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Day 4 – 15th September – Gibraltar

So today we got up early, had a posh buffet breakfast in the nice restaurant, then had a quick game of shuffleboard before going out onto the helipad to watch us sail through the Gibraltar strait and into the port of Gibraltar.

'pon the Helipad!
‘pon the Helipad!

 

I see Gibraltarr
I see Gibraltarr

 

The views were stunning and we could see Africa pretty clearly! Soon we were docked and we popped into their posh restaurant for a buffet lunch before disembarking to go round Gibraltar!

We walked down the main street ( Called Main Street!) Then jumped in a cab to go for a tour of the rock…

The Caves were Really Pretty!
The Caves were Really Pretty!

The views were magnificent and the weather was lovely. We went down into the caves which were beautiful, before going to the top of the rock to see the views and meet the monkeys. They are very funny and sometimes scary and it surprised me just how close they will get to you!

On the way down we stopped at the Moorish castle which was really pretty as well as having good views.

Two Monkeys!
Two Monkeys!
Another Two Monkeys!
Another Two Monkeys!

 

After the castle we went back to one of the squares where we had some delicious ice cream and a drink but most importantly….. WIFI!!!!

It was quite nice to get back in the loop and see what was going on in the world! After the cafe we popped into WH Smiths and I bought some fruit gums, at English prices, in Great British Pounds (All foreign countries should be like this! Hehe)

Beaut Views... (Hello, Little Ship)
Beaut Views… (Hello, Little Ship)

After that we got a shuttle back to the boat where there was a 45 min queue to get back on!!! Captain Tony apologized….seems there were a few issues!

..... and The Moorish Castle!
….. and The Moorish Castle!

Entertainment that night was Mark Walker who was a “Comedy Impressionist”… we decided that it was fair to say that everything that the comedian last night wasn’t, this guy was…. mainly “Funny”!!

We were up quite late, knowing we had a day at sea to recover!!!!…….

Day 3 – 14th September

So today we’d planned to get up at 10. At ten past ten, the phone rings…. Although according to my tablet next to the bed its 9.10. I answer the phone to mother with then phrase “Which bit of 10 didn’t you understand?!”… She told me it was 10 past. OOPS!!

We got up and had a relaxed breakfast….then we played a game on the deck called shuffleboard…. Bit like curling without the brooms. It was fun but lets just say I wont be taking it up professionally!! (Dad and I lost considerably to Mum and Adam!!) We sat outside for a bit, walked down the promenade and soon it was time for lunch! All these activities are just to fill the gaps between meals right?!

At 2.30 mum and I went up to the bar at the top of the boat for the “Guest Choir”. We’d been promised a Gareth Malone style choir so we’re quite excited – we were even promised a performance from the bridge on the Royal Promenade!

What we were met with was nothing more than a shoddy karaoke with printed sheets. A few of us had expected a bit more organization. We were all just sat round mumbling words! Mum and I led the enthusiasm with a few others joining in and we had a laugh. (Huge Shout out to Rowenna, Janice and Nan!!!)

We told Dad and Adam we had to audition from 65 an were whittled down to 30 before making the final 12. They bought the story,but we felt bad so said simply “Not really, it was sh*t!!!!”… Ah we had a laugh!

We then sat out on deck and took in some sun!

Here's the Sky, not too sunny in this, but it was, I promise!
Here’s the Sky, not too sunny in this, but it was, I promise!

 

 

Mum and I went for the early show by “Fourever” – an Il Divo tribute act…. They were very good…. They did a whole range of songs in English and Italian, mostly from the comfort of “Westlife Stools”!

Soon dinner time came round and we went and had a lovely (as always) dinner to be followed by the Late night entertainment of a comedian….

Let’s just say, the late night bit was correct!!! Comedian was pushing it!

After the ‘comedian’ we went for a walk down the Royal Promenade and had a cup of tea before bed where I found 5 of the 10 Israelis we’d been told were onboard! We’ve decided to do something together for Rosh Hashannah together!

Off to bed we go before tomorrow’s first port call – Gibraltar!

Click here for Day 4!!!

7th July

Today I’ve had a long day. It all started at half 6 this morning when the alarm went off. It’s still going as I write this now…..

At the end of today I’ll have travelled nearly 600 Miles (594 to be exact…. Calculated using road distance… so probably not 100% Accurate) Of those miles. Most of them have been by train.

The British train system while often in the media for negative reasons, Is definitely world class…. be it the London Underground, the Overground or National (“British”) Rail services. Today so far has been a dream… (and I hate to say it, it’s quicker, and less hassle than the car!)

I’ve been able to see all sorts of lovely sights out of the window as I whizz along at 125 Miles Per hour tearing up the countryside! (I’ve also finally managed to watch Frozen!)

