Moishe’s Dilemma

August 25, 2011

My friend Moishe has been kvetching again.  This time not about his life threatening ailments – it’s his Arab neighbour who is the source of the problem.  He’s worried because he agrees with the man.

I asked what the problem was with that, telling him that some of my best friends are Arabs.  It’s not true, although I have a cordial enough relationship with my Iranian dry cleaner.

The problem, Moishe explains, is that the council is about to introduce even more restrictive parking controls in his neighbourhood and is proposing to increase the permit fees by 200%.

“So what’s this got to do with the Israel – Palestine conflict?” I ask.

“Someone told me he supports Hamas.”

“And does he?”

“He says not but he’s an Arab so you can’t trust him can you?”

“And if he does support Hamas, so what?  What’s that got to do with parking in Hendon?” I query.

“Are you joking?  How can I sit down next to a man that supports Hamas…”

“May support Hamas…” I interject

“May support Hamas, OK, how can I work together with him to fight the council’s proposals.”

“Do you want to stop the council implementing these plans?”

“Yes.”

“Does he?”

“Yes”

“So what’s the problem?  You have a common interest, fight together. Be allies!”

Moishe pondered this for all of three seconds before inflicting the coup de grace: “But once we’ve beaten the council on parking, he’ll turn on the Jews!  I can’t let that happen.  No, the thing to do is to withdraw from the whole thing. It’s better that I should have nothing to do with that terrorist. I’ll start my own separate campaign instead and I’ll only allow Jews to campaign with me.  I tell you, the more we mix with these people the more trouble we heap upon ourselves.  All this interfaith stuff, what’s the point? They all hate us.  They’re all anti-semites.  And furthermore, any Jew who stands alongside Mr Khan must be a Hamas sympathiser as well.”  Then he added, but I’m not sure why: “If you’re not with us, you’re against us!”

“There’s another way,” I suggested tentatively. Moishe’s vehemence had taken me by surprise; I hadn’t seen him this worked up since Bloom’s announced it was closing down. “You could show the way forward for peace in the middle east with this opportunity” I told him.

“What?”

“Seriously.   If you work with him on this campaign he may come to realise that we Jews aren’t so terrible and you might change his attitude about Hamas.  Then he’ll tell his friends and they’ll tell theirs and before you know it, you’ll be off to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  You and Mr Khan together.  I tell you, Barnet Council won’t dare raising their permit fees by 200% if it means upsetting a couple of Nobel Peace Prize winners.”

Moishe was pensive for a minute then turned me with that deeply serious look he gives his doctor every time he informs her that he’s finally succumbed to whatever terminal illness he’s just learned about on daytime TV. “You mean today Barnet Council’s Parking department, tomorrow the world”.

“Exactly” I replied triumphantly.

“And join the ranks of those vegetarian liberal self-hating Jews!” he snapped,  “I don’t think so.  Besides, if we made peace with the Palestinians who would there be for me to fear every day?”

“There’s always daytime TV,” I meekly offered.


Why Israel Came 14th with 71 points in the Eurovision Song Contest 2010.

June 1, 2010

I realise I’ve chosen a somewhat geeky title for this piece.  That’s because this is a somewhat geeky piece.  The statistical nerd in me was let out for a rare opportunity to play around following Saturday night’s Eurovision Song Contest, the 55th such contest, in case you’re interested.

It’s well known that the music has very little to do with the outcome of the competition and that it’s all to do with political alliances, international sucking-up and immigrant dispersion.  So, with that in mind, I thought I’d try to understand why those who voted for Israel voted for Israel and why Israel voted for who they voted for.  That I’m not doing the same for the UK should be patently obvious.  Finishing last with a paltry ten points simply demonstrates that we are the Millwall FC of Europe.  Everyone hates us.

It is for this reason that for the rest of this article I shall often be referring to Israel as “us” or “we”.  Doesn’t everybody?  Let’s start with the countries that gave us the most points and work down.

First up, The Netherlands, dix points; always a friend and probably the only country that truly shared the pain of the holocaust as if it were her own people that suffered, rather than just the Jews who lived there.

Finland: also ten points.  Although Finland actually fought alongside Germany during the war this was more a case of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”, their real concern being Russia.  Nevertheless, Finnish Jews were largely protected, even by the Finnish right wing, which was essentially controlled by the Lutheran ministry.  In 2000 the Finns apologised to the Jews for handing over to the Nazis eight Jewish refugees.  My guess is those ten points were part of that apology package.

