Friday, 19 December 2014

Spread a little light

I just arrived in Jerusalem and heard that the Martin Place Chanukah menorah lighting has been cancelled in the aftermath of the Lindt Cafe terrorist siege in Sydney during which 17 people were taken hostage, 2 of whom were killed, by a self professed 'sheikh' with a long criminal rapsheet including accessory to murder and 40 counts of sexual assault. 
At first, I, along with many others, thought of this criminal murderer in terms of his criminality rather than his religion. He was a baddy who did this deed as a crazy 'lone wolf', and the fact that he put a Muslim declaration of faith up in the shop window , and apparently asked for an ISIS flag as part of his demands, was sort of brushed aside. 
I have since changed my mind. 
During the siege, even before the siege was over and the 2 victims were killed, we had this ridiculous #I'll ride with you campaign cooked up by some leftard - sorry, but there really are times when this pejorative term needs to be used- in Brisbane, who was riding on a bus and saw a Muslim woman fiddle with her headscarf and take it off. The observer cooked up a scenario in her mind, without actually speaking with the Muslim woman, that maybe she took it off because she was afraid of a backlash against Muslims and so she thought, no, I will protect you, Muslim sister, from the depredations of us racist Australians. I will ride with you in a bus without spitting on you. And the hashtag spread and everyone though how beautiful it all was. We hashtaggers aren't racist, like the other right wing Aussies.  We protect minorities, not like they do.  Aren't we wonderful people. 
I think everyone forgot who the real victims were. They were the hostages and the murdered cafe manager who was killed trying to disarm the terrorist; and the lawyer, who left 3 motherless children. They actually were the victims. The Muslims were not.  
So that's a couple of points I would like to make. Australians on the whole are tolerant people and are not likely to burn crosses or crescents or whatever on lawns and lynch Muslims etc. And Muslims were not the victims in the Lindt cafe seige. 
Then we saw this public outpouring of grief through floral tributes laid in Martin Place at the scene of the crime. Every florist ran out of stock. The photos looked amazing. Of course, the flowers will all rot and it will be a big job to clear the place in a few days, and what will be left? Nothing. I'll come back to that in a minute. 
Then came in all the analyses and reassurances from police and politicians and pundits. This was not an act of Muslim terror. This was a crazy criminal 'lone wolf', who did what he did because he was a baddy. (If he was so bad, why was he out on parole or on bail, free to plan and execute this attack? Hmm. That's a good question.) No, it was not because he was a Muslim. No no no. We mustn't think that (or I guess there will be a terrible backlash against the poor old Muslims). 
(And we know what happens when Muslims feel offended and insulted so hush, let's keep the peace. I'm sure there was some thought process like that going on in someone's head.)
Well, all I can say is that there seems to be a lot of these 'lone wolves' about. There was one in the Canadian parliament, and 2 who murdered Lee Rigby in the streets of Manchester, and the shrink who shot up Fort Hood and killed 14 US Army personnel - he was a lone wolf too, despite evidence in his email account where he was pledging jihad against the infidel- and there was the plot to randomly behead an infidel in Sydney which was thwarted, and the Arabs who ran down people waiting at light rail stops and bus stops in several incidents in Israel, and the 2 who murdered 4 rabbis at prayer in Har Nof in Jerusalem, leaving 14 fatherless children, and all of these lone wolves - so many that I don't know if the word 'lone' really applies- have one thing in common. Have a guess. No cigars for guessing the answer- they are all Muslims. And they have all taken it upon themselves after being incited by radical Muslim clerics and interpretations of Koranic verses, to attack infidels wherever and whenever they encounter them, Jews, Christians, in Israel and abroad. 
You can continue to pretend that these people are not motivated by religion to kill- oh well, of course in Israel it is about the resistance to the occupation, right? Wrong. It's about Muslim incitement to fight The Other, especially the Yahud. 
So keep pretending , but be prepared for more of these 'lone wolf' attacks because the incitement is not stopping any time soon. 
I can't help but compare the response  among Jews to the horrific attacks which have been perpetrated on them, to the Martin Place floral tributes, which make a strong statement but which are ultimately ephemeral. In every case, after every act of terrorism, the bereaved Jewish families urge people to give more tzedakah in the name of the victim, or to do more mitzvot, or to increase their level
of prayer and religious observance. Or they establish charitable foundations to help other families of victims of terror or other good causes. The Har Nof Shul was cleared of the blood staining the walls and the floor the very next day after this heinous attack, and more people have been attending  and studying there than ever before. 
This is also a form of resistance against the darkness that is closing in. This is all in the name of trying to make the world a better place. 
I strongly believe that it is a terrible mistake to cancel the menorah lighting in Martin Place. If there was ever a time that we need to see more light, it is now. The kindling of the lights reminds us of the miracle of the oil, and that is how we celebrate Chanukah; but Chanukah means 'dedication'. We rededicated the Temple to Hashem after the miracle of the victory of the few over the many; but we don't dwell on the military aspects of the festival which enabled the rededication and the miracle of the oil. We Jews don't really gloat about military victories. To paraphrase R Adin Steinsaltz, we don't put swords in our windows to celebrate, we put menorahs. We add more lights and more lights, for every night of Chanukah, because that is how you push away the darkness. 
Happy Chanukah to all, and may the families of the victims of terror be comforted. 

