Zelda Harris
Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

Who deserves recognition?

Today our Prime Minister in his own home, is to be interviewed, interrogated or just plain questioned on one of the accusations against him. This time it’s about his “relationship” with the owner of Israel’s last daily paper, Yediot Hachronot.

Earlier on radio this morning It was announced that another suspect in the close circle of our Prime Minister was investigated for no less than 14 hours.

Imagine how many days weeks and hours are invested in these investigations which in the eyes of the public and world at large reflect the democratic, lawful basis on which our society rests.How many truths, versions, lies, distortions come to the fore in these sessions?

During the last month, I was interviewed but fortunately not interrogated, three times. Firstly, as an Israeli Jewish woman who is involved in developing relations with Arab women in the region, in our mutual quest for peace. Secondly as a widow, in today’s society.  Thirdly about how I view the medical establishments’ attitude to the sexual mores and needs of the “third age”?

Being old and a widow has its benefits. More freedom in choosing how to spend one’s time, less obligation, and being the object of loving attention, even if it’s sparse due to the pressures of modern society on the younger generation these days.

However, it has its downside which naturally makes one more dependent than one would want to be, especially when ill health or simply falling and breaking a leg involve an overnight in the emergency room at Ichilov Hospital.

One thing though permeates the relationship of the older generation with the younger and that is that young people today do not want to learn from us. It was “your time” “many years ago” it’s different today! But is it so different, doesn’t the experience of the older generation count for something? Wisdom and hindsight, at least.

For me, it was satisfying that three totally unconnected young people had chosen to hear what I had to say.To them, I wasn’t an old lady, but rather, an interesting human being with history and experience.

The late President Chaim Herzog with whom I worked in the Committee of Concerned Citizens during the years 1978-81 to bring about a change in Israel’s Electoral System always said that we should have an “upper house” in the Knesset, similar to the House of Lords in the UK. A place where retirees who had served in high positions or achieved academic acclaim could continue to make a positive contribution to the political and social life in our country.

Herzog also viewed the exit of many young professionals in 1978(which was when he returned from the United Nations in New York) as an indication of lack of confidence in a system where no one actually was accountable to the electorate, only to the party. Proportional representation (PR) characterizes electoral systems by which divisions in an electorate are reflected proportionately in the elected body.That’s what we were trying to achieve in the Committee of Concerned Citizens which we founded in 1978.

So be it with recognition, that’s about what people did.One doesn’t always succeed but any attempt to improve the quality of life and society in a country to which you came as an immigrant has to be worth something.

It was my cousin the prolific published historian Professor Colin Shindler who exactly a week ago sent me an email with an attachment “The  Aliyah 100 list” from the Jewish News in London and wrote, “Congratulations you’re number 5!”

I was totally surprised and very touched by the fact that people had voted for me when the list of the 100 was indeed impressive.

Everyone knows that any NGO is dependant on its members and supporters for success.Those who hold the rudder are merely the”front person” but there are also those who donate their time and money voluntarily.

So I just want to take this opportunity to say “Thank You ” to all those who “sailed with me” on the somewhat stormy seas of issues for which we raised public awareness and which we believed that if addressed positively would benefit many sectors of society.

I have my own list of 100 people to thank some very well known in Israeli society others less so and certainly not all British.I would like to have had the opportunity to do that publicly but sadly I am not in the position to do so, the recognition did not come with a financial reward.

For all those who read this or have seen the facebook posts please accept this token of gratitude from the bottom of my heart.

I just want to take the opportunity to thank the women who have been my role models and in one way or another helped me.: Nurit Grossman Founder of Anashim B’Adom, Jeanette Miller z’l ZF, Anat Hoffman of IRAC, Merle Guttman of ESRA,  Prof. Alice Shalvi, Number One on the Jewish News List, Prof.Yuli Tamir,Prof.Frances Radday,Sylvia Wallis, the spirit and drive behind both Yad Sarah and Melabev and an unstinting supporter, my “right hand” at BIPAC Linda Levine,my friend and former boss,Jane Biran,Rona Hart my PA in CCC,Dr Racelle Wieman,Yael Dayan,Hadassah Birnbaum, Former Deputy Mayor of Netanya Shosh Arar,Ruth Rasnic  as well as all the wonderful women who worked with me in the Metuna office.Sylvia,Suzie,Anita,Terry, and  our Mankalit Orna Sandler.  Linda Streit and her mother Lady Shirley Porter who believed in us. Yetta Pope, the wife of my Chairman Ivan Pope without whom there would not have been a road safety organisation.  As well as the wives of, the outstanding men who gave unstintingly of their time :Alma Richter, Malka Adler, Aura Herzog, Andrea Katz and more.

Lastly to the wonderful women leaders in the Soviet Jewry Campaign Doreen Gainsford, Barbara Oberman,  Zena Clayton z”l, Delysia Jayson z’l, Linda Isaacs z’l, Margaret Regal z”l, Renee Johnson z”l, Ruth Direktor z’l, Barbara Portner z’l, Lena Prestin z’l and Mara Abramovitch,Yelena Polsky and all the wonderful refusenik wives and Ruth Baron, without whom we would not have had such a successful Aliyah from the FSU.

I feel sure that there are more to whom I owe so much and I am happy to add any names.

The woman who more than anyone in this world I owe the greatest vote of thanks is my mother Rene Spigelman who encouraged and supported me through every phase in my life and every crazy cause that I took upon myself.  Even though she herself, had never sat on a committee or spoken from a platform.

She was my wise stable guide and mentor.Widowed at 37 and yet without an envious or mean bone in her body, she was an exemplary parent and human being.Also a volunteer par excellence during her final years in Netanya.

Last but not least my late husband Leon who although endured immense health problems for most of his life was my greatest fan and love.

I think it goes without saying that our three wonderful and accomplished sons were very proud of their mother. Here’s a small story about my brilliant son Anthony who died at the peak of his career in 2003.

As a disgruntled 13 year old at the height of Soviet Jewry 35″s activities he asked me “Why aren’t you like Mrs. Bloom?(mother of one of his school friends).

“What does she do for you boys that’s so special?” Well, we all go back there after Rugby practice and she always has a pile of sandwiches and cakes that she has made specially. She’s is always at home, not like you on demonstrations”

I thought for a moment and said: “Well, Anthony who is more interesting Mrs. Bloom or me?” “Oh, you are Mum, you are”!

A few years after that Mrs. Bloom tragically died of cancer. Anthony and his friends were also “out on the streets”. Then we returned to Israel.

I still have a lump in my throat.

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.