Pesach/Passover in Jerusalem

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Despite the dire warnings of traffic jams and accidents on all the roads throughout Israel, we decided to take advantage of a lull in our various activities and go to take in a movie (Philomena) in town. This involves a half-hour drive from our home just outside Jerusalem into the heart of the new city, the German Colony. This is an area, originally on the outskirts of the city but today pretty central, which was built by Germans, members of a Christian sect known as Templers in the middle of the nineteenth century. The original inhabitants of the old houses and tree-lined streets have long since left the country (some of them were deported by the British Mandate authorities during the Second World War, while others–including relatives of mine—were exchanged for concentration-camp inmates).

 The spring-like weather was enticing, but we resisted the temptation to indulge in a picnic in one of the parks in the Jerusalem area. It is at times like these that families and groups of youngsters go out into nature to barbecue meat, engage in rowdy games and turn their radios and karaoke equipment up to full volume.

 As we made our way into town we were able to see ultra-orthodox families with a string of children of all ages and sizes walking towards the parks and museums that are to be found in the Givat Ram area which houses the Knesset, the Hebrew University campus, government buildings and our own ‘Museum Mile’ (the Israel Museum, Bible Lands Museum, Science Museum) and will one day be the site of the new National Library.

 The families, all dressed in their best clothes (black trousers and white shirts for the men and boys, dresses and knee-length socks or stockings for the women and girls), were out in force. Some of the men wore fur hats, denoting their membership of one Chassidic sect or another, and of course all the married women were at pains to cover their hair. It has been suggested to me that this is to prevent them catching headlice from their children, but it is in fact an ancient religious proscription, harking back to the days when it was considered unseemly for a woman to display her hair. This was once common to most of the Western world but has since died out, although Queen Elizabeth still always appears in public with a hat of some kind or another (or a crown).

 As we espied more and more of these families I began to wonder about what lies ahead for Israel. Most of the people we saw will perpetuate the ultra-orthodox way of life, producing ever more children in a geometric progression. Most of those children will not serve in the army, will not work will not pay taxes and will benefit from Israel’s welfare society. If that trend continues, the burden of defending Israel and supporting its workforce will fall on the country’s shrinking secular population. Eventually a time will come when Israel will no longer be a viable country, and will either implode or be conquered by whomever is the strongest entity at the time.

 It certainly is a depressing prospect, and it is this, it seems, that lies behind the efforts of the current government – flawed as it is – to change the situation by obliging ultra-orthodox young men to serve in the army or undertake communal service, as well as to encourage them to gain sufficient general education to enable them to obtain useful employment. Whether this endeavour succeeds or not depends to a great extent on the political state of affairs, and the preservation of the current coalition which excludes the ultra-orthodox from the cabinet. One can only hope that given the pressures now being brought to bear on the government from various quarters, those at the helm will find the strength to keep the ship of state afloat.

 

America, America…

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Returning from a four-week jaunt across the USA in which we visited six cities and met countless relatives and friends – both old and new – it took no time at all to get used to the pace of life in Israel. That may be due in part to the fact that our last port of call was New York, which is even noisier, pushier and more raucous than our home stamping ground just outside Jerusalem. Suddenly our way of life seems positively sedate, though from our experience New York is the exception rather than the rule regarding the American tempo of living.

 

Apart from the god-given gift of spaciousness that characterizes the American cities and homes we visited, what stands out in my memory is the warmth and kindness of the people we met. Of course, our friends and relatives in Boston, Maryland, Washington, Richmond, San Diego and Brooklyn were all at pains to make us feel welcome and loved, and I hope we managed to show how much we appreciated all the kindness, warmth and generosity of which we were the recipients. But all the people we encountered – whether in stores, cafés, airlines or restaurants – were invariably courteous and helpful.

 

We started off in Boston, where the icy cold bit into our bones and obliged us to wear our warmest clothing, and as we progressed through the various cities the weather gradually got balmier, to the point that in San Diego we had to buy some lighter clothing (one T-shirt, actually). But that was more or less the only shopping we did, much to the disgust of our children and grandchildren in Israel, for whom USA is the Mecca of retail therapy (but of course we brought back gifts for each one).

 

But for us, apart from the wonderful interpersonal encounters, the high points of our trip were the cultural events – concerts and museum visits, in each and every place we visited. We are no strangers to the museums and art galleries of Europe, and of course the local offerings in Israel are not to be sneezed at either, but the wide range and richness of the art collections to be found in Boston, Washington, Baltimore, Richmond, San Diego and of course New York left us wishing we had more time (and younger feet) to take in all the goodies on offer. A performance by the Boston Symphony, an orchestral rehearsal in San Diego and a chamber concert in Brooklyn were just the icing on the cake.

