Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Gaby and Tikwah: The sequel

Gaby and his better half, or lonely half, were again on the telly and here I am again writing a review albeit a bit late. If this is to become a biannual event I should perhaps produce a template to adapt to the theme of their appearance. Served up last time was a discussion on the alliterative topic of farting with phylacteries while this time we got the rhyming Two Jews on a Cruise, though at times it felt more like Jews on some Booze.

Thankfully we were spared Gaby's lectures on Judaism and instead we got Gaby the hoarder, Gaby the curious, Gaby the Tehilim reciter, though only with a crowd round him, which is probably how most rabbis operate, and even Gaby the husher but at a towel origami course rather than in shul during shomne esre when Gaby is not particularly renown for his silence. As unlikely as it may sound, we even got Gaby the conciliator faithfully 'mirroring' his wife as if it's the new 614th commandment but then bolting as soon as the session was over and his figurative therapy harness unbuckled.

Overall the impression we got was of a somewhat mismatched couple who despite the odds had found a spark of some kind to keep them together. He curious, energetic, boisterous and cantankerous while all she wants is a partner to care for her and remain quite literally at her side. I dare say she is not the first wife to make such complains though probably only few have to deal with husbands who rip hangers out of suitcases and lie on the bed because 'it's her job' while his presumably is to put his feet up and watch. And yet they did hold hands which is not something we in Stamford Hill often get to do (kissing, however, was reserved for the mezuza and cuddles, according to Gaby, ‘are nothing’) and he also bought her a vase though judging by her reaction this was not a common occurrence.

There were some genuine jaw-dropping moments too. You just couldn't make up Tikwah's 'Zeus? Juice? What's Zeus? Ich ken im nisht'. And while 'shkoiech farn endikn' is regularly heard round here where we must endure bores who cannot shut up in front of a mic they barely know how to hold, as 'Thank you for stopping' it came across fresh and sharp especially when uttered towards a coach guide not en route to a simche or chasidic graveside .

There were plenty of other snippets which gave us an insight not only into the life of Gaby and his missus but also into the world they, or we, come from and which went beyond the clichés of wigs, the 'beauty' of Shabbos, side locks and prams and kids, kids and more kids. Gaby's pre-departure obsessive checking of doors and windows followed by what seemed like dozens of kisses blown at the mezuza was revealing of the security we attach to our homes and our fear of infiltration by outsiders which in turn explains our obsession if not fascination with burglaries and geneives, discussions of which one hardly gets out of earshot.

Like many a yeshive bochur settling into his airplane seat or yungerman arriving at his hotel room or holiday cottage, Gaby too made a beeline for the TV on walking into the rather shabby cabin, though let's face it few of us would have stayed on at a cabaret while the cameras were rolling. Gaby's preference for a concrete city over the tour guide's love of olive trees was as good an explanation as any for the planning problems we have round here. Following Tikwah on her own into bed with a turban while her husband went off exploring (‘for a new girlfriend?’ Tikwah quipped at one point) may have highlighted her loneliness but it also gave a good idea what our womenfolk look like when the wigs come off, and it wasn't terribly appealing.

It was moving to hear them both discuss the loss of his mother when he was born but what was missing and would have been of keen interest was how this match was brought about. Was it a case of a hyperactive, orphaned bochur being told by the matchmakers that his only solution was to go for a girl from non-heimish Holland called Tikwah? It would certainly have shed more light than a dozen light bulbs stuck in Gaby's fridge on frum Jews, their couplings, marriage and dare I say love, or the lack of it. It would have also contrasted with some of the better matched couples on the cruise who were no less Jewish than Gaby, one even left his rabbi an answerphone message with a shale, yet the women didn't walk the boat purring like lost cats in search of their husbands.

Like it or not while Gaby may be something of a caricature his domestic arrangements are not at all as atypical as some would like to make out. In fact their setup is probably a lot better than many couples round here locked into far worse arrangements which for a multitude of reasons did not unravel at a younger age and which they are now helpless to get out of. As to Gaby himself, his child-like curiosity is not too dissimilar to the gawking adults and kids that assemble round here at the slightest commotion. The price we pay for an education denied in childhood is precisely this curiosity that a lifetime of staring cannot sate.

