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.
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.
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.
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 of 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 times 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’.
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.
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.
Why?A Brit like me? And he was such a flawed man and politician. Just because he was assassinated?
I lived through it. It is probably the event along with the first Moon landing, which most informed my young life.
I have been fascinated by his story and his death for more than 40 years.
Even a young kid growing up in swinging London was impressed by JFK’s glamour, charisma and good looks and the horror of his killing. My first awakening to the evil in the world when the dream, however illusory, was extinguished.
So I remember him on this day every year.
So there I was watching my first child exit his mother’s birth canal in a hospital in Manchester.
Fast forward almost 27 years and I am sitting with my wife in Northern Israel watching that same child receive his beret on completion of his basic training in the IDF.
Roll back again to 1985. No, roll back to 1975.
I am sitting in a House for Jewish students in Liverpool playing chess at the beginning of my second year at University. New arrivals. A young woman with black hair in a fringe peers round the door of the lounge and says ‘hello’ and gives her name. I look up, mutter something, and return to my Ruy Lopez.
Now I know the whole story of how I got from moving my bishop to Knight 5 to the moment an officer rams a beret on my son’s head and I turn to my wife and we are both crying buckets. Not buckets of fear and anticipation, but of pride and a certain bewilderment.
For a few minutes we are Israelis. There are several hundred people pressed up behind us; parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. We are right at the front, a few feet from the action.
We stand for the Hatikvah, the national anthem. I manage the first two stanzas, then I am consumed with an indescribable sensation and my voice breaks. I fight back tears. I compose myself. I manage the last couple of stanzas with gusto.
To be a free people in our own land, the Land of Zion and Jerusalem
The ceremony ends.
Fast rewind 30 years.
During the 1980s I wasn’t much interested in Israel, or Jewish history, or, indeed, Judaism. Every attack on Israel was keenly felt, however. I was not Israel-neutral but I didn’t much like what was happening to Palestinians on the West Bank, I didn’t like settlements and I found not one Israeli leader that I could identify with. Those views still persist but I can now at least contextualise them.
Truth be told, although I believed in Israel’s right to exist and Jewish self-determination, I didn’t much like Israelis and I simply determined not to go their country until Israeli government policy changed.
I was a bit of a lefty. I still am someone with instinctive left-leaning views. I somehow have an urge to apologise for that. But I’ll demur. For now.
So what changed?
I educated myself. I read history. I learned. I abjured simplistic views of the conflict.
I eventually made my first trip in 1999 and all my preconceptions about arrogant Israelis were confirmed. I did not like the country.
Then, after more visits, I came to understand the culture better and I began to accept the rudeness, the bad driving and the chutzpah. I began the process of understanding that these few million insufferable Orientals were guaranteeing my escape route from future persecution. They were creating a new/old culture so complex and rich and controversial and noisy and wonderful – and against such incredible odds.
I eventually became comfortable not just with my Jewish identity but I came to understand that Israel is really a modern paradigm for the last 2000 years of Jewish history; always under attack, always threatened. Which other people live in constant fear that sooner or later they really will be wiped off the map?
Despite the vicissitudes of this existence over the millennia, and maybe because of it, the Jewish people have not just found ways to survive but also thrive, quite often achieving high levels of literacy, wealth and, where allowed, social status. They always achieved this despite frequent periods of persecution, expulsion and confiscation.
Israel has, since the days of the yishuv, the pre-state political entity, continued on this same path of achievement. But the difference is that with independence and self-determination Jews can, at last, defend themselves from the dark forces that persist in trying to destroy us.
So that indescribable feeling I experienced, which I mentioned before, that I felt as I watched my son receive his beret was due to all this history, all this collective experience, all the pride in his achievement and that of the young men we met that day. Pride in myself. Pride in my people. Secure in the belief and knowledge that, despite its imperfections, its internal problems, external aggression, existential threats, lies, propaganda and undiluted hatred, the despised country of a despised people was at its core strong, moral, determined and righteous.
And mixed with all these emotions was that bewilderment from the realisation that my wife and I were responsible. We were not here by chance. We had truly changed the world as all of us do. The accident of our meeting all those years ago resonates throughout our lives and the lives of our children. Of course, the same is true for our parents and their parents and back through the years and the decades and centuries. Each small act or decision or coincidence leads to everything we and those following us experience for good or ill.
So do not believe that you are not important. We all change the world, the present and the future every day. What we can never do is to predict where these choices will one day lead. We can only strive and hope they are mainly for the better.
Wishing all my readers a healthy and prosperous New Year whatever your religious affiliation or none.
Sorry I have not posted for a while, which may be a relief to some.
