Category Archives: Religion

I didn’t fast on Yom Kippur….. Not at least traditionally.

A sweeping statement yet fundamentally the truth.

I’ve been thinking for a while as to what I’d do on Yom Kippur. I’ve established previously that I don’t believe in G-d…. and that I do love many of the Jewish traditions. I’ve established that although I don’t believe, I have a VERY strong connection to “my people”, to “My heritage” and to my ancestors. Yet here I am, writing this at the start of, and then adding to it during Yom Kippur (So, please excuse the differing tenses!), the Jewish “Day of Atonement”. The day where you atone and repent for the things you have done over the last year, the one day a year where people who do little else religiously or spiritually all year round, decide they are going to withhold from eating… and I’m Drinking tea…. or maybe eating lunch.

Discussing my eating habits recently I realised that actually the vague adherence I keep to the laws of Kashrut (keeping Kosher) are one of the few areas in my life where I regularly exercise self control. While not strictly the rules of Kosher, I have a clear set of rules in my head and I stick to them. Monday this week, I found myself in Waitrose and for the first time in a very long time I was genuinely enticed by a chicken salad. I almost picked it up, before a voice in my head said “no, Exercise some self control!” (The Pesto Pasta was lovely all the same!)

Having thought long and hard about what keeping my form of kosher means to me, and that mainly being self control, I thought in the same vain about what Yom Kippur means to me. I have never “fully” observed Yom Kippur in the Traditional Orthodox Sense, just like I’ve never kept strictly kosher. (No Use of anything electrical, no driving, no washing, no making anything… etc)… But to me, it means time spent with my family, it means time spent in Synagogue; it means being dehydrated, hungry and feeling irritable. But as well as those things, the one thing I think of, possibly the most each year as the day approaches is the time I spend Counting Time.

Counting the time until the fast is over.

I am the one counting the pages, before checking my watch, before recounting the pages again. My mind becomes distracted from the purpose of the day and focuses on how long until I can stop my raging headache and my tummy from rumbling.

“On the tenth day of the same seventh month (Tishrei – The Month both Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur fall) you shall observe a sacred occasion when you shall practice self-denial” (Numbers 29:7). “Self denial”. The Torah is a little vague. Our ancestors interpreted “Self Denial” as not eating, as well as not washing, and not engaging in sexual relations. But is that a true representation of Self Denial today?

For me, practically Yom Kippur is a nightmare. Practically in the sense that I am a grazer. I eat 3 meals a day, but they aren’t huge. But between the meals I’m eating. Be it sweets or chocolate, or crackers or fruit, I love to eat. I think this is partly the reason that I find Yom Kippur so difficult – because my body is expecting snacking or a cup of tea. I’ve thought for a few days as to how I can help reduce the want to graze, how to survive the fast, how to distract myself from counting pages and time to focus on the actual purpose of Yom Kippur – To make yourself a better person in the coming year.

Thinking about what I could do to pass the fast, led me onto thinking as to if I actually wanted to fast. I thought long and hard at what I felt fasting would achieve and concluded that actually other than the piercing headache, hunger and distraction, personally the fast wouldn’t achieve anything potentially lasting.

In my commute, I have been blessed (and when I say that, I mean it) with a solid central part of my commute being underground. Underground where the phone signal doesn’t reach. Being phoneless means I have had to find something else to pass the time. I’m thankful for this time as it has enabled me to start reading again. As the northern line rattled its merry way north, on the night before Yom Kippur I was deep in the final pages of Schindler’s Ark. Since Poland, I’ve been meaning to read it, and this commute has given me the chance to finally read it. As the train rattled out of the Tunnel toward East Finchley, I felt the customary “East Finchley Vibrate” of both my Phone and my Work phone. For the first time I found this really inconvenient.

Engrossed in the book, the vibration made me anxious and it distracted me. On one hand I wanted to carry on reading, finalising the complex story I’ve been reading for weeks, yet on the other hand I was bound by the buzz to stop reading and stare at the lit screens of my phones, reading who wants to play candy crush, looking at photos of friend’s last meals before the fast or looking at emails from work. Whilst the prisoners of Zwittau , in the book, were liberated from the sub-camp that was Schindler’s factory, I was, you could say, incarcerated by the urge to stop what I was doing and flick aimlessly down social media, checking my emails and watching pointless updates about food.