Belarus: huit points (Belarus: eight points).  President Lukashenko has, let’s face it, not exactly stood out as a lover of Jews, having spouted some fairy unpalatable stuff about us.  What better way, then, to trot out the old “some of my best friends…” line, than with the added clout of a generous points gift at Eurovision.  How could anyone possibly suggest that the Belarusians are anti-semites?  Add to this that Belarus is quite keen on some economic / agricultural co-operation with Israel and we might even wonder why they only gave us eight points.  Oh, and let’s not forget that a chunk of Belarusians have relatives living in Israel.  By the way, this probably explains why nine out of the 15 countries that gave us any votes at all are former iron curtain states.

Slovakia: eight points also.  Given the enthusiasm with which the Slovakians took part in eradicating almost 80% of their Jews during the holocaust it’s perhaps no surprise that they’ve been kissing our butts since the wall came down.  In fact Slovakia has been one of Israel’s best friends in Europe, no doubt also fuelled by a desire to get into our technological and agricultural pants.  I’m going to stop here; this paragraph is getting a bit icky.

Slovenia: six points.  With around 500 Jews in the entire country it’s not likely that this was achieved through phone votes, unless the Jews of Slovenia are the only idiots that fall for premium rate TV voting in that country.  No, I suspect this is another one that’s all about the economy.  Slovenia and Israel have been getting very chummy in recent years with Israel doing some good business over there.

Azerbaijan: 5 points.  Sounds generous but actually we gave them seven points.  This Israel / Azerbaijan love-in is no co-incidence.  Azerbaijan is one of the few European nations with virtually no history of anti-Semitism and Israel was one of the first nations to recognise it as an independent nation. Israel supported Azerbaijan in their war against Armenia and the cooperation has continued in the areas of security, trade and culture.  Not bad considering that Azerbaijan is more than 90% Muslim.  It is said that both nations share a sense of existential fragility, and perhaps more practically, a shared perceived threat from Iran.

With all this one might think that we ought to be discussing a mutual 12 pointer, so why only five and seven.  Well, it seems that Azerbaijan is conflicted about the extent to which it wishes to been seen to cosy up to Israel.  It’s like marrying out, with the rest of the Islamic family not altogether happy with the relationship.  Let’s say both sides are pretending to feign indifference when really they love each other madly.

Which brings us to Israel and Armenia.  Why, if Israel took sides with Azerbaijan in this conflict, does she award Armenia the maximum douze points?  Well, also involved in the bigger story here is Turkey and the USA.  These were the main players in the Armenia / Azerbaijan conflict and with rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia now well underway, it’s perhaps time for Israel to extend the hand of friendship to Armenia.

And let’s not forget that Israel and Armenia are major diamond trading partners.  There’s no doubt that relations between the two countries are at a low level, particularly in the cultural realm, but I’d say there is a willingness on both sides to increase friendship. There’s your 12 points, then.

Norway: 5 points.  The people of Norway appear to be more supportive of Israel than the Government, suggesting that these points came largely from the phone votes.  Norway’s opposition Progress Party has been an outspoken supporter of Israel in recent years, and has gained votes and supporters from parties that have been critical of Israel.  Relations at the governmental level have been strained recently.

We now come to a tail of countries that gave us 4 or fewer points.  Let’s begin with three Balkan states, Albania (4 points), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1 point) and Moldova (1 point).

We’ve had an odd relationship with Albania over the years.  While it was the only country occupied by the Nazis to finish the war with a larger Jewish population that at the beginning, (they protected their own Jews vehemently and took in a number of refugees), and recognised the State of Israel early on, they nevertheless refused to establish diplomatic and economic relations with Israel until the fall of the Berlin Wall and were outspoken in their criticism of Israel during the 1967 war.  To a large extent they were at odds with many of their communist block neighbours on this subject, but we should remember that Enver Hoxha was a bit nuts and at odds with Soviet policy for much of the cold war period.  He was a Stalinist and closer to China than Russia, China having no relations at all with Israel.  Full diplomatic ties were established in the summer of 1991 and have continued to develop in other fields ever since.  Israel provided much aid to Kosovar Albanians and took in many refugees in 1999.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is more concerned with Serbia and Croatia than anyone else.  Israel and B-H drew in a football match back in 2001, so maybe the point they awarded us was for old time’s sake?

