Tag Archives: Osher Baddiel

Movers and Svetas: Aspects of the Russian Aliyah

Most things in life never turn out to be quite how we imagine them. A notable exception to this, however, is Russian movers (although not being one to generalise, I use “Russian” to describe any individual from any one of the 15 former Soviet Republics).

Having stood me up on the previous day without so much as a phone call, Vitali’s stony-faced crew turned up at 6:30 the following morning, last Thursday week, without so much as a “boker tov”.

Vitali, the boss – or, more aptly, prime mover – with whom I had conducted all telephone negotiations (he had been recommended by a friend), was not among them, remaining throughout a kind of shadowy, Blofeld-like figure, directing operations from afar.

With a little imagination, one of the three removal men could, just maybe, have been “unzere” (though, perhaps, with a rebellious great-gran who had been a little over-curious as to the contents of Cossack breeches). The other two, however, including team leader Alex – who set the tone for our relationship by immediately stubbing out his cigarette on the wall of the Melchett stairwell – were clearly more Putin or Klitschko than Sharansky or Grushenko. And early requests for them to handle certain items with care were met with stares cold enough for me to immediately relinquish any thoughts I had as to the importance of my furniture.

The ‘90s Russian aliyah has been an enormous success, with Israeli mutterings about their new compatriots – spongers here only for the benefits, once heard all too often – now a thing of the distant past.

"Start-Up Nation" my ****

Accusations, too, that Russian women are gold diggers and (as if it were a bad thing) easy – a chorus of “Mrs. Knickersonanov!!” would go up from the bar whenever one would enter MASH – are now heard only from Israeli women envious that they do not possess similar skill in treating (and, in many cases, keeping) their man. And, while we hear so much about Israel’s wonderful innovation and exports, can anyone think of a finer import? Indeed, though I could never quite picture her under the same chupah as my mother, the Aliyah Department should have placed Sveta well above the tax-free refrigerator on my list of aliyah benefits.

But the contribution of Russians to almost every facet of Israeli life has been huge, not least their sons now serving in crack IDF combat units.

There is a sizeable minority of Russian olim, however, who – from just one look at them – cause one to wonder what exactly they are doing here, their only link to anything Jewish perhaps being a single great-grandparent, or merely just a spouse with one. And these, predominantly, were the Russians with whom I was placed for my basic IDF training, in 1999.

Our unit consisted of a Cuban (who had escaped Havana in a barrel), an Ethiopian, an Indian (to my great frustration, seemingly the only f*cking one who couldn’t speak a word of English), and 36 new immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Of the latter, the majority were thirty-somethings hardened by having served in the bloody conflict in Afghanistan, but who now – thanks to the astonishing stupidity of the IDF – were being taught how to handle M16s by frechot fresh out of high school.

The inevitable consequence? A kind of Russian-Israeli Dirty Dozen: orders ignored, scoffed at even, and young officers clearly terrified of their commands.

I had an altercation with one of my new comrades on our very first day of basic training, after which I resolved that – sharing a tent with them every night, and with no shortage of bullets and/or pillows – I had best make every effort to be agreeable (it doesn’t come naturally). That same comrade and his best mate, both Jewish, though from the Kavkaz region – which, by all accounts, makes the nastiest parts of Merseyside seem like the Cotswolds – turned out to be my best buddies during those utterly pointless few months. And they were always most intrigued about Blighty. Not for them, however, the predictable questions about Manchester United and the Royal Family . . .

“Tagid li (tell me), Mike,” they would begin, “kama oleh zona be’Anglia (how much does a prostitute cost in England)?”

“Chamishim pound (fifty pounds),” I would always reply without hesitation, not wanting them to think me a loser.

Chit-chat and idle pleasantries (or, rather, their total absence) aside, however, Vitali’s crew were great. The third member, a four-inch burn (perhaps the Ukrainian equivalent of a lovebite) on his shoulder, single-handedly bore my washing machine down two flights of stairs with a look of “When are you going to give me something serious to lift?”

There were no emotional farewells when the job was done, or even “thank you’s” for the decent tips . . . though, then again, there was also none of the quibbling, that one invariably gets with the natives, about money. Spasiba.

So I am now shimon ha’tzadik mike . . . and whatever Reb Osher Yitzchok – who, according to my Golders Green sources, has fled the rioting shvartzers (not that he would dream of using such a word) for the relative serenity (if not Gentility) of Princes Park Avenue – may say, I have always known, deep down, that the epithet (and I am not talking the shimon bit) would fit.

[Please visit http://www.justgiving.com/mike-isaacson/ . . . it only takes a few minutes/quid!]

Advertisements

The Witriol Diaries, Part V (Hasmo Legends XXIV)

Goodbye Joe

Thursday, 11th December 1975, 9 p.m.

A peculiar development in the article on Jewish Forenames [submitted to the JC, for which dad was an occasional contributor]. I wrote later on asking Geoffrey D. Paul [Features/Deputy Editor] to print G-d, Israe-l, etc. because I wanted to avoid offending my Hasmo colleagues. I mention all this because at the “naming” ceremony at the School Rabbi Schonfeld mentioned en passant the “trefa Jewish Chronicle” (it has mildly criticised him in the past) and last Monday, I think, Philip happened to mention that a master had told him that boys ought to get their parents to subscribe to the Jewish Tribune because the Jewish Chronicle was “anti-Orthodox”. Anyway, the Monday night I kept on worrying about this and got into a panic. Could Schonfeld get me sacked for writing for the J.C.? (As a member of the staff of an Orthodox school he might be able to use my writing for an “anti-Orthodox” paper as an excuse. He might not give this as a reason, the story to me might be that he was re-deploying staff. First thing in the morning I wrote to Paul asking him not to publish the article.)

The fear of the sack may be far-fetched, and although both Ellman and Sam Balin are over 65 and employed part-time, the School has the power, as has the Borough Council, to retire me compulsorily anyway at 65 [dad was 63 at the time].

All this is probably grotesquely alarmist, but at the least, I think, Philip would have been exposed to anti-J.C. comments by certain members of the staff who take him, so that I still felt I did the right thing.

