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Friday, 6 July 2018

Where Israeli Christians Have ‘Dunroamin’!

Shadi KhalloulMy father was a wandering Aramean’ is a phrase with such deep resonance in Jewish tradition that the debate over the figure’s identity has raged for millennia.

Was he the biblical patriarch, Abraham, his grandson, Jacob or the duplicitous, destructive Laban?

One fact is certain, the character’s modern Christian Maronite descendants roam no more and now live in Kfar Bar'am (Kafr Bir'im) northern Israel where they preserve their ancient heritage and teach Syriac-Aramaic as a spoken language to a new generation at the local elementary school in the village of Gush Halav (‘Jish’).

Behind much of the work is Shadi Khalloul, Philos Project fellow and founding chairman of the Israeli Christian Aramaic Association, who last week addressed a large ESRA Karmiel crowd about his life, work and love of Israel.

Khalloul began by recalling his childhood difficulties among Arab schoolmates, continued with his IDF service as a paratrooper, days as a university student in Las Vegas, USA where he lectured about his background at his tutor’s behest and even included a song and a recital of the Christian Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic.

It was indeed sobering and instructive to see Khalloul point at an inscribed Hebrew plaque on a wall of the sanctuary in the Kehilat Hakerem Synagogue where he was speaking and to consider that although a devout Catholic, he would have a better grasp than many Jews of major Jewish texts like the Kaddish prayer, most of which is in Aramaic. aramaicjpg

But Khalloul was keen to stress the tragic, historic commonalities shared by Jews and Christian Maronites. Not only has there been a continuous Christian Maronite presence in northern Israel and southern Lebanon, he pointed out that the first Christians and their early bishops were all Jewish. Further, his ancestors, like their Jewish counterparts, were persecuted and almost annihilated by an enemy he dubbed ‘the first ISIS’. Like today, Muslim invaders accomplished ‘ethnic cleansing’, not only by mass slaughter but through population displacement, absorption, acculturation and the destruction of artefacts of major significance.

He claimed that many Muslim Arab villages and towns in the Galilee were once Christian and cited Karmiel’s next-door neighbour, Deir al-Asad (‘the lion's monastery’) by example. Where was the monastery now, he demanded.

This is why Khalloul devotes himself to ‘building bridges’ between Christians and Jews in Israel as well as to “reviving the Aramean identity, heritage and language” and restoring Kafr Bir'im as the first Christian Aramaic community and town in the Galilee, northern Israel.

As a captain (reserve) in the IDF Paratroop Division, Khalloul views army service as a great melting pot for Israeli society and founded the first Christian-Jewish youth pre-military preparation programme for Israeli leadership to encourage such integration.

Khalloul’s next plan is to win a seat in the Knesset as a candidate for the Jewish Zionist party, so it appears that more of his ambitions may be realised in the not too distant future.

In this age of brazen, ever-growing antisemitism I insist that the Jewish community should both value and cherish its relatively few non-Jewish friends like Shadi Khalloul. I look very much forward to meeting him again soon. 

© Natalie Wood (06 July 2018)

Friday, 29 June 2018

Israel: What Will William Tell?

It emerged only after he had returned to the U.K that one potentially unpleasant incident marred Prince William’s visit to the Middle East.

I suspect that to prevent ‘copy-cat’ attacks, an otherwise total news blackout gagged reports of his convoy being stoned by Arab youngsters as it sped through the Jelazun refugee camp north of Ramallah.

“This was a very embarrassing event for Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. The official excuse for the stoning of Prince William was that they didn’t ‘prepare’ the residents of the refugee camp for the Prince’s arrival”.

Wow! Really?

Prince William Israel 2018But that apart, it appears that the second in line to the British throne made a massive effort to make his historic official visit a resounding success and that he became an instant hit with all who met him.

This made me wonder once more about the lovely young man born to be the U.K.’s next-but-one king.

Certainly, he looks every inch and behaves in every possible polished way like a monarch-in-waiting and if events of the past few days are any guide then it seems he’ll be a splendid head of state. I’m sorry that there’s little chance of my ever seeing him crowned.