 

When it comes to the other kind of goodies – the edible kind – we were often left wondering what has come over the American populace. There were times when we were unable to finish a soup which was described as tomato but tasted of anything but, or to find a sandwich that did not include cheese – melted or not – with the chicken, turkey or other filling. What with that and the proliferation of fast-food outlets, there’s no need to look any further for the source of the obesity epidemic assailing America.

 

Indian food is greatly overrated, in my opinion, and whatever one orders tends to taste the same. In the sole Indian restaurant we visited the manager was waiting for us as we left, our bill (‘check’) in his hand, asking us several times if we had not been satisfied with the service (the service was fine, the food inedible). Eventually we understood that he thought that our tip had not been large enough, so we gave him another five dollars and left, swearing never to go there again.

 

I was fortunate to be able to benefit from several ‘parlour meetings’ in San Diego and Brooklyn where I could talk about my novel, ‘The Balancing Game,’ and sign the copies that were bought by members of the audience. I’m eternally grateful to all those who went to considerable lengths to organize those events, and can only hope that the kind people who bought my book will enjoy reading it.

 

 

 

 

A TICO Rehearsal

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Anyone who is invited to a rehearsal by an orchestra has to feel especially privileged, as I and my husband, Yigal, did a few days ago during our stay in San Diego. Conductors  tend to be notoriously secretive about their working methods, but this was not the case with David Amos, the conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra, popularly known as TICO, who enabled us to gain a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the inner workings of a full-blown orchestra.

The first thing that struck us as we entered the hall where the rehearsal was already in full swing  was the rich sound that emanated from the sixty or more members who were playing the complex rhythms of Walter Piston’s ballet suite, ‘The Incredible Flutist.’ This will form part of the orchestra’s forthcoming ‘Americana’ concert, which will also include works by Wallingford Riegger, Vincent Persichetti, and Aaron Copland.  It will be performed April 6 and 8 evenings at Tifereth Israel Synagogue.

By chance, our arrival at the rehearsal happened to coincide with that of San Diego TV personality, Dave Scott, accompanied by a  KUSI-TV television crew, there to film the event for subsequent broadcast. This was occasioned by the orchestra’s performance of Persochetti’s work entitled ‘A Lincoln Address,’ which combines atmospheric musical interludes with the narrator reading Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, given in 1865.

To me, as an Israeli citizen, the address had a special significance because of its references to the American Civil War, and especially its concluding words, ‘…to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.’ I don’t know if this was intended or fortuitous, but those words are just as apt for the Middle East, and the situation of Israel today, as they were for America then.

In fact, the address contains several passages from the Bible, and — possibly because of his first name — Lincoln may well have regarded his role as something akin to that of figures from the Old Testament, for even the non-biblical passages in his speech seem to echo the rolling cadences of the Bible (King James version, of course).

Be that as it may, it was both a privilege and a pleasure to hear Scott read the text of the speech, interspersed with Persichetti’s music, which was played by the orchestra with great sensitivity. Conductor Amos urged the musicians on to ever greater heights of music-making, achieving an impressive quality of sound.

One passage in the piece by Piston required the members of the orchestra to stand up, the violinists to wave their bows in the air, and all of them to cheer and create the hullabaloo that would sound like a cheering crowd as the circus comes to town. This provided a moment of relaxation for the players and amusement for the audience. However, after Amos found that the cameraman had taken leave of absence and omitted to film that part we were treated to a repeat performance (with the cameraman in his place this time). So we benefited from a double dose of fun.

The concert is due to conclude with four dance episodes from Copland’s ‘Rodeo’ ballet, and these are touching, exciting, and raucous by turn, providing a rousing ending to a concert devoted to American music. Amos worked hard to imbue the passages that we heard being rehearsed with the energy and musicality necessary to enable the audience to enjoy the music to the full. He made no concessions allowing for the fact that the entire orchestra is comprised mainly of amateur musicians, albeit of an extremely high standard.

We left marveling at what has been achieved by a combination of willpower, practice, and dedication

The Riches of Richmond

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For me personally, the principal attraction of Richmond, Virginia is the presence there or in the vicinity of two first cousins and their families. For those of us who belong to what is known as the Second Generation (of Holocaust survivors), and whose families have been scattered all over the world as a result, the opportunities for a family reunion with relatives who live in different countries are few and far between, involving considerable expenditure of time, energy and mammon.

