The day before the new au pair arrived, my father took me aside. "Gideon, be kind to her," he said, "for remember, you were once a stranger in the Land of Egypt." I was only five years old at the time, and I was bewildered by his words, but from his tone, I understood that his message was urgent. I was growing up in the shadows of the Holocaust and he was giving me my first lesson in tolerance and the importance of kindness to strangers.
I am a Zionist. Every day I marvel at Israel's achievements, I am awed by the soldiers who risk their lives so that I can be here, I am uplifted by a democracy where an Arab judge can sentence the Jewish ex-President to jail and I treasure the privilege of walking the streets of the Promised Land.
It is highly unusual, to say the least, for a rabbi in today's Israel to be a hero, not just among the religious crowd, but also among a secular population increasingly alienated from, if not indeed antagonistic towards, the rabbinical establishment and all it represents. Rabbi Haim Amsellem is such a man. For many Israelis, he is a whistle- (or maybe shofar-) blower, warning of the extremism that is fast becoming the norm of Israel's religious life.
Just recently, the so-called "hill youth" - an extreme and violent posse of youngsters who appropriate empty hillocks throughout Judea and Samaria for the purpose of illegal settlement - issued a list of curses for their members to use as the need arises. When attacked by border policemen, they now have precise formulations by which to fend off the foe - in the same way Harry Potter might ward off Muggles or other dark powers with his magic wand.
Chanucah is a post-prophetic festival, whose history is found in the Apocrypha and the Talmud. It recalls the Greeks' occupation of Israel and their attempt, under the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes, to assimilate the Jewish people into oblivion around 167 BCE. We celebrate the Maccabees' reassertion of Jewish control over the land of Israel, and the miracle of the Temple menorah, which only had one night's worth of pure olive oil but which shone for eight nights until more oil could be procured.
In October, Barack Obama, in response to a recent spike in suicides among America's gay teenagers, launched a video speaking out against homosexual bullying. In the same month, Shmuley Boteach, the "Hollywood Rabbi", wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal criticising the harsh view taken of gays in most Orthodox congregations in the USA. Both events beg the same question: how do we square the biblical prohibition against homosexuality with modern notions of equality?
When some 256 Jewish communities in 45 countries take part in a Global Day of Jewish Learning on Sunday, they will enact a modern miracle that brings together ancient wisdom and contemporary communications technology. The object of the day is to celebrate a historic event in the annals of Jewish studies: the completion of the Steinsaltz Talmud.
Timbuktu: the name is so steeped in mystique that many people think it is an imaginary rather than a real place. Historically, the city in the republic of Mali has been a centre of Islamic civilisation in Africa. It is also home to an emerging Jewish community.
According to local lore, some of the Jewish traders who crossed the Sahara centuries ago settled there but their descendants were forcibly converted to Islam. Now a new generation wants to return to their roots and openly identify as Jews. They have taken the Hebrew name Zakhor, "remember".