That Julie Burchill

July 3, 2009

I know it’s old news but I’ve been busy and it’s been bugging me and I don’t know why.

The JC editorial begging Julie Burchill not to convert provided some comfort with a plausible reason for JB not going through with it.  We need more non-Jews supporting us in public, so let’s try to keep those mouthy Jew loving gentiles as they are – gentiles.

My argument for not allowing her to convert is altogether less charitable, but it’s a lot more simple.  I loathe her and it would be an embarrassment if she became Jewish.  It’s already enough of an embarrassment that she used the word “we” albeit with a nod to the chutzpah employed, when asked about her interest in converting to Judaism.  That sentence…”The filthy stain of antisemitism which unites Christian and Muslim is based on their pathetic envy of the perfect, enduring faith of the Jews. We/they rock!” had me reeling at her crassness.  That’s not how Jews view Christians and Muslims I hope, and there’s no place for those attitudes in Judaism as far as I’m concerned.

I grew up as a teenage NME reader suffering Ms Burchill’s spiteful twaddle as the self-styled queen of rock journalism and I couldn’t bare to think she was joining the faith.  How would you like to find out that the school bully was your cousin?

However, I admit this is no criterium for assessing her suitability as a Jew.  So let’s consider some of her other magnificent characteristics.

Married three times and dumping her sons with their fathers after walking out on the first two.  OK, so there are plenty of Jews who are serial spouses. What else?

Well, perhaps no other converts to Judaism have celebrated their use of recreational drugs with quite the pride of our latest celebrity applicant.  Again, I’m not saying there isn’t a drug problem amongst Jews, there is, and it’s serious, and Ms Burchill is now clean, I believe, but do we still want to welcome someone with such a cocky attitude to cocaine?

In the last 10 years Ms Burchill has found God.  Several times.  First she become a Lutheran, then a Christian Zionist (whatever that is) and now she talks of converting again. Make your mind up sweetheart, or at least why not just skip mainstream Judaism and join Madonna at the spiritual top table.  I’m sure pseudo-Kabbalah will be right up your alley, and of course the social climb, sorry, religious journey will be complete, won’t it?

Look, I know the Liberals will convert someone as long as they tell them they enjoy smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels now and again but please guys, think hard about letting this one in. Please.

If you’re wavering think on this:  the orthodox reckon you will let anyone in.  Here’s your chance to show you do have some standards.


An interview with Geoffrey Cohen of Jewdas

March 25, 2009

Some call him elusive while others, well others don’t call him anything really.  It’s true that Geoffrey Cohen is not an easy person to track down but that’s mainly because he’s not very good with email addresses.  Nevertheless, in the interests of providing my readers with insights into the minds that are the future of Anglo-Jewry I traced him and travelled all the way to Hackney to speak exclusively with the 15 year old leader of what is possibly the most insignificant and futile Jewish political movement since my cousin Harry stood as an independent councillor in an attempt to extend the eruv boundary by four miles so it took in his flat in Harlesden.

Here’s that interview in full.

NWJ:  How did Jewdas begin?
GC:  It all started about two years ago as a cheder project.  My teacher was studying for a GCSE in politics at the time and he was, like, so cool.  He told me about anarchy and how it’s all about being rude and stuff.  I thought, that’s just what Judaism needs.  There’s not enough Jewish rudeness.  Everyone’s really serious all the time.

NWJ:  You tend to avoid the limelight. Is this deliberate?  Are you publicity shy?
GC:  Not publicity shy, no.  Let’s put it this way, (Cohen furtively looks all around his bedroom to check there’s nobody listening in, then, drops his voice and leans towards me) I’m really dangerous – I’m seen as a threat to the Jewish community.

NWJ:  How can you been seen as a threat if nobody’s heard of you?
GC: Also I’ve been grounded for two weeks.

NWJ:  What for?
GC:  My mum found out about the hoax email.

