Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Quenelle

Footballer Nicolas Anelka is at the centre of a row today for making the gesture shown above after scoring a goal for West Bromwich Albion. It is called "the quenelle", and is best-known as the trademark of a French comedian called Dieudonné M'Bala M'Bala. Anelka says that he made the quenelle in tribute to his friendship with Dieudonné. However, there are many in France who consider this gesture to be anti-Semitic, rather than anti-Zionist, as claimed by Dieudonné. The comedian has reportedly been convicted several times for anti-Semitic remarks, and the Independent article I just read portrays him as a man who:

"has transformed himself over the past decade from a talented comedian and campaigner against the far right to a talented comedian and purveyor of anti-Semitic remarks and conspiracy theories."

The rest of the article may be found here.

The French Interior Minister is now considering whether or not to ban this man from performing in public. Meanwhile, vigilante groups of young Jews have been arrested in Lyon for reacting violently to perceived use of the quenelle.

other links connected to this story:

Hope Not Hate - profile of Dieudonné by a blogger who is not sympathetic to his cause

Metro - shows a tweet by Anelka using a photo of Obama doing what Anelka claims is the quenelle

The Guardian suggests there may be a ban on Anelka in response to his quenelle. NB  this article notes that while Mamadou Sakho of Liverpool has also made the gesture, he claims that he was tricked and did not know what it meant!

The Telegraph leads with the French Sports Minister publishing a statement that this gesture was an "incitation to racial hatred and sickening."

Of course there are questions here about the boundaries between free speech and hate speech. My first question, however, is what was Anelka thinking? Surely he knew there would be a response. What, then, was behind his decision to make such a gesture?

(Just saw this by Philippe Auclair in the Mirror - casting much doubt on any claims of innocence by Anelka)

O, and I found the photograph of French soldiers supposedly on anti-terrorist duty & making the quenelle. Look where they appear to be standing. Could this be a genuine photograph?

31/12/13 Update

Dieudonne is reported as praising Anelka via Sky News

Official statement from West Bromwich Albion Football Club noting Anelka's agreement not to perform another quenelle in celebration of a goal for the team.

3/1/14 Postscript

Nothing from the Football Association re a ban ... yet ... we can only hope. Meanwhile, the Times Leader ends with

"Anelka has brought disgrace to himself and his club, which showed itself incapable of understanding the obligations of its players. By its dilatoriness and insouciance, the Football Association has compounded this offence against decency."

if you have a subscription, you can read the whole leader here.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bunny Ears Update

Vindication for Manu Tuilagi? Cousin Peter gives Wills some bunny ears in front of the world's press photographers ... perhaps it's only a joke after all.

In other news:

1. thousands of people dying in violence in South Sudan
2. The Pope urges humanitarian aid for Syria
3. Newly-released Pussy Riot member calls for boycott of Sochi Olympics next month
4. the history of prejudice against Roma and its perpetuation
5. the Guardian's view on Nigella and legal practices

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Rodent of the Match

It's entirely possible that my beloved R's did not play well enough to win their game today. But what can you say about a referee who stops a game for 5 minutes because of a squirrel on the pitch? Unfortunately, the creature turned out to be our best player.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A Little Something for the R's Among Us

There's nothing like a cold winter night and a bad referee to get one shouting and to work out any emotional issues that may be clogging the pores. The little corner of Loftus Road that currently belongs to me was thus a source of loud derision for 95 minutes this evening. That experience plus a 3-0 win was most healing.

This was a view from my seat early in the second half. Strangely enough, while it is too dark to be able to take decent action photographs and get anyone and/or the ball in focus, videography seems to work quite well. The main problem is having enough memory on the card to catch the vital moment. I was lucky tonight and just made it.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dorrit F Friedlander z"l

Our hearts are full of sadness, but our incredible aunt Dorrit F Friedlander is in pain no more. The obituary that we posted said:

"Dorrit F Friedlander 88, of Appleton passed away at her home on Thursday, November 14, 2013 surrounded by love. She was born in Berlin, Germany on June 11, 1925 to Alex and Sali Friedlander. Dorrit was a beloved aunt, friend and teacher, and sister to Albert z"l and Charles z"l. She is survived by her nieces Rabbi Ariel J Friedlander (Liora) of London, Michal S Friedlander (Daniel) of Berlin and Noam I A Friedlander of Los Angeles; great-niece Orlia Friedlander Ben Hur; sisters-in-law Evelyn Friedlander and Tressie Friedlander; nephew Mark Friedlander and great-nephew Chase Sanderford; cousins: Miriam Baruch and family; Steven Kilston, Vera, Lyra and Rigel; foster cousin Bernard Danzig, and Hermann Balaban.

A funeral will be held on Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 11:00 am at Brettschneider Trettin Nickel Funeral Chapel. Friends may visit the family from 10 am Sunday until the time of service. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Dorrit Friedlander Scholarship Fund at Lawrence University. With gratitude for the wonderful care and support given by dear friends and the staff at Rennes Rehab Center."

