View from Netanya

ELKAN’S VIEW 21st January 2015

 Is this how the media would have reported this week’s Sedrah?


The Royal Press Officer for Pharaoh has accused the Israelites of serious war crimes. “Their leader Moses attacked and murdered one of our senior civil servants who was encouraging increased productivity among his workforce. Moses and his brother Aaron have brought terrible plagues, poisoning water, afflicting cattle and finally murdering many thousands of blameless firstborns. The plagues that they brought spared no one. Millions of innocent civilians suffered unbelievable hardship and privation. As they left our hospitable country the Israelites stole valuable Egyptian property and caused many of our bravest soldiers to drown in the Red Sea.

“The Children of Israel have shown themselves to be murderers and thieves. By their deeds of malice and violence they have betrayed the trust and honour showed to them by the whole Egyptian people. We demand justice!”

The following statement was issued on behalf of Moses and the Children of Israel but has not appeared in the press.

“The Egyptians enslaved tortured and brutalised the Israelite people. They ordered that firstborn be cast into the river to die, and taught their children to hate and disparage us. Our people first came to Egypt because our ancestor Joseph saved the whole nation from famine and starvation. It is true that the Almighty brought plagues upon Egypt, but Pharaoh could have stopped these at any time had he wished. As we were finally leaving Egypt, Egyptian well-wishers handed us gold and silver. Pharaoh wanted to bring us back into slavery and sent heavy armour and artillery against our defenceless civilians. He was only defeated by divine intervention at the last minute.”

View from Netanya

ELKAN’S VIEW 14th January 2015

Last week’s events in Paris have possibly changed the world we live in, although my cynical reluctance to admit that the nations of the West have any real concept of what they are facing leads me to wonder. Of course it was predictable; there have been enough signs in France to say nothing of the rest of Western Europe for people to understand that this is a major clash of civilisations.

It is not even merely an attack on the Jews, although almost every major outrage has a parallel Jewish attack. Shared by almost every other government in Western Europe, it is actually a significant failing on the part of the French government to take the threat of Islamic Jihadists seriously. It is easy to blame any government for a lack of police, troops on the ground, security people, whatever. The struggle against Islamic extremism must be taken forward by all available means, and governments have to be very proactive (as has the Israeli government for many years) if this dangerous threat to freedom is to be defeated.

Arguably it is now more dangerous for a European Jew, especially in France, to live outside Israel. If 7,000 French Jews made Aliyah last year, the figure this year will be undoubtedly much higher to Israel’s benefit and France’s loss.

That the latest addition of the magazine “Charlie Hebdo” sold out within minutes of coming on sale, despite the fact that its usual print run was vastly increased, gives a clear indication of what the average Frenchman thinks. But would have been quite as interested in the attack on the Jewish supermarket if it had not followed so closely the attack on the satirical magazine?

In the meantime quite how long will it take the British government to bring in necessary legislation to enable them to fight terror? The bleating of woolly minded liberals, that identity cards are an attack on liberty, is self-evident nonsense and must be derided as such. Liberty of thought and freedom of speech are wonderful things, but there are times when we have to fight, vigorously, actively, and with all available resources, if they are not to be destroyed by the liberties that they themselves profess to protect.

Responses to the attacks in France

When I was contacted by a West Country newspaper for a comment on the atrocities committed in France I said I was unable to make any comment at this stage. I felt unsure about what would be the correct approach and I did not wish to make a knee-jerk reaction to the incident at that stage. The next day, as the situation developed, we heard about the attack on a Jewish Supermarket and at that point it would have been appropriate, but by then the paper had gone to press. There have since been several well-prepared and thoughtful statements made and I have added the two which come from leading representatives of the Reform Movement. They seem to reflect what I hope we all believe:

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain

We have all read and seen the dreadful events over the last few days, and members have asked what is our response, so here are a few thoughts:

1st – to carry on as normal – not to suddenly become neurotic – not to turn from being carefree to suspicious – to keep our everyday lifestyle – because adopting a bunker mentality will destroy our lives and relationships much more than any isolated attack

2nd – not to blame Islam for the deranged members among it…nor hold all Muslims responsible for the disturbed Muslims that exist

3rd – not to blame religion in general as the source of all evil – of course there are those who do terrible things in its name – but there are plenty of murderous atheists, with Hitler, Stalin, Mao tse Tung and Poll Pot leading the way – while we also know that religion can lead to great good in society and many individuals acts of kindess. I like to think that Maidenhead Synagogue is source for good too.

4th – not to stop the ability of cartoonists and writers to satirise religion… because freedom of speech is one of our key values…and it is not just healthy to have that openness, but it is a vital safeguard and nothing should be immune from criticism, otherwise it would allow abuses to go unchecked

5th – carrying on as normal does not mean being complacent, and we have long had a trained security team made up of members who offer both practical security and a visual deterrent. If anyone would like to join the team or find out more, please do contact me.

6th – appreciating that we live in a different society from France and with different social trends; although we are not immune from terrible acts (witness the 7/7 London bombings), life in our particular area has been remarkably tolerant and trouble-free….long may it remain so.

Working hard at good inter-faith relations is part of that process

None of the above is new, but it’s precisely when one’s assumptions are challenged by a shocking event, that one needs to not go into panic mode but simply restate the values we hold and from which we will not be deflected.

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner

Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism

Moments before this email was due to be sent out, disturbing news started to come in from Paris; news of shootings and the taking of hostages who were preparing for Shabbat, buying food from a kosher supermarket. We stand firmly beside our Jewish brothers and sisters in France. Our response to this news must be to continue living our Jewish lives with pride, celebrating Shabbat, attending synagogues, lighting candles and joining together without fear.

