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Archive for May, 2011

It is Yom Yerushalayim on Wednesday. This is ‘Jerusalem Day’, the Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of the city in 1967, during the Six Day War. It seems as good a time as any to reflect on our own relationships with the capital of Israel. I’ve been to the country four times. Though I loved it from the off, my feelings with Jerusalem took a little longer to develop. During my first trip (in 2006) I did not visit the capital. I remember as we were driven from the Dead Sea to Tel Aviv, the driver stopped on a hillside road to allow us to look over the city. That brief, distant glimpse was as close as I got.

I returned to Israel in 2007, and arrived in Jerusalem on my birthday. We had an Arab tour guide (who I had met in Ein Bokek) and he gave us a superb day around the Old City. I enjoyed the Kotel particularly, and also the hummus joint he took us too in the Arab Quarter. While we were noshing and chatting, he said to me: “You’re more Israeli than most Israelis.” Thanks, man!

During the rest of our stay we fended for ourselves. We re-visited the Kotel  and also went to Yad Vashem and the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre. I also remember a wonderful night at a bar called Colony (since closed, I believed). But, in truth, I felt a bit lost and overwhelmed in the city. It was so hot and I found the intensity of the Old City a little overbearing, apart from on Saturday morning which was sublime.

Still, at times I wished we were in Tel Aviv instead, a city I’ve always felt very relaxed and at-home in. I can navigate it pretty much as well as I can London, the city I grew up in. Even during my first day there I helped give an Israeli directions! For my third trip to Israel in February 2010, I based myself in Tel Aviv, and I made my lovely friend Tal laugh when, during an enjoyable day trip to Jerusalem, I suddenly said: ‘Actually, can we get back to Tel Aviv? I feel like a bit of peace and quiet.’ Peace and quiet in Tel Aviv, eh? Well, I knew what I meant!

Everything changed when I returned to Israel last summer, for the Once In A Lifetime trip. We stayed in Jerusalem for two weeks, living in a family’s apartment in Rehavia. I quickly found my navigational and emotional bearings there. By the end of the trip I was able to walk from Rehavia to have coffee with a friend in the German Colony, and return to Rehavia via the Kotel without even thinking about my route.

What joys there had been in between, thanks to the local knowledge and vitality of the Hebrew University students that had organised the whole trip. We volunteered at the Mahane Yehuda market, we drank and ate in a range of different bars and restaurants. We ushered in Shabbat at the Kol Rina synagogue, planted trees in the Aminadav forest and rode segues around the place. During our spare time I met Gilad Shalit’s father Noam, the NaNach Breslovers, several OyVaGoy readers, two MKs and many more besides. Not that it was all joy, my visit to the Temple Mount was a very mixed experience.

In the process of all this, I absolutely fell in love with Jerusalem. It might not have been love at first sight, as it was with Tel Aviv, but I now love it forever. Thanks to Liron Soffer – one of the aforementioned Hebrew University students – who introduced me to this song, Jerusalem of Gold. I can’t think of a song that so captures the complex history and emotions of a city like this one does.

Yom Yerushalayim Sameach everyone.

Lifta was a Palestinian village whose residents left in 1948 during the creation of the state of Israel. (The precise circumstances of their departure remains contentious.) Nowadays, the uninhabited remains of the village form an interesting historical site. This might change soon: there are proposals to turn the site into a luxury housing project.

I remember well the day I visited Lifta. It was a hot Saturday morning last summer. We were on a long ramble around Jerusalem and our tour guide showed us through the ruins of Lifta. We stopped by the water spring, where some locals were taking a relaxing Shabbat dip. (You can see us pass through Lifta in this video. I’ve joined the gym since then.)

As we stood in Lifta, politics naturally got raised, as did some voices. Our guide insisted on using Lifta to attempt to contextualise Palestinian terror. I insisted on replying that nothing justifies such terror, and that those who commit terrorism in the 21st century would have never lived in Lifta nor anywhere else in what became Israel. We agreed to differ and walked on.

It’s up to Israel what it does with Lifta. As an outsider, my for-what-it’s-worth preference would be for them to preserve the site as it is. This is not so much for any political reasons, nor for any related to the conflict and refugee issue. After all, the area Lifta is located in territory that would remains Israel’s under any conceivable peace deal. It belongs to Israel and always will – amen.

