Dr. Shoshana Levin Fox’s An Autism Casebook for Parents and Practitioners: The Child Behind the Symptomswill hold you spellbound. Section I is titled “Children.” These first eight chapters are the stories of Jack, Sasha, Annie and others (all the children’s names used are pseudonyms) – children who came into the Feuerstein Institute after having been diagnosed as autistic. They exited with new hope, not only for themselves, but for their parents, who needed their own emotional propping up.
Levin Fox is a psychologist and play therapist who has worked with children for more than 30 years. In addition to lecturing and giving workshops in North America, Israel and Europe, she worked for 25 years in the Feuerstein Institute of Jerusalem, founded by the late Sorbonne-educated Prof. Reuven Feuerstein.
Levin Fox lived for nearly 20 years in Canada. She completed a master’s at Simon Fraser University and a doctorate in counseling psychology at the University of British Columbia. She worked for many years as a counselor in the Special Services to Children and Families program of the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of British Columbia. Levin Fox was awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada post-doctoral fellowship, which enabled her to do research and practical work in the field of autism at the Feuerstein Institute. Coincidentally, for many years, Hadassah-WIZO Canada were prime funders of the institute’s programs related to autism.
I recommend the book, not just for the moving stories of the children who were saved from what proved to be inaccurate assessments, and not only for the intriguing descriptions of the practices of the Feuerstein Institute, which Levin Fox combined with the DIRFloortime method. This book should be read for its critical message to parents who have received an autism diagnosis – or one of learning disabilities, ADHD, or other emotional, cognitive or developmental challenges – for their son or daughter: Believe in your child. Talk to your child. Keep looking till you find her the best and most appropriate help and hope. Don’t let the “experts” get you down, because a true expert will find the formula to lift you – and your child – up.
The idea of plasticity of the brain, writes Levin Fox, entered mainstream medicine several generations after Feuerstein had intuited and created materials and methods based on that reality. Levin Fox decries the fact that “the diagnosis of autism is used as a sacrosanct truism…. I have found that the term ‘autism,’ as it appears commonly in the field, in actuality is being used to describe children who suffer from a vast range of communication difficulties, from extreme shyness to psychotic conditions and just about everything in between.”
The children whose stories are recounted in this book all made significant progress. Levin Fox writes, “Not every child began to speak fluently, to learn at a normative level and to play happily with friends…. However, it can be safely and honestly stated that, inspired and mentored by the professor, my colleagues and I made a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of children originally thought to be autistic.” She sees them, as a team, as having saved many lives.
Feuerstein sought to find a child’s latent strengths, and what he called “islets of normalcy.” Levin Fox explains that “islets of normalcy” include, among other elements, eye contact, human relationships, symbolic play, curiosity, humour and more.” She emphasizes that helping parents understand their children’s challenges, and not to be fearful and depressed about them, is part of the battle.
In Part II, “Theoretical Groundings,” Levin Fox gives the intense and thorough theoretical background to the success stories, which are plentiful. Six more case studies are interwoven in the text to help bring the theory alive.
This section also describes the roots of Feuerstein’s methods. He began by working with orphan children who had been traumatized after the Second World War, decided there were flaws in the standard diagnostic tests and, rather than focusing on performance, he focused on the child’s ability to develop learning processes.
“Current studies on brain plasticity … scientifically substantiates what [Feuerstein] proposed two generations ago – that brain cells are modifiable and respond to the stimuli of the environment,” writes Levin Fox.
One of my favourite stories is in Chapter 15, where Levin Fox talks about Ben, whom she first met when he was 5 years old. The end of the chapter, with the sub-heading, “Ben’s Epilogue,” describes a chance meeting between Levin Fox and Ben’s parents, many years later, at an airport. “Dr. Shoshana!” they called out, and his mother pulled out her cellphone. “The happy faces of Ben and his wife, holding their newborn son, smiled back at me,” writes Levin Fox. “For Ben, the paradigm-shift had indeed been life-saving.”
I found other words to describe the journeys and miracles of the children portrayed in this book: life-affirming.
Adi Barokas and her husband Barak during their time in Vancouver. (photo from Adi Barokas)
I read a review in an Israeli newspaper of Adi Barokas’ Hebrew-language graphic novel, the title of which translates as The Journey to the Best Place on Earth (and Back). I also read a scathing review of that review on the JI website, written by Roni Rachmani, an Israeli who lives in Vancouver. Disturbed by several aspects of the criticism, I decided to look into the book – and its author and illustrator – myself.
When I made aliyah from Canada in 1975, I had many difficulties acclimatizing to Israel. In reading Adi’s book, it was as though she had written the book I’d always wanted to write about Israel. Her experiences in Canada, which took place three decades after mine in Israel, were decidedly similar.
Aliyah is often thought of as a lofty, spiritual ascent, but, in a practical sense, it is effectively like immigrating to any other country. In the euphoria and joy of making the huge leap, this can be overlooked.
Decades before the internet, cellphones, Skype and WhatsApp, I left my home and family, strongly motivated by Zionist ideals, conveyed to me by my parents’ Israel experience of the 1950s. I longed to live a fuller Jewish life and take part in the developing history of Am Yisrael. Wrapped in a fuzzy cloak of enthusiasm, naïve and wholly unfamiliar with Israeli society, things turned out to be very different than the utopian image I’d envisioned. However, nearly half a century later, I am still grateful to be here.
