Monday, December 17, 2012

Happy Birthday Omi!


The maternal grandmother of the ravaj was born on this day in Essen in 1913. Hard to believe that was 99 years ago!

Der Rattenfaenger is (not quite) 200!


It's a well-known fact that in London one is supposed to never be more than about 6 feet from a rat. That would be genus rattus rather than genus homo. It's an unpleasant thought, especially for anyone who's ever read any James Herbert novels. Thank goodness for the BBC News page! In a current article they utterly debunk this myth, proving that in fact at any given moment anywhere in the United Kingdom one is most likely a whopping 164 feet from a rat. Read it here.

NB I got all excited when the article noted that the Brothers Grimm story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, aka Der Rattenfaenger von Hameln was 200 years old this year. However, this may not be the case. although the first book of Grimms' Fairytales was published (as Kinder und Haus Maerchen) in 1812, I think that the Pied Piper appears in their next volume, Deutsche Sagen, which was published in 1816. In which case, we must defer all rat-related celebrations for another 4 years.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Tory Tornado KO's Himself


The Huffington Post in the UK has reported that David Davies, the Conservative MP for Monmouth, has responded to accusations of homophobia following an interview he gave to BBC Radio Wales yesterday. On the radio, he said that:

"I think most parents would prefer their children not to be gay, knowing most parents want grandchildren if nothing else."

This was the comment that engendered the accusations. Personally, my first thought was to send him a turkey baster, and a copy of this article from the New York Times. However, in his defence, Mr. Davies pointed out that during his amateur boxing career he once fought a gay boxer. Apparently he posted a vid of the fight as proof. That makes total sense:  how to prove one is not a homophobe - show everyone a film of oneself punching a homosexual in the face. Nice one, Dave!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Piglet Magritte


It's dragging towards 4 pm on a dreary Monday. If you get a kick from cute pics of puppies and kittens, this is the page for you. I'm diabetic so that's no good for me. When I find myself in times of trouble, E. H. Shepard comes to me ... it's time for a Piglet picture!

Piglet was visiting the Magritte Museum in Brussels, when he noticed this mirror in a shop window.

A Time for Miracles

We are approaching the day of the winter solstice, when the sun is at its lowest in the sky (for those of us living in the Northern hemisphere) and the darkness of the night reaches its peak. Many religions and cultures have rituals and festivals of light at this time, as if by making and celebrating light we will bring the sun back up into the heavens. If we believe, we may perform this miracle. Don't knock it, it hasn't failed us yet! So Happy Advent, Chanukah, Diwali, Kwanzaa & St Lucia's Day!!

Speaking of miracle workers, what about this chap here:


Mr. Redknapp has arrived at QPR at a time of great darkness. We are looking to him to deliver us, and to bring the light back into our footballing lives. He is aware of the depths in which we wallow. In a recent interview, he noted that:

"Joe Royle sent me a message today, but I've never read the Bible, and it was about turning fish into whatever - a miracle is what he meant."

If Billy the Fish is available in the January transfer window, we hope Harry will sign him. Otherwise, we just hope Harry knows his tactics and man-management better than his Bible. Meanwhile, we wish him luck, because what we need now is defo a miracle.



Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rant Rant Rant: Fingernails!


Fingernails are lovely things. Most of the time. You can paint them, scratch itches with them, turn the page with them, and use them to get difficult crumbs out of your keyboard. Eventually, unless you are Howard Hughes, you will need to cut your nails. You may hire someone to take care of your feet, such as the lovely Bastien Gonzalez (we love him because he once took on the almighty challenge of the feet of the father of ravaj). Fingernails are much easier, though, and usually you cut them yourselves. Or clip them.

Here comes the rant:  since when has it become the custom to clip one's nails in public? It's not that the act itself is vile, but rather that the clippings are allowed to lie where they fall. For example, just this week I saw a woman across the aisle on the plane, this morning it was the woman next to me on the Tube, and  the other day there was a woman on the top deck of the bus; all of them tending to their nails with no concern for their debris. It was utterly disgusting.

When I was young, Rabbi Hugo Gryn z"l told me that he would collect his nail-clippings and burn them, because his grandmother had told him that all the rubbish undisposed during his life would be waiting for him after death. I don't know about that, but Google did give me a couple of suggestions for the reuse of fingernail clippings:

1. they are compostable (as long as you remove the polish), since they are rich in protein.
2. if you cannot afford a Brillo pad (steel wool), put them in the foot of an old pair of tights and tie off the end. Voila - an inexpensive pot scrubber.
3. send them to Tim Hawkinson, a man who makes sculptures out of them

Ultimately, whatever you do with them, for goodness sake please do it at home. Thank you.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Vatican Fights Back


Reuters news agency reports that in the wake of the U.S. states of Maryland, Maine and Washington extending the right of marriage to same-sex couples via a popular vote, the Vatican has responded by pledging never to stop fighting attempts to "erase" the privileged role of heterosexual marriage, which it called "an achievement of civilisation." The chief spokesman for the Vatican - Father Federico Lombardi - made the standard and expected arguments on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately, he also decided to perpetuate a popular canard by suggesting that if same-sex marriage is acceptable, "... why not contemplate also freely chosen polygamy and, of course, not to discriminate, polyandry?" (as quoted by, among others, the Chicago Tribune newspaper).

I still don't get why it isn't as clear as a clear day that those of us who wish to get married are utterly supporting the institution of marriage, not undermining it. Otherwise, why would we fight for it?! Furthermore,  it's not as if we are trying to deny the heterosexuals their right to marry. If marriage is so threatened, surely the first people to target are those hets who are daring to live together as husband and wife without the sacrament of marriage? Sigh.

Thank [your Deity of choice. Or not] that everyday people are using democracy to create equality.  I'm so happy that those Americans voted for equality, and I'm delighted that the blinkered religious hegemony has been thwarted. Onward we go!

