in the garden


Jan 2012 Journal

Letters to the Editor


Sir – Ludwig Spiro, and Anna before him, played important roles in our lives. I cannot remember when we first got to know them. A major step occurred after my mother’s death in 1990. Ludwig saw in me a likely candidate to become a member of the Heinrich Stahl House Committee and he duly lassoed me into joining the group. Our friendship developed over the years, continuing after Ludwig stepped down from office. He continued to show great interest in the welfare of the residents. I found later that the concept of house committees was unique in the environment of residential care homes because we could draw our recruits from persons with similar backgrounds and experiences. The homes continued to function well until there was a change in the financial climate.

We remember Ludwig as an outstanding person, infinitely kind and interested in other people. We were honoured to be able to count him and Anna as our friends and we shall miss them both. We wish Ludwig’s family long life.

Dr Victor and Mrs Rosalie Simons, London NW3

Sir - I met Ludwig Spiro when my mother was admitted to Heinrich Stahl House. She said that a nice gentleman had visited her and told her to tell him if there was anything she needed. This was typical of his hands-on approach, as was getting down on the floor to sort out the wiring in her room. I came into closer contact with him and Anna when I was asked to join the House Committee, which he chaired. These were not so much committee meetings as briefings, but one could forgive him as he was so concerned for the residents and committed to their welfare. He had many good ideas, e.g. giving each committee member a number of residents to chat to and listen to their concerns.

In later years, after Ludwig had moved to Northwood and Anna had died, I brought him from time to time to my house, where he enjoyed his conversations with my husband and arranged for him to give some lectures to AJR groups.

Stella Curzon, Ruislip


Sir – In a recent letter, Henry Schragenheim described Tisha B’Av as ‘a more tragic event than all the other persecutions being commemorated. This is because the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the persecutions in Eastern Europe and the Holocaust would not have taken place had we not been exiled from our land.’

His argument is intriguing and I certainly accept his simple conclusion - that the Shoa could not have occurred in Europe had such a large population of Jewish people not been living there at the time. Yet sadly, that is not the real issue at all.

The difficulty with the earlier sequence of events which Mr Schragenheim posits is that the Diaspora triggered by the Roman destruction of the Temple and its aftermath was not as total as he implies. The event certainly directly affected Jews from Jerusalem and surrounding areas, but not so much those from wider Judea. For example, the dispersal he speaks of was probably on a smaller scale than that of the exile to Babylon, though both were undoubtedly major tragedies.

Moreover, the Jewish people had been spreading out from Israel and Judah long before the Diaspora - witness Alexandria, the largest of all Jewish cities and almost totally Greek-speaking. Many Jewish people had been traders since before the time of Christ. That in itself would have taken them, and their dependents, to foreign parts, resulting in their occupation of trading positions throughout the Roman Empire, and even beyond the Empire into Russia, and where Jewish and other traders in those areas were to a limited extent encouraged and frequently flourished.

Also, we have the no small matter of Jewish proselytisation, spreading from Israel and Judah and resulting in the creation of Jewish communities in other lands, right up to the time when the practice was banned by Emperor Constantine.

And then there were later events that also brought Jews into Europe, e.g. the conquest of Jerusalem and the Holy Land by Islam. And not forgetting those Jews who later fled pogroms in the Russian Empire, and the migration into Europe of ‘oriental’ Jews from North Africa and other Arab lands before and during the 19th century.

Thus, Jews came to Europe for a variety of reasons other than the so-called Diaspora which followed the Romans’ sack of the Temple and Jerusalem. And, despite frequent persecution, there was always a significant non-Diaspora Jewish presence in Europe right up to the time of the Shoa. And even the intensity of Jewish migration to the Americas prior to the Shoa did not alter the picture significantly.

The Shoa cannot therefore be said to be directly related to the Roman-driven Diaspora. Correspondence on the subject in the AJR Journal and other journals always ducks this question by blaming only the Nazis or seeming to blame the entire German nation - even today the presence of an additional underlying cause is treated by many with far too much ‘delicacy’.

