All posts by Elkan Levy

Elkan’s view from Radlett

ELKAN’S VIEW FROM RADLETT 9th September 2015

 Rosh Hashanah is a time for reflection. In Jewish tradition it is only one of four new years. The others are 1st Nissan – Kings and festivals; 1st Elul – animals; and Tu B’Shvat, 15th Shevat, the New Year for Trees.

Rosh Hashanah, changes the number of the year (to 5776), marks Shemittah the seven-year cycle of rest for the land, and Jubilees, the 50 year cycle which we no longer know.

This issue therefore seemed the right time to review some of the past year.

I’ve written from Jewish communities in Hong Kong Thailand and Croatia, as well nearer home from Plymouth. I’ve reported on Shavuot in the Negev and the delights of living in a Jewish state (when was the last time a passport officer wished you a Shanah Tovah?). I have frequently written from Radlett, and will officiate there and mark the 53rd year in which I have been privileged to lead communities in prayer on Yamim Noraim.

Last year has undoubtedly been difficult for Jews all over the world, and there is no indication that next year is going to be any better. We continue to witness the sheer idiocy of Obama’s legacy on Iran, the consequences of which have yet to be realised.

The Israeli government continues to handle the situation insensitively instead of turning this crisis into an opportunity. Much for Israel will hang on next year’s presidential elections

Anti-Semitism has become worse in most countries of the world including Britain. The murders in Denmark and France have clearly sounded warnings in those communities, and in Britain we have yet to see the result of the growing political power of the Muslim community, together with the influx of refugees from the Middle East who have been brainwashed to hate Jews.

But all is not bad. Israel continues to lead the world in so many areas, and to provide a modern Jewish state that has been absent in our past history. Rosh Hashanah marks a renewal and a vote of confidence in our future.

I wish all my readers all over the world a Shanah Tovah uMetukah, a good and sweet 5776

Elkan’s view from Netanya

ELKAN’S VIEW FROM NETANYA 2nd September 2015

A week on Sunday will mark the beginning of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, days of prayer and introspection when Am Yisrael, the Jewish people, gather in synagogues of multiple denominations all over the world. Much of the call of these services is based upon music, emotion. history, the attraction of the familiar, the memories that these festivals have for us.

Much of it however is based around The Machzor, the festival prayerbook. Good commentaries can explain the services, and interest the mind during those periods when inevitably attention wanders. One of the problems involved in using a Siddur or Machzor is that over a period the content and order of the prayers change and what may be suitable for one generation is not necessarily valid for another.

The oldest Yom Kippur Machzor that I have is dated 1808. It contains a prayer for “Our Most Gracious Sovereign Lord King George the Third, Our Most Amiable Queen Charlotte” and includes both the Prince of Wales (later George IV) and his wife with whom he scarcely lived. The service is considerably longer than our liturgy, with a great number of Piyutim, early mediaeval poems that have long since fallen into disuse.

The translation was the work of a remarkable scholar called David Levi, a hat maker by profession who translated both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi prayerbooks (I also have a copy of his 1796 Shavuot Machzor), produced a Chumash, a Haggadah, Hebrew-English dictionaries, and engaged in learned arguments with Christian scholars. After his death in 1801 there was a dispute between his son who owned the copyright and a different printer. Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell ruled in favour of Isaac Levi and out of gratitude the printer published an engraving of the Chief Rabbi as the frontispiece.

When this Machzor was published the Battle of Trafalgar was not yet two years old, and Waterloo lay seven years in the future. There were probably less than 30,000 Jews in the whole country, the largest provincial community was Portsmouth and in the nascent Empire probably the most significant settlement was Jamaica.

And yet, with some difficulty, I could still use that Machzor today!

Elkan’s view from Netanya


To the considerable relief of parents and grandparents, an emotion not shared in the main by the students, the Chofesh Hagadol, the long summer holiday in Israeli schools, comes to an end next week. This summer has been hotter than most, and although I normally like August in Israel this year has been an exception. Living on the top of the cliff overlooking the Mediterranean I rarely use the air conditioning because a strong breeze comes in from the sea, but to my horror I discovered when I most needed it that the air conditioning was not working. The air conditioning engineer of course was severely in demand. It was quite some time before the gas was replaced and the flat became habitably cool, by which time the very hot winds had disappeared and the breeze had begun again to flood in from the sea.

