Living in a PC World: Elections and Stereotypes

Well, we’ve reached the end of the race – almost. Tomorrow is Election Day in Israel, and I am still  (slightly) undecided as to who to vote for.
There isn’t one party which totally meets my “wish list”  – and I suspect the same is true for the vast majority of voters.
It’s a shame one can’t do “mix ‘n’ match” with the various party platforms, the way one does with clothes, tableware or bed-linen.

In a way, voting for a political party – any political party – means conforming to a political stereotype, at least in the eyes of the opponents of that party. It is like submitting to the PC Thought Police. The moment you tell someone you’re  voting for a particular party, you are  instantly tagged as a fascist/enemy of Israel/bigot/self-hating Jew/heartless capitalist/ bleeding-heart do-gooder/(take your pick).
Apparently it is impossible for one who believes in the right of the Jewish People to all of Eretz Yisrael  also to care for the downtrodden middle class who cannot make ends meet. If you oppose the proposed “Israel as a Jewish State” Bill, it can only be because you are a Leftist, self-hating Jew, not because you think it is totally unnecessary to state the obvious. If you think homosexuality is abnormal, but support the Civil Partnership Law, you are still a bigot in the eyes of “the enlightened” and a destroyer of Jewish Family Values in the eyes of the orthodox and if you think that Israel can exist as a Jewish State without abolishing the standing of Arabic as an official language – forget it. You are a racist in the eyes of the Left  (because only a racist would support the right of Jews to their own state) and a Fifth Columnist/Traitor in the eyes of the Right (because obviously, keeping Arabic as an official language weakens the “Jewishness” of the State of Israel).

I think that I, like many “floating” voters, will be deciding which slip of paper to drop into the ballot box, on the basis of “the lesser of two (or more) evils”. It has often been said that the Israeli voter is always voting against something, never for something. A perfect example of this attitude, carried to extremes, is the campaign slogan of the centrist and left-wing parties: “Just not Bibi”. It reminds me of the old joke about the Jew who is shipwrecked on a desert island and who, when he is rescued after 20 years of life as a hermit, proudly points out to his rescuers the synagogue he has built for himself, although, as he admits, he only prays there once a year, on Yom Kippur. As they all marvel at his ingenuity, he tells them: “Oh, this is nothing. Just wait till you see the other synagogue I have built, over at the far side of the island.”
“Why do you need two synagogues?” they ask him.
“That other one is the one I wouldn’t be caught dead in!” is the reply.

What I am trying to say is that the moment you announce your intention to vote for any particular party, after weeks of soul-searching and after finally arriving at the conclusion that Party X is not perfect (far from it) but that Parties A, B and C are worse, you are instantly tagged with all the stereotypes attached to the supporters of that particular party. And the PC Thought Police reinforces this attitude. According to their Orwellian agenda, it is not enough to support whatever cause is the “Flavour of the Day”. You must support it for whatever they have deemed to be “the right reasons”.

Nor is anyone willing to listen to a word  “the Other Side” has to say. For example, I have a friend from my choir who thinks I am a fascist and a racist, because I want Israel to be  “a Jewish state”. She thinks she knows what I mean by “a Jewish state” and won’t let me explain that what I mean by the term and what some others might mean by the term are not necessarily one and the same. She cannot conceive of the possibility that a person might believe fervently in the right of the Jewish People to their own state in all of Eretz Yisrael, while still respecting the civil rights of the Arab minority.

Likewise the question of same-sex marriage. Even if one agrees that people have a right to deviate from “the norm”, as long as they are not harming anyone else, one is still “a bigot”, if one does not believe homosexuality is “normal” , because for some people, if one uses terms like “normal”, one is making a value judgement. The common response of these people is usually something on the lines of “Who gave you the right to decide who is normal and who is not?” Try to explain what you mean by “normal” and they won’t let you get a word in edgeways, because you have already been branded a bigot and the democratic right to freedom of speech is only for those who happen to agree with what the self-proclaimed “enlightened” have deemed to be Politically Correct.

Hand-in-hand with this stereotyping of other people’s positions is the extremely defensive attitude concerning one’s own. My American-born friend from the choir who thinks support for a Jewish State is inherently racist, when asked what it was that drew her to make aliyah, does not recognise my innocent question as a perfectly genuine attempt to elicit from her an analysis of her view of the Jewish connection to Eretz Yisrael. What she hears is: “If you don’t like it here in the Jewish state, go back to the USA.” And she refuses to allow any further discussion, any attempt to explain that this was not my intention at all.

I hasten to add, I do not believe that this behaviour is uniquely Israeli. I fear it is a trait shared by a very large number of people the world over. On the face of it, it doesn’t seem to bode very well for the future of Humanity.
In fact, sometimes, I wonder how we’ve managed to survive this long.
And yet, in spite of everything, the Human Race has managed – somehow – to muddle through.

Just as I am sure that, despite the dire predictions of Left and Right, Israel will also pull through, whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s elections.

