All that you have is your soul (Tracy Chapman).

Thursday, 31 December 2009

End Of The Year, End Of The Decade

For the whole of the day, I have been toying with what I wanted to write here. I still don't know.

The last few days of this year have found me struggling with one of the many curveballs that life throws your way and I wonder whether I will have the strength to dodge it, or just go with the roll.

This has been a seminal decade in my life. I fathered two daughters, found myself a new career and face the coming 120 months with a feeling, the like of which I have never had before.

So what will the future bring? Where will any of us be on 31st December 2019? It's not that long away and if the last ten years are anything to go by, its going to be a long, hard slog.

I'd like to be more cheerful and optimistic, but I'm afraid I can't muster the good cheer I'd like to exhibit.

Here's to 2010 and 11 and 12....and G-d help us all, because we need His provenance to guide each and every one of us, along the dimly lit pathway that lies ahead.

Oh yeah. And happy new year.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Sunday, 27 December 2009

If Santa Came To Us...

Monday, 21 December 2009

If Tommy Cooper Were Alive Today

I was sent these and I think it would be bordering on the criminal if I didn't share them with you, particularly as I can't remember the last time I laughed this much when reading an email:

I met this bloke with a didgeridoo and he was playing Dancing Queen on it. I thought, 'That's Aboriginal.'
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This lorry full of tortoises collided with a van full of terrapins. It was a turtle disaster.
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I told my girlfriend I had a job in a bowling alley. She said 'Tenpin?' I said, 'No, permanent.'
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I went into a pet shop. I said, 'Can I buy a goldfish?' The guy said, 'Do you want an aquarium?' I said, 'I don't care what star sign it is.'
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I bought some Armageddon cheese today, and it said on the packet. 'Best before End'
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I went to buy a watch, and the man in the shop said 'Analogue.' I said 'No, just a watch.'
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I went into a shop and I said, 'Can someone sell me a kettle.' The bloke said 'Kenwood' I said, 'Where is he then?'
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My mate is in love with two schoolbags. He's bi-satchel.
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I went to the doctor. I said to him 'I'm frightened of lapels.' He said, 'You've got cholera.'
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I met the bloke who invented crosswords today. I can't remember his name, its P something T something I.
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I was reading this book today, The History of Glue. I couldn't put it down.
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I phoned the local ramblers club today, but the bloke who answered just went on and on.
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The recruitment consultant asked me 'What do you think of voluntary work? I said 'I wouldn't do it if you paid me.'
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I was in the jungle and there was this monkey with a tin opener. I said, 'You don't need a tin opener to peel a banana.' He said, 'No, this is for the custard.'
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This policeman came up to me with a pencil and a piece of very thin paper. He said, 'I want you to trace someone for me..'
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I told my mum that I'd opened a theatre. She said, 'Are you having me on?' I said, 'Well I'll give you an audition, but I'm not promising you anything.'
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I phoned the local builders today, I said to them 'Can I have a skip outside my house?' He said, 'I'm not stopping you!'
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This cowboy walks in to a German car showroom and he says 'Audi!'
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I fancied a game of darts with my mate. He said, 'Nearest the bull goes first' He went 'Baah' and I went 'Moo' He said 'You're closest'
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I was driving up the motorway and my boss phoned me and he told me I'd been promoted. I was so shocked I swerved the car. He phoned me again to say I'd been promoted even higher and I swerved again. He then made me managing director and I went right off into a tree. The police came and asked me what had happened. I said 'I careered off the road'
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I visited the offices of the RSPCA today. It's tiny: you couldn't swing a cat in there..
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I was stealing things in the supermarket today while balanced on the shoulders of a couple of vampires. I was charged with shoplifting on two counts.
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I bought a train ticket to France and the ticket seller said 'Eurostar' I said 'Well I've been on telly but I'm no Dean Martin.
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I phoned the local gym and I asked if they could teach me how to do the splits. He said, 'How flexible are you?' I said, 'I can't make Tuesdays or Thursdays.'
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I went to the local video shop and I said, 'Can I borrow Batman Forever?' He said, 'No, you'll have to bring it back tomorrow'
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A waiter asks a man, 'May I take your order, sir?' 'Yes,' the man replies. 'I'm just wondering, exactly how do you prepare your chickens?' 'Nothing special, sir. We just tell them straight out that they're going to die .

Monday, 14 December 2009

My Speech For Hadassah's Bat Mitzvah

בס'ד

Rabbi Lister, Grandparents, dearest cousins and friends, welcome to Hadassah’s/Dassi’s Bat Mitzvah celebration. Thank you for coming to join us, from the distant and not so distant homes that you inhabit. It is as wonderful to see Dassi’s great-aunt Yalu, who has flown in specially from Ramat Hasharon as it is to see her uncle Guy who is here from the other side of London, as well as both sets of her grandparents, who also join us from the rather nearer suburbs of Golders Green and Finchley. Your presence (and everyone else in-between) is what makes this day so very special for all of us. However, it is also very sad that Dassi’s maternal great grandmother Savta Shchora (who we think is approaching her 100th birthday) cannot be here to share in the celebrations, although she is in our thoughts at this joyous time.

We are all here, each and every one of us to celebrate the bat-mitzvah of one very unique young lady – Hadassah. I am sure that Rabbi Lister will smile when I say that everyone who is standing here today, is doing so because, “you are all worth it”. Hadassah, your mother in particular, must be saluted before I launch into my two and a half hour speech (only kidding), because to be frank, without her tireless (and quite incredible) work on the “Bat Mitzvah project”, we might have celebrated your Bat Mitzvah in the garden, on the trampoline, with bowlfuls of cereal (a very popular dish in our household).

Everything that you see here, every part of the celebration, starting with the design of the beautiful invitations is Dana’s doing (OK, I did help a little!) and I could not even begin to describe the kind of mess we would have experienced, had I been in charge. So Dana, kol hakavod, this Bat-Mitzvah has your name engraved in every nook, cranny and detail. Tali, Michal and Shira, your oceans of patience and understanding regarding the fuss your older sister has brought about is extremely impressive. You can be very proud of her and indeed yourselves. You are all incredible young ladies!

Hadassah, you spoke less than an hour ago and the thoughts that made up your beautiful Bat Mitzvah Dvar Torah resonated, not only around the room, but also inside the hearts and minds of everyone who was privileged to hear them. And yes, it really was a privilege.

You are not only our Joseph - you also have the qualities that make up every single member of his family, from his great-grandfather Avraham Avinu (the Patriarch Abraham) through to his little brother Binyamin. Chazal (the Rabbis of old) tell us that the brothers, far from being the rogues that are presented in popular culture, were in fact very fine individuals, from whom the entire Jewish nation would later descend. Their sin, though reprehensible, ultimately led them down to Egypt and to the future Exodus (Yetziat Mizrayim) which we recall in such vivid detail on the Seder Nights.

In fact, had the brothers not decided to go ahead with their plan, I wonder whether we would be standing here today, discussing their machinations!

Hadassah, I know that you probably won’t enjoy the next part of my speech because you don’t like being the centre of attention, but I would be amiss if I didn’t address these words to you.

Before you burst onto the scene, as they say, I didn't know what it was like to be a father. I had always been the son and grandson. This was a new status, a new place to be in.

So, what does a father do? What does he feel like? What can he do to make sure he doesn't mess up someone else's life? What rules must he follow to get it right? All these questions had no responses and in a way, still don't.

Dassi , you made some of the answers easier to work out.

From Day One, you were a free spirit, an independent little person who knew exactly what she wanted. You could fight your corner but at the same time, show incredible generosity to others around you. You were going to be special and we were all aware of it. In short, you were and are a smart, sassy, serious and unique young lady.

But who are you really?

Well, for one thing, you are fast – in fact the fastest person at the Michael Sobell Sinai School – as proven with your lightning wins in last summer’s races. I hear that it took a good five minutes to extinguish the flames you left in your tracks (and I know you’ll appreciate that comment, granted your fondness of the Back To The Future films).

