Friday 30 April 2010

Proportionate Response

I am reading another of Daniel Gordis' books which I am finding fascinating. I am becoming something of a fan of his, as I find I can really identify with what he is writing, and thoroughly enjoy his style of expressing himself. In his most recent book, Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War that May Never End (John Wiley & Sons, 2009), Gordis raises two particular issues which have struck me. They are points that I have thought a good deal about over a long time, and which don't really seem to get much airtime in the press.

The first point that he makes, is that the current war of terror that Israel continues to fight does not threaten Israel's existence. I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. I abhor the fact that a sovereign nation and its citizens should be subject to constant barrages of missiles that are fired on a daily basis. I don't know any other country in the world which is forced to endure such bad behaviour in an attempt to frighten people, or that would tolerate it. There is no doubt that the intentions of the people who are firing the rockets are to destroy Israel. What they are doing, however, is sowing fear amongst innocent Israelis and causing risk to life and limb. On the occasion that they have succeeded in getting a rocket to hit a built-up area, significant damage has been caused and lives have been lost. This atrocious situation, whilst intolerable to any country, cannot be interpreted as threatening the future existence of the State of Israel. It absolutely does not.

The second point that he makes is that Israel cannot win the war of terror that is currently being waged. He draws a parallel with the war that the US is fighting in Afghanistan. This is not a regular war between sovereign nations and their armies. The war of terror is conducted by "civilians" who use residential neighbourhoods for the purpose of storing weapons, and for firing on the enemy forces. This achieves a number of objectives. Firstly, it ensures that public opinion stays with the "civilians", as public opinion these days always seems to favour the underdog. Secondly, it plays on the senses and conscience of civilised humans who do not wish to kill or hurt civilians, even in the heat of a battle against terrorists. All the while that the war is being fought in the midst of civilian neighbourhoods, they know that civilised nations will be reluctant to fire back.

On his statement that Israel cannot win this war, I am forced to disagree with Daniel Gordis. I think that it is absolutely possible for Israel to win the war of terror just the same as I believe that the US forces could easily eradicate the Taliban in Afghanistan. All that is required in Israel's case is for a few heavy-duty bombs to be dropped on Gaza. Thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, would be killed, but the war of terror would be over. Israel has the necessary fire power and the ability to do this. It is just that Israel chooses not to exercise this option at the current time. So why, when Israeli citizens are under constant rocket attack on a daily basis, do Israeli military and political leaders choose not to put a permanent stop to this? The answer is contained in the first point above, which is that Israel's existence is not threatened. It is all about ensuring that responses to attacks are proportionate, particularly where the lives of innocent civilians are at risk. There can be no doubt that if Israel suddenly came under an attack which threatened to wipe the whole country off the map, every possible military option would be exercised. Until this happens, we need to ensure that our reactions and responses are measured, well thought-through and proportionate to the threat that we confront. This will ensure that the "collateral damage" will be kept to a minimum.

There are many who do not agree with this approach. They believe that the Palestinians deserve the full wrath of the Israeli army in view of the constant indiscriminate attacks on civilians. It is true that, when these missiles are launched in the direction of Israel, the perpetrators do not know or care if they will hit civilian areas. They would prefer it if their missiles did strike civilians to inflict as much death, damage and suffering on the Israelis as they can. In addition, they seem to give no consideration to the threat that they place their own civilian population under by firing from residential neighbourhoods. So why is it necessary to show respect when so much disrespect is received in return? Why should our attacks be measured when they throw their full military capability at us? What is the value of our military strength if we do not exercise it when our citizens are in danger?

Despite the attitude shown by our enemies who are quite happy to endanger and kill innocent civilians (theirs and ours), I am pleased that our army and our people make efforts to avoid this. I recognise that, at times, this approach costs us and even puts lives in danger. It does, however, ensure that we maintain our humanity. It is important for me that the army that represents my interests retains humanity, and does not sink to the despicable levels shown by the Palestinian militant groups. In short, I like the fact that each Israeli soldier operates within a framework which expects him or her always to behave like a mensch.

In addition to running the risk of losing our humanity, the experience that we have endured with the recent Goldstone Report also indicates how the army's behaviour is under the scrutiny of the international community. Unfortunately, even attempts to behave in the most correct manner possible seem to incur the wrath of the Israel-haters. Imagine what the reaction of the international community would be if the IDF went into Gaza in a more heavy-handed manner.

