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Journal Entry: March 26, 2022

Just finished reading Secret Asset by Stella Rimington first published in 2006. For those who are not familiar with the author, Stella Rimington worked for MI5 (Britain's domestic security service as opposed to MI6 which handles external security) between 1969 and 1996, one of the most turbulent and dramatic periods in global history. Working in all the main fields of the Service's responsibilities - counter-subversion, counter-espionage, and counter-terrorism - she became successively Director of all three branches, and finally Director-General of MI5 in 1992. She was the first woman to hold the post and the first Director-General whose name was publicly announced on appointment.

Since her retirement, Stella Rimington has embarked on a career as a thriller writer with her main character being MI5 office Liz Carlyle. For the most part, her books, which I have read so far four, are enjoyable. However, in Secret Asset fact-checking seems to have been thrown out the window.

Rimington refers via one of her characters to the 1967 Israel-Arab war known both in English and Hebrew as the Six-Day War. Somehow this June 1967 war becomes the Seven Day War. Fact-checking/editorial slip up?

Before reading Secret Asset I had immersed myself in Beneath a Scarlet Sky by US author Mark Sullivan. A fine writer, Sullivan has also partnered with James Patterson on several novels.

Although classed as a novel, the narrative is based on the true story of Pino Lella of Milan and his triumphant and incredible courage and resilience during the Nazi occupation of Italy.

For history buffs such as myself, the story of Pino Lella highlights the sometimes forgotten events of Italy’s latter war years.

In a similar vein, I watched recently a YouTube clip entitled Why Many Casual Historians Overlook Spain's True Level of Involvement in WW2. It’s worth recalling that the Spanish Civil War of 1936/39 proved a testing ground for the Nazis and their military tactics.

In recent years as I question religion, I have struggled to find words to describe how I feel. A few weeks ago, I came across a profile of the Israeli journalist, author, television, and radio commentator, and former leader of the Israel Labour party, Shelly Yachimovich.

Shelly Yachimovich describes herself as an atheist. On Judaism, she says "My Judaism is one of identity: I am part of a family and part of a people with a shared fate, history, culture and customs. My extended (ultra-Orthodox) family was destroyed in the Holocaust and my parents who survived were angry at God and felt betrayed. Paradoxically, even though I have a much more conciliatory attitude and harbor no resentment toward religion, and feel connected to the sources on the social level – their anger contained much greater faith. To be totally honest, I turn to God in times of trouble, just in case. He helps, and then like an ingrate, I return to my secularism."

There is something in the assertion “that religion, all religions, were invented by man to control man”. Yet Yachimovich’s double-headed statement about being an atheist but also identifying with Judaism as a family, part of a people sums up my state of mind most satisfactorily.

The funeral of Rabbi Haim Kanievsky last Sunday cost the Israeli economy approximately NIS 1.5 billion, according to an analysis by the business data company CoFace BDI. That is not a typo – yes, 1.5 billion shekels. That is 466,704,888.00 US Dollars. A staggering, mind-blowing amount.

Some 3,000 police officers took part in securing the funeral, which attracted approximately 850,000 people according to estimates in Hebrew media reports and shut down large swathes of the country's center.

The estimate was based on the loss of work due to Gush Dan residents being unable to travel to their workplace or parents staying home with kids who were unable to travel to school, according to BDI co-CEO Tehila Yanai.

The estimate also included the alternative costs of a large number of police, IDF, and rescue forces that were deployed at the site of the funeral in Bnei Brak, Yanai explained.

While I can appreciate certain segments of the population wanting to show respect to this venerable rabbi, should the country have to bank role to the tune of 1.5 billion shekels this admiration?

Israel for the past two years has struggled with the effects of Covid-19 on its economy and has witnessed firsthand the devastation Corona has wrecked on the country.

It is hard not to feel emotional when viewing the conflict in Ukraine, despite the region's history of antisemitism in the past, which may remain today.

The human spirit cries out for the underdog pitted against the aggression of Putin and his gang of yes-men.

The following open letter to the Ukrainian president, Vlodomor Zelenskyy, has been circulating in various Israeli/Jewish WhatsApp group communications. (I have not changed the text but I have edited the grammar.)

Dear Vlodomor Zelenskyy,

So let's clear a few things up.

You're the underdog here and Israel usually aligns itself with the underdog because the truth is that in every war we've fought, we were the underdog because we were out-numbered, isolated, and countries like yours chose to align themselves with our enemies. In your case, more than 35 times in recent years.

Let's be clear, Israel doesn't owe Ukraine ANYTHING. It is our choice to send what aid we feel is appropriate, and we have. Vast amounts of humanitarian aid, medical assistance, bulletproof ambulances, and more. You're welcome.

Your comparison of the Holocaust to today's fight is abhorrent and historically inaccurate. The Jews didn't have an army, anti-aircraft missiles, 100,000 rifles to distribute to our people, and no military training.

No one sent aid and rescue missions and let's not even begin to describe how the majority of the Ukrainians treated our people.

You feel that we owe you because you are Jewish, your parents are Jewish.

I guess we won't mention that your children are not only not-Jewish but have, with your permission, been baptized.

So let's do this. You stop complaining that Israel isn't doing enough, start saying thank you, and next time a vote comes up in the UN, remember how many Arab countries stood by, while Israel acted.

And if you want Israel to CONTINUE to support Ukraine, don't you dare compare your situation, where tragically over 900 have died, to the massacre of more than six million Jews in World War II, to the victims who lie in mass graves, like Babi Yar.

We'll help, not because you are a Jew, but because WE are Jews.

Powerful words which the first time I read them left me with tears in my eyes.

Last Friday, I spent a pleasant few hours having lunch with dear friends at Fish in Rishon Le Zion. The restaurant was packed – Friday lunchtime. While the meal was enjoyable, and of course the company excellent, the service left much to be desired. But what irked me was the steady use of the Arabic word “Ahlan”, the literal translation being hello.

Notwithstanding my years in the country, I still struggle with Hebrew so I should certainly not be the one to pass comment, and yet, I question why we are lazy in using Hebrew. Would it have been so bad had the Greeters and Seaters and waiting staff said shalom? Using ahlan makes them, I understand, come across as being friendly, outgoing.

It’s rather like the telephone cold-callers who start every conversation with a “hi, how are you”? As if they are my best friends. My response to that opening line is always “what do you want to sell me”? Deflates the conversation immediately. Or, they start the conversation off by mispronouncing my name in such a way that I take against instantly.

I wish I could remember, but I recall Jerry Sheinfled had a wonderful rebuke for cold-callers.


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