- Gideon Schneider
Nov 20, 2008
Claire circles the room and hones in on the unfamiliar face. She approaches. "I've put you on the list and will be back when I'm finished with my regulars." I'm attending a chemotherapy session at University College Hospital in London. Claire is there to offer patients complementary therapies while the drugs kick in. For anyone sceptical about the benefits, her warm smile is enough to melt all doubts.
"Get your feet out," she says to Jenny, the 29-year-old girl seated next to me in the out-patient ward. Jenny slides off her striped socks to reveal metallic pink toenails. The two women chat about how Jenny - who was recently diagnosed with cervical cancer - has been getting on since last week's chemo session. Claire places the patient's feet - pink toenails and all - in her lap and begins to massage them. Reflexology stimulates blood circulation round the body. But, more importantly, it relaxes Jenny as potent drugs are dripped into her veins.
As I offer Jenny a Rolo, she tells me that the hardest thing about her diagnosis was realising that she won't be able to carry a baby. She delayed addressing her cancer in order to undergo IVF treatment to store her eggs. Her mum, engrossed in the Times crossword puzzle, has been by her side throughout all her hospital visits. Jenny has also been amazed by how supportive her boyfriend of four months has been. She's relieved that the side-effects haven't been as terrifying as she feared.
- Gideon Schneider
Nov 13, 2008
The timing of the US election couldn't have been more perfect. As all those reheated Amy Winehouse exposes dried up, my thirst for drama needed quenching. Headlines such as ‘Dizzy Broad Runs For Camden Pub' were replaced by the more compelling ‘Dizzy Broad Runs For White House'. For me, Sarah Palin's achievements as well as those of her victorious nemesis, confirmed the mantra that in America you can achieve anything. The trouble is, when anything is achievable, how do you know when you've achieved enough? My cancer helped me find an answer.
Growing up in NW London, life's key objective was keeping up with the Jones-ovitzes. Other people's expectations of me reflected this. At twelve it was casually assumed by all that I should give up an hour of every evening, for one whole year, to learning the entire Torah portion for my barmitzvah. Decent grades were anticipated for GCSEs and A-levels; and as for university attendance, in the suburbs that wasn't expected - that was a given.
Now the expectations feel weightier than ever. There's a list of boxes to tick: marriage, kids, career, car, counselling. For now though, that to-do list remains mostly unticked and my suspicion is, it doesn't even end there. If I do ever have children I'm sure I'll be expected to expect things from them too.
Two British students went to Brussels this week as delegates of UJS for the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Aaron Kienwald, president of London J-Socs; and Aaron Collins, of Bristol University Jewish Society, joined 20 other members of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) at a service which filled the Brussels Great Synagogue.
The two-day introduction to the "Year of Tolerance", an initiative created under the auspices of former Polish Prime Minister Aleksander Kwasniewski, was attended by several hundred political and Jewish leaders from across Europe, members of the European Parliament, diplomats, and other dignitaries, as well as survivors of the Holocaust, and was the first of its kind on a European level.
Europe's first OneVoice university chapter, at Glasgow University, was this week host to the start of a tour of British campuses by Ana Lipnik and Abeer Natsheh, Israeli and Palestinian youth leaders who are just two of the 1,800 OneVoice representatives worldwide.
An event held this week at Goldsmith's University entitled: "From the Warsaw Ghetto to the Gaza Strip", follows the Palestine twinning campaign's success last year in pairing the university with Al-Quds University in the West Bank. Speaking at the event was Suzanne Weiss, a Holocaust survivor and member of a Toronto-based group, Not in our Name: Jews against Zionism, who claimed that Israel "uses many of the methods of Nazism to oppress the Palestinians".
Goldsmiths' union campaigns and communications officer, Jennifer Jones, who is one of the administrators of the twinning campaign, hoped that "the few vocal Zionists on campus become involved in a more positive capacity to support those suffering under the occupation".
But a spokesperson from the Union of Jewish Students said: "The Warsaw Ghetto and the Gaza Strip are incomparable. The event "cheapens the Holocaust for political gain".
- Paul Lester
Nov 13, 2008
I've done some stupid things in my time. Forgetting to switch on the tape recorder during an hour-long interview with Blondie's Debbie Harry is way up there at the top of the list. Getting engaged in my first year at university to a girl from Clapham must merit contention, not because she was from Clapham - although the north-south divide did cause havoc with communication - but because it was, you know, my first year. At university. And I was about 10 (and therefore could barely afford a tube of Rolos, let alone a £20 ring from Zales). And going to meet my rabbi for counselling just after my divorce last year has got to be in the top five ("rabbi" in Hebrew means "teacher", not "expert on inter-personal relations with specific reference to psycho-sexual collapse").
But one of the dumbest decisions I've ever made was to invite a lady to join me at a performance by the comedian Sarah Silverman.
Now, I never take anyone, male or female, to gigs. There are good reasons for this. I dread running out of things to say in the car and even keep a list of conversation topics in the glove compartment just in case. During the concert you have to shout in your companion's ear because the music's so loud, and I hate shouting (and don't get me started on ears). Then there's the fear that you're going to bump into someone you've known for years but whose name you can't remember, and you've got the embarrassment of introducing them to each other so you have to turn it into a joke and make out you've forgotten both ("Hi, Thingie!" I usually say. "Meet Wotsit!").
