Saturday, 11 November 2017

Chanan

Chanan is podgy.
That is what I thought when I first met him in 1968. He had come for a short visit to the kibbutz during his school holidays. In a few years he was going to "make aliyah" (move to Israel).
He was Dutch, from the next, younger European group of Hashomer Hatzair (Marxist-Zionists). Had a vibrant Italian girlfriend with him. She was always smiling.

Chanan and I hit it off well. We were both very political-theoretical and had long discussions. Neither of us was Marxist.
He was a shy, optimistic young man. I think he looked up to me.

He made aliyah with his girlfriend after I had left the kibbutz, and was eventually drafted into the army. 
The armoured car he was in was blown up by a roadside bomb. 
He lost both his legs.

We were living on the tenth floor of a flat in the Bijlmermeer, a neighbourhood with blocks of flats on the outskirts of Amsterdam.
We were poor and our flat was furnished poor arty-farty. Our couch was the duo front seat of a "deux chevaux" (Citroen 2CV).
I received a call. Chanan was in Amsterdam and would like to come and visit. Fine, I said.

He was in a wheelchair. I sat down on our deux chevaux couch and he was seated opposite. My couch was lower than his wheelchair, so I was looking up to him.
I was looking up at two stumps where his legs should have been.
Every now and then he moved one with his hands. I do not know why.

He was bitter. Kept on making cruel jokes, mainly about himself. The shyness and optimism were gone. He explained that those discussions with me had taken away his last doubts about making aliyah. Was he blaming me? I do not know. 
After a few hours he left. 
I never saw him again.

Many years later I learned that he had picked up the pieces.
He had gone to university and later became a professor. He married his smiling Italian girlfriend. They had no children.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

An Indecorous Coming Of Age Story

1964. A-levels are over. Some school friends are going to university, some are doing an extra year. I am going to live like a modern-day Kropotkin on a kibbutz.

It is the summer holidays. My short stay on the Hashomer Hatzair “training” farm is coming to an end.
Graham, one of my school friends, has enrolled at a polytechnic, forgotten the name. Instead of commuting every day, he has rented a house near to his POLY with three girls. That was unusual then.
Some friends and I are staying over with him for a long weekend.

It was a full house. His housemates also had visitors. Most of the people came from outside London. We had a pleasant first evening with lots of agitated discussions.
For a few of them I was a bit exotic. They had never met a Jew before and I was going to live on a communal farm in the desert.

Several of us slept in sleeping bags on the floor of the front room. I was still awake when a sleeping bag with one of the girls inside started shifting in my direction, in a kind of bouncing slither. As the sleeping bag covered her head as well, I had the impression of a giant caterpillar coming towards me.
She moved a bit, stopped, and then started moving again. Eventually she was pressing up against me.
I thought it must be something like sleepwalking and tried not to move a muscle, as I did not want to wake her, whoever she was. I fell asleep and when I woke up she was gone.

The next day I struck up a conversation with a girl who, like me, was visiting. She was the black stockings and black skirt type. A very intelligent and witty art student. It clicked between us.
She told me that her last boyfriend had been a Palestinian Arab.

In the evening we all went to the pub and came back a bit tipsy. The black stockings girl and I were lying next to each other in a corner of the room. The others had fallen into an after-booze sleep.
I plucked up my Dutch courage and kissed her. That was the start of our relationship. We did not do much then as someone might have woken up. 
She was not wearing underwear and explained that was because all her underwear was in the wash.
With hindsight, I think she may have been my caterpillar. At the time I did not think to ask.

The following day we did not tell people we were a couple. We left separately in the early evening, but met up nearby and went back to her place. She had a room in a big house and told me to be quiet because she was not allowed to have men in her room.
As we came in the phone began to ring. She picked it up. It was Booker, one of my school friends who had been at the house.

