Category Archives: Other

Kennedy, the Doctor and Me

WH/HO PortraitNo apologies for being off-topic on this day of days.

For today’s teenagers and twenty-somethings the defining moment of their young lives was probably 9/11.

For me, it was the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy on November 22nd 1963.

I was only a child at the time but the hazy memories and indecipherable TV images were seared into my mind and have remained an abiding obsession.

I don’t recall in detail the events of that evening. The half century since has added false memories, no doubt.

I recall sitting in our lounge in North West London in front of a TV which today would be an object of curiosity and derision; a screen no bigger than those on a laptop computer, but square with rounded corners, and in ‘black and white’. In reality it was more grey-blue.

I remember seeing the US TV pictures taken from behind the motorcade, and the horrific site of Jackie Kennedy climbing out of the car onto the trunk. The real horror of the assassination would only hit home years later when I saw the Zapruder footage in colour. I can’t watch it any longer.

Then I remember the BBC actually shutting down and playing funereal music – probably Beethoven.

Even though I was young, Kennedy’s charisma had made him a hero for me. His speeches, his good looks and charm were intoxicating. He had recently visited London. He had declared that a man would walk on the Moon by the end of the decade. He and Jackie were the most glamorous couple in the world – and they knew it.

We did not know then all the scandal and the peccadilloes  and the corruption. Kennedy was the future. It was the beginning of the 60′s; the Beatles had just changed the world; it was a very exciting time.

Then this.

I believe I saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot live by satellite. That was a very traumatic event for a young boy.

A few years later – perhaps it was the 5th anniversary – the Sunday Times did an extensive piece on the the details of the events of that day. I wrote a poem  - I don’t have it now – based on that article. I would, as an adult, buy books, read articles and watch TV documentaries. I would shout at the film ‘JFK’ telling the actors it was all wrong, it didn’t happen that way.

Every year since; yes, every year, this day, the 22nd of November, has been Kennedy day. This was the day when the world penetrated my life and I became aware that the it was not always safe, just or pleasant. It was the day that will always leave us wondering – ‘what if’ – what if he had lived.

The following day, November 23rd 1963 ‘Dr Who’ was first broadcast and I was in front of that same old TV watching, spellbound. Those early episodes had an atmosphere that was claustrophobic and menacing.  But just as the Beatles had captured the world of music, so Dr Who captured the imagination of my generation; we couldn’t get enough of the Daleks and the Cybermen.

The series, which now looks quaint and dated, was a new world of science fiction and special effects. It never really scared me but it enthralled me. The second coming of Dr Who after a hiatus of 15 years has had a similar affect to the first series with a string of brilliant actors and imaginative stories. I admit, I don’t watch it that much but I found David Tennant compelling, even when overacting.

When I was a kid I bought a little Dalek which used to move around on a ball bearing. I bought others models, collected picture cards, bought annuals and even went to see the film starring Peter Cushing and Roy Castle.

There is something in our nature which clings to cultural icons and approaches a kind of religion or cult or simply becomes today’s folk culture and fairy tale; a super-hero, indestructible, yet vulnerable with his disciples facing down evil and dispensing goodwill and righteousness. Dr Who is a messianic figure that makes us feel that evil can be defeated by good and that the most intractable problems and dangers can be dismantled by optimism and hope.

Is not Dr Who a bit like Kennedy?

IsraAID responds to Philippines disaster

Once again an Israeli aid agency is leading the way in the wake of a natural catastrophe.

I am informed that IsrAID are sending a medical team tonight to the Philippines. An additional team of trauma experts and child protection specialists will join them in the next few days to offer safe space shelters and physco-social treatment for women and children.

They will be joining local government units to offer assistance to the tens of thousands affected.

They are seeking additional support in order to be able to expand our efforts and help those in need on the ground.

This is in the great humanitarian tradition of the tiny state of Israel which, as ever, punches well above its weight.

IsraAID has helped with previous disasters, most notably, in Jordan, Haiti and Japan.

It has considerable experience in such situations, especially providing medical expertise from dedicated staff and volunteers.

This is what its website says about its work in Jordan with Syrian refugees:

Our first team arrived in Jordan in June 2013, and began distributing emergency supplies and hygiene kits. Since then, reoccurring missions have only highlighted the overwhelming needs on the ground, and we are striving to meet them.

We are also conducting needs assessments on the need for trauma assistance, and the support of child friendly spaces / women shelters.

Someone on Twitter asked me, yesterday, why I support Israel. This is just one reason.

 

Irene Sendler the Hidden Holocaust Hero

This is a guest post from the Lowell Milken Center of Fort Scott, Kansas

Irena Sendler the Hidden Holocaust Hero
irene-sendlerRecent memorial commemorations for the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising new interest has sparked new interest into the actions of Polish non-Jews who assisted their country’s Jews during the Nazi occupation.

Some rescuers joined in the Warsaw ghetto revolt, others forged identity papers that allowed Jews to live underground and some hid individual Jews who were able to flee the Germans’ murderous “aktionen” and ghettos. One such rescuer, Irena Sendler, managed to save over 3000 Jewish lives. Yad Vashem recognized her in 1965 but there was no follow-up until a group of Uniontown Kansas schoolgirls heard rumours about Sendler’s wartime endeavours. The schoolgirls embarked on a wide-ranging research project to learn more about Irena Sendler and to publicise her incredible story.

