Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Contenders for the Labour leadership who received sufficient support from the Parliamentary Labour Party are Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Sir Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry. All have voiced a determination to turf out Labour antisemitism, a goal which has been extremely unpopular with online Corbyn supporters and, I am told, in some Constituency Labour Parties.

All the candidates have signed up to ten pledges put forward by the Board of Deputies. In brief and with some of my own paraphrase, the ten pledges are:

  • Resolve outstanding cases
  • Independent process for Party discipline
  • Transparency rather than secrecy
  • Not readmitting prominent offenders
  • Labour members not to campaign for or give platforms to those expelled or suspended for antisemitism
  • Adopt IHRA in full and use it in disciplinary cases
  • JLM to be involved in anti-racist training
  • Engagement with Jewish Community organizations rather than the anti-Zionist, Corbynist activists of JVL
  • Use clear communication rather than repetition of clichés
  • Leadership to take responsibility

The backlash from determined Corbynists has been intense. Lee Harpin writes about it today, 14 January, in the Jewish Chronicle. https://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/board-of-deputies-pledges-for-healing-labour-s-relationship-with-jewish-community-prompts-backlas-1.495384

I have followed the discussions on those Corbynist forums which have not yet expelled me and in fact was expelled from one of them this week, presumably for querying one of the antisemitic comments. During the last few days, almost all the discussion on the forums is about the dangers of Jewish Zionist domination in western politics. Striking through the word Jewish reminds me, when a gentleman referred to the Jewish Lobby, he was advised by another member of the group to change his words to Israel Lobby. In due course he did so, saying that he was being careful as someone (Facebook? Labour Party?) had imposed a ban on his output.

I suppose everyone knows this joke: two Jewish men are sitting on a park bench in Berlin in 1938. Both are reading newspapers. One notices that the other is reading Der Stürmer.

‘Why are you reading that antisemitic rag?’ he asks.

‘Because,’ replies his companion, ‘it says here that Jews have all the power and all the wealth in the world and, in these wretched times, I need something to cheer me up.’

It is a falsehood universally acknowledged by the far left, the far right and, sadly, some closer to the mainstream, that Jewish organizations hold sway over UK politics. In their eyes, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Labour Movement, Labour Friends of Israel and much of the UK rabbinate ‘bestride the narrow world like a Colossus.’

Three days have passed since I wrote the above, and the Board of Deputies remains a matter of absorbing interest on the Corbynist forums. Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Britain have devised their own ten pledges, which the Labour candidates have endorsed, as they did with the Board of Deputies pledges. This is not a subject for discussion on the forums. After all why should a minority community not lay out a list of their priorities, so that a possible government would pledge to protect them from racist persecution?

It seems to be only the Board of Jewish Deputies which is perceived to be taking over the world.

It’s nine days since I published this post, but the wrath of the forums has not abated and the Board continues to arouse lively conversation, uniformly contemptuous, disbelieving and abusive. I continue to update the screen shots. Excuse me if there is any overlap.

Extra screen shots have been added.

Since Labour’s defeat in the General Election, less than two weeks ago, the Corbyn supporting forums on Facebook and the Corbyn loyalists on Twitter have, like the rest of us, been discussing how it happened that the Conservatives were elected with a majority of eighty while Labour sustained heavy losses, especially in the former Labour strongholds in the north of England.

There is a consensus on the Labour forums about the reasons for Labour’s defeat. These are said to be:

Rigged elections

Rigged counting

Bias from the press and broadcasting

Interference from Israel

Disloyalty from Labour centrists

There is a clear preference in these groups for Jeremy Corbyn to remain as Labour leader for the forseeable future. Those in the running to succeed him are all considered tainted, either by good relations with the Jewish Labour Movement, membership of Labour Friends of Israel or, as in Rebecca Long-Bailey’s case, having at least once spoken out against an instance of Labour antisemitism.

There is also much discussion of possible candidates to replace Mr Corbyn in the spring. Certain objections come up repeatedly to some of the likely candidates. Emily Thornberry and Rebecca Long-Bailey are perceived as being too close to Israel. Keir Starmer is perceived by some as disloyal to Jeremy Corbyn. Angela Rayner has not yet been called ‘Israel’s puppet,’ but I fully expect that will happen when they realize that she once attended a Chanukah Party. Jess Phillips is deplored for being hostile to Corbyn, friendly to Jewish organizations, and prone to using strong language, for which they decry her as a ‘f***ing gobshite’.

