This week saw the culmination of a musical project which has been occupying my evenings this past summer. It all began in July, when Ziva, one of the members of the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, to which I also belong, asked if any of us would be willing to come and sing for her mother on her birthday, at the retirement home where her mother lives. Eight of us responded and since the Choir was on vacation during the summer months, we were able to use those weekday evenings which throughout the rest of the year are devoted to choir practice, to putting together a variegated and lighthearted repertoire, designed to bring joy to people who, because of their advanced years, poor health and COVID restrictions, would find it difficult to get to the concert-hall.
In the end, travel plans of this or that member of our (as yet unnamed) ensemble caused the concert to be deferred to the beginning of this month, but every cloud has a silver lining and, of course, this gave us more time to rehearse.
It wasn’t until ten days before the concert was due to take place that we came up with a name for our little group. Someone suggested Alma Mater. The idea of a Nurturing Mother for our all-female group was appealing – but others found the name cumbersome. Someone else suggested Octava with its musical connotations and because there were eight of us. But a quick Google search revealed the existence of a children’s musical ensemble of the same name, here in Israel – and so Octavia was offered instead. After that, the suggestions came fast and furious. One of us suggested Octopus, to which Yours Truly (who couldn’t resist) made a slight amendment and proposed (only half tongue-in-cheek) Octopussy 😉 .
Someone else came up with Camera (meaning a Chamber, as we are all members of the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir), to which I counter-proposed Karma (in Hebrew, all the change requires is the trans-positioning of one letter).
In the end, we took a vote on it and Alma (without the Mater) came out a clear winner. In Hebrew, the word means “a young woman” and it is the same word which appears in Isaiah 7:14 and is so often mistranslated as “a virgin”. When the final letter heh (ה) is replaced by the letter aleph (א), we get the Aramaic word Alma, meaning “The World”. We thought this was a nice word-play, as we are a group of women (young in spirit, if not in body), with a repertoire encompassing the World.
And so, this past Monday afternoon (October 4th), weeks of preparation came to fruition and the residents of the Neve Shalem Retirement Home in Jerusalem were treated to a musical journey around the world, including songs from ten countries, and in almost as many languages. Songs from Israel were followed by folk songs from Georgia, Hungary and North Macedonia:
An arrangement of Scarborough Fair by our own Elia followed madrigals from Italy and England:
Jehan Tabourot’s famous Pavane, sung in French and Hebrew, was followed by a motet in Latin by his compatriot, Maurice Duruflé. The South African gospel hymn Noyana gave way to a Native American chant and then to a Japanese children’s song, before we returned to Israel.
The whole world in song:
Hopefully, this concert will prove to be the first of many more.
Well, the question of whether or not to have the “booster” jab is now settled – for me, at least. The week before last, I had what appeared to be a cold (and, I have to say, I have had worse colds). I didn’t think much about it, but when, after 3 days or so, a slight temperature appeared, I thought it might be a good idea – since we had a family dinner planned for Rosh Hashana – to make sure that a cold was all it was. So I took myself off to the nearest COVID – testing station for a test, which, to my dismay, proved positive for COVID-19. And that was that, as far as the family dinner was concerned, since my father and stepmother, and anyone else with whom I had been in contact during the previous week (even before the symptoms appeared) now had to remain in quarantine for 14 days.
Now, see how ridiculous the rules are. My contacts had to observe 14 days of quarantine from the actual day of contact. I, on the other hand, was obliged to remain in quarantine for 10 days from the day I took the test, even though the symptoms had actually first appeared several days earlier, and had all but disappeared by the time I was tested! The result was, they were out of quarantine before I was! And, in fact, if I had waited for an appointment with my healthcare fund, which my family doctor told me was overwhelmed, I might have had to wait another week for the results!
Even more ridiculous, in order to be released from quarantine at the end of 10 days, I was not required to take another test, but merely to contact the COVID hotline of the healthcare fund to which I belong, and answer a few questions about whether I had had any symptoms during the previous three days, (to which I was truthfully able to reply that I had not), after which I was issued with a Confirmation of Convalescence.
But since we have been hearing about people who forged test results in order to be allowed to return to Israel from the Ukraine, I think it’s safe to assume that not everybody is as truthful as I – which raises the question: what kind of a system is this???
Anyway, to get back to the question of the vaccine. On the one hand, those in favour of the “booster” shot will no doubt claim that if I had received the third shot a month ago, I might not even have caught the very mild illness which I did, eventually, suffer. That is one possibility, certainly. On the other hand, since we now know that the vaccine does not prevent catching the disease, but only serious illness and death from COVID-19, it is also possible that I might, even with the booster shot, have contracted the disease in an even milder form than I actually did (which, as I said, was pretty mild). In which case, I might not even have suspected that I was ill, would not have gone to be tested – and might have ended up infecting everyone at the family dinner.
Make of it what you will. At any rate, since I now have the natural immunity conferred by contracting the disease and recovering, in addition to the original two shots of the vaccine, I no longer require the booster shot.
And now to the book review I promised in my last post.
The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis – a self-confessed Brontë devotee for most of her life, as her pen name makes clear – is a typical, Victorian Gothic-style mystery, featuring the Brontë sisters, home together at Haworth Parsonage in the summer of 1845, as amateur detectives. Word has reached them of the disappearance of a young woman from a nearby mansion, leaving no trace other than a large pool of blood in her bedroom. The fact of her disappearance having been first discovered by an old schoolfriend of Charlotte’s, employed in the house as a governess, suffices to convince them that it is their duty to investigate the mystery themselves. They soon discover that all was not well with the presumed victim’s marriage – and that her husband’s first wife had died in tragic, not to say mysterious, circumstances.