Irena Sendler worked for the Warsaw Department of Social Work when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. The department’s social workers attempted to help the Jews who were displaced and impoverished by the Nazi invasion and Irena expanded on these efforts as a member of the underground Zagota organization.

In 1943 the Warsaw ghetto was established. Sendler obtained forged documents that identified her as a nurse who specialized in infectious diseases which gave her free passage into the ghetto.  Sendler quickly realized that she could be most effective if she concentrated on helping Jews escape. She decided to focus on removing children from the ghetto because Zagota believed that it would be easiest to hide children.

Sendler started by smuggling street children out of the ghetto but she soon expanded her activities. She walked through the ghetto and knocked on the doors of families whose children were still alive to try and convince the parents that their children’s only chance of survival lay with escape.

More than 50 years after the war Sendler described the anguish of those conversations. “I talked the mothers out of their children. Those scenes over whether to give a child away were heart-rending. Sometimes, they wouldn’t give me the child. Their first question was, ‘What guarantee is there that the child will live?’ I said, ‘None. I don’t even know if I will get out of the ghetto alive today.”

Sendler and her Zagota comrades had several methods that they employed to smuggle children out of the ghetto. Small children were sedated and hidden under tram seats, in bags or toolboxes or in carts under piles of garbage or barking dogs.  Older children could be walked out through the sewer system that ran underneath Warsaw or via a break in the Old Courthouse that sat on the ghetto’s border.

Once a child was smuggled out of the ghetto it was vitally important to find a secure hiding place for the child as soon as possible. Zagota members forged documents, identified sympathetic Polish families and brought the children to safe hiding places in orphanages, convents and with local Polish families.  Sendler recorded each child’s name together with his or her hiding place hoping that, after the war, the children would be reunited with their families or, at the least, with their Jewish community. These “ID records” were written on tissue paper and then stuffed into glass jars which Sendler buried in a neighbour’s garden.

The Warsaw Ghetto fighters revolted against the Nazis in April 1943. Within months no Jews remained in the area. Sendler, whose code name for her underground activities was “Jolenta,” was placed in charge of the welfare of Jewish children by the Zagota underground. Sendler continued to try and identify Jewish children who had, somehow, been saved from the transports and mass shootings and she continued to move more children into hiding.

In October 1943 the Gestapo arrested Sendler She was brought to the infamous Pawiak prison where the Germans tortured her but Sendler did not reveal any information about her Zagota comrades or the children’s whereabouts. The Nazis sentenced Sendler to death but Zagota members bribed a German guard and effected her release from prison, just hours before her scheduled execution.

In 1999 a group of schoolgirls from Uniontown Kansas heard about Sendler. They embarked on an extensive research project about Sendler’s life. This project, called Life in a Jar, evolved into an extensive body of research and resource material which is available as a website, a book and as a theatrical presentation.

Three Muslim Women

Well, two women and a girl, really.

I want you to watch these three videos.

The first two especially appear to run counter to our preconceptions, or prejudices, which tell us that all Egyptians hate Jews.

I have no idea what these young women think of Israel or even Jews but I really don’t care. One thing for sure, it will be based on human rights and justice and not on deep-seated irrational hatred.

The first one shows and Egyptian activist Ibhama Abi Saif giving an interview direct from Tahrir Square in Cairo to Israel’s Channel 10 front man Guy Zohar.

Now, in any country, an interview with someone in Tahrir Square reporting their views on the Muslim Brotherhood with a backdrop of the square heaving with protestors would be normal.

But here we see a really charming Egyptian women, clearly religious SPEAKING PERFECT HEBREW.

The context of such an event is the ongoing demonisation of Jews, Zionists and Israelis in Egypt, which is so antisemitic that I, for one, did not see any headroom for such an interview.

Ibhama Abi Saif is polite, eloquent, charming and friendly, non-antagonistic. What’s going on? I had to check my own prejudices with this one. I really love this young woman.

Why am I so enthused by this interview? It gives us all hope. it shows us what the Middle East could look like if you take away the hate. It shows us what normalisation might look like.

Ibhama ends her interview with a most Jewish phrase ‘b’ezrat Hashem’ – with G-d’s help, a direct equivalent of ‘Inshallah’ Wonderful, inspiring and moving even though it’s just an interview.

Here’s a transcript.

Channel 10′s Guy Zohar interviews Egyptian journalist and activist Ibhama Abi Saif.

Egyptian journalist and political activist who agreed to speak with us in Hebrew directly from Tahrir Square.
Guy: Shalom

Ibhama: Shalom Guy.

Guy: So what is going on behind you there?

Ibhama: As you can see, there are masses of people gathering against our regime in Egypt. They want to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi for us is not just a president. He is in the service of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Guy: But he was elected in democratic elections.

Ibhama: I agree with you that there was a vote and the ballot box had their say. But every president, everywhere in the world, derives his legitimacy from the people. If the nation takes that right away from him. He cannot remain in power. We don’t want him anywhere. The masses are out in the streets demanding to over throw him. As far as I’m concerned, and from what I understand This is the epitome of democracy in any country.

Guy: But aren’t you concerned the military will abolish the democracy?

Ibhama: I am not afraid, and no Egyptian is afraid of its military. Our military is one with the nation. As our motto states. This is what we expect from our military. To stand with the people, and this is what is happening.

