[Followed by Osher: The Postscript (featuring melchett mike's Osher Poll)]
A couple of hours after posting Hasmo Legends XIII: A Legend (Osher) Strikes Back, I received a phone call from a fellow ex-Hasmo Tel Avivi (single, no dogs) who couldn’t believe the coup of having Osher Baddiel on melchett mike:
“If you could have chosen anyone,” Jonny said excitedly, “Osher would have been in the top five . . . perhaps even the top one!”
And over two hundred comments in three weeks is testament to the fact that – agree with his views or disagree, and whether you liked him at Hasmo or not – Osher Baddiel is almost the definition of a legend: “a person about whom unauthenticated tales are told” (The Concise Oxford Dictionary).
Much of my initial, 45-minute telephone conversation with – or, more accurately (for the first twenty minutes or so), lecture from – Osher (see Hasmo Legends XIII: The Background below the main post) centered on the right to exist. Not of Israel. But of Hasmo Legends. According to Osher (I hope Mr. Baddiel will forgive the impertinence . . . it is how we all knew him), the series is a necessary evil which encourages only mischief and is causing only hurt: “A fat lot of kiddush Hashem it is doing.” And he repeatedly urged me to remove all posts and comments at once: “Close it. Kill it. Bye-bye.” (But Osher’s unambiguous views on the subject are there for all to read, and rehashing them here serves no useful purpose.)
When (during the initial barrage) I managed to get a word in edgeways, I informed Osher that my motives for penning Hasmo Legends were anything but malicious – I had a lot of warm and amusing memories of Hasmonean, and had been amazed to find little or nothing written about the institution on the Web. I told him that if he would actually read my posts (and turn a blind eye to the odd indiscretion), he might even find them amusing and of merit. In spite of having an Internet connection, however, Osher seemed intent not to be seen to be condoning the series, the blog, or their author (though he did eventually concede that I was “not a bad fellow”, but had just “made a very silly mistake”).
It is Osher’s disapproval of Hasmo Legends, and of melchett mike, which makes the fact of his posting all the more startling, according both a certain degree of ‘official’ approval which they did not previously have. Of course, I had no intention of telling him that. And his express precondition for posting, that I refrain from editing his words, was entirely superfluous. I had no intention! Whilst chosen to damn me – and my fellow “overgrown babies” – those words merely incriminated their author and, in many ways, Hasmo’s former religious ‘elite’. Indeed, they are a far better record of the ethos of Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys than our cumulative testimonies. And, every time I read them, I am taken back to the pottiness of those musty, dilapidated classrooms.
However surprising the fact of his posting, it confirms Osher’s status as Hasmo’s primary maverick. Excluding the posts of Tony Pearce – who only had a cameo (however unique) in the carry-on that was Hasmonean – and a brief comment from Clive Fierstone, no other Hasmo Legend has had the courage or imagination to rear his head. We hardly expected DJ or Jerry Gerber to speak out, but one of the renegade English department, for example, could quite easily have done so without jeopardising a Golders Green shtiebl membership (in spite of his son being a regular contributor to melchett mike, unearthing information on Nazi war criminals has proved a simpler task than obtaining anything whatsoever on Jeff Soester).
I tried telling Osher that comments to Hasmo Legends indicate that the Hasmonean experiences of many ex-pupils (certainly many more than I would have imagined) were far from idyllic (and again, far further than I would have believed). Osher dismissed out of hand, however, the “online therapy” justification for the series.
When I brought up the issue of corporal punishment, Osher responded that “there was very little malice” at Hasmonean, that “those things were done in those days”, and that “sometimes a kid gets what’s coming to him”. Indeed, much of the violence in today’s society, Osher believes, stems from children no longer being physically disciplined at school: “Children don’t know what physical hurt means, so they do it to others when they leave.” And “the Torah,” Osher argues, “doesn’t say it is wrong to hit a child”.
I was longing, however, to get to the two matters of most interest to me: Osher’s attitudes towards Israel/Zionism, and to his celebrity rent-a-Jew cousin David Baddiel (who, on telly, always seemed oddly willing to play the role of a Jewish Uncle Tom).
I started by quizzing Osher about the truth of a comment to melchett mike, that he had asked a pupil who attended school on Yom Ha’Atzmaut in a blue and white striped shirt why he was “wearing an Auschwitz uniform”. “Not me,” replied Osher, “I would never have said that.” What Osher did, however, volunteer was his recollection – following a talk with Sixth Formers on some aspect of (what he considered to be) “chilul shabbes in Eretz Yisroel” – of the scrawling on a classroom wall: “Osher, Hitler would have loved you!”
Osher’s views on Israel – to a Sheinkin dweller at least – do seem rather extreme: “If you don’t keep Torah mitzvos, you have no right to it.” Osher further decries the arrogance of chiloni Israelis, who “think they can defend themselves without Avinu She’bashomayim.” And he is certain that Israel only continues to exist because of God’s help, much of which has been “undeserved” and given “on credit”.
