The Wicked Son, What Does He Say? – Miscellaneous Musings for Pessach

On the eve of Pessach, Monday afternoon, “Palestinian” terrorists opened fire on Israeli civilian vehicles making their way towards Hebron to celebrate the Seder with their families. After several misses, they managed to hit two cars, murdering Baruch Mizrachi (HY”D), seriously injuring his wife, narrowly missing their four children who were travelling in the car with them, and wounding a nine-year-old boy who was travelling in an adjacent vehicle.

 

Baruch Mizrachi HYD

 

I surfed the Internet, as is my wont, interested to see how this cowardly attack would be covered by the international mainstream press – if, indeed, they mentioned it at all. Unsurprisingly, it was only by including the word “settler” in my search parameters, that I found anything at all. The Times of London, for example, decided to blame the fact that Jews were permitted to return to a house legally purchased by them in Hebron and gave prominence to the fact that the murdered Jew was a policeman – as if the fact of his having been so was somehow connected to his murder, with the added, subliminal implication, that the murder of Israeli policemen is somehow justified. Of course, the fact that the murderer or murderers had been shooting randomly at Israeli vehicles even before the Mizrachi family chanced along, is proof enough that their intention was to kill any Israelis.

In spite of that, and in spite of the fact that Abu Mazen and the so-called “Palestinian Authority” have, so far, failed to condemn the cowardly attack, Tzippi Livni, leader of the Israeli negotiation team to the (more or less non-existent) “peace talks” is pressing ahead and continuing to meet our “partners for peace” today. And as if that wasn’t enough, it seems that the further release of “Palestinian” terrorist murderers simply in order to get Abu Mazen to agree to continue the talks, is still on the cards!!! It  reminds me of the episode of the new “Upstairs Downstairs” which I watched the other day, in which we see Neville Chamberlain insisting on signing the shameful Munich Agreement because “we need a pact that Herr Hitler will agree to”.

Actually, that rather reminds me of another Jewish folk tale, about the “Wise Men” of Chelm.

 

Once upon a time, a visitor arrived in Chelm on business and put up at the village inn. On his way to the market place, he passed a fellow Jew, who was looking around on the ground, diligently, as if searching for something.

“Hallo there,” he said. “Have you lost something?”

“Indeed I have,” was the reply. “Perhaps you can help me search. I am looking for my wallet, which I dropped somewhere in the synagogue courtyard.”

“If you dropped your wallet in the synagogue courtyard, why are you looking for it here?” asked the visitor, surprised.

“Because the synagogue courtyard is muddy,” replied the citizen of Chelm. “I would have got myself all dirty if I had searched there. Better to search here where the ground is clean.”

In short – if the actual facts are inconvenient, let’s just re-imagine them to suit our would-be scenario.

 ********

The fact that the “Palestinian” murderers chose the eve of Pessach for their cowardly attack (which has been praised as “a heroic act” by the Islamic Jihad and Hamas movements) is hardly new and should surprise no-one.  On March 27th, 2002, a “Palestinian” suicide bomber walked into the dining room of the Park Hotel in Netanya, where hundreds of innocent Jews had gathered to celebrate a communal Seder, and blew himself up, killing 30 and wounding 140 more. Most of the victims were senior citizens, some of them –  Holocaust survivors.

Our enemies have often targeted us at Pessach. In Mediaeval and Renaissance Europe, Christian clerics would whip up a frenzy of Jew-hatred during their Holy Week sermons, inciting their flock to go out at massacre any Jew they could lay their hands on.

Small wonder then, that one of the central passages in the Passover Haggadah states:

This is what has stood by our fathers and us! For not just one alone has risen against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand!”

One need look no further than the tragic events in Kansas City earlier this week, where a rabid antisemitic Ku Klux Klansman attempted to murder Jews . The irony of the KC attack is that two, at least, of his victims turned out to have been devout Christians.

********

When I was a child, one of my favourite passages in the Haggadah was the part describing the Four Sons – the Wise Son, the Wicked Son, the Simple Son and The One Who Is Too Young to Ask. My siblings and I used to sqabble over who would read which paragraph. Naturally, we all wanted to be the Wise Son and none of us was ready to read the paragraph pertaining to the Wicked Son.