Moldova does not exactly boast a stellar performance in terms of being nice to the Jews.  They did, after all, play hosts for the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 and weren’t much use during the war either.  Un point for an apology?

Two points from Cyprus – probably about right.  The two countries have generally enjoyed friendly relations over many years.  Cypriots were particularly compassionate and helpful to Jews making their way to Israel after the war, and there are good economic ties.  The two countries are near neighbours, both democracies, and they share the two countries in one land problem.  On the other hand Cyprus has been critical of Israel on several occasions and the odd scrap has ensued between the two over the Palestinian question.

Israel has probably never enjoyed such a friendly relationship with the French President as they do with M. Sarkosy, but the same cannot be said as far as the people are concerned.  This is pretty much in line with the UK and most of Western Europe and probably explains the one point received.  We should be grateful for even that, and certainly the three from the UK voters.  I suspect that tally was the result of hundreds of Barnet residents using the automatic redial facility on their phones.

Going in the other direction, I don’t think there will be many people out there wondering why Israel awarded 10 points to Russia but for those that are, about 12% of the Israeli population is Russian speaking.  This phenomena probably also explains the eight points that went to Rumania, Georgia’s five and Ukraine’s two.

Ireland was awarded 6 points.  Relations between the two are cordial as far as trade is concerned, with good business being done, particular when the Irish economy was doing so well.  The three awarded to the UK was probably as much a cap-doff for the continued support for the war on terrorism as anything.

Denmark was awarded four points. The two countries have enjoyed very strong relations since the establishment of the state, and Denmark has been a good and tolerant host to Jews for as long as history can recall.  During the holocaust there was enormous resistance to deportation and many were saved.

Finally one point from Israel to Spain.  Maybe because so many Sephardim can trace their roots back to the Iberian peninsular or maybe they just like Lionel Messi and his Barcelona team mates?

One thing is for sure, as with all the other countries, it had nothing to do with the song.  We won’t mention the winners.


A Passover Story

March 31, 2010

Eventually the Pharaoh relented when he saw the lifeless body of his first-born son.  “Go.” he ordered Moses, tears streaming down his face, “Take your people and leave this land”.

“Right,” said Moses, somewhat lost for words.  “Thanks.  Come on Aaron, we’d better tell them before the bugger changes his mind”.

The news spread around the Jewish areas like it was on the Edgware K email list.  The people knew they had to prepare as quickly as possible, and that they needed a packed lunch.  Moses had been very clear about this.  “Bake bread for the journey”, he told them, “but you’ve only got 18 minutes to do it in.  Pretend you’re on Ready, Steady, Cook.”

“How long must this 18-minute bread last?” one slightly difficult chap asked.  “Yes,” said another, “where are we going, how long will it take us to get there, and how much of this dreadful stuff are we going to need?  I’m feeling constipated just thinking about it.”

“Shut up.” Moses replied shortly.

Now some of the unleavened bread had been made from wheat that had been watched over from the moment the seed was sown to the time it was ground and made into flour and then cooked.  Only perfect ears of corn were used for this flour.  All this farting around sorely vexed Aaron and Moses.

“I don’t believe you people,” moaned Aaron.  “Don’t you realise we’re in a hurry and all you can think about is having posher matzah than your neighbour.  Are you all nuts?”

“Nuts? Nuts?  Is it OK to take nuts? Are all nuts kosher for this journey?” came the anxious reaction from one housewife.

“It depends” replied another without looking up from her sweeping.  Are you Sephardi?  If so, you’re OK, but if not you can’t take peanuts.  I’m Ashkenazi so I’m throwing my peanuts out.”

“Shut up!” Moses bellowed.  “You guys just don’t get it do you? And what’s with the cleaning already?  We’ve got to get out of here in a hurry, and we’re not coming back.”

“I’m not going away without leaving the place spotless.  What if someone should see it?”

“Who?”

“I don’t know.  Anyone.  A burglar.”

“So what?  What do you care? You’ll be gone forever.”

“People will talk.  I don’t want anyone saying ‘Mrs Koblinski goes away without tidying up’”.

“Mrs Koblinski?  How did you end up in this story?  We have Cohens, Levis and Israels here.  No Koblinskis.”

“Do you want to see my parents’ ketubah?”

“No!” Moses screamed as he rushed away.

“Just as well,” called Mrs Koblinski after him, it’s already packed.  I don’t want any hassle for my children from the Beit Din when we arrive in the promised land.


