Your blogs

  • Obama's choice

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 13, 2009

    The top USA Jewish leadership is keeping well out of the almost subterranean controversy over President-elect Obama's choice of the Rev Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration on January 20. You knew it, of course, that the invocation is a prayer essentially calling down God's blessing on the incoming President, a major part of the inaugural ceremony and something I have always found curious in a nation which separates between Church and State. The Rev Rick is an amazing man. The US media identify him as head of an “evangelistic megachurch” in California. Mega it certainly is: 87,000 members, 22,000 at Sunday services, 300 full-time staff and 9,000 volunteers .

    What nobody seems yet to have decided to their own satisfaction is whether Rick Warren is too Christian or not Christian enough. There is one wing of the evangelistic movement which is absolutely delighted that Mr Warren has been quoted on numerous websites – without firm confirmation – as telling a Jewish woman that she would “burn in hell” because she did not accept Jesus as her Lord. But then the Rev Warren delivered a Friday night sermon at a major conference of Reform Jews just a year or so ago in which he counselled them on how to grow their communities (essentially, “Smile and be nice to everybody”). This brought down the wrath of died-in-the-wool evangelicals who felt he should have stood up there before a couple of thousand Jews and told them not how to grow their communities but to accept Jesus as their Messiah.

    Some of the stuff I have been reading on fundamentalist Christian websites has been rather nasty and I will not point you there. But - now for the good news about the inauguration – one of the performers at the ceremony is our very own Itzhak Perlman who, with Yo-yo Ma, will perform a new piece specially written by John Williams (let's hope it keeps warm for them all). God bless democracy, or, as a United Synagogue website would say “G-d bless democracy.” But that's for another time....

  • What Obama actually said

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 11, 2009

    Over the next few days, we are going to read many interpretations of what President-elect Obama said on Sunday, January 11, about the Middle East. For those who would like to read his own words for themselves, this is what he said in his ABC television interview with George Stephanopulous:

    STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me move on to national security and foreign policy. We're now in the second week of the conflict in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinians. I know you've been reluctant to speak out too much on this. Let me show everyone what you said when you were in Israel last July.


  • A rocket recalled

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 10, 2009

    My blog recalling the German rocket attacks on London toward the end of the Second World War reminded one correspondent that the very last V2 rocket on London struck Hughes Mansions in Bethnal Green on March 27, 1945, killing 134 people, 120 of them Jewish. Fifty years later, when Jews gathered to recall that dreadful episode, they were assaulted with whatever weapons were to hand by what the media described as “Asian youths.” It is interesting now to read what Jonathan Freedland , one of the best journalists of which our community can boast, had to say in The Guardian at that time. Read it at

  • Coming off chemotherapy means this really is a happy new year

    Gideon Schneider
    Jan 8, 2009

    Healthy people are a fascinating species, I observed, as the euphoric crowd on Waterloo Bridge raised its collective voice, counting down from 10, willing on the approach of 2009. Untainted by illness, their unquestioning reliance on the infallibility of their bodies gives them an enviable innocence. For me, the cancer cat was out the bag and I doubted I would ever take my health for granted again.

    I stood on the bridge jostling for space with a group of teetering teenagers who, swigging the dregs of their Carlsberg bottles, swayed and fell into each other (and a few startled bystanders), giddy grins slapped across their flushed faces.

    Next to them, a group of thirtysomethings, up from Croydon, festooned in fuchsia feather boas and glittery cowboy hats, were displaying more flesh than a butcher’s window and murdering the chorus of Rihanna’s Umbrella.