Sunday, 14 December 2014


I confess. This time of year, when I venture into the shop or supermarket or malls, I see all the tinsel and hear the music, and I see all the puddings, panettone, stollen, big weighty fruitcakes and I have a tiny bit of Xmas Envy.

Not that I'm looking for more things to cook! (although I do a mean Christmas cake Rich Fruit Cake in November which sits in the fridge getting doused with alcohol for our ... Chanuka party). And I laugh when I hear the Non-Jews stressing over inviting family over for Xmas lunch or whatever ('How many are you having?' '12.' 'WHAT! TWELVE PEOPLE! How on Earth will you cope!!??). Hello! Have you heard of Shabbos? I do this every week! And not just twelve! And not just one meal, often Friday night AND Shabbos lunch! Wow!

There's just something in the air, along with all the carols wafting around. There's the kitschy tchotchkes and table decor; there's The Tree, which is- let's face this- a thing of beauty. It is! I would do a superb Xmas family dinner, lunch, everything. If it was me, I would go to Carols by Candlelight. I would wear reindeer antlers and dangly tinsel earrings while preparing the massive turkey and roast veggies and aller chazerai, prawns and a big ham, and a pudding (with suet if I could get it, but butter if not, and I would steam it for hours) and brandy sauce. Or maybe a goose, instead of a turkey, because that's actually MORE traditional. I would go to Midnight Mass. (Is that Xmas or Easter? Or both? I would do it for both.) I would do everything. Put up stockings and leave a nip of whiskey for Santa and have a tree-decorating for all the family. I would have a big box of heirloom tchotchkes and baubles including a soppy angel to decorate the huge real pine tree. I would put up a whole Nativity sound and light show in LED lights on my front lawn. And seeing that I wouldn't be Jewish, I would have a husband who could rig all this up himself, (and not have to call a non-Jew to come and do it) with the help of our fine strapping sons, all wearing plaid shirts and work jeans and boots, climbing on ladders with insouciance and laughing heartily while festooning the roof with miles of LED lights. And then the menfolk will be enjoying a well-earned ale and horsing around, wrestling and falling about with laughter...wait, this fantasy has gone off track a little.

It looks like such fun! You don't have to spring-clean your house with a toothbrush, you don't have to build a little structure to eat your meals in, it doesn't go on for 8 days of fressing, just a couple of days. I would hire a roly-poly Santa with a real beard to come and give presents to all the kids at the big family lunch. If I could arrange it, he would come with a sled and reindeer. I would have a special set of table linen and crockery that I only used for this purpose, decorated with holly and ice skaters and snow and reindeers and all that Northern Hemisphere stuff.

I don't do anything by halves. As it is, you can imagine what Pesach and Rosh Hashanah and Succot look like at my place (but they go on FOREVER and at the end of a month of feasting and fasting and fressing, I feel like I'm going to explode, like Mr Creosote.)(WARNING: if you don't know who Mr Creosote is, don't hit the link. Absolutely disgusting.)

