Tuesday, 23 October 2012



On Friday I cooked all day. Till the last frenzied cold shower and candle lighting I cooked – the way I always do. Only a few days before the big “S” yet the need to cook and entertain and nurture in our home is still strong. So on Friday I cooked my heart out, for all the years I have always cooked, as a salute to the many, many good meals we have eaten in this house, to the many guests we have had around our table. And also to store up in myself, the memory of that cooking, for the months that will lie ahead. I made in no particular order; chicken soup, plum tart in a short-crust pastry, shepherd’s pie, vegetarian shepherd’s pie, roast chicken in marinade, roast potatoes, whole wheat couscous, zucchini sautéed with onion and herbs, chocolate mousse, an orange-honey turkey breast, smoked salmon pate, fried rings of eggplant in olive oil and garlic, and adamame with coarse salt. On Shabbat I ditched shul and communed with God in the kitchen: fresh fruit salad made with slices of peaches, plums, apples, oranges and grapes in a triple-sec syrup; tomato, olive and palm hearts salad; green-cabbage coleslaw hand- cut with and a mayo/paprika/garlic-salt dressing.

A Shabbat worth cooking for, with Yonatan, Shira and Moriyah home for Shabbat, some journalist friends around for “tea” in the afternoon, and our dear Leonie and  Chaim with us in the evening for a “LeChayim” over beautiful Shani’s engagement. New friends and old to take the sting out of our lives, to make us ache less.

Late, Aryeh and I watched the very last of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Return of the King”. I am convulsed with weeping as I write this silly line, so the waitresses at Café Ithamar where I’m writing this, stand over at the cash till and whisper  to each other. One of them approaches and says gently: “Hakol beseder?” meaning not the usual “is the food okay?” but “are you okay?” I can’t answer so she walks carefully away, as if from a dead bird or a hospital patient, casting one concerned glance over her shoulder. To explain to her the goodbyes to all the precious, precious things that have been shared over the years? I think not.

The Return of the King.  Watching it, I come to understand what all my friends have already told me; that things will probably get a lot worse before they get better. And then maybe, once the ring has been cast into the flames, maybe things will get better quite quickly and drastically. But maybe not. Maybe I‘ll have to give up breakfast at Café Ithamar for years. Maybe I won’t be able to afford having a regular leg wax. I haven’t had hairy legs since I was sixteen.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

A Big "S"

Our separation will begin on Wednesday, October 10. Its hard to think of separation as having a date. Its hard to think of separation. I think thats separation with a big S.

We agreed on Sukkot as an island of time in which some sort of family normality would be upheld before the big S began. We would build a sukka as usual. We would have company around as usual. We would bring the TV up and watch Lord of the Rings, all three movies, in the evenings. In the daytime we would sit in the sukka with our laptops, Aryeh would sing and play his guitar, the children would come by and visit, food and drink would be plentiful, the breeze would lift our hair and our spirits around five, the sun would set around six, fairly lights would be blinking in the sukka by seven.

This year unepxrtected winds and rains have rifled through the sukka like agents of CIA looking for evidence. Pictures lift off the walls and wineglasses roll to the floor and smash, sending shards of glass all over the floor. The Ushpizin I lovingly painted and framed many years ago falls forwards and clatters to the floor. Lying back on the Sukka couch and gazing up at the decorations my eyes fill with tears. I dont like to call this the last sukkot. Two ominous and dramatic for me, a term for death. But a lesser death nevertheless is occurring here; the death of how things were always done, the death of a home which functioned a certain way, the death of two peoples chosen life together moulded into one. I think my soul has not yet begun to mourn the passing of these things. The idea of my home no longer being home is something I can hardly touch the edge of. But it must be touched. It must even be embraced.

My jouney only beginning, I lie back and stare up at the sukka palm leaves, all grown in my own garden, between them the stars winking. Wish me luck. I know there will be times when I will long for this sukka - I pray to be blessed with another one day. I loved my Bayit Neeman BeYisrael. I pray to be blessed with another one of those, too.

Thursday, 3 March 2011


Imagine you live in a country where most things are new, and if they are not new they are very old.

Imagine you live in a country where you labour to build the institutions you need to live a life – your daughter’s high school, a center for child development, the local pizza store, a new system for emergency medicine, a software company.

