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.

Please, not Miliband

June 4, 2009

Well, it looks like there’s a distinct possibility that there’s a chance that maybe, just maybe, Gordon Brown will be forced to consider stepping down.

And if all those maybe, might, possiblies happen then who will take his place as the Leader of the Opposition Elect? Please let it not be the member for South Shields.  If there’s one thing more difficult to cope with that a Jew in a position of such political seniority, then it’s a lapsed Jew.

Jews in such situations are an excuse for that passive, whispered antisemitism in the media:  the passing references to Eastern European heritage; the mention of families escaping the Nazis, etc.  Mostly, however, they’re not bothered, and just get on with doing whatever they’re doing, happy to mention their Jewish connections if it suits them, but usually without too much fuss.  It’s just the press and the far right that like to make something of it, especially when there’s controversy in the air.

Lapsed or rejecting Jews are more of a problem to us because they feel a deep insecurity about their background and therefore go out of their way to demonstrate how unattached they are.  One way to do this is to kick Israel.  Miliband is certainly up for this and he has done so whenever he could reasonably get away with it since Tony Blair went on his never-ending cash generating, sorry, speaking tour.  In fact the only time he appears to have been nice to Israel is when he visited just around the time when the rocket attacks were at their most frequent.  Difficult not to be nice under those circumstances, eh?

Miliband is clearly a man in possession of a brilliant mind; they don’t call him Brains for nothing.  However, being uncomfortable with his Jewish blood, his judgment is distorted against Jews.  He’s no good for us and I hope he doesn’t get the big job.

If, that is, in the unlikely…you know,  shhh.

Look what they done to my song, Ma!

December 26, 2008

Before you read this piece, I want it to be known that I do not watch The X Factor. I watched the closing stages of it last night, but only because I had been told that one of my favourite songs was to be sung by the finalists. The song is Hallelujah, a Leonard Cohen composition. It is beautiful and moving. More than anything, it is imbued with Judaism.

Knowing something about the pop industry today (for “pop industry”, read Simon Cowell), I had very low expectations for the way the two finalists, a boy band and a girl belter, would render the song, and yet I was still appalled at the way it was butchered and abused. If Hallelujah were a pet, the RSPCA would be calling for Cowell to be banned from keeping animals for the rest of his life.

As I watched the performances, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up at the crassness of it all. Children singing a grown up song like this is just wrong. It was like turning up for the school concert and hearing the choir singing a version of “Je t’aime (moi non plus)”.

Even more upsetting is that the song has now been appropriated as a festive song. It’s almost certain to be at number 1 in the charts this Christmas and it shouldn’t be. Just because it’s called “Hallelujah” they decided to add some bells to it, so to speak, and turn it into a gospel carol. On the set of the show the singers performed before a big pine tree with a star atop, in the shape of a great big cross. They stole it. It’s a Jewish song. Hallelujah is a Jewish word. It’s a song about David and Saul. It’s about Bathsheba, Samson and Delilah and God. And sex. It’s about as far from a Christmas song as you can get.

The only saving grace for this tawdry affair is that Leonard Cohen is set to make about a million quid from it and he deserves it for such a masterpiece. Simon Cowell, on the other hand, ought to be ashamed, but instead he’ll be wringing his hands at a Christmas windfall he doesn’t deserve.Then again, he don’t really care for music, do he?

Originally posted December 14th 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

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

Hagbah: The worst honour

December 26, 2008

I had it all worked out so nicely.

Having pledged to myself at Yom Kippur that I would go to shul every Shabbat from now on (except when I’m on holiday, obviously), this week I was faced with my first challenge; a 12.45 kick-off at the Emirates, and against Man United.  Not a match to miss.  The rest of the games I can usually take or leave, but since they generally start at 3pm, there’s no conflict with shul.  In the winter, with a 5pm kick-off there isn’t even a conflict with Shabbat.  Those anti-semites at the Sky TV knew exactly what they were doing when they set this fixture.

What were my options?  Well, I could forget shul and blow the pledge.  Most other congregants with Arsenal season tickets would be doing just that.  Alternatively, I could use this as the opportunity to test my commitment.  I could make a tidy sum by selling the ticket and even give it to the Rosh Hashannah appeal.  How proud I would be of myself if I did that.  After all these years as a fair-weather Jew, this would be the first time, bar yom tovim, that I put faith in front of football.

But wait.  There’s another possibility.  The Haftorah reading finishes at about 11.15, giving me just enough time to slip out and be on my way to the ground for the match.  I’d be in shul for shacharit and the Torah reading and I’ll just miss the sermon, musaf and a few other bits and pieces.  I’d get to hear Lech Lecha, one of my favourite sedras, and God would be so pleased with me for making the effort that he would even ensure a victory for the Gunners.  Brilliant plan.

At least it was a brilliant plan until I heard my Hebrew name being called from the Bimah along with the word “Hagbah”.  Now I was stuffed.  This meant I would be hanging around until the end of the Torah service, at least 20 minutes beyond my planned escape, and then what?  I couldn’t just run off straight after “As of old”.  My absence would surely be noticed at Kiddish.  Could I quietly tell them I had a sore arm and I was worried that I might drop the holy scroll?  Of course not.  Perhaps this was the Lord’s way of pushing me a little further with my faith.  OK, I may be a bit late for the game, but so what?  Surely the honour of lifting the Sefer Torah outweighs a few minutes of a football match.  And if I did it, maybe my reward would be a victory for the boys?

Clearly I had no choice.  I reluctantly took my place on the Bimah and proceeded to undertake the honour.

I then sat through the Haftorah desperately trying to calculate how this was going to affect things.  Was there a quicker way getting to the ground?  Could I slip away a little sooner?  How about if I ducked out of the shul hall just as we were half way round the closing procession?  How long was the yarzheit list?

As the doors of the ark closed I evacuated purposefully.  They’ll think I’m going to the loo, I told myself.  Instead I dashed out of shul and sped down to the ground, only remembering to take of my cuppel when I was inching through Highgate.

In the end it worked out fine.  I was about 5 minutes late but missed no goals and was rewarded with a win.

I must be a good Jew.

Originally posted November 9th 2008