Astra Zeneca and British roulette

In Sweden, people started to reject the Astra Zeneca vaccine because of the risk (however small) of blood clots.  In response, people in Sweden who had an AZ first jab have been offered a different vaccine for their second jab.

Some people in the UK have been rejecting the AZ vaccine. But if this is less commonplace than in Sweden, then why should this be? And if it isn’t, why would it be under-reported?  As I strongly suspect it is – hugely so.   When listing reasons for lack of uptake of second vaccines in the UK, conspicuously absent is the factor of reluctance to have the AZ vaccine, and holding out for the possibility of mixing vaccines, as in my case, and which surely accounts for a significant proportion of people choosing to decline or delay receiving their second vaccine.

And why, unlike Sweden, are we in the UK not offered an alternative for a second jab if we are rejecting AZ? Even if this means that we are more at risk of contracting covid and of infecting others without a second jab?  And therefore there is more of a risk of covid-infected numbers and related deaths rising?  On the one hand, herd immunity as a way of limiting covid has been rejected, yet at the same time, we are held as individually responsible for the herd.  As the British Heart Foundation proclaims:  “The risks of not having the vaccine are much greater than any risks of having it, for you as well as for those around you.”

https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/news/coronavirus-and-your-health/astrazeneca-covid-vaccine

But if the government are not permitting mixing of vaccines even if this means a significant decrease in uptake of second jabs, is the government not responsible for the resultant risk of covid to the individual and the herd?

Astra Zeneca ceased to be offered at all in Norway.  In Sweden, it ceased to be used for those under the age of 65, since for over 65s, the benefits were considered to outweigh the risks.  In the UK, this argument applies to those over 40, even though people over 40, and even – in Denmark – a 60 year-old, have developed blood clots after taking Astra Zeneca.  The reason is not that you have less risk of blood clots as a side effect if you are over 40, so much as that you have more risk of becoming severely ill and dying if covid is contracted.  The fact remains, therefore, that there is still less risk of blood clots as a side effect, and death as a result, if different vaccines from AZ are offered.

In the UK, certain underlying health conditions provide criteria for administering an alternative vaccine.   However, in the case of Stephanie Dubois, 39, who suffered a “serious thrombotic episode” after being given astra Zeneca, and who died of a brain haemorrhage, there were no underlying health conditions.  https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/british-model-dies-cyprus-astrazeneca-vaccine-b937107.html?utm_source=taboola&utm_medium=Feed&fbclid=IwAR2pocML25SDMPXXqSbV6hJHWw7ijSNCh596q6OeWXwHR8OuIau-TSAhizA

Professor Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia, says ….

“Those countries that delayed their own vaccination programmes at a time of high transmission rates by declining to use available Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines should know that their decision will have contributed to an increase in the number of avoidable deaths from covid-19,” 

However this doesn’t account for countries where other vaccines are available, such as the UK where I am aware of surgeries holding surplus of Pfizer vaccines which are not taken up, and yet cannot be administered to anyone as a second vaccine, if they have had a different first vaccine, and therefore are thrown away.

Trialling the mixing of vaccines has been in process, and results to-date seem to strongly indicate that it may in fact result in more effective protection. Even before the outcome was confirmed, Sweden and France began mixing vaccines, rather than offering their citizens only the one with a blood-clot risk.  

There is so much manipulation in relation to pressure not just to have the second jab, but to have the AZ second jab.  Manipulation implies untrustworthiness;   It refers to being pressurised – often in a very heavy-handed way – to comply with something  which one’s information, moral sense and intuition lead one to resist.  It is about wishing to overpower someone – overpower their thoughts, their arguments, their inclinations.  And manipulation tends to be for the benefit of the manipulator, not the object of manipulator’s efforts.  It can range from gentle persuasion – characterised  by a one-sided argument containing vital omissions, to a full-blown assault on one’s clarity of thought and powers of reason. It is, in fact, a form of coercion.

I am very wary of, and intensely averse to, manipulation and manipulators.  And the arguments used to pressurise the unwilling sectors of the public to take the second AZ jab are sheer manipulation.  The manipulative arguments, presented by the government, health bodies and health professionals, which I witness being accepted and parroted by intelligent, well-meaning and ethical people, are:  

Argument 1:   We are lucky to have access to a vaccine at all. 

My response:  Yes – but where vaccines are available which have less or no risk of blood clots, we should have access to these vaccines.

Argument 2:  There is more risk of severe illness/dying of covid from not having the vaccine at all, than from getting cerebral blood clots from having the AZ vaccine.

My response:  The comparison is not like-for-like.  The comparison should be between the AZ and other vaccines – which are available in the UK.  So the argument is:  there is more risk of getting/dying of cerebral blood clots from Astra Zeneca than from other vaccines.

Argument 3:  All vaccines have risks.

My response:  But since alternative vaccines are available, this particular risk is an unnecessary one which the government is requiring members of the public to take.  There are still, to our knowledge, greater risks from AZ than other vaccines.

Argument 4:  Everything has risks.  You have greater risk of dying from x (driving?  Flying?  Crossing the road?) than from cerebral blood clots resulting from Astra Zeneca – as epitomised in the following:

“A different approach is to relate the potential harms to everyday activities we all take for granted. The risk of developing the rare type of blood clot being linked to the OAZ vaccine is around one in 250,000; the risk of dying as a result is around one in a million. The annual risk of a fatal road traffic accident in the UK approaches one in 20,000 – car travel is 50 times more dangerous than being immunised with the OAZ jab.” https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/health/2021/04/what-astrazeneca-vaccine-fears-reveal-about-our-skewed-sense-risk?fbclid=IwAR2lkvfSscSYDOXD_gpeXT-v5oFrOWS5aMWvotzYXGfm7wOalKOn25XaSWg

This is a red herring – and thus a manipulation.  It is something to throw us off track. 

Are we being invited to compound our everyday living risks by taking further unnecessary risks?  Just because I may choose to take other risks which may be greater than or equal to the risk of developing blood clots from the AZ vaccine, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I should therefore add an additional involuntary risk to my portfolio of risks – especially if that risk is unnecessary, in that other vaccines are available which don’t carry the risks of cerebral blood clots. But the vaccines which don’t carry these risks are not being offered to me – the choice being offered to me is: run the tiny and improbable risk of getting lethal cerebral blood clots, or run the greater risk of contracting covid, which, while it could be extremely nasty, has less likelihood of being lethal than the blood clots.

Apparently there is greater trust in the governments and healthcare systems in Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark, than in the UK. And the objections of the public are being given more consideration there. So why is the British public more compliant?

There is the issue that the infection rate is greater and faster in the UK, so rejecting AZ and hoping or waiting for a different vaccine involves more risk of contracting covid in the meantime.

The phasing out and tapering of the use of AZ by various countries – and restricting its use in the UK to specific age groups and categories confirms that it is not considered safe by the medical establishment.  It is clear that the decision to continue its use in the UK – while still restricting its use in certain categories – is a political and economic decision. If the priority was really to minimise the spread of covid, then alternative vaccines would be made available. 

In April this year, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) stated that the likelihood of getting a blood clot after receiving the AZ vaccination came to approximately 4 per million, and the risk of dying from the blood clot, one in a million.  

The following refers to a study showing that 11 “excess events” (i.e. events which would not have occurred anyway) – (blood clots) occur per 100,000 vaccinations. 

https://www.bmj.com/company/newsroom/study-sheds-more-light-on-rate-of-rare-blood-clots-after-oxford-astrazeneca-vaccine/?fbclid=IwAR25EfnmNRNYTwghOq8fAKQ9G390-BuQC0vqIs-nitT24f_AF4StNX0Bz70

Britain ordered 100 million doses of Astra Zeneca. 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-55274833

If we divide this by two to account for 2 doses of the same vaccine, we are talking of 50 million intended recipients of the vaccine, and I will use this figure in my calculation given that blood clots/death from blood clots is said to hardly ever happen after the second dose.  Given the statistics of one death from blood clots per million vaccinations of Astra Zeneca, the government – in insisting on the Astra Zeneca vaccine, is requiring that 5,500 of the AZ vaccinated develop blood clots.  Of these 5,500, the government is accepting – even decreeing – that 50 Astra Zeneca vaccine recipients will die of these blood clots. 

The British Heart Foundation provides different figures:  “Even if the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine is proven to be the cause of the clots, the rate of death is extremely low – about one in every 346,000 people vaccinated. “    “Extremely low” refers to some 144 deaths – unnecessary deaths –  as a result of 50 million people in the UK being (unnecessarily) offered the AZ vaccine.  

There is a Jewish saying that if you save a life, you save a whole world.  The converse applies here:  there is the opportunity to save somewhere between 50 – 144  lives by administering an alternative vaccine to the AZ.  But the Johnson government is willing to sacrifice these lives – rather than replace the AZ vaccines with an alternative.  

The overall cost of the AZ vaccines in the UK has been £217 million, whereas the Pfizer vaccines have cost the UK approximately £600 million.  https://www.nationalworld.com/lifestyle/money/how-much-is-the-uk-spending-on-covid-vaccines-cost-of-moderna-oxford-astrazeneca-and-pfizer-biontech-jabs-3200895

And these are the sums that explain why the Johnson government has been only too willing to sacrifice 50 – 144 lives to the AZ vaccine.  But the narrative is that if we, the public, are unwilling to receive the AZ vaccine, we are endangering our families, our neighbours, everyone in our environments.  Not that the government is causing this danger by refusing alternative vaccines.

And this is a government, led by a prime minister who pulled out a dirty hat trick in order to prevent a debate and vote on the Genocide Amendment to the Trade Act, in the context of China’s ongoing genocide of its Uyghur Muslim population.  Boris Johnson has been only too clear about the extent to which he values life. And Johnson’s government is deciding that – essentially – in the UK – “the bodies will pile up”. Fewer bodies than without any vaccine, but more bodies than if an alternative vaccine is allowed.  The alternative they are offering is not to take the vaccine, to remain at risk of covid and contagion, and to have restricted freedom of movement. 

If the priority is to get the population vaccinated, then alternative vaccinations should be offered to those refusing to take AZ. How did we give this government permission to make this decision on our behalf? Do we forget that they are voted in by us to act on our behalf and in our interests? (I personally didn’t vote them in, but they are not voted in only to act in the interests of those who voted for them!) They are there through consent, and who has consented that they should be so authoritarian and curtail our freedom of choice and of movement?

In all likelihood, I will not develop blood clots in response to my second jab of AZ, but it is no comfort to know, that in that case, it will be someone else with an equally unlikely risk (since it is essentially a case of the principle of Russian roulette expanded – British roulette!) who dies of blood clots as a side effect of the AZ jab, just as unclaimed Pfizer vaccines are being thrown out.

Postscript: In Korea, a 52 year-old police officer has died after mixing vaccines: being given the Astra Zeneca for his first jab, and the Pfizer for the second. https://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/nation/2021/07/119_312668.html

https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/news/coronavirus-and-your-health/astrazeneca-covid-vaccine

https://www.euronews.com/…/why-did-denmark-ditch-the…

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-sweden-vaccine/swedes-under-65-to-be-given-alternative-to-astrazeneca-vaccine-for-second-dose-idUSKBN2C71KB?fbclid=IwAR2soWG1JG3zvZRJavC91WoFc5iNTONArNJwZDCCWiFBesQ61CAcwEGOoJk

https://fullfact.org/health/astrazeneca-vaccine-risk-comparison/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/08/vaccine-uptake-coronavirus-england-near-halves-mixed-messages-manchester-sheffield-19-july

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/health/2021/04/what-astrazeneca-vaccine-fears-reveal-about-our-skewed-sense-risk?fbclid=IwAR2lkvfSscSYDOXD_gpeXT-v5oFrOWS5aMWvotzYXGfm7wOalKOn25XaSWg

https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/covid-vaccines-combining-astrazeneca-and-pfizer-may-boost-immunity–new-study/

https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/norway-postpones-decision-astrazeneca-vaccine-2021-04-15/?fbclid=IwAR1sR0i5itKDRx3V1mHrXL6Vr8SJDXvlZk-hsZPBpSCKgcxh4f8zaVzIwrI

https://abcnews.go.com/Health/shark-versus-cow-deadlier/story?id=24931705

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-05-12/norway-permanently-removes-astrazeneca-from-vaccine-program

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-56744474

Piff! Puff! Pouf! “An acute delirious puff”: a licence to murder Jews in France – the case of Sarah Halimi

In France, with just one puff of marijuana, you can claim you experienced a “delirious fit” when you kill a Jew, and not stand trial. (If, however, you instead kill a dog, you will stand trial and be sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment.)


Sarah Halimi’s flat was broken into, and she was tortured, murdered, and her body thrown out of her window by her neighbour, Kobili Traore, who had previously been subjecting her to relentless and severe anti-Semitic harassment.  Her murderer has been exempt from standing trial as he has been judged as not responsible for his actions at the time of the murder since he was alleged to have been affected by marijuana – a judgement upheld by Court of Cassation’s Supreme Court of Appeals.  He nevertheless had the awareness at the time to flee the scene of the crime.

Now he is in psychiatric care, instead of in prison awaiting a criminal trial. Why should this be? Having an adverse effect from smoking marijuana is not a mental illness, so why is he in psychiatric care? Psychiatric diagnosis is based largely on the patient’s own description of his feelings/experiences (and the psychiatrist’s acceptance of its truthfulness and accuracy). There is no other witness to the internal subjective state of one’s mind. The witness to how he presented at the moment of murder was murdered by him – so she cannot verify that he presented as having a delirious fit or otherwise. The basis on which he is being excused from trial must be based entirely on his own account or allegation of his subjective state as affirmed by 2 out of 3 psychiatrists. What about the statement of the third psychiatrist? Psychiatry presents itself as scientific! It is not supposed to rest on a vote of 2 out of 3.  Science does not rest along the lines of democratic election!  It is not the majority opinion that wins! Which assessment is scientifically most valid?  That is the question that needs to be asked.  What is the relative experience and specialism of each psychiatrist?  How can we measure the extent to which he was having a delirious fit, and why would it have been focussed precisely on breaking into the home of this particular neighbour with the tragic and violent consequences?  Were huge quantities of marijuana found in his blood stream? –  Exactly how soon after the act of murder?  As a drug dealer and hardened marijuana injester, one would have expect that he would have acquired a degree of tolerance to marijuana.

Where is the science in this?

Marijuana is legal in the Netherlands.  I don’t think this would be the case if the medical establishment in the Netherlands considered that a puff – nay – an “acute delirious puff” – of the substance could lead to delirious fits, which could induce its legally-complying marijuana-smoking citizens to commit murder.  In fact, from my own personal observations and experience, marijuana is not an activator but the opposite.  As an undergraduate at Manchester University, I did know someone who – having gone to no lectures whatsoever – revised someone else’s lecture notes while constantly smoking marijuana, and managed to get a 2:1 in her finals.  I, on the other hand, had to forget about doing any study if I shared or smoked a joint.  All I, and most people I observed, were capable of doing under the influence of marijuana was to recline, listen to music (on one occasion, appreciating two different cassettes played simultaneously on a double deck) and eat 6 milk chocolate flakes in a row.  On one occasion, a friend managed – extremely slowly and carefully – to drive herself and a couple of friends home after smoking marijuana – which was quite a feat of concentration!  Marijuana acts as a relaxant, and if anything, it suppresses physical activity.  It seems inconceivable to me that a puff of marijuana – however “acutely delirious” – and however paranoia-inducing – could give someone the strength and motivation to break down the door of an apartment, murder a person and throw her body out of a window. 

There don’t seem to be many voices making this point.  Is it that no-one wants to admit that they have smoked marijuana?  Oh Dutch people – join the conversation!  How many of you have been motivated to break into an apartment, murder someone and throw their body out of a window under the influence of marijuana?

Piff! Puff! Pouf! An “acute delirious puff” ….and a licence to kill a Jew with impunity!  In France.

What if when the murderer is discharged from psychiatric hospital (which can be at any moment, since he cannot have been sectioned with a mental illness – in fact, what treatment is given for an “acute delirious puff” of marijuana?) he then has another “acute delirious puff” of marijuana and kills another Jew? Same again? And again?

And what if the person he kills next time isn’t Jewish?  What if, the next time, the person is a judge?  Or a psychiatrist?  But it won’t be – unless the judge or psychiatrist is Jewish.  Because the intention to murder a Jew was there – in his historic behaviour as well as in his behaviour surrounding the murder.  Isn’t that what constitutes murder?  The act of murder governed by the intention and premeditation to murder? 

France – during WWII with its Vichy government – puppets to the Nazi regime.  Its own police willingly rounding up Jews for mass murder.  And in Paris, there is a delightful garden dedicated to the memory of Anne Frank – ignoring the fact that 11,400 French children were zealously rounded up by the French police to hand over to the Nazis for mass murder.  Now its own judiciary has established its own exclusive criterion for the determination of murder in the case of Jews. It has set a precedent licensing the murder of Jews with impunity.  France is back to 1939-45 era – but this time its determination of the legality of the murder of Jews is more specifically home-grown.

In short, France is not a country where it is safe to be a Jew. Many French Jews have realised that for years now, and France has been significantly emptying itself of its Jews.

How inverted racism works

Stock photo. ©Anna Nahabed

It is a tragic phenomenon, that in societies where you find racism, you also find inverted racism, and the degree of the latter is probably in direct proportion to the extent of the former.  Because just because someone is a member of a stigmatised group, does not make that person immune to the misinformation, brainwashing, and systems of thought which prop up and sustain the racism, which that person may then apply to herself or himself.

I know exactly how inverted racism works – how people come to be inverted racists,  – because I myself was one – as an 11-year old child.  It is a very straightforward process.  Suddenly, being Jewish works to your disadvantage.  It separates you from people you love.  It impedes you from doing the things that you love.  As a child with a lack of understanding, I blamed these things on my Jewishness, rather than the anti-Semites, and therefore wished to fully dissociate myself from my Jewishness and – more than hide it – deny it.

I will start further back than that, because I actually experienced anti-Semitism years before, and yet it didn’t have the same effect on me.  I think it’s because it didn’t stop me from doing the things I loved doing, and didn’t separate me from anyone.  I was born to a young “sabra” – an Israeli woman (who had had very little, if anything – to do with Catholics, and who in fact had not, to my knowledge, experienced anything of European-style anti-Semitism,) and to a holocaust survivor who, working for an architectural firm after the war, would measure up bombed-out churches.  In some of these churches, he found boards on which was proclaimed:  “The Jews killed Jesus.”  We lived in the North London suburbs, with Jewish communities of all denominations:  Religious, Orthodox, Reform, Liberal, Secular… and no shortage of Jewish schools, Church of England schools, schools that didn’t define themselves religiously.  And yet, for some strange reason which I actually think stemmed entirely from my mother’s love of the film:  The Sound of Music(!), my parents decided to bypass the Jewish schools, the C of E schools, the non-denominational schools, the schools within walking distance, and to send me to Sacred Heart Convent School. They invested annually, to accommodate my growth, in my uniform which was more composite than those for most local schools: the green tunic and green felt hat for winter, the yellow dress for summer together with the green blazer – an embroidered coat of arms portraying the sacrifical lamb bearing a crucifix emblazoned on the chest, and be-ribboned straw hat for summer, together with the white gloves which, little did my parents know – were specifically for church.

At Sacred Heart Convent School, from the age of 4, I routinely crossed myself and put my hands together in prayer, reciting as many Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s as any Catholic child; kneeling in church; and loving Jesus (pictured with long blonde hair as in my Children’s Bible: New Testament). At the age of 6, well-aware of being a sinner, and aspiring to be a nun; a year or two later, during a music-and movement class – wondering if it was significant to find my feet bleeding exactly where nails would have pierced the flesh of Jesus on the cross (after hearing stories of just such saintly signs); and, at the age of 8, being present in the confirmation classes.  When I was deemed a little disruptive of these classes – chiming in that Jesus was Jewish; even taking this idea further and informing all my classmates that that meant that they were therefore Jewish too(!), I found myself being sent to piano or elocution lessons while confirmation classes were taking place (apprehensive, perhaps, of possible reactions by Catholic parents upon discovering that, during confirmation classes, their children were being told they were Jewish!) – hence becoming well-spoken – especially for a young Jewish girl whose parents both spoke heavily-accented English.  

Once a week, on a Sunday morning, I would be sent to Cheder (the “ch” pronounced as in the Scottish “loch” – Jewish Sunday school/Hebrew classes) – so the balance was definitely in favour of the Catholic influence!

I was the only Jewish child in the school, until my younger brother and sister briefly attended.  I experienced anti-Semitism but didn’t know that it was anti-Semitism. For example, when at the age of 6, the art teacher would keep hitting me but didn’t hit anyone else – this is when I started to learn about inconsistency – with one rule (revealed after it was broken) applying to me, and another rule applying to others. A little boy had painted his entire sheet of paper a single colour, which I obviously considered a good idea, since I followed suit! I was hit – he wasn’t!

Or – another example of what I now interpret as anti-Semitism which I experienced was when the music teacher’s eyes would consistently drift past my arm straining in the air, because (for example) I knew I could easily play that bongo beat pattern which eluded the other kids.  (I got that she didn’t seem to like me, but even before this had twigged, she was the source of my unrelenting desire to play the guitar.)  

I only remember the P.E. teacher from one incident, when I forgot my P.E. kit, and she forced me – much to my great distress and humiliation – to participate in the (mixed-sex) lesson outdoors, stripped to my underwear. I don’t remember that any other child, particularly any other girl, was subjected to such sadistic treatment, and that surely wouldn’t have been because nobody else ever forgot their P.E. kit. Perhaps she derived some kind of fetishistic satisfaction from the power of forcing a young Jewish girl to run around in her underwear amidst fully-clothed (in T-shirts and shorts) Catholic boys and girls.

I didn’t know what anti-Semitism was, and certainly didn’t feel at all negatively towards my own Jewish identity and religion.  One incident that I remember in particular is that when a flaxen-haired stocky little boy called Dermot punched me in the stomach for being Jewish, at the age of 8, I knocked on the office door of Sister Maria (the headmistress); she admitted me and listened while I related to her what had happened; and she said nothing (perhaps nodded acknowledgment), and did nothing. 

The other two nuns I remember were fine! My mother would wax lyrical about how Sister Veronica would place me on her lap and read with me when I was 4. Some years on, Sister Anita would humour me by allowing me to teach her Hebrew phrases while she was on playground duty, when I had no-one to play with during the break. (I would greet her with: “Have you said ‘Shalom!’ to anyone?” Probably she hadn’t had much opportunity to!) She seemed unimpressed by my experimental artwork, but her artistic opinion paled into insignificance when my father – whose artistic judgement I valued much more highly – gazed intently at my paintings as if beholding works of genius, and kept them to his dying day! (That may have been because he forgot he had them!) Meanwhile, thuggish little Dermot was forced to be kinder to me: we were placed into the same small group to prepare a nativity play, and his best friend Adam, once it was agreed that he should be cast as Joseph, was insistent that I should be Mary, even though Dermot tried to convince him that I couldn’t be Mary because I was Jewish!

Then I was sent to St Mary’s C of E primary school when I just turned 9.  A large proportion of the pupils were Jewish, and we had separate Jewish assembly, although I preferred to go to the Christian assembly because I loved singing the hymns, and especially the carols approaching Christmas.  The headmaster was a man who maintained and inspired religious tolerance. 

Then he retired and was replaced by a new headmistress, Miss Pybus (a very tall woman with hair the colour and texture of straw, and whose face was dominated by a huge curved nose!), who took the school’s status as a Church of England school to mean exclusion of Jews (but not Hindus or any other religion).  She prevented any more Jews from being admitted to the school, so the new first year intake, for the first time ever, from having previously been approximately 30% Jewish, was now completely Judenrein!  Normally kids came into the first year of that school automatically from the neighbouring infant school, but from this point, that infant school sprouted its own separate primary school, and my youngest brother graduated to that one.  

