Welcome to Spiel, the JC’s blog.
- Nick Trapp
Aug 5, 2015
It was two years ago when I first came across the unique Debra Brunner, who masterminds 1a>the twinning programme between Finchley Reform Synagogue and the Jewish community of Polotsk in Belarus1b>, and founded The Together Plan. Her proposition was that I and a friend (Jonathan Clingman, a big name in the twinning programme) spend July to September of 2013 there going native with the local community and helping them reconnect with their Judaism, a bit like something out of The Book Of Mormon.
I'm not Jewish; why would anybody want to spend their summer holiday in Europe's last dictatorship, teaching a religion they didn't belong to for free? My reason was Russian. I had a deferred place to study it at university and had to fill my gap year with language practice. Belarus would be perfect immersion because it's practically foreigner free and none of our roles there involved speaking English. Before leaving I met up with FRS's Rabbi, went to a seder meal at Jonathan's and did some homework (who knew the festival of Kapparot involved swinging a chicken around your head?)
Those three months were eye-opening. Belarus isn't third world, but it's poor. Polotsk was charming, but full of stray dogs and buildings in need of a repair. Hospitality is second nature to the Belarusians - I'm especially and eternally indebted to the family who put us up for three whole months. Along with the local madrichim I ran events for Jewish holy days, helped out at the town's children's shelter (for children whose parents are absent or in no state to look after them), translated prayers, learnt the Hebrew alphabet in order to draw and read posters, did what I could to support Jonathan as he taught his Bar Mitzvah group, and even fasted for Yom Kippur. The biggest event, though, was the summer camp, for which a group of English madrichim fly over for five crazy days.
- Jessica Weinstein
Jul 31, 2015
It has been a harrowing couple of days in Israel.
We went to bed last night after news of the 2a>stabbing of revellers at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride parade2b>. The attacker was a man who, ten years ago, had been jailed for attempted murder at the 2005 Gay Pride parade.
We then woke up to the news that 1a>a baby had been killed in an arson attack1b> by Israelis on Palestinian civilians.
- Danny Caro
Jul 27, 2015
It's very hard to put the last 48 hours into context. The first ever pre-camp at the European Maccabi Games has given everyone involved plenty of food for thought. Many questions have been asked, with one recurring theme - how, why and most importantly, never again.
No sooner had we set off the plane in Berlin than we were heading to the Olympic Park. You can almost touch the history of a place that was rocking with controversy in 1936 when the great Jess Owens wrote his place in the history books, again all the odds.
It was a first visit to the city for myself and a significant number of the Team Maccabi GB delegation who were clearly taken aback by tales of the atrocities in the trips to follow.
- Katharine Rooney
Jul 15, 2015
My father is Jewish, my mother is not. She never converted, probably because my Dad has never been particularly religious – in fact, you could probably count on one hand the number of times he has been to shul since his bar mitzvah.
I spent my childhood partly in London, where I was born, and partly in Vancouver, Canada, where my Dad is from and where he moved the family when I was eight. I’m the eldest of four, and one of my sisters, who is two and half years younger than me, also converted to make herself “officially” Jewish the same year I did, 2006. Being dual citizens, we have both split our time between Canada and the UK over the years, so while I did the conversion in Canada, my sister did hers here, at West London Synagogue. Interestingly, when my sister reached the Beth Din, she was told that because of her Jewish background, she could be given an “affirmation”, rather than a conversion – a precursor, perhaps, to the Reform movement’s formal announcement this week.
Growing up, despite the fact that my parents weren’t religious, I always identified as Jewish, because we spent so much time with my father’s family (all Reform). I have vivid memories of Rosh Hashanah dinners at my grandfather Asher’s house and seders at my great-uncle Abel’s house. But even more than that, it just felt like something that was a part of me: I have always gravitated towards Jewish culture, food, humour and music – I love Woody Allen, Jonathan Safran Foer, Matisyahu and of course, bagels. It troubled me greatly that despite feeling this way – despite having a Jewish parent and being, frankly, more than a little neurotic, I wasn’t allowed to claim my Jewishness because I was from the wrong side of the gene pool. I was forever being told – by Jews and non-Jews alike — “oh, your mother isn’t Jewish, so you’re not really Jewish.” It was hurtful, even if they didn’t mean it that way.