9 Years ago, on the 7th of July was very different. I was in school. I was in the first period of the day, and all I could hear was Sirens. Those sirens were responding to the actions of a select number of people destined to ruin the lives of others.

On the 7th July 2005, Three suicide bombers took to the London Underground and one on a bus. They detonated bombs causing dramatic affects and scenes. All four of them were killed, along with 52 others, and left around 700 more injured.

I’d hazard a guess that of those 52 people killed or those 700 injured, very few of them had travelled as far as I have today by train the day or days before they were killed…. albeit a different train, but it’s still a public place whereby people should tolerate everyone and “play nice”.

I don’t seem to have seen many articles today commemorating the 7/7 atrocities… (It seems like some cyclists wearing a yellow jersey are more interesting) apart from one, detailing graffiti on the memorial – just just another example of the way humans will NEVER Learn, and people will never be happy to coexist with other people. (See Previous Blog here)

I rarely take public transport, being a huge fan of my car…. However it seems by fluke, in the last few years, every 7th of July, I take to public transport… a subconscious and coincidental memorial to those who lost their lives 9 years ago.

30-06-2014

I didn’t plan to write this. It’s probably ill thought out and a snap response. I tend not to write about politics, or war – because I know it’s not a strong point of mine…. None the less here we go….

Picture the scene: You walk into a shop. You pick up some items. You leave without paying. You’ve committed a crime. Theft. The shop keeper calls the authorities who do all within their power to find you and ensure you’re charged as due. It’s clear to see that you have done wrong. In this case, you are able to right that wrong.

You can pay the shop back, return the goods, be fined appropriately etc. There are some things in life however which cannot be repaid.

There are some things in this world that you should not steal. When three young men were “stolen” from the side of the road in Israel, on the 12th of June, the world barely blinked an eyelid. If you didn’t “go looking” for the news, you might never have known. Why were they taken? Some might say “because they were Jewish”….

Some might say “for being Israeli” but neither of those reasons were the fault of their own. None of them consciously chose to be born Jewish, or Israeli. THEY DIDN’T EVEN CHOSE TO BE BORN. What matters is that they were born. They were alive. They were brothers, Sons, Grandsons, Friends, Boyfriends… distant relations. Taken simply because they were breathing. Simply for being alive.

We all enter this world in the same way. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, atheist, whichever religion you choose to be…. there’s only one way to get here. What do you do while you are here, is the choice you make.  You decide how to live your  life. You can’t choose how other people live theirs. If you take people away, against their free will, the obvious and only way to repay is to return those people.

If you take life away, there is no way to repay for what you have done.

There is no appropriate punishment that can be served.

Tonight, three beds lie empty. Three beds which belong to those three boys. Merely children who were taken from their families. Taken from the world, and whose lives were taken away. Three families are torn apart by the loss of their three sons. Brothers and sisters, grandsons never to come home. A void has been created that will never be filled. But why did they die? Simply for being born.

Grow Broader Shoulders.

Pinned to the front of my blog for National Bullying Prevention Month, October 2015:

If you ask me about my time at primary school, I usually go quiet and don’t have much to say. Often ALL I will say is:

 

  1. Christmas time I used to love going up to the church to sing carols. (and daddy was once father Christmas)
  2. Baby Spice once came to my primary school!! ( I used to be in LOVE with her)
  3. I had a friend in year 1 who was over from Germany for a year and we’re still in touch
  4. I moved Primary school in February year 5.

Those four things are all that spring to mind. Without deep thought, nothing easily comes back to me about my time at Primary school.

Everything else before that February in Year 5 has been covered with a huge mental plaster, stopping me from thinking back to those years….

I was bullied at primary school. Physically, Verbally, and mentally….. The bullying was so bad, that I had to move schools…..

Reception til year 2 was a separate school at my Primary school, those are years I can remember. The computer going up in smoke, Meeting Caroline from Germany, Lessons in year 2 in the hut at the back of the building….

Then we changed to the Junior school (literally the other side of the fence!) for year 3-6 (well, 3- 5).

I remember bits of year 3, Miss Conder, Reading a bit of Harry Potter (I think)… But then it began….

I remember a class project – to have a photo taken with your friends. This was to be put in a frame as a memento….. I remember turning up in the playground, with no one to have a photo with. No one wanted me. I was shoved in a photo with two girls who were best friends. I remember the photo (which I think I threw away) had me pulling the Fakest smile. While deep inside I was so unhappy.

But then year 4…. I don’t remember much of year 4…. not much at all…….

I’m not sure how it started. The bullying slowly crept its way into my life… when I think back, I remember struggling in Year 4 to finish my DT project, because every time we had a DT lesson, more of my Project was broken than I’d fixed in the previous lesson…. at the time it seemed mere coincidence…..

