Thursday, 4 August 2011

Northern Lights: Review of the Gateshead Dinner

Last week Tuesday evening I attended a dinner that was without doubt the greatest show of force of Anglo-Chareidi Jewry for the last 25 years. Phew! With an opening like that I could almost become a staff writer on a Chareidi newspaper. That though may have been too plausible, so let's try again. The greatest Chareidi event on our isles since the last Agudah Convention at the Normandie Hotel. That sounds more like it. A touch hyperbolic, I know, but where in the world would we be without the heavenly gift of hyperbole. There would be no tragedies every time a geriatric pops off, no cause for national mourning when some kabbalistic shaman is dispatched by his partner in crime and our very existence wouldn't be jeopardised each time Hackney tries to introduce resident parking zones or, Go- forbid, spit, spit, speed humps.

As the accredited reporter for Kehiloh Kedoishe B'nei Shylock (Shaylock for non-Chasidim) I took my place in the press gallery to report on the thrice in a lifetime dinner in honour of Gateshead Yeshiva at the Prince and Princess Suite in Edmonton. I shan't trouble you with the faux Greco columns, busts and reliefs that transform a mundane unit on a lowly trading estate in a grottier part of town to the splendour and majesty fit for a Jewish wedding. There'll be plenty of opportunities for that once the wedding season is again upon us and I'll be spending my evenings and early mornings admiring the ceiling insets in heavenly hues -with clouds- replete with twinkling stars of changing colours.

So back to the Dinner folks. I'm afraid the cocktail bar served mainly soft drinks and wine was in pitifully short supply. This wasn’t surprising despite Gateshead’s proximity to the party hotspot of Newcastle as the dinner was predominantly for our NW brethren and we know how well they sip their chocolate liqueur from medicine spoons. To compensate however female waitresses traversed the hall which again confirmed that the crowd was mostly the genteel NW folk as no bread rolls were thrown their way. For similar reasons humour too was in short supply though the chairman Reb Gershon Miller did quip that they called the evening a Gala Dinner as calling it a Gateshead Yeshiva Dinner may have reminded ex-students of the Gateshead dinners they've spent a lifetime trying to forget. This was after Reb Gershon welcomed his audience in a pained and anguished musardike tone of voice that couldn't fail to remind the diners of the approaching Elul zman. If not for the humour and the entire hall may have broke out in an impromptu rendition of Lehisracheik min hagaivo...

Guys, it's dinner time and I would like to keep you fed but we do have several speeches to cover. There was little to read about in the brochure with few historical photographs and strangely they only placed one on every other seat. So make do with your spring rolls and Chinese noodles and personal bottles of Coke and sit back and enjoy the before, during and after dinner speakers. We have a star speaker too but we've kept him for the end lest he upset your appetite with his blow by blow account of a child murder in NY. I'm not complaining though; he is a Chareidi leader of the modern variety and he does have a job to perform.

I am not being fair because truth said I came away from the evening highly impressed. It's not every day I review dinners because it's not every day I attend them. This was however no plain dinner as Gateshead is no plain yeshiva. As Rabbi Padwa said in his speech Gateshead is not only the predominant yeshiva in England and indeed in Europe but it is also one of the leading yeshivoth in the world. How true it is and the dinner was a great show of force not only for Gateshead but for Orthodox Judaism in this country.

I was there to pay homage to my alma mater and former Rosh Yeshiva though they may have preferred me not to mention this. I was rewarded for my effort when Reb Gershon introduced the star of the evening: none other than the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Avrohom Gurwitz himself. I am not exaggerating when I say that a current passed through the hall as Rabbi Miller concluded his introduction with 'T'nu Kovod Latorah' and requested the Rosh Yeshiva to grace the assembled with divrei brocho. The entire hall rose like one and spontaneously broke into song. Quiet quickly resumed and a revered silence fell upon the hall as Reb Avrohom commenced his speech.

I have not seen Reb Avrohom for many years and I was struck by the man standing at the lectern and addressing the crowd. Here was an angelic face with sparkling eyes, his peyoth neatly behind his ears and a kempt beard flowing from his luscious lips clothed with a soft smile. His dark, plain tie behind his talith koton the flaps of which protruded onto the lapels of his dark jacket, there stood before us without doubt a man of stature whose presence was felt by all in attendance. In a gentle voice and measured tones with no histrionics and no exaggerated hand gestures there spoke a man whose dedication of a lifetime to teaching Torah was felt in each clearly enunciated syllable.

Referring to the weekly sidra he said that the travels of the Bnei Yisroel in the wilderness are a metaphor for the travails of a person's sojourn through life. Nowadays too, just like then,Torah is one's guiding light through life and an anchor to what is good and eternal. Simple enough sentiments expressed neither condescendingly nor loftily but perfectly matched to the audience and to the event. Torah, he said, was an acquisition by intellectual effort and not by monetary exchange. Our aim is to bring about a generation where 'all your children will be taught by God'. It was a short speech but one where every word counted and nothing that followed could mar the impression and inspiration of listening again to Reb Avrohom.

The next speech, following the main course which was interspersed with reminiscences of long lost friends and roommates of life in Yeshiva 'in our times', was by Rabbi Ephraim Wachsman from Upstate New York. The mishna in Ovoith quotes Akavyo Ben Mahalalel, "know whence thou art come and whither though art going"' If listening to Reb Avrohom reminded us whence we are come then hearing Wachsman informed us where we are heading. I am afraid to tell you that it is not a pretty place and rather imbecillious too.

Wachsman is one of the chareidi world's star speakers wheeled out when a heavyweight is required and what a contrast it was from the speaker that preceded him.  Where Reb Avrohom brought harmony highlighting the shining light of Torah, Wachsman sowed discord by howling about the 'nothing' of alternative lifestyles. Where Reb Avrohom brought grace and elegance by respecting the intelligence of his audience and the dignity of the event, Wachsman debased it by insulting his listeners with fairy tales of gedoilim and yelling at them as if they were kids in a chasidic cheder. The contrast between the neat, dignified Rosh Yeshiva with a smile on his face reading from his dog-eared chumesh to the loud, brash, unkempt and frowning Wachsman waving his latest edition softback could not have been greater. One spoke of life while the other chose as his subject a gruesome death. In the Rosh Yeshiva's world the Torah is for all to acquire and lead their life by it. In Wachsman's world the generations are declining and it is 'pretty clear from the sforim hakdoishim' that we shall never again see the likes of the giants of old. Mind you he thinks we are good for our money and the right thing to do is hand it over to his ilk. There were in the crowd several generations but it was only in the gulf between the two speakers that we saw the decline of the later generation.

A rather depressing note to finish on but I’m glad to report that they eschewed the cheesy puffer train dancing which has become the standard finale of Chariedi events from kid's siyums to gatherings of the high and lofty. I left with an elevated spirit and I even composed a kind of ode in prose in place of the dessert which was served at this stage of the proceedings. I shall serve it up shortly.

Monday, 1 August 2011

School lessons

Some weeks ago in his column Ben Yitzchok referred to a number of schools and praised them for not relying on 'Government finance and educational control'. As to some new state-aided Jewish school in Golders Green he had this to say: '...So why go with a begging bowl to the Government for new schools where the admission policies involve uncertainties, to put it mildly.' He then cited the examples of Dr Schonfeld and Rabbi S Pinter and the schools they started and led respectively -Pinter didn't start any schools- for which they did not rely on outside help. He ends, 'Emulating their example is bound to pay dividends.'

This is a perfectly legitimate stance and not so long ago Menorah in North West London was offered voluntary aided status and turned it down, reportedly because they did not want government interference in the running of their school. Indeed Ben Yitzchok expressed similar reservations some 7 years ago when YHS became voluntary aided.
There is however just one slight problem. Ben Yitzchok is the pseudonym of non other than Joe Lobenstein who happens to be (or was until recently - it's impossible to know what's going on in that place) the Chairman of the Board of Governors of Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School. YH Seniors is of course a voluntary aided school. Irrespective of the fact that as far as parents are aware Joe does not carry out any of the functions of a Chairman and makes no effort to communicate with them, he still carries that title.

So why did Joe accept the most senior formal position of responsibility in a school relying on 'Government finance and educational control' while exhorting others to avoid this very same path? Why does he not follow at the school that he is notionally in charge of the lessons he gives to others? If Rabbi S. Pinter’s refusal of outside help is so praiseworthy why is it not followed at the school where his son and heir has titled himself ‘principal’?

Or does the word hypocrisy simply not appear in Joe’s lexicon?

