WHAT IF?

From bicycle saddle to hospital bed – some existential thoughts about self and country

By David E. Kaplan

On Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) on the 5th May, I went for a ride on my bicycle. Turned out – a regrettable mistake. In a quiet side road, I had a serious accident and ended up in Meir Hospital, Kfar Saba. I am recovering well but I ask the question:

What at the last corner before the accident I turned right instead of left?”

Lying in my ward later that night following a general anesthetic stitch-up, I reflected on the poem of Robert FrostThe Road Not Taken’ and pondered literally and figuratively if, in the words of the poet:

I took the one less traveled by

Clearly then – inter alia –  I would not be penning this prose!

But then I pondered beyond my bodily bruising and thought instead of the anatomy of the world whose condition too throughout history has either sored or soured dependent at critical moments when  fractured futures or favourable fortunes could have gone either way and the destinies of people would have been quite different.

As I was reflecting in an Israeli hospital, I thought back to those past pivotal – some even existential – moments in Israel’s modern history, when disaster or salvation hung in the balance:

WHAT IF on November 2, 1917, Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour had not written a letter to Britain’s most illustrious Jewish citizen, Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, expressing the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine – a letter that would eventually become known as the Balfour Declaration.  In all likelihood, I would then not be lying in a ward of the seventh largest hospital in the Jewish state of Israel after 2000 years of exile.

Weighty Words. Lord Arthur Balfour and the letter that moved a dream towards reality.

WHAT IF Rommel’s African Corp had not lost the Battle of El Alamein in 1942, leaving the German Wehrmacht free to steamroll northwards to Palestine? Again, possibly no Meir Hospital would have been established in 1956.

WHAT IF Prime Minister David Ben Gurion had not demanded the unification of ideologically diverse Jewish armed forces during the War of Independence to forge a national army – the IDF?

WHAT IF? A British army recruitment drive in Tel Aviv during World War II. The big fear for the Jews before the Battle of El- Alamein was that Rommel would overrun Palestine.

WHAT IF Israel had not taken out the Egyptian Air Force in the opening round of the 1967 Six Day War?

WHAT IF Israel had not mounted Operation Thunderbolt in 1976 to rescue the Jewish hostages held in Entebbe airport following the hijacking of an Air France airbus A300 jet airliner? No Jew or Israeli plane would be safe anywhere. The message – don’t mess with us and expect  you will get way with it. Jews will “NEVER AGAIN” be slaughtered with impunity.

‘Plane’ Truth. What if Israel had not rescued the Jewish captives held by Palestinian and German terrorists in Entebbe in 1976?

WHAT IF there was not a young IDF commander of a tank battalion Avigdor Kahalani, like a biblical David that blocked a Goliath Syrian army from conquering the Golan Heights in 1973.

WHAT IF Prime Minister Menachem Begin had not embraced the peace process with Anwar Sadat of Egypt or authorized the surprise bombing of Iraq’s nuclear facility in 1982?

WHAT IF Israel had not mounted highly secretive operations to rescue the threatened Jews from Yemen and Ethiopia and absorbed one million Russian immigrants. In 1948, Israel had a Jewish population of 716,700; today over seven million, the largest concentration of Jews anywhere in the world! If the quest before had been for the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in their ancestral homeland, the quest today is to secure it for eternity.

Reaching a Crescendo. What if Israel had not neutralised Iraq’s nuclear ambitions in 1981 with Operation Opera.
 

ONE DOME TO ANOTHER

And then as I lay in the hospital bed digesting the distressing news of the Arab disturbances playing out at the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif, the compound housing both mosques, Al- Aqsa and Jerusalem’s most iconic Dome of the Rock, I reflected on exactly a year earlier when Hamas and its cohorts had unleashed over 4,300 rockets at Israel’s civilian population centers and pondered WHAT IF we did not have our IRON DOME?

Not designed to attack or retaliate, this “life saver” defence missile system developed by Israeli companies and financially supported by the US, proved some 90% effective in intercepting enemy rockets, greatly reducing the death toll. No less significant, this remarkable instrument of Israeli ingenuity also reduced the need for IDF ground operations in and around the civilian areas that terrorists use for launching missiles and rockets at Israeli civilians. Invariably ground offenses result in greater loss of lives. All this was avoided or averted because of the IRON DOME!

Special Relationship. Israeli Iron Dome anti-rocket system (right) and an American Patriot missile defense system are shown during a joint U.S.-Israel military exercise on March 8, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)

A MAJOR LEAK

And then finally before retiring to sleep at Meir, the need for the bathroom reminded me of one final WHAT IF, which at the time of its happening was lavatorialy inconsequential but decades later proved monumentally existential.

What do I mean?

For many years, U.S.-Israel military ties  – so vital to Israel – were non-existent. From Israel’s creation in 1948 until the mid-1960s, US State Department and Pentagon officials argued against even providing American arms to Israel lest it provoke the Arabs to ask the Soviets and Chinese for more weapons, which in turn would stimulate a Middle East arms race.

U.S. policy fundamentally changed only after the 1967 Six Day War when France – Israel’s main supplier –  abandoned the Jewish state and the US stepped in to give Israel a qualitative military edge over its enemies. This was all due to a successful meeting between Israeli PM Levi Eshkol and US President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 leading to an agreement to sell Phantom jets to Israel marking the change in relationship between the two countries and establishing the US as Israel’s principal arms supplier.

Meeting of Minds. One of the most important meetings in Israeli history was Prime Minister Levi Eshkol (left) meeting here with President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 as the President’s Texas ranch, which established a warm relationship between the two countries which has stood the test of time.

Since then, Israel has never looked back.

All this however would not have happened, had LBJ not decided at a precise moment in 1942 to relieve himself at an airbase toilet.

A 33-year-old Representative from Texas, lieutenant commander Johnson on the 9th June 1942, boarded a plane called the Wabash Cannonball for a mission in the South Pacific. While the Wabash Cannonball was on a bombing mission, Johnson’s participation was as an observer to inspect and report back to President Roosevelt of Japanese troop movements over New Guinea. However, no sooner had the future US president boarded the B-26, nature called!

Toying with the decision to “hold it in” or go to the toilet and catch the next bomber, he chose the latter and alighted from the plane.

It was a history-altering decision.

After relieving himself, he then joined the crew of another bomber, the Heckling Hare

LBJ was lucky.

The  Wabash Cannonball  was hit by enemy fire and crashed with a total loss of life, while a crippled “hare” made it back to base.

So to my list of Israel’s “What Ifs?”, I add:

Where would Israel’s relationship be today with regard to the US, had not a young Lyndon B. Johnson not had the desperate need to at the right moment to take a leak?

And so while Israel never looked back, my final thought was if only  the driver of the car in Kfar Saba had ‘looked back’ – in her rear view mirror – before opening her door into which I rode!

The writer on a ride in northen 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 (0&EO).

Celebrating Passover

From a people to a nation we relive the long journey to freedom

By Justin Amler

The greatest story in history is upon once again.

And oh… what a story it is.

It is a story about a people who went from slavery to freedom, from hopelessness to belief, from an uncertain future to one filled with destiny.

It is a story about courage, about faith, about belief and about miracles – one that took the natural order of life and flipped it around.

And even though many others will try to culturally appropriate it, as they do with everything else about us, and claim it’s about all humankind, it was and is and remains a quintessential Jewish story.

For it is our story – perhaps our greatest story – of a time when we grew from a people into a nation.

About 3500 years ago, we were slaves in Egypt, condemned to a life of hardship and bondage, a seemingly bleak existence. And if it wasn’t for the actions of one man, guided by God, the story of the Jewish people might have ended right there.

But it didn’t end.

Instead, it led to the greatest adventure in all of Jewish history – an adventure continuing today.

And through all the wanderings in the desert, the many miracles Hashem performed, the gift of the Ten Commandments, and of course the ultimate return to our land of Israel – where we remain today.

Pesach is a story of such inspiration, because although thousands of years have passed, we continue to celebrate it as if it just happened.

And in a way it did. Because every single moment of every single day, Jews continue to fight for their homeland, their identity, their culture, and their history. And we have to fight, because every single moment of every single day there are those who continue to try take it from us, to uproot us from our land, to appropriate our history as if it’s their own, to rob us of our past, of our stories, of our nationhood and of our identity.

We cannot afford to remain silent.

But the Jews, while few in number, are a strong people whose foundations are built on stronger things than crumbling empires and dusty buildings. Our foundations are built on almost 4000 years of a promise, of a mission, and of a shared destiny among us.

