No Cause for Alarm

January 25, 2009

So what would you do? Your kid’s at a Jewish school. They, quite rightly, have regular emergency drill practices, often without prior notification, including lock-downs to simulate responding to an attempt to gain unauthorised entry to the building. Only this time they sent text messages the parents saying “we have an emergency situation at the school. Please don’t attempt to get to the school” (or words to that effect). The thing is, if such a thing happened for real, should they send such a message to parents?

Well in this practice they did. Naturally, many Jewish parents ignored the request to stay away and the streets of north west London almost went into gridlock. So much for “please don’t attempt to get to the school” (or words to that effect).

What did they think was going to happen? A text back from parents saying “Sure, no problem. Good luck with it. c u l8r’?

Or maybe, “That’s a relief. I’m in the middle of the meeting so I wouldn’t have been able to contribute to the gridlock anyway. Tell the hostage takers to hang on to my kid until about 2 please – I doubt I’ll be able to get away from the office until 1.30 at the earliest.”

Of course this is serious stuff. And my understanding is that the text was a mistake in the first place. It should never have been sent, but isn’t it good that it was? The school now knows what would happen if, in a real emergency, they sent out texts saying “hey folks, we’ve got a real emergency going on down here, but you just carry on as normal and we’ll let you know how it all pans out. Whatever you do, don’t come down here because you’ll cause a right old rumpus with the parking” (or words to that effect).

What they found out is that Jewish parents (and, no doubt, non-Jewish ones in a similar situation) would ignore such an email and get over to the school pretty sharpish. Now there’s a surprise.

So maybe the plan was to let people know that it was a drill, and therefore there was no need to panic, but if so they might, just might, have thought to put “Oh by the way folks, it’s just a drill this time no need to make like the car chase in The French Connection” (or words to that effect).

But why the text at all if it’s a drill? To test the effectiveness of the message sent? If this was the actual text message they would send in a real emergency, they now know what the response would be to the “don’t come down here” bit, as if they really needed to test that. And if it was all a silly mistake and someone sent the message out but didn’t think through what they were composing then the school at least needs to do a little more refining of the plan including setting out clearly what messages say and when they are sent.

My Wedding Nightmare

January 5, 2009

I went to a non-Jewish wedding.  It was a nightmare.  If you’ve ever seen the Martin Scorsese movie “After Hours” you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about.

This wedding was in a place called The Countryside.  I don’t know exactly where that is.  It doesn’t matter really.  All I know is that there are no Jews there. It was midwinter, and we had been invited to the reception only, the church being too small to accommodate everyone.  That suited us just fine.  It’s cold enough in the winter, but even colder inside a church, strangely.

The venue for the reception was an old Tudor manor house and we were invited for 7pm.  Perfect.  We spent a relaxing day exploring The Countryside and then changed into our formal get-up before making our way to the dinner and dance.  As we entered the place we were aware that there weren’t many people around, but were assured that this was the right location.  Ushered into a large and dimly lit room that doubled as a cold storage warehouse, we found two other couples and a small bar.  It turned out that we weren’t early, but that the main party hadn’t yet finished eating and were somewhere else in the building.

I asked if there would be any more to eat, since, with the time gone 7pm I was likely to faint if I was to be denied my evening meal.  “Oh yes,”  I was told, “there’ll be sausage rolls and chipolatas later”.  “What!” I demanded,  “When was the evening meal being served?”  It transpired that the wedding party was, in fact, coming to the end of the evening meal and we had been invited to drive all the way to The Countryside for a disco.  Who on earth sits down for their evening meal at four in the afternoon?  More to the point, who invites someone to a party for 7pm without feeding them?

So there we were, in the middle of nowhere and I was in the early stages of starvation.  Well, I thought, since we’re here let’s have a drink and consider our options.  I approached the bar, and as I did so noticed a chalkboard announcing the prices for the drinks.   I hadn’t brought my wallet.  Why would I?  Who needs money at a wedding?  I had never felt so humiliated.  First no food, and now I had to pay for my drinks.  What was this?  A business initiative?

There was only one thing we could do.  We drove back to our B&B to pick up my debit card and a couple of warm jumpers.   We then drove through about 20 villages before we found a hole-in-the-wall and then searched for something to eat, eventually queuing for fish and chips (in black-tie).  We ate in the car, being careful not to drip grease into our laps.

After a round trip of about 50 miles we arrived back at the party, which was, by now, in full swing.  Some people were dancing so enthusiastically that the icicles were falling from the ends of their noses and they were slipping in the puddles that were forming at their feet.

The bar tender was unimpressed by my request for two Cokes.  It appears I should have been ordering large measures of vodka with them.  To be fair I could see his point;  this could easily have been Siberia, after all. I only ordered Coke because they weren’t doing hot chocolate.  Fortunately, by now it was so late that we didn’t need to stay long and furthermore, the bride and groom were so schicker that they would have neither noticed nor remembered our presence.  We quickly said our good-byes and retreated to the B&B.

It was a truly sobering lesson.  While we Jews kvetch about the cost of putting on a wedding that has to be even more spectacular than the Goldberg do last year, the gentiles have got it all worked out.  When it comes to my turn to host a wedding party, God willing, I’ll be attaching invoices to the invitations.

Ken Livingstone the History Man

January 4, 2009

Reiterating a notion put forward by musician Brian Eno on Friday at the demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy, Ken Livingstone announced “This (Gaza) is a ghetto, in exactly the same way that the Warsaw Ghetto was and people are trapped in it. Under those conditions angry young men will take up arms”.

Gaza is the same as the Warsaw Ghetto? I didn’t know that but Ken is a man who has taken a deep interest in these matters for many years. He must have a point. I thought I’d research the assertion further as I’m embarrassed to admit that while I was aware of the Warsaw Ghetto I have no detailed knowledge of it.

It turns out that Ken is absolutely right. Gaza is indeed a modern day mirror image of the Warsaw Ghetto. Some of the most striking parallels are as follows:

1 In the Warsaw Ghetto young men did indeed take up arms against their oppressors. They fired hundreds of missiles week after week out of the Warsaw Ghetto into neighbouring towns causing those communities enormous stress and fear.

2 For many years the Nazi occupiers of Poland had tried to make peace with the Jews but the Jews would have nothing of it, regularly sending young children into areas of high civilian population to blow themselves up taking as many Polish lives as possible with them.

3 The Warsaw Ghetto, should more accurately be described as Warsaw for it was indeed the entire city of some 45 square kilometres that the 440,000 Jews inhabited, not a 9 square kilometre district.

4 It should also be stressed that the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto were able to travel freely around the entire 360 square kilometre area known as the Warsaw Strip and not confined to within the ten feet high walls of the ghetto itself.

5 Gaza residents are systematically shipped off to concentration and labour camps, just like their predecessors in Warsaw.

Of course, we know why Ken makes these provocative pronouncements. He knows that by equating Israel to the Nazis he presses Jewish buttons. And why does he want to press Jewish buttons? Because he doesn’t like Jews. This was proved beyond any reasonable doubt when he doggedly refused to apologise for likening journalist Oliver Finegold to a concentration camp guard – clearly a deliberate attempt to goad someone on the basis of their religion. That’s racism isn’t it? This is why he couldn’t bring himself to apologise to Oliver Finegold in spite of warnings that it would cost him crucial votes in the 2008, which it did.

The simple truth is that Ken Livingstone can’t tell the difference between Jews and the state of Israel, or else he can but refuses to do so.