The Jewish Telegraph (6 Nov 98 to 6 Aug 99)
13th November 1998
Chief bends rules for Shabbat party
I don’t keep the Sabbath. I’ll make this clear now – you can call me a bad Jew if you wish but I don’t believe you can call me a hypocrite.
I don’t keep the Sabbath, because I believe a good father should be with his family whenever he can, Friday or not.
But at least no one could mistake me for the Chief Rabbi. And tonight, being very ominously Friday the Thirteenth, Dr Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, is attending a cocktail reception at Buckingham Palace to mark the Prince of Wales 50th birthday.
Dr Sacks says he has no choice – it’s a direct royal invitation. “The importance of keeping Shabbat together with the family is fundamental,” he says, “and we only make an exception … [for the] expression of Jewish loyalty to the country and its head of state.
As the representative of the Jewish community I have to take into account the importance of His Royal Highness.”
This sounds fine. After all, Dr Sacks will not be driving to the party. He’ll be walking from Marble Arch synagogue, which is quite a trek on a Friday night, and though I don’t suppose anyone will be saying kiddush over the creme de menthe, the Chief Rabbi is promising he won’t stay long.
Just dropping in, he says, to pay his respects – as if the Prince of Wales hadn’t simply turned 50 but was lying in state at Westminster Abbey on a bier of roses, with Elton John flying in to sing the lament.
But a prince is only 50 once. He has been at pains to map out his future role as Defender of Faiths – all faiths, not just the Protestant Christian one – so not inviting Dr Sacks would be worse than the embarrassment of obliging a Chief Rabbi to break Shabbat.
And Charles can’t very easily change his birthday. Except – today is not his birthday. Tomorrow is his birthday, and tomorrow is the real party organised by Camilla Parker Bowles at the prince’s Highgrove home, and to tomorrow’s party the Chief Rabbi has not been invited.
The guest list for Highgrove includes people the prince will really want beside him to celebrate, such as the Labour Party’s kingmaker, Peter Mandelson.
Another Friday night guest not attending the Highgrove high jinks is the prince’s mother, Her Majesty the Queen. Unlike Dr Sacks, she was invited. And also unlike Dr Sacks, she did not feel it necessary to take into account the importance of His Royal Highness.
The Queen is going to a royal birthday party tomorrow, but not her son’s – it is her grandson’s, Peter Phillips’s 21st, organised by Charles’s sister Anne. And the Princess Royal must have been aware the dates were going to clash.
At this point we are deep in family feud territory, and it is better to back out discreetly. Prince Charles’s 50th has all the makings of a hair-tearing, eye-blacking, teeth-splitting drunken riot, where half the men end up unconscious and the other half get intimate on the back-seats and in the broom cupboards with their sisters-in-law. Definitely not Dr Sacks’s kind of party.
So if he is not invited to the party proper, why does the Chief Rabbi feel he must abandon a lifetime’s faithful observance in order to attend the pale imitation? There is a strong suggestion that the Palace soiree is to salve the monarch’s conscience, to make the point she is not ignoring her son’s birthday but prefers to celebrate it with a little gravitas.
In other words, the Queen wants to have her slice of birthday cake and eat it.
The Queen is the head of one church in England. Dr Jonathan Sacks is the head of another. Some of his followers have accused him of betrayal, so harshly do they feel his abandonment of the Sabbath. And it is easy to see their anguish. It is hard enough to bring a child up as a Jew in Britain. It is hard enough to bring a child up as spiritual in any country. And when Dr Sacks starts making up the rules to suit himself, he makes every parent’s job twice as hard. To be Jewish suddenly appears a matter of convenience – to be spiritual is revealed as a matter of hypocrisy.
One senior rabbi has suggested Dr Sacks’s eagerness to dash to the Palace for a non-event smacks of vanity. And that is a charge the Chief Rabbi will be hard pressed to answer.
20th November 1998
Tatiana is serving pig of a sentence
Tatiana Soskin is alone in a small cell for 24 hours a day. “I am not allowed to talk to anyone,” she says. “I have no clean air, barely any light”.
“At the corner of the room is a small hole in the floor where, pardon my language, I take care of my needs. Above it is a shower and opposite, a barred window.”
“I cannot even respond to my needs or take a shower without being afraid someone will suddenly look through the window.”
“On Friday I asked the jailers to bring me candles so I could light the Sabbath candles, but they didn’t bring any.”
Tatiana has been in prison for 17 months. She is due to be released in January 2000. Her crime was to draw a cartoon. And her prison is in Israel.
Tatiana is 26 years old, a Russian émigré with no job and no money. In June last year, she made a crude scrawl of a fat pig, and doodled an Arafat-type head-dress between its ears. She put a pen in its hoof, gave it a Koran and labelled it ‘Mohamed’. Then she tried to paste copies of it on shop windows in Hebron. She was arrested.
Zvi Segal, her judge, said that “only a distorted mind could create her drawing” and ordered her to be held in custody awaiting trial. On January 8 this year she was sentenced by the Jerusalem District Court to two years in prison, with a further year’s suspended jail, convicted of committing a racist act, supporting a terrorist organisation, attempting to give religious offence and attempted vandalism.
Her protest was ignorant and immature, a petulant scribble better suited to a girl half her age. But Hebron is a place where better planned protests can draw blood. And they do, almost every day.
In Hebron, Arabs and Jews incite hatred against each other with a blazing vocabulary of insults, words that are spat out like bullets, aimed to do maximum damage. How could Tatiana’s stupid pig do a fraction of the harm of one rock? Or one bottle of petrol?
The judge didn’t see it that way. “The weight of this picture must be measured in relation to the serious and disturbed motives of the accused … and what we have here is nothing more than severe blasphemy, and provocation of the entire religion of Islam
He who does not sense the danger of such actions, does not grasp the severity of the hour!”
Tatiana Soskin, a stubborn woman, did not help herself with her comments before and during the trial. “I am not a racist,” she said, “and I have nothing to apologise for. Everything I did was out of love for the land of Israel. Arab leaders used the name of the Prophet Mohammed when they called in the mosques to attack Jews,” she told journalist Zev Golan. “That seems to me a swine-like use of Mohammed’s name and that is what I tried to say with the drawing.
“I’m not sorry – I haven’t done anything I should be sorry about. I think it’s a matter of freedom of speech – how can somebody sit in jail for a drawing? It’s impossible – it’s only a drawing.”
And there she is wrong of course, because her drawing has been made into a symbol. Her pig represents the unacceptable face of Jewish insularism. And in a ruthless gesture intended to be seen all over the world, Benjamin Netanyahu punched his fist in that face.
The Prime Minister told the Mayor of Hebron that Tatiana’s pig “contradicts the respect and admiration the Jewish religion has for the Islamic religion and its founder.” Now all the politicians at the peace-talk tables have been told that Israel will not tolerate racial incitement from anyone, even its own women.
Tatiana was the perfect victim. She is poorly educated, with few friends and no family in Israel. She comes from Russia – there will be no clamour in the West for her. And her crime may be petty but it also leaves an unpleasant taste, and few people will want to defend it. Worse, they may be afraid to. After the Rushdie nightmare, no one in the public eye wants to insult the Prophet.
All my adult life I have prayed for harmony in Israel and the Middle East. But it chills my blood to see a Jewish woman staked out like a human sacrifice to the god of Peace.
27th November 1998
Arab was a Jew in previous life
“Peace,” a politician told me this week, “is not possible. A moment’s peace, maybe – but lasting peace, no. Jews and Arabs are too different. We are different races, different cultures, these things will never be resolved. We are almost from different universes.”
This politician was the kind of man who frosts over when anyone is speaking except himself, and just standing with him made me feel poisoned. So I didn’t try to attack his bigotry. I just walked away, glad that at the moment he holds no position of power.
He is wrong. Jews and Arabs are one humanity living in one world, alike in every respect except the most trivial and misleading details. I’ve seen the proof. And it was one of the most baffling experiences of my career.
I was on a downward bounce for the first time, in Israel early in 1972, when I’d been touring my show for something like 20 months. I had provoked a sensation with metal-bending and mind-reading, I had been endorsed by Golda Meir, I had had a lot of fun. But now my stage persona was well known. People thought I’d used up all my surprises. Later that year, the CIA came to inspect me, and launched me to worldwide fame by accident – but I’m talking about a time pre-CIA. To vary my performances, I had added hypnotism to the agenda.
One night I was at the Shavit auditorium in Haifa, a movie theatre. I went on after the film, demonstrated my powers, and launched into the hypnotics. I ordered everyone to clasp their hands. Of the 1,000 or so in the audience, about 200 would refuse – they were frightened of what might happen. They needn’t have been – hypnotism cannot occur in an unwilling mind.
I began to count down, slowly and intently: “Ten, nine, eight … your hands are gripping more firmly … seven, six, five … they are tightly, tightly clasped … four, three, two … at the end of the countdown you will not be able to release your hands, no matter what … ONE!!!”
About 100 people would keep their hands bonded. I’d call them up on stage, all of them, and about 60 per cent would be faking. I could sense the fakers, the attention-seekers, at a dozen paces, and I’d send them curtly back to their seats. The remaining 30 or 40 would sit in a semi-circle on stage. I’d release their hands – and then the fun would begin.
They ate onions which I told them were apples, they talked like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, they danced like Nureyev and chuffed round the stage like the Orient Express. The showstopper was a flight around the world: “We are nearing the equator … you’re very warm … you’re getting hot … too hot … you must take off your shirt, it’s so hot … phew, and your trousers … it’s so hot … and – NO!! Not the underpants, we’re near the Arctic Circle now and you’re cold suddenly … quick, on with the clothes!”
After that, I would regress them. Again I counted down from ten, and by the count of five they were five years old, three at the count of three, two, then one … If I went all the way to zero, I had a stage of helpless, bawling, burping adults.
Once I went beyond zero. Into the minus numbers.
One of the people on stage was a man of 21 or so, with a long jaw and coal-black eyes. He was an excellent subject – the depth of his hypnotic trance shone in his gaze. He had given himself up fearlessly to the experience, and when I had regressed him to the womb and then back still further – he went.
He was a Moroccan, he told me later, but when I asked him who he was, he replied in Polish: “My name is Leopold.”
I do not speak Polish, but I knew enough Poles, Russians and Czechs to be able to tell the languages apart. My surprise was that this young man, much swarthier than most Ashkenazi, knew it.
“I need an interpreter,” I yelled out, and a middle-aged man came hurrying onto the stage. By the time he had clambered up he was wheezing, and his breaths sounded like hinges creaking when I handed him my microphone.
For the next 15 minutes, I let my subject talk. He spoke in a measured and constant voice, so that the interpreter had to work hard to keep up without missing a word. The story they told had no beginning, no middle but a very definite end. The subject remembered horses, and how every week he had to travel 40 miles along dirt roads, starting at daybreak from his village and ending after dark in Warsaw. He was taking produce to market – little of it, and that which he took fetched a poor price. But this, he said, was what a country man must expect and, after all, he did not need to pay city prices to live, so the few zlotys his vegetables and his skins would fetch could last his family comfortably through the week.
He described how he would return home on a Thursday night, and Friday’s preparations for the Sabbath. He told us what they ate, and how they prayed, and for every person in that movie theatre it was a moving testimony. Then he talked of his death – “great coughing, and a pain behind my ribs that lasted many days and nights, so that I was glad when it ceased, so glad I did not care what would become of me.” That was the last thing he said in Polish, and I was suddenly anxious to bring my subject out of his trance. Although it had seemed fun to talk somebody backwards beyond their own birth, it felt dangerous to let him talk forwards through his own death – and beyond.
But as I leant over to break the spell, the translator was struck by a notion and asked, “What was the king’s name?”
“Stanislaw,” he answered.
We looked up the monarchs of Poland later, and saw Stanislaw II ruled around the time of the French Revolution. The translator claimed this made sense, as the man’s Polish was old-fashioned and rustic.
But what astonished me even more than this detailed memory of a past life – and I can think of nothing that explains all the details, except to admit that we live again and again – was the subject’s story when he awoke. He was not an Israeli. He was not even a Jew. He was a Moroccan, in Israel on an American passport to visit friends.
He was an Arab, named Mohammed. A Moslem.
An Arab Moslem who had been, without any doubt, a Polish Jew.
4th December 1998
Internet Jews a real switch-on
The Internet, says Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, is killing Jewish life – “starving our children of the oxygen of togetherness.”
At the first Orthodox Jewish ‘parenting’ seminar in Ravenswood, North London, he said: “Eating the Sabbath meal together, celebrating the festivals at home, reading the Bible to our children – these are among the most powerful bonds between the generations.”
“Present-day culture has no equivalent. The Walkman, computer games and the Internet we enjoy alone.”
Personal stereos and PlayStations will probably survive this attack. Anyone who uses them – that is, almost every Jew, Muslim, Christian and atheist under 30 and west of the Jordan – knows about dual headsets and two-player consoles.
But the Internet is vulnerable. A lot of mud is flung at it, and a lot sticks, because not everyone is acquainted with the World Wide Web.
About 50 million people are online. But that leaves 4,950 million who aren’t. For many, the barrier is economic – a satellite phone can link a laptop to the net from almost any spot on the globe, but that doesn’t matter if local technology doesn’t extend to a water pump.
For many more, the barrier is intellectual – they think they can’t work computers. And that’s a mental failing, which nobody likes to admit to.
Attack is a great form of defence, and condemning the Internet as immoral, life-sapping and sad is a certain disguise for ignorance.
The truth is, using the web is simpler than using the remote control for your TV. Ceefax is a mind-bender, compared to the web. You have an index page on your computer screen, and you point to the area that interests you.
The screen shows you more. You point to another part – more words and pictures. You keep pointing, the computer keeps working. If you can select pastries in a bakery, you can use the web.
Don’t take my word for it. Visit a cybercafe – a coffeeshop with Apple Macs on the tables next to the sugar bowls. Every big town has one.
If you can’t type, ask the waiter to key www.maven.co.il/ in at the top of the page.
Maven boasts more than 6,000 Jewish links around the world. That means 6,000 websites, 6.,000 collections of pictures and facts and opinions put together by people who might never have been able to publish their pages in any other way. You can travel from here to read about festivals, restaurants, Aliyah, the arts, sport, the Anne Frank Foundation and Jewish mother jokes. And that’s just the first half-dozen categories that spring out.
The Virtual Jerusalem zone looks nice. It’s flashing at you, and Jerusalem would be warm at this time of year – just click the pointer. A few seconds pass as the computer riffles through the leaves of its billion-page book, and you’re in a news zone.
Virtual Jerusalem has a moving headline across the top of it’s newspaper-style page, telling the latest stories out of Israel.
The left-hand panel lists a stack of services, including a chatroom. This is a straight refutation for Jonathan Sacks – online, you can go to a page where dozens of Jews around the world have come to discuss one topic.
Today, it’s the Torah. Another day, it’s mixed marriages. Where else can you walk into a discussion like this?
Does television cover these topics? Does radio? How often does your synagogue, even? But at Virtual Jerusalem, the chatroom is open 24 hours a day.
And this page is not unique – very far from it. Point to the button that says index … and take your pick. Hundreds of sites are listed: satellite images of Israeli cites, reports from the independent radio station Arutz-7 and the Jerusalem Report and the Jewish Telegraph Agency, weather reports, a boys-own tribute to murdered Israeli spy Eli Cohen, political satire, a Jewish e-mail directory, advice of Jewish parenting, surfing news, where to eat Kosher in Chicago and a million other places, kibbutz stories and tennis lessons and virtual shopping and travel services and the Encyclopedia Judaica and …
We’re just scratching the surface. To illustrate: I’ve been online for years, and I have just taken you deliberately to a page I’ve never visited before, to prove to you how massive the Internet’s Jewish resources are.
If I’d really wanted to blow your mind, we’d have started with the Jewish Web Ring, an association of sites with a Jewish theme, where the ‘Random’ button can click you into research foundations studying the Jewish alphabet, security organisations analysing Israel’s defence, pages written by individual rabbis, family histories, directories of synagogues, karaoke firms for bar-mitzvahs …
We’re veering into information overload. I’ve made my point. So has the rest of the world. The Internet is not a solitary pursuit. It can be one big Jewish get-together.
NB: Two days after I wrote this, Dr Sacks announced he was a “great fan” of the Internet. “It is an unparalleled educational tool and has vast religious possibilities,” he said. “Through it, I and my children can take part in international discussion groups on problems of Jewish law and life.”
I’m glad he’s changed his mind. The Chief Rabbi is back on my list of friends in time for Chanucah.
11th December 1998
Dangers of backward thinking . . .
You are not reading this newspaper. It is reading you …
That’s anti-thinking. Thinking back to front. It sounds like fun. It isn’t.
When a society gets sick, anti-thinking sets in. Anti-thinking doesn’t mean people stop using their brains – in fact, humanity has never been more educated. But anti-thinking turns thoughts inside-out. Good words start to acquire bad meanings, and negative ideas get positive labels. Wrong becomes right. Up becomes down. Plus becomes minus.
Anti-thinking affects whole communities briefly, and small sections permanently. Thankfully, for society at large, it requires too much energy to sustain the illusion for long. Reality butts in and turns the masses right-way up. An entire continent can be swept with anti-thinking and plunge into war. With anti-thinking, killing is honourable. Death is glorious. Laying mines to blow the legs off children is peaceable.
Reality soon cuts in and the continent realises its mistake. Though by then, it’s usually too late.
When anti-thinking grips a small group of individuals, it can be permanent. This is how cults sustain themselves – anti-thinking renders families evil, friends mendacious, possessions dirty, freedom unnecessary. By the same token, a bizarre assortment of misquotes from the Tanakh or the Bhagavad Gita become the one true path of light.
Anti-thinking has ruled a minor cult within the scientific community for over 25 years. They call themselves skeptics, and by neatly inverting every law of logic and common sense, they manage to deny the existence of anything paranormal.
According to anti-thinking, mind-reading doesn’t happen because its effects can be achieved by trickery. Metal-bending isn’t for real because it can be done with conjuring. Miracle cures never occur because the patient might have got better unexpectedly. Holy scripture is all myth, psychics are all deluded and the evidence of your own eyes is never to be trusted.
Faith, openness, trust and belief are bad words. Cynicism, suspicion, mockery and sarcasm are good words. That’s anti-thinking.
I’ve tried to shrug off the clique of scientific anti-thinkers who for decades have labelled me a fraud and a conman. Conjurors can imitate some of my psychic abilities (but not very convincingly) – so clearly everything I claim to do by paranormal power is mere sleight of hand. They’ve damaged my career … but they have also helped it.
I am starting to fear a world-wide outbreak of skeptical anti-thinking. It could be a backlash to the spiritual searching of the Nineties, or the effects of pre-millennial tension. The first major symptoms were a rash of essays and book extracts in the national press by Oxford’s Professor of Public Understanding, Richard Dawkins. They were presented uncritically. No one asked him to justify his comments or stand up his statistics, and apparently the Daily Express’s lawyers thought it was OK to run a headline about ‘listening to fakes’ beside a drawing of a bent spoon. My name wasn’t specifically mentioned, of course. In fact the only character assassination was aimed at the poet John Keats, and being assassinated doesn’t legally matter if you died in 1821. Which the Express lawyers no doubt knew.
Open season on Uri Geller doesn’t mean the end of anyone’s world – let’s be honest, I enjoy a shouting match. But when someone calling himself a Professor of Public Understanding starts spouting statistics to prove paranormal science is a mass illusion, we’re moving into a dangerous zone. People might believe him. Worse, they might take him seriously. They are flirting with anti-thinking, and that is bad for the mental health.
In his latest book, the professor imagines “a well-known ‘psychic’ … staring hypnotically out of 10 million screens” and willing watches to stop. This can’t be aimed at me, since I make watches start, not stop. And the statistics can’t be based on anything I’ve done, since Dawkins expects about six people to ring the TV studio because their watches stopped within a few minutes of my appearance. (Sorry, sorry – the ‘well-known psychic’).
Six calls out of ten million viewers: I’d rate that a massive failure. I’d regard 2,000 calls as a satisfactory result. Frequently, the response is uncountable – my callers crash the phone systems.
No one has challenged the professor’s arithmetic. He’s a professor, so obviously he must have got his sums right. But if an ordinary person, someone who in the hurry and bustle of normal life has forgotten to pick up a PhD and publish a few papers in obscure scientific journals, if that person dares to claim a paranormal experience – everyone challenges them. Their truthfulness, their times and dates, even their sanity is challenged.
Any businessman who wants to wreck his contracts only has to report a UFO sighting to the evening paper. Any nanny or au pair who wants to be out of a job can simply remark she thinks she saw a ghost on the stairs.
After an appearance at the Royal Albert Hall last year, I heard of 17 people whose keys had bent in their pockets while I demonstrated my powers. Some of them identified themselves at once. Others rang the organisers later – they’d known nothing until they tried to open their cars or their front doors. I rang a Sunday paper, thinking they might enjoy the story, and was told to come back when I’d obtained the names and addresses of all 17 people.
I don’t expect to have every word I speak believed. I don’t object to furnishing proof. I’m not afraid of healthy scepticism. But if open-minded means credulous, and religious means gullible, and psychic means fake, then we are in the grip of anti-thinking.
And that scares me.
18th December 1998
Was ET’s first appearance in Book of Ezekiel? Let’s repackage the Tnach.