Imagine that when you buy a house the land around it has never been planted, so you yourself lay the grass, and plant orange trees, lemon trees, olive trees, and passion fruit. And twenty one vines of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Imagine living on a hill top and seeing the first supermarket open in your town, the first baby clinic, the first hairdresser, the first falafel store.

Imagine praying in an air raid shelter for twelve years, because it takes you twelve years to build a synagogue in your community. Imagine the first Friday night prayers in the synagogue when it has been built: the women crying, the men crying, the hugging and the laughing, the sense of something achieved that beats anything you have ever done before.

Imagine commuting into Jerusalem every day from Bet Shemesh, up the back road past the Soreq stream, into the hills and out by the Hadassah hospital with its helicopter landing pad on the roof. Imagine the turquoise skies on winter mornings, the yellow acacia, the pine, the wild cyclamen, and almond blossoms in the winter chill. On your way you will pass the stalagmite caves, the Nataf ancient farming community, with its terraced agriculture channels hundreds of years old, and a monastery tucked into the hillside. As you commute over the years a brand new wing of Hadassah will be built, springing up in front of your eyes.

Imagine walking up the Jaffa Road into the center of town, the pavements torn up, the shouts of the builders, construction engineers in their hard hats, the hollow cement pipes being laid into place, the traffic jams, the bus delays, the potholes in the ground, the trailing wires and then – brand new paving laid along the entire length of the street, tree saplings trees with the red mounds of “humra” laid carefully at the base of each.

And when you have lived here 25 years, when you think you probably could not experience any more building and growing and newness, the new electric trains begin to glide up and down the Jaffa Road, silent, sleek and slender on their trial journeys past the new shops and new hotels and new office buildings. Twenty children with cancer are given the first ride, because they may not make it for the grand opening later this year.

Imagine your son going to law school at the Hebrew University, where he studies Turkish law and British law and Israeli law in a building where the cornerstone was laid in 1918, while he lives in a student village built in 2008. Imagine your daughter studying Talmud in a girl’s seminary on a Kibbutz in the Jordan valley, imagine her riding her bicycle every day along neatly planed kibbutz paths to the Bet Midrash, where she will study for a year, then enter the army to work in Intellgence.

At the end of a day’s work you come home to sit on your balcony and look out at the garden you have planted, the palm trees and the bougainvillea and the rosemary and lavender and jasmine, and you sip on the Cabernet Sauvignon wine you have made from your vines, and you watch the hoopoe birds with their yellow tails, the green parakeets and turquoise kingfishers who have come to live in your garden. Somewhere a child practices on the piano, and two cats get into a fight, and you realize you had better go in and get dinner started. Strawberries have just come into season, so you might have those for desert.

Imagine there’s no countries, wrote John Lennon, but he was wrong. What are our lives without our love for the countries we live in? Especially if the country we live in lets us know, a thousand times a day, that the work we do and the children we bear and the people we befriend is something miraculous, something being carved into the universe that goes way beyond our own small, human life. No religion too, wrote John Lennon, but what are our lives if we cannot thank God every day for the newness and the oldness, the hardhats and the traffic jams, the kingfishers and the electric trains, a synagogue so ancient that only its mosaic floors remain, a synagogue so new that a wild white rabbit, displaced from its home, is still living under the cement foundations holding up the banquet hall.

Imagine life in a region where nothing is certain and nothing is promised, nothing except the passion and the commitment and the sacrifice of the people around you, their children almost as precious to you as your own. Imagine a country at war where every second of peace is treasured and loved, where every soldier in uniform dreams of the student village at Hebrew University, where every winter downpour is prayed for and celebrated.

This is your country and there is no need for you to imagine. Your grandmother had to imagine, and her mother before her and her mother too. For centuries only the imagining was possible, but now you can step out beyond imagining into the future of a Jewish country, molding it with your own hands, bringing your voice to its government and media and culture, painting your face into its landscape. Nothing you ever do – buying a new kind of cheese in the supermarket, chatting with the bus driver on your way to work, or planting a tree in your garden will feel like it is nothing. You will feel like it is everything, and you will be right.

A few hundred words ago I asked you to imagine, but I take it back.

Don’t imagine.

Just come.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

DISSONANCE or TWO FAT BOYS An evening with Etgar Keret and Jonathan Safran Foer at Mishkenot Shaananim in Jerusalem.

