Faced with the plethora of detail coming out of the situation in Israel and Gaza at present, accompanied, as always, by a frightening increase in antisemitic incidents all over Europe, including here in Manchester, just a couple of good stories and a couple of funny ones.
The funny ones first: in the wake of my daughter's wedding in May, I'm trying to obtain an extension for my temporary Israeli passport. It's rather difficult doing this as a resident in the UK, especially as the Hebrew and English sides of the form don't appear to tally and some of the questions as posed in English are rather vague.
At the same time, my daughter is trying to renew her British passport in Tel Aviv for a trip to the USA on Thursday and has also encountered a few difficulties! I wonder which one of us will be sorted out first.
Then a couple of positive stories. An Orthodox Manchester University student I encountered around the table on Shabbat tells of how welcome he has been made to feel in the Politics and Modern History Department. Mind you, he's only studying the French Revolution up to now. When he gets on to the Middle East, things may well be different.
A second student, also wearing a kippah, reports how he was studying in the university library when a very tall black guy approached and put his hand on his shoulder. The guy then intoned the words: 'I love you', in Hebrew. Seems that he comes from a Nigerian tribe which has converted to Judaism:
And a third student reports sitting in Piccadilly Gardens
when a guy approched and said 'I support Israel and wish the Israelis the best of luck in their current fight against agents from Iran'. This article from Saturday's London Times sums up the situation well:
If these stories appear to be unbelievable in the current climate, what about the two or three Christian clergy (none of them evangelical by the way - and one, positively left-wing in his religion, politics and general aspirations) who called me on Saturday night to complain that the rally in support of peace in Israel, held in Manchester on Sunday, should have been postponed from 11.00 am till about 2.00 pm in the afternoon. These clergy could not attend the rally because they themselves were taking services in their own churches in the morning:
But one vicar rang my rabbi to ask how he could be of assistance in the present climate of increasing animosity towards the Jewish people.
The current issue of the Church of England Newspaper seems to be on the ball about all these matters:
I'd like to end with a truly remarkable nugget in the Christmas edition of the Catholic Tablet.
In a book review by Eamon Duffy (who if I remember correctly also reported the news of the election of Pope, Benedict for the BBC) cites Father Timothy Radcliffe
one of the contenders to take over as Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. In one of his books, Father Timothy, who I understand is the world-wide head of the Dominicans (an Order whose history vis-a-vis the Jewish people has been dire, to say the least) makes the following observation on a passage in the New Testament:
'The disciples [of Jesus] were locked in the upper room, 'for fear of the Jews'. This is a strange fear, since they themselves were Jews. They were afraid of themselves'.
What a simple, yet world-shattering observation. Especially in present times .....