The publishing sensation of 1998 was a reprint. An unknown Edinburgh firm called Canongate took a 400-year-old translation of a 4,000-year-old document, and repackaged extracts in pocket-sized £1 paperbacks.
Sales were sensational. Media interest was unprecedented. The Bible went to No 1 in the bestseller lists.
Canongate’s stroke of genius was to commission a 2,000-word introduction for each book from an eminent philosopher or novelist. Louis de Bernières on Job, Will Self on the Revelation of St John the Divine, AS Byatt on the Song of Solomon – the press were thrilled by their unconventional interpretations.
The translation was a Christian one – the King James Bible of 1611. Six books were taken from its Old Testament, six from its New. Only one introduction was supplied by a Jew – David Grossman, Israeli author of The Yellow Wind, commented on “the tempestuous, epic myth of the birth of a nation” – Exodus. The Darwinist Steven Rose, who wrote the foreword for Genesis, although born in a Jewish family, declares at the outset that he has been an atheist since he was eight. All the other writers are, I believe, Christians.
These are the books that formed the Jewish nation. The poetry of Ecclesiastes, the wisdom of Proverbs and the Song of Solomon are the keys to our character. The commentaries Canongate published are relevant and provoking, but these texts are crying out for interpretation by modern Jewish artists, writers, thinkers and politicians.
I would like a Jewish publisher to step forward and repackage the Tanakh, as a collection of £1 paperbacks, with introductory essays. This concept has already been proven immensely profitable. It could also have a dynamic effect on our culture in Britain, demonstrating in a high-profile fashion that our ancient books are still firing modern Anglo-Jewish thinking.
To give this proposal some weight, I have written a commentary to my own favourite book of scripture, the testament which I believe contains the first record of man’s encounters with extra-terrestrial intelligences – The Book Of Ezekiel.
You are sitting in darkness. Silence holds you. The entire world is a cinema house, and the sky is its screen.
And then a blinding light rips open the screen – not just a projection but a living tornado of flame, blazing through the fabric. The noise around you is the beating of wings, as deafening as a seastorm but filled with the voices of an army. Ten thousand voices, in unison. The sound of God.
And that’s just the trailer.
The Book Of Ezekiel is X Files of the Bible. It’s about aliens, and sex crime, and the Holocaust. Like a concept for primetime television, it was developed at the height of a ratings war – a religious ratings war, when the one-God-one-faith market leader was seeing its audience share eroded by an explosion of multi-deity cults.
Ezekiel staged a fightback so electrifying that even now much of his imagery is too blistering for early evening viewing. He unleashed sudden blasts of horror that have been mankind’s recurring nightmares for more than 25 centuries.
A chariot with wheels that are alive, studded with unblinking eyes. The bodies of children, sprawled across shattered pagan altars.
A valley strewn with the whitened bones of a whole tribe, which grow flesh and skin, and exist as corpses before the wind breathes life into them.
A beautiful woman stripped of her clothes and robbed of her jewels, left to be stoned to death by the men who once lusted for her.
Ezekiel’s words are so mystifying and hypnotising it is hard to maintain an objective standpoint. His visions are so lurid and his panting delivery is so urgent, you can feel his hot breath on your face.
It takes effort to step back and detach his bony grip, it takes discipline to ask the questions that can put these images in perspective.
•How real are Ezekiel’s visions of angels and machines?
•Why does he rage about whores and harlots with such fervour?
•What is the meaning of his horrific visions of slaughter and mass graves?
The book opens with a vision of God which tallies in many respects with modern accounts of UFO encounters and abduction by aliens.
Ezekiel is a priest among the Israelite slaves in Babylon when God appears to him, on a chariot drawn by four humanoid creatures. “Every one had four faces, and every one had four wings.” (Ez 1: 6) From one direction they had men’s faces, from another the heads of lions, from another oxen and from another eagles.
These are the four essences in Middle Eastern mythology – the original earth, wind, fire and water. To an audience tempted by animal gods and fire worship, Ezekiel’s angels would have been instantly convincing.
The question is – did Ezekiel create the image consciously, or subconsciously … or was it created for him? And if the last answer is the right one, who was the creator?
I do not believe any imagination, and especially not Ezekiel’s, could invent these visions deliberately. Every detail is inspired. They resonate with images found in astrology, alchemy, Tarot and the mythologies of all continents.
Native North Americans, Vikings, Aborigines and Bushmen would understand the symbolism. But for most of the book, Ezekiel’s language is plain. He is fiery, but he sticks to the facts and the storylines. Nowhere in all his 48 chapters does he achieve the aching, rending beauty of a single line from Ecclesiastes. This is not the language of a creative genius.
It is more plausible to say Ezekiel’s angels sprang from his unconscious. This is a very vague plausibility – not exactly meaningless, but able to be moulded into almost any meaning required. On the brink of the third millennium, a vast swathe of the human mind is unmapped. We don’t know what goes on in the parts that think in pictures, not words.
Carl Jung theorised that we all share an unconscious mind, like an image library we can plunder for metaphors to explain our existence. This must be at least partly true, if we are to understand why the four-headed monsters that thrilled the exiled Israelites can instantly grip readers today with horror – post-Gulags, post-Hiroshima, post-Final Solution, post-everything so much more horrific than a four-faced freak from Scripture.
Temporal lobe seizures have been identified by neuroscientists as the root of some religious visions. Positron Emission Tomography scans can identify which areas of the brain are active during particular functions – one zone of the cerebral cortex, above the forehead, plays a crucial role in both visionary experiences and epileptic fits.
By stimulating this region, labelled the God Spot, neurologists have induced states of religious ecstasy in some epileptics.
This theory certainly fits observations of some saints and mystics, such as the Franciscan monk St Joseph of Copertino, who could be plunged into trance simply by the mention of a holy word.
But if Ezekiel’s vision was caused by a brain malfunction, and fed by the common psyche, how can its modern aspects be explained?
In verse after verse, events are detailed that match the stories told by tens of thousands of people in the 1990s. People who remember abduction by unknown, alien beings are talking about a very similar kind of vision, in a very different context.
Sightings of spacecraft have been recorded for centuries. Ezekiel is not the only Biblical prophet who may have seen a UFO – Elijah’s fire from heaven, described in 1 Kings, also fits the pattern.
In modern Israel, south of Haifa, there is a hollow in a cliff known as Elijah’s cave, and some ancient painter has depicted a distorted disc. On the Mediterranean shoreline below, Shikmona Beach has been the scene of several well-documented UFO sightings, including one which left a distorted disc identical to Elijah’s burned onto the sands.
The idea of visitors from other parts of the universe is a new one, though, and UFO studies are barely 50 years old.
Abduction is an even newer phenomenon – the first serious discussion began in the Eighties, and it was not until the massive advertising campaign for Whitley Streiber’s Communion in 1987 that it gained wide notice.
Whatever the truth of the stories – and most abductees find it very hard to believe their own memories can be anything but a delusion – there are many common elements.
These make alien abduction a much more interesting phenomenon than simply spotting UFOs. Thousands of separate descriptions speak of messengers who seem to glide without moving, who turn without facing a different direction, and of spaceships like immense crystals.
Abductees are lifted head-first, pulled upwards by an unseen force, and the scenes of their abduction tumble one after another without connecting sequences – abductees may remember a dozen different rooms, but never how they were transported between them.
Ezekiel’s angels move thus: “They went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went.”
Or, as the JPS translation says, “Each could move in the direction of any of its faces; they went wherever the spirit impelled them to go, without turning when they moved.” (Ez 1:12)
The throne of God – or the mothership – “was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above.” (Ez 1:22)
Ezekiel is addressed, on 87 occasions, as “son of man,” a phrase which could almost mean “Earthling”. It is scarcely used anywhere else in the Bible.
In the second of the prophet’s four visions, God “put forth the form of an hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and heaven.”
Ezekiel is brought to a series of gates and doors – the entrance to Jerusalem, and to its temple, and then the inner sanctum and the altar, and finally to the city’s higher gate, where six avenging angels are arrayed.
At each new door he arrives effortlessly, magically. The messages he receives are warnings of worldwide cataclysm and Armageddon, which abductees today often echo.
If Ezekiel’s vision was an eruption of his unconscious mind, then this mental phenomenon has been secretly occuring for at least 2,500 years.
If it involved an outside intelligence, then abduction is a terror which has been with us in all cultures, throughout history.
And if it was a true manifestation of God – then up to one million people in America alone may have come face to face with God in the past decade.
I have long believed that God is unseeable and unknowable. He showed himself to Moses through a crack in the rocks, and a glimpse of the hem of his robe was dazzling. He spoke, like the voice of an army, to Ezekiel.
But God has never stood bare and all-powerful before any man. If he did, he would be simply incomprehensible.
Instead, I believe, there are intermediaries. Messengers, emissaries. Intelligent powers. We called them angels, and when we stopped believing in angels, we called them aliens.
As the descriptions of Ezekiel show, aliens and angels are the same thing.
To hear Ezekiel preach must have been an extraordinary revelation. He was a supremely dramatic performer.
I believe he really was struck dumb (Ez 3:26), probably by psychological shock – but the business of lying down for weeks (Ez 4:04-4:07) is pure theatre. He might as well have chained himself to the railings.
In his most mesmerising performance (Ez 5:01), Ezekiel shaves his head and beard – he was a big man, and shaven bald must have been as imposing as a heavyweight boxer.
He chops the hair into three portions and destroys one by fire, one by the knife and one by scattering it to the wind – the fate God promises for the Jews.
For more than 100 searing verses (Ez 16, 23) the prophet talks of sex. He accuses his people of behaving like an ungrateful, unfaithful wife.
Jerusalem was a lost little girl when God adopted her – when she was grown he made her his wife, but she rewarded him by giving herself to every other god within a radius of 500 miles.
She deserves every punishment possible, and she’s going to get it. Ezekiel is in a lather of righteous excitement as he paints the woman’s lewdness and humiliation. Why is this written in such scalding detail?
Israel and Judah are sisters who become whores in Egypt, and strive to outdo each other in perversion and depravity.
Their craving is for the beautiful boys of the Assyrian army, “clothed in blue, clothed most gorgeously, horsemen riding upon horses, all of them desirable young men … whose issue is like the issue of horses.”
Why is the prophet flaying himself, and his audience, into this frenzy?
I believe the Book Of Ezekiel was recorded as a picture of the most mesmerising preacher in the world at work.
The material has been chosen, not to provide a structured message, but to preserve his greatest sermons.
These two, with their whores and idols, their rapes and slayings and their strutting soldiers, with their fire and brimstone and terrible judgments, must have had the crowds on their knees and panting for more.
Every advertising executive knows it now, but Ezekiel knew it 500 years before Caesar was born – sex sells.
The prophecies fall into a different category. There are images of death here, which are not parables. The visions of slaughter were not recounted to teach, but to tell.
These are what Ezekiel was shown by God, and these are what came to pass. He saw destroying angels like Nazi stormtroopers, ordered to put the Jews to death (Ez 9).
A scribe is sent through Jerusalem, marking the foreheads of the pure and so condemning the others to massacre.
Six executioners, “every man a slaughter weapon in his hand,” are ordered to follow the scribe through the city, “and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man who has the mark; and begin at my sanctuary.
Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house. And he said unto them, Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain: go ye forth. And they went forth, and slew in the city.”
There is no more clinical description of the events in the ghettos of Warsaw and Lvov in May 1942.
The racially pure were marked out – by the scribe’s ink, not on their forehead, but on their birth certificates.
The weapons of slaughter in the hands of men were guided by the scribe, who saw to it a star was worn by every human being condemned to destruction.
First the elders were slain, beginning at the house of God. Then every house was defiled, and the courtyards were piled high with the slain, and there was no pity. The maids died, and the little children died.
The Book of Ezekiel is lurid and brutal. It is not an ‘enlightened’ text. But then, this has been a lurid and brutal century. And all our ‘enlightened’ texts have not been much use.
24th December 1998
Religion, God and technology
I went to a Chanukah party, and the host put his champagne flute on a beautiful table with a smoked glass top, and next to the champagne there was a computer. “It’s my iMac,” he said.
“I can see that,” I told him, because I’ve looked at the adverts and noticed the transparent keyboard and the blue plastic casing and the retro-Fifties, Jetson styling.
My host thinks audio CDs are a fad and answerphones are cutting-edge technology, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a PC in his home.
“Have you visited my website with it yet?” I asked.
“No, no, that internet stuff’s a bit advanced for me,” he replied.
“Well, I bet it’s lightning fast for processing your photographs,” I said.
“Good God, I’ve got my trusty Instamatic,” he replied. “That’s good enough for family snapshots.”
“But I’m sure you’ve been using the CD-player – what’s the sound like?” I went on.
“Oh, yes, actually, I did buy a CD for it,” he proffered. “Do you think you could show me where it goes?”
I looked at my host, and then I looked under the iMac.
There were no letters or newspaper cuttings hidden beneath it, so he wasn’t using it as a paperweight. In that case, why … ?
“Look what happens when I turn it on,” he said excitedly. “It glows! Let’s turn the lights down – isn’t it beautiful?”
He was right – his computer was beautiful. Beautifully designed, beautifully coloured, beautifully electric. And my thinking was old-fashioned, because I was looking at the computer simply as a tool.
I was as dated as the motor-vehicle users after World War One, who thought cars were nothing but a means of transport, and could not see the scorching beauty of the first Alfa Romeos.
1999 is the last year before humanity’s transformation. We are about to become a race with an electronic mind.
All our thoughts and words will be preserved on computer. All our actions will be recorded on computer. All our decisions will be governed by computer and all our advances will be made possible by computer.
Our hearts will be biology, but our brains will be digital.
At six of the world’s most advanced laboratories, experiments are underway to design a sub-atomic computer and replace transistors with quantum calculators.
Particle physicists have long known that the quarks and fragments that make up atoms can exist in two different states, and even two different places, at the same time.
All computing is based on binary maths – the microchips expect every answer to be 0 or 1, yes or no, up or down. There are no inbetweens.
But quantum particles are yes and no similtaneously. They are 0 when they are 1, they are up when they are down. They are the sub-atomic equivalent of a man who can walk and chew gum at the same time.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have already succeeded in harnessing this extraordinary condition for brief bursts of computing.
If the technology can be stabilised – and 1999 may be the year – we’ll see machines the size of a sugar lump which can outthink the world’s biggest supercomputers.
MIT are predicting a quantum brain with the power of a thousand million Pentium II chips.
We must prepare ourselves for this kind of micro-Mindpower.
Already computers have revolutionised our planet – and the lump of silicon and plastic on my desktop compares to a quantum computer like Wilbur and Orville Wright’s flying machine compares to a Stealth Bomber.
My personal answer has been to turn back to my religion. I have never been a conventional man, and I have always avoided the conventions of the synagogue.
I believe in God, but I also believe in aliens, and for many years I assumed the two should not be seen to meet in public.
Now, however, I feel I need to understand my spiritual roots. I want to study maps of the inner landscape where my soul is rooted, and explore some of the regions where pieces of the truth might be hidden.
I need to get to grips with my religion and my God. Because in the new Millennium, quantum technology is going to get to grips with all of us.
31st December 1998
How praying can aid healing
THESE are the five most potent words in Hebrew: El na refah na la. “Please God, heal her, please.” They possess the rhythm and rhyme of a mantra, the sacred chant of meditation and prayer.
They are deeply meaningful – this chant can be a prayer for a woman, or a nation, or a planet. And because they were first spoken by Moses, they symbolise the Jewish ideal of healing through prayer.
This ideal had almost been forgotten. But across America at the turn of the Millennium, it is being reborn.
Jewish prayer groups are springing up to bring hope to the sick by opening up the power of the mind and the soul.
Moses uttered his prayer, El na refah na la, for his sister, Miriam.
She had been stricken with leprosy for criticising Moses when he chose a black woman as his wife – the disease crusted her skin in snow-white scales, as if God was laughing at her.
Moses prayed, and the scales melted away. Such a powerful story, and such a simple prayer, could hardly be forgotten. But for many years, we have ignored them.
Now, in at least 25 cities across the States, rabbis are leading congregations every month, even every week, in a ritual of prayers for the sick and the dying.
The movement is being taken seriously – when a week-long conference titled An Academic Exploration of Sources of Healing Within Judaism was held at the New York campuses of the Reform and Conservative seminaries, around 200 rabbis attended.
Two Jewish healing resource centres have been launched, in New York and in San Francisco, the work of Rabbis Rachel Cowan and Nancy Flam.
There has been resistance at every step – “People are used to being very rational and in control,” admits Rabbi Cowan.
”Everybody says, ‘Oohhh, touchy-feely, this sounds Christian, it sounds New Age, I don’t trust it, healing is not a Jewish word’.”
Rabbi Simkha Weintraub, a family counsellor who has worked at the New York centre for three years, shares her experiences: “When I first heard it, the words bothered me. They had an airhead sound.”
”I thought, ‘Wait a minute, who needs this? We haven’t needed a healing resource centre for thousands of years.’ Then I came to feel, it’s amazing it hasn’t happened before.”
The Californian centre has achieved massive popularity, with spiritual support groups, healing services, public lectures, a hospice programme, training for counsellors and close links with the medical network.
Rabbi Flam was inspired to explore the power of prayer by the pain of a family break-up:
“I experienced great loss with the divorce of my parents when I was 12 years old. I’ve always been drawn to people struggling with healing, and I’ve learned the tremendous capacity we have to help one another.”
At a community centre in Philadelphia, services of prayer, Torah study, readings, meditation and music are led by Rabbi Yaacov J Kravitz, who is executive director of the Chai Institute for healing and health psychology.
“What a wonderful way,” he says, “to combine what I do as a rabbi and what I do as a psychologist. The two are very tied up for me. I see the psychological, emotional and physical as part of the spiritual.”
This rediscovery of prayer is being recognised by conventional medicine. Dr Dale Matthews, of Georgetown University Medical Centre, believes his prayers often help patients as much as his prescriptions.
Dr David Larson, who runs the National Institute for Healthcare Research, is calling for a full study of statistics which seem to show that people who regularly go to worship have better health and longer lives than their atheistic neighbours.
Dr Thomas Oxman, a psychiatrist at Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire, interviewed 230 elderly people before open heart surgery – six months later, ten per cent were dead, but all of the 37 who described themselves as “deeply religious” had survived.
Psychologist Richard Friedman, who directs research at Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston, believes that a repetitive chant calms the nervous system and instils good health.
His colleague Gregg Jacobs has used computer brain scans to study 20 meditators, and believes that even first-time chanters can relax their minds.
“They are able to voluntarily quiet the activity in the frontal lobes of the brain. These areas are associated with emotional self-regulation and co-ordinate activity in the limbic system, the seat of a person’s emotional experience.”
This medical explanation shows how prayer can stimulate healing in the worshipper’s own body, though it does not attempt to explain how that healing power can be transferred from one person to another.
It does, however, give a 21st-century glimpse into a 5,000-year-old mystery – and it adds even more power to those words, El na refah na la.
8th January 1999
Voice I heard from on high
The first storyteller was God. It is a truth accepted without question by most Jews, that the Torah was dictated to Moses by God.
Tradition and computer technology both confirm the belief. The tradition is restated at the beginning of numerous chapters from Exodus on: “The Lord said to Moses …”
The technology was perfected by Michael Drosnin, whose software detected mathematical patterns in the wording of the Torah which revealed hidden texts – the Bible Code.
The best proof is the simplest – the Torah is one of the oldest pieces of writing in history. It was created when man had barely perfected a system of recording his thoughts.
It seems impossible to me that without divine assistance, at the first attempt, man could have recounted a thrilling plot, peopled with characters of the deepest complexity, phrased in the most exquisite poetry … and then never repeated the achievement.
Even the best of Shakespeare fades beside the Torah.
It is as if Edison’s first experiment with a wax disc on a phonograph was a crystalline, heart-melting, reverberating recording of the world’s greatest singer – say, Adelina Patti, the Spanish-born soprano whose divine voice was earning her $5,000 a night around 1875.
And then, after the first discs were cut, the technique was lost, and every recording for decades was an indecipherable mass of crackles.
Even today’s digital sound would fail to come close to the perfection of that single, original recording.
The idea is nonsense. But that’s how it was with the Torah. First came perfection – everything that followed was just crass.
The only answer is the traditional one – God was the Torah storyteller. This was the solution adopted by the Dreamworks team, the Hollywood animation company headed by Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, when they made ‘Prince Of Egypt’.
It is the story of Moses, the Greatest Story Ever Told, and it requires the voice of God.
Co-director Simon Wells admitted he faced a problem, casting God’s voice.
He considered using James Earl Jones, for the booming, earth-shuddering effect achieved by Cecil B de Mille for The Ten Commandments. That seemed hackneyed.
Wells, who directed Pocahontas for Disney, attempted instead a digitised multi-voice, combining the voices of all the characters Moses loves and trusts. God becomes a cocktail of all the people who have influenced Moses deeply.
It seemed a brilliant answer, until a committee of rabbis pointed out Jews believe in one God.
Only one. Not a multitude. That’s the whole point of the religion. The multi-voice was erased, and in the end Wells turned to Val Kilmer, who had already supplied the voice of Moses.
Altering his delivery without trying to disguise his speech, Kilmer spoke for God.
