Tuesday, January 16, 2018

From Selma to Montgomery with Dr M L King

Tonight I had a thrilling surprise. A friend texted me a copy of this photo:

I consulted the Google and discovered that this photograph had been used to illustrate an article about why Dr King wore a Hawaiian lei at Selma. Here's the article if you're interested.

The thing is, well, look on the right-hand side of the photo. There is a man in a pale hat wearing dark glasses and a lei. Just above the hat is a face, well two-thirds of a face. The glasses and the shape of the head are quite familiar to me. Literally. This is the face of Rabbi Albert H Friedlander z"l. It is the face of my father.


I immediately forwarded the picture to my mother, who had also never seen it before. Having expressed her excitement, she and I had the same thought at the same moment: do you remember the photo in the US Holocaust museum?

A Jewish Sports Day in Berlin in 1937. Part of a face in the bottom-right corner, wearing glasses. It's Albert! It all seemed a bit Zelig to me, except that Albert was really there.

Anyway, a bit late for MLK Day in the USA, but I wanted to share this with you all.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Breathe in, Breathe out

Shabbat shalom!

Inspired by my friend, Rabbi David Mitchell (see his Thought for the Week here), I thought I would have a go at saying something instead of just writing it. It is under 4 minutes, but still too large a file to upload directly to Blogger, so here it is via YouTube:

Friday, December 29, 2017

Parshat Vayechi

Here's my latest Thought for the Week for the Liberal Judaism website. Shabbat shalom!

What does darkness mean to you? Is it the cloak for unknown danger? Does its cover give an advantage to your enemies? We feel vulnerable in the dark, and for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, there is little natural light at this time of year. Tradition teaches that we invite the sun to return to the physical world by lighting the lights of Chanukah. We begin gently, shyly, with a single light for the first night. Each night we add a light, building on what was there in order to push the darkness further and further away, ending with a glorious fiery statement of rededication.  And then that great star, without which our earth would perish, turns her face towards us once again.  As my late father used to say to me, “it works!”

Yet Chanukah is past, the miracle of the oil has been exposed as a myth, and the darkness is still with us. Ritual and science may bring us physical light, but we cannot forget that our souls also need a beacon to show the path. We need energy to turn ourselves to the world, and the world to healing. We need hope to move ourselves forward. For those of us for whom the miraculous cruse no longer shines, where may we find the first candle to light our way?

In this week’s Torah portion of Vayechi, Jacob is on his deathbed. He wishes to put his affairs in order, and calls for his favourite child, Joseph. Jacob asks Joseph to treat him with chesed ve’emet. He wants Joseph to swear that he will not be buried in Egypt, but that his bones will be returned to rest with his ancestors in the Cave of Machpelah. Joseph makes this promise, and fulfills it as soon as the days of mourning for Jacob are completed. The medieval commentator Rashi highlights the phrase chesed ve’emet. He translates it as true kindness[1], teaching us that since it can have no reward, a kindness done for the dead is the ultimate kindness. Such a deed is considered to be the highest form of a mitzvah, and Joseph does not hesitate to perform it, thus becoming an exemplar from generation to generation.

In our search for inspiration, could chesed be the first step on our spiritual journey? At its basic level, kindness is simply the desire to help others - how might this heal the world? What about Faith, or Love, or Justice? Look, we are just at the beginning. Let us start with something doable.

Our world is utterly hectic as we rush from commitment to responsibility with eyes firmly focused on our next appointment. However, there is always time for a small act of kindness. And if you compliment a person in the lift on their cool snow-boots, if you wave at a child in a pushchair as they pass you on the street, if you ask a checkout person how their day is going while they are ringing up your groceries – to what do such acts lead? You have seen this person. They have been seen. Kindness shines a light upon the other. To know that you are seen is a sign that you are no longer in the dark. And the energy that this experience gives you will, in turn, have a positive effect on the next living being you encounter. Such reciprocity sets up a chain of chesed[2], building on what was received, and pushing the darkness further and further away.

2017 has shown us once again that when terror and disaster strike, our first impulse is always altruistic. From the bravery of those who run towards danger, to the generosity of those who offer shelter and supplies, our instinct is to help each other. We just need to learn how to do it better on a daily basis, and without the drama! As the Twelfth Time Lord said, “Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.”

May we be inspired by Joseph’s chesed ve’emet, and add our kindness to the light. May this rededication of our souls invite Shechinah to turn her face towards us once again.  Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek!

