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.

Finding answers for France’s questions in the USA

France-USIn Paris, the procession of millions has come and gone, and the dead have been buried. Now the hard work must begin for the French Government. It must address the fallout from the murders in the Charlie Hebdo offices and in the kosher supermarket.

The killings have been a body blow to the French, and European body politic – even more so than previous deadly attacks by Islamists in Madrid in 2004, and London in 2005. These latest atrocities demonstrated the violent nihilism of extremist Islamism, and the real and present danger it poses to France and other European countries.

The Paris attacks require responses to a multitude of challenges on security, intelligence, communal relations and more.

In addressing them, the authorities must chart a path that does not give any ground to radical Islam or the far right, but that does not also generate support for either camp. At the same time, France must be unstinting in reassuring those most threatened by this extremism: from the Jewish community to dissenting journalists.

The attacks also raise critically important questions about what France (and other Western European countries) stand for, in terms of value,s and how they should be realized in a way that neither creates social unrest nor dilutes them to the point of irrelevance.

The French Government must find a way to give full expression to the values that underpin its free society while also making all its citizens – of all backgrounds – understand what this means in practice.

By way of a model, France would do well to look to the United States, the country with which it once shared an ideological kinship based on similar notions of liberty, anti-monarchism, and a rejection of state clericalism.

The US may seem like a peculiar example considering that much of the Moslem world sees it (along with Israel) as Islam’s greatest enemy.

But America offers a positive example in terms of its own Muslim population, which fares better socially and economically than communities in Europe. A poll carried out a few years ago revealed that US Muslims reject Islamic extremism by larger margins than their counterparts in Western Europe. It also showed that European Moslems are far more likely to place greater importance on their religious identity rather than their nationality.  In short, American Muslims are more integrated, moderate and successful than their European co-religionists.

There are a number of reasons that help explain the differences including, education, national origins and more. But the main factor marking the variation between Muslims on different sides of the Atlantic is the unapologetic assertion of values in the US, which rightfully puts notions of freedom for all, far above the sensibilities of any particular section of society.

The First Amendment of the Constitution says it all, in prohibiting an established religion while protecting freedom of religion, speech and the press.

This is not an easy proposition in practice, and has caused much division and debate about how such rights should be upheld. In 1978, US courts backed the right of neo-Nazis to march through the predominantly Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois, home to many Holocaust survivors.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) more used to representing the injured rights of African-Americans, took on the case of the swastika-bearing marchers.

The ACLU’s lawyers (some of whom were Jewish) said freedom had to come first, in spite of the grave offence that would be caused to the people of Skokie. The civil rights of neo-Nazis to express their constitutional rights in marching and voicing their views must be protected. And this is where America has it right and Europe (until recent events) has had it wrong.

Causing deliberate offence is part and parcel of freedom of speech. The ACLU and the courts understood that the right belonged as much to hateful neo-Nazis as it did to everyone else in society.  Europe has in recent years shied awayfrom  such assertions in dealing with materials offensive to Muslims in order to buy (an illusory) communal peace and avoid anything that might fuel extremism. But such tactics are seen only as a sign of weakness by those who challenge such freedoms, provoking rather than appeasing.

The US has demonstrated through its uninhibited free speech that such values must be given life and cannot sit as inert ideas to which lip service is paid, but in reality are absent of tangible meaning.  It has welcomed huddled masses to its shores on the proviso that they take on board – as Americans – the principles embodied in the Constitution. It has promised freedom in exchange for an understanding that such liberties cannot be infringed upon whatever your origins or beliefs.

I have written previously  of the strangeness of seeing my children pledge allegiance to the American flag in school. They stand hand on heart to attention vowing loyalty to the country as, ‘indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’. I have also spoken of the prevalence of the American flag and the reverence felt for it by Americans of all political stripes and origins.

Coming from a background which saw the British flag as a threat rather than a promise, I originally found such devotion disconcerting. But as Europe has discovered, if you cannot articulate your views and you will not assert your values of liberty and freedom, they will be progressively challenged, threatened, and weakened.

I feel nervous in viewing France from here, seeing the fears, passions and hatreds unleashed by events of last week.  But just as French Revolutionaries looked across the Atlantic in the eighteenth century to the new United States of America for ideas and inspiration, now the leaders in Paris should the gaze in the  same direction for a way ahead to reinvigorate and protect their society and its ideals.