You are certainly very popular. I can vouch for this, if my petrol tank expenses are to be believed, granted the number of miles I drive to ferry you to your weekly (or is it daily) Bat Mitzvah celebrations!

(As Rabbi Lister said in his beautiful speech,) you are an amazing actress! Your Yenta in the summer school production was nothing short of revelatory (and if anyone in the audience knows a Hollywood Agent….) I remember feeling the need to look at a mirror to remind myself that I was your father and not your son, granted your incredible turn as the aged Yenta.

You are the kind of person who made for an excellent choice of school counsellor, peer mediator and play leader at your last school! The teachers there saw the kind of person you are – what more can I add?

And finally, your short stay (to date) at the Hasmonean, has already resulted in the receipt of a lovely letter from the school, extolling your virtues as a student. All this, before the clocks were set back for the winter!

Hadassah, you are a star. Not only the kind that Joseph’s brothers bowed down to, but also the variety which illuminates the sky and shares the light bestowed upon it by the Sun, with all its neighbours.

And talking about light, I cannot but be amazed at how the theme of light runs through your life to date. Indeed, you came into our world on the day when we read about the very first light Hashem (G-d) created in the sky – Shabbat Bereshit and here we are, just a few months later, celebrating the lights that illuminate the Chanukah skyline. These link directly to the very first Or (light) that Hashem created – "Vayomer Hashem Yehi Or" and G-d said “let there be light” and 12 years ago, you were the light that entered into all our lives.

In fact, you were born on the Shabbat that coincided with the 18th anniversary of my late paternal grandfather’s (petirah) passing. My darling bonpapa, Charles E. Wolf was niftar (passed away) on erev Shabbat Bereshit (the eve of Shabbat Bereishit) at the criminally young age of 74. I remember my father telling me on that terrible Shabbat, through his tears , something I have never forgotten – how in Parshat Bereishit, G-d created man and how tragically, had chosen to take a very special man away on the eve of the same day.

If we take the letters of your name- Hey, Dalet, Samech and Hey and use gematria (the system of assigning numerical value to a word or phrase, in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other – thank you Wikipedia) we can work out that hey is equal to five, dalet is four, samech is 60 and the final Hey is 5, which as the mathematicians amongst you will have already worked out comes to the sum of 74 - your name and my grandfather’s years on earth are identical.

You, my sweet Hadassah are the embodiment of my late grandfather. You came 18 years (18 being numerically equivalent to Chay (the word for life) after his death and re-lit the light that had been extinguished from my life when he left us.

I only wish that both he and my other grandparents, Philip and Hetty Vecht (of blessed memory) and my grandmother Laura (OBM), had lived long enough to see you blossom and grow. I know that I speak for Dana when I also mention her grandparents, Lazi and Richi Beresiner (OBM) and Shimon Goldman (OBM) and envision the pride they would have felt today. You, Hadassah, are their legacy.

Rabbis, family and friends, I finish where I started and ask you to please eat, drink and enjoy the occasion. It is wonderful to be able to celebrate the simchah with you all and may we only continue to enjoy such precious moments -(till the age of 120).

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Moments

A long time ago, I wrote a blog about encapsulating those moments in time when words just can't do justice to the events that are unfolding.

Today was filled with those moments.

It was Hadassah's Batmitzvah and today was made up such moments. If you are reading this and you were there in Shul, you will know what I mean.

From escorting Dassi up the aisle to the podium, with my daughter flanked on either side by her parents, to her amazing delivery of a self-written Dvar Torah, to the beautiful words uttered by the Rabbi, to the vision of our living room filled with more people than I've seen therein....the moments were so many that I wonder if I'll ever be able to match them.

We are half-way through the Batmitzvah weekend and my mind is already awash with memories that I never want to lose.

If you were there, please remember them for me and remind me in twenty five years time. If you weren't, try to imagine.

Days like today remind me of the vitality of life, family, and friendship. Chanukah is here and in my soul, its lights are well and truly burning.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Meaning Of (My) Life

On this very day, some forty two years ago, an amazing thing happened to me.

I was born.

Notice. I didn't say "an amazing thing happened", because then, I would have made some arrogant, probably overbearing and frankly absurd statement. I added the "to me" suffix.

An amazing thing happened to me. I was born, with all my senses intact, ten fingers and ten toes all formed as they should have been; a heart that still beats as it was designed to and a brain that probably worries far too much but thankfully does so in the first place. I was born on 1st December 1967.

I haven't been a great fan of Sci-Fi. Not really my scene, but I do know that according to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the meaning of life is 42 (apologies to anyone out there who hasn't found this out yet). I don't quite know what that represents, but since midnight this morning, I've been privileged to call myself that age.

I say "privileged" because I know that not everyone out there will be so blessed. Some don't make it as far whilst others wonder whether they will see the number augment, but three hundred and sixty five days from now.

So what does it mean to be 42 years of age? I suppose it feels the same as being 41 + 364 days, or 41+363 or even randomly, 41+148. It's as though I'm lucky to be here in the first place. I know that at this stage in my life, when all is said and done, I'm one seriously blessed individual.

My birth is the reason why four little girls are on this planet today. Don't get me wrong, I don't for one minute doubt the Almighty's extraordinary role in getting them here (because He is after all the most important part of the triumvirate that creates all mankind), but were I not to have breathed my very first oxygen fix back in December 1967, my four daughters would have born totally different and certainly Tali would have resembled someone else!

I mused on this last night when I saw my parents and in front of the kids shared with them the very same thoughts. It is indeed sobering to note how important their role was (and is) in the very existence of their granddaughters.

We go through life taking so much for granted. We believe that everything is there for our use and disposal. We inflate our egos to the extent that others would rather not be in the same room as us or breathe the same air that flows so freely - if our bodies are able to process it.

Maybe it takes a day like today - my day - to remind me of how incredible my presence is on this planet. To me, the meaning of life at 42 is that I have a role to play in society to ensure that my birth, those many many months ago was worth something to at least half a dozen people in the world.

I could not have been here and no-one would have blinked as a result, but I am and in being a member of the community, I feel that I owe it to everyone to thank my parents and the Lord for deciding to bring me into the world. I guess, that at the end of the day, it really is as simple as that.

And indeed, it is this very idea, to me, dear family and friends that represents the meaning of my life at 42.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Pigeon: Impossible

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The 11th Hour and The 18 Deaths

There are two stories in the news that have really bothered me over the last few weeks and the gist of what happened is not dissimilar in either case.

Last Tuesday, an Afghan policeman, working with a group of British Officers opened fire on them as took a break from duties. He killed five boys in cold blood. Whilst on Thursday, a US army doctor went on the rampage, murdering 13 people and injuring 29.

These are troubling cases for a number of reasons. Firstly, obviously, the loss of life - but I believe, all the more worrying because the perpetrators were not the "enemy" as such, but trusted comrades - the inner circle, as some would put it - or the fifth column as others may well believe it should be named.

So how do the respective armies deal with the fallout of such a situation?

The immediate reaction is obviously one of shock and dismay and no doubt anger, understandable as it is, from within the army and of course from the families of the victims.

There will be some who will blame Governments for stationing the soldiers in Afghanistan or indeed for the very presence of both armies in that region. They will call for the US and British to withdraw and let the natives fend for themselves against the Taliban.

Others will want a crackdown on Muslims within the army or indeed, contacts between the Afghan and British/US forces.

I am in no doubt that there are many more scenarios being discussed at this very moment. By pandering to the extremists, both armies might risk throwing out the proverbial baby with the its rather bloodied bathwater, something that I am sure no-one (aside from the supporters of the massacres) wants.

