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The JC letters page, 26th January

Clive A Lawton, Dr Leopold J Sobel, Michael Mocatta, Mrs S Myers, Frank Angell, Barry Borman and Michael Bar-On share their views with JC readers

    Holocaust education

    As is often the case, last week’s JC carried a number of stories concerning interesting initiatives helping people (Jews and not) to understand the Holocaust or using lessons from the Holocaust to try and get them to think more sensibly about current concerns.

    You editorialised the Chelsea FC initiative — time will tell! — you carried a striking picture and note concerning a beautiful programme which has survivors sitting in the concourse of Liverpool Street station and sharing their stories with passing commuters; there was an article about Lenna Rosenberg’s playlet for primary-aged children introducing them to the issues in a gentle way; and another reporting on Anthony Lishak’s recent book for middle school-aged children. (For what it’s worth, I don’t fully agree with him that this age group can’t take the details of the Shoah. Indeed, my own — if I may say so —widely commended books on the Holocaust and, more specifically, Auschwitz have been taken up by schools and translated into several languages. Correctly managed, children can learn about anything.)

    So far, so good. Lots of good and important work by thoughtful educators and creative organisations.

    And then I saw the advertisement for the upcoming Mizrachi UK trip, “From Darkness to Light”. From the advertisement, the first day is spent in Rome and a good deal of thoughtful work can be done in a day there with the right personnel leading. But the second day — please don’t let this be true! — is apparently “Warsaw and Auschwitz”. 

    For those who haven’t been, Warsaw is nowhere near Auschwitz so presumably some hours are going to be spent on that day travelling from one to the other.

    In Warsaw, there will (I hope) be the remarkable opportunity to visit the outstanding museum of Jewish history (Polin) spanning the 1,000-plus years of rich Polish Jewish heritage. It’s hard to do it justice in a day — or at least several hours. Will they get more than an hour or two on that? And then off to Auschwitz for a quick afternoon or so whizzing round. The text in the advert says “The Destruction of European Jewry”. 

    More like “The Dismissal…” Presumably no chance to see the remarkable, if tiny, renaissance of Jewish life in Poland — sweet and inspiring green shoots.

    On the face of it, this trip treats the Shoah in an adolescent “Yeah yeah, whatever, moving on” manner. Many of us have devoted many years to enriching and improving the understanding of how — and why —Jews should learn about the Shoah. This crudely instrumentalises it just to create the backdrop for a fabulous few days in Israel. Mizrachi was always a thoughtful and sincere organisation. I hope their advertisement misrepresented them.

    Clive A Lawton
    London N10

    UK-Polish deal

    I read with interest the article of Dave Rich, (When the UK made a secret deal to let in Polish Jews fleeing hate, JC January 19). Unfortunately, the help extended by the UK to exiled Jews fleeing persecutions in Poland in 1967-70 was not as described by Dr Rich. 

    Almost all of the Jews who came to settle in the UK in these years were academics, including some very distinguished ones, like Prof Kolakowski (a Pole with a Jewish wife), Prof Lukas Hirszowich and Prof Maria Hirszowicz, Prof Strelcyn, Prof Pszenicki, Prof Brus, Dr Gomolka (also a Pole with Jewish wife). 

    Others, like Prof Bauman and Prof Mailer arrived via Israel after securing jobs in UK universities. In total, there were very few refugees, if one can call them that.

    In comparison, a minute country like Denmark opened its doors to more than 3,000 refugees and Sweden to more than 2,500. 

    It is also important to stress that the Jews expelled from Poland were far from being enthusiastic Zionists as only 3,700 of them chose to go to Israel, preferring Western European countries, USA, Canada and even Australia.

    Dr Leopold J Sobel
    Lund, Sweden 

    Bassous by name

    May I request that we rename the furore surrounding Rabbi Joseph Dweck? “The Bassous Affair” is far more appropriate, as it is he — and his community — whose anxieties and beliefs are unsettling Anglo-Jewry.

    As a Sephardi, Rabbi Bassous should be under the halachic authority and spiritual guidance of the senior Sephardi community in the UK — the very S&P ( Spanish and Portuguese) that he castigates.  

