Earlier this month, a lady from Jerusalem contacted me about a book she wanted me to read. When she said ‘I think you’ll get a kick out of it,’ I enjoyed her turn of phrase, and my interest was piqued. ‘Tell me more,’ I said. She told me it was called John Lennon And The Jews. I almost wept with disappointment. I’ve always thought The Beatles are overrated, and Lennon the most overrated of the lot of them. I dreaded its arrival in the post.
But when it arrived, I was quickly relieved to discover it is not really about John Lennon and the Jews, but is about…the Jews. (It merely dissects the dumb lyrics of Lennon’s Imagine as a starting point for the book’s theme.) I was also warmed by Suzanne’s covering note, in which she said ‘This book needs love’. I thought that was a charming thing to say about a piece of work.
And oh, how I love the book. Written by an Israeli professor called Ze’ev Maghen, it had me from first page. Maghen is one of the most compulsive writers I’ve ever read. The book – subtitled A Philosophical Rampage – is a lively, original and compelling championing of being Jewish.
You might remember that Independent columnist Christina Patterson wrote a silly, unpleasant column about Hasidic Jews in Stamford Hill last summer. As Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard correctly wrote, it was ‘pure, unrelenting unadulterated anti-Jewish bigotry’. Patterson, horrified that Jews had the temerity to answer back, embarked on a follow-up rant some months later. It was all a bit embarrassing, really.
The Telegraph‘s Mick Brown has also recently written an article about the Stamford Hill Hasids. His piece is intelligent, well-researched, calm and mostly fair. He is not afraid to ask difficult and critical questions of the community – and neither should he be, of course. But he also covers some of their many good points, such as that crime is virtually unheard of in their part of the neighbourhood. He reveals that more than 50 percent of their community is actively and heavily involved in voluntary work (compared with a figure of just seven percent for London overall).
Regular readers will know I am fascinated by the history of the Hasidim. Particularly the stories of ecstatic, fervent worship and spreading of unadulterated joy during their early years. I’ve read so much about their history, and one passage in particular continues to both inspire and haunt me. It is from Elie Wiesel’s book Souls On Fire: Portraits And Legends of Hasidic Masters.
Wiesel (a survivor of the Shoah) writes: ‘What cannot help but astound us is that the Hasidim remained the Hasidim inside the ghetto walls, inside the death camps. In the shadow of the executioner, they celebrated life. Startled Germans whispered to each other of Jews dancing in the cattle cars rolling towards Bierkenau; Hasidim ushering in Simhat Torah. And there were those who in Block 57 at Auschwitz tried to make me join in their fervent singing. Were these miracles?’
Powerful stuff, and a fascinating, inspiring people. Mick Brown’s article is one of the fairest I have ever read by an outsider. On a similar note, I also recommend The Rebbe’s Army, Sue Fishkoff’s book about the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. More than anything, though, I recommend Tales of the Hasidim by Martin Buber and The Light And Fire Of The Baal Shem Tov. Both are packed with tales that might fill you with wonder and joy, as well as a few that will puzzle you.
Israel beat Latvia 2-1 yesterday in the Group F qualifier for Euro 2012. The win maintained Israel’s hopes of reaching the tournament next year.
The winning goal was scored by an Israeli Arab called Beram Kayal. His reflections on Israeli society are worth airing, particularly in light of the ‘apartheid’ allegation:
“What the television shows about Israel is totally different to what happens. The life between the Jews and the Arabs is very good. I’m an Arab and my agent is Jewish but we’re like family. The Jews and the Arabs live together in Haifa, which is a mixed city.”
Well said, Beram. Even as a half-Latvian, I’m pleased for you. I also hear that the Israeli coaching staff reckon that in their young left-back Talb Tawatha, they have an Israeli Roberto Carlos. Wow.
Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was sentenced to seven years jail today following his conviction for rape and other offences. I feel uncomfortable when I see some fellow Israel advocates try and spin this story into a positive tale of Israel’s democracy and fine legal system.
Whilst I understand the points being made, I think it is unpleasant and misguided to try and make political capital from such a horrific story. These were real-life crimes with real-life victims. I find it distasteful to see people losing sight of that in the haste to yet again turn something that happened in Israel into a positive moment. Sometimes you can just let something be without rushing into hasbara mode.
I feel for the victims of this nasty man. And I’m disappointed that Shimon Peres dodged an opportunity to help bring Katsav to book much earlier.
Three months ago, on yet another cold and dreary day in London, I decided I needed some exercise. In a moment of madness, and an accident of web-surfing, my target became running the Jerusalem half-marathon. It was, at the time, no more than a personal challenge and an excuse to go home for a week. I spent time thinking about raising some money, going as far as asking for suggestions for charities, and then never did anything about it.
But events of recent days finally made the decision for me.
