Braving Bidud

My ‘bidud diary’ or exasperated rant!

By Martine Maron Alperstein

Day 11 of bidud (isolation due to exposure to a positive covid-19 person) and I’m tearing my hair out. The level of irritation, impatience, anger and frustration is through the roof. I don’t know what to do with myself. 

I had seen friends who had been in bidud and were traumatised, doing everything they could to avoid repeating the situation. I did not understand. What is the big deal? It is no different from lockdown.

Oh boy, was I mistaken! 

I am fully aware that things could be so much worse. Thank G-d our bidud is just precautionary and that nobody is sick. I appreciate that we have a garden and a mirpeset (balcony), which so many don’t. I am beyond blessed with my incredible network of friends and family who have gone out of their way to help. I have WhatsApp and Zoom and online shopping. Yeh, I know.  But for now I just want to allow myself to feel, to be in the moment and to let it all out. Because until now, I have been numb.

Ice cold, stoney, brick wall numb. 

In Bidud. Staring out the window. (Photo: d3sign/Moment/Getty Images)

I have not been able to focus on the job search. I have not been able to work on my CV, my branding, my elevator pitch or my LinkedIn. It has been almost two months and no sign of Dmei Avtala (Unemployment payments). I am unable to continue with any of the courses to improve my skill set. I cannot reach out and network. I cannot pick up the phone and connect with the amutot (Israeli charities) that I am planning to donate my time to. I am not able to work on our current proposal.  I am not able to be there fully for my kids who are both anxious at the best of times, levels of which are currently through the roof. Their need to be close and for attention is on a whole new level. I haven’t cooked a meal in two weeks (and I love to cook). I cannot support my husband who is in the middle of his annual stress – US tax season. And I am not answering the phone. You want to connect with me – send me a WhatsApp or an email. I cannot sit through a conversation. I have not had what it takes to get off my butt and exercise (yes, I know it probably would have made the world of difference to my mood). And I have zero patience for teachers right now – the most engaged, involved and connected parent always – leave me the $#(@ alone.

I am disconnected. I have not been present. I have not been living in the moment. I have been numb. Numb. Numb. Numb. The only way I could cope was to be numb. Totally numb.

But really I am angry. I am pissed. I am hurt. I am frustrated. I want to scream and swear and stamp my feet. I want to punch the wall. But most of all…. I want to cry.

Big Brother is Watching. Mobile data allows authorities to know where users are at any time

In two weeks I have not seen my parents, and at this stage of life, every minute counts. I have not been able to see and connect with my dearest friends who are like family. I am such a social person. I am so happy surrounded by my peeps. I have had to watch the world continue around us while we sit still. I have had to watch my child breaking down because her class is carrying on without her – my child who was so badly bullied in elementary school, who has struggled and fought so hard to find her place, who is finally thriving (she was voted onto the Moetset Talmidot – Student Council) – down and miserable because she is being left behind.

But the real volcano in me is pushed to the limit, to the point where the lava is starting to shoot out with force, is when I see, read and hear the stupid, selfish, arrogant and irresponsible actions of so many. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. The numbers are increasing again worldwide. We have not come close to containing, controlling or eradicating this revolting virus. Get a grip! Follow the guidelines! Be super responsible – go above and beyond. You are not G-d and you are not above it all. You are a person with a head and a heart. Use it properly.

Those who know me are very aware that I am normally with a smile on my face, I tend to look for the silver lining and the pot at the end of the rainbow. But this time, it was beyond me.

Yes, my faith is rock solid. Yes, I believe the universe has my back. Yes, I know everything happens for a reason. Today, I choose to stay authentic and let the anger and frustration have a voice. I still believe and I still trust.

Maybe next time I’m in bidud (based on what I see around me the probability is high) I will choose gratitude; I will write a gratitude diary and change my perspective.

But for today I am pissed.


(The song that has gotten me through this time)







Martine Maron Alperstein made aliyah from Cape Town 21yrs ago. She currently resides in Modiin with her husband, kids and kitty cats.









