Weathering the Storm

By Gabi Crouse

Just about everything you read these days is corona-related. There are a million articles by know-it-all’s suggesting “5 ways to keep fit during Corona” or “How Corona saved my marriage” and I’ve even seen one titled “Corona and the great depression”.

Really?

Let’s not kid ourselves, nothing in our lives has not been affected by this pandemic and anything you read will somehow relate to the upside down world that has now become the ‘norm’ – including this article!

Allow me to reflect on some of my observations as a mother, employee and an Olah (“immigrant”).

The Mask Mistaker!

So, the first thing I need to say about all this is that I have accepted that ‘Karen’ is my new nemesis. For the sake of clarity I will admit that I’m not so brazen to be above wearing a mask. Of course I’m not – I wear my mask! On the contrary, I have mastered the choreographed new corona dance called “Oy, I forgot my mask!” The steps are easy: it’s a brisk three-step forward – quick left spin with a simultaneous perfectly timed slap on the forehead – back three steps into the house. That’s it!!! In fact any idiot can do this dance – and often does.

As I was saying regarding the Karens of the world – you know who they are – the power trippers that seem to have nothing better to do than wield their power over suspected corona carriers. They seek out to destroy the slightly falling-off-the-bridge-of-the-nose’ mask wearer. Heaven forbid your nose sticks out by mistake!

So whenever I encounter one of these ‘police’, I take full advantage of my hidden mouth and I spew forth a few profanities that I know they can’t see. Although the eye-roll is a little harder to disguise.

‘Lift’ the rules?

One of Karen’s many duties includes being the bouncer to entrances to stores. This, you should know, is not an easy job. She has to count the amount of people entering and leaving the store as to keep the 2 meters distance between shoppers. Then by waving her magic thermometer-charged wand, allows/denies entry.

Put Your Mask Where Your Mouth Is. Jerusalemites at the Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem’s Old City on June 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

My confusion comes in when all shopping is said and done, and we gather round the elevator – or lifts. I have noticed that most people don’t seem to be as enthusiastic as Karen. Everyone squeezes into that small space and I just know that good old ‘Rona’ rubs hands together relishing at the all-you-can-infect buffet.

In those situations, I don’t need Karen to remind me to lift my mask!

Inspector Zoom

It’s easy enough to laugh at these idiosyncrasies, but when it comes to the education of our children, or lack thereof, the situation becomes less humorous. What does make tears roll down my cheeks (maybe laughing / maybe crying / perhaps both) is the amount of pressure applied on parents, students and teachers. Parents who work full time jobs with homes to run, now find they have a new role. I, for one, do not remember applying for position of teacher/principal/personal assistant. It is not a job I want or am

qualified to do! Besides that, I am not pro pro-bono work! And I am still expected to pay school fees.

Accepting my fate though, I decided to be the best I can be under the circumstances. I printed out forthcoming schedules, set up work-stations for each of my non-obliging students and ensured they each had what they needed. I was ready … I was so ready!!! The cables, the work stations, the time slots for each child who share one laptop and the time prep for food breaks etc. Boy was I ready. This quickly faded.

Once the group chats started firing away like explosions of the 4th of July, my head began to spin. I know I must have reprinted those schedules a hundred time before I finally gave up and left them to stew for a while on my desktop folder.

Some of the WhatsApp groups look like this: ‘Tap this link for this week’s schedule’, followed by ‘no sorry, this one’, then a new one the following week. Then this ‘teacher may not be available today’ and we are sorry but ‘we’re experiencing technical issues’ followed by ‘this class to reschedule in place of the other one’. It’s frenzied. And that is just for one of my children! Did I mention that these are in a language foreign to me and I spend my life jumping to google translate?

It’s one thing to be on top of class schedules for the day but it’s a whole different story getting your students to comply. Some children – God bless them – are willing participants but there are other kinds of children also.

A Student unto Himself

Appealing to the other kind of student with bribery negotiations, warnings and scary face tactics become less and less affective and rewarding for good behavior becomes nonsensical – leaving us parents feeling pretty hopeless. Why? To threaten with punishment or offer a reward is a double edge sward!

What’s the leverage?

What do kids want these days? Screen time, junk food and hanging out with their friends.

If you don’t do your school work, I’ll take away the phone/screen… wait what? That’s not going to work out too well – they need those.

