It’s All About ME: The Gender Agenda, Identity Politics and the Tyranny of Political Correctness

The murder last month of a young girl at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade spawned an endless series of debates on the subject of LGBT rights – or perhaps, to be completely Politically Correct, I should say LGBTQ rights – from which one salient fact became blindingly obvious, namely, that large numbers of Israelis (and other nationalities too, no doubt) have no idea what is the difference between transsexual, transgender, transvestite – and trans fats, for that matter!

I’m not about to bore you all with a lengthy dissertation on the differences. Suffice it to say that “transgenderism” is “used as an inclusive umbrella term used to describe anyone who feels that the sex that was assigned to them at birth incompletely describes or fails to describe them.
See also the Wikipedia definition.
The key words in this debate are “Gender Identity” ie: “one’s personal experience of one’s own gender. This is generally described as one’s private sense of being a man or a woman, consisting primarily of the acceptance of membership into a category of people: male or female.”
In other words – it isn’t the genitalia you were born with that count, it’s what you feel inside. And if, like Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, you happen to have been born with male genitalia but claim to have felt all your life that you were born in the wrong body and are really a woman, then it is your right, as a human being, to live as a woman.

But what does that mean, “to live as a woman”? Perhaps we need to redefine what “being a woman” means? If, as many people now believe, gender roles are defined by society, rather than by biology, is there any real meaning to being a transgender man or woman, without taking the final step and undergoing surgery? If the only “real” difference between men and women is the biological difference, and “real” women are those who have female genitalia and female chromosomes, then Bruce Jenner can dress up in female clothes , wear make-up and chill out with the girls and identify with women and as a woman as much as he likes, he will never, ever, be a “real” woman. And why should s/he need to be, anyway? If we stop assigning gender roles, men will be free to enjoy all the things that are still considered “womanly”, without having to identify as a woman. And all those little girls who used to be politely labelled “tomboys”, because they enjoyed dressing in boys’ clothes and playing with “boyish toys” and hanging out with the guys, but maybe felt that they had been born into the “wrong” body, because they identified with all the things that society had taught them were “boys’ stuff” and weren’t interested in the things girls were “supposed” to be interested in, wouldn’t have suffered years of “Gender Identity Disorder”, before the Politically Correct wisdom of today allowed them to be tagged as “transgender”.

Many leading feminists, however, among them, Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem, are of the opinion that trans women are not real women and that “trans rights” and feminism are mutually exclusive. At the most basic level, their argument is that trans women choose to be women, whereas “real” women had no choice in the matter. On this level, even men who do choose to undergo surgery and become full-blown trans-sexuals, cannot be considered “real” women.
The Politically Correct establishment has chosen to ostracise, boycott, harass and threaten feminists who hold to this train of thought, calling it “hate speech”. And even those who dare to express support for Freedom of Speech on this matter are subjected to abuse and death threats.

Strangely enough, the Thought Police who are so ready to silence anyone who dares to utter any criticism of the Transgender Agenda, or question the “rights” of this “oppressed minority”, are in the forefront of those baying for the blood of Rachel Dolezal, who, although born white, identifies as black. They claim that she, a member of the oppressive white class, has committed “cultural appropriation” and fraud. (Incidentally, I have often heard opponents of Israel accuse us of this, when they claim Israel has “stolen Palestinian cuisine” by marketing falafel as the Israeli national dish, even though it originated in Egypt and is a fast food staple all over the Middle East!) In general, the Politically Correct theory is that it is  “cultural appropriation” when the dominant, oppressive class adopts elements of the culture of the oppressed class, but not when the subservient, oppressed class adopts the culture of the rulers.

So why does a man who all his life has “identified as a woman” and “felt he was born into the wrong body” have the right to “fully realise his true identity”, but a woman who has felt all her life that she was born into the wrong (white) body is committing some terrible kind of neo-colonialist race crime by identifying as black?

I know some people will reply that a white person, who has never suffered the discrimination and other indignities suffered by black people, can never understand what a black person goes through. As Guilaine Kinouani put it, “… allies interested in lecturing us on the experience from which their privileged existence has sheltered them need not apply. Allies with the ambition to lead our cause on our behalf need to take a seat and seriously reflect upon their personal motivation.”

By the PC definition,  what Rachel Dolezal did falls into the category of “cultural appropriation” because she was born into the privileged, oppressive ruling class, and not only has she adopted the culture of the oppressed class, but she has presumed to tell the genuinely oppressed class how to fight their battle and even to lead them.

