Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Author Archive

For the first time, an unfriendly comment appeared on my blog. It was this:

You’re just a typical white racist tory who has no problems with Windrush deportations or tory Islamaphobia. You get no support from the BAME community for a reason, you racist tory filth.

What made it surprising is that the comment followed my recent post connected with an aspect of the Yom Kippur liturgy; in other words, a politically neutral piece. Possibly, the author of the comment had looked at my Twitter account and noticed my aversion to Mr Corbyn. He or she might then have inferred that I was a Conservative. Someone suggested that the comment might have come from a bot. This is possible. My bot divination skills are less than rudimentary. There is also the possibility that the person intended to reply to another person on another blog or another post on my own blog.

The phrase ‘Why don’t you f off and join the Tories’ is associated with devotees of Mr Corbyn, generally addressed to Labour moderates and Lib Dems, being intended as an insult. There would be no point in saying it to somebody who was in point of fact a supporter of the Conservative Party.

Now that a General Election has been called, various deciding factors come into play: morality, strategy, self-interest, utility.

Many people I know cannot bear to vote Tory. They usually voice an intention to vote LibDem. This seems to me a good decision. I know at least one person who refuses ever to vote LibDem due to the Cameron/Clegg Coalition. He has been voting Green in council elections and I think this too is a good choice. Not a Green Party supporter, I am satisfied for them to obtain a vote which would otherwise have gone to Corbyn’s Labour.

This morning, Ian Austin gave an interview in which he said that Corbyn was unfit to be Prime Minister. Austin stated that he was no Tory but that Boris Johnson was not as unfit as Corbyn . The Corbynist forums, which last night were laying into Tom Watson, are now going after Ian Austin, creating memes about his associations with Israel. How could it be otherwise?

I live in a constituency which usually elected Conservative MPs, but unexpectedly put in a Labour man in the year that Tony Blair became Prime Minister. The constituency then reverted to Conservative but elected a Labour MP in 2017. I do not think the LibDems are in with a chance in my constituency,  so I intend to do the unspeakable thing and vote Tory in the General Election four weeks from now.

I would love to vote for the more palatable LibDems which I could admit to afterwards, and no one would hold it against me. However, I have bitten the bullet and voted Conservative before. The first time was when Boris Johnson stood against Ken Livingstone in the London Mayoral Election. I had voted for Ken previously but by 2008, his antisemitism had been upgraded from possible to likely.

When Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader, I gave up my Labour Party membership but rejoined to vote for Owen Smith in his leadership challenge. Then I left again, but still get the emails from Team Labour, inviting me to ‘chip in’ with a donation (I seem to hear John McDonnell’s voice uttering the words ‘Chip in’ in his sincere, straight from the shoulder, folksy manner).

In the Mayoral Election of 2016, despite having some esteem for Sadiq Khan, I voted for the LibDem Caroline Pidgeon. I thought any Labour victory would be counted as another feather in Corbyn’s excessively plumed cap and indeed, it was claimed by supporters of Mr Corbyn that it was Londoners’ esteem for their leader which had secured the Mayoralty for Sadiq Khan.

In local elections in the time of Theresa May, I voted Conservative. I had started delving into online Labour forums and seen that antisemitism flourished to a remarkable degree, often but not always cloaked as criticism of Israel. Some pro-Corbyn forums were and are hospitable to frankly anti-Jewish statements and holocaust denial. Beneath the countless photos of distressed children, who, according to the forumniks have been harmed by Israelis, I have often seen remarks about the sub-humanity of  Jews, as well as Israelis or Zionists, who are always the ultimate bêtes noires according to all the Labour forums.

Perhaps being exposed to the online antisemitism of Labour supporters has blinded me to the value of people who remain members of the Party. There is a statistic, 0.01%, beloved of Corbyn supporters, and this, they say, is the sum total of antisemitic members. It does not seem to me that this is a reliable measure of the problem and still less an answer to it. Every day, I read articles about the antisemitic history of Labour’s new parliamentary candidates. Some of them have been withdrawn, others not. All have apparently been on a journey. On the forums, I can only assume that the decent 99.99% have been ejected, as I was, when I queried some of the egregious bigotry I saw there.

