Tag Archives: Anglo-Jewry

Hasmo Legends XXIX: The Sweet Sixty Reunion

Having been privy (dead brother’s society) to every detail of the most widely anticipated reunion since Bucks Fizz – and with participants even creakier (though none, thankfully, who planned to rip off each others’ trousers) – it seemed logical to invite melchett mike disciple John Fisher, who to my surprise was flying to London just for the evening, to guest blog on it.

Now, previous guest bloggers here – even notorious troublemakers like Nick Kopaloff and Daniel Marks (see Hasmo Legends VII) – had been willing to accept the, admittedly finicky, requirements of their host. I knew that Fisher, however, would be a different proposition altogether. I have spent the worst part of the past decade striving to get him to use punctuation – I even gave him a secondhand but apparently functioning (apt, I thought) copy of Strunk and White – and to cut his sentences down to a maximum 400 words. And I have repeatedly proposed a joint writing venture – the equivalent, I felt, of Bob Dylan asking Rick Astley to let him co-produce his new album – to preclude Fisher’s, no doubt amusing, ideas ending up as Raanana coffee mats. All to no avail.

With that generous build-up out of the way, I give you Fisher Just Lightly (when some of those sentences had me recalling that point of Seder when it’s past your regular bedtime but you’re still 17 pages from food) Cut, with the odd aside from his blogging mentor and guru . . .

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The omens were not best – I received the exploratory email from our Deputy Head Boy David Levenson on September 11 – but, with the Class of ’69 (to ’76 in many unfortunate cases) finding itself tottering either side of sixty, the proposal seemed irresistible. And so it proved.

Ex-Hasmos flew in from four continents for an evening in a dank NW4 restaurant cellar [mm: “the banqueting suite under the White House Express on Brent Street” – from the invitation email – can hardly be said to have misled] and to be catapulted back five decades, to a time when most had yet to meet either Triumph or Disaster (let alone to treat those two impostors just the same).

There was a genuine buzz of excitement in the room – which, to a stranger, would have looked like it was hosting a mass speed dating event for ageing Jewish males – as former classmates rolled up, inviting curious, penetrating stares that attempted to peel away the years of hard or soft living (if not hair) that concealed teenage faces (and heads).

Wretched creatures: Fisher, Bloomberg & Marx

Recognition invariably brought a hail-fellow-well-met response, even when the abiding memory of that person was somewhere on the ambivalence-to-contempt continuum and, in other circumstances, may have prompted the recogniser to cross the road more quickly than Willy once used to upon spotting a disgruntled mother. And secure perhaps in the knowledge that he carries the most famous Hasmo name of them all (see Hasmo Legends III and XXVIII), Joe Bloomberg, grinning innocently, turned up fashionably late, the wretched creature [mm: “that he is”].

There were those who hadn’t seen each other for 42 years, and those who hadn’t seen each other for 42 minutes (several “boys” came straight from a funeral, though Moshe Arieh Kiselstein had found time to change out of his black hat and suit into a pink shirt and puffer vest). [mm: There were also those you hadn’t known you had seen: to my continuing amusement and amazement, David Marx has somehow succeeded in living in blissful anonymity on Golders Green Road – a paving stone’s throw from Reb Chuna’s, no less – for the past 27 years without even having been recognised, never mind roped in for a minyan (David tells me he is happy to be on permanent tenth man duty from now on, whatever the time).]

Uninhibited: John Gertler in full flow

The ‘reception’ Glenmorangie was a masterstroke: by the time everyone had sat down to dinner – in true Hasmo tradition, there was no seating or other plan for the evening (it would just flow, like the boys’ education, either out onto the high seas or down the nearest drain) – they were sufficiently uninhibited to make a nonsense of the organisers’ greatest fear, of a frum/non-frum divide. Indeed, Rabbi Baruch Davis did not so much as blink when the fellow – of redundant final “e” fame – sitting opposite him casually mentioned that his wife was not of the faith (fortunately, said fellow recalled enough of Jewish Studies to omit that he had tied the knot on Shabbos Shuva).

