Israel, Zionism and the Media

Category: Other (Page 3 of 17)

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.





Remembering JFK

WH/HO Portrait

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.


Life: predictably unpredictable

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.

Shana Tova 5773

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 2012 Olympic opening ceremony in London – a Guide for the Perplexed

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.

Mayer Hersh and the Pain of Remembrance

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.

Mayer says:

“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.


Warrington desecration points to the breakdown of decency and respect in UK society

It’s been a busy month for me, becoming involved in communal leadership here in Manchester. My blog has suffered.

One story this week angered me intensely. I am off topic but I don’t apologise for it.

I used to work in Warrington.

One morning, driving in to work, I noticed the cars in front of me stopped for no apparent reason. They didn’t stop as in a traffic jam, but randomly, as if they had run out of petrol.

Then I saw some drivers get out and stand next to their car. It reminded me of Yom HasShoah in Israel when the siren sounds.

But no siren.

On the the opposite carriageway the cars had not stopped. They were moving slowly in cortege. This was the funeral of one of the young boys, Jonathan Ball,  killed in the Provisional IRA bombing of central Warrington a few days earlier.

This cowardly attack had a profound affect on the people of Warrington and the country at large.

The Provos tried to pin the blame on security forces not heeding their warnings and not evacuating the area in time. Such is the tortured and immoral logic of terrorists the world over. The victims die, not because someone tried to kill them (so the terrorist narrative goes), but because they are the unwitting and unintended martyrs of someone else’s cause.

Out of evil, sometimes comes good. The parents of the other child victim, Tim Parry, demonstrated then, and over the last 19 years, a dignity and moral courage that is so lacking in the murderers of their child and the supporters of those murderers.

Colin Parry, in particular, became a national and international figure. His tremendous eloquence, unbelievable dignity and  determination to insure that Tim’s and Jonathan’s death would lead to something positive in the teeth of the hate and immorality of their killers has inspired a generation.

With his wife, Wendy, they created the Tim Parry, Jonathan Ball Foundation for Peace which is an organisation which helps victims of terror and conflict.

In so doing, the Parrys have demonstrated the very best of UK society and its traditions.

A small plaque, which I often walked past, in Bridge Street, Warrington, was placed on the site of the bombings.

On Friday night someone prised it from the wall and, presumably intends to sell it for the value of its scrap metal –  approximately £30.

Personally, I can think of few acts of desecration that are more redolent of the moral impoverishment of a nation than disrespecting the dead – especially dead children.

Yet war memorials across the country are currently being vandalised by people so poor and impoverished that they feel entitlement to desecrate and dishonour those who fought so they would could live in freedom and dignity. And all because the price of metal has soared meaning that the £50 the desecrator will receive for their scrap of metal is valued by that desecrator as more important than the memory of the dead they disrespect, the families of the dead and national pride and shared history.

So begins the decline of nations and civilisations when we have to guard and protect churches and mosques and synagogues and war memorials and graves from the ransacking hordes of latter-day Vandals.




Yom HaShoah, the Righteous then and now, and the hatred that never went away

On Thursday this week I had the great privilege in attending the Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day) commemoration in Manchester.

There were 500 people present including several dignitaries including the Lord Mayor of Manchester, the Bishop of Manchester and the Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police, Peter Fahy.

Most honoured of all were the handful of survivors who settled in Manchester and were fit enough to attend.

Sadly, as the years pass, the survivors become fewer. This is why Second Generation, an organisation headed by the indefatigable Tania Nelson, representing children of survivors, is so important. There is now a Third Generation for grandchildren.

My esteemed cousins in Israel, when I first met them six years ago (and that could be the subject of another blog) told me that I, too, am a survivor. I baulked at this. “How can I be a survivor? How can I merit that distinguished and honorific title? My parents were born in England and my grandparents came here a hundred years ago.” “You are a survivor, don’t argue. Every Jew who is still around after the Shoah is a survivor. You come from a family of survivors. We are so pleased to have found another part of our family surviving.”

