Wanted: A Runner with Soul

By Stephen Schulman

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

“Wanted: A Runner with Soul!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

Seeing the Wood from the Trees

Recognising the dangers today averts disasters tomorrow

With Israel embattled and imperilled by venomous word and deed, 2020 “Yakir Ha’Ir Tel Aviv” Award recipient and prominent civil rights activist Jonathan Danilowitz, airs his views and his concerns

What makes us tick? What is it,  deep inside us that gives us the drive to fight on, to survive, to win and to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our families? Surely, it’s that inherent determination that Mother Nature, in her gift of the survival of the fittest, implanted in our being. It’s the ambition and motivation to survive that keeps us from falling and failing, even at the darkest hour before the dawn.

We, humans, are mostly rational, usually logical, reasonable and cogent. We also have feelings, emotions and the ability to reason. We are exposed to information all the time and most of us have the ability to judge, to evaluate and most importantly – to critique the “facts” to which we are exposed.

And yet, we sometimes fail, badly. We “shoot ourselves in the foot” by acting against our own best interests. That normally happens after an error of judgement, but sadly, too often, it happens to someone who “cuts off their nose” just to spite their face. In any event, in doing so, that person harms not only his or herself but very often also their family, friends and/or the surrounding community.

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Why do it?

Why would anyone pick up that knife to cut off their nose? Extending the analogy – why would anyone knowingly harm themselves and worse – their family? It could only be because, like shooting oneself in the foot, they have made a serious error of judgement. They have been misled and misinformed by accepting “fake news” as fact. This sometimes happens to serious, thinking people (people like you, dear reader), who really have good intentions and the desire to help others. The pertinent example is the ongoing Arab-Israel conflict; a conflict that has been ongoing from way, way before the State of Israel was re-established in 1948 within the borders of the historic Land of Israel.

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Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing. What is the difference between the murderers and the financers of the murders?

It isn’t within the scope of this essay to review the historical facts (real or imagined) concerning the conflict. For the sake of argument let us assume that each side has been wronged; let us assume that both sides are right in their demands. And let’s go even one step further: let us assume that the Arabs are always right, and that Israel is always wrong. (Yes, there are people who still believe that.)

Now imagine that you want to be fair and decent. Obviously, you’ll side with right against wrong. But imagine too, that by doing so, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Now try to envisage how ghastly and tragic that would be if you are even partially mistaken about who is right in the conflict!

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Sponsoring Murder. The Sbarro pizzeria following a suicide bombing that killed 15 civilians, including 7 children and a pregnant woman, and wounded 130. As of 2019, the “Sbarro terrorists’ have received $910,823 in “pay-for-slay” funding. Female terrorist Ahlam Tamimi, who planned the event, and today a free resident in Jordan, said she has “no regrets.”

Can you accept that the supposedly “right” party – in this case, the Palestinian Authority – actually pays murderers a monthly salary for having slaughtered innocent civilians? Those suicide bombers are considered to be martyrs and are canonized? Can any modern, educated, 21st-century civilized human being actually believe that such heinous government-level support of terrorism can be “right”?

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Blood Money. The Palestinian Authority increases terrorists’ stipends despite claiming it is on the verge of bankruptcy.

If we are to genuinely embark on the road to peace, basic norms of civilizations need to be adhered to. Otherwise, we are setting aside reason to take a leap of faith into a certain “Danger Zone”.

The signs along this journey are clear and visible for all to see.

We have been warned!

 

 

 

 

About the writer:

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Jonathan Danilowitz is a human, civil and animal rights activist who made Israeli caselaw history when he successfully sued Israel’s national airline, El Al, for failure to recognise his same-sex partner as his common-law spouse. The Supreme Court ruling is considered to be one of its most important decisions, and is featured in the Museum of the Court in Jerusalem. He is also the author of ‘Flying Colors’,  an intimate and revealing look of a flight attendant “thirty years at thirty thousand feet – from Apartheid to Israeli gay rights”.  He is a 2020 recipient of the City of Tel Aviv Yakir Award.