The godless Nazi Party and many, many Germans were most certainly guilty - but surely not they alone. Many guards in the death camps were of East European stock and nationals from Nazi-occupied countries frequently co-operated in securing the initial arrests and in the subsequent operation of the death transports. Had the history of those days been somewhat different, the entire evil process might, in part at least, just as possibly have happened in European countries other than Germany. The overwhelming difference between Germany and other possible culprits of that period was that Hitler alone had the immediate means.

The underlying reason for this tragedy is that much of Christian Europe - Catholic and post-Reformation Protestant – had been riddled with anti-Semitism for hundreds of years since the Middle Ages - the sin that even today ‘dare not speak its name’. And the Holocaust became possible not just because of the wickedness of the Nazis, but also against this more precise historical background - anti-Semitism in varying degrees had become prevalent throughout most of Europe.

To my knowledge, the only Christian person of note to go some way towards public admittance of the problem was Pope John Paul II. But until this link is more widely acknowledged throughout Christianity and in our broader society, and even in our school history books, there can surely be no final reconciliation. I say this as a Christian, deeply aware that Jesus, his family, and most of his friends and acquaintances were undeniably Jewish. And Christianity surely owes the Jews and Judaism more than has ever been admitted.

Peter C. Landsborough, Woking, Surrey

Sir - In my local library there are four books in the children’s section on the Holocaust and all four blame the Nazis for this great crime. There is no mention of centuries of persecution by the Christian church, without which the Holocaust could not have happened. Many people think the Nazis were a separate tribe. Children must be taught the whole truth.

Mary Rogers, Wigston Magna,


Sir – Regarding Peter Phillip’s November article ‘To provoke or not to provoke’:

1. Mr Phillips laments the fact that the Orthodox do not fraternise with those factions which openly question or attack authentic Judaism, but makes no secret of the fact that he hates the ‘frummers’, as he calls them. So he is just as divisive.

2. He hates ‘so-called faith schools’ for Jews, arguing that we are British and Jewish only by religion. Moreover, if, in his opinion, we are Jewish merely by reason of religion, how come he disbelieves in kashrut and shechita etc – all of them part and parcel of the Torah? If he chooses to discard those laws which do not appeal to him but retain those that do, then his Judaism can at best be defined as a ‘Jewish-style’ Judaism - just as some Americans describe the food they sell as ‘kosher-style’.

However, Mr Phillips seems proud to be a Jew and to be part of the Jewish people, which means he regards it as a race. In that case, he can’t argue that Jewish schools are bad as we are British, but Jewish only by religion.

It is arguable whether we are a ‘pure’ race since we do accept converts into our ranks and, with the Reform and Liberals, even more so. So, if we ditch most, or even some, of the basic tenets of the Torah, what are we left with? Neither a religion nor a race – and you don’t need to be an Einstein to work that one out!

3. As for his type of Zionism, the loss of which he bemoans, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It has not withstood the test of time and many of its adherents have left the Land of Israel for greener pastures. At the same time, Orthodox Jews keep sending their sons and daughters to yeshivot and seminaries in ever-increasing numbers, and many an elderly couple goes on aliyah as theirs is a real and genuine love of our Promised Land. History has not stood still since Herzl’s days. Communism, Zionism - all the various ‘isms’ - have changed their form over the decades.

As a young girl, I once attended a meeting with my parents at Zion House in north-west London, my mother having joined the Pioneer Women - she who had led a very assimilated lifestyle in Germany, with no Zionist leanings whatsoever. Hitler and the Nazis had made her aware of her Judaism. The people at that meeting came across as very anti-Orthodox. The refreshments served were obviously not kosher. One of the speakers attacked the Orthodox, accusing them of being anti-Zionist. I must have been the youngest person present and naturally very shy, but I spoke up as follows: ‘It is solely through the Orthodox that the concept of Zion and a Jewish state have been kept alive through the ages. It is they who keep referring to it many times daily in their prayers. If left to people like you, this whole concept would have been forgotten centuries ago.’ My words were greeted with stunned silence.

The Liberals and Reformers in Germany deleted all references to Jerusalem and Zion from their prayer books. Israel was not the brainchild of Herzl and the Zionists, as Peter Phillips states.