I actually feel a bit cheated that we don't have Thanksgiving in Australia, because that's the festival I really envy. Non-sectarian! Fully inclusive! 4 day long weekend! Crazy good food! And it' all about gratitude and giving thanks! (Duh.) I would carve pumpkins- no wait, that's Halloween. (No, feh, I don't like Halloween.) I would have little pilgrim salt and pepper shakers that I only used on Thanksgiving. And a big centrepiece with corn and little pumpkins and autumnal harvesty stuff featured and a tablecloth with a turkey-featuring design on it. Not only would I have my own special turkey-stuffing recipe, I would make my own cranberry sauce. My pumpkin pie would be to die for. So I also have Thanksgiving Envy, but that's OK. Jews can do Thanksgiving.

Xmas is a whole other thing. But don't worry, I won't do any of that stuff (except for the Rich Fruit Cake marinating in my fridge as I write this.) What I AM doing as a Chanukah party for all the family, where there will be latkes and ponchkes, along with a good old Aussie BBQ, and presents and Chanukah Gelt for the kids, and by kids I mean everyone. And then some ... fruitcake. And then we light the Menorah and sing songs and play dreidel.

AND THEN. My hubby and I are flying out to Israel to visit our other kids, and THAT'S where you really see what Chanukah looks like, the streets and homes ablaze with lights. There, the 25th of December is just another day.

Happy... Holidays!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


Is it just me, or have you also noticed this little language tic that's just popping up everywhere?

I first heard it some years ago when I was making large functions - bar mitzvahs, weddings, charity dinners- and employed a professional events company to put these things together. The people I dealt with were great. They had wonderful positive attitudes and were always upbeat, and my every suggestion or request was met with a positive comment, like 'Gorgeous!' or 'Fabulous!' or, with the passage of time, more and more, 'Perfect!'
OK, that's events-biz, which is like show-biz except even more over the top; Perfect! Gorgeous! Stunning! Every superlative.
But now I'm hearing it everywhere. Where once 'Great!' or 'Wonderful!' would have sufficed, or, really back in the day 'Beauty!' (pronounces 'bewdy') or 'Ace!' or 'Bonza!' or some such, now it's that prissy 'Perfect!'

'Meet you at 11 for coffee?' 'Perfect!'
'Here's those notes I promised you.' 'Perfect!'
'Your child made you this fingerpainting.' 'Perfect!'
Everything is so perfect. Not.
The world's going to hell in a handbasket, but dinner at 8? Perfect!

Such an annoying prissy little word. All pursed lips ('p') and teeth ('ff') and a neat little click ('kt') at the end. No sloppy old tongue involved. Unless you are American and you pronounce the 'r' with a neat little tongue-tip flick before the teeth and the click. And then it has a smug little 'Purr' in it.

I'm finding it slipping out of my own mouth now too. I could honestly slap myself when I say it.

Because nothing's bloody perfect! Nothing! It might be good, or great, or wonderful or amazing (or 'amazeballs'- YUCK), it might be terrific or marvellous or even fantastic, but it's NOT PERFECT.

OK, here's an exception; the 'Perfect Storm' thing where everything is as extreme as it can be and then it all converges and POW, dramatic disappearance of ship or building or something, and that's pretty horrible and not very common. Not like this ticcy-clicky-prissy little 'Perfect!' popping out of everyone's mouths.

So stop it already, let's move on, or move back to just 'great'. Let's all calm down and relax and stop striving for this impossible state of perfection in every mundane aspect of our daily lives. OK, sometimes perfection can be achieved - 10/10 in Olympic Gymnastics or something- but otherwise, please GIVE IT A REST. Or we'll all spontaneously combust in our perfection.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Is Religion really the cause of the world's ills?

As I have previously stated, I see myself as a cyber-warrior for Israel, and I will frequently find myself going head to head with some anti-Semitic troll about Israel and Judaism etc. I realise that it is mostly a lost cause. Occasionally one does find people who really are uninformed and would genuinely like to know more, and appreciate the history lessons etc but really, precious few. So I guess it's a waste of time, except for the fact that it helps me hone my 'voice' in advocacy of Israel instead of floundering around in spluttering outrage. It's also nice, though sometimes a bit creepy, to see how many Christians profess this love of Israel and the Jews. I mean, they may say that Israel belongs to the Jews (YES!) but then they may then discuss the importance of the Jews accepting YOU KNOW WHO as their Saviour (NO!) and then the Messiah will come (come AGAIN in their narrative) and kumbaya.