I am called many names due to my activism on Twitter against Labour antisemitism: apartheid lover, apologist for child murder, old hag, Tory and others which mercifully slip my memory. ‘Old’ is not really disputable and, although I feel, like Ian Austin, that I am no Tory, I shall be voting Conservative because I want the Conservatives to win this election. I don’t want a hung parliament which puts Corbyn into number 10 as the head of a coalition. I don’t want a Labour victory which arms Corbyn for his ‘peace-loving’ vendetta against the West, the media and – to use Corbynspeak – the Zionists.

To return to the comment which appeared on my blog, apostrophizing me as ‘racist Tory filth,’ I am no racist and I am not a Tory, but I will vote against Corbyn, so in that sense, ‘Tory filth’ is probably as near as damn it.

tazl 8 nov pm

Notes for discussion at the synagogue on the afternoon of Yom Kippur 5780

There are six prayer services on Yom Kippur: Kol Nidre when the sun has set, signifying the commencement of the day, the 10th Tishri,  then, the next day, the morning service, additional service, afternoon service, memorial service and concluding service. The concluding prayers are called Neilah, beginning with a hymn El Nora Alilah of which the refrain, in the translation in our Reform prayer book (Days of Awe 1985, edited by Rabbi Jonathan Magonet and Rabbi Lionel Blue), is

Help us to forgiveness Before the gates of mercy close. 

המצא לנו מהילה בשעת הנעילה

The author of the hymn was Moses Ibn Ezra, eleventh century, from Granada. He was related to and contemporary with Abraham Ibn Ezra, the biblical commentator.

Neilah means locking, so sha’at ha neilah is the hour of the locking or closing of the gates. The gates themselves are not mentioned in the hymn, but there may be a play on words, as sha’ah, hour or time, sounds somewhat like sha’ar, meaning gate.

The action of the long day seems to accelerate when we reach the hour of  Yizkor, the memorial service, and as we begin the concluding service, Neilah, there is a sense of hurry, of using the remains of the day, to complete our business of repentance, teshuvah and achieving atonement, kappara, which, despite fervent prayer, is not in our own gift.

Lest there be any doubt that there is limited time now to complete the task, we have the Neilah hymn, which reminds us that the gates of mercy are closing.

The sense of urgency towards the end of the Day of Atonement may be compared to the times in life when we feel we have a short time in which to accomplish a great task.

It can happen on the night before an exam or an interview, or the days before a baby is due, or clearing a home prior to the completion of a sale.

It can happen towards the end of life, when there is something to be accomplished before the gates finally close.

It can happen towards the end of life of another person, a loved one, when there is not enough time to say or do all that we want to say or do.

Towards the end of  Neilah, we often read a fable by Kafka, included in our machzor. Kafka’s parable is troubling as the doorkeeper finally closes the door in the supplicant’s face, telling him ‘No one but you could gain admittance through this door, since the door was intended only for you, and now I am going to shut it.’ Who is the man who locks the gate? A white-collar jobsworth from Prague or an angel guarding the gates of heaven? Does the closing of the gate signify the hour of death, or the limitations of mercy?

Those of us in the study group were all familiar with the Kafka story as it is in our prayer book, and some of us thought it was a depressing choice of text, so close to the concluding of Yom Kippur.

I had written a sequel which I read to the group and here it is.

*

His name was Shmulik, the man who waited outside the gate of the Law. He had come all the way from a small Bohemian town called Liberec where he taught at a cheder for little boys who called him Reb Shmulik. His wife had died and he had no children. He hoped to enter through the Gate of the Law and perhaps hear his wife’s voice again, as he had felt at a loss since she died. When he prayed, it was according to the rite but without kavanah.

