Paul Eisen

Paul Eisen

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Before it's too late...

Listen to this man 
I love Ken O' Keefe. I love the way he looks. I love the way he sounds, I even love his accent. But most of all I love his courage and his righteous, truthful  anger.

But when I hear this I'm nervous.

I'm nervous because, as Ken says what must be said and when he says it how it should be said,  and when his audience respond properly and appropriately to what is being said - I'm nervous

I'm nervous because I know, that when the anger gets just too much and when people look to put right those things that must be put right, I know that the people who'll get hurt won't only be those Jews who deserve to be hurt,  but also those Jews who maybe don't deserve to be hurt.

So, I'll say it again. To my fellow Jews: Please, please, please look into the eyes of the other. Look at how you are reflected there and stop before it's too late.

Monday, 20 February 2012

From the people who brought you the 'Destruction of Dresden'....'The Flattening of Duren'

For all its notoriety the attack on Dresden was nothing like as severe as those on, for example, Berlin Cologne, Essen and Hamburg. But the German town whose fate moves me most is the old northern town of Duren.
Marketplace, Duren - 2009

Maria is nearly 65 and born and raised in Duren. She's a friend of Francis' so we're invited to her small apartment. To this day, I'll never quite know why it should have happened like this but within one hour of our coming Maria has rushed to her bedroom and brought out for us the two blue-bound volumes she has kept so close for over fifty years. They were given to her when she was a little girl by the grandmother with whom she was so close and who was so anxious that her little grand-daughter should be the one German child who understood what had befallen her family, her community and her country. It was from her grandmother and these books that Maria learned what had happened to her city.

By 1900, Düren was among Germany's richest cities (with 42 millionaires and 93 factories) and had a population of 27,168.

Forty-four years later on the 16th of November 1944 the town was attacked by the Royal Air Force - 485 Lancasters and 13 Mosquitoes. The sirens sounded and the residents went down into the cellars. By now, they and all their fellow citizens of all the towns and cities of Germany knew plenty about air-raids, so they just sat there, shuddering at the noise and vibration, praying they wouldn't sustain a direct hit and waiting to come out and clear up the mess.

But when they came out to clear up the mess, there was no mess to clear up because there was no town. There was just rubble. Duren was no more.
Peschschule, Duren 1946
Duren 1946
The whole thing took about 40 minutes.

Of the 22,000 inhabitants, 3000 were killed in the air-raid - quite low thanks to the excellent provision of shelters and air-raid procedures - and, except for the four souls who for some reason chose to stay with their town, the entire population was evacuated to central Germany.

In 1945, the piles of rubble that were once the city of Duren were located on the main fighting front, and one of the bloodiest battles was fought on Düren's district area in the Hürtgenwald. On the 25th of February 1945, U.S.troops crossed the River Rur at Düren.

After the war was over, in the summer of 1945, the people came back to their destroyed city and started to rebuild their homes. By June 1945, the population had risen to 3806.

Unlike at Deir Yassin, they kept the name and, Germans being Germans, they painstakingly and lovingly rebuilt their town just as they rebuilt their country.

There are more questions than answers....

I just got more questions than answers.

Lots of people are opposed to Israel - either to its existence or just because it behaves so badly - but that's about as far as it goes.

For those who care only that it behaves so badly: What's it doing that's so wrong? Is it worse than so many other atrocities taking place in the world? If so, why?

How can Israel be made to behave better? Is is able to behave better? If not, why not? Is it the circumstances of its birth? Is it its Jewishness? Or both?

And for those who think Israel shouldn't exist at all:  Is that in any shape or form, or could it exist as a territorial entity but not as a Jewish state? But then what would be the point? But why shouldn't Jews have their own state - other people do and if Jews think they're a people (and plenty of them do) why can't they be a people? Suppose Jews set up their state where it didn't bother anyone like on the moon or in Antarctica - would that be okay?

And if there's no Israel and only a Palestine, what kind of Palestine would there be? We can't go back (Does anyone want to knock down Tel Aviv university and rebuild the Palestinian village?)  but how to go forward? Secular? Democratic? Islamic? None of our business?

And if Israel is abolished, what happens to Israeli Jews? Do they stay? Do they go? Do some stay? Do some go? If they stay, under what terms?

Can they continue as a collective and if so, what kind of collective and how might it be defined? And if they can't stay on as a collective, how can they be stopped from acting as one?
And if they go, how will they go? Peacefully or violently? Would inducements work? But what about those (and they'll be quite a few) who tell us to shove our inducements?

