Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Archive for September 2020

Last year, just before Rosh Hashanah, I decided to use a rectangular canvas, 30 x 20 centimetres, to paint an angel. The big white wings spread across the width of the canvas. The angel himself was a teenage boy, early twentieth century Europe perhaps, old enough to wear a tallit but too young for a beard. He wore a peaked flat cap above which floated a silver halo and his tallit had gold fringes. His trousers appear either too short or too long, ending just above his working boots and he stood firmly in the sky casting a slight blue shadow. Most importantly, he carried an open book, bound in red leather and this, I supposed, was the book of life or, due to its relatively small format, the book of my life. This year, I look at the painting again and it strikes me that this is my guardian angel, not an archangel but one who died in Europe in the twentieth century and ascended to heaven and whose remit is to do whatever guardian angels do, in respect of myself.

I can go no further without mentioning Clarence, about whom George Bailey muttered ‘You look about like the kind of an angel I’d get.’ Henry Travers as Clarence in the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life is the prototype of the kind of angel we expect to take an interest in the daily grind of our labours, problems and pleasures. And he is precisely the right angel for George as the benign Clarence is no fast-tracker but on the contrary, rather slow to get his wings, which is true also of George, bound by duty but not inclination to Bedford Falls.

When George remarks sourly ‘I got a bust in the jaw in answer to a prayer,’ Clarence corrects him: Oh no no no George, I’m the answer to your prayer.’

Peter Stanford in his book Angels, a Visible and Invisible History (Hodder & Stoughton 2019) refers to a decline in theological angelology from about the mid twentieth century and cites Karl Barth’s view – which probably Peter Stanford does not share – that it is a mistake to treat angels as if attached to individual human beings. (Stanford p 283). Angels, according to Barth, are a force of heaven, not operators on earth for the resolution of human problems.

If Barth is right, Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife, directed by Henry Koster in 1947, is not a credible angel but more a fairy godfather. He befriends the eponymous bishop’s wife whose repressed husband, an uncharacteristically subdued David Niven, appears to disadvantage compared to Grant’s debonair and attentive angel.

Films about angels are legion, literally in the case of Legion, Scott Stewarts’s 2010 horror movie. Often the angels are fallen, troubled and anthropomorphic, as in Kevin Smith’s 1999 comedy fantasy Dogma. I eschew horror films about angels and generally cannot take to stories about angels falling in love with individual human beings. Why would they? Our days are as grass.

I have worked in bookshops where the genre Mind, Body and Spirit was big business. Included on the MBS shelves were tarot cards including angel tarot with their Botticelli-meets-DG-Rossetti illustrations and popular memoirs by authors who spoke of being visited by angels.

The word for angel in Hebrew, מלאך, malakh, also means messenger. Greek (ἀγγελος) means messenger as well as angel and the Latin angelus is virtually the same as the Greek angelos. In the Hebrew bible, an angel is not always called a malakh but sometimes an ish – simply meaning man – especially when there is direct interaction with a human being. In the case of Jacob, he has a vision of angels of God ( malakhei Elohim) ascending and descended a ladder, but it is a man (ish) who wrestles with him until break of day.

Jacob called the name of the place Peniel (face of God); for I have seen God face to face and my life is saved.

Genesis 32:31 in Tanakh or Genesis 32:30 in some translations

There is certainly a human desire for intermediaries between us and God: angels, saints and messengers whose messages bear life-changing import. Perhaps also, there is a desire for human beings to be more than merely human and only a little lower than the angels.

מָֽה־אֱנ֥וֹשׁ כִּֽי־תִזְכְּרֶ֑נּוּ וּבֶן־אָ֝דָ֗ם כִּ֣י תִפְקְדֶֽנּוּ׃

What is man that You have been mindful of him, mortal man that You have taken note of him,

וַתְּחַסְּרֵ֣הוּ מְּ֭עַט מֵאֱלֹהִ֑ים וְכָב֖וֹד וְהָדָ֣ר תְּעַטְּרֵֽהוּ׃

You have made him a little lower than the angels, and crowned him with glory and majesty.