But how is what Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner or any other trans woman has done any different? If we accept that Men are, for the most part, the ruling, oppressive class and Women are the oppressed, subservient class, then surely when a man  “identifies” as a woman, and adopts the gender roles culturally allocated by society to women, is this not just as much “cultural appropriation” as when a privileged white woman self-identifies as black? Why, then, is the one politically correct and the other politically incorrect?
Could it be – dare I say it – that, once again, it boils down to “the flavour of the day”, to whatever is “now trending”?

I will leave you with one final thought. Gender Identity Disorder or, as it is now known, Gender Dysphoria, is no longer classified as a mental illness. On the other hand, if  I were to say that I was born, by mistake, into a human body, that all my life, I have self-identified as a cat, that I like to curl up in a basket to sleep, that, instead of a shower, I like to lick myself clean, that for supper, I like nothing better than a bowl of milk and to pick the scraps off some leftover fish, that I love to prowl the neighbourhood by night, climbing over the rooftops etc., I am quite sure that the men in white coats would have me in a straitjacket before you could say “Jack Robinson” – and I could go whistle for my “human” rights to self-identify as I please.

So, there you have it. A man who identifies as a woman. A white who identifies as a black. A human who identifies as a cat. And yet, the first is hailed by the prevailing PC wisdom as entitled to do so as s/he is realising his/her human rights, the second is reviled as a fraud and a cultural thief and the third is considered to be a nutcase – sorry, I mean “mentally ill”. To use the term nutcase would be grossly Politically Incorrect.

Just saying…..

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Scorched Earth

I am filled with sadness, I am filled with anger. I feel as if the scorching temperatures (reaching 40 degrees Celsius in Jerusalem earlier this week) are but a mirror to the public mood.

Shira Banki, the 16-year-old girl who was stabbed by religious fanatic Yishai Schlissel at the Gay Pride Parade a week ago (see my last post), died on Sunday as a result of her wounds. A vigil in Tel Aviv that was supposed to be a show of unity in the face of fanaticism and terrorism, quickly turned into a politically-charged hate-fest against the political Right and the entire ultra-orthodox community, with the Left cynically using the tragic and senseless deaths of a young Jewish girl and an Arab toddler as a springboard to accuse Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of being responsible for both deaths. Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, who, as an orthodox Jew, has publicly stated his opposition to gay marriage but has NEVER incited against homosexuals, was invited to the vigil in Tel Aviv and then informed he was not welcome, unless he agreed to sign a statement promising to promote gay rights. As far as the Left goes, anyone who does not fully support all the demands of the LGBT community is guilty of incitement. They also decided to picket Bennett’s private residence.

As far as the horrifying murder of the Arab toddler is concerned, this too was an opportunity for the Left, who failed to win the elections in March, to attempt to bring down the government. In their book, anyone who supports the right of Jews to remain in Judaea and Samaria is guilty of incitement to arson and murder.
It is important to point out that, despite the almost universal condemnation of this despicable crime, both by the Israeli Jewish community and by the UN (which, for some strange reason, has failed to condemn similar terrorist crimes against Israeli Jews), and the administrative arrest (without trial) of Jewish right-wing extremists earlier this week, it is still not certain that it was, in fact, Jews who were responsible and it has been claimed that there are also indications pointing to the possibility that the crime was actually carried out by Arabs. It appears that the family which was targeted was involved in a blood feud with another family. It has also been remarked that it is strange that a group of Jews could have set fire to one house, right in the heart of an Arab village and then, without anyone in the village waking up, managed to paint slogans on the wall and set fire to another house.
I am keeping an open mind about this. I think it is a possibility that the crime was committed by other Arabs, who are now using it to frame Israel. But I also cannot deny the possibility that the murderers were, indeed, Israeli Jewish extremists.
Of one thing I am sure. If it should happen to turn out that the real criminals were Arabs, I would advise no-one  to hold their breath while waiting for an apology from the UN.

Nor is the extreme Right behaving any better. In the wake of the sharp condemnation by President Reuven Rivlin (who is not exactly known for left-wing views, to put it mildly) of the murder of the Arab toddler, Ali Dawabsheh, he found himself under attack for allegedly caring more about dead Arab children than dead Jewish children. A video (later found to have been uploaded by an American Jew) uploaded to the internet showed Rivlin and Netanyahu in Nazi uniforms, and the President has been receiving death threats.

