Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

My Booba  (grandmother) bought me and all my cousins souvenir books of Princess Margaret’s wedding to Anthony Armstrong-Jones. It was beautifully illustrated with formal wedding pictures and informal photos of the happy couple, taken during their courtship. I looked at it many times. To my exacting eye, Princess Margaret was not truly beautiful, not like Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn or Jean Simmons. When you get old, any young person looks beautiful but I was ten.

I was a little surprised that Booba engaged with the celebrations of Princess Margaret ‘s wedding as  we were not what you might call royalists. Tsar Nicholas II was certainly no particular friend to the Jews when my grandparents left Russia and Poland. Booba was naturalized British but my other Booba, my father’s mother, was Russian all her life and had to report to the Home Office in accordance with the Aliens Act of 1905. The same applied to my father’s older siblings, he being the only child of his family born in England.

They were not Russian speakers as Yiddish was their first language but there was some syncretism: my aunt’s samovar, lemon tea taken in a glass; frequent use of the interrogative ‘Nu?’ and men dancing the kazatsky at weddings and bar mitzvahs. My father was able to execute a fine kazatsky, as did his nephew, my cousin Norman.

It was not so much the Russian connection as the socialist tradition which stopped my family becoming enthusiastic about the British monarchy. However, there was no resentment and when individual members of the Royal Family evinced kindly or conscientious behaviour, we liked them. My mother considered Prince Philip very handsome. I didn’t think so myself, until I became old enough to see, as I said, that everyone is beautiful under the age of about fifty.

In dramas about the English Civil War, we were on the side of the Parliamentarians and were irritated when they were portrayed as rigid killjoys while the Royalists got all the best lines, the good wigs and the cute dogs.

My brother-in-law, whose work in the charitable sector was recognized with an OBE, was invited with my sister to events where Royals, Ministers and sometimes Prime Ministers were present.  A photo of my sister and brother-in-law shaking hands with Prince Charles and Princess Diana adorned the walls of my parents’ house and was later displayed in their rooms in a Jewish Care residential home, along with a photo of my brother-in-law being introduced to the Queen. They also met – in reverse chronological order – Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath. There was a photo of my sister shaking hands with Norman Tebbit, which she feared could be used as kompromat.

More than one member of my family met Princess Margaret but they did not warm to her. I am sure that it was mutual.

Some years ago, Prince Charles attended a COP climate change conference and was introduced to the UK team from the department of Ed Miliband, then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. My son was a young and minor cog in the machine at that time and was not introduced, but Prince Charles turned back before leaving the room, to speak to him and shake his hand.

Doos is a mensch!

I liked Princess Diana because she seemed so natural and kind. I read articles and and watched programmes about her life and mourned her untimely death with most of the world. Later, I hoped that Charles would be allowed to marry Camilla. Why should people who have loved each other so long be forbidden to marry?

I  watched with interest all of the Netflix series The Crown and took away from it the perception that personal suffering is not lessened or cushioned by royal status.

In recent years, finding myself at odds with the Left as never before, I  am offended by excessively hostile posts about the Queen and other members of the Royal Family although certainly they have some duds. Such is life.

The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee is sure to arouse strong feelings, pro and contra.

Did you know – of course you did – that Jubilee is a Hebrew word?

The Jubilee occurred every fifty years and involved leaving the land fallow for a year (shemita) as well as cancelling debts and releasing slaves.

יוֹבֵ֣ל הִ֗וא שְׁנַ֛ת הַחֲמִשִּׁ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה תִּהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֑ם לֹ֣א תִזְרָ֔עוּ וְלֹ֤א תִקְצְרוּ֙ אֶת־סְפִיחֶ֔יהָ וְלֹ֥א תִבְצְר֖וּ אֶת־נְזִרֶֽיהָ׃ כִּ֚י יוֹבֵ֣ל הִ֔וא קֹ֖דֶשׁ תִּהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֑ם מִ֨ן־הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה תֹּאכְל֖וּ אֶת־תְּבוּאָתָֽהּ׃

 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, neither shall you reap the aftergrowth or harvest the untrimmed vines for it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you: you may only eat the growth direct from the field.

Leviticus 25: 11 – 12

Yovel, the Hebrew word for Jubliee, becomes iobeleus in the Latin Vulgate. The Greek Septuagint uses a circumlocution which does not sound like jubilee but references the release which takes place in the fiftieth year.