Do Israeli Jews have rights? A Jewish Israeli child born of Palestine-born grandparents who's perfectly willing to live in a non-Jewish Israel/Palestine - does he/she have rights? The same rights as a London-born Palestinian, born of grandparents also born in  London but whose family lived in Palestine for generations?

Is there a new ethnicity in the Middle-East? Or are they just Crusader-interlopers?

Can we live with any empowered Jewish collective - in Palestine or anywhere else.  Or are  empowered Jews just unliveable with? And if so, how can Jewish power be confronted? Is discrimination and/or violence the only way? If not, what else might work?

Anyway, enough with the questions. Enjoy the video but, most important, don't miss the wonderful "Guava Jelly" (straight after "There are More Questions Than Answers" on the clip) - on its own it's well worth the post.

We Stand With Israel

I'm a bit nervous about posting this. It describes the impact of the 1967 June War on a seventeen-year old Jewish kid.

I'm nervous because I can see how it could offend the victims of that war and of Jewish and Zionist oppression. But I hope it doesn't upset anyone because that's certainly not my intention which is to truthfully describe how it was (and is) for most Jews and to offer the experience for discussion.
I was seventeen the day my Dad brought home the sticker for the back of the car. "WE STAND WITH ISRAEL" in big blue letters. I begged him to take it off but he explained that if we did not stand by Israel, who would? Anyway, we weren't the only ones because next day it seemed every car in Wembley Park had those same words, "WE STAND WITH ISRAEL"

Dad could never just say Israel. It was always “the state of Israel” and his voice would get all serious and sometimes he'd make a little speech about how it meant that we Jews would never again be persecuted. But it was a strange kind of pride. I can hear him hiding his ever-so-slight accent in the restaurant as he ordered "chipped potatoes" and the look that passed between him and my mum that year in Jesolo when a group of Germans sat at the next table. "What a language!" he muttered over his plate. Once he made my mother send back a German food mixer.

Mind you, we weren't like some I could mention. Yok was not a word heard in my house, nor shikse for that matter. Except of course when my Mum was put out with one of the au-pairs, and even then certainly not to her face. But I knew. It was the way they said "English people", or the time I asked why our house was nicer than the other children in my class. And I certainly knew that time in the playground when I got into an argument with David Horsham, one of the Horsham twins, whose father owned the local greengrocers'.
"Anyway, you killed Jesus!"
I hadn't killed anyone except, at that moment in my dreams, David Horsham, so I burst into tears. Mrs Cook demanded to know what had happened and, to her everlasting credit, did not evade the issue. Outside the classroom she told me how proud I should be of my origins, and how much she valued the Jewish children in her class. Then she told me that she had heard that Jewish people loved smoked salmon which made me laugh and think of home.

To the child me, Israel was a sunny garden full of fruit trees and singing children. The sun shone all day, and everyone picked fruit and then, as the sun went down, they danced till dawn. I stuck stamps in my JNF stamp book - tiny trees, five shillings each, collected from friends and relatives, and, when you’d filled the book, a real tree was planted. “to bind the soil.”  Thus did I redeem the land.

In Hebrew Classes Mr Solomon told us how we had returned to our homeland, reclaimed it and then defended it against six mighty armies – “a free people in our own land” he would say.  He pointed to little Israel on the map, surrounded by enemies. Six against one - to any small boy schooled in the intricacies of playground justice, this was not fair. Anyway it was an old story. We had always had enemies. Lying on the kitchen lino (I now know I was six and listening to a news report on the Suez Crisis, on the wireless) the Children of Israel and an Egyptian Pharaoh were fighting each other. But then, as I told the toy car I was pushing round the floor, "Some things never change"

On June 4th 1967 me and Susan Rose had bunked off school and hitched to Southend for the day. We were on our way back when we heard the news. We held hands and rushed home anxious to get home in a time of crisis. Next night, me and Bengy went to a meeting at the Albert Hall. The speaker began his address. "If only Sir Winston were here to see this!" he roared and the crowd thundered back its approval as he lambasted a British government who would sell Jews for oil.
Then, plastic sacks were passed round and I saw men stuff in bundles of money and women pull the rings off their fingers. On the tube home Bengy informed me that Israel didn’t want outside help. “They don’t want another Vietnam!” he said like he’d just heard it personally from Moshe Dayan.