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Friday, 29 July 2011

Divisions Divisions

imageSorry no time to comment at length but the letter speaks for itself. My favourite is engaging the concept of ze nehene v’ze loi chosar -one enjoys and another is not put at loss- for this purpose. Which side of the mechitze will be enjoying themselves? Surely the inability of husbands to ‘signal and gesture to their wives’ Go- forbid, must be a loss of some kind. One can just imagine the scene. He gets warmed up at Anim Zemiroth singing about locks, black and wavy and winks skywards, she nods in dissent and he continues shockling into his siddur, ‘Shith hamon shirai no olecho…’

You must however commend the writer for his honesty. Rather than try on rely on pseudo-halachic arguments as with the eiruv, to which this rabbi is opposed, he gives it to you as it is. Those half goyim in Beis Yisroel and Or Chodosh with ‘United Synagogue Rabbis’, well you know what that implies, have ‘superior’ divides and how can we be seen to be inferior. So to the barricades, members, or in this case mechitzos.

Divided we stand and United we fall and long may we continue on this upward spiral. Omein!

Hat tip: Moish

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Monday, 25 July 2011

Tragic omissions

There are times when our beloved Buffoon outdoes even himself and last week was just such an occasion. After the fiasco of Kedassia beef’s fellow travellers he tries to set the record straight that this was not the norm and that it will not happen again. Strangely, none of this was included in Kedassia’s statement on the matter which implied that the practice was very much the norm. He then accuses ‘another Shechita board’ of behaving in the same way without providing a source. Facts however are never allowed to get in the way of the Chareidi papers where C.P. Scott’s famous maxim is reversed: comment is sacred but facts are free.

Not content with this he then proceeds with his trademark wit to even the score. Under the heading 'Four unreported tragedies' he lists four elderly rabbis who recently passed away and complains that none of the deaths was reported by the JC with the implication that the JC cares only for the pigs and not for the rabbis. Score: 5-1 to the pigs.

Why he expects the JC to mention their deaths is beyond me. The four were Rav Stein of the US, Rav Koppelman of Luzern, and Rav Lefkowitz and Rav Sarna from Israel. For a start, however esteemed they may have been, the deaths by natural causes of centenarians and nonagenarians can hardly be termed a 'tragedy' outside the hyperbolic and sensational Chareidi ragsheets. Besides, Rav Sarna and Rav Stein were hardly heard of outside Israel and the US respectively. Notably there were no public eulogies in London for either of them despite the apparent 'tragedy'.

Rav Lefkowitz was more of a brand though it is difficult to list his achievements that supposedly made him great. Leading a yeshiva is hardly a feat nowadays his tall, square kappel notwithstanding and other than turn up at demos and sign bans little if anything was ever heard of him and especially not on these shores. Of the four the only one who can be said to have made it as far as London is concerned is Rav Koppelman. It was however only in his 90s that he adopted the behaviour of a rebbe and joined the hassidic jet set. Earlier this year he celebrated a shabbos at the Heathrow Park Hotel with a select crowd which nowadays is the true marker of a tzadik.

One of the reasons he thinks the deaths merit mention is because of the size of the funerals. Never mind that Rav Koppelman’s funeral was surprisingly small since the Israelis have little time for European roshei yeshivos of a bygone, more moderate age and a more tolerant foreign world. In any event the gathering of thousands of chareidim in Israel these days is an almost every day occurrence as there is little else to occupy their swelling numbers.The buffoon is nevertheless perfectly qualified to comment on the stories the JC ought to run being the star columnist of the Voice, formerly the Organ, of Anglo Jewry which last year gave us that unforgettable corker of a front-page headline, 'Moshiach is closer'.

As if this isn't enough, his next piece is about the tragic murder of the 8 year old boy in Brooklyn by a fellow Jew who drugged the boy, smothered him, dismembered the body and then dumped one part in a bin while sticking the feet in the freezer. Shocking you might think and deserving some mention of how it came to be and perhaps an article on safety for children. Yet from the Tribune we got nothing but a short report on a tragic death tucked away on page 19. True they first covered the incident last week but also without a word on the alleged killer and not half a word on the protection of children. Ditto for the Hamodia which said just as little though using up more words in the process.

Yet to the Buffoon this is secondary to exculpating Kedassia and having a pop at the JC. He did however find space for warm words for the Shomrim organisation which made lots of noise but didn't bother informing the police until several hours after the child's disappearance. Heaven help us if this is what the London branch is trying to emulate. He found yet more space for praise of the Tribune, that paragon of open and free reporting and frank and honest debate, claiming them to be the 'only chareidi paper that reported it'. Besides being so blatantly untrue it is truly shocking that anyone can be so callous and try and score some stupid points from such a heinous crime.

In fact the story was covered by all chareidi papers the world over. Indeed the Yiddish press I came across reported far more details on the murderer and the circumstances which led to the butchering of a kid walking home from cheder. Last week's Heimishe Newsheet carried an anonymous advert in Yiddish in light of the incident against corporal punishment in chadorim . Similarly, this week's News Update carried a letter signed by Peninah Bergman urging parents to listen to children seriously and give their views proper consideration. Nothing like this appeared in the Tribune, and the Hamodia managed only a very brief anonymous letter. The Book of Proverbs tells us, 'Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise' but it appears the Buffoon knows not even his Scriptures.

To cap a successful week for the Buffoon, this week Baroness Warsi paid us, and the Shomrim, a visit and here is the photo the local press didn’t show you. Our beloved Joe in the company of the Baroness though at a far safer distance than his shoulder rubbing at the Board of Deputies' birthday bash last summer. Do remember though this photo was taken in Stamford Hill where different rules apply.

Baroness-Warsi-visit-to-Hackney-20_07_11-007

Photo: Hackney Citizen

Sunday, 24 July 2011

We only say goodbye

Am I the only one who’s noticed the marked similarity in the opening beat and cords of Back to Black and bein kach u’bein kach by Avraham Fried? Listen to the first 10 seconds. I suppose it’s unlikely Amy took it from Avraham…

Well, tsi azoi tsi azoi she had an amazing voice and it’s sad that such talent was destroyed so young.

She had a local connection too: the Back to Black video was shot in the Abney Park cemetery and in Stoke Newington streets.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Kedassia and the porkies

kedassia

What are we to make of these new bedfellows, Kedassia meat, world famous for its excellence in kashrus and with a price to match, and some lowly piggies slaughtered presumably for the non-kedassia market? After Peppa Pig is this Rebbe Pig?

Before you bother huffing and puffing with your brilliant erudition that halachically there is nothing wrong in kedassia beef catching a free ride with some piggies and that they have been travel companions ever since the chazeirim have been ripping us off with their prices, let me remind you that there are other matters at stake when the ‘Seal of Quality’ gets into bed with the bacon.

For a start can we be sure that the pigs don’t carry in the eiruv? What if a piggy noshed a strawberry which then splashed onto the beef? What then,eh? Are you prepared to take the achrayis of strawberry juice without a hechsher contaminating your chulent? Let me pre-empt what the buffoon with a bout of mad-cow disease is bound to raise: can we be sure that the porkies weren’t destined for some reform bash and so turning up with Kedassia cows could suggest that members of the Union may share a platform with them? Isn’t sharing a platform the exclusive domain of, well you know who? And what about the milky issues? Say the cows were milked by the treif milk guys would it not make the pork lemahadrin by comparison? This is shocking! How can we have our holy ham transported with that blood-curdling milk? We want our Parma Parve!

Ladies and gentleman this calls for no less than a notice in lousy Hebrew and even worse English along the lines of:

It has come to our attention that pigs have been seen mingling with the most kosher beef this side of the equator and we wish to alert the public that they should not be fooled by the company some of the pigs keep. In some instances pigs were also seen texting the oxen on non-kosher mobiles. The public should remain alert at all times that a pig is a pig is a pig even if it moves in exalted circles. We must not be deceived by images of pigs suspended from hooks that they have reached celestial heights and a careful inspection will reveal that while their posteriors point heavenwards their snouts remain firmly fixed in the trough. If you have any doubts consult your local rov who is bound not to stray from the parameters we refuse to set lest it be confused with an eiruv. In future however we will be erecting a mechitze the entire length of the lorry similar to what we instituted in the lobby of the Decorium so that other than the pigs who like peeping to the other side non-kosher flesh will be on one side and the slaughtered variety firmly on the other. May we merit speedily in our days the promises of Animal Farm when we will all be kosher though some more than others. Omein!

Photo: Bechadrei Chareidim

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Sshh! Kate can’t ‘quiet’ spell…

Kate - Copy

…though the Evening Standard did help out.

Knackers v Alderman

I penned this blog some weeks ago after Geoffrey Alderman had a pop at one of the communal sacred cows, the Community Security Trust, better known by it acronym the CST. Other things overtook my life and this was left to rot. Then last week Alderman dished another column at them making me return to what I had started.

If ever the proverbial ton of bricks has come remotely close in composition, density and weight to the real thing the letter in response by almost every knacker (omit the 'n' at your peril) known to this sceptred isle attacking Alderman and in defence of the Community Security Trust must have been it.