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The One Where the ravaj Becomes an Artefact

Imagine that this photo was a (rectangular) piece of Battenberg cake. Now look at the top right-hand quarter of the cake. It's a bit hard to see cos they are so tiny, but about two-thirds of the way down there are 5 framed objects in a row displayed on the wooden case. The one furthest to the right is a photograph of rav aj, and the 3 pics to the left of it are also connected with my #FourFourJew story. I am still in Wisconsin, but if you'd like a closer look at this, and the cool Glasgow Celtic tallit in the case in the front, please feel free to pop over to Camden and have a closer look :-)

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Four Four Jew & the Ravaj too

Four Four Jew from Four Four Jew on Vimeo.

Unfortunately I cannot be in London on Wednesday to witness in person the excitement of the opening of the Jewish Museum's latest exhibition Four Four Jew. Possibly you may also be unable to attend. Don't let that stop you checking it out during the rest of its run. That's what I'm going to do :-)

NB 00:38

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Record Breakers

QPR keeper Rob Green is the main focus of the record his team broke today - 8 consecutive games without conceding a goal. The previous record was set in 1967, when the goalie was Peter Springett. Let the Brent & Kilburn Times tell the story.

The ravaj could get used to these winning ways. Today QPR players were kind enough to save the goalscoring until the second half when they were facing the Loft (where the home supporters sit). And Charlie Austin, despite my feeble taunts of "he scores one in ten shots" (well I just didn't agree with the Loft chant of "he scores when he wants" because he patently does not), celebrated his two goals (including another penalty kick) just about in front of us:

Here we see Joey Barton blessing the boot that kicked the ball so successfully. Apologies for the lack of focus - I was holding the camera above the heads of joyous dancing fans (and possibly swaying a little bit with joy myself). O what the heck, joy all around - here's Charlie jumping for joy after his second goal:

Congratulations gentlemen. Thanks for cheering me up at a difficult time. See you at the Burnley game. #COYRS

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Women of the Wall Update

Press release from the Women of the Wall in Israel:

"October 2, 2013

Women of the Wall's First Prayer of 5774, Torah Damaged by Inadequate Storage at Robinson's Arch

Women of the wall will pray in the women's section of the Western Wall on Friday Oct 4, 2013, for their monthly Rosh Hodesh service. We expect over one-hundred women to join the prayer for the new month of Heshvan. The Torah scroll will again be missing from the women's prayer at the Kotel. The Women of the Wall Torah - banned from the Kotel since Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz's 2010 ordinance - was found with major damage from dampness and mold due to the inadequate facilities at Robinson's Arch where the women were forced to store the Torah. The Torah is being carefully cleaned and fixed by the leading authorities in Torah scroll repair and maintenance. Such repair will likely cost the Women of the Wall non-profit organization 8000 NIS, as this type of damage is not covered by insurance. Rabinoqitz's discrimination against women's prayers and the lack of an appropriate immediate government response in the matter has caused damage to a Torah scroll, an escalation from the previous blatant disrespect, shown by Rabinowitz and haredi protesters, of Jewish ritual items, including siddurim, prayer shawls and tefillin."

To find out more, the WoTW website is here. This may not seem like a major issue about which to care, but bear in mind that ignoring something when it is minor gives it the chance to develop into something major. Whether it is women's prayer in a corner of Jerusalem, or something else that has meaning for you, please get involved as soon as possible so that changes may be made before it is too late.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Uncertainty and Joy

Behold Charlie Austin scoring the first goal for QPR last Saturday against Middlesborough from the penalty spot. The game ended 2-0 and QPR remain in first position of the Championship. We have equalled a record for consecutive clean sheets (er, if you are a footy novice and still actually reading this then a 'clean sheet' is a euphemism for not letting any goals in during a game :-)  ), and continue to succeed while appearing to still have much potential yet to be fulfilled. Hurrah! Yet, especially after the dire experience of last season when we played so badly and lost so often, I am finding it difficult to enjoy the current achievements. Except for this moment:

which was quite enjoyable, I spend the rest of the time waiting for our opponents to take advantage of our myriad mistakes. I am afraid to jinx it all by believing in it. I'm afraid of feeling foolish and humiliated when it all goes pear-shaped.


And yet every fan will know and understand this anxiety. Now pardon me while I go fold my lucky shirt that won't be washed again until we lose ...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bunny Ears

Manu Tuilagi has announced that he will be writing formally to the UK Prime Minister David Cameron to apologise for making bunny ears during a photo op with the triumphant British Lions rugby team outside Number 10.

It seems to have caused a lot of fuss, or at least attracted the attention of those newspapers that look to entertain rather than inform. I think it's a pretty harmless and utterly daft prank, and must admit that there is a daft part of me that did enjoy seeing the photograph.

If one must make more of the situation, then I might agree with the former England rugby player Brian Moore (and U of Nottingham alum) when he tweeted:

"Tuilagi, if he'd unveiled a banner saying "Why is primary school sport funding being cut in 2 years time?" I'd have been impressed."

If one wishes to make more of a situation and use one's powers for good, then that would make sense. Of course, this was just a spur-of-the-moment thing and luckily for Mr Tuilagi the PM has graciously tweeted his forgiveness.

Meanwhile, in other news:

1. Syria tells Russia it has proof that rebels have chemical weapons
2. How mercury is poisoning gold-miners
3. The truth about life on the breadline in the UK (Jack Monroe blogs)
4. Hong Kong's Chief Imam celebrates openness to multi-ethnic worshippers

and finally, sort of back to where we started ...

