Monday, 9 May 2011

Where’s Hillary?

Spot the difference:

article-1384861-0BE77AA700000578-654_634x406 - Copy

© The White House

WH sans Hillary - Copy

© Di Tzeitung (a Brooklyn chasidic weekly)

(Credit: Circus Tent)

This on the other hand is perfectly kosher

skver and hillary - Copy

No Sacks please…

Few could have scoured the papers during the past few weeks like I did. Thank God for the extra time afforded by Yom Tov to turn the pages ever so slowly and scan the lines ever so carefully to try and find that elusive news item of Lord Sacks's visit to the Hill. This was after all a visit to a Stamford Hill school, whose 'principal' is constantly telling us how proud he is to be chareidi and how integrated his school is. Yet when a chance arose to show off his chareidi cohorts the stage was surprisingly bare. Although the Chief turned up with the chief executive of the United Synagogue, Simon Hochhauser, his counterpart in the Union, our own Rosh Hakohol Dovid Frand, was nowhere to be seen. Nor was the 'buffoon' in attendance despite his role as the nominal (nominee?) chair of the board of governors. And now like the death of Bin Laden they won’t even show us the photos in the papers.

It is of course not for me to say why a visit of the Chief Rabbi didn't make it into the papers with a photo of Rabbi and 'rabbi'. Perhaps geriatrics several thousand miles away searching, burning and selling their chometz take precedent. Or perhaps the 'rabbi' is only comfortable in the company of Indian High Commissioners, members of the Board of Deputies, prime ministers, mayors and the old bill. Actually members of this list share a common feature in their lack of facial hair and on the whole, other than the old bill, an absence of head gear. This would also explain the presence of the beardless chief executive of the United Synagogue but not his Union counterpart. The beardless buffoon's absence would still remain a mystery unless he was too busy arranging the pre-Pesach bin collections, the clanging of which we never cease to hear.

Chief in Bobov_thumb[1] - CopyIt's also not as if others were coy about appearing with the Chief Rabbi in public. In the photo above he is in the Bobov Shul as part of his visit and being warmly greeted by Reb Leibel Stempel. So it appears it is only the 'rabbi' who treats the Chief’s presence like a crime scene and like Macavity is nowhere to be seen. There is however a difference and herein lies the point.

The more extreme elements of the community don't shun Bobov in the way they shun YHS and Bobov does not have an exposed right flank to protect as the 'rabbi' does. Bobov is also a large community with a strong following even after its recent split and is perfectly capable of looking after itself. Unfortunately that is not the case with YHS. Due to the way a single family has monopolised the school it has no natural or grassroots constituency to turn to when things turn sour.

Thus so long that Hebrew classes are free, teachers are on the whole heimishe girls barely out of their teens and the admissions is to all intents and purposes restricted to the YHS Junior school, any concern about the voluntary aided status of the school will be the sole concern of the loonies and the kids will keep on filling the shifting admission numbers. Should there however arise a backlash due to visits by undesirables, or closures due to goyishe weddings, the school may quickly find its intake dry up. The various categories and definitions of 'chareidi' the school has conjured up to keep kids locked out of those tall gates would quickly become academic if it cannot fill the minimum admission places.

And so just like Sacks could make it to the church but not to Hugo Gryn's funeral, so the 'rabbi' may be seen with anyone high ranking so long that there’s not a whiff of frumkeit about them but not with the far-from-heimishe Chief Rabbi Sacks in situ. This is no surprise to us as little surprises us about the 'rabbi' round here. Unlike outsiders who are disarmed by his humour we never get to see his humour and rarely even his impressive physiognomy. Any disarming carried out locally tends to me more surreptitious, more conventional and rarely a laughing matter.

