Holocaust Memorial Day
On 27th January, there was very moving testimony on TV, given by Freddie Zoller, Holocaust survivor, who like many others of his kind, had experienced things none of us should ever have to experience. It was at times somewhat racy, at times hair raising, but all the way through an uplifting story of survival. There was also another more disturbing story aired on Channel 4 on Holocaust Memorial Day, about a Jewish plot to kill millions of Germans in revenge for the Holocaust. This is not necessarily material we want to hear, but it shows is that all is not light in the post-Holocaust period. It is this contradiction between positivity and destruction that is also mirrored in many of the other Holocaust scenarios that have happened in more recent times: positive stories of survivors and kindness, together with stories of unbelievable horrors. I think history has taught us fairly clearly that revenge, as the Channel 4 programme was titled, is never an answer to the hurt that we feel. I will never forget hearing, on the morning after 9/11, the voice of someone who had lost a loved one in the tragedy, but said she would never resort to violence in response.
As we move forward in the Jewish calendar towards Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for trees, and then Purim, we become aware that there are hints of spring, new growth and new beginnings around us. Let us hope that these new beginnings in 2018 lead to positive change.
In this edition:
Chanukah party photos
Holocaust Memorial Day
Angela West – Learning Journey
Limmud Whistle Stop Tour
Limmud – Story of Nicholas Winton
Book Review – Jerusalem Chronicles
CHAIR CHAT: JANUARY 2018
1. HAPPY NEW YEAR
Best wishes to all our members and visitors. Unfortunately, we had no service in January but are all looking forward to our first service of the New Year at Saxon Hall in Hereford on Saturday February 3 at 11 a.m. with Rabbi Anna. I’m hoping that the draft copies of the Shabbat morning service from the new LJ siddur will have arrived by then. LJ want us to try it out and send back comments to them. As usual, we had a very good Chanukah party with Anna on Sunday December 16. I particularly enjoyed the mock trial of the three “converted” Jews, played with conviction by Julian, Cherry and myself.
1. Barbara and Jonathan concentrating hard on Chanukah Bingo. 2. Alison and Isaac.
3. It must be fun! (Mark Walton and Anna Silver).
4. Musical Duo – Julian & Cherry. 5. Chanukiot.
2. THE PROMISED ISLAND
Worth watching on BBC i player, if you didn’t catch it live. It tells the remarkable story of the exodus of a group of ultra orthodox Jews from Stamford Hill to Canvey Island to set up a new Charedi community to escape the high rents and overcrowding in Hackney. Canvey Island is a particularly unlikely destination as having a reputation for insularity and very strong support for UKIP and Brexit. However, the local community proved very welcoming and willing to make a huge effort to welcome the rather strange newcomers. This was reciprocated tentatively by the Charedis and there was a certain amount of inter communal bonding. However, my concern is that, once the ultra orthodox group becomes stronger, they will retreat into a closed community with their own schools, shops and way of life with little contact with their neighbours, as I witnessed when my son’s family was living in the midst of the orthodox community in Gateshead.
3. FUTURE OF THE COMMUNITY.
As we discussed at the last AGM, our small Council (essentially Julian and Cherry, Alison and myself) were concerned with declining numbers at services and events and needed to consider other options to retain a Jewish presence in Herefordshire. As such, we have opened discussions with Gloucestershire Liberal Jewish Community (who employ Rabbi Anna on a part time basis) to look at the possibility of a federal approach whereby we have access to all their services and events but also ensure that there are a certain number of activities that take place in our core area. This process has already begun to a certain extent with our joint Purim party to be held with Gloucestershire on March 4 at Upper Hatherley in Cheltenham and the decision to open up our Ann Frank service in June to both groups. There are still a number of issues to be talked through but we hope to have some proposals to put to members at our AGM in May. Watch this space!
Shirley Goldstein has sold her house and is moving home, but she will be staying in Ledbury for a few months yet in a short-term let, so we look forward to seeing her at our next events.
Judith Labelter is still unwell, but resting at home. We hope to see her at our next Colwall service.
Journey towards Judaism
I think the best way for me to describe this journey is as a series of encounters. The first took place rather early on in life. When I was about five, I had a little friend at ballet class whose name was Janet. Her family were German Jews and her parents and older brother spoke with heavy German accents – unlike Janet, a post-war British child like me. Once, when playing with our dolls, we speculated about what would happen if we flushed them down the toilet.
‘Maybe they’ll go to heaven and live with Jesus’ I said.
(Odd really, as I didn’t come from a very religious family). Janet looked at me with her big brown eyes and said matter-of-factly: ‘There isn’t a Jesus’
Having dealt with matters theological, we went on playing with our dolls.