And on Facebook, Twitter, Disqus  and across the global reaches of cyberspace, the internet keyboard warriors on both sides gave no quarter. A particularly sickening reaction to the stabbing of six participants at the Gay Pride Parade  was a Facebook post by one Gilad Kleiner, who publicly expressed both his delight over the stabbings and his disappointment that the victims were still alive. Arrested and questioned, he was later released on bail.  A couple of days later, when Shira died, he posted another message, expressing his joy at her death! Kleiner, who also expressed the wish that other “deviants” would die, and who is said to have a history of mental problems, has since been indicted for incitement to violence, but he is not the only one to have taken to social media to express similar sentiments. Bitter accusations of the most inflammatory – and defamatory – nature flew to and fro like arrows all week, with one side accusing the other of supporting bestial, unnatural practices, and insisting that sodomites deserve to be put to death, and the other side accusing anyone who failed to publicly support “full rights for gays” of complicity in the murder of Shira Banki, and demonstrating against them, holding up hands covered with fake blood. Among the so-called “accomplices to murder”, and “fundamentalist bigots”, they also included anyone who, while basically supporting gay rights, felt that it might have been better not to hold the Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, with its large religious population.

At the beginning of last week, Jews the world over marked the fast of Tisha b’Av, commemorating the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. Of the Second Temple, we are told that it was destroyed because of causeless hatred (שנאת חינם) between Jews. I listen to the tone of public debate now raging, to the burning hostility between the extremists of all camps and their contemptuous dismissal of all those in the middle who refuse to support extremism of any kind (“If you’re not with us, you’re against us”) and I wonder if causeless hatred is not about to destroy us again.

Meanwhile, the “Palestinians” continue trying to kill Jews. A few days ago, a young Jewish woman miraculously escaped death when a Molotov cocktail was thrown at her car in Jerusalem. And yesterday, three soldiers were mown down and injured (two of them very seriously) by a “Palestinian” driver who deliberately rammed his car into them.

And then there is the heat. The temperatures dropped slightly yesterday, but they’re on the rise again. The mercury is expected to hit 36 degrees today in Jerusalem, and to carry on rising over the weekend.
Tempers too, no doubt.

Heat wave.
Hate wave.

And I am filled with anger.
And I am filled with sadness.


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Festival of Hate

Today is Tu b’Av, popularly (though mistakenly) supposed to be the Jewish equivalent of St. Valentine’s Day. A love fest. This year, it has turned out to be a hate fest instead.

Yesterday afternoon, the local LGBT community held their annual Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem, in the teeth of vociferous opposition from the city’s ultra-orthodox community, who held a counter-demonstration. An ultra-orthodox fanatic, Yishai Schlissel, released just three weeks ago after serving ten years in prison for stabbing three people at the Gay Pride Parade in 2005, and who evidently has not learned his lesson, somehow managed to evade the heavy police security cordon along the route of the parade, and stabbed six people – one of them, a fifteen year old girl who is said to be still in danger of her life.

There is no doubt about it – the Police screwed up, big time. Only two weeks ago, Schlissel was interviewed on an ultra-orthodox radio programme and it was clear from his words that he had no regrets and would repeat his hateful crimes given the slightest chance.  He should have been under close police surveillance and kept away, by any means, from the area of the parade.

Moreover, a brief perusal of Facebook, which, after an event like this, always brings out the keyboard warriors, turns up dozens of comments praising his actions. Yet on the other hand, there were also hundreds of condemnations – including the Mayor of Jerusalem, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, Arye Deri (the leader of the ultra-orthodox party Shas),   the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who called it “a loathsome hate crime” –  to name but a few. The attacker was arrested on the spot and will be tried. If convicted, he will be punished. Of that there is no doubt.

But, of course, the Israel-haters wasted no time in crawling out from under the wood-pile to claim that the attack proves that Israel is anti-democratic and hostile to gays – despite the fact that there are many more anti-gay hate crimes the United States, yet no-one claims that the USA is hostile to gays!

Here in Israel, the anti-religious crowd also used the opportunity to blame the entire religious community for the dastardly crime. I even heard someone on the radio (I was only listening with half an ear so I missed the name of the speaker) make the ridiculous claim that anyone who opposed gay marriage shared in the responsibility for the attack!

And as if that wasn’t enough, the Left is now lumping together everyone on the Right and accusing them of supporting the actions of the ultra-orthodox fanatics who think they are doing the work of God by “cleaning up the pollution”.

I myself identify with the political Right. But I also think Schlissel and his supporters are criminals – one might, justifiably, even call them terrorists – who have set themselves up to be judge, jury and executioner. They justify their actions on the premise that the Torah forbids homosexuality. They seem to have forgotten that the Torah also forbids murder and that the prohibition of murder was proclaimed first, on Mt. Sinai, in the presence of the entire nation.