Sunday, 21st December 1975

Felt a bit off-colour on going into school on Friday morning, last day of term, but survived the morning. Daniel Rickman told to sit by the side of the HM in assembly, in honour of his having gained open scholarship to Oxford. Must plug this for Philip and Max, the latter is again “creating” about leaving Hasmo, but I hope I will manage to get him to stay for the last two years.

Monday, 18th January 1976, 2.30 p.m.

Spent about 5 hrs last night and this morning marking, mainly mock MH. Not more than six at the most of my boys stand a chance of a “C” – AM [Albert Meyer] has a class of about 35 at the moment. If he has six or more who he thinks don’t stand a chance of a “C”, it might give me an extra three free periods – my six could join his class. On verra.

Wednesday, 17th February 1976, 8.45 p.m.

Bad day at school. Clouted no one, but unseemly shouting: “How much does your father pay to keep you at the school?” – no wonder there’s so much scandal attached to the school.

Sunday, 21st March 1976, 8 p.m.

Have just returned from bunfight at Hasmo celebrating marriage of Dr Schonfeld’s son. He seems a charming boy, apparently left the school about a year before I came. Wished him mazal-tov, to which he responded something which I couldn’t quite catch. I asked him, and he said it was boorekh tihyeh – which I suppose is more sensible than saying “Thank you!” or “please G-d by you”.

I introduced myself to Dr Schonfeld, saying I taught at Hasmo. “Ah yes, you teach science”. “Not quite,” I replied, “modern languages, no doubt there is a connection”. Ugh! As E. [my mum] said afterwards, it would have been tolerable if I had said, at least, that I taught French scientifically.

Easter Monday, 19th April 1976, 4.30 p.m.

A fine day, have been doing nothing except reading Maariv. I have this idea that when we get back to school on the Monday, Meyer may ask me to give the Hebrew Yom Atzmaut speech. I should say the odds are about 33-1 that he won’t [sic, will], but just in case, I want to get into the feel of things.

Wednesday, 5th May 1976, 11 p.m.

Today, Yom Atzmaut, the school was closed by order of Dr Schonfeld. It has caused a bit of a scandal. The Israel Society at the school had invited the Chief Rabbi, and so I heard, suggested to Schonfeld, more or less, that perhaps he would care to come along too . . .

Monday, 12th July 1976, 8.45 p.m.

I do not want to drive everybody mad, but today has been better [pain in his left foot had persisted since mid-May]. Can only keep my fingers crossed. Symptoms still present, but milder, perhaps much milder. Anyway, although I hired a car to go to school this morning, and the morning itself was easy (first period cancelled for some reason; for my normal second period – Extra French, a difficult period – I was asked to take five visiting French Jewish boys, and I continued with them in the 3rd period, which I would normally have had free; period 4 I attempted to teach the 3rd year – needn’t have done, could just have said get on with something quietly, which is what in fact I did do period 5, 2nd year French) – although, as I say, the morning was easy, the fact remains that I carried out a normal programme afterwards.

Tuesday, 13th July 1976, 8.30 p.m.

Bad again. Sod. Although finished school at 4.15 today, in terms of physical exertion, or strain on foot/leg, yesterday was much worse.

Wednesday, 14th July 1976, 10.20 a.m.

Yesterday did a lot of standing, attempting to teach instead of telling the kids to do what they liked, quietly, as would have been legitimate at this stage of the term. Did not feel too uncomfortable while doing so – at any rate did not say I ought-not-to-be-in which I usually find myself unable to avoid saying when I’m under the weather.

Thursday, 15th July 1976, 7 p.m.

Very easy morning at school. Went by car, and sat in for two periods only, rest of morning paper work in staffroom.

Monday, 19th July 1976, 10.30 p.m.

A full Monday, no car. My impression is that there is rather a little less actual pain.

Wednesday, 21st July 1976, 11.30 p.m.

Usual programme. Caught bus outside Ashby’s in High Road, walked to school from bus stop outside Allandale Avenue. No teaching, except, ex gratia, last period, when I really did succeed, I think, in teaching some 23 boys Ah vous dirai-je maman (my excellent book of songs borrowed from the library explained that the tune went to “Twinkle, twinkle little star”. I had hoped I would be able to say to one of the [i.e. his] children, at any rate, “Play this for me on the piano [me]/violin [my brother, Max]/clarinet [my sister, Susannah] – but a nekhtiger took. If I had enough energy, I could browbeat Philip or Max into playing the music, but the result wouldn’t be worth the energy I’d have to expend).

Saturday, 24th July 1976, 10.45 p.m.

Well, I managed to get through the term. The big question is will I be able to get through a full winter/spring term. Summer term is always a cinch: the fifth form go on study leave at least six weeks before the end of term, which gives me three extra free periods, four weeks from end of term the exams start, which means that teaching practically finishes. There are examination questions to get banda’d [copied], scripts to mark, reports to do, but all this is sedentary and no problem.

Friday, 27th August 1976, 1 p.m.

Max’s “O” level results came this morning: AA Maths; A Eng Lit (!); B Eng, Phys, Chem; C French (B oral); C Brit Con, Art. The twit had put a 6½p stamp on the s.a.e., so his results arrived after his pals (who presumably had had the sense to frank their envelopes 1st class, with an 8½p stamp) had got theirs.

Anyway, it’s a bit of a weight off my mind, I had been preparing myself for his getting a D in French. This wouldn’t have been a disaster, as I told him, but it would have been a nuisance – I think it would have been advisable, had he failed, to re-enter him in Jan. He himself was quite ala keyfik (2nd world war army slang, Arabic – in case any of the children read this = couldn’t care less, indifferent), I brought him up the envelope while he was in bed, and he opened it with a comment “B in English” – my hands would have been trembling.

One of his pals Stephen Gerber, got 6 “A”s – somehow, I thought of his pals as being all nice lads but, shall we say, non-academic.

Monday, 20th September 1976, 9 p.m.

I can get through a week’s stint, meno male, but there is still some pain and discomfort. Lots of odd bods have appeared: Mrs P. who came along last year to take over some “C” French groups (leaving me with the “D”) seems now to have consolidated her position, she takes a small (3 boys) 6th form group; a Mr Lesser takes MH and Fr. and/or German, a Mr Pearce takes Fr. and Germ., and today a Mr Staiger [unclear] turned up wanting to teach MH and is being taken on – or consideration will be given to his being taken on – just like that. So I shall be expendable next year.