PS  For a look at how the LGBT situation has developed in the USA, there's an interesting article here by Michael Lindenberger in this week's Time magazine.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

United States Elections 2012 (i)


Awwwww.

Having lived abroad for the last 3 years, my perspective of the United States of America is once again coloured by a European filter. Nevertheless, I am still a registered Democrat, and last week faxed and posted my absentee ballot to be counted at the City Hall in Waltham MA.

The choice for me was not difficult. The Republicans generally seem so far to the right these days that a vote for them would be voting for my own death sentence. It's just so sad that so many are voting against a particular candidate instead of for someone. As my blogroller Echidne of the Snakes wrote recently:

"How should I put this best? Voting for Barack Obama is like choosing shingles. Voting for Mitt Romney is like choosing a terminal illness. I prefer the former, though naturally I'd love to feel perfectly healthy. But we are all going to have one of those two conditions, and in my view the Obama-condition is much more bearable and less dangerous."

It is also a bit scary that the entire election may rest on the way that the candidates respond to Hurricane Sandy. If Barack is Presidential, he may gain voters; and if Romney is not, he will sink. O well, at least it's a better basis for choice than who has the best hair (in London last weekend, Margaret Cho suggested that elections are often won by hair, e.g., JFK vs Nixon, Clinton vs Bush 1 and Ross Perot).

Thinking of those currently victims of the hurricane ...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Savile Scandal


Jimmy Savile was a DJ and broadcaster in the 1960's and 1970's. He was incredibly popular, and known to my generation as a weird but charitable man who made people's dreams come true in his show "Jim 'll Fix It". It turns out that he was a sexual predator who may have abused myriad young girls. A television programme recently revealed the alleged crimes of the star, who died one year ago today, and there has been intense media frenzy ever since.

We are shocked and disgusted by Jimmy Savile's behaviour, all the more so because we thought he had been a positive force in the charity world, e.g., raising c. £40 million for various organisations. What I don't understand is the hysteria engendered by this discovery. This weekend, the Guardian reported that dozens of celebrities are frightened that they will be implicated in the scandal. Also, the Catholic Church of England,

"... has contacted the Holy See to ask if the papal knighthood awarded to (Savile) could be removed"
(the rest of the article may be found here.)

How many priests within the church have committed similar crimes? Where are the public requests to the Holy See for action against those men? Do the leaders of the Church believe that making a big deal about one public figure will be compensation to all the victims of the everyday non-famous perpetrators? For crying out loud, turn that energy and interest to the parishioners who need your protection and support!

Meanwhile, what about publicist Max Clifford's comment in the Guardian article:

"I am hoping that the real predators are the ones we are going to find out about ... not people that were randy young pop stars in the 1960s, 70s and 80s even, that had women throwing themselves at them everywhere they went, because that is a whole different area and a whole different situation. No one had heard the word 'paedophile' in those days"

Since the women were "throwing themselves", the men had no power to resist? Ok, we know about rock culture, groupies, etc. I do get uncomfortable, though, with the inference that the women wanted it so that made it ok. It's not a question of my being overly PC here. It is to do with the current and past lack of protection for vulnerable people who come into contact with the entertainment world. It has always been the case that fame and celebrity seem to breed indulgence when it comes to immoral behaviour. There are no 'real' and 'unreal' predators. If lives have been damaged and destroyed by those "randy young pop stars", and speaking out about it might bring healing, why not? Except of course that is an utterly naive and idealistic perspective, since what will probably feed a call for such revelation is more likely to be the economic aspirations of the tabloids.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Support for Anat Hoffman & Women of the Wall



In Jerusalem, at the Western Wall aka the Kotel, a Jewish woman was arrested last week for the crime of singing the Shema, i.e., praying. Her name is Anat Hoffman. She is currently the Director of the Israel Religious Action Center aka IRAC.

Click to learn what is actually illegal according to Israeli law

Background to the issue of a pluralistic group of women praying at the Wall may be found here.
There is also a 2009 story in the NY Times here.
An American perspective from the Jewish Journal may be found here.

Here are some links to the latest part of the struggle for egalitarian status in prayer at this site:

Why I was arrested for praying at the Western Wall via Huffington Post
Anat Hoffman after arrest in Haaretz
Police shackle Anat Hoffman for saying Sh'ma at the Kotel by Debra Nussbaum Cohen in the Jewish Daily Forward

Rabbi Laura Geller talks about Anat and Henrietta Szold
A view from the Velveteen Rabbi
Who has the right to pray at the Western Wall by Rabbi Daniel Brenner
What is the textual source of Kol Isha? by Rabbi Judith Abrams

There was a live webcast with Anat this evening. The most popular question for her was - how may we help to support her and the work of Women of the Wall? She replied with the following suggestions:

1.  sign the petition to liberate the Wall on the IRAC website.  The link is here.
2.  visit the Women of the Wall website
3.  buy the WOW tallit - Anat used some of the funds to pay her legal fees, and said that she loved the idea that the subversive act of wearing a tallit also supports the struggle in Israel
4.  Organise a Rosh Chodesh service outside the Israeli consulate in your home town
5.  Write your sentiments in the Jewish and the Israeli press
6.  Persuade your Israeli relatives to vote for measures to change the situation in Israel
7.  Donate financially whatever you can!

@kungfujew18 trawled the Twitterverse for us to bring this selection of Tweets sent during the webchat

You can join in also via projects such as
Hear O Israel: The Global Sh'ma Flashmob
Reclaim and Liberate the Kotel

btw, there were two other women arrested alongside Anat!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Colosseum Piglet


It's been a while, Piglet fans. Here is a shot from his recent visit to Rome. It was his first time there, and the first thing he did on his first day was to check out the most iconic place in the city - the Colosseum.

NB it's totally worth 30 Euro for a 3-day pass called the Roma. Not only do you get free travel on bus and train, but also it lets you walk past the 2-hour queue to get into the Colosseum and enter immediately!

