PAKISTANI BURNING

Israelis respond to mobs burning Christian churches and homes in Pakistan after blasphemy allegations

By Jonathan Feldstein

Perhaps you have heard the news.  Fires torching hundreds of properties. Entire households burned to the ground.  Every personal belonging lost.  Thousands of lives destroyed.  The devastation has been unprecedented, and it will take years to rebuild that which can be rebuilt. But the personal tragedies and lives lost may never heal. 

If you’re in the West, you may have heard about the tremendous loss in Maui, Hawaii. Wildfires have left a trail of death and destruction. As horrible as that is, it is not what I am writing about today.

Christians look at burnt furniture and other things outside their homes vandalized by an angry Muslim mob in Jaranwala in the Faisalabad district, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

While Maui was burning in what was an act of God, Christian communities in Pakistan have been burning, torched to the ground, not as an act of God but as an act of evil. Trumped up charges of “blasphemy” by Moslems in Pakistan against two Christian men was the spark that set off a widespread rampage of attacks by Moslems against their Christian neighbors that have lasted nearly a week as of this writing.

In Pakistan, charges of blasphemy can carry a death penalty. Blasphemy can be as simple as “embarrassing” Islam. Sometimes, mobs of people take this Pakistani Islamic justice into their own hands. So much for the religion of peace.

For days, an out-of-control pogrom has been carried out against Christians, with law enforcement turning a blind eye as if there’s any legitimate excuse for that.  Dozens of churches have been ransacked, looted, and burned to the ground. Hundreds of Christian homes were also attacked, looted, and burned. Personal belongings that were too big to loot were simply dragged to the street and burned. Countless bibles have been burnt, desecrated, destroyed. 

A boy comforts a woman weeping after her home was vandalised by a Muslim mob. (KM Chaudary/AP Photo)

All this, displaced thousands of lives, entire extended families forced to flee their homes, their communities, seeking shelter anywhere they could, even makeshift tents in open areas.  Not that this would make them safer from the attacks of their Moslem neighbors.  It just made them more vulnerable, marked, open to assault. Just less to burn.  They fled with the clothes on their backs, and now have nothing left, and no homes to return to.

Pakistan Muslim Mob Attacks Christian Churches, Property Over Blasphemy Charges

Even if they could return, how will they ever move back, even if their homes are rebuilt?  How will they ever feel safe among the Moslem neighbors whose hate was ignited against them and their faith? But they are stuck in Pakistan, with nowhere to go, as second-class citizens, tolerated but not really accepted.  The targets of evil hatred whenever there’s an excuse. There’s no recourse.

A few years ago, I posted a video on YouTube of a Christian man in Pakistan being lynched and burned to death.  Apparently that  – the posting not the lynching and burning – violated their “community standards” against violence. Earlier this year, because of that, YouTube blocked me. When I “appealed”, I got an immediate automated response that my appeal was rejected. I laughed at first, realizing that YouTube houses no shortage of gratuitous violence, but when it comes to posting real crimes to highlight the evil amid which Christians have to exist there, that’s too much for their sensitive community standards. I hesitate to post videos I have seen of the most recent violence, but they are real and horrific.

Unlike Maui, Pakistani Christians have no insurance.  No state of federal money to rebuild. Police are not comforting, much less protecting the victims in Pakistan. Pakistani Christians exist in the crosshairs of a society that’s simply unsafe. They are tolerated, sometimes, but not protected. Second class?  How about seventh class.  

A Christian man emerges from a vandalised home in Jaranwala. (KM Chaudary/AP Photo)

In the past week, many of my Pakistani Christian friends have turned to me, in Israel, for prayers and support. They are heartbroken, devastated, and scared. Yet as much as they fear for themselves and their families, they are trying to help those most in need, as good Christians should for one another. However, for them, simply reaching out to me, an Orthodox Jew in Israel, could trigger more violence, even lynching.  As much as they may be “tolerated” in Pakistan, Israel and the Jews are the enemy.

They also know I’ll help, because I care, and because I did a year ago when they were struck by floods of Biblical proportions and Christians suffered because of their status far more than average Moslem Pakistanis. Seventh class.