What however is surprising is that Sacks agreed to play the fool.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Bank holiday blues

Just before Rosh Hashono I made a New Year's resolution to blog about the creeping fundamentalisation of our community. If I haven't touched upon the subject again it was after all a resolution and not because of a shortage of subject matter. I was not referring to the big things that make the headlines but rather the small relatively trivial matters that are easily shaken off as 'not a big deal' and 'I really can't see what the fuss is about'. While each measure individually may indeed be relatively minor collectively they are of greater significance than the big issues which cause headlines and the occasional backlash. Not just due to the total sum of the parts but because of their size the little things are usually not noticed or are easily dressed up.New norms are thus created which in turn pave the way for the next wave of even greater madness that inevitably follows on their heels.

In a community where there is no platform for dissent (bar the male mikvoes) even those minded to complain think the better of looking silly and kicking up a fuss over nothing. 'You really do have problems, don't you'. And they do have a point. With earth shattering problems like speed humps on Jessam Avenue or a bus lane on Amhurst Park, compulsory tights for 3 year olds or a mechitze the length of the lobby at the Decorium really do pale into insignificance. And so before you know it not only has some new craze been accreted to what we must or subtracted from what we may, but history has even been rewritten as part of the bargain. It was always so, they will tell us and who will make an ass of him or herself to argue.

But having just been granted two super long weekends in succession in addition to Pesach, not only has time been in abundance but yet another new yiddishkeit has come to light: school on bank holidays.

In the past the local girls’ schools were given a day off on bank holidays, presumably because it is a national holiday although this may now be disputed. The boys in the Chasidic schools would be made to attend classes as they study Torah and time for them is just too precious to mark May Day, Whitsun or some other meshugass. Mind you since the boys sit few exams to set syllabuses and not at any particular time of the year you'd think that a day off could easily be made up by for instance finishing later on a Friday in the summer. Isn't that why punctuality in the boys' schools, of pupils and teachers alike, is disregarded and a few days off here and there taken on the chin? But that is how it's always been at most of the boys' schools and it's not about to change any time soon.

Of late however the girls schools have also been opening on Bank Holidays and last Friday and Monday children flocked to school as if Will and Kate weren’t about to kiss and May Day was just for the Soviets. Even YHS which initially bucked the trend has now joined the fray. Despite its voluntary aided status, or perhaps because of it, it sees no need to adopt norms of the national schools. Attendance, it appears, follows governance in which they are a law unto themselves. The YHS boys' school, the most liberal of the lot round here, also used to have half day only on Bank Holidays but apparently not any more either. It would however not be fair in this instance to single out any school since I hear the rot has spread even to genteel Golders Green. Tifereth girls school also operated on the last public holidays.

And so the school vans ply their trade transporting human cargo, cutting corners and honking their horns as if the whole world's up for work. For in our environs silence is desirable and noise deprecated only during the apr├Ęs tsholent, post coital Shabbos siesta which should not be disturbed by some Polish chap, with a heimishe landlord no less, washing his car with the music or match of the day blaring. Some people are just so insensitive. Anyway, it’s all not really a big deal, I hear you say and surely there must be bigger fish to fry. That however is precisely my point.

Of course, it's all easily explained away and revisionism round here has a respectful pedigree. You see, once the schools had goyishe teachers and so they couldn't be asked to come in on bank holidays. But now boruch hashem it's all heimishe school girls, educated and trained at heimishe sems, in heimishe blouses, skirts, tights and pony tails, so why have a day off? Vos epes? In the immortal words of the late Rabbi Dunner, 'we're not banks, so why bank holidays?' (Who ever said the yekes lack wit?) And don't we have lots and lots of yomim toivim which they don't have plus we need 2 whole weeks off before Pesach because it's so important that the girls get to help their mothers so why borrow yet more days off from the goyim? Please don't press the issue for the tone to become even higher pitched: you think helping at home is not important? It's just as important as some of the rubbish they do at school.

Having school on a day others don't has its benefits too. In an era when everyone is trying to outholy the other isolating oneself ever more is a way of putting clear blue water between 'us' and 'them'. Conversely, for those mildly left of centre not having school when other do may expose their right flank. Hence YHS's and the Golders Greeners’ predicament. So as always the holy ones win out in the end and on we march blissfully to our paradisal sunset.