I used to be a big fan of Gothic romances (not that there is any romance in The Vanished Bride), and so I had high hopes for this novel, but I was rather disappointed. The plot was, alas, entirely predictable – certainly for anyone acquainted with the writings of the Brontë sisters – and the style of writing was patchy. In some parts, it was very good indeed, especially in the descriptive passages, such as this one:
A deep, dreamy sense of peace settled over Charlotte, the last of their small party, as she followed her sisters through the long, golden grass of the meadow. Her fingers outstretched, she brushed her palms across the tips of the ears of seeds, plucking a sprig of first harebells and then fireweed from the meadow, tucking the small wildflower bouquet into the buttons of her blouse. What had that old gypsy woman meant about a flame within her, that if ignited might burn forever? It seemed impossible to Charlottethat such a prediction could be true of her, and yet something about it chimed within. It was a sense of possibility.
As they descended into the heart of the valley, they followed the barely detectable path into a deep, tree-covered tunnel, where midday sun dappled in flashes like a school of minnows and the exposed roots of trees seemed to reach out in a bid to catch all passing intruders. It seemed to Charlotte that the deeper they travelled, the slower time passed around them – that perhaps, as they walked on, it might even begin to turn backwards.
In other places, I found the writing commonplace and very obviously written from a 21st century point-of-view. Even some of the writer’s stylistic choices appeared clumsy to me. For example:
‘I hardly know,’ Charlotte said, watching Emily some several yards ahead muttering and gazing about her like she was entranced by some kind of vision, which to be quite honest wasn’t all that unusual behaviour for Emily…
The use of “like she was” is a mistake here. “Like” is a simple comparison, and should be followed by a noun or a pronoun. When preceding a verb, as here (“she was entranced), the writer should have used “as if”. (“muttering and gazing about her as if she was entranced…”) In fact, come to think of it, the verb should have been in the past subjunctive (“muttering and gazing about her as if she were entranced”). This particular mistake occurred several times throughout the book and, at the risk of being branded a “Grammar Nazi”, I must confess it drove me crazy.
That said, if you enjoy Gothic novels and are not too sensitive to inappropriate grammar, and especially if the many injustices to which women were subjected in Victorian England make your blood boil, this book is not a bad choice for a week in lockdown or quarantine, or for a rainy weekend.
I would like to write more, as I have two more books to review, but that will have to wait till next week, as this evening, I have a choir rehearsal and must rest beforehand.
Before I go, since Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) starts tomorrow evening, let me wish you all a favourable sealing in the Book of Life, an end to the pandemic, and a return to health and to prosperity.
It’s a common joke in Israel that people unwilling to await their turn to receive any service, simply go to the head of the queue and announce: “I just want to ask a question”. Well – I just want to ask a question. Several questions, actually.
A common point raised by COVID vaccine sceptics is the relatively short length of time between the outbreak of the pandemic and the development of the various vaccines now on the market – only about a year, when normally, it takes years, even decades, to develop effective vaccines. To which the vaccine supporters reply that coronaviruses in general have been around for a long time and that research into possible vaccines, and specifically, mRNA vaccines, didn’t start with the appearance of COVID-19.
We are also constantly being told that the vaccines now being offered by Pfizer, Moderna and others have been rigorously tested to ensure their efficacy and the absence of side-effects. And what about the long-term effects? Obviously, there is no way of knowing at present, what the possible effects on the human body (including our own immune systems) will be years down the line. But surely, during the year or so between the appearance of COVID-19 and the launch of the vaccines, someone must, at least, have kept tabs on the length of the period of immunity from disease (or, at least, from serious illness) enjoyed by the test subjects!
We are now being advised that “immunity” (such as it is) drops drastically after 4 or 5 months and the government has mounted an aggressive campaign to induce all Israeli citizens who had the second dose of Pfizer vaccine at least five months ago, to submit to a “booster” shot as soon as possible. When they first started vaccinating the general populace, we were told that the “immunity” would last “at least” six months (with the implication that it might last even longer). Did the Pfizer company (which made certain to ensure its own “immunity” – from lawsuits, at any rate) not know by then that the efficacy of the vaccine would drop considerably after as few as four or five months?
And if, on the other hand, the effectiveness of the vaccine has dropped so much as to make a third shot necessary after only five months, what guarantee is there that boosters won’t be required every five months?
And if the need for a booster is a consequence of the appearance of new variants, which are more resistant to the vaccine, who will guarantee that the next variant to come along won’t necessitate booster shots after even a shorter period than five months? Are we ready for monthly booster shots – especially when we still have no idea of the long-term effects of the vaccine on the human body’s own immune system.
Is there not a danger that the development of newer and more vaccine-resistant variants will result, eventually, in the appearance of a “super-virus” that is completely resistant to the vaccine?
And yes, there is also the argument (at least here in Israel, and possibly in other countries as well) that the important thing for the time being is to ensure that the numbers of seriously ill are kept down, so as to prevent the healthcare services from being overwhelmed. But we heard this argument a year ago already. Would you not think, in that case, that the government should have been pouring more money into strengthening the healthcare services?
Once again, I am not drawing any conclusions and I am certainly not campaigning against taking the vaccine.
I am merely asking questions.
Okay, now that I have got The Weekly Rant out of the way, I would like to recommend a couple of books to while away the last few weeks of summer. A few weeks ago, I had to use up the points on one of several gift cards in my possession, by the end of June. I bought four new books – and, by dint of severely curtailing my activity on Facebook (for which I think I deserve a pat on the back), I am now halfway through the third. I am tempted to go off on a tangent about the amount of time we waste on Facebook. I, in particular, manage to get dragged into all manner of pointless arguments with people whom I don’t know and whom I am never going to convince. Do you know how many books I could read in that time?!
