Friday, February 29, 2008

London mayor 'misquotes former chief rabbi' on Israel

By Jonny Paul at the Jerusalem Post. Hat tip from none other than Jonathan Hoffman himself!

Responding to a question about his position on Israel during a debate on Monday, London Mayor Ken Livingstone reportedly said his views were echoed by a former chief rabbi of Britain who he claimed had said that Israel should not have been created.

At a debate entitled "How London can stay ahead as a great world city," organized by the Evening Standard newspaper in central London on Monday night, Livingstone was asked how London can stay ahead "when it is led by a mayor who descends into petty sectarianism, notably in saying that Israel should never have been created?"

Asking the question, Jewish community member Jonathan Hoffman was referring to remarks made by Livingstone during an election campaign in Finchley, north London, in 2004.

Hoffman said that in response to his question about his views on Israel, Livingstone said: "I have criticized Mrs. Thatcher in the past. All governments including that of Israel should be open to criticism. Even the former chief rabbi was quoted in the Evening Standard as saying that maybe it would be better if Israel had not been created."

The mayor was referring to remarks made by former chief rabbi Lord Jakobovits in a May 1991 newspaper article.

In the article - which had the screaming headline "Bad news... Chief Rabbi shames Israel" - Lord Jakobovits said that the Palestinian refugee problem was a "stain on humanity" and that Israel, in cooperation with wealthy Arab nations, would do well to remove that stain.

"It is sad that the mayor's recollection of the interview from 1991 isn't as good as mine," Shimon Cohen, former private secretary to Lord Jakobovits, told The Jerusalem Post. "In the Evening Standard interview Lord Jakobovits actually described the plight of Palestinian refugees as a 'stain on humanity' but he said that the Jews were not to blame for creating the problem.

"He added, 'we cannot forever dominate a million and a half Arabs... this blinkered attitude is self destructive,'" Cohen said.

"The mayor has compounded an anti-Semitic statement with a falsehood," Hoffman told the Post.

A front-page article in The Jewish Chronicle at the time asked: "Surely, however, a crucial question must be how a serious newspaper could manage to contort Lord Jakobovits's [not unfamiliar] views on Israel and the Palestinians into an amazing attack on the Jewish state."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

BBC's laughable excuse

This snippet was on an Honest Reporting email I got today:

Many of you send us the BBC's replies to your e-mail complaints, most of which are standard responses claiming that the BBC upholds the finest traditions of balance and objectivity. The following, however, stands out as one of the more ridiculous responses we have seen.

A subscriber wanted to know why the BBC's choice of headlines never directly mentions Palestinians as aggressors, preferring neutral descriptions such as "Rocket injures dozens in Israel", while Israel is almost always named as the primary actor in headlines such as "Israeli raids kill nine in Gaza". The BBC's response was revealing:

Please understand that we try to use neutral language in all our reporting, headlines included. Our writers, sub-editors and editors are required to write headlines that are between 31 and 33 characters long, including spaces, to fit in a Ceefax (teletext) template. It means that some long words, such as Palestinian, are often avoided to get more germane information into a headline. Neither of the suggestions you make (25 and 51 characters respectively) would fit the template.

So, for the BBC, fitting the text on the page and spacing is more important than an accurate message. The BBC admits it doesn't let the facts interfere with a good headline - even if readers get a false impression of the story.

I thought perhaps it would be in order for Freedmanslifers to compose their own headlines of 31 to 33 characters to convey a message. Of course, it doesn't have to have anything to do with the story that follows, let alone the facts.

Here's an example:

"BBC writers deserve to get shot"

That's 31 characters. Of course, I would never advocate that the nice staffers of the Beeb should be killed. The article I imagined would appear below such a caption relates to who should be among the privileged few who would be inoculated in the event of a deadly virus epidemic sweeping the capital. Hopefully an illness like journalismus factuali...

Feel free to send in your own contributions, with headline of the right length, and a description of the article that might follow. Best one wins a special prize!

* * * UPDATE * * *

The Beeb provides 31 joyous characters:

Bomb kills top Hezbollah leader

Monday, February 11, 2008

Grandma (2)

I was asked by the family to say a few words at the last night of shiva for Grandma. She was a really awesome lady, and the way in which our family has come together has been the most fitting tribute, so I wanted to share this with those of you who didn't know her:

This is a bit of a mish-mash of things I have been thinking about this week – a stream of consciousness really. In respect to Grandma’s preference for things to be carefully prepared, and not being a fan of huge surprises, for once I have written my whole speech in advance.