- Tal Fox
Jul 15, 2015
Today marks exactly a year since I graduated from the University of Birmingham. My first year as a graduate has not been anything like I imagined it would be but somehow I managed to get to where I hoped I would be by now.
While my social media accounts are filled with graduation photos and sentimental statuses, I fondly reminisce about my time as an undergraduate and how my experiences helped me in graduate life. Although I didn’t graduate with the coveted 2:1, I am excitedly waiting to begin my Masters in Newspaper Journalism at City University, London in September.
University was incredibly fun and I’m still in touch with my friends – despite all returning to our own ends of the earth. I always look back with nostalgia but the graduate world isn’t so bad either. So with a year of wisdom behind me, these are the most important lessons I have learned:
- Maryon Stewart
Jul 14, 2015
It’s every Jewish parent’s worst nightmare 1a>to lose a child, especially needlessly1b>. That sadly was my experience on 26 April 2009, when my wonderful 21 year-old daughter Hester, a medical student at Sussex University, was given a legal high. She wasn’t a drug taker, but a cheerleader and student mentor. Instead of surviving to become a doctor she went to sleep after an awards dinner and never woke up. Tonight, the House of Lords is hearing the debate on the Psychoactive Substances Bill.
We all want our children to stay safe and well so that they live to thrive to lead happy and fulfilled lives. These days’ young people face many challenges during their teenage years and the party substances known as ‘legal highs’ are top of the list of pitfalls as many believe they are safe because, until now, they have been legal.
In 2010 I founded the Angelus Foundation in Hester’s memory, to raise awareness about the dangers of ‘legal highs’ so that young people can make informed decisions and parents can have wise conversations with their children.
- Josh Jackman
Jul 13, 2015
On July 4, during a 3a>neo-Nazi demonstration which was met with the full force3b> of Jewish and anti-fascist fury, there was one banner which stood out.
Referencing to the 2004 classic film Mean Girls (natch), the sign read “You Don’t Even Go Here.”
It was as hilarious as it was true. The fanatics, with their stereotypical skinheads and warped thinking, were an anachronism, completely out of place opposite the established democracy of Downing Street and two WWII monuments.
- Sandy Rashty
Jul 10, 2015
We all have Hollywood crushes.
Omar Sharif was mine.
I would not be able to tell you how many times I’ve watched Funny Girl – the story of a young Jewish woman who falls in love with a beautiful, but unattainable, exotic man.
- Sandy Rashty
Jul 10, 2015
Let’s face it, the British Jewish community loves bashing the BBC.
I can’t remember attending a communal event (or Shabbat dinner for that matter) where the taxpayer-funded corporation wasn’t bashed for its “biased” coverage of Israel.
It’s not hard to see why so many love to hate the BBC – especially when forced to watch it stand by reporters like Tim Willcox, who has claimed that “Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands” live on air.
- Keren David
Jul 1, 2015
‘If you don’t live in a leafy suburb like Richmond,’ said the new president of the Board of Deputies, Jonathan Arkush, 1a>last week,1b> ‘you just won’t send your children to the local schools. They are rife with problems – bullying, violence, drug-taking and racism.’
In Mr Arkush’s day job he is a barrister, paid to construct clever arguments. In this statement, hidden within a double negative is a fearful view of the world outside a sealed sphere of privilege. For ‘leafy’ read affluent, for ‘local’ read working class and multi-cultural. Mr Arkush seems to believe that Jewish children can only be safe when removed from the mainstream. He speaks out against racism, but there is a disquieting undercurrent to his words that pulls in the other direction.
I wonder why Richmond escapes his gloomy view of the world. Perhaps he has friends who live there who send their children to local schools. Maybe these children are clearly happy and well-adjusted, neither bullied or bullying and manifestly drug-free. Richmond, he allows is the exception to the rule. A utopia where Jewish children are free to mingle with their non-Jewish peers, unlike the dystopian hell that rules elsewhere.