Trying to remember the departed not the disease

Over a decade after my mother’s death I consider the lingering effects of the illness that plagued her life

Mum1

My Mum’s handbag normally contained a few perennial items: balloons, sunglasses and wine gums (candies). She kept the balloons to give out to her grandchildren, great-nephews and nieces along with other kids she encountered; the sunglasses were an accessory she never did without even in the depths of winter, and the wine gums were the occasional treat she allowed herself.

Mum was idiosyncratic, and vaguely eccentric. She possessed the cut glass accent of an English Duchess – the result of childhood elocution lessons, and favoured long flowing skirts (particularly in summer) accompanied with beaded necklaces and glittering rings.

She died at the age of 62, fourteen years after my father who she always adored. The memories of her from childhood and adulthood are crystal clear, and yet at the same time they are clouded. They are blurred by the illness that she suffered for most of her life, and which also cast a long shadow over all our family.

In 1977 Mum was hurt in a house fire, which inflicted serious burns on her body and also wounded her deep within. In the wake of the accident she developed depression and then manic depression – latterly renamed bipolar disorder.

My childhood was punctuated by her periods of dark depression when she would retreat into her bedroom, emerging only occasionally as a teary-eyed and wisp-like presence. By contrast during her manic times, she was a tornado of activity, mowing the lawn at dawn, cleaning the house from top to bottom, and speaking at lightning speed as her mouth attempted to keep pace with her overactive mind.

For my Dad, my brother, sister and myself, it was generally disorientating, sometimes frightening and occasionally funny – such as the manic phase when she went on a shopping spree for Edwardian carriage clocks, which we then had to return to local antique shops.

My Mum’s illness was also our family secret. We didn’t discuss it outside the house, lending it the air of something dark and shameful.

There came a time when my Mum began to talk about it, and we took our cue from her. But mental illness is hard to discuss not only because it is painful and a social stigma persists, but also because it is so hard to explain. For those who have not experienced it at first hand, it is impossible to convey how confusing it is, not just for the sufferer but also for those caught in the immediate vicinity. The boundaries of normality become twisted and distorted, in behavior, routine and family dynamics.

For me, it was like an incendiary device going off in the heart of our family. My mother bore the brunt of the blast from her illness, but its effects spread like a destructive shock wave through us all. Family life was always held hostage by the whims of the disease. One day for no apparent reason she could be transformed from a happy smiling and dependable parent, into a mass of anxiety, fatigue and tears needing gentle care.

From my long years of observation I can only liken mental illness to cancer of the soul. That mutant force fought a relentless battle with my Mum for her essence and character. She battled the illness, trying not to let it win, and dictate how she should act, and who she would be. There were times of peace when it was kept at bay thanks to a delicate balance of medications and good fortune. But there were other long periods when the illness overcame her, wreaking its chaos upon us all.

In recalling my Mum, almost eleven years to the day since her death, I find the memories of her illness intruding upon my thoughts about the person she was, and the times we had together. We argued and bickered as a mother and child do. But there were many good times, when I got to fully enjoy her lively and loving presence.

I remember wandering through Regents Park, with her and my then girlfriend – now wife – drinking tea and gossiping as she took photos of the musicians playing on the bandstand. I recall the gentle hugs she gave and her affectionate reprimand to me not to hug her back ‘like a sack of potatoes’, and I remember her inexhaustible energy for walking in all weather and all places including through central London and the Egyptian desert.

But the problem is that I have to fight hard to get to those good memories, navigating a path between the pain, confusion and fear that the disease brought. It was like an ingrained stain that spread beyond her and that is still very hard to remove.

Bi-polar was her nemesis – and ours – to the very end, over a decade ago. She became physically unwell with a difficult to diagnose condition. But she was also in the midst of a severe manic phase, when her mind moved seamlessly between real and imagined thoughts. The doctors missed what was there, and she died. Such tragic occurrences aren’t uncommon in people with mental illnesses.

Today like every day I remember my Mum with love, but I also continue to hate her illness with a vengeance for what it robbed from her and our all family.

To know more and/or to donate go to:

Bipolar UK

The Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (USA)

London Calling

London phoneboxes2I have just returned from the annual family pilgrimage to London which involved too much time spent navigating the traffic jams and not enough time with friends and relations.

Unusually, this trip came a full year since the last jaunt to London. I am normally able to drop in a short visit thanks to work. But a whole twelve months away felt like a long time, especially as London seems to be changing at the speed of light.