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 Right Kind of Notorious

A tribute to the extraordinary Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg

By Rolene Marks

It has been said that if someone passes away during the High Holy days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they must have been a righteous soul.  This past weekend, US Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, died at the age of 87 due to complications from pancreatic cancer. It was first day of Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year.

(Illustration Credit :Casey Wood ’23/The Hawk)

Ruth Bader Ginsberg or Kiki, as she was affectionately called; was one of the most loved and respected public figures in the United States. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the promising young lawyer earned her Bachelor’s degree at Cornell University before studying law at the prestigious Harvard University. One of 9 women in her class of 500; she had married Martin D. Ginsberg and became a mother and balanced all of this with her studies. Theirs was a love story for the ages, and the jurist often referred to her falling for her husband because he valued her for her brain. Ginsburg transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated joint first in her class. After law school, Ginsburg entered academia, becoming a professor at Rutgers Law School and Columbia Law School, teaching civil procedure as one of the few women in her field.

Apart from her stellar academic record, Bader Ginsburg  was a trailblazer for women’s rights, having spent much of her legal career as an advocate for gender equality and winning many arguments before the Supreme Court. She was famous for saying, “women belong in all places where decisions are made” and certainly made sure that women were represented – not merely token placements. Five of the most significant gender based laws that she  helped pass include employers cannot discriminate against workers based on reproductive choices, state-funded schools must include women, the right for women to have financial independence and equal benefits, men being entitled to the same caregiving and social security rights as women and juries to include women.

These were landmark cases and earned Bader Ginsberg the respect and support not only of her colleagues and peers but civil rights activists around the world. A feminist who supported not only gender equality, LGBTQ+ and civil rights, Bader Ginsburg was called a new nickname from the one she grew up with – Notorious RGB.  This was a reference to the late Brooklyn-born rapper The Notorious B.I.G., and she later embraced the moniker. RNG was the right kind of “Notorious”!

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court during the Clinton administration, becoming the second woman and first Jew to serve on this most esteemed body. Her Jewish heritage was something the jurist was extremely proud of and had a clear bearing on her career and decisions.

“I had the good fortune to be a Jew born and raised in the U.S.A. My father left Odessa bound for the New World in 1909, at age 13; my mother was first in her large family to be born here, in 1903, just a few months after her parents and older siblings landed in New York. What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York’s garment district and a Supreme Court Justice? Just one generation, my mother’s life and mine bear witness. Where else but America could that happen?

My heritage as a Jew and my occupation as a judge fit together symmetrically. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition. I take pride in and draw strength from my heritage, as signs in my chambers attest: a large silver mezuzah on my door post, [a] gift from the Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn; on three walls, in artists’ renditions of Hebrew letters, the command from Deuteronomy: “Zedek, zedek, tirdof” — “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Those words are ever-present reminders of what judges must do that they “may thrive.”

More recently this famous self-confessed dissenter expressed her outrage that Jewish women who are Zionist were told that they could not be both Zionists and Feminists. “That is simply not true”, the indignant RBG told Zioness, a movement founded in response to this ridiculous accusation.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg will become the first woman to lie in state until her funeral. This is testament to her massive legacy and extraordinary reputation and level of respect she commanded.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s passing leaves a gaping hole in the continued global feminist movement.  She joins the great women of Jewish history who  left an indelible mark on the world. She was more than notorious, she was righteous.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg (RBG) with Israeli Chief Justice, Esther Hayut



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

His Name was Navid Afkari

Iranian Wrestling Champion murdered by the regime for protesting.

By  Rolene Marks

His name was Navid Afkari. His life was full of promise. A talented sportsman, Afkari was a champion wrestler, proudly representing his country, Iran. He was 27 years old with a glorious future ahead of him. The Iranian regime recently executed champion wrestler, Navid Afkari.

Navid Afkari. Former wrestling champion executed by Iran despite calls to stop death sentence.

