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Friday, 29 November 2019

The Desert Vixen – and Her Fox!

As the arguments about the prosecution of British Armed Forces’ veterans for alleged war crimes in Northern Ireland and the Middle East continue, a new work examining the disposition of the military mind becomes of crucial importance.
But Erin Solaro’s book about Germany’s World War 11 hero Field Marshal Erwin Rommel is neither another biography nor a forensic discussion of his extraordinary personality.
It is rather, a strange, occasionally lyrical novella in which he is made to reflect on the worst excesses of waging war and meeting death in words reminiscent of – even quoting from – celebrated war verse.
Solaro’s Rommel ponders thus five days after the Battle of Bir Hakeim and two weeks before the surrender of Tobruk:
“I have never forgotten, simply locked it away. Even in the moment I knew I need not have shot him, because what is more useless than a lieutenant colonel running around the hinterlands of France without his troops?
“I shot him down simply because he had begun to rant and, amped as I was on adrenaline and amphetamines, after three demands to surrender, the first more than courteous, I had enough.
“Because I knew suicidal defiance when I saw it, so why not deliver?
“It was one of those ugly, regrettable incidents inevitable in any war.
“It was the first time, the only time in my life I had indulged in the intoxication of wanton destruction for its own sake rather than in the bloodlust of close combat. So I let stand the lie that I had ordered someone else to do it.
“In a way I had. For the first and only time in my life, I stood down the part of me that even drunk with rage, knew right from wrong – and kept that faith….
“Armies need private soldiers and young officers who snort and stamp and curvet like warhorses at the scent of blood and generals who, because they understand them, can restrain them.
“I had failed in that. I resolved never to fail again”.
Such words, others may agree, are as fine a defence witness statement at a war crimes’ trial that anyone may offer.
But further passages prove Solaro’s tale to be yet more complex:
There is the painfully wrought description of Rommel’s distraught widow, Lucia Maria Mollin, whose thickly veiled face and dignified bearing surely march us straight to that of Jackie Kennedy at her husband’s state funeral 19 years later. We get the hint. The parallels are clear.
Both women survived their respective spouses by many years – and despite huge differences in status and wealth – each found herself somehow entombed in her late partner’s legacy.
Next comes Solaro’s reproduction of a photograph from Rommel: The Trail of the Fox by infamous Holocaust denier, David Irving that she uses to illustrate an affectionate – almost domestic - idyll with a vixen.
But to tell more now would be to pen a spoiler. Instead I will own to a warm personal friendship and regard with and for the US-born author who, although not Jewish, has spent about a decade living and working in Israel. She settled here with her late husband, historian and journalist. Philip Gold who died two days after his 70th birthday in October last year.
Erin Solaro’s earlier work has been rewarded with unstinting praise from top US military personnel and individuals including Phyllis Chesler, the feminist psychologist and Israel advocate, who like her, spent time in Afghanistan – but for wildly different reasons!
Now You Know: The Last Day of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel is presently available for free Kindle Unlimited download on Amazon.
© Natalie Wood (29 November 2019)

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Stunned, Stuck, Sliced: Is Animal Welfare Mere Kindness Dressed to Kill?

Aleph Farms, an Israeli food-technology company, claims to have cultured slaughter-free meat in space.
Great news for animal welfare campaigners, who say meat eating should be criminalised, but aggravating for those who argue that so long as animals bred for slaughter are reared, then killed with kindness, they are all talking tosh.

Inevitably caught in the crosshairs of this irreconcilable and increasingly acrimonious international conflict over human health and animal welfare are Muslims and Jews, significant religious minorities, whose broadly similar yet markedly different ancient methods of ritual slaughter both suffer from ever-escalating external attack.
Scores of authoritative papers appear regularly on opposing sides of the debate. But what seems clear is that while the (religious) minority communities try to present a united front on the contentious issue, they are internally divided while facing hostile outsiders whose genuine humanitarian concerns barely conceal an inherent antipathy to both.

I turn first by example to how the UK anti-Jewish riots of 1947 began in a north-west abattoir and then to an analysis of New Zealand’s 2010 ban on Jewish kosher slaughter by anthropologist Hal Levine of the Victoria University of Wellington. In it, he compares what happened in NZ to the ill-treatment afforded the Canadian Inuit who, after being barred from practising their traditional trade of whaling and sealing, were then subjected to an examination of their very culture.

So, argues Levine, the shechita ban similarly destabilised New Zealand’s small, unassuming Jewish community; forcing members to consider their position as equal NZ citizens “free to practise their religion in a country with an international reputation for tolerance. The issue developed in a context involving animal welfare interests, meat exporting, and local Muslim halal (‘correct or proper’) slaughter, itself the subject of similar proscriptions in Europe”.