Gaby's conviction that anyone not enjoying the spectacular Balkan mountain scenery 'must be lying' also betrays a worldview in which 'normal' opinions must be universally held. Indeed his critics who accuse him of attention seeking, one of the most heinous crimes in our 'don't stand out' society, adhere to that very same school of thought in which being of a view is not good enough unless you have persuaded yourself that others 'really' think likewise but  simply have their own reasons for pretending to disagree.

At which point it is useful to deal with the local critique which says more about the reviewers than the reviewed and how deeply uncomfortable we are in our own skins. For the most part it was the predictable trashing of TV culture and how the joke is on them rather than on us. 'Shows you the standard of the BBC that they air this rubbish,' was how one put it. Many wondered why this programme would be of interest to the wider public as if it's everyday we come across a couple like this and were at the same time uncomfortable at the specimen they chose to exhibit our way of life. This was closely followed by how meshuge Gaby is, 'And she? Just ask Chaim...' which in turn leads to, 'They only show this kind of yid because they know that deep down this is what people want to see about us.' And from there it's only a short route to the most juicy discussion of the lot.

'You know what he got for it? Over £50,000.'

'So he's not even so mad, after all.'

'Nah, it was £25,000.'

'Yes, but what about the price of the cruise?'

This particular debate ended with, 'Are you really telling me he hasn't been on a holiday for 40 years?'

'This I believe. I tell you, you don't know Gaby.'

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Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Meisterspinner of Chareidiberg

As you may already know Pinter gave a comprehensive interview to the Blood and Property blog. And if you don't, sign up to my Twitter feed. There. On the right. Nu, what are you waiting for?

The interview spans a wide range of subjects, from local planning issues and land grabs to gender segregation, the position of women in chareidi society, chareidi politics in Israel through to the kosher dictionary and local demographics. Even contraception is covered on which there is, unfortunately, no comment. Yours truly gets a mention too though before you pass out at the thought of a 'principal' of a chareidi school perusing the blogosphere he 'can't say' that he actually reads this blog. Who would have thought otherwise?

It would be churlish in the extreme to pick holes in some of the things he said and there will be plenty of opportunities for that on other occasions. For now however I doff my streimel to the man.

Unlike most of the chareidi pygmies we are used to hearing from here is someone who knows how to answer a question without sounding either hollow or defensive. He accepts that planning is an issue but that it is not as black and white as it is often presented. Rather than deny the obvious as others often do, he explains the background to the issues that have arisen. Not from him anything as asinine as Clever Joe's intervention linking the apparent lack of chareidi crime to planning breaches.

Although Pinter too is capable of going into classic chareidi mode such as when covering Israeli politics and how they don’t seek to impose themselves on others, as if, he also knows how to use humour to deflect a question. When the dictionary is raised rather than try and defend the indefensible he wonders how there were any words left to include.

Fortunately for him, though not quite for us, there were no questions on schools which may have given us our own Paxo v Michael Howard moment. Great men need luck on their side too and so far he hasn’t run out of it.

As for my favourite quote: 'The perceived leaders are only in their positions by consent, rather then by authority.'

If only, Rabbi, if only.

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Sunday, 19 February 2012

School fights

A silent battle has been raging in Stamford Hill for the last few weeks or even months and possibly years though you would know little about it if you merely followed the local press. The noticeboards have been of some assistance though they also only tell part of the tale. I do not pretend to know all the details so I will present what I do know and leave it to others to fill in the missing bits.

objects

Poised on one side is The Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools and Organisations Ltd (AOJSO). Quite a mouth full, I know, but we do like grand sounding names and acronyms round here so let's not dwell on peripheral matters. The AOJSO has made it its task to represent local Jewish schools and yeshivas to government bodies. A notice which popped up on the noticeboards for a short while underlined the object of 'encouraging the fullest co-operation’ between schools and the authorities.

Massed on the other extreme is Satmar of the 86 Cazenove chapter and some anonymous activists who may or may not be associated with them. To them any dialogue with 'outside' authorities is anathema as things are best when left untouched because, let's face it, Judaism has been untouched for 2000 odd years and we're doing rather well thank you very much.

And in the middle are those who are neither modernisers, for want of a better word, nor loonies who will oppose if only for the sake of opposition. These will gladly follow almost anything so long that it is led by someone bearded in a shtreimel though even then it should not carry too much of a 'modern' whiff about it.

