All posts by Elkan Levy



 The weather is not normally a topic of conversation here in Israel. Occasionally when there is a Sharav, the hot dry wind that blows from the desert which is also called a Hamsin, the conversation can become almost English. People exchange predictions of how hot dry and uncomfortable it’s going to be.

 What we have not been complaining about recently has been the lack of rain, and the fact that the weather now is mild and pleasant although it recently dropped to a somewhat chilly 18°!

 However the events of last week have put all that into perspective. The country has been unbelievably dry for months, and although major water shortages seem to be a thing of the past, and we are almost self-sufficient in water, sometimes nature overwhelms us.

 Dry conditions coupled with a strong wind caused a major outbreak of fires throughout the country. Firefighting aircraft were sent to Israel from Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Croatia, Russia and the USA. Large areas of Haifa had to be evacuated and about 60,000 people removed from their homes. Other areas were very badly hit. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed.

 Netanya seems to have escaped the worst, but a village inland from the city was subject to a large fire. On Shabbat one could see aircraft landing in the sea to take on water and then flying inland to douse the flames. The PA sent 8 firetrucks and 40 men to assist in the fires near Haifa, and they also fought fires in the West Bank settlement of Halamish. 

 Members of the public right across the religious and political spectrum have opened their houses to the homeless. Residents of the Arab village of Kfar Yassif circulated all Israelis offering them accommodation.

 In Haifa, Arabs risked their lives to save Jews and vice versa. Firemen from Ramallah doused blazes in West Bank settlements. The fire has brought a renewed spirit of mutual respect and toleration which hopefully will survive the end of the flames.

 And most miraculously, there was no loss of life.



Israel has been enjoying a long summer, and Sukkot despite being so late in October was sunny and dry, and the weather remains extremely pleasant. Short-sleeves at the beginning of November feel slightly ridiculous.

Sukkot go up all over the country, even people who are not particularly observant put one up and have some of their meals in it as a sort of long farewell to the summer.

I went to with my three grandsons and their honorary grandfather to buy Lulavim and Etrogim from the Arba Minim – Four species – fair that springs up opposite the bus station in Netanya. We went on the Saturday night when business was in full swing,, and since I was in the market for six sets negotiation was fierce but in the end we purchased them at 65 shekels per set. This used to be about £10 but now…

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah in Israel are combined as one day, which is very strange and actually doesn’t work very well. Shemini Atzeret itself is a day of reflection including Yizkor and Geshem, the prayer for rain which is badly needed in this country. The joy of Simchat Torah is reserved for the second day outside Israel.

In this country everything happens on one day, and the service is often longer than Rosh Hashanah. The first half of the morning is lively and joyous; after the Haftarah the mood suddenly changes.

I have to confess that I find everything being pushed into one day somewhat trying, so for the last few years I have gone to spend the festival with some friends in Jerusalem. On Simchat Torah about 25 of us prayed on the roof garden of the building, with a clear view down to the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, but the wind was quite cold.

On Simchat Torah morning in brilliant sunshine and a warm breeze we began about 9 AM and finished soon after 11, progress being lubricated by a fine selection of single malts. Strangely enough this also left me somewhat unsatisfied, and I’m wondering whether I really missed enough to complain about on Simchat Torah!



It’s been a good summer including the unforgettable 50th anniversary of the Belmont Synagogue where I was the first Minister.

To the great relief of Israeli parents the Chofesh Hagadol, the long vacation, has come to an end and the children have gone back to school. One parent wrote a long prayer of thanks, based on the Shehecheyanu blessing, that the holidays had finally come to an end! Israel is now getting ready for the Tishri festivals. The blazing heat of the summer is beginning to pass and the climate is altogether more pleasant.

There are concerns. The level of rainfall this year has been very low and an island has appeared in the middle of Kinneret because the water level has dropped fifteen feet below the maximum. Unfortunately the outlook is for a dry winter, so please pray fervently on Shemini Atzeret when Jews all over the world recite Tefillat Geshem, the prayer for Rain!

The American elections are a topic of extreme interest. Almost every discussion among Israelis will sooner or later turn to the Trump or Clinton question. Last week I went to a whole programme about this, and came away no wiser.

