Category Archives: Jews & Judaism

Thank you, Pete . . . a Libertine in every sense

Bouncing home in the early hours of Friday from a second wonderful night of Pete Doherty at Barby Tel Aviv, I am ‘greeted’ by depressingly familiar facebook discussions about Roger Waters and BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) . . . aka the ‘respectable’, twenty-first century boycott of Jews.

I got into indie rock/post-punk revival band The Libertines thanks to a religious-gig-going mate. And something about its maverick co-frontman Doherty, whether his talented songwriting (my favourite example, from his subsequent group, Babyshambles) or even some of his offstage excesses, immediately struck a chord with this ‘nice’ Jewish boy from Hendon (I guess because of Jonny, I have always been drawn to the outsider/misfit/rebel). And soon thereafter, my then boss, duty soliciting, picked up Doherty as a client following one of his not infrequent drug-related indiscretions. So you can imagine my excitement when I spotted, on facebook, that Pete was actually coming to Tel Aviv . . .

Pete Doherty, Barby TA, 30.4.14

Springing out of the Central Bus Station last Wednesday evening, I at once purchased a few tins of Sudanese-strength lager for the walk through south Tel Aviv’s Shapira neighbourhood. They soon did the trick, also helping to make ma’ariv and kaddish in the local Beit Tefila somewhat less routine than usual.

Pete’s opening “Shalom” immediately warmed the heart. Sometimes it is hard living here. Not the day-to-day. Just the constant feeling that we are on our own and the regular reminders that “they” don’t like us, siding instead, quite incomprehensibly to us, with the brutally oppressive, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamofascist terror ‘state’ nextdoor.

"I like Tel Aviv!"

“I like Tel Aviv!”

So when artists like Doherty refuse to go along with the campaign of hate, speak their first few words of Ivrit (even if, like Pete, confusing their “tov me’od” and “toda”), swig from a bottle of Goldstar, draw on their first Israeli joint, and even relate their experiences from the Carmel Market that morning – see the clip (of Thursday night’s opening) at the bottom – it just means so indescribably much. Well it does, at least, to me.

Pete sussed the locals immediately. “You have to negotiate everything here,” he exclaimed, on emerging for his encore. “I just asked this bloke back there for two minutes [rest]. “No,” he goes, “you can have one”!” Tel Aviviot, too. “You’re a little optimistic,” he told one of them, on unfurling and reading out her rather forward proposal for after the show.

I have always liked to believe that I possess a good instinct about people. Even famous people. When I first saw Morrissey swing those gladioli on Top of the Pops, I knew that here was a man . . . and, sure enough, some 25 years later, he also ignored the anti-Semites to come and play Tel Aviv (see And we’re still fond of you, Moz!)

BDS represents nothing less than ‘respectable’, post-Holocaust, anti-Semitism. The obsessives who today demonise the Jewish state by calling for its economic isolation are the same types who, in centuries past, demonised Jews with caricatures, boycotts, and far, far worse; or who, in return for longed-for Gentile recognition and acceptance, were prepared to sell out their fellow Jew.

BDS’s Israel-only bashing and self-hating-Jewish proponents are not folk you’d particularly want to share a beer with . . .

Emma Thompson

“Why does he call me that?”

Let us begin, for horrible English toff example, with old horseface Emma Thompson (who, at an international theatre festival to feature productions from, inter alia, Iran, Turkey and China, saw fit only to call for the boycott of the Jewish one!) Her daughter attended the same Hampstead school as children of friends. And, while other celebrity parents – including Sean Bean, Damian Lewis and Bill Nighy – gave of themselves in a fundraising campaign for a sick pupil, Thompson just gave excuses (via her publicist, of course). She was, on the other hand, excellent at making lots of luvvie/“look at me” noise outside the school gates. A horrid woman, by all accounts.

And talk to anyone unfortunate enough to have known Gerald Kaufman growing up in Leeds. They will tell you what a singularly repellent individual he was, even then (see “Dame” Gerald: Our very own “Uncle Tom” and Kaufman: Enough to make your Rabbi anti-Semitic). And one hears similar things about most others in the List of Shame, headed by the (thankfully) late Harold Pinter, the abhorrent Miriam Margolyes (see here . . . though not on a full stomach) and, sadly, two artists whom I once very much admired, Mike Leigh and Alexei Sayle.

