Israel Jewish

A throwback to simpler and more peaceful times…

Today I am feeling nostalgic. Opening my phone this morning, I was reminded that six years ago today, knackered from taking 250 Jewish kids away on a youth camp for New Year, I headed to the airport. I boarded a plane, nervous, worried and far more anxious than I’d have let on.

It’s possible I got banned from flying Wizz Air after this flight…

Five and a half hours later, for the first time as an adult, and the second time in my life I walked down the famous ramp and Ben Gurion Airport Tel Aviv.

The last time I walked down that ramp, was nine years before – as a 16 year old on a three week tour of Israel. After 3 weeks I walked down what I now know as the sad ramp, and came home. Indifferent.

In those three weeks, contrary to whatever “AsAJew” antizionists will tell you… I was not brainwashed, I didn’t ‘Fall for the hasbara’… I came back thinking “that was a nice 3 week holiday… Jerusalem was special… maybe I’ll visit again one day”.

I didn’t grow up in a family of strong, Zionists. I grew up hearing stories of one of my sets of Grandparents who visited a few times… Grandma tongue-in-cheek always said “Lovely to visit, but I wouldn’t choose to live there”.

I never visited as a child. I have no close family there. (Because we escaped Eastern Europe early). I didn’t grow up visiting once or more a year, obsessed over bamba and shoko b’sakit. I had no connection and even after 3 weeks on tour, I still didn’t feel compelled to rush back.

I felt like I understood it was important that we had Israel, and I might occasionally talk about why I thought antizionism was an antisemitism problem… but I never fully felt connected.

Then one day I got a Whatsapp from a school friend. A school friend who had begged me to visit since she moved out there after school. The Whatsapp was a photo, the photo a wedding invitation.

My first instinct, as British as can be, was “Oh she’ll want my address to send me the proper invite.”… How wrong I was! But an invite to a wedding is an invite to a wedding, and I know better than to turn down an invite to a Simcha.

So 6 years ago, I found myself flying alone, to a foreign land, expecting to grin and bear it, maybe enjoy a wedding and come home… Except I didn’t just ‘grin and bear it’ and it didn’t feel all that foreign…

Blurry ramp photo courtesy of 2018’s potato phone.

We always say that being part of the Jewish people is like being one big family, and landing alone in Israel for the first time was testament to that…. I felt at ease, like I could do anything I needed or wanted to… and in a really strange way which I couldn’t really articulate at the time, I felt at home.

I said it, quoting the song as I wrote about leaving in October – Ein Li Eretz Aheret – I have no other land… I understand that more now as a phrase than ever before – I have been to America more times than Israel, yet don’t feel the same sense of ease, touching down at JFK or IAD as I do crossing the Mediterranean, seeing the beauty of Tel Aviv, and touching down at Natbag. (An Acronym in Hebrew for “Ben Gurion Airport”).

A wise-ish lady, on the reception desk in the hotel I stayed at in Tel Aviv said “Eeeerrmmm, You know, if you can enjoy eeet in the rain, you will like eeet here”…. She made little sense, yet I understood her. The weather was abysmal, and Tel Aviv cannot deal with rain. The roads were rivers and the pavements were… also rivers! But I absolutely enjoyed every minute of my time.
(Wise-ish because she failed to warn me of the puddle that had engulfed the road and kerb outside the hotel. When I returned to change my socks and shoes which were wet past my ankles she said “You’re the third person in the last hour”.)

So, perhaps it was the rain… Perhaps it was the food, the people, the scenery, the land, the connection, the giant mishpacha (family)… but 5 visits later… In sun, wind, and… erm… rockets… I finally get it. I do like it there… perhaps I finally appreciate it there too… because I am PROUD of it there…. a the world’s only Jewish state, surrounded by hostile nations, not only surviving but flourishing and achieving amazing things.

The past months have been hard for us all as Jews. Not least for those in Israel – the level of mourning and anxiety is as high as can be… not a day goes by without checking in on friends and trying to somehow share in their sadness… We feel it here in the diaspora too. Not an hour goes by when I’m not worried for my friends and almost every day I ponder my own safety here in London…

The thing about terrorists however, is that they can kill our brothers and sisters, but they can’t kill our spirit. This war has, without a doubt bought us together closer as a people… closer than we’ve ever been in my lifetime. One big ‘mishpacha’ feels more true than ever.

So I guess… in a way… thank you evil terrorists: for lighting a fire in our hearts… for reminding us that we are all one big family that hurts together, BUT soon I hope, we will be celebrating your end together.

As we start a new year, I keep thinking of the song B’shana Haba’ah – the chorus translates as “You will yet see, you will yet see, how good it will be next year.” – let’s hope and pray that ‘next year’ is now already ‘this year’ and we can soon be back to living in more peaceful, less worrying times.

Oh, and that wedding… you might wonder about the wedding.
It was fantastic. I’m glad that I gambled travelling alone to Israel in 2018. I’m glad that, trip made me realize what a brilliant place Israel really is…

The real thanks, goes not to the terrorists, but to my friends, the bride and groom – Taphat, Tamir and now my bestie Gaia (plus ‘Bar-li’ the dog) – TODAH RABBAH – 6 years ago, I didn’t dream I’d have come and stayed with you so many times, been on fantastic tiyulim, and eaten such wonderful food… or cancelled all my plans and come to stay with you during a war… thank you for looking after me – I guess I do have mishpacha b’Eretz Yisrael! ❤️ Mazal Tov on your upcoming wedding anniversary. 🥳🥳

Israel Jewish

Finding the answer to the question… How *am* I feeling?

