‘every day is a miracle’

Noam Schalit this week described each day since his son’s release as a “miracle” and insisted that fears about the release of Palestinian prisoners had proved to be largely unfounded.

In an interview with the Jewish News to mark one year since the former IDF soldier walked free from his 1,941-day ordeal at the hands of Hamas, Noam Schalit offered an insight into how his son Gilad (pictured right at a Barcelona football match) was enjoying life back in Israel and looking forward to travelling abroad, including to London.

Reflecting on the fact the 26-year-old recently spent his first Rosh Hashanah at home for six years, he said: “Every day, every holiday, every weekend, it’s a miracle for us. Gilad and the whole family have a great sense of renewal and he’s doing very well.”

He revealed that Gilad was currently mulling over which course to take when he begins university in September 2013 but is now “catching up on the gaps he missed” following his kidnapping while still a teenager in June 2006. “He’s been going out a lot, especially during the Succot holidays while his friends are on vacation from university. He’s also been hiking, cycling and has attended many sports events.”

As well as celebrating his birthday in August – according to Noam, it’s as if his son now also has a second birthday on the day he was freed – the Schalits have had no shortage of reasons to party this summer with the wedding of Gilad’s brother Yoel to Ya’ara Winkler.

“The couple met in 2009 in the Jerusalem protest tent during the campaign for Gilad, but avoided any celebration before he was freed,” Noam said.
“Some guests had never met Gilad or hadn’t seen him since he returned home – everyone wanted to shake his hand or exchange a few words. The couple were at the centre but he was the second focus.”

While Noam said Gilad was trying to look forward, rather than back, and the possibility of him writing a book had been “postponed”, his son this week spoke in public for the first time about his experiences in captivity. He recalled passing the time drawing pictures of his road in Israel to ensure he wouldn’t forget it and rolling up socks or T-shirts to play sports-oriented games. Noam believes, however, that he is yet to reveal even to his family every aspect of his experiences.

Since Gilad’s release, he has been able to indulge his love of sport by penning a weekly sports column for the Yediot Ahronot newspaper and by attending events like the NBA Finals and one of the world’s top football fixtures between Barcelona and Real Madrid during one of his foreign trips.

While acknowledging that, “maybe the first voyage abroad we were a little concerned”, Noam and wife Aviva have encouraged their son’s independence. Looking ahead to his visit to London for the B’nei B’rith Europe Young Adults Forum, Noam said: “He’s very much looking forward to it, especially to attending a football match. He watched a lot of the Olympics.”

Gilad also spoke in his television interview of the day he was freed and his fears that something could go wrong at the last minute as he travelled towards Egypt to be handed over.”

Asked whether he had ever thought during his family’s tireless campaign for Gilad that he might never see his son again, Noam told the Jewish News: “It was never certain he’d be freed, looking at the experiences of previous Israeli soldiers like Ron Arad. I only knew we could not retreat or give up, because I realised that if we did not fight the chances of seeing him back were quite low.”

Supporters across the world joined calls for his son to be freed and to be granted visits from the Red Cross, with Londoners joining vigils, marches and petitions. Hundreds, including then premier Gordon Brown, took part in the Jewish News’ campaign to sign Rosh Hashanah cards to the young Israeli.

He said: “We were very encouraged by the support of the Jewish communities worldwide including Australia, Canada and the United States. We needed all the support we could get worldwide. I think that the campaign in England was very effective because your government was very aware of this crisis.Gordon Brown wrote us a letter, ambassador Matthew Gould’s first mission was to come to our tent and William Hague also visited us in Jerusalem to express his support.”

For Noam, who had seen intense media speculation of an imminent deal come to nothing on previous occasions, scepticism remained even after finally receiving news in a 5am text message that a prisoner swap deal had been reached. “It still had to be approved by cabinet members and sometimes in the past there have been cases where the cabinet does not approve the prime minister’s recommendation. But as the day went on – and especially after it was published in the media at 7pm – I realised that they must approve it. I thought very few members of the cabinet will oppose this deal, because we had between 75 to 80 percent of public support.”

