The City of Jaffa is in The State of Israel!

Open letter by Stephen Schulman

During Ramadan, South Africa’s online newspaper, The Daily Maverick published a food article by Cape Town writer Ayesha Mukadam entitled, “Celebrating Ramadan by Sending ‘boeka’ Plates around the World.”

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Careless With Cuisine. Founder of ‘Boeka Without Borders’, writer Ayesha Mukadam chooses to deny Israel’s existence in her food article.

A Cape Muslim Afrikaans word for breaking one’s fast at sunset during Ramadan, “Boeka”, explains Mukadam, “is synonymously celebrated in the Cape with the sharing and exchange of boeka plates with neighbours, family and friends.”  

Not possible during Covid-19, the writer laments “It is the first Ramadan that I can recall, where no boeka plates are being exchanged. I missed this Cape tradition that is inherent to my culture and upbringing.” 

To compensate, Mukadam created an Instagram platform and invited people during the month of Ramadan while under lockdown, to share their “virtual boeka from across streets, neighbourhoods, countries and oceans.”

Amongst those sharing is Basel Agbaria from Jaffa, Israel, who Mukadam describes is from Palestine.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-05-21-celebrating-ramadan-by-sending-boeka-plates-around-the-world/

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Sea’ing Is Believing. Famous for its association with the biblical stories of Jonah and the whale and King Solomon, Israel’s ancient port city of Jaffa with neighbouring Tel Aviv in the background (left).

A Lay of the Land contributor, Stephen Schulman replies in an open letter to The Daily Maverick and its writer:

Dear Ayesha Mukadam,

I read your article about your site in The Daily Maverick, the online publication bringing news and views from South Africa, on “boeka” a Cape Muslim Afrikaans word for iftar – breaking one’s fast at sunset during Ramadan. In it, you declared your purported aim of using food in the Muslim month of Ramadan as a means of connecting and bringing people of all faiths together – a most laudable initiative in these turbulent and troubled times.

Mention of the Cape brought back many memories. Growing up in the 50’s on the Lower Main Road in the suburb of Claremont, Cape Town where my parents once had a shop. We lived in amity and mutual respect with our many Muslim customers and neighbours. Whilst we did not partake of “Iftar”, we were well aware of the Muslim faith, its beliefs, practices and customs. Cape Town had its own particular cuisine and I can still taste those marvelous samoosas that have no equal anywhere in the world!

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Taste Of Tradition. Celebrating Ramadam by ‘sending’ beoka plates around the world.

Tolerance of all faiths was the accepted and unspoken norm – an absolute sine qua non. In my student days, I worked part time at a Claremont dry cleaner with its large Muslim staff many of whom I remember well. There was friendship, harmony and cooperation for we could not see it otherwise!

I note that in your article, you referred to the city of Jaffa as being in Palestine. Your correspondent Basel Agbaria resides in Israel (NOT Palestine) in Jaffa, an historic town close to Tel Aviv that is located next to the sea and has a mixed population of Muslims, Christians and Jews who peacefully co-exist and where iftar is practiced openly and freely.

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Nasreen Khan shares this boeka meal from Seychelles with her siblings and parents in Ladysmith. (Photo: Nasreen Khan / @msnasreen)

You have intentionally omitted the word Israel and supplanted it with Palestine. There is indeed a Palestinian Authority on the West Bank but it spews out antisemitic hatred and bankrolls terrorists. Bethlehem that once had a thriving Christian majority and mayor, after relinquishment of Israeli control to the Palestinians, has seen its residents emigrate in droves, leaving a rapidly shrinking Christian minority – presently only one eighth of the population. Hamas in the Gaza Strip, with its avowedly Jewish genocidal aims also persecutes Christians, many of whom fear for their lives.

No ‘boeka’ there, I’m afraid!

How unfortunate and tragic that in the Middle East, tolerance has been long swiftly defenestrated and replaced with hatred and persecution. Those days in Walmer Estate, so fondly recalled by Nadia Kamies where all faiths lived side-by-side and come Ramadan, Muslims would share Boeka with their Christian neighbours, here, in the countries bordering Israel (NOT Palestine), are sadly extinct. In Syria, in the ongoing civil war, more than half a million of its citizens – have been slaughtered by their co-religionists. In Iraq, the Sunnis and Shiites share a mutual hatred while the Christians are caught in the middle. Jewish communities in the Middle East that existed long before the advent of Islam, are long gone.  Most of these inhabitants were disenfranchised, expelled or having fled for their lives.

