Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Stamford Hill retrospective – Volvo City

This is a TV documentary on Stamford Hill from some time during late 80s/early 90s.

The days before the Previa was invented (or did it take us time to make the discovery?), when mobile phones were the size of bricks, when Pinter was still ‘Abraham’ and a mere Deputy Headmaster and when the cops didn’t have to engage in PC claptrap. There are some real gems there especially from our dear old friend and a nice reminder of what sheitels looked like in those bygone days.

Some things however never change. According to the police officer in the programme ‘this particular community are on the edge of forever but their forever is back, behind them… It’s almost as if the future is irrelevant apart from the messianic legend.’

If you think he’s overstating his case look out for next week’s jamboree at Ally Pally when they’re going to rail against the internet and technology. Time to chuck out your microwave ovens, folks.

Friday, 27 July 2012

NOlympics 2012

Living in Stamford Hill you wouldn't think that little more than a couple of miles away the biggest show on earth is about kick off in under 24 hours. The top end of the Amish Kapoor sculpture may be just about visible from our unlawful lofts but believing prevents you from seeing. Zaha Hadid could have designed the foundations rather than the roof of the Aquatics Centre and we would have been equally unimpressed. And as for a minute's silence, you first must know about the dead before you can commemorate them.

True we've had some new pavements on Clapton Common which may, or may not, be part of an Olympic street improvement scheme, buses with an orange streak and Games 2012 sign ply the roads while low-flying helicopters ply the skies but that, I'm afraid, is as far as it goes. The games might as well be taking place on the Comoros Islands and we would not have been much the poorer.

For a start the Opening Ceremony is on Friday evening at 9pm which means that even if you take in Shabbos with the stragglers, schleppers, holies and dishevelled you still won't get even 5 minutes' worth of Danny Boyle's reputed masterpiece. Those chachomim had to programme it pinkt late on a Friday afternoon and this after the torch passed our area on a Shabbos. I mean just how insensitive can you get. And will Boyle include rear extensions and ceramic floor tiles to represent our contribution to this green and pleasant land? Slumdog, schmumdog, geb nor aher a millionaire.

This may all be good for a laugh but truth said it's just how we want it. I may, and do, find it all very sad and upsetting that we must keep ourselves so absolutely apart but I cannot pretend to represent my brethren on this point. It also ain't gonna change any time soon either. We want to keep to ourselves and there's as yet no law to stop us. There will be many who will share the glorious and uplifting moments of the games with their children on the web (TV is not for sharing) regardless of what the bumpkins will ban but as far as official or even semi-semi-official participation in any part, forget it.

A single, unofficial torch bearer in far-flung Lewisham who has been decried from at least one pulpit will be the sum total of our involvement. Even the one school we have that is maintained at public expense didn't deign to mention the O word even once lest it fail instantly the Chareidi doping test (in which the more doped and duped the tested the higher the score). In fact the Olympic legacy (which we'll come to in a moment) they have bequeathed to their pupils is a ban on ice skating at the local rink. Mamesh lekoved the Olympics and how very thoughtful of them.

We may of course mention the Jubilee celebrations because in our minds we are still living under the protection and grace and favour of a benign monarch. Our sycophantic leaders like anything royal because it allows them and their schools to write letters to the Queen and then lie back and dream of the honours. Frolicking with bobbies, inviting them to our events and bestowing honours on them is also kosher because power round here is hard and soft power is for wimps and schlemiels. In the tiny brains of those who run our affairs power is at the end of a baton and in the clink of a handcuff and fraternising with the bill allows some of the steely shine to rub off. But to take part in any other celebration of this county is simply something to avoid like, well, the Olympics.

But there is one noble exception. No one can accuse the rest of the world of forgetting about us completely while the London Jewish Forum has a beat to its heart. In 2010 it secured £50,000 from the Mayor's Olympic Sports Legacy programme. It was to raise a similar amount itself making it a total of £100,000. The projects the money was to be spent on included 3 "integrated sports events" of which one was to be directed at the "strictly Orthodox community." A spokesman at the time said: "City Hall is interested in those who don't do much physical activity. There is a lack of facilities in religious communities." It just makes your heart melt at the chesed directed towards us.

So what happened to this 'integrated' event whatever it is to mean? Have you heard of it? Has it taken place? Will it take place? Or is this yet another case of some terribly nice people expressing their concern for us at the very highest level and then walking off with the accolades or, in this case, the cash? I make no accusations though I did ask the London Jewish Forum for details of the event but they have as yet not replied. After all I'm not a bobby or politician so why bother?

It's not as if we don't have a representative on the Forum. Click on their website and there on the masthead with his trademark goofy smile is our representative at the top table of society. It would be nice if he could make some enquiries on our behalf when this integrated event will be kicking off especially as integration and cohesion are his hallmarks. He should act fast though or 'his' schools might ban participation before the event even gets off the ground.