- Paul Lester
Nov 7, 2008
I'm not sure if you noticed, hopefully you did, but my column didn’t appear in the JC today due to circumstances beyond my control. I say beyond my control because it really wasn't down to me, but who should ring at 9am this morning, five minutes after the shops opened, but my ex-wife, who called from the newsagent, wondering where the hell the latest instalment of Suddenly Single was.
Don't get me wrong: I'm relieved that not only is she not annoyed by my mentioning her week in, week out, in the column but that she actively looks forward to it. I just wasn't expecting her to be annoyed by its non-appearance, as though it was somehow my fault.
But then, as my far as my ex-wife is concerned - far - everything is my fault. The Suez Crisis? That was me being lax with regard to foreign policy. Climate change? I shouldn't have used so many aerosols in the '80s. The assassination of JFK? If only I'd been on that grassy knoll instead of being glued to the TV, watching I Love Lucy.
- Gideon Schneider
Nov 7, 2008
In anticipation of my hair falling out, my hand kept on straying towards my scalp to check that all was still in place. Every time I passed a mirror I wondered whether my crown had thinned or if it was just a trick of the light. In the mornings, there were no escapee strands coating my pillow. Maybe a patch of night drool, but no hair. And as for the shower plug hole, that remained follicle free.
"I feel a bit cheated," I said to Vered, "I'm missing part of the experience." She herself went through chemotherapy only last year, at the age of 17. "It was pretty gross, I guess," she said, with the air of a thrill-seeker recounting a recent adventure. "I had hair falling in to my chicken soup and coming out all over the place. I just had to scratch my head and whole clumps would attach themselves to my fingers." Eventually she took her brother's clippers and shaved off what little remained of her once luxuriant locks. "I wasn't trying to be rebellious, it was just easier than constantly picking up stray curls. But I really liked the look - much to my mother's horror."
Friends could not understand how Vered could be anything other than horrified - but she found the situation funny. She fully encouraged her brothers' teasing when at the Friday night table they would ask her to "pass the salt, Baldy". She found it helpful that her family participated in her light hearted approach. "They took their cue from me."
- Gideon Schneider
Oct 31, 2008
With a sultry voice she unveiled a list of ingredients like it was a catalogue of forbidden pleasures. At the same time a thick, gooey flow of rich Belgian chocolate sauce oozed from the carafe, inching its way to the moist, spongy cake below. Normally the advert would have me salivating like an oligarch over an oil well, but my recent chemotherapy session had left my stomach churning so violently that I gagged at the mere thought of eating. This wasn't just nausea, this was M&S nausea.
Upon leaving the hospital I had felt fine and even dared to believe that I'd escaped the dreaded side effects. It was only next morning, on waking, that I realised the sickening truth. As I lurched to the bathroom, my agitated intestines felt more stirred up than a United Synagogue made to consider the appointment of a woman rabbi. My stomach was making sounds any soldier would be scared to hear on the battlefield. In fact I felt so ill I couldn't even face the prospect of swallowing the very anti-sickness pills that were designed to soothe me.
Breakfast was out. Lunch was a no-go. At dinner I made a plucky attempt and managed a bowl of plain spaghetti. It wasn't so much the constant feeling of nausea, but the even stranger sensation that food had become unappetising. Food is usually the quickest way to my heart; my addiction to it is rivalled only by my Facebook dependency. I've always seen seconds as essential and desert de rigueur. At a recent wedding where the bride looked like a meringue, I found myself drooling for all the wrong reasons. I couldn't help thinking that a scoop of vanilla ice-cream with raspberry coulis was a more fitting accompaniment than bridesmaids. But with treatment messing with my love of fressing, I felt more disorientated that Kerry Katona on This Morning.
- Paul Lester
Oct 28, 2008
It was while I was sitting in the dentist's chair yesterday afternoon, having emergency treatment for an infected nerve, heavily sedated but still sufficiently compos mentis to feel the miniature pneumatic drill laying waste to my periodontal ligament, that I realised it's nice, at times of crisis, to have a woman around. Any woman. Unfortunately, there were only two ladies in the dentist's operating chamber (that's not the technical term, by the way, it just sounds appropriately brutal and unpleasant), and they were the dentist herself, plus her female assistant - three if you count the big girl's blouse in the chair. As the pain increased - no, intensified, because it sounds more serious - and visions of Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man appeared in my fevered brain, I had just one inclination: to hold somebody's hand (two, actually, the other being to shout, "Yes, it's safe!" really loud at various points of the procedure). And because my mummy was busy doing Jewish-mother things at the time, like making kneidlach and kvelling over my latest column in the JC in a town far, far away (St Albans), there was only one thing for it: I had to grab hold of the dental assistant's hand. Really hard. How hard? Put it this way: I squeezed it white, until it looked like one of those gloves that posh ladies, or butlers, used to wear. Meanwhile the dentist began treating the inside of my mouth like an amusement park. Is this weird? Have you ever squeezed a dental assistant's hand? Anyone's hand? I wonder if it's illegal. Certainly if you approached a total stranger in a park and began squidging parts of their body, they'd have good reason to get you locked up. Hmmm. Hope she doesn't sue. If you're reading this, miss, I sincerely apologise, and by way of consolation, feel absolutely free to squeeze my hand anytime, although probably best not to do it while I'm driving.