Once upon a time the city could be depended upon for certain things, such as dilapidated public transport, dirty streets, mediocre food, and a sense that Londoners were enduring rather than enjoying the city.

But how things have changed. It was a shock to arrive into the brand new Heathrow Terminal 2, which not only functions well, but proved to be a pleasure to travel through with its light airy interior and inventive artistic installation – resembling an engorged metal snake. The Tube also – while not exactly a joy to experience in summer – (when will the invention of air conditioning reach the Underground?) – was clean, well lit, and efficient.

At every turn there seemed to be something new. King’s Cross where I once lived has become a haven for day trippers as opposed to tripping junkies. Where runaways, prostitutes and drunks used to fill the space in front of the station, crowds now bustle around a piazza filled with organic food stalls.

The south of the River Thames – a place that some Londoners preferred to forget existed – has become a magnet for cultural venues and business. Wandering from London Bridge Station to the Design Museum near Tower Bridge shows off both renovated Victorian warehouses and gleaming new office buildings.

Londoners themselves have been transformed by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of newcomers. In the space of a couple of hours I encountered a museum guide from France, a butcher from Slovakia, a barista from Poland, and a mini-cab driver from Somalia – all had arrived in the city within the past few years, and all now called the city home.

A walk down any random street was akin to a stroll through corridors of the United Nations. London is a meeting place for work and play for millions of people from every corner of the globe.  But of course as with every success story there is a downside. The city’s population is estimated at 8.6 million; the highest number in its history. That means public services are stretched to bursting point. Travelling on a packed Tube train at rush hour requires a contortionist’s dexterity combined with a Bedouin’s tolerance for heat.

House prices have also reached stratospheric levels leaving many people literally stuck out in the cold. The city needs to build swathes of properties to house those not earning multi-digit salaries. But the current government seems more inclined to accommodate the needs of well-heeled foreign visitors seeking a bolt-hole, rather than finding space for those truly in need.

Nevertheless, the city is undergoing a renaissance based on its business friendly, creative and tolerant mindset. It is a beautiful and irresistible mish mash of architectural styles, languages, and cultures.

Of course even as some things change, so others remain stubbornly the same. The area where we were staying is thoroughly gentrified with gourmet butchers, organic cafes, and yoga studios. But the pub at the end of the high street, stands as a monument to that proud British tradition of noisy chat, irreverence and utter inebriation. And come Saturday night, the raucous drunks staggering between crushed beer cans and packets of chips served as a reminder that while London may be a world city, it still retains some old habits and traditions that make it forever……London.

Happy Birthday?

In a matter of days I will hit a half century. I am not referring to cricket scores but rather to age.

50 years old, which once (not so long ago) seemed to exist in the distant mists of time, has now descended upon me with a sudden thump.

Up until a just a few days ago, I dismissed this milestone as insignificant, amounting to just another number and a business opportunity for Hallmark.

But as the day has neared like a rapidly approaching chasm in the path of a runaway train, so I have found myself mulling over its meaning. I have been dredging my mind for memories of past (mis)adventures and speculating on future exploits.

One of the prevailing feelings in the midst of this introspection is injustice, of having been cheated – that while my birth certificate says fifty my emotional body clock is stuck somewhere in my mid-20’s. I feel like Tom Hanks in the film ‘Big’ – only with less maturity.

Never has the saying that ‘youth is wasted on the young’ felt more appropriate. It seems grossly unfair that the early years of our lives go by as if in slow motion. But as time passes, so the clock speeds up, to the point where weeks fly by like days, and years pass in the space of months.

It would be much fairer if ageing operated the other way around. Time should bound along at a canter during the early decades so that youthful mistakes, hangovers, heartbreak, and the inevitable embarrassments are quickly forgotten.

Similarly, the later years should amble by, allowing sufficient time to appreciate the achievements won, the lessons learnt, and the tastes acquired before everything draws to a very slow and satisfying close.

As it is, getting older is filled with unfair contradictions. I have a wealth of experience, but can’t remember the details. I can afford and appreciate fine food, but according to my doctor I am not meant to eat it. I can also enjoy great wine and whisky, but the merest sniff of alcohol carries the possibility of a hangover to follow.

And as I age, so I am forced to spend more (of the rapidly passing and diminishing) time carrying out running repairs on my fraying bodily fabric. Exercise which was once effortless and recreational is now an ache-filled necessity to ward off the encroaching years and added weight.