Last week I had the privilege of attending an event at Mishkenot Shaananim in Jerusalem. Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” presented an evening together with Israel's well known author Etgar Keret.

Safran Foyer opened by reading a story he had recently written called “Here We Aren't, So Quickly" (The New Yorker, June 14 & 21, 2010). I've tried to download this breathtakingly brilliant and beautiful piece on the internet, but no luck, you have to be a subscriber. I'm thinking of subscribing to the New Yorker just so I can get hold of this story. When hearing Safran Foer read it, I felt I was in the presence of something bizarre, something al-tivi (above nature) as we say in Hebrew. I don’t mean the standard cliché of being wowed by a Great Writer. I mean being in the presence of the creative force itself, an absolute gift of God. Actually I’m thinking that this kind of writing is not a gift of God, it is God, God as God presumably would like to be revealed in the astonishing things that humans can do.

In the story, which really isn’t a story in the conventional sense, Foer dispenses with characters people care about, the narrative arc, logical sequence, and even the ends of sentences having anything to do with their beginnings. Actually he dispenses with sentences entirely. Foer stands at the podium, he’s reading the story, and the audience has collectively stopped breathing. How does he do it? After all the writing that’s been written, all the books and essays and articles and poems, how can someone write something that's not like anything that's been written before?

Foer, all of 33 years old and apparently devoid of the usual arrogance and pomposity so common in successful people, wrote “Here We Aren't, So Quickly" after a long period of not writing fiction. He describes this return to fiction as “definitely not getting back on a bicycle”. With humility he depicts for us the unpredictability and fickleness of the creative force in humans. He captures a scene for us: he's sitting at an empty computer screen, unable to write a word. This is after “Everything is Illuminated” and “Incredibly Loud” have been published to world acclaim. Sometimes writing comes to the writer, and sometimes it most definitely does not come.

Foer himself appears to be not at all sure how the whole being-able-to-write thing works, but he attempts to delve into it together with Etgar Keret, making for some very interesting debate. Surprisingly, he never saw himself as a writer when he was younger. He was most moved and inspired by the visual arts and only after he experimented with these did he turn to the written word to try and achieve in writing what others had achieved in photography and painting. He explains that he doesn’t use words as a vehicle to articulate something else. The words can be a vehicle but they must also end in themselves. Preferably in a resounding crash. Sentences need to “smash themselves against a wall”, Foer explains, and Keret agrees.

Foer is intrigued by dissonance, and the way it can reveal the heart of things. Children are great at dissonance, mainly because the world is not a very coherent place for them. Foer describes how, earlier that day, he has visited the Western Wall with his four year old son. The child wants to place two separate scraps of paper into the crevices of the wall. One says, “God, you are a wonderful guy”, and the other says, “A big Mac, with cheese”.

Etgar Karat reads “Suddenly, a Knock on the Door”to us, the first story in his new book. An author sits on his couch while an armed intruder demands he produce a story at gunpoint. The author tries to explain, with the cold metal of the pistol up against his face, that this is perhaps not the best way to illicit results from an artist. Not only does the intruder disregard this, but two more knocks at the door bring a survey-taker and a pizza delivery boy into the room, both of whom add their clamourous demands to those of the first intruder. A story must be created. Now. They express no shock that the author is being held at gunpoint, on the contrary, they acquiese to the violence, they collaborate.

It doesn’t take long to work out that the story satirizes the inherent aggression in Israeli society, that everything from judicial process to social advancement must be produced at gunpoint or not at all. The audience collectively stirs nervously in its chair. Please don’t remind us about all that stuff, it beseeches Keret silently. All day we deal with this, can’t you help us to think about something else? The laughter in the audience is almost too loud, too relieved (the piece is, apart from anything else, incredibly funny).

Etgar says the force of his writing comes from his conviction that we humans are beautiful pieces of machinery created for something and that we have no idea what that something is. So we’re using ourselves as tin openers or other things, because we’ve lost the user’s Manual of what we are for. On the day that aliens finally arrive here in a space ship to try and find out what our redeeming features are, Keret says, he hopes they won’t be asking him for an opinion. “I’ll send them over to you”, he says to Foer with a wink.