With such an esteemed attack you might be thinking that Alderman had called for the CST to be disbanded, its funds sequestrated and its members arrested. Or perhaps simply voiced doubts about its necessity. Or maybe doubted the accuracy of its figures on Anti-semitism. Not a bit of it. All he said was that despite that it 'probably does valuable work' and other praise they still speak for no one but themselves.

Big deal, you might think. But then you mightn't be Jewish thinking that way. For it is an Article of Faith, the 14th Ani Mamin, that anyone with a large enough bank account, long enough beard and/or wide enough posterior represents us and talks on our behalf. Dare to dissent from that view and expect, well, a ton of bricks.

We on the Hill have little with the CST who are often referred to disparagingly as the Chilul Shabbos Trust, though why what is permitted to the Hatzole is denied to them I know not. They are wheeled out from time to time where an event of ours is considered too large for comfort or when someone wishes to bestow an air of importance and have El Al style security guys milling about with walkie talkies. They also come in extremely useful in protecting the kapores ritual from anticipated anti animal-cruelty campaigners which has little to do with communal security.

But let's not dwell on the CST as there is far more fun in dissecting the signatories many of whose day and out of hours jobs is to tell us just what Alderman took the CST to task for: that they represent us. Of the 26 signatures 8, or almost a third, belong to that other supposedly representative organisation the Jewish miLlionaires Club, occasionally referred to as the Jewish Leadership Council. It is far from clear whom exactly they lead and with more vice presidents than you can shake a lulev at it may be a case of more shochtim than chickens. Thus in a nutshell supposed representative individuals tell us that a supposed representative organisation really does represent us. It must be if they are telling us so. They've even enlisted the non-representative Chief Rabbi to add his name to the bevy.

The signatures in themselves did not suffice and space was given for the CST chairman, not short of a bob or two either, to set out his wares on the op-ed page. He tried to make a serious point but which holds no water: that the organisation is no different to Amnesty or other NGOs in that they stand for a set of ideals and in so doing may lay claim to speak on behalf of others of a similar viewpoint.

The flaw in that argument is that while organisations like Amnesty have a subscription membership, Jewish organisations are on the whole closed shops. Anyone can pay Amnesty's annual membership fee and become a voting member in accordance with its constitution. I cannot however join the CST just like I can't join the miLlionaires Club while short of a few million.

So let those signatories put the lids back on their Mont Blancs and Cartiers, drop the 'leadership' from their exclusive club and get back to their counting houses. It's high time that some of the revolutionary spirit of the Arab world spills over to the Jewish street where oligarchs, autocrats and court Jews still do all the bidding on our behalf.

In addition to Alderman’s return to the fray, the JC gave the Shomrim organisation a full page feature article. I was going to take a pop at them but then I read that apparently they had reformed which is just as well as otherwise they may have ended up where they seek to place others. Reformed or not, I have serious misgivings about any self-appointed organisation that seeks to lord over others and which by its very existence exploits deeply held fears that the world is out to get us. The letter wildly in their praise by an obvious pseudonym also did their reputation no favours.

I have read the Shomrim leaflets much of which is harmless, common-sense advice on security though round here unless it is given in Yiddish on glossy paper with garish graphics and has the support of the ubiquitous Local Rabbonim it will be ignored. So I suppose they do fulfil some role. Some of it however borders on the racist subtly implying that in every cleaner lies a latent ganev and attached to every helping hand are some sticky fingers. That said, having seen them on Purim nabbing some suspiciously over-the-limit drivers I can see why they are preferred to the old bill. And in a crime-ridden borough like ours with the police at stretching point one can see why some may feel they have the wherewithal to step in, despite not being of that view myself.

Pinteresque or Kafkaesque?

I’m sorry I’ve had to introduce moderating to the comments due to some overenthusiastic supporters of the ‘rabbi’ using the platform for purposes other than to defend the allegations and address the serious points.

‘nough said. I can assure you that this is not censorship by the back door and however unminced your comments are you will still see them appear.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Celebrating the Torah

Walking the street enjoying the sights of the flowers and the smell of dairy delicacies it occurs to me that while the other festivals are offshoots and commandments of the Torah, only Shavouth is the festival of the Torah itself. It is when we celebrate the Torah given to us on Mount Sinai though the Torah does not make the link and, like most things, comes to us by rabbinic deduction perpetuated by culture and custom. Perhaps like a birthday boy or girl who do not organise their own party, the Torah kept silent on the issue and left it to others to throw the bash. And what a bash it is!

Other Holidays go on for what seems a lifetime and come with truck loads of rules restricting what we can eat, when we can eat, where we can eat and sometimes whether we can eat at all. Pesach supposedly celebrates freedom but enslaves us weeks in advance in preparation and weeks after in paying the bills. Succoth celebrates the shade in the wilderness so we Jews decided to commemorate it by erecting booths during rainy and cool Autumn.

Shavuoth however is different. It's short lasting only 2 days; it's tasty with an abundance of cheesecakes and other dairy savouries; and it's colourful with beautiful flowers and foliage adorning homes and shules. So much so that the Talmud tells us that unlike other Holidays there is no dispute that Shavuoth must be enjoyed materially as well as spiritually.

For this reason Shavuoth has hardly any rules or special prayers and we're home early for lunch. Those prayers that there are like Akdomuth come with a special chant. The Akdomuth itself is one half glorification of God and his celestial creations and one half a recitation of the delights to expect when our time comes. A feast of the Leviathan and the Wild Ox, assuming they’re not endangered species, washed down with wine from the days of Genesis and held in halls of splendour. Unfortunately there is no debauchery to go with it and while others get 70 virgins all we get is a waltz with the righteous who as we know can't dance.

To top the beauty of the Festival is the reading of the book of Ruth, surely the most exquisite and beautiful story of the entire Bible both in content and style.

Since I seem to be giving a sermon there must be a moral at the end and here it is: Shavuoth is celebrated in the manner that the Torah ought to be before the killjoys decided to ruin it: short, simple, colourful and palatable. Leave the 'deeper meanings' to your slumber during the Rabbi's speech for Shavuoth needs no rabbis. The Torah has simple and pleasant meaning and that is just how we celebrate the Festival commemorating its presentation to us.

Good Yom Tov!

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Thursday, 2 June 2011

What a holy mess!

If previously we've been in a lather this time we're truly up in arms. We have been nothing short of defamed and slandered and turned from people of the book to people of the crook. And all under the guise of love and marriage.

Ok, let's calm down. For a start why was the programme even called A Hasidic Guide to Love and Marriage? Do they not know that round here Love and Marriage don't quite go together like a horse and carriage? For a start horses have been banned and more to the point because that would be putting the cart before the horse. We Chasidim don't fall in love and maybe tarry, maybe marry and probably call the whole thing off. We marry first, what’s sure is sure, and then maybe fall in love. Or maybe not. Either way we get to the other end of life just like everyone else so does it really matter which route we take? It's like going to Manchester on the A1 and not via the M6.

What?! You go that way? Are you meshige? You know how long it takes? It's much quicker on the M6. It takes about 3 hours that way. What are you talking about, 3 hours? I do it in 2 and a half easily and my brother in law...

Ok, ok, we're not starting on that. Next we'll be debating the quickest way to Heathrow so let's just get back to love. If we don't fall in love, well then she eats salad in the kitchen and he bites his nails while trying not to release hot air with his phylacteries on and yet we still have kids and marry them off on a reference of someone who lives down the road, round the corner on the left, and we then die like everyone else. So big deal if we haven't loved along the way. It's not as if life and death depends on it. Like still going to Heathrow through Shepherd's Bush...

Right, from now on we make no detours and we stick to the holy mess. In truth this programme was never going to be a fair representation for some because come to think of it for those who complain nothing will ever be fair unless it's drooling in tears and schmaltz with 'look how wonderful we are' scrawled all over it. You know a bit like the Tribune and the Hamodia. They never get those type of complaints because they of course capture us to a tee and portray us just as we are. No warts and no blemishes unless a huge amount of money is required to get the blemished free from incarceration in Japan. In which case they are presented as being immersed while in jail in Torah and Worship and queues of pious young men start forming at the Japanese embassy for a visa. That however is a different matter and I did say we're sticking to the point though it doesn't really count as a detour since jail was very much part of the script.

You see if ever proof was required for the maxim that the strength of one's opinion is in inverse proportion to one's knowledge of a subject then the discussion in Stamford Hill of the programme was it. 'We have been slandered', one person who hadn't seen the programme told me. Someone else said, “they'd never do that to the Muslims.” I politely enquired how many hours a week he spends at his non-existent television and he retorted, “me volt shoin gehert,” we would have heard already.

It's not just the content of the programme upon which our army of latent reviewers turned their fire, they also knew the effect it would have on the viewers. “They’re going to think we're all like that”, was a common complaint, which was in turn laughed off with, “they hate us anyway.” In one debate someone piped up, “I actually spoke to a goy who thought it was a marvellous programme” which drew a response of, “How many goyim do you know? I know ten goyim and they all thought it was disgusting.”

