Nitza Spiro Hebrew Studies

Registered Charity No 1070926


One of my very first and strongest childhood memories is that of the 29th November 1947 when the General assembly of the UN voted for allowing an Israeli Jewish State to be created. A majority of 33 countries to 10 were in favour of the proposed plan. I still see before my eyes the picture of my parents, immigrants from Poland, sitting in front of an old Bush wireless, together with a group of neighbours who gathered in our cramped flat in Jerusalem, each with a sheet of paper and a pencil. With breathless anticipation they counted the votes of each country. When the necessary majority had been secured, one could hear the screams of joy bursting not only from our kitchen but also from every window in our building and surrounding houses, from every house in the city, in the country and no doubt from every Jewish home around the world. The walls of one's apartment were too tight to absorb the emotional response of a feeling that at long last Jews would return to the land of their own and avoid discrimination, hatred and prejudice. At that moment realistic predictions of the future Middle East situation did not enter the picture.

Torrents of tears were shed from every eye. We all ran into the street, not to celebrate our joy in isolation. By the time we came out, the streets were already swarming with people of all ages, hugging and kissing strangers, and locking hands in a spontaneous Hora dance. Endless circles of old and young were dancing to the tune of the favourite Israeli prophetic song: "David, king of Israel is alive", the real feeling of a Messianic era. My mother, who had had polio as a child and could only walk with difficulty, joined the dancers dragging me along so that I would never forget this historic moment.

Aspirations and prayers of millennia, it seemed had been fulfilled and I have no doubt that, in centuries to come, people will envy those of us who lived to be a part of this miraculous moment following a nation's rebirth after a long and turbulent exile. 61 years later we are looking at the "baby" born in 1948 who has survived the dangers, the daily fears and losses of young life sacrificed for the future safety of the state.

But unfortunately serious social and economic problems have beset the state and we cannot ignore the greed and the low level of morality amongst some of the most prominent of Israel's leaders, nor the growing rate of crime, including white collar crime. Where are the ideals that were the bedrock of Israel` s foundation? As saddened as I am that my parents are no longer with us, I can hardly imagine the torment they would have suffered by seeing so many of their ideals shattered. On the eve of this year` s Day of Independence I listened to an Israeli comedy programme where old ideas were mocked and the audience burst into endless laughter. It was truly painful to hear.

But is it all really so disappointing? Let us appreciate that Israel is a modern Jewish miracle. As a young state it faced enormous challenges. Despite the need to defend itself since its birth, Israel has absorbed millions of Jews from all corners of the world: people who did not speak the language bringing with them many different levels of education and cultural background. And despite all its problems, Israel is still leading a force in bringing to the world its medical, technological, agricultural and scientific discoveries and sharing them in a wide variety of humanitarian programmes which frequently are little known about. Did you know, for example, that a wheelchair that can climb stairs is an Israeli invention? Are you aware that Israeli desert agriculture allows quality crops and flowers to be grown in one of the hottest climates? Have you heard of the method of healing by riding on horseback? Have you been told about the animal-assisted therapy, designed to help injured war veterans? Or high-tech viticulture? When you go to any modern hospital in the world, much of the most sophisticated equipment to test or cure you are Israeli inventions. The largest desalination plant anywhere is in Israel, which now supplies 15% of the water needed in the country.

Are you aware of advanced culinary achievements, extraordinary music (classical and folk) rapidly growing in accolade. Of an Israeli film industry gaining international recognition; theatre or literature with writers such as Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman who having become international household names.

In a world where Israel is in fact constantly threatened with extinction, when we have to combat poisonous world opinion and hostile propaganda, (even coming from some of our own people), the Spiro Ark felt that the situation desperately needed to be addressed.

We therefore opened a special department at the Spiro Ark, calling it Tzavta ("togetherness" in Hebrew) with the aim of presenting, on a regular basis, the true, complex, often very disturbing but wonderful picture of what is happening in all fields of Israeli life.

We have been fortunate to recruit dynamic and talented Sagi Hartov who is very familiar with the cultural life of Israel and who, together with myself, runs regular events to enlighten and delight the public about Israel of yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Spiro Ark now buzzes with lectures, concerts, films, visiting academics, debates, theatrical performances, book launches, etc on life and activity in Israel.

Many of you want the world to know that Israel is not necessarily made up of blood-thirsty citizens, that it yearns for normality and produces so much good for the world at large.

But by sitting at home and doing nothing to address the hostility and apathy little will be achieved. Bring your Jewish and non-Jewish friends to learn and to have the information to combat untrue allegations and unacceptable criticism of Israel. Mix with people who might have different ideas to your own and learn to listen, think and debate in a civilised atmosphere.

You can come with your own ideas for events and help to organize and host them. Learn the Hebrew language in a way which will make you love it, by linking it to your ancient heritage, to Synagogue worship and to modern Israel and its people.

Bring your friends to the finals of an international competition of Israeli music we have organised with candidates having entered from 15 different countries. From Poland to Singapore, from Hong Kong to Columbia. You will be able to see musicians, who prior to this competition perhaps hardly knew where to find Israel on the map and are now becoming ambassadors of good will for the country.

Please become a partner; Israel needs you to do more than being a couch complainer!

We are waiting for you, your ideas and support, so do come forward!