 

 

 

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

Jan Smuts vs Corona

A colossus against global evil – the Nazis –  how would South Africa’s WWII leader have shone today against a global disease – Covid-19?

By Philip Weyers, great-grandson of General Jan Smuts.

A few days ago, “Lay of the Land” Editor, Dave Kaplan, posed to me what I thought to be an interesting question:

“How would a Jan Smuts’ government have dealt with the Corona crisis?”

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Professor Frederic William Maitland (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

Before being a Soldier-Statesman, my grandfather was a brilliant scholar. While one of his tutors,  Professor Frederic William Maitland – regarded as the modern father of English legal history – said of Smuts “the most brilliant student” he had ever met,  Lord Todd, the Master  of Christ’s College, said that “in 500 years of the College’s history, of all its members, past and present, three had been truly outstanding – John MiltonCharles Darwin and Jan Smuts.”

While offered by his old Cambridge college, Christ’s College, a fellowship in Law, he declined, choosing instead to return to the Cape Colony, determined to make his future there. He sure did!

Apart from leading his country inspirationally through WWII, Smuts contributed substantially to the creation of both the League of Nations and the United Nations – writing the preface to the U.N. Charter. Participating in so many milestone happenings of the 20th century, it should come as little surprise  that the only person to have signed the charters of both the League of Nations and the United Nations was General Jan Christiaan Smuts. Sadly, Smuts’ United Party lost the election in 1948 to the Nationalist Party of D.F. Malan that introduced Apartheid  – system of institutionalised racial segregation – that existed to the early 1990s.

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Mobilising People Support. Smuts won the South African vote to join the war against the Nazis.

Of course with Smuts gone for nearly 70 years any attempt to answer the question relating to Corona would be purely speculative and based on our understanding of his personality and how in the past he confronted monumental challenges.

I do however believe we have sufficient evidence to create at least some credible scenarios.

Covid-19 made its presence known with people dying in droves in Wuhan, China, subsequently high percentage of deaths followed in Italy, Spain, the UK and the USA where New York City has been the worst hit.

The South African Government did react relatively swiftly applying lockdown measures with individual movement restricted to medical reasons and the purchase of essential items. Socialising of any nature was forbidden. Initially there was understanding and compliance from the vast majority of the urban population, but in the informal settlements, life continued much as usual. It is important to note that the initial lockdown included prohibitions on the sale or purchase of inter alia cars, clothing, hardware, children’s toys, stationery including puzzles and of course the two “sin” items – alcohol and tobacco products.

 

It is reasonable to believe that Jan Smuts would have reacted in much the same manner initially; he would have been attempting by best means possible to combat what was for the entire world  – a complete unknown. It is also fair to believe that Smuts would have permitted a larger component of the South African economy to remain active than was the case, under conditions to minimise the transmission of the disease.

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Two Men And A Baby. In the gardens of the British Embassy in Cairo on the 23rd August, 1942, Winston Churchill (left) and Jan Smuts fuss over Victor Lampson, the baby son of the British Ambassador. (Photo: Birmingham Mail and Pos)

After nearly five weeks of what was advised to be “Stage-5” of the lockdown, President Ramaphosa advised that their efforts had been successful in slowing down the spread of Covid-19 and that there was to be a move to “Stage-4” on 1 May. Perplexing the public – some amusingly others irritatingly – the sale of alcohol remained illegal, while tobacco products could again be purchased. Much joy and relief followed this announcement, not least of all the11 million South Africans who smoke!

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Corona Crazy. A cartoon by Zapiro in the Daily Maverick that satirizes South Africa’s policies to Corona.