Keret describes how his Holocaust survivor parents imbued in each of their three children a desire to get out into the world, to challenge it and to change it. His parents had spent their youth trying to grab the next piece of food or the next night’s shelter, he explains. This is why there was a brick wall between them and the futures they would like to have had. “My parents could only get us far as the wall,” says Keret. “but they knew that we, the children, could jump over it.” And the three of them did. Etgar’s brother became a left wing social activist, his sister became ultra orthodox and had eleven children. Etgar became a world famous author (my description). “We were all, in our different ways, doing exactly what our parents had imagined for us”, says Keret.

Hilarously, Keret describes a tour of Israeli authors through some foreign country on a bus. The authors behave no differently then a gaggle of schoolboys jostling for importance. Each describes the structure of their working day, the alarm clock at six am, the hours at the computer to complete chapter six or chapter ten. When Keret is asked about his method and his work schedule, he admits he has neither. The authors are scandalized. Keret instantly becomes, he says, “the fat boy” on the bus. He is jeered at, then ignored. “I would have been the other Fat Boy”, responds Foer.

The two fat boys, Etgar Karat and Jonathan Saffran Foer sit next to each other on the small stage and discuss their writing. Periodically, they each sip at the standard glass of water on the table in front of them. Two successful Jewish authors whose books have been translated into many languages, who share a wicked sense of humour, who dabble in nonsense and dissonance and who use sentences which smash themselves against a wall. They appear to have much in common and indeed the fond back and forth between them, the excellent chemistry in the room, confirm that they do. But their stories reflect what we have known all along, that Foer’s American-ness frees him of Israeli angst. In “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly” Foer can afford to muse about a marriage of many years, because he assumes longevity and the coupling of a life time. Karat is concerned with the cold metal touch of the pistol at our heads – produce now, live now, have children now, before we all get blown to pieces. Karat‘s parents took him to a wall so that he could jump over it. Foer’s parents had already jumped. Foer went to Princeton. (I can’t find out where Karat went to college, if at all, but I don’t think it was Princeton.) To Foer’s credit, in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” he does craft the story of a family almost destroyed by the events of nine-eleven with extraordinary sensitivity. Not many Princeton boys would have been able to do that.

Yet Foer, on this stage and in this setting, cannot help but be that old cliché, the incredibly relaxed American Jew. There’s no mistaking him, especially when he’s sitting next to Etgar Keret. Life is good. There's no religion, no being Israeli, and no IDF. There is the intoxicating mix of Thanksgiving and Hannuka, Seder night and the Superbowl, the house in Brooklyn and the writer’s fellowship in Mishkennot Shaananim. There is Jewish identity.

If you think I am saying this bitterly, and with envy, you would be wrong and also right. I’m not bitter, because I’ve accepted in the last five years or so, that there will always be the Jews who do and the Jews who don’t. Live here, I mean. I felt bitter only when I felt the need to cross that bridge, back and forth and back and forth, trying to engage, persuade, create empathy, feel empathy, get respect, give respect, work out the relationship. Today I can no longer cross the bridge, nor do I want to. Don’t get me wrong, all my beloved diaspora friends and family - my arms are open wide. The guest room is waiting, here at our home in Bet Shemesh for anyone who wants to come stay. But I can’t go across the bridge to you where you guys are any more, out there. I have Gilad Shalit, the flotilla(s), the last Gaza war and the next Lebanon war, Obama and Iran, the hatred of Israel in every crevice of academic and political life in Europe, and J street, on my mind right now. I’m not bitter at all, but I have done what people do in times of crisis, turned inwards to take care of my own. And by my own I mean all Israelis, including Arab Israelis. Because they at least do. Live here, I mean.

You would be right about the envy. On my first and only walk through Central Park a few years ago I decided that in my next life I would like to be a Jew in New York. I’m not sure that there is anywhere really better and happier to be Jewish. Just put me in a Brownstone house in Brooklyn, I ask God, when it comes to my rebirth. Preferably with a good bookshop and a Macy’s round the corner, and a credit card of course. I could attend Yeshiva University or Stern College. I could celebrate the end of my exams around a table in Starbucks, drinking extra large mocha vanilla almond chocolate frappe lattes with my friends. I could crunch my feet on golden autumn leaves in November, watch the snowflakes fall and the tinsel hang in every storefront at Christmas time. I could go look at the statue of liberty whenever I wanted, and I could put my phone to my ear just to hear, over and over, a very polite woman saying “Thank you for using AT&T”. Why would I want any other life? I’d have to be mad, right?

