Showing posts with label Putin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Putin. Show all posts

Sunday, March 20, 2022

March 2022: Kanievsky Funeral, Prime Minister Bennett, Wineries and More

It has been a while since I have written.  Certainly there is no shortage of events to write about but I have been quite busy professionally and with many other things going on.  So I thought I would  do a bit of a smorgasbord of topics that hopefully fit with the theme of this blog, as indiscernible as that might sometimes appear.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky Z"L

Today was a huge event for hundreds of thousands of Israelis and for many more Ultra-Orthodox and  Orthodox Jews around the  world.  Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky died on Friday and his funeral was held today in B'nei Brak.   Estimates for the  number of attendees range from 500,000 to 800,000 people.  Much of the centre of the country was  closed  down.  Bus routes, highways, trains all ground to a halt so that public transportation could be diverted for the purpose of taking people to and from the funeral.

Rabbi Kanievsky was considered a great leader for the Ultra-Orthdox community in Israel and worldwide.  He gained quite a bit of attention speaking in March 2020 about the need to keep Yeshivas open even while everything else was being shut down during Covid - but he eventually endorsed the idea of following Israeli health guidelines and called for all of the members of his community to be vaccinated.  He himself wound up sick with Covid-19 but recovered from it last year.

Among some of his rulings cited in Wikipedia are a ruling that medical cannabis is kosher for passover (as long as it is legal) and that sexual abuse within the Haredi community should also be reported to civil authorities (many leaders previously had  argued that it should be kept within the community). Obviously, he has ruled on hundreds, if not thousands of other  issues, but I am not about to research his catalogue of halachic decisions.  

At his funeral, various rabbis spoke about his greatness, his dedication to Torah study and his willingness to speak to anyone who wanted to come and speak with him.  One of his sons spoke about how he would study Torah for at  least 17 hours every day.  When it was time to come and eat - he would arrive at the table.  If the food wasn't ready (his wife, of course, was normally the one preparing it), he would pick up a book and keep reading so that he would not waste any valuable time until the food was ready and until his wife was ready to sit down and  eat with him.

In any event, I can't say that I personally knew too much about him or  that I even considered going to join the hundreds of thousands of  people at his funeral.  Maybe I just don't like being trampled or, at least, the risk of being trampled.  Or maybe it's because I have no connection to Ultra-Orthodox Judaism and my politics and beliefs are diametrically opposed to those of their community on a wide range of issues, including gender equality, secular studies and state vs religion divisions.  In fact, watching these tens of thousands of young men, sporting their black jackets and hats, I couldn't help but feeling that they should all be  conscripted to the Israeli army like the vast majority of other people that age.  But that topic is for another  day.  As an historical event, it was, nevertheless, something quite interesting to watch on TV.  I can be, after all, quite a news junkie and this was certainly a newsworthy event.    

Prime Minister Bennett and the Russian Invasion of Ukraine   

Ukranian President  Volodymir Zelenskyy is scheduled to speak to the Israeli Knesset tonight at 6 p.m.  But the Knesset is being renovated so it sounds like the event  will primarily be on Zoom.  It is also unclear how many of the Knesset members will attend.  Some of the Knesset members, particularly on the right side of the spectrum, seem to be somewhat more sympathetic to Putin than other Israelis on the centre and left of the spectrum.

From what I hear, it seems to me that a significant majority of Israelis are supportive of Ukraine and are doing many different  things to try and help the  Ukranians.  Israel has sent field hospitals to be set up at different borders in Poland and in Moldova.  Israelis have been sending food, money, supplies of all different types and all kinds of other assistance to Ukranians.  Israel has been accepting Ukranian refugees and making plans to house and shelter large numbers of them either temporarily or, in many cases, permanently.  

At the same time, Israel, under the previous leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu maintained close connections with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Israel has been coordinating sorties over Syria to destroy Iranian weapons shipments to Hezbollah and has been careful not to turn Russia into an active enemy combattant, especially since Russia is now in effective control of Syria (one  of the legacies of the Trump administration).  Prime Minister Bennett has been placed in a very difficult spot.

On the one hand, his mandate, as the Prime Minister of Israel is to act in the best interest of  Israel, a country that consistently faces existential threats, the most current being the  possibility of a nuclear war with Iran.  Prime Minister Bennett must also be concerned about the hundreds of thousands of Jews in Ukraine and in Russia as well as actions that Russia might take if he pushes things too far on behalf of  Ukraine.