  • Tunnel taxes

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 8, 2009

    A lot of people are going to lose out financially if the Gaza tunnel business is closed down. Unlike the BBC, I have a friend on the other side of the Israel/Gaza border and he tells me that the whole economy of the region will suffer if Hamas can no longer collect $2,500 for building a tunnel, plus the “tax” extracted for the goods which pass through those tunnels on the way from Egypt to Gaza. The goods – they can be anything from rockets to nappies – are assessed by Hamas tax collectors on their way through the system, the going rate being more for cigarettes than, say, for fruit or vegetables (rockets, of course, are tax free). Then there is a fee due to those who own the land close to the Egyptian border who allow tunnels to be built under their properties . The highest payment is demanded for passing a human being through from one side to the other. I have not seen them and therefore cannot vouch for the claim that there could be – or could have been – as many as 600 tunnels running from the Egyptian side of the border to the Gazan exits. Certainly, some of the tunnels exposed by the IDF have been fitted with sophisticated electronic travelators (you know the moving belts you hop on to get to your departure gate at Heathrow). I am not a bit surprised by the assessment that the value of goods smuggled through the tunnels during the past two years have approximated $600 million a year. Who will compensate the Hamas “tax collectors” for their loss of revenue (not to mention their colleagues on the Egyptian side who have waved the contraband assignments on their way) ? Most delighted of all if the tunnels go will be the two or three Beduin families which used to have a monopoly on cross-border smuggling in the Egypt-Gaza area using the celebrated “ships of the desert”, known less poetically as camels.

  • London-Sderot

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 7, 2009

    None of those older Londoners who lived through Hitler's bombardment of the capital with pilot-less V1 and V2 rockets in the closing stages of the Second World War can have forgotten the terror sewn by those horrendous weapons lobbed indiscriminately against the civilian population. They will have had a sharp reminder of it lately with events in Israel. Wartime historians noted the huge drop in the morale of Londoners under this kind of bombardment compared with the unity of purpose displayed during the Blitz. Even though preparations were well advanced for the Allied invasion of Europe, Churchill ordered the RAF to hit the rocket sites and the Americans joined in, with many thousands of tons of far from accurate bombs being poured into northern France and never mind who got killed in the process. Tragically the victims also included hundreds of forced labourers brought from the concentration camps to build the launch sites. But despite the almost ceaseless bombardment, the rocketing was never stopped completely until Allied forces liberated those parts of France and Holland from which they were being launched. Australian science writer Karl S. Kruszelnick has commented that the lesson from the V-2 rocket attack was that a relatively small number of attacks by missiles could have major military, strategic and psychological effects on the country being attacked - even if the missiles were primitive, unreliable and inaccurate. The folks in Sderot know all about that.

  • The End Is Nigh

    Gideon Schneider
    Dec 26, 2008

    A mass exodus of war-zone refugees is less chaotic than Oxford Street, two days before Christmas. An impenetrable wall of harangued and fatigued gift-hunters surge forward, escaping the crush by veering off through the doors of Selfridges and HMV. Salmon may swim upstream, but there’s no hope for the pedestrian trying to walk against this tide. Impervious to vehicular traffic, they stray in to the road, weaving through moving cars like lab rats in a maze, as if their countless carrier bags - slung over shoulders and dragging by their heels – will somehow act as a buffer between their bodies and the oncoming double-decker. Watching the insanity from my seat at the back of the bus, desperate to reach the hospital on time for my 2.15 appointment, I rued my decision to avoid the underground.

    I’m no Scrooge – let them have their festive fun – but this appointment was of particular importance. Waiting for me at the hospital were the results of my PET/CT scan. If the cancer still remained in my body I would face another three months of torturous chemotherapy – an eventuality I was desperate to avoid. While holed up in traffic between Fenwick’s and BHS, I staved off thoughts of the worst case outcome by reminding myself of the Alcoholics Anonymous prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…” But, those poisonous thoughts rumbled on, persistent as the hum of the bus engine. Forget the Twelve Steps, a double vodka would have gone down well.

    Greetings cards, tinsel and tins of Quality Street lined the counter of the hospital reception. “Sit in the waiting room and we’ll call you when Professor Goldstone is ready to see you.” I found a chair and fretfully watched the second hand inch round the clock. The last month of chemotherapy had been taxing – the stress, the anxiety and the incessant nausea. “I can’t cope with any more of this,” I decided as my eyes welled up. “Take a deep breath,” I told myself, holding back the tears, “There’s no point worrying and if the news is bad, of course I will cope.”