(Mrs) Margarete Stern, London NW3

Sir - Peter Phillips asks why the Chief Rabbi did not attend Hugo Gryn’s funeral. Interviewed in The Times some weeks ago, he said that it was like the effect of Diana’s death on the Royal Family – they realised very late that they should be in London, which they caught up on after a few days. Sadly, the Chief Rabbi realised too late that he should have attended the funeral. Also in The Times, where he writes the occasional article, he is described only as the ‘Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue’.

John Löwenhardt’s article in the same issue of the Journal reminds me of my distant cousin Daniel Simon, who was murdered in Auschwitz at the age of four, together with his mother, father and grandfather. Fortunately, we have a grandson called Daniel.

Rudi Leavor, Bradford

Sir – The reason the Chief Rabbi did not attend the funeral of Dr Hugo Gryn is that his presence there might have been misunderstood as recognition of the non-Orthodox as a valid, alternative brand of Judaism – which they are not. They pick and choose which commandments to observe and which to discard.

Mr Phillips also wrote: ‘I think our kashrut laws make no sense – that they are outdated and that shechita probably causes anti-Semitism.’ Does a Scotsman wearing his kilt cause anti-Scottish feeling?

Herbert Stanton, London N15

Sir- In response to the 12 letters (11 printed, 1 sent to me privately) following my latest Point of View article, first let me congratulate Marianne Laszlo, B. Bow, Maureen Dreyfus and G. M. Dickson for agreeing with me and Marc Schatzberger for ‘broadly’ agreeing with me. What intelligent folk you are!

This means five for and seven against. David Harris defeats his own arguments. He claims that in his Jewish school pupils are educated to be aware of their dual roles as Jews and British citizens. However, his letter focuses on visits to Holocaust sites, Israel, the Gateshead Yeshivah (why?) and the Gateshead Seminary (again, why?). An example he gives of his pupils’ roles as British is that they march with AJEX at the Remembrance Parade! ‘They raise funds for Jewish homes in Ukraine,’ he adds, and ‘they compete in the Maccabiah Games’. Mr Harris, you have proved my point. To you, and to your pupils, Judaism obviously comes before being British.

The first part of Betty Bloom’s letter is true. The German Jews did try to integrate but were killed as readily as those who didn’t. However, is this really an argument against integration? Also, I do not believe that if there were no laws of kashrut and shechita there would be no Jews. I do not believe in either but, of course, I am Jewish. Bob Norton questions what right I have to denigrate kashrut and Orthodoxy. Free speech, Mr Norton! Rubin Katz - please do not ‘almost’ agree with me. In an article in the Jewish Chronicle, Professor Arnon Soffer says he believes there will be a religious majority in Israel within 40 years. If so, Israel will be no different from its Muslim fundamentalist neighbours.

Margarete Stern has not understood anything I wrote! I do not believe in the Torah. It is as simple as that. Yes, I believe that Judaism is as much a race as a religion. Also, I cannot think of anything more alien to me than yeshivot. I want Israel to be a secular state, not a religious one. Furthermore, Mrs Stern, you are wrong yet again when you claim it was the Orthodox who kept alive the concept of a Jewish state. It was Zionism, however much you dislike ‘isms’! And the excuses given by Rudi Leavor and Herbert Stanton for the absence of Rabbi Sacks from the funeral of Rabbi Gryn are pathetic. Your Chief Rabbi is very ready to go to churches but not to the synagogues or burial places of Progressive Jews. What humbug!

Peter Phillips replies:


Sir – This happened in my ‘second native country’ - South Africa. One of the wholesale merchants there was trading in their joint company’s name Weil (pronounced Veal) & Aschheim. A very witty emigrant promptly translated the name: Kalbfleisch und Tocheshausen.

Fred Jonas, Macclesfield, Cheshire


Sir - Dorothea Shefer-Vanson rightly complains (November) of those who chose to disrupt concerts in London given by Israeli musicians and likens those disrupters to the August rioters in English cities. However, she misses one vital difference: why were none of the disrupters at the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) concert arrested for breach of public order?

Surely it is time Anglo-Jewry woke up to the fact that those who practise mindless vocal barracking deserve treatment no different from other forms of mindless destruction. As it is, on their recent tour the IPO visited about 20 other cities and nowhere was there any behaviour remotely as bad as that which greeted them in London. Hardly an acceptable precedent for how the Israeli Olympic team may be greeted in London this year.

Peter Simpson, Jerusalem