At the same time, for the Jewish community and for people who ask "where was the world?" during the Holocaust, we are in a situation that  is eerily reminiscent of 1939.  We are watching one country invade, destroy and  decimate another country, murder thousands of civilians, use all kinds of banned  weaponry and generally threaten  all of Europe.  The U.S and NATO to their credit, have taken some  very significant actions including economic sanctions, supply of  military weaponry and other steps.  It doesn't seem to be enough as Ukraine seems unlikely to be able to withstand the Russian  forces for too much longer  even though  the Ukranian army has lasted a lot  longer than many  anticipated.  Even Turkiye, which is trying to remain somewhat neutral, has been supplying Ukraine with some  very advanced fighter  drones.

But  thus far, Israel has refrained from supplying  Ukraine with military supplies and assistance and has been very careful to avoid criticizing  Putin too harshly.  As a result, Prime Minister Bennett has been selected by Putin and Zelenskyy as one of the "acceptable" figures to try and  negotiate a resolution.

At this point, it is hard to see that he is getting anywhere, though at least we can say he is trying.  Russia is continuing to destroy Ukraine, thousands are dying, tens of thousands are starving and there does not not seem to be an end in sight.  It is truly heartbreaking.  But at the same time, I think many are feeling anger that the world is just not doing enough.

Many Israelis are going out of their way to help Ukranian refugees in so many different ways including  housing some  of them temporarily.   But I can't say that Bennett's positions, at least  those that are being publicly reported,  are particularly comforting.

As an update, I just finished listening to Zelenskyy's speech, with a translation to Hebrew.  One  of the most  important lines - he said -  and I am paraphrasing somewhat - "it is one thing to act as a mediator between two countries with different interests.  It is quite another thing to refuse to take a side when faced with a choice  between good and evil.  I leave it for you to reflect on what kind of decisions you are making as a country."

In reaction to the speech - one Israeli commentator said that although Zelenskyy's speech was short - "he held up a mirror right to our face - and I didn't like what I saw."

Covid and Travel

Israel has eliminated all pre-flight testing requirements for  Israelis  coming to Israel.  All  that  is needed is a PCR test, on arrival, taken  at the  airport.  For the most  part, the  mask mandates have  been lifted and many people are no longer wearing masks in different places.  Non-Israelis are required to show a PCR test taken within 72 hours of the flight departure time and proof of medical insurance that covers Covid-19.  They are also required to take a PCR test on arrival at the airport.

Purim 2022

We returned to shul for Purim this year - having only conducted Megillah  readings by Zoom in 2020 and 2021.  Our shul was fairly crowded though it definitely felt less crowded than some peak years.  I managed to read my  usual chapter 8 (video available on demand by private request...).  We also had nice enough weather to hold a Purim Seudah on Purim day (Thursday March 17, 2022) and tried to do our part to fulfill the mitzvot of eating and  drinking in sufficient quantity.  (Not usually a problem in this house as many of  you know).

Pesach is Coming    

Less than a month to go until Pesach (Passover).  I am planning to be in Toronto for a few weeks before the holiday - so perhaps, ironically, I will look around and buy some Kosher for Passover products in Toronto that you can't normally find in Israel.  Some examples might be Matzah ball soup mix (I know, we  can make it from scratch...), cake meal, and a few other items.   Another example would be Israeli wine.  Some Israeli wines can be purchased in Toronto at prices that are far less than what they sell for in Israel.  Yes, you read that correctly.  As crazy as it sounds, it is true.

We are looking to see if we can host a Ukranian refugee family or  two for our Seder so we have a few weeks to get that organized.  We hope and pray that by then, this war will be over.

Oscar Watch

Watching the annual Academy Awards is something we enjoy but it requires an all-nighter here in Israel.  Our clocks will change on Thursday the 24th  at night - and the time difference will go back to 7 hours.  That means that the Oscars will be on in the middle of the night on Sunday night/ Monday morning.  Some years we try to stay up and watch although this year I may be able to watch at a more reasonable time in Toronto.

We have been making our way through the list of best picture nominees.  We greatly enjoyed Coda which is apparently one  of the top 3 or 4 frontrunners.  I can't say the same about The Power of the Dog which, in our view, was extremely slow.  I wasn't thrilled about Licorice Pizza either.  I found King Richard, the story of Venus and Serena Williams and their Dad, Richard Williams, quite compelling and thought Will Smith was wonderful.  We also  saw Westside Story.  I had really been looking forward to it but in the end, I'm just not sure that it added much to the  original.  So we have about 5 left to watch in the coming days.  Not sure we will get to all of them in this final week before the awards show but I guess we will see.

