Some very good letters in reaction to the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent statements regarding the protective barrier used against suicide bombers in Israel.
I received a few bombshells of my own in the last few days: most of them good (except for the Electra company yet again, who now need my 'master' phone, in order to cure the spare one). Firstly the BBC sent me a CD of my Christmas Eve broadcast, which arrived within two days, bless them. Secondly, my daughter in Tel Aviv rang to say that she thought it was absolutely brilliant - praise indeed, as she is by no means an uncritical type.
The third thing is that the central heating, which had been out of use for at least five years, under the previous ownership, apparently works after all. I rang up the guy who had been responsible for heating the whole building, and also the building above us (I live down 50 steps, in case you want to visit me) and found I already knew him from shul. So he came round whilst Les was here and gave us a history of heating in three easy lessons. It was fascinating. He doesn't like the air-conditioning contraptions that also blow out hot air in the winter months. He also doesn't like dud shemeshes, because they tend to break (tell me about it). So, he persuaded us to let his son install a new boiler for us instead.
And today, during the huge gales, the son arrived, and soon after that his father, and then his mother. It really is a family business, and somehow they managed to get the heating going again, so that at long last the place is reasonably warm just in time for the real cold. So even though it cost an arm and a leg, it was definitely worth it, and I am so grateful to my Canadian neighbour, yet again, for telling me about this family business.
The fourth positive story is that Haifa is twinned with Boston, Mass http://www.jewishagency.org/JewishAgency/English/Israel/Partnerships/Regions/Haifa, and yesterday a 200-strong contingent from Newton, Mass, arrived in Haifa to donate $50,000 for a shelter to protect congregants in its sister synagogue here from any further rocket attacks. Do scroll down to the war diary written by Dr. Jesse Lachter, a good friend of mine here. He was also present at the meeting yesterday. By the way, the hospital where he works, and which really suffered during the attacks, will soon be opening a prayer room for Muslim patients.
I have now met Bostonians twice, as when the last delegation came to Haifa, I was invited to meet them then too. This lot was also lovely, intelligent, almost rugged as many port people are - Haifans and Bostonians do remind me of Liverpudlians for some reason. The speeches, though incredibly moving, were short and members of Haifa's Ethiopian community were also present to receive the gift of a Sefer Torah http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sefer_Torah for their own shul, which nearly didn't get through due to the paper work being a bit iffy.
What I really like about the Bostonians is that they are no way sentimental about Israel, but hard-headed, amazingly good at organising and really really kind. There were people in wheelchairs and babes in arms, all present at this truly momentous occasion.
I'm biased: they invited me to dinner at the Dan Carmel Hotel http://www.inisrael.com/danhotels/carmel/index.html: what a feast. I don't think I've eaten red meat for three months, since Rosh Hashanah.
And then a group discussion in the evening on Jewish philosophy and the Bible between secular and religious Jews who live in Haifa and surrounds.
Today (before the central heating was installed) I was invited to be a guest at a regular meeting for Haifa business people at the Castra centre http://ilmuseums.com/museum_eng.asp?id=202. Every Wednesday. starting at 7.30 am, they have to speak for no more than 30 seconds about themselves: there were accountants, lawyers, dentists, graphic designers, architects, pilates experts, interpreters, driving instructors and many many more. My friend Ruth, a translator, had told me that I wouldn't have to speak this time, but she was wrong. So, when my name was called, I got up and had to really think on my feet: I started by saying that this was the first time in my life I had addressed an Israeli gathering in Hebrew, and told them a bit about why I had come and what I wanted to do, which was link to the media here and also carry on translating and editing.
And at the end, we 'guests' had to say what we thought of the meeting, so I said that it was at least warm in the Castra building, unlike in my own home. That got a laugh. We even got a lift home, just in time for me to welcome the central heating people and now, after four hours, I am able to enjoy the lovely warmth, whilst the gales, thunder and lightening do their worst.