Richard Burgon and Ian Lavery have been suggested as preferred leaders. Although they are no longer in the Labour Party, Ken Livingstone, Chris Williamson and George Galloway have also been mentioned, as worthy successors.

My own feeling is that many of Corbyn’s most loyal supporters are so thoroughly opposed to Jewish organizations and institutions that the Labour Party’s problem with antisemitism is here for the long haul.

Below are some of the threads from three or more Corbynist forums. Some of them have changed their names since the General Election; for example, ‘Jeremy Corbyn Leads Us To Victory’ is now called ‘Jeremy Corbyn T’ for reasons I cannot fathom. The former ‘We Actually Support Jeremy Corbyn’ is now ‘Supporting Active Socialism. ‘Jeremy Corbyn Will Be Prime minister’ has kept its name. Hope springs eternal.

On about the sixth night of Chanukah, antisemitic graffiti appeared overnight in Belsize Park and Hampstead: a red Star of David had been painted at various locations, including South Hampstead Synagogue, accompanied by ‘911,’ attributing the 9/11 attack to Jews, a conspiracy theory favoured by both right and left. Immediate reaction on Labour forums included the view that Jews were to blame, as they had enabled the Conservative election victory, and also that the graffiti was correct, 9/11 being the work of the Jews. After twenty-four hours, the SWP run organization ‘Stand Up to Racism’ was planning a ‘vigil of solidarity’ with Jews, to be held in Hampstead, occuring in fact as I type this. The hypocrisy and cynicism of this demonstration has been noted by many, if not THE Many. We Few also have our Many.

The General Election is just three days away and the whole nation is anxious, although not all for the same reason.

My own anxiety is explicitly dread that Corbyn will be Prime Minister, since he has unleashed antisemitic discourse, the quantity and intensity of which I have never before seen in the UK, .

I am sure that Mr Corbyn is not conscious of meaning harm to the Jewish community. This is why he is so emphatic in condemning antisemitism in front of the television cameras. Unfortunately, he has been filmed making countless rabble-rousing speeches & has linked himself with so many violent or murderous antisemites, that his anti-racist messages don’t cut through to his supporters, at least, not when the racism in question is antisemitism.

I was expelled from some closed Labour forums many months ago so the images I compiled are quite out of date.

I am therefore putting together a few more recent screen shots. These come from ‘We Support Jeremy Corbyn’ and ‘We Actually Support Jeremy Corbyn’, from ‘Jeremy Corbyn Leads Us to Victory’ and ‘Jeremy Corbyn Will Be Prime Minister’. I have not included the Corbynist forum ‘Truthers Against Zionists Lobbies’ as Facebook appears to have closed it down at last, just this week.

The synagogue hall in our previous building was too small to accommodate the whole congregation on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so these services were held in the large, draughty but capacious hall of a local sports centre. As a parent, I was sometimes obliged to do security duty, so in late September 2001, I was outside the sports centre with a walkie talkie in my hand, to connect me to the security officers in the event of anything untoward.

At about 4pm, when school was out, a group of boys, aged perhaps twelve, thirteen or fourteen, straggled cheerfully along the nearby road, chanting ‘Osama Bin Laden!’

Those children are thirty now, grown men, and perhaps they put aside their hero-worship of the man who masterminded 9/11. At the time, I wondered what was the appeal for them, in the person of Bin Laden. who brought death and injury to some thousands of innocent people. Urban legends which have proliferated over nearly two decades throw doubt on the role of Bin Laden and Al Qaida, preferring to finger the CIA, the FBI, George Bush, Israel and various other agents, but two weeks after the atrocity, it was not contentious to believe in the involvement of Osama Bin Laden.

The appeal, I came to believe, was in the successful execution of the act; it’s uniqueness and drama; the manifestation of terrorist force against civic might.

I would probably have forgotten about the boys outside the sports centre, except that there ensued a perceptible axial shift in political discourse.

The USA and George Bush were more hated than before. Tony Blair was disliked but re-elected in the General Election of 2005, though with a much reduced majority. The anathematization of Tony Blair did not reach its full fury until a year or two later and intensified after he stood down as Prime Minister in 2007.