Posted in Daily Life, Politics | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Politics, the Weather and the Politics of Weather

Forgive me, Reader, for I have sinned. It has been nearly three weeks since my last blog post ;-)

Whether it’s because I have been so busy, trying to learn my music for the two concerts I have coming up with my choir, on March 22nd and March 23rd, both of them involving the music of Leonard Bernstein (the “Chichester Psalms” on the 22nd and the incredibly difficult “Kaddish” the following evening), and attending three or four rehearsals a week, or because so much has been happening in the political arena that I simply can’t blog fast enough to keep up, I just haven’t had either the time, or the energy, to blog.

However, I don’t want you all to forget me ;-) so I thought I’d just drop a line or two about the hottest subject this week, namely Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress yesterday.
Yes, that speech. The one Obama is trying to portray as Israeli interference in US internal affairs and taking sides with the Republicans against the US President. The one Bibi’s enemies at home have claimed has “destroyed Israel-US relations” and is “intended to boost Bibi’s election campaign”.

Well, neither the one nor the other is true. How can a speech to Congress about a matter of foreign policy, in which Israel has a vital interest, be interfering in the internal affairs of the US?
And another thing. The Obama Administration claims, on the one hand, that Netanyahu doesn’t know all the details of the proposed agreement with the Iranians (whose fault is that, anyway, if the Americans are deliberately keeping Israel out of the loop?) – thus implying that his opposition to the agreement is fueled by ignorance of its details. Yet, on the other hand, they threaten him with “punishment” if he dares reveal the secret details (which he supposedly doesn’t know). Which is it? Does he oppose the proposed deal because he is ignorant of its secret details? Or does he oppose it because he does know the details and he knows that the West is preparing to throw Israel to the wolves in exchange for a worthless piece of paper guaranteeing “peace in our time” – the way they did to Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938?

As for “taking sides with the Republicans” – Congress is made up of both parties. If Bibi had accepted the invitation of some Democrat members of Congress, to come and speak to a closed meeting of Democrats only, that could certainly have been construed as taking sides.

And as to the claim that Netanyahu’s speech before Congress is all part and parcel of his own election campaign at home, let us not forget that he invited the leaders of the other parties to join him. Only Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party accepted the invitation. The others – who call themselves “the Zionist Camp” – rejected the idea with contempt. It seems to me that this proves one thing. It isn’t about Bibi’s election campaign. It’s all about their own – and frankly, their own campaign seems to lack any kind of substance, since their only policy seems to be, to get rid of Bibi at all costs.

Okay, that’s the politics out of the way and now we can get back to safer subjects – that’s if there are any. In “My Fair Lady”, if I remember rightly, Eliza Doolittle is advised, on her first foray into “polite society”, to stick to two subjects – the weather, and everybody’s health.

Right then. The weather. Well, I’m not sure how safe a subject even that is, considering the way it has become politicised over the past decade or so. Take the hot potato of climate change, for example.
However, I am going to stick to the subject of the weather in my little corner of the world.

The week before last, we had snow again, and the roads from Jerusalem were closed for a day. One day only, but it happened to be the very day for which I had tickets for the opera in Tel Aviv. Fortunately, I managed to exchange tickets and thus, was not forced to miss a scintillating performance by the visiting State Operetta Company of Budapest of Emmerich Kalman’s delightful “The Bayadere”. Brimming with lovely tunes, lavish sets and costumes, exotic “Indian” and fiery Hungarian dances, it was a delight from start to finish.



An interesting curiosity – an English-language version of this operetta was produced on Broadway in 1922 under the title “The Yankee Princess

As I said, the snow only lasted for a day but it produced some beautiful landscapes.

This was the view from my bedroom window at about half past six in the morning:


And it just got better and better – or worse and worse, depending on your point of view ;-)


20150220_064809  20150220_064304


Did you ever see a palm tree covered with snow?


Or tender cyclamens, their hanging heads struggling to stay above the freezing white blanket?

20150220_101917 Snowy cyclamens


20150220_070404 tracks in the snow


And, of course, the snowy slopes at one’s very doorstep presented something approaching a European winter playground for children and adults alike:



Alas, it was not to last. As soon as the sun emerged, the snow began to melt.

