Friday, October 23, 2020


Here is Sara the Cat enjoying some attention from L this evening. I don't want to anthropomorphise our cat so I have to admit I have no idea how she feels about most things. The almost silent rumble deep in her throat however, according to experience, appears to suggest some pleasure on her part.

Sara spends the most time playing with things we would otherwise throw away - empty boxes, an old wickerwork basket, the insides of toilet rolls, bits of string or old ribbons, and scrunched-up paper on its way to the recycling bin. There's clearly some kind of lesson there, but just now I'd rather be playing with her.

The life of a house-cat is certainly appealing. Food that you like is available whenever you wish. Although you spend a lot of time caring for your personal hygiene, all else is the task of others, including the swift removal of your natural excretions and the equally speedy restocking of your litterbox. You may sleep as much as you wish, and with a couple of cute tricks can easily encourage your flat-mates to play with you. You sit at the window and look out at what is happening in the world. Finally, you are loved and caressed and feel safe in your home. 

Come to think of it, life under lockdown sometimes isn't that far away from what I've just described. Miaow!

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Snorkel Solution

It's been a while since I tried to draw anything. I missed the last #DrawingTogetherGM gathering as it took place during Kol Nidre. And I missed several opportunities to sit down and draw something. But my mind was blank. 

Something came to mind this afternoon, so here it is:

O yes, and please wash your hands and keep your distance and wear a mask and wear it properly.

Thank you.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

30 Years of German Unity


Was it only five years ago that my mother and I wandered over to Belgrave Square with an invitation to celebrate 25 years of German unity at the embassy? 

What a lovely party it was. Upon entering the building we were greeted with delicious shots of schwarz-rot-gold something. After a couple of drinks I was quite merry and able to enjoy games (I won a 3D jigsaw puzzle of the Neuschwanstein castle in a quiz/raffle), an exhibit including one of the original copies of the signed document of unification, and fantastic food. It was a bit meaty for me, but I found a pretzel as big as my head which kept me going (and helped with all the shots I'd imbibed).

My favourite part, though, was the photo ops corner. You could take a selfie with a life-size Angela Merkel cut-out. And there was a Photo Booth that put you in varied typical German tourist photo situations. As you can see, I liked that best of all.

Today Germany celebrates 30 years of unity. Look back to 1990 here. How different our world seems today. We are celebrating the festival of Succot this week, zeman simchateinu, the season of our joy. I remember German unification as a moment of joy. I hope that people can feel hopeful about the future, and that today will be a joyous day. Chag sameach!

Thursday, October 01, 2020

How Can It Be Already a Year?

About 10:30 am last year on the second of October, I was in Bologna Airport, waiting for a flight to London. The doctor had told us the day before that our mother had only a few days left to live. My phone rang as I stood by the gate, and my sister told me that our mother had just died. 

It is now one year later, and we shall recite Kaddish for the first yahrzeit at Shabbat/Succot services this weekend. Apart from that, I have little to say. Lockdown made a mess of our experience of time this year, but even so that moment in the airport seems so recent.

Nu, I have chosen a picture to share that recalls a lovely moment we had together here. Mummy was visiting Modena, and we popped into the forno round the back of the Albinelli market for a bit of a snack, and found this brand of tomato sauce on the shelves. I often called her Mutti, even before we got our German passports, and managed to persuade her to pose for posterity.

Missing making new moments like these, but blessed with many memories. Mi manchi, Mutti.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Preparing for Yom Kippur

My lovely father was quite well known for his sermons. During the year, he thought about them in advance, and made 5 or 6 notes on a scrap of paper as an aide-memoire. When the time came, he stood up and spoke without a written text. Erev Shabbat he would usually speak about what was happening in the world. On Shabbat he discussed the Torah portion. His references were often diverse - they could be anything from Hannah Arendt to Rabbi Akiva, from Homer (both the Greek poet and the cartoon Simpson) to Heinrich Heine, from Freud to Finkielkraut. He had a great sense of humour and, for me most importantly, when he spoke you felt like he was speaking to you, not at you.

For those rabbis blessed to have a pulpit position, the High Holydays can require up to 5 sermons in a 10-day period. And since the services tend to have the largest attendance of the year, there is the sense that you kind of need to wow people. In fact, these sermons were the only ones that my father would type up beforehand. Anyway, the time came when I was blessed with a pulpit position, and was required to write some High Holyday sermons.

So, I wrote my sermons and, each year, the night before I was due to preach, I would telephone my father long-distance (in the far-off days when there was no internet chat, only e-mail) and read him what I'd written so he could check I hadn't made any major mistakes. He'd make some suggestions. I'd argue with them all. I'd make some changes and then we both could get some sleep.

In 2003, just before Rosh Hashana, I phoned my father as usual, and asked if I might read what I'd written. "You know what?" he said to me, "I don't think so. You don't need me any more." I was really surprised, but didn't argue. We chatted a little and said goodnight. When I'd finished my final draft, I emailed him a copy. He wrote back that it was the best I'd written so far. And the congregation seemed to agree with him.

That was the last High Holydays of his life, as he died the following summer. And when Rosh Hashana came round again, and I cried because I couldn't phone and ask him to check my sermon, I heard his words - "You don't need me any more" - and realised that, for sermon-writing, he was right. 

I'm thinking of my father tonight, as I prepare for Yom Kippur services. I still worry about my sermons, but I mostly do ok. I'm recalling that the night before my ordination, I asked him if he had any tips he might share with me for my future rabbinate. He told me:  when preaching, remember James Joyce! I was a bit perplexed, and he explained: "the end of the book went right back to the beginning. Wherever you end up, make sure you connect back to where you started. It gives a sense of completion. And, at least be brief. You always get points for that." Now this I can do! 

Ok, time to get back to my prep. Wishing all those who fast a g'mar tov. Shana tova!

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsberg z"l

We awoke this Rosh Hashanah morning here in Europe to the news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died last night at the age of 87. She was at home in Washington DC, surrounded by her loved ones. 

If you don't know what she achieved in her lifetime, please take a moment to read about her. To those who know, we had hoped that she might survive just a little longer so she might do just a little more. She fought with all her might, on so many levels. But now her struggle is over, and she rests in peace. 

Jewish tradition teaches that one who dies on Rosh Hashanah is a righteous person, a tsaddik. We already knew that about Ruth Bader Ginsberg. As we wish that her memory will be for a blessing, it will only truly be so if we step up and continue her work. That is the best tribute we may offer as we mourn her loss.

With condolences to the family and dear ones who mourn their loss on a day that is supposed to be full of joy for Shabbat and the New Year.

NY Times (paywall)
The Times obit (paywall)
BBC obit
The Guardian obit
A statement from Barack Obama on the passing of Justice RBG
People magazine

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Shana Tova 5781

Am kind of excited that we get to begin a new year tomorrow. Any chance to reboot, to recalibrate, to restart is most welcome!

To all who celebrate Rosh Hashanah, may we wish you a safe, healthy and happy new year.