Archive for February, 2011

Dipping into Heschel’s The Prophets

February 28, 2011

Following his Introduction (dealt with in a previous posting,) Heschel has one general chapter before taking a look at each of the eight towering figures before 587 BCE (Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, Habbakuk and the second Isaiah.)

But then there are another 20 substantial chapters and an appendix. We are going to need to be convinced, as he has said in the Introduction, of the ‘relevancy’ to read further – and we cannot forget that the book was published AFTER the horrific and tragic bereavements that Heschel suffered in the war.

We may well be struck by the title of the first chapter:

What Manner of Man is the Prophet?

Heschel is not merely a stylistic writer but often a poet so the slightly archaic formulation of the question must be deliberate. Is it there to make us think, from the very beginning, about something which we have taken for granted? Surely, it is the prophet’s words, not his person, that are important?

Abraham Joshua Heschel

Each chapter has a number of sub-headings. “Under What Manner of Man is the Prophet?” the first sub-heading is Sensitivity to Evil. The prophet is horrified by the everyday occurrences that we pass by, torn apart by the strength of his feelings and emotions. He rails, some might say hysterically, against corruption; he sees extortion and misery as catastrophes; he takes note of those ignored by others – women and children: ‘even a minor injustice assumes cosmic proportions.’ Unfaithfulness to God is seen as bringing an end to the world. What a contrast is this to our ‘incapacity to sense the depth of misery caused by our own failures.’ Heschel summarises:

‘Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor, to the profaned riches of the world. It is a form of living, a crossing point of God and man. God is raging in the prophet’s words.’

We shall have to enquire further about the understanding that Heschel is here bringing to the word “God” but we may already recognise that we are not engaging in an intellectual or philosophical enterprise. The prophet is no detached observer and although the words are often poetic in form, they address not the beauty and grandeur of nature but the deeds of man in history.

There is a critically sharp contrast between the normal values of the world and those of the prophets. Where we may glory in our fine homes and beautiful furniture, our carved fireplaces and low-hanging beams, Habbakuk sees things differently:

Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own,…

Woe to him who gets evil gain from his house,…

For the stone cries out from the wall,

And the beam from the woodwork responds.

Woe to him who builds a town with blood,

And founds a city on iniquity!

Habbakuk 2:6, 9, 11-12

Jeremiah is very clear about these differing values:

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories, glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord Who practice kindness, justice and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord.” (Jer. 9:23-24)

Heschel points out the immense gulf between us and the prophets. We look for peace of mind; we make allowances and concessions. We say things are not so bad – and give to charity. ‘Who could bear living in a state of disgust day and night?…Yet those who are hurt and He Who inhabits eternity, neither slumber nor sleep.’

Michelangelo’s Jeremiah

The prophets condemn hypocrisy. Worst of all to them was empty religious practice since here men attempt to fool God: “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, sear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and go after other gods…and then come and stand before Me and say…We are delivered!” (Jer 7:9-10)

But they are not only scathing about meaningless sacrifice and false worship, they question the very practices themselves:

In the day I brought them out of the Land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this command I gave them: Obey My voice and I will be your God, and you shall be My people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.

Jeremiah 7:21-23

Still more astounding is their audacity, their outspokenness, which is almost beyond belief. The consequences of the people’s actions will lead to destruction and exile at the hands of their enemies.

Zion shall be plowed as a field;

Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,

And the mountains of the house a wooded height!

Jer 26:18 cf. Micah 3:12

The prophet ‘declare[s] the word of God in the here and now; [he] discloses the future in order to illuminate what is involved in the present.’ Though the prophets might be seen as messengers, they claim more. Jeremiah speaks of standing in the ‘council of the Lord.’ They are witnesses, who not only convey a message but reveal! There are no proofs for the existence of God but ‘in the prophet’s words, the invisible God becomes audible.’ So close are they to God that they may even challenge God’s intention and suggest that what God proposed be changed:

The Lord repented concerning this;

It shall not be, says the Lord.

Amos 7:3

Again, we will need to understand at a deep level how we, and they, might be able to speak of God in this way. What is meant?