20150220_13051820150221_134957 snowmelt

I had not been at all sure that the snow would actually settle, preceded, as it was. by copious amounts of rain. But settle it did, and the snow stopped, to be followed by even more rain, leading to flooding all over the country. Neither the rain, nor the floods, stopped at the border and there was heavy flooding in Gaza also. However, the “Palestinians”, as usual, had someone to blame for this. Naturally, it was – as always -all Israel’s fault. They claimed that “Israel opened the dams along the river and flooded the Gaza Valley”. And – again, as usual – there were always those too gullible, too stupid,  or just too obsessively anti-Israel, to carry out the most basic examination of their sources, who always take the word of the “Palestinians” at face value, especially if it offers an opportunity for Israel-bashing. A case in point is the Daily Mail, which, in a banner headline, libelously accused Israel of deliberately flooding the Gaza Valley. Only one problem here – well, several, actually. First, Gaza does not lie in a valley, but on the coastal plain. Secondly, there are no dams in the vicinity. Hell, there aren’t even any rivers! The story was a lie from start to finish. Moreover, the same so-called “reporter”, one Lydia Willgress, who has clearly never opened an atlas in her life and doesn’t even know how to use Google Earth, otherwise she would have known this, also accused Israel of cutting off electricity for what she called “two of Gaza’s West Bank cities”. Had she taken the trouble to open an atlas, she would have seen that the Gaza Strip and the “West Bank” are two geographically separated areas. Moreover, had she any knowledge whatsoever of the subject she was supposed to be covering, she would have known that the Gaza Strip is ruled by Hamas and the “West Bank”is ruled by the Palestinian Authority.
Either Ms. Willgress is such a bad journalist that she completely failed to check her sources but published verbatim, under her own byline, the “Palestinian” press release, or she deliberately lied, in order to blacken Israel. In either case, she should be fired. But she won’t be – because the Daily Mail is, itself, complicit in the deliberate libel. They did, eventually, publish a clarification, but the damage has been done. They should have published a headline, stating that the story was a complete fabrication, but instead, they only made a slight correction to the original headline (which you can find on the excellent Israellycool blog, and the Honest Reporting website, along with the whole story). Nobody who read the original story is likely to go back and check it and the impression left in the minds of millions of readers, that Israel deliberately and maliciously opened the (non-existent) dams in order to cause further suffering to the “Palestinians” is now indelibly fixed.

As I said before – even the weather has become hopelessly politicised and is no longer the innocuous subject it once was.

Oh – and that power cut to two “Palestinian” cities?
The Palestinian Authorities owed millions of shekels to the Israel Electricity Company which supplies them with electricity. When you, or I, or any other ordinary citizen (ie. not “Palestinians”) owe money to the Electricity Company and don’t pay, our electricity is cut off until we not only pay our debt in full, but also pay an extra charge for reconnecting us. We don’t get a 45-minute (yes, that’s all it was – 45 minutes) power cut as a warning, after which full power is restored. For that kind of special treatment, I guess you have to be a “Palestinian”.




Posted in Daily Life, International Relations, Modern Living, Music, Nature, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


I have mentioned before how the activities of my choir, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, and its parent-choir, the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir, have frequently opened doors for me to many new places, artistic, literary and musical works, as well as opening my eyes to previously unknown facets of places and subjects I thought I knew well.

A musical workshop in Caesarea last month, under the direction of the American choral conductor Robert Porco, is a case in point. The workshop, in which two other choirs participated, besides JOCC, focused on American choral music.

20150130_133834 Robert Porco

While we are not complete strangers to American choral music, it has taken a much more prominent place in our repertoire since the American-born Kate Belshé took over as our conductor. However, it is not about American music that I wish to write today, but about a little-known gem on the Israeli travel itinerary/cultural scene.

As I mentioned above, the workshop took place in Caesarea, a fairly quiet town on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. Caesarea is best known for its Roman antiquities, especially its Roman theatre, now restored and used for concerts. For a brief time, it was the scene of the Israel Opera Festival, before the latter event transferred to Masada. Golf aficionados will also be familiar with the town’s golf course – for many years, the only one in Israel. Fewer people, it seems (and I was, until last month, not one of the privileged few), know of the existence of the Ralli Museum there, one of five such museums around the world, established by Harry Recanati, a scion of the Sephardic Jewish banking family. The Ralli Museums, supported by the Recanati Foundation, specialise in Latin American and Spanish art and entrance to them is free. It was in one of the exhibition pavilions there, Ralli 1, that the workshop took place.

The works of art are displayed in buildings constructed in the Spanish colonial style, although many of the sculptures are displayed outside, in the grounds.


Some of the “sculptures” were created by Mother Nature, such as this tree trunk which appears to have one of its own wooden “arms” wrapped around itself, in a contorted embrace.


There are more sculptures inside, including works by Salvador Dali.
And how about this painting? Dali, or merely “Daliesque”?


Are the watchers looking at a lighthouse, a building on an island in the middle of a lake, or a Celtic cross?
By the way – I find the Siamese cat in the lower right-hand corner quite irresistible :-)

One of the sculptures I particularly liked was this one, of a girl scrutinising her face in what I presume to be a mirror, although, at first glance, from a distance, I imagined her to be holding up a mobile phone, perhaps taking a “selfie” ;-)


20150130_092349 1492

The room in which the workshop took place also contained some very attractive sculptures, including these two, which might be said to be four – since, in each case, they presented different faces, depending from which side they were viewed:







The main exhibition hall is constructed around a small central patio, so that one can look through the windows on one side of the central hall directly through to the exhibits on the opposite side, thus receiving the pleasing aesthetic of a picture within a picture – or possibly, a hall of mirrors.



Another interesting effect of the architectural design is the way it caused the sunlight to fall on some of the paintings like a spotlight. Some might consider this a disadvantage, but I rather liked it.