Unless there was an Israel. Israel in flight with her broken wings, Israel with her fabulous successes and gut clenching mistakes, Israel with her acute water shortage and her drip irrigation, her Nobel prizes, her tire-burning Haredim, her sex crazed presidents, her Ethiopian kids in tenements, her Ethiopian kids getting their paratrooper’s wings. Israel of the Western Wall (not the Wailing Wall as Safran Foer so engagingly calls it), the Security Wall and the Holocaust Wall with Etgar Keret and his siblings jumping over it. Israel with her first Intifada and her second Intifada and the third one that’s probably just around the corner. Israel engaged and disengaged, Israel on CNN and the BBC, Israel at the UN and Israel in Haiti. Israel holding on and holding on.

Holding on for dear life.

With such an Israel to be embraced and loved and supported and built, with such an Israel for stomach ulcers and migraines and nodules on my vocal cords, with such an Israel for my children and their children and their children too, there’s no way that Brooklyn could tempt me with her siren call. And I'm glad that I opted for Israel in this life, because by the time my next life rolls around, Israel may not be around.

That’s why, looking out at the stage where these two wonderful men are sitting, I’m with Etgar all the way. He’s got Israel under his cracked fingernails, and so do I. He hasn’t been buffed and polished by that accomplished manicurist, Brooklyn New York. Of course, Etgar might be longing for Brooklyn, you never know. Perhaps he and Jonathan have already arranged a house swap.

Not that I don’t appreciate Jonathan, I really do. I hope this post has shown how much I do. Not only does he write fantastic books, but he’s also so likeable that I’d like to kiss the top of his head and say “Bubeleh, you did good”. And yet (as his wife Nicole Krauss would say). He’s a world away from me, and I from him. He's never had to pull a gas mask over the head of that lovely four year old he took to the Western Wall this morning. In Israel you do get to appreciate dissonance, but not from books.

Etgar and Jonathan sit on a stage talking about writing at Mishkenot Shaananim, and they both make you glad to be human. I say get rid of all the politicians, and let’s get ourselves some real people to lead the world. Jonathan could take over from Obama, and Etgar could replace Bibi. That way, we might have something nice to say about ourselves when those aliens finally arrive.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Longing for Peace

Today, while driving into town, I saw two little Arab girls walking to school. Ma'aleh, where I work, is situated on Shivtei Yisrael Street, which is pretty well the dividing line between east and west Jerusalem. I stopped at the traffic light and two little girls, aged about 11, crossed the road in front of me. They were wearing their school uniform - dark blue trousers and light blue three quarter length tunics. Each girl had glossy black hair braided down the length of her back. And suddenly I felt such a longing for peace.

I've lived in Israel for 25 years and peace has never, ever seemed further away. Today, on the radio, I heard a statement by American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in which he said that Hizballah, armed by Syria and Iran, now has more rockets than most governments. The next war is coming, it seems. As an Israeli, I am trying to imagine how it will be. Will Hizballah from the North and Hamas from the South both attack at the same time? Since Operaton Cast Lead a little over a year ago, Hamas has been smuggling arms into Gaza through the the networks of hundreds of tunnels it has built between Egypt and Gaza. Do we have enough soldiers and technology to defend ourselves if we get attacked on both borders simultaheously, God Forbid? Will both my older kids, aged 22and 20, be called up if they do? (Yes, they will).

Well, I have two "comforting" thoughts. One: if we try to destroy any of the tunnels smuggling rockets into Gaza, we will always have some young woman like Rachel Corrie to stand on our bulldozers and get killed trying prevent us from doing it. And then people in the US and the UK can write plays about what a heroine she was, and even have a ship named after her. Two: If Hizballah should decide to start a war and use all those rockets it has been stockpiling to target Israeli towns, we will have thousands of people marching through Trafalgar Square in London shouting "We are all Hizballah!". Such a fabulous world we live in.

And still I am longing for peace. I am going to keep in my mind, the picture of those two little Arab girls walking to school. I am trying to imagine such a life in this part of the world - Arabs and Jews going peacefully about their daily lives together without fear or animosity. I was glad to feel that feeling of longing in my heart again this morning.

It's nice to know it hasn't been burnt out of me completely.

