June 18, 2001 Update

Letters from Israel

Monday, June 18, 2001

Dear family and friends,

Hebrew Book Week may be over, but the enjoyment it gave me lingers not only on my book shelves but also in the morale boost it gave me.

Unfortunately, some other events have been cancelled, mostly due to foreign visitors contracting cold feet. But what lifts our spirits is that so many special events and festivals are going ahead. The Israel Festival. with its mix of international and local theatre and music, has proceeded as scheduled. Almost all the foreign groups have turned up, including Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company, Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa and New Zealand songstress Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, to name but a few. We've hosted Irish folk musicians, English and American jazz musicians, German orchestras, Baltic choirs, teenage heartthrob "boybands" Westlife and Five, and British "girlband" Atomic Kitten.

Other visitors have included Spain's national soccer team (they tied with Israel) and the participants of Russia's national beauty pageant, which was held in Eilat. The annual Karmiel international folk dance festival is scheduled to take place as usual and dance troupes from around the world have confirmed their participation.

Most heartening of all, the Birthright trips to Israel for Jewish diaspora youth are still coming, bringing with them messages of solidarity and warmth from Jewish communities around the world. It's a small compensation for the devastated tourist industry, but it's one of the things which help sustain our morale, reminding us that Israel is the centre for world Jewry not just in the good times, but also during the bad.

Imagine, then, our disappointment upon hearing that World Maccabi was on the verge of cancelling this year's Maccabiah games, the "Jewish Olympics", due to an epidemic of athletes' cold foot spreading throughout the diaspora. Meanwhile, some major Jewish organisations abroad began cancelling summer programmes in Israel, ostensibly for safety reasons.

Not that we don't understand their fears, but even with all the problems it's possible to visit Israel in complete safety, and thousands of tourists do so every week. Supporting Israel should be more than just sending cheques, writing letters or holding solidarity rallies, important as these activities are. It's also about throwing in one's lot with the people of Israel, even for just a few days.

Believe it or not, joining us for a few days by the hotel pool helps to fight terror in its own way. It denies the terrorists the satisfaction of seeing Israel abandoned by foreign visitors and deserted by world Jewry. Each show of fear, each empty hotel and cancelled flight, encourages the terrorists to believe that Israel can be brought to her knees, her friends fleeing in her time of need. In a war of terrorism, the psychological front is half the battle. Hizballah in southern Lebanon even broadcasts Hebrew propaganda on its television station. The programmes mock Israeli weakness, depict Israel as a nation of cowards, revel in pictures of carnage, gloat over empty Israeli resorts and boast about how much of northern Israel is in range of Hizballah rockets. Last year, they imply, Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in flight from Hizballah attacks; today's terrorist war will drive us out of Israel as well.

So, though not sports fans, we were relieved, even enthusiastic, to hear last Friday that the Maccabiah games would go ahead after all, once the American delegation had confirmed its attendance. This is genuinely a victory against terrorism. Some delegations and some athletes have cancelled their participation, and the event is expected to run a large deficit, but the games will go on. International Jewry has not abandoned Israel. That gives us strength and denies the enemy their pleasure.

We hope, of course, that more Maccabiah delegations will decide to come. We hope that tour groups who have cancelled will change their minds. We look forward to seeing more tourists, more Jewish youth groups, more pilgrimages. Those who are nervous about visiting the big cities will find plenty to enjoy in the desert, the Dead Sea or Eilat. The mysteries of Tzfat await, as do the ancient Jewish villages of the Golan and Galilee.

Life goes on.


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Copyright 2001 by Leiah Elbaum.