Far from being totally detached from the State, however, Osher’s mother and son live here, and he certainly has a finger on Israel’s pulse, commenting on the evils of certain “parades” (he didn’t need to specify which) and that so-called human rights groups, B’tselem and Shalom Achshav, are “terrible enemies of the Jewish people”.
When I asked Osher whether he had any sympathy for Neturei Karta and the individuals who met with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, he replied that he was “dead against them” and that they were so out of touch that “even the Arabs don’t use them for propaganda”.
In spite of having it on my to ask list, I decided not to bring up Osher’s alleged ‘assault’ on Norman Kahler, as witnessed by various commenters to melchett mike. If I can be forgiven for the Khaled Mashaal impression, it sounded very much like Norman – with his endless “Zionist provocations” – had it coming to him!
I did, however, ask Osher whether he had really washed boys’ mouths out with soap. No denials there: “It was no more treif than what had come out of them. And they never swore again.” In front of him, at any rate.
My curiosity as to Osher’s relationship with his author/TV presenter (he is no more a comedian than Osher) relative, David Baddiel (right), stems from my recollection of the latter – in a desperate, failed attempt to draw Osher into a 2004 episode of the BBC genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are? – making some cringeworthy reference to his ultra-Orthodox cousin whilst standing outside a Golders Green bagel bakery. Osher recalled how the documentary’s producer had spent two and a half hours in his Stamford Hill home, over tea, trying to persuade him to participate. Even the very little Osher knew about David – including the “goyishe girlfriend” – was sufficient to persuade him that it could only come to no good. And David’s boasting of his partiality for seafood confirmed to Osher that he had made the correct decision. As he put it, in true Osher style: “Even goyim don’t eat oysters!” Anyhow, it seems that a wider Baddiel family Rosh Hashanah reunion may not be on the cards.
Towards the end of our first conversation, Osher enquired as to my marital status. On hearing of my singularity, he proceeded to impart similar advice to that which I receive daily from my dear mother. Following his “parades” reference, I was longing to reassure Osher – though why I don’t know – that I am not gay. But I couldn’t quite summon up the courage or the appropriate wording (I mean, would I have gone for “gay”, “homosexual” . . . or something rather more “feigele”-like?)
Osher then enquired as to my level of religious observance. I gulped (even though I knew it was coming). “Are you sure you want me to tell you?” He did. And I told him. “Of course you believe in the Ribono Shel Olom,” Osher assured me, “you are just estranged from him. It is just that you have seen things in your life that you didn’t like.” (At the risk of reinforcing your views on modern Israel, Osher, what I forgot to tell you is that I was the first person in my company – of over nine hundred employees – to challenge the big boss and put a mezuzah on my office door. My deference to the Big Boss, even if born of superstition, perhaps means that I am not such an apikores after all.)
My “joker” for Osher was the thorny issue of charedi service – or, rather, the lack of it – in the IDF. But I might as well not have played it. “The Shulchan Oruch and the Rambam,” he assured me, allow for “Torah learners to be left alone.”
“Anyway,” said Osher, “frum Jews have never got a good press, because we’re outlandish and strange.”
I couldn’t argue with that. I had, however, enjoyed talking – or, rather, for the most part, listening– to Osher. And I must have asked him about five times whether I could have “just one more question”. In spite of Osher repeatedly saying that he “would like to keep up the contact” (I would too), I had the strong feeling that I had to make the most of this audience because he might not speak to me so freely again.
Defending his position on corporal punishment, Osher had commented: “Fashions change. Values don’t. Because they come from Hashem . . . and He doesn’t change.”
Pithy and brilliant.
What a shame, I thought, that this man – who most definitely has something to say (even if I might not always agree with it) – didn’t teach me at Hasmo, instead of the various muppets . . . who had nothing to.
[I took contemporaneous handwritten notes of my telephone conversations with Osher Baddiel with his express knowledge and consent, and on the clear understanding that I would be using them to accurately document them. I did not amend the above post in the light of the following.]
Osher: The Postscript (featuring melchett mike‘s Osher Poll)
During my drive home from work, on Monday, I had two “missed calls” from a UK telephone number. I called back. It was Osher Baddiel. He asked me to remove his post from melchett mike. I listened to the reasons for his request – essentially, the nature of the comments it had engendered – whilst remaining purposely non-committal.
The following day, after receiving a message from Osher on my answer machine – seeking confirmation that I had removed the post as requested – I sent him the following by e-mail:
Dear Mr. Baddiel,
I just heard your voice message.
After spending the evening thinking it over, I have decided not to remove your post from the blog. You expressly agreed that I post it, and – with the greatest respect – I will not remove it because you don’t like the resulting discussion. I will, however, consider removing or editing specific comments.
I had already (i.e., before your telephone call of yesterday) written a further post about our conversations, which I told you I would and which I intend to post. If you would like me to send it to you first, I will be happy to and to take into consideration your response. Anyway, I think you will find it to be – in the main – flattering and positive.
As I have mentioned to you, many, many ex-Hasmos have found the Hasmo Legends series to be extremely beneficial, and not just mere entertainment.
I am not e-mailing because I wish to avoid talking to you, but because I fear it would end in an argument. And I don’t wish to get into that situation with you. Our world views are very different. I will talk about the law and rights. And you will talk about Torah.