5. Yes, David Cameron, 'Yid' really is a race-hate word. Here's why:


Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Frabjous Day

This is a picture of Kevin Hitchcock, the QPR goalkeeping coach, hugging his son Tom after the QPR match today against Ipswich. Tom made thousands of people very happy and his daddy very proud. After 89 minutes of a football match where QPR did everything but score, he came on as a substitute for his very first appearance in a QPR shirt and tapped in the rebound from another chance Charlie Austin could not convert. Scoring on your debut. Scoring the winner. One of those dreams-coming-true moments. One of those incredible highs for a fan that justifies sitting through hours of impotence and frustration. That's why I love football.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

10 Favourite Books on my Shelf

As the shelves in my study finally begin to be ordered, I thought about which books I would keep if I were only allowed to have ten of them. These are the ones that I treasure the most today:

1. Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs

I have just about everything that I could find by Raymond Briggs from his Mother Goose treasury to his magnificent anti-Thatcher tirade "The Tin Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman". Fungus, however, is my favourite, combining my loves of graphic storytelling and existentialist despair. He always cheers me up. Plus, my paperback edition is autographed. I forced poor 7-year-old Noam to queue with me for ages at the Puffin Club Exhibition at the Commonwealth Institute to collect the inscription.

2. Penguin Modern Poets:  The Mersey Sound

Except for readings by family friends, these guys are the only poets I've gone to listen to voluntarily. My copy of this edition is also autographed by all three after a gig somewhere near the River Thames, or maybe it was just that I was also keeping an ear on the Boat Race via a pocket radio during the poetry reading rather than we were actually near the river. I know we were in central London, and I went with Sophie Manham. Anyway, it's a battered old paperback but they wrote in it and I like reading it.

No autographs here. Just a cool book that still comes to mind each time I visit a museum and wonder where I'd hide and what I'd do once everyone else had gone home and I had the place to myself. Maybe my niece the daughter of a museum curator will find it on my shelf one day and enjoy it like I do.

4. Hannah Senesh:  Her Life and Diary

It was a choice between this and Anne Frank's diary. Anne is more famous. She is more innocent, more universal, more optimistic; more most things perhaps. Hannah was only 23 when she was executed, not that much older than Anne. Yet she seemed more grown-up to me, and her bravery was more dramatic. That was the appeal of the book itself. In terms of volumes I treasure, however, I choose this because it was always hard to find and the copy that I have is a precious gift from my other sister that reminds me of a time when we were closer to each other.

Next to the Tanach, to which by virtue of my current profession I refer to constantly, I probably quote the five books of this trilogy more than any other writings I have read. And when I've read this and laughed and felt better, I'm hopeful again.

6.  The Education of Hyman Kaplan by Leonard Q Ross aka Leo Rosten

With this book I have wooed those friends of mine for whom English is a second language. I love to read it aloud to them. And it makes me laugh too. What better way to spend a little time?

If you have strong wrists and an earlier, lighter edition; this is the all-time perfect book for the bathroom. Also useful if you keep forgetting what it means to be hoist on your own petard.

Having grown up in the UK I take the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood very seriously (I still haven't forgiven Kevin Costner for Prince of Thieves). Don't mess with my legends. Unless you are Mark Twain, and put Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table on bicycles.

9.  The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry

I don't know what it was like in other countries and for other generations, but the romantic heroes of my childhood as I was taught in school came from the lost generation of the First World War - those who died, and those who lived but were forever damaged by their experiences. I preferred Wilfred Owen and my sister went for Rupert Brooke, but we all still cry at the sight of poppy petals falling in November.

10.  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Apparently the fact that this book had a female protagonist in a sci-fi genre was the reason for its initial rejection and of course exactly the reason why I went for it. Anne ShirleyKaty Carr or Jo March but science fiction! Also, I fell in love with the character Aunt Beast. Back then I wished she were my mother. Now I'd like to be more like her.

This list took quite a while to put together. As I review it I think, o no, what about

how could I leave that out and which book should it replace and I really don't want to do any more editing. It is top of the list of near misses which also includes Fahrenheit 451, The Book of Letters and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. But it's time for bed. And there's always another blog post. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Baseless Hatred

Sinat Chinam, or baseless hatred, is the reason that the rabbis in the Talmud give us for the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE (Yoma 9b). That is, people within our community hated each other for no good reason and behaved badly towards each other. Earlier this week, many Jews observed the fast day of Tisha B'Av. This is the historical date of the destruction of the Second Temple, the First Temple and many other calamities throughout Jewish history. They mourn for what has been lost. Other Jews who may not feel the need to mourn the Temple life still take this time as an opportunity to consider the way we treat each other, and the other in our lives. We note with regret the mistakes we have made, and resolve to improve ourselves in the days to come.  It is thus all the more distressing to look back on the events of the most recent Rosh Chodesh celebrations at the Kotel in Jerusalem. The Haredi community flexed its muscles to try and prevent the monthly service led by Women of the Wall. Noa Kligfield, an 11-year-old girl from Los Angeles who was present that day, describes her experience eloquently:

"Charedi leaders bussed in more than 7,000 yeshiva girls my age and filled up the Kotel plaza to ensure that there was no room for us to pray. Jeering and yelling, blowing whistles and making faces, calling us Nazis and throwing eggs, with their eyes full of such hatred, it terrified me. These girls didn't even know me, yet they despised me. They had been brought up to loathe all of the women I was praying with, and it was somehow deemed a positive learning experience for them to protest against us."