The concept of any animal slaughter is abhorrent to a growing international vegetarian-vegan population but for those still eating meat, the main argument against shechita and dhabihah is that both methods customarily forbid animals to be pre-stunned before slaughter although some more lenient Muslim authorities do allow several stunning methods.

Will the UK’s imminent departure from the European Union affect Jewish and Muslim practice? The feature linked here states:

“While making it clear their concern does not relate to the expression of religious belief but the welfare of animals, Britain’s biggest animal welfare charity, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and many leading veterinary organisations are lining up to support a total ban on non-stunned meat”.

Although less urgent, it may also mean a difference to any such products’ organic status as earlier this year, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that non pre-stunned meat could not bear the EU organic label.

Meanwhile, there now remain very few countries worldwide where religiously observant Muslim and Jewish citizens are not adversely affected by tough welfare regulations as the many papers and websites available suggest that outside Muslim countries and Israel, halal and shechita are performed by way of sullen concession at abattoirs used for general slaughter.

There exists an enduring, uneasy peace among everyone involved in the trade and it is unsurprising when petty resentments swell into open hostility.

While secular abattoir managements may view minority community requests as an impediment to swift, smooth production, religious leaders argue that religious laws may be ancient but they are not outdated.

Indeed, barely two months ago, Rabbi Jacob Siegel of the JLens Investor Network recommended that the increasing public pressure to ban non-stun slaughter may be solved by “engaging as responsible investors” in relevant food production corporations.

But would money speak louder than fine words?

The answer is ‘no’; not when we read opinions like those of Christian Methodist scholar Cyril S Rodd, whose Glimpses of a Strange Land takes an apparently hostile view of the Hebrew Bible, arguing, inter alia, that it is “mined for texts which support current ecological concern. This is, however, a very late development, and it has been pointed out that far from being in the van of caring for the natural world, the reality is that the Christian Church has at last almost caught up with the secular world”.

Rev Rodd’s view is quoted critically by Jonathan Burke of Monash University, Melbourne, Australia in a paper, Does God Care for Oxen? Animal Welfare Ethics in the Bible.

During his study, Burke charges Rodd with presenting “… revisionist readings of passages which have typically been understood as illustrating ethical concern for animals. Finding support in the Bible for a more enlightened ethics of animal welfare has demanded a highly selective approach. The history of the attitude towards animals within the Church should alert us to the fact that the teaching of the Bible is highly ambiguous”.
My own view is in my headline.

As a Jew, fundamental shechita practice must have my full support.

However, as a lacto-ovo vegetarian of more than 30 years’ experience and a journalist once privy to the petty scandals, intrigues and power mongering that still beset the tiny world of shechita in the UK - and beyond – I am reminded that the Hebrew Bible suggests we are supposed to be vegetarian – even vegan – and that meat consumption is said to be an indulgence granted to frail humankind  by Heaven. 
With best wishes for a Succot sameach – happy Festival of Tabernacles – to all who are celebrating.

© Natalie Wood (13 October 2019)

Friday, 20 September 2019

Jewish Life? Apparently Not!

I began reading **Appearances: A Novel hoping that the author’s intent is satire.

Alas, no!

This is a po-faced account of a self-centred, self-absorbed wealthy section of the US Boston Jewish community and so inadvertently does the wicked work of racists everywhere.

I debated whether to say anything and have decided to do so simply to warn friendly but unsuspecting outsiders that, even accounting for basic editorial mistakes along with the many known differences in universal Jewish custom and tradition, much of what ‘Sondra Helene’ describes is - well – quite ridiculously but by no means laughably wrong.

** Appearances: A Novel by Sondra Helene is available from Amazon on Kindle @ $8.69, Paperback @ $11.99 and also Audiobook format.

© Natalie Wood (20 September 2019)

Thursday, 19 September 2019

A Wandering Spirit Laid to Rest

As many Israelis were picking over the detritus discarded on the latest national election battlefield, a group of us paid homage to a personality who produced the best in everyone. If we all thought like Debbie Richman, I suggested, there would be no tension.

US-born, Debbie had been an accomplished midwife and her social media image showed her in medical scrubs tending a patient. So those of us gathered to honour her memory at her close friend, Helen Chang’s home in Amirim, Galilee, found it especially hard to reconcile her work as an aide to birth with the manner in which she died.

Debbie was a restless spirit; an eternal sole traveller to distant, perhaps strange locales like Mongolia, Ethiopia, Goa and Alaska along with frequent visits elsewhere in the US.  I was surprised - shocked, even - to meet her once resting on a bench in my suburban street. The reason? She had walked about three hours from home to arrive there!

