‘To Be An Actress’


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The life and times of actress Nava Shean, born Vlasta Schonova in Czechslovakia in 1919, embody many of the events experienced by the Jewish people during the course of the twentieth century. But above everything towers her dogged determination to succeed in her profession and maintain her artistic and personal integrity. Those qualities shine through on every page she writes.

Although her assimilated family was not wealthy, her parents lived in a grand manner that was far beyond their means, eventually losing everything. Even as a child in Prague Nava (the name she adopted on reaching Israel in 1948) had a passion for the theatre and was taken on as a child actress by a theatre there. From an early age she was able to contribute to the family’s finances and already in her teens was completely self-supporting.

Initially unaware of her Jewish identity, Nava was not prepared for the discrimination and persecution that the Germans imposed on the Jews when they invaded Czechoslovakia. This rude awakening was further intensified when, together with her family, she was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. There she continued to engage in her theatrical activities, preparing children’s plays and being intensely involved in all aspects of the cultural life there. Eventually she and her family were sent to Auschwitz, about which she does not write at great length except to say that she saw her parents sent to the gas chambers. She mentions in passing that it is known that one thousand Czech Jews went to the gas chambers singing the Czech national anthem. She also mentions the fact that she did not suffer as much as others from privation in the camps because she had been trained to survive in adverse circumstances while in the girl scouts. Her experiences in the camps led her to eventually produce and perform a one-woman play in Israel entitled ‘Requiem in Theresienstadt,’ about the performance of Verdi’s Requiem in the camp.

After being liberated, Nava returned to Prague and was able to resume her acting career, this time under the Communist regime. When it became possible for Czech Jews to leave the country in 1948 a chance meeting led to her sudden departure by boat for Israel, landing in Tel Aviv just as Ben-Gurion was declaring the establishment of the State of Israel. She found herself wandering the streets of the city as the population was celebrating this event, and entered the basement of the building that housed the Cameri theatre. One thing led to another, and by dint of hard work (she had to learn Hebrew from scratch), luck and her innate acting talent, Nava was given a contract with that company and performed in various plays.

As a result of a brief affair with an army officer her daughter, Ora, was born. After spending some time in kibbutz Neot Mordechai in Galilee, Nava resumed her acting career. Nava invested extensively in her relationship with her daughter, and although obliged to leave Ora with various kibbutz families while pursuing her acting career, she made a tremendous effort to see her daughter every day, no matter how far she had to travel.

Nava’s acting career had its ups and downs. Although she received very good reviews for her various performances (even from that renowned castigator of theatrical performances, Haim Gamzu), she was never actually given the leading roles she had been promised by various producers, always being let down at the last minute. Nevertheless, she persevered, accepting minor roles and eventually also taking one-woman plays on the road and performing in kibbutzim and other venues all over Israel.

Towards the end of the book we read that Hubert, one of her former boyfriends in Prague, has never forgotten her. A non-Jew, he had helped Jews during the German occupation, and when he and Nava meet up again in Czechoslovakia in 1968 their love was rekindled. Just then, however, Russian tanks rolled through the streets of Prague once more, and Nava escaped across the border into Germany and then back to Israel. The two corresponded daily until, after interminable delays and difficulties, Hubert was able to leave Czechoslovakia. The two were reunited in Haifa in 1980, got married and had a happy life together until Nava’s death in 2001.

The book, translated by Michelle Fram Cohen, makes gripping reading, full of the twists and turns that constituted this woman’s life, and imbued with the energy and liveliness that made her a force to be reckoned with on both the personal and the theatrical level.


The Ninth of November


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On 9th November 2014, on the very same day that Berliners and others were celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the wall that had divided their city in two, Jews were marking the seventy-sixth anniversary of the night on which Nazis all over Germany destroyed and vandalized over one thousand synagogues and prayer-rooms, invaded Jewish homes, arrested thousands of Jewish men, and demolished Jewish-owned shops and businesses.

This year, in addition to the customary ceremonies, attended by a dwindling number of survivors of what is known as Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, or Pogrom Night, the occasion was marked by an evening of lectures about that event and the history of the destruction of Jewish communities in Germany. It also marked the official launch of the two volumes entitled ‘Pogrom Night, 1930,’ commemorating all the synagogues and communities of Germany that were destroyed on that date.