And even though there are some, even among us, who continue to try spread division through arbitrary things like skin colour and food, they will fail in the end, because we, as a people, are far stronger than the petty divisiveness they sow.

When we left Egypt, we were not white or black or brown and we were not Mizrachi or Ashkenazim or any other designated identity that some are overly obsessed about these days.

We were Israelites.

We were Jews.

We were a people forged in the sands of time and held together by a promise of a God we could not see – a promise without an expiry date. A promise that, despite the many differing views among us, has held us together.

 We don’t need to get ‘woke,’ because we’ve been awake for a very long time.

So, on this Pesach and on every other day, let’s celebrate our freedom, our history, our culture and all the things that make us who we are.

In this world in which we are constantly under attack, let’s stand together and keep our Jewish identity alive, for it is one we should all hold onto proudly.



About the writer:

Justin Amler is a noted South African-born, Australia-based writer and commentator on international issues affecting Israel and the Jewish world.






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 (0&EO).

The United Nations Is Giving the Names of Uyghur Dissidents to China

By  Josh Feldman

(Article appears courtesy of Newsweek)

The Chinese government’s violent oppression of the primarily Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang is no longer a secret. From forced sterilization of Uyghur women to the internment of millions in prison camps to the eradication and destruction of religious institutions, the Chinese Communist Party’s actions against the Uyghurs have been deemed worthy of the name genocide to many in the human rights community.

The ethnic Uighur population used to be the majority in China’s Xinjiang region

Many – but not all!

The United Nations, the very institution created to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,” is assisting China in its violent efforts to wipe out the Uyghurs by helping the CCP cover its tracks. These were the findings of a recent report in Le Monde about the efforts of UN human rights officer-turned whistleblower Emma Reilly. Reilly claims that prior to every UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in recent years, China has requested the names of Uyghur and other Chinese dissidents who were scheduled to speak. And despite this being explicitly forbidden by the UN’s own rules, the UN, according to Reilly, has made it a practice to share this information with Chinese authorities, who use it to harass the dissidents’ families who are still based in China.

It’s one thing for China to try to cover up its genocide; China boasts a long history of reprisals against human rights activists, Uyghurs included. But it’s quite another thing for the body charged with protecting human rights to lend them a hand.

Reilly says she first discovered the practice in 2013, when China’s Geneva delegation requested confirmation that certain “anti-government Chinese separatists” were set to speak at the Human Rights Council. Listed individuals included, among others, Dolkun Isa, current president of the World Uyghur Congress.

Le Monde reports that Reilly suggested that the request be rejected, just as the UN had rejected Turkish demands regarding Kurdish activists. But leaked emails appear to show Reilly’s superior, Eric Tistounet, head of the Human Rights Council Branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), advising staffers that the names be shared with China because the meeting was public, and delaying sharing the names would merely “exacerbate the Chinese mistrust against us.”

The Uyghurs are the largest minority ethnic group in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang.

The UN in fact confirmed Reilly’s allegations in 2017, when the OHCHR acknowledged that it confirms attendees’ names with Chinese authorities who “regularly ask the UN Human Rights Office… whether particular NGO delegates are attending the forthcoming session.” So too, did a 2019 UN tribunal confirm “the practice of providing names of human rights defenders to the Chinese delegation.”

But while the UN has at times acknowledged this indefensible practice, it has simultaneously provided contradictory statements denying it. When asked about the allegations in March 2017, Tistounet dismissed them as “extreme right-wing” propaganda—a mere month after the OHCHR’s admission that it did currently confirm Uyghur activists’ names with China. Two months later, in a letter sent to UN Watch, the OHCHR asserted that it “does not confirm the names of individual activists accredited to attend UN Human Rights Council sessions to any State, and has not done so since at least 2015.”

China is accused of committing genocide against the Uyghur population and other mostly-Muslim ethnic groups in the north-western region of Xinjiang.

Then, in an August 2017 letter to Human Rights Watch, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein acknowledged that the UN “often receives communications from… China” with a list of individuals who the Chinese claim “represent possible threats to the United Nations.” Once UN security services determine the allegations are baseless, wrote Al Hussein, China is informed that its concerns are unfounded, and “no other information is transmitted to the State.” A UN judge, however, rejected Al Hussein’s assertions in 2020, stating that in 2017, the “OHCHR misrepresented the practice of giving names to a Member State’s delegation to ‘Human Rights Watch.”

Alarmingly, UN Secretary-General António Guterres is aware of the allegations; in 2018, his office ordered Al Hussein to “resolve” the dispute with Reilly, Le Monde revealed. And yet, since objecting to the practice in 2013, Reilly says she has been ostracized and “publicly defamed,” her career “left in tatters.” And despite being recognized as a whistleblower in 2020, she was fired the day after the Le Monde story’s publication.

What Reilly’s reports reveal is that the UN is more concerned with appeasing China than with combatting the Chinese-led Uyghur genocide. China, meanwhile, continues to retaliate against Uyghur activists. In a 2019 witness statement regarding the OHCHR sharing his name with China, a Uyghur dissident, Dolkun Isa, revealed that he didn’t know where his 90-year-old father was, or if he was even alive. His mother died in a Chinese detention center in 2018, aged 78.

Shockingly, world leaders are also aware of the practice. In 2019, UN Watch Executive Director, Hillel Neuer, sent letters to the Geneva delegations of the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, France, Germany, and Sweden, detailing instances of Chinese dissidents’ names (some of whom are citizens of Western nations) being shared by the UN. Citing China’s history of retaliating against human rights activists, Neuer explained that “providing China or any other government with names of dissidents accredited to attend UN sessions in advance of the sessions is harmful and potentially life-threatening to dissidents and their families, particularly family members still in China.”

Satellite images show rapid construction of camps in Xinjiang, like this one near Dabancheng. Human rights groups believe China has detained more than one million Uyghurs against their will over the past few years in a large network of what the state calls “re-education camps”, and sentenced hundreds of thousands to prison terms.

Not one country responded to Neuer!

Dutch parliament too, is well-aware. In a January 2019 letter to Dutch lawmakers, Foreign Minister Stef Blok noted both the OHCHR and UN Ethics Office’s admissions that the UN hands Chinese authorities “lists of names” of Chinese dissidents set to speak at the UNHRC. World leaders, however, have refused to confront this abomination.

For years and with total impunity, UN officials have aided China in committing one of the greatest human rights atrocities of our generation. It’s high time for world leaders to press the UN for answers and bring those responsible for such an abject betrayal of the UN’s guiding principles to justice.

History won’t judge them kindly for turning a blind eye.






About the writer:

Josh Feldman is an Australian freelance writer. His work has appeared in leading American, Israeli, Australian, and international publications, including Newsweek, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Jerusalem Post, the Age, and the Forward. Twitter: @joshrfeldman







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 (0&EO).

Tefillin against Terror

Jews around the world honour the memory of Eli Kay by doing good deeds in his name

By Michael Kransdorff

Eli Kay was 25 years old. He was deeply committed to Israel and the Jewish people. He made Aliyah from South Africa to Israel as a Lone Soldier. Eli worked as a tour guide at the Western Wall, guiding people through the sacred tunnels.

A few weeks ago, he was gunned down by a Hamas-affiliated terrorist on his way to pray at the Kotel (Western/Wailing Wall) with his Tefillin in his hand.

While this act of terrorism was an unimaginable tragedy for his family and friends, it was also an attack on Klal Yisrael (all of Israel). It was an attempt to deny the Jewish people’s right to pray at our holiest site.

Honouring Eli. A Young visitor to the Eli Kay family during the week of shiva hold up Eli’s Tefillin bag and lay his Tefillin that was recovered after the murderous attack in the Old City, Jerusalem

How would we respond?

Rabbi Ari Shishler, a Chabad Rabbi based in Johannesburg and a close friend of the Kay family, said in an online address after the attack:

 “We are all in shock over the heinous murder of our friend Eli Kay. This was not an attack on an individual. It was an attack on Jews, Judaism and the conscience of all civilised people“. 

We felt this required a response. With the help of Rabbi Ari Shishler, Rabbi Eitan Ash and Josh Maraney, we decided to launch the #TefillinAgainstTerror campaign. We began by calling on people to post selfies of themselves putting on Tefillin with the hashtag #TefillinAgainstTerror in Eli’s memory and as an act of defiance against terror and Antisemitism.