The eye of the prophet is directed towards the particular details of his contemporary society. He does not speak in generalities though there are poetic exaggerations (“There is no truth, no love, and no knowledge of God in the land” says Hosea 4:1.) Here again, Heschel sees below the surface: ‘if the individual is in some measure conditioned or affected by the spirit of society, an individual’s crime discloses society’s corruption.’ In a moral society, ‘crime would be infrequent rather than common.’ This thought leads to one of Heschel’s memorable phrases: ‘Few are guilty, all are responsible.’ Perhaps he was thinking of the collapse and degradation of a civilisation in just a few short years and the role played by the bystander?

Not surprisingly, the prophets felt lonely, isolated. They found themselves positioned between God and humanity, speaking within and out of the tension they experienced. They are ‘authentic’ in the sense that there is identity between what is said and the person saying it: ‘his life and soul are at stake.’ The encounters burnt like fire:

Cursed be the day

On which I was born!…

Why did I come forth out of the womb

To see toil and sorrow

And spend my days in shame?

Jeremiah 20:14, 18

To the prophets God is living reality, alive with a painful intensity and endowed with meaning. What might seem trivial to others could be of overwhelming importance to the prophet, recognised as of major significance. Through the life that they encountered at every moment – in the people, the animals, birds, mountains and rivers – they heard the voice of Life, calling for justice. This ‘grandeur of the divine presence’ provided their sole assurance. They sensed particularly acutely the involvement of God in the life of the people, what Heschel defines as the divine pathos. The prophets speak of God’s love and disappointment, mercy and anger. These expressions of feeling are realities for the prophets, who feel a deep empathy with God. There is here a personal relationship – and again, we wonder: What does this mean? Heschel’s conclusion to his first chapter is unequivocal: ‘The prophet hears God’s voice and feels [God’s] heart.’

How to transform Bournemouth Air Festival?

February 27, 2011

Steven Berlin Johnson

Over the next few years, the transformation of the Bournemouth Air Festival to a green, sustainable event, looking towards the future will be of increasing importance. Steven Johnson’s book The Invention of Air may contain some clues.

The story is centred upon Joseph Priestly (1733-1804), whose multi-faceted talents as scientist, theologian, political thinker led him to the discovery of oxygen, the establishment of Unitarianism, and to his flight from England to America after his house was burnt down.

Johnson emphasises continually throughout his book the importance of the free flow of ideas – he is himself known as one of the creative thinkers about the internet – and the inter-connexions between science, politics and faith.

Those who come currently to see the Bournemouth Air Show are interested in spectacle, with a high emphasis on the past and the military, and many of them are families.

While the initial work is on the aggressive reduction of carbon emissions and waste at the Festival itself, broader, longer-term thinking is necessary to begin to enable it to play a key role at the heart of a debate on the future of air travel.

Linking with Johnson’s thesis suggests the possibility of introducing a global perspective, with the help of the language schools which exist in abundance in Bournemouth. Young people come from all over the world to study English. Young people are also at the forefront of those recognising the imperative for change; they lead the twitter and facebook revolution; they are in communication with others worldwide and they love music.

These elements may provide us with a basis.

We are struggling and would appreciate any help that you are able to give.

The story so far:

Over the past few years, Bournemouth Borough Council has adopted two apparently contradictory policies. On the one hand, it has become the first local authority in the country to endorse the Earth Charter ( ); on the other, it is sponsoring an Air Festival in which the main attraction (to an estimated 1 million visitors over a 4 day period, providing the town with approx £30 million income), is an Air Show.

Bournemouth Air Festival

We are all struggling to develop from this problematic, challenging and exciting place – and have strong commitments but no money!

There is a theoretical commitment from the key stakeholders (Council, Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Management Board, environment groups, University etc.) to transform the Air Show into a sustainable, environmentally friendly, ‘Festival of the Air’ but the practical implications are huge and in order to do this Bournemouth is going to need considerable outside support, understanding and ideas.

We are looking towards ‘transformation’ in a series of manageable and emergent ‘steps’ but know that it can only be achieved if there is vision, will and resources.

Would you be interested and able to help us? We are certainly needing outside support, understanding and ideas to transform from where we are now in a series of short term and longer term ‘hops’: the long-term direction is to a Festival of the Air in the widest (and purest) sense.

I’m hoping that Countryfile (a BBC Programme) might also provide support in some way.

First response:

We are a not for profit organisation and whilst Claire, Luke and myself all work in the live events sector, A Greener Festival doesn’t stage events itself nor do we provide bespoke environmental advice or consultation. We are all volunteers and we don’t have the time or the resources. Our main focus in our awards scheme, details of which you have probably found at , our research, our ‘great big green ideas’ competition and the website itself which provids widespread advice on greening events and environmental good practice.

