Neviim Tovim/TheHaftarah Circle Gillian Gould Lazarus

Since Dame Margaret Hodge hit the headlines, the Labour Party has continued to rage like a forest fire over the issue of antisemitism within the party and over Mr Corbyn’s role, for better for worse. There have been two twitterstorms that I know of, one with the hashtag ‘We are Corbyn’ and the more recent with the hashtag ‘Resign Tom Watson.’

As readers will know, Tom Watson has condemned Labour antisemitism. Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are sticking to their narrative that Tom Watson is dishonest and  acting on behalf of those who want to keep Jeremy Corbyn out of 10 Downing Street. Online Labour Forums are running stories about Mr Watson being in the pay of Zionist Jews and I believe one Labour official has been suspended for saying as much.

A journalist from Jewish News has been interviewed by the Canary and expressed disgust with the United We Stand front pages shared by three Jewish newspapers. An argument as to whether the journalist is actually Jewish is still raging as I type this, although the journalist in question seems to think he is not.

A young man parried a tweet from the intrepid journalist Dan Hodges by claiming to be a Corbyn fan and a member of the Board of Deputies, to show that you can be both. The information that has reached me so far is that he’s the first thing but not the second so the conjunct, theoretically possible, doesn’t stand in this case.

I sometimes wonder, could we see off this recent (say half a century)  burst of antisemitism at home and abroad if there were not Jewish people batting against us: Jewish Voice for Labour, Free Speech on Israel, the Max Blumenthals, the wrong type of Finkelstein (Norman) and the brocialists called Shlomo of whom there may be two or three.

The material on Labour forums is really not amusing. The flow of unreconstructed antisemitism is relentless, often prompted by posts from the group administrators if they think the topic of the Satan Katan* has been kicked into the long grass. I have taken to searching on the key word Zimbabwe, to see if the forum members have anything to say about current developments there, but there is nothing.

I’ve posted much of what I see on the Labour forums on my Twitter timeline. It is not possible to log in – which I do several times a day – without seeing extremely negative posts relating to Israel, Jews or, most prolifically in recent weeks, the so-called ‘smears’ about Labour antisemitism.  There is often a smiling or winking emoji accompanying the words ‘Am I being antisemitic?’

They prize above all an encouraging word from a Jewish person,  saying ‘No you’re not being antisemitic. It’s a lie told by…’ Zionists? Conservatives? The Deputy Labour leader? The PLP?

It does seem clear to me, in this fog of war, that being or not being Jewish is not any kind of deciding factor in fighting antisemitism or coddling it. The friends, the journalists, the politicians who stand with us and pay the price for showing solidarity are not all Jewish. Most of them are not. It would be grim with no more than  a quarter of a million of us in the UK if no one else had our backs.

So where this is leading is that I would like to thank all those who do have our backs, khasidei umot ha’olam חֲסִידֵי אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם , the righteous among the nations. Like all the peoples of the world, we can’t do it all alone. Nobody can.

  • Little Satan

6 August 2018

 

 

 

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I wrote a piece about my mum which I was going to blog but in the last few days, I get the impression that some of the people kind enough to read my words are not necessarily well-disposed. Bearing this in mind, I’ll refrain from saying much about my mum’s quiet personality or her characteristic phraseology, but I’ll just say this.

She died last year, aged 98. A few months before she died, she was interviewed by Owen who was working on a  Memory-Sharing App for later life and I was present at the interview. I had expected that my mother would want to talk about family, her childhood in London’s east end, her seventy years marriage to my Dad and probably a bit about the blitz in London, because she was under the table with my sister as the bombs were falling.

Unexpectedly, she talked a lot about Oswald Mosley.

‘It was very hard when Mosley came,’ she said.’They were fascists, you know. It was frightening.’

Owen encouraged her to speak of her childhood, and she mentioned her father’s workshop where she and her siblings worked as a sewing machinists.  Her memory was stimulated, which was no doubt one of the goals of the memory sharing project. I noticed with some surprise how she kept coming back to the topic of Mosley, who must, I supposed, have been small beer compared with living through the blitz while my father was away at war, having his own very close shaves.

When I was a child in the 1950s, my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles wouldn’t let us children buy Tizer, a very popular fizzy drink because, they explained, Oswald Mosley  was a shareholder.