All right, since you ask, the Greek version is:

 ἀφέσεως σημασία αὕτη, τὸ ἔτος τὸ πεντηκοστὸν ἐνιαυτὸς ἔσται ὑμῖν· οὐ σπερεῖτε οὐδὲ ἀμήσετε τὰ αὐτόματα ἀναβαίνοντα αὐτῆς καὶ οὐ τρυγήσετε τὰ ἡγιασμένα αὐτῆς ὅτι ἀφέσεως σημασία ἐστίν ἅγιον ἔσται ὑμῗν ἀπὸ τῶν πεδίων φάγεσθε τὰ γενήματα αὐτῆς

Leviticus 25: 11 – 12

Apheseos semasia, something like ‘a significant release’, is the term which translates yovel, jubilee.

In the case of Her Majesty, it is seventy years on the throne, not fifty. Her coronation is one of my earliest memories. Like so many other families, we acquired a nine inch television set for the purpose of watching it. I was bored by the coronation but soon discovered the delights of Muffin the Mule and Prudence Kitten.

I hope that this forthcoming Jubilee will be an apheseos semasia for us all, a time of release from the manifold troubles which beset us, royals and commoners, yeomen and labourers and all those who, like my grandparents, travel to this land from distant shores.

27 May 2022

This may be an urban legend. I have heard that George Stevens, director of The Greatest Story Ever Told, thought John Wayne, as a Roman centurion witnessing the crucifixion, uttered his line ‘Truly this man was the Son of God ‘ with insufficient spirituality.  ‘Can you say it with  awe?’ Stevens asked Wayne. ‘Aw, truly this man was the Son of God,’ said Wayne at the next take.

The story was denied by both George Stevens and John Wayne. As I supposed, it’s an urban legend. So many things are.

Apotheosis was a regular feature of Roman imperial life around the time of the crucifixion, give or take a hundred years. From my reading of Robert Graves, I seem to remember that Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar became gods. Caligula thought he was a god and Claudius was considered a god in Britain, a parochial deity.

In the modern age, the deification of political leaders is sinister, invariably resulting in the pursuit and punishment of allegedly deicidal persons. And not only political leaders. Being called deicides by the Church until the Nostra Aetate of Pope Paul VI in 1965 caused us Jews no end of trouble.

What I am doing here is procrastinating. This post, as you guessed, is about Facebook groups becoming increasingly worshipful of Jeremy Corbyn, which means my opening paragraph counts as deviation and hesitation, before I launch into the undoubted repetion of something I have mentioned many times before.

This way of talking about Corbyn as a godlike figure is not merely inappropriate or amusing. His opponents are invariably fingered as being Judas or Herod or Pilate or Caiaphas. Thus the Corbynist forums on Facebook become a veritable Oberammergau of Judenhass, with Israel often held responsible for Labour’s bad election result in 2019 or, by way of synecdoche, Keir Starmer, Margaret Hodge or Trevor Chinn stand in for the State of Israel and indeed for Am Yisrael, the people of Israel.

There has been no improvement in this state of affairs in the Corbynist social media I have seen. Whereas the suggestion that ‘the Rothschilds’ won the 2019 General Election seemed initially the opinion of outliers, it is now orthodoxy to say in these groups that Israel decided the election result. It seems ridiculous when you consider that Israel’s proportional representation leads time after time to inconclusive election results. It seems ridiculous for many reasons but it is an assertion which occurs repeatedlyin the Corbynist groups on Facebook and is by now an urban legend nearly as popular as the anecdote about the awe of John Wayne.

The screen shots are more or less in chronological order, although the last few, featuring crucifixion metaphors, are not chronological. The people making the comments are often the same individuals, members of every Corbynist group they can find and active in all of them. Can we put a number on them? The larger groups have more than 60,000 members and the smaller groups have fewer than 2,000. The usual number is about 10,000 members, a hundred of whom are regular contributors to the group.

And does it matter?

Does it matter if these predominantly elderly people have fixated on an elderly man who had little influence in politics until he was past retirement age, and whom they now regularly liken to Jesus? Many people whose opinions I value tell me that I’m focusing on a pathetic minority who turn to each other for the corroboration they can’t get in the wider world.

But I say, it matters if they think you’re Judas, Pilate, Herod and Caiaphas, rolled into one diabolical, election-rigging, scam-making, party-owning, blue and white T shirt-wearing entity.

Today being the sixth day of Passover, I decided to return some of the Pesach crockery to the top shelf of the big cupboard in my spare room. I had to remove suitcases and hangers from the cupboard until I could insert a kitchen chair with some degree of stability. I then climbed on the chair and returned some large plates, small plates, cups and saucers to their place. Moving my hand along the shelf to see what was there, I found a cardboard box, which I realized immediately would contain memorabilia which had belonged to my parents. I came down from the chair and out of the cupboard, with the box. It was full of letters, one from me aged fourteen, to my sister, written while on holiday. I related, with humorous asides, the experience of a student making a pass at me while thinking I was of legal age and that he withdrew when I told him I was fourteen.

