Tuesday, 3 December 2013
Monday, 2 December 2013
Daniel Kadosh, the 18-year-old soldier from Karmiel who went missing on Saturday evening has returned home safe and sound, according to the Israeli news site Arutz Sheva. The Military Police are now investigating his absence.
Sunday, 1 December 2013
Police are seeking help in their search for 18-year-old soldier DANIEL KADOSH, who left home during the night. Kadosh is described as of medium build, bearded with black hair and about 1.70 (5' 7") in height. He was wearing grey sweats and may be carrying a small blue and red bag. Anyone with further information should contact the police. Please share this post.
Friday, 29 November 2013
How wonderful, I’ve long thought, that the old villain decided to have himself played out to magnificent music honouring one of Jewish traditions greatest heroes. Mosley, of course, was so bloated from ingesting ceaseless streams of causeless hatred that he would never have looked over his belly to see the joke in his face.
It is odd, indeed, that notorious Jew haters should be forever fascinated by the Maccabees. Thus Hollywood actor, Mel Gibson also gets a walk-on part here as someone who vilifies Jews but nonetheless tried to make a movie based on the Chanucah story. The project failed when he was thwarted by his enemies – not all of them Jewish.
I did not immediately recognise the origin of the trumpet solo played at synagogue as we concluded our first night Chanucah celebrations. But later, when I remembered it, I realised that the plangent tones came from the oratorio which could not have been a more appropriate choice.
First, the festival hinges on the courageous exploits of Judas Maccabee and his companions in saving the Jewish community of Ancient Israel from the Seleucid Greeks and their miraculous rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
Then there was how our synagogue celebrated: After the first candles on the chanukiah were lit and the blessings recited recalling what had then occurred, those present were invited to debate the nature of heroism.
While one acquaintance suggested that ultimate heroism was exemplified by those in the fire service, others referred to military figures and great political leaders who may pursue a lone path in the face of great adversity, thereby improving the lives of masses of people whom they would never meet in person.
I proposed that the terms ‘hero’ and heroism’ are loaded as they mean different things in separate circumstances. The dictionary definitions may well refer to physical ‘valour’ but they do not allow for the pluck shown by very ordinary folk living quiet lives who may not display courage in a conventional manner, but speak out when they perceive wrong-doing or perhaps surrender a comfortable way of life in order to care for others.
So here’s my chance to congratulate those U.K. Jewish parents, charities – and even some children – who have expressed fears that Chanucah “has now become a ‘pseudo-Christmas’, with the miracle of the Maccabees’ oil lost under an avalanche of television advertising, competitive gift-giving and overt commercialism”.
I’ve always loathed the gross deceit of the so-called season of goodwill and while still living in the U.K. grew increasingly uneasy about how it crept further and further into Jewish homes.
As I’ve already remarked, I still have the Singer's siddur (prayer book) my father gave to me as a Chanucah gift when I was aged five. The late 1950s were indeed more innocent, sterner times when middle-class Anglo-Jewish kids had different and vastly lower expectations than the present generation. The candle lightings and traditional Jewish nosh aside, the festival was kept very low-key; treated as an ordinary week interspersed with the odd party, a synagogue children’s parade and maybe a cheder (religious classes) prize giving.
As a very young kid it all became somehow tied up with the surrounding Christmas festivities, but at a distance, because the winter break was a holiday for everyone, especially when the two festivals coincided or overlapped. Everyone went to a pantomime, enjoyed a large holiday lunch and watched the same shows on television.
But the boundaries drawn then were far stronger then those painted now. Chanucah was for Jewish people; Christmas most certainly was not. This is only one reason why the Anglo-Orthodox rabbinate should do everything in its power to encourage, not to deter the activities of organisations like Limmud, the pluralist Jewish educational charity, which meets during the winter break. The much-loved international learning fest was created partly to help serious students of Judaism to escape the dreary awfulness of the interminable ‘winterval’. But I’ll be back on this subject very soon.
Meanwhile, my best wishes for a great Chanucah are extended to those celebrating, while my sincere thanks go to friends from outside the community for their gracious wishes of festive cheer.
Monday, 25 November 2013
Wednesday, 13 November 2013
“And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corner of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleaning of thy harvest” (Leviticus 19:9).
Jewish tradition so prizes the tender, pastoral story of the convert, Ruth that the text is placed next to The Song of Songs in The Tenach – Hebrew Biblical Canon.