When he first set eyes on the doorkeeper, he was intimidated by his height and breadth and by the massive furs, which made him appear even larger, but the doorkeeper, despite his unapproachable demeanour, was never threatening and Shmulik became less fearful as time went by.

‘Why is it,’ he asked, ‘that no one else has come seeking admittance?’

‘No one but you could gain admittance through this door, ‘said the doorkeeper, ‘since this door was intended only for you. I am now going to shut it.’

Older, frailer and more depressed than when he had started out on the journey, Shmulik returned to Liberec. It was night time when he arrived  at his cottage where he lit the one remaining candle and ate a beetroot which had somehow appeared on his work table. Besides teaching at cheder, his main work was making aprons.

At cheder the next day, Reb Shmulik was teaching the boys about Yom Kippur. He spoke about the shofar, and the ram caught in the thicket, in Genesis 22. One of the boys asked if Abraham was right to be willing to sacrifice Isaac. It was a difficult question, but Reb Shmulik said ‘Abraham Avinu was always right, and so it turned out in this case, because of the ram in the thicket.’

A boy called Elisha, not known for good behaviour, called out ‘Not if you were the ram, he wasn’t!’ and some of the boys laughed. Others looked troubled and Reb Shmulik said, ‘If you’re ever worried or troubled by something you learn in this class, you can come and talk to me about it. My door is always open.’

That night, when Shmulik arrived home, there was a bright light streaming from his door. Thinking that he must have left it open by mistake, he hastened his step, fearful that someone had stolen the sewing tools or cloth he used, for making aprons. Arriving at the open door, he saw with trepidation the huge, fur-clad figure of the doorkeeper but, on this evening, the doorkeeper looked milder than usual.  With a courteous nod of his head, he held open the door and said, ‘The gates are never closed for ever.’ Then Shmulik went through the door, into the light.

Gillian Lazarus

*

During the morning service, at about midday, our rabbi had told us of the attack on the synagogue in Halle, and that there had been fatalities. That is all I knew until the evening, when Yom Kippur had ended. I read several reports and learned that two people were killed by the far right terrorist, one in the street and one in a kebab shop. I had thought that there must have been guards outside the synagogue, just as we have security guards but, according to news reports, it was the doors of the synagogue which thwarted the killer. Even using a grenade, he was not able to breach the doors. These were the gates of mercy and those who had entered them were saved.

Halle, Germany (CNN) A gunman pushed on the doors of a synagogue, fired several shots at a lock on the door, stuck an explosive in a door jam and lit it.

But he couldn’t get in.

The fact that the door held likely spared the lives of the dozens of people inside the synagogue on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrities and politicians who received more than their share of toxic trolling recently campaigned with the hashtag #DontFeedTheTrolls to deny the online aggressors the audience from whom they garner a significant number of followers.

If someone in the public eye, with a following on Twitter of some hundreds of thousands, replies to an insult from a person with a relatively scant following, the interlocutor will reap some benefit from the exposure, even if they themselves become a target of abuse.

Fully on board with #DontFeedTheTrolls, I realized that, as a private person with a not very large following, I don’t have the same duty to mute or block my own trolls. Furthermore, there can be no question that, in their minds, I am the troll while they are battling for truth.

Besides this, it is very hard to ignore an offensive tweet, as innocent bystanders might suppose it to have a grain of truth. If I have twenty friendly notifications on Twitter and one which is insulting, sarcastic or misleading, the latter appears to me as if highlighted in luminous yellow and my impulse is to reply to it without delay.

Sometimes such a message is worded to elicit a response, the phrase ‘I’ll wait,’ commonly appended; or ‘What about Netanyahu?’ as if one may not speak of antisemitism in Europe while the Likud holds sway in Israel.

When someone’s argument is irrational or ill-informed, when they abuse my friends or me, when they send me a picture of a dead child, said to be Palestinian, and tell me that I have agency in the tragedy, I am tempted to give some kind of answer.

