealth soldiers – including the Cape Corps comprising members of South Africa’s Coloured community – fought valiantly to relieve Palestine of the Ottoman Turks. Some 54 Coloureds  – Christians and Muslims – lost their lives in what became known as the Battle of Megiddo, opening the road for General Allenby’s breakthrough to Damascus. Most important from a Jewish perspective, while it “opened the road” for Allenby, it cleared the region of the occupying Turks, paving the way for a British Mandate and ultimately Jewish statehood in 1948.

Jubilation in Jerusalem. One month after the Balfour Declaration, General Edmund Allenby enters the Old City on the 11 December 1917 to accept the surrender of Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks. Next battle to follow – Megiddo.

A year following the famous battle, Field Marshal Viscount Allenby, GCB, GCMG had this to say about the men of the 1st Cape Corps:

 “I heard you are creating a Roll of Honour containing Cape Corps names. I had the honour of serving with many of the Cape Corps in Palestine and I should like to add my tribute of appreciation. The record of those of the Cape Corps who fought under my command is one that any troops might envy. Especially on September 19 and 20, 1918, they covered themselves with glory, displaying a bravery and determination that has never been surpassed.”

A descendant of this battle, Cmdr. M. Adeel Carelse MMM (Ret.), whose grandfather Cpl. C. H. Carelse fought bravely at Square Hill and Kh Jibeit that were decisive battles within the larger Battle of Megiddo and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, will unveil on the 27 November a plaque to the Cape Corps. Today in Cape Town’s suburb of Retreat, there is Square Hill School that is named after this famous battle that too few remember or the sacrifices made.  However, these mostly forgotten battles fought in a biblical land, ended Ottoman Turkish rule and led to the eventual establishment of the independent states of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and ISRAEL!

Valiant Fighters. Men of the 1st. Battalion, Cape Corps(160th Brigade, 53 Welsh Division) in Palestine 1918.


The third stone of history to be unturned at the ceremony, will be to remember and honour the 644 black Southern Africans who went down with 140 Yishuv Jews on the SS Erinpura during WWII.

They had all worked together as volunteers on a British labour project in Palestine for the war effort and were together in a convoy in the Mediterranean in May 1943 . The SS Erinpura was carrying more than 1000 troops, including Basuto and Batswanan members of the African Auxiliary Pioneer Corps and Palestinian Jewish soldiers of 462 Transport Company of the British Army when on the evening of 1 May 1943, German bomber aircraft attacked the convoy 30 nautical miles (56 km) north of Benghazi.

They Made History. On parade but soon to be tested in battle are soldiers of the Cape Corp during WW1 who performed so heroically at the Battle of Megiddo in 1918 against the Ottoman Turks.

In one wave of the attacks, a bomb hit the Erinpura in one of her forward holds, causing her to list to starboard and sink within five minutes. The crew of her 12-pounder anti-aircraft gun continued to return fire until she sank with a loss of life of 800 that included the 633 Sotho, 11 Tswana soldiers and 140 Palestinian Jewish soldiers.

Lives lost at Sea. The ‘SS Erinpura Memorial’ on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem is dedicated to the 139 Jewish soldiers of the British Army  462 Moving Unit in British Mandate of Palestine  that lost their lives on the SS Erinpura  that was sunk in an attack  by the Luftwaffe on 1 May 1943.

The monument on Mount Herzl  to the 140 Jewish soldiers who drowned aboard the SS Erinpura is shaped like a ship  with a pool of water representing the sea where on the bottom appear the names of the fallen. Above the pool is a turret adorned with the Hebrew text of Psalm 68, verse 22:

The Lord said, I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea.”

Ship of Soldiers. The ill-fated SS. Erinpura that went down with South African and Jewish Palestinian soldiers in WWII.

This did in a sense happen with the emergence five years later  with the gathering of Jews and the established of the Jewish state in 1948.

It is only fitting that  Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotsercovsky, will unveil a memorial plaque at the West Park Cemetery ceremony to the tragic loss of life of both the Yishuv Jews and black South Africans who lost their lives together in a cause that others may live.

Entrance to West Park Cemetery, Johannesburg


The years have rolled by and like packed away old unread books, heroic lives were lost tucked away in forgotten chapters in recedingly remembered conflicts. The upcoming ceremony on the 27 November 2022  in Johannesburg is designed to address this amnesia and all across the world are invited to attend on ZOOM

Before all these events played out, the instruction of ‘being careful not to forget’ was already present in Deuteronomy 4:7–9:“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy son’s sons.

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).


Poland and Lithuania covering up the complicit cracks of the past

By Stephen Schulman

Seventy seven years have passed since the defeat of Nazi Germany. Memories fade, survivors have passed away together with many of the criminals who remained unexposed and unpunished. Poland and Lithuania today, are in the throes of official movements to renovate and refurbish a new national image and recreate the national narrative. As with any refurbishing, there is much discarding, covering up of the old and adopting of the new and this move ties neatly in with a decidedly revisionist history that has been legislated, seeks to create myths, recraft  a sanitized past and muzzle any historical research that may reveal unpleasant truths.