Still I’ve been pondering thus:

First, how William felt, for example, when asked to walk away backward from a stretch of stone and mortar at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. After all, he has been trained from infancy to pay similar homage to a living, breathing monarch – who is also his cherished grandmother.

Then those hard learned lessons of etiquette and diplomacy must also be employed – especially the golden rule about being on constant guard in the global village where the barest gesture may be captured, misinterpreted, then forensically analysed under the ultra-powerful lens of public opinion.

How many of us ordinary folk would swap our privacy for a life in the goldfish bowl, despite the huge privileges that it grants? Not too many, I bet!

Finally, I consider Catherine, William’s wife and future queen consort. She’s not simply a fashion-plate and super-mum. She is someone who has chosen a life in the harsh public eye and must be a incalculable influence on her husband.

She also harbours very fond memories of her days at the Assahera Nursery in Amman, Jordan. There, the daily curriculum included learning some Arabic and hearing verses from the Quran with stories about the Prophet's companions. Pupils also celebrated Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan along with Christmas. As the king’s consort, Catherine presently Duchess of Cambridge will also be the wife of the head of the Church of England. I sincerely hope this interesting mix will prove only advantageous, not just for Britain’s multi-faith society but for its continued superb relationship with Israel.

© Natalie Wood (29June 2018)

Sunday, 24 June 2018

The Contagion of Domestic Abuse

Secret Life of a JurorPaul Sanders writes popular true crime stories from a US juror’s perspective.

** Secret Life of a Juror: Voir Dire: The Domestic Violence Query (A Juror's Perspective Book 4) is the latest in the series triggered by his experiences as a death penalty juror at the trial of Marissa-Suzanne "Reese" DeVault for the murder of her husband, Dale Harrell.

As DeVault alleged her husband had physically abused her, Sanders took a deeply personal interest in the case as he says that he and his younger brother and sister were each the victims of continual violent physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their wealthy, professional parents.

While it is unarguable that domestic abuse cuts across all strata of society, some of the author’s claims do not bear the closest scrutiny. Understandably he has used pseudonyms to protect his siblings’ identity. But it is hardly credible that any of them could have received such regular, violent attacks – much more than ‘mere’ beatings with belts or tree branches – and then survived into adulthood, all be they deeply traumatised.

Then there is Sanders’s further claim that despite photographic evidence of his injuries held by the local social services, that his father held such sway in their small town that he could inveigle a judge to so pervert the course of justice that he, the victim, was convicted of perjury and sent briefly to a young offenders’ institution although no trial ever took place.

Finally we as readers are left to accept or reject these events at face value and believe them - or not …

But despite several plot-holes, factual, grammatical and stylistic errors the book makes a compelling, powerful if terrifying read and we see at firsthand, not only how domestic violence is every much as addictive as that on any battlefield but that it is also quite wickedly contagiousPaul Sanders

** Secret Life of a Juror: Voir Dire: The Domestic Violence Query (A Juror's Perspective Book 4) is available from Amazon @ $3.99 (Kindle) and $18.99 (Paperback).

© Natalie Wood (24 June 2018)

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Fat Phobia: A Web of Guilt, Self-Hate and Fear

Fat Phobia: A Web of Guilt, Self-Hate and Fear: When Anglo-Jewish journalist Hilary Freeman revealed she had decided not to enrol her infant daughter at a particular London nursery becaus...

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Monday, 28 May 2018

Christian Sanctity, Jewish Sacrilege – and the Kaddish Prayer

What a moment!

Deep in the heart of a wedding service bursting with elegiac emotion came a still, small, manicured voice.

It was that of Lady Jane Fellowes, the groom’s maternal aunt reciting two passages of dense lyrical beauty from The Song of Songs (also known as The Song of Solomon and in Hebrew, Shir Hashirim).

But were they the right choice for the marriage of the new Duke and Duchess of Sussex?

Would it have been better to pay tribute to the former Meghan Markle’s African American roots by instead reading the words of the Shulamite from the book’s opening chapter?

“'I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.

