Hidden Holocaust

 – Journey with the Enemy –

A descendant of victims of the Holocaust and a descendent of its perpetrators team up to unravel the truth of who murdered the Jews of Lithuania

By David. E. Kaplan

Consider the following:

Of the 220,000 Jews that lived in Lithuania when the Nazis invaded on June 22, 1941, 90% would be killed over the ensuing three years  – not in gas chambers – but by “personal murder” – by shooting. And yet, there were less than 1000 Germans in Lithuania during the Nazi occupation!

So who did so much of the killing or more specifically:

What was the extent of Lithuanian participation in the Holocaust?

It is this much avoided and deflected question that set off two intrepid investigators – Dr. Efraim Zuroff,  the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) Chief Nazi Hunter and Director of the SWC’s Israel office and one of Lithuania’s most influential and popular writers and a descendent of Lithuanian persecutors of Jews, Rūta Vanagaité, on a journey of discovery.

The result is their groundbreaking publication:

OUR PEOPLE

Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust

This compelling ‘book of revelations’ traces the truth about the Holocaust in Lithuania focusing on the role played by ordinary Lithuanians and exposes the efforts of past and current governments to hide crimes of murder perpetrated by Lithuanians on their fellow citizens. It is the first documented history of Lithuanian complicity in the Holocaust based solely on Lithuanian sources.

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Our People. This compelling book traces the quest for the truth about the Holocaust in Lithuania.

It focuses on a number of contentious issues, notably:

  • What was the extent of Lithuanian collaboration? Just how many Lithuanians participated in the execution of Jews?
  • Were there murderous attacks against Jews before the Nazis arrived?
  • The efforts by Lithuanians to create a false symmetry between communist and Nazi crimes. There are constantly attempts to glorify those who fought against the Soviets after 1944, despite the fact that these people had participated in the genocide of the Jews
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Tellers of the Truth. Shunned by many in her family and ostracized in her country where the book has been withdrawn from Lithuanian bookstores, Rūta Vanagaitė (right) with co-author, Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff at a public address of their book – ‘Our People – Discovering Lithuanian’s Hidden Holocaust’.

The urgent need to unveil this dark past was all too evident earlier this year in January 2020, when over 200 Israelis, mostly of Lithuanian descent including this writer, braved the freezing cold and rain to protest outside the Lithuanian Embassy in Tel Aviv. The reason for the protest –  to register opposition to a proposed parliamentary resolution declaring:

Lithuania has no responsibility for the murders and extermination of Lithuanian Jews during the Second World War because it was occupied by Soviets and then by Nazi Germany.”

The proposed resolution was to absolve Lithuania and Lithuanians of involvement in the Holocaust for the murder of 95% of Jewish citizens because it was occupied successively by Russia and Germany. Should not a nation’s law be there to reveal the truth, not hide it?

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Truth be Told. Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff (left) with Lay Of The land’s David Kaplan (third left) and fellow protestors outside the Lithuanian Embassy on January 24 2020. The banner is addressed to Lithuanian parliament member Gumuliauskas and reads: “No law will wipe away the blood of Jews”

With the message of this protest outside the Lithuanian Embassy being “No One Saved Their Lives, Lets Save The Truth”, the book by  Rūta Vanagaité and Efraim Zuroff – one of the speakers at the Tel Aviv protest – could not come soon enough!

Frustrated with the passage of time of “fewer suspects to bring to justice, the focus,” says Zuroff, “is shifting from prosecution to education.” In other words from the courtroom to the classroom. The monumental material presented by these two brave Holocaust detectives will hopefully impact – if too late for a court of law, at least in the court of public opinion.

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Banning the Truth. Credited with breaking taboos in Lithuanian society about collaboration during World War II, Rūta Vanagaité presents the book ‘Our People’ with co-author top Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff, February 17, 2016. The Lithuanian publisher has since recalled books. (AFP/Petras Malukas)_

Holocaust Travelogue

The book is unusual in many respects. Firstly, it is the product of a ‘partnership’ rather than a “collaboration – a word that does not contextually resonate well with me,” quipped Zuroff – between the descendants of victims and collaborators. The two investigative writers visited over a period of 40 intense days, dozens of mass murder sites in Lithuania and Belarus, where they interviewed witnesses still living “right next these sites.”

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Murder on their Mind. A group of Jews facing execution in the forests of Siauliai, Lithuania, 26-29.06.1941.  Even before the Germans arrived at the major Jewish settlements, murderous riots perpetrated by the Lithuanians broke out against the Jews and at the encouragement of the Germans, the riots continued and thousands of Jews were murdered.

Exchanges between the cowriters interspersed throughout the book reveal the depth of their motivation in embarking on their journey. In one, Zuroff says, “You can cry from today till doomsday, but it does not change the facts… You know why everyone in Lithuania hates me? Because they know that I am right,” to which Vanagaite responds, “So let me see if you are right or not. Let me face this truth. Let us face it together.”

In this way, the descendant of victims and the descendant of victimizers undertake a joint “journey with the enemy,” in a quest to unearth the unvarnished truth about Lithuania’s Holocaust.

It is also the first book to bring verbatim quotes from those who participated in the shootings – those who actually pulled the triggers!  Having personally visited many of these sites in Lithuania, I recall at the time, noting the close proximity of the mass grave pits to the villages, what the residents must have thought as they watched their neighbours marched out of town followed shortly by the thunderous sounds of gunfire?

As Zuroff notes:

 “There were killing sites where there had been only Lithuanians; other sites where the only Germans present were those photographing the shooting, and then there were locations  where Nazis from Germany and Austria together with Lithuanians carried out the mass executions.”

To understand the mindset of these “ordinary” Lithuanians who pulled the triggers, this 1998 interview of a 28-year-old volunteer to the Lithuanian 12th Battalion that was transported to Belarus in a unit assigned to kill Jews is most revealing. His participation in the slaughter of at least 15,424 in 15 different locations around the country, mostly occurred before the notorious 1942 Wannsee Conference called to coordinate the implementation of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.”

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Killings in Kovno. Crowds gather to view the aftermath of a massacre at Lietukis Garage, where pro-German Lithuanian nationalists killed more than 50 Jewish men. The victims were beaten, hosed, and then murdered with iron bars. Kovno, Lithuania, June 27, 1941.(Dokumentationsarchiv des Oesterreichischen Widerstande)

He describes the procedure:

The local police went through apartments and collected Jews, then herded them onto the square.” The Germans kept back anyone likely to be useful to them, and the rest were marched by the Lithuanian unit, in a column four people wide, to pits already dug beyond the city limits.

They were herded into the pit, laid on the ground, and then we shot them.”

Having slaughtered one batch, they forced the next group to lie down on top of the corpses before firing on them, then the next.

The small children were carried; the others were led. We murdered them all.”

As to the question of the role of the  Germans, this soldier replied:

 “The Germans shot rarely; mostly they used to shoot photographs.”

This type of testimony reinforced by photographs, reveal that in most cases the massacres were carried out by Lithuanians. At times, no Germans were even present!

Equally fascinating was the soldiers reply to the question whether he ever asked himself why these Jews were being shot?

I don’t blame anyone anymore, only God…… for allowing the murder of innocent people. And that’s how I thought about it then as well.”

In other words, God was responsible!

What made this book all the more compelling and authentic was that Zuroff’s partner was a descendant of “the very people we were investigating.”

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Cruel Complicity. A Lithuanian militia in 1941 leads a group of Jews to the site of their execution, at Ponary, near present-day Vilnius, Lithuania.

It is important to understand how this unusual partnership arose:

“The first time I met Rūta Vanagaité,” says Zuroff, “was in 2015. She had a grant to teach non-Jewish Lithuanian students about Judaism and Jewish history. What had motivated her was the discovery shortly before that two of her relatives had been complicit in the Holocaust and she was looking for a way to shed light on her own families dark past – in a way to atone for their sins.”

Growing up in Lithuania, she told Zuroff that she knew nothing about Jews, which prompted her to start a program called “Being a Jew”.  She received a grant from the EU (European Union), to run the programme and to expand it beyond Lithuania to include Slovakia, Romania and the Czech Republic. As part of the grant, the EU obligated her to run a conference on Holocaust education.  “However, she had no idea who to invite as she had never dealt with the subject before, so she approached some people in Lithuania  who had been dealing with this issue and they said you can invite anyone except two people.”

