A Bad Case Of Double Standards
If there’s one thing I always advocate it is sticking up for one’s values. I’ve often preached about the importance of respecting oneself and ones own beliefs, lest others won’t respect you either. People readily identify those who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.
To be sure, we are all somewhat guilty of subtle hypocrisy. I might talk about how gossiping is wrong and still occasionally engage in a little tittle-tattle. That’s not a justification, just a reflection of the reality of human frailty. What I would never do however, and what people find difficult to accept, let alone respect, is judge and criticise someone else for something that I might be equally guilty of. That’s blatant two-facedness. It’s one thing to not always practise what I preach. It’s an altogether different matter when I dare condemn someone else for what is essentially my own violation.
Laura Janner-Klausner, referred to in today’s London Times as a leader in reform Judaism UK, made it abundantly clear to the paper that she would not be attending the funeral of Baroness Thatcher. The Times quotes her as saying that she cannot be a religious leader and attend the funeral of someone whose views she disagrees with fundamentally.
Ms. Janner-Klausner is entitled to her views on the Iron Lady but one cannot help cringing at the hypocrisy of her statement. Flash back sixteen years when Lord Sacks explained why he wouldn’t be attending the funeral of the late Hugo Gryn. He was prepared to attend a memorial service because, as he put it, he was paying tribute to a holocaust survivor. He was not, however, prepared to attend the funeral because…well, “he could not attend the funeral of someone whose views he disagrees with fundamentally.” At the time there was public outcry and many within the reform leadership were clamouring for the Chief Rabbi’s resignation.
As chaplain to the Mayor in the London Borough of Barnet, I was in attendance at the monthly council meeting last night where tributes were paid to Maggie, whose constituency as an MP was in the Borough. I was particularly impressed that representatives from all parties paid tribute to her, even as some may have fundamentally disagreed with her. The Labour representative counsellor said, “I will have disagreed with her policies but I pay tribute to a remarkable woman.” That’s taking the moral high-ground akin to what Lord Sacks did all those years ago.
It’s a shame Laura Janner-Klausner didn’t assume the same moral high-ground regarding Baroness Thatcher. Instead she took a very public position in direct contradistinction to the one assumed by many reform leaders, herself no doubt included, during the Gryn Affair. That’s not subtle hypocrisy. It is unacceptable double standards, for which she discredits herself and loses any respect.
Someone once said, “There are few things in this world that deserve no mercy. One of them is hypocrisy.” Will other reform leaders be quick to condemn Janner-Klausner as they did Lord Sacks? Whether they do so or not will prove if their protestations were a moral outcry or really just ulterior motif. I think I already know the answer to that.
The Shameful Truth Of British Campuses
It started out like any other campus visit. Mr Alon Roth-Snir, the Deputy Ambassador of Israel to the Court of St James’s arrived yesterday to speak at Essex University on Israel and the Middle East. What happened next is precisely the sort of thing that has tarnished Britain’s reputation on the global academic map. Within five minutes of his opening remarks, loud protests inside and outside the room forced him to abandon his talk. He barely got past his “hello,” and “thank you for inviting me” when students started to shout him down calling him a war criminal. He made a further attempt to speak to another pre-planned smaller group of students but was again interrupted after ten minutes and forced to leave the campus.
Only two nights earlier I sat next to Mr Roth-Snir at a dinner where we had a fascinating discussion about his role as Deputy Ambassador. I was impressed when he told me he had already visited more than thirty university campuses across the UK, engaging with students from all sorts of backgrounds and of varied political persuasions. Our paths had already crossed on a few occasions prior in Brussels where he held prominent positions in the European Parliament. He also served as Deputy Ambassador to Jordan where he most likely never encountered the same sort of hostility as that in Essex U.
One staff member reportedly in the room, said after that the students were “passionate and very measured.” In other words, the students’ behaviour was acceptable. The University’s Head of Communications Jenny Grinter said it was “a noisy but peaceful protest” and dismissed the claims that protesters had tried to “attack” the deputy ambassador as “an exaggeration.” This notwithstanding the fact that the police were called and that Roth-Snir had to be escorted out by security guards. The picture here, which was circulated around the internet, doesn’t quite give a ‘non-threatening’ impression.
