Friday, 25 February 2011

The holy square mile dissected

We’re in the news again and this time not for the wrong reasons. The Daily Telegraph has a long article in tomorrow’s magazine on chareidi Stamford Hill which they have put online. A nice and fair write up overall. The usual suspects, the buffoon, the ‘rabbi’, make an appearance and there is the oft recycled canard of Pinter senior establishing YH schools. As if. More like he climbed to the top and once there shoved everyone out of the way bar his children of course. But that’s for another day.

There are however other voices too and the writer has taken the time and effort to visit Dunsmure Road and Egerton Road. I mean how many journalists do that, though Oldhill Street may be too much to ask. You can’t fault a journalist who tries to gain entry to a kolel either and I suspect many will be relieved that his request was declined.

Yours truly is also allowed a few words edgeways though not quite enough to rain on anyone’s parade. But I’m not complaining because the article is far more comprehensive with context, historical background and research than anything I’ve seen for a long time.

What such articles however confirm more than anything is that so long that we, myself included, don’t take the law into our own hands no one will do it for us. The Telegraph or other papers or even the JC can only give us so much time and unless something of note takes place we are only one of many and there’s a limit to how much space can be dedicated to us. No one will ask the ‘rabbi’ the awkward question if we are not prepared to ask them ourselves and no one will challenge the buffoon on the rubbish and hypocrisy he spouts week after week if we ourselves can’t stand up to him.

Whether it is corruption, nepotism, endangering of lives (and I hear rumours of something major on that front), fundamentalism or downright stupidity you can either stand up to be counted or deserve what you get.

Scandal: Groom kisses bride

Stamford Hill has got itself into a lather once again. We're barely out of the last lather whatever that may have been, skirts have been lengthened by an eighth of an inch, Shabbos candles are being kindled 5 minutes earlier to atone for whatever it was that got us into that lather and to appease God to get us out of it, malicious talk is being avoided with ever greater intensity, psalms are being recited fervently everywhere from the doctors' surgery to the benefits advisor's waiting room, horses are being kept even further at bay and women have taken it upon themselves to recite the Song of Songs on the Sabbath eve. Not, heaven forefend, to get them going for the conjugal relations of the evening; that's what they wear their long flowing robes for. And it is precisely for this reason that Rebetzen Padwa has banned wearing them outdoors lest it incite in others what it's intended to arouse in its wearer's basherte.

The Song of Songs rotas may however have been a step too far. The Committee for Enhancement of Stringencies for the Release on Bail of Alleged Child Abusers is hastily reconsidering the guidelines for stringencies which may be adopted in such situations. One must be very careful in these precarious times when dangers lurk not just on the web and in an ipod but can make its way even into the Holy Scriptures and thus into the fragile minds of our dear innocent womenfolk.

For I'm afraid to relate that that is just what happened. A bride and groom who, we can only surmise, studied the book of Song of Songs too fervently and without the aid of the rabbinical commentariat came to believe that the words actually mean what they say. They read about eyes like 'doves by the water streams' without interposing the rabbinical interpretation of shuls and shtibels, they hummed about locks of hair 'wavy and black as a raven' without realising that it refers to hair-splitting halachah, and when they recited the passage about breasts compared to 'two fawns, twins of a gazelle' they ignorantly imagined them to be something other than the poles of the ark of the covenant. We're in Stamford Hill for goodness sake where blouses are shaped to avoid any hint of prancing gazelles.

It will come as no surprise that when reading about lips like a 'thread of scarlet' it didn't occur to our couple that King Solomon of a thousand wives fame was really referring to biblical spooks keeping their promise to a harlot. It was thus only a short mental jump that 'let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth' became, to our entire community's eternal shame, an actual smoochy.

And so I come to this, sordid to some, romantic to others, affair. At a local wedding several weeks ago after the ritual dance of the Mitzvah Tantz the groom, take a deep breath, kissed none other than the bride. I am afraid that it is difficult to dress up the words to make them sound prettier or more decent for the events were really as stark as they sound.

To appreciate the enormity of the transgression in a single simple peck and the scandal that erupted in its wake it would be helpful to provide some background and mise en scène to the grand institution of the Mitzve Tantz. Admittedly not of the like to be seen at a big fat gypsy wedding though a wedding dace nonetheless.

