Israel


During the month of December, my publisher, Crooked Cat Books, has been offering a free ebook each day and very kindly donating to a charity chosen by the author of that book. There have been some very worthy charities in the fields of cancer, dementia, children in need and animal welfare.

Neither Here Nor ThereSo, why have I chosen a charity that helps young people who have decided to change their lifestyle?

First of all, it fits my romance, which is free today: Neither Here Nor There. The heroine has just left the closed haredi community in which she grew up and has to learn to cope in the outside world.

But mostly it’s because I’ve realised how difficult that transformation is. Children have no choice in the sort of family they’re born into. If they then come to the conclusion, by themselves, that the only lifestyle they know isn’t for them, they need a lot of help before they can fit into the new lifestyle.

I stress by themselves, because Hillel stresses it, too:

We believe that all people have the right to choose the lifestyle they want, and we therefore never try to convince anybody to change their lifestyle – we only help those who have already made an independent decision to become less religious.

I believe Hillel does a very important job. Thank you, Crooked Cat, for donating to them today.

To download my book for free today, go to the Crooked Cat Books website, click on the little Father Christmas and use the coupon code to ‘purchase’ the book. (If the Smashwords page looks strange, go back, right click the link and choose ‘Open link in new tab.’)

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The Monster (Hebrew: Mifletzet) sculpted in 1971 by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle, is a well-known landmark in Jerusalem and one that is enjoyed by children, who love to slide down its three-pronged tongue.

The Monster

The Monster

Usually.

When I walked past it, yesterday evening, it looked different – a bit sad and funny.

MonsterClosedReducedI posted the picture on Instagram with the caption: What have they done to the monster? And to the English language?

This post is about what happened to me this past weekend. It’s also about much more than that.

We were visited by a lovely Canadian couple. They stayed with us, ate and talked. We showed them some of the sites of Jerusalem: the Old City market, the Western Wall, Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, Machane Yehuda market, the city centre and other neighbourhoods. The visit ended with an impressive light show projected onto the city walls. Then they left us to visit other parts of the country before returning home to Canada. The end?

 

With new/old friend on the Jerusalem's light railway

In the Light Railway

Not at all, because I left out the beginning of this story. Two eleven-year-old girls became friends at school out of convenience, and somehow that friendship grew to include visits outside school. One of those girls was considerably less popular than the other and so glad of the friendship that provided protection from the harsh treatment she’d endured from other girls.

That friendship ended without warning just a year after it began. The popular girl’s mother secretly took her daughter off to live in Canada. The other girl was left to flounder, suddenly vulnerable and exposed to bullying from all directions.

The girl who remained was me. The one who left was the woman who came to stay last weekend, over fifty-one years later. We met briefly four years ago, but this was the first chance we had to talk together.

LightShow5Cropped30

‘Weird’ was a feeling we both agreed on. I could be talking to her as friends do, when I’d suddenly remember she was that twelve-year-old girl who deserted me. And while I knew that what happened back then was in no way her fault, I appreciated her apologies. Her leaving led to six difficult years that determined the person I was to become, and none of it was her fault.

I’m so glad we met up again. And I might even have a chance to visit Canada.

Har Herzl (Mount Herzl) has been Israel’s official national cemetery since 1951. It is the final resting place of presidents, prime ministers and other leaders. It is also a military cemetery for many soldiers who gave their lives for the country.

Mount Herzl

Entrance to Mount Herzl

I’ve visited Har Herzl many times over the past forty years, but never on a guided tour, and there were many things I didn’t know about it. So when I saw a request by Tali Tarlow for “test drivers” of this chapter of the book she’s been writing, I jumped at the chance. Tali is well known for her fun and informative scavenger hunts. I’ve been on three of them, all in Jerusalem: the Old City, Nachlaot and Yemin Moshe.

HarHerzlCemetery30

Cemetery

“We know how to do memorials,” said Erika, who joined me on Friday for the visit. It’s true. Unfortunately, this small, young country has had plenty of experience. And designers have  created some innovative symbols. As well as the graves I mentioned above, we saw the memorials for passengers and crews of sunken ships and submarines, and for Ethiopian Jews who died trying to reach the Land of Israel. In Tali’s chapter, we read sad and uplifting stories, knowing that without the people buried in this place, we wouldn’t be living here.

HarHerzlMemorialToEthiopianJews30

Memorial to Ethiopian Jews

A-Z Challenge: H is for HerzlAt the top of a hill, we saw the tomb of Benjamin Ze’ev (Theodor) Herzl, the visionary of the State of Israel, after whom the place is named.

 

Har Herzl is also a lovely park, well laid out with trees, flowers and grass.

Although we enjoyed our morning on the mountain, Erika and I decided that next time we meet, it will be at a happier location.

 

Hello, lovely readers. I hope you’ve been happily occupied while I was away.

Yes, I’m back from a delightful nine-day trip to the UK, my almost-home. We visited friends and family, attended the book launch of The May Queen by fellow Crooked Cat author, Helen Irene Young, at Waterstones in Richmond, and did lots of walking.

TheMayQueenLaunch

The May Queen is a great story. I know – I edited it.

I also attended a meeting of Crooked Cat authors. Although we’re all in regular contact online, it’s always good to meet up for an informal chat.