The wicked one, what does he say? “What is this service to you?!” He says `to you,’ but not to him! By thus excluding himself from the community he has denied that which is fundamental. You, therefore, blunt his teeth and say to him: “It is because of this that the Lord did for me when I left Egypt”; `for me’ – but not for him! If he had been there, he would not have been redeemed!

This was the paragraph that sprang to my mind when I learned recently (thanks to fellow-blogger Mike, from Seattle)  about a so-called “Seder” conducted by the Seattle Chapter of the Jewish Voice for Peace – a radical, Israel-hating bunch of self-hating Jews - from  which Israeli products were banned and at which the Biblical Narrative was, to all intents and purposes, replaced by the “Palestinian” pseudo-narrative. Their so-called “Haggadah” is an obscenity, full of anti-Israel lies.

People like this, and others, such as the “Jewish” antisemite Richard Silverstein (an unemployed blogger, also from Seattle)  have, like the Wicked Son,  cut themselves off from the Jewish People (if they ever belonged to it)  so completely that, had they themselves been present three and a half thousand years ago, when our ancestors left Egypt, they would not have been thought worthy to be redeemed.

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Remembrance and Beyond: Commemorating the Holocaust – Part 5

P1020383 Annecy, the Club Room
P1020384 Annecy, the Club RoomTuesday, January 28th – the culmination of our journey. We were supposed to set out for Geneva from our hotel in Sévrier (0verlooking Lake Annecy) at 10 a.m. Unfortunately, there was no bus. It was never all that clear what happened but apparently, there was supposed to be a new driver only he didn’t know the way, so the first driver had gone to collect him. Nobody knew exactly when we would be setting out. The departure time was set back several times and, because we had no idea when we would be setting out, we could not go far but had to spend the time exploring the hotel grounds – or the bar.

 

This was the same hotel we had stayed in three years previously, but the view of the snow-capped mountain peaks, the sparkling blue of Lake Annecy and the green of the hotel grounds was as fresh and uplifting as ever.

P1020364 Annecy, view from my hotel window

 

 

 

 

P1020367 Annecy, grounds of the Hotel P1020368 Annecy, grounds of the Hotel

 

 

 

 

P1020380 Annecy, grounds of the Hotel

P1020373 Annecy, grounds of the Hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

P1020405 View in the hotel grounds, Annecy P1020406 View from the hotel grounds, Annecy

In short, the location and setting are a photographer’s dream! Even the pebbles in the car park presented photo opportunities for the enterprising cameraman or woman. For example – can you find the face hidden here among the stones?

P1020381 Annecy, grounds of the Hotel

 

Or spot the mysterious hamsa amulet? (I’ve given you a bit of help here ;-)  ). P1020408 Stones in the hotel grounds, Annecy

 

 

 

 

 

The bus – and its driver – returned, eventually, round about noon and we set off for Geneva, arriving at the Palais des Nations barely in time to have a mediocre, lukewarm lunch in the cafeteria, which – be warned – accepts Euros but only gives change in Swiss Francs which are useless anywhere but in Switzerland. So, if you must pay in Euros, it’s advisable to pay with the lowest common denomination of banknotes. If you pay with, say a hundred Euro note and then realise you could have paid with a smaller bill, thus avoiding being forced to “convert” a large sum into Swiss Francs, they won’t let you change your mind and pay with the lower denomination.

Lunch was a hurried affair, as we had to cram in another orchestra rehearsal before the concert – which, with the clockwork precision to be expected of the Swiss, began at precisely 5 p.m. The entire ceremony can be viewed here and included the moving testimony of Helga Pollak-Kinsky, whose diary from the Theresienstadt Ghetto formed the basis of the exhibition “The Girls of Room 28″, dedicated to the memory of the children of Theresienstadt.

Israeli Jews and Germans singing together from the depths of the heart – this is our answer to the haters and those who would sow discord. Perhaps the most symbolic of all was the young generation of Zamirchor, the Zamirsternchen, singing in Hebrew and Yiddish at the reception which followed the concert - culminating in a spontaneous performance, by all three choirs, (and, I suspect, not a few guests) of “Eli, Eli”:

 

 

After that, it was back to the hotel for supper and a farewell party.