Gotcha!


O Obama! It hurts, y'know. Look at him in this pic - he's laughing in our faces. Those of us who put our trust in you cannot understand how general opinion after the first debate is clear that Romney "won". Since there seem to be myriad citizens of our country that cannot see how utterly bonkers he is, we need you to be strong.

It breaks my heart that people will make such an important decision as the choosing of a President based on surface impressions, rather than listening to what is being said and figuring out what is true and what is a lie, what is factual and what is spin. Your guys gotta get your into shape here, c'mon!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Yom Kippur 5773


This may be a cheesy jpeg I found via Google, but at the same time it does convey a lot of my thoughts and feelings as I prepare for Yom Kippur.

I suspect that the foundations of peace and happiness are to be found in our selves. As we do the work that heals our emotional wounds, we have fewer issues to act out upon others, and more energy to put towards positive thoughts and deeds.

Thus may I wish us all the strength to make necessary adjustments in our attitudes and behaviour so that the next days and months may be different from those that are done.

with all best wishes for a Shana Tova

We Wuz Robbed! Again.


Tough time to be a QPR fan. Still in the Premiership. New players signed from teams like Inter Milan. Ale Faurlin back early from his cruciate injury. Problem is, we just cannot win a match. O well, early days ...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Nina Bawden R.I.P.

The author Nina Bawden died last month. Most of those who know her remember her novel "Carrie's War"about children evacuated to Wales during WW2. The obit in the Telegraph is as interesting as usual, and may be read here. If you have neither the time nor the inclination to enjoy it, at least please peruse the following paragraph:

"She won another scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford, where she switched from French to read PPE. There she went out to tea with the 17-year-old Richard Burton, then an RAF cadet on a twe-term short course, and "would have flirted more enthusiastically if it had not been for the horrid boils on the back of his neck"."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Boris Johnson is Out4Marriage


You may think that a man who in 2001 wrote in his book "Friends, Voters, Countrymen":

"If gay marriage was OK ... then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men; or indeed three men and a dog."

would not necessarily be someone to highlight in our campaign. On the other hand, is it not possible that Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson may have evolved since then? And the current Mayor of London is an important person to have on our side. So welcome, Boris, to Out4Marriage!

Fringe Funnies

Each year a host of one-liners from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival are voted upon and a Top Ten published. This year there appears to be one token funny woman. That sucks. The chosen few are:

10. My mum's so pessimistic, that if there was an Olympics for pessimism ... she wouldn't fancy her chances. (Nish Kumar)

9.  I waited an hour for my starter so I complained: It's not rocket salad. (Lou Sanders)

8.  I saw a documentary on how ships are kept together. Riveting! (Stewart Francis)

7.  Pornography is often frowned upon, but that's only because I'm concentrating. (George Ryegold)

6.  I took part in the sun tanning Olympics - I just got Bronze. (Tim Vine)

5.  I'm good friends with 25 letters of the alphabet ... I don't know why. (Chris Turner)

4.  You know you're working class when your TV is bigger than your book case (Rob Beckett)

3.  I was raised as an only child, which really annoyed my sister. (Will Marsh)

2.  Last night me and my girlfriend watched 3 DVDs back to back. Luckily I was the one facing the telly. (Tim Vine)

1.  You know who really gives kids a bad name? Posh and Becks. (Stewart Francis)

My favourite is defo number 5, but then it's the most subtle :-)   . Followed by number 3, for obvious reasons!

btw I presume that the only reason the winning joke works is because so many people know the names of the children. Otherwise, I would offer up Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.  His children are called:

Lara Lettice
Milo Arthur
Cassia Peaches
Theodore Apollo

Next to these names, I think that

Brooklyn Joseph
Romeo James
Cruz David
Harper Seven

look a bit tame, actually!

Friday, July 27, 2012

A Brief Mention of the Olympics


Ok, so Boris went a little over the top yesterday when suggesting that the Olympo-mania Geiger counter just went zoink, but the Games do begin tonight and it's kind of a big deal when it's in your home town.

So no complaints today about the transport system, or lack of ticket availability, or spoiled athletic officials. Instead, just watch this brief, informative and cheery history of the Olympics. Hurrah for the greatest show on earth!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Out4Marriage Continues to Campaign


With the news yesterday that Scotland is ready for gay marriage, and David Cameron's speech at 10 Downing Street in which he said once again,

"It's something I feel passionately about and I think if it's good enough for straight people like me, it's good enough for everybody and that's why we should have gay marriage and we will legislate for it"

you'd think enough already with the campaigning. However, it's precisely because Out4Marriage and its partners continue to keep speaking up that more and more public figures are aligning themselves with those working for equality in marriage!

I do have a particular concern, and that is the small percentage of women involved in this project. I would love to see more of us making videos, and cannot figure out why we are not. The guys fuelling the project with their energy and determination would love our input, support and leadership. If there is something about Out4Marriage that is not welcoming, and we're not getting it; please somebody let us know so we may learn and improve. Thank you.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Unspeakable Sadness

The heading says 'unspeakable' and then I try and say something. Israeli tourists blown up by terrorists in Bulgaria. Batman fans shot down in a Colorado movie theatre. We have no power to stop such things or heal those who suffer from them. And while ours heads know that compassion is what should be expressed, the impact of such deeds is more likely to engender fear for ourselves and a sense of our own powerlessness.