But perhaps most troubling was a statement put out by the University on Twitter in which they said that “we were happy for the students to have a voice and were aware the protest would be taking place today.” No attempt to protect a government appointed official’s right to speak at a meeting he was invited to address; No reprimanding those students that proved threatening; No statement of condemnation decrying such deplorable behaviour. Just sanctioning and whitewashing.
That students are passionate and somewhat volatile is understandable even if the behaviour – like that of yesterday - is sometimes inexcusable. But that the faculty endorse such behaviour is symptomatic of the deep-seeded anti-Israel sentiment that is rife in so many British Academic Institutions arguably more so than anywhere else in the Western world. Not surprisingly, it is in the UK that proposals for an academic boycott had been initiated against Israeli universities and academics. These are the educators of society who are complicit in the stifling of debate denying the basic right for free speech.
Meanwhile, as can be seen in this video clip Member of Parliament George Galloway showed his typical racist colours at Oxford University yesterday after the student he was debating with, Aslan Levy, used the word “we,” when referencing Israel in his speech. This prompted Galloway to ask: “You said ‘we.’ Are you an Israeli?” When Levy confirmed this, Galloway stormed out of the debate declaring, “I don’t recognise Israel. I don’t debate with Israelis.” Welcome to UK campus life in the 21st century.
Women of the Wall - Revisited
A Modern Struggle Over An Ancient Site
The hoopla of “Women of the Wall” is getting yet more media attention lately. I was invited to participate in a televised debate for BBC International the other day to discuss the question of whether religion needs to move on with the times. The debate was going to focus particularly on the “Women of the Wall” as they have become known. This is an organisation representing women who turn up at the Western Wall – one of the holiest sites in Israel, to pray in religious shawls and lead an all-female service. Western Wall regulations forbid women from wearing such shawls, leading such services and doing whatever else that might be more common practice in non-Orthodox settings.
Not for the first time, several women were arrested the other day for turning up at the Wall in direct contravention of these regulations. One of the women, Anat Hoffman, is no stranger to the authorities. As chairwoman of the Women of the Wall she’s turned up several times in the past with her prayer-shawl and book in tow, and been arrested on more than one occasion. She was due to join the debate on the BBC, but I unfortunately couldn’t make the short timing.
Though I’ve written on this recently (click here) I feel compelled to elaborate further on the issue. I understand that women, no less than men, require spiritual expression and outlet. Judaism has clearly defined parameters by which both men and women can experience proper spiritual fulfilment. Those who have explored this properly know it to be true. While traditional synagogue services were always run by men, I am sure some women feel stifled by this religious setup and would like to enjoy something different. While I am not an advocate for women’s prayer groups and could argue that many miss the whole point of prayer, nonetheless I do appreciate where some are coming from. But even as I understand it and accept the viability of catering to such a need, I reject outright the idea of forcing that change onto others. By all means build something new but not at the expense of something that has already been in place from time immemorial.
Imagine if you will a group of women demanding of an Orthodox synagogue that they introduce an egalitarian service? Where in the world of logic would that make sense? Much as I may disagree with it, I don’t have a problem if women want to run egalitarian services, wear skullcaps and prayer shawls, and do whatever else it is that catches their fancy, as can presently be experienced in most heterodox synagogues today. I do have a problem however for anyone trying to force their proposed changes such that it impacts on me.
Which brings me back to the Western Wall: What is it that spurs people into wanting to pray there? Precisely because it is the most sacred site accessible in the Jewish world today. It stood on the courtyard of the Holy Temple, which was the spiritual epicentre of the Jewish world. When the Temple was destroyed in 70CE, the Jews were exiled and most were expelled from Israel. Still, the Western Wall remained the ultimate symbol of hope, and whenever Jews were allowed, they would endeavour to pray there. It was the case, even within the Temple itself, that men and women were separated during prayer with the service itself being conducted in the traditional manner akin to Orthodox synagogues today. This carried on beyond the Temple’s destruction, and as early as 1928 there was already a partition placed at the Wall in order to enable both men and women to pray there simultaneously. Even as this was dismantled by the British because Jews were forbidden from constructing anything at the site, when Jews finally took ownership of the Wall in 1967, the separation and all rules and regulations preserving the ancient traditions that were maintained at the site were re- enacted.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) condemned the arrests and called it a “desecration of G-d's name.” While I do question the need for heavy-handedness, I also question why that should be deemed a “desecration of G-d’s name” anymore than those who look to deliberately contravene the law of the land in the first instance and instigate what they surely know from experience is going to be the end result. Clearly there’s more at stake here than just a ‘spiritual yearning.’