Adi and her husband Barak met in the mid-2000s. Shortly after they married, Barak was called up to serve in the Second Lebanon War. They wanted to live in a quiet, peaceful society where they could just pursue their lives and careers, so they headed to Vancouver, which is often billed as one of the best places in the world to live. Unfortunately, they met with many unexpected challenges, mostly related to cultural differences. They tried to feel like they belonged, but never overcame feeling like foreigners.
For me, the in-your-face abrasiveness for which Israelis are known was an enormous shock to my more reserved, polite system. In Vancouver, Adi found those Canadian-associated traits off-putting and two-faced.
Adi and Barak were seeking a breather, serenity and space from the intense pace of life in densely populated Israel. With excessively high expectations that everything would be just so, they came to Vancouver. But for them, too, the culture shock was huge. They were not accustomed to so many rigid rules and regulations.
Adi had never lived in such a diverse society and was excited to interact with people of many ethnicities from around the world. It took a long time to catch on to the nuances, the nonverbal cues, of how people in Vancouver socialize – what topics are off limits, for example. Coming from Israel, a very liberal place, where most people freely express their unsolicited opinions, this was challenging.
Adi and Barak found it odd that everything was so quiet and calm in Vancouver. They were used to a lively, noisy society where people mix in close proximity. In Vancouver, everywhere they went, voices were barely audible and, so, they gradually adjusted and lowered their own tone of voice, and limited their conversations to certain topics.
The couple were eager to socialize, especially with their fellow foreign colleagues, with whom they felt more affinity than with Canadians. They initiated get-togethers, extended invitations, but they found everything so formal and stilted and rarely reciprocated. The only safe subjects of conversation were about hockey or the weather, nothing the couple felt was deep or of substance. This hampered their forming close friendships. Their sense of strangeness, that they would never fit in, grew.
On the flipside, schooled in the notion of appropriate table talk in Canada, I would often feel embarrassed at subjects discussed so frankly in Israel. It felt like an infringement on private matters, mostly with regards to money and personal relationships.
In Israel, people stand far less on ceremony, tell others to drop by any time, and mean it. But, to me, these invitations seemed an empty manner of speech. In Hebrew, the word for “to drop by” (tikfetzi) and a less polite version of “buzz off” (tikfetzi li) are the same!
I was baffled when people would ask why I’d come to Israel. It’s obvious to anyone imbued with Zionist and Jewish values that aliyah is a natural step, that Israel is the place to build a future. But, instead of words of praise or encouragement, Israeli peers, if they showed any interest at all, found it amusing that anyone would leave what they assumed was the easy life, to come to what was a troubled society. There was certainly no welcome wagon, no grace period to acclimatize. There were few invitations for holidays or Shabbat. The workplace, where I was often the only non-Israeli, was an even rougher scene – I wasn’t aware of how critical having connections really is, of how offices and organizations operated.
Across the ocean, Adi and Barak arrived with several science degrees under their belts, and had to swim the stormy seas of academic life in a B.C. university. There was some discrepancy between how they saw themselves – as conveying constructive criticism – and what some of their colleagues and acquaintances shared with them. This created awkward misunderstandings, a lack of candid communication and obstacles to their ability to settle in.
The couple had to wade through seemingly endless red tape through bureaucracy channels. They found it infuriating to jump hoops with indifferent, intransigent civil servants, who never saw them as individuals.
I can completely relate, as I have had to navigate mountains of paperwork, all in Hebrew, which, when I first arrived, was at an afternoon Hebrew school level. English was not widely spoken, and clerks lacked any service orientation – there was scarcely any eye contact. I miss even a perfunctory exchange of pleasantries, which, in Israel, is considered a waste of words. But Israel has come a long way and there is a marked improvement; as well, much can be done online. That’s not to say everyone is pleasant, but at least civil.
Barak and Adi became increasingly frustrated in Vancouver and it began to affect their mental and physical health. They became discouraged, falling into despondency, and their lives were out of their control. Under steadily increased pressure, their goals seemed to be slipping from their grasp, yet they were obligated to stick it out. They would have loved to have returned to Israel much sooner, but honoured their academic commitments, which were critical to enabling Barak to advance in his career in cancer research. Competition is fierce in academia but, eventually, Barak was offered a position at Ben-Gurion University, for which they are grateful.
Adi asked me why I stay in Israel. The answer is that, despite not knowing the ropes initially, having had to master Hebrew and the Middle Eastern mentality, the reasons for coming remain steadfast: unwavering belief in Zionist ideology and the privilege of fulfilling the mitzvah of settling in Eretz Yisrael. Still reserved and well-mannered at my core, I can and will tell someone off in Hebrew if they cut in front of me in line. And driving has forced me to become assertive.
Life in Israel has made me resilient, not automatically accepting of everything that’s dished out, and no longer complacent. My children and grandchildren have none of my social concerns and are rarely bothered by the things that irk me. They do recognize and understand that it hasn’t been a walk in the park for me. They greatly benefit from knowing English, which I spoke at home to my kids and which I also speak with my grandchildren.
Distance has impacted relationships with my relatives, who are all in Canada, and I miss them. But, in Canada, families commonly live far apart and visit only a few times a year. That’s just the norm and how I grew up, too. In Israel, we belong to a close-knit clan, with whom we celebrate holidays and other occasions; regularly helping one another is everything here.