I would have enjoyed the movie more if God had spoken like echoing thunder, with a force to make my bones buzz and a grandeur to throw me back in my seat. The voice of God should humble creation.
I say this despite the fact I have heard two very different versions of God’s voice, and neither of them was echoing thunder.
One kind is familiar to anyone who prays – it is the wordless counsel and the calm blessing that seems to come from something outside my soul which dwells inside my body.
If it had a voice I could hear, I wouldn’t expect echoing thunder – I suppose it would be something like my own voice, and this is no doubt why Simon Wells chose to use the same actor for God and for Moses.
The other voice may not have been God at all. In fact, I have always believed it was more like an angel, though the scientist who heard it with me, Dr Andrija Puharich, was certain we had listened to the true voice of our creator.
It first spoke on December 1, 1971, in a high-rise apartment seven miles north of Tel Aviv.
I was under hypnosis, answering questions about my early life, and this voice began to speak – so Andrija told me afterwards – from the air above me. I don’t remember it.
The next time, I stayed conscious. The voice came from close to me, but it wasn’t me speaking. It sounded nothing like God should sound – flat, metallic, robotic, mechanical. Not human. Not even alive.
It was talking about the future – the very near future, and a frightening one, with Egypt preparing to attack Israel’s borders.
This nightmarish phenomena happened again and again, with the voice sometimes coming from a tape-recorder speaker – when no tape was inside – and even once down a telephone line.
We tried to tape the voice, but the magnetic heads always jammed, or the cassettes mysteriously vanished, or the playback was garbled.
Soon, the voice was materialising so often that we forgot about recording it – this was simply part of our bizarre existence at the time.
God spoke to us. No one would think we were weird enough to want to make up something like this.
As it turned out, everyone thought we were very weird indeed, and everyone thought we were making it up.
Andrija in particular was ridiculed for insisting the voice had been real.
I remember a lot of what the voice told me, but most of it is too difficult to understand, except in the brief flashes of clarity that sometimes descend at unexpected moments – in the car, walking the dogs, in the kitchen.
Even these revelations do not penetrate deep enough to be properly absorbed.
Andrija died in the absolute belief that God spoke to us. I believe that there are infinite levels of intelligence between us and God, and we were addressed by something from one of the higher planes. Neither of us could hope to understand.
God spoke directly to Moses, in the clearest possible way. Maybe the voice was echoing thunder, maybe it was robotic metallic.
Either way, for thousands of years after, humanity experienced brief flashes of clarity – but we have never really had a hope of understanding.
15th January 1999
Wake up! Peace may be round corner
The Millennium may bring peace in the Middle East. I pray for it every day, and I have done for nearly 30 years. But after 30 years, you stop looking for quick results.
Peace this year would be wonderful, peace in my lifetime would be something worth praying for, even peace between the outbreaks of fighting is better than nothing.
While a succession of governments and United Nations councils and revolutionary organisations have argued the meaning of peace, and how much fighting and bombing and stoning they can do before it ceases to be a ceasefire, a lot of people have got fed up waiting.
One of them was a New York businessman named Alan B. Slifka, who teamed up with Dr Eugene Weiner, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Haifa in Israel.
They launched the Abraham Fund, aimed at encouraging good relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel.
Since its launch in 1989, the fund has grown from a tiny motor running on ideals, to a turbine engine burning energy from thousands of volunteers and pumping out high-octane change.
Last year the fund received 205 grant applications from 168 organisations in Israel and identified 53 which demanded urgent attention.
In 12 months £666,500 was paid out, with another 25 projects placed on a priority waiting list.
The common theme is co-existence. The recipients are Arabs, Jews, in towns, cities, villages, working in education, agriculture, theatre, research and living in kibbutzim, apartments, shanties, ancient quarters, new developments.
In fact, anywhere that is Israel, the Abraham Fund has found hope for peace.
It is the low-key, real-life equivalent of a full-colour glossy booklet which the fashion chain Benetton slipped into Sunday newspapers 18 months ago. Published by Newsweek, the cover featured a Bedouin boy passionately kissing a Jewish girl above the title, “Enemies”.
They were named as Musa Mazareb, a 22-year-old business student, who lived with Enya Lazarus, a 24-year-old sociology student.
Enya’s caption read, “I dream, dream, dream of the day that people accept and help one another.”
Inside were other couples – the Arab who runs a flower shop and the Jewish girl who works for him; the Jewish pianist who plays in a Palestinian-owned hotel, the Jew from Chile and the Muslim from Jaffa whose baby girls were born in the same hosptital.
The people in the pictures are real and their stories are probably true, if massaged a little to make neat captions.
But very close to the surface, barely obscured by the bright colours and wide smiles, a message is visible.
It doesn’t say ‘Peace’. It just says, ‘Buy Benetton’.
The Abraham Fund, though it takes out full-page ads in The Jerusalem Report and boasts a smart, attractive website at www.coexistence.org, is not about presentation.
It works deep below the surface of Israel, stimulating countless tiny reactions to bring about a major change.
What will count is not only the good done as tangible goals are achieved, but the thousands of unconscious shifts in the way people think, spreading like ripples around every project.
Chairman Alan Slifka says: “Jews must learn to coexist within their role as a majority. They must retain their identity as a Jewish state, but also ensure that Israel is a democratic state, inclusive of all its citizens – all of its various minorities.”
“They must not only allow the Christian and Muslim Palestinian Israelis to retain their religion, their culture, and their language, but also – and more importantly – the majority must treat this minority with respect and equality so that all may feel at home within a Jewish state.”
These are simple words which politicians have been repeating until they lose their meaning. But Slifka does mean them.
He has thrown his money and his hard work into his vision – and persuaded thousands of other visionaries to do the same.
From local government workshops to folklore exhibits, from teacher training to camps for physically disabled youngsters, from an emergency hotline for Arab-speaking battered women to a holocaust education programme for Druze, Jewish and American high school students – every scheme reaches out to real people, who are prepared to coexist but whose real lives and real problems must be addressed first.
It is an extraordinary dream, and only a dreamer would have attempted it. As the dream celebrates its tenth anniversary, the rest of the world is waking up to it.
22nd January 1999
End of world may be closer
Mankind has always talked of a final battle between good and evil that will wipe out the whole planet – the Day of the Lord, Apocalypse, Armageddon, yaum al-Din, Ragnarok, the Four Minute Warning.
Scholars devote their careers to eschatology, the study of the end of the world. It is the most awesomely terrible catastrophe that could engulf humanity – so why does almost everyone treat it as a big joke?
If eschatologists seriously believed that Judgment Day was about to fall, they wouldn’t bother with their academic careers. Who needs a PhD and a professor’s chair, if all worldly cares are scheduled to cease within 12 months?
And what could be more comical than a solemn-faced little man with a badly printed placard, announcing ‘The end of the wurld is nigh”?
On the Internet computer programmers, who have a proven reason to fear the Year 2000 and its microchip bug, use an affectionate acronym for Doomsday – TEOTWAWKI, The End Of The World As We Know It.
To a charismatic American believed to be living in Oxford, TEOTWAWKI is not a joke. The end of the world is coming in the last days of this Millennium, and he is the man to provoke it.
Monte Kim Millar, a former pharmaceuticals marketing executive from Denver, Colorado, founded Concerned Christians in the Eighties to warn church leaders of fringey, Millennium cults.
The Jonestown massacre, where 900 acolytes of the Reverend Jim Jones died in the Guyana jungle, had shocked the world in 1978. The Waco siege, where insane guru David Koresh and 80 others died in a firefight with the FBI, confirmed Millar’s belief that death cults were mushrooming.
Nothing could prevent them – nothing except the end of the world. And somewhere in the intervening years, Millar discovered that ending the world was his mission from God.
He gathered more than 70 disciples in Colorado, prophesied that Denver would be destroyed by Act of God on October 10, and led them to the Promised Land.
Millar preached he would be assassinated by the forces of Satan on the streets of Jerusalem in December, 1999, only to rise from the dead after three days.
This would induce the birth of the Messiah. Millar planned a gun battle with Israeli security forces to confront the Satanic forces, plotting to set off the confrontation by shooting women and children in the streets.
When Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service, raided the homes of Concerned Christians, in Mevasseret Zion and Mosa, west of Jerusalem, Monte Kim Millar was not arrested – because he was not there.
Eight American adults and six children – the cult recruited whole families – are being deported. Millar is believed to be hiding in England, more than 50 of his followers are also at large, and no one knows how advanced his back-up plans are for Armageddon.
Maybe it is planned for London, Manchester, Glasgow – anywhere.
Concerned Christians is one of at least a dozen death cults focused on the Millennium.
“People who expect the world to end soon do a lot of very strange things,” says Ted Daniels, director of the Millennium Watch Institute, who has more than 1,200 cults in his database.
“They reject and even contradict the rules of common sense that keep the rest of us sane and feed our lives. They destroy the things they need to survive.”
They provoke fights they can’t possibly win, and they talk about things that obviously won’t happen.”
Ex-kibbutznik Yisrael Hawkins rules the House of Yahweh, with around 3,000 followers, preaching the end of the world will erupt very soon if Biblical laws are disobeyed.
The temple in Jerusalem must be rebuilt to lie side by side with the Dome of the Rock Mosque. Hawkins expects to be murdered by Satan.
Thousands of Siberians may commit mass suicide because of former Russian police sergeant Sergei Torop, who claims to be the Messiah and is building a City of the Sun on Mount Sukhaya.
Even the senile have their cults – 90-year-old Orville T Gordon, known to followers of the Outer Dimensional Forces as Nodrog, is a recluse in a Texan compound, waiting to be saved from the apocalypse by UFOs.
With dangerous madmen like Millar, Torop, Hawkins and Gordon preparing for the end of the world, it could be closer than we know.
29th January 1999
UFO was on old painting
UFO hidden in painting Stories of a mid-air UFO crash filled my mind on Saturday morning. A journalist friend named Barry Chamish emailed me a report of video-analysis which seemed to verify footage of a weird explosion over Rosh Haayin in Israel.
An enthusiastic sky-watcher named Spasso Maximovitch had captured a silvery orb on tape – as he was filming, a white oval-shape streaked in from the west, smashed into the orb and detonated, destroying both objects in a ball of fire.
I lay back in the passenger seat of our Jaguar and turned the idea over. We were driving into London to have lunch with a friend, and I knew he’d be fascinated by this story … if it was worth the telling.
I didn’t want to make a big thing of this, and then have to admit a day or two later it had been a hoax. Could the video be real?
The American photoanalyst, Jeff Sainio of MUFON, seemed to believe so. If the explosion had been faked by a UFO nut who was fed up of waiting for the real thing, Jeff ought to be able to spot it.
But what if the fake had been made by a state-of-the-art computer agency? Israel has the best programmers in the world – were they good enough to fool Sainio?
On the other hand, Israel is currently the focus of an immense UFO phenomenon. The ratio of sightings is higher than anywhere on the planet. And if this video was real, it would be a major piece of evidence.
There was a third solution – the orb and the missile were man-made. This video could accidentally have captured an experimental weapons test. In fact, that explanation began to seem the most likely – especially as Maximovitch has apparently disappeared.
Should I forget the story, or spread it around? I decided that I would wait for a sign, an omen, a synchronicity to give me some direction.
We went to lunch. My friend wanted to eat at the cafe of a gallery on the Strand, the Courtauld at Somerset House.
He said the food was good and upstairs were some of the most famous paintings in the world – Van Gogh with his bandaged ear, a roomful of Rubens, some incredible pictures. I said fine.
When we’d eaten we climbed a stone oval staircase that looped around four or five times to a glass dome, and on the second floor I got an urge to step off the stairs and go through a door on the left. There was nothing particular to attract me – a vast case of silverware filled the middle of the room, and I’ve seen enough silverware in my career that I have no real need to see any more.
But I was on the alert for synchronicities, so I went with the urge.
When I saw the end wall, my jaw dropped. Twelve paintings in gold frames hung on heavy chains in two rows. The colours blazed out of them as if they had been painted onto spotlamps.
The same shades occured in different places along the rows – a dazzling powder blue, a dark, bubbling red, a gold as lustrous as real gold flake. My first emotion was greed – it’s not very spiritual, but it’s true. I wanted to own those pictures. Then I wanted to clear everyone out of the room and lock the doors and just stay there for weeks, drinking them in.
At last I had to settle for standing and staring for a very long time, trying to memorise every detail and to work out why my sixth sense had led me in here.
The painter was Giambattista Tiepolo, and 11 of the pictures were sketches for clients, showing how their altar walls or their palace ceilings would look by the time his commissions were complete.
The twelfth, a beautiful close-up of two child angels, was a fragment of one of the finished pieces, around 1767, from a Franciscan church in Aranjuez, Spain. I know this because I committed all the notes to memory. I began to search for clues, clues to tell me what had brought me to the room, clues perhaps to clarify the UFO mystery.
The martyrdom of a pope, the butchery of a saint, the ecstasy of a visionary – these were hypnotic images, but not clues. One design for a ceiling at the Palazzo Sandi in Venice, titled The Force of Eloquence, showed Amphion, the Greek god who was said to have invented music.
He played his lyre, and stones sprang up to build a city wall. The image intrigued me – British scientists proposed last year that the immense building blocks of the pyramids could have been levitated by ultrasound vibrations.
Was that the root of the Amphion myth? And was that my clue? What did it mean?
I found the real clue in the last painting, a detail in one of Tiepolo’s burning blue skies. In the main body of the picture, an angel was inflicting wounds on St Francis. In the left-hand top corner, a UFO was spinning.
At first glance, this was the sun. But in the centre, unlike any sun I’ve seen, four black diamonds met in an occult cross.
This was not a Christian symbol – this was something from alchemy, a mark painted in as a hidden sign. Around the cross was drawn a circle, and then a second, lighter circle. The whole object was unmistakeably a hovering disc – a UFO.
Though UFOs are recorded in documents throughout history, I have never seen one in a painting almost 250 years old.
Until I can learn more of Tiepolo, it is impossible to know whether he practised ancient magic, or had knowledge of alchemy’s Emerald Tablet, or why he would associate St Francis with mysterious objects in the sky. Perhaps he had simply witnessed a UFO, and wanted to depict it. That mystery is unsolved. But my own question had been answered. I had my omen.
5th February 1999
Antisemitism of a chess star
Bobby Fischer, the greatest chess player in history, the man who won the Cold War with the power of his mind, is now a sad, ranting anti-Semite.
For his first interview for more than two years, the self-exiled American went live on a tiny Budapest radio station and undammed a barely coherent torrent of nonsense. “Those damned Jews are persecuting me,” he repeated again and again.
Presenter Daniel Molner tried to challenge him, asking: “Aren’t you Jewish yourself?” Chicago-born Fischer, whose mother Regina was a Jew, heatedly insisted he was not. He threatened to “prove it in the toilets”. The station, Radio Calypso, pulled the plug.
It is horrible to realise that Fischer, who abandoned competitive chess in the mid-Seventies rather than defend his world crown, is still tortured by race hatred and paranoia. Something like this should have been expected. Fischer has been spouting master-race clap-trap since he was 16. In 1961 he told Ralph Ginzburg: “There are too many Jews in chess. They seem to have taken away the class of the game. They don’t seem to dress so nicely, you know.”
At Sveti Stefan in September 1992, at the height of the Yugoslav civil war, Fischer broke UN sanctions to play a $5,000,000 match against Boris Spassky, the Russian he had beaten 20 years earlier to become world champion.
The American told a press conference: “Soviet communism is basically a mask for Bolshevism, which is a mask for Judaism … ‘anti-Semitism’ is a nonsense term, because my understanding is that the Arabs are also Semites, not only the Jews. I’m definitely not anti-Arab.”
At that conference, Fischer took a letter from the Treasury Department in Washington, warning him not to defy the sanctions against Serbia, and spat on it. He has not been able to return to the US since, and lives in Hungary.
Radio Calypso had to ditch the interview, of course, though it is hard to imagine anyone could be really offended by Fischer.
He was not always like this – I met him at Palo Alto, California, 25 years ago, and was struck by the intense focus of his mind.
His elder sister Joan was married to a scientist, Russell Targ, who was testing me at Stanford Research Institute. Fischer dropped by and I bent a spoon for him.
I don’t think he was specially impressed – maybe he thought it was a conjuring trick, but when I reproduced an image he had secretly drawn, that startled him.
I remember he chose a knight’s head, and his telepathic transmission was clear as a radio wave. He wanted to know how he could train his psychic energies to increase his concentration at the board – no one knew in 1973 that Fischer would turn away from the game which was his obsession.
If Fischer had remained world champion and an American idol, his twisted garbage would disturb me. As it is, I simply hope he can find some peace with himself.
But in another interview at the weekend, a second international sports figure was spouting twisted garbage. And the sick attack by England coach Glenn Hoddle on disabled people disturbs me deeply.
Hoddle is another celebrity who sought me out – he and his spiritualist mentor Eileen Drewery visited my home several years ago. In the run-up to the World Cup, I mentioned this in a News Of The World interview.
Hoddle denied it, accused me of lying and said he would sue me. I didn’t receive any writ, and the threat came to nothing.
Since my itemised phone bills show clearly that Hoddle and I were in communication before his visit, I wasn’t exactly concerned about defending my reputation. But I didn’t like my children to see tabloid headlines accusing me of lying.
How would I feel if I had a disability, and my kids read Hoddle’s interview in The Times?
“You have to come back to learn and face some of the things you have done, good and bad,” he told reporter Matt Dickinson. “You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains.”
Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap.”
For logic, humanity and emotional depth, that’s on a par with Fischer’s “the Jews are persecuting me”.
The difference is that any Jew can enjoy chess without having to associate himself with Fischer. But around ten per cent of the English population has some sort of disability. That means perhaps a quarter of England’s families are somehow affected, including of course the families of England footballers, former England players, and the countless England fans.
Hoddle, in his arrogance and his thoughtlessness, was directly insulting all of them.
I believe in karma too, though I understand it as a natural, spiritual force. If you help people and speak kindly, you deserve good things from the world – you might not get them, but at least you will be at peace with yourself. Good karma.
If you let racial hatred grip you, and you despise your country and you fear other nationalities, you will become bitter and lonely and insignificant. Sad karma.
But if you spit on the people you are serving and strut and bluster and sneer, you will destroy your career and lose the respect of your friends. That’s the real meaning of bad karma.
12th February 1999
We should be last to ignore atrocities
In his mind-twisting thriller Enigma, the political journalist Robert Harris lays bare the Allies’ chilling dilemma throughout World War II.
They had intercepted ultra-secret messages and knew of the Nazis’ worst atrocities – but if they acted on that knowledge, they would reveal how accurately they could decode German signals.
Britain’s Bletchley Park code-breakers, aided by daring Polish partisans, were listening in on thousands of Enigma-shrouded broadcasts every day, reading the minds of Rommel in North Africa and U-boat commanders in the Atlantic. Without this intelligence, the Allies could not have won the war.
But as Harris’s characters discover, most of the broadcasts could not help the Allies – they just tormented the codebreakers’ consciences. The execution of 4,500 Polish officer POWs in the Katyn Forest, by Stalin’s murder squads, had to be ignored, for instance.
What Harris didn’t guess – what no one could guess, until the recent release of government papers – was that by 1940, Whitehall was aware of Hitler’s policy to exterminate the Jews. Whitehall knew because Bletchley knew.
The knowledge was complete and left no room for doubts, despite the pleas of ignorance by Foreign Office officials for decades after. For example, on July 28, 1941, a signal from the German 316 Police Battalion on the marshy borders of Ukraine and Byelorussia was intercepted, relaying Himmler’s ‘express order all (male) Jews must be shot. Drive Jewish females into the swamps.’
That night, 316 Police Batalion reported a successful ‘cleansing’ with 1,658 Jews ‘pacified’ or ‘evacuated’. The wider tally for the region was estimated the next month at 30,000.
This horrific fact is revealed in Official Secrets, (Allen Lane, £20) by Richard Breitman, professor of history at American university.
Churchill knew of the Holocaust as Germany invaded Russia, but confined himself to speeches condemning the general Nazi slaughter of villages. The Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, knew of the Holocaust, but as his private secretary noted in his diary, “Unfortunately AE is immovable … He loves Arabs and hates Jews.”
It was Eden who later vetoed plans to ship Jewish refugees to Turkey or Palestine, while also blocking proposals for airlifting food to starving Jewish ghettos. In his brutally clear language, Breitman explains how the mass destruction of Holocaust records by the Germans in the last days of the war meant historians have never formed a clear picture of the equations that made up the sum of the Final Solution – the collaboration by civilians, the treachery of informers, the collusion of railway workers whose trains ran to death camps, the blind eyes of manufacturers whose factories chewed up Jewish workers, the callousness of communities who saw yellow-starred children herded like cattle at bayonet point.
But mirror records did exist, in the decodes of British intelligence. These files, which could have been opened to reveal the full horror of the Holocaust more than half a century ago, have been sealed as “Most Secret,” “To Be Kept Under Lock And Key,” “Never To Be Removed From This Office.”
Only now, when all the key figures are dead, is the truth told. Not the full truth – some files will remain classified until 2018. But Breitman has enough to sketch an outline. Even now, the Foreign Office is behaving with outright cynicism. Whitehall judges that people no longer regard the atrocities of 1941 as relevant to a millennial world. And they judge right – the romance, excitement and heroism of Enigma is described by Harris, a journalist, but it takes Breitman, a historian, to bundle together the thousands of memos and reports which make up Official Secrets.