This was a profoundly moving and proud moment for me. Ever since, I have taken their word for it. I may not be as worthy of the soubriquet as they are, but I look at the world as a survivor. A survivor who has a bounden duty to remember, to commemorate and, yes, even celebrate.

The theme of this year’s commemoration was The Righteous.

I have for many years had a special interest in Holocaust history and a very special interest in those Righteous Gentiles who saved Jews.

I have previously written about a dear friend (and “landsman”) of mine, Mayer Hersh, who has dedicated his life to Holocaust education.

I have also written about Andree Geulen and Sir Nicholas Winton

Sir Martin Gilbert’s book The Righteous, which deals extensively with this subject, is a must-read for anyone with an interest in this moving subject. If you don’t have an interest, you should.

The presentation I attended dealt initially with those celebrated Righteous Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg

We heard again the story, now so familiar, of Schindler and the scene near the end of the Spielberg film where he wondered if he could have saved even more Jews if he had tried harder.

We also heard about Raoul Wallenberg, considered the greatest saviour of Jews, who used similar techniques to others in face of the Nazis: deceit, swagger and chutzpah.

As the Hungarian fascists, the Arrow Cross gleefully assisted the Germans in killing Jews by tying three together, killing the middle one and then pushing them into the freezing River Danube, Wallenberg organised doctors and heroic swimmers on the opposite bank to pull out as many as they could who had managed to get free. 50 souls out of many thousands were saved.

But the most moving story for me was that of the small Greek island of Zakynthos.

On September 9 1943 the Germans who were now occupying Greece and had deported to death camps the extensive Jewish populations of Thessaloniki, Rhodes and Athens turned on the small Jewish community of the idyllic island of Zakynthos.

The Nazis demanded that the mayor, Loukas Karrer, provide them immediately with a list of all the Jews on the island.

Karrer spoke to the metropolitan, Bishop Chrystosomos. The next day Karrer pleaded with Berenz, the German governor, to spare the Jews of the island. They had lived together with the Jews for many centuries. They were as Greek as everyone else.

Berenz (yimakh shemo ימח שמו – may his name be obliterated) insisted. Karrer then produced his list.

The list consisted of just two names – his own and that of Bishop Chrystosomos (zekher tzadik v’kadosh livrakha,
l’chayei ha’olam ha-ba 
זכר צדיק וקדוש לברכה לחיי העולם הבא – may the memory of the righteous and the saintly be a blessing in the world to come).

The Bishop had even written a letter to Hitler ימח שמו declaring the Jews of his island to be under his personal authority and, by implication, protection.

The governor sent the list and the letter to to Berlin to await orders. In the meantime Zakynthos’s 275 Jews were hidden across the island. The edict was later revoked and every Jew on the island survived the war.

I have known of this story for some time because I read an article in the Jerusalem Post just over two years ago. Leora Goldberg, an Israeli, was holidaying on Zakynthos when she stumbled upon its Jewish heritage. It was the following part of her story which I found extremely emotional:

A few days before I had planned to leave the island and return home, I went into a bank to convert some dollars into euros. But even in a simple place like a bank, I managed to add another piece to this Jewish puzzle.

A clerk who had been on the phone and eating a sandwich, called on me when my turn came. When I gave her my dollars to be changed, she handed me the converted money in an envelope without asking for any identification. Later on, when I opened it, I was surprised to see so much money. The money that had been put into the envelope had not been counted properly, and instead of changing $1,000, she had given me the equivalent of $10,000!

This was really no surprise to me, because the clerk hadn’t paid me any attention. Ultimately, however, once the bank realized that the money was missing, it would have no way of reaching me since no contact information was requested.

The following morning, I called the bank and asked to speak to the manager. I inquired to know if there was a problem with the previous night’s accounts. “You must be the woman with the dollars,” he said, immediately inviting me to his office.