And to ponder on the remarkable gifts the Bostonians have given to the community here in Haifa, which is also twinned with Newcastle in England. How about it, Newcastle? http://www.newcastle.gov.uk/core.nsf/a/twintownisrael
When I made aliyah to Haifa, I had many hopes and some dreams. I knew I was 'returning' to the 'Promised Land', which to me is not merely a physical piece of geography, but as with so many other Jews, a spiritual and cultural homecoming. And the last two have been realised - in spades. There are umpteen shiur groups and synagogue services, musical interludes, and 'the sea, the sea'. There is no doubt that Haifa is the most beautiful place on earth, with a charm that is largely due to the fact that it is for some reason off the beaten track and therefore does not have airs and graces.
When I came here, I doubted that I would be lecturing as I was at home, but I hoped for some translation work and it has arrived in reams. As you can see, I am now translating the official Haifa Tourist Board site into English http://www.tour-haifa.co.il/indexEng.html and slowly getting to know more about the wonderful, windy (in both senses) roads and alleyways of this town. Places passed every day in the bus take on another meaning when you realise that the Templars http://www.gemsinisrael.com/e_article000001257.htm started out here and called them by different names. The Bat Galim http://www.batgalim.org.il/ area, where I have swum regularly, started out as a place inhabited by the Templars . Later, it was a night-club area during the British Mandate http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3138466,00.html (oy vey: what would the Russian swimmers think of that?)
Mendelssohn's Elijah oratorio takes on a deeper meaning when you are sitting at a grand piano, accompanying the North Carmel Choir on the highest slopes of Mount Carmel itself. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elijah_(oratorio)
And meetings with individuals have been spectacularly synchronistic. Here's the latest example: 25 years ago, four of us met in the magical woods of Alderley Edge http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alderley_Edge, south Manchester (reputed home of ghouls and ghosts) and celebrated with Rabbi Bobby Silverman the 'Blessing of the Sun' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birkat_HaHammah. Believe it or not, this is not a pagan rite, but part of the Jewish tradition and recurs every 28 years. There was Rabbi Silverman, Les, me, Kalela (aged 6 and missing school with their permission) and my very close friend, Judy Green, who made aliyah a few years later.
We all promised to meet again in 28 years, when the season for blessing the sun would recur. But we lost touch, completely. And yes, you've guessed it. On the plane here, as part of his role in external examining for Derby University http://ibs.derby.ac.uk/psychology/ and a college in Israel, Les met Judy's husband, Bernie, on the plane. And just now, when I went down with him to the Carmel Beach area (which also houses Haifa's train station) to see him off for Tel Aviv so that he can see Kalela for the last time till Pesach and catch his plane home to England, who did he find himself sitting opposite, but Bernie Green again?
And where does Bernie live: not in Haifa, but in the centre of Israel.
We haven't seen them for yonks, and it looks as if we might have that anniversary after all. Kalela, Judy and I are here. Les is here quite a lot.
So, Rabbi Silverman, if you read this blog, please get in touch and let's see what we can do for April 2009, when I think the next 28-year anniversary comes round.
Yes, as Herzl said: 'If you will it, it is no dream' http://www.jewishreview.org/Archives/Article.php?Article=2005-06-01-811.
And as Shakespeare said: 'We are such stuff that dreams are made on'.
And this week's Torah reading has also been about Joseph and his dreams. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miketz
Re: BBC CHRISTMAS BROADCAST on ALIYAH to HAIFA
I have now cracked it. You access this link. http://www.bbc.co.uk/manchester
Then you go to ‘play again’, or ‘listen again’, top right. Then you scroll down to Sunday Breakfast with Mike Shaft.
Then top left you make sure it says December 24th and then it is exactly 39. 45 minutes into the programme (with football before and Sue Green afterwards).
To get to this quickly, you can press the 15 minutes button twice and the 5 minutes once after that. You wait till it works itself out and then wait about 4 minutes till it is on.
Any problems, please contact Rebecca Kelly, the producer, at the e-mail above.
This link is available for 7 days from Christmas Eve (December 24th).
Rebecca Kelly Producer BBC Radio Manchester Manchester
0161 244 3024 /
PO Box 95.1
As usual, Ruth Gledhill has hit the nail on the head with this very perceptive piece about the current visit of the four heads of the British churches to Bethlehem.