Roger Waters in uniform

“Suits me, ja?!”

I have little doubt that Waters is another fabrenter (as my parents used to refer to such people). He has had more than enough time to explain why he picks on Israel, and suspends Star of David-emblazoned inflatable pigs over his audiences. To my mind, there is only one explanation. (And I feel vindicated in my lifelong disdain for the clinical dirges of Pink Floyd – if Hitler had come to power forty years later, guards at Dachau would have alternated Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with The Dark Side of the Moon.)

Thompson and Waters clearly couldn’t give a Fliegenschwein about human suffering. If they did, they would be working tirelessly on Syria, Saudi Arabia, Darfur, Eritrea, North Korea, China, etc, instead of tirelessly obsessing with the only democracy in the Middle East (and one that has been embroiled in an existential, 66-year war on terror). Their issue is with Jews.

The boycotters did try to get to Pete. “They told me it was dangerous here,” he quipped, after stumbling, one (joint-injected) Goldstar too many, into the audience. And while his suggestion for resolving the Middle East conflict – “You might as well just have a drink and listen to some music” – may be a tad facile, it comes from a love of all people, not the hatred of one.

Clean-liver he may not be, but Pete Doherty is clearly just an everyday good bloke. And he is the very antithesis of the arrogant, hypocritical, self-righteous, morally dishonest Thompsons and Waters of this world, who hide beneath veneers of decency, while rabidly pursuing racist agendas of the most pernicious kind. What an upside-down planet we live on, where public persona and choice of lifestyle, rather than fundamental goodness, accord that pair of cunts – apologies, but sometimes it’s the only word that’ll do – more standing than him.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a “libertine” as “a person who freely indulges in sensual pleasures” – as a Queens Park Rangers fan (Doherty once penned a club fanzine) puts it so tastefully here, “any chap whos rearended [melchett mike: allegedly] Moss gets my applause!” – but also as “a freethinker”.

Throughout his litany of troubles, there is one Yiddish word that has almost certainly never been used in association with Pete Doherty . . . but for us, Pete, you will always be a mensch.

[For more photos/videos of last week’s gigs, search YouTube and see here.]

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The Israeli Way in Death and Mourning

My cousin’s concern about my propensity for doing the right thing – the reason for him lending me The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning way back in January 2000 – was, I would like to believe, not as well-founded as it was well-meaning. Insofar as it related to my timely returning of other people’s property, however, there was certainly some justification for his doubt: the book – lent for fear that my somewhat cavalier approach to Orthodox practice might cost my just-deceased father his place in the World to Come – was still in my possession in August 2013.

The Jewish Way in Death and MourningBut, since dusting down the volume last month on the passing of my dear mother (may her memory be for a blessing), it has struck me that the otherwise fine and comprehensive work suffers from several important omissions, not least of which is a complete failure to address how one should deal with loss in modern Israel, because, while losing a loved one is always difficult, losing one here comes with all kinds of unexpected hardships. So, if Rabbi Lamm will forgive my chutzpah . . .

melchy on mourning, rule I: Do not, under any circumstances, allow your nearest and dearest to take his or her last breath late on a Friday morning – it just causes such an unnecessary, Erev Shabbos palaver . . .

Following futile efforts to extract anything more from the ward sister – imagine a Russian, utterly unendearing version of Hattie Jacques, who had clearly honed her family liaison skills in one of Brezhnev’s (far) eastern correctional facilities – than “she died,” I was summarily dispatched to the hospital on-duty rabbi to discuss burial.

“You should bury her now,” advised the kindly-looking chossid, in his late sixties, following a nervous glance at his watch. It was almost midday. “The cemetery is about to close.”

“But no one will be there,” I replied, with more than a hint of panic, “not her friends, not family . . . no one!” That was certainly not the send-off I had imagined for my very special mum (nor the one, I think, that she would have wished for herself).