Addressing the vocal opposition to that exchange deal – which saw 1,027 Palestinians including those convicted over terror attacks set free – Noam stressed that his family had not taken part in the negotiations and “were not responsible for the price paid. We just asked that the government will fulfil its duty to bring back a soldier”. He added that “very few of those freed have been re-arrested and some of those that have were later released. The bottom line is that all the forecasts in Israel that there would be murders and buses would be exploded again were false.”

Noam is now embarking on a whole new campaign after accepting an offer to join Labour’s list for the next Knesset. While admitting that he had “never before” considered entering politics, he said MKs had an opportunity to influence life in Israel for the better and said he wished to speak up, in particular for those in the country’s north where he lives and also the south. Noam, who this week joined the family of Arad at a ceremony marking 26 years since his plane went down over Lebanon, also said that the issue of Israel’s missing soldiers would be one “I’m sure I won’t forget” if he enters the Knesset after the 22 January elections.

Noam, a member of Labour since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, was adamant that he would have no qualms in opposing Netanyahu in the Knesset, despite the fact “we appreciate very much that he took the decision to cut a deal maybe against his beliefs and ideology”.

He said: “It has nothing to do with the efforts that he and former PM Olmert and decision-makers made to bring back a soldier they had sent to his mission. It has nothing to do with political views or beliefs and doesn’t mean I have to believe in the same ideology of the prime minister and his party.”

But today, on the first anniversary of Gilad’s release, his thoughts will inevitably be focused on his son and his future. He said that, despite irreversible damage to his left hand as a result of shrapnel, his son’s health was “quite good”.

Noam added: “I hope he will go to university to acquire a profession and, like every parent, we hope that Gilad will sooner or later find a girl and establish his own family.”
• Gilad Schalit on the set of Homeland, page 15

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Synagogue security is beefed up

Synagogue-goers were warned this week to remain vigilant during Rosh Hashanah services after a number of terrorism-related arrests and the Palestinians’ statehood bid.

A statement by the Community Security Trust noted that “security measures will be at the same high level as in recent years. The number of UK terrorist arrests has not diminished since the killing of Osama bin Laden. The situation in the Middle East and around Palestinian statehood is particularly tense at this time, and we will be closely monitoring any anti-Semitic consequences arising from these major developments.”

Although there was no information about a specific threat, the CST added that it had “worked closely with synagogal bodies, synagogue security teams and rabbis in preparation for this year’s chagim, as well as with local and regional police who will provide appropriate responses should they be required. We deeply appreciate the co-operation of our community in all of this, and we look forward to helping everybody observe the chagim in security and with peace of mind.”

The CST is also taking advice from rabbis, who have said that, even during Shabbat and the high holy days, worshippers must phone the police if they see anything suspicious near their synagogues.

On Monday, six men were charged with terrorism offences, including a suspected suicide bombing campaign. West Midlands Police have said, however, that there was no suggestion of any Jewish targets. Four of the men were charged with preparing for an act of terrorism in the UK, and two with failing to disclose information. It follows a police operation in Birmingham last week.

The six, all from Birmingham and aged between 25 and 32, appeared at West London Magistrates’ Court on Monday. They include Irfan Nasser, 30, of Sparkhill, and Irfan Khalid, 26, of Balsall Heath, who were accused of preparing for an act of terrorism, including travelling to Pakistan for training in terrorism, making a martyrdom video and planning a bombing campaign.

They are accused of “being concerned in constructing” a home-made explosive device for terrorist acts and stating an intention to be a suicide bomber.

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‘Please Help Save My Life’

Marilyn Jacual suffers from a blood disorder that she fears could lead to leukaemia if a suitable match is not found.

The 61-year-old, who was born in the UK but moved to Israel more than 40 years ago, said: “I’m not old. There are so many things I still want to still do in life but without a transplant I won’t be around in a few years time. I would say to anybody that it’s a mitzvah to come forward and you would potentially be helping many people, not just me. It’s just a simple test and even if you’re a match it’s not a painful procedure.”

Despite regular hospital visits, Marilyn continues to work part-time for the American Embassy “to keep me sane”, but is no longer able to go out much. “My kids and five grandchildren come to me,” she said: “It’s the summer holidays and I would generally take time off to help look after them. I haven’t done any of that this year, I just don’t have the energy.”