Even though the Goldstone Report has inflicted damage on Israel's public image in a most abhorrent manner, there is greater damage that could be caused to the Jewish state. The international reaction that I most fear is not in the form of Goldstone-type reports. More than this, I fear the impact that severe economic sanctions may cause. Israel has built itself into an economic miracle over 62 short years. This economic achievement could never have come about if it had to rely in its minuscule local market of 6 million people. Closing the international market to Israel's exports including technology, agricultural and other goods would decimate the Israeli economy. This, in turn, would weaken Israel's military strength and many other important aspects of the country that rely on its exports. The implementation of harsh economic sanctions will almost certainly spell the end of Israel as we know it.

If, in the eyes of the international world, Israel was to take the proverbial sledgehammer to kill the ant, this could spell the end for Israel. Even her allies may be coerced into a situation where they are forced to support severe economic sanctions. Israel would not be able to withstand such international pressure and would most probably collapse within a short period of time. In order to protect her future, and that of the Jewish people, Israel is forced not only to consider her moral stand, but also the level to which the international world is willing to continue to support her actions. Proportionate response is what it is all about, not only for the conscience of Israel and the Jewish people, but also to maintain the support of the key international players. To seem, it may seem as if "proportionate response" forces Israel into a situation of having to endure the never-ending attacks without being able to put a stop to them, until such time as something more severe happens which "justifies" a harsher response from Israel. This is precisely how the recent war in Gaza started.

It is tough for me to accept that members of the international community find the necessity to examine the level of response by Israel, and to measure whether it is proportionate or not. This all the time knowing that if their countries were being bombed on a daily basis and the lives of their citizens put at risk, the proportions would be much greater. But the rules in the Middle East are different, and the proportions are different. Like it or not, this is something that Israel needs to accept and live with. For me, what is more important than facing up to the international community is being able to face up to ourselves. In this respect, I feel we are doing a good job. One has to take into account that no national army under the same pressure as the IDF can be without its renegades or individual behaviours which run contrary to its commands. As such, no army's actions are perfect. When, however, all things are considered, I am extremely proud of the achievements of the IDF. The views of the international community can do little to change my views in this regard.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

All or Nothing

During a recent heated debate with my nearly 16 year-old son, he explained to me his view of the current stand-off between the Israelis and the Palestinians. His understanding is that the Palestinians are so-called because they were the inhabitants of Palestine before the Jewish state was declared. In his view, Palestinian nationalism was created by virtue of the fact that Arab inhabitants of Palestine were forced to leave their homes at the time of Israel's creation, and they await their opportunity to return to their original homes. He believes that their claim is legitimate and that they have a right to be able to return to their homes.

During the course of the conversation, I tried to gather from him what he believes this situation may mean for Israel. He is convinced that the "Palestinians" have a right to return to the homes which they ran away from in 1948. Despite knowing that the Jews requested the Arabs to remain in their homes and not to run, his sense of fair play causes him to feel that they have the right to return to the homes that they abandoned. When I raised with him the fact that they wish to see Israel destroyed, his perspective on the situation is that they wish to see Israel destroyed because they want the whole of "Palestine" for themselves. In his view, they have nothing against the Jews as such, it is just that they wish to have the land for themselves.

In attempt to try to run with his argument, I asked why he felt that the Palestinians had not tried to at least build a state with the bits of land that they have managed to gain over the years. During the period between 1948 and 1967, there was no attempt to build a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. In recent years when they have had control over much of this land and now also have huge sums of international aid which was donated to help them to build a state, still no progress has been made in this direction. How can this be reconciled to his view that all they wish to do is build a Palestinian state, and that it is nothing personal against the Jews? It was then that I was introduced to the concept of "all or nothing". I was told that the Palestinians do not wish to build a state on part of their land, because they hold the view that they can only build a state when they have all the land that they are demanding. For them, it is all or nothing.

I was quite surprised by the introduction of this concept to our discussion, and felt very unprepared for it. It was not something that I had heard before, and I am unsure what the source of this view is. Perhaps, by agreeing to accept some of the land, the Palestinians may feel that they are relinquishing their right to the rest of it. It seems, however, that there may be a generation of young Israelis growing up who believe that Israel stands in the way of the Palestinian demand for all or nothing.