Time for that Yeats quote I think:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Wherever it is we look to for strength and hope, now is as good a time as any to ask. We must not live in fear. And we must find ways to have hope for our communities and ourselves.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Celeste Holm R.I.P.


ah, Celeste Holm. 95 is a bloody good innings. Most of the obituaries note that she really rose to fame as the original Ado Annie in Oklahoma, although Gloria Grahame got to play that role in the movie version. The Telegraph obit recalls Holm's audition:

"She was to sing before the composer, Richard Rodgers, and her agent advised her not to attempt any of his songs lest she get them wrong, nor any by his rivals lest she drive him wild. That narrowed the field alarmingly. So she resolved to sing Who Is Sylvia? which could not possibly offend. Sweeping up to the microphone, she tripped on the wire and ended in an undignified heap on stage. “Could you do that again?” Rodgers called. And that was how she landed the plum comic role in what was to be the most influential musical of its time."

She remains in my memory, however, for two reasons. She's the best thing in the film High Society (a glamorous remake of the Philadelphia Story, but who could ever remake something starring Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn/James Stewart at their most elegant?). And she won an Academy Award for best supporting actress in Gentleman's Agreement. Actually, that film made me so mad. It's clear that Gregory Peck should end up with her character, but instead they make his antisemitic fiancee reform so he can stay with her. Should've married Celeste!

Thank you for the joy your performances continue to give to me, and may you rest in peace.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Understanding Anger



“I recognised the connection between my anger and my will to live. My anger was my will to live turned inside out. My life force was just as intense, just as powerful as my anger, but for the first time I could experience it as different and feel it directly. In that first moment of surprise, I had a glimpse of something fundamental about who I am; that at the core of things I have an intense love of life, a wish to participate fully in life and to help others to do the same. Somehow this had grown large in me as a result of the very limitations that I had thought were thwarting it. Like the power of a dammed river. I had not known this before. I also knew that in its present form, as rage, this power was trapped. My anger had helped me to survive, to resist my disease, even to fight on, but in the form of anger I could not use my strength to build the kind of life I longed to live. And then I knew that I no longer needed to to it this way. I knew with absolute certainty that my pain was nobody’s fault; that the world was not to blame for it. It was a moment of real freedom.”


from 'Kitchen Table Wisdom' by
Rachel Naomi Remen MD


Monday, June 18, 2012

Maureen Dunlop de Popp R.I.P.


Another incredible and unsung heroine has died. Maureen Dunlop de Popp was an aviatrix par excellence. During the Second World War she was one of a pioneering group of women who flew the latest fighter and bomber aircraft with the Air Transport Auxiliary. The Telegraph obituary notes:

"With all ATA pilots flying the same aircraft and facing the same risks, Sir Stafford Cripps arranged that the female pilots should receive equal pay with their male colleagues and this small group of women rightly considered themselves as pioneers of sex equality. Many, including Maureen Dunlop, wished that they could have flown in combat, but this was considered a step too far and was forbidden. 'I thought it was the only fair thing,' she remarked. 'Why should only men be killed?'

She was one of 164 female pilots and, during her 3 years with the ATA, she flew 38 different types of aircraft, among them the Spitfire, Mustang, Typhoon and the Wellington bomber."

The rest of the obituary may be found here.

There are and were so many unknown female flyers. Most people may have heard of Amelia Earhart. Some might have heard of Amy Johnson. I know my friend Emily's mother Carla. However, the only way interest in their lives might be engendered is if a major tv network created a smash hit series based on their lives. Any takers?

Brisfully Unaware


The concept of circumcision for an 8-day-old Jewish boy is thousands of years old. Fathers may faint and mothers may cry, but it is an unquestioned ritual at the traditional end of the spectrum of Jewish observance. It is a day of joy and celebration.

However ... I have never seen it celebrated in quite such a ridiculous way. Thus, words fail me.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Nose (The Hours)


The movie "The Hours" is on tv at the moment. I am trying, again, to watch what is supposed to be a wonderful film. Nicole Kidman got an Oscar for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in this movie. But whenever she is onscreen, all I can do is try and see if I can recognise Nicole behind the prosthetic nose and the prosthetic accent. Mostly the nose, though. And then I see Julianne Moore and how small her nose is. And then Miranda Richardson appears and her nose is even tinier. I guess it's easier to obsess about the nose rather than think about how sad they all are.

Back to the nose ...


Road to Nowhere

Michael Winner writes a weekly column in the Sunday Times called "Winner's Dinners". This was the beginning of today's column:

"I hate Baker Street. It's a nothing street that starts near Oxford Street (another horror), goes in a straight line north, leads you one way or another to St John's Wood (don't like that either) and then goes on through Hertfordshire (nice), the north (strange) and Scotland (adorable) and ends up at the North Pole. I suppose, if it had the energy, Baker Street would carry on down the other side of the planet and go to the South Pole."

I don't know that I necessarily HATE Baker Street. After all, without it, my father would never have been able to become one of Holmes' Baker Street Irregulars. But it's defo a nothing street. A one-way road to nowhere. Can you tell me any of the businesses and enterprises that abut the tarmac full of double decker buses and taxis? Apart from the food chains and phone shops?
In the end, its reputation rests only on a fictional detective and a 1978 single by the late Gerry Rafferty. Am afraid I shall have to agree with Mr. W. Don't tell!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Triumph and Defeat


There's something about tennis ... it's a sport, a game, a pastime that can enrich one's life by engendering good health and fun. It can also be quite enjoyable on tv, especially when it is televised against the Jubilee weekend!

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the French #1 played yesterday against Novak Djokovic, the World #1 in the quarter-final of the French Open tournament at Roland Garros in Paris. The ups and downs of this match were quite heart-rendering (as the Omi of ravaj used to say). Tsonga didn't show up for the first set, and was trounced 1-6. Then somehow he clawed his way into a 2 sets to 1 lead. In the fourth set he had several match points, but couldn't put them away. And he lost the tie-break.


Djokovic was incredibly tough. The nearer to defeat he got, the harder he played. And it broke the will of Tsonga. He crumbled in the final set.