Since Marilyn was told by doctors six weeks ago that she needed a transplant, her three siblings have been tested – including David Grueneberg, a member of Maidenhead Synagogue, through the Anthony Nolan Trust – and dozens of people have approached Ezer Mizion in Israel in an effort to give the gift of life.

However, a 100 percent match has not been found within the family or in the Israeli charity’s register. “There’s some people that have 100 matches. Unfortunately I don’t. My parents were from Germany so the best chance of finding a match would be a German Jewish background or European background. They have now said they will start searching for a 90 percent match which must mean they are looking quite urgently.”

Marilyn is hoping that one potential match discovered overseas will prove suitable following further testing. She said: “Hopefully if this person doesn’t work out we’ll find someone else. I believe there will be someone out there for me. The kids keep saying everything will be fine and I’ll have a transplant by Rosh Hashanah. That’s what I’d like to think too. It would be a new beginning.”

A spokeswoman for the Anthony Nolan Trust, which overseas the largest register in the UK with 420,000 potential bone marrow donors, said: “There are thousands of tissue types which means there may only be one match for a patient.”

There are around 8,000 Jewish potential donors on the register but the charity urged more to come forward. “Ethnicity is a factor in defining a person’s tissue type so it’s more likely a match will be found within the same ethnic group. We know people from ethnic backgrounds find it harder to find a match. If you’re not a match for Marilyn, you may be able to help someone else. We need people aged 18 to 30 to come forward as the patient has a better chance of good long-term outcomes but we recruit people up to 40.”

– More information at anthonynolan.org

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Enter Our Card Contest And Win an Apple iPad

Youngsters aged eight to 13 are being urged to dip their brushes into paint – or indeed to make use of other art materials – to design a Rosh Hashanah card fit for the mantelpieces of leaders of our country and our community.

The creations of six finalists in the contest – which is being held in partnership with the Board of Deputies and the London Jewish Cultural Centre – will be featured in an issue of the newspaper in the build-up to the high holy days and the eventual winner will win the ultimate in state-of-the-art technology…an Apple iPad!

Their design will also be turned into the official new year 5772 card for the Jewish News & Media Group, the Board and the LJCC and sent to the likes of the Queen, David Cameron and Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks.

Our panel of judges – Jewish News editor Richard Ferrer, Board of Deputies Chief Executive Jon Benjamin and LJCC Deputy Chief Executive Louise Jacobs – will also select two runners-up who will each receive £25 iTunes vouchers. All three creations will then be showcased during an event at the LJCC to which they and their parents will be invited.

Benjamin said: “We are delighted once again to be supporting the Jewish News Rosh Hashanah Card Competition. The new year is a time for renewal and hope, and the energy, vibrancy and creativity of the entrants’ efforts is wonderful to behold.”

Jacobs said: “The standard is always high and we thoroughly enjoy seeing the myriad of creative ideas and artistic techniques the entrants use to interpret their understanding of the Festival.

“We believe strongly that engaging young people with Jewish identity and encouraging them to express it in their own way is one way of ensuring the Jewish future.”

• To enter, send your original design on a sheet of A4 paper to: The Jewish News & Media Group, PO Box 34296, London, NW5 1YW. Include age and a contact number. Closing date is 9 September.

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Epidemic Of Poverty Spreading In Israel

But Magda, 85, an Auschwitz survivor who lives in Israel, goes hungry almost every day. Like many other Holocaust survivors, Magda has to decide whether to spend her money on food or other expenses – her rent, medications, heating and electricity. She usually eats bread and some soup she makes out of potato peel.

Tammy, eight, came to Israel from Russia with her mother when she was three years old. Tammy’s breakfast is a glass of milk or, sometimes, just a glass of water. She goes to school without anything for lunch. Her friend Ayala usually shares her fruit with her, and sometimes her sandwich. Often, Tammy gets her first proper meal at Meir Panim’s afterschool club. This is usually the only hot meal she has during the day.

Magda and Tammy are microcosms of the poverty epidemic that is spreading across Israel.