    Instead, Rabbi Bassous seeks shelter in the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations — an organisation whose roots and mystical beliefs are alien to the experience of both Western and Mizrahi Sephardim. 

    In particular, the UOHC seems to allow the semi-sanctification of their rabbis — under the precept of Da’as Torah, whereby rabbis, empowered by their exquisite knowledge of Torah, make major life decisions for their congregants.  

    Sephardim in Amsterdam and London learned to their cost the dangers of such mystical thinking in the 17th century, when families and communities were split by the mystic false messiah Shabbetai Tsvi.  

    Much of the S&P’s governance model was a direct response to this crisis. S&P rabbis are subordinate to lay leaders (the Mahamad) in order to ensure that zeal for the Law of Moses could never jeopardise the unity of the community, or imperil relations between the community and the law of the land.  

    It is this settlement of powers that Bassous is challenging, and this cultural heritage that Bassous is ignoring. So let’s let Rabbi Dweck off the hook and name this affair after the individual who is causing the most damage.  

    Michael Mocatta
    (13th generation S&P family)
    London N3

    Liver alone

    I may be the only Jewish housewife left who still makes her own chopped liver for Shabbat dinner. I am therefore extremely dismayed to have found that I can no longer purchase un-koshered chicken’s liver at the butchers.  

    I have been told that the Kashrut authority has now decided that all chicken livers are to be koshered before sale. (Pre-koshered liver gets the chop from shechita board)

    However, I consider this to be most unhygienic and possibly poisonous as, in order to make chopped liver, one has to re-fry the livers in the onions. Thus, not only are cold livers being reheated, to be cooled again, but there is no way of knowing how long these livers have been on the butcher’s shelf before they are sold.  

    Do our dayanim have so little faith in the Jewish housewife as to believe they no longer know how to kosher livers correctly? It is enough that we now have to purchase all other kosher meat already koshered, and therefore carrying a large percentage of water, but I believe this is now taking matters too far.

    I should be grateful to hear from one of the dayanim as to their rationale behind this move.   

    Mrs S Myers
    London NW3

    Haggis Sameach

    As an SNP member, I was delighted to see that, according to the JC’s KWFE supplement’s “round-the-world” list, that Scotland is now separate from the UK. 

    The list of Scottish products unfortunately excluded that iconic delicacy, the haggis. For many years now, kosher haggis has been produced by Mark’s Deli in Glasgow.

    It is under the supervision of the West of Scotland Kashrut Committee and been supplied for events around the globe. I’m sure the deli would be happy to send you a sample.

    Frank Angell
    Clarkston, Glasgow 

    Chaim and Monty

    Gerald Jacobs, in his affectionate remembrance of Chaim Bermant (JC, January 19), comments that “his deadliest weapon was humour”, which he used for “puncturing pomposity and highlighting hypocrisy.” 

    There are echoes here of Doug, one of the Piranha brothers, a Monty Python creation loosely based on the Kray twins, who resorted not to violence but rather, according to his victim, “he used sarcasm — he knew all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire.” 

    Clearly, in their chosen fields of endeavour, both Doug Piranha and Chaim Bermant fully appreciated the power of language.

    Barry Borman


    How many times have you travelled on London’s Underground and not realised that several stops have strong Jewish associations?

    For example, Russell Square and Tottenham Court Road, where you can exit to the British Museum and find the clay tablet on which Cyrus gave permission to the Jews to return to the Promised Land. There are two Assyrian statues which resemble the Cherubim which stood in the Second Temple.

    And from Kings Cross and St Pancras you can visit the Hebrew manuscripts in the British Library.

    From Bond Street, it is a short step towards Manchester Square and the Palestinian Exploration Society at number 2 Hynde Mews. 

    There, you will find two models of the Second Temple with variations on the description given in the Mishnah. The Palestine Exploration fund was founded in 1865 and its patron was Queen Victoria. They give interesting lectures on archeology in Israel.

    On the Northern Line via Bank, for Elephant and Castle, and Bakerloo, for Lambeth North, you can stop to see the exhibit in the Imperial War Museum established with the aid of Yad Vashem.

    There are many more — such as the Spitalfields Synagogue (Aldgate East).

    Michael Bar-On 


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