GITA CONN

Holy city all lit up – hopefully not by violence

HALF way through Chanucah and I, hopefully, am in Jerusalem. An evening stroll in Bayit Vegan is lit by those four flickering flames, seemingly in every single window.

Silver menorot, gold ones, oil or candles, large or small, in many cases several in the window — one for each member of the family.

A visitor from security-conscious and antisemitism-phobic Britain could not but be charmed by the sight and uplifted by the message of belonging.

Whether President Donald Trump does realise the vast profits in the embassy’s Tel Aviv real estate and move it to Jerusalem, whether our own disappointing prime minister decides — eventually and after much vacillation — to back Trump’s declaration and whether or not leaders from Turkey to Timbuktu recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel . . . none of this will make an iota of difference to the centrality of the city in the hearts and minds of the Jewish people.

Long before the establishment of the State of Israel, Jerusalem was in our Bible (King David’s city), in our prayers (“next year in Jerusalem . . . ”) and in our Hebrew literature.

Ahad Ha’Am wrote of his hope that it would be a spiritual centre (Merkaz Ruchani) for us all.

With the continuing (planned?) violent backlash to Trump’s declaration, we will have to hope that the only flames burning in Jerusalem will be those of the Chanucah lights.


Is saying thanks for Chanucah presents too much to ask?

HOW were you thanked for the Chanucah presents you doled out?

A hug and a kiss and a sincere, spoken “thank you” is enough for most of us if the gift is actually handed to the recipient.

But what if the present has made its way via snail mail or Amazon?

Written letters or cards of appreciation no longer seem to be expected and they are certainly very rarely sent by any recipient under the age of, say, 50.

How about emails? Are they OK? Or texts? Many people seem to have been seduced

by those video-type emails that convey your selected sentiment in a colourful, lively, musical package.

There’s even a “Happy Chanucah” one. I did succumb to this recently, but it somehow felt even more inadequate than a text.

If you can’t thank someone face-to-face, the only truly satisfactory way is to pick up the phone.

Given that most young people seem to have a phone attached permanently to their body, this is not a big “ask”!


Films play their part to beat racism

I WONDER how many menorot have been alight in the windows of the Jewish areas of Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow, Liverpool or north London.

Charedim may proclaim their Jewishness in their dress and demeanour, but the rest of us tend to be more reticent about public displays of our faith.

When I first went to Israel, a cousin — who had made aliya years earlier — asked me: “What’s it like living with all those Jews in Manchester?”

Jews in Israel simply take their Jewishness for granted; here, many of us are alert to the tiniest hint of antisemitism, often more in the perception than the reality.

How many of us squirmed at last week’s cartoon in The Times? Peter Brookes, the cartoonist, had transformed the iconic photo of a black-kippa wearing Trump placing his hand not merely on the Western Wall but slapping a bloodied dove against its hallowed stones.

Away from politics, we seem to get sympathetic exposure on screen.

Not sure how many non-Jews attended this year’s UKJewish Film Festival but those who did must have deepened their understanding of Jewish culture and practice (a Jewish friend who attended several films said how strange it would be to go to the cinema and NOT know 99 per cent of the audience!).

And then Menashe comes along. With a script translated into Yiddish, the story of one man’s “tsorus” — heavy life in chassidic Brooklyn has been well received by the critics and certainly didn’t worry my antisemitism-ometer.

A recent BBC documentary in the Extreme Wives series dealt delicately with Jerusalem’s charedim and the restrictions experienced by the women.

I did wonder, though, why they spent our licence fee on flying the crew to Israel when they could have found similar stories in Stamford Hill or Salford’s Broughton Park and better “jokes” than (from a Lubavitch woman) “when Moshiach comes, we’ll be able to eat pork and whale”.

Foyle’s War, to which I am so addicted that I watch the repeats, enlightened viewers in one episode about a range of well-researched subjects from Balfour to Mosley.

The Jewish characters featured were believable and fairly authentic. Films like Woman of Gold and Denial, plus so many of those screened in the festival, have happily put to rest the stereotype Jew of the “Becky-I’m-raving-already!” scripts.

Whether this sensitive film and programme making actually helps defeat antisemitism is a moot point. But it does demonstrate an awareness that this form of racism is unacceptable . . . at least in the public arena!

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