Whither Europe – whither European values?

french flagThis blog is normally reserved for personal reflections on the nuances of life in the US as compared to the UK, with occasional commentaries upon other matters as they seize my interest. But the murder of 12 people by Islamist fanatics in the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris has cast any other thoughts into irrelevance. Along with millions of others, I feel profoundly angry and upset at the massacre of bunch of journalists who were armed only with pens and a biting sense of satire.

Like others I ask myself how could this happen? How could such medieval tyranny be visited upon a country synonymous with Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité? Where will it end, and what effect will this have upon freedom in France and elsewhere in Europe?

But while this outrage is shocking, it is also not unexpected. It is just the latest in a long line of attacks by jihadists in Europe against freedom and against those that have offended their bloodthirsty nihilism. Remember Theo van Gogh – the Dutch film director murdered on the streets of Amsterdam ten years ago following his film, ‘Submission’ which criticized the treatment of women in Islam? Recall the riots along with attacks against European diplomatic missions, churches and Westerners throughout the Middle East that followed the 2006 publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper depicting the Prophet Mohammed?

At the time, the reaction of some in Europe was to back these deliberately provocative images and speak up for freedom of expression. But many others retreated in fear, urging self-censorship to appease those whose sensibilities had been offended. Since then, most of Europe – governments and civil society – have only been going in one direction – in retreat – in the face of those who want to limit freedom and the values which underpin it. This has predictably strengthened rather than sapped the will of those who want to put their particular beliefs above those of society as a whole.

One of the basic problems that has confronted Europe in dealing with the threat posed by Islamist extremists, has been its failure to articulate what exactly are ‘European values’ or at least the values embodied by individual European countries.

A few weeks ago, I tuned in to listen to BBC Radio’s ‘Any Questions’ programme. For those unfamiliar, it consists of a changing panel of politicians and commentators of differing ideological stripes responding to topical issues raised by members of the audience. (If you want to hear the relevant section follow this link and begin listening at approximately 33:40).

‘Can the panel define British values?’ asked one questioner. This followed a report by education inspectors on a number of independent Muslim schools in East London which stated that the teaching on offer was ‘failing to promote British values’. The report cited one secondary school, where the pupils were unable to tell inspectors which was more important: sharia or English law.

I was expecting that the responses of the ‘Any Questions’ panel would reflect diverse make up of its participants; a patrician Conservative MP, a radical left-wing former Mayor of London, a Guardian columnist, and a centrist parliamentarian from the Liberal Democrat Party. What followed though was a stream of inanities from all the panellists and agreement that such values were either inexpressible or didn’t exist. The Guardian commentator, Polly Tonybee, revealingly said that – to her – the whole concept of British values suggested, ‘we have this thing called tolerance that nobody else has, or that we have this respect for freedom and democracy that nobody else has.’ Any expression of such values she believed, implied superiority and was therefore somehow unworthy.

This muddled, misguided and apologetic failure of a definition highlights where and how Europe has got it wrong.

Sadly this thinking isn’t confined to the opinion pages of the Guardian newspaper.  Governments in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin and elsewhere worry that in defining their values, they will be labelled chauvinist and racist. They have abstained on the notion of national pride thus handing it to right-wing bigots. Consequently we have seen the Le Pens and their ilk gaining more and more traction throughout Europe. For the same reason there is also self-denial from these governments that there is a real problem of extremism and radicalism within sections of the Muslim community in the UK, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and elsewhere.

It is the responsibility of society as a whole – including Muslim communities – to address this phenomenon. This extremism cannot also be dismissed as an errant weed – it is more than that, and has an appeal wider than politicians in Europe and community leaders throughout the Continent are willing to admit.

Viewing Europe from afar it looks like it is under siege, and that its ancient battlements are unprepared for the challenges of the present. I only hope that this latest outrage demonstrates that Europe must assert proudly and unapologetically, the supremacy of freedom, tolerance and democracy as the cornerstones of its existence.

Listening to the Sound of the Future

serial 3Many others have already said it, but ‘Serial’ – the recently concluded audio podcast originating from WBEZ Public Radio in Chicago is exciting, outstanding, compelling, gripping and much more besides. But it also represents something even more than these superlatives.

‘Serial’ is the future of radio, or more accurately audio, and the probable pioneer in a new golden age of audio programming. The programme also demonstrates that BBC Radio, which has always prided itself on the supremacy of its output, has nothing which compares to the creative and journalistic oomph of this American podcast.