After the wedding meal, or banquet if that's what you call a menu of 'chicken or shnitzel, sir?', not to mention the roast potatoes, washed down with fizzy pineapple juice and cherryade and presided over by mumbling rabbis all but drowned out by chattering females voting with their mouths. 'Women, derech eretz!' This in turn is followed by an hour's dragging the feet in circles to lame tunes from a badly amplified keyboard after which is served ice cream and grace after meal is recited. No wedding however is a real wedding if does not culminate with a jester stroke troubadour that is the badchen getting up on a chair in the centre of the hall between rows of chairs on either side, one side for women the other for the men, and jesting and rhyming till pre dawn if the knot is being tied between rabbinical DNA and 2am for the riff raff. Even a punctilious Golders Greener wannabe with a thick gartl round his bursting short jacket wouldn't be over with it before one o'clock in the morning.

With a whole night to spare, the badchen can regurgitate his stock of flat jokes and worn out anecdotes, rhyme invocations to the dead grandparents, the patriarchs and matriarchs of the families freshly brought together, wax lyrical encomia of the parents who sacrificed their all to raise their children on the true path of tradition, and solemnly exhort the young couple how to build their new home and avoid the primrose path of dalliance. Mascara and foundation dissolve in rivulets of tears, tissues are scrunched, eyes are dabbed, noses are blown while the souls from paradise, who according to the badchen pay us a visit to bless the new young couple for their future life, yawn and pray to be released so they can return to where the jokes are funnier and the food tastier. One by one the men are called up to the honour of dancing with the bride which entails wagging a long belt held by the bride at the other end, until finally it is the turn of the groom to arise and take his newly wedded wife by the hands for a dance.

And what a sexually charged dance it is. A couple who have spent their lives segregated from the delights the opposite sex has to offer, spent less than 2 hours in each other's company prior to their betrothal a year or so earlier and celebrated the entire wedding meal and dancing separated from the person they are about to bed. A dance in full view of men and women who spend similarly segregated lives and who are charged with enforcing this segregation on others, men and women who never held hands in public since they danced this same dance, who never embrace other than behind the confines of the locked bedroom door. In the midst of this the dear groom takes his bride by the hands, no less, and dances. Yes, dances. True, no swaying hips and wiggling posteriors, no hands in the air, no foxtrot, tango or waltz, no closed or open embrace. It may be simply holding hands and shuffling along or for the very holy swaying as if glued to the dance floor, yet what a dance it is.

As we are always told where there is sanctity and holiness Satan is never far behind hatching up some devilish plot. And if Stamford Hill is the quintessence of all that is holy Satan must be working overtime to ensnare our pure innocent souls. So it came to pass that a travesty was committed in our midst and where there once was sanctity there now is profanity and where pure virginal white once reigned it is now besmirched by dark forces conspiring to draw us further into this promiscuous vortex of wickedness and iniquity.

For this is where our little story takes a slightly different ending. The adults were watching the first pigeon steps of these little kiddies starting out on the road of life to the traditional tune of 'A woman of valour' when the road suddenly veered to the left. The dance climaxed not in the groom’s father coming to the rescue but in a centrifugal motion of a kiss. He in his glistening new shtreimel, she in her barely worn sheitel, angelic faces sanctified by fasting and purified by immersion in ritual baths and yet the devil managed to seal this holy night with a kiss. One tiny movement for the lips; one giant retrograde leap for Stamford Hill.

And from a barely audible smooch there grew a tumult. Varicose-veined 80 year olds exclaimed that they had not heard or seen anything like it. 50-somethings recall a similar story in their days and add in a tremulous whisper 'the couple separated within 6 months. She was so embarrassed.' Only the youngsters wonder between themselves, 'what's the big deal', and are immediately shut up by their older sisters. 'Are you mad? What are you a yeed for? You think you're clever? Didn't you see there were children about? It's because of people like them that Shoshi almost died last week of swine flu'.

That too passes and the lid cannot remain fastened for long on our overflowing repository of kindness. 'It was a mistake', some say, 'it can't have been for real, he would have to be mad to do a thing like that.' Others while condemning this vile act committed in public express solicitude for the parents. 'Nebech, do you know what they must be going through?' How could a child be so selfish? How could he do something like that to his parents? Where's his hakoras hatov, his gratitude?' And while the youngsters are desperately trying to get hold of the clip, 'Her sister has it and her mother has begged her to delete it but she won't,’ the pious won't discuss it other than for the moral in the story. 'I remember she believed in showing the children DVDs when they were younger,’ and they nod incredulously at the naivety of some parents.

After which more theories abound than following a hold-up on the Hill. The brother in law, yes that one, put him up to it. The choson was ambushed that this is how things are done 'in our family and you cannot embarrass my sister and mother by doing things differently. Just be a man and not a chasidisher wimp and do what a man has got to do.'

To which the more shrewd retort, 'Don't be so naïve. It was for a lark. Of course it was. His friends bet him £100 and he went for it. And what do you think? She loved every bit of it showing off her newly kissed cheek to whoever cared to look.'