I thought for a moment about the situation, then tried to link this view to the Jewish perspective. I explained that there are many Jews who believe in the "greater Land of Israel", A belief that Jews have the right to the land which was promised to the Jewish people by G-d in the Torah. If we take the boundaries which are set out in the book of Numbers (34:1 to 15), we would be demanding not only the West Bank, we would be expecting to have much of Jordan, Iraq and beyond. But when, in 1948, the Jews were given even the smallest sliver of land to build a Jewish state, we grabbed it and immediately set about building it. We never hung onto an "all or nothing" view. The reason is that we were not concerned at all about displacing the Arabs or fighting the Arabs for the land that they had been granted. Instead, we were only concerned about building our own homeland. I hold the view that if the Palestinians are truly interested in building themselves a homeland, they would set about doing so on whatever land they have under their control. But they do not do this. Their only concern is fighting the Jews for what we have. Their actions signal a clear intention to me, and this is not "all or nothing" for themselves. This about ensuring that the Jews have nothing.

The debate with my son ties into a recent debate on the same subject with my father. In this conversation, I found myself verbalising something that I may have thought for some time, but have never said before. I finally admitted out loud that I honestly cannot see a situation which would bring peace to the Middle East in my lifetime, and possibly not even in the lifetime of my children. Despite my high hopes for my peace when I arrived here nearly 12 years ago, and despite my views that the Palestinians had finally come to the realisation that the Jews cannot be removed from Israel, I am now of the opinion that this is not true at all. Instead, I see that the Palestinians and many other Arabs refuse to recognise Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. This fundamental refusal is the obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Until such time as Israel gets this recognition that she deserves, there can never be peace in this region. As much as this admission saddens me, I am relieved that it is out in the open for all to see.

The problem is that my son, and possibly other Israeli nearly 16 year-olds don't see this. These are the boys and girls who, in another 3 years from now, will be enlisting for their compulsory military service to fight for the freedom and safety of the State of Israel and the Jewish nation. I do feel good about my son's sense of fair play, and I would never want this part of his character and set of beliefs to change. Being a good human being is important to me, and I am proud to be the father of a boy who cares deeply about others, even those who may be trying to kill him. It is important, however, for him and his friends to recognise what the reality is. I do feel that these boys and girls, whilst holding a sympathetic view regarding the claim of the Palestinians, do recognise that two peoples cannot rule over the same piece of land at the same time. As such, they understand that we have to fight for it as much as we can before it is taken away from us. So, although we don't agree on what may be driving the Palestinians to claim the land, we do all agree that the land is ours to defend with all our strength.

It strikes me that if there are Israelis who hold a sympathetic view towards the Palestinian position, no matter whether this is only held by a minority of Israelis, it is unsurprising that many of those watching the ongoing Middle East conflict from the outside also hold this belief. As Israelis, we have an obligation to ensure that our children see the situation for what it is. It is also critical for the world-at-large to understand this. There will always be commentators who will criticise Israel, no matter what the situation is. There are, however, sufficient people in the world who don't necessarily hold preconceived ideas, and who are available to be convinced of the truth. It is Israel's responsibility to demonstrate what the truth is. In particular, the world, and the Arab world in particular, should understand that sympathies will never be enough to convince our younger generation to relinquish our right to our homeland.

Sunday 18 April 2010

The Legacy of Holocaust Survivors

It is at this time each year that we notice how few survivors from the Shoah still remain. The survivors take centre stage across the country as the sirens wail to commemorate those who were murdered by the evil Nazi regime only because they were Jews. Those survivors who are still left to share this with us are already well advanced in their years. With the passing of 65 years since the end of the Shoah, even these survivors could have been no older than in their teenage years by the time the war ended. It could be said that the only survivors now left are child victims of the Shoah.

As an entire nation stands together and united for the 2 minute silence to commemorate the victims of the largest instance of ethnic cleansing in history, it is difficult to understand how the Shoah could have been such a divisive issue over the 62 years of the existence of the Jewish homeland. An example of a divisive point was published in the newspaper just recently. The newspaper article explained that there are moves currently being pursued to reduce electricity prices for survivors of the Shoah. On the face of it, this idea seems to be a good one. The problem is that there are many other underprivileged Israelis, and groups representing their interests that ask why the reduction in electricity prices should not be equally applied to other needy members of society. The Shoah survivors group asks why it has taken 62 years to extend this privilege to the community of survivors. It seems that whatever is offered in good faith is accused of being too little too late, or unfairly applied to one interest group over another.