After the war, Mosley targeted principally the recent immigrants of the Windrush generation, through his League of Empire Loyalists, which eventually morphed into the National Front. He stood for Parliament in 1966, in Shoreditch and Finsbury.  Aged sixteen, I heckled with left wing friends at his meeting and was frogmarched out by two policemen, undoubtedly for my own good. My grandfather made me recount the event more than once to his friends who came round to play cards. He was so proud.

There was also Colin Jordan’s National Socialist Movement in the 1960s which became the British Movement under John Tyndall.

These neonazi extremists, they have their moment for causing fear and fury and then they return to obscurity, sometimes reaching out from the shadows to make a kill, the tragic death of Jo Cox MP being a case in point.

In the mid-twentieth century, the parents taught us diligently not to drink Tizer and we grew up knowing about the crazy ideas the ‘Fascists’ harboured about us Jews (the word fascists was used then more commonly than neonazis), their belief in our uncanny power and immeasurable wealth.

Every decade, people are more enlightened than the decade before. When I was a child, capital punishment and flogging existed in English law; male homosexuality was illegal; racist and homophobic discourse were run of the mill. I must add that my parents, born before 1920, despised racism and homophobia. They were not judgmental about sexuality. They boycotted South African fruit. And they wouldn’t let us drink Tizer.

Now I tire my adult children with my worries about the return of antisemitism. They think this trouble in the Labour Party will pass. They tend to agree that there is a problem, but they don’t believe it will have the power to harm us. Fair enough.

Perhaps it was living through the war that made my parents fearful, or being born soon after the war which has made me jittery.

In the 1970s, I saw a leaflet which some obscure far right group had posted through letter boxes in Bloomsbury. I read it and saw that it was mad. They asserted that Churchill was Jewish, Harold Wilson was Jewish and that Jews, naturally, are the evil masters of all they survey.

It’s only the third of those assertions that I see, when trawling Labour forums, in this year of 2018.

One other thing I see on Labour forums – and this is a gambit that Mosley never came up with – is the assertion that antisemitism doesn’t exist, not on the left. It is believed to be a trick that Jews play, for unlawful gain. They post memes to this effect, which I can see in my mind’s eye as I type this.

Perhaps those inappropriate posts from individuals who have, to greater or lesser extent associated themselves with the Labour Party (some are members, some are not and some hold office in the  Labour Party), perhaps they too will pass. Perhaps the Key Stage 4 history resources will describe how Labour encountered a problem with antisemitism in the twenty tens and nipped it in the bud.

In my previous blog, I quoted Camus, ‘the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for  good’.

Let us be alert to the symptoms, wherever we find them.

 

27 July 2018

Prologue.

My screen shots get queried on Twitter, especially by those who feel that Corbynism is essentially an honest project for the promotion of justice and fairness. I disagree as I see so much hostility to Jews on Corbynist websites. Sceptical interlocutors generally ask me how I know the offensive comments come from card carrying Labour Party members. This I cannot answer. I know only these things.

  • The posts are usually very pro-Corbyn
  • At the same time there is an almost obsessive antagonism to Israel and to Jews, making an exception for Jews who actively denounce Israel, Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and the late Hajo Meyer being much cited.
  • These views do not usually get challenged by other members.
  • They are permitted by the administrators.
  • Calling the Talmud Satanic is not reasoned criticism of Israel.
  • The administrators post articles and videos, usually from Mint Press, Russia Today, Palestinian news channels, Evolve, Mondoweiss and Skwawkbox which are universally hostile to Israel.
  • Within a short space of time, these posts attract comments denigrating Jews in general.
  • If anyone disagrees, they are abused by other members of the group.
  • On the few occasions when I have posted something questioning the totally negative coverage of Israel, my comments were deleted by administrators.
  • The Al-Jazeera film ‘the Lobby’ is posted most days as an educational resource.
  • The literacy of forum members is diverse. I find it hard to imagine that Tories and Zionists would infiltrate these forums and employ so many different levels of orthographic competence.

It is argued every day on the forums that Israel is murderous, sadistic, criminal and internationally puissant. The videos are not usually clear and one cannot see what is happening in them, so a member will insert a tagline, explaining that the video depicts some monstrous behaviour inflicted on Palestinians by Israelis. I’m not saying that this never happens but that, in the videos shown, anything could be happening. It is like looking at an abstract painting.  The explanatory text next to it tells you that the painting shows the artist’s inner turmoil when choosing between a tuna baguette and an avocado wrap. Without the text, one would not know.