A word we have heard used this week in regard to Grandma is that she was a stoic. I think this is a huge compliment. The ancient Stoics are often misunderstood because the terms they used pertained to different concepts in the past than they do today. The word stoic has come to mean unemotional or indifferent to pain, because Stoic ethics taught freedom from passion by following reason. But the Stoics did not seek to extinguish emotions, only to avoid emotional troubles by developing clear judgment and inner calm through diligent practice of logic, reflection, and concentration.

Grandpa mentioned to me that he didn’t think he had ever seen her cry. Certainly she never cried in public. In fact, he has reprimanded himself this week that she would tell him to “stop being a cry-baby”. I for one have tried to respect her wishes and think of her in the way she wanted – or maybe even planned meticulously – to be remembered.

She was a great one for literature (I remember being made by mum to read War and Peace aged 11 for my City scholarship exam, and grandma had just read Anna Karenina, so we were able to talk about Tolstoy’s style of writing as essentially a form of historical social and political reference, dressed as novel.

A phrase from Tolstoy springs to mind: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Grandma was acutely aware of what she could influence, and focused single-mindedly on it – she was not one for fripperies.

In digging out that quotation, I came across this from Pearl Buck: “You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come in contact with a new idea.” I think that also sums Grandma up. She was not particularly enthusiastic about adopting new things – especially the Internet – and used to roll her eyes and ask what on earth she would need that for. She never took to flying all that much, and we shall politely say she was an extremely patient driver, with an acute understanding that 30mph was the maximum limit, despite the potential power of the car to do a bit more.

All this made me think about the dramatic use of the word “expired” in old literature for when someone died. Somehow this seemed very appropriate to Grandma. We all knew inside that she had been unwell for several months, but none of us were able to break down her stubborn defence of her health and find out how serious it really was. Once she felt unable to continue caring for everyone to her usual meticulous standards, I think she was ready to go.

Until then, she wanted to keep things on her own terms, and most importantly she saw herself as part of a team. For her, what mattered was the aggregate age score with Grandpa. She must have had some inkling that she could not go on in her weakened state, so she carefully laid all the groundwork for him to have the best network of support possible.

Then she was concerned for all of us to reach our own milestones – Aunt Yvonne’s 80th, Helen’s new flat (and becoming a Fast Streamer!), my birthday and brunch – and to see everyone together on happy occasions right until the last.

I must confess that my first reaction on hearing the news was one of anger at her for not taking better care of herself, but almost immediately that I started talking with other people in our family, I realised that her way was never to prioritise her own wellbeing over those around her. This is who she was.

I think very few people have meaningful personalities that everyone gets to know. We all put up a persona for the convenience of associating briefly with the vast majority of people in our lives. I often question whether we are innately anything except to a few who know us incredibly well.

For anyone else who knows us, we are defined by the nature of the relationships we have with other people. In this way, as was said on Sunday, Grandma was defined by the many warm relationships she had. Even those who knew her only slightly would be aware of the constant desire she had to care for others, giving hospitality, time and advice in bountiful quantities. What makes this a point of interest to me is that this really is who she was.

The grandchildren related to her despite the generation gap. This went beyond the standard grandparent to grandchild connection, though we certainly enjoyed getting endless sherbets and chocolate ├ęclairs from the sweet jar. She could outrun me well into her 60s, but only now do I realise that this was cause and effect…

She took a genuine interest not just in our activities, but really in how we developed as people. Who were we really? What were our individual philosophies, political and moral viewpoints and so on? In this way, we spent time with her as a friend and out of choice.

One really positive thing that has come out of this week has been to continue this relationship with Grandpa and Aunt Yvonne, who share many of these characteristics.

How do we cope then, with her passing? I think the answer comes from how she carried herself and what she would want us to do. We have all been so proud of Grandpa, who has been heroic in picking up the mantle of “family stoic” in her honour.

He announced earlier in the week that it was a “new epoch” – and indeed it is. When someone is taken away from us, they leave behind a series of broken connections. Even in these last few days, we have all taken great strength from how some of these loose ends have found each other.

It’s never going to replace Grandma, but it’s absolutely fitting that instead of crying and dwelling on her last few weeks when all was less than good, we are remembering those previous 80 years, largely of health and happiness, looking to the future and thinking about how we are going to apply the lessons she taught so ably.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Grandma (1)

As may of you know, Grandma passed away on Sunday. I'd like to share with you the hesped (eulogy) we wrote for her:

Cicely was the 3rd child of 4, brought up in a traditional orthodox family in Sinclair Grove, Golders Green, the daughter of a founder of Hendon Synagogue.