Anyway, the first of the four was The Greek Holidayby Maeve Haran – a fairly light-hearted romantic novel about four college friends who have more or less lost touch over the years and now, decades later (I’m not sure how many, but one of them has a daughter with two children, one of them in his late teens), they are trying to recapture their youth by revisiting the Greek island of Zanthos, which they had last seen as 18-year-olds. Of course, modernity has long since caught up with that particular island, turning it into a veritable tourist trap, from which they flee in horror. The sudden sickness of one of the four, Moira, a Cambridge don, forces them to stop off at the tiny, off-the-tourist-track island of Kyri, where Penny meets the man who tried to bed her all those years ago, now considerably more mature, still single, and currently serving as the island’s mayor. The emergency stop turns into a stay of several weeks, when the ladies meet more “old friends” from their student days who have fled the over-commercialised Zanthos for the quiet of Kyri. But Kyri is just a bit too quiet, the cruise ships by and large pass it by and there are no job opportunities there for its young people. Penny and her friends come up with an idea to remedy that – and while helping the islanders to turn their old boathouses into an AirBnB hub, they also get caught up in the search for a long-lost statue of Aphrodite and a cat-and-mouse game with antiquities smugglers. There is romance in the air too – for Penny, who must find the courage to leave her bullying husband, and for Dora, “the scariest Public Relations agent in London”, whilst for Penny’s best friend, Nell, it is a chance to win back her estranged daughter.
I picked this book as the first of my reads out of the four, because, since my trip to northern Greece the year before last, I have been dying to go back – and I can’t because of this damned COVID pandemic! Ah, well – at least I can read about quaint Greek villages, thyme-covered hillsides and rocky coves where turquoise seas were once thronged with pirates.
Still thinking about those faraway places I am longing to visit once more, my next choice of book was the latest in Donna Leon’s wonderful Commissario Brunetti series of police procedurals – although I suspect Guido Brunetti is not your typical Italian police detective. Holder of a degree in Law, erudite in history, with a wife who lectures in English literature, and aristocratic in-laws, he is also the father of two rebellious teenage children. What I particularly like about the Brunetti novels – and what made Transient Desires a must-read during these troubled times, in which the COVID-driven hassles of international travel have made it simply not worth the trouble – is the way the city of Venice is an ever-present entity, almost as much a character as Brunetti himself.
In this, the 31st novel in the series, if I’m not mistaken, what appears, at first glance, to be a boating accident in the Laguna, leads Brunetti to a particularly brutal sex-trafficking gang. As with many of the previous novels, the question is not so much “whodunnit”, but whether or not Brunetti and his colleagues will succeed in bringing the perpetrators to justice, and how. There is an exciting action scene in the last chapter, but the end itself is surprisingly abrupt and leaves one wondering, for a few minutes, if maybe a couple of pages are missing. I googled and checked. They are not.
The third book, which I am currently reading, is a Gothic mystery, in which the Brontë sisters feature prominently. But I shall save that for another time and wish you a pleasant weekend.
Earlier this week, I was cloistered in my study all afternoon, writing my cat blog. When I finished, I suddenly noticed how dark it was – far darker than it should have been for that time of day. I got up and looked out of the window, and my startled gaze encountered an apocalyptic vision:
And here is another view, sent to me by my sister, from Yad Vashem:
My first thought was that the heat wave had finally broken and that we were in for rain (highly unusual for August, but not impossible) – yet there was no smell of rain in the air and it was as hot as it had been for days now. Could it possibly be an approaching dust storm?
The sight of that red sun brought verses, unbidden, to my mind:
Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter! spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!
Ride now, ride now, ride! Ride for ruin and the world’s ending!
A quick survey of family and friends on WhatsApp elicited the information that a huge fire was raging, uncontrolled, in the hills around Jerusalem. Yet there was no smell of smoke. I found it hard to believe, at first. Fortunately – for me, at least – the wind was not blowing in our direction. Less fortunately for the residents of several smaller towns, kibbutzim and moshavim around the Capital, including the Eytanim Psychiatric Hospital, who had to be evacuated to safety. Indeed, during the course of the evacuation, two psychiatric patients went missing. Both, I am thankful to say, were later found, safe and sound. Later in the evening, the wind must have changed direction because the sky in my quarter of the city became blue again. Yet, during the night, I awoke coughing, the acrid smell of smoke in my nostrils, and was obliged to close the windows, despite the heat, before I was able to sleep again.
It took three days to get the fire under control. Although perhaps I should say fires. Investigation by the Fire Department revealed that there were at least five sources of conflagration, and more were added later. It was arson.
In light of the constant stream of incendiary balloons with which the inhabitants of Gaza have been attacking us in the South, people were quick to draw conclusions as to who was responsible for the wanton destruction of 25,000 dunams of forest and vegetation on this occasion.
And now, back to the pandemic. We are once more in full “Green Pass” mode. The debate as to the necessity or desirability of “booster shots” is hotting up. Despite the opposition of the Minister of Education to administering the vaccine to children between the ages of 12 – 15 in school, during school hours, she was over-ruled, officially because giving the shots in school during the hours when the children have to be there, rather than before or after classes, will make it easier for those who cannot get to local clinics (at all of which, it is possible to be vaccinated, even without making an appointment in advance). The real reason, in my opinion, is to make it easier to exert “social pressure” on parents who object to having their children injected with a substance which has a proven connection to myocarditis in children and whose long term effects are not known.
Social pressure, did I say? And what can I say of the vicious attacks on social media against even those who had the first two vaccinations but are now, in light of developments, hesitant to have the third shot? These are already being accused of “responsibility for the deaths of thousands”, and of being “traitors to the human race”!!! (The latter phrase has echoes of the Nazi era, when Aryans who engaged in relations with non-Aryans were accused of being “race traitors”.)
