Extracts from the Nov 2007 Journal

Museum pieces?

No one, to my knowledge, has yet commented at any length on the peculiar reluctance of German scholars and academics to conduct research into the community of Jews of German origin that settled in Britain after 1945. Usually, German Wissenschaftler are to be found crawling with ant-like industry over any academic subject area available, with the entire field of the Holocaust, the Nazi persecution of the Jews, and the fate of Germany’s Jews attracting a quite extraordinary amount of scholarly interest. [more...]

Put it in writing

What with emails and texting, there will soon no longer be a call for writing a proper English letter or indeed proper English. The correct way of complying with a request for RSVP - sending bread-and-butter letters, the conventions of condolence, of congratulation and correct forms of address (e.g. how to invite a gay bishop and his partner to open a boys’ club) - will be ignored or satisfied with a simple electronic burp. [more...]

Welcome to Canada

The first part of this article, ‘My internment’, appeared in the October issue.
Arriving by rail in Trois Rivières, we were marched through the city, inhabited by what seemed nineteenth-century French colonials cramming their balconies, from which they hurled abuse at us. It was a horrendous experience. At camp T, we were welcomed by German PoWs singing the Horst Wessel Song. It was most gruelling to hear the words ‘Wenn das Judenblut vom Messer spritzt’ (When Jewish blood sprays from the knife) 5,000 miles from the scene of those crimes. We managed to get separated. [more...]

What is a Jew? (Point of View)

A number of articles have recently appeared in the Journal in which people agonise about their Jewish identity. There were also letters whose writers proclaimed that they ‘only wished to belong to the human race’ – as distinct, presumably, from the Jewish race. [more...]

Defining a secular Jew (Point of View)

Let us start with the definitions of the word ‘secular’ as given in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary in the sense that troubles Martha Blend (September): ‘Concerned with the affairs of this world, wordly not sacred, not monastic, not ecclesiastical, temporal, profane, lay’. Martha Blend’s interpretation - that being a secular Jew means ‘respecting the Jewish contribution to culture and standing up for Jews if they are attacked’ – is fine. But this is not limited to secular Jews: observant Jews practise these principles to a considerable extent. As for her reference to the dietary laws, these never had anything to do with refrigeration - a pork chop goes off as quickly as a kosher lamb chop! As for synagogue services being ‘alien to the Western tradition’ (whatever these two words might mean), this suggests she has been exposed to only one type or a limited number of such services. Today there are so many versions that one often cannot even recognise that their form of worship belongs to the same religion! And why is a framework to life ‘nebulous’?
To be a Jew is to be a member of a world community with a code of living that has survived for over three millennia and outlasted many other civilisations. Notwithstanding countless attempts by other communities to destroy the Jewish people, it is a way of life based on a set of rules and laws, which have been the basis of numerous civilisations. It teaches us to, inter alia, respect other human beings, live within the framework of a family, be charitable, strive for peace for all mankind, and educate our children to become upright citizens. All this can be done without setting foot in a synagogue and those who choose to do that are sometimes referred to as ‘secular’. But let us never forget where these standards were first laid down. Going to a synagogue to pray is just another way of observing the traditions, which are fundamental to this lifestyle.
Judaism is adapting to change all the time without compromising fundamentals, but one has to understand the basic principles. There are, of course, some communities that attempt change of a more radical form. I have no fear for the survival of Judaism unless we ourselves denigrate it or water it down to become indistinguishable from non-Jewish society. How often has it rightly been said that we are our own worst enemies!

On being or not being a Jew (Point of View)

In 1973 I went to Israel to ‘sit shiva’ after my father died. Having had little verbal contact with my brothers over the years, I posed the question as to what extent I was a Jew. An agnostic, I didn’t practise any part of the Jewish religion (‘sitting shiva’ was a matter of respect to my father’s memory); I was married to a non-Jew; while I sympathised with the aims of Zionism, I was not a citizen of Israel and couldn’t consider myself a Jewish nationalist. I concluded that it was the common suffering we endured that still made me feel a Jew. [more...]

Art Notes

The voluptuous charms of a bejewelled Egyptian girl gazing discreetly down at two tiny bronze cymbals in her hands is the pièce de résistance of Ben Uri’s exhibition Auktion 392, Reclaiming the Galerie Stern, Düsseldorf. Framed by a theatrical curtain, this painting, by Emile Vernet-Lecomte, was successfully restituted to the Stern estate after the Nazis forced its Jewish owner, Max Stern, to sell the contents of his gallery in 1937. The Ben Uri features Stern’s gallery in its launch of a European tour of Nazi plundered art. [more...]

Letter from Israel: Corruption more destructive than terrorist threat

As is its yearly wont, the Jerusalem Academic Association met to toast the New Year. Apart from the usual greetings and light refreshments, the programme also included a lecture by Mudi Levine, a retired police officer, on ‘Corruption in High Places’. [more...]

Central Office for Holocaust Claims

Article II Fund improvements
The Claims Conference has announced major improvements in the eligibility criteria for the Article II Fund. The Fund provides the equivalent of a compensation pension to Holocaust survivors who were interned in ghettos or concentration camps.
With immediate effect, only the income of the applicant – and not that of their spouse – will be considered when calculating household income. Previously, a couple’s joint income could not exceed $21,000 or $32,000 if both partners were Holocaust victims. The income of the applicant should not be more than $16,000. Additionally, from 1 October 2007 social security, old age or incapacity pensions will be disregarded as income.
The Conference estimates that as a result of these changes $250 million (£125m) in payments will be distributed to an additional 6,000 survivors worldwide over the next ten years. The Claims Conference is writing to previous applicants, whose claims have been ‘on hold’, to inform them that they may now be entitled to receive the monthly payments of $320 or £160. [more...]

Letters to the Editor

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