Psalm 8:5

On Yom Kippur, we abstain from food, drink, sexual relations, bathing and wearing leather and we wear white, all these things in imitation of the heavenly host.

Of course we want to keep our angels close.

For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee upon their hands, lest thou strike thy foot against a stone.

Psalm 91: 11_ 12

The daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy had the gift of prophecy but was cursed by her ex, Apollo the sun god, so that her prophecies were never believed. In contemporary times, he would probably have resorted to revenge porn. Cassandra foresaw the destruction of Troy and was not taken in for a moment by the suberfuge of a large wooden horse full of Greeks. Who would be, you might ask, but we know the answer. Due to Apollo’s curse, nobody listened to her warnings and, if they listened, they didn’t believe.

It would take some grandiosity to identify myself with Cassandra as I know nothing of the future and what I do say is believed as much as what the next person says.

However, well-meaning persons do sometimes tell me that I’m courting madness by wading through pages of very displeasing social media which I then commit to digital memory and post on Twitter, always hoping that someone in a position to act will find a way of occluding the ever flowing river of … But there!

It seems to me that if I say it, the reader will not believe me.

Why would they believe that the Left, always in the vanguard of the fight against racism, is in the grip of an atavistic kind of antisemitism which we learned with surprise from reading history books, was an inspiration for the Hep Hep riots and the Tsarist pogroms & the Protocols legend and the developments we know about in the twentieth century? The madness of such notions as the Judensau beggars belief and gives rise to the thought that people in the Middle Ages were not just unenlightened but primitive, gullible and daft.

In my nightly visits to Facebook forums (drawn to them much, I suppose, like a libertine to a brothel) which have in common an intense appreciation of the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and a vigorous loathing for Keir Starmer, regarded as a puppet of Israel, I am accustomed to see very offensive material propounding the inhumanity/subhumanity/murderous sadism/ cunning mendacity of Zionists/Zionism/Israel/Israelis/the Israel Lobby/the ‘Chosenites’ and the Khazars. Antisemitism is the hatred which dare not speak its name. Only rarely do the members of the forums admit to disliking Jews and, when they, do, they are liable to be corrected (‘Say Zionists, not Jews’), except in the more extreme groups such as ‘Truthers Against Zionist Lobbies’ where anything goes.

‘Palestinians are semites,’ they insist, ‘so of course I’m not antisemitic. Jews aren’t semites. They are a Turkic people, the Khazars.’ Why the hostility to Turkic peoples anyway? Are they immune to the effects of racism? In point of fact, they are saying that Jews are impostors, being anything but Jews, and one is allowed to resent impostors.

Every night there are new memes and old, designed as evidence for all manner of falsehoods: that Martin Luther King, Voltaire, Shakespeare and Socrates sounded off against the Israeli settlements or that Palestine was a Utopian state run by Palestinian Arabs until Jews invaded suddenly in 1948 and took everything. The British Mandate and the Ottoman Empire seldom get a mention.

The charge which comes my way most often from hostile interlocuters is ‘You don’t know the difference between anti Zionism and antisemitism’ often accompanied by the demand that I show them one – ‘just one’ – instance of left-wing antisemitism.

I take that request seriously and often refer them to this blog, where I store some of the pages of rants, diatribes and meme studded rhetoric of which the comrades never seem to tire, no matter how many times they repeat the same assertions, obscenities and anathemas.

What worries the people who worry about me is that I don’t tire either. I make my screen shots, I save, I post, I blog.

Who will listen? There’s a bloody great horse outside the city gates. It was outside and they’ve brought it into the heart of the city but even now, it might not be too late.

  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: Thank you Keith.
  • keithmarr: Dearest Gillian < div dir="ltr">Not only do you manage to read all this filth without throwing up but you manage to make me laugh
  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: Unless they are members of the group in general agreement with the Labour manifesto of 2019 but against the excesses which are often found in these gr