Iron like lions in Zion!

Great post by fellow WIZO-ite who truly knows her onions

Roro's Rantings

“Ain’t nobody gonna break my stride, I gotta keep on moving” sang a passionate Matisyahu at the recent Rototom Sunsplash Festival in Spain. To quote another reggae luminary, Bob Marley, Matisyahu was Iron like Lion in Zion. He epitomized peace and tolerance in the face of great adversity and discrimination. We all know the story but in a nutshell, Matisyahu who is American and Jewish was asked to endorse the positions of the BDS movement and was summarily disinvited by festival organisers when he didn’t. After immense worldwide pressure by peace loving citizens who were outraged over the ban, Matisyahu was re-invited and defiantly sang his hit, Jerusalem. You see, it is not actually about Israel, it is all about Jews. Boycott shmoycott – that is just verbiage and fancy wordplay that disguises the true intentions of the Belligerent, Disruptive and Stupid campaign. Matisyahu had this to say on his…

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The more I learned, the less I understood

I am standing in the WIZO cafeteria, in a queue at the soup tureen. The lady in front of me ladles  rich vegetable broth into her bowl and I do not need to pray that there will be sufficient vegetables left in the soup to sustain me. No, I don’t need to think about that at all. Yet I do. Why?

Take me back a couple of months, I am reading everything I can  in preparation for my trip to Poland; the heart-wrenching observations of Ellie Wiesel,  Primo Levi, Mary Berg and others who bore witness. Suggested reading, they called it. Often, mid-sentence, unable to stomach any more of my  bedtime reading – Martin Gilbert’s detailed chronicle, ‘The Holocaust’  – my eyes would remain wide open all night as I fought and lost battles against images of dead bodies piled up in mass graves. I revisited the battered old suitcase in our storeroom, wherein lies the minutiae of my late father-in-laws’ internment in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald, including the rough and stained, striped shirt of the uniform that he was wearing when he was liberated  by American soldiers in 1945. It is tiny.

So I had read much,  I had listened to the memoirs of survivors in my husband’s family. I had, on more than one occasion, been to Yad Vashem. I thought I was prepared. I was not prepared at all.

On Sunday 12th April, I flew from Tel Aviv to Warsaw and joined British friends in the March of the Living (UK) group. We were 250 participants from the UK of all walks of life, Jews, non-Jews, students, professionals, youth leaders, laypersons and first and second-generation Holocaust survivors. We were split over five buses, each with its own group leader, Holocaust survivor and  educator.  Each of us on our own personal mission to listen, to learn, to feel. Yet the more I learned, the more I saw, the less I understood.  For the entire five days of the trip and from now until the end of my days, I ask, “Why?”

We went from Warsaw to Lublin to Krakow and saw the scant remnants of our once-proud, once-fine upstanding ancestors. In Poland, the history of Jewish life dated back over a millennium and formed a vital part of the cultural history.  I was intrigued to learn that in the 1930s, over 120 different Jewish newspapers were printed on a daily or weekly in Polish, Yiddish and Hebrew, serving a Jewish population of some three and a half million. Between the 1939 invasion of Poland and the end of World War II, 90% of Polish Jewry perished.

From the stripping of basic human rights to the desecration of the sacred symbols of the Jewish faith, from the segregation and discrimination came humiliation and degradation and the internment in ghettos. We learned of the cruelty and barbarism, the likes of which any human being cannot comprehend. And yet, European Jewry refused to give up hope. As hunger, random killings, overcrowding, disease and desperation reigned in the ghettos, and Jewish life was defaced, there were those who, ever optimistic, dared to dream of better days ahead. The contents of their suitcases as they packed for their journey eastwards paid testament to that fact.

But they never got to unpack. In the museum of Auschwitz preserved for eternity are some of those same suitcases and their contents: brushes, combs, cosmetics, religious artefacts, dishes, pots and pans. In one of the displays, a lone rolling pin caught my eye. Did the lady who owned that rolling pin dare to imagine that one day she would bake delicious kuchen for her family as she always had?

We, who had risen fresh from our comfortable beds in four-starIMG_0188IMG_0081 hotels, had eaten hearty breakfasts. We, who had packed ample layers against the elements in our backpacks, emerged from our air-conditioned luxury coaches and descended to the depths of hell wearing our comfortable walking shoes, safe in the knowledge that we had an exit strategy. At any time, we could turn our back on the abject terror we witnessed and find our way out. And we did – but it does not leave us.