Christians remove burned furniture and other items from their vandalised homes. [KM Chaudary/AP Photo]

I undertook this effort then on behalf of the Genesis 123 Foundation which exists to build bridges between Jews and Christians and Christians with Israel in ways that are new, unique, and meaningful. This includes looking out for persecuted Christians, specifically in the Middle East. A year ago, after unprecedented flooding across Pakistan, we stepped up to raise funds to support our Pakistani Christian friends who suffered even more of the devastation than the Moslem population. Unprecedented.  An organization of Jews and Christians, run by an Orthodox Israeli Jew, reaching out to protect Christians in Pakistan.  It was a blessing to do so, and it was our responsibility, to be a blessing to the families of the world.

Church on the outskirts of Faisalabad was burned. [Ghazanfar Majid/AFP]

As entire families in Pakistan have been devastated, we launched a campaign again, urgently, to provide any funding, as generously as possible, so we can help with the rebuilding. Our partners and friends are reliable and have the highest integrity.  One is asking for a meagre $20,000.  The truth is even $120,000 is not enough.  But that’s our goal.  We want the impact to be felt as widely as possible because there are and will be needs far beyond the physical and tangible losses. 

I pray that Jews and Christians, and anyone of good conscience, will step up and join the efforts. Maui is horrible. My heart is pained for all the loss. But as much as that’s true, there’s no aid for Pakistani Christians. Not until now.



About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.





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).

YIDDISH SPEAKER – TEACH YOURSELF ENGLISH

The story of a book, its journey and the people it enlightened

By Stephen Schulman

Some time ago, an interesting book came into my possession. English Home Teacher: Practical Lessons in English by Alexander Harkavy had reached me via a circuitous route and with an interesting history. My wife Yona‘s family: her father Meir and mother Tsila together with her mother’s mother and a brother, all Holocaust survivors, had come to Israel in 1949 while the eldest sister remained in Russia. Meir’s entire nuclear family had not survived. A few years later, her uncle and grandmother left for the United States to join her other uncle, also a Holocaust survivor, living there. In 1956, her aunt, Gesia, succeeded in leaving the Soviet Union and spent some years in the States staying with her brothers helping to look after their young children before finally settling in Israel and bringing the book with her.

Man of Words. The Russia-born writer, lexicographer and linguist Alexander Harkevy who after the antisemitic pogroms of 1880 in Russia, joined the Jewish Am Olam (Eternal People) back-to-the-land movement. Unlike Bilu, which directed its activities towards Palestine, Am Olam saw a Jewish future in the United States. In 1882 he emigrated to the US but rather than fulfilling back-to-the-land aspirations, he gravitated to the written word.

Aunt Gesia was fluent in Yiddish, Polish and Russian but the pressing need was to learn English. Caring for her nephews and nieces left little time for formal study. It was then that she acquired the English Home Teacher: Practical Lessons in English. A New Method for Home Instruction: that had been expressly written for Yiddish speakers to learn English.

The book’s author Alexander Harkavy was a most noteworthy gentleman, both talented and industrious. Born in 1863 in Novogrodek, Belorussia, the grandson of the town rabbi, he showed an early interest in languages acquiring knowledge of Hebrew, Russian, Syriac, German and Yiddish. Moving to Vilna at the age of fifteen, he wrote his first work in Yiddish and three years later after the pogroms of 1881, immigrated to the United States.

Beginnings in Belorussia. The town of Nowogródek in Belorussia where Alexander Harkavy was born in 1863. (Photo Shtetl Routes Teatr NN.PL)

Harkavy’s love of Yiddish together with his gift for languages soon crystallized into a vocation. Before making New York his permanent home in 1890, he had led a peripatetic life alternating between Europe and North America helping to found a Yiddish newspaper and a periodical. Once settled in the Big Apple, his literary output was prodigious. With many Jews from Eastern Europe arriving and not having time or opportunity to formally learn the new language, he published Der Englishe Learer (The English Teacher) 1891 and Der Englisher Brivnshteler (The English Letter Writer) 1892 in the “English self taught” genre expressly written for Yiddish speakers and that became immensely popular.