She also prevented Jewish children from singing in the choir.  By now, I had entered the fourth and final year of the junior school, and one of the highlights of being in this year was that if you were selected, you got to sit on the stage in assembly each morning as part of the official school choir.  The previous year, I had been chosen as one of five soloists for the Christmas carol service (“About the best so far” – when it was my turn to audition, to the protest of one child who couldn’t sing properly in tune: “That’s not fair!  She’s Jewish!”)  No such protest when the Hindu girl also got chosen.  Yet in my fourth year, I was prevented from being a part of the choir of several times five, explicitly because I was Jewish!  Yet the Hindu girl was admitted into the choir.  What made this even more hurtful was that my best friend (who couldn’t even sing completely in tune – whereas I always sang perfectly in tune) was chosen as part of the choir – so every morning in assembly, we would be separated:  she on the stage with the choir – me sitting cross-legged on the floor with the rest of the school.  During that year’s Christmas carol concert, I sneaked into the choir stalls in church and sang with the choir, and the music teacher noticed but raised no objection.  This was the same music teacher who had chosen me as a soloist the previous year.

With the advent of Miss Pybus, (perhaps her intense anti-Semitism was a means of dissociating herself from Jews in view of the fact that she was the one with the huge nose!) where there had previously always been religious tolerance in the school, suddenly, in the younger year groups, fights developed in the playground between Christians and Jews which my sister and other younger brother found themselves embroiled in, and in the context of which my sister learned to physically fight tooth-and-nail!

This was the year when I started to hate and deny being Jewish, and to dissociate myself from anything to do with Judaism.  I didn’t actually hate other Jews, or change my feelings towards them – it was all to do with what had been taken away from me, and the associated humiliation. When I turned 12 and started at my new secondary school, nobody knew my background.  If anyone asked, I would say that I was Church of England.  The only other Jewish girl in my class whom I’d befriended seemed suspicious of my true identity when she came to my home, but I didn’t reveal the truth even to her.  I once asked a boy in my class who, I thought, looked quite Jewish – with his nice brown curly hair – and who seemed to have a Jewish surname, if he was Jewish, and his reaction was one of such strong anger and disgust, that that certainly discouraged any inclination I may have felt to come out.  Apparently I didn’t conform to most people’s – even most Jews’ – idea of what a Jew looks like (years later, my aunt in Israel told me I looked like a typical Russian shiksa [Yiddish: “non-Jewish woman”]), and having had a full Catholic/Christian education, I played the part flawlessly.  But to me it wasn’t a “part” – I was in full denial, and was almost close to believing it myself.  I was still being sent – against my will – to Cheder – and had a close Jewish friend.

The lovely Japanese friend, Nibou, of our Japanese housekeeper (- who had not yet started to show signs of becoming the intensely cruel and highly abusive person she subsequently revealed herself to be) had the sensitivity and insight to give me a copy of Anne Frank’s diary – just at this time when I was in denial about being Jewish and rejecting everything Jewish (except my friends and family)!

After two terms in my first secondary school, I changed to another school where it happened that about 30% of my class were Jewish and it was not an issue.  There seemed to be no further need to hold on to my inverted anti-Semitism, and I don’t think it took long to accept my Jewishness, and to stop hiding it.

So that is exactly how inverted racism works.  It can manifest in relatively small ways – such as a lack of confidence or undervaluing oneself.  Or it can manifest in pathologically self-destructive ways:  Otto Weininger comes to mind – a Jewish philosopher living in Austria at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, when anti-Semitism was rife.  He developed a theory that Jews were incapable of originality, and committed suicide as what he apparently saw as a logical consequence of his own theorisation.  (If I have remembered this correctly from a philosophy lecture or tutorial attended as a young undergraduate student, a long time ago!) 

In another blog post of mine, I have written:  “Anti-Semites love a self-hating Jew!”  The question as to why a Jew would wish to be loved by anti-Semites is another strange, perverse phenomenon which seems pathological!   The anti-Semites’ love is more logical – it is not actually a love of the Jewish person, but it is a love of the validation they are seeking, and which is delivered by the self-hating Jew in her/his self-hatred.  They (the anti-Semites) want to say – and they do say:  “I’m not anti-Semitic:  I have Jewish friends!  So-&-so is saying this too, and she/he is Jewish!  Therefore my views are validated,” (and spewing forth from their lips come tales of Jewish cabals and the Rothschilds, and Jews controlling the media, “Zionists”, Jews as “Nazis” or “worse than the Nazis”, Israel and “apartheid”, etc.  They might express intense sympathy and compassion for actual heinous Nazi criminals languishing in prison in isolation; but none whatsoever for their victims.  They will undoubtedly express concern about the Palestinians  – but only if they are living in Israel, the West Bank or Gaza.  The plight of Palestinians in Syria, or Saudi Arabia, or Iraq, or of Palestinians suffering at the hands of their own leaders is of no interest.)   “And therefore,” they say, “I can’t be anti-Semitic.”  And the answer is:   “Yes you are extremely anti-Semitic, and so, probably, is your Jewish friend you feel so validated by, and on whose self-hatred your friendship is based!”

Of course, you also find a small number (I hope it’s small) of massively destructive Jewish anti-Semites in or from Israel.  This is a phenomenon which requires, it seems, a different kind of explanation.  Israel is not a society where anti-Semitism is experienced in the same way, or as chronically as, for example, in the UK or the States or – really horrifically – in France.  (It is not, for example, hammered by the non-Arab news outlets – or “in the air”.)  (As I stated, my mother who was born and grew up there did not, to my knowledge, encounter anti-Semitism except from neighbouring hostile countries.)  I will probably leave this phenomenon to someone else to figure out!

Land of Plenty

20200315_160204I was living in Israel during 1990/91 at the time when, just after Perestroika, Jews from the Soviet Union, finally free to leave, were flooding into Israel. I studied Hebrew in an Ulpan (language school) where most of the other students were from the former Soviet Union (mainly Russia and the Ukraine, but also Georgia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan). When we had a tea break, these students would form a massive queue and each take as many biscuits as they could possibly hold, not caring whether those further back in the queue, or whether non-(former-)Soviets: (Brits, Ethiopians, Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, the French and a New Zealander) who refrained from joining the long queue, would get any. They started to bring in supermarket carrier bags, emerging from the front of the queue triumphant, their carrier bags crammed full of biscuits.  To me, it looked ugly. I had little sympathy, even though I understood that for their entire lives until then, they had wasted their days queuing for essentials such as bread, only to get to the front of the queue and find there was nothing left.

The principal of Ulpan Akiva was a woman with a lot of understanding and compassion. Rather than trying to limit the number of biscuits each person could take, or trying to change their behaviour, she simply ordered in more and more boxes of biscuits.  It would take time for them to get used to the idea of continuous supply.

And here we are, in the UK, plundering the supermarket shelves with little regard for whether there will be anything left for others.  (I haven’t been partaking in the plundering – being temporarily quite itinerant, but I hope I wouldn’t anyway.)  And we haven’t been traumatised by having our lives eroded  – day after day – forming queues for a loaf of bread or other essentials, only to find nothing left by the time we get to the front of the queue.  And it is ugly.  When I saw it among the former Soviets, I didn’t expect ever to see such a thing here – Land of Plenty!

My Russian neighbours at that time showed me photos they were sending their friends and relatives back in the former Soviet Union:  of supermarket shelves laden with food, deep freezes full of meat.  And here are we, on social media, posting photos of supermarket and pharmacy shelves, plundered and empty.

 

 

SHOUT UK

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I didn’t know about this until a few moments ago, so thought I’d just put it here for anyone else who didn’t know about it.

Witnessing WWII in Czechoslovakia – oral histories

Sudeten Mountains

Photo:  Marilyn Herman 2018.  Chomutov, near the death march route, looking towards the Sudeten mountain range on the border with Germany.

Following on from my previous blog, I very recently decided to visit Chomutov, in the Czech Republic.  I was interested to see what kind of place produced a heroine like the young woman who gave her life to give my father bread.  I wanted to get an idea of the context at the time.  

I am indebted to Jan Krupicka who grew up in Chomutov, who arranged for me to interview two couples and two widows who lived through World War II, taking me to the retirement home, and to Amalie’s village, and who interpreted between Czech and English during the interviews.

All but two of my interviewees had lived in other parts of Czechoslovakia during World War II.  From my interviews, I learned about the general situation for civilians during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. Food rationing was imposed, and ethnic Czechs were restricted to the extent that one could not live on rations alone.  Czech men were sent to Germany for forced, unpaid labour, to fill in for German men who were in the army.  Czech women similarly had to engage in forced, unpaid labour for ethnic Germans in Czechoslovakia, or if they were younger and without children to care for, they would be sent as forced unpaid labour to Germany.  “The only people who didn’t come back were the Jews.”

 From Karel and Kvetuse, a couple living in a retirement home in Chomutov, who had lived in other parts of Czechoslovakia during WWII,  I learned that the generation of Czechs at the end of the 19th century all spoke German.

They told me that there were Czech and German schools.  Once the German occupation started, it was stipulated that there should be a German class every day in the Czech schools, and history classes were only about the German Reich, and nothing else.  Pages of history books referring to previous history were glued together, and after that the books were thrown away altogether, and history lessons were just given through talking by the teacher, without books.

There were ethnic Czechs who said they were German during the occupation, seeking benefits. They also told me of hearsay about one ethnic Czech man who was really pro-Nazi and a snitch.

I interviewed Viera on 30thNovember 2018, and relay what she said below:

 The Germans were well-off, while food was very scarce for the Czechs following the German occupation. She knew a Czech woman who worked just for food.  Ethnic Germans in the area were on higher rations than the Czechs. 

I asked if this caused resentment.  She responded that there wasn’t much resentment.  Most of the Czechs left, [since Chomutov was being bombed by the allies – there were factories there serving German war effort].  Not many Czechs were left in Chomutov.  Those who remained had to cope with how things were.

Viera would take the animals and geese to the woods when there was an inspection [by the German occupiers).  They would be warned a couple of days in advance by Czechs working in the government office.  If these Czechs had been caught, they might have been executed along with their families. 

You couldn’t survive on the food stamps.  Life was better in the rural areas.  You were in a better position to survive – to have what you needed.

Viera was studying fashion design.  Her father was recruited at the age of 17 in World War I.  He fought in an Italian batallion.  

In World War II, Czech men didn’t have to go into the German army.  They were supposed to be relocated to Germany to substitute for Germans who went to war, as forced unpaid labour.  German cities were under attack [by the allies] – the situation wasn’t good there.  Viera’s husband – a student – was digging ditches for the Germans. 

In Czechoslovakia, the men were gone, and food was scarce.

Viera’s brother was supposed to be relocated.  A German man saved him – he said that he needed him to work in his inn, where people would leave their carts and horses.  He was an old man, and said he was ill and needed Viera’s brother to work for him.

There were lots of Czech/German married couples.

 Some [ethnic] Germans collaborated with the Nazis, but others were perfectly fine.  There were people who sought benefit from siding [with the Nazis].  Maybe some Czechs were the the worst “snitches”.

 

Mrs Amalie Libuse Vinduskova had lived in the same village near Chomutov her whole life. I interviewed her on 2ndNovember 2018.  Amalie felt the need to talk about her experiences during WWII.  It caused her great anxiety to remember and talk about her experiences, but she felt it was important for them to be known.  This is what she said:

She told me about the remains of  a Jewish cemetery in a forest near the village.  Her daughter-in-law sent me photos and put stones on the graves in the Jewish tradition, since it was too late for me to go there after the interview.

 

 

 

Amalie also talked about where the victims were shot by Germans on the “Day of Executions”.  I am not clear about what she was referring to, but will try to clarify it and revise this blog post shortly.  I think she was referring to the death march after it passed through her village as she specified that it was in April 1945.  (My father related that on the death marches, as soon as they arrived at some distance from a town or village, the German guards would shoot prisoners who they thought could not continue, or would shoot a group of prisoners to reduce their numbers.)

Amalie said that more than 30 people were shot.  She said they may not have [all?] been Jews.  Germans who lived in Czechoslovakia were also among those who were executed – those who went against the regime.  Some of the graves in the woods are of German communists. None of the graves have names.

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I am arranging to have the notice board (above) translated, and will add the translation here.

Amalie’s mother asked a [German] soldier where they were taking the prisoners.  He responded:  “Up the hill, and when we’re done, you’re next.”  

Amalie heard the shooting and was shocked.  When they heard the shooting, she went out and saw a prisoner in a white-collared shirt lying by a small apple tree.  He couldn’t talk, but pointed to his mouth to indicate that he was hungry.  The German guards wouldn’t allow him to be given food.  On the way up the mountain, he grabbed some grass. He was about to put it in his mouth, when the German guard stabbed him with his bayonet.  Amalia was crying and shaking (as a girl) thinking of this man.

She was 13 when she witnessed the death march passing through her village. She turned 13 in February 45.  When Amalie saw the death march, she was shocked and couldn’t move.  Her mother went to sit in the creek for the whole day

Czech adults didn’t approach the death march.  Her mother and aunt went to hide.  The children approached the march because they were children and spoke German. The prisoners were so weak and helpless! 

I asked Amalie if she thought the woman who gave my father bread on the death march would have been Czech?  Amalie was sure that a German girl wouldn’t have handed him bread.  The Czech girl must have known what she was getting into. The guards were so threatening! It was huge, huge bravery! 

Until the War, nobody cared who was Czech, German, Jewish, Polish.  Only after the War started, such distinctions started to be made.  As soon as these distinctions started to be made, marriages started breaking up. 

Heller was a Jewish woman with a German husband.  He divorced her (after the German occupation) and she was deported together with their two daughters to Theresienstadt.

Amalie’s mother had had a hard time in 1937 when there was a rubella epidemic. Three of her children died.  She collapsed and received treatment for half a year.  After that, her peaceful place was in the creek where she would retreat to. 

Amalie’s father was Polish.  He was the only Polish person there, having come to that region when he was only 16. He had paid a farmer to keep (hide) the family, but her mother refused to leave.  As soon as he heard that the Germans were crossing the border, her father shot himself.  He had heard what the Germans had been doing to the Jews in Germany.  He committed suicide to save the family.  He could have killed the whole family together.  He shot himself to avoid deportation, and to save his family so that they wouldn’t be endangered by association with him. 

Previously her father would join the Germans going to work.  Once he shot himself, he became “the Polish bastard”. The Germans didn’t mind that the Jews were in the death march.  Before the War, the Germans wanted to leave for their “home country”.  Then [after the War] when they were being chased out, they didn’t want to go.  Her own uncle was one of the worst Germans who was beaten and chased out [after the War].  

28 German soldiers were put up in their house.  The officer would stay there all day.  He was very civil to her mother.  When a neighbour came round and said: “Do you know who you are drinking coffee with?” (in order to betray her because the family was Polish), the officer asked where the neighbour lived, and threatened her.

You couldn’t tell who was German, or who was Czech [or Jewish?] [from looking at or speaking to someone].  But once the War started, the [ethnic] Germans started feeling superior. 

The Jewish people were gassed in trucks, with the exhaust pipes discharging inside the trucks.  The local German people approved of this.  Her mother spent that day sitting in the creek.

Her older siblings protected Amalie from it.  She was the second youngest.  They didn’t talk about such things in front of her.  She was called a “Polish bitch” [by Germans?] once the War started.  They mostly spoke German at home.  Her parents were scared to speak in Czech.  After the War, her mother said she was not going to speak German anymore.

There were Germans who were neither communist nor pro-Hitler.  They wore white bands, and got food from the Russians. There were good and bad Germans.

It was a German-speaking region, and Amalie went to a German school.  There was only a German school in her area. Everyone went to it:  Jews, Czechs.  After the German occupation, at school, when she put up her hand to answer a question, her teacher told her there was no point in her learning.  Her teacher didn’t expect her to survive the War because of her Polish identity.  It was local Germans from Chomutov who were teaching in the school. 

The German pupils would get food first, and the Polish and Jewish pupils would get whatever was left, if anything.  They would be sitting on the steps [while the German pupils were eating]. In the winter, only the German pupils got meals at school, and the other children didn’t get anything.

The German flag was raised at school and the children had to raise their arms and say “Heil Hitler”. 

Amalie’s mother had lived through World War I, when she had had to be very self-reliant and creative (resourceful).  When there was a wheat harvest, her mother would collect whatever remnants were left on the field after the harvest, (although they were gardeners before the occupation) and would make little breads, and sprinkle sugar on top.  She told her children to eat these in the bathroom so that the other children wouldn’t laugh at them. 

Amalie’s cousin was mother to a six-week old baby.  As a punishment for giving frozen bread to a Polish worker, she was imprisoned for two months – despite having a six-week old baby at home.  The German mayor was nice, and arranged for her to be released early.

Amalie’s three sisters had to work as maids on local German farms.  They had to be German [i.e. the farmers they worked for].  They were nice people.  Ordinary people.  Some of the farmers could be mean to the girls [who worked for them].  It was forced, unpaid labour.  They were just given board and lodging. 

Her two older sisters were dating Germans, one of whom was very much in love with her sister and wanted to marry her.  He was sent to the Russian front, because he wanted to marry a Polish woman. 

Her brother was stationed with a Czech army unit guarding the border.  They were forced to surrender.  He went to Benechov and hid, so that he was not deported. Her younger brother worked in salt mines in Thuring.

Ritter was a nice farmer.  He would take a loaf of bread, carve it out and put lard in it, and give it to her mother. 

The German farmers were producing food for themselves and also had to give produce to the Nazis.

The Czech people were not allowed to breed animals or grow plants.  Amalie’s family used to have commercial gardens: they were gardeners who grew food [before the occupation], and now her mother had to collect remnants from fields after the harvest. 

I commented that the Czechs were being starved, like the Jews.  Amalie said that the German approach was that if you eliminate someone, you get what’s left.

Amalie’s first husband was from the Ukraine, from a village called Lapaus in the Damidovka district.  There, they brought the Jews to a forest and made them dig a grave. 

In Chomutov, there were lots of Jewish shop owners who were very nice. One Jewish shop owner would let his first customer have her shopping for free.  The second customer, he would let her have her shopping on credit.  If someone owed him money, he would come round and collect a little at a time.  He wouldn’t collect the whole debt at once. 

There was a Ukrainian general:  Vlasov who joined the German side.  When the tables turned, the “march” of Vlasov’s men took two days – to send them to Siberia.

There was a huge community of Czechs living in the Ukraine.  They came to the vacated farms (i.e. vacated by the expelled Germans.)

People need to know what was going on in the War.  Now they are making a lot of noise about how the Germans were expelled. But they are not talking about how the Germans behaved.  They would take a baby from its mother, and smash it against a wall. 

The Angel of Chomutov

Angel copy

Photo: Marilyn Herman 2018.  Angel – from a monument in Chomutov for protection against the bubonic plague.

In April 1945, my father, Abraham Herman (aged 14), and his brother, David Herman (aged 18), were prisoners on a forced death march from Rehmsdorf to Theresienstadt.  When they crossed over from Germany into the Czech Sudetenland, in the town of Chomutov, Czech bystanders were throwing food to the prisoners, but there would be such a scramble, the bread would break up, and nobody would get any.  (I have very recently visited Chomutov, and interviewed some people who lived through WWII.  They informed me that during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, ethnic Czechs and ethnic Poles were effectively subjected to a policy of slow starvation – with food rationing enforced to a degree that it was not possible to live on the rations alone.)  The German guards threatened to shoot anyone who gave the prisoners food. One heroic, defiant young woman ran inside the line of prisoners, placed bread firmly into Abraham’s hands, and as she ran back out, a German guard smashed the butt of his rifle down on her head and she fell.  In all likelihood, she never got up again.

I am composing a work to commemorate this unknown Czech heroine.  I was scouring poetry and psalms for words, and even ordered an anthology of Czech poetry with translation.  Finally, I decided to use my own words:

*

*

The Angel of Chomutov

*

To risk your life

to give bread

to a suffering child

Not knowing if he would live

another hour

another minute

*

*

To give your life

not knowing

if all he would live to know

was that you risked your life

to give him bread

*

*

Most precious of gifts

More than all the garnet of Bohemia

all the gems of Moravia

Your bread – bestower of life

*

*

To risk your life

not knowing

that the last thing you would do

would be to give bread

to another woman’s starving child

*

*

To give your life

to show a tortured child

Life almost extinguished

by forces of darkest destruction

To show this captive child

the precious value of his life

*

*

Tower

Photo:  Marilyn Herman 2018.  Chomutov 

For drivers – including bus & HGV drivers …& pedestrians – some things you need to understand about cyclists

England, London, City of London, Cyclist in Traffic
EEB04E England, London, City of London, Cyclist in Traffic

Yesterday, while cycling down a steep downhill stretch with a car constantly hooting behind me, I was moved to write this post.

London has become death city for cyclists.  When I go out on my bike, I make sure that I have something on me that can identify me.

There are a number of things that drivers need to understand about cyclists, to make drivers less lethal, and less detrimental to cyclists’ nervous systems.  I believe these points should be incorporated in the Highway Code for drivers.  (Some of them may already be.)

1.  Cyclists are as entitled as drivers to be on the roads.  The vast majority of us are drivers as well as cyclists, and have at least as much road sense as you (whether we drive or not), and when/if we own vehicles, pay road tax.  

2.  We are affected by gradients.  If we are cycling down a steep hill, we need both hands to be braking the whole time, and do not have a third arm to indicate.  We may manage a very rapid arm indication.  So you will know, if we move towards the centre of the road while slowing down, that we need to turn right.  And you will know if we slow down on the LHS of the road, that we need to turn left or stop.  (You would need to watch another vehicle in the same way to see what they are doing.  Just because a vehicle is indicating or not indicating, you cannot be sure of what the driver is going to do.)

3.  If we are cycling up a hill, we cannot cycle fast – especially if it is a steep hill.  Super-fit athletes can cycle faster than the rest of us – but that still won’t be as fast as on flat or downhill terrain.  So there is no point in continually honking at us because you’d like us to go faster uphill.  (Or yelling at us – especially if you are the female, blonde-haired, Eastern European driver of the 263 bus in East Finchley going towards Holloway.)  Some of us are cycling to get from A to B, rather than as training – so we are not aiming to arrive at point B in a massive sweat.  If we have a long way to cycle, we will need to pace ourselves, and not exert all our energy on an uphill stretch.  

4.  If we are on a mountain or hybrid bike, we have to work harder, and may not be able to cycle as fast on the road as someone on a road bike, because of our chunky tyres, and the weight and structure of our bikes.  And as with uphill cycling, we may wish to pace ourselves to conserve energy for a long ride, or in order not to arrive at our destination in a state of exhaustion and drenched with sweat.

5.  We understand that you need to go faster than us, and will move over so that you can overtake at suitable points.  But you need to be patient until those suitable points are available.

6.  We take up space, and we are entitled to that space.  If we pass parked cars, we need to allow a car-door’s width’s space to pass so that we are not knocked off our bikes by a suddenly-opening car door.  Similarly, we cannot, and do not have to, cycle in the gutter.  

7.  Please do not do an emergency stop in front of us for no good reason.  We cannot stop as suddenly as you can – especially going downhill.

8.  This is a point for pedestrians too, who see cyclists coming, but decide to cross right in front of us anyway, thinking we can stop in a split second.  We can’t, and will instinctively swerve, placing us in danger of passing or oncoming traffic.  So pedestrians, if a cyclist is approaching, wait for her/him to pass before crossing.

9.  The number of times I have been “shaved” by overtaking buses – especially in Oxford!  Here I will quote from: 

https://www.cyclinguk.org/blog/update-highway-code-make-cycling-safer-why-wouldnt-you

“Rule 163 requires that drivers “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”.  So far, so good – and how much room should be given when overtaking a car? – just enough to “not get too close”. I expect you see the problem.”

“As part of Cycling UK’s response to the Department for Transport’s cycling and walking safety review, we will propose a move from the vague notion of not getting “too close”, to a more clearly defined rule which gives objective guidance to drivers – and to courts. For example, the Code could cite a guideline of 1.5m as a safe overtaking distance at speeds up to 30mph, and 2.0m for higher speeds, while also urging drivers to leave wider gaps in bad weather, and advise those in charge of larger vehicles to take extra care.”

10.  I learned while driving my first car, a mini, that drivers of large cars tend to be bullies on the road.  And now cars can be larger than ever – like tanks, or minibuses!  So just because you drive a large car, you are not superior or more important or entitled than the rest of us!!!

This blog will probably be added to in future.