I am proud to report that the community did not sit idly by at this travesty committed in its midst. There are still some principled people about who feel compelled to protest and in due course a poster went up in town condemning this promiscuous act. Not so principled as to put their names to it but they did form a committee and did take time to draft and print the notice, translated below for the benefit of my dear readers, so you cannot write them off altogether.


The Committee of Rabbis for the Purity of Our Camp - London, may Zion and her provinces be built

Under the leadership of the rabbis of our town may they live to a ripe old age

With the help of the Name who is Blessed

The fourth day of the reading of the portion "And you shall be holy men unto me" 21 Shevat 5771 to the small count

Here London may Zion and her provinces be built.

Tidings were heard and our bellies rumbled over an impure incident, not on us, and over a travesty that was committed among Israel on the 5th day of the reading of the portion of "and they encamped in slackness" during the celebration of the wedding of the daughter of one of the upright members of our holy community ([initials]) that is a terrible and awesome desecration of the Name and a serious breach in the walls of the boundaries of sanctity and modesty in our town God forefend.

And so that the people should not say, ‘since the rabbis remained silent it is testimony to their approval’ God forbid, we therefore consider it a duty upon ourselves in accordance with the law of the holy Torah to emerge and protest with all severity against this vile act that has no justification whatsoever.

And we thus proclaim that no one should dare to shed the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven God forbid and repeat such shameful acts and we shall stand upon our watch with the help of the Name the Blessed with all means we are capable of to restrain against the destroyer.

And may God fence the breaches of His people with mercy amen so may it be the will.

And we thus come to sign

The Committee of Rabbis for the Purity of our Camp - London may Zion and her provinces be built"

And somewhere in a quiet room a draw is opened, a paper is withdrawn and carefully unfolded to reveal a list, and at the bottom of the list there is added a name.

Four years hence and another child will not have a school.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

How the rabbis stole Purim

News arrives of yet another ban. This time it's not the internet, DVDs, tight blouses, short skirts, walking on one or other side of the road but on walking out altogether. For the rabbis in their eternal wisdom have banned yeshive groups from hiring buses or other forms of transportation on Purim. They have cited the excuse of killjoys up and down the country, 'health and safety' and so killed the modicum of fun that is allowed once a year to penetrate our sacred square of the holy mile and have accomplished what even Haman was not capable of.

Since they don't follow the news, except insofar as it concerns cuts to housing benefit, it appears that they have yet to hear that the Labour government has been out of power for almost a year and health and safety has been declared by the new government a 'music hall joke'. But then what’s a music hall? It is however hoped that having jumped onto the 'elf and saifty' bus more concern may now be shown for the unharnessed children shepherded around morning and evening, weekdays and weekends, public holidays or not in overcrowded vans with their drivers honking their horns while on mobile phones. Or perhaps, just perhaps, it is that our media 'rabbis' and 'police liaison’ machers who are embarrassed by the display of our singing and dancing culture in the open and so have ensured to rid us of their once-a-year red faces.

Mind you talking of jokes there is little to beat the most recent ban, even more recent than the one above. In the run up to Purim a local camera shop, the Camera Media Centre in Dunsmure Road had an idea. An idea? In Stamford Hill? A shop called ‘media’! You can see where this is heading. Anyway, they hired a horse drawn carriage to peddle their wares up and down the square mile. And so a carriage was hired, horses were harnessed, adverts placed, goods displayed, driver seated, whip in hand and…

Horse - Copy

But then a whip even larger and even thicker appeared.

The horses had not dumped some manure on our litter-free streets before the rabbis beat them to it. For no sooner had the blinkers been affixed and the rabbis snorted. Nein, they said. We can't have horses in Stamford Hill. Just imagine what will happen if a brother were to take his little sister to see the sight, his sister meets a friend and presto the boy will be in the company of an alien girl, Go- forbid. Out! No horses in our stables.

There is a saying, if your horse says no, you either asked the wrong question or asked the question wrong. With a rabbi it's the right question that gets you no, no and no every time. To paraphrase a Yiddish proverb, itself a paraphrase of a verse in Proverbs, there is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against a stubborn horse rabbi.

Or as we say in England, a horse, a horse, my rabbi for a ferd!

Monday, 21 February 2011

From Tahrir Square to Schonfeld Skver

Here is an email doing the rounds today:

We want FREEDOM! We don't want the Yiddisher Brotherhood to control us! We want the opportunity to carry on shabbos. We want the opportunity to have a selection of kashrus. We want the opportunity to run our shops as we wish. We don't want to pay rocket high prices for our meat.

