Archive for January, 2011

I met up with my dear friend and StandWithUs UK boss Gili Brenner on Saturday. It was as fun as always. Regular readers may recall that she recently presented me with a kippah, emblazoned with my name in Hebrew. This time, she once more came bearing a gift. It was a fridge magnet featuring my favourite ever politician, Menachem Begin.

Here I am with Gili on Saturday (easy boys):

Here is the fridge magnet (easy goys):

This is a guest post from Josh Zietcer

It all began after a conversation with my Grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor, who told me that the most important thing we could do would be to ‘never forget the Holocaust’. She later went on to tell me how it was of the upmost important that my generation should be fully aware of the events of the Shoah, so that it is less likely to be repeated in the future.

After hearing these words, I went off to see how much people knew about the Holocaust. It was not a surprise that all of my friends were aware of it – as I live in a predominantly Jewish area of London. However, I then ventured to Hackney where I asked two 21-year-olds why they thought it was important to remember the Holocaust, and was met with the reply, “I don’t mean to sound stupid but what was the Holocaust? Was it that thing where they sacrificed themselves in the Docklands?”

Now, I do not share this to ridicule those two people, or to label them as ‘stupid’. In fact, this response lead me to realize that the reason these young adults had no idea what the Holocaust was, is that it to them, it was simply a page in their History textbooks.

However, this realization motivated me to act. In order for my generation to be fully aware of the horrifying event, I had to make it relevant to them. At first, it was a struggle to think how I could do this – but eventually, it occurred to me that a way to contact young people and increase Holocaust Awareness would be to use a tool that visited by millions every day – Twitter.

A Twitter page was created and I had an aim, so my first step was to get young people engaged. It was useless telling people why it was important to remember the Holocaust because after all, it is relevant to me in a completely different way to many others. From this, I had an idea for a campaign – I would use Twitter to get people completing the sentence, ‘It is important to remember the Holocaust because…’ and answer it in a way relevant to themselves.

The rest is history. On Thursday alone @Memorial Project received hundreds of retweets, completed sentences and words of support. Including a retweet by the comedian, David Baddiel. Despite Holocaust Memorial Day 2011 being over, the campaign is most certainly not!

I urge you to complete the sentence yourself, and to follow @MemorialProject – to do your bit to make this world a place where differences are respected.

Josh Zietcer

Israeli soldiers…breaking hearts since 1948 ;)

Thanks to Elan Miller for sending the video

This morning, courtesy of my lovely friends Tal and Hadar Hevroni, I have received a package full of my favourite Israeli snacks and treats. Perfect timing, as I enjoy a week-off work! Thanks so much to the Hevronis!

This is a guest post from Israelinurse

Some define me as an obstacle to peace. Others call me a right-wing extremist. Ben Bradshaw would describe me as an ‘illegal Jewish colonialist’, whilst many internet commentators and journalists say that I’m a thief and some are trying to make me complicit in an internationally recognised crime.

None of them actually know me, of course, but I am judged and convicted in absentia day in and day out around the world on the basis of the simple fact that I live in a place where, according to my accusers, Jews should not be permitted to live.

They call that place a ‘settlement’ and me a ‘settler’. The ability of that label to instantly conjure up reactions of hatred, disdain and an immediate dismissal of everything else I am or have done in my life makes me feel profoundly sorry for my accusers. It is a sad thing when a person becomes so consumed with hatred for and prejudice against an unknown other based purely on a stereotype. I was brought up to call that racism and bigotry, but times have apparently changed.

Those who accuse and disparage also choose to ignore and even try to hide the reason why I live where I do. I think it’s time to jog some memories and can think of no better way than with this song, written just after the Six Day War in 1967 – “Daughter; are you crying or laughing?” by Yovav Katz and David Kribushie.

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This is my latest column for Jewish News:

Since I started writing this column in 2009, it has been a pleasure to connect with the Jewish community on this page. I’ve enjoyed being your ‘goy correspondent’. The feedback I’ve received has been wonderful. I’d like to thank everyone who has written to me on Facebook, or via my blog, or even approached me on the street, with kind words about my column. I’ve decided that the time is right to call it a day, though.

Looking back over my columns, I am reminded how much fun it has all been. During my early pieces I praised the lovely X Factor finalist Stacey Solomon (I called her a ‘heron-like wonder’), and complained that I was not treated rudely enough in New York delis (‘What am I? Chopped liver?’) Then, after another visit to good old Israel, I sang the praises of the rigorous security checks of EL AL (‘”Don’t be offended,” they told me. Offended? I loved every moment.’)

Later, on a (slightly tongue-in-cheek) creative bent, I suggested two reality television shows. The first would be based around Pesach, my favourite Jewish festival, and would feature people competing to create the best Seder. It’s name? Come Lean With Me. My second red-hot proposal was a reality television contest in which anti-Israel folk such as Baroness Tonge and Jon Snow would compete for the mantle of the country’s biggest Israel-basher, called Britain’s Got Bigots.

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My friend Josh Gershuny is running this year’s London Marathon to raise funds for Emunah, a charity that cares for those children in Israel whose lives are in danger. As Josh explains, “I just got back from my gap year in Israel at the start of this academic year. During my gap year I visited an Emunah children’s home a few times. I was lucky enough to see the ‘Emunotes’ live. So I have seen firsthand the difference the resources makes to these children and how much the smallest item can mean to them.”

I met Josh at the Israeli Embassy event I spoke at last year. He’s an impressive guy, as you’d expect from somebody running a marathon for Emunah. Having run two marathons myself, I know what challenges and fun he has ahead of him. I wish him the very best. You can read more about his race, and sponsor him, here.