This little story reflects more widespread decisions regarding survivors of the Shoah. When the survivors eventually managed to escape from the horrors of Europe and finally made it to the Jewish promised land, they found that things were not all that they thought they may be in the Land of Israel. The country was populated by other survivors like themselves who either were trying to bury their memories from the Shoah and not address them at all, or were trying to use the fact that they were survivors to extract as many favours as they could as a type of compensation for the horrors that they suffered. The country was also populated by Jews who came from Middle Eastern countries who did not suffer at the hands of the Germans, but who experienced their own suffering at the hands of anti-Semites in the Arab countries that they originated from. Holocaust survivors suffered the indignity for many years of being accused by Middle Eastern Jews of going like lambs to the slaughter. They were asked why there was not greater resistance to the German extermination machine. Very soon, it became easier for the Shoah survivors to try to suppress and forget where they came from, in an attempt to build a new start for themselves and their families in the Jewish homeland. The relationship with their Middle Eastern brethren, the link between Ashkenazi and Sephardi was, however, severely damaged in the process. It is only over the past 15 or 20 years that organisations like Yad Vashem and others have succeeded in proving that European Jews offered significant resistance under impossible circumstances, and that the accusation of them going like lambs to the slaughter is wholly unjustified.

Another issue that has dogged survivors of the Shoah over the years is the matter of property that was lost by them, and reparations made by the German government to Israel. Significant property was confiscated and stolen from European Jews. Some of this is still in the hands of some of the largest world banks and other organisations and individuals, and there seems no real progress in returning this property to its rightful owners, or now, their heirs. The State of Israel has played some role in trying to return Jewish property, although it would be fair to say a great deal more could have been done. Some of the reparations paid to Israel by Germany were, in turn, distributed to survivors in recognition of their suffering and property that was lost. These actions have caused Jews who suffered in countries outside of Europe to ask why their suffering could not also have been recognised by some sort of compensation. It reinforced the view held by some that the educated and aristocratic Ashkenazi Jews emanating from the ruins of Europe were exercising control over the less educated Sephardi Jews emanating from the Middle East. It is claimed that this has resulted in unfair rules being established by which the suffering of the European Jews has been given greater recognition and importance than that of their Middle Eastern compatriots.

It is fair to say that history has never seen cruelty or a program of ethnic cleansing to match the Shoah. The loss of 6 million innocent lives only because they were Jews is never to be forgotten, and hopefully never to be repeated. The truth is, however, that many Jews arrived during the early years of the State of Israel after having suffered terrible persecution and atrocities. Many arrived penniless after having lost all their belongings, and having also lost many members of their families. These people, whether they came from Europe or from North Africa all came to Israel for the same reason. To be able to live freely as a Jew in his/her homeland. It is wonderful to observe how many have achieved this for themselves and their offspring.

Some two generations have now passed since the end of the Shoah, and also since the persecution of Jews was suffered in countries like Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Egypt, Syria and others. Since then, the State of Israel has been built from almost nothing to a wonderful, economically-viable and secure homeland for all Jews. The country has been built by European Ashkenazi Jews, byMiddle Eastern Separdi Jews and by many others who have joined the effort over the years. Israel is there to protect Jews wherever they may be in the world. The story of the airlift of Jews from Ethiopia and the mass arrival of Jews from the former Soviet Union are just small examples of this reality. The time has come for us to move forward on a path that will allow us to combine into one nation, while constantly remembering where we came from. It is important for our children to learn about the Shoah and to understand the reason why we mark Yom Hashoah. It is also important for them to learn about the persecution of Jews in Middle Eastern and North African countries, and about the sacrifices made by Jews from these countries to make their way to Israel. Some of them trekked by foot over some of the world's most inhospitable terrain to make their way to the Jewish homeland. Their stories should also not be forgotten.