The first speaker of the evening, Professor Israel Rosensohn, focused on the attacks on the Jewish communities of Worms (Wormaiser) and other towns in the Rhineland in 1096, as the masses who had rallied for the First Crusade in order to set out for the Holy Land and rid it of the Muslims and Jews there, decided to start off by massacring the Jewish population that was closer at hand. Stories and legends abound of the atrocities committed at that time, including the suicide of Jews who had first killed the members of their family rather than fall into the hands of the Christian mob. Then, as on other occasions, the wider non-Jewish population stood by and did not intervene.

The Nazis regarded the Pogrom Night of November 1938 as a test case to see how the general populace would react. They got their answer, which was tantamount to tacit assent to continue with their path of the destruction of property and eventual annihilation of the indigenous Jewish population.

Rabbi Benjamin Kalmanson gave a spirited account of the many secularized Jewish intellectuals who had a lasting impact on West European intellectual life in the period between the two world wars. In some cases these Jews came under the influence of Eastern European and Chassidic Jewry (‘Ostjuden’) and underwent a spiritual and religious transformation. He cited such luminaries as Martin Buber, Franz Kafka, Gershon Scholem and Nobel laureate Shai Agnon, among others. In giving this account the lecturer sought to point to the trend towards a more traditional form of Judaism that was beginning to take hold of the Jewish communities of Germany, but this all came to a sudden end with the rise of Nazism.

 The last speaker was 92-year-old Professor Meir Schwarz, the man whose single-minded determination to commemorate the destroyed communities of Germany has culminated in the publication of the impressive account, after many years of concentrated work by a considerable number of researchers. Professor Schwarz described his own recollection of Pogrom Night as a twelve-year-old boy in his home town of Nuremberg, Without faltering, he told the packed audience how the Nazis broke into the family apartment and made him and his older brother watch as they destroyed every single item in the place with cudgels and iron bars.

 Professor Schwarz related that he is now preparing his next project – a collection of personal accounts of the events of that night. He had better hurry, as the number of eye-witnesses is inevitably shrinking rapidly.

Yes I Can… Exercise!





Small children are active by nature. They run and jump, skip and play as naturally as adults walk and sit. In fact, small children tend to find it difficult to sit for very long.

I remember racing around our back garden with my little friend from next door, as well as climbing the tree that stood there (and tearing my clothes, to my mother’s chagrin). In primary school I was considered one of the best sprinters, and even came first in several races, both within the school and in inter-school competitions.

When I got to high school things changed. Like me, most of the girls in my class were small to begin with, but unlike the other girls, I did not grow to be tall and well-built, and have remained short and slight to this very day. I remember my father consoling me by saying that my ‘growth spurt’ would come later. But it never did.

When it was time to pick teams for the games of netball and hockey that we girls played in the summer, I was always one of the last to be chosen. We did not compete against one another on an individual basis, the emphasis always being on the team and ‘team spirit.’ That was something that did not appeal to me in particular, and the humiliation of being left to be among the last to be picked, left its mark on my psyche.

That was when I developed an antipathy towards sports, gym and exercise of any kind. The negative attitude towards me of our battleaxe-type gym teacher didn’t help, and after some years of suffering, my best friend and I found a simple technique for evading the hated activity. “Please, miss, I’ve forgotten my gym things,” was enough to excuse us from entering the hallowed parquet floor of the gym, and from running after a ball on the netball court or hockey field. This was our salvation, as we were instructed (as if this were punishment!) to walk around the playing field while the other girls played. This enabled us to engage in discussions about anything and everything under the sun, and has become one of my most treasured memories.

At university in England I steered a wide berth of all sporting groups, clubs and activities, most of which involved heavy post-game drinking in the pub. Upon arriving in Israel I was horrified to learn that undergraduates at the university were obliged to undertake some kind of sporting activity, and was immensely relieved to find that this did not apply to graduate students, of which I was one.

The years passed. I was busy with home and work and didn’t give a thought to physical activity beyond walking in and around Jerusalem’s picturesque neighbourhoods. About thirty years ago, however, the physician who was treating me suggested that I enroll in an exercise studio to help overcome a certain internal problem.

With great trepidation I did as he had suggested, though I insisted that I could only do very gentle exercises. As time passed I found that I became quite enamoured of my weekly exercise regime, and even went to the gym twice a week. The encouragement and psychological insight of the teacher, Uri Michaeli, helped me to become a real exercise enthusiast.