One of those they all warned her against – was the Nazi hunter Efraim Zuroff!

“All Rūta had to hear was whom NOT to invite and she, of course, invited us both.”

A month before the conference, which Zuroff was unable to attend, he needed to visit Lithuania and curious to meet Rūta, he communicated with her and she invited him to speak. This came as a huge surprise. “I had not been invited to speak in Lithuania for 25 years where I am persona non grata there  – not officially but in effect. Anyway, we met, and she told me about her relatives that had participated in persecuting Jews. I was in shock. I had visited Lithuania dozens of times over the years in my efforts to prosecute Nazi Lithuanian collaborators and no-one had ever told me that their families had been involved. Given the huge number of  Lithuanian collaborators,  I’m sure I must have met people who families were involved but they never said a word.”

Here for the first time, Zuroff met someone who not only admitted; but felt the need to do something about it.

Realizing what they were up against, literally a wall resisting the truth, “we realised that it may be better if the message came rather from Rūta than me.  After all, she was Lithuanian, not Jewish with no axe to grind. Me on the other hand, I am a Jew from Jerusalem; with a Brooklyn accent; and a very hated figure in Lithuania. It was a no-brainer, and this is why our book now published in six languages, on the Lithuanian edition  – my name does NOT appear.”

Not that made any difference. While Our People became a best-seller in Lithuania, it has now been removed from its bookstores.

Future Impact

To the question whether other descendants of perpetrators would be encouraged by the book to follow the example of Rūta, Zuroff replies thatIt’s not only what the descendants of perpetrators will do but more a question of what Lithuanian society will do! We hope that the book will create a veritable revolution  in terms of Lithuanians understanding what happened  and coming to terms with the truth.”

And there has been some encouraging signs. “Soon after the book was published, a dedication ceremony to the martyrs of the Holocaust in Moletai in north eastern Lithuania where in the past 50 people would attend, over 3000 people showed up to march from at the site of  the former synagogue destroyed by the Nazis to the site of the mass murder outside the town.”

On the other hand, Lithuania’s most popular writer is paying a price.

Rūta Vanagaité has been harshly treated. During her research,  she questioned an initiative in 2018 to honour one of Lithuanian’s post-WWII anti-Soviet fighters. “She had read his file in the KGB archives and knew his past during the Nazi occupation was questionable.”

The response was swift and vengeful.

Her publisher severed relations with her, removed all her books from bookstores, and they are now stored in a garage in Vilna,” relates Zuroff.

“Originally they said they were going to turn her books into toilet paper,  but she sued to get the books back,  but no bookstore in Lithuania is prepared to stock them.” Clearly, this harassment has backing from above. “The father of Lithuanian independence, Vytautas Landsbergis wrote an op-ed in the country’s most influential and popular website,  basically telling Rūta that now that she has betrayed her country, why does she not go commit suicide.  That was sufficient to convince her  that it was time to leave Lithuania  and today lives much of her time in Israel.”

Holocaust Distortion

Why this book is so important for the future is articulated best by the writers themselves:

“If there is anything that has been learned from the events of the past almost three decades….. when it comes to facing the Holocaust in post-Communist Eastern Europe, lip service is the dominant currency. In that respect, Lithuania is not only an excellent example, but is in fact, the leader of the efforts to elude an honest confrontation with Holocaust history, and in the process rob the Shoah of its justified status as a unique case of genocide. This process is known as Holocaust distortion, not to be confused with the far-better known phenomenon of Holocaust denial. Yet it is those efforts, which have intensified over the past fifteen years; especially since the Baltics were accepted as full members in both the European Union and NATO, which currently pose a particularly dangerous threat to the future of Shoah memory and education, and make this book of unique significance, way beyond Lithuania’s borders.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Mending a Broken Heart

By Rolene Marks

“It’s amazing when you stop for a moment and consider that this woman is not an Israeli and is not Jewish. She is a foreigner. She has no family or roots here. She has been through terrible physical abuse for a year. Yet together, WIZO, the hospital, all the good people in our community came together and reached into their pockets and hearts during this difficult Coronavirus period to save her life. It’s like it says in the Torah, “And you shall love the stranger,”(Deuteronomy chapter 10, verses 17-20. Leviticus chapter 19, verse 34).

It is never easy to be a stranger in a strange land. It is difficult to adapt to a culture completely different to your own and when a global pandemic spreads and brings with it seemingly insurmountable challenges, it feels like a battle that cannot be won. But this is a story with a difference. This story is proof that even in the most difficult and uncertain of times, there are always people that are willing to help.

Meet “S” a 26-year-old Eritrean woman, who left her home to come to Israel – at great personal risk. Many Eritreans seek work in Israel and are not Jewish and “S” was no exception. “S” life has been full of hardships. She began her long walk towards a better life in a strange land at 16 and was forced into an arranged marriage while staying at a refugee camp en route at 17. Her husband was already living in Israel and paid for her to come to Israel.

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Many migrant workers seek work in Israel.

Shortly after arriving, she became a mother to two gorgeous little ones, a girl and a boy, now aged 7 and 4. But the marriage was fraught with violence. Both “S” and her daughter suffered severe abuse at the hands of her husband and eventually fled for their lives, along with “S”’s small son.

“S” was referred to a WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation’s) shelter by Israel’s welfare services and “Mesila” (assistance and information center for the foreign community), an NPO (non-Profit) serving the rights and needs of the tens of thousands of legal and illegal migrant workers and refugees living in and around Tel Aviv.

Mending a broken heart4

At this safe haven, WIZO provided loving arms, therapy and shelter from the constant blows and abuse “S” and her small charges faced. At last, she could begin to heal physically – and maybe emotionally. But this was not the end of her story – and her remarkable journey.

In June 2015, before her arrival at the shelter, “S” was rushed to Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikva after fainting at work. Pregnant at the time, she was later diagnosed with a heart defect. This required her needing a catheterization and the doctors decided that in order to survive, she would need to abort. In the four years that followed she had no medical follow up – and the violence meted out by her husband continued.

When “S” arrived at the shelter in 2019, she began a process of medical checkups with the help of a refugee clinic in Jerusalem that works in cooperation with Sha’arei Tzedek  Hospital. She had a series of cardiological examinations, and began medical treatment. “S” needed a procedure that could potentially save her life.

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Asylum-seeking women (their faces purposely hidden to hide their identities) and a volunteer nurse at the Tel Aviv Refugee Clinic (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich/Times of Israel)

On April 30th, 2020, “S” met with Dr. Amit Korach, a cardiologist who took care of her at Sha’arei Tzedek. He recommended a procedure which would switch her mitral valve and fix her tricuspid valve. While not life threatening, this procedure was considered critical for her improvement of quality of life.

The staff at the WIZO shelter wanted to do everything in their power to help “S” not only have a second chance at life where she could provide for her children but to ensure that she received the best possible medical care. With the Coronavirus pandemic spreading around the world and limited resources available, these caretakers needed to figure out a way to move mountains.

Funds would be needed to be raised. The surgery cost 90,000 NIS. The medical staff at the hospital generously agreed to cover part of the procedure and Physicians for Human Rights helped file a request to the Ministry of Health, asking for further funding options and Mesila in Tel Aviv also assisted. Through WIZO and the local congregation, a crowdfunding campaign was started and additional funds were raised. This is an extraordinary feat – especially at a time when most organisations are stretched to the limit financially.

“It’s important to remember that “S” is the sole caretaker of her two children,” Rinat Leon-Lange, Director of the WIZO shelter said. “She is currently living at the shelter, but can stay only for a limited period of time. Since she is an Eritrean refugee, her occupational options are limited and consist mainly of work that demands physical effort like cleaning or working in a kitchen. Her current medical condition does not enable her to engage in such physical work. Without income, she is doomed to either live in poverty or be dependent on another person, which could lead to yet another dangerous and abusive relationship. Due to her lack of legal status in Israel she is not eligible to receive any kind of government stipend for financial support.”

” “S” is still a young woman, so the success rate of this surgery is high,” says Yael Zimran, a social worker at the WIZO shelter. “This surgery would not only improve her quality of life physically, but would also enable her to be financially independent without having to rely on someone else. So for S, this really would be a life-saving procedure.”