Away from the gladiatorial arena of Twitter, I forget, mercifully, which troll is which: they come and they go; they block me or I block them, or they go out to walk their dog or I cook a soup or everyone goes to sleep. Sometimes they are ultra-persistent.  I blocked one such person who was famously offensive and eventually suspended from Twitter. Some negative publicity came his way and I noticed that his tweets were attributed to a man of professional standing, who, when photos emerged, had a thoughtful, ascetic expression.

Today I see a person I’ve never noticed going full tilt against a prominent Jewish account, armed with the words ‘liars, fascists, cowards.’ The taunt of cowardice is an appeal for a response. ‘If you’re not afraid, why aren’t you willing to prolong this altercation?’

Sometimes, I try to think conciliatory thoughts about the numerous Twitter users who have called me a child-killer (their word for Zionist), an apartheid racist (their word for activist against antisemitism) or a troll (their word for the Other). I imagine it as a dry run for conflict resolution. How would Brexiteers and Remainers come to a truce if private citizens can’t tolerate each other?

Since writing the above, I have attended a Rosh Hashanah evening service where the rabbi’s sermon was on the subject of ‘lashon hara,’ roughly translated as evil speech, covering anything from gossip to slander. The rabbi referred to the malaise in Parliament of fiercely rancorous language, specifying Boris Johnson’s use of ‘humbug’ and spoke of the uninhibited abuse facilitated by social media, where participants, remote from the adversary on a keyboard far away, hone their skills in offensiveness.

As this is the season for repentance, I thought – as I often do – about my own trollery, when I’ve replied to a provocation with contempt, sarcasm or profane language.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I heard a different rabbi preach about the prevalence of hateful language in public life, also referring to the Prime Minister’s use of ‘humbug’. He spoke of the importance of guarding our words, so as not to do harm with them and cited a midrash, where angry words are compared to arrows, rather than swords. A sword may be withdrawn, but once one releases the arrow, there is no returning it to the quiver. He referred to the meditative prayer at the end of the Amidah:

נצור לשוני מרע ושפתותי מגדבר מרמה

My God, keep my tongue from causing harm and my lips from telling lies.

(Psalm 34: 13)

 The prayer continues with the words,

ולמקללי נפשי תדום ונפשי כעפר לכל תהיה

 Let me be silent if people curse me, my soul as dust with all.

This is harder to say or mean, as it no longer comes easily to compare oneself to dust. What form would it take in transactional analysis? ‘I am dust, you are not dust’ or ‘We are all dust and that’s OK’? The translation in the Reform prayer book dispenses with the word dust altogether, preferring ‘…my soul still humble and at peace with all’. Either way, those who aim high must aim low and the last will be first.

The purpose of the #dontfeedthetrolls campaign is of course much more pragmatic: choosing to be silent is better than providing a megaphone for trolls to spread their messages. The religious point of view is closer to an idealized version of Twitter Support: hateful speech violates the standards.

I continue to interrogate myself over my own activities on Twitter. Does my sarcasm transgress into cruelty and does my anger border on mania? If the best response to personal abuse is silence, does the same apply in response to verbal aggression against friends, relations, allies, spiritual leaders, respected public figures, and so on, or against minorities which are distinct from my own minority?

Kohelet said  עת לחשות ועת לדבר

There is a time to keep silent and a time to speak. (Ecclesiastes 3:7)

The Preacher does not tell us how to speak, simply pointing out that there is a right time and a wrong time, but the rules against lashon hara, hateful speech, are well-attested.

As for balderdash and poppycock, when they occur, or baloney, hooey, hokum, moonshine, piffle or humbug, there is a time for these words too although the more conciliatory option may be to say, like Marge in the film ‘Fargo,’ ‘I’m not sure that I agree with you a hundred per cent.’