The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics last month published new figures on socio-economic change within Israeli society between 2003 and 2007. The figures painted a very difficult picture. Israel is poorer, hungrier, with larger populations living without access to vital services such as medical care. The report shows that 40 percent of children in Israel in 2007 were at risk of poverty. In comparison, the risk-of-poverty rate in EU countries remained at around 15-16 per cent during this period.

The poverty gap in Israel continues to widen, and it is Israel’s children and elderly citizens who suffer most. Charities like Meir Panim saw before Rosh Hashanah growing numbers of Israelis who came and asked for assistance.
Meir Panim distributed more than 2,000 food cards for needy families and Holocaust survivors in time for the holiday season. Each food card is worth 250 shekels (£36) and can be topped up. The card enables the families and Holocaust survivors to purchase essentials for the holidays. Using the card helps them to feel equal and reduces the charities’ involvement in their life.
They are able to choose their food and essentials by themselves, purchasing the foods suitable to them.

Every month, Meir Panim branches will continue to top up 1,000 cards for needy Holocaust survivors like Magda. Another survivor, Irena, 84, who received the card, told an Israeli newspaper: “The card helps me buy products that I could not afford without some serious thinking, for example meat. This is a very good card and it is a shame that it is not distributed to more Holocaust survivors”.

Organisations such as Meir Panim should not exist in the Jewish state. The Israeli government is supposed to take care of its people: the elderly, Holocaust survivors, disabled, children and unemployed. The Israeli government must consider poverty as an epidemic, prioritise this issue and find ways to eliminate it. Sadly, despite the country’s achievements in new technology, health and science, it leaves Holocaust survivors and children to fend for themselves. Since 2000, the number of poor people in Israel has grown dramatically and more and more organisations such as Meir Panim have been forced to fill the gap left by the government and help the poor and the needy.

Today, thanks to the goodwill of donors, organisations such as Meir Panim can assist the needy, providing hot meals, food cards, training for unemployed, after-school activities for kids and much more. Magda and Tammy need the support today. I call on the Israeli government to wake up. This is an emergency call.

– Gaby Blauer is the Executive Director of UK branch of Meir Panim.

• www.meirpanimuk.org

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Prince Charles To Join Kinder Celebration

Three years after hosting a Clarence House reception for some of the refugees who fled to Britain before the outbreak of the Second World War, the heir to the throne will be among a host of dignitaries at the 23 November gathering – probably the last major event bringing together so many Kinder from around the world.

Guests will hear from among others Lord Attenborough, Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and keynote speaker. Sir Martin Gilbert, who will recall a recent conversation with Lady Thatcher about the Jewish girl to whom she and her family gave a home in 1939.

Representing the government, Tony McNulty MP will also be among those descending on JFS, which was instrumental in helping to evacuate many of the Kinder from London where they arrived to Ely.

A Clarence House spokesman told the Jewish News: “The Prince of Wales is delighted to be invited to meet the remaining kinder and their families. The event recognises an important and noble point in British history.”

Part of a four-day reunion of Kindertransport evacuees, Sunday’s event will also feature a service of Remembrance, a Klezmer concert and a panel discussion chaired by Edwina Currie and featuring among others Lady Jakobovits and Reunion of the Kindertransport founder Bertha Leverton.

Erich Reich, chairman of the Association of Jewish Refugee’s Kindertransport committee, said: “We are celebrating one of the single most important decisions ever taken by the British government. Thanks to its intervention some 10,000 children, myself included, were saved from certain death.

“We believe this occasion will prove to be an exceptional celebration in the company of some of those young children who arrived on these shores so many years ago.”

The reunion – which follows previous such gatherings in 1988 and 1999 – will also include several visits in the lead-up to the centrepiece celebration including to the Imperial War Museum and the Kindertransport monument at Liverpool Street Station.

– If you are interested in attending the event, call the AJR for more information on 020 8385 3070.

The celebrity group are booking agents who provide speakers for a variety of functions. For more information visit http://www.celebrity.co.uk.

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‘A Giant Among Men’

Former Hendon United Synagogue minister Reverend Leslie Hardman died on Tuesday at the Royal Free Hospital, sparking a flood of tributes from some of the thousands of individuals and organisations he touched through his work in Holocaust education and during his more than seven decades of communal service after the war.