I mentioned, in a previous post, my own hesitancy with regard to the booster shot. As I said, I am not an anti-vaxxer in principle – and I did take the first two shots as soon as I was eligible to do so. Frankly, some of the conspiracy theories the anti-vaxxers came up with (such as the claim that the vaccine contains tracking devices, or that it will alter your sexual preferences) were so far-fetched, it was easy to dismiss them and the whole anti-vaccine argument with them. But that would be to throw out the baby with the bath water. Now, I cannot help but ask myself – if the effectiveness of the vaccine has dropped so much in a mere six months, and in the meanwhile, new variants have developed that are more resistant to the vaccine, when will we be asked to subject our bodies to a fourth shot? There are already variants that are said to be more dangerous than the Delta Variant, as well as more resistant to the vaccine. It is in the nature of viruses to mutate, in order to circumvent vaccines. They “want” to survive. We are told, by those who favour mass vaccination, that it is the refusal of the “anti-vaxxers” which is fueling the development of the variants, that the variants develop in those who are not yet vaccinated and are then passed back to those who are vaccinated, because “we said from the start that the vaccine isn’t 100% effective, but it does at least prevent SEVERE illness”. According to this claim, when EVERYONE is vaccinated, the virus will have no place to go and develop and mutate. But even if this is true IN THEORY, Israel is not an island. Even if every Israeli were to be vaccinated, there are vast swathes of our planet where people do not have access to the vaccine. And so the virus can still find host bodies in which to mutate. Moreover, even were it possible, in theory, to vaccinate the entire population of the world, let’s not forget where the original COVID-19 virus came from.
It seems to me, therefore, that the more likely scenario is this. We will accept the booster shot. The virus will then mutate into something still more resistant to the vaccine. The vaccine, whose effectiveness is, in any case, less than 100%, will start to wear off and another booster will be needed, probably in a shorter period than the 5 or 6 month period which it took this time, then another, more vaccine-resistant strain of the virus will develop, requiring yet another booster – and so on and so forth, until we are requiring monthly boosters. And meanwhile, what will happen to our own immune system? And why did Pfizer demand, and receive, immunity from lawsuits in case of harm caused by the vaccine? And why is their agreement with the Israel Government confidential and why will it remain so for thirty years???
In spite of all that, I am not yet ruling out the possibility of having the booster shot some time in the future. Indeed, I may have no choice. The pressure to deprive people who haven’t yet had THREE shots, of their right to work, to move freely, to enter a whole slew of venues, is becoming VICIOUS. Yet part of me is inclined, the more they push, to push back harder. On principle. Not because I oppose the vaccine on principle. Because I oppose turning my country into a copy of Communist China.
Fire, floods, a worldwide plague. Not for the first time recently, I have to ask – am I the only person who thinks the Almighty is trying to tell us something?
The next part of “the weekly rant” was supposed to be devoted to the shameful American flight from Afghanistan and the terror which now awaits that country’s women and girls, but since I don’t want to send all my readers away in total depression and ruin their weekend (and my own), I will leave that till next week and instead move to a less emotive subject.
On Monday, I went to the Israel Opera’s new production of I Capuleti ed I Montecchi, (Romeo and Juliet) by Bellini. Bellini’s opera was written with a particular cast in mind, at a time when castrati were no longer in fashion, but the soprano voice was still very popular for the role of the hero. The role of Romeo was therefore written for a soprano or mezzo-soprano en travesti and sung, at the opera’s premiere in 1830, by Giuditta Grisi.
That was apparently enough for the director of this new production, Hanan Snir, who decided to make the opera more “relevant” to today’s issues, and display his “wokeness” by actually making Romeo a woman and turning this into a lesbian love story. I can’t help but feel this idea was – shall we say, misguided? And before you all jump up and accuse me of homophobia, let me remind you of my general, and consistent, dislike of the current trend for “modernising” operas, which has prompted me to many a rant in previous posts. I have no more wish to see the western world’s most iconic heterosexual love story transformed into something it is not, and never was, than I have to see black leather-clad Valkyries riding about the stage on motorbikes, or Il Trovatore set in a Soviet shipyard, or crocodiles copulating onstage as Valhalla falls, or The Flying Dutchman set in a rubbish tip in Bangladesh. I hated the production I saw of Carmen, in which the eponymous heroine was killed, not by her erstwhile lover, Don Jose, but by his jilted sweetheart, Micaëla, as much as I disliked a version of Turandot I saw, in which Turandot, after confessing her love to Calaf, committed suicide, presumably because, as a feminist icon, she could not live with her “weakness”.
As for the director’s attempt to “send a message” – if that’s what he intended, he failed miserably. For a message of that kind to work, it needs to be clearly understood by the audience. Now, I daresay many of the audience knew that the part of Romeo had been, from the very beginning, intended for a female singer – rather like the Principal Boy in the British pantomime tradition. Presumably, many of them had also heard in the Media (as I had) that the director had decided to turn the opera into a love story between two women. If they had not – actually, even if they had – they must have found themselves as confused as I was.
Throughout Act 1, Romeo was dressed as a man and referred to as such (at least in the English surtitles). Now, the use of male pronouns when referring to Romeo could be explained by the fact that, apparently, Juliet’s family were supposed to be unaware of his (her?) true sex (a point of which I was unaware until reading one of the reviews later in the week). But it got more confusing when the character spoke in the first person, for those who were reading the Hebrew surtitles. Hebrew is a gendered language. As in French, Italian or Spanish, nouns are all either masculine or feminine. There is no neuter, unlike, say, in German. Their attendant adjectives are masculine or feminine, depending on the gender of the noun to which they are attached. And, as in Arabic, there are masculine and feminine forms of verbs. But whoever was responsible for the surtitles mostly avoided giving the game away, by using ambiguous terms. For example, whereas a man would say, in Hebrew: Ani yode’a (אני יודע – I know), a woman would say Ani yoda’at (אני יודעת). But one could get round this by using the form Yadua Li (ידוע לי – It is known to me).