Living in Vancouver, Adi was frustrated by the positive-thinking approach that was all the rage, but didn’t work for her. She needed to be able to share her concerns openly. She wanted practical advice, instead of being brushed off all the time, with people either trying to divert her attention or change the subject. At least the experience forced her to become more self-reliant.
Adi began to delve into other areas beyond academia, having been turned off the sciences for good. She tapped into her creative side, got her driver’s licence, went swimming, started writing. Both she and Barak took up yoga and meditation.
Adi sought therapy and finally found a therapist who was helpful, which contributed to Adi’s bouncing back from within. Time spent in nature, and developing her writing and artistic skills, offered solace.
It was during this process of self-discovery and self-care that the couple decided to start a family, and they had a son.
When an offer came for Barak to take up a post in Leicester, England, it meant once again picking up and leaving, and having to learn their way around a new place. But, it appealed to them, as Leicester was off the beaten track and the small city ambience appealed to them. As well, the move brought them closer to home. Instead of the 10-hour time difference, they were only two hours behind Israel time-wise and a five-hour flight away.
Outside Israel, Jews tend to belong to communities where they gather to share religious and cultural activities and strengthen their bond with Israel. For me, coming to Israel to live in a predominantly Jewish society was enlightening, yet it wasn’t easy to understand the many different customs. I enjoy the Jewish character and vibe of Israel in many facets of the public sphere. Life revolves largely around the Jewish calendar, especially the celebration of Shabbat and festivals. What binds us is our unique, incredible history and heritage.
Had I been better prepared, come with more defined goals, and more socialized in a Jewish environment, I might have fared better. Even when the going was rough, returning was never an option, however. I am living a meaningful life in Israel, where I have mostly resided in the Jerusalem area.
We have all witnessed Israel evolve into a modern, advanced country, making huge strides in every realm imaginable. On occasional visits to Canada, I enjoy the familiar scenery, the cold, the language and pleasantries, though a noticeably different mindset from the locals is apparent.
Immigration is a tremendous and profoundly complex undertaking. It entails much uncertainty and many twists and turns. No matter how much any immigrant plans, one never knows how things will unfold. It is an arduous process that demands full commitment with every fibre of one’s mind, body and soul. Fellow ex-pats can only offer so much support and help. The individual immigrating has to go through the process on their own terms.
Adi and Barak have since returned to Israel. Over a total of eight years away, they learned a great deal about themselves, individually and as a couple. Growing up in Israel, they naturally identified as Israelis, their Jewish identity cultural. While abroad, they realized that they were viewed by others not only as Israelis, but as Jewish, as a minority. This heightened their awareness, added a new dimension.
Time away has changed them, considerably, and they returned to a somewhat changed Israel. They have settled on a kibbutz 20 minutes from Be’er Sheva, where they and their now two children enjoy spectacular scenery in the Negev, a warm climate and a caring community. They have found their home right here, at home.
Adina Horwichwas born in Israel to Canadian parents. In 1960, the family returned to Canada, first living in Halifax, then in a Montreal suburb. In 1975, at age 17, Horwich made aliyah, and has lived mostly in the Jerusalem area.
Hajj Amin al-Husseini’s mansion turned into the Shepherd Hotel for a period of time. (photo from Daniel Luria)
Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem in the 1920s and 1930s, who spent much of the Second World War in Berlin as a Nazi collaborator and war criminal, must be spinning in his grave in Beirut. The landmark mansion he built 88 years ago in affluent Sheikh Jarrah, between the Old City and Mount Scopus, is slated to become a synagogue in a future 56-apartment Jewish neighbourhood in east Jerusalem.
The 500-square-metre manor house, called Qasr al-Mufti (the Mufti’s Palace) in Arabic, today stands derelict at the centre of a largely completed 28-apartment complex which itself lacks an occupancy permit. The reason the new neighbourhood is not being finished – and indeed has not been marketed in the 10 years since demolition and construction began – is that the developers have applied to rezone the 5.2-dunam site to double the number of units to 56, according to Daniel Luria, a spokesman for Ateret Cohanim, which backs the housing project.
Luria was unclear when the rezoning application would be approved. The historic house at the core of the site will be preserved and repurposed for communal needs, including a synagogue and perhaps a daycare centre, he said.
“There is a beautiful poetic justice when you see the house of Hajj Amin al-Husseini crumbling down,” said Luria.
Though al-Husseini built the mansion, he never lived in it. Following the outbreak in 1936 of the Arab Revolt against the British Mandate government, the mufti became a fugitive, hiding in the Old City’s Haram ash-Sharif. When the British attempted to arrest him in 1937, he fled Palestine and the British made do with confiscating his property. The al-Husseini clan owned numerous properties in Jerusalem, among them the Palace Hotel (today the Waldorf Astoria), the Orient House and the villa subsequently turned into the Shepherd Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah on a plot of land known as Karam al-Mufti (the Mufti’s Vineyard), named for al-Husseini.
Among those who did occupy the mansion was his secretary George Antonius (1891-1942), who wrote The Arab Awakening while living there, in 1938. Antonius’s widow, Katy, continued living in the building, which functioned as a salon where wealthy Palestinian Arabs and British officials socialized. (The city’s British sports club had a “No Natives” policy.)
At one of her elegant soirées in 1946, she met Sir Evelyn Barker. The much-decorated general was commanding officer of the British forces in Palestine and Trans-Jordan from 1946 to 1947. The two carried on an affair and exchanged Judeophobic love letters. In April 1947, he wrote her about Jews: “Yes, I loathe the lot – whether they be Zionists or not. Why should we be afraid of saying we hate them. It’s time this damned race knew what we think of them – loathsome people.”