You may read the rest of her report here.

It seems so clear to me that working out how to share time and space with those who do things differently to us is hopefully a path away from all this hatred. At the same time I know that it takes energy and focus that I am not always willing to share. My excuses seem valid - I'm too tired, I have other priorities, it's a hopeless task. So I talk about how depressing it all is, but still do nothing. Then today I read a drash by  Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld. He writes:

"... dislike of others - whether acute or subtle - is an enormously self-satisfying way to live. Nothing forces me to grow, to change, to come out of my own little shell - and that is just the way I want it"
(You can find the rest of it here.)

I thought - ok,  if I give up trying, then at least I should acknowledge that it is because of my own wishes and feelings and ego. Change is so bloody hard as well as scary. It's much easier to cope with current issues than to muddy the waters and have to deal with unknown challenges. As R. Rosenfeld says, if I blame others for the wrongs of the world, it's about my comfort level and nothing else. I'm saying it's their fault and their responsibility. That's an easy way out, free from guilt!

In fact, it's not so easy, because if I continue to be honest with myself, I am quite miserable. It's not just the constant stream of terrible news from the world out there - the travesty of justice for Trayvon Martin, Indian children dying from tainted free school dinners, the famous and infamous struck down by disease and addiction. There are currently too many people that I'm mad at, too many people I think have hurt me, too many people I know I have not treated well. There's no hatred yet, but if I don't sort things out, I can see how our anger could head in such a direction.

So what can I do? It's pretty simple, really. I need to get offline and start talking to these people. Maybe we can fix things, maybe not. Time to have a go. L'hitraot.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Equal Marriage now law in England and Wales

It's not perfect but it is done. Today Her Majesty the Queen signed the Equal Marriage bill and it became a law in England and Wales.

I'm proud to have been a minuscule part of the Out4Marriage campaign, and stunned that it is over because it has succeeded.

if any same-gender Jewish couples are looking for a rabbi for their wedding, I'd love to officiate. Just saying!

Read about it here:
Pink News
Parliament's page for the bill
blog piece in the Independent
BBC News
Andy Borowitz compares Her Maj with the Governor of NJ

links to the major papers not yet up - will add later ... they are taking their time!

So far, The Times has a front-page photo and link to the winner of the Apprentice TV show, though, as well as telling us that the Queen is impatient for the royal baby to arrive. The Guardian has a couple of pieces about lethal school dinners in India. Not front-page news? Hmmmmm

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Leicester Likely Lad

The year is 1985. Young ravaj is now well enough known by the QPR secretary to receive the occasional photographer's pass for games of lesser gravitas. She's on the pitch! This Leicester City chap seemed rather adorable, and turned out to be quite a good player as well.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Magnificent Murray

Wimbledon winner Andy Murray at his moment of triumph.

Britons across the world will now claim this Scot permanently as one of their own

Please enjoy these few moments of joy. Normal service will be resumed sooner than we'd wish.

Finchley Bee

Trying not to get anxious as the tennis reaches a climax. Calm photo of a bee outside my flat going about its business.

Radio Silence

So when your oldest bestest friend suggests you start a new blog, and you think that's a great idea, howcome you then write nothing at all for the next 6 weeks? I did try, but everything I wrote seemed so self-conscious. So it's back to bees and football and pandas for a while. And maybe a little tennis today. For Mr Andrew Murray is two sets up against the number one player in the world, although he's down a break in the current set. As a QPR fan, I am well accustomed to the constant dashing of hopes. I have no great desire, however, to demonstrate my resilience this afternoon.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The QPRabbi

When your oldest bestest friend suggests you might write a blog about being a rabbi and football you gotta have a go at it. Not a just a blog post mind you, but a regular commentary. So I think that's what I may do.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Liberation of the Wall!

No more arrests for the "crime" of wearing a tallit at the Kotel!

The verdict is in - the police appeal against the overturning of the arrests of five women on 11th April has been rejected. Anat Hoffman, Director of the Israeli Religious Action Centre and leader of the Women of the Wall group, said the ruling has:

"liberated the Western Wall for all the Jewish people."

This story is big enough now to make the major news outlets:

BBC News online Middle East
The New York Times
not to mention the Jewish Chronicle!

Not sure what will happen next - we shall see at the next Rosh Chodesh service in May. For now, though, just delighted at this news.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tikkun's Analysis of the Sharansky Plan

Abby Caplin wrote about the current situation at the Western Wall site in Jerusalem yesterday in the online daily blog of Tikkun magazine. She reported on a conference call that Anat Hoffman made with various Jewish organisations:

"According to chair of WOW Anat Hoffman, who spoke last week via conference call to the New Israel Fund, and yesterday to the Union for Reform Judaism, the plan calls for opening up the area of the Kotel plaza and extending the length of the Kotel to Robinson's Arch. It includes a single entrance for all and 24/7 access.

The current portion of what is now the Kotel could remain under the jurisdiction of Rabinowitz's Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which collects vast sums of money from often unwitting Diaspora Jews to maintain its hegemony. Robinson's Arch would be raised up topographically to be on par with the Kotel area to create a larger, continuous stretch of Kotel. The newer raised-up section designated for egalitarian mixed gender prayer might fall under the aegis of the Jewish Agency. This leaves some confusion about how and where women-only, and Orthodox-inclusive, Women of the Wall would pray. It could be that, despite the compromise, the power of the ultra-Orthodox men might remain intact at the original site, where Orthodox women would continue to be subjected to gross misogyny in that section.

