Tag Archives: Fascination of the Abomination

Heidis, Milkies and Amalekites

It is no secret. I am not settled here. I need a change. I was originally thinking Cork (I bottled it). Now on the radar is Berlin.

MilkyAnd the brouhaha stirred up last week by an Israeli in the German capital encouraging others to join him is about far more than the price of chocolate pudding with a splurge of whipped cream (Times of Israel).

I can’t put my finger on what exactly has made me so unsettled here. The illness and passing, last year, of my lovely mum – I have now lost all three members of my immediate family (it is not quite as dramatic as it sounds) – won’t have helped, though my feet were already itching about a year or so beforehand. My aunt is convinced it is my still being single. But, while a wife and kids would not have left as much time for indulgent introspection, I don’t share her conviction that being tied to this country would have made me any more contented in it. Perhaps I am just experiencing some kind of mild, mid-life malaise.

Like “Pudding Man”, I still consider myself a Zionist. What I need, however, is some time (to draw on the Hebrew idiom) out of the Land. I look back at some of my more fervent postings here and wonder if it was really me who authored them. I recently deleted, as unrepresentative of it, “this miraculous little country” (though it is undoubtedly that) from the bullets under About This Blog. The locals now irritate me even more than they always have. The charedim appear more preposterous, the Tel Avivis more arrogant, and the working classes (I had better not get any more specific) more primitive. Tel Aviv feels ever more superficial, and while Jerusalem is more like home, it is also suffocatingly parochial. And there is little escape. The north disappoints (especially knowing the Lakes and Highlands as I do), and the south holds no appeal at all.

Soon into my Tour Guides’ course (which I was anyway forced to abandon in order to care for my mother), it became very apparent that my love for this place was on the wane. The sandstone was of as little interest as the lime, and the myths had lost all their meaning. On a Succot outing last week, our (excellent) guide’s enthusiasm just left me cold. And I have long stopped reading the Israeli press.

My reasons for wanting a break are not typical. They are neither economic nor security-related (though I thank the dear lady who, on the steps of Raleigh Close on Rosh Hashana, and with a grave wink hinting at the unspeakable, assured me that there would always be a spare bedroom for me in NW4 . . . should I “need it”). Unlike the Milky protesters – and there is genuine discontent amongst many Israeli twenty and thirty-somethings – I thankfully need neither cheaper housing nor grocery bills. The missiles, too, don’t faze me. It is more the arseholes who never let you into traffic, drive with a finger on the horn, jump red lights, and don’t stop at pedestrian crossings.

On Thursday evening, a delightful Jerusalem police officer chose to curse my mother in Arabic after spotting me raise my eyebrows as he overran the red light and stopped his marked 4×4 on the crossing. And, more upsettingly (who expects anything from Israeli police?), I recently witnessed the owner of the café where I drink my morning juice eject a frail gentleman in his seventies, who could only shake his head in disbelief, because he was deemed to have been sitting with his newspaper for too long following his last sip of hafuch.

I am sometimes assured, by those attempting to assuage the recent black moods, that such experiences are one-offs, exceptions and not rules. If only. I witness similar things here nearly every day. And they are signs of a society lacking class, boundaries and respect.

I am not comfortable about publishing much of the above, and apologise to anyone it offends (or depresses). But I have always endeavoured in these pages to tell it as I feel it (what otherwise is the point?) And if Yair Lapid wishes to label me an anti-Zionist, or even a traitor, I can live with that. But there is a great big world out there, and just because we have been hounded wherever we have gone in it, it doesn’t follow that we shouldn’t wish to experience it for longer than an Israir Special.

All in all, then, fresh surroundings and challenges clearly can’t come too soon.

Berlin is a wonderful city. Resonant with history, stylish, cosmopolitan, tolerant, and, yes, affordable. It is, I imagine, somewhat similar to the city of my birth . . . before it lost its identity and soul (just sit and observe, as I did a few weeks ago, from the top deck of an Ealing to Golders Green 83). And its main downside is not that history, but the very folk I need a break from: “You got rid of the very cream of world Jewry,” I always remind Oliver, my German lawyer, “and have ended up with tens of thousands of Israelis . . . serves you right!”

