Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Sshh! Kate can’t ‘quiet’ spell…

Kate - Copy

…though the Evening Standard did help out.

Knackers v Alderman

I penned this blog some weeks ago after Geoffrey Alderman had a pop at one of the communal sacred cows, the Community Security Trust, better known by it acronym the CST. Other things overtook my life and this was left to rot. Then last week Alderman dished another column at them making me return to what I had started.

If ever the proverbial ton of bricks has come remotely close in composition, density and weight to the real thing the letter in response by almost every knacker (omit the 'n' at your peril) known to this sceptred isle attacking Alderman and in defence of the Community Security Trust must have been it.

With such an esteemed attack you might be thinking that Alderman had called for the CST to be disbanded, its funds sequestrated and its members arrested. Or perhaps simply voiced doubts about its necessity. Or maybe doubted the accuracy of its figures on Anti-semitism. Not a bit of it. All he said was that despite that it 'probably does valuable work' and other praise they still speak for no one but themselves.

Big deal, you might think. But then you mightn't be Jewish thinking that way. For it is an Article of Faith, the 14th Ani Mamin, that anyone with a large enough bank account, long enough beard and/or wide enough posterior represents us and talks on our behalf. Dare to dissent from that view and expect, well, a ton of bricks.

We on the Hill have little with the CST who are often referred to disparagingly as the Chilul Shabbos Trust, though why what is permitted to the Hatzole is denied to them I know not. They are wheeled out from time to time where an event of ours is considered too large for comfort or when someone wishes to bestow an air of importance and have El Al style security guys milling about with walkie talkies. They also come in extremely useful in protecting the kapores ritual from anticipated anti animal-cruelty campaigners which has little to do with communal security.

But let's not dwell on the CST as there is far more fun in dissecting the signatories many of whose day and out of hours jobs is to tell us just what Alderman took the CST to task for: that they represent us. Of the 26 signatures 8, or almost a third, belong to that other supposedly representative organisation the Jewish miLlionaires Club, occasionally referred to as the Jewish Leadership Council. It is far from clear whom exactly they lead and with more vice presidents than you can shake a lulev at it may be a case of more shochtim than chickens. Thus in a nutshell supposed representative individuals tell us that a supposed representative organisation really does represent us. It must be if they are telling us so. They've even enlisted the non-representative Chief Rabbi to add his name to the bevy.

The signatures in themselves did not suffice and space was given for the CST chairman, not short of a bob or two either, to set out his wares on the op-ed page. He tried to make a serious point but which holds no water: that the organisation is no different to Amnesty or other NGOs in that they stand for a set of ideals and in so doing may lay claim to speak on behalf of others of a similar viewpoint.

The flaw in that argument is that while organisations like Amnesty have a subscription membership, Jewish organisations are on the whole closed shops. Anyone can pay Amnesty's annual membership fee and become a voting member in accordance with its constitution. I cannot however join the CST just like I can't join the miLlionaires Club while short of a few million.

So let those signatories put the lids back on their Mont Blancs and Cartiers, drop the 'leadership' from their exclusive club and get back to their counting houses. It's high time that some of the revolutionary spirit of the Arab world spills over to the Jewish street where oligarchs, autocrats and court Jews still do all the bidding on our behalf.

In addition to Alderman’s return to the fray, the JC gave the Shomrim organisation a full page feature article. I was going to take a pop at them but then I read that apparently they had reformed which is just as well as otherwise they may have ended up where they seek to place others. Reformed or not, I have serious misgivings about any self-appointed organisation that seeks to lord over others and which by its very existence exploits deeply held fears that the world is out to get us. The letter wildly in their praise by an obvious pseudonym also did their reputation no favours.

I have read the Shomrim leaflets much of which is harmless, common-sense advice on security though round here unless it is given in Yiddish on glossy paper with garish graphics and has the support of the ubiquitous Local Rabbonim it will be ignored. So I suppose they do fulfil some role. Some of it however borders on the racist subtly implying that in every cleaner lies a latent ganev and attached to every helping hand are some sticky fingers. That said, having seen them on Purim nabbing some suspiciously over-the-limit drivers I can see why they are preferred to the old bill. And in a crime-ridden borough like ours with the police at stretching point one can see why some may feel they have the wherewithal to step in, despite not being of that view myself.

Pinteresque or Kafkaesque?

I’m sorry I’ve had to introduce moderating to the comments due to some overenthusiastic supporters of the ‘rabbi’ using the platform for purposes other than to defend the allegations and address the serious points.

‘nough said. I can assure you that this is not censorship by the back door and however unminced your comments are you will still see them appear.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Celebrating the Torah

Walking the street enjoying the sights of the flowers and the smell of dairy delicacies it occurs to me that while the other festivals are offshoots and commandments of the Torah, only Shavouth is the festival of the Torah itself. It is when we celebrate the Torah given to us on Mount Sinai though the Torah does not make the link and, like most things, comes to us by rabbinic deduction perpetuated by culture and custom. Perhaps like a birthday boy or girl who do not organise their own party, the Torah kept silent on the issue and left it to others to throw the bash. And what a bash it is!