That's OK, I can deal with all that. I say, first, Hashem, send the Moshiach, and after that we can work out all the details about who he is etc.

But the ones who really get up my nose are the people, self-professed atheists, who say things like, if it wasn't for religion, well, there would be no wars and all wars are based on religious conflict. And they point to radical Muslims and they point to how the Jews only think that Israel is theirs because of religion, and if we all went all John Lennon and didn't have religion, there would be 'no one to kill and die for' and everyone would live as one.
Then the snarky ones will say things like, how all these silly people believe in their own 'imaginary friend in the sky', thus inferring that people who believe in G-d are all deluded and childish, and in fact, the brave atheists are the Keepers of the Common Sense, and back to religion being the source of all conflict.

Firstly, a quick ignorant sweeping look at history does seem to give us that impression: The Crusades. The Moors and the Catholics in Medieval Andalusia/Spain. The Troubles of Northern Ireland- Catholics and Protestants, right? All the Middle Eastern stuff, that's all religion, right? Muslims against Jews, against Christians, against Muslims, against everyone essentially.
But what of World Wars 1 and 2? And so many other forgotten wars which were about land and money and power. There is no end to the reasons for nations and people to kill each other.
So even if these statements might have some truth in them, the fact is that it isn't ALL about religion and even now, these current wars are about far more than religion.

But that isn't really what I want to talk about. Because instead of the Wise Atheists blaming all the world's ills on the stupid vicious children who actually believe in G-d, let's have a think for a minute about what the world would look like if nobody believed in a Higher Power, just in their own intellects. Imagine; no Heaven, no Hell, nothing to kill or die for, no religion, too.

There are people who call themselves Secular Humanists who believe in the essential goodness of civilised people who love each other and care for each other because we are all the Family of Man and we should do all that. To this I say: do you really think that the basis of this particular belief springs from logic and human intellect? Because, for example, where is the logic of caring for the sick and the weak? Where is the logic in Charity? Giving hard-earned money and goods to people who can't or won't look after themselves? No logic at all. It is far more logical and sensible to give to yourself and your family so you have the advantage; why on earth would you waste resources on people who have an incurable disease, or who were born with some sort of condition which would render them incapable of caring for themselves? Far more logical and sensible to put them out of their misery. Put the crippled child out on the hillside to be eaten by wolves; much better in terms of the environment as well. The Circle of Life and all that.
Like it or not, the Secular Humanists are drawing on a philosophy which is entirely based on monotheism, or at least the concept of a Higher Power who instructs us in a code of behaviour. And since the Jews were the first monotheists, followed by the Christians and the Johnny-come-lately Muslims, I feel entirely at peace in saying that if it wasn't for the Jews and for the Torah, we would be living in a complete jungle, where the Will to Power would be the driving force of existence.

There would be no charitable organisations catering to the poor, the sick, the incurable. There would be no neonatal intensive care, or really, not much in the way of intensive care at all, unless the person to be cared for was deemed to be important and powerful enough to be worth saving. Not much caring for old people; if they outlive their usefulness, what's the point? So expensive, and for what?
And once they die, why waste resources in burying or burning them? Why not recycle them? Like Soylent Green. I mean, why not? Who says you can't eat people? What's the difference between animals and people anyway? (Hello, Professor Peter Singer!) OK, so they can't talk, but neither can a baby or a dead person.

And what about relationships? Who says you have to commit to anyone? Marriage is about love, and what if love dies? So you move on. And marriage is about property,  so you make legal arrangements. And what about children? Hmm, tricky one. That needs a bit of nutting out. That's always going to be tough. Are children property? Is it about love? Who says? Oh, it's in our genes, in our biology, look at animals, generally mothers, who will attack anything that threatens their young. Yes. But what about the example of the young lion who defeats the old lion and takes the lionesses for himself; and what does he do with the cubs? Kills them of course. It makes sense to him; that way the lionesses come back on heat and the next crop of cubs will all be his genetic line. So how should a stepfather behave to stepchildren, in this world of uncommitted relationships? Has anyone actually thought about this?
I mean, even today in our monotheistic-based societies, stepchildren can be dealt with pretty shoddily.
Boundaries are often transgressed there. We are all grossed out by Woody Allen's relationship with Soon-Yi Previn even though no laws were actually broken; and they are very happy together, thanks. And what of those stories you hear about brothers and sisters unintentionally marrying, and then intentionally staying together, once they learn the truth? (Even Oedipus was disgusted when he found out he had unintentionally married his mother; I wonder why? The Pharaohs had no problem with brother and sister marriages, in fact that was the norm, since they were, in their own eyes, gods.) So where do the Laws of Decency, which don't actually exist, come from? I don't think they come from the human intellect, the Clever Monkey, Homo Sapiens, who loves to pleasure itself however and whenever possible.