My heart however goes out to every member of the Armed Forces in both the US and British armies. I dread to think what must be keeping them awake right about now. It's one thing having to cope with dodging enemy fire, however it is something completely different to be wondering if the person whom you thought you trusted, had a plan to eliminate you at any point when your back was turned or indeed if you sat down to take a drink of water.

Today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, I will be thinking about all the soldiers who were killed defending my right to be here writing this post. I will remember the sacrifice that many of them made to protect their comrades - and lost their lives in doing so. It grieves me all the more to also think of the young people who lost their lives in the last week, not so much as through "friendly" fire - but as a result of the machinations of some very evil individuals.

May G-d rest their souls.
Each and every one.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Disfigured Terror Victim Confronts Goldstone in U.N. Debate

This is a brilliant and I repeat, brilliant, example of the bias exhibited in the Goldstone Report and even more so, the cynical stance continually taken by the UN against the State of Israel. Goldstone and his cronies as well as the UNHCR should themselves be tried for Crimes against the Jewish people.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Friday, 16 October 2009

The Friday Afternoon Feeling

I'm at the butt-end of a long two weeks.

Yom Tov was pleasant. It really was. The weather....well, at least the rest of the festival was worth remembering.

The way it fell this year was not easy. Yes, it was nice to have Shabbat and Yom Tov at the same time, but it also meant that for those of us who value Sundays, the fortnight have not exactly been kind.

For that reason, I can say that I am really looking forward to return of "Saturday nights" and their sweet descendants...Sunday! This week, I won't get dolled up in my smart clothes and make my way to Shul. Oh no, not me. I look forward to shlumping around in my underwear until at least midday, at which point, I'll probably throw on something that should have been thrown...away - years ago.

Ah the gorgeous smell of Sunday already greets my frustrated and burned out nostrils.

Shabbat is welcome. It is more than welcome, it is mandatory and I can't wait to enjoy it once again. That other day of rest though less spiritual is no less anticipated.

Hooray - the weekends are finally back in my life.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

My Bat Mitzvah Daughter

I had no idea that by the end of Simchat Torah, I would be staring into the long day on which I would be thrust into fatherhood for the very first time.

Twelve years ago, we had one of those long Yom Tov do's. Thursday and Friday followed by the inevitable shabbat. Just like her old man, Hadassah was born on the Lord's day of rest, which landed on 24th Tishri.

So here I am, 12 years on with a daughter who has made the leap from little girl to legal adult (in the Jewish sense of the word) and I feel nothing but absolute joy and not a little wonder at how blessed we are to be parents to such a wonderful human being.

Her "official" welcome into the Bat Mitzvah circle is not scheduled for another few months but if truth be told, to me, tonight, she's already crossed the velvet line, between little girl and not-so little one.

Hadassah, be blessed. Be healthy and most importantly - don't ever be anyone except your wonderful self.

So much love

Daddy.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

How Goldstone Erred

Haaretz, Sept. 27, 2009
By Benjamin Pogrund

At least three times in his life, Richard Goldstone has gone against prevailing wisdom in taking on challenging jobs. Two were in apartheid South Africa - and he was brilliantly successful in both. The third, his Gaza inquiry, has brought down the coals of hell upon his head.

During the first three decades of apartheid, many judges were appointed because of their loyalty to the Afrikaner government. One result was a decline in the quality and status of South African courts. In response, the government sought to appoint some liberal lawyers of quality. Most, however, were reluctant to join the bench because it meant applying apartheid laws.

Some accepted: Goldstone, who made his name as a barrister in nonpolitical commercial cases, became a Supreme Court judge in 1980. The next year, far from merely applying the law, he handed down a judgment that struck at the heart of a basic apartheid law - the Group Areas Act, which had split the entire country into different areas where people of different races were respectively compelled to live and work, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people of color.

Goldstone ruled in favor of an Asian woman appealing against eviction from her home, and said she first had to be provided with alternative accommodation. His startling judgment ended such evictions.

His second challenging job came in 1991. Apartheid was winding down and the country was beset by violence, in which thousands were killed. A mysterious "Third Force" of government agents was rumored to be behind the killings. President F.W. de Klerk asked Goldstone to head a commission to investigate the terrible violence. Goldstone accepted - and ran it like no other commission before: Over three years, he issued 47 reports, revealing horrendous details about murder squads set up and funded by the government.

Gaza has been Goldstone's latest challenge. He again accepted a mandate from a poisoned source: the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. I have no doubt that he acted with the best of intentions, as he has his entire life, first in South Africa and then in the world, to ensure justice be done. But I also believe that this time, his decision is open to question.

First, Goldstone underestimated the Human Rights Council's malevolence toward Israel. Most members harbor deep hatred for Israel, and wish for no less than its destruction. Goldstone should have been warned off by the refusal of several people before him to accept the job, including former Irish president Mary Robinson.

Second, he accepted the council's mandate, even though it had declared in advance that Israel was guilty of war crimes in Gaza. It is not enough that the council's chairman later said the mandate could include Hamas: Apart from the fact that this statement does not bind the council, his findings on Hamas will mean little or nothing in practice because the organization is not a recognized government and is beyond international action. Israel is the council's target and Goldstone has delivered it. His report has more strength because he is a Jew and enjoys international status.

Third, rejecting objections, he allowed Prof. Christine Chinkin to remain a member of his four-person commission even though, back in January, she had already publicly found Israel guilty, referring to its "prima facie war crimes" in Gaza. Goldstone thus seriously, even fatally, undermined the commission's credibility, and in doing so raised questions about his own good sense.

Fourth, the nearly 600-page report includes many pages of descriptions and allegations of Israeli oppression at home and on the West Bank. That is valid if the intention is to provide a context for Israel's actions in Gaza. But then it must be done properly, with careful research and assessments for a fair presentation of the mix of history, religion, culture and politics that make up the complex situation, including both good and bad. The report does not show that knowledge and understanding; instead, time and again, it's Israel that is bad, bad, bad.

Fifth, the report follows the usual line pursued by members of the council and Israel's other enemies - treating Israel as though it were a unique source of evil instead of examining Gaza in the light of experience elsewhere, in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, where the military has taken on terrorists in a civilian setting.

Richard Goldstone is now under savage attack from many in the Jewish world. Right-wingers have gone berserk, with outpourings of hysterical condemnation. More measured criticism has come from Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the UN, who said there were "very serious concerns about many of the recommendations in the report," and U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, who criticized the report for its "cookie-cutter conclusions" about Israel's actions, while it limited its comments on "the deplorable actions of Hamas to generalized remarks."

But Kelly also urged Israel to further investigate IDF actions in Gaza. And that indeed is what Israel should do. I believed last December and still do that Israel was justified in going into Gaza. But I remain uncertain and uncomfortable about exactly what Israel did and why it did it. Was white phosphorous used over civilian areas? If so, why? What about the early killing of scores of policemen? What about reports that rescue parties were blocked from reaching the wounded, civilians carrying white flags were killed while fleeing and human shields were used? Why were journalists kept out?

The IDF says emphatically that it behaved correctly, but it is not enough for it to investigate itself. An independent investigation is needed - and the obvious person to head it is former Israeli Supreme Court president Aharon Barak, who would give it strength and status, at home and abroad. Israelis need it for their own moral peace of mind, or if wrong was done, to recognize and to address it. Israel needs to be certain that it can tell Goldstone and other critics that their accusations are skewed and unjustified.

Benjamin Pogrund, a former South African journalist, first reported on Richard Goldstone 48 years ago.
Source: Haaretz (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1116945.html).

Monday, 28 September 2009

Post Yom-Kippur Optimism

Hi there friends. Yet again, I find myself having to apologise to the faithful who visit this site expecting to see my rantings. I have posted some blogs here recently, but not one of them would do any justice in trying to explain where my mind is at the present moment.

Or the rest of my body for that matter.

Thank you for still visiting, on the off chance that you might catch the latest episode in the soap opera that my life seems to have inexplicably morphed into over the last few months.

