Tag: Israel

It’s never too late to say thank you

This is the Israeli Air Force Hercules we flew home in from Mombasa, Kenya
This is the Israeli Air Force Hercules we flew home in from Mombasa, Kenya

Last week I had the privilege of meeting members of Israel’s Air Force at an event I was covering in Beverly Hills – a fundraiser for the Israel Air Force Center Foundation. You can read that story here

However, there was a very personal element to this event for me. It’s always wonderful to see the incredible men and women that defend the Jewish state every single day. These are the same people who fly into war and disaster zones all around the world – helping victims in tsunami’s and earthquakes, who bring the sick and injured from around the globe (and yes, even Palestinian territories and Syria for life saving operations).

There’s a reason these young men and women are revered and the fallen honored the day before Israel’s Independence Day. It’s because of these people that lives in Israel are protected. Most Israelis, however, don’t get to see the work they do up close. However, my connection to the IAF is deeply personal and very, very direct.

As most readers know, I survived an Al Qaeda suicide bombing in Kenya in 2002, while on assignment from Israel. You can read about that here. And you also know it was the Israeli Air Force that flew in on massive Hercules jets and rescued us. Rescued us from a country who had shut down its airports, where we were trapped and unable to return home. To see those men and women from the IAF waiting for us with open arms, coming to bring us home was a moment that will remain seared in my brain forever.

At the gala event in Beverly Hills thousands of miles and 14 years from that horrific day, Brigadier General Uri Oron stood up and gave an incredibly moving speech about his work in the IAF for the last 30 years and his role as head of military intelligence.

As he stepped off the podium and walked back to his table in a fancy ballroom with even fancier silverware I walked up to him and said, “I don’t know if you remember what happened in Mombasa in 2002…” And he said, “Of course I remember, I was part of the effort that coordinated the rescue.” I couldn’t keep the tears out of my eyes as I told him I was there and I would never, ever forget that rescue and what it meant to all of us to see the IAF bring us home.
It took me 14 years to say thank you but feeling the warmth of his hand, and seeing the smile on his face? It was totally worth the wait.

Truly Madly Deeply conflicted over Alan Rickman’s death

705120265483856_mainphotoLong before JK Rowling was scribbling the words that would become the juggernaut that is Harry Potter (or maybe while she was scribbling), and Severus Snape was immortalized on film by the pitch perfect Alan Rickman, I had fallen in love with him (and that great – yet underrated – British actress Juliet Stevenson) in Anthony Minghella’s stunning 1990  film, “Truly, Madly, Deeply.”

If you haven’t seen it, go find it and watch it. NOW. I’ll wait.

Okay. Have you seen it now?

Good.

And now tell me how it was impossible to not fall in love with Jamie – Alan Rickman’s character. Jamie. Who died. Jamie. Who played the cello, so hauntingly, so beautifully, and who spoke in that wonderful, mellifluous tone that is – now was – Rickman’s trademark voice? How could you not weep, openly, as Juliet Stevenson, a woman shattered by grief, wished so hard for her lover (Rickman) to return – that he did. In ghost form. And turned up the heat (because apparently it’s bloody freezing in the afterlife or wherever Alan Rickman-cello playing ghosts go) and played the cello, and sneezed a lot and brought his ghost friends round and stayed up ALL NIGHT watching movies. And sang “Sun ain’t gonna shine anymore,” with Stevenson.

This movie. This is where I fell in love with Rickman. Such beauty, such power, such love, such a voice! Such emotional depth. Such physical expression. There is nothing – by Hollywood standards – about Rickman’s features that made him sexy. But he was. With that voice and that emotional depth and talent by the bucketload. He was a great stage actor long before Hollywood discovered him. But “Truly Madly Deeply” is and was to this day both one of my favourite films of all time and Rickman remained one of my favourite actors. Pre-Harry Potter. Even Pre-Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet.

Rickman was one of those guys that you’d pay to read the bloody phone book. That I would have paid good money to see on stage, but never got the chance. So, in case it’s not clear, Rickman was one of my favourite actors of all time and it’s heartbreaking to hear that that talent has been snuffed out. That he’s gone. That we’ll never hear that voice  – at least live – again. Not unless he does a “Jamie” and shows up to haunt various people.

However, I’m not just sad that his talents are gone. I’msad that he left this Earth without ever giving up on his anti-Israel stance.  When I heard that he had co-written and produced the play “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” in 2005 about American student protesting the demolition of a Palestinian home, who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while acting as a human shield,  I could no longer respect the man.