But let's not be mean on the very day this fest of goodwill amongst nations takes off. Surely some bright spark will come up with a legacy for the nearby park once the games are over. It could be ideal for a wedding hall. It's closer than the Decorium, larger than YHS, cheaper than the Mayfair Intercontinental, higher than the Prince and Princess, your badchen can drone on till 4 am without disturbing anyone's sleep and last but not least it's legal. It even has large grounds so there’s potential for extending. What more can you ask for? It’s just the kind of legacy chasunos are meant to create.

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Friday, 22 June 2012

On the dangers of mobile phones

The following relates to reports of a man arrested in Stamford Hill for alleged child abuse (or for buying tzitzis for a child, if you believe local reports). I picked this up on facebook and I can’t vouch for its veracity. We do mass produce urban myths round here but it’s still a nice one.

There's no big news in this one, but it does have an interesting twist... There's a little scandal going on in (Stamford Hill) London, since yesterday afternoon. A chasidisher 'kollel' yungerman was arrested for molesting young kids/kid. The police arrived at the Kollel and asked the Rosh Hakolel if he knows 'ploini ben ploini'... the Rosh Hakolel said "No" (of course he wouldn't be a musser and give over a fellow jew to the police...). So the police told him "We know that you do know who he is... but it's o.k." Then they had two policemen block the entrance of the Kollel from both sides so no one would escape, and they placed a phone call to the yingerman's cell-phone, when the phone rang they knew exactly who the guy was and they took him away... I guess now there's more proof of the ‘danger’ of having a cellphone...!

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Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Queen and We

Living in this country I cannot but join in the outpouring of celebration for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Belonging at the same time to the Jewish religion I cannot but feel nauseous by the sycophancy of our Chief Rabbi's prayer, speech in the House of Lords and appearance on the Today programme's Thought for the Day.

We as Jews have good reason to be grateful for the stable and democratic society we live in where all religions and races are treated equally and where the rule of law reigns supreme. History has given us ample opportunity to sample an array of alternatives and it hardly need be said that they haven't always been pleasant. The Queen as Head of State embodies these values and an occasion like this gives us an opportunity to join our fellow countrymen and women in celebrating the stability of her reign and showing appreciation for her unflinching duty to the citizens of this country.

But to thank her as her "loyal and devoted subjects" for "her repeated acts of kindness to our community and its institutions" smacks of grovelling servility rather than respectful appreciation. It reminds me of an old age home in Jerusalem where residents saw fit to display on the wall near the lifts a framed appreciation to the management in similarly fawning terms. And of the cringeworthy mazel tov adverts the Hebrew teachers of local schools place in the advertising sheets when the offspring of those who deign to pay their salaries are engaged and married.

While it may be incumbent on us to show appreciation to the Queen as the titular head of state, as citizens of this country we also have a right to expect no less than these kindnesses. The idea that we as a community owe her something more than the rest of the country is belittling and insulting. The Chief should be reminded that he is not in the 19th century talking to huddled masses of refugees in Toynbee Hall in honour of Queen Victoria but his prayers are for born and bred British Jews in 2012 to honour Queen Elizabeth II.

He doesn't however stop at her kindness to us. Rabbi Sacks praises Her Majesty's sceptre as being 'law and morality, equality and freedom.' The Queen may carry out her role with grace and discretion and a great sense of duty but it is parliament and not the Queen that makes laws. And the Chief Rabbi's prayer aside, I have yet to hear of Her Majesty being referred to as an arbiter of morals. Her concern is indeed the welfare of the people of this country but her passion lest we forget is also corgis and horses. The Chief must be scaling the very top of his lofty register with "for sixty years the Queen has spoken gently to the better angels of our nature."

Here are links to prayers of the Church of England, the Catholic Church, a letter from the Muslim Council of Britain and the Chief Rabbi. To the Chief's benediction add his speech in the House of Lords, the most syrupy extract of which was republished on the front page of the JC, flavoured by his panegyric on Thought of the Day and garnished with yet another paean to the Monarch in an op-ed article in The Times.

Pray tell me, why is it that of all prayers the Jewish prayer and thanksgiving must sound as if it is addressed to the Tzar, Kaiser and Sultan all rolled into one? Are only we Jews her 'loyal and devoted subjects' and is it only we who must "express our deepest sentiments of loyalty, esteem and gratitude?" Why can the others do with a British nod of the head while we must genuflect and repeatedly fall on our knees as if it's Yom Kipur in shul? We are not minions living under her protection; we are equal citizens living in a democratic, plural society and this slobbering nonsense is insulting and belies the truth. It is precisely that we require no special favours that we are so fortunate.