I can't go into precise details here, but to be blatently honest, I've seen better times. No, I'm not sick. No, I'm not out of work - in fact, that seems to be the one bit of timber that has survived from the shipwreck you see before you, something that I can hold onto when the tidal wave of life finally attempts to sink my remains to the bottom of the ocean. Suffice to say that one day, all (or at least some) will be revealed.

Which brings me to Yom Kippur. A day that evokes a torrent of thoughts and emotions, hopes and aspirations, fears and confusion. Quite a heady brew for one as young as me.

I thought about this post quite a bit yesterday as I was trying to re-assemble the Sukkah I put away last year. Again, I can't go into why these thoughts came into my mind, but I realised that being the optimist I am, helps me cope with almost any challenge that life decides to land me with.

Others in my position might fall apart, but something, something quite inexplicable within my psyche tells me that everything is going to be alright. I don't know how or why or for that matter, what - but this innate optimism, probably as foolish and naive as it puports to be - keeps me afloat at times when the water should justly be reaching over my eyebrows, envelopping me into a whirlwind of dispair, the kind that I really wouldn't want to wish on others.

At forty-one years of age, I realised yesterday afternoon, standing by the shed door, that were it not for my optimism, right now, I don't know how I would cope with my life. I know that the good Lord above will help me out. He hasn't let me down yet and I'm not about to turn my back on Him.

Optimism mixed in with a little dose of faith can take you a long, long way towards the brighter colours of the rainbow.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Speech to the UN General Assembly

(Courtesy Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nearly 62 years ago, the United Nations recognized the right of the Jews, an ancient people 3,500 years-old, to a state of their own in their ancestral homeland.

I stand here today as the Prime Minister of Israel, the Jewish state, and I speak to you on behalf of my country and my people.

The United Nations was founded after the carnage of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust. It was charged with preventing the recurrence of such horrendous events.

Nothing has undermined that central mission more than the systematic assault on the truth. Yesterday the President of Iran stood at this very podium, spewing his latest anti-Semitic rants. Just a few days earlier, he again claimed that the Holocaust is a lie.

Last month, I went to a villa in a suburb of Berlin called Wannsee. There, on January 20, 1942, after a hearty meal, senior Nazi officials met and decided how to exterminate the Jewish people. The detailed minutes of that meeting have been preserved by successive German governments. Here is a copy of those minutes, in which the Nazis issued precise instructions on how to carry out the extermination of the Jews. Is this a lie?

A day before I was in Wannsee, I was given in Berlin the original construction plans for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Those plans are signed by Hitler’s deputy, Heinrich Himmler himself. Here is a copy of the plans for Auschwitz-Birkenau, where one million Jews were murdered. Is this too a lie?

This June, President Obama visited the Buchenwald concentration camp. Did President Obama pay tribute to a lie?

And what of the Auschwitz survivors whose arms still bear the tattooed numbers branded on them by the Nazis? Are those tattoos a lie? One-third of all Jews perished in the conflagration. Nearly every Jewish family was affected, including my own. My wife's grandparents, her father’s two sisters and three brothers, and all the aunts, uncles and cousins were all murdered by the Nazis. Is that also a lie?

Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium. To those who refused to come here and to those who left this room in protest, I commend you. You stood up for moral clarity and you brought honor to your countries.

But to those who gave this Holocaust-denier a hearing, I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame? Have you no decency?

A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies that the murder of six million Jews took place and pledges to wipe out the Jewish state.

What a disgrace! What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations! Perhaps some of you think that this man and his odious regime threaten only the Jews. You're wrong.

History has shown us time and again that what starts with attacks on the Jews eventually ends up engulfing many others.

This Iranian regime is fueled by an extreme fundamentalism that burst onto the world scene three decades ago after lying dormant for centuries. In the past thirty years, this fanaticism has swept the globe with a murderous violence and cold-blooded impartiality in its choice of victims. It has callously slaughtered Moslems and Christians, Jews and Hindus, and many others. Though it is comprised of different offshoots, the adherents of this unforgiving creed seek to return humanity to medieval times.

Wherever they can, they impose a backward regimented society where women, minorities, gays or anyone not deemed to be a true believer is brutally subjugated. The struggle against this fanaticism does not pit faith against faith nor civilization against civilization.

It pits civilization against barbarism, the 21st century against the 9th century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death.

The primitivism of the 9th century ought to be no match for the progress of the 21st century. The allure of freedom, the power of technology, the reach of communications should surely win the day. Ultimately, the past cannot triumph over the future. And the future offers all nations magnificent bounties of hope. The pace of progress is growing exponentially.

It took us centuries to get from the printing press to the telephone, decades to get from the telephone to the personal computer, and only a few years to get from the personal computer to the internet.

What seemed impossible a few years ago is already outdated, and we can scarcely fathom the changes that are yet to come. We will crack the genetic code. We will cure the incurable. We will lengthen our lives. We will find a cheap alternative to fossil fuels and clean up the planet.

I am proud that my country Israel is at the forefront of these advances – by leading innovations in science and technology, medicine and biology, agriculture and water, energy and the environment. These innovations the world over offer humanity a sunlit future of unimagined promise.

But if the most primitive fanaticism can acquire the most deadly weapons, the march of history could be reversed for a time. And like the belated victory over the Nazis, the forces of progress and freedom will prevail only after an horrific toll of blood and fortune has been exacted from mankind. That is why the greatest threat facing the world today is the marriage between religious fanaticism and the weapons of mass destruction.

The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Are the member states of the United Nations up to that challenge? Will the international community confront a despotism that terrorizes its own people as they bravely stand up for freedom?

Will it take action against the dictators who stole an election in broad daylight and gunned down Iranian protesters who died in the streets choking in their own blood? Will the international community thwart the world's most pernicious sponsors and practitioners of terrorism?

Above all, will the international community stop the terrorist regime of Iran from developing atomic weapons, thereby endangering the peace of the entire world?

The people of Iran are courageously standing up to this regime. People of goodwill around the world stand with them, as do the thousands who have been protesting outside this hall. Will the United Nations stand by their side?...

Monday, 7 September 2009

The Rabbi and the Pooch

This is so cute!

Friday, 21 August 2009

Scotland And Its Braves

Dassi, Tali and I returned from Scotland last night. I'm not going to write much here, because I'm too exhausted....but I will say how strong an impression the country and its people have had on me.

In short, I absolutely loved the place. I have seldom met genuinely friendly people who went out of their way to help us, from the people in the street, to the lady we stayed with.

It didn't matter that the weather was awful because the welcome was so warm.

Do yourself a favour and visit Scotland - I know I shall!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Friday, 14 August 2009

Parental CV

PARENT - Job Description

POSITION :

Mum, Mummy, Mama, Ma
Dad, Daddy, Dada, Pa, Pop

JOB DESCRIPTION :

Long term, team players needed, for challenging, permanent work in an often chaotic environment.
Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work variable hours,which will include evenings and weekends and frequent 24 hour shifts on call.
Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in far away cities!
Travel expenses not reimbursed.
Extensive courier duties also required.

RESPONSIBILITIES :

The rest of your life.
Must be willing to be hated, at least temporarily, until someone needs $5.
Must be willing to bite tongue repeatedly.
Also, must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule and be able to go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds flat in case,
this time, the screams from the backyard are not someone just crying wolf.
Must be willing to face stimulating technical challenges,
such as small gadget repair, mysteriously sluggish toilets and stuck zippers.
Must screen phone calls, maintain calendars and coordinate production of multiple homework projects.
Must have ability to plan and organize social gatherings for clients of all ages and mental outlooks.
Must be a willing to be indispensable one minute, an embarrassment the next.
Must handle assembly and product safety testing of a half million cheap, plastic toys, and battery operated devices.
Must always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.
Must assume final, complete accountability for the quality of the end product.
Responsibilities also include floor maintenance and janitorial work throughout the facility.