According to Hoffman, Sharansky's plan will face many obstacles. The plan must be reviewed by Israel's Department of Antiquities, accepted by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf (which claims jurisdiction over the Mughrabi bridge located between the Wall and Robinson's Arch), and Israeli citizens must be willing to spend millions of shekels to accommodate ultra-Orthodox "sensibilities". Successful implementation of Sharansky's plan could take years. But given that some progress has been made, "WOW refuses to be one of those obstacles," Hoffman said.

Of course, a more cost-effective and common sense option would be for Jews to share time, rather than space, at the Kotel."

the entire article may be read here.

Bearing in mind the strong bias of the author as reflected in the way she describes the situation, I still think this is a clear depiction of it at the moment. On the one hand, Sharansky's proposal is unclear, uncertain  and expensive. On the other hand, WoTW have hope, flexibility and strength enough to compromise for the sake of progress.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Women of the Wall Update

Last Thursday was Rosh Chodesh Iyar, and once again the Women of the Wall and their supporters met at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to celebrate this Jewish holiday through prayer and song. Once again, women were arrested for the crime of wearing tallitot (prayer shawls). This time the story was apparently newsworthy enough to be reported by
the BBC News website
the Guardian online
the Sydney Morning Herald (via the Washington Post) and other august publications available via your Google searches.

A few hours earlier the chair of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, as per his appointment by Prime Minister Netanyahu, announced his plan to resolve the situation. He has suggested that the Western Wall plaza should be extended and divided into three equal places of worship, i.e., for men, for women and for egalitarian services. The mixed services would be held at Robinson's Arch. Strangely enough, that is the area currently used by the women for Torah reading and yet they are still campaigning for the opportunity to be treated equally. Sharansky has suggested that the site will be upgraded. Is this enough for it to count as a legitimate offer?

I worry that this offer is a smokescreen. If it is not treated seriously, then the WoTW could be accused of intransigence. In any case, what kind of offer is one which suggests it is a bold new step but in fact is offering something that already exists?

On the other hand, what if this is really a step on the path to a viable compromise? There are many Progressive Jews who do not consider the Western Wall to be a holy site. If Robinson's Arch is placed beyond the control of the Orthodox Rabbinate, might it become a focal point for non-Orthodox Jews to join together in prayer? In the Jewish Journal, Shmuel Rosner writes:

"There comes a time in any successful movement for change or reform for cashing in, and it is often a time of crisis. Getting so close to achieving a goal, one has to struggle with two challenges:  the temptation to overreach - and pass on a deal that might be the best realistic one - and the difficulty of having to accept the less glorious (and more mundane) missions of a reformed reality." (the rest of the article is here.)

In the past few months, I have heard many Jews say that the issue of prayer at the Western Wall is not a priority for them. While the question of religious pluralism in the Jewish homeland is vital and current, they would rather focus on issues such as segregation of women on buses, or the radio stations that bleep out the voices of women (including female members of the Knesset). On the one hand I think I can see their point. On the other, I cannot stay silent when women are being arrested for wearing tallitot, something which I am able to do in this country any time I wish. As for Mr Sharansky's plan - I remember being part of protests and vigils with the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry as we fought for his release. Many of the Women of the Wall were part of that campaign or are daughters of such activists. I think he really should be able to do a little bit better for them!

I'm (not) a Belieber

So a young Canadian popstar, a boy with millions of fans and the crazy life such attention can bring, has made a comment in the guestbook at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. What he wrote has caused rather a lot of fuss and bother.

The Guardian reports on it here. I'm not a big fan of the lad or his music, but I have to say that I agree with the Indy reporter (here) in that it is a pleasant surprise that this young man took the time to visit the Anne Frank House and show an interest. Indeed, his visit may bring Anne's story to many people who otherwise would never have encountered it.

Meanwhile, if people need something about which to make a fuss, perhaps there are other issues that could use their energy, e.g., how would you like to help children no longer be hungry and die from malnutrition? Check out Live Below the Line for their 2013 initiative here. If this doesn't appeal, I am sure you can find something that does. Ok, preaching over.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Jew in the Box

I don't know if you have come across the phrase "The Jew in the box"recently, but it has been all over. The mother of ravaj is proud to note that CNN, Time magazine, The New York Times and NBC's Today show have all shown an interest in the latest exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. It is actually called "The Whole Truth:  Everything you always wanted to know about Jews". A sister of ravaj happens to be one of the curators. We are proud of her. While it is a pity that the media have fixated on one element out of thirty showcases in the exhibition, at the same time the international exposure has probably helped the profile of the museum. If you wish to form an opinion of your own, and are unable to visit Berlin before September, here are a number of links for various commentaries to help out:

Museum defends 'Jew in a Box' exhibit by CNN_International

version viewable by American viewers may be found here.

A story from the New York Times is here. This is a quote from it:

"Michal S. Friedlander, a curator at the museum and an American-born German Jew, said that most of those who criticized the show had not actually seen it. 'That's the whole point, what's appropriate and what's inappropriate and letting people come to their own conclusions.'"

btw, having always considered this sis to be a bit of a Luddite, I was delighted today to discover that she has at least one blogpost to her name!