“Her mother-in-law said to her, ‘Where have you picked today and where have you wrought? May your benefactor be blessed’” (Ruth 2:19).
It’s therefore natural for it to have prompted some of English literature’s most cherished works, including John Keats’s verse (below) and Somerset Maugham’s story, The Alien Corn.
‘Ode to a Nightingale’ – John Keats
The poet and the master prose writer both turned the biblical tale upside down, making their subjects mourn their emotional exile, whereas Ruth was anxious to leave Moab to return to Judea with Naomi, her widowed mother-in-law and to be part of Israelite society.
I was aged only 16 when I first saw Maugham’s story adapted for television and was captivated by the romantic anguish of the failed musician who killed himself. But reading the original as an adult, it becomes clear that the author, a closet bi-sexual in an age when practising homosexuality was illegal, wrote it to reflect his own sense of isolation and estrangement.
While the plot and characterisation are pervaded by the popular anti-Jewish stereotypes of the European inter-war years, in real life Maugham was personally friendly with Jews. So I insist that The Alien Corn cannot be about wealthy German Jews desperate to be accepted as members of the British aristocracy. Instead, I view it as an extended metaphor for Maugham’s personal condition, representing first his family who uprooted themselves from Yorkshire to become urbane metropolitans and then himself, someone who was not only unable to satisfy his voracious sexuality but was forced also to acknowledge that his own talent, like that of the would-be pianist, George Bland was no more than "in the very front row of the second rate”.
Hungry Israeli Kids? That’s Hard To Stomach!
All of this returns me to present-day Israel where it doesn’t take the droppings from a back-breaking investigation to discover that in barely a decade Leket (‘Gleanings’) has become the country’s largest charitable food bank and food rescue network.
Arriving as a western immigrant I was surprised to learn that about one-third of Karmiel residents lived on benefits. This is not just an Arab issue as the only real poverty I’ve witnessed has been among former Russians, like the man scavenging for cigarette butts in a public dustbin or another ahead of me at a supermarket check-out paying for his goods with a thick wad of vouchers.
The cost of living in Israel is at least twenty per cent higher than in Europe yet jobs are hard to find and wages are very low. How do people balance this paradox? I’ve been told that if they earn enough to open a bank account, they live on permanent overdrafts! But the strange anomaly of being urged to emigrate to Israel – to live in the Jewish State but without the means to enjoy it - is no laughing matter for those at the sharp end.
Some privation is self-inflicted by people who simply refuse to work. More is suffered by new immigrants from countries like Ethiopia who arrive after extraordinarily courageous journeys with only the clothes they wear and then discover they face many more years of grinding poverty while they become accustomed to western life. But most upsetting is the apparently unending line of needy school children whom Leket helps to feed daily.
The charity estimates that 1.9M Israelis live in poverty and “… nearly a quarter of the country's population suffers from an imbalanced or insufficient diet” due to that hardship. Indeed, if Leket did not do its sterling work, about 850,000 Israeli children of all backgrounds would go hungry each day while hundreds of thousands of tons of food would simply rot away.
No matter where they live, there are always those on the poverty line and below who are constitutionally unable to provide even the basics for themselves as they do not understand how to budget and find it difficult to save. These are the type of people who need help.
When I volunteered during the summer at Leket’s storage depot in Nesher, Haifa, I met other volunteers along with paid staff who confirmed that they also assist Israel’s ‘at-risk’ sector and the non-profit organisations which offer nutrition education among other facilities.
But when I helped to sort vegetables and load crates at the depot or enjoyed a couple of invigorating sessions pulling turnips and kohlrabi on Leket’s specially designated field at Moshav Nahalal in the Jezreel Valley, I was only one of 45,000 volunteers helping with a wide range of activities which include rescuing more than 770,000 hot meals, 110,000 loaves of bread and more than 18M pounds of produce and perishable goods. Other volunteers make more than 7,600 sandwiches each day to feed underprivileged children at 113 schools in more than 30 cities throughout Israel. Furthermore, food is reclaimed from hundreds of suppliers which is then redistributed to 190 non-profit organisations which help a wide range of people of all ethnic groups. No-one, no matter their background, is denied assistance.