The other problem with fifty is that in chronological terms it is stranded in no-mans land. I am no longer filled with youthful vigour, yet at the same time I have not yet acquired the Obi-Wan Kenobi-like wisdom of those who have seen it all. Middle-age perfectly captures what it is to be fifty – not at the extremes or the cutting edge but rather in the somewhat featureless center.

This may sound like my birthday has all the makings of mid-life crisis, but I will not be rushing out to buy a Harley Davidson or getting “FOREVER YOUNG’ tattooed across my chest.

Firstly, crises involve a lot of effort, and at this stage of my life I have neither the energy nor the time to waste in trying to re-capture my long departed youth. Secondly, at the end of the day, even with the whining, aches, indigestion, and sprouting grey hairs there are a number of advantages to reaching fifty.

Despite decades of rank irresponsibility, some experience has been gained along the way, making the here and now more than OK. Professionally, I have become useful for something other than prison or filling man-holes, and personally I have gathered just enough maturity to have miraculously acquired the most fantastic family possible.

The truth is that the view from the perch of fifty is pretty fine. I have a lot to look back on, while also (hopefully) having a decent number of years to experience what lies ahead. At the same time, I still have the capability to enjoy life’s offerings while also (after childcare, bills, holidays, and house repairs) possessing – just about – the means to do so.

So while fifty is just another number (alongside 600 months, 18,262 days and 438,288 hours – but who’s counting?), it is also a landmark to be considered, borne and possibly even enjoyed.

Thus on July 25th I shall be raising a glass of fine wine or single malt whisky, neither too early nor too late in the day, and toasting the past while looking to the future.

L’Chaim – To Life!

Holding tight and letting go: what a child’s first time at sleep-away camp means for a Dad

campfire_kids3There’s been a long interlude between my last blog and this one. I can attempt to blame work travel, of which there has been a fair amount, or more honestly own up to a bout of inertia.

But I have been propelled into action to write by an aching heart caused by the advent of summer.

This is ironic given that the weather is glorious (apart from when it’s too humid to venture outdoors), holidays are on the horizon, and it’s the perfect season for two of my favorite activities: drinking cold beer and standing over a smoky BBQ.

The reason for my longing is the fact that Livvy – our elder daughter – is away for the first time at summer camp. She is currently in North Carolina swimming, playing sports, camping, grilling marshmallows over nighttime bonfires and seemingly having the time of her life. She headed off two weeks ago to a camp we had carefully selected as offering a down to earth fun experience, with a good sprinkling of liberal-minded Jewish values and practices thrown in.

The camp runs for over three weeks during which time, she is not allowed to call us, and we are not allowed to ring her. Phones and emails are off limits for the campers, and our knowledge of what Livvy is up to is limited to seeing daily pictures of her on the camp website.

If the width of her smile on the photos is anything to go by, then she seems to be a picture of happiness and well-being. Given the absence of letters from her (apart from a sole 40 word long note), I can only assume that she is having such a good time that she has temporarily forgotten her parents!

By contrast, I have written to her at least every other day, and we have sent two care packages with all the essentials such as new socks, stick on tattoos and Minion goggles (one of life’s essentials for any fan of ‘Despicable Me’).

When the subject of going to sleep away camp came up last year, Lysette and I reacted with similar shock and horror to the idea that our eldest (yet still young) daughter would head off hundreds of miles from home for almost a month.

In Israel and the UK, the idea of sending off a 9 year old who had only spent a night or two away from home, to the care of (trained) strangers, verged on child cruelty. But in the US – particularly among Jews – going away to sleep-away camp is a rite of passage. Added to which Livvy embraced the idea with little doubt and great enthusiasm, leaving us with the sense that to deny her this important chapter of her childhood would be surrendering to our own inhibitions.

Some of Livvy’s contemporaries have gone off for seven weeks, but the prospect of having her away for such a length of time, is too much for my close-to-home English/Israeli influenced sensibilities. As it is, I have found myself gazing longingly at her picture, and relocating to her bedroom in the middle of the night.

But despite missing her and worrying about what she is up to, I also understand the importance and value of her time at camp. She is establishing her independence, making far-away friends, learning new skills both social and practical – all without us present. She is also having a Jewish experience that is fun, positive and endlessly rich.

Edie – Livvy’s younger sister – has closely studied the pictures emanating from camp and informed us that next year, she too wants to go. I find myself greeting her pronouncement with a mixture of trepidation and pride.  I dislike the idea of not having my daughters close by, but at the same time I am admiring of their willingness to strike out on their own.

It seems only a very short while ago that Livvy and Edie were gurgling infants, who couldn’t do anything for themselves, and would cry the second we were out of sight. But time has flown by at an incredible pace, and seemingly in an instant they have been transformed into capable individuals with a strong sense of themselves and what they want.