We visited the death camp of Majdanek and Belzec, Auschwitz and Auschwitz Birkenau where European Jewry was viciously terrorized, incarcerated, incinerated and virtually wiped out. At each place, we stood solemnly at the monuments of remembrance and recited a Kaddish, each of us, in our own way, sanctifying the memory of those we never knew but loved anyway

Sometimes, the gravity of what we witnessed got too much for us and we would walk out to breathe fresh air. I put my hand on the cold, damp wall of the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau and heard silent screams and I wept, and then felt guilty for weeping – for I did not experience the hunger, the whip, the pain of burning flesh, the panic. I had no right to cry.

This year marked the 70th anniversary  since the liberation of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and the end of the Second World War. The precious survivors amongst us are well into their eighties. They know, as we do, that they are the final witnesses to the horrors of the Holocaust, and they have made it their life’s work to share their stories with the coming generation.

At the Belzec death camp, one of our survivors, in trembling voice, recited Kaddish for his late parents and little sister who were murdered before his very eyes. This was the same man who gave me my new preoccupation with the soup tureen. He had told us, over dinner back at the hotel,  that in those dark days of abject hunger,  it was a lucky man who got his broth from the bottom of the pan because that’s where the vegetables lurked.

For four days in April, our journey took us deeper into hell but on the fifth day, the scene at Auschwitz shifted inexplicably. This evil place took on a different, hopeful guise as some 12,000 plus participants of March of the Living (MOL) worldwide descended from their coaches on this perfect sunny day,  wearing their MOL jackets and baseball caps and carrying Israeli flags. We marched as if an ocean of blue that surged slowly yet forcefully forward alongside the train tracks that had brought our ancestors to their certain death. We marched as one, against the past, towards the future, because we are living and we can.

We marched solemnly and as we entered Birkenau the names of murdered children rang out through loudspeakers. We drank copious amounts of water as we retraced the steps of the thirsty and the starving and those doomed to die. We placed markers on the train tracks of those we had lost. I put down two markers; one to remember my husband’s lost family members and another for those WIZO women from 15 federations in Eastern Europe who had worked for the promise of the future State of Israel – and I felt so humbled to do so. And how strange, that amongst the throng of marchers I saw one of our WIZO Presidents, Estela Faskha from Panama and we hugged. Each of us mirroring the others’ emotions.

The march concluded in a solemn and poignant ceremony, attended by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, himself a child survivor of Buchenwald and  messages from His Holiness Pope Francis and the President of the State of Israel, Reuvin Rivlin. Torches were lit in commemoration of those murdered,  in tribute to the Righteous Among the Nations and in honour of the survivors who rebuilt their lives.

As the last torch was lit for the State of Israel where the Jewish people were reborn, and Dudu Fisher, led the  March of the Living Children’s Choir in a rousing rendition of Hatikvah, I once again found myself in floods of tears and this time, I felt no guilt in crying. I just felt humbled and grateful to live as a free woman in a free country.

Unleash the Zionist within you

Lion in Zion newI am a Zionist. I will shout it from the rooftops and I have no time, nor patience for those who walk among us who don’t admit to their own Zionism, as if it  were a bad habit to be kept under wraps. My goodness, if diversity  can come out of the cupboard in all its rainbow colours, well why not Zionism with her flag of blue and white?  And if our Christian friends care to stand up for Israel, then what excuse have we for keeping shtum in a world that turns the volume ever higher so our detractors can be heard loud and proud?

We are so few and  our voices are muted by a baying crowd who would have our guts for garters in schools, universities, on the streets and on social media. Now is really not the time to hide our Magen Davids.  We’ve done that, been there and  what good did that ever do  us?

There is no justification for inaction when it comes to facing off a bully.  And, again,  the bullies are out in force on Europe’s streets, in British cities, with their angst turned against Israel and against you, against the Jew, against me and against the principles that we all hold dear.

“Yes, we are Jewish but we don’t want to make a fuss, don’t want to invite trouble.”  I’ve heard that more than once and it does not wash with me.

“I met some lovely people on holiday, but I didn’t tell them I lived in Israel.”  Heard that one, too. Tut, tut.

As the far right and far left extremists unite ever closer to create a twisted alliance of Jew-hatred in Europe, fuelled by a convenient loathing for Israel,  the word Zionism is demonized. The State of Israel suffers the slings and arrows (not to mention more damaging missiles) of  the new anti-Semite who has  been drip fed shocking images of babies in rags and weeping mothers, all victims of the  ‘occupation of Palestine’  – which shows Israel as a mighty Goliath and the poor Palestinians as little brave David hurling rockets. Oops, sorry. I meant rocks.