I am undoubtedly digitally addicted. I work in IT. I love Technology, Gadgets and things that ping buzz and light up. I am constantly checking my phone, thinking I’ve got a notification, writing messages, sending pictures and liking posts. Not a day goes by without a considerable amount of “Idle time” spent aimlessly on my phone. Even on Rosh Hashannah and previously on Yom Kippur, I’d find myself flicking aimlessly.

With that in the forefront of my mind, and with the conscious realisation that for the next 24 hours I didn’t actually need my phone, at about 8pm…. I switched off.
The last time I switched off, was 2 years ago. I had no choice. I was on a cruise. We were at sea. There was no signal, the phone was useless. (Lord did I try to get signal – on the top deck of the boat pointing at the land, refreshing the empty list of unavailable networks). Yet now, 8pm on the 10th October 2016, I found myself consciously choosing to switch off.

Just before switching off, I was heating up my dinner. I found my-self aimlessly scrolling as per normal. Frantically scrolling through nothing. Re-looking at old posts, totting up how many likes I’d gotten here and there aggressively time wasting with no purpose.

Once I’d eaten my dinner and had started washing up… it was when I had the rubber gloves on that the final straw broke this Camel’s back. I’d just put the gloves on, just run the water, when *Buzz* *Buzz*. “For Goodness sake” I muttered as I took one glove off my hand to be distracted by the glaring screen…. A spam email…. For Goodness sake” I muttered again, and decided that was enough. I’d already turned my laptop off and had set my tablet to flight mode to allow me to write without interaction. (I’m dyspraxic – it’s my version of pen and paper!!) I pressed the power button, I held the power button, and then I pressed power off. I took the currently silent iPhone from my pocket, held the power button, slid the slider and both phones were plunged into darkness.

Lying in bed is a funny feeling. Firstly I noticed it’s 10:30pm. For me that’s pretty early. I am often up late reading random articles people share or chatting to friends etc. Finally I’m experiencing that myth I talk of often… an early night!
Not only is the early night funny, but I’m consciously aware that normally I’d waste valuable sleeping minutes distracted by the old stale news feeds of my phones.
Without the distraction, there was more time for a quick spot of reading, following which, sleep came easy!

Waking up was again interesting. I overslept. Majorly. Which is odd because I had such an early night and compared to a work day was having a lie in anyway! Once I did actually wake up, my default action was to roll over and reach for my phone. On rolling over, I realised it wasn’t there and rolled over the other side and got out of bed!

I decided post lie-in not to go to synagogue this morning… Arriving late at our Synagogue is a little awkward plus, by the time I got there, the morning services would be nearly over. Instead I’ve sat talking to mum who is feeling ill and I’ve done more reading and more thinking. (and a little dozing!) I’m incredibly relaxed.
Frankly I’ve not missed it. I’m not craving it as much as I thought I would be…. or really at all! There was an odd time that I wanted to look something up, and a time I considered checking my phone to pass a moment of time or just to see what other people are up to. But from this I have learnt, that I don’t need to seek or give the constant approval available from having my smart phone attached to me 24×7.

After getting dressed and eating some food, I decided it would be nice to go down to the hospital and visit Grandma who is currently in. Often I’d find myself sat in the room with her idly flicking through my phone whilst talking to her. Sharing my attention between two. Not today. We sat and chatted at length about all different things, giving her my full attention. Walking out the hospital I felt really good.

During my visit, mum had spoken to someone there who came down to see grandma and asked me to call mum. I could have very easily taken this opportunity to turn my phone on and be met by a barrage of notifications. I made a point of not turning my phone on, but borrowing grandma’s to phone home – I knew that by turning it on, I’d become distracted and so decided to exercise higher self control to not turn it on at all!

I came home from the hospital and got dressed and went to Synagogue. It was pretty
uneventful apart from the 47ish second Tekiah Gedolah Blown by my brother! I noticed that I was not interested in how many pages were left, how many minutes, or seconds… but was happy to be sat there joining in.

