One of the readers of the AJR Journal (Association of Jewish Refugees), published in London, to which I contribute a monthly column entitled ‘Letter from Israel,’ sent an irate letter to the editor complaining about what I write. “Why doesn’t Mrs. Shefer-Vanson write about the real issues that beset Israel instead of her bland pieces describing life as if she were living in North West London,” they said, or words to that effect.
I don’t usually reply to the letters referring to my column that the editor of that august journal occasionally prints. Some of them are positive, some negative, but as long as my name is spelt correctly, that’s all I require. Besides, there seems little point getting into arguments with readers, as these could well drag on over several months and end in nothing of any great significance. There is the additional consideration that many of the readers are quite advanced in age (refugees from Europe who left in the 1930s and 1940s, or who came as children in the framework of the Kindertransports), and it might appear disrespectful on my part to enter into an argument with them.
I make a point of not (or hardly ever) bringing politics into my column, partly because I have to send my article to the editor about six weeks before it actually appears, and the situation in Israel and the Middle East in general often changes radically within that period of time, so that what may be correct and relevant when I write it is passé by the time it appears. Apart from that, if it’s up-to-date news that people want to read, there are many other places where that can be obtained, and I doubt whether the AJR Journal is where one should be looking for it.
But as for the jibe about me living the life of someone who lives in North West London, I’m tempted to reply that in some ways there are definite similarities, albeit with a far better climate. After all, like someone living in North West London, I’m surrounded by Jews, there are Arabs in the vicinity, my relatives are not far away and the cultural and musical life is not inferior to what is available in London (apart from the theatre, of course).
Granted, we don’t have Brent Cross, or even Oxford Street, but we have quite reasonable substitutes, shopping malls keep popping up all over the place and downtown Jerusalem has even become reasonably quiet and unpolluted since the light railway began operating.
But then the political situation raises its ugly head, and there is no getting away from the fact that while life inside Israel continues on its even tenor, events in the region are volatile in the extreme. On our northern border Syrians are killing one another with unprecedented ferocity (not unprecedented, actually, vide Assad père). To the south of us the Egyptian populace, with the aid of the army, has just succeeded in toppling its democratically elected president, and there’s no knowing what lies ahead for that benighted country.
Yes, there are Occupied Territories, with their Palestinian population. The situation does not bode well, but there is very little I can do to change the state of affairs. I don’t support the settlers, I vote for the parties of the Left, but at the moment there are not enough people who think as I do to change the political situation under Israel’s democratic process.
The peoples of the surrounding countries may well take the lesson of the events in Egypt to heart, and who’s to say that similar occurrences won’t follow in Jordan, Lebanon, and even Iran? Anything’s possible in this day and age of instant messaging, facebook, etc. The main reason preventing people from going out and demonstrating en masse in those countries till now has presumably been fear of even greater violence on the part of the ruling echelon, and of course, the army which it controls. But if the army decides to side with the demonstrators, anything can happen.
So it seems wiser to keep out of the political morass and stick to describing the very pleasant life I lead here in Israel, with endless sunshine, caring people, and a rich cultural life. If anything, North West London comes a very poor second to what I – and many others – enjoy here.