Benjamin Weinthal's report and review in Foreign Policy may be found here.

Time magazine online

Criticism in the Jewish Daily Forward

Last for now, a link to an interview on the Today Show in the USA on the NBC channel. If you want more, you're on your own!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Favourite Oscars

Many of the media have been mildly distracted today, turning briefly away from the story of the South African athlete who shot his girlfriend towards a little awards ceremony taking place tonight in Los Angeles. I thought I'd add a little to the mix and thus present for your delectation and delight some other famous Oscars:

This is the Oscar Fish. Surely you recognise Astronotus ocellatus? It's a species of fish from the cichlid family and has many common names including Oscar, Tiger Oscar, Velvet Cichlid or Marble Cichlid.

If you are an amateur radio ham, you may have heard of the satellite OSCAR. No?

To be honest there don't seem to be any other particularly interesting Oscars. Except of course for the one and only, and my great favourite, Mr Wilde. As a teenager, I was so enamoured of him that I wrote a little poem of celebration

Am I in ernest when I say
That of puns I read as a child
Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills'
Always drove me wild.

I am still waiting for the day when knowing Oscar Wilde's full name will be the answer to a vital quiz question. Meanwhile, I am always entertained by his wit. This quote seems apt for the end of this piece:

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

Monday, February 11, 2013

More Arrests at the Kotel

Anat Hoffman wrote the following this morning:

"A unique gathering happened this morning at the Western Wall. During Women of the Wall's usual Rosh chodesh prayer service in the women's section of the Kotel, we were fortunate to be supported by some very special visitors. Veterans from the IDF's famed Paratrooper Battalion 66, the men who liberated the Western Wall in 1967, were with our supporters in the men's section. These men are living legends and among Israel's modern heroes.

It was only after the prayer service was over and the paratroopers had left that the police detained ten women, including myself, for committing the crime of wearing a tallit at the Western Wall. This group included two Conservative rabbis who were supposed to meet with Natan Sharansky today to discuss the Kotel issue, one Reform rabbinical student who is 8 months pregnant, two congregants from the Reform congregation in Kiryat Tivon, and several other women. As of this writing, we have all been released without restrictions."

This happens every month now, and perhaps it's no longer news for many people. Nevertheless these women continue to fight for our right to pray equally. Perhaps this month there may be a little more interest because there is a minor celebrity tangentially involved, i.e., the comedian Sarah Silverman, currently in London to promote her latest venture, has tweeted her support:

"SO proud of my amazing sister @rabbisusan & niece @purplelettuce95 for their ballsout civil disobedience. Ur the tits! #womenofthewall"

There is a report of the morning's events in HaAretz. Of particular interest is the quote from one of the paratroopers, Yitzhak Yifat, well known from his place in the centre of the famous photo taken at the liberation of the wall in 1967. As he stood in the men's section with other male supporters he said:

"I decided to come here to show my support for all those who wish to pray at the Kotel whatever way they wish, so long as they are not doing anything immoral ... It breaks my heart that the ultra-Orthodox have decided the Kotel belongs to them."

Happy Birthday Grand Central!

Grand Central station (officially known as Grand Central Terminal) in New York City will be 100 years old this month. It is one of my favourite places in which to wait if one has to wait for a train. I've experienced an impromptu Carly Simon concert in the main hall, walked within the giant glass windows at the far end, and am pretty sure that I once saw Kay Francis on her way to platform 220.

Happy birthday Grand Central!

Celebratory events for the year listed here.
Let Wikipedia tell you more about it.
Odd tidbits about Grand Central here.
festivities began last week - report here.
100 facts for 100 years via the Daily Beast

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Save the Bees Update

It's been a while since anything about bees appeared on this page I know. However, 2013 began with some excellent news for the bee community:  two giant DIY/garden centre companies have agreed to stop stocking products containing pesticides linked to the current decline of the bee population! Well done B&Q and Wickes ... now who shall be next?
(Read about it here.)

The insecticides in question are called neonicotinoids. And yes, they are chemically related to nicotine. No good for humans, and no good for bees. Who knew?!

UK MP's Majority Vote for Same-Sex Marriage

It's not over yet, but Equality in Marriage is one step nearer being law after it got through the first vote in the House of Commons yesterday. If you are on Facebook, you can keep up-to-date with what's happening on the Out4Marriage page here.

today's reports on the event include

The Independent
The Guardian
and even the Daily Mail eventually covered it :-)
NB the Mail includes a complete list of the MP's who voted against

Monday, February 04, 2013

UK Same-Sex Marriage Vote

Tomorrow Parliament will vote on a bill to allow same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom. Obviously the ravaj is totally for such a law. Remember this? If you agree, there is still time to contact your Member of Parliament and let them know that you would like them to represent you in this matter!

Meanwhile, I cannot decide the balance between feelings of cynical amusement and utter disgust upon hearing that the top Tories who went to Downing Street yesterday to try and talk the Prime Minister out of supporting the bill were focussing on the damage they thought it would do to the party's 2015 election prospects rather than any moral convictions they might have had. Viz the Sun headline "Tories:  Gay Marriage is Election Disaster".