“Well, it is up to you.”

“So . . . do I have to bury her now, or don’t I?”

“You should.”

“But do I have to?” I repeated, more forcefully this time, still wary – in spite of my rather less than positive experience, from Holders Hill Road, of Jews with beards – of going against religious wisdom in such a matter.

“It is up to you.”

With the conversation fast turning into a Marx Brothers routine and the rabbi clearly itching to lock up his Portakabin for Shabbos (and even relieved, perhaps, that I was leaning towards a Sunday burial), I took a filial decision: that if the rabbi hadn’t, Hasmo-style, yanked my negligible sideburns and forced me into burying my mother that very afternoon, there was clearly some discretion in the matter . . . so, Sunday noon it was!

melchy on mourning, rule II: Keep a large stick by the shiva house door . . .

When, immediately upon reaching the end of the line of well-wishers, I was approached, graveside, by the two schlemiels proffering the monumental masonry equivalent of the Argos Catalogue, I made short work of them and thought no more of it.

But when another matzeiva (headstone) salesman knocked on the shiva house door the following morning, I was simply too disbelieving to come out with anything that I would subsequently be proud of. And it was still a one-off, I reassured myself – sharp practice by a monumental mason with enough chutzpah to get ahead of the pack.

With the second and third visits that week, however, I was reminded of just where I was living: a country where, so sadly, almost anything goes.

“It’s just business,” an English-raised cousin attempted to placate me.

Living here clearly changes us, too.

melchy on mourning, rule III:  Come up with a reason better than death as to why you wish to cancel service contracts . . .

The shiva passed without incident. And I don’t think I managed to offend anyone this time around, unlike at my father’s, in 2000, when, to an unmistakably smartarse “Do you know who we are?”, I replied “Yes, you are the shiva cousins!”

Since then, however, I have had to deal with the God-awful companies that supplied my mother with TV, telephony and Internet for the last six and a half years.

I began with the Internet service provider, 012 Smile (though Frown has always seemed a more fitting epithet). And, after days of trying, I finally got through to a human being (or so I thought) . . .

“I want to cancel my mother’s Internet subscription,” I informed the customer service representative. “She passed away, unfortunately, on the second of August.”

“But why do you want to cancel?” enquired Jacqueline.

“Do I really need to explain?”

“It’s a pity,” said Jacqueline, clearly on a roll, “I can give you three months free!”

“Did you hear what I just told you? My mother died.”

“Please stay on the line,” the hapless, tactless Jacqueline replied, the shekel finally having dropped, returning some twenty seconds later with a clearly heartfelt “We, of course, share in your sorrow . . .”

Next was the ever-delightful HOT (see HOT . . . in the bedroom and under the collar, Nimas Lee: An open letter to HOT, and Some Don’t Like It HOT) . . .

Its Irena actually seemed to grasp – first time, too – why my mother would no longer be requiring telephone, Internet, or even television services, though I did receive three follow-up calls that same day, all beginning “I understand that you want to leave us . . . do you mind me asking why?”

HOT are so very thoughtful: even if there was a minuscule chance of a customer having a last-minute change of heart (or going back to them in the future), they obliterate it with a timely reminder as to exactly why you decided to get shot of the bastards in the first place!

melchy on mourning, rule IV:  Avoid kaddish wars . . .

There does not seem to be a shul in this entire country – or an Orthodox one, at least (It’s always the frum ones,” the Legendary Ivan Marks would often lament– where one can recite kaddish without being drowned out by some arrogant tosser (Ashkenazi) or nutter (Sephardi) who appears persuaded that his departed relative was so much more special than everybody else’s that his duty in mourning is to cantillate over them all.

I have as yet resisted (though only just) the temptation to compete with said tossers/nutters and, the stronger one still, to just bash them over the bonce with my new hardback Koren (see below). But, oh, how I long for the civilisation of the United Synagogue!

melchy on mourning, rule V:  Don’t be a cynic . . .

I attended shul three times a day during shloshim (the first thirty days of mourning). But how many times, and in how many ways, can one say “God is great” in a single day and still maintain a semblance of interest?! I would just sit there incredulous most of the time, staring at the intelligent-looking people around me, wondering just how they could all seemingly be so into this.