And when it came it was fantastic, like a boil ready to burst. In one day Israeli jets destroyed three Arab airforces. And I saw them - in black and white on the telly - the tanks and infantry sweeping across the desert in clouds of dust. It was like the cowboy films I used to watch after school on a Friday afternoon with Tony and his friends.

That evening at Leo Baeck House me and Bengy went up to the Jewish Agency and packed medical kits. We stood in rows at wooden trestles putting bandages, wool and scissors into cardboard boxes. At nine everyone stopped and rushed to a tiny TV set. Thirty or forty of us, crowded round the set, cheering the Israelis sweeping across the screen and hooting at the Egyptians sitting in the sand, their heads bowed, their boots strewn across the desert. ‘So they can run more easily!’ we laughed. At school next day we were kings and Henry Marks got into a fight with one of the Indian kids.

And then, just as it had begun, it was over. On the Friday at grandma’s Uncle Ruby told the latest story making the rounds at the golf club. "Why did the army stop after six days? Why, to get home in time to light the shabbes candles!"

Six armies, three airforces, a horde of fanatic savages. A nation the size of Wales surrounded on all sides by enemies sworn to its destruction. "Look at the map!" we'd say, "Just look at the map!" And, when we looked at the map it was plain for all to see – tiny little Israel surrounded by a sea of enemies. Jewish soldiers in a Jewish army the like of which had not been seen for two thousand years. Jewish boys in Gadna hats kissing the stones of the Wall. Jerusalem the Golden. There was even talk, not taken seriously by the likes of us of course, of the coming of the Messiah. Even now, knowing what I know, my heart still beats and there's a lump in my throat. So much for one seventeen year old.

But the final touch, the perfect end to my perfect war was when Anthony went off to join the volunteers. He came home one evening and said he was going to Israel and that was that. The news was received with both pride and trepidation but two days later I went with Mum and Dad to Heathrow as proudly but tearfully they watched the El Al Boeing carry their son off to glory. And there, in the viewing lounge, I watched Blanche Greenberg, friend of my parents and mother of Ivor, also off to save the state of Israel, raise her arms to heaven and bless the plane in perfect Hebrew.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day from the city of Dresden

The famous photograph in which August Schreitmueller's sculpture 'Goodness' surveys the city
February 14th is Valentine's Day when we all remember the ones we love. It's also in the middle of three days when, in 1945 the German city of Dresden was bombed by the Anglo-Americans. On a visit to Germany with my friend Dr. Francis Clark-Lowes I visited the city. We trod the tourist route so my guess is that we saw what Dresden wanted us to see. But it was only in the Altmarkt that we saw any public memorial to the bombing. It was a partially obscured metal plate on the ground which marked the spot where, to cope with disposing of the bodies, the citizens of Dresden had set up a huge funeral pyre. The inscription read:

 "After the air-raids of 13/14 February 1945 on Dresden, it was at this place that the bodies of 6865 people were burned." 

 Then engraved in stone
"Germany brought war to the world and here it was brought back to Germany.”
Not 50 meters away in the Kreuzkirche was an exhibition - “The Yellow Star” about the fate of Dresden’s Jews – and through it passed a long stream of visitors all shaking their heads in the now-obligatory expression of Holocaust-horror and dutifully inscribing their “never agains” in the visitors book.

So how is it that not fifty meters from where 6865 of their own citizens were incinerated, the citizens of Dresden chose only to remember their Jews?

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Anti-Jewish ....Moi?

In your case, Eisen, there is nothing “alleged” about the anti-Jewishness of your stance. Your record is unfortunately quite clear on the issue, even if we look only at your postings on this site.(deLiberation Commentator 'Paige')
 So 'Paige' writes on deLiberation that I''m anti-Jewish. Well, maybe I am but before I come clean and own up to the charge I'd like a little clarification. What does 'Paige' mean by saying that my stance is anti-Jewish? Does she mean that I hate all Jews and does that include the mother, the father, the brothers, the sisters, the friends, the family - all of whom I love dearly? And what about me? I was born and raised as a Jew and have no wish to be otherwise. Do I hate myself? Am I one of those dreaded self-hating Jews? Or perhaps she means that I hate some Jews but not others. If so, which Jews do I hate and which Jews do I not hate and why do I hate some Jews but not other Jews? And if I do hate Jews, why is that? Is it because of what they are, or is it because of what they do? Or is it both.... or neither? Or is it not Jews that I hate but rather their 'Jewishness'? If so, what's that? What is this 'Jewishness' that I hate so much? I've often felt that this 'Jewishness' was some kind of feeling of specialness? Is it that feeling of specialness that I hate? But is feeling special so very bad? After all, don't we all feel a little bit special and certainly don't all babies and young children feel very special indeed? And shouldn't they? And aren't they? Or is it because Jews feel special as a group - like they're the best group of people in the world. But don't many groups feel like that? Don't Man U fans feel special? Isn't that in a way what being in a group is all about? Or is it because Jews feel special as a nation? But we Brits feel pretty special as a nation. I mean, come on, aren't we Brits just that little bit more restrained, contained and somehow altogether more 'knowing' than, for example, those dreadful, dreadful Frenchmen across the channel. And as for the Yanks, they certainly think they're special. I mean, "Land of the free and home of the brave" - How much more special can you get? And don't even begin to talk about the bloody Germans with their Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles (or is that the verse they're not allowed to sing any more?) Or is it that although everyone feels special not just Jews, Jews feel more special than anyone else.