In the evening Jonathan Martin came. He was a contemporary of Philip at school. I remember him as being a particularly black bête noire when I had him in the 3rd form, then in the 5th he came into my C set, did no work at all, but sat as good as gold. If this was because he did not want to embarrass a friend (Philip) whose father taught at the school (or embarrass a teacher with whose son he was friendly) he showed more tact than any of Max’s pals did – or perhaps I should say rather more tact than most of Max’s pals did.

He got O levels only in Eng, Eng Lit and Biology (the last-named “fascinated” him, he said – he couldn’t “relate” to physics or chemistry). He wants to take up male nursing, a commendably off-beat choice as I told him. He’s quite a charming boy, well mannered – thanked E. for tea, said to Philip, as he went off to do something to his moped, he would be back to say good-night to Mrs Witriol. He is working pro-tem at a book shop in the West End.

Monday, 6th December 1976, 6.30 p.m.

A fairly strenuous day at school, but fortunately it didn’t go off too badly. Free till 1020, then four periods till lunch break, then did some marking after lunch (instead of my usual shloof), then three periods after lunch. Period 6, the period after lunch, was in “the Old Library” a room next to the staff marking room (with members of staff marking intently eavesdropping) and the office (to which WWS seems to betake himself these days). WWS came in: “A noisy class Mr Witriol.” Actually I had taken about 20 kids for French for a double period in the morning in the same room, and had flattered myself on having the situation under control. In the afternoon I had, I suppose, 35 kids for MH – the usual shlepping in of chairs. Anyway, WWS sat in and was privileged to take part in my MH lesson. At the end he said it was a great privilege to learn Hebrew – not “to learn Hebrew with Mr Witriol”, as he should have said of course. It was just as well that I had, by chance, the lesson well prepared – I had given the kids back a test they had done, which I had marked, sod it, and of course the lesson went like clockwork.

Saturday, 5th February 1977, 7.15 p.m.

It looks like the chopper is going to chop. About a fortnight ago Stanton showed me a letter from the office in connection with 2000 unemployed teachers in Barnet and suggesting Mr Witriol’s position be examined. W.S. said I had come (or was coming) to the end of the road. I said I hoped not, and that I had three children to put through University. He said I would be in a parlous (rather nice rococo touch) position financially if I could not carry on. I agreed. He will play on replaceability-only-with-difficulty, though in point of fact he can get plenty of teachers for MH, German and French.

Tuesday, 31st May 1977, 9.55 p.m.

Chadwick, who is about 62, has resigned. He hates Hasmo, though I think he was lucky to get a scale IV post. He is a good teacher – geography and maths – of the old school. He has a degree, but I do not believe he has ever taught the sixth, perhaps not even the fifth. He says he’s not worried about the financial side, says he’s had offers of jobs, but in any case can draw unemployment benefit. In his case he’s probably right, as he will probably get a pension of half his salary, whereas I got a pension of only about three eighths.

Meyer, too, is resigning. This time apparently for real. Seems he was befrunzelt because he was not invited to a meeting of senior staff, though as Nachum Ordman pointed out, he can’t be expected to receive an invitation to a senior staff meeting if he’s only on part-time. I had been thinking I would have to have two months’ notice, but it has been put to me that as a part-timer I am entitled to only one month’s. So I must assume that I cannot avoid the chop. Susannah [daughter] mentioned that one of her teachers [at Henrietta Barnet] had said that Barnet Council would not be replacing retired teachers (which makes sense, if staffing economics are to be effected). In that case who will take MH at Hasmo if Meyer, myself and Heckleman [unclear] (the shaliach, whom I have not seen this week, and whose tour of duty ends, I believe, at the end of term) go? There are other teachers who could “have a go”, but I doubt if they are as well qualified as AM or myself and, it only occurred to me some weeks ago, when AM put me in touch with an Israeli girl pupil whom I am coaching for A Level MH, that AM himself would not know how to start teaching A level MH literature.

Monday, 13th June 1977, 9.15 p.m.

First day back at school, without any “trouble”. It’s true I had only to teach for five periods, by kindness of the 5th form who are taking their “O” levels, but on the Friday before mid-term I had only one period to take but was unable to avoid – I can’t remember whether I actually clouted a boy or whether there was an unseemly fracas.

Sunday, 24th July 1977, 8.30 p.m.

I perhaps ought to have written out my retirement oration and memorised it. I have started on bits and pieces, but am just bearing in mind some brief heads and will trust to luck.

Will present R. Gothold, in charge of stock, with a jar of chalk “accumulated over a period of time” – “bit of a wag”, as Philip would say.

Friday, 29th July 1977, 4 p.m.? (watch stopped, can’t be bothered to go downstairs to check) [I cannot help but note the symbolism which, untypically, seems to have escaped dad’s eye for such things]

Well, I’m fully retired, as a schoolteacher anyway.

The retirement went off more or less ok. But neither Chadwick nor I were asked to sit on the platform, which I thought a bit much even for Hasmo. I followed Chadwick into the back of the hall, hardly believing it possible that we would not be asked to go on to the platform. Stanton mentioned from the platform that we were leaving, and David Solomons spoke about Chadwick, and Gerry Laver [Garry Lauer?] spoke very briefly about me. All I heard him say was that I was leaving a “deposit”, viz. Max – he meant pledge? hostage? I then told Chadwick we should go on to the platform. Chaddy said his career had been a sandwich (laughter, the younger kids are not familiar with the metaphor): Army – school (his previous school) – Hasmo. He told me in the staffroom he wanted to convey they’d both been traumatic experiences. As I had imagined, he spoke briefly – though I had been prepared for even a couple of sentences: good luck, thank you – which meant I couldn’t go to town. However, a few kids and members of staff said it was O.K., even D.J. quietly wished me shkoich and Baddiel said it was a change to hear someone saying something – a brokh tse de yoohren.

…..

