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Archive for October, 2011

‘The world is like a revolving die, and everything turns over, and man changes to angel and angel to man, and the head to the foot and the foot to the head. So all things turn over and revolve and are changed, this into that and that into this, what is above to what is beneath and what is beneath to what is above. For in the root all is one, and in the transformation and return of things redemption is enclosed.’
(Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)

This coming Monday, thousands of runners will brave the Dublin Marathon. I ran that Marathon in 2005 and 2006. I’m often asked what running a marathon is like. As a roundabout way of answering that, here are 10 of my marathon-running memories…

1. It is not the race itself but the preparation that is the challenge. I found completing the 20-mile training runs on my own far harder than running 26.2miles on the day itself, with all the atmosphere and support of the event.

2. Speaking of the preparation, what a drag it was when people kept asking me ‘So what distance is the Dublin Marathon?’ as if marathons are different lengths in different cities.

3. On the day of the 2005 race I had a pleasant chat at the starting line with an experienced marathon-runner from Boston. As we set-off, he asked: ‘So tell me, dude, what do you use to stop your nipples from bleeding?’ I didn’t have a clue what he was on about.

4. I shall never forget that plump, ginger-haired female runner who, around mile 15, shouted ‘Ah, fook it’, and squatted down on the road for an actual poo, right in front of us all.

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Starting in 1986, the Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe maintained a weekly tradition called ‘Sunday dollars’. Each Sunday, he would stand in an alcove outside his office, and hand a dollar bill to each of the thousands of people who queued outside. The recipients would be told to donate the dollar to a charity. He would also give each person a blessing.

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Majdi Halabi, a Druze Israeli solider, was last seen in May 2005. He was hitchhiking near Mount Carmel. The circumstances of his disappearance remain a mystery, though his parents believe he was kidnapped and might be currently held in the West Bank.

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‘Free Gilad Shalit’ – it’s something we’ve been saying for five years.

Now we can finally say something very similar, yet wonderfully different: ‘Gilad Shalit is free.’

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I became actively involved with Israel the week after Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas in 2006. I had been interested in, and quietly supportive of, Israel for a couple of years before that. But it was witnessing the ignorance and hostility that Israel faced in Britain after Gilad’s kidnap, and then again when the Hezbollah war began weeks later, that convinced me to speak-up and get involved.

Since then, Gilad’s plight has been central in my thoughts and activity with regards to Israel. With Gilad hopefully on the brink of freedom I thought I’d collect here some key memories of the campaign to keep his case alive.

* The ‘Tekes’ for Gilad Shalit organised by The Federation of Zionist Youth (FZY) in 2009. It was a moving and galvanising effort.

* The birthday cake for Gilad and vigil at the Red Cross written about here by my friend Jonathan Sacerdoti.

* Gilad’s smile in video released by Hamas (in exchange for 20 Palestinian prisoners) in the autumn of that year.

* In July 2010, every Zionist organisation in Britain ignored the fourth anniversary of Gilad’s captivity – except one. The FZY held a week-long vigil for Gilad opposite Downing Street. During the three days I spent on the vigil I was encouraged by how many passers-by were supportive. I handed out hundreds of leaflets, including one to Deputy PM Nick Clegg.

* Meanwhile, tens of thousands were demonstrating in support of Gilad in Israel, and Jonathan wrote about a concert for Gilad he attended near the Gaza border.

* A few weeks later I was in Jerusalem. A friend took me to the Shalit family protest tent and introduced me to Gilad’s father Noam. I showed Noam photographs of the vigil, and shared stories with him of our experiences on it. We had a chuckle about Nick Clegg. I then spoke with members of a nearby counter-vigil, run by people bereaved by terror attacks who oppose the idea of a prisoner swap. Movingly, the cafe that sits opposite the tent and counter-vigil is Cafe Momento, which has twice been blown-up by suicide bombers.

* On my way home from Israel that summer, I was lightly questioned at Ben Gurion Airport. When the security guy finished his questions he pointed at my Shalit campaign t-shirt and said: ‘By the way, my friend – just awesome.’

* Gilad’s brother Yoel speaking at the Red Cross in October 2010 and his controversial disruption of Israel’s Independence Day ceremony in May 2011.

* The vigil and leafleting outside the Red Cross in London in February 2011.

* The Faces For Gilad campaign organised by the Board of Deputies’ Jamie Slavin. (Jamie had been key in organising the 2010 FZY vigil.)

* The London taxi for Gilad

* Thousands of Hasidim dancing and praying for Gilad.

* In June 2011 I met and spoke alongside Gilad’s grandfather Zvi and cousin Hemda at an FZY event in London. It was very moving to hear their stories and to chat with them afterwards. It really brought home what the family was going through. Hemda is great fun, and talked to me about the differences between Christianity and Judaism, before telling me: ‘Oy Va Goy – you’re an honorary Jew.’ Just like Gilad’s parents, Hemda and Zvi are lovely, admirable people.

In truth, it was the sober realities of international political relations that led Gilad to the brink of freedom this week, not leafleting on the streets of London. However, the Shalit family told me clearly that news of every effort in the Gilad campaign brought them comfort and encouragement in dark times. For that reason alone it was all worthwhile, so kol hakovod to all who took part.