Those who were missing a drink resorted either to the highly active and exorbitant black-market or started brewing their own mampoer  – South Africa’s highly intoxicating “moonshine” derived mainly from pineapple. Within days of President Ramaphosa announcing a relaxation of the sale of tobacco products, it was announced by Nkosana Dhlamini-Zuma, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, that the matter had been re-assessed and the tobacco would remain embargoed, resulting in astonishment and much anger amongst the population.

It is at this point I believe that Jan Smuts’ path would have taken a significantly divergent course to that adopted by the South African Government, and in a number of ways.

The Great Communicator

Jan Smuts was an accomplished communicator, and believed in the value of accurate, comprehensive, and regular communications. He was a prodigious correspondent and a highly accomplished writer – in longhand – of his own speeches. It would be inconceivable that at a time of such perceived threat and uncertainty, he would not regularly appear on all media platforms, placating and reassuring the population, certainly he would not have been silent for weeks at a stretch.

We can see today from Smuts’ many speeches how his voice resonated with his audience and how he instilled confidence. This is precisely what is needed today and is surely lacking!

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General Jan Christiaan Smuts

Furthermore, it would be inconceivable to believe that a Smuts Government would not have consulted every credible source of expertise covering such essential aspects as the economy, medical (in particular epidemiologists both locally and abroad), commerce and business and modelled the regulations imposed according to guidelines that he would have gleaned from such consultations. A balance between all critical elements would have been achieved as far as possible.

Smuts would have realised from the start that trying to legislate a population into compliance, would have produced at best short-term results. He would not have been autocratic, aggressive nor condescending when dealing with the people. He would have been well aware that compliance would result from cooperation rather than legislation, particularly when the regulations would seem  – with some justification –  to be nonsensical and of little tangible value.

To achieve public compliance would invariably have involved law-enforcement but certainly no heavy-handed and unnecessary force. Violent enforcement would not have been tolerated – particularly of petty contraventions.

There can be no doubt that following the initial lockdown and greater scientific data became available offering the wisest counsel to this “mystery disease”, Smuts would have moved swiftly to get the economy back on track. It would have been clear to Smuts that without revenue, a government is restricted in its ability to control or treat the virus.

Disrespect To Disregard

Essential to gaining the people’s support and compliance is to return their lives to as normal a situation as possible. Smuts would realise that a population will only adhere to regulations while they present at least some logic and make sense even at an unsophisticated level. Nonsensical and seemingly irrelevant restrictions would enjoy a short period of compliance before the public at large despaired and disregarded them. The extended restrictions on clothing, for one, were apparently devoid of logic and benefit.

One could buy a long-sleeved shirt, but not a short-sleeved one! Ladies could buy “winter” shoes but not shoes with open toes!

Smuts would not have countenanced such nonsensical regulations believing them rather to further aggravate an already incensed population.

One can of course hypothesize almost without end how the ‘soldier-statesman’ Smuts would have mounted a campaign to counter Corona. In truth, we could never really know. I sense that a Smuts Government would not have acted very differently to the Ramaphosa government in the initial four-week period, but beyond that period, there would have been a marked divergence.

Therefore I feel confident to surmise, that under a Smuts leadership, South Africans would be in far better position than that in which we currently find ourselves.

 

 

About The Writer

PHILIP WEYERS1.jpgPhilip Weyers is Past Executive Director of General Smuts Foundation. An “Amateur historian” on Jan Smuts, the South African Air Force and the Royal Air Force, Weyers is President Emeritus of the South African Air Force Association. He is currently a member of SAAFA NEC; SAAF/SAAFA Liaison, Foreign Relations. As a “Friend of Israel” and like the “Oubaas”, a confirmed Christian Zionist, he addresses audiences in Israel and England.

 

 

 

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.

‘Marathon Man’

From running marathons to running Israel’s medical system, Ichilov Hospital’s Prof. Ronni Gamzu is now overseeing Israel’s senior living facilities

By David E. Kaplan

While Corona grounded Israel’s traditional Independence Day flyover, it did not stop four training planes taking off and flying over the hospitals throughout the State of Israel in salute to the medical teams who  – like our soldiers in uniform – are risking their lives daily.