An hour later, I was at the bank. When I walked into the office, the man sitting across from the manager moved to another chair and gave me his seat. I shared my bank experience with him, saying how easy it would have been for me to disappear with the money.

The manager himself was profusely apologetic about the unprofessional way I was treated and thanked me repeatedly for returning the money. To express his gratitude, he invited me and my family to dinner at an exclusive restaurant.

I explained that eating out was too complicated for us due to the fact that we were observant Jews. He asked for my address so he could send us a crate of wine. “That is a problem too,” I said. I told him I had come from Israel a week ago for a holiday, but had gotten sidetracked.

“A few days after I landed, I was surprised to discover the Jewish community that was here up to 25 years ago,” I said. “You don’t owe me anything. Indeed, you have given me and my people a lot. The least I can do as a Jew to show my appreciation for what you have done for the Jews of Zakynthos is to return this money that doesn’t belong to me and say, ‘Thank you!'”

There was silence for what appeared to be a long minute. The man who had given me his seat when I walked in and hadn’t said a word during the conversation, stood up with tears in his eyes, turned to me and said: “As the grandson of Mayor Karrer, I am extremely overwhelmed and want to thank you!”

Mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrystosomos were honoured as Righteous among the Nations at Yad Vashem in 1978.

Where are our Schindlers and Wallenbergs today? Where our mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrystosomos whose memory is a blessing and inspiration? They do exist: Pilar Rahola, José María Aznar are two notables but Europe is abandoning the Jewish people for a second time it seems.

Back at the Yom HaShoah service we thanked the UK for being a haven from persecution when the Jews needed somewhere to run to.

But it wasn’t the Nazis most of our families were running from, it was the Russian pogroms and before them we have been deported from almost every country in Europe and massacred by the cossacks and the crusaders, Christians and Muslims.

When Jews arrived in British Mandate Palestine they were often turned back, and when the Nazi threat was a clear and present danger Jews were prevented from entering Palestine because of the sensitivities of the locals and to maintain the demographic balance even though thousands of Arabs flooded in unchecked from neighbouring areas.

Our gratitude to our host country is tempered by the memory of its broken promises and its craven concessions to Arab pressure, its abstention at the UN vote to recognise the State of Israel and the institutional anti-Semitism of many of its government departments.

Yet, throughout history, we have always had to be grateful for the smallest of mercies.

When Jews were given full citizenship and equal rights in the Enlightenment, that was to be the end of persecution. Liberté, égalité, fraternité were corrupted to their complete opposites: oppression, disenfranchisement and hatred.

Why do we so love and revere our saviours and supporters?.

Schindler’s grave is on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, and those he saved and their descendants still go annually to pay their respects.  His gravestone is permanently covered with the small stones placed as a sign of respect and gratitude by visitors from around the world, most of them Jews.

Schindler’s reward in Germany after the war was eventual poverty, somewhat self-inflicted. Jewish organisations kept him solvent at one time. When he died at the age of 66 his body was brought to Israel.

Wallenberg’s reward was to end up in some gulag and a likely early death.

How many countries other than Israel have honoured their great humanitarians who saved Jews?

In the UK Sir Nicholas Winton, sometimes referred to as the British Schindler, was only recognised years later thanks to Esther Rantzen.

Where will their monuments be? in Yad Vashem, in the Avenue of the Righteous, in the hearts of every Jew.

In Latvia it is the SS that is venerated and Jews who resisted Nazis are sought for war crimes in Lithuania.

Why do we so value our saviours? Because we know from our history that we have so often been the victim and that gentile saviours are so rare that we embrace and thank them like brothers and sisters.

In Hebron in 1929 Muslims saved more than 400 Jews whilst 67 were slaughtered and all of the Jews were taken to safety by the British.

Wherever and whenever Jews were under attack from their neighbours in Europe or in the Muslim world there were always those who truly loved their neighbours, and if they didn’t love them, at least they had the nobility of spirit and the fire of justice which made them stand up against the iniquities of their own people and stand with the Jews.