It was also sneaky of Rabbi Sacks in his Thought of the Day broadcast to translate the mishna הוי מתפלל בשלומה של מלכות as 'pray for the welfare of the monarch'. The closest would be, for the welfare of the monarchy, which is for the institution and not the person. A more accurate translation however would be for the welfare of the state, or as the Chief himself translates it in his Siddur, 'pray for the welfare of the government.' That is what we ultimately pray for. The Queen is indeed the personification of the state but that still need not turn us into quivering vassals.

So yes, raise your cups in a lechaim to the Queen and join the throngs in celebrating her reign of six decades and appreciating her dedication to her citizens. But if republicanism be your bent have no qualms in joining the anti-monarchy protests for it is precisely in the fact that we are equal citizens of this Sceptered Isle to take part in all aspects of our society that we celebrate.

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Sunday, 20 May 2012

What a shot!

2012-05-20T032258Z_1_CBRE84J09EF00_RTROPTP_2_USA

Kick balls not ass!

The perfect antithesis to this Bin Laden photo.

Obama_and_Biden_await_updates_on_bin_Laden-Pete_Souza

Now wait for one of our papers to excise Merkel.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

YHS: Ofsted or no Ofsted?

Last week pupils at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School were told that there would be an Ofsted inspection yesterday and today. An ‘inspector’ duly turned up yesterday.

Ofsted have confirmed that “Ofsted is not conducting an inspection of the school on those two dates.”

Parents, as usual, were told nothing.

Can the Principal or the Chair of the Board of Governors perhaps clarify what is going on?

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Monday, 30 April 2012

I’m Backing Boris

1871

If Ken pricks us do we not bleed?

If Boris tickles us do we not laugh?

If we have a choice shall we not vote?

Friday, 27 April 2012

YHS: Chareidi v Orthodox

YH teacher hamodiaYH teacher jc

Spot the difference

Above are recruitment ads for Science and English teachers for the YH Secondary girls' school. Nothing strange in that other than perhaps they may have run out of a ready supply of ex-sem girls and so must cast their net further afield. That however should be a cause for celebration as it indicates that the latest batch of sem graduates have spent their valuable formative years studying how to de-bug lettuce and sew hems and not filling their heads with such narishkeiten as the writings of that notorious anti-semite and his musings on Brutus and Casius. We have hespeidim of gedoilim beginning moirai vraboisai not speeches to friends and countrymen about thrice refusing crowns. That is not the Torah way.

Besides, do you know that Science KS3 has life processes as a subject which in turn includes repr-duction, rachmono litzlon? Is that what we needed a state aided school for to teach our heilige kinderlech how to have more kinderlech kenienehore, chas vcholilo?

Getting back to the advert which is what brought me here in the first place, you may have noticed on first blush that one has an email in the heading while the other one doesn't. Again nothing to raise an eyebrow since different audiences have different tastes and while one type of reader may shun a school that has no email medium for communication another may be attracted for that very reason. Anyway both have an email further in the text and so it's simply a case of not shouting it out too loud.

Ok, Tickle, your obsession with YHS seems to be getting the better of you and if this is all you have to say why not just shut up?

But, let me grab your wrist, hang on a second. Take a look at the beginning of the ad and you will notice that while the one on the right begins with YHS being an "Orthodox Jewish Voluntary Aided School based in Stamford Hill" that bit has been excised from the ad on the left. One searches for an explanation and wonders if it the Orthodox in the sentence the other paper objected to or is it the Stamford Hill bit?

The Torah as always comes to the rescue and it is only when we apply the 13th rule of Rabbi Yishmael's rules of extrapolation that we can make some sense. This is the rule that where two passages contradict each other 'until along comes the third passage and reconciles between them.'

And the third way in this case being our old friend, admissions.

y-admissions

As the admissions brochure above shows the O word dares not speak its name and it's the C word that predominates: Charedi. You know who they are, I assume. That group that is on the cusp of becoming the majority of Anglo Jewry and according to the 'principal' we should be planning ahead. Presumably by rewriting JFS admissions criteria and lining up some family members for the JLC and BoD. But oy how I digress.

Didn’t I mention reconciliation? So hold on tight because we are now going on a Talmudical roller coaster and here comes a long extrapolation, exegesis, exposition and reconciliation all rolled into one.

