Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

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In April 1990, my husband David was in the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, enduring a course of chemotherapy called interleukin 2. According to the consultant oncologist, it was an expensive treatment. The NHS was willing to invest in saving a young man of forty-one but IL2 was aggressive and David was increasingly frail.

It was the first night of Passover. I made my way from North London to the Marsden, carrying an old-fashioned picnic basket in which I had packed some hard-boiled eggs, matzot, a shank bone, which features on a Passover table and a haggadah, the Passover seder prayer book.

In those days, I conceived a fear of traveling by underground, so I took a bus to Victoria Station, the overground to Sutton and then a taxi to the hospital.

David was in a cubicle in the Bud Flanagan ward. I saw at once that he looked yet weaker, depressed, in the valley of the shadow.

I told him about the picnic basket. He sighed. It was not of interest to him. So I sat beside his bed and after a while took the contents out of the basket. I began to read from the Haggadah. It included some psalms and I read aloud Psalm 130, which is known to Christians as De Profundis, in English ‘Out of the depths’and in Hebrew, Mi-ma’amakim.

My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchman for the morning

David stirred irritably and then sat up.

‘Is there any meat on that shank bone?’ he asked. I handed it to him and he began to chew on the mutton adhering to the bone.

‘It’s good,’ he said. He looked quite bright-eyed. We talked, I can’t remember of what, perhaps of our children or our plans for when David came home.

By ten-o-clock, I was in a taxi to Sutton Station which took me to Victoria and there, I made my way to the bus stop.

A burly, middle-aged man was sitting on the pavement, leaning against the outer wall of Victoria Station. I gave him a pound but he called out, in an agitated voice, ‘I haven’t got anywhere to sleep!’

His urgency reached me so I checked my purse and turned back.

‘If you give me back that pound, I’ll give you a fiver,’ I said.

Willingly he held out the pound coin and we did the exchange. Then I said ‘Would you eat some hard boiled eggs?’ and he nodded, so I gave him the eggs, the Passover beitzot from my basket.

Then my bus arrived.

Towards the end of Passover, David was still in hospital. I went to the synagogue and, in the sermon, the rabbi told a folk tale about the prophet Elijah, who is said to visit earth from time to time in the guise of a beggar. In the story, an old couple who showed generosity to Elijah were rewarded with a beautiful house. Elijah has a special relevance to Passover, and a glass of wine stands ready for him on the Seder table. The door is opened so that he may enter and drink the wine, to presage the coming of the Messiah. So far, Elijah has abstained, despite, I suppose, millions of earnest invitations.

I went to the hospital and found David looking much brighter. He said ‘I dreamed that I was home and you’d prepared a beautiful house for me.’

He did come home and the hospital ceased chemotherapy, the illness being managed with morphine and much help from the North London Hospice.

I always remember that beggar, named in my mind as Elijah and if a homeless person calls out to me, I try to give them something. I used to have direct debits for a couple of charities, Great Ormond Street being one and the other, I forget; then there was a time when I was strapped for cash and stopped my charitable direct debits. I preferred to make an ad hoc contribution to something like Children in Need or Red Nose Day, something that you didn’t have to keep up on a monthly basis.

Last year, there was a scandal involving some major UK charities which may have put off some donors. There is also a well known charity which is so partisan against Israel that they organize events on campuses for something they are pleased to call ‘Israel Apartheid Week.’

I am a little suspicious now of some large charities, unsure whether the money is used to feed the hungry or to provide toy rifles so that the students of Orcshire Metropolitan University can role play being bad Israelis and good Palestinians.

If a friend or relation does a run for charity – and they do, constantly – I make a small donation, out of respect for their efforts.

Meanwhile, I give my small change to Elijah, more visible on our streets than ever.

David died in July 1990. The number of his grave in the Western Synagogue Cemetery is 130.

More than the watchman for the morning,
More than the watchman for the morning.