For those of you starting here, I’ve spent the past 52 days, trying desperately to answer the question “how are you feeling?”. [Part 1] [Part 2]

I’ve been asked this question hundreds of times in the last 52 days, and I’ll be honest – most of the times I’ve lied;

“OK Thanks, it’s tough” or “Alright, it’s all I can be”… and on more than one occasion I’ve called in the infamous response of my late grandmother z”l: “with my hands mainly!”. But the truth is, since the 7th October, I’ve been feeling… different. Something within me has changed.

I’m confident that I can speak on behalf of almost the entire Jewish people and tell you that the last 52 days have been EXHAUSTING. They have been filled with a deep sadness, a mourning and a grief and yet also intermingled with tiny flecks of light.

I don’t think I can ever recall a time when the Jewish community has better come together as one – Religious, secular, Israel, Diaspora, it doesn’t matter where you are from or what your background is, we’re all in this together.

For the past 52 days, I’ve barely listened to ‘English’ music, and I know I’m not alone. (My Spotify unwrapped this year is going to be confused!) If you’d told me 6 months ago that I’d end the year listening to Avenu Shebashamayim (Prayer for the State of Israel) on repeat, or obsessing over a song in which, for days the only phrase I really knew was ‘There’s a million trains racing to Australia’, I’ve have said you were out of your mind… and yet here we are.

I’ve picked up the guitar a number of times, I’ve tried to play other things and yet all I can play is Achenu – a prayer for protecting and bringing home hostages.

Last Friday, I was distracted from work. Fixated on the cruel game of real life ‘Big Brother’ being played out whereby via what seems like random selection, hostages were released from the Gaza Strip by Hamas. I cried all Friday afternoon at my desk at home.

By the time the hostages had been released, and I found out that 3 of them were the family of a friend, I could do nothing but sob. Sob that some people were finally free, sob that one of my friend’s family still remained in Gaza, sob that the reactions on the internet were, and still are absolutely abhorrent, and most of all, sob for humanity and the cruel reality we’re living in.

Saturday night, again, I watched and I sobbed.

Sunday, However was different. On Sunday, I went to London with 105,000 other people – Jewish and not, and marched through the streets in protest at the rising level of antisemitism.

For the first time in 52 days, with the exception, perhaps of spending a few hours seeing Shulem, Alby Chait and Avromi Freilich in concert, I felt a sweet feeling of release, of calm, of warmth and of understanding.

I know I’m not alone feeling this – many have said the same thing. The march itself was quite a spectacle. The speeches, went on for FAR too long, but standing together at the end, singing Hatikvah, and God Save the King (still feels weird!) gave me tears, goosebumps and a feeling of the duality of my identity uniting as one.

At the end, we sang our hearts out – “Salaam Aleynu v’akol Haolam Saalam Shalom” – ‘Upon us and upon the world Peace, Peace’ – a song in both Hebrew and Arabic, before in an incredibly impromptu manner, dancing the Hora, in the middle of the road in Parliament Square.

The event ended and I felt elated, yet the minute I stepped outside of the barriers and headed to find my parents at the car, I felt an urgency to hide my Jewishness. Flags were folded and stuffed into pockets, Star of David necklace quickly placed inside my shirt, and banners/placards folded to be inconspicuous as I walked back through the streets of my city.

The walk back was short, though it felt incredibly long. I was second guessing every person, assessing every move, wondering about every motion. While totally uneventful, mentally the journey to the car alone was draining.

It made me think more than ever about my identity, about what it means to be a “British Jew” and for what it means to live as a real and unquestionable minority in a world full of many many others. Many others who are not like me.

Perhaps we’ve been too good as a people at assimilating. Perhaps, I imagine it’s why we often struggle with being accused of being both oppressor and oppressed – a subject David Baddiel covers in depth in the incredible ‘Jews Don’t Count’.

We’ve done great things, blended into spaces, done our best to try to fit in, and be “local”. We’re told we must respect the law of the land, and perhaps… just perhaps, we do it too well.

Maybe we’ve forgotten the warnings of our past. The warnings that no matter how assimilated we are, however much we try to ‘not be Jewish’ or ‘not look Jewish’, those who seek to kill us don’t care.
From the outside, even the potential for you to be Jewish, is enough to consider you a target – look no further than at the number of Thai nationals working on Kibbutzim who were killed or taken hostage by Hamas on October 7th.

As I slipped back into “British Life” on Monday, outside the warm, fuzzy, family like togetherness of Sunday’s march, I felt different. Conscious of my difference more than normal. Conscious of the fact that just the day before, I had been on the street in a protest to highlight the racism toward me, the ‘othering’ that has seen an exponential increase in the past 52 days, protesting my right as a BRITISH JEW to live harmoniously in this country that has been my family’s home for the past 3-4 generations.

I was protesting my right, to peace in the UK. I was protesting my right, to be Jewish. I was feeling angry. Angry that this is what we have had to do

But as the anger subsided, and the rational brain started to file away some of those short term, angsty feelings we all feel from time to time… something became clear.

I understood how was I feeling. I know how am I feeling now. The answer is simple:


The perpetual question that has bugged me for 52 days, has been answered.

And yet, I’m not sure why it took me so long to answer this question. Reading back, I answered it way back on October 15th:

“In the words of Vicki Baum: To be a Jew, is a destiny.


Israel Jewish

How are you feeling… Now?

It’s said there are 5 stages of grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

They don’t have to come in order… and some of them don’t need to come at all… and yet, I am pretty confident in speaking for the vast majority of Jews in saying that over the past 23 days, we continue to cycle through all the stages.