Fortunately, there are many who see that the quantity of antisemitic material on the forums is a problem which the Labour Party should be willing to address and fewer who see no such thing. As Shelley said, ‘We are many, they are few.’ I hope this is the case. When I browse the microcosm of the forums, I sometimes get the feeling that they are many and I am the last Jewish person left.

Approx 25 July

This week, there was what Jeremy Corbyn called a contretemps between himself and Dame Margaret Hodge, when the latter confronted him in the House of Commons and called him a racist antisemite. Reactions on online Labour forums have been intense. They have now heard of the IHRA definition of antisemitism which they consider unanimously to be a document designed to silence free speech on Israel. The remarkable thing is how the forum members are emboldened to the point where some are now speaking openly about Jews, something which, as I mentioned a week ago in  this blog, they had tended to avoid.

I’m all out of words and propose to attach images of comments which have been posted  this week on two online Labour forums. I must say I am not happy to be uploading  disturbing images, on this blog where I usually write about scripture, but needs must when the devil drives.

I’m inserting about twenty images, all from the last few days. from 19 July until today, 24 July.* Warning: looking at them may damage your health. I uploaded forty images, so if anyone wants access to them, I can produce them. I also have hundreds stored elsewhere.

It’s the quantity as much as the quality.

Once again, I will emphasize, it is the way that Israel is criticized that is problematic. One can hardly even call it criticism. Often, the language segues seamlessly into classical antisemitism.

I thought we had left all this behind in the twentieth century.

Albert Camus said:

Il savait…que le bacille de la peste ne meurt ni ne disparaît jamais, qu’il peut rester pendant des dizaines d’années endormi dans les meubles et le linge, qu’il attend patiemment dans les chambres, les caves, les malles, les mouchoirs et les paperasses, et que, peut-être, le jour viendrait où, pour le malheur et l’enseignement des hommes, la peste réveillerait ses rats et les enverrait mourir dans une cité heureuse.*

He knew…that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.

  • I have added two more images dated 26 and 27 July. I may add more images from the forums as the days go by. It’s easier to add them singly than to upload dozens.
  • La Peste, Albert Camus, Gallimard 1947
  • I have added many more screen shots from the last few days. so this post is a way of archiving some of them.

 

24 7 straight

bad 22 july jclpf

jc 22 c

thornberry

 

 

for marlon s

22 just saying

24 jc hodge24 7 kelsalldeja 124 7 urgent24 7 marrows22 kelsall & more.

 pinmoyes otheraustin latestkathleenstill 10still 7still austin1 aug urgent.jpgfinance akelsall piss31 july lpfjed bland10th jeff longsubs 3lawyers.

During the Kishinev pogrom in Easter 1903, a mob armed with kitchen and farming implements burst into the cottage of Yehezkiel the Presser. Approaching Yehezkiel with his hatchet raised, Bogdan took the time to ask him a question: ‘Who killed Jesus?’

Yehezkiel’s wife and daughters had climbed out on to roof and he hoped that they might make a getaway, so he played for time.

‘First of all,’ he said, ‘I think the answer to your question is the Romans. That Pilate, he was the one. All right, I know he wasn’t happy with the judgment. I know he went full Lady Macbeth with the washing of hands. You can blame the burden of governance if you like.’

Bogdan’s response came quickly as he swung his hatchet.

‘You killed Jesus,’ he said.

‘Here’s another thing,’ replied Yehezkiel. ‘The events you’re referring to, they’re not recent. By my calculations, they happened – what? Eighteen hundred and seventy years ago. Well, I’m fifty three, Bogdan. I wasn’t there. You know that as well as I do.’

‘Christ killer,’ answered Bogdan. ‘Child murderer.’

‘Believe me,’ Yehezkiel assured him, ‘I have every admiration for Jesus, whom you call Christ. It’s just a pity he didn’t write it all down himself because those biographers, you know, one of them says it’s Thursday and another one says it’s dinner time. Four evangelists, forty opinions. So I hear. But this was all far away, as well as long ago. Wonderful climate, they tell me, in the Holy Land. Not like Bessarabia. Brrr. The winter we had. Have you got cherries yet in your orchard? No? Well it’s early days.’