I moved to a different studio, Uri passed away many years ago, and today, as a retired person living outside Jerusalem I no longer exercise with a group. In my basement I have installed a treadmill, an exercise mat, and weights for legs and arms. I spend an hour every morning (except Saturdays) walking on the treadmill and performing the various other exercise routines I have acquired over the years. It gives me a chance to catch up on the daily TV news programmes and get my day started in what seems to be a positive way.. It makes me feel good, and in my opinion, without my exercise routine my body would have given up on me long ago.

 And sometimes I think, if my high-school teachers could only see me now!




Watching the Barriers


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The organization known as Machsom Watch has been in existence for over ten years. Since its first tentative steps as a small group of humanitarian feminists who wanted to protect the human and civil rights of Palestinians it has grown in numbers, is less radically feminist, but is still confined to women. Curious to see what they did, I joined a group of five early one morning. The women were all of a certain age and belonged to a specific (middle-class, Ashkenazi, secular) segment of the population. Since that is the category into which I fall, too, I felt quite at home in with them.

Our first stop that chilly morning was Checkpoint 300, also known as Rachel’s Checkpoint due to its proximity to the site of Rachel’s Tomb. We stood and watched as hundreds of Palestinian men filed through electronic barriers where their documents were checked. Soldiers, some of them still in their teens, checked the papers and made sure that everything went without a hitch.

Every Palestinian worker must have a green ID card, issued by the Palestinian Authority, as well as an electronic card and a work permit, issued at the behest of his employer. I did not sense any tension or antagonism in the process, and everything appeared to be going smoothly. Once through the barrier the men boarded buses provided by the employers or began walking towards Jerusalem.

If you are a Palestinian man and want a permit to work in Israel you must be married and have at least one child. If you are the close relative of someone who has been arrested on suspicion of terrorist activity, nationalist sympathies, or stone-throwing, your work permit can be taken away from you, in which case you are ‘blacklisted.’ I was told of an instance in which three brothers who had been working in Israel for several years were blacklisted after their teenage brother was arrested for throwing stones.

This is an area in which the women of Machsom Watch have become proficient, as there is a process of appeal against being blacklisted. The various procedures, including filling in forms and even appearing before a special administrative court at which the military authority is required to justify the blacklisting, are difficult if not impossible for the average Palestinian manual labourer to master. Some of the women I met can speak some Arabic and it was very touching to see the burly labourers come over to one of the women to ask for her help in solving some administrative problem or other. In many cases they know them by name, and speak to her as a friend. Some 70 percent of those blacklisted get their work permits back after Machsom Watch’s intervention.

After spending an hour at Checkpoint 300, we drove through the Etzion tunnel and the hilly countryside to the Etzion Bloc, to the office of the District Coordinator Liaison. This is the administrative centre where youngsters wishing to start working come to get their initial permit. In order to work in one of the settlements the requirements for obtaining a permit are less rigid, and this is where many youngsters find employment. This is also where special permits are issued to Palestinians who need to enter Israel in order to attend hospital.

The building where the men wait is equipped with seating and even air-conditioning. Specific days are allocated to specific villages, and while the system seems to be working it is laborious and time-consuming.

However, when I look back to my early days in Israel I recall what seemed to me at the time to be complex and mistrustful bureaucratic procedures that often left me frustrated and tearful. If you are a foreigner, it’s not easy to get a work permit in any European country or the USA. All over the world bureaucracy is rampant, but in Israel it is augmented by the need to maintain security and protect the civilian population.

But at least I didn’t have to go through the experience every day.

 (This article first appeared in the AJR Journal)

Between Gaza and Berlin


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Those two names signify so many different views, concepts and even worlds, seeming to encapsulate the distinct worldviews that are so much a part of our life, here in Israel.

In a local and very provincial sense these are the names of two roads in Rechavia, the Jerusalem neighbourhood which was built in the 1920s. Today those roads are clogged with traffic for much of the day, and at the point where they meet there used to be a trendy café whose name was the same as the title of this piece. Gaza Street presumably once led south to the physical Gaza Strip, but of course this is no longer the case. Berlin Street was probably so named because many of the area’s initial residents hailed originally from Germany and still yearned for what had once been its culture.