The arrests have also been criticized by groups promoting religious pluralism in Israel. This is simply flawed and reverts back to the question posed by the BBC, “should religion adapt with the times?” As I’ve written before, from a democratic and pluralistic point of view, each group of Jews can determine its own constitution or charter relating to beliefs, tenets, practises, conditions for membership and leadership, interrelationships with others etc. These are individual and internal decisions. No group, however, has the right to impose its ideas and standards upon any other group or upon the whole people of Israel.
Any actions that affect the totality of Judaism must be based on a common denominator acceptable to all. The 'lowest common denominator' for all Jews, without exception, is the historical and traditional standard of Halacha.
Jews, who do not believe in Halacha, can live with it, without compromising their personal freedom and integrity. Jews who do believe in Halacha cannot live without it. Everyone can partake in a kosher meal, but not everyone can partake in a non-kosher meal. Paradoxically, the narrow view of Halacha is precisely the only view that can be defended on grounds of democracy and pluralism. It alone allows for the need of all Jews to be able to interrelate with one another.
The only way we can preserve communal unity is by respecting one another, by applying the fundamental principles of democracy and pluralism, as outlined. Respecting one another doesn’t mean to respect and legitimise ideas or philosophies which are unacceptable to our own. It means to respect and recognise the humanity and identity of our fellow-beings. We must never confuse ideas with persons. A person sine qua non remains my fellow-being, a creature of G-d like myself, even if his/her philosophy is not acceptable or repugnant.
We must not lose sight of legitimate premises, hallowed by original traditions, which cannot be compromised. Premises and ideas formulated by man are adaptable. Religious foundations, traditionally accepted as Divinely revealed are not adaptable.
Those who have deviated from such religious foundations, for whatever reasons, will have to accommodate those who have remained faithful to them, when it comes to cases of communal conflict. Neither intellectual nor moral integrity would be compromised by such accommodation. If the Wall is sought after as the one place Jews from around the world come to pray, then this same principle must apply. Only in this way can communal harmony and Jewish unity be properly preserved.
Gay marriage is presently being debated and voted upon in the House of Commons. As is all too often the case emotions run high when discussing this hot topic. The hard fact is that gay people inevitably take offence to any sort of negative connotation associated with homosexuality. Truth be told, without religion there would be no basis for my objection to homosexuality. But then again without religion there would be no basis for objection to all sorts of standards of living. This invariably results in attacks on religion by the gay community, and I understand where they are coming from. But they too must understand where I am coming from.
Upholding religion does not render one homophobic for even as my religion objects to homosexual activity, it does not sanction discrimination against gay individuals. I have no issue with any individual, regardless of sexual orientation. Moreover, even as my religion compels me to reject homosexuality, it also enjoins me to keep kosher, honour my parents and to love my neighbour. I maintain that it is therefore wrong to shine the spotlight on one Biblical prohibition over others. That there are those that might do so does indeed imply some homophobic undercurrent and gives religion a bad name.
But there are going to be times when statements and protestations are deemed necessary. Not because there’s ever an excuse to lash out against homosexuals but because some fundamentals of society are being encroached upon. My objection to gay marriage is not because I have an issue with gay people but because I have an issue with marriage being redefined. I subscribe to the notion of ‘live and let live.’ But I completely disagree with efforts to interfere and undermine one style in order to build something else.
It is hypocritical for the government to effectively impose their secular agenda on a religious institution while condemning religious leaders from making a religious judgment on the same secular agenda. Why the need to redefine marriage into something other than what it always is? Marriage was always defined as between man and woman and seen as a special institution ordained by G-d. To redefine marriage is essentially to redefine religion.