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I was bad at maths, but the maths teacher, Mrs Rosenberg, was sympathique, always good humoured and I’d seeen her on CND marches. She showed an interest in my oil painting, which was kind of her, considering that she was artistic herself, her sculpture later exhibited at the Royal Academy.

I was fifteen. She asked if I would paint a portrait of her little boy and invited me to her house in Stoke Newington. It was a sunny day and we went into the garden where her husband was sitting in a deck chair.

‘This is Cliff,’ she said, which was disconcerting as I was expecting to call him Mr Rosenberg. Furthermore, she called him what sounded like ‘Glixon’ and I found it best to avoid using any name at all. I set up my easel in the garden and the three year old sat patiently while I painted his portrait and his brother, a bright ten-year-old, kept up a sociable chatter. They were a charming family. Mrs Rosenberg made lunch, boiled chicken wings, and ‘Cliff’ made me a present of a book he’d written, ‘State Capitalism’.

Mrs Rosenberg drove me home when I’d finished painting, I in the back, Cliff in the passenger seat.

‘Are you religious?’ she asked me.

‘I’m an agnostic’ I said.

‘An agnostic is either a shame-faced believer or a shame-faced atheist,’ said Cliff.

In subsequent weeks, I persevered with ‘State Capitalism,’ as it was polite to read a book someone gave you, especially if they were the author, but it was impenetrable and I gave up, having gleaned the message that the Soviet Union was not even communist any more.

When I was sixteen, I went to CND meetings and, in due course, had a boyfriend who was a member of the International Socialism group. I learned from him that Cliff was a famous Trotskyist and found myself back at the house in N16 for an IS meeting.

Everyone who spoke was impressively, dauntingly, intellectual although nothing was quite as unfathomable as ‘State Capitalism’. My boyfriend, aged eighteen, smoked his pipe. I was in love with him, which may seem irrelevant as far as International Socialism is concerned, but probably had something to do with my readiness to become involved.

I started going to the meetings regularly. . Due to lack of space in their living room, a lot of people sat on the floor. Cliff was quite a personality.

Someone asked him about the brutality used by Lenin in suppressing rebellions against the new Bolshevik government.

Cliff said ‘Listen. On the Queen Mary, the Captain allows the crew to play soccer on deck but, on a little rubber dinghy, you open your blooming mouth, you’ve had it.’ He spoke in parables. He meant that Soviet Russia under Lenin had been too fragile to permit rebellion.

When my boyfriend broke off with me, I carried on going to IS meetings. I could tell if the ex-boyfriend was there as soon as I entered the house, because I could smell his pipe.

I went on picket lines and sold Socialist Worker. Somehow I wound up on the editorial board of a louche, short-lived journal called Rebel. I didn’t say a word at any of the board meetings.

The Six Day War happened. I had never heard anyone question Israel’s right to exist but Cliff, a Jew born in Mandate Palestine, was very anti-Israel. He said that as a teenager he’d attended a talk about workers’ unity and called out ‘Arab-Jewish unity!’ An Israeli bouncer came and broke his little finger.

A woman who was somewhat supportive of Israel said, ‘Cliff, I think your little finger is affecting your judgment about this.’ Yes. There were a lot of Jews in IS and I believe not all of them were against Israel at that time. Cliff was anti- Israel but he wasn’t like JVL. As far as I recall, he didn’t deny the existence of  left antisemitism.

My parents were not pleased when I went home from meetings talking about the rights of Palestinians whom they thought of as Jordanian Arabs, complicit in trying to destroy Israel. My parents were not right-wing. They attended anti apartheid rallies and CND marches but they disliked my association with IS, later renamed – in about 1976, I have been reminded – as the Socialist Workers’ Party.

It was the late sixties and I was in Grosvenor Square, as often as not, protesting against the Vietnam War. Membership of all the Trotskyist factions – the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, Militant, Tariq Ali’s International Marxist Group – had quadrupled and more, and the SWP more than any of them..

In a pub, a comrade who’d recently joined the group assured me that all Jews were rich capitalists. I couldn’t believe that I was hearing it from a comrade. I hadn’t thought that I would meet antisemitism on the left. It was of course very much milder than the left’s utterances about Jews in this year of grace 2019.