One should however not be too harsh on the schools because they do not operate in isolation. It is ultimately the parents who are only too happy to dump their kids on the school and they would be the greatest objectors if the kids were set free for the day. Of course no one will ever call the school to beg them to take the bloody kids off the furniture because our dear kinderlach are our just too precious for that. So yiddishkeit comes in handy as it always does. And along we adults could go and enjoy bank holiday discounts secure in the knowledge that our pure neshomelech are not cholilo being contaminated by the flesh on show at another bank holiday funfair.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Sacks on the Hill

Chief on Hill

Lord of the Ringlets

With no prior announcement and none of the PR fanfare the 'rabbi' is so adroit at, Yesodey Hatorah Secondary School for Girls, to give it its full name, last week welcomed Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks to its hallowed corridors. You read it here first as it appears to have been too late for last week's Hamodia where the 'rabbi' acts as an unpaid advisor, which must mean that a front page photo every other week is of no value or payment in kind doesn't count.

The girls themselves were told only the day before thus denying more right wing elements the chance to galvanise and arrange some form of protest. Some parents may even have withheld their dear neshomolech from school for the day. Since the 'rabbi' respected his girls when they refused to take an exam paper on Shakespeare he would undoubtedly have respected them on this point of principle too. But it is a moot point since the Chief's visit passed off without incident and one must now wait for the weekend papers to see Sacks beaming on an N16 platform he so covets and Pinter with an equally broad smile in the company of yet another semi-Jew as far as we in Stamford Hill are concerned.

You may wonder why the 'rabbi' had to turn so far west, and so far left, and to such high altitudes for a speaker for his girls. Isn't bringing a rabbi to Stamford Hill a bit like taking coal to that suburb of Gateshead? Before even our own chief Padwa has addressed the girls along comes a Lord from a different manor to shepherd our sacred sheep.And it's not as if the lesser local rabbis have been exhausted since rabbis rarely step foot into that place lest anyone suspect that history is not as it's been rewritten. That what has been turned into the sole domain of a single extended family was actually established by rabbis and individuals with different family names.

Inviting dignitaries from foreign shores whose sheep would never be welcome in our greener meadows comes with its own reciprocal kickbacks. And if in this instance it provided a photo opportunity with an ermine backdrop then all the better. As to the addressees, those precious neshomelech, they too provide a pretty setting for opportunistic photo shoots. And supine too, for his Lordship was not taken to the boys’ school where a different reception may have awaited him assuming he was received at all.

So it was left to the acting head who actually runs the school (bar admissions and external relations which by convention are the domain of the ‘principal’), and who by remarkable and as yet unexplained coincidence happens to be none other than the 'principal's dear wife, to advise the children the day before of their noble guest and then give way to her husband to officiate on the day. I mean he is the 'principal' after all though mind you his appearance in front of his flock is almost as rare as that of the Chief himself. It may even have been his debut address to 'his' school had not the former prime minister but one popped round some years ago which forced the 'principal' to bring forward his maiden speech to the maidens.

In line with the school's mission of developing the girls' thinking, initiative, creativity and leadership skills, questions to the Chief would be allowed. Questions however are a dangerous tool in the wrong hands for one cannot predict the answers from the Chief. Worse still once cannot foretell questions some of the girls may be harbouring in their delicate brains. Questions such as which we are told are never posed in our postal areas.

For instance, why do we celebrate our freedom by subjecting our womenfolk to slavery in the weeks running up to the festival? Which may have prompted, why do girls break up 2 weeks early to 'help their mothers' while boys study on blissfully for an extra week to keep them from under their mother's feet? Questions also have a horrible habit of veering from their course. A question may have been popped to our own paragon of inclusivism and bridge-building: should not a publicly funded school with a mission to 'understand the world we live in' have a day off for the national holiday of the royal wedding especially when an honour from those quarters is so hankered after?