The feeling in the guts

Embed from Getty Images

 

In Buddhist meditation, we have the intention of working on our minds.  (Although that may be contentious:  the idea of having any goal in meditation, rather than just being in the meditation – even if that is to aim at being in the meditation). 

Since clinging was identified by Buddha as the cause of all suffering, we are aiming to let go of clinging, which we practise, by letting go of thoughts and of the breath.  We work to improve our mind states, to be present, and therefore to be aware of what comes up in the mind, and to let go of whatever comes up, whether we judge it to be positive or negative.

Akong Tulku Rinpoche (Restoring the Balance, p53) states:  “Most of us have fifty percent good and fifty percent bad.  So there is fifty percent to work on.”  That seems to me to be a high percentage of bad!

Jinananda – an angel to my mind – wrote in his blog two months before his death:

“There are still one or two people who I may have felt treated me badly at one time or another, that I’ve lost contact with, but you know, we’re all in the same boat.  Human beings do damage to each other.  And now it’s the damage I’ve done to those I love that I feel in the guts, not the damage done to me.”  (31.10.17)

https://jinanandasteen.blogspot.com

So this is not a good assessment of the human condition from a couple of Buddhists.  Most of us have 50% bad (and good), and “human beings do damage to each other”.  Bearing in mind that the ratio of bad to good is so high in most of us, we should not be surprised when we ourselves, or other people, do not live up to our expectations of consistent goodness.  Yet it is surely not productive to expect ourselves or other people to have approximately 50% of bad in them.  People often deliver according to their own and others’ expectations, so it would surely be more productive to set high expectations of goodness.  At any rate, I think there must be more variation in ratio of good to bad in people.  And these ratios will also vary at different stages of our lives.

So whenever I find myself particularly unable to let go of something in my mind; whenever I make what feel like catastrophic, yet avoidable, mistakes through carelessness or anger, I wonder whether Buddhist meditation is in fact doing me any real good.  I wonder if there has really been any point to spending hours of my life on the cushion.  (When I come across negativity in other meditators, I find it similarly paradoxical.)

Perhaps the difference is that after the fact of this cumulative meditation, I may be able to own up to my mistakes more quickly, or at all.  While my reaction might initially be defensive, and I may search for ways to mitigate or justify or even disown unskilful actions of mind, body or speech, I might now perhaps become aware of these things sooner.  It’s hard to know if I get fewer things wrong the longer I keep up a meditation practice – how can we know what we would have got wrong otherwise?

In aiming for or wanting something (non-clinging), we may be averse to and resistant to what we do not want (clinging), and Buddhism teaches us that we actually strengthen thoughts and feelings that we resist, by giving them energy.  This is why we practise letting go of thoughts.  So could our meditation, with such an intention, actually be strengthening our clinging through our resistance to it, instead of eroding it?  This may be the logic behind the ideal of sitting in meditation with no purpose.  Just to be with the sitting, with the body, and the breath.  (However, someone once pointed out that when we meditate, it is a good idea to set up conscious intentions, because otherwise unconscious intentions may take over.)

In speaking of intentions, these are apparently the driving force of karma:  the consequences of our actions.  To put it simplistically, actions deriving from positive intentions reap positive karma, and the opposite applies to actions deriving from negative intentions.  But in my experience, great harm may come about from actions where intentions have not been negative, and it is possible for positive consequences to result from actions deriving from negative intentions.  I have not found a way of reconciling this with ideas of karma, but welcome input/discussion on this.  Actions and intentions can be very mixed.  One can be doing something beautiful, such as caring for a child, and at the same time, mindlessly engage in idle gossip without negative intentions, which may result in someone being hurt.  Or in trying to protect oneself (a positive intention), one may unintentionally endanger someone else. 

According to Chogyam Trungpa, “The Sanity We Are Born With” apparently evades us thereafter unless we can avoid psychosis (manifested by our habitual reaction to our own projections) by developing an effective meditation practice.  

And according to Tibetan Lama Rinpoche Yeshe, meditation strengthens the mind.  These are certainly good reasons to meditate!

Many people come to meditation to find peace.  Chogyam Trungpa seems to scoff at the idea of using meditation as a tranquillizer.  The bigger aim of Buddhism is the cultivation of world peace;  the sum total of the cultivation of all our individual peace.

One kind of Buddhist meditation is known as “insight” meditation, and I have found, from time to time, that I seem to receive insight during meditation – particularly on meditation retreats.

To return to the quote from Jinananda’s blog:  “And now it’s the damage I’ve done to those I love that I feel in the guts, not the damage done to me.”  What can be done with that feeling in the guts?  The Buddhist way is to acknowledge the feeling, rather than to push it away.  To contact the feeling rather than find a way of evading it through self-medicating with drugs, or alcohol, or other distractions.  To be aware, and to resolve not to repeat negative actions.  I have come to the conclusion that there is no way of truly compensating or being compensated for harm caused to anyone, even if the harm was unintentional.  Feelings of guilt, which is in fact “self-hatred” are definitely not the answer.  But perhaps what some of us can expect, like Jinananda, as time starts to run out, is that feeling in the guts.

Jews who lived in Arab lands were NOT just fine! Jews in Yemen

YJ tefillin

Photo from Shalom Seri & Naftali Ben-David (Eds.) A Journey to Yemen and its Jews.  1991.  Tel Aviv.

It tends to be asserted – and has been for decades – generally by those who oppose Israel, that Jews who lived in Arab lands were just fine – that there were no problems between Arabs and Jews before the State of Israel was established. This assertion is made with absolutely no knowledge of the facts! The message intended to be conveyed is that it is the fact of Israel’s establishment and existence that is the source of all problems between Arabs or Muslims and Jews in the Middle East.

Having researched on the situation of Jews in Yemen during the period preceding their main exodus to Israel in the 1950s “on the wings of eagles”, I am in a position to respond to such assertions with particular reference to Yemen. So I’ll provide a brief account of the situation of Jews in Yemen, mainly from the time of the second Ottoman occupation of that country in 1872 which lasted until 1918, after which time it came under the rule of Zaydi imams.

The Arab population of Yemen was divided between a number of Muslim sects. The ruling sect was the Zaydi (Shi’ite) sect. Judaism was the only other religion to have survived in Yemen apart from Islam.

Rank
Jews came at the bottom of the hierarchical system in Yemen. This system was caste-like in respect of there being a traditional connection between rank and occupation, and prohibitions of various degrees existing against intermarriage and the sharing of meals between members of different ranks. In order of descent, the ranking system was as follows:

I Royal lineage and some other Zaydi lineages.
II Sayyids – holy men, who claimed descent from Husayn and Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed.
III Mashayikh – large landowners and religious scholars. (Bujra 1971)

The above three ranks were accorded prestige and authority. Further down along the scale were:
IV Gabili – small landowners and free farmers.
V Merchants
VI Pedlars, vagrants, slaves and other pariah groups
VII Ahl-Al-Dhimmi – protected peoples who, in Yemen, were the Jews.

It seems that in rural areas, category VI (above) was actually considered, and treated as ranking, lower than the Jews – at least among the tribespeople.

Although the Jews had no choice but to tolerate the place allocated to them in Yemenite society, I find no evidence that they accepted that they were inferior to anyone because of their rank. It is interesting to note that they referred to the class of Muslim holy men as “impures” (teme’im), (or “Jew baiters”,) expressing contempt.

Anti-Jewish legislation
During the first century of the spread of Islam, Muslims were a minority in the countries they conquered, and had to depend on the conquered peoples for their military security, administration, food, and finance. However, during the second and third centuries of the Islamic era, Muslims became the majority in all the conquered countries. At this time, they developed an elaborate religious law, and began to pass anti-Jewish and anti-Christian legislation, some of which was taken directly from Byzantine anti-Jewish legislation, and which continued to apply in Yemen up to the time when the majority of the Yemenite Jews were flown to Israel in “Operation Magic Carpet” in 1949 and 1950.

The status of the Jews in Yemen was governed by two sets of laws: those deriving from the Covenant of Omar, and those specific to Zaydi legislation in Yemen. The Covenant of Omar, originally attributed to the second caliph, Umar ibn Khattab (d. 644), is a collection of discriminatory regulations and restrictions applied to the Ahl al Dhimma (people of the covenant) – protected peoples – this status being open to Ahl Ketab (people of the Scriptures) – Christians and Jews. These regulations were issued by various Caliphs and sultans from the early years of the eighth century to the mid 14th century when the Covenant received its finishing touches, whenever religious fanaticism or envy directed towards the protected peoples spilt over. They were intended as interpretations of the following prescription of Mohammed:

Fight those who do not practice the religion of truth from among those to whom the Book has been brought, until they pay the tribute by their hands, and they be reduced low.

Because Jews and Christians are believers in the essential truth: that there is one God, they have a right to be protected together with their property. However, they only have this right so long as they pay jizzyah (poll tax) and comply with a number of other laws. The (unrealisable) idea behind the payment of jizzyah was that while Muslims should be responsible for defence and administration, the infidels should bear the entire fiscal burden of the country and the task of keeping up its economy.

According to the Covenant of Omar:
I Jews could not bear witness against a Muslim, or give testimony in a Muslim court. This in theory deprived Jews of any legal rights, but in Yemen, this severe disadvantage was counterbalanced by the institution of “protected comradeship”, as described below.
II Ahl al Dhimma could not carry arms or ride on horseback, as this would give them an advantage over some Muslims in terms of power or height.
III They had to display a respectful attitude towards Muslims. On passing a Muslim, a Jew had to walk on his left side. They were not permitted to engage in any conduct considered offensive to Muslims, such as blowing the shofar loudly, praying loudly, or displaying the cross in public. (A shofar is a ram’s horn blown on the Jewish New Year and other solemn religious occasions.)
VI They could not build their houses higher than those of Muslims.
V They had to dress differently from Muslims.
VI They could not attain to government posts, since prestige and authority attached to such posts could accrue only to Muslims.
VII Non-Muslim doctors or pharmacists were forbidden to treat Muslims on the grounds that they might poison them, or that through control of a patient’s body, they might also gain control over his soul. (In practice, Jews were appointed doctors, and even viziers, to sultans and imams in many Islamic countries, including Yemen.)
VIII Some law books of Islam state that a non-Muslim may not engage in the same commerce as Muslims. This was reiterated in a public proclamation by the Imam of Yemen in 1905, but its application was limited. The most ancient law books of Islam discriminate against non-Muslims in the economic field by imposing customs duties at 5% on the value of their merchandise, whereas Muslim merchants paid two and a half per cent, and the minimum value of consignment on which duties were paid was 40 dinars for a Muslim, and 20 dinars for a non-Muslim.
IX Non-Muslims were not permitted to use saddles.
X They could not look upon the genitals of a Muslim in the bath house, while separate bath houses were to be built for Jewish women so that they did not bathe together with Muslim women.
XI Non-Muslims, as well as Muslims, were forbidden to lend money for interest.
XII Finally, Jews were not permitted to study the Torah outside the synagogue.

In Yemen, Jews were subjected to the above legislation in varying degrees of intensity, up to the time when they left.

In addition to the Covenant of Omar, regulations specific to Yemen were imposed upon Jews, who were often called upon to carry out tasks thought to contaminate Muslims. Tobi (1999) relates that the introduction of discriminatory laws began in Yemen in the 15th century with a significant change in attitude of the Zaydi government towards Jews. When the Ottomans governed a large part of Central Yemen 1872 to 1919, they tried to raise the status of Jews to a level equivalent to that held by Jews elsewhere in their empire. But their efforts ceased in the face of opposition on the part of sectors of the Yemenite population and religious scholars. However, tribal sheikhs did not strictly enforce these laws. For example, while in San’a (Yemen’s capital) Jewish houses were lower in structure than Muslim houses, there was mostly no difference between their heights in rural districts. In the North and North East of Yemen, Jews, similarly to the local tribesmen, carried arms, and in Northern Yemen, Jews were even taught to use guns by tribesmen.

According to Tobi, the Yemenite governments were among the most extreme of the Islamic countries with regard to their treatment of Jews as anjâs (unclean). In San’a, the decree of the “scrapers” or “dung gatherers” was revived from 1846 until 1950, having previously been imposed on them from 1806 to 1808. This decree stipulated that Jews be forced to clean the sewers in the city. Jews were also obliged to remove camel and horse carcasses as part of the decree, and clear accumulated filth from Muslim streets, and the dead body of a Christian had to be buried by Jews. In practice, a small proportion of Jews were willing to carry out these tasks for a higher than normal remuneration on behalf of the Jewish community, and Nini (1991) relates how this resulted in a type of “caste” of “untouchables” among the Yemenite Jews, this status being passed down within the families, and with other families refraining from marrying from among them. These Jews were not called up in the synagogue to read the Torah, nor invited to festive occasions. Their children were excluded from studying with other children. Under Arab rule, the “dung gatherers” were unpaid for this work, but under the Ottomans, they were paid gold pounds and silver coins, and their economic situation improved. This decree was a strong motivating factor in the migration of San’ian Jews to Palestine from 1881, and the dispersal of Jews throughout Yemen and into Egypt. In 1949, Muslims in San’a prevented the migration of “dung gatherers” to Israel.

Upon the capture of San’a by the Ottoman Ahmad Mukhtar who was well disposed towards the Jews, the “decree of the dung gatherers” and the “orphans’ decree (see below) imposed on Jews were temporarily abrogated. However, this met with strong pressure applied by the Muslim religious dignitaries of San’a to reinstate these decrees. Similarly under pressure exerted by these Muslim religious dignitaries, the jizzyah (poll tax) previously imposed on the Jews of San’a was revived and raised from 27 to 77 riyals per month. Despite the positive intentions of Ahmad Mukhtar and the initial Ottoman administration towards their Jews, according to Nini, illegal taxes and bribes and their arbitrary and forceful extortion, became more prevalent under the Ottomans.

According to Nini, between 1882 and 1900, payment of jizzyah was one of the greatest burdens endured by the San’a community. During the Festival of Succoth 1990, Ottoman troops broke into the Jewish quarter of San’a and arrested ten of the most prominent community leaders, who were the overseers of the jizzyah payment. They were incarcerated and tortured for three months, while the Ottoman administration appealed to the Jewish religious court to make payment. This situation motivated a number of Jews to migrate to Palestine.

Jews under the protection of the Zaydi tribes in North and North East Yemen, where the Ottomans were not in control, were obliged to pay jizzyah to the central authority in San’a and also to pay the tribes under whose protection they were living. A compromise was reached where a symbolic payment was made to the tribal Sheikh.

Another calamitous regulation imposed on the Yemenite Jews by the Ottoman authorities was the “decree of the stretcher-bearers” in 1875.  This decree imposed on the San’ian Jewish community the task of carrying wounded soldiers from San’a through Manakha to Hudayda. This was a treacherous journey along narrow winding paths at the edge of precipices, which was dangerous even for an unladen traveller. On the eve of the festival of Succoth, they were ordered to send 80 Jews to carry wounded Ottoman solders. This entailed desecrating the holy festival. Therefore the Jewish community leaders refused to comply with this command unless those commandeered were specifically requested by name.

“On the following day a manhunt was held in the Jewish quarter, and those apprehended were cruelly beaten. Some of them succeeded in bribing the local Muslim soldiers and evading arrest. Those caught were thrown into jail when four were allocated a wounded soldier and the terrible journey to Manākha commenced. The accompanying troops urged the Jews on with whip lashes.” (Nini, 1991, 74)

A number of stretcher-bearers died by the wayside on the treacherous route. They had been forced to desecrate both the Sabbath and a holy festival, which was something unheard of under the Zaydi regime before the Ottoman occupation. Zaydi Imams and local rulers were most careful not to incur such desecration. Any Jews summoned to the Zaydi authorities on the eve of the Sabbath could evoke the Prophet’s protection of the Jewish Sabbath, and delay presenting himself until after the Sabbath.

Another hardship specifically suffered in the 19th century by those Jews who were in charge of minting coins, were accusations of counterfeiting coins. According to Nini, these accusations were almost all groundless.

From the time of their conquest in 1892, the Ottoman Turks forced the Jewish community of San’a to mill grain for their soldiers, failing which Jews and Yemenite Muslims would be beaten by Ottoman soldiers. Jewish women were therefore forced to mill flour for the Ottoman troops, and when this was too strenuous for them, they would be helped by their menfolk. At the turn of the 20th century, after years of drought and famine, many Jews had moved to the villages of Yemen, or to Palestine or Egypt. Thus the Jewish population of San’a diminished considerably, and yet the milling quota imposed on them remained the same. The imposition of this “flour-milling decree” entailed the violation of their holy festival of Passover, as the Jews were unable to keep their milling stones kosher in accordance with the rules of Passover, and led to the migration of many Sa’nian Jews to Palestine.

Another great hardship and violation suffered by the Jews of San’a in the 20th century was perpetrated by Imam Yahya al-Muta Walkil after ascending to power, when he had all the synagogues built in San’a during Turkish rule destroyed.

In accordance with Orthodox Islam, conversion to Islam should not be achieved by force, and according to Nini, there is no mention in Muslim law of a religious injunction to convert to Islam the “People of the Book”. However, in Yemen, in their eagerness to gain proselytes, an edict issued in 1921 and enacted upon with vigour from 1925 dictated the forced conversion of orphans. This decree was in force in the 19th century up until the Ottoman conquests in 1840 – 1872, and 1872-1905, and was then revived in the 1920s under pressure from “fanatical religious dignitaries”. Tobi describes Zaydi-ruled Yemen as unique among the Muslim states in its promulgation of the Orphans’ Law and Dung Collectors Law. (Besides religious zeal, another factor which gave rise to this edict may have been the Imam’s need, from time to time, to fill vacancies in his “orphanages”, which were in fact military academies.) An orphan was defined as one whose father had died before he or she had attained puberty, and was to be converted even if in the meantime he or she had grown up and married. According to Goitein, the legal basis for this is found in a statement attributed to Mohammed, that everyone is born into a natural state of religion – that is, Islam – and that other religions are merely customs taught to a child by his parents. As the mortality rate was very high in Yemen, mothers were often separated in this way from their children, and brothers and sisters separated from each other. Attempts were made to save orphans from such a fate. They would be sent to other villages where they could be passed off as the children of relatives, or anyone who would look after them. Such attempts were not always successful, and it was not uncommon that they were betrayed by their own people. This is the law which Yemenite Jews found most intolerable, and felt most bitter about. In Zaydi tribal areas, however, Nini informs us that conversion was not enforced, and orphans would therefore be sent there for refuge.

There were also other circumstances in which proselytes were made. Jews converted to Islam to escape the consequences of false accusations, and other desperate situations. In times of famine, many Jews (apparently, mostly women) accepted Islam as the only means of obtaining food from the Imam for themselves and their children. An example of this was in 1905 when Imām Yahyā Ibn Muhammad Hamīd al-Din planned a rebellion against the Ottoman rulers. He ordered his followers to lay siege to Ottoman-ruled cities, including San’a, where an estimated 6000 Jews starved to death: 80% of the Jewish population of San’a. Mass conversions to Islam occurred at this time among the Jewish population, as the Muslim clergy cared for converts.

The right to leave Yemen was denied to Jews, for once they left the territory, they forfeited their right to security of their persons and property. The reason for this restriction was perhaps the desire to keep their craft skills in Yemen, or else to inhibit their trading. In particular, the territories of the enemy: Turkey, and those under the British protectorate, were considered out of bounds. In practice, however, there were many Jews who managed to leave Yemen. This was facilitated by the British conquest of Aden in 1839. Many of Aden’s 800 original inhabitants were Jewish, and as a British protectorate, the city became a flourishing port, attracting Jews from other parts of Yemen. From here, they were able to migrate to other countries. Nini states that Jews migrated to Aden, Egypt, Ethiopia, India and Palestine, while Muslims also migrated to neighbouring countries.

The Jews of Yemen lived separately from Muslims, in separate villages, or different quarters in the towns. In San’a, this prohibition originated in the time when its Jews were expelled to the uninhabitable region of Mawza (1679-1680) where their population was decimated. When it was subsequently realised that there were no craftsmen left in San’a, those Jews surviving were allowed to return, but were forced to take up residence outside the city walls, rather than return to their homes. However, in the case of smaller villages where there were only a few Jewish families, Jewish communities did not live separately from the Muslim population.

The interpretation and enforcement of the restrictions and prohibitions imposed on the Jews in Yemen varied from district to district, and from one period to another. For the two centuries preceding the Jews’ departure from Yemen, their majority were mostly located in Zaydi regions. The Northern tribes were independent of the government in San’a, and in their regions, the status of the Jews was in effect determined by the tribal code of honour rather than any restrictive regulations derived indigenously, or from the Covenant of Omar. Eraqi-Klorman (2009) states that tribal law would override Shariah in these regions. Y. Saphir (1886) reported in the second half of the 19th century that in almost all the Jewish communities in central Yemenite plateau, Jews were found who had fled from San’a because of oppression encountered there.

The extent to which the laws were imposed upon Jews depended a great deal on the good-will of their Muslim neighbours. Habshush, the San’ian Jew who narrates Travels in Yemen (Goitein,1941), informs us, for example, that the Jews in al-Madid were relatively well-off since the Nihm tribesmen were “good-natured”, and it did not matter to them if a Jew raised his voice or built his house too high. In this part of Arabia, he continues, the tribal code of honour alone counted, even to the exclusion of the law of Mohammed. According to the former, “the overlord is judged according to his protégés”. Therefore, the welfare of the Jews of Nihm was an indication of the quality of the tribe of Nihm itself.

This point on Jews’ welfare depending on the goodwill of their neighbours is also borne out by Tobi. For example, despite the restrictions stipulated in the Covenant of Omar against Jews’ bearing arms, and this not being “customary” in Yemen – (although it was Jews who manufactured weapons) – he states that Jews in northern Yemen were not bound by this restriction and went about armed and unfearful. In fact, they identified with the tribes among whom they lived, and supported and co-operated with the Imams in their revolts against the Ottoman occupiers, sometimes joining the forces against them. (In this way, they contrasted with the Jews of central and Southern Yemen, where it appears they favoured the Ottoman and the British rulers, according to Tobi, in the case of the Ottomans, presumably before their rule became oppressive. When the Ottomans conquered Yemen in 1872, “The Jews greeted the event as a miracle”.  [Nini, 1991] This joy was particularly held by the Jews of San’a who lacked tribal protection, and were vulnerable to tribal attacks. They thought that the Ottoman presence would protect them from the sieges and starvation these onslaughts incurred.)

According to Tobi, there is a great deal of evidence that in central and Southern Yemen, the prohibition against riding on horseback was enforced. Only a sick Jew was allowed to ride a donkey, and then was required to yell: “’ala ra’yah” (“By your leave!”) in order to placate any passing Muslim. In San’a, in 1936, Muslims were allowed to haul Jews off their donkeys. In N.E Yemen, by contrast, riding was permitted to Jews even on horseback.

In Central Yemen, Jews wore black only in obedience to a government decree against fine clothing, and for fear of arousing envy among Muslims. In 1667, the Decree of the Headgear was implemented, forbidding Jews to wear elaborate turbans . However, in North Yemen, Jews are depicted in colourful and resplendent clothes and turbans.

Following “messianic activity” in 1667, Jews were ordered to grow sidelocks – which was not in force in Northern Yemen.

In accordance with the Covenant of Omar, Jews were forbidden to build houses higher than those of Muslims. While this was the case in San’a, and perhaps in other cities and large towns, again, in Northern Yemen, this stipulation was not enforced, and Eraqi-Klorman states that there was mostly no difference in height between Muslim and Jewish dwellings in rural areas. Tobi relates that in Sa’dah and Haydan, there were some grand Jewish houses 5 or 6 storeys high, with some 15-20 rooms. In the district of Barat, Jews and Muslims did not live in separate quarters.

Other stipulations specific to Yemen or deriving from the Covenant of Omar – relating to the “uncleanness” of Jews in the eyes of Zaydis, a Jew’s obligation to pass a Muslim on his left side, and the disqualification of a Jew’s testimony, were not in force in Northern Yemen.