New incentives for those making aliyah announced.

February 18, 2010

The Israeli Government has announced a new scheme aimed at encouraging diaspora Jews to take up their “right to return”  and emigrate to Israel.

Minister for Immigrant Absorption, Sofa Landver, announced the incentives this week saying:

“In spite of international criticism, the Government of Israel is committed to its policy of fighting our enemies on all fronts.  The doors remain open for a diplomatic solution, our military and intelligence operations continue to protect our nation, and we have always seen immigration as playing a crucial role in ensuring that Israel remains a vibrant and safe haven for all Jews.”

The Yisrael Beiteinu MK continued, “The new initiative I am pleased to announce today takes the unprecedented step of offering new immigrants the opportunity to make aliyah and in return we will make it possible for them to travel to other parts of the world without having to leave their home.  This wonderful opportunity has been made possible after months of careful planning between the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and another government organisation that, at this time, prefers to be unnamed.”

When asked if that unnamed department was intelligence agency, Mossad, a government spokesman stepped in to say “There is no evidence that the Israeli Government had anything to do with the death of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, if that’s what you’re getting at”.

So far, only Dubai has been named as one of the places new Olim will be visiting, or at least, some recent immigrants had visited Dubai.  It’s not known if there will be further opportunities to go there, however, Ms Landver stressed that it was likely that some would be able to stay at home while visiting the Palestinian Territories and there’s every chance they’d be able to go nowhere while on missions, correction, holiday in places as far away as Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon.


Someone in Netanya has lost a sock. I’m on my way.

December 14, 2009

I foolishly mentioned to an acquaintance recently that I was paying a short visit to Israel.  “Oh”, she said in pleasant surprise, as if she’d just won a ten pound prize in the lottery, “where are you staying?”

“Herzelia” I replied, “why?”

“Would you mind taking something for me?”

“A pleasure,” I smiled, “what is it?”

“It’s a sock”.

“A sock?”

“Yes, a sock,” my soon to become former acquaintance explained.  “My daughter was over a few months ago and she left a sock.  She only lives in Netanya.  It’ll be no problem for her to collect it from wherever you’re staying”.

“Why don’t you post it?”  I said, wishing to be neither unhelpful nor burdened by such a triviality.

“Oh, you know”.

No, I didn’t know.  I had absolutely no idea why anyone would choose to send a sock by personal courier, with the recipient being forced to travel from one town to another to collect it.  My suspicion is that what is going on is that my friend is living back in the 1950’s when it took several weeks to send something to Israel with no guarantee of it ever arriving, and so when she hears that someone is going to Israel (which is approximately every fortnight), she scours her home in order to find something to have shlepped, thus enabling her to bask in the delight of having solved a problem she never had in the first place.

As my day of departure drew near I thought my friend had accepted how nuts her plan was and decided not to bother, but no, the day before I left she dropped round to hand me a neatly wrapped package.  It was an envelope, properly addressed.  I thought it was being collected so why the full address?   She may well have hoped that I was going to stand in a post office queue for half my holiday but I had no intention of doing any such thing.

“I’ll leave it at the hotel reception – your daughter can collect it any time she likes,” I informed her, my irritation barely concealed.

I arrived at Heathrow and being both honest and stupid (a combination that makes me very few enemies, being only a danger to myself), I confessed to the possession of something within my baggage that I had been asked to carry for someone else.  I explained that the envelope contained a single sock that I had been asked to help re-unite with its partner.  I couldn’t have elicited a deeper look of concern if I’d told him I was carrying an AK47 and a couple of landmines, a look that transformed into incredulity when he opened the package to check.

So that was that, until I arrived home a week later and discovered, tucked under a flap at the bottom of my suitcase, an envelope with a baby’s sock in it.  I have therefore spent this morning queuing in the post office in Golders Green behind several tens of other people with small packages bound for Israel.


Building My Own Mishkan

March 1, 2009

So inspired was I by last week’s Torah portion that I decided to build my own tabernacle.  Well, when I say inspired, what I really mean is confused.  Reading the text, it is virtually impossible to understand the instructions to make, let’s face it, a few bits of simple furniture.  For the first time I appreciated those wordless IKEA instructions that at least allow one to believe they are succeeding in building whatever useless object it is they have queued for 3 days to purchase.