I’m starting to wonder if denial ever went away. For years we’ve denied that things could be this bad, denied that we weren’t worried, denied that the mass slaughter of Jews could ever happen again.

It happened again only 23 days ago, and yet it feels like the next time, is due round any day.

At the weekend we watched thousands march through London. Holding worthless, ironic banners such as “Queers for Palestine” or “Ceasefire now”…

Yesterday we watched as a plane was ambushed on the runway, the terminal over run with hate, and Jewish people attacked as they got off the plane.

Then today I watched, as my phone lit up: “Ashkelon”, “Jerusalem”, “Gush Etzion”, “Rishon L’tzion”, “Nes Tziona”. I text my friends an empty message of hope “Stay Safe”, knowing they have no real choice in the hand they are dealt by the fall of an unguided rocket seeking to kill them.

I watched today the news of Shani Louk being pronounced dead following the identification of skull fragments. Once she was abducted, she was paraded around, and recorded while people spat on her and cheered.

…and then I watched the amazing news of Ori Megidish being rescued by the IDF and returned home. I watched her be reunited with her Grandma, and showered with sweets in a moment of pure joy, and then remembered there’s another 200+ still missing; A distant ex-colleague, a friend’s family, another friend’s family… Each Jew, everywhere in the world right now, feels like we have a finger, a toe, and arm or a leg missing, and it will will stay missing until each hostage comes home.

The video of Ori and her grandma hit me harder than expected. Because as a PEOPLE, the Jews have some strange traditions that have transcended geographies. One of my earliest memories is going to Synagogue with my grandma… and throwing sweets over the side of the gallery, downstairs onto the poor Bar Mitzvah boy who’d finished his reading.

As I watched the celebration, and the sweets and felt warm and fuzzy for a moment, I felt it quickly turn into a cold chill. I was only here watching that video thanks to the actions of Ori and those like her, who rushed TOWARD danger not knowing the peril ahead. Not knowing what would happen, what was lurking round the corner and if they would survive.

Without Ori and countless others, or if the dice had been rolled unfavourably for me that day, I too could have been woken up by machine gun fire instead of rocket interceptions. I too could have been taken hostage, I too could have been dead.

I’m someone who has been pro-ceasefire each and every time before, who has been angry each and every time before. I’ve bargained with my beliefs about the way to peace each and every time before, been depressed and I’ve accepted the fate of things each and every time before… But this time, I simply cannot and will not deny the fact that there is now NO SUCH THING as a ceasefire.

If there was such thing then we wouldn’t be here… because when I went to sleep in Tel Aviv on October 6th, there WAS a ceasefire.

If there was such thing, then there wouldn’t be 200+ hostages. There wouldn’t be 1400+, Maimed, raped, beheaded, cremated, killed.

The problem is not a ‘Ceasefire’ and an ‘End to the war’… because I don’t know a single Jew who WANTS war. The problem is deep rooted fundamental antisemitism, and a desire to KILL JEWS.

I’ve spoken to a number of Jewish or in their own words “Sort of Jew…ish” friends, acquaintances, work contacts, etc. who have all told me “I never realised how much of a link to my Jewishness I had and I am really feeling it now” or “I am shocked at how the events in Israel have made me feel, I didn’t think I had ANY connection and yet here I am worried about my own life”… We are ALL going through the 5 stages of grief. Each and every Jewish person, everywhere in the world.

Some say there are actually 7 stages of Grief, the last two are “reconstruction/working through” & “acceptance/hope;

Over 3,000 years, we’ve continually been reconstructing and working through. As a people, we’ve been persecuted continually throughout our history. From Biblical times because we wouldn’t worship idols, through the Roman destruction of the Jewish state… We were persecuted in the middle ages, the 14th and 16th century… We survived pogrom after pogrom, and then suffered the Holocaust (I note, there was no suggestion of asking Hitler for a Ceasefire from the Allies….?)
We miraculously survived the Holocaust and managed to start our own state, and from the moment, in fact from the moment BEFORE we declared our own state, the persecution continued.

I don’t think it would be unfair to suggest that in taking a macro view, the only persistent stage of grief we’ve seen as a people is acceptance/hope; but in the micro, right now, today, 23 days after the largest massacre of Jews since the holocaust, I know why I’m struggling to tell you how I feel… because my feelings of acceptance and hope are totally and utterly depleted.

So… how am I feeling?

Scared, worried, concerned, continually upset, emotionally overwhelmed, unsure what the future holds? Absolutely.

Not only am I sad right now that I’m lacking in hope… but I’m sad that I know now that nearly EVERY Jewish person has ‘run out’ of denial that things are ok.
I’m sad it took such horrors, but I guess, the unity in our lack of denial of the problem, is the way we’ll find our hope again… Because in the words of Golda Meir; “If we have to have a choice between being dead and pitied, and being alive with a bad image, we’d rather be alive and have the bad image.”

Israel Jewish

How are you feeling?

Given the number of times those words have presented themselves to me since arriving home in the early hours of Saturday morning, you’d think I might have an answer. Truth is, I don’t really know.

The last few days… and in fact the days since the 7th October feel surreal. Many times in the last week and a bit, I’ve felt like I’ve been having out of body experiences. I would find myself in the middle of doing something, something mundane like standing in a supermarket looking at empty shelves, and wondering if I was actually there.
To take Israeli slang a little literally in translation, there have been a number of times I have felt as if I have been living Chai B’seret (life in movie).