The SWP espoused the cause of Al Fatah and I heard that some comrades had gone to training camps in Jordan, preparing to fight Israel. I was shocked by this and resolved to leave the group.

I penned a letter to the chairman of my local branch, which was no longer in Hackney but in a London suburb closer to the North Pole. He was Ian B, a teacher at a college of Further Education and subsequently Cliff’s biographer. I wrote of my attachment to Israel and pointed out that the SWP took a very one-sided view of the conflict, which was not, in my view, a third world struggle against colonialism.

Ian wrote back, telling me that the SWP was a broad church and that there was room in it for members like me, who held a favourable view of Israel. It was a nice letter, and I can’t imagine anyone in the SWP speaking that way today. Indeed, I wish I still had the letter, so that I could check my memory of it.

Nevertheless, I left ‘The Group’ as it was sometimes called. I was nineteen. I went to university and joined the Socialist Society but kept clear of all Marxist factions. I was very interested in my degree course, philosophy and – I don’t know why now – I avoided a module in political philosophy in my second year and opted for medieval: Aquinas instead of Hobbes, Anselm instead of Adorno. I went on some anti-apartheid demos and participated half-heartedly in a students’ sit-in in the Whitworth Hall.

I spent a summer in Israel and worked on a kibbutz for a few weeks. I didn’t care for the American volunteer who said Israelis were superior persons and I hung out with the French contingent, of Algerian origins. I loved Jerusalem with its golden sky and stone buildings and I prayed at the Western Wall. In those days of Subscriber Trunk Dialing, it was a local call.

I returned to England, went back to University, got married, had a baby; then there was a general election and Harold Wilson was Prime Minister again. I wore a red rosette on election day and so did the baby. There was a Labour government all the way until Margaret Thatcher.

On and off, I was a member of the Labour Party. At elections I stuffed envelopes with Labour leaflets and delivered them to voters. Mrs Thatcher got returned in 1983 and 1987. There was Spitting Image to cheer us up. My children watched it and learned the names of all the government ministers. Mrs Thatcher went and John Major became Prime Minister. The Conservatives won another General election in 1992. I cried as the results came in.

Then it was 1997 and Labour won, with Tony Blair. I drank champagne with like-minded friends. How happy we were.

One day, Mrs Rosenberg came into the bookshop where I worked. Twenty – no, thirty years had passed and made a difference but she was recognizable. I called her by her name and told her I had been a pupil.

‘Were you…with us?’ she asked, eyeing me with something of her former, twinkling expression.

I told her that I was, but had left over Israel.

She said ‘You think Israel will save Jews but only Arab-Israeli workers’ unity can save Jews.’

I thought it was a point worth considering, except that it sounded more like pie-in-the-sky optimism than a serious prediction.

In 2000, I heard that Tony Cliff had died, at the age of eighty-three. I knew his age as he was born the same year as my father.

The left seemed to have hardened. Disturbing reports hit the media, about sexism, bullying and worse in the various Trotskyist factions. Their obsessive hatred of Israel was impossible to miss and some of the left-wing discourse about Jews began to resemble that of the far right. After 9/11, it became more emphatic and many on the left embraced an urban myth about Israel being behind the attack.

The Iraq war happened and Tony Blair fell from grace in the eyes of very many. I let my membership lapse, not that I blamed Blair, but in 2003 and the years following, it was difficult to know the full nature and extent of errors which had undoubtedly occurred under his watch.

The new Prime Minister Gordon Brown soon got a bad press and Vince Cable called him a mixture of Stalin and Mr Bean. As a one-liner it was quite funny but it seemed to damage Gordon Brown’s standing and of course there was the crash of 2008, which would have been more effective even than Vince Cable in influencing the electorate. So in 2010, we got the Coalition, from which the LibDems have not, to this day, recovered.

