Category Archives: Elkan’s View

Letters from Elkan Levy in Israel

Elkan’s View From Netanya


One of the things that really moves me is the way that Jewish communities in the Diaspora, at Pesach and Sukkot, pray for the needs of agriculture in the Holy Land.

Water in Israel is a constant preoccupation. For at least half the year there is no rain of any significance, there is rarely sufficient snow in the winter to swell the streams in the spring, and the rivers are few and far between. Water remains a concern, although Israel now produces almost half its water by desalination and is a world leader in the use of “grey water” recycled but not suitable for drinking or cooking purposes.

Praying for rain remains part of the liturgy but sometimes our prayers are answered too literally. Last Sunday week began quite bright in Netanya but about 9:30 AM the sky suddenly went as dark as night. I went to the front of my flat, which overlooks the Mediterranean, and closed all the windows. A few minutes later the whole building was enveloped in a rain and hail storm of tropical intensity, the windows were simply no defence at all, and my flat was severely flooded. This is not bad for the sixth floor.

We got off lightly. There were no significant electrical cuts in Netanya but Ra’anana, north-east of Tel Aviv, was completely without electricity from Sunday morning until late on Monday, and even beyond. Even mobile phones stopped working, a calamity of world shattering importance in Israeli society!

One of my friends saw his garden furniture take to the air and fly away, he knows not where. That was from a balcony on the ninth floor of Sea Opera, and there are undoubtedly worse stories that could be told. The press has been full of complaints that Israel is not prepared for such tropical storms which are beginning to happen more frequently. Certainly the electrical supply needs to be secure, and some surplus water should be stored.

But the greatest miracle of all is that nobody appears to have been hurt anywhere in the country!

Elkan’s view from Natanya


Doubtless you have been reading in the British papers, and seeing footage on the news, which suggests that life in Israel at the moment is rather like living on the front line. There is no denying that the mood of the country has changed, and parents are now much more aware of possible dangers. My grandchildren are no longer allowed to travel by bus, nor to hang around with friends in falafel bars. In the last few days I have done some collection and delivery for them.

So far, with the exception of the attacks in Raanana, there have been no incidents in the coastal area and for the moment one feels safe but it would not take a lot for the situation to change…

What is different about this particular series of attacks is that many of them  are carried out by Israeli Arabs. The accepted wisdom (which I still believe on the whole is true) of Israeli Arab relations is that much of Arab resentment is driven by poverty and that Palestinian Arab prosperity is the best road to Israeli Arab peace. What now seems to be happening however is that Arabs who have benefited from Israeli civilisation, Israeli prosperity and Israeli education, are still prepared to stab Israeli Jews, and this on a lone wolf one to one basis.

The Israeli reaction is different to what has happened previously. One of my friends drives an ambulance in Ra’anana  and it is quite clear from what he said that the local terrorist was severely roughed up. Eventually he was taken to hospital, but even then for his own good was not delivered to the Meir hospital in Kfar Saba since his victims had been taken there and the ambulance service was afraid that the relatives would have no hesitation in taking  matters into their own hands.

The mood of the country is very angry. Bibi was  elected because of perceived expertise in security matters. These attacks appear to have come without warning and are impossible to anticipate, and there seems to be no governmental policy. One Israeli told me that  she felt safer during Gaza war when rockets were raining down on Tel Aviv.

Elkan’s View from Netanya


As usual the Festival of Sukkot in Israel was delightful. The weather has been unseasonably warm, with short sleeves and shorts being perfectly acceptable in October, and the country full of Sukkot!

If you live in a house then you put your Sukkah in your garden; if you have a patio then you can put it on that, but living in a block of flats presents its own problems. One complex in Netanya puts up a very large communal Sukkah for its very large blocks, which is a major social success as families who hardly see each other during the year get together.

There are some blocks in Netanya that are designed for observant Jews; the balconies in such blocks are deliberately staggered so that each family’s Sukkah is directly open to the heavens!

In my block one of my neighbours builds his large family Sukkah in the car park. This has the effect of worsening our parking problems, but no one complains for one week.