Anything too old for journalism has to be labelled history, and British indifference to the Holocaust is history.
If this seems a bitter view, it is. My columns regularly report on the information revolution which ought to make secret Holocausts impossible. No one in Britain or America relies on the government for information now.
Politicians react to what they’ve seen on TV, just like the rest of us. Journalists are invited into warzones, they film beside refugee campfires, they climb onto hotel roofs and video the Cruise missiles soaring across the city.
Tune in at six, don’t go away during the adverts, and you won’t miss a thing. Every ethnic cleansing is brought to our living rooms, as it happens or at least while the graves are still freshly dug.
And we do what Anthony Eden did. We cannot cope with the information, and we ignore it.
While I was reading Official Secrets, James Pringle of The Times reported from the Chinese border with North Korea. He described a famine which he could only watch through binoculars, a bureaucratic massacre where 3,000,000 people have died of starvation while Western aid is hoarded by the ruling class in Pyongyang.
Pringle called it a society that has “descended to medieval barbarism … One of the few signs of life are the ox carts picking up the bodies of the dead, not unlike those that took away victims of the Black Death in Europe.”
That report was February 4. What has been done since? The United Nations with its armed force has not acted, the European Community with its food mountains has not acted, the G7 nations with their economic muscle have not acted. And the international Jewish community, which understands to its heart how thousands upon thousands of families can be wiped out while the rest of the world averts its gaze, does not speak out.
By ignoring this holocaust, we are abandoning those starving families in Korea, and we are tacitly promising that when future holocausts happen, we will ignore them too.
We cannot personally take food to those people, but we can order our government to relieve the crisis – after all, Britain is part of the UN, the EC and G7. If you believe the North Koreans should not be left to die of hunger by the rest of the world, write and say so, to the current Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, at Westminster.
19th February 1999
Is the Bible: True or False?
The Professor of Old Testament Studies at Denmark’s University of Copenhagen would like to be God. Not the tolerant, merciful God of Psalms and Daniel, but the slaughtering, fire-wielding God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorra.
Professor Thomas L Thompson hurls his opinions like thunderbolts and rains down his theories like fire from heaven.
“Today we no longer have a history of Israel,” he writes. “Not only have Adam and Eve and the flood story passed over into mythology, but we can no longer talk about a time of the patriarchs “It is meaningless to speak of pre-exilic prophets and their writings.”
Moses meaningless. Joshua meaningless. Samuel meaningless. Job meaningless.
Thompson believes the Israelites did not exist before 450BC, when Jerusalem was part of the Persian empire. The people who went from Babylon to build the first Temple were Syrians, Philistines, Phoenicians and Judeans.
“It is out of the question,” claims the scholar, “that Saul, David and Solomon, as described as kings in the Bible, could have existed.”
This is not some lecture-theatre mutant of Bible denial. Thompson’s writings have won over serious archaeologists.
Five years ago the British Museum’s Jonathan Tubb, its Holy Land expert, praised Thompson’s “tremendous scholarship” and agreed: “He may well be right in many of his arguments. He has been meticulous in his research, and brave in expressing what many of us have thought for a long time and been reticent in saying.”
It seems incredible, but this man whose title is Professor of Old Testament Studies is refusing to accept his main piece of evidence – the Bible.
He insists on having solid proof, tangible evidence, material witnesses – and if he cannot find them he will dismiss all the scriptures as fiction.
Though there is nothing in his latest book, The Bible In History (Cape £25), to indicate anti-Semitism, the effect on the Jewish psyche would be devastating if Thompson’s theories took hold.
Instead of a nation which weathered slavery and exile over thousands of years, we would be a motley ragbag of wannabes.
Our ancient religion, the cornerstone of all Western faiths, would crumble and we would be left with a self-deluding, fraudulent cult.
The professor from Copenhagen is offending not only Jews, but Moslems and Christians too.
The British Museum might call such scholarship “tremendous”. I call it dangerous and irresponsible.
Scientists are lining up to douse Thompson’s ideas before they overheat. Archaeologists are joined by biologists and even geneticists to prove Jewish history is for real.
David Rohl, author of Legend: The Genesis of Civilisation (Century, £17.99), spent a decade searching for the Garden of Eden after becoming convinced that the Torah was an accurate historical record.
Searching on antique maps in the British Library, he identified the four rivers in Genesis 2:10-14.
Perath and Euphrates were easily found, Gihon became Aras only recently, and Pishon, he hazarded, could be Kezel Uzun, which flows from the Kurdistan ranges into the southern Caspian.
In the spirit of Indiana Jones, Rohl journeyed to the shores of northern Iran’s Lake Urmia. A mountain of red ochre overlooks the orchards and vineyards of the Tabriz valley – and ‘Adam’ means ‘the man made of red earth’.
Tabriz is an urban wasteland – “It’s Paradise Lost now,” says Rohl, “destroyed by man. But you can see what it used to be like.”
“The valley is crowded with orchards and vineyards bursting with every kind of fruit, just as Genesis says.”
There’s evidence for Noah’s flood too. Oceanographers Walter Pitman and William Ryan of the Lamont-Doherty Observatory in Palisades, New York, claim the Black Sea was created in a catastrophe about 7,500 years ago.
By analysing sediments, they have calculated that the Mediterranean deluged a farming nation as melting icecaps raised sea levels.
The equivalent of 200 Niagaras poured through a narrow strait every day – forcing farmers to take refuge across Europe. All Middle Eastern cultures, from Jews to Moslems and Mesopotamiam myth to Greek legend, told of a Great Flood and an Ark.
Dr John Marr, New York’s former chief epidemiologist – a modern plague-watcher – has demonstrated how the Ten Plagues could have afflicted Egypt, each one triggered by the last.
If the Nile became infected with dinoflagellates, fish would bleed to death, in a river of blood. Toads would flee the water (the second plague) and flies would multiply (the fourth).
Lice would infect cattle (three and five), and boils would erupt as stable flies bit men and livestock (six). The flies could even have caused three days of darkness, spreading the temporary blindness of Rift Valley Fever (nine).
Add hail and locusts for good measure (seven and eight), and give double rations of grain infected with deadly damp mould, or myco-toxins, to the eldest sons (plague number 10), and you have a full-blown Biblical disaster.
The Open University’s Professor of Biology, Steven Rose, in an introduction to the book of Genesis, wrote last year that modern anthropology and archaeology could agree on at least one fact – that all mankind was descended from one female ancestor: Eve.
Even our genes prove the Bible story true. When David Goldstein, lecturer in evolutionary biology at Oxford University, conducted a study into the genetic make-up of 306 Jewish men, he discovered that all Cohens were descended from one man who lived 2,000 to 3,000 years ago.
Their Y chromosomes, a major part of their bodies’ cellular blueprints, shared vital features – features not found in the other men.
Was that common ancestor Aaron, brother of Moses, as Jewish tradition has held for thousands of years?
Of course not. Don’t be silly. Moses never existed. A professor from Copenhagen says so.
26th February 1999
Why a Nazi comedy is hit
I wish I could have heard Roberto Benigni selling the concept of his comedy Life Is Beautiful to the board of suits-and-silk-ties at Miramax Films.
“OK, it’s set in the Holocaust but it’s very, very funny, there’s this Jewish waiter and he gets sent to a death camp and he has a five-year-old son who will be killed by the SS if they find him – you’re not laughing yet but you will be.”
“So the waiter pretends Auschwitz is all a big game and the Nazis are deducting points from boys who say they’re hungry and don’t like their nice stripey uniforms.”
“But in the end the Jewish waiter is murdered.”
And I wish I could have sat in on James Brown’s editorial conference for this month’s GQ magazine: “OK, so we’ll list the 200 most stylish men of the 20th century, before anyone else does it, right?”
“We’ve got to have a Nazi in there, ‘cos their uniforms were just the best, but no Gestapo or SS ‘cos they weren’t so nice, and not Goering, he was too fat.
What about Rommel? The Desert Fox, yeah, he was cool.
And we’ll stick a picture of someone, Sammy Davis Junior, next to him ‘cos that’ll show we’re not anti-Blacks and anti-Jews. Right?”
GQ’s style file was just supposed to be a bit of fun; nobody laughed; Brown lost his job. Benigni’s film was much more than a bit of fun; everybody laughed; Life Is Beautiful became a world-wide triumph.
I bought my family tickets for the Benigni with a deep sense of unease. We had seen Schindler’s List together, and for days afterwards a sense of awe had hung over our home.
Clearly Life Is Beautiful, with its PG certificate, would be less graphic – no one was going to have nightmares, as I did for three days after seeing Spielberg’s latest movie, Saving Private Ryan.
What I feared was a story that would trivialise mass murder, sending a message that killing was OK so long as it was done with flair and a smile. Like an Ealing comedy set in a gas chamber.
Maybe the unease worsened when I reflected Benigni, though his father had survived a Nazi work camp, was not Jewish.
Uneasy too at the remarks of the Italian publisher Daniel Fogelman who said: “For 50 years they told us that in the camps men lost their humanity, and now Benigni comes along and tells us that a man remains a man and a father remains a father.”
“A work like this encourages the Holocaust revisionists.”
I loved the movie. It reminded me of something that I needed to hear – a father’s love is deeper than any evil in the universe, though his children cannot understand or appreciate its depth until long, long afterwards.
Benigni made me think of my own father, whose love had sometimes seemed invisible to me until I had children of my own.
Life Is Beautiful is not really a movie about Auschwitz – Benigni admits the story is impossible, that children were separated from parents on arrival and usually exterminated immediately.
It is a film about a father. After 55 years, the death camps are still unimaginable to everyone but survivors, and incomprehensible to all.
No Holocaust film is going to be anything but the most glancing of hints at the complete horror. Still, even the most cynical sensation-seeker ought to see Nazism was about more than smart creases and shiny boots.
Apparently James Brown missed this. I bought GQ expecting to be mildly offended. In fact I was filled with anger at the inclusion of Rommel, bracketed with “men who showed style in the face of true adversity.”
I took no pleasure when Brown, the creator of “lad’s mags”, was kicked out of the editor’s chair.
I took no comfort when a Condé Nast spokeswoman described the article as “a humorous piece and not to be taken too seriously. We have included Batman and the Argentinian football team, you know.”
The rug was already shifting beneath Brown’s feet, before he managed to pull it out from under himself.
The magazine was selling 132,000 copies monthly, about half what Condé Nast wanted. The promotion budget had been increased from £100,000 to £650,000, with free CDs, CD-Roms and paperbacks in almost every issue.
The giveaways had raised barely a blip on the flat-lining sales chart. Advertisers were already pulling long faces – when the Rommel issue hit the stores, Hamilton South, president and chief marketing officer of Polo Ralph Lauren, GQ’s biggest advertiser, said:
“We are disappointed with this lapse of taste. If this level of taste continues we will reconsider advertising in GQ.”
Taste: that’s the key. Benigni, an old-fashioned slapstick clown, has got it. James Brown, purveyor of style to Britain’s men, has not.
5th March 1999
Can anagrams tell personality?
What made William Jefferson Clinton humiliate himself, his wife, his office and his country for a few minutes of fumbling? Was it his personality? Or was he driven to do it by his name?
Before you answer, take the letters in ‘President Clinton of the USA’ and mix them around into this anagram: ‘To copulate he finds interns’.
Then try it with ‘President Boris Yeltsin’ – you’ll get ‘Tipsiness done terribly’ and ‘Endless insobriety trip’.
Names are the essence of our identity. When I arrived at a Catholic school in Cyprus, I briefly became George Geller, and when I arrived in America, people started to say ‘Uri’ with a Y, ‘Yuri’. They’ve said it that way ever since.
It never affected my deep pride at being my father’s son, a Geller, or my delight at the meaning of the name my mother chose for me: ‘Uri’ is ‘light’.
I have known several psychics who read people’s personalities by reducing the letters of their name to numbers.
In the numerology of Cornelius Agrippa, the Kabbalist, each letter of the Hebrew alphabet corresponds to a number, a card of the Tarot, a planet and a human quality.
Number 3, for instance, is my number – creative, extrovert and on a short fuse.
Would I be such a different man if my mother had named me David? Or Yoav? Or Tibor? I believe I would, simply because I cannot imagine living my life with another name.
David Geller, Yoav Geller, whoever Geller – they would have had to live in some way.
Ancient seers who studied onomancy, revealing the omens buried in a name, believed that energy flowed through the sound of a name. Change the name and you change the energy, and so alter the soul.
Anagrams can shed new light on a name, but they are mind-bendingly difficult to crack.
A regular feature in cryptic crosswords, an eight-letter anagram can sometimes beat hardened solvers. So how were the 25-letter masterpieces about Yeltsin and Clinton created?
By computer. A piece of software called Anagram Genius, downloadable from the worldwide web for about £25, can generate 833 variations on ‘Anthony Blair’ in under two seconds, including the marvellous ‘Tory Hannibal’.
Why is there ‘Tory’ but not ‘Labour’ in ‘Tony Blair’?
Would Britain have a Socialist government if his mother had named him ‘Loudon Blair’ – ‘Old Labour in’?
I was dubious at first. Anagrams are fun, but they can’t reveal a man’s secret self – can they?
I typed ‘Renowned psychic Uri Geller’ and the computer answered ‘Sincerely cheering up world’. That was enough. I believed.
‘President Saddam Hussein’ translates to ‘Human disaster dispensed’. ‘The Palestine Liberation Organisation’ gave me ‘Totalitarian ape-s*** beginner loonies’ – not unfair but not one I wanted to share with my children.
I cut out the ‘the’ and found: ‘Inalienable airport negotiations’. ‘PLO leader Yasser Arafat’ unravelled to be ‘A) As a forestalled prayer’ and ‘Separator false already’.
In the light of what follows, I want readers to remember that these are accurate anagrams, that’s all. No letters added, none taken away.
The existence of these hidden phrases is a plain fact – this doesn’t make them my opinion, or the opinion of the Jewish Telegraph. Defamation lawyers, please bear this in mind …
‘Prime Minister Bibi’ becomes ‘I’m in! I permit bribes’. ‘Benyamin Netanyahu’ is ‘Ahem! In beauty nanny’.
‘David Ben Gurion’ would have been happy with ‘Burning avoided’ but less pleased by ‘Invading our bed’. ‘God! I’m real’ says Golda Meir, adding, ‘I’m a red log.’ ‘I’m it, hazy shark’: that’s ‘Yitzhak Shamir, and it’s as good as ‘Ha! I’m this krazy’.
Shimon Peres would be delighted at ‘In MP’s heroes’ and ‘He’s PM senior’ – but what would he make of ‘OK now, this is a hazy birth’ … a remix of ‘Who shot Yitzhak Rabin’?
At this point, probably not wisely, I started feeding my computer with the names of friends. ‘Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ became ‘Hosanna! Is jack-rabbit chef!’
‘Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’ almost burned out the microchips – he’ll love ‘Oh! Beauty charms bible’ and ‘Hey! Charisma to bubble’.
But Shmuley, I’m sorry about ‘Hysteria macho bubble’, ‘Yeah! Blabbermouth sic’ and ‘Oy! I am the cash blubber’. As he lets me write whatever I like each week, I was happy to turn ‘Jewish Telegraph editor Paul Harris’ into ‘Hurrah! Large his propitiated jewels’. And we won’t say anything about ‘Oh Jesus! A paperweight thrill raider.’
All of this was starting to look like one of the major paranormal discoveries of the 20th Century, as important as the Bible Code which used mathematics to locate hidden messages in the Torah.
With anagrams I could predict revolutions, stock market crashes, even the end of the world.
I proudly tapped in ‘Columnist Uri Geller’. Back came the reply, ‘Selecting ill rumour’.
12th March 1999
Prof says Magen David is so sexy!
Let’s start by getting off the point. The most wonderful name I have heard in months is Jorge Augustin Nicholás Ruiz de Santayana. A poet born in Madrid, he became professor of philosophy at Harvard.
I discovered him while looking up a quotation. He said, “The working of great institutions is mainly the result of a vast mass of routine, petty malice, self interest, carelessness and sheer mistake. Only a residual fraction is thought.”
The same could be said of individual human beings. When Einstein remarked that we use only ten per cent of our brains, he did not mean that ninety per cent was still and dead. Any PET scan will disprove that.
He meant that our lives are mechanical, with routines formed for the basest reasons – petty malice, self interest, carelessness, sheer mistake.
To overturn the routines requires positive action, which demands Mindpower. It means using more of your brain.
That has nothing to do with Santayana’s famous dictum on history, which was the reason I was studying the dictionary of quotations – to find his warning, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
He was, regrettably, wrong.
When the past is forgotten, it ceases to exist. Its effect is everywhere, because nothing in the present could be as it is unless the past had happened exactly as it did.
But we cannot revisit what has been forgotten. We cannot take the present and work backwards. I do not know, for instance, the names of my father’s grandparents. There is no one to ask now.
They may have been Hungarian, as my father was, but the records will almost certainly have been destroyed. And if the history of early 20th century Europe has been obliterated, no one could hope to dig down through 4,000 years to trace the history of Israel.
But many people do hope. Archaeology, and especially the archaeology of religion, is the boom subject in popular books and TV. It has knocked cosmology off the top of the pyramid.
Archaeology is sexy – a science which used to be as dank and musty as a museum tour on a wet Sunday now attracts tens of millions of viewers. I believe its new power lies in the imagination. Archaeology forces people to dream, to recreate in their minds a world which has been utterly forgotten. It takes stories we have lived with since we were children, and places them in reality. It wakes up the mind.
A new breed of archaeologist has risen to the challenge. Intuition, sixth sense, gut reaction are not generally accepted as scientific tools, even though all of us, including scientists, live real life outside the laboratory. Sixth sense tells us more about our friends and colleagues, more about our environment, more about ourselves, than all our other five senses combined. But it takes a visionary scientist to apply that to history.
David Rohl is a visionary. The man who located the Garden of Eden in northern Iraq, identified the Sumer monarch Enmerkar as Nimrod, and discovered the remains of the Tower of Babel at Tel Abu Shahrain, approaches the past with an imagination which borders on the psychic.
“If we don’t use our intuition in ancient history,” he insists, “we only nibble at the edges of knowledge.”
Another new-era archaeologist, Juris Zarins, crushes the routine thinkers more forcefully.
“If some people are adamant that the Bible is just a bunch of weird stories by a bunch of ignoramuses, you are not going to persuade them otherwise, whether you help them with geology or not. You are never going to find a dead body labelled ‘This is Moses’.”
The British pop star Julian Cope, who had hits with The Teardrop Explodes almost 20 years ago, has reinvented himself as an archaeologist, applying an extreme dose of intuition to the ancient religion of Britain.
His wonderful book The Modern Antiquarian (Virgin £30) combines 150 pages of rollercoaster research into the meaning of stone circles with a guidebook listing 300 prehistoric sites.
His ideas are so sexy, they throb – studying a nine-inch black stone phallus in Orkney, he suddenly has an insight into the meaning of the Star of David, as “a sexually balanced image consisting of the downward triangle of the Goddess united with the priapic Pyramid of the God.”
This notion is a mind-stinger. You might hate the imagery, it might seem blasphemous and irreligious, but it sets off a shower of sparks in the brain. It is not part of Santayana’s vast mass of routine.
Finally, and off the point again: anyone who was intrigued by my piece on anagrams last week might be interested to know that ‘Jorge Augustin Nicholás Ruiz de Santayana’ translates to ‘Huge sand organisation injures casualty’.
19th March 1999
‘Who is a Jew’ swab test next?
Family history counts for little now. The stories your grandmother told you, the tales your father remembered from his childhood, these taught us how Jews separated by continents and centuries would recognise each other’s common rituals and customs.
But today it seems that to know your heritage is Jewish is not enough. What matters is the genetic make-up of your saliva. What counts is your spit.
Dr Tudor Parfitt of London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies has proved the claims of the Lemba, a scattered tribe of 70,000 black Jews in southern Africa, by DNA testing.
As the Jewish Telegraph reported last week, some of the Lemba people’s gene coding, based on saliva swabs, matched Semitic patterns. Lemba ancestry can almost certainly be traced back to the Jews of southern Yemen.
In the DNA of the Buba, the senior family group, he even identified the Cohen Modal Haplotype – the unique Y chromosome pattern which is passed from males of the Cohanim to their sons.
Dr Parfitt’s conclusions are worrying. “I don’t think the Israelis will be pleased,” he told The Times, “because it could mean another African group clamouring for citizenship.
“There is no great movement among the Lemba to return to Israel. They are not persecuted for their religion. But what would happen if they did want to go?”
“What would it mean for groups who claim to be of Jewish descent? Would we get people waving their DNA at the Israelis, asking to be let in?”
And turning his question on its head, what would happen if DNA matching became a precondition to making Aliyah? What if a Jew’s legitimate claim to make his home in Israel could be blocked because his saliva failed the swab test?
How long before kosher testing becomes as widespread as pregnancy testing – spit on a scrap of litmus paper, wait ten seconds and if it doesn’t turn red, you’re not a Jew.
In an age where incomprehensible science has become a blind faith to hundreds of millions, we will soon be willing to discount all the stories of our parents and our grandparents, rather than doubt the evidence of DNA.