POSSIBILITY FOR ADVANCEMENT & PROMOTION :

None.
Your job is to remain in the same position for years, without complaining, constantly retraining
and updating your skills, so that those in your charge can ultimately surpass you

PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE :

None required unfortunately.
On-the-job training offered on a continually exhausting basis.

WAGES AND COMPENSATION :

Get this! You pay them!
Offering frequent raises and bonuses.
A balloon payment is due when they turn 18 because
of the assumption that college will help them become financially independent.
When you die, you give them whatever is left.
The oddest thing about this reverse-salary scheme is that
you actually enjoy it and wish you could only do more.

BENEFITS :

While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no tuition reimbursement,
no paid holidays and no stock options are offered;
this job supplies limitless opportunities for personal growth, unconditional love,
and free hugs and kisses for life if you play your cards right.


** AND A FOOTNOTE 'THERE IS NO RETIREMENT -- EVER!!!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Hava Nagila Texas Style

Friday, 7 August 2009

Killing Off My Teenage Years

G-d has a peculiar sense of humour.

I can only think this as yet another of my teenage memories is brought out of the laundry basket that is my memory, washed at a high speed and then unceremoniously thrown back into the basket of long forgotten memories, only to be re-buried into my subconscious.

First it was the death of Michael Jackson and my reminiscing about hearing Thriller for the first time back in '82 and now I hear that John Hughes, director of a number of films that really spoke to my generation, dies at the criminally young age of 59.

What's going on here?

I am a child of the '80s, of Thatcher, Reagen, AIDS, Yuppies, Duran Duran and Dallas. I was also a teenager who remembers seeing films like The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Weird Science. These were our films, our years, our memories. These were also movies that talked to us as the '80s generation, in particular The Breakfast Club. I would love to say that Weird Science was more meaningful to me, granted the subject matter, but I wasn't that fortunate. I did however see it on a date and although sadly, I remember the film more than the girl, John Hughes was always there for us.

Teenage movies have been around from the '50s. Although I admire films such as Rebel Without A Cause and The Blackboard Jungle, I can't really relate to them from an experiential point of view. In the same way, I laugh out loud at some of the latest exponents of the genre (such as Superbad and the American Pie series), but they aren't about me.

I have never had experiences like Ferris Bueller or indeed the entire class of The Breakfast Club, but the knowledge that some of these kids were similar in age to me (even though I was placed at the younger end of the spectrum having been born at the end of the '60s) made the films seem all that more authentic. I could see where these guys, where the characters that Hughes created were coming from, burdened with the angst that so many of the us 1980's teenagers seemed to be burdened with.

It is not that often I feel a celebrity's demise so personally. John Hughes managed to tap into something that few others have been able to do and it is for this reason that his passing makes me feel bereft at this time.

Before John Hughes decided to target the younger audiences with films like Home Alone and Dennis the Menace, he thought about us and for that, I shall be eternally grateful to him. He may not have been the world's greatest director, but sometimes, the place you hold in other's people's hearts is determined by different factors.

Rest in Peace Mr Hughes and thank you for taking the time to try and understand us.
We shall remain forever your appreciative fans.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Exiting The Three Weeks

Anyone who has come out of the last three weeks, taking the (Jewish) religious element to heart will know how I feel right now.

In the past, I haven't really treated the Three Week period of mourning for the destruction of the Temples that seriously. Yes, I did the basics, such as not cutting my hair or attending a wedding (not that there were any of those to go to), but I still went out to the cinema and even attended some concerts (I was not going to miss Simon and Garfunkel's unique concert in Hyde Park for anything!).

What makes this year different is that I made a conscious effort to get into the spirit of the thing. Admittedly, I didn't stop listening to music until Rosh Chodesh Av, but that's because to me, music is so much more than just simple entertainment - it is the oxygen for my soul. I did however make a point of not going out to the cinema or buying new clothes (not that I do this much anyway). Still, it was a question of internalising the period and trying to get into the spirit of the twenty one days in a meaningful way.

What make this year different though is how I approached the Nine Days, which ran from the start of the month of Av until Tisha B'av (the 9th of the month) which is the saddest and most poignant day in the Jewish calendar. For the first time in many a year, I didn't shave. I also didn't listen to music (which in a way was the hardest thing to do - although I do usually abscond), but most importantly, at least to me, is that I tried my best to do as much as I could to conform with the laws pertaining to the occasion.

That said, there are certain things I always refuse to do during the Nine Days. I will not stop taking hot showers, because for me, these are less in issue of comfort, than a bare necessity. I also refuse to avoid washing clothes because, in a family of our magnitude, I can't believe that the good Lord above would want me to spend the week after the fast catching up with an Everest-like load of stinking, mucky washing.

I did the fast as I do every year and even spent the last few hours watching an amazing live web cast from the Beth Jacob shul in West Hollywood, where the extraordinary Rabbi Steven Weil talked for about three hours, without notes, in a brilliant monologue that brimmed with anecdotes and insights into the Kinnot (poems pertaining to the fast), the like of which I have never hitherto experienced.

I did all of this because I felt that it was something that I needed to be a part of - and I'm glad I did because the feelings of relief and spiritual satisfaction that I am now encountering could never have been realised had I not gone through the whole caboodle.

A friend of mine made a telling remark. He says that going through the period slowly dehumanises us (you see, A, I really do listen to you!), from the start of the Three Weeks, through the prohibitions of the Nine Days and ultimately into Tisha B'av when we remove the very requirements we need to sustain us (food and liquid) and find ourselves sitting on the floor in the Synagogue, with not much more than a prayer book (and in my case a mobile phone - because mourning can only go so far).
A very insightful comment, A. and one that I am totally in agreement with.

Now, it is all over and for me, the Summer has finally begun. It's just a shame that the sun doesn't seem to concur, because it feels as though Autumn is already here, granted the preponderance of rain and lack of sunshine (albeit on hold today, because it is beautiful out there!).

Going through the process of re-humanisation is a truly uplifting experience. I don't look forward to repeating the experiment next year, but when the time comes around again, I think I'll be more than ready.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

When "Censorship" Is A Misused Concept

I can see that quite a big deal is being made of the fact that Israel's Education Minister has decided to finally act in a responsible manner!

OK, that's a little unfair.

As you might have heard, Gidon Sa'ar has decided that Israeli Arab school kids should not be using textbooks that refer to the birth of Israel as a Nakba or "catastrophe". My question is why this term was ever used in the first place, granted that we are talking about the Israeli school system, not the shameful excuse for education as practiced by our lovely cousins in Gaza and its environs.

Sa'ar says that the majority of Israeli Arabs do not consider the events to be "catastrophic" in nature. That might be a moot point, although not as far from reality as one would imagine, granted that they have lived a better life in Israel than they could ever hope to under Arab sovereignty.

Is Israel finally starting to wake up to the fact that we have to push the Jewish angle here? If Arab schoolkids want to learn about the other side, why should we be the ones teaching it?

As you know, I am teacher. I value education above almost anything else and I know that the best way to change mindsets is through engaging kids responsibly. The only way we can counter the poisoning of minds, as practised so skillfully by the Palestinians is by teaching the kids that Israel was founded as pluralistic and democratic state, with the intention of promoting Jewish values to all who chose to live within it's borders. It therefore behoves us to banish the kind of rhetoric that undermines the core values of that very same State.

Calling the miraculous War of Independence a "Naqba" is nothing short of a gross insult to every single person who died in the conflict. If doing so is branded "censorship" by our people (and frankly, I couldn't give a damn what CNN, the BBC et al call it), then I don't think we deserve to have the country in the first place.

Palestinians of Jewish Origin 2\2

Palestinians of Jewish Origin 1\2

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

European court: Israel boycotts are unlawful discrimination

by HERB KEINON

Israel finally won one last week in an international human rights court.