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Blood Libels and Antisemitism in the UK

This is the top half of a cartoon by Gerald Scarfe that was printed in the Sunday Times newspaper last weekend, 27th January. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is pictured building a wall that imprisons people - presumably Palestinians - between the bricks. The mortar he is using appears to be made from blood. The caption at the bottom read, "Will cementing the peace continue?"

This is a country that still believes in freedom of the press, and one doesn't have to agree with Scarfe's perspective. However, to have published this on International Holocaust Memorial Day seems at best utterly bad taste. At worst some have accused him of antisemitism. News International mogul Rupert Murdoch apologised via his Twitter account saying that a "major apology for grotesque, offensive cartoon" was owed. Scarfe apologised for the "very unfortunate timing" of the publication, and insisted that he was not antisemitic. In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, he said that his drawing "was a criticism of Netanyahu, and not of the Jewish people:  there was no slight whatsoever intended against them."

I am inclined to believe that this is what he believes. I do think, however, that there is a bit of a problem with the imagery he used. The bloody mortar evokes imagery of the blood libel that has haunted Jewish communities across the world since medieval times. It originated with the false claim of Jewish guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus; and developed into the even more false belief that Jews used the blood of murdered Xians (especially children) in their rituals, e.g., that it is a vital part of the recipe for Passover matzah or the filling for the hamantaschen pastries eaten at the festival of Purim. This blood libel has been the excuse for premeditated physical attacks on Jewish communities for centuries, and is thus a somewhat sensitive subject. To use blood imagery and expect it to be seen outside that context is ingenuous. Nevertheless, this does not automatically make it antisemitic.

Roy Greenslade has a good article in today's Evening Standard where while arguing for freedom of the press he also reminds us of the responsibilities of the author and the editors. He writes about Scarfe and Steve Bell of the Guardian:

"Though I doubt whether the cartoonists meant to be anti-semitic, complainants would surely say this is the point - unintentional racism is as unacceptable (arguably worse), than intentional racism. It was undoubtedly thoughtless and neither man can plead naivety. They are veterans in a craft that exists in order to offend."
(The rest of Greenslade's article is here.)

In the end, I would say that what happened was thoughtless, but not antisemitic. In the Guardian, Anshel Pfeffer points out that:

"There is absolutely nothing in the cartoon which identifies its subject as a Jew. No Star of David or kippa, and though some commentators have claimed Netanyahu's nose in the cartoon is over-sized, at most this is in line with Scarfe's style (and that of cartoonists) of slightly exaggerating physical features."
(the rest of the Guardian article is here)

There are enough people in the world who hate others and promote that hatred - we do not need to increase their number by adding Gerald Scarfe to their cabal.

Killer Cats

A Science reporter on the BBC website reports this week that

"Cats are one of the top threats to US wildlife, killing billions of animals each year ... they are responsible for the deaths of between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds and 6.9-20.7 billion mammals annually"

Stray and feral cats are mostly responsible, but pet cats do their part also. In fact, domestic cats are currently blamed for the global extinction of 33 species.

Read more about these utterly vicious killing machines here. As for me, if I were to consider writing an article about a dangerous creature currently threatening the existence of hundreds of species on the earth, I think I might focus on

                                                                                                                        homo sapiens ...

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Duelling Elmoes

It's Monday. It's cold and icy outside. It's nowhere near going-home-time. I think we need to get some love from the red furry beast itself. (thanks to SLynn for being the other hand).


The Duelling Brandos


The SNL Dueling Brandos
(close your eyes and listen)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Anger and its consequences: Julie Burchill in the Guardian

Julie Burchill has been published in the media since my teenage years. While I do not always agree with her, I have found her writing to be thought-provoking on issues that are important to me. She is currently in the news for being accused of transphobia. Her close friend Suzanne Moore was attacked for a comment made in an essay about women's anger. Ms. Burchill has used the Guardian page 'Comment is Free' to defend her friend. This is loyal.  This is also very angry. There may be a noble ambition behind the piece, but there is much to question about the way it was done. For example, she wrote:

"To have your c0ck cut off and then plead special privileges as women - above natural-born women, who don't know the meaning of suffering, apparently - is a bit like the old definition of chutzpah:  the boy who killed his parents and then asked the jury for clemency on the grounds he was an orphan."

Read the rest of it for yourself here.

My first question, actually, is for the editor:  was this piece not proofed before publication? If it was, then presumably the Guardian considers the language and imagery used to be beyond reproach? If so, I'd like to know your definition of 'transphobic'.

My second question is for Ms. Burchill:  why did you not use your considerable journalistic experience to write a piece without such clumsy, obvious and insulting jabs at the general trans community. You are smart and witty enough to demonstrate your support for your friend without resorting to name-calling. Not to mention that the resulting furore has drowned out any valid points you might have made about the original response to Suzanne Moore's essay. I'm sadly disappointed in you, Julie.

here are some current links to various responses to the situation:

A poll in the Independent - did JB go too far?
Tim Stanley in the Telegraph - liberals being illiberal
Roz Kaveney Trans people response also in the Guardian via 'Comment is Free'
Daily Mail puts its own particular spin on the story
Pink News reports the story
HuffPostUK highlights Lynne Featherstone comment
Paris Lees writes a response in Diva magazine

Parshat Vaeira

Here are a few thoughts from last week's Liberal Judaism Thought for the Week about the Torah portion:

Parshat Vaeira

But Moses spoke before the Lord, saying, “Behold, the Children of Israel did not hearken to me. How then will Pharaoh hearken to me, seeing that I am of uncircumcised lips?” (Exodus 6:12)

The time has come for Moses to take his place as leader of his people. God tells him to go to Pharaoh and ask for the freedom of the Children of Israel.  They should be released from bondage and allowed to leave the land of Egypt. Initially, Moses chooses not to accept his mission. The excuse he gives is that since he was unable to persuade the Children of Israel to listen to him, what chance would he have of convincing Pharaoh? He claims he has a physical disability, he cannot speak.