Even today we have truly inspiring Muslims; Kaz Hafeez, Hasan Afzal and Khaled Abu Toameh who, in different ways stand up against Islamist injustice and seek truth, justice and, above all, feel compelled to express their fraternal human feelings for Jews inside and outside Israel.

Today there is a hideous conflation – anti-Israelism is a cover for anti-semitism; Zionist means Jew. Israel and its supporters are accused of behaving like Nazis, the most vile accusation possible to throw against Jews who stand up against lies and distortions – like the noble and brave Richard Millett who was recently vilified for daring to record and challenge the vile  hypocrisy of a recent event at the SOAS.

This conflation confuses Jews who find that the policies of the Israeli government and the behaviour of some of its citizens problematical.

Good. Be outraged. Speak out against injustice, but don’t stand with those scientific anti-Semites with their high-powered electron microscopes poised over the Land of Israel, subjecting its every act and deed to a level of scrutiny no other country suffers, and then, when they find an alleged injustice, use it as testimony in pursuit of Israel’s destruction.

These critics of Israel and its supporters decide first that Israel must be destroyed. They insist that it is a misbegotten country, born in sin as an atonement for European Holocaust guilt. This is historically inaccurate and also ignores the role of ‘Palestinian’ Arabs who encouraged Hitler with promises of eradicating Jews from Palestine and even organised militia in Europe. I speak of Haj Amin al-Husseini.

They can never bring themselves to believe or recognise a single good thing about Israel or Israelis.

If the truth is too painful for them, if anything shows Israel in an unbearably good light, their cognitive dissonance gene kicks in and they obscenely invert  the good and convert it to criticism to be used as a weapon to further their presumption of guilt and illegitimacy.

And if you are guilty you are barred from defending yourself militarily or legally. Every response to an attack is a provocation and every death of a terrorist a massacre.

Every act of international aid, like being the first to build a field hospital in Haiti after the earthquake or sending specialist equipment to Japan after its tsunami disaster, are seen as a cover-up for all its evil deeds at home.

A bastion of Gay Rights? Yeah, sure, just ‘pinkwashing’ to be used to cover up Human Rights abuses.

Even a theatre company should not perform in London because, uniquely, Israelis are worthy of boycott for complicity in the crime of ‘occupation’ which is not legally an occupation despite the accepted cosy narrative which so defines it.

Such narratives are essentially anti-Semitic. They abjure fair criticism and replace it with demonisation, delegitimisation, lies, distortions and hypocrisy. Some even want to create a second Holocaust (Hamas, Hizbollah, Ahmadinejad).

Others want to destroy Israel and create a state of Palestine from the River to the Sea without considering the fate of the Jews, not caring, or simply wanting to ‘send them back’. These narratives, too, are essentially anti-Semitic, denying Jews self-determination and wishing to replace a democracy (albeit a flawed one) with another Islamist state. These people are surely the spawn of the Nazis. Nazism has never disappeared, its spores had merely been hibernating waiting for an opportunity such as the new religion of Human Rights provides them.

Yom HaShoah tells us to learn the lessons of intolerance, it tells us that if we are not for ourselves then who is for us?

The Righteous gave us that answer; they stood up proud and firm and they spat squarely in the eyes of the Nazi oppressors.

Maybe they hated Nazis more than they loved Jews; maybe saving Jews was an act of resistance to the Nazis more than an act of love toward Jews.

I don’t care because the motivation led to the act and the act was often at the risk of the life of those who acted.

They may not always have had noble motivations but they achieved nobility and they sanctified the very meaning of what it is to be human.

At the lowest point in the history of mankind, and in the midst of the worst evil, in the face of the depraved officers of the Waffen SS or the Hungarian Arrow Cross, the Einsatzgruppen and the Kapos or confronting their own ancient prejudices and indifference, envy or jealousy, a few thousand stood up and said “NO”.

We the Jewish people will never forget you, and we will perpetuate your memory with love and gratitude.

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