Postscript: Lid off Hasmonean

Sunday, 23rd October 1977

Hasmonean has been in the news in the J.C. recently, so concocted an article “Hasmo” this p.m. [for published article, click on link below to dad’s yellowing cuttings book]. About 1½ hours flat. Suppose it will be rejected, pathetic how every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to be able to get something in, but I can’t. However, it shows, I suppose, I’m still alive.

Sunday, 30th October 1977, 6.15 p.m.

Should I have written the article for the J.C.? Philip read out their “billing”, in their issue of 28/10, for November: the attractions for the issue of Nov 4 included “Hasmonean: A View from the Inside by a Teacher”. It is mildly critical of the school, I speak of the extreme Orthodox right wingers, but the only “hard” criticisms I make are of the attempt to get boys in the football team to have some form of covering on their heads and the abandonment of the attempt to get boys to shower because “Nudity is repellent to us” (as one mother had written).

Did I do it because I wanted cheap publicity, wanted to see my name in print at last? Yes. So what.

I suppose it will embarrass Max. Fortunately, Stanton has signed his UCCA form. Perhaps, in a way, it’s just as well this hadn’t occurred to me, or I probably wouldn’t have submitted the article, and I don’t see why I should refrain from allowing the J.C. to publish two articles which they would have been prepared to accept.

“Lid off Hasmonean” by Joseph Witriol (Jewish Chronicle, November 4, 1977)

[For The Witriol Diaries, Parts I – followed by A (Hasmo) Son’s IntroductionII, III and IV, click here, here, here and here. Thank you to Philip Witriol for transcribing the Diaries, and for his patience with my ever-so-slightly obsessive attention to detail!]

World Trade Center set for suicide bomber memorial

From today’s Independent . . .

While the controversy over plans to build an Islamic center and mosque just two blocks away from Ground Zero continues, other plans have come to light for a monument to shahids or fedayeen – i.e., suicide bombers and ‘martyrs’ – on the very site of their most dastardly act: the World Trade Center.

The Allahu Akbar Foundation wants to erect the memorial – comprising three figures: Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, together with an “unknown martyr” (with wires hanging out of his clothing and his thumb on a switch) – at the entrance to 1 World Trade Center (due for completion in 2013).

The artist: Fuqn-Youslus, in her Gaza City home

The figures, made from scrap metal garnered from the twisted wreckage of Israeli buses, took the celebrated Palestinian artist, Miwurqs Fuqn-Youslus, over two days to complete.

“It would have taken even less,” said Fuqn-Youslus from her home (or, at least, what’s left of it) in Gaza City, “but there is a shortage of decent quality niqabs (head coverings) in the shuk as a result of the Israeli blockade. My current one is not a good fit, and the slit keeps riding over my eyes while I work! Oh yes, and there is also the matter of my one arm . . .” (Hamas officials amputated Fuqn-Youslus’s right arm at the elbow after she refused her husband sex without good cause).

The initial reaction of New Yorkers, however, to the latest plans – including of families of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks – has been far from enthusiastic.

“Why don’t they just spit on the graves of the three thousand people who were murdered here?” said the father of one such victim, a New York firefighter.

The founder of The Allahu Akbar Foundation, however, Aamer Zileeh-Qunt, can’t see what all the fuss is about.

“We are hearing a lot of propaganda and lies against Muslims – this monument commemorates good men and is not disrespectful in any way,” said Mr. Zileeh-Qunt from his hideout in a remote region of Pakistan. “And it is not just a memorial to martyrs, but also to those who wanted to be but, for example, were too thick to pass the flying course or who, like my brother Abu Hamza in Belmarsh (prison), could not follow the simple instructions in their jihadi bomb-making manuals.”

Various American Reform rabbis have given their support to the planned monument, as has the Jewish lobbying group J Street.

And the reaction in Britain has also been supportive, with Member of Parliament Gerald Kaufman going so far as to claim that opposition to the memorial constitutes an insult to the memory of his late grandmother.

“As a Jew,” declared Mr. Kaufman from outside his Regent’s Park home (that of the dodgy expenses claim), “I am ashamed that some of my coreligionists are behind this ignoble attempt to derail what is, after all, an entirely innocent monument. My grandmother, who was murdered by the Nazis, died in vain if Manhattanites will not allow this perfectly respectable memorial.”

Gorgeous Bhoy: George Galloway ex-MP

Speaking from his bench outside Kings Cross Station, George Galloway, also once a Member of Parliament, claimed that “the tentacles of Zionism are behind this outrageous opposition. It is a lovely work, and my auld mate Saddam, zichrono livrocha, would have been all for it!”

Meanwhile, artsy UK human rights activists Ken Loach, Alexei Sayle and Annie Lennox, together with career Jew-baiter Ken Livingstone, have organised a rally in support of the proposed monument – and to protest against what they have labelled “an undemocratic, Islamophobic provocation” by its opponents – in Hyde Park, this Sunday.

Following the death of the regular speaker at such rallies, playwright Harold Pinter, the organisers are flying in Hollywood film director Oliver Stone, whose recent remarks, they say, make him the natural heir to Pinter’s rally stage.

American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and political activist, Noam Chomsky, will also traverse the Atlantic specially for the rally.

“My Jewishness,” said Professor Chomsky from his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “together with the fact that no one is bright enough to understand a word of what I am on about, makes my opinion on US government policy vis-à-vis Zionism, the Palestinians and Islam practically unimpeachable.”

The reaction of the Islamic world, too, to opposition to the planned monument has been one of anger. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, between dodging “stray firecrackers”, proclaimed that “the Zionists’ days are numbered”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was unavailable for comment, but a government spokesman in Ankara, Aylyket Ubdibüm, said that Mr. Erdoğan would “go along with the Iranian response . . . whatever that may be.”

And, emerging from his Beirut bunker in a cunning “bandit” disguise, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah – who denied recent media reports that he and a certain extremist rabbi residing in Stamford Hill may be distant cousins – again threatened Tel Aviv.

“We have missiles capable even of reaching melchett mike,” declared Nasrallah. “This Zionist piss-taker should enjoy his four dogs while Allah allows him.”

