Change is Strange

While awaiting the results of the Likud primaries within the hour ( I regrettably foresee no change), I’m sipping tea with a friend who is sharing experiences of a recent cruise to Russia, Estonia and Sweden.

He was extremely impressed with the magnificent city of St. Petersburg, the restored historic name of what was, under Communism, Leningrad.

He described to me the splendid palaces, cathedrals, synagogue, hotels, luxurious shops and restaurants and in particular, the crowds of happy Russians flocking the streets and wide boulevards of the city.

It brought back to me memories of my visit to Leningrad in 1969 when Russia was still the Soviet Union. I don’t think there are many European cities which can compete and compare to the glory and majesty of Petrograd (Saint Petersburg).

When I visited the Choral synagogue one evening there were about 15 or 20 elderly men standing around chatting with one another. One approached me, asked where I was from, but I do not have more than a handful of Russian words in my vocabulary. When I said “Israel” his eyes lit up. In Yiddish he asked me if I wanted to daven, to chant the evening prayers.

Walking out of the synagogue on my way back to my hotel, the old man walked behind me and quietly said “be careful who you talk to” and then he disappeared into the metro underground.

Things have changed since 1969. One need not be especially careful with whom to speak. The synagogue is well-attended on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Change has come to Leningrad/St. Petersburg. Change has come to Russia.

My friend spoke of the visit to Tallin, capital of Estonia. I had never been to the Baltic lands of Estonia, Lithuania or Latvia. A different world. Under communism, Jewish life was scant and hardly visible.

Today my friend talks about a visit to the Tallin synagogue and the warm, smiling reception given to him by Estonian Jewish worshippers. Change has come to Estonia.

His visit to Sweden both surprised and bothered me. “Anti-Semitism”, he said. “Sweden is a hot-bed for anti-Semites and anti-Israel gatherings”.

I have not visited in Sweden but I have, as most Jews have, very warm sentiments for the Sweden of 1943. It was then at the time when Denmark, under Nazi occupation, was successful in smuggling its Jewish population out of the country by boats to nearby neutral Sweden where they were welcomed by Swedish citizens, given shelter through the remaining war years, and were royally greeted by the King of Sweden.

Even in 1968-1969 during the anti-Semitic government in Poland and its persecution of most remaining Jews, Poland granted Jews exit permits to travel to Sweden, a country which welcomed them, provided shelter and jobs.

What has caused the change? Why has Sweden now become a home to so many Jew-haters? Why has neutral Sweden become a supporter of Palestinians and terrorists?

One reason is for the poor lack in Israel’s hasbara…. its information services, communications and its explanations.

Another reason is because Sweden has become home to large numbers of Arabs and asylum-seekers who bring with them a distaste for Jews and a hatred of Zionist Israel whom they view as the “occupiers” of Palestine.

I am smiling now as I look at the photos of Bibi and Sara Netanyahu at the ballot box, both dressed in blue and white. Is it a secret message to voters that Bibi may voluntarily step-down in favor of the Gantz-Lapid Blue-and-White party? Halevai. But such a change, while strange, is not in the picture.

One strange change is a very welcome change. In Casablanca, Morocco where 3,000 Jews live in peace, the largest Jewish population in a Muslim country, some 800 attended a Chanukah celebration with Said Ahmidouche, the governor of Casablanca, appointed by His Majesty, King Mohammed VI. A welcome first for Morocco.

An historic change which overwhelms positive hopes for a diplomatic recognition of Israel. Change is strange !

Less than 50%of Likud voters braved the stormy winds and torrential rain to cast their ballots at ballot stations. Results should be posted about one o’clock in the morning. Will you stay awake?

Now after midnight the first results show a Netanyahu win by a landslide. No change. No surprise. Not strange.

But many of us have wished that the landslide might have resulted in sliding Netanyahu out of the land.

A third farcical round of elections in March. Strange. Let’s hope for a change !

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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