On Thursday, the Council of Europe's European Court of Human Rights upheld a French ruling that it was illegal and discriminatory to boycott Israeli goods, and that making it illegal to call for a boycott of Israeli goods did not constitute a violation of one's freedom of expression.
The Council of Europe is based in Strasbourg, has some 47 member states and is independent of the European Union. The court is made up of one judge from each member state, and the rulings of the court carry moral weight throughout Europe.

On Thursday the court ruled by a vote of 6-1 that the French court did not violate the freedom of expression of the Communist mayor of the small French town of Seclin, Jean-Claude Fernand Willem, who in October 2002 announced at a town hall meeting that he intended to call on the municipality to boycott Israeli products.

Jews in the region filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, who decided to prosecute Willem for "provoking discrimination on national, racial and religious grounds." Willem was first acquitted by the Lille Criminal Court, but that decision was overturned on appeal in September 2003 and he was fined €1,000.

His appeal to a higher French court was unsuccessful, and as a result he petitioned the European Court of Human rights in March 2005, saying his call for a boycott of Israeli products was part of a legitimate political debate, and that his freedom of expression had been violated.

The court, made up of judges from Denmark, France, Germany, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Macedonia and the Czech Republic ruled that interference with the former mayor's freedom of expression was needed to protect the rights of Israeli producers.

According to a statement issued by the court on Thursday, the court held the view that Willem was not convicted for his political opinions, "but for inciting the commission of a discriminatory, and therefore punishable, act. The Court further noted that, under French law, the applicant was not entitled to take the place of the governmental authorities by declaring an embargo on products from a foreign country, and moreover that the penalty imposed on him had been relatively moderate."

The one dissenting opinion was written by the Czech judge.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor hailed the ruling Sunday, saying it provided important ammunition for those challenging on legal grounds calls frequently heard in Europe for a boycott of Israeli products, as well as calls for a boycott of Israeli academia.
"It is now clear that in every country in Europe there is a precedent for calling boycotts of Israeli goods a violation of the law," Palmor said. "This is an important precedent, one that says very clearly that boycott calls are discriminatory. We hope this will help us push back against all the calls for boycotts of Israeli goods."

(c) The Jerusalem Post 2009

Monday, 20 July 2009

A Stunning List of Accomplishments

I was emailed this...

"If George W. Bush had made a joke at the expense of the Special Olympics, would you have shrugged it off?

Had George W. Bush given Gordon Brown a set of inexpensive and incorrectly formatted DVDs, in exchange for a thoughtful and historic gift from Mr. Brown, would you have approved?

If George W. Bush had gifted the Queen of England with an iPod containing videos of his own speeches, would you not have thought this embarrassingly narcissistic and tacky?

If George W. Bush had bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia, would you have been incensed?

Were George W. Bush to have visited Austria and made an inane reference to the non-existent "Austrian language", would you have brushed it off as an insignificant slip?

If George W. Bush had staffed his cabinet and circle of top advisers with persons who cannot or do not keep current on their income taxes, would you have been OK with that?

If George W. Bush had been so unbelievably ignorant of Mexican history and the Spanish language as to clumsily and nonsensically refer to Mexican Festive Day - Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May) as "cinco de cuatro" (fifth of four) in the presence of the Mexican Ambassador, and continue to flub it when trying to recover from the gaffe, would you have merely winced in embarrassment and shrugged it off?

Had George W. Bush misspelled the word "advice", would you have hammered him incessantly as was Dan Quale for spelling "potato" "potatoe", and cite this as proof he's a dunce?

Had George W. Bush burned 9,000 gallons of air polluting jet fuel to go on a Midwestern photo op and plant a single tree on "Earth Day", would you have said he's a hypocrite?

If the Bush administration had okayed Air Force One with fighter escort flying low and unannounced over millions of people in downtown Manhattan while stirring widespread panic, would you have wondered whether they actually "get" what happened on 9-11?

Had George W. Bush been the first President to need a teleprompter to get through a press conference, would you have seen this as proof of how inept he is? And would you also suspect his words were actually those of someone behind the scenes?

If George W. Bush had failed to send relief to flood victims in the Midwest where more people were killed or made homeless than in New Orleans , would you have fashioned it into an ongoing political issue with claims of racism and incompetence?

If George W. Bush, in an unprecedented government intrusion into the private sector, and completely without the constitutional authority to do so, dared "fire" the CEO of a corporation, would you have acquiesced?

Had George W. Bush in his first year proposed to double a national debt, which had taken more than two centuries to accumulate, would you have gone along?

And if George W. Bush then proposed to double the debt again in a few years, would you have questioned the wisdom of such a course of action?

If George W. Bush had degraded by 90% your own retirement plan's holdings in GM stock, and at the same time given the UAW a majority stake in GM, effectively giving ownership over to the union, would you have accepted that?

If George W. Bush, after telling Americans "it is time to sacrifice", had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to fly Laura to New York City for dinner and a Broadway play on the taxpayer dime, would you have called him a hypocrite?

So, tell me again, what exactly is it about Obama that you consider evidence of his brilliance, competence, diplomacy, and leadership?

Can't think of anything? Don't worry. Obama's done all the above in his first 5 months and the MSM (Main Stream Media) has shrugged it off, so you have three years and seven months to come up with something."



Tuesday, 14 July 2009

The Indescribable Bouquet


It looks like an ordinary bouquet of flowers, but it is anything but.

"M" was a student for whom I had high hopes. She came to the school in the middle of Year 10 and had a lot of work to catch up with. She toiled away solidly and pretty soon, demonstrated an ability to produce work of high quality, the type that stood out from the rest of the pack.

Fast forward a year and she was slacking somewhat. With deadlines approaching, she wasn't making the mark and I was concerned, as were others in the school that she wouldn't make it (it should however be noted that she told me she had spent the last week battling the flu, so I can't be too harsh in my judgement of her). With the final external moderation imminent (it took place yesterday), I spent the better part of the last week bombarding her with emails, voice messages and suchlike, cajoling her into her getting herself into school to finish off the work ASAP.

To my immense relief, she manged to fight off the bug and soon after, complete her work.

Today, she turned up with the bouquet you see above coupled with a lovely card, thanking me for my efforts. I won't reveal the contents of the card, but I can say that I am extremely touched (and not a little relieved that she has finished!).

We work damn hard with the kids to get them their results and sometimes, any positive outcomes seem so remote, they might as well be hallucinatory . If it takes one student to come in and say thank you, with or without flowers, the whole effort we expended serves to remind us why we joined this extraordinary profession in the first place.

The title of this post is "The indescribable bouquet".

I hope you now understand why.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The Primary Moment

Last week, my multi-talented eldest daughter, Hadassah performed magnificently in the school production of Fiddler On The Roof. She stole every scene that she was in, playing Yenta as though the part had been written for her.

You don't need to take only my word for it. Just ask anyone else who witnessed her extraordinary performance. She was simply - and I don't care if I'm biased - magnificent. She had the voice, the moves, the whole caboodle down to a tee.

We laughed and sang along with the familiar music. It was a lovely evening.

Then tonight, we had the Siyum, otherwise known as the Primary School prom. This was her leaving ceremony and the last time she will appear on stage, in front of parents, with the children she has spent her life with since the age of four. It was a very special and prestigious moment for all concerned.

And yes, I was emotional and sad. It was as though, through my daughter, another part of my life was coming to a close. It makes no sense really, because I hardly knew the other kids on the stage, but I felt that, in my role of proxy, I too was moving on, into uncharted waters.

Endings are always sad. The memories that she has built up will stay with her for the rest of her life and these are special occasions because they don't happen more than once. She will Please G-d graduate many more times, but there is something to be said about leaving your primary school friends behind and going on into a new school. Maybe I feel it more because, for the first time, my daughter will be experiencing the same educational key stages that I work with throughout the academic year.

For the first time, she will be learning the kind of things that I teach other children of her age. She will be entering my realm.