I returned yesterday morning to two special annual days and something that, I believe, is unique to Israel. Today is Remembrance Day: ‘Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism’. Yesterday evening and this morning, the nation stood still to mourn, and ceremonies are being held throughout the day. And tomorrow, starting this evening, is Independence Day and a day for rejoicing. Tonight, we’ll stand on our balcony and watch the fireworks that mark the beginning of Independence Day.

IsabellaPlantation1

At Isabella Plantation with notebook and pen, naturally.

UPDATE (2 May): Here’s a photo from last night’s fireworks.

Fireworks1

Social media, especially Facebook, I’ve found, has enormous potential to distort reality. It probably contributes to our surprise at the way recent votes have gone. Our friends on Facebook tend to be those who have similar views to our own. If we discover views we disagree with, we tend to unfriend their propagators rather than engaging them in discussion or just ignoring offending posts.

The result becomes very one-sided. My friends were almost totally anti-Brexit and anti-Trump. Yet both Brexit and Trump came to pass, surprising many, including me.

Now, in my little country, an issue has come up in which the views of my friends do reflect reality, although I don’t understand why. Israelis are split over this and so are my friends. I won’t unfriend those I disagree with. I want to try and understand. And sometimes they post views I do agree with.

Contrary to the complicated issues connected with this country, this one seems very straightforward to me. A soldier was found guilty of killing a terrorist after the terrorist was restrained and no longer a threat. For all ethical reasons, religious ones included, it should be clear that he committed a crime and must be punished. This article explains why.

What do some of my Facebook friends (and friends of friends) say against the verdict? Mostly that they, as mothers, have told their sons that their safety comes first and they shouldn’t hesitate to shoot if they find themselves in danger. They – the mothers – would rather visit their sons in jail than in the graveyard. Absolutely – I understand that, but that wasn’t the case here.

It would be awful if this led to violence, which has been threatened.

Yemin Moshe - view along Malki Street

A lane in Yemin Moshe

So to another, much pleasanter, article. It shows the Jerusalem I know and love. I’ve never seen the one most people imagine.

What is Christmas for me, a Jew who lives in Israel and hails from the UK? What was it?

Up to age 11, I didn’t take a lot of notice of it. There were trees with lights behind lots of windows. Radio and TV were full of it. That was about all.

At age 11, I found myself suddenly immersed in a tradition I didn’t recognise. I soon learned the tunes of the carols we had to sing every day. I sent cards to friends because everyone did and my goal was always to fit in. And then there was that art lesson….

“Today, you can draw Christmas pictures.” The teacher (I think she was called Mrs Durell) seemed to think this would be fun for us. My heart sank. Fit in, said a voice from inside. “For the Jewish children, you can draw something from the festival you have at this time if you want, but I’m told there isn’t much to draw.” A general murmur of agreement arose. I kept quiet, although I knew this wasn’t true. We had drawn pictures of Chanuka at my old school. That’s how I learned to draw a cube.

chanukadrawings

Fit in, said the voice. But I don’t know what or how to draw for Christmas. Fit in. I looked over a girl’s shoulder and copied her tree.

At university, I remember singing carols, including one about beautiful feet.

Edit: I’ve been corrected by someone who remembers much more than I. I think I was confusing our “College Carol” with the aria from Handel’s Messiah. Here’s the right one. The only connection with feet is in the words stand forth on the floor, at which we would stamp our feet.

At work, there were drinks. There were always drinks. And the following conversation in the bar with one of the men:

“What are doing for Christmas?”

“I’m going to a conference in Oxford.”

“That’s an unusual thing to do for Christmas. Most people spend it with their families.”

“Oh, we don’t celebrate Christmas. We’re Jewish.” It had taken three months for them to find out.

Then I moved to Israel and Christmas was reduced to watching the evening service from Bethlehem on TV. That’s really all I saw of it.

Nowadays, with social media, Christmas has become much more visible to me – at least the commercial aspect of it has. Also, due to Internet connection, I am able to listen to the BBC. The other day, on Women’s Hour, there was a discussion about stories behind children’s nativity plays. Within those stories, at least two girls had been told they couldn’t be Mary because they were Jewish and didn’t have blond hair. In the podcast, after the live programme, there was mention of the fact that Mary was Jewish and also that, since she lived in the Middle East, she probably didn’t have blond hair.

I am bemused by the assumption that, while I might not take any part in the religious aspects of Christmas, I will celebrate in some way because everyone does. No. Here, work and everything else carries on as usual, even on Christmas day. This year, though, will be slightly different due to the fact that it coincides exactly with the minor festival of Chanuka. As always, schools will be open on the first day of Chanuka, which is also Christmas Day this year (and also Sunday – the first day of the week here) and they close for the rest of the festival. Work continues as usual.

By the way, as I’ve mentioned in previous years, there are about fifty ways of writing Chanuka in Latin letters, but only one in Hebrew:

חנוכה

And here’s a comedy sketch I enjoyed. Comedian Elon Gold explains why Jews are better off without Christmas Trees. https://www.facebook.com/StandWithUs/videos/10154184787887689/

Whatever festival you celebrate at this time, I hope it’s happy and enjoyable and all you wish for.

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