Yesterday the frum community in Antwerp went to the polls to elect a new rabbi. We, by contrast, were handed our rabbi on a plate in a graveyard. Quite literally. Ok the plate bit I made up but the graveyard is almost true and in fact the announcement was made at the previous rabbi’s funeral. Or as Wiki puts it “The honorary officers of the UOHC announced the appointment of his youngest son, Rabbi Ephraim, as the new rabbinical head of the community.”
How we would have cheered had it not been during the summer holidays when we were sunning ourselves in some summer camp rechristened, if that’s the word, Stamford Hill-on-sea for a couple of weeks. Alas we weren’t there and the officers who are honorary in name and name only had the field to themselves. They could have appointed a frog and we would have followed every hop and croak while persuading ourselves that we are the envy of the world. So they chose a dinosaur instead and we should be grateful to them for that. And to to enforce his pre-Neanderthal credentials, at his inauguration our Sanctified Leader duly delivered an exquisite disquisition on the topical subject of the Decapitated Calf.
In Antwerp they evidently do things differently. Rabbi Kreiswirth passed away almost 10 years ago and his seat has remained vacant ever since. There was talk of them nominating our own Dayan Ronnie Dunner as a candidate (or as he is sometimes fondly referred to, Dyno-RoD) but his community threatened to block his exit if he as much as left for an interview. Less kinder tongues wagged at the time that he declined when it transpired that there were others in the running. How the Antwerpians, or the Twerps, must have blessed their holy stars when Dunner travelled to India, saw the Taj Mahal and deciding he couldn’t build his dear darling rebbetzen a hovel like that got her instead a synthetic sheitel without any chashash of Avoide Zore. Just imagine the smoocher he got on his return.
I digress. I digress. Antwerp has been without a rabbi for almost a decade and it appears none the worse for it. It has had an eiruv for very many years having had the good fortune not to have had a Padwa at its helm. Its fortunes have been declining of late with the diamond industry moving to India and no largesse from its government to match that which housing benefit throws our way. It is nonetheless a respectable community albeit reminiscent of a pale of settlement shtetl c.1890 and a shuttle service plies the sanctified Stamford Hill-Antwerp route several times a day which cannot be said even for Stamford Hill-Golders Green.
Recently a suitable candidate was found and the male burghers of the Flemish city were asked to express whether they are for or against him. It appears that King Leopold’s countrymen know more of common suffrage than us dwellers in the shadow of the mother of parliaments. And so choose a leader they did and Rabbi Aharon Schiff duly won the vote.
There are however 2 points on which I must sound off. The first is that according to this source (in Hebrew) 1263 members were entitled to cast their vote in Antwerp. This may be another explanation, besides the patently obvious one, why Padwa was not put to the vote. While the UOHC purports to speak for and to all of us every time something ‘comes to their attention’ in reality they have relatively few members and there are even fewer reasons why one would want to become a member. They’ll rip you off for your meat, milk and marriage and ban your strawberries whether you’re a member or not and as for burial they’ll dump you in a water-logged bog reserved for members only. And without members it is rather difficult to hold an election so the next best thing was to slip him in while we were smeared with Amber Solaire.
And the next point is on the dinosaur comment I made earlier. The big story about town is of the local couple who’ve been arrested for allegedly drugging and abducting their daughter to take her out of Israel. They were taken off a plane bound for Bucharest and arrested. Bail has for the moment been refused.
The kneejerk defences are well under way. ‘The girl is mad’. ‘She has a boyfriend.’ ‘She is 21 with a mental age of 10.’ ‘You don’t know what good parents they are.’ Or simply, ‘It can’t be. You must hear the other side and you can never trust the Israeli media/police/judiciary for they all hate us'.’
What follows is a translation of a comment on an Israeli chareidi website, “The chareidi community in London is known primarily for being the most primitive and extreme of chareidi communities abroad. This community harboured in her midst the monster Elior Chen who tortured and abused small children in the name of religion. This community, the majority of which belongs to the extreme Satmar chasidim, suffers from a communal ‘honour’ syndrome and for the sake of honour all means are kosher. –What will people say?- This is of course the pretext for throwing the girl to the dogs in order to save her parents’ skin. The facts on the ground are that the girl is intelligent, sharp and fun and only malicious people could descend to such sub-human conduct [to malign her]. And let us assume that it is true, I ask: may one abuse a mentally ill daughter? If she is indeed, as they put it, retarded may one cruelly inject her with drugs and abduct her with force? Stop putting on a straight face!”
It hurts when it comes from Israelis who are the maddest extremists of the lot. But that makes it no less true. And while I would quibble whether we are indeed worse than others we are generally rather behind with the times and perhaps it is time to catch up. And harbouring fewer rapists and paedophiles and not raising money for them wouldn’t be a bad place to start.