It's more than that. It's the feeling that some of her innocence - the type you can only maintain in primary school will evaporate as she enters the harder, sharper edges of the secondary stage in her education. In short, my little girl is growing up - and this evening, as she stood on that stage in the hall, I realised that my life, like hers, will never be the same again.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Oral Testimony of Noam Shalit

Oral Testimony of Noam Shalit, Father of Kidnapped Israeli Soldier Gilad Shalit
Delivered to UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, Geneva, 6 July 2009

My name is Noam Schalit and I am the father of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit.

Honorable members of the Mission – I thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you today. I thank you, also, for allowing me to make my testimony public. I know that this Mission is determined to give the victims of the recent conflict in Gaza an opportunity to make their voice heard. So - with your kind permission - I would like to use this distinguished forum – the United Nations – first to address you and then to address the people of Gaza and, in particular, the people holding my son Gilad.

Honorable Members of the Mission, a few weeks ago you were in Gaza. You met the Hamas hierarchy. According to the Ma’an news agency – Mr. Ismail Haniyya welcomed your mission deploring what he viewed as Israel’s grave violations of international law. The same news agency reported that the Mission thanked Mr. Haniyya for his cooperation in facilitating its work. Sirs and Madam, if this cooperation is indeed genuine then the same Hamas hierarchy should honor your eventual findings – whatever they may be.

And I have no doubt that after you read my written submissions, you will determine that my son’s violent abduction and his continuing detention subject to extortion is, equally, a violation of international law. After you hear the cassette recording of my son’s voice – released on the first anniversary of his capture - you will be shocked by the callous cynicism of his captors and the grief that his words have caused me and my family. These are words that he was forced to read. You will also find, without a doubt, that the refusal to allow him access to the Red Cross, if not a war crime is, at least, a gross act of inhumanity and an aggravating circumstance.

Members of the Mission - The same Geneva Convention of 1949 which this Mission will use to judge the legality of the Israeli attack on Gaza forbids the holding to ransom of an individual – whether he be soldier or otherwise. The same Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court by which the Palestinian Authority seeks to charge the Israeli hierarchy condemns the Hamas leadership no less for the crime of taking hostages – soldiers or otherwise. The same court in The Hague where the Palestinian Authority pursues Mr. Olmert may equally investigate Mr. Masha’al who - with his Jordanian nationality - falls squarely within the jurisdiction of this institution.

But what is the purpose of this honorable Mission? Is it really to lay the basis for a future criminal prosecution? Or is it, perhaps, to effect reconciliation? Know that the minds and hearts of the Israeli people are with my son on a daily basis. His release – which it is within your power to promote – will bring about such reconciliation.

And now, with you permission, I would like to address the Palestinian victims of Operation Cast Lead.

People of Gaza, I do not come before this Mission as a representative of the Israeli State. I come neither to condemn nor to justify the recent Israeli operations in Gaza. I am not a politician nor do I care for politics. I am a civilian and the father of three.

I last saw my son Gilad on Wednesday 21 June 2006 when he returned to the military service which his country obliged him to perform by law. A few days later, his patrol was sabotaged by armed Palestinians, two of his fellow soldiers were killed before his very eyes and he was abducted. He was nineteen years old at the time. A shy boy with a nervous smile and a studious disposition. Like many his age, all that occupied him were his studies and sport. To all those who know him, he is gentle and sensitive to the suffering of others - a trait he has shown from an early age. At the age of 11, his teacher asked him to write a fable. His drawings and narrative have now been published. I am giving the Mission a copy of this book. You can read it if you wish. The story of a shark and a fish who became friends against all the odds. Need I say more? Suffice to say that the will for peace and security can overcome fear and distrust.

People of Gaza - Do not overlook the circumstances of my son’s service nor of his capture. He was not attacking your territory. He was not even in your territory. He was operating within the sovereign territory of the State of Israel – protecting the integrity of what was supposed to be a border of peace after a complete Israeli withdrawal.

Your leaders say Gilad is a prisoner of war. I say he is an abductee. The difference is in the interpretation of the law. But even if your leaders hold my son as a prisoner of war – why will they not allow him the privileges which attach to such a status? Gilad has no contact with the outside world. Your leaders refuse him access to the International Committee of the Red Cross - the same Red Cross which regularly visits your people held captive in Israeli prisons. The same Red Cross which protests the violations of their rights to the Israeli Government.

People of Gaza, your leaders are fighting to return your sons and daughters from captivity. This is an understandable desire. You may agree with such a policy. Many of you, however, will realize that the fate of an entire prison population cannot depend on the ransom of one young man.

Your leaders have committed a crime with respect to my son. They hold him to ransom and, by the same token, they hold all of you to ransom. For three years now, you have been held hostage to the inflexible demands of your leaders and their unwillingness to compromise. They issue demands which, I fear, the Israeli Government will never meet. My son’s fate is the means through which your leaders distract your attention from the destruction they have brought upon you. Is this humane? Are these the acts of an honorable regime?

People of Gaza - Do not ignore the root cause of our mutual suffering. You know that the injustice done to my son was the trigger for war. You also know that the release of my son is the key to peace and the lifting of the Israeli commercial blockade. A small gesture and a little effort on both sides can relieve the misery of many.

President Sarkozy of France recently told Prime Minister Netanyahu that your leaders would not release Gilad until Israel freed prisoners. I am not a party to talks on prisoner release. I am not consulted on numbers and I have no say in the conduct of negotiations. Like many of you, all that concerns me is that the one I love returns home. Do those of you who are waiting for the return of those close to you care for the politics? Do you care for the posturing of your leaders? Or do you - like me - wish that this war and what caused it would never have happened?

But if a prisoner exchange need be the course we are forced to adopt, let reason and moderation overcome excessive demands. Let not a stalemate in the negotiations prevail over the will of the people. Let not stubborness triumph over compassion.

People of Gaza - like many of you, we are suffering the consequences of the decisions and failures of others. Like many of you, my family and I have been caught up in a web of violence. Like many of you, I pay a heavy price on a daily basis. I know that you are short of food. Some of your loved ones have been killed – women and children, young and innocent. I understand your distress and sympathize with your grief. I have visited your wounded from Beit Hanoun and, have witnessed, at first hand, the unnecessary suffering and the unspeakable atrocity of war. But even so, I do not compare suffering. As a parent speaking to a multitude of parents - I ask you to understand my family’s anguish. As the days go by, we begin to despair. We despair of the day when we will see our son again. I know neither where he is held nor how he fares. Whether he is injured or whether he is even alive.

And finally to the people holding my son: I urge you to release my son. You have the power to act with grace. Do it for the respectability that you wish the international community to accord you. Do it because you see yourselves as statesmen acting with humane intent. Do it for the sake of the respect you say you show this Mission. Do it not for gain but do it, I beg you, because it is the just and right thing to do. But most important of all, do it for the peace and welfare of your own people.

Quote Of The Year

"On a more serious front, I sincerely hope that when the President goes in for his annual check-up, the doctors at Bethesda will do a brain scan. Surely something must be terribly wrong with a man who seems to be far more concerned with a Jew building a house in Israel than with Muslims building a nuclear bomb in Iran ."
--columnist Burt Prelutsky

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Bilaam Was Correct

I was sitting in Synagogue (Shul) yesterday morning listening to the weekly recital from the Torah. On this occasion, as on many others, we read about the continuing wanderings (and indeed "wonderings") of our forefathers as they trundled their way around the desert for four long decades.

As you may or may not be aware, at one point, they came across a rather nasty character called Bilaam (or Balaam as he is strangely referred to) who despite his best efforts to curse the nation, ended up blessing them and in the process, realising that he'd bitten more than he could chew by not exactly making himself a mate of the good Lord above.

One of the utterances he mouthed gave me food for thought.

Looking over the encamped tribes, he stated majestically:
"I see them as mountain peaks, and I behold them as hills; it is a nation that will dwell alone, and is not reckoned (or counted) with the other nations" (Hebrew- Hen Am levadad yishkon uva-goyim lo yitchashav).