After an hour or so wading through antisemitic posts on Facebook Labour forums, making screen shots and displaying them on Twitter, it feels as if all the lashon hara is coming from them. This is not to say that the same doesn’t exist on right-wing forums.  It always did, hence my trust in the Left, in time gone by. 

This week I heard two rabbis allude to a Talmudic dictum (Arakhin 15b): hateful speech harms the person spoken about, the person speaking and any third party who happens to overhear it. True. What does it do to our souls, when we see and hear and repeat the acrimony that abounds on social media?

In 1873  the halakhist Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan published a work called Chafetz Chaim (which was also his sobriquet), on the subject of hateful speech, gossip, slander, lashon hara. Is there ever a time when it is allowed?

Lashon hara was sometimes permitted, based on the precept – ‘Thou shalt not stand by the blood of thy neighbour’ (Leviticus 19:16) – in other words, one should intervene to prevent harm, but the Chafetz Chaim had some provisos. One should speak from experience not hearsay and reflect on one’s words. One should first approach the transgressor privately; one should not exaggerate, enjoy schadenfreude or bring disproportionate harm to the transgressor.

The name Chafetz Chaim means ‘He who delights in life’. It is a reference to Psalm 34:13-14

יג  מִי-הָאִישׁ, הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים;    אֹהֵב יָמִים, לִרְאוֹת טוֹב.
יד  נְצֹר לְשׁוֹנְךָ מֵרָע;    וּשְׂפָתֶיךָ, מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה.

Who is the person who delights in life and loves many days, that they may see good?
 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.

What would the Chafetz Chaim have made of social media? I feel sure he would never have fed the trolls. It’s no way to delight in life.

The toys I played with the most, when I was a small child, were eight little plastic dogs,  forerunners of the more elaborate Schleich animals which I buy for my grandchildren.

My mother bought the dogs in Woolworths, Mare Street. They were white and I referred to them collectively as The Little White Dogs.  I asked my mother the names of the breeds and named the dogs accordingly: Poodle, Retriever, Boston Terrier, Hound, Spaniel, Scottish Terrier, Bulldog and Dachshund. I turned a shoe box into a stage with a proscenium arch, the way my sister showed me, and got the dogs to perform plays, especially pantomimes. The dogs were dressed in shiny coloured paper from Quality Street wrappers. I believed in high production values.

After a while I realized that I hadn’t attributed gender to the dogs but that Spaniel was  female, because of her long ears and because she looked like Lady from Lady and the Tramp. Spaniel married Hound.

My mother bought me some more dogs. One was a Labrador but, disconcertingly, the other two were another poodle and another dachshund. I was ambivalent because I hadn’t factored twins into their narrative.

I said to my mother, regarding Poodle 2.0, ‘I’m going to call this one Phoodle.’

And regarding the second dachshund, which I pronounced and spelled ‘ducksant,’ I said ‘I’m going to call him Fucksant.’

My mother looked pained and said ‘Don’t call him that – it isn’t a nice word.’

‘Is it all right if I call him Tucksant?’I asked. My Mum said that was fine.

One day, I was playing with my cousin who was a year older than me. She said she knew a bad word but couldn’t tell me. However, she wrote the word on a piece of paper and handed it to my sister. Provoked at being excluded, I jumped up behind my sister, trying to see the paper, and caught sight of four letters, FUCK.

‘Oh! Fucksant!’ I breathed, aghast.

My Mum and my sister were shocked in turn and told me this was a word I must not say.

A fairly obedient child, I refrained from saying ‘Fucksant’ for some years but one day, when I asked my sister to tell me some swear words,  she kindly explained that the F word wasn’t actually fucksant  but the four letter monosyllable we all know so well.

When I was nine, ten and possibly eleven, I still played with the dogs, but by now gender was important. I had added to the collection a few little dogs made of china, and they were all girls to make up the numbers. They married some of the original white dogs and had families, also china. One of them was in fact a small Bambi but I pretended it was a dog.

Then they started to have careers. Some were film stars. In those days, there was no stop motion film making at home, but I drew pictures of my dogs in glamorous costumes.