For the spectator who had not read the programme notes, or heard/read in the Media about the “scandalous” new production, all they would have seen would have been exactly what they would have expected to see – an opera in which, by the conventions of the era in which it was written, the male lead was sung by a woman, just as Bellini had written it. I myself, having heard in the Media what to expect, was even more confused. Had the management backed down in the face of controversy? No, it had not. In Act 2, when Romeo sneaks into Giulietta’s bedroom, s/he was dressed as a woman and spoke (in Hebrew, at least) in the feminine. If I was confused, imagine what must have been the feelings of someone who had neither read the programme notes nor read about the production in advance, in the Press.
Moreover, although I now know, from the reviews, that what seemed to me just like rather muddled “stage business” during the Overture,(two little girls running about and hiding from a group of nuns, and a man getting shot by “Romeo”), was supposed to represent the long-standing love between Romeo and Giulietta being eventually discovered by the latter’s brother, who then attempted to kill her for the sake of the family honour, and was shot by Romeo who came to Juliet’s rescue – none of this was known to me at the time. All in all, then, while I came prepared to disapprove, my principal emotion, as the curtain came down, was rather of bewilderment.
The music, of course, was lovely, the sets were beautiful (another one of my pet peeves is the way many opera houses tend to set new productions on a stage furnished by two or three cement blocks which are moved around from scene to scene and are meant to represent everything from a forest glade on the banks of the Rhine, to the throne room of the Doge of Venice). So I would say the evening was not entirely mis-spent. Of course, we did get caught in a dreadful traffic jam on the way back to Jerusalem, due to roadworks and – presumably – large numbers of drivers, such as ourselves, trying to avoid the main road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which was reported as being horribly gridlocked due to the forest fire. We came back via Modi’in.
Unfortunately, it seems everybody else had the same idea.
Last, but by no means least, a purely joyful news item.
On Tuesday afternoon, I awoke from my siesta to the murmur of many voices in the street below. Before long, dialogue gave way to singing, then to the music of trumpets. I looked out of the window and saw people dancing. I hurried downstairs to find out what was going on. A family living two blocks down the road, whose daughter had passed away last year, was donating a new Sefer Torah to a synagogue round the corner, in her memory.
It seemed as if the whole street had come out to celebrate the inauguration of the new Torah scroll. I was happy. Everyone was happy.
Has it ever happened to you that the achievements of one of your fellow countrymen or women have filled you with pride to such an extent that you choked up and your eyes filled with tears? That’s how I (and many other Israelis) felt earlier this week, when our own Linoy Ashram brought home the Olympic Gold Medal in the Individual Rhythmic Gymnastics All-Round competition – despite a minor mistake in the final exercise, when she dropped the ribbon (but immediately scooped it up).
Israel’s win was a shock to the Russians, who have won this event every time for the past two decades and seem incapable of understanding that they do not have permanent rights of ownership over the Gold Medal. They immediately cried “Foul”, accusing the judges of bias, and conveniently forgetting that in the 2018 World Championships in Sofia, the situation was reversed, with the Russian Dina Averina beating Linoy Ashram to take Gold, despite the fact that Averina dropped the ribbon at that event!
This was Israel’s fourth medal at the Tokyo Olympics and our second gold. Earlier in the Games, Israel’s mixed judo team brought home a bronze medal, as did Avishag Semberg in Women’s Taekwondo, and a few days before Linoy’s win, Israeli artistic gymnast Artem Dolgopyat brought home the Gold in the Men’s Floor Exercises.
Gymnastics has not, until now, been a sport particularly associated with Israel, but the achievements of Artem and Linoy will no doubt inspire many local youngsters in the near future.
I may seem overly jingoistic, but Israel is not generally known for producing Olympic champions, and so, when that does happen, the sense of achievement is, for us, probably greater than for Americans, Chinese, Australians, Britons and Russians, who are used to sweeping the board at the Olympics. Not for the athletes themselves, but for those of us back home, watching with bated breath, and maybe even a muttered prayer. It was especially welcome, in light of the general atmosphere of gloom and doom due to the depressing news on the COVID front, with rapidly rising rates of infection, even amongst those who have already been vaccinated, and the increasing likelihood of a new lockdown over the High Holy Days.
All I know is, when I saw the Israeli flag being raised over the podium and heard our National Anthem, my chest swelled with pride and my eyes filled with tears.
To have the COVID vaccine booster shot now being pushed by the Israel Government for over-60s and other “vulnerable” sections of the population, or not to have it?
When I was vaccinated, back in January 2021, I was full of trepidation, in light of reports of side effects including facial paralysis, blood clots leading to strokes, even heart attacks. In fact, on the morning I received the first shot, I made my will – something I had been putting off for a long time.
I felt I had got off lightly after the second shot, and breathed a sigh of relief. The “only” side effect was severe muscle pain in the arm where I received the shot, which, the following day, spread to my other arm, both shoulders and my back – although I couldn’t be entirely sure the latter was the result of the COVID jab. What I will say, however, is that since then, I still have pain in my shoulders when I raise my arms above my head (although not every time I do so).
At that time, back in January/February 2021, they told us the effectiveness of the vaccine was apparently about 6 months – and “Green Passes” were issued accordingly. Then, about three months ago, they said that the evidence seemed to indicate that the vaccine was actually effective for rather longer than originally believed – and the “Green Passes” were extended to the end of 2021.