Peeling back the benevolent shrouds under which hides  the United Nations, global NGOs such as Amnesty International, War on Want, Save the Children and many others,  an anti-Israel stance on every front will be revealed.  The latest debacle, Obama’s submission to Iranian aspirations to become  a nuclear super power,  hammers home the nails in Israel’s coffin. The consequences for Israel’s security, indeed Israel’s survival are dire.  The BDS movement  a rapidly  growing yet entirely moronic cooperative of diligent stupidity works tirelessly to compliment all the other mud-throwing opportunists who have an unfathomable distaste for that (sic) ‘shitty little country’ Israel. Throw mud at the word ‘Zionism’ and it sticks. Israel’s reputation is besmirched by those who peddle  double standards, ignorance and prejudice   Oh come on, why sugar coat the pill? It is Jew-hatred.  Add to this, the left-leaning Israeli academics who bleat on about human rights violations ignoring facts on the ground – that Israel is the only democracy in the region where they could possibly  have such unpatriotic opinions and not be stoned, hung, drawn and quartered for outing their opinions and that Israel’s army is lauded for its code of conduct, an ethical code of humanitarianism.

And now, in the aftermath of Protective Edge and with radical Islam’s venomous tentacles whipping through Europe, a  different brand of Jew-hatred is unfurled.  Call it anti-Zionism and you get approval and a pat on the back for your  political-correctness. Yeah right. Call it what it is and you are the bad one. You are a trouble maker. The legitimacy of the word Zionism has suffered by its own hand of late, with far-right Israeli extremists pouring burning fat on the fire (somewhat literally with the recent arson attack that left a Palestinian baby and his  father dead),  but there is one fundamental  distinction between the Zionists and those who run, kicking and screaming, to burn Israel’s flag and beat down its door.  And that difference comes from a mindset, which is poles apart. There is more likelihood of  falling into one of  Hamas’s  tunnels than bridging the gaping hole that divides the  two ideologies – one that sanctifies life and the other? Something to do with martyrdom and the ravishing of 72 virgins in heaven (but don’t get too carried away with that thought).

While Israelis gather in their thousands in the town square in silent vigil for a dead Palestinian baby and pray for peace, for tolerance, for an end to mindless violence, the Palestinians who embrace the indoctrination of Hamas and other known terrorist organizations  take to the streets, running riot, shooting rifles in the air. They pound their chests and  shriek to Allah – asking  him (her?) for the power to retaliate.  And when he/she answers their prayers rewarding them with the murder of an Israeli man, woman or child (the more the merrier),  their children dance in the streets, receiving sweets in celebration of what is not perceived by them to be a crime but their god-given right.  And as the terrorist regime Hamas calls for more attacks against settlers to avenge the death of the father of the Palestinian baby killed in the Duma attack, Israelis continue to gather in peaceful protest and point the finger, the Israeli finger, at the ‘settlers’  – their Israeli brothers and sisters. There is something fundamentally wrong with this. Don’t they realize that the  presumably Jewish perpetrator of this terrorist act will be dealt with in the harshest manner according to the law?  He will have the book thrown at him and nobody will celebrate by handing out sweets to the kids. That is for sure. We, Israelis,  are collectively ashamed that ‘one of us’ and that includes the settlers in my opinion,  should dare to act with such a disdain for his fellow Israeli, knowing the implications. As if we needed any more reasons to be vilified.

Yet, apart from a handful of grass roots pro-Israel organizations who take to the streets in their own localities to identify with Israel and to stamp out the defamers while defending their own way of life against Islam’s more warped supporters, and a few lone voices who speak their truths against a popular army  of Jew-bating,  Israel hating bigots, there are many among us for whom wearing our Zionism with pride  is just not an option.

“We don’t want to get involved,”  they say. “We don’t want to offend anyone. We are scared.”  Wrong, wrong, wrong. Lose the victim mentality. Stand your ground and stand up for Israel..  A very good friend of mine who is a staunch defender of Israel  put it well, when she said, ‘Be a warrior not a  worrier.’ I subscribe to that wisdom.

Get out there, armed with facts, fight lies with truth and wave your Israeli flag as if your life depended on it because, actually,  it just might.