You see, the ad on the right comes from the JC whose readers are as likely to send their kids to YHS as the Chief Rabbi on the YHS podium is likely to appear in the Hamodia, and even if those readers were to apply the very taking of that paper is likely to win their application an instant place in the waste-paper basket and memeile we can spill the beans to them that we are O in order to attract those teachers who might turn their nose up upon sight of the C word and we still won't risk chas vcholilo a queue forming at those daunting iron gates (reserved for visitors only). Ma she'ein kein with the Hamodia where the advert on the left appeared if we were to tell their readers that we are Orthodox only rachmono litzlon and based in Stamford Hill noch it could affect business for the school hall whose hirers and leaseholders may take objection to the shande of an O presence in the holy square mile. We also can't mention the C word because there is a minhag not to advertise the school lest parents whose children are not lucky enough to be enrolled in the eponymous primary school clamour to get over those railings and we can't have a rabble at our gates as if we're an apple store launching a new ip-d, chas vsholem. Let them therefore think we're in the Outer Hebrides and don't even tell them we're Jewish and then maybe they'll stop fardreiing us a kop with applications and appeals so that we have more time to concentrate on applying the 4-inch-below-knee rule. So to sum up, and here we conclude, when writing to bring them in use the O word, when writing to keep them out use that deliciously indefinable C word which works a dream for exclusions and when straddling both worlds leave it out alltogether and a plague on both their shuls.

Phew, are you still here? Well, do hurry up, applications close today!

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Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Winds of Change

Stamford Hill is changing. That may be stating the obvious though it would sound like news to many of those who descend upon us from time to time to describe us like some Amazonian tribe that talks in whistles and performs a ritual dance each time an aeroplane crosses overhead. They cannot be entirely at fault when some people who purport to speak for us like to present us as quaint delicate artefacts that are irreparably harmed when exposed to sunlight and require an army of representatives, carers, talkers to take care of our every unique need if not whim.

Yet despite their best efforts we are not what we used to be. We are more confident, more extravagant, less sarcastic and cynical, not so suspicious and secretive, less prudish and conservative, less hierarchical and respectful of authority but also brash and flash. Not all the change is for the better and there is much that I like about the old like paying for one’s way and not expecting life to be handed on a plate. I personally will never get used to the hysterical, sensational, shallow sentimentality that has been imported largely from Israel and to a lesser extent from the US.

However, I don't get to choose these things but nor can I ignore them. It would be impossible to try and lay a finger on the pulse of the up and coming and even less would I like to think what it means for our future because if one thing is certain whatever the future holds it ain't gonna be rosy. This is also a holiday week when people are extremely busy arranging outings and figuring out how to make a sandwich without the centre ingredients coming into contact with the outer layers. It is a feat that Hillel managed nicely some 2000 years ago but which appears to have been lost over time.

So rather than bore you with analysis and prognosis I present a list of old vs. new. This is not a value judgement and the old is far from dead while the new has yet to galvanise but it still tell us something. Like all lists it is likely to be invidious and undoubtedly reflects my bias but it should be fun nonetheless.

Old

New

Shops

 

Breuer & Spitzer

Carmel

Berger & Twersky

Berrys

Kleins

Firers

Hoffmans

Taam Hayam

Satmar, Oldhill

Satmar Fleisch Gescheft

Woodberry Down

Grodzinski

Shuls

 

Satmar 86

Satmar 26

Belz 99

Belz 98

Pinters

Kalish

Adath

Oireiso

Prominent families

 

Berger

Padwa

Schlesinger

None

Rabbis

 

Dayan Dunner

Reb Sholem Freidman

Rav Padwa

Herschel Schneck

Shmuel Ludmir
Reb Yossel Padwa

Boruch Leib Rabinowitz

Meilech Schwartz

Newspapers

 

Jewish Tribune

Hamodia

Der Yid

Der Blat

Kol Ho'oilom Kilo

Mishpacha

Ami

Charities/Organisations

 

Tzorchei Shabbos v’Yomtov

Tomchei Shabbos

Chevra Kadisha

Hatzole, Shomrim, Chaveirim...

Beis Broche Bikur Choilim

Reb Meir Bal Hanes

Japanese drug mules

Kashruth

 

Kedassia

Westheim

Anything with Hebrew letters?

Areas

 

West of Dunsmure Rd

North of Ravensdale Road

Machers

 

Joe Lobenstein

Avrumi Pinter

Sholem Ber Stern

Oshi Schapiro

Ita Simons

Simcha Steinberger

To watch

 

No one

Refoel Grosskopf

Aron Klein

Benzion Papier

Cars

 

Volvo

Previa

Chrysler

SUV

Schools

 

Beis Chinuch

Getters

YHS

Beis Yaakov Girls

Side by Side

Family size

 

Double digits

Shrinking

Chroniclers

 

Dudy Braun

The Shaigetz (z"l)

Eiruv

 

Fanatically against

Madly for

Benefits

 

Generally self sufficient

Heavily dependent

Lifestyle

 

Frugal and prudish

Outings to the zoo

Tsholent fress-up receptions

Quick Fit

Sport

 
Cricket, if at all

Arsenal

Tottenham

What to say

 

‘Shreklich the price of eggs’

‘What do you think of Gaby (or The Apprentice, Britain's Got Talent etc.)?’