I have had a busy few months with my community responsibilities.
It’s not as if nothing is going on, is it?
Some recent highlights:
- Wild accusations of Mossad involvement in the Lac D’Annecy shootings
- Hannan Ashrawi denies Jews expelled from Arab lands are refugees, thus, at the same time, accidentally confirming that Palestinians refugees aren’t refugees.
- BBC to show a Panorama programme on the night of Rosh HaShonah about the Price Tag movement in Israel and the Territories
- The genocidal megalomaniac Iranian President Ahmadinejad will be speaking at the UN this month
Will Israel bomb Iran or not?
- Ongoing BDS with Habima, BatSheva, an Israeli store in Brighton, the Co-op, the TUC
- Rachel Corrie decision
- Supporters of the religion of peace riot, kill and burn because some idiot Egyptian Copt ex-pat with a grudge claiming to be an Israeli Jew posts a ludicrously amateurish video on YouTube insulting the Prophet which hardly any of the rioters will even have seen
- Worrying developments at the Church of England Synod re EAPPI
Having survived two Manchester Jewish stores this morning thronged with last-minute Yom Tov shoppers and Tesco to boot, I am sure that I shall return in 5773 ready to take on anyone and any thing.
The ceremony was a complete triumph for Danny Boyle, his team, the performers and participants and everyone in the UK. Well done to all. This was a moment of pride in a time of worry and concern.
The negatives: carpers and critics have pointed out a Utopian view of Britain, a socialist agenda and a paean to multiculturalism. All this may be true. Yes, the ceremony did not tell us about the problems with the NHS, the railways, housing or social unrest. Please tell me any Olympic ceremony in the past which dwelt on the negatives.
The Olympics is not just a big athletics meeting as Peter Hitchens has written in his inimitable lugubrious and Scrooge-like style. It is a festival of the human family. Flawed, yes, nevertheless it aspires to show us the best of ourselves and to make us feel good about who we are and what we can be. We all know the negative aspects of human behaviour and these are very much on show at the Olympics. So what’s the harm in trying to inject some inspiration, some honest sentiment, national pride?
Israel: I have already written about the IOC’s refusal to remember the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches and a German policeman at the Munich Olympics in 1972. This omission was highlighted by a brief silence for the dead of all conflicts and a fitting tribute to the victims of the 7/7 London bombings which occurred the day after the Olympic bid was won.
One view is that if this had been commemorated it could have resulted in the walk out of Arab and Muslim states and protests at the ceremony itself. So best not to highlight Israel’s isolation. I don’t agree: if there are still people on this planet who believe that kidnapping, hostage-taking and murder and the desecration of the Olympic ideal are not a heinous crime, whatever the excuse or motivation, then the countries that those people represent should be banned from competition.
The Lebanese judo players requested a barrier be placed between them and the Israeli team at their practice venue before the games. A Tunisian competitor who was scheduled to compete against an Israeli has developed a mystery affliction and withdrawn. Indeed, I expect the Israelis to find that many Muslim and Arab competitors are afflicted not by a mystery disease but an ancient and, apparently, incurable one – Jew Hatred. What other country now or in the past has had to put up with this nonsense. The IOC should act against countries which will not compete with Israelis or anyone else on political grounds. I seem to recall that the two Koreas once played a World Cup match and so did the two Germanies before reunification. Iraq played Iran, too, at football.
Only Israel is so monstrous a nation that to even make eye contact with its nationals is enough to afflict your immune system.
But back to the ceremony.
What I really loved about it was that it catered more for the Brits than outsiders. It was full of references and in-jokes which would have completely baffled all but the most serious Anglophiles (or should that be Brittanophiles?). It was the quirky, British TV comedy aspect of it and the fact that we ‘got it’ and others wouldn’t that made it special.
They said Bejing could not be bettered. What Boyle did was not to try to compete with what was essentially a high-tech extravaganza. He completely changed the paradigm; indeed, he subverted the whole accepted notion of what an opening ceremony should be.
For me the highlight came early. Sir Kenneth Branagh emerged from a horse-driven London omnibus as Isambard (which the BBC commentator strangely pronounced ‘Eisembard’) Kingdom Brunel (what a glorious unBritish name that is) replete with signature cigar and stovepipe hat. The look on Branagh’s face was a mixture of pride, self-esteem and wonder. He proceeded to the grass mound at centre of the stadium and declaimed in the best traditions of British Shakespearean theatre:
‘Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again’
Branagh’s rendition, especially those last nine words, was spine-tingling. I’ve listened to it four times already and it never fails to send shivers down my spine.