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Thanks to WIZO, “S” and her children are safe.

The surgery was finally performed at Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital in June 2020 – at the height of the Corona pandemic. Dr. Korach and Dr. Hila Elinav, who had been treating “S” at the refugee clinic advocated for “S” to receive the best care and throughout the procedure she was treated by medical staff who knew her well. The staff looked after her in the hospital and took care of her children who remained at the shelter. The children were therefore able to be in constant contact with their mother while she was hospitalized via the shelter’s dedicated staff.

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Integrated Cardiac Center – Cardiopulmonary Surgery at Sha’arei Tzedek Medical Center

“The surgery was a success,” Leon-Lange proudly reported. “She is recovering slowly, but surely.”

Throughout the Corona crisis in Israel, WIZO has been on the frontline. “S”’s journey from Eritrea to a shelter and then life-saving surgery is proof of her remarkable courage and this has been recognized and honoured by WIZO who apart from providing an embrace of safety against abuse, also ensured the mending of a broken heart.

Thanks to the joint efforts of WIZO, Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital and other welfare organizations a young Eritrean mother living in a WIZO women’s shelter is on the road to recovery and independence.

Our gratitude to all WIZO Federations for their generous support in helping to provide shelter for women and children suffering from domestic violence in Israel.

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

The Jewish Double Standard in Action

Evil of One Kind is Denounced, Evil of Another is Given a Pass

By Jake Donnelly

The Jewish double standard was on display this past week in the wake of DeSean Jackson and Stephen Jackson’s social media posts promoting Louis Farrakhan and erroneously quoting Adolf Hitler. While it appears many people were rightfully taken aback by such blatant antisemitism, the resulting outcry – or lack thereof -was the perfect microcosm to highlight the double standard many Jews, and specifically, American Jews, live with on a daily basis. The Jewish double standard is quite simple:

When Jews see something bad, racist, or evil, they join in the fury and call it out, but when something antisemitic occurs, there is little by way of resulting uproar.

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Posting Online Hate. The Philadelphia Eagles condemned social media posts by DeSean Jackson, the team’s star wide receiver, saying they were “absolutely appalling”.

In the most basic terms – because of the history of Jews – they will almost always call out evil, but they are naive if they expect a reciprocal response.

The “Jackson and Jackson” saga following the almost cultural revolution of the George Floyd murder is the most obvious example of this. When George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, almost everybody agreed that this was a despicable act that needed to be condemned. It was such a heinous act that most people from every walk of life came out and admonished Chauvin and anybody that took part in the incident. And I mean everybody: black, white, Asian, Jews, and even cops said:

This is beyond the pale and something needs to be done.” Something was done  – Chauvin was arrested and charged with murder.

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No Defence For Antisemitism. Initially defending DeSean Jackson posting of antisemitic messages, Stephen Jackson (above) later apologizes – following the furor – for using ‘wrong words’ in his defense.

 

While Floyd’s death is an absolute tragedy, the coming together of all types of Americans was – ironically – something beautiful that emerged out of the ashes. Politicians, corporations, sports teams, schools and athletes all came out with strongly worded messages denouncing the murder. It appeared that everyone agreed – for one of the few times in recent American history – that something evil had occurred, and that this injustice needed to be seriously addressed. Everybody sent out messages and missives because it was so obviously evil.

In the midst of all this, I worried that this communal consensus would only last so long as the victim was black. Once something terrible happened to Jews or an antisemitic incident occurred, this thought of “everybody is on the same page” would disappear. I was too soon proven right!

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Monsey Machete Murderer. Grafton Thomas, the suspect in a stabbing at a Hannukah celebration, leaves Ramapo Town Hall in Airmont, New York, after his arrest in New York City on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019.Kena Betancur / AFP – Getty Image

In the ‘Jackson and Jackson’ saga, there were some brave voices that spoke out like Steelers lineman Zach Banner, and retired football players Emmanual Acho and Geoff Schwartz. Banner and Acho should be lauded for doing so (I expected it of Schwartz because, well… Schwartz). However, where were all the other voices? What DeSean Jackson wrote and posted and what Stephen Jackson said and doubled down on, were also so beyond the pale it should have appalled everybody. But it did not because there is a Jewish double standard. All those politicians, corporations, teams, schools, athletes and owners, were as silent as an unmarked graveyard on a moonless night.

What is making matters worse is the excuse that so many are readily giving both the Jacksons; mainly, that they were simply “ignorant.” People like Stephen A. Smith are jumping to their defense and claiming they were ignorant and did not know any better. Both DeSean Jackson and Stephen Jackson are both claiming ignorance and that their words and intentions are being misconstrued. But that is what is so telling; what they both posted and said is so antisemitic it is the equivalent of calling Jews “K—s.” If anybody sad something similar about any other race or religion, nobody would be excusing them of ignorance, especially because these tropes have been around for eons! But this is why the utter lack of response is so disappointingly not surprising; the Jewish double standard is simply a fact of life.

Even such noted and powerful Jews in sports like New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft did not say a word even though the Kraft Foundation pledged $1,000,000 to fight “systemic racism a month ago”.  In his defense, Kraft is a mensch who does great for Jews and Israel.

What of the famed NFL McCourty twins,  Devin and Jason, who are also community leaders and speak up on issues and stress to do the right thing? Not a word from them even though their teammate, Julian Edelman, is one of the most outspoken Jews in the NFL.

And what of all those cadre of players – both active and retired – that Robert Kraft takes to Israel every year to inspire Israel football players? Not a word!

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Field of Dreams. New England Patriots owner and philanthropist Robert Kraft (center, blue blazer) with most of the 18 NFL ‘Gold Jackets’ in Israel and at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in June, 2017 for Israel’s first full-size American football field, part of the new Kraft Family Sports Campus in Jerusalem (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Nor is this some mundane gripe. Jews die over posts and messages like the ones distributed by DeSean and Stephen Jackson. The 2019 Monsey murderer, who stabbed five people at a rabbi’s house in New York state, was a devotee of the Black Hebrew Israelites movement and enjoyed listening to Louis Farrakhan and the teachings of the Nation of Islam. If you care about White Supremacy (and you should), you should also care about Black Supremacist groups like the Nation of Islam and the Black Hebrew Israelites. Both White Supremacists and Black Supremacists are as evil as the other and the only thing they agree upon is that Jews are evil.

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Man of his Word. Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan really misses the opportunity in his speeches to include incendiary antisemitic comments and tropes.

If you actually care about ridding evil you are correct to denounce President Trump’s weak response to Charlottesville, but you are also allowing it to prosper if you remain silent to the Jackson posts.

You need to care about evil no matter its source. If you call out heinous crimes and messages because it attacks one race, but then zipper your mouth shut when a different race is attacked, you are revealing to the world your own prejudices and hate. In the words of Edmund Burke “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

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Hardly Generating Mass Support. A small protest following New York city police’s hate crimes unit saying it was investigating eight antisemitic incidents reported in December, 2019

When evil is directed at the black community, we rightfully speak out. However, when that same evil is directed at the Jewish community, there is silence and that evil spreads, the same way it has spread for millennia.

That is the Jewish double standard and that is why we are seeing an increase in antisemitism yet again.

 

 

 

About the writer:

jake_smiling_teeth copy.jpgJake Donnelly is a broadcast journalist specializing in articles and content about Judaism and Jews in America as well as United States politics, history, and culture. Jake is a graduate of Trinity College (Hartford, CT), where he B.A. in Jewish Studies, and Syracuse University (Newhouse School), where he received his M.S. in Broadcast and Digital Journalism. He is a professional play-by-play sports broadcaster specializing in hockey, baseball, basketball. You can find all of his work on his website, JakeDonnelly.com, and reach him on Twitter @JacobDonnelly31.”

 

 

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

WIZO On The Front Line

By  Rolene Marks

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

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

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

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

Helping Combat Gender Based Violence (GBV):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking Care Of Children Of Frontline Workers

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

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

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

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

Protecting Our Elderly

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

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

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

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

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

A DECLARATION

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

Hereby award a Medal of Honour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Streetwise

Street signs are telling lessons in Israel’s history, revealing friend from foe

By David E. Kaplan

There is good reason why there are streets in Israel named after the 33rd president of the United States, President Truman – even a moshav ‘Kfar Truman’ three kilometres east of Ben Gurion International Airport –  and not his predecessor the 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR).