Bogsdan was now inches away. You might say that he eyeballed Yehezkiel but he was so much taller, he would have had to crouch to do any serious eyeballing.

‘Admit you killed Jesus,’ he advised Yehezkiel.

I’d be lying if I told you Yehezkiel didn’t consider saying it. Who knows? Bogdan might then spare his life. Or not. The point was, Bogdan had brought a crowd with him and Yehezkiel didn’t want to give them the wrong idea, so he said, ‘This I did not do.’

Bogdan then employed his hatchet so thoroughly that Yehezkiel had no opportunity to say ‘Shema Yisrael’.

He died. By some miracle, his wife and daughters got away.

*

You can no more say ‘This isn’t about Israel’ than Yehezkiel could say ‘It isn’t about the crucifixion’. Antisemites may be the adjudicators of what this is about.  You can say ‘The Romans did it and besides, I wasn’t there.’ You can say that Israel doesn’t bear all the guilt and besides, I’m not there.  Or you can say ‘Israel has all the power and bears all the guilt so I repudiate it.’ Historically, those who converted were allowed to live. If you are living and working in a milieu where Israel is considered the supreme evil, you might think that the right thing is to cut yourself loose from its rocky embrace.

You might think the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament and that converting is the righteous way. I’m the first to agree that the Christian scriptures are beautiful; well, second, if you count Yehezkiel; third really, because of Rabbi Lionel Blue. In the medieval disputations, there were Franciscan and Dominican friars who had started their education at the Talmud Torah but, following conversions, became fierce adversaries of Jews and Judaism.

Apostasy happens in modern times too. Israel Zolli who was the Chief Rabbi of Rome in 1945 was baptized and chose the name Eugenio in honour of Pope Pius XII, a controversial pope if ever there was one.

Renouncing and denouncing Israel is not like apostasy.  You can make a religious case against Zionism, as Neturei Karta and others have done.

This is where I get controversial. When you denounce Israel, Eugenio Zolli is watching with approval. Pablo Christiani and Nicholas Donin extend their ghostly hands to you. And maybe – but maybe not – Bogdan lets you live.

As for me, I’m a voter, like everyone else; the decisions of the Israeli government and the UK government are not my decisions  and not necessarily what I voted  for, but I want to be able to express pride in the two countries which are, in a sense, my two parents: England, the mother who bore me and Israel, the father who engendered me.

Rarely a day passes without someone – and very often it’s someone declaring their support for Mr Corbyn – without someone saying to me ‘But what about Israel. They did this and they do that and you’re complicit.’ It’s a fact that I’ve only ever been called a murderer since opening a Twitter account.

In one way, they are right. They say that this question of Labour antisemitism is all about Israel, and it is. In the way that the Kishinev pogrom was about the crucifixion, Labour antisemitism is about Israel. From their point of view, Zionism is the  πρῶτον κινοῦν ἀκίνητον or primus motor, the uncaused cause of many ills.

I don’t buy that.

This blog has been almost entirely on biblical subjects, give or take a post or two. The less than catchy name of the blog, Neviim Tovim means ‘good prophets’ and is taken from the prescribed blessing before reading aloud in the synagogue a text from the prophetic books.

For the last year or maybe eighteen months, I’ve been observing some of the closed online Labour forums and reporting, mainly through Twitter on the copious antisemitism I see there.

Now I must cut to the chase and speak of Israel. I love Israel with all my heart but – or and – would not vote for anyone right of centre if I had Israeli citizenship and the right to vote there. Always a Labour supporter in the UK, I’ve hoped in each Israeli election that the left and the pacific doves would gain more seats in the Knesset. If I were Israeli, I hope I’d be supporting engagement with the moderates across the borders.

However I’m not Israeli but English and have watched, during the leadership of Mr Corbyn, an intense outpouring of demonisation and hatred towards Israel from supporters of the Labour Party and on online Labour sites. There is no respite from this outpouring, never for a day and seldom for an hour.

This week, the Labour leadership’s tweaking of the IHRA definition of antisemitism has been so controversial that all but four Labour MPs voted against the changes at their PLP meeting. A miracle occurred in that rabbis of all denominations came together to sign a letter in the Guardian, urging the Labour Party to drop the changes.