My continued fiddling under the table, however, with my new Galaxy S4 – before jumping up, like a Yok-in-the-box, to recite kaddish (I hope it still counted) – was starting to get noticed, so I purchased the Koren Siddur in an attempt to keep my brain at least partially active during proceedings. Before, that is, that I became sceptical about even that . . .

Translation by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,” I scoffed to myself, “who are they trying to kid?!” And I attempted to envisage Johnny Oxbridge sitting there through the long NW8 nights with his Thesaurus and a small, though perfectly presented, plate of cucumber sarnies (Grodzinski’s white, lightly buttered, sliced into quarters . . . am I right, Elaine?!)

I am a once-a-dayer these days. I say kaddish once. And I even strive for a little kavonoh. That feels right for me. After all, isn’t that what it is all about?!

.וְאִמְרוּ אָמֵן . . .

Only the Shammes: Moshe Steinhart z”l, 1925-2013

Hendon lost another (the other?) of its truly great characters on Thursday. And like Alan Hyam (bka “Cyril”) Bloomberg – who went to meet the Creator of all creatures, wretched and otherwise, in May 2012 – Moshe Steinhart, the shammes (beadle) of Hendon United Synagogue for almost 40 years, carried a name known well beyond the confines of NW4.

Any self-respecting Raleigh Closer asked to come up with his memorable Seventies quartets would – alongside Daltrey, Townshend, Entwistle and Moon, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Pelé and Tostão, Roberts, Holding, Garner and Croft – also find room for Hardman, Korn, Steinhart and Balducci, who constituted the backbone of his vibrant shul and community during that decade (see When Kol Nidrei really was Kol Nidrei and From Raleigh C to Petach T: Musings on Shul).

Here was a foursome, like the aforementioned others, the members of which complemented each other to perfection – gravitas and humanity, showmanship and flair, industry with a hint of madcap, and authority and brawn – to the extent that, on hearing reference to minister, chazen, shammes or caretaker, I still find myself thinking of that particular one of them.

Moshe Steinhart zMoshe Steinhart was born in Frankfurt, Weimar Germany, on 20 February 1925, but was raised in the Diskin Orphanage in Jerusalem. And letters of recommendation from the institution’s rabbis – discovered and read out at Moshe’s funeral, in Bushey, on Friday – confirm what many of us knew: that, beneath a simple, modest exterior, lay a man of considerable scholarship and yiras shomayim (fear of Heaven).

I don’t profess to have any clue as to how Moshe ended up in Hendon in 1967 – I have difficulty enough comprehending how I did (see Hendon: Just Nostalgic Illusion?) – though I believe that it was via various beadling apprenticeships in the East End and environs. What is clear, however, is that he found himself right at home in its shul, revelling in the role of shammes, the synagogue officer responsible for making the place tick. Indeed, one could argue that – like Keith Joseph in the Thatcher revolution, Peter Taylor at Nottingham Forest, and George in Seinfeld – Moshe, rather than his more esteemed, feted colleagues, was really the “main man”.

Standing – or, more accurately, swaying (even when not davening, Moshe was in almost permanent shockel, a deferential, bordering apologetic, slow, smiling, closed-eye bowing movement) – no more than five and a half feet in his socks (S. Reiss & Son, of course), a black Terylene kippah covering the mass of his snow-white hair, and a beigeish v-neck or cardigan protecting him from the vagaries of Angelo’s boiler, Moshe cut an unremarkable figure, and one that a limp, eczematic handshake (dreaded by children) did nothing to enhance.

Here, however, was a communal legend, and one whose wonderfully naive, malapropism-littered, pre-Adon Olam Shabbos morning announcements, in heavily accented English, were awaited considerably more eagerly – and were always a far bigger talking point – than the rabbi’s sermon. Indeed, any attempt to take the job away from him – by stick-in-the-muds hanging on to the ludicrous notion that synagogues (even United) are meant to be places of worship only – were met with popular, and often noisy, disapproval.