Letter to Mum in Heaven

Dear Mum in Heaven

This is the second birthday that I was not with you.  I did not plant a kiss on your soft cheek and put two bunches of Tesco freesias in a vase on the kitchen table in Barnhill Road.  This is the second time I did not go to the card shop to buy a birthday card with just the right words and it is the zillionth time I have thought about you since you gave up graciously and stepped with great fortitude into that eternal place where pain dare not enter. Well, thank goodness for that. You had enough of that nonsense down here!

And let’s not even discuss the Mothering Sundays before you got so ill,  when we would have afternoon tea in the Midland in town with crisp white napkins on our laps, served by a waitress in a starched lace apron – and I was sandwiched between you and the boys. They probably would have preferred to go for a Chinese but this was Mother’s Day and what Nana wanted, Nana got. So we enjoyed the little cucumber sandwiches and scones and clotted cream – and when I looked around me, I saw carbon copies of us, doing the very same thing – with granny, with mummy, with flowers, with gifts.

You, Mum, were my greatest gift – both my creator and my saviour.  When my world was bleak and I didn’t know where to turn, you took me by the hand and in your words, ‘I will treat you like the princess you were born to be,’ you did, even to the point of delivering me into the arms of that knight in shining armour who came to save me. He’s still saving me. I can just hear you saying, ‘Oh bless him’.

And you were always so proud of me, so proud of my boys. They miss you.

I hope you found Dad in heaven. He was probably sprawled over the snooker table as usual. Are you waiting on him hand and foot in the kitchen as you used to do? Surely now you don’t have to worry about his cholesterol? You can let him have two fried eggs every day for breakfast. I guess in heaven weight-gain and high blood pressure don’t pose a problem.

Avi just said to me, ‘What are you doing?’ and I told him that I was writing you a letter. He raised his eyes upwards as if I was mad, but straight-faced and with all seriousness I told him that it was your birthday, so he retreated back to his Archie Bunker chair to do his Sudoku.

I picture you, as I like to do, in your heavenly bedroom planning your totally coordinated outfit right down to the just so perfect pieces of jewellery that go with that jacket, those shoes, that handbag and matching scarf.  What will it be, Ma? A pink day or are you doing that nautical theme you loved so much?

I think you will be pleased to know that I ditched my neutrals for brighter colours. You always said you hated me in black.

Well, Mum, I don’t know how long the post takes to reach you up there so there’s no point filling you in on all the minutiae of my day to day life here in Schwitzer Towers.  Suffice to say, him indoors is just fine and still treating me very well indeed.  The boys are great. Ric is doing well in his job and guess what – Nic is living in Israel now. I knew you would be pleased about that.

Shame they don’t have Facebook where you are. We could private message like we used to do. I was wondering whether I could find you on line,  but I guess they don’t do Wifi up there.  Someone should invest in that. They would make a fortune. We could Skype.

Well, I guess I had better be off now. I have to chop the salad and lay the table for lunch. No, I didn’t drop my standards although I must admit the cats do bring a lot of extra housework. Yes, I know you told me not to get cats, but it was a weak moment. You had died and I was sad.

That’s all for now. I will write again. Give my love to Dad and take care of the angels.

Love as ever,

Your daughter xx

The Attitude of Gratitude

Why do I volunteer for WIZO? Well, thank you for asking. Mine is not the typical ‘WIZO is  in my DNA’ story. I did not walk in my late mother’s footsteps. She and her friends, back in Manchester, were ‘Ladies in Blue’ – members of the League of Jewish Women whose volunteerism centred around the local community.  Apart from buying the occasional ticket to a WIZO fashion show, or the  WIZO Manchester calendar to hang on the kitchen wall  of my house in Prestwich, I knew little of WIZO and cared even less. Sure, many of my friends were WIZO members. I viewed their WIZOism as an indulgence. Back then, I had no idea what they did or why they did it – oh yes, I vaguely remember it had something to do with feeding little children in Israel. Nothing more, nothing less. Joining their ranks was never an option. It was a struggle just to feed my own family – and to keep up a pretence that everything in my garden was coming up roses, when clearly to all but me, it wasn’t.

If you read my profile you will know that it was in Israel that I found sustainable happiness. I was,  for the first time in a long time, looked after. The hard landing of Aliyah was massively cushioned by my crazy diamond Israeli lover who indulged me in heart and spirit and showered me with everything I needed to repair a shattered sense of self-worth. My Zionism was sealed with a wedding ring under the chuppah at the Tel Aviv Sheraton, at the height of the Second Intifada.