But trust the 'rabbi' to come up with a solution. Yes, question will be asked but only by the highest class. Yes, questions will be asked but we will decide who will ask them. Yes, question will be asked and we'll even set the questions for the questioners. The mission does after all also include moral understanding and we cannot afford to allow morals to fly out of the window for the sake of satisfying a guest as exalted as he may be. So a question on anti-Semitism will do very nicely thank you but as for more pressing issues, girls, that's not for our sort yidn.

As for Rebbetzin Sacks, well that's a bit of a touchy matter. It is after all a girls' school so perhaps it would be fitting for the Chief's wife to come along. But then there are rebbetzins and rebbetzins. In our environs we like them plump with 15 layers of clothing, skirts till the Maginot line to repel would be invaders, shrapnel proof hosiery and sheitels if not evocative of a mop then hidden away altogether under some contraption of a kerchief. If you are a chief rebbetzin like, say, Padwa you must also instigate campaigns of tznius (and more on that shortly). But rebbetzins of the Sack's variety, well how shall we put it, she may just give the girls some wrong ideas. You know, that rabbis' wives too may look presentable and even attractive, and that, we're afraid, is not quite part of the school's mission. It is just possible that the rebbetzin too didn’t particularly cherish pre-Pesach meetings of the haggard-eyed sisterhood in turbans with one hand on their hips and another cupping their chin, 'and where are you up to with Pesach?'

Truth said, since her photo would not appear in the papers and definitely not in the company of the ever so photogenic 'rabbi' she was hardly missed. The meeting of the two titans, nos. 1 and 8 respectively in the Power List (of which more here) served its purpose very well without her. Each can go back to his respective constituency enhanced by the visit. No. 1 can demonstrate how his clout reaches even in darkest N16. It might even earn him a rare photo in the Hamodia or Tribune as part of the bargain notwithstanding that to all intents and purposes he was brought in through the tradesman's entrance to address as softie an audience as could be mustered.

And no. 8? Well, he can yet again parade his Cheshire cat grin showing off the extent of his reach to parts others can’t even touch with the ever so subtle subtext that from a perch so high nothing can be toppled.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Chief Rabbi and London Beth Din: Then and now

To those interested in these matters here is a lengthy article on the right-left tensions between the Chief Rabbinate and the Beth Din which exist till this day. They may well intensify depending on the United Synagogue’s choice of the next Chief Rabbi.

As to this future appointment in some two and a half years Miriam Shaviv suggested, rather mischievously, in last week’s JC that elections be held for the next Chief. One of her arguments is that in any attack from the London Beth Din and further to the right (east?) the new Chief would be able to point to a popular mandate. I am afraid that those attacking from the right care little for popular mandates and if anything will make him more of a laughing stock in those quarters. Back room deals over dead bodies a la Padwa are the order of the day round here. And this is before even opening that delicious can of worms on whether women too would be allowed to vote…

Debates even of a halachic nature do not sway these people as was seen recently in Israel when there was disagreement between Rabbis Elyashuv and Yosef over conversion issues. Rather than trade barbed euphemisms if not direct insults in lengthy responsa employing puns and paraphrases of biblical and talmudic verses as has traditionally been the custom of the rabbis, Elyashuv threatened a demonstration. It appears that the ‘world’s leading halachic authority’, who’s barely put pen to paper in recent years and even further back has no seminal work to his name, is resorting to mob rule. At over a hundred he must be tiring from the tirade of verbal, unreasoned, if not unreasonable, rulings on anything from crocs on Yom Kipur to Shabbos lifts and prefers the power brought about by the masses and the occasional dirty nappy.

And so we come to a situation where it is the Torah-less politicians and the gentiles who conduct arguments by debate and decide by common suffrage and it is the rabbis who employ mob rule. Apparently the chosen weren’t meant to choose for the concept of choice implies that there is more than one legitimate way. Since there can be only one version of the truth giving people any say in any matter is heresy and so forbidden and bless the Lord for the state we’re in.