Prices, Prices

Like everywhere else, I'm sure, prices here of  just about everything have been going through the roof.  I think gas was at about $3.00 cdn per  litre (which is probably close to $12 US per gallon for my American readers who think gas prices are high in the U.S....).

Other food items have also been increasingly high priced with lots of  blame to go around - Covid-19, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the quasi-monopoly in the food industry in Israel and anything else you can think of.  One item that is cheap - is juice oranges - which can  be purchased for 1.99 shekels a kilo - which is less than $0.40 per pound (Cdn).  Let's say $0.32 a pound U.S.  So we have been making some freshly squeezed  orange juice.  Just don't add a pineapple - which can cost $20-$30 for one....a very small one.  

Wineries and Other Day Trip Ideas

Despite all that has been going on, we still managed to get in a few field trips over the past month.  In particular, we managed to visit three wineries, an  olive oil plant and a coffee roastery, all of  which are trips that I would recommend  for anyone visiting or  for those who live here but haven't been to these places.

Earlier this month, we went to the Kitron Winery.  We have been there before and I think I may have written about it.  It is a beautiful winery that is described as one of a handful of fully "gravitational wineries" in the world.  This means that the winery relies  on forces of gravity to move  the wine from place to place during production.   The grapes start on the top level of the winery and move down by levels  without pumps.  According  to the vintners, this means that Kitron does not need to add sulphites.  They claim that the Kitron red wines do not give people headaches the same way that other red wines might.  Kitron is a Kosher winery that is observing the  Shmittah year in the most stringent  way possible - it's field are lying  fallow this harvest year (since it is a sabbatical year) and  no wine  will be made from this year's  grapes.  Kitron  offers a terrific tasting  experience  with some  great cheeses, a variety of wines, breads, jams, olives, peppers and even some coffee and halvah  for  dessert.

We also visited the Odem Winery this month, which is near Kiryat  Shemona in the very northern part of Israel.   The  Odem Winery uses grapes grown in volcanic soil for most of  its wines and there can be a volcanic taste in some of the wines.  However, they are quite good.  We particularly enjoyed the reserve Shiraz/Syrah.  The people were very friendly, the visitors' centre is quite nice and the cheeses were tasty.  We have  also visited this winery more than once and we have  enjoyed  it each time.

Near the Odem Winery, we stopped at Eretz Geshur, an olive oil factory.  Here you can taste 12 different types of olive oil, ranging from oils that are light tasting to those that are full bodied, spicy and even a bit bitter.   You might  not have realized that there is such a big difference from one olive oil to the next until you taste them side by side.  We also  watched a movie about olive oil production, which was fascinating.   Eretz Geshur uses a full automated system for  picking the olives and then has a number of different machines including crushers and  centrifuges for automating the process to the greatest extent possible.  The factory is strictly kosher  and  is a fun place to visit.

Just last week, we visited one additional winery, Flam, which is not too far from Beit Shemesh in the centre of Israel.  The visitors' centre was a bit more of a "do it yourself" place though it was reasonably nice.  The wine was tasty but not earth shattering.  The most  popular wines were the most expensive, one of them close to 350 Shequels a bottle (about $140 Cdn) so we didn't buy any.

Not far from Flam,  we  stopped off at Agro Cafe also near Beit Shemesh and had some really nice coffees.  Agro Cafe imports coffee beans from various locations around the world and roasts all its own coffees.  The site  conducts workshops on how to make coffee in 5 or 6 different ways, information about the history and production of coffee and about some of the issues facing coffee growers and the workers in the industry.  Another highly recommended spot to stop for a visit.

Final Comments

In case you might be thinking that I live a life of leisure and luxury, just running  around  visiting  wineries, that is decidedly incorrect.  I have actually been quite busy, working remotely, meeting with clients by Zoom and even attending  at Zoom mediations, and court appearances.  It does happen that being in central Israel means that you are less than 90 minutes away from about 300 wineries - so where we have the chance on Sundays or on other days, earlier in the day, it  is a fun activity.   My workday, when I'm in Israel, normally starts at about 4 p.m. and goes  until 12  or 1 a.m.  so it is a strange schedule

The weather is starting  to get  nicer here - and I imagine that very soon it will be extremely warm - usually starting in late April.   We were  blessed to have some wonderful visitors in February and are looking forward to other visitors in May, June and July.  We are always  happy to see friends and family from Canada, the U.S.  and other places and you can go through some of my past blogs for some destination suggestions.