Announcing an upcoming Ladies Guild function one such Shabbos, Moshe informed congregants that tickets could be purchased from any member of the committee: “All you have to do is approach one of our lovely ladies, and she will give you a good time.”

It has been suggested that not all of Moshe’s announcements were as blundering or as innocent as they may have seemed, but, rather, the mischievous playing to an expectant, equally mischievous, kehilla. One such is even reputed to have been made in fulfillment of a dare: “The Honorary Officers take great pleasure in informing the congregation that Rabbi Silberg will be away on holiday for the next two weeks.”

On allocating “call-ups” on another Shabbos morning, Moshe approached the Raleigh Close Bench, i.e., Judge Aron Owen, as follows: “Your Honour, the Honorary Officers have given me the honour of honouring your Honour with an honour . . . your Honour.”

Never short, either, of an apt aphorism, after Immanuel Jakobovitz had been upgraded from “Sir” to “Lord”, but knowing that his wife’s title would remain unchanged, Moshe announced in their presence: “We wish a hearty mazal tov to Rav Jakobovitz for being made a Lord, and to Lady Jakobovitz . . . well, once a Lady, always a Lady!”

My favourite Moshe memory, on the other hand, cannot have been scripted. On the first evening of Succos, one year, he got up at the end of Ma’ariv to invite congregants to kiddush in the synagogue Succah. In spite of this being situated right next to the main shul, Moshe got himself so fermisht about the latter’s five exits that he somehow managed to embroil himself in a ten-minute explanation – by the conclusion of which there was hardly a congregant left seated – as to how to get there from each and every one of them!

Then there was Moshe’s unmistakable delivery: “Mincha this uffternoon will be at a qvorrrter pust six . . .” This would drive my father’s, otherwise supremely tolerant, shul neighbour to distraction: “Why does he have to talk like that?” he would whisper agitatedly. “I am also from Germany, but I don’t talk like that!”

As for his leining style, well, that was something altogether else: an unpredictable assortment of shrieks and squeaks, with spluttered coughs thrown in for good measure, that brought to life even the most dreary list of sacrifices. And Moshe’s rousing Yom-Kippur-mincha-concluding kaddish can never be forgotten by anyone back in his seat early enough – from his United Synagogue sanctioned (or, at least, tolerated) Unesaneh Tokef to Ne’ila shloof – to have heard it.

On the subject of shloofs, there was also Rabbi Silberg’s between-Mincha-and-Ma’ariv Shabbos shiur. Always positioning himself in the front row (middle block, extreme right-hand seat), Moshe would at once doze off . . . until, that is, the Rabbi misquoted a source, with which he would – as if his lower nostril had been disturbed with a feather – stir from his snooze, make the appropriate correction, and immediately return to la-la land.

Moshe was often excitable – “Mr. [Henry] Burns, the bush at the back of the shul is on fire! What should I do?!” (“Take off your shoes and talk to it,” is said to have come the sage reply) – and even irascible, usually, I tend to recall, when his idea of order had been disturbed (for example, by a Torah scroll having been returned to the ‘wrong’ ark).

It was clear, too, that Moshe had no time for humbug, or for the egos and nonsense of shul ‘politics’. But he was never confrontational in this regard, merely giving a hapless shrug to the nearest person who he thought might understand (I would like to think that I was in that number), and perhaps muttering his favoured refrain: “What do I know? I am only the shammes.”

But – from mundane office tasks, to yahrzeit-reminding, to getting bar mitzvah boys ready for their big day, to preparation of arba minim (even those ordered at the very last minute), to going to ridiculous lengths to attempt to ‘upgrade’ members disgruntled that their High Holiday seats were insufficiently close to God – no one can have been as devoted to a community. And Moshe was hugely loved and appreciated by that community.

I am not sure if there has ever been a shammes who wasn’t a character. It is almost part of the job description. I am always regaled, by ex-Dubliners, with tales of my late grandfather, Joe Isaacson, who fulfilled the role in the Adelaide Road synagogue of their childhood and youth (Chaim Herzog even recalled him by name in his autobiography, alongside the ostensibly more interesting, and definitely more worldly, individuals encountered in his career as Major-General, UN Ambassador, Member of Knesset, and, ultimately, President).