But firstly for those who happen to have been living on a distant planet or have had three month long internet outage, then let me try to sum up the phenomenon of ‘Serial’. It is a non-fiction story told in twelve weekly episodes. The podcast chronicles and examines in minute detail the murder of an eighteen year old Maryland high-school student, Hae Min Lee, and the conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syded, for the crime.

The case raises doubts about Syed’s guilt, who at age 18 was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder.

The story unfolds across the weeks led by an unlikely Sherlock in the form of journalist Sarah Koenig. Her sassy, quirky personality, along with first-person asides drives the narrative. The episodes are filled with a lot of in-depth research, interspersed with Koenig’s personal musings, doubts, and revelations. Along the way we learn a great deal about the case, but also a lot about the reporter herself.

The combination of meticulous research, Koenig’s reporting style and the suspense-driven format melds it into a compulsive product. Without any marketing campaign, ‘Serial’ reached five million downloads on iTunes quicker than any other podcast before, and to date has achieved an incredible forty million downloads in total.

In reflecting upon ‘Serial’ there are a number of points that stand out.

Firstly, it demonstrates the particular stylistic and journalistic strengths of American public radio. Having grown up listening to the BBC and then working for it for 17 years, I was educated to believe that de-personalized reporting with tidy endings was best and right. ‘Serial’ broke many of the cardinal rules of radio journalism that I was taught, with its format held loosely together, through the literal and metaphorical ramblings of the reporter, along with its refusal to come to any definitive conclusions on the subject matter.

The podcast also drew upon the easy informality and personal storytelling which permeates much of American public radio, and which is so foreign to its British counterpart. In the UK there are sharply polished current affairs programmes, along with carefully constructed radio-plays. These are labour intensive products drawing upon the extensive resources of the broadcasting colossus that is the BBC. Public radio in the US has no such riches. It relies upon the generosity of individual and corporate contributors to keep going. But it has made a virtue of its paucity, using less to create more, particularly through stripped-down first person narratives (the best examples of which can be heard on ‘This American Life’ and ‘The Moth’).

The variations between British and American audio output also reflects deeper cultural differences. Americans are generally less formal and more confessional than their UK counterparts both in everyday life and in broadcasting.

The second point about ‘Serial’ is that thanks to the internet, it is charting a new path ahead for great audio programming. Its trajectory is reminiscent of HBO’s success on cable over fifteen years with its on-screen drama serials.

HBO was able to use the cable subscriptions to fund programmes that were too risky or profane to be made by the established networks. Without HBO we would never have had ‘The Sopranos’, ‘The Wire’, ‘Six Feet Under’, ‘Band of Brothers’, and more. And where this cable provider first ventured others followed: AMC (‘Mad Men’, ‘Breaking Bad’), Showtime (‘Dexter’, ‘Homeland’) and more. Now in the further evolution of on-screen drama, online providers such as Netflix, Amazon and others have got in on the act, producing further dramatic riches including, ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Transparent’. This has all been made possible thanks to technological advancements which have liberated programmes from TV networks, and increasingly from television itself, freeing both the provider and the viewer.

This is where ‘Serial’ may have found a new home for audio programming free from ‘radio’.  It is delivered on-demand, allowing people to listen at their own convenience, on line, on the phone, in whole episodes or in small portions. Additionally Serial fits perfectly with the financial model of American public radio, which is reliant upon on hand-outs to keep functioning. It gives more bang for the contributor’s buck, supporting a specific programme rather than a complete network.

So thanks to new technology and sound journalistic skills, ‘Serial’ has created something innovative, accessible and utterly compelling.

It has also signaled that while the fate of radio may be uncertain, the future of audio (at least in the US) sounds good!

Thanksgiving is no turkey

images[8]It has been two weeks since Thanksgiving and I have almost digested the mounds of turkey meat and accompaniments consumed during the festivity. I have also had time to process the meaning of this most American of holidays.

Its origins go back right to the very founding of modern America in the early 17th century. Specifically, Thanksgiving commemorates the first successful harvest by a bunch of English Christian pilgrims who had come to the New World having fled religious persecution in the old country. They celebrated it their survival amid harsh conditions with the local Wampanoag tribe with whom they’d developed friendly relations. It was a landmark for the embryonic European settlement and also a highpoint in relations between the natives and newcomers, which later descended into displacement, death and disasters for the Indians.

Almost five hundred years on from that original meal, Thanksgiving has grown into a national happening of epic proportions. It’s hard to describe to outsiders what a big deal Thanksgiving is here. In the run up to the day, one half of the nation seems to be en-route – via crammed highways and overflowing airports –  to be with the other half, who are frenetically preparing a monumental feast.