Guy: And what about the Muslim Brotherhood’s response?

Ibhama: I don’t think the Muslim Brotherhood is that dense or stupid. They know the military will not remain silent, that it will act with an iron fist against anyone who thinks he can hurt the people. We are not Syria and we will never be Syria.

Guy: I must ask you, aren’t you worried about speaking Hebrew in the middle of Tahrir Square?

Ibhama: I am not afraid to speak Hebrew in any place in Egypt, where we have people who know Hebrew. They ask me if I’m Egyptian or not, and I tell them that I am Egyptian and this is the language I learned and that I am implementing. I am not afraid at all and it is actually normal here. We have many people who speak several languages, and it’s cool.

Guy: Very nice. Is there something important for you to tell us Israelis?

Ibhama: Yes, of course. I see what is going on in Israel. I call, not just on Israelis but every nation which is not receiving the treatment it deserves from its government or its president, not to remain silent. If Bibi and Lapid are not doing their job, get rid of them, replace them with someone who will do what you want. If they made promises and didn’t keep them. Don’t stay silent. We were also promised many things and they didn’t make good, so we are now removing them. I believe the people will decide what it really wants. Onwards!

Guy: Ibhama Abi Saif, thank you very much. I hope you will continue to update us.

Ibhama: With the help of God. You’re welcome. Bye.

The second video is a report by a young Egyptian woman, Dalia Ziada telling the AJC website viewers not to believe or take at face value what they see reported from Egypt.

She begins ‘Dear friends’.  In another video an ecstatic Dalia begins ‘Dear, dear, dear Agency friends’ soon after Mohamed Morsi is removed from power.

The report below  is about the ‘massacre’ of 50 Muslim Brotherhood members by the Egyptian army. But all is not what it seems.

So, yet another charming young religious Egyptian woman, this time reporting (in perfect English) to a Jewish Human Rights organisation! Something she does regularly. She even met AJC folks at the AJC Global Forum! She reports frequently to the AJC from Cairo and she is in fear of her life for doing so. Incredible.  Maybe the real Arab Spring will be led by women such as this. Inshallah!

The third I’m sure you are aware of – Malala – the bravest girl on the planet.

You can read her story with extracts of her speech at the UN General Assembly here.

And the full speech here on ‘Malala Day’.

See the some highlights below.

This is not the speech of a 16 year old girl. This is the speech of a great politician. This speech is close to the impact of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have A Dream’ speech (and she mentions him in her speech) in Washington 50 years ago, this is the speech of a future world leader. It is a most quotable speech and one that will live long in the memory. People will be watching the speech in a hundred years time.

This is a speech that can change the world – for the better. And it comes from a 16 year old Muslim girl from Pakistan.

Are these three videos the seed of something new, something exciting, something that can change our world and free us from mediaeval religious Fascism and moves toward toleration, acceptance and respect?

Maybe not in my lifetime, but I didn’t expect to see the end of the Soviet Union or the tearing down of the Berlin Wall either.

Empowering women, especially women in cultures that have always oppressed them or disrespected their rights, is what the rest of this century will be about.

Maybe it won’t be about a Jihad against the West but an uprising of strong, confident brave women who will change attitudes and lead us all to a brighter more hopeful future.

B’ezrat Hashem. Inshallah.

BBC Question Time and a latter-day Cassandra

On BBC Question Time last week a panel which included the comedian Russell Brand, London Mayor Boris Johnson and Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips was always going to be entertaining.

It was all going well for Melanie Phillips with both Brand and Johnson saying what a nice person she was personally; then someone asked a question about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Mel could not resist a fusillade against that country.

Unfortunately, in mentioning Iran’s nuclear intentions, she let slip the word ‘Israel’, the passepartout to frenzied delusional politically correct zeitgeist–embracing stupefaction. Cries of ‘paranoid’ and much booing followed.

It did not help that Phillips often comes a close second to David Icke when it comes to provoking audiences’ derision, but only when she speaks about Israel.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the rest of the evening she was a paragon of sense and considered response with audience tacit approval.

When it came to Iran she failed to make her point dispassionately. A British audience does not like what it perceives as hysteria. Melanie needs to improve her presentation when it comes to issues about which she is really passionate such as Israel or Iran and the threat it still poses.  Saying that Iran needs to be ‘neutralised’ is not language likely to win an argument in today’s PC climate.

The idea that a country’s leaders want to bring about Armageddon because of a religious belief in the Mahdi is about as credible to a Question Time audience as Icke’s reptiles.

But that’s the point – is it that far-fetched?

In fact Johnson and Ed Davey seemed naïve in the extreme about Rouhani’s moderateness  and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

They are not alone. On Twitter Zbigniew Bzrezinski just tweeted:

“Prime Minister Netanyahu is disappointed that a moderate won the Iranian elections. I wonder why?”

This was retweeted by none other than Javier Solana former Secretary General of NATO and the Council of the European Union.

Now you could see the tweet as ambiguous. It could be viewed as supporting Netanyahu’s scepticism. But it does not. It is suggesting that Netanyahu is disappointed because a ‘moderate’ undercuts his argument to attack Iran, which Bzrezinski does not support.

So these two highly influential and, presumably, well-informed politicians cannot see what is so blindingly obvious about Rouhani.