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Aerial Appreciation. The Israeli air force devoted its annual fly-by to health workers, with four planes crisscrossing the nation and performing aerial acrobatics over hospitals and medical centers.

From my balcony in Kfar Saba, our family watched the planes fly over nearby Meir Hospital and then two of them perform a spectacular vertical maneuver leaving a huge while trail in the sky in the shape of a giant heart.

Residents from balconies draped in the blue and white Israeli flags, clapped and cheered. Everyone knew someone affected by Corona whose lives were dependent on the men and woman to whom the pilots in these planes were paying tribute.

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Independence Day. Looking as if he had just crossed the finishing line in a marathon, CEO of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Ronni Gamzu, cheers with his team members the Israeli Air Force acrobatic team flying over Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv on Israel’s 72nd Independence Day. April 29, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

One of the most vulnerable sectors of the population are our seniors and so my thoughts went out to Prof. Ronni Gamzu who I had interviewed back in 2016 for Hilton Israel Magazine and had been pleased to learn had in early April 2020 been placed in charge of the Ministry of Health’s efforts to combat the virus in homes for the elderly. In other words – to oversee senior living facilities throughout Israel.

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Tomorrow’s Man Today. Professor Ronni Gamzu in front of the Morris Kahn Research in Personalized Medicine Research Center at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. Sponsored by the Israeli entrepreneur and philanthropist, former South African Morris Kahn, the Centre hosts state-of-the-art research laboratories, where scientists, researchers, and doctors from diverse disciplines conduct research destined to define the future of medicine.

His appointment followed a number of coronavirus-related deaths in homes for the elderly followed by a public outcry and a High Court petition to which the state was required to respond. The Health Ministry responded – most notably by appointing Prof. Gamzu, the director general of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center aka Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, to coordinate between government departments and formulate a national plan of action.

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Exporting Expertise. With Israel frequently hosting overseas delegations keen to learn more about Israel’s unique system of Public Health, seen here is Prof. Ronni Gamzu (left) then Director-General of Israel’s Ministry of Health hosting a delegation from France, led by its Minister of Health, Marisol Touraine (right).

Within a few days, residents at senior living facilities were being tested around the country.  My thoughts went back to that interview looking at the huge heart in the sky.

On the late afternoon of our interview in 2016, this gynaecologist and obstetrician who had brought “over 1000 babies into the world,” had his own to look after – his young baby daughter, Anouk – “our first”. So instead of meeting at Ichilov Hospital, we met in a garden in Ramat Gan, within “easy running distance” to the hospital and his home – whichever emergency might summon him at any moment. The interview proceeded uninterrupted with neither a ‘cry’ from Anouk nor patients.

It was well known that back in 2016 Prof. Gamzu participated in major marathons around the world which invited my first question. His answer proved revealing – a metaphor on his approach to medicine.

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On Track. Prof. Ronni Gamzu (left) with overseas participant at  the  Tel Aviv 2016 Marathon. 

Running in the London, Paris, New York and Tel Aviv marathons, explained Gamsu “is very different than running in the Jerusalem marathon which is hilly.” The point the professor was making is that conditions and topography vary, and one must correctly read the landscape and understand its complexity to successfully negotiate “the road ahead”.

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Dream Team. Prof. Ronni Gamzu CEO of Ichilov hospital (9th from right) with hospital staff at the 2016 Tel Aviv Marathon.

Prof. Gamzu has always been focused on “the road ahead”. This would explain how he perceived early in his career, the need to be equipped with a broad and varied education that spread well beyond the discipline of medicine.

Following degrees in medicine at Ben Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and a PhD in fertility research from Tel Aviv University (TAU), I asked why he felt the need to add to his academic armory an MBA and a degree in law.