But there are other attractions in Richmond, the capital of the state of Virginia. Founded in 1737 by colonists from Britain, it was named for the area just outside London that goes by the same name, because the course of the James River, on whose banks it is situated, reminded the founders of the Thames at that spot in England.

Thus, the city has a proud Colonial past and Civil War history. As part of the old south, it was the capital of the Confederacy during the hostilities. One of its main thoroughfares is called Monuments Avenue, and contains monuments to various figures from American history and also…Arthur Ashe, former tennis champion and a native of Richmond. The general appearance of the city is of a pleasant, spacious place to live, with no shortage of land or resources, wide boulevards and plenty of greenery, within a general setting of woodland and farms.

There is also a thriving Jewish population which has been in the area almost since the establishment of the town, with a large, active community centre, several synagogues and a Holocaust Museum.

While the town has several museums of various kinds (a science museum, a children’s museum, a local historical museum, to name but a few), the jewel in Richmond’s crown is the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Housed in a grand Victorian structure, a few years ago it underwent a massive expansion in which the exhibition space was almost doubled by the addition of a large glass structure.

 

The museum contains some stunning exhibits, among them artifacts from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, a rare collection of Fabergé eggs (not on display when we visited), an amazing display of Tiffany glass objects and an astounding array of works by French Impressionists from the private collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon. Just to list the various galleries and their contents would be tiresome to read, but believe me, the museum is a veritable treasure trove which merits a repeated visit

Bostonian Delights

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To my surprise, the staid university city of Boston offers a variety of cultural delights and turns out to be as vibrant and colorful as any metropolis anywhere.

First of all, there is the Museum of Fine Arts, or MFA, as it is popularly known. It is enormous, and contains a vast range of paintings, sculptures, and archaeological artifacts from every period and from all over the world. Several pictures by Rembrandt brush shoulders with a huge collection of Hanoverian silver, colorfully painted  Egyptian mummies lie alongside glass cabinets chic-bloc full of graceful Grecian urns, and art of all kinds is bursting from the seams of this encyclopedic museum.

The museum also boasts a fine dining area beneath a huge, open space and overlooked by a tree-like Chihuli glass sculpture that almost reaches the ceiling (it’s held in place by metal struts at the top), giving the area a unique ambience. There is so much to see in this museum that we had to go back for a second day of touring its impressive galleries.

We also spent a day (not enough, of course) at a museum named for its founder, donor, curator and begetter, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. This lady, who was born into money and also married into it, spent her entire life traveling around Europe and other countries, and collecting beautiful and precious things. Then she had a special museum built to house them all. The building reproduces the architecture of a Venetian palazzo, with an amazing entry courtyard based on the kind of courtyard and surrounding gallery that was found in medieval monasteries. The riot of flowers, trees and plants that meet the eye as one enters is quite breathtaking, and the glass roof above it allows for all kinds of exotic flowers to flourish there, including some amazing orchids.

After walking around the courtyard one begins the tour of the various galleries, or rooms. Each one contains what seems at first sight to be a hotch-potch of items — paintings, objects d’art, period furniture — all jumbled together and, disappointingly, no labels! In each room printed guides are provided, explaining what the various items are. This requires a bit of getting used to, but as one proceeds from one room to another one gets the idea and also begins to grasp the underlying logic and the connections between the individual objects.

In essence, the museum reflects the character of a very wealthy woman, one who had a good aesthetic sense, a bevy of artistic advisors, and who was an obsessive collector. Tapestries, fabrics, letters, sketches, and cabinets containing pieces of hand-made lace crowd the walls of the rooms, alongside old masters, medieval religious paintings, Renaissance furniture and all manner of curios. An early self-portrait by Rembrandt gazes out at us with innocent eyes in one room, and in another we come across a full-length portrait of Isabella Gardnerr herself in a black velvet evening gown painted by John Singer Sargent, one of her many artist friends. Coming out of the museum into the light of day, the visitor feels dazed by the wild profusion of works of art in their lavish settings.

Perhaps that was the effect Isabella Stewart Gardiner wanted to achieve, as she left strict instructions in her will that nothing of the disposition of the objects on the three floors of the museum was to be changed, but should be left just as she had determined almost a hundred years ago.

Building Hadassah Hospital

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Not long ago I was privileged to hear renowned architect Arthur Spector give a talk about the new Hadassah Hospital building at Ein Kerem designed by his firm. Leaving aside the financial aspect of the building, which has aroused some controversy, Arthur proceeded to provide his audience with a fascinating insight into the inner workings of the architectural process.