And from anti-gay hate crimes to what appears to have been a racially-motivated hate crime. In the early hours of this morning, unknown individuals tossed Molotov cocktails into two houses in the Arab “Palestinian” village of Duma, setting them on fire. In the ensuing blaze, an eighteen-month-old toddler, Ali Dawabsheh, was burnt to death and his parents and four-year-old brother were critically injured. The local residents are claiming that the murderers (who were masked) were “settlers” (their term for every religious-looking Jew) and indeed, the fact that the words נקמה  (“Vengeance”) and יחי המלך המשיח  (“Long Live the King Messiah) were spray-painted on the walls would seem to point to a “Price Tag” atrocity. On the other hand, it has been pointed out that in the past, the “Palestinians” have not been above trying to blame “settlers” for acts carried out by their own people.

I try, as always, to keep an open mind but, much as I hate to believe that Jews could carry out such a heinous crime,  I very much fear that, as in the case of  Muhammed Abu-Khdeir, who was kidnapped and burnt alive by three Jewish terrorists last summer in revenge for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers, this will indeed prove to be the case.  At any rate, the Israeli leadership seems to think so, and has had no hesitation in calling this a terror attack. Which it is.

As I said, I identify with the political Right. I believe with every fibre of my being that the whole Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. I also believe that whoever murdered this innocent baby is a vile, despicable scumbag, who, when caught, should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

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Song of Songs

Shalom everybody. Once again, it’s showtime. That is to say – concert time. Last Friday (June 26th), my choir, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, of which, as you know, I am justifiably proud :-) , ended the 2014/15 season with a concert entitled Jerusalem Luminosa.

The concert, conducted by Kate Belshé, who is now celebrating (I hope!) the completion of her first year as our musical director, took as its main theme the Song of Songs, with settings in Hebrew, German, Latin,  and English, from various times and countries, of the great Song of Solomon. The original idea was to celebrate the music of the House of David, father and son,  and so the programme incorporated settings of psalms, in English, Latin and Estonian. However, as Kate developed the idea, adding works that were based on, and inspired by, these two great books of the early Kings of Israel, the concert broadened into a celebration of composers from the far north, with works by the Norwegians, Edvard Grieg, Egil Hovland, and Ola Gjeilo, as well as the Estonian Cyrillus Kreek.

As you can imagine, singing in so many different  – and unfamiliar – languages presented its own difficulties. We are quite familiar with English, Latin and German, of course, not to mention Hebrew, and have sung many times in these languages, but I don’t think we have ever attempted Estonian, Norwegian and Danish before :-)  – and kudos is due to Revital, Shmulik and Carmiya for their work on preparing the programme, with translations into Hebrew and English of whatever language the songs were written in. Here I must mention a rather amusing story which highlights the perils inherent in the art of translation. One of the songs performed was Quam pulchra es, by the Englishman John Dunstable (c.1390 – 1453), or, as it is sometimes written, Dunstaple. This is a 3-voice setting in Latin for alto, tenor and bass of selected verses from Song of Songs 7, and was performed by six members of the choir. However, I was startled to read the English translation of the last words of verse 12 as “There will I give my breasts to you”. I looked at the original Hebrew. There, the word translated as “breasts” is “dodim” (דודים), usually translated as “love”, as it is, for example, in the King James Version and also in the New English Bible. I looked at the Latin, to which Dunstable set the song. Lo and behold! In the Latin, the word used to translate “dodim” is “ubera“, which does, indeed, mean “udders” or “breasts”! How did the Latin translator arrive at such an error? I looked again at the Hebrew. In my copy of the Bible, the word דודים appears in full script, with the letter vav (ו) after the initial dalet (ד). But it is also possible to write the word without the letter vav, substituting a small dot above and between the first and second dalet.  In such a case, if one overlooks or omits the dot, one is left with the word “dadim” (דדים – breasts, nipples) rather than dodim (love). I suspect this is what happened here to the Latin translator. Thus, the English translation in our program was faithful to the Latin mistranslation to which Dunstable set his music, rather than to the original Hebrew.

And now, without further ado, let me invite you to share some of the highlights of our concert :-).

We started off, appropriately enough, with Gjeilo’s “Prelude” which, was psalm-like enough, with its “Exultate, jubilate” – although, as you can tell from its repeated references to the Trinity, it is not actually taken from the Book of Psalms.

I have mentioned, on several occasions, our increased exposure to American music since Kate took up the baton as our conductor. The following two pieces are good examples. The first, “I am the Rose of Sharon” is by William Billings (1746-1800), known as the father of American choral music. I have to admit to not having liked this piece at all when I first heard it – but it has since grown on me, so much so that it is now one of my favourites!