In an incredibly British moment this morning, a friend asked me how I was and without skipping a beat I replied “I’m okay”… and as the words left my mouth a feeling of dread came over me. A feeling stronger than the usual feeling of “I’m ok when I’m not”. Within a second, I doubled down on my Britishness with “Well, you know, as okay as I can be”.

I know I’m not alone. Every Jewish person I speak to feels the same. “I’ve not slept”, “I’ve not eaten”, “I can’t concentrate”. We’re all doing things to find short moments of light in the day, before rapidly realizing the horror and sadness from last week is still hanging over us.

There’s no easy way to comprehend the events of the last week; The largest loss of Jewish life since the holocaust. Jews still missing the the abyss of Gaza. Graphic photographs of those murdered in their homes or at a festival. Endless news, media and social media coverage of events and the sense of impending doom as friends and loved ones get called up to military service, knowing that with each war comes even more loss.

And as if this wasn’t enough, scenes of celebration and hatred around the world; ‘From the River to the Sea’ and ‘Khaybar Khaybar ya yahud’ being screamed on the streets. “Free Palestine” being daubed in Jewish areas and in the centre of cities. Jewish buildings and apartments where Jews live daubed with a Star of David, scenes reminiscent of the yellow stars of Nazi Germany.

It’s been a week and a day, and yet it feels like each and every day, the world is becoming a darker place to be a Jew.

As I left Charring Cross Station this afternoon and walked down Whitehall to attend a vigil for those missing and those we lost last week I noticed something different; Whitehall was different.

Whitehall, a reminder of the greatness of this country, large monuments to the sacrifices this country made for our freedom – in some cases, freedom for the UK, others for the world and for WW2, freedom for me as a Jew.

Greeting me at the end of Whitehall, as ever was Charles 1st on his horse. Only today, he was wearing a headscarf and holding a Palestinian flag.

As we continued along Whitehall, we passed a protest/vigil for Ukraine outside Downing Street. There, outside the residence of the UK’s Prime Minister and daubed along the wall; “Free Palestine”.

The girls in front of us stopped to take a selfie, smiling, two fingers up, “Victory”, as I walked on, scared, Israeli flag buried deep in my pocket.

Once on Parliament square inside the large police presence, a sense of relief washed over me… a little cry… followed by listening to the hallowing stories, the prayer for peace, and singing along with the songs of peace trying my best not to get choked up. I found friends I knew but hadn’t yet met and I just tried my best to make sense of what was going on because the truth is… it’s insanity.

For during that hour on the square, I once again felt like I was in a movie. The whole feeling was surreal, that in London, in 2023, I had to attend a vigil because over 1,000 Jews had been killed and another 200 kidnapped.

As the event finished we sang Hatikvah, not just the national anthem of Israel but literally ‘The Hope’… and yet the one thing it was clear that we were all struggling to find, was hope.

At first, I got choked up… the singing was quiet, everyone emotional struggling the same way, but as we sang the second line; “Nefesh Yehudi Ho’miya – The Jewish soul sings” – that’s exactly what happened.
We sang, we sang loud and proud. We sang the powerful words of Hatikvah; Our hope is not yet lost, It’s two thousand years old, to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.

As the event finished, I found distant family members I met for the first time earlier in the year, and we stood talking, before we packed away our flags and headed off.

Walking back to Charring Cross, we found those same words, daubed onto the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office itself. “Free Palestine”. On the other side of the road, we saw one Israeli flag wearer surrounded by police while a group of people some with Palestinian flags looked to be ambushing them…. A reminder of the fragility of being a Jew.

These scenes and walking back past Charles 1st, unearthed a feeling of deep anger inside. Angry that in this day and age, of supposed enlightenment, we as humanity are not only celebrating mass murder, rape, dismemberment but allowing to be celebrated. The police should have removed the flag, the graffiti should have been removed and a single man with a flag shouldn’t need police protection.

The anger bubbled within me all the way home… until I remembered two things. Both the words of Hatikvah, and a quote I saw earlier this year: At the very start of ‘The Museum of the Jewish People’ in Tel Aviv;

To be a Jew, is a destiny.

Vicky Baum

A destiny. Everything happening for a reason. For us, as Jews, that reason just may well be a 2000 year old hope. A hope for safety and a hope for freedom.

So, to answer…. How do I feel? Angry, upset, guilty, tired, sad, anxious… all of the above? I don’t know. But what I do know is that these feelings won’t go away.

They may fade, they may bring us waves of sadness and upset (I’ve cried three times just writing this)… As Jews we have ALL been forever changed by the events of last Saturday…

We mourn together, we worry together, we cry, we sing we hope… and I guess, in one way or another, this is just another part of our destiny, to be Jews.

Israel Jewish Personal Religion Travel

Ein Li Eretz Aheret – I have no other land.

My heart is ALWAYS heavy in the departure lounge at Ben Gurion Airport. In fact, when I arrived on Sunday 1st October, and peered down into the giant bowl of departures before the happiness of the ramp, I felt a glimmer of sadness.
Sadness that I knew that in just 2 weeks time, I would be back, down there, around the fountain, waiting to leave.
I waxed lyrical before about how we as Jews never say “Goodbye” and only L’hitraot (See you again). Every time I’m here, I cry, I weep, and I stare out the window with sadness as the plane lifts off the ground, knowing I have a homeland of my people I can come back to.

I’ve a history of extending or trying to extend my stay, prolonging the time I’m in my homeland for. One more hummus, one more schwarma, one more walk along the tayelet (promenade) one more stroll down Sderot Rothschild (one of the central streets of Tel Aviv).