“Well, ‘armory’ is the right word,” he replied because “these degrees literally helped me to surmount loads of legalese and achieve goals that I may not have without them.”

During his earlier tenure as the Director General of the Health Ministry (2010-2014), he explained, “we made major progress in expanding the general services covered by our national health insurance. My predecessors in the Health Ministry tried for years without success – always coming up against a bureaucratic wall; not seeing a way forward. With my legal background, I found a way around it.”

“What do you mean by “a way around”?” I asked.

“The standard approach was to look to the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) to either pass or amend legislation. This is understandable but problematic because of political coalitions and so many competing interests that, to reach consensus about extending provision for any public service, is never easy. Military matters are always easier because they are considered a national existential issue. This is not the case with social services. This is unfortunate as the issues from education to public medicine are no less existential to the wellbeing of a nation.”

So, with his legal training, “I buried myself in reading all legislation pertaining to national medical coverage and realised that we did not need to proceed through the Knesset – we could bypass it, as there were pre-existing regulations that permitted us to proceed forward. In this way, we made major breakthroughs that have dramatically changed the lives of Israeli citizens.”

Can you cite examples?

“Yes, we expanded our general health services to include mental health issues that had been limited, and dental care that had been mostly private, and prohibitively expensive. Under the new plan, family doctors started referring patients with emotional and mental problems – such as depression, phobias or panic attacks – to psychiatrists, psychologists and other therapists for treatment, without themselves writing prescriptions for psychiatric drugs, as they did before.”

With regard to extending dental services, he explained:

“Dental hygiene is no less important than other areas of personal health. Periodontal or gum disease that ranges from simple gum inflammation to serious disease that results in major damage to the soft tissue and bone that support the teeth, affects too many Israelis of all ages. It is important to treat at a young age so that teeth are not lost in early adulthood. Whether gum disease is stopped, slowed, or gets worse depends a great deal on how well people care for their teeth; this requires regular diagnosis by professionals and this is where we came in, making it affordable to those who had previously neglected their teethnot because they felt it was less important – but because they felt they could not afford going to private dentists and hygienists.”

Under the new system, Gamzu explained, “they still pay but considerably less with the result that dental health has now become affordable – not the luxury of the wealthy, but a right to all. The new system of dental cover is now more in line with the fundamental egalitarian philosophy of Israel’s founding fathers.”

Asking what specifically he meant by this, Gamzu replied, “Well Israel can be truly proud of not only its superlative cutting edge medical services but of how we provide this quality service to all our citizens at affordable costs to the recipient.

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Health Services To New Nation. Residents of a Ma’abara (transitional settlement for new immigrants) near Tel Aviv waiting in line outside a “Kupat Cholim” clinic in 1949, one year after the establishment of the State of Israel.

For this, Gamzu said “we are indebted to the founding fathers of the modern State of Israel.” Combining the traditional Jewish concern for all people with an emphasis on societal needs, “the Zionist Movement in pre-state Israel, regarded public health as a top social, political and economic priority. By the time Israel declared its independence in 1948, we already had a national health infrastructure in place.”

Gamzu cited as examples “Tipat Halav (Mother-and-child care centers) administering vaccinations to new-born babies and counseling parents on proper care for their infants, and Kupot Cholim (Health insurance funds) offering day-to-day consultations with doctors and specialists, and insured members for hospitalization.”

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Health For All. Long before the state of Israel was established in 1948, Tipat Halav (“Drop of Milk”) family health stations were established for everyone regardless of race and religion (Courtesy of Hadassah Women’s Organization).

With medical cover a challenge in any society, “and we see how it dominates debate in US elections,” I asked how will Israel sustain its special features of affordable cover to all?

“You are right; it is a challenge of our public health system and it’s a challenge that I am committed to,” answered Gamzu. “However, we have seen that even with Israel’s transformation from a socialist to a capitalist economy, some of our most cherished values remained intact because it’s part of our ethos and ingrained in our culture. As future needs arise as was the case in extending services for mental and dental health, so we need to be on guard and adhere to our founding principles.”

