December 18, 2008
I’m really annoyed. I am writing about my day in Jerusalem yesterday, having decided to make it a ‘Letter from Israel’, and I hear about the end of the ‘ceasefire’ between Israel and Hamas.
I don’t want to write about that. BBC said that the Egyptians had hoped the 6 months would bring reconciliation between Hamas and their rival faction, Fatah. They said that Israel had hoped for the release of Gilad Schalit. And that Hamas had hoped to use the time to consolidate their power base in Gaza.
BBC did not mention the Israeli incursions into Gaza. Oh, and they did not mention the 3,000 or so rockets fired from Gaza during the ‘ceasefire’. Maybe BBC had hoped that the towns of Sderot and Ashkelon and the many smaller population centres in that area would just go away.
No, that’s nothing to do with this letter…..
I spent yesterday in Jerusalem with Aviva and her sister, Rachel. They are Jerusalemites.
OK, the old days have gone. The city still has character, the Old City is still a joy to visit, but the security situation has taken away the calm – and the traffic has made it a nightmare. Add to that never-ending construction of the light railway system.
You may have read about the prize-winning design of Santiago Calatrava’s Bridge of Strings…This is one of many images of the strange structure, which actually, somewhere at it’s base, will eventually act as a bridge transporting the light railway.
We had an appointment with Prof. Mori Bank. I had met him at a recent dental exhibition here, and he had enthusiastically told me about Hazon Yeshaya (www.hazon yeshaya.org). We had to come. We were in for an experience.
First of all, Mori is an absolute ‘sweetie’. You will not find a more decent human being. He’s a South African immigrant. He’s a professor of endodontics (looks down root canals) and still somehow maintains his dental practice. But he has dedicated his life to Hazon Yeshaya. Here we are together –
The place is a soup kitchen. That’s the simple description. They feed around 14,000 people every day. But you’ve got to be there to believe this place. Summary:
They only feed those who really cannot afford a meal. Each recipient is checked (the government has good records in recent years).
They run courses to help get these people on their feet – computer courses, cosmetics, hairdressing, cooking and many other forms of vocational training.
They initially targeted the Holocaust survivors, many of whom, now in their old age, are unable to care for themselves and receive little state assistance.
But they also target children. Perhaps 70% of their assistance goes to this group, whose parents have not been able to provide for them.
The Kitchen entrance –
Chick peas, served as is, or as hummus
They have opened up branches across the country
And they give free dental treatment – free….in a country where dental treatment is quite expensive.
All workers are volunteers, many youngsters – some come from oversees.
Entrance to dental offices Great caricaturist at work…
After being shown around the incredible premises, we watched a video, giving background details. It was hard to believe that we had not heard of the place, especially as Rachel has been working some years as a volunteer with Yad Sarah, a major charity organisation is Israel.
Our meeting with the Founder and Chairman, Abraham Israel (they have great and such appropriate names at this place….Mori Bank?) really opened our eyes. When sitting with Abraham, you feel that you are in the presence of a successful New York Jewish businessman. And you are. But that’s only a part of the story. His family were refugees from Egypt’s Nasser.
They initially fled to France where, for 3 years, they lived from handouts – eating frequently in soup kitchens. Eventually they were able to get to America, the Land of Opportunity. Abraham studied; entered the business world and was a success. In 1998, on a visit to Israel, and having by chance been exposed to destitution, decided to give up his business and dedicate his life to this side of our World.
We need more such Abrahams.
Hazon Yeshaya means ‘the vision of Isiah’. It reflects back to the Holocaust, and the attempt to bring life to that which was dead.
The organisation is run almost without publicity. No flashy books, $1,000-per-plate dinners and TV campaigns. (Although the Board of Directors includes Ephraim Kassir, Former President of Israel, and Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Laureate).
Not more than 3% overheads. No enormous funds, potentially wiped out by the Bernard Madoff’s of this World. The funds this organisation receive go straight to the stomachs of the needy.
Yes, they’ve run out of space. (You will not believe the squeezed conditions we witnessed). And yes, they’ve been able to get their hands on a larger site and will start a new building shortly. But this is paid for out of today’s and tomorrow’s funds. Yesterday’s are spent.
I plan to do something. My connection with the dental community, some of which is Jewish, will help. Funds, goods, whatever. When you experience a place like this, you have to do something.
Jerusalem had still not finished with us. We recently had guests from Vancouver. They wanted to experience the ‘open market’, and what better place than Tel Aviv’s Carmel market. It is a sight, an experience for tourists. But it is nothing compared to Jerusalem’s Machne Yehuda market. …
First, there is space. OK, it was not so busy when we were there, but there really is more space along the alleyways.
Then there are the people. Look at this character, carrying his world on his back.
The sellers appear to nicer. They shout quieter; they thank you for your custom; they wish you well. That rarely happens in Tel Aviv.
The displays: well, they are the same. The colours are sometimes fantastic…(Aviva did buy some of the squash. There’s a great soup a-coming..)
Flowers and spices go so well together. Well, perhaps not the odours, but certainly the colours.
And don’t worry about security. In the past, the market has been the location of some bad terrorist attacks. Today, Machne Yehuda is a peaceful place. It has some of the most efficient guards around – who just happy to be rather pretty.
And at the end of our day, before getting too ‘caught’ in the renowned rush hour, we had lunch in one of Jerusalem’s best-known restaurants.
It’s called ‘Azura’. It seats perhaps 20 persons, which is why, as you can see, we had to stand in line (Aviva with her back to the camera; Rachel is one the left). And it was after 3pm.
Kubbeh soup, hummus as only the Jerusalemites know how, oriental salad (tomato , cucumber and lettuce chopped so fine), enormous meatballs in tomato sauce etc. etc.
We were 3. We sat at a table for 4. Twice, single guests joined us. Each time, the conversation started with: “Where are you from?”. “We’re originally from Jerusalem, too”. And from then on, we’re almost old friends.
A very satisfying day in a special city.