But, even by shammes standards, Moshe was special. And he was the life and soul of Raleigh Close.

Baruch Dayan Emes.

Moshe is survived by his daughter, Bina, three grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

[Thanks to Joe Bloomberg, Daniel Epstein, Richard Herman, Andy Hillel, Matthew Kalman, Alan Portnoi, Daniel Raye, Graham Summers and Anthony Wagerman, for their recollections/promptings. And your memories of Moshe will be gratefully received, as comments below.]

The Edot (Part I): The Pasty UK Years

If pushed to give my primary reason for, on a good day (i.e., when I haven’t been induced into spasm by some impudent native), preferring life in Israel to that in the UK, then pipping even the food, weather and women (in ascending order of hotness) would have to be the rich tapestry of Jewish life here. In spite of our many detractors (and, indeed, problems), the short history of Israel has been one of startling achievement in almost every field, not least of which has been the absorption of so many disparate edot (ethnic groups) – each with its own distinctive culture and traditions – into such a remarkably united (even if we wish it were more so) whole.

But whenever attempting to relate my experiences of, for instance, Moroccan or Yemenite Jews, and especially of their womenfolk, to an Anglo Jew, I am met with a blank expression (one that Part II will attempt to address). The vast majority of British Jews lack any frame of reference in this regard, hailing from or having their origins in Poland, Galicia (today straddling Poland and Ukraine), Russia, the Baltics, Germany, and, to a lesser extent, Hungary. And, growing up in North-West London, the very marginal differences between such Jews could only be discerned from their particular shuls or shtiebls (large and small synagogues) if they had them (most now don’t), from their Shabbos meals, though mainly from their own peculiar – in both senses – sense of identity.

So, in the Isaacson household, for example, my father, of Lithuanian extraction, always appeared to delight in highlighting (in good humour, mind) the intellectual and cultural inferiority of the Galicianer Reiss family into which he had married. The Litvak, he was certain, constituted the very “cream” of European Jewry. Indeed, my father’s claim has always seemed to me to be somewhat justified, the Litvak misnagdim appearing, on the one hand, more enlightened (almost by definition) than the hassidic Galicianers, whilst, on the other, somehow more human than the anally-challenged German Yekkes. (In contrast to most Jewish immigrants to the UK, who arrived immediately before and after the turn of the last century, the majority of Hungarian Jews did not escape the Holocaust and were perhaps, therefore, considered beyond, even light-hearted, stereotype.)

The sickening history of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, however, made the “Old Country” a delicate subject for all immigrants. Even though they escaped Lithuania and Galicia around two and three decades, respectively, before the rise of Hitler, my parents never heard their parents or grandparents talk about the pogroms and persecutions that they had suffered in their backward, Jew-hating hellholes. Anyway, there is far more that unites Ashkenazi (European) Jews than separates them. And the differences between them would be no more recognisable to the outsider – or even to most other Jews – than those between, for instance, British Muslims of Bangladeshi extraction and those from Pakistan.

United Colors of British Jewry: Board of Deputies honorary officers, 2009

United Colors of British Jewry: Board of Deputies honorary officers, 2009

A relatively small community of Sephardic Jews – of primarily Middle Eastern and North African descent – added some much-needed colour to the rather pallid complexion of Anglo-Jewish life. My exposure was to the, largely Indian, Sephardic community of Hendon, to the Adenites of Stamford Hill (many of whom attended Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys), and to a smattering of Moroccans, Egyptians, Iraqis and Persians (most of whom had escaped the 1979 Islamic Revolution, wisely with little more than their carpets).

And these Sephardim brought a lot to the table. Quite literally. Their mealtime plenty was quite an eye-opener for the Anglo Jew, in whose kitchen meticulous Shabbos potato allocation was carried out on a Thursday morning. Blessed with an Egyptian aunt, however, I was spared a childhood of exclusively (miserably bland) Ashkenazi fare (though even that was an improvement on traditional English grub). Wary not to injure his daughter’s (my mother’s) feelings, my grandfather would play months of  ‘chess’ with the food she had deposited in his freezer, while my aunt’s wasn’t even given time to ice over.