What about Culture? I guess people would support the Arts, much as today, and there would be some magnificence - although no Sistine Chapel or Michelangelo's David or Moses or Pietas or religious art at all, or Requiems or Oratorios, but there would be a lot of movies and shows about sex and death and revenge- so I guess there would be Opera. And Shakespeare! So all is not lost. And comedy, where stupid people are tricked and taken advantage of by smarter people, or slapstick or fart and boob jokes, or reality TV. That probably wouldn't change. There would be Tracy Emin and many of the same folks esteemed by today's appreciators of Art. Much of which is trash, in my opinion. It's very difficult to rise above yourself if you think that 'your self' is the highest thing around. And a lot of art does seem to be by and about humans infatuated with human infatuations.

I'm wandering off here because there is so much to think about in this World without Religion (and I'm not a theologian or philosopher.) I think a lot of it would look like Ancient Greeks and Spartans, and Romans, and some would look like Nazism and Communism and other totalitarian regimes. (And a lot would look like bits of today's secular societies.)  Because it would all be about Power (Money Sex Death). And last I looked, these regimes were singularly warlike and responsible for the deaths of millions and millions of people. And the conflicts weren't religiously motivated. Jews weren't murdered because they prayed to Hashem and lived according to the Torah; they were targeted for reasons of 'race' or for being a convenient scapegoat, or for historical, even traditional reasons, or out of envy, or for so many reasons that make anti-Semitism still as mysterious and absurd as it is today.

So can we put that stupid theory to rest? About how religion is the root of war, and how much better the world would be without religion? Because no matter how dark are the days we live in, how much darker and more horrible would life be without the belief in some sort of Divine Plan or the concept of Tzedaka (which is not just Charity, but Just distribution of money or goods to the less fortunate), or the sense that there is something greater than us in the world. Imagine Humankind being the greatest thing there could possibly be. Just imagine that.

I don't think so.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Vale Gough Whitlam, Good Giant or Bad Giant?

I'm not a political commenter or historian, but I remember stuff and I read stuff and I talk to other people who lived through what is now called history; and I can tell you that, despite all the myth-making and hagiographic articles, Gough Whitlam was not the Great Saviour of Australia. He was probably the most destructive leader that Australia ever had. Sure, he had some great ideas; I was the beneficiary of at least one of them. But having great ideas is not good enough. Sweeping reforms are all very nice, but once you get past the drama and the romance of it all, who pays the bill? And that's what brought him undone.

In 1972, when Whitlam was voted into office after 23 years of Liberal government, he had the media on his side and a catchy slogan - 'It's time', as in, 'It's time for a change'- and it was towards the end of the Vietnam war. Australia had been supportive of the US (who could forget Harold Holt and 'All the way with LBJ'- I swear I am not making this up) but it was becoming clear that the US was not winning and that conscription was not making a difference to the outcome, and everyone was saddened and angry and disillusioned, and even then, Whitlam scraped through to electoral victory with a majority of just 9 seats.

Once he achieved power, he was like a maniac. His cabinet had little ministerial experience and Gough had towering ambitions and vision. In his short but rather violent innings as PM (and that included another election in 1974 after a double dissolution) he instigated enormous change. He ended conscription, as the ALP promised it would. So that was good.

He made university education free, and students received the TEAS (Tertiary education allowance scheme) allowance, of which I was a beneficiary. So I was paid a living allowance so I could study for free! Amazing. On what planet is tertiary education free, not just for war veterans but for everyone? Seriously, name me one other country! He also established universal health insurance, then called Medibank (later Medicare, with Medibank Private being a private health insurance fund), which was funded by taxing 1% of income. I think a monkey could have worked out that this was never going to cover much. I mean, if you look at genuinely socialistic countries like Sweden, you can see how enormous the taxes are to cover what is being offered by the government.