This time is different. Not just because I am here 4 days earlier than planned. But because my heart isn’t just heavy. My heart ACHES. It hurts. It’s screaming.

The tears started in the car from just south of Haifa. But truly, the tears started in Tel Aviv, early on Saturday morning, where distant missile interceptions woke me up… As I was coming to terms with the news, the sirens sounded, warning us of an incoming missile, jarring me fully awake as I moved quickly to the shelter.

The loss is unprecedented. The largest number of Jews lost since the holocaust. We are sad, we are scared, but we will not give up.

Amid the loss, the sadness, and the chaos, we managed to make a wedding for a friend; we were greeted by over a hundred members of the town who had come to take the place of the guests who couldn’t come, and celebrated a moment of sheer joy under a makeshift chuppah of a tallit that survived the holocaust belonging to the bride’s grandfather.

Yet as joyous as the joy was, my phone didn’t stop. People checking I was ok, and people informing me, of the suffering of my friends and their families. A friend’s best friend missing (now found murdered) another friend missing 5 of his family. Quicker than the way we hastily created joy at the wedding, all sense of joy vanished from my body. I was, not okay. and there was nothing I could to do change it. While usually the always happy one in a group…. I was broken. Just like the rest of Am Yisrael, I was not okay…

When we say the world is small, it’s even smaller for Jews… 6 degrees of separation is usually only 2 or 3. Everyone Jewish, and I mean EVERYONE knows someone impacted by this. As days go by, the number of those folk impacted is going to grow, and Jews worldwide will face even more pain. It sickens me to see Hamas terrorists on TV saying they didn’t kill civilians and that they were “just resisting.” There are folk on the internet celebrating the deaths.

I’m on a plane to Cyprus, to get me out of Israel and then on a plane from Cyprus to London. London where “Free Palestine” has been daubed on rail bridges in Jewish Areas, where pro-hamas rallies have taken place, where I never fully have felt safe to proudly, openly and outwadly be a Jew.

On the way to the airport, as ever, I found myself placing my Magen David (Star of David) back inside my shirt. Hiding away my identity. Concealing my Jewishness.
For 5km on the highway, I found myself fighting in my own head, over the right thing to do, Jewish and proud, or Jewish but hidden. In every generation, there’s been someone that tries to kill us – At the Passover seder each year we read: V’hi She Amda l’avotenu: “And this is what kept our fathers and what keeps us surviving. For, not only one arose and tried to destroy us, rather in every generation they try to destroy us, and the l-rd saves us from their hands.” This is a statement that is as true today as it has ever been over the last 2,000 years of our existence. We hurt now, we are sad but we are not defeated and we are strong.

About 5km north of Netanya, having passed 2 checkpoints in the road a numerous IDF vehicles, I noticed something. The municipality had been out and placed Israel flags in each of the lampposts. A reminder that this state is still here, is proudly Jewish and is going to prevail.

The scenes at the airport are unusual. Families queueing to check in with as much luggage as they can carry, parents with kids, dogs, cats… people wearing multiple layers of clothes. It’s reminiscent of pre-holocaust escape stories you’ve read in history books, or heard as testimony from survivors….

…and yet downstairs, in arrivals, you can hear the sound of a large number of people, filling the arrivals hall, singing their hearts out to welcome home soldiers, reservist and normal citizens, arriving on one of the few flights to land here today.

While I was sure of waiting until my original flight on Sunday to leave, the false alarm yesterday that had us in the Mamad (safe room) for over an hour, and the lack of sleep and high level of anxiety means I know, that in order to best serve Am Yisrael, I need to preserve my self.

The terrorists haven’t won by me leaving. The terrorists have lost. Because I will fight with all my might to spread the message of the massacres, share the stories of those killed and to celebrate the heroes both in the IDF and civilians who survived.

The terrorists haven’t won by me leaving, because they’ve strengthened my already strong identity. I will continue to speak out against the slander, the misinformation and the antisemitism.

The terrorists haven’t won by me leaving, I am not allowed to help directly in the efforts here. I don’t have an Israeli Passport/ID card so I can’t give my tech/cyber skills. But that doesn’t mean I can’t help from home… and most importantly it doesn’t mean I can’t start the process to become a citizen.

Israel is going to need us over the coming days, weeks, months and years. I am so goddamned proud of this small slice of land, the size of the state of New Jersey, surrounded by hostile neighbours, and while Aliyah may not be what I want to do for now, I will without a doubt be looking properly at how I can become a dual citizen… because After all;

Ein Li Erez Aheret –

I have no other land
Even if my land is burning.
Just a word in Hebrew pierces my veins, my soul, in a weak body, in a broken heart.
This is my home.
I will not stay silent because my country changed her face
I will not give up reminding her
And sing in her ears she will open her eyes.”

Istanbul Jewish Travel

Synagogues, Mosques, Churches and Palaces

…and lots of walking!

Welcome back to Istanbul (not Constantinople) part 2! I’m back in the rocking chair on the balcony writing for the second evening running…

The hot tub in the background features later in the day…

This morning began in the bustling breakfast room of the Hotel. There was pretty much anything and everything on display for perusal – not much fruit, but almost anything else you could imagine. I settled for a few slices of toast covered with honey I took from the honeycomb on the buffet (as you do)… a few pieces of traditional bread, and some Turkish Delight and nuts…. when in Turkey and all that!

There were no empty tables in the breakfast room so I ended up making friends with a very interesting Austrian lady who was here visiting “The bad parts of town”… she had family here, and she comes back regu larly… She also told me at the end of WW2, her father walked home to Austria from Poland once he escaped internment. She was not forthcoming with any more details so I did not push!