In complete contrast is the following contemporary setting, by Nick Strimple, of Psalm 131:

Some of the works presented, such as Cyrillus Kreeks’s “Taaveti Laul no. 104” (Psalm 104), or Melchior Franck‘s “Fahet uns die Füchse  (“Catch us the little foxes”) were straightforward settings of the Biblical text – in this case, Song of Songs 2: 15-17.  Others, such as Grieg’s “Hvad est du dog skjön“, (“How fair is thy face”) were based on old Scandinavian hymns, sung for hundreds of years in Danish and Norwegian churches, which used Biblical imagery to illustrate Christian themes.
Oh, but you are beautiful,
you most living God’s Son!
O you, my Shulamite, yes mine,
all that I have is also yours.
…..    O so come dove!
In the cleft of the rock is peace and safety.
Oh, but you are beautiful.
you most living God’s Son!
O you, my Shulamite,
all that I have is also yours.
This hymn, sung in Danish, to a text by the Lutheran cleric and hymnodist Hans Adolf Brorson (1694 – 1764) is here performed by the choir with baritone soloist, our very own David Goldblatt:

Again by Grieg – in Norwegian , this time – here is another of our baritones, Louis Sachs, leading the choir in “I Himmelen”  (“In Heaven”). Both pieces are from Grieg’s “Fire Salmer” (Four Psalms).

As I said, the programme was built around the Song of Songs. I would hardly be human if I were able to resist bringing you this next piece, the cantata Shir Hashirim, a setting by the Israeli composer Yechezkel Braun (1922-2014) of Song of Songs 3. At twelve minutes long, it was the longest piece performed at the concert.

Oh – I almost forgot to mention it. The soprano soloist here is Yours Truly:

As we sang the final chorus, “Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion,
and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith
his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals,
and in the day of the gladness of his heart,” I imagined the author, riding in triumph right here, through the streets of Jerusalem, three thousand years ago. How glad he – and his father, King David – would have been to know that three millennia later, their songs were still being sung by Jews, in his – our – ancient capital!

I will leave you, as we left the audience in Christ Church, opposite the Tower of David, with a song for the Sabbath -“Shabbat Hamalka” (שבת המלכה – Shabbat the Queen):

Shabbat Shalom                                  שבת שלום

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Ars Gratia Artis

I remember once reading an anecdote about one of the ancient Greek dramatists (alas, I cannot remember which one) who, summoned before the audience to explain – and possibly change – a point in one of his plays which had displeased them, refused and declared: “I do not write my plays so that you can give me lessons, but so that I can give you lessons.”

I mention this as a preamble to the subject of today’s rant – namely, the function of the Arts.

Anyone who has been following the running battle between the new Minister of Culture and Sport (Culture and Sport? We used to have a Minister of Education and Culture!) Miri Regev and the cadre of mostly left-wing leaders of the arts in Israel, will immediately understand what put this subject into my head.

In short, for those of you who do not live in Israel, Ms. Regev, who used to be the Chief Military Censor and later, the IDF spokeswoman, has been accused of using her new position to muzzle artists, because of her announcement that government funds will no longer be available for plays and films which slander and delegitimise the Jewish state, with specific reference to a play based on the writings of a convicted “Palestinian” terrorist, who participated in the murder of an Israeli soldier. The said terrorist was, apparently, himself involved in the writing of the play. She also threatened to withdraw government funding for the Jerusalem Film Festival if a new film about Yigal Amir, the murderer of PM Yitzchak Rabin, was screened at the festival. Another of her “crimes” has been to threaten to withdraw funding from a Jewish-Arab children’s theatre, founded by an Arab actor and director and his Jewish wife, ostensibly because he refused to appear in the “Occupied Territories”. I have to say here, if the only reason is that he personally refused to appear in the “Territories”, then this seems unnecessarily vindictive. If, on the other hand, he is refusing to allow his theatre (an otherwise praiseworthy endeavour, one assumes),  to appear there, it would be unreasonable to expect the taxpayers – who include residents of the “Territories” – to fund a theatre group which refuses to appear before them.

As I have not seen the play about the terrorist, or the film about Yigal Amir (nor, I suspect, have many of the parties to the debate, including Ms. Regev herself), I am not going to discuss them, although I will say this: the question at hand is not the permissibility of staging or screening them, but merely whether they are entitled to government funding. The left-wing self-appointed guardians of culture and “free speech”, believing that the function of the Arts is to castigate and correct Society’s faults, would appear to be in agreement with Sir Humphrey (“Yes, Minister“) who sternly admonished his subordinate: “Bernard, subsidy is for art, for culture. It is not to be given to what the people want! It is for what the people don’t want but ought to have!”

However, this is not my topic. My topic is a question which has arisen as part of the debate, and that is: what is the function of the arts? Both sides in the present debate have talked much about their perception of this function and both sides seem to take it as given that the function of Art is to educate. One of the most common mantras appears to be, that it is the duty of the arts to hold up a mirror to Society and show us where we are at fault. The Left-wing Cabal thinks that the government is obliged to pay to be lectured by its opponents and shown how evil and horrible Israeli society is. They also think that Ms. Regev thinks that the duty and function of the arts is to serve as propaganda for the government.