On April 13, 1948, both Scottish Highlanders garrisoned at the mansion and other British troops stationed at the nearby Police Academy failed to intervene for eight hours when a convoy of doctors and nurses headed to Hadassah Hospital came under fire from Arab guerillas. Seventy-eight Jews, many doctors and nurses, died in the massacre.
Following the War of Independence, the al-Husseini mansion became the Shepherd Hotel in the now-divided and impoverished city. It was eclipsed by the Hotel Jerusalem Intercontinental, today called the Seven Arches, which opened on the Mount of Olives in 1964. After the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel conquered and annexed east Jerusalem, the hotel was taken over by the custodian of absentee property.
In 1985, it was sold to C and M Properties Ltd., owned by Florida bingo hall billionaire Irving Moskowitz (1928-2016), the benefactor of right-wing Israeli settler groups intent on housing Jews in the eastern side of the now united city. Following the zoning of Plan 2591, a request was made on Nov. 6, 2008, to permit the company to build two new residential blocks, including 28 apartments on top of an underground parking lot. In January 2011, the four-storey Shepherd Hotel annex – added on to the mufti’s original mansion – was demolished to make way for the future housing.
Rather than attempt to rezone the site – which adjoins the British consulate – for a higher density at the beginning of the redevelopment process, it was decided to build what was legally permitted and later apply to amend the zoning, Luria explained.
“Ateret Cohanim is not involved in the building project but we have an interest in strengthening Jewish roots in and around the Old City,” he said.
One of Shlomit Etzion’s handcrafted quilts. (photo by Nir Falay)
Despite being generally considered the cradle of ancient civilizations and the source of the world’s monotheistic religions, the Middle East region is not known for its quilting. Yet, even in Jerusalem, you will find dedicated quilters.
Quilting is the process of sewing two or more pieces of fabric together to make a thicker padded material. Quilting is done all over the world, from Europe to America, to Southern Asia. While we don’t know its origins, we do know that, for many years, people quilted their clothes. Moreover – despite the Middle East not being recognized for its quilting – the earliest piece of quilted garment comes from the figure of a Pharaoh, dating to around 3400 BC, the period of ancient Egypt’s First Dynasty.
Shlomit Etzion, a Jerusalem resident since birth, said she has always worked with her hands. Her mother encouraged her to do handcrafts and she recalls that she started with embroidery. For a time, Shlomit considered going to a high school where she could pursue that, but decided not to go that route. In the end, she began quilting after she finished her university degree.
What would compel someone to begin quilting? For Shlomit, it was the beauty of traditional quilts. She likes Amish quilts and has even visited Amish quilters. She also likes the quilts of Native Americans. That is not to say, however, that she does art quilt, which employs both modern and traditional quilting techniques to create art objects. An art quilt is an original exploration of a concept or idea rather than the handing down of a pattern. It experiments with textile manipulation, colour, texture and/or a diversity of mixed media. Since this is not the type of work she creates, Shlomit describes herself as a traditionalist who uses traditional patterns as a jumping off point.
(As an aside, there are a number of quilt patterns based on the Hebrew Bible. They include Jacob’s Ladder, the Children of Israel, Joseph’s Coat of Many Colours and the Star of Goshen.)
In the beginning, Shlomit worked using scraps from old clothes and sewing by hand, just as was originally done in the United States. But now she buys her material, because it offers her more choices. She only uses cotton, as she likes the feel of it. When she visits the United States, she always goes to fabric stores to shop for material. However, there are now a few stores in Jerusalem that have a good cloth selection.
Shlomit uses a Bernina quilting machine, but there is a lot of picking of materials, measuring, pinning and cutting to do by hand. To secure her pieced top, the insulating fabric and the backing fabric, she brings her materials to a woman with a long-arm machine. Amazing as this may sound, Shlomit pointed out that nowadays, instead of sewing, some people even glue their pieces together.
In her work, Shlomit often uses the nine-patch on point (consisting of nine evenly sized blocks stitched together). However, she has also made stunning quilts using the jelly roll pattern – for which the fabric is pre-cut and you can use a simple sewing method to put it together – and the log cabin pattern. In log cabin quilts, there is a repeated single block pattern of light and dark fabric strips that represent the walls of a log cabin; a centre patch, often of red cloth, represents the hearth or fire. Other geometric shapes such as trapezoids or right-angle triangles might appear in her quilts.
Shlomit likes fall colours the best – oranges, tans, brown shades. Because she is a red head, for a period of time she steered away from greens and blues. As a child, she had been pushed to wear those colours.
Life in general inspires her art, and living in Jerusalem plays a role, she said.
She derives tremendous joy from quilting, she added. She can sit for a whole day doing it. She enjoys not just the sewing, but also the technical work. She probably has 50 to 60 completed quilts at home, she said.
In Israel, unfortunately, people are not very interested in paying the price that quilt handwork commands, so her sales have covered the cost of her supplies, but not the hours she has spent making the quilts.
She prefers to work alone, but, when quilting meetings are held in Jerusalem, she joins the group. The Jerusalem quilting group is not formally active, though. Members seem to get together most regularly when they have an exhibit for which to prepare. While some readers may have seen movies or read books – such as Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace or Whitney Otto’s How to Make an American Quilt – in which people attend quilting bees, working on the same quilt, this does not happen in Jerusalem. Like many groups, the Jerusalem quilters have met less often because of COVID-19 concerns.
