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It’s late January 1996 and a terrible day. My father has died barely three weeks before and my brother and I are sharing the sad, sacred duty of wheeling my mother’s coffin down the neatly tended paths of the Orthodox Jewish cemetery at Waltham Abbey, Greater London.
Suddenly I’m distracted. As we trundle Mum to her final rest, we pass a small plot filled with tiny graves and miniature headstones. While my mother had lived her biblically allotted seventy years, I realise these children’s lives had been snuffed out before they’d truly begun. Unjust; upside-down; quite cruelly against the natural order. However, these youngsters were accorded full funeral rites and headstones mark their graves.
But what of those who are miscarried, born ‘out of wedlock’ or considered too young to be ‘real’ people and are therefore buried swiftly, anonymously and without honour?
Thanks to an Israeli TV chef based in London and an American immigrant in the Galilee an ancient food has become a modern fad – and a great way of forging Arab-Jewish friendships.
The work of Yotam Ottolenghi and his Palestinian business partner, Sami Tamimi is well documented. But less well-known in Europe and the U.K. is that of freelance writer, Abbie Rosner, who has spent many years studying local wild plants with the help of her Bedouin neighbours. What’s more, alongside her love of foods like freekeh (roasted green wheat), hilayon (wild asparagus) and zaatar (the name of both an edible wild plant and a popular spice), she continues her struggle to learn Arabic and has developed a deep affection for her Arab friends.
Reading Rosner’s book, Breaking Bread In Galilee, it is clear that many resentments between Arabs and Jews are as much cultural as political. But a commitment to investing in a shared history – some of it biblical – can help to overcome them just as personal friendships will continue to achieve much when political pacts fall apart.
“Israelis have a longstanding commitment to free speech and a high threshold for tolerating strong and even provocative criticism. This cartoon, however, bears no relation whatsoever to legitimate political comment …. The use of vicious motifs echoing those used to demonize Jews in the past is particularly shocking and hurtful on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, but the crude and shallow hatred of this cartoon should render it totally unacceptable on any day of the year.”
Sadly a good number of ‘ordinary’ Jewish people, including Israeli citizens, did not view the cartoon as harmful. I reminded someone that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not relish a view of himself building a wall, squeezing Palestinian bodies between the bricks and using their blood as cement. Why else ask Knesset Speaker, Reuven Rivlin to write to his U.K. counterpart, John Bercow (coincidentally a fellow Jew) to express “extreme outrage”?
“I made him his favourite dinner, including a huge helping of treacle tart, which he loves almost as much as he adores Delilah. To wash it down, I got in a bottle of that red non-alcoholic wine, Vida Vita and chucked in crushed Temazepam pills. They should do the trick as they are supposed to help you sleep like the dead and can even make you lose your memory. But here’s the magic…”
Professor Eric Hobsbawm was the leading Marxist historian of his generation. He was also a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who made England his home. Here Natalie Wood suggests that he was eternally contrary, never quite cut his Jewish roots and became something of an old-fashioned ‘rebbe’ to his academic acolytes, to the extent of offering them traditional hospitality at home.
This short story is an attempt to portray the external hatred and internal conflicts that trouble the Jewish community over male circumcision, particularly when occasional injuries or even deaths occur in the infants involved. Natalie has also used the opportunity to highlight the deep-seated prejudices often held by members of the mainstream Orthodox Jewish community against its Progressive counterpart.
It is not easy being a traditional, religiously observant Ashkenazi Jew. Some may argue it’s even harder being a strict veggie-vegan. How in tarnation do you sync the two?
It’s said that one of Manchester, U.K.’s strictest Orthodox rabbis follows a vegetarian regime midweek and dines on poultry only to honour the Sabbath and festivals. If this be true, real vegetarians, no matter their faith, wouldn’t wear it. So cue one of my new pals here in Karmiel, Galilee, who joined us to break the fast after Yom Kippur. He is very religious but as a strict vegan, he wouldn’t touch the challah (traditional holiday loaf) we had provided to start the meal as I had forgotten that challah usually contains egg. I should instead have bought a wholemeal, eggless version available from a local health-food shop!
Two years ago we left Manchester basking in good will. And when we landed here in Israel we grabbed the generous grants, the wise counsel, the practical help and the enthusiastic cries of ‘welcome home’ from people who at first were just kind and trusting strangers. They, too, became our friends.
One thing’s clear. If you want to avoid Israeli honey pots at Passover, you stay at home and grumble that you’ve missed one helluva party! So it’s worthwhile making a large packed lunch loaded with your favourite seasonal delicacies and then hitting the road early before everyone you know has woken up! Last year, we queued for hours at the famous Rosh Hanikra grottoes. This time we strayed barely east from Karmiel to the Jordan Valley Park where the week-long festivities were in full swing for hundreds of Jews and Arabs, along with foreign Christian pilgrims, enjoying the day together under a springtime sun.