The issue of primary concern to the AOJSO is the Bermuda Triangle of Stamford Hill where numerous boys between the ages of 13-16 disappear from the system into a black hole. That might be something of an misnomer as in fact they are being groomed to be grooms for one thing but also to a life of spiritual ecstasy while being entrusted with the passcode to the world to come. So rather than a dark pit perhaps we should call it a bright skylight.

Anyway, the law demands that children in this country up to the age of 16 are taught a broad and balanced curriculum. For those getting itchy and minded to jump up and down and flailing their arms about because our curriculum is as broad and balanced as anyone else’s and we whose ancestors were worshipping a golden calf long before theirs had even dreamt of Stonehenge will not be taking any lessons on what to teach our kids, please calm down and do let me finish. You see the 'broad and balanced curriculum' also includes spoken and written English. Yup, I realise that can be something of a problem so get your cheeks in your palms and time to do some thinking.

So an Association was formed to meet the authorities and see what can be done. Not that bad, is it? We meet government ministers to discuss clocks going back and request that they be turned back 1000 years rather than tinker with the odd hour. We campaign for a more lax planning regime unless it's for an eiruv in which case we want the death penalty for violation of a mere by-law on Hampstead Heath. We pop up on the radio to campaign for housing benefit rather than sort out our education and get more people into work. So why not campaign on that very issue of education? It is becoming ever more difficult for our Pied Pipers to have the increasing number of boys 'vanish’ and some saner minds have decided that it may be a good idea to regularise these yeshivas.

And it came to pass that last month Stamford Hill and Golders Green put their ties on and went to Westminster for some shtadlonus in the good old fashioned way. For reasons unknown, a notable absence was our photogenic 'leader', 'rabbi' and 'spokesman' who 'runs several schools.' Perhaps he was not invited or he may have made himself scarce. I suppose when one runs a communal school as if it's the family corner shop one does tend to be suspicious of a grand sounding Association which may get the wrong idea of poking its nose into areas outside its concern, especially when the husband, wife and kids are doing such a marvellous job.

But what about the English, I hear you cry. Well, to some, if it means that the boys have to study some 'English', which is the local all-encompassing word for secular studies, then so be it. I suspect that those behind the project find it convenient to be able to point a finger at the authorities and that it’s not, God forbid, of their own initiative. But therein lies the point because once you have some schools regularised it becomes easier for the authorities to clamp down on the dissenters.

Well, all hell did break loose in some circles and in one speech in Satmar '86' a US speaker, Menashe Fillip, accused the 'AOGSO' (sic) and those behind it of heresy and much worse and of inciting the 'goyim' to make demands of the yeshivas on their study programs because the 'goyim' if left alone would allow us to do what we like 'until the coming of the Messiah'. Strong words although he may have something of a point.

DfE briefing notes

Apparently the meeting last month was not the first. The document above is from the Department for Education's website of the briefing notes for previous meetings where the issues are set out in some detail. (Further details are available here, and the JC article referred to is here.) Particularly intriguing is the note on page 2 that the DfE requested assistance on this matter from local authorities but 'most authorities were reluctant to assist.'

This must have included Hackney where many if not most of these yeshivas are located and betrays a remarkable blind-eye attitude especially when compared to say enforcement of planning breaches. It amounts to a policy which effectively says, do with yourselves as and what you like and we shall stand back so long that you don't bother us. You wish to ruin your kids' employment prospects and deny them a half-decent education? No problem. You want to operate your schools in ramshackle buildings with little regard to the safety and welfare of the children? Please feel free to do so. Your family kindly seeks to commandeer an entire school from admissions to a private 6th form on the school premises and balance the books with the school hall? Our pleasure. But please just one small request: whatever you choose to do do it in your own backyard. Add as much as a slate to your roof, however, and we'll be down on you like a ton of bricks. Political correctness in action, some might say. Or second class citizens, perhaps.

email

This being Stamford Hill, the gravity of the situation was immediately sensed and our special forces sprung into action. The email above appears to indicate that there may have been rival attempts to bend ministerial ears organised by Rabbi Herschel Gluck (famously savaged by Geoffrey Alderman) but which were roundly rebuffed. Gluck did however get to meet some mandarin with ‘Grand Rabbi’ Schlesinger which must count for some achievement. Apparently, there has also been a letter from school heads to Rabbi Padwa that they do not wish to be represented by the AOJSO though it may have been later withdrawn.