Furthermore, if you redefine marriage where does the line get drawn and who gets to draw that line? Several years ago Louisville, Kentucky native Cory Moore legally married his 2004 Cherry ES-335 guitar. “The day I got her, I just knew she was the one,” Moore stated when reached for comment. “I know it seems weird, but I really love her - like, really love her, with all my heart. I just wanted to make it official.” In 2006 Sharon Tendler, a 41-year-old British citizen, apparently became the world's first person to marry a dolphin. “I do love this dolphin. He's the love of my life,” she said.
Lest I be condemned for belittling gay relationships, I am not drawing a comparison between guitars, dolphins and gay people. I am however, comparing the rights of anyone who chooses to redefine marriage to suit their own relationships.
Redefining marriage will have huge implications for what is taught in the classroom and cause conflict of interest in religious state-aided or religious free schools. And government assurances that this won’t impact on religious leaders who refuse to officiate at such ceremonies does little to prevent such leaders from being labelled bigoted and ultimately being challenged in a court of law for human rights violations.
This is not about equal rights because civil partnerships already have the same rights as married partners. This is about forcing a new definition on one type of relationship while at the same time undermining a time-hallowed institution as defined by another type of relationship. That cannot be democratically correct and raises the ire of many an individual who then questions what the ulterior agenda is here – only of course to be castigated and labelled homophobic. “What difference does it make what we call it?” one gay vicar asked me. My reply: “Precisely.”
The Big Question
Sitting with an Imam on one side, a priest on the other and a Jewish anti-Zionist opposite was never going to make the question, “Is criticism of Israel Anti Semitic,” an easy one. That was the big question on yesterday’s BBC1 ‘The Big Questions’ programme. The question emerged on the back of MP David Ward saying he’s surprised Jews haven’t learnt the lessons of the Holocaust in the way they treat Palestinians.
When I took the initial call to come onto the programme I was reluctant to make the four hour round trip journey on an early Sunday morning. Having sat there as the lone sheep amongst the wolves, I was glad I did.
My immediate response to the question was that it is absurd to suggest that criticism of Israel is Anti Semitic. But it is also absurd to suggest that Anti Semites don’t use Israel as a whip with which to lash out against Jews everywhere. Somewhere in between the lines get blurred. Thus to use the Holocaust - which goes to the core of Jewish sensitivity - as an attack on Israel, is Anti Semitic, however unintentional. Moreover, the analogy is wholly absurd because it suggests that Jews are committed to a final solution in wiping out all Arabs which is just fundamentally wrong.
When Tony Greenstein, a Jew and founder of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign insisted the analogy between the Holocaust and present day Israel was justified I accused him of stomping on the graves of his ancestors. When a priest, Reverend David Jennings agreed that Ward’s language was “unfortunate” but hesitated when I pushed him on whether it was Anti Semitic, it was obvious to me how deep the problem runs.
It became further obvious to me when logging onto twitter several hours later. There were many flattering remarks (and even a surge of new followers) but the rhetoric that came out of left field, not just the name calling, but references to the Hebrews in Palestine, and the suggestions that I should be deported, all prove how Anti Semitism is alas alive and well in this country. I maintain as I’ve always said, Anti Semitism is not some disease like polio that can be eradicated with legislative medicine. It is a deep irrational hatred – a sleeping dog that looks to rear its ugly head when opportunity presents itself. Yesterday’s interview on The Big Questions was just another one of those opportunities.
But it was my final remark which set tongues wagging. I finished by explaining that prejudice is defined by something universal for which only one person or people are singled out. When in the 1920’s the then Harvard University President wanted to bar Jews “because they cheat” it was pointed out to him that non-Jews cheat too. He countered, “You’re changing the subject we’re talking about Jews now.” That’s deliberate bias against Jews i.e. Anti Semitism. Similarly, singling out Israel when there are far worse human rights offences going on in other parts of the Middle East is deliberate bias against Israel. The debate was cut at that point leaving one outstanding question which several people tweeted to me later: “Rabbi, you suggested that there are other violations in other parts of the Middle-East which are worse. Do you then concede that Israel is also guilty of human rights violations?”