The festival finishes with Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah jointly which is the only strong argument that I can see for two days Yom Tov since the two festivals sit uneasily side-by-side. My synagogue began its services at 7:30 AM and didn’t finish until 1 PM, longer than Rosh Hashanah. Everything of course is very lively and very loud, and degenerates from time to time into chaos although most members of the shul understand the significance of the “Rejoicing of the Law”as Routledge decorously describes it. I have to confess that I wandered into shul disgracefully late, was immediately called up, and was then offered and drank in quick succession three single malts – Aberlour, Ardbeg and Glenlivet if you must know. It is a classy establishment!

After the Haftarah the whole mood changes. Yizkor is observed followed by Tefillat Geshem, the prayer for rain which is of such central importance in this country. It forms a very quiet and dignified ending to a raucous morning.

And later this week the Yoreh, the early rains, as the second paragraph of the Shema describes them, will begin in earnest.


Elkan’s view from Radlett

ELKAN’S VIEW FROM RADLETT 9th September 2015

 Rosh Hashanah is a time for reflection. In Jewish tradition it is only one of four new years. The others are 1st Nissan – Kings and festivals; 1st Elul – animals; and Tu B’Shvat, 15th Shevat, the New Year for Trees.

Rosh Hashanah, changes the number of the year (to 5776), marks Shemittah the seven-year cycle of rest for the land, and Jubilees, the 50 year cycle which we no longer know.

This issue therefore seemed the right time to review some of the past year.

I’ve written from Jewish communities in Hong Kong Thailand and Croatia, as well nearer home from Plymouth. I’ve reported on Shavuot in the Negev and the delights of living in a Jewish state (when was the last time a passport officer wished you a Shanah Tovah?). I have frequently written from Radlett, and will officiate there and mark the 53rd year in which I have been privileged to lead communities in prayer on Yamim Noraim.

Last year has undoubtedly been difficult for Jews all over the world, and there is no indication that next year is going to be any better. We continue to witness the sheer idiocy of Obama’s legacy on Iran, the consequences of which have yet to be realised.

The Israeli government continues to handle the situation insensitively instead of turning this crisis into an opportunity. Much for Israel will hang on next year’s presidential elections

Anti-Semitism has become worse in most countries of the world including Britain. The murders in Denmark and France have clearly sounded warnings in those communities, and in Britain we have yet to see the result of the growing political power of the Muslim community, together with the influx of refugees from the Middle East who have been brainwashed to hate Jews.

But all is not bad. Israel continues to lead the world in so many areas, and to provide a modern Jewish state that has been absent in our past history. Rosh Hashanah marks a renewal and a vote of confidence in our future.

I wish all my readers all over the world a Shanah Tovah uMetukah, a good and sweet 5776

Elkan’s view from Netanya

ELKAN’S VIEW FROM NETANYA 2nd September 2015

A week on Sunday will mark the beginning of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, days of prayer and introspection when Am Yisrael, the Jewish people, gather in synagogues of multiple denominations all over the world. Much of the call of these services is based upon music, emotion. history, the attraction of the familiar, the memories that these festivals have for us.

Much of it however is based around The Machzor, the festival prayerbook. Good commentaries can explain the services, and interest the mind during those periods when inevitably attention wanders. One of the problems involved in using a Siddur or Machzor is that over a period the content and order of the prayers change and what may be suitable for one generation is not necessarily valid for another.

The oldest Yom Kippur Machzor that I have is dated 1808. It contains a prayer for “Our Most Gracious Sovereign Lord King George the Third, Our Most Amiable Queen Charlotte” and includes both the Prince of Wales (later George IV) and his wife with whom he scarcely lived. The service is considerably longer than our liturgy, with a great number of Piyutim, early mediaeval poems that have long since fallen into disuse.

The translation was the work of a remarkable scholar called David Levi, a hat maker by profession who translated both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi prayerbooks (I also have a copy of his 1796 Shavuot Machzor), produced a Chumash, a Haggadah, Hebrew-English dictionaries, and engaged in learned arguments with Christian scholars. After his death in 1801 there was a dispute between his son who owned the copyright and a different printer. Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell ruled in favour of Isaac Levi and out of gratitude the printer published an engraving of the Chief Rabbi as the frontispiece.

When this Machzor was published the Battle of Trafalgar was not yet two years old, and Waterloo lay seven years in the future. There were probably less than 30,000 Jews in the whole country, the largest provincial community was Portsmouth and in the nascent Empire probably the most significant settlement was Jamaica.

And yet, with some difficulty, I could still use that Machzor today!