Posing with Peers. Representing the American organization HIAS during a visit to Europe in 1920, Alexander Harkavy (seated, center) posing at a table with fellow representatives from Jewish communal organisations

His talents were not confined to textbooks and in his prolific career, Harkavy translated Don Quixote into Yiddish, revised the King James English Bible, translated it into Yiddish for a dual language version and compiled and contributed to many Yiddish anthologies and publications. Amongst his many other activities, he taught U.S. history and politics for the New York Board of Education and Yiddish literature and grammar at the Teacher’s Seminary in New York. However, his lasting contributions were in lexicography where he compiled Yiddish-English and English-Yiddish dictionaries and the crowning achievement: the Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary (1925) that played an important role in educating East European Jewish immigrants and is in use today.

Yidden Gems. It is partly due to Harkavy’s work that Yiddish today is regarded as a language. His Yiddish dictionaries show that its vocabulary is as ample as that of the average modern language, and that, if lacking in technical terms, it is richer in idiomatic and characteristic expressions.

The English Home Teacher: Practical Lessons in English first published in 1921 and reprinted in 1929 is both a fascinating and enigmatic book. The 272 pages contain 50 lessons each of which commences with a short passage in English, each word accompanied by its translation and a pronunciation guide. It is then followed by a grammatical exposition very often having no connection to the passage itself. Naturally, all the explanations and pronunciations are in Yiddish in Hebrew script.  

To put it mildly: didactically, the book is no great shakes. In fact, it would make the eyebrows of a modern and trained English teacher curl! There is no logically graded structure and progression, no revision or reinforcement. In the very first lesson, the neophyte English learner is served a heady brew of past simple active and passive and present perfect tenses plus comparison of adjectives! Moreover, as the pronunciation guide for each English word in the text is written in Yiddish, it would have been interesting to hear someone’s first attempts at enunciation. Nevertheless, it should be borne in mind that this book was written over a century ago when the science of language teaching had barely emerged from its swaddling clothes.

After four decades in the USA, Harkavy was well versed in the contemporary culture, fluent and well read in the vernacular. With his home in New York, he was thoroughly conversant with the current trends of American society. Moreover, he was also on intimate terms with the immigrant experience of his co-religionists and knew full well the basic English required in order to survive and make a living in this new and daunting land.

Well-traveled Book. Expressly written for Yiddish speakers to learn English, Alexander Harkavy’s ‘English Home Teacher’ found its way into the writer’s wife’s family and finally ended up in Israel.

Logic dictates that the English be modern, the passages be relevant and the vocabulary be practical and utilitarian to enable the user to interact and communicate with his/her surroundings. Therefore, it is most puzzling to read the contents of the introductory reading passage in each lesson where the writer has chosen to take the opposite tack. The majority of them are anecdotal, often piquant and pithy with a moral attached whilst others are homiletic. Furthermore, their contents are mainly drawn from early Victorian England with the corresponding vocabulary. It demands a great stretch of the imagination see how archaic terms such as: “a droll fellow, to dine, a duke, an incision, the latter, a witty idler, a tankard, a draught, taken counsel, took lodging, a roguish companion, whereupon” etc. etc. could be put to daily use or even understood in the Bronx.

What were Harkavy’s motives in choosing the texts?

Was he trying to show off and impress his readers with his erudition and grasp of English? This doesn’t seem likely as he was well known and highly regarded in the community and his learned reputation went before him.

Harkavy, having grown up in the world of Talmud studies, was familiar with the tradition of exegesis, wit, pilpulim (hair splitting argumentation and debating) and knew that many new immigrants from Eastern Europe had a similar background. Possibly, he chose the reading passages to appeal to their tastes for most of them are witty, humorous and thought provoking. The introductory passage to the third lesson begins:

A lunatic in an insane asylum was asked how he came there, and he answered: “The world said I was mad, I said the world was mad and they outvoted me.”

Much food for thought!

The English Home Teacher: Practical Lessons in English was first published in 1921, a year that boded ill for the millions of Jews wishing to flee the persecution, pogroms and mass murders of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states and seek a haven on safe shores. There had been a shift in American public opinion and sympathy for all those displaced and stateless had become a fear of being swamped by a wave of impoverished immigrants, feeble in body that would cause the growth of slums, expose workers to cut throat wage competition and endanger American standards of living. That same year, with the passing of the Emergency Quota Act, the United States had declared a moratorium on its immigration policies and had begun to drastically restrict the number of newcomers with Australia, Canada, South Africa and other countries following suit.

