Saturday, 3 December 2016
Wednesday, 30 November 2016
Winter is beginning to make its presence felt in Israel.
But only just and about seven days too late.
If only the blistering winds had calmed to damp, sunless air this time last week, most of the initially estimated 1,700 fires – many set by arsonists – would not have destroyed homes and wrecked lives in a series of terrifying blazes that were swiftly nicknamed ‘the fire intifada’.
As the final flames were extinguished, Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan thanked the international force of firefighters who had flown in to support local personnel. Their efforts, he said during a ceremony on Tuesday at the Hatzor Air Force base, had helped to ensure that no-one was killed.
Today he confirmed during a speech at the Knesset that about 40 - 50 per cent of the fires had been caused by arson but he cautioned that earlier estimates had been exaggerated, in part because many incidents were reported by dozens of people and also because unrelated events like car crash blazes had been included in the original figures.
But whatever figures are correct, they cannot even start to illustrate the damage wreaked on so many thousands of lives countrywide.
I fear that worse suffering is yet to come and that families will be left languishing long in financial limbo while government financiers and insurance company loss assessors haggle over who will pay reparations. Indeed, victims have already been warned that they will never recoup the entire value of their ruined – obliterated - possessions.
Times like this produce both the best and worst in human nature: While some of Israel’s foes cheered the blazes on, her citizens across all cultural and religious divides offered one another practical help and emotional support. While one rabbi issued an absurd domestic ruling, another insisted that Heaven would withhold rain until the ‘threat of eviction’ was lifted from disputed West Bank outposts like that at Amona.
We’ll see about that!
But here I conclude with a first–hand account of living with the effects of the fires from well-known Israel advocate and Haifa resident, Sturt Palmer who wrote thus in the 500th issue of his Haifa Diary:
“Over 1800 homes were damaged by the fire and of those 527 are uninhabitable.
“Travelling around the city at the beginning of the week we were able to see the severity of the fire in a number of neighbourhoods. Thankfully personal injuries were minimal, the majority of people requiring treatment suffered from smoke inhalation.
“At the end of our street, the fire swept up a wadi exiting on to the street between a Golden Age Home and a private home. The first was saved with no damage whilst the private home was devastated.
“The building next to this private home was also affected but with minimal damage. Here lives friends of ours, a 93 year old professor of the Technion with his wife. He told me …. he didn’t even have time to get his wheel chair (he has great difficulty walking) before he was helped out of his home and dumped on a bench on the other side of the road.
“With the kindness of motorists they were able to get to a point where they could contact their daughter to come and pick them up. Thankfully they have returned home already and all their prized family possessions were intact.
This cannot be said for other friends who lost all their possessions. They are now looking around to rent accommodation in order to bring a bit of stability to their lives. Our community is looking to help in whatever way they can. In this case treasured possessions have been lost. Can they ever be recreated? Unlikely”.
© Natalie Wood (30 November 2016)
Saturday, 26 November 2016
Among the flood of tributes to the late Cuban leader, Fidel Castro has been one at The Guardian newspaper where historian Richard Gott noted:
“Cuba under Fidel was a country where indigenous nationalism was at least as significant as imported socialism, and where the legend of José Martí, the patriot poet and organiser of the 19th-century struggle against Spain, was always more influential than the philosophy of Karl Marx.”
Regarded as the symbol of Cuba's bid for independence from Spain in the late 1800s, José Julián Martí Pérez may also be viewed as being in the tradition of the valiant soldier poet. One must wonder how he would have reacted on learning that whereas his work to unite the Cuban émigré community, particularly in Florida, was crucial to the success of the Cuban War of Independence, many 20th century Cubans fled back there once Castro gained power in 1959.
Although Marti is now best remembered for the poem that became the lyrics to the Cuban anthem, Guantanamera, I pause below with a few simple lines that may be more appropriate for the day of Castro’s passing.
I Wish To Leave The World
I wish to leave the world
By its natural door;
In my tomb of green leaves
They are to carry me to die.
Do not put me in the dark
To die like a traitor;
I am good, and like a good thing
I will die with my face to the sun
But the past half-week has also been one of more semi-mourning for Israel where, The Times of Israel reports, the mix of terrorist-triggered arson and wildfire blazes have caused thirty per cent more land devastation than the Carmel Forest fire of 2010.
Ordinary Israelis – Arabs along with Jews - have reacted as ever with gestures of love, sympathy and practical support for those who have had homes and businesses wrecked – and memories destroyed.
At times like these even the non-religious seek comfort in the bible and among items posted on social media has been this wonderful version of Psalm 121, attributed to King David, one of the world’s first acclaimed soldier poets. The singer is Shelly Markalov, who was aged only eight at the time of recording. You have my permission to weep. I did!
© Natalie Wood (26 November 2016)
Wednesday, 2 November 2016
Rarely have I read so many enthusiastic reviews of a book as those lavished upon Friendship **, the memoir of Sierre Leone-born Francis (Konomueh) Mandewah.
But while the author’s global, death-defying adventures are being promoted on the back of Hollywood political thriller Blood Diamond, it is crystal clear that a life-affirming joy of every day and his devout Christian faith are the true stars of his story.
Mandewah relates with vivid recall a life of rural poverty and domestic brutality at the hands of a distant cousin that was overturned by a chance meeting with US pilot Thomas Johnson.
