Cock O T’North

My Mum, like me, was Yorkshire born and bred. Nevertheless, Granddad’s Polish Praszka was just around the corner. No; it was more — Praszka was always there — we never realized it.

Our street, Potternewton Park View, was a shtetl. A cul-de-sac with a discreet entry into the local shul presided over by the power and presence of Rabbi Maddele. Our rabbi was straight from the Bible- a luxuriant walking beard always in search. He sought not the Messiah but someone to light his ever-present cigarette. Like the menorah, it never went out, and like its counterpart, it had to be regularly re-lit. As he cupped his hands and parted the strands of his beard, we were always sure that he would re-enact the burning bush in person. We acquired reverence and irreverence at an early age.
There must have been forty families on our street. All but one was Jewish: the Worsels; the Greens, the Levis; the Simons; the Greens, the Benjamins; the Martins and more I cannot remember.

But this story is about Mrs Levi. Our neighbour owned chickens and a cock. Every morning the rooster, from above on the rooftops, would announce that day had arrived. He dictated our day. Every day I would go and scatter the corn for the chickens and gather the eggs. Another valuable lesson learned: the cock rules the roost making a lot of noise in the process, and the rest do the real work.

Way back in Leeds, Jews were political. Then Jews were either a socialist or on the way out of the commonwealth of ‘we Jews’. A conservative was the stage before backsliding submission out of the collective identity and responsibility. That was the way of the Jews then. Together as Jews but fighting for a better world for all. A distant relative knew how to fight. Manny Shinwell marched from Jarrow to the House Of Parliament. He was protesting Ramsey McDonald’s shameful behaviour. And in the next election, McDonald got his uppance. Manny unseated the sitting Prime Minister. A feat never since repeated and of unheralded precedent. Even the mighty Harold Wilson blanched when threatened by the firebrand Shinwell. Manny was a man to be respected. Manny Shnwell was Menachem Begin’s alter ego- Polish Jews and men of spirit and honour. When the chips came down, they belonged to us.

Back then, respect was an important word. In my day, people would command respect. That is precisely what the Polish nature and Yorkshire nurture conditioned us to do. Nowadays, people demand respect. Once you earned it and now it is conferred by right.

So much has changed. In my Israel not only has respect been utterly debased but other emotive qualifying descriptions are as dead as a dodo. Transparency, responsibility and shame are but three. Then you would ask shrilly, ‘Ee, Lad, hast tha no shame?’ Now there is no need to ask. There is absolutely none. Do you need proof?

Once again, Israel is at war; the emergency supplies were empty. As in the past, the nation drew upon its reserves and got the job done. National common sense saved the day.
The Corona war is the Yom Kippur war with vital differences. Bibi did lead, but Bibi was apart from us. Then our leaders were with us. Now they are somewhere else – certainly not with us. Then the leadership explained- now it does not.

The Corona war is not the Yom Kippur War in one crucial aspect. In the Corona War, there is no end. It is a brush fire that can and will re-ignite. Above all, we need to be careful at all times and maintain discipline. We have to manage social distancing, wear masks and wash our hands for many a month- possibly forever.

It is not enough to have the cock crowing from the rooftops. We must stick together- our leaders must show the way. The piggies in power must not build more troughs while a quarter of us folks are on the dole.

For us fighters in the trenches, the day will be over when we can all sit with our children and grandchildren. If any of us are above basic rules, then all are above basic rules. If those rules go – our reunion disappears into the distant horizon.

There is no way to justify the selfish action of our president, prime minister and others. They broke the rules while telling us no to. They are not above us. They are there to lead and set an example. Generals do not go Absent Without Leave. They both did just that- nothing more and nothing less. They are no longer part of the ‘commonwealth that is us.’

The damage they both did to us is enormous. Both broke the rules, rules that must be observed for the common good. They departed the ‘commonwealth of us.’

They must both go, and they must go now.

About the Author
Born in Leeds in 1944, Michael Benjamin is a retired Psychiatrist and medical auditor, co-founder of Oranit, aspiring author and inveterate cynic.
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