I am only just beginning to understand that parenting is not only about guiding your children hand in hand, but also letting them stray from you to make discoveries for themselves. In that respect it’s not just my nine year old daughter who is gaining important insights from her time away at camp.

I can’t wait for Livvy to come home (7 days, 3 hours and counting!). At the same time I want the experience to stretch out for her, knowing that it will likely become engraved in her character forever.

Washington DC – Dysfunction in Democracy

Parliaments are the engine rooms of democracies. They are where the (often dirty) work of government gets done. What they look like, and how they function says a great deal about the society in which they operate.

Admittance not guaranteed to all

Admittance not guaranteed to all

Last week, after more than two years in the US I finally made it to Congress to see America’s federal legislature in action. The building sitting atop Capitol Hill looks out grandly upon Washington, stamping its dominant presence upon the national monuments and government offices set out below.

The building was made to impress. Beyond the inevitable security barriers, body scanners and X-ray machines, it’s all neo-Greco-Roman pillars and marble, complemented by classical 19th century European-style interior design. Carefully positioned statues reflect the diverse origins and achievements of the United States, including busts of a Native American chief and an astronaut.

Along shiny, broad corridors are the two chambers that make up Congress; the upper house – the Senate, and the lower House of Representatives.

The Senate chamber which was mostly empty when I visited has a clubby ambience, which is fitting given that it has just one hundred members representing over 320 million American citizens. The grand (and mostly elderly) men and women huddle in groups of two or three, chatting when not delivering speeches from their schoolroom-like wooden desks. The House of Representatives akin to the teenagers table at a family gathering; younger, busier and noisier – with legislators slyly check their phones while chatting volubly with colleagues.

The public galleries were a mix of those who came to be impressed, and those who came to press a cause. There were tourists, grandparents with grandchildren, middle-aged couples, college students and others. There were also lobbyists – many on this particular day coming from AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) which was holding its annual conference in DC. Alongside AIPAC there were others pressing their own causes, including a delegation from the civil aviation industry.

In the US lobbying is seen as – technically at least – an important element within the country’s democracy. The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees it as a right. But many ordinary Americans now see the various lobby groups as having tainted their democracy with too much influence and too much money. Recent figures by a non-profit organization called the Center for Responsive Politics show that spending by lobby groups in Congress has doubled since 2000 reaching a total of $3.23billion last year! The same database shows that John Boehner, the Republic Speaker of the Senate received over $17m in campaign contributions in 2014, with substantial amounts coming from groups representing the securities and investment industry, real estate, retirees, oil and gas, and mining.

The US Congress as well as the offices of other elected officials are awash with cash from lobbyists, big and small. All this money has a distorting and corrupting influence upon the workings of the legislature. Senators and Congressmen are dancing to the tune of the donors rather than the voters. This was most sharply illustrated in April 2013, when there were efforts to expand background checks for gun buyers and ban assault weapons in the wake of the slaughter by a crazed gunman of twenty children and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Despite polling data showing a majority of Americans favoured these measures, it failed to pass in the Senate, after the National Rifle Association brought its weighty political bludgeon to bear upon wavering Senators, ensuring they followed its diktats – or face the consequences.

All this has translated into disgust and disillusionment by many voters for their elected representatives. In the Congressional mid-terms four months ago, only 36% turned out to cast their ballot, the lowest figure in over seventy years.

Congress - in need of repair

Congress – in need of repair

Apathy is flourishing at the expense of democracy. Ordinary Americans feel disconnected from the mechanics of government. They see politicians as a breed apart, more interested in preserving their own comfortable seats and satisfying their donors, rather than looking to more modest needs of the average citizen.

The Constitution begins with words ‘We the People’ emphasizing the primacy of the populace in the American system.  The founders of the country sought to build a society that protected against the influence of the privileged few, and put government – as much as possible – in the hands of the citizenry. There is thus a sense of tragic irony to the current situation, where the people feel excluded from the engine room of their democracy.

After wandering the halls of Congress I left to admire the grandeur of the building from outside. But in viewing the obscured Dome currently undergoing building work, it was clear that the faults in America’s legislature go far beyond the fabric of the structure.

Home and Away: how Netanyahu has got the USA all wrong

Obama-Netanyahu-1It is said that familiarity breeds contempt. That phrase could have been invented for Bibi Netanyahu and his ambassador in Washington Ron Dermer, in describing their conduct surrounding the invitation – issued behind President Obama’s back – for the Prime Minister to address Congress. It has revealed how in dealing with US neither off both of these supposedly skilled operators sees themselves as outsiders trying the win influence on a foreign field, but rather insiders playing US party politics.