That's about it for now - I wish everyone all the best - the best of health - and peace early in this war-torn year of 2022.   

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Pre Purim Blog 2021 - Chag Purim Sameach

It is just a couple of days before Purim, so I thought it was time to squeeze in another blog.  I have written some blogs  in the past about celebrating Purim in Israel.  It is normally quite a raucous holiday since everyone is commanded to get drunk.  The streets are normally filled with "Adloyada" parades (adloyada translates to "until you are no longer aware...").  Normally people are wandering the streets in costumes, going to Purim parties, bringing each other gift baskets and,  in many cases, going to synagogue to hear the reading of Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther).  It is celebrated with particular abandon in Israel's high schools.  We have some of the photo evidence from past years.

This year, for the second consecutive time, Purim will be quite different.  Even though there is cause for optimism in Israel as the number of vaccinated Israelis has been increasing and the spread of the virus has been decreasing, there is still too much concern about the rampant virus to return to normalcy.  Perhaps by next Purim.  

So the first question is how people can hear the Megillah.  According to Jewish law, we are supposed to hear it live, in person,  read from an actual parchment scroll rather than a book.  Many synagogues are organizing outdoor readings, throughout the evening on Thursday night and Friday morning - so that people can come in smaller groups and hear it.

Others are of the opinion that hearing the scroll read by Zoom is halachically acceptable, as long as it is read from a parchment scroll.   I normally read chapter 8 - and sometimes 8-10 - in Synagogue.  This year, I guess we are going with the more lenient approach, so I will be reading on Zoom from an actual scroll as part of our shul's reading.  If you want the link for it - please let me know and I'll be happy to send it.  I think we will start at about 6:30 p.m. Israel time (11:30 a.m. EST) on Thursday Feb 24, 2021.  

My other project is to try and make hamentaschen (Haman's ears in Hebrew; Haman pockets in Yiddish) - which are triangular pastries filled with different fillings.  I would say that poppy seed, prune and  chocolate are the most common fillings, though there are many others.  I never really liked the poppy seed filling even though I love poppy seed  bagels.  I'm thinking about apricot, strawberry, dates and chocolate as four options.   Lemon is another idea since it would add some nice colour.  I guess I could add Kiwi as well and then I could have some green ones.  Sure it is easy enough just to go out and buy some - since every bakery in Israel is selling them now - but I would rather have some fun with this.  (We also prefer making our own latkes on Chanukah and our own blintzes on Shavuot).  We'll see how they come out.

We have had some very strange news stories in Israel over the past couple of weeks.

Firstly, an Israeli woman "accidentally" wandered into Syria.  Now how anyone accidentally wanders into Syria I have no idea.  There are Israeli military forces, Syrian military forces and even some UN forces throughout the area.  Much of the border is heavily guarded though I suppose there are some areas that aren't.   In any event, she was picked up by the Syrian forces and interrogated.  Israel and Syria then negotiated a deal through Putin, acting as an intermediary, whereby Israel would get her back, give up two Syrian shepherds that Israel was holding - and one additional bizarre piece.  Israel would agree to pay for $1M USD worth of Russian-made Sputnik-V Coronavirus vaccines - to be delivered to the Syrians.  Very strange deal.  Is Syria that strapped for cash that it had to get Israel to buy some Russian vaccines for it?  Or did Putin want to extract the money from Israel to exert a show of power over Netanyahu?  Or maybe he just wanted the chance to inject a bunch of Syrian leaders and military officials with Sputnik-V.  Netanyahu initially tried to keep the terms of the deal confidential but they leaked out.  So he held a press conference and talked about the deal he was able to negotiate with his friend Putin...The whole thing happened very quickly.  Curiously, this all just weeks before an Israeli election.  

We also had some snow in Israel.  Apparently, it snows, on average, about once every five years in Jerusalem.  The snow doesn't stick around for very long but people try and come from all over the country to see it - and if they can, to throw snowballs at each other.  The traffic getting in and out of Jerusalem was reportedly atrocious (we didn't go) and it all melted by the next day.  But people referred to it as a "Snow Holiday" and revelled in the excitement.  

