in the garden


Jan 2007 Journal

Letters to the Editor

Every Jew's Duty

Sir - I shall not be obeying Peter Philips's command to censor my public statements about Israel. I shall be voicing exactly the same opinions - and highly critical opinions - about Israel, in whatever company I find myself, whether it is in London or in Berlin. I take my integrity with me wherever I go. I owe Israel no allegiance whatsoever. I in no way identify with it. When I visited it in around 1970, it was to me an alien, oriental country with a lot of old Berliners, musicians and theatremen within it, and one that had utterly unsubtle, uncomprehending attitudes and policies towards the neighbours whom it displaced. It has since been pursuing neurotically revengeful, nationalistic and racist policies, tit for tat, never taking on board the wisdom of the most famous Jew - that of turning the other cheek. Israel's existence has done nothing to stem antisemitism but has in fact exacerbated it. Its relationship with America and the West has only provoked and stirred up more ructions in the Middle East.

I am part of the scene, and yet not of it. And two nationalities are ample for my requirements. I feel no need to add the Israeli to the German and the British.
Peter Zander, London W1

Sir - Peter Phillips describes himself as a racial rather than religious Jew and thus explains his undying loyalty to the State of Israel, a loyalty he considers to be the duty of all racial Jews. He is not alone among assimilated European or American Jews in distancing himself from inherited religious belief and practice. But what on earth - except in the fevered phantasy of Nazi racialists - is a racial Jew?

Three thousand years since a nomadic tribe settled in Canaan and 2,000 years since the fall of the Temple (by which time half of the Jews then living were in the diaspora anyway), few of us can have any genetic inheritance from the people of Israel of the day. Quite apart from intermarriage, there are other gentile genes in the Jewish community. For instance, how many orthodox Jews from the Pale are descended from the red-bearded Khazars, who converted as a people to Judaism to avoid offending their Byzantine and Muslim neighbours? My father's family, who settled in the Sieben Heiligen Gemeinden by the middle of the eighteenth century at the latest, were reputed to have come from Hamburg - is it strange that they were fair-haired and blue-eyed, while their Falasha co-religionists look like the Africans they were?

The world owes Israel support and loyalty largely because of the Holocaust. I do not know about Nazi ideology in its early stages but, before I escaped from Nazi Greater Germany, the emphasis seemed to be on getting the place judenrein - expulsion rather than extermination. Is it possible that the influence on Hitler to switch to extermination (emigration was banned in 1941, I think) came from a Grand Mufti of Jerusalem fearful of large-scale Jewish immigration? In which case, is it fanciful to regard the prospect (or threat) of the creation of the State of Israel as at least one cause of the Shoa?
Francis Steiner, Deddington, Banbury

Sir - Peter Phillips feels racially Jewish but there is no such entity as a 'Jewish race'. This is a myth propagated by the Nazis and Mr Phillips should be ashamed to repeat it. At best, the Jews are a people, united by religion and shared experience.

As regards Israel, although the Holocaust may have been an important catalyst in bringing about a favourable vote for the partitioning of Palestine, credit must be given to 50 years of Zionist lobbying.

Mr Phillips's Jewish nationalism, and his opinion that it is every Jew's duty to be loyal to Israel, is both arrogant and presumptuous. Arrogant because nationalism by its very nature brooks no dissent. And presumptuous because every person of the Jewish faith has free will and it is not up to Mr Phillips or anyone else to tell us where our duty or loyalty should lie.

As for the six million who died for Israel's creation, what sort of cheap, populist myth-making is that! Does Mr Phillips know that his beloved Israelis mocked and vilified many of the Holocaust survivors who ended up in Israel as cowards?

My family did not die for Israel. They were not martyrs for the cause of Zionism. They died because of their Judaism and for no other reason.
Charles Bieber, London N12

Sir - Peter Phillips asks 'Why were Jews interned in the Isle of Man?', which he sees as an example of British antisemitism. They were interned not as Jews but as 'enemy aliens' as at the time of internment they still held German nationality.

Mr Phillips seems to think that 'integration' is the answer to antisemitism and the 'Jewish question'. He has obviously forgotten the thousands of German Jews who were well 'integrated' in Germany in the 1930-40s, yet that did not save them from Auschwitz.

I find his assertion that the media attack Israel unfairly over its treatment of the Palestinians totally unjust. Israel, in my view, deserves to be taken to task over its policy in the West Bank and Gaza.

As a Jew, I object to his telling me that my duty is to stand up for Israel, right or wrong. Israel's policy in the recent war in Lebanon and its behaviour against the West Bank Palestinians and in so-called 'free' Gaza are outrageous and I have every right - even the duty as a Jew - to say so. His dragging the Holocaust victims in to support his argument is a cheap ploy. They did not die 'for Israel's creation'. My mother's entire family, killed in Auschwitz, were certainly no Zionists.
E. Millman, London W3

Sir - Peter Phillips writes approvingly, and rightly, about integration and can seemingly contemplate that without loss of identity, but he appears to see no contradiction in his call for loyalty to Israel. At a time when Israel, militarily and politically, seems to be waist-deep in a swamp, surely the ordination of three rabbis in Dresden and the opening of a new synagogue in Munich are the equivalent of bright lights in the darkness. Of course, they may fail but they propose a future for Jewry among - not separate from - the rest of humanity and offer the hope of unity with other minorities of whom Mr Phillips writes in the ongoing fight against ignorance and prejudice.
Alan S. Kaye, Marlow, Bucks

Sir - Why is it that every time I read a letter or an article by Peter Phillips it gets up my nose! I find it objectionable to say 'Every Jew's duty'. Who does he think he is - Winston Churchill?