Honouring Eli. A Young visitor to the Eli Kay family during the week of shiva lay his Tefillin that was recovered after the murderous attack in the Old City, Jerusalem.

The response has been phenomenal.

The campaign has gone global. Thousands of people from all over the world including far flung places like Aruba and Mexico have responded on social media platforms, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. In Israel, people have embraced this call by coming to the Shiva house and asking to put on Tefillin. The family has been overwhelmed by the love and support.

Honouring Eli. A Young visitor to the Eli Kay family during the week of shiva hold up Eli’s Tefillin bag and lay his Tefillin that was recovered after the murderous attack in the Old City, Jerusalem

Women also wanted to do something special to honour Eli’s memory because laying Tefillin is a commandment fulfilled by men.

The campaign was broadened to include candle lighting for the Sabbath in Eli’s memory. The recent festival of Hanukkah provided an opportunity to once against reaffirm our right to freely practice our faith. Just as the Maccabees were able to keep the oil burning in the Temple against all odds, we will not let terrorism deter us now from bringing light into the world.

Honouring Eli. A Young visitor to the Eli Kay family during the week of shiva hold up Eli’s Teillin bag and lay his Tefillin that was recovered after the murderous attack in the Old City, Jerusalem

To date, many around Israel and the world have done acts of kindness to share light against terror. A popular journalist based in Jerusalem and her husband donated sufganiyot (donuts) to soldiers on duty. A group called “Friends of WIZO” who support a WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) shelter against domestic violence, dedicated a Hanukkah party in his honour.

The most high-profile act of memorial was by popular hard rock band, Disturbed’s front man, David Draiman. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post from his home in Hawaii, Draiman said he wanted to make a statement by coming to Israel after seeing the coverage of the attack.

The coverage was reprehensible in the vast majority of American and European media,” said Draiman. “It’s scandalous how they presented it. Headlines like ‘Palestinian shot dead.’ Well, why was the Palestinian shot dead? Because he was perpetrating a terrorist attack. I love how the context is always flipped around.”

Disturbing News. David Draiman  American singer and songwriter and lead vocalist of the heavy metal band Disturbed, was horrified by the international media coverage of the terrorist murder of Eli Kay, came to Jerusalem and lit a candle at the spot where Eli was brutally gunned down.

Draiman, who noted that he has some 200 relatives living in Israel, said that his candle-lighting ceremony is intended to say that:

 “we will not be intimidated, we’re not going anywhere. People need to learn to live with us [Jews].”

Remember Eli. Young pupils at King David School, Victory Park, Johannesburg lay Tefillin in memory of Eli Kay.

He made good on his word by coming to Jerusalem and lighting a candle at the spot where Eli was brutally gunned down.

The word Hanukkah means “dedication”. Eli was dedicated to his family and friends, Israel and the Jewish people. And many responded in kind by dedicated acts of kindness in his name.

Am Yisrael Chai!






About the writer:

Michael Kransdorff is a Harvard educated financial innovation consultant. In addition to crunching numbers, politics and Jewish history are his passions. He cut his teeth in Jewish activism as one of the SAUJS leaders at the infamous UN Durban Racism Conference and has remained involved in Jewish communal affairs. Michael is chairman of JNF SA, sits on the South African Zionist Federation EOB and also heads up a Litvak heritage research group for the Zarasai (North Eastern) region of Lithuania. 







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 (0&EO).

Finding Common Ground

Far apart geographically, Jews and Hindus are closer than ever in shared history

Written by Lay of the Land UK correspondent

When India’s Narendra Modi on the final day of his historic visit to Israel in 2017 frolicked in the waves with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a visit to a Mobile Desalination Unit, it emblazoned to the world a visual affirmation of the relationship between the two countries having literally turned a tide.

If the Mediterranean water for the two leaders was warm, relations between Jerusalem and New Delhi had not always been similarly so.

Although Israel and India gained their independence from the United Kingdom within months of each other, they soon found themselves heading in different directions – India as a leader in the Non-Aligned Movement maintaining close relations to the Arab world and the Soviet Union, and Israel linking its future to closer ties with the United States and Western Europe. This lasted for nearly four decades until 1992 when India and Israel established full diplomatic relations  and since, then bilateral relationship between the two countries has blossomed.

Testing the Water. India’s Narendra Modi(left) with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during  his historic visit to Israel in 2017.

A major obstacle to building this warm relationship was India’s legitimate fear that close relations with the Jewish State might radicalize its Muslim citizens – numbering more than 100 million – and harm its relations with the Arab world.

Other than that, Hindus have never been a threat to the Jews, unless, as someone jokingly commented on social media:

 “Well, not unless you count competing for contracts in hi-tech.”

The Dawning of Relations

The relationship between the State of Israel and India goes back many millennia to abound 1,500 BCE when trade began between the two ancient kingdoms.

Excavations at Tel Megiddo in northern Israel  have revealed evidence of such trade proving the presence of turmeric, banana, sesame, all originating from south Asia. Further analysis suggests that the authors of the Old Testament were talking about India, when referencing the trade of animals such as monkeys and peacocks.

During Roman rule of Judea, expensive garments worn in the Temple are believed to have been imported from India via Alexandra.

Israelites in India. Arrival of Jewish pilgrims in Cochin, AD 68. The Cochin Jews who first arrived in the contemporary state of Kerala are dated to about 50 CE. The local legend states that they moved to the country after the first Temple was destroyed during the siege of Jerusalem and were warmly received by Cheraman Perumal, the ruler of the Chera dynasty.

Parallel Fight for Freedom

Jews lived in India among Hindus free of persecution and India periodically provided a refuge to Jews as they fled from persecution, genocide, and slavery. In the early-20th Century, both India and Israel, both under British rule, would fight for independence.

In 1919, British forces carried out the Jallianwala-Bagh Massacre where over 1000 peacefully protesting Indians were killed in Amritsar, India. Also known as the Amritsar Massacre

it caused fury among Indians, leading to the launch by Mahatma Gandhi of the Non-Cooperation Movement, where Indians demanded independence.

During the same period, the fight for independence by Jews in the British mandate was heating up as antisemitism across Europe and in the Arab world spiralled. While Britain had recognised Israel as the homeland for Jews in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, it nevertheless blockaded and imposed limits on Jews entering Palestine, including during the Holocaust.

Howzat! A Bene Israel family in Mumbai, (Bombay). The Bene Israeli, that numerically form the largest Jewish group in India are said to have descended form a group of Jews shipwrecked on the Indian coast in 500 A.D. From the establishment of the state until 1969, over 12,000 Bene Israel emigrated to Israel, settling mainly in Beersheba, Dimona, Ashdod, and Eilat. Some settled in kibbutzim and moshavim. They have contributed to the sort of cricket in Israel.

Jewish resistance took shape in the creation of defence groups such as HaShomer, Nili, Palmach and Haganah to resist attacks from the Arabs; as well as to fight for Independence.

While Britain imposed a brutal blockade on Jews fleeing Nazi persecution to Palestine, a half a world away, colonial Britain continued to commit further massacres in India, such as in 1930 at Qissa-Khwani now in Pakistan. As both India and the emerging Jewish state both fought for independence from Britain, the birth pains of both were agonising,  resulting in painful partitions.

Similarities in their shared history of shaking off the shackles of colonialism, it reached a crescendo in 1948 when both India and Israel gained independence from Britain. They would each – in different ways – have to confront the new independent state of   Pakistan that went to war against India and supported the Arab invasions of the newly established State of Israel.

After independence, India would remain overtly cold to Israel with a hard-line ‘non-aligned’ and pro-Arab policy, as India refused to engage with Israel until the early 1990s. Pakistan would again support further invasions and attacks on Israel in 1967 and 1973, while in 1971, Israel supported India in the Indo-Pakistani War. It proved a breakthrough in the countries relations. Even though India did not have diplomatic ties with Israel in 1971, New Delhi secretly sought and received arms from Tel Aviv as it prepared to go to war with Pakistan, according to Srinath Raghavan’s book “1971”.

Sasoon and Sons. One of the most influential names in the history of Jewish presence in India is that of businessman Shaikh David Sasoon who arrived in Bombay in 1828. His arrival marked the beginning of the prosperity of Baghdadi Jews in India.

Although Israel was in middle of an arms shortage, Prime Minister, Golda Meir stepped in to divert arms meant for Iran to India. She sent a note to her Indian counterpart, Indira Gandhi through Shlomo Zabuldowicz, the director of the firm handling the secret transfers, with a request for diplomatic ties in return for arms. The diplomatic ties, however, would only be established twenty-one years later  in 1992.

