As part of our community blog content at ON THE MOVE, we present our interview series, where we invite movers to bring their thoughts not only on the physical move but on the intensely personal experience of moving house. Here we explore the spirituality and psychology of Home and why where we live means so much to us. We want to hear your story, please share it with us.
by Sherrill Layton, Managing Editor at OTM
I wanted to call him "Judge," but he told me that Justin or "Stompie," Afrikaans for short and tough, would be just fine. In truth, this ex-magistrate lives up to his nickname, standing 5'6" and having served as the director for the first London drug court ever created.
Our conversation took many avenues, proving to be one of the most interesting professional conversations I've had—hecko, one of the most interesting, period. We covered Jerusalem's current fearful climate, health, and the joy of retirement. More than once I found myself in agreement with a wise man's words. This interstitial chat led to our main story from Philips, on moving.
Justin Philips: I have one story that I wanted to tell you that I think you might like. It has all to do with moving.
Sherrill Layton: Oh very good, please do.
JP: I had a young man in my court I think he was mention in the Guardian article you read. He was a middle-class boy; he had a pretty good education, like many youngsters who get into drugs at the time of a divorce. He, as the child, doesn't know where he fits in with the two new families, gets packed off to boarding school, and it's a pretty clear downslope from there. Alcohol, cannabis… If you buy from a dealer, that dealer has an in-built need to sell you something stronger that will addict you.
JP: And of course it goes from there. By the time he came in front of me for stealing from shops, he was well addicted, and I gave him three chances, and it didn't work. Then to his absolute horror, this judge, five-foot-six with a smiling face, sent him to prison.
SL: So be it.
JP: When he came out I still had him under my supervision, and I told him to bring his father along to the next session. Now, his father had disowned him. When the family went on holiday, they boarded up the place, so this young man didn't burgle the house.
The guy was living rough. I can tell you he was a mess. I don't like using prison as a rod, but I did.
Anyway, the father came to see me with the boy, who by then was beginning to realize that he hadn't got such a smiling judge, that, you know, I had teeth. I told his father, 'look, he's had more than one detox at the expense of the state, the best thing we can do is if you pay for him privately.' And the father said to me, 'Well what happens if I don't?'
'Well,' I said, 'I should think it'll be 12 months until the next session.'
So he went to rehab [the father paid], and I hardly recognized him when he came back into my court. He'd put on weight, had color in his face, and it was a one-way trip after that. He never touched [drugs] again.
SL: Good man!
JP: Completely successful! I used him in a training video… but there's a bit of a twist in the story. He rang me up one day and said, 'I've started a house and office clearing business. If you know anybody would you help me?'
SL: Aha! [laughter]
JP: My mum, may she rest in peace, had Alzheimer's disease and I decided I wanted to get rid of all her acres of financial documents that she'd been storing for no reason at all. And I asked this guy to come over and either shred or burn them, which he did, and I asked, 'How much?' And he said, 'Nothing.' Then I said, 'No. You're in business.' So I paid him.
Three years ago this month, I had sold my property in London—I'd made aliyah beforehand—and I rang Ralph to tell him I was finally leaving the country and would he like to clear my house out. He gave me a reasonable price and it took his guys two days and… … that was it, I was going to say goodbye to the house I'd lived in for thirty years.
He was there, just to finish it off, and I closed the door for the last time, and I kissed the mezuzah. And this guy looked at me and he said, Justin, thank you for saving my life…' at which point, I just burst into tears, it was too much.
SL: Sure! So touching…
JP: It was a wonderful thing to be told, because I'd actually said it in a BBC World radio interview when the reporter asked me, 'Why do you spend so much of your time helping drug addicts?' And I said, 'Well, you know, the Talmud says that if you've saved one life it's as if you've saved the world.' It was the first time on radio or television that I ever mentioned my religion. Anyway, that's the story about moving.
SL: That's lovely. Just lovely.
JP: I thought you'd like it.
SL: Well, for sure, and it just shows how transition can take many forms. Here's this young man you met under completely different circumstances, and then you met again.
JP: Yes, we met across my court and then across my front step!
SL: That's right. It shows the beauty of transformation, that's what it is, and the different levels of material transformation. You were leaving your house of 30 years, which is just as big of a move as his move from using to sobriety. I think that's quite beautiful that your paths came in touch in those ways. Do you keep in touch with Ralph?
JP: Oh yes. We exchange texts every so often; he has my cell number if he needs it.
SL: Wonderful. You mention the Talmud's words on saving a life, which I find similar to the eight levels of giving, the first level being that one gives to receive in return, but the highest form of giving is when the receiver does the best he or she possibly can with what has been received. And Ralph did exactly that. Your story clearly shows the power of selfless giving.
Let's talk about your Aliya.
JP: Sure. We have to go back to August 2011. I went into hospital for open heart surgery. I had brought it on myself for trying to do four jobs, and I'd been warned enough times but I never listened. I was running my drug court, I was a British government adviser on the misuse of drugs, still a district judge, and I was nighttime caregiver for my now late mum.
SL: Just a bit of stress going on, eh?
JP: Eventually, it all catches up. I went in to hospital and the day after they operated on me, my lung collapsed and I was put into an induced coma on a life support machine for three days, of which I remember very little. I came round, I came out and a month later my mum died.
SL: Such a heavy time.
JP: … I landed back in hospital. And eventually I persuaded the cardiologist to let me fly and I came out here, ostensibly for a holiday. I studied on an off at the yeshiva and realized this was going to be how I recuperate. At that time, I realized I had neither the physical nor the mental koakh to go ahead [with my work].
I went back to London and saw my cardiologist who knew this all along but wanted me to find out for myself. So he gave me the appropriate letter, and such is the world in England, it took them six months to retire me, meanwhile I was on full pay, so I had a wonderful time.
JP: I spent most of the time out here. And then I gradually realized… I'd always promised myself that I was going to retire to the sun. I had three names on the list: Gibraltar, South Africa, and Israel. South Africa dropped off very quickly, too far, too long a flight and a very unsafe environment. I been warned by a friend who had just emigrated from there that I wouldn't fit in with their right-wing Jewish community. So Israel won.
I retired as a judge on April 16, and made Aliya on the 19th, 2012.
SL: Recently, then. Fantastic.
JP: Yes. I kept my house for about another nine months […] until that was sorted, and that's of course where Ralph comes into it.
JP: I have all my memories, and I lead a pretty good life out here.
SL: That's great. Do you do any work with drug rehab in Jerusalem?
JP: I discovered purely by chance was that there's something called Sober Birthright. I twice email them and offered my services but I have yet to hear from them. It's OK, I'm involved in my synagogue, I'm the guy with the key who opens up and makes sure that everything's ready and I assist to some degree as a volunteer at the yeshiva, and that's my life.
After the general winding down of our talk and the many thanks I had for his taking the time, we closed on the fabulous note of an information exchange. I mentioned a future interview I'll be doing with Rabbi Shalom Mayers on the Emek Lone Soldiers program, and Stompie happily offered to connect me with Joan, a colleague involved in a similar program. Philips has great respect for those making aliyah at 18, like his cousin Johnathan who's staying with him in Jerusalem. They are, as he puts it, effectively putting their cards on the table.
We're both looking forward to the coming article!
PHILIPS, Justin Robin Drew, District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts) (formerly Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate), 1989–2012; Lead Judge, Dedicated Drug Court, London, 2005–12
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