Let me clarify the point: I do think that no democracy is above reproach and I am sure that Israel makes mistakes. I do not however subscribe to what others might define as Israel’s human rights violations in this context.
Israel is the only democracy in the Middle-East. Contrast the spectacle of the recent elections and the current coalition building process underway in Israel with the way Egyptians are still rioting violently on the streets because of their constitution. But let’s condemn Israel. Contrast the way Israel will convict soldiers proven guilty for human rights abuses – such as Lt. Col. Omri Burberg who was responsible for firing an unprovoked rubber bullet into the leg of a 27-year-old Palestinian Ashraf Abu Rahme – and the way many Palestinians hail their soldiers heroes when they fire fatal bullets at Israeli soldiers. But let’s condemn Israel. It now emerges that women are systematically raped in parts of India, and stoned to death for the ‘crime’ of being raped in Somalia, but let’s condemn Israel. There’s civil war raging in Syria with thousands of women and children being killed with only limited and occasional criticism emerging from world leaders. But if Israel supposedly puts a foot wrong, the condemnation is loud and robust. The current President of Egypt refers to Jews as apes and pigs and still gets courted around Europe. If Netanyahu dared to use similar language against Muslims, do you think he would be tolerated in the same way?
Israel responded to human rights accusations already back in 2005 when they unilaterally withdrew from every inch of Gaza, dismantling twenty-one settlements in the process and uprooting 8,000 Israelis. They were rewarded with an Iranian-backed terror base fifty miles from Tel Aviv and an increase of rocket fire targeting random civilians. Is there another country in the world that would tolerate this? When Israel did finally respond it did so with intent to minimise casualties. Leaflet drops, text messages and thousands of calls were made encouraging people to leave. Who did the UN Human Rights Council single out for condemnation? Israel of course!
Does all this mean that Israel always does things right? By no means! Does this suggest that there is a systematic approach to delegitimizing Israel? Absolutely! Let me make it abundantly clear I am all in favour of a peaceful co-existence with whoever Israel’s neighbours might be. But that has to be premised on recognition of Israel’s right to exist, as yet not forthcoming, and with Israel’s security as top priority. I must also stress that I am opposed to all forms of human rights violations. I have no hesitation in criticising Israel or its politicians when deemed necessary and I have done so in the past. But if I was to consider the balance between fact and fiction today I always revert to a simple comparison: If an innocent Palestinian was to talk through the streets of Tel Aviv or Haifa this evening I think any honest individual would agree he would be able to do so peacefully. But if innocent ol’ me was to walk through the streets of Gaza tonight, with my yarmulke on my head – how far do you think I would get? . . . But let’s condemn Israel.
To Report Or Not To Report
Some Jewish communities are reluctant to report child sex abuse crimes.
Can you blame them?
This Wednesday, Channel 4’s Dispatches programme will be exposing the attitude within some of the Orthodox Jewish community towards child sex abuse crimes. One particular victim went undercover to expose the way his community has for decades been dealing with paedophilia. It’s been a year long investigation and is likely to send shockwaves around the Anglo-Jewish community. Already last week, as details of the programme started to leak, different communities were scrambling to cover themselves by putting new safeguard measures into place.
The United Synagogue for example, which already has a firm policy in place, extended measures by cautioning all synagogues that pictures of children cannot be posted on websites without explicit consent of a child’s parent or guardian. The ultra-Orthodox community which is the one under the spotlight also sent out a letter the other day in which they stress the severity of child abuse and how each case should in the first instance be reported to a specially convened committee who will then determine how it should progress from there.
The question which begs clarity is why is there such reluctance to immediately report sex abuse cases to the police? I don’t know that anyone would question reporting a rape to the police and I don’t see how this can be seen as anything different? Is it indeed that paedophilia is viewed in a different light – not as severe a crime? Or is there something else afoot which underlies the unwillingness to report such a crime?
One young man from Manchester recalls how he was repeatedly molested as a child, only his parents decided not to report it because they knew the guilty party and it would have ruined his family. In other words they were more concerned about the effect an arrest and conviction would have on the family of the abuser than they were with the welfare of their own son. I wonder if they were even aware of the well documented effects on victims of child sex abuse: guilt, inferiority complexes, depression and a high rate of suicide attempt. Sure, their son may have portrayed a happy-go-lucky demeanour. So did Motty Borger throughout his adolescence. But it all came back to haunt him two days into his honeymoon when he confided about his abuse to his new bride then later jumped from the seventh-floor balcony of their hotel room.