Two months ago, due to the drop in the number of COVID-19 cases, the Green Pass restrictions were completely abolished, but now, with the appearance of the Delta Variant and the rate of new infections (mostly of people who have been vaccinated) apparently spiralling out of control, the Green Pass restrictions have been reinstated and the government has begun an aggressive campaign to vaccinate people over 60 with a third, “booster” jab, as well as to vaccinate children – even before any internationally recognised medical regulatory body, such as the FDA or the WHO, has given the green light for either case.
And I find myself wondering. If they told us a mere three months ago that the vaccine which was previously believed to be good only for six months, is actually effective for a whole year, and they are now telling us that people vaccinated five or six months ago have been found to have a dwindling number of antibodies which drastically reduces the effectiveness of the vaccine, to the extent that “vulnerable sections of the population” should have a third shot now – how can we possibly rely on what they say? Yes, there is the added factor of the Delta Variant. But if the vaccine is less effective (or, apparently, ineffective) against the Delta Variant, what on earth is the point of having more of it? And yes, it’s true that our knowledge of how the virus acts and changes is increasing with each passing day – but in that case, who is to say that in two or three months time, they won’t “discover” that a new variant requires that we receive booster shots every three months – or every two months – or every month?
And how can we be sure that the build-up of vaccine in the body is safe? And what about the apparent “possible connection” between the administration of the vaccine to young people, and myocarditis? And what about the long-term effects about which we have absolutely no data?
Basically – we are being asked to serve as unpaid guinea-pigs (lab rats, as my American friends say). And not only are we unpaid, we are even denied the right to sue for damages if we suffer any ill-effects from the vaccine.
And why is the Israel Government’s agreement with Pfizer (or parts of it) secret? Why must it remain so for the next 30 years, as if revealing its terms would endanger national security?
With so many unasked questions, I am sure you will understand why, at this stage, I am reluctant to take the risk of having a third shot of the vaccine and prefer to await further developments.
I am not an anti-vaxxer. But I prefer to err on the side of caution. There are too many unknown factors at work here. If, as the government claims, the vaccine is still “largely effective” even after six months, and I continue to observe all the other precautions, such as social distancing, wearing a face mask in indoor gatherings, and frequent hand washing (I also carry a small bottle of alco-gel with me at all times), I think – I hope – that I shall be alright.
Let me know what you think in the Comments section, below.
Today is a double anniversary. Forty-seven years ago today, on the 29th of July 1974, I came on aliyah – that is to say, I came home to Israel. Thirty-two years later, on the 29th of July 2006, I started this blog. In other words, this is my 15th “blogoversary” 🙂 .
Some of you have been with me almost from the beginning. Others have started following this blog more recently, having arrived via my Cat blog (perhaps I should have said “my cats’ blog 😉 – as everyone who lives with cats knows who’s the real Boss).
We were a family in trauma then, still processing the untimely death of my mother, from cancer, the previous year. And we had come to a country also in trauma, still reeling in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, less than a year before.
In the years since, I have come to realise that the sense of trauma is more or less permanent. It merely changes form and immediate cause. Our People have been in a state of trauma since the destruction of the Second Temple and the resulting two thousand year loss of sovereignty over our homeland and our fate. The State of Israel rose like a phoenix from the ashes, but it, too, was born in trauma – the trauma of the Holocaust – and it has been living in trauma ever since, even though we have become so used to it that it has acquired a sense of normality.
Israel today is very different, in many ways, from the country I made my home in 1974. People in those days weren’t so materialistic, for one thing. There was far less to be materialistic about! Nowadays, everyone wants the latest smartphone and each family member has one. Back then, not every household had even a landline. I remember we had waited months for ours, and in the meantime, we had to walk out to the phone box on the main road if we wanted to make a call. Many households that did have a phone had to make do with a party line.
I remember there were basically only two types of bread available at the local makolet (מכולת – grocery shop) – white bread and “black” bread (which was merely a slightly darker white). I think the latter was made with whole-wheat flour. Both were much tastier than the stodgy white, square, packaged bread we used to buy in British supermarkets, which was really only good for making perfect triangular sandwiches, or toast. The price was strictly controlled by the government – and the grocery shop owner (even the supermarket) was happy to sell half loaves. Eggs were sold in cartons of twelve – but if you had no need for that many eggs, you could buy half a dozen, or even less. Milk was sold in plastic bags containing a litre or half a litre, and in order to pour it out, you had to buy a specially designed plastic jar in which you placed the bag, before carefully snipping off the corner.
All very strange for someone coming from a country where we were still used to the milkman doing his rounds every morning, leaving the glass bottles on the doorstep and coming back for the empties the following day.
If you wanted fruit cordial, I remember there were just two flavours available, made by the Assis company – orange and raspberry. This was a sweetened syrup which you diluted to get the desired concentration.
Nowadays, if the kids want something sweet and unhealthy to spread on their sandwiches, there is a wealth of choices, including the ever-popular Nutella. But many years before the launch of Nutella, there was השחר העולה (Hashachar Ha’Oleh – The Rising Dawn), an Israeli invention, which dominated the local market for years and which was, at the time of my aliyah, still the only chocolate spread available in Israel, unless my memory deceives me.
And, of course, there was Ama – a gooey, semi-liquid paste used for washing dishes. In hindsight, it must have been terribly unhygienic. You dipped the cleaning pad into the paste and then spread the paste on the dishes, and then dipped the pad back into the paste and so on and so forth. All those bacteria!!! Yukky!
Why am I thinking about all this now, as I await the delivery of my supermarket order, which I put in yesterday, online?