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True Supporter. Initially called Bnei Harel (Sons of Harel), in 1950, this moshav in central Israel was changed to Kfar Truman, in honor of U.S. president Harry S. Truman who had supported the establishment of the State of Israel.

It is no careless omission but one of deliberate intent!

No less a statesman than Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion said of Harry Truman, “as a foreigner I could not judge what would be his place in American history; but his helpfulness to us, his constant sympathy with our aims in Israel, his courageous decision to recognize our state so quickly and his steadfast support since then has given him an immortal place in Jewish history.”

No such words could ever have been said about his predecessor.

FDR’s antipathy towards Jews both in word and deed is well documented. However, most revealing is Rafael Medoff April 5 article in The Jerusalem PostThe Saudis, the Jews and FDR’s dog” where one is left in little doubt that FDR – unlike his successor – would not only have NOT supported the creation of the Jewish state of Israel – he would have opposed it!

And this is with full knowledge of the enormity of the Holocaust!

Medoff’s article reports on FDR’s grandson, Hall Delano Roosevelt,  working for an Iowa-based public relations firm – the LS Group – on a Saudi-financed public relations campaign to celebrate his late grandfather’s pro-Saudi policies. The campaign anchors on the 75th anniversary of FDR’s meeting with King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud that took place on February 14, 1945 on the deck of the USS Quincy.

It was not the optics of the meeting between the US president and the first monarch and founder of Saudi Arabia who ruled from 23 September 1932 to 9 November 1953 that was alarming; but the substance of the conversation between the two leaders as it pertained to Jews.

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Forging Friendships. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud aboard the USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake north of the city of Suez, Egypt on Feb. 14, 1945 discussing Saudi-US relations and obstructing the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. (AP file photo)

Taking notes at that fateful meeting was William Eddy, the US ambassador to Riyadh. He wrote down the remarks of the two leaders in the form of a “Memorandum of Conversation”, which both the President and the King signed. One of the major topics of discussion was:

Whether or not the Arab world could accept the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine

Roosevelt asked the Saudi King for his view of “the problem of Jewish refugees driven from their homes in Europe.”

Ibn Saud responded that he opposed “continued Jewish immigration and the purchase of land [in Palestine] by the Jews.” In supporting his position, the King noted that “the Arabs and the Jews could never cooperate, neither in Palestine, nor in any other country.”

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Reenacting The Relationship. Celebrating in February 2020 the 75th anniversary of the meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdul Aziz on board the USS Quincy in 1945, Hall Delano Roosevelt, grandson of FDR (right), participates in the meeting’s reenactment on the USS Farragut. (photo by Huda Bashatah)

The US President  seemed to share this assessment as he “replied that he wished to assure his majesty that he would do nothing to assist the Jews against the Arabs and would make no move hostile to the Arab people.”

Hardly nuanced, this meant  – no future Jewish state in Palestine.

The King suggested that the Jews should be “given living space in the Axis countries which oppressed them,” rather than Palestine.

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The Notetaker. US Marine Corps Col. William A. Eddy seen here kneeling left of King Abdul Aziz and President Franklin D. Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy in Great Bitter Lake, Egypt. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

Horrifying by its insensitivity was FDR’s response to Ibn Saud:

Willian Eddy writes:

The President remarked that Poland might be considered a case in point. The Germans appear to have killed three million Polish Jews, by which count there should be space in Poland for the resettlement of many homeless Jews.”

Roosevelt colludes with the Saudi monarch of  “resettling” Jews on the burial site of murdered European Jewry!

Several weeks after the meeting, on March 10, Ibn Saud wrote to Roosevelt, requesting the President oppose any support of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

FDR replied on the 4th April by recalling “the memorable conversation which we had not so long ago” and reaffirmed that “no decision [will] be taken with respect to the basic situation in that country without full consultation with both Arabs and Jews” but further asserting that he “would take no action, in my capacity as Chief of the Executive Branch of this Government, which might prove hostile to the Arab people.”

In other words – no support for a sovereign Jewish homeland.

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Retired US Marine Corps Col. William A. Eddy. (Getty Images)

Roosevelt, who was quick to recognize the “INFAMY” of Japan when it attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941 killing 2,403 Americans, failed to see the “INFAMY” of the Nazis and their European collaborators in the murder of six million Jews when he addressed a joint session of Congress on March 1, 1945 and said:

I learned more about the whole problem, the Muslim problem, the Jewish problem, by talking with Ibn Saud for five minutes than I could have learned in the exchange of two or three dozen letters.”

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The Jewish Problem. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (at desk) addresses a joint session of Congress on March 1, 1945 when he astonishingly said: “I learned more about the whole problem, the Muslim problem, the Jewish problem, by talking with Ibn Saud for five minutes than I could have learned in the exchange of two or three dozen letters.”

Even members of his own party were astounded on his reliance of a sworn enemy of the Jews as his expert advisor. Colorado Democrat Sen. Edwin Johnson sardonically commented:

 “I imagine that even Fala would be more of an expert.”

‘Fala’ was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s dog!

The following month, FDR suddenly died in office and President Truman was sworn in as the 33rd president of the USA. Three years later, on May 14, 1948, just after 6.pm, Charlie Ross, President Truman’s press secretary read aloud the following:

 “Statement by the President. This government has been informed that a Jewish state has been proclaimed in Palestine….The United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto author­ity of the new State of Israel.”

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Seeing The Light. President Harry Truman receiving on 5 May 1951 in the Oval Office, a Menorah as a gift from the Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion (center) during his visit to the US with Israel’s Ambassador  to the US Abba Eban looking on.

This is why as Israel pursues its journey on the ‘road’ ahead, there will always be streets in the Jewish state called Truman and never one named Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

 

The Knockout

From Lithuania to South Africa –  a ringside vista from Tel Aviv down memory lane

By Dr. Gail Lustig

If anyone should be telling this story it should be my late father, Donny Loon, who passed away on the 16th January 2011 in Israel. It is the kind of story he liked hearing,  reading, telling and retelling!

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Donny Loon z’l (1924-2011)

My first taste of his storytelling was when I was in my teens and he was hospitalized in a nursing home for a collapsed vertebral disc. It had been caused by Brucellosis contracted by drinking unpasteurized milk while doing a house call at a patient`s farm. He wrote a riveting short story which he read to me during a visit, telling me it had been written “by the priest next to him in the room!”

This story has taken decades to tell and was written in the days of lockdown in Tel Aviv , while going through some photo albums and discovering two old black and white photographs that aroused my curiosity more than usual.

Their story begins in Ponevezh, Lithuania where my grandfather, David Loon, and most of his five brothers, Arthur, George, Lazar, Issy and Maurice  and one sister, Hetty, were born. David was born with clubfeet; proving a serious handicap in his motor development. The congenital problem for which he was teased endlessly might have spurred him on to take up boxing which was popular amongst the Jewish youth of Lithuania. He excelled at the sport and before long he was given the nick-name of “Siki” after a French-Senegalese light heavyweight boxer and world champion in the early part of the last century.

The Loon brothers were close; they enjoyed life, were social creatures, and supported one another in many ways.  The family connection was always particularly important to them and their children developed close ties. David took time to teach his son Donny the punches and rules of boxing and although he never formally took up the sport, he certainly had a good knowledge of it.

In the early 1950s, Donny left the family and settled in Cape Town with Rita his young wife  – my mother – who had grown up in the southern most city in Africa.  He set up a general practice and soon became one of the popular young doctors in Bellville; where he treated people from every background and walk of life.

Donny hankered after his childhood environment with its warm atmosphere and exciting prospects, and a spirit that filled him with hope. He hadn`t taken to Cape Town, the city of his wife`s family. He was irritated by the soft, white sea sand that got in between his toes.  He did not like biting on chicken pieces coated with sand on Muizenberg beach where he sat on a beach-chair with a towel over his legs while his family dived into the warm waves of the Indian Ocean.

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Lapping It Up. The writer, Dr. Gail Lustig (née Loon) at nine months on the lap of future word champion Jimmy Carruthers from Sidney, Australia in Magaliesburg.