There is also the often overlooked fact that most paedophiles are repeat offenders. As I’ve written recently on my blog (10/12/2012 – No Holds Barred www.shul.co.uk/blog) what people fail to grasp is that sexual abuse reflects mental instability. There's a reason why those convicted have to register on a sex-offenders list. It's because they always run the risk of repeating the offence. Was this Manchester victim’s family indifferent as to the potential plight of others? Did it not concern them that in “protecting” the abuser’s family they were almost certainly subjecting other kids to torment and suffering? How does that conform to the Jewish principle of Jews being responsible for one another?
I think one of the main reasons there is reluctance to report such hideous crimes is because of a certain psychology embedded in the Jewish mindset associated with reporting to authorities. The oft touted Biblical prohibition of mesirah (lit. handing over to authorities) was based on the premise that government authorities would typically deal harshly with Jews, persecuting them, incarcerating them or worse and often without trial. The stories of the Poretz in Soviet shtetls or the Kapos in Nazi Germany are ingrained in the psyche of the traditional Jew. Obviously, a modern day police system in a democratic society operates entirely different.
Well, not entirely. The end result still appears to be much the same. While one might face a fair trial, it’s difficult to suggest that one gets a fair punishment. The general notion of a prison system is frowned upon in Judaism. The idea of remaining locked up like an animal in a cage for so many years is deemed inhumane and is self-defeating. And while it can be rightly argued that one has to adhere to the law of the land and thus to know in advance that doing the crime means you’ll be doing the time – nonetheless, the prison system is hardly serving the purpose it was surely intended for.
Prisons are punishment for crimes committed. They also help keep society protected from repeat offenders – the one aspect of incarceration which Judaism does sanction, thus could arguably be applied to many sex offenders. But prisons should also be expected to help rehabilitate, though they usually have the very opposite effect. Prisons are mostly violent places. The National Geographic channel even made a television series about it entitled Hard Time. On their website they advertise the show with the caption “in prison, every day is a fight for survival.” Sex offenders in general and paedophiles in particular are known to be the most vulnerable. As one inmate put it, “There are only two types of people in here, predators and prey.”
I genuinely believe that the fear of reporting is directly correlated to the perceived end result. You might get a fairer trial but you’ll end up in the same place as the Jew who endured untold suffering in some Soviet or German hellhole. It is for this reason, in my opinion, that there is also such violent reaction within the ultra-Orthodox community against those who do report such crimes, and their families.
It goes without saying that if one of my kids was G-d forbid abused I would want to toss the perpetrator into prison and throw away the key. But that would be the mean-spiritedness in me looking to exact revenge. It would do nothing for the benefit of my child or for that matter the convict. Until such point as ‘don’t drop the soap in the shower’ is no longer a joke and proper rehabilitation becomes part of the process, nothing will change in the way of thinking of those who refuse to report, and mesirah will continue to get bantered about.
To be sure, this is analysing, not justifying. It is reassuring that in the main the Jewish world is waking up to the reality of child sex abuse and Rabbinic bodies are issuing a “must report” edict. But for those lagging behind, I don’t know what the answer is. The proposal to refer matters in the first instance to some committee is utter nonsense. It is never their place to determine the severity of one crime over another. But something has to be done to redress the balance such that potential sex abusers will think twice before acting on their whim, and, in the event that they do, others will feel right about reporting them.
Why Holocaust Memorial Day
Should Never Have Happened
Back in October 2000 I was summoned to the office of Chief Rabbi Sacks. He was in the final stages of initiating a Holocaust Memorial Day that would be commemorated throughout the country each year on January 27th - the day of liberation from Auschwitz. My summons was prompted by a phone call he received from the Home Office regarding an article I wrote in the London Times in which I challenged the wisdom of introducing such a day. The concern raised by her Majesty’s government was that they were of the impression that a HMD was supported across the religious spectrum. Yet here was a Rabbi, one of the Chief Rabbi’s own no less, who was publically opposing it.