“He lived such a life – it’s almost unbelievable to speak of him in the past tense,” said Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks at a memorial service at Hendon shul on Tuesday. “How can any of us imagine a Hendon Jewish community without him? He was a source of strength for me, as he was for all of us. For me and for so many rabbis he was a role model. In clinging to the tree of life he became a tree of life.”

In entering Belsen on the 17 April 1945, two days after its liberation, Reverend Hardman was greeted by some of the most horrific scenes in history – 13,000 dead bodies lay unburied and most of those that had survived to that date were gravely ill.

The chaplain – described by one survivor as “our Messiah” – comforted whose who had been incarcerated and, as one of only three Jewish soldiers, led the first Hebrew prayer service following the liberation.

Rabbi Sacks, a friend for 35 years, spoke about how Reverend Hardman conducted separate burial ceremonies for 20,000 people at the camp, saying Kaddish for all of them. He added that “it was spiritual leadership on a heroic scale, giving them dignity in death that they had not known in life. You can almost imagine [Reverend Hardman] surrounded by clouds of glory”.

Hardman once told a BBC correspondent: “If all the trees in the world turned into pens, all the waters in the oceans turned into ink and the heavens turned into paper, it would still be insufficient material to describe the horrors these people suffered under the SS.”

But Hardman still worked to teach others about the Nazi era, authoring a book about the horrors he witnessed and talking to audiences across the country about those darkest of days including a moving address earlier this year at the national commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day.

Lord Janner, Chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “It was at the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp, on the second anniversary of the camp’s liberation, that I first met the remarkable and greatly respected Reverend Leslie Hardman. As Military Chaplain for the British Army in Germany he was an outstandingly supportive presence in the DP Camp and he did so much to lift the morale of survivors. Reverend Hardman was a long-standing supporter of the Holocaust Educational Trust and we shall miss him greatly.”

Association of Jewish Refugees Chairman Andrew Kaufman said the organisation “sends our sincerest condolences to his family. Like many AJR members, Reverend Leslie Hardman was a witness to the Nazis’ inhumanity. He will always be remembered and honoured for continuing to speak about his experiences at Belsen, which had a profound effect on his life.”

Hardman, who was awarded an MBE in 1998, served as minister of Hendon United Synagogue between 1946 to 1975 as well as as the Hendon Branch Chaplain of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women.

Jeremy Jacobs, new chief executive of the United Synagogue, commented: “Reverend Hardman was a remarkable man and played a leading role in developing Hendon United Synagogue and creating a thriving community. Within the United Synagogue he was one of our most senior and most respected ministers – a man full of compassion who dedicated his life to our community.”

Reverend Malcolm Weisman, senior Jewish chaplain of Her Majesty’s Forces, added:”He was one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met-a dedicated chaplain and a very inspirational person. I asked him once how he was doing, and he answered ‘I’m getting younger all the time.'”

Jewish News columnist Eric Moonman, a family friend who grew up with Reverend Hardman, added: “He had a gift and the experience to liven up any meeting or conference he attended. He could infuse people to act. My father used to say ‘Leslie Hardman is a mensch and always will be.'”

Reverend Hardman is survived by two daughters, seven grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren. He lost his wife and another daughter earlier this year. A fourth daughter passed away some years ago.

“Until the last few months of his life he seemed ageless,” said the Chief Rabbi. “The loss of two of his daughters and his beloved wife Josie, to whom he was married for more than seventy years, finally made him long to be reunited with them, but not before he gave a moving address, at the age of 95, at the National Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration in Liverpool earlier this year.”

He added: “He was a great man, a good man, a man who dedicated his long life to the service of others and of God. He will be missed, but never forgotten.”

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Win a holiday to Israel

To celebrate the special birthday, we are calling on all potential Picassos and budding Rembrandts to submit innovative designs that they feel capture the spirit of the country as it marks its anniversary. Entitled ‘What Israel means to me’, the paintings or drawings could depitc Israel’s great achievements in fields like the arts or technology, capturing the physical beauty of the Jewish state or perhaps creating an image of how you imagine May’s birthday celebrations will look.

