Who by Fire

When the peleton crossed the starting line of the Tour de France at 3 a.m. on 28 June 1914, the start of the race was signalled by the waving of a flag. So began the 12th edition of the world’s most famous bicycle race.  The Belgian rider Philippe Thys retained the title he had won the previous year, by a margin of 1 minute and 40 seconds from Henri Pelissier.  Thys would have to wait until the 14th edition of the race in 1920 to win his third Tour.  Incidentally, he is the first rider to have been awarded the winner’s Yellow Jersey; it was introduced that year.

As the riders set of on their 5380km stage race  that morning , who among them would have guessed that the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the  Austro-Hungarian empire, later that day would plunge the country into a war the proportions of which had never been seen before.

Three Tour winners were among the dead of the Western Front: Lucien Petit-Breton (1907, 1908),  the Luxembourger François Faber (1909), and Octave Lapize (1910).

Here is a picture of François Faber.  He was killed  fighting for the French at Carency, near Arras on 9 May 1915, aged 28.  He was posthumously awarded the mèdaille militaire.

On Wednesday evening the Jewish New Year (5771) begins.  This is not the equivalent of December 31/January1.  It is the hour of reckoning.  It is when, the Almighty does the Accounts and decides who will be spared for another year, and who will die, and how.  The Synagogue services are long, and the prayers sodden with foreboding for me.

‘who by water, who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning.  Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquillity and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.’

As you can see, Hogmanay it is not.  The following ten days leading up to the Day of Atonement are known as the Days of Repentance.  No Santa Claus, no bank holidays, no sales, no turkey sandwiches.

But for all that it is a chance to start afresh, put things right with people you’ve wronged, and turn over a new leaf, just as the seasons change.

And there’s honey cake.

For reasons outside the remit of this blog to explain, Rosh Hashana , the Jewish New Year, is a two day holiday.  The Talmud teaches, however, that it should be treated as a single day, and one should sleep as little as possible.  What sort of impression  on a judge would a defendant dozing in the dock make, after all?

I’ll sign off this time with some seasonal lyrics.

G’mar chasima tova – a sweet new year to you all.

Who by Fire

And who by fire, who by water,
who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
who in your merry merry month of may,
who by very slow decay,
and who shall I say is calling?
And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
and who by avalanche, who by powder,
who for his greed, who for his hunger,
and who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,
who in solitude, who in this mirror,
who by his lady’s command, who by his own hand,
who in mortal chains, who in power,
and who shall I say is calling?

Leonard Cohen

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