This perplexed but happy middle-aged woman while  learning the excruciating language of the Hebrew man,  would often cut classes at the ulpan and head off to Gordon Beach to work more studiously on the ultimate sun tan, but it was not long before the conscientious Tricia took over from the tanned one and she  found herself a little part time job at the World WIZO HQ in Tel Aviv.

Brenda Katten was to become my role model. I was in awe of her wisdom and passion. To work with her in the (now defunct) public affairs department was to share an office with an eloquent spitfire who needed no notes and no autocue in her delivery of an impassioned plea that infused her audience with Zionism and warned (all those years ago) of the rise in global anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism before it even became trendy. A staunch defender of Israel, she had been victimized and verbally abused at the United Nations International Conference on Racism – Durban 2001, which spawned a new and hateful breed of anti-Israelism known as BDS. She stood her ground. Brenda led a rallying cry against Iran’s nuclear proliferation from the very first antagonistic utterance of ‘wipe Israel off the map.’

But it was not just her Zionistic stance that impressed me, it was her manner. Brenda knew the importance of those two words –  ‘thank you’. She knew that appreciation had a two-fold effect. Both the giver and the recipient are rewarded by thanks.

I went on to become the deputy editor of the WIZO Review, a job I loved. I felt a great respect for all the chaverot around the world. Reporting on their fundraising and social events made an impact on me. Their selfless acts of altruism for Israel through WIZO impressed me so greatly that I began to feel guilty taking a salary (albeit a very modest one) from WIZO. I felt as if I was stealing from every chavera around the world. It just did not sit right with me.

I wanted to become a volunteer. It would have no negative effect on the quality of my work. Indeed, the opposite. It would add value to my work.  I figured that if WIZO was all about women who make a difference to the people of Israel through volunteerism, good deeds and generosity,  well then count me in. After all, I had visited the day care centres, the schools, the battered women’s shelters. I had smiled, and laughed and wept with the chaverot – and I had been in awe of all these women because they care enough to volunteer. I had let these new-found emotions wash over me and it felt good. Altruism is an affair between the heart and the pocket. I knew that WIZO, an organization that  did so much to bring out the very best in Israeli society was the perfect channel for me to give back to the Israel that showed me such love.

I was able to volunteer, I was able to donate. I still am and I hope I always will. My need to give back becomes greater with each passing year – and now more than ever.

There is no doubt that WIZO has every ingredient to appeal to the heart of a Jewish mother. It is all about nurturing, caring and empowering. I often wonder whether my deep respect for WIZO comes from a place deep within me where lurks a modicum of guilt at leaving my boys back in England and following my heart to Israel. But even if it does, what difference does it make? I have paid my dues. It really does not matter from where it comes, the fact is that I have it and it is a gift to be used, because whatever little or much I can do for  WIZO and  the people of Israel I will do.

There exists within all of us the need to do something good for others,  but there is also the need for acknowledgment, for inclusion and for a little gratitude. We need to feel that we belong, that what we do matters.

Sometimes, the act of gratitude is often minimized to the detriment of both the giver and recipient and yet it is this simple acknowledgment or lack of it that can make or break motivation  Interestingly, you can find many graphics on Google images for motivation and yet hardly any for demotivation. Even your spellchecker will query the word – as if it is a truth that dare not speak its name. Left  unchecked, negative factors may impact on every action and inaction of the demotivated volunteer. I have been demotivated more than once but never by the organization as a whole. An organization cannot ever demotivate a person. Only other people can do that. I am learning to rise above it, focussing always on why we do what we do. The WIZO movement is far bigger than any one person. I like to think of it as a global village raising the Israeli nation.

And so, when no thanks from my immediate peers is forthcoming, I take satisfaction in knowing that disadvantaged youth can enjoy a game of snooker in a room named after my late and much-loved father, at the same time as they are learning new skills and rebuilding broken lives at the Rebecca Sieff Centre for the Family in Jerusalem.  I take my thanks from the smiles on the faces of the little  children in a WIZO day care centre.   I know that one day (and think how time flies) that those little children will become the  principled defenders of the State of Israel. They will  stand up for me, my children and the grandchildren I am yet to have. There can be no bigger heap of thanks than that.

So why do I volunteer for WIZO? I do it because I believe in the product and because I can. For that, I am proud to have the attitude of gratitude