Wow. That really knocked me back.

The Jewish people, even way back then were prophesied to be different to the other nations - not only that, but he said that we would be destined to "dwell alone".

Three thousand, two hundred and ninety years ago.

Fast forward to July 2009 and how alone we still are.

The whole world points its fingers at one county, one nation and blames them for everything that is going wrong. Whether it be our struggle defend ourselves in Gaza (read the vicious reports produced by the caring people at Amnesty International or for that matter, the disgraceful pronouncements coming out of the UN since 1948) - or the pernicious ruling by the Court of Appeal which brands our religion racist for daring to admit children to the JFS according the traditional criteria of what constitutes a Jew - or even the attempts to ban Shechitah in many countries (irrespective of how safe we feel right now about this), whilst simultaneously attempting to brand us "barbaric" for refusing to administer anaesthetics to the baby boys before a bris (something which is against the Torah) - we find ourselves standing alone, so isolated after many many years of hardship.

We were alone when the German massacred our people and today, we are alone again in trying to show people like Obama that the enemy is not Israel, but Syria, Iran and Hamas.

A nation that resides alone.
Indeed.

Instead of trying to understand our current predicament, maybe we should accept the unpalatable truth that all those years ago, Bilaam, uttering the words of G-d, told us everything we will ever need to know about our place in this world.

King Solomon the Wise said "there is nothing new under the sun" (ein kol chadash tachat hashemesh) in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes).

How right both men were.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Thrilled But Saddened

What happened to the fresh face that beamed from the cassette cover?

I'm of the generation that remembers the impact of the release of Thriller. I remember going into Oliver Crombie in Golders Green Road and buying the tape. I had to. I just had to get it for myself. Everyone else I knew was listening to it. It was all over the news.

I still remember sticking it my first Walkman, a metallic red cage, probably one of the first models which still works today. I recall hearing the songs, this being before I had got into The Beatles and wondering when I would hear the Thriller song, not realising that Michael Jackson was not singing "Driller" but indeed "Thriller" - hey I was 14, I was allowed to be stupid at that age.

I instantly fell in love with Billy Jean, I mean, how could you not get taken in by that entrancing beat? I loved Beat It and PYT and yes, even Human Nature. This was the first real album that I'd bought into, my virginal album experience. So for me Thriller has a very special significance. This was 1982 and there was nobody cooler on the planet than Michael Jackson.

When Bad came out, I'd already lot enough interest to avoid buying the album, although I admit that I'd copied it from the vinyl onto cassette. It was MJ do his thing again, but without the sheer sweetness of Thriller (although I Just Can't Stop Loving You was and is an absolutely gorgeous number). I eventually went out to re-bought Thriller on CD, as well Off The Wall- and I still remember shaking the house as I danced in my room to Don't Stop Til You Get Enough!

I could never have guessed that the face on the cover of my special album would become so unrecognisable over time and that this icon of the 1980's would end up being involved fronting such sordid headlines.

Over time, my so called love affair with MJ turned decidedly cold, not unlike that of others in my generation. Thriller transmogrified into more a chiller and now, so 27 years later, I stand confused at what's exactly happened to this ultimately tragic figure.

I want to play Thriller again and marvel at the talent who, along with others introduced me to a different musical experience. I just hope that I can erase everything that I've learned about Michael Jackson since the moment I pressed play on that trusty old Sony Walkman, in my mother's car, in Hodford Road, Golders Green, back in 1982.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Talking Essex

The following will be totally lost on anyone who doesn't know the way people in Essex talk. If you do, prepare to smile...

alma chizzit - A request to find the cost of an item

amant - Quantity; sum total ("Thez a yuge amant of mud in Saffend")

assband - Unable to leave the house because of illness, disability etc

awss - A four legged animal, on which money is won, or more likely lost ("That awss ya tipped cost me a fiver t'day")

branna - More brown than on a previous occasion ("Ere, Trace, ya look branna today, ave you been on sunbed?")

cort a panda - A rather large hamburger

Dan in the maff - Unhappy ("Wossmatta, Trace, ya look a bit Dan in the maff")

eye-eels - Women's shoes

Furrock - The location of Lakeside Shopping Centre

garrij - A building where a car is kept or repaired(Trace: "Oi, Darren, I fink the motah needs at go in the garrij cos it aint working proper")

Ibeefa - Balaeric holiday island

lafarjik - Lacking in energy ("I feel all lafarjik")

OI OI! - Traditional greeting. Often heard from the doorway of pubs or during banging dance tunes at clubs

paipa - The Sun, The Mirror or The Sport

reband - The period of recovery and emotional turmoil after rejection by a lover ("I couldn't elp it, I wuz on the reband from Craig")

Saffend - Essex coastal resort boasting the longest pleasure pier in the world. The place where the characters from TV's, popular soap opera, Eastenders go on holiday

tan - The city of London , the big smoke

webbats - Querying the location something or someone is. ("Webbats is me dole card Trace? I've gotta sign on in arf hour")

wonnid - 1. Desired, needed. 2. Wanted by the police

zaggerate - To suggest that something is bigger or better than it actually is. ("I told ya a fazzand times already")

Monday, 22 June 2009

A Letter to Barack Obama


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Machon Ohr Aaron and Betsy Spijer

Thoughts to Ponder 240

Nathan Lopes Cardozo

To
President Barack Obama

I am a Jew.
I stand at the Western Wall.

How long do I stand here?
Nearly 4000 years,
since the days of my grandfather Abraham
when he nearly sacrificed his son
at Mount Moriah.

I see the Wall with its frozen tears,
and passing clouds with many sighs.
I read millions of names:
Born in Egypt, Babylon, Rome, Poland,
Spain, Hungary, America and South Africa.

But that was only in a dream.
In reality
we Jews were all born in Israel, and then exiled by Titus.
Although most of us began our childhoods
in foreign countries,
we merely camped in these places, but never dwelled in them.

And at the end of our lives,
Though our tombstones may stand in Exile,
our bodies are buried in the dust of Israel.

***

The return to Zion is unprecedented.
It is sui generis.
The State of Israel is a surprise,
a shock,
for it is the story of a nation in exile
which never had to return because it never left.
It lifted its Holy Land from its native soil,
transformed it into a portable homeland,
carrying it to all corners
of the earth,
only to replant it again in its native land
when the students of Titus can no longer prevent it from doing so.

***
Mr. President,

Israel was not built on the ashes of Auschwitz.
It is founded on the Bible,
a divine text rooted in the Jewish experience of nearly 4000 years.
A "Heilsgeschichte", a Redemptive History
for all of mankind.

Israel was not created because of the Holocaust,
but rather despite the Holocaust.

***

Jerusalem

Only the Jews, for thousands of years, prayed and continue to pray for its rebuilding.

No other people.

Only the Jews mourn its destruction of nearly two thousand years ago.

No other nation.

It is only they who weep, sitting on the floor on the date of the Temple's desecration
in the month of Av, year after year.

No other people.

It is only they who for two thousand years break a glass under the marriage canopy, an expression of sorrow for Jerusalem.
(How many millions of glasses were broken throughout exile?)

No other nation.

It is only the Jews who for thousands of years build their houses but leave a part of the wall unplastered because of the loss of their Temple.

No other people.

It is only Jewish women who do not wear all their jewelry at once, in deference to the destruction of the House of God.

No other women.

And it is only the Jews who cover their dead with the dust of the land of Israel even when they bring their dear ones to their final resting place outside the land of Israel.

No other burial society.


Neither Titus' offspring,
nor Saladin's descendants,
nor Godfrey of Bouillon, the crusader, nor his children,
ever mourned, prayed or buried their dead in the Earth of the Holy Land.

This, dear President, you must learn.

For without this knowledge,
there will be no way to make peace.

Nathan Lopez Cardozo