Tag: gabriel kanter-webber

Barnet’s parks: a review

Lockdown’s been here a while so I’ve had a chance to explore many of the parks and open spaces listed on Barnet Council’s list of parks and open spaces – and even a few that are ex-directory! And while I’m yet to discover that crucial factor that distinguishes a park from an open space, I am in a position to present a review of the civic amenities I’ve had the honour to visit so far:

Golders Hill Park

Wildlife: ★★★★★
Varied landscape: ★★★★
Consistency of open and shut gates: ★

This is my ‘local’ – my local park and my local zoo – and I’m very lucky to have it. Just a few minutes’ walk away from my house I can hang out with both ring-tailed lemurs and Charedi Jews. Black and white is very much the theme here. That said, the place is surrounded by gates, and features a few internal gates as well, and I’ve yet to work out any pattern in which ones are open and which ones are locked at any given moment.

Child’s Hill Park

Unusual features: ★★
Beautiful vistas: ★
Chance of being overseen by the CST control room: ★★★★★

Set in the slightly made-up area of Child’s Hill, this park includes a “Wilderness Trail” in one small corner. Presumably the sign reading “Wilderness Trail” was cheaper than paying someone to cut the slightly overgrown grass in that part of the field because that basically seems to be the extent of it. Also, some work is needed on bench placement (see left).

Sturgess Park

Proximity to a branch of Monsoon: ★★★★
Ability to visit a supermarket without a £1 coin to hand: ★★★★★
Evidence of landscaping: ★

My guess is that, when Brent Cross shopping centre got planning permission, one condition was the creation of a new green space. Because this green space (all 30 square centimetres of it, most of which were taken up with discarded shopping trolleys) in the shadow of the monstrous hypermarket has nothing to commend it except that it, er, isn’t the monstrous hypermarket.

Elm Park

Interesting features: ★★★★
Niche and undiscovered: ★★★★★
Close to recreational drug supply: ★★★★

Less than 10 minutes’ walk from home, I genuinely did not know this place existed until I found it in Barnet’s directory. It’s surprisingly sweet, with a split-level structure and some nice paths. Unfortunately, while I hadn’t discovered it before, an unmarked but pungent BMW had, and its driver was conducting a brisk trade.

Central Square

Good class of user: ★★★★★
Ethnic diversity: ★★
Better during lockdown: ★★★★★

In the heart of Hampstead Garden Suburb, this is a naice green space, probably all the nicer without the throngs of girls from Henrietta Barnet who would no doubt be flooding it if it weren’t for the school closures. It’s not a place you could bring a family for a raucous game of swingball; more where the committee of the local Women’s Institute will hold socially-distanced meetings over the summer, with pitchers of ice tea being carried over from Mrs Holtenshaw’s nearby mansion.

Sunny Hill Park

Ease of access: ★
Size: ★★★★
Kashrut standards of café: ★★★

This is an unremittingly plain grassy park, albeit huge. Its size is perhaps undermined by the fact that there are only about two entrances and they’re pretty inconveniently located. There’s also a sweet, log-cabin café serving kosher shwarma and halloumi fries.

Mortimer Close Open Space

Size: ★
Facilities: ★
Any points in its favour: ★

I genuinely think that my first-floor flat contains a greater area of green space than does Mortimer Close. Presumably there’s some reason why Barnet lists this – basically just the microscopic patch of grass in the middle of a roundabout (see right) – on its database, perhaps it helps the borough gain eligibility for some grant, but it is most certainly neither open nor spacious.

Basing Hill Park

Regularity of rectangular shape: ★★★★★
Air quality: ★★
Quiet on Jewish festivals: ★

Lockdown or no lockdown, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Jewish faces in one place as this park as I did on Shavuot. And that was just one family. That said, this park is just a plain grassy quadrilateral, and that component of its atmosphere which isn’t derived from its heimische clientele comes straight from the six-lane Hendon Way on the other side of the fence.

Bigwood

Otherworldiness: ★★★★★
Rural feel: ★★★★
Location: ???

I can never quite make out Bigwood. I think there must be some spell in place which ensures that it only exists in real life and can’t be plotted on a map. It’s a proper old ancient forest, so thickly wooded you find it hard to believe you’re still in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Where did it come from? How did I find myself here? Was that path even there last time??

Princes Park

Mix of shade and sunshine: ★★★★
Jewish history: ★★★★★

Seating: ★★

The memorial to Sir Nicholas Winton is a high point; the fact that the council has resorted to using tree stumps instead of benches is a low point. It could have been done in a kitschy way but it was actually done in a, “We’re just going to fell this tree and you can sit here and like it,” way.

Brent Park

Clear walking route: ★★★★
Clear water: ★★
Clear boundaries: ★

This is a very strange, wholly linear park: you enter, there’s one path that avoids you ending up in the lake, and you follow that path until it peters out into someone’s back garden (literally). Fun for a little bit.

Cherry Tree Wood

Trainspotting opportunities: ★★★★
Combination of woods and fields: ★★★★
Blood spatters on pavement: ★★★★★

Located next to a spur of the Northern line, these woods have it all: space to spy on Underground trains out of their natural habitat, a nice green space for picnicking, and inexplicable red stains on some of the pathways.

Clarefield Park

Urban feel: ★★★★★
Safety: ★★
View: ★★

This is… wow. It’s like a post-apocalyptic world where a building site was just upped and left overnight and nature was allowed to reassert itself. There are piles of wood-chippings, random bits of lethal-looking twisted metal, and a view over a much more active building site. Once you’ve taken all that in, you’ve kind of had the whole experience, so it doesn’t lend itself to repeat custom. But, wow.