Now that I am a doctor, having studied 1972-1978 in Melbourne University and St Vincent's Hospital clinical school, it is clear that I was fortunate; I like to think that I would have managed as a scholarship student, as I had since year 8, but even so, thank you Gough. I remember my colleagues, all a bit rough and ready and shaggy compared to the previous intakes of fancy-pants private school graduates, and it must have been a bit of a shock to the professors. But maybe not; in the end, it was still the kids with the highest marks in the prerequisite subjects who got in, and probably there was not as much of a demographic shift as believed. Maybe everyone was shaggy and hairy because it was 1972, and that's how we rolled then. Anyway.

Medicare. Apart from it being underfunded then as now, time has shown us that people don't value things that are free. I mean, there were always doctors who would do pro bono work for the 'deserving poor' and the pensioners etc. But now, doctors were inundated by people who would perhaps have had a hot lemon drink and some aspirin for the sore throat before; but once going to the doctor was free, hey, let's go get some real medical treatment. It probably also contributed to the overuse of antibiotics which we are only beginning to pay the price for now, with increasing bacterial resistance. That's just my theory. And at first, Medicare looked like a windfall; doctors would always get paid! No bad debts! But then as the government tried to cut corners by not raising rebates, and by offering doctors 85% of the fee if they agreed to bulk-bill, whereby the patient would just sign a paper and not have to pay up and be reimbursed- well that looked like a good deal to some doctors, but if only you punters out there realised how it degrades the practice of Medicine on so many different levels. I have always refused to bulk bill as I think that there is importance in the transaction between doctor and patient; I will charge the rebate if the patient can't afford to pay any extras, but at least they are being grown ups and are involved in the transaction themselves.  Now there's the co-payment business, and I don't know where it's going. But that's the reality; universal health insurance is very expensive in the end. The government-run hospitals rely on the people with private insurance to go to private hospitals, or else the system would collapse.
And the other result of these reforms was this massive burgeoning of the bureaucracy needed to keep track of everything, and once that's in place it's there forever. Hello, Public Service! A job for life, even when there's not a lot to do.

The economy was in the poo in 1974 also, partly because of the OPEC - orchestrated oil crisis, but partly because of just incompetent economic policy. Interest rates were up to 20%. Inflation was rampant. And Whitlam's government continued to spend like a drunken sailor until someone realised that the party was drawing to a close, and tried to borrow $4.5 BILLION dollars through a shonky con-man, Khemlani, and that was the end of the Whitlam era. That sort of money in 1975 is like a trillion today. Had that loan somehow gone through, whatever was in Whitlam's fevered imagination, our great-grandchildren would still be paying it off. But it was never going to happen as it was totally illegal and absolutely crazy.

What else? Oh yes, removal of tariffs and flooding Australia with cheap imports, thus destroying Australia's manufacturing base. This probably would have happened eventually, but the speed and the violence with which it occurred threw thousands and thousands of people out of work. My father-in-law had to sack 900 workers from the textile mills in Geelong because almost overnight there were no orders and the business ground to a halt. It wasn't just the workers, and the resulting impact on their lives and families: it was also the loss of an important skill and all the other trades which service the core business. It was economically devastating.

What else? Visiting China, even before Nixon; yes it was visionary, but basically it threw Taiwan under the bus. His foreign policy approach resembled a bull in a china shop, and echoed his one personal philosophy of 'Crash through, or crash'.
His cruelty to the South Vietnamese who had been allies, helpers of Australian diplomats and military, in that morass of a war. After the fall of Saigon, he refused to give refuge to them, famously saying, 'I'm not having hundreds of f***ing Vietnamese Balts coming into this country with their religious and political hatreds against us!' And leaving them to their fate at the hands of their enemies.
His stance on East Timor when Indonesia invaded- again, nothing. Even after the Balibo 5 were killed by Indonesian troops. This was in October 1975, so I imagine Whitlam was otherwise occupied because he was kicked out of his position as PM in November.