Monday, 12 April 2010

The six million, this time around

I just heard the two minute siren for Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Day.

It's ten in the morning here, and we're all busy at work. As the siren begins, the chatter stops, and each of the seven of us at our different desks stand to attention.

What goes through my head during that time? The answer is, everything. Everything I have ever seen, ever heard and ever read about the Holocaust. The stench of it, the crowding of it, the starvation of it, the death of it, the sadism of it, the endless, endless tears shed by it, all wrapped around by the deep hatred which caused it; -all these compete for a space, for a visual image in my head. All this while the siren sounds.

This year, the siren for me is a warning, too. The depth of this hatred surrounds Israel now, threatening to engulf her. The hatred is back, dressed in new clothes. The six million this time is the six million Jews of Israel, a thorn, an anathema, an incovenience, an obstrucution and a provocation to the nations of the world.

But there's a difference this time. Israel is the end place. From here we do not run, and we do not hide. From here we are not powerless, we are not surprised, we are not silent, we do not beg. From here, the place where we've built everything from nothing, had our children taken by vicious enemies, grown our fruits and vegetables and flowers, made some of the most famous medical advances of the 20th century, and prayed at the Western Wall, from here we face that old, old hatred face to face. Whether or not we will prevail is in God's hands. But the starting point is different.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Ajami - The Puzzle of Belonging

Scandar Copti aggravated plenty of Israeli Jews and even some Israeli Arabs by his remarks about not representing Israel when his film was nominated for an Oscar.

He said:

"I am a citizen of Israel but do not represent it. I cannot represent a country that does not

represent me."

My first response to Copti's remarks was the same as that of many Israelis – Funny that it didn't stop you from taking all that lovely Israeli money to make the film, hun. But on second thoughts I've decided that it's fine with me that Copti feels that way.

The money, by the way, is a BIG deal in Israel. Israel makes maybe six feature films a year, sometime three, sometimes two because arts funding is so dire over here. (As opposed to the US, where there is fabulous funding for movies, but no national health service).

Hundreds of filmmakers, scriptwriters and producers submit their projects every year, without success. Even successful directors, who have won prizes and made excellent films in the past, have a great deal of difficulty getting a second project funded.

"Ajami", funded by Israeli government money, meaning funded by income tax deducted from my own salary, was undoubtedly awarded the necessary foundation grants because of its outstanding script and because of the years of painstaking research that went into its creation. However, since none of these decisions are ever apolitical, we can assume that "Ajami" also got a million dollars of Israeli tax payers' money because Copti's voice, indeed the city of Jaffa's voice, was a voice that the Israel Film Fund wanted to be heard. The Israeli film establishment is super-left, and the last three Israeli films to be nominated for an Oscar are highly critical of Israel, of course. We have never, ever, seen a feature film about an Israeli Jewish family reeling from the impact of injuries sustained by a parent or child in a terrorist attack, even though civilian Israelis have been shot, stabbed and blown up since 1948. Strange that.

But for our purposes, none of this is relevant. Copti is entitled to feel that he doesn't represent Israel, and that it doesn't him. His feelings, living in a minority culture, are perfectly normal. If I look back at my upbringing in the UK, I see that I never felt that I belonged. A child of Britain with a British passport, I didn't feel that I represented Britain or that it represented me. The British government paid for my education, my health, my dental treatment and my university degree. Such a "chutzpa" for me to feel I didn't belong!

Why didn't I? Two main reasons:

One – I worked quite hard at not belonging. I practiced a religion not practiced by the British majority (my choice), I was passionately and idealistically devoted to Israel’s growth and development, not Britain's, (my choice), and as a result I felt somewhat separated from many normal aspects of ordinary British life (my choice).

TwoBritain made no attempt whatsoever to make me feel that I belonged. In the Britain of the 1970's, Judaism, the experience of Jews in society, their beliefs and practices, and their contribution to British Life, were barely acknowledged or discussed. In the late seventies and early eighties the Israel-hatred began in the British press, and every morning before breakfast I would be reading Robert Fiske's perspective on the Lebanon War. It was enough to make any Jew pack their bags and leave. Then there was the Holocaust. Don't be fooled by all the Holocaust stuff going on today. For all the years I was growing up, the Holocaust was considered to be a boring, let's-put-it-behind us topic, and was never mentioned. To the point that, on my first Holocaust Day in Israel, watching every single person in the street come to a dead halt during the siren, I wept like a child. Not for the Holocaust itself, but for the recognition of the Holocaust.