Firstly he is clearly playing ‘Mr Nice Guy’ precisely to fool gullible Westerners and relieve the pressure of sanctions on Iran.

Secondly he is no moderate.  He is only moderate like Goebbels was a moderate Nazi compared to Hitler. He is implicated in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Community Centre in Buenos Aires and his son apparently committed suicide because his father was too extreme.

But it hardly matters because he is just a puppet of the Supreme leader Khamanei. It is he not Rouhani who decides policy. And Khamanei selected him as a proper candidate for the presidency. In other words, he is pre-approved by a religious despot.

But let’s get back to the proposition that Iran intends a bomb in order to annihilate Israel.

Would Iran bomb Tel Aviv? Does that make sense? Or is the threat enough to big-up Iran in the region so it establishes itself as the major power. Is the bomb not a national testosterone implant?

If Iran were to nuke Israel it would have to figure in the fall-out both literal and figurative.

If Israel is to be removed to give the Palestinians back their land and create a Palestinian state (something I believe would never happen if Israel were eliminated) nuking the land that Palestinians claim and rendering it uninhabitable for decades or centuries does not seem a good strategy.

If the Iranians decide to leave Jerusalem standing,it still deprives the Palestinians of their state in any realistic form unless millions want to ‘return’ to die of radiation.

An what of the reaction of Russia, India and the United States to a country ready to use a nuclear weapon? Surely the US at least would see it as an act of war and NATO would surely react.

But, according to Melanie, this logical, reasoned calculation does not apply to Iran because it has taken leave of its political senses and subordinated them to religious belief and necessity.

Is Melanie destined to become the Cassandra of the West crying ‘I warned you’ as night descends on Western civilisation?

Only time will tell.

A Reponse to Yair Lapid’s ‘I Am a Zionist’

Yair Lapid has risen rapidly to become a major player in Israeli politics. His party, Yesh Atid (There’s a Future) had significant success in the recent elections.

There is no doubting his charisma. But who is he and what does he stand for?

If I were an Israeli, I’d probably have voted for him because his views most closely meet my own.

I was made aware of an article that was published four years ago, before he was really politically active.

It is called ‘I Am a Zionist’.

I want to analyse the entire article which is really, in my view, a work part poetic, part secular creed. Of course, I present an English translation but I don’t think that matters.

I am a Zionist

I believe that the Jewish people established itself in the Land of Israel, albeit somewhat late. Had it listened to the alarm clock, there would have been no Holocaust, and my dead grandfather – the one I was named after – would have been able to dance a last waltz with grandma on the shores of the Yarkon River.

[ That last sentence is, for me, sheer poetry. It brings together so many themes of what it is to be a Jew in this post-Holocaust world and it introduces an important theme which is overlooked by those who do not understand the attachment of Jews to the Land of Israel. That theme is emotion and, yes, sentimentality, but it is, nevertheless, a valid and most central reason for Zionism.

Lapid tells us that is grandfather, who perished two decades before he was born, would have survived, moved to Israel and would have lived out his latter years with Lapid's grandmother (who survived) by the Yarkon river in Tel Aviv. The whole image is deeply moving to me and I get emotional just reading it.

It speaks of a lost world and lives cut short, but it also speaks of renewal, redemption and hope. After all, Yair is named after his late grandfather, a strong tradition amongst Ashkenazi Jews. He stands in his grandfather's place but his very presence is both a confirmation of the resilience of Jewish life and history and also a form of defiance. The Nazis were not the first nor will they be the last who wish to destroy the Jews. In this sentence, Israel is a refuge where life can be lived and Jews can reach old age to see out their years amid the beauty of their ancestral land in the dance of life, not the dance of death.

Had we, the Jews, listened to the 'alarm clock' then grandfather would be here with us. We will not let that happen again. We listen to alarm clocks now whether they be Iranian or Islamist or terrorist. At the first ring we jump up and we run to defend ourselves and our country and our future as a free independent nation.

All this I read in that one poetic sentence.]

I am a Zionist.

Hebrew is the language I use to thank the Creator, and also to swear on the road. The Bible does not only contain my history, but also my geography. King Saul went to look for mules on what is today Highway 443, Jonah the Prophet boarded his ship not too far from what is today a Jaffa restaurant, and the balcony where David peeped on Bathsheba must have been bought by some oligarch by now.

[So, don't tell us we are colonisers and foreign infiltrators. The Land IS the Jewish people. It is the warp and we are the weft of our history and the fabric is a strong one. Despite your attempts to tell us we are recent converts, that the Temple never existed and that the tombs of our forefathers are really mosques. Despite your attempt to obliterate our history and to pulverise our synagogues and our graves, you cannot separate the warp from the weft - they are made of the strongest steel annealed in the furnaces of our ancestors' torture.]

I am a Zionist.

The first time I saw my son wearing an IDF uniform I burst into tears, I haven’t missed the Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony for 20 years now, and my television was made in Korea, but I taught it to cheer for our national soccer team.

[The concept of Jewish soldiers who fight for their land and people is still quite new to Jews. We were often conscripts fighting others' wars or we experienced what it was like to be on the receiving end of soldiers' hatreds and lusts. Russian Jews often preferred to leave the country than send their sons for 25 years military service.

The family story is that my great-uncle in Poland was blinded so the Russians could not take him.