To be a guest at Debbie’s parties - the last being in early May - was always great fun; not only for the refreshments and occasional musical entertainment but due really to the wonderfully wide range of people she somehow gathered under her roof.

We all wish we could tell her how much she is being missed.

© Natalie Wood (19 September 2019)

Friday, 23 August 2019

Measure for Measure – and Us,Too!

In an Israel where one political party yearns to turn the state into a theocracy, another brazenly loathes homosexuals and innumerable public figures are quite egregiously corrupt, a production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure could not be more opportune.

Enter centre-stage Theatre in the Rough, whose current spare, moveable feast has audiences rushing round Jerusalem’s Bloomfield Gardens in the wake of an energetic cast as they strip bare an early 17th century European fantasy world cruelly redolent of events in modern boardrooms - and bedrooms – anywhere one may name.
Billed as ‘family friendly’, the show uses few props and is most wisely ‘played for laughs’, with much musical strumming and drumming to keep even the youngest playgoers alert.

But wait!

What is this we hear?

As we lose the last embers of one day’s burnished sun, Avital Sykora’s Duke Vincentio reminds us of Will’s real intent.
While the Duke makes his climactic speech against the backdrop of one lonely lamp, it is clear that the life-scarred playwright’s aim is not only to entertain or even educate, but to elevate us.

“Being criminal, in double violation

Of sacred chastity, and of promise-breach,

Thereon dependent, for your brother’s life,—

The very mercy of the law cries out

Most audible, even from his proper tongue,

‘An Angelo for Claudio, death for death!’

Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure,

Like doth quit like, and Measure still for Measure “.

How astounding then, that this speech, leaning so heavily on the Christian Gospels’ Sermon on the Mount, which in turn was filched so blithely from Jewish tradition is being replayed with gusto in a picturesque Jerusalem park. The rest is surely commentary!

Theatre in the Rough’s Measure for Measure: in Motion continues at Bloomfield Gardens  from Sunday – Tuesday August 25 – 27.

© Natalie Wood (23 August 2019)

Monday, 12 August 2019

Europe’s Mental Health Chiefs Have an Israel Rethink

It seems that ENMESH, the European Network for Mental Health Service Evaluation, may reverse a recent decision not to hold a planned conference in Jerusalem due to pressure from anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions lobbyists.

Making a unilateral decision, ENMESH immediate past chairman, Professor Mike Slade of Nottingham University, UK, had announced the cancellation of Jerusalem as the venue of the organisation’s biennial 2021 conference although it had been agreed upon only several weeks before.

But Professor Slade’s move caused outrage both from fellow academics and the public, causing ENMESH to receive more than 1,000 letters of protest. The British academic has now been replaced by Professor Bernd Puschner, at the Department of Psychiatry, Ulm University, Germany. He is said to be more sympathetic to Israel than his predecessor.

However, the pro-Israel Iron Lion Zion action group warns that BDS members may yet place further pressure on ENMESH and has urged supporters:

“We need your help to convince ENMESH to take a final decision to reinstate the conference to Israel“.

© Natalie Wood (12 August 2019)

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Between a Barrel and a Hard Place!

Meg Shelton - the ‘Fylde Hag’ – was crushed to death between a barrel and a wall and then buried as a witch.
But this was not good enough for her neighbours in Woodplumpton (Preston, Lancashire) who, convinced she twice dug herself from her grave at the local St Anne’s Church, just to spite them, then reinterred her head-first down a vertical shaft, placing a boulder over the spot to stop her ‘re-escaping’!
The above events may have happened in 1705 but I suggest that today, Shelton – really ‘Margery Hilton’ – would instead be publicly reprimanded for misperceived injuries to others, horribly humiliated and insulted and then ostracised by cyber-bullies on social media.
The legend of the Fylde Hag is well documented but is nonetheless among material used by former Cambridge University don Dr David Barrowclough in his paper The Wonderful Discovery of Witches Unearthing the Occult: Necromancy and Magic in Seventeenth Century England.
Barrowclough uses his paper that first appeared several years ago, to suggest that in order to confirm evidence of ancient occult practice, it would be better to “triangulate archaeological evidence with that from historic sources and folklore in order to construct the case for the occult”.
Most of Barrowclough’s work here concentrates on a once-remote site at Barway, Cambridgeshire but he concludes that his “triangular approach is potentially available for the study of all historic periods, although it is likely to be most appropriate to the study of periods from the seventeenth‐century onwards where the written record tends to be much richer than the preceding centuries”.
I feel duty-bound to note that Dr Barrowclough, also a former solicitor, may himself feel ‘demonised’ by extensive negative publicity throughout the popular and academic Press that accompanied two spells in prison for fraud and theft.
© Natalie Wood (10 August 2019)