My primary concern was that we already have a Yom Hashoah - A Holocaust Memorial Day which unfortunately passes all too often without proper recognition, and, as I wrote, “it would make more sense to develop what we have already into a truly meaningful day instead of turning it into more formal ceremonies and speeches on a national scale. Our true pain and agony are private and personal and not something to be flaunted in the public arena.” My point was simply that introducing a national Holocaust Memorial Day ran the risk of diminishing the uniqueness of the tragedy and thus debase the memory of all those who perished.
Many took serious objection to my article yet in no time the Armenian community protested the establishment of such a day when, they felt it ignored the reality of a genocide endured by their own people. The Muslim Council of Britain also boycotted on several occasions, because they felt such a day totally excludes and ignores the ongoing genocide and violation of Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.
When I cited such examples in order to vindicate myself, some argued that such reactions were to be expected and would lessen with the passage of time. Alas the opposite has proven to be the case. David Ward, a Liberal Democrat MP, shortly after signing the Holocaust Memorial Trust’s book of remembrance the other day, blogged the following: “Having visited Auschwitz twice - once with my family and once with local schools...I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new state of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”
To add insult to injury, the Sunday Times published a cartoon today depicting a large-nosed Jew, hunched over a wall, building with the blood of Palestinians as they writhe in pain within it. Stereotypical blood-libel Anti-Semitism intended deliberately to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day.
The Holocaust strikes at the very core of my heart as a Jew and as a human being. My mother, one of the "hidden children", miraculously survived along with her parents and siblings. Three pairs of my great-grandparents and most other family members perished. The establishment of a Holocaust Memorial Day has essentially enabled those with whatever agendas to exploit it as a political football and dance on the graves of my family along with another six million and countless others besides.
As the Commentator put it today: “Holocaust Memorial Day is transfiguring into a day that ‘the Jews’ or ‘Israel’ (for they will use these terms interchangeably), are to be attacked or set up, completely leaving behind the idea that the country came into existence in the wake of the greatest single crime in history.”
Twelve years later they’re acknowledging what I warned about since the inception of this day. I wonder if the Chief Rabbi remembers that initial meeting. I wonder what he’s thinking now.
A Time For Change At The Top
Who said, “The Jews have influence and access to government because of their money” or words to that effect. Was it Louis Farrakhan? Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi? While both have been known for their Anti Semitic diatribe, a more recent culprit responsible for blaming Jewish influence on affluence is Anglo-Jewry’s Board of Deputies leader Vivian Wineman. According to a Jewish Chronicle report, Mr. Wineman addressed a Board plenary meeting recently at which he claimed that some leaders within the Jewish community were only invited to a meeting with UK Prime Minister David Cameron because of their wealth.
To be sure, when Farrakhan and Morsi make such disparaging remarks it is with deliberate malicious intent to discredit Jews and engender Jew-hatred. Wineman certainly had no such intention. But his remarks are equally as stupid and fertile ground for anyone looking to nurture the Anti Semitic germ.
The faux pas came about when Wineman was having a rant about the existence of the Jewish Leadership Council which, evidently, he feels undermines his own authority at the Board of Deputies. The JLC was founded on the pretext that the Board of Deputies had a specific function and limited influence, and so they banded together to have their own say and do their own thing. Nonetheless, they ensured that Henry Grunwald, the president of the BOD at the time of the JLC’s founding, should also sit as its chair. Even if not democratically elected, this would guarantee some cohesion between the two groups, and at the very least, no conflict of interest.
For the purposes of symmetry it would of course only make sense that each successive elected president of the Board would also assume the chair at the JLC. However when Wineman was elected as Grunwald’s successor, in what can only be interpreted as a lack of confidence in his leadership skills, he was ‘demoted’ to chairing the council of members, while mining magnate and then UJIA chairman Mick Davis became overall head of the JLC. Ever since there have been murmurings of discontent emerging from the Board.