What I find so fascinating about this sport is the influence the mental state of the players ultimately has on the result. They are physically so fit and so talented and so experienced. What often tips the balance between losing and winning is their mental toughness. And that is what Djokovic had. At the start of the match I was rooting for the fairytale of the Frenchman in Paris. I decided that Djokovic was growing a goatee to hide his unfortunate resemblance to President Assad of Syria. But Novak won me over. It was mostly the power of his will to win. However, the piece de resistance was that in the middle of his struggle, he was able to applaud when his opponent beat him with a superior shot. More than once. There's nothing I love more than a good sport!


So bad luck Monsieur Tsonga, and well done Mr Djokovic. I hope you go on to make a proper Grand Slam.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

King Bee or not King Bee


Adam Gopnik on the BBC website has pointed out that Shakespeare thought the bee in charge of the hive was a gentleman bee. He cites Henry V I:2

"For so work the honey-bees,
Creatures that by a rule in nature teach
The act of order to a peopled kingdom.
They have a king and officers of sorts;
Where some, like magistrates, correct at home,
Others, like merchants, venture trade abroad,
Others, like soldiers, armed in their stings,
Make boot upon the summer's velvet buds;
Which pillage they with merry march bring home
To the tent-royal of their emperor:
Who, busied in his majesty, surveys
The singing masons building roofs of gold,
The civil citizens kneading up the honey,
The poor mechanic porters crowding in
Their heavy burdens at his narrow gate,
The sad-eyed justice, with his surly hum,
Delivering o'er to executors pale
The lazy yawning drone."


He then very kindly did some Googling for us so we didn't have to:

"the bee sex confusion goes back at least to Aristotle, and was only solved in the late 17th Century, when Swammerdam found that the king was, so to speak, cross-dressing and really had ovaries."


For more details, the rest of the article is here.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Moving Right Along


Saw these lovely poppies in someone's front garden on the way to services yesterday evening. No camera can catch how deeply bloody red they were. What Jubilee weekend?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jubilee Ambivalence


Ok it's hot outside and my dna prefers a Siberian climate so I may be a bit grumpy. However, I am not looking forward with any great interest to the upcoming celebratory extra-long weekend of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Don't get me wrong - having been part of the jubilation for my Aunt Dorrit last year on the occasion of her 60th year as a teacher at Lawrence University, I am all for the appreciation of the work of a lifetime. I think the Queen has done her job well. I am just wary of the jingoism such an event engenders. And I don't get the concept of a ruler by birth. So I shall enjoy the extra holiday. I will watch some of the pageantry on TV. And I shall try not to eat too much!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cygnets in Spring

Signs that Spring is somewhere around as seen yesterday on the river by the marquee near Romsey where the ravaj conducted her first Wedding Blessing.

FYI Romsey turned out to have some interesting historical connections. The most interesting to me, and to the taxi driver who took me to the station, is Florence Nightingale, who was buried in a nearby church. My driver was quite passionate about the fact that Nightingale is not given the kudos she deserves in her own country. He told me that at the station he often picks up nurses from all over the world who have travelled there only to visit the church and pay homage to their mentor.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Love Your Neighbour As Yourself


“The late Rabbi Albert Friedlander impressed upon me the importance of the biblical commandment “Love your neighbour as yourself.” I had always concentrated on the first part of that injunction, but Albert taught me that if you cannot love yourself, you cannot love other people either. He had grown up in Nazi Germany and as a child was bewildered and distressed by the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda that assailed him on all sides. One night, when he was almost eight years old, he deliberately lay awake and made a list of all his good qualities. He told himself firmly that he was not what the Nazi’s said; that he had talents and special gifts of heart and mind, which he enumerated to himself one by one. Finally he vowed that if he survived, he would use those qualities to build a better world. This was an extraordinary insight for a child in such circumstances. Albert was one of the kindest people I have ever met; he was almost pathologically gentle, and must have brought help and counsel to thousands. But he always said that he could have done no good at all unless he had learned, at that terrible moment of history to love himself.”

From “12 Steps to a Compassionate Life” by Karen Armstrong

Monday, May 14, 2012

Angelica Garnett R.I.P.

Creativity and decadence are lovely to live vicariously, but the life of Angelica Garnett sounds utterly dreadful. Her obituary in the Telegraph is introduced thus:


"Angelica Garnett, the artist and writer, who has died aged 93, was the daughter of Vanessa Bell and niece of Virginia Woolf, and within the Bloomsbury soap opera of high art and serial bed-hopping had the misfortune to be given one of the most gripping storylines."


Read it for yourself right here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The R's are Staying Up


That was the most unbelievable 90 minutes of football across the country. Up, down; hope, despair and back to hope; joy, misery, confusion and finally joy because by the skin of the teeth of Bolton Wanderers who could only draw with Stoke, my beloved QPR are safe from relegation and will again be playing with the big boys next season. Feel quite sick and heart still pounding but it's ok.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Out4Marriage

There's a bit of a media blitz on today as Out4Marriage really gets going. Am proud I was invited to help kick it off with my vid about equality for marriage. Other religious leaders are joining in, and you can see their vids here. Once you've had a look, why not make one of your own?

My Heart Belongs to Daddy


Rabbi Albert H Friedlander z"l

85 isn't so old these days. If my father were alive, he would be 85 today. So would his brother Charles. Sadly neither of them are with us any more. There is some comfort in knowing that he was loved and is remembered by many people across the world. Would rather be able to give him a birthday kiss.

So I looked online to see who else shares this day as a birthday and found the following:

Rabbis Kaufmann Kohler and Joachim Prinz

Athletes Dennis Bergkamp (interviewed by the lovely David Winner), Jonathan Edwards and Merlene Ottey.

Bad guys John Wilkes Booth and Mark David Chapman (Rick Santorum is not as bad as them but does share the birthday)

Music heroes Sid Vicious, DonovanMax Steiner and Bono

not to forget Thomas LiptonKarl BarthFred AstaireMilton Babbitt and Maureen Lipman.

There are loads more, but I'm supposed to be working ;-)

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Maurice Sendak R.I.P.