Toward the end of year 4, things took a turn for the worse. The name calling started. I know it started, but my memories are so vague… I blocked them out years ago, not wanting them to haunt me for the rest of my life.

I remember “Stupid”, “Jew”, “Idiot”, “High Pitched”, “Girl Voice”….
It’s amazing how spiteful 8 and 9 year old kids can be.

I’m not entirely sure when it got physical. Every-time I drive past the school and I see the green fencing, even to this day, I go cold and shiver a little.

I remember a number of times, Being held up against the fence. It’s oblong gaps providing slight refuge to my back being pressed against it’s metal bars. I remember what seems like hundreds of faces, yet were probably maximum 3, Crowding round me.

I remember the kicking, the punching, the name calling, the taunting. 3 or 4 against 1.

Writing this is making memories flow back that would never have come to me normally because they are usually blocked out.

I remember in year 5, we had to make a drink… Design the label… and make a radio advert…. I had a Jingle, I had a word art label…. and I had a bottle full of Blackcurrant juice and vinegar….. “Dooberry Ding”.
Our drinks were out on display in the corridor for all too see… well mine was, for all of one day…
By the second day, the bottle was empty, under the table.

The issue was deep routed. Routed within someone whom I thought was a friend. Who at first I trusted as my naive 8-10 year old self.
The main culprit was someone who, on a Monday night, I’d go home with, we’d go to Tutor together, and then his mum would drop me home.

He was the one, making my life at school hell.

The order of the events is blurry…. The mind can play wonders at trying to help you forget.

I remember I was “Computer monitor”. It was my job to turn the computer on in the morning when I got into the classroom. One day I noticed, the computer was already on when I got into the classroom… That night, at the end of school, I turned the computer off, flicked off the plug socket and left. The next morning I get to the classroom, and the computer is back on.

It took me a few days to realise the culprit…. one day I caught him in the act. Sniggering at me as I watched him do my Job. (To an 8 year old, this is important business!!!!)

The teacher told him not to, and he carried on.

The school building was old, and I never forget getting into the classroom one day, finding that snow had come through the tiny missing pane of window, creating a layer of snow on top of the computer screen…. and someone had switched the computer on….! (Bloody fool!!)

As time went by, things got worse… Pencils thrown across the classroom. More physical bullying in the playground…. I hear you cry “Where were the teachers?”… Well…….

I was told, that because I was kicking my way out of being held against the fence, I was equally in the blame… The cold words of the teacher resonate in my head… “People in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones”…. and for the Verbal abuse, I was to “Grow Broader shoulders” and Ignore them.

Writing this, I’ve gone cold. Ice cold. I’m shivering just thinking about it.

Bullying does crazy things to you. While I came home from school every day, sad, cold and depressed, I also didn’t want to leave the school. My legs was bruised, my soul was beaten down, and my once happy smile was gone. Yet in a way, I didn’t want to leave what I already knew.

Eventually I was lucky. A place became available at a school one of my friends moved to in year 1. Reluctantly I woke up early one Friday morning to go and see the new school. As soon as I walked through the door, my mind was made up.

In what seems now, like a “goodbye sequence” only available to characters in EastEnders, we left the new school, arrived at the old one, told the head teacher I wasn’t coming back… had an afternoon of lessons, and left my mental and physical hell.

I remember crying at break time as I went to tell one of the other class teachers that I was leaving… I LOVED her lessons – possibly once a week (I don’t remember) we were split into abilities, and that lesson, was to me rest-bite. Away from the people who caused me hell and harm…..

 

I do not count the time after that February half term in year 5 as primary school. That year and a half contains enough AMAZING memories to make up for the years I blank out.

I don’t talk about the time before it simply because I don’t like to think about it. Each time I think, it’s like ripping that plaster off the wound. Changing the metaphorical dressing in my mind.

 

I also don’t talk about it, because people consider it  as a sort of “Sob Story”. I don’t need a Sob story. I’m better than the bullies. They stopped me when I was younger, they inhibited my life for a few years. I’m free of them. I don’t need them casting a legacy over me. I don’t need to use their behaviour to grant me merit.
I am my own person, and their words, their games, and their violence is not going to stop me any-more.

 

Flaky Itchy-itis & Me.

“EWWW is it contagious?” then ask most people at first properly noticing it…. A firm “NO” is my answer.

Psoriasis effects 2 or 3 percent of people in the UK, so roughly speaking, I’m one in 1.8 Million. (In the scheme of things, a mere few!)

Alternately people ask…. “How did you do that?” *Pointing to a patch on my Arm/Knee/Forhead* “I didn’t” I reply, “Biology did”.

Psoriasis. A word many can say but cant read, can say but don’t know what it is, what it looks like, or what it does.

To start with, and English lesson:  “Sore-aye-a-sis” Psoriasis. Sometimes the English language is stupid. A psychology teacher once told me “Psory-Aye-asys” NO.