Is Wineman right about his assessment of the JLC? They are indeed a non-democratic group of philanthropists and captains of industry who effectively bullied their way into some broader communal leadership role. They claim to speak on behalf of Anglo-Jewry, even as they sometimes issue embarrassing statements such as Mick Davis’s disparaging remarks about Israel back in 2010. Many of those who make up the executive of the JLC are past their sell-by date and perhaps just need to feel as though they still make a difference. However, the JLC are also right in that the BOD has limited influence. It was Wineman himself who publically thanked the JLC for setting up the recent meeting at Downing Street. And Wineman’s own leadership capabilities were laid bare in his non-intentional but stereotypical Anti-Semitic cliché. He’s a good man, but with more wishbone than backbone.
Perhaps it’s time for significant change in both groups. I am aware of several young and extremely talented individuals who now represent their communities at the Board of Deputies. Maybe some of the fuddy-duddies should step aside and make room for a younger, fresher and more dynamic approach. At the present rate, these visionaries may well be turned off before they reach a qualifying age to get involved at the highest levels. And the JLC might do well to also consider encouraging greater input from younger elements of the community. Then maybe these younger leaders, with underdeveloped egos, can bring it all together and map out a more harmonious future for the community.
Meanwhile, former senior vice-president of the Board, Jonathan Arkush, was forced to issue a public apology after making his own disparaging, and in my opinion, less impertinent remarks about the JLC last year. I think nothing less ought to be demanded from its current president as well.
Call me naive but if there is one thing I don’t get it’s when I hear about brothers and sisters who ignore one another or parents and children who haven’t spoken in years. One of my most tragic recollections as a Rabbi is the time I officiated at a funeral to which only half the family turned up. The other half opted out and held their private service elsewhere. What a way to bid a final farewell to their mother. The infighting itself is probably what killed her – and they chose to take it right to her grave.
I was reflecting on this early last week after reading that EDF energy in the UK has launched a campaign encouraging families to be more in touch. This came on the back of a statistic suggesting millions of Britons fail to speak to older family members even once a week – and see them less often than five years ago.
A combination of time pressures and modern technology are no doubt the culprits. The pressures of modern-day living – getting from the office to the school pickup to the piano lesson to the kitchen to make dinner hardly leaves time to visit Mom and Dad. But there’s always the mobile phone-call from the car or the quick Skype off the iPad that could supplement and pacify the conscience somewhat.
But can one really make up for the other? Can the personal embrace, the natter over a cuppa in the kitchen, or the laugh in the lounge really be replaced with an “I love you,” over the telephone, or a conversation through an internet stream?
A fifth of all adults admitted to visiting elderly relatives less often than they did five years ago and nearly half of this group said it was because they were living further away. I’m going to safely assume that ‘further away’ means instead of several blocks away, possibly now on the other side of town or maybe even several towns over. Is that then too much of an inconvenience?
And what of those who don’t even speak to their elderly family members once a week? Is life really too hectic to take the time to just call and say hi? Think about all the other calls made during the course of a week - to a friend, the bank or the reservationist at your hairdresser and determine where your priorities really lie.
I live quite a distance from my parents. London to Toronto is hardly a hop, skip and jump away. For the most part when my parents were younger, I would ensure to visit at least once a year and they in turn would visit me once a year. I wouldn’t describe them today, septuagenarians as they are, as elderly, and my mother would never forgive me if I did. But since my father took ill a little under three years ago, I have made a conscious decision to visit more often. My journeys across the pond now average at least five times a year. Are these trips expensive? Very! But money comes and goes. Family doesn’t. They’re here today and after they’re gone tomorrow there’s no turning back the clock. Can you really put a price on that?
People are always forgiving when it comes to other families. When it comes to ones own, it’s all guns blazing. And yet nothing can quite compensate as that of the love of family. I’d like to think it is precisely because you always hurt the ones you love that siblings or children care so much about each other so as to fight so dreadfully.
Ask yourself this: When the inevitable happens – and it does for each of us – do you imagine yourself standing there wishing you’d spent that little bit more time, expended that little bit more energy, and yes even spent that little bit more money on making the effort to have visited more often? Will you be riddled with guilt for the fact that you allowed petty squabbling to get in the way of true love and so much time to pass without talking to one another? If the answer is, hopefully, yes, then the question becomes simply one of: What are you waiting for?
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