The majority of Jews depended for their wellbeing on an institution called “protected comradeship”, whereby a Jew, or a whole village of Jews, submitted themselves by a solemn ritual of sacrifice to the protection of a powerful tribe (or even several) – in particular its Sheikh – for whom it was a matter of the highest honour to administer justice. (Subordinate Muslim groups such as the Qarawi, also acquired tribal protection in the same way.) A tribal chief was obliged to accept a request for tribal protection, otherwise his reputation would be at stake. Eraqi-Klorman states that the obligation of a tribe to protect a jar (protected subject), and the shame of any failure to do so, was related to viewing the Jews as a weak group within the tribe, and to “perceiving their men as having a blurred gender identity, as not being real men”.

The following account (Goiten, 1947) indicates the efficacy of the institution of “protected comradeship”. Joseph Shukr, a Jewish protected comrade of Bait Luhum – the most powerful tribe in the district – was repairing a leather bucket at a farmer’s house, when a “half-witted” Muslim approached him and, before Joseph realised his intention, struck him on the head with a piece of wood so violently that he died immediately. Afterwards, the murderer asserted that the Jew had bewitched him into murdering him. The news of the murder spread quickly throughout the whole village and to nearby hamlets, until, that evening, 2,000 farmers of the Bait Luhum tribe had armed themselves while a similar number had made their way to Ibn Mesar, the advocate for the murderer, also prepared for battle. Eventually, the noblest sheikhs of the four greatest tribes of Yemen were called upon to judge the matter, and decided that since the murderer was not in full possession of his faculties, he was not really responsible for his crime, which could not therefore be avenged with blood. Instead, his advocate was ordered to pay quadruple blood money: twice for the family of the murdered Jewish man, and twice for the protector, and in addition, he had to meet the very high legal costs. This judgement was accepted and fulfilled by Ibn Mesar, and the murder was thus considered avenged. This was essential to the Muslims, for if the crime had remained unavenged, the murdered Jew would “ride on the murderer” at the last judgement.

Muslims can forgive one another, but Allah himself takes care of the unprotected Jew’s revenge. (Goitein, 1947)

Therefore, while Jews may have been considered as “weak”, we can see that fear was a factor in their protection: that they were feared – particularly in the hereafter.

The Jews’ observance of their religion was a matter of concern to tribesmen in Yemen.  Muslims were dependent for their well-being on Jews’ observance of their religious laws, and therefore felt threatened by Jews who flouted any of these laws that they were aware of – the main one being the commandment which is the most important for Jews:  observance of the Sabbath.  For example, Klorman recounts an incident in which a Jewish man, Shar’abi, returned late after business dealings, and arrived home only barely in time for the Sabbath.  The village sheikh, ‘Ali Qa’id, shouted at him angrily for being late, and for having insufficient time to prepare for the Sabbath, which he was therefore in danger of desecrating.  It seems that the concern of the tribesmen was that any irreligiosity would adversely affect the whole community, including Muslims.  Therefore they saw the Jews’ compliance with their own laws as a responsibility they bore on behalf of everyone.

Jews would be called upon to hold prayers for rain at times of drought, being believed to have control over the climate.  But its corollary also applied:  Jews were believed to have the power to disrupt the climate and halt rainfall.

Some Jews were renowned for specialized magic skills, such as the power to control demons and exorcise them from people who had become possessed by them.  However, with this dependency and belief in Jews’ power came fear that Jews could use such power for harmful purposes.  Klorman mentions sources relating to Jews intentionally performing sorcery, and to Jews whose actions were incorrectly interpreted as sorcery, and who were therefore “punished”.  Klorman describes the case of Ba’al Hefetz (literally:  “Owner of the book” – a title attributed to a mori with kabbalistic knowledge of the Book of Zohar) Busi Shalom from the village of Hamd Sulayman in the Shar’ Ab district, at the beginning of the 20th century.  The area’s tribesmen:

“…sensed that something was wrong about this Jew.  They suspected that he was causing trouble with their women, and that he instigated wives to dislike their husbands and created hatred between them.  Therefore they ambushed him on the road, caught him, and tied him in a sack and threw him into a reservoir.”  (Klorman 2009:129)

Therefore beliefs were held by Muslim tribesmen in a Ba’al Hefetz’s ability to control other people’s minds.

The respect and dependency of Muslims on the religious observance of Jews, and on mystical powers attributed to them, which placed upon Muslim tribesmen the imperative to protect Jews and their religious observance, could and sometimes did, it seems, turn to fear of their relationship with mystical sources, which could become dangerous and fatal for Jews who found themselves as the target of such fear.

Yemenite woman

Woman in rustic dress.  Photo from Daughter of Yemen, edited by Shalom Seri

Economic Situation
The Jews of Yemen were scattered throughout the whole of Yemen in more than 1,000 localities: villages, towns, and some cities. 85% of Yemenite Jews lived in rural or tribal areas in order to be near their clients who were generally farmers.

By law, Jews could not engage in the same occupations as Muslims who, in Yemen, were predominantly agricultural. Nevertheless, Barer (1952) was told by Yemenite Jews that about half of their numbers were farmers: that Jewish villagers frequently had their own fields, wells, fruit trees and olive groves. However, they were not permitted to be freeholders, but had to lease their land from Muslims. In San’a and the seaports, some Jews were merchants, dealing especially in coffee. Primarily, the Jews filled an occupational niche in Yemen as craftsmen, whose skills were passed down from father to son. As the country’s craftspeople, the Muslim population was dependent on their skills.

Nevertheless, the Jews were far more dependent economically on the Muslims than vice versa, for in the considerable times of famine and drought, the Muslims could temporarily dispense with the products of the Jews, whereas the Jews could not do without the agricultural produce of the Muslims. The Jews, therefore, felt such calamities most severely. In particular, Nini refers to the drought and famine of the 1890s, and subsequently of 1903 which “decimated the population” of San’a.

For most of the period dealt with here, it seems Jews were safer and better off with the tribespeople particularly in the North and North Eastern regions of Yemen, than they were in San’a and the major cities. Yet they were nevertheless subject peoples: clients, and there was therefore a significant power imbalance. Moreover, while fear was a factor motivating their protection, it was also something which could place their lives in great danger even in these very regions where they were otherwise relatively safe, dignified, and well-protected.

Therefore, it cannot be said that relations between Jews and Arabs in Yemen were fine until the establishment of Israel as a modern state. Throughout their long history in Yemen, they went through periods of enormous hardship and suffering. Even in the tribal areas where Jews may have been relatively well-off, their position was precarious and in times of drought and famine, they were at a great disadvantage. Since their position was tied to the need for protection and the goodwill of their neighbours rather than any fundamental human and civil rights, this placed them in a very dependent position, which could change with the ecological or political situation.

YJ 3 generations

Photo from Shalom Seri & Naftali Ben-David (Eds.) A Journey to Yemen and its Jews.  1991.  Tel Aviv.

References:

Barer, S. 1952. The Magic Carpet. London, Secker and Warburg. 101.
Bujra, A.S. 1971. Politics of Stratification: A Study of Political Change in a South Arabian Town. Oxford University Press.
“Economic History” in Encyclopaedia Judaica, VI. Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem Ltd. 1972.
Esposito, J.L. 2004. The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford University Press. New York.
Eraqi Klorman, Bat-Zion. 2009. “Yemen: Religion, magic, and Jews”, in Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 39. 2009. 125-134.
Goitein, S.D. 1964. Jews and Arabs: their contacts through the ages. Schocken Books, New York.

Goitein, S.D.  1947.  Tales from the land of Sheba.  Schocken Books, New York.

Goitein, S.D. (Ed.) 1941. Travels in Yemen. (English synopsis.) Jerusalem, Hebrew University Press.
Nini, Yehuda. 1991. The Jews of Yemen 1800 – 1914. Harwood Academic Publishers, Oxford, Zurich.

Rodinson, M. 1977. Mohammed. (Translated: A. Carter.) Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.

Saphir, Y. 1866. Even Sapir. Jerusalem.
Tobi, Yosef. 1999. The Jews of Yemen. Studies in Their History and Culture. Brill. Leiden, Boston, Köln.

Music by Contemporary Women Composers

Music by contemporary catherine

Including my “Vocalise” for Flute, Oboe and Clarinet in Bb.  (My surname only has one of each letter!)  Called “Vocalise” because I set out to write a “Vocalise” for voice and clarinet – but it took on a life of its own (as these things do), and became a work more suited to instrumental forces – winds.  But I retained the title.  I can’t wait to hear it performed by these superb musicians!  And I love the atmosphere of the venue!

If there is a soprano out there who feels she would like to give the flute part a go, that would be great too!  I would love to hear that!

Also, great that this concert is contributing towards putting women composers on the map.  Women have been grossly ignored in the world of classical composition throughout its history.  Today, when there is no shortage of women composers, there is no excuse.  Just a couple or so years ago, not a single work by a woman composer was played throughout the entire summer prom series!  And in the days when massive CD stores were still gracing the West End’s main streets (London), I went into the largest classical CD section to be found in a CD store in London (Tottenham Court Road) and could not find a single CD featuring works by women composers.

Shadows – projecting our dark sides – or not!

People shadows on sunny city street

Sometimes we may perceive things in people that we react to.  Our reaction may be positive or negative. Is is about us? Is it about them?  As my dear late friend said: “If you don’t like cucumbers, it’s about you, and it’s also about cucumbers.”

We all have different constitutions, and different sensitivities. Some people take in more information than others – they may be psychically more open, because they have inherited a genetic state of being so, because they have been on the receiving end of some tremendous shock, or because they are tired, ill, hungry or in a state of fear, or their energy field has been severely depleted by being poisoned by chemotherapy or other toxic “treatment”.

I can’t remember in which book it was that D M Thomas or one of his characters comments that everyone becomes psychic in a wartime – no doubt because of being in a greater state of fear, and in a state of fine attunement to danger.

Then there is the theory of our shadows, promulgated by Jung, but embraced by many including Deepak Chopra. According to this theory, our shadows – rather than being insubstantial as real shadows are – contain all our self-rejected inclinations and emotions, all our denied negative characteristics: our dark sides! These we project on everything we don’t like.

There are people who take this rather far: everything we dislike, fear, or are repelled by, represents something we have rejected in ourselves that we are projecting on others. We are in a state of flight from our own shadows, and will try anything to suppress, tackle, subdue manifestations from the dark corners of our minds – including or especially self-medication! In order to dissociate ourselves from such shadow components, we may attribute them to others. Such subdued emotions may then, according to such a theory, leap out of their bonds in all manner of forms, including mental illness.

A lot of judgement and assumption is involved in applying such a theory – which is  just one more way of trying to make sense of phenomena by labeling them and fitting them neatly into compartments.

It is an interesting exercise to apply this theory to ourselves. If I feel aversion towards a stranger, is it something in myself that I am projecting on that poor unsuspecting person? Observing myself, I have noticed that when I have felt aversion towards a complete stranger, it may be because this person physically resembles someone who may have harmed me in some way.  (This of course is another kind of projection.). I will then have to tell myself that this is not the same person! That my reaction is unfair.

Generally, in cases of aversion, there are very many sources, and in each case, more than one source may be at work. Very often it is jealousy. Sometimes a person is emanating an energy redolent of a negative emotion which may repel us: one does not have to be extraordinarily psychic to sense anger or aggression emanating from a person, which will cause us to wish to keep a distance. The person may have a valid reason for feeling such a way – it does not have to mean she/he is a bad person – and that energy which may repel us may be very temporary.

These are all cases where projection of our own dark side is not an explanatory factor in why we may feel aversion towards a stranger.

People often reveal elements of their personalities, mind states and intentions in so many ways:   through the way they hold themselves, and they way they move, more obviously facial expressions, their aura…..if we react with aversion – this again does not represent projection of our own dark side.

Thich Nhat Hanh describes the Tibetan Buddhist idea of all the emotions being present in each one of us but as seeds; any one can arise, but through meditation we can learn to recognize when a thought generating an emotion (or vice versa) arises, and allow both the thought and the emotion to subside again. There is no shadow – no dark side; there are simply seeds which we may feed, and allow to grow, or which we may allow to dissolve back to seed-state.

Much as there is a great deal of projection going around, this simplistic idea of projection of our dark side onto anyone we don’t like simply doesn’t hold water as an explanatory factor for all, or even most, cases of aversion. We human beings are far more complex than that! And in some cases, far more straightforward!

Mac said not

                                           20170213_114040View from unglazed window of beach hut when I threw open the shutter each morning – Mac Bay Resort 1989

(Doo dun doo dun doo dee)                  I left Bangkok

(Doo dun doo dun doo dee doo)                    I thought I could rot

                    (Doo dun doo dun doo dee)                   & no-one would know

(Doo dun doo dun doo dee doo)                But Mac said not

I was once invited to tell a story about someone’s kindness, and this is the story I told:

My father died of cancer a long time ago now.

Not long afterwards, at a dinner where my siblings and I were of silent and flat mood, so it was difficult to know what to say to us, my cousin’s wife suddenly had an idea: “I know! You could go to Thailand!”

So I went to Thailand.  Though I thought: “I could rot there, and no-one would know.”  This is how my father’s death left me feeling.

On the plane to Bangkok, again, I thought:   “I could rot, and no-one would know.”  But I was distracted from thinking that for long.  The woman next to me on the plane was travelling there for her nephew’s ordainment as a monk in Bangkok, and invited me.

I spent a week in Bangkok. Then I took the sleeper train down south – through the day, through the night, and in the morning I took the boat to Koh (Island) Samui, and from there, another boat to Koh Phanang. (This was in the days before the Full Moon Parties, when travellers wore local clothes and ate local food! When there was just one tiny shop where you could buy toilet paper, water and mosquito coils.)

On the boat, resort owners from Koh Phanang were wooing travellers – showing pictures of their resorts. Mac wooed me and won my custom. I got behind him on his motorbike holding my guitar in one hand, holding onto Mac with my other arm, my excruciatingly uncomfortable rucksack on my back.  Over rough & bumpy terrain – no road that I can remember – we arrived at Mac Bay Resort.  Just a handful of huts on the beach which he’d built himself.  He was never going to have more than 10 huts, he told me.  (This was in the days before there was hot water there, and when we had to flush the toilets by pouring down bowlsful of water scooped from a bucket.  We did however have showers, while the locals would walk to the local pump in the privacy of dusk, and soap and sluice themselves with bowlsful of water in their sarongs.)

And I thought: “I could rot, and no-one would know.”

Since the journey to Koh Phanang with the overnight train-ride had been exhausting, I went straight to bed and slept for a long time.  When I finally got up and went to the restaurant of Mac’s resort to get something to eat, Mac commented: “You slept for a long time!  I was worried!  I thought that you were sick.”

I went for a swim. The sea was very shallow on that beach, so I had to go out far to reach water deep enough to swim in.  There were sharks, I was told, but they were “friendly sharks”!  I wasn’t very reassured, but I needed my swim!  When I got out of the sea, Mac observed: “You were swimming for a long time, and you went very far out!”

It seemed that Mac was looking out for me, and I stopped thinking that I could rot and no-one would know!

Mac brought out some photos of his brother’s funeral.  Mac had been studying Tourism at a university in Australia (where his wife was at the moment, introducing their baby – “a very beautiful baby” – to her family), when his brother was killed in a car accident in Bangkok.  His parents didn’t let Mac know while he was in Australia, because they didn’t want him to abandon his studies.  If he’d come to Thailand for the funeral, he wouldn’t have been able to afford to return to Australia.  So for a year, Mac wondered why his brother never answered his letters.  “He was a very good person…a very good person”, Mac told me, as we looked through the photos.

At this point, I started to cry.  I then told Mac that my father had died just 4 months previously.  Mac took me on his motorbike to a monastery on the island, and said it might help me to stay there for a while.  But I said I couldn’t meditate in front of a statue of Buddha!  (Little did I know that I would spend many years meditating in front of statues of Buddha in the future!)

* * *

When I told this story about Mac’s kindness, some people came up to me and said they’d done that journey from Bangkok to Koh Phanang!  The overnight train…the boats…

14 years later, I returned to Koh Phanang.  By this time, there was an airport on Koh Samui so I could just fly straight there, and then take a boat the next day to Koh Phanang.  Mac Bay Resort was still there, but the original 10 wooden huts had been pulled down, and there was instead a multitude of stone huts with hot water and flushing toilets!

His brother remembered me even though I had only stayed there for a week 14 years previously.  He showed me his guitar, which he said he had bought because of the guitar I had brought with me 14 years before, and because of my singing and playing on the verandah of my hut!   This time, I didn’t have a guitar with me, but there was a music shop where I was able to hire one for my stay.

There was now a parade of shops in the neighbourhood – competing CD/DVD shops, supermarkets, gift shops…  Travellers were wearing special travellers’ clothes and eating burgers and chips, and would go to Full Moon Parties on a beach which fortunately was on the other side of the island!  But which was surreal – like a city for 21-year-olds – like something out of a science fiction movie!

14 years previously everyone on  the island smiled at you as normal etiquette.  The locals smiled at you, so then the travellers smiled back and at each other, and then you struck up a conversation, and spent the day or a few days together, until it was time to move on to the next place.  Now the locals didn’t smile at us, and I was told that in fact they weren’t local.  The original resort owners had moved out and on, and unsmiling outsiders had moved in to take over their prospering businesses.  But Mac stayed!

20170213_113911I actually think this is Mac’s brother.  If Mac’s brother sees this, maybe he’ll confirm?

* * *

hill-tribe-boy

hill-tribe-girlHill tribe children (above) probably in Chang Mai

Well, I felt like writing a blog article.  The next one I was planning still requires research.  It’s a serious blog!  So I wondered what else to write about just now, and this is it!  As for the little verse at the top – that was part of another song I wrote but never got round to singing in public!

Rachel Rozsa *************************** In memory of my grandmother on Holocaust Memorial Day

 

silver-leaf-rose

My grandmother, Rachel* Rozsa, was born in Nagy (pronounced “Noj”) Szolos in Hungary (now Vinogradiv in the Ukraine).  An idyllic spa town nestling in the Carpathian Mountains, whose name means “Large grapes” – indicative of its wine production.  (Also famous because the composer Bartok moved there with his mother.)

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Her father was Rav (Rabbi) Itzhak Braun, who was renowned for being a miracle-worker.  At the end of WWI, mothers would come to him to find out where their sons were.  It was described to me that he would close his eyes and grab hold of the mother’s arm, then after a while, he said:  “He is crossing the border NOW!” banging his cane on the ground at the precise moment at which the returning soldier was crossing the border, and it would turn out to be accurate.  It was also described to me that he would take children who were sick in their spirit into his home and they would heal in his atmosphere.

I was the first family member to visit Nagy Szolos in 70 years.  The previous visit was by Rachel Rozsa, who went to her father’s funeral taking my father when he was just a baby.

When I visited Nagy Szolos, I tried to find Rav Itzhak Braun’s grave in the Jewish cemetery.  The Mukaceve Rabbi’s driver took me there, and we stopped at a house on the way to pick up the key to the cemetery from the lady who lived there, returning it on our way back.  I spent 2 or 3 hours in the cemetery searching, but couldn’t find the tombstone.  Half of the cemetery was overgrown with weeds, so it was hard to access those stones.  Even where the weeds had been cut or trampled down, I was getting grazed and scraped by weeds, and burnt in the hot sun, trying to find it.  Many of the stones were eroded by the elements, so it was difficult or impossible to read the script.

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Overgrown with weeds:

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Rachel Rozsa’s marriage was arranged by a matchmaker.  So after her marriage, she made the journey – a whole day by ox and cart (now an hour by car) from Nagy Szolos across the border into Mukacevo in Czechoslovakia, to live with a man she had met once or twice.  This is the view along the way:

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My aunt, Miriam, told me she was not happily married.  Her mother-in-law would come into the kitchen, lift the lids off her pots on the stove, and exclaim:  “What?  Is this what you give my son to eat?!!!”  So one can imagine this did not go down very well with Rachel Rozsa!  Being Hungarian, she made goulash.  She also made dumplings and pancakes.  When food became scarcer – probably after they were closed inside the ghetto – she was able to make a chicken last for 3 meals for 6 people.

Rozsa, Miriam told me, had big dreams – but had to work hard, so she just “had her books for dreaming.”  My father couldn’t remember the colour of her hair.  Miriam, told me she was brunette, and “very conscious of being beautiful”, although my aunt, whose knowledge of the English language was picked up entirely from watching English-language films –  might have meant that she was “very beauty-conscious!”.  She was also fashion conscious.  She loved reading and was well-read, and would send Miriam to the library to get her books by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, etc. that she read in Hungarian.  She would take some time in the afternoon after finishing housework to lie on her bed and read.  

She spoke to her children in Hungarian, and to her husband in Yiddish.  Another of the very few things I know about her is that she used to sing a song with the chorus:

Van London, van Nápoly,
van Konstantinápoly,
Van Róma, Barcselona,
Madrid, Csikágó

There’s London, there’s Naples,
There’s Constantinople,
There’s Rome, Barcelona,
Madrid, Chicago

…. and that she used to dream of going to these places.  If she had known that two of her sons would end up living in London and the other son in the States……said Miriam (who lived in Israel)!  (And of course …. if she had known that she would have 24 great-grandchildren, plus two great-great-grandsons…so far….)

When I was in Budapest (the nearest airport to Mukacevo & then a 7-hour train journey) I tried to find this song, and asked in a number of shops and museums.  Eventually someone told me it came from a film called Kek Balvany (“The Blue Idol”), and it was quite a feat to access a DVD copy of this film from the National Film Archive in Budapest, with the indispensable help of a Hungarian friend who also watched the film with me, patiently translating it!  I think my grandmother must have seen this film at the cinema in Mukacevo.  The family was religious, like all the Jews of the region.  But they sent one of their sons to the Zionist school (which the Mukaceve rebbe referred to as “that goyishe (colloquial & derogatory term meaning non-Jewish) school”, which indicates that they were not ultra-ultra religious.  And therefore I imagine she would have gone to the cinema.  Although my grandfather would consult the Mukaceve rabbi if he had any concerns about anything.  The song must also have been broadcast on the radio.

My father felt that his mother knew what was happening to Jews during WWII.

In 1944, Rachel Rozsa was transported to Auschwitz with her family.  They were forced off the train by barking SS with whips, and lunging alsations.  She was forced to separate from her sons and husband.  Someone, or some people, had decided that she should be exterminated, and had plotted, planned and collaborated to achieve this.  Someone made her strip.  Someone made her enter the gas chamber.  Someone had designed the gas chamber to accommodate her and others like and unlike her.  Someone released the gas into the chamber.  Zyklon B.  She was 43 or 44 years old.

Miriam, Rozsa’s 15-year-old daughter, was with her mother until she was taken to the gas chamber.  Rozsa told Miriam that she didn’t mind dying – she was tired.  But she wanted her children to survive:   “I have lived.  Just that you should survive.”  When mothers were selected for the gas chambers, many of their children ran to be with them and therefore also died with them.  But Miriam wasn’t close to her mother:  her mother worked too hard to have time for her.  So when Rozsa was selected, Miriam didn’t try to join her.

Miriam copy

Miriam circa 1947/8

One day, Miriam saw a woman she thought was her mother.  It turned out to be her mother’s sister.  Miriam met with her every day, until one day, she didn’t turn up, and someone told her that she had been cremated.

A silver leaf in Rozsa’s memory was affixed to the silver tree installed by Tony Curtis outside the Great Synagogue in Budapest, each leaf commemorating a Hungarian Jew who was murdered in the holocaust.

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Apparently Rachel Rozsa did go to Budapest once with her father (and sister – I’m not sure how many sisters she had), although it is so far away from Nagy Szolos.

* * *

* Rachel is pronounced with the “a” sounding like the “u” in “up“, the “ch” sounding like the same letters in the Scottish word “loch“, & the “e” sounding like the “e” in “bell“.

You walk down the River Road

river-road

You walk down the River Road…..in Mukacevo (Munkacs) – Czechoslovakia between the wars, Hungary before that,  occupied by Hungary during WWII, now in the Ukraine, nestling in the Carpathian Mountains……

Where my father came from, and where he lived in this house with his family:

house

 

You walk down the River Road, which leads to the River Latorska, where my father and his brothers would jump off the bridge and swim….

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From the town centre ….

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…… from the municipality …..

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….the Town Centre

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Where there’s a fabulous art deco cinema  (some of the earliest talkies were Hungarian)….

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…and a theatre…

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So you walk down the River Road….