  • My ex-wife is having a baby. I feel the jealousy in my genes

    Paul Lester
    Dec 23, 2008

    I’ve been thinking a lot this week about Darwinian imperatives and the function of DNA. No, not because I’m taking an evening class in advanced reproduction, but because I’ve just found out that my ex-wife is pregnant.

    She told me when I dropped off the kids at hers. Her new partner, Gary, was in the kitchen fixing me something revitalising in case I went into a faint, like a woman from an Elizabethan drama who is prone to a touch of the vapours. Actually, my immediate reaction to the news, after bursting into a verse or two of In Dulce Jubilo and low-fiving my eight-year-old son, was a ridiculously irrational, “Gulp! But what if it’s mine?”

    Now, I failed my Biology ‘O’ Level (that’s the code-phrase for GCSE to readers under 35), so I think I can be forgiven for this, but I did wonder for a brief moment whether a stray cell of mine may have, you know, demonstrated a feat of endurance comparable to Moses on the mountain and done something lewd and lascivious with a particle of genetic material belonging to the former Mrs L (and sincere apologies to our more sensitive readers for the graphic and biblical nature of that sentence, by the way).

  • Feeling The Stress

    Gideon Schneider
    Dec 19, 2008

    “I think you’re thinking too much,” my nurse Becky ventured. Sometimes, well meaning friends offer guidance that ends up exacerbating the problem they sought to alleviate. Examples include “calm down” - likely to send anyone in the throes of a hissy-fit into an all-out Naomi-Campbell-throwing-telephones-at-maids style rage. There’s also “Pull yourself together,” which is only useful when the despondent one is a pair of curtains. “Stop thinking too much,” therefore, would also ordinarily fit the description of ineffectual advice, since the over-thinker now has the added worry of how much thinking constitutes too much. But this time, Becky had a point – too much thinking had brought on my mini breakdown.

    She said this to me as I lay on a hospital bed being prepared for my sixth and final instalment of Chemotherapy. Her task of finding the right vein was made more difficult by my squirming; the sight of the needle made me gag and a sick bucket was rushed over. I’d been feeling queasy for the past two days in anticipation of the session. Associative nausea is common with patients undergoing chemo. The oddest cues can set them off. A song they often hear on the way to the hospital, the faded pastel yellow colour of the ward walls, the food they were eating during their last visit, or even just the mention of chemo – anything associated with the stomach churning effects of the drugs can bring about those same unsettled feelings. However, what I was feeling now wasn’t just nausea, it was stress.

    Where did this stress come from? It had had been building since my fourth treatment back in November, a more traumatic affair than the first three sessions. Staff shortages meant it took twice as long as usual and the drugs irritated my veins so much that I was screaming loud enough to wake the coma patients in the adjacent ward. Though I was exhausted by the end, I had to make the journey back home on a heaving rush hour train, and become intimate with the malodorous arm pits of a stranger. My nausea was severe for the usual seven day period - I could neither eat nor drink and struggled to leave my bed. Soon after I was due for treatment number five. My recent bad experiences left me anxious, uneasy at the thought of more torture. True to prophecy, the week that followed chemo was hellish, with recovery taking longer than before.

  • Bonus of a nasty illness: it gets easier to sort the humans from the lost boys

    Gideon Schneider
    Dec 11, 2008

    I arrived 10 minutes early for our get-together. Dim lighting wasn’t enough to conceal the lack of other diners in the restaurant. I ordered an unwanted drink, before sitting at the nearest of the vacant tables. The waiter shot me a suspicious glance. “My friends will be here in a minute… er, I’ll order food then,” I stammered.

    Why was I grovelling? Surely the restaurant would value a seated customer, who might convince passers-by to enter under the false assumption the establishment was popular.

    Ten painful minutes passed under the scrutiny of an impatient staff. I was finally relieved by the arrival of my new-found cancer friends, Joseph and Vered.