Food for Thought. The first lesson in Harkavy’s book – first published in 1921 – is about eating dinner.

With his finger on the pulse, Harkavy was no doubt painfully aware that the Jewish newcomers from Eastern Europe fitted the popular and biased stereotype of the unskilled and indigent immigrant with his/her broken or non-existent English. Maybe he felt that his book offering reading passages on a ‘high level’ would enable its students to acquire a more sophisticated vocabulary with better communication skills to dispel this negative image, ease integration and aid their entry into the work market.

In the archives of ANU (the Museum of the Jewish People) situated on the campus of the Tel Aviv University, there is a film of his visit to Novogrodek in the early 1930’s. The atmosphere was festive for here was a native son who had made good in the Goldene Medina returning as a celebrity to pay his respects to his birthplace. The feted guest was escorted around town and proudly shown the Jewish institutions: the mikveh (ritual bath), the synagogue, the yeshiva and the Talmud Torah with the little children studying diligently at their tables.

Covers a lot of Ground. The cover of Harkavy’s book that must have prepared so many Yiddish speaking immigrants from Eastern Europe to the USA.

The film is bittersweet and very sad and serves as yet another testimony to Jewish presence wiped out during the Holocaust. In 1941, the German army occupied the town and the 10,000 Jewish inhabitants – men, women and children – who comprised half of the town’s population, were ultimately murdered with the assistance of local collaborators. Harkavy was spared the agony of hearing this terrible news.

He had passed away in New York in 1939.



About the writer:

Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.





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).

EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT CHANUKAH BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK

By Jonathan Feldstein

Recently, I was asked to teach about Chanukah with a church group in Dallas. I entered the conversation thinking it was really quite straight forward, that most Christians at least in America surrounded by a Judeo-Christian culture, know at least the basics about the holiday.

I began by relating a story about when I did a teaching two years ago with a group of pastors in Africa, who have no interaction with Jews or Jewish culture. One pastor stated excitingly that it seemed like such a great holiday, we should celebrate it more often. I always found that one of the most charming jumping off point for discussion, even with Christians in America who know much more, but typically don’t know as much as one would think.

Chanukah is the celebration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Greek enemies of Israel. Rather than destroying the Temple, again, they desecrated it, which left it unfit for ritual use.

The answer to my African pastor friend as to why we don’t celebrate Chanukah more often is because Chanukah is always celebrated on the 25th of the Biblical month of Kislev, the day that the Temple was rededicated, some 2200 years ago.

The restoration of the Temple was made possible by a military victory under the leadership of Judah Maccabi. The name Maccabi has become synonymous with strength and overcoming enemies. It has also been adapted for use in popular culture, among other things the name of a popular musical group and a line of frozen kosher foods in America, as well as the name of one of Israel’s largest health funds.

Most Christians know that Chanukah is an eight-day holiday commemorating the miracle that during the rededication of the Temple enough pure oil was found to light the menorah for one day, but which miraculously lasted for eight days. For eight days we light candles, increasing one candle each night. We eat traditional foods that are fried in oil commemorating the miracle of the oil. Not so healthy but decadent and tasty.

Chanukah is also a musical holiday during which it is customary to sing Psalms 113 to 118, called Hallel, thanking God for the miracles He has performed. There are also many songs celebrating the miraculous victory over Israel‘s enemies.

But even if you were a biblically literate Christian with a deep knowledge of Judaism, how would you know all this about Chanukah since it is not featured prominently in the Bible. For answers to this and other questions delving into the how and why of what we do, I hosted Rabbi Avi Baumol on my Inspiration from Zion podcast.

During my teaching in Dallas, I received questions relating to who lights the candles and why. There were questions relating to the giving of presents as well, with a popular misconception that every family gives every member a present every night. I explained that each family has its tradition.