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….and there on the left, on a pink wall is a Memorial Plaque. In Ukrainian & Hebrew, the following is written:

“In the year 1944 thousands of Jews were led from here on their last journey to death.”

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Thought Forms and Green Tara

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In Buddhism, the characterisation of harmful acts which we repent and resolve to avoid, includes harmful acts of the mind. There is the idea that thoughts can actually cause harm per se, rather than just being a precursor to the possibility of physical harmful acts. Such harmful acts – whether of the mind or otherwise – are characterised as stemming from ignorance, but are “evil” nevertheless.

The idea of acts of the mind being harmful is actually widespread in the world. In the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and parts of Africa, protection is required against the “evil eye”. This refers to jealousy which is seen as exerting a harmful force.

In the West, there is much interest in psychic phenomena. The College of Psychic Studies in London, and other institutions, offer courses in energy healing, developing psychic intuition, mediumship, etc. Among the “psychic community”, there is also the idea of harmful acts of the mind, referred to as “psychic attack”. Through intentions to heal, we can affect healing in people, and conversely, through negative thoughts or intentions, we can connect with and produce negative energy which may be harmful not only towards the person such thoughts are directed towards, but may also cause collateral damage in adversely affecting those physically or psychically close to the target. Harm may occur even if the negative thoughts are unconscious and if harm is not specifically intended.

In Buddhism, the purpose of meditation is primarily to avoid the main “evil” and source of suffering – that of clinging. We aim to train our minds to recognize that we are thinking, and then to let go of the thought, no matter whether it is a positive or negative thought. The idea is not to push thoughts away if they are negative, or to hold on to them if they are positive, since by doing either, we are practising attachment, and feeding the thought. By trying to resist an unwanted thought…. perhaps a traumatic or disturbing memory – for example –  we are actually giving it energy. If we cling to a positive thought, it will cause some degree of suffering when this thought ends, and we are practising and strengthening our habit of clinging.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there is the idea that when we feed thoughts they solidify. By allowing thoughts to pass like clouds through the sky, we do not allow them to become solid and to exert a force over our minds.

So all these factors relate to the potential of thought to become solid; to exert a force; to take a shape. “Thought forms” – a term which comes up often in psychic literature. Eckhart Tolle, in the Power of Now and his other books, refers to “pain bodies”. These are, essentially, solidified energetic entities created by our own negative thoughts and pain, which we may constantly tap into, tune into, connect with, and feed with further pain, and which seem to exert a life of their own!  They may, it seems, commune with “pain bodies” generated by other people’s minds.

French sociologist Durkheim refers in his work to the “collective consciousness” – which appears to refer to a giant thought form which may engulf a collectivity of people, from a family, to an entire society.  This would consist in a collection of values, ideas, prejudices.  There is the implication that while one person or group of people may be predominant in generating and solidifying the cluster of thoughts and ideas which make up the form,  each person is tapping into, contributing to and strengthening this “cloud” of thought.  (Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa come to mind as among the most extreme malevolent examples.)  For those who get a feeling that this “collective consciousness” conflicts with their true individual consciousness, it must take a great deal of strength of mind to break out.  This notion of the “collective consciousness” implies the impact of external forces on the individual mind.

A psychiatrist once told me that there is a view in the field of psychiatry of the healthy mind being “sealed”. That if people feel that their minds are being controlled, or invaded, or permeated from external sources, this is a measure of mental illness. That a healthy mind is an impermeable one, essentially.  One can imagine someone in Nazi Germany going to a psychiatrist, complaining of a conspiracy by the Reich to act on his mind and control his actions…. and being diagnosed as having a mental illness for reporting such experiences!

Much of the world in fact operates on the basis of the permeability of the mind: the advertising industry; the brainwashing of commercialism – to name a couple of the more benign (although often far from benign) examples.

Then there is toxic exploitation of the belief in the permeability of the mind. There are voodoo practitioners who – if they are unethical – may employ ritual procedures to solidify thought forms to harm their targets. A Western couple who lived in Ghana related how they witnessed for themselves a schoolteacher being the target of voodoo (or juju as it is called there) and instantly becoming mad from that point on. In another case, a young woman made a suicide attempt, and her West African mother believed that someone had “worked” on her. I’ve heard it said a number of times that voodoo cannot work on someone who does not believe in it. It is fear that lets it in. Similar ideas exist among the “psychic community” – through fear, one becomes more open and susceptible to psychic attack. But this does not explain why a psychic or voodoo attack might also fall onto those who are physically or psychically close to the victim – who may have no knowledge of the attack, and no fear.

To continue on the subject of the problem with proposing the impermeability of the human mind, those who rape the minds of entire generations of entire nations to the purpose of evil seem to know differently, and it has been demonstrated to work. At the Institute of Propaganda Studies in Israel, we were shown techniques used to brainwash the German people before and during WWII into believing the Jews and other races were subhuman; techniques which were first honed in relation to the Namibian peoples – the first victims of genocide perpetrated by Germany in the 20th Century. Then there is Hamas and Isis – infiltrating the minds of their human instruments of mass murder – “grooming” them for this task from infancy.

A summary internet search offers many techniques designed to get rid of negative thought forms and the harm they may exert on people.

Tibetan Buddhism offers a very powerful antidote. For while there is an emphasis on letting go of thoughts, there is, at the same time, the ritualised solidifying of thoughts in a controlled way in order to cultivate such qualities as fearlessness, compassion. In the Green Tara Practice, for example, we visualise this deity, who has formidable superhuman qualities: she is very swift, appearing in an instant to anyone who calls upon her; her face is like 100 full moons in a Tibetan autumn. If just one full moon can light up a night sky, think how bright the night would be with 100 full moons! Her body is like a multitude of stars. Well – taking the sun as one star, a multitude would be blindingly bright! With her frown, she can destroy all adverse machinations. She whirls around surrounded by a garland of blazing fire. And these are just a few of her attributes! During the practice, we invite Green Tara into the space before us; then in an instant we are in her body, and finally, the visualisation melts into light and merges with us.

Ultimately, when we are ready to transcend notions of dualism, we see that there is no real separation between Tara and ourselves.

A practice that takes much time and commitment, but perhaps it can be a lifesaver!

Dewa Che – Tara Mantra

At One

stunning night view
The Holy Isle – stupas, pier, view of Arran

At One

For string quartet and trumpet.

This work was written by me, with the idea of bestowing healing and calmness – a feeling of being at one with the world.  It is strongly influenced by jazz, in style, and also in method of composition.  I started this composition by setting out chords on the strings, and improvising over them for the trumpet part – this provides the opening of the piece.

In the very last section, the trumpeter has the option of either playing the pre-written part, or of improvising within specified parameters over the strings, which play the same chords as in the opening of the piece. In this performance, the trumpeter has chosen to improvise.  You can hear the abrupt change in melodic style at this point!  Until the final bar which was pre-written.

Performed here by the Impromptu Quartet and Clare Thorne on trumpet, at Lauderdale House, London, 2012. 

 

Swing Abeba

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 03.47.29My first love from early childhood was music: classical piano-playing, and singing (especially folk), accompanying myself on my beloved guitar.

However, it was social anthropology that I took to doctoral level, and as a way of not letting go of music, I specialised in the anthropology of music.

During my doctoral fieldwork, I performed with an Ethiopian-Jewish band called “The Band of Blossoming Hope” for 9 months.  (See my book:  Gondar’s Child.)  I also had lessons with the famous Ethiopian Christian singer Aklilu Seyoum, who coached the Band, in the Ethiopian intervallic mood-mode systems known as “keñetoch”.

Prior to this, I conducted research on Jewish society and music in Yemen, and wrote a substantial thesis on this subject.  Very many hours were spent listening to, analysing, and even painstakingly and painfully transcribing their music, and other kinds of Yemenite music.

Perhaps it was Ethiopian music, and also the American blues singers who frequented the folk clubs in Israel, which opened me up to jazz. Upon returning from my fieldwork to the UK, for years to follow, jazz became my passion. I studied with established jazz vocalists, performing at jazz jams, working hard on my vocal improvisation and learning the standard repertoire. Among the early tasks I was set was to sing along with recordings of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet-playing: a great training!  In my quest for jazz, I went to Manhattan where I attended lessons and vocal masterclasses, went to all the jazz jams and performances I could manage, and generally infused myself with jazz.

I am glad to say I finally returned to “my own” music and first love. I resumed my classical piano playing, and took it to another level – the most meaningful thing I feel I could have done with my life!

Years ago, I told a jazz musician about my background in music – all these diverse intensely-studied and deeply-internalised influences – and he said: “It will be dynamite when it all comes together!”.

Swing Abeba, a work for solo bassoon, is an example of some of these influences coming together.  Whether or not it is “dynamite” – even a small quantity of dynamite – even a teaspoonful, is for the listener, or player, to determine!

“Abeba”, means “flower” – part of the name of the Ethiopian capital city where modern Ethiopian music took root. “Abeba” is also a common refrain in their vocal music. True to its title, this work is influenced by Ethiopian popular music, which in turn was strongly influenced by swing rhythm in American big band jazz transmitted from an army radio station in Kagnew, in neighbouring Eritrea in the 1950s.

Ethiopian music – essentially song-based – consists of pentatonic melodies which tend to be deeply embedded in copious melismata, progressing in an improvisatory manner, similarly to jazz.

Accordingly, Swing Abeba begins with an Ethiopian, pentatonically melismatic treatment of an un-Ethiopian theme.  The music then breaks into a jazz-swing scherzo. The call-response nature of this scherzo recalls this feature of Ethiopian music. The second section begins with a slow, heavily melismatic ad lib passage marked “molto espressivo e pensivo”, which leads into a second swing scherzo, the opening themes reappearing in a different guise in the closing section.

In the recording here, it is played beautifully by John McDougall.  An earlier version of Swing Abeba was performed, equally beautifully, by Glyn Williams at the 17th New Winds Festival at Regent Hall in London, 2014.

 

 

Thin’s a child to the adult sex

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Artist-Yehuda Bacon-mixed media

Following on from my previous post:  “Bell, or Pas Belle”…..

A while back, I read an article about a composer who found some old cassettes of his which had decayed over time, and he wrote a composition using these decayed tapes. 

This caused me not a little concern.  I have boxes and boxes of cassettes with irreplaceable data and recordings.  So I am in the process of having my most precious recordings digitalized, although apparently my cassettes are, on the whole, in quite good nick – having been safely stored.

One of the recordings I’ve just had digitalized is of a song which I called Positive at the time, because it was about trying to think positively.  Here, I’ve decided, instead, to use the beginning of the song as a title.  It starts:

See it thus

Thin’s a child to the adult sex

I want none of that….none of that

This was when Susie Orbach’s book:  Fat is a Feminist Issue, had made a big impression on me.  The idea that the idealised thin (and devoid of body hair) aesthetic imposed on, and adopted by, women in the West, belongs to the concept of women as the child-like sex.

I was also influenced by an album by This Mortal Coil.  In one of the songs on this album, you cannot make out any of the words which the singer is singing – intentionally.  It is part of the style and atmosphere of the song.

This seemed like a great idea!  In this song that I had written, I felt quite exposed by the words after the initial lines.  So I decided to sing it disguising the words in a way that they were almost impossible to make out:  the voice would be more like an instrument providing melody, atmosphere and emotion, without fully-decipherable words.  After the opening lines, the words are not positive at all, but give expression to the way in which, in certain life (and death) situations, your pain can spill over, and other people’s pain can spill over onto you, in a way which can sap your confidence completely, and make it impossible to act on feelings of love, or of being in love.  I had recently passed through such a time, writing songs which gave vent to some intense emotions.  (“It’s slash your wrists time!” would be uttered –  it was later revealed to me – when I got up to sing in my local folk club!)

I met up with a guy who I have to credit with producing this recording:  Sal Paradise.  He got me to work properly on the guitar part until it was perfect before he agreed to record it.  He then doubled the guitar part with a delay inbetween the doublings, and added chorus, and a tabla sample on a loop.  (On his travels, he had recorded musicians, but I omitted to ask who the tabla player was behind this sample.)  He said he would make the vocal part “sweet”, but I think it is pretty much how I sounded back then, in the late 1980s. 

He then made us both a curry.

Unfortunately, he never let me have a decent copy of the recording.

So here it is:  Thin’s a child to the adult sex….

 

 

Ah! But is it racism?

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

The recent poll claiming to reveal “what Muslims in Britain really think”:  claiming to have identified “a community within a community”, and a proliferation of attitudes unpalatable to what we assume to be predominantly liberal Britain.  On the one hand, I am sceptical that a poll conducted on 1081 adults can really tell us what 2.71 million Muslims in England, and 80,800 in Scotland and Northern Ireland (2011 census), all think.  Among these adults, we have different ethnicities, different generations, different countries of origin, different degrees of religiosity/secularity.  If we break up the 1081 “polled” adults equally into different generations alone, we have approximately 360.33 young adults, 360.33 middle aged adults, and 360.33 elderly adults.  Is it valid to treat these “polled” Muslims as representative of their generations of co-religionists in Britain, let alone their entirety?

On the other hand, this news item drew me back to a certain memory.  We may assume that some more unpalatable, unliberal and violent views may be held by those who dress differently from liberal Brits, segregate the sexes more; attend their place of worship more regularly; etc.  In other words, those who look less acculturated.  So, my memory….

At some point while I was completing my thesis in Oxford, a photo competition was organized in my college, and winning photos were blown up, mounted and displayed in the college common room. I shortlisted a few photos from my doctoral fieldwork in Israel, and from a subsequent visit to Ethiopia, to submit, and asked my neighbour to help me choose from among them.

Above, is one of the photos I chose (which also appears in my book, Gondar’s Child). The period of my fieldwork in Israel included the first Gulf War, and these children are in a shopping mall with their gas masks. Saddam Hussein was threatening to use mustard and nerve gas in attacks on Israel – a prospect which terrified me, as there was a precedent: he had already murdered whole villages of Iraqi Kurds using these chemicals. Everyone was issued with a gas mask, which we had to take with us everywhere at all times, and children had all decorated the boxes containing their gas masks at school.

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Back in Oxford, I was living in postgrad student accommodation, and my neighbour, in the next room, was a science doctoral student of Iranian descent (“Y”). We were in and out of each other’s rooms most days, and I considered her to be a warm and supportive friend. When she saw this photo, she thought I shouldn’t submit it for the competition because she considered it to be “controversial”, because “there are people who think that Israel shouldn’t exist!” Why is it controversial that Saddam Hussein wanted to gas these children? – I asked her. But she just repeated her assertion as if it were self-evident. This caused a lot of tension between us. A few days later, I brought up the subject and gave her the chance to take back what she had said, but she just repeated it again, and I let her know in no uncertain terms that it was an anti-Semitic view. After this, I did not feel that we could continue being friends, but of course, how could she ever have been a friend if she considered it “controversial” that Saddam Hussein had wanted to gas me?!  Having an enemy, once considered a “friend” who is still a neighbour, living in the next room in the same house is not something to be recommended!

Perhaps if I had told her these children were not Jewish, she might not have thought it controversial? After all, these lovely children who let me take their photo might have been Muslim or Christian. Would she then have minded that they too were threatened by Saddam’s chemical weapons, which he had incidentally used against Iran?!

It was such a mindless assertion by a British-born entirely secular Muslim of Iranian descent! So we can’t necessarily judge people’s views and values – for example, the extent to which they may justify extreme violence and evil against a certain religious, ethnic or national group – according to whether or not they are wearing the religious gear!  Other Iranians who have come into my life – Iranian-born secular Muslims – do not appear to hold such views! One only has to look at the Israel Loves Iran and Iran Loves Israel Facebook pages to see that there are plenty of people living in Iran who do not hold such views! I have read that there are a number of Iranians who are supportive of Israel especially in defiance of their own government.

To return to Oxford, two former housemates, one a Jewish doctoral student from Germany (whom I characterised as having a mouth like a sledge hammer, before Y showed me a true sledge-hammer mouth!), another a Norwegian PhD (“K”), (yes – we were a diverse lot! – probably unlike most of the undergrads!)  both commented that Y “isn’t political”, but, K wrote to me from Norway, she should know what she’s saying and who she’s talking to!  Surely she should have known what she was saying whoever she was talking to!  So:  “not political”, highly educated (in science), but expressing the view that the threat or use of chemical weapons on a group of human beings is “controversial” – i.e. “open to debate”, and having obviously come down on the side of the “controversy” that would state that this might be valid in the case of Jews in Israel, since there are people who don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist!  (So if we apply such a conclusion to the aforementioned poll, could it be that there are some “non-political” Muslims who  nevertheless find the threats and actions of Islamic extremists to be “controversial”, possibly justifiable?!)

Shortly after this incident, another housemate and friend, a British doctoral student of Nigerian descent, “L”, came into the kitchen one day, agitated and perturbed.  A stranger had stopped and asked directions, addressing her query to L’s “white” friend. L helpfully gave directions, but the stranger refused to acknowledge her, and asked further questions, continuing to address them to L’s friend, and to ignore L and her further attempts to be helpful. (It could not have been that she could not see or hear L, blessed with a resonant voice and a tall stature.)  This was offensive enough, but what troubled L perhaps even more was that her own friend had unconsciously cooperated with this, and then questioned and doubted whether the stranger’s behaviour had in fact been racist.

L was in a grumbling mood for which she apologised. I said it was OK – she was angry, and she was right to be, and this acceptance of the validity of her anger, and acknowledgement that she had in fact been subjected to racism, seemed to lift some of the burden away from her.

I then told her that Y and I were not speaking because she had said something anti-Semitic, and related the incident to her. “Ah!  But is that anti-Semitism?” L asked.  My expression must have been full of indignation and outrage.  As I opened my mouth to respond, she quickly answered her own question: “Of course it is, because it can never be right to use chemical weapons against anyone!”

I submitted the photo of the children with gas masks to the competition, and it was not selected to be displayed in my college common room!  These two photos were, however, displayed:

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Ethiopian Jewish boy who had just arrived in Israel in Operation Solomon in 1991, posing for me when he saw me with my camera!

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Shoeshine boy, Addis Abeba, 1992.  The colours in this photo are not right – when I had jpeg files created from the 21 year old negatives, I was told this is because the negatives had become “magenta” with age, but I don’t think that’s true!  I have the original photo somewhere…

 

How did he survive?

sc379When I tell people that my father was imprisoned in Auschwitz, the question that invariably follows is: “How did he survive?”

As is the case with most of “The Boys” (732 child and teenage holocaust survivors admitted into Britain after WWII), the fact that my father survived is almost inconceivable.   And as we know from Martin Gilbert’s book, The Boys: Triumph Over Adversity, survival depended on a combination of factors: kind acts by others, chance and luck against improbable odds, the will to live in the face of all that was happening; and physical and mental strength and stamina.

Since Transcarpathian Ruthenia, where my father, Abraham, lived, was occupied by Hungary in 1938, Jews in this region were not subjected to deportation until 1944. However, by this time, the Nazis were in a hurry to complete the job of exterminating the Jews. This was their priority.

Deported from Mukaçevo not long after his Bar Mitzvah, Abraham was among the youngest concentration camp survivors, and the only survivor of Birchashof Birkenau – one of the camps – a farm complex – at Auschwitz. Almost all of his entire age group were exterminated with all the other children upon arrival at Auschwitz, but as is the story with many of the other “Boys”, he observed the advice of one of the Polish inmates upon arrival, given in Yiddish: “Say you’re 18!” As his family were being selected either for work or for immediate extermination, he insisted that he was 18. It seems someone wanted to believe him, and so he was steered in the direction of those selected to work and starve to the point of death, as his father did, rather than face immediate extermination in the gas chambers, as his mother did.

The photo shown is the earliest photo I have of him. It was attached to his form held by the Jewish Refugees Committee, and seems to have been taken immediately upon his arrival in England, when he was 16. This is more than three years after someone accepted his insistence that he was 18, and let him live.

In the Auschwitz barracks where he and his father were imprisoned, there were two kapos: “a nice one and a nasty one”. The “nice” kapo was a German man called Peter: “a very tall fellow: 6’6” or thereabouts” – who had been serving his sentence in a German prison after being caught just after robbing a bank. The “nasty” kapo was a brutal, heavy-set Ukrainian man called Otto. When Otto hit a prisoner, that prisoner never got up again:

“He was a real criminal. He was a murderer. He must have murdered at least one a week there beating him to death giving him twelve lashes and from him, they didn’t last long. He was doing all the beatings you know during appell. He was always doing it. People were really shuddering.”

 Peter, the German kapo, took Abraham under his wing, looking after him, bringing him extra food, and protecting him from the brutal kapo: “He told this Otto that if he does anything to me, he’ll kill him!”  When the SS there wanted fruit that had ripened on some trees, Peter recommended Abraham for the job of climbing the trees and picking the fruit, and while up in the trees, he was able to eat his fill of fruit.

“So I remember we went with a horse, a German guard with a gun, there was this German kapo [Peter], and me. We had lots of baskets. So we went, and I picked fruit for them.That was in [the summer of] 44.”

Abraham derived food from other sources:

“…there were the Polish boys Jewish, who would go and work on transports. Theyd bring some extra food back. Often it was green [with mould]…but it doesn’t matter. It was still good enough.”

Another source of food came from a Hungarian guard who had “ some German-speaking girlfriend”.

“He asked if I would write a letter in German for him. I said: “You write it in Hungarian, and I’ll write it in German.” I had learned German. before the War. I started German, I think I must have been five or six, I started to learn German at school. And my father spoke German, and I was writing the Gothic German the reason I was doing the old-fashioned German was because my father knew the old-fashioned German. Of course I learned it at school as well.”

 I understand that this demand for Abraham’s translating skills was an ongoing state of affairs, as was the extra food he received in appreciation.

Although Abraham would give some of the extra food he received to his father, instead of eating it, his father would give it to the Mukaçeve rebbe (rabbi) who was with them, since the rebbe would not eat the food they were given apart from the bread, as it wasn’t kosher.

There seems to have been a relationship of trust between Abraham and Peter, the German kapo, as Abraham discussed with him the possibility of escape.

“I was in situations where I could have escaped, but I didn’t know in which direction. I did discuss it with Peter, I remember… He said theres no way. I’m in the middle of things. Right in the middle. If I manage to get through this wire, which is easy enough.because we did get out… but you’ll not get through further. There were wires within wires within wires within wires. Theres no way. At least not from there, and with this tattoo, Id be recognized anywhere. Yes, the only other thing I had was prison uniform. Not a very good thing to cover it with.

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Abraham’s father grew weaker and weaker with starvation and labour; he was taken to the hospital, and Abraham never saw him again:

….he was writing notes for two weeks. And then they stopped, finished.”

In my father’s dossier, a summary of Abraham’s background provides the information that his mother (Rachel Rosza) was sent to the gas chambers in May 1944, and his father (Chaim) was sent to the gas chambers in July 1944.

When Auschwitz was being evacuated and the prisoners were forced to go on their first “death march”, the German prisoners were free to join the German army and head for the Russian front (which I doubt Peter would have done!) or to go wherever they wished or could get to.

Recently I have been wondering about Peter.

“….he looked after me – the tall fellow. He told me his story: he was robbing a bank, so he said, on a motorbike, and they were chasing the robbers, and he said: ‘Over there! Over there!’ So they didn’t believe him. They arrested him.”

I have been wondering what kind of person he could have been, to plan and embark on a bank robbery, and then, in Auschwitz, to make it his mission to protect and look after a young Jewish boy. My father assumed that his own father had asked him to do so, but Peter must have wanted to help Abraham regardless. He obviously hadn’t been susceptible to Goebbels’ anti-Semitic crushingly heavy-duty brainwashing and propaganda campaign.

Having lost his father, and without Peter to protect him, it seems Abraham wasn’t completely alone: during his first “death march”, he walked alongside a Hungarian doctor who kept himself alive with pills for as long as he could.  Abraham, having been based on the only farm in Auschwitz-Birkenau, (along with his father who had declared his trade as “farmer”), had to walk with the horses and carts containing agricultural machinery which he and the other prisoners helped to push.

“We were in Birchashof farm complex, and the Germans decided they were going to save the machinery and take it to Germany with their horses, carts, and many soldiers with dogs. And it was winter, December, 1944…. or maybe even the beginning of 1945….

