Thursday, December 15, 2005

Yule Blog

Oh dear. This blog is rapidly becoming a weekly, rather than a daily, update. My apologies to regular readers who have turned up for the past 6 days only to find an out of date post. But the week has been a tad hectic, and not without excitement. It began with a bang. Literally. I was rudely awoken on Sunday morning at 6 a.m (I didn’t even know there was a 6 in the morning on a Sunday) by the most frightening BOOM that I have ever heard. It was so loud it almost knocked me out of bed. I thought at first that my front door had blown open in the wind and had been slammed shut again by the chain. I have a dodgy lock on my front door that has a habit of opening at the slightest movement outside. Not the safest security measure for a single mother, I know, but it is on my DIY to-do list. Or, more accurately, not my Do It Yourself list, but my Get A Man In To Do It list. I’ll get round to sorting it. Eventually.

So, bleary eyed and not quite fully awake (I hadn’t got to bed the previous night til gone 2) I rushed downstairs to check that everything was okay. What was odd, I thought a few moments later when I was back in bed, was that there was no wind outside, so how had the door blown open? It was only hours later, when I put the radio on, that I heard about the massive oil depot blast just a few miles up the road. Raging fires, fuel drums blazing, huge plume of thick black smoke filling the sky. The day was then spent checking that friends and family were okay. Or rather, chatting to friends and family to find out if they had heard the explosion. My brother said that he’d heard it and had assumed that the shul had been blown up. Funny how we see everything through our own personal prism. You hear a blast that sounds like a bomb and immediately assume that they’ve come for the Jews.

Luckily, Scrappino wasn’t at home that night so he had been spared the ‘ordeal’. I’m not one to advocate wrapping children in cotton wool. We can’t protect them totally from the real world. But I do worry about the effect that constant news items about terrorist bombings and security threats must have on our kids. This isn’t made any easier by the fact that his school employs three full time security guards who patrol the school grounds and stand at the gate monitoring everyone who comes in and comes out. What’s even more ridiculous is that, at the beginning and end of the day, the parents have to do security duty too. When Scrappino began at the school five years ago the rota was relatively low key. Each parent did one slot per term. And really, the only role they played was to stand at the gate with the guards to verify that parents or guardians were who they said they were and to translate the guards’ dreadful English. (The security guards are all Israeli. Young chaps of 21 or 22 who leave Israel after 3 years army service to see the world. And end up in North West London back on security duty. Mind you, that’s not quite as sad as those who end up on Golders Green road selling falafel. Can you imaging their disappointment? Moving away from Tel Aviv to travel the globe and confront a different culture, only to end up serving falafel and shwarma.)

To be honest, my relationship with the security guards began a little embarrassingly. I took Scrappino along to school on his first day, to be met by a young, and rather good looking, Israeli. He looked at me and then at Scrappino and then back at me. In halting English he asked me “Are you his sister?” I smiled in a flirty way and laughed and said “Oh, aren’t you sweet.” He then looked at the list of kids’ names that he was holding and said “No, I just need to know the name of every person who brings in a child to the school”. Ah well, worth a try.

But since 9/11 the security has become a lot more serious. In fact, the security rota has become something of a cottage industry. Now, there are three parents on duty, morning and afternoon, in addition to the professionals. We are given walkie talkies and a whistle (a whistle?? How on earth is that going to protect us if Al Qaeda decide to strike at the heart of Mill Hill?) and we have to walk up and down the roads on either side of the school wearing the most hideous, and embarrassing, fluorescent yellow jackets. Talk about moving targets. They might as well give us tattoos to wear on our fore-heads - “Neurotic Jewish Mother” and be done with it. Personally, I think it’s all a bit overboard. I honestly don’t think that it protects the kids at all. And, more worryingly, it raises them to believe that they are in constant danger, that everyone is trying to kill them and that the only way to stay safe is to create a little bubble (ghetto, perhaps?) and to keep the rest of the world out. The only outburst of anti-Semitic hostility I’ve ever witnessed while doing my security rota is the abuse meted out on parents by angry neighbours who find themselves blocked in by the parents’ carelessly parking their 4x4 cars in front of the neighbours’ driveways. And to be honest, I reckoned the neighbours had a right to be annoyed. I’m not saying that there is no anti-Semiticism in the UK. But since Ken Livingstone never ventures further than zone 2 I reckon our kids are probably safe enough.