Most people have heard of or seen Eczema…. Psoriasis is very similar….BUT different.

To quote the Psoriasis Association: “Psoriasis is an immune condition, which causes symptoms on the skin and sometimes the joints. When a person has psoriasis, their skin replacement process speeds up, taking just a few days to replace skin cells that usually take 21-28 days. This abundance of skin cells builds up to form raised ‘plaques’ on the skin, which can also be flaky, scaly, red on caucasian skin, darker patches on darker skin tones, and itchy”

I’ve suffered with psoriasis for many years now, Since I was about 15. Mum noticed some lurking in my scalp, and whatever I tried to stop it, we just couldn’t. Over the years I’ve tried many different topical ways to try and combat the patches of flakes. However I have come to understand, although hard to imagine… There is no cure. 

Luckily for me, I’ve learnt to conceal it well…. I am currently (While writing this) “active” on both legs, my left arm, and my scalp and ears, but unless I mention it, people don’t really notice it.

The summer provides me with a huge dilemma…. Do I wear shorts?

Silly as this may seem, shorts is a two way road:

  1. The sun will hopefully help my Psoriasis to slow down and disappear.
  2. People will see my nasty flaky, patchy legs.

Until not so long ago, I’d only wear 3/4 length shorts to avoid showing my patches… I’d wear longer t-shirts or try not to expose my arms in the summer… one year, I even put plasters over the patches… (This made it worse and was never to be repeated.

2 years ago, I decided to start a kinda “Bugger it, I am who I am” phase… and since then I haven’t looked back, with flaky patches out on show in the summer… most people assume I’ve been badly bitten (Fools).

Last year however I had a course of Phototherapy – Which is pretty close to going on a sun-bed… except you are stood up and completely starkers.

While this sounds like fun – I can assure you that being sunburnt in November when you haven’t been out the country is damn funny to explain!! The phototherapy seemed to remove all the patches that I had (Both arms, torso, back and both legs) but didn’t get the scalp stuff as the hair was in the way. Phototherapy also gave me sunburn, chafing, and made me very dehydrated. BUT, No pain, no gain, so thrice a week I was up at Barnet General, Donning a Gown, and standing starkers, surrounded in light.

The effects of the phototherapy were great, however only short-term hence the fact I am again “Active” on my body….

I’m again applying a mix of tar based and steroid ointments to help try and reduce the areas which is covered with scales. I try to steer clear when possible of the tar based products simply because they have a very strong smell. But, the shampoo I use is tar based, so if you can smell something overpowering (almost tube like) then that’s probably my shampoo and I apologise!!

Currently my favourite (I probably mean most effective) treatment is called “Dovobet” or Generically “Calcipotriol/betamethasone”. This is steroid and comes in a lovely bright red box, in a white bottle with bright red label and lid. (Although this spells danger, it’s not as bad as it sounds!) This is nearly scentless (YAAAY)and seems to do the job… although I’m using this (with doctor’s permission) more than is “recommended” on the bottle but it seems to be doing the trick. (just paused writing to apply this and am now modeling the “Greased” look!)

I realise at this point that I am yet to mention what causes psoriasis… that’s because in short – NO ONE KNOWS. However we do know: “Psoriasis occurs when the immune system mistakes a normal skin cell for a pathogen, and sends out faulty signals that cause overproduction of new skin cells” Thank you Wikipedia! But we don’t know how the skin decides to mistake a normal cell for a pathogen.

It is known that stress can cause trigger Psoriasis or make existing psoriasis worse. For me, this is not the case – during GCSEs and A Levels, my condition maintained at the same severity.

I am, however subject to another known “cause”. The wonder that is genetics. (THANKS DAD.) On the positive side, I know that I am near enough “Pedigree” Phillips, not just the looks, but the hereditary skin condition too! However Psoriasis isn’t much fun, and I don’t think I’d suit a human style Crufts competition.

So there you go –  a short roundup of my weird medical condition… I purposely haven’t included pictures, because some people find it a bit gross… but if you click the two links (especially the WIkipedia one) you will see for yourself! If you are a bit intrigued and would like to see what it’s like – ask me and I’ll point it out to you – although you can hardly really miss it!

 

My God Illusion at 37,000 feet.

I realise that if I keep this up, I run the risk of turning my blog into a “God-Blog” but hey ho… after all it is supposed to be the many ramblings of my inner mind…

Anyway, on Friday something very odd happened;

On Friday I was flying from London Luton to Glasgow for the weekend. We were delayed 45 minutes and I was restless. I was crammed into my seat, on that Bright Orange airline… I’d listened to the Safety briefing… and as the plane taxied the final few meters onto the runway, something strange happened… something that never happened to me when flying before…. I started to say the Shema. (for those that don’t know It’s the centrepiece of the Jewish Morning and evening prayer service, and is said as your last words or in times when you think you might die)…

 

I got as far as the third word “Shema… Yisroel……. Adoni…….” or in English… “Hear O’Israel… The Lord”. I stopped. I stumbled. I thought. A few weeks ago, I decided that I didn’t believe in god, but now I’m sat amongst a sea of people, onboard a chunk of orange metal, travelling on the Sabbath muttering to myself about god. I’d gone meshuggeh (Crazy in Yiddish).