It was perfectly natural, that as soon as circumstances permitted, he would pack his Chevrolet and head northwards on the National Road with his young family to visit his parents and cousins in Johannesburg. And so in August, after a brief stopover in Beaufort West, Donny forged ahead, hour after hour along the lonely road until they reached Magaliesburg, near Johannesburg. The family had been booked in at the Moon Hotel, a modest holiday venue.

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On The Way To World Champion. Jimmy Carruthers working his jab in training.

How thrilling it must have been to discover that the Moon Hotel had been chosen as the training base for the young Australian boxing champion, Jimmy Carruthers, an Australian bantamweight champion who was in his early twenties and had come to fight the South African World Champion, Vic Toweel in November 1952. This would be the first time since 1908 that an Australian would be fighting for a world title. Toweel, of Lebanese roots, was the first South African to hold a world title.

Within a few hours of settling into the hotel, it was completely natural  that  Donny and Jimmy meet, and an instant rapport developed between them. He learnt that Jimmy was one of eight children born to an English wharf worker in Sydney who had developed boxing skills at an early age. Jimmy was friendly, a little lonely, with an open personality and although devoted to a tight and demanding schedule for training, enjoyed Donny`s lighthearted and warm interest in him, his stories and jokes and knowledge of boxing.

He and his trainer shared some pleasant hours talking to Donny and Rita who loved a laugh and the fact that her baby had taken to the boxer who clearly had a way with children.

Before long, Donny found himself drawn into the pending fight between Toweel and Jimmy. It was clear to him that Jimmy had a great chance of beating the favourite but he didn`t seem to have a clear plan of how to go about it. Toweel was defending the title for the fourth time.  He had won 200 bouts before turning professional, and now, on home territory, it seemed that everything was in his favour. What was apparent was that Vic was slow to get started in the ring whereas Jimmy was quick and agile with a machine -gun like hand speed.

Within no time, Donny realized that the way to go about beating Toweel, was to move like lightning, straight after the bell, pull as many punches as possible, thus surprising his opponent and hoping for a knockout.

He proposed his plan to Carruthers` trainer, teaching him how to use the stopwatch he had with him (a useful instrument in a doctor`s medical bag), in the training programme, timing Jimmy`s responses and reaction time.  And so it happened that every morning for the next week, just as the sun rose, Donny would get up early, secretly meet Jimmy in the training ring, before Toweel`s team appeared. Over and over he would demonstrate to Jimmy how to improve his performance straight after the bell, until he literally reacted within a split second.

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World’s Bantamweight Champion Jimmy Carruthers following his fight in South Africa in 1952. On the left hand corner of the photo (below) is written : “To Don, Rita and Gail, Wishing you every happiness from Jimmy Carruthers 17.8.1952

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A ‘Fist’ful Of Pounds

Of course the Loon uncles and cousins were in on the story and immediately understood that if luck were on their side, it might be the perfect opportunity to back the underdog and score a personal small betting victory.

Before the match, we returned to Cape Town. Donny continued with his routine and but for the photos, Jimmy Carruthers faded from his mind.

Before long it was the 15th of November. Everyone in South Africa who enjoyed competitive sport, crowded around the radios to listen to the match. The Loon brothers and Donny, by now, loyal supporters of Jimmy, were in on the excitement on opposite sides of South Africa.

And of course you`ve guessed it!

The bell was sounded; Carruthers pounced on Toweel, and in just on 2 minutes 19 seconds and 110 accurate punches, knocked Vic Toweel out to become the new light bantam weight champion of the world!!

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Victory Over Vic. Jimmy’s left hand was a potent weapon against Toweel.

The tactic of moving like lightning after the bell sounded, had worked like a charm.

And today, while tidying my photos, I came across these two, which in their naiveté, reveal so much!

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The Rematch In Joburg. In March 21, 1953 Carruthers defended his title against the man he took it from, Vic Toweel. Carruthers knocked Toweel out in their first meeting and did it again in this fight in the 10th round. Offered here is a rare, original, official program for this event.

Jimmy Carruthers gave up competitive boxing in 1954 at a young age, having made enough money to settle down, marry and run his pub in Sydney, Australia.  In one article I read on him, he was described as a unionist and a proponent of world peace!

And that`s when I really understood what had bought the two men, Donny and Jimmy together – hardly the ability to knock out, but rather to change the world in a very different way. Each dreamt of world peace; it would unite them forever and more important be passed down in the image of a chubby baby secure and fearless on the knees of a champion boxer – me!

 

 

About the writer:

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Gail Loon-Lustig, born in Cape Town, lived in Bellville. After completing Medical School, Gail made Aliya in 1976 and runs a Home Care Unit  in greater Tel Aviv area. Inspired to “give back to society”, she counsels young doctors and health workers and has guided the teaching of ‘home care’ at her alma mater UCT. Gail has volunteered at Telfed and the South African retirement home Beth Protea where for many years she focusses on medical issues of the residents.  Interested in many different aspects of life, especially those that involve her family.

Heritage Hike

Stuck at home this Independence Day because of Corona? Take a virtual journey of Israel’s Independent Trail. From Hebrew city to Hebrew state, the trail begins with the founding of Tel Aviv in 1909 and ends with the Establishment of Israel in 1948.

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Embedded in the ground are 10 markers along the one-kilometer brass strip of Independence Trail.

 

By David. E. Kaplan

Walks these days are mostly to the supermarket or pharmacy. While hardly fun, adventurous or cerebrally challenging they are essential. However, no less “essential” is to ensure the mind remains active even if our legs are taking ‘a back seat’!

Prior to Corona, Lay Of The Land toured Independence Trail that was inaugurated in 2018 in honour of Israel’s 70th Independence Day. Only one kilometre (0.6 miles) long, it is rich in 40 years of intense nation-building history. Opting to use a guide rather than the free Municipality of Tel Aviv’s Independence Trail App, our guide began:

 “It was 40 years of wandering before the Biblical Hebrews entering the Promised Land of ancient Israel, today you will be exposed to those 40 tumultuous years of establishing modern Israel during the first half of the twentieth century.”

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Exploring History. A golden path takes these young visitors on an interactive walking route through the history of Tel Aviv along Independence Trail. (Photo by Ricky Rachman)

How better to begin this hike of 10 stops with a cup of coffee and where better to enjoy it than where the hike officially begins – The First Kiosk Of Tel Aviv at the intersection of Rothschild Boulevard and Herzl Street, one of the most central spots in Israel.

Kickoff at the Kiosk

The aroma of coffee was irresistible and adhering to the adage “When in Rome”, we all ordered “café hafuch” – Israel’s famous “upside down coffee”.

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Frequently compared with a latte, it is creamier and is also made in reverse. If in a latte, the milk goes on top of the espresso, a café hafuch uses steamed milk on the bottom, and then a shot of espresso is carefully poured on top of the steamed milk and finally topped with milk froth as well as nutmeg or cocoa powder.  The most iconic aspect is the “reverse” – so typically Israeli of hitting the right button but ‘Israeli style”.

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“The First Kiosk Of Tel Aviv”. The trail begins here at Tel Aviv’s first kiosk built on Rothschild Boulevard in 1910 the year after Tel Aviv was established on sand dunes in 1909.

“Today, as you can see,” said our guide, “Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard is lined with restaurants and cafés but when the street was first established in 1909, not all the residents were in favour of any commercial activity. While some were agreeable about setting up shops in the neighborhood, others were against, but a year later a small kiosk opened where we are today.”

Situated in the exact same spot where the original once stood and modeled after the eclectic architectural style of the time, the small kiosk is today called Espresso Bar.

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Bustling And Boisterous. Much of ‘Independence Trail’ is along Rothschild Boulevard the social nerve centre of downtown Tel Aviv.

Next, we walked on to the Nahum Gutman Fountain.

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Fountain of Knowledge

Gutman’s mosaic fountain reflects the simplicity of the early days of the “First Hebrew City” as it was once the fashion to call Tel Aviv.  Israel’s famed artist, who was also an accomplished illustrator, photographer, and writer “went to school here, played in these streets, absorbed its sights, sounds and smells and projected them in his colorful exuberant art,’ informed our guide. “He was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize in 1978 and as you can see, the mosaics around the fountain tell the history of Jaffa – the ancient port city from which Tel Aviv was born.”  In a kaleidoscope of color – the artist’s leitmotif – myths and stories from Jewish and Israeli history are emblazoned, from Jonah and the whale to Moses Montefiore and Theodore Herzl.