But Gaza and Berlin are both geographical places that have been much in the forefront of Israeli consciousness in recent months, the former because of the fighting that took place there in the summer and the second due to the publicity given to the fact that the cost of living there is much lower than it is in Israel and that many young Israelis have moved there.

Physical Gaza embodies the culture of the Levant, a mindset that seems to oppose everything that Israel stands for, a dense population living in poverty (although some of the leaders there are millionaires) while cultivating a festering antipathy towards Israel, the West and the values they hold dear.


Berlin, by contrast, personifies the heart of Europe, with all that is good and bad in it, embodying both the pinnacle and the nadir of its civilization. Today, reunited Berlin is a thriving, vibrant city that fosters creativity and promotes coexistence between different ethnic, religious and cultural groups. And the living there is easy, so they say.

These are some of the thoughts that occurred to me at the concert the other night as I listened to the world premiere of Aviya Kopelman’s composition, ‘Between Gaza and Berlin.’ This young composer’s specially commissioned work for the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra was full of rhythmic sections, some of them accompanied by lyrical passages, others consisting merely of drumming at varying speeds and tempi. Much of the work was characterized by almost jazz-like syncopation, and the programme notes mention the composer’s cooperation with rock as well as Arab musicians. These and other elements certainly showed through in the music, but the overall concept was interesting and invigorating.

And as the above paragraphs show, it certainly set me thinking.

German Templers, Zionism and Nazism

The German Templers were part of the ‘Christian Zionism’ movement whereby the European powers sought to establish their presence in the Holy Land after 1840. Following their charismatic leader, Christian Hoffman, these adherents of the German Lutheran church, primarily in Wurtemberg, established settlements in Jerusalem, Haifa, Galilee and what is now Tel Aviv, in an attempt to bring salvation to the Jewish and Muslim denizens of the region.

They combined their calling as emissaries of the true faith with the practical need to support themselves in their new home. As they had been farmers in their country of origin they engaged primarily in agriculture, building houses according to the German rural pattern, cultivating the land and creating a pleasant and aesthetic environment. They served as a model for the Jewish pioneers who came to the country, and in many cases provided instruction and guidance for the newcomers.

The first group of 72 people settled in Haifa at the foot of Mount Carmel in 1868, preceding the first wave of modern Jewish immigration by fourteen years. But that influx, largely sponsored and funded by Lord Rothschild, consisted of thousands of people and soon became the predominant element in the population. The Templers built seven small settlements in various parts of the country and one of them, just outside the walls of Jerusalem, is known to this day as the German Colony. As well as engaging in agricultural activity, the Templers also participated in the modernisation of Palestine, introducing mechanised farming machinery, paved roads and the use of electricity in their homes.

In 1987 the late Professor Alex Carmel established a Chair for Research into the Christian Contribution to the Development of Palestine at the University of Haifa, as well as the Gottlieb Schumacher Institute, paying tribute to one of the Templers who engaged in exploring the Holy Land. It was Professor Carmel who insisted on spelling the name of these Templers with two ‘e’s’ to distinguish them from the mediaeval Templars, on whom they modelled themselves. This I learned when I translated his fascinating doctoral thesis on the Templers well before he became a professor.

In the 1930s, a number of the Templers in Palestine joined the Nazi Party, and one of them, a certaini Cornelius Schwartz, was appointed head of the Templer community. They made no secret of their allegiance, and even ventured to marched through the streets of Jerusalem, occasionally in Nazi uniform, bearing aloft the flag of the Third Reich.

It was at this point that the Templers switched from religious Messianism to political Messianism, according to Professor Yossi Ben-Artzi, Rector of the University of Haifa, although less than 20 percent of the Templers were members of the Nazi Party in 1938. Some of them returned to Europe to fight in the German Army, and in 1942, a young Jew, Noah Klieger, was summoned to Gestapo headquarters in Brussels, and was stunned when he was addressed in Hebrew by the German officer there, Joachim Erdman. He was told later that Erdman had grown up in a Templer village in Samaria.

After the outbreak of the Second World War the British authorities in Palestine interned the Templers in camps, deported approximately 600 Templers to Australia, and returned about one thousand of them to Germany in exchange for some five hundred and fifty Jews who had been in concentration camps. This unprecedented move brought those thus saved to British-controlled Palestine.