One day, on the 253 bus on my way home from work, I saw a sprightly old woman standing among the passengers, immersed in reading some kind of pamphlet. I thought she might be Mrs Rosenberg, now ninety plus and her t-shirt emblazoned with a left wing logo seemed to confirm this. Her pamphlet was font size 10, and, from where I was standing, I was unable to glean the subject matter. The upshot is that I made myself known, we got seats on the bus and traveled some way together. She told me she had just written an autobiography called ‘Fighting Fit’. She still struck me as a likeable and impressive woman. Again we spoke of Israel without bitter disagreement. I was not anti-Palestinian and she was not antisemitic. I didn’t refer to the troubling antisemitism which seemed to have become embedded in the far left.

After the next General Election, Mr Cameron was still Prime Minister but without the Coalition. Ed Miliband resigned as Leader of the Opposition and the surprise winner was Jeremy Corbyn. Believing that his anti-Zionist record bordered on antisemitism, I left the Labour Party which I had rejoined before the 2015 General Election.

I didn’t expect the avalanche of antisemitism which I have witnessed in the Labour Party since, as if all manner of ex BNP and National Front supporters had joined forces with the most charmless elements of the Trotskyist and Stalinist left. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I encounter a new kind of enmity when I express my opinions online.

I sometimes wonder, do left wing people who are not antisemitic see what’s happened to the left? Those who deny that it’s happening and attribute the narrative to Zionist smears are probably not free of bigotry,  undiscerning at best in matters of racism; at worst, so wedded to furthering the socialist agenda that any harm to Jewish communities seems a small price to play. And certainly, for many on the left, Israel and Palestine symbolize the struggle of bourgeois and proletarian, evil and good, imperialism and revolution, heresy and orthodoxy.

Often, an adversary on Twitter will ask, ‘Why don’t you ever talk about right-wing antisemitism?’

Well I’ve talked all my life about right-wing antisemitism but now the left is nudging the far right, in that horseshoe where the extremities almost touch. Not unrelated are the terms I have seen on Labour forums, excoriating black or Asian Conservatives and  ‘Blairites’ with dehumanizing words which I’m not inclined to cite.

Was it I who changed, or the Left, or the world?

It’s always the world. It makes changes to religion too and science and every kind of belief. Generally, something can be salvaged from former belief.

The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

Who said that? It was Hubert Humphrey. I can’t believe that I’m quoting Lyndon Johnson’s Vice President. I don’t much like the word handicapped, but the quotation speaks of government’s obligations towards the least privileged in society. And I think one should add, a government has obligations to those who come to their shores or cross their borders, seeking a refuge from conflict, poverty or persecution. That’s how my grandparents settled here, in ‘this other Eden’.

That Aristotelian, rationalistic, medieval philosopher Maimonides produced thirteen principles of the Jewish faith. Number twelve states with patient tenacity:

I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and, though he tarry, daily I await his coming.

Secular Jews who opted for revolution also had messianic expectations. And the national anthem of Israel is called ‘The Hope’.  With difference degrees of patience, we all wait while the Messiah tarries.

I used to open the book of Psalms at random, looking for inspiration, and was often disappointed to find the author, usually King David, calling on the Almighty to vanquish his, David’s, numerous enemies.

They swarmed about me like bees, but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.(Psalm 118:12)

This wasn’t the verse I was looking for. Generally, I was seeking something to help with a little mild depression. If Saul had written psalms, they probably would have suited my purpose.

Even now, this minute, I open Psalms just to see what will come up, and find:

Thou hast been a refuge for me, a tower of strength in the face of the enemy. (Psalm 61:4)

I follow a Twitter account which quotes ‘They swarmed about me like bees’ in his or her Twitter bio. I can’t remember the name of the account but, like mine, it’s one of those active against online antisemitism. If you mention antisemitism on Twitter, they will swarm about you like bees, make no mistake. If you link antisemitism with Corbyn’s Labour, they will sting if they can.

