All posts by Elkan Levy

Elkan’s view from natanya


Rabbi Dr Joseph Ber Soloveitchik (1903-1993) was the major leader of Modern Orthodoxy in the United States during the 20th century. In his essay “Kol Dodi Dofek  – Listen – my beloved knocks”, Soloveitchik discusses the religious significance of the creation of the State of Israel and the obligation that its existence imposes upon all Jews. 

 In one chapter he traces six occasions when he believed that Gd specifically intervened to ensure the establishment of the State of Israel, and he describes these as “knocks” that “The Beloved”, Gd himself, made. 

 The first was in the political arena. It was unbelievable in 1947 that Russia and America should both vote for the partition resolution which established the State of Israel. He believes the United Nations was specially created to pass it because “one cannot point to any other concrete accomplishment on the part of the United Nations”. 

 The second knock was on the battlefield. Gd heartened the hearts of the Arabs who went to war instead of accepting the 1947 Partition Plan. Had they done so the State of Israel would have been without Jerusalem, most of the Galilee, and much of the Negev. As there was a battle, so Israel was able with divine assistance to defeat its enemies. 

 The third knock was theology. Soloveitchik understood the doctrinal assertion that there was a “new covenant” under which Christianity had the right to the land of Israel. The victory of Medinat Yisrael and its possession of the Holy Land totally overturned this false concept.  

 The fourth knock was on the heart of those who were trying to forget their Jewishness. The existence of Israel raises a level of Jewish consciousness even amongst those who are most assimilated. 

 The fifth knock is that our enemies have discovered that Jewish blood is not cheap and that we have the ability, indeed the duty, to defend ourselves.  

 The sixth knock is “a new phenomenon in the annals of our history”, that every Jew is entitled to find safety and habitation in Medinat Yisrael – who knows what might have happened if the State of Israel had been born before the Holocaust.  

Elkans View from Netanya

Israel at the moment is in the lovely gap between Purim and Pesach.   Last week the country was full of people in fancy dress, after a week of preparation schools were closed for three days, the weather for this Jewish Bank Holiday was excellent, and everyone enjoyed themselves. In a country which faces daily the presence of 21st Century Hamans, Purim has particular resonance.

Pesach, the Festival of Freedom, with its demanding schedule of preparatory work, looms ahead. Stores are beginning to fill with “special offers” – food wine haggadot etc. A sense of excitement affects the younger members of the family. “Where will you be for Leil Haseder – Seder night” (only one in this country) is asked, and notes compared.

This week I went with the Association for the Welfare of Israeli Soldiers to visit the IDF doghandling unit. The dogs are trained to do a number of tasks. Some are able to sniff out explosive material and are on patrol in the West Bank almost nightly. Some are trained to chase and corner suspects, and move silently without barking. Yet others can be sent out to find mines and other explosive devices, for which purpose they carry radio receivers to hear the instructions of their handlers.

As with any army there are casualties. The base has a cemetery in which dogs who have died while in the IDF are buried. Each has a small tombstone bearing his or her name and how they died – on active service, or in the course of an operation. During Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, two of the dogs were killed in the tunnels. Lugo and Riso were brought back and interred in the cemetery, and a small piece of concrete from one of the tunnels was placed over their graves.

I found this deeply moving, that such concern should be shown and in this form, but dogs are Gd’s creation and the army reflects this sensitivity. On the memorial statue at the entrance, showing a soldier and his dog, is a poem that finishes “Walk softly, for here lie soldiers of Israel”. True, very true.


Elkans View from Netanya

Last Monday I ventured for the first time into a Hebrew play at the Habimah theatre in Tel Aviv.

The Habimah started life in Bialystok in 1912 and despite persecution by czarist authorities continued throughout the war after which its existence was confirmed by leading Bolsheviks including Joseph Stalin. In 1926 the company left to tour abroad, and although some of them remained in America other members immigrated to Mandate Palestine. Habimah speedily gained a position as the National Jewish theatre, with a large Hebrew repertoire, and it retains this position to this day. Among their early productions in Tel Aviv were Hebrew translations of Shakespeare, but perhaps their most famous play was Ansky’s “The Dybbuk”, telling of a Demon who possesses the body of a young bride. Performed in a Hebrew translation by the famous poet Bialik, this became one of the great cultural emblems of the Hebrew theatre.

Habimah’s first purpose-built theatre in Habimah Square in Tel Aviv was erected in 1945, and then vastly extended in 2012 so that the building now includes four auditoriums of different sizes.