Turkeys are the main attraction (and victim) of this annual eatathon.  According to the American Turkey Federation (yes – it really exists) in 2013,  46 million of these plump birds where eaten at Thanksgiving, compared to 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter. That means one turkey between every seven Americans, equaling a lot of poultry with room for considerable leftovers.  This consumption demonstrates the primary place this holiday has above all others in the national calendar.

Our own Thanksgiving experience with extended family in Long Island, came with all the traditional elements. A long traffic jam en-route to the gathering, vast quantities of great food, free-flowing alcohol, and a post mealtime gathering around the TV to watch the day’s big American football games (which all made sense after my second whisky).

Some things were new and strange, such a dish of baked sweet potato sprinkled with marshmallows, but it was all overwhelmingly American in its warmth, generosity and plenty.

Apart from the pleasure of eating and drinking surrounded by great company there was also for me, something deeply satisfying about the holiday itself. It is free of religious dogma, allowing people of all backgrounds to feel they can comfortably participate. Despite the fact that it has become about consumption (and post-Thanksgiving sales), there is an underlying sense that it is about paying homage to America as a country and a society, open to all its citizens.

In the run up to Thanksgiving our local kosher supermarket was stocked with freezers full turkeys sufficient to feed most of the tribes of Israel. For American Jews it’s not just the food that kosher, it’s also the holiday itself. In researching this piece, I was surprised to find backing for Thanksgiving from some of the great orthodox Rabbis.

This holiday is a celebration of American-ness for all people in the country whatever their hyphenations: Irish-American, African-American, Jewish-American and so on. This is one of the great strengths and successes of the USA , that it has managed – even with certain caveats  – to make citizenship here feel inclusive, and also to make people of wildly differing origins want to be able to be a part of this society, without having to give up on their particular background.

Thus, despite my lack of American nationality, I am also beginning to feel the draw of Thanksgiving, and not just because of the prospect of the turkey with all the trimmings.

The huddled masses of modern America

homeless man dcWinter is upon us. The sweltering humidity has been replaced by shivering cold and bare trees. This morning I travelled into the center of the city by Metro, and as usual it was crowded with heavily swaddled commuters bracing themselves for the cold above ground. Except on this particular journey there was a spare seat in the midst of the crowded train carriage. It was empty as the neighbouring space was occupied by a raggedly dressed homeless man, slumped over fast asleep. No doubt he was on the train to get away from the biting chill on the streets.

There are thousands other men and women in DC like him. They live in abandoned buildings, parks, doorways or wherever they can find a place to stay. The most recent figures show that about 7,700 people are homeless among Washington’s 650,000 strong population. That is more than one person in a hundred. By comparison, London with a population of 8.2 million (more than ten times the size of DC) has approximately 2,000 people recorded as living on the streets.

It’s hard to describe what this means in all its cruel reality on a cold Washington day – with the grand monuments, government and office buildings, set against the diminished and ragged destitute for whom these edifices serve as their front-room as well as their back-drop. It’s also hard to explain it to oneself – how there can be so much public despair and need in the capital of the world’s largest economy?

In the morning as I exit the metro a couple of hundred meters from the White House I am greeted by the hulking form of a large middle-aged round-faced African-American man limping between the commuters cup in hand asking for money.

‘Spare a dollar for an old veteran’ he says. Most (often including myself), walk past him eyes guiltily lowered en-route to our comfortable jobs from our comfortable homes. Recently he’s taken to wearing a camouflage jacket either to underline his request or because it was what he got given to replace his old coat.

Veterans are over-represented among the homeless. But in looking at how they are cared for, I learned that only two weeks ago, the very first hostel specifically catering for their needs was inaugurated. The planned building which is just a short walk from Congress will have just sixty apartments to cater for the many hundreds of homeless veterans in the city – leaving many with no chance of finding a space.

Currently the street is a more desirable location than the hostels, even amid the biting cold and rain. The other day I got chatting to Lance, an unemployed navy veteran, who now resides on the doorstep of a major financial institution that lends out billions of dollars around the world.

‘I ain’t going into the hostels,’ he said, ‘they are full of crazies’. He told me how he and his friend Greg stick together at night reading their bibles for comfort.

You can easily find those he is talking about wandering the streets shouting at invisible shadows or slumped in doorways – their demons quelled by drugs and alcohol.

