Anti-Semitism and the African landscape

  By Rolene Marks

The history of the Jewish people and that of many African countries is more similar than it is different. There are some striking parallels – tribal allegiances, love of the indigenous land and a shared history of persecution and colonialism.

In the fledgling days before the founding of the modern State of Israel, Jews fought to end the British mandate that effectively colonized their ancient land.

Anti-Semitism and the African landscape3
Theodor Herzl

It was with philosophy that both the founder of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl and Israel’s first Prime Minister, Golda Meir, recognized that the Jewish state was the natural partner to help beleaguered African countries.

They recognized the shared desires of the African people as well as the Jews to live free in their homelands and respected the national liberation movements of the time, sensing a mutual desire to that of their own Zionist ideals. Zionism after all, is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.

But today, much like in many other parts of the world, anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head on the continent. A continent that has suffered more than its own share of discrimination and persecution.

Anti-Semitism and the African landscape2
Israeli PM Golda Meir (while serving as FM) and Kenya President Jomo Kenyatta laying cornerstone of Israeli Embassy in Nairobi (December 1963)

From the north to the south

Many would be surprised to find out that there once were thriving Jewish communities in many countries across the continent and while communities are sparse in sub-Saharan Africa, in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt, they once flourished.

The Lemba of Southern Africa, the Igbo of Nigeria, Ethiopan Jews, the Abuyudaya of Uganda and the Sephardi and Ashkenazi of Europe, many of whom settled in Africa to escape persecution and who can forget the Mizrahi Jews of Arab countries, who were forced to flee Islamic rulers.

Due to rising anti-Semitism and poverty, these communities barely exist anymore. Outside of South Africa which has the largest community on the continent, there were communities in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Uganda, Zaire (the Democratic Republic of Congo) and Zimbabwe. While many left for Israel, others left for Europe or elsewhere.

The continent’s massive poverty rates and political turmoil in the late 20th century led to some African national leaders blaming Jews for the problems of their countries which they claimed, “are operated by a conspiracy against the African race”. Anti-Semitism in Africa includes false rumors and allegations that the AIDS pandemic, was bioengineered by either the US, the United Nations or “the Jews” in a plot to exterminate millions of black Africans and that the disease is a part of the “Jewish” or “white Europeans’ maneuvers against Africa” or a continuous practice of “racial genocide”. African nations are prone to accept unreliable anti-Semitic reports and revisionist history that the slavery of black Africans in the new world was because of “Jewish merchants working for European colonial masters”. According to social scientists, these theories are appealing to some impoverished and downtrodden people without enough education to know the “Jewish conspiracy” myth is false and unprovable.

The South African story

In post-Apartheid South Africa, the Jewish community has not been spared. This is particularly troubling considering that the contribution made by the Jewish community during the Apartheid years was significant in the fight to end the racist regime. One famous example was that out of the 13 Rivonia trialists, 5 were Jewish.

Who can forget the inimitable Helen Suzman, the lone voice of opposition in parliament to the Apartheid government? Jewish and a woman to boot! Some of the greatest names to enter the pantheon of anti-Apartheid activists, be it through political, cultural, religious or civil action, include Johnny Clegg, Rabbi Isaacson, Joe Slovo, Arthur Chaskalson, Nadine Gordimer, Gill Marcus and Albie Sachs to name but a few. The founding fathers of the Rainbow Nation, Mandela, Sisulu and Thambo were intimately involved with Jews, having worked alongside many throughout their legal careers. Mandela famously visited Israel with “his” Rabbi Cyril Harris and met with then Prime- Minister, Shimon Peres. Mandela famously refers to Menachem Begin and the Irgun as the basis on which he hoped to model the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom:

“I read The Revolt by Menachem Begin and was encouraged by the fact that the Israeli leader had led a guerrilla force in a country with neither mountains nor forests, a situation similar to our own.”

Anti-Semitism and the African landscape5
Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris and former President Nelson Mandela (Credit: Afrika Tikkun)

I think that these great stalwarts of human rights would be greatly hurt to witness the appalling invective levelled against South Africa’s Jewish community.

Good Jew, Bad Jew

Manifesting more as anti-Zionism rather than traditional anti-Semitism (although the two cannot be separated) the clarion call seems to be “Jews are welcome, Zionists are not.” Or are they? Over the past few years, anti-Semitism is manifesting on the Southern tip of the continent much like it is all over the world. Social media platforms have become new battlefields and threats of violence and subsequent incidents have increased.

Anti-Semitism and the African landscape7
Wits University Johanneburg

There seems to be a division between who is termed “good” or “bad” Jew. Good Jews apparently are not Zionist and identify as Jewish by “cultural ties”, not those awful traditional, Israel loving kind. There have been atrocious incidents of anti-Semitism ranging from the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) movement and their cries of “shoot the Jew” at a conference hosted by the South African Zionist Federation to the appalling tweets from populist Black Land First leader, Andile Mngxitama and a whole host of incidents and issues in between.

Anti-Semitism and the African landscape8.png

Anti-Semitism and the African landscape9
Pretoria University 29/08/2017

Many look to Europe or the USA as the barometer on how anti-Semitism manifests but if we ignore the South African model, we do so at our peril. It would appear that when BDS and their supporters in South Africa sneeze, their global network catches a cold. This is not to say that anti-Semitism in South Africa is restricted to BDS and the far left but the far right, perhaps emboldened by the alarming rise of their counterparts in the USA are rearing their ugly, neo-Nazi heads as well.

Anti-Semitism and the African landscape10
Pretoria University 29/08/2017

The consequences of rising anti-Semitism in South Africa are worrying. This could mean the marginalizing of a minority group that has played a vital role in not just the fight against the injustice of the past but continues to punch far above its size in helping to build a new country. It would also result in many of South Africa’s Jews leaving for safer pastures – and along with them, investment and employment opportunities for many of the country’s impoverished.

Anti-Semitism and the African landscape11
Mr Bongani Masuku found guilty of hate speech against the Jewish community in South Africa, 2017

South Africans fought against Apartheid and many paid a painful price. After the struggles of the country’s dark past, do we really want to see this vicious cycle of discrimination and racism rise again?

Anti-Semitism and the African landscape12
BDS Activist: Israelis as Inhuman Nazis

Silence is no longer an option and the message that Jews are just as much a colour in the Rainbow Nation as any other community needs to be heard. Loudly.

 

 

 

 

Breaking The Veil Of Silence

Recollections, Revelations and Remorse from the Descendants of the Perpetrators of the Holocaust

The United Nations designated January 27 – the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau – as a day for member states to honor the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism.

With the alarming rise today in Holocaust denial and antisemitism – even in the very lands where the Holocaust happened – LOTL explores the hatred of the Shoah (Holocaust) by interviewing Pastor Jobst Bittner, who heads the movement of the descendants of Nazi perpetrators to openly confront the hatred of the past that it will foster  a genuine healing, and hopefully – “Never Again”.

 

By Rolene  Marks and Lindy Hoffman

Author’s note:

This was a profoundly emotional and moving experience. It takes an enormous amount of courage to delve into the past, especially that of your family and navigate a painful past. To explore this can also bring about great healing.  After Apartheid in South Africa came to an end in 1994, there were many attempts through the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to try bring healing and understanding between victims and perpetrators but too few sat down with each other on a one-to-one basis and shared the experience of the other. Perhaps March of Life sets an example that the traumas of the past, when spoken about and addressed openly, fosters great healing.

Jobst Bittner greets you with a warm smile and twinkling blue eyes. He immediately puts you at ease when he shakes your hand and his presence is reassuring. Bittner, apart from being a Pastor, is the Founder and President of March of Life – a movement of the descendants of the German Wehrmacht, the SS and the police forces of the Third Reich, and who organise memorial and reconciliation marches at sites across Europe where atrocities were committed.

image009 (5)
Tübingen Today. A colourful façade hides a dark past.

How did it all begin?

image011 (11)
Turbulence in Tübingen. A march by of the Sturmabteilung (SA) in Tübingen.

Sounds of Silence

The German city of Tübingen was a hotbed of training for the Nazi party. A university town, many of the intellectual elite of the Nazi party would gather in Tubingen where they later created an institute known as the Institute for Racial Hygiene. This “institute” would in time decide who was an “Aryan” and who was an “untermensch” (subhuman); who was a “superior” and who was an “inferior”; and was responsible for the ‘selection process’, which saw millions of Jews and other “undesirables” sent to their deaths.

image012 (10)
Enveloping Evil. With uniform and swastika flags, the square in front of the New Aula in Langemarckplatz in Tübingen was renamed in May 1938 to be followed in November with the burning of the Tübingen Synagogue during Kristallnacht.