Among those rescued were relatives of mine, who regarded their release from the concentration camp as little short of miraculous, as indeed it was. The family’s subsequent ordeal in enduring the seige of Jerusalem led them to eventually leave Israel and settle in London, though subsequently some of their children did return to this country.



Rescue in France


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I have just read the book entitled ‘In This Hospitable Land’ by Lynmar Brock Jr. which is based on the personal experiences of the author’s wife and her family. It describes in great detail the trials and tribulations of the two Sauverin brothers, Alex and André, their parents, wives and children as the darkness of the Second World War descends on Europe.

André is a respected professor of chemistry at the Brussels Free University and Alex is an expert in philatelics, earning his living in that field. The brothers are married to two sisters, Denise and Genevieve, and each family has two children. The two families are understandably close, and even live in the same building, with other family members nearby in a comfortable Brussels neighbourhood. They are secular Jews, and do not adhere to any religious belief.

As the Germans conquer first Czechoslovakia and then Poland, triggering declarations of war by France and England, the two families, together with one set of parents, start driving south from their holiday home on the Belgian coast. The book describes every stage of their journey in the black Buick automobile bestowed upon them by a generous relative. Their route takes them first through Belgium, then across the border into northern France, continuing south through Rouen and Orleans, endeavouring to avoid the long lines of French people escaping from the German invaders as they advance south. The family drives along side roads that follow river beds, crossing the Massif Central, eventually reaching Millau, where the Tarn River cuts through the limestone plateau.

The two families were able to continue going south thanks to the special arrangement made by the pre-war French government for according refuge to fleeing Belgians. The two families eventually make their way to the Lozère department in the mountainous Cevennes region, in south-central France. It was in that area that the Protestant Huguenots found refuge after the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, during the French War of Religion.

Initially finding rented accommodation in a large house in the village of Bédouès in June 1940 the families are not made to feel welcome and the two brothers are required to work for the landowner for no pay. Harassed by the local mayor and fearing the worst as news of the German advance into France reaches them, mainly through listening to the radio broadcasts of the BBC, the families feel impelled to move elsewhere once more.

Helped by local inhabitants, the families are able to move to a remote farm-house in a sparsely-inhabited part of the Cevennes. The author provides vivid accounts of the scenery, the roads, the paths, the vegetation, and the land which the brothers, both men in their thirties, are now obliged to farm. Initially unaccustomed to that type of work, by dint of their hard work and determination the brothers manage to sow and reap crops. André’s technical ability enables them to produce chemical fertilizers that cause the soil to be more productive than is the case with the local farmers.

The villagers of the region conspire to spirit the families away when the Vichy authorities show an interest in the whereabouts of the newcomers, concealing them in their homes in even more remote villages and hamlets, obliging the two families to be separated for some of the time. As the war wears on the two brothers become involved in the activities of the Resistance, and are able to make their own contribution to it despite Alex’s pacifist leanings. At times the children are able to go to the local school, while at others they are obliged to remain hidden. For everyone, long-established residents and newcomers alike, these were years of hardship, food shortages, and the need to constantly contend with the elements and the unyielding soil.

The account of the ups and downs and ins and outs of the four or five years the families spent in France is extraordinarily detailed, and this can become somewhat tedious at times. The writing, too, is less than polished, but the intensity of the emotional involvement seems to compensate for the occasional jarring syntax or grammar. By and large, the general picture that emerges is that of the determination of the two brothers to survive and protect their families, and the kindness, nobility, and generosity of the local population.

As the war ends the families return to Brussels to find that, like most of the Jews of Belgium, the majority of their relatives have been deported to Auschwitz and murdered. The two families eventually emigrated to the USA, and the man who married one of the children has written this account on the basis of the recorded recollections of the personages involved and interviews with some of their rescuers in France.








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“Can’t you see I’m in the middle of doing something?” “I couldn’t write the number down because the phone call woke me up.” “I’ll call you later, I have to finish this now.”

These and similar responses are what almost every wife hears when she asks her husband to help her in some routine task or undertake a domestic mission that requires attending to.