Illustrating his talk with many slides, Arthur described the process of planning and erecting the building, pointing out the many aspects involved in adhering to the ecological principles of sustainable construction. Putting up a ‘green’ building requires paying attention to a myriad of technical features, such as using renewable energy (wind, sun), minimizing carbon pollution, using materials efficiently, maintaining indoor air quality (no simple matter in a hospital) and minimizing the negative impact on the environment. In this instance the process involved consulting numerous experts in a wide variety of fields, which Arthur has calculated as accounting for 1,300 meetings with 36 consultants. The role of the architect is to manage all the information without losing the soul of the design, as embodied in the slogan ‘architecture is the marriage of the art of the dream with the art of the real.’

The spacious, landscaped atrium provides a welcoming entrance to the hospital, forming a stark contrast with the constraining and unaesthetic entrance to the old building. In designing the individual inpatients rooms, which contain one or two beds only, the paramount concern was to provide privacy as well as comfort and easy access for medical procedures. As someone who has availed herself of the services of the new building I can attest to the achievement of this aim.

In the 1950s it was Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, who chose the Ein Kerem site for the Hadassah Hospital, seeking to combine Jerusalem’s healthy mountain air with sufficient distance from the border to ensure that Jordanian artillery fire did not reach the hospital. Today that military consideration is no longer relevant. The location of the hospital, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, has caused the city to develop westward and increased the Jewish population in that part of the city. The original inpatients building was built according to specifications that were not suited to Israel’s climate and conditions, with wards into which four or five beds were crowded, an impractical layout and an entrance that was unfriendly and narrow.

In planning a hospital special constraints have to be taken into consideration, and this is particularly difficult given the varied cultural and ethnic composition of Israel’s population. In addition to providing a welcoming entranceway, a hospital should combine functionality with flexibility, enable smooth connections between salient medical functions, provide possibilities of expansion, take the context and culture of the population into account and maintain the aesthetic values that all architects seek to uphold.

As well as functioning as a medical facility, Hadassah’s Ein Kerem hospital campus serves as a tourist attraction, drawing 200,000 visitors each year, many of them eager to see the stained-glass windows designed by Chagall for the hospital’s synagogue. The new building will eventually provide over 500 beds, and the old building will be used as outpatients clinics. Healing gardens have been created on alternate floors of the new building, each one having one of the four elements – air, fire, earth water – as its theme. Future possibilities include bringing art works into the hospital, and even holding art exhibitions there.

In concluding, Arthur Spector noted that it is in hospitals that one sees all the disparate elements of Israel’s population – Jews, Arabs, Christians, Druze – side by side as they seek to get well or help a sick relative recover. It is our common human frailty that brings us all together, and it is there that one sees tangible evidence to support the belief that reconciliation between Palestinians and Jews is possible.

 

Translators’ Talkfest

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Last year, for various reasons, the annual conference of the Israel Translators Association was not held. Consequently, this year’s event, which was held in Herzliya at the beginning of February, was eagerly awaited. The three-day programme comprised around fifty lectures and workshops, some of them held concurrently, interwoven with coffee and lunch breaks, as well as a cocktail party and gala dinner on the first evening. Since not every day of the event contained lectures that interested me, and also because of the rather high cost of the event, I elected to participate (at a reduced rate) on the last day only.

By coincidence or design (probably the latter), The Marker, the financial section of the Haaretz daily newspaper, ran an extensive article about translators and the Translators Association to coincide with the conference. The main theme of the article, as far as the reporter seemed to be able to gather from the individuals he interviewed, was the difficult life of the free-lance translator, who is underpaid and overworked, this being particularly acute if a translation agency is involved as intermediary. Free-lancers account for some 95 percent of all translators, while only a fortunate few – about 5 percent – are in salaried positions. One of the side-effects of this situation is that upon reaching retirement age many free-lancers find themselves obliged to continue working as their pensions are either non-existent or woefully inadequate.

Incidentally, translators of subtitles for movies and the TV screen are paid even more abysmally. Things have in fact reached such an abysmal state that these translators, who are no less skilled and expert than any other translator, are currently on strike. Whether this will achieve the desired result remains to be seen, but they are certainly supported by every self-respecting professional translator.

Another point raised in relation to the difficulties of being a translator was the widespread undermining of professionalism by amateurs, or as the headline to the article in The Marker phrased it, quoting one of the people interviewed: ‘Anyone Who’s Ever Set Foot Abroad Can Get up in the Morning and Decide That He’s a Translator.’