Resonant with history: the Neue Synagoge at dusk

Resonant with history: Berlin’s Neue Synagoge at dusk

Even though Angela Merkel’s Germany is arguably Israel’s most loyal and trusted ally (at a time when we don’t have many), on hearing “Berlin”, many of the reactions to my proposed move fall between shock and horror, often accompanied with the expression of someone biting on a pickle that has turned.

But why are we so insistent on clinging to our former enemies? Because of the shortage of current ones? Say I have a short memory, but even if the Germans are (as I was recently informed) the descendants of Amalek, Hamas, IS and Iran all cause me rather more sleep loss than the Amalekites (whom, incidentally, I would take over the Palestinians quicker than you can shriek “Allahu Akbar” and detonate your suicide vest).

Some of the double standards I have encountered have been hilarious, from friends and family whose kitchens could moonlight as AEG/Bosch/Miele/Neff/Siemens showrooms to the elderly relative who I discovered, soon after learning that he was Berlin-broyges with me, had been nailing a local fräulein while serving King and country in Allied-occupied Austria!

Perish the thought . . .

Perish the thought . . .

Indeed, folks’ greatest dread on hearing that I might move to Berlin is, of course, that I could end up in some kind of unseemly liaison with an athletic, fair-haired female with bone structure out of a human biology textbook. I don’t even want to think about that. Much. But anyway, at 47, should I still be placing national survivalism before personal happiness? (And even if Heidi has midos like the pair nearest the camera?)

Some of the ‘caring’ souls who have provided unsolicited opinions as to why I “can’t” move to Berlin are, curiously, the very same who went entirely AWOL during my mother’s illness and the second that I got up from shiva. My oldest friend, Shuli, though, is certainly an exception to that. And, while I am loath to compliment him, I do know that he genuinely cares. After I had successfully repelled his latest attempt, last week, to persuade me to pursue a future with a couple (though separately) of completely unsuitable women – his former search criteria for me long having been reduced to a criterion (i.e., Jewish) – he threw his hands up in the air and exclaimed “Don’t tell me you are happy when you are sitting alone at home with Stuey and Dexxy!” The hard truth is, though, that most dates leave me longing to get back to them.

As for Deutschland, I have a few rather loose ends to tie up here first, but am already looking forward to the new challenge. I have some exciting business ideas and the feeling that my “fascination for the [former] abomination” (to quote Joseph Conrad) could be the impetus for a renewed vigour for writing (both blogging and even something more tangible). Who knows, it might even recharge my flagging Zionism.

And, to all you young Israelis who feel the need for a change, go for it I say! The experiences, culture and Weltanschauung that many of you will eventually bring home will serve this ‘island’ far better than the arrogance and hypocrisy of those who criticise and condescend from their villas in Caesarea and Ramat Aviv.

To all my readers, a very happy, healthy and gevaldig 5775!

Looking ahead (with Vladimir Ilyich, Prenzlauer Berg)

Looking ahead: with Vladimir Ilyich, Prenzlauer Berg

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Jews and Germany: Still that fascination of the abomination

Amongst the many eyebrow-raising sights witnessed on the streets of Tel Aviv is the odd (in both senses) one of the Israeli male sporting the German national football shirt.

Indeed, in view of events in Europe between 1933 and 1945, it is considerably more surprising than it would be spotting a Glaswegian walking through his city centre, or a Parisian up the Champs-Elysées, in the Three Lions (neither of which, incidentally, you would see in a Tausendjähriges Reich).

What (if anything) does this tell us about us Israelis and/or Jews in general? That, because we are so desperate to be accepted, we are forgiving even of those who have caused us the greatest torment? That we are used to being, and perhaps even most comfortable as, victim? Or merely that we have an inadequate sense of history and/or lack of respect for our martyrs?

Last Monday marked 50 years to the day that Adolf Eichmann (right) was put on trial in Jerusalem. And the anniversary of that seminal event for the then fledgling State of Israel coincides with the release, both in Germany and Israel, of thousands of newly declassified documents pertaining to the twitching beast.

