Thursday, 5 January 2012

Immaculate conception?

Bonei - CopyBonei Olam (Builders of the Universe) is a charity that provides financial assistance to infertile couples. It is an international charity headquartered in New York with all the fundraising gimmickry we have become accustomed to in these types of chareidi organisations. Garish brochures, hair-raising stories, hysterical calls by the ‘gedoilim’ accompanied by every sentimental cliché decency and common sense should have prevented them from including. Intended to tug at potential donors’ heart, and purse, strings they usually induce severe bouts of nausea if not outright disgust.

The organisations tend to tell you everything there is to know about themselves except for that delicate thing called money. Generally, funds are raised to be spent immediately as we don’t really do long term. Featuring a supposed orphan with mock tears crying for the bread your money will supposedly buy is far more effective than telling you how your donation might cure malaria or cancer ten years hence.Giving people fish rather than teaching them how to fish is our preferred route to salvation and even then knowing how many fish have been raised and how much is syphoned off for commission is classified information.

In this case, due to the ‘sensitive’ nature of infertility –I mean we chareidim don’t quite do that, do we?- discreet meetings are arranged at private homes for men of means with leaflets tailored to whoever their godel happens to be. At the meeting a well laid ambush is set up with high-pressure tactics to get you to sign up for a direct debit. Those who pledged £1000 will tonight be wined and dined at a specially laid on dinner for the larger donors.

The leaflet heading is marked ‘London’ and the impression is that money raised locally is used for couples in this country. The footnote on the leaflet contains an exhortation not to discuss the matter in public so I shan’t say anything other than ask how necessary financial assistance for infertility is in this country where we’re blessed with the NHS? True, there may be a wait but with couples marrying in their teens what exactly is the hurry? Surely it’s not written in the scriptures that morning sickness is part of a couple’s bonding ritual during their first months while getting to know each other.

We also have a home grown charity Chana which although it carries out its work with less fanfare it is no less effective for that. It hosts public information events with professionals and also provides counselling. It is run on the whole by women though there are male support workers too and counselling is also provided in Yiddish. It relies less on the gedoilim nonsense which is a good idea as when it comes to reproduction gedoilim can be something of a turn off.

My point however is Bonei Olam’s logo of a single person, which looks male though it could possibly be a female with trousers, conjuring out of thin air an entire chareidi family albeit slightly on the small side. Difficult to tell how they do it. Perhaps the gedoilim can manage even miracles unknown hitherto since the days of Joseph and Mary or maybe they provide a cloning facility. If we can have Dolly the sheep why not Tuli, or Chaim, the kid?

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Kafka and the Belzer Rebbe: “It lures me”

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LuckBatPoet (H/T Ze Hayom)

“Not only Sultan but also father, grammar-school teacher, gymnasium professor etc.”

The above photo is of Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach (1851-1926), the third Belzer Rebbe, taking a stroll in Marienbad, now known as Mariánské Lázně in the Czech Republic. A spa town in the historic region of Bohemia, it was popular in the 19th century with ‘many celebrities and top European rulers’ visiting to enjoy the curative springs. Chasidic ‘royalty’ who know a good thing or two about material comforts were not far behind and many Chasidic, and non-Chasidic, rabbis frequented the spas during the summer months in the 1920s and ‘30s.

LuckyBatPoet has a set of photographs, Marienbad People, which includes barons and grafs and gives a flavour of the high society that descended upon the town in its golden era. Included in the set is a number of photos of rabbis, amongst them the Gerer Rebbe, Reb Elchonon Wasserman, Rav Dushinsky, the Viznitzer Rebbe and others. What however is striking about the photo above is because in another photo of the Rebbe the accompanying text reads:

Czech-German-Prague jewish writer Franz Kafka met 17.7.1916 this "miracle rabbi" from Belz in Marienbad and accompanied him and his followers in a long walk, he described this unusually, noteworthy and surprised meeting in a detailed letter to his friend Max Brod on 18.7.1916.

The above letter appears in the collection of Kafka’s Letters to Friends, Family and Editors and the photograph above almost complements the letter. There’s the chair carrier in the left forefront, the cane carrier to the right, the Rebbe with his ‘tall fur hat’, ‘long white beard’, ‘his hand resting on his waist’, the ‘silk [k]aftan which is open in front’, the ‘broad belt about his waist’, ‘the white stockings’ and a ‘demeanour marked by admiration and curiosity’. He could almost be writing about contemporary chasidim observing road excavations or gathering at a street commotion when he mentions ‘that characteristic Eastern European Jewish wonderment’.

Kafka had joined the Rebbe’s retinue at least twice and his report seems to possess all the naivety of an Alice in Wonderland. The similarities don’t end there. Like Alice he hangs about at the start doing nothing until there appears a bustling chasid, bearing a strong similarity to the White Rabbit, whom Kafka, like Alice, follows. The Chasid reappears though instead of searching for the Duchess's gloves he’s after spa waters for the Rebbe. While Alice observed a queen yelling ‘off with his head’ in this version it’s the Rebbe yelling ‘you are murderers.’