The little white dogs had come a long way, from Woolworths to Hollywood. There were dramas in their lives and adventures, successes and awards.

It was comparable to a child’s transition from  playing with baby dolls to a different kind of game, with teenage dolls.

I’ve always held the view that children want to play with toys for longer than adults realize. I used to think it must be terrible to be grown up and not play anymore.

Obviously child’s play today often involves computer games and creative play is assisted by a multiplicity of attractive apps. The small children in my life do this but they also move figures about and make them talk: Lego people, Playmobil people and Schleich animals too.

It seems important to me that children play with toys for as long as possible, even if the nature of the playing is determined by the child’s growing interest in adult life. It is hard to imagine the coupling of Barbie and Ken in the absence of pudenda, but better those two than something on a screen.

Besides, Barbie and Ken may be ill-equipped for coitus, but it doesn’t mean that they never fucksant.

 

 

An account called JVL Watch has done the heavy lifting in exposing an organization called Jewish Voice for Labour, which sprang fully-formed from the group  Free Speech on Israel, at the Labour Conference of 2017. Their original purpose was to defend Jeremy Corbyn against charges of antisemitism, but JVL has gone further, defending anyone accused of antisemitism from what they regard as a witch hunt, perpetrated by Zionists and even by non-Zionists, such as Jon Lansman, the founder of Momentum.

The unique selling point of Jewish Voice for Labour is their claim to be Jewish while being firmly opposed to the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, the Jewish Leadership Council, Labour Friends of Israel and of course the Israeli Embassy. They also hold in opprobrium such MPs as Margaret Hodge, Ruth Smeeth, Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman, Chuka Umunna, Wes Streeting, John Mann and the Labour deputy Tom Watson. They admire Richard Burgon, Laura Pidcock and Chris Williamson and many on their forum express warm feelings towards George Galloway and Ken Livingstone.

Anyone in Labour accused of antisemitism becomes their protegé.

I have been following the public JVL forum on Facebook, which resembles other Labour forums in making the perceived wrongdoings of Israel and ‘Zionists’ their principal concern. In point of fact, Israel and Jews are the only topic on JVL. It is, after all, ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’. Its Chair and media officer are Jewish, anti-Israel activists and supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, possibly because he provides stronger opposition to Israel and Zionism than any previous Labour leader.

Their mission statement from 2017 appears almost blameless.

We stand for rights and justice for Jewish people everywhere, and against wrongs and injustice to Palestinians and other oppressed people anywhere. We uphold the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities, such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. We oppose attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning of hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as Jews.

At a time of profound divisions in Jewish communities, JVL offers a space to explore and debate the many questions (personal, social, cultural, political) that are important to us as progressive Labour Jews.’

Like Mr Corbyn himself, they self-identify as pursuing justice, fairness and peace.

No wonder Ken Loach and Len McClusky attached themselves to JVL from its inception – as supporters not members, because JVL insists that only Jews are granted full membership. The disputed Jewish status of Jackie Walker and Sally Eason is not a problem for JVL and, when they write to the press, they include signatories who would possibly fail to satisfy a Beth Din, whether orthodox or progressive.

The Facebook forum is a fairly busy hub of activity with 5.9 thousand followers. It expresses its mission statement thus.

Jewish Voice for Labour is a new organisation for members of the Party who believe that the Party must listen to a range of Jewish voices including those that support Palestinian rights and oppose witch hunts.

Original posts do not come from named individuals but from the collective term ‘JVL’. Many posts cast doubt on the probity of politicians and journalists who campaign against antisemitism. The defence of Jeremy Corbyn is axiomatic.

JVL have extended their brief to defending anyone within Labour accused of antisemitism. In this way they have an affinity with Labour Against the Witch Hunt.

They share articles from the online Corbynist websites, The Skwawkbox and the Canary, particularly those which target prominent Jews.