What not to say

 
‘The beat at last night’s chasuno was gevaldik’ ‘Has your child been accepted?’

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Diary of a Scandal

The conventional view is that Pinter made it big time and on the whole it is difficult to argue with that. The fact of the matter is that Livingstone's article in last week's JC mentions just one person by name whom Ken tells us he likes and respects in equal measure. Tell me who your friends are... comes to mind which is perhaps why it was not quite the local topic of conversation last Shabbos. There is however no principle that the represented must know what is being said and done in their name and so let's get back on topic.

Rather than blow Pinter's trumpet which he is more than capable of doing on his own perhaps we should examine his role in all of this and once again ask what's in it for him. Let us take a closer look at the events of the last weeks and see how our liked and respected hero carried out his public duties as representative of the downtrodden of Stamford Hill.

12 February 2012: Ken Livingstone attends Side-by-Side dinner at the behest of Pinter. Ken's presence was not pre-announced on the invitations and begging letters for the brochure. Had it been it may have made a significant difference to the amount raised.

15 March 2012: The JC reports on a dinner attended by Ken and Jewish Labour supporters. 'Sources' briefed the paper and though I don't know who those sources are of the 25 people reportedly present only Pinter is at this stage mentioned by name. Although we were told that the discussions were off the record the report did tell us what Pinter asked for and what he didn't get. Pinter also gave a statement to the paper that he was ‘disappointed’ that Ken was given an opportunity to make amends but didn't take it. Hamodia, a large part of whose readership Pinter purportedly represents and where he is the resident spinner, is silent on the issue.

23 March 2012: The JC reports on Ken's 'rich Jews' comment that since the Jewish community was rich they were unlikely to vote for him. The 'sources' who briefed the JC the week earlier had seen fit to provide quite a bit of detail of what went between Pinter and Ken but not this. The comments were made towards the end and it's possible that Pinter was at that stage bentshing from a siddur (did they serve beer and sandwiches?). The same issue of the JC also reported on a letter to Ed Miliband by some of the attendees complaining of Ken's comments. Pinter did not sign the letter. Notably, the letter is signed by Rabbi Danny Rich who is the chief executive of Liberal Judaism in the UK and who also attended. It appears 'sharing a platform' is not quite the cardinal sin we've always been told it is.

Dan Rickman, another attendee, writes an article that Ken 'is part of the problem not part of the solution.' Jonathan Freedland, who was also at the dinner, wrote in the Guardian that he can't bring himself to back Ken. Nothing from Pinter, mind you, and nothing in Hamodia either.

29 March 2012: We finally get Ken's recantation mentioning three times the man who seems to have been least offended but who perhaps has most to offer. The JC also reports that Ken said at the start of the dinner that he is happy for it to be on the record and so whoever was briefing the paper on week 1 was either misinformed or misleading. Hamodia has finally woken up with a headline on page 5 about Ken having been 'misinterpreted' followed by a report on his 'alleged' comments. Can't they ask what was actually said?

Now that's out of the way let's get back to the Ken and Pinter lie-in. Ken is a seasoned politician and while he may have felt that he went too far this time and perhaps genuinely regretted some of his more juicy expressions he also chose his words carefully in his apology. Both for what he apologised for and to whom he apologised.

To Ken and Pinter we Stamford Hillers are fodder as the poor and not particularly zionist Jews. Ken may not give much of a monkey for them richies up north west but we paupers are different. If there are votes to be garnered here and Pinter is our saviour and protector then appeasing him must have been high on his agenda. Ken also has no need to offend our types in order to appeal to some of his other constituencies. Ken even tells us that Labour is the preferred party in North London, note the lack of 'West', though nobody's bothered telling him that it really depends whether it happens to be a Chareidi candidate.

Compare however the following: To the Jews it is "If I am elected my policy will not be to promote one faith or community over another… but to promote interfaith and inter-community dialogue." Whereas at the Finsbury Park mosque it was a pledge to make London a beacon for the Prophet's message and "make your life a bit easier financially.” Not so much a promotion of one faith as an abandonment of all others. As Philip Collins wrote in The Times, 'I don't want a mayor who pits 1m Muslims against 200,000 Jews.'

Enough of Ken though and let's now turn to Pinter. The dinner was by all accounts a meeting of Labour party supporters and Pinter did start his political life in Hackney Council when the hard left were in control and Ken was running London in his first incarnation at the GLC.