Determined Duo. Historian Jan Grabowski (left) and sociologist Barbara Engelking who wrote a book about the Holocaust in Poland were taken to court for defamation.

In 2018, Poland’s Senate passed a bill that outlaws blaming the country for any crimes committed during the Holocaust. The bill was proposed by the country’s ruling Law and Justice Party and calls for up to three years in prison or a fine for accusing the Polish state or people of involvement in or responsibility for the Nazi occupation during World War II. Tragically, this blatant attempt to whitewash the past rings hollow in the light of historical facts. Nevertheless, the prevailing winds of nationalism are blowing strong and many Polish historians are loath to tack against the gale lest they find themselves on the shoals of criminal prosecution. Consequently, they now take care to modify their researches. There is a powerful movement to discredit and besmirch Jan Gross and last year, in a decision widely condemned by American and European academics, a Polish court found Jan Grabowski and fellow researcher Barbara Engelking guilty of defaming a small town mayor in their book on the Holocaust.

Poles Apart. While Jews from Poland and abroad gather in 2016 for commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of a massacre of Jews in Jedwabne, Poland, on 10 July 1941, Polish lawmakers in 2018 passed a bill outlawing the blaming of Poles for crimes of the Holocaust committed in Poland. The Jedwabne pogrom was a massacre of Polish Jews by ethnic Poles  in the town of Jedwabne of at least 340 men, women and children, some 300 of whom were locked in a barn and burned alive. The Polish ringleaders decided on it beforehand with Germany’s Gestapo, SS security police or SS intelligence and cooperated with German military police. (AP Photo/Michal Kosc)

The Poles were victims of Russian and German invasion and oppression and paid a heavy price. Nevertheless, there are well documented histories of Poles not only collaborating with the Nazis but also taking their own initiative in the murder of Jews. The pogrom at Jedwabne in 1941 was far from being an isolated incident as a recently published book by Mirosław Tryczyk shockingly sheds light on fifteen other locations. Anna Bikont, a courageous journalist, in revisiting that town sixty years after the slaughter, noted the denial, the amnesia, the obfuscation, the intimidation, the fear of witnesses to speak out and the open threats made to those who wished to acknowledge the town’s guilt.

The annual March of the Living when many groups of all ages from Israel and abroad visit the death camps has been compromised due to the Polish government’s demand that now each one be accompanied by an official guide to provide a governmentally approved narrative. It appears that what comes from the mouths of the regular guides paints an unpleasantly discomforting picture.

Staying on Track. Despite, the controversy surrounding Poland’s 2018 Holocaust bill penalizing mentioning involvement in and by the Polish people/nation/state in Nazi crimes followed with calls from Knesset members to stop the trips by young Israelis to Poland, participants attended the annual “March of the Living” in 2019. ( REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo/File Photo)

The attempts made throughout the years by Holocaust survivors and their descendants for restitution of family property have been fruitless, long obstructed by prevarication in the passing of a bill compensating for property seized by the Nazis and the subsequent Communist regime. In September 2021, however, the government stirred itself enough to pass a law which prevents claimants from challenging administrative decisions older than 30 years, including those issued without legal basis or issued in gross violation of the law. In practice, it will become virtually impossible for all former Polish property owners – including Holocaust survivors and their descendants, many of whom have had claims pending for years to seek redress.

How ironic that the Polish government whilst squelching private compensation claims is now demanding 1.23 trillion Euro in compensation from Germany for the damages caused to the country during the Nazi invasion and occupation. It appears that the 30 year limit for claimants’ restitution does not apply to the government itself. When interests dictate, there is seemingly no time limit!

Moreover, in an act of unprecedented callous cynicism, the government has sought to include in its claims for damages, the towns where pogroms of the Jews were carried out by the local inhabitants. They will no doubt also seek restitution for the barn in Jedwabne where the good townspeople herded in, set on fire and burnt 300 of their Jewish neighbours alive. 

Lithuania, 2022

A nation, said John F. Kennedy in October 1963, just a month before he was assassinated, “reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”

Lithuania today refuses to come to grips with its wartime past and honours people who have a dark past of collaboration and murder. The national establishment is determined to repackage the country’s wartime history of the Nazi occupation as one of victimization, non-collaboration with and complete noninvolvement in the murder of its Jews. Those who have tried to dismantle this edifice of distortion, obfuscation and denial have not only come up against a blank wall but have paid a price.

Grant Cochin, a former South African of Lithuanian descent now living in the USA, in researching his family’s past discovered a great number of relatives who perished in the Holocaust and the names of Lithuanians complicit in their murder who have been elevated to the status of national icons. He has recorded that in the decades seeking redress and uncovering the truth, he has filed between 20 and 30 lawsuits against the Lithuanian government, encountering obstruction, denial, delay and threats of criminal charges. Moreover, he asserts that he has “exposed” virtually every corner of the government, courts, Parliament, public prosecutors, the president and prime minister, all of them involved in the cover-up.