“So there was a long line of people, about four or six abreast…I remember it was about six….and that line must have been miles long because they had been evacuated from other camps at the same time. Only we were at the end of the line because we had these carriages, horses, carts, machinery….and we were marching – starting to push it.  Now it appears that the Russians were advancing pretty quickly, so we were going day and night….. And anybody who couldn’t keep up just sat down and he was shot. There were soldiers at the back who would shoot them. Nobody could escape.  Every time somebody sat down you would hear a shot after, as we passed. And in any case, as we were at the back, there were other transports in front of us, who had marched before us, half an hour or so earlier, and the sides were littered with dead prisoners shot all along the line.”

“While we were marching, walking, the soldiers would take it in turn to sit on the carts and have their sleep. As we were pushing uphill …..there was a road once upon a time there, but there was a little track –  a snow track – we had to push the carts uphill, and there were always the Germans with their truncheons: “Los! Los! Aufgang! Los! Los! Los!”, and hitting, always hitting – some of them were just hitting in any case for no reason at all….that if you were on the outside of the line, you had a very good chance of being hit….and one hit of that on the head, you’d fall down, you’d stumble, you’d stay there, you wouldn’t get up anymore. In any case, many people couldn’t keep up so they just sat down, they just gave up.” (1984 interview)

“We were marching for two weeks. At that time, all the horses…had to be shot. The horses couldn’t march any more either. They can’t go on forever….People couldn’t push anymore.” (1989 interview)

During the last stretch of the journey to Buchenwald, the surviving prisoners were squeezed into open-top train carriages, exposed to the elements. At the last stop before being forced onto these carriages, Abraham’s Hungarian doctor companion encouraged him to try to grab some carrots from the kitchen, which he managed to do without being shot, as others were. In the absence of any other food, these carrots kept him alive.

“Now I’m going to give you an episode which sticks out in my mind. Now where I come from there were two brothers. They were hardy people – they were selling coal….they must have been 19 or 20 – and to carry coal in sacks to sell – so they were really used to hardship. There were two brothers, and they were with me on one of these open trucks…. railway carriages. After a number of days – since the total travel was only about two weeks – without food – all we had was snow for water – one of the brothers died. Then all of a sudden, somebody saw the other brother eating the flesh of his brother. And then he was pointed out: ‘Look what’s happening! Look what’s happening!” And this person all of a sudden stood up – we were all huddled together in an open carriage – stood up as if to walk on all of them: “I’m going home for Shabbes! I’m going home for Shabbesl!” As if to walk over the people, as if nobody was there. And the guard shot him. Others died, but more calmly. Just fell asleep and they never woke up. But that was something which…. It’s not that he was shot – that he was ‘going home’, that his mind had gone. [It’s] that he had eaten of his brother.”

The Hungarian doctor did not survive this stage of the journey.  My father noted that about 10% of the prisoners on the death march from Auschwitz survived the journey to Buchenwald.

Upon arrival at Buchenwald:

“We get food there, and it seems to be a bit better than the others, but every day I see people pulling carts – skeletons – dead people – to the crematoria to burn – all the time they’re pulling them, pulling them. Therefore this event of people dying there like flies seems to be an occurrence wherever we were. However I’m told: ‘Look, you’re a young boy, you’re under 16, you can stay in the childrens ward. And you will be all right.’ I said: ‘No. I’m 18 and I want to go to work. I thought to myself: If I work I’m all right. If I don’t work, I’m useless and we dieI was healthier when I left Buchenwald than when I had arrived there. Because we did have regular food. And not only that, the person who was serving the food, seeing I need a little bit extra, he gave me the extra little bithe just gave me the bit which just had a bit of meat in it. These are these little perks which made the difference between people surviving or not.”

From Buchenwald, Abraham was taken to Rhemsdorf to work in a factory which was serving the German war effort, and which was being bombed by the British, day and night. 

“…There were 30,000 prisoners, and for the first time I saw American prisoners, British prisoners, Russian prisoners….all there, trying to work, trying to … rebuild the factory after it had been bombed.  And the bombs kept falling almost any time.”

“So there [in Rhemsdorf] they did give us food simply because we were doing a useful job….so to speak, but not very much of it.  People still kept dying all the time.  There were always the ‘musulman’.  The ‘musulman’ is the person who was skin and bone.”

In the case of the American, British and Russian prisoners of war, however, “…we were not together.  They were looked after better…..they were demoralised, but they seemed to have been fed well.  But there’s no comparison.”

In Rhemsdorf, he found his brother, David who was carrying out carpentry work.  

“…the point is, he was there. That is important.  And now we were two together.”

The allies were advancing. 

“We were told again that we were going to be evacuated, and I saw people were running to the kitchen to find some food for the journey.  I also ran to the kitchen, and I found, and I took, three carrots, and I ran away.  But others managed to get shot for their troubles.  I did get away with three carrots.:   Now, we were put on the trains….after one or two days, their locomotive was bombed….The train came to a sudden halt, and as the aeroplanes came and our guards were frightened, they ran away.  And many of us, prisoners, started to run away into the woods, only to be rounded up by local Germans – old people and young people, and most of those running into the woods – not knowing where to go – they were all shot by the local people, local Hitler Jugend.  All young people were taught how to handle guns in Germany.  Therefore I don’t think anybody will have escaped that.”

“After that we had to walk, and we were walking….I think a couple of weeks ….maybe even longer – through German towns and villages, and most of our shoes had long worn out.  Some had rags [on their feet].  We did stop now and then, for a bit of soup….”

“They didn’t shoot the prisoners in the towns, but as soon as we got a certain distance from a small town or a village, we’d stop, and those they thought unable to continue were shot.  Or they would just take a group of people and shoot them in any case because they wanted to reduce some of the guards.  Some of the guards wanted to go away.  Some said they wanted to go to the front to fight, others who had other reasons.  So since there were too few guards, they reduced the number of people in the march.”

During this “death march” to Theresienstadt, Abraham and David shared the carrots Abraham had managed to take from the kitchen at Rhemsdorf – one between them each day:

“…and it kept us going: half a carrot for me, half a carrot for my brother, and it makes all the difference between whether you live a few days longer or not whether you make it or not.”  

They would eat grass along the way, and then would get stomach cramps, and want to sit down and give up. If they had done so, they would have been shot by the German guards. But neither of them would allow the other to give up – mercifully, it seems, their stomach cramps were not simultaneously severe. David and Abraham enabled each other to survive the “death march” from Buchenwald to Theresienstadt, which alone, each would not have survived.

Part of the story of my father’s survival is a Czech woman who gave him bread when the “death march” was proceeding through Czechoslovakia. While they had been marched through Germany, my father recalled that women, old people and children – the Hitler Youth – would smash bottles at the prisoners’ bare or rag-bound feet in order that they should tread in the broken glass. 

By contrast, when they were being marched through Czechoslovakia, the Czech people were throwing bread. However, for every piece of bread thrown, there was such a scramble that the bread would get broken into little pieces and no-one would get any. One of “The Boys” said it was a form of sadism: that bystanders were deriving amusement from these scenes. Whatever the case, one woman wanted to be sure that my father received bread, and ran out to place it firmly in his hands, even though the German guards were threatening to shoot anyone who gave food to the prisoners. The Czech woman who wanted my father to live, to the extent that she risked her life to make sure he got his piece of bread, then had a rifle butt slammed down on her head by a German guard as she was running back out of the line of prisoners.

When I was in Prague in the summer of 1998, one day, as I stood waiting for my friend to turn up, an elderly woman kept staring at me. When my friend arrived, he noticed how she was staring at me. I wondered: was she the one who helped my father? Did she recognize my father in me? Recently, it dawned on me that the woman who had given my father bread probably never got up again after the rifle butt crashed down on her head. I had always assumed that she had lived on, but it seems, in all likelihood, she gave her life to make sure my father got some bread. That the last thing she did in her life was to hand my father the bread, and then try to run back out of the line of prisoners.

This act of hers obviously made an enormous impression on young Abraham. The German Nazi Reich was focused on hunting him; its military machinery was designed to exterminate him and other Jews; German women, elderly people and children smashed bottles under his feet; and suddenly, here was someone, a gentile, who not only wanted him to live, but probably gave her own life to this purpose.

As with Peter, I have recently been trying to imagine this woman and the kind of life she came from. For her, we do not even have a name. Probably she was fairly young, as she was depending on her speed and agility to get swiftly in and out of the line of prisoners, and out of reach of the guards, which she didn’t succeed in doing. A kind-hearted, brave and defiant young woman, as the Czechs in general were defiant at having their country occupied by the Nazi imposters.

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The Hungarian Jewish doctor who had walked alongside Abraham during the first “death march” had told him: “After the War, when there is food, don’t eat too much. Just have a piece of bread and a piece of cheese.” Once he was liberated from Theresienstadt, and able to go out of the concentration camp and find food, Abraham remembered the words of the doctor. Abraham was obviously someone who took advice very seriously – whether to say he was 18, or to eat moderately after starvation. Others found food and died from eating more than their starved systems could take. One of Abraham’s uncles, having survived up to that point, went out and found a piece of fat which he ate, and then, after everything he had gone through, contracted typhoid and died.

“People still kept dying, because it doesn’t end at a certain point. People got used to not eating. They couldn’t take food anymore. And when they got food, a little bit of food, [they] got typhoid. [They] died of it.”

Abraham, as advised, ate a piece of bread and a piece of cheese. As long as I remember, my father always ate in moderation, despite having been so severely starved at such a young age. After Yom Kippur, he would break the Fast with bread and cheese.

The net result of all these factors is that – against all the odds – my father survived.

“…..one day we saw the first Russian motorcyclist, and that was the end of the war. And we weren’t allowed out straight away, but as soon as we heard there were no more Germans, some of us found a hole to climb out of Theresienstadt, and there were strawberries there. Some of us had some strawberries.”

An interviewer once asked my father: What kept you going mentally? And my father replied:

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“Oh – the war will end and then everything will be fine, and one day I’ll have enough bread, butter and milk…. If I keep alive long enough, the war will end and I’ll still be there.”

Having survived all that he survived, he then faced the task of living the rest of his life having experienced and witnessed the horrors of Auschwitz and the “death marches”. This, it seems, he achieved largely through music. In Munich DP Camp where he spent a year waiting to go to Palestine before deciding, instead, to join his brother, David, in England, he sourced two lots of food rations. He would exchange the extra food (with the exception of chocolate which, as far as he was concerned, was not extra and not exchangeable!) for piano and violin lessons from teachers who taught at the Handel Conservatorium. In a letter to the Jewish Refugees Committee in September 1950, requesting help with fees for continuing his piano studies at the Toynbee Hall, he wrote:

“I began to play the piano at Handel Conservatoire in Munich four years ago. There, not possessing a piano, I walked every morning three miles to the street-car where I continued my journey, by street-car, for another 30 minutes to the Conservatoire, and there I was allowed to practice on one of the College pianos (if I bribed the school-keeper) until 9 a.m., when lessons started.

“Since then I have been keeping up my studies in music.”  

In fact, my father’s recently released dossier kept by the Jewish Refugees Committee during his early years in the UK, is full of documentation relating to the urgent nature, and great priority, of his need for piano lessons (and his depression before accessing these), a piano to practise on, piano repairs, further training in piano.

Abraham’s brother, Zruli, while he was in the DP camp together with Abraham, studied opera at the Handel Conservatorium, and my father seemed disappointed that he did not become a major opera singer, which he felt was within the range of Zruli’s abilities and talent.

I have no doubt that it was largely through playing the piano that my father returned to humanity, received healing, experienced the sublime, and rose from the ashes.

Thus, my father survived. Because of someone who accepted his insistence that he was 18 when he looked and was in fact only 13; and thanks to Peter – the German bank robber; thanks to his fluency in German and Hungarian; thanks to the advice of the Hungarian doctor and to my father’s strict observance of his words; thanks to the person serving food at Buchenwald; thanks to joining forces with his brother, David; thanks to an unknown heroic Czech woman; thanks to the carrots he found; thanks to his ability to eat in moderation even after having been so severely starved; thanks to the piano, and to Schubert, Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven, Grieg, Mussorgsky, Manuel de Falla; thanks to his physical and mental constitution and his will to live. And with all this, essentially, thanks to remotest chance, and luck, my father survived.

* * *

Note: Except where otherwise stated, quotes are from interviews conducted with Abraham Herman in May 1984 and March 1989.

Postscript:  From an interview in 1984, my father talking about his time in a DP camp in Munich:  “And for studying I had extra rations.  Now I had two lots of food , and for two lots of food I could pay for some of my private lessons in food, to a German music teacher, because music was not provided as part of the learning.  All the other lessons I had free….I attended Handel’s Conservatorium …….there was a woman teacher who gave private [violin] lessons in exchange for tinned food…..She invited me to her home and she had very many musical instruments:  violins and others.  So I said:  “You have very many musical instruments.  Where do you get them from?”  She said:  “Oh, my nephew was an officer in Poland.  Whenever he came home on leave, he always brought me something.”  And I remember particularly that she showed me:  “This is an Amati,” and then she mentioned the others…..  And if you think about it, there must have been between thirty to forty  musical instruments in that room, it will give you some indication of what was going on.

“Well, after that I left her.  I didn’t go back to her anymore.  I didn’t want to know her….”

“So I went down [to]…a place who arranged the administration of people leaving.  So I said:  ‘Look, I think I should go to England now.'”

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Map showing route of train journey from Mukaceveo (Munkacs) to Auschwitz. (Martin Gilbert:  Atlas of the Holocaust [197])

munkacs 2

Maps showing route of Death March and train evacuation from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Buchenwald (Martin Gilbert:  Atlas of the Holocaust [216-7])death march

death march 2

Map showing route of Death March from Rehmsdorf to Theresienstadt (Martin Gilbert:  Atlas of the Holocaust [230]/. According to Abe’s brother, David, they crossed the border from Germany into Czechoslovakia at the Czech town of Chomutov (David Herman:  David’s Story).

Rhemsdorf

 

 

 

 

2016 Olympic Games – The world condoning the mass-murder of Brazil’s Street Children

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Street children in Rio de Janeiro, sniffing shoemaker’s glue from plastic bags

 

As we know, Rio Janeiro has been elected to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in August and September this year. This right was granted by the 121st Session of the International Olympic Committee and won by 66 votes as against 32 votes won by Madrid, its final competitor in the bid to hold the games.

According to www.rio2016.com, one decisive factor in the election of Rio Janeiro to hold the Games was: “the fact that the Olympic Games had never been held in South America and the Brazillian people [are] well known worldwide for its special way of celebrating sport. Additionally, the International Olympic Committee understood what the power of transformation of these Games would mean to Rio, Brazil and South America. To the Olympic and Paralympic Movements this decision represented …. the possibility of inspiring 65 million youths under 18 years of age in Brazil and 180 in the whole continent.”

It is ironical that Brazil was elected to host the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics, largely on the grounds of benefitting youths, when it is no secret that the systematic mass murder of children has been taking place on Brazil’s streets for decades. Between 1988 and 1991, in just 3 years, more than 7000 children were murdered in Brazil. This scale of murder really does amount to a “war on children”, and a book bearing this accurately descriptive title has been published by Gilberto Dimenstein: Brazil: War On Children, (1991).

The perpetrators of most, but not all, of these murders are death squads comprising of off-duty police officers. Theirs are the fingers that pull the triggers, but it is ordinary civilians – shop-keepers, restaurant owners who call them out – who hire them. The evil is entrenched in Brazillian Society. The media refers to the impunity of the death squads, together with the corruption of the policing and legal systems.  But what about the people who summon the death squads?

Following the Candelária Church massacre – the massacre of eight street children, the youngest of whom was 11 years old, outside the Candelaria Church in Rio on 23rd July 1993, a hotline was set up for information on the murders.  A great many calls were received expressing support for the murders, rather than offering information.

A number of sources, including Amnesty International, report the torture of street children, as well as sexual violence against them.  Apart from that, there are allegations regarding the harvesting of their organs.  The evil perpetrated against these children knows no bounds.

The question on the minds of charity-workers and others concerned with Brazillian street children has been: How is Brazil intending to “clean” its streets in preparation for the Olympics? What is the fate of the street children?

The answer can be found in a report published by the United Nations in October last year on the treatment of youth in a number of countries. Included in this report is an accusation that, as anticipated or feared by many, the Brazillian police were “killing street children to ‘clean the streets’ ahead of the Olympic Games…”  

These United Nations findings were reported in non-mainstream sources such as “Telesur”, but strangely, surfing the internet, I have not found them reported in mainstream British or CRN news sources. (Why would this be?) A UNICEF report published in July last year, states that the murder of children and teenagers has more than doubled in the last 20 years.

“In 2013, 10,500 homicides of adolescents were registered in Brazil, compared to 5,000 cases in 1993 – an increase of over 110 per cent.  In 2013, an average of 28 children and adolescents were killed every day, making Brazil the country with the second largest number of homicides of boys and girls under the age of 19 in the world.”    http://www.unicef.org/media/media_82554.html     (This report does not inform us on the nature of the murders, or how many of these were murders of street children by adults.)

The term genocide is employed to refer to the mass murder of a large groups of people characterized by being of a particular ethnic, national or religious group. There does not seem to be an equivalent term to refer to the mass murder of children. However, if any other kind of genocide were occurring in any country, would the “civilized world” be attending their Games?  Would they even be nominated today?  Notably, ahead of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, boycott movements protesting against the forthcoming Games on the grounds of Nazi Germany’s appalling human rights record failed, and the Games went ahead. This seems to have set a precedent!

Children who are unconnected to adults are politically the most insignificant group: without voices, without votes, without political representation. They are of no economic consequence, and therefore the world is not prepared to try to save their lives.

Before the Football Cup which took place in Brazil in 2013, the public were urged to contact social services to report any child abuse they may have witnessed. This may have served to some degree as a deterrent against sex tourism which many street children are objects of. But it seems the mass murders take place before the tourists arrive.

At the same time as the Olympic Games, the charity Street Child United will be hosting Street Child Games 2016 – including Street children from different countries, and a Street Child Congress. We can but hope that this will address the problem of the mass murder of Brazillian street children to some extent, although late in the day.  http://www.streetchildunited.org/street-child-games-2016/

Children continue to be murdered on the streets of Brazil.  If the world participates in the Olympics while this evil is still going on, surely this amounts to condoning this ongoing mass murder, torture and abuse of Brazillian street children.  This continuous atrocity which has spanned decades.  There is a fine line, if any, between condoning something, and complicity.  It is up to our governments and the International Olympic Committee, to put pressure on Brazil to ensure that children are safe; that there are appropriate consequences for crimes against them, and to put pressure on Brazil to tackle in a humane way the causes of child homelessness.

*

Two petitions were started up to protect street children in Brazil ahead of the Olympics. One achieved 7 signatures:
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/save-brazils-street-kids

The other achieved 8 signatures and was closed:
https://www.change.org/p/international-olympic-committee-en…

A petition demanding that the FA boycott the 2014 World Cup because of the mass-killing of street children achieved 3 signatures and was archived.
https://petition.parliament.uk/archived/petitions/65999

However, a petition to protect stray dogs in Brazil ahead of the World Cup achieved 84,424 signatures.

There is still this petition which has only received 300 signatures to date.  It is too late for the World Cup, but not too late to save some lives before, during and after the Olympics:

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/don-t-kill-for-me-safe-games-for-all.html

 

Hamas – Extreme Child Abuse

Alec Wardhttp://bcove.me/axm8v9g4

Upon seeing the video of East Jerusalemite Ahmed Manasra lying bleeding on the ground after being hit by a car while fleeing after stabbing two Israelis; upon seeing him with his legs bent up towards his head, trying to get up – my heart went out to him… a 13-year old kid – as much victim, as I saw it, of Hamas, as were the victims of his stabbings. And I searched the internet to see if he was alive and was being treated in hospital. As he was, despite Abbas’s claim that he had been executed! – in a most beautiful hospital in the beautiful area of Ein Karem, being provided with “5-star” medical treatment and being hand-fed good food. At that point, I was not yet informed on the nature of the attempted murder this boy and his cousin had perpetrated on the 13-year-old Jewish-Israeli boy leaving a sweetshop on his bike. Who could imagine that a 13 year-old riding his bike could find himself subjected to a stabbing frenzy. Manasra and his 15-year-old cousin stabbed him 15 times. If I had known this, I do not believe my compassion would have stretched so far. Yes – I still believe he is a victim of Hamas and his own Israeli Arab leaders, as was his cousin. But this frenzied attack seems indicative of psychopathy – Hamas-induced, Isis-inspired psychopathy.

I understand that Manasra, now released from hospital into police custody, was treated by a Jewish doctor while his Jewish victim, admitted into the other Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus, in a critical condition, attached to a respirator and placed in an induced coma was operated on in the Department of Surgery headed by the Israeli Arab doctor Professor Ahmed Eid. A week later, this boy has woken up from his coma and has started communicating with people around him. While he is now out of danger, he has a long period of rehabilitation ahead of him.

A year ago, Elie Weisel made a point that needed to be made, and needs to be made over and over again, and which hardly anyone has been willing to make, and which most newspapers were even reluctant to publish! What Hamas is doing to its own children is severe child abuse – how could it be anything else? It is in fact child murder. To instill hatred in the minds of your children; to strap them with explosives and send them to murder innocent people and themselves in the process; to use them as human shields, and fire rockets from their midst. This is amongst the extremes of child abuse and child hatred.

This is the point Elie Wiesel was making, in his full page ad in and which 327 people who described themselves as “anti-Zionist” holocaust survivors and their (near or very remote) relatives obscenely distorted as abusing the history of the holocaust in order to justify “Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of more than 2000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children.” Appropriately described as “327 Moral Idiots” http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/327-moral-idiots/ and in terms of their “Moral Emptiness” http://forward.com/…/moral-emptiness-of-holocaust-survivor…/ – demonstrating that surviving the holocaust in itself is not something that gives someone a monopoly on morality!

But in Britain, on the other hand, 732 holocaust survivors, including my father,  were admitted here under the 1000 orphans scheme.  They formed a lifelong support group, calling themselves, including the few girls among them, “The Boys”.  http://www.martingilbert.com/book/the-boys-triumph-over-adversity/  Certainly none that I have met would have gone along, or would go along, with the distortions of the 327 “moral idiots”.  Although those of “The Boys” still alive are now in their 80s, many work tirelessly to promote tolerance and understanding among peoples, to go into schools to educate children on the holocaust. As one of these survivors said: “I implore you not to hate as it was hatred that caused the Holocaust in the first place. Had I lived with hatred in my heart … I would not be here today.”

In my review of Martin Gilbert’s book referred to above, I write:  “The point is driven home, here, that within the scope of being a war against all Jews – the elderly, the disabled (whether or not they were Jewish), this was most specifically a deliberate war against Jewish children….”  “….at the time of deportation,the SS did their utmost to hunt out every single Jewish child, and the fact of this war against children became even more evident at the selections where none were permitted to live.”  (45 Aid Journal, 1999.  50-52.)

I have over the last few years come to understand the extent of the atrocity perpetrated by the German Reich towards German children during the years of, and preceding, WWII,  with its intense and overpowering brainwashing apparatus:  the “raping” of the minds of the children and susceptible adult civilians.  With the result that many would have thought thoughts and performed actions that went profoundly against their true nature.

For Elie Wiesel, the holocaust is an obvious reference point for his witnessing of the specific targeting of children.  Hamas’s targeting of Palestinian children as a means of targeting Israelis civilians may be viewed as “sacrifice” from their own point of view, and this is the term Elie Wiesel uses.  Of course this same term could not be applied to the targeting of Jewish children during the holocaust, and an analogy is not applicable as far as Hamas’s abuse of Palestinian children is concerned.

But the main point is that nobody is showing the Palestinians any kindness or humaneness – especially not towards their children – by ignoring the fact that brainwashing children with hatred, “raping” their minds in this way, turning them into human bombs and into human shields, is child abuse of a most extreme nature.

Hebrew in Hebron and Gaza

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I came across an article in ElectronicIntifada.net (2013) by a Palestinian-American born in Washington and educated in the States, who was amazed and appalled to “find Hebrew everywhere” in Gaza. This is what happens when a “journalist” decides to write an article without bothering to do any research!