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Flowering Achievement. Beth Protea in Herzliya, one of the many retirement facilities across Israel where residents and staff were all tested for Coronavirus. One of its first residents was the late Rona Baram (née Moss-Morris from Durban, South Africa) when as a pioneer on kibbutz Kfar Blum, opened the first Tipat Halav (family health clinic) in Kiryat Shmona in the north of Israel in the 1940s.

“Do you think Israel can teach the world about its concept of Public Health?” I enquired.

“Sure, and we do. Israel has been a pioneer in the practice of Public Health, and we host many visitors – particularly from the developing world –  keen to learn of how Israel developed its system of Public Health. Just so we understand, while medicine treats the health needs of an individual, Public Health (also known as public or social medicine) deals with the health requirements of society as a whole and despite absorbing wave after wave of immigrations, bringing with it a host of medical challenges, Israel has one of the world’s healthiest populations with one of the highest average life expectancies in the world.”

I reflected on that 2016 interview as I gazed from my balcony on this Corona Yom Ha’atzmaut upon the giant heart in the sky over Meir Hospital and thought that despite our enormous challenges, we can be thankful for  Israel’s unique health system.

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Reunited. With Restrictions eased, 82-Year-old Malka Gamzu rubs elbows with her son Ronni.

There is a reason why Jews, when toasting, prefer to say “Le’Chaim” instead of “Cheers”.

After all, what can be more important to cheer about than “to Life”?

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Heroes In Green. Acknowledging the salute of appreciation, hospital staff wave national flags as the Israeli Air Force (IAF) fly over during Israel’s Independence day celebrations. (PIC: AFP)

Flags Of Hope!

By Gina Jacobson

This past week Israel celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut, our 72 Independence Day!

Usually this day is celebrated with fireworks, concerts, ceremonies, and parties. People gather on the beaches, in the forests and in the parks.

Not so this year.  Covid-19 put the kibosh on all of that. Israelis were relegated to celebrating indoors, in their own homes, under strict lockdown conditions.

What still did happen though; and what happens every year; is that the municipality starts putting up Israeli flags along the streets, on street poles and lamps. They hang blue and white bunting across intersections. This takes place across cities and towns country wide and is very festive!

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Families also decorate their balconies, gardens, and cars with flags. The whole country is proudly blue and white!

A week or so before Yom Ha’atzmaut, I came across a post on Facebook written by someone who was upset that the municipality was, in his opinion, ‘wasting’ money that could have been used towards medical care, equipment and such, because they were putting up these flags.

That comment bugged me. Even now, a week after Yom Ha’atzmaut has come and gone, it’s still bugging me.

I totally understand that our medical needs are huge, that our medical front liners need PPE equipment and that we need more ventilators and that saving lives is the most important thing we can do.

But…I also feel that celebrating our independence, our homeland and our freedom is just as important. Perhaps this is even more so in these troubled and uncertain times.

Seeing those flags made me smile. Seeing those flags made my heart feel lighter. It made me feel connected to people, my fellow citizens, when I had spent almost an entire month in my home with no personal contact with anyone outside of my immediate family.

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(Photo credit: Paul Jacobson.)

Those flags gave me hope.

It was an affirmation. We are Israel!  We are Israelis –  and we can overcome anything that is thrown our way.

So, random Facebook man, I vehemently disagree!

Those flags are not a waste of money. Not at all. They are – Joy, Love and Hope. And they are a promise.

We WILL make it through this.

We WILL survive.

It’s what we do.

 

 

 

 

 

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Gina Jacobson is a mom, a wife, a dreamer. She loves coffee and when she’s not reading, she’s writing.