I stopped, reminded myself what I thought sat back, watched out the window and off we took….

I’d never felt  the need to say a prayer before flying before… not even to Israel, why now?!

I spent the first 10 minutes, of my hour and 10 minute flight, fluttering. Trying to avoid what had just happened; I tried listening to Miranda’s Book, but I couldn’t concentrate… I tried playing candy crush but got bored within seconds. Eventually I stood up, marched to the front of the plane, and joined the toilet queue.

Having finished my business I lingered for a moment, inside the small cell that is the plane toilet. My mind began to wander…I was high in the air… and I’d just had a God issue. I was not prepared for this.

I caught a glimpse of myself in mirror realised the tap had stopped running and there was soap still on my hand… I washed off the soap, dried off and opened the toilet door to a rather unhappy looking queue of 6 people.

I strolled down the plane back to my seat, and sat staring out the window, trying to make sense of what had just happened. The short answer, and in fact the only answer was… I couldn’t.

For the remaining hour or so my mind dillydallied through the clouds I was watching out the window. I was considering everything… I was oblivious to the dire selection of sandwiches, and blind to the hideous watches on offer on the duty free trolley.

I realised a number of things:

I realised that I might not believe in God but I still feel a very strong connection to my people the Jewish People. The traditions, the music, the jokes, culture etc.

I realised that I might not believe in God, but perhaps the Mystical “God” played a vital part in shaping the traditions, culture etc. that I know and love.

I realised that the Mystical “God” was probably a way of keeping things in order in years gone by… a Fear…. people believed that if they did something out of line… this mystical thing would come and “get them”

Most weird and most importantly to me: The Prayers/Psalms/Songs/Chants/words/texts; although I don’t believe in God they are strangely comforting and I do find my self singing bits and bobs now and then!

Bemused, confused and amused, I sat staring out the window, at the flimsy looking piece of metal, keeping me afloat, stopping me from falling to my orange draped death….

Shortly, we made our decent… the Air Hostess pressing the wrong button a number of times causing the cabin lights, to flash on and off like a disco. (Thankfully we had no Epileptics on board!) The wheels came down, and we slowly fell out the sky onto the Tarmac of Glasgow airport.

I had a lovely weekend, and oddly, I didn’t have a repeat on the return flight… I suppose there is more in this journey of religious identity to come… I might not believe in God… but I feel my identity as a Jew shining stronger than ever.

Poland – One Year On

If someone said to you, that a holiday they’d had a year ago was still causing them to ask questions and was instilling wonder, you’d probably think they were loony. Yet, nearly anyone you ask who’s taken a trip to Poland, to visit the sites where both the Jewish people lived and died, might tell you that their trip still lives afresh in their minds.

Nearly a year on, (This year’s trip is nearly back from Poland) I’m still battling the same questions of faith that I was facing a year a go (Mainly, “do I believe in God?”) and I’m still wondering about the times faced by so many Jewish people whom lived in Germany, Poland, and countries affected by the Holocaust.

Although battling faith, one thing remains certain. The people that suffered were my ancestors. Ok, perhaps not directly as my family links to the holocaust are very distant… but the Jewish people, from whom I “Belong”… Those whom many traditions, the actions I take day in and day out and the way I feel about things are somehow related to me.

A year ago, I decided to uptake a journey, Physically, mentally and emotionally – back to the places which were once some of the epicentres of Jewish life.

On arrival in Poland we Started our Visit “at the end”. We went straight from the Airport to a Cemetery in Warsaw. In many ways, a cemetery not much different to my Local Jewish Cemetery in London. Although this was the “end” for some people… this cemetery was to be the most peaceful rest for the bodies of deceased, I was to see over the next few days.

 

We visited the Last remaining part of the Ghetto wall in Warsaw, Strangely hidden between some flats… Almost forgotten. We visited the site of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, The Umshagplatz – Where the Jews of Warsaw were loaded onto trains.  All of this so far, was the first day.

 

On the second day, we boarded a bus to Treblinka. Deep in the forest, Hiding away. Now it’s nothing but a memorial. A Memorial to the 800,000 Who died there. On arrival, we walked down a path, which ran next to slabs laid out in the place of the train tracks. I walked along the train tracks 800,00 were taken down, during the last few minutes of their innocent lives, packed into a cattle carriage. The memorial, 17,000 stones, in the fielded area which once was the Extermination Camp. Interlaced with a few photos of what once stood there… 17,000 even when shown in front of you, is a number you cannot fathom. Let alone 800,000.  There was only one way out of Treblinka.