“And, meshige, did he really have to show in front of the camera that he's got £2,000 in cash? What will they make of that?” I mean they guy's been done for money laundering for goodness sake. Do they really think you launder copper coins in little bags like a newsagent holding up the queue in the bank? “I hear they each received £25,000” and so the conversation turns to the '000s reportedly received by those who made an appearance which inevitably ends with someone exclaiming, “So, why didn't they ask me?”

Even this is nothing compared to the reaction in our press. Do spare a thought for the poor 'rabbi' who feels terribly hard done by having to view a programme on Stamford Hill without himself weighing in. It’s almost like watching the FA final without a ball in sight. In the JC he thought that the programme “took advantage of vulnerable people and it exploited them. It's disgraceful. Now nobody will go in front of a camera again.” Does that include the 'rabbi'? Hallelujah! And please not in front of a digital voice recorder either and not even a ring-bound notepad.

I'm not really being fair because he does care for the 'vulnerable' thought it's difficult to figure out who he is referring to. Gaby Lock, vulnerable? A maverick, certainly. Nutty as a fruitcake, more than likely. But vulnerable? Let the 'rabbi' put himself up for debate with Gaby and we'll soon see who is the more vulnerable of the two. I don't think one would call Avi Bressler vulnerable either even if he sets the Shabbos table in his rather appealing boxers. Their only vulnerability I can think of is if they were to have the misfortune of applying to have their child admitted to one of 'his' schools. Vulnerable indeed.

Then there was Alex Strom who after an intro that the Tribune is not the place to review a TV programme went on to do just that because people have "heard and read" about the programme. Yeah, and smelt it too. Strom's bombastic conclusion was that "it is totally unacceptable for individuals to make themselves available to all and sundry and take upon themselves the responsibility to speak on our behalf. This is especially true if it involves allowing camera crews to explore a world that they cannot and are not meant to understand."

That is fine except that we all know who they are who purport to speak on our behalf and they do not include anyone on the programme who spoke for no one but themselves. In truth, what troubles Strom and the 'rabbi' is that these people are talking at all. As far as they are concerned our role is to doff our hats at authority and let it do the talking on our behalf. They of course would present a true picture. That shiduchim work a dream. All you do is stand in a queue and everyone gets their turn at wearing a shtreimel and sheitel. Ok, a Dutch girl called Tikwah might end up with Gaby Lock, a Yemenite girl to a boy with a divorced, jailbird of a father and the next son if he's lucky may end up with an Israeli girl wrung out of some match maker. But still it does work.

Notice too how we are a world that "cannot and was not meant to be understood." Which world is that exactly? The world which according to Gaby is run by the most arcane of rules while himself he is incapable of a routine of 3 meals a day? Where the men go off to Uman while the women are left to peep from behind the screen? Where the men sing round the table and the women stay in the kitchen? Where a match is decided on the length of the jacket and rim of the hat? Only the cold hearted bigwigs could fail to be moved by the pain etched on Avi's face as he spoke about his loveless marriage of 16 years and recounted the loss of his father when he was seven and that there is only a single photo of them together. Mind you, Avi's mum knew better than to marry another Gerer misogynist and second time round went for a full bodied masculine type. So at least we know whom Avi takes after.

Prize for understatement of the week must however go to Rabbi Dr Irving Jacobs who in the JC said the programme echoed Nazi newspaper Der Stuermer's antisemitic caricatures. Phew! What next? Is refusal of a place at a local school like the Nuremberg laws? The rip-off cost of meat like medieval Jew taxes? It is interesting though that the non-Jewish newspapers gave the programme generally good reviews but “Yeah, don’t be so naive, that’s only what they say in public…”

Truth said I do have some issues. A fiddler on the roof may have been too great a cliché, but why a cat? As pleasant as the klezmer background music may have been they haven’t been listening to it round here for some 50 years or so but great job they didn’t have on some of the stuff we do listen to. And why was the beginning in those faded colours similar to the films my aunt has of us as kids some 35 odd years ago?

Overall however we should celebrate a programme that ignored the anodyne world of our machers and oppressors and instead showed the fringe world of Ginger, Bradley and Shimmy Goldstein welcoming visitors with as much nosh he could get past the airport scales without paying for overweight. It is a world that many pretend does not exist. A world that is growing in numbers and in confidence. And a world that couldn’t give a toss for the ‘rabbi’, Strom and their ilk and it is this that really worries them.

Let’s be proud that only Stamford Hill has the vibrancy and multitude of characters to fill an hour of viewing. They’d never get this off the ground in Golders Green for they don’t do humour at Reb Chunes where they’re too busy expelling the ex-Stamford Hillers looking for greener pastures in NW. Of course they’re also too straight to harbour any jailbirds but let’s not go down that route because I did say I’ll stick to the point.

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Monday, 30 May 2011

Strange happenings at Aguda

european aguda - Copy

Yes I know I’ve been silent for too long. The newspapers are full of elephants in the room from attempted murders in upstate New York to our own local TV program Wonderland and now this secret meeting at the buffoon’s headquarters. But I’ve got some hungry mouths to feed and writing is not my day job. I’d like to say I wish it was but it would mean procrastinating in front of a blank screen for most of the day which isn’t something I relish.

Anyhow, for the moment, can someone enlighten us about the above notice? It is intriguing to say the least. European Aguda calls a meeting which it is only hosting but not convening or endorsing or something like that. The venue is the Joe’s headquarters in order to prevent unnecessary publicity. Joe of course being chair of the UK Aguda. On the agenda are issues like shechita, cemeteries, shortage of places at educational institutions (is the ‘rabbi’ invited? he should be able to assist) Reform Jewry and the chareidi press, you know the press that hasn’t so far reported about the meeting. And yet we’re not allowed to know about it. Not that anyone cares but that’s another matter.

Look, I wish I had the time to delve deeper into this but I don’t. The meeting however is tomorrow at 1 pm and the venue is on the notice. If a reader with some spare time and a camera wishes to go along please share with us some snaps of European Jewry’s celebs on the red carpet. And if you are privy to any of the discussions I’ll be happy to publish it.

But more than anything, what the heck is going on?

Friday, 13 May 2011

A Kosher Kiss

THAT kiss as (might have been) reported by Di Tzeitung

Courtesy of Hasidic Photoshop

Monday, 9 May 2011

Where’s Hillary?

Spot the difference:

article-1384861-0BE77AA700000578-654_634x406 - Copy

© The White House

WH sans Hillary - Copy

© Di Tzeitung (a Brooklyn chasidic weekly)

(Credit: Circus Tent)

This on the other hand is perfectly kosher

skver and hillary - Copy

No Sacks please…

Few could have scoured the papers during the past few weeks like I did. Thank God for the extra time afforded by Yom Tov to turn the pages ever so slowly and scan the lines ever so carefully to try and find that elusive news item of Lord Sacks's visit to the Hill. This was after all a visit to a Stamford Hill school, whose 'principal' is constantly telling us how proud he is to be chareidi and how integrated his school is. Yet when a chance arose to show off his chareidi cohorts the stage was surprisingly bare. Although the Chief turned up with the chief executive of the United Synagogue, Simon Hochhauser, his counterpart in the Union, our own Rosh Hakohol Dovid Frand, was nowhere to be seen. Nor was the 'buffoon' in attendance despite his role as the nominal (nominee?) chair of the board of governors. And now like the death of Bin Laden they won’t even show us the photos in the papers.

It is of course not for me to say why a visit of the Chief Rabbi didn't make it into the papers with a photo of Rabbi and 'rabbi'. Perhaps geriatrics several thousand miles away searching, burning and selling their chometz take precedent. Or perhaps the 'rabbi' is only comfortable in the company of Indian High Commissioners, members of the Board of Deputies, prime ministers, mayors and the old bill. Actually members of this list share a common feature in their lack of facial hair and on the whole, other than the old bill, an absence of head gear. This would also explain the presence of the beardless chief executive of the United Synagogue but not his Union counterpart. The beardless buffoon's absence would still remain a mystery unless he was too busy arranging the pre-Pesach bin collections, the clanging of which we never cease to hear.

Chief in Bobov_thumb[1] - CopyIt's also not as if others were coy about appearing with the Chief Rabbi in public. In the photo above he is in the Bobov Shul as part of his visit and being warmly greeted by Reb Leibel Stempel. So it appears it is only the 'rabbi' who treats the Chief’s presence like a crime scene and like Macavity is nowhere to be seen. There is however a difference and herein lies the point.