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This is a guest post from Israelinurse

One of the things I love about the Jewish festivals is the way they are so intimately connected to the cycle of nature here in Israel. Not only do they serve to remind us of our ancestors’ agricultural past in this land, but they also directly connect us to one place, with a specific climate and cycle of natural life – something which one does not find in many other faiths – and Tu B’Shvat is of course an excellent example.

This time last year I was making vain attempts to dig a hole in the frozen English soil in order to plant a tree for Tu B’Shvat – the New Year of Trees – but nothing around me was sprouting or blossoming and my little sapling had an aghast look of “you can’t be serious!” about it, so back into the poly-tunnel it went to await more clement times.

But here, where the festival originates, the trees are indeed waking up after winter and the first new leaves and blossoms are beginning to appear. Often, the almond trees manage to time their first blossoms exactly right for Tu B’Shvat – creating a spectacular display – but this year, perhaps due to the fact that we have only had about a quarter of our annual rainfall so far, they seem to have missed the deadline as can be seen in the picture below.

On Friday afternoon, our whole kibbutz –old and young alike – will be out planting trees as we always do. My grown-up children still enjoy pointing out every tree they planted with their own hands as they walk around the various neighbourhoods.   And then of course, as with every good Jewish holiday, there’s the subject of cuisine.

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I am a big admirer of El Al, the national airline of Israel. As I wrote last January, the security measures El Al uses are superb.  If all airlines followed suit, then aviation would instantly become a much safer mode of transport.

I’ve always quite enjoyed the extra security questioning that is part of the El Al experience. Living in Britain where hatred of Israel runs wild, it is always reassuring to be given that instant reminder that Israelis are stronger and wiser than their enemies will ever be.

I also quite enjoy the moments of fun that can arise during the process. Last February I made a quick trip to Israel, mostly to meet some friends I made through this blog. The El Al security lady was surprised to learn of a British gentile who runs a pro-Israel blog. “And what is the name of this blog,” she asked. “OyVaGoy,” I replied, and watched as she tried to keep a straight face.

She then explained there was a problem with my electric toothbrush and that it would need to stay behind in Heathrow. “You can collect it when you return,” she said, “we just need your mobile number for the form.” I explained that I didn’t know my mobile number, and asked if my landline would do instead. It wouldn’t, as it turned out.

Her: “No, we need your mobile number. What is it?”

Me: “I’ve no idea, I never phone myself.”

This was an honest answer, but she thought I was being cheeky. She gave me a stern look, as if to remind me that we could do this the easy way, or the hard way. I gulped nervously and smoothed everything over quickly.

I was reminded of this story as I was reading Yehuda Avner’s magnificent, magnificent book The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership. I will review the book properly when I have the time to do justice to it. For now I will just say that if you appreciate insider’s guides to politics, and non-fiction stories told with a grace worthy of the finest novelist, then you will already love this book. That would have been enough, as they say. Add in that it is about Israeli politics, and you understand why it is one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read.

So, I was going to tell you why the book reminded me of the El Al questioning. Well, the real hero of Avner’s book is Menachem Begin. I have read several books about and by Mr Begin, as he is a long-term hero of mine. Yet Avner’s book taught me so many new things about this man who has for so long inspired me. Avner really brings him to life on the page. Among the new facts I learned about Mr Begin were that he enjoyed word-play, which made me smile, as I enjoy a bit of it myself – oy va goy!

Anyway, one of Avner’s stories in the book concerns the day that, while he was visiting Mr Begin at his house, the Prime Minister suddenly ordered him to get President Jimmy Carter on the phone. Neither Avner nor Mr Begin had the direct number for the White House to hand, as they were not at the office. So Avner phoned the general White House switchboard, explained the purpose of his call and asked to be put through to the President.

Naturally, the White House operator was sceptical as to whether the caller really was who he said he was. She told Avner: “Please give me the Prime Minister’s number and we’ll get back to you.”

So Avner called out: “Mr Begin, what’s your number?”

“I’ve no idea,” replied Mr Begin, “I never phone myself.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself!

For a goy who lives in a Berkshire village, I have a surprising number of Israeli friends. Among them is Ashley Perry. He is an adviser in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a fellow Arsenal fan,  and the man who introduced me to amba. Regular readers may recall his name from these pages. He has written a guest post for OyVaGoy, he once interviewed me on Israeli radio and I have written about him on a few occasions, including here.

Last weekend was the 10th anniversary of Ashley making aliyah to Israel. To mark it, he wrote an interesting article for the Jerusalem Post, entitled The Best Decision I’ve Ever Made.

In it, he wrote:

Whether it is celebrating Jerusalem Day in a sea of blue-and-white flags in the shadow of the Temple Mount, joining an impromptu rave party of 250,000 people when Maccabi Tel Aviv won the EuroLeague, camping under the desert sky in the Negev or being invited into the homes and hearts of complete strangers, living here is an experience like no other. Familial events aside, these are just a very small sampling of some of my most memorable moments from the last 10 wonderful years.

My humble suggestion for prospective immigrants is to get to know the real Israel. One may have visited the Kotel, swam in the Dead Sea, skied the Hermon and enjoyed all the other fantastic landmarks , but until you have seen the real Israel it is unlikely that the greatness of this country will be fully grasped.

However, it is not a matter of what Israel has to offer us, its prospective and actual immigrants, which remains of consequence. It is more what we as immigrants have to offer this country that makes life here so rewarding and fulfilling.

He also writes of how for so many years he had never given serious attention to the thought of aliyah, but then “began to feel a pull” of Israel and took the plunge. I find it very interesting. I’d love to hear how many of my ‘disapora’ Jewish readers plan to make aliyah one day, and how those who have already done that feel about their decision.

© Copyright Chas Newkey-Burden. All Rights Reserved. Thanks to Chris Morris.