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Archive for September, 2011

I wish you all a happy, healthy, sweet and prosperous New Year.

The following video brings to mind another of my favourite sayings of Rabbi Nachman: ‘Pray with joy, and watch your requests ascend straight to God’s chamber’.

נ נח נחמ נחמן מאומן

‘Talk to God as you would talk to your best friend. Tell the Holy One everything.’
(Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)

PS – I enjoyed this NaNach video muchly. For more on the NaNachs, read my post here.

Shana tova to all my Jewish friends. A happy week to all.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is flying to New York to give a speech at the UN General Assembly this Friday, as the Palestinians deliver their unilateral statehood bid. Earlier this evening he said he does not expect a warm welcome at the UN.

As he prepares to deliver his speech, hopefully he will recall what the Chabad Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson told him when he became Israel’s Ambassador to the UN in the 1980s.

The Rebbe told him: ‘Remember, you are going to the UN. There is an assembly hall there that has eternal falsehood, utter darkness. Remember that in a hall of perfect darkness, totally dark, if you light one small candle, its light will be seen from afar. Its precious light will be seen by everyone.

‘Your mission is to light a candle for truth and the Jewish people.’

You can read more about Bibi’s visit to the Rebbe, and watch a video of him entertainingly telling the story of their meeting, here.

‘Remember: things can go from the very worst to the very best…in just the blink of an eye.’
(Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)

This is a guest post from Joel Weiner, who recently made aliyah from London

Hi Chas,

Hope all is going well for you. I’m delighted to see your blog back up and running and of course I’m checking it regularly.

I’m (very) happily in Israel now, having made my big move just under a month ago. It’s strange, I thought Aliyah would be a much more emotionally moving moment in my life but it didn’t quite hit me – certainly not on the flight. Since then I’ve begun to understand the enormity of what I’ve just done only in dribs and drabs – the odd conversation on a bus here, a total stranger offering me help there – all sorts of things that put a smile on my face and cry out to me: ‘You made the right choice’.

There’s a whole lot of mind-numbing bureaucracy like national insurance, health insurance, bank account, phone, and the biggest bureaucracy giant of them all, the Army, to which I hope to be recruited as soon as possible, but in all likelihood it probably won’t be until around March. By the way, don’t take that last sentence to be an expression of excited enthusiasm for the Army – the truth is that I’m horribly nervous. But I would like to get going already, because as long as the Army isn’t employing me I have to support myself; and being 19 and alone in the big, bad world for the first time is pretty scary.

Of course, that’s not strictly true: in Israel you’re never alone. I’ve got so much family to worry about me and so many friends who insist on taking care of everything I need, that I really have very little to worry about. Still, I am trying to live my life independently and I try to be as little of a burden on other people as I can. I’m currently studying in Yeshiva, (Yeshivat Ma’ale Gilboa, the same one I was at last year), where I plan to be for the next month or so. After that I’m going to have to find myself some work, hopefully nothing too gutter-related, to earn something to live off. Living in Israel, I’m discovering, isn’t cheap.

I wonder if you’ve been following the social protests at all, which have been going on for the last two months or so? It’s incredible, there’s a huge movement that’s developed in a very short space of time, calling for more Government help to give the assistance needed for the average Israeli, who works hard, pays taxes and serves in the Army, to be able to make it until the end of the month – something that many, if not most, struggle to do. I particularly enjoy being part of these protests because I love seeing Israelis from every sector of society, from all different backgrounds and of all different ages, coming together under the banner of ‘Ha’Am doresh tzedek chevrati’ – (The nation seeks social justice). What makes me particularly proud is the use of the word ‘Nation’, in a stark and incredible realisation of the phrase Am Yisrael Chai, the Nation of Israel lives. That was the feeling I got when I was one of 400,000 people out on the streets last week.

The other thing I like about the protests is the sense that, after 60 years of political discussion dominated only by the security situation, something else is finally on the agenda. In Israel, any political figure, party or statement until now has always been based on their stance with regards to the security situation. Parties which are ‘left-wing’ are labelled as such because they believe in negotiating with the Palestinians, but they could well have many members who are totally capitalist when it comes to economics, yet that gets pushed aside. Israelis have had to suffer their social problems in silence, knowing that there are more urgent things out there. So it is wonderful to see so many people out there to reclaim the narrative.

Having said that, the security situation took a horrible turn for the worse recently as you know, and it is scary to think that we may be seeing a return to the bad old days. The events in Egypt and Turkey are particularly worrying, and the word ‘September’ is on everyone’s lips with a chilling anticipation of the upcoming UN declaration around the corner. God help us.

Anyway Chas, you know I have an awful tendency to turn what should be a very simple message into a ridiculously long account of my thoughts… I hope you’ll forgive me as always. Let me know how you’re doing.


The family of Roald Dahl is appealing for £500,000 to save the garden shed in which the late author wrote many of his best-loved stories. It’s an interesting move, particularly in the current financial climate, for the estate of one of Britain’s highest-earning authors to ask for half a million pounds to save a shed.

Dahl was a magnificent author. In case you didn’t know, he also held some rather colourful political opinions.

On the American government: ‘It is utterly dominated by the great Jewish financial institutions over there.’