I live in Israel (NOT Palestine), a country of 9,000,000 citizens, a state that is a member of the United Nations and whose blue and white flag, amongst all the other nations, proudly flutters at their New York headquarters, a state whose name appears on any reputable atlas, a sovereign state recognized by the community of enlightened nations. It is also the sole democracy in the Middle East, where Jews, Muslims and other faiths live and work side by side. Israel is an oasis where the freedom of worship is guaranteed by law. A national radio broadcasts for its Muslim listeners, official times of beginning and ending the daily Ramadan fast.

Your blatant disrespect for my country and denial of Israel’s existence and its centrality to our faith is an insult to the Jewish people and their religion and makes a mockery of your so-called respect for all faiths.

How sad that your professed aim of bringing people together is marred by bigotry and bias and how hollow your words of creating “community and solidarity… among people of different religions and nationalities” sound.

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Stuart Coffey shares this Thai pineapple fried rice with a friend in San Diego, US. (Photo: Stuart Coffey / @stucoffey)

I suggest that next time you cook up your site that “is centered around the universal value of sharing food to connect and unite”, that you dispense with the ingredients of hatred and denial and liberally spice it with tolerance and a genuine acceptance of the rights of others and other nations to exist. If so done, dear Ayesha, it would be truly palatable for us all.

With best wishes,

Stephen Schulman,

Israel

 

 

About the writer:

image001 (4).pngStephen Schulman is a graduate of the 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.

 

 

 

*Title Picture: The Jaffa clock tower dominates Clock Square, a landmark at the entrance to the Jaffa section of Tel Aviv. Photo by JekLi/Shutterstock.com

Clash Of Cultures To Cultural Understandings

Ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak Meets Unorthodox Aviv Geffen

By David E. Kaplan

Addressing the plight to the entertainment industry caused by Corona, Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher (“The Other Story,” “Past Life”) asserts:

Culture is not a luxury, but a global strategic asset.”

How true it has been revealed during these months of Covid-19.  People may have been physically ‘confined’ but not their minds – nor their senses. And this is partly thanks to our entertaining artists who have been finding ways to entertain us in our living rooms; as if we were sitting amongst a live audience in an auditorium, open air park or amphitheatre.

Aviv Geffen in an acoustic performance – Shuni Amphitheater – 07 April 2020

For some, it has also brought new understanding on issues of what is important in life and understanding the “other”!

In a touching and at times emotional interview with Dana Weiss on Israel’s Channel 12, Israeli rock musician, singer, songwriter, producer, keyboardist, guitarist and proudly secular, Aviv Geffen, laid himself bare before the Israeli public.

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Face The Music. Seen here at the EMI, the Israel Artists Association, lifetime achievement awards ceremony in 2016, Israeli singer Aviv Geffen has never shied away from taking on the establishment. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

To the question as what lessons Corona taught him, the artist responded with new-found humility that “I was a pig! I always went for the label or brand, whether to buy the tomato from Spain or the Louis Vuitton bag; it was disgusting, and then came the Corona and said, “Friends here I am, good night and goodbye”.”

“So that’s it;  you are ready to discard all that was so important to you?”  asks a surprised Dana.

Yes,” answers Aviv. “I have outside a luxury car that I stupidly bought; I’ll also sell it because it completely embarrasses me now”.

“What,  suddenly everything was foolish, and your life is all about vanity?”

The brands yes; I think the world has positively opened its eyes.”

For Geffen, yesterdays prized possessions are today irrelevant. This has been the first lesson of Corona. More were to be revealed.

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Rebel With A Cause. Geffen hit the Israeli scene in 1990 and became known for Goth-like makeup, a Mick Jagger-like snarl and being an outspoken peace activist.

Geffen then relates about performing ALONE at the old amphitheatre in Shuni near Binyamina. Yes, it was a LIVE performance but there was no audience, at least not in front of him. His audience were all at home watching on TV. They could see him; he could not see them!

I had not prepared what I would say,” he told Weiss, and then the thought came to him about what was most dominating the news – the ultra-religious community in Israel; how they were suffering more than most with Corona. How they were experiencing the most cases diagnosed and the most deaths and then being blamed because of their beliefs. As if they deserved it!

The media was full of it; being battered by the disease and then by the media. The worse hit of the ultra-orthodox communities were the citizens of Bnei Brak who had been “fenced off” like in a “ghetto” with roadblocks at all entrance points.

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Under Scrutiny. An Israeli police officer speaks to a strictly Orthodox student in Bnei Brak. Not since Corona has the lifestyle of the ultra-Orthodox in Israel come under such scrutiny in the media. (Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Suffering And Stigmatised

These were the thoughts that percolated in the rock musician’s mind between performing his numbers when he appealed, to let them be; to leave them alone. Suffering enough, they did not need to be subjected to public ridicule and rebuke.