Cunning disguise: Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, on a Beirut street

Hasmo Legends XIX: The Return of the Rotter-in-Chief

At some point last year, at the height of Hasmo Legends mania, I was contacted by Rabbi David Meyer, the Executive Headteacher of Hasmonean (Boys’ and Girls’). “Dave”, who was in the year above me at Hasmo, was concerned at the damage the series might cause to the careers of the few teachers – in particular, a Bissli-scoffing one whom I had not yet documented – still at the school.   

At the end of our conversation, Dave – who has taught at Hasmo for around 15 years – invited me back to the school on my next visit to Blighty. Dave probably forgot the offer the second after he made it . . . but how could I?! In fact, not only did I not forget it, but, straight from Heathrow, on that sunny late-March afternoon, I caught the Tube to Mill Hill East and, then, the 240 up Holders Hill Road.   

As I approached the front gate, one of the few Hasmo landmarks still in the same place since I left the nuthouse almost 25 years ago, I was half expecting to be confronted by a crude East End hunchback effing and blinding about DJ (“the facking cant”). Instead, two young Eastern Europeans – folk known to excel in guarding Jews – now manned Jack Rose’s former position. They took my suitcase, and instructed me to report to the school reception just inside the main entrance (beneath the headmaster’s office, adjacent to the hole allocated to the aforementioned Benippled Forehead when he, so shortsightedly, was appointed Deputy Head in the early Eighties).   

The first familiar face that I spotted – and it was the last that I had wanted to – on the other side of the locked double doors between the reception and Dave’s office was that of said Bissli scoffer (aka “Flop”). Even though, as a result of my promise to Dave, Flops, Greater and Lesser had been rather less unkind than it otherwise might have, I immediately suspected that Dave might be laying on a warm welcome – never underestimate an ex-Hasmo, even an Executive Headteacher, in the practical joke department – with Flop lying in wait for me in his office. The image of being put across the knee of the big man – who is no doubt relishing his ‘new’ title of “Urrrggh . . . Director of Management Information Systems” – and having my bottom dealt with, but this time aged 42, brought me out in a cold sweat. But I was being unnecessarily paranoid.   

After hanging around for ten minutes (and after Flop had already departed the scene), I reminded myself that this was still Hasmonean and that Dave probably had no idea that I was even there – after all, how many times had Rabbi Roberg had me standing outside his office for an entire day, only to mutter irascibly, at four-thirty, “What are you doing here, boy?” – and, as it transpired, he didn’t!        

I knew Dave (right) in our school days – when he was universally known, as though his names were conjoined, as “DaveMeyer” – primarily as the cousin of the Hasmo boy with the least imaginative parents: “Sod it,” Dave’s uncle and aunt, the parents of Meyer Meyer (who was in my year), had clearly resolved, “let’s just call him ‘Meyer’.” But I recalled Dave as a particularly likeable bloke. And he still is.   

Warm greetings over, Dave immediately took me into the playground – which seemed a lot smaller to a 42-year old – where an immaculately observed fire drill was taking place. How was our generation to take such rehearsals seriously when, as we would pile back into the school building some half an hour later, we would witness the spectacle of “Cyril” calmly descending its main staircase in his trilby and mac?!   

In some strange sense, perhaps because I longed to rejoin the “louts” of my day for the afternoon, I was disappointed that these boys looked so human, and were not fighting, shouting, gobbing, and/or pulling each others’ ties (there was absolutely no sign either, during the course of the afternoon, of a black market in confectionery, penny up the wall, or of searches for spare chairs). But it was just so inexplicably wonderful to be back, a feeling of elation and enthusiasm that lasted well into the evening.  

I again avoided Flop in the playground, but instantly recognised, in the distance, my 1BK form master from 1978/9. Even though he claimed to have only “heard about” melchett mike (characteristic diplomacy that I immediately understood), it was lovely to catch up briefly with Jonny Bokor (right), who – against all the odds – appears to have maintained both his sanity and geniality.   

There followed a tour of the school – which, though still no architectural wonder (there is talk of a move to a new site), is at least now replete with proper, pukka art, wood and metalwork, music and computer rooms, and even a couple dedicated to cooking (“food tech” they call it) and plumbing – throughout which, so completely have the buildings changed, I had to repeatedly ask Dave where we were vis-à-vis the Hasmo of yesteryear.         

Despite the physical changes, the place, for me, was still full of Legends past. So, whilst the old gymnasium may have gone, I could not help but imagine a mad-eyed Cypriot, wielding a white Dunlop tennis shoe, emerge from around every corner. And in Room 1 (right) and Room 12 “over the bridge”, I sat in the very same spots that I had enjoyed the happiest, and most hilarity-filled, hours of my life (in the presence of the Legendary son of Swansea, of course).  

Whilst elated to be back, I could not help but feel a tinge of regret that our generations were denied the opportunities on offer to the Hasmo boys of today. Entering each classroom and being introduced to young, enthusiastic, and, most shockingly of all, normal teachers (right), was oddly incongruous on the grounds of Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys. Those who joined that Hasmonean kissed goodbye to any chance they otherwise might have had of learning about art, music, geography, or indeed any of the humanities, in any real depth or at all. Moreover, those who were not motivated or self-starters had very little chance in maths and the sciences either (though we were taught how to execute a basketball “lay-up shot” and not to “double dribble”).   

Indeed, I am of a generation of ex-Hasmos for whom Art meant being chased up and down a long annexe by a white-bearded lunatic wielding a plank of wood – that he proudly named “Whacko” (though it should probably have been spelt “Wacko”, after its maker) – with a protruding nail strategically positioned at its tip for good measure. So, witnessing the quality of art on display in the Hasmo Art Room (below) was a total revelation . . . like someone reared on Sam Fox and Linda Lusardi chancing upon some private pics of Penélope Cruz.   

Today’s Hasmonean also offers pupils a wide array of educational trips and excursions. Whilst Boulogne is still in the brochure (though the Hasmo boys of today probably don’t re-cross the Channel armed with flick knives and pornographic playing cards), pupils can also now visit the art galleries of Paris and the World War One battlefields of Ypres. There is a trip, too, to Poland, and even one to Spain and Gibraltar to learn about Sephardic history (Hasmo’s former religious ‘elite’ would have loved that!)         