Even though they aren’t an active group per se, the Jerusalem quilters have had some lovely exhibits at the International Convention Centre, the Jerusalem Theatre, the YMCA and the Mormon College. (See israelquilt.com/en/quilting-groups for more information.) Shlomit herself has exhibited in the United States and in the United Kingdom.
I suspect this quote about quilts originally targeted the receiver, rather than the giver: “Blankets wrap you in warmth, quilts wrap you in love.” In Shlomit’s case, however, the physical making of the quilt is a form of love.
Deborah Rubin Fields is an Israel-based features writer. She is also the author of Take a Peek Inside: A Child’s Guide to Radiology Exams, published in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
Then-mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat and Nomi Levin Yeshua at the Jerusalem Foundation of Canada gala in Toronto in 2014. (photo from Nomi Levin Yeshua)
This article is the first in an occasional series about people with British Columbian roots having positive impacts in Israel and elsewhere.
When Nomi Levin Yeshua went to Israel in 1990, she wasn’t committed to staying there. Almost three decades later, the Vancouver-born and -raised woman can look back on a career that has impacted the face of Jerusalem and Israel.
Thanks to a chance meeting over Shabbat lunch with her grandmother’s former neighbour’s sister – “You know Israel,” she said, laughing – Yeshua had barely arrived in Israel when she got a job as assistant to the assistant to Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem’s mayor – but the job was more than that.
Shula Eisner, Yeshua’s new boss, had been working for Kollek since 1965, just before he began his 28-year run as mayor. Kollek was chairman of the Israel Museum and, before that, had served 11 years as director general of the prime minister’s office under David Ben-Gurion. In that role, Kollek effectively created almost all of the government agencies in the new state.
“One of the things he believed was that there had to be a national museum,” Yeshua told the Independent recently while in Vancouver for a milestone birthday of her mother, Shanie Levin. “He went around raising money to start the Israel Museum. He had an office there and [Eisner] was originally hired there to work with him with all the foreign donors. Then he was elected mayor and he kept to the Israel Museum office.”
In 1966, Kollek founded the Jerusalem Foundation, where Yeshua now works.
“That was his way of creating a forum for supporters of Jerusalem around the world, to be part of creating a new vision for Jerusalem. Then, a year after that, with the Six Day War and the reunification of the city, suddenly everything was just multiplied,” she said.
Yeshua acknowledged that Kollek’s multiple roles as mayor, head of the national museum and leader of a major foundation would probably not be sustainable today, but that was a different time.
“For him, it was all fluid,” she said.
To accommodate his different hats in the era before email or even fax machines, there was a driver who shuffled between offices, taking papers back and forth.
When Eisner moved over to another foundation, she handed her baton to Yeshua, who worked with Kollek through his last years as mayor and continued until a few months before he passed away, in 2007. She continues to run all donor relations for the Jerusalem Foundation and she personally handles Canadian fundraising for the organization.
The Jerusalem Foundation was started by Kollek because he saw that Jerusalem was a very poor city.
“A lot of religious institutions that don’t pay taxes at all are in Jerusalem, so he knew that it was always going to be a challenge for the city to have a balanced budget, to expand the city, to develop the city, to provide for the citizens of the city, so he knew that he was going to need to raise money,” she said.
Kollek pioneered a fundraising model that is now almost universal across Israeli and Jewish philanthropy.
“He connected every donor to a specific project and they knew that their money went to that project and they could come – and now their grandchildren come – and see those projects. To this day, they can still track the money. The Jerusalem Foundation was really at the forefront of that movement of changing the way people were giving to Israel. Now, it’s taken for granted, but it wasn’t back in the late ’60s and early ’70s at all. That was Teddy,” she said. “He wanted people to feel personally connected to the city, to the project, to the place.”
The foundation emphasizes “shared living” and is now focused on a vision for 2030.
“This is a city that is completely about how to exist together in this space that we share. It’s not just Arabs and Jews. It’s also secular and religious, it’s poor and rich, it’s all kinds of divisions that exist in the city,” she said. “But how do we share and how do we understand each other better?”
One major project is Hand-in-Hand School for Bilingual Education.
“Bilingual education is something that Canadians completely understand but Israelis less so. This is a school that teaches in Arabic and in Hebrew, in mixed classrooms. The rest of the Israeli education system is – we don’t like to use this word but it’s the truth – segregated,” she said. “There are Jewish schools, there are Arab schools and then, even within the Jewish schools, there are religious and nonreligious. This school brings together all of the different population groups and at all times there is an Arabic-speaking and a Hebrew-speaking teacher in the classroom.” There are now six such schools around the country.
Another area of the foundation’s work is helping the most vulnerable populations in the city, through projects such as Springboard, which develops programs primarily through the education system to push gifted kids into opportunities their financial situation might not otherwise permit.
The Jerusalem Foundation is also the city’s second-largest funder to the arts, after the municipality.
“We really believe that a modern and thriving city should have a good cultural scene. Culture is not just for one population group. All members of the community should be cultural consumers. But you have to create culture that is appropriate for those people,” she said. “For example, there is a dance troupe for ultra-Orthodox women. They only perform for women, of course, because otherwise that wouldn’t work for them. But they’re really doing amazing stuff and giving these ultra-Orthodox women who want to dance an opportunity to have a really high-level, professional dance troupe within the system that works for them.”