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Colourful Past. The Nahum Gutman Fountain depicts the history of Jaffa from ancient times until the creation of Tel Aviv. (Photo by Ricky Rachman)

Our next stop was the personal home built in 1909 by Akiva Aryeh Weiss, whose name is literally cemented to the beginning of Tel Aviv.

 Home Truths

Akiva Aryeh Weiss was one of the founders of the Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood, which later evolved into Tel Aviv. As President of the then newly established Building Society, Weiss presided over the famous 1909 lottery in which 66 Jewish families drew numbers written on seashells to determine the allocation of lots in the about-to-be established city of Tel Aviv.

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Weiss, who immigrated from Russian Poland to Palestine in 1906 “was a jeweler and watchmaker, and founded the textile industry in Mandatory Palestine, building the earliest textile factory, the Lodzia House,” continued our guide.

“One of Weiss’ dreams, which became a reality was the establishment of a Jewish diamond industry in Palestine.”

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The House That Akiva Built. Built, planned and erected by Akiva Arieh Weiss himself, the cornerstone of the house, the first in the new area known as Ahuzat Bayit, was laid in the summer of 1909.

Now restored, the cornerstone of Weiss’ Tel Aviv house located at 2 Herzl Street was laid in 1909. Originally a single-story structure, the upper floor was added in the 1920s.

Towering Truths

Our third stop was the visitor’s center with its history of Tel Aviv in the Shalom Meir Tower in Herzl Street. Although once the tallest building in Tel Aviv  – and when built in

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Busy Builder. Several constructions built by Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche are today’s heritage sites all around Tel Aviv.

1965 was the tallest building in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Oceania – far more historically significant is its prestigious predecessor – the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium. The country’s first Hebrew-speaking high school and originally known as HaGymnasia Ha’Ivrit (High School in Hebrew),  the cornerstone laying for the school took place on July 28, 1909, the same year as the city’s founding. Designed by Joseph Barsky and inspired by descriptions of Solomon’s Temple, it was built by Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche, whose family founded Neve Tzedek (“Oasis of Justice”) in 1887 and were again among the founding settlers of Tel Aviv in 1909. These are the proud ancestors of Lay of the Land cofounder, Yair Chelouche who was too enjoying the tour and contributing to the history of the area.

“The school was a major Tel Aviv landmark until 1962 when the site was razed for the construction of the Shalom Meir Tower,” added Yair.

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Major Landmark. Designed by Joseph Barsky inspired by descriptions of Solomon’s Temple and built Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche, the Gymnasia Herzliya on Herzl Street was the country’s first Hebrew high school. It was a major Tel Aviv landmark until 1962 when the site was razed for the construction of the Shalom Meir Tower.

Some of the schools celebrated alumni include Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, the poet Nathan Alterman, the artist Nachum Gutman, the physicist Yuval Neeman, the present mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai and the journalist and chairman of the Yesh Atid party in the Knesset, Yair Lapid.

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Did Alterman write poetry about Tel Aviv?” asked a member of our group.

Sure,’ replied our guide. “An immigrant from Warsaw, Alterman viewed Tel Aviv as the successor to the cities he had known in Europe. In contrast to the Hebrew poets who preceded him, who felt more connected to religion and biblical landscapes, Alterman was an urban poet who shaped an abstract theatrical world of music boxes, horse-drawn carriages and streetlights in Hebrew poetry.”

Looking up at the tall Shalom Tower, the guide told us a popular joke in Tel Aviv of the 1960s after the tower went up that encapsulates the trajectory of modern Israel.

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Tel Aviv On A High. Housing the Visitors Center with the history of Tel Aviv, the Shalom Meir Tower commonly known as Migdal Shalom was Israel’s first skyscraper

“A Tel Aviv taxi picked up a New York tourist who was boasting about his city, how skyscrapers appear suddenly like wild mushrooms when suddenly the taxi turned into Hertzl street and the tourist, who was looking up at the tall Shalom Tower, bellowed:

“WOW! What building is that?”

To which the taxi driver replied:

“I don’t know; it wasn’t there yesterday!”

The imagery of Alterman’s Tel Aviv was a far cry from the city of today, but that vibrancy portrayed by the poet’s pen was all too evident as we proceeded along bustling Rothschild Boulevard to our next stop – the Great Synagogue.

Spiritual Centre

The Great Synagogue on 110 Allenby Street, served as Tel Aviv’s spiritual and religious center long before Israel’s independence.

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These Walls Have Ears. Completed in 1926, the Great Synagogue of Tel Aviv on 110 Allenby Street is rich in history some of which is revealed in memorial slates recording historical events that occurred here during the British Mandate period.

“People who attended services here included Tel Aviv’s first mayor Meir Dizengoff, prime ministers David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett and Menachem Begin. It also hosted the inaugurations of Israel’s chief rabbis and the funerals of national icons such as the pioneer of modern Hebrew poetry Haim Nahman Bialik and the Zionist leader Haim Arlosorov, assassinated in 1933 while walking on the beach in Tel Aviv.”

 

We marveled at the building’s features, notably a huge dome, elaborate lighting fixtures, and magnificent stained-glass windows – replicas of synagogue windows that were destroyed in Europe during the Holocaust.

“Not widely known,” revealed our guide, “The Declaration of Independence was meant to be declared here on the 14 May 1948.”

“So why was it not?” I asked.

Ben Gurion knew that the moment he made the announcement Israel would be under aerial attack and if the new State’s leadership were altogether under one so identifiable a roof as the Great Synagogue, it would make for an easy target for low-flying enemy planes. Instead, the Declaration took place around the corner at a much smaller building, which will be our last stop on the tour.”

Ben Gurion’s concern was “not unreasonable,” continued our guide. “Arab planes bombed Tel Aviv three times and one Egyptian pilot was taken prisoner when his plane was forced down nearby.”

Also “nearby” was our next stop: the Haganah Museum.

Freedom Fighters

Located on Rothschild Boulevard, the Haganah Museum was once the home of Eliyahu Golomb the founder and first commander of the Haganah. A paramilitary organization, the Haganah was the forerunner of today’s Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and from1930 to 1945, this house was the Haganah’s secret headquarters.

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Initially protecting the pioneers on kibbutzim (cooperative farming communities) from an attack in the 1920s and 1930s, the Haganah went on to facilitate the illegal entry of more than 100,000 Jews into Palestine after the British government’s 1939 ‘White Paper’ restricting immigration. “In this way,” explained the guide, “the Haganah paved the way in providing the essential manpower that proved so critical in the War of Independence.”

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Elijah Golomb Defense Museum. This four-story museum display is one of the most advanced and sophisticated of its kind. Designed with huge video screens, models, backdrops and stories from the organization’s history from its inception to being an IDF, the historical story is told through the personal story of a young Palmach member and a Holocaust survivor who takes part in prominent events during the struggle, such as ‘The Night of the Bridges’.

So tranquil is Golomb’s residential room and office on the ground floor today, it is hard to conceive that this was the nerve center of a war for the survival of the Jewish People in Palestine.

“It’s one thing to fight but without finance little can be achieved,” said the guide as he led us to our next stop – the historical headquarters of Israel’s national bank.

Money Matters

The Bank of Israel Visitor’s Center showcases the history of the Jewish State’s financial system. The historical headquarters of Israel’s national bank, the Centre’s exhibits reveal the country’s historical development of money with exhibits from ancient coins to banknotes, and coins issued from pre-State days to the present.

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Particularly entertaining were the interactive activity stations that explain, by means of computer games, the functions of the Bank of Israel, the history of money, and the contribution of the central bank to the economy. No less fascinating were the short films on the essential role of the Bank of Israel in maintaining price stability, supporting economic growth, employment, and reducing social gaps in Israeli society. It is sure going to have “one job on its hand” in the immediate post-Corona era!

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In Safe Hands. The Bank of Israel Visitor’s Center on Lilienblum Street presents the historical development of money in Israel.

Back then, our next stop was the Tel Aviv Founders Monument.