So to see your son (or daughter) in a uniform gladly contributing to the safety of his nation can be an overwhelming one. I know that as a non-Israeli with and Israeli son. So much more Lapid knows it as one who served himself. This too is about emotion and creating continuity and belonging. It's about being in control of your destiny and not to have that destiny belong to the whim of others.

It is also about the idea of your grandfather or great-grandfather cowering in a stiebl in Russia as the Cossacks or the Germans or the Poles, or whoever it happened to be, rode by or entered your town or demanded you line up or took you away for 25 years.

From that to my handsome son or my beautiful daughter wearing an Israeli uniform. If there is such a thing as a miracle...]

I am a Zionist.

I believe in our right for this land. The people who were persecuted for no reason throughout history have a right to a state of their own plus a free F-16 from the manufacturer. Every display of anti-Semitism from London to Mumbai hurts me, yet deep inside I’m thinking that Jews who choose to live abroad fail to understand something very basic about this world. The State of Israel was not established so that the anti-Semites will disappear, but rather, so we can tell them to get lost.

[More strident than I would put it. I think we should still pay for the F-16. No-one owes us anything. We owe the world. We owe the world the demonstration that a civilised country based on Jewish principles is not only possible but desirable.

I don't expect anti-Semites to disappear and I don't think telling them to get lost will help us or deter them. It may make us feel better, though. And as a Jew who was born in the Diaspora I do understand this. I did not chose to be born here. Nor is it that easy to leave. However, the more Israel is unfairly singled out, the more blind eyes are turned to anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred, the more 'anti-Zionism' becomes mainstream and the more the useful idiots of the Left and the deluded 'human-rights' advocates feed the crocodiles, the more likely it is I will leave and have MY last waltz on the Yarkon, as it were.]

I am a Zionist.

I was fired at in Lebanon, a Katyusha rockets missed me by a few feet in Kiryat Shmona, missiles landed near my home during the first Gulf War, I was in Sderot when the Color Red anti-rocket alert system was activated, terrorists blew themselves up not too far from my parents’ house, and my children stayed in a bomb shelter before they even knew how to pronounce their own name, clinging to a grandmother who arrived here from Poland to escape death. Yet nonetheless, I always felt fortunate to be living here, and I don’t really feel good anywhere else.

[Do your worst. We are not moving. This is not about immigration and colonisation, it's about a deep-rootedness that non-Zionists just do not understand. Yes, it's about emotion. It's about history. It's about struggle. It's about self-determination. It's about pride. It's about knowing your great-grandparents stood on a railway platform in Birkenau or by a shallow grave in a forest in Poland. It's about saying 'never again'].

I am a Zionist.

I think that anyone who lives here should serve in the army, pay taxes, vote in the elections, and be familiar with the lyrics of at least one Shalom Hanoch song. I think that the State of Israel is not only a place, it is also an idea, and I wholeheartedly believe in the three extra commandments engraved on the wall of the Holocaust museum in Washington: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

[Pretty much the essence of what I have been saying. Despite this, the haters are determined to prove Israelis ARE perpetrators. Not as individual miscreants but as part of a national program and as an indivisible consequence of being Jewish. But you know what I think about that.]

I am a Zionist.

I already laid down on my back to admire the Sistine Chapel, I bought a postcard at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, and I was deeply impressed by the emerald Buddha at the king’s palace in Bangkok. Yet I still believe that Tel Aviv is more entertaining, the Red Sea is greener, and the Western Wall Tunnels provide for a much more powerful spiritual experience. It is true that I’m not objective, but I’m also not objective in respect to my wife and children.

[I guess you have to be born in Israel and be a true patriot to believe this. I don't think that being a Zionist means you have to believe that everything Israeli is better than its counterparts in other countries. But I did feel a welling of pride and emotion when I first flew El Al within Israel and I still can't explain why.]

I am a Zionist.

I am a man of tomorrow but I also live my past. My dynasty includes Moses, Jesus, Maimonides, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, Woody Allen, Bobby Fischer, Bob Dylan, Franz Kafka, Herzl, and Ben-Gurion. I am part of a tiny persecuted minority that influenced the world more than any other nation. While others invested their energies in war, we had the sense to invest in our minds.

[Yes, but what led to the disproportionate number of Jews who have influenced world history? Why are we so clever? Why are we so bookish? Why do we challenge convention and never settle for another person's 'truth'? It's quite simple. Those non-Jews, Darwin and Dawkins, would tell you. Those Jews who live today are here because someone in their past made a decision which saved their life or their children's lives. We have been breeding out those not bright enough to survive for 40 generations or more.

In addition: the Christians and the Muslims often prevented us from full participation in their society marking us out as strangers and infidels or unbelievers whose very presence was simply tolerated. So what did we do: we had to have our own food, our own hospitals our own burial societies, our own places of worship. But above all, our own schools where we could study Torah. We have always been literate. We have always been interested in forensic debate over the matters of Jewish law and custom in the Torah or Talmud. We always spoken at least two languages.

We created a ghetto of the mind and made ourselves more intelligent, more cultured, more spiritual and more self-sufficient. It does not make us superior or better. It just makes us able to do a lot more with a lot less if given the space and the peace to do so.]

I am a Zionist.

I sometimes look around me and become filled with pride, because I live better than a billion Indians, 1.3 billion Chinese, the entire African continent, more than 250 million Indonesians, and also better than the Thais, the Filipinos, the Russians, the Ukrainians, and the entire Muslim world, with the exception of the Sultan of Brunei. I live in a country under siege that has no natural resources, yet nonetheless the traffic lights always work and we have high-speed connection to the Internet.

