Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

A standing ovation

The scream of the siren catches me by surprise. I am having coffee with a guest from Vancouver. He immediately jumps up and stands to attention, I rush to the balcony to look below. The siren temporarily silences the birds which abound in the trees surrounding my apartment block.Its totally quiet in our neighbourhood although we overlook Beit Frankfurt a community centre courtesy of the German people.

On most days there are all sorts of locals in and out of the building.

I peer below and am joined by my guest and there in front of the entrance to the centre is a tall young man clutching a baby close to his chest.

He is standing absolutely still. I see the tiny legs of the baby but it is not crying, safe in the arms of Daddy.

“Only in Israel” says my guest, touched by the scene. “Its not like this in Vancouver or anywhere I have ever been.”

Later in the day we go to the Cameri Theatre for a performance of Yehoshua Sobol’s  masterpiece “Ghetto”.

Tickets were hard to come by although there were three performances advertised for this special day.  I had ordered seats in the “Gods” as we in England called the uppermost seats in the theatre. There were no others available.

I was warned that the performance had been almost sold out to students from Yud Aleph classes around the country.  While waiting to enter the hall we were shocked at the noise in the lobby. Young boys and girls with mobiles and loud voices were behaving as most teens do, only today is Yom Hashoah.

We enter the hall climb up to the top and find we have reasonable seats in the middle of the row. All around the young people are not only talking but also texting. My Canadian companion points out to those nearby, that they should not be opening their phones or talking through the performance.

Most acquiesce some look annoyed and the curtain goes up, while the lights go down. My friend who understands hebrew was disappointed to see subtitles in Russian but not in English.

I explain why and then add  “this is a consummate piece of theatre with action and music. You will enjoy it even if you do not understand every word”.  I had already seen the show years before. The performance was outstanding and the audience was enraptured.If someone dared to speak or whisper there was an immediate “shush” from those nearby.

As the play drew to its close there was an instant standing ovation, the like of which I had never seen in an Israeli theatre. White shirted young beautiful Israelis stood and clapped and whistled as if they had been  on an adrenaline high  at a pop concert..

Their enthusiasm for each and every player,some whom they recognised from  movies and television, reached its peak with screams of admiration for Itai Tiran  who played the cruel nazi officer Keitel, Commander of the Vilna Ghetto.

I was in tears watching these young Israelis and thinking of how fortunate I was. My childhood years growing up in the London Blitz could have suddenly ended so differently had the Nazis conquered the British Isles. Indeed I would not have been sitting in this beautifully appointed theatre in the heart of Tel Aviv.

With the passing years the horrors of that period do not lessen and therefore should be a constant reminder that genocide, denial of human rights and systematic dehumanisation exist around us and in many parts of the world.

As my close friend Professor Elihu Richter, Head of the Centre for the Prevention of Genocide, Hebrew University always reminds us “the Shoah did not begin with gas chambers……….

As we now look to Yom Hazicharon we inwardly pray that even though the Israeli people can fight back,we will find the means to live a life of security, tolerance and economic progress with those around us.

We dread the thought of ever being displaced and persecuted again.

We owe  the future soldiers, our sons daughters and grandchildren, those watching the show today, to do everything humanly and humanely possible, for all who live on this land. It is incumbent on us to seek ways to a real and enduring, mutually agreed peaceful solution.

Not a final solution.

My very dear friend Lucy is a survivor of Theresienstadt, Auschwittz, Shtuthof and Cyprus camps. She will be 90 years old soon. She is a beautiful gentle but determined,erudite woman who is tolerant and forward thinking. Lucy deplores racism,violence and inequality.

She does not hate and believes in a two State solution. She tells me that in Tiberias where she now lives her Doctors are mostly arab. Whenever she is in hospital she meets delightful muslim and christian women.

Lucy should be an example to us all.

I give her and others who like her have been “to hell and back” a standing ovation!.

About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.
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