 

Day 3, we visited (Briefly) Lublin, and then Majdanek. This time, there was no lengthy coach ride from the town of Lublin to Majdanek.       Majdanek, was in the suburbs. Imagine a Concentration camp in Hampstead or Tuffnel park. From the camp, you could see a main road leading into town. This of course means, that the main road could also see into the camp. I was unsure while walking round, not quite knowing how to feel. Stood in gas chambers. Walking between barbed wire. Standing in front of the ovens used to cremate the dead.

 

What I found the scariest in Madjanek, was the way it’s been preserved. It’s said, that within 24 hours, Madjanek could be operational again. Twenty Four Hours. One Day. We stepped outside the actual camp compound to the mausoleum filled with the ash remains of inmates. I didn’t like this. It was blowing around, there was smashed glass bottles and cigarette butts all around. However as I learnt, there are many different memorials and ways of marking the holocaust. This one was obviously not to my taste.

 

That afternoon, on the way to Krakow. We stopped in a tiny village, The name of which escapes me. We were presented with a building site. Literally a hard hat zone.. but we were taken inside none the less. We were inside a synagogue which was under restoration. A synagogue which in my mind, was the illustration synagogue of our past. On the walls were the (faded and mid restoration) Drawings and writings. The Gallery, high up, light and grand. And the ceiling, Vaulted. Due to the lack of lights, and the dust, My camera didn’t work, but the mental photos of a place of such important to my ancestors will stay with me forever.

 

Early that evening (After a hefty coach trip), we took a trip round “Jewish Krakow”. The Golders Green of Krakow. We looked from the outside at the synagogues, we walked through the streets… and we even managed to have a bit to eat in the “Jewish Style restaurant”.

That night, back in the hotel I wrote on facebook about my day. To which my distant cousin in America informed me that I had relatives who perished in Majdanek. The place I’d been stood earlier that day. The gas chamber which I had walked free from, had killed ancestors of mine, simply for being Jewish.

 

The next day was the hardest. Although not initially. We started by visiting the square where the Jews of Krakow were chosen for deportation. Another memorial… another strange one. We visited the gates of Schindler’s factory… and we looked at the faces which are now in the windows of the factory. The faces of those who survived. I overheard one of our survivors telling someone “You see them up there… third in… I know them…. I met them in a Deli in London”.

Next was something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain. A year on, and what I saw still plays havoc with my mind. We arrived at Aushwitz 1 and I was surprised at the sheer number of people waiting outside to get in. I was disgusted at the graffiti on the wall outside. I was unsure what to expect and what I would see or feel.

We entered Aushwitz through the famous “Gates of Hell”… Arbeit Macht Frei. Work Makes you free.

We were dragged at a pace which was far to fast to take it all in. Possibly for the best. Possibly for the worst. The way it has been preserved, to me, was too clinically. To close to a Museum, Too structured and too solid.

The conditions of Aushwitz, building wise, were not what I’d expected. Brick buildings. 3 floors high. Toilets, Stairs, Rooms. I was overcome with what to think, before being taken into one of the buildings. The building that contained the items left behind.

No photo can ever explain the feeling of looking through a thin pane of glass at the thousands of shoes, cups, bowls, suitcases, prosthetic limbs and the other items left by those whom perished at the Aushwitz camps.

I looked though one particular glass, and saw a pile of glasses. Glasses to me, a symbol of living. Without glasses (or at least my lenses) I cannot see. I am only half living. The glasses set me crying. Crying hysterically, yet without making a sound.

 

As we walked though the “museum that was Aushwitz” It was obvious to me the sheer amount of terror in the camp. Upon the “roads” of the camp, poles with hooks, used for hanging people. We walked down to the infamous death wall. Looking at the gunshots in the wall, but it was also heart wrenching to me, that we were stood between two of the worst blocks – 11 aka The Prison within the prison. and 10, the Medical Experimentation block.

Experiments took place that were too cruel to do to animals, yet were done to inmates without the blink of an eye. Just sitting here now thinking back makes me shudder.

We left Aushwitz and were allowed some free time outside to sit and eat lunch.  I could not eat. I could barely drink I could barely think.

 

We boarded the bus for the short ride to Birkanau.

If only I knew what I was about to see. They say less is more. With Birkanau, this was certainly the case.

 

The coach stopped. We got out, and  I looked. I stared. I rubbed my eyes and I stared some more. Left and right as far as the eye could see – Barbed Wire. I looked through the barbed wire. I could not see the back of the camp.