I was more than a little amused to learn that melchett mike had been raised by concerned parents of prospective new Hasmos, and also flattered that every teacher to whom Dave introduced me had read – and enjoyed – Hasmo Legends. Indeed, in the very office that, on more than one occasion, I had begged (God knows why?!) to be allowed to continue at the school, I discussed with Headteacher (Boys’) Andrew McClusky (above) specific stories that I had written. I was amazed by the particularity of his interest, singling out as he did a story (search “Rabbi Fine”) that had tickled him way back in Hasmo Legends II. And it said much to me about the man and his insight, because – however seemingly insignificant – that story speaks volumes about the attitudes prevalent in the old Hasmonean.  

The new Hasmonean is winning both plaudits and awards, and not just for examination results – as a result of deft manipulation of which pupils were allowed to enter which exams, it won those even when it was crap – but also for a progressive, imaginative approach to education, which takes into account that it takes more than Limmudei Kodesh to produce a well-rounded adult. 

The best example of this is the so-called “Enrichment Programme”, devised by the two Headteachers. This has nothing to do with brown envelopes stuffed with salary supplements (for JS teachers only, of course!) – as alleged in comments to melchett mike – but rather with providing Hasmoneans with a broader, more rounded education. Allotment Gardening, Aromatherapy and Basic Knitting – and I haven’t even got to “C”! – are amongst the eye-opening courses on offer (apparently without fear that one such might, chas vesholom, trigger a sexual self-realisation before a commitment to a double life, and years of frustration, in Gateshead).  

In life, however, every silver lining can also have a cloud. And a truly wonderful afternoon was soured somewhat on my way out through Hasmo’s corridors by a chance sighting on a notice board – like a recognition whilst watching Crimewatch – of a photograph (right, snapped while Dave’s attentions were elsewhere) from its summer walking tour.   

“It can’t be . . . surely,” I so wanted to convince myself. “Nahhh, not after all these years. Probably just looks like him.”   

Apparently, DJ will, at the end of this current term, have been teaching at Hasmonean for fifty years. A scary thought, considering that I gave up Chemistry O-Level because I couldn’t take another forty minutes of him. Anyway, the school will probably be planning some kind of event to mark the occasion (the West Hendon branch of Al-Qaeda may well be able to come up with something appropriate).   

But I was not going to allow even so nasty a surprise to spoil such a special afternoon.   

“Everyone told me I was mad to invite you,” Dave confessed. Well, Dave, thank you for ignoring them! I am not naive enough not to realise that Dave’s kind, if impulsive, invitation had more than a little to do with his desire to have something positive written about the changes that have taken place in Holders Hill Road under his stewardship. But that is fair enough. As Dave points out, “probably our hardest battle is explaining that the Hasmonean of today has the same name, but is not the same school as that of the past.”   

The odd fact remains that I would not necessarily choose to be schooled in today’s Hasmonean rather than our’s: the total absence of “Yoks” – the school, these days, operates a strict Shomer Shabbos policy – must, almost by definition, take away much of its former colour, just as its newfound normalcy must its unique humour and chutzpah. But would I prefer my children to be schooled in the old Hasmo? No, probably not.   

The fact that the “Rotter-in-Chief” was welcomed back at Hasmonean, while the Legend who gave him the title can now only rant from the safe distance of Stamford Hill – and those of his ilk have been replaced by proper, responsible educators – suggests that Dave Meyer & Co. are doing a fine job of dismantling an “institution” . . . but of building a school.          

The Two Daves . . . and he's not talking on his mobile in this one!

Postscript Dave informed me (without any request for assistance) that Hasmonean is running at an annual deficit of around £450,000 (security costs, alone, total over £100,000). If you have enjoyed Hasmo Legends, and feel that you would like to contribute to your former alma mater, please say so via a comment below (but without specifying an amount, to avoid others feeling that what they can – or are willing to – give may be insufficient). I will then forward your e-mail address (from the comment form) to Dave. An extremely generous ex-Hasmo has pledged to match, pound for pound, donations up to a total of £300,000 for each of the next three years . . . so your money will count double!

Hasmo Legends XIV: Conversations with Osher

[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.

Osher's Cuz

Osher's cuz, Dave

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!

Yours respectfully,

Mike

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 https://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”.

Still respectfully,

Mike

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.

Mike

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”).

"Osher who?"

"Osher who?"

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

Hasmo Legends XIII: A Legend (Osher) Strikes Back

[Followed by Hasmo Legends XIII: The Background]

Someone has told me about the Hasmo blog.  I haven’t seen it for myself and, considering what it is supposed to be like, I don’t think I want to, either.

After all, as far as I can ascertain, the fellows who are obsessed with this hatred of Hasmo have more or less wasted the last 20 or 30 years doing nothing much for themselves and even less for the world.  The owner of the blog, who calls himself Mike Something-or-other, as far as is known, lives alone, unmarried, in a flat in Tel Aviv, together with his four dogs.  Most of these people who say that Hasmo did nothing for them spiritually, etc., etc., moan, groan, moan, groan, are now grown men but are unfortunately the drinking companions of ingrates and malcontents and suchlike others who are pretty much the dregs of society.

Osher Baddiel (March 2009)This site is a shame on all of us normal people who have a great deal to be thankful for to Hasmo.  If Mike and Co. won’t close it down themselves, or at least remove the offensive comments about teachers and Rebbes and start to be more positive and grateful, then the rest of us should not give it any support by contributing any comments to this site.  It is a disgrace to all of us ex-Hasmos!  Let’s silent this scab!  After all, most of us ex-Hasmos know full well that wherever we go in the world, Hasmo is known and its ex-pupils are looked up to – and with good reason!  But these malcontents want to spoil all that.  For why?  Of course we all know that there were/are areas that could have been better.  OK, so what?  Does that cancel all the good that is Hasmo?

Let’s have a bit more pride in our school and gratefulness to those teachers and Rebbes that have given us so much opportunity and advantage.  Malcontents and failures should not be allowed to define what is a true Hasmo product nor besmirch our name and reputation!  Hasmos of the world – unite!