The more extreme elements of the community don't shun Bobov in the way they shun YHS and Bobov does not have an exposed right flank to protect as the 'rabbi' does. Bobov is also a large community with a strong following even after its recent split and is perfectly capable of looking after itself. Unfortunately that is not the case with YHS. Due to the way a single family has monopolised the school it has no natural or grassroots constituency to turn to when things turn sour.

Thus so long that Hebrew classes are free, teachers are on the whole heimishe girls barely out of their teens and the admissions is to all intents and purposes restricted to the YHS Junior school, any concern about the voluntary aided status of the school will be the sole concern of the loonies and the kids will keep on filling the shifting admission numbers. Should there however arise a backlash due to visits by undesirables, or closures due to goyishe weddings, the school may quickly find its intake dry up. The various categories and definitions of 'chareidi' the school has conjured up to keep kids locked out of those tall gates would quickly become academic if it cannot fill the minimum admission places.

And so just like Sacks could make it to the church but not to Hugo Gryn's funeral, so the 'rabbi' may be seen with anyone high ranking so long that there’s not a whiff of frumkeit about them but not with the far-from-heimishe Chief Rabbi Sacks in situ. This is no surprise to us as little surprises us about the 'rabbi' round here. Unlike outsiders who are disarmed by his humour we never get to see his humour and rarely even his impressive physiognomy. Any disarming carried out locally tends to me more surreptitious, more conventional and rarely a laughing matter.

What however is surprising is that Sacks agreed to play the fool.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Bank holiday blues

Just before Rosh Hashono I made a New Year's resolution to blog about the creeping fundamentalisation of our community. If I haven't touched upon the subject again it was after all a resolution and not because of a shortage of subject matter. I was not referring to the big things that make the headlines but rather the small relatively trivial matters that are easily shaken off as 'not a big deal' and 'I really can't see what the fuss is about'. While each measure individually may indeed be relatively minor collectively they are of greater significance than the big issues which cause headlines and the occasional backlash. Not just due to the total sum of the parts but because of their size the little things are usually not noticed or are easily dressed up.New norms are thus created which in turn pave the way for the next wave of even greater madness that inevitably follows on their heels.

In a community where there is no platform for dissent (bar the male mikvoes) even those minded to complain think the better of looking silly and kicking up a fuss over nothing. 'You really do have problems, don't you'. And they do have a point. With earth shattering problems like speed humps on Jessam Avenue or a bus lane on Amhurst Park, compulsory tights for 3 year olds or a mechitze the length of the lobby at the Decorium really do pale into insignificance. And so before you know it not only has some new craze been accreted to what we must or subtracted from what we may, but history has even been rewritten as part of the bargain. It was always so, they will tell us and who will make an ass of him or herself to argue.

But having just been granted two super long weekends in succession in addition to Pesach, not only has time been in abundance but yet another new yiddishkeit has come to light: school on bank holidays.

In the past the local girls’ schools were given a day off on bank holidays, presumably because it is a national holiday although this may now be disputed. The boys in the Chasidic schools would be made to attend classes as they study Torah and time for them is just too precious to mark May Day, Whitsun or some other meshugass. Mind you since the boys sit few exams to set syllabuses and not at any particular time of the year you'd think that a day off could easily be made up by for instance finishing later on a Friday in the summer. Isn't that why punctuality in the boys' schools, of pupils and teachers alike, is disregarded and a few days off here and there taken on the chin? But that is how it's always been at most of the boys' schools and it's not about to change any time soon.

Of late however the girls schools have also been opening on Bank Holidays and last Friday and Monday children flocked to school as if Will and Kate weren’t about to kiss and May Day was just for the Soviets. Even YHS which initially bucked the trend has now joined the fray. Despite its voluntary aided status, or perhaps because of it, it sees no need to adopt norms of the national schools. Attendance, it appears, follows governance in which they are a law unto themselves. The YHS boys' school, the most liberal of the lot round here, also used to have half day only on Bank Holidays but apparently not any more either. It would however not be fair in this instance to single out any school since I hear the rot has spread even to genteel Golders Green. Tifereth girls school also operated on the last public holidays.

And so the school vans ply their trade transporting human cargo, cutting corners and honking their horns as if the whole world's up for work. For in our environs silence is desirable and noise deprecated only during the après tsholent, post coital Shabbos siesta which should not be disturbed by some Polish chap, with a heimishe landlord no less, washing his car with the music or match of the day blaring. Some people are just so insensitive. Anyway, it’s all not really a big deal, I hear you say and surely there must be bigger fish to fry. That however is precisely my point.

Of course, it's all easily explained away and revisionism round here has a respectful pedigree. You see, once the schools had goyishe teachers and so they couldn't be asked to come in on bank holidays. But now boruch hashem it's all heimishe school girls, educated and trained at heimishe sems, in heimishe blouses, skirts, tights and pony tails, so why have a day off? Vos epes? In the immortal words of the late Rabbi Dunner, 'we're not banks, so why bank holidays?' (Who ever said the yekes lack wit?) And don't we have lots and lots of yomim toivim which they don't have plus we need 2 whole weeks off before Pesach because it's so important that the girls get to help their mothers so why borrow yet more days off from the goyim? Please don't press the issue for the tone to become even higher pitched: you think helping at home is not important? It's just as important as some of the rubbish they do at school.

Having school on a day others don't has its benefits too. In an era when everyone is trying to outholy the other isolating oneself ever more is a way of putting clear blue water between 'us' and 'them'. Conversely, for those mildly left of centre not having school when other do may expose their right flank. Hence YHS's and the Golders Greeners’ predicament. So as always the holy ones win out in the end and on we march blissfully to our paradisal sunset.

One should however not be too harsh on the schools because they do not operate in isolation. It is ultimately the parents who are only too happy to dump their kids on the school and they would be the greatest objectors if the kids were set free for the day. Of course no one will ever call the school to beg them to take the bloody kids off the furniture because our dear kinderlach are our just too precious for that. So yiddishkeit comes in handy as it always does. And along we adults could go and enjoy bank holiday discounts secure in the knowledge that our pure neshomelech are not cholilo being contaminated by the flesh on show at another bank holiday funfair.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Sacks on the Hill

Chief on Hill

Lord of the Ringlets

With no prior announcement and none of the PR fanfare the 'rabbi' is so adroit at, Yesodey Hatorah Secondary School for Girls, to give it its full name, last week welcomed Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks to its hallowed corridors. You read it here first as it appears to have been too late for last week's Hamodia where the 'rabbi' acts as an unpaid advisor, which must mean that a front page photo every other week is of no value or payment in kind doesn't count.

The girls themselves were told only the day before thus denying more right wing elements the chance to galvanise and arrange some form of protest. Some parents may even have withheld their dear neshomolech from school for the day. Since the 'rabbi' respected his girls when they refused to take an exam paper on Shakespeare he would undoubtedly have respected them on this point of principle too. But it is a moot point since the Chief's visit passed off without incident and one must now wait for the weekend papers to see Sacks beaming on an N16 platform he so covets and Pinter with an equally broad smile in the company of yet another semi-Jew as far as we in Stamford Hill are concerned.

You may wonder why the 'rabbi' had to turn so far west, and so far left, and to such high altitudes for a speaker for his girls. Isn't bringing a rabbi to Stamford Hill a bit like taking coal to that suburb of Gateshead? Before even our own chief Padwa has addressed the girls along comes a Lord from a different manor to shepherd our sacred sheep.And it's not as if the lesser local rabbis have been exhausted since rabbis rarely step foot into that place lest anyone suspect that history is not as it's been rewritten. That what has been turned into the sole domain of a single extended family was actually established by rabbis and individuals with different family names.

Inviting dignitaries from foreign shores whose sheep would never be welcome in our greener meadows comes with its own reciprocal kickbacks. And if in this instance it provided a photo opportunity with an ermine backdrop then all the better. As to the addressees, those precious neshomelech, they too provide a pretty setting for opportunistic photo shoots. And supine too, for his Lordship was not taken to the boys’ school where a different reception may have awaited him assuming he was received at all.

So it was left to the acting head who actually runs the school (bar admissions and external relations which by convention are the domain of the ‘principal’), and who by remarkable and as yet unexplained coincidence happens to be none other than the 'principal's dear wife, to advise the children the day before of their noble guest and then give way to her husband to officiate on the day. I mean he is the 'principal' after all though mind you his appearance in front of his flock is almost as rare as that of the Chief himself. It may even have been his debut address to 'his' school had not the former prime minister but one popped round some years ago which forced the 'principal' to bring forward his maiden speech to the maidens.

In line with the school's mission of developing the girls' thinking, initiative, creativity and leadership skills, questions to the Chief would be allowed. Questions however are a dangerous tool in the wrong hands for one cannot predict the answers from the Chief. Worse still once cannot foretell questions some of the girls may be harbouring in their delicate brains. Questions such as which we are told are never posed in our postal areas.