Highly intelligent and ahead in her year at Henrietta Barnett, she broke the traditional mould by persuading her father to let her go to university, and attended LSE where she studied economics. She recalled with amusement how, after he met the late, well-respected Mr Teff, with his daughter Helen at the enrolment, her father finally relented, saying “well, if it is good enough for Teff, it is all right for me.”

Helen and Cicely became life long friends from that day, forming what she called her “gang” with Phyl Muller. The list of other people she was close to is endless; Cicely was defined by the many warm relationships she had.

Cicely went on to work as a social worker. She was helping make the tea at the JNF meeting hosted by her elder sister, Estelle, when she attracted the attention of Avrem, who was attending the meeting with his friend Sam. Their first date was at the Lyons Corner-house, though she was not sure until Avrem appeared whom she was meeting!

They shared progressive views, going to Fabian Society weekends and reading the Guardian avidly every day. Cicely would listen to Radio 4 whilst Avrem tuned into the World Service, then they would exchange domestic and international news over breakfast.

After a short courtship they married on 19 July 1951, and the subsequent 56 years have been an example to us all of how to conduct a marriage. She was full of wisdom and good humour; on Ruth and Jonathan’s 20th anniversary, she inscribed their card with the words: “Remember, the first 20 years are the worst!”

After raising Ruth and Hilary, she retrained as a primary school teacher and taught in schools in Harrow and Brent, finishing up on the Brent special needs team until her retirement. She continued teaching special needs children privately for a number of years until Avrem retired aged 70.

She spent her retirement travelling with him to visit relatives in Israel, as well as trips to India, China and other places. She was a keen member of U3A and she and Avrem attended several study holidays in Italy under their auspices. She was the president of the local B’nai B’rith Lodge, commanding meetings in a tactful way, giving all a fair hearing – a hard act to follow.

Cicely's smile, and hospitable welcome to us all, warm us when we think of her. She was a pleasure to be with, open to new experiences, radiating warmth, cheerfulness and optimism, thoughtful and devoted, the centre of a loving family.

Her children and grandchildren have learned the value of this hospitality, and she enjoyed sharing recipes with them. There was always a fresh pot of tea on the best china for any guest, and the grandkids were delighted to get such exotic treats as Um Bongo and “uitsmeter” sandwiches. They all relished trips to grandma and grandpa’s, especially playing with the boats and ducks in grandma’s green bathroom, and clambering into their king-sized bed for cups of milky tea and a reading of Babar.

Cicely was particularly fond of her sons-in-law – patting Jonathan’s hand and commiserating on “what a hard day he’s had” – and also shared a close relationship with Beryl and Bernie in Switzerland.

She was always well turned-out. Just last summer, she took great pleasure in a week of pampering at the Carmel Spa in Israel with Avrem, her daughter and son-in-law. As much as she took care of herself on the outside, also on the inside, with weekly trips to meet friends at Hampstead Town Hall U3A to continue studying literature.

You never heard a malicious word about anybody from her. She would be far too modest to agree, but she was that rare thing; an utterly good person. She only got angry about herself and was not frightened to speak if injustice was being done. She was a highly principled and optimistic person, who only wanted to hear of people’s good points. She never broke a promise or harboured a sense of grievance; she treated everyone with respect and kindness.

Cicely made very little of her own needs or desires, not because she did not have them, but you had to try jolly hard to wheedle it out of her. Up to last week tea time she would chat daily on the phone with her sister Yvonne and, despite feeling ill herself, would always say “how was your day?”

She was an able assistant to Avrem, always finding new activities for him, even when he became less mobile. Walking in the fresh air in Roxborough Avenue, she would be greeted by so many neighbours who had come to know her, and she enjoyed looking out of the kitchen window at the goings-on of the street, especially the sight and sound of children going to the local school.

Cicely loved flowers, and enjoyed visits to Kew Gardens, most recently with Helen and Michael, and loved sitting on Hilly and Alan’s balcony in Zurich, admiring the plants and the view.

Whilst not a religious person by the usual definition, she always aspired to something spiritually higher. She would take Avrem to synagogue by car when necessary, and enjoyed the social aspects of communal life.

Even to those who hardly knew her it was clear she was a totally selfless person. She knew that personal happiness and fulfilment comes from helping and caring for others, and once she became ill, this became much harder and she felt her purpose in life had been diminished, because she no longer had the strength to do that.

She was with Avrem, Ruth and Helen – every generation of her family – by her side in hospital at the end, and her spirit of generosity and warmth will remain with all of us, for us to pass to the next generation.

Prayers will be observed at 9 Eastglade, Pinner, from Tuesday 5th February to Sunday 10th February at 8.00pm.