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Amy Winehouse died three years ago today.

Here’s a passage from an article I wrote for the Jewish Chronicle that week:

Although she was proud to have grown up in a Jewish household in north London, she was never a particularly religious person. She said she believed in fate, and karma, but added: “I don’t think there’s a higher power, necessarily”.

As a child, she giggled as she dressed up at Purim. She did not enjoy cheder classes and often begged her father Mitch to let her off. However, as an adult she could recite the odd line of Hebrew and Yiddish. She often went to synagogue on Yom Kippur and would attend the Seder at Pesach.

Amy was never one to mince her words, as a journalist discovered when she asked what it was like growing up in a Jewish family. “Yes,” sighed Amy, “I’m a dirty little Jew.” In one of the last interviews she gave, she compared her dress-sense to that of “an old Jewish black man”. She wore a Magen David around her neck and was proud to be Jewish.

Read the rest of the article here. Discover more about my Amy Winehouse biography here.

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I love this, from Andrew Harvey’s introduction to the great Daniel Matt’s book Zohar: Annotated & Explained:

‘Twenty years ago in Jerusalem – momentarily at peace and flowering in a fragrant and golden spring – I made a friend whose wisdom has sweetened my life; I shall call him “Ezekiel”, after one of the wild ecstatic prophets he loved most. He was a wizened, nut-brown, wiry old man in his early eighties with hair so energetic it seemed to dance in white flames on his head. Although his life had seen every kind of suffering and violence (he had been in a concentration camp and fought in the early days for the establishment of the Jewish state before losing faith in any kind of nationalism), just to be in his presence was to be intoxicated by his passion for God, his unique amalgam of fervor, dry wit and long rich quotations in several languages, and a laugh so wild and loud it sounded, his wife used to say, “like one of the trumpets of the seraphim”. We met through mutual friends (who were also friends of the great Scholem, master of modern Jewish mystical studies). They had told me before introducing me, “Now you are ready to meet a real no-holds-barred kabbalist.”

‘And that is what Ezekiel proved to be.’

Indeed it was, as you’ll discover if you read the introduction in full. What a guy. The world needs Ezekiels more than ever right now.

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‘There is one who sings the song of his soul, discovering in his soul everything – utter spiritual fulfilment.’ (Abraham Isaac Kook, Orot ha-Qodesh.)

I found this accordion in a charity shop on the high street in Eton. I’ve wanted an accordion since I was 16 years of age. As this one was going for absolute peanuts, I snapped it up.

It’s a complicated instrument to play but I’ve learned my first chord and, frankly, it already rocks just as an ornament. Much learning and fulfilment to come.

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Over the past three weeks I’ve read more nonsense about Israel and the Palestinians than ever before.

The recent fighting has conjured toe-curling credulity from many on the pro-Israel ‘side’, groundless hatred from much of the ‘other side’ and oblivious condescension among too many in the ‘middle’.

But I’ve also read some wonderful writing, including this post from Marc Goldberg. I can’t remember the last time I so enjoyed reading a piece about Israel.

I don’t agree with every syllable of Marc’s article but I love it because it’s written from the heart. I also enjoy it because its so low on defensiveness, that ugly quality that pollutes so much discussion of Israel and the Palestinians, mine included all too often.

But I noticed long ago that, broadly speaking, Israelis discuss Israel’s good and bad points much more openly and honestly than Israel supporters around the world. Marc’s writing is often emblematic of this.

As for me, I’ve spent a lovely few days showing my favourite friend from Israel around some English towns. We had a fun day and night out in Windsor, then spent a day in beautiful Bath yesterday.

She brought me some presents from Israel, one of which was particularly meaningful. I’ll write about it later this week.

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I watch the World Cup purely through Arsenal eyes. For me, club football trumps international football every time.

So I loved watching Germany, whose squad contains my three favourite Arsenal players Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski, tear apart Brazil last night.

And I absolutely love this video. Some years ago, author Simon Price rewrote the lyrics to the Manic Street Preachers song Motorcycle Emptiness with the names of German footballers, all leading to the chorus ‘Mertesacker Emptiness’. Which is a stroke of eccentric genius in itself.

Then, last week, Zachery Stephenson, a one-time member of the band Special Needs, decided to record the track and make this video. Bravo to that.

I tipped Germany from the start to win the World Cup, and this video is a fine soundtrack to their march to the final.

Have you been watching the World Cup? Who has been your star of the tournament thus far?

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Now you, my child, strive to see the supernal light, for I have brought you into a vast ocean. Be careful! Keep your soul from gazing and your mind from conceiving, lest you drown. Strive to see, yet escape drowning. Your soul will see the divine light – actually cleave to it – while dwelling in her palace.
(Isaac of Akko)

Wishing everyone a peaceful weekend.

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‘As a trigger of mass complaint, Facebook has become my generation’s television licence – the focal point for relentless resentment, the favoured terrain for the self-righteous. If it makes you that angry, why don’t you just leave?’

I’ve written an article for The Telegraph about Facebook. Why not pop over and give it a read?

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I was upset, but also strangely relieved, when I heard that Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four, died yesterday.

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On Tuesday, I spoke at the Reading branch of Wizo. Then, yesterday lunchtime I spoke at the Wizo Rebecca Sieff Day at St Johns Wood Synagogue.

I greatly enjoyed visiting the Wizo projects in Israel earlier this year, and I feel there’s something very special about the women of Wizo.

Their indomitable spirit and love of the land echo the wondrous female pioneers who rolled up their sleeves and built the modern state of Israel.

Long may they thrive.

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Photos by the lovely and talented Sharna Kinsley.

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Here, you can see Eyal Yifrach, one of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped in the West Bank, singing and playing guitar at his cousin’s wedding earlier this year.

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