Also, because Chanukah is not one of the Biblical pilgrimage festivals during which all forms of labor are prohibited as instructed in the Bible, it offers an opportunity for families to have larger social gatherings, employ different traditions. Especially in Israel where it is a public holiday and schools are closed, it’s common for people to travel throughout the country, or even overseas during our popular winter vacation.

I also related how in Israel, weeks and sometimes months before Chanukah, the whole culture begins to focus on the holiday. This includes Chanukah displays in stores, the increasing number of Chanukah delicacies on offer such as latkes and brisket to kugel and jelly doughnuts –  and more. And it’s as mundane as hearing Chanukah songs as background music in malls and other public places, replete with seasonal sales that also employ the holiday themes.  

As much as this was new information for many of the participants, I especially liked engaging them about the place in the New Testament where Chanukah is mentioned. It’s so subtle that if you don’t know what the first century Jewish culture is about, you wouldn’t necessarily know that John 10:22 is talking about Jesus celebrating Chanukah in Jerusalem. But if you don’t know what “the Festival of the dedication” is, you would have no idea that Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate the holiday.  

As an Orthodox Jew with less familiarity with the New Testament, this raised many interesting questions which we discussed, but many of which were still unanswered.

Since Chanukah is not a pilgrimage holiday like Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost), Sukkot (Tabernacles) when Jews were expected to worship and bring offerings to the Temple, I asked why Jesus was in Jerusalem anyway.

I wanted to understand why this one reference in all of the New Testament was there to begin with. Was it the only time that Jesus came to Jerusalem for the holiday and if so why and what was going on? Or is there something that was unique about this one particular visit, and it’s assumed that Jesus spent many winters celebrating Chanukah in Jerusalem. Unlike today when one can drive between Nazareth and Jerusalem in under three hours, making a pilgrimage by foot or donkey would take days, and days of planning. Forget the time off work.

While the conversation was going on, one person googled and shared some information which affirmed that it was customary for first century Jews to go to the Temple. After all, the military conquest and rededication of the Temple was relatively modern history to them.

This did not answer my questions, but did affirm something that should not be forgotten and that is that Jesus was a first century Jew, his life and culture were Jewish, and he worshiped in the Temple according to Jewish tradition. In a world where ‘Replacement Theology’ (i.e. that God has rejected the Jews and they are no longer his chosen people) remains widespread, and some try to erase the centrality of Jerusalem to Jews (and therefore Christians), it’s important that we remember this, and that Christians understand that everything Jesus did was essentially Jewish.



About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.





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 OCTOBER I DIDN’T GET MARRIED

My bride-to-be was one of fewer than 900 Jews to be given permission to leave the USSR that year. Did my activism on her behalf rob me of a ‘wife’?

By Jonathan Feldstein

(*First published in “The Times of Israel“)

In July 1985, I got engaged. The plan was to get married in October 1987, or at least begin the process to get married.  Under the circumstances, I couldn’t have just eloped, gone to a local court, or organized a more traditional Jewish wedding as would have been my inclination.  My fiancé was a Soviet Jewish refusenick. I proposed marriage the day we met in July 1985. The idea was that I was going to marry Kate to get her US citizenship, bring her to the USA, and use her becoming an American to get the rest of her family out.

Given how Soviet Jews were persecuted daily in every facet of life, this was my little battle to seek the freedom of at least one family.

I was committed to this arrangement, albeit one that would have been fictious and illegal according to US law.  I referred to Kate as my fiancé for two years and made arrangements to try to learn what would be needed to initiate a Soviet civil marriage, at a time before the internet and when phone calls and even letters were monitored by the KGB.  So I couldn’t just google how to get married in the USSR, and I couldn’t write or speak about it in our communications, lest we get caught. 

I am not sure my fiancé fully understood how serious I was, considered me her fiancé, or had any grasp of what I was doing to raise awareness (and funds) to make this possible, albeit under the radar so neither the Soviets nor the American government would have been on to me.  I understood the US penalty for a fictitious marriage and was prepared to risk it, despite a hefty fine and possible jail time. As serious as I was, and my efforts were admired, sometimes people joked that it was a way to buy myself a Russian bride and other less PG-rated suggestions!