As a Limmudei Kodesh Rebbe at Hasmonean for well over thirty years and also a teacher (I also taught bookbinding and for a time I taught also woodwork and even calligraphy) I am saddened to hear about this website about the Hasmonean.  It is so unfair.

But you know, it’s rather sad to see grown men (some of them must be about fifty years old by now, if not older) who are so absorbed with themselves and so vindictive that they have to try to besmirch, denigrate and ridicule people, sometimes using language and expressions which are shamefully foul and dirty and not at all fitting for Jewish people to use, just because – more than thirty years ago! — these people were their teachers and, according to their childish perspective, they treated them unfairly.  These overgrown babies think that they can now take their revenge against their teachers (but like the cowards that they are, of course hiding behind the cloak of anonymity) for what they perceive to be “unfair treatment” – referring to things which happened twenty or even over thirty years ago!

A number of points to remember:

1.   After all is said and done, people become teachers because they are idealistic.  They are generally more intelligent than your average person and could probably do quite well out there in the world of money and material gain.  But no.  They have chosen to dedicate their lives to helping youngsters make their way in the world, to give them the equipment they will need to do well.  Nobody, but nobody, has ever decided to become a teacher so as to make life for children a misery.  All teachers start out with the best intentions.  Sadly, the treatment that they receive from their pupils can sometimes make them regret deeply their chosen vocation, but if they have become embittered it is because the children, who can be clever, manipulative, nasty, cruel and quite vicious, have made them so.

2.   The self-pitying, vindictive, spiteful, foul-mouthed, overgrown babies who contribute their spiteful remarks about their teachers were in all probability pretty rotten kids who quite deliberately intended to play-up and ruin, both, the best efforts of their teachers and also the learning opportunities of their classmates.  If their teachers were nasty to them, they probably brought it upon themselves by trying to make their teachers’ lives a misery.

3.   And even if they were completely innocent, so alright!  The teacher made a mistake!  Because the real culprit was clever, the teacher mistakenly picked on you and punished you!  And you, of course, protested your innocence but would not snitch on the real offender.  So the teacher made a mistake!  Is that a valid reason for insulting him so foully thirty years later, publicly and mercilessly?

4.   These 50-year-old overgrown babies, some of whom have managed to make their way in the world and, by the sound of it, have managed to feather their nests quite nicely, thank-you-very-much, should consider that these teachers whom they vilify so pitilessly are in fact the ones who gave them the wherewithal to make their fortunes, and they should show a modicum of gratefulness.

5.   They might also consider that their memories of things that happened so long ago might be more than a little distorted by time and bias and imagination (and possibly drink).  Nevertheless, they are willing to vilify people and spread their own malevolence to others, just so that they can glorify themselves in the hurt and insult of another.  Maybe this is what it takes to be popular in the crowd of mean and nasty people that make up this social circle.  As I recall, there used to be a place with people like that not far from where the Dead Sea is today.

Giving a shiur in a Moscow yeshiva, March 2009

Osher Baddiel in familiar mode, Ohalei Yaakov Yeshiva, Moscow (March 2009)

6.   As I used to say to my young pupils many years ago, “Your being disrespectful to your teachers says more about you than it says about your teachers!” (I also used to point out that when children behave nicely they fulfil the Mitzvah of honouring their parents because people say how well they have brought up their children but that they do their parents a dishonour by being disrespectful because their parents are ultimately responsible for how their children behave and interact with others.)  And that is said to pupils who are, after all, children.  So, I ask you, what does this ungratefulness to a school that provided a pretty good education, and vindictiveness towards teachers, say about a supposedly mature 50-year-old?

7.   If this is their attitude towards their teachers even now, as grown men, twenty or even thirty years later, one shudders to think how they have allowed their nastiness to fester and grow in their minds and how they have infected their own children to feel and relate to their teachers.  And the viciousness doesn’t stop there, either, because now their children have probably got the same jaundiced view of teachers.  (And of Rebbes, of course, and of authority generally, no?)  It is very much the same as the cruel damage done to children and grandchildren and even beyond, when parents divorce (or split up) amidst rancour and bitterness.  If you have to, divorce.  But do it respectfully and if at all possible, amicably, for the sake of the children.  Just because you two misled each other or made a bad choice of partner, is that a reason for ruining your children’s and grandchildren’s view of marriage and family life and spoiling their own married lives?  Or that they will not marry at all?  How selfish!  So, just because this person has had a bad experience with one or two teachers (probably brought on by himself, as said) is that a reason to blight the school experience of his children?

8.   Let these people realize that it’s high time they grew up.  They should stop wallowing in self-pity, looking for scapegoats to blame for having such a rotten character.  They should remember that they are big boys now and how they choose to develop their character is up to them.  They can’t go on forever blaming others for their own failures (but of course patting themselves on the back if some things pan out alright).  Whether to be gracious or nasty, thankful or ungrateful, forgiving or vengeful, respectful or insolent, kind or cruel, scoffing or admiring, all these are their own making.  As I have said: What they choose to be says much more about them than it does about the ones that they denigrate.

9.   Any decent person understands that it is unfair that a thug should beat someone from behind a bush, without giving him any chance of self-defence.  Yet these people hide behind the cloak of anonymity to attack their victims, who can never defend themselves, who can only hope and pray fervently that their close families and friends do not get to read these vicious lies and childish rantings of warped memories and biased imaginations.  The person who runs this website should close it down immediately.  There is no excuse for it.  He should remember that there is no such thing as innocent fun at someone else’s expense.  It’s a shame and disgrace to him, not something to laugh about.  I insist that there are enough good people who went to the Hasmonean who know that such a website offends against all the noble and good teachings of the Torah and Chazal who could exert pressure to have this maverick close down this site as it is at present.  It’s a great pity that this website could be such a Kiddush HaShem, showing that Jewish people are truly grateful, Makkir Tovah, and repay good with good.  Instead, it’s made a laughing stock of a venerable institution and a fair number of good, hard-working, dedicated, well-intentioned people, Jewish and non-Jewish, and shown a nasty side to Jewish people.  In short, is this website something to be proud about or does it make you wince with embarrassment?  (After the initial guffaw of laughter, of course.)  To what purpose, please?  To what benefit?

10.   And I haven’t even mentioned yet the Torah, the Halochoh and the Mussar aspect of this shameful website.  But I don’t suppose the person responsible for this enterprise is interested in what the Torah’s attitude is towards his obsession to defame his teachers and his school.  He can’t be particularly religious, anyhow.  Oh, I don’t mean that he doesn’t keep Shabbos or wear Tefillin.  He probably does.  Which just makes him a pious hypocrite.  And not only is he a hypocrite but he’s a cowardly hypocrite, too, who hides behind the anonymity of a website.  I say that he’s not a genuinely religious person.  He knows that in the Torah it says, “You shall love your friend like yourself,” and he wouldn’t want these things said about him, even as “a bit of a laugh.”

Osher Baddiel (March 2009)Well, I’ve gone on for long enough.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have come down so heavily but I know that some of the comments about some of the people are most unkind and really have hurt the feelings of the people concerned, Jew and non-Jew alike.  Every human being has feelings, and if he hasn’t, then he’s not human.  Which makes one wonder about the person who runs this site, does it not?

Please feel free to make known what I have said in this email.  But please, all of it, not selections from it.  I say that the site as it is now should be closed down, with sincere apologies to all those who have been hurt or harmed by it.  Start again.

And, in future, be thankful and grateful for what the Hasmonean gave you all.  It’s a mighty good school and all its pupils should all be grateful for all that it has given them, the rough with the smooth.

Osher Y. Baddiel, Stamford Hill, 17 August 2009.

[Photographs by “Benjamin”, picasaweb.google.com]

…..

Hasmo Legends XIII: The Background

To satisfy the steady flow of enquiries . . .

In the early hours of Monday morning, on checking for rogue comments to melchett mike from sly ex-Hasmos trying to catch me off my guard (i.e., asleep!), I was mildly amused to discover a comment – to Hasmo Legends I: An Introduction to an Institution – consisting of the first few paragraphs of the above post (though shorn of their more incendiary elements) from an “Osher Baddiel”. It was prefaced:

This was received from Osher Baddiel and he seems to have a point.

The Israeli e-mail address began “RAVI59” and an IP search located the e-mail’s source as Hod HaSharon, a fairly mixed – but predominantly non-religious – city south of Raanana and Kfar Saba, and most definitely not a place that one would associate in any way with a certain Hasmo Legend of said name.

So, I deleted the comment and the one response thereto, from the ever on-the-ball Dan Gins:

There’s simply no way that the last comment emanated from Reb Osher Yitzchok, someone for whom I, for one, have substantial respect and affection. He is a man of sufficient culture and substance, to use the word “gratitude”, not some kindergarten pidgin dialect substitute such as “gratefulness”.

Before nodding off, I sent “RAVI59” a curt e-mail, reminding him that Hasmo Legend ‘rules’ prohibit anonymous comments. On waking up some hours later, and fearing that I had perhaps been a little too brusque, I sent him a further, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, e-mail:

Pursuant to my earlier message, I would also be happy for you to post your own views – which I take it these are – even if they are not those of Mr. Baddiel . . . but, again, with an authentic name. If Mr. Baddiel wishes to post in his own name, I would love to have him on melchett mike . . . as would, no doubt, hundreds of other readers.

Shortly thereafter, I received the following response from Ravi Shahar (whose name, which now appeared in full, I vaguely recalled from his previous comments to melchett mike):

Rabbi Baddiel sent me the message and told me to post on the blog, they were HIS words not mine. He said I could do so in his name. They were not my views, but his. He does not wish to associate with melchett mike because he claims that the views posted are evil gossip, slander etc. He does have a point. Many but not all, are slander and badmouthing.

I asked Ravi for Mr. (that’s how I remember him) Baddiel’s telephone number, so that I could “call him to verify”. By early Monday evening, I had received that number and the ‘green light’:

He is willing to talk to you by phone.

I was rather apprehensive, however, about making the call. Mr. Baddiel didn’t teach me for all that long, but I clearly recall him as a rather daunting figure and – even though 24 years have passed since I left Hasmonean – found it strangely difficult to get that picture out of my mind. But, after failing to persuade (in true Hasmo style) Dan Gins to make the call instead – the soft lad “bottled” it! – I gingerly dialled the number provided at 9:20 that same evening. A woman I presumed to be Mrs. Baddiel picked up the telephone.

“Is Rabbi Baddiel there, please?”  [I thought I’d go with “Rabbi” this time . . . just to be on the safe side!]

“He’s at mincha.”

I had a 20 minute stay of execution.

The 45 minute telephone conversation that followed, however, was extremely interesting, oddly uplifting spiritually (not a word that you will hear me use often in reference to my personal experience), and somehow took me back a quarter of a century to the classroom in which I always picture Osher Baddiel . . . the one on the other side of the narrow staircase (leading up to the Staff Room) next to the Computer Room (that of the brilliantly original name).

Mr. Baddiel confirmed his authorship of the comment posted to melchett mike by Ravi Shahar (who lives in Jerusalem, and not Hod HaSharon, after all). As for the details of the remainder of the conversation, I leave those for another time. I took detailed notes, and Mr. Baddiel agreed that I could use them to provide an accurate account of the conversation, though not to ridicule (and, of course, I will respect that).

The above post – received from Mr. Baddiel, by e-mail, yesterday (Tuesday) morning – took me, however, by complete surprise. It was almost six times the length of the comment which I had deleted, and far more outspoken. In a further telephone conversation, Mr. Baddiel – who couldn’t explain the discrepancy (perhaps his former sheliach, Ravi, can) – informed me that he had written it the previous morning and then sent it to Ravi for posting to melchett mike.

As is fairly obvious from a reading of the post, Mr. Baddiel, somewhat surprisingly, didn’t amend it to reflect the very cordial nature of our Monday evening conversation, one in which we each expressed our very contrasting opinions about melchett mike . . . but during, and after, which he understood (I hope) that I am not – as I suspect he might have imagined – The Dybbuk of Melchett.

melchett mike, Tel Aviv, 19 August 2009.

Next on Hasmo Legends, Part XIV: Conversations with Osher [followed by Osher: The Postscript (featuring melchett mike’s Osher Poll)]