A journalist from the Jewish Chronicle was kind enough to mention me in an article about fighting antisemitism. The next time I saw my rabbi, the first thing he said was ‘Have there been any repercussions from that article?’ There had not, but a little time has elapsed and I find it is sometimes mentioned in unfriendly accounts.

Twitter is a rough playground. Prior to my activity on Twitter, I wasn’t accused of anything worse than being unworthy of my driving licence. Nowadays, angry tweeters sometimes call me a murderer or a mass murderer, an apologist for infanticide and, more frequently, the paid agent of a foreign power (one whose national anthem starts with the words ‘Kol od balevav’).

My own experiences of hostile reaction on Twitter are a microcosm – a nanocosm – of those who are prominent in the fields of entertainment, journalism, and politics; celebrities in other words. This month, a young Jewish woman, famous for her television appearances, is the victim of the usual accusations, insults and gibes, because she has spoken about the problem of antisemitism on the left. It makes me inexpressibly sad to see the torrents of ill will which have come her way.

A Jewish lawyer who happens to have a debilitating physical illness received tweets wishing for his death. He replied in kind and was penalized by the Law Society. On Twitter, an enemy will ‘dox’ (or is it ‘doxx’?) you if they can, contacting your employers, especially if you are a professional or hold a position of responsibility.

This is not something I personally have to worry about, as a retired Waterstones grunt, but I worry a great deal about the possible injury to others who fight the good fight.

Rabbi Lord Sacks, esteemed for his scholarly books promoting interfaith harmony,  last year accused Jeremy Corbyn of antisemitism, following the ‘English irony’ video.  The obloquy from some of  Mr Corbyn’s supporters was eye-wateringly vindictive. Rabbi Sacks had made a provocative and courageous statement and it gave comfort to some who were afraid to say as much openly. I thought, ‘Now that Rabbi Sacks has spoken about it, they’ll understand.’ That was very far from the truth.

I have seen my own name and profile photo, like a Wanted poster, on the Twitter timelines of people who block me. They warn others about my account and say I am in league with their most feared adversaries.

There is a comfort in online solidarity – being ‘in league’ – for all of us, on all sides. This is true for me and true for those who post about me from behind a block. Yes, one feels friendship for a supportive group – for any support at all, because the fact is, they do now swarm about us like bees. I understand that these ‘enemies’ see us likewise as swarming around them and around Jeremy Corbyn. I can imagine what that feels like and the anxiety they suffer is not to anyone’s advantage. These people who call us ‘Chosenites,’ ‘Khazars’ and ‘Zionazis’ nevertheless are the enemies I have now acquired.

Post Script

We are now in the year 2019; Mrs May’s deal for Brexit has been defeated and her government has survived a vote of no confidence. Social and political divisions are increasingly acrid and I am immersed in Twitter wars of attrition where, as I tweeted a day or so ago, the enemy faints not nor faileth. I received a little more attention than usual, positive and negative and some prominent British Jews are being bombarded with negative attention, because they have taken up a position against Labour antisemitism. Mr Corbyn continues to enjoy the support of some Jewish individuals who devote themselves to discrediting those who oppose him. This is not a division of orthodox and Reform, nor even of Zionist and ‘meh about Israel,’ nor of Brexit and Remain nor of Labour and Conservative. The divisive notion is Jeremy Corbyn, generally perceived as very good or very bad and not much in between. Myself, I have no doubt that he is very bad.

Those who’worship the trousers that cling to him’ use invective such as ‘fascists’ ‘supremacists’ ‘smear merchants’ ‘shills’ and, recently, ‘child-groomers’ and some of  Corbyn’s Jewish supporters participate vigorously in derogating the anti-Corbyn Jews, brushing shoulders with hardcore antisemites in their earnest defence of the Labour Leader. The forum ‘Truthers Against Zionists Lobbies’ which I archive on this blog includes one or two contributions from Jewish bloggers.

Each side claims to be representative, either of the ruakh, the spirit of Judaism or of the Jewish community. People in the circles in which I move are anxious and speak of Corbyn as a threat, so to my mind, his Jewish supporters are a small minority.