I was reminded of remarks attributed to the outspoken rightwinger, Rabbi Ytitzhak Ginsburgh, three years ago: “If every single cell in a Jewish body entails divinity, is a part of God, then every strand of DNA is a part of God. Therefore, something is special about Jewish DNA.”
At the time I thought this was just rabble-rousing – Rabbi Ginsburgh has also been quoted as teaching that if a Jew and a non-Jew are drowning, the Torah demands we must save the Jew first.
Now his comment looks like a bad omen. To Jewish ultra-purists, genetic testing could become a dangerous and divisive tool, a way of denying Judaism and Israel to people who regard themselves as Jewish.
The fact that Dr Parfitt is obviously a scientist, not a politician, makes his questions even more troubling.
On the topic of genetic dilemmas, I was provoked by the biologist Professor Lewis Wolpert’s champagne challenge on the human cloning issue.
Professor Wolpert does not see anything wrong in creating identical people by genetic engineering. He thinks it’s all old hat, and has promised a bottle of bubbly to anyone who can convince him there is a single new moral problem raised by cloning.
It seems almost cruel to take Lewis’s champagne so easily, but we now possess the technology to recreate Einstein. The scientist’s brain was preserved after his death, and now could yield the DNA required to clone him.
The experimental value of creating more Einsteins – or, effectively, of conceiving his identical twins 120 years after his birth – is irresistible. The technique is being perfected in laboratories around the world.
The South Koreans are rumoured to have achieved partial success, and firms such as the American Clonaid are advertising on the WorldWide Web to copy anyone’s DNA, dead or alive, for around $200,000.
Would Einstein reborn possess the original’s idiosyncratic genius? Or would the new child’s social awkwardness and inability to talk until the age of nearly five lead to a diagnosis of autism?
The first Einstein was the 20th century’s greatest thinker – would the second emulate him or end in an institution?
Whether it is fair to create a child whose genes carry the potential for brilliance and disaster, simply to satisfy ourselves, is a dilemma faced by every parent. None of us knows how our children will turn out.
But whether we should raid Einstein’s body for his DNA is a totally original dilemma. We are confronted by a question that simply has never been asked before. This is not a matter of, for instance, taking organs from a fresh corpse for transplant, to save a life. This is creating new life, from a life long dead.
The closest parallel I can find is the Diane Blood case, where a widow fought through the courts to win the right to have artificial insemination with sperm taken by doctors from her husband, without his consent, as he lay dying.
But Ms Blood’s baby is not a clone of her husband, and by marrying her he had agreed in principle to father her children.
Einstein could barely have imagined the reality of cloning. I strongly suspect he would have hated the idea of his body being used to seed another human, identical to him. But does it matter now, when he has been dead more than 40 years, what he thought?
26th March 1999
We can stop Israel drought?
More than half your body weight is water. Three-quarters of your muscle consists of water, as does 90 per cent of your blood plasma.
Every day your water intake should be around 2.5 litres, including about seven glasses of pure water – not tea, coffee, Cola or alcohol.
If you don’t, or can’t, get enough water, your body will compensate by draining water from your own cells and blood volume. Your capillaries will start to close, making your circulation more sluggish and putting a strain on your liver and your heart.
You could suffer higher cholesterol levels, hypertension, headaches, arthritis, heartburn, even heart attacks and stroke. Fat will break down less easily, causing obesity.
Israel’s drought, the worst in half a century, has seen rainfalls drop to 40 per cent of normal levels. The effect of water shortage on a nation mirrors the effect on a human body – it compensates, pulling water from other areas, perhaps doing itself irreparable damage.
Although the drought has not yet been officially declared, Israel has already announced it cannot honour Article Six of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, guaranteeing 45 million cubic metres of water annually to the Arab state. Up to 60 per cent of the Yamouk and Jordan river’s supply could be withheld.
Jordan, which suffered a drought last year too, is rapidly draining its aquifers. Gershon Baskin, director of the Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information in Jerusalem, fears King Abdullah’s new Hashemite regime could be destabilised.
“By summer people in Amman may be getting only one or two day’s water a week,” he warned.
Israel’s farmers have already had their water quotas cut by a quarter, a fact which means nothing to rumour-mongers who spread stories of Jewish settlers on the West Bank refilling their swimming-pools while thirsty Arab children plead for a drink.
This is a natural crisis which threatens to become a political disaster and an economic catastrophe – parts of Jordan could lose half their crops.
Bethlehem’s deputy mayor, Ziyad Bunduq, predicted last summer: “The next war will be over water. What kind of peace can there be while we have no water?” His prophecy has been echoed again and again by journalists trying to guess what the 21st century will bring.
Many believe that if the new Millennium brings a Third World War, it will not be about oil, ethnic conflicts or the collapse of Communism – it will be for water.
And yet rain can be made to fall, and if Charles Mallory Hatfield had possessed more faith in his fellow men, nowhere in the world would be dry.
Hatfield invented a chemical compound which could cause a monsoon in a desert. In 1916 San Diego offered him $10,000 to induce enough rain to fill their new 13-billion-gallon Morena Reservoir.
Hatfield overdid the formula, 44 inches of rain fell in a month and 20 people drowned in a dam-burst.
Six years later he got the formula right in Naples, and in 1930 he made enough rain fall in ten days to douse a forest fire in Honduras.
His grandson, David, claimed the old man once made 250 inches of rain fall in 24 hours on the uninhabited Sand Canyon, California.
Though he was successfully hired more than 500 times and his life story was filmed, as The Rainmaker with Katherine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster, Charles’s formula died with him.
David Hatfield explained: “The formula was too devastating a force to unleash to any one individual, or to any group of bureaucrats who might misuse it.”
“He saw very few people of integrity, men who stood by their words at all costs.” Theories that Hatfield’s compound was based on silver iodide crystals may never be proved.
Psychics and shamans have been able to break droughts throughout history.
Science cannot explain psychokinesis and it is contemptuous of tribal religions, so there is little hope that Israeli government scientists will turn to rain-making rituals and magic to end the crisis.
Ordinary people can do their best to help, though, by testing their powers with one of parapsychology’s oldest tests – cloud-busting.
Find a quiet space and look up at the sky. Let yourself relax and think of nothing but the air above. Form a picture in your mind of a white cloud. This cloud is floating over Jerusalem. It turns dark with rain. The rain falls.
If enough people try this visualisation, Israel’s drought will be broken. It’s up to you.
Uri Geller’s Little Book Of Mindpower is published by Robson Books at £2.50, his novel Ella by Headline Feature at £5.99 and Jonathan Margolis’s Uri Geller, Magician or Mystic? by Orion Books at £17.99
31st March 1999
In God we trust, and Ovid knew it
Family skeletons, sexual dirt, hidden lives, secret histories – when you go looking for a missing person, a whole lot of other stories turn up.
Ann Wroe went looking for Pontius Pilate, the fifth Roman governor of Judea. In the Christian calendar, in two days it is Good Friday, commemorating the day Pilate’s troops crucified Jesus.
She found nothing of the governor but ten thousand rumours and a few worn chippings of stone from an aqueduct.
The real Pilate has disappeared, like a figure removed from a photograph with a razor blade. But in the background, in sharp focus, the true evidence remains.
What Wroe reveals in Pilate, The Biography Of An Invented Man (Jonathan Cape, £17.99) is the power of Jewish faith 2,000 years ago.
She compares it to the massive peaceful protests led by Gandhi to overthrow British rule in India and, to anyone who thought civil disobedience was a 20th century tactic, this book is a revelation.
When a weak, vacillating, sandal-licking diplomat named Pilate arrived in Judea in 26CE, from a Rome where all Jews had been banished, he found a nation whose God was even more powerful than the Emperor Tiberius.
Rome ruled by fear. Pilate, on his political ascent, probably served with the armies in Gaul and Germany, in Spain or north Africa, where he would have assisted in atrocities little different from the massacres in the Balkans today.
Where there was resistance, executions would be carried out. Where there were uprisings, villages would be slaughtered. Without weapons and in silence, the Jews defended their faith, and all Rome’s brutal legions were unable to crush them.
Wroe’s cynical assessment of Pilate’s task in Judea was simple. He had to keep the peace, because war was costly.
He had to flatter the Emperor with gross gestures, because long-distance politics can not be subtle. And while he collected the taxes – a silver coin annually from every man and woman in the province – he had to line his pockets.
This was the one time in his career when he could expect to get very, very rich.
Pilate was a dithering man with little vision and small-minded greed. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John depict a political rodent, scurrying from one dead end of a maze to another, as he tries to calculate his best options on Good Friday. Kill Jesus, don’t kill Jesus.
Torture and blood are his meat and drink – when he eventually decides to have the man crucified, he scourges the convict himself, before handing him to the legionaries to be beaten.
But he acts as executioner out of fear – fear of insulting Tiberius Caesar by pardoning a man who called himself a king, and fear of provoking another religious outcry.
Three times in the past seven years Pontius Pilate had blundered into a Jewish crisis. The first revealed his ignorance of the religion’s basic rules – within days of his arrival, he hung the standards of his legions from the walls of the Antonia fortress, on the pavement of the Temple. Jerusalem had been the only city in the Empire where images of the Emperor did not hang, like the giant murals of Stalin and Lenin two millennia later.
Within days a silent, unarmed crowd had assembled before Pilate’s palace, 60 miles from Jerusalem. Most, their feet bound in rags, had walked through the bitter winter cold to make their protest.
The images were unholy. The Jews would submit to the Romans, but their God would not bow to Tiberius.
Pilate ignored the peaceful protest for five days. On the sixth day he ordered his troops to clear the crowd. They would not go. The soldiers put the tips of their swords to the Jewish throats.
God still did not bow to Caesar, and the protestors did not flinch. Pilate gave the order to remove the standards.
The second protest ended in a massacre. Pilate built an aqueduct, a showy feat of Roman engineering, like the Soviet space program. He funded it with the sacred treasure of the Temple, the corban money. By the end of the project, every coin had been taken.
On his next trip to Jerusalem, Pilate was prepared for insurrection. The crowd that gathered in protest was mingled with his own soldiers, with headcloths and false beards and daggers concealed beneath their Jewish robes.
On the prefect’s signal, the soldiers attacked the unarmed protestors. Many who were not cut to ribbons were trampled to death. Pilate watched in silence. The massacre did not deter another peaceful protest. Pilate’s mentor, the viciously anti-Semitic Sejanus, was suddenly executed in Rome by Caesar.
To emphasis his own loyalty, Pilate hung shields displaying Tiberius’s noble features from the walls of Herod’s palace in Jerusalem.
By now, Jewish leaders had learned how to deal with their cowardly, cruel prefect, even though he had learned nothing of them.
Instead of massing in protest, they sent letters of warning to Rome, warning Tiberius that there would be revolt unless the shields were removed. Tiberius indicated his displeasure. Pilate almost died of terror.
The Roman poet Ovid wrote that to feel the wrath of Caesar was to be crushed by God. Two thousand years ago, the Jews knew what was to sustain us throughout this century – Caesar is always a petty tyrant, and God is God.
Uri Geller’s Little Book Of Mindpower is published by Robson Books at £2.50, his novel Ella by Headline Feature at £5.99 and Jonathan Margolis’s Uri Geller, Magician or Mystic? by Orion Books at £17.99
9th April 1999
And now it’s the virtual Sanhedrin
Austin, Texas – April 4, 2009: Black supremecist Tariq Abu Toameh, sentenced to execution six years ago for the murder of two Jewish community leaders, is to be cloned immediately after he dies from a lethal injection tomorrow.
Within minutes of learning his last-ditch appeal for clemency had failed in the Supreme Court, Abu Toameh agreed to allow government medics to sample his body tissue, taking DNA to fertilise a human egg which will be implanted in his mother.
He will be the first Death Row prisoner to be cloned, under President Hillary Clinton’s ‘First Justice, Second Chances’ programme.
Abu Toameh’s mother, 46-year-old Dinah LaRuye, from New Orleans, said: “People tell me I’m too old to bear my boy a second time, and people tell me he was no good, and people tell me cloning is dangerous and against God.
“But I say, I’m going to do what any mother would do. I’m going to have my baby again.”
Leah Gorenberg, daughter of one of Abu Toameh’s victims, said: “I’m disgusted. What is this insanity, creating a new baby with his exact DNA structure?”
“Abu Toameh committed the worst crime possible, so he gets to wipe the slate clean and live life from the start.”
“My father was a good man, living a pious life, and he was cut down senselessly – with no Second Chances.”
Her protests were echoed by the anti-cloning pressure group, Once Is Enough. Chairman Barry Law said: “If we resurrect murderers, what’s the point of capital punishment?”
A statement from Abu Toameh was read by his defence attourney, Melissa Dorling, to reporters on the Supreme Court steps after the verdict. After a rambling rant which attacked racial inequality, the American justice system and an alleged worldwide Jewish conspiracy, the condemned man suddenly thanked the President for giving his genes another opportunity.
“I know I will live again on this earth, and I don’t doubt my second life will be in the full glare of the public eye.”
“You will all see that next time, I shall fulfil my potential. Thank you, Hillary Clinton – you are a second mother to me.”
TEL AVIV, April 9, 2019: Two of Israel’s fighter pilot clones were killed today when their F-133 anti-gravity pods collided on a mission over Southern Lebanon.
Yehiel Yardeni VI and Yehiel Yardeni VIII, known to their squadron as Gold and Blue because of the coloured stripes of face paint they wore to identify themselves, both died without attempting to eject. Military observers said that, in a head-on collision with both pods travelling at above 800 kph, neither flier would have recognised the danger until a split-second before disaster.
The pilots’ eight clones, Yardeni II to XI, were said by their commander to be shocked but composed.
“The boys know their destiny is to fly for Israel,” said Squadron Leader Shmuel Regev. “If that destiny includes sudden death, so be it.” The tragedy is certain to reopen debate about cloning humans for defence roles.
Yehiel Yardeni I was Israel’s outstanding test pilot of the late 20th century, who volunteered his DNA to create a new breed of fliers with his immense agility, strength and lightning reactions. His focused, ardently Zionist personality was an important factor in the Netanyahu government’s decision to begin the experiment.
Opponents called the project at Nes Ziona Biological Research Institute “a human factory farm”.
“They engineered those ten boys, not just to be superb flying robots, but to be perverts,” said Rabbi Gershon Shochat.
“All that motivated our politicians was money. It was cheap to educate these young men, because they were guaranteed Alpha-Plus passes.
It was cheap to let them die, because they were gay and guaranteed to leave no wives, no family. And today, you can bet the politicians are more conerned about losing two fighter pods than two Israelis.” The Vatican, April 9, 2034: Pope Pius XIII furiously condemned Christian evangelists tonight after the clone of Jesus was assassinated in Jerusalem. Marius Josephson, 33, who was cloned from DNA in blood on the Turin Shroud, died instantly as a hail of bullets cut him down outside the trial room.
In a live broadcast seen by an estimated 350,000 Catholics worldwide, the Pope promised eternal damnation for the scientists who engineered “this unholy catastrophe, the outright reverse of the Christian story.”
Eleven fundamentalists calling themselves the True Disciples gave themselves up to Jerusalem police immediately after the killing.
In a statement prepared before the shooting, their American leader, naming himself as Simon Peter, said: “Marius Josephson had to die, because Christ cannot return to earth as long as his exact likeness is walking, talking and breathing.”
Professor Alan Bronshtein, 96, who was defending Josephson/ Jesus in a computerised simulation of the AD33 trial before Herod and the chief priests, said: “I am horrified.”
“My client was an ordinary man with the misfortune to have been cloned from the ancient DNA of a very important person. “There has been much debate as to whether the Turin Shroud, and therefore my client’s lineage, is real or fake.”
“Marius selflessly underwent innumerable medical tests to widen medical knowledge of the Jewish physical character. He studied Jewish and early Christian history very deeply, and allowed himself to be hypnotised so that, for the purposes of this trial, he actually believed this was AD33 and he was Jesus.”
“My reasons for suspending my retirement and defending him in this mock trial were to show it was the Romans, and not the Jews, who bear ultimate responsibility for killing Jesus. The technology involved in generating a virtual Sanhedrin, a holographic Pilate and so on has provided, I believed until today, a deeply improving experience for humanity. I must now revise that view.”
Uri Geller’s Little Book Of Mindpower is published by Robson Books at £2.50, his novel Ella by Headline Feature at £5.99 and Jonathan Margolis’s Uri Geller, Magician or Mystic? by Orion Books at £17.99
16th April 1999
Chicken soup stirs the soul
If you want to get a smile, try giving one away. If you’re feeling sad, sing a happy tune. And if you want to sell 25 million books, tell some inspiring tales.
Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield hit on a recipe for stories that worked on the human heart like chicken soup – warming, comforting and uplifting, just like your mother’s broth.
Their first Chicken Soup For The Soul collection first topped the US bestsellers lists four years ago and launched a publishing phenomenon which has outpaced the book world’s wildest predictions.
Though the title is kosher, and there is even a volume called Chicken Soup For The Jewish Soul, the concept is spiritual, not religious – the feelgood factor works whatever your faith and culture.
To me, after a lifetime spent urging people to believe in their own strengths, to trust to their inspirations, the books are proof of a central truth – positive energy transforms lives.
I’m in New York tonight, midway through a publisher’s tour of the north-eastern states to promote a book about the power of our minds to heal our bodies.
Everything in the volume can be summed up by two words: Positive Energy. The book reps are excited, especially when I tell them: “Think of this book as chicken soup for the mind and body!” Out here, they can’t get enough of chicken soup.
Americans are buying Chicken Soup for the Working Soul, for the Surviving Soul, for the Country Soul (including a contribution from Dolly Parton), for the Teenage Soul (two volumes), for the Christian Soul, the Mother’s Soul, the Recovering Soul, the Soul with Cancer, the Pet-Lover’s Soul, and the Woman’s Soul (more than 85 per cent of buyers are women).
There’s much, much more in the pot. Canfield and Hansen can reel off another 74 projected titles, and bookshops are giving whole walls over to their collections.
One recent Publishers Weekly chart showed chicken soup in six of the top ten sales slots.
The recipe is wholesome, easy and quick. Ordinary folk across America write to the authors with tales of their own – about 120 arrive daily.
They are brief vignettes of family lives, scanned by a team of between 40 and 100 Chicken Soup readers.
Canfield, the writing side of the partnership, has seen tens of thousands of these tales, and says he can spot a heartwringer within seconds.
The team grade the tales from one to ten – only the tens get published. The contributors get $300; the readers get 101 stories of everyday life that are flavoured with a twist of love and kindness.
One fan, Rabbi Shalom Lewis of Congregation Etz Chaim in Cobb County, told reporters he used the stories in preaching.
“You might go through 10 stories that are nice, then find that the 11th just rips your heart,” he says. “And of course the notion of chicken soup as something healing and consoling comes from Jewish sources.”
“I just wish I had had the idea before they did.”
Another fan, currently serving a sentence in a US penitentiary, wrote to the authors to say his warden ladled out to the inmates one serving of chicken soup each night.
He added: “When I get out, I no longer want to kill anybody.”
Each of the thousands of soup stories is no more than a few hundred words long, making them ideal for the scant moments of free time that are precious in most people’s days.
They lack strong characterisation, beautiful language or complex plots – Canfield is the first to admit his stories are not literature. And they are perfect for readers whose concentration span is as long as a commercial break.
Even reduced to a sentence or two, many of these stories are moving. A boy receives a present, hand-made by the poorest girl in his class.
A teacher’s mother partners a lad whose own parents are too busy to attend school for a Mother’s Day tea. A disabled child adopts a crippled puppy, because the dog needs someone who will understand its problems.
Children are a key element in the tales – so are pets, mothers and money worries. These are sentimental staples. They are also the essence of everyday life.
Even the story behind chicken soup is an inspiration. Canfield and Hansen are motivational speakers, and these stories are their stock in trade.
They were turned down by 33 publishers, and when the first print run finally happened, they sank every penny of turnover into publicity.
It took six years to make the first collection a bestseller, but by the time Chicken Soup III was published, they were able to give 50 cents a copy to the American Red Cross. Now, every book boosts a charity.
Hansen teaches his children to give ten per cent – a tithe – of their money to church, another tithe to charity, and to save another tithe.
“If you take one small step towards God, God has to take a God-sized step towards you,” he explains, adding his ambition is to give away one billion dollars during his lifetime. At 55, he appears to have a realistic chance.
Among the charities being fed at this soup kitchen is Bosnian Orphanage Relief. “Our goal is to make the world work,” Hansen says.
“I know it’s a lofty goal, but somebody has to do it.”
23rd April 1999
Adam’s first wife makes a comeback
When my children were babies, my mother taught me that if they ever laughed in their sleep I was to strike them gently on the lips with my forefinger.
They might be laughing because Lilith was smiling at them in their dreams – and the smile of Lilith is death. We hung amulets in the nursery too, bearing the faces of Adam and Eve, the names of the angels Senoy, Sansenoy and Semangelof, and the warning: “Lilith, out!”
Lilith was the first wife of Adam. She was also the first goddess, the mother deity worshipped by ancient tribes before a male God was proclaimed to be the only true creator.
To depose her meant to demonise her, and the ancient Hebrew priests preached Lilith was the core of all evil.