We don't accept the regime being in power so long unelected. We demand change! We need to topple these dominating leaders. We need a Tahrir Square protest.

Leave us in peace! Get off our backs! Go, Go, Go. Get lost!!


Sunday, 13 February 2011

Aid for first aid

If you live in Stamford Hill please turn away now. You are not supposed to know what I'm about to tell you and please don't quote this site when passing the message on because I don't want to get myself into trouble. I've written once before how some news items are not meant for us proles whose role in this world is to do as we're told, pay up when ordered to and shut up at all other times.

Which is why what I'm about to tell you did not appear in the new look Jewish Tribune (more facelifts than Michael Jackson; more padding than a wonderbra) or in that other organ of hallowed trivia, the Hamodia. It did though appear in the goyishe, anti-semitic, chareidi-bashing JC so beloved of the 'rabbi' and our other noble institutions when they have an announcement to make to the Jew-ish community but prefer to leave the paying and kvetching community in blissful ignorance.

Well, 2 weeks ago the communal life saver Hatzole held its annual reception. In case they need an introduction it is thanks to them that we can pop round the corner to post a letter and not have our parents, wife, siblings, kids, 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins and not to mention the neighbours worry that we may drop dead on the way. For if you're going to collapse with cardiac arrest courtesy of the tsholent and kugel we're now fed at every other reception, Hatzole's included, you'd be well advised to do so in Stamford Hill. True you may have half the town towering over each other to catch a glimpse but that I'm afraid is the result of not having a kosher equivalent of Doctors or Casualty. While such programs may tell us something about how our bodies are cured they could and would destroy our souls in the process. And round here if it's a competition between body and soul it is always the soul which ends up grinning all the way to paradise.

How oh how I digress. Hatzole held a reception in order to raise much needed funds. In the course of the reception they welcomed as many police officers as could be fit into the reception hall without turning it into the annual conference of the Police Federation. You may wonder what precisely police officers have in common with a local emergency first-aid organisation and I'm afraid I cannot be of much help. However since we as a community believe in dictatorial, autocratic hard power, and civil liberties and individual freedom are something we demand from others but give little of to ourselves, it is conceivable that police officers will command awe, fear and respect. And so it is only natural that we should try and cosy up to earthly powers that appear to mimic the celestial powers that enslave us.

That in itself is still of little use if not for every communal bully desperate to squeeze his beard, grizzly or unkempt as the case may be, into the same frame as an adorned epaulette. It is all the more so when many of us are under the impression that the constabulary wield indiscriminate power and but for the grace of the ‘rabbi’, the buffoon and the new idiot on the block we’d all by now be two stops from Majdanek. The 'rabbi' is all for it as it gives him the opportunity to exhibit his connections with the top brass of Scotland Yard which translated into Yiddish means real hard power. And to the new kid on the block it allows him to turn up at every accident or crime scene where our brethren are shoving and pushing to get a view and he gets to sail through the cordon with impunity while shooing the unwashed away under the pretext of assisting the old bill.

For their part, the police would have been familiar with the premises as a visit to YH Secondary School, where the reception was held, appears to have become a compulsory stop on the route of every local copper's induction.  The police must love being lauded and showered with awards and, courtesy of their hosts, never having to meet the hoi polloi. And of course for the price of a plate of kugel they can tick off several boxes on their multi-cultural check lists.

But still I'm not at my point. The purpose of the reception was to raise some funds. In fact a considerable amount was raised which is testimony to the generosity and philanthropy of our community that so much can be raised in a single evening with relatively little effort. The question however on everyone's lips is how much exactly was raised? To which the answer is: Shh, be happy we're there when you need us and mind your own business.

The klaxons may announce an ambulance rushing on yet another mission, the radios may beep on the Sabbath day, the notices may cajole and threaten us to turn up and fill their coffers, the speeches may warn us that not all criticism is welcome, the police may be paraded like tanks at a Soviet May Day parade but as to how much was actually raised? Shh. Have another plate of kugel and stop asking such silly questions. What do you think? They're doing it for themselves? Do you know what it means to be a Hatzole volunteer? Let's see what you do when you need them, big mouth. So just eat up and shut up.

Intriguingly though there appears no such reticence in that goyishe ragsheet, the JC. There we were told - and this is the point where if your postcode is N15, N16 or E5 you really should click elsewhere - that they raised the princely sum of £100,000 in a single evening. That ladies and gentleman is some achievement for which we may hold our heads high. A lot higher than those on the stage talking down to us, even higher than those privileged to cavort with the old bill, and higher still than those who are happy to take our money but will not deign to tell us how much we contributed despite that anyone but ourselves may be privy to the information.