Alternatively, I’m not thrilled by the idea of offering more screen time as a reward all the school screen time. Junk food so they can get sugar highs and crash while sitting at their screens? I think not. And as for friends during lock-down? Poor kids – they lose all round.

Shush! Daddy Needs to Focus. Managing the kids and work at home.

On a more serious note, kids have borne the brunt of the situation from all sides. However, if a positive is to be found, the kids have had to become self-reliant and assume responsibilities. They have had to take ownership of their own education in a lot of ways. This is at best very overwhelming and even more so for olim chadashim (new immigrants) who have yet to come to grips with Hebrew.

For example: each of my children have several different ways of on-line learning and interacting with their schools and teachers. Mashov, Teams, Zoom and one other which is beyond my spectrum of memory (I am NOT tech savvy and God help the child who isn’t!). The kids have to know how to access the lessons using the codes provided, know their schedules which keep changing and have enough Hebrew knowledge to know what to do. It all takes twice the amount of time back and forth to google translate before they even get started. The scope of pressure on these poor olim kids is beyond the realm of reasonable expectation.

Credit Due

I will say that some schools are supportive and worthy of appreciation. In our family, we are exposed to three different school institutions but only one of the schools fully understand the difficulties the olim kids experience. They are helpful and concerned and do everything in their power to support. For the other kids, whose schools are less compassionate, I am forced to outsource assistance which comes at an additional cost. So it goes.

Full House

On the plus side I get to have my kids at home all the time. All day. Day in and day out. How lucky am I?

In addition to keeping me company while I work, they are free to raid the kitchen at any time they feel a slight peckishness – I know this because of the evidence they leave behind. I mean, who needs a clean house anyway? Goodbye to shining clean floors, hello to friendly footprints and crushed pretzels to remind me of my full house.

I am a little sad that my dishwasher handed in its resignation and I am slightly concerned about the black hole in the fridge where there used to be food. Also, the laundry basket has disappeared under its heavy burden along with the cat.

School at Home. An Israeli youth seen during a remote learning at their home in Moshav Haniel, on March 18, 2020. (Photo by Chen Leopold/Flash90)

Change of Heart

Finally though, I would like to mention that we have been dealing with this for long enough to know that we, as humans, are adaptable. However, when we fail to exercise a willingness to adjust some of our ways to accommodate the needs and interests of others, this frequently results in conflict – personal and social.

In the final analysis, while different and divergent thinking around the world is welcome as it reflects the beauty of individuality and creativity, when it is met by intolerance, the results can be regrettably  – and avoidably – destructive.

Perhaps adaptability and flexibility is exactly what the world needs today.



About the writer:

Gabi Crouse1.JPG

Gabi Crouse – Based in Israel, Gabi writes opinions in fields of politics, Judaism, life issues, current social observations as well as creative fiction writing. Having contributed to educational set works and examinations, as well as interviews, Gabi will usually add in a splash of humour.



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 Year of “Awokening”

By Rolene Marks

At the beginning of 2020, the world was filled with glorious positivity for the dawn of a new decade. There were even the memes and joke exchanges to prove it! Then a little understood virus that seemed to be confined to the Wuhan province in China, eventually would become a global pandemic that brought the world to its knees. Millions have contracted this terrifying virus or have died as a result and the global economy is in crisis.

At the outset; and as country after country went into lock down, many took a philosophical or spiritual approach and saw this as an opportunity to “reset”. A chance to re-evaluate what is important in our lives, go back to times that seemed simpler, to learn a lesson in gratitude and to emerge from the crisis with a new perspective and willingness to help each other. We have been in this together and would surely emerge stronger. Wouldn’t we?

When a crisis happens, it often defines those that are in positions of leadership or in the public eye.

This is a year where many have had the perfect chance to step up and lead – but have failed miserably – safely afloat on a raft made out of self-indulgent virtue signaling woke twaddle. This is the year that apart from dealing with the overwhelming effects of the virus on our collective mental, emotional and physical health; we now have to deal with this rapidly growing phenomenon – the growing “woke” movement.

The term “Woke “is a political term that originated in the United States; and refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice. It derives from the African-American vernacular English expression “stay woke”, whose grammatical aspect refers to a continuing awareness of these issues. Today, it has become very fashionable to be “woke” – and woe betide you if you aren’t.