What was exceptional was that upon leaving Synagogue, I had no urge to turn my phone on. In fact, I drove home, came in, got changed and still didn’t turn my phone on. If anything I started to feel like actually I didn’t want to turn my phone on at all.
I’ve not craved my phone like I normally crave food. I didn’t really think explicitly about food. Lunch time came and I had something to eat before carrying on with my day. I’ve not been distracted by my usual distraction, and yet in removing something else, I’ve not really been distracted by that either.

Removing the distractions, you could even say fasting from my phones, has allowed me to focus more on personal reflection and what I’d like to change personally in the coming year, a process that’s roots seem stem this year from my extreme reaction to some drugs in September. Removing the distraction has allowed me to focus more on talking to my family, writing this post and actually relaxing on what is supposed to be not just a day of repentance but also a day of rest.

So there you have it. I didn’t fast on Yom Kippur. Not at least in the traditional sense. But maybe in a more modern sense, I’ve learnt the value of spending time without constantly seeking reinforcement through likes, I’ve learnt not to constantly need digital conversation, I’ve learnt a lot about myself, but most of all, I’ve learnt how to pass Yom Kippur without counting the pages, the hours, the minutes, the seconds, until it’s over.

Day 5: Far From The Home I Love

Today completely involved things that could be done at home…. Almost.

I had a little lie in this morning, and at midday we went to Costco! So much of Costco here is the same as Costco at home… But there are some differences… Prices for example!

Costco here does fuel… I worked out that the fuel here, from Costco was under 20p a litre! Crayy!

From Costco we went accross to a TKMaxx style shop except it had a selection to make our TKMaxx’s look ameture…. It gave me a headache!!

With that we went back home before heading for the bus… we missed the bus by about 10 seconds and Jemma very kindly chased it. The driver noticed we were following him and pulled over to let me on!
The traffic was awful, but we only picked up one other person and the driver was friendly and chatted away.

The people here are much friendlier!

Once in town, I headed straight to the TKTS booth under the steps in Time Square and crossed my fingers. I got to the window and there were still tickets available for FIDDLER ON THE ROOF!

I got the most amazing seats in the stalls at half price.

What a bloody amazing production! Equal measures of laughter and tears. The characters portrayed perfectly by the actors, and as always with Fiddler, I ended up sobbing! Very few shows make me cry!

After my waterworks, I wandered back through Times Square to the Port Authority Bus station… Walked right to the back for a ticket, as had now become habit, and then waited at gate 20 for the bus to whisk me back to Montclair… Which funnily enough is Sister town to Barnet!

Thanks New York… You’ve been amazing. Tomorrow morning starts the next leg. Bring on the Florida Sun!

The Flight & Day 1: Baby It’s Cold Outside

To say its cold is an understatement. Freezing piercing cold is probably closer… And its set to get colder still this weekend…!

Before we get on to today a quick run down on the flight….

Following a quick trip on the funky transit train from the main building to Terminal 5b, I was at my gate – as always it was the furthest gate in the building!

Boarding was quick and easy and soon I found myself in the middle of the plane in one of the middle two seats. Cozy…. And we were off.

I was ready with a TV plan – I knew I wanted to watch Adele at the BBC but couldn’t get the TV to work. As soon as the seatbelt light went off the guy in the row in front called the air hostess over for the very same thing….

Now, while I joke that “turning it off and on again always fixes the problem”… That’s exactly what solved it! Although that meant turning EVERYBODY’S TV system on and off… A process which took nearly 15 mins!

Eventually we up and running and Adele was singing! Breakfast was as good as a hermolis airline breakfast. You do the math. I did have a good game of “Catch the coffee” during some of the turbulence… No spills!

When the captain came on to say we were making our final descent and to prepare for some turbulence due to the 25-45mph cross winds, nothing could quite prepare me for what I was about to experience. At one point G forces were similar to that of a theme park ride! As it happened however, the actual landing part of landing was the smoothest I’ve ever experienced!!

Anyway… I arrived! The Journey to the city was pretty uneventful but I very early on learnt that the subway in New York makes our Tube look classy. It’s a bit more… edgy… 😉 Following some expert instructions, I made it to the bus station where the lovely Jemma was waiting for me! (With a Starbs, obviously!)

We went straight to times square for a look around. Wow! It makes Piccadilly Circus look amateur! People everywhere bright lights screens shops everything! Craziness!!!

So many Screens... so many lights!
So many Screens… so many lights!