Even though I didn’t really get to know you during my Hasmo days, I respect you and your forthrightness. And I would still like to meet you some day soon, even though I understand that I might now be jeopardizing that . . . or that I am likely, at the very least, to get a “putch” for my disobedience!
I addressed Osher’s reply of that same afternoon, written between paragraphs of the above, on a similarly piecemeal basis (my explanations of the context, where necessary, in square brackets):
- I listened carefully [to your request] and very intentionally did not make any “promises” of the kind [that I would remove the post].
- You are of course “entitled to ask for it back”, but – in terms of the general law – I don’t believe that I am obliged to remove it. This is made even clearer by the terms and conditions of my blog (see http://melchettmike.wordpress.com/about-this-blog/).
- Your post has had 3,145 ‘hits’ to date. Since November of last year, my blog has had 128,378. These statistics hardly support your contention [that the post has "breathed life into" melchett mike and that I "wish to exploit" it "to engender more interest"] (though you are of course free to think as you please).
- I have no desire to get into a personal war of words, but your post makes it abundantly clear that you are not afraid of hurting people’s “feelings”. [re Osher, once again, accusing contributors to melchett mike of this]
- The e-mail at the bottom of this page [seeking, and obtaining, your confirmation I could post the draft] makes it quite clear that there were no such “false pretences” involved. [re Osher’s claim that his post was obtained under such]
Just as you have no wish do get into a public “scrum”, I have no wish to get into a private one. You sent me a post. I posted it. I do not believe that I am under any obligation, moral, legal, or otherwise (we are not at school anymore), to unpost it.
If you wish to appeal via the blog, feel free to do so. They are not all “foulmouthed cretins”.
It may sound a little harsh, but the bottom line is this . . . melchett mike is a blog (see the link above). It is not the Hasmonean School Magazine Online. If it were, none of you would be reading it. I am an ex-journalist, and (believe it or not) take my blog reasonably seriously. And, whilst it didn’t “make” melchett mike as Osher seems to think, receiving a post from him was (as I wrote in the first paragraph above) a “coup” for Hasmo Legends. Why would I remove it?
Early on that Tuesday evening, Osher sent me his pièce de résistance (of seven hundred words no less), to which, yesterday morning, I replied as follows:
Dear Mr. Baddiel,
In spite of the deeply insensitive things that you wrote about me in your post to the blog, I went out of my way to refrain from attacking you personally. But you fail to accord me the same courtesy. How ironic that you write about “hurting people, deliberately, gratuitously” . . . and call me a “bully boy”!
You have now crossed the line, and I certainly no longer feel the need to accord you special treatment. I won’t, however, get drawn into an unseemly e-mail ‘war’. But neither will I “tell [my] bloggers” anything. If you are as “not afraid of the truth” and “not scared of [my] bloggers” as you claim, you will have no objection to their seeing the e-mails you have sent me. I have nothing to hide . . . do you?
In some sense, as a result of all their comments, my Hasmo Legends series has become theirs too. And perhaps they are the ones to decide whether your post to the blog should rightfully be removed.
By prompt reply, Osher refused me permission to publish his e-mails, which I will respect (even though, from a strictly legal standpoint, I don’t believe that I require any such permission). Perhaps he considers them copyrightable works of art. In subtlety, however, they owe rather less to the school of Michelangelo than to that of Rabbi Angel (and the plank for our backsides that he christened “wacko”).
Indeed, after what he wrote in those e-mails, I have little respect left for Osher Baddiel. They were hateful, viciously abusing both me – though I am mischievously proud of my new “Rotter-in-Chief” title – and contributors to melchett mike. Osher was particularly scathing and unpleasant about my relationship with his seeming bêtes noires, Stuey (above right) and Dexxy. The great defender of former Hasmo teachers’ and Rebbes’ (suddenly) delicate sensibilities appears to have no problem assaulting those of their former pupils, too many of whom are singing from the same hymnsheet for his liking. (If Osher wishes to challenge any of this, I will gladly publish his e-mails . . . and let you be the judges.)
So, what do I take out of this whole Osher episode (apart, that is, from marvel at the man’s astonishing ability to psychically reproduce dogs)?
(Trite and banal, perhaps, but . . .) That religious extremism is bad, whatever the religion. No less than the fundamentalist imams around the corner from him, in Finsbury Park, Osher dexterously manipulates the Scriptures to suit his own arguments and ends. His post to melchett mike, e-mails, and even telephone utterances, clearly illustrate that Osher does not apply the laws of loshon hora (for example) as rigorously to himself as to others. And I have no doubt that Osher would have a most eloquent and persuasive justification for that. (It is just fortunate that Jewish texts are rather less open to pernicious interpretation than those of our Islamic cousins [though 72 virgins could always be nice].)
And there was I, wondering how many buses I would have to catch for the honour of tea with a Legend in N16 during my next visit to the “green and pleasant land” (though Stamford Hill is probably not quite what William Blake had in mind).
Next on Hasmo Legends, Part XV: “Polly” Sue Schneider