When I mentioned the translators’ apparent paucity of funds to one of the other translators at the conference he pointed out that a goodly number of them had nonetheless registered for the full-board three-day conference in a decent hotel, which would seem to undermine the poverty thesis put forward by the Association’s spokespersons.

Be that as it may, the one day of the conference that I attended provided a veritable smörgasbord of interesting lectures, to such an extent that I was obliged to forgo such fascinating subjects as the issue of filling lexical voids and the intricacies of translating electronic books in order to be able to attend the sessions on aspects of translating text allied with illustrations in the Wizard of Oz, tackling the niceties of translating financial statements, and the potential minefield that results in translation bloopers in the booklets that come with pieces of electrical or electronic equipment.

Deadlines are also a sore point for translators, many of whom frequently find themselves working at all hours of the day and night in order to meet the – often totally unrealistic – time-frame demanded by importunate agencies or project managers.

As well as opening one’s mind to new fields of interest and providing additional insights into familiar ones, the Translators Conference provides the lone translator with the opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones. The conferences are attended by translators from all over Israel, and it is heartening to see the many happy reunions between old friends and colleagues.

After all, the life of the translator is on the whole a lonely one. It may be interrupted from time to time by the occasional interesting phone call but consists primarily of interaction with the computer screen, thereby involving little face-to-face contact with other human beings. This probably suits most translators, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to remain in the profession, but even ‘lone wolves’ need human contact from time to time.

Nebraska – Not Only a Movie

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We went to see the movie, ‘Nebraska,’ in Jerusalem’s Semadar cinema last Saturday afternoon. The auditorium, as well as the attached café, was full of secular Israelis of all ages and sizes enjoying the free-and-easy atmosphere there, untrammeled by the religious restrictions that characterize too many of Jerusalem’s cultural institutions.

 However, not everyone in the cinema, in fact probably nobody except us, had actually ever been to Nebraska, let alone lived there for a year. Some might have driven through it on their way from one coast to the other, but that doesn’t really count.

 We were at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, the state capital, during the 1984-85 academic year. The experience was one that has remained with all of us – parents and children alike – for good or for bad. We encountered people who were unbelievably kind, warm and welcoming, as well as weather that can only be described as catastrophic (arctic in winter, tropical in summer). Also, we were very happy to find that Nebraska is far from being a cultural desert, and we were able to enjoy several chamber and symphony concerts in Lincoln as well as in nearby Omaha.

 Watching the movie, it was amusing to see the all-too-familiar monotonous scenery, as well as the weather-worn, salt-of-the-earth faces and figures of the characters, many of whom were in fact local inhabitants, not professional actors. Even when they were being nasty to one another, the Nebraskans did it with a certain modicum of kindness, without rancor or evil intent. Oh, of course avarice played a role in the behavior of some of the characters, but underlying it was a fundamental sense of camaraderie and affection

 What we found particularly entertaining was the underlying concept of the film, namely, that for the somewhat confused and over-credulous old man who was the main character, Nebraska was perceived as some kind of Eldorado, a place where his dreams of riches would be fulfilled. In the event this does not happen, but in the course of his journey there, in the company of his son and other family members, he is exposed to the warmth and affection of those around him in a non-saccharine way, and that is something that is not always apparent in movies that are made in Hollywood. Perhaps that is the message of the film, namely, that the love of those around us, and our awareness of this, is the true pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

 All-in-all, we enjoyed the movie and can recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind that it is totally devoid of sex scenes and contains only a very small amount of not-very-violent violence.

Goodbye, Israel Museum

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When my husband and I retired from our jobs about eight years ago (mine as Translator and Editor-in-Chief of English-Language Publications at the Bank of Israel, his as a senior engineer in Intel) we found that some of our spare time could be usefully spent by volunteering at the Israel Museum. We both entered what was then known as the Hosts program, in which we served as mobile information purveyors to visitors to the Museum.

Over the years the nature of our volunteering work changed as the Museum grew and developed. We remained at our posts as the extensive renovations went ahead, then accepted our new duties – mine as a Team Captain at the Information Desks, Yigal’s first in the Restoration Laboratory then in the Israeli Art Information Center. In both departments his work was highly valued, and both of us were happy and proud to be contributing to one of Israel’s foremost cultural institutions.