The names of the most active contributors to the JVL forum are familiar to me from numerous Facebook Labour Forums characterized by their demonization of Israel, Zionism, Jewish activists, organizations and press. Some may have been suspended from Labour for antisemitism which they do not believe exists in Labour.

Over the last few months, I have made numerous screen shots of diverse threads on the JVL forum.

It does not exactly surprise me but I do feel occasionally perplexed when I think that the original JVL members must look at the comments on their forum and see the extremely negative perception of Jews and of Israel that they have encouraged among their following.

My contention is that, while JVL draws support from both borderline and unambiguously antisemitic supporters of Mr Corbyn, it is not trusted by many of those in the Jewish community who are aware of its existence. It is therefore not appropriate for the Labour leadership to turn to JVL for purposes of liaison vis-a-vis the Jewish community or to appoint JVL members to provide education for Labour members  deemed by Labour officials to have a poor grasp of the manifestations of antisemitism.

morgan on jvl 27 octmorgan top fan jvl

jvl let's talk.jpg

use jvl z

use jvl y

use jvl xuse jvl wuse jvl vuse jvl uuse jvl tuse jvl suse jvl quse jvl muse jvl luse jvl iuse jvl euse jvl buse jvluse jvl duse jvl huse jvl fuse jvl ruse jvl p

Tisha b’Av always appears to me as a bit of a blot of the landscape, the fast I don’t like, the black fast, commemorating something remote, a cause relinquished by many. Why mourn for a Temple, the restoration of which would land us in as much trouble as the destruction of the first, in 587 BCE and the second in 70 CE?

As a fast, it is very different from the Day of Atonement.

On Yom Kippur, the community gathers. The scrolls and many of the congregants are dressed in white, we pray together, fast together and together we hear the tekiah gedolah, the long note of the ram’s horn, which signifies the day’s end. By contrast, on the fast of 9th Av, a few diehards come together to sit on the floor and read the Book of Lamentations, then continue the fast in solitary through a dog day morning and afternoon until sunset at around 9pm.

There is an atmosphere before Tisha b’Av, and the name for it is Bein ha Metzarim, between the straits. Some people fast on 17 Tammuz, usually in July, commemorating the day when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem. Three weeks later, the Temple fell, hence the fast of 9th Av.  During the three week period, the orthodox will abstain from shaving, haircuts,  celebrations and listening to music. Marriages are not solemnized at this time, a rule which, generally speaking,  is not confined to orthodoxy.

During the three weeks of mourning, culminating in the twenty-five hour fast on Tisha b’Av, there are many sorrows to be remembered, besides the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. The expulsion of the Jews from England by Edward I in July 1290 and the expulsion of Jews from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella in August 1492 are said to have occurred on 9 Av, although a Hebrew calendar converter estimates these events as falling a few days short of or following the ninth.

During the more recent catastrophe of the Shoah, destruction and death were present on every day of the year, but certain events occurred on Tisha b’Av, the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto being one, while the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto in 1944 began a few days after the 9th.

There is no baleful magic in the day, to make it a time of foreboding more than any other, but anniversaries are meaningful to us, not just the birthdays and silver weddings, but the anniversaries of the death of a loved one, the date of a battle, a book, a coronation, a discovery. Those who are bereaved often find that the birthday of the departed has particular poignancy in the first year after their death, or perhaps the first few years, or sometimes forever.

The randomness of time and chance are overlaid with meanings which come from personal and communal experience. This day for mourning the destruction of the Temple gathers to itself the threnody of our lives, a stockpiling of grief. Now we have Yom Hashoah and Holocaust Memorial Day to bear some of the weight of remembering the holocaust. Yom Hashoah was established on its present date of 27 Nisan by David Ben Gurion’s government in 1959. Holocaust Memorial Day, launched in 2001, remembers the Shoah and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur.  The chosen date is the anniversary of the liberation of  Auschwitz by the Soviet Union in January 1945.