Another pair – who had been next-door neighbours, shared a classroom, and lived their entire lives in the same post code, but who (for no apparent reason) had never had a proper conversation – ‘discovered’ one other . . . though, as Ari “Pedro” Krieger will be permanently departing England’s shores next month, his newfound bromance with Alan “Hubert” Kahan will be cruelly short-lived.

The Israeli contingent, on the other hand, kept well apart . . . from each other, that is. A well-known addition to every ex-pat’s tefillas haderech is not to encounter another Israeli until check-in for the return flight. (Last, Shapira and yours truly suffered the ignominy of having to make that journey in cramped proximity to one another on a Hungarian 240 with wings, while Brazil, Citron and Head Boy Felsenstein larged it up on the national carrier.)

Eavesdropping conversations, one would have thought that not a single event worthy of mention had occurred since June 1976. Interesting, too, was the apparent total irrelevance of our former ‘teachers’ (there had been a suggestion that an invitation be extended to any still alive, but it was nipped in the bud). They were hardly mentioned, in fact, only popping up in supporting roles in tales of classmates’ derring-do. This made sense, as it was universally agreed that, while much was learnt at Hasmonean, none of it stemmed from formal education.

While the food was still as poor as in the days of Mrs. B (some achievement), the cost of dinner tickets had gone up a tad – 1/6d was now a hefty 35 quid – and there was no return to be made on your afters . . . because there were none! [mm: I am curious as to the veracity of reports, from later that week, of a silvery-long-haired fellow attempting to shift 44 parev chocolate Rice Krispies squares on Stanmore Broadway, all the while chortling under his breath: “It wasn’t my bloody year anyway!”] Moreover, the famished could not now assuage their hunger with the overpriced wares of illegal tuck-hustlers “over the bridge”, having to make do instead with the great self-deception of the middle-aged man: “Just one more chip.”

Not a chip in sight: Hinden, Cohen & Kon

After four hours of camaraderie, animated tales, hilarity and general high spirits, and with not a chip left in sight, Oberführer Levenson decreed that every person state his name, abode and an incident for which he would be remembered. Tales of sand-dumpings, ear-boxings, canings and general anarchy abounded.

Poker was clearly so rife at the school in those days that it might as well have been on the syllabus. One favourite tale – featuring Aminoff, Giles Cohen, Davidson, Feiner and Gertler – was of a game under the hall stage being rudely interrupted by an unexpected school assembly. Fags had to be hastily stubbed out, with the miscreants spending the next hour in monastic silence. The contrasting ways in which religious and secular teachers dealt with these ‘illegal’ sessions best illustrated that well-documented divide (see Hasmo Legends II): while getting copped by Jerry Gerber and Co. brought wild threats of burning at the stake, the legendary Woody Harrison is alleged to have bust a game by nonchalantly walking up, picking a card at random and tearing it in two. Brilliant!

It was the soft-spoken, mild-mannered Arnold de Vries, however, who got one of the biggest laughs of the evening. As a 10-year old, he sat in the same row at Hendon Adass as Mr. Stanton. One Shabbos, having asked to squeeze past one too many times, Willy informed him coldly that “One more time and I won’t let you into my school.” So much for the Class of ’69 being the first Comprehensive intake (it was also, incidentally, the first with a Yeshiva Stream).

״לשמור משפטי צצצדקך…״

Rather than rounding off the evening with the traditional God Save The Queen and Hatikva, there was a spontaneous, raucous rendition of Ner Leragli (clip). While nobody in that room would have been able to recite more than a stanza of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (some might have struggled with the Shema), everyone remembered every word of the school song, which only goes to prove that if you make education fun . . . [mm: or choose a Psalm with “Sid” in it.]

On a sobering note, six of the 46 or so ex-Hasmos absent on the night were no longer with us at all. Eli Bowden, Zvi Davis, Jonny Isaacson, Gary Price, Abba Stein and Mark Ward, zichronam livracha, were all remembered fondly, and the plate went round for a charitable donation in their names. [mm: A Surviving Siblings Fund, perhaps? Just a suggestion . . . ]

Parting at the evening’s end was indeed sweet sorrow, and it came with promises that we would do it again at seventy. And the greatest testament to the wonderful time had by all is that we really meant it.