You know why it takes so long for me to fill out my order? It’s because there is so much choice! Shopping at the corner grocer’s also took time – but that was because the corner grocer’s was a neighbourhood meeting place where, even as late as the 1970s, people stopped to chat with fellow shoppers, or even, if the shop was relatively empty, with the shopkeeper. That hasn’t completely disappeared. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, I still used to go to the supermarket and people still chatted with their neighbours in the queue at the check-out tills. But now, I make my purchases on-line and haven’t set foot in a supermarket for a year and a half.
Well, I should have known it was too good to last, shouldn’t I? And it didn’t. Thanks to the Delta Variant, a lack of due diligence at Ben Gurion Airport and insufficient enforcement of isolation rules, the number of COVID-19 cases is climbing once more. The wearing of face-masks is again mandatory at indoor events with more than 100 participants, more and more countries are being put on the “No Travel List” (almost impossible to enforce if the “miscreants” use connecting flights), the Ministry of Health is again battling with the Ministries of Finance, Tourism, Education and others over the extent of the new/old restrictions to be imposed and the rumour is that we will again be in almost full lockdown by the High Holy Days in September.
On top of all that, there is now a question as to the extent to which the existing vaccines are effective against the Delta Variant, and whether there is a need for a third dose. Since most of the new cases appear to have fallen victim to the Delta Variant and since most of them have been vaccinated, it is my impression that people who have been vaccinated are actually MORE likely to be infected. So what is the point of a third dose??? And yet the Government, and the Health Establishment are urging us ever more strongly on the need to vaccinate children over 12!
In light of the possible “Fourth Wave” of the pandemic, it seems my choir held its end-of-year concerts in the nick of time. The Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir gave a sold-out concert on July 5th at Haparsa, a new Centre for Performing Arts in Jerusalem’s Industrial and Commercial Zone. Our programme, entitled: “Shakespeare and Co.”, included settings of Shakespeare sonnets and songs from his plays, Elizabethan madrigals by some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, and settings of English folk-songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams (because our conductor likes Vaughan Williams, who is also one of my own favourite composers – and because it was a natural progression from the central item of the evening, RVW’s cantata “In Windsor Forest” based on “The Merry Wives of Windsor” via Vaughan William’s own opera, “Sir John in Love”). There were also some monologues taken from various Shakespeare plays – although, having been brought up on Shakespeare in his own country, I found it hard to adjust to the American accent of the actor.
So let’s start with Vaughan Williams’ arrangement of “The Dark-Eyed Sailor” – or part of it, at least…
My personal favourite (well, just about everybody’s, I think) was “Double Double, Toil and Trouble” from Four Shakespeare Songs by Jaakko Mäntyjärvi:
The following day, July 6th, our parent-body, the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir (to which the Chamber Choir belongs, together with four other smaller choirs) held its end-of-year concert and party at the Kol Haneshama Synagogue in Jerusalem. This was more of an internal celebration, to which we could bring guests. The constituent choirs sang to each other and the full choir performed two pieces, one each at the beginning and end of the evening.
We started off with “And it shall come to pass in the end of days” – a setting by Israeli composer Yehezkel Braun to verses from the Book of Isaiah:
And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more...
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of good tidings, that announceth peace…
After that, each of the smaller choirs showed off their repertoire and finally, at the end of the evening, the whole choir returned to the stage to perform sections of Haydn’s so-called “Nelson Mass“, or, to give it the name Haydn himself originally chose, Missa in Angustiis (Mass in Troubled Times). You have to admit, a more appropriate name it would have been hard to find for this work on which, thanks to a Chinese bat, we have been working for two years. We may not have been artistically on our best form, much rehearsal time having been lost because of lockdown. Nor were conditions at the concert venue ideal. In deference to the rising number of COVID cases and the resulting re-imposition of restrictions, the performance was held outdoors, in the synagogue courtyard, where the wind affected our voices and played havoc with the pianist’s and conductor’s sheet music, and where the gathering dusk and lack of lighting made it hard to see our notes. In fact, by the end of the evening, we were having to read them by the light of our mobile phones. Try holding a cellphone in one hand, a music folder in the other and turning pages at the same time! Still – the evening was a tribute to the fact that the Choir had survived a very difficult year and a half, while many other cultural institutions did not. We are still here, still singing – and although rehearsals are now on hold for the summer, we will be back in September with a new programme, come hell or high water!
Looking back at what I was posting on my blog a year ago, I see many similarities to what I should be writing about today – the continuing drop in the number of new COVID-19 cases, the opening up of the economy, especially the hospitality and entertainment industries, being able to go to the hairdresser for the first time in weeks/months (I went this morning, in fact), baking cakes for Shavuot etc.
That’s what I should have been writing about. What I would have liked to be writing about. Instead, I have to write about the thousands of Hamas rockets raining down on Israeli cities, on homes, schools, hospitals, kindergartens. Instead, I have to write about yet another entirely preventable tragedy, earlier this week (shockingly similar to the one at Mount Meron only two weeks previously) – the collapse of a tribune in a synagogue under construction in the Givat Ze’ev suburb of Jerusalem during eve of Shavuot prayers, in which 2 people, including a boy of 13, were killed and over 160 injured. Once again, the police and local authorities had warned against holding an event in the synagogue which, as I said, was still under construction and not yet authorised for use, but the Hassidic sect to which it belonged thought they knew better, and we see the tragic result. Once again, all those involved are trying to throw the blame elsewhere. Human nature, I suppose.
And instead, I have to write about Muslim Arab gangs running amok in mixed Jewish-Arab cities, carrying out pogroms against their Jewish neighbours, torching synagogues, shops, cars – even private homes.
