Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why Israel Exists

I opened facebook this morning to find this request from my cousin D: PLEASE share this article by Daniel Finkelstein in today's Times. I am sharing it in the biggest way I know how, by putting it on my blog. After the cartoon that appeared in the Sunday Times on International Holocaust Memorial Day (that I am not even going to link to) I and many Jewish Britons are wondering.... let's just say we are wondering. 

Lessons from the Holocaust? Try these two
(An article by Daniel Finkelstein that appeared in today's Times)

The Jews have learnt all about Man’s inhumanity to Man. But also that you cannot rely on others to keep you safe. 
By the time my grandmother boarded the train from Belsen she was close to death. For a year she had given every scrap of food she had to her little girls, to my mother and her two sisters. Now starvation meant that she could scarcely stand. But somehow she managed to hold herself upright and stumble on board.
She had to, for this train was the only chance of liberty. A prisoner exchange had been arranged and somehow, using false passports, my family was on it. But the Nazis were excluding anyone whose illness might disclose to the Allies the hunger and disease in the camps. My grandmother knew that, starved though she was, she would have to walk to freedom. If she did not, her girls would die, as so many, many more had died and were still to die.
On board she collapsed as the train made its winter way through frozen countryside to safety in Switzerland. And then, stranded in the middle of nowhere, the train stopped. A guard appeared. He waved his hands at my family and told them that there were too many people on the train. They would have to get off. They would be left to die in the snow.
My aunt, the eldest child, protested. My grandmother was too ill to be moved, she said. The Nazi guard looked. He shrugged. OK, he said. And he moved on.
My grandmother lived just long enough to see her little girls through their ordeal, to deliver them from the camps to safety. She crossed the border to Switzerland and before the day was done, she died.
Last week, in anticipation of Holocaust Memorial Day, David Ward, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East, said that the Jews — my Mum, perhaps, her sisters — hadn’t learnt the lesson of the Holocaust. “It appears that the suffering by the Jews has not transformed their views on how others should be treated.” I’ll give my Mum a call when I have a moment and pass on his complaint.
The comparison the MP made, between Jews and the Nazis, is a distressingly commonplace one. It pops up all the time in the anti-Semitic mail that I receive on a regular enough basis that I have developed a standard reply (“Dear Sir, Thank you for your note. It is kind of you to warn me about the Jews. I will certainly keep an eye out for them. They sound terrible. Daniel”). But in public, most people are subtle enough to use the word Zionist when they mean Jew.
Even in this more socially acceptable form, the charge is outrageous. It suggests a complete failure to understand the sheer scale and intent of the Holocaust. As it happens, I am very critical of the Israeli settlements policy. I regard it as both wrong and strategically disastrous. I am critical, angry, about its human consequences. But to compare Binyamin Netanyahu’s policy to that of the gas chambers of Auschwitz is shameful. Nauseating, actually. Which is not a word I am given to employing often in political debate.
Gerald Scarfe’s deeply misconceived drawing in The Sunday Times was, at least, not guilty of this error. But I hope I can be excused if I found his explanation that he hadn’t remembered that he was supposed to be remembering the Holocaust more darkly amusing than I usually find his cartoons.
While lecturing the survivors of the concentration camps and their children on the lessons they would have learnt if only they had been good people like him, David Ward did not only show a lack of proportion. He also showed a lack of insight.
It is true, as Mr Ward says, that what happened to my grandmother shows the dangers of Man’s inhumanity to Man and the need to avoid it. But that is not the only lesson it teaches. And not the only lesson Jews have learnt.
When the Nazis invaded Holland, and arrested my family in their home, and stole their property, and killed their friends, and destroyed their community, and put them on trains to go to death camps, they were able to do it because they had the army and the soldiers and the guns. They were able to do it because the Jews were defenceless. They were able to do it because speeches and books and ideas about liberty, for all their great truth and power, weren’t enough.
How could the Jews not have learnt that lesson? How could they not have learnt it, David Ward, when they went home to the East of Europe and found they couldn’t live in their houses or reclaim their property or be safe with their neighbours? How could they not have learnt it sailing round and round the harbour because no country wanted to take them?
The Jews have learnt the same lesson as everyone else about humanity and compassion, and been as good and as fallible as anyone else when trying to show it. But we have also understood a harder, harsher truth. That we cannot rely on others to keep us safe. And Israel exists precisely because of this.
On New Year’s Day, the artist Yoko Ono paid for a full-page advertisement in The New York Times. She then left it blank save for two words. In the middle of the page it read “Imagine Peace”.
After it appeared, The Guardian conducted an online poll, asking readers: “Will Yoko Ono’s advertisement help bring world peace?” A third of respondents, hundreds of people, reviewed the white space of the ad, then considered the massacres in Syria and Algeria, the murders in the Sudan, the conflicts of the Middle East, before responding that yes, in their carefully considered opinion, Ms Ono’s commercial would help world peace.
Wouldn’t it be marvelous to really think that? To really believe that the cause of peace can be advanced by imagining it? Wouldn’t it be good if no one ever had to die to allow others to live, and freedom didn’t need to protect itself with a rifle, and little girls could go to school in Pakistan without being shot? I want that world as fervently as anyone else.
But one of the lessons of the Holocaust is that wanting it is not enough. Israel is deep in a struggle to defend the Jews who live there against more death and confiscation and terror. Because the Jews have had enough of that, thank you very much.
It’s right to be critical when Israel gets it wrong. It is creditable to make the human rights of Palestinians a cause. But to forget that after genocide and destruction the Jews wanted a home they could defend? Never again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Israel Election Day 2013