This movement seems to be permeating every aspect of society and has been given a tailwind by the growth of celebrity culture and social media. At the beginning of the spread of the pandemic, the voices of celebrities were diminished and the everyday heroism of frontline workers took centre stage. And then something changed. The world seems to have tipped on its axis. When did we lose the ability to engage in polite, tolerant debate – even if we have divergent opinions?

Freedom of speech is an imperative in a democratic society and we have the right to disagree with each other but lately identity politics has become an overriding factor and the first casualty seems to be tolerance. Anyone not agreeing with the prescribed “woke” doctrine is effectively cancelled. And the offences seem to be everywhere. If you look hard enough you will find something to be offended by.

Can It. An exasperated reaction to Wokeism.

In 2020, the bar seems to be low. Perhaps it is the frustration of lock downs and statistics and political unrest that has many of us at times, taking complete leave of our senses. 2020 has been a tumultuous year politically as well. The Black Lives Matter movement that spread like wildfire across the world became more than just being aware of racial injustices. Elements within and external to the movement saw it as an opportunity to push their various agendas including anti-Semitic rhetoric and a new phenomenon – taking the knee. Anyone seen to not do this is immediately ostracized or branded a racist. Choosing whether or not to kneel is a personal choice, but when diners enjoying a little al fresco dining are routinely harassed for not kneeling with immediate, we have a problem.

Self Service! When demonstrators entered the outdoor dining space in Pittsburgh, USA, one person took a couples’ drink and drank it before leaving. 

Woke culture is not restricted to racism. Search engine juggernaut, Google, almost as famous for its graphics as it is for its search capabilities had to remove the egg from its salad graphics for “not wanting to offend vegans”. In a time where nearly everything is about identity politics and you are nobody unless you are an activist, everyone from social conscious millennials to big corporations are jumping on the woke wagon.

In fact, when it comes to big corporations, a new issue is starting to take form known as “woke washing”. Woke washing can be described as the appropriation of ethical and progressive values as a form of advertising just to make more profit while hiding the dark side of conventional capitalistic business management.

An example of recently woke washing is Tumblr. Two months after banning adult-content, the social media still let Nazis thrive on its platform.  White supremacist propaganda that contravenes its  guidelines is now co-existing with Tumblr’s promotion of Black Excellency for Black History Month.

Razor maker, Gillette also helped to set the tone of 2019 by “woke washing” with the January debut of “The Best Men Can Be,” a campaign fighting toxic masculinity by referencing #MeToo, the movement fighting sexual harassment that was growing at the time. Some critics decried the initial short film as painting all men as poorly behaved or even predatory. Others wondered why a razor maker, and not necessarily a brand with a ton of baggage, was getting so righteous.

 Or take former/maybe not somuch/aretheyoraren’t they royals, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan. Famous for their support of whatever issue seems hot at the time, the two woke royals have lectured on topics as diverse as the environment, unconscious bias, racism and not to forget universal kindness. All this while traversing the world in private jets and zooming from a $16million dollar mansion. They are not the only woke schlebs on the virtue signaling bandwagon. They are joined by many in Hollywood extolling the virtues of defunding police (while being able to afford private security), lecturing on saving the planet (while zipping around the world on private jets) and talking about inclusiveness (while cancelling those who may have divergent political opinions).

A Battle Royal.  Mega voices on a range of  popular issues, Harry and Meghan constantly dodging controversy with the Royal family and a fickle public in this Woke milieu.

It would appear nobody is safe from the “woke” offensive. The BBC’s radio station R4 was taken to task for referring to fishermen as “fisherpeople”.  Critics said that seeing that women only made up 2.7% of staff on a fishing trawler, the BBC with their right on woke politics was unnecessary.

Billionaire creator of Harry Potter, JK Rowling, has also been cancelled for allegedly being “transphobic”. Rowlings reference to people who menstruate as women was seen as discriminatory to the trans community.

Twitter users accused her of being exclusionary to transgender men and women but also to cisgender women who no longer menstruate. The result has been an aggressive campaign against her, including vocal criticism by Harry Potter stars, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson whose careers were started by the successful franchise. Rowling responded by saying ““I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them,” Rowling replied. “I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.”

The list of transgressions according to the “awokened” is endless. As mentioned before, if one is looking for offences, they can be found everywhere. The danger lies in the pursuit of a kind of liberalism that becomes so intolerant of a different opinion that it borders on fascism.