Ruth's blog was started in November last year with a piece sent in by Rona Hart about an antisemitic poem, extolling Hitler and the Final Solution, which had just won a prize and been sent around schools. This poem had been picked up by the Manchester Jewish Telegraph. Ruth's piece was entitled I think, Is the world going bonkers?
Well is it? Who knows.
Although times look grim for the Jewish community world wide, it is a small crumb of comfort that Ruth's blog is now the second most popular of any newspaper blog in the UK and she receives a tremendous readership. Good news also that Melanie Phillips is being taken much more seriously by those in the Church who used to dismiss her out of hand. I think that the current leadership of the Council of Christians and Jews augurs well and is truly doing its best. But I do wish that the Church, generally, realised how they are perceived in the Jewish world and that their choice of words in criticising a Middle East problem that they really do not understand (I mean, who does?) only gives succour to those who wish to destroy us.
I have now lived in Israel for four months and one thing is very obvious: Israelis may be difficult, un-cooperative, rude, abrupt and arrogant, but one thing they ain't and that is stupid. In fact, many of them are brilliant, particularly on matters to do with hypocrisy and antisemitism. They are past masters at analysing these traits - much more so than many Jews in the diaspora - and if churches insist only on talking to one side, visiting one area inhabited mainly by people who not only wish to destroy us, but have said so loud and clear and in videos sent to those same churches, then how on earth can these churches expect to be taken seriously?
But to end on a positive note, congratulations to Ruth on her splendid achievements in journalism and may she go from strength to strength.
I have been asked to translate the Haifa Tourist Board http://www.gemsinisrael.com/e_article000001276.htm site into English, so they also kindly arranged a tour of some of the most interesting places around Haifa. Les and I were taken around the Bahai Shrine and Gardens http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/haifa-bahai-shrine-and-gardens.htm, the Stella Maris monastery http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/haifa-stella-maris-carmelite-monastery.htm (where the first rocket fell during the recent war), Elijah's cave http://www.inisrael.com/tour/haifa/walks.htm, which is like a miniature Kotel, the sea near the Meridian Hotel (no more building is allowed because of a very rare crab, which roams around that area) and the Castra Centre http://ilmuseums.com/museum_eng.asp?id=202, which has plenty going on of artistic and business value.
Then, today, I recorded a piece by phone with BBC Radio Manchester http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_Radio_Manchester, which will go out on Christmas Eve. I told them that the most challenging part of living in Haifa was having to master Russian. Then Les and I went out to the Carmel Forest http://www.parks.org.il/ParksENG/company_card.php3?CNumber=852573, by the university, which was heavenly.
Hadassah-Israel had an excellent talk by David Rudge http://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/lebanon/Isrlb997-02.htm, for many years northern and war correspondent of the Jerusalem Post, who lives in Haifa. And finally we celebrated the fifth evening of Hannukah with friends.
In the meantime, we have acquired another bed for guests (care of our Russian neighbours in the apartment next door), acquired a name-plate for our door, moved the furniture around a bit and generally made the place more homely. The old English hi-fi has been set up upstairs in one of the rooms with a lovely view of the sea.
Tomorrow, hopefully, there will be time for the sea, as well as fitting in a shiva house http://judaism.about.com/library/3_askrabbi_o/bl_simmons_shivamanners.htm and an invitation to spend the sixth night of Hanukkah with other friends in Neve Shaanan.
Sometimes little things happen which make you realise that the world is not as Dawkins describes it, but a wonder of divine imagination. Here are two or three examples.
On Thursday, I visited the Jewish-Arab Center at Haifa University and after that needed to get to the Rabin Building for a seminar with MEDRENS, the Mediaeval and Renaissance centre http://hcc.haifa.ac.il/Departments/history-school/research-workshop.htm. The subject was chivalry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chivalry and there was no way I was going to be late for that, being a guest and it being my first time.