She was the serpent who tempted Eve, she was the mother of all demons, she was the foul harpy who settled on sleeping men and stole their semen, she was a vampire and a cannibal, and when she remarried it was to the devil himself.
The feminist revolution did not help Lilith’s image. After thousands of years, the picture of God as an all-male deity began to fray, but no-one suggested balancing the scales with a powerful Goddess.
Most feminists who stopped believing in God the Father, stopped believing in any god at all.
One magazine did call itself Lilith, when it launched in 1976 – it’s still publishing today, aimed at independent Jewish women, but sales have never been spectacular. Vogue it ain’t.
But Lilith is making a comeback now. The upsurge of new religions has caused a worldwide interest in paganism, a return to the ancient beliefs and mythologies.
In rock, the supergroup for the Millennium is a loose union of female singer-songwriters, including major stars such as Alanis Morrisette, Sheryl Crow and Suzanne Vega – they call themselves Lilith Fair.
And on the worldwide web, virtual shrines are springing up to the goddess. So many Jews want to embrace the forgotten, female part of our religion that a Jewish Pagan web-ring has been created, connecting more than a dozen on-line temples and libraries, like the establishment of a new church.
A cult of Lilith flickered briefly about 1,300 years ago. Since then, she has been remembered only by anxious parents, hushing the gurgles of their sleeping children.
Suddenly, she’s a superstar, striding to take her place among the great deities of witches throughout history – Diana, Selene, Hecate. Prayers, poems, essays, whole books abound on her websites.
Searching traditional reference books, it is difficult to discover anything about her. Larousse’s massive Encyclopaedia of Mythology ignores her – Brewer’s Phrase and Fable dismisses her as the legendary equivalent of an accountant’s balancing item, a first wife invented for Adam by theologists who noticed that Genesis states God created man and woman at the same moment, then relates a chapter later how Eve was formed from Adam’s rib.
Rossetti’s poetry about Eden mentions her briefly: “Not a drop of her blood was human, but she was made like a soft, sweet woman.”
Searching the web is very different. Within moments a full list of her names can be accessed – as revealed to Elijah, she was Abeko, Abito, Amizo, Batna, Eilo, Ita, Izorpo, Kali, Kea, Kokos, Odam, Partasah, Patrota, Podo, Satrina and Talto.
‘Lil’ in Sumerian means ‘air’ or ‘storm’. In astrology she is the invisible satellite of the Earth, named Black Moon. Christian tradition she occasionally is called Mary Lucifer.
Her story is told in full. When God created Adam he used pure, red clay, but for woman her took a handful of filth and sediment – so said the priests. However base her beginnings, one fact could not be escaped: she had been created at the same moment as Adam.
Woman did not come second, and Lilith refused to be subservient. She was Adam’s equal, in everything. Including sexual intercourse.
“Why should I lie beneath you when I am your equal, since both of us were created from dust?” she demanded. Adam tried to overpower her, and with a shriek she spoke God’s magic name and flew away.
The vilification of Lilith began at this moment. She was everything evil – not only the earth goddess who existed before Yahweh, but the woman who refused to submit to a man.
No foul crime was impossible to her. Beside the Red Sea, where water gave strength to demonic spirits, she coupled with ghosts and spawned broods of demons, 100 every day.
Ancient carvings show her as a succubus, straddling men as they slept to trick them into making her pregnant. Her body was beautiful and alluring, but from the waist down she had the legs of a goat – or else she rode on a tail of flame.
This rebirth of a powerful female icon, after one of the most efficient smear campaigns in history, has a message for the Millennium.
Jewish culture can reinvent itself. The traditional rule of men over women is not going to survive the next 100 years, but our faith is going to prove flexible enough to accept the new equality.
Take down the medallions that proclaim, “Lilith, out!” Lilith is in.
30th April 1999
Still learning about bulimia 20 years on
Adam and Eve were vegetarians. God said to Man, “I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food.”
There was no idea of eating the animals – we were told to share our plants with them. Maybe we should have been carnivores, because then we would never have touched the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
Jesus was a vegetarian – so claim fundamentalist vegans in California, trying to convert America’s Bible Belt to meat-free lifestyles. And we’ll all be veggies when the Messiah comes, according to the 15th century rabbi Isaac Abravanel … who also predicted we would be living stark naked, out of doors.
I am vegetarian. One of the great side-effects is that everything I eat is kosher, because even the cheese I grate over my salad is made with non-animal rennet.
I am rigid about my diet – I don’t believe I have the right to kill any living creature just to satisfy my appetite.
But compared to the way things were at the height of my first fame in the Seventies, my attitude to food is relaxed. Laid-back. Careless.
I had always been fit and slender. I’d been a paratrooper, driving my body beyond its physical limits, and I’d been a model, honing my physique and my muscle-tone.
By the time fame hit me like a lightning bolt, my diet was pretty rigid. Healthy food, and not too much of it – though I didn’t take too much care over eating kosher.
International stardom plays havoc with a system like that. I was on an aeroplane every other day, with plastic portions of artificially revived slop served three times a flight.
I was on some fabulous dinner party circuits, filling my insides for free as I chatted to movie stars, scientists and musicians.
I found myself snacking for energy, swallowing a bar of chocolate before radio shows – and that might mean 12 snack attacks in a day.
I felt guilty. I was eating badly, and not enjoying it. There were two options – I could stop eating badly, or I could start enjoying it. I went for option B…
Bad diet became a treat. I allowed myself to eat three portions of gateau, because I’d just signed a record deal, or signed to a new publisher.
In fact, I was doing so well, I could have four portions. Six portions. What the hell, I deserved the whole gateau. And anyway, it didn’t matter. I had a secret weapon, which meant I could eat anything, anything at all, and never get fat. It wasn’t a paranormal weapon – it certainly was not the sort of thing I could do on TV. I vomited.
After eating the whole gateau, I dragged myself to the toilets, locked the doors, ran all the taps, stuffed tissues under the doors to deaden the noise – and stuck two fingers down my throat.
After a while, fingers were not enough. I had to use a Biro. I did not get any fatter. In fact, I started to lose weight.
I began to feel weak, and blood came up when I retched. I was making myself ill. But what could I do? Leave the restaurant with all that gateau inside me?
The crisis came when I stepped out of my car on Fifth Avenue in New York, and collapsed. It was a beautiful car, a black Cadillac Brougham, and everybody stared when it purred up to the sidewalk.
They stared, and what did they see? A skeletal star, crumbling out of the door and onto his knees.
Maybe they thought I was on drugs. I am sure nobody guessed the truth – bulimia was not a word used outside medical circles. I stood on Fifth Avenue, and I knew I was going to die. I was going to die, quite soon, unless I forced myself to beat the sickness.
I pulled myself upright, focused my eyes, clenched my fists and shouted, “Stop!”
People glanced around. Again I yelled, “Stop!!”
People passed by, stepping well away from this maniac. Once more, I screamed, “STOP!” One or two people broke into a run. But it worked. I triggered my Mindpower reserves that day on Fifth Avenue.
Something deep in my sub-conscious switched on, like an inner light, and that light has remained on ever since.
It showed me the way to stabilise my eating habits, and to build my self-love, so that plates of fat food were no longer my only rewards.
Gradually, that light led me to a wider view of eating. I learned about nutrition, and vitamins, and vegetarianism.
I stopped eating meat, and cut down hard on dairy produce. I read about starvation and its links with religious phenomena, and I realised that many people who are not in full control of their psi abilities may be prone to eating disorders.
I’m still learning about my disease now, more than 20 years after I cured myself.
My favourite restaurant serves food full of the flavours and textures that remind me of my Tel Aviv childhood – though it isn’t Israeli. In fact, it’s Arabic.
The Lebanese eaterie Al-Dar on London’s Edgeware Road serves fabulous moutabal, stuffed vine leaves, mousakaa bizeit, kibbeh bissiniyeh, makali bazingan, fatit hommos andf shanklish.
I love to invite half a dozen friends to join my family at a long table, and pack it with dishes which we plunder in great spoonfuls.
The atmosphere is always lively, sometimes even volatile, but I have never sensed any political or religious tension from the other diners, though I am also as well known for being an Israeli as for being a paranormalist.
Friends are sometimes surprised to find themselves eating Lebanese food – until they realise the Al-Dar chef is touched by genius.
I wish I could get the entire Israeli parliament to eat there with me. Every dish would be a peace treaty. By the time we reached the coffee, our frontier would be designated the safest and friendliest place on the planet.
7th May 1999
Jewry needs people like Scmuley Boteach
I was once summoned from a hotel restaurant to the Sheikh’s Suite on the 11th floor, to meet a man who could have claimed to be the most famous actor in the world.
This actor, famously, was accustomed to getting what he wanted. Curiosity made me take the invitation.
I was frisked in the corridor outside the suite – the bodyguards on the door didn’t say whether they were looking for guns or spoon-bending laser rays.
And then I was shown in with a nod, and the man who could claim to be the world’s most famous actor rose to greet me.
He was perfectly pleasant – a little stoned, or maybe just jet-lagged, but gracious and attentive and open-minded.
He wanted to see metal bend, and he wanted me to divine a drawing which he made while my back was turned, and he talked knowledgeably about UFOs.
He wore jeans and a red silk kimono, loosely belted. Apart from a guard with a holster by the main window, I thought we were alone but, after 20 minutes talking, a girl walked from the bedroom.
The actor saw her, beckoned, said: “That’s Uri Geller,” and pulled her head down to kiss her. She was Chinese or Vietnamese, with long hair and a short gown, and she didn’t look at me.
She swung a leg across the actor’s lap, crossed her arms in front of her, grasped the hem of her dress and peeled it up over her head in one slow movement. Then she rolled her head round and stared at me.
Her gaze was as emptily naked as her back. She looked too drugged to speak. But her body was flawlessly shaped. I swear that on the table, the bent spoon began to straighten itself out.
I was still a young man, and the scene seemed fantastically exotic and corrupt.
Now I see much the same thing, two or three times nightly, to advertise shampoo, and fabric conditioner, and cars. A girl before a mirror, slipping off each layer. A model strutting down stairs, casting off her dress, flicking off her bra.
These ads work. They tread barely within the boundary – erotic but never quite obscene, raunchy but not totally raw. They are unforgettable – you can picture exactly the ads I’m thinking of. You can remember every shot. You even know the brand-name of the products. These ads work.
We are comfortable now with nudity. In a few years, we will be comfortable with overt sex. Already any home with an internet connection can view live video pictures of Amsterdam stage shows and exhibitionist couples in Ohio.
Any TV with a satellite dish can pick up Danish broadcasts of orgies in gynaelogical detail. Cable providers devote up to 10 per cent of their output to adult channels.
I predict that, by 2004, discreetly lit footage of actors having full sex will be used to promote chocolate bars and trainers on national TV.
The nation will not necessarily be depraved. Sexual openness does not lead to sexual debauchery. Alfred Kinsey’s 1948 report on Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male revealed more than a third of men had indulged in gay sex.
Decades later, after the sexual revolution, the Playboy Foundation repeated the research and found the figures had remained constant.
There were just as many people doing it – but since the sexual revolution, everyone on the planet knows all about it. There are no secrets now.
Unless you’re Jewish. If you’re Jewish orthodox, God-fearing, synagogue-going, then apparently you are not supposed to know anything about sex – especially sex within marriage.
Nakedness is bad – if a paper publishes a picture of rabbis enjoying their bathing ritual, as the Jewish Telegraph did last year, the wrath of the establishment will be fearsome.
But far, far more fearsome is the wrath if a rabbi discusses the pleasures of sex within marriage.
I’m talking about Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, of course. It’s a year since Shmuley published Kosher Sex, his witty and wicked look at the importance of sexuality in married life.
When the book was serialised in a national newspaper, rabbis everywhere blushed to their kippot.
The publishers wanted that – controversy sells. But the process of vilification against Shmuley has gone far beyond controversy.
He was levered out of his synagogue in Willesden, he was sneered at by the President of the United Synagogues, his lectures are boycotted, his enemies speak of him in tones so bitter and vicious that many people who do not know him are being brainwashed into imagining that his ideas are anti-Jewish, anti-community, anti-God.
There is a smear campaign going on here. And for what? Rabbi Boteach has the intelligence to acknowledge that sex is becoming more visible, more blatant in every medium. We all see it – he has the courage to say it.
Religion has to reflect the times. If Judaism stops being relevant, people will stop being Jews. If our culture is to survive, we need people like Rabbi Boteach.
14th May 1999
For thoughts read prayers
All thoughts are prayers. Be careful of what you pray for. Everything that passes through your mind affects your body and your life.
When your mind is filled with positive images and energetic ideas, you feel strong, invincible. When your thoughts are sad, your body feels sad too.
The tiniest thought and the greatest prayer are both aspects of one thing – your Mindpower. You would not pray fervently for something you did not want – by the same token, be sure to let your thoughts lead you in the direction you wish to travel.
I have allowed my mind to play with a fantasy of serial murder and gruesome death, and in the wake of sudden, horrific, real-life violence I have a nagging sense of doubt, guilt and fear.
When I set out to write a detective thriller I had no doubts. I love murder mysteries. Everyone does – the best-selling novelist in history is Agatha Christie.
The biggest genre in any bookshop is crime. The world’s top-earning writers are John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell. Death is big business.
Death makes everything urgent – murder mysteries grip the reader till the last page, because the killer must be found.
It is unthinkable for the ultimate evil to go unpunished. Who would care about Hercule Poirot if he spent his career brilliantly deducing the whereabouts of lost pets?
It had always seemed horribly obvious to me that movies and books did not generate violence. Wars generated violence. I watched Westerns all through my boyhood, and I never even got into a fight.
Then I joined up and was sent to fight the Jordanians, and I killed a man.
For that one death among thousands of deaths during the Six Day War, I still don’t know who to blame.
But it sure as hell isn’t John Wayne. On-screen violence is far more graphic now than it was in the Sixties. Reservoir Dogs, Natural Born Killers and Nikita have been screened uncut on satellite TV – death by the hand of John Travolta or Anne Parillaud can be disturbingly erotic.
Killing can be a sexual impulse. Books and movies can help us understand that, both from the viewpoint of the voyeur and of the killer.
I have just read Steven Pressfield’s Gates Of Fire (Doubleday, £9.99), an astonishing story of the Battle of Thermopolae in 480BC, when a tiny army of Spartans held out against hundreds of thousands of invading Persians.
Pressfield is obsessive in his examination of what makes different kinds of men fight to the death – theirs, or their enemy’s.
The athletic hero Polynikes describes with undisguised sexual fervour his ecstatic arousal when he thrusts his short sword into another man’s torso.
War for me was not like that, but Pressfield is demonstrating that it takes all sorts to stage a battle – not just psychotics. Murder is different.
I wish I could say my novel Dead Cold was written from an altruistic desire to explore the killer’s descent into insanity, provoked by the narrator’s thoughtless lifestyle.
But in fact I just wanted to have some fun, killing characters and torching them so it looked as though they might have been victims of spontaneous human combustion.
The casual entertainment gleaned from two hours with a video or two days with a book is very different from the intense experience of twelve months at a computer keyboard.
Every thought is focused on the plot, sometimes from the moment of waking until sleep, 20 hours later, when nightmarish dreams cut and shuffle the images on the page.
All thoughts are prayers. In a sense that did not strike me until I saw the novel printed, in hardback, I spent months praying for violent death.
All my life I have prayed for peace. Now thoughtlessly, as my hero’s thoughtlessness caused deaths, my prayers have turned to murder.
On the day of Jill Dando’s appalling murder, I was shocked to see that on the Radio Times which carried her image on the front cover, the back-page colour advert was for the Crime Book club.
Its sell-line was “Couldn’t you just murder … “
In Israel, simmering tension regularly erupts into murder.
In Yugoslavia, racial hatred turns to murder endlessly, and provokes Western governments into mindless, remote control murder.
These killings must be examined, deeply, until we understand why humans keep killing and how we can prevent it.
Stories are our strongest tools – everybody sees movies or reads books.
But it may be a while before I can focus my story-telling instincts on death for entertainment again. I don’t have the stomach for it.
Uri Geller’s Little Book Of Mindpower is published by Robson Books at £2.50, his novels Dead Cold (£9.99) and Ella (£5.99) by Headline Feature, Jonathan Margolis’s Uri Geller, Magician or Mystic? by Orion Books at £17.99
20th May 1999
Mossad’s secrets are on the web
My mother’s hotel in Cyprus was not large or luxurious and, as a civil war was tearing the island apart for most of the time we were there, it was not successful.
It had one insignificant advantage, which was to have a serious influence on my career: the hotel was close to the Israeli consulate.
In the early Sixties, when I was a teenager, an Israeli named Yoav Shacham came to our hotel, claiming to be a grain-buyer.
He taught me judo – I wondered why a grain buyer needed such deadly self-defence skills. I did a little spying on him, and it wasn’t hard to confirm my suspicions: Yoav was a secret agent.
I begged him to let me join him – spying for Israel was my greatest ambition. He allowed me to run a few packages for him, and encouraged me to train as an army officer before my call-up came.
When he was killed by a bullet through the head, in a cross-border raid into Jordan, I was badly shocked.
The Mossad was an organisation of the utmost romance to me. Its agents were demi-gods, its mission divine.
Its heroes were not supposed to die in panic-stricken ambushes on ill-conceived missions. I had adored the idea of the Mossad because its invincible aura of control and planning thrilled me.
In a career that took me wading waist-deep through espionage conspiracies, mind-control conspiracies, alien conspiracies, scientific conspiracies, nuclear conspiracies, I learned that almost nothing happens as planned.
When scandal broke in 1997 over an attempt by two Mossad operatives in Jordan to assassinate Khalid Meshaal of Hamas with a poison jab, I was surprised only that the aura had survived so long.
British intelligence has never enjoyed that aura. Even Ian Fleming painted MI6 as a bureaucracy buried in avalanches of paperwork – James Bond became superhuman only when he escaped from his desk.
John Le Carré ignored the superhumans and focused just on the bureaucracy. No one fears British Intelligence … the press simply looks on it as an upper class version of British Gas, all clerical errors and endless form-filling.
MI6, with no reason to be worried about bad PR, has never corrected the picture. Sometimes it adds in details itself.
The furore over a list of alleged British spies, which surfaced on the internet in three differing versions last week, could be of MI6 manufacture – somebody drew it up, after all.
Maybe it really was Richard Tomlinson, the sacked British agent who denies he posted the names. It’s hard to see how dangerous his information could be, since he was kicked out of the service five years ago.
If it was not Tomlinson, I can think of at least five plausible theories explaining all the facts – including the notion that this list is a piece of MI6 disinformation. Conspiracies are never clear-cut.
The net provides the greatest opportunity in history for lies, misleading stories and smokescreen. It also spells the end of real secrecy. As the web spreads, everyone will be able to see everything.
My database of Israeli intelligence resources on the internet now fills a fat folder. Everything I’ve downloaded during six months of research for a future novel has been found legally and without assistance from friends with inside connections.
I don’t want to hack into the Shin Bet computers to find my next plot – I just want to make my backgrounds accurate. And the levels of detail online are unlimited.
American thriller writer Tom Clancy was the first novelist to make wholesale use of secrets in the public domain. After his Cardinal Of The Kremlin was published almost a decade ago, the US government suspected him of obtaining leaked CIA documents from agency friends.
Clancy was able to demonstrate that everything he had revealed about anti-missile satellite systems was available to anyone.
Clancy was a military hobbyist, with endless patience and a mind like a filing cabinet. Web-users can be much lazier and get the same results.
By logging on to the Federation of American Scientists collection of worldwide intelligence resources and following the Israel link, anyone can download detailed descriptions of all national security organisations.
The FAS uncovers not just Mossad – the Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks – but Shin Bet, the General Security Service, Aman, or Military Intelligence, Lekem, the Bureau of Scientific Relations, plus the Center for Political Research and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Nothing is revealed that could put lives in danger. But armed with this information, any schoolboy would have a clear idea of where to start looking.
And as a one-time schoolboy spy, who learned his information by listening at keyholes, I know it is much harder these days to keep a secret.
Uri Geller’s Little Book Of Mindpower is published by Robson Books at £2.50, his novels Dead Cold (£9.99) and Ella (£5.99) by Headline Feature, Jonathan Margolis’s Uri Geller, Magician or Mystic? by Orion Books at £17.99
28th May 1999
Barak’s peace plan Is our Golem
My mind was elsewhere. Anyone who heard me speak at London’s Museum of Jewish Life last week will have guessed I was not focused on the Exhibition of Jewish Magic and Mysticism which I was opening.
I stood up to talk about Rabbi Loew’s Golem and why my Cadillac is crusted with bent spoons. And instead I made a speech about Barak and peace.
The exhibition is extraordinary, the complete answer to anyone who accuses my journeys into parascience as being somehow un-kosher.
Judaism is a religion rich in magic, real magic, shaped by telepathy and curses and omens and possessions and incantations and spirit voyages and visions and superstitions and psychokinesis.
To all of this I simply added metal-bending. My psychic powers have always seemed to me a confirmation that God exists.
If a man can stop watches and start clocks, then obviously a higher power must exist to control time itself.
I have been thrilled to see Hollywood stars turning to the Kaballah as Judaism becomes the new Buddhism, the spiritual touchstone for people who are in danger of losing sight of their own souls.
And I was very excited to be at the Jewish Museum, welcoming people to its Angels And Demons show.