The foundation is also building a new Hassadna Conservatory of Music.
“They help kids ages six all the way through high school with classical music education and they also provide a special program for children of Ethiopian descent who don’t necessarily have the financial means to get musical training and they have a special program for special needs kids that’s integrated,” she said.
Yeshua credits her Vancouver upbringing as foundational to her worldview and accomplishments. She grew up in the Habonim Dror Zionist youth movement and was a camper, counselor and camp director at Camp Miriam. At home, her Jewishness was nurtured in a pluralistic way.
“In terms of how my mother brought us up, Jewish identity wasn’t limited to our religious identity,” she recalled. “National identity was something that was acceptable, cultural identity was very much encouraged. I think growing up in the very open community of Vancouver – to me it always seems that way, at least – it allowed me to be Jewish in a way that I felt good with and it wasn’t only one way to be Jewish.”
Yeshua acknowledged that “many people feel somewhat alienated from Israel today.”
“I want people to understand that there is a way to engage with Israel, to support Israel, and not contradict your own value system or what you think is acceptable,” she said. “What we do with the Jerusalem Foundation is something that people can respond to, relate to, understand – to protect Jerusalem as a city that is for everyone.”
Crews from the office of the Rabbi of the Western Wall remove tens of thousands of written prayers from the Western Wall. (photo by Gil Zohar)
On April 10, equipped with long sticks, crews from the office of the Rabbi of the Western Wall removed tens of thousands of written prayers, which worshippers had wedged into crevices at the holy site over the previous half year. The painstaking work is done twice annually, in advance of Passover in April and Rosh Hashanah in September, to ensure space for new prayers. The notes that are removed are buried in Mount of Olives Cemetery.
The origin of the practice of placing small folded sheets of paper between the cracks of the 2,000-year-old ashlars is unclear. According to tradition, God’s female presence (Shechinah), has never left the holy site.
A retaining wall of the Temple Mount, built by King Solomon circa 960 BCE and destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, the Kotel Maaravi (Western Wall) stands today beneath a religious plaza known in Arabic to Muslims as al-Haram ash-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). Jews believe the holy hill marks the navel of the world from where God began his creation 5779 years ago; the site also marks where Abraham brought his son Isaac to offer him up as a sacrifice. Muslims consider the Western Wall to be where Muhammad tethered his winged steed al-Burak when he ascended to the Seventh Heaven. And Christians believe Jesus was one of the millions of Jewish pilgrims in antiquity who came here during the festivals of Passover, Tabernacles and Pentecost.
From 1948 until 1967, when East Jerusalem was under the control of Jordan, Israelis were prohibited from visiting the site.
The stamp of “Ikar, son of Matanyahu.” (IAA photos courtesy Ashernet)
The 2,600-year-old stamp of “Ikar, son of Matanyahu” was among the artifacts uncovered in archeological excavations at the Givati Parking Lot, in City of David National Park in Jerusalem. The dig was conducted by archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Tel Aviv University and, according to TAU’s Prof. Yuval Gadot and IAA’s Dr. Yiftah Shalev, the artifacts were found inside a large public building that was destroyed in the sixth century BCE, probably during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Large stone debris, burnt wooden beams and numerous charred pottery shards were discovered, all indications that they had survived a fire.
The stamp and bulla (seal impressions), which are about one centimetre in size, were deciphered by Dr. Anat Mendel-Geberovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Centre for the Study of Ancient Jerusalem. “The name Matanyahu appears both in the Bible and on additional stamps and bullae already unearthed. However, this is the first reference to the name Ikar, which was unknown until today,” said Mendel-Geberovich.
According to Gadot and Shalev, “These artifacts corroborate the highly developed system of administration in the Kingdom of Judah and add considerable information to our understanding of the economic status of Jerusalem and its administrative system during the First Temple period, as well as personal information about the king’s closest officials and administrators who lived and worked in the city.”
Running has become one of the most popular sports in Israel, with both the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem marathons attracting thousands of competitors. The Jerusalem Marathon on March 15 attracted some 40,000 runners, including 4,600 athletes from more than 80 different countries. Six different runs were offered, one of which was designed for competitors with special needs. The main event was won by Kenyan runner Ronald Kimeli, 33, who ran the 42.2 kilometres in two hours, 18 minutes and 47 seconds.
The landmark synagogue before being
dynamited by Jordan’s Arab Legion in 1948. (photo from Wikipedia)
A cornerstone laying ceremony was held May 29,
2014, for the rebuilding of the Old City of Jerusalem’s Tiferet Yisrael
Synagogue, which was dedicated in 1872 and dynamited by Jordan’s Arab Legion in
Speaking nearly five years ago, then-Jerusalem
mayor Nir Barkat declared, “Today we lay the cornerstone of one of the
important symbols of the Jewish community in Jerusalem. The municipality
attaches great importance to the preservation and restoration of heritage sites
in Jerusalem, and we will continue to maintain the heritage of Israel in this
Citing Lamentations 5:21, Uri Ariel, housing
minister at the time, added, “We have triumphed in the laying of yet another
building block in the development of Jerusalem, a symbolic point in the vision
that continues to come true before our eyes: ‘Renew our days as of old.’”
The two politicians symbolically placed a stone
salvaged from the ruined building, and construction was supposed to take three
years, according to the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the
Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem Ltd. (JQDC), a public company under
the auspices of the Ministry of Construction and Housing.