NWJ:  You’re talking about the email that purported to be from the Board of Deputies calling off the recent pro-Israel rally in Trafalgar Square.  Some say that the stunt was a desperate attempt to be noticed by the wider Jewish community.   How do you respond to that allegation?
GC:  Absolute rubbish.  Have you seen how many people attend our events?
NWJ:  About 20?
GC:  the last one attracted 36 and three of them were people none of us knew at all really.  Well, I knew one of them because she was at Daniel Levy’s barmitzvah, but I didn’t actually invite her, she just heard about it through Daniel.

NWJ:  And what do you do at these events?
GC:  We talk about how cheder sucks and how our rabbis are stupid, and Converse basketball boots.  Stuff like that.

NWJ:  So what’s next on the agenda?
GC:  We’re going to set up a mobile catering van outside Kinloss Gardens synagogue at Yom Kippur and sell bacon rolls!  It’s going to challenge people to think about why they fast every year religiously without recognising that they only do it because their parents and grandparents did it and because it’s part of the Jewish tradition.  See, we’re radical.

NWJ:  How are you going to cook the bacon on Yom Kippur, if you’re not allowed to light the gas on Yom Kippur?
GC:  (pauses) We’ll have to think about that one.

NWJ:  Well, I think we’d better end it there.  You’re mum said you could only talk for 10 minutes because you have homework to do.
GC:  I don’t take any notice of that bourgeois old bag.  I told you, I’m dangerous. Let’s keep going.

At this point Geoffrey’s mum put her head round the door.

Mrs Cohen:  Geoffrey. Homework.
GC:  OK. We’d better end it there then.

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.

Festive puddings

December 26, 2008

Now I’ve seen it all. The bread shop, under Kedassia supervision no less, is selling “festive puddings”. “Festive puddings”! You know what? They are dome shaped and they come wrapped in brightly coloured foil. If I didn’t know better I might think these were kosher Christmas puddings. But just to check I asked the assistant. “Are these the sort of thing that, erm, you know, the other lot eat at their festival around this time of year?” I said to her. I have no idea why I said it like that. It just seemed wrong to say the words Christian or Christmas in the bread shop on a Friday morning when I was buying my challah. I guess I was worried that it would somehow make my purchase treyf.

Anyway, the girl told me she didn’t know. Why should she? When would a nice frum girl ever have tasted a traditional Christmas, I mean, festive pudding?

After marvelling at the absurdity of this I decided to go the whole hog, if you’ll excuse the expression, and bought one. You see, the thing is, I love a Christmas pudding and while the supermarkets do a very good line in vegetarian versions, I feel obliged to buy kosher if it’s available.

In fact this year I’m going to have a kosher Christmas. The kids will collect their presents from under the Chanukah bush after we light the candles on Christmas eve and I’ll be up early the following morning to get the oven on in order to start cooking the turkey.  I have a special recipe that involves draping rashers of fake bacon made from quorn over the top. It doesn’t keep the turkey moist or tasty, but at least it looks authentic. To accompany the meat will be boiled carrots, brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, mini viennas wrapped in more fake bacon rashers (I call them cows in nylons) and a selection of stuffings, namely cholent and kishke. We’ll eat, drink (lemonade) and be argumentative.

Then at three in the afternoon we’ll all settle in front of the TV to watch the Queen’s Chanukah message to the nation.  No doubt a tear will well up in my eye as I lament the loss of the empire while tucking into my festive pudding along with a big dollop of non-dairy cream. Bleuch.

Originally posted December 19th 2008

Mazal Tov Missiles

December 26, 2008

Some weeks ago the JC printed a story about how a sweet, launched in celebration at a bar mitzvah, hit the rabbi in the face and caused him considerable discomfort.  The word on the streets of Hendon is that this was a deliberate act by a congregant unhappy with recent sermons.  I don’t believe this scurrilous rumour for a minute.  It’s beyond comprehension that someone might react in this way to a rabbi’s preaching.