Finally, our dear vice president’s presence cannot be overlooked. The DfE notes provide biographical information for each of the attendees. For His Grace, the coucillorship and mayoralship are duly noted as is the vice presidency of the UOHC. Omitted, however, is his Chairmanship of the Board of Governors of YH Senior Girls School. Even if he may only be a nominee it surely should be worthy of mention when meeting a minister on the very subject of secondary education. One must attribute this coyness to the great man's trade mark humility and reserve and we are proud to have the opportunity to fill in the record.

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Friday, 3 February 2012

Queue on the right for refunds only

Letter

An exhortation not to read or sell this week’s issue of the chareidi magazine, Olam Hachareidi. It is not clear what they have done to offend our dear Rov’s sensitivities and if anyone can provide a copy it would be helpful so that we know what we must avoid. In the meantime we can only speculate that it may be they forgot to blur a two-year old’s face or possibly there was a photo of a bus where the sexes are permitted to mix without hindrance or perhaps even a skirt that exceeded the mandatory length turning it into something almost as bad as a mini skirt. Or could it be they forgot to crop out a bride in a photograph of someone dancing a mitzvah tantz with her?

Whatever it is we have been told we can get a refund so it’s time for the women folk to start queuing. You know the rules: if it’s with a receipt it’s a refund, without it’s a credit note, 14 days in T.K. Maxx, 28 days in M&S unless you have a letter from your rov and with some ingenuity you might get away with a refund even if you bought it elsewhere, though pleading and a few tears never go amiss.

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Thursday, 5 January 2012

Immaculate conception?

Bonei - CopyBonei Olam (Builders of the Universe) is a charity that provides financial assistance to infertile couples. It is an international charity headquartered in New York with all the fundraising gimmickry we have become accustomed to in these types of chareidi organisations. Garish brochures, hair-raising stories, hysterical calls by the ‘gedoilim’ accompanied by every sentimental cliché decency and common sense should have prevented them from including. Intended to tug at potential donors’ heart, and purse, strings they usually induce severe bouts of nausea if not outright disgust.

The organisations tend to tell you everything there is to know about themselves except for that delicate thing called money. Generally, funds are raised to be spent immediately as we don’t really do long term. Featuring a supposed orphan with mock tears crying for the bread your money will supposedly buy is far more effective than telling you how your donation might cure malaria or cancer ten years hence.Giving people fish rather than teaching them how to fish is our preferred route to salvation and even then knowing how many fish have been raised and how much is syphoned off for commission is classified information.

In this case, due to the ‘sensitive’ nature of infertility –I mean we chareidim don’t quite do that, do we?- discreet meetings are arranged at private homes for men of means with leaflets tailored to whoever their godel happens to be. At the meeting a well laid ambush is set up with high-pressure tactics to get you to sign up for a direct debit. Those who pledged £1000 will tonight be wined and dined at a specially laid on dinner for the larger donors.

The leaflet heading is marked ‘London’ and the impression is that money raised locally is used for couples in this country. The footnote on the leaflet contains an exhortation not to discuss the matter in public so I shan’t say anything other than ask how necessary financial assistance for infertility is in this country where we’re blessed with the NHS? True, there may be a wait but with couples marrying in their teens what exactly is the hurry? Surely it’s not written in the scriptures that morning sickness is part of a couple’s bonding ritual during their first months while getting to know each other.

We also have a home grown charity Chana which although it carries out its work with less fanfare it is no less effective for that. It hosts public information events with professionals and also provides counselling. It is run on the whole by women though there are male support workers too and counselling is also provided in Yiddish. It relies less on the gedoilim nonsense which is a good idea as when it comes to reproduction gedoilim can be something of a turn off.

My point however is Bonei Olam’s logo of a single person, which looks male though it could possibly be a female with trousers, conjuring out of thin air an entire chareidi family albeit slightly on the small side. Difficult to tell how they do it. Perhaps the gedoilim can manage even miracles unknown hitherto since the days of Joseph and Mary or maybe they provide a cloning facility. If we can have Dolly the sheep why not Tuli, or Chaim, the kid?