The Israeli government has an obligation to ensure that Shoah survivors have sufficient social benefits to allow them to live out their days in dignity. Too many of them are destitute and struggling to live on very limited means. By the same token, the government has the responsibility to ensure that those formerly from Middle Eastern countries, and all our senior citizens have their basic needs taken care of, especially where many of them are economically unable to care for themselves. I believe that enough time has now passed for us to be able to put the different designations aside, and to treat all the needy in the same measure.

This means that Shoah survivors may not receive preferential treatment by virtue of the fact that they are survivors. They will, however, receive preferential treatment if they are in need of it. For the future of Israel and all its citizens, we should ensure that those who are in the greater need are those who receive more.

Monday 12 April 2010

Yom Hashoah

Remembering the Holocaust is important for Jews around the world. It is especially important for Jews living in Israel as we are reminded every day that, with the continued existence of the Jewish State, another shoah cannot happen.

On one day a year, we commemorate this tragedy and we stand in silence to the memory of the victims whose lives were cut short only because they were Jewish. Approximately 2 hours ago, the siren sounded, and Israel came to a standstill. The sight of a whole country stopping in its tracks in memory of the 6 million is source of pride and astonishment for me each year.

This video taken on Yom Hashoah three years ago gives an indication to those who have not been in Israel on this day, how Israelis mark the 2 minutes silence.

May their names and memories be blessed.

Sunday 11 April 2010

How Do We Protect Our Children?

I have just finished reading the Daniel Gordis book "Home to Stay" (Three Rivers Press, 2003). It tells the tale of a family that came from a comfortable existence in the USA to spend a sabbatical year in Jerusalem. Their experiences during this period soon made them decide not to return to the USA, but rather to make Israel their permanent home. I could identify very closely with the family's experiences, as they were very similar to the ones that my family went through. Additionally, because we made aliyah almost at the same time as the Gordis family, many of the events that he describes are the ones that we recall during the period of our acclimatisation in Israel.

Gordis highlights many dilemmas that immigrant families to Israel have to endure. I am always amused by the changes in political views experienced by olim (new immigrants) like Gordis upon arrival in Israel. Many Americans arrive in Israel with strong liberal views. Living in Israel soon allows them to understand that we may wish to treat all in a fair and just way, including our enemies, but they do not necessarily feel the same about us. The simple fact is that many Palestinians wish to see Israel wiped off the map and the Jews driven into the sea. This realisation leads many left-wingers to move their political views further to the right in acknowledgement of the political reality in the Middle East. If trying to treat our enemies fairly serves to endanger our own lives, even the most liberal of us will be forced to take a more conservative stance. The struggle with being forced to acknowledge this fact is clear throughout the book.

One of the central themes that runs throughout the book is the dilemma that Gordis and his wife Elisheva have regarding their children. They continuously question themselves as to whether they have done the right thing by their children in bringing them to live in Israel, and directly exposing them to the ugliness of the Middle East conflict. These questions are more pronounced when there is a dramatic increase in the number of terror attacks being carried out, and when these attacks are concentrated on the city of Jerusalem where the Gordis family lives. At one point, Daniel writes about specifically preventing his children from watching TV on an evening soon after a terror attack has taken place, in order to prevent his children from seeing the details of the attack on the live broadcast. Ironically, however, it is in his last chapter when he finally brings this discussion full circle after he receives email attacks following a radio broadcast he did in the USA. The emails that he received questioned his decision to expose his children to such danger in Israel, when they could live a safe and comfortable life in the USA. In his response to the question, Gordis is firm in defending his decision by explaining the difference between living a safe existence in a "foreign" land, and living at risk in a land which is yours and represents all that is important to you.

For me and our family, the dilemma that he revisits throughout the book is very real. I imagine that many immigrant families in Israel would experience the same thing. The truth is that, unlike the original immigrants to Israel who saw the country as an easy option when compared with having to live in the shadow of the death camps in Europe, many of us have immigrated to Israel from countries which gave us a relatively easy and comfortable existence. It is true that there has been a notable increase in anti-Semitism in recent years, and actions by numerous anti-Jewish individuals and groups like Al Qaeda show clearly that they can reach anybody even in New York, Madrid or London. Despite this, the Jewish community largely enjoys respect, freedom of worship and good opportunities in most countries around the world. So what motivates the Gordis or the Reich family to leave all this for the uncertainty and numerous risks which are associated with living in the Land of Israel?

