Sunday, 3 April 2016




 “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.” - Martin Luther King Jr.   

When I read King’s words, two images from two different cultures, two different historical experiences pop into my mind. The first is taken from my own heritage and relates to one of our forefathers Ya'akov (AKA Jacob). I am referring to his dream 
in which “he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” (Bresheet, AKA Genesis 28:10-22)

    The second image comes from the African American experience. It is expressed in the words of one of my favorite poets, Langston Hughes. In his poem Mother and Son, he writes, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair….. And sometimes goin’ in the dark Where there ain’t been no light.”

The thread that connects the two and which they both share is the message of faith. Both stem from a dreary present. The Biblical Ya'akov is on the run for fear of his life. Hugh’s plight is the result the racial policy that plagued his reality and the reality of his ancestors.  Both the ladder in the dream and the staircase in the poem lead to unknown realms. Most importantly, they both offer hope.
    Unlike the stairs in the poem, however, Ya'akov’s ladder, his stairway to heaven, seems more sturdy, more reassuring and has the reaffirmation of G-d’s promise to Am Yisrael: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.  Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.  I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you”

    This promise is reiterated later in Yirmiyahu (AKA Jeremiah) 46:27:"Do not be afraid, Ya'akov my servant; do not be dismayed, Yisrael. I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile. Ya'akov will again have peace and security, and no one will make him afraid.” It is faith in the promise for a better future that kept us, Am Yisrael, going.
    It is also faith in a better future that the words of the mother in the poem are so drenched with:
    “ So boy, don’t you turn back.  Don’t you set down on the steps   ’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.  Don’t you fall now— For I’se still goin’, honey, I’se still climbin’,”

    The message of both experiences is loud and clear. We must continue to climb and never give up, no matter how hard, rocky and sometimes dark the journey towards our goal is.

I will end with another quote by another favorite poet, Rabindranath Tagore, “Faith is the

bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.”

These are hard times for us, Am Yisrael, in particular, and for the whole world, in general,
but we must not despair. There is the light at the top of the staircase and beyond the 
edge of dawn even though we may not see it. All we need is, like the bird, to spread our wings and soar beyond and above the dismal present towards the light that is there and into the bright and glorious future that awaits us!

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln revisited


Spring is upon us again. For us, Jews and Am Yisrael, this season connotes a spell of rejuvenation, a season of joy, celebration of freedom and our renewed covenant with G-d and His eternal blessing. Unfortunately, this time of year brings to mind other, not so pleasant undertones, historical and current. It is also the time of year when ancient baseless accusations against our people rear their ugly heads again. Yes, I am talking about the rebirth of the old  Blood Libel. It was only a few days ago that I read, in this paper, a chilling interview with the Egyptian politician, Khaled Zaafrani, on al-Hafez TV, a salafist Egyptian station. The interview took place in 2013. There, Zaafrani said that "it is well known that during Passover they make matzos called the "Blood of Zion." They take a Christian child, slit his throat, and slaughter him....they never forgo this rite." More recently, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), an Egyptian journalist, Firnas Hafzi wrote the following in the Egyptian monthly 'Al Kibar,' "The Jews combined the preparations of Mazos and the offering up of sacrifices with their enmity towards non-Jews, especially Christians, and mixed the blood of one of their victims into the matzos dough."

Evidently, "matzah blood libel" is alive and well not only in Egypt but throughout the Arab and muslim world where such narratives find fertile ground. Moreover, such accusations do nothing but serve to further fan the already wild fires of hatred in cultures that are steeped in darkness and obscurantism.

Blood libels are not a modern concept. Jews and Christians were accused of the practice of drinking human blood by pagans who misunderstood the meaning of the doctrine of drinking the blood of Christ and eating the Eucharist. Prior to that, King Antiochus the IV (215-164 BCE), in his anti-Jewish propaganda, claimed that Greek prisoners were held in the Temple in Jerusalem for the purpose of drinking their blood

Scholars believe that modern day blood libel originated in in 1144 in Norwich, England where a twelve-year-old boy, William, disappeared. Jews were accused with kidnapping child and draining his blood. Though it was never proved that the allegations were true, it did not stop the incident from gaining impetus and prevent it from growing.

 According to Rabbi Ken Spiro of Aish Hatorah, “the most famous of all blood libel legends is that of the ritual murder of the child Hugh of Lincoln, England in 1255.” The story was eternalized in a ballad entitled, ”Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln.”
Rabbi Spiro adds that this ballad is “so well-known in England and Scotland that it is number 155 in the standard cannon of English and Scottish ballads compiled by Francis James Child in the 19th century.” 

For an unfounded claim that was revived and repeated during the dismal, bleak period called the dark ages and with the help of the Church trickled into every aspect of the daily lives, one would hope that, by now, the world has learned some lessons from history and do all it can to disassociate itself from it. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be the case.
In 1987, I taught Hebrew to mostly Jewish students in one of the top public schools in Texas. One day one of student shared with me that one of the other teachers had jokingly suggested that his Jewish students were preparing for the Christmas holiday by murdering a Christian child in order to use its blood for their Jewish rituals. My student responded to such a suggestion was: ““Actually, we do it only at Passover and we use the blood to bake the matzah, our traditional unleavened bread.”

Naturally, I did not find that a laughing matter. I doubted many of my students even grasped the severity of the comment. It raised the strong urge in me to educate them about the sick rumor called “blood Libel” which had caused the untimely death of many of our fellow Jews throughout history. I insisted that they all read Malamud’s novel “The Fixer,” a novel based on the Beilis case which took place in Russia in the early twentieth century. Additionally, I approached the teacher, discussed the issue with him and and got him to apologize to my students.
An apology is also the least I would expect from anyone, a person, an institution or a public figure who in our time and age dares to slander us, Am Yisrael and the Jewish people with such unfounded allegations This is what I believe Yisrael should insist upon unless, of course,  an apology is reserved only to us, for our refusal to disappear and for our strong wish to continue to survive and live in a world that cannot see right from wrong.