Wishing everyone a kosher, or at least enjoyable, Pesach!

Attendance Register

1AB: Ray Antian, Robert Citron, David Druce, Norman “Nussi” Feiner, Andrew Frankel, John Gertler, Philip Glass, Malcolm Granat, Aaron Hammer, Michael Kleiman, Doron Korn, David Levenson, Paul Ogus, Benjy Schwab.

1BB: Gabriel Aminoff, Jonathan “Yoini” Apter, Joe Bloomberg, Giles Cohen, Stephen Cohen, Ahron Ebert, Kenneth Jason, David Jay, Moshe Arieh Kiselstein, David Marx, Jerry Schurder, Moshe Stimler, Danny Tannen.

1L: Avi Brazil, Anthony Davidson, Barry “Baruch” Davis, Arnold de Vries, Danny Felsenstein, John Fisher, Michael Greene, Allan Kahan, Ralph Kon, Victor Korman, Aryeh Krieger, Benny Last, Eli Perl, Alan Rubin, Perry Shapira, Eran Winkler.

Class of his own: Mike Hinden.

Original draft: John Fisher

Revised & edited: melchett mike

[Your observations and recollections are, as always, welcomed as comments below.]

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Hasmo Legends XXVIII: AHB Unplugged

I could have been forgiven for feeling somewhat less than enthused upon receipt of that WhatsApp message, some three years ago.

Yes, it informed me that there was in existence an audio recording of a Cyril lesson. But the message was from Grant Morgan – a boy of such Hasmo-honed piss-taking pedigree that I hadn’t even believed him when he told me, around the same time, that an ex-classmate had died (I am still not convinced: Sam Michaels, if you are reading this . . . ) – and the tape was supposedly in the possession of none other than Eric Elbaz, the undisputed lout of our Class of ’78.

I did not, however, heed my inner skeptic. How could I? If there were indeed extant a Room 1 recording of the Great Swansean, it would be a coup for Hasmo Legends of Dead Sea Scrolls proportions. So, for the past three years, I have been nagging and attempting to cajole Morgan to get the tape off Elbaz, and, from time to time, even called the Moroccan myself (putting his failure to ever pick up down to some unsettled debt).

I was even more persistent, however, on a recent visit to London; and, last week, I received my holy grail (converted by Morgan to MP3 format).

Considering that it was made by Elbaz – with a concealed Aiwa walkman from his single desk at the front left of Room 1 – in November 1983 (over 32 years ago), the 31:25 minute recording has stood the test of time remarkably well. No forensic examination is required to verify its authenticity – this Legend was truly inimitable – and what a joy it has been to once again hear those dulcet Welsh tones . . . even (especially?) when uttering niceties such as “Oh, what an idiot!”

The opening seven or so minutes of the fifth year class give a somewhat muffled, though still entertaining, taste of the much acclaimed Cyril & Elbaz Show that ran – with a one-year hiatus that enabled Elbaz to terrorise Marion Rosenberg as well – between 1978 and 1984. (For those who never had the pleasure, Elbaz – or “Ell-baz”, as Cyril would call him – is the creature beseeching “Can you shut that door . . . it’s getting rather drafty in here!” and who has lost, or pretends to have, his “expensive” Parker pen.) And the general hubbub of those opening minutes exemplifies the complete lack of both pupil derech eretz and teacher authority so typical – in those days at least – of Holders Hill Road.

The sound quality is even better from the start of the lesson ‘proper’ – at around 7:20 – in which Cyril reviews an English-to-French translation assignment, An Honest Woman (Une Femme Honnête), from the previous week.

The recording – discovered when Elbaz’s mother moved home three years ago – exhibits lots of lovely (and less than lovely) Cyrilisms, which I hope the reader/listener will enjoy as much as I have . . .

Your observations, as always, are welcomed as comments below (rather than on YouTube, please).

Chag sameach!

[As well as to the wretches Elbaz and Morgan, my gratitude and thanks to Daniel Greenspan, and especially to Alan Rubin for uploading and arranging the audio and accompanying slideshow.]

Next on Hasmo Legends, Part XXIX: Eric Elbaz

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.]