Explaining to interviewer Dana Weiss:

I said, “leave Bnei Brak alone. They are not guilty; they believe in God; I believe in Google.”

Laying bare the cultural chasm, Geffen might have thought that was the end of the matter until he finished the show. Suddenly:

 “I leave the stage and I see on my telephone, without exaggeration, 420 messages. I start opening them, scrolling, and learn that someone had given my number to all of Bnei Brak. And I cried. I could not leave the empty amphitheatre. The love, the division in the nation, suddenly everything came together. The love I received came from people I had denigrated since I was nineteen and now responded with love and tears. ‘Thank you so much Aviv for thinking of us,’ I read.” I was sitting on the stairs, the amphitheatre was empty, and I was reading the messages and crying. At four in the morning, the theatre staff got me up and told me: ‘Go home.'”

Relating this in the studio, Aviv again breaks into tears, soliciting from the interviewer:

“Wait a minute; you cried why? Because you feel guilty of what you once thought of this community or about the sudden love you discovered from them? Do you really know why you cried and why you are crying again?”

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Up Close And Personal. A tearful Aviv Geffen relates in interview on Channel 12 how moved he was to the online personal messages he received from the ultra-Orthodox citizens of Bnei Brak.

Aviv does not hide the fact that artists by nature are egoists. They feed off the audience; they need that reassurance, that affirmation. However, all this is denied by Corona because there is no real audience only a virtual one. “And then suddenly, I receive these hundreds of messages from Bnei Brak” that were genuinely moved by his words and  the song  Kotzim (‘Thorns’) that he had dedicated to the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel. (See the words in English at the end of the article).

Trying to make sense of it all to the bewildered interviewer, Geffen continues:

 “I cried because of all those years we learned how to hate the other – the religious and the secular. ‘He’s religious, he’s secular.’ I, too, was a soldier in this game. Suddenly I saw the other. You ask: So how did the corona change me? Just like this: I learned to respect. A flame of love, simply amazing, was lit. I cannot even describe it in words, only in tears.”

Still not completely satisfied with this answer, Dana Weiss persists in her enquiry:

So what! Are you thinking that your attitude back then about the ultra-Orthodox was a crime or a sin? Is this what brought on the tears?”

Geffen answers emphatically and an admission:

No, not at all. It was because for the first time I saw them.”

Hope For The Future

Aviv Geffen’s next appearance would again be before a live audience but this time not in front of their TV’s but on Tel Aviv beachfront at the Charles Clore Park. The concert on the 21st May was the biggest gathering since the Corona virus struck Israel.

Most appropriate for Corona, Geffen broke into “The Hope Song” an iconic hit he wrote following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that is often compared as Israeli version of John Lennon’s “Imagine”.

Let’s go dream,
Without race and nationality.
Let’s try.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.

We’ll bury the guns,
And not the children.
Let’s try.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.

Let’s go dream,
Without race and nationality.
Let’s try.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.

We’ll bury the guns,
And not the children.
Let’s try.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.

We will conquer peace,
And not the territories.
Let’s try.
Until it’s good,
Until it is.

To eternal freedom,
To my children.
Let’s try.
Until it’s good,
Until it is …

Until it is …

(The Hope song- Aviv Geffen & Shahin Najafi – 06:30min)

Geffen’s peace hymn was all the more powerful and poignant; when partnering him on-stage before an audience of 6000 was exiled Iranian artist Shahin Najafi. What is more, they sang in Farsi – the language of Israel’s archenemy Iran  – and in Hebrew.

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Language Of Love. Iranian Shahin Najafi (right), and Israeli Aviv Geffen (left) rehearse in Tel Aviv. Geffen and Najafi say their Hebrew-Farsi fusion offers hope in a volatile region. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

The pair showed that despite the bitter enmity between their countries, ordinary people can find common ground.

From the ultra-Orthodox to Iran, Corona was providing a platform for revealing “common ground” and giving credence to Avi Nesher’s astute assertion that:

Culture is not a luxury, but a global strategic asset

Thorns -קוצים (Kotzim)

(English translation)

Thorns are all that is left of me

The flowers you have given me have died by now

Ways I have walked in

I am now retracing my steps

After not finding that which I have searched for

Everyone can dream

Paper boats in water

I just wanted to sail as far as I could

I am a man from nowhere

Just searching for a reason to breathe

Look, I have built us a house

When he was born I gave all that I didn’t have

Thorns, forcefully reminding

Not granting me forgiveness

Cutting through us and not letting go

https://lyricstranslate.com/en/kotzim-thorns.html-0