Like the best socialists he stands for the poor and downtrodden by ensuring they remain that way and don't dare rise above their station. He is the liberal who has elevated school exclusions into an art form and admissions into a misnomer. He is the progressive at whose school girls are handed fliers requesting them to undertake to stand aside and let men pass. From him you get not equal opportunities but equal opportunism where one family just happens to be more equal than others. The socialists may believe in nationalisation but he is one who has privatised in all but name a publicly funded school.

He is the school principal who prefers to leave 14% of the school budget unspent. The advocate of the poor who won't feed their offspring school dinners. The protector of the impoverished who makes the mere 4% of free school meal claimants queue demeaningly at the local bakery to exchange their vouchers. The anti-poverty campaigner who charges the unwashed £250 to retrieve helium balloons from the ceiling. He is so slippery he cannot even decide what his name ought to be switching from Abraham to Avrohom according to its ethnic political value. We have heard how Ken funnels his earnings and it's time we get some information on the school hall income and how much that generates.

Ken and Pinter are birds of a feather shockling together. Ken needs the votes Pinter can supposedly provide and Pinter needs the cover of people like Ken to continue the hegemony of himself, the missus, kids, brother, nephews, nieces and shortly no doubt grandsons and daughters too. They are next of kin and deserve no less. True to Labour's ideals he will tell us plebs what is best for us and we'll bloody well accept it on pain of having our sons and daughters walk the streets. Ken is loyal to his comrades and if it means looking aside over some tiny local school it’s only a small price to pay.

But as another Abraham said, You can't fool all the people all the time.

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Sunday, 1 April 2012

Rabbi Yehoshua (Szyjer) Szpetman z”l

Rabbi Szpetman

Last Friday (7 Nisan) was the Hebrew yortzeit of Rabbi Yehosua Szpetman about whom I wrote in this post.

Born in Lublin, Poland in 1887/8 he was the rabbi for 35 years at the Nelson Street Synagogue which was one of the larger shuls in the East End. (According to the link above there were two Nelson Street Synagogues.) A reader has helpfully pointed me to A World Apart by Harry Rabinowicz for biographical details.

According to Rabinowicz the rabbi "was not afraid to criticise spiritual or lay leaders. He hated untruths, dishonesty and hypocrisy. He frowned on displays of pretentiousness and was unique in tolerance and sympathy. He spoke more like a prophet than a preacher. He enlivened any gathering with his wit, eccentricity and his healthy irreverence. He befriended the Chasidic rebbes in London and graced most of their functions. He was popularly called the 'Red Rabbi', the Jewish counterpart of his contemporary the Dean of Canterbury, Dr Hewlett Johnson."

It’s a shame they don’t make rabbis like that any more and I hereby declare him patron saint of this blog.

Nelson St Synagogue - CopyHis views on the Chief Rabbinate are as relevant today as there were in 1947 when he wrote in a letter to the JC "…I suggest now that Anglo-Jewry is about to elect its spiritual head, would it not be appropriate earnestly to consider dispensing with the so-called title 'Chief Rabbi…"

Rabbi Szpetman was naturalised as a British citizen in May 1952 and it is interesting to read the list of new citizens for that month and the large proportion of Jewish names.

Rabbi Szpetman's grave - Copy

Rabbi Szpetman died on 20 March 1964 (7 Nisan 5724) and is buried beside his wife at the Federation Cemetery on Montague Road in Edmonton (down the road from the Prince and Princess hall). That plot contains quite a few East End rabbis from that era who are unfortunately largely forgotten.

He wrote several books in Yiddish and I’ve listed a few below. The first three can be downloaded and one is topical for Pesach. The first is a collection of speeches where you get more than a flavour of his fiery oratory and his warm humanity. A fuller bibliography is available here.

חבלי הנשמה ומוסר היהדות; לכבוד ראש השנה יום כפור שמחת תורה; פסח, ל”ג בעומר, שבועות; בגילופין, פארגאנגענע וועלטן

תנצב”ה

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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Gaby and Tikwah: The sequel

Gaby and his better half, or lonely half, were again on the telly and here I am again writing a review albeit a bit late. If this is to become a biannual event I should perhaps produce a template to adapt to the theme of their appearance. Served up last time was a discussion on the alliterative topic of farting with phylacteries while this time we got the rhyming Two Jews on a Cruise, though at times it felt more like Jews on some Booze.

Thankfully we were spared Gaby's lectures on Judaism and instead we got Gaby the hoarder, Gaby the curious, Gaby the Tehilim reciter, though only with a crowd round him, which is probably how most rabbis operate, and even Gaby the husher but at a towel origami course rather than in shul during shomne esre when Gaby is not particularly renown for his silence. As unlikely as it may sound, we even got Gaby the conciliator faithfully 'mirroring' his wife as if it's the new 614th commandment but then bolting as soon as the session was over and his figurative therapy harness unbuckled.