Iran is not a country that is synonymous with human rights. In fact, their record is as dismal as it gets. Some of their gross violations include the hanging of members of the LGBTQ community by crane, regardless of age, using lethal force to subdue protests, sometimes even killing hundreds of protestors, suppressing any rights to the freedom of expression and gender discrimination with women’s rights activists also face abuse. Ethnic and religious minorities endure entrenched discrimination. Torture and other ill-treatment, including through the denial of medical care, remain widespread and systematic; and committed with impunity. The right to fair trials is often denied and cruel, inhuman and degrading judicial punishments are carried out. Scores of people have been executed, sometimes in public; several under the age of 18 at the time of the crime.

Iran is routinely called out by human rights advocates for their ongoing violations.

The irony is that global powers who are aware of this, still allow Iran place on international bodies like the UN Commission on Criminal Justice, the Permanent Court of Arbitration and various others.

Looking Back with Anger. Iran executed champion wrestler Navid Afkari despite widespread pleas to spare him, prompting angry reactions from Iranians at home and abroad on social media platforms.

Why would Iran execute one of their star sportsmen? The circumstances surrounding this execution, which many are calling cold-blooded murder smack of conspiracy because Afkari dared use his voice.

Navid Afkari was among the vast crowds who took to the streets during the 2018 protests in Iran, opposing the totalitarian dictatorship of Khamenei and the rapidly deteriorating living conditions. He was arrested and charged with multiple offenses shortly after the protests. Among his charges were “insulting the supreme leader”, “waging war against God (aka. moharebeh)”, and the alleged case of “Hasan Torkman’s murder”.

Hasan Torkman was a secret security agent of IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) which were tasked with silencing the protests and after his death he was buried as a “martyr” by the regime, signifying his position. Akfari strongly denied this blatantly bogus murder charge and there was no evidence linking him to the case. The court sentencing was influenced by two sources that they claim showed him as the murderer. It was obviously a situation where Afkari was framed but what was the Iranian motivation?

Crushing an Icon. Afraid of his influence, Iran executes 27-year-old champion wrestler, Navid Afkari.

It could only have been his high profile as a young champion posed such a threat that he had to be silenced permanently. They could ill afford having their tyrannical views challenged by young people following in his example and demanding change and a better way of living.

Akfari was given two death sentences. 

While Afkari initially confessed to the murder charge, he would later retract stating he had been tortured into making a false confession.  During the hearings he stated:

   “I told the inspector that neither do I know the secret agent (that has been killed), nor have I heard his name! But under torture, and to save my family, and for Vahid (one of his imprisoned brothers), I gave them what they wanted.

Once I had been freed from the pressure of solitary confinement, the basement, and the tortures, once I stepped back onto the prison, I immediately wrote to the judicial offices and filed my complaint (against their use of torture) and screamed that I am not a murderer. I requested them to take me to the forensics bureau (for medical examinations of his scars). Per their report and eye-witness account (of my torture) and other evidences, it was made clear that I had been tortured. No matter the countless times I wrote and pleaded that all my confessions were obtained under torture; or how there is not a single shred of evidence in this damned case that could prove my guilt, but they did not want to hear our voice. I figured they were looking for a neck for their noose.”

Many campaigned to save his life. From human rights groups, online social media campaigns by Iranians, to important people and organisations including U.S. President Donald Trump, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, and UFC President Dana White. A global union representing 85,000 athletes called for Iran’s expulsion from world sport if it executed Afkari. All appealed for Afkari’s life to be saved, but to no avail!

On Saturday, the 12th of September 2020, Navid Afkari was executed. For many, this was cold blooded murder.

The European Union (EU), Olympic Committee and countless others condemned the killing of Afkari:

The European Union condemns this execution in the strongest terms. Human rights remain a central feature of our engagement with Iran. We will continue to engage with Iranian authorities on this issue including through the local EU representation in Tehran and also on individual cases such as this recent execution,” an EU foreign affairs spokesperson said in a statement.

A German foreign ministry spokeswoman also condemned the execution, saying, “There were considerable doubts about the rule of law in the proceedings, and we also take very seriously the allegations that Navid Afkari confessed only under torture.”

The Olympic Committee expressed their outrage and shock.