Furthermore, these initiatives served as a powerful way of introducing the general public to wider truths about Israel and the Middle East. Several members of the public I spoke with while leafleting about Gilad went through palpable paradigm shifts in their perception of Israel as a result of learning about his case. Human stories always connect.

My thoughts are with all of Gilad’s family as they await his return. My thoughts are also with the people of Israel, whatever their views and feelings on the prisoner exchange. It’s an emotional time.

Most of all, of course, my thoughts are with Gilad.

Bring him home.

I visited a sukkah for the first time yesterday. Thanks to Ronit and Eddie for inviting and feeding me. Well, I say feeding but that scarcely does justice to the feast we enjoyed. Kicking-off with the tastiest challah I have ever eaten the food was seriously plentiful and glorious. Off the top of my head I remember eating huge servings of hummus, chopped liver, egg, salad, chicken soup, beef, tonnes of rice, half a pack of wafer biscuits, fruit, and then some halva.

I could hardly get out of my seat. As I left, I thought ‘I won’t eat again for a while.’

How wrong I was. I then met-up with my two favourite Israeli friends, Tal and Hadar, who are visiting for a week. They immediately presented me with a huge bag which contained several bags of Bamba (including my favourite halva flavour), some of my beloved Israeli Orbit chewing gum, and two bricks of halva.

After I showed the ladies round a few sights they wanted to see, including Highbury and Emirates Stadium, we went for dinner at Pizza Express. The chain’s London branches are currently selling ‘Boris’ (Johnson) and ‘Ken’ (Livingstone) pizzas, to tie-in with the forthcoming mayoral election. I can rarely resist a gimmick so I had a Boris (which is finished-off with a ‘mop’ of parmesan cheese).

Having polished that off, I noticed Hadar had left half her pizza, and before I knew it I had devoured that, too. My stomach was by now pleading for mercy, but it could at least rest assured that I wouldn’t be having dessert, as I never have dessert at Pizza Express.

Except I did have dessert at Pizza Express, opting for a chunk of Banoffee pie with added ice cream.

Talk about full: I practically crawled to Waterloo station to get the train home to Berkshire. Halfway through the train journey I had a rummage around the goodie bag that Hadar and Tal had presented me with. Oh well, I thought, one bag of Bamba won’t hurt. Nice.

All of which means I’m going to have to add a lot of miles to my target for this weekend’s runs.

A culinary postscript: Ronit kindly presented me with a jar of home-made s’khug as I left. I have never eaten s’khug but I am warned it is extremely hot. Sounds fun – I’ll report back when I’ve braved it! (Any tips for accompanying food most welcome, by the way.)

A political postscript: thanks to Avril for pointing me to the news that Iranian propaganda channel Press TV might be removed from the airwaves in the UK. Given that channel’s amateurish diet of misinformation and antisemitism it will only be missed by bigots. The aforementioned Ken Livingstone was among those who happily took the fascist Iranian regime’s money to work for Press TV.  So were George Galloway and Yvonne Ridley. I hope they’re not too upset at this potential setback for the racist channel they hopped into bed with!

I’ve written an article for The First Post website about Amy’s interest in Tarot cards, her intense relationship with her grandmother and how these might shed new light on her behaviour in the final years of her life, and on her tragic death.

You can read my article here, and find out more about my biography of Amy here.

‘God of patience, teach me patience.
Help me learn to wait -
for the good that is just around the corner;

for the assistance that will soon be within my reach;
for the relief that is just a moment away.
(Rabbi Nachman, Likutey Moharan)

This is a guest post from Joel Weiner in Jerusalem

I’ve just come back from the protest tent outside the PM’s residence in Jerusalem. The atmosphere is one of sheer ecstasy. I found out about the Shalit deal when I was out in town with some friends, and the rumour was spread between strangers in the street.

In the protest tent, Aviva Shalit sits with a serene, tranquil look on her face. Noam has already left. The street is blocked by the impromptu celebratory gathering of several hundred people (although it must be noted that this was far fewer than the tens of thousands who came to the protests in recent years).

As for me, Chas, you remember that I wrote for your blog about a year ago stating why I was against a prisoner swap. What I said is still true, except that now it’s even closer to my heart: I’m now only months away from being in uniform myself.

But what happened tonight is immense. If you put all the different factors and possible outcomes of each option into a computer, it would of course calculate that there is no way one soldier should be returned for 1000 terrorists. But the State of Israel is not a mere emotionless computer. It is the sign of a people that truly cares, that we are willing and able to do something as irrational as this.

I wrote that I was against a swap because it made future kidnappings more likely; but on second thought, it also shows that, if, God-forbid, I were to be captured, the Israeli Government would do everything, including making real sacrifices, to ensure that I am returned safely. And for a country with mandatory conscription, the least a soldier can expect is for the State to have a heart. Tonight, Netanyahu proved it does.

“כי טוב ה’ ולעולם חסדו
ועד דור ודור אמונתו”

“For God is good and His love endures forever / His faithfulness continues through all generations.” –Psalms 100

May we all be blessed with complete redemption, speedily and in our days.

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