“Look not upon me, that I am swarthy, that the sun hath tanned me; my mother's sons were incensed against me, they made me keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept’”.

Yet more apt, perhaps, would have been the words of the biblical Ruth whose story was read in synagogues  during the Jewish festival of Shavuot (‘Pentecost’, which almost overlapped with the  British Royal wedding celebrations.

A Moabite immigrant to ancient Israel who converted to Judaism, Ruth is said to have been the great-grandmother of King David.

“Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you”, she famously begged her mother-in-law, Naomi.

So, as if for the briefest second during her own fine, historic hour, we almost heard Meghan promise Prince Harry:

“For wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God my God”.

But even as billions witnessed the display of brilliantly choreographed majesty at Windsor Castle and absorbed the shifting patterns of universal history being replayed for a new generation, the dreary squalor of routine British life meandered on elsewhere.


Never mind the customary antics of the anti-Israel hate mob in Glasgow as TRH exchanged vows. Those involved were no worse than the motley Jewish crew who had performed the public pantomimic memorial for HAMAS terrorists at Parliament Square, London some days before.

Kaddish ScreenshotWhat amounted to a grossly wicked satire of an ancient prayer that is as deeply ingrained in the Jewish psyche as the Shema and Kol Nidrei, has caused equal distress and anger both to cultural Jews and those who recite it in different guises for different reasons – not simply in bereavement - every day of every week of the year.

If those gathered at Westminster on Wednesday 16 May were not just aping their New York counterparts example, why did they not perform the so-called service in a synagogue or a private home?


Why did they use the very spot where only a few weeks prior thousands of incandescently outraged Jews had gathered to tell the antisemites in the British Labour Party that ‘enough is enough’.

The answer is clear but I will spell it out for readers unaccustomed to Jewry’s ongoing internecine strife:

It has been argued by some, that the Kaddish protest was neither organised by nor representative of the Progressive community. I am not convinced. The young woman rabbi who led the charade will have been trained, like all her Progressive colleagues, at Leo Baeck College, London. The students are all intellectually gifted and must have excellent secular qualifications as a basic requirement for being accepted for rabbinical training.

But cerebral prowess and emotional maturity are too often found in direct, inverse proportion and I suggest that the protesters come from a fine tradition of British Jewish anarchists; the sort who delighted in holding “massive public festivals of eating, dancing, and performance for the full 25 hours of Yom Kippur, not only as a way to fight for their right to party, but to unshackle themselves from the oppressive religious dictates they grew up with”.

I argue further that Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, the Movement for Reform Judaism’s senior rabbi, was being disingenuous when she warned that the Anglo-Jewish community was ‘on a path to “self-destruction”’. Many Progressive movement policies are actively encouraging. if not actually wreaking that harm. I have decided not to delineate them here.

Two days ago, on SaturdayS 26 May, it was announced that IDF soldier, Sergeant Ronen Lubarsky, 20, from Rehovot, south of Tel Aviv, had died from the head injuries he sustained during operations in the West Bank on Thursday last week.

Unusually, there was no daytime funeral. Instead he was due to be buried overnight at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery, Jerusalem. No matter. No-one who ‘prayed’ for the HAMAS operatives in London on 16 May will have given Lubarsky’s passing a second thought.

Huh! He was only another Israeli Jew – and a another soldier, at that.

So I will end here by attempting to redress the balance and offer a Progressive version of the final lines of the Kaddish prayer. The clip is a musical rendition of Kaddish by the French composer, Maurice Ravel, who was not Jewish.

Oseh shalom bimromav,
hu yaaseh shalom aleinu,
v’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei teiveil,
v’imru. Amen.

May the One who makes peace in the high heavens
make peace for us, for all Israel and all who inhabit the earth. Amen.

© Natalie Wood (28 May 2018)

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

No Stone Left Unturned: Vilna, Athens – London, Too!

These past few days I’ve been much exercised by the Jewish way of death.

On Monday, for example, I received a begging letter.

One I cannot ignore.