Overall the impression we got was of a somewhat mismatched couple who despite the odds had found a spark of some kind to keep them together. He curious, energetic, boisterous and cantankerous while all she wants is a partner to care for her and remain quite literally at her side. I dare say she is not the first wife to make such complains though probably only few have to deal with husbands who rip hangers out of suitcases and lie on the bed because 'it's her job' while his presumably is to put his feet up and watch. And yet they did hold hands which is not something we in Stamford Hill often get to do (kissing, however, was reserved for the mezuza and cuddles, according to Gaby, ‘are nothing’) and he also bought her a vase though judging by her reaction this was not a common occurrence.

There were some genuine jaw-dropping moments too. You just couldn't make up Tikwah's 'Zeus? Juice? What's Zeus? Ich ken im nisht'. And while 'shkoiech farn endikn' is regularly heard round here where we must endure bores who cannot shut up in front of a mic they barely know how to hold, as 'Thank you for stopping' it came across fresh and sharp especially when uttered towards a coach guide not en route to a simche or chasidic graveside .

There were plenty of other snippets which gave us an insight not only into the life of Gaby and his missus but also into the world they, or we, come from and which went beyond the clichés of wigs, the 'beauty' of Shabbos, side locks and prams and kids, kids and more kids. Gaby's pre-departure obsessive checking of doors and windows followed by what seemed like dozens of kisses blown at the mezuza was revealing of the security we attach to our homes and our fear of infiltration by outsiders which in turn explains our obsession if not fascination with burglaries and geneives, discussions of which one hardly gets out of earshot.

Like many a yeshive bochur settling into his airplane seat or yungerman arriving at his hotel room or holiday cottage, Gaby too made a beeline for the TV on walking into the rather shabby cabin, though let's face it few of us would have stayed on at a cabaret while the cameras were rolling. Gaby's preference for a concrete city over the tour guide's love of olive trees was as good an explanation as any for the planning problems we have round here. Following Tikwah on her own into bed with a turban while her husband went off exploring (‘for a new girlfriend?’ Tikwah quipped at one point) may have highlighted her loneliness but it also gave a good idea what our womenfolk look like when the wigs come off, and it wasn't terribly appealing.

It was moving to hear them both discuss the loss of his mother when he was born but what was missing and would have been of keen interest was how this match was brought about. Was it a case of a hyperactive, orphaned bochur being told by the matchmakers that his only solution was to go for a girl from non-heimish Holland called Tikwah? It would certainly have shed more light than a dozen light bulbs stuck in Gaby's fridge on frum Jews, their couplings, marriage and dare I say love, or the lack of it. It would have also contrasted with some of the better matched couples on the cruise who were no less Jewish than Gaby, one even left his rabbi an answerphone message with a shale, yet the women didn't walk the boat purring like lost cats in search of their husbands.

Like it or not while Gaby may be something of a caricature his domestic arrangements are not at all as atypical as some would like to make out. In fact their setup is probably a lot better than many couples round here locked into far worse arrangements which for a multitude of reasons did not unravel at a younger age and which they are now helpless to get out of. As to Gaby himself, his child-like curiosity is not too dissimilar to the gawking adults and kids that assemble round here at the slightest commotion. The price we pay for an education denied in childhood is precisely this curiosity that a lifetime of staring cannot sate.

Gaby's conviction that anyone not enjoying the spectacular Balkan mountain scenery 'must be lying' also betrays a worldview in which 'normal' opinions must be universally held. Indeed his critics who accuse him of attention seeking, one of the most heinous crimes in our 'don't stand out' society, adhere to that very same school of thought in which being of a view is not good enough unless you have persuaded yourself that others 'really' think likewise but  simply have their own reasons for pretending to disagree.

At which point it is useful to deal with the local critique which says more about the reviewers than the reviewed and how deeply uncomfortable we are in our own skins. For the most part it was the predictable trashing of TV culture and how the joke is on them rather than on us. 'Shows you the standard of the BBC that they air this rubbish,' was how one put it. Many wondered why this programme would be of interest to the wider public as if it's everyday we come across a couple like this and were at the same time uncomfortable at the specimen they chose to exhibit our way of life. This was closely followed by how meshuge Gaby is, 'And she? Just ask Chaim...' which in turn leads to, 'They only show this kind of yid because they know that deep down this is what people want to see about us.' And from there it's only a short route to the most juicy discussion of the lot.

'You know what he got for it? Over £50,000.'

'So he's not even so mad, after all.'

'Nah, it was £25,000.'

'Yes, but what about the price of the cruise?'

This particular debate ended with, 'Are you really telling me he hasn't been on a holiday for 40 years?'

'This I believe. I tell you, you don't know Gaby.'