Today is Election Day in Israel. As we go to vote for the 19th Knesset I am 99% certain who I am going to vote for. I decided (almost) finally after doing an online quiz that analyzes your opinions and graphs where you stand on the political map. I fell directly on top of the party I had been leaning towards but still feel a slight pull towards another party because... well because (if I told you you'd know which party it is). To make it more confusing, after pre-election agreements between parties, the two parties I favour are on opposite sides.

There are 34 parties running but only about 18 end  up represented in the Knesset. Each party has its basket of promises. You have to decide how much you weight security issues, economic issues and social issues. You have to look at the personalities involved and cross off (or  not) all those with a criminal record or who are currently being indicted (unbelievable but true).

There is no direct representation. I don't have an MK responsible for me and my neighbourhood. Each party has a numbered list. If you are number 5 on the list and the party gets 5 seats, you are in. If your party only gets 4 seats you are out. On the other hand, if I want to lobby for a particular cause I can go to any MK and I would choose one most sympathetic to my cause.

Then you vote. Then the seats are dealt out proportionally. You need 2% of the votes to gain one seat. Excess votes, for parties that don't cross the 2% threshold, and partial seats, are transferred to the strongest party so don't waste your vote. No party has ever won an outright majority of more than 60/120 seats. The Government will be formed by a coalition. The strongest party gets 42 days to form a coalition of over 60 seats.

Usually they manage as the smaller parties need to be in the government to have any clout at all. So they have to compromise on their promises - the promises that got them their seats in the first place. But if you don't bend you're out and you can't do anything. It's easy to be cynical but it's a complicated game of finding the optimum position for your manifesto.

It's a national holiday. The whole country closes down - except for shops and restaurants. The business sector loses a billion+ shekels but the shops rake it in. We are going to the zoo for a change. After I've voted of course.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Rainbow Soups

In order to get DD to try something new I have to insist and offer a small bribe - cake for dessert usually. I've been pushing the soup issue for a while now. Let's face it, a bowl of soup in the winter is the best way to go on every level. It's warming, filling, cheap, and easy to make a big batch for a few days and some for freezing.

DD, however, was not interested. Although she loves the mandlech (soup-nuts) on their own or with grated cheese (why not?) the soup always met with a defiant, "DON'T WANT!"

Then yesterday I had one portion of orange soup left over. (Squash, sweet potato, carrot, and a dash of orange juice added to sauteed onions and garlic, salt and pepper - all liquidized into anonymity of course.) I laid down the law - no mandels on their own, only in soup. Luckily I had cake to offer for dessert.

DD was doubtful. Then I was inspired. Remembering the enormous raw beetroot I'd popped into my shopping trolley earlier, with no idea what I was going to do with it, I told her, "if you eat orange soup today, I'll make purple soup tomorrow."

Her eyes lit up. I continued. "And then we can have red soup (tomato obviously), green soup (pea), and even white soup (cauliflower and potato)!  No darling, I can't make blue soup."

So tonight we have purple soup. It's delicious, even if I say so myself. I didn't expect it to be this good. here's what I did:

Sautee an onion and a few cloves of garlic in oil, add an enormous beetroot cut into cubes, more than cover it with water and bring to the boil.