There are letters to my parents and grandmother from my aunt in Sydney, Australia.

There is a glowing reference for my father, from the headmaster at the school where he taught although I know he remained on the staff for several more years.

Then there is this letter to the Observer, written early in 1960. The context is clear. The bereaved father of a British soldier killed in Mandate Palestine, 1947, had compared this to the Nazi genocide. Then as now, anything heinous was being compared to the Holocaust, a word which did not yet have currency in this context. Like many of us now, my father pointed out the error – I would say indecency – of the comparison. The occupation he refers to is the British occupation of what was Mandate Palestine until the State of Israel achieved independence in 1948.

His words about terrorists fighting occupation refer to the Irgun and Lehi, not the long terrorism of anti-Zionist violence in Israel and the diaspora. If someone challenged him today with a view to justifying Palestinian acts of terror, I think he would say that not everything can bear comparison but, in any case, he did not attempt to justify the activities of the Irgun or Lehi.

I don’t know if The Observer published his letter to the editor, but here it is, sixty-two years on.

ברוך אתה ” מחיה המתים

The Editor

The Observer

26 January 1960

Dear Sir

I am certain that Mr XXX of Bristol has everyone’s sympathy in the grievous loss he sustained by the murder of his son in Palestine in 1947 but to suggest, even indirectly, that these very sad but fortunately comparatively rare events, carried out by extreme right wing groups, whose activities are repudiated by thoughtful and moderate opinion, can bear any comparison to the organised campaign of mass extermination which was the deliberate and avowed intent of the Nazi government, is no more than the result of prejudiced thinking.

Whenever armies are in immediate occupation, and where the desire for freedom and self-determination among the occupied is paramount, clashes of an atrocious nature are bound to occur on both sides.

Mr XXX’s son was a victim of political and military circumstances and I am sure that right-thinking and humanitarian elements in Israel, as indeed they do everywhere else, deprecate most sincerely occurrences of this nature.

Yours sincerely

J Pressman

I can hardly remember joining Facebook, that day being lost in the mists of time. I was living in another house, still married to Mr Lazarus and my younger children were still at university. Or were they? I can’t remember. I posted favourite quotations, photos and made contact with former colleagues.

My Facebook page now is of course set on private and even so, I take proper care: names may be displayed but not together with places and vice versa.

The groups which I archive and report to Facebook are devoted to these things: hatred of Israel, veneration of Mr Corbyn, hatred of Zionists, veneration of anti Zionists; hatrd of the ‘Jewish/Israel/Zionist Lobby’ and veneration of any struggle inimical to Israel.

Facebook very rarely intervenes to remove a post or a comment, but is more likely to do so if there is swearing and if the word ‘Jewish’ is used, rather than ‘Zionist’. Thus a lady who commented ‘F***ing Jews, who do they think they are?’ got suspended from Facebook for a month and her comment was deleted. In contrast, the word ‘kike’ gets a pass, perhaps because it isn’t flagged up by Facebook algorithms.

When I report Holocaust denial, I get the reply from Facebook that it does not go against their community standards. In a long thread about the Zionist Lobby being responsible for all the evils of the world, the one person who carelessly wrote ‘Jewish lobby’ had his tweet deleted by Facebook.

The recent spate of terrorist killings in Israel, March – April 2022, has been lauded on some of the forums but reporting them for hate speech or the promotion of violence falls on deaf ears, if indeed Facebook has ears.

I have collated my replies from Facebook. If you have the tenacity to read to the end, you will see the one case where somebody violated their standards.

In some comments, numbers and punctuation signs are substituted for letters, as in Zi0ni$ts. Israel is spelled Izrael and Usrael, to avoid the censor. Why do they bother? Facebook isn’t bothered.

I have added some of the more recent decisions from Facebook.

If you scroll through the screen shots, you will see at the end that Facebook did remove a comment and, certainly, members of many of the groups shown below do complain that Facebook – which they consider Zionistic – removes many of their comments.

Facebook works in a mysterious way, its wonders to perform.

And finally, there was one time when Facebook agreed there was a problem.

And at last, perhaps we have Facebook’s ear, just once in a while.

My long exposure to contemporary Left, Corbynist, Palestinian or anti-West social media has served to acquaint me with extremist opinions about Israel, Jews, the UK and the USA.