And while the Israeli material, relating to Eichmann’s capture and trial, shows the lengths to which Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was willing to go so as not to damage relations with Germany – insisting, for instance, that the prosecution only refer to “Nazi Germany” (and never merely “Germany”) – the German documents, containing details of Eichmann’s postwar existence until capture, cover Germany in even greater shame (if that is possible): Eichmann and thousands of fellow Nazis, far from being hunted down by the postwar German government, were assisted by it. Its Embassy in Buenos Aires even provided passports to his devil spawn, enabling them to visit the Vaterland. And God only knows what further embarrassment (if Germans get embarrassed by such things) awaits in the thousands of documents still to be disclosed.

So whilst I am no Germanophobe – my infantile rendition of Hatikva on the table of a Munich beer hall (as fellow Leeds fans, in the city for a Champions League game [i.e., before we were shit], attempted to wrestle me down) was emotion- and alcohol-fuelled – we should, as Jews, surely think twice before wearing symbols of German-ness.

For major international football tournaments – with the Blue and White, needless to say, not having qualified – the Netherlands invariably becomes most Israelis’ nivcheret (national team) of choice. Indeed, one building, in the fashionable Neve Tzedek neighbourhood of Tel Aviv, was completely draped in orange for last summer’s World Cup.

This is a consequence of the myth prevalent amongst Israelis – apparently as ignorant of history as they are of the “beautiful game” – that the Dutch, during the Holocaust, were entirely benign to ‘their’ Jews. The truth is, of course, rather different, with Dutch collaboration having prompted Eichmann to remark: “The transports run so smoothly that it is a pleasure to see.” (source)

During one World Cup game involving Holland, watched in a pub on Allenby, I had to be stopped from giving a particularly loud, Dutch-supporting Israeli, who looked like he was auditioning for the Tango ad, a good Tango slapping.

Who are we to argue?

Whilst Israelis may be blissfully ignorant about the Dutch, however, they cannot be about the Germans. So why the shirts?

Thinking about it, I have never seen a Diaspora Jew in a German shirt. Perhaps this phenomenon, therefore, is a uniquely Israeli one, and just another example of the lack of appropriateness and/or sense of Jewish (cf. Israeli) history only too evident amongst the natives.

On the other hand, don’t most of us Jews still harbour a perverse fascination with Germany and Germans? I certainly believe that my stint as an educator at Yad Vashem was about more than “Never forget.” And, quite apart from Käthe and Daniela (separately unfortunately) being the very antithesis of the Jewish girls with whom I had become so tiredly familiar, I am sure that there was some attraction to my ‘persecutors’ going on.

Indeed, primarily at play, I believe, in the ever-fraught relationship between Jews, Germany and Germans is what Joseph Conrad (in Heart of Darkness) terms the “fascination of the abomination”: the continuing human attempt to explain, and to comprehend, inexplicable, mesmerizing evil (which in relation to the Holocaust, incidentally, I do believe was uniquely German, and not merely Nazi German . . . though that is for another post).

And, again, I have never been a proponent of continually bringing up the War (here is another, related, John Cleese gem), or even of not buying German. My family (like most Anglo-Jewish ones, I suspect) displayed a most convenient approach to the postwar Jewish ‘boycott’ of all things German: they avoided all but the most essential of items – a rider that enabled them to purchase any German brand infinitely superior to a competing non-German one, i.e., most makes of car, and nearly all kitchen, home entertainment, and other electrical appliances!

A badge too far

Call it selective morality (even hypocrisy), but for a Jew to don a German football shirt is going much further than cooking one’s cholent in an AEG, picking up the kids in a Golf, or even enjoying a Käthe or Daniela: it is sporting the coat of arms of a nation that attempted to (and very nearly succeeded in) destroying our entire People; and I, for one, would not be seen dead in one. Though if someone offered me a free Mercedes . . .

Which conveniently enables me to finish off this post, my 150th to melchett mike, on a related note (though one completely unrelated to – and certainly more cheerful and humorous than – Germans): Woody Allen’s 1960s Vodka Ad standup routine . . .

Having been asked to be that particular year’s Vodka Man, Woody refuses. “I’m an artist, I do not do commercials. I don’t pander. I don’t drink vodka. And if I did, I wouldn’t drink your product.”

“Too bad,” says the voice on the other end of the phone, “it pays fifty thousand dollars.”

“Hold on,” interjects Woody, “I’ll put Mr. Allen on the phone.”

Wishing all readers of melchett mike a kosher . . . or, at the very least, free Passover!