That political storm that began with John Boehner’s invite and Bibi’s eager acceptance continues to rage with mounting ferocity.

In meetings last week, Congressional Democrats (stalwart supporters of Israel) roasted Dermer and accompanying Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein for snubbing of the President. Democratic House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi has said that members won’t boycott the speech but that they might also be unable to attend due to their ‘busy’ schedules. Those who have already announced they will be busy elsewhere include Vice President Biden with the most senior serving Senator, Patrick Leahy, along with a clutch of other lawmakers.

Even a few US conservatives have taken umbrage at the disrespect meted out to the President. Fox News – normally a pro-Israel bastion has delivered some harsh criticism in Bibi’s direction.

Netanyahu himself has insisted he will still speak (intimating also that he’ll be doing so for all Jews) due to the need to address the issue of Iran (but of course unconnected to the Israeli election two weeks later). But his stubbornness really speaks of a man whose judgment has become determined by an insatiable sense of his own self-importance and entitlement, at the expense of all other interests.

There is a huge irony the way this drama has unfolded. Netanyahu is judged to be the most ‘American’ of Israeli Prime Ministers. He was picked out in the early 1980’s by then Defence Minister Moshe Arens 1980’s to join the Israeli Embassy in Washington given his flawless US English, and familiarity with all things American. He did after all attend high school in Philadelphia (home also to his accent), went to college at MIT and began his career in the States. Along the way he also picked up some influential contacts. Former Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney was a close colleague from Bibi’s days at the Boston Consulting Group in the 1970’s.

Bibi has a coterie of other contacts and relationships that bind him closely to the Republican Party. Among them Sheldon Adelson, super-donor to Republican causes and backer of many things Bibi (including Yisrael Hayom – a Netanyahu friendly free newspaper). Netanyahu’s most import pollster Arthur Finckelstein who has guided him through many elections, has also worked with a range of Republican candidates including the Old Gipper, Ronald Reagan.

Over and above these relationships there is an ideological affinity that weds Bibi and the current day GOP. They share a world view that sees the world only in black and white and no shades of grey, both on the domestic and international stage; from economics to Iran.

Ron Dermer comes from the same stable as Bibi. His CV reads like that of a Republican staffer, rather than a close adviser to an Israeli Prime Minister. Miami born and raised, Dermer went to work in the 1990’s for a conservative political consultant designing the ‘Contract for America’ a political manifesto authored by (among others) Newt Gingrich. When he did make Aliya a few years later, he brought his Republican baggage (and contacts) to his new home.

Dermer and Netanyahu’s familiarity with all things American (particularly of the Republican variety) has given them a blind spot in understanding the true nature of Israel’s relationship with Washington. All Netanyahu’s predecessors – Labour and Likud – knew Israel’s place with the country’s most generous patron. Israel was a foreign state seeking the support of a global superpower. It had to observe the rules of that relationship and respect the powers in Washington accordingly. But this Prime Minister with Dermer by his side sees the relationship through the prism of their own American infused DNA, according them a place – by right – within American decision making.

John Boehner may or may not pay a political price for snubbing the President. But whatever does transpire, it will take place in the domestic sphere. Netanyahu and Dermer are using Israel’s relationship as a stake to be gambled with for their narrow political interests.

Israel’s relationship with the US has flourished in recent decades thanks to a sense of shared values as well as shared interests. When looking towards Israel, American Democrats and Republicans alike view a Middle Eastern version of themselves. They see a country founded by people fleeing persecution and in search of freedom. They see in Israel, dynamism, democracy, and self-reliance – all of which resonate across the political aisle in the US.

The US has come to share interests including: in contending with Iran, in dealing with Islamic extremism, and establishing some security from the rubble of the Arab Spring. Interests can and do change depending upon circumstances, and there are clearly some differences emerging in the mess of the current day Middle East between Israel and the US – most notably on Iran.

But shared values underpin relationships and carry weight that can be brought to bear in influencing behavior and shaping decisions. By casting in their lot so publicly with the Republicans, Netanyahu and Dermer threaten the solidity of the foundations upon which the US-Israeli relationship rests.