Meanwhile add a cup of tomato ketchup (or puree and sugar), a dash of soy sauce, some onion soup mix, salt, pepper and.... because beetroot has a sharp taste.... two tablespoons of honey. Reader, I kid you not. It works.

Simmer for up to an hour (beetroot is tough) and zzhuzzh (I think that's Yiddish for wizz) with a hand blender. It comes out a velvety purple. Here is mine with some mandlech. (It looks more purple in real life).

I'm linking this to Mrs M's Meal Planning Monday (go take a look to see what people have planned for the week). Even though it's not a week of meals, it is a plan to see us through the winter and add a major element to each meal.

I don't know why naming soups by colour is so much more fun and less threatening to a 4yo than naming the vegetables in it but it is. Whatever it takes eh?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2013 So Far So Good

I've neglected the blog somewhat over the past few weeks as real life got in the way and things have been rather hectic. The exciting news is that I've been blogging for Mineralium Dead Sea Skincare (fyi only of course). It's a lot of fun but it does make you a bit schizophrenic being online with two personas. I keep forgetting who I am on twitter and suddenly Liska (@NewMumOnline and @ConsciousMum) will get a tweet from Mineralium wishing her son better, or Jane (@ExmoorJane) will suddenly find herself chatting with Mineralium not knowing who it is (I told her). You may *ahem* have seen it popping up retweeted by me.

The flip-side of this is that I'm only online as me half the time and have missed loads since the beginning of January, including reading and commenting on many posts I would otherwise have enjoyed. Sorry about that. I need to be more organised. 

Then last week everything imploded. It was Wednesday evening and I was behind with everything as Jerusalem closed down at midday due to the expected snow storm. It didn't actually arrive until the middle of the night so we wasted half a day because of some strong winds and a chill in the air. DD was finally in bed and it was announced that all schools were cancelled for the next day, Thursday, as well. Great.

I was on facebook, for a change although I can't remember who as (as whom?), when I got a message from an old friend in England: Are we seeing you at the Barmitzva this weekend in Tel Aviv?

Me: What do you mean this weekend? It's next weekend, the 19th.

Friend (newly promoted to BFF): Well we're flying out from England for it this weekend....

Thank God she messaged me or we would not have turned up to a full weekend in Tel Aviv (Friday afternoon till Saturday night) for the Barmitzva of the son of very good friends. I was sure it was the next weekend. 

The clothes I wanted to wear were in the laundry basket. A storm was raging outside. I have no dryer. I hadn't yet bought the present. DD was going to be home with me all day Thursday (and Friday it turned out). I had loads of work to do. I was supposed to be teaching on Friday morning (luckily my student cancelled). We were probably going to be snowed in as well.

The clothes were quickly washed and spent the next 36 hours on a clotheshorse in the spudy with the heater on. Thursday's snowstorm you can read about here. We went out to buy the present on Friday morning and then straight to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station for a bus to Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv was another country. The weather was positively balmy. We spent Friday afternoon collecting shells on the beach - no coats or nuffink!

On Friday night DD took a liking to BFF and her husband who promptly adopted her for the weekend. Added to that, my brother in law had also come for the Barmitva and was wonderful with DD. And....can you believe there's more?....there were about 20 other children to play with! DD was in heaven. I was in heaven. I only saw her for about five minutes before she went to sleep and the time it took to get her dressed in the morning in order to go find her new friends.

The cherry on the icing on the cake (because the whole weekend was icing on the cake and couldn't have been more fun) was when we shared a taxi back to the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv with BFF and her husband in order to get a bus to Jerusalem and then, sometime after midnight, another taxi home. As we piled in they asked: Do you mind if we take this taxi all the way to Jerusalem (meaning right to our doors)? We're paying. 

Is there a higher accolade than BFF?

So this week has been catch up week. I have tried to call the Barmitzva family to thank them but the time keeps escaping me (and there was no answer today - honestly). Thank you, thank you, thank you - we loved it! 

And thank you Uncle Charles for all the attention (for DD not me). 

And BFF - you saved my life, I owe you big time!

*I forgot my camera when we went to Tel Aviv but here are the shells drying on a towel.
*BFF - Best Friends Forever. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Jerusalem Closed and Divided

Perhaps that title's a little dramatic but that's what it feels like. We woke up this morning to this:

And then it got worse - or better, depending on your viewpoint (both physical and philosophical).