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PFI – YHS style

pfi - Copy

The last letter is worth a mention too and I still cannot decide if it was written tongue in cheek.

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Thursday, 22 March 2012

Ken’s fig leaf

streaker-crop

I must apologise in advance for another Pinter blog but I really can't be blamed if the Great Man makes it a point of popping up in the paper every other week or indeed every single week. The man is undoubtedly a bow of many strings meeting anyone who matters and sounding off on all and sundry and surely I cannot be faulted for trying to play every note.

This time it's a meeting with Ken, or actually two. The first time was when Ken appeared as guest of honour at a dinner for the Side-by-Side children's charity. According to Geoffrey Alderman the invitation was at the instigation of Pinter who is a trustee of the charity. Our own Yaakov Shi’e Rosner also wrote a letter to the Chronicle denouncing Pinter for orchestrating the invitation.

It should be said that Pinter and Side-by-Side are not natural bed fellows. For several years prior to 2003 Side-by-Side had its premises on the grounds in Egerton Road now occupied by Yesodey Hatorah school and adjunct seminary. Side-by-Side had to be evicted by Hackney before handing the site to the school and the case ended up in the High Court where Side-by-Side lost. At that time Side-by-Side was still run by the redoubtable Mrs Rumpler, a truly inspiring woman who singlehandedly set up the school in the face of much communal derision if not outright opposition.

The charity later hit financial difficulties and was taken over by Yossel Margulies. At which point enter our good friend. Nothing to raise an eyebrow as he and Margulies happen to be first cousins and the intermingling of familial and organisational appointments is a particular feature of that clan’s DNA. The only surprise is that while Pinter pops up on this and that board of trustees ‘his own’ organisations are ring-fenced from communal bigwigs other than for ceremonious rollouts on official visits for the cameras.

As we well know, where there's Pinter there's brass which this time came in the shape of a visit from Ken providing yet another photo-op. Not content with the Side-by-Side event the 'rabbi' went one further meeting Ken with a group of Jewish labour councillors. We know only of a single name that attended and, yes, you've guessed it. We also know that the attendees were not the 'usual suspects' which would make Pinter an unusual suspect. Difficult to argue with that one.

Ken's embrace of extremists is no secret and despite Pinter's pleadings he gave no ground at the meeting. Lest Ken is dismissed as just an anti-Zionist but with nothing against Jews per se here is the full transcript of his verbal abuse when comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard. It now turns out that at the meeting Ken also suggested that he did not expect Jews to vote for him because votes for the left usually come from the poor and Jews are rich. By contrast at a speech last Friday at the Finsbury Park Mosque Ken said he wished London to be a "beacon that demonstrates the word of the prophet, peace be upon him.” He also pledged to his audience to “make your life easier, financially.” Milking the rich Jews might be a good place to start.

Wonderful bedfellow Pinter has found himself but then what don't some people do in the name of askonus. It is said that Pinter left Hackney politics at the instigation of his father who was concerned at his cosiness with the system and one wonders what his pa would have made of this.

Ken may have a fetish for beards though it could quite simply be that while embracing extremists like Qaradawi it is convenient to have cover provided by a capacious hat. One can't be accused of having an issue with Jews while simultaneously cavorting with Judaism's smiling spokesman. Let us however disabuse Ken of any notion that Pinter can deliver votes in addition to his head gear and beard. Besides the fact that this community is overwhelmingly Tory and that Boris is a firm favourite round here, Ken is detested for many more reasons than his perceived anti-semitism and actual anti-zionism. Ken's cockiness doesn't go down well in a community where parking tickets are one of the hottest topics of conversation and bus lanes something even Pinter campaigned against.

Pinter too is one of the last people capable of bringing votes for anyone other than for his preferred choice of parent governor. He is rarely seen in the flesh round here and virtually never heard other than in the safety of his own school telling parents about the generation gap that apparently exists outside the chareidi community. He may yet turn up on a soap box outside Sainsbury's alongside loonies yelling for the day of judgement but don't hold your breath.

If there is little in it for Ken the question must be asked what's in it for Pinter. He has taken a flutter on the outcome of the mayoral elections and pawned us in the process but whom exactly is he representing and for what purpose? Besides 'his' collection of schools and trusteeships he is also one of three ne'emanim (treasurers) of the UOHC. So was he representing the UOHC at the meeting? If not, would they care to disassociate themselves because he was definitely not representing the bulk of the UOHC's members who would have nothing to do with Ken even if he turned up in a streimel waving a blue and white flag.

Perhaps Pinter is hoping for an honour should Ken win. He may even have been offered a role in a future Ken administration. If the black community can have Lee Jasper why shouldn't we have our own version in the shape of a 'rabbi' and all the other titles he has amassed?

If that is indeed the case let Ken win and let the fun begin.

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