The ‘Plot’ Thickens

The Founder’s Monument and Fountain is dedicated to the men and women who established Tel Aviv in the first half of the 19th century. Nestled into a green space on Rothschild Boulevard, it is a serene spot, dotted with benches, centered around a small pool and fountain, and located opposite the home of the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, on 16 Rothschild Boulevard.

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Founder’s Monument And Fountain. Located opposite the home of the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff on 16 Rothschild Boulevard, it was here that the historic lottery for the distribution of plots held on April 11, 1909, took place.

The historic lottery for the distribution of plots was held on April 11, 1909. As the families could not decide how to allocate the land, they held a lottery to ensure a fair division. Sixty-six grey seashells and sixty-six white seashells were gathered with the names of the participants written on the white shells and the plot numbers on the grey shells. A white and grey shell formed a pair, assigning each family a plot.

It was on this very site that the founders’ monument was planned 40 years later and established in 1951, on Dizengoff’s birthday.

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Designed by Aaron Priver, on one side is a sculpture divided into three sections. The bottom shows sand dunes and wild animals that roamed the area before the establishment of Tel Aviv. The middle section depicts the first homes, mostly one-story, and the top represents the Tel Aviv of 1949, with specific landmarks, and the Tel Aviv of the future as envisioned at the time.

On the other side of the monument is the list of the sixty-six founding families of the city of which includes the Chelouche family that founded the quaint neighboring district of Neve Tzedek over twenty years earlier.  Pointing out his family’s name on the monument, Lay of the Land co-founder Yair Chelouche related how his great-great-grandfather Aharon Chelouche acquired the plot of land that became part of Chelouche family folklore.  “There were no land surveyors. The seller and the buyer would meet on the land to agree on the size of the land and the price. To measure the plot from one end to the other, the buyer took a stone and threw it, and where it landed was the end of the plot.” Smiling, Yair continued, “Aharon must have had a very strong arm because the family ended up with a huge chunk of land.”

Two decades later, representatives of the Chelouche family would join other family members in 1909, this time not throwing stones but picking up shells with their plot numbers on it.

The genesis of Tel Aviv was brought “home” to us when passing 9 Rothschild Boulevard.  “Stop,” bellowed Yair, and then revealed, “here was the house of my great-grandparents, the first house that my great-grandfather, Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche built for them when they left Neve Tzedek for the “new” city of Tel Aviv.”

And so began the saga of “the city that never sleeps” – Tel Aviv.

Horsing Around

Our second last stop was at a statue. While most cities in Europe and the Americas are replete with leaders and warriors perched defiantly on horses, such artistic depictions are rare in Israel. So, it is with some curiosity that we looked upon the bronze statue opposite the Founders Monument of a man riding a tired-looking horse. The rider is not a general but a civil servant – Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff. He may not have made his mark on a battlefield, but he left a far more enduring legacy.

For miles and miles in every direction from this small statue, the rich urban development that is Tel Aviv today, can be traced to the superlative efforts of Tel Aviv’s first mayor who encouraged its rapid expansion and conducted daily inspections, paying attention to details. How did this indefatigable mayor travel each day to inspect the progress of the projects throughout his growing city?

By horse of course!

No wonder both rider and horse look exhausted.

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Giddyup. The statute of Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv’s first mayor riding his horse from his home to City Hall, then located on Bialik Street. With cars on the side, the image conveys how commuting has transformed over the century.

Created by the artist David Zondolovitz, the statue was unveiled in front of the mayor’s historic residence, our final and tenth stop and the most important of all.

What was the end of our trail, was the beginning of the modern State of Israel!

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Independence Hall

On May 14, 1948, the house on 16 Rothchild Boulevard – then serving as the Tel Aviv Museum of Art – hosted the historic ceremony of the Declaration of Independence.

Our guide related the events and atmosphere of that day.

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Crowds began to swell in the afternoon at cafés and balconies along the boulevard. People were waving little flags and singing and then at three o’clock, journalists from around the world started filing into the Tel Aviv Art Museum. They were joined by dignitaries to the rapturous applause of the crowd.

At exactly four o’clock, David Ben-Gurion started the ceremony by banging the gavel.

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Israel On Day 1. Seventy-three years ago, David Ben-Gurion declaring independence in 1948.

Outside and around the country, people were listening to the ceremony in the first broadcast of Israel Radio.

Ben-Gurion read the declaration, which opened with a historic prologue on the Jewish connection to the land and then it went on to assert that:

 “We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, named the State of Israel.”

He was followed by Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon who with a cracked voice, read the ancient prayer:

 “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.”

The crowd shouted “Amen!”

Ben-Gurion signed the declaration, then the members of the People’s Council were invited one by one to come up to the stage and sign the declaration alphabetically. The ceremony ended with the singing of “Hatikva,” the national anthem.

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Birth Of Israel. The Hall of Independence on Rothchild Boulevard is best known as the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the 14th of May 1948. The chairs are set out around the table as they were in 1948 and the names of those who attended the signing of the declaration are written on the chairs. Visitors can listen to a recording of the declaration ceremony and see a 16 minute film about the historic event. Two of the signatories were women Rachel (Kagan) Cohen and Golda Meir; three of the signatories went on to become Prime Ministers; one became the President and 14 of the original signatories served as cabinet ministers in the Israeli government.

As we finished the tour of Independence Hall, we came out and saw again the Espresso Bar formally The First Kiosk Of Tel Aviv where it had all begun.

All agreed.

It was time for another cup of café hafuch.

 

 

 

 

Let Our Minds And Hearts Do The Walking

Click onto the website of BJE March Of The Living and what appears at the top in bold and in part red is:

“Due To Coronavirus Outbreak, March Of The Living 2020 CANCELLED

For our Lay Of The Land readers all around the world who are not familiar, BJE  March of the Living (Building Jewish Education) is a two week experience during which teens from all over the world travel together to Poland and to Israel to learn about the Jewish people’s past, present and future. Cancelled this year because of Coronavirus,

Monise Neuman, former director of BJE March of the Living sends the following personal message including information to access today about Yom HaShoah.

Monise Neuman’s Message

“I know that everyone is inundated with emails these days with either humor to lift our spirits from the Covid-19 plague or updates about the spread and impact of this virus.

I beg your indulgence, as important people in my life who have shared the very powerful March of the Living journey with me over the many years, and who have provided me with continued sustenance, as I share my personal reflections and turn my attention to another reality of Covid-19.

The inability, for the first time in more years than I can count, that I will not be standing on the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Yom HaShoah and telling the souls who hover over this scarred and sacred land that I haven’t forgotten them. Freddy’s story, Peska’s story, Sigi’s story, Bob’s story, Dorothy and Allen’s stories and the words and teachings of Ronnie Mink (z”l) will remain entrenched in my very essence. They will not be shared with the participants of the eight adult and young adult delegations that I have had the pleasure of working with for the last nine months. It was my earnest desire that they, like all of us, would become part of the chain of remembrance and attempt to comprehend what Ronnie told us year-after-year that  “the Holocaust did not take place in black and white, but in living colour.”

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2019 BJE March Of The Living

I am asked continuously why I do what I do – and the reasons are countless. While I firmly believe there are SIX MILLION REASONS underlying this passion – it is the understanding that this reality has to be understood as one person at a time. This was captured for me when I came across the picture and words below written by Gela Sekzstein, displayed at the Oneg Shabbat Exhibit at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, displaying documents that form the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, founded by Emanuel Ringelblum.

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Workshop #1. Participants on the BJE Teen March Of The Living

I am sharing this reflection with you with immense gratitude because your commitment to the march and your support of me and this endeavor has allowed me to do my part to ensure that Margolit Lichtensztejn and her mother Gela are not forgotten.

To say I am disappointed, like many of you, not to march on Yom HaShoah from Auschwitz to Birkenau is an understatement, but I am incredibly proud of the very difficult decision made by the leadership of the International March that the health and well-being of all concerned is paramount. While we cannot be together in person to commemorate, the MOL is sponsoring virtual programs.

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The March of the Living continually expands its message to address new generations

The March of the Living Virtual Plaque Project will continue the tradition of placing messages on plaques on the train tracks of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I would love it if you could click on  https://nevermeansnever.motl.org/ and leave a personal message in solidarity and unity.