In 2021 an exceptional book was published: The Nazi’s Granddaughter. How I Discovered My Grandfather was a War Criminal by Sylvia Foti. The book details a painful twenty year journey of intellectual honesty and raw courage of an American citizen with strong Lithuanian roots searching for and revealing the truth about her grandfather Jonas Noreika who has been enshrined as a national hero.

Truth Exposed.While accused Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika (centre) was whitewashed by Lithuania’s Genocide and Resistance Research Center, his granddaughter Silvia Foti (right) says he did his best to help Nazis kill Jews. The relatives of Grant Gochin (left) were among Noreika’s victims.

In June 2018, with supporting evidence from Sylvia Foti, Grant Cochin challenged the Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Center’s denial of Noreika’s war crimes. In spite of the overwhelming evidence, a Vilnius court threw out the case declaring for the government funded Center’s objectivity and veracity plus ordering Cochin to pay all the costs – a decision that he called:

 “The Jew Tax

Those who dare to challenge the official sanitized national narrative have borne the brunt of official opprobrium. Evaldas Balciunas who was the first to disclose Noreika’s past to the English speaking world and Dovid Katz who published his findings have been dismissed from their jobs, harassed by the government, interrogated by the police and declared “enemies of the state“.

Ruta Vanagaita too, has discovered the high cost of intellectual honesty and of voicing her thoughts in public when she questioned the past of a nationally revered hero: anti-Soviet resistance fighter. She not only immediately lost her livelihood when her publisher withdrew all her books from the shops and pulped them but fearing for her safety remained in the shelter of her home, eventually leaving the country for some time. Among the insults showered on her in the street was “pro–Putin Jewish whore” – in Lithuanian eyes, being called Jewish, is an insult in itself! A brave and resolute lady, she has remained undeterred in uncovering the truth about Lithuania’s participation in the Holocaust, leading tours to massacre sites and co-authoring a book with the Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff.

Nasty Neighbours. Dr. Efraim Zuroff  (right) coauthored with the granddaughter of perpetrators, Rūta Vanagaitė (left), the book “Our People” that tackles the sensitive issue of the motivation of thousands of ordinary Lithuanians complicit in the murder of Jewish neighbours.

Lest we forget. A friend of mine, formerly from Lithuania, now also living in Israel, told me the following story about his home town.

One of its residents was a Jew who had fought in WW II. He was a loner who kept to himself. On market day he had bought a live goose, put it in a sack, slung it over his shoulder and started walking home. At the same time, there was a woman whose small child had gone astray and was engaged in searching for him/her.  On seeing the man carrying the sack with the goose flapping around in it, she started screaming that the Jew had kidnapped her child. Old prejudices die hard and it did not take much to set the townspeople off on a Jew hunt. Fortunately, until the furor eventually died down, the local police prevented a pogrom by protecting the homes of the few Jewish residents. My friend as a boy remembers sitting at home, the fear they felt, the anti-Semitic insults and threats shouted by passersby and the stones thrown against their closed shutters.

This near-pogrom took place in September 1958!


Immersing oneself in the vast literature of the Holocaust is not only a daunting and an interminable task but also a heartbreaking one as you become overwhelmed by the horror and the immense scope of so many human tragedies. In my reading, over the course of time, while trying not to do injustice to so many other excellent and deserving works, I have attempted to focus on, what I consider relevant books. Below – with no pretensions of being comprehensive – is a short list of selected titles.

Anna Bikont: The Crime and the Silence

Miroslaw Tryczyk (Author), Frank Smulowicz (Translator): The Towns of Death: Pogroms against Jews by Their Neighbors

Saul Friedlander: The Years of Extermination

                            Nazi Germany and the Jews

Sylvia Foti: The Nazi’s Granddaughter

Jan Grabowski: Hunt for the Jews

Ruta Vanagaite and Efraim Zuroff: Our People. Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust.

Jeffrey Veidlinger: In the Midst of Civilized Europe

Jan T. Gross: Neighbors


Ernst Klee, Willi Dressen and Volker Reiss (Editors): The Good Old Days. The Holocaust as Seen by its Perpetrators and Bystanders.

Father Patrick Desbois: In Broad Daylight

David I. Kertzer: The Popes against the Jews

                           The Pope at War

About the writer:

Stephen 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. He 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.

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).


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

By Rolene Marks

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

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

Members of WIZO delegation

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

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

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

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

Dr. Theodor Herzl.

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

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

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

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

 WIZO delegates with Sheikh al Mansur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herzl and I reflect

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

Celebrating Passover

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

By Justin Amler

The greatest story in history is upon once again.

And oh… what a story it is.

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

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

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

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

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

But it didn’t end.

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

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

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

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

We cannot afford to remain silent.

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

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

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

We were Israelites.

We were Jews.

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

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

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

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

About the writer:

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

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