[Please see my response to the previous paragraph.]

I am a Zionist.

My Zionism is natural, just like it is natural for me to be a father, a husband, and a son. People who claim that they, and only they, represent the “real Zionism” are ridiculous in my view. My Zionism is not measured by the size of my kippa, by the neighborhood where I live, or by the party I will be voting for. It was born a long time before me, on a snowy street in the ghetto in Budapest where my father stood and attempted, in vain, to understand why the entire world is trying to kill him.

[And now we come full circle because pretty much all of the world is still trying to kill us either deliberately or through negligence which will allow those who want a second Holocaust to succeed].

I am a Zionist.

Every time an innocent victim dies, I bow my head because once upon a time I was an innocent victim. I have no desire or intention to adopt the moral standards of my enemies. I do not want to be like them. I do not live on my sword; I merely keep it under my pillow.

[This is a major cultural ethical difference between most Israelis and those who would destroy them. However, do not be complacent; there are too many Israeli Jews who do have the moral standards of their enemies. Fortunately, they live within a legal system that, for the most part, restrains them. Yet, the idealised view of the moral Jew is being sorely tested in Judea and Samaria. Recent demographic changes are also causing challenges. Even so, the overall imbalance in hatred and bigotry compared to Israel's enemies, and even some of its friends, is enormous].

I am a Zionist.

I do not only hold on to the rights of our forefathers, but also to the duty of the sons. The people who established this state lived and worked under much worse conditions than I have to face, yet nonetheless they did not make do with mere survival. They also attempted to establish a better, wiser, more humane, and more moral state here. They were willing to die for this cause, and I try to live for its sake.

[Idealism has to be acted upon. I hope Yair Lapid succeeds in demonstrating that he can act upon his idealism and advance the peace process.]

I assume Lapid still feels the same as he did in 2009. This is the manifesto of an Israeli who is proud of his nation and its achievements, proud of his history but aware of the threats to that nation. He will defend it if he has to. But he’d rather live in peace.

This is the reasonable, long time mainstream peace-seeking, compromise making, tough Israeli stance. All it needs is the other side to be of like mind. Sadly, that is not something that is forthcoming.

Pesach and the first Zionists

So, there we were, slaving away for Egyptians, building cities, being abused and generally not being treated like full citizens whilst yearning for the homeland.

Then, despite several diplomatic attempts to persuade the authorities that we should be allowed to return, they just wouldn’t listen. After all, slavery is a good deal for the enslavers and a bad one for the enslaved.

Then, several miracles later, we are on the way to establishing not an Israelite state, but a Jewish state.

We had to do a little ethnic cleansing to protect ourselves from the unprovoked attacks of the indigenous people who didn’t like the idea of a sudden influx of millions of strange Orientals who spent the day under a cloud and the night following a pillar of fire.

They didn’t like the new ideas we were bringing. We would put an end to human sacrifice, eating pigs and marrying your mother-in-law – three closely related ideas for the Canaanites and other inhabitants.

Much better just to jump us and drive us into the sea. Didn’t we originally come from Mesopotamia, anyway. What right do we have to the Land. Just because we claim our G-d gave us some tablets and promised us ‘from the River to the Sea’. Yada yada.

They didn’t believe that our forefathers (which is confusing because there are only three of them) lived here, sheared sheep here, did a lot of stuff with wells here, spent quality time with angels here – all that counts for nothing with these guys.

All they want to do is fight and kill and build cities and worship trees and stuff, whereas, we just want enough space for a few million people to live and settle down so we never have to eat manna again (boring) or spend days at the bottom of a mountain with nothing to do except make graven images.

We said to them: look, we can live here together. Didn’t your Mum ever tell you anything about ‘sharing’? We can make this place thrive. We are good at things you are not, like keeping accurate accounts, hygiene, debating, and driving hard bargains – what more do you want! You are good at making and fixing stuff and carrying heavy loads and so on – we’ve had enough of that. We can do the intellectual stuff, you provide the brawn and we can have one land for two (or more) peoples.

And if that doesn’t work, I’m sure we can divide things up equitably. We’ll even take the swamps and the crappy land that no-one else wants. We can work if we have to. We can build cities too – we did Pitom and Rammses – two of our best works. Never got paid, though. Still rankles.

So whilst you are mulling it over – and here we have to warn you – our G-d is very, very powerful, so I know you’ll make the right decision – it’s time for our annual commemoration of our leaving Egypt and remembering the bad stuff that happens to people that mess with Jews. It also reminds us why so many Jews are dentists and doctors.

So , ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ – and the year after and the one after that and so on, forever and ever – OMAYN!

By the way. Could someone tell me how much, exactly, two zuzim is? Doesn’t sound enough for one kid, to me – not even a small one.

A Horse, a Horse, My Lasagna for a Horse

Two big stories here in the UK were the confirmation of the discovery of the remains of King Richard III and the horse meat scandal where several major food retailers have been found to have horse meat in their beef products, including lasagne.

If you are about to correct my Italian in the title – don’t. Lasagne is the plural of lasagna and in Shakespeare’s play, Richard III called for just one horse, not several.

A further disgusting discovery was that Halal meat provided to prisons was found to contain pork.