You'll notice that all my photos are taken from inside my apartment with the doors shut. DD, ever her mother's daughter, took one look at it this morning and declared, "hoohoohoo We're not going outside in this. I'm definitely not going out in this!" I readily agreed.

No school today and people are forgiven if they don't make it to work (though apparently they won't get paid). Even though transport is free today to discourage people from driving, all public transport has been suspended till about 2pm, when the snow is expected to ease off. And, as far as I understand, all the roads in and out of Jerusalem are closed.

From the activity on facebook this morning, it would seem that Jerusalem is not only closed but it is also divided. There is a clear division between those who were up early and out enjoying the crisp winter wonderland (mostly mothers of boys funnily enough), and those who have battened down the hatches and are exploring the great indoors.

We are enjoying it all vicariously of course, through the window and via facebook. We heard the children from upstairs whooping down the stairwell with squeals of, "sheleg! Sheleg!" (snow, snow - obviously). My friend told me on the phone that she was out very early enjoying the snow with the dog who was off the lead and in his element. There is not one part of this statement I can begin to comprehend.

Pictures are appearing on fb of children building snowmen and throwing snowballs. The heavy American influence has introduced snow angels to the neighbourhood. Enjoy, my friends - we'll appreciate the photos and do our bit by putting the potatoes in the oven to bake and boiling the milk for hot chocolate.

Later we're expecting the hoards from Tel Aviv and the centre of the country to arrive to see the snow. Of course they have to go to school first (tee hee hee).

And finally, I risked life, limb and dignity to walk 1.5 metres onto my balcony and take a couple of photos from the great but freezing cold outdoors.

The upstairs neighbours

And now it's back to watching Shrek, drinking hot apple cider and maybe baking biscuits later.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Vegan In My Freezer

New Year Resolutions 1, 2, and 3 are
1.) To halve my food bills.
2.) To eat less, small portions, and only at mealtimes.
3.) To cook and eat vegan food as much as possible.

I was inspired by Elaine Colliar who writes a fabulous blog called Mortgage Free in Three, in which she is striving to pay off her mortgage in three years. Her challenge for January is to eat largely from her store cupboard, so to speak.

My battle plan was as follows:
1. Do a comprehensive shop taking advantage of the slashed vegetable prices in my local supermarket. You can buy up to 3kg of some basics (tomatoes, cucs, potatoes, onions) for about 6p/kilo and other veg are also reduced if you buy over 13GBP of other foods.

2. Cook up a storm and freeze portion (or 2-portion) amounts for the rest of the month. This also stops me eating the whole pot of something as the portions are already set.

3. Make a menu plan for the week and stick to it.

4. Only buy more salad vegetables and fruit , cheese (for DD), and olives when necessary. Nothing else.

So I spent Friday afternoon cooking. Bear in mind that I'm experimenting with vegan cooking whilst still using cheese for DD. I have pictures but won't be posting recipes until I've perfected them.

First I made a thick, golden vegetable soup and put two single portions and once double portion in the freezer in jars.

Then I used one portion of the soup to make polenta which I baked in the oven. To be eaten topped with tomato salad or ratatouille.

Next I defrosted some shop-bought pastry (I bought two 1kg rolls as I found a make -Et Ran - that cost 12nis/2GBP instead of the 25nis it usually costs). I made one batch of burekas using left over vegetarian bolognese sauce and another with grated cheese and olives (for DD). Two boxes of each in the freezer.

Moving on, we have oriental tofu mushroom cabbage (also with onion, garlic, spinach, soy sauce, salt and pepper). I had some of this with bolognese burekas for lunch and froze three boxes of it. Each frozen box can be one portion on it's own or, more sensibly, two portions served on noodles. [Btw, I do a Mediterranean version of this cooked with olive oil, fresh spinach or other herbs instead of the frozen spinach, and lemon juice instead of the soy sauce. served on pasta of course)

Finally, I used up a loaf of white bread that was left over at the end of the week at the kindergarten and they were looking for takers. I fried small cubes of carrot and potato with onions and garlic, added the bread cut into small cubes, seasoned with salt, pepper and onion soup powder, added a few cups of water, and cooked through. Then I baked it in small oven-proof dishes until golden brown and crispy on the top. I think you just eat this with salad as it certainly doesn't need any more carbs or vegetables. Nine portions in the freezer.

I have one more thing to make - tomato soup for the coming week as winter suddenly returned with a vengeance today. And on Monday I'll link up to Meal Planning Monday with the week's menu.

Smug? You betcha :)