So it depend on what sort of help you are looking for. We are open to dialogue – but it may be best to exclude certain things we cannot provide – like finance, advice on staging events or bespoke ‘green’ advice (except as part of the AGF awards scheme). So we may be of no use at all!

Please forgive me if reponses are slow, we are obviously in the middle of the UK, US and European festival season so this email account is not always checked daily when we are away.

How to move from blog to book? Please…

February 25, 2011

So – I wrote another 450 words on that last piece, added three photos, was tired and happy, thought it was all saved and LOST IT! Devastating! I had put in so much work and thought and know I can’t repeat it. I’m unable to even return yet to attempt to re-create the work I’d done. God must have been very tired – though there is a question as to whether we human ever create anything (reshape,reform, whatever- but the word bara is reserved for God.)

Anyway, maybe it will turnout to be a blessing because I have begun to think about how I might eventually reshape the blogs, form chapters and put a book together. Also -blogs seem to be about 500 words. Is there a good format for, say, 1500?

Heschel: The Prophets. Begin at the beginning…

February 22, 2011

At the very beginning of Heschel’s The Prophets is the dedication:

To the martyrs of 1940-45

and a quote from Psalm 44:

All this has come upon us,

Though we have not forgotten Thee,

Or been false to Thy covenant.

Our heart has not turned back,

Nor have our steps departed from Thy way…

…for Thy sake are we slain…

Why dost Thou hide Thy face?

It is hard to imagine anything more poignant – and challenging. These were not theoretical words, uttered from afar. Heschel’s mother and three of his sisters were killed, either by the Nazis or in the camps (his father died when Heschel was nine.) If this book is to mean anything, it is going to have to deal with the terrifying implications of that dedication – and, one way or another, confront that last quoted line of the Psalm.

In his Introduction, Heschel sketches out what he is doing, and why. He looks for a position which neither pychologises the prophet, nor claims a God-given revelation unmediated by human experience.

The prophet is a person, not a microphone.’

But Heschel is a phenomenologist. He wishes to examine the experience of the prophet as accurately as he is able before attempting to explain. ‘What I have aimed at is an understanding of what it means to think, feel, respond and act as a prophet.’ Insight is the tool for this, ‘an attempt to think in the present,’  which comes only after much intellectual dismantling and perplexity and, he notes, is ‘accompanied by a sense of surprise.

Heschel explains that the bulk of this initial wrestling took place many years previously, before the publication of the essential part of the book in Berlin and Krakow in 1936. Since that publication, he writes, there has – not surprisingly – been a change. But how he characterises the change is worth noting: where, before, it might just have been possible to maintain an air of  detached impartiality, now Heschel emphasises the ‘relevancy’ of the prophets. In a characteristically pithy observation, he states:

To comprehend what phenomena are, it is important to suspend judgement and think in detachment; to comprehend what phenomena mean, it is necessary to suspend indifference and be involved.

We will see why ‘relevancy’ becomes so central a little later. At this point, we might wonder how this study of the Prophets is to be undertaken? Encountering the prophet, says Heschel, means entering into their words, which are ‘onslaughts, scuttling illusions of false security, challenging evasions, calling faith to account, questioning prudence and impartiality.’  This is thinking ‘not about [the prophets] but in them.’

Heschel goes still further. He plunges deep into the world of the prophet, into their situation and, in an extraordinary turn, sees their work as ‘a divine understanding of a human situation.’ This is a tour de force – a modern thinker, a philosopher, who will seek to explain what it might mean that the prophet is speaking God’s words, rather than, for example, imagining what the situation might look like from God’s perspective.

Prophecy…may be described as

exegesis of existence from a divine perspective.

What can this mean? It is beyond our normal understanding. As modernists, or post-modernists, we have to make a leap if we are to comprehend what the prophets are saying, in for example, ‘the word of God came to me…’ and Heschel, as the book progresses, will initiate us. Just as an understanding of what it might mean to speak of “God” is going to become central, so also we shall have to find meaning in God hiding God’s face.

‘What do the prophets mean to God?’ If our minds and consciousness are insufficiently confused in a whirlpool of new ideas and perspectives, Heschel now forces us to yet another new level. The question, he says, is not, ‘What do the prophets mean to us?’ but ‘What do they mean to God?’

