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Nov 2004 Journal

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Home is where Herts is

'London Jews head north', proclaimed the Jewish Chronicle's front-page headline earlier this year. Although 'north' in this instance meant Bushey rather than Burnley, I consider this just another typical instance of Jews swimming against the tide, the universal direction of which is southward.

In Spain, people head south to the Costa del Sol. In France, they head towards the Riviera and Provence. In Germany, millions annually go so far south that they leave the country altogether, to find themselves in Italy. In so doing they follow the example of Goethe, who undertook two Italian journeys and was inspired to write Kennst du das Land wo die Zitronen blühn? (Do you know the country where the lemons bloom?). The English always went everywhere except north. Shelley and Byron died in the south, Kipling lived in the east, and Charles Kingsley wrote Westward Ho. The American thrust has historically been to the west. This was encapsulated 150 years ago in the mantra 'Go west, young man!', coined by the crusading journalist Horace Greely.

Contrarywise, the 'mystic' east has always exerted the strongest pull worldwide, so strong that a distinctive phrase - Drang nach dem Osten - was coined to encapsulate it. In Nazi mouths, that phrase had a horrific connotation, but not all Germans were natural-born aggressors.

To Rilke, the pull of the east meant going to Russia in quest of spiritual enlightenment, whereas Hermann Hesse received good vibes from India. In this he was followed by thousands of young westerners, from the hero of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge to the Beatles.

Their number is dwarfed by that of Muslims who annually go to Mecca - and even by Christians who went on Crusades for the remission of their sins. Pious, unarmed Jews journeyed in the same direction, eager to be on hand at the Coming of the Messiah. They would rub their eyes in wonderment to learn that Shenley is the new Sfad.
Richard Grunberger

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