Tisha B’Av is our ancient day of mourning. It is mentioned in the Mishnah, tractate Taanit  (days of fasting).

When Av comes in, gladness must be diminished.

Taanit 4:6.

It is by no means singular to Judaism to put aside days in the calendar and special places for remembering sorrows ancient and modern. It is not even specific to religion. The epitaph on Oscar Wilde’s tomb quotes his poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol:

And alien tears will fill for him,

Pity’s long-broken urn,

For his mourners will be outcast men,

And outcasts always mourn.

Why was this, of all Wilde’s words, chosen as his epitaph? Perhaps it is the most universal of human experiences to be alien and outcast, to weep and to mourn.

Tisha B’Av has its silver linings. The day ends and the fast ends;  we eat, drink and do what we want. On the following shabbat, a passage from the book of Isaiah is read in the synagogue:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended.

It is called Shabbat Nachamu, the sabbath of comfort, from the first word of Isaiah 40, the set prophetic reading.

Every winter, I find out where Handel’s Messiah is being performed in London and buy a ticket. The beautiful opening aria after the overture is ‘Comfort ye,’ from the King James Version of Isaiah 40. I always think of Shabbat Nachamu and how the hope of comfort can be present in sorrow, or so I hope.

 

Last Sunday, I received an email from Team Labour, in Jeremy Corbyn’s name, as follows:

The struggle for liberation of all people is never complete and must always be renewed. As a movement, we educate ourselves and each other to better stand in solidarity with and unite all those facing oppression and discrimination.

That’s why we are launching education materials for our members and supporters to help them confront bigotry, wherever it arises. Over the coming months, the party will produce educational materials on a number of specific forms of racism and bigotry. Our first materials are on antisemitism, recognising that anti-Jewish bigotry has reared its head in our movement.’

I was sceptical although the email looked quite praiseworthy. I read the educational materials and, without agreeing with every point, I thought that they were helpful, particularly this paragraph:

But opposition to the Israeli government must never use antisemitic ideas, such as attributing its injustices to Jewish identity, demanding that Jews in Britain or elsewhere answer for its conduct, or comparing Israel to the Nazis. Many Jews view calls for Israel to cease to exist as calls for expulsion or genocide. Arguing for one state with rights for all Israelis and Palestinians is not antisemitic, but calling for the removal of Jews from the region is. Anti-Zionism is not in itself antisemitic and some Jews are not Zionists. Labour is a political home for Zionists and anti-Zionists. Neither Zionism nor anti-Zionism is in itself racism.

If only these thoughts could be taken on board by Labour supporters, there would be hope  at least for a more peaceable time in the Labour movement.

Within a day or two, there was no missing the fact that Dame Margaret Hodge was once again a bête noire par excellence for many of Mr Corbyn’s supporters, inspired by an article in the Skwawkbox, headed thus:

HODGE SUBJECT OF FORMAL ANTISEMITISM COMPLAINT BY ORTHODOX JEWISH MEMBER

There had been a row, apparently between Dame Margaret and a Charedi man called Mr Stern, about the teaching of sex education, including LGBT topics, in schools. Mr Stern was firmly against this and, if I understand correctly, had penned complaints about Margaret Hodge and also The Jewish Chronicle. 

It was as if the ‘anti-Zionist’ Corbynists had found an ingenious way of turning around the promise of more stringent measures against antisemitism. They could accuse their Jewish adversaries of antisemitism and request their immediate expulsion from the Labour Party.  The narrative of JVL, for example is that all who accuse Labour of antisemitism do so in bad faith – the Livingstone Formulation, as coined by David Hirsh. *

Read the rest of this entry »



  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: I've approved your comment Jones, rather than trashing it. It seems to me a snapshot of contemporary online exegesis. Can you say something about you
  • Jones: You're just a typical white racist tory who has no problems with Windrush deportations or tory Islamaphobia. You get no support from the BAME communit
  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: Thank you Joanne!