From Breakfast I wandered down to the Neve Shalom Synagogue and Jewish Museum. I learned all about how the Jews came to Istanbul following the Spanish expulsion – How they integrated, formed a unified community and how they have had a rich history here.

The Chandelier makes the shape of a Magen David

As someone who is incredibly Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish)… and by incredibly, I mean 99.7% according to my DNA test, many of the things about the Sephardi (Spanish) culture are interesting to me as they are similar, yet different.

Turkish Sephardi Torah Scrolls

While there are actually now both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Synagoges in Istanbul, a chance conversation showed me the similarities – I was in the foyer of the synagogue looking at the memorial to the two terrorist attacks that damaged the building and killed congregants and got talking to the people stood there.

One of the men, made Aliyah (Moved to Israel) when he was 14, but as a child this was his Synagogue. I don’t think he’d been back since he was a kid, (and was now in his late 50s) and was recalling stories to his family and friends (who also happened to be local Turkish jews)… he said that as a kid he used to go to Synagogue… sit with his dad, and then go upstairs to sit with his grandma to be shown off to all her friends and spoiled rotten with sweets…. We had the same story. <3

Neve Shalom from the Ladies Gallery

We also had an amazing conversation about the difference between being Jewish and practising and how special it was to be Jewish but it was mutually exclusive to being religious.

The Exerior… Note the hidden Chanukiah!

From Neve Shalom, I walked into a film set (literally) and ended up stumbling up the Camondo Stairs to get out the way – I didn’t get a photo in the panic!

From there I walked down to the Golden Horn, and walked accross the Galata Bridge again. This time, I wandered through the Egyptian Spice Market… I will be going back there tomorrow!

From the Spice market, I wandered over to the Topkapi Palace! (I had to look up how to write this, as in my head all day I’ve been saying Teppenyaki!!). Ordered to be built in 1459 by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, and serving as the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire and the home to it’s sultans up until 1856, it’s a pretty impressive piece of work…

One of the buildings the sultan himself lived in
A fun reflective shot…
My new sofa arrives Tuesday…
Some of the painting was breath taking…
…and so were the tiles!
A wild me in the sultan’s drawing room!
Even more tile porn.
Interesting courtyard tile art!

From the Palace, I walked through the gardens down to the Hagia Irene – a greek orthodox church, Technically the second largest in Istanbul, which is now a museum.

By Museum it’s pretty much just a shell… the photos of inside were pretty unenthralling as most of the center was covered by fencing for what looked like building work, and nets collecting bird poop!

But a large cross was visible!

From the Hagia Irene, I wandered out and over to the Blue Mosque… which was closed…

Closed for Refurbishment…

So I wandered back over the square to the Hagia Sophia…

Not closed!

I got there just in time for the afternoon prayers…. there was a rush, and where I could go was a little limited, but all the same, I popped my shoes off and went inside.

It was breathtakingly huge…. and impressive… and just an incredible feat of engineering and art… Now when I said Hagia Irene was techincally the second largest Church… that was because Hagia Sophia was originally a church, that was converted to a mosque in 1943.

Guardian Angels on the ceiling…

From 1935 til 2020 Hagia Sophia was a museum however the current Turkish president changed the status back to mosque through a series of technicalities as a way to win over some of his more religious subjects…. This has resulted in some of the leftover church features being covered up…

Mary hides behind the white sheet…

While others are a little more difficult to hide…

I left Hagia Sophia, and headed back to the hotel. It was warm, I was warm, I wanted to chill out for a little bit before I headed out to dinner so thought I’d try the rooftop/balcony Jacuzzi.

This was not my finest hour. It transpires I was too long for the bath, so couldn’t find a comfy position whereby I was actually submerged in the water, and it also transpires the secluded rooftop balcony, was not as secluded as one might think when your neighbours appear on the actual roof of their building…

From a risqué bath, I headed out to dinner, via Taksim Square and yet another beautifully lit mosque

For dinner, I shlapped out to the only Kosher restaurant in Istanbul (that I could find)… I guess this is becoming a feature of this blog – “Eating in a questionable far flung Kosher Restaurant so you don’t have to”…

As it happens, good choices were made!

A proper Turkish in Turkey!

The guy in charge didn’t speak much English, I don’t speak any Turkish, so we settled on a combination of English and Hebrew… A good warmup for my next stop!

From Caffe Eden, I wandered down to get a view of the 15th of July Martyrs Bridge (Named after those who died in an attempted coup on the bridge)… and wow am I glad I did…

From the bridge, I took a wander back to the main road and just before hopping in a taxi, I accidentally stumbled upon another Synagogue to round the day off nicely!

I’m off to weigh my suitcase now to work out how much stuff I can buy at the Bazzar and spice market tomorrow… Early start – I’m off on a Cruise up the Bosphorus!

Israel Jewish

It hits differently here.

Its more personal.

When terror wrecks havoc here and I’m at home it hurts. It angers and it pains. But when 3 hours after I land in Israel, a gunman opens fire on civilians in the street killing another 5 just for being Jewish, it hits differently.

It hits differentl as I look down from my hotel room over Dizengoff Square, some the heart of Tel Aviv. It’s art deco buildings from the 1930s bustling with people, living life. it could have been them tonight.

It hits differently as I look out across the Tel Aviv Skyline. The sky scrapers and buildings that change and increase every time I visit. Just a year ago, under a barrage of rockets with the same intent, to kill.