 

We started to walk though Birkanau. We walked and we walked and we walked… yet still were no where near the back. Birkanau felt to me a place so dark, It’s a surprise the grass grows.

 

The sheer size of Birkanau simply cannot be explained. 11,000 murdered every day. A Number I simply could not imagine. Quantities you cannot imagine, unless you stand there and experience it.

As we took a small wander though the vast amounts of rubble. I stopped and looked at the grass. 67 years after Liberation. The puddles still have a murky grey tint.

I wondered though the remains of a gas chamber. So planned, perfect, meticulous. Down to the art of a small grill at the doorway, so that those destined for the next world, wiped their feet on entry. Craziness to the finest degree.

(I fail to know what more to write here about Birkanau. Over whelmed.)

 

That night, we were taken to a Synagogue to hear the story of one of the survivors who was on the trip with us. I sat amazed, at the colours and the intricacies. The decor, the feel… There was something special. As we stood up to leave I started to sing (Perhaps prompted by one of the Educators!)… Am Yisrael Chai…. everyone joined in. The Children of Israel Live. As we left a Synagogue once belonging to those whom were murdered at the hands of the Nazi Regime.

 

We visited Buna-Monowitz the next morning (Aushwitz 3). It was simply a memorial. Another memorial, and to me… It meant little or nothing.

The next day was march of the Living. 11,000 people marched from Aushwitz to Birkanau. 11,000 the number of people killed every day in Birkanau. Yet it felt empty. Had you told me it was 1000, I’d have believed you. Even with 11,000 people in front of your very eyes. You can’t imagine how many that is!

We marched, led by our survivors to Birkanau. The streets were flanked with local people holding banners. We sung, we held hands. We did the death march which marked the end for so many.

Inside Biraknau we took part in a ceremony of remembrance. We said the Jewish memorial prayer… but the most moving of all we Sang the Hatikvah.

Translated It means “The Hope”. It’s the national anthem of Israel and a sign that Jewish life all over the world is still in existence. No matter how I feel with G-d. What I felt and still feel, is that although Hitler tried to exterminate a race. He failed to exterminate my race. The Jewish People still live. AM YISRAEL CHAI.

 

“As long as deep within the heart
A Jewish soul yearns
And toward the edges of the east
An eye to Zion looks

Our hope is not yet lost
The hope of two thousand years
To be a free people in the our Land
The Land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

 

 

How Sushi has Challenged my Belief in God and Religion.

Sushi and God, Sounds crazy huh? Well… not quite as simple or as crazy as you may think:

Before I begin, this has been a long time coming, and I’ve thought over this a thousand times, but it’s become more poignant tonight, I think….

So I’ve been talking to someone for a while about going out for sushi, and we’ve not been able to find a time… Then, today I was about to text suggesting tomorrow when I remembered that it was Passover still.

For those that don’t know, Passover is the commemoration of the exodus of the Israelites from the Egypt. When they left Egypt, they didn’t have enough time to bake bread for the journey so ate the unleavened cakes… Cast yourself forward a few thousand lifetimes – Supposedly, in a nutshell, in order to observe passover, Jews nowadays don’t consume any bread or flour based products (which could rise.).. they also don’t eat any items that expand(Peas, rice, beans…etc) … and we change all our crockery, and cutlery over to special Passover sets… clean the house from top to bottom, and even sell our “non-Passover” products to non-Jews so that we don’t own any during passover.

I MUST add that we don’t all do all of the above…!!!

Also, one of the subsets of Jew – The Sephardim – do not prohibit the consumption of the “things that expand” (Also known as “Kitniyot“)

In my house, we change the crockery and the cutlery, and we don’t consume any Flour products or any items that expand. This is where my questioning began.

Where did the Israelites do this when they left Egypt… the next year, they didn’t whip out their second set of everything that they shlepped through the Desert to commemorate what they did the year before… Did they?!

Further more, the extremes to which people go to in order to observer passover: “Kosher for Pesach Tea bags, Milk, Washing up liquid…” DOES SOMEONE CRUMBLE BREAD INTO NORMAL TEA BAGS/ MILK/ WASHING UP LIQUID?!

It’s a known joke/fact, that to make something Kosher for Passover, you must do 2 things:

1) Attach a label that says “Kosher for passover”

2) Increase the price by at least 15%.

So, people say that you have to buy everything “Kosher for Passover” but my personal view is that, as long as there is nothing prohibited in the item, then you are ok – E.g. Where is there anything prohibited in Salmon, or ready salted crisps, or salad, or chocolate….

So according to some… by eating my crisps and chocolate, that aren’t “Kosher for Passover” I’m in contravention of the laws. But honestly, what is there that is prohibited  in your normally, perfectly fine fish/chocolate?!