Each side knows the arguments of the other side so well that bingo cards are devised, citing the expected arguments of the opposing Z group or the J group, where J is for Jeremy and Z, I don’t need to say.

When I began this blog post, a couple of weeks ago, I was remembering the Jewish tradition, in desperate times, zog tehilim – say psalms when all else fails.

I open my book of Psalms and am awed to find that that the Psalmist seems to have knowledge of Twitter.

64 Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; 

preserve my life from dread of the enemy.
Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
    from the throng of evildoers,
who whet their tongues like swords,
    who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting from ambush at the blameless,
    shooting at him suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose;
    they talk of laying snares secretly,
thinking, “Who can see them?”
    They search out injustice,
saying, “We have accomplished a diligent search.”
    For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep.

Yes, I know there are some who think of me as the secret plotter, whetting my tongue like a sword. All of us are all this to our enemies. Can there be a time when our own Jewish community in the UK are not at loggerheads, whether over the ordination of women, over Israel and the Palestinians, or over Jeremy Corbyn? Bechayeichon uveyomeichon: in our lifetime and in our days, speedily may it come.

In the General Election of 1966, Oswald Mosley represented his fascist party, the Union Movement, in the constituency of Shoreditch and Finsbury.

I was aged sixteen and a member of International Socialism, which became the Socialist Workers Party. A group of us went to heckle Mosley. The comrades were older than me, some of them teachers at my school and I hearkened to their words. They said that Mosley liked to pass himself of as a man of reason, a patriot, and that he would try to appeal to the casual racism of his audience.

There would be no point in attempt Read the rest of this entry »

The Facebook Forum called ‘Truthers Against Zionist Lobbies’ has as its header a picture of Jeremy Corbyn, arm extended and finger pointing, as if with righteous indignation. The tagline of the group is ‘We support Jeremy Corbyn not Labour Friends of Israel.’

Regulars on the forum may not be members of the Labour Party and it seems likely that many are posting from abroad: North and South America and from the Middle East. Nevertheless, the administrators describe themselves, just under the header picture, as defending the integrity and objectives of the Labour Party. I include this group statement in many of my screen shots.

I am posting here the collages which I made to get as much as possible on each image. I still have the raw screen shots, but these are so numerous as to be unwieldy.

The posts shown here appeared on the Truthers forum from October to the present day.

Now I’m going to start uploading the images, which are no longer in chronologicalorder, but the first one is the most recent.

tazl 15 june tweet and blog

12 apr tazltazl 16 juneeaster monday tazleaster tazl.jpg

18 march tazl

tazl hitler

 

 

 tazl 4 feb use

25 may tazl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When antisemitism gets into gear, whether on the right or the left, there is usually someone who will refer to The Chosen People and their perceived iniquities. When you see this phrase on one of the online forums, you know it isn’t going to be complimentary. I suppose it’s understood to imply  that Jews have a sense of superiority and entitlement and consider themselves above the law.

One might tell them the midrash about God offering the Torah laws to all the nations. No one wanted to be encumbered by so many commandments except the Jews who, seeing Moses coming down from Sinai with stone tablets said ‘We’ll take two.’ The seven Noahide laws are for all mankind, but the 613 commandments relating to multifarious topics including kashrut, ritual purity, sabbath observance and textiles are not required of non Jews.

The apostles wrote of this to the people of Antioch who were being converted to Christianity and their letter was conveyed by Paul and Barnabas:

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.[1]

The early Christian converts were allowed to dispense with some of the laws and statutes of the Torah. However, this was no easy ride, as Christianity brings strictures of its own and, besides this, many were chosen for martyrdom, from Stephen in Jerusalem in 34 CE to Maximilien Kolbe in Auschwitz in 1941 and Wang Zhiming in Wuding, China in 1973.

Isn’t it usually the case that those who engage in faith action feel themselves in a unique relationship with the deity? How would prayer in any denomination count, if the individual was insignificant?

