Magen Covid: the Channukah special 2020

I have a little vaccine: I made it out of virus.
And now at last an end’s in sight, it’s really most desirous.

What a year. Is 2020 about to finish with the nes gadol of a coronavirus jab, or is that all just a sham? (A lot of spin has certainly been involved.)

In the blog this year:

  • Judean supermarket launches controversial advert featuring Greek family
  • Some Talmud study on the rules for a non-lockdown Christmas
  • Pass the port to the left avoid 9-hour delays after we crash out of Europe
  • Oppressors thrown out of the Temple Labour Party
  • How to play dreidel this year
  • Cut-out-and-keep FAQ on Christmas gathering exemptions
  • Erm…
  • That’s it.

Warning: this post is going to contain a large number of highly predictable jokes combing the themes of ‘virus’ and ‘Channukah’. If you don’t think you’re going to be able to handle this, other websites are available.

But first, of course, we stick rigidly to tradition. You all need to buy, for your significant other, a Channukah present-but-not-involved. So please find below this year’s topical catalogue of Gabriel’s Festive Innovations!


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Advert controversy reaches fever pitch

A scene from the impugned advert

Maccabees reacted furiously to the latest advert from the market stall סאינסבוריס (Σαινσβθρυσ), which depicted a Greek family doing things that suggested they’re normal human beings, ie ingesting food, communicating with each other and resting.

A series of angry messages were etched into the wall of the basilica last week, including:

“That’s the last time I buy from this stall.”

“Allowing Greek people to appear in the public sphere is a racist attack on all Judeans.”

“This sort of thing just fuels division, it would have been much better if the advertisment stuck to showing proper people.”

“Judea is only 20% Greek so how can it possibly make sense for Greeks to have been used for this? Do these traders seriously think I’m going to be persuaded to buy things just because I see Greek people using them? I mean, what do I want with taramosalata, spanakopita and democracy?”

A spokesperson for the market stall said, “We are firmly committed to showing the full diversity of modern life. Previous years’ adverts have featured the Maccabean People’s Front, the People’s…” (Yes, we get it thanks. -Ed.)

Tanu Rabbanan


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Oil supplies delayed

The Jews sent off for some oil and thought it would take only eight days (plus three days waiting for the redelivery when it came while they were out, four days holding on the Yodel helpline and five days trying to find it in the ten-sizes-too-large cardboard box in which it was delivered).

But it looks like that might be an ambitious timescale once we crash out of Europe on 31 December. There is a very real possibility that the country will run out of petrol.

Back in October, a reader of The Jewish News was outraged at the idea that the Congestion Charge might mean they could no longer drive their private car from Temple Fortune to their synagogue in Finchley, instead of getting the direct bus that takes about seven minutes.

What might they have to say about something so anti-Semitic as a modern-day oil shortage in the new year?


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Oppressors cast out of the Labour Party after a brave fight by British Jews

Long, long ago, a haughty tyrant tried to force our ancestors to give up their beliefs and customs and seats on the National Executive Committee. If he had succeeded, our people and our faith would have broadly been alright but a bit sad because of all the hate on Twitter. But, with amazing courage, first a few, then more, then still more resisted the oppressor, and argued with each other about who should get the credit and who should be called a Nazi collaborator.

After years of struggle, the Party was rededicated; the flame of the Jewish Labour Movement, so nearly extinguished, was rekindled; and this festival of lights – one candle for each of the EHRC’s 19 recommendations – was instituted. May it be a time of unity and measured online reactions for us and for all our brothers and sisters of the House of the Zionist Entity.

A note for those who find this parody of the Channukah liturgy to be unacceptably predictable, tasteless, misguided, offensive, witless, irreverent, unbecoming, unfunny, pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, iconoclastic, flippant and/ or sacreligious:

Well-spotted. Why don’t you write your feedback down, put it in an envelope, tear it in half, throw it away and move on.


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Your questions answered: Christmas gatherings

Q: Surely it makes sense for the government to make an exception to the rules for Christmas, and not Eid, because way more people want to gather with family over Christmas?
A: Surely more people gathering makes it much worse an idea?

Q: How dare you suggest that the police and the government have the right to tell me what I can and can’t do?
A: That’s literally the point of having police and government.

Q: Don’t you know that the health service is there to protect us, not the other way round? So this whole ‘protect the NHS’ thing is offensive.
A: You may be confusing ‘the NHS’ with ‘magic’.