The next day, after emotional farewells, and last-minute photos, we set off our separate ways – the Zamirchor travelling by bus back to Bayreuth (an eleven hour ride), the Tivon Chamber Choir back to Israel via Istanbul and the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir back home via Frankfurt.

P1020412 Group photo in the hotel grounds, Annecy

 

Although there are  no plans for us to take part in the Dry Bones Project next year, we are looking forward to continuing our collaboration with our old friends from Bayreuth and our new friends from Tivon.

 

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Remembrance and Beyond: Commemorating the Holocaust – Part 4

Monday, January 27th, got off to a bad start - a very bad start. This was the day we were due to leave Bayreuth and travel to Switzerland, for two concerts and the “grand finale” of our tour, namely, the official International Holocaust Memorial Day concert at the UN Headquarters – the Palais des Nations – in Geneva. The UN concert was scheduled for the following day, Tuesday January 28th, rather than the actual Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27th – apparently, because everything is closed at the UN in Geneva on Monday. On Monday night, we would mark Holocaust Memorial Day with an a cappella concert at the Liberal Synagogue in Geneva where we first appeared 3 years ago, in 2011.

As I mentioned in my last post, twenty intrepid volunteers had already set out at 4 a.m. for what, we later learned, had been a completely unnecessary rehearsal with the orchestra in Schaffhausen. The rest of us, after a too-hasty breakfast, and an equally unnecessary rehearsal in the Zamirhalle, prepared to set out at 10 a.m. for what we believed would be a nine-hour bus ride to Geneva.

This is where things began to go wrong, from my point of view. By 10:30 a.m. luggage was still being loaded onto the bus and I decided I had time for a quick trip to the bathroom. Wary of the snow that still lay fairly thickly on the ground, I carefully navigated my way across the street to the hotel. The business accomplished, I prepared to return and take my seat on the bus. Alas.

Although I was walking quite slowly, the automatic glass doors leading from the hotel lobby onto the street were moving even more slowly. I had naturally assumed that the role of automatic doors was to open – automatically – when someone approaches them. It appears they did not agree. I walked smack into them.

Evidently, Alohomora doesn’t work for Muggles.

I stood there, dazed, for a few moments, until a member of the Tivon Choir who had witnessed the mishap came up and asked if I was alright. A member of the hotel staff arrived and offered ice to apply to my head. I said it was unnecessary and, escorted by my Tivon colleague, went out to the bus, where my friends decided that I did, after all, need to apply ice to my face and set about collecting snow from the ground and stuffing it into a plastic bag. I was then sent to sit on the bus, while they finished loading the suitcases. So you see, my little accident was not the reason for the 38 minute delay in setting off for Geneva.

I spent the first hour or so of the journey with the makeshift ice-pack clutched to my face, greatly concerned by the thought that I might develop a black eye. Ofer came and informed me that I might have to sing my “Adon Olam” solo twice that evening, as we were going to perform it both at the beginning and at the end of the concert. That was certainly an incentive to pull myself together, as he had known it would be.

Shortly after that, things began to come still further unstuck. The driver informed us that we would be arriving in Geneva at about 9 p.m. Our concert was due to start at 8.30 p.m. Apparently, whoever had made the calculations the previous day had based them on the distance between Bayreuth and Geneva and the maximum permitted speed on the autobahn, taking into account rest stops for the driver but failing to take into account the fact that, whatever the permitted maximum speed on the autobahn might be, buses were restricted to no more than 100 kph.

The next ten hours or so were punctuated by urgent phone calls between the “Management” on the bus (Ofer and the Tivon conductor, Yael), the Geneva synagogue organisers and the “delegation” which had gone ahead in the wee hours of the morning and had already reached Geneva. Every so often, we received updates as to our estimated time of arrival. Each time we gained a half hour or so, we would lose it in the next update. We thus alternated “between hope and fear”. The concert was officially postponed to 9 p.m. and the task of keeping the audience occupied was delegated to those who had left before dawn and, in particular, to our own wonderful Tamar, who had volunteered to leave at 4 a.m. and who could not rest even now, but – so we heard later – organised the audience in community singing. Fortunately, among her many other talents, Tamar speaks French.

Meanwhile, we “rehearsed” on the bus, accompanied by Ofer on the melodica.

P1020360 Singing in the bus en route for Geneva

By the time we crossed the German-Swiss border, it became clear that there wouldn’t even be time to change into our concert costumes on arriving at our destination and that we would have to change on the bus. I suggested that, since it was a double-decker bus, the men change downstairs and leave the upper deck for the ladies. Evidently, most of my colleagues had spent their formative years on a kibbutz as nobody else seemed to think this was necessary. In the end, I was one of the first to change – after ensuring that, at least, the curtains on the bus windows were drawn.

We arrived at the synagogue at about 9:20 p.m., dumped our bags in a downstairs cloakroom and rushed up to the synagogue – which I fully expected to be empty.

It was not.

And it was a very successful concert – hard as it was to sing, at first, with dry throats and tired as we were. As Ofer had hinted, I did, indeed, get to sing “Adon Olam” twice, sharing the solo, once with Margot from the Zamirchor and once with Yael, from the Tivon Chamber Choir. In both instances, I sang the last verse.

Here is the second rendition, with Yael and myself, recorded on a camera phone:

After that, “tired but happy” as they say, we boarded the bus again and set out for our hotel in Annecy, on the French side of the border, an hour and a quarter or so’s drive away. But don’t be thinking that we could then go to bed. Supper was awaiting us at the hotel and after that, some of us (not including yours truly!) repaired to the clubhouse/bar.

I went to sleep, once again, at about 1:30 a.m. Fortunately, without a black eye.

To be continued…..

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Remembrance and Beyond: Commemorating the Holocaust – Part 3

In Germany at the end of January, it doesn’t get light until almost 8 a.m. Accordingly, when I awoke on Sunday, January 26th, it was not until I had washed and dressed that I threw open the curtains – and then realised that a change of wardrobe was in order. It had snowed quite heavily during the  night and I had awoken to a magical kingdom of white.

P1020303 Outside the Arvena Congress Hotel, Bayreuth

Today, we were due to travel to the spa town of Bad Steben, spend a couple of hours in the hot thermal baths, and, in the evening, give another a cappella performance in the Kurhaus, the Assembly Rooms of the spa. Now, frankly, thermal baths and all that are not really my cup of tea. Almost everyone else, however – including Ofer and the remaining “Eleven Disciples” – opted for a dip in the warm springs and while I was walking around the picturesque little town with half a dozen others, including a Zamirchor member who had been born there, took full advantage of the opportunity to go a little crazy and “sunbathe” in the snow!

At the thermal baths in Bad Steben

Ofer frolicking in the snow

Meanwhile, I and my companions were savouring coffee and the most sinfully delicious cream cakes at the spa café. My choice? Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Gateau),  a stone’s throw away from the very region in which it was invented:

P1020331 Bad Steben - a coffee break

After that, Brigitta, from the Zamirchor (who, as I mentioned previously, was born in Bad Steben), took us to see the town, including the home of  the famous naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, (who established P1020339 Bad Steben, the new Evangelical ChurchGermany’s first technical school of mining in the town) and the “New” Evangelical Church (about 150 years old, according to Brigitta) where she – and her children – were baptised, confirmed and married.

I can’t resist pretty picture-postcards of snow-covered villages, can you?

P1020323 Bad Steben

P1020326 Bad Steben

 

P1020330 Bad Steben

P1020349 Bad Steben

Lunch was served in the elegant banqueting hall of the Kurhaus – the same hall where, later that evening, a reception was held for the concert-goers, graced by the Bürgermeister (Mayor) of Bad Steben in his chain of office,  and other local and regional politicians and dignitaries. I am not at all sure that a champagne reception is a suitable prelude to a Holocaust-memorial concert and, listening to all the speeches (or as much as I could understand from the translation provided), I found it hard to banish the cynical thought that, for many of the VIP guests, this was, basically, a photo-opportunity, a chance to demonstrate their progressive,  anti-racist credentials. Maybe I’m doing them an injustice. As I said, the whole idea of a champagne reception before the concert felt incongruous to me and possibly prejudiced my thinking – I don’t know. At any rate, the concert was very successful and, afterwards, we were happy to discover that a friend of ours, Wenzel, who had been a member of our choir during his stay in Israel as a volunteer but had been obliged to return to Germany because of bureaucratic problems concerning his visa extension, was in the audience.

This concert marked the end of the German leg of our tour. The following evening, Monday, we had a concert scheduled in Geneva. We were supposed to be leaving Bayreuth at 4.30 a.m. and travelling to Schaffhausen, in Switzerland, there to rehearse Tuesday’s UN Holocaust Memorial Concert with the German Radio Orchestra, before proceeding to Geneva for our third and last a cappella concert at the Liberal Synagogue on Monday evening. Mass resistance to the proposed early start led to a compromise. Twenty singers (five each from the soprano, alto, tenor and bass sections) as well the children from the Zamirsterchen (the Zamir Children’s Choir) would leave in the darkness before dawn to rehearse with the orchestra at Schaffhausen, while the rest of us would hold a piano rehearsal conducted by Ofer in the Zamirhalle from 8:30 – 10:00 and then set out directly for Geneva by coach. We would thus (so it was reasoned) arrive there at 19:00 p.m. with plenty of time for supper and a rehearsal in the synagogue before the concert at 20.30 p.m.

Ofer called for – and, amazingly, got – twenty volunteers. We got back to Bayreuth, if I remember rightly, some time after 23:30 – and I went to bed after midnight, safe and serene in the knowledge that I would be able to get a normal night’s sleep.

Had I known, or even imagined, the chapter of disasters in store for us the following day, I would not have slept so soundly.

To be continued…

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Remembrance and Beyond: Commemorating the Holocaust – Part 2

The following day, Friday, was relatively relaxed. A projected trip to nearby Bamberg was cancelled, due to expected stormy weather which, in the event, apparently did not materialise  - so it was reported by those who decided to make their own way to Bamberg, never having seen it before. I have visited Bamberg before, on JOCC’s previous visit to Bayreuth in May 2008  so, after a morning rehearsal for the following evening’s concert,  I preferred to forego the trip and wander around the Rotmain shopping mall and the Old Town of Bayreuth with its entrancing little shops, before returning to the hotel to rest before that evening’s Kabbalat Shabbat.

P1020263 Rehearsal in Barbara's apartment

P1020266 Rehearsal in the Zamirhalle

P1020271 Rotmain shopping mall, Bayreuth

Kabbalat Shabbat took place in the Zamirhalle, with the participation of all three choirs, and included, besides the traditional wine and bread, a delicious soup made by one of the Zamirchor members, and – later on –  pizza! Issak Tavior enlivened the first part of the evening by playing Shabbat songs on the piano and, after supper, the JOCC contingent performed Shabbat songs set by Israeli composers Zvi Avni and Sarah Shoham.

P1020273 Tavior at the Kabbalat Shabbat in the Zamirhalle

The Zamirchor members are, for the most part, non-Jews, but one or two were sporting kippot (yarmulkas) – and not just this evening. D. in particular, who, not so long ago, discovered that his maternal great-grandmother was Jewish and that so too was his maternal grandmother and thus, also his mother. He himself, then, is halachically Jewish – and he told me proudly that he and most of his family, now keep kashrut (the Jewish dietary laws).

Shabbat too, was, as it should be, mostly a day of rest. In the afternoon, a party of us walked the 20 or so minutes to the Festspielhauswhere our guide explained to us the workings of the famed acoustics and where, seated in the auditorium, we sang Hannah Szenes‘s famous poem “Eli, Eli”. On our previous trip to Bayreuth, five and a half years ago, we sang this song in a beautiful little Baroque church, but it had even more significance now, when performed by a mixed group of Israelis and Germans, in Wagner’s own opera house – given the composer’s rabid antisemitism and the position he held in the eyes of those responsible for “culture” in the Third Reich. Even more significant was the fact that, later on, we stood on that hallowed stage itself – where Wagner had intended that nothing should ever be performed, save for his own operas – and sang “Jerusalem of Gold”. I bet he was turning in his grave! I certainly hope so. At any rate, we were surely preferable to the crocodiles ;-)

That evening, the first of our a cappella concerts took place in the Zamirhalle. Appropriately, since Zamirchor is a choir with a mission, to promote German-Jewish reconciliation, the concert was entitled: “Im Zeichen der Freundschaft”“In Sign of Friendship”. Each of the three choirs gave a varied programme from their own repertoire. Of particular interest was the fact that, while the two Israeli choirs included songs in German by Haydn (the Tivon Choir), Brahms (JOCC) and Mendelssohn (both choirs),  the Zamirchor from Bayreuth chose to perform a programme of Hebrew and Yiddish songs by the composer Viktor Ullmann, whose Jewish descent (despite the fact that both his parents had converted to Roman Catholicism before he was born) was enough to condemn him, first to exile in the Theresienstadt concentration camp and, finally, to the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

After all three choirs had performed separately, we joined together en masse to perform De Sola’s “Adon Olam”, (in which yours truly had a solo), Tavior’s latest work “In the Blood, Live” and “Eli, Eli” (see above).

The most amazing thing was that the hall was completely packed. Besides the 90 or so seats, the organisers had been forced to add wooden benches. Even so, there were spectators standing in the aisles (at least, there weren’t actually any aisles, but they were standing all around the walls).

The concert was followed by a post-concert party in the Zamirhalle, with plenty of wine, beer – and yet more pizza!

All in all, it was a very successful evening and marked a very successful halfway point in our tour. 

To be continued…..

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Remembrance and Beyond: Commemorating the Holocaust – Part 1

Each year, on January 27th, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, the international community, through the medium of the United Nations Organisation, commemorates the Holocaust – the extermination of six million Jews, men, women and children, by the German Nazis and their willing (nay, enthusiastic)  collaborators throughout Occupied Europe. This is the day designated by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 on 1 November 2005 during the 42nd plenary session, on which every member nation (I presume that also includes Iran!)  is urged to honor the memory of Holocaust victims, and encouraged to develop educational programs about Holocaust history to help prevent future acts of genocide. The resolution rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an event and condemns all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief.

The occasion is marked by special memorial ceremonies in the UN. This year, 2014, marked the third time my choir, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, has participated in the Memorial Concert, having done so also in 2010 (in New York)  and in 2011 (in Geneva). This series of articles is the diary of our journey, punctuated by six concerts over the course of nine days, in Germany and Switzerland (with a brief French interlude).

I am rather cynical about the UN’s gestures towards commemorating the Holocaust, in view of their hypocritical and one-sided attitude to the Jewish State which rose from the ashes of the Nazi crematoria, although I have no doubt whatsoever as to the sincerity of the members of the Zamirchor from Bayreuth, our friends and partners for five and a half years now, not only in the Dry Bones Project (so called because the central musical offering of the concerts is the cantata “The Vision of the Dry Bones” by Israeli composer Issak Tavior) but also in other musical initiatives.

For various reasons – prior commitments, exams, the expected birth of grandchildren (Mazal Tov, Nadine :-) ) –  only twelve members of our choir took part in the project this time: the Twelve Disciples, as our young and dynamic new conductor, Ofer Dal Lal, nicknamed us. But since the Twelve were made up of three from each voice, sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, the balance was good and, while this would have made little difference in the three symphony concerts with the other choirs and with professional orchestras, it was important in view of the fact that we also had three a cappella concerts planned, in which each of the participating choirs (JOCC, Zamirchor and the Tivon Chamber Choir) would be able to demonstrate their abilities.

We set out on the afternoon of Tuesday, January 21st, on a Lufthansa flight to Munich. At Munich, after some confusion as to which train we had to catch, we boarded a shuttle bus from the airport to the main railway station, where – despite a few anxious moments, and an impromptu “rehearsal” of our a cappella repertoire on the platform, we caught a train to Nuremberg. From there, we had to transfer to yet another train, which brought us to Bayreuth a couple of minutes short of midnight. There, a few members of the Zamirchor were waiting for us, some to collect those of us who would be hosted by Zamirchor members in their own homes, and two more to transport those of us who had elected to stay in a hotel, to the comfortable and very conveniently situated Arvena Kongress Hotel, right opposite the Zamirhalle.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t get to bed till about 1.00 am – and we had to be ready with our music and concert costumes to leave on the bus at 8.30 am for Hof, where we were due to appear in the first concert on Wednesday evening!

Still, when needs must, one can manage on very little sleep and we made it safely to Hof, more or less on time, for a late morning rehearsal at the Freiheitshalle, with the Hof Symphony Orchestra. There was actually a light dusting of snow on the ground when we reached Hof, but it felt less cold than it had here in Jerusalem, during the snow blizzard in December – possibly because I was bundled up so warmly.

P1020177 Rehearsal in Hof

After the rehearsal, and an excellent lunch, we were treated by our hosts to a coffee and cake reception in the vaulted basement of the Museum Bayerisches Vogtland, (my apologies for the peculiar Google translation ;-) ), which is devoted to the subject of the regional history of Hof and its surroundings. The (homemade) cakes were delicious and the museum was very interesting also. And then, it was time to return to the Freiheitshalle and get ready for the concert, which, besides “The Vision of the Dry Bones” and other works by Tavior, included the “Kaddish” by Maurice Ravel (performed by the indefatigable Barbara Baier, founder of the Zamirchor and moving spirit behind the whole project) and the first movement of Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony, “Babi Yar”, performed by the men’s choir.

P1020221 Backstage before the concert, Hof P1020220 Backstage before the concert, Hof

The following day, Thursday, we set out in the morning for Nuremberg, for the second of the memorial concerts. As you can no doubt imagine, performing in the city which gave its name to the Nazi race laws and where the sons of Amalek used to hold their mass rallies, was fraught with special significance. The performance, which took place in the concert hall of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra (adjacent to the former Nazi Party Congress Centre and parade grounds) was broadcast live by Bayerischen Fernsehen – the Bavarian TV network.

Whenever I participate in one of these Holocaust memorial tours, there always comes a point where I break down. This time, it happened in Nuremberg, while listening to the testimony of a Holocaust survivor, Rudi Ceslanski, who – like my own father – was sent to England on the KindertransportCeslanski described the fate of his family – almost all of whom perished in the Holocaust. But there was one, miraculous exception, and when he described the moment, after the war, when – against all hope – he learned that his father was still alive, that was, for me, the moment that opened the floodgates. I think I was not the only one.

The whole concert can be seen on the Bavarian TV link, given above. Rudi Ceslanski’s testimony is at round about 0:53 minutes.

After the concert, we were taken on a guided tour of the old Nazi parade grounds and the Congress Centre, which has been converted into a Documentation Centre, charting the rise of National Socialism and attempting to explain how even apparently normal, decent people could become so swept up by the Monster. The director of the Dokumentationzentrum explained the Centre’s philosophy, that the present generation is not responsible for the crimes of the Nazis but it does bear the responsibility of ensuring that the crimes of that generation are never forgotten and never repeated.

 

P1020233 The  Dokumentazioncentrum, Nuremberg

P1020238 The Nazi Party Parade Ground, Nuremberg

P1020246 The  Dokumentazioncentrum, Nuremberg

On returning to Bayreuth, at the end of a rather harrowing day, during the course of which, all we had had for lunch was a bowl of soup (albeit a very rich potato soup and no doubt more satisfying than the thin, watery broth doled out to the inmates of the concentration camps), some of us (the members of the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, together with two couples from Zamirchor, who were hosting JOCC members in their own homes) went out to dinner at a Greek restaurant – where, after a very satisfying meal and plenty of beer and ouzo, we turned to song (as we are wont to do), and the Irish fiancée of one of the Zamirchor members displayed her mellifluous contralto in a mournful, but tuneful Irish lament while the waiter (I believe he was actually the owner of the restaurant) showed off his acrobatic skills by managing to gather up almost all of the plates in one go.

P1020255 Supper at the Olympus restaurant, Bayreuth P1020256 Supper at the Olympus restaurant, Bayreuth

Once again, it was past one o’clock in the morning when I got to bed, but since the next two days were to be concert-free and therefore, less hectic, I knew that I would be able to sleep late the following day and recuperate my strength for the four remaining concerts.

To be continued…

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Ariel Sharon 1928 – 2014

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

The earth has now settled on the grave of Ariel (Arik) Sharon, the mourners have driven away and the world still turns. Life goes on. What shall I say of Israel’s 11th Prime Minister? How will History recall him?

Arik Sharon was a man of contradictions. The man responsible for much of the Israeli settlement of the Gaza Strip and in Judaea and Samaria was also the man responsible for the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and the destruction of the Jewish villages of Gush Katif (aka “The Disengagement” of 2005). The man who oversaw the uprooting of the Israeli town of Yamit in Sinai was also the man who led Israeli troops to a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat at the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War.

Both the Extreme Left and the hard-liners of the Right, instead of remembering him for his good deeds, seem to have chosen to remember him for the evil he committed – and, naturally, in many cases, the deeds are one and the same, what is good in the eyes of one side being evil in the eyes of the other. Those of the Left approved his uprooting of Israeli settlements, but, with his death, remember him as the man who ruthlessly crushed Arab terrorism, who led the IDF far into Lebanon, as far as Beirut – and vilify him as being responsible for the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in the Lebanon, even though it was ordered and carried out by Christian Phalangist militias, in revenge for the massacre of Christians at Damour. They also claim that he provoked the Second Intifada (the “Al-Aqsa Intifada) by his visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000 – although Palestinian leaders such as Marwan Barghouti and Yasser  Arafat’s widow, Suha, have admitted that the 2nd Intifada was planned much earlier that summer. The visit, at the head of a delegation of Likud Knesset Members, was seen as an assertion of Jewish rights over the Mount amidst claims that the Government of the time was preparing to concede Israeli sovereignty over this holiest of all Jewish holy places.

The Right approved his ruthlessness in dealing with “Palestinian” terrorism, but to this day cannot forgive his betrayal of his voters, the turnabout on his election promises and the unilateral withdrawal from the whole of the Gaza Strip, resulting in the expulsion of the Jewish residents from their homes in Gush Katif. Many of them claimed that the turnabout was a result of the pressure that Sharon was feeling because of investigations of corrupt dealings he was allegedly involved in and that he hoped to win the favour of the left-leaning Media (which was pressing for his indictment) by handing Gaza over to the “Palestinians”.

In the heat of the “Disengagement”, to which I was absolutely opposed, I too was ready, in my anger, to believe that Sharon had seized upon this opportunity as a way of diverting attention from the corruption charges. In retrospect, however, I find it hard to accept that a man whose entire life, till then, had been devoted to defending the Land of Israel and its people, would knowingly, deliberately, endanger both in such a way and for such a reason.

The “Disengagement” has indeed proved to be a terrible mistake. All it accomplished was to place a strategic piece of land in the hands of the Hamas terrorists, who daily fire rockets into Israel’s heartland. Most of these attacks aren’t reported by the main stream media, because, fortunately, most of the missiles do not cause loss of life or limb. It is possible that Sharon, had he not been struck down shortly afterwards by a stroke, would have come to recognise this mistake for what it was.

I had a dispute on another blog with people who thought me naive to believe either that Sharon’s intentions were good, or that he might have repented.

I said “might have repented”. I do not claim to know what was in his heart. Nor can I – or any of us – know what thoughts might have been passing through his head, unspoken, unexpressed, during those eight years that he lay in limbo, in a coma, neither alive nor dead. There are those who claim that, if Sharon had repented, God would have found a way to let the fact of his repentance be known to his sons, so that they could apologise in their father’s name to the families expelled from Gush Katif.

I do not know what the Almighty would, or would not have done. I do know that He weighs our good deeds against our bad deeds – and if Arik Sharon wrought evil, he also did a lot of good.

I also know that whether or not we know what was in Sharon’s heart is irrelevant now, because, at this very moment, Ariel Sharon is standing before the Judgement Seat of the One who does know the unspoken secrets of men’s hearts.

It only remains then, to repeat the traditional Jewish response on receiving news of a death.

Blessed is the True Judge. ברוך דיין האמת (Baruch Dayan  Ha’Emet).

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