Religion is again becoming an issue in Israeli politics. The stranglehold that the ultraorthodox parties have within the coalition has begun to be challenged on two fronts. The first major issue is the question of the egalitarian prayer Plaza at the Kotel which is open to nonorthodox Jews. A clear agreement was signed in January 2016 but has not been implemented and the Supreme Court has asked for the whole matter to be brought before it. One of the justices even asked whether the government needed the court to pull its chestnuts out of the fire.

The other issue concerns work on the high-speed line between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and the Tel Aviv Underground. It had been agreed that work on these projects will take place on Shabbat. Under pressure from his coalition partners Netanyahu stopped the Shabbat work. In this case the High Court told him that he had no power to do so and for the moment it goes on.




This Shabbat is the 100th birthday of one of the great figures of Anglo Jewry, Lieutenant-Colonel Mordaunt Cohen, TD, DL.

Mordaunt was born in Sunderland, the son of an immigrant father and an English-born mother. His paternal grandmother changed the family name to her maiden name of Cohen, although the family are Yisraelim.

Mordaunt had the usual high quality secular education in those days and after a hard day at school he went to Cheder where the tuition was all in Yiddish. This did not stop him becoming a fine athlete and a good cricketer and footballer.

At the age of 16 he was articled to a solicitor for 5 years and believes that he got a better legal training as a result. In 1938 he qualified as a solicitor and the following year set up in practice on his own.

War soon intervened and he is volunteered for the army, commanding an anti-aircraft battery defending the shipyards of the north-east from the Luftwaffe. He was soon sent to Nigeria to train a heavy anti-aircraft Regiment. His troops were Muslims, who couldn’t quite understand what Judaism was and decided that he was a white Muslim!

After distinguished service in Burma he returned to Sunderland and reopened his practice. A few years later at a conference in Manchester he met his wife Myrella. She was one of the first Jewish women to be called the bar, and then to be made a QC, and she was the third woman to be made a judge.

It was a long and happy marriage and each of them was involved in many communal and social matters – AJEX, Sunderland Hebrew congregation, Masonic matters, Board of Deputies, local politics, and various legal appointments. Mordaunt and Myrella were the first couple who were both appointed to full-time judicial appointments.

Sadly Myrella died in 2002, but Mordaunt has continued his very full life, going to Israel 4 times a year and being very much involved with his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Throughout his life he has been a proud and committed Jew while participating fully in the life of his city and his county. Mordaunt Cohen is a unique person – Happy Birthday Mordaunt, and many more of them!


Elkan’s View From Netanya


Last month I went to three of the oldest provincial communities in England. Each has a glorious history, and all have unusual buildings or artefacts that make them worth visiting.

I began in Exeter, a community that has the second oldest Ashkenazi synagogue in the UK. Opened in 1763, it now has an unusual cross communal community that appears to work fairly satisfactorily, with some services being traditional and some progressive, and generally the community supports whatever is going on. Apart from playing a major part in the life of the city, Exeter Hebrew Congregation has in the past boasted a number of sophisticated adult education courses, while its toddlers group, rejoicing in the name of “Dreidel Dribblers”(!) is now becoming Hebrew classes.

The shul itself is beautiful with some interesting Georgian features and the unique addition of a Bimah that is neither square nor rectangular, but actually egg shaped!

I then went to visit Kehillat Kernow (the old Cornish name for Cornwall). The community is widely scattered across the beautiful county, with services usually taking place in Truro. They do however have one of the original Sifrei Torah that belonged to the community of Falmouth which flourished between 1740 and 1879. The Sifrei Torah then slumbered in the Royal Cornwall Museum until I inspected them in 2010. This was then was repaired by the Sofer Bernard Benarroch, reconsecrated at a service in May 2014 and is now in use.

However the purpose of my visit was to be present at the ceremony marking the refurbishment of the Penzance Jewish cemetery. Established in 1740, the oldest legible stone is dated 1801 and many of the inscriptions are extremely unusual and interesting, including the young daughter of the Rabbi who, unusually, died of cholera and was buried on Shabbat 10th November 1832 “Bamagefa – because of the plague”.

I then spent a lovely Shabbat in Cheltenham, whose beautiful Regency Synagogue houses the original 1751 furniture from the New Synagogue in Leadenhall Street.

A trip to view these wonderful historical sights of Anglo-Jewish history is very worthwhile, and all of these communities have websites that will assist you.