It hits differently to the abuse I have received in the past. The threats, the casual racism, the school bus being stoned, being beaten up on the way home.

It hits differently yet the root is the same. Antisemitism is anti-Semitism, be it with words, with rockets or with a gun.

It hits differently when you’d had such a positive start to your trip. When you were astounded by the mix of folk working in the COVID testing centre. From the Kippah wearing man on the door, to the Black lady directing the traffic and to the Muslim lady in a hijab who took my test. My arrival was a reminder of the somewhat normal. Coexistence. The Peace we should have.

It hits differently when you’re given such a stark and harsh reminder that you’re an indiscriminate target.

It hits differently when you’re in your hotel room, sad, anxious, worried, and you know really close by, people are celebrating tonight. Celebrating murders. Celebrating death.

It hits differently when you’re here. A 74 year old ‘safe’ haven. A haven for the Jews, to ensure we can be safe.

It hits differently because this land is a reminder. A remember that Am Yisrael Chai.

The children of Israel Live.

Israel Jewish Religion

What the hell is going on?

I shouldn’t have to, but I wanted to explain myself. For my sake and for no one else.

If you follow me on Twitter normally you’d find a very random mix of Tech, Jewishness, Music, Football, and general crap that somehow falls out my mind, into my fingers and onto twitter. Yet, for the last two days, I’ve barely tweeted anything apart from retweeting reports of things going on in Israel.

I’m anxious. Last night I barely slept. Today I couldn’t concentrate. This afternoon, as rockets rained down on Israel, I scrambled to text friends, telling them I was thinking of them, checking they were safe. Some friends in shelters, some without shelters. One friend told me how her grandfather of over 90, a holocaust survivor, wasn’t fast enough to move the the shelter and she had to help him.

But that’s all thousands of miles away. Why am I REALLY anxious?

Because every time there is an escalation in Israel, Anti-Semitism outside of Israel increases.
Living my life as a Jew thousands of miles from Israel gets more complex and scarier.

Complex because I feel I want to hide my identity. I’m proudly Jewish (and it just so happens, also proudly a Zionist.) Yet the moment there’s an escalation in Israel, I usually shut down that part of my personality among people I don’t know well. Why? Because the moment I declare my religious affinity, I get barraged with questions and queries, and accusations that I have done X Y or Z.

Scarier because you just don’t know how folk will react. Anti-semitism has already been on the increase in the last few years, and with tensions high in the Middle East, tensions get high elsewhere too. I know, and I am ever thankful to know, that quietly in the background while all this is going on, organisations like the CST are on high alert making plans to protect the UK Jewish community from whatever fall-out might occur here in the UK.

The media coverage of the events in Israel, and Gaza right now is poor. The bias is skewed, and the reasoning provided for actions often incorrect. A number of tweets yesterday showed Jews dancing at the Kotel (The holiest site in the Jewish world) while on top of temple mount, there was a fire. The tweets suggested the Jewish people were dancing with joy at the fire. Yesterday was Yom Yerushalayim – the day of the Unification of Jerusalem. The Jews were dancing because they could dance and pray there, as could their Christian, Armenian and Arab brothers, thanks to unification. (Before the 1967 war Jews were not allowed to visit the holiest site in the Jewish faith)… oh and the fire? The fire was a tree that caught light when struck by a firework fired from atop Temple Mount in the Al-Aqsa complex.

This is just one example of many, but equally is nothing new. Truth does not make for good news. The media doesn’t enjoy spreading balanced views and thrives on pitting one group against the other, fuelling the hate and enflaming the situation.

But really?… What do I think to what’s going on? I think THE WORLD can and should do better.

Does Israel have an upper hand? It’s hard to argue against it… but why do they have the upper hand?
Because the Palestinian people are failed time and time again by their terrorist dictatorship governments who have absolutely no intentions around the sanctity of the life of their people and focuses ONLY on the killing of Jews.

Did I say Jews and not Israelis? Yes. Why? Take a read of the Hamas Charter: (Wiki on the “Hamas Charter”) Press Ctrl + F and type “Jews”….
Hamas is the organisation that governs Gaza.

Imagine if this was the UK government cabinet, and the word “Jew” was replaced with “French”! The UN wouldn’t stand for it. Peace and human rights activists worldwide would be up in arms. Other countries would send troops in to overthrow militant power and ensure order was ensued.

The world can do better because the Palestinian people in Gaza deserve better than a government that doesn’t care about them. A government that doesn’t believe in peace, doesn’t want peace yet only wants and thrives on war.

The Palestinian people both in Gaza and the West Bank deserve a government that spends money on infrastructure, on healthcare, on development, on education and on growth. On a government that promotes co-existence, peace and love. A government that doesn’t waste money on rockets and terror tunnels. Doesn’t fire rockets from schools and hospitals, and doesn’t brainwash it’s people into extremist ideologies.

I strongly believe in rights for our Palestinian brothers and sisters. (an Arab friend and I often joke we are far more similar than we like to admit). BUT, I believe the best and most sustainable path to rights and peace, is to ensure those leading way and leading the people are doing it with the correct intent.

To ‘Free Palestine’ is not “from the river to the sea” (a call for the destruction of Israel), is to free the Palestinians from their maligned government, and it will take the world to speak out, in order to do so.