My most recent volunteer picking session took place in September during the harvest festival of Succot – Tabernacles - when I was part of a very large crowd that pulled 95,000 lbs of kohlrabi to help feed more than 12,000 needy families. These sessions exude a jolly party atmosphere so it’s no wonder that families celebrating a barmitzvah or batmitzvah join the fun and the child receives a commemorative certificate to mark their efforts. Even less surprising is that this year’s World Food Day harvesting project became so popular that some applicants had to be turned away!
Before closing, I want to commend Leket Israel for producing an outstandingly attractive website which includes a novel approach to Jewish ‘soul’ food: Its new ‘Parasha Project’ involves celebrated scholars offering bi-lingual food-related commentaries on the biblical portion of the week. Their essays are then illustrated by relevant recipes from well-known food writers and chefs. Typical is the commentary and accompanying recipe for the week ending Sabbath 09 November. The study passage was written by US poet Professor Alicia Ostriker of Rutgers University while the recipe for ‘Sinyeh – Kebab Patties baked in Tahini’ - came from Miriam Kresh of Israeli Kitchen.com. The original recipe can be found on Leket’s website or at http://www.israelikitchen.com.
This article first appeared in the December 2013 edition of Live Encounters magazine (http://liveencounters.net/?p=5322) edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of Israel and all matters Jewish.
Tuesday, 29 October 2013
The Internet is a wonderful thing, allowing me to view here in Israel BBC TV’s five-part series The Story of the Jews presented by Simon Schama, the respected historian and Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University.
I enjoyed the series enormously as Schama unrolled like a Torah scroll the 3,000-years-plus narrative of the Jewish People which was necessarily tailored to an overwhelmingly non-Jewish audience. His telling of the story began, not in Mesopotamia and with Abraham as might be expected, but with the Jews of Elephantine Island in the Nile delta. There, they had been stationed by the Persian Empire as its subjects to garrison its far border, because their warrior qualities – just like the modern IDF - drew admiration and respect.
Schama chronicles all Jewish wanderings, both geographically across the known world and chronologically down the centuries. But poured over this melange is the depressing constant of the People of the Book enduring murderous persecution, forced religious conversions, financial expropriation and exile both from the Land of Israel and innumerable places of exile.
There is an accompanying two-volume book to the series and Volume 1 (421 pp plus index and bibliography) covers the period 1000 BCE to the Spanish Expulsion in 1492 CE. The second volume, continuing the story until the present day, will be published in September 2014.
Although I’ve read and appreciated other works by Schama, notably his excellent three-volume History of Britain, I did not care for the overly-chatty style in which this is written and would have preferred it to be given a ‘harder’ edge.
Curiously, he also makes some rather elementary mistakes. These include calculating the period between the Six Day (1967) and Yom Kippur (1973) wars, as seven years and his comment that Shabbat (Sabbath) observance rules do not occur in Deuteronomy when plainly it contains a repetition of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) and specifically the Fourth Commandment. He also pluralises tallit (prayer shawl) in the Hebrew masculine form when it is in fact a feminine noun.
But perhaps I’m nit-picking on trivia as his grand overview and detailed narrative of the great sweep of Jewish history takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride through the ups and many downs of the Jewish Diaspora during three millennia. Logically, the Jewish People - a little desert tribe with its obstinate monotheistic religion - has no business surviving in a hostile world when its would-be annihilators - the Egyptians, Babylonians, Seleucid Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Cossacks, Iberian Holy Inquisition, Nazis, Communists et al have all passed into history. The Christian Church and Islam too have intermittently done their best to eliminate Judaism for 2,000 and 1,400 years respectively.
Yet, stubbornly it persists.
The author cites his sources meticulously and provides a helpful bibliography for further reading. Although not religious, he obviously feels the weight of Jewish history upon his own shoulders and sees himself, like most Jews, as just one link in an immensely long chain, binding a far distant past with an unforeseen and unknowable future. In the TV programme, Schama declares himself to be a Zionist, no small thing for a public figure to declare on air when Israel’s many foes have done their damndest to reduce the word for Jewish self-determination to an unutterable expletive. But who else should it be but a Jewish historian, who has studied, close-up and personally, Jewish treatment at the hands of the ‘civilised’ world?
The Story of the Jews – Volume 1 is published by the Bodley Head @ £14.99
Brian’s review is the first in a series of guest posts I hope to publish on Alwayswriteagain. Anyone wishing to contribute a piece pertaining to the Arts, Politics, Judaism and Israel may contact me on email@example.com.