From Times Sq. (with a quick stop at Cake Boss’s city shop) we got the bus to Montclair New Jersey where I’d be staying… had a mini tour of Montclair and I even go to go into Whole Foods (WOW!) before eventually heading for bed and sleeping in until 10!

This morning we got the bus and headed back into town! From the bus we got the subway to the Brooklyn bridge… and we walked across! Wow what a view!

From the start of the walkway....
From the start of the walkway….

As we went further and further across the bridge the view got better and better! While talking about the view it’s probably a good time to mention that the weather today, while it looked sunny with blue skies, was actually around -8. BLOODY FREEZING.

Thankfully the bridge wasn’t too windy and I managed to get some nice photos and a panorama:

Artsyone

The View from the Brooklyn Side
The View from the Brooklyn Side
A little panorama from the Bridge. Spot the Jem!
A little panorama from the Bridge. Spot the Jem!

Once we got to the Brooklyn side, we were a bit clueless as to where to go… and after a little walk Googled “Jewish Deli Brooklyn”… we followed google maps and turned up (Via a quick Shpruntz Round Trader Joes.. Noch) at Shelsky’s Of Brooklyn. WOWSER.

Food that I can’t explain. Sweet, Savory, Pickled, Gefitle’d you name it! We got some Rugalech and some Halva. OH MY. It was like a little corner of Jewish heaven had exploded in my mouth.

The owner came over and started talking to us explaining that he wasn’t supervised kosher as it was too expensive and there wasn’t a market for it – Lots of the Jews from Brooklyn have started to move out. While we were talking some Chabadniks came in, Wished us all Good Shabbos… Asked if we’d got Shabbat Candles / Laid Tefillin today, had a chat…so friendly!

From Shelsky’s we got the subway back to New York and went to Russ and Daughter’s. The wait for a table in the cafe was going to be 35 mins so we went for a walk and waited for them to text us! While we waited we walked up to Katz’s Deli. Very different to Russ… a Different sort of New York Jewish Deli. Quickly, the phone buzzed and we went back to Russ’s.

WOWSER again.

Food you just can't explain!
Food you just can’t explain!

What looks like simple latke, eggs and Salmon… I can’t even begin to explain how it tasted! SO SO SO GOOD. They smoke their own fish, and make their own latkes (Not so sure about the eggs!) but boy oh boy was it delicious! I took one of the latkes to go as I couldn’t finish it!

From there I was left alone in the Big Apple! (AH!) I went for a walk from the bus station to central park and then to the shopping mall – The Time Warner Center. Very nice! I had a little wander, found some free wifi, got a Cawfeee and made some calls home!

From there I walked back to Times Square as I’d watched it getting dark from Starbs! As amazing as Times Square was during the day… it was even more intense and immense at night!

For those complaining of the lack so far of selfies... here's one for you!
For those complaining of the lack so far of selfies… here’s one for you!

... and a Panorama of Times Square at night!
… and a Panorama of Times Square at night!

Then from Times Square, with achey legs, I made it back to the bus station, and found the correct bus back to Montclair! Thankfully the driver knew where to stop for me and soon I was back for dinner! I noticed at the Ticket Booth there was a certain musical at half price… on Broadway…. I might have to go and get a ticket… How do we keep our balance?

… and on that note… it’s 11pm here… or 4am at home so I bid you all night night…. or by the time you read this… a good Saturday morning!

I am a Jew

Since Lord Sacks shared a video, “Why am I a Jew” Just before Jewish New Year, I’ve basically been thinking most of this and was going to write a blog post….. Then, just now I saw this video on my facebook home page.
It’s 6 minutes long, and probably 80% just one word, But well worth a watch. One word, of only three letters, it reminds me more and more that we are one big family.
To those who ‘aren’t Jew’: Watch, Learn – This is makes up what is part of the “Connection” I always fail to find the words to properly explain.
To those who ‘Are Jew’, or at the very least a little “Jew-Ish”… I promise you will agree with at least one of the statements in this video!

עם ישראל חי – The children of Israel Live.

What’s in a nickname?

On the 13th of September I tweeted a link to @TimesIndyEditor The Times/Independent Editor[Martin Buhagiar] ‘s ‘Opinion Piece’ on the use of the word “Yid”

YidTweet

To read the article (I suggest you do!) Click here

In hindsight, where I wrote “Brilliant” I actually probably meant “thought provoking”.