The play that I saw was a biography of the famous Chazan Yossele Rosenblatt. He is one of the greatest Chazzanim and his influence on the art is incalculable. Born in the Ukraine he moved through a series of positions in Europe until in 1912 he emigrated to New York where he was to have his greatest impact. Many of his compositions have entered the repertoire of synagogues, but perhaps his most famous is the tune for Shir Hama’alot that most of us sing before Birkat Hamazon – look up “Yossele Rosenblatt Shir Hamaalot” on YouTube.

Rosenblatt commanded vast fees for concerts and appearances as guest Chazan in various synagogues, but he was financially naive and lost his money to fraudsters. To restore his fortunes he appeared in the first talkie film “The Jazz Singer”. In 1933 he came to film in Israel but died on location and is buried in Jerusalem.

The combination of the historic theatre, the great Chazan and the Hebrew stage was riveting; I will be back there soon

Elkan’s View from Netanya

Dear Friends,

I attach the current Elkan’s view which I hope you will enjoy.

Elkan’s view was originally created to fill a gap for Radlett synagogue before the appointment of their new Rabbi. Happily he is now in post, and I will therefore only be writing on the first weekend of the calendar month.

Warmest regards,



One of the great fascinations of historians is imagining what would have occurred if history had been different. Foremost among these for Jewish historians is what might have happened if Jews had made Aliyah in significant numbers to Palestine in the 1920s. Chaim Weitzman issued a famous cry “Jews where are you?” but the expected mass immigration from Eastern Europe did not take place. Had it done so the State of Israel might well have come into being before the Second World War and the Holocaust might not have occurred.

I have just finished reading a novel called “The Ambassador” by Yehudah Avner and Matt Rees. Avner had a distinguished career as Israeli ambassador in the UK, and his book “the Prime Ministers” is essential reading for anyone interested in modern Israel. In this novel the authors imagine what would have happened if the 1937 report of the Peel commission had been accepted by the Arabs, and the State of Israel had come into being. Dan Lavi, an Israeli married to an American paediatrician, is sent to be Israel’s ambassador to Hitler. His relations with the Nazi state are monitored not by its Foreign Office but by the Gestapo, but he succeeds in arranging for hundreds of thousands of Jews, stripped of all their valuables, to emigrate to Israel. Despite his excellent relations with Adolf-Eichmann however this does not happen fast enough for some Nazis, and there are dramatic scenes in the notorious villa at Wannsee in 1942. Eventually the gas chambers at Auschwitz are destroyed by the Israeli air force and Lavi becomes President of the State of Israel and receives as German ambassador one of his friends who had led the Nazi resistance.

This is one of the great “what ifs” of Jewish history. Sometimes as a people we have failed to grasp opportunities and the chance to create a viable state in Palestine before the Arab nationalism and anti-Semitism of the late 30s and early 40s is one of the great opportunities that we missed as a people. We need to be careful not to miss opportunities again.


Elkan’s View from Budapest


Elkan Family
From left to right: The Levy-Landau family – Eddie, Julian, Joshua, Jasmine. The Gurwitz family – Sam, Abigail, Jamie, Lior, EDL

Last week I was in Budapest with my family for a visit; schools in Israel are closed during Chanukah and it was a good time to go away together.

Hungarian Jewry was sophisticated worldly and integrated within the general life of the country both before and after the First World War. Much of the modernisation of the country was due to Jewish influence, and the Jews were proud of being Hungarian. Before the Second World War 25% of Budapest was Jewish.

When Germany invaded its ally Hungary on 19th of March 1944 Eichmann prepared to deal with a community that until then had hardly felt the Holocaust. In a period of just over six weeks in May and June 1944 more than 400,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz in 138 trains.

The Jews of Budapest began to be persecuted in October 1944 both by the Nazis and the Hungarian Arrow Cross. Jews were marched down to the Danube or onto the bridges over the river to be shot and their bodies thrown in the water. A ghetto in Budapest was established on 29 November 1944 but only lasted for six weeks until liberated by the Russians on 18th of January 1945. This was when Raul Wallenberg, Carl Lutz the Swiss diplomat and others risked their lives to save thousands of Jews.

Beautiful sophisticated and elegant though it be, I found Budapest very disturbing. As we walked along many of the Ghetto’s streets I could see in my mind’s eye Jews being marched along these same streets to their deaths. The Shoe Memorial on the bank of the Danube commemorating those who were shot and thrown into the river (after removing their shoes which were valuable) was particularly moving.

On Friday night we attended the service in the Heroes Temple, erected in the 1920s as a memorial to the Jews who fell in the First World War. On Shabbat morning I went to the Hungarian Ultra-Orthodox minyan, a piece of unreconstructed Jewish history whose 3½ hour service concluded with potato Kugel and Slivovitz instead of Scotch!

But the greatest memory was spending a week with my children and grandchildren, all of us citizens of the State of Israel, the future of the Jewish people.