Destiny & Détente

After decades of pro-Arab policy, India formally established relations with Israel when it opened an embassy in Tel Aviv in January 1992. Relations continued to warm and in 1999, Israel supported India in the deadly Kargil War, in which Pakistan invaded India. India soon became Israel’s largest buyer of arms and would increase trade to Israel, as the relations continued to warm. India would become a much sought-after travel destination for Jews and Israelis, especially after IDF service, for relaxation and cultural exploration.

India and Israeli relations would continue to warm, strongly supported by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who welcomed Israel’s promotion of exchange student programmes.

Exiled in India. The Synagogue Judah Hyam Hall is the only place of worship in Delhi for Jews, a special minority group whose entry into the country can be traced two thousand years back. (Express Photo)

The Golden Age

In the 2019 British Election, British-Hindus had defended British-Jews, voting against antisemitism in an election, which around half of British-Jews indicated they would consider emigrating if Jeremy Corbyn would win. In 2021, Israeli Prime Minster Bennett and Indian Prime Minster Modi, stated they were close friends on Twitter and wanted to build relations between India and Israel, for future generations.

Bennet wrote:

Narendra, I want to thank you for your historic role in shaping the ties between our countries. Together, we can bring India-Israel relations to a whole new level and build a better & brighter future for our nations.”

Currently the Indian and Israeli Governments are negotiating for closer security agreements, as Israel faces aggression from the Iranian Regime and India confronts an insurgency in northern India.

Climate Change, Warming Ties. Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called PM Modi (right) “the most popular man in Israel” during an animated conversation with him at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.

Great Expectations

On Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, the following appears:

 “While Israel and India established diplomatic ties in 1992, the Jewish and Indian people share a rich and deep relationship which dates back to ancient times. Jews were one of the first foreign groups in recorded history to arrive and settle in India and became an integral part of Indian society. Today, India boasts a vibrant Jewish community, which numbers close to 7,000, while Israel is home to 85,000 Jews of Indian origin. The warm ties between the Indian and Jewish people continue to enhance and influence the Indo-Israeli relationship today.”

While India today is Israel’s third largest trading partner in Asia and seventh largest globally with bilateral trade having expanded from being mostly dominated by diamonds and chemicals to areas such as electronic machinery and high-tech products, communications systems and medical equipment, the Indian export most emotionally appreciated in Israel, has been Zubin Mehta.

Maestro Mehta. Famed Indian conductor Zubin Mehta performing his final concert with the Israel Philharmonic on Saturday night, July 13, 2019 (Courtesy Hanoch Grizitzky)

Fondly referred to in Israel as the “Maestro”, in 1969 this illustrious conductor of Western classical music began his long tenure with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), serving as music adviser before becoming music director in 1977. Four years later the orchestra named him Music Director for life, and he held the post until retiring in 2019.

Two years after India and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1992, the IPO performed in India for the first time, and since then, has toured there periodically. Every few years it performs in Bombay. “Music has this transformative ability to bring people together,” says the Maestro.

When asked “why is Israel so important to you?”,  Mehta replied:

My association with Israel started even before 1969. I first went there in 1961 and immediately formed a bond with the people. This was later solidified through regular visits. Besides, it is also the only real democracy in the area, that values freedom of expression.”

And to the question “how was it during the years when India and Israel didn’t have diplomatic relations??, Mehta replied:

It was very frustrating for me personally. So as soon as relations were resumed, I got the IPO (in 1994) on an India tour. And they came and  performed absolutely free of charge. There is a lot of respect and interest for India in Israel.”

With the Indo-Israeli relationship continuing to reach new heights with growing ties between Israel and India, we can expect this trend to only strengthen into the future.








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 (0&EO).

A call to stop hate fell on deaf ears

The South African Muslim Judicial Council and South African Jewry

By Adv. Craig Snoyman

MEA CULPA!

I spent the last couple of weeks trying to hawk this article to South Africa’s main-stream media but to no avail – maybe too hot to handle.

I sent the article first to the newspapers that had first published the raging issue distressing the Jewish community, then to the larger media houses and eventually to the South African Jewish press. Maybe the language was too strong or too emotive, but then religious issues generally are.

I confess my sin in advance – hence Mea Culpa!

While there was no media interest – and one can question the reasons why – I believe it’s an important issue that needs to be aired.  So I took the article, dusted it off, spruced it up at little and here it is. Forgive me but this non-South African website, with a large South African readership, was at the back of the line.

While the issue is about the South African Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and South Africa Jewry, I believe it may well be of global interest. Anti-Israel voices have a habit of morphing into anti-Jewish voices. Ignoring incitement and hate-speech doesn’t solve problems. Incendiary cyber-messaging and vicious online-abuse isn’t going to stop on its own. Disinviting an Israeli-owned food truck from a Philadelphia food fair is not going to cause a stir unless the issue is aired. Inflammatory rabble-rousing demanding that a particular school, which has mixed Jewish-Muslim learner ratio have to debate the Israel-Palestine issue, while insisting that only a pro-Palestinian radical speaker participate, does not contribute to a climate of calm. The flood of antisemitic tropes – only some of them masquerading as anti-Zionism – can be anticipated to lead to violence against Jews in the streets; or BDS activists deciding that they won’t tolerate Israeli products in shops. Once antisemitic violence has happened, it can’t be undone.  Unfortunately, this behaviour is not only expected, but is clearly foreseeable.

It was for this reason that South Africa’s Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Warren Goldstein extended an olive branch of peace to the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and Jamiatul Ulama South Africa. He called on them, by all accounts privately and discretely, to sign a Joint Statement, in which they would publicly call on their  respective constituents to respect each other as citizens of South Africa; and not threaten each other  because  of  their differing views on the Middle East. What he was really asking for, was a public statement by the MJC calling on its constituents to stop harassing his flock and make the clear distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

It was a call stop the hate

Call it out so that it will stop.

The Muslim Judicial Council took the proffered olive branch, broke it in two and then poked the Chief Rabbi’s eye with it!

It was not the MJC‘s constituents that were being harassed or intimidated. They could speak from a position of strength, and they did. The MJC unequivocally and publicly rejected the Chief’s overture and their rejection published in the national papers. They also went running to the Anglican Archbishop seeking him to agree that the offending eye should be plucked out.

Really?

Why does the rejection of a request make by a Jew to a Muslim require the sanction of a Christian?

Reacting to Rabbi.  South Africa’s Muslim Judicial Council  publicly and scornfully rejected the Chief Rabbi’s overture for tolerance and understanding between their religious communities.

The MJC – in further justifying their decision not to issue a joint statement – stated that:

  “The stance by members of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, headed by Chief Rabbi Goldstein, is diametrically opposed to our moral position that most of the freedom-loving people have adopted in so far as it refers to condemning the violence and apartheid policies meted out against Muslim and Christian Palestinians on a daily basis by the apartheid regime in Israel.” 

Factually, the justification is incorrect. The Chief Rabbi has no official position in the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD). The SAJBD is a separate independent body.  The Chief Rabbi acted in his position as head of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues and as titular leader of the Jewish community. On several interfaith functions, where the MJC has participated as well, the Rabbi has acted in this capacity. It is therefore surprising, at the very least, that the MJC could make such a clearly fallacious allegation. But the statement goes further. There is an inferential blaming of the South African Jews for the actions of the regime in Israel.  This skates very close to, if not on, a long-existing, well-worn antisemitic canard, that  Jews can be denigrated simply because they hold the “wrong” position on Israel.

While the MJC added that it did not support or condone intimidation, threats or violence at any level and called on all peace-loving pro-Palestinian protesters to maintain the necessary discipline at all times, this was hardly the case and the Chief Rabbi  was, and is, well aware of the turbulence that has racked and continues to rack his community. Apart from two reported physical assaults – one a Jew, allegedly by Muslims returning from a pro-Hamas rally and one in a shopping centre largely frequented by Jews – the threats of death (“Khaybar, Khaybar, the army of Mohamed will return”, “We’ll finish off Hitler’s work”) the other vocal abuse ( e.g. “Nazi’s” “Zio-Nazi’s”) are in a completely different class to the very vocal  chant of “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free”. Virtually every Jewish personality in South Africa with a public profile was overwhelmed with vitriolic antisemitic (as opposed to Anti-Zionist ) comments on their social media sites. The spate of  the vicious antisemitism that flooded social media may have died down, but it has not disappeared. There are still calls NOT to serve Jews, from certain shop-owners.  Most, if not all of this, seems to have originated from the MJC‘s constituency. The ongoing call to boycott Jewish citizens because they are stereo-typed as  supporters of  Israel  and the call for consumers to stop shopping at stores because they stock Israeli product, is also unabated. That the Chief Rabbi felt that the need to reach out to the Muslim leaders is understandable. One can be reasonably sure that these issues and perceived consequences, were raised by him in discussion. However, the MJC‘s bland response calling on “all peace-loving pro-Palestinian protesters to maintain the necessary discipline”  does not adequately address the issue; and allows for simmering intolerance.