In determining what is best for their children during the course of their upbringing, each parent considers the needs of the child according to his or her assessment. Inevitably, the parent will be influenced by his or her own experiences during their upbringing in deciding what may be best for their child's physical, emotional and intellectual needs. As parents, we decided that we wish to raise our children in a wholly Jewish environment. This allows our children to view their Judaism as an intrinsic and natural part of their make-up rather than a personality that they adopt in certain situations. The environment in which they now live helps our children to identify in this way. More than this, they know that the country in which they live will always act to protect them and their Jewish identity. The confidence that this provides is part of our plan to protect our children.

I disagree with Daniel and Elisheva Gordis's decision to protect their children from the realities of what is happening in Israel on a daily basis by denying them access to TV broadcasts. I have always encouraged my children to take an active interest in all that goes on around them, even when this is sometimes upsetting. The truth is that it is impossible to hide them from these events when everybody around them, especially at school, will be discussing it. My children have somehow managed to cope with this in the same way as we see other Israeli children coping. Some of them may not take the serious events sufficiently seriously, and others may take them too much to heart. Overall, however, Israeli kids seem to have a way of keeping everything in perspective which allows them to continue with their daily lives.

With two boys in our family, the issue of serving in the army was always a major consideration. When deciding to come and live in Israel, this was a major discussion point with my wife. Despite the obvious concern that we felt about this prospect, we nonetheless decided to make Israel our home. Now, the issue is a much closer one as my sons rapidly approach army-going age. Members of our extended family have even suggested that we somehow move our boys away from Israel at a critical moment to avoid them being registered for the draft as required by law. This approach was not even a consideration for us and we, like most other Israeli families, will reluctantly but proudly see our boys serve in the Israel Defence Force (IDF).

The reason for deciding to support their enlistment to the IDF is simple. We have lived in Israel for 12 years during which time there has been a fair share of conflict and terror directed at Israel. Over this period, many Israeli families have sent their children to the IDF in the protection of people like ourselves. Without their willingness to do so, there can be no doubt that Israel's very existence would have been at risk. When our turn comes to play our role and see our sons serve to defend the Jewish homeland, it is our obligation to allow them to play their role in the same way as others have. Even if this, heaven forbid, brings them into personal danger. With only 6 million citizens to call upon in the protection of Israel, it would take only a small percentage of people refusing to serve in the IDF to risk the security of our land. Although there is a vociferous group of conscientious objectors who voice their objections to serving, we are fortunate that the vast majority of young Israeli boys are willing and proud to play their part to protect Israel.

Now that we are on the verge of our children enlisting to do their duty, we are forced to consider again our decision 12 years ago to bring them to Israel and expose them to the "dangers" which are associated with this choice. On balance, I am still of the view that the advantages that we have offered our children by living in Israel outweigh the dangers and risks that they have been exposed to. They are certainly very different children from those who have grown up in England where they were born, and in South Africa where we were born. Bearing in mind that there is no place where one can raise children without risk to their physical, emotional or intellectual well-being, parents are forced these days to choose the best of the evils when selecting a place to allow their children to grow up. For many parents, the easiest choice is the default - stay where you are. Our choice was to move our children, and I have no regrets. Ultimately, there is a limited amount of protection that we can offer our children.

They will soon be exposed to the realities and the evils of their living environment. Is the best protection that we can offer to our children to shield them from these issues? I am not sure. Perhaps the best protection is to allow them to see their world with all its imperfections. I have adopted the approach of allowing my children to see the world for what it is, and exposing them to the dangers inherent in doing their duty for their land and for their people. For me, there is a certain level of protection inherent in this approach. It is my hope that my children will be well equipped to handle all that comes their way. This, I hope, will allow them to feel good about being proud Jews, and be good citizens of Israel and of the world.

Although Gordis and I do differ on some of the details that we are happy to expose our children to, we have both embarked on an exciting and different path to raise our children. Only time will tell whether this approach has been the right one. I certainly hope it is.