Other Holidays go on for what seems a lifetime and come with truck loads of rules restricting what we can eat, when we can eat, where we can eat and sometimes whether we can eat at all. Pesach supposedly celebrates freedom but enslaves us weeks in advance in preparation and weeks after in paying the bills. Succoth celebrates the shade in the wilderness so we Jews decided to commemorate it by erecting booths during rainy and cool Autumn.

Shavuoth however is different. It's short lasting only 2 days; it's tasty with an abundance of cheesecakes and other dairy savouries; and it's colourful with beautiful flowers and foliage adorning homes and shules. So much so that the Talmud tells us that unlike other Holidays there is no dispute that Shavuoth must be enjoyed materially as well as spiritually.

For this reason Shavuoth has hardly any rules or special prayers and we're home early for lunch. Those prayers that there are like Akdomuth come with a special chant. The Akdomuth itself is one half glorification of God and his celestial creations and one half a recitation of the delights to expect when our time comes. A feast of the Leviathan and the Wild Ox, assuming they’re not endangered species, washed down with wine from the days of Genesis and held in halls of splendour. Unfortunately there is no debauchery to go with it and while others get 70 virgins all we get is a waltz with the righteous who as we know can't dance.

To top the beauty of the Festival is the reading of the book of Ruth, surely the most exquisite and beautiful story of the entire Bible both in content and style.

Since I seem to be giving a sermon there must be a moral at the end and here it is: Shavuoth is celebrated in the manner that the Torah ought to be before the killjoys decided to ruin it: short, simple, colourful and palatable. Leave the 'deeper meanings' to your slumber during the Rabbi's speech for Shavuoth needs no rabbis. The Torah has simple and pleasant meaning and that is just how we celebrate the Festival commemorating its presentation to us.

Good Yom Tov!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

What a holy mess!

If previously we've been in a lather this time we're truly up in arms. We have been nothing short of defamed and slandered and turned from people of the book to people of the crook. And all under the guise of love and marriage.

Ok, let's calm down. For a start why was the programme even called A Hasidic Guide to Love and Marriage? Do they not know that round here Love and Marriage don't quite go together like a horse and carriage? For a start horses have been banned and more to the point because that would be putting the cart before the horse. We Chasidim don't fall in love and maybe tarry, maybe marry and probably call the whole thing off. We marry first, what’s sure is sure, and then maybe fall in love. Or maybe not. Either way we get to the other end of life just like everyone else so does it really matter which route we take? It's like going to Manchester on the A1 and not via the M6.

What?! You go that way? Are you meshige? You know how long it takes? It's much quicker on the M6. It takes about 3 hours that way. What are you talking about, 3 hours? I do it in 2 and a half easily and my brother in law...

Ok, ok, we're not starting on that. Next we'll be debating the quickest way to Heathrow so let's just get back to love. If we don't fall in love, well then she eats salad in the kitchen and he bites his nails while trying not to release hot air with his phylacteries on and yet we still have kids and marry them off on a reference of someone who lives down the road, round the corner on the left, and we then die like everyone else. So big deal if we haven't loved along the way. It's not as if life and death depends on it. Like still going to Heathrow through Shepherd's Bush...

Right, from now on we make no detours and we stick to the holy mess. In truth this programme was never going to be a fair representation for some because come to think of it for those who complain nothing will ever be fair unless it's drooling in tears and schmaltz with 'look how wonderful we are' scrawled all over it. You know a bit like the Tribune and the Hamodia. They never get those type of complaints because they of course capture us to a tee and portray us just as we are. No warts and no blemishes unless a huge amount of money is required to get the blemished free from incarceration in Japan. In which case they are presented as being immersed while in jail in Torah and Worship and queues of pious young men start forming at the Japanese embassy for a visa. That however is a different matter and I did say we're sticking to the point though it doesn't really count as a detour since jail was very much part of the script.

You see if ever proof was required for the maxim that the strength of one's opinion is in inverse proportion to one's knowledge of a subject then the discussion in Stamford Hill of the programme was it. 'We have been slandered', one person who hadn't seen the programme told me. Someone else said, “they'd never do that to the Muslims.” I politely enquired how many hours a week he spends at his non-existent television and he retorted, “me volt shoin gehert,” we would have heard already.

It's not just the content of the programme upon which our army of latent reviewers turned their fire, they also knew the effect it would have on the viewers. “They’re going to think we're all like that”, was a common complaint, which was in turn laughed off with, “they hate us anyway.” In one debate someone piped up, “I actually spoke to a goy who thought it was a marvellous programme” which drew a response of, “How many goyim do you know? I know ten goyim and they all thought it was disgusting.”