However, it is an area rich in history, mentioned in the Bible. Any development will loosen the sense of connection to the past. Architecturally, the ruins are fascinating and the area is an intriguing place to look around. There is controversy in Israel itself about this issue – Israelis disagreeing about something? Who’d have thought it? – which is expected to be resolved soon.

Your thoughts?

The passing of Rob Daley, the father of the British teenage Olympic diver Tom Daley, is a particularly tragic example of cancer stealing a wonderful person from the world. Another one gone too soon: when will we beat this disease?

Rob’s love of and support for his son was legendary. For years he drove Tom around the country, and travelled around the world with him. He was as proud, loving and supportive a father as one could imagine. In the latter years of his life, he could not fly due to his chemotherapy treatment, but he watched avidly from home. Tom was always on the phone to him within a minute of his dives being completed.

Even a matter of months ago, after doctors had given Rob just weeks to live, he was watching his son from the side of the pool, a tearful figure in a wheelchair. His t-shirt read: ‘Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning.’ He so wanted to be there to watch Tom compete in the 2012 Olympics. Let’s hope he will still be watching from somewhere, somehow.

I met Rob and Tom last year. Their rapport, banter and love was touching to witness. Talk about entertaining; they were forever joshing and joking with one another. Even though Rob seemed to a casual observer in fine fettle, the legacy of his then four-year battle with cancer could be seen in the way he occasionally lost the thread of conversations.

Last year, the BBC captured the fascinating relationship Tom and Rob enjoyed in a superb documentary Tom Daley: The Diver And His Dad. You can watch the programme on YouTube. If you wish to donate to Rob’s chosen charities, including those who helped him in the testing, closing months of his life, you can do so via a page the family has set-up. Naturally, my sympathies and thoughts are with the Daley family, and all who knew and loved Rob.

I now often spend Friday nights with Chabad Lubavitch of Bloomsbury. These are joyous evenings, which I would recommend strongly. Rabbi Yisroel Lew is a magnificent man, who inspires, educates and entertains every week. He’s friendly and fun, and always makes me very welcome. He’s a knowledgeable, fascinating speaker, whether it’s about the Torah, the Rebbe or Israel. He even managed a quick Yogi Berra quote at the end of a D’var Torah, once. I nearly dropped my L’ Chaim glass!

There’s always lots of going on in and around Chabad Bloomsbury. On Wednesday June 1st, it will host a practical event entitled Mind in Control – Dealing with Stress and Adversity. Dr Gill Heart will teach a three-step process designed to enable participants to remain in control even while under life’s pressures. Dr Heart served in an elite Special Forces, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Commando unit. He now utilizes Special Forces training techniques to teach, practice and implement Kabbalistic concepts. On Wednesday, he promises to share techniques and exercises that will enable you to remain in control during stressful, every-day, life events. Sounds interesting and useful, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, you can help Chabad Bloomsbury’s work by purchasing a ticket in its raffle. The top prize is $10,000, and you win either way because just by entering you’re helping Chabad continue to bring light to the world.

Speaking of Chabad, here is a video featuring excerpts from a satellite feed of the Rebbe’s address to Children at a Lag BaOmer Parade in 1984.

‘Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights. I want you to stop for a second and think about that. Of those 300 million Arabs, less than one-half of one-percent are truly free, and they’re all citizens of Israel.’
Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at Congress

Watch it in full here:

One blog I can never resist taking a look at is Tom Wilson’s. Tom is doctoral Student at London’s UCL, where he is researching Israeli Politics. He is also involved with many organisations including the UCL Jewish Society and StandForPeace.

He blogs under the name Tom Friedmann, covering issues including Israel, Islamism and other political hot-potatoes. It’s always a good read. I can’t say I always agree with what he writes, in fact one or two of his posts have enraged me. But his views are always interesting and he’s a very intelligent writer. When he has the bit between his teeth and his own, unique voice comes to the fore he is sensational.

I’ve a suspicion we’ll be hearing a lot more of Tom in the future, so I’m getting in with him now. Go and read his blog, everyone!

On Friday, I finished writing my next book (about the diver Tom Daley) and my next Jewish Chronicle column (about the Hasidim). It’s Chris’s birthday tomorrow, so we’re having a lovely, restful long weekend.