After all, Chaim Weizmann did say that Jews were like everyone else - only more so.

Or is it that there's something different about the nature of Jewish specialness - that it's the specialness of their suffering that's the problem. Is there something special about Jewish suffering? They say six million Jews died in the Holocaust but at the same time, so did twenty million Russians and eleven million Germans and Austrians. Are those Jewish dead more important then the Russian dead or the German dead? Yes, Jews have certainly suffered but then so have the Poles, Armenians, Gypsies, Africans, women, serfs, arthritis victims, the young man sitting on a piece of cardboard at the end of my street - the list is endless. But perhaps Jews have suffered more, or perhaps Jews have suffered more intensely or more relentlessly? Or perhaps it's because their suffering has been more unjustified? Anyway, what is this thing that 'Paige' thinks I hate so much? Is it a settler in Hebron or a coffee-sipping Tel Avivian? Is it Primo Levi or Ariel Sharon? Or is it a Jewish grandma in Hendon or or an art-dealer in Primrose Hill? Is it someone who likes chicken soup and waves their arms around a lot when they get excited? Or is it someone who believes that they, along with all Jews, stood with Moses at the foot of Mount Sinai? Or perhaps like so many of my anti-Zionist brothers and sisters it's someone who feels that it was only Hitler who made them into Jews. So come on 'Paige', how about it, what do you mean? And, in the unlikely event of Paige not coming up with the goods, all answers please to.......

Wembley Park

The Wembley and District United Synagogue. Always at the centre of our lives, this place, but you can forget the spiritual, we were strictly twice a year Jews. Nor was it cultural, at least not with any big C. No, for us second and third generation, upwardly mobile, North London Jews shul was strictly a social affair.

Our lives turned on this place and all it stood for. Sure, we ventured out, me, Tony and Helen to the local schools, where we mixed freely, if a little uneasily, with the local kids. Our parents less so: she, with the middle management personnel officers of the firms springing up all over Wembley to whom she and Auntie Leila delivered a never-ending supply of temps. He, even less so in those days when the rag trade round Commercial Roadwas still pretty much exclusively Jewish. There were no Bangladeshis then with whom, years later, he would form such mutually appreciative business relationships. "Your father!" one would say to me years later. "Your father Sir! His word is his bond Sir!" A fine tribute and one I'm still proud to remember.

But these proximities were extraneous to the real stuff of our lives which was this building and the families clustered round its foundations. That array of aunties and uncles - the men with their loud laughter and funny names: Maxie, Monty and Manny, all reaching into their pockets for the cash in that ritual altercation of who was going to pick up the bill. Oh, what greater proof of manhood could there have been for a six-year-old than to reach deep into the side pocket of your generously cut trousers and pull out a fat wad?  Where amongst the creditworthy of Highbury and Islington would you find such men?

And the women, those aunties: Pearl, Blanche, Gerry and Faye with their big hair and high heels. Where now to find such women? So quick, so clever, so insightful.

Festivals, weddings, barmitzvahs, funerals, shivas, stone-settings, parties, card-evenings, tombolas - these were the stuff of our lives. Each one just one more reason to get together, talk together, eat together, pray together, laugh together, sin together, fundraise together. Because, for the first seven years of my life my parents and their friends had, collectively at least, one aim and one aim only, and that was to raise the money to build a new synagogue for the Wembley community. Nothing mattered, only that they should raise the money to build the new shul. Why they bothered, I'm really not sure. Few were religious so it was certainly not to glorify God. No, for them it was for the glorification of something quite different. It was to celebrate their coming here, their place here, their progress here, together. For if the building of the new Wembley Synagogue can be said to glorify anything then it was to glorify Community. Community. How often, in my childhood, did I hear that word? Save for mensch and worldly, more than any other. Community was everything. My parents, their friends, the children of their friends. The shul, the cheyder, the cub and scout troop, the synagogue services - all was community.