The evening before in the pub, he had tipsily confided in me that he was in love with her. He asked for my advice. I said he should go for it.
Now he was calling to ask for a date. I was standing next to her and could hear the nervousness in his voice. She was very nice to him. Said that she was too busy just now, but would get back to him.
The strangeness of the situation flashed through my mind. He was calling her on my advice, and after the call was over I was going to have sex with her.

Her room was very untidy with washing hanging all over the place.
I had read the necessary books, so I thought I knew what to do. Then she asked me to punch her in the stomach. This had not been in my books and was not really my thing. I patted her stomach a bit hard, which was enough for her.

My first relationship was with a girl who often wore no underwear because it was in the wash and who got off on being punched in the stomach. 
You cannot get more British than that.

From then on we saw each other as much as possible. We could not go to her room as her landlady had heard us. Fortunately, she had lots of friends and always found a bedroom for us.

Time cannot be stopped and the day to say goodbye eventually arrived. It was the day before I left for Israel.
Besides being a warm, intelligent and witty person, she was also possessive and prone to hysteria and melodrama.
I suspected that she would break down when we said our final goodbyes.
So I planned the separation on a platform at Piccadilly Circus tube station and asked a friend to meet me there. I hoped that a public place like a tube station and the presence of another person would be a constraint on her hysteria.

It did not work. She started screaming and crying. I asked the friend to leave and I sat there with her for hours on that platform. Shades of Thomas Hardy.
When she was finally exhausted from crying, we did say our farewells. I got onto my train and we went our different ways. Or so I thought.

She wrote to me on my kibbutz. She wanted to come. I told her not to.
Then I received a long letter from her. She had tried to come.

She had taken the ferry to France and tried to hitchhike down to Marseille. 
It was very difficult for a girl on her own, she did not get far. Drivers groped and sexually assaulted her. One tried to rape her.
Besides that, the little money she had soon ran out.
She was really down, exhausted and very hungry. 
Fortunately, a British couple stopped to give her a lift. They took her back to where they were staying and looked after her until she had recovered her strength again. Then they gave her money for the fare back to England.

Back in England she had taken stock of the whole situation and decided to give me up and get on with her life. Her long, last letter was her goodbye,

I hope she had a fantastic life.
It is a pity I cannot remember her name.

Fare thee well.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Lost friendship and lost youth

The war probably had something to do with it. We never really settled back into kibbutz life after the Six Day War. The “we” are Tzvi, Avraham and myself.
We were all immigrants. Tzvi from Austria, Avraham from Poland and I was from England.

We decided to leave the kibbutz and study together at university. We thought we would form a good team. 
Tzvi had rich family and he said they would help.

David joined our group later. He was an ex-member of our kibbutz and also from Austria.
He had come back from the war with a grey streak in his hair. 
We teased him a bit about it. Said it would help him with the women. He was not much of a Casanova.

Avraham had also had some trouble in the war.
While helping to evacuate wounded from the battle for Jerusalem, he felt faint and passed out. He had been hit by shrapnel. 
In hospital they removed the shrapnel and he was given a clean bill of health.

Our communal university plans never materialized. 
I decided to go back to Europe. Tzvi married an Israeli girl and stayed on the kibbutz. Avraham went to live with his mother in Tel Aviv.
David went to university on his own .

I had been in Amsterdam for six months when I received a phone call.
Avraham was dead. He had died in his sleep. 
They performed an autopsy and concluded that a piece of shrapnel had been missed. Eventually it had started to move, entered his blood stream and killed him.

Every now and then I think of Avraham. Halev boche besheket.
Am I just mourning him or am I also mourning lost friendship and lost youth?



Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The First Kibbutz

My cousin Beni is a very good writer and he has a public blog. In one of his posts he wrote about the beginning of the first kibbutz, Degania.
The early pioneers worked from dawn to dusk. It was daily, back-breaking, physical labour. To survive there was a rigid work ethic. Not much time for folk songs and dancing the hora.
The following historical story is an excerpt from my cousin's post, "The Ploughman". It is about the work ethic.
It may not be relevant history for some, as there is no mention of modern-day problems, like 90-year-old men touching women’s posteriors.
“In October or November 1911 a number of plough teams were ploughing a field. The field was the longest field in the country; it stretched for one kilometer close to the south bank of the river Jordan. It was part of an experimental land allotment allocated to thirteen people who had formed a collective settlement called Degania.
The horse drawn ploughs were turning perfectly straight furrows in the soil. Work had started shortly after dawn and continued with a short break for a simple lunch till dusk.
One of the ploughmen was a newcomer to Degania. In those days there were no reception committees and people wandered in and out almost at will. They stayed as long as they worked or were asked to leave.
Earlier the same year the Degania settlers had harvested their first crop of wheat. The yield was good and it left them with a small profit. Had the crop failed the group would have disbanded and the collective settlement later called the kibbutz may have never come into being.
Late in the afternoon the newcomer reined in his horse, pulled out a leather tobacco pouch, took a pinch of tobacco and rolled a cigarette. He lit the cigarette and smoked it, then returned to his work.
Unknown to him he had broken a cardinal rule, a basic tenet of the group’s work ethic and the unscheduled break had been seen by everyone in the field.
At the end of the day when everyone had gathered in the dining room for the evening meal the group was silent. There was no mention of the cigarette but the offender could sense the unspoken censure.
The next morning before dawn, while the members of the group were still sleeping, the newcomer gathered his belongings and left.”

Friday, 6 October 2017

The clock is ticking for the Jews of Amsterdam

Some 15 years ago in Amsterdam, observant Jews started to complain to the local government and police about verbal and physical harassment in predominantly migrant neighbourhoods.

The only Amsterdam politician who was truly shocked by this development was an ethnic Moroccan called Ahmed Marcouch. He proposed a number of concrete measures to combat the growing anti-Semitism from Muslims.
None of the proposed measures were carried out.

The police had their own method for solving the problem of anti-Jewish incidents. They did not try to apprehend or stop the perpetrators. They did nothing.
Instead, they told the Jews to cover up their ethnicity, or leave.
The Jews left. No Jews, no attacks on Jews, problem solved.

Nowadays, there is no public Jewish life in Amsterdam any more. Observant Jews have retreated to a few neighbourhoods in the south of the city. When they leave these small neighbourhoods they hide their heritage in public.

Seventy years after the end of the Holocaust, Amsterdam Jews are again hiding the fact that they are Jews. And few people care.
They are a liability. It costs money to protect their buildings and their very presence provokes the growing Muslim community.
However, the biggest problem with the Jews is that they support Israel.
Hatred of Israel is a binding factor between the regressive left, (many) Muslims and indigenous anti-Semites. It is not the size of the country that they hate, it is its very existence. For them, Zionism is the same as Nazism and Israel is even worse than ISIS.

In 2018 there are local elections. According to the prognoses, a majority of the vote will likely go to anti-Zionist parties.
What then for the Jews of Amsterdam, who support the state of Israel?  
Ominously, there have been recent verbal and physical attacks on pro-Israel demonstrators and the police have done nothing about them. Even though the attacks were filmed and they know the names of the perpetrators.

There is an arrangement for public participation at council meetings. Anybody can speak to the council for three minutes.
One of the pro-Israel demonstrators who had been physically attacked took advantage of this arrangement. The members of the party that is projected to be the biggest after the next elections, got up and left when he started to speak.

I remember an article in a national daily newspaper written by one of the leaders of an “anti-racist” platform. He wrote that Zionists were traitors and they should be tried for treason. Many on next year's new council in Amsterdam will agree with him.

The clock is ticking for the Jews of Amsterdam. They would do well to remember that the Dutch have a history of betraying Jews. 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Those Were The (High Holy) Days

I came back from my boarding school in 1958, when I was 12 years old.
We had recently moved to West Norwood. That is where I lived with my parents and six years older sister, until I left England when I was 18.