For instance, why do we celebrate our freedom by subjecting our womenfolk to slavery in the weeks running up to the festival? Which may have prompted, why do girls break up 2 weeks early to 'help their mothers' while boys study on blissfully for an extra week to keep them from under their mother's feet? Questions also have a horrible habit of veering from their course. A question may have been popped to our own paragon of inclusivism and bridge-building: should not a publicly funded school with a mission to 'understand the world we live in' have a day off for the national holiday of the royal wedding especially when an honour from those quarters is so hankered after?

But trust the 'rabbi' to come up with a solution. Yes, question will be asked but only by the highest class. Yes, questions will be asked but we will decide who will ask them. Yes, question will be asked and we'll even set the questions for the questioners. The mission does after all also include moral understanding and we cannot afford to allow morals to fly out of the window for the sake of satisfying a guest as exalted as he may be. So a question on anti-Semitism will do very nicely thank you but as for more pressing issues, girls, that's not for our sort yidn.

As for Rebbetzin Sacks, well that's a bit of a touchy matter. It is after all a girls' school so perhaps it would be fitting for the Chief's wife to come along. But then there are rebbetzins and rebbetzins. In our environs we like them plump with 15 layers of clothing, skirts till the Maginot line to repel would be invaders, shrapnel proof hosiery and sheitels if not evocative of a mop then hidden away altogether under some contraption of a kerchief. If you are a chief rebbetzin like, say, Padwa you must also instigate campaigns of tznius (and more on that shortly). But rebbetzins of the Sack's variety, well how shall we put it, she may just give the girls some wrong ideas. You know, that rabbis' wives too may look presentable and even attractive, and that, we're afraid, is not quite part of the school's mission. It is just possible that the rebbetzin too didn’t particularly cherish pre-Pesach meetings of the haggard-eyed sisterhood in turbans with one hand on their hips and another cupping their chin, 'and where are you up to with Pesach?'

Truth said, since her photo would not appear in the papers and definitely not in the company of the ever so photogenic 'rabbi' she was hardly missed. The meeting of the two titans, nos. 1 and 8 respectively in the Power List (of which more here) served its purpose very well without her. Each can go back to his respective constituency enhanced by the visit. No. 1 can demonstrate how his clout reaches even in darkest N16. It might even earn him a rare photo in the Hamodia or Tribune as part of the bargain notwithstanding that to all intents and purposes he was brought in through the tradesman's entrance to address as softie an audience as could be mustered.

And no. 8? Well, he can yet again parade his Cheshire cat grin showing off the extent of his reach to parts others can’t even touch with the ever so subtle subtext that from a perch so high nothing can be toppled.

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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Chief Rabbi and London Beth Din: Then and now

To those interested in these matters here is a lengthy article on the right-left tensions between the Chief Rabbinate and the Beth Din which exist till this day. They may well intensify depending on the United Synagogue’s choice of the next Chief Rabbi.

As to this future appointment in some two and a half years Miriam Shaviv suggested, rather mischievously, in last week’s JC that elections be held for the next Chief. One of her arguments is that in any attack from the London Beth Din and further to the right (east?) the new Chief would be able to point to a popular mandate. I am afraid that those attacking from the right care little for popular mandates and if anything will make him more of a laughing stock in those quarters. Back room deals over dead bodies a la Padwa are the order of the day round here. And this is before even opening that delicious can of worms on whether women too would be allowed to vote…

Debates even of a halachic nature do not sway these people as was seen recently in Israel when there was disagreement between Rabbis Elyashuv and Yosef over conversion issues. Rather than trade barbed euphemisms if not direct insults in lengthy responsa employing puns and paraphrases of biblical and talmudic verses as has traditionally been the custom of the rabbis, Elyashuv threatened a demonstration. It appears that the ‘world’s leading halachic authority’, who’s barely put pen to paper in recent years and even further back has no seminal work to his name, is resorting to mob rule. At over a hundred he must be tiring from the tirade of verbal, unreasoned, if not unreasonable, rulings on anything from crocs on Yom Kipur to Shabbos lifts and prefers the power brought about by the masses and the occasional dirty nappy.

And so we come to a situation where it is the Torah-less politicians and the gentiles who conduct arguments by debate and decide by common suffrage and it is the rabbis who employ mob rule. Apparently the chosen weren’t meant to choose for the concept of choice implies that there is more than one legitimate way. Since there can be only one version of the truth giving people any say in any matter is heresy and so forbidden and bless the Lord for the state we’re in.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Happy Purim

JT Eiruv - CopyIf anyone has a sense of mischief how about this? Hire a horse drawn funeral hearse with flowers spelling out E I R U V and a large banner wishing our dear rabbi Happy Purim and have it ride up and down the Hill and the Common all of Sunday.

After all even Mordechai of the Purim story defied him to ride a horse.

Disjointed Union

Many of you have probably seen this but here it is anyway for those who haven’t.

I won’t have time to do anything humorous for Purim but who needs humour when the head of the poultry division chickens out of a public meeting?

 

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Prepare to meet thy machers

image[6] - Copy

If you live in Golders Green where you are wont to honour the ethos of the Union in its breach you will have ‘another opportunity’ to meet your masters. If however you are unfortunate enough to live in Stamford Hill please stay there and do not even dream of gatecrashing as by the size of your beard and length of your jacket shall ye be known and many have of late been expelled. Unless you are one of the panellists in which case it appears you are not welcome unless you are from Stamford Hill as it is only we who know what's right and wrong for you. Your role in Yiddishkeit is to turn up, pay up and shut up while we ‘are you moitse’ in the more pesky areas. Perhaps shutting up should be qualified since questions may be put a couple of light years ahead of the meeting or 'via the chairman' so as to ensure what not to address.

It is not for this blog which generally limits itself to the holy square mile to comment on a meeting to which we weren’t invited even first time round. It is your and not our day of reckoning that is nigh and don’t look to us to bail you out. Besides, we as a rule are less supine and reverential than you genteel folk as we choose to be observant in practice and not by proxy via our hallowed rabbinical members of the Halpern Group of Companies. 'Hechover' Joe might thus find himself answering some Enfield foxes rather than via the chairman.

Nonetheless, it is we who have made our Dear Leaders available to you for an evening to milk you dry, ban the rivals, make you lay the golden egg and finally bury you with gemutlichkeit, and it is only right that we should let you benefit from our experience in handling them. Moreover, since 'the Public' means only the male folk, and since the date for submission of questions passed almost simultaneously with the appearance of the notice - they are sharp, you must give them that - and since email is not the medium of communication for loyal member who obey their rabbis, and since some may find 'via the chairman' rather Putinesque, we will as a public service make our comments section available for you to ventilate your concerns.

Below are some examples to get you going:

Why if we GGers are so important to your organisation is the entire panel from Stamford Hill? Ever heard of No taxation without representation or, to you Joe, is that not a Toiredike value?

Will you be banning Ecksteins meat if they defect to Schneebalg?

Can Joe please clarify who owns Enfield and what its vast turnover (chevre put you in, foxes take you out) is funnelled into?

Do feel free to add questions of your own but please, as Basil Fawlty would no doubt advise, don't mention the eiruv.

(Thanks to sender of notice)

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Maid in Heaven

Kolel Polin - Copy

Courtesy of Hirshel Tzig

To the Hebraically challenged: the above is a greeting in a charity brochure. Since charity receptions and the occasional dinner are the best we have for going out in the evening, for men that is, the charity brochure is the equivalent of the society pages in Tatler. Not unfortunately who’s going out with whom as it happens so quickly round here that you’ve barely kissed the mezuze to go out and it’s time to come back in for the l’chaim announcing the engagement.

Besides being the only distraction from drawn-out speeches by speakers internationally renown from their lectern-thumping histrionics, the brochure is also an indicator of who’s going places. ‘He? Last year he had a silver page and this year a diamond! Not bad. What’s he into?’ And ‘Where’s he, didn’t he have a platinum last year? Nebech, men hot im baganvet. I hear his wife’s started a playgroup.’

It is customary in such instances for pages to be donated for the elevation of dead souls. Or rather the souls of dead bodies since we’re generally dualists in matters of body and soul. So if while you’re alive they’ll smite your body to benefit your soul, when you’re dead they’ll feed on others for the same purpose. As Bob Dylan might not have said, ‘they’ll stone you when your trying to earn some bread/they’ll stone you when you’re try’na be so dead. Everybody must get fleeced’ Besides, you cannot really write ‘In Loving Memory’ as we don’t do love plus it’ll make you sound like a United Synagogue member. What next, gravestones in English?

For similar reasons while your wife can join you at the bottom of the page as ‘Joe Blogsovitch and his missus’, first names are verboten. Females round here generally get first names for 3 reasons: for use in supplications when their child is ill (or if they’ve committed a misdemeanour, when they’re older), for matrimony and for when they’re dead. Other than that they might as well be numbered since you don’t really need a first name to cook supper or give birth even a dozen times.