A Touchdown. Woke-washing is when companies cynically prey on customers’ social awareness. A decision by Nike to feature athlete-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick in its 2018 ad paid off, with the ad going on to receive an Emmy nomination.

For a society to function, people must be able to feel free to express themselves and debate, discuss and disagree respectfully. While there are lines like hate speech and incitement that should never be crossed, in order to understand each other better and build a more tolerant and respectful society, we need to listen to each other.

Failure to do so just contributes to an epidemic of intolerance.




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

We are just like you

By Diana Petrank Peledd

Like most of you here in Israel, we are trying our best to live with Corona (sounds nicer than Covid-19). But it is tough.  

Since its outbreak and the mandatory lockdowns and health regulations, we have all had to adapt to a new reality. If there is anything positive about the Corona pandemic and there really isn’t much, the long days in lockdown insolation and the imposed social distancing provided us with ample time to take stock of our lives – to re-evaluate what really matters.

So many of us began seeing things differently, leading us back to the basics. Suddenly, we had time to revisit long filed away memories; nostalgia; stored away items came back to life, filling us with so many deep hidden feelings; the values we were brought up upon – things we usually take for granted. i.e.  family, friends, compassion, kindness. We rediscovered the joy of cooking, baking, knitting, reading a book and when possible walking around the block – simply taking in what nature has to offer.

Private Lives. Residents stand on their balcony as they watch Israeli soldiers assisting civilians observing government stay-at-home orders to help fight the spread of the coronavirus disease in Tel Aviv, Israel April 7, 2020.(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

Corona affects all aspects of our life. No one is exempt.  It not only affects our health, but is detrimental to our finances, our social life and our mental and emotional frames of mind. For some, it is easier than for others, as this brief encounter will reveal.

While at the supermarket, as always, I stopped to chat with the chief cashier. She tried hard to hide it, but she wasn’t her usual chirpy self.  This is what she told me.

I am worried about my children and grandchildren. They are on furlough. Even worse, they  don’ t know if they will have a job to go back to or if they will have to make a total change in occupation. The uncertainty is terrible. I try and help as much as I can. I am especially worried about my eldest daughter. She is at home with her kids and lately she is showing signs of depression.  She is worried about the kids, the cut in income, expenses, the future. I do my best to raise her spirits and help, but it doesn’t. I am really worried“.

I told her to speak to her GP who could probably provide her with hot-lines or a list of relevant councillors. She said she planned to and thanked me for listening.

Market is Down. A message of hope decorates the empty Carmel Market in Tel Aviv. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

I am sure her story sounds familiar.

There are currently many people all over the world, experiencing various levels of depression or Coranatitis (ok – so I just made it up), due to the Corona fallout. The elderly, self-employed and small businesses are the most vulnerable

Here in Israel, there is never a dull moment, the events (the good, the bad, the amazing, the miraculous), the pace of life here, is sometimes mindboggling. Now, while we can’t all be politicians, diplomats, scientists, researchers, doctors etc.. and reach great achievements, we can all be a BA – Ben Adam – a human being.

“Just the Two of Us”. An Israeli couple gets married without guests due to coronavirus restrictions (Photo: Reuters)

At the end of the day, we are like everyone else in the global village, pursuing happiness, a decent livelihood, comfort, and a good future for our kids. Simple, mundane, uncomplicated.

Play Nice. Intel donates game sets to families coming to drive-through coronavirus testing centers in Israel. (Photo Magen David Adom)

Nonetheless, we still need human interaction – a smile; a kind word; a simple act of kindness.  Moreover, granting someone else a simple gesture can make our day that much brighter, and us better people and that leads to a healthier society – and that even Corona cannot contaminate.  Helping an elderly person reach a shelf in the supermarket or use the ATM; listening to someone in despair, smiling at someone who may be lonely, does more for their state-of-mind that you can imagine – it costs nothing, just a little compassion, a small act of kindness and guess what, we profit as well : “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.” Booker T. Washington

So next time you read about Israel, remember also, that its citizens are just like you – no more, no less.

Yarden Saxophone Rooftop Quarantine Performance



About the writer:

Diana Petrank Peledd  is an Executive Bilingual Secretary and Translator. Over the years, professional and creative correspondence and writing has been a major part of her work. Born in England, Diana is an Anglo-Israeli (10th generation Israeli on her paternal side) and has spent most of her life in Israel.








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

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