Was it because facts relating to the war with Iraq war were not known until this time? I think not. When the findings of the Chilcot Report were made public, there was some disappointment among many on the left that Blair was not to be prosecuted. In the ensuing years, a staple of left wing discussion was to call for the trial and imprisonment or even execution of Tony Blair. Many who considered themselves opposed to capital punishment expressed a preference for a public hanging. The talk became increaingly bloodthirsty and when Blair’s name was mentioned on political debate programmes such as BBC Question Time, the audience would howl anathemas.

Blair had become fair game because, like Sejanus, he had fallen. It is not only the toppling of statues which signifies the end of both authority and reputation. Thus, when the Twin Towers collapsed so hideously and apocalyptically, there plummeted also the authority and reputation of the West, the USA, the allies of the USA and the First World. Some of those suffering anomie no doubt rejoiced and the London schoolboys chanted Bin Laden’s name.

Today, we are four days away from a UK General Election, after which the Prime Minister almost certainly will be either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn. It is unlikely that an MP from one of the smaller parties, Jo Swinson for example, will be asked to form a government. I feel more profoundly invested in this election result than ever before in my life. In the past, as a member of the Labour Party, I performed grunt-level actions to help the campaign: leafleting, stuffing envelopes, checking electoral registers. More often than not, I suffered the deep disappointment of Labour losing to the Conservatives.

This time, being Jewish has made a difference to me. More than that, it has reversed my previous sympathies and, believing as I do that antisemitism is now out of control in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, I would like to see Labour lose and lose badly.

I have heard Sir John Major and Tony Blair agreeing that a hung parliament would be the best outcome, enabling the Remainers’ cause. I am a Remainer myself, or was. However, the danger to British Jews weighs even more heavily with me than Brexit.

In the General Election of 2017, Labour did better than expected, which showed that Corbyn was far from unelectable, an accusation which had so often been leveled agaiinst him. As the Tories lost their majority, the Labour performance was hailed as a great success. There was a triumphalist mood among the membership and Corbyn achieved cult status. It was the summer of Oh Jeremy Corbyn, the Absolute Boy.

When we persisted in opposing the antisemitic ethos gathering pace in the Labour Party, we were seen as spoilers, traitors and fifth columnists; condemned as agents of Israel, paid members of Mossad, racists, apologists for child-killing and so on. Such was the language every day on the online Corbynist forums to which I had access. Celebrities who spoke out for Corbyn and against Israel became the saints of Corbynism and those who were Jewish had particular status: Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Michael Rosen, Miriam Margolyes, JVL (born fully clothed from the forehead of Free Speech On Israel) and the ultra-orthodox outliers of Neturei Karta. These individuals and organizations were tranfigured by the Corbyn movement into instantly recognizable memes. The momentum was with Momentum, the Corbynist grass roots and the front benchers who had risen like Corbyn from relative obscurity.

Now we must vote, or make our civic contribution by not voting. It seems that much of the country will be voting against, rather than voting for; voting against the empowerment of whichever side they think will be worse.

Why has support for the LibDems, Greens and Brexit Party fallen away? Because nothing succeeds like success, and it is discouraging to vote for a party you think has already lost the battle. The outcome of the election seems less predictable than usual because of rewritten alliegances due to Brexit.

My hope is that Labour will lose so that the triumphalism which characterizes Corbyn’s supporters will topple, like the statue in Firdos Square and we will not have to look at it any more. Otherwise I fear others will fall and it will be a catastrophe.

8 December 2019

The Corbynists were very angry with the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, when he spoke out against Labour antisemitism. They were angry with the 68 rabbis who signed a letter in the Guardian back in July 2018, in favour of Labour accepting the full IHRA definition of antisemitism. Pete Willsman of the Labour NEC called them Trump fanatics. They are angry with John Le Carré, Joanna Lumley and twenty or so other public figures who wrote to the Guardian after the General Election was called, to say they would not vote Labour because of the party’s problem with antisemitism. As for Rachel Riley, Tracy Ann Oberman, Ian Austin, Luciana Berger, Margaret Hodge, John Mann, Louise Ellman, the Corbynists’ comments about these persons are beyond acrimonious.

They are not nice about me either, or about any activist, Jewish or otherwise, who expresses concern about Labour Antisemitism.

The edition of the Times for tomorrow, 26 November, carries the headline ‘Corbyn not fit for high office says Ephraim Mirvis’ and Chief Rabbi Mirvis’s article was the top news item on all television news channels late this evening.