When I post screen shots on Twitter, I am sometimes confronted by people who tell me that criticism of Israel is not antisemitic, that the antisemitic comments might come from fifth columnists or that Mr Corbyn, contrary to my insinuations, does not have an antisemitic bone in his body. Obviously I am also confronted by people calling me’old hag’ and similar terms of endearment. Nothing I can do about that: social media is what it is.

Here for example is a billet doux which I received today, 31 March.

You can’t please all of the people all of the time and certainly not on Twitter.

I am fairly intrigued by the argument that Jeremy Corbyn would reject, if he were aware of them, the propositions that Jews:

are Khazars

Cause all wars

Rig UK elections

Run UK and American poliitics

Caused his own poor showing in the 2019 general election

or that

The Rothschilds are behind everything.

In the more extreme groups, Holocaust denial is a regular feature and yet I have heard Corbyn repudiate Shoah denial in television interviews.

Where I agree with the Corbynists is that I don’t think he would voice any of the views listed above, comments to which they regularly reply ‘Spot on!’ or ‘100%’, so it is reasonable to assume he doesn’t hold them, even if they do. I think he has extreme views but not as extreme as some of his followers; that he would say Israel is the only cause of its own wars, but not of the Napoleonic wars; that there is a Zionist Lobby with influence in the UK but not that Zionists visited polling booths up and down the country to torch the ballot boxes. He will not call Ashkenazi Jews Khazars but will agree with JVL that Jews have such a welcome place in the diaspora as to make the State of Israel redundant.

To be honest, it is difficult to know if and how Corbyn differs from his most vocal and devoted followers.

Daily, I should say hourly, Simon Maginn posts ‘It was a scam’ on his Twitter account, habitually calling those who disagree with him ‘Filthy liars’ and demanding apologies which never materialize. It is not only Jeremy Corbyn whom he defends from imputations of antisemitism but also Chris Williamson, David Miller, the rapper Lowkey and anyone at all who was expelled from Labour for antisemitism. Maginn’s focus is not Corbyn’s probity but an ill-defined cabal of evil plotters (I assume I’m one) who speak about antisemitism.

Where would Corbyn stand on Maginn, if the subject came up? I think he would say it was certainly a scam to accuse himself of antisemitism, or Chris Williamson whom he promoted to his Shadow Cabinet, or anyone with whom he shares a platform. On the other hand, I think he would condemn the threats shouted through a megaphone from a car decked out with Palestinian flags as it drove through Golders Green but I don’t think he would see a problem in driving the car with the flags through Golders Green.

Like the first Queen Elizabeth and Ludwig Wittgenstein – an unlikely pair – I don’t believe in making windows into a person’s soul or even that there is anything inside the windows which is inaccessible from the outside.

The idolization, deification even, of Corbyn by people who concur with the antisemitic views I outlined above has the effect of making him still more dislikeable. When a devotee likens him to Jesus and then exhorts the comrades, ‘Don’t let them crucify him again,’ it gives the impression that, if Corbyn held political office, these zealots would become powerful, in a way reminiscent of the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution in China.

On the day when Russia invaded Ukraine, Corbyn stood up in Parliament and argued for the recognition of the State of Palestine. As some of his supporters pointed out, a debate on the recognition of Palestine had been scheduled for that day. One couldn’t expect him not to contribute on a matter of consuming interest to him.

As far as optics were concerned, it looked poor but predictable. The optics of Corbyn’s words, deeds and even wreath laying are very often the problem, being generally compatible with antisemitism but with a strand of plausible deniability.

If only he had separated himself from the fanatics, instead of sharing platforms with them and praising them, he might have had more credibility as a non racist man of the Left. If he had done so, he would not have been their idol as he is to this day, but someone else would have filled the role because there are people amenable to authoritarianism who require a totem, before whom they can gather.

Where there is a totem, there is likely to be a taboo. Who or what might that be, in this context?

Ha!

Foreword: 22 May 2022

PAIS is an prolific group now numbering nine thousand members but, as with all Facebook groups, their kernel of activists is probably not more than a hundred. Some of these activists post many times a day. They keep a close eye on PressTV, Quds News Network and Viva Palestina for breaking news stories. The mainstream news also offers continual developments, such as the sad death of Shireen Abu-Akleh, whose photo is now the profile picture of many of the group members. The group consensually favours the extermination of Israel and, in all their posts, they present reasons why they consider this desirable. They are not above contemptuous racist humour directed at Jews whom they consider a plague on the earth.

As I consider PAIS a particularly toxic group, I have often reported them to Facebook. Generally speaking, Facebook finds that the comments do not go against their communty standards but nevertheless, they have sometimes reacted by removing offensive posts, which is one reason among others to keep reporting.

*

The Gaelic word Pais, says Antán Ó Dála, refers to the Passion, that is to say, the suffering, of Jesus on the cross. In Antan’s own words:

‘PÁIS is Gaelic for the Passion, the suffering and persecution of the Palestinian carpenter, Jesus.’

The word is used cleverly as an acronym: Palestinian And Irish Solidarity.

Contributors seldom lose sight of their brief and, whatever problem arises in the wide world, they remember to relate it to Palestine. And Israel.

I have been following this particular Pais group (there are others) for about four months. I never open the page without foreboding and never fail to be shocked by the bigotry, extremism and anti Jewish obsession.

Facebook does not intervene against such groups and applies its censor so haphazardly that I assume some obsolete form of artificial intelligence is in charge.

It seems likely that, psychologically, the members of this group experience a frisson in expressing such extreme opinions, especially when they rejoice in the death of Israelis. Do they have a sense of transgression or a sense of virtue, or perhaps both, in an enjoyable paradox?

I present to you, PAIS (Palestinian and Irish Solidarity).

When Israelis die:

On the Shoah

PAIS news sources

Ukraine

It is not unusual for ‘anti-Zionists’ to profess concern for Jewish people, who, they claim, are made to suffer by Israel and Zionism and by those of us who ‘cry wolf’.

PAIS does not swerve from its anti Israel mission. Occasionally, Facebook deletes posts for false information, but one has to report the post for this to happen. Mostly, reporting has little effect but still, it’s better that some of their comments get reported, even when Facebook does nothing.

לא עליך המלאכה לגמור ואין אתה בן חורין להיבטל ממנה

It is not for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.

Pirkei Avot 2:16

Finally, house rules of the PAIS group. It has been reported many times by many people but they soldier on, with their never-ending Judenhass.

Prologue. It is 3 March and the Russians have been attempting to invade Ukraine for a week. Conditions are dire in the Ukraine and dire for Russian soldiers in tanks stuck en route while trying to reach Kyiv. Zelensky is inspirational but it seems that nothing good can happen.

Corbynist social media is now focused on Israel; on Israel being worse or on sympathy for Ukraine being unfair when people don’t respond as sympathetically to Palestinians.

An original post about vodka being removed from Co-op shelves triggers nothing on a Corbynist forum apart from ‘What about Zionst produce?’

23 February

As Russian troops enter eastern Ukraine, the Corbynist forums which I follow have their own views about the crisis, presumably in line with those of Mr Corbyn.

When US and UK troops withdrew from Afghanistan, they were at pains to compare the Taliban favourably with the Israelis.

When Bashar Al-Assad used barrel bombs, they declared that this was filmed at Pinewood studios under the direction of then PM Theresa May.

When the Skripals were taken ill in Salisbury, they posted links to Craig Murray’s article stating that Israel was the likely suspect.

I am going to spare you further commentary and deliver screen shots. Please read on.

Russia

Afghanistan

Iran

Syria

China

Myanmar

No matches found

*

Whatever and wherever the crisis, these are the questions the comrades ask each other:

What about Israel?

Isn’t Israel behind it?

Why is no one mentioning Israel?

You may laugh. My sense of humour has been eroded by exposure to their obsession. Probably Israel’s fault.

As the days go by and Ukraine is under attack, the comrades, initially uncertain, return to their default factory settings.

In the 1980 film Superman 2, as Superman rescues a child who is falling into the Niagara Falls, a little old lady among the admiring onlookers can be heard to say:

‘Such a nice man. Of course he’s Jewish.’

The creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, were indeed Jewish but the Man of Steel himself, possibly not.

Christmas bank holiday Monday, when Boxing Day falls on a Sunday, I walk the mile to the M&S food hall. As I walk, I think about Oskar Schindler, the exemplar of the righteous gentile; thinking not about his righteous deeds so much as his personality. Schindler was a hedonist and hedonists, who appreciate comfort, are well placed to be empathetic to suffering. After the war, residence in Germany was untenable for him and he moved to Buenos Aires. By 1958 he was bankrupt and, leaving his wife in Argentina, he returned to Germany, where he failed to prosper. He was supported financially by ‘Schindler Jews’, those whose lives he had saved who were now settled in Israel. Schindler was honoured by the State of Israel as one of the Righteous of the Nations and is buried in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion. I have visited his grave there. Thomas Keneally’s book Schindler’s Ark and Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List are both fitting monuments to his memory, as are the descendants of those he saved.

What really made Schindler – an established, extravagant and flamboyant business man – risk his life and scatter away his wealth, saving Jewish lives? Many answers have been given; none of them solve Schindler’s enigma or dispel his mystique.

The Righteous Among Nations, ḥasidei ummot ha`olam, are of abiding interest, especially now as, even in the age of Medinat Israel, we Jews continue to need their support.

In the diaspora, antisemitism has not quite laid hands on us, outside of criminal terrorist acts which have claimed lives in Europe, the United States, South America, India, Australia, in the air and at sea, but it is globally resurgent. It breathes on us, making us shrink back from its acrid breath.

At this time, when it is difficult to be unconscious of a threat to our security, we find supporters who are prepared to make their own lives harder by standing up against anti-Jewish prejudice and hatred. It does make their lives harder and they are abused for it. They sustain losses, in their careers and in their friendships.

Why are they prepared to do so much for us? Like Schindler, they do not have to. Like Superman, they fly into the Niagara Falls while others watch from the sidelines.

And they are many. How could I begin to name those I know of?

Emma Euan Heidi Ray Jonas Warren Craig Zoe

John Ian Joan Stella Sajid Nadhim Eddie Helen Joanne

Angela Tim Derek Natalie Keith Fran Andrew Gavin Bev Malcolm Steve Kevin Graham Aboud Damian Tony Freddie Ibrahim Mike Mark Rosemary Richard Neil Chris David John Bob Tom Carl Dee Garry Gary John Fiyaz Dan Ayesha Steve

I don’t produce those lists we see on Twitter, paying homage to worthy accounts, as I will forget more names than I remember, and then remember afterwards that I forgot.

To paraphrase Nehemiah, And now, strengthen their hands, ועתה חזק את-ידיהם

Strengthen all their hands. You don’t have to be Jewish to be Superman.

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, the mass of territory he ruled got divvied up among his generals and the general whose name comes into the Hanukkah story is Seleucus.

The diadochi – the successors of Alexander – didn’t sort it out amicably but, one way or another, Seleucus ended up with swathes of the Near East, including Syria. The Ptolemies had Egypt, which explains why Cleopatra was Greek.

Seleucus founded an empire, a centre of sophisticated Hellenistic influence and culture, ruled by kings who were mainly called Antiochus. The rest of the Seleucid kings  were called Seleucus, as you’d expect and there were a couple of Philips, but that’s another story.

In 175 BCE the Antiochus on the throne was the fourth of that name, called Antiochus Epiphanes, which was complimentary, but also known as Antiochus Epimanes, which meant bonkers. I’m not excusing the mental health slur but that’s what they called him.

The Seleucids had ruled over Judea without causing too much trouble but Antiochus IV was a tyrant and wanted to put a stop to Judaism. To be fair, he believed that the Greek way of life was much superior to any other but he imposed his will in a cruel, persecutory manner, as tyrants generally do.

He outlawed Jewish practices, making them punishable by death, and defiled the Temple in Jerusalem (the one we call the Second Temple, built after the return from exile in Babylon) by setting up an altar to Zeus as well as other abominations which I won’t go into here.

There was a Jewish revolt, led by the Hasmonean family of Modi’in (currently a modern Israeli city with over 90,000 inhabitants). The Hasmoneans are also called the Maccabees. Hashmon was the family name and Maccabee was a sort of nickname, meaning hammer, initially applied to Judah ben Matitiyahu, but eventually the Jewish revolt against the Seleucids was known as the Maccabean revolt.

A word about Matityahu, Mattathias in Greek and Matthew in English, not that anyone spoke English in those parts: he was a priest from a distinguished family, the sons of Hashmon. His grown up sons all fought alongside their brother Judah. Their names were John, Simon, Eleazar and Jonathan.

Through guerrilla warfare against the powerful army of Antiochus, the Maccabees took back Jerusalem, including the Temple, which was thoroughly cleansed and rededicated, hence the word Hanukkah, חנוכה , which means dedication.

It would be nice to think this was a final victory but the war with the Seleucids dragged on for years, recorded in the four books of the Maccabees which you will find not in the bible but in the Apocrypha or, as Catholics call it, the Deuterocanon. They were probably written originally in Hebrew but the earliest extant versions are in Greek, like most of the Old Testament Apocrypha.

Of the Hasmonean brothers, Simon survived the longest and fathered a dynasty of high priests and kings. The Seleucid Empire disintegrated and the new kid on the block was Rome, with whom the Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus had good relations.  Supporters of the Hasmoneans tended to be from the priestly elite known as Sadducees and they were opposed by the Pharisees who were devout but generally more in touch with the ordinary people.

You may notice that I haven’t mentioned the miracle in the Temple when the oil in the menorah burned for eight days.

The reason is this:  the books of the Maccabees don’t mention the menorah or the miracle. They are more concerned with battles, power, dynasties and realpolitik.

The story of Hanukkah as we celebrate it comes from a later source, the Talmud, written down between about 200 and 600 CE.

The Gemara asks: What is Hanukkah, and why are lights kindled on Hanukkah? The Gemara answers: The Sages taught in Megillat Taanit: On the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the days of Hanukkah are eight. One may not eulogize on them and one may not fast on them. What is the reason? When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary by touching them. And when the Hasmonean monarchy overcame them and emerged victorious over them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil that was placed with the seal of the High Priest, undisturbed by the Greeks. And there was sufficient oil there to light the candelabrum for only one day. A miracle occurred and they lit the candelabrum from it eight days. The next year the Sages instituted those days and made them holidays with recitation of hallel and special thanksgiving in prayer and blessings.

Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 21b

The men who wrote the Talmud – and I think we can be sure that they were men not women – had an affinity with the Pharisaic tradition. The militaristic expansionism of the later Hasmonean kings wasn’t something they admired and, chronologically speaking, the Talmudic sages had the last word about this.

After the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, there was no place for Jewish kings and high priests  but the pious traditions of the Pharisees evolved in the rabbinic literature of the first millennium: the Mishnah and baraitot, the two Talmuds of Babylon and Jerusalem and the midrashic writings which are a source of rabbinic folklore and biblical exegesis.

As the Hanukkah story isn’t in the bible, it doesn’t get read in the synagogue on the shabbat that falls during Hanukkah. The Torah reading at this time of year is always about Joseph in Egypt, but the prophetic reading from Zechariah does have a connection with Hanukkah.

Zechariah tells that an angel showed him a vision of the gold menorah in the Temple.

And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep.  And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it.  And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”  And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”  Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.”  Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. 

Zechariah 4: 1 – 6

When we light the Hanukkah candles, we remember the Maccabean revolt and we remember the miracle of the oil in the candelabrum, the Menorah.

Each night, after lighting the candles, we say:

We kindle these lights to commemorate the wonders, the victories and the marvellous and consoling deeds which You performed for our ancestors through Your holy priests in those days at this season.

Happy Hanukkah.

Post script. There is another explanation of the name Maccabee, besides the well known one that it means hammer, referring to the Maccabees’ strength in battle. It has been said that it is an acronym for the words Mi Camokha Ba Elim.

Who is like You, God, among the mighty?

Exodus 15:11

As with Zechariah, the emphasis is on piety rather than militarism.

The new BBC drama Ridley Road was on television on Sunday night, close to the anniversary of the 1936 Battle of Cable Street, although Ridley Road is set in 1962, when the neonazi Colin Jordan voiced his ambition of completing Hitler’s work. Even more poignantly, the new series stars Tracy-Ann Oberman and Eddie Marsan who fight so fearlessly against present day antisemitism and are much abused for it by those who identify as the anti-Zionist Left.

The same day, Mr Corbyn and the JVL took to Cable Street as they have for several years past. As is often the case, Mr Corbyn spoke from a platform accompanied by alleged antisemites.

Wise words have been written about the Corbynist Left’s appropriation of Cable Street, by Nicole Lampert today in Jewish News and yesterday by Lee Harpin. So accurately has Nicole Lampert summed up the situation that I hardly need to add anything to it.

I had a little run in on Twitter in the last twenty-four hours with an account who calls himself ‘Rob Filth UK’ (possibly connected with or in homage to the 1980s punk comic, ‘Filth.’ ). Rob identifies critics of Mr Corbyn with fascists and antisemites. As critics of Corbyn are often in point of fact Jews or the friends of Jews, he regards us and our friends as a rabble of antisemites, fascists and nazis, while – as Rob sees it – Corbyn alone defends us, the undeserving.

Enough about what the Corbynists say.

Watching Ridley Road made me think about my family and our encounters with antisemitic movements in Britain, in my lifetime in the 1960s and before my lifetime in the 1930s.

My mother’s parents came to England as children, from Lodz in Poland, around 1900. Her father was an orphan, illiterate as he had no formal schooling, and he worked in the East End, employee of a recently arrived family who had acquired a workshop with sewing machines. He married the eldest daughter, my grandmother, got his own workshop and, in postwar years, a factory which moved from Shoreditch to Leyton to Bow until it closed down in the 1980s.

My father’s parents came to England from Podolia, now in western Ukraine, in 1910. All the children of the family were born in Russia except for the youngest, my father. He went to a grammar school which he loved, then to a teachers’ training college and had started teaching when war broke out.

My parents grew up in the same street, Crellin Street, which was destroyed by bombs during the blitz. When my mother was a new born infant, the grandmothers said jokingly that she was a bride for my father, who was three. True words spoken in jest: their wedding took place in 1940 in Cannon Street Road Synagogue, and they were married for seventy years until my father died, in 2011.

My father is wearing army uniform in the wedding photos. He fought in North Africa and in the Atlantic, accompanying merchant shipping as a gunner. The ship was torpedoed and he was several hours on a raft in the very centre of the Atlantic Ocean, until being taken aboard a corvette.

My sister had been born by then. The shenanigans of Cable Street had been and gone. My mother said that she was at an upper window with a bucket of water to pour down on the fascists if they broke through.

I was born in 1949 when we were living in Amhurst Road Hackney, although we soon moved to the boreal locale of Upper Clapton. The Mosleyites were active, calling themselves the League of Empire Loyalists. One saw their graffiti on the walls but I didn’t see them close up until they held a rally in Ridley Road.

I remember my father, who never swore, shouting ‘Balls, balls, balls’ (my sister says it was ‘Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks’ and at the Jordan meeting) while Mosley attempted a speech in Ridley Road and kicking the getaway car driven by Max Mosley with a scared looking Oswald Mosley in the passenger seat.

Still more dramatic was the Colin Jordan meeting in Trafalgar Square where I aimed a blow at a woman who called my sister ‘dirty Jewish whore’. She kicked out. There were men holding us back, my mother, my sister and me and the neonazi woman too. My father and brother-in-law, deeper in the crowd, for some reason saw less action that day, as far as I know.

Since writing this, I’ve spoken to my sister about these events. She recalls attacking the woman and myself joining in. It was sixty years ago, the memory clear in both our minds, but our memories do not match in the details. Regarding the woman’s words to my sister, we entirely agree.

My sister was in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, where she met her husband. They have been married fifty-eight years as I write this. As a teenager I joined the Young Socialists and, as I have written before, the SWP, until anti -Zionism became a prominent feature of left-wing politics, soon after the Six Day War.

If a Corbynist wants to abuse me on social media, they tend to call me a far right apartheid lover (being called old, ugly et cetera is par for the course). It seems strange as we were active against apartheid and I remember my parents taking me to an anti-apartheid meeting in Trafalgar Square to hear the then Labour leader, Hugh Gaitskell. Anglican bishop Trevor Huddleston is in the centre of the photo.

I was on anti-apartheid demonstrations in my student days in Manchester when the all white Springboks came to Old Trafford. Peter Hain was the prominent leader of the movement in the UK. There is a famous photo of Jeremy Corbyn being arrested while wearing an anti-apartheid sandwich board, but his was not a name I ever heard until well after 2000, by which time he was a seasoned Labour backbencher.

Back to Twitter: Rob Filth UK is putting his back into arguing that opponents of Corbyn appease neonazis for ‘lack of bottle’. It is not a young man’s turn of phrase. I would guess that Rob is one of Corbyn’s silver haired devotees. He also argues that Stalin called it right with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

Corbynists display great resentment towards ‘centrists’, a pronounced not to say malevolent dislike of Keir Starmer and a loathing for any politician or celebrity who speaks out against the antisemitism of the Left. I am myself a centrist now, but always considered myself on the left of the Labour Party until it became inimical to Jews, certainly under Corbyn but prior to his leadership too, on the fringes of the Party.

The latest from Rob is objectionable indeed.

I recall from the long ago days in the SWP that the Group preferred the International Marxist Group and Militant to the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (formerly Socialist Labour League), not that they liked them, but everyone hated the WRP and the WRP hated everyone else. The UK Left in the 1960s was like Homage to Catalonia which came before it and The Life of Brian which was yet to come. Now they seem to have found some unity in their opposition to Israel and all who sail in her. ‘All who sail in her’ includes most of us Jews in the diaspora and all our allies.

I think of the past, my family in the East End, the aunt who went back to Russia after the revolution and eventually disappeared without trace; Communist Party activists related by marriage to another of my aunts and the endless struggles against antisemites, in those days and in these. I think of the Jewish charity boxes displayed in all the homes of my childhood: Jewish National Fund; the kibbutznik figurines brought back by those who had been to Israel and the Stars of David which we girls wore – which I still wear – as necklaces.

Some troll on Twitter says to me ‘lack of bottle’ and I get upset.

Such bottle they had, the dead and the living.

To the members of my family now in Gan Eden, L’CHAYIM!

לחיים

L’CHAYIM!