The page above is from just such a brochure taken out by one of the great and good of the community whose wife is a scion of an even greater and better family, especially if these things are calculated by bank balances. The souls being elevated are of a man and woman both whose names are given in full. But instead of the greeting, or whatever you call such elevations, ending with ‘X and his companion’, ‘companion’ or ‘pair’ being acceptable Hebrew metaphors for one’s better half, some copy writer with a sense of mischief substituted  ‘companion’ with ‘and his maid’.

‘Not nice’ I hear you say and it is indeed despicable considering his status and esteem. One doesn’t as a rule announce one’s maid in a charity brochure. But on the other hand it’s still preferable to spelling out her name in full since that could have aroused lascivious thoughts in readers even while being excoriated in sermons for just such thoughts. As the Talmud tells us, ‘Where there is a desecration of God’s Name, honour is not afforded even to the great.’

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Publish and be lauded

Guys, I feel like a diva at La Scala on the final curtain call. I bow before you all, tilt my head slightly back and thrust it forward propelling my hair, sorry my sheitel, into the air and over my face so that my head looks like a willow in the storm of applause. What should I tell you? I’m overwhelmed. Hits have shot up as if my site overdosed on Viagra, with a hechsher of course, (I now know what they mean by stats porn, you know that feeling a rebbe gets at a sell-out tish), laudatory emails have been raining in from the chareidi blogosphere kings of yesteryear and the Hill is alive with the sound of comments. In the middle of it all stand I shaking like receiving my first Oscar and feeling, like the real winner, as if my career has peaked. Of my Warholian 15 minutes I can only say may they last for 120.

But as my father always told me, 'don't let these things get to your head'. And as we were taught at the age of 9 in the ethical primer The Paths of the Righteous in the chapter titled The Gate of Humility you must take credit for very little and confidence building is only kosher if it comes from a heimishe speaker who has devoured all of Carnegie but quotes only the Talmud and R' Avigdor Miller. So perhaps it's time to shut up about myself and get on with the issues at hand.

Rereading the Telegraph article several things struck me. Apparently there is help and support for Gays and Lesbians in the community. This is from the 'rabbi's' mouth and he does not lie. Is this advice under the auspices of the Union? Is it supported by the local rabbonim? Does it have a hotline where confidence is guaranteed? 'Rabbi': for once we want to hear what you have to say so please fill us in. Otherwise we may have to resort to the communal forum in the letters page of the News Update.

Still with the 'rabbi', he mentioned that 100% of parents opt out of sex education. I have spoken to several parents and they tell me they opted for it just like they opted to attend the tzniusfest. Actually with that there was a great deal of effort to cajole parents to come along and enjoy an evening of stories of miracles of girls whose lives were saved by their thick blouse and 80 denier tights. But with sex education since it's never been on the menu how do we opt? Perhaps he opts for us just like he talks for us. Anyway, since our motto has always been 'No Sex Please, We're Chareidish' by opting in you'd lose that 24-carat definition of Chareidi which got you in in the first place and so you’d have opted out. A bit of a Catch 22 with a Talmudical twist. A Bateman cartoon of 'The parent who opted in' should be one to treasure though.

Then there is Buffoon Yitzchok’s alter ego about all of us being happy. I am; are you? You're not? Aha, you're not following the path of the Torah. A few years in 're-education' should sort you out. I particularly liked the finishing flourish about us being 'survivors' in reply to the question of difficulties with housing, employment and all the other tribulations that Satan lets loose on the happy bunch.

Survivors. What a classic. Hint at the juicy bits of Jewish history like Egyptian bondage, Hellenist subsumation, Roman imperialism, the crusaders, inquisition, blood libels, pogroms and the rest and then draw a subtle equation to housing benefit cuts and unemployment. Listen guys, we’re as innocent now as we were innocent then. We survived Pharaoh and Antiochus and we'll survive Cameron and Osborne. Unless I have misread it which is of course always possible .

And finally there are the leaks. I’m not referring to the carbon monoxide variety which has an entire classroom and teacher doze off. For that we praise the Lord and keep shtum; ‘parents can sometimes be such a nuisance’. I mean the more serious leaks which some people actually want publicised. A nice little earner on the side as they say but what can I do if people send them to me? I suppose it is the price of fame that you must publish and be damned. Or as a wise rabbi could have put it, you'll be more damned if you don't.

Friday, 25 February 2011

The holy square mile dissected

We’re in the news again and this time not for the wrong reasons. The Daily Telegraph has a long article in tomorrow’s magazine on chareidi Stamford Hill which they have put online. A nice and fair write up overall. The usual suspects, the buffoon, the ‘rabbi’, make an appearance and there is the oft recycled canard of Pinter senior establishing YH schools. As if. More like he climbed to the top and once there shoved everyone out of the way bar his children of course. But that’s for another day.

There are however other voices too and the writer has taken the time and effort to visit Dunsmure Road and Egerton Road. I mean how many journalists do that, though Oldhill Street may be too much to ask. You can’t fault a journalist who tries to gain entry to a kolel either and I suspect many will be relieved that his request was declined.

Yours truly is also allowed a few words edgeways though not quite enough to rain on anyone’s parade. But I’m not complaining because the article is far more comprehensive with context, historical background and research than anything I’ve seen for a long time.

What such articles however confirm more than anything is that so long that we, myself included, don’t take the law into our own hands no one will do it for us. The Telegraph or other papers or even the JC can only give us so much time and unless something of note takes place we are only one of many and there’s a limit to how much space can be dedicated to us. No one will ask the ‘rabbi’ the awkward question if we are not prepared to ask them ourselves and no one will challenge the buffoon on the rubbish and hypocrisy he spouts week after week if we ourselves can’t stand up to him.

Whether it is corruption, nepotism, endangering of lives (and I hear rumours of something major on that front), fundamentalism or downright stupidity you can either stand up to be counted or deserve what you get.

Scandal: Groom kisses bride

Stamford Hill has got itself into a lather once again. We're barely out of the last lather whatever that may have been, skirts have been lengthened by an eighth of an inch, Shabbos candles are being kindled 5 minutes earlier to atone for whatever it was that got us into that lather and to appease God to get us out of it, malicious talk is being avoided with ever greater intensity, psalms are being recited fervently everywhere from the doctors' surgery to the benefits advisor's waiting room, horses are being kept even further at bay and women have taken it upon themselves to recite the Song of Songs on the Sabbath eve. Not, heaven forefend, to get them going for the conjugal relations of the evening; that's what they wear their long flowing robes for. And it is precisely for this reason that Rebetzen Padwa has banned wearing them outdoors lest it incite in others what it's intended to arouse in its wearer's basherte.

The Song of Songs rotas may however have been a step too far. The Committee for Enhancement of Stringencies for the Release on Bail of Alleged Child Abusers is hastily reconsidering the guidelines for stringencies which may be adopted in such situations. One must be very careful in these precarious times when dangers lurk not just on the web and in an ipod but can make its way even into the Holy Scriptures and thus into the fragile minds of our dear innocent womenfolk.

For I'm afraid to relate that that is just what happened. A bride and groom who, we can only surmise, studied the book of Song of Songs too fervently and without the aid of the rabbinical commentariat came to believe that the words actually mean what they say. They read about eyes like 'doves by the water streams' without interposing the rabbinical interpretation of shuls and shtibels, they hummed about locks of hair 'wavy and black as a raven' without realising that it refers to hair-splitting halachah, and when they recited the passage about breasts compared to 'two fawns, twins of a gazelle' they ignorantly imagined them to be something other than the poles of the ark of the covenant. We're in Stamford Hill for goodness sake where blouses are shaped to avoid any hint of prancing gazelles.

It will come as no surprise that when reading about lips like a 'thread of scarlet' it didn't occur to our couple that King Solomon of a thousand wives fame was really referring to biblical spooks keeping their promise to a harlot. It was thus only a short mental jump that 'let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth' became, to our entire community's eternal shame, an actual smoochy.

And so I come to this, sordid to some, romantic to others, affair. At a local wedding several weeks ago after the ritual dance of the Mitzvah Tantz the groom, take a deep breath, kissed none other than the bride. I am afraid that it is difficult to dress up the words to make them sound prettier or more decent for the events were really as stark as they sound.

To appreciate the enormity of the transgression in a single simple peck and the scandal that erupted in its wake it would be helpful to provide some background and mise en scène to the grand institution of the Mitzve Tantz. Admittedly not of the like to be seen at a big fat gypsy wedding though a wedding dace nonetheless.