Many people will no doubt express their sadness at the news just in that the writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak has died. It is always sad when a creative talent leaves our world. Read, however, his point of view as reported in the Times last year:
"On the sun-dappled road, Sendak’s mood is far from bucolic. “I think the whole world stinks: everything is decaying, the lack of culture depresses me most. I’m happy that my career is over and I can do what I like. I don’t want to be part of anything. I like where I live, what I read; I’m still doing my books, people are still purchasing them.” Is he happy? “Who’s happy? What does that mean? Of course I’m not, I’ve nothing to be happy about. I can’t complain about my life, I’m just a little bit nervous about how it’s going to end.” Does he think about dying? “Constantly, constantly. It’s time to go, it’s time to get the f*** out — it really is — but look how pretty it is here.”

His family and friends have died (only his sister Natalie lived beyond 83). “I’m old enough to die. I despise religion in all forms, so I have no hope of an afterlife. If I saw my mother and father again, I think I’d kill myself.” We both laugh at the idea of killing yourself when you’re dead. “I will be nothing and nowhere, and that will be such a relief. To be something and somewhere is very tiring: the good times are so few.” However, Sendak has found depression “an awful waste of time” and alleviated it by reading, walking and listening to music (Mozart, Haydn and Gluck are favourites)."

If you have a subscription to the Times, you may read the whole article here. We will miss him. I hope he's surprised by what happens next!

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Cisse scores for QPR vs Stoke City

A French Perspective on the Election


Under the headline of "Présidentielles : surprise ! c'est (encore) un homme !", mes amies at Le Blog d'une Chienne de Garde demonstrate their excitement at the news that Carla Bruni is rumoured to be on a flight to Los Angeles since her husband just lost the French Presidential election.

What? A translation? Hmmmmm ... the quote is something like "I'm not born a feminist, I am becoming one". As for what the testicles are saying, the Babylon translator online suggests "with the hair to the tabs and all" but I suspect that is not quite what the artist wishes to suggest. The headline, with my A for O-level French, I can reliably tell you it says, "Presidentially:  Surprise! It's (once more) a man!"

O well. Let's reserve judgment on the new Socialist President-elect of France:  Francois Hollande!

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Novel Plot

I had never heard of Christine Brooke-Rose, but upon reading her obit I was amused by this description of the plot of her novel Xorandor:

" Xorandor, for example, concerns a sort of sentient silicon pebble which overdoses on Caesium, becomes convinced it is Lady Macbeth and threatens to destroy the world. The work is narrated in the form of an invented technological slang dialogue between a pair of twins and their computer."

The full obituary may be read here.

Rain Rain Go Away


After much of the country having been put on drought warning, we appear to have had a month's rain in a few days. That may explain why I opened my front door the other day to see the above view.

Reminded me of Make Way for Ducklings, a book from my childhood over which my sister and I fought for ownership as adults.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

There's a hole in my sock



Memories. They keep coming back to you like ... memories. (For those of you who may remember her, thanks to the Chicken Lady from the Kids in the Hall for that quote)

This morning I put my heel through a sock while dressing. It's a simple sock - a white ankle sock with a small navy Nike flash around the top. I should just bin it. The problem is, this pair of socks is the only tangible souvenir I have of a brief encounter when I turned forty and went mad for a few months.

After 5 years as a rabbi in the Shenandoah Valley I was lonely. I'd been offered a new contract, but turned it down. Put my stuff in storage, and got a mobile phone. With no plans in mind, I accepted a High Holyday gig in Seattle, and decided to drive there from Virginia. I earned $1800, and kept on driving until it ran out.

It was in San Jose that I met her. Mutual friends invited us out to dinner. She was a cantor, and we bonded through the music of Kurt Weill. We went home together, and I didn't leave the flat for 3 days. Then it was time to go, and I got back in my car and headed East.

That's what I remember. Except for the bits I couldn't possibly write down. The memory may be inaccurate, fraying at the edges during the past nine years; tidied up a bit for brevity or clarity. All that is certain is that she gave me this pair of socks. They were still in a plastic wrapper, and she did not want them washed and returned. I don't remember why I needed them. I just know that each time I put them on I think of her for a moment, and smile.

There's a hole in the heel of one of my socks. I don't want to throw it away although I should. I'm wearing it right now, and I'm smiling.

Friday, April 06, 2012

An Orange on the Seder Plate



Taking part in this year's campaign by Nashot HaKotel aka Women of the Wall. It must be at least 25 years since the first feminists added an orange to the symbols on the Seder plate. WoW asked us to photograph ourselves with an orange upon which was written one's name and current location. So here I am (wearing the QPR Dennis the Menace shirt just after returning from the Arsenal game).

So why an orange? The story is circulating that Susannah Heschel (daughter of the great rabbi Abraham Joshua H) once asked an orthodox rabbi when he thought women would be allowed to stand on the bima and lead the community in worship. His supposed reply was that it had as much chance of happening as there was of bread being placed on a Seder plate. Turns out that this is not what actually happened. According to Heschel herself, the issue was solidarity with Jewish lesbians, and since one should not put bread on the Seder plate, she decided that an orange should be used instead. The full details may be found here.

Today, in solidarity with LGBTQ people, women, and anyone marginalised and suffering from prejudice, we maintain this custom.

Passover Greetings



Our Seder is almost ready to go. Just waiting for one more guest (apart from Elijah). As we read and discuss our ancestors' journey from slavery to freedom, I hope to work hard in the coming year for those in our world who are still enslaved.

Wishing peace and joy to all. Chag sameach!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Happy Happy Happy


Adel Taarabt's impromptu Tommy Cooper impersonation last Saturday vs Arsenal

And to think that my fear of utter humiliation by an Arsenal team on a 7-win streak almost led me to call Chris and ask him to find another buyer for his ticket! Luckily I did not, and was present for a stunning 2-1 victory.

