Those of you used to my political polemics are probably asking yourself where I have disappeared to over the last few weeks. After all, it isn’t as if there hasn’t been sufficient to arouse my ire lately, what with the vicious blood libel in the Swedish newspapers last month accusing Israeli soldiers of murdering Palestinians in order to sell their bodily organs on the black market, down to the latest bestselling work of fiction otherwise known as "The Goldstone Report", which accuses Israel of committing the most heinous war crimes during Operation Cast Lead, whilst ignoring the constant shelling of Israeli towns and villages by Hamas which led up to it, as well as the fact that the Hamas criminals deliberately sited their missile-launchers in civilian areas, in schools and hospitals and even in UN buildings (with or without the cooperation of the UN workers I shall leave you to judge for yourselves). By the way, the shelling of Israeli towns and villages from Gaza is still continuing and hasn’t ceased for a moment since the end of Operation Cast Lead. Did any of you know that? Has the BBC, Sky News or CNN mentioned it?
This week, we (the Jewish world, that is) are celebrating Succot (Tabernacles). Succot, which, besides being a harvest festival, also commemorates the 40 years during which the Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness, until Joshua led them over the River Jordan and into the Promised Land, is one of the three traditional Festivals of Pilgrimage, during which Jews make the ascent to Jerusalem. In ancient times, when the Temple still stood, the pilgrimage would culminate in the offering of sacrifices in the Temple. In modern times, the Temple Mount being the site of the Dome of the Rock (sometimes mistakenly called the Mosque of Omar) and of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, it is customary to visit the Western (Wailing) Wall and this year, as every year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visited the Old City of Jerusalem and the Wall. However, for some people, Muslim fanatics such as Sheikh Ra’ed Salah, leader of the Northern Section of the Islamic Movement in Israel, this was an opportunity to stir up religious fanaticism and hatred. By means of the cynical abuse of Israeli democracy, manipulation of the masses and the repetition of the totally baseless charge that "Jewish settlers are coming to attack Al-Aqsa", this Hamas-funded demagogue (an Israeli citizen, who enjoys full legal, political. civil and religious rights in the Jewish State) has managed to stir up weeks of rioting in the Old City and in Arab neighbourhoods in Jerusalem (and not only in Jerusalem). In answer to his call, masked Arab youths have, since the beginning of the High Holy Days, been attacking Israeli security forces and civilians, hurling rocks from the Temple Mount onto worshippers at the Western Wall below, torching public property and, in general, engaging in acts of public disorder (that’s the official definition – I would call this "Acts of War").
And yet, not all the news has been bad. The day before yesterday (Tuesday), I was visiting a haredi (ultra orthodox) family in the orthodox neighbourhood of Sanhedria. We were sitting in their beautifully decorated succah when suddenly, there was the sound of drumming on the roof. It was raining – no, it was pouring! We had to run for cover whilst the sons of the family rushed to unroll protective plastic sheeting to cover the roof and keep out the rain, otherwise all the lovely decorations would have been spoiled. It was a short, sharp cloudburst which didn’t even affect all of Jerusalem’s neighbourhoods, but together with the rainfall in the north of the country, it was yet another hopeful sign that the run of dry years has ended.
A propos decorations, I would strongly advise those assimilated Western Jews who like to have "Chanucah bushes" (that is to say, thinly disguised Christmas trees) on the pretext that it is unfair to deprive their children of the opportunity to decorate the tree like their Christian friends and neighbours, to go build a succah at Succot and decorate that instead. We have plenty of beautiful and enjoyable traditions of our own, without having to imitate anyone else’s. What’s more – you get to sit and eat and even sleep in the succah for a whole week.
Then yesterday, came the announcement that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences had decided to award the Nobel Prize for Chemistry to three scientists for their work on ribosomes. One of the three is Professor Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute – the first Israeli woman to win a Nobel Prize and one far more worthy of fame than, say, the draft-dodger Bar Rafaeli, whose "contribution to humanity" seems to consist of posing in skimpy swimwear on the covers of such magazines as Sports Illustrated and whose main claim to celebrity status lies in having dated Leonardo diCaprio!
And finally, to my own personal little triumph! Twice a year, at Shavuot and at Succot, the Israeli Arab village of Abu Ghosh is host to the Abu Ghosh Vocal Music Festival. My choir, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, has performed there more than once and we appeared there yesterday in a programme of Peruvian music from the Baroque era, together with the Phoenix Early Music Ensemble, conducted by Dr Myrna Herzog. Myrna and the Phoenix Ensemble appeared with us in the concerts we did with David Shemer’s Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra back in June this year (see previous blog). Appearing with us also were four extremely talented young soloists, (two sopranos, a counter-tenor and a baritone) at the start of their professional careers, all but one of whom have appeared with us before . However, one of the pieces performed, a Magnificat by Tomás de Torrejón y Velasco, for 15 voices, required not only a double choir but four soprano soloists. Thus it chanced that two soloists had to come from the ranks of the choir – and yes! Yours truly was one of them. I have to tell you, it wasn’t easy because the line I was assigned was that of second soprano, a line more suited to a mezzo soprano, and the tessitura was low for me – the more so, because the instruments were tuned to Baroque pitch which is lower than modern pitch. Still, it was great to have an opportunity, at last, to prove myself. And especially so because my father, one of my sisters and my brother, who is here visiting from England, were all in the audience. I made sure my father brought his video camera and as soon as I can, I hope to post a video, at least of the Magnificat, on YouTube.
Best of all, of course, is the very fact that my brother is here, that we could all eat together in our very own succah, and that tomorrow evening, we will all be together again when we celebrate Simchat Torah. I hope also that we shall all go to synagogue together the following day. As my father always says: "The family that prays together, stays together".