The word chosen is dominant in Jewish liturgy, especially in the past tense, where it is God who has chosen. The blessing before the Torah reading in a synagogue includes the words:

Blessed are You, our Living God…who chose us from all peoples to give us Your Torah.

In the blessing before the prophetic reading, we say:

Blessed are You God, who chose the Torah, Moses Your servant, Israel Your people and the true and righteous prophets.

Pointing out that the people of Israel are chosen for Torah observance and not for perks denied other peoples will not satisfy those who believe the essence of Judaism is elitism,  a commonplace antisemitic trope, hospitable to the concept of Jews having ubiquitous influence and power and far removed from the reality of Jewish teaching.

Recurring themes in Jewish prayer are gratitude to God for the giving of the Torah and for the Exodus from Egypt; love for God and love for our fellow human beings.

Only in recent years, when I see a sneering reference to ‘The Chosen People’ – and I see it now more frequently than ever – do I wonder how I would communicate to the person who takes that negative view of Jews and Judaism the significance of ‘choose’ and ‘chosen’.

There are many instances of the word bachar, ‘he chose,’  in the Hebrew bible, but the chosenness of the people is repeated particularly in Deuteronomy, perhaps the earliest written book of the Pentateuch.

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples.[3]

There is some consensus in bible study that the book of the law found by Hilkiah the priest in the time of King Josiah is none other than Deuteronomy as the language and the theology correspond to Deuteronomy.

The story is that King Josiah ordered renovations of the Temple and, while the builders were in, a scroll came to light and was brought to the king.[4]

The Deuteronomist(s), whose date(s) cannot precisely be known, is presumed to have lived well before the Greek and Roman Empires. The Jewish religion is based on books and words which record the covenant between God and Israel, and Josiah was distinctive among biblical kings in basing his rule on scripture.

Modern Judaism seeks to explicate this notion of chosenness, present in our liturgy to this day, as not denying the chosenness of other peoples.

Immanuel Jakobovits, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations from 1967 to 1991 put it this way:

I believe that every people—and indeed, in a more limited way, every individual—is “chosen” or destined for some distinct purpose in advancing the designs of Providence.[5]

Jews are chosen to adhere to a covenant set forth in the Hebrew Bible and developed over the centuries, from Rabbinic Judaism to the codifiers of the Middle Ages, to the philosophers of the Enlightenment, to post Holocaust modernity and the age of the nation state of Israel.

All who live are chosen for life, and people of faith are chosen in the service of their faith. Their devotion is not always rewarded in any obvious way.

Tevye the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof apostrophizes God:

We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?[6]

Nevertheless, people tend to love the belief systems of their own faith more than that of any other, much as we tend to love our own children and our own parents more than we love other children and parents. It seems fair to respect all paths to the supernal. Religions are not accountable for transgressions between one human being and another, or between human beings and the world.

I’ve often thought that one of the great theologians of my lifetime was the comedian Dave Allen, because he used to end his show with the words:

Goodnight, thank you, and may your God go with you.

 

 

[1] Acts 15:28-29

[2] Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2

[3] 2 Kings, 22:8-11

[4] Religion Gone Astray: What We Found at the Heart of Interfaith

By Don Mackenzie, Ted Falcon, Jamal Rahman 2012

[5] Fiddler on the Roof  Jerry Bock,  Sheldon Harnick, Joseph Stein,  first production 1964 Read the rest of this entry »

Kapo. It is as offensive as Uncle Tom or Coconut, with similar imputations of treachery and servility.

Kapos were prisoners in Nazi concentration camps and they performed the work of the SS guards, under duress.  From the point of view of the SS administrators, Kapos served the purpose of relieving their workload while dividing Jewish prisoners against each other. Some were sadistically brutal to the prisoners they supervised.  All were collaborators by force of circumstance and all were victims of the system. The taint of treachery, disloyalty and collaboration with the enemy is attached to this word, kapo, which originally designated those Jewish prisoners in the camps who were promoted to a functionary role which probably helped to keep them alive.