Kafka is drawn into a world he barely understands and is fascinated by everything he sees. When he observes the Rebbe’s comments to be ‘childish and joyous’ and that the thinking on the part of the escort is reduced to the same level he surely must be including himself. For he too stands accused of a childlike wonderment believing what he sees to be ‘truth’ which ‘an ordinary head cannot sustain.’ Alice morphs throughout her tale and it appears the Rebbe has brought about a metamorphosis of the author of the famous work of that name.

And as to the question, Who stole the tarts? I’ve scoured the photograph in vain for the ‘exceptional rogue’ with ‘the huge belly’, ‘smugness’ and ‘shifty eyes’.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A Freilichn Chanukah

Mr Coffee: Good for the Jews?

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Stamford Hill is notorious for its lack of kosher eateries and has probably the fewest kosher restaurants or coffee shops per capita anywhere in the Semitic world. The first complaint you hear from visitors from abroad is that there is nowhere to sit down and eat. Don't start naming some greasy spoons which serve up a fare compared to which conventional junk food looks like a gourmet feast . Never mind too the several decent and half-decent bakeries (Indigs in Oldhill Street being the king by far) which don't offer any seating. If you wish to rest your tired limbs round here you can, if you belong to the male species, pop into any number of shuls where free or vended coffee is available all day, but forget about a bite in pleasant surrounding, with pleasant food and, dare I say, pleasant waiting staff.

The reasons are manifold. We are a conservative community and the vast majority especially of the middle aged to older generation prefer nothing better than their wife's schnitzel and roast potatoes consumed at the head of the kitchen table. If they must eat out, a plate of tsholent and kugel at a reception or kiddush will do nicely. With the latest fad for serving tsholent and kugel to the dancing guests at weddings many of those invited for the dinner sneak off for the grub in the foyer rather than bother with the schnitzel/roast chicken which is so tricky to handle and especially in public.

A greater proportion of the younger generation do like their food and wine. Grapevine is popular and a new wine shop on the Hill has now joined the fray. Yet they will drive to North West to spend their dining pounds. There is a degree of snobbishness as sitting down in Stamford Hill means sitting down with our own which is ok if you must but not for a quiet evening out with the Mrs. There is a also a fair number of foreign emissaries (to put it politely) with whom one doesn't exactly cherish sharing a romantic evening with the better half.

And then there is the prowling wolf of Kedassia. A local eatery would have to carry a local hechsher with some bearded mashgiach sniffing you out before you've even considered the menu. Even that is jumping the gun and I'm not sure how glad Kedassia would be to grant a hechsher to a fashionable place where young couples turn out, he hatless and jacketless and she dressed to the nines with a hat perched precariously on the latest word in wigs. There is also the occupational hazard of being spotted in that company and jeopardising in the process a cherished place for your kids you know where.

So the local connoisseurs make off to NW where they can indulge themselves with any company and any hechsher so long that there are some Hebrew letters in the window. The North Westerners are happy to take our dough, the local hotheads are spared having to print anonymous bans and threats and the most recent local restaurant is an elegant Brazilian/Italian establishment next door to Tasti Pizza. Rumour has it that Grodzinsky will shortly be opening a coffee shop at the former gaming place on Clapton Common. In the meantime however halachic innovation and ingenuity have given us a new bread freshly baked on Shabbos with virtual supervision from Australia but as far as a decent meal is concerned round here by Kedassia bread alone must man liveth.

Which is where we come to Mr Coffee. Two doors away from Grodz on Clapton Common an enterprising Jewish chap has opened a tiny coffee bar just besides the bus stop selling sandwiches, steaming hot coffee for £1 a shot, a couple of attractive baristas and cakes brought in from Tesco. Yes, you read that correctly, non-kosher cakes and for all I know he may even be using that milk, Go- forbid. Because rather than wait for Kedassia to impose their conditions he went it alone. Drawing a pound of flesh in a milky establishment may also have posed a kashrus problem.

True you can't sit down there and he's unlikely to attract a Jewish clientele at so central a location but, still, it's a start and unfortunately the only way forward. If you can't beat 'em, trash 'em seems to be the message and we at Tickle wish him much hatzloche. They even managed to sneak in some publicity for Mr Coffee in the most holiest of ad-only publications which carries not chas vecholilo a single opinion. Watch this space however because probably as I write a notice is being drafted beginning 'It has come to our attention…' or something to that effect informing the world that the establishment is not kosher. As if anyone ever asked.

In the meantime, Thank You Kedassia for yet another service, in addition to the eiruv, to the community.

Monday, 19 December 2011

London Beth Din ruling on Springfield Synagogue

See also

Occupied territory at Springfield Synagogue