 

My biggest bugbear is the custom of Kitniyot (expanding foods). As if you are Sephardi (Of Spanish or Portuguese background – sometimes including Israel) you are allowed to eat rice and beans and peas… SAYS WHO? … having done some research, it’s a bit hazy and the main consensus of the Ashkenazi (non-Spanish or Portuguese) Rabbi’s of years go by the ruling that you shouldn’t eat them where as the Sephardi ones disagree and say they are ok to be eaten on passover.

I draw your attention to the word Custom. It was decided by some Rabbi’s many years ago… Does that mean it’s what god wants?

 

Talking of God, let’s try and get back on topic (although I have SO MUCH TO SAY).

My next thought was, well what if I DON’T KEEP Passover… I know enough people that don’t… they haven’t been struck by lighting…

I don’t observe other festivals like the weekly Sabbath or the Omer. So to Sudo Quote the Haggaddah (The service book for the Passover services) WHY IS THIS FESTIVAL DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHER FESTIVALS?

The short answer is: It’s not.

For me, the long answer takes a look at why I observe what I observe, and why I don’t observe all the festivals

I find the rules and regulations, which define what we cannot do, to be somewhat crazy. For example: On the Sabbath, normally, you wouldn’t be able to push your buggy from home to synagogue, but if you place a piece of wire around an area, then you are able do push your buggy as well as other things restricted without the wire (This is called an Eruv)

The one that annoys me the most, is the use of timer switches during the Sabbath… You are not allowed to flick the switch and create a spark… however you can know that at 6pm when it gets dark, the Timer switch will kick in and on come the lights… It’s breaking the Sabbath by proxy.

 

I could go on all day and night about the niggles of “religion” which annoy me. However I find religion is the wrong word for the practise of what I personally do.

I LOVE the Jewish Heritage. The music, the food, the global community, the togetherness and the special bond. I’ve walked through the Streets of Poland, and visited the concentration camps, and learned how hard it must have been to be Jewish in previous times. AND I felt a special bond to Israel when I visited (But I’m not sure I’d move out there… I feel a special bond to the UK too!)

I will not look to marry ouside of the “faith” as I’d like my children to share the same heritage as us, the “Jewish people”…

However, I wonder how much of our heritage and practise is Tradition Opposed to how much of our heritage and practise is Religion.

To quote Tevye, from Fiddler on the roof…. “You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you…. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition.”

I know that the majority if not all of what I do, is because of the tradition… I don’t think there’s much more belief left in me. However that wont stop me from going to synagogue and singing, the songs/saying the poems (oh sorry, prayers)… or keeping kosher… and Strangely, even though my logic says that this is all crazy… I won’t be going for Sushi until after the end of Passover.

 

EDIT: After thinking long and hard, I did actually go for sushi the night after writing this!!!!

Funny? Coincidence? Life!

Most of my friends have come to accept two things if they are out in public with me:

 

1. I WILL know someone wherever I go. (and if I don’t know someone, I’ll happen to talk to someone, who knows someone….)

2. Something ridiculous will happen. Usually things going wrong, or things getting in a pickle. (If they aren’t going wrong, then usually I accidentally give them a helping hand….)

 

Often 1 & 2 tie themselves together. For Example, I once dived under a table to hide from the person who’s walked into the room, whom I didn’t like…. In the process (which looked like a mix between a James Bond move…. and a constipated swan) I managed to knock over a glass of coke. Resulting in my very wet crotch, when said person of dislike came to greet me.

 

A classic example occurred tonight. Out for dinner with my Parents, Grandparents and Aunt for My Granddad’s birthday.

 

Things of note:

  1. My mum and dad knew 2 of the people on the next table, My aunt two people from a table further down and there were a few more familiar faces in there.
  2. Everything had gone swimmingly with no major event…. until.

It’s after main course. We’re waiting tea, but when it’s a birthday you are really awaiting the cake.

Good ole “Poppa” (My granddad) Decides it’s time to assess the restaurant’s porcelain, at the same time as the restaurant decides it’s cake time.

 

Up he gets, and off he saunters towards the rear (right) of the restaurant  oblivious to the fluster also occurring at the rear (left) involving 2 waitresses and a waiter (the cake).

No sooner has the door to the toilet closed, the lights in the restaurant fade, as does the music, and our waitress prepares for “Happy Birthday”.

By this point, Mother, Aunt and Nanny are uncontrollable hysterical not knowing what to do.

It was a stroke of luck (and a lot of flapping on my behalf) that the waitress caught my eye, and decided it was best to abandon mission for a short while. Lights on, music back, confused fellow diners.

 

Needless to say, when he returned from the cloakroom, no one was able to look at each other.

 

Point proven. We knew someone, and something went wrong.

 

Some call it a bock, I prefer “the spice of life” but wherever I go, something crazy happens, resulting in a great story for retelling at a later date. All the Crazy things are true! PROMISE!