My next encounter was as a student at university. Here I attended some talks arranged by the Student Christian Movement and given by Werner Pelz, who had written a book called Distant Strains of Triumph. He and his wife Lotte were also of German Jewish origin, and strictly speaking not Jewish, as Werner had become an ordained Anglican minister. But when some friends and I got to know them better, it became clear that the ‘trinity’ they revered was rather more literary than theological, consisting of the authors Nietsche, Kafka and Dostoevsky. But from them, I got a first taste of that deep seriousness about textual study which has been a feature of so many of my subsequent Jewish encounters.
A few years later, I was in Denmark, participating in a sixties-ish educational venture, called New Experimental College, located in a Danish farmhouse in Jutland north of the Limfjord. It was founded by an eccentric Dane, Aage Rosendal Nielsen, whose family came from those parts.
Prior to this he had been a leading light in the Scandinavian Seminar which brought many young Americans over to Denmark for a taste of Scandinavian culture. By the time, I arrived at NEC a few were still coming, attracted by Aage’s zany charisma, and several of these were Jewish. One of them was a philosophy graduate student from Detroit, Ron Manheimer, who was working on a study of existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. In the summer of 1968, he organised a Plato seminar for us at NEC. The texts we were studying were neither biblical nor Jewish, yet from the way Ron got us to interrogate the text, I glimpsed a sensibility which in retrospect seems to me a unique part of Jewish heritage. I began to see how one could bring one’s own questions about the meaning of existence to the study of a philosophical text. This was not something I had picked up in the introductory course to philosophy at my university. At NEC, our communal life, though largely secular, had a curious mixture of religious influences. On Fridays, we had a Sabbath meal, sometimes with a kiddush over the candles (if one of the Jewish women present could say it): but also often with some ‘table talks’ (reflecting Aage’s Lutheran heritage). On Saturday mornings, there was the Sabbath lecture, a kind of shiur, to which Ron and others made stimulating contributions.
Back in UK I became a Catholic, but in those days, I knew nothing of the doleful history of Jewish Christian relations. In the early 1980s, a Christian feminist friend gave me a book by Rosemary Ruether to read, called Faith and Fratricide. Ruether claimed that the foundations of anti-Judaic thought were laid in the New Testament, developed in the classical age of Christian theology and went on to become the taproot of anti-Semitism with its genocidal consequences in the C 20th. This book made a deep impression on me and in 2000, I began a new MA course at the Centre for the study of Jewish Christian relations. This was founded by Ed Kessler, one of Liberal Judaism’s educational innovators, and under his leadership, the centre has now become the Woolf Institute for the study of Jewish, Christian and Muslim relations, based in Cambridge. My course served to improve my knowledge of Judaism considerably and it also led to some important new encounters, too numerous to mention here.
However, one of these encounters from this time was particularly signficant for me. In about 2002, I attended a CCJ weekend at Ammerdown where I met Jan Fuchs, by then an old man in his late 80s. Originally from Czechslovakia, he had managed to get to Denmark during the war through an agricultural scheme serving as an escape route for Jews. When the Nazis began to move against the Jews in Denmark to deport them, the Danish resistance, supported by most of the population, ensured that the Jews were evacuated, by means of a variety of little fishing boats, across the Oresund to the safety of neutral Sweden. I heard this amazing story first-hand from Jan, who had himself been rescued in this manner. And perhaps because of the Danish connection we shared, we became friends. He knew that I was studying for the MA, and being someone with a great respect for study – even though he’d never had great educational opportunities himself – he did his best to support me, lending me books, sending me cuttings from the Jewish Chronicle, forwarding poems or addresses he’d written (the latter from his post-retirement job as a hospital chaplain), and inviting me to Holocaust Memorial day conference at his synagogue in Manchester where he lived. It was he who encouraged me to start learning Hebrew, gave me some first lessons, and I acquired a second-hand copy of Hertz so that I could follow the parashah each week.
It was also Jan who introduced me to Bible Week, at which he had been a regular attender for many years. Here were more fruitful encounters, and the opportunity to engage in a close study of the Hebrew text from the Tanakh. I witnessed how the richness of meanings could be teased out of the text by argument and discussion, and attention to the resonances of the Hebrew roots. The fact that Bible Week always takes place in Germany, and involves German Christians, as well German-speaking Jews from Holland, Israel & Britain gives it an added historical dimension, usually not present in interfaith meetings in UK. At Bible Week, I began to experience a much fuller exposure to Jewish liturgy, especially that of the Sabbath (in a Reform & Liberal tradition): And here once again, I encountered the shiur as a stimulating mode of instruction, sometimes in a rather unusual setting – as when Rabbi Jonathan Magonet regularly delivers a short shiur in the Departure lounge at Dortmund airport to the British party, waiting for our flight home!