Condemnations are not enough. Many are calling for Iran to be banned from sports and political bodies for their gross violations of human rights. It cannot be forgotten that Iran is not only guilty of gross human rights abuses; but is also the world’s foremost supporter of state sponsored terror and is responsible for the loss of life in attacks from Buenos Aires to Jerusalem. The killing of a champion to push a political agenda and make him an example to the millions who want to exercise their fundamental right to protest is extremely concerning.

Protests Abroad. Iranian opposition supporttyers of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) protesting the execution of Iranian wrestling champion Navid Afkari on September 12, 2020 in Berlin, Germany

While there were many campaigns and condemnations, the killing of Navid Afkari did not dominate headlines or garner major global reactions. There will be nobody taking a knee for Afkari. Hollywood celebrities will not be putting out impassioned social media statements.

There needs to be justice for Navid Afkari and the countless others killed by the despotic Iranian regime. This will only come when the global outrage is so strong that Iran feels the shame of exclusion from major international agencies and bodies and is roundly condemned and isolated.

His name was Navid Afkari. He was a champion. May his memory be blessed.

Navid Afkari’s last audio message from prison before his execution





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

To my Breslov and Balfour Brothers and Sisters

….And to all brethren who prioritize acting upon their beliefs and desires at the risk of spreading COVID-19 by flouting the regulations

(Courtesy of the Times of Israel blog)

By Richard Shavei-Tzion

I feel your pain!

Having to desist from the sacred acts which you have been performing zealously for decades and which define your lives, seems intolerable.

Passion is a potent component of the human experience. Without it, there would be no oomph to life. It is the catalyst for great love and joy, spirituality and depth, but it can drive hatred and war, destruction and death. None of us have the monopoly on fervour. We do not share Muslim and Christian beliefs, but we can agree that their adherents are as ardent as us in their devotion. Yet this year St. Paul’s Square, the Catholic Holy of Holies, stood empty through Easter as the Pope conducted virtual video services. The Hajj in Mecca was performed by 1,000 symbolic pilgrims rather than the regular two million worshipers.

My Breslov brothers, we have something in common. For many years, we have met at the airport as I too set out annually to far off lands for the High Holidays, to sing the melodies and invoke the magnificent liturgy which has become wrapped around my soul. I will sorely miss this pilgrimage of sorts, made all the more painful by our local rabbi’s judicious decision to strip our services of much of its sublime poetry. While I cannot comprehend the spiritual value of the Rabbi Nachman experience, ordinarily I would defend your right to participate in this ritual as long as it did not impinge on the freedom and safety of others.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men pray close to the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in the Ukrainian city of Uman. (File photo: Reuters/Konstantin Chernichkin)

As for my brothers and sisters who gather en mass every Saturday night outside the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, I admire your commitment. While I am not a great proponent of taking to the streets, I do support your fundamental democratic right to protest and commend your efforts in pursuit of your political principles.

However there are times when we are faced with the competing right to personal freedom and the societal need for order and control. We must all sacrifice one for the other to a degree. Without balances, we can have no liberty to pursue our dreams, mutual and personal.  There are times when matters of life and death, tilt the scales, when sacrosanct individual privilege is outweighed by the right to personal safety, to the protection of life itself. It is our communal misfortune to be living in such times, when the gathering of multitudes has become the seed of suffering and death.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, June 27, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While there are those who claimed at the beginning of the pandemic that they had the “Ear of God” who said that “He would protect the pious”, it turns out that God’s word got lost in the translation. Finally, now that many of the pious of all religions have been stricken by the plague, we must accept what Paul Simon has known for decades. “God only knows, God makes his plan. The information’s unavailable to the mortal man.” (Slip Slidin’ Away.)

As for our Balfourites, you will agree that actualizing your license to protest thereby exposing thousands of heavy breathers to contact with one another has not managed to tilt the balance of power an iota. In addition, perhaps gathering outdoors reduces risk but it does not eliminate it.

So many people have sacrificed so much in compliance with the harsh decrees imposed upon us. If there is great disappointment in being deprived of a seminal once-a-week or annual event, consider the anguish young couples have experienced as their once-in-a-lifetime wedding dreams have been shattered. (That is of course unless you are related to the Belz Rebbe or an insider in the celeb scene in Tel Aviv or family of an important hamula.) Think of the heartache of parents, siblings and offspring who this year on Remembrance Day, with great, silent forbearance, forfeited their holy right to visit the graves of their loved ones who have fallen in the defense of our nation, in order to protect us all.