How can we begin to answer – even if we felt that we understood what was meant? Heschel does provide some hints to guides us:

Proper exegesis is an effort to understand the philosopher in terms and categories of philosophy, the poet in terms and categories of poetry and the prophet in terms and categories of prophecy.

We may still ask why Heschel, especially after all that he had suffered, was bothered about all this? The first words of the introduction take us back to those of the dedication:

This book is about some of the most disturbing people who have ever lived: the men whose inspiration brought the Bible into being – the men whose image is our refuge in distress [emphases added] and whose voice and vision sustain our faith.

The final words of the Introduction develop these thoughts. As a philosophy student (he gained his doctorate in Berlin,) Heschel had found the academic environment remote and ‘self-subsisting and self-indulgent.’

The answers offered were unrelated to the problems, indifferent to the travail of a person who became aware of man’s suspended sensitivity in the face of stupendous challenge, indifferent to a situation in which good and evil became irrelevant, in which man became increasingly callous to catastrophe and ready to suspend the principle of truth…some of the terms, motivations and concerns which dominate our thinking may [still] prove destructive to the roots of human responsibility and treasonable to the ultimate ground of human solidarity.’

It was this that led Heschel to study the thought of the prophets, in search of a new set of presuppositions, a ‘different way of thinking.’ What he discovered led him to the issue of pathos, which becomes a key term. He searched for both what happened to and in those men who ‘said No to…society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism.’

This is the start of a major book by the man who stood with Martin Luther King, and whose work and writings are still relevant to us today, at a time when we too may find ourselves needing to stand ‘against the crowd.’

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)

February 22, 2011

As I start this blog, two questions loom large? What do I want to say – and to whom?

And though it is with a sense of excitement that I write the title of this blog, it seems unlikely that I’ll be able to get very far in one day in even approaching the name! Perhaps I can think of Rabbi Heschel as an inspiration and direction – and, more specifically, of his 500 pp. work “The Prophets,”  which came out in English in 1962.

Three years later, March 1965 – the three Marches for black voter registration rights took place in Selma, Alabama – that’s right: only 46 years ago! Heschel was there, amongst the leaders, with Martin Luther King, showing courage and true commitment  to his values. There’s a good photo – Rev King is in the centre, and Heschel second from the right.  At that time, I was at Leo Baeck College, studying to be a rabbi.

But why am I thinking of him and particularly his most Biblically based book, now?

I’ve just written an article based on Pierre Bouretz’s magnificent book Witnesses for the Future (Heschel was not one of them, though he could well have been,) and a friend who read it commented that he had difficulty with the concepts of ‘Messiah’ and ‘messianic age,’ which he’d dismissed as a child and not really thought about since.  An article on issues to do with myth and the Messiah seems interesting to me, particularly because it means having to deal with the inter-relationship between politics and theology.

Heschel’s book is an absolute’must’ for this and though it’s been on my shelf all these years, I have never read it! I’ve often opened it and leafed through but never studied it, worked at it. Now it seems like a treat stored up! Even the volume itself is pleasurable to hold, to feel and to look at – still with its dustcover and some of the pages uncut.

Oddly enough, as these things happen, Heschel has not come to mind for many years and just while I am preparing for this work on his book, two synchronistic ‘happenings’ take place. First, a friend, knowing of my ecological concerns and involvement with sent me this striking quote from another of Heschel’s books: “Man is not alone: A Philosophy of Religion.”

The good does not begin in the consciousness of man.  It is being realised in the natural cooperation of all beings, in what they are for each other. Neither stars nor stones, neither atoms nor waves, but their belonging together, their interaction, the relation of all things to one another, this constitutes the universe. No cell could exist alone, all bodies are interdependent, affect and serve one another.

...we all belong together...

Our concern with environment cannot be reduced to what can be used, to what can be grasped. Environment includes not only the inkstand and the blotting paper, but also the impenetrable stillness in the air, the stars, the clouds, the quiet passing of time, the wonder of my own being. I am an end as well as a means, and so is the world: an end as well as a means. My view of the world and my understanding of the self determine each other. Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish your ability to revere, and the world becomes a market place for you. The complete manipulation of the world results in the complete instrumentalization of the self.

Humankind will not die out for lack of information, but we may perish for want of appreciation.

The second wonderful coincidence is that Rabbi Heschel’s daughter, Susannah, is coming to our synagogue, Finchley Reform, in a couple of weeks.