And it will not be long before one talented designer has the opportunity to take in the sights and sounds of Israel for his or her self.

We have teamed up with leading hotel chain Isrotel to offer the overall winner of this JNFJewish News competition a holiday to Israel including flights and accommodation. The lucky individual, along with their parents, will enjoy seven nights at the stunning Isrotel Royal Garden Hotel in Eilat.

Jewish News Editor Zeddy Lawrence said: “The fantastic standard of entries received each year for our Rosh Hashanah card competition never fails to amaze us and I have no doubt that this contest will be no different. What better way to get the party started than to get the young members of our community involved and what better prize than a trip to the country whose birthday celebrations we are all looking forward to so much.”

Entrants can opt to use paints, pastels, pencils, felts, crayons or any other material for their creation. But whatever you choose, the more creative the design the more likely it is that yours will stand out among the hundreds we will be receiving.

The designs of 10 finalists will then be published in our special anniversary issue and on sister website totallyjewish.com on 8 May before the overall winner is selected by a panel of judges including Lawrence and JNF UK President Gail Seal.

The deadline for submissions is 28 April 2008. All entries should be on an A4 sheet of paper and sent to Israel 60 Design Competition, The Jewish News, PO Box 34296, London, NW5 1YW or emailed to justinc@thejngroup.com

The prizes will be valid for a year, upon availability, excluding Jewish and Christian holidays, and the months of July and August.

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Chanukah for the troops

Parcels containing food as well as candles and menorahs were last week sent by The Jewish Committee for Her Majesty’s Forces to troops serving in countries including Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This is certainly something that hasn’t been done for at least 30 years,” said the committee’s vice-chairman Colonel Martin Newman. “Our Jewish troops can sometimes feel isolated when they are away from their families over festivals but they continue to do a sterling job serving their country.

We presently have members of our community serving on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Africa, Belgium and Germany.”
While there are thought to be around 30 identifying British Jews currently stationed abroad, the parcels were sent to around 15 personnel in areas where they would not have easy access to items used during the festival.

Newman added: “The community often remains blissfully unaware that we have a significant and very active Jewish congregation within the regular and reserve forces and the young men an women who are serving really do appreciate this sort of support. We like to let them know that they are not forgotten.”

The Chanukah gifts – provided by a kosher food shop proprietor and South Manchester Lubavitch – follow the distribution of packages for Rosh Hashanah.

Captain Mike Poloway, a cadet force staff officer who sourced the items, said: “Two of our officers who came under fire over Yom Tov shared their Halva, apples and honey with their non-Jewish soldiers during a quiet and reflective moment.”

“Most of the guys are quite open about their reluigion particularly among other british troops but obviously they have to be very oabout identifying themselves. If threy lit candles they would obviously do it very discreetly”

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Security fears for Burma’s Jews

And they told the Jewish News about their own security fears amid the turmoil that’s rocked the country over the past few days.

Speaking from Rangoon, Sammy Samuels, one of just 20 Burmese Jews said: “The community once numbered around three thousand people but many fled to the United States and Israel during World War Two. Because there are so few of us, at Chanukah we celebrate with the Buddhist monks who have been leading the protest. It is terribly sad to see what has happened to them.”

Sammy, who runs Myanmar Shalom Travels offering Jewish-interest tours of the region, is the son of Moses Samuels, manager of Musmeah Yeshua, the country’s only synagogue, which was built in 1854. The community dates back to the mid nineteenth century when Jewish merchants and traders flocked to the country from Iraq, Iran and India.

Reflecting on the impact of the clashes over the High Holy Day period, he said: “The community is frightened about the protests. Usually we have a lot of tourists for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah from Israel and the United States, but this has fallen.

He added: “Because of the curfew we have to finish our services early. You can only be out up to nine o’clock.

“It’s a tense atmosphere, people have to rush home. It’s very quiet, all of the shops have closed.

And expressing his hopes that peace would soon he restored, he said: “We don’t know what is going to happen, but it is starting to calm down.
“It must be tough for the other religions such as Muslims observing Ramadan. I just hope negotiations are successful.”

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