In 1990 I was studying Hebrew at a language school near Natanya, Israel, called Ulpan Akiva. There they teach intensive courses in Hebrew and Arabic. Among the students there were a whole unit of young Israeli women soldiers learning to be teachers of Arabic, and a number of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza on Hebrew courses. One of the Palestinian men was there to improve his Hebrew because he worked for Bezek in Hebron, which is in fact an Israeli telephone company, like BT, (although the paper “France’s Liberation”, has now placed Bezek on Israel’s map upgraded to the status of a town!)

There were two Palestinian women, one from Hebron, and the other from Gaza, and I made a point of saying “Salaam” to them whenever I passed them. After a day or two, after we said “Salaam”, they stopped to make conversation, and invited me to their room for coffee, and we became friends.

The main point I want to make here is this (in response to the article I’m referring to): both women were teachers of Hebrew: Nawal in Hebron, and Rana in Gaza. I asked, with incredulity, “Do people in Gaza want to learn Hebrew?” and was surprised at Rana’s emphatic reply: “Very much! Very much!” There was nothing in the British media that could have prepared me for that information. So yes – there has been Hebrew in Gaza for a long time, and not because it’s been colonially imposed on the people as this self-designated journalist would have it, but because at least in 1990 – and presumably for a greater time span than that – a sector of Gazan society have chosen to learn it. Which indicates that they saw it as being useful for their future in terms of links with Israel. Which indicates that they were not thinking along the lines of obliterating Israel and Israeli Jews from the map!

Nawal, a married woman with children, told me about, and urged me to come to the Thursday night disco, where she sat in her long dress and hijab, “anthropologically” taking in scenes she would not be likely to come across again in Hebron, while repeatedly urging me to dance! She told me I resembled her son, and had the same colouring, closely observing my reaction, and seemed satisfied when she saw that I was delighted. (What she didn’t realise was one of the reasons why I was pleased. While in Britain, Jews were at one time the dark imposters who didn’t belong here, we had now become the fair imposters who didn’t belong in the Middle East, designated so by some colour-obsessed projecting Brits! I had even been (mis-) informed by a highly ignorant and arrogant postgrad in the anthropology library at Oxford University, that the whole conflict was about colour, in terms of what he described as the Ashkenazis being light (he hadn’t seen my father or my uncle!), the Sephardi Jews being dark, and the Arabs being darker still! So here was Nawal basically and appropriately rubbishing this kind of theorising!) Nawal also noticed that I played music, and told me that she and her family also played musical instruments. When I felt cold, Rana lent me her hand-knitted sweater, and a couple of the Palestinian men noticed that I was wearing her sweater and looked pleased. (Speaking of hand-knitting, it was a local Arab woman who taught my Israeli mother [Palestinian at birth] to knit when she was a child. So it seems I have her partly to thank for the scratchy salmon-coloured number my mother knitted for me and made me wear at the age of 8. [My sister had an identical outfit in tangerine!] Although I can’t in all fairness blame this kind Arab lady for my mother’s dress-sense and its imposition on me as a child!) (As for who taught my mother to swear in Arabic – the only language she swore in – that I don’t know, but it must have come rather later!)

Just before the first Gulf War started, I found that Rana and Nawal had suddenly returned home, and I hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye. It was a time that was rife with Palestinians murdering other Palestinians under the pretext that they were “collaborators”, and I was worried about trying to contact them in case it endangered them. Even now, I am not comfortable about revealing their names, and therefore I have used false names in this article. (I hope I’ve chosen names appropriate for their generation and characters, and not the equivalents of, for example, “Ethel” and “Gertrude”! Because they are definitely not “Ethel” or “Gertrude”. Nor are they “Saffron” and “Sophie”! In terms of generation!)

There are of course, other reasons why Hebrew exists in signs and graffiti in Gaza – there have been Jewish communities living there – before 1948, for example, during the Turkish occupation, during the British Mandate period, and before.

The arrogant student I mention above interjected his theorising into a conversation I was having with an Indonesian Muslim student. (He [the former] then proceeded with an angry protest against people in the Third World acquiring fridges on the grounds that it was a threat to the ozone layer. Whereas, it seems, only those of us in the First World should be allowed to deplete the ozone layer with our fridges!) There are too many people who, like him, are divisive: whose object is to stir things up between us, as if we needed it! They can’t tolerate that there are some people across the communities who want to talk to each other and who actually like each other. It is as if the “dividers” are yearning for the spectator blood sports of old. They want the war in an arena on their doorstep, so that they can not just watch in a a rocket-proof, knife-proof, bomb-proof area to keep their own physical persons safe, but also goad on the combatants.

Then, by contrast, there are a few people who take responsibility for promoting peace and healing among the communities. One of these people is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk: Thich Nhat Hanh based in France. See the video below of his Israeli/Palestinian retreat at Plum Village in which it is easy to see that he is overflowing with compassion.

As the Dalai Lama states in his Foreword to Thich Nhat Hanh’s book: Peace Is Every Step, “Peace must first be developed within the individual. And I believe that love, compassion, and altruism are the fundamental basis for peace. Once these qualities are developed within an individual, he or she is then able to create an atmosphere of peace and harmony. This atmosphere can be expanded and extended from the individual to his family, from the family to the community and eventually to the whole world.”

Another person who takes responsibility is the courageous and admirable Canadian Muslim: Irshad Manji.

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Michal 06 for Solo Clarinet at l’klectik Art Lab

18th London Wind sept 2015 new yellow

My work for solo clarinet, Michal 06, will be performed again on Tuesday October 13th, at l’klectik Art Lab, London SE1, by Phil Edwards. He performed it so beautifully and gave it more than I could have imagined, last month at Regent Hall. He has completely made it his own. The acoustics of the venue were amazing, which brought out polyphonies in the piece I haven’t heard in it before, and which I couldn’t have anticipated when writing it! I’m thrilled that he’s performing it again!

What is(n’t) this thing called love?

Residents of Holy Isle - 2 wild foals
Residents of Holy Isle – 2 wild foals

“You don’t know what love is

Til you’ve learned the meaning of the blues….”

I recently went on a retreat on the Holy Isle, off the Isle of Arran, with Tibetan Lama Rimpoche Yeshe.  On a couple of evenings, volunteers on the island held a “discussion meeting” – a topic for discussion was decided upon, and we were to discuss the nature of the subject, from the heart, while remaining in the present!

On one of these occasions, the subjects decided upon – since a number were thrown up – were love, and false perception or delusion.  Being “in love”, for example, is an example of false perception or delusion:  the object of love can do no wrong.  (Although can we ever truly perceive a person?  Or anything?  Is perception always distortion stemming from the perceiving mind?)  Being “in love” may consist of attachment rather than love, and may incorporate obsession, dependency, and other unhealthy mind-states.  From a Buddhist viewpoint, attachment or clinging is one of the most harmful states of mind:  harmful to oneself, and harmful to the person to whom one is clinging.  However, most unenlightened human beings do not seem to know how to love without attachment.

This can manifest in an infinite variety of ways – some relatively imperceptible, others more extreme:  parents clinging to their (even grown-up) children – not allowing them to live their own lives… breaking up relationships.  Closet gay people can cling to their straight marriages – forcing their spouses to unknowingly live a lie.  (Thus, the consequences of homophobia can harm straight as well as gay people, as any phobia harms the phobic.  And that is not to say that only straight people are capable of homophobia, by any means!  But I digress……)

Someone had proclaimed, earlier, when Lama Yeshe was leaving the Island, “I love you, Lama Yeshe”, so the question arose whether this was love, or gratitude, or love mixed in with gratitude.

Someone posed the question as to whether love and compassion were the same thing.  I suggested that it would help to discover this by looking at whether the love we feel for living beings is the same as love we may have for inanimate objects.  Somebody reacted strongly to this. “Why do we need to know?”” she demanded.  I pointed out that this could help us to know whether love and compassion are the same.  “Why do we need to know?” she reiterated.  Because we are examining the nature of love.  And therefore we need to look at what isn’t love.  “Why?”  (In her place, at her age, I might have pointed out helpfully that bananas are not love!  Donkeys are not love!)  Because we are trying to find the essence of love. “Why?”  She couldn’t relate to what I was saying, she explained later.

Perhaps I was not discussing from the heart, but was entrenched in the old habit of academic debate.  And assuming that we were all engaged in the pursuit – probably also academic – of the essence of a concept, and the meaning of a word. Of what practical use is it to know the difference between love and compassion?  How does it affect our lives to know the difference.  Do we indeed need to know?  And another interesting question:  can love exist without compassion, and can there be compassion without love?  I can anticipate what the young challenger at the discussion meeting would have responded with:  “Why do we need to know?”!

I can think of at least one practical application:  I love my guitars, for example.  (Which is in fact attachment – or maybe something a little more complicated.  It is not just that I can produce music with them, sing with them – as I could do that with other guitars which might have a more beautiful sound.  It is that I have imbued them with value because of their link with my personal history and personal relationships – but that is also not all it is, since I may not have imbued other objects linked with my history and relationships with the same value.  And here, I seem to be closer to an analytical enquiry, rather than an enquiry from the heart!)  But if I felt compassion for my guitars, I think that might give cause for concern!  This, I think, is one reason why it might be important to know the difference between love and compassion!  I think compassion is something that arises in the face of suffering, and inanimate objects can’t suffer.

Science fiction, however, is crossing this boundary:  we are presented with robots modeled perfectly on the human form (externally), which are capable of loving, and which have feelings which can be hurt.  And the result is that the consumer’s compassion is aroused by a convincing portrayal of such emotions.  Is the consumer then projecting her/his emotions on the inanimate object?  Or is it that humans can create objects which then take on lives of their own, developing in their own way, beyond the control of their manufacturers?  So far, this is confined within the realms of science fiction.

It is also problematic to use the word “inanimate” in relation to robots which mimic life, or even in relation to guitars, which can respond so beautifully to a musician’s fingers, which have individual quirkiness, and which “die” if they remain unplayed for too long.

Holy Isle - looking onto Isle of Arran
The Holy Isle – looking onto the Isle of Arran

A clarinet performance, and a protest against compression!

Embed from Getty Images

I found this image of a clarinet next to a precariously tipped glass of martini, on Getty images. I would be rather worried if I were the owner of that clarinet….

I have written a work for solo clarinet called “Michal 06”.  It will be receiving a second performance on 18th September in London, at the New Winds Festival, played by Phil Edwards.  I’m not sure yet of the venue, but will keep you posted.  Please keep this date free for this, and newer works for winds.

Michal 06 starts off as jazz, then progressing into a section based on oriental-style modes, which in turn progresses into a section which is Impressionistic in character. Although these three styles are so contrasting, the transition from one into the other seems seamless and natural. In the final section, these three styles are fused.

You can hear a recording of Michal 06 played most beautifully by Phil Edwards here:

If you’re thinking:  I’ve heard it now, so there’s no point in coming to the recital, my answer to you is:  not so!!!  Now it’s familiar, you’ll enjoy the performance more, and you’ll be getting the live, visual, compression-free experience.  Martini:  I think you’ll need to bring your own.

Speaking of compression:  I’m starting to think it should be outlawed!  I understand completely why so many people are reverting to vinyl, and am so pleased that I have kept my vinyl collection.  I used to feel music played on my record player with all my being, and now, with mp3s, it’s as if it’s all 2D instead of 3D.  My priority, as soon as I have the space, is to get a really good sound system, and to do away with mp3 recordings as far as possible.  It’s so convenient to be able to listen to Youtube recordings or to go to Naxos, but for the listening experience, I think it was far more worthwhile to make a trip to the music library, incur huge fines, etc. in order to take out LPs or even CDs.  Surely performers and composers want people to hear their music at its best, and not all compressed and flattened and deadened.  They could start refusing to allow their music to appear in mp3 format – but only really established artistes could really afford to do that.

In the meantime, it seems a whole generation has only ever heard compressed mp3 recordings, except when they go to live concerts.  How sad is that?!!!

Bell or Pas Belle!

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I came across Michelle Thomas’s blog:  Tinder Date – it just appeared on my computer screen and I clicked on it – about some creepy man she dated who specifically wanted her to know (by lengthy text) that he felt unable to fancy her (to put it delicately) unless she were a “slip of a girl”.  (It does sound like a grown woman is not what he’s after!  Does he need to read Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue!)

It reminded me of a boyfriend at the age of 20 who said to me:  “Honestly!  If you just lost a couple of stone, and you wore a pair of tight jeans, you’d walk across the room and you’d be irresistible!”  If I’d lost a couple of stone, I think I would have been close to skeletal, and I don’t think that was what he actually wanted!

It also reminded me of a poem I recently unearthed while searching for something, which I wrote a long time ago, based on a conversation with some French-speaking guy – not the same one I refer to in Artichoke Heart (earlier blog).  I use the name “Chantelle” mainly because it rhymes so perfectly with “belle”, but apart from that, I used to be known as Chantelle in folk clubs back in the day!  As for him – appropriately enough – I have not the slightest recollection of his name!  I hesitated to publish this on my blog for a few reasons, including:  reluctance to reveal inaccuracies in my French (apart from poetic licence); reluctance to expose the fact that my poetic writing doesn’t stand alone without music!  Yes – I would have written this with the purpose of singing it in folk clubs – but fortunately (perhaps) I didn’t sing it anywhere!  So here it is!

Tu n’es pas belle, Chantelle

Il regardait mes yeux, et il me dit

Pourquoi, dis-moi, tu te pas maquilles?

Je répondis, c’est la moi réelle

J’ai pas besoin d’être trop belle

Mais tu n’es pas belle, il dit, Chantelle

Tu n’es pas belle, Chantelle

*

Tu n’es pas belle, Chantelle, Chantelle

Tu n’es pas belle, Chantelle

Je trouve que tu es laide, en effet

Tu rassembles un peu à Madame Thacher

Mais tu n’es pas belle, Chantelle, Chantelle

Sauf que t’es triste, Chantelle

*

Tu m’attires à cause de ton scent

Ton parfum, peut-être, ou ta lotion

Tes cheveux sont beaux, comme un bébé ta peau

Et tu es spéciale dans ton genre

Mais tu n’es pas belle, Chantelle, Chantelle

Sauf que t’es nue, Chantelle

*

La beauté se trouve dans ma famille

Ma mère, ma soeur – elle est très exotique

Mon père était beau, comme moi, ainsi

Je ne te plais pas?  Je dis oui

Car je savais la peine de:  tu n’es pas belle

Pense-pas que t’es belle, Chantelle

*

Et dans le miroir, l’image tout clair

Laide comme le péché, un visage sévère

La beauté à voir vient de dedans

Mais la beauté dedans peut fuire dans un moment

Non, tu n’es pas belle, je me dis, Chantelle

C’est vrai, t’es pas belle, Chantelle

*

Et dans le marché, et dans la rue

Les vendeurs de légumes, les vendeurs de fruits

La sueur qui tombe de leurs fronts comme ils crient

Pour que t’achètes pas de son voisin, mais lui

Tu n’es pas belle, j’entends, Chantelle

Pense-pas que t’es belle, Chantelle

Tu n’es pas belle, mais laide, tu sais

Tu rassembles un peu à Madame Thacher

Et tu n’es pas belle de tout, Chantelle

T’es laide et pas belle, Chantelle

***

M. Herman

24.9.90

Artichoke Heart

Marilyn Herman CD back cover

Many years ago, this guy said to me: “My heart is like an artichoke.” He elaborated: each leaf or petal, reaching out to a different woman! This was in Paris, so in fact he said: “Mon coeur est comme un artichaut!” He also said: “Oh Mareline! Tu es la nuit et tu es le jour!” (He had seen me in grief, and he had seen me in exhilaration from dance.) This inspired my song: “Artichoke Heart”.

In 1996/7, I set out to record an album. I started to arrange my songs for jazz musicians, and went into a studio and got as far as recording three songs with three fantastic jazz musicians. First we had a couple of rehearsals, and I had a very precise idea of what I wanted from the musicians. I think it was at the end of the first rehearsal that the pianist said to me: “You have some good musicians here. They can do a lot if you let them!” So I let them!

I chose a studio where the singer Desrée had recorded one of her albums. It was a 24-hour recording session – the studio had a special rate for 24-hours, and I had a lot of stamina! After the first six hours dealing with musicians, I took a break. 6 hours was a long time to be entombed in a windowless studio, so I came up for fresh air. It was night-time on the edges of the City, and there weren’t many places to go to – just a few pubs open. I walked into one of them to relax and have a drink. The only other woman in the pub was an erotic dancer, and she greeted me and asked if I was a dancer – she probably couldn’t think why else I would be in that pub alone at that time! I wasn’t dressed the part, but then neither was she just yet!

I returned to the studio through the deserted night-time City streets to re-record the vocal without having my focus diluted by thinking about what the musicians were doing. However, as the hours went by, and the night wore on, tired myself, and the engineer becoming increasingly unstable (his eyes – glazed and scarey) with tiredness (he obviously had less stamina!), I was not happy with the result, and decided to return to re-record the vocal again, another time, when I was fresher. This I did with a different engineer at the same studio, after spending some time in New York (see earlier blog), and with the benefit of some lessons with the late New York jazz musician, Jackie Paris. Then I went to San Francisco to teach for a while, and never got back to completing the album.

All these years, nothing was done with the tracks – until now. I decided to make the tracks available for sale on CD and as MP3s, individually or as a 3-track album. I dug up a couple of photos of me from that era that seemed to work well with artichoke comets shooting through space, and giant space-borne jars of Waitrose artichoke hearts, for the CD covers.

All proceeds of sales received by me until end May will go to Ride The Night cancer charities. Hopefully I’ll be able to cycle the 100 km since apparently the terrain will be flat! A couple of days ago, I started training by cycling almost 50 km and that was exhausting. But there was a lot of uphill, and I confess, towards the end, I got off my bike and pushed it up much of the uphill stretch in Hampstead.

Anyway, the tracks can be heard here:

Maybe one day I will still complete the full album – (so many unfinished projects!) Though these days I prefer to sing other people’s songs (folk/jazz), and to play my classical (Flamenco) rather than acoustic guitar, and to have other people sing my songs, which now tend to be classical (but not always), and based on someone else’s words.

For those of you who came across this blog while searching for artichoke hearts, I hope this blog doesn’t disappoint, and that you find some great artichoke hearts! I saw in Planet Organic that Biona do jars of organic ones.

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Somali women in Britain: access to medical facilities and attitudes to female circumcision

Back in 1998, I was requested by two obstetricians who ran a well-woman clinic for Somali women at Middlesex Hospital in London, to conduct preliminary research on why Somali women in Britain may fail to access medical facilities available to them, and on their attitudes to the custom of female circumcision.  The clinic was well attended often for the purpose of circumcision reversals especially in advance of childbirth, or because of medical complications arising as a result of their circumcisions. These obstetricians were obviously concerned that more women could be accessing the facilities they provided, and perhaps that some women, whose complications could be particularly severe and life-threatening, could be accessing treatment earlier on in the course of their medical conditions. The purpose of the report was to apply for funding for fuller research into these matters.

I interviewed a number of Somali women who visited the well-woman clinic, and also in Bethnal Green, and staff at Tawakal Somali Women’s Group – an organization in East London devoted to the well-being of Somalis in London, and the promotion of Somali culture.  Where necessary, I had the services of an interpreter.

To my knowledge, nothing was done with the report which I produced, and therefore I am publishing it here in case it is of interest and informative value to researchers.  I believe most of the findings of this report to still be relevant today.

Language and Information

The main factors cited for failing to take advantage of medical services relate to language and information.  Somali women who are not literate in English, or who have not acquired a facility with the English language, cannot read leaflets or access information in English.  For reasons of language, and their position as refugees, they may simply be unaware of what is available to them, since they do not know their way around an unfamiliar system, and are used to a very different system in Somalia: a system in which medical care is not readily available to everyone.  In addition, it is customary for Somali women to remain at home, so many women may not go to public places where information is available.

Inadequate interpretational facilities

Inadequate interpretational facilities were also cited as a major factor in explaining why women may either be reluctant to consult medical personnel, or may receive inaccurate information, which may result in their failure to follow up a consultation or course of treatment.

One implication of poor interpretational facilities is lack of confidentiality.  Somalis are encouraged to take relatives along to medical consultations as interpreters, but this frustrates any wish for confidentiality, the prior information of the patient, and the patient’s prerogative to choose what to disclose or not to disclose to relatives.  The same is applicable in the case of community members who may act as interpreters, as Somali women may not wish to run the risk of information on their medical condition spilling out into the community.

Another implication of the lack of professional interpreters is that since relatives or friends may not be experienced in medical interpretation and translation, information may be incorrectly transmitted.  Husbands, I was told, frequently hold on more tenaciously than their wives to the way things were in Somalia, and it is therefore not an uncommon occurrence for them to withhold information from their wives, or to convey incorrect information.  An example given was of a pregnant woman who already had many children.  Her doctor suggested that she may wish to consider measures to prevent future pregnancies.  Her husband who accompanied her to the consultation simply told her that the doctor said that she needed to lose weight.  When she consulted the same doctor with a different interpreter during her subsequent pregnancy because of related complications, she discovered what the doctor had actually suggested at her previous visit.  This case was cited to me as a general, rather than isolated, example of the way in which husbands may be involved in the misinformation, or lack of utilisation of medical facilities, of their wives.  It was explained to me that husbands frequently wish to continue the Somali way of having a child each year, despite the British context making it too difficult to have a large number of children.

Shame

Shame attached to certain medical conditions is a factor preventing some women from seeking medical attention.  According to aspects of Somali thought (and this is not just confined to Somalis), the patient may be believed to be culpable of the illness she bears, such as in the case of AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases, and this attitude may extend to other conditions, such as genital infections and vaginal thrush.  In such cases, women would be reluctant to consult medical personnel.

Some women feel that they are considered shameful and looked down upon by doctors because of their status as refugees, which may make them reluctant to consult them.  It is possible that, in Somali thought, dishonourable status may be attached to the condition of not being rooted in the land where one is living, as is the case in neighbouring Ethiopia.

Fear of vaccinations and mind-altering drugs

In some cases, a fear of certain types of medical treatment may be an inhibiting factor in seeking out medical help.  Since vaccinations are known to have been a significant cause in the spread of various illnesses, from AIDS to Hepatitis, some Somalis may therefore be fearful of consulting doctors because of their fear of vaccinations.

I was informed that, in addition, in Somalia, drugs prescribed by doctors to treat depression were inappropriate, and caused permanent damage to sufferers’ mental health, destroying their personalities.  Depression is a major problem among Somalis in Britain, especially because of loss suffered and terrible scenes witnessed in the Somali war.  Some have seen family members murdered before their eyes.  However, rather than seek medical treatment for depression, there are some Somali women and men who waste their lives chewing chat (a drug similar to marijuana) or drinking excessive quantities of alcohol in an attempt to numb themselves from the after-effects of trauma.

Lack of confidence in the British medical services

A Somali woman who had been in Britain since the 1960s expressed a lack of confidence in the medical services in Britain, of which she claimed to have witnessed the decline over the years.  She felt there were too many mistakes and oversights, and too little pride in medical practice in Britain, and contrasted this to medical practice in Germany where she maintained that standards were higher because of eagerness to obtain the best possible results from their work.  Her opinion was informed by her own experience, particularly in the case of her son who had suffered from epilepsy following an accident.  She told me that with conventional medical treatment, his condition deteriorated, but improved once she discontinued his medical treatment and cared for him at home in her own way.

Preventative health care

It was suggested to me that consultation of medical practitioners for the purpose of preventative health care was not a concept which existed in Somalia, and it may therefore not occur to people to consult medical services until they actually become ill.

The concept of acting to prevent the onset of illness does exist in ideas of healthy diet, and so forth.  But in Somalia, preventative health care was not linked to conventional medical facilities.

Traditional medicine

In Somalia, Islamic leaders would often be consulted in the mosques for healing by hearing the Qur’an read by religious Sheikhs and through other religious methods.  Other forms of traditional healing using herbs and amulets are attributed to rural and uneducated Somalis, rather than town or city people, but no-one interviewed knew of any of these traditional practices continuing in Britain.  I was told that many Somali refugees in Britain are in fact from rural areas.  However, these practices would not conflict with any wish to access orthodox medical facilities.  Of course everyone wants health, I was told, and will access all health facilities available to them, as long as they have confidence in them.