Q: You don’t really believe that Christmas is a religious thing? It’s just part of British culture!
A: I wonder how it became part of British culture and whether Christian hegemony had any role to play…

Q: How can you say that a Christmas exemption favours Christians when we weren’t allowed to mark Easter and that’s an even more important festival?
A: If a teacher gives one pupil a £5 note, they’re showing favouritism to that pupil. The fact that the pupil would really have liked the £5 note and also a £10 note doesn’t really change that.

Q: Why shouldn’t I be allowed to gather at Christmas at risk to my own health if I choose?
A: For the same reason you shouldn’t be allowed to run a red light at risk your own safety.

Q: What about the Human Rights Act? Does that help me?
A: No.

Q: What about GDPR? Does that help me?
A: No.

Q: What about habeas corpus? Does that help me?
A: No.

Q: What about the Magna Carta? Does that help me?
A: No.

Q: What about the Corpus Christi? Does that help me?
A: That’s a college.

Afterword

We began this year hoping we might have one covid vaccine, and it looks like we might get eight. Stay safe, follow the rules, and maybe – just maybe – we’ll be back together in 2021.

This land is shrunk (an accidental sermon)

I foolishly forgot that I’m not supposed to be leading a service tonight, so wrote a sermon for it anyway. Unfortunately it’s a topical one so can’t be recycled next year, so enjoy it while it’s fresh:

I’m fed up with all my local parks. And local walks. And local streets. For eight months now I’ve been taking my daily exercise on the same routes and I’m bored of them. And I’m lucky enough to have the Hampstead Heath Extension on my doorstep. But I’ve done it now.

So it was extremely exciting to read earlier this month that the Ramblers’ Association has discovered more than 49,000 miles of rights of way and public footpaths that have been lost from the maps.[i] If these lost routes are all restored to the official listings, the network of paths in England and Wales would grow by around a third.

How can a footpath just get forgotten? They might not be busy thoroughfares, but surely enough people used them that they couldn’t just drop out of our nation’s collective memory? How can the total amount of footpaths in the country just shrink by a third?

But it turns out the rabbis foresaw this possibility.[ii] In a discussion about which hillocks should be presumed impure, because they might contain graves, we read: “Mounds which are near to a city are impure [because this is exactly the sort of place where people would bury their dead]. Mounds which are not near to a city: recent ones are pure, but old ones are impure. What counts as old: Rabbi Judah says, ‘Old enough that nobody remembers [when it was made].’” The concern was that there might once have been a city nearby, a city which buried its dead in the now-unmarked mound in the middle of nowhere. And people might have forgotten that this city ever existed!

The fact is, land use is incredibly transitory. More transitory than any of us would care to think about. There are ghost towns all over the world which were once thriving centres of human life, and – due to war, famine, natural disaster or just changing economic circumstances – are now empty and falling to pieces. And how many of us have had one of those, “Remember when that building used to be Woolworth’s/ a cinema/ a pub before they turned it into a block of flats?” type conversations?

When we fail to use and enjoy the land, we forget it. When we forget it, our country shrinks. When our country shrinks, we don’t notice immediately; it happens bit-by-bit. But it just takes a short lockdown – and eight months is relatively short in the grand scheme of things – to run out of interesting roots, and then our freedom shrinks too. Out of our own indolence. Use it or lose it!

The land of Israel shrunk too, apparently. In this Shabbat’s parashah, we read God’s great promise to Jacob: “I am the Eternal One, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring.”[iii] The Talmud explains that this gift included the whole of the country: “The Holy One rolled up the entire land of Israel, and placed it under Jacob.”[iv] This is lovely symbolism, but frankly it’s also necessary in order to make the verse meaningful. If Jacob had literally been given only the actual ground on which he actually lay, we would be forgiven for wondering – as did the commentator Rashbam – “This is a little sparse!”

Then again, it may be self-defeating symbolism. By coming up with the fiction of the rolling-up of Israel, the rabbis didn’t make Jacob as big and great as the land. It made the land as small and meagre as Jacob.

We set the boundaries of our land and we determine the size of our land. Maps showing who owns what are, ultimately, irrelevant. Promises and bequests and sales and shares too. Ultimately, when we go for a stroll somewhere new, when we roam where we have never roamed before, we broaden our horizons. We enlarge our lives.

This month, we learned that England shrunk. But we can enlarge it once again. Kein y’hi ratzon: may this be God’s will.

Notes:

[i] Patrick Barkham. “More than 49,000 miles of paths lost from maps in England and Wales”, The Guardian (2 November 2020): http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/nov/02/more-than-49000-miles-paths-lost-maps-england-wales

[ii] m.Ohalot 16:2

[iii] Genesis 28:13

[iv] b.Chullin 91b