Rosh Hashanah is just over two weeks away, and the supermarkets are full of the goods of the season. Honey of course is plentiful, but for some reason in this country the consumption of gefilte fish is particularly high at this time of year, a culinary tradition of which Anglo Jewry is unaware. The shops also fill with weird and wonderful fruits, although you can find many of them in Israel for most of the year anyway. Special offers abound on everything, with the slogan “Rosh Hashanah kemo shetzarich – Rosh Hashanah as it should be”.

But Rosh Hashanah is also a time for refurnishing and redecoration, much as it is in December in Britain. The Ikea catalogue landed in my mailbox this morning, with all sorts of wonderful ideas for refurbishing my life. There are now three branches of the store in Israel, and since Israelis love shopping the Netanya branch is among the busiest in the world. They also sell the usual Ikea restaurant food, but Glatt Kosher for the Charedi clientele who eat there, and there is even a shul. I once went there wanting to know what a flat pack Aron Kodesh looked like, but to my disappointment the furniture appeared to have been bought in!

Yet another amazing experience in this amazing country!

Elkan’s view from netanya


Israel has been horrified internally by some of the events that have taken place in recent weeks, including the tragic murder of a young girl who was a spectator at the gay pride march in Jerusalem, and the stand-off that has developed in parts of the West Bank between settlers and police.

A Charedi, Yishai Schlissel, had just been released from a ten-year term for stabbing participants in a previous gay march, and had indicated his intention to do the same again. Evidently no notice was taken and no precautions were put in place. A report has now called for the dismissal of three senior police officers.

Another example of what has come to be religious conflict has been the torching of of two houses in the Arab village of Duma on the West Bank which is led to the death of an 18-month-old infant and his father. Those responsible painted on the outside the words “Tag Mechir – Price Tag”.

There has recently been a stand-off between police and settlers at Bet El, a settlement north of Jerusalem, where settlers were prepared to go to war with the Israeli army rather than permit them to demolish two half finished apartment blocks that had been erected on land that belongs to Palestinians.

I am aware that Orthodox Judaism is not responsible for this, but Jews are required to take into account the realities of the situation. “Lo Bashamayim Hi – It is not in Heaven” will shortly occur in our Torah reading. The prospect of Jew fighting Jew, or Israelis declaring war on their own army and State, is horrifying. Either there is the rule of law or there is anarchy.

There is much wrong with Israeli society, and although the government’s attention to the Iran situation is understandable, problems at home cannot be ignored. Violence must be stopped, and the desire of certain sections to create a state within a state must be terminated. Disturbingly, there are signs emerging that young Israelis are voting with their feet and going to live abroad because of the cost of living, but I will return to this theme on another occasion

Elkan’s view from Netanya


Like most people of my generation I can remember when Panorama, chaired by the unfogetteble Richard Dimbleby, embodied all the qualities inculcated into the BBC by its founder Lord Reith. When my iPlayer offered a Panorama programme entitled “The Train That Divides Jerusalem” I assumed that the programme might be made with some integrity. “We Believe In Israel” (if you have not put yourself on their emailing list please do so right away) then asked me to protest to the BBC. I therefore watched the programme with both interest and trepidation, to discover that all my worst reservations were true.

The filmmaker is Adam Wishart who begins by saying that he is a British Jew who 30 years ago went on a Zionist educational tour of Israel and whose grandparents were Zionists. This evidently gives him authority to speak for British Jews and to have special knowledge about Jerusalem; neither is true. As the programme proceeds he presents distortions as facts.

Wishart claims that the purpose of the light rail is to enable Jews to travel more easily to the Arab parts of the city, completely ignoring that it also enables Arabs to travel all over the city, to its hospitals malls cafes cinemas etc. To represent the Jewish view he interviews Rivka Shimon, an activist on the political fringe. She claims that Jews will soon build the Third Temple “no matter that Muslim holy places are here already”. Wishart therefore adduces the light rail as proof of increasing Jewish domination of East Jerusalem, and even suggests that her views are “gathering support from within the mainstream”, a sensationalist hypothesis which has no basis in fact.

Wishart ignores the status of the city between 1948 and 1967 when it was occupied illegally by Jordan,  doesn’t mention the political educational and social benefits enjoyed by all Israeli Arabs, and finally deduces as proof of his distorted views the fact that the line finishes in Pisgat Ze’ev, an “illegal settlement” within the city boundaries. A little research would have shown him that the land was purchased by Jews before the Second World War mainly by those of whom nothing was heard after the Holocaust. What price the truth?