What I do believe is that Jews all over the country saw this coming (even if the rabbi in question didn’t).  There was a time when there was a degree of decorum in our synagogues.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a simcha and I especially love a bar mitzvah.  Nothing brings me closer to the Lord than hearing some pre-pubescent kid I don’t know screech and yodel his way through Maf and Haf.  Still, this was a time bomb waiting to explode.

The truth is that sweet throwing is the new paint-balling.  In one shul I visited recently three school-friends of the boy were carefully installing a specially converted Gatling gun at the back of the shul when I arrived.

I also noted that nobody in the congregation was the slightest bit interested in what the poor lad was reading or how he was doing.  They were all entirely focused on him finishing, when, of course, the inevitable happened.  Rather than a gentle, celebratory shower of sweetness, the boy, and anyone else in the firing line, was assaulted by a carefully yet violently aimed barrage of boiled confection.  Fortunately the St. John’s Ambulance people were on hand to look after the several casualties.

Afterwards, and with no little embarrassment, I asked one of these volunteers what they thought of the events that had unfolded, expecting some invective about barbaric and inhumane customs that cause deep distress in the name of religion.  Instead the chap told me he thought is was great because usually they just hang around rainy school fetes and have little more to deal with than 4 year old kids with candy floss sticks stuck up their noses.  At least someone was happy.

But what upsets me most is that the bar mitzvah boy is the last person that should be subject to such treatment.  Is this the way we show appreciation for someone who has spent months learning?  Is this the way to support someone in what is quite probably the most nerve-wracking thing he’s ever done?  Is this the way to encourage young men to commit to their faith?  I think not, and what will that mean for a community already in Jewish identity freefall?

It’s clear that people have grown accustomed to sweet throwing.  The tide cannot be turned back – it’s now virtually minhag.  On the other hand we need to protect our young people.   So how about changing things just a little?  Instead of throwing sweets at the bar mitzvah I think we should throw those awful powdery biscuits with the bits of glacé cherry at whoever it is that organises kiddish.  Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll get some decent tuck after the servic

Originally posted December 5th 2008

The O2 minyan

December 26, 2008

There comes a point in life when a Jew starts to like Leonard Cohen.  It’s not the music, you understand, it’s the name.  It’s the fact that there’s this Jewish guy who’s a successful singer, a pop singer, noch, (OK, borderline pop), who didn’t give himself a new name.  If Leonard Cohen were Bob Dylan he’d be calling himself Robert Zimmerman.  Not only that, he’d be OK with his Judaism.  OK, so Cohen plays around with Buddhism but that doesn’t count does it?  It’s not like he’s converted.

And then there’s the secret code.  While the gentiles are groaning along to “Who By Fire”, we’ve got this Rosh Hashannah thing going.   When they listen to Hallelujah they get stuck on the bondage bit, when we listen to Hallelujah we get stuck on the King David bit.

I went to see Leonard Cohen last week at the O2 – the one in Docklands not the one on Finchley Road. (Am I the only person who finds it sad that a major public building is named after a mobile phone provider?  Before long newscasters will be going over to John Sergeant who’ll be standing outside the HP Sauce Houses of Parliament).  During the interval I played a game with my companions wherein we would award ourselves points for spotting Jews we knew.  I scored 14, including 3 for a rabbi.  That’s more than we managed at Shacharit earlier in the day.  Which got me thinking.  Why an interval?  Who does intervals at rock concerts?  The only thing I could think of is that Cohen wanted to give people a chance to daven Maariv. Great idea.  So why didn’t they sell overpriced cuppels and siddurs instead of overpriced T-shirts and programmes?

The other feature of the evening that proved, if further proof were needed, that this was a Jewish event, it was the number of people who arrived late and wandered in and out as if they were in their own living rooms watching TV.  This confirms my original point:  Jews don’t really like the music of Leonard Cohen, they just go to see him in the same way that they go to T-Mobile Square for Israel rallies.  They feel they need to give their support rather than because they want to be there.

Personally I enjoyed it.  I only wish it had started earlier so I could have davened Mincha as well.

Originally posted November 16th 2008

A Bluffer’s Guide to the Shul Service.