Many women, this writer included, sense that behind these answers lies an unplumbed depth of self-deception, incapacity or, worse still, evasiveness. What woman hasn’t had to interrupt an action of one kind or another to attend to some ‘urgent’ crisis involving an injured child, a diaper that needs changing or a telephone call? What woman hasn’t continued cooking, filling the dishwasher or washing machine, packing a suitcase or unpacking shopping bags while continuing to conduct a conversation on the phone, answer a child’s question or attend to some other domestic duty?

It’s called ‘multi-tasking,’ and is as natural for most women as it is impossible for many men. I personally find it essential to have music on in the background as I work at the computer, and often have a cup of coffee and find myself thinking about undertaking a completely different activity, such as painting a picture, as I do so. Sometimes I even get up and do something about it and then return to my desk.

What is the reason for the inability of many males of the species to focus on more than one task at a time –  something that most women achieve with relative ease? When do our brains develop in such a way that teenage girls can talk on the phone while painting their toenails and doing their homework but teenage boys can either play a computer game or do homework, but never both at the same time?

I leave it to the experts on the human brain to explain just how and why these traits have developed, and to tell us whether they are inborn or acquired, but I venture to suggest that these characteristics are the result of the way humans have developed since time immemorial. In the caves where homo sapiens once lived the men were generally not around, having gone to hunt or fight, and so it was up to the women to gather such edible grains and seeds as could be found while at the same time bearing and caring for the children and attending to the other needs of the tribe.

Remember Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? Adam was nowhere to be seen, when the serpent tempted Eve, who was obviously one of those restless beings who needs to be occupied. With time on her hands she got talking to the serpent and the rest of the story is too well known to bear repeating. It’s obvious, though, that Adam was taking a nap, or contemplating his navel (which he may or may not have had) and had forgotten all about Eve and the ban on eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. Never mind, in true male fashion, he was quick to blame her for everything.

The Bible mentions women who took action in various ways (Pharoah’s daughter, Moses’ sister and guardian angel, Miriam, Ruth the Moabitess, Deborah the judge), but focuses mainly on the men, who were the agents of change and undertook tasks of national importance. However, none of this would have been possible had it not been for the women who bore the children and looked after them, attended to domestic duties, tended the flocks and herds, and kept the servants in order. Without the women there would have been no Hebrews to take out of Egypt or to fight to conquer Canaan. But all that is taken for granted and doesn’t warrant a mention in the holy book.

Perhaps the ability to focus on just one task has its benefits, and teenage boys grow up into adult males who are totally dedicated to a specific task, achieving fame, glory and riches in the process. That’s not to say that there aren’t any women who are focused on attaining a specific goal, though this often comes at the expense of other aspects of their lives. To the best of my knowledge, few men (other than one Israeli politician in the last few weeks, and he may have had a hidden agenda of his own) have sacrificed their career for the sake of home and family, though there are innumerable cases in which this has been the fate of the woman.

Having money helps. Money can pay for employing someone to undertake child-care duties and see that the household chores are done. As Virginia Woolf wrote in 1929, having a room of one’s own is well-nigh essential for anyone who wants to dedicate herself to pursuing intellectual interests (or the career of a writer in her case). And I’ll bet that there aren’t many women who have such a room.

And that reminds me of how I started my career (if you can call it that) as a translator/editor over forty years ago. I had a typewriter on the kitchen table, with a stand for the book or pages I was translating, two stacks of typed pages (original plus copy) and a dictionary beside me. When the children came home from school or kindergarten I would clear the things off the table, serve lunch (which I cooked as I worked), and restore the typewriter to its place when they had finished eating, to continue typing until 11 p.m., when the neighbours downstairs demanded that I stop. I’m not sure I’d be able to do that today.

But today the children have grown up and left home, which means that I finally do have a room of my own. And that’s where I manage to produce this blog, sundry articles and the books that I have published to date (and those that are waiting to be published). Now I no longer know which came first, the writing or the room, but at least the need to multi-task has abated.

The Castel


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The windows of the upper floor of my house look out towards the hill in the Judaean Mountains known as the Castel, which is today the site of a national park. It is green in winter and grey-brown in summer. I love to paint the view, which is never the same throughout the year. The ruins of the castle which gives the summit its name once constituted the fortified stronghold that enabled the Crusaders to control the road from the coast to Jerusalem.