The door policy, too, operated in Sephardic households was significantly more relaxed, with strays wandering in and out without any requirement for advance written invitation. This was a real culture shock for the Anglo Jew, who ‘greeted’ every unexpected knock at the door – which, even after positive identification, still wasn’t always opened – with a suspicious glance through translucent curtains or a built-in, magnifying peephole.

Perhaps in their attempt to blend in, however, the differences between these various Sephardic ethnicities and cultures were rarely visible to, or experienced by, their Ashkenazi ‘hosts’. And, beyond the puerile mimicking of the ‘funny’ accents of our new Persian classmates, I was never aware of any racism towards, or even light-hearted stereotyping of, our darker brothers. Indeed, many of them easily assimilated into Raleigh Close, Hendon’s very traditional United Synagogue. Moreover, the fact that the biggest “lout/wretch” (to quote the Legendary Swansean) in our school year was Morocco born and bred was neither here nor there.

In Israel, however, the richness of Jewish multi-ethnicity is celebrated, nurtured, and flourishes. And the deliciously incorrect sense of humour enjoyed here, thriving on ethnic excess and eccentricity (this kinda thing), simply could not exist without the edot. Is there anything to the inevitable, resulting stereotypes? You betcha!! And don’t believe anyone who – serving his or, of course, her ‘god’ of political correctness – tells you otherwise.

[Next on melchett mikeThe Edot (Part II): Ethnic Yentzing in Palestine. If you are offended by generalisations, and un-PC ones at that, then give it a miss. Anyway, you are probably on the wrong blog . . .]

Chaim’ll Fix It: When Asking the Rov is Asking for Bovv[er]

With Golders Green reeling from allegations – they are, at this stage, just that – of sexual abuse against one of its foremost Orthodox rabbis, the only thing that surprises me is that anyone is surprised at all.

Going to see your rov for marital problems is, if he is not also a trained counsellor, akin to seeing a psychologist for lack of belief in God. And for a married woman to do so, and repeatedly, on her own would be as wise as consulting Norman Bates about your troubled relationship with your late mother. Tzores is certainly not all it is asking for . . .

Extending Al Pacino’s famous monologue (aren’t those Italians marvellous: first The Godfather, then The Sopranos, now this), “Hath not a rabbi a shmekel?” And finding himself in intimate situations with members of the opposite sex (in some cases, with members even of his own), the “Little Fella” has been known to entice all but the most proper and resolute of proprietors into doing all manner of things forbidden.

And, no, this is not a defence of pervy rabbonim. Even ignoring the filth who rally with anti-Semites (parading as anti-Zionists) on the streets of London and who have embraced the malevolent runt in Tehran, as well as the disgraceful shenanigans of the charedim over here, my experience of all too many Orthodox rabbis – from the assorted misfits and lunatics at Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys to those in the ever so shady world of “outreach” – has not been especially positive.

Standing over the ruins of the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, a rabbi of one such kiruv organisation – with a clear talent for clairvoyance and no less modest than his new, 7-storey, Old City HQ, replete with Dale Chihuly glass chandelier and Kirk (“Married Out Twice”) Douglas Theater – informed our group, at its most vulnerable, that the (solemn, respectful) German teenagers we had just encountered by the mound of children’s shoes were just “sorry that their grandparents hadn’t finished the job.”

“Why have you got so much rachmones for the Germans, Michael?” he responded, with trademark superciliousness, when I tackled him over what I saw as a horrible abuse of power.

Growing up on the fringes of the more Orthodox world, all I ever heard from friends in it was of the unbelievable small-mindedness, idiocy even, of their supposed leaders: from the prohibition on husbands kissing their wives after shul to the outlawing of patent shoes that might allow a sly glimpse of some M&S undies (mmm…) in the kiddush.