The amendments to the definition, as proposed by the Labour leadership, make it acceptable to equate Israelis with Nazis, to deny the right of Israel to exist and to demand a higher standard from Israel than from other countries.

The sixty or so stalwarts of Jewish Voice for Labour, also comprising Free Speech on Israel, have been accepted by Mr Corbyn as representative of Jewish opinion. They are fiercely anti-Zionist and dismissive of most of Anglo-Jewry’s fears of Labour antisemitism, which they say are based on a political agenda of defending Israel right or wrong. This agenda, they say, has caused Jeremy Corbyn to become the target of concerted Jewish action which, in their view, is designed entirely to silence criticism of Israel.

So we always come back to Israel, even if we are as ‘Meh’ about the Jewish state as David Baddiel declared himself to be.

On Labour forums, arguments run like this. Israel kills Palestinians for sadistic sport. They target children and pregnant women in particular.  They prevent goods from passing through to Gaza, thus causing starvation and genocide. They desire territorial expansion as far as the Caspian Sea. They suborn or bribe the governments of the West, especially the USA and the UK. They have secret lobbies in industry and they own international banking cartels.

It is some years since I studied the rise of Nazism and the reason why I am up to date with these theories is that I read Labour forums every day. These are sometimes closed forums and one has to assure the administrators that one is loyal to Mr Corbyn. Membership of the forums I currently belong to is around sixteen thousand. There are some larger forums than these, but I have been ejected, after disputing the above perceptions of Israel. Silence is golden.

Now, we come back to the matter of Jews. Rarely will the members of the groups express hatred of Jews as such. They speak of the influence and power of the Rothchilds, the Bauers, the New World Order, Bilderberg, Illuminati, the Elite, the Puppet Masters. They select Jewish individuals in public life, MPs, actors, celebrities and assert that they are paid propagandists for Israel. If one of these notable persons speaks of Labour antisemitism, they are said to be in the pay of Israel. If a member of the forum  disagrees, the response is that they are in the pay of Israel. If a member of the forum agrees with an MP like Chuka Umunna, who is very supportive of the Jewish community in our struggle against antisemitism, they are said to be paid Tory Zionist trolls. The animus towards MPs like Tom Watson and Jess Phillips is horrible to behold. Any politician who admits that Labour has a problem with antisemitism becomes a hate figure on the forums. This is even true of Jon Lansman who is less than ‘meh’ about Israel.

Esteemed figures on the forums are George Galloway, Ken Livingstone, Ken Loach, Chris Williamson, Dennis Skinner, John McDonnell (not as much as you’d think) and of course The Absolute Boy himself (as much as you’d think).

Memes are posted constantly, often displaying leaders like Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, accompanied by anti-Israel texts of uncertain provenance. Equally favoured are pictures of Jewish individuals with a quotation to the effect that the concept of antisemitism is a ruse used by Jews to gain unfair advantage.

Now, I’m working towards my conclusion and the one and only screen shot which will accompany this post.

On the forums, there are very many pictures showing human suffering, accompanied by texts explaining that Israel is the perpetrator. Images may be taken from newsreels around the world. Occasionally they are clips taken from feature films. The suffering person is always said to be a Palestinian while the one inflicting the suffering is said to be Israeli, or, on days when the members are particularly emboldened, Jewish.

No one likes to see such images and they arouse great anger on the forums. Comments get posted, likening Israelis to vermin, Nazis and monsters. Sometimes it is mentioned that they have had this capacity for evil since time immemorial: the Rothschilds and the Jewish bankers causing the two world wars for financial profit; Mossad managing the assassination of President Kennedy, the sinking of the Titanic, the slave trade and of course the crucifixion. The Israelis, you understand, because these Labour supporters are not antisemitic and anyway, someone will explain almost daily, semites are Palestinians and Jews are European colonialists – the Khazars.

At last came the straw that broke the camel’s back, where I’m the camel. There was a thread supporting the boycott of Israel on the basis of Israel’s unparalleled wickedness. I posted a link to an article about Israel’s assistance in the international operation to rescue the boys trapped in a cave in Thailand. I braced for the abuse which would follow.

It didn’t follow. The Administrators had deleted my link. It was not considered appropriate for the eyes of the forum’s members.

I did not question this. I keep fairly quiet in these groups; I keep my head down and I’m still there. I use the name Galil Perssimann. Watch this space.