Treason is one of the most hated crimes, odious to the group or nation betrayed by the traitor and  punished with the severest judicial penalties. Wartime collaborators often suffered extrajudicial punishments , including executions.

The anger felt towards a collaborator can be commensurate with the damage they achieve. The damage rather than the intention quantifies the response. Ethel Rosenberg was executed for typing up the notes her husband passed to Soviet contacts but it was believed that the notes assisted the Soviet nuclear programme.

Alternatively, the self-preservation instinct after the fall of an enemy may exacerbate the cruelty visited on collaborators. Consider the persecution in France in the years after WW2, meted out by those who may not have been personally blameless, of women considered guilty of collaboration horizontale.  Pointing out another’s collaboration could deflect from their own, so the women who had been intimate with the German occupiers were made to carry the blame.

In recent times in the UK, Jewish political activists whose efforts are construed as injurious to the Jewish community are sometimes reviled with the word kapo. Those who use the word are often rebuked, as it is pointed out that far from acting freely, kapos were also victims of the Nazis. Furthermore, those who have discovered their Jewish identity in an anti-Zionist cause probably believe that they are motivated by the pursuit of justice, rather than with the aim of whipping up anti-Jewish feeling. Nevertheless, with antisemitism now a force to be reckoned with in the UK Labour party, the strident denials of Jewish Voice for Labour and Free Speech on Israel, in defence of Jeremy Corbyn, BDS and PSC arouse resentment in Jewish communities, especially as their raison d’être seems to be to expel from the Labour  mainstream Jewish organizations of long standing in the Party which was their political home.

Today, the Jewish Chronicle carries the story that a member of the anti-Israel but Jewishly observant Jewdas group has been giving training in antisemitism to members of Dulwich CLP.

‘A left-wing activist from the controversial Jewdas group compared Zionism to Nazi ideology when she gave “antisemitism awareness” to a Labour Party branch meeting.

During her 55-minute speech to the Dulwich and West Norwood Labour branch on Thursday, self-declared “non-Zionist” … also claimed there was “room for discussion” about collaboration between the “Nazi Party and members of the Zionist movement.”

[She] said “Zionism is a racist ideology”, adding it was “not possible to have a democratic Jewish state”.’

By using her Jewish identity to suggest special knowledge, the Jewdas member promulgates the view that Jews who support Israel are racists and that Israel is a racist enterprise. She instructed Dulwich Labour members that:

‘antisemitism within Labour is being employed to attack Corbyn’s leadership and has been since day one…because of his views on Israel.’

This should be a popular view among supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and will resonate with JVL and Neturei Karta as well as with the aptly named Jewdas.

The Jew in the pew at the synagogue, or the Jew in the queue at Carmelli’s Bakery, or the Jew who is one of the few  – about 250,000 – rather than one of Corbyn’s many, is worried about the possible injury to our safety and standing in the United Kingdom. Mr Corbyn may yet become Prime Minister and, outside of Jewdas and JVL, there is a widespead fear that this would prove detrimental to Jewish life.

Meanwhile, there are Jewish people who insist that Corbynism is not harmful to Jews or that we need to come to an accommodation with the various Holocaust revisionists and conspiracy theorists now holding office in the Labour Party. They regard those of us who are aghast at developments since Corbyn became Leader of the Opposition as spinning a false narrative in defence of the State of Israel. Their arguments are approved and applauded in many of the constituency Labour parties. They may be held in opprobrium by  large numbers of Jews, but their Jewish identity has proved potent in defending Corbyn from charges of antisemitism. They are the best weapon he has.

The K word,  is indeed inappropriate and has the indecency that belongs to intense invective but it is provoked by the inimical energy of the Corbyn movement, which seems to be in the ascendant. It has the force of any profanity. For a period of time, kapos wielded power over other Jews, and power, while it lasts, may be less forgivable than treachery.

A thought: perhaps we should lose the word kapo and bring back the word herem? Why use insults when we can resort to anathema?

 

 

 

 


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