It's impossible to describe the utter exhilaration of the nanosecond after your team has scored a goal. All I can say is that I was so energised that I was able to run up all the stairs at the Metropolitan line station to catch the train and not even feel out of breath!

And so the dance of hope continues. One week salvation seems quite possible , and the next relegation is imminent. Baseball season has started, but it's just not quite the same.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Sad Sad Sad


That's QPR for you. They pull off an incredible comeback from 0-2 vs Liverpool to win in injury time and rekindle hope that it is still possible to avoid the drop. And then ... and then they crumble at the Stadium of Light and crush our hearts once more. And bloody Cisse gets sent off again. I think he has now been banned from more games than he has actually played for us. We are so relegated. Yet I still have shelled out for a ticket to see the Arsenal next week. What is my problem?!

Hi Lo Armani Lining


WARNING - OLDIE RANT ALERT

I have been spoiled in the past by having a ten yard commute from my bedroom to the office. Karma is coming back to me though, as these days I must take the Northern Line tube trains to get to work. Until now, I had thought that the Manhattan underground during rush-hour was the ultimate in sardine subway experiences. No longer is that so. In the past few weeks I have been in more intimate contact with utter strangers than with people I have dated. Since I am armpit height, I have conducted an involuntary survey on the efficacy of the use of underarm deodorants. And I have developed a strong dislike of the current fashion for women to have long hair that flows freely around their shoulders, particularly if they have a tic that means they flick their hair every few seconds. Someone's going to lose an eye one of these days!

Today, however, for some strange reason (and those who know me will know how strange this is), the issue that enraged me was younger men and their pants. There are those who currently enjoy going without whilst wearing trackie bottoms. Please don't! There's nothing more unsavoury than being crushed against unrestrained dangly bits from Finchley Central to Warren Street. As for those who are kind enough to don a pair, I am most grateful. However, I have no need for visual proof of this fact. I'm happy to trust you to get dressed properly before you leave your home. And I'm really not impressed by the label on the waistband.

Actually, I was thinking about why this bothers me so much. It's a toss-up between the anxiety engendered by worrying if your trousers will fall down at any moment, and envy that you seem to be able to keep your trousers up despite having absolutely no hips whatsoever.

In the end, if the research in the picture below is accurate, I don't understand why you'd want to do it in the first place.


Monday, March 05, 2012

Way to go, Lionel!

In the recent Sunday Telegraph, Cardinal Keith O'Brien stated his case against same-sex marriage. Amongst other things, he said:

"Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child. It would create a society which deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father."

If you must read the rest of his article, it may be found here


Meanwhile, Lionel was invited onto the Today show this morning on Radio 4, along with the Cardinal. As reported by The Week:

"The cardinal described the plans as 'grotesque' and said they would 'shame the United Kingdom'. Likening gay marriage to slavery, he told John Humphrys the move would be 'violating human rights' and lead to society 'degenerating even further ... into immorality'.

Moments later Rabbi Lionel Blue read out his Thought for the Day, in which he told a humorous tale about 'loving couples' walking in London in the springtime.

""A gay couple arm-in-arm walk behind a young man and his girl", he said. "Suddenly the boy and girl have a flaming row and one of the gay couple remarks sadly to his partner: 'That is what comes of mixed marriage.'""

The rest of that article may be found here. We love you, Lionel.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Keshet UK "It Gets Better" Video Now Online



The full length Keshet UK vid is now up on YouTube. Please share it anywhere you think it may be helpful! Pink News wrote it up very nicely here!

Monday, February 13, 2012

More Coverage from the UK Jewish Press

This week's links from Jewish newspapers in the UK and Pink News:

Joe Wolfson, an Orthodox rabbinical student currently studying in Jerusalem, writes about "the gay dilemma that confronts Orthodoxy". in the JC

Jessica Elgot responds to Doreen Wachmann's article in the JT here.

The JC reports on the KeshetUK 'It Gets Better' vids, concentrating on those made by former JFS students here

Ms. Elgot also highlights Benjamin Cohen's video here

Comment by Benjamin Cohen in the JC re "Why am I broadcasting this positive message?"

In New York, R. Yehuda Levin says "cure gays with chemicals" Stephen Gray of Pink News writes a response (and it may contain a quote from the ravaj).

Meanwhile, just found this older article in the JC from last October by the Masorti rabbi Jeremy Gordon discussing "why gay sex is not immoral"

Take care, and as Dave Allen used to say at the end of his show, may your god go with you!


Monday, February 06, 2012

The Story Continues

In the interests of the community, and to gather together for myself for reference, here are more links in the continuing story of being LGBT and Jewish in the UK:

The JC reported on the refusal of JFS to meet with ex-pupils to discuss their concerns about homophobia at the school.

The newspaper also noted the intent of KeshetUK to present education packs to JFS as part of LGBT History month.

in the JC Gemma Hersh writes "I'm gay, but I want a Jewish life"

via Pink News Chaim Levin writes about his terrible experience of "reparative" therapy.

also in Pink News, Orthodox rabbi Yitzchak Schochet tells us that everyone is welcome

Meanwhile, an added wrinkle just appeared, with a column in the Jewish Telegraph by Doreen Wachmann, suggesting that homosexuality is a disease that can be cured.

Pink News published a response by, among others, my colleague Rabbi Mark Solomon.

Finally, if my previous blog post did not persuade you, you might still use this link to look at some KeshetUK vids supporting LGBT Youth!

It Gets Better!

My friends and I at KeshetUK spent most of yesterday filming and editing some vids to add to the collection under the banner of 'It Gets Better'. We were talking specifically to LGBT Jews, but I do hope the message speaks to many more. Here is my contribution:


Have a look at the others too ... and more will be uploaded as we receive them. It really does get better!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

One Week Later - JFS Update

There were rumours yesterday that the Jewish Free School was going to make a statement with regard to the story in the Jewish Chronicle last week discussing the way homosexuality is referred to in Jewish Studies lessons at the school. Nothing has yet been released.