But does Art have to have “a function”? What about pure entertainment? (“Oh, yes,” I hear the left-wing intellectuals sneer. “Bread and circuses for the masses”.)
Is there such a thing as “pure” entertainment? What one person sees as pure entertainment, another person might see in a completely different light. For example, when I listen to a beautiful piece of classical music, I feel uplifted. I feel joy. Some might say that this is precisely the function of music.

Over the course of the last few days, we have heard, over and over again, the demand that Art and Politics should be kept separate. When it comes from the Left, this usually means that the political party in power (the Right) should do nothing to prevent left-wing writers, actors and film-makers from presenting works deeply critical of Israeli society and even of Israel’s right to exist. As far as these people are concerned, “do nothing to prevent” means “continue to fund, at the taxpayers’ expense”. When it comes from the Right, the Separation of Art and Politics  means: “Feel free to say whatever you like, but do not expect government funding for propagating your views”. But is it even possible to completely separate Art and Politics? Much of the greatest Art has been either overtly, or covertly, political. When we listen today to the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s “Nabucco”, we may be hearing just the music, but Verdi’s fellow Italians heard a call to rebellion against the Austrians who, at that time, occupied large parts of northern Italy. Not for nothing did Verdi’s very name become a symbol of Italian nationalism, being an acronym for the words “Vittorio Emanuele, Re d’Italia” (Vittorio Emanuele, King of Italy). Beethoven’s Eroica was political. Goya’s painting “El Tres de Mayo 1808” and Picasso’s “Guernica” are overtly political. Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” is political, as is much of the work of the great 19th century British novelists, such as George Eliot. A work does not have to be about politics to be political and any work which holds up a mirror to social injustice is at least covertly political.

But to get back to the subject of “pure” entertainment. What about the most popular musicals of the twentieth century. Probably the first to come to mind are those of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Can we say these are “pure” entertainment?

The most well-known, possibly the most popular, is “The Sound of Music“. But, with the rise of Nazism and the German-Austrian anschluss as its background, politics is surely part and parcel of this work, despite the saccharine sweetness of the Von Trapp children as they sing: “So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye”.

Very well, then. How about “South Pacific“? No, strike that one too. The spectre of racial prejudice raised by the romance of Lt. Cable and the native girl, Liat, or by Nellie Forbush’s revulsion on learning that her love interest, Emile de Becque, is the father of two mixed-race children may only be hinted at very delicately by Messrs. Rodgers and Hammerstein, but the explicit message of “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, You’ve got to be taught from year to year, It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear” is too strong to be ignored.

Okay. Strike Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Phantom of the Opera” anyone? Is there a hidden message there? Perhaps something about looking beyond physical appearance? That is certainly an important educational message, for anyone who can look beyond the Gothic romanticism.

Chicago“? That surely has something to say about the fickleness of the public and the hollowness of fame.

But wait! What about Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s “Cats“? Surely that’s “pure” entertainment. I can’t see any hidden agenda there. And the icing on the cake is, it combines Music, Literature (the poems of T.S. Eliot which served as the basis for the libretto) and CATS – three of my greatest passions (see previous post) – as well as dance, for an evening of spectacular theatre.

Perhaps Messrs. Goldwin and Meyer had it right after all, when they chose their motto – Art for Art’s sake.


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Music, Secret Gardens and Magic Lanterns

As my faithful readers know, Music is my Great Passion. Music – and Cats.

Let me start again.
As my faithful readers know, Music and Cats are my twin passions. And Literature.

I beg your pardon. I’ll just start over from the beginning.
As my faithful readers know, my three great passions are Music, Cats and Literature. Oh – and Gardens.

All right. Let’s try again.
As my faithful readers know, my four great passions are: Music, Cats, Literature, and Gardens.
And exploring hidden and hitherto unknown beauty spots of Jerusalem.

Oh, hell! Okay. One more time…
Among my great passions are Music, Cats, Literature, Gardens and exploring hidden and hitherto unknown beauty spots of Jerusalem.

Having properly introduced the subject, I can now tell you that over the last couple of weeks, I have been able to indulge many of these passions.