Sowing the Seeds of Discord. Inviting the conflicts of the Middle East into South Africa.

When one looks at the MJC‘s declaration, stating that they do not condone violence and intimidation, it does not address cyber-hate  or ongoing threats to Jewish South Africans or even the relationship between Muslim and Jewish South Africans. Only the MJC‘s “peace-loving pro-Palestinian protesters” (does one hear of any other type of protesters?) are called on to maintain discipline. The issue of private individual conduct is not dealt with, nor is the aspect of on-line hate and other forms of specific ethnic harassment or ethnic interaction. The MJC could not have been oblivious to them. It issued a “catch-all” boiler plate statement to be wheeled out for all occasions.

Stocking Hatred of Jews. Demonstrators marching through the city centre in Cape Town on May 12, 2021 holding banners falsely accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza while ignoring the over 4000 rockets fired from Gaza into civilian areas in Israel.(RODGER BOSCH/AFP via Getty Images.)

The casual attitude taken by the MJC is confusing and a matter for concern. On the one hand its position seems to be: “Yes we acknowledge that there should be respect and tolerance between the different religions in South Africa”  while on the other hand it states that  “we cannot be seen to agree with you publicly on the issue of peace and tolerance, because then  we would be betraying the Palestinian cause”. 

These positions are a non-sequitur! 

  • Can one not support peace and tolerance in South Africa and still support the Palestinian cause? 
  • Can one say that one is obliged to refuse to sign a document supporting peace and tolerance because to sign it constitutes a betrayal of the “Palestinian cause”?
  • Can one say that the MJC‘s position is that the “Palestinian cause” is more important to the MJC than peace and tolerance between Jew and Muslim in South Africa?
  • Can one say that the MJC‘s position is that it is not necessary for the incidents of abuse of Jews by Muslims in South Africa does not need to be called out in an effective manner?

All of these propositions would seem to be justified.

The MJC then takes the matter a step beyond a domestic national issue of ethnic tolerance. Rather than address the issue directly,  the MJC deflects and introduces foreign politics and “the Palestinian cause into the equation or  can  one say  the Palestinian cause is made the totality of the equation?

How should one understand “the Palestinian cause” and “support for the besieged people of Gaza”? Does support for the besieged people of Gaza also include support for Hamas, an internationally recognised terrorist organisation, which rules the territory? 

Quo Vadis? Chief Rabbi calls on Muslim religious leaders in SA to issue joint call for tolerance over Gaza conflict was totally rejected.

Do they support the firing of over 4 300 rockets toward civilian targets in Israel from the Gaza strip? The MJC is silent on the issue of the conduct of Hamas but embraces the noble Palestinian cause as “a dignified struggle that requires demonstrating the highest integrity and discipline”. Is Hamas viewed as being included within this dignified struggle? Is Hamas – whose charter declares it seeking the destruction of Israel – also part of the dignified struggle of the noble Palestinian cause which it embraces? 

Where does one draw the line?

And why should this political opinion affect its conduct and attitude toward the safety of South African Jewry?

The MJC is aware of the opinion of its constituents in South Africa.   Numerous rally posters called for “Free Palestine”  nd  “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free”. The MJC has not disassociated itself from these sentiments. So what is this noble Palestinian cause which requires a dignified struggle of the highest integrity and discipline?

Is it supporting one Palestinian state from the river to the sea, necessitating the elimination of the State of Israel?

Or is it supporting the existence of an independent Palestinian state, co-existing with an independent Jewish state of Israel?

Or should one then accept that the MJC support of the “noble cause” includes the violent overthrow of the Jewish state and condones the launching of rockets against Israel’s civilians? 

Does the noble cause include Hamas’ fundamental position that Jews are to be killed wherever in the world they are to be found?  By rejecting the offer of peace between South African Jews and South African Muslims in favour of the “noble Palestinian cause”, is the MJC stating that the noble cause includes the elimination of Jews in South Africa? 

Is the MJC conflating antisemitism and  anti-Zionism?.

The seemly-obligatory defamatory attack on the State of Israel by the MJC is revealing. The public and political posturing of the MJC could only be for public consumption for a simple and polite rejection to Rabbi Goldstein would have been adequate. It is clear that the MJC‘s battle is one to win hearts and minds of third parties. Why the need to falsely declare Israel an Apartheid state, which is a distortion of the facts as well as a distortion of the definition of Apartheid?

Clearly there is a battle to win over the Christian communities. It sought support from the Anglican Archbishop in order to solicit an unconditional Christian endorsement of the Muslim rejection. So the MJC went public; they rejected the Jews and sought the endorsement of the Christians.

The South African Jews, save for Chief Rabbi Goldstein, almost – unforgivably – kept quiet!

So again to spell it out. Israel is not an Apartheid state, even if it is a catchy jingle. Every Arab citizen of Israel has the same political rights as any other citizen of Israel. There was never an African party allowed to represent its constituents in parliament during the period of Apartheid. Robert  Sobukwe was never offered a position in B. J. Vorster’s  Nationalist cabinet. However, Arab parties have been in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, since the inception of the State of Israel. Mansour Abbas and his Ra’am Arab Islamist  political party are part of a new Israeli government, with Abbas an equal amongst equals. Any specific allegation of Apartheid can be easily refuted.

Distortion and Deception

Following the MJC emotively and publicly seeking the support of the Christian community with its inflammatory false allegations against Israel, it was left to the Chief Rabbi to warn South African Christians to be on guard and at least question what was being fed to them by the MJC.

Those well versed in what is happening in the Middle East know the true situation of Christians living under Muslim rule. While there are more Christians living under Israeli rule than there have ever been, the same cannot be said for Christians under Palestinian rule.  In Palestinian Gaza, the Christian population had dropped from 5,000 to under 1,000 in 2018. From 5% of the population under the control of the Palestinian Authority, the Christians now constitute less than 2% and the Christian population in the disputed territories continues to decrease. In the “little town of Bethlehem” the beleaguered Christians once constituted over 80% of the  population. Today, under the Palestinian Authority they now count at less than 10,000 or less than 10% of the city’s population and continues to decrease. This is the real “Christ at the Crossroads” and has nothing to do with Israel as the MJC would like South African Christians believe.

The Chief Rabbi sought to protect his flock from foreseeable harm and alleviate a climate of increasing hostility. He extended a gesture of peace. The MJC scorned it.

The Chief Rabbi sought to avoid the issue of religious sectarian hate, violence and intimidation arising in South Africa. The MJC chose instead to play politics, importing issues of the Middle East into South Africa.

The Chief Rabbi called for a statement of peace. The MJC chose the Palestinian cause over peace.

The Chief Rabbi opened his hand in peace. The MJC redefined the concept of peace and figuratively spat on his hand.

Resolute Rabbi. Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein who had earlier stood up to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s anti-Israel statement in the media, when asked for Muslim leadership to join him in calling for tolerance and non-violence was met with angered rejection.

It is time that the Muslim Judicial Council come forward and set out its position publicly, in the same way it did when it summarily dismissed Chief Rabbi Goldstein’s approach.  Where does it stand  and what lines are crossed if one calls for ethnic tolerance in South Africa? Similarly, having announced that it supports the “noble Palestinian Cause”, one should be able to understand if this a policy rather than a slogan. If support for a distant Palestinian cause is preferable over peace and tolerance toward fellow South African citizens who happen to be Jewish what then is the MJC‘s attitude toward Christians who are also supporters of Israel? Will they too be attacked or are they too large a group to be bullied as was the case with South Africa’s Chief Justice, who also called for peace in Jerusalem? Are they also to be sacrificed on the high altar of the Palestinian cause? The Muslim Judicial Council’s strategy of public rejection has a concurrent obligation – a reasonable explanation not simple slogans of “noble Palestinian causes”. 

Talk policy, don’t mouth slogans! 