Last week, a Jewish Israeli family, with young children, who had mistaken the way and entered the Israeli Arab town of Umm el-Fahm, were set upon by a violent Arab mob who attempted to lynch them. Fortunately, other local Arabs came to their aid and helped them escape and reach a hospital in Afula, where they were treated for their injuries.
Others were not so lucky. The day before yesterday saw the funeral of 56 year old Yigal Yehoshua, victim of a lynch (there is no other word) carried out by a violent Arab mob in Lod, in the course of which he was stoned by the rioters simply because he was a Jew who had had the misfortune to find himself in their path as he made his way home. He suffered severe injuries to his head, which was struck by a brick, and although doctors fought for several days to save him, he succumbed to his injuries. In what might seem like an act of tragic symbolism, one of his kidneys was donated to a Christian Arab woman from Jerusalem.
This particular riot was supposedly triggered by the fatal shooting earlier in the week of an Arab resident of Lod, Moussa Hassouna, during clashes with Jews. Four Jewish residents of Lod were arrested in connection with that shooting. That incident occurred last week, on the night between Monday and Tuesday (10 – 11 May), after Arabs went on the rampage, with rocks, Molotov cocktails, even guns, attacking Jewish residents and destroying property. The four Jewish suspects, all of whom were licensed to carry firearms, claimed that they were defending themselves against a group of Arabs who were attempting to attack them. In fact, after the Arab riots started, there were many complaints by Jewish residents that the police were nowhere to be seen and many Jewish Israelis rallied to Lod to defend its Jewish residents. It has also to be said that certain areas of Lod have, for years, been the strongholds of armed, criminal Arab gangs, against whom even the Arab residents have been complaining and demanding police action. At all events, the police investigation tends to confirm the suspects’ claims. The charges against them have been reduced from murder to reckless manslaughter and the court has ordered their release and rejected the police request at least to place them under house arrest.
As I mentioned in a previous post, there have also been Jewish attacks on innocent Arabs – not so many, but despicable, nonetheless. Still, things are not always as they seem. For example, over the weekend, the home of an Arab family in the Ajami neighbourhood in Yafo (Jaffa) was firebombed and two children were injured; one of them, a 12-year-old boy, was very severely burned. Naturally, the immediate assumption was that Jewish extremists were responsible. Yet the police investigation turned up leads in a completely different direction and it now seems possible that the crime was committed by a Jaffa Arab who may have mistaken the house for a Jewish home.
I could go on and on.
Last year, we were all lamenting the lockdown, we couldn’t wait for it to end. As 2020 gave way to 2021, jokes abounded about it having been the worst year ever. Now, residents in Lod and other mixed Jewish – Arab cities WELCOME the imposition of night curfews.
Now, I am fearful of what tomorrow may bring.
Yesterday – all our troubles seemed so far away. Yesterday – now I long for yesterday.
I have had reason, in the past, to take exception to the unfair and (usually deliberately) misleading treatment meted out to Israel by the mainstream media, and especially by once-respected newspapers such as The Times (of London).
Yesterday, my brother sent me a picture of an article from the printed version of The Times:
The relevant paragraph reads: A confrontation yesterday between a Jewish motorist and Palestinians captured on video quickly went viral. It showed Palestinians stoning the car on the eastern outskirts of the city and the driver swerving and accelerating into one of them. A scuffle ensued, with a gun-toting policeman eventually holding the two sides apart.
Let’s start off with the video documentation of the incident:
As you can clearly see in the video, the car is being attacked by stone-throwing thugs and tries desperately to get away. First he tries to reverse, but it is clear that he is surrounded, with nowhere to go. It is also clear that he lost control of the car. What next ensues is not “a scuffle”, but an attempted lynch perpetrated by stone-throwing terrorists – a lynch prevented only by the heroic actions of a lone policeman who saw what was happening and fired into the air to scare off the Arab attackers.
And that brings me to the “gun-toting policeman”. The expression “gun-toting”, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is usually applied to armed criminals. This is not merely the case in American English but in British English also, and as such, has been used frequently by the British Press. The British police, famously, do not carry guns (with the exception of special units), but the police of most countries, and that includes most European countries, do carry pistols (which is what the Israeli policeman was carrying). I have never heard the Danish, French, German, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish, or Swiss police described as “gun-toting” in the British Press, although police officers of these countries all carry handguns. I can only assume that The Times’ choice of words was dictated by their obsession with portraying Israel in general, and Israeli law-enforcement officers in particular, in a negative light.
While we are on the subject of media dishonesty, I am reminded that while zapping from channel to channel yesterday evening, I came across a report on Euronews, in which a young man from Gaza was telling viewers about his children and how they were traumatised by the “Israeli attacks”. On the other side of the split screen, we could see a barrage of incoming rockets lighting up the night sky. The unwary viewer would almost certainly take this to be film footage of Israeli attacks. Except that these were actually Hamas rockets fired in the direction of Israel! Today, also on Euronews, there was an interview with some “expert” from a British academic institution (whose name, unfortunately, I didn’t write down and have forgotten) who claimed that Israeli viewers aren’t hearing the full story of the attacks by Jews on Arabs in Israel, because the Arabs are denied a hearing on Israeli TV channels. Nothing could be further from the truth! Every time such an attack takes place, Israeli TV reporters rush to the bedside of the victim, to interview him or his family.
Returning to the “traumatised children” of Gaza, let us not forget that the reason for the “traumatising” Israeli air attacks is the need to put a stop to the incessant bombardment by Hamas rockets of Israeli civilian targets.
I will leave you with this picture of 5-year-old Ido Avigail, killed last night when one of the hundreds of rockets fired by Hamas into Israel, (1,750 at the last count) landed on his family’s home in Sderot.