So this then has been my journey towards Judaism– a rich tapestry of encounters with Jews who have impressed and instructed me (not always with conscious intention) about what it means to be ‘Israel’ – to ‘wrestle with God’ personally and philosophically, and to see how by serious attention to the narrative of Torah and the ancient texts, one can survive and surmount its often tragic and terrifying history. In particular, I am fascinated by what one might call the ‘pedagogical principle of Pesach’. Thus in the context of a commemorative meal, the older generation seek to pass on a tradition about escape from slavery and the search for human freedom, by allowing the younger ones to ask significant questions (Mah Nishtanah), and then adapting the answers given, to the needs, attitude, and level of understanding of the particular child. It’s a principle that should be more widely studied and applied!
Lastly, I’d like to acknowledge my gratitude to members of HJC who have been so welcoming and supportive – and who have encouraged me to believe that it is possible to become Jewish, even in Monmouth’s sleepy hollow!
Limmud 2017 – Whistle Stop Tour
I went to Limmud Conference/Festival 2017 with my daughter Maya for two and a half days at the end of December. For those who don’t already know, this is the largest Jewish cultural and educational gathering in the UK, and the largest Limmud worldwide. One of its sessions even hit the top spot in the morning Radio 4 news, on the morning I arrived.
There are so many workshops, talks and performances that it is impossible to give a full picture of everything that goes on at Limmud, and it’s certainly not possible to go to everything you would wish to. However, the organisation was excellent, and my initial nervousness about getting lost and missing sessions was unfounded, although I did attend one important session (Q & A with the Universities Minister, Jo Johnson) by accident.
My own choices, some if which coincided with my those of my daughter, centred around Hebrew text, Israel Palestine, and Jewish music, with a dash of ecology/environmental awareness thrown in. From the very start, sessions were fascinating and enjoyable with a wonderful text discussion in a small group led by Rabbi Margaret Jacobi on Rabbi Nahum of Gamzu, where we read and talked, initially in pairs, of our interpretations of two teaching stories. Much later in Limmud, I went to an equally inspiring session, all based around a Leonard Cohen song, The Gypsy Wife, which led us into a rich discussion of love and betrayal, a good dose of sex, and the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. Much of this resulted from texts in the prophets which the session leader, Rabbi Naftali Brawer had related to the text of the song, based on his interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s biblical references.
I also went to a performance of Sephardi music, and two sing along sessions with new songs that can be sung at services, which gave some contrast to the heady mix of talk sessions.
As for Israel/Palestine, there was a huge variety of perspectives in sessions offered. I focussed on learning about the ins and outs of the ‘occupation’ which has now been in place for 50 years., and the difficulties this presents, not just to Palestinians but also to the Israeli soldiers who have to respond to many of the policies and practices put down by the Israeli government, and also by the settlers themselves. There are many organisations working to try and improve relations between Israelis and Palestinians, to ease the difficulties experienced by Palestinians, and to try to work for peace in various ways. While we constantly get shown the harsher side of Israel-Palestine as a conflict, there are many other sides to look at.
One of the most unusual sessions in this field was that presented by a 21 year old Israeli Arab , Yahya Mahamed, who grew up in Umm el-Fahm, a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment, but who now campaigns for the pro-Israel Zionist lobby throughout the world. I didn’t necessarily agree with all his views, but he was a remarkably eloquent speaker for a 21 year old, peppering his presentation with jokes about smoked salmon and gefilte fish (well he had worked in the hotel trade). He also gained some credibility through having escaped from his home village, as a result of death threats against him for his views, and of course being ostracised by much of his family, but his story was still a strange one to take in.
Beyond the sessions at Limmud, there is always the opportunity to sit and relax over a cup of coffee and meet with others. For me, this was more effective at mealtimes, where we often sat in the dining room, but for my daughter, meetings took place anywhere, and at any time, especially at the late night hours, when I was most likely asleep. Our first night at Limmud was also unusual in that there was a good covering of snow on the ground when we left to go to our hotel, only a short way away, but as we had offered to give a lift to two acquaintances of Maya’s turned into marathon tour around the range of hotels near Birmingham NEC, and at the end of which, we were no nearer to the hotel our passengers hoped to go to!