After the wedding meal, or banquet if that's what you call a menu of 'chicken or shnitzel, sir?', not to mention the roast potatoes, washed down with fizzy pineapple juice and cherryade and presided over by mumbling rabbis all but drowned out by chattering females voting with their mouths. 'Women, derech eretz!' This in turn is followed by an hour's dragging the feet in circles to lame tunes from a badly amplified keyboard after which is served ice cream and grace after meal is recited. No wedding however is a real wedding if does not culminate with a jester stroke troubadour that is the badchen getting up on a chair in the centre of the hall between rows of chairs on either side, one side for women the other for the men, and jesting and rhyming till pre dawn if the knot is being tied between rabbinical DNA and 2am for the riff raff. Even a punctilious Golders Greener wannabe with a thick gartl round his bursting short jacket wouldn't be over with it before one o'clock in the morning.

With a whole night to spare, the badchen can regurgitate his stock of flat jokes and worn out anecdotes, rhyme invocations to the dead grandparents, the patriarchs and matriarchs of the families freshly brought together, wax lyrical encomia of the parents who sacrificed their all to raise their children on the true path of tradition, and solemnly exhort the young couple how to build their new home and avoid the primrose path of dalliance. Mascara and foundation dissolve in rivulets of tears, tissues are scrunched, eyes are dabbed, noses are blown while the souls from paradise, who according to the badchen pay us a visit to bless the new young couple for their future life, yawn and pray to be released so they can return to where the jokes are funnier and the food tastier. One by one the men are called up to the honour of dancing with the bride which entails wagging a long belt held by the bride at the other end, until finally it is the turn of the groom to arise and take his newly wedded wife by the hands for a dance.

And what a sexually charged dance it is. A couple who have spent their lives segregated from the delights the opposite sex has to offer, spent less than 2 hours in each other's company prior to their betrothal a year or so earlier and celebrated the entire wedding meal and dancing separated from the person they are about to bed. A dance in full view of men and women who spend similarly segregated lives and who are charged with enforcing this segregation on others, men and women who never held hands in public since they danced this same dance, who never embrace other than behind the confines of the locked bedroom door. In the midst of this the dear groom takes his bride by the hands, no less, and dances. Yes, dances. True, no swaying hips and wiggling posteriors, no hands in the air, no foxtrot, tango or waltz, no closed or open embrace. It may be simply holding hands and shuffling along or for the very holy swaying as if glued to the dance floor, yet what a dance it is.

As we are always told where there is sanctity and holiness Satan is never far behind hatching up some devilish plot. And if Stamford Hill is the quintessence of all that is holy Satan must be working overtime to ensnare our pure innocent souls. So it came to pass that a travesty was committed in our midst and where there once was sanctity there now is profanity and where pure virginal white once reigned it is now besmirched by dark forces conspiring to draw us further into this promiscuous vortex of wickedness and iniquity.

For this is where our little story takes a slightly different ending. The adults were watching the first pigeon steps of these little kiddies starting out on the road of life to the traditional tune of 'A woman of valour' when the road suddenly veered to the left. The dance climaxed not in the groom’s father coming to the rescue but in a centrifugal motion of a kiss. He in his glistening new shtreimel, she in her barely worn sheitel, angelic faces sanctified by fasting and purified by immersion in ritual baths and yet the devil managed to seal this holy night with a kiss. One tiny movement for the lips; one giant retrograde leap for Stamford Hill.

And from a barely audible smooch there grew a tumult. Varicose-veined 80 year olds exclaimed that they had not heard or seen anything like it. 50-somethings recall a similar story in their days and add in a tremulous whisper 'the couple separated within 6 months. She was so embarrassed.' Only the youngsters wonder between themselves, 'what's the big deal', and are immediately shut up by their older sisters. 'Are you mad? What are you a yeed for? You think you're clever? Didn't you see there were children about? It's because of people like them that Shoshi almost died last week of swine flu'.

That too passes and the lid cannot remain fastened for long on our overflowing repository of kindness. 'It was a mistake', some say, 'it can't have been for real, he would have to be mad to do a thing like that.' Others while condemning this vile act committed in public express solicitude for the parents. 'Nebech, do you know what they must be going through?' How could a child be so selfish? How could he do something like that to his parents? Where's his hakoras hatov, his gratitude?' And while the youngsters are desperately trying to get hold of the clip, 'Her sister has it and her mother has begged her to delete it but she won't,’ the pious won't discuss it other than for the moral in the story. 'I remember she believed in showing the children DVDs when they were younger,’ and they nod incredulously at the naivety of some parents.

After which more theories abound than following a hold-up on the Hill. The brother in law, yes that one, put him up to it. The choson was ambushed that this is how things are done 'in our family and you cannot embarrass my sister and mother by doing things differently. Just be a man and not a chasidisher wimp and do what a man has got to do.'

To which the more shrewd retort, 'Don't be so naïve. It was for a lark. Of course it was. His friends bet him £100 and he went for it. And what do you think? She loved every bit of it showing off her newly kissed cheek to whoever cared to look.'

I am proud to report that the community did not sit idly by at this travesty committed in its midst. There are still some principled people about who feel compelled to protest and in due course a poster went up in town condemning this promiscuous act. Not so principled as to put their names to it but they did form a committee and did take time to draft and print the notice, translated below for the benefit of my dear readers, so you cannot write them off altogether.

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The Committee of Rabbis for the Purity of Our Camp - London, may Zion and her provinces be built

Under the leadership of the rabbis of our town may they live to a ripe old age

With the help of the Name who is Blessed

The fourth day of the reading of the portion "And you shall be holy men unto me" 21 Shevat 5771 to the small count

Here London may Zion and her provinces be built.

Tidings were heard and our bellies rumbled over an impure incident, not on us, and over a travesty that was committed among Israel on the 5th day of the reading of the portion of "and they encamped in slackness" during the celebration of the wedding of the daughter of one of the upright members of our holy community ([initials]) that is a terrible and awesome desecration of the Name and a serious breach in the walls of the boundaries of sanctity and modesty in our town God forefend.

And so that the people should not say, ‘since the rabbis remained silent it is testimony to their approval’ God forbid, we therefore consider it a duty upon ourselves in accordance with the law of the holy Torah to emerge and protest with all severity against this vile act that has no justification whatsoever.

And we thus proclaim that no one should dare to shed the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven God forbid and repeat such shameful acts and we shall stand upon our watch with the help of the Name the Blessed with all means we are capable of to restrain against the destroyer.

And may God fence the breaches of His people with mercy amen so may it be the will.

And we thus come to sign

The Committee of Rabbis for the Purity of our Camp - London may Zion and her provinces be built"

And somewhere in a quiet room a draw is opened, a paper is withdrawn and carefully unfolded to reveal a list, and at the bottom of the list there is added a name.

Four years hence and another child will not have a school.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

How the rabbis stole Purim

News arrives of yet another ban. This time it's not the internet, DVDs, tight blouses, short skirts, walking on one or other side of the road but on walking out altogether. For the rabbis in their eternal wisdom have banned yeshive groups from hiring buses or other forms of transportation on Purim. They have cited the excuse of killjoys up and down the country, 'health and safety' and so killed the modicum of fun that is allowed once a year to penetrate our sacred square of the holy mile and have accomplished what even Haman was not capable of.

Since they don't follow the news, except insofar as it concerns cuts to housing benefit, it appears that they have yet to hear that the Labour government has been out of power for almost a year and health and safety has been declared by the new government a 'music hall joke'. But then what’s a music hall? It is however hoped that having jumped onto the 'elf and saifty' bus more concern may now be shown for the unharnessed children shepherded around morning and evening, weekdays and weekends, public holidays or not in overcrowded vans with their drivers honking their horns while on mobile phones. Or perhaps, just perhaps, it is that our media 'rabbis' and 'police liaison’ machers who are embarrassed by the display of our singing and dancing culture in the open and so have ensured to rid us of their once-a-year red faces.

Mind you talking of jokes there is little to beat the most recent ban, even more recent than the one above. In the run up to Purim a local camera shop, the Camera Media Centre in Dunsmure Road had an idea. An idea? In Stamford Hill? A shop called ‘media’! You can see where this is heading. Anyway, they hired a horse drawn carriage to peddle their wares up and down the square mile. And so a carriage was hired, horses were harnessed, adverts placed, goods displayed, driver seated, whip in hand and…

Horse - Copy

But then a whip even larger and even thicker appeared.

The horses had not dumped some manure on our litter-free streets before the rabbis beat them to it. For no sooner had the blinkers been affixed and the rabbis snorted. Nein, they said. We can't have horses in Stamford Hill. Just imagine what will happen if a brother were to take his little sister to see the sight, his sister meets a friend and presto the boy will be in the company of an alien girl, Go- forbid. Out! No horses in our stables.

There is a saying, if your horse says no, you either asked the wrong question or asked the question wrong. With a rabbi it's the right question that gets you no, no and no every time. To paraphrase a Yiddish proverb, itself a paraphrase of a verse in Proverbs, there is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against a stubborn horse rabbi.

Or as we say in England, a horse, a horse, my rabbi for a ferd!