Post script. I was ejected from Labour Party Forum today, 16 August, having engaged on the subject of antisemitism. A link to this blog was produced, followed by the sentence above, where I reveal the name I use on the forum. I feel a little like Andy Dufresne after he came out of the sewer. In any case, it was a fair cop.

 

Laban is a tricksy character with a bad write up in most midrashic accounts, but he is neverthelss the grandfather of the children of Israel, no less than Isaac, their paternal grandfather.

Have you  ever been at a Passover seder where there are variant English translations in the haggadot being used? Some of them say, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father,’ but others say, ‘An Aramean tried to kill my father,’ translating a verse which has its source in the book of Deuteronomy. The homicidal Aramean refers to Laban, with the worst possible spin on his motives. The uncertainly of the translation is due to two possible meanings of the word spelled aleph bet dalet, to wander or to destroy.

Laban was a great nephew of Abraham but nevertheless midrash tends to portray him as crooked, venal and Machiavellian, with some justification from the biblical narrative.

In any case, Laban did not destroy Jacob, who was more than capable himself of turning a situation to his advantage. In our reading, Jacob has left Laban’s home in Aram and set off for the land of his birth, Canaan, with his wives, concubines and children and evidently the biblical equivalent of several removal vans. Laban comes after Jacob and upbraids him for his stealthy getaway. He accuses Jacob of stealing his heart, which is not totally unreasonable, as Jacob is taking away his daughters and grandchildren. Jacob isn’t really to blame either, as Laban has previous form in the dirty tricks department.

In our sidra, Jacob and Laban come to an accommodation with each other, setting up a pile of stones as an agreed border. Laban concedes that his daughters are making a new life with their husband Jacob, but warns Jacob to treat them well. He says, ‘May the Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from the other.’

Years ago, my stepdaughter used to wear a pendant necklace with half of these words inscribed on it and her boyfriend wore a pendant with the other half. I thought that was beautiful and so it was, but I was a bit shocked later to find that the words were from Laban and that, as usual, he wasn’t necessarily the best role model. ‘The God of Abraham and the god of Nahor, the god of their father judge between us,’ he tells Jacob and, of course, the god of Abraham’s brother Nahor was no one we know. It was quite possibly some merchandise from their father Terach’s idol shop, which the youthful Abraham had vandalized, but that’s another midrash.

As there will be a family service on Shabbat, I’ve prepared a version suitable for children.

Children’s Version

When Jacob was a young man, living at home with his mum and dad and his twin brother Esau, he did something that made his brother very angry and upset. As their father Isaac was blind, Jacob was able to pretend to be Esau and get a special blessing which was supposed to go to the older brother. Although they were twins, Esau was born before Jacob and was entitled to the first born’s blessing. Things at home then became very awkward and Jacob decided to leave, to stay with relations he’d never met, up north in what would now be called Syria.

He fell in love with a girl called Rachel who was a distant cousin and wanted to marry her. The problem was Rachel’s father, Laban, who was a very tricky character. He was a sheep farmer and he told Jacob he could marry Rachel if he worked for Laban for seven years. It’s an awfully long time to be engaged, but Jacob agreed. You probably know what happened next. The bride’s face was hidden by a veil and, after the wedding, when she removed the veil, Jacob saw that he’d married Rachel’s older sister Leah. He did marry Rachel eventually, because a man could have more than one wife in those days, but he had to spend more years working for Laban. So Jacob lived there in Aram for years, and had a large number of children. Eventually, he decided to go home to the land of Canaan. He was hoping that Esau had forgiven him for the business with the blessing.

Knowing that his father-in-law Laban usually had some trick or other up his sleeve, Jacob took his wives and children and some sheep which belonged to him, and they all set out without saying a word to Laban, who came after them as soon as he twigged what was going on.

Angry words were exchanged but, surprisingly enough, they came to an agreement. They made a sort of border of stones and agreed not to cross into each other’s lands. Laban was sorry that his grandchildren would be far away but he understood that they wanted to be with Jacob, their dad. He said to Jacob, ‘Make sure you treat Leah and Rachel well. Don’t make them unhappy. God will be watching both of us.’