Yes, as many people say, it is expensive (you need to think conference rates about £100/day) but there are bursaries, and early booking discounts. We also booked our hotel independently and had 2 comfortable nights in Holiday Express for only £20 per night per person, so consider booking accommodation separately. In addition, if you are prepared to help or volunteer, you can go for half price. Finally, it may always be worth asking if the community can help if you are going to bring back something worthwhile the community can benefit from.
Although we went for half of Limmud Festival, which for me was both very intensive and enough input, I can also see the benefit of going for the whole 5 days as you can then follow through themes and develop your learning on particular topics, which is harder to do in a short time. It’s certainly a great learning opportunity, but for many of us, the Day Limmuds, such as the one coming up in Bristol in June, may be a much better option.
Limmud 2 – Nicholas Winton
On my final day at Limmud, I went to a talk by Barbara Winton, the daughter of Sir Nicholas Winton, who is responsible for saving the lives of 669 Czech children in 1939, by organising trains to bring them to Britain, out of the total of 10,000 kindertransport children. This story is a fascinating one worth writing about in more depth. His motivation for arranging the transport of Jewish children from Prague, was not to avoid the consequences of the Nazi regime, which of course were unknown at that point in time, but because he was moved by the terrible conditions these ‘refugee’ children and their families had to endure in huge refugee camps, outside of Prague, having fled from Sudetenland, the German occupied part of Czechoslovakia.
Nicolas Winton was a man of determination and character who also shared some similarities with my own father. Both were born in the same year, 1909, both were moved to help Jewish refugees in the 1930s, and both were incapable of taking no for an answer. Of course, Nicholas Winton’s achievements were far more dramatic, but both were active at a similar point in history. Nicolas Winton’s motto was, ‘if something is not impossible, then it is possible’. On applying to the British committee for refugees (BCR) in 1939, for permission to contact the Home Office to allow these children into the UK, he was told, ’Don’t bother, they’ve already had so many requests.’ His response to this, unknown to the BCR, was to take a sheet of their headed notepaper, had his own stamp made saying Children’s Section, which was pure fiction at that time, and then wrote a letter to the Home Office on the stamped headed notepaper, asking that the children be admitted. This request was accepted (despite opposition in the national press, little different from the tabloid headlines of today, saying that Britain already had too many (Jewish) immigrants. Three months later, after a good number of children had been brought into the UK, the British Council for Refugees appointed Nicolas Winton as the secretary of its Children’s Section.
Barbara Winton went on to describe how her father went on to do many other charitable projects in his life and was somewhat annoyed that people only ever asked him about his saving the lives of these Jewish children in 1939.
In the question and answer session which followed the talk, Barbara Winton was asked how she dealt with a more hostile audience to that of Limmud, who of course were mainly favourable her father’s actions. Her response was quite interesting. She said that it so happened that her father, Nicholas Winton, lived in Maidenhead, which was Teresa May’s constituency, when she was an MP. As a result, Teresa May had come to know Nicholas Winton and his family, including attending his 100th birthday party. On the occasion of his 105th birthday party, Barbara Winton, who described herself as just an ordinary ‘complementary therapist who digs the garden’ found herself standing next to Teresa May, who was then Home Secretary. She realised that this was a now or never opportunity to plead her case for a change in the British government’s policy of having such a severe cap on the number of refugees currently being allowed into the UK. She said that Teresa May did listen carefully to the points she made, but of course the strict limits on refugee numbers are still in place.
A final addition to all this discussion was by Clive Lawton, who many people may know, from his Jewish education role, as well as several Radio 4 broadcasts. Clive Lawton commented that he happened to have been in position of meeting with government committees responsible for refugees in the 1980s, at the time of Vietnamese boat people coming to the UK. The limit at that time was 18,000. It was clearly the government’s intention that this was 18,000 people, but Clive Lawton in his discussions, which were minuted in those meetings, repeatedly used the phrase 18,000 families, and indeed this was the number actually admitted. So the conclusion from this story and that of Nicholas Winton is that the official committees organisations or governments, don’t necessarily completely understand their own policies, but you do have to be pretty brass necked to make an impact.
Barbara Winton completed her talk by asking us to take what action we could to further the support for refugees currently in refugee camps in Europe and particularly urging us to write to the Home Secretary on this matter. Having done this on my return from Limmud, I’m still waiting for a reply from Amber Rudd.
Holocaust Memorial Day 2018
‘I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why I am so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to develop myself and to express all that’s in me. When I write I can shake off all my cares; my sorrow disappears; my spirits are revived.’ – Anne Frank, written in her diary, 5 April 1944.
