Sunday, September 25, 2005

No More Mr Nice Guy

So British academia has decided to try again to arrange a boycott of Israeli universities. Tony Blair is being advised to scrap Holocaust day and Red Ken gets away with comparing the Israeli army to Hamas. Meanwhile the government is advised that their foreign policy is to blame for the ‘growing resentment and rising radicalism within the Muslim community. You might quite fairly ask how these affect a Chassid living on the Hill, our yeshivas are not recognised anyway, we do not rely on the holocaust to define our Jewishness and Ken has never been our favourite politician anyway? The combination of all these is however sending a very clear message to British Jewry despite the fact that in their typically ingratiating manner Established British Jewry refuses to enunciate it in public.

The reason our wishes, feelings and sensibilities are being ignored is because everybody, from the Foreign Minister down to the mugger on the street, knows that the Jews will not fight back but bend over backwards to prove what model citizens they can be even as the BBC regularly slams our country as some bastard-state. Even as the British government sends officers to the airport to arrest the generals who risked their lives protecting us from the terrorists who have sworn to annihilate us, while terrorist clerics like Yusuf al-Qaradawi are invited to London and given the red-carpet treatment. Like our parents and grandparents in Europe we will determinedly remain silent and good while our rights and lives are stripped away, salami-style, slice by slice. Meanwhile the Muslim community, with none of our snivelling desire to please, will soundly prove that if they do not get their way they will bomb us, together with our hosts the crusaders (the new muslim in-word for Christians or westerners), to hades.

We will stand around smiling as the BBC invites 'Abd Al-Bari 'Atwan, of the Al Quds newspaper based in London, onto Dateline London, a weekly talkshow, to explain that Hamas is entitled to bomb civilians in Israel because it is called resistance. I actually did write to complain, seeing as Tony Blair had announced that all calls to terrorism anywhere were illegal and would be punished. It seems however that I had misunderstood; it was calls to kill WASPs that are illegal. Jews have to understand that they are different. A glib reply from the BBC informed me that they do not take responsibility for what interviewees say.

I am not sure what it will take for the EBJ organisations to actually realise that the water landing on their faces really is gooey spittle and admit it. How long it will take before they realise that all the years of ‘contributing to the community’ and proving to all sundry how ‘normal’ we are were a waste of time. That if we had had been a little more strident and unapologetic we might not have been such a walkover. What they can do about it now is another question. It would be illegal and foolish to argue for a more violent approach for our cause, just as foolish indeed as not to acknowledge it would help. What is realistic however is to take a page out of the American book and stop being so nice.

The real reason I say this is because I am watching the same thing happening in a microcosm called Stamford Hill. Some machers with more power than sense have started a campaign of denying admittance to the religious schools of girls whose mothers commit cardinal sins like wearing denim or looking too pretty. Sadly, because the very act of fighting back is likely to result in permanent pariah status for their entire family, nobody is prepared to fight back openly and the result is that a group of sad innocent little girls cry themselves to sleep each night dreaming of the dubious honour of going to the YHS or Beis Yaakov. The Rabbinate claims it is powerless to help although face to face they admit they disagree with this policy. How more British could they get?

Next week is Rosh Hashana. As we go to shul and contemplate the past year and the possibilities for the coming one I hope we all take a moment to consider what the result of our silence and inaction is and resolve to use the power we do have, whether it is persuasion or influence or just the power of the formerly silent masses, to help us all. British Jewry and Stamford Hill deserves better.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sixth Sense

As an exercise in objectivity I was once given a newspaper report to read about the political situation in the UK. Its headline read “41% of Britons express confidence in the government’s handling of negotiation with Sinn Fein” (the political wing of the Irish Republican Army), or words to that effect. We were asked to write alternative headlines with the same information. Surprisingly enough, in our group of five only one came up with the obvious variation the coach was looking for. “59% of Britains express no confidence in the government’s handling of negotiations with Sinn Fein.”

A na├»vely provocative email I received through the kosher grapevine gloatingly declares: “On August 15, 10,000 patriotic Jews were expelled from their homes and made refugees in their own country to fulfil the dictates of the US sponsored Road Map to Peace. There are approximately 6 million people in Israel .10,000 divided by 6,000,000 equals 0.00167.

“Two weeks later, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in the southern U.S. and laid waste and complete desolation to the City with a population of 500,000. US News agencies are openly calling those displaced by the hurricane "refugees. There are approximately 300 million people in the United States. 500,000 divided by 300,000,000 equals 0.00167!

"Fire and hail, snow and vapour, stormy wind, fulfil His word!" -Psalms 148:8”

It does not take a rocket scientist to pick holes in the mathematics. There were no 10.000 evacuations nor were the evacuees made refugees. The disengagement was as much a surprise to the Americans as it was to us and the entire population of New Orleans was not made homeless just for starters. Still devotees of the gematria (kabbalistic numerology) in Chassidistan willingly accept such drivel as the gospel’s word and divine proof of the ‘rightness’ of their cause.

Unfortunately we the ultra-orthodox, for all the time we spend studying those, often mind-numbing tracts and developing our ability to rebuild the complicated, logical reasonings of the Talmud, have no real training in demolishing an argument or picking it apart. Doing that to Talmudic logic is a one-way ticket to purgatory. Which is why I have to say, with all due respect of course, that to manipulate the learned elders of our community and get them to accept anything you like is child’s play, providing you choose your words right. Believe me, I have done it!

I was therefore only mildly surprised when the supreme leader for life of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth (a.k.a. the local Chassidic Rav) issued a decree a week before the disengagement forbidding the tying of orange ribbons to car aerials in Stamford Hill. Did our own street-savvy Rabbis feel it was too provocative for Londoners to see such open displays of disobedience to the democratically elected Sharon? Unlikely.

The four books of the Shulchan Aruch that function as the basis for all Halachik law are famously joined by the fifth: Common sense! Mine tells me that this was either an ingratiating sop to themselves to the marginal anti-zionists or a pathetic misjudgement of the sentiment on the street, that would prefer to see real issues addressed instead of children’s horseplay with ribbons. Still there is hope. Recent unofficial polls show a strong 20%* of members has faith in the Rabbinate and their ability to effectively manage and represent our community.

*Poll carried out on 5 subjects. Please take a possible sampling error of around
3% into account