Minorities often feel they do not belong to the country where they live. Often but not always. The United States is a spectacular exception to this rule. Many orthodox Jews feel totally American, as do many Hispanics, African-Americans and Muslim Americans. But this is not the rule. Usually, minorities feel like minorities, and Christian Arabs living in a predominantly Jewish country are no exception.

Now we could say that Britain has failed its Jewish minority in many ways. So many of us felt we did not belong, and left for Israel, the US or Australia. Why was it so easy for us to go? Our American counterparts had much greater difficulty in leaving the country of their birth. We can surmise that the comfort level of a country's minorities, their sense of belonging in that country is probably a test of how well grounded the democratic values in that country are. We can certainly suggest that the UK has failed its Jewish minority in some ways. The Chief Rabbi sits in the House of Lords on the one hand. And on the other, thousands of British Jews do not feel wholeheartedly British and do not feel a sense of belonging. Especially those Jews who actively identify with a Jewish community and who live their lives Jewishly, in some way or other.

Similarly, if Scandar was born and raised in Israel, and is an Israeli citizen, but does not feel he represents Israel or that she represents him, then we can suggest that Israel has failed its Palestinian Christian minority.

But the other side of the argument also applies. Scandar Copti has probably worked quite hard at his Palestinian-Christian identity in Palestinian-Christian Jaffa in the predominantly Jewish state of Israel, just as in the nineteen seventies I worked hard at being an orthodox Jewish Zionist in a predominantly Christian UK. The question is whether Copti ever wanted to feel Israeli or be Israeli, and whether if he did, he was actively prevented from doing so. He certainly got $1,000,000 to make his film, in a circumstance where hundreds of Jewish Israeli directors were turned away.

We all make choices about how much we will melt into the majority, and how much we will keep ourselves apart, and what sacrifices must be made in each case. For myself, I got tired of being in the minority, of being different, of not being part of the mainstream of anything. I did the multi-cultural bit, living in an apartment with a Moslem, a Christian and a Hindu at university, and it was wonderful. I loved those women and I still love them today. But in the end, it was too hard for me. I wanted and needed belonging, and I moved to Israel because it felt normal to be Jewish there. It did not feel normal in the UK. You could say that this is a limitation of my personality and you could be right. It is almost certainly a limitation of the UK. But all I can say is this: I've done multi-cultural and I've done belonging. Belonging's better.

However, belonging brings with it a new kind of responsibility- I'm part of the majority culture now. And that means that I have to take care of my minorities. I have to be noticing them and listening to them. I have to be working towards a certain level of comfort for them. It's probable that I can never give them belonging. Perhaps Palestinian Christians would only feel a sense of total belonging in a Palestinian Christian country. But as an Israeli citizen I need at least to be concerned about their rights, their education, and their standard of living.

As for Scandar, he too has some choices to make. He can stay in Jaffa, feeling a relative sense of belonging in the Palestinian Christian community in which he lives. He can be aggravated for the rest of his life, if he so chooses, by the fact that the Israeli establishment is not sensitive to the needs of his community. He can work hard to right that as much as he can. He can campaign for Jaffa residents to be better treated and better understood. Many Jews in the UK have made this choice. Or, he could move to a country where Palestinian Christians feel much more at home. Where is that I wonder? It would have been Lebanon once, but the influence of Hezbollah and it's backer, Syria, has made that country unrecognizable to many Arab Christians. And I have the teeniest inkling in my stomach that when a Palestinian Muslim State comes into being, Palestinian Christians will not find much belonging there either.

Meanwhile, we can celebrate that Copti was given Israeli money to make his film. And if it's important to us that Copti will feel, next time around, that he "represents" Israel, then we will all have to work a lot harder at noticing, and feeling, the lives of Palestinian Christians in our country. Conversely, if Copti himself wants to represent Israel and it to represent him, then he also has some work to do. He will need to connect with our government, promote dialogue, and use his Israeli citizenship and high profile to achieve these things. In a few years he could run for the Knesset, and try and work wonders for the city of Jaffa from there. The question is whether or not he wants to. It's up to us, and it's up to him.