I also clearly remember the sorrow of my parents, staunch Labor supporters and true believers, at his 'even-handed' stance regarding Israel-Arab relations. We all felt betrayed, all the Jews who supported him and Labor and remembered Doc Evatt, who had been president of the UN General Assembly 1948-49 and was an important player in the creation of the State of Israel. He even said in his memoirs, 'I regard the creation of Israel as a great victory of the the United Nations.' Can you imagine that?
Whitlam's 'even-handed' comment  was made after the Yom Kippur War, which had triggered an oil crisis, where OPEC essentially decided to use their oil as a weapon against the West by withholding it and boosting the price, like the cartel it is. So Whitlam was essentially sucking up to the Arabs. Maybe that was why he thought he could get money from the Middle East, refer to the Loans Affair, above.

So much more. But he was a towering figure, physically, intellectually, with charisma in spades. And completely arrogant and autocratic, bordering on deluded. So was his legacy a good one or a bad one? Who can answer these questions. Certainly he left his mark on Australia.

So he was a man who was elected with a catchy slogan, as an agent of change, and once in power proceeded to make vast, sweeping changes in foreign policy, economic policy, domestic policy, most of which ended in disaster. I can't help but make comparisons to a certain sitting US president. The difference is that we Australians (first the Governor-General backed by the Senate, and then the people at the next election) had the sense to kick him out before he saw out a term. The Americans went and voted their president in for a second term. Let's hope we all survive that presidency.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


It starts on Slichos. Once my kids were old enough for me to no longer use them as an excuse not to go, I started going to the first Slichos the Motzoei Shabbos before Rosh HaShanah. Jewish Midnight Mass (lehavdil).
I looked at the book and I looked at the number of pages I had to get through, and I groaned internally. And I knew it was only the beginning, because come Rosh HaShanah, it's HUNDREDS of pages and repetition after repetition. And I can actually understand most of what I am saying! And I have a translation into English! So it doesn't get much better really. And I can read pretty fast, but I can't stand it when I have to gabble my way through what are works of liturgical majesty in order to keep up with the Reader and the Shofar sessions. This RH I was sitting next to my 12-year-old freshly BasMitzvah'd niece and my heart went out to her when she riffled through the machzor and rolled her eyes, moaning. I tried to comfort her by showing her that about 50 pages were actually for the second day, but that still left, oh, I don't know, about a million pages to get through. But we did well.

And now it's nearly Yom Kippur and back I will be, Kol Nidrei, and Shacharis and Musaf and - well, I skip Mincha as a rule, as I have to go home and lie down by then- and shlep back for Neilah. And each session has a Shaliach Tzibbur, right, so further repetition. And I just can't help wondering, how much buttering up does The Big G need? I mean, how many times can we sing of His long-suffering mercy, and how many times do we need to literally beat our breast in Vidui, confession? And little kids, earnestly confessing to all sorts of sins that they couldn't possibly understand, let alone commit? (Although the bit about disrespecting parents and teachers probably should be repeated another 10 times by some kids I know.)(And the bit about Lashon Hara should probably be said 10 times A DAY by most of us.)
I'm not complaining (much) and after all it's a choice, and we all do it if we choose to. And strangely, Yom Kippur, despite the physical discomforts, is amazing and uplifting and the liturgy is unsurpassed. I always feel on a high after it's over; signed and sealed. And relieved that I don't have to do it again for a year.

But why the repetition? Does G-d really need this? Surely it's like, 'Alright already, I hear you, I hear you, I'm the greatest, you're broken sherds and withered grass and dust yada yada, you're sorry, you're sorry, OK, keep saying it like you MEAN it! And enough with the scoffing and disrespect!'

And at gym this morning, under the watchful eye of my personal trainer, finishing the 10th repetition of the 3rd set of resistance exercises, it suddenly came to me. G-d doesn't need it; we do.
The first few times with the squats and the kettle bells etc is a bit sloppy and needs some refinement of technique; the next few times you feel self-conscious and a bit wobbly; the next are smoother etc until, after a few more sessions, the body learns and executes the moves smoothly and strongly.

How much more so does the Neshoma want practice and repetition, until it no longer feels so weird and annoying to soul-search and make personal accountings and look for guidance to what we need to improve ourselves and our relationships with others? I don't know. 10 times? 100? 20 years? 50 years? A lot.

Gmar Chasimah Tovah, and may we all be signed and sealed for a happy and healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year. Good luck with the praying and try not to riffle the machzor too much.