Soaring Stuff

Susan’s House in Jerusalem inspires youth through art

By Stephen Schulman

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Young Craftsman. Finding their path through creative expression

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

About the writer:

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

The Changing Of The Guard

By Rolene Marks

The numbers are far too many to bear. Their names are etched in our national consciousness. We take succour in tales of their incredible bravery and courage, their daring and chutzpah, their duty and sacrifice. The young men and women who through 72 years of the modern state of Israel have paid the ultimate price in defense of their country and the many who have fallen simply because they were targeted for being Israeli.

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Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Remembrance day and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day are upon us. At the founding of the modern state of Israel, it was decided to have these two national holidays together – a genius idea because we have a heightened sense of the sacrifice and the cost of many for us to have the flourishing, democratic State we call home.

As the sun sets and the flags lowers signaling the start of Yom Hazikaron, our thoughts will turn to those we have lost, and our hearts open a little wider to welcome in their bereaved families. The first siren will wail its mournful cry, which pierces the soul and calls the nation to attention.

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The Cost Of Survival. A nation mourns each year for the loss of loved ones in the defense of the State of Israel.

This year, commemorations will be even more poignant. The threat posed by Covid-19 and new social distancing norms means that visits to military cemeteries which bereaved families and many citizens consider sacred; will be forbidden. There will be no unified ceremonies at the call of the second siren, there will be no heart wrenching poems and prayers.

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Chief of staff, General Aviv Kochavi, salutes and respects, alone, the fallen soldiers.

This Yom Hazikaron, solidarity will take a different form, but it will be as strong as ever. We are at a time when we are acutely reminded of the fragility of life. As those sirens wail, so we will bow our heads and tears will fall. We take 24 hours to go back in time and remember the name of those felled in battle and those whose lives tragically ended. We will remember the names. Names like Yoni Netanyahu, Roi Klein and Michael Levin. Names like Hadar Goldin, Oron Shaul and so many who fell in our defense.

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(L-R) Yoni Netanyahu, Roi Klein, Michael Levin z’l

We remember the names like Taylor Force, Dafna Meir and Hallel Ariel. They suffered stabbings, shootings, suicide bombings and other murderous acts. So many, too many. We will listen to the stories and we will remember them.

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(L- R) Taylor Force, Dafna Meir, Hallel Ariel z’l

We will remember 23,816 soldiers and security forces personnel fallen since the birth of the modern state in 1948. This year, 42 more fallen were added to a list that nobody wants to be on. The IDF also recognizes  83 that were disabled who passed away and are regarded as fallen soldiers and 3,153 citizens who have died from terror attacks.

Behind every number, is a name – and a story. Behind every number are bereaved families, for whom every day is a bitter reminder. Yom Hazikaron is that one day where the whole nation wraps its arms around them. This year we will have to find a new way to do it.

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Memorial Day 2020 without the bereaved families and friends, yet we will remember 23,816 soldiers and security forces personnel fallen since the birth of the modern state in 1948 (Photo: Reuven Castro)

And then in a matter of moments, everything changes.

And as the clock changes, so too, does the mood in Israel. We observe that annual changing of the guard as we move from the intensity of grief to that of gratitude and celebration, understanding full well what sacrifices so many made so we can live in freedom. This year it is even more poignant as the flyovers and fireworks have come to a halt. While the barbecues may be lit, there is a tinge of sadness in the atmosphere as the threat of Coronavirus and social distancing means that we will not gather in each other’s homes, on the beaches and in the forests.  We will celebrate as one – from the safety of our balconies as individuals and families. As we toast to the State of Israel, there will be deeper, meaning to that salute to life – L’Chaim!

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Switchover. Following the end of Yom Hazikaron, Israelis display their nation’s flag as they revel in Independence Day celebrations, May 8, 2019. (Photo/Hadas Parush-Flash90)

There will be a changing of the guard both in traditions and emotions, but distance and restrictions will in no way diminish the unity and pride of Israelis. This is our strength.

 

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.