It came from Ruta Bloshtein who spearheads the campaign to prevent a convention centre being built on the site of the Jewish cemetery in Vilnius (‘Vilna’) Lithuania.

A petition Bloshtein organised has received 43,000 signatures but this has merely postponed, not prevented publication of the initial contracts for ten years of hosting concerts, conferences “and most likely circuses and trade shows on top of our old Vilna cemetery”, she told supporters.

“Although the Soviets stole all the stones, they turn up all over the city and could be returned, and the magnificent old structures rebuilt. Most of the graves still lie intact. This is the burial place of great Jewish leaders including Reb Moshe Rivkes (the Be’er Hagola), the Chayei Odom, and Reb Zelmale Volozhiner, among many thousands of Jewish graves of people whose families purchased, in good faith, their plots in perpetuity”.

When the issue was covered by The New York Times, Jewish community leader Simon Gurevich alleged that Soviet antisemites first built a sports hall inside the cemetery.

Now Bloshtein is asking supporters to urge the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad (USCPAHA to appeal to the Lithuanian authorities to move the convention centre project to another site.

Meanwhile, Bloshtein has support from a local non-Jew, Julius Norwilla, who is organising a demonstration at the cemetery, situated in a district known historically as Piramont but in modern Vilnius named as Snipiskes.

Bloshtein says of Norwilla: “He has placed online the posters that will be used: old pictures of the cemetery showing how the stones and prayer halls used to look, and how they could be restored”.

Against this, she alleges that the London-based Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe has continued to provide the Lithuanian authorities with a “supposed Jewish stamp of approval when all other rabbis and organisations in the world have condemned the cemetery’s desecration”.

In view of this, Bloshtein asks UK supporters to contact their MPs or to make a written complaint about the activities of the CPJCE to the UK Charities Commission explaining the background. The CPJCE charity registration number is: 1073225.


But the Vilnius Jewish Cemetery’s woes must be viewed in the context of troubles plaguing Jewish burial societies and cemetery managements worldwide.

I write this piece after a weekend during which the leaders of the Athens Jewish community awoke on Sabbath morning to discover that “unknown assailants” had smashed headstones on graves in the Jewish section of the Nikaia Cemetery, situated in a southwestern suburb of Athens. Community spokespeople described the scene as ‘repulsive’ adding: “There is no worse sign of a society’s moral decline than desecration of a cemetery and disrespect for the dead”.


Athens GravestonesBut there’s more than one way to disrespect the dead – and their grieving relatives.

It appears that when the bereaved may fall no lower - bar joining their loved ones in the hereafter - Jewish burial authorities determine to all but extort money with menaces. Far too often, there are stories like that of the British family forced to fund an £8,000.00 funeral after paying burial board fees for 45 years.

My own experience was less about money than contempt: After my mother died, I was treated shabbily by the Orthodox rabbi who conducted her grave headstone setting. He forbade me to read the tribute I had written but also refused to read it himself as he considered my sentiments inappropriate.

More recently, an online group devoted to such Anglo-Jewish problems has likewise reviewed the emotional as well as financial cost of bereavement

One woman in desperately frail health told how after she lost a daughter in her 40s, the cemetery clerk charged £180.00 simply to make an appointment for the headstone setting. Her story and related matters produced a deluge of sympathy and memories of similar experiences.

Some people from an Orthodox background feel so desperate that they are beginning to consider cremation as an option although they are aware that such practice is strictly forbidden.

Certainly, the idea of umbrella synagogue and burial insurance fees seems attractive but not everyone has synagogue membership or likes that solution, often becauseof financial constraints.

Finally, aside from the conventional religious rituals of any faith, I have noted two growing trends among bereaved social media users.

The first, across the religious spectrum, is to retain the accounts of family members or even to open new ‘remembrance’ or ‘memorial’ pages in their names where they mark the anniversary of the deceased’s passing or even birthdays, etc.

In the Jewish community, some people, unable to make the traditional pre- New Year visit to family graves in person, now recite prayers ‘virtually’ over a photograph of family graves.

I am not in favour oif that practice but would like to learn others’ views.

© Natalie Wood (09 May 2018)