Yesterday we visited Hever Castle, the onetime home of Anne Boleyn, which I muchly recommend a visit to for the stunning grounds alone. Then we went to the wedding of my friends Eleanor and Magnus. It was great fun, not least because my whole family was there, nieces and all. The food was superb and plentiful. Kosher-keepers brace yourselves: I ate prawns, pork, beef, moose heart and lamb. Mazal tov to the newly-weds!

Today, we went to see the alpacas and llamas at Ashdown Forest Llama Park. I loved every second of our visit, as alapaca and llamas are my favourite animals. (Imagine me starting a blog about them: Oy Va Paca? Jerusallama? Doesn’t bear thinking of.)

Fun times. I must tell you a quick story from the wedding about Rose, my wonderful niece and goddaughter. She gave me a big hug and then hid her head under my jacket, with her arms around me. She stayed there for ages and ages, I was so moved by this lengthy embrace…

…but it turned out she had taken my iPhone out of my pocket and was busy playing Angry Birds!

What do you think?

For 10 things they don’t want you to know about Bibi, click here.

It’s been a tough season for us Arsenal fans. Finally, there is something football-related for everyone to cheer. Enjoy.

This is a guest post from Tash Kalmanson of the Federation of Zionist Youth (FZY)

Join FZY on Sunday 5th June for our biggest ‘Aim Higher’ event yet – and hear speeches from the family of Gilad Shalit and Chas Newkey-Burden.

Each year FZY celebrates its four aims; Tarbut (Jewish & Israeli culture), Tzedakah (charity & acts of righteousness), Magen (defending Jewish & Israeli rights) and Aliyah Nimshechet (moving to Israel & continuing to do good for the state) by educating, discussing and inspiring its movement in a fun-filled, action packed day.

This year is no different! However, for the first time ever we are opening our doors to the entire Jewish community so all ages can share in what we have to offer.

The extravaganza begins with an FZY cinematic experience and discussion about Ethiopian Aliyah led by their very own movement team. Following on, lunch is served. Like every good Jewish function, food is key – so tuck in and enjoy our Israeli taste bud tingling medley! For those Talmudic scholars out there, yes you… there is an optional Lunch ‘n Learn session with Rabbi Saul Kelly examining Zionism through Jewish texts.

With two top talks back to back, the afternoon promises a more dynamic line-up than Speakers’ Corner! First off, the one and only Chas Newkey-Burden – such a legend he needs no introduction. His interactive session tackles online advocacy, provoking questions such as whether using online facilities to defend Israel is enough in itself. He will also illustrate the importance of non-Jews in Israel’s battle for good PR.

Next is a private audience with members of Gilad Shalit’s immediate family! This is a unique opportunity to hear the personal accounts from Gilad’s grandfather and cousin. Witness first-hand the story the newspapers don’t tell about the MIA soldier as they explain how their families are coping with his absence as well as the continued struggle for his return.

The mazkirut (FZY’s National Committee) will then lead a session to discuss the issues raised from Shalit’s family – so for those of you who love to talk and relish a good debate, this is your chance! If this is not for you, there will also be a Rikkud Workshop – so put on your dancing shoes as we get immersed in Israeli culture. With music blasting and bodies swinging, whether a novice or expert in the Israeli steps…it really is the taking part that counts!

The grand finale features a… drumroll please… Aliyah Fair! Think it’s your time to take on FZY’s aim of Aliyah Nimshechet? This is your chance to gain some practical advice and information with stalls hosted by the Israeli scouts. If you’ve got a question, they’re sure to have the answer.

Too much information to take in? Overwhelmed by such a vast display? Here’s a recap in a nutshell – Sunday 5th June is an event like no other, so schedule it in your diary now! With prolific speakers including Gilad Shalit’s grandfather and cousin, as well as Chas Newkey-Burden – this is not a Sunday to stay in bed! From Israeli dancing to Jewish texts, there is something for the whole family…and yes, the whole family is invited. So see you there!

Check out the full schedule here. For more information and to reserve your place contact mazkira@fzy.org.uk

© Copyright Chas Newkey-Burden. All Rights Reserved. Thanks to Chris Morris.