However, Mandewah’s path to the States was not easy and he experienced a thrilling, terrifying, sometimes life-threatening self-imposed initiation into adulthood by travelling across the Sahara Desert to reach Europe, where he lived first in Sicily, then Greece, enjoying what appear to be the happiest, most successful years of his life.
Certainly, he excels at all farming duties because of his rural upbringing and I ask him here, with the benefit of hindsight, whether he would have been better served studying agriculture with a view to farming in his own right?
However, after graduating with degrees from three US colleges, Mandewah worked as a probation and parole agent in Wisconsin and for reasons not wholly comprehensible even on careful reading, he fell foul of his superiors and spent many years and a small fortune suing first for wrongful arrest and then dismissal from his job.
Mandewah now lives in Ferguson, Missouri where race riots erupted in August 2014 following the fatal police shooting of Mike Brown, a black unarmed teeanger.
He says: “It was a white man who laid the foundation and paved the way for me to come to America so I could realise the American dream. Our friendship transcended race, and has built a positive connection between the races. We can overcome racism through friendship and positive cross--cultural relationships.”
**Friendship: A True Story of Adventure, Goodwill, and Endurance is available from Amazon on Kindle @ $2.99 and Paperback @ $14.99.
© Natalie Wood (02 November 2016)
Friday, 28 October 2016
Everyone then alive remembers where they were – what they were doing – when US President John Kennedy was murdered.
It was a terrifying political and social turning point, not only for the American nation but for countless ordinary citizens like financial journalist, Peter McKenna who claims that the previous year a burning ardour for study had been suddenly ignited within him by a chance reading of one of Kennedy’s eloquent speeches, thus sparking a latent gift for language that led to his career as a writer.
Now McKenna has ‘repaid the debt’ by publishing the first of two planned books about the Kennedy family’s influence on US society, “focussing on the economic, political, and social changes” that the assassination provoked.
The publication of All His Bright Light Gone - The Death of John F. Kennedy and The Decline of America** could not be better-timed: for the election pending on Tuesday November 08; John Kennedy’s centenary in May 2017 and – disturbingly – because earlier this week Moscow spokesmen issued warnings of a new Cold War, a phrase first coined in the late 1940s by political adviser Bernard Baruch and newspaper columnist Walter Lippmann. The phenomenon was to reach its full strength during Kennedy’s administration.
But of equal interest and import is Kennedy’s unceasing battle against life-threatening illness. It is most bitterly ironic that he beat the odds to survive as a war hero and fought from early childhood against the ravages of Addison Disease. This is a difficult-to-diagnose adrenal gland disorder that used to kill off its victims young before the development of drugs like desoxycorticosterone acetate (DOCA) and cortisone. Intriguingly, the treatment, coupled with an inordinate emotional immaturity, has been partly attributed to Kennedy’s ridiculously high libido.
As an Anglo-Israeli I am fascinated by Kennedy’s relationship with 1960s Israel and wonder why McKenna does not mention it. After all, the president’s concern about the nuclear reactor in Dimona is well documented and reading McKenna’s many references to America’s Founding Fathers made me wonder whether in earlier days, American leaders may have loved doughty Israeli pioneers like prime ministers David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir simply because they reminded them somehow of Washington, Franklin, et al.
But McKenna does mention the United Nations and there will be many reading his book who will snort derisively when they learn that Kennedy warned from the start that it was a body “doomed to become ineffective, unable to fulfil its mandate of preventing future wars. ‘Its powers will be limited,’ he wrote as a Hearst Newspapers correspondent at its launch in San Francisco during April 1945 and ‘… it will reflect the fact that there are deep disagreements among its members.”
As I write, Americans are less than two weeks away from electing their next president after what has been, by all accounts, the the most ill-tempered, bruising campaign in their history.
Kennedy and Richard Nixon were the first candidates to appear in four live television pre-election presidential debates in which they tackled difficult topics like ‘big government’ and civic responsibility. This year’s candidates, neither of them in the least bit physically pretty, have instead dished the dirt about sexual assault and blatant chicanery.
All of this seems a far cry from McKenna’s often idealised, even star-struck portrait of Kennedy and who notes that it is “astonishing how far the country has drifted from the form of government the Founders gave us and that Kennedy championed.”
McKenna’s book is intensely researched but somewhat lopsided, giving surprisingly little space to any impact Kennedy’s domestic life may have had on his presidency while overdosing on meandering descriptions of episodes in the War of Independence and superfluous quotations from Scots philosopher Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. However, it will be a useful addition to the libraries of all serious students of the Kennedy years.
© Natalie Wood (28 October 2016)
Wednesday, 19 October 2016
Tuesday, 18 October 2016
South African-born software creator Daniel J Miller is not all he seems.
So it’s no surprise that when he wears his other hat as writer, Dan Sofer (sofer is Hebrew for ‘writer’ or ‘scribe’), his stories are not as they appear on first reading.
Now aged 40, he emigrated to Israel about 15 years ago and presently lives in Jerusalem with his family. So as a fellow immigrant I was delighted to see how he uses his short story, Larry and Kate to give general audiences a lighthearted and engaging perspective of some very serious truths about Israel and being a Jew in the modern world. But what will these characters do next?
Dan's fiction has appeared in Midstream magazine and he released his first novel, A Love and Beyond, last year.
© Natalie Wood (18 October 2016)