Branagh’s choice as Brunel was masterful and his performance perfection. These are the words of Caliban in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’. The conflation of Brunel as Caliban was strange, but worked. Better Caliban than the Taliban, you might say.
In this context it is a whimsical reference and welcome to the British Isles, even, perhaps its weather. It is, essentially, an invitation to behold a dream sequence, a journey of the imagination which we are about to encounter. And surely the Olympics contain that sense of awe and wonder, fear and trepidation which pass so quickly and become as if a dream of remembered common experience. This was a brilliant and deeply moving moment accompanied by the soaring music of Elgar (Nimrod from the Enigma Variations) – who else. Kitsch? Of course, but wonderful kitsch.
Perhaps, only those of us with a true British nervous system could be moved by this combustive association of Bard, engineer par excellence and imperial music-making.
Other highlights were the unique participation of the Queen in the humour of the opening. Arriving by parachute, apparently, with Daniel Craig in his James Bond persona. Rowan Atkinson and the Chariots of Fire sequence with an ageing Mr Bean hamming it up in true Brit fashion.
I can understand criticism of the NHS sequence where Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee seem to have taken over Great Ormond Street. A clever conflation again of the JM Barrie Peter Pan legacy, the world of children’s books (even JK Rowling put in an appearance) and those NHS antics. The NHS sequence would be anathema to Americans who can’t understand how or why the State should provide something for nothing. And there are many in this country who would agree. But the NHS is a major presence in the lives of the British, for better or for worse and a cornerstone of post War Socialist Britain which even the Tories have pledged to support. Yet, it does seem a little strange to make it part of an Olympic opening ceremony.
I could have done without Sir Paul McCartney. Love him as I do, he is now past his singing sell-by date as he demonstrated at the Diamond Jubilee.
I urge you to replay this ceremony and pause the action frequently to appreciate the richness of texture and the multitude of cultural references woven into the tapestry of the production:
Wind in the Willows, Eastenders, a glimpse of Olympic medallists of bygone years, Pink Floyd, Fawlty Towers and, gloriously, the Rugby Union national teams woven into the national songs of the constituent elements of the United Kingdom.
And then the gobsmackingly awesome forging of the Olympic rings and the Up Helly Aa finale of flame lighting adding a certain Niebelung feel to the occasion which is not inappropriate given the country’s Germanic, Celtic and pagan roots. Even the uprooting of the tree on the replica Glastonbury Tor had a whiff of Yggdrasil about it. It all came perilously close to Nuernberg in the 1930s but kept enough distance to keep such thoughts in the background.
Now then. Shami Chakrabarti. WTF! Never mind, the surreal experience of Shami, Ban Ki Moon and Muhammad Ali in the same shot made it all worthwhile.
I love the atmosphere at these games. I love the Benny Hill music amid the soft porn sand pit that is the Beach Volleyball arena on the hallowed ground of Horse Guards Parade. I love waking up to see archery at my old stamping ground of Lords Cricket Ground and I love the sheer incongruity of an Olympic cycle race through West London. I love the Americans not understanding it all and insisting on renaming things such as The Tower Bridge.
It’s bonkers, it’s charming it’s the Olympics as an end of pier show but it’s British and it makes you proud.
This week Holocaust survivor Mayer Hersh received an honorary degree, a Doctor of Education from Edge Hill University.
This was a fitting tribute to his dedication over many years to tell the story of his own experience of the Holocaust.
I attended a ceremony at Whitefield Synagogue in Manchester.
When it was Mayer’s turn to be called to reading desk there was an unforgettable moment when Chazan Muller and the choir sang a beautiful ‘yamod, literally, ‘stand up’, the usual formula for calling someone to the reading of the Torah. The entire congregation stood and clapped as Mayer was escorted to the bimah, now a stooped figure who needs a wheelchair to get about.
It seems that the years of abuse at the hands of his Nazi oppressors are finally catching up with him.
After the service several of the people he has inspired, Jews and non-Jews, spoke movingly about the work he has done for the last 30 years.
A video of Mayer’s receiving of his DEd. can be be seen in the first 30 minutes of the video at the end of this post.
I have known Mayer for about 20 years and I cherish that friendship. We even found that we are ‘landsleit‘ with my family coming from his home town.
I have previously written about a particular meeting with Mayer which is typical of the great man. You can read that here (My Friend, Dr Mengele). I said then that Mayer is a great man; as his physical stature shrinks, his moral stature seems to increase year by year.
“Recalling and telling my story is painful, but nevertheless I treasure the opportunity to do so because in so doing I am able to cherish and preserve the memory of my family and community; the pain of remembrance is my only link to them.”
When the last survivor has gone, we must all continue this ‘pain of remembrance’ on their behalf – for all time.