All posts by Elkan Levy

View from Netanya

I did security outside shul last Shabbat. This is an experience which is very new to me since in Radlett I am regarded as being “otherwise engaged” and not liable for such duties.

To begin with I wondered whether it was not an unnecessary knee-jerk reaction. Unlike Jerusalem, Netanya and its areas are almost exclusively Jewish and the nearest Arab towns are either on the Green Line (the pre-1967 borders) or even across it in places like Tulkarem. There are Arabs who work in Netanya – my pharmacist is one – but they are a relative rarity.

Then I remembered the Park Hotel bombing on Seder night 2002. The hotel stands at the corner of the street where I live and the events of that night are a very vivid memory. If that could happen in Netanya then it could happen anywhere and I went to do my security very willingly.

In any case security is common everywhere in Israel. There are armed guards outside my grandchildren’s schools, and having to pass security before you go into the local supermarket is normal.

My friends in Jerusalem say that they no longer go to supermarkets where the butchers are Arabs. No matter how long they have worked there, they would rather that the cleavers were wielded by Jews.

Their daughter, who used to opt for her groceries to be delivered at home as this saved her time and trouble with small children, no longer does so. The delivery boys are Arabs and she would rather not have them in her house especially when her husband isn’t home.

The trouble is of course that if we are ever to achieve peace we will have to be able to deal comfortably with Arabs, and the actions of an Arab minority are making this increasingly difficult.

View from Netanya

Israel is beginning to get nervous about the actions of both extremist Arabs and extremist Jews in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Arab terrorism and’s Jewish settler response are not going to go away so long as there is no peace treaty (and perhaps not even afterwards) but their ability to destroy the fragile modus vivendi that exists for most of the time is worrying.

Very early this morning Wednesday 12th November a mosque was torched in Ramallah. Instant retaliation has of course been threatened, and presumably something may happen. At the same time there is a worrying trend in knife attacks from lone terrorists. An air force sergeant was stabbed to death at the Hagana railway station in Tel Aviv on Monday, and on the same day a young woman was attacked and killed at a bus stop in the West Bank settlement of Gush Etzion. Such attacks are difficult to predict and very difficult to stop, and receive considerable publicity. Although there is more knife crime in London, Jews are news.

There is a very worrying Bill before the Knesset which aims to close down a free newspaper called Yisrael Hayom. This is funded by the American Sheldon Adelson who also contributes heavily to Republican funds. The newspaper is generally regarded as Netanyahu’s mouthpiece (terms used in the Knesset were considerably less reasoned) and because its advertising rates are kept very low it is alleged to be driving other newspapers close to insolvency. The bill passed first reading in the Knesset by a clear majority but will hopefully fail in committee. Opposition to the bill came from a wide cross-section of parties including one Arab MK said that closing a newspaper “is disrespectful to Israeli democracy”.

View from Netanya

Israel this week is warm and sunny, and everyone is back to shirtsleeves after the storms of Sukkot. Stories of the weather, usually common discussion in England, have suddenly become a theme of local conversation. One of my friends had the unusual experience of his sukkah becoming airborne, and landing upside down 20 m away!

With a deep sigh of relief from all sides, the children have gone back to school. The Israeli system is very strange to those of us who were educated in England. Primary school pupils call their teachers by their first names, school uniform (if it exists at all) consists of a T-shirt in a wide range of colours on which is imprinted the logo and name of the school, and the hours seem very short. Pre-school education is widespread, and from age five upwards is compulsory.

Primary school begins the following year with much ceremony. Last year I went to see my youngest grandson begin his first day. The whole school was in the playground to welcome the newcomers on their first day, and all the new pupils had been given a T-shirt saying “Shalom Kita Aleph – Welcome Class One”.

School is from 8:15 AM to 1 PM for six days a week, but the afternoons are filled with all sorts of additional activities which are probably familiar to parents in the UK – music, sports, ju-jitsu etc. I often find myself on grandparent duty in the afternoon, but the absence of one totally clear day a week apart from Shabbat makes it difficult to take children to museums. However almost the first thing that we did this week after I returned was a formal visit to the local ice cream shop, to re-bond with the younger generation!

View from Radlett

The most significant ending and beginning in the whole of the Jewish year is upon us. The Torah is the core of Jewish identity, the document from which ultimately we derive our identity as a Jewish nation, our system of belief, the customs that identify us as Jews, the book that names us the People of the Book.

Although the universal custom these days in Orthodox communities is to read the whole of the Torah every year, this was to begin with neither unanimous nor preordained. In the days before Hebrew – English Chumashim, the custom developed of having a Meturgeman, an official who would translate the Torah reading into the venacular, Aramaic. Translation is a form of interpretation as well, and evidence of a translator interpreting the Bible is to be found in the New Testament.

This began to alarm the rabbinical authorities, and they needed an authorised translation of the Torah which could be confidently used in Jewish communities. A convert to Judaism, probably a Roman named Aquilas, marked his conversion by translating the Torah into Aramaic. This work, known as “Targum Onkelos” became the universal standard and is printed in Hebrew Chumashim to this day.

However reading and then translating took up twice the time, and for many centuries the custom was to read the Torah once every three years.

Gradually this custom disappeared, and from early mediaeval times it was felt that the annual Torah reading should be marked with particular ceremony, hence Simchat Torah, when one cycle of Torah reading came to an end and another began. The festival that emerged is not a day for riotous behaviour. Joyful and happy, it celebrates our identity as Jews and the unique gift to us of our character and distinctiveness. It is in fact a rejoicing at the privilege of being Jewish.

View from Radlett

I am writing this on the day after Yom Kippur from Radlett, an active Jewish community in South West Hertfordshire, almost rural but with excellent transport links. The result has been a massive expansion in Jewish settlement over the last 30 years, and it is the place which above all I regard as home in the United Kingdom. In the absence of a permanent Rabbi I have been acting as locum to the Orthodox synagogue.

The Day of Atonement marks both endings and beginnings, and we now stand at the beginning of a new period in the Middle East.

In political terms, Israel clearly finds itself at a watershed of movements and possibilities. There are signs of new political groupings both within Israel and with surrounding nations, which itself brings fresh possibilities. In particular the realisation of an informal alliance between Israel Egypt and Saudi Arabia, all scared by Muslim extremism opens opportunities that until now have been beyond realistic contemplation. At the same time the long overdue realisation by the disastrous Obama administration of what is really going on in the Middle East, and who really are America’s true enemies, is refreshing. Washington has actually had a rare moment of lucidity, no doubt helped by the fact that it is almost certainly Israeli intelligence that is vital in programming the attacks on the mediaeval Islamic state.

The festival period brings with it a lull in Israeli political activity. Bibi’s standing seems to have been enhanced by his performance at the United Nations, and equally by Abbas’ failure to appear as any sort of statesman. Having accused Israel of “genocide” (about 1000 civilians died in Gaza while the Syrian death toll is in excess of 200,000 and rising) Abbas has failed to be seen as the man who might be able to bring some sort of peaceful accord in both Gaza and the West Bank.

Endings and beginnings – the opportunities that have ended are clear, the possibilities that might be opening are fascinating!