December 26, 2008

Worried about looking like a lemon in shul?
Finding the shul service impossible to follow?

Many people suffer from what is known in religious circles as “Mainstream Judaism”. No need to worry, however.  Our team of spiritual healers have devised a cure and we are making it available to you exclusively today.  Please pass it on to anyone you know who may be suffering in silence.

“Shul Rules” is your ten step guide to synagogue confidence:

1    If you arrive after the start don’t sit down right away, but instead open the book near the beginning and spend 2 or 3 minutes turning slowly through the pages while mumbling under your breath.  If you recognise any of the Hebrew words, say one or two of them a little louder so those around you can hear.

2    Find a seat just behind someone who looks like they know what’s going on.  (You can tell this person because they are likely to be mumbling to themselves under their breath).  Make sure this person is using the same prayer book as you.  Keep a note of what page they are on by glancing casually over their shoulder every now and again.  A pair of strong magnification glasses may help here.

3    When putting on the tallit wrap it around your head for a few seconds while mumbling under your breath.

4    Liberally sprinkle your time in shul with more barely audible mumbles as you look intently at the pages of your siddur.  Again, the odd word, phrase or line spoken accurately and a little louder than the rest goes down very well.

5    Don’t jump up whenever the person in front does so.  They may be stretching their legs.  Instead, wait a moment until a significant proportion of the congregation are standing.  In this way, even if they are all stretching their legs you won’t look conspicuous.

6    See those guys near the front that are wondering around with an air of assurance?  These are the shammosim.  AVOID EYE CONTACT WITH THESE PEOPLE or you may find yourself being asked to do something strange like opening the doors of the Aron Kodesh or, heaven forbid, saying something in Hebrew out loud to everyone.

7    The easiest way to look the part is to shockel.  I have met people who have won international shockelling competitions without having a clue about where in the service they were.  Advanced shockellers will even shockel when everyone else is sitting.  (Of course, sometimes this may be a disguised leg-stretch).

Schockelling is an entire lesson in itself but there are two basic forms.  The “lateral swing” is usually seen in ultra-orthodox congregations.  Here the practitioner is perfectly still from the waist down (feet together, naturally), while the top half of the body repeatedly twists at speed.

The “Hammerhead” is more prevalent in mainstream orthodox shuls and, as the name suggests, the congregant looks as if they are trying to bang a nail into the floor with his head.  (I say “his” because women prefer to use this time for kibitzing or kvelling over the way their grandson shockels.).

Shockelling mainly takes place during the silent Amidah.  This is about 10 pages during which you have no idea where everyone else is.  All you do know is that if the others were really reading all the prayers involved they would be contenders for the world speed-reading record.  You know when it starts because everyone takes three steps back, then three steps forward, then they bow.  This is your cue to start shockelling while turning the pages of your prayer book approximately every 15 seconds.  The end of the silent Amidah is signalled by everyone taking three short steps back, bowing to the left, the right and the centre and then looking round to see if they won.

8    Is the Rabbi speaking in English and yet you can’t understand what he’s on about?  If so, this is the sermon and it’s your job to look alive.  Paying attention to the sermon is a skill that may take many years to master rather in the way that one learns how to complete cryptic crosswords.  The formula for this particular puzzle is fairly simple:  The narrative of Torah portion you have just heard plus something from local or national news equals “you should go to shul more regularly” or “your home isn’t kosher enough”.

9    Feel free to talk to people near you at any time.  Business and football are particularly appropriate topics of conversation.  Seeking kavanah and listening to the sermon will be regarded with suspicion in most communities.

10    If you can keep your cool until the end of the service you will be rewarded.  At last something that is familiar, and a chance to clear your throat and give it some as you bash out Ein Kelokaynu and Adon Olam just like you did at cheder all those years ago.

One final word of warning.  If it goes well and you feel confident enough to go back for a second week running you will be classified as a regular.  This means there is a very good chance you will be asked to be the next synagogue chairman.

Originally posted November 23rd 2008