Sunday 4 April 2010

Pesach in Exile

One of the things that I enjoy most about living in Israel is the experience of the chagim and the holidays here. In particular, I enjoy experiencing the chagim of Pesach (Passover) and Succot (Tabernacles) in Israel. The weather at that time of year is usually good as it is between the heat of the summer and the cool of the winter. Children and adults can be seen making trips out to enjoy the good weather and the holiday atmosphere. These two holidays are both week-long holidays that involve people making changes to their everyday lives to observe the holidays. Pesach requires a change of the kitchen to ensure that no crumb of leaven is consumed, and Succot involves the outdoor living in the Succot (tabernacles) that are constructed for the holiday. It is interesting to note that religious as well as secular people get involved in observing these holidays. Even those who are not religious will not be seen eating bread or leaven during the Pesach holiday.

This year, I travelled with my family to South Africa to celebrate a barmitzvah and for Pesach. It was the first time in many years that I was not in Israel for the Pesach holiday. To be with our families, and for our children to experience some time with their grandparents and other members of their extended family in their home environment was truly wonderful. We received fantastic hospitality and were treated like royalty during the time of our visit. We especially appreciate the efforts of our families to give us food that would allow us to celebrate Pesach as much as possible like home in Israel, while also giving us a South African eating extravaganza.

When going around South Africa, I felt a little like a fish out of water from a Jewish perspective. The feeling that I had during the time of Pesach in South Africa took me back more than 30 years, and reminded me of the feeling that I had during my childhood years over the time of the Jewish holidays. It was a similar feeling that I experienced when living in London, when trying to instil some Jewish values in my children when trying to bring the Jewish holidays to them. I guess that it is the same feeling that most Jews living outside of Israel will experience when celebrating Jewish holidays. The feeling is one of feeling a real chag at home, whilst trying to create an artificial environment outside of the home to continue the celebration of the chag. The celebration and the chag is so real when you are in the shul (synagogue) or in the home where the celebration is taking place. When venturing outdoors, however, all feelings of the celebration are suddenly ceased, and life outside is completely different from life inside. There are two completely different worlds which seem to be totally disconnected from each other. I had forgotten how this felt until these emotions were renewed over the course of the past week.

Upon commencing my trip back to Israel and upon my arrival back in Israel on the eve of the second chag of Pesach, I could feel that I was back to my more familiar holiday atmosphere. The feeling of Pesach is everywhere. It started when we got into the aeroplane where big signs assured all passengers that all food was kosher for Pesach. It was pervasive in the airport where people seemed to be rushing around readying themselves for the chag, and the quiet on the roads indicated that most Israelis were either still at their holiday destinations or arranging their homes for the holiday. Supermarkets were happy busy places with everybody ensuring that they have all that is required for the chag. This was a much more familiar feeling, and one which I learned to live with immediately upon arrival in Israel and have continued to love over the past 12 years. My wife was able to make all required arrangements within a very short time for our chag dinner.

There was no need to search out the Pesach foods in the supermarket, or to have to explain to people that we are celebrating something that they are not. There was no issue about whether there was still stock of the Pesach goods that we needed - this was all that the supermarkets had. All have the same feeling, and are celebrating the same celebration. Even those homes which may not be observing the religious laws of Pesach will not be able to avoid celebrating Pesach along with the rest of the nation. It is a feeling that I feel so privileged to have the honour to experience each Shabbat and each time we celebrate a chag.

There are those who believe that there is some value in forcing people to seek out their Jewish identity when living in the diaspora. It causes them to learn a little more about the religious observances, and draws them closer to the community. Failure to do so would essentially assimilate them into the non-Jewish environment in which they live. While this contention may be true and has been proven correct in a number of cases, I believe the opposite to be true in the most part. I believe that living in an environment that is entirely Jewish, and in which you are allowed to celebrate the holiday on the streets and in public areas as well as in your homes is much better for Jewish continuity. Too many people fall into the trap of not seeking out their Jewish identity, and therefore become like everybody else. It seems to be much easier for Jews in the diaspora not to make the effort to have a Jewish home. Assimilation statistics in the USA alone are testament to the number of Jews being lost to the religion because of this.

I continue to admire those Jews living in the diaspora who make significant efforts, and go to huge lengths to ensure that their children and families having the feeling of Judaism in their homes despite what is happening on the street outside. For me, however, arriving home earlier today and feeling Pesach in everything that we did made me feel so good to be back in Israel. Having experienced both sides of the coin, there is no doubt where my choice lies. There can be no greater joy for me than celebrating the Jewish holiday in the Jewish homeland.

Chag sameach and a good Pesach to all. Next year in Jerusalem!