So my mother and father, along with all those other young couples with their young families and mounting prosperity, laboured night and day, week after week, for all the years of my childhood to raise the money to build their new synagogue. And where did the money come from? Where did the funds to build this edifice come from? Why, from them of course. Where else? And how did they raise this money? How did they accumulate this pile? Why, from the parties, card-evenings and Tombolas. Thus, all this collective activity, this getting together, this socialising, all this was merely an excuse to give. Or, more likely, all this giving was merely an excuse for getting together. A less visceral group of philanthropists might have just sat down and worked out how much each should give and then banked the cheques. Not so the Wembley Community. Where would have been the joy in that, and where the wondrous environment for a small boy?

And when the synagogue was built, when, after all the activity and the excitement, the parties, the fundraisers, after all the disruption; synagogue services held in the Town Hall, Hebrew classes in the local school, cub meetings in a church hall. Jewish Scout and Guide Troops, what did we see? We saw community.
After all this, as we actually sat in it, our brand new synagogue with its blond wood panels, its memorial windows, none with anything even resembling a human form for, like Muslims, such things were forbidden to us, when we looked up at Rabbi Lipman sitting by the Holy Ark, and at my mother sitting up in the Gallery with her Ladies Guild cronies. When we sat there on that first Saturday, the congregation swollen with the massed ranks of the cubs, scouts, brownies and guides of the 19th Wembley 

Can there ever have been a prouder moment? Sitting there in my cub uniform, the blue and white scarf freshly ironed and folded exactly as Anthony had shown me the night before, the girls from my cheyder class in their brownie uniforms, the Girl Guides in their uniforms, as Rabbi Lipman welcomes us “members of the 19th Wembley Jewish Cub, Scout, Brownie and Guide Troops to our brand new shul”. Or, a more evocative moment when, after the two prayers, one for Her Majesty the Queen, public proof of our loyalty and gratitude….May He who gives salvation to kings and dominion unto princes....; bless our sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth....that they uphold the peace of the Realm, advance the welfare of the nation and deal kindly and justly with the house of Israel. The other (this one strictly for us) for the President and The State of Israel, ….. Bless the State of Israel... The land which is sworn to our fathers to give us...Grant peace in Your Holy Land ...unto all its inhabitants.... When he would then turn to us, his congregation, that group of people: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters gathered all round this place and everything this place came to represent, and he would remind us that for all our transgressions, a bit of cash here, driving on shabbes there, maybe a lustful thought or two, that we were still his congregation, still His congregation, still Community. And he would then pronounce for us the priestly benediction. …May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord make His face to shine upon you and give you peace.

And when they looked further afield, where they had wrought miracles on land bought fair and square (we were told), and had defended that land from those who had by their own ignorance and savagery (we were told), forfeited all rights to that land, (we were told) maybe their pride turned to arrogance. Because, by that summer of 1968 it seemed that there was nothing we couldn’t do.

Of course it's gone now. The synagogue has steel security railings round it, a sign of the times perhaps.

Maybe I've been so busy with my own losses that I haven't had time to see the loss around me. Because they've all gone - Hackney, Whitechapel, Stamford Hill. Ilford, Cricklewood, Willesden, and Dollis Hill. Hendon, Finchley, Southgate, Golders Green. All gone. The parents to the grave or to retirement homes in Bournemouth orMarbella and the children to Bushey, Hampstead and Primrose Hill. Maybe it was the prosperity that did for them, maybe just a bit too much success.

They'd come with nothing, cap in hand, asking for a place and, through talent and hard work they'd found that place. And when they looked around and saw the peace and prosperity they'd created: the husbands, the wives, the sons, the daughters, the houses, the cars, the education, the doctors, the dentists, the accountants, maybe satisfaction turned to pride and pride to conceit. And when they looked further afield, where they had wrought miracles on land bought fair and square (we were told), and had defended that land from those who had by their own ignorance and savagery (we were told), forfeited all rights to that land, (we were told) maybe their pride turned to arrogance. Because, by that summer of 1968 it seemed that there was nothing we couldn’t do.