Originally the site of a Roman settlement known as Castellum, the building has long since been dismantled, leaving the blocks of stone strewn here and there on the hilltop. At one point it formed the site of an Arab village, also called Kastel, but most importantly, the Castel was the site of a crucial battle between Arab and Jewish forces in the War of Independence in 1948. A series of inscribed copper plaques affixed to the stones describes the course of the fighting. There is also a memorial for the Israeli soldiers who died there.

Because of its prominent position, when the site was in Arab hands the road to Jerusalem was virtually impassable. The burnt-out hulks of armored cars and troop-carriers that may still be seen as one travels to and from Jerusalem fell victim to the bombs and bullets of the Arab forces, leading to the deaths of many of the young fighters who were endeavouring to relieve the siege of Jerusalem at that time.

Because of its strategic significance, the hill was the object and site of a series of battles, and control of it changed hands several times in the course of the fighting in 1948. Ultimately, however, because the revered Arab commander Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni was killed in one such battle, most of the Arab fighters left their posts and went to Jerusalem to attend his funeral. This enabled the Israeli forces to take the Castel virtually unopposed that same day, in what has since become known as Operation Nachshon.

The suburb of Jerusalem that was built at the site in the 1950s to house new immigrants from North Africa, though officially called Ma’oz Zion, retained the name of Castel used by many of its inhabitants. In recent years it was officially merged with Mevasseret Yerushalayim to become Mevasseret Zion. All the same, perhaps as an act of defiance, some of the locals still call it the Castel.

But as I watch from my window I see a great swathe of concrete marring the line of the hill, fulfilling the need to add yet another, wider road connecting Israel’s inhabitants with one another, thus marking the inexorable march of ‘progress’ across the landscape


A Lesson in Holistic Psychotherapy





Minda Garr, a psychotherapist specializing in holistic psychotherapy, recently gave a talk about her work to the group of English-speaking women to which I belong. By being aware of our breathing, ‘breathing into your heart,’ as our speaker put it, the individual can attain a sense of inner peace, gain a higher level of consciousness, and even achieve mental and physical healing.  The basic concept underlying holistic psychotherapy is that mind, body and spirit must be regarded as parts of the whole, and that by relating to them concurrently the individual can attain serenity and greater self-understanding. Ms. Garr has taught at the Hebrew University’s School of Social Work for many years, and her approach to her work has gradually evolved from the pragmatic to the holistic. In her clinical work she places great emphasis on connecting with the client as well as with something greater than the self, something outside our everyday life, whether one calls it God, the soul, the spirit, or anything else. This view is in stark contrast with the detached, non-empathetic method used in Freudian and other psychoanalytical approaches.

Without disclosing personal details of the individuals concerned, Ms. Garr told us about her experiences with clients, and how her approach succeeded in enabling them to overcome childhood traumas and present-day phobias after other methods had failed to help. Individuals who were in denial over certain experiences or unable to correct unwanted character-traits were enabled to better understand what lay behind them, and to cope with them. In some cases clients were even able to overcome the results of ‘birth trauma,’ i.e., the distress caused to the baby by the process of being born. Ms. Garr is a firm believer in the view that the pre-birth, and even pre-conception experience affects the individual in adult life.

The sense of focus that we achieve by closing our eyes and concentrating on our breathing enables us to screen out the ‘chatter’ and ‘clutter’ that tend to occupy our minds, and thus to attain a ‘trance-like’ state. Ms. Garr ended her talk by getting all those present to engage in a ‘gratitude exercise,’ which enabled each one of us to imagine her heart filled with light, which then spread to our whole body, and then further and further outward. That was a truly remarkable experience.

I tried this at the concert I attended on the same evening and found that it enhanced my ability to enjoy the music. My mind was clear, as if it were some kind of reflecting pool, enabling the music to fill it and provide my soul with the sustenance it craved. It was certainly better than being distracted by the irrelevant stimuli created by other members of the audience, or the thoughts that tend to crowd in on me when my mind is not engaged in creative activity.

It appears to be beneficial to be able to clear one’s mind of extraneous matter from time to time and enter a state that is something like a trance, but one that does not remove the individual from his or her surroundings. The various forms of meditation achieve this for some people, as does prayer for others. But this particular mental exercise requires no religious belief or affiliation to a group of any kind. It’s something that anyone can do anywhere, at any time, and so seems to offer a universal panacea to the psychological pressure that everyone feels at one point or another.



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