About the writer:

Craig Snoyman is a practising advocate in South Africa.





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 (0&EO).

“From Slavery to Freedom”

Transformation is in the air! Do you feel it?

By Justine Friedman

Here in the northern hemisphere, the start of spring is tangible and with it comes a sense of shifting from a winter mindset which lends itself to cocooning and insulation, to the newness and openness to growth that comes with the advent of spring. Globally, we are still in the throes of the corona pandemic. What an interesting year it has been and so incredibly challenging on many levels.

When we first entered lockdown, the impression I had was of a temporary closure with return to normality after about a month or so. In fact, when the world first stopped, I was relieved. It gave me an opportunity to breathe and pause the usual rushing around that life had become. As lockdowns have extended and become part of regular life, the halt on a rushed life is still appreciated, however the new reality has opened the door to some introspection that I find myself experiencing as well as many of my clients.

Passover during a Pandemic. Medical personnel sit down for a Passover Seder at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba on April 8, 2020. (Health Ministry)

I would like to share some of the areas that my clients and I have spent time unpacking, which is particularly relevant to this time of year as we enter spring and move towards the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover). This festival is marked in the Jewish calendar as the liberation of the enslaved Children of Israel in Egypt over 3000 years ago following some 200 years of slavery. Imagine what it must have been like to be enslaved for such an extended period.

Each year, we celebrate this freedom from slavery with a 7-day (8 days outside of Israel) festival where we are forbidden to eat bread. In its place, we eat the very flat and often tasteless matzah (unleavened bread seen as a symbol of our freedom from slavery. Many of my clients’ experience panic over the limitations of foods and the dread of what they are not able to eat over this time. I find it eases their concern to rather focus on what is still permissible (which is quite considerable when you start to list the foods).

Is the concept of freedom from slavery relevant to our daily lives? Are we able to use this as an analogy for our own lives? Could this shift in mindset and breaking of shackles be representative of self-transformation that can enhance the quality and very fabric of our lives?

How can we understand this slave mentality better? Another way of describing it is being locked into a fixed mindset which is synonymous with feeling constricted. In this frame of mind, there is a general feeling of experiencing obstacles and lack of flow in our lives that often seem insurmountable. It is a sense of being stuck in habits, thought patterns, belief systems and situations that we cannot see our way clear of. Often the feeling of being stuck presents itself repeatedly with similar situations coming to challenge us. Often, we feel a sense of frustration and helplessness in the face of them.

The opposite of this is a freedom or growth mindset. The nature of which immediately allows one to draw a deep breath, as with this comes a sense of expansion, flow, and a sense of being able to rise above challenge, accomplish and thrive.

Awareness of how this plays out in everyday life is the starting point to transformation. Setting an intention to move towards establishing habits that fit the freedom/ growth mindset model is really what gets the process going. It is very normal to be able to face certain situations in life from one mindset and others from the complete opposite.

An example of this is an esteemed businessman or woman who is soaring in their career but finds that they cannot break the pattern of bad eating habits and negative self-talk. Their own inner taskmaster/ critic runs like a radio in their mind analysing how they are handling eating experiences and their bodies. In their work life they thrive on challenge and work well to meet deadlines and stay focused, and yet in their private life they do not believe that they are capable of making the changes necessary to lead a life of health, vitality and wellness. What spurs them on in their work area, breaks them in their personal area.

Passover Under Lockdown. Three siblings in Mevasseret Zion, near Jerusalem, wave to their grandmother in Haifa as she joins their Passover Seder via Zoom as Israel takes stringent steps to contain the coronavirus in April 8, 2020. (Photo Dan Williams/Reuter)
 

I often find that one of the greatest obstacles my clients face which keeps them stuck and enslaved to poor habits, is linked to negative self-talk and a feeling that on some level they are not worthy of wellness and taking care of themselves. Oftentimes, eating and food is used as a punishment and overindulgence. This can either be due to restricting intake as well as from overeating. It is so common to use food as a means of soothing emotions or repressing emotions, and situational triggers constantly keep one stuck in these negative cycles which leads to despair.

How does one move out of this mindset of enslavement, of behaving towards oneself as a cruel taskmaster?

Self-awareness is the first cog in getting the proverbial wheel to turn. This works best when locked into another forward moving wheel, that of an experienced practitioner who can mentor one each step of the way. There are many techniques available to assist in breaking the shackles of slave mindset and each is unique to the individual.

Where in your daily life do you find yourself feeling successful and rising to the challenge? Where do you feel the opposite? Stuck, enslaved and feeling blocked? How would you feel if the situations that you are currently feeling enslaved were to be removed? What would this mean for your daily life and for your future? Can you picture what that may look like?

This is a wonderful picture to have in one’s mind and despite your inner critic telling you otherwise it is very achievable to get there. All you must do is take that first step.

If given a choice between wellness and illness, I can confidently say that most people would opt for the former. It is this picture of wellness that can be used as the goal. How does one reach that goal? One micro-step and micro-achievement at a time. Try this on for size the next time you are faced with a choice involving food options that usually challenge you. Ask the question, is this moving me towards my goal or away from my goal?

I encourage you all to use the energy of this time of year to propel yourselves from feeling enslaved in your life, to experiencing freedom in those same areas.

May this bring a new meaning to your Pesach seder and allow for the usual recitation of a historical and biblical story, to spark the story of your own redemption.



About the writer:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Caveman-vs-Covid-man2.png

Justine Friedman (nee Aginsky), is a South African trained, Licensed Clinical Dietician and Mindset Mentor who has run a successful clinical private practise for over 20 years. She made Aliyah with her husband and two children in November 2019. Justine educates patients with the skills and tools of how best to develop a wellness mindset and adopt behaviours that lead to the integration and maintenance of healthier habits. She is based in Modi’in, Israel and is also available for online consultations via zoom.

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 endeavors to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)

The Jews who fought back during the Holocaust

By Gabriel  Groisman, Mayor of Bal Harbour, Florida.

Our communal sense of history and peoplehood, and our ties to our religion and traditions, will continue to give us the strength to continue being a light unto the nations while our enemies fall by the wayside.

Last week, leaders from around the world commemorated those who perished at the hands of the Nazis during International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year, like most, there were statements recognizing and remembering those who were taken from us by people all over the globe. The recognition is critical and something appreciated by all from the Jewish community worldwide.

Much has been written about what needs to be done during the remaining days of the year to properly commemorate and educate the world about the horrors of the Holocaust, and what “never again” really means. A recent Pew Research poll proves that Americans’ Holocaust education is sorely lacking. For example, only 45 percent of Americans interviewed even knew that 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. Even fewer knew that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany by a democratic political process.

Surely, what is far less known is how many Jews fought valiantly against the Nazis.

A group of female Jewish partisans. (Source: USHMM.)

But fight they did!

Jews fought back alongside resistance groups around Europe, organized uprisings in the ghettos, created partisan units and even fought back in the concentration camps, attempting to bomb a crematorium in Auschwitz. To properly commemorate the Holocaust, these stories must be told as well.

Group of Jewish partisan fighters in Soviet territories (Wiener Holocaust Library Collections)

To that end, I commemorate and honor the story of the following Jews who courageously fought back during World War II and the Holocaust. Their stories represent the thousands who fought to the end.

Mordechai Anielewitz

Mordechai Anielewitz

In April 1943, this leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising led 750 Jewish fighters armed with a handful of pistols, 17 rifles and Molotov cocktails  – all smuggled into the ghetto – in a clash with more than 2,000 heavily armed and well-trained German troops. They held off the Germans for 27 days.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Leader. Mordechai Anielewicz (top right) amongst with members of Hashoer Hatzair wanted to show the world that Jews could counter the German oppressors in open battle. He died along with his brave comrades, defending a basement in Mila Street on May 8, 1943.

Boris Lekach

Boris Lekach

This one is personal. My wife’s maternal grandfather, Lekach fought for the Russians against the Nazis. He enlisted at age 16 with doctored papers just so he could fight. He was also well-known to many in the Jewish community in Russia for helping Jews escape during and after the war.





The Bielski Brothers

Made famous in a number of books and in the 2008 movie “Defiance,” the Bielski brothers – Tuvia, Asael and Zus – fled their city in Belarus after their parents and two other siblings were murdered. The brothers found shelter in the forest, where they created one of the largest and most effective partisan groups during the war, focusing on guerrilla attacks against the Nazis and their collaborators, as well as on preserving Jewish life even in their hideout. In a little more than two years, the Bielski group grew to about 1,200 people.