For the first time since Israel’s founding, military cemeteries on Israel’s 2020 Memorial Day to the country’s war dead were blocked off due to Covid-19 with people asked to pay their respects in private. Seen here  was the normally busy market in Jerusalem during the sound of the siren.

Representatives of both your camps point fingers at each other, reminding us of the other side’s transgressions. Please understand, not only do two wrongs not make a right, they also make fertile ground for disease and hardship.  This is not the time to assert one’s claims to freedom of individual expression based on the other’s wrongdoing. This is the moment for cooperation and compromise in a cause that unites us all.

“One Voice” A Gift to Israel. A first-of-its-kind video 15 Choirs from around the world sing “Oseh Shalom” in honor of the State of Israel’s 70th Anniversary. Music: Roman Grinberg. Concept and production: Richard Shavei-Tzion

Imagine the impact you Breslovers would make by declaring that you were ceding your holy experience, just this once, in favor of the safety of the House of Israel. Consider the Kiddush HashemPikuach Nefesh and Or Lagoyim, three of the loftiest Jewish principles achieved by one act of Loving Kindness.

I believe Rabbi Nachman would agree.  

Think of the material support you would accrue for your heartfelt cause if you Balfourites announced that henceforth your protests would be implemented through social media rather than on the streets, in order to ensure the wellbeing of the thousands of attendees and by extension, every citizen in the country.

What a great paradigm of leadership and unity you would all display. How many healthy souls and hearts could you win over to your great causes?

Gratitude in the Corona Age. 60 People share their gratitude for special moments and to special people

Our decrepit leaders have raised the “Divide and Rule” maxim to a new level. Defy them.

Think bigger than the confines of your communes to our greater commonality and we will all be blessed.

[The author has been traveling for many years to serve communities in the Diaspora over the High Holidays]


You’ll Never Walk Alone. The Ramatayim Men’s Choir, Jerusalem sends a blessing in this time of Carona



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Richard Shavei-Tzion is a widely published poet and is the author of “Poetry in the Parasha” and the Prayer for the Preservation of the Environment. His occasional articles on human and Jewish topics have been published around the Jewish world and his photographic images have been displayed in solo and group exhibitions Richard is the director of the Ramatayim Men’s Choir. He manages commercial property and a medical center in Jerusalem.


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

Fabulous Phyllis

Lifetime volunteer for Israel and WIZO turns 100

By Martine Maron Alperstein

Seven months after the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) celebrated its centennial at a conference in January 2020 in Tel Aviv attended by leaders of Jewish communities from 40 countries around the world,  one of its devoted volunteers turned 100.

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Family Ties. Phyllis with her daughter Devorah (right), and granddaughter Simone (Left) at Protea Village, Israel.

Born on the 29th July 1920 in Glasgow, Phyllis (Wolf) Lader moved to Newcastle with her husband Benni Lader in 1940 and then to Bournemouth where she raised her family. At the tender age of 90, Phyllis made aliyah to Protea Village – a retirement home in a rural setting in central Israel. It was to this scenic spot where we visited her just a week after her 100th birthday.

Love it. Love it. Love it….. They are all mine,” says Phyllis as she gazes lovingly at a photo of her children, 23 grandchildren, 95 great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren.

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Letter from the Queen. Queen Elizabeth congratulates Phyllis on turning 100.

Phyllis is an absolute delight and a force of nature. She came shooting down in her motorized scooter, burning up the sidewalk. She was moving so fast that her helper could not keep up and was almost running behind. I was so expecting to see mag wheels and racing stripes. Once she’d applied brakes and come to a gentle (!!) stop, she smiled and her whole face lit up.