Then yesterday I saw Justin Bieber play at the o2. I went with Elliot and Dena from the Federation of Zionist Youth, (FZY). We had a great night, Bieber is a master showman. Elliot remarked that it was like being at a bar mitzvah, while Dena commented ‘Of course I loved it, why wouldn’t one?’ Well said, my love.
Tomorrow I will post about an inspiring way that you can help the Fogel family.
For every instance of darkness in the world there is a ray of light. A gentile, pro-Israel taxi driver has dedicated the advertising on her London cab to raising awareness for Gilad Shalit. For this she has made no charge. She prefers to be un-named, so let’s just call her an angel.
On Monday, thousands of students walked and rallied in Herzliya in support of Gilad Shalit. My friend Hadar Hevroni took somephotographs for me.
Gilad’s father Noam spoke at the rally. He told the students: ‘If god forbid, you get into a similar situation to the one Gilad got into five years ago, your only choice will be to pray for a miracle.’ Mr Shalit also pointed out that in the past, Israel has ‘released hundreds of thousands of prisoners and terrorists for captive IDF soldiers at a ratio of one to hundreds or more. This is actually a sign of strength, power and not weakness. The fact that one IDF soldier is worth hundreds and even thousands of enemy forces definitely points to how highly we rate human life in our society.’
He continued: ‘Our Gilad has been abandoned and deserted alone, in the dark without any connection to the outside world, in Hamas cellars in Gaza. Nearly five years now that Gilad’s life, an IDF soldier sent to protect the borders of his country, has become a commercial item to be bought and sold. This is proof of the inadequacy of the Israeli government and its leaders.’
Trenchant words, but justifiable in this instance. Prime Minister Netanyahu insists: ‘No day goes by without efforts to free Gilad’. I’m afraid I don’t buy it. Olmert made similar claims but we know that during the crucial early months of Gilad’s captivity that his case was given shockingly low priority. I wonder if the same applies now, in truth.
Painful as the required deal would be, I do wish they would pay the price and bring Gilad home. I explained why here. In the meantime my heart goes out to Gilad, his father Noam who I met last summer, and the rest of the Shalit family. I note with admiration the continuing efforts of Karnit Goldwasser, whose husband Ehud was kidnapped by Hezbollah in the same year as Gilad was taken hostage by Hamas. Ehud returned home to Israel in a coffin after a prisoner swap.
When I said goodbye to Mr Shalit last summer I asked him what his message to the readers of my blog was. He said he hopes we will keep Gilad’s plight in the public eye, and keep the pressure on all relevant authorities to resolve his son’s case.
(Thanks to Melissa Harris for the photograph of me.)
As an author, I do enjoy positive feedback on my work. There have been some nice reviews of my books in the media over the years, but what always means most is when an everyday reader gets in touch to say how much they’ve enjoyed one of my books.
The book I have had the most reader feedback on is my biography of Justin Bieber, which is now a global bestseller. I awake each morning to another round of Tweets, Facebook messages and emails from Bieber fans around the world who have read my book. They are friendly and positive, and often very sweet.
The best of all came from a mother who wrote to tell me that my Bieber book has got her daughter back into reading and schoolwork again. That was great to hear. Yesterday, this card and teddy bear arrived in the post from the girl. It really made my day life.
I was always a huge Oasis fan. It wasn’t just that I loved their music, they also ticked many of the boxes that are important to me. Upbeat music full of inspiring lyrics? Check. Glorious, ongoing media soap opera surrounding its key members? Check. Often capturing, and sometimes defining, the zeitgeist? Check. Great haircuts and sharp, moddish clothes? Check. Brilliant live act? Mega-check, some of the best nights of my life were spent watching them in concert.
Like many people, I loved their first two albums, Definitely Maybe and (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? Like fewer people, I also loved their third album Be Here Now. I always thought if Definitely Maybe was a drinking album, and Morning Glory a drug album, then Be Here Now was a drug-problem album. And all the more fascinating for it. They continued to be an unbeatable live act after those three releases, but rarely excelled in the studio in their latter years.
At the centre of everything, it was always Liam and Noel Gallagher. I was always ‘team Noel’. He’s bright, witty and wrote their most classic tunes. (I also loved that a dyslexic became Britain’s greatest songwriter.) I expected it to be Noel that would thrive after they split. However, it is Liam who is first out of the traps with his new band, Beady Eye. I say ‘new band’ but the members are actually the final Oasis line-up, minus Noel. Given the haste with which they brought out their first album, I suspected it wouldn’t be up to much.
Last April I reviewed a book about satirist Chris Morris. The book, written by Lucian Randall, was called Disgusting Bliss: The Brass Eye of Chris Morris. For fans of Morris’s shows such as The Day Today and Brass Eye, Randall’s book is a treasure chest of fun and revelation.
The author is now running a companion blog, also called Disgusting Bliss. It’s a witty and wonderful blog, well worth a read.