What followed was a tweet from @CllrRobertRams asking me “Why is it their [Spurs fans] decision to “turn a negative into a positive” what makes it their word?”

I spent that lunchtime deep in thought and reading a number of articles on the use of the word “Yid” in Society and especially in Nazi Germany…

[@CllrRobertRams Wrote a reply to the Times/Independent Editor which can (should) be read here]

History of the word “Yid”

As I sat there that lunchtime thinking things through… I decided to do some research. As a starting point… I thought I’d simply place the word “Yid” into Google. The result sent a chill down my spine.

YidOnGoogle
(I took this screenshot today – so the fixture is different… the idea is the same)

Before any mention of the meaning of the word, the Next Fixture for Tottenham Hotspur is blast onto my screen.

Interestingly, next to the latest Spurs fixture is a box from Wikipedia. My eyes are instantly drawn to the, last sentence.

 It is not usually considered offensive when pronounced, the way Yiddish speakers say it, though some may deem the word offensive nonetheless.

Ignoring the Spurs clutter, I click onto wikipedia. Instantly, my eyes are drawn halfway down the page. All I need to see is four letters for my heart to skip a beat. I feel cold. Instantly my mind jolts back to 2012. Stood in what’s now a museum but was once Synagogue, in a now “Jew-desolate” town in Poland. A Photo on the wall. Jewish people being rounded up to be taken to concentration camps. Upon their arms, a yellow band. Upon the band, a yellow star. Upon the star the word “Jude”. The term “Yid” comes from the German word “Jude”. Jew.  Proudly stamped by Germans on the race they sought to destroy.

Following the thoughts about the photos, I thought for a moment about the time I spent in Aushwitz-Birkanau. The place where the puddles are grey, where I felt constantly sick, where so many died.

To me the word Yid, was sealed in my mind. Discriminatory. DO NOT USE.

I read on through wikipedia especially the section “Usage in Yiddish”. This section explains with almost a surprised tone:

In Yiddish, the word “Yid” is neutral or even complimentary.

While it goes on to explain ” it is frequently used to mean simply “fellow,” “chap,” “buddy,” “mate,” etc., with no expressed emphasis on Jewishness”  My mind reminds me that the use of the term “Yid” in football, is not spoken in Yiddish nor is it meant as “fellow, chap, buddy or mate” ESPECIALLY when chanted with the “Hissing of the Gas Chambers”.

While all this festered in the back of my mind… I kept up with the general gist of news stories on the matter, but I’ve had a very busy two weeks, so thought less on the matter.

Not Just “Yid”

My concerns returned today when reading a tweet from Saira Kahn – A British Muslim who was runner up on ‘The Apprentice’ and subsequently I remember watching as a child her present “Beat the Boss” on CBBC.

 

"For all those who think Muzzie women can't run! Bite me!!
“For all those who think Muzzie women can’t run! Bite me!!

Instantly, my mind raced. “If I was to call someone a “Muzzie” what would happen to me?”

So I asked the question… I had nothing to lose. I was curious:

@steveeypips > @IamSairaKahn Tell me… If you heard a non-Muslim refer to Muslims as “Muzzies” Would you not be offended? #question

Her answer took me a moment to comprehend. It almost shocked, and at the same time amused me.

"my hubbie calls me Muzzie every day - I love it and think its cute"
“my hubbie calls me Muzzie every day – I love it and think its cute”

A little shocked, and a little confused, I took to google yet again. This time, Twofold.

1) Who is Saira Married to? (Just out of curio)

2) What does “Muzzie” actually mean?

 

Results were as follows:

1) Saira is married to a man called “Steve Hyde”. Whom I assume by the way she answered my question with “my Husband” is not Muslim.

 

2) “Muzzie” does not have as big and bold of a statement as “Yid” does… However the first link says enough.

The first link is Urban Dictionary, and the caption says: “A term used to reference a Muslim. Although not strictly a pejorative, usage in certain contexts may be considered offensive” Four out of six definitions on urban dictionary suggest “term for Muslim” and the ‘context sentences’ are shocking!! (Urban Dictionary Link)

Saira told me that “words don’t hurt me – I am above it, I just don’t see it as offensive” That’s easy to say when you call yourself it, but what if called it by others?