Instead of generalising about Israel and what 'we' must do, isn't it far more important to help a co-religionist if and when he or she is in difficulties? As far as antisemitism is concerned, this is an action that has persisted since time immemorial. In place of the big issues, a far greater spirit in place of society's selfishness is more achievable as the items in Mr Phillips's article are known to all of us.
Peter Henry Chapman, Isle of Man

Israel's Enemies

Sir - I have just listened to Mr Gerald Kaufman's vitriolic speech against Israel in the House of Commons. Israel's enemies must be very proud of him.
Henry Rado, Harrow, Middx

Three Rabbis in a Vicarage

Sir - I was interested to read in your October issue a review by Emma Klein of Three Rabbis in a Vicarage, the history of Belsize Square Synagogue. This, of course, is a congregation with a long and uniquely close association to the AJR.

I am writing principally to thank the reviewer for her words and, in particular, for her pointing out one very important omission - the index - for which I can now offer help. For technical and other reasons, which were unforeseen, we were forced to go to press before the completion of the indexing and so I attach below a link to the author, who will be happy to forward a full index on request.

I do however want to take Miss Klein up on one thing: her criticism of style and in particular the reference to world events that she found unhelpful. Oddly enough, this aspect of the narrative is one that has received the most favourable comment, particularly from younger readers. More importantly, for a community thrown together by the force of world events, this historical time line is highlighted favourably in all previous critiques, including that of the Times Literary Supplement.

But Miss Klein is right about the lack of an index and so I am happy to have this opportunity to refer readers to, who will forward this as a word document by return. Perhaps, if we are allowed the luxury of blowing our own shofar, I might also mention that copies of Three Rabbis in a Vicarage are available through the office at Belsize Square Synagogue. It will be of great interest to all your readers, who will find both the style and the content hugely informative and enjoyable.
Ian Lee, Editor, Our Congregation, Belsize Square Synagogue, London NW3


Sir - Thank you, Anthony Grenville, for two excellent articles in the November issue: the brilliantly concise and informative piece about Hungary and the analysis of the Austrian and German elections in which you point out the misreporting we get in the British media.

I also liked and appreciated Ronald Channing's profile of Frank Meisler and deeply admire Meisler's Kindertransport statue at Liverpool Street Station. He catches the feelings of us who arrived on the Kindertransport.
Bea Green JP, London SW13

Viennese Humour

Sir - While browsing through one of my father's books about Viennese humour, cabaret etc, I came across two 'immediate post-war advertisements': 1) 'Will exchange gold Nazi party emblem for Jewish grandmother'. 2) 'Parrot lost. Finder is advised that the owner no longer shares the parrot's political views.'
Paul Samet, Pinner, Middx

Good Value for Money

ir - I would like to express my thanks to the AJR 'meals on wheels' service. There is a large menu to choose from and the meals are delivered punctually, distance being no problem. Good value for money!
Eva Frean, London N3

Bournemouth Holiday

Sir - I and all who took part had a lovely holiday in Bournemouth thanks to Carol, Ruth and Annie. The three of you made me comfortable, feeling secure and safe in my frail condition. These holidays are important for my wellbeing, physically and mentally. You provided entertainments galore. The highlight was the last evening, when you treated us lavishly.

I am looking forward to the next holiday, in June 2007. Please put my name on your list. If possible, I would like to have the sane room, number 216. I know by now which tricks to use to make the plumbing work.
Anna Schlesinger, Wembley, Middx

'Keeping Things Going'

Sir - I have had many second thoughts regarding the renewal of my 50-year membership. On browsing through the November issue, I discovered that life would be difficult so many miles away from your efforts to keep 'things going' and will therefore renew my membership. With very best wishes for 'keeping things going' and the pleasure this gives us so many miles away who are so enlivened by a feeling of common heritage and fate!
Edith Fischl-Lee, Woollahra, Australia

Letter from Israel

Letter from Israel

The Justice Minister is arraigned for indecently assaulting (well, kissing) a subordinate. The President is under suspicion of having sexually assaulted, possibly even raped, female members of his staff. Other ministers are accused of bumbling incompetence.

What is the average man or woman in the street to make of all this? Each morning one opens the newspaper and turns on the radio, fearing to hear of yet another exposé of ministerial shenanigans or mismanagement.

Has Israel deteriorated so much since the heady early days of its existence, when idealism reigned supreme and everyone thought only of the greater common good? That, at least, is the general impression.

Somehow, however, that seems unlikely. Several decades ago Moshe Dayan, though married and a family man, regularly bedded every secretary or woman soldier who took his fancy, and in between these episodes engaged vigorously in semi-clandestine archaeological digs, carrying off his stolen finds for display in his home and garden. The public turned a blind eye or gave an understanding, if not forgiving, smile. It's true, the cuckolded husbands concerned were less than overjoyed, and one even threatened to 'put out his other eye', but no one thought of bringing matters to court, or even to the front page of the papers.

Forty-odd years ago no female would have dreamed of making a fuss over a kiss or a risqué remark. Today these are matters that destroy careers. It seems then that the world has changed, and Israel with it. The feminist movement has ensured that the routine harassment of women is something that is no longer sanctioned.

Whatever the outcome of the various cases currently sub judice or under investigation, it is undoubtedly better to live in a society where women have recourse to the justice system rather than having to submit to embarrassment and harassment.
Dorothea Shefer-Vanson