Jacob realized that this was a good outcome. They even sat down and had a meal together by the border of stones; then they went on their way, Laban north to Aram and Jacob with his family, south to Canaan. Jacob was quite excited about returning to his homeland and didn’t even look back, but Laban did look back, to watch his daughters and grandchildren until they were out of sight.

 

כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם מכל חטֹאתיכם לפני ה’ תטהרו

For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins.

Leviticus 16:30

Five times on Yom Kippur, we say the Ashamnu, the shorter prayer of confession. As a community, and with musical accompaniment, we read out a list which might be considered slanderous if attributed to any of us by another person. However, we freely admit to all of the sins on the list.

What have we really done? What do we think we have done? What do others think we have done?

There are generalized sins which we admit to, because that’s how the liturgy goes.

There are the sins we think of in private prayer.

There are sins we don’t know about which somebody else thinks we have have committed.

Certain hurts, like being snubbed or bullied – it’s easier to know when we suffer from them than it is to know when we do them.

What I’d like us to discuss, the bottom line, is how we feel when we say the prayers of repentance; whether we can identify with the words or if they don’t feel right. The print out is about the prayer beginning Ashamnu, We have sinned, and it lists quite specific types of sin.

There is a prayer (Days of Awe pp644 – 645), written by Rabbi Lionel Blue, z”l, which includes a confession of insincere confession.

Apology, confession and repentance – how far do they overlap? Can apologies and confessions be insincere? Repentance, which, perhaps, takes place in the heart, seems less likely to be insincere.

Does gratitude have any common borders with repentance? And – perhaps more likely – does forgiveness?

Then there are the unfair things which are leveled against us, sometimes by strangers eg, a driver in a hurry or a zealous tweeter; sometimes by our nearest and dearest, eg ‘You never listen,’ ‘You don’t help.’

We admit our shortcomings to a person unlikely to judge us: a therapist, or a counsellor or God.

Is the sense of guilt an index of wrongdoing or is it a personality trait?

We live in a society where there is sometimes a requirement for a public apology, even for historical events. The American House of Representatives issued an apology for slavery, as well as an apology to Native Americans and to Hawaii for the overthrow of their kingdom. Tony Blair is often pressed to apologize for the war in Iraq. If a nation apologizes for an historical wrongdoing, is it worth anything unless they pay reparations?

We say sorry to each other, especially ahead of Yom Kippur. I know of one case when the person receiving the apology was on the point of gracious acceptance when he realized it was Shabbat Shuva and then interpreted the apology as an act of flagrant passive-aggression.

There is a view that an apology should have three components, regret, which means owning one’s deed and not evading responsibility;  compensation, which means doing one’s best to put it right, and a promise that one will at least try not repeat the offence

Let’s look at the sins listed in the Ashamnu. We should note that, unlike the Al chet shechatanu lefanecha, the Ashamnu is specific about different types of sin or wrongdoing. But the prayer is introduced by a reference to sin: aval anachnu v’avotenu chatanu.

Edith Piaf declared in her moving song, ‘Je ne regrette rien,’ that she regretted nothing. So, is there something to be said for regretting nothing? Is it an authentic recognition of the good and the bad in one’s life? The metaphor of sweeping away has something in common with our own prayer, taken from the prophet Isaiah (44:22): ‘Behold I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.’

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The discussion took place on Yom Kippur 5778 while the Mussaf service was in progress in the main synagogue hall.. Most people felt that apologies could occur for outward form, without genuine repentance. Being on the receiving end of an apology was valued; regarded as a healing experience. Gratitude and forgiveness were discussed. Institutional apologies were discussed and the view was expressed that they too had a healing effect.We noted that the Ashamnu prayer was translated in Yamim Noraim in a way which kept the acrostic form of the prayer but was very free with the line by line translation. There was discussion of the sin of gossip/lashon hara in particular. A distinction was made between gossip and betrayal.

Although the Ashamnu lists sins we have committed, there was an interest in what would be a proper response to perceived injuries against us.

As always, the point of the discussion was not to reach conclusions, but for its own sake.

We returned to the main hall in time for the Minchah service.

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  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: I agree.
  • Robert Neuer: There certainly does seem to be quite a bit of anti-Jewish rhetoric employed, and it is certainly true that words of this type are dangerous. It seem
  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: There is a situation here in the UK Robert, especially in Labour,which is detrimental to Jews UNLESS they are prepared to demonise Israel. I agree wit