Our siddur (prayerbook) includes this prayer for the release of captives:

God our redeemer, who set us free from the slavery of Egypt, we turn to You to release all hostages and captives, all who are enslaved to others. We pray now in particular for those taken hostage in Paris. May You be with them at this time of trial. Give wisdom and strength to those who work for their release and bring about a speedy end to this suffering. May You support the families and friends who can only watch and wait in fear and anxiety. Help us know what we too can do when prayers alone are not enough.
Blessed are You, our Living God, Sovereign of the universe, whose commandments make us holy and who commands us concerning the freeing of captives.

I pray for the friends, family and communities of the twelve victims of the dreadful Charlie Hebdo massacre. The attack on Wednesday morning, when those two fanatics murdered journalists and police in Paris, was a deeply chilling and profound tragedy.

What happened was also the result of fear – those who carried out this atrocity fear free speech and they fear the freedom to offend and be offended. No faith encourages isolation from other beliefs, however difficult they are to digest. That message was echoed immediately by Islamic scholars and Muslim organisations across France, Britain and the wider world. We see the same support for open and challenging debate in The Book of Proverbs, which insists that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”. So our views are shaped and sharpened by others, however they may challenge us or particularly, ‘davka’ because they do challenge us.

When we avoid engaging with other people or recognising difference, our ideas become blunt, weakened. They become obsolete and disconnected from reality – and rely on claims of absolute truth and divine endorsement. Extremists isolate themselves from debate and when it threatens them, they eventually try to destroy it through violence.
Just as the Paris terrorists went on the run, all extremists are trying to escape the same thing: the power and potency of the free exchange of ideas. That is why this week, before soldiers or politicians or members of the public, they came after journalists. As a collective, the way to defeat extremism is by safeguarding the coexistence of different beliefs and voices in public spaces. As individuals, it is by engaging with the ‘other’ and exposing ourselves to debate, even when it is difficult.

The symbol the world saw on Thursday night was far from one of difference and division. Lights were turned off at the Eiffel Tower, and then mosques, to mark the pain and sorrow that the nation was

You will also find comments elsewhere on the internet by the Council for Christians and Jews as well as a moving statement by the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue. They are all well worth viewing at this time and give us a chance to reflect on our own feelings.

View from Netanya

ELKAN’S VIEW 7th January 2015

 Israel is beginning to warm up for the elections on 17 March, which sadly offer no clear possibility of a radical change in leadership. Bibi is a Prime Minister who is increasingly viewed as having run his time. A change is badly needed but there are no exciting alternatives.

While Britain is now beginning to discover the reality of the problems that coalition government can bring, Israel is stuck with a proportional representation system that might have been a good idea in 1948, but which always produces coalitions. The effect of raising the proportion of the vote needed to secure a member of the Knesset to 3.25% does not seem to be having any particular effect.

To our shame, political scandals are the daily currency of Israeli life. The fact that a former president, a former prime minister and several ministers and officials are either in prison or appealing sentences is a tribute to the rule of law in this country. In the Middle East context this is unique, but it says many sad things about the ethical standards of the Jewish state.

The recent primaries within the Likud party have strengthened Netanyahu’s grip. The scandals within Avigdor Lieberman’s party Yisrael Beitenu have seriously diminished his influence, and the biggest political winner could well be the American Naftali Bennett and his right-wing party HaBayit Hayehudi. The Labour Party under Isaac Hertzog does not seem to be a serious contender, especially since he has teamed up with the political gadfly Tzipi Livni. She changes her political party frequently, and is one of the leading Israeli advocates of the two state solution, a policy which is increasingly seen here as being unattainable with the present Palestinian leadership.

However “a week is a long time in politics” and there are currently almost 10 weeks to the election and anything could happen.

And by the way, New Year’s Eve at the Dead Sea was delightful – strawberries, sparkling wine, and a magnificent firework display brought in 2015 in the traditional way!

View from Netanya

I am writing this on Wednesday 31st December. Last Thursday was 25th December, a day which part in this part of Israel, at least, is without any special significance.This is something that those of us who come from outside Israel, especially Europe and the English speaking countries (Anglo-Saxononim in local dialect) find very unusual.

On one of the days of Chanukah I went to Jerusalem with my grandsons, and we walked around the Old City. Outside many of the Jewish houses there was a box to hold a lit Chanukiah, and outside some doorways leading onto four or five apartments there was a glass box with shelves on which the individual flats had placed their Chanukiot. I even found one house that had built a Chanukiah from Lego! This is an interesting a new way of “publicising the miracle”.

In a society that is so closely defined by religion as Israel, it is quite logical to me that Xmas would be unmarked in Jewish areas, although like all my English friends I pine for some of the eatable traditions! When I did see one small girl in Tel Aviv holding a piece of greenery which obviously had Christmas overtones, I found it quite startling until I remembered the cosmopolitan nature of the city and the fact that she could very well not be Jewish.

New Year’s Eve is a different problem. In England we regard it as a purely secular celebration. Within the Catholic Church however 31st of December is designated as the feast of St Sylvester, who was Pope in the fourth century. The overzealous Rabbanut in the major cities attempted some years ago to ban New Year’s Eve parties on the basis that they were a Christian religious festival. I shall be at the Dead Sea for New Year’s Eve this year, and I am quite curious to know what is going to happen this evening.

Jewish Community in Cornwall