The March of Life was born is 2007 when Pastor Jobst Bittner and his wife Charlotte decided that something had to be done about the history of the city. Growing up in the post-war generation, Bittner and his wife realised that their parents and grandparents never spoke about the war or their experiences.  The past was related by sticking to just the historical facts; never a mention of the experiences of those persecuted by the Nazi regime.

My parents”, says Bittner, “never spoke of the deaths of six million Jews and this was the same for all of Germany. People pushed aside or repressed their guilt or played it down.”

image015 (3)
Pastor Jobst Bittner and wife, Charlotte

Up Close And Personal

“But once we realised we needed to take responsibility, at least in our own city, we had to engage with our own family histories – to make it personal.  We started training members of our church to take a careful look at their own family history which in Germany is simple because Germans are so thorough and everything was recorded. So we started training our members to ask their families “What happened?” and “What did you do?” I found a term for it – ‘Breaking the Veil of Silence’. It is now a recognized term in Germany because the two decades after the war are known as the decades of silence,” says Bittner. “Most families don’t talk about what really happened, preferring instead to say that “nobody was involved”.  But this was not the case. The perpetrators of the Nazi genocide against the Jews were still able to resume normal lives and careers after the war. Many returned to their careers, resumed positions as judges, in government, in the civil service and academia – they simply returned to their normal lives and professions in society.”

image003 (20)
From Erudition To Evil. A town that housed the famous University of Tübingen associated with eleven Nobel laureates notably in the fields of medicine and chemistry, also housed the infamous Institute for Racial Hygiene responsible for the ‘selection process’, which saw millions of Jews and other “undesirables” sent to their deaths.

The members of Bittner’s church started to research their family backgrounds and each one of them discovered terrible details about the involvement of their own families. One member discovered that his father had been in the Wehrmacht in Poland and active in genocide there. Others were involved in the Ukraine, and in general, it was expressed that “Nazis were somebody else”. The Bittners believe that in some way, every single German was involved. Nobody could say: “I was not involved.”

Someone learned that their grandfather had been a guard at Dachau – but the family made the excuse that he was “just a book keeper” or “just sitting around”. On closer investigation, it was discovered that the system at Dachau ensured that all duties rotated and everyone had the chance to do each “duty”.

Face to Face

Pastor Bittner feels an incredible sense of duty and responsibility to face the pain of the past so that the trauma that affects both descendants and victims of the perpetrators can be healed.

“Traditionally, Germans have played down the magnitude of of the atrocities. We teach them to speak the truth and own up to the past. Yes, my father was involved in the genocide. My parents remained silent and were just as guilty. The vast majority remained silent. It takes something to say my parents were silent as our Jewish neighbours were taken away, dispossessed, sent to concentration camps and killed. They were as much an accessory to the Holocaust as pulling the trigger on a gun. And so a movement was birthed. I wrote a book on the veil of silence. The same silence we saw from perpetrators, we saw from the descendants of the victims. The tragedy is passed down through the generations. The silence of the fathers became the silence of the sons,” says Bittner. “We can understand the silence of the generations of victims; the pain would be too much and the silence was passed down as pain. We realized that as long as the pain was still there through the generations, we have a responsibility to the victims to do something about it. In our experience, when we speak to survivors, we needed to find ways to ask the forgiveness our fathers and grandfathers would not ask. Only then can we start to heal the pain.”

As one could well understand, the eventual meetings between survivors and descendants were extremely emotional. Both parties were extremely touched and opened up their hearts to each other. This created the space for healing.

During the war, “Tübingen had been surrounded by concentration camps,” says Bittner.  “Not large but terrifying; and towards the end of the war they were razed to the ground and the surviving prisoners forced on death marches. Over 250 000 people perished in plain sight on the streets of Germany. They were either shot or died from sheer exhaustion. Nobody could say, “I didn’t know”. So what we started to do was to trace the route of one of those death marches from Tubingen to Dachau. This is why we called it ‘March of Life’ – to reaffirm life that the death marches could become a march to sanctify life.”

 

IMG-20190129-WA0005
Breaking The Silence. A public ‘March of Life’ event in Tübingen in 2016, confronts people with their country’s dark past.

March of Life is connected to the annual educational programme called March of the Living “which invited me to address 25 000 participants in Budapest. While March of the Living is connected to the survivors, what we say is that we are so closely connected to them because we are the descendants of the perpetrators. “

Before participating in their first march, “we had not met with any survivors and during that march, we received a call from a survivor who asked to walk with us. Rose was a survivor of six concentration camps and liberated from Dachau at the age of sixteen. We considered it an honour, and then Rose asked to bring thirteen more survivors. For some it was their first trip to Germany and many were fearful to hear German, the language of the persecutor. We were at a loss what to do. We knelt and we washed the feet of survivors and at first they did not know how to react but after a while were so deeply moved at the healing taking place at the moment. We started to embrace each other. We thought this is what we can do to bring healing.”

A Movement Is Born

This was one of the most pivotal moments of Bittner’s life and from these deep, emotional roots, a movement was born. Healing for descendants who carry guilt and shame as their heritage is just as important as that of the survivors. As we lose more and more survivors, so the responsibility to teach the next generations becomes ours. While there are many who say we must move on, the importance of memory and bearing witness is so important, especially as antisemitism rises around the world.

image014 (5).jpg

March of Life advocates that we cannot be silent in the face of antisemitism and hatred. Delving into the past is painful. But the results are evident. The media started to pick up on this extraordinary story in The Jerusalem Post, and The New York Times and the message started to spread.  It grew organically, gaining momentum.

“We were invited to Poland and the Ukraine. By telling our story it encouraged others to do the same. In Poland and Lithuania where they had previously denied involvement, they began to talk. Our message as Germans was if we could face this, so can you. Now we educate – we are in a university town. So historians are considering how the culture of commemorating is done. Memorial events or historic remembering of facts is important but antisemitism is exploding. It has become disproportionate in the last five years. History can only come alive if we make it personal. If not us, then who? In the recent issue of Der Spiegel, we were the main cover story with personal stories but there is so much more to do with people still reluctant to talk about it,” laments Bittner.

Many people are resistant to the descendants telling their personal stories, feeling it dishonours the memory of their parents. Nevertheless, the descendants took a conscious decision to press on and the grandparents started to talk. “They found it easier to talk to their grandchildren than their children,” says Bittner.

Silence Is Not Golden

One could call March of Life a truly pioneering movement. While the government of Germany feels that working through the past is a high priority and share a sense of responsibility for the state of Israel, many ministers resist revealing their family history. March of Life has exhibited true courage to go where many dread – the past; and work closely with Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial museum and education centre. And this has found a welcome response from Germany’s Jewish community, and in 2017, the Jewish Community of Halle in Germany, awarded the March of Life with the Emil L. Fackenheim Prize for Tolerance.

Marches take place all over the world from Germany to Switzerland, Poland, South America and Jerusalem.

The impact is massive, reaching to millions of people.

Pastor Bittner says that despite the fact that they march proudly with Israeli flags and in cities like Paris where security is vital, they have faced no aggression, something “ We don’t take it for granted.” In Austria, they marched at the Mauthausen Death camp and taught seminars. “People revealed symbolic Nazi paraphernalia that had been in their family’s possession for years and some were shocked to discover what they meant. We even had reformed neo-Nazis in our congregation. Bittner believes that “antisemitism will cease to exist once it leaves the church.”  They are also present in schools teaching about the Holocaust. “I take some experts from Israel to schools and we are invited on a regular basis and we take survivors. Hearing from a survivor has a profound impact. We have seen this with Muslim students who have never been exposed to this. One story from a survivor is more important than fifty lessons.”

March of Life is a living memorial to history and a testament to the power of dialogue, no matter how painful it is. Silence and indifference propagate hatred. After the Holocaust, Jews took the vow “NEVER AGAIN”. Never again would we allow hatred to rise to the levels that it results in genocide. Never Again would we be silent. Never Again would we allow the wholesale slaughter of our people.

48959186_10156872583469804_3736973829327552512_n (1)
Illuminating Darkness. At Israel’s March of Life office in Caesarea are (left to right), Pastor Jobst Bittner, the article’s co-writers Rolene Marks & Lindy Hoffman, the director of March of Life in Israel, Yigal Even-Ziv and clinical psychologist, Carolin Hohnecke, who is a 3rd generation descendent of a perpetrator.

Our gratitude to Pastor Bittner and March of Life – they have given wings to our vow and a tailwind to our voices.

They have broken the Veil of Silence.

 

 

“An Endangered Species”

With the passage of time, Southern African volunteers who fought in Israel’s 1948 War of independence are passing away, and with them, a living link to the genesis of modern Israel

By David E. Kaplan

Israel’s  1948 War of Independence , despite all the odds was won decisively.

So how come we are still fighting it?

Mainly because of the nature of what is “decisive”. The current theatre of battle is not “On the Ground”, “in the Air” and “at Sea” but “in the court’ of world opinion”. Today’s “Battleplan” involves documenting and securing the truth, so that the history of the War of Independence is not subverted by revisionists and purveyors of falsehood as is wont by BDS in South Africa that ‘attacks’ Israel not over its dispute over territory but its very existence. It opens the file not of 1967, when Israel conquered the West Bank in a defensive war, but the “1948 file” that transforms the Israel-Palestine debate from a negotiation over territory, into an argument about the conflict’s older and deeper roots – the establishment of a Jewish state.

Who has been spearheading the campaign of recording the role of volunteers who came to fight in Israel’s war of birth in 1948  is former South African, Smoky Simon, Chairman of World Machal, today 98 years old. (The word MACHAL is an acronym for the Hebrew, Mitnadvei Chutz L’Aretz, meaning “Volunteers from Overseas.”)

Once a fighter plane navigator, Smoky is still ‘navigating’; this time securing a flight path towards educating the young and the old, Israelis and foreigners on the existential contributions to the 1948 war by the 4500 volunteers from abroad  – over 800 of them Southern Africans – who put their futures on hold, and risked their lives to fight for a nation in the making.

Sir Winston Churchill’s apt depiction after the Battle or Britain that “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” could equally apply to the debt the State of Israel owes to these volunteers.

 They left jobs, interrupted their studies, and some even postponed weddings, while others brought  their weddings forward to come on ‘honeymoon’ to fight in Israel’s War of Independence as did Smoky and his wife, Myra, who was the first meteorological instructor in the Israeli Air Force. “Many of her graduates became squadron and base commanders,” reveals Smoky proudly.

Literally rescheduling their lives, they dropped everything to come and fight for the fledgling Jewish state. In cockpits and on board ships, in tanks and armored vehicles, treating the wounded in hospitals and on the front lines, these young idealistic men and woman – Jews and non-Jews – helped change the tide in Israel’s War of Independence and forged the birth of a nation.

One in this illustrious “band of brothers” who participated in the most exciting adventure for a Jew in 2000 years was  another former South African from Johannesburg, Joe Leibowitz, who passed away in January 2019 in Hod Hasharon in central Israel. It is important with the passing of these Machalniks to record and relate the service they performed.

Joe was born in Lithuania “where a Jew knew what anti-Semitism was” and came to South Africa at the age on nine.  Then, three years after WWII  and the prospect of a Jewish state, “I was torn to pieces inside. I had a strong feeling that we had a moral pact with the slaughtered Six Million of Nazi Europe. This was the first chance to fight back against a world that hadn’t cared.”

image005 (17)
War of Independence. ‘Mahalniks’ of the 72nd Battalion including many Southern Africans opposite the Syrian lines at Mishmar Hayarden in 1948.

He reveals in writings recorded in Henry Katzew’s  “South Africa’s 800 – The Story of SA Volunteers In Israel’s War of Birth” that his thoughts at the time were “mixed up with other things.”  He felt he was “in rebellion against the old supine ways. Our rabbis used to snatch us indoors when we threw stones at Gentiles throwing stones at us. The rabbis broke our spirit before we could develop it. Turning the other cheek was no answer.”

Then when Philip Zuckerman of the South African Zionist Federation approached him  to serve, 21 year-old Joe volunteered without hesitation. “The battle inside me was resolved. I could be helpful to my people.”

Machal2
Band Of Brothers. Joe Leibowitz is seen here (left) in 2012 for a photoshoot of Southern African Mahaliniks at Kfar Saba police station having borrowed the rifles. The entire police force came out to observe and enjoy a history lesson. Back row: Joe Leibowitz (SA), Maurice Ostroff (SA), David “Migdal” Teperson (SA), Moshe Amiram (Argentina) Middle row: Monty Bixer (UK), Stanley Sober (USA), Avi Grant (UK), Hymie Josman (SA) Front row: Smoky Simon (SA), Stanley Medicks (UK), Hymie Goldblatt (SA)

The ‘Plane’ Truth

Arriving in pre-state Israel on the 10th May 1948, this ex-SAAF air gunner WWII veteran with 102 sorties under his belt in North Africa and Italy, noted at Sde Dov airfield in Tel Aviv,  that the strength of the nascent State’s “Air Force” comprised “two Rapides, a Fairchild and a Bonanza (ZS BWR).”

Hardly a force to hold back invading armies coming in from all directions!

With no option of being an air-gunner, Joe teamed up with South African pilot, Elliot Rosenberg, becoming a “bomb -chucker” of one of the Rapides, a fabric covered bi-plane. “Bomb-chuckers” as they were called, carried 25 and 50 pound bombs on their laps, and on reaching the enemy target, the safety pins were released and the bombs were manually dropped onto the target.

It was a nerve-wracking business – so much could go wrong!

image007 (2)
Flying Scrap. South African Borris Senior braving himself for the first test flight of a Spitfire put together with scrapped aircraft bits and pieces found on former RAF scrap heaps.

With the door of the plane removed, “there was always the possibility,” said Joe that “in leaning over while chucking out the bomb to slip, and follow the bomb.” The plane carried no parachutes and communication between the pilot and “chucker” was by torch with “a flash from the pilot, indicating “Over target” , and a flash from the “chucker” “All bombs unloaded.”

Despite the lack of sophistication of the nature of this war over the skies of Israel, there was some compensation for the airman recalled Joe: “We were so admired by the local Israelis that we were always treated to free meals in restaurants and free haircuts at the barber shop.”

Joe recalled the strains of those early days of the war. One morning the legendary Moshe Dayan came striding into Airforce O.C. Aharon Remez’s office demanding to know why the Air Force was “sitting on its arse.”  He had reason to be angered; Israeli units were being hard pressed at several points by the invading Arab armies. However, the men on the ground had little understanding of the war in the air and  “how the bombs thrown out could as easily fall among the Israeli men on the ground as among the enemy.”

image003 (21)
Enemy At The Gates. A very worried Aharon Remez, Chief of the IAF, Smoky Simon, Chief of Air Operations, Shlomo Lahat in charge of bomber operations (later mayor of Tel Aviv) and Chris in charge of maps.

Joe recorded an experience when the Israeli forces were pinned down along the “Burma Road” to Jerusalem and a Palmach unit was surrounded and radioed in for support. “We had to drop by parachute, two Piat guns and two bags of ammunition.” Complicating the mission, “we had no wind intelligence and no calculation of drift allowance and a real danger of the Piat and the ammo falling into enemy hands.”

With the door of the Rapide removed, there was only the metal handle on the side with the ammo bags tied to the handle until ready for the push. Joe used his feet against the banking of the plane. Then, “a mysterious thing” happened over at the 4th attempt of the drop. The metal handle broke and Joe would have gone hurling into space with the bag had not the pilot, Elliot Rosenberg, at that precise moment tilted to port. “The mystery is that from the cockpit, Elliot could not see me and had no logical reason to tilt. Some mysterious instinct came into play that ensured that Joe’s passing was delayed by over seven decades – “How did Eliot know something was wrong, we spoke about it for years afterwards.”

image009 (6)
Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion visits 101 ‘First Fighter’ Squadron. With sunglasses Modi Alon. Behind Alon’s left shoulder stands South African ace fighter pilot, Syd Cohen, who Israel’s future State President, Ezer Weizman said “taught me most of what I needed to know in a cockpit,” to the left, Gideon Lichtman and Maurice Mann, a Battle of Briton RAF pilot.. (Public Domain/Wikimedia Common)

Close shaves were Joe’s calling card, even when not in the air. On one occasion during a UN brokered truce, Joe had an unsettling encounter with Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN Security Council mediator,  known to be most unsympathetic to the new State of Israel.

“We had just landed with supplies at Sdom in the Negev desert, and who surprisingly was there was Bernadette who came up to me and asked what supplies we had brought.” Only knowing a few Hebrew words, Joe said:

Ani medaber rak ivrit” (I only speak Hebrew)

Bernadette tried German.

Rak Ivrit,” Joe repeated.

 This went on until  Bernadotte was distracted, never discovering that among the crates of carrots were hand grenades, certainly a violation of the truce agreement, “but this was a fight for survival.”

In truth it was.

The Machalniks’ contribution represents one of the proudest chapters in modern Jewish history, when ordinary people – like Joe Leibowitz and the over 800 Southern African volunteers –  behaved quite extraordinarily. As Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben-Gurion said:

 This was a war not won by heroes. It was won by ordinary men and women rising above themselves.”

 

Above and Beyond. Short clip of  volunteer fighter pilots in Israel’s War of Independence.

Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Zionism and the Civil Right movement?

By  Rolene Marks

In honour of Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Lay of the Land pays tribute to this great civil rights leader and his tremendous support for the State of Israel and Zionism as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. At a time when Zionism is being maligned by many, we pay tribute to his support by examining who is a Zionist and historical ties to the civil rights movement in the article below.

image001 (31)
The King’s Message Is Alive. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday has been a national holiday for 34 years.

 There has been a lot of debate, discussion and social media brouhaha lately over who is or what defines a Zionist.

In simple terms Zionism is nothing more that the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland. The great civil rights leader, Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, was rumoured to have coined this definition of Zionism and I reckon he knew quite a bit about human rights. And he was a Zionist! And he wasn’t Jewish!!

The reason that I am writing about this is important.

After thousands of years of being made well aware that Jews are unwelcome in many countries, we have returned en masse to our ancient and ancestral homeland.  The word ‘Zion’ refers to those biblical ties since time immemorial. It is proven that Jews have “indigenous people’s rights to the land” and in case anybody has doubt, antiquities are being unearthed every day in solid support.

Zionism is also the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people. It is a guarantee of our rights to organize ourselves politically and assign it a name that hearkens back to our ancient roots and love for Zion. Many thought that with the realization of the modern state of Israel, antisemitism would disappear but instead it has reared its head in a new form – anti-Zionism.

image003 (19).jpg

To say that Jews have no right to organise themselves politically, and calling it Zionism, is racism. And many agree – that is why we have a phenomenal support base that includes many Christians who work tirelessly in support of the Jewish state and Muslims, some of whom put their lives at risk to support Israel.

The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. identified strongly with Jews and proudly marched alongside us as we mutually supported each other’s activism for civil rights. Today, many have forgotten the noble history and historical relationship between Jews and African Americans and have tried to hijack this to serve a different agenda. Christians in America are and remain some of Israel’s most ardent supporters.

Sadly, there are many that denigrate this relationship and demonise those of us who proudly identify as Zionist –  Jews and non-Jews alike.

image004 (24)
Comrades-in Arms. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., other civil rights leaders and clergy, including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, second from right, during a civil rights march (Getty Images).

I am a card carrying, loud spoken, flag carrying, Hatikvah singing Zionist. I don’t care much for labels or wings but take exceptional pride in the fact that our beautiful flawed democracy – the State of Israel – is brilliantly multicultural, and allows for divergent opinions. Robust discussion and debate is a point of pride in a neighbourhood where you can be killed for disagreeing with the leaders or following a different religion.

Are we all not heartbroken by the visuals coming out of Syria or news of Christians being slaughtered in our region?

Is Israel perfect? No – sometimes we are guilty of an epic fail or many, but I believe part of being a Zionist is being able to criticize and self-correct. I believe that Zionism means you want to see an exemplary Israel. An Israel that is tolerant and welcoming and grateful for all who support her. This is dignified; this is keeping with the tenets of our founders who envisioned this. There is room in the Zionist tent for everyone – Christian, Muslim, left and right.

The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

I am proud of the many Arab, Druze, Christian and other minority groups who proudly serve in our diplomatic corps and IDF, laying their lives on the line every day for our safety. The rights of minorities, while not always respected (and this must be corrected), are enshrined in our Declaration of Independence.

The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recognised this.

His support was not contingent on perfection but rather the shared values of what both Zionism and the civil rights movement represent.

image002 (19)
Marching Together. (From left) Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel march in Montgomery, Alabama.

 

The world is becoming a hostile place for Zionists. Ask the students on campus that are bullied and sometimes physically threatened for their political beliefs. Or the store owners in Europe who find their shops ransacked for carrying Israeli products. Or the travelers turned away from accommodation for being Israeli. The rise of the alt-right in the USA with their Nazi salutes and propensity for spray painting swastikas or the neo Nazis and BDS supporters in Europe or South America and South Africa has many Jews feeling afraid and isolated.

It is a fear shared by many who worked hard and fought for equality for all.

It was the dream of another great Zionist who while addressing civil rights in America in the 1960’s, voiced a sentiment that is universal and as relevant today as it was then when he said:

We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. The time is long overdue to make it come true.

Through the 3D lens – perspectives on anti-Semitism

By Rolene Marks

One of the world’s most famous human rights icons and uber-Zionist, Natan Sharansky, theorised that you can measure anti-Semitism through what he calls “the 3-d lens”.  It is not a fabulous accessory for your eyes but rather a logical checklist to measure anti-Semitism.

image003 (16)
Can it be clearer? The rhetoric and imagery that gave rise to the Holocaust appear today in America and Europe.

The 3-d’s identified by Sharansky are – Demonization, Double-standards and De-legitimization.

The world seems to be suffering from an age-old disease for which there seems to be no cure – anti-Semitism.  Often lying dormant until it can manifest in whatever trendy guise is part of the current zeitgeist, anti-Semitism has currently reared its ugly head as hatred against the Jewish state, Israel. The 3-d lens has helped define this ugly phenomenon a lot more clearly. It seems that lately that you cannot open a newspaper or scroll through your social media news feed without mention of an anti-Semitic incident somewhere in the world.  The ominous site of the Nazi swastika is now common on university campuses across the USA and other parts of the world with its appalling message – Jews not welcome!

image001 (26)
Equating Nazism with Zionism = the New Anti-Semitism. Poster comparing Zionism to Nazism found on the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus.. (photo credit: EVA ZELTSER)

Recently, Jews around the world commemorated 80 years since the horrific events of Kristallnacht on the 9th of November 1938. Kristallnacht is a brutal reminder that the Holocaust did not start with gas chambers and Auschwitz. It started with words.

Many believed that after the atrocities of the Holocaust were made public, anti-Semitism would have ended. Today it is manifesting in new forms. In the past, anti-Semitism has revealed itself “traditionally” in ugly caricatures and stereotypes, the desecration of cemeteries and places of worship and discrimination against Jews. I remember a time in my life when sports clubs and organisations where what we called “JNA” – Jews not Allowed.

image012 (8)
America The Free! The US Stars & Stripes appear above the Swastika.

Today it is different – and no less malignant.

It has become a gross and dangerous global phenomenon – France reported a 69% growth in anti-Semitic attacks in 2018 and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has issued her own caution against growing levels, and in the United Kingdom, concern that it has been given a tailwind by Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn has given rise to yet another manifestation – that of political anti-Semitism.

It is often said that when the world is in a time of chaos the first scapegoats to bear the brunt of peoples’ frustration and anger are the Jews. Images of the new ‘yellow vest’ phenomena in France with their virulent indictment against what they see as wealthy Jews responsible for their misfortune does not happen in a vacuum. It happens when we fail to examine anti-Semitism through the 3D lens.

It is not specific to the European continent either. This cancer is prevalent in the USA as well.

The horrific events in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh where 11 people, with an average age of 73, were slaughtered during Shabbat prayers simply because they were Jewish, has exposed startling levels of anti-Semitism in the United States. Their killer clearly stated on more than one occasion that “All Jews must die”. This horrific attack has been termed the worst anti-Semitic incident in US Jewish history.

image008 (9)
Murder In The Synagogue. 2018 witnessed the worst anti-Semitic attack in USA history at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in October that left 11 dead. Getty Images

Anti-Semitism is spreading its tentacles in a variety of forms. It is present in the far-right to far-left, from the lowest of the low KKK member to the upper echelons of the political establishment. It is also present in a new trend called Intersectionality – which can basically be defined as all suffering or oppression is linked. In other words, if you feel discriminated against as a woman or for your sexual orientation, you could immediately identify with oppressed Palestinians. Context and nuance be damned! This is impacting on the Jewish community as the message is simple – all are equal, all are welcome, except Zionists.

image005 (14)
Evil Amongst Us. Members of the National Socialist Movement rally near Los Angeles City Hall on April 17, 2010. (David McNew/Getty Images/JTA)

In a world where women’s rights and gender equality is growing in the collective global consciousness, spurred on by movements like the Women’s March, one would think that these seemingly progressive organizations would embrace diversity. And they do. Except if you are a Jewish woman who identifies as Zionist!

This is where intersectionality is finding a support base.  The leaders of the Women’s March have come under increasing criticism for their support of arch anti-Semite, nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan meets all 3 of the d’s in Sharansky’s lens. He demonises – having referred to Jews as “termites” or “satanic” and “have infected the whole world with poison and deceit.” He questions Israel’s legitimacy (de-legitimization) by calling or the destruction of the Jewish state. At the end of a talk to students at the University of Tehran law school, Farrakhan led the chanting of the common Iranian refrains “Death to Israel” and “Death to America,” and was joined by members of the audience. Farrakhan also displays an appalling double standard when it comes to racism. An “advocate” for racism, he employs the grossest vitriol against Jews – “The Jews have been so bad at politics they lost half their population in the Holocaust. They thought they could trust in Hitler, and they helped him get the Third Reich on the road.”

image013 (1)
Frightened In France. David (identified only by his first name), a 59-year-old Jewish teacher who was severely beaten in Paris in 2014. The attackers drew a swastika on David’s chest

This is a man that Tamika Mallory, one the leaders of the Woman’s march declared “GOAT- Greatest of all time” and that her colleagues Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour proudly align themselves with. What could have been a revolutionary movement for women, has descended into a cesspit of hatred and discrimination that is resulting in chapter after chapter cancelling their solidarity marches because of accusations of Anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism has found fertile ground on the African continent as well. Once the economic powerhouse of the continent, South Africa and in particular its ruling ANC (African National Congress) party, have created an environment that is allowing the seeds of hatred to firmly take route. The ANC have cemented their relationship with international terror organization, Hamas. The irony of it all is that the Charters of these two organisations could not be more different but yet they have found common ground, signing a Memorandum of Agreement to increase co-operation and entrench their mutual solidarity against the State of Israel. Apart from the absurdity of this alliance, this has a knock-on effect and is evident in the increased vitriol on social media, support for BDS and amongst populist groups like Black Land First and the EFF (Economic Freedom Front). It is deeply worrying that the Rainbow Nation is forgetting the lessons of its past and descending into a cesspit of intolerance – especially since the rest of the continent is opening up to and warming ties with Israel.

image011 (8)
True Colours. Ukrainian football fans unfurl a Nazi flag during a match between Dynamo Kyiv and Karpaty in Kiev in 2012. Photograph: Ukrinform/AP

Whenever the world seems to be in chaos, Jews are blamed for this and today anti-Semitism is embarking on a dangerous world tour. It can no longer be viewed as solely a Jewish issue or a left- or right-wing phenomenon. Eighty years after Kristallnacht, we are reminded that the Holocaust started with words and not gas chambers and if we treat all forms of racism as equal, then we all need to start looking at anti-Semitism through Sharansky’s 3-d lens.

image014 (3)
Writing On The Wall. A German flag with Nazi swastika graffitied on a wall in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 20, 2018. (SAJBOD)) Anti-Israel sentiment is spilling over into ‘hateful slurs’ against Jews who are being warned “your time is coming”, and told the “Holocaust will be a picnic by comparison.”

It is often said that Jews are the proverbial canaries in a coalmine and that what starts with the Jews does not end with the Jews.  In times of turbulence, Jews are often the first scapegoat but very rarely the last.

For anyone who deigns to deny that anti-Semitism is a growing international problem, perhaps they need to borrow Sharansky’s 3D glasses.

Of Heaven And Earth

Israel Mourns Rona Ramon

The saying “It’s not the number of years in your life but the life in the number of your years,” resonates in describing the relatively short but extraordinary lives of three members of one heroic Israeli family – Ilan Ramon, son Asaf Ramon and today’s sad news, wife and mother – Rona Ramon.

By David E. Kaplan

Rona and Ilan Ramon3
Rona Ramon (1964 – 2018)

He has never left us – his spirit, his values and his message to future generations lives on for all time,” said Rona Ramon in an interview with this writer in 2014 about her late Israeli astronaut husband, Ilan Ramon, who died in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2003. She could so easily as well be referring to her beloved son Asaf Ramon, who followed in his father’s footsteps becoming a pilot and was tragically killed in an Air Force training accident in 2009.

And sadly, as the news broke  that Rona too, was taken before her time – passing away at age 54 from cancer – the Jewish world can say about Rona, “her spirit, her values, and her message to future generations lives on for all time.”

Rona and Ilan Ramon1
Match Made In Heaven. Rona and Ilan Ramon (Photo: Craig H. Hartley

In the years following the tragic passing of her husband and son, Rona showed the same bravery, determination and grit as she spearheaded the perpetuation of the family legacy through the Ramon Foundation.

A life characterized by triumph and tragedy, the writer sat down with Rona Ramon for an exclusive interview for a major magazine in Israel.

 Colonel (Aluf Mishne) Ilan Ramon perished at the age of 48 when the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated on its re-entry into earth, killing all  seven astronauts on board. An ace Israel fighter pilot, in 1981 Ramon was the youngest – participating in Operation Opera, Israel’s impressive strike against Iraq’s near-completed and threatening nuclear reactor in Osirak.

image012 (3)
Space Shuttle Columbia: Mission of Hope. Front (L-R): Rick Husband, Kalpana Chawla, William McCool, Rear (L-R): David Brown, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson, Ilan Ramon

A global icon, Ramon is the only foreign recipient of the United States Congressional Space Medal of Honor which he was awarded posthumously in 2004.

With Israelis enjoying a love affair with the Ramon family – the surname embedded in the minds of most – my first question opened with their ‘love affair’.

How did you and Ilan meet?

“We met on my 22nd birthday party at a friend’s house in Kiryat Ono. My friend’s eldest sister invited her neighbor – this 32-year-old good looking guy with a million-dollar smile – and to this day I always say, “Ilan was my 22-birthday present.”

Six months later they were married.

“Why wait, we were in love,” the couple thought at the time, and nine years later with their four children, they were living in a suburb close to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. All this would come to a crashing, cataclysmic end as billions of people stared in disbelief at their television sets as the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated in flame as it reentered the earths atmosphere.

This nation was unprepared.

It was just not possible!

After 16 days of almost constant news coverage about “our Ilan’s” exploits in space – from how he spent Shabbat (Sabbath), the various experiments he was conducting in space and what special mementos he took with him such as a prayer book to recite the Kiddush (blessing) as well as a Kiddush cup, a picture drawn by a 14 year-old boy who perished in Auschwitz and a Torah scroll that survived the Holocaust – Israelis felt they knew him personally.

He was family!

As one newspaper at the time expressed it:

“He represented us all – our country, our people, our past and our future. He was our hero at a time when we sorely needed one.”

The son of Holocaust survivors, he represented a nation’s rebirth – the young, proud modern Israeli rising from the ashes of the Shoah (Holocaust) to a child of a new nation, reborn in its ancestral homeland and who in one generation was seeking answers to earth’s problems in the heavens.

image001 (18)
Israel In Space. Israel’s first astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon

How perceptive and prophetic were Ilan’s words from space:

“The world looks marvelous from up here, so peaceful, so wonderful and so fragile.”

From a prolonged high to a sudden low, how did Rona cope?

“Before finding answers, I had to understand the questions. I felt such conflicting emotions to a situation I was unprepared. I was not only dealing with a profound personal loss but a national loss, so while having to keep my young family together, I also could not forsake my national responsibilities and obligations all under the international spotlight.”

Hard for anyone to be prepared, how did you find the strength?

“My family – my wonderful kids who brought me to a place that I found I was not afraid and I found the strength to shift from thinker to doer.

Did it make it easier or more difficult that all Israel shared in your grief?

“It added to the huge weight on my shoulders as I was representing Israel not only symbolically but physically. I was compelled to channel my grief through action. I had to present myself before several investigation committees relating to the accident; addressed conferences and attended commemorative ceremonies, such as accepting from President Bush in 2004 the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. Ilan is the only non-American to have ever received this prestigious award.”

image011 (3)
From Pilot To Astronaut. Ilan Ramon with his F-16

Was it stressful taking on all these responsibilities?

“Actually the exposure to so many people and situations gave me strength, and after returning to Israel from the USA, I found solace in returning to academia. I took my Masters in Holistic Studies through Lesley University, Boston. My thesis dealt with how personal loss impacts on our lives – physically, emotionally, spiritually and cognitively. Through my studies, I navigated my return journey home to normalcy.”

Trying Times To Ramon Foundation

If losing her celebrated husband was not enough, Rona would be tragically tested once more. In June 2009, President Shimon Peres had awarded Captain Asaf Ramon his air force wings at Hatzerim base in southern Israel. The President had been close to the Ramon family and it was Peres who has encouraged President Clinton to include an Israeli astronaut in a future NASA space mission. “Peres felt at the time,” said Rona, “that the country needed a boost; that there had been much division in the society following the Rabin assassination and that an Israeli traveling in space would unite the nation like no other event.” This proved correct. The nation did unite around this spectacular venture.

Inspired by his father, Asaf had excelled in his training and had expressed the hope that he, too, would one day become an astronaut.

It was not to be.

On the 13th September 2009 Captain Asaf Ramon, age 21, was tragically killed when his F16-A jet crashed during a routine training exercise.

image003 (9)
Asaf Ramon, left, with President Shimon Peres upon his graduation at Hatzerim air force base in June 2009, several months before he was killed.

The way Rona dealt with this further blow was to channel all her energies in founding the ‘Ramon Foundation’ which would honor both her husband and her son.

“The foundation,” said Rona, “promotes and initiates projects that can influence our society for the better. We focus on the field most associated with the Ramon name – space and science, as we view these fields best to inspire children and young people to dream, to pursue, and to make their dreams a reality. Just like his father, Asaf fulfilled his dream of becoming a fighter pilot, and just like his dad, he graduated from the flying academy with honors.”

Rona quotes from both Ilan and Asaf, whose writings from their diaries were the inspiration for her founding the Ramon Foundation. Ilan wrote: “The children and youth are the future of the development and advances in space research, especially since they are open to new creative ideas and not prisoners to old ways and therefore so important to our future in space.” And following his graduation, Asaf wrote: “My siblings and I were lucky to grow up with parents who helped us to fulfill our dreams and reach our unique potential.”

Rona says she was “humbled and moved reading this,” and took this short appreciative passage of Asafs’ as her Magna Carta in founding the Ramon Foundation.

So what are some of the programs?

“We have many and use the world of space and aviation, associated with Ilan and Asaf, to encourage personal excellence and community involvement. We support groundbreaking excellence in academic achievement among Israeli youth and promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education involving scientists, pilots and young leaders, all determined to make these goals a reality.”

Do you work with schools?

“Yes, we are working with 20 schools all over the country and including all the communities – Jews, Arabs, Druze and Bedouin. We look beyond ethnicity to enthusiasm. All who want to excel are welcome. So for example in our elementary schools, we have set up Aviators Clubs where squadrons from the Israeli Air Force adopt a school and where the students are inspired by the pilots who serve as role models.

We have witnessed trouble-makers transform into outstanding students. All they wanted was to excel and we provide the tools and the inspiration to follow their dreams. The pilots inspire the children to strive for excellence and be better students, citizens and leaders of their society.”

image002 (10)
Ramon Legacy. Rona Ramon (left) visits a school in Modiin named after her husband, Ilan Ramon, along with two NASA astronauts in February 2008

Projects Out Of This World

For the older students, I understand you have a program called the Ramon Space Labs. Can you explain the program?

“Imagine the excitement of a school kid knowing that an experiment he is working on will be tested by a real astronaut onboard an International Space Station (ISS)! There are currently 100 students in four schools who are planning an experiment soon to be launched, while some have already watched their experiment launched into orbit. Basically, students design and build an experiment to be performed on the International Space Station. They watch it then being launched into space, performed by the astronauts on the ISS and then on the return to earth, the results are analyzed and published.”

 Rona was also working with the Conrad Foundation, named after the late Apollo 12 astronaut, Charles “Pete” Conrad, who had struggled academically due to dyslexia and only because of a perceptive headmaster, saw Pete’s spark of genius and gave him the confidence he needed.  He went on to earn a scholarship to Princeton University and in November 1969, Pete became the third man to walk on the Moon.

image006 (5)
Spearheading The Ramon Legacy. Rona Ramon, speaking at a Space Convention.

We too are looking for that ‘spark of genius’ in our Israeli students and this year, twelve of our schools are participating in the Conrad Foundation’s

‘Spirit of Innovation Challenge’ which invites high school students from all over the world to its annual competition.

Using science, technology, engineering and math skills, teams develop innovative products to help solve global and local problems while supporting global sustainability. We are sending our best students to represent our country and hope to reach the semi-finals. The finals, where the participants will present their products and vie for seed grants, patent support and commercial opportunities will be held as a space camp in Houston.”

Can you foresee future Israeli astronauts like Ilan?

“We need to equip the dreamers to emerge as doers. Everyone has their own calling. I have a son who is a talented musician composing his own material.  Our foundation helps young people identify their talents and explores ways for them to reach their full potential. We are offering opportunities to kids which would not otherwise have them. However, as our young participants grow older, we zone in on those who have the potential to make a global impact.

For such individuals we have a program called ‘Ramon Breakthrough’. This program is open to those who can through innovative technology, improve the lives of one million people in Israel. The prize is a scholarship to Singularity University in California where the student will together with other students from around the world will explore solutions aimed at solving some of the world’s most pressing challenges.”

 It would seem you are busy now than ever before?

“Well, from losing members of my family, I feel the Ramon family is expanding as we are touching the lives of so many kids. Today, I have a large family.”

There are parks, sixteen streets alone in Israel, museums, schools, playgrounds, departments at hospitals, soon the renaming of the airport in Eilat and even an asteroid named after Ilan Ramon. How special for you is the new Ramon Museum at Mitzpe Ramon?

“When the government decided to honor Ilan with a national memorial, I pressed for the focus to be less about a memorial and more about education. I also felt that Mitzpe Ramon would be the ideal location. The crater has a surreal space quality about it and on the personal level – Ilan was a child of the Negev having grown up in the desert’s capital, Beersheva. With the crater below and the space above, the museum’s exhibits project both the heaven and earth.”

image015 (2)
Reach For The Stars. Rona Ramon with Kiryat Yam Mayor Shmuel Sisso join children at the inaugural World ORT Space and Science Seminar last year.

Rona’s Proudest Moment

After the first anniversary of her husband’s death, Rona received the program of the first anniversary ceremony of the Columbia tragedy to be held at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. She saw that it did not include the Hatikvah – the national anthem of Israel – so she called her friend at NASA who explained to Rona that the protocol at such ceremonies allows only for the American national anthem.

In which case, I will not be attending,” Rona replied.

There was silence at the other end of the phone “and my friend replied he would call back. It apparently went all the way to President Bush who approved. It was the first time a foreign national anthem had ever been played on such an occasion. I felt truly proud when I stood at Arlington Cemetery listening to Hatikva.

The personal legacy of Ilan for me is his wonderful smile. I suspect wherever he was that day looking upon me having stood my ground defiantly, he was smiling.”

On behalf of a mourning nation, Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin said today, “Rona Ramon left us as she lived among us noble, pure, full of faith.”

Rona joins her husband and son but leaves a legacy that will  forever enrich the lives Israelis today, tomorrow and into the far future.

 

Feature picture credit: AFP

‘Knee Jerk Reaction’

image001 (3).pngThe ‘taking a knee’ by two students at Herzlia Middle School Cape Town during the singing of “Hatikvah”  at a Grade 9 graduation ceremony has sparked controversy not only among the local Jewish community, but all over the country, even making the papers abroad.

Imitating African-American football players who protested against police brutality during US football matches,  the two students explained their ‘copycat’ was to  publicly profile Israel’s alleged human rights violations against the Palestinians.

What is at the core of this issue –  Freedom of expression, failure of  Zionist education at Jewish Day Schools, genuine concern for the Palestinians, disrespect to the State of Israel and the Jewish People, an urge for publicity?  A storm has  risen and is unlikely to  abate anytime soon as the community grapples with the issues.

Offering a portal to people closely connected to the issue and the school to express their positions, LOTL hereunder publishes two articles, one by a former student at Herzlia School, Jonathan Zausmer, who today lives in Kochav Yair in Israel, and Dovi  Goldberg, a 17-year-old student at a Jewish Day School in Johannesburg.

HaTikva2.gif

Perspectives from a 17 year old 

By Dovi Goldberg

Intro:

The events following  the controversial “taking of the knee” incident at Herzlia Middle School in Cape Town, has spurred a flurry of press coverage, including a discussion  on Johannesburg-based radio station, 702.

I finished my exam last Thursday and got into my mother’s car. She was listening to the Eusebius Mckaiser show on 702, a Johannesburg-based radio station. The segment on the show was about “focusing on whether schools are the appropriate place for political discussion”. This intrigued me as they were speaking about the two pupils from Herzlia Middle School in Cape Town who had taken a knee during Hatikvah as solidarity with the Palestinian people and a protest against the Israeli government.

When I was in the car, Eusebius brought Josh Broomberg on the radio to speak. Josh Broomberg is a former vice head-boy of a Jewish day school in Johannesburg. Broomberg has encountered a similar reaction to these two boys as he once wore a kaffiyeh to an international debating competition. There was mass outcry from the Jewish community. For me personally, I agree with neither Broomberg nor the two Herzlia boys.

Broomberg said a couple of times on air that he was going to be very careful of what he says but ultimately Mckaiser and Broomberg share the same pride in the braveness of these two boys.

I tried calling into the show over twenty times to express my opinion on the matter -the opinion of a Jew who is a proud Zionist and knows what Hatikvah truly means.

This is what I would have said if 702 and Eusebius Mkaiser would have answered my call.

Hi Eusebius,

I am a 17 year old pupil at a Jewish day school in Johannesburg.

I am proud Zionist and a proud Jew, I am also a person who believes in the freedom of speech and of expression, but there is also a time and a place for that.

I understand that these pupils took a knee during ‘Hatikvah’ the national anthem of Israel. They took a knee to protest the Israeli government as they say they cannot support it morally. But I don’t think these boys fully understand what Hatikvah is about because taking a knee during Hatikvah is not only disrespecting Israel, it is also disrespectful to  the six million Jews that perished during the Holocaust and to the Jews who had never given up their hope of eventually returning to Zion.

Hatikvah which in Hebrew means ‘the Hope’ was not written specifically as a national anthem.

The poem which was originally written by Naftali Herz Imber in 1877 portrays the two thousand year old hope of the Jews returning to their ancestral homeland, Israel.

It was adopted as the National anthem of the Zionist movement at the first Zionist conference in 1897

In 1944, 4 years before the establishment of the state of Israel, Czech Jews sung this song while they were beaten and marched into the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Disrespecting Hatikvah is disrespecting these people who died with the hope of Jews still having a chance to visit the holy land.

During liberation, the Jews of Bergen Belsen and Dachau concentration camps sang this song as they marched towards freedom. These Jews had lost everything, family, valuables and all necessities for daily life -but the one thing these people did not lose is their hope to return to Zion.

“As long as in the heart, within,

A Jewish soul still yearns,

And onward, towards the ends of the east,

an eye still gazes toward Zion

These are the words of the opening verse of Hatikvah. A verse so powerful it sends shivers down my spine.

So I will reiterate my opinion – the freedom of speech and freedom of expression is definitely important, but as long as there is a Jewish soul, the heart will always yearn for Zion.

Be critical of Israel if you want to be, but do not ever disrespect Hatikvah.

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Kneecapped

By Jonathan Zausmer

A flurry of reactions has followed the uproar over two students from Herzlia Middle School in Cape Town, South Africa, who decided to “take a knee” as an act of protest during the singing of Hatikva, the Israel national anthem.

Establishment South African Jewish leadership was horrified. Condemnation has echoed throughout the S.A. Jewish community and abroad. South African Jewry was kneecapped and is crying out in pain. I will not condemn these students as some writers have hysterically done in these pages, calling them “tots” or “pawns” or “poster boys”. Let us be clear, their act was no frivolous attempt at destruction. Protesting in this way takes courage, conviction and involves consequences of which they clearly were aware. Yet within their protest, I detect confusion.

It is that confusion we need to examine.

In brief, we are talking about something called disruption. Establishments and institutions loathe it, because the comfort zone of same-same work, same-same thinking, same-same paradigms are thrown out of balance. One needs to gasp for air, rationalize your position, understand the fast-changing world, initiate, and create a culture of change and renewal.

Let me state, that as a graduate of Herzlia School, I feel the pain, the embarrassment and the immense challenges now confronting the management and staff of this prestigious institution. I am grateful for the education I received there and deeply respect the growth and development of a unique educational process that has taken place over the years. Within the constraints of a conservative Jewish South Africa, the leadership of this school now faces a challenge. By embracing that challenge, they now have an opportunity to open up some issues that go further afield than this specific incident.

In order to see the big picture, we need to take a step back and take an overview of something that has brought home some hard truths that have been conveniently ignored by the institutions of Diaspora Jewry and now is no better time to address them. And we need to address them because the very nature of Judaism and Jewish identity has shifted during the post WWII era from isolated and vulnerable small religious communities abroad, to large secular Jewish communities that are made up of worldly, high-achievement, sophisticated people who identify with Israel and see Israel as the heart and vibrant center of modern Judaism. The values that they carry with them from generations of learning and teaching are now challenged by an Israel that, while financially vibrant, is facing challenges of discrimination within it, gross violation of human rights, uncontrolled rampant colonialist ultra-nationalism bolstered by government policy, heading to a very possible scenario of a Jewish minority ruling over a Arab Muslim majority within one state.

At the core of this disruption, unease, ethical tension and conflict of identity – at the very core, is the Netanyahu government in its various forms. At the outset of his term as Prime Minister, Netanyahu affirmed the two-state solution, albeit with many provisos, caveats and cautions. But he affirmed the concept. Yet he and his government have done everything in their power to unhinge and impede such a policy. Rampant Israeli settlement in the very area destined for Palestine is proof. Scorn for U.S. agents of peace who have encouraged this policy since advocated by President Bush back in 2003 is proof. The government of Israel laughs and scorns U.S. peace initiators from Bush, Obama, Kerry, Trump, to Jared Kushner. Vast chunks of the Israeli budget, of U.S. grants, of military spending go into owning occupied territory by means of settlement and disowning the now millions of Palestinians who live there. West Bank and Gaza GDP per capita runs at approximately USD 3,500. Israeli GDP per capita runs at approximately USD 40,000.

Establishment Jewish communities around the world, especially in environments that host ugly anti-Semitic sentiments within it, such as in South Africa, have lapsed into the mode of blindly following Israel and its government whatever the circumstances. The “insurance policy” concept of a safe space for Jews in the world rises above all ethical, legal, moral, complex matters. On the shameful acts of corruption, abuse of power and national domination of another people, there is an eerie silence. This is a consequence of being humbled by the fact that those who do not face the gun, as we do here, should remain silent. To this I say no. It is incumbent, indeed the duty of Jews worldwide to speak up, whether in New York, Paris or Cape Town, South Africa.

First appeared in ‘Times of Israel’.

Jonathan Z.jpegABOUT THE AUTHOR

Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.

 

 

Feature picture bookmark the permalink

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like us? Now on Facebook !!

‏‏LOTL logo top.PNG

Like us? You can now follow us on Facebook.

Lay of the Land now has its own facebook page and you can share our articles and comment easily here:

https://www.facebook.com/LotLSite/?epa=SEARCH_B0X

 

LOTL logo bottom.PNG

Calling out for a superhero – the status of women in the Middle East

By Rolene Marks

On the International day of Violence against Women, Lay of the Land examines the treatment of women in the Middle East and the status of women in the region.

The Middle East is one of the world’s most complex and complicated regions. In this neighbourhood, the rules are different, the players more ruthless but this has a severe impact on the women of the region and in an area where peace seems to be elusive, is it time for  the women of the Middle East to turn to a familiar superhero, Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman is iconic. She is strong, empowered, forthright and more than a little bit fabulous.

She stands for justice and truth, compassion and kindness. Wonder Woman is so fabulous, even her accessories are indestructible and face it, who doesn’t love fashion that has truth wielding super powers? Clearly Wonder Woman is what is needed in a region where the status of women is appalling.

It seems quite fitting that the bodacious Gal Gadot, one of the best Israeli exports since Waze and Mobileye, fills this iconic role. Beautiful, with Amazonian proportions and a deep love of her home country, Israel, Gadot is the perfect choice. While there are some who have sour grapes (yes you, BDS!) it hasn’t stopped her meteoric rise to the top and record-breaking box office takings. Talk about girl power in a rocking outfit! But this is hugely symbolic as well. Gadot exemplifies Israeli women who are outspoken, emboldened and empowered in a neighbourhood where our sisters are increasingly silenced and sidelined.

A neighbourhood of no’s

Often relegated to second class status, our sisters in our very volatile neighbourhood do not enjoy as many rights as their Israeli sisters do. Israel’s detractors would have you believe that women in minority communities in Israel are oppressed and subject to racially discriminating laws. This is so untrue, in fact, the Israeli Justice Ministry recently swore in its first Qadi, a female sharia judge.

For most women who live in the region, the Middle East is just a neighbourhood of no’s. No rights to vote, own property or businesses, no rights to as lucrative an education as their male counterparts, no rights to the freedom of expression or sexual orientation. In Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights are at an all-time low, only since June 2018 women are allowed to drive but still moslty have to go anywhere with a chaperone. In many countries women have to cover their faces as well as their bodies and the effective message is that they have been silenced. In some instances women are subject to the most inhumane torture, female genital mutilation, for fear that she may enjoy sexual pleasure or stray.

wonder woman2
Lamiya Aji Bashar, an 18-year-old Yazidi girl who escaped her ISIS enslavers, describes how she was abducted along with her sisters and brothers when the group overran her village in 2014. She says she was passed around from militant to militant, trying to escape many times. (Balint Szlanko/Associated Press)

Women have been raped or fallen in love with someone who is not their chosen match, are often blamed and subject to honour killings, a hideous phenomenon which has left many dead or severely disfigured as a result of these heinous acts of retribution that seldom, if ever goes punished. Honour killings are usually conducted by relatives and there is very little recourse, if any for the victims.

Women in Gaza are prohibited from joining their global sisters in commemorating day’s d International Woman’s Day which takes place annually on the 8th of March. Hamas do this without a giving a reason and the territory continues to become more and more “conservative” and have imposed a strict dress code on women and banned them from smoking in cafes.

While Israeli women are extremely vocal on issues like gender parity and have joined the steadily growing #MeToo movement that exposes gross examples of sexual harassment their counterparts in other regional countries dare not. What of the fate of the Yazidi women, kidnapped and used by ISIS as their sex slaves?

Christian women have been raped and sold into slavery or killed as the Islamic State continues its march of destruction through the neighbourhood.  Very little has entered the global consciousness about the situation facing Middle Eastern Christian women. There have been no marches, no protests and no vigils. The women of this region deserve the attention of the world to help put an end to the appalling violence and abuse that they have and continue to endure.

 

In some ultra-Orthodox sects in the Jewish community, women are also discriminated against. The horrendous trend of spitting on little girls who are not dressed “modest enough” or the relegation of women to sitting at the back of the bus has raised the ire of many women in Israel.

While we enjoy considerably more rights than our sisters in the rest of our Middle Eastern neighbourhood, like many western women we continue to fight for the improvement of the status of women in areas like salary suffrage and employment equity.  2018 has seen a rise in the statistics of violence against women but the difference is that Israel has committed NGO’s and a government that although is not perfect, is concerned and wants to tackle this issue.

The difference is that as women living in Israel we can – we have a voice the ability to use it.

wonder woman3.jpgIn fact, Israel can boast about remarkable strides in gender equality and in the fight to end violence. Veteran social welfare organization, WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) has shelters for women who are victims of violence but also operate the only two hotlines for men in the hopes that we can prevent violent activity.

The pursuit of justice and equal rights for women in the Middle East requires super human effort and dedication. It requires giving the voiceless a voice, uplifting the downtrodden and advocating for the powerless. It requires ensuring that no hand or weapon is raised against a woman in violence ever again. Women in the Middle East have been wondering for a long time – who speaks on their behalf? Perhaps the time is ripe for a superhero effort. Perhaps the time is right for a Wonder Woman.

Perhaps Wonder Woman, with her dedication to the pursuit of justice and her exceptional longevity is the super hero women in the region have been waiting for. Some might say it is a Herculean task. I say it is a job perfect for Wonder Woman.

Hatikvah / The Hope

By Rowan Polovin

“As long as in the heart, within,

A Jewish soul still yearns,

And onward, towards the ends of the east,

an eye still gazes toward Zion;

Our hope is not yet lost,

The hope two thousand years old,

To be a free nation in our land,

The land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

 (Naftali Herz Imber)

On 20 April 1945, survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp sang the Jewish anthem of freedom and hope known as Hatikvah or The Hope. They had been liberated by Allied forces only five days before. A year earlier Czech Jews, marched into the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chamber, spontaneously erupted in the anthem and sang the stirring notes whilst being whipped and beaten by their Waffen-SS guards. Who knew that within a few years a State adopting this very anthem would be reborn, whose earlier existence may have prevented that terrible tragedy from taking place.

The words of Hatikvah were derived and inspired by the Hebrew-language poet Naftali Herz Imber’s original poem, Tikvateinu or Our Hope. They were written in the 19th century, long before the rebirth of the Jewish State, and captured something of Psalm 137’s verses, wherein Jews in a “strange land” collectively “wept, when we remembered Zion” and individually implored themselves never to forget Jerusalem. Hatikvah evokes the refrain of Jewish exile and exodus, and verbalises that deeply entrenched, two millenia long yearning of the Jewish people to return to Zion and be a free nation. Two thousand years of Jewish exile and longing have become immersed in our collective Jewish soul, and the words and music of Hatikvah reflect the ever-present hope and optimism to be free and fairly treated amongst the nations of the Earth.

When Jews historically stood together as one people and sang Hatikvah, a profound and deep-rooted sense of Jewish history traversed through their veins, tears welled up in their eyes and goosebumps formed over their skin. Even today, after the rebirth of Israel, Hatikvah remains emotional and meaningful because it makes us remember who we are as Jews, never to forget our history, and to be proud that finally, we have a Jewish State of our own. Moreover, it reminds us that our Hope continues because our beloved Israel, the Jew amongst nations, is still not treated as an equal in the world, and our Zionist dream is not yet fulfilled.

It is therefore extremely hurtful when fellow Jews, albeit those without any proper sense of the meaning and importance of what Hatikvah represents to their people and their history, theatrically snub the anthem and make a spectacle of doing so. If they have criticisms of Israel’s political leadership or actions they have abundant opportunities and ways to make them. They enjoy all the privileges of freedom of speech, association and affiliation thanks to our world-class South African Constitution. Where their actions become wildly irresponsible, disrespectful and damaging to their fellow Jews in South Africa, the Diaspora and in Israel, is when their theatrics win the applause of individuals and organisations one would not want around the dinner table, let alone a safe space. Their new found fans include individuals who openly and repeatedly call for the destruction of Israel, who encourage Nazi-inspired boycotts of Jewish and Israeli entities, who support terror organisations that call for the murder of Jews worldwide, and whose bigoted values would return us to the middle ages. Once these people become their supporters and cheerleaders, it becomes time to question their own values and antics. If they did not intend the whirlwind that they created, then they ought to apologise profusely to those they hurt and learn from the situation.

There is absolutely nothing heroic, noble, or smart about a Jew who kneels in protest whilst Hatikvah is sung. It simply means that they are Jews with trembling knees, afraid of standing up for their own people, and led astray by those who have anything but their interests at heart. Their actions do nothing towards protecting and promoting the freedoms of Israel that they claim to desire for all peoples, least of all the Palestinians who they ostensibly support. If they have legitimate criticisms of Israel, they ought to stand up and voice them in the appropriate places. Do not falsely claim that there is no space to do so when there are multiple spaces created specifically for discussion and debate. Treat those with whom you disagree respectfully, and they will listen to you respectfully. Israel will be the better for it too when she is supported by people who lovingly criticise her because they want her to be a better place. Israel, like any country, is not perfect and does not profess to be so, but tries amazingly hard to survive and thrive in extremely tough circumstances. Do not hold her up to impossible standards without showing proper understanding for her circumstances.

Within the storm some context and perspective is often lost. The overwhelming majority of Jews in the diaspora and Israel stand tall and proud when they sing Hatikvah, and will continue to do so, because it runs through our Jewish hearts and souls. We will never again sing it on the way to captivity and the killing fields, nor chant someone else’s tune. We have our home. We have our song. Let those melodious notes intertwine with those profound words, and together our choir will sound louder towards the heavens than ever before.

 

Rowan-Polovin (1) (1)
Rowan Polovin is the Chairman of the South African Zionist Federation (Cape Council), and a 2016 recipient of the World Zionist Organisation’s Herzl Award for his commitment to the State of Israel and the SA Jewish Community. He is a proud Jew and passionate Zionist, and works to instill a strong Jewish and Zionist identity in the South African Jewish community.