Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

The other

There is a moment in time when one suddenly is inspired. When in the depths of despair there is a glint of light and one must follow it or else all is doomed. To relate to the political situation at this time is to sink into a deep depression. The antics of many of those who would represent us in the Knesset have to my mind been deplorable. Be that as it may, this is the land I love and am attached to but not always that I feel a part of!

Recently, I was invited to Berlin with other Israeli women, Jews, Christians, Druze and Moslems to each give our narratives. Including in our group were the International Musical artist Miriam Toukan and her wonderful accompanist Idan Toledano.

We were treated royally, that is with profound respect, by the Secretary of State for Berlin Sawsan Chebli herself a Palestinian who with her family, found sanctuary in Berlin.

Sawsan is a beautiful, erudite woman a firebrand at heart and foremost in the fight against racism in any shape or form.

Our visit included meeting “the other”. We were at several official events including a symposium in the impressive Rathaus where the City Hall is housed. The visit was enhanced by appearances by Miriam and Idan who sang in Arabic, English and Hebrew, charming the varied audiences, equally.

This event came to fruition due to the efforts of my friend Ina Darmsteder of the Canaan Project, an activist for the ratification of UNSCR 1325. Whose heart is equally shared between Israelis and Palestinians?  Not less by the efforts of Birgitte Strunk, coordinator of cultural relations between  Berlin and Middle Eastern countries, who during her official visit to Israel had stayed in my home.

Much of Birgitte’s time was spent at Tel Aviv Municipality and she even accompanied my family when we went to vote locally in the Municipal Elections. She also travelled extensively around the country accessing places of co-existence activities and other cultural and spiritual experiences which could be exploited through mutual visits. Consequently, due to her, I had an enlightening fortnight!

In Berlin, the most meaningful event was meeting in Neukoln with immigrant women who with their families, had found a haven in Berlin. Sitting in a circle each of us including, Sausan, Miriam and I told our story. The only difficult moment for me was when a woman who happened to be at my side burst into tears and recalled how her father had been killed in Lebanon by the Israelis. She did not say when and where and since she was almost hysterical I was unable to respond in any way which would have made sense. However, as we reached the end of the circle the woman who closed the session was a refugee from Turkey with a great sense of humour. She made everyone smile when she emphasised that we are all women with similar needs, the foremost being the safety and security of our families. So wherever we can find that, we have to make every effort to be part of that society and gain and contribute to it.

Today on receiving the annual New Year appeal from the association for For Mouth and Foot painting I was again reminded again of “the other.”

Years ago we had purchased a painting by Ariel Arbetman who lives in the Maon for artists who paint with  Mouth and Foot, in Netanya. It’s a startling painting of a sailing boat. My husband who was then still with me asked the curator of the exhibition the name of the artist. He maintained that the artist must have had the experience of sailing since the painting was so lifelike! With that, someone introduced us to Ariel’s parents and they said that indeed despite the fact that he is paraplegic, he loves to go out to sea.

So today, I called the association and almost tearfully recounted my experience.

So now many years later I see that the pure will to live, coupled with innate talent has kept this amazing guy productive and positive and still giving others the opportunity to share his talent. That should be the lesson for us all. Beauty, integrity and feeling can be found in the other, do not be blinded by mistrust, hatred and bigots. What we do with our lives at the end of our day is up to our will alone and not only what society and the media throw at us.

Love thy neighbour…you all know the expression in Hebrew and always empathise with those less fortunate, for only then do we find the true meaning of life.

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.