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Youngsters hugging on the same rail tracks that brought Jews to their death at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Please note also that on Yom Hashoah, Tuesday, April 21, 2020 at 4:00PM PDT, a 2020 Virtual March of the Living will be aired at 4:00PM PDT at motl.org/live, on Facebook at facebook.com/motlorg, as well as on Jewish Broadcasting Service at jbstv.org/watch-live. There will be a special address by the President of Israel and interviews with survivors, educators, MOTL alumni and leaders. If you miss it at this time, please note that the program will remain available for viewing after it has aired.

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March of the Living continues the journey which begins in the death camps on European soil and ends in Jerusalem, Israel.

Thank you all for being part of my reality and for ensuring that we never forget Margolit, Gela, Freddy, Peska, Sigi, Bob, Dorothy, Allen and Ronnie.”

 

 

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Monise Neumann – Currently serves as National Consultant for the International March of the Living.  She has worked in Jewish Education for the past 40 years.  Prior to this position, she was the Head Consultant for the Builders of Jewish Education in Los Angeles – overseeing the teen department which included running the BJE Teen March of the Living overseeing the participation of over 220 teens, survivors and staff.   Originally from South Africa, Monise is married with two children and recently became a grandmother.

 

 

No One Left Behind

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

By Rolene Marks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The flight path from Tel Aviv to Lima.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Going home – Sweet home!

 

“Shaken, Not Stirred”

Aliyah In The Age Of Covid-19

Israel must be the only country in the world that is today welcoming new immigrants

By David E. Kaplan

In a country where its friendly citizens typically love to kiss and warmly embrace, “social distancing” is now the name of the game. Schools, universities, kindergartens, movie theaters, restaurants, pubs, gyms, parks, libraries, museums and beaches are now off limits. “All social interactions,” says the Ministry of Health should be conducted on the phone or by other digital means. Pessimistically paraphrasing the  iconic line from the 1970 romantic movie ‘Love Story’, Israel’s Prime Minister appeals:

Love is keeping your distance

As the novel Coronavirus pandemic continues to proliferate, each day brings with it new challenges and restrictions for Israeli society. Where one day the restriction is not to meet anywhere where there are NOT more than ten people present, the next day it is not to meet at all – unless it’s a dire emergency.

Where one day an instruction is an appeal, the next it is a pre-emptory order.

“This is not a game. It’s a matter of life and death,” asserted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his update on Tuesday.

And yet, there is something quite unique about Israel. Despite  the dwindling few still entering the country going straight into a mandatory 14-day quarantine, new immigrants (olim) are still arriving at Ben Gurion Airport with Israel absorbing them like returning family.

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One ‘FLU’ Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Like something out of the movies, travelers wearing masks chat in the arrivals terminal after Israel said it will require anyone arriving from overseas to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus at Ben Gurion International airport near Tel Aviv, Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS/RONEN ZEVULUN)

In the first half of March 2020, 163 immigrants arrived in the country, according to the Jewish Agency’s statistics.

One of them is Craig Evans from Sasolburg in South Africa who came with his wife Meghan and their 9-year-old-son. An older 14-year-old daughter, Jade, was already in Israel, enrolled at the Mosenson School in Hod Hasharon. The first Craig and Meghan heard that they would have to go directly from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport into quarantine was when they were standing in the departure queue at the A1 gate at Oliver Tambo International Airport. “There we were, about to board our El Al flight and we received a phone call from the Israel Centre in Joburg informing us and that there would probably be no-one in Israel to officially welcome and process us through immigration. We must make our way alone as best we could and then head straight to our apartment and wait for someone to contact us!”

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The Evens Family. New immigrants to Israel, Meghen and Craig Evens and their children Kai and Jade from Sasolburg, South Africa.

Like the intrepid MI6 agent of “Shaken, but not stirred’ fame,  Craig told Lay Of The Land “Yes, obviously we were concerned but there was no turning back. Our minds and our destination were determined. We were going to Israel, and contrary to the warning, we received 5-star treatment. They literally welcomed us from the moment we got off the plane in Israel. We were met by the representative from Telfed and the Jewish Agency who stood there holding aloft a sign with our names on and who then guided us through the process of receiving all our necessary documentation – most importantly for Kupat Holim (health care provider). We were out of the airport in 30 minutes;  and then the rep organized a huge transport vehicle for all our masses of baggage and in less than one hour, we were  in our apartment in Netanya.”

So how did it feel for this on-line marketing man and dance teacher wife to be alone in quarantine in a new country?

“Who’s alone? We have an incredible circle of friends  all over the country as well as new friends. Within 40 minutes of arrival, there was a knock on the door from the local South African community to welcome us and bring food.  We have been inundated with people contacting us, even if only over the phone or through the narrow gap of the front door.” Seeing “a silver lining” in the situation, “if it was not for the quarantine, we would never have met so many new people. This would never happen anywhere else in the world.”

Immigration to Israel is a complex process and during a global health crisis even more so. “We are advising people to postpone their immigration, but it’s not so easy,” explains the South African immigrant organisation, Telfed’s CEO, Dorron Kline. “People have sold their homes and cars and even so, people want to come and are determined to brave these challenging times. Whatever they decide, Telfed will be there for them,” asserts Dorron. “Telfed was born in challenging times when it was established in 1948 during Israel’s War of Independence and we are at war now against an unseen enemy and we are all ready to meet this challenge.”

Such determination is evident with a young man immigrating next month  from South Africa who will be going straight into the IDF. “Not only is he still determined to enlist during these trying times,” says Dorron,  “but he wants to come earlier to Israel to enable him to complete his 14-day quarantine period before his call-up date.” Only the day before, “we had a 19-year-old, young woman from Australia who just made Aliyah, so yes, despite the situation, people are still coming.”

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Fear Of Coronavirus. Usually crowded with tourists, the empty square outside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Even with the enormous pressures on Telfed’s staff who are alternating between working from home and the head office in Ra’anana, “we are calling all immigrants who arrived in the last six months from South Africa and Australia  to  find out how they are coping and if their need any assistance. We have also created a special Coronavirus platform on our  Telfed website where people can on-line ask for any assistance and others in the community can volunteer to help them. We are connecting those in need with those who can help.”

An example of how successfully the project works, Dorron sites “a new South African immigrant who was in quarantine and who ran out of her medicine. She posted this on the Telfed website  and in a few minutes, someone responded and offered to go the pharmacy and bring her the medicine.”

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Welcome To Israel. An empty arrival hall at Ben-Gurion International Airport on March 11, 2020. Photo by Flash90.

Yael Katsman, Vice President of Public Relations and Communication at Nefesh B’Nefesh – which supports Aliyah from North America and the UK –  told The Jerusalem Post earlier in the week that in spite of the coronavirus crisis and despite the restrictive conditions, “Aliyah is continuing. We have a group of 24 olim arriving Thursday who are going to be remotely processed, which is a first.” The composition of the group are of diverse backgrounds and ages – families, retires and singles and that only a few of the elderly had decided to postpone. And as to the immediate future, Katsman says that in the period leading up to Passover in April, “We are expecting about 60 to 70 olim. At the moment, a very positive indicator is that people who had planned to come are still coming regardless of this new reality.”

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Happy To Be Home. American David Bassous, who made aliyah from Highland Park, N.J. Credit: Courtesy.

One recent arrival is David Bassous who made aliyah over a week ago from Highland Park, N.J. “I didn’t realize how hard quarantine would be,” he admits. “The hardest part being unable to go outside or see the kids and grandchildren.”

However, he  figured that Israel “is one of the safest places to be right now because of its proactive policy—one of the strictest in the world.” Nevertheless  “I was still shocked when I landed and witnessed Ben-Gurion Airport deserted.”

Still, says Bassous, he’s “so happy to be home after a 2,500-year exile.”

There are a lot of Jews around the world  – Coronavirus or not – who share his enthusiasm. They can live for a while being two meters apart from the next person, but not being apart from their ancestral homeland.

 

 

At this time of difficulty and danger, here is a  Healing Prayer from Jerusalem

 

 

 

*Feature Picture: New Immigrants to Israel Jump Right In to Coronavirus Quarantine – Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau, World Chairman of KKL-JNF Daniel Atar, and Co-Founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh Tony Gelbart with Olim moving to Israel’s periphery (photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN COURTESY OF NEFESH B’NEFESH)