[1] A hendiadys, i.e., the expression of a single idea by two words connected with ‘and’, when one could be used to modify the other.

[2]  A thought developed after listening to Rav Leo Dee’s podcast on this portion at webyeshiva.org

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Snow Defloration

You'd think it had never snowed before in North London. The WSL football match was cancelled, the Tube was suspended and the pavements are covered in soggy blobs of slush that will freeze in the night and make walking a nightmare in the morning. I'd forgotten where I was. Looking out of the window in the afternoon, I wondered why nobody had shovelled the sidewalk. Then I remembered that sidewalks get shovelled, but pavements do not. I'm not in Kansas any more. Or Brooklyn. Actually, it's been a couple of years since we had anything more than a flurry in Finchley. I guess we have to remember what one is supposed to do in such cases. Meanwhile, from the comfort of my faux Barcalounger, I shall check out a game of football played in New York today:

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The Marvellous Mrs Maisel

It's the middle of the night so I am a little fuzzy and cannot remember who it was that suggested I watch The Marvelous Mrs Maisel. I have just watched the pilot ep, and am hooked. Maybe it's because my first ever primary school teacher was called Mrs Maisel? Probably not. Maybe it's because the show was created by the mind behind the Gilmore Girls? Possibly. Maybe it's because I clocked that the comic was ripping off Bob Newhart before it became a big plot point? Quite probably - a shared comedy palate is very attractive (aka it feels good to feel smart like that). Anyway, it is beautiful to look at, it made me laugh aloud, and it's great to see a Jew decide to not be a victim. I look forward to the next one. Now I lay me down to sleep.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Identity Crisis

Which was first, me or the emoji?!

On my way to Loftus Road at the beginning of the week, I thought I should warn my neighbour at the stadium that I looked a bit different from the last time I had graced my seat in the SA Road stand. Was a little freaked to see that after a long and difficult search* I'd managed to pick the same specs as the text emoji! 

On the plus side, if the response of friends and family is anything to go by, me & the 'ji have excellent taste :-)

* to be fair I must acknowledge the guidance and fashion sense of my beloved LL in this matter!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

It's All About the Passion


A fan's-eye view of the equaliser

(warning:  amid the joyous screams there may be one fruity word (not from me - I think I am the one who screamed WOO HOO! Quite surprised to learn that this is my go-to exclamation of joy) - nu, please make sure not to play this in front of children)

Yes, more football, I know ... but, you see, it really is one of my passions, and don't you think that it is our passions that fuel our lives?

So last Monday, QPR were at home to Brentford. This was a local derby, and therefore Sky TV decided to televise it. QPR have a terrible record of embarrassing themselves on live national television, so we were not looking forward to the game. I always say that anything is possible, and try to remember that before every match. By the 90th minute, however, the pattern seemed familiar as we were 0-2 down, and the seats began to empty. The Brentford fans in the School End taunted us mercilessly, telling our manager that he would be sacked in the morning.

A couple of minutes into injury-time, the substitute Matt Smith scored a consolation goal, and trotted calmly back to the centre circle. That was nice, I thought. As we waited for the final whistle to end our misery, we got a free-kick just inside the Brentford half. Everyone bar the goalie went up for it. In came the ball, players scrambled in the penalty area, and suddenly that ball was in the back of the Brentford net and we all went mental. I couldn't stop laughing. Everyone around me was jumping up and down, punching the air, and waving at the Brentford fans. The chant went up, "Two nil, and you f***ed it up!" and then the whistle went. It was only a draw, but it felt like a victory. The feeling of elation was immense, and it carried me all the way back to Finchley on a cold, damp night.

On the way out of the stadium I heard some poor girl crying, "I went to the toilet and I missed 2 goals!" Did she not know that you do not leave during the game? (and maybe also that you do not have that last drink before the game) I guess you have to learn the hard way. Once we were losing 1-3 with less than 10 minutes to go and my father said we should leave so we would beat the rush at the Tube station. When we got home, we found out that we'd made a bit of a comeback and had won 4-3. NEVER AGAIN, I swore, and so far that has been the case. 

My point, though, is that (cliche alert) it's never over 'til it's over. A lot of people gave up and went home. Our manager had a go at them in the post-match interview on tv, and the media decided to attack him for it. Under this kind of pressure, he has now posted a video to apologise if people were offended. I wasn't offended, but then I didn't leave! As he said, he is a passionate man, and he wants his team to be passionate, and wants our support. It's all about the passion.