Last Thursday, for example, my choir, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, under the baton of Kate Belshé,  gave a concert in the Community Garden of the Jerusalem Natural History Museum in the German Colony, one of my favourite Jerusalem neighbourhoods. The concert was part of a fundraising effort to help finance the restoration of the garden’s historical ornamental pool. Since the Community Garden, though familiar to Jerusalemites living in the neighbourhood, is not exactly on the regular tourist track, (although the museum itself is a popular destination for local school trips), this concert was an opportunity to indulge most of my aforementioned passions :-)

First of all, as I said, there is the garden itself – an almost secret garden, whose existence is not widely known:

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Then there was the music. Raul, from the bass section, filmed the whole concert in video, so I can share some of it with you. Please bear in mind that, beside the noise made by the many children in the audience, the acoustics of an outdoor concert – unless you have the advantage of an acoustic shell, such as in London’s Kenwood Gardens – are unlikely to be the best.
Come now, and join me, in the garden.

Here is “Tsipor Shniya” (ציפור שניה – “Second Bird”), with lyrics by the Bialik Prize and Israel Prize-winning poet Nathan Zach, set to music by Misha Segal:

I saw a bird of great beauty.
The bird saw me.
A bird of such great beauty
I shall see no more
Till the day I die.
A quiver of sunlight passed me then.
I spoke words of greeting.
The words I spoke yesterday evening
I shall not speak again today.   

And now we switch to Latin, for a setting of Psalm 150 by the  Brazilian composer Ernani Aguiar:

I mentioned in one of my previous posts that, since Kate took over as our conductor, we have been singing quite a lot of American choral music. Here we are, performing Randall Thompson’s “Glory to God in the Highest”:

What better way to end than with a traditional Israeli Hora from the 1930s –  “Sovevuni” (סובבוני – “Spin me round”) by Ya’akov Orland (lyrics) and Mordechai Zeira (music), arranged for choir by Yehuda Engel?

Spin me round….Dance for me, one single song ….This is the song, this and no other,   There is no other song, ever….It will not change….By night, quietly, the dance  flares up again. All our lives are a burning torch….in our glowing night….     

Well, there you have it. One concert, which catered to all five of my passions: music, fine literature, gardens,  and hidden beauty spots. You will just have to believe me – as I have no photo to prove it – when I tell you that there were several cats roaming around the garden, some of them sitting listening to our concert ;-)

One the way home from the concert, I passed by the Shalom Hartman Institute which is, itself, surrounded by a beautiful garden:

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Although I saw no cats there, we did meet up with a quartet of very handsome dogs:


Yet another garden of whose existence I have known for years, but had never before visited, until a couple of weeks ago, is Ganei Rechavia, on the corner of Shmuel Hanagid and Narkiss Streets, a hidden oasis in the heart of town, just two minutes walk from the busy King George – Ben Yehuda intersection. This is actually a private garden, I believe, for the use of the residents of the surrounding apartment buildings, but although it has a gate, it is not locked.
20150521_125123 Gan Rechavia 20150521_125114 Gan Rechavia

Here I found, not only cats and kittens aplenty, but also, unsurprisingly,  beautiful, delicate butterflies:

20150517_172855 Cat in Gan Rechavia

20150521_124308 Gan Rechavia

20150521_124353(0) Gan Rechavia

20150607_123043 Butterfly in Gan Rechavia

20150521_124353 Gan Rechavia

Finally, this post would not be complete without a mention of this year’s Festival of Light in Jerusalem, held, as usual, in and around the Old City.


Here, besides the various constructions, such as the colourful jellyfish which greet the visitor on entering the Jaffa Gate


or the circle of angels on the plaza at Zahal Square,  whose invitation to join them and become part of the display, it would prove hard to resist,

one might find, among the many contributions by artists from Israel, France, Holland, Germany, Brazil, Japan, Singapore, Austria and (surprisingly) Turkey, a display constructed of hundreds of lampshades, painted by children from all quarters of the Old City. Closely observed, one can see that these are ordinary lampshades of the kind that was very common in the middle years of the twentieth century:


When one steps back, however, and looks at the whole, the effect is of dozens of Chinese lanterns, filling what has so often been a battleground, with the light of hope.

P1020559    P1020558

Nor was there any lack of music.

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Music was everywhere, even on the steps leading to the Kotel (the Western Wall):


The Kotel is a garden. Between its stones grow moss and hyssop – but also flowers:

Western wallflowers

And when, on the way back, the desire to escape the crowds led me away from the marked route, down darker streets and past hidden courtyards,

Dark streets   Alleyway

Hidden Armenian courtyard
still, one could turn a corner and stumble across a musician.

And what could be more fitting, here, in the City of David, than to find a harpist

Play on your harp

and, moreover, one who declares (see the handwritten notice beside her):


Shabbat Shalom to you all.

Posted in Art, Daily Life, Music | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

When Is An Antisemite – An Antisemite?