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On The Move. Still “driving” at 100, Phyllis Lader with Rolene Marks (L) and the author, Martine Maron Alperstein (R) 

Phyllis grew up surrounded by WIZO chaverot. She relayed stories of garden parties, coffee mornings and other WIZO related events. Her mother would knit feral sweaters in pastels for the summer and fall colours for the winter that were donated to WIZO to be sold to raise funds. She would also donate a very special white sweater to be used as a raffle prize. The WIZO chaverot were fiercely Zionistic and worked to support Jewish women and children in Palestine. Glasgow at the time had a very large Jewish community that was centered around 12 different Synagogues. On a Wednesday, her mother took her to the Board of Guardian’s soup kitchen in a very poor part of Glasgow where they helped to feed Jewish refugees who had fled Europe. Every day was something else. Wednesday was soup kitchen, Thursday was a clothing and boots bazaar. Everyone helped. No Jew went hungry.

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The Phyllis Files. All you ever wanted to know – and more – about Phyllis.

Over the years, Phyllis spent time as both the WIZO chapter co-chairman and the secretary. Her daughter remembers the dining room table would always be covered in WIZO logoed paper.  Women’s week was an annual event where the chaverot would go door to door, educating about WIZO work and projects, and raising money for the women and children in Palestine. At 42, 4 older kids and very involved with both WIZO and Emunah, she discovered she was pregnant. But even a young baby did not hold Phyllis back. Baby Sharon attended committee meetings, events, coffee mornings and was pushed door to door in her pram while Phyllis went about collecting donations.

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Star Centenarian. Celebrating 100 Years of WIZO (1920-2020) a timespan share by the women’s organization star volunteer, Phyllis Lader.

To celebrate her Silver Wedding Anniversary, Phyllis flew to Israel for a 3 week tour with WIZO. Her husband did not like to fly, so she filled the freezer and came on her own while he stayed in Bournemouth and took care of their 5 kids. Phyllis and the chaverot spent a week in Haifa, a week in Herzlia and a week in Jerusalem, spending time with the group and visiting various WIZO projects around the country. In Haifa, she broke away from the group, deciding to explore a bit on her own and low and behold what did she discover??? A WIZO shop. She was so excited and would not leave without buying something. She bought a gorgeous amber ring which she loved for all the right reasons and is now worn affectionately by her granddaughter, Simone.

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Ring True. A gorgeous amber ring purchased at the WIZO Haifa store today worn lovingly by her granddaughter, Simone.

Phyllis’s message to the younger women of today, is get involved, give of yourself and of your time. Charity is not only about money, it is about doing. Helping and enabling someone who is mentally, physically or financially challenged, is priceless. You change their lives by helping them in whatever way they need, and you can. It is a team effort and every part, every effort, every gesture big or small, is valuable and makes a difference.

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Full Bodied and Smooth. Phyllis is a perfect example of a single malt.

Corona virus has forced us all to pause, take a look at our lives and think carefully about what is important and meaningful. Take the time to appreciate the flowers.

Places to go! Things to do! Turning 100 has not slowed Phyllis down!

About the writer:

Martine Maron Alperstein.jpgMartine Maron Alperstein Chairman of WIZO Modi’in English Speakers, made aliyah from Cape Town 21yrs ago. She currently resides in Modiin with her husband, kids and kitty cats.

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

Testing Times

Johannesburg Jewish Community came to my Rescue

By Neo Nino Mofokeng

One can understand while living through a pandemic that every community would be overwhelmed by the needs of their own and therefore concerned first for the wellbeing of those closest.

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City Life. Anxious times for all citizens as cars line up at a private Covid-19 testing station in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg.

It would hardly be surprising then for help to the ‘other,’  who are not of one’s community or nation,  to be way back in the queue.

On a global level, we see this attitude play out in the international rush for a Covid-19 vaccine. Trump’s inciteful and isolationist “America First” policy may well turn the race to develop and distribute the vaccine into a global vaccine brawl, leaving the poorer countries behind in the rush to procure doses. We saw this scenario play out before with Trump when he incited his own states into ‘Bidding Wars’ to obtain medical equipment to combat Coronavirus!

It should then not come as a surprise for this mentality to permeate down from “My Country First” to “My Community First’!

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Tense Times. A South African police officer carrying a whip checks the essential services permit of a visibly anxious woman waiting for a minibus taxi to go home in Johannesburg.