In my community, at least, I was privileged to know rabbis who were first and foremost human beings, one of whom – through application of humanity and commonsense (an advantage, perhaps, of the United Synagogue?) rather than the letter of cruel, antiquated law – allowed my late brother to be buried in the main part of the cemetery. We will always remember him for that kindness.

If frummer-than-thou co-religionists, however, choose to follow leaders who instruct them – in addition to other assorted nonsense – that Hashem doesn’t want them using the Eruv on Shabbos, should it come as any surprise that they also trust in them to save their marriages?

Sadly, the title “rabbi” does not confer or guarantee moral rectitude any more than that of “lawyer” or “policeman” (or, for that matter, “yodelling, peroxide-blond, medallion-man TV presenter”). And the culture of unquestioning deference and soft-headed sycophancy that has been constructed around them, in the ultra-Orthodox world especially, has laid fertile ground for consequent misdemeanour and scandal.

Shavuos Caption Competition

Following the success of my Rosh Hashanah (5771) Caption Competition, I thought it would be nice to host a new one for the upcoming festival of Shavuos.

And look what a lovely photograph (click on to enlarge) – taken yesterday on Brent Street (just off Goodyers Gardens), Hendon, of all places – just landed in my Inbox . . .

The most amusing caption submitted by comment below will – and I am feeling even more generous this time – earn its author two halves of Goldstar* in the Jaffa or Jerusalem drinking establishment of his/her choice, together, once again, with a free lifetime subscription to melchett mike.

As Chich used to say, “Uh want nems” [English translation: I want names] . . . because – whilst I would never, God forbid, condone any activity contrary to the law – there is nothing to stop melchett mike readers bringing the delightful bearded participants some cheese cake for the chag.

Happy Shavuos!

* at Happy Hour, of course

Grooming in the Green: Just imagine it

A gang of nine Jewish males from Golders Green – eight English-born and one Israeli – has been convicted of grooming underage non-Jewish girls for sex, the vulnerable teenagers having been lavished with salt beef sandwiches (on rye) and latkes, and plied with Palwin No. 10, at kosher restaurants across North-West London.

One can just imagine the response of the BBC and Guardian etc “PC Brigade”, springing to the defence of Anglo-Jewry, protesting that the crimes had nothing whatsoever to do with race or religion . . .

Yeh, right!! We’d have a modern-day blood libel on our hands! And we wouldn’t even get to Nick Griffin. We wouldn’t need to, with . . .

  • A now happily (for us) retired former MP and Mayor of London accessing his impressive stash of Zionist/Jewish/Israeli – they are, after all, interchangeable – stereotypes to “make sense” of the case;
  • A weekend magazine feature on the ultra-Orthodox Jewish male’s attitude towards The Shiksa, with, among the interviewees, perhaps, a Haaretz ‘journalist’ who once saw some charedim kerb crawling in the Diamond Exchange district (as he was exiting a strip club);
  • A Saddam-saluting Jock, foaming at the mouth, claiming the guilty verdicts should surprise no one, seeing as Diaspora Jewish males merely follow the example set for them by the IDF, with their war crimes against the poor, peace-loving Palestinians;
  • A half-page Guardian ad taken out by an assortment of self-loathing writers, actors and other luvvies (vying, perhaps, to become the UK’s new Number One Self-Hating Jew), pledging to have circumcision reversals (foreskin regrafts) to distance themselves from a religion that “allows” such crimes; and
  • The dishonourable (and dishonest) Member for Manchester Gorton once again cynically exploiting the memory of his poor late grandmother (see here), telling the House of Commons that “she did not die at the hands of the Nazis for Jews to do a thing like this.”

    Who needs the BNP?

But a gang of nine Muslim men – eight Pakistani and one Afghan – grooming, abusing, assaulting and/or raping up to 47 (that is forty-seven) vulnerable girls in Rochdale, every single one of whom was white, has, we are being told (though not, thankfully, by the only UK newspaper to consistently tell it as it is), nothing to do with Islam or its followers, or with its or their attitude towards females and, especially, non-Muslim females.

Nothing whatsoever.

[Related posts: World Trade Center set for suicide bomber memorial and The lesson of 9/11: Don’t dare upset the Muslims.]