Lance, along with the hundreds of others like him on DC’s streets, represent those who have fallen through the cracks in American society. They may have lost their jobs, seen the break of their family, been struck by a debilitating (and costly) physical or mental illness, or suffered one of any number of other misfortunes. But in the US the cracks are bigger than Europe, and the fraying safety net comes with man-size holes.

The homeless are America’s IDP’s – internally dispossessed people – casualties of an inadequate welfare and health system, and a society which can be unforgiving to those who can’t keep up.

Coming from UK with its comfort blanket of benefits, free and universal health care and much more, it is a shock to see so much human distress co-existing alongside examples of such political and economic success.

Generally speaking, in Britain, the government is perceived in terms of its responsibility to the individual, whereas in the US it is the other way around (as summed up by JFK’s: ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’).

In America there is a sense of can-do, dynamism and individualism grounded upon a work ethic that would induce mass-strikes across the Atlantic. This has brought prosperity and fortune with the US leading from the front in technological and industrial innovations, leaving much of Europe lagging far behind. But when people in the US can’t keep up – for whatever reason, they are faced with a far harsher existence.

At the end of my day in DC, I am confronted with these dual realities as I walk back to the Metro by way of the grand public monuments and the people living on the streets. In doing so, I can only hope that this society which has achieved so much, can also find a way to fully and properly care for those who have found themselves – literally – left out in the cold.

The election cycle and life cycle in the US

applepieIt’s been two years and two days since we arrived in US.

In my head, before we made the move, the thought of coming to live in America summoned up romanticized images of the huddled masses aboard ships sailing past a foggy Statue of Liberty en-route to Ellis Island, to new lives filled with hope and freedom (all set to a soundtrack of Neil Diamond songs).

The reality was far more mundane – British Airways to Washington International Airport, an hour in line to get our passports checked, and then off to our pre-arranged service apartment.

As it happens we landed in the States on the day of the last US Presidential election and I’m writing this in the wake of another national contest – this time for Congress.

This is not to suggest that politics has been a central facet of our time in the US, far from it. But given that Washington DC’s main business is that of government, politics finds a way of intruding into everyday life – such as being caught in a traffic jam as the Presidential convoy makes its way to Congress for the State of the Union Speech.

Nonetheless there is a connection between the US election cycle and the course of our stay – so far – here. The two year mark provides an opportunity to take an accounting – on a national level – of the state of the country, and from our domestic stand-point, on state of our family in the country.

On the national stage much has changed in that time – with President Obama going from the man with the political Midas touch to an untouchable.

We have also changed from wide-eyed newcomers, to (relatively) settled members of a community. In that time, we have found a home, a school, a synagogue and a social circle that seems to fit for our family.

Certain aspects of our absorption into American life have proved easier than others. Unlike in Israel we haven’t had to contend with a foreign language, or a national culture that is predicated upon argument as the basic form of communication. There is also a lack of British reserve and cynicism, which helps in getting things done and getting to know people.

Americans are open, helpful and generally very polite. Initially I found this disconcerting, wondering what was wrong with these people, and if they were medicated to behave so well. And while there was much cultural familiarity, I sometimes found that we really were ‘two peoples divided by a common language’, in everything from swearing to humour.

We have had to make adjustments to the peculiarities of life here as compared to the Middle East. In Israel there is a gritty realism where your senses are heightened (or is that assaulted?) by the sights, smells and human interactions to be found in the markets, streets, and places where people mix. In the US, life is more organized, predictable, and clinical, to the point where you can’t wander more than a few paces without being confronted by a hand sanitizer to ensure that you are suitably sterile.

There are of course good and bad – in the ways and peoples of both places, but it all takes time to get used to the change.

It also takes time to find friends with whom you can be yourself, and this can be an exhausting process. Upon arrival we began meeting people, through work, the school, the neighbourhood and elsewhere. Getting to know them was a reminiscent of dating from my single days without the potential for humiliation or sex. We would meet up with people for a drink, dinner or brunch – and in most cases that would be that. But after endless get-togethers with an assortment of individuals and families we have found a close few, with whom have we can spend effortless time, just being ourselves.

The past two years has been a journey of discovery. We have found the US to be a more foreign and more fascinating country than first imagined. Compared to Israel the notion of American history seems like an oxymoron. And yet despite the relatively short record of modern America, it also possesses a compelling narrative, accompanied by endless places to discover and things to do.

So in reflecting upon the past two years in DC, and our move from Israel it seems appropriate to draw upon an important political source – Winston Churchill – who summed it up best of all when he said that, ‘now is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’