Yesterday a great tragedy befell my life. While in the middle of making a honey cake, after having made a cheesecake and an orange butter cake and a chocolate cake, my bench mixer died. Just like that, mid-beat. No burning smells, no funny noises, just wwwwWHHHIIIIRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
I had to finish the cake by hand.

My Kenwood Chef was a wedding present. We have been friends and workmates for nearly 35 years. Sure, we had some disagreements; as a clueless novice I burned out the motor on two occasions, one crushing ice in the blender and the next, making breadcrumbs, also in the blender. So it was clear that the blender was a menace. And then it broke so good riddance. I bought a Sunbeam blender aout 10 years ago, and it is a beauty, but already showing signs of ageing. I also bought a Magimix food processor which is the ant's pants as far as making hummus, breadcrumbs, pesto, any dip you can mention, and crushed biscuits for cheesecake crusts (PLUS I somehow have manage to keep it parev, which takes some doing in my house, let me tell you.) But it's only about 6 years old and already the plastic fatigue has set in and it's a bit rattly.
But the mighty Kenwood was a fighter. Sure, you needed ear protection, it was so noisy, but it got the job done.  The blender attachment may have been somewhat deficient, but the shredder was pretty good and the mincer attachment superb. This was a real kitchen workhorse.

I am not one to give up on things so easily; I googled Kenwood repairs and I found J&T Appliances in Ashburton, and when I called, the man asked very savvy questions so I trusted him.
My rather opinionated Russian housekeeper, however, told me to call someone she knew, so I did; and he told me to call J&T. So that was enough for me.

So today I took the patient to J&T. The diagnostician fiddled with it, turned upside down and switched it on; the motor came to life, but it sounded sickly; wwwwhhhhhiiirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, instead of the usual dauntless WWWHHHIIIRRRRR. He shook his head, and said that it would take 2 weeks before he could let me know; they haven't made parts for this model for 20 years; they have to make their own parts.
So I asked him what would be the equivalent today? What could I replace it with?
He looked at me intently and declared, 'Nothing. There is no equivalent made today. Everything is made in China and they're all plastic toys. Oh, you could get a Hobart commercial one, for $4,500, but Kenwoods today? Not a patch on this.'
'But what if you can't fix it? What should I buy? I saw the Kenwood top of the range 1500W, is that good?'
He snorted derisively. 'All plastic Chinese toys. It's not the wattage, it's the gearing.'
'But say I need to buy something new...'
'Kitchenaid. Oh, not perfect, they have this fault in the mumble mumble flux capacitor modulator mumble mumble', waving at 2 Kitchenaids sitting on the workbench, 'So you have to replace the whole motor, and even so, they can only do half of what THIS beauty can do. But they're better than Chinese toys.'
Around this time I realised that I had actually been in this shop before.
'Do you repair Dualit toasters?' I asked.
'Yep, best toasters in the world!'

Oh, I had been there before. My Dualit crazy expensive retro toaster had malfunctioned years before, and I must point out that even when it is working, you have to watch it every second, because turn your back on it, it burns the toast. How many smoke alarms have been set off by this bastard toaster. But then it stopped toasting, or, to be more accurate, it only toasted one side of the bread, leaving the other side cold and raw. And my research had led me to J&T, where I met several other citizens glumly standing in line with their Dualit classic toasters under their arms. And I heard that refrain: 'Best toaster in the world!' I asked another lady if hers also burned the toast, and she nodded, morosely. So when it came to my turn, I said:
'Upon what do you base your claim of the Dualit being the best toaster in the world? It burns the toast if you don't stand over it!'
'Well, if the element burns out, which is what has happened to your toaster, you can replace the element for $50!'
'For $50 I can buy a whole new toaster! With electronics, so it won't burn the toast!'
'Yeah, but after a couple of years it carks it and you have to chuck it out! You can't fix it! Not like this one! This is the best toaster in the world!' Because he can fix it. For the price of a new  normal toaster.
But He Who Must Be Obeyed, i.e. my husband, loves this toaster, so what could I do. I had The Best Toaster In The World fixed and it's still serving me, albeit in a surly adversarial fashion.

But I am lost without my Kenwood. My trusty companion awaits its post-mortem and my kitchen is eerily quiet. I can only hope for Techias HaMaysim and a Refuah Shelemah. Let's hope for good news. And I'm sure it will cost more than $50. But for Ken, it's worth it.