But I still talked about Barak. His prayer at the Wailing Wall moved me deeply.
Here was a world leader, who won an election with the most modern vote-catching tactics. He used image consultants and soundbite editors and focus groups. He combined the winning strategies of Clinton, Blair and Schroder to engineer a heavyweight political victory.
And the first thing Ehud Barak did as prime-minister elect was offer a prayer at the wall where, in our faith’s magical tradition, God is believed to live. Literally within the stones, God is and God listens.
When I saw that, I knew that peace can come to Israel, if we all pray for it. By bowing our heads before God, we shall have to set aside our differences and combine in a prayer which must be heard.
Without the noise of infighting and political warfare, God will hear our hearts more clearly. That is why Barak went directly to God, to the wall itself. Whatever our private misgivings and doubts, we must all pray with him.
I am not so naive that I imagine it will be simple. Pray makes things possible but it never makes them easier.
It usually leads to sacrifices, and for Israel that seems certain to mean the Golan Heights. I am a veteran of the Six Day War, where we won the Heights, and I can fully understand anyone who says it will be a betrayal of our war dead if we hand back what we grasped at such a price.
The Heights cannot be handed over without safeguards, a practical point which is at the core of Barak’s prayers. It will require miraculous ingenuity to find a peace-keeping solution to suit all sides.
Stationing US and European troops at strategic points will ease some security fears – but what about Mount Hermon?
I believe the electronic monitoring equipment which we have installed on that 10,000-ft peak is more sensitive and wide-ranging than anyone has yet guessed.
It cannot be abandoned – but with Damascus only 30 miles away, it cannot remain. Barak may offer Assad a Syrian stronghold within Israel itself, in Galilee, to compensate. But this bargain will not be enough to seal the peace. We must all pray. At the Jewish Museum a life-size Golem is displayed, a clay man-monster like the one Rabbi Loew brought to life in 16th century Prague to protect his people.
By pronoucing the words Shem-ha-m-phorasch over it, he brought it to life, and on its forehead was written Aemaeth, or ‘Truth:God’.
If the beginning of this word was rubbed out, and only the word Maeth or ‘Death’ was left, the Golem crumbled back into clay.
This safety device was created by Kaballists more than a millennium before Loew, who had feared their Golems would grow and grow and lurch out of control.
Barak’s peace plan is our Golem. It has been brought to life by a sort of political magic, the wizardry of spin doctors. Now it is our best hope of survival.
We must hold our nerve as it grows, and keep the word Aemaeth on its forehead. Aemaeth, not Maeth.
Uri Geller’s Little Book Of Mindpower is published by Robson Books at £2.50, his novels Dead Cold (£9.99) and Ella (£5.99) by Headline Feature, Jonathan Margolis’s Uri Geller, Magician or Mystic? by Orion Books at £17.99
4th June 1999
Ruth flees the lying ‘Jesus Jews’
Ruth has come home. After two years and two months in a San Francisco commune, refusing even to speak to her family until recent weeks, she has now moved back in with her mother and father in Boston.
I have known her since she was a child – her father is a scientist who worked with me at Langley in the Seventies. She used to insist I must only speak Hebrew to her, to help her studies – she dreamt of becoming a rabbi.
She was not even ten years old then. Now she is a Christian, recruited by a cult which targets Jews for conversion, and I should be rejoicing at her escape.
I cannot – the whole episode has made me profoundly anxious, for Ruth and for thousands of young Jews.
Ruth says she was brainwashed. She says she’s finished with this bunch, the ‘Jesus Jews’, and with all cults, forever. But she is going to remain a Christian.
She is back with her parents, but not back at synagogue, and I don’t think her war is over.
The Jesus Jews are more stalkers than evangelists. They saw a lonely, confused girl, thousands of miles from home, and they set out to snare her.
Everything she had believed and everyone she had loved had to be discarded. It was a sick power game, one that is being played out all over California and the southern states.
The first I heard of it was a late-night phone-call from Ruth’s father, Richard. He’d just talked with his daughter, who had been out in San Fransisco for three months with a software firm, and he was worried about her new friends. They were all Ruth could talk about – a couple of girls, Debbie and Anat, and an older man who called himself Abram. All Jewish, all evangelical Christians.
They had met outside the synagogue, where Ruth was accosted by the girls who wanted her to meet ‘a special friend’. The special friend turned out to be Jesus.
Abram claimed Jesus came to him as he lay unconscious at the wheel of his car after an accident, and ordered him to devote his life to coverting his fellow Jews to Christianity.
“We are God’s chosen people, Jesus said that to me,” Abram told Ruth. “That’s why he’s so grieved that Jews won’t accept his son as the Messiah, because he’ll be forced to consign them to the flames of hell for eternity. That upsets him. You don’t want to make God sad, do you, Ruth? Turn to Jesus and you’ll make him so happy, he’ll weep tears of joy. Make God happy. Be a Jesus Jew.”
Ruth’s father could not believe his educated, intelligent, knowing daughter could have heard one word of that spiel without laughing in contempt. But he had not counted on her loneliness.
Cut off from her family and her friends, unhappy at work and perhaps nursing an unconscious guilt that she had not fulfilled her childhood promise to be a rabbi, Ruth was willing to abandon everything in her life to search for love and happiness.
Debbie and Anat offered friendship. Abram offered Jesus’s love and eternal salvation. She could still be a Jew, they said, she could still say Jewish prayers and read a Jewish Bible – though they forbade her to attend synagogue, and she was told to focus on photocopied extracts from the New Testament, instead of being allowed to open a whole Bible.
The calls home soon stopped. Ruth wouldn’t hear any criticism of the cult, and she refused to reveal anything about them – not even where they lived, though she now lived with them.
She kept working, but all her earnings went to the Jesus Jews, to be shared between them: “Jesus loves us all equally,” said Abram, “so it would be bad if any of us had more than the others.”
And then the letter came, when Ruth told her mother and father they were under the control of Satan, and if she was to protect her soul she must never see them again.
Richard flew to San Fransisco and spent a week tracking his daughter – she had warned her employers to tell him nothing, but at last he found her address through a Jesus Jews pamphlet.
She refused to see him. He says now that she was mentally ill, and will not blame her. But if it is an illness, it is one deliberately inflicted by the Jesus Jews. The Task Force on Missionaries and Cults states:
“Approximately 3,000 cults exist in the United States today.
There are over 200 missionary groups in the United States (with a combined budget of over $100 million) specifically targeting Jewish people for conversion.
More than 100,000 American Jews have been converted by missionary groups in the past 20 years, and a disproportionate number of Jews have joined cults.”
Ruth came home, after more than two years. Her rescue began with a call to her father on his birthday – she pretended she had done it without thinking, on the spur of the moment, but it took a lot of courage.
She missed her family so badly that the brainwashing about Richard being a puppet of Satan gradually stood out in her mind as an impossible lie. If the Jesus Jews lied to her about that, she asked herself, what else had been lies?
Everything. It was all lies. That’s what she says now. Richard just prays that when she says it, she means it.
11th June 1999
Judaism the best form of Mindpower
You possess the strongest computer in the universe – your mind. Computers will not work without software, the programs that instruct them what to do and how to do it.
For 30 years I have preached the importance of maximising your Mindpower, but it is only in the past decade that I have realised I was born with the most powerful built-in software on the market – because I’m a Jew.
Being Jewish is the best source-code for Mindpower ever developed. That’s why the century’s most brilliant brains – Freud, Wittgenstein, Einstein – were Jewish.
The discipline needed to maintain faith is the same discipline that forges strong will and determines ambition. These are six elements which I believe are crucial in Jewish Mindpower:
Kashrut – By refusing ever to eat rabbit, pig, shellfish and eels, a Jew lays down parameters. Taking decisions in advance and sticking to them is the essence of Mindpower.
Extend the laws of Kashrut into business or college life, and you will gain an instant mental energy boost.
If forays into the stock market have cost you a lot of time and some savings too, rule out share purchases as non-kosher.
If following three soap operas is eating too much into study time, fix on Coronation Street as the only kosher soap. You won’t only save time that was spent studying share prices or watching TV, you will save the energy wasted when you tried, and failed, to resist temptation.
Sabbath – Family time on a Friday night, rest on a Saturday; these define Jewish life for many.
If they are essential for faith, they must be very beneficial in every aspect of life. Identify a fixed part of every working day that must be spent resting – it’s the biggest boost your creativity can get.
To many workaholics, time out is a terrifying concept – laziness is their most hated crime. But we work at twice the pace when our minds are refreshed and our enthusiasm is burning hot.
My daily ‘Mindpower Sabbath’ is an hour’s walk along the riverside towpath with my dogs, in all weathers.
Circumcision – What is unnecessary, remove at the beginning. No matter how small and apparently insignificant, useless matter is not to be carried through life.
Look around your home – there are many little things that simply get in the way. Get rid of them.
Bits of clutter in desks, ornaments you always disliked, clothes you will never wear again, books you will not ever read.
These things are a constant tiny drain on your energy. Ignoring them, working around them, reaching past them – it is unnecessary and wasteful. Be brave – make the cut!
New Year – We restore our faith and our joy in family life every year, but in our work most of us just keep plodding along.
Set a date – the beginning of the new tax year is mine – to rejuvenate your ambitions. Put the past at your back, being proud of what you have achieved but knowing that what lies ahead is the key.
No one can be ambitious for a better yesterday. Today is the challenge. Tell yourself, “I will never be younger than I am today. I will never have more life ahead of me, more opportunity to succeed.” Celebrate and be joyful – and keep the date next year.
Passover – Another once-a-year opportunity. For eight days my family eats no unleavened bread.
It is a small sacrifice, but a big reminder, an annual test of character and willpower.
Set yourself other Passovers, to make the mind keener and the will stronger. For a week each year, deny yourself TV – use the extra time for reading with your children or grandchildren.
To do that all the year round would be a tough demand, and what should be a pleasure could end up feeling like a penance. But for just one week, you’ll remember your ability for self-discipline, and you’ll enjoy the extra family time.
And the children’s reading should improve too!
Shiurim – Study is a duty. It sharpens more than the religious intellect … the whole mind benefits.
More Mindpower could mean more life: scientists at the University of Kentucky studying senility found imaginative people stood only a 10 per cent chance of developing Alzheimer’s Disease, compared with duller-witted colleagues.
The research, focusing on 180 nuns in a Milwaukee convent, also found narrow-minded people died an average of seven years earlier.
I like the story about Oliver Wendell Holmes, a US Supreme Court judge, who read Plutarch’s Lives in his eighties. Friends asked him why … he told them: “To improve my mind.”
18th June 1999
Darwin or aliens – where are we from?
My agent, Toby Green, has been unable to hide his excitement. He has been hopping from foot to foot, and I thought maybe he had good news for me, like he’d clinched the deal with Sky TV for my 12-part series on psychic science with a Nobel-winning physicist.
“Almost,” he said, “almost, not quite, but it’s great news anyway – my book has come out!”
His book? I tried to explain to him that he was an agent – I wrote the books, I did the interviews, he pocketed the money. A simple relationship.
Then I remembered he graduated from Cambridge with a First in Philosophy, so probably this book was his doctoral thesis.
“No, it’s a travel book,” he said. “I followed Darwin’s route round the coast of South America. On a horse, mostly.”
Toby had a compendious knowledge of racing form, I knew, but I hadn’t thought of him as a horsey sort. Not many British Jews are.
A thought struck me: “You don’t hunt with hounds, do you?”
“Actually, I don’t really, umm, I don’t … I can’t ride.”
“You just said … “
“Oh, I sat on the horses. And I got quite adept, but I’m not exactly a gaucho.”
I had to read the book (Saddled With Darwin, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £20) just to be sure he wasn’t lying.
My agent, whose only knowledge of riding was that he shouldn’t sit facing the tail end, travelled from Montevideo in Uruguay to La Serena in Chile, on horseback. That’s why the cover quote, from the great traveller Eric Newby, calls Toby “highly eccentric”.
Later, he told me some tales that didn’t make the final edit, like how he flew into Rio sitting next to a rabbi from Jerusalem who was going to do the High Holy Days in Sao Paolo.
He was the only man on the flight eating Kashrut. And on Yom Kippur in Montevideo, Toby said, the Kol Nidre congregation was so noisy that the rabbi had to shout at them repeatedly to shut up.
It’s a terrific book, with an open mind to the psychic mysteries that saturate South America, and some real insights about the effect of travelling and hardship on Darwin and his theory.
By a juicy coincidence, it isn’t the only book on Darwin I’ve read this week.
Paranormalist Lloyd Pye has published research that could cause fundamental damage to Darwinism.
He isn’t a Creationist, one of the religious purists who accept every word in the Torah as literally true. But he can’t concede that life offers only one choice: believe Moses or believe Darwin. Pye thinks they’re both wrong.
His arguments are simple. They occur to most schoolchildren, and they never get answered. Where are the missing links, for instance?
It’s easy to see that horses, antelopes and camels might all be vaguely related – but why have we never dug up the ancient bones of their ancestors?
We can find old horses. We can find dinosaur fossils. But where are the prototype horscamelopes?
More to the point – where is the ape ancestor from which all humans, gorillas and chimps are descended?
We know we share more than 98 per cent of our DNA with other apes, and that over 200,000 years or so we have all evolved from a common forebear. But why is all the evidence missing?
Pye argues that evolution can improve breeds, but it can’t change them into different species. He also produces fossil evidence, suggesting well evolved lifeforms, such as prokaryotic bacteria and stromatolites, inhabited Earth before the seas of boiling lava had even begun to cool, four billion years ago.
Putting the two ideas together, he makes a strong case: life on Earth has at every stage been seeded deliberately. Someone is planting our planet, like a fertile field.
The humanoid bones dating back millions of years, discovered by Dr Richard Leakey and others, are not our ancestors, Pye believes.
They closely match yeti and sasquatch bones – and the fabled creatures we call the Abominable Snowman and Bigfoot are, in fact, remnants of the first hominoid experiment on Earth.
The second experiment was us.
“There is not a single human bone, or even a remotely human bone, in the entire ‘prehuman’ fossil record, until the Cro-Magnons (essentially modern humans) appear quite suddenly, 120,000 years ago,” Pye writes.
He also points to ancient Sumerian legend, that gods came to Earth to mine its gold, and created mankind to be their slaves.
Pye suggests this myth, rather than the Bible story, could hold the key to creation – humans were genetically engineered by the same extraterrestrial race that had seeded other species of life on the planet.
His word for this is ‘terraforming’ – shaping the Earth. His book, published by Adamu, is available by faxing him on 001-800-444-2524 – it’s called Everything You Know Is Wrong, Part One.
Two authors, driven by Darwin: one rode across a continent, one traced our ancestry to aliens. Which one is barmier?
No contest. It has to be the lunatic on the horse.
25th June 1999
Do Fragments hit an honest pattern?
Many times I have been asked, after making a prediction or psychically interpreting an omen, “How can you be sure? The future is not fixed! How can you say you know what will happen when the future is infinitely full of possibilities?”
These questions have been turned upside-down by the extraordinary story of Binjamin Wilkomirski. The 58-year-old Swiss Jew published a horrific account of his early years as a concentration camp orphan, in Fragments: Memories of a Childhood, 1939-1948. He told of the massacre of the Jews in Riga, of how he fled without his parents by boat to Poland, of his nightmare life in Majdanek and another camp, probably Auschwitz, and of the Jewish orphanage at Cracow after the war.
Binjamin’s name was changed to Bruno by a Swiss couple, the Dšssekers, who adopted him in 1947. They denied he was Jewish, denied his Holocaust memories and forbade him ever to speak of his past. By the time his book began to collect literary accolades, such as the Jewish Quarterly’s prize for non-fiction in 1997, the Dšssekers had been dead for a decade.
Wilkomirski first began to reconstruct his shattered memories from the deep crypts of his mind in the early Eighties. Even today, say interviewers, he cannot speak of the trains, the rats, the corpses, without trembling and weeping.
His health is broken, and the intense worldwide interest which greeted his book exhausts and frightens him.
And all around Binjamin Wilkomirski, the denials have begun again. It is stated his book is an invention, that the boy Binjamin never existed, that he was never in a Nazi camp. It is whispered that he made up these lies for attention, for profit, out of spite, out of madness, as a hoax, as a cry for help.
The deniers are not neo-Fascists. They are not rejecting the historical fact of the Holocaust, or the six million stories that ended in murder. Elena Lappin, fiercest of Wilkomirski’s critics, published her version of his biography in an essay called The Man With Two Heads, in the left-wing magazine Granta this month. Lappin was editor of Jewish Quarterly when it awarded its prize to Fragments.
Lappin has strong evidence – a birth certificate stating Wilkomirski was born Bruno Grosjean, in Biel, Switzerland, on February 12, 1941; the testimony of Max Grosjean, who believes he is the brother of Wilkomirski’s real mother; the gaping holes in Fragments, and the inevitable fact that no one from Majdanek or Auschwitz, circa 1944 or 45, can be found to corroborate the memories.
Max Grosjean has offered to undergo DNA testing, to prove his mother is Wilkomirski’s maternal grandmother. Binjamin has repeatedly refused.
Lappin’s theory, that Bruno/Binjamin was the illegitimate child of a penniless girl, has weight. Swiss peasant families in the first half of this century were able to buy orphans at auction as Verdingkinder, or ‘earning children’, to work the land and, very frequently, suffer beatings and abuse. Yvonne Grosjean had been a Verdingkinder. She never had a hope of keeping her child.
But was the child adopted by the Dšssekers the same boy who grew up to go to school, become Binjamin Wilkomirski, and write Fragments? What if the original Bruno died, perhaps of a disease such as meningitis or in an accident, to be replaced by a malnourished survivor of the Jewish death camps who was forbidden ever to speak his true name?
Without DNA testing, the truth cannot be known. Even if tests were done and Max Grosjean was proved to be unrelated to Benjamin Wilkomirski, that would not make facts out of Fragments. All we can know for sure, as the Holocaust scholar Israel Gutman said, is that the author wrote “a story which he has experienced very deeply.”
Deeply – but truly? The American experience of False Memory Syndrome, where thousands of middle-aged people in therapy have suddenly remembered horrible episodes of childhood trauma, suggests invented pasts can be even more devastating to the victims than objectively genuine memories.
John Kihlstrom, professor of Psychology at Yale University, says: “In False Memory Syndrome a person’s identity and interpersonal relationships are centred around a memory of traumatic experience which is objectively false but in which the person strongly believes.”
“We all have memories that are inaccurate – but the syndrome may be diagnosed when the memory is so deeply ingrained that it orients the individual’s entire personality and lifestyle.”
Kihlstrom says one common feature is the victim’s refusal to confront evidence which could show up the memories as lies – such as Wilkomirski’s refusal to take a DNA test. More than 90 per cent of false memory victims are women, mostly aged 31 to 50, who accuse their parents, especially their fathers, of abuse – frequently sexual and Satanic ritual abuse. Wilkomirski is almost 60, and neither his parents nor his adopters feature in Fragments.
We cannot hope this mystery will ever be solved. If Wilkomirski is really the illegitimate son of a Swiss peasant, how did he become convinced of his childhood in the death-camps and orphanages of Poland? If Fragments is an accurate summary of the facts, why are so many people reluctant to believe it? And why do we feel it is essential to grasp one story and discard the other?
To Binjamin Wilkomirski, the truth of his story defines everything he lives by. If his Fragments are false, then his Jewish faith itself is something his mind invented. But even he admits the Fragments are distant, often shapeless, and sometimes deceptive.
Like the future, the past holds infinite possibilities. But unlike predictions, our memories are not revealed as true or false by the passage of time. They are only made more obscure.
2nd July 1999
Did editor-angel employ this cameraman?
I go back to Israel by two paths. One is Heathrow-Ben Gurion, flying El Al, with a TV producer or an ad agency paying the Business Class fare – I’ll take any excuse for a trip to Tel Aviv,
I’ll fly out for the official opening of a new frozen foods section in Supersal, but the contract has to guarantee maximum legroom.
The other path has legroom built in – when I am walking beside the river with my dogs, I dream of the land where I was born.
I see the ashy browns of the desert stones swirl in the eddies of the Thames, and the emerald spears of rushes on the banks of the Jordan are recreated in miniature by lush blades of grass in the Berkshire meadows.
Israel is never as I remember it, when I travel El Al.
It has changed since the last time, of course, buildings springing out of the dust and children growing up and old friends gone.
These things I expect, but what always shocks me is how the essence of Israel, which stands out in all my daydreams, is often masked in real life.
What I remember most vividly are violent bursts of colour, and the immensity of the wide air, and the over-powering nearness of God.
At a publishers’ fair in the spring I met an Israeli photographer named Hanan Isachar, and it was immediately obvious that he saw the Holy Land as I did. I carry my memories in my head – he carries his in a flat leather folder that unzips on three sides, and as he lifted out print after print I marvelled at his gift.
That this is a gift, and not a mere talent or slow-learned craft, is plainly evident – Hanan’s fascination is with the religious spirit of Israel, and he uses his artist’s eye as a preacher uses his sermonising tongue.
The force of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in Israel is alive in his pictures, as though he had been commissioned by an editor-angel to reveal the godliness in the Holy Land.
Religious ceremonies, rituals and festivals are the focus of many images.
One, for instance, shows the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, through a gap in hillside fortifications.