However, not so in my personal case!

Seven weeks ago I suffered a mental breakdown during South Africa’s ‘Stage 5’ hard lockdown and I needed support – badly!

The unimaginable happened in my most difficult, lonely and challenging time.

The Johannesburg Jewish community came to my rescue.

It was an experience I feel important to share.

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Hello. Poster of a Legal Aid clinic in South Africa drawing attention to the issues of mental health.

On the 20th of May, a freezing cold winter morning, I decided to take the bull by the horns – the “bull” being my mental health that had deteriorated dramatically because of the lockdown. I was on the tipping edge towards a mental breakdown.

The situation as it was, I was not alone. I was one of many across the nation struggling to cope mentally because of the hard restrictions imposed by the government. The unending news of the pandemic that we were subjected to on a daily basis from the mainstream media added to my feelings of anxiety.

The times were unprecedented and combined with the added stress over a range of issues from family matters, to work and studies, I simply could not cope.

I was in a bad, bad space. Every day I pretended to be strong and happy on the outside, which was not the case on the inside.

I had trouble sleeping.  My sleep was drastically reduced to nonexistent throughout the days prior to my mental breakdown.

At the time when I decided to take the bull by its horns, my smartphone recorded my sleeping hours at only 1 hour 30 minutes. I suffered from acute insomnia, which intensified in the weeks leading up to my breakdown.

On that day, the 20th May, after struggling to sleep, I woke up early and travelled to the local hospital about 20 minutes away from my home.

Little did I know what awaited me – the rigorous coronavirus screening and testing and the snail’s pace service due to extra precautions!

It was the beginning of a very long day. I was only admitted 18 hours after arriving at the hospital at 05:30 AM.

My family arrived but later had to leave and I felt alone.

All during the day at the hospital, I cried for help by sharing my situation with people within my established community.

It fell on deaf ears. I received no support or aid!

Then I did something that many people would think as controversial due to the sensitivities around mental health-related issues.

I shared my tale and predicament on Facebook through a thread of posts and live stream videos. Later on, I even shared my private WhatsApp details.

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We Shall Overcome. LifeLine Johannesburg provides counselling and connects with people, giving them the tools they need to better handle stress and improve their emotional health.

Immediately after doing so, support from many people I know only as acquaintances; even strangers, and a few old friends started pouring in.

Right after that, Micki Jacobs and Mignon Milwid who are Jewish counsellors at Lifeline Johannesburg and Chai FM radio station, reached out to me through WhatsApp communications.

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We Hear You. South Africa’s Jewish community radio station based in Johannesburg, ChaiFM responded to the writer’s cry for help.

Both Micki and Mignon were total strangers.

Micki Jacobs sent me a WhatsApp voice note with a sober, caring voice and her texts offering to assist me was the best thing that could have happened to me, in light of the situation.

Mignon, communicated with me via texts, checking whether I was fine or not.

This melted my heart to the core. I was so grateful and at the same time amused, surprised, bewildered that I, this ‘Black lad from the Vaal’, could receive assistance from the Johannesburg Jewish community. The individuals and counselling services that mostly are there I thought to serve the needs of the Jewish community were there to help ME. Deeply moved, my frame of mind started to improve knowing there were people who not only genuinely cared but were ready to immediately help.

As for my own community, the less said the better. They were nowhere to be seen or heard in coming to my aid. This even after I reached out to the leadership through email and WhatsApp about my condition. They ignored me, which makes the unexpected assistance I received from the Jewish community all the more valued.

The diagnosis I received was “burnout”, “exhaustion” and “anxiety”. I received medical attention, which included being admitted to the for several days.

The purpose of me sharing this story is to express my gratitude to the Jewish community, especially the Lifeline Johannesburg Counsellors, Micki Jacobs and Mignon Milwid, and to shine light on challenging the stigmas around Mental Health.

At this time, when so many of us around the world are feeling overwhelmed and anxious, it is so important to reach out for help. You never know where you might find it!

 

 

About the writer:

Testing Times2.JPGNeo Nino Mofokeng is a Business Administration student and a volunteer tour guide and educator at the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.