I wish Rickman – who died today – January 14 at the age of 69 from cancer –  had lived long enough to open his eyes to what is really going on in Israel. I wish he’d lived long enough to use his intelligence and compassion and take a long, hard look at the fact that there are two sides to a conflict; that he’d come to know and love Israel. Heck, I wish he’d taken the time to visit Israel!

Either way, the world has lost a great talent. And I will continue to remain truly, madly, deeply in love with Jamie and his cello. Even if I can’t remain in love with the man who played him.

J is for Jerusalem

a-to-z-letters-jThey say home is where the heart is. If that’s the case, then my heart has at various times and I guess always will belong in England, Australia and the United States, because these are the countries I have lived in. I also lived in Israel for 11 years, specifically in Jerusalem. But I wouldn’t say Jerusalem has my heart. Israel has my heart and my entire immediate family still lives in Israel. But I would say – unequivocally – that Jerusalem has my soul.

Because Jerusalem is just that kind of place. If you’ve never been, it’s hard to describe. If you have been, then you probably know what I’m talking about. Jerusalem seeps into your pores and is impossible to shake. The sights, sounds and smells of a modern city clashing with an old one is nothing short of miraculous.

As a journalist whose job was to cover the City of Jerusalem every day, I had the extraordinary honour of learning about and interviewing everyone from school children to volunteers to government officials. I could do my job every day because there’s no real hierarchy – because your mayor and council members are in the phone book and you don’t have to go through 47 publicists to get an interview.

In Jerusalem you can rail against a corrupt municipality and in the same breath witness extraordinary acts of chessed (kindness). I know of no other place where can  you walk the streets without a  single car on the road on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and chat to complete strangers. Or have a complete stranger open their home to you for a Shabbat (Sabbath) meal because they met you in the supermarket and asked if you had somewhere to go. It’s in Jerusalem that your heart will break over and over when there’s a suicide bombing and scores of innocent lives are lost; where your cell phone will give out because people around the country and the world will be calling to make sure you and everyone you know is okay. And then you’re heart will break all over again when an Ultra Orthodox organization will rally its volunteers and they will come out and collect every piece of shattered bone and tiny piece of flesh that used to be a person – collect them all and ensure that there is a proper burial.

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In Jerusalem you can  also rail against those Ultra Orthodox who curse those who travel on the Sabbath or who receive handouts from City officials; who wield so much power in local government.

In Jerusalem you’ll dance in the streets on Simhat Torah and be proud to be a Jew in your Jewish homeland in the capital of the country. And you’ll also be awoken to the unique sound of the muezzin call as the Muslims head to morning prayers. You’ll haggle in Hebrew with Israeli vendors for a better deal on a dozen apples at the outdoor shuk in Mahane Yehuda. And in the Old City of Jerusalem you’ll haggle in English or Arabic in that market too.

IMG_0115In Jerusalem you will find the best falafel of your life; you’ll get up early just to head to the shuk to inhale the smell of pita with za’atar, to sample gleaming olives, to scarf down freshly-baked borekkas and watch old men play shesh besh (backgammon), while drinking strong black coffee or sipping tea with mint.

In Jerusalem you can walk to the Western Wall and touch stones that are thousands of years old; say a prayer; leave a note and then walk across the street to Sultan’s Pool to see a rock concert or a movie.

In the Old City you can simply walk a few feet and be in four different quarters. You can run your hands along the stones in  the Jewish, Christian, Arab and Armenian quarters. You can see the bullet holes in the walls from wars.

In Jerusalem you’ll watch in awe as hi-rises and new buildings tower over some of the most ancient structures in existence and whizz in your car down a major highway while struggling to negotiate the tiny one way streets in the heart of the city (with cars parked on the footpaths), knowing that it’s so much easier to walk to wherever you want to go.

And if you are sitting in your car, who else will stop at the light, hoot their horn and ask you if you want to sell your car? And if you’re in Jerusalem, the chances are that the person who asks will remind you that he saw you last week and asked you once before and do you have an answer for him yet?

Jerusalem is where you can be hospitalized and volunteers will show up during holidays and sing and dance for you and offer to say prayers for you.

Jerusalem is where an old world meets a new one and nobody blinks an eye. Jerusalem is where a sunset over the Old City Walls will stop your heart; where you know summer is on its way because vendors start selling watermelon on the side of the road.

Jerusalem is where people from all over the world flock to live; to visit; to pray and to play.

Jerusalem is not an easy city to live in. She will break your heart many times over. But she’ll also heal it, too. Life in Jerusalem is an ongoing love affair of ups and downs and of struggles and triumphs. You have to give yourself over to Jerusalem in order to truly understand the beauty that his her and her alone.

And that is why she has – and always will have – my soul.