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Archive for December, 2012

Fairytale of New York by The Pogues is one of my favourite Xmas songs, but my very favourite is White Wine In The Sun, by Tim Minchin.

I like it because it is about much more than Xmas. It’s about life and love. I’ve never completed a listen of this song without having a little weep – particularly during the second half.

You can benefit the National Autistic Society if you buy White Wine In The Sun here.

(And, what the heck, there is still time to donate to the Amy Winehouse Foundation through the Just Giving page I set up when I ran the Windsor Half Marathon for them.)

I will post again in 2013, in the meantime, why not follow me on Twitter. Happy holidays.

Here is the final part of my round-up of every sodding book I’ve read this year. Plus, some other 2012 highlights.

The Secret Race
, by Tyler Hamilton
We live and learn – and us Lance Armstrong fans have done a lot of living and learning in recent months. It is hard to know how many of the claims made against Lance in this sad book one should believe, given that its author is a self-confessed liar. (Speaking of Lance, I muchly enjoyed this article from his former ghostwriter and friend Sally Jenkins.)

Zoo Time, by Howard Jacobson
Classic HowJac: a warm, witty and wonderful story. It is definitely my favourite of his to date. (I also particularly love Kalooki Nights.)

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This is a guest post from Daniel Levy

Middle Eastern cuisine is delicious but all too often it can be time-consuming, fiddly and a bit hit and miss if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. As a staple carbohydrate in the Middle East, rice features in most main meals and can either make or break them, depending how it’s been cooked. By using a few readily available spices and seasonings you get a unique golden colouring and great flavours too. This recipe doesn’t have precise measurements; I find that being generous with the fruit used in it yields a more satisfying end dish that goes particularly well with meat (think Shabbat chamin). You can call it Kurdish, Moroccan, Bukharian, Persian, Iraqi or Tunisian rice – it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s cooked correctly, everyone should enjoy it!

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The Spectator makes a fascinating claim in its Christmas issue:

It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been the greatest year in the history of the world. That sounds like an extravagant claim, but it is borne out by evidence. Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity.

It’s worth reading in full.


Here is part two of my round-up of every sodding book I’ve read in 2012. Again, I’d love to hear which books you read this year. Let me know in the comments.

The Happy Depressive
, by Alastair Campbell
I learned a lot from this short book. I cried not unlike a baby as I read the stunningly moving passage about the death of his friend Philip Gould. (Campbell’s novel All In The Mind is a real eye-opener on mental health issues.)

Dial M for Murdoch, by Tom Watson and Martin Hickman
One of two books about Murdoch I read this year. I am not a big fan of Watson but this book was written well enough to repay the effort.

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I read an awful lot. So I thought I’d keep a list of every book I have read in 2012. I’ll post this in three parts, and I’ll list the books in the approximate order in which I read them. I’d love to hear which books you read this year. Let me know in the comments.

The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch, by Michael Wolff
What should have been an enjoyable, irreverent read about a fascinating man was marred for me by…well, by a repetitive ‘tick’ that the author…well, that the author can’t stop… well, pulling off…

The Final Testament, by James Frey
There are some superbly brutal passages in this controversial, arguably blasphemous, novel. Yet for me it rather lost its way after a superb opening quarter. (Frey’s 2006 LA novel Bright Shiny Morning is magnificent, by the way.)

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In recent years some people have claimed that Hamas is happy to live in peace, provided Israel returns to its pre-1967 borders.

Yesterday, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal spoke at a ‘victory’ rally in Gaza. He emerged from a model of a Hamas rocket, and stood on a stage which represented the whole land of historic Palestine.

He said: “Palestine is ours, from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land.”

“We will never recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.”

Well, at least they have made themselves clear.

This is my latest column for the Jewish Chronicle

‘Chas, we can save you!’ When I received messages on my blog making this thrilling promise, I assumed they were spam from a finance company offering to consolidate my loans into one ‘easy’ payment. Instead, it turned out, they were from a Christian in Nigeria who, having read articles I posted about my interest in Judaism and the Chasidim, wants to convert all my curiosity about Judaism into one churchy faith.

Well, thanks for the interest but if Christianity was ever going to do the trick for me it would have done so a long time ago.

My Nigerian would-be saviour is not alone in his concern. When I post about Chabad-Lubavitch – an organisation for which I have particular respect – readers’ comments offer furiously assembled quotations purporting to show that Judaism is chauvinistic and considers gentiles to be second-class and inherently ‘satanic’.

Blimey, I thought sarcastically; they kept that quiet. But, of course, it is easy to Google any religion and extract quotes out of context, mistranslated or simply fabricated. The internet is awash with antisemitic sites that make such a process particularly easy with Judaism. There are Jewish fringe authors, too, such as Gilad Atzmon, Israel Shahak and Norton Mezvinsky, whose Jewishness provides a valued fig-leaf for antisemites who quote their hostile words.

The trump card of the online antisemite is a passage about Jewish and non-Jewish souls in the opening chapter of the 18th-century Chabad Tanya. This is a passage that can be misunderstood by the hasty online browser with an agenda on his or her hands. Even as an admirer of Chabad, I was shaken when I first read it. But, rather than rush to judgment, I studied authentic sources and discussed the matter with several rabbis, Chabad and non-Chabad.

One Chabad member in Jerusalem dropped her housework on the eve of Pesach to talk me through it. The passage has been discussed, revisited and reconsidered by several rabbis. It is in any case about idol worshippers, not gentiles en masse, as is made clear later in the book.

Another favoured target of antisemitic Googlers is the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, the magnificent Menachem Mendel Schneerson. As a longstanding admirer of the man and his work, I know that, far from being anti-gentile, he was responsible for the introduction of a large, revolutionary programme of Chabad outreach to gentiles. He loved all people deeply and his life’s work reflects that.
When asked how, into his 80s, he found the strength to stand for hours and greet long lines of visitors, he answered that, as every human being is a precious jewel, how could he grow tired counting diamonds?

I have often attended Chabad Shabbats and other occasions in London. I’m warmly welcomed and was even playfully nicknamed “Chasidic Goy” by the splendid Rabbi Yisroel Lew of Chabad Bloomsbury. My only complaint could be that they so enthusiastically ask me, “When are you coming again?”, if I stop attending. Hardly the behaviour of an organisation with an anti-gentile agenda.

Indeed, as I have studied the Torah and Talmud over the years, I’ve noticed that both books present specific non-Jews more positively than specific Jews. Noah, and the daughter of Pharaoh are just two of the gentiles painted this way. Ruth, of the book of Ruth, was a convert, and she is one of Judaism’s highest-rated figures. Likewise, the rabbis in the Talmud proudly assert that Rabbi Akiva, the Rosh la-Chachamim, and a towering figure of the Talmud, was a descendant of converts.

Arguably, implicit in any religion is a belief that its followers are party to something that singles them out from the rest of the human race. Why else would anyone get and remain involved if it were not to better themselves in some sense? Yet anyone who suggests Judaism is intolerant or chauvinistic is, in my opinion, merely projecting their own weakness and fears on to a tradition that can inspire and guide any of us.

The online critics are also ahistorical. To be aware of the centuries of relentless persecution, slander and slaughter of Jewish people by gentiles, and to conclude it is Jewish people, not gentiles, who are the bad guys, is almost hopelessly insane. It is those who believe such nonsense who need to be saved.

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(This article has been crossposted on The Algemeiner and, thrillingly, Crown Heights Info.

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