Fast forward to Dec. 31, 2018, and the exercise
was repeated, this time with the participation of Jerusalem minister Zeev
Elkin, construction minister Yoav Galant, deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman
and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon. But, this time, according to the JQDC, much of
the project’s NIS 50 million (approximately $18 million Cdn) budget has been
secured, in part thanks to anonymous overseas donors. With the Israel
Antiquities Authority’s salvage dig of the Second Temple period site headed by
Oren Gutfeld completed, work can now begin in earnest.
Fundraising to purchase the land for the
Tiferet Yisrael, also known as the Nisan Bak shul, was initiated in 1839 by
Rabbi Israel Friedman of Ruzhyn, Ukraine, (1797-1850) and his disciple Rabbi
Nisan Bak, also spelled Beck (1815-1889). While der Heiliger Ruzhiner
(Holy Ruzhyner), as his Chassidim called him, purchased the hilltop in 1843,
the mystic didn’t live to see construction begin.
His ambitious plans in Jerusalem reflected his
grandiose lifestyle in Sadhora, Bukovina, in Galicia’s Carpathian Mountains,
pronounced Sadagóra in Yiddish. There, he lived in a palace with splendid
furnishings, rode in a silver-handled carriage drawn by four white horses and,
with an entourage, dressed like a nobleman, wore a golden skullcap and clothing
with solid gold buttons, and was attended by servants in livery. This unusual
manner was accepted and even praised by many of his contemporaries, who
believed the Ruzhiner was elevating God’s glory through himself, the tzadik
(righteous one), and that the splendour was intended to express the derekh
hamalkhut (way of kingship) in the worship of God.
In one incident, described in David Assaf’s The
Regal Way: The Life and Times of Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin (Stanford
University Press, 2002), the Ruzhiner’s Chassidim noticed that, notwithstanding
that their rebbe was wearing golden boots, he was leaving bloody footprints in
the snow. Only then did they realize that the gold was only a show and his
shoes had no soles. Indeed, he was walking barefoot in the snow.
Rabbis Friedman and Bak were motivated by a
desire to foil Czar Nicholas I’s ambitions to build a Russian Orthodox
monastery on the strategic site overlooking Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Bak
consulted with architect Martin Ivanovich Eppinger. (Eppinger also planned the
Russian Compound, the 68,000-square-metre fortress-like complex erected by the
Imperial Russian Orthodox Palestine Society west of the Jaffa Gate and outside
the Old City, after the czar was outmanoeuvred by the Chassidim.)
Bak, who both designed the massive synagogue
and served as its contractor, spent more than a decade fundraising and six
years building it. Inaugurated on Aug. 19, 1872, he named the three-storey
landmark in honour of his deceased rebbe.
According to a perhaps apocryphal story, the
quick-witted Bak was able to complete the ornate synagogue thanks to a donation
from Kaiser Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary. In 1869, while visiting Jerusalem
en route to dedicate the Suez Canal, the emperor asked his subjects who came
from Sadhora in the remote Austrian province of Bukovina why their synagogue
had no roof. (In 1842, having spent two years in Russian prisons on charges of
complicity in the murder of two Jewish informers, Rabbi Friedman fled to
Sadhora and reestablished his resplendent court.)
Seizing the moment, Bak replied, “Your majesty,
the synagogue has doffed its hat in your honour.” The kaiser, understanding the
royal fundraising pitch, responded, “How much will it cost me to have the
synagogue replace its hat?” and donated 1,000 francs to complete Tiferet
Yisrael’s dome, which was thereafter referred to by locals as “Franz Joseph’s
Tamar Hayardeni, in “The Kaiser’s Cap”
(published in Segula magazine last year), wrote that, while the kaiser
made a donation, the dome was in fact completed with funds provided by Rabbi
Israel of Ruzhyn’s son, Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov of Sadhora (1820-1883).
In the winter and spring of 1948, the dome
served as a key Haganah military position and lookout point for the Jewish
Quarter’s outgunned defenders.
Children were recruited for the battle for
Tiferet Yisrael. Some as young as 9 built defence positions. The “older” ones –
12 or so – carried messages, food, weapons and ammunition. Some were killed,
including Grazia (Yaffa) Haroush, 16, and Nissim Gini, 9, who was the youngest
fallen fighter in the War of Independence. Like the others who fell in the
defence of the Jewish Quarter and were buried there, his remains were exhumed
after 1967 and reinterred on the Mount of Olives.
Badly damaged by heavy shelling, the synagogue
was blown up by Jordanian sappers on May 21, 1948. A few days later, following
the neighbourhood’s surrender on May 25, the nearby Hurva Synagogue – the main
sanctuary of Jerusalem’s mitnagdim (anti-Chassidic Ashkenazi followers
of the Vilna Gaon) – met the same fate.
With the rebuilding of the Hurva completed by
the JQDC in 2010, Tiferet Yisrael became the last major Old City synagogue
destroyed in 1948 not rebuilt.
Hurva is a stone-clad, concrete and steel
facsimile of its original structure, updated to today’s building code and
equipped with an elevator. The same is planned for Tiferet Yisrael.
The reconstruction of faux historic synagogues
has not been without critics. Writing in the Forward in 2007 as the
Hurva was rising, historian Gavriel Rosenfeld, co-editor of Beyond Berlin:
Twelve German Cities Confront the Nazi Past (University of Michigan Press,
2008), noted the manifold links between architecture, politics and memory.