Our association with the Museum was on the whole enjoyable. It connected us with other volunteers, who tended to be nice, intelligent people, as well as with visitors, who were generally pleasant to talk to and appreciated our assistance. The volunteers in charge of the various activities were usually congenial and helpful, without being too obtrusive. Nobody knew exactly how and why this person or that was nominated for whichever managerial task among the cadre of volunteers, but this hardly concerned us as we continued to perform our functions to what seemed to be general satisfaction.

But about a year ago things changed. A new person was appointed to head the volunteers’ activities. Little by little, the atmosphere changed as tales began to circulate about insulting remarks he had made to one person or another, volunteers who had been dismissed on flimsy grounds, and a deterioration in the general atmosphere. I found it hard to believe that he had actually told one of my fellow team-mates, a Ph.D. who had called the office to get some information, that she ‘was devoid of intelligence,’ and did my utmost to dissuade her from resigning.

Then I heard from another member of my team that he had spoken to her in a rather rude fashion when she told him she was unable to attend a meeting he had set at a time that clashed with some other regular activity of hers.

The incidents continued to accumulate. Another team-mate, this one also a Ph.D., was asked to prepare a series of three lectures for volunteers, the first one to be given in another week. After working long and hard preparing the material she was told in a casual conversation that her lectures had been cancelled. No reason or explanation was given. My colleague was initially very hurt and insulted, as is only natural, but then decided very nobly that she was actually rather relieved.

Other colleagues were told after many years of devoted service to the Museum that their services were no longer required because they were too old. Too old! If only young people had the time and resources to devote to volunteering that would, of course, be ideal. But unfortunately it’s usually only possible to volunteer when one is no longer working in paid employment.

The last straw for me was when my husband was told by the ‘Volunteers Council,’ an unelected body of appointees, that his volunteering services would no longer be required. Outrageous calumnies and the distortion of facts were given as grounds for this decision. My husband is a person of absolute integrity and has a strong character that is outstanding in its honesty and decency (yes, of course I’m biased), and it seems that these qualities were not to the liking of the people heading the volunteers organization.

And so, in protest at the way my husband has been treated, I have resigned from my position as a volunteer in the Israel Museum. And so has at least one other member of our team.

Our association with the Museum has not ended, as we will continue to renew our membership annually and enjoy the exhibitions and events held there. We are both busy with many other activities, but it was not in this way that we wished to end our years of volunteering at the Israel Museum..

The Strange Case of the Chamber Concert Cellist-cum-Standup Artist

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 Staid, is the only adjective one can apply to the audience at the regular chamber music concerts held in Jerusalem’s august YMCA auditorium on a monthly basis. The average age is pulled down sharply by anyone under sixty, and there aren’t too many of those.

The concerts, under the auspices of the Jerusalem Music Center (www.jmc.org.il), are invariably of a very high standard, and bring immense pleasure to the few hundred regular and occasional members of the audience. The acoustics of the auditorium are excellent, and the ambience and décor take one back to the first few decades of the previous century, when the building was erected by people of good will who believed that the activities conducted within it would serve to bring harmony and mutual understanding to the peoples of the region.

Be that as it may, that was not the case at the recent performance given there by the Jerusalem Trio. The program, which consisted of a piano trio by Israeli composer, Michael Wolpe, as well as piano trios by the more well-known composers, Beethoven and Schumann, looked inviting and as the audience gathered everyone was eagerly anticipating the evening’s performance.

As we entered the auditorium we were told at the door that there would be a delay in the start of the concert as one of the artists had encountered a problem with his car. We waited patiently, and for the most part in silence, some of us checking our mobile phones (you’re never alone with an iPhone). At one point a young lady strode resolutely up to the stage, sat down at the piano, and—presumably in order to help us pass the time pleasantly—proceeded to give a spirited rendering of Schumann’s Kreisleriana. We applauded, and continued to wait.

Eventually, after a delay of about thirty minutes, the three young men who comprise the trio strode on to the stage and took their places. They did not begin to play, however. Nor was any apology for the delay delivered.

Instead, the cellist, while at the same time trying to arrange the music on his stand, launched into a long and occasionally amusing account of the violinist’s frantic phone call to him to tell him that he had a puncture in one of his tyres, he did not know quite where he was, and when told to check this with Waze or Google Maps on his mobile phone found that he was at ‘insufficient memory.’ The violinist nodded his head in good-natured agreement as the saga of his technical inadequacies unfolded.

This was fairly entertaining, and the audience listened without demur for a while. Suddenly, however, a portly gentleman in the row behind me shouted. “Enough of this nonsense! Is this a concert or a stand-up performance? I’ve paid to hear a concert, and that