The Bielski Partisans. Named after a family of Polish Jews who organized and led the organization,  ‘The Bielski Partisans’ rescued Jews from extermination and fought the German occupiers and their collaborators around Nowogródek and Lida in German-occupied Poland.

Tosia Altman

Tosia Altman. A courier and smuggler to Warsaw Gehtto. Tosia Altman was captured suffering severe burn wounds and handed over to the Gestapo where she died.

A young woman who used fake papers to smuggle weapons and information in and out of Poland’s ghettos. She was an active member of the social Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, active in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising alongside Anielewitz and the other brave fighters.








Eta Wrobel 

Eta Wrobel.  Eta’s exclusively Jewish partisan unit of close to eighty people, set mines to hinder German movement and to cut off supply routes.

A young woman in her 20s, Wrobel helped form an all-Jewish partisan unit in the Polish woods. Her unit attacked German troops as they traveled through the area and is credited for saving the lives of hundreds of Jews.




Rudolph Masaryk

Rudolph Masaryk. A prominent member of the Treblinka prisoner uprising, Czech prisoner Masarek was killed on 2 August 1943.

On Aug. 2, 1943, at the Treblinka extermination camp, Masaryk and other Jewish prisoners stole 20 grenades, 20 rifles and a few handguns. Together, they attacked the SS guards, while another doused a large part of the camp with gasoline and lit it on fire. Approximately 300 prisoners escaped and 40 Nazi guards were killed during the Treblinka uprising.



May their memories be a blessing.

While it’s critical for the world to remember on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and on every other day that the Nazis rose to destroy the Jewish people, it is equally important for all to remember that the Jewish people fought back, and ultimately, as a people, we survived.

Today, the Jewish people not only survive but thrive. Our communal sense of history and peoplehood, as well as our ties to our religion and traditions, will continue to give us the strength to continue being a light unto the nations while our enemies fall by the wayside, as did Hitler and all enemies before him.






*This article first appeared in the JNS.

About the writer:

Gabriel Groisman is the mayor of Bal Harbour, Fla., and an attorney at Meland Russin & Budwick, P.A., in Miami. He has been a leader in combating anti-Semitism and the BDS movement, having written and passed the first municipal anti-BDS ordinance, as well as the first codification of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. He is a co-founder of the Global Coalition of Mayors Against Hate and Discrimination.








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 (0&EO)

Scoring Hanukkah Goals

Follow in the ancient footsteps that gave birth to the Jewish “Festival of Lights” to this Hanukkah’s surprise at Jerusalem’s premium football club

By David E. Kaplan

Celebrating the start of Hanukkah today, I am watching my two grandchildren, Ariel and Yali enjoying their sufganiot (doughnuts). They may not know the history or understand the significance of this “festival of lights”  but these two and three year-olds  are enjoying the fun of Hanukkah roaring with laughter as they play with their spinning tops, known as dreidels (‘sevivon’ in Hebrew). One legend had it that during the time of the Hanukkah story,  Jews would grab a dreidel and start to play if Syrian soldiers entered the house while ‘illegally’ praying or studying Torah study. In the Diaspora, the four-sided dreidel displayed  four Hebrew letters –  ‘nun’, ‘gimel’, ‘hey’ and ‘shin’ representing the words ‘ne’s ‘gadol’ ‘hayah’andsham’, meaning “a great miracle happened there.”

In Israel, the last letter is changed to a ‘peh’, representing the word ‘po’, “here,” with the resulting declaration:

 “a great miracle happened here.”

And it sure has as modern day Israel – the Start-Up Nation testifies too. So what happened back then?

In around 168 BCE, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, the Hellenistic King of the Seleucid Empire stepped up his campaign to quash Judaism, so that they would share the same culture and worship the same gods.

Marching into Jerusalem, he vandalized the Temple and decreed that studying Torah , observing the Sabbath, and circumcising Jewish boys were punishable by death. To ensure his policies were carried out, he sent Syrian overseers and soldiers to villages throughout Judea to viciously enforce his edicts.

Entrance to Hasmonain Village.

When these soldiers reached Modiin, northwest of the capital, they demanded that the local leader, Mattathias the Kohein (a member of the priestly class), be an example to his people by sacrificing a pig on a portable pagan altar. He refused killing the King’s representative and with the rallying cry “Whoever is for God, follow me”, Mattathias and his five sons (Jonathan, Simon, Judah, Eleazar, and Yohanan) fled to the hills and caves of the wooded Judean wilderness and founded the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled from 164 BCE to 63 BCE. They reasserted the Jewish religion and reduced the influence of Hellenism on the indigenous Jewish population.

It is to this beautiful area I visited during a Hanukkah before Corona in the center of Israel. It lies amidst historical heritage sites and the national forest of Ben Shemen, all home to the ancient Maccabees and present day Israelis mostly living in the modern day city of Modi’in, halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Past and present merge in a colourful kaleidoscope  of nature and history.

Welcome back to the Past. The brainchild of Zohar Baram and his late wife Naomi, Zohar explains Hasmonian Village as a reconstruction of life in ancient times. (photo D.E. Kaplan)

Genesis

To get a taste of “authentic Israel” where the ancient Maccabees once lived and worked, I visited the reconstructed Hasmonian Village in Shilat and met its founder and Director, Zohar Baram.

He explains how it came about.

“After a tough day of fighting in the Sinai  during the Yom Kipur War in 1973, we were sitting around our tanks and armoured cars and turned on the radio when we heard the famous British actor, Peter Ustinov say that it had been “a mistake to create the State of Israel” and that “the Jews have no historical connection to the land – it’s a myth!” I was shocked.”

Voice in the Wilderness. The English actor, Peter Ustinov, whose tirade against Israel heard in the Sinai, spurned Hasmonain Village.

Only the year before he met and got to know the British actor when Ustinov stayed in Eilat for the filming in the Negev desert of a British-Israel film Big Truck and Sister Clare. Baram was taken on as Ustinov’s official guide, ‘So you can imagine we spent a lot of time together and we got to know each other quite well”.

Well, not quite!

A tank commander and fearless in battle, Zohar was brought to tears. “Hearing his tirade in that unmistakable voice, I made an instant decision. It was not enough to defend the land; I needed to defend our history. I realized in the sand dunes of Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments that I had to dedicate my life to the education of future generations of the historical connection of Jews to the Land of Israel.”

The result of this ‘revelation’ is today Hasmonaim Village which Zohar Baram established with his late wife, Naomi. “I love working with the youth and it is so important to show and explain to Israeli children who live in apartments what the homes of their ancestors over 2000 years ago looked like. How did they dress; what furniture they had; what decorated their walls and how they made a living.” The village which has a main road and homes on either side “is typical of the size of a village at the time.”

Back to the Grind. Zohar Baram showing the writer how people during the period of the Maccabe ground
 wheat with an ancient stone grinder. (photo D.E. Kaplan)
 

He passed me some wheat, placed it in an ancient stone grinder and then left it to me to produce grain that I placed in a plastic bag to take home. We then walked to the village mint, where Zohar hammered three coins “for your children” with motifs from ancient Judea. “The children love this and get the feel what life was like here two thousand years ago,” said Zohar.

Home Truths. At the time of the Hanukkah story, a sense of inside a home showing the furnishings and clothing worn at the time.

Leaving the village, I noticed the words taken from the Bible and inscribed in Hebrew, which translated reads:

When you see it, your heart will be happy”.

I left the village with a ‘happy heart’ and could well understand why filmmakers – mainly American – use it as a location for movies and documentaries. The most celebrated filmmaker that Zohar has worked with is the American Ken Burns noted for such documentaries as The Civil War and The Roosevelts. “When I work with such celebrated artists, I too enjoy a “happy heart’ when thinking back to that British actor in 1973 whose venomous words directed me on my life’s mission.”

Coining it. Activities include minting coins the ancient way. Zohar Baram passes me a newly minted ‘ancient’ coin. (photo D.E.Kaplan)

Field of Dreams

No visit to this area is complete without a visit to the Biblical Nature Reserve called Neot Kedumim, which in Hebrew means “pleasant pastures (or habitations) of old.” Covering an area of 2,500 dunams (2.5 km2; 0.97 sq mi), Neot Kedumim is a recreation of a biblical landscape.