I would be the first to admit that I know next to nothing about Latin American art, so it is something of a pity that, due to the exigencies of the workshop, there was scarcely time to enjoy the museum. Nor did I note down the names and creators of most of the art there. However, I do know what I like, and what I liked was the vivid colours which typified so many of the paintings, even those depicting the most sombre of subjects. For example, many of the paintings dealt with the history of the Jews in Spain, the Inquisition and the Expulsion of 1492.

20150130_091526Inquisition20150130_091547 Expulsion from SpainSee, too, the explosion of vibrant colour in this huge wall panel.

20150130_091351 1492


Many of the pieces depicted biblical scenes, such as this painting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.


I have heard that the Ralli Museums don’t have catalogues and don’t conduct formal tours, because the motto of their founder is that art should be enjoyed for its own sake. Lengthy explanations about style, artistic and social influences etc. would detract from the visitor’s ability to see the painting or statue with unbiased eyes. Be that as it may, I could not help but detect allusions in several paintings to earlier works of art, even though I am not sufficiently expert on the subject always to identify to what the artist was alluding.

This one, entitled “Levitation”, evokes Chagall, with his characters floating in mid-air – to my mind, at least.

20150130_111033 Levitacion


Here, for example, is a religious scene which reminded me of something but I’m darned if I remember what!

20150130_093541It actually appears to include allusions to several different paintings and artists. The left-hand female figure, for example, reminds me vaguely of Botticelli, the seated figure next to her makes me think of Picasso, the haloed saint in the background seems to be a mélange of Byzantine fresco and modern African painting and as for the nude female on the right – it reminds me of something, maybe it’s the pose – I don’t know. Maybe the female nudes from “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymous Bosch? Or one of Lucas  Cranach the Elder’s depictions of Venus? This one, maybe?

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


The following picture almost drove me crazy trying to recall where I had previously seen a painting of a female nude wearing a large black hat.

20150130_093528Here, it is the right-hand figure which seems to recall numerous paintings of nude women bathing. Rubens? Rembrandt? One of the northern European masters, at any rate. The black hat, too – it’s on the tip of my tongue. To what is the artist alluding?
I searched for hours on the internet until I found this painting, also by  Cranach the Elder:

(c) The National Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

I’m not sure that the artist was thinking of this painting, in particular. In fact, I’m not even quite certain that this is the painting that I myself was reminded of. Perhaps, after all, a guided tour, or at least, a catalogue, would have helped…

Well, there you have it, Dear Reader – my own completely random musings about a museum I might never have discovered, were it not for my musical activities with the choir. Anyone who recognises any of the paintings and can give me some information about them is cordially invited to do so. Likewise, I’d be interested to know if others see in the paintings what I saw. Please let me know.
In fact, even if you disagree with me, write and tell me. I don’t bite ;-)

That’s all for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little virtual tour of a museum I would gladly visit again.

Shabbat Shalom. Have a pleasant weekend.




Posted in Art, Music, Tourism, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Waiting For The Snow

It is claimed that the Eskimos have as many as 400 different words for snow. This is a claim which is hotly disputed and even referred to as “The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax”. Be that as it may, in Hebrew, there is (to the best of my knowledge) only one word for the cold, white powder (no, not cocaine ;-) ) – שלג (sheleg – accent on the first syllable).

The reason I bother to mention this is because the whole country is currently on “Snow Alert”. We have been promised (or threatened with – depending on your point of view) snow on Wednesday and Thursday, possibly lasting till Friday. My little nieces are in raptures at the thought and can’t wait. I, on the other hand, must confess to belonging to those who see the predicted blizzard as a threat to be feared rather than enjoyed – for two reasons.

First of all, the last time the country “enjoyed” a snowstorm, thousands of citizens were without telephones or electricity for hours, even days. I was one of the lucky ones who continued to enjoy uninterrupted service throughout the crisis. Parts of my neighbourhood, however, such as the part where my father and stepmother live, were not so fortunate. I do not know what happened in that part of the neighbourhood wherein my new apartment is situated, but I dare not count on being so lucky this time around.

Secondly, in the heavy rains which visited the country a few weeks ago, it became clear that the waterproofing of the roof in my building has been damaged, causing my ceiling to leak in two places in the kitchen. The roof is communal property and the other residents are ready to participate in the cost of repairs but we need to wait till we have three or four dry days in a row, because the roof has to be dry before the sealing material (no pun intended) can be applied and has to remain dry for at least 24 hours afterwards for the sealant to set. By the time agreement had been reached between the neighbours and the decision taken to buy the best materials and do the work ourselves rather than pay at least five times as much to have a professional come in and do it, the run of dry weather which followed the November rains had ended and so we are waiting for the next longish dry spell before the work can be carried out. Since my apartment is on the top floor – you can see why I am really, really worried.

Last week, however, before we acquired the waterproofing and sealing materials, we had several sunny days which saw the early blossoming of the almond trees (which don’t usually bloom till February) in the Elah Valley. (Photo credit:  Shmuel Karsch).