My parents did not work on two Jewish High Holy days: Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). These were the only two days in the year that they went to shul instead of to work.
My father and his peers were tradesmen who could not afford to be religious.

We went to Streatham synagogue, that serviced the small pockets of Jews who lived in our part of south London. Very few people lived near enough to the synagogue to be able to walk there. Most people arrived in their cars.
Nobody was so brash as to park in front of the synagogue, but the surrounding streets were full of parked cars.
The praying area of the synagogue was quite small and was separated from a large hall by a folding wall. On the High Holy days the wall was opened and the large hall incorporated into the praying area.

My father went first, quite early in the morning. He took the bus.
My mother, sister and I came later in the car. For the women these days were also a fashion parade and they took a lot of care to look their best.
My sister was of marriageable age. The visits to the synagogue were important in the search for a suitable Jewish husband.

When I arrived at the synagogue I used to put on my kappel (skullcap) and tallis (prayer shawl) and go and sit next to my father.
The men around him would greet me heartily. They would ask about my health and how I was doing at school. Then they would congratulate my father at having such a fine son. It was almost a ritual.
My father had been at the shul for some time, so he kept nodding off. My primary task was to nudge him when we had to stand.
When there was a break, I used to go outside to chat with the other young people, especially the girls. This was in the time when it was not politically incorrect for teenagers to have hormones.

Of course the High Holy days had mainly a religious significance. However, they were also important in keeping the community together.
The atmosphere was friendly, warm and inclusive.
In those hours we were all brothers and sisters, one nation, one family and safe from the Jew-haters.

I appreciated the warmth and love of those High Holy Days at Streatham shul, but when I was 18 it was time to leave this modern shtetl. Time to join the Jews who wanted to be masters of their own destiny.
A time to build and, when necessary, to fight.

For Avraham. Arim Roshi (I will raise my head).

Monday, 28 August 2017

"If Fascism came to the United States it would come disguised as anti-Fascism."

In the 1920s and early 1930s, the Sturmabteilung (SA) were the military wing of the National Socialist German WorkersParty, that is better known by its abbreviation of Nazi Party. 

The SA gained control of the streets in Germany by beating up or killing anybody who they disagreed with. Many people excused their murderous behaviour because the SA were opposed to the "genocidal" communists.
They wore a uniform with a brown shirt. That is why they were called "Brownshirts", They chose brown-coloured shirts because a large number of them were cheaply available after World War I.

In the beginning, the National Socialists were social justice warriors for tens of millions of Europeans and Americans. They were going to redress the evil done to Germany at the end of the First World War and they were rabidly anti-capitalist.
The street-fighting SA were the main "socialist" group of the Nazis. They are categorized as Strasserites, as supporters of the ideas of Otto and Gregor Strasser. 
Their leader was Ernst Röhm, who saw the SA as the vanguard of the "National Socialist revolution". After the Nazis gained power he called for a second "socialist" revolution. 

Berkeley August 27, 2017. 
A mob of masked Antifa thugs dressed in black roamed Harvey Milk park, beating up anybody they disagreed with.
The mainstream media and many political and religious organizations have nurtured and empowered this violent mob behaviour, because they maintained it was directed against genocidal Nazis and white supremacists.
These thugs have been romanticized. Echoes of "¡No pasarán!"  and comparisons with the groups who fought the Fascists before the Second World War.

During the Antifa thug attacks in Harvey Milk park, a shocked James Queally of the LA Times tweeted the following: "There is a complete mob mentality here. People are randomly accusing random people of being Nazis." 
The tweet is naive at the very least. Anybody Antifa disagrees with is a "Nazi". That is the name of the game.

Antifa is only inclusive of people it agrees with. 
It is against hatred, except the hatred of anybody it does not agree with.
It objects to genocide, except the genocide of its enemies.
It bemoans the slaughter of 6 million Jews and supports organizations that call for the slaughter of 6.4 million (Israeli) Jews. 

"If Fascism came to the United States it would come disguised as anti-Fascism."