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Monday, 28 November 2011

Words words (kosher) words

Letters (not) published in The Write Lines, the famous letters page that arrives from parts other publications won't acknowledge to exist

CCI27112011_0000 - Copy

Dear Editor

Like all heimishe yieden everywhere I was overwhelmed by hakoras hatov for the dedicated chosheve askonim who have made available the kosher dictionary. I immediately went out to the Hill to get one so that my children ke"h should no longer cholilo come across posule words when doing their homework. (Mentioning homework reminds me of the letter I wrote last year about the geferleche load of homework the girls are given so that they can't help their mothers in the evening, but now I am writing about something else.)

I had barely sat down to browse the new dictionary when I landed on my behind after noticing the word 'bum'. I didn't chas v'sholem go looking for such words but it literally stuck itself in my face. Luckily my children were not yet home so I could stick the pages together because oi lorosho v'oi lishcheino and I can't bear my children knowing other words that are tome from sitting so close to that disgusting word. But it made me realise that, like lettuce, how important it is to check even something with a hechsher. If rachmone litzlon that word crept in who knows what else might chas v'cholilo have been overlooked.

I am mamesh trembling with shock after searching a bit deeper at some of the words the Rabbonim didn't get to notice. I know I must be careful at the words I use in your publication which spreads yiros shomayim and ruchniyes to our kehille but it is equally important that parents are not chas vesholem nichshel. I ask those with heilige oigen to please look away but how can we tolerate our teiere neshomelech looking up words like 'butt', 'buttock', 'bottom' and 'breast'? I am ashamed to say this but even the word 's-x' was not taken out. What kind of chinuch are we giving to our precious kinderlech by including such miese verter? My father olev hasholem would wash our mouths with soap if we mentioned much more eidele words and here we have the worst possible words noch with a hechsher!

I immediately called my husband who told me not to do anything until he comes home from koilel because it's a sha'le if you must put it in sheimos as it has a hechsher or whether you are allowed to burn it because of those words. He agreed absolutely that such a book has no place in a yiddishe shtib and we must be so careful not to fall into the hechsher trap. I can now understand how meat from the same hechsher came to be transported with dovor acher after seeing those chazerishe words in a book certified by a lemehadrin authority.

What I think is even more shameful is that I saw in the Tribune by my friend's house (we don't buy beshite any papers) that Rabbonim who are fluent in English went over this dictionary before giving it a hechsher. First of all are such Rabbonim really suitable for us erliche yieden? And second of all how can we now trust a rov if we know he has sifted through all this shmutz? Maybe that's why there is no haskome because even the Rabbonim were ashamed that they had to read such treifene books. And third of all maybe that’s why they left in all those words and it's a simen they can't even talk such good English. They for sure can't talk French because they left 'lingerie' lying about in full view of the boys and rachmone litzlon even 'thong' was stuck in. Do they know the achrayus of publishing such a book? No wonder so many children are going off the derech if their precious neshomolech get to see such tomene words.

But I don't want to be nichshel with loshen hore and rechilus and also we must be dan lekaf zechus. The Rabbonim did include ‘spank’, beat', 'pinch', 'smack' and 'hit'. Boruch Hashem the Scrooges shlito also remembered to leave out 'Christmas' and even had the seichel to cut out 'fossil'. But couldn't they also remove 'evolution'? Isn't there enough kfiro that we need some more with the best hechsher in the world?

I also hoped at least they would include some heimishe English words like cheder, yeshive and shiduch. No wonder those chachomim from Oxford were so nispoel of the request for such a dictionary (besides that they required the cost of 2000 copies to be underwritten). The Rabbonim allowed them to teach our children narishe words like 'lugubrious' and 'rumbustious' which no one will anyway ever use but were ashamed to allow Hashem and mezuze? The Tribune thinks it was a kidush Hashem but it's really a huge chilul Hashem if you can't include 'God' and not even 'G-d'!

May we be zoiche to kedushe and to be nitzel from all the nisyoines that today's dor produces even with a hechsher.