Oseh shalom bimromav
Hu ya’aseh shalom aleynu
Ve’al kol yisrael
Ve’imru Amen

He who makes peace in his high places
He shall make peace upon us
And upon all of Israel
And say Amen


Holocaust Memorial Day 2019

Today is Holocaust Memorial day, a day worldwide where we think of the atrocities of the holocaust and say “Never again”… Thinking back over the events of the last two weeks, and to the funeral of the 6 victims of the holocaust I was honoured to volunteer at, I realise how lucky I am. The majority of my family that I know of, have no direct links to the holocaust. I know of some cousins who perished in Majdanek (Thanks to the power of facebook!) but unlike many of my friends, I have no real direct link.

While we say “never again” we also note that anti-Semitism is on the rise. Where I don’t have a direct link to holocaust, I do carry with me a reminder of anti-semitism everywhere I go. You see, my grandfather, was “Philip Phillips”, an odd name if you ask me.  We knew the family name was Smolleransky, (I think that’s how it’s spelt) but I’d always assumed the family name had been changed when the family had come to England and my Great Grandparents were somehow clinging on.

It wasn’t until I made a flippant comment about this to grandma about a year ago, that she explained;

My Grandfather was born Philip Smolleransky. During the war, his Dad (My great grandfather) decided to fight for the British army… but was scared to use the name Smolleransky – Grandma’s words were “It wasn’t a good idea to go to the British army with a name like Smolleransky… you wouldn’t be accepted”…. People in England struggled to pronounce Smolleransky and used to refer to my Great Great Grandparents (are you keeping up?) as “Mr & Mrs Phillip” as my Great Great Granddad’s name was Philip….

… so through fear of anti-Semitism, the family name was changed to Phillips… My grandfather’s birth and wedding certificates say “Changed by deed poll”, and the course of our family history changed forever.

It scares me, that in 2019, with the world more advanced that it ever has been… where each race knows more about each other than ever before we’ve not learnt the lessons of our recent history of 1941-1945 and anti-Semitism is back up on the rise.

I don’t for one moment plan to change my name back… mainly because as a child I struggled to spell Phillips and wouldn’t want to pain my children with Smolleranksy… but I do often wonder what the world would have been like, if my Great Grandparents weren’t fearful all those years ago, and I’d been Steven Smolleransky.

Jewish Personal Train Travel

Leaving a mark

Originally was going to be called “The one when I write about the train”.

I initially wrote this a few weeks ago. I never published it, but tonight on the tube home I came across it again and thought for a moment how, earlier in this week, people who had previously had no common denominator, other than being in the same place in the same time, just as I’d been on the train with the people below, were thrust into a common sense of being… A mark in their life, and sadly in some cases a mark of their life….

The tube is mundane. Every day for the last 13 months, I’ve chucked myself out of bed at the crack of dawn, thrown myself through the bathroom, wandered (or ran when late) to the bus stop. Shoved myself on the bus before spending best part of an hour crammed into a metal tube train.
There is a very good reason why some lines on the London Underground are described as “tubes”. Small circular tube shaped tunnels with small circular tube shaped trains. You’re often in closer proximity to a stranger than you’re happy being in with your friends, and most of the time during rush hour it’s an unpleasant experience.
Yet this evening, post drinks with an ex-colleague, I found something beautiful in the experience. Thinking a little about it, the enjoyment possibly stems from the hell-like experience before dinner. I took the Jubilee line. Typically British were the queues on the platform, yet unlike Brits, in the least prim and proper way, it was a free-for-all to find a small space to cram yourself into once on the train. A man placed his arm in my face and left it there… There I was, three stops inside a random man’s arm.
Yet tonight, I got on the train somewhere else, somewhere different to my normal commute. I missed the first train. I couldn’t see the screen as to where it was going. As it left, I said to myself, “There’s a reason that happened”
The train arrived and it was fairly empty. Three people in my section, another couple of people further up the carriage. We spread ourselves out (As only the best British, non-communicative commuters could do) and got hard to work ignoring each other.
Whilst doing our best to ignore each other, headphones in, kindle in hand, and nervously playing with a shopping bag, my mind started to wander. Wondering about the lives of these random people sat so close to me. So close, yet so far. I studied for a second the diversity within the carriage. I noticed the lady opposite me was wearing a Muslim headscarf. The lady further up was holding a bag from a supermarket which didn’t have an English name. By now others had got on the train. Some tourists holding a book, a man with ripped jeans and a bright red coat. He had blonde highlights and I noticed the bright contrast of colours.
I started wondering about these people’s lives… Their upbringing, their personal history. A story I’m so close to, yet in a few moments time will be yet again so far away from. Had the Muslim woman always worn a scarf? How would she feel if she knew the music playing in My IPod was a Jewish song? Where did the woman with the supermarket bag come from? What did the man in the ripped jeans do for a job?
As I started writing this, I noticed that almost as I was studying each person for a split second, they got up and left the train. As this percolated in my head, I realised I could have spoken to them, smiled at them… I became so close to making a mark in their current history, their life, their moment, but didn’t. I’d stopped paying attention to the music playing in my iPod and was focused on them for a split second. But they had no clue.
I came to the conclusion that chances are they wouldn’t want me to make a mark in their lives. I’m a randomer on the train. But… It’s made me think deeply about the mark I leave on other peoples lives… My family… My friends… The people I work with.
At the end of the day, we’re all just on a train to our destination… No train service in the world runs perfectly without delay. There’s always the chance to get a red signal. But while the service is good, you have to make the most of your journey and ensure you leave a good mark on those in your carriage. Everyone gets off at a different stop in life.
(Talking of which, it’s time for me to get off this train!)
In memory of the 22 people unjustly murdered earlier this week at the Arianna Grande concert in Manchester.

“We must fight terrorism as if there’s no peace process and work to achieve peace as if there’s no terror.” – Yitzhak Rabin