“And, meshige, did he really have to show in front of the camera that he's got £2,000 in cash? What will they make of that?” I mean they guy's been done for money laundering for goodness sake. Do they really think you launder copper coins in little bags like a newsagent holding up the queue in the bank? “I hear they each received £25,000” and so the conversation turns to the '000s reportedly received by those who made an appearance which inevitably ends with someone exclaiming, “So, why didn't they ask me?”

Even this is nothing compared to the reaction in our press. Do spare a thought for the poor 'rabbi' who feels terribly hard done by having to view a programme on Stamford Hill without himself weighing in. It’s almost like watching the FA final without a ball in sight. In the JC he thought that the programme “took advantage of vulnerable people and it exploited them. It's disgraceful. Now nobody will go in front of a camera again.” Does that include the 'rabbi'? Hallelujah! And please not in front of a digital voice recorder either and not even a ring-bound notepad.

I'm not really being fair because he does care for the 'vulnerable' thought it's difficult to figure out who he is referring to. Gaby Lock, vulnerable? A maverick, certainly. Nutty as a fruitcake, more than likely. But vulnerable? Let the 'rabbi' put himself up for debate with Gaby and we'll soon see who is the more vulnerable of the two. I don't think one would call Avi Bressler vulnerable either even if he sets the Shabbos table in his rather appealing boxers. Their only vulnerability I can think of is if they were to have the misfortune of applying to have their child admitted to one of 'his' schools. Vulnerable indeed.

Then there was Alex Strom who after an intro that the Tribune is not the place to review a TV programme went on to do just that because people have "heard and read" about the programme. Yeah, and smelt it too. Strom's bombastic conclusion was that "it is totally unacceptable for individuals to make themselves available to all and sundry and take upon themselves the responsibility to speak on our behalf. This is especially true if it involves allowing camera crews to explore a world that they cannot and are not meant to understand."

That is fine except that we all know who they are who purport to speak on our behalf and they do not include anyone on the programme who spoke for no one but themselves. In truth, what troubles Strom and the 'rabbi' is that these people are talking at all. As far as they are concerned our role is to doff our hats at authority and let it do the talking on our behalf. They of course would present a true picture. That shiduchim work a dream. All you do is stand in a queue and everyone gets their turn at wearing a shtreimel and sheitel. Ok, a Dutch girl called Tikwah might end up with Gaby Lock, a Yemenite girl to a boy with a divorced, jailbird of a father and the next son if he's lucky may end up with an Israeli girl wrung out of some match maker. But still it does work.

Notice too how we are a world that "cannot and was not meant to be understood." Which world is that exactly? The world which according to Gaby is run by the most arcane of rules while himself he is incapable of a routine of 3 meals a day? Where the men go off to Uman while the women are left to peep from behind the screen? Where the men sing round the table and the women stay in the kitchen? Where a match is decided on the length of the jacket and rim of the hat? Only the cold hearted bigwigs could fail to be moved by the pain etched on Avi's face as he spoke about his loveless marriage of 16 years and recounted the loss of his father when he was seven and that there is only a single photo of them together. Mind you, Avi's mum knew better than to marry another Gerer misogynist and second time round went for a full bodied masculine type. So at least we know whom Avi takes after.

Prize for understatement of the week must however go to Rabbi Dr Irving Jacobs who in the JC said the programme echoed Nazi newspaper Der Stuermer's antisemitic caricatures. Phew! What next? Is refusal of a place at a local school like the Nuremberg laws? The rip-off cost of meat like medieval Jew taxes? It is interesting though that the non-Jewish newspapers gave the programme generally good reviews but “Yeah, don’t be so naive, that’s only what they say in public…”

Truth said I do have some issues. A fiddler on the roof may have been too great a cliché, but why a cat? As pleasant as the klezmer background music may have been they haven’t been listening to it round here for some 50 years or so but great job they didn’t have on some of the stuff we do listen to. And why was the beginning in those faded colours similar to the films my aunt has of us as kids some 35 odd years ago?

Overall however we should celebrate a programme that ignored the anodyne world of our machers and oppressors and instead showed the fringe world of Ginger, Bradley and Shimmy Goldstein welcoming visitors with as much nosh he could get past the airport scales without paying for overweight. It is a world that many pretend does not exist. A world that is growing in numbers and in confidence. And a world that couldn’t give a toss for the ‘rabbi’, Strom and their ilk and it is this that really worries them.

Let’s be proud that only Stamford Hill has the vibrancy and multitude of characters to fill an hour of viewing. They’d never get this off the ground in Golders Green for they don’t do humour at Reb Chunes where they’re too busy expelling the ex-Stamford Hillers looking for greener pastures in NW. Of course they’re also too straight to harbour any jailbirds but let’s not go down that route because I did say I’ll stick to the point.