Current Israeli government policies are a further corrosive element. Settlement building in the West Bank – undertaken with gusto by Netanyahu – also eats away at that notion of shared values. There is only so long that Democrats and their liberal base can continue to believe that Israel is like them, when – in the absence of any prospects for a two state solution – Palestinians are denied sovereignty and basic rights alongside Israel. Provocations like going before Congress will only serve to remind many in DC of how much Netanyahu’s values are inconsistent with that of their American counterparts.

Bibi is coming to Washington to boost his credentials with Congressional Republicans and also to give himself a hand up in the Israeli election a few weeks later; it is for him and Ron Dermer a perfect mix and match of Israeli and American politics. But his over-familiarity with the US, risks breeding such contempt that it will drive a wedge between the Jewish State and its most important ally.

Remembering the past to fight hatred today

auschwitz---gateIt’s 70 years since Auschwitz was liberated and the anniversary is being marked in Poland with a gathering of international leaders at the death camp to remember the horrors undertaken there and throughout Europe by the Nazis.

The anniversary is also a natural opportunity to think about and ponder the significance of the Holocaust, how it happened, what it means today, and the lessons that can be drawn from that terrible chapter of history. The BBC decided to use the occasion to raise the issue yesterday on its appropriately named ‘The Big Questions’ TV programme asking, ‘Is the time coming to lay the Holocaust to rest?’

The BBC is entitled to pose such a question, but it is also fair to ask, what were the programme-makers thinking?

Would they have asked: What is the point in honouring British War dead? (to coincide with Armistice Day) Or alternatively: ‘Isn’t wife-battering a private matter? (on the eve of Day of Remembrance for victims of Domestic Violence). I doubt it.

‘The Big Questions’ normally concentrates on more anodyne issues: ‘Should Parliament force the Church of England to appoint women bishops?’ Are today’s young being expected to pay too much for the baby boomers? And should governments pledge a percentage to foreign aid?

Asking such a question on the Holocaust is also telling in what it implies. The subtext suggests: ‘haven’t we heard enough about the Holocaust and isn’t it time that people (i.e. mostly Jews) stop going on about it.’

‘The Big Questions’ also raises other issues – including, what exactly is meant by laying the Holocaust to rest? Does that mean that countries should cease teaching about it in schools? Should we move memorials to the millions of Jews, Communists, Roma, homosexuals and other murdered to somewhere less public and more discrete – so we don’t have to be confronted by such nastiness?

Troublingly, the mindset of dismissing and diminishing the Holocaust which underlie such questions are to be found among significant numbers of people around the world. According to a study last year by the Anti-Defamation League, 44% per cent of people polled in France think that, ‘Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust’.

The same study revealed that in the Middle East and North Africa 38% of those questioned were aware of the Holocaust, and of that number only 8% believed in the factual historical account of what occurred.

Bluntly put, the survey reveals Holocaust fatigue twinned with growing antipathy towards Jews around the world. In the aftermath of the Second World War, anti-Semitism was drowned out (in Europe and the West) by the nightmarish images that emanated from the concentration camps. But as the generation that suffered through that orgy of Jew hatred is dying out, so anti-Semitism is springing back to life with renewed vigour.

Men, woman and children gunned down in a kosher supermarket, in a religious school, in a museum for the simple fact of being Jewish. This is happening now, within the lifetime of many Holocaust survivors in the same Europe that hunted and annihilated Jews in their millions.

In 1995, neo-Nazis desecrated a Jewish cemetery in the small French town of Carpentras as a tribute to Adolph Hitler. They exhumed one of the corpses defiling it, and destroyed over thirty graves. In protest, one hundred thousand French people led by then President, Francois Mitterand marched through the streets of Paris to protest.

In 2012, four Jews – a rabbi and three young children were murdered in their school in Toulouse by a Muslim extremist. Following that outrage, just six thousand people turned out for a rally in the city.

And if had not been for the massacre in the offices of Charlie Hebdo earlier this month, then how many would have gathered to mourn those murdered in the kosher supermarket?

Anti-Semitism on Europe's streets. Geneva, November 2014.

Anti-Semitism on Europe’s streets. Geneva, November 2014.

In France, throughout Europe and beyond, anti-Semitism has become quite literally part of the scenery. A few months ago while visiting Geneva, I passed graffiti showing a Star of David alongside a swastika. I was shocked but not surprised. The ancient hatred has found a new guise.

It is a paradox among anti-Semites the world over, from jihadists to neo-Nazis that while they wish Jews dead they also dispute the Holocaust.

So in answer to the BBC’s inane and offensive question: Is the time coming to lay the Holocaust to rest? The answer is emphatically that such a moment must be further away than ever.