Book review: Jerusalem, Chronicles from the Holy City, Guy Delisle (£18.99)
Strictly speaking, this is a book beyond the interest of HJC, as there is no specifically Jewish connection. The author is a French Canadian cartoonist/comic strip writer, who spent a year in Jerusalem, while his wife was working for Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) in the region. However, as a freelance writer, and often also a househusband, his comic strip stories of his life in Jerusalem, and by implication, much of Israel beyond, is clever, humorous and sharply informative about the everyday experiences of living in Jerusalem, whether as an orthodox Jew, an Armenian Christian, and East Jerusalem Arab, or any one of the countless other denominations the author encounters on his travels. He experiences the relaxing beaches of Tel Aviv one day, while going deep into the occupied territories – Nablus or Hebron – the next day. As a (non-Jewish) worker linked to an NGO, you might think he would pose less of a security risk, but his stories of going through security at Ben-Gurion airport or at local checkpoints, are far more hair raising than a bog-standard Jew from Britain with family in Israel, like myself, is likely to encounter. The beauty of this book, apart from the superbly drawn images of Jerusalem and surrounding areas, is that it is an impartial view given by an outsider who has no political or religious axe to grind and sees himself more as an observer (often amused or bemused), of the heady mix of cultures, people, practices and environments that he finds on his doorstep. If you want a short, humorous and comprehensive tour of Jerusalem, life in the West Bank and tourist trails in greater Israel, this is an easy and enjoyable read.
We were lucky to get a copy of this book from our local bookshop in exchange for an unwanted gift, but it has certainly been worthwhile.
Shabbat Service, 11 a.m. Saturday 3rd February, Saxon Hall, Hereford, led by Rabbi Anna Gerrard.
Purim Party with GLJC, 3 p.m. Sunday 4th March – Up Hatherley Village Hall, Cold Pool Lane, Cheltenham.
HJC Pesach Seder
6 p.m. Saturday 31st March 2018, at Bridges Centre, Monmouth.
We are fortunate in that the new Bridges Centre Bistro team have offered to cater for our Pesach Seder, so this will be our first Seder in Monmouth. We are keeping the cost the same as last year at £20 per head, which is a very reasonable rate, children under 18 and students in full-time education free. We hope as usual this will be an enjoyable and informative evening, so please take note of the date and contact Mark Walton for your booking form, phone him on 01594 530721 after 6pm or at weekends or email email@example.com The deadline for booking is 12 March. Numbers are limited and will be allocated on a first come-first serve basis so book your place now.
Anne Frank Day – Saturday 9th June, Hereford
Limmud Bristol – Sunday 10th June 2018
Draft programme to include:
- Working in the West Bank
• School education on Israel and Palestine
• Israeli and Palestinian Voices
• Jews of Ethiopia and Israel
• Jews and the Slave Trade
• The Story of the Jews of Bristol and Bath – with an optional visit to Park Row Synagogue
• Hungarian Jews During the Shoah
• Archaeology and the Bible
To contact us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Deadline for next newsletter – 15th March 2018.
Web edition: Note that the newsletter is published on the HJC website (excluding any contact details). If you do not want your contribution to appear there, or would like it edited prior to web publication, please let me know.
Please send in contributions in WORD or pdf format if possible, but articles sent in by post are also welcome. In general, contributions should be no longer than 500 – 750 words, but longer contributions may be included, if appropriate. Pictures also welcome, but please try to keep image sizes small and below 250 KB for newsletter inclusion. All contributions are welcome but depending on format and content, the editor reserves the right to edit or hold over to a future edition if needed.
HJC Diary of Events
HJC services and other Events
|Saturday 3rd February||Shabbat service led by Rabbi Anna Gerrard||
Saxon Hall, Hoarwithy Road, Hereford HR2 6HE
|Sunday 4th March||Joint Purim Party with GLJC||
Up Hatherley Village Hall
Cold Pool Ln, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL51 6JA
|Saturday 31st March||Pesach Communal Seder||
Bridges Centre, Monmouth NP25 5AS
|April 14th /21st||Shabbat Service||
Colwall Ale House t.b.c.
|Sunday 6th May||HJC AGM||
Trumpet Inn, Trumpet, Herefordshire
|Saturday 9th June||Anne Frank Day Service||
Saxon Hall, Hoarwithy Road, Hereford HR2 6HE
|Sunday 10h June||Bristol Limmud Day||
9.45 a.m. – 6.00 p.m.
Bristol Cathedral Choir School, College Square, Bristol BS1 5TS
Herefordshire Jewish Community Contacts
|Membership and Welfare||Chair|
Tel: 01594 530721 after 6pm or at weekends
|Treasurer||Newsletter Editor /Membership|
|Learning Circle Coordinator / Web Manager and Archivist||Cultural Coordinator|
|Alison Turner||Ann Levy|