A Visual Visit of the Bible. The Biblical landscape of Neot Kedumim near Modi’in, midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

In 1964, land was allocated for the project with the help of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and today comprises: the ‘Forest of Milk and Honey’, the ‘Dale of the Song of Songs’, ‘Isaiah‘s Vineyard’ and the ‘Fields of the Seven Species’. Signs are posted throughout the garden quoting relevant Jewish texts in Hebrew and English.

On arrival, my tour guide explained that when Ephraim and Hannah Hareuveni immigrated to Palestine in the 1920s, they dreamed of developing a biblical landscape reserve that “embodied the panorama and power of the landscapes that both shaped the values of the Bible and provided a rich vocabulary for expressing them.”

Their son, Nogah Hareuveni, a physicist, dedicated his life to implementing his parents’ dream. To build the park, thousands of tons of soil were trucked in, reservoirs were built to catch runoff rain water, ancient terraces, wine presses and ritual baths were restored, and hundreds of varieties of plants were cultivated.

It started in 1964 with Nogah and we teach,” continued the guide, “what he taught us. Working with the Bible in one hand and a spade in the other – he made the connection between the scriptures and nature.”

Noting how Jewish festivities have to do with a certain time of the year and a particular type of fruit, “he planted only those trees and plants that were indigenous in biblical times. He wanted visitors to understand the text of the Bible better by using their senses – seeing, smelling, touching, hearing and tasting.”

He reasoned that because the Bible conveys abstract ideas through parables using images from everyday life thousands of years ago, it had less traction in the 20th century, where people are more attuned to the imagery of consumerism. The idea of Neot Kedumim is to ‘experience’ the Bible in the context of an authentic Biblical landscape.  Nogah wanted Neot Kedumim “To be the photo album of the bible.”

Tapping into the Past. Extracting water the ancient way at Neot Kedumim. (Photo by Reut Shai Dror)

It was not surprising that in 1994, Neot Kedumim and Nogah Hareuveni, were joint recipients of the ‘Israel Prize – Israel’s most prestigious civilian award.

“I always tell my groups that while Israel today is known for its innovative start-up companies, it emanates from our past. To survive in this harsh land one had to come up with ideas; so, the tour will stop at the cistern and see how water was stored; different types of oil lamps and how someone had to think of the idea that one could extract oil from the olive to fuel the lamp, and the type of plant that provided the wick. Here at Neot Kedumim we see how ideas were nurtured in nature and how the ancient Israelites survived and thrived. Here is the beginning of Israel’s status as the Start-Up Nation.”

Seeing the Light. A guide explaining how the sage was the inspiration for the Menorah

Walking along the path feasting my eyes on the exquisite scenery, my guide suddenly raises his hand to stop a tractor coming towards us. Its driver Zachariah Ben Moshe stops, climbs off with a jump and introduces himself as being in charge of tree planting.  Explaining that I will be writing an article, he quickly points to the branches on a sage tree.

Holy Moses! Is this what Moses saw? The image of the Menorah is unmistakable in this flowering sage. (photo by Noga HaReuveny)

What does this remind you of?” he asks.

It stared at me in the face – it was so obvious.

The Menorah,” I answered. Described in the Bible as the seven-lamp ancient Hebrew lampstand made of pure gold, the Menorah was used in the portable sanctuary set up by Moses in the wilderness and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. Fresh olive oil was burned daily to light its lamps.

Exactly,” replies Ben Moshe. “The Menorah was taken from the sage. We read how God instructed Moses on how to build a Menorah who said: “Go out to the mountain and see its image.” Clearly, it was the sage he saw and as we say , the rest is history.”

Scoring a Goal for Normalisation

After endless enmity and divisions on the land, “history” was surely made before this Hanukkah with the announcement that the UAE royal family bought half of a top-tier Israeli soccer team –  but not just any team. It was Beitar Jerusalem Football Club – an Israeli soccer team with an anti-Arab reputation amongst its fan-base!

Cowers for an Enlightened Future. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family (left) and Beitar Jerusalem F.C. owner Moshe Hovav pose for a photo in Dubai.

This barrier-shattering deal is among the fruits of Israel’s nearly three-month-old normalisation agreement with the Emirates and  sends a strong symbolic message – that “winds of change” are blowing across the Middle East. The deal puts a Muslim Sheikh at the helm of Beitar Jerusalem, the only Israeli team that has never fielded an Arab player.  

So no Arab player, but now an Arab co-owner.

Times are changing – the will and optimism is there.

Says Beitar Jerusalem’s owner, Moshe Hogeg about the deal:

On the eve of Hanukkah, Beitar’s menorah is lit in a new and exciting light. Together, we will march the club to new days of coexistence, achievements, and brotherhood for the sake of our club,  community and Israeli sports.”

With the belief of influencing hearts and minds, UAE’s Sheikh Bin Khalifa, a first cousin of the de facto Emirati ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, proudly asserted that his investment represented:

 “the fruits of peace and brotherhood between the nations”.

When asked in a live video-linked interview about the reputation of the fan-base of the club he had invested, Sheikh Bin Khalifa replied in the spirit of Hanukkah:

They are mostly young, in their twenties. We should extend them the hand and show them the light.”

Setting New Goals. Israeli Arab midfielder Diaa Sabia (right) with a club official during his presentation at Dubai’s Al-Nasr club.

The new Emirati co-owner added that the Israeli soccer club was open to recruiting Arab players. Already an Israeli Arab midfielder, Diaa Sabia has signed for a Dubai club.

There is this Hanukkah, a movement, momentum and message in ‘play’ – shining  LIGHT on a path ahead towards greater understanding and outreach.



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 (O&EO).

Remembering Rabbi Sacks – Giant of the Jewish World

Global Jewry mourns one of its greatest.

By Rolene Marks

Acts of kindness never die. They linger in the memory, giving life to other acts in return.” – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

The Great Communicator. Towering intellectual giant and warm endearing personality, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

This past weekend, on Shabbat, the Jewish world lost one of its greatest. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l, passed away at the age of 72 after a battle with cancer. As tributes pour in from around the world, from people of all faiths and backgrounds, we too, add ours to the growing international chorus wishing to show our deep appreciation for a true gentleman whose work impacted many and transcended boundaries.

A titan of the Jewish world, with a towering intellect, whose voice could at once stir and soothe, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was more than just the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth; he was seen by many as the Jewish people’s Ambassador to the world.

Ambassador for Faith and Morality. Former prime minister Tony Blair (right) presents Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (left) with a Lifetime Achievement award at the Jewish News’ Night of Heroes (photo credit: BLAKE EZRA PHOTOGRAPHY)
 

Known in equal parts for his majestic intellect, unwavering faith as well as his commitment to interfaith dialogue, Rabbi Sacks was a noted bridge builder and humanitarian whose wisdom and dulcet toned voice appealed to the religious and the secular, Jewish and non-Jew alike.

For many, regardless of faith, his gentle wisdom delivered in his unique soothing timbre would make any challenge seem surmountable, any conflict, resolvable.

Hope and Courage. Facing the future, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s TED Talk #174 was on “Navigate the corona pandemic with hope and courage”.

Renowned for his exceptional intellect, Rabbi Sacks penned many articles, books and other notable writings and would parlay this into a successful career as a speaker and media personality.  He was a sought after speaker on issues such as war and peace, religious fundamentalism, ethics, and the relationship between science and religion, among other topics. Sacks wrote more than 20 books and was lauded by many for making Judaism accessible to all.

Rabbi Sacks served as Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013 and was knighted by her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II in 2005; he was awarded a life peerage four years later in the House of Lords.

Rabbi Sacks made no secret of his great love for the State of Israel – or his concern for growing antisemitism and the threat it posed to world Jewry. He was a fierce advocate for the Jewish State and often her most vocal supporters in times of strife.  Rabbi Sacks was passionate about engagement with the youth, encouraging them to feel proud to be both Jewish and Zionist. He raised the alarm on rising antisemitism in a recent address to the UK parliament, warning that there were no longer any countries in Europe where Jews feels safe. He also courageously took a stand against former UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn who was emblematic of rising antisemitism in the UK.

The Prince and the Rabbi. Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks in conversation with Prince Charles (left) at the Chief Rabbi Sacks royal tribute dinner.

Rabbi Sacks was the consummate English gentleman. Perhaps it is HRH Prince Charles who said it best in his moving tribute when he said that Rabbi Sacks would be missed more than words can say.

We may never see the likes of this great scholar and humanitarian again. His passing poignantly reminds us of what we so sorely miss – and need.  Our deepest condolences to his family.

May his memory be eternally blessed.





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