The Midrash tells us that as a baby, Moses was tested by Pharaoh to see if he would be a threat to the kingdom. A golden cup and a blazing coal were placed in front of the child. He naturally reached towards the gold, but the angel Gabriel came down and moved his hand towards the coal. Baby Moses picked up the coal, put it in his mouth, and burned his lips. This was the explanation for his problem in later life.

Moses, however, uses an odd phrase to describe his speech impediment:  aral s’fatayim. Orlah is Hebrew for foreskin, an obstruction over the head of the penis. Thus we might understand the phrase as meaning his lips are somehow impeded by a metaphorical flap of skin. Rashi gives several examples in the Tanach of the root ayin, resh, lamed used to mean clogged or closed. This is to make clear to us that the ‘closing of his lips’ meant that Moses definitely had some kind of speech defect.

Other commentators consider this issue from a less literal perspective. Perhaps not wishing to speak is an example of the humility of Moses. Or this one flaw in Moses would prove that any person he persuaded would have been converted by the purity of the message rather than the sophistry of the speaker. Or that since he had not grown up within the slave community, he did not feel that he could speak for them. One thing is certain, though – Moses doubted his ability to say what should be said.

It is clear from myriad explanations through the ages, that understanding this moment in the history of our people always has contemporary relevance. In the Torah, God solved the problem by enlisting Moses’ brother Aaron to be the speaker (Ex. 7:1). Today we do not expect such Divine intervention. Yet one does not have to be a Moses to be faced with a situation when speaking up may make a difference. It could be something as fleeting as a homophobic slur, a racist remark, or a sexist comment made at work, on the Tube, or amongst our circle of friends. However, so often we also hesitate – is it appropriate? Will it make things difficult? Will it make a difference?

What is it that stops us speaking, and how may we overcome those fears and limitations in order to take our part in developing the world in which we live? While God may not provide us with an Aaron, we do have the resources of family and good friends. Their support can help to overcome the demons of self-doubt and uncertainty that stand in our way. Ultimately, though, the key is to find within ourselves the strength to take the chance. Our words may not be elegant or articulate, but they must be spoken. For while we are not obliged to finish the task, neither are we free to neglect it!

Bizarre News from the BBC

Let's see what might be newsworthy this morning:  UK peers suggest the decriminalisation of all illegal drugs ... 8-year-old girl shot dead in Jamaica ... Golden Globes winners ... and what is one of the top stories on the BBC web page?

Puppy thrown at German biker gang

A German student "mooned" a group of Hell's Angels and hurled a puppy at them before escaping on a stolen bulldozer, police have said.

Tha man drove up to a Hell's Angels clubhouse near Munich, wearing only a pair of shorts and carrying a puppy. He dropped his shorts and threw the dog, escaping on a bulldozer from a nearby building site. He was arrested later at home by police. The 26-year-old is said to have stopped taking depression medication.

After making his getaway on the bulldozer, he had driven so slowly that a 5 km tailback built up behind him on the motorway.. After driving about 1 km, he had abandoned the bulldozer in the middle of the motorway, near Allershausen. He continued his journey by hitchhiking.

"What motivated him to throw a puppy at the Hell's Angels is currently unclear," a police spokesman said. The puppy is now being cared for in an animal shelter.

O look, the Telegraph picked it up as well (here).

Monday, January 07, 2013

Did You Think I Wouldn't Mention It?!

My beloved Queens Park Rangers are unbeaten so far in 2013. I might mention that they have actually played some games as well. And I feel bound to refer to a recent match at Stamford Bridge.

Having sat through the Sunday game at home to Liverpool, where we were 0-3 down after 28 minutes, and utterly dire the rest of the time, I decided there was no way I was prepared to spend 60 squid to sit in the rain and watch us be thumped by the auld enemy.

this is a picture of Shaun Wright-Phillips. Throughout the season so far there has been a consensus that he should not be picked for the first team because he brings nothing to it. He only made it onto the Stamford Bridge pitch because Hoillett was injured early on. In this picture, SWP is scoring a goal.

Here is a better view of SWP's first goal for QPR. It turned out, in fact, to be the only goal of the game. This made his team-mates quite happy.

I must admit that when I awoke the next morning, I was pretty sure I had dreamt the whole thing. I'd been at home, happily watching David Attenborough's new programme about Africa. My mind and heart were full of  drongoes and meerkats. I was trying to drown out the inevitable massacre. And then the e-mails began arriving, and the texts, and the Facebook comments. What an incredible high, and so soon after the utter despair of the performance vs Liverpool. It is nights like this that keep us hooked. Come on you R's!