With this in mind, I thought I’d try IKEA first, and trotted round to Brent Park to see if they sold flat pack arks.  As it turns out they do (they’re called Fleemg I think, or is it Kllurm?) but unfortunately, as with all IKEA products, they only come in a non-standard size and as everyone knows, the Torah is very clear about the size of the tabernacle and all its contents.

I therefore decided I would have to study the text carefully and try to make my own from scratch.  Which brings me to the first of God’s little teases.  The almighty knows full well how useless we Jews are at DIY.  He must have been having a joke, right?  All those miracles just a few weeks ago, and yet he couldn’t just give the Israelites the Mishkan.  He had to send them into a sweat fuelled frenzy of panic while they tried to create this thing.  I can hear the arguments even now, passing down through the centuries.  “No! you said you’d collect the gold, I said I’d get the wood!” and “What on earth are you doing?  How are we supposed to put the cherubs on now, we haven’t finished gilding it yet!”

After several hours of translating and note taking, I took myself off, with trepidation, to Homebase.

“Can I help you?”
“Yes, I need 11 cubits of acacia wood, a cubit and a half wide, plus some acacia wood poles as well, two, about 8 cubits each”.
“How much?”
“What do you mean?  I just told you how much.  About 11 cubits”.
“What’s a cubit?”
I hesitated and then unconfidently placed my hands in front of me, flat palms facing each other, about shoulder width apart.  “About this much?”
“Right, well we don’t have acacia wood.  Will MDF do?”
“Not really”.
“Pine? Contiboard?”
“Nope”.
“Sorry”.
“Oh give me the MDF then.  It’s got to be covered with gold anyway so no-one will know”.
“Gold?”
“Yes”.
“To cover the MDF?”
“Yes”.
“We don’t sell gold”.
“I was aware.  I was thinking gold spray”.
“Aisle four”.
“Thanks.  And four gold rings?”
“What is this, the 12 days of Christmas?”
“They’re to hold the MDF poles”.
“Try the curtain section”.

For the crown and cherubs I spent hours sifting through tat at Camden Market and even then the angels were a bit too big.  Still, I did it, and now I feel truly connected to my ancestors as they traipsed through the desert.  In fact, I know exactly how my own antecedents must have felt:

“What kind of God is this?  He takes us into the desert and then gets us to play Changing Rooms.  When we get out of this mess I’m never going to do a single DIY job again for as long as I live.  I’ll find some goy to do it for me instead.”

And that’s why all you’ll ever find in a Jew’s tool kit is a butter knife and an old hammer with a loose head.


Israel Unconfounded As Nobody Wins Election.

February 13, 2009

Jerusalem

It was business as usual yesterday in Israel as people came to terms with the idea that once again, nobody had won the election.

Asher Bloch, who likes to fly powerkites on the beach in Netanya while wearing nothing but a deep tan and skimpy swimming trunks said “We prefer it when people lose elections, not win. If they win they can tell the rest of us what to do. Israeli’s don’t like to be told what to do by anyone so we try to make sure they all lose”.

A Knesset insider told our reporter that they were hopeful of a satisfactory solution to the problem and negotiations were taking place in secret between party leaders with a view to ensuring that there would be at least two years more of political gridlock before another election.

“At the moment the sticking point is with the religious groupings who are fighting amongst themselves over which of the mainstream parties’ coalitions they want to oppose. It’s difficult for them because they are worried that they may end up in the Government when they would prefer to be causing trouble from the sidelines.”

Asked to explain further, the insider said “Israeli’s are much happier when they are telling other people they are wrong than when they are trying to do something positive. In our political system the objective is not to be part of the government, but to be part of the opposition. This is much more natural for Israelis.”

In order to make it as fair as possible Israel has a unique electoral system known as disproportional representation. Simply put, the less support you have the greater your influence. The perfect election outcome for Israel would be for a coalition of 61 single-seat parties representing about 89 voters forming a government while leaving the other 59 seats comprising the mainstream parties. This ideal would provide for the maximum amount of “told you so-ing” across the nation and would, almost certainly, make the Israeli people happier than they have ever been in their short history.

Sadly there is little hope of that this time around as it looks as if at least one of the main parties is going to be forced to form a government. The big question is, which one has the ability to annoy just enough of the minor groups to pull together a block that just slips below the required 60 seats therefore ensuring the strongest opposition possible?

It’s hoped that if all goes smoothly, we still won’t know the answer to that for at least two months.