Happy Days – as a friend used to say!

Finding a voice

February 21, 2011

I love  my blog site.

And I love what it can do – like getting a picture up there!

Yesterday - today - tomorrow

So – here is a picture of an Aimish horse and cart. I love the picture because it raises questions.

My thinking today has been dominated by Libya, by blogging, twittering and e-mailing, especially about Israel and its choices – and by the knowledge that my longer term interest now is in serious writing. The blog can help that happen.

For 25 years I wrote a daily diary, which was just for me. I wonder if this is similar but potentially more public? Perhaps gradually I can begin to focus in on the themes (God, justice, myth-meaning-the Messiah, change, thinking, understanding and knowledge…) that I want to explore.

For the times, they are a’changing:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

Bob Dylan title track 1963/4 (I once saw on Wikipedia I think that the handwritten sheet of lyrics sold to a Hedge Fund manager for more than $400,000 – but I can’t find that now).

The song was written shortly before Pres. Kennedy was shot – is that two generations ago? Another century, another world, yet how deeply it applies to today (which reminds me of course of Mark Edward’s wonderful Exhibition of Dylan’s A Hard Rain

A final thought.

All my work, currently, is dedicated to – so it’s in that context and with that in mind that all this is written.


Uri Avnery on Arab uprisings

February 21, 2011

Uri Avnery

February 19, 2011

The Genie is out of the Bottle

THIS IS a story right out of “1001 Nights”. The genie escaped from the bottle, and no power on earth can put it back.

When it happened in Tunisia, it could have been said: OK, an Arab country, but a minor one. It was always a bit more progressive than the others. Just an isolated incident.

And then it happened in Egypt. A pivotal country. The heart of the Arab world. The spiritual center of Sunni Islam. But it could have been said: Egypt is a special case. The land of the Pharaohs. Thousands of years of history before the Arabs even got there.

But now it has spread all over the Arab world. To Algeria, Bahrain, Yemen. Jordan, Libya, even Morocco.   And to non-Arab, non-Sunni Iran, too.

The genie of revolution, of renewal, of rejuvenation, is now haunting all the regimes in the Region. The inhabitants of the “Villa in the Jungle” are liable to wake up one morning and discover that the jungle is gone, that we are surrounded by a new landscape.

WHEN OUR Zionist fathers decided to set up a safe haven in Palestine, they had the choice between two options:

They could appear in West Asia as European conquerors, who see themselves as a bridgehead of the “white” man and as masters of the “natives”, like the Spanish conquistadores and the Anglo-Saxon colonialists in America. That is what the crusaders did in their time.

The second way was to see themselves as an Asian people returning to their homeland, the heirs to the political and cultural traditions of the Semitic world, ready to take part, with the other peoples of the region, in the war of liberation from European exploitation.

I wrote these words 64 years ago, in a brochure that appeared just two months before the outbreak of the 1948 war.

I stand by these words today.

These days I have a growing feeling that we are once again standing at a historic crossroads. The direction we choose in the coming days will determine the destiny of the State of Israel for years to come, perhaps irreversibly. If we choose the wrong road, we will have “weeping for generations”, as the Hebrew saying goes.

And perhaps the greatest danger is that we make no choice at all, that we are not even aware of the need to make a decision, that we just continue on the road that has brought us to where we are today. That we are occupied with trivialities – the battle between the Minister of Defense and the departing Chief of Staff, the struggle between Netanyahu and Lieberman about the appointment of an ambassador, the non-events of “Big Brother” and similar TV inanities – that we do not even notice that history is passing us by, leaving us behind.

WHEN OUR politicians and pundits found enough time – amid all the daily distractions – to deal with the events around us, it was in the old and (sadly) familiar way.

Even in the few halfway intelligent talk shows, there was much hilarity about the idea that “Arabs” could establish democracies. Learned professors and media commentators “proved” that such a thing just could not happen – Islam was “by nature” anti-democratic and backward, Arab societies lacked the Protestant Christian ethic necessary for democracy, or the capitalist foundations for a sound middle class, etc. At best, one kind of despotism would be replaced by another.

The most common conclusion was that democratic elections would inevitably lead to the victory of “Islamist” fanatics, who would set up brutal Taliban-style theocracies, or worse.

Part of this, of course, is deliberate propaganda, designed to convince the naïve Americans and Europeans that they must shore up the Mubaraks of the region or alternative military strongmen. But most of it was quite sincere: most Israelis really believe that the Arabs, left to their own devices, will set up murderous “Islamist” regimes, whose main aim would be to wipe Israel off the map.