As a vegetarian, I can say this is a subject to keep well away from.

But as a blogger thinking very hard about how to link my ‘clever’ blog title to my usual theme of Israel. the Jews and the media, I’ll plunge straight in.

‘As a Jew’ (I always wanted to say that) – as a Jew, I am aware that the Jewish dietary laws have kept Jews extremely fastidious about their food over the centuries. Kashrut, the laws governing what is kosher, not only stipulate what we eat, but how it is to be killed and how it is to be processed.

Most Jews, observant or not, would also source their meat from a kosher butcher. Even those that might stray and eat out at non-kosher restaurants, would not bring non-kosher meat into the home. Keeping kosher is a cornerstone of Jewish life. It is what helps us define ourselves as Jews. And it doesn’t just apply to meat.

Kosher meat is supervised from the point of slaughter to the butcher or the kosher food outlet. It has to have a ‘hechsher’ an endorsement from a rabbinical court that this food is strictly in accordance with the laws of kashrut.

This system of supervision makes it very difficult indeed for any contamination by non-kosher products to take place.

A recent case in the US caused huge controversy when an orthodox butcher was found to be selling non-kosher meat as kosher. He received a severe prison sentence. But as far as I know the meat he was purveying was still from kosher animals, it just had not been slaughtered or supervised according to kashrut. I don’t believe any horses or pigs were involved.

Another practice Jews go in for is washing. Orthodox Jews wash their hands a lot; before praying, before eating.

These days, most people observe a level of hygiene that is relatively recent. Jews have been doing this for millennia.

In the middle ages, as plague and disease devastated Europe, Jews were noticeably less affected. The reason: food and personal hygiene.  As the reasons for this were poorly understood, Jews were accused of poisoning wells and being the agents of plague whilst remaining untouched.  Thus, in return for showing the way to reducing contagion, the Jews brought ever greater calumny upon themselves.

So, during the current horse meat controversy, which I am sure will lead to more regulation and more expensive food, Jews have quietly and, yes, smugly, whistled to themselves knowingly.

Jews often complain about the cost of kosher meat. It is more expense because it is supervised. That supervision costs money and the supervisors have to earn a living. Result: kosher meat is much more expensive than non-kosher. That may be about to change.

And what about dear Richard III scion of the House of York?

I watched the Channel 4 programme “The King in the Car Park’. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen and I urge all of you who can see this on the Channel 4 Catch Up.

I guess you have to have a certain interest in history, and maybe Shakespeare as well, to understand just how incredible the discovery of Richard III is.

Since the Norman Conquest, only one monarch’s whereabouts was unknown; only one king died in battle: Richard III.

The story of how one middle-aged woman’s obsession with rehabilitating Richard’s reputation, and finding him, led to the discovery is one I will leave to the documentary makers.

The question for me was why I, too, found this story so moving. It was truly like a film script designed to be sensational and completely unlikely. Yet, it is true, due to luck, determination and amazing forensic archaeology we are as sure as we can be that the bones are those of Richard and they tell a gruesome story of his last moments.

I was always pro Richard. When politicians of the 15th and 16th centuries needed to confirm the legitimacy of the new king, Henry VII, they did so by attacking Richard’s reputation, turning him into a monster and exaggerating his physical characteristics to support their demonisation of the man.

Although his involvement with the Princes in the Tower and their disappearance is problematical, nothing is proved. We just don’t know if they were killed or by who and by whose orders if they were. Certainly Richard was no worse than many a late mediaeval prince.

We also now know that he was disabled with scoliosis hence his reputation as a ‘hunchback’ and was somewhat feminine in appearance. Yet, he was a warrior king who recklessly imperilled his own life and fought bravely to the last.

The portrait we have of him shows quite a handsome man. The reconstruction of his face I believe is too youthful and too fleshy but is even more handsome.

The romance of finding the much-maligned king under a municipal car park in Leicester, and for his remains to confirm so much we know only from history, makes this king, for me, one of our greatest. He reigned for two years only. The people of Yorkshire are documented as believing him to be a good prince who cared for his people. His local reputation has remained intact across the centuries.

So how can I relate good King Richard to my usual subject?

The idea of an individual being demonised across the centuries, his physical features exaggerated to a grotesque caricature, his motives questioned, his becoming the personification of evil, all has resonance with what is happening and has happened to Jews and Israel. Far-fetched linkage? Maybe.

The Tudors were politically motivated to paint Richard as black and as dastardly as possible. The more negatively he was portrayed to a gullible public and subsequent generations, the more noble and legitimate they appeared

Yet Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was tenuous compared to Richard. Who was the usurper? The Tudor dynasty lasted a hundred years or so, and what an assortment they turned out to be. Once you get the people to believe the Big Lie, it is very hard to overturn it or to persuade anyone of the opposing view. Such is human nature that we quite like our demons and our hate-objects.

So a warning from history; be careful who you hate and examine your motives. No person or group is perfect, but no person or group is totally irredeemably evil either. With some rare exceptions.

I hope that the discovery of Richard will lead to a better understanding and a fairer assessment of his reign. If he does prove to be a murderer, I fear I shall still find him a much more attractive figure than many who succeeded him.

A tribute to my mother

My mother Sally was born on January 16th 1920 in the East End of London. Third child and second daughter. Her younger sister was born six years later.

