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Archive for March, 2011

Earlier this month, a lady from Jerusalem contacted me about a book she wanted me to read. When she said ‘I think you’ll get a kick out of it,’ I enjoyed her turn of phrase, and my interest was piqued. ‘Tell me more,’ I said. She told me it was called John Lennon And The Jews. I almost wept with disappointment. I’ve always thought The Beatles are overrated, and Lennon the most overrated of the lot of them. I dreaded its arrival in the post.

But when it arrived, I was quickly relieved to discover it is not really about John Lennon and the Jews, but is about…the Jews. (It merely dissects the dumb lyrics of Lennon’s Imagine as a starting point for the book’s theme.)  I was also warmed by Suzanne’s covering note, in which she said ‘This book needs love’. I thought that was a charming thing to say about a piece of work.

And oh, how I love the book. Written by an Israeli professor called Ze’ev Maghen, it had me from first page. Maghen is one of the most compulsive writers I’ve ever read. The book – subtitled A Philosophical Rampage – is a lively, original and compelling championing of being Jewish.

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You might remember that Independent columnist Christina Patterson wrote a silly, unpleasant column about Hasidic Jews in Stamford Hill last summer. As Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard correctly wrote, it was ‘pure, unrelenting unadulterated anti-Jewish bigotry’. Patterson, horrified that Jews had the temerity to answer back, embarked on a follow-up rant some months later. It was all a bit embarrassing, really.

The Telegraph‘s Mick Brown has also recently written an article about the Stamford Hill Hasids. His piece is intelligent, well-researched, calm and mostly fair. He is not afraid to ask difficult and critical questions of the community – and neither should he be, of course. But he also covers some of their many good points, such as that crime is virtually unheard of in their part of the neighbourhood. He reveals that more than 50 percent of their community is actively and heavily involved in voluntary work (compared with a figure of just seven percent for London overall).

Regular readers will know I am fascinated by the history of the Hasidim. Particularly the stories of ecstatic, fervent worship and spreading of unadulterated joy during their early years. I’ve read so much about their history, and one passage in particular continues to both inspire and haunt me. It is from Elie Wiesel’s book Souls On Fire: Portraits And Legends of Hasidic Masters.

Wiesel (a survivor of the Shoah) writes: ‘What cannot help but astound us is that the Hasidim remained the Hasidim inside the ghetto walls, inside the death camps. In the shadow of the executioner, they celebrated life. Startled Germans whispered to each other of Jews dancing in the cattle cars rolling towards Bierkenau; Hasidim ushering in Simhat Torah. And there were those who in Block 57 at Auschwitz tried to make me join in their fervent singing. Were these miracles?’

Powerful stuff, and a fascinating, inspiring people. Mick Brown’s article is one of the fairest I have ever read by an outsider. On a similar note, I also recommend The Rebbe’s Army, Sue Fishkoff’s book about the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. More than anything, though, I recommend Tales of the Hasidim by Martin Buber and The Light And Fire Of The Baal Shem Tov. Both are packed with tales that might fill you with wonder and joy, as well as a few that will puzzle you.

In a good way.

Israel beat Latvia 2-1 yesterday in the Group F qualifier for Euro 2012. The win maintained Israel’s hopes of reaching the tournament next year.

The winning goal was scored by an Israeli Arab called Beram Kayal. His reflections on Israeli society are worth airing, particularly in light of the ‘apartheid’ allegation:

“What the television shows about Israel is totally different to what happens. The life between the Jews and the Arabs is very good. I’m an Arab and my agent is Jewish but we’re like family. The Jews and the Arabs live together in Haifa, which is a mixed city.”

Well said, Beram. Even as a half-Latvian, I’m pleased for you. I also hear that the Israeli coaching staff reckon that in their young left-back Talb Tawatha, they have an Israeli Roberto Carlos. Wow.

Imagine if this was your reality:

March 12: An Israeli couple and their three children are stabbed to death in their sleep in Itamar. A Palestinian terror group claimed responsibility for the attack.

March 15: A ship delivering arms for Palestinian terrorists to fire into Israel is intercepted in the Mediterranean.

March 19: Palestinian terrorists fire 50 mortars and rockets into southern Israel in just 24 hours.

March 23: Terrorists blow-up a bus in Jerusalem.

And imagine, as you faced all this, if it was you that the world said is the bad guy. You’ve just imagined how it feels to be Israeli.

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was sentenced to seven years jail today following his conviction for rape and other offences. I feel uncomfortable when I see some fellow Israel advocates try and spin this story into a positive tale of Israel’s democracy and fine legal system.

Whilst I understand the points being made, I think it is unpleasant and misguided to try and make political capital from such a horrific story. These were real-life crimes with real-life victims. I find it distasteful to see people losing sight of that in the haste to yet again turn something that happened in Israel into a positive moment. Sometimes you can just let something be without rushing into hasbara mode.

I feel for the victims of this nasty man. And I’m disappointed that Shimon Peres dodged an opportunity to help bring Katsav to book much earlier.

…and dance.

(For more on my love of the Na Nachs, click here.)

This is a guest post from Aryeh Myers

Three months ago, on yet another cold and dreary day in London, I decided I needed some exercise. In a moment of madness, and an accident of web-surfing, my target became running the Jerusalem half-marathon. It was, at the time, no more than a personal challenge and an excuse to go home for a week. I spent time thinking about raising some money, going as far as asking for suggestions for charities, and then never did anything about it.

But events of recent days finally made the decision for me.

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I’d like to wish all my Jewish friends and readers a very special Purim.

UK-based readers might like to know that my debut column for Jewish Chronicle is in this weekend’s edition. In it, I make a painful and shocking personal confession…

Update: And here it is.

I’ve been to London twice already this week. Although I didn’t eat shawarma on either occasion, both visits were lots of fun. On Monday I bought an Angry Bird, met my Big Brother hero Sam Pepper and had tea with Michael Dickson, Director of StandWithUs Israel.

Then yesterday I saw Justin Bieber play at the o2. I went with Elliot and Dena from the Federation of Zionist Youth, (FZY). We had a great night, Bieber is a master showman. Elliot remarked that it was like being at a bar mitzvah, while Dena commented ‘Of course I loved it, why wouldn’t one?’ Well said, my love.

Tomorrow I will post about an inspiring way that you can help the Fogel family.

For every instance of darkness in the world there is a ray of light. A gentile, pro-Israel taxi driver has dedicated the advertising on her London cab to raising awareness for Gilad Shalit. For this she has made no charge. She prefers to be un-named, so let’s just call her an angel.

See more at the Zionist Federation blog, read my recent post about the Gilad Shalit campaign here, and my account of meeting Noam Shalit here.

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