Female circumcision

The attitude to female circumcision varies among women according to their age and generation.

Somali women of the generation whereby they have grown-up children may be attached to the custom.  One woman of this generation expressed disinterest, although concern with related medical complications.  Another woman with grown-up children was very strongly opposed to the custom, encouraging other women to undergo reversals.  However, it is an ancient custom, I was told, and cannot change overnight.

Women of the younger generation – in their 20s, 30s, and younger, would not be willing to have their daughters circumcised.  This, I was told, is a general reflection of attitudes of young Somali women in the United Kingdom, and an attitude which is increasing among young women within Somalia.  One young woman expressed the opinion that female circumcision is “unnecessary”, and two others described the conditions under which they underwent the procedure, and the experience, as “terrible”.

Two women stressed that female circumcision is not in accordance with Islam, and is therefore not a necessary aspect of their culture, or one which has to endure.  Some women were also concerned to point out, perhaps in objection to being characterised in relation to this practice, that female circumcision is not something that is specific to Somalis, but that it also exists among many other nationalities, and was even practised in Europe not so long ago. However, it appears that female circumcision still occurs among Somalis in Europe, and parents may take their daughters to Saudi Arabia where it is performed under anaesthetic.

Concern, however, was expressed with the way in which their circumcision customs have been publicised and emphasised in the British media, providing the British public with a very unbalanced and negative portrayal of their culture.  They wished for positive aspects of their culture to be conveyed to balance the picture, and for a more sensitive treatment of the subject of circumcision, perhaps confined to women inside their community.

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The implications of this report extend to various other language groups in the UK.

Today a translation service provided by the NHS known as “Language Line” means that during medical consultations, translation can be supplied over the telephone. This must solve the problems regarding patients’ confidentiality, and the accurate and complete transmission of vital information to the patient, which interviewees outlined in 1998.

Arising from the interviews was an obvious need for programmes – or perhaps DVDs or websites – in the languages of various ethnic minorities which would enable women to understand the need for medical intervention and treatment in the case of medical conditions to which they may attach a sense of shame, as described. Such programmes, DVDs or websites should also provide explanations of the need for medical intervention in the area of preventative healthcare, and also proper explanation of vaccinations, and drugs prescribed for depression, to enable a patient to understand the ways in which such treatments might be beneficial.

What also arises from this report is a need for outreach services providing information to members of Somali and other communities who tend not to go to public places where such information would be available, and a need for appropriate support for refugees from war-torn countries who may be severely traumatized by what they may have witnessed and experienced.  Somali community organizations, cultural centres and women’s associations throughout London fulfil some of these needs.

 

 

 

They Came With A Dream – “Doing Jazz” in New York

By http://picasaweb.google.com/jimhofman1000 [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
In 1996/97, I went to Manhattan to “do jazz”. When I got back, still full of the New York energy, I wrote this…….

All the musicians singers actors artists writers go there. Twenties thirties forties – everyone with a dream. (Fifties and sixties – who went there with a dream when New York was different – not all high rise.) Israeli Latin American Southern States Northern States…. from places that are not Manhattan. I sit in an armchair in the Mona Lisa Cafe in West Greenwich Village – every few seconds someone walks past carrying a guitar – Guitar City.

What they do for their art. The conditions they live in….paying out like someone of means to live in dire poverty, hand to mouth, downtown in the Village. As Roommate Finders sent me to see: for no small fee, rooms with no windows, (holes in the wall), rooms with internal windows only, rooms facing directly onto a brick wall two inches in front, rooms curtained off in a loft. (I would have to ask: does the room have an external window, four walls and a door?) For an average rent of $800 per month. For slightly less you can afford a curtained-off space in a living room or a mattress on the floor in the entrance, by the front door.

Roommate Finders – you try calling but everyone has voice mail and the hardest thing is to speak to an actual human being. They have to be able to get back to me so I buy a cell phone which it turns out has not yet gained coverage of much of New York – useless in the entire West Village and Chelsea, for example. Each ad receives one hundred or so calls, so they don’t get back to everyone. The situation is so impossible, with hundreds of dollars spent just on speaking to people’s voice mail.

Well I don’t have to be on the streets – if the worst comes to the worst I have a return ticket to England. “But you came with a dream” say the porters and janitors, without knowing why I’m there. “You came here for a reason – you should give it your best shot.”

The housing situation fills me with despair. I tell myself: I came for a reason – I have to give it my best shot.

Staying in Jersey City with the kind hospitable friend of a cousin – 31st floor, view of the entire skyline of Manhattan. PATH trains to Jersey stop around midnight so I get back in time each night. Don’t realise they also start around midnight. Start waking up each morning thinking – why am I here? Oh yes – I’m here for the jazz – and once I find somewhere to live downtown can go jamming to the early hours.

With my tenant in London three months late with her rent and the denial of New York banks of any affiliation with banks in the UK – the virtual impossibility of accessing my money, the insecurity – and some major error of judgement, decide for now to take something down down down town and East East East of the East Village – East of Chinatown – really East – the Lower East Side. “Don’t go there – you won’t get the right vibe” says Osi – a young Israeli singer. “Are you sure you want to live that far out?” asks Malcolm the drummer. But with my characteristic downfall – an inability to take advice from people with more knowledge and experience – I decide to go there as it’s not too much money or commitment.

The place is much much filthier than I’d noticed, but people remind me I’m lucky it’s not infested. The landlady has an assortment of the strangest friends who are there all hours, day and night, sleeping on the sofas.

The taxi driver who takes me and my suitcases is an aged German who does not know the way, does not know English, and can hardly see. He gets furiously lost, stops to ask people the way though his English is barely up to it – he cannot pronounce “Grand Street” – and has tantrums at these various “arseholes” who don’t know what they’re talking about. He asks me to read the street signs as his eyesight is not up to the task. I have all my belongings with me in his taxi, and I think of the African proverb: “Don’t tell the turtle who is carrying you on his back across the water that he stinks” – so I sit there quietly, willing our arrival. Which finally occurs, at which his eyesight is sufficiently restored to look at the area and apartment buildings and ask with incredulity: “You like to live here?”

 

All these people who come to Manhattan with a dream…….what they do for their art! Living in squalid dire poverty. Waiting tables. Israeli jazz guitarist Amos – it took such a long time – years – he said, before he was actually performing. The jazz pianist I met at Smalls – it took two years before he stopped being freaked out every day by Manhattan, and a further three years til he actually started to feel at home, and was finally playing for a living. Now he has regular work playing piano in a couple of restaurants.

And then there was Malcolm, house drummer at Arthur’s Tavern. His story begins some ten or or so years previously when he was on tour from his home country Barbados with his calypso band in Canada. The day they were scheduled to fly back home, he lay on his hotel bed staring at the ceiling, and said to the rest of the band: I’m staying here.

A few years later he decided to go to New York and simply turned up with no place to go. He worked as a chef for a couple of years before pursuing his real career as a drummer. As a chef, he broke his leg and had to leave work early one day because his leg was hurting so much, and then got fired. So he couldn’t pay his rent and his landlady wanted to kick him out, but he persuaded her to let him sleep in a storage cupboard with all the stored furniture and odds and ends til his leg healed and he was able to find work. He never looks back, just forward. Never despairs. One day – perhaps jolted by his situation on the edge – the thought came to him…..green card – marriage. He was sitting in a cafe – saw a woman sitting there, and thought: she’s the one.

After a year they married, and eventually got a house in Brooklyn. He worked in different jobs – as a chef, also selling jewellery. He set up a stand in the streets and his wife, a fellow Bajan, started making jewellery to sell and would join him at the stand. In the early days there would be some African Americans (“they’re not African. They’re black Americans!” insisted Malcolm, himself as black as jet) who would spit on him and curse him for doing menial work.

Then the drumming really started taking off and Malcolm found himself working more evenings and nights. Meanwhile his wife’s dream of fashion design had also taken off and she was successful and busy by day and their paths rarely crossed. Neither were willing to sacrifice any part of their dream for their marriage, so the time came to go their separate ways, and Malcolm left his marriage, their house in Brooklyn, their belongings all behind him, focused ahead and moved on.

Arthur’s Tavern – apart from Malcolm on drums, there was Terry…….on voice and piano. An African-American grandmother with a daughter in her forties and other children – she sang for hours and hours into the early hours of the morn, accompanying herself on piano. She sang jazz and blues like it was as natural to her as eating and breathing. The control in her voice, the suppleness, the raunchiness, expressiveness, energy. She lived in a garret in Brooklyn – no piano – just a little keyboard.

Then there were the two old blues singers/pianists in their eighties. Surely you’re not supposed to be able to sing anymore at that age? But did they sing? Did they play? Do I breathe, eat? And their voices! The piano was simple blues – second nature. So these African American Southerners – the real thing – at the top of their careers and at the top of their ability – are playing in Arthur’s just for tips – taking home as little as $10 per night – to a mixed audience: the real jazz and blues lovers including an old gentleman escaping his mean wife, who cried to think about how mean she was and what she’d do when he got home. Some just in Manhattan temporarily, and out for the evening. Some tourists come to “do” the jazz while in NY. Some sleazy men shadowing and stalking any likely or unlikely female – some people, I was told, would even make out in the washrooms downstairs – which seemed quite a feat as there was barely enough room even to take a simple pee.

Smalls is small. You stand in line and eventually when enough people have left there’s room for you to go in. It’s where young-and- up-and-coming jazz musicians have a place to perform, new jazz composers have a place to air new jazz compositions, and where there are hours of opportunity for jamming. A band will start at 10 pm – another at midnight. Finally at two a.m. (though invariably running late) another band will come on to play and open up the jam, which continues until 8a.m., though finishes earlier if there aren’t enough people to play. You get sax players, bass players, turning up with their instruments at three four five in the morning. You get newcomers from the Southern States – drummers, pianists – come to NY for the jazz, just checking the place out. You get jazz lovers regulars couples groups who just want to chill out in the early hours. $10 to get in – then non-alcoholic drinks on the house for an all-night shift. You can bring your own alcohol.

The bands vary from extremely good to extremely mediocre. The jammers play in any key – without charts. They put their name down on a list and are called up – they decide on a song, on a key, and are off.  Particularly innovative and exciting are some of the Israeli musicians and the oriental blend of jazz they introduce. There’s Omer Avital who, curved in deep embrace around his bass, caresses the most unlikely sounds from it such as the strumming of an oud. And his compositions and breathtaking musicians. There’s Amos who plays guitar and real oud. There’s the Israeli bass player who turns his bass into a percussion instrument – and who succeeded in breaking the basses of two other musicians because of the way he played. And where did he have the money to pay for their repair? The expense was left to Mitch – the owner of Smalls – to meet and quickly so the basses were playable and the musicians back on the road. He wasn’t going to invite them back to play, Mitch told me after some nights of these Israeli performances. What they play isn’t jazz. People don’t understand it so they don’t come, so he makes a loss. Yes the Israelis come to listen, but they don’t pay.

But the Israelis continued to play there. And Mitch opened it up for rehearsals throughout the day at no cost. He let me practise and vocalise there in the day although inhibited by comments from musicians such as “Still singing that song?” “Yes she’s been working on that same song for the last ten years”, or intimidated by musicians wanting to join in – play the song in bossa tempo, and finally – once I landed in the Lower East Side – finding the will to sing and my interest in jazz being sapped out of me.

On Saturday early evening at Smalls, six to nine, there’d be a no covers jam – students from the New School who didn’t get paid, and if there was time, it would be followed by musicians who could go up and jam. Singers would be called up sometimes.

Arnie Lawrence, founder of the New School, had a more open definition of jazz – anything is jazz if there’s improvisation. So Middle Eastern music can be jazz. Classical music used to be jazz, in the days of Mozart, Bach. He’s opening up a New School in Jerusalem where he now lives – and his vision involves getting master musicians of all cultures to teach there. He put me in touch with Jackie Paris (who “played with all the cats”)  for some singing lessons.

In Arthur’s Tavern, I met a young poet – she was there on her own from Canada. Every now and then she takes off for NY, stays at the Y, and takes in the nightlife. She showed me a poem she was moved to write at a previous venue by the extent to which “the music sucked”.

I also met there a young Israeli girl of about 21 in a blue feather boa at the bar – one of the army of brave young artistes who hit the university of the nightlife of Manhattan – while taking classes courses waiting tables by day. This was a young aspiring actress who could not afford to go to drama college. She was dismayed that I’d lost my will to sing. She told me of her ex-boyfriend who played the guitar in a way that moves the heart of anyone who listens. But he lost the will to play – every day he picks his guitar up and tries to play for a little while but then gives up. He doesn’t have it in him any more. She hoped so much I would start singing again.

When in NY, I thought, do as the New Yorkers do. So I decided to wait tables. In the Mona Lisa Café, the waitress who was an actress mentioned to the next table who were chatting her up she was leaving for Europe to film in a few days. So I knew there’d be a vacancy. I asked the waiter if the manager was there. The waiter’s English wasn’t sufficient to understand me. I went up to the manager – a sour dour man – and said how much I loved the café (his response was sour and dour) and did he need more staff? He asked if I had a resumé – a national insurance number – and said he didn’t need anyone for the moment, but would keep my number in case he needed someone to fill in. I asked the waiter for the check but his English wasn’t sufficient to understand.

I had a phone message one day from the Mona Lisa manager to turn up at 10 a.m. “for training” which I duly did, having had to cut short my all-night outing the previous night. What did he mean by training? They would teach me the work for a few hours. No I wouldn’t get paid. No, there wouldn’t be work straight afterwards. They’d see if I was good enough first, and then they’d see what shifts were available. But there might not be any. And if there were, they couldn’t guarantee whether they’d be day or night. Which would I prefer? (Day – because I’m in NY for the jazz – at night.) Well they would probably only have night shifts. And no there’s no pay. (Tips only.)

Somehow, at this stage of my life, I didn’t feel willing to submit myself to this exploitation, so I said it wasn’t for me, and left without training.

Feeling rather dejected, I sat and ate a pizza, and the Israeli manager of the pizza place offered to take me up the road to an Italian restaurant owned by a friend of his where they have music. I went there armed with a demo but there was nothing to play it on there. So the restaurant owner asked me to go to the piano and do my thing. I had already ceased to function and lost my will to sing and play. I dragged by fingers to the keyboard and dragged my voice out, but there was no energy, and I tried to hide my intense lack of confidence. It was sounding very mournful so I tried to do something with higher energy and emotion, and managed to get an applause. A couple of customers made requests I couldn’t fulfil, not knowing the songs. Afterwards I got up from the piano and approached the restaurant owner, and he simply asked me if I was interested in waitressing.

Most mornings I woke up asking myself what I was doing there, and by evening I would know the answer: it was for jazz: to listen learn sing participate in the music life of the city that never sleeps. But now – worn down by accommodation searches and freaked out by the Lower East Side – unable to think or to sing, it was clear I could no longer do what I had gone there to do and there really was no longer any reason for me to be there. I had mirages of lush grass, oak trees and evergreens like someone hallucinating water in a desert. It was time to leave.

The commitment of those who come to Manhattan, spend a fortune to live like paupers in appalling conditions, who wait tables for years before they’re doing what they came to do in little restaurants and bars – for virtually no money. These people who hold on to their dream (but let go of love), even while cooking or waiting tables (acting skills used to recite menus……)

Their passion and commitment to their music, their instrument, their dream. My father used to tell me: there are people who eat drink breathe sleep dream music. So this is where they congregate.

Petition to reverse TFL’s decision to scrap cash fares on buses

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With cash fares no longer admitted on buses, some passengers will be stranded and at risk.  Oyster cards can be lost, stolen, not yet purchased, or have an insufficient balance.  There is often nowhere close to busstops to buy/top up an Oyster card – certainly not at all hours.  Passengers may not have contactless payment cards – especially if they are children. It is hard to believe that this measure is being introduced just a few months after a 22-year old law student was turfed off her last bus home at 3am in freezing temperatures for being 20p short of the fare.  Walking homewards to meet her mother who was coming to pick her up, she was subjected to rape, and to violence which was so extreme, her own mother did not recognise her, and from which she might easily have died. Only one third of those consulted on the proposal to scrap cash fares on buses agreed with it. Scrapping cash fares on buses is a thoughtless, mindless and uncompassionate measure, and this decision should be reversed.  Fare payment methods should support the safety, security and mobility of passengers, and not leave them stranded and place them at risk. Please click on the following link and sign my petition:

Somali women and Female Genital Cutting: A Mark of Cultural Identity, or Extreme Violence Against Women and Girls?

Image by Awesame Mohamed (Digital Journal) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has described female genital mutilation, or cutting, as among the “most extreme manifestations of gender-based violence there is”. The issue of FGC has gained increased publicity and news coverage in recent months in the UK. The general understanding is that FGC, termed as “mutilation” (FGM), constitutes violence, child abuse, and a human rights violation. The young girls who are subjected to FGC, considered in the West as “victims”, live in 28 countries in Africa and the Middle East, and in Britain, Europe, and other countries their families have migrated to. In Britain and elsewhere, it becomes of matter of protecting children who are citizens of our countries.

Negative views of FGC are not confined to the West. Article 15(4) of Somalia’s new Provisional Constitution which prohibits “circumcision of girls” declares the practice as “cruel and degrading….and…tantamount to torture.” Similarly it is classed as “torture” by the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

Is it, however, valid to class culturally-prescribed FGC as a violent crime against children? As “torture” or “tantamount to torture”, or indeed, as “mutilation”? Are we wishing to impose a Western value system where it may not be applicable? Indeed, by enforcing mandatory examinations of girls considered to be at risk, as in France, or as suggested in the UK, are girls’ human rights being violated further?

Inherent in the definition of “torture” is an intention to inflict pain and suffering. While the term “violent”, implies a destructive force – an intention to harm, damage or kill. These are surely never the intentions of those subjecting their daughters, granddaughters and nieces to FGC. While the intentions of those whose profession is to carry out the cutting may sometimes be less than pure, their intentions are still, surely, not violent.

And then there is the term “mutilate”, implying not just that the act is violent, but also that the result constitutes disfigurement, severe damage or destruction; that the beauty is spoiled. Yet it could be argued that FGC is beautifying according to a specific cultural aesthetic. Dynamic anti-FGC advocate, Leila Hussein, invited signatures for her bogus petition in favour of FGC intended to test the reactions of the British public (The Cruel Cut, Channel 4). “It’s beautiful!” – she called out to passers-by. Is it therefore a matter of cultural perspective as to whether cut female genitalia are disfigured, damaged, or spoiled?

Germaine Greer, a feminist whose views fall along the lines of a woman’s right to enjoy sex and to choose what is done to her genitalia, provoked a furor when she defended the right of women to undergo FGC as a mark of their cultural identity. Many of us in Britain who proclaim liberal values may incline towards cultural relativism. Where FGC is carried out under anaesthetic, we might posit the question as to how different FGC is from the practice of non-medically-based plastic surgery for culturally-aesthetic reasons. One might argue that in this case, adults choose to have the surgery. We could present the counter-argument that an element of choice is removed from these women by conditioning and brain-washing from lifelong exposure to media images.

It is perhaps partly due to an inclination towards cultural relativism, and a consequent reluctance to interfere with the various cultural mores of Britain’s ethnic minorities, that the issue of FGC has been slow to be taken on board in this country. A general reluctance on the part of the predominantly male powers-who-be to concern themselves with the vaginas of the politically least significant sector of the community (being female, minors and non-white) may also be a factor. In France, with its zero tolerance approach to FGC, approximately 100 people have been tried and jailed for involvement in FGC. In Britain, however, there has only been one (recent) prosecution to-date. We are told that FGC has been illegal in Britain since 1985 – something one might be forgiven for finding confusing. When has it ever been legal to mutilate a child in the UK? (Since beheading went out of vogue as a method of capital punishment.) More recently, it was reported that emails sent out to heads of schools containing guidelines relating to FGC were not even, for the most part, opened! How should we understand this? In terms of heads of schools being busy people, and of girls at risk of FGC being of low priority?

In the case of the Somali community in Britain, Abdi[1] casts doubt on the assumption that education, and awareness of the adverse effects and risks of FGC, is the answer. Families who are both educated and aware, such as her own, are nevertheless continuing the practice. She claims that activists who oppose FGC view the practice only according to a purely physical/medical model, and fail to consider it as creating Somali gendered identity. The question this evokes is: Can a woman be Somali if she has not been cut? (I am sure the answer to this is: most definitely!!!)

A Somali woman I once had the privilege of interviewing – a very beautiful and spiritual community leader with British-educated grown-up children – declined to either condemn or condone the practice: “I don’t know if it is a good or a bad thing,” she shrugged. I understand from her response that the practice was necessary in the social context she came from, and carried out with positive intentions. Somali parents subject their daughters to FGC in order that they will be marriageable, so that they will be “clean”, so that their behaviour will be culturally “feminine” (as it is believed in Somalia to impact on a girl’s behaviour), so that their bodies will be culturally “feminine”, so that they will be chaste until marriage, so that they will not be a source of shame to their families. Most of all, parents subject their daughters to FGC so that they will have social existence. If a woman is uncircumcised, in the Somali context (and even to some extent in the diaspora context) she will be unmarriageable, and will thus have no social role. Avoidance of such a fate is something parents have a duty to ensure. They are assuring their daughters’ future. A young mother may have no say in the matter, and may be forced to comply with the demands of her mother-in-law.

Upon learning that FGM is not in fact ordained in Islam, that not all women undergo the practice, and of its harmful consequences (which in Somalia were attributed to factors unrelated to FGM), how is a parent to feel? Surely it is unbearable to conceive of the idea that one has exposed one’s daughter to unnecessary violence, to unnecessary intense pain, to unnecessary health risks, and the potential disability or death of her offspring.

Opposition to the practice does exist in Somalia. Mogadishu-based Imam Macalin Adam Mohammed Osman has been advocating against the practice, insisting that it has no foundation in Islam.

Neither religion, therefore, nor, in my view, cultural relativism, can be evoked to justify the practice of FGM – a practice which is violent to the extreme. Certainly in the Somali case, it is violence that is inflicted on young girls, and that is reinflicted throughout their lives. It is reinflicted when a woman’s fused flesh is forced or cut open on her wedding night. Men as well as women are documented as being deeply traumatised by this event. In Somalia, it might be reinflicted when a man returns from a journey, having had his wife’s vagina sewn up before leaving to ensure her fidelity in his absence.   Much has been documented on the health problems and complications in childbirth which result from FGM, apart from the pain and difficulty in urinating and menstruating. A Somali nurse I encountered suffered from kidney failure as a result of FGM, endangering her life.

Waris Dirie, anti-FGM campaigner and UN ambassador (and former model), describes her experience of FGM in her book Desert Flower. Like Abdi’s interviewees, Waris was excited about the impending act because deception is involved in the practice. At the age of 5, or 7, the little girls are not told, and do not understand, exactly what is going to happen. Having been cut, in Waris’s case, she was left alone in the desert through the night, her legs tied together. She lost her sister to the practice.

The parents, grandparents, aunts who subject the little girls to FGM do not have violent or harmful intentions. But they are unconscious, unquestioning actors within a larger, all-engulfing mind, which has collectivised geographically and historically, down through the generations. This is a mind which is terrified of women’s sexuality, and wishes to eradicate it. It is a mind that willingly sacrifices the lives of girls and women to this end. A mind that advocates leaving mutilated little girls alone in the desert. It is a mind which believes that it is fine to cut young girls’ and women’s flesh repeatedly. A mind that is indifferent to women’s pain and suffering.   It is a mind which hates the (unaltered) vagina. A mind with a violent and destructive intention towards women and girls. Such a mind is, surely, characterised by misogyny.

Not everything that becomes embedded in our culture, and becomes enshrined as “tradition”, deserves to be preserved. The mass-murder of women as witches – a historical manifestation of extreme misogyny in European culture – was thankfully eventually abandoned.

Misogyny I believe, is the foundation of FGM. It is my belief, further, that children who are in danger, in distress, or in need – wherever they may be – are the responsibility of all of us. This responsibility, I believe, is uncompromisable by ideas of cultural relativism.

[1]“Carving Culture: Creating Identity through female genital cutting.” Durham Anthropology Journal, 18(1) 2012. 115-153

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