The story of how my mother grew up in grinding poverty before the Welfare State existed and how the family of six came through the Depression and the Second World War is one that has fascinated me all my life and, one day, I may just complete that book that I started 20 years ago.

My mother’s experience was both different and, at the same time, similar to so many families living in the East End in the 20′s and 30′s of the last century. Different because each story is unique, similar because they all shared the difficult economic and social issues of the time.

My grandparents arrived in England from Poland (part of Russia at the time) in the first decade of the 20th century.

They all settled in the East End of London.

Both my grandfathers were tailors. My mother’s mother, Booba, was an expert seamstress specialising in buttonholes. She worked at home once she was married. One of her clients was the former world boxing champion Jack Johnson who had to come to England from America because of troubles in his native land.

From 1913 until 1940 the family lived either side of Commercial Road. My grandfather was a sickly man who, when conscripted in 1918 to be sent to France during the Great War, was found to be completely unfit for service. Given the desperation for manpower in 1918 he must really have been a very poor specimen. I still have his discharge certificate. He was given the King’s shilling and sent home. This must have been a great relief to my grandmother sitting at home with two young children.

For the next 20 years he drifted in and out of work and hospital. This put a huge strain on the family. My mother and her older brother were key in topping up the family income whenever they could. This taught my mother lifetime thrift which was accompanied by huge compassion and generosity.

A bright child and teenager, nevertheless my mother’s education ended at age 14, and, like so any others, she was apprenticed as a dressmaker. She excelled at this. When I was growing up my mother made me and my brother entire suits, and she made my cousin’s wedding suit. My earliest memories involve tins of buttons of every size and description, needles, pins, tailor’s chalk, wool and cotton reels and words like ‘bobbin’. My Mum would work on an old Singers sewing machine in the kitchen of our flat in North West London.

She was old enough to remember clearly the Battle of Cable Street when Jews and others blocked a march by Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts through the streets of the East End. Her mother took a chair leg and was prepared to use it. She ended up in Leman Street ‘nick’ for a while but was released without charge, or so the story goes.

When the war came the family had to abandon their flat in Fordham Street because of unexploded munitions, probably high-explosive bombs. This was after experiencing the blitz at close hand for several months during which they spent many a night in bomb shelters, although they did not use the Underground.

On returning home one evening in 1940 after an air raid they were prevented from entering their home due to the danger of the UXB’s. My grandmother persuaded a policeman to let her in to take some essentials. One of these essentials was the set of shabbat candlesticks.

They set off for Aylesbury on the advice of a neighbour only to find, on arrival, that a flu epidemic meant that they would have to go elsewhere. Spending the night in a nearby market town they were selected the following morning by the vicar of a small village where Jews had never set foot since the Norman Conquest. Their sojourn at the vicarage became a legendary tale in the family, and it ended with my 21 year old mother taking the vicar to a tribunal for maltreating his evacuees.

Years later I visited the vicarage, now a private home, with my mother and brother and found that my mother’s family had remained a legend in the village, unbeknown to us, for 50 years.

My mother’s life was a hard one and full of tragedies. Her older sister never really grew up and although independent and even marrying in later life, she remained effectively my mother’s ward until her death.

My mother lost her first child which was a stillborn boy. This greatly affected her mentally and she had a nervous breakdown as a result. Her younger sister died tragically at aged 35 and her father passed away just after I was born. My father z”l passed away 27 years ago after 35 years of marriage.

Living to almost 93 meant she outlived her family and friends. She moved to Manchester from London to be near me and my family after illness 12 years ago and this is where she passed away.

Mum had a very vibrant personality, full of fun, jokes and humour. She was a great story-teller. She loved films and read a lot. Because of her I can still point out the obscurest supporting actors in 1930′s musicals. Much of her general knowledge came from films which formed her secondary education.

She often surprised people, including me, with her knowledge and intelligence. As a young woman she paired with her brother to form a formidable dancing partnership and they won many competitions before and during the war. She had huge potential which, in another era, may have led her to achieve much more in life.

Her lasting achievement is her devotion to family and her selflessness over many decades. She dedicated her life to those around her. In this, she was very much the Jewish mother. She had her faults, of course, and the scars of those early years would sometimes come to the surface.

She passed on to me and my brother a great pride in being Jewish. I have, since a young age, felt duty-bound to stay in that tradition. She was responsible for the emotional and cultural super-glue for which I am now so grateful.

I used to call my mother almost every night for 10 years. Even now, several weeks after her passing, at a certain time in the evening, I still feel that mental tug telling me ‘don’t forget to call Mum’. Ever so often, and I know this is very common and natural, I hear myself saying to myself ‘you must tell Mum’ or ‘I wonder what Mum will think of this’. Even when I was growing a beard during the 30 days of mourning, the ‘shloshim’, I often thought ‘what will Mum say when she sees me looking like this’.

Ah, well.

There is a strong tradition in Judaism that your loved ones live on in your memories of them.

And there are many memories in a long life.

Getting back in the saddle

My regular followers (by the way, how are you both?) will have realised that I have not posted for some time.

My mother became ill at the end of November and passed away on December 7th.

So during this time, and in the days immediately following, I was not disposed to doing much writing. I decided to confine myself to tweeting.

Tweeting is a great way to blog  without too much effort.

I’d like to follow this post with a brief tribute to my mother z”‘l.