Ordinary Israelis know next to nothing about Islam and the Arab world. As a (left-wing) Israeli general answered 65 years ago, when asked how he viewed the Arab world: “though the sights of my rifle.” Everything is reduced to “security”, and insecurity prevents, of course, any serious reflection.

THIS ATTITUDE goes back to the beginnings of the Zionist movement.

Its founder – Theodor Herzl – famously wrote in his historic treatise that the future Jewish State would constitute “a part of the wall of civilization” against Asiatic (meaning Arab) barbarism. Herzl admired Cecil Rhodes, the standard-bearer of British imperialism, He and his followers shared the cultural attitude then common in Europe, which Eduard Said latter labeled “Orientalism”.

Viewed in retrospect, that was perhaps natural, considering that the Zionist movement was born in Europe towards the end of the imperialist era, and that it was planning to create a Jewish homeland in a country in which another people – an Arab people – was living.

The tragedy is that this attitude has not changed in 120 years, and that it is stronger today than ever. Those of us who propose a different course – and there have always been some – remain voices in the wilderness.

This is evident these days in the Israeli attitude to the events shaking the Arab world and beyond. Among ordinary Israelis, there was quite a lot of spontaneous sympathy for the Egyptians confronting their tormentors in Tahrir Square – but everything was viewed from the outside, from afar, as if it were happening on the moon.

The only practical question raised was: will the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty hold? Or do we need to raise new army divisions for a possible war with Egypt? When almost all “security experts” assured us that the treaty was safe, people lost interest in the whole matter.

BUT THE treaty – actually an armistice between regimes and armies – should only be of secondary concern for us. The most important question is: how will the new Arab world look? Will the transition to democracy be relatively smooth and peaceful, or not? Will it happen at all, and will it mean that a more radical Islamic region emerges – which is a distinct possibility? Can we have any influence on the course of events?

Of course, none of today’s Arab movements is eager for an Israeli embrace. It would be a bear hug. Israel is viewed today by practically all Arabs as a colonialist, anti-Arab state that oppresses the Palestinians and is out to dispossess as many Arabs as possible – though there is, I believe, also a lot of silent admiration for Israel’s technological and other achievements.

But when entire peoples rise up and revolution upsets all entrenched attitudes, there is the possibility of changing old ideas. If Israeli political and intellectual leaders were to stand up today and openly declare their solidarity with the Arab masses in their struggle for freedom, justice and dignity, they could plant a seed that would bear fruit in coming years.

Of course, such statements must really come from the heart. As a superficial political ploy, they would be rightly despised. They must be accompanied by a profound change in our attitude towards the Palestinian people. That’s why peace with the Palestinians now, at once, is a vital necessity for Israel.

Our future is not with Europe or America. Our future is in this region, to which our state belongs, for better or for worse. It’s not just our policies that must change, but our basic outlook, our geographical orientation. We must understand that we are not a bridgehead from somewhere distant, but a part of a region that is now – at long last – joining the human march towards freedom.

The Arab Awakening is not a matter of months or a few years. It may well be a prolonged struggle, with many failures and defeats, but the genie will not return to the bottle. The images of the 18 days in Tahrir Square will be kept alive in the hearts of an entire new generation from Marakksh to Mosul, and any new dictatorship that emerges here or there will not be able to erase them.

In my fondest dreams I could not imagine a wiser and more attractive course for us Israelis, than to join this march in body and spirit.

Goodnight for tonight…

February 21, 2011

An exciting day, spent mainly with my computer! Was I working? I was learning a bit of technique; watching the numbers rise of those subscribing to Avaaz’s campaign to provide satellite back-up to maintain internet communication for the protestors in Bahrein, Yemen and now – most of all -Libya.

The day ended with an impassioned live TV broadcast by Saif Gadaffi -quite extraordinary.

But, was all this in fact vacuous and an avoidance of what I should have been doing: studying AJ Heschel’s The Prophets?

I’ll know dependent upon how well I sleep – and the dreams I may have!


Still practising

February 20, 2011

Trivial – and enormously important. What a lot of hard work over so many years for one small table! It reminds me of the small step for man…

Looking for the tiger!

February 20, 2011

Only the tiger was really worth anything in that last blog.

Where did he go?