Mind you, the school is not the only place where you encounter DIY security these days. You can’t go to any Jewish function anymore without battling your way through a barrage of security bouncers. At every synagogue they are out in force – the dreaded CST. I probably shouldn’t mock. They do a great job, are all volunteers and stand outside in the cold and the rain for hours. (Though, considering some sermons and services I’ve sat through, maybe they have the right idea?) The only thing about the CST is that, being volunteers from the community, they just don’t look the part. Let’s face it, as a nation, we are not renowned for producing tall menacing men-folk. In fact, the CST is often the nearest our short, bald accountants get to playing at being macho. The CST, it strikes me, is what the film ‘The Matrix’ would have looked like had Danny DeVito been given the lead role.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, everyone is getting ready for Christmas. I’ve already received six Christmas cards. This always amazes me. Everyone I know is aware that I’m Jewish. And yet every year they send me a card for a festival they know I don’t celebrate. (I exclude CK and LA from this list who always wish me a Happy Chanucka which is really lovely of them). But why send a Christmas card to someone who isn’t celebrating Christmas? It’s like sending all your friends a Get Well card whenever you’re ill yourself. Just doesn’t make sense. To make things more PC we have the Happy Holidays industry. But I’m not sure this is the answer. It dilutes the message of Christmas for those who are genuinely celebrating and promotes Chanucka to the most important (or, at least, the most widely known) Jewish festival, when really, it’s only a minor event in the calendar. Personally, I’ll be spending Christmas Day at Limmud. I mentioned this a couple of times at work until one of my colleagues asked me if Limmud was Hebrew for Christmas. Which, in a way, I suppose it is.

Still, for all this Bah Humbug, I do actually enjoy this time of year. The street lights and the decorations in the shops are great and there’s a warm feeling that shuts out the grey and the cold. And you don’t have to be Christian to be open to the message of goodwill to all men. It also means presents, and I’m as happy as the next person to join in with the giving and receiving of gifts. I took Scrappino to Hamleys on Sunday to have a look round and to choose his Chanucka present. He wanted a remote controlled Dalek. (We have the DVDs, the books and the posters – now we can live with a real live Dalek too). But the current price is £49.99 so I think he’s going to have to wait for the January sales and my winter pay rise. Hamleys is a great store – five floors of toys, toys and more toys. The stair way is decorated to look and feel like a trip through Narnia and is worth the trek into town for that alone. Scrappino, having seen the price of the Dalek, decided to choose some arts and crafts material. So we checked out the floor plan and noticed that ‘Arts and Crafts’ were on Floor 3 in the Girls section. Scrappino asked me why arts stuff had been put on the girls floor. “Some of the best artists in the world were men, weren’t they, Mum?” That’s my boy. He may be susceptible to the Dr Who hype but, happily, seems to be totally impervious to any kind of gender stereotyping. Which is good news. At least I won’t find him volunteering for the CST in ten years time.

5 Comments:

Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Ever notice that felafel in Chutz LaAretz doesn't taste nearly as good as felafel in Israel? Pretty weird, considering most felafel and pizza joints in Ch'ul are managed by Israelies. Yet their pizza is great!

In Israel, even Pizza stores run by Olim don't taste as good as Pizza in Ch'ul. Very odd.

As a "nation", we do a great job of producing men-folk soldiers for the IDF, who I must say, do a decent job of keeping the enemy at bay. (Don't get me started on the women-folk in the IDF).

Then again, how can you expect CST volunteers to be "macho" if they're only armed with a menacing whistle?

Rowan Atkinson could probably do a great sketch on that.

11:56 am  
Blogger MC Aryeh said...

After almost four years in Israel, the sound of a bomb will always mean someone is out for the Jews to me.

I am willing to wait a week - or more, truth be told - for such quality posts from you (especially when they employ my favorite Britishsm, dodgy)- although I may never forgive you for telling me there is a 6 AM on Sundays! Way to go Scrappino for avoiding gender stereotyping!

Your Christmas card is on its way...

12:07 pm  
Anonymous Plony said...

I wondered where you had got to. Work has been quiet this week and I had been relying on you for some light relief!

I always tell work colleagues on the xmas card question that they can't lose with me. If they send one I appreciate the thought, and if they don't I appreciate the sensitivity.

2:27 pm  
Blogger Elster said...

mmmmmmm - falafel and shawrma.

2:32 pm  
Blogger R.x said...

jameel - i know i already welcomed you to suburbanhymns - but now i know who you are, you're doubly welcome. (i should have worked it out sooner with those rowan atkinson and george harrison refs...)

mc - i'll make a special effort to scatter britishisms into my posts just for you, old chap.

plony - i like it. a win/win situation all round. might borrow that line.

elster - mmmmm indeed. felafel and shwarma. tho not in the same pitta at the same time.

9:14 am  

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