A Dedicated Yiddishe Mame

***

Dear Editor

I heard rachmone litzlon that some children have developed a new game where they have to guess words and then look it up in the kosher dictionary. If the word’s in they lose a point and if it's out they gain a point. My eyes are filled with tears writing this that such a michshoil could come out from a koshere dictionary and the musar haskeil is to avoid using Rabbonim who can speak English which boruch hashem is not so bad by us.

An Experienced Mechanech

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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Touchy feely chareidim

Occasionally one comes across a statement so audaciously outrageous, so leap-from-your-seat politically incorrect, so preposterously preposterous that you simply freeze on your first encounter. You then go back to the beginning of the sentence to make sure you actually read those words. Still reeling from incredulity that such sentiments could be uttered in our prejudice-free era you reread the paragraph, restart the article and even check the cover of the book or masthead of the paper to ensure that the context, the tone, key and pitch of the words which so profane all our sancrosanctities are not only there and carry their usual meaning but were actually intended to mean as they do.

Such were the words in Geoffrey Alderman's article in last week's JC which I reproduce here in their full glory.

It is, however, well known that charedi men are notorious harassers of the opposite sex.

And then when you finally thaw and are sitting comfortably again you are at a loss at how to respond? What does one do and say in such instances? Pitch tents outside the JC's offices or Mr Alderman's home with banners reading 'members of the opposite sex welcome?' They'll just use it as further proof of our roving fingers. Initiate a chesed campaign of holding doors open for the fairer sex to show what a gallant and chivalrous lot we are? For goodness sake we don't even look at them so how are to we know when they're coming and going. Perhaps get the Neturei Karta involved to walk to Trafalgar Square on Shabbos with banners pinned to their bekitshes, 'Chareidi and not Harraser'. Or, preferably, 'WE FRESS NOT HARASS'.

Alderman is a man of many talents but impartiality is unfortunately not one of them. Let us not forget that Alderman is also the columnist who publicly rejoiced at the brutal murder of a peace activist because he happened to favour the Palestinian cause. There appears to be nothing the Israeli government can do that will condemn them in Alderman's eyes and nothing chareidim can do to win them his praise. Heaven help us were a similar sweeping statement to have been made against Israelis. You'd have Melanie Phillips squalling in the shrillest tone she has yet to muster and Alderman himself collapsing apoplectically from his perch smothering Jonathan Freedland below him. Yet when it comes to the frummers you can malign, slander and impugn us with impunity and none of the Jewish anti-bigotry campaigners on the left and media obsessives on the right will take up cudgels on our behalf.

But before the unnaturally gifted columnists of the Hamodia and Tribune indignantly dip their quivering quills in their seething inkpots it is worth considering what leads a commentator to make such a sweeping statement. As outrageous as it may be the fact of the matter is that tales of harassment, child abuse, violence, fraud and a whole panoply of crimes are reported against chareidim with increasing frequency such that they are hardly news items any longer. Yet they are met with total silence from chareidi leaders and press.

When a London couple were arrested in Israel last year for allegedly abusing and trying to abduct their daughter, Tehilim was recited for the suspects and the victim was instantly declared mad and wayward. In Israel violent demonstration have been held in defence of murderers and abusers often with the tacit if not express support of some leaders. Yet these leaders are not shy of heaping a curse or two for anything from the misdemeanour of too short a skirt to the cardinal sin of possessing a blackberry.

Besides, without getting too talmudical about it, Alderman didn't say sexual harassers but merely harassers. In my shul on simchas torah small kids were slamming doors and knotting curtains in front of adult women to block their view of the men's dancing. In other shuls women were yelled at and threatened for not clearing the exit. From young girls to adult women, the opposite sex are constantly made to feel that there isn't a malady in the world that hasn't been caused by their lapses in tznius and which won't be cured by an inch on the skirt and off the sheitel respectively. One would indeed require a heavy dose of talmudic ingenuity to argue that these are not forms of harassment.

So before our apologists and 'spokesmen' get onto their soapboxes and cry wolf yet again they may wish to reflect how their whitewashing over the years has led to criminals feeling safe in the knowledge that they can always rely on support from the home side, while those on the outside will not believe a word uttered in our defence. We revere the leaders who lead us astray and by our reverence and blind obedience we come to be tarred with the crimes they condone by their silence and inaction when not by their express approval and encouragement.

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