You’ve all heard the hoary denials – I am not an antisemite, I am simply a critic of Israel’s policies. Or (if they are even slightly honest) – I am not an antisemite, I am anti-Zionist, because Zionism is racism.

I have written, on more than one occasion, about how anti-Zionism is so very often used as a cloak for antisemitism. A person who would deny to the Jewish nation, a right they would grant to any other nation on earth, is, ipso facto, discriminatory and racist. Racism against the Jewish people is antisemitism, whichever way you look at it.

Ah, but what about Jewish anti-Zionists, they will say? How can they be antisemites?

Well, yes, I’m afraid some of them most certainly can.
Throughout history, some of the most vicious enemies of the Jewish people have been those who were, at least, born Jews. In some cases, Jews who converted to other faiths tried to “prove” their loyalty to their new religion by being “holier than the Pope”, informing on fellow Jews, spreading infamous blood libels about their former co-religionists and so on. For others, I can find no logical explanation for their hatred of their own people.

Let me give you a modern day example from a Seattle-based blogger called Richard Silverstein. For those of you who have never heard of him (the majority, I suspect), Silverstein is a self-proclaimed Jew who is so obsessive in his hatred of Israel that he does not hesitate to descend to the use of the most outrageous blood libels, both against the Jewish State and against the Jewish religion. For example, he recently implied  that “halachic norms that are in practice today and endorsed by some rabbinic figures” include “collecting Palestinian foreskins as battle trophies”!!! (I will refrain from giving the link, so as not to drive any more traffic than is absolutely necessary to his pathetic little blog, but I have a screenshot, available on request.) He offers no source or evidence for this outrageous claim and when I tried to comment, in order to demand such proof, I was ignored (or possibly blocked. Dickie dislikes dissent).
By the way, I don’t know about you, but on reading this, I began to wonder.  After all, are the “Palestinians” not, by and large, Muslims? And, as such, are they not circumcised and therefore, ipso facto, foreskinless?

In the past, Silverstein has not hesitated to use all the most common  antisemitic tropes. Expressions such as “Court Jews”, “fat cat Jews”, “yet another wealthy GOP Jew”, trip easily off his tongue, playing up the traditional antisemitic stereotypes of “rich Jews” oppressing “poor Gentiles”. Expressions such as “wealthy Jewish corporate executives”, “the Republican Jewish Coalition…a political country-club for the fat-cat set”, are all calculated to reinforce the idea that a cabal of wealthy Jewish capitalists are pulling the strings behind world government in general and American government in particular. Silverstein cynically harps on the theme, much beloved of antisemites, that American Jews have, at best, divided loyalties and, at worst, are more loyal to Israel than to the United States.

Nor does Silverstein confine his blood libels to those modern-day Jews who support Israel. Not so long ago, I was astounded to read that, according to this supposed Jew, the Jewish festival of Purim celebrates an act of genocide committed by the Jews of the ancient Persian Empire against their non-Jewish neighbours. For those not familiar with the Book of Esther, I will remind you that the Persian Grand Vizier, Haman, schemed to commit genocide against the Jews of the Persian Empire and, to that end, tricked the Persian King, Ahasuarus, into signing an order for their destruction, to be carried out on the 13th day of the month of Adar.  Esther, the Queen, who was herself Jewish, revealed Haman’s evil plan to the King, who found himself in a quandary. Once the King had signed a command, it could not, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, be changed. So the King did the next best thing and signed another command, giving the Jews the right to defend themselves if they were attacked. They did so, and slew several thousand of those who came to slay them. Any honest person would call that self-defence. The Richard Silversteins of this world, however, call that “genocide”.

This is what he writes:

“there’s a dark underlying savagery to this holiday.  That’s because, according to the      Book of Esther, the king’s advisor, Haman, plots the extermination of the Jews of              Persia. He fails and in the process it is his entire family and supporters who are wiped      out on scaffolds erected throughout the kingdom, originally meant for the Jews.
There is no other way to describe this than genocide.”

In short, it is hard to escape the suspicion that Silverstein hates, not only Israel, but the Jewish people and the Jewish religion, since he does not hesitate to defame both.
Is he then, one of those self-hating Jews who lead the clarion calls for the destruction of the only Jewish state in the world?
Personally, I hesitate to call him a self-hating Jew. For one thing, Silverstein doesn’t hate himself. In fact, rarely have I come across a blogger more in love with himself. If you want a definition of “narcissistic”, Silverstein is an almost perfect example.
For another, we only have Silverstein’s word – for what it’s worth – that he is Jewish at all.

So, is Silverstein an antisemite?

Well, let’s put it this way: if something looks like $*** and smells like $***,  it probably is $***.

Posted in International Relations, Politics, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments