Does Aidan Burley deserve forgiveness? (The Telegraph)

You’re an MP at the top of your game. Elected just 18 months ago, already a high-flyer. You’re 32, Oxford-educated and part of a new breed of caring Conservatives. You’ve got a bright political future ahead of you. Now, how best to torpedo it?

Anyone considering that conundrum should call Aidan Burley, the Cannock Chase MP and former PPS to Transport Secretary Justine Greening. Last week it emerged that he’d been at a particularly raucous stag party in a French ski resort. It wasn’t that the group got obscenely drunk – though who knows, perhaps they did – or that they harassed the waitresses, or even that they ran up exorbitant bills and then neglected to pay them.

The crime – as it may well be in France – was that the party was themed; a nostalgic night during which guests donned SS garb and toasted high-ranking members of the Third Reich. Unfortunately for the stags, they were in a public restaurant and another diner, a journalist, caught the soirée on film.

For Burley, it was something of a last supper. The Prime Minister has now called for an investigation into his “offensive and foolish” behaviour and Burley has been removed from his post.

He is, of course, still part of the Conservative Party and his career will most likely recover. Politicians have bounced back from far worse. But, even as Westminster convulses over Britain’s future in Europe, it is right that this story and this scandal didn’t just disappear.

Let’s refresh. This was not a mere slip of the tongue. A few days earlier, Burley’s fellow freshman Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith was berated for a careless – but, I believe, absolutely unintentional – reference to Auschwitz. He was scolded, he apologised immediately, and the matter was put to rest.

Burley also said sorry, more than once. So why not forgive him, too? Aside from the suggestion in the Mail on Sunday that he was responsible for hiring the uniforms, the answer lies in his own apology; “I wish I had left as soon as I had realised what was happening,” he said.

This comment piece was first published in the Telegraph. Read the rest of it here

How a New York visit made me more aware of home (The JC)

In vain, we searched for the pickle shop. Wandering around New York’s historic Lower East Side, it seemed improbable, impossible even, that we wouldn’t encounter a Yiddish-speaking man selling barrels of flavoursome and juicy cucumbers and telling us we had chutzpah when we tried to negotiate a good deal.

We did eventually find some (delicious, too), although only in a trendy coffee shop on a run-down but fashionable street, where the clientele ate them ironically with one hand on their Apple computers or their chai lattes.

Pickles aside, finding traces of Jewish life and history in New York was not much of a challenge. A century from its peak, the Lower East Side is as empty of Jews as it once was full. In that respect, it’s like London’s East End, a thriving hub reduced to a whisper. But what used to be there is still clear, from shops bearing the names of their Jewish founders to delis that are, if now no longer kosher, still steeped in an unequivocally Jewish cuisine, and streets and buildings adorned with the names of Jewish impresarios.

The history is not dissimilar to our own. Many Jews from far flung lands ended up in New York, but many, too, my ancestors among them, ended up in Liverpool, Cardiff – and the East End.

As in New York, they built lives, set up shuls, schools and newspapers, became visionaries, wrote books and built industries.

Physically, there is more to see in New York than in our old Jewish hubs; many of the buildings that British Jews once inhabited have gone, destroyed during the Blitz or torn down, with perhaps a solitary blue plaque to denote their presence. But, beyond this, what struck me during my stay was the locals’ pride in the past – particularly pride in this very Jewish story of survival and success against the odds.

Down the road from the café was the Tenement museum, offering heritage tours of the area and a video history of the “huddled masses” – Italian, Chinese and of course Jewish – who arrived there in the late 19th century. A look inside the tenement itself we had a glimpse into the lives of the Jews who came to Ellis Island from shtetls, impoverished and not speaking the language, only to leave the factories and the slums for a better life just a generation or so later.

This comment piece was first published in the JC. Read the rest of it here

Could Mel Gibson give Gilad a Hollywood homecoming? (The JC)

Several months ago, various Jewish groups got rather exercised that Mel Gibson was planning to make a film about the Maccabees. The Chanucah story, in the hands of an actor we wouldn’t even trust to look after our chocolate money or dreidel winnings? Disastrous.