A woman entered the lift with me and we got talking. She told me she was originally from Poland, having left that country in 1968. I told her that my uncle and his family had also left in that year, and due to the anti-semitic policy of the government there http://www.wheatmark.com/merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=BS&Product_Code=1587362910, had been offered a home in Sweden, instead. Janet (for that was her name) said that that was what she had done as well. I told her my uncle had move to Taby, in Stockholm http://www.jf-stockholm.org/tourist/. So had she. I told her his name. She told me she had been his neighbour in the same building and filled me in on a great deal of information about my aunt and cousins.
And where does she live now? On my street: Einstein.
The second incident was the Mediaeval and Renaissance lecture itself: full of charm, food, drink and oodles of information, all delivered in in the most lovely top-floor room, 'The Rabin Observatory', overlooking the mountain and forests surrounding Haifa. And people were so welcoming, witty and full of joie de vivre (Jewish-intellectual fashion). It really made you feel at home and like an honoured guest, all at the same time.
And the third incident was Meira's Bat Mitzvah kiddush, which took place today at her home in brilliant sunshine. Les is here from England and together we joined all Meira's friends and friends and relatives of her parents (including the women from the Shabbat shiur) in the most wonderful feast, including something call 'Crimbos', which are a sort of marshmallow affair made by Strauss.
Me'ira and her dad (Ross, a professor at the Technion) both made speeches about Hannukah http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanukkah and the link with the story of Joseph. And later Les reminded me that Vayeshev http://www.aish.com/torahportion/livelyparsha/Lively_Parsha_Vayeshev.asp had been his bar mitzvah portion as well. And before we left, Meira's mother, Jeanette, gave everyone a lovely commemorative bentscher http://www.bentschers.com/ and a scroll with their own name written in Hebrew, by which to remember the occasion.
Meiira means 'bringing light' and I couldn't help but be reminded of Abraham ibn Ezra http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_ibn_Ezra, the son of Meir http://www.thinkbabynames.com/meaning/1/Meir - and proud of it - who, in the poem which precedes his introduction to his Torah commentary, makes much of the interplay of his father's name and his own goal which is to enlighten his readers (following in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor, the Abraham of the Bible), by the words which are to follow.
All in all, a very significant number of incidents in the course of three days, culminating today, which is the anniversary of the date on which I signed for the apartment in Haifa and also exactly four months since arrival in Israel.
Well, the rains did come down yesterday, and last night was illuminated by both thunder and lightening, which when you live on a mountain is no joke, I can tell you.
In the afternoon I got a phone call and was asked to translate a piece from the Hebrew about the construction of vellum parchment scroll illustrations for use in private prayer.
And then I went to the university to attend what I thought was a lecture on Literature in Israeli Intellectual Discourse, but ended up being an address by Knesset Minister, Rafi Eitan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafi_Eitan. As that had already been going for an hour, I pondered what to do, whilst being encouraged by the nice security guard to have something to eat and drink from the buffet outside, whilst he told me that his favourite football teams were not Manchester United, as he finds Fergie rude, but Chelsea and Arsenal, which I found really surprising.
So I returned to reception, to be told that I probably meant the Jewish-Arab seminar upstairs, so up I went, only to find that this was a training session for students, but was invited to meet members of the university's Jewish-Arab Centre http://research.haifa.ac.il/~jew-arab/about.htm tomorrow instead.
So I came home and went on with the parchment. And when I finished with that, I opened the Catholic Tablet, which I still receive, care of the Jewish community in Manchester, and read this gem from the Archbishop of Canterbury http://www.thetablet.co.uk/articles/9051/, speaking to the editor, Catherine Pepinster, prior to his 'pastoral' trip to Bethlehem in a few days:
''I would like to know how much it matters to the Israeli Government to have Christian communities in the Holy Land. Are they an embarrassment or are they part of a solution? That's a question."
Oh dear, back to square one: Caterpillar divestments all over again, when what he should be doing is divesting those Bishops of his who get so drunk that they cause mayhem in the streets of London. http://timescolumns.typepad.com/gledhill/2006/12/bishop_of_south_1.html#comments
But at least this means that we shall have to try even harder to emphasise all the work being done in Haifa and elsewhere both by and for the Christian communities - those individuals I work with every day of my life.
For what else can you expect from the Archbishop of Canterbury but demonisation of Jews at Christmas.