Rushgrove Park

Shape: ★★★★
Seclusion: ★★★★
Water quality: ★★

Tucked away in Colindale, this is a fairly cute, elongated green space. Its greatest strength (an attractive brook) is also its greatest weakness (a fetid, smelly brook).

Hampstead Heath

Views of central London: ★★★★
Number of visitors drinking chia seed smoothies: ★★★★★
Parking: ★

This is the classic. Perhaps a bit too cliché now. It’s certainly impossible to park anywhere near, and parking is kind of necessary ‘cos you can walk for miles and miles inside and then suddenly realise you’re practically in Tufnell Park.

The Heath Extension

Navigability: ★
Sense that somebody might turn up on horseback: ★★★★
Safety of tree roots: ★★

Like all good extensions, this is where the Heath keeps its collection of old records in slightly-dangerously-stacked boxes. Gnarled tree roots threaten every footprint, there’s no way to find out where you are until you walk in a straight line for long enough to reach a road of some sort, and while you always have the impression that it’s the sort of place an equestrian might appear at any moment, this doesn’t actually seem to happen.

Meadway Gate open space

Seating: ★★★★★
Anything but seating: ★

This literally is just the middle of a roundabout. It’s a very pretty roundabout, and there is a pergola, and several benches. But it’s very much more in the ‘nicely-tended front garden’ vibe than the ‘public park where you can come and relax during lockdown’ vibe.

Swan Lane open space

Opportunity to get up to high jinx in the long-grass: ★★★★★
Unexpected jetty in bagging area: ★★★★
Social distancing: ★

There seems to be a constant carnival up in Woodside Park, perhaps because this is one of the few green spaces with an open café selling ice-creams. An irregularly-shaped pond is complemented by an unexplained semi-flooded path that extends halfway across it, and a sand-dune-like area of long-grass offers privacy to couples and to those who want to smoke substances not available over-the-counter.

Clitterhouse Field

Mild comedy of name: ★★★★
Grass: ★★★★★
Grass: ★★★★★

I know it’s probably indicative of my city-dwelling privilege to complain when there’s too much grass, but I think this facility might have managed it. There’s so much grass. It’s just one grassy space so big that if you dropped a green wallet you would literally never find it ever again. Not a tree or a playground or a bench in sight (perhaps they’ve all been painted green). Grass.

Claremont Road open space

Hipster ‘reclaimed land’ vibe: ★★★★★
Access to Thameslink services: ★★★★
Lawful access to Thameslink services: ★

This is a very compact yet very cool park. It’s got hillocks. It’s got a birdwatching trail. It’s got a trainspotting area directly backing onto the tracks near Cricklewood station. It’s got secluded benches. It’s got straw. What’s not to like?

Is God self-isolating?

You find that whenever Israel is enslaved, so too is the Divine Presence enslaved: it is written [as part of the Exodus narrative], “And they saw the God of Israel, and under God’s feet, it was like a work of sapphire bricks.” [Just as the Israelites were engaged in making bricks, so too was the Eternal One engaged in making bricks.]
Mechilta d’Rabbi Ishmael, Pis-cha 14

When the Israelites were enslaved, God was enslaved.

“Was enslaved.” משועבדת. It’s a passive participle. It definitely means that God was enslaved.

The Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians, as we know. So who enslaved God?

God enslaved Godself. It’s the only explanation. When the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians, God decided not to remain aloof and above it all, but instead to suffer alongside our ancestors – so God began to make bricks.

I find this rabbinic idea fascinating. Slavery in Egypt? God makes bricks. What would God have been doing during other periods of Jewish history? The York massacre? The expulsion from Spain? The Shoah?

A lot of people are wondering about (or questioning) God’s role in the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this month, I took part in an online panel where several of my teachers and I discussed that very question.

On reflection, I think the simple answer might be the rabbis’ one: When Israel is enslaved, so too is the Divine Presence enslaved. When humanity is self-isolating, so too is God self-isolating. God is in self-isolation.

But why would the rabbis have write themselves a God who seems so helpless? Ultimately, I think it’s all about creating stories that are good stories. A truly three-dimensional character requires a ‘sparring partner’: a character is no character in a vacuum, and it’s only through their relationships with others that we get a sense of what they’re like.

The Greek myths were able to call upon a large (and, where necessary, expandable) pantheon of miscellaneous gods to be these ‘other personalities’. Greek gods were always having dramas amongst themselves. But Judaism only had the Israelites. The Bible and the rabbinic texts have Jews quibbling with and disempowering God, because the Jews needed God to be quibbled with, and there were no other gods to do the quibbling.

A fallible God might not be God according to the strictest definitions of Jewish theology, and yet an infallible God cannot be God according to the emotional needs of Jews as human beings. We need Someone to identify with. Within the Jewish narrative, God created humans; outside of it, Jews created God. It is a relationship in the fullest sense of that phrase.

So, God and self-isolation… Doesn’t that ruin the relationship?

Yet, why shouldn’t God be feeling lonely at the moment? We’re all missing the companionship we get from our regular gatherings in community settings. That’s also when God gets to interact with humanity. Zoom is an important stand-in and a valuable way of connecting with each other in these strange times, but it’s not a real substitute. Similarly, just as we can pray individually or using Skype or FaceTime, perhaps it’s no substitute. It suffices, it keeps the relationship open, but if it doesn’t relieve us of the sense of being marooned, maybe it doesn’t relieve God either.

These strange times call for patience and compassion – and just as God’s conception of suffering is one that runs both ways, so too should our patience and compassion.