“The reconstruction of the Hurva seems to
reflect an emotional longing to undo the past. It has long been recognized that
efforts to restore ruins reflect a desire to forget the painful memories that
they elicit. Calls to rebuild the World Trade Centre towers as they were before
the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks represent a clear (if unrealized) instance of this
yearning. And the recently completed reconstruction of Dresden’s famous
Frauenkirche – long a heap of rubble after being flattened by Allied bombers in
February 1945 – represents a notable example of translating this impulse into reality.
“And yet, the reconstruction project is
problematic, for in seeking to undo the verdict of the past, the project will
end up denying it. Denial is inherent in the restoration of ruins, as is
frequently shown by the arguments used to justify such projects. In Dresden,
for example, many supporters of the Frauenkirche’s restoration portrayed
themselves as the innocent inhabitants of a city that was unjustly bombed in
1945, thereby obscuring the city’s longtime support for the Nazi regime and its
war of aggression during the years of the Third Reich. Similarly, the physical
appearance of the restored Frauenkirche – despite its incorporation of some of
the original church’s visibly scorched stones – has effectively eliminated the
signs of the war that its ruin once vividly evoked.
“In the case of the Hurva,” writes Rosenfeld,
“the situation is somewhat different. If many Germans in Dresden emphasized
their status as victims to justify rebuilding their ruined church, the Israeli
campaign to reconstruct the Hurva will do precisely the opposite – namely,
obscure traces of their victimization. As long as the Hurva stood as a hulking
ruin, after all, it served as a reminder of Israeli suffering at the hands of
the Jordanians. [Mayor Teddy] Kollek said as much in 1991, when he noted: ‘It
is difficult to impress upon the world the degree of destruction the Jordanian
authorities visited upon synagogues in the Old City…. The Hurva remnants are
the clearest evidence we have today of that.’ Indeed, as a ruin, the Hurva served
the same kind of function as sites such as Masada and Yad Vashem – which, by
highlighting the tragedies of the Jewish past, helped to confirm the Israeli
state as the chief guarantor of the Jewish people’s future.
“At the same time, however, it seems the
Hurva’s existence as a ruin conflicted with the state of Israel’s Zionist
master narrative: the idea that, ultimately, heroic achievement triumphs over
helplessness. In fact, in the end, it may be the project’s ability to confirm
the national desire to control its own destiny that best explains its appeal.
Israel faces many intractable problems that make present-day life uncertain.
But, in the realm of architecture, Israelis can indulge in the illusion that
they can at least control and manipulate the past. In this sense, the Hurva’s
reconstruction may express deeper escapist fantasies in an unpredictable
Rosenfeld’s theorizing about architectural
authenticity made little impression on the JQDC chair, Moti Rinkov. Indeed the
JQDC, together with the Ben-Zvi Institute, recently published High Upon High,
in which 12 historians trace Tiferet Yisrael’s history. Rinkov noted at the
second cornerstone ceremony: “The renovation and restoration of the Tiferet
Yisrael Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter is one of the most important and
exciting projects I’ve taken part in. Rebuilding the synagogue is, in fact,
raising the Israeli flag in the Jewish Quarter. It’s truly a work where they’re
restoring the crown to its former glory and restoring glory to the Jewish
The rebuilt Tiferet Yisrael, together with the
Hurva, will engage Jerusalem’s skyline not as authentic landmarks but, as
Rosenfeld noted, “postmodern simulacrum.”
The other Tiferes Yisroel
In 1953, Rabbi Mordechai Shlomo Friedman, the
Boyaner Rebbe of New York, laid foundations for a new Ruzhiner Torah centre in
west Jerusalem to replace the destroyed Tiferet Yisrael. Located on the western
end of Malkhei Yisrael Street between the current Central Bus Station and
Geula, the downtown of the Charedi city, the Ruzhiner yeshivah, Mesivta Tiferes
Yisroel, was inaugurated in 1957 with the support of all of the Chassidic
rebbes descended from Friedman, who was the first and only Ruzhiner Rebbe.
However, his six sons and grandsons founded their own dynasties, collectively
known as the “House of Ruzhin.” These dynasties, which follow many of the
traditions of the Ruzhiner Rebbe, are Bohush, Boyan, Chortkov, Husiatyn,
Sadigura and Shtefanest. The founders of the Vizhnitz, Skver and Vasloi
Chassidic dynasties were related to the Ruzhiner Rebbe through his daughters.
A grand synagogue built adjacent to the new
Ruzhiner yeshivah also bears the name Tiferes Yisroel. The current Boyaner
Rebbe, Nachum Dov Brayer, leads his disciples from there. The design of the
synagogue includes a large white dome, reminiscent of the original Tiferet
Yisrael destroyed in 1948 and now being rebuilt.
Ever since the YMCA opened on King David Street in Jerusalem in 1933, the building, designed by Arthur Lewis Harman (of New York’s Empire State Building fame), has been a famous landmark; in particular, its iconic tower has been part of the city’s landscape. The tower contained a carillon of 35 bells made by the British bell foundry Gillett & Johnston in the early 1930s. It is the only carillon in the Middle East, but there was one note – in other words, a bell – missing from it. A recent anonymous donation made it possible for the YMCA to order the missing bell from the Royal Eijsbouts foundry in the Netherlands and, in a precisely managed operation earlier this week, a large crane raised and placed the new, 36th, bell into its place in the tower.