I looked back on her original tweet and I noticed that @djgaryr83 asked a similar question. Interested in an alternative view I put in a reply to one of his tweets. Saira replied “each to their own- I’m a Mussie and proud- I own it”

I thought for a moment…. “I own it”…this sounds familiar… I cast my mind back to something @CllrRobertRams asked me: “Why is it their[Tottenham fans] decision “to turn a negative into a positive” What makes it [“yid”] their word?”

I pondered, wondering how the greater Muslim population felt. Foolishly I asked:

“No offence to your fine self but I wonder how wider “Muzzie” population feel. (already regretting using “Muzzie”)”

BEFORE I sent that tweet, I already felt bad. The word had not been published yet I felt the need to apologise.

@djgaryr83 also replied asking:

"are we to assume as 'muzzie' is a shortened term for Muslim and acceptable. is the term 'Paki' fine for Pakistani"
“are we to assume as ‘muzzie’ is a shortened term for Muslim and acceptable. is the term ‘Paki’ fine for Pakistani”

 

When Saira replied to the question with “I’ll let you decide” I felt a little let down. Almost as if she’d accepted defeat for want of an “easy life”. I was eager to know if the word “Muzzie” is acceptable to Muslims so included the Muslim Council of Britian in my last reply.

 

I thought the situation through and possibly over thought it a little. But boiled it down to the following:

1. @CllrRobertRams asked me, knowing I do some voluntary youth work “if you heard a kid at brigade[Where I volunteer] use the word[“Yid”], what would you say them?

I answered Robert saying that for the older kids, I’d ask them if they knew it’s meaning, talk to them about it and ask them to stop.

THIS WOULD BE THE SAME WHETHER, I HEARD “YID” OR “MUZZIE”. I would not tolerate it’s use. (and for that matter any other word typically associated to be derogatory to others)

 

2. If I heard someone refer to someone Jewish or not jewish as a “Yid” OR refer to someone Muslim, or likewise not muslim as a “Muzzie” in whatever context, I’d have the same reaction. It’s simply not acceptable, in the same way as you wouldn’t refer to someone as a “Paki” or a “Nigger”, you wouldn’t call someone a “Muzzie” or a Yid”.

 

3. “Who owns words?” Really, truthfully, no one owns words. I own the words you are reading now, as a collection, on this screen… yet I do not own any individual word of my own. (I must add for the pedants, that patented words are slightly different, but “Yid, nor “Muzzie” is not patented”)

While words are “un-ownable” their meanings are not. By saying “I own it” does that mean that it’s ok for you to call yourself it? What happens if others call you by that word, and then if others call others by that word? All of a sudden things could grow out of hand becoming a pyramid effect, especially if the world has an ambiguous meaning.

 

David Baddiel launched a campaign to “Kick the Y-Word out of football” in 2011 which I feel personally was badly publiciesd as I was only made aware of it by @CllrRobertRams. The Campaign pages on Kickitout.org (http://www.kickitout.org/1307.php) also adds comment from a Jewish Woman who’s father experienced the Marches led by Oswald Mosely and the Blackshirts in the East End of London, a predominantly jewish area, 1936.

“My poor dad God rest his soul fought the blackshirts in the east end. He used to tell me stories of walking along with my mum with these Jew haters walking behind him calling him a ‘yid’.”

I don’t think I need to clarify that they weren’t referring to the football club he supported.

 

I could write all night and all day about the topic, interjecting my point of view into what I feel right, or wrong, and how I feel we can stop/change the habits of people.

I know that it will be difficult to change the views and actions of those around us. Racism is everywhere – Every individual person has their own views, influenced by other people that they interact with…

But personally, I feel that, in the same way I wouldn’t call a randomer a “Paki” or a “Muzzie” Whether they feel they “own the word” and accept its use or not… we should’t allow Tottenham Hotspurs fans to be called or call themselves “Yids” just because they now ‘feel’ they own a word, used by so many others to oppress a people.

 

I’d really appreciate hearing the views of others. Comment on here, Tweet me: @steveeypips or Email me: admin@stevenphillips.me.uk

 

Steven