A spokesperson for Labour has repudiated the Chief Rabbi’s claims, just as they did regarding the participants in a  Panorama programme about Labour antisemitism, directed by John Ware.

On the Labour forums which I look at, there is not a word of sympathy for the Chief Rabbi; nor is there even toleration. He is called a ‘Tory Jew motherfuck’ and other names, equally disapproving.

Below are some reactions from Labour forums this evening, but there will be many more tomorrow. The strange thing is the way the people featured in these screen shots insist that they have never seen an iota of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

*

I should add that some of these pages are from forums in the days following Rabbi Mirvis’s article in The Times and he continues to be a topic of interest among Corbynists.

victory 1 dec

mirvis victory

mirvis 2mirvis 3mirvis 4mirvis 5mirvis 6mirvis 7mirvis 9.jpgmirvis 10jvl 28 novjvl united european jews

For some time, my parents had postal votes. Outside the Jewish residential home where they lived their last years, there was a plaque dedicated to a notable local MP who had officially opened the building: Margaret Thatcher.

As Labour voters, they were never fans of Mrs Thatcher but neither did they display any noticeable animus when they referred to her.

In the 1970s, my mother used to buy clothes in a store called Owen and Owen in North Finchley. One day in the changing cubicle, she heard a familiar voice from the other side of the curtain – the unmistakable, saccharine tones of the Secretary of State for Education and Science.  My parents both related this with surprising glee as an anecdote, but when the General Election came around in 1979, James Callaghan got their vote. It could not be otherwise: Labour was always their choice. When I was young, I asked them if they ever thought of voting Communist, like a few other members of the family, but they said no, they were not Communists.

My sister and I and our husbands and our children, when the time came, voted Labour.

By 2017, my father had died. In the run up to the General Election of 8 June, I asked my mother if she needed help with her postal vote. She did. She produced the form. Following her stroke in 2012, she was not easily able to wield pencil or pen, which was a particular loss to her as she had loved drawing. Now she was ninety-seven; the strength in her arms and legs had gone, but she knew about the forthcoming election and the function of the postal vote.

I sat beside her wheelchair with the form on my lap and the pen in my hand.

‘How do you want to vote?’ I asked.

She hesitated.

‘I think I’ll do what I always do,’ she said. ‘Shall I?’

‘Labour?’ I said.

‘Yes, Labour,’ replied Mum and I put a cross in the box beside the name of the Labour candidate.

For myself, I did not intend to vote Labour in that General Election because Jeremy Corbyn was now the Leader of the Opposition. Ill reports had reached me, long before his rise to prominence, of his friendships with and support for a range of antagonists who had Israel and sometimes Jews in general in their sights.

I took the sealed envelope away and the next day noticed it was still  on the dashboard of my car. I had forgotten to post it which I supposed was parapraxis, and I made sure to catch the next post so that it would arrive in ample time.

That was my mother’s last vote. As she said herself, she did what she had always done and voted Labour. I did what I had never done in a General Election and voted other than Labour.

Yesterday, I saw a little film by the always entertaining Maureen Lipman, in which she revived her Beattie character for the anti-extremism campaign, Mainstream.

As ever, Beattie is on the phone and we only hear her side of the conversation.

‘My mother always said, “This is a kind and a decent country,”’ says Beattie. “They will always do the decent thing.”

‘Well if that’s the case, why would anybody vote for this Labour Party?

‘Of course, we were all Labour, everybody voted Labour. I voted Labour all my life.’

Thank you, Maureen Lipman and Mainstream, because the video seemed to me to get to the heart of the matter.

Mum died two years ago this day, at the age of ninety-eight. I am glad that she voted Labour, the last time she voted. I would not have wanted her to know what I know, what Maureen Lipman knows and what Beattie knows.

maureen

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

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 the Days of Awe. 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.

 

 



  • L.Sordo: They always strike me as being immature, semi-literate and gullible.I assume they're late teens or under 30 left school at 16 as did I. I read every
  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: Thanks, L Sordo. One word I question here - 'kids'. Many of these participants are mature, one might say senior individuals. Observing over a period o
  • L. Sordo: This is an eye-opener. These kids have obviously got a lot of humanity and compassion but relentless anti-Israel propaganda outweighs their limited k