Snow falls in Israel more regularly in the north, up in the Golan Heights, at Mount Hermon where there is even a  ski site.  Much of the snow for the site is artificial but it does tend to snow at least a  few times there most winters.

Needless to say, my North American family and friends are not nearly as excited when it snows.  For me, this may be my first winter ever of not seeing any snow.  I kind of miss it.  Winter in Israel has consisted of a handful of rainy, windy days, spread over the past few months.  The sunny days in between are wonderful and are sometimes beach-worthy, though the water is too cold for a swim.  We can use the barbecue year round. But if the rainy days were snowy days instead - I think that would be more fun.

You may have also heard that we had a major ecological disaster.  There was a huge oil spill somewhere off the cost of Israel last week.  This has caused massive damage.  A dead 17-meter baby fin whale washed up on the beach a few days ago - covered in oil - and many other sea creatures have perished or struggled to deal with these adverse conditions.  Thousands of Israelis have been volunteering to go to the beaches and help clean up tar from the coast but it could take years to clean up this mess.  As of now, it is unclear what happened, though the Times of Israel is reporting that it was a Greek owned vessel, the Minerva Helen.  The investigation continues.

The Israeli government is still in a state of flux, awaiting the next elections on March 23, 2021.  The government does not know how to handle the airport.  It is trying to keep out the "mutations."  For a while, this meant ensuring that everyone had to go to a state-selected isolation hotel on arrival.  But it leaked out that people were able to pay a fine voluntarily, of about 5,000 Sheqels ($2,000 Cdn) and then they could isolate at home, even though the government was no longer enforcing the home quarantines.  So the government decided to stop flights to Israel...with, of course, some exceptions.  At  first it was 2,000 passengers a day, that could arrive pursuant to a lottery system, based in part on urgent humanitarian considerations.  Now that number is supposedly being reduced to 200 per day, at least until March 6, 2021.  

Just in time for the Purim holiday, the Israeli government has reopened shopping malls, most schools and many other places that were closed up until now.  The government has also been rolling out a  "Green Passport."  People who have received both doses of the vaccine and waited a further ten days are able to get an official Green Passport through a government sponsored phone app or website.  This passport is tied to people's personal "National Identity" number so people can prove that they have been vaccinated.  The government would now like to open up restaurants, travel, gyms, pools, hotels, etc., only to those who have been vaccinated or can prove that they had Covid-19 and recovered.  (Instead of a Vaccination Certificate, you can get a Recovered Covid-19 Patient Certificate).

You probably know where this is going but some enterprising, tech-savvy Israeli entrepreneurs decided that for a mere 1,000 shq (about $400 Cdn), they could offer the public forged vaccination certificates.  News of these businesses quickly spread - to the point where a few of these enterprising criminals were on tv news this week (disguised of course) speaking about their wonderful business idea.  So the government has ramped up the penalties for those making or using fraudulent vaccination certificates and has also ramped up enforcement  efforts.  For the record, our certificates are real.  Whether or not they are actually effective, and how long they will last - well these are different questions.  

Some other countries are reviewing Israel's use of these certificates.  In Canada and the U.S., as well as many other countries, there are privacy considerations, issues concerning medical disclosure, and larger numbers of people who refuse to be coerced into getting the vaccine.  In  Israel, there is talk of rolling out legislation to make the vaccine mandatory in certain workplace sectors, including, for example, healthcare, restaurants, hotels and other public-engaging enterprises.  

There are certainly those in Israel who oppose the vaccine rollout and refuse to be vaccinated.  Numbers are especially high  among the Ultra-Orthodox, in some Arab towns and among other sectors.  But as the vaccine is rolled out and its efficacy becomes more and  more demonstrable, it will be less defensible for vaccine refusers to put themselves and others at risk.

I've kept the Israeli politics to a minimum this time as we still have a month  to go before the Israeli elections.  I will try to put together a pre-election primer a week or so before the election date and then some post-election reports.

Wishing everyone a Happy  Purim and, of course, the enjoyable thought that we are only a month away from the start of  Spring.    As the Hebrew song goes - "Great joy, Great joy, Spring has arrived and Passover (Pesach) is coming."  For all of those who change over their kitchens and host  Passover Seders, joy may not be the only emotion that comes up when we anticipate the arrival of the holiday.  

Perhaps I'm getting a bit ahead  of myself but Passover is only about 5 weeks away.  For now, still time to enjoy Purim and the remainder of winter.

Best of health to everyone.