On Jewish people: ‘There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean there is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.’

On Israel: ‘Must Israel, like Germany, be brought to her knees before she learns how to behave in this world? I am certainly anti-Israel, and I have become anti-Semitic.’

To donate to a charity saving sick or starving children, or to donate to save the garden shed of an antisemite? Tough one, isn’t it?

Amy Winehouse’s family is officially launching the Foundation in her memory today.

In a statement they say: ‘The Amy Winehouse Foundation is being set up in Amy’s memory to support charitable activities in both the UK and abroad that provide help, support or care for young people, especially those who are in need by reason of ill health, disability, financial disadvantage or addiction.’

You can read more about the Foundation and donate here. For the Jewish Chronicle column I wrote after her death, click here. I will be writing more in the future about the Foundation and other efforts to build a legacy for Amy.

‘Now is the time to look to the future with greater optimism. Our common humanity, our spirit of community, the values we share as human beings, will give us the strength to confront those who seek to divide rather than unite us, now and in the future.’

The above is from a statement signed by dozens of British Muslim organisations, to mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11. You can read the statement in full here.

I was also interested by Katie Baird’s article, in which she wrote:

‘Two months ago a Norwegian madman went on a horrifying murderous rampage in Norway that will likely linger in his countrymen’s collective consciousness as long as 9/11 does in ours. Anders Behring Breivik claims to be inspired by his Christian faith.

‘Two years ago, born-again Christian Scott Roeder, also inspired by his faith (which came to him via an evangelical TV show), murdered a Kansas abortion doctor. The list of terrorist acts across the world and throughout history in which the perpetrators have claimed Christianity as their motive goes on.

‘But I’ll bet almost none of us would take seriously the premise that Christianity provoked Breivik or Roeder’s terrorist acts.’

Perspective is important when discussing Islam. This weekend, as we remember that 19 Muslims hijacked planes on 9/11, we should also remember that 1.2 billion Muslims did not.

Here is a newly-released video of Amy Winehouse recording Body And Soul, with the legendary Tony Bennett. This is one of Amy’s final ever recording sessions. The video also includes some comments from Amy about recording with Bennett.

Stay tuned for news of the launch of the Amy Winehouse Foundation, and other ways of helping build a loving legacy for Amy.

I was having lunch with a friend in Kentish Town, near where I worked at the time. He got a call from a friend, giving him a early, sketchy account of what was unfolding in America. We finished eating and I walked back to the office. As I did so, I passed a pub that always seemed to be busy. I looked inside as I passed, and noticed that everyone was facing the television on the wall.

That’s how and when I realised something very grave was occurring in America: by the looks of silent disbelief on the faces of a bunch of daytime drinkers in a pub in north London.

Back at the office, I sat with my colleagues and watched it all unfold on the news. I was working for a small media firm, run by a Jewish family and with quite a few Jewish employees. To this day, I’m glad I was with them when it happened. There was no ‘America had it coming’ talk.

Instead, there was an air of mournful respect, with occasional expressions from some that perhaps the world would now understand what Israel had been facing for so long. (It was hearing those sentiments that made me want to explore everything about Israel and the Palestinians.)

I was worried about my Dad, who worked in Canary Wharf at the time. I phoned him at his office and asked him to go home early. His generation of Englishmen isn’t easily scared, so he was more interested in discussing his forthcoming dental appointment. I felt better when he texted a few hours later to tell me he was home.

As I went to sleep that night, I couldn’t have imagined how many unpleasant reactions there would be to 9/11. That sniggering at the patriotism that broke-out in America. All those conspiracy theories. People wondering aloud if it’s all our fault. The scouring for other tragedies to ‘what about’ over. The blood-curdling threats issued and carried-out against people that had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks. The criminalising of over a billion people, and the ongoing fear-mongering that we are sleep-walking to an imaginary abyss.

It is easy to condemn these reactions, but it’s good to understand them too. All these reactions come from fear, from terror indeed. For instance, those who spread conspiracy theories about America might think they are different from those who spread conspiracy theories about Islam. But they are the same, and they are doing exactly what the terrorists wanted them to do: to panic.

I panicked a lot in the weeks after 9/11. I felt sick every morning when I thought of my Dad walking into Canary Wharf. I tried to avert my eyes on public transport at the front-pages of my fellow passengers’ newspapers, all of which offered apocalyptic visions of the future. We were told to expect terrorists to fly crop-duster planes over American and British cities, spreading chemicals that would kill millions.

When The Times of all newspapers ran a front-page featuring Bin Laden’s face juxtaposed with a mushroom cloud, I wondered if we would see the next Christmas.

Here we are 10 years on. There have been further terror attacks around the world, including in London and Mumbai. The inevitable war on terror has also claimed the lives of countless civilians. Israel still faces attacks and ignorance. Only a mixture of good luck, hard work and tough decisions has meant that there has been no subsequent day of infamy in America. Long may the latter fact hold true.

Did you know that $2.2 billion  have been donated to various 9/11 charities? Some of those charities work to directly assist the injured and bereaved of that day, including the firemen who worked so bravely. It’s all of those people that the 10th anniversary of September 11 is about, and also about the American people in general. Wishing them all continued strength. God bless America.

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