Meanwhile, here are the latest links to the JC's follow-up stories:

In this leader, the newspaper suggests that the school is bandying semantics. A couple of hours later, the JC online posted a story that refers to the letters written to the school by Alma Smith and Dalia Fleming. You may find it here. Keshet UK is mentioned!

And so we wait to see what happens next.

Monday, January 23, 2012

O Akos, My Akos


Buzsaky is back. Here he is celebrating a stunning goal scored against Wigan at the weekend. He looks rather happy. Not as delighted as we were. Much singing of his special song - 'The White Pele'.

The Jewish Free School

Since early last week, there has been a lot of attention paid to a particular Jewish Studies lesson taught at the Jewish Free School (JFS) with regard to a reference allegedly made to an American organisation called JONAH aka Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (possibly now changed to 'Healing' rather than 'Homosexuality').

The furore began with a front page article in the Jewish Chronicle, that suggested the school might be teaching that homosexuality can be 'cured'.
Read it here

Keshet UK - the LGBT Jewish Forum put out a press release
Read it here

Pink News, an online lgbt website followed the JC, including a response from the headmaster of the school.
Read it here

The London Evening Standard picked up on these stories and printed their version.
Read it here

Meanwhile, the Progressive Jewish movement spokespeople began to express their positions:

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner spoke on behalf of the Movement for Reform Judaism.
Read it here

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein spoke on behalf of the Rabbinic Conference of Liberal Judaism.
Read it here

Other initial responses included:
Adam Wagner on Cartoon Kippah (here)
Dalia Fleming, a former JFS student, responded here. She also writes about her experience here.
The LJY-Netzer weekly Chinuch article
letter from former head girl Alma Smith

Not having been in the lesson myself, I cannot comment on the details of what happened. However, if just one student came out of that lesson feeling confused and unsafe, then I must do all I can to support him/her in working with the school to change that atmosphere.

JFS does not deny making a reference to JONAH. If only they had been prepared to say ooooops we should have researched this organisation properly before including it in the curriculum, then there probably would not have been a story at all. In any case, rather than focussing on one particular occurrence,the question now is how to go forward, to make sure that the entire culture of the school may be developed to create a safe space for our LGBT students.

UPDATE Here is a link to a current Orthodox Jewish perspective from North America on homosexuality.


Thursday, January 05, 2012

One That Got Away

Communication misunderstandings meant that I wrote a short piece for this week's LJ Bulletin to cover a gap that did not exist. So here it is, my secular new year's offering to you:


Parshat VaYechi

“and he blessed Joseph and said, “May God, before whom my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, walked, God who sustained me as long as I am alive until this day; may the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless the youths, and may they be called by my name and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac” ... so he blessed them on that day saying, “with you Israel will bless, saying, may God make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh.’” (Gen. 48:15-16, 20)

The final portion of the book of Genesis begins with the last days of the patriarch Jacob, and concludes with the death of his favourite son, Joseph. Before he leaves this world, Jacob blesses his sons, and also the sons of Joseph. We take particular interest in the blessing of the grandchildren, since it is traditional for parents to make such a blessing at the beginning of Shabbat. And if you are wondering what virtue Ephraim and Manasseh might have had that could supersede the righteousness of their eminent ancestors, please note that they were the first set of Jewish brothers that did not fight with each other!

Eighteen years ago, I was assigned this portion for my Senior Sermon at rabbinical school. Now, as then, my eyes turn not towards the happy children being blessed by loving parents.  We need not worry about such fortunate families. Rather, I see empty places at a Shabbat table. Then, I spoke of the pain felt by would-be parents who had been cursed by infertility and were thus unable to fill the seats with daughters and sons. I learned how this yearning goes back to the beginning of our history, where Israel’s wife Rachel pleads with God to give her a child or else she will die. Then I sat sadly in the synagogue, wondering what to do with my empty hands while parents were invited to bless “their” children. And I studied the sensitive response of the sages, who taught that nurture is surely superior to nature, e.g., “One who teaches a child Torah, it is as if one had created that child” (Talmud Sanhedrin 19b).

Rachel’s prayer was answered, but it is not always possible to grow children oneself. However, Sanhedrin 19b also refers to the five sons of Michal mentioned in the second book of Samuel. The Gemara notes that Michal (the wife of King David) never gave birth, and concludes that although Michal’s sister Meirav was the biological mother of these children, since Michal raised them, they were considered hers. Now, as then, adoption is considered a viable option for those who cannot take the usual route towards parenthood.

If one is able to overcome the genetic demand of the ego to leave some physical presence on the earth, there are so many children today in need of a loving home. Statistics from March 2011 show that in England there were 65,520 children in care of their local authorities. 74% had places in foster homes. 71% were aged between 1 and 4 years old, and 72% were taken from their families of origin because of abuse or neglect. Of these children, 3,050 were adopted. That is 4.7% who found at least one parent able to offer them a home. That is a shockingly low number.

Some rabbis now invite the entire congregation to join in the blessing of the children of the community, and in that moment my hands and heart are full. But the Shabbat chairs are still waiting. There are not that many cute, healthy, blank, unwanted newborn babies ready to be imprinted with our hopes and ideals. There ARE thousands of young children, somewhat injured by their experiences so far, yearning for a chance of family life. What can we do for them?

Jacob’s final act is to bless his children. He understands that a blessing cannot create potential that does not already exist. It can, however, help existing potential to materialise. Who knows what currently lies dormant in these children? We may not be able to adopt them ourselves, but they are part of our community. I believe we have a duty to find a blessing for each and every one of them, so they too may become like Ephraim and Manasseh, both loving and loved.

Statistics taken from www.adoptionuk.org and www.baaf.org.uk