A nun sits in a cheap white plastic chair and stares across the sun-charred earth towards a black-robed procession. On three days each year this road is trodden by pilgrims.
For the other 362, it is marched by soldiers. Any civilian straying close to the deserted church risks being shot.
The road runs perilously close to the border of Israel and Jordan.
Though it is more than 30 years since simmering political hatreds erupted in the Six Day War, the tension remains, and this is one place in the Holy Land which the military is not prepared to share with anyone, even the most pious.
The grip is relaxed for three festivals each year – the distant figures are Greek Orthodox Christians, celebrating Easter.
On these days, the armed presence seems artificial and out of place – like the moulded plastic chair.
In other pictures, all evidence of the place itself might be absent – but the certainty that this could only be Israel remains.
In an image of Lag B’Omer, for instance, two main figures are framed by billows of smoke from campfires.
One is a boy of two in his father’s arms, wearing a shining velvet skullcap over long golden locks, and traditional dress which looks anything but formal.
The other is a white-bearded rabbi with eyebrows like thistles and a broad streak of yellow on his moustache from a tobacco pipe.
He is lifting a pair of silver scissors, to give the boy his first haircut.
Hanan told me he took this picture at the foot of Mount Meron, near the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
These pictures are not posed. The photographer goes like a disciple, to see what God shows to him and record it.
Even the landscapes are like images of ritual, hilltops as temple domes and chequered fields like acres of stained glass.
My favourite, the one I see reflected in the rippling waters of my daydream walks, is red and purple like a Martian landscape, with a fiery ball floating above ancient stones.
The handwritten caption under the print notes simply, “Moonrise over the wall of old Jerusalem”.
To my great pleasure, Hanan agreed within minutes of our meeting to let me write the captions and introduction to his next book.
This weekend I entertained a major publisher at my home, and we shook hands on a deal.
I am deeply excited that, through Hanan, I will be sharing with millions of people around the planet my spirit-scape of Israel.
9th July 1999
Athlete Jesse is a race above the rest
The term “Sports history” is a contradiction in terms. Sport is an affair of the moment, a rush of exhilarating physical sensation that blots out memory.
And these all-consuming moments have been mounting up throughout the century, so that we reach the Millennium with a shelf-load of encyclopedias documenting every goal, every homer, every sprint, every record by every athlete in every team in every game. Nothing is forgotten.
To know all the obscure timetables for just one team is the mark of a true fan.
A true sports-lover, on the other hand, doesn’t have to know any of the historical stuff.
I’m a sports-lover, not a fan. I don’t know who won the FA Cup in 1988, I don’t know when the Dodgers last won the World Series, I have no idea why Los Angeles has the Raiders while Washington has the Redskins. But sometimes sports history does matter.
I had heard of Jesse Owens, but it was not until I began to research a book on psychic energy in sport that I learned why he made such an impact – and how he proved that one man’s truth will always pierce the lies of a nation.
Owens, the grandson of Alabama slaves and the son of a sharecropper, was one of 10 black athletes among the 66-strong US team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Already one of the world’s greatest sportsmen – at a Big Team meet in 1935 he broke or equalled four world records inside 45 minutes – he won four Gold Medals at Berlin and humiliated the Nazis. Adolf Hitler refused to shake his hand.
Hitler had proclaimed the Olympics would demonstrate the innate superiority of Aryan athletes. The teams of the world would stumble and fade as Germany’s racially pure supermen and superwomen strode to victory.
When architect Albert Speer pointed out to Der Führer that the Berlin stadium’s athletics field was the wrong shape and size, according to Olympic Committee rules, Hitler replied:
“That’s immaterial. In 1940 the Games will be held in Tokyo but after that, for all time to come, they will take place in Germany, in this stadium. And then it is we who will prescribe the necessary dimensions.”
Other governments did not treat Hitler’s Third Reich with the mocking contempt it deserved. The Americans, to avoid insulting the Nazis, removed two Jewish runners, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, from their relay team.
One of the replacements was Jesse Owens. He took the gold.
Owens also won the 100 metre dash, in 10.3 seconds, and the 200 metres. But it was his long jump gold that shattered the nightmare of everlasting race hate that was Hitler’s goal.
German long-jumper Lutz Long was an Aryan ideal. His creamy skin, straight Roman nose and jutting jaw seemed drawn from a comic-book, and his wavy blond hair crowned him with a matinee idol’s beauty.
He was also a fine athlete, dedicated and talented. And when he saw Owens run, he recognised an original genius.
The two became fast friends, Long tutoring the Alabama man in the technique of the jump, particularly the launch itself.
Owens was a good pupil. With his first jump of the contest, he set a new world record.
Inspired Lutz Long matched the jump and shattered his own personal best. But he could only stand and gape as Owens seemed to lift off and fly, smashing through to a new record.
Long and Owens linked arms in a show of friendship that defied the whole of the Reich, and marched around the stadium as 100,000 Germans roared Owens’ name.
One of the crowd who cheered that day was a 12-year-old Jewish girl named Thea Petschek Iervolino, whose father took her to almost every event of the Games.
She carried a Brownie box camera, and most of the photographs were of Owens. Sixty years later, when she donated the pictures to All Sports Photography, she said: “His running was so elegant and effortless – like a panther – his face and physique, so beautiful.”
The pictures survived because of an act of daring by a friend of the Iervolinos. Thea’s family took a holiday to Switzerland in 1938 and did not go back.
When the friend, who was not Jewish, contacted them from Berlin and asked whether they wanted to risk smuggling a few personal belongings to safety, the young girl asked for her photo album.
Owens’s supreme athleticism showed the world, at a crucial time, that all races are equal. The grandson of African-American slaves challenged the fathers of the Holocaust, and won the race. But Games do not change the world.
It took a war and 20,000,000 deaths to destroy Nazism. And in 1936, Jesse Owens returned to an America where, as a black man, he could not sit in the forward seats on public transport, or eat with his team-mates in whites-only hotels.
16th July 1999
You can’t be NO 1 at everything
My radio-show host in the US, Doug Stefan, wanted to play a game called Seven Steps Away.
We talk on air for almost an hour every Friday, with my voice beamed live across the Atlantic to east-coast commuter traffic – Doug’s show is among America’s top ten.
Doug believes it’s a small world. Almost everyone in America is the friend of a friend. Or at least the friend of a friend’s friend. Or the friend of a friend of a …
That’s how the game works. No one is more than Seven Steps Away from anyone. An example: my mother is four steps away from Monica Lewinsky’s mother.
My mother to me is one step, and to Vice-President Al Gore is another step – we met at the Geneva arms talks a decade ago, which is another story.
Gore to Clinton is step three, and Clinton was famously photographed, smiling uncomfortably, with Monica and her parents. She took him home – maybe she didn’t say: “Mom, Pa, this is my new boyfriend,” but surely they must have guessed.
Doug was impressed to find out he was two steps from Einstein – Doug knows me, I worked with Professor David Bohm at Birkbeck College, University of London, and Bohm worked with Einstein at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.
But he was freaked out to hear he was one step from Elvis, who invited me to a trailer home in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas in 1975 to bend a spoon for him.
“One step from Elvis,” Doug kept saying. “Guess I won’t ever get closer than that now.”
Doug didn’t invent the game. It was devised by a mathematician, Paul Erdös, who wrote or co-authored 1,475 academic papers, many of them profoundly important.
He classified fellow mathematicians by ‘Erdös numbers’. All his co-authors had an Erdös number of 0.
Anyone who had published a paper with an Erdös co-author had a value of 1. If a researcher had an Erdös number of 2, he or she had written a paper with someone who wrote a paper with someone who co-authored a paper with Erdös. Get it?
My Erdös number is infinity, because I have never written a maths paper. I can’t even use the square-root button on my calculator.
But I know about Erdös, because of a mind-bending biography called The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, by Paul Hoffman (4th Estate, £7.99).
Impressed though I was by the pin-sharp focus of Erdös’s mind, which helped me to understand for the first time why prime numbers go on for ever, I was even more awed by the deep strength of Jewish tradition which ran through Erdös like a vein through marble.
This man cared nothing for anything but maths. He never married. His only friends were mathematicians. He never read, except about maths. He had no home – he lived out of a small suitcase.
He won bursaries, scholarships and prizes, and gave all his money away. He took no interest in films, physics, food or facts. He just thought about numbers. He took Benzedrine and drank pints of strong black coffee, so he could think about numbers for 19 hours a day, throughout his life. And he lived till he was 83.
When he won the Wolf Prize, mathematics’ most lucrative award, he kept $720 dollars and donated the other $49,280 to a scholarship fund in Israel he had established in memory of his parents, Lajos and Anna, who were both maths teachers.
His childhood was spent in Budapest, where Jews were not persecuted until the Fascists came to power in 1920.
Dictator Miklós Horthy’s thugs killed 5,000 Jews and tortured thousands more, driving countless families into exile. Lajos Erdös was in a Russian prison camp, and Anna wanted to convert to Christianity for her son’s safety – Paul was then about seven years old.
“Well,” he told his mother, “you can do what you please, but I remain what I was born.”
He later claimed the decision was doubly remarkable because, “being Jewish meant nothing to me. It never did.” At a conscious level, he was certainly speaking the truth.
Apart from the political necessity as a university student, in 1930’s Hungary, for him to mix mainly with other Jewish mathematicians, because Aryans had to make a show of remaining aloof, Erdös paid no regard to anyone’s religion or race.
Such trivialities did not matter, compared to numbers. But in 1934 he had to leave Hungary, because of anti-Semitism, and his life of wandering began. All his days he despised Fascism in every form. Dictators, college backstabbers, intellectual magpies, immigration officials and God himself were all Fascists.
God, in fact, was the SF – the Supreme Fascist.
This abhorrence of people who curtailed human freedom was rooted in his Jewishness. So was his certainty of who he was, and his natural regard for Israel.
These feelings did not arise from his daily life, which was all maths and more maths. They came from his soul.
I love the idea of Erdös numbers so much I have devised the Geller Number. I have a Geller number of 0, because I am me. Anyone I have bent a spoon for has a Geller number of 1.
This includes both Doug Stefan and Elvis Presley, so Doug will be delighted to know he ranks beside the King. Einstein, sadly, died when I was a child, but I did bend a spoon for his colleague, David Bohm. So Einstein’s Geller number is 2. Well, you can’t be number one at everything.
23rd July 1999
Go to school – and live longer
Reading this could have three effects. It could make your home a greener, nicer place. It could make you a more devout, observant Jew. And it could increase your lifespan by seven years.
No other column in any British newspaper can promise as much! I want you to buy two plants – just little things, some ivy or a spider plant in a small tub. Set them on a shelf, one at each end, and put aside a quiet moment every day to tend them.
As you water one, pray for it silently. Ask God, “This is only a tiny plant, but it is part of your universal creation, as deserving of divine love and energy as any living thing. Please fill this plant with health and power to grow.
“Make it strong. And as I am no more significant in this great scheme than a tiny plant, may I too be blessed with your love and energy.”
Go to the other plant and tell it telepathically, “I pray that you do not grow. This is a scientific experiment. I can only pray positively for the other plant. For you my prayer is that God will freeze your growth.
For six weeks you must not grow. Just stop, stay still. Don’t grow for six weeks, and then I will help you grow.”
This is not a practical joke. It’s a serious piece of science, first conducted over 40 years ago by a congregational minister with a master’s degree in chemistry.
Rev Franklin Loehr instructed 150 volunteers, most of them regular church-goers used to daily prayer, to focus their spiritual thoughts on 27,000 seeds.
Two major medical effects emerged – plant growth could be enhanced by prayer, and it could be retarded.
As Loehr pointed out, there are some things we don’t want to grow – like cancers. To halt their growth by prayer would be a true miracle of science.
I have a hibiscus at the end of my lawn, a few feet from the banks of the Thames. Several years ago, I stood beside it talking with Joe, my gardener, and I gently rubbed one of the blossoms.
I wasn’t thinking about it – I simply liked the satin sensation of the white petals.
When I lifted my hand, the blossom was purple. Joe and I were astounded, but I don’t think Joe fully believed this was not a practical joke until the next year, when that one sprig on the hibiscus bloomed purple again.
It has been that way, a lone dash of colour on a virginal bush, ever since.
Miracles can happen to bushes. Prayers can make seeds grow. These are simple facts, so is it hard to believe that a life of faith and religious obedience can improve any human’s health and sometimes create instant cures?
London’s Centre for Policy on Ageing will publish a report in September called Religion, Spirituality And Older People, by researcher Kenneth Howse, who says: “It is not implausible that religious belief, by helping people to preserve their sense of meaning and value of life, might contribute to the prevention of physical disease.”
Studies at Duke University, North Carolina, have made even more dramatic findings. Out of 4,000 over-65s, those who regularly attended synagogue, church or mosque were likely to have blood pressure levels 40 per cent lower than their atheist neighbours.
They lived in the same towns, ate the same foods, watched the same shows – they just happened to worship once a week and pray regularly.
The magazine Demography drew astonishing conclusions from a survey of 28,000 people. The ones who went to a service each week lived, on average, seven years longer than the ones that didn’t.
Dr Mike Money of the Centre for Health, Healing and Human Development at John Moore’s University in Liverpool, theorises about a link between the brain and the body’s natural immunity generators – when spiritual thoughts hit the thymus, a gland at the base of the neck which regulates defences against infection, the immune functions are strengthened.
Even arch-sceptic Dr Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire accepts the devout appear to live longer.
“If people think that God protects them they are likely to be more optimistic and therefore lead less stressful, healthier lives. And I think also that people who go to church have a supportive network of people to help them if there are problems.”
It seems cynical for any atheist to start attending synagogue in the hope of enjoying a few extra godless years – but examined more closely, it becomes essential.
We who know beyond doubt that there will be another life, or even many other lives, after this one, can afford to be blasé about our lifespans, this time around.
If you think that ‘this time around’ is all you’ll ever get, you’d better start stretching it.
And that means tomorrow, devoutly Jewish or not, you should be saying your prayers.
30th July 1999
Food can leave sour taste in mouth
Food is more than just fuel to my family. Food defines our friendships and marks the milestones of the year, food puts our morals and our faith in focus, food is part of many rituals. Shabbat, celebrations, holidays, they are all about food.
The element of faith does not have to be central, though it is always present. When my brilliant son won a place at the London School of Economics this year, we celebrated extravagantly at a restaurant with all the family and many friends. It was not a religious observance, but we were thanking God anyway.
My family eats no meat. Many British Jews maintain a kosher diet, without being ostentatious about it. Everything we put into our mouths represents a moral decision.
I was deeply shocked to read a report on anorexia and bulimia among Orthodox Jews in the US. Dr Ira Sacker, director of the Adolescent/ Young Adult Medicine Centre at Brooklyn’s Brookdale hospital, says nearly 30 per cent of his patients are from the Orthodox community. In a survey of five high schools for Jewish girls in New York, he found 65 per cent of pupils exhibited ‘eating disorder behaviour’. At mixed-faith schools, the figure was no more than 45 per cent.
Eating disorder behaviour includes weight problems, abnormal eating patterns and a tendency to see yourself as fatter than you really are. Dr Sacker blames the rigidly ordered lives of Jewish girls for inflicting unbearable social pressures on teenagers – unable to control their schooling or their sex-lives, they react by obsessing about every mouthful.
I suffered severely from bulimia over 20 years ago. It almost killed me. And I have serious doubts about the idea that eating disorders revolve around control. I am more concerned that there could be a genetic tendency to anorexia and bulimia. In other words, maybe I almost vomited myself to death because of my genes – I was programmed to do it.
On the face of it, in 1977, there were few people in America with more control over their lives than I could boast. I had money – not millions of dollars, because I had not yet begun full-time prospecting for oil and gold, but enough money to enjoy a celebrity lifestyle. I shuttled between half a dozen cities, I discarded all but the most exciting of invitations, I flirted with some very wealthy and sexy girls.
I am not saying I led an admirable life, or that I possessed deep spiritual virtues, or that I was even a nice guy to be around. But I was in control. And it’s hard to think of one parallel between my lifestyle and that of an Orthodox teenager at a Brooklyn girl’s school.
Except that we are both Jewish. And that suggests a shared genetic inheritance.
Look at Leah Margolis, a 29-year-old patient of Ira Sacker, who suffered anorexic and bulimic episodes throughout her teens and early 20s. I do not imagine she and I have any blood relation, not unless you go back eight or ten generations – and then half the world turns out to be related. But she and I shared a religion and a physical disorder, and that may not be coincidence.
Bulimia is a terrifying condition. Like depression, it seizes the mind and twists all the world to fit its outlook. Every plate of food becomes a faceful of temptation. Cakes and ices seem to sneer at you from the sweet trolley – “Do you dare to eat me? Can you force all of me down? Can you purge yourself of me before I start to damage you?”
The greatest terror washes over a bulimic after the meal is ended. The great forkfuls of sugary, fatty dessert are oozing into the intestine, to clog the arteries and block the bowels – it’s a nauseating image. No wonder the bulimic’s response is a dash to the washroom, to run the taps and flush the toilets and vomit everything away.
Leah Margolis says she is frightened to admit openly to her family and her rabbi that an eating disorder nearly took her life. She doesn’t want to be thought of as “sick”.
“Everybody labels you and then throws you to the wolves. They give you a bad rap and it sticks,” she says.
If we are to conduct a serious investigation into a possible genetic link between Jewish blood and anorexia or bulimia, the evidence has to be out in the open. While teenagers are hiding their agonies, and parents are denying that any problem could possibly exist in their own families, the facts will never be known.
And that could condemn countless young Jews to a nightmare fuelled by food.
6th August 1999
The write way to find good health
I walk five miles daily, and cycle for an hour. I eat virtually no fat. I have an attaché case as big as a laptop for my vitamin pills. I meditate, I pray and I walk out of a room if someone starts smoking. I’m 52 and my heart-rate is 48 beats a minute. I have always looked after myself. But since I started writing every day, I’ve felt fitter than ever.
When I began my novel Ella three years ago, I quickly discovered that I could maintain the intense and disturbing atmosphere only by returning to the scenes every day. My imagination had to live inside the story. And slowly all of my sub-conscious moved into the book.
I have known, ever since the first draft of Ella, that I was able to release secret demons – my fears of chaos and the menace of ignorant scientists and the agony of bulimia – when I was writing.
I could type thoughts which I could not speak, even to my wife. The sense of release I achieved was unexpected – I had no idea there was so much I wanted to wash out of my head. The sensation was too liberating to be forsaken when the book was finished, and I eagerly seized on the Telegraph’s offer of a weekly column.
Now I write daily, rarely less than 2,000 words – about two of these columns – and sometimes as much as 8,000 words. It’s excellent exercise, great for physical and mental health – sedentary, of course, but so is cycling and rowing.
I don’t want to see this column reprinted in Pseud’s Corner. I have regarded writing as health-enhancing for years, but I lacked a clear explanation, until this week, when a researcher emailed me two papers from the Journal of the American Medical Association.
One focused on trials at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where 112 people with asthma or rheumatoid arthritis were asked to write for just 20 minutes at a time, three days running. Half were told to note down their plans for the day and similar trivia. The others were encouraged to focus on stressful episodes and traumatic events in their lives.
The second group spilled out their repressed pain, for just one hour. They wrote of car crashes, divorces, rape, bereavement and abandonment. Some wept as they struggled to find words to tell their stories.
During the next four months the patients were re-examined. Of the first group, who wrote about mundane matters, 24.3 per cent showed signs of improvement and 21.6 per cent got worse. But among the second group, the ones who wrote about deep pain, 47.1 per cent made significant steps towards new health, and only 4.3 per cent worsened. The asthmatics tended to make almost instant advances, while the arthritics reached the upturn many weeks later.
Stanford University psychologist Dr David Spieglel said: “This indicates that a very minimal psychological social interaction can have very substantial medical effects.” You don’t have to write War And Peace – just a page a day can have major benefits.
The other JAMA article was a radical piece of speculation by New York medic Fred Rosner, an Orthodox Jew who asked: “Can an amulet cure leukaemia?”
Rosner’s extraordinary story recalled his first cure, a Sephardic girl of five who had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. The hospital was administering chemotherapy, but the girl was close to death – Rosner spent one night sitting beside her, holding her hand, reassuring her as he waited for her spirit to leave.
When he returned to the bedside the following day, she was wearing “a little leather tube wrapped in plastic hanging around her neck”. The parents told him, “That is a kemiya which the chacham wrote and which she must wear all the time, and it will cure her.”
She was cured. The leukaemia went into complete remission during the following six weeks.
‘Kemiya’ is a Talmudic word for an amulet or talisman, inscribed with words with proven power to ward off evil and promote health. Such words had to be linked to three separate cures before the rabbis could regard them as endowed with life-giving magic.
Most people will readily accept the brilliant premise of Stony Brook’s research, that even a little writing can help to erase old stresses and promote cures for physical ailments. But Rosner’s experience adds a further dimension – perhaps when we write about memories of deep trauma, we naturally use certain words with the power of talismans. Buried in our diaries and scraps of autobiography, there may be key words which we used without guessing they could connect us to the currents of new health.
I am not a chacham, and I do not know which words might be the mystical, rejuvenating, life-restoring words. It is a thrilling thought that, as I sit and tap at my keys, at any moment I might type a word which will kindle ancient magic in my bones.
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