I suspect it’s still illegal for a US citizen to marry someone for the purpose of getting them US citizenship, and since I never did it I suppose it’s safe for me to talk now about a crime I didn’t commit 35 years ago. But it’s strange that hundreds of thousands cross the US border regularly, albeit illegally, for much less noble reasons, and filing any legal charges against anyone are unheard of. Yet had I been caught I could have spent my 20s in jail, and my “wife” deported.

The author (l), Kate (m), and her father Victor (r): July 1985, the day I met them and proposed marriage. (courtesy)

My plans to return to the USSR in October 1987 were well underway by the time I got a phone call from Kate that July, sharing the news that she and her family had just been freed from the USSR.  They became four of fewer than 900 Jews to be given permission to leave the USSR that year. Ted Koppel anchoring ABC News, telling part of the story in March 1998 summed up the situation well, “It’s hard to tell why the Soviets do what they do.” But conventional wisdom was that because of my activism and putting the spotlight on her family, they were released in order to avoid the continued headache of the publicity I had already generated.  Little did they know what I had in store!

I was committed to this fictitious marriage and knew it would change and complicate my life, though I don’t think I was aware of how much, even assuming I didn’t get caught. The Soviets granting Kate’s family their freedom was one of the best non-wedding presents I could have received.

I don’t think about this part of my past so often, but this year marks 35 years.  It’s a milestone.  A non-anniversary I celebrate alone. 

What made me really think about it most recently is the visit a few weeks ago of my ex-fiance’s 16-year-old son, Mehael, to meet my family and spend Shabbat with us.  Despite having never met Mehael, I felt a kinship to him immediately.  Mehael is studying on the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program.  It’s no little thing that he has a strong connection to Israel and the Jewish people.  Growing up in the US, he could just as easily assimilate into American society. But his Jewish identity and connection to Israel are so strong that he made it a priority to spend a semester of high school in Israel, not waiting for a gap year between high school and college.  Mehael talks about making Aliyah and serving in the IDF.  

Mehael (r) and the author (l) after a delightful Shabbat and first meeting which felt like a family reunion. He reminded me of myself at his age when I adopted his family, became pen pals, and committed to getting them free from the USSR, even through a fictitious marriage to his mother. (courtesy)

If one understands even a little about how the Soviets persecuted Jews and prevented them from practicing Judaism or connecting to their heritage, of course its understandable why Jews wanted to leave, and eventually did so en mass.  But it’s not to be taken for granted that as a first generation American, child, and grandchild, of people who identify as Jews but are not practicing, that he would proactively choose to undertake the path he has. 

His determination reminded me of myself at his age when I adopted his family, became pen pals with his mother, and committed to getting them free, even through a fictitious marriage if need be. While I felt connected and was able to share things about his family that he didn’t know, he was surprised to learn about my plans to marry his mother. For me, it was a huge undertaking and part of my life that still is relevant.  He couldn’t imagine that I would have done this. In retrospect decades later, there is something unimaginable about it. 

Mehael is tremendously bright and inquisitive, wanting to learn more about Israel and the Jewish people.  He’s fluent in Russian and was impressed I taught myself to read Russian to be able to get around Moscow on my own without calling attention to myself as a twenty-something year old tourist on my own, plotting to marry a Soviet citizen to get her free. As much as he knows about the history of the USSR and the Jews and his family there, there are many things he doesn’t know.  That’s all the more so among his peers who are fourth and fifth generation Americans and who have no idea of the history of persecution of Soviet Jews, or the complementary struggles both among Jews in the USSR and in the West to free them.

The history of the persecution and redemption of Soviet Jews is an essential chapter in our modern history as a people, the history of Israel, along the timeline of Jewish history in general. Whether they know Russian or not from speaking to their parents and grandparents, I hope that students like Mehael, in the US, Israel and everywhere else, will be able to learn about this, and take the story of someone once their age as a model to continue to be connected and do good for our people for generations to come.  

Forgetting the modern exodus of our people from the USSR would be as bad as forgetting the Biblical Exodus, both central to our history and where we are today. As much as my idea of marrying Kate was unimaginable, forgetting this chapter in our history would be much worse.




About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.



* (Feature picture: Justin Oberman/Creative Commons)





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).

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.





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