I was chatting to my good friend and esteemed colleague, Rabbi Geoffrey Cohen, last shabbos and he recounted to me a most interesting conversation he had had with chief Rabbi Dr. Jonathon Sex, with his permission I now recount this to you….
“So,” the chief said to Geoff, “my esteemed colleague you are always against everything but what are you for?” At which point wannabe Chief Rabbi Tory Bayleaf, father of the most worthy Rabbi Miriam Bayleaf of the same name and grandson of the holy R. Chaim Hotpot of Worms of blessed memory and a different name, turned up and said “what is your chazon (‘your vision’ but in ivriiiiit to flaunt my Jewish credentials because here at the movement for reform Judaism we are authentic Jews, Tikkun Olam baby yeah…”) Unfortunately at this point the wannabe chief’s most eloquent discourse was terminated because I had killed him.
Anyway the good Rav. Geoff said to the chief, “let me tell you a story…”
“B’seder”, said the chief (he might have a well trimmed beard and a discrete little number of a kippar, but even in the United Synagogue they like to flaunt their authenticity and hint at a moderate, perfectly reasonable *zionism*).
“A few years ago, when I was a rabbinical student at the Gateshead Yeshiva, we all took a little trip to Amsterdam. As I’m sure you know, there’s nothing a young Yeshiva Bocher likes more than teenage Eskimo. So, myself and my cheveruta partner headed down to the Rossebuurt hoping to get involved with some really filthy nose rubbing and other delights that you just can’t purchase for love nor money in Gateshead, Gants Hill or Edgware (even on Shabbos). Anyway, just as we spotted a flashing red sign that said “teenage Eskimo girls” who should we see coming out of the the used condom recycling project, but a young Rabbi Jonathan Wittlessberg. ‘Shalom, Rabbi Wittlessberg’, we said, ‘We’ve been looking for the Anne Frank house all day. We’re terribly lost, perhaps you can help us?’
‘Don’t go speaking with an evil tongue’, said Rabbi Wittlessberg, ‘You’ve been out looking for teenage Eskimo. But you’re young, you lack understanding, if you knew better you would not make such a mistake and you would come with me to the Womble knocking shop’. So we followed Rabbi Wittlessberg to the place he had mentioned, handed over 150 guilder, and got down to business with Great Uncle Bulgaria. I’ll never forget it all the days of my life.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?” said the chief.
“Nothing,” said R. Cohen, “but you have to admit, it is a good story . And it taught me an important lesson: teenage Eskimo is a goyim naches but real pleasure is found in the arms of Orinoco”. After a short pause, the esteemed Rabbi Cohen added, “you know, reflecting on this story makes you realise it’s a little like life. After all, Rabbi Wittlessberg displayed both remarkable taste in sexual activity and remarkable liberalism. Without such liberal attitudes I think he would never have been able to tolerate Melanie Phillips in his congregation and the community would be that much poorer for lacking her presence”.
“I entirely agree with you”, said that little tyke Rabbi Dr Jonathon Sex, “But I am surprised to find you, with your frankly heretical liberal leanings, rejoicing in Melanie Phillip’s membership of the community. After all, if there is anyone you are against it would have to be someone as well adjusted as the JC’s star columnist.”
“It takes a wide variety of fruits to make a fruit salad,” retorted the Heroic Geoff.
“So you are saying that almost anything goes, Rabbi Geoff?”, queried the ever perceptive noble chief.
“Not at all,” maintained the esteemed muppett, “but the narrator of this story has started to write like J. K. Rowling, there is little more humiliating than being discussed as if one were a character in Harry Potter. If this parable is to continue I demand a better narrative style.”
* * *
After much consultation, discussion and negotiation, Rabbi Geoffrey Cohen continued, “Let me tell you another story, pay attention and you will understand why I want Melanie in my gang. I was recently called upon to officiate at the funeral of a now dead but previously very old man. In the best tradition of north London Jewish funerals it took place just off the M25 in Waltham Abbey, a stark and dreary place. As it happens, I buried that particular now dead but previously very old man’s now dead but previously very old wife a few years before. A most interesting thought struck me as I stood watching a handful of mourners, clutching their borrowed kippot throwing soil suspiciously into his grave. Here we were burying one of the last members of a now dead Yiddish world. This is where European Jewery has ended, a pointless ugly field just off junction 25. There must be somewhere similar in New Jersey. I suppose it’s better than Auschwitz or Treblinka. But here is the point; this old man and his wife were part of a living community. Her funeral made sense to him, so did eating bagels, so did going on holiday to Israel, and so did not going to synagogue because that was for idiot suckers. He did it because that is what he did. His children had some idea that this is how one did a funeral, but they were all rather embarrassed about it. It wasn’t them and it wasn’t how they did things. His grandchildren, they are a more complicated kettle of fish. Some of them weren’t embarrassed because the ritual meant nothing to them. They won’t give their parents a funeral like that and that won’t bother them (and it shouldn’t bother you, this is not some plea for Jewish continuity). A few of his grandchildren had taken on the Jewish thing with gusto. They kept the mitzvot, they went to shul, ate dates and figs and danced the Hora to keep the traditions alive. They are the ones you have to feel sorry for. They are trying to take part in something that was destroyed 60 years ago. If you had asked the man I buried (before he died obviously) what his vision for the future of Anglo Jewery was, he would have laughed in your face. I think he would have laughed in your face for two reasons. The first is that he knew it hadn’t a future. And the second reason, which also is the reason for the first reason, is that a community that needs to worry about the future is a dead community. When he was a kid, you criticised the community because the chief Rabbi was a nebuch (ein hadash mitachat hashemesh). That’s what you did, then things happened, or they didn’t. You kids are just waiting for the Messiah, like watchmen waiting for the morning. When you’re keeping traditions, you have already lost them. And when you are focussed only on your future, it is because you haven’t got your present. And what is really sad about all this is it is because Hitler suceeded.”
Rabbi Sex was almost lost for words but then…, “You are a pessimistic little man and I hope you don’t go saying this kind of thing to the Goyim. They really will get a bad impression of us Jews. Anyway, you offer no hope at all why should anyone give a flying fuck what you think,” (by now Rabbi Sex was visibly upset and one or two strands of his beard had become dislodged), “you maintain your nihilistic little ways and I will keep writing to the JC and teaching generations of young Jews how to lay teffilin and promote Israel at university campuses everywhere. That way they will be proud of their heritage and, with a little bit of mazel, I will be able to take up my seat in the House of Lords .”
“Oh dear oh dear,” was all Rabbi Geoff could manage. Then he took a deep breath and tried again, “you are as pessimistic as me Rabbi Sex. But the difference is you think there is nothing we can do except make a shadow play of the past. I think we may at least try and respond to the situation that we find ourselves in. As they say, the optimist knows how bad things are and the pessimist is still finding out.”
“What a load of bullshit,” said Rabbi Danny Notveryrich.