Read more…Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galilee
In the Spring of 1144, the Jewish community of Norwich, England was charged with the ritual murder of a 12-year-old boy. It was the first such accusation to be made anywhere in Europe but there was no allegation of blood being used as a Passover ritual. Such an allegation was first made in Blois, France about 25 years later. These imputations possibly migrated slowly from the Middle East where a late 4th Century blood libel in Syria, recorded by Socrates Scholasticus, went unquestioned. As present-day Israel supporters often equate hostility to the Jewish State with these ancient libels, my story here attempts to portray how such a calumny would affect the modern Anglo-Jewish community.
Easter Saturday March 25 1144
William, a 12-year-old apprentice tanner of Norwich, East Anglia, England, was found dead in Thorpe Wood, a beauty spot on the eastern outskirts of the city. His body was first discovered dressed only in a jacket and shoes, bearing strange wounds with a wooden gag pushed into his mouth.
We returned one spring Sabbath afternoon bathed in serene sunlight to find there was something different about a pet Israeli beauty-spot. On previous visits to Rosh Pina, Galilee we had seen the ‘old quarter’ founded by Romanian chalutzim (pioneers). We had learned how they battled malaria; started a silk industry funded by Baron de Rothschild and (by legend) had become so friendly with local Bedouin, they had even taught them Yiddish!
But this time we found a new street with a fresh story. It led us to ‘Nimrod’s Lookout’, an observation point guarding the glorious Galilee landscape. Did the name have a biblical meaning? Did it refer to the town’s psalmic name?
Naive, I know. But I was astounded, soon after settling in Karmiel, Northern Israel, to learn of local Jewish kids with drink and drugs problems. I was also staggered to catch a couple of lads uprooting a sapling outside the library. My Hebrew is woefully limited but I managed to stop them – if only temporarily – by giving them the ‘Gorgon eye’. Then a fellow immigrant described how he disturbed a potential burglar while at home in broad daylight and advised us all to update our security.
Meanwhile I met a school student whose mother helps ‘children at risk‘and a friend began working as a volunteer art teacher with difficult teenagers. She says it’s a tough class! Jewish kids? In the Jewish State? Surely not! This can’t be! But I also remembered the prophetic words of founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.
He said: “When Israel has prostitutes and thieves, we’ll be a state just like any other.”
They say the English Premier Soccer League is the most lucrative in the world. But what of native antisemitism? That’s surely in a league of its own! While I often warn against seeing antisemitism where it doesn’t exist, I must stress that it is ever-present. This happens both when there are no Jews in evidence – and even when those spouting anti-Jewish hatred have never knowingly met a Jew throughout their lives. The situation has become increasingly, depressingly, indecently nasty since Israel’s war in Gaza during December 2008 – January 2009. This, I believe is because it coincided with the start of the world economic recession.
Once again, international Jewry has found itself the world’s scapegoat for money worries. Yet despite fantastic competition from the likes of Sweden, Germany, Italy, Spain – and most recently Belgium, British Jew hatred is now like it was centuries ago.
As Israel’s darling boy began to readjust to life at his Mitzpe Hila home, the western Galilee experienced a near-reprise of the forest fires of 10 months ago. Moreover, the national moral and political agonising over Gilad Shalit’s release in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian terrorist prisoners became akin to that of a near-half-century ago over whether to execute one Nazi – Adolf Eichmann.
But just as the sudden brushfires near Kibbutz Yassur and Moshav Ahihud at first merely annoyed disgruntled motorists in diverted traffic, even those most against the prisoner swap joined the general rejoicing in Shalit’s return.
Karmiel does not have a hospital. I find this really aggravating as our town in the Upper Galilee, Israel boasts a population of 50,000 and is larger than either nearby Nahariya or Tzfat, both of which do! Indeed I would be surprised if even a few of the estimated visiting 5,000 performers and 30,000 tourists who packed in for last week’s 24th three-day annual International Dance Festival did not require occasional medical aid. Many people frolicked into the wee hours, well after the official programmes ended and then had to seek overnight refuge in the local parks for want of more conventional bed and board.
Our yearly fest is supposedly modelled on an ancient Jewish holiday ‘Tu B’Av ‘ which marked the start of the grape harvest and gave unmarried girls a chance to dress fetchingly in white and go dancing in the vineyards in order to find a husband!
I’ve just returned from a synagogue study session that was all about sex! No wonder there are continuous and increasing complaints about the over-sexualisation of kids – adults of all stripes think of little else. The lecture was part of a traditional overnight study series for the festival of Shavuot which celebrates the Revelation at Mount Sinai.
During it, the speaker claimed that the adulterous, murderous biblical King David would have made a fantastic modern politician. Even more relevant would have been a look at the putative homosexual relationship between David and King Saul’s son, Jonathan. Then we could have examined it in the light of the first same-sex Jewish marriage to take place in the U.K. – a significant matter for Jews worldwide – and to me personally for various reasons.
Born in Birmingham, England, U.K., Natalie Wood began working in journalism a month before the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
She remained in regional Jewish journalism for more than 20 years, leaving full-time writing to help run a family business and then completed a range of general office work.
Natalie Wood and her husband, Brian Fink emigrated from Manchester to Israel in March 2010 and live in Karmiel, Galilee where she continues to work from home, concentrating on creative writing.
Natalie Wood features in Smith Magazine’s new Six Word Memoirs On Jewish Life. She also contributes to Technorati, Blogcritics and Live Encounters magazine.