IMG-20141231-WA0002 Almond tree in Emeq Ha'elah

It has been said that the carpet of petals that fall from the almond tree resembles a blanket of snow – and, indeed, I remember reading a Spanish legend about a prince of Granada who married a Scandinavian princess. Although in love with her husband, the princess pined for the snows of her native land, so much so that she became  ill, and the young man feared his bride would die of sorrow. He took counsel with his wise men and, on their advice, he had almond trees planted secretly beneath the princess’s window. One morning, she awoke to find the garden carpeted with what looked like snow but which had the fragrance of flowers. Overwhelmed by this evidence of her bridegroom’s love for her, she finally settled down and came to love her new country.

A really bad cold prevented me from taking full advantage of last week’s sunshine, however, and by the weekend, the rain was back. (Photo credit: Revital Toren).

IMG-20150103-WA0009 Revital's deck

IMG-20150104-WA0002 Revital's deck







So, as my Dad is wont to say – that’s the situation. The country needs the rain. I, on the other hand, most assuredly do not. The children are looking forward to the snow. Yours truly is not.

For the nostalgically minded, I will leave you with some scenes of an Israeli winter, to the sounds of the Nachal Entertainment Troupe performing their 1967 hit גשם בוא (Geshem Bo – “Come, Rain”):



Enjoy the winter, come rain or come shine, wherever you are!



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A Musical Interlude

With Chanucah starting tonight, it’s time to take a break from wars, terrorism and election politics and devote some time to those things which make life bearable – music, literature, things like that…

Last Saturday night (December 13th), the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir presented its first full-length concert of the 2014/15 concert season under the baton of our new conductor, Kate Belshé. Given the fact that it was a cold, rainy evening and that St. Andrew’s (Scottish) Church, where we performed, is notoriously cold and uncomfortable, we had quite a respectable turnout even though we were not completely sold-out this time. At all events, this was a great start to our work with Kate, who took over as our conductor only three and a half months ago and is already working magic. I can tell (to paraphrase Bogey) that this is going to prove “the beginning of a beautiful friendship”

One of the things I most enjoy about choir is the learning experience. A new conductor brings new ways, new ideas, new methods – and a whole lot of new repertoire. About two-thirds of the pieces we performed the other night were completely new to most of us.

Another thing I have noticed with this year’s repertoire – both in the Chamber Choir and in the full, 150-member Jerusalem Oratorio Choir – is that much of it is comprised of musical settings of fine literature. Since I always research the pieces that we sing, this has led me, via Google and its myriad links, into labyrinthine paths of knowledge, and to poets I had never heard of, or had heard of but never read, or had never read except in translation. Thus, for example, since, later this season, the women of the big choir will be performing Federico Garcia Lorca’s Romancero Gitano as set by the Italian-Jewish composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, I embarked on a Google search of both the poet and the composer. I never studied Spanish but my knowledge of Latin and French makes it possible for me to appreciate the beauty of the lyrics even without a translation.

Similarly, Kate’s choice of repertoire for the Chamber Choir, which included Morten Lauridsen’s beautiful setting of Dirait-on from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Les Roses, introduced me to Rilke’s French poetry. Rilke is well-known as a German-language poet so it came as quite a surprise to me to learn that he wrote over 400 poems in French. Moreover, as I do not speak German (although I sing it quite frequently!), I have never been able to enjoy any of his work in the original language – until now. At any rate, Liora, from the choir, who prepared the Hebrew translations for the concert programme, used as her source this English version,  although she departed from it in translating “ton intérieur”, going for a more literal translation.  However, she rendered “abandon” as “desertion”, rather than the more probable (in my humble opinion)  “self-abandon” –  in the sense of casting  off restraint.
Both interpretations are possible, of course. That is the beauty of poetry.

Lauridsen is no stranger to us. We have, in the past, performed his settings of O Magnum Mysterium and Sure On This Shining Night. This time, however, it was Samuel Barber’s better-known version of the latter which we performed.

When we first performed the Lauridsen setting of James Agee’s poem, three or four years ago, my curiosity led me on a fascinating journey into the realms of American literature. Prior to this, I had read very little by American poets, and very few of them were known to me, beyond Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, the antisemitic Ezra Pound and the Jewish Emma Lazarus. Oh, and T.S. Eliot, of course, whom I had always considered more British than American and who was the only one I studied in any depth, at school.

James Agee, in particular, was the catalyst for some serious mental gymnastics as I struggled to help Liora find a suitable translation for the words “this side the ground”. In fact – and this just goes to show how a fresh pair of eyes, not necessarily those of a native English speaker, can contribute to our understanding of a work (we think) we know well – it was Liora’s Hebrew translation that made me realise that “the late year” is to be understood as meaning “last year”, rather than referring to the later months of the year (which had never made sense to me before). Now I could kick myself for not having seen it earlier! ;-)

Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone
Of shadows on the stars.

Amazingly, it was only when preparing this post that I discovered that the song lyrics are only a small part of a much longer poem!

Yet another American poet of whom I had never heard until Kate brought us a setting of the beautiful Grace Before Sleep by contemporary American composer Susan LaBarr (of whom I had also not heard until now) was Sara Teasdale.  My research on the latter was a striking example of the way a Google search can lead one, link by link, into what I have already described as “a labyrinth”. Sara Teasdale led me to Vachel Lindsay, previously unknown to me and he, in turn, led me to Langston Hughes whose novel, Not Without Laughter, I have read and enjoyed but with whose poetry, I am not familiar. Who knows where else my researches will lead me?

Other pieces performed included two songs by the Renaissance era French composer Clément Janequin, a song in an Australian aboriginal language, Tungarre, by Stephen Leek (with which we opened the concert, singing it as we entered, in procession), an arrangement by Paul Ben-Haim of the Ladino romance La Rosa and a setting by the young American (Jewish?) composer, David Asher Brown of Shelley’s To The Moonbeam.

Nor were our own, Jewish, sources neglected. Besides contemporary settings of verses from The Song of Songs by the Anglo-Canadian composer Healey Willan, the American  Daniel Pinkham, and the recently-deceased Israeli composer, Yehezkel Braun (whose niece is a member of our choir), the Book of Psalms also figured prominently in our programme, with settings in Latin and English, as well as the original Hebrew. Besides Salomone Rossi’s early Baroque setting of Psalm 146, we sang a Latin setting of the first three verses of Psalm 96 by his  German contemporary, Hans Leo Hassler:

The Psalms are a perennial favourite, and always relevant, even in contemporary times, as we can see from Bobby McFerrin’s “feminist” setting of the 23rd Psalm.

I will leave you with the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir performing a hypnotic, canonic setting based on a traditional Oriental melody, by Israeli composer Ofer Ben Amots,  of Psalm 137. I think that, in these times, when our enemies and even the “enlightened” countries of the West, are disputing the inaliable right of the Jewish people to our capital, Jerusalem, it is as well to remind everyone that even throughout the long Exile from our land, our eyes were ever turned, in hope, to Zion.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down,
Yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee…

Happy Chanucah                    חג אורים שמח


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Nationalism, the “Jewish State Bill” and the U.N. Partition Resolution of 1947

The day before yesterday sixty-seven years ago, on November 29th 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition the territory of the Palestine Mandate into two states – a Jewish state and an Arab state.

With all the talk these days about recognition of a “Palestinian” state and the mantra of “Two states for two peoples”, it is interesting to note that the international community at the time, as personified by the United Nations General Assembly (not the Security Council, where the five permanent members can exercise the right of veto), did indeed recognise the existence of two peoples within the borders of the mandated territory – the Jewish People and the Arab people. NOT “the Palestinian people”. In fact, Section B Article 9 of the resolution makes it quite clear that the word “Palestinian” refers, not to members of an ethnic group or ethnos, but to all people holding citizenship of the Mandated Territory of Palestine.
The election regulations in each State shall be drawn up by the Provisional Council of Government and approved by the Commission. Qualified voters for each State for this election shall be persons over eighteen years of age who are: (a) Palestinian citizens residing in that State and (b) Arabs and Jews residing in the State, although not Palestinian citizens, who, before voting, have signed a notice of intention to become citizens of such State.

From the above paragraph, it is quite clear that “Palestinian”, in 1947, did not mean “Arab”, but referred to both Arabs and Jews. It is also evident that the intention of the United Nations General Assembly was to create yet another Arab state (there are currently over twenty Arab states, the exact number depending on whether you follow the UNESCO definition, that of Wikipedia or that of the Arab League) and one Jewish state.

Moreover, it is manifestly clear that, in 1947, when the United Nations spoke of “Jews”, they were referring to a nation or a people, rather than a religion, as “Jews” are set against “Arabs” and not against “Muslims and/or Christians”

This being the case, one is somewhat bemused by the hysterical reaction of the world – and of the Israeli Left – to the idea that Israel’s proposed “Jewish State Law” should open with a declaration that Israel is the national state of the Jewish people and only of the Jewish people.

Now, I think that before we enter into the thick of this discussion, we should agree on our definitions. Debates about the proposed law tend to confuse “nationality” with “citizenship” – and indeed, the two words are often used interchangeably. My British passport, for example, has a line devoted to “nationality” where it states that I am a British citizen. My Israeli passport, on the other hand, refers only to “citizenship” and states that I am an Israeli citizen. Israeli identity cards, on the other hand, have a line devoted to le’om (לאום) which is best translated as ethnos and which, for the purposes of this article and to avoid confusion,  I too shall call by that name. Israeli ID cards list the ethnos of the card’s owner (Jewish, Arab, Druze etc.)   and this is distinct from citizenship because all permanent and temporary residents of Israel are obligated by law to possess an ID card, whether they are citizens or not (this does not apply to short-term residents, such as tourists, or holders of a student visa).

Having defined our terms of reference, let us now return to the point at hand.

Two points leap to the fore when entering the fray here:

1) Hardly anybody has actually bothered to read the proposed law. Instead, they have derived their knowledge of its (supposed) content from the various reports in the mass media, and thus, their knowledge of the facts is coloured by the political leanings of said media. In short, each newspaper, website, or news broadcast emphasizes that part of the proposed law which tends to prove whatever the reporter, blogger or broadcaster wants to prove and ignores or glosses over whatever disproves the journalist’s point of view. How else can one explain the number of people interviewed in the media (I refer to the general population, not to the Knesset Members sponsoring the proposed laws) who reply, when asked for their opinion: “I haven’t read it, but from what I have heard, I think it is good/bad/racist/discriminatory/necessary etc.(take your pick)”?
Only yesterday, I asked a friend from my choir who was waxing indignant about the proposed law if he had actually read it. He replied (and I quote): “Do you think I’m going to read all that legal verbiage?”
We live in the age of Twitter and the sound bite. Of course I knew he hadn’t read it.

2) If one were to take the trouble to read it, one would see that it does not, in fact, change the current legal position at all, and it most certainly does not (as its detractors claim) turn the non-Jewish citizens of Israel into second-class citizens.

The proposed law does, indeed, proclaim, that the State of Israel is the national homeland of one ethnos only, the Jewish people, that the Jewish holidays are the official holidays and that the Jewish Sabbath is the official day of rest of the State of Israel. But it also expressly declares the right of minorities to enjoy their own festivals and days of rest. The Bill also reasserts the position of the blue and white flag with the Magen David in its centre as the flag of Israel, the seven-branched candelabrum as the symbol of the State of Israel and “Hatikva” as the national anthem of Israel. There is no change here. All this is already enshrined in existing laws, just as the essence of the State of Israel as the Jewish national home, the place where the Jewish People came into existence, is already clearly stated in the Declaration of Independence. The proposed law also declares the right of all Jews to return to the land of Israel and to receive Israeli citizenship. Again, nothing new – this right was already established in the Law of Return 1950 and its subsequent amendments. And while the law speaks of the state’s duty to promote Jewish culture, it also expressly extends protection to the rights of minority groups to develop their own culture.
In short, every section of the law which enshrines a particular Jewish right or supposed privilege, is followed by another section, protecting the civil and religious rights of minorities. This is in line with all the important international documents which preceded the establishment of the State of Israel, including the Balfour Declaration and the document establishing the Mandate for Palestine. The former spoke of “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” whilst, at the same time, protecting “the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”.  The latter, in Article 2, required the Mandatory Power (ie. the United Kingdom) to establish conditions which would secure “the establishment of the Jewish national home“, while, at the same time, “safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.”
The meaning is clear. Israel is both a Jewish state and a democratic state, in which both Jews and minority groups will enjoy equal civil and religious rights.

This being the case, two questions arise:
1) Why is the Left so opposed to the proposed law? It changes nothing, after all.
2) Why is the Right so much in favour of it? It changes nothing, after all.

It is clear to me that the main objection of the Left – and of Israel’s detractors abroad – is the very definition of Israel as “a Jewish State”, even though this was the intention of the UN General Assembly right from the start. They claim that the very idea of an “ethnocentric” state is racist. Why? They are in favour of a “Palestinian” Arab ethnocentric state, and that, apparently, is not racist. Why is it such a racist idea for Jews to have their own state, where they can develop their own culture – without infringing on the cultural development of other ethnic groups?  Isn’t the idea of “self-determination” valid for Jews? Only for other ethnic groups? They claim that to state loud and clear that the Land of Israel is the national homeland for one ethnos only is to discriminate against other ethnic groups. Yet Spain, for example (which recently voted to recognise the “Palestinian” state), when enacting a law which will supposedly make amends for the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, made sure to clarify that the law “is rewarding not the expulsion itself, but the ability to preserve links with Spain and Spanish culture.” In short, Jews who can prove they have preserved the language and culture of Spain (ie. those characteristics which define the ethnos) will be able to return to Spain – because Spain is a nation-state, for the Spanish ethnos, as well as being part of the European Union. And the EU apparently has no problem with that.

As for the Right, in his regular Friday afternoon programme on Israel Radio last week, Yehoram Gaon gave it as his opinion that the proposed law is intended principally for internal consumption, to remind those of us who seem to have forgotten, where we came from and why we are here, in this land. There is also another facet to the claim of “internal consumption”. Many people say that Prime Minister Netanyahu supports the enactment of this law, because he is trying to pander to his supporters on the extreme Right. There is something in that, also.

As for me, I think the proposed law is completely unnecessary. Although, in fact, it does not relegate Israel’s non-Jewish citizens to second-class status, it seems that many of them feel that it does. It is clear to me that there are interested parties who, to suit their own agenda, have been assiduously nurturing these fears amongst minority groups. However, when I hear the brother of Israeli Druze policeman Zidan Saif, who was killed in the Har Nof Massacre earlier this month and who gave his life to defend Jews, declare that if the bill which discriminates between Jewish and Druze blood passes, he would no longer encourage his co-religionists to enlist in the IDF – then I realise that perception here is all-important. I do not think it is any longer possible to convince Murat Saif and his Druze co-religionists that their perception is faulty. There is an alliance of blood between Israel’s Jews and the Druze population. There are other loyal, non-Jewish minorities in Israel, who serve in the IDF and whose fate is bound up with that of the Jews – the Circassians, for example, and (to a certain extent) the Bedouin. Why should we be perceived as slighting them, even if in fact, we are not? Are we to endanger the alliance between us, for a purely declaratory law, which changes nothing whatsoever of the existing legal situation?
Everything that the “Jewish State Bill” says has already been said – in the Declaration of Independence, in the Law of Return, in the Law of the Flag and the Symbol of State, and in a host of other laws. Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish People. It is vital that this fact be recognised by our so-called “partners in the peacemaking process”, but it is not necessary to pass an internal law to that effect and wound the susceptibilities of Israel’s minority populations. It serves no useful purpose and, since it changes nothing at all in the legal status of Jews or non-Jews in Israel, merely confirming existing laws, it is – although innocuous from the point of view of the actual legal status of the non-Jewish minority – hurtful to them (because of their own, albeit mistaken, perception) and therefore harmful to the Jewish majority.

If there are people in this country who need to be reminded of the Jewish and democratic nature of the State of Israel, there are sufficient laws already on the statute book for that purpose. They need to be enforced, not duplicated.

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Justice for Jonathan Pollard – Prisoner of Zion

Today, November 21st 2014, Jonathan Pollard begins his thirtieth year in prison.

Jonathan Pollard

The day before yesterday, the US Department of Justice once again torpedoed his request for conditional release and made it clear they would continue to do so.

How can one explain the fact that although Pollard was NEVER convicted of treason, but merely of passing classified information to a friendly state, he received a life sentence, with a recommendation that he never be paroled – in contravention of the plea bargain without which it is by no means certain he would have been convicted?

How can one explain the fact that then incumbent Defense Secretary  Caspar Weinberger delivered a secret memorandum to the judge prior to sentencing – to which neither Pollard nor any of the lawyers who represented him then or later have ever been allowed access, apparently containing false charges which led to Pollard being sentenced as if he had been convicted of treason? In other words, Pollard was sentenced, not for the crime of which he was charged, but for other crimes, against which he had no opportunity to defend himself. If this is not denial of due process, I don’t know what is!

The excuse for the US administration’s opposition to any clemency for Pollard, who, today, will have been twenty nine years behind bars and who is suffering from severe health problems, is that his release would “constitute contempt for the severity of the offense and promote a lack of respect for the law.”

Severity of the offense“???
Just to remind you, the information Pollard passed to Israel was not information concerning American troop movements or American spies, not information which endangered American lives, but information on  WMD capabilities of Israel’s Arab neighbours – information vital to Israel’s security, which the US was supposed to share with Israel under the terms of a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding between the two nations, but which certain elements within the US security and political establishment deliberately withheld from Israel,  in order to weaken the Jewish State and make her more malleable and vulnerable to US pressure to make dangerous concessions to the Arabs. For this, he received a life sentence with a recommendation that he never be paroled, as if he had actually committed treason by passing classified information to an enemy country in time of war. In comparison, Russian spies who most definitely caused harm to the US, received far more lenient sentences.  Anna Chapman, was deported without serving any jail time at all. Moreover, the usual sentence for passing classified information to a friendly country – the crime of which Pollard was convicted – is between six to eight years in prison, with actual jail time prior to release averaging between two and four years.

Jonathan Pollard has already served twenty nine years of his sentence – far more than any other person convicted of passing classified information to a friendly country. In his secret memorandum (small parts of which have now been made public), Caspar Weinberger contended that Pollard’s actions had damaged US relations with “friendly Arab countries”.

It is hard to see how. The only possible damage of that sort could come from the revelation that the US had been spying on “friendly” countries and Israel would hardly be likely to reveal this as such a revelation would, of necessity, reveal to those “friendly (though not to Israel) countries” the extent of the intelligence Israel had on them.

 “ a lack of respect for the law.”
Whereas illegally spying on millions of one’s own citizens, as the US government has done, promotes respect for the law, I suppose!

It is hard to escape the suspicion that it is Israel, as much as Pollard, that the US is seeking to punish. Now, admittedly, for Israel to spy on a friendly nation such as the US is – well, not very nice.
No, seriously. It is not nice to spy on one’s friends. It’s even worse to use a friend’s own citizens for that purpose.

I am sure Chancellor Angela Merkel would agree with me.

But it goes beyond that. How can one explain the treatment of Pollard in prison? What reason could there possibly be for the refusal of the prison authorities to allow him compassionate leave to visit his 97-year-old, terminally ill father one last time? His request to do so was denied, without any explanation. Nor was this piece of spite enough for them. Pollard wasn’t even allowed to attend his father’s funeral – just as he had been denied permission to attend his mother’s funeral, when she passed away ten years earlier.

Could such systematic vindictiveness possibly be – because Jonathan Pollard is a Jew?

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