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Twin Towns Agony
Last uploaded : Tuesday 2nd Apr 2002 at 00:13
Contributed by : Faith Eckersall/ Courtesy of The Bournemouth Echo



29 March 2002

IT'S EASTER. The sun is shining. Scores of families have gathered for a big dinner at a local hotel. Everyone - children, granny, great-granddad, are milling round the crowded banqueting hall.

Then a human bomb walks in and blows himself up.

There's no need to imagine the horror, the smoke and the screaming. Because this disaster exploded on Wednesday night for real, in a town that could almost be Bournemouth -- our twin town of Netanya, in Israel. And the only difference was that the victims of this terrorist outrage weren't celebrating Easter, but the Passover.

This latest Palestinian suicide bombing - the militant Hamas group has claimed responsibility - has left 19 dead, 120 injured and a once-plush luxury hotel looking as though it has been through a giant shredder.

It is the fourth attack within 12 months on the coastal resort that is so much like this town that, says Bournemouth's Netanya twinning chairman, Cllr Michael Filer: "Most people can't distinguish between photos of their cliffs and ours."

He says the outrage will have cast a long shadow over Bournemouth's Passover festivities- when the town's 5,000 strong Jewish community gather to commemorate the time when the Angel of Death passed over the Jewish people, and they embarked on the flight from Egypt.

"It's a time when families get together - it was just at the beginning of the Passover and there would have been families with four generations; old down to the really young all gathered together in that hotel to celebrate," he said.

"This is something that gives a feeling of absolute fury. If there's going to be a war or a battle, let it be between soldiers and not between innocent civilians."

His anguish was echoed by Rabbi David Soetendorp, leader of Bournemouth's Reform Synagogue, who has already had prayers said for the grieving and the dead.

"I certainly said prayers in the synagogue - it's a time of crisis and emergency," he said. "None of the two parties are stopping long enough for grief to heal. It is very disturbed for a group of young people to be trained to kill themselves for a point to be made."

The Netanya atrocity has again focused attention on Bournemouth's own Jewish community, one of the largest in Britain. Why have so many Jewish people come to live here? What are our real connections to Netanya? And how will the latest outrage affect Jewish people locally?

The first part is simple. Jewish people came here for the same reasons everyone else did, says Mr Filer.

"Historically a lot of the Jewish community here has been made up of people who have retired. Bournemouth's a fantastic area to live and often people come on holiday and make a resolution or wish to live here one day. I think the Jewish community here grew up in the same way that the town of Bournemouth grew."

Our connections to Netanya are strong, too. Firstly, there's the physical resemblance; Netanya basks in a benevolent climate beside a sparkling blue sea, on Israel's southerly Mediterranean coast.

Michael Filer says: "Clearly it's a very similar town, physically as well as the numbers who live there. Tourism is their main business, like ours, although their tourism has been greatly affected by the drop in visitors because of the violence."

Additionally there are strong family, cultural and education links between the two towns.

"There are a number of Bournemouth people who visit Netanya regularly and who will be there now," says Mr Filer.

Bournemouth School for Boys and the Girl's school have had exchange visits. "The local Young Solicitors Group have visited, as have a civic delegation, and Bournemouth Symphony Chorus went on a successful trip there a couple of years ago," he says.

Cllr Filer will visit Netanya privately this spring, and will call in on town Mayor Miriam Feirberg, to offer condolences and practical help.

"As chairman of the twining committee, my job is to be practical. I intend to ask the Mayor to visit Bournemouth when she's able to assess the needs of the town. I'm sure the wider community here would want to help."

According to Rabbi Soetendorp, people will want to help because they will have been deeply affected by the tragedy.

Speaking yesterday afternoon, he said: "There is shock and grief, that's the only response you can have. In the long term there is concern about where it's all leading to. I haven't heard a religious leader say it is wrong, yet. There is no Imam or religious leader standing up to say it is wrong to commit suicide to make a point."

He has visited Netanya and says it is popular, both with visitors and locals. "It is a very gentle, moderate town. Try to imagine Bournemouth surrounded by soldiers and police and people having to stand guard by their own home, and being too afraid to go out."

He believes the attack had two aims; to wreck the Arab peace summit and to hit Netanya's fragile tourist industry.

It is a sentiment that will surely resonate with residents, workers and businesses all over their twin town of Bournemouth.


Published courtesy of The Daily Echo, Bournemouth.
jewishcomment is grateful to Collectors' World (Bournemouth) for bringing this article to our attention.

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