Mel’s movie is still in the development stage, so it’s not clear yet whether it will be The Passion II, or a mea culpa set to music with action stunts. But when the news broke, my reaction was: “about time”.

Not being in the market to convert, we don’t tend to shout about the Hollywood side of Judaism; the triumph of the underdog, “cue the violins” parts. Outside of our first few years of Cheder, when we colour in pictures of Noah’s Ark and giggle at Adam and Eve’s fig-leaves, we focus on Judaism as a “how to”, a code for conduct rather than an exact report on what happened.

It makes sense because, for many of us, the tales of the Tanach require a whopping great suspension of disbelief. Yet there’s something about Chanucah that makes the sceptic in me melt.

Of all the incredible – and unbelievable – stories in the Jewish canon, the one about the maverick warrior who successfully led a revolt against the villainous Greek conquerors has to be among the best. It’s got everything: family loyalty, victory against-the-odds, drama and intrigue. And there’s the oil, lasting for eight nights. It’s a miracle that you’d scoff at if it was the ending of a Disney film, and yet, it doesn’t half make you proud.

Seeing him take his first steps to freedom was like a miracle

Chanucah is a time for celebrating miracles and this week saw the tail end of one. On Sunday 550 Palestinian prisoners were released from jail early; the final stage of October’s deal to bring back Gilad Shalit. Last year, when we lit candles, it was unthinkable that Gilad would be with his family for the next Chanucah. We continued to pray and petition but it had been five years and he was a captive of a merciless terrorist group.

This comment piece was first published in the JC. Read the rest of it here

Gossip Girl recap: Rhodes to Perdition

So Max finally spills the beans about Ivy / Charlie – and nobody believes him. Which would almost be tragic (seeing as he is, um, totally right about what a deceitful life-stealer she is) if he wasn’t such a thoroughly unpleasant character too.

As the Rhodes girls gather to remember (or not, in CeeCee’s case) the lasdt days of disco (wth enough sequins to light the small country Louis is supposedly in), Carole shows up to complicate matters. As usual, it’s another show of sibling rivalry, trust funds and frightful hairstyles (Serena – seriously? Couldn’t you have gone for Ivy’s sleek ‘do?) but with little substance.

Basically, Carole protects her secret (where exactly is the real Charlie? Dead? A druggie? Or, shock horror, with a job?) and Ivy gets to stay in the Rhodes fortress of untouchability.

Across town, there’s more proof that Blair’s wedding is going to implode, as she and Chuck share yet more meaningful looks and teary glances. He tells her about Harry Winston, they all but confess their mutual love. It’s fairly sickening, but what is worse is that while Chuck’s character has developed for the good, Blair has been reduced to a snivelling wreck. Where’s her scheming, her dictatorial manner, her off-the-cuff bitchy retorts? In fairness, it may well reflect life that Queen Bee rich girls grow up to be dull and listless society wives. But that shouldn’t be Blair’s fate. She’s better than that.

I say bring back Little J or even the dreaded Vanessa, for some much needed Blair-baiting.

Nate, meanwhile, buries a story so he can win grandaddy’s respect. It’s all fairly dull, particularly Tripp’s supposed anguish about Maureen’s affair (Um, remember how easy he got Lewinskyed a few series back?) but I imagine he’s about to have an affair with the slutty reporter who offered him the tip, so that should compromise his yawnsome ethical attitude to life.

As for Dan, it seems the ego never sleeps. In true self-obsessed Humphrey style, he gets all too consumed with his bad new media press (OMG, like, people on Twitter are super mean) only to find it’s bitchy agent Alexandra trying to resuscitate his failing career.

Which she manages, with a little help from that well-respected literary connoisseur, Katy Perry).

All in all, a week episode. It was not funny (with the exception of Serena’s omnoipresent ability to forget just how many “different” dudes she’s dated) and the characters were acting stories they’ve done before.

But there’s hope to come. For one thing, Blair’s baby sityation needs to be resolved (surely she’s not going to spawn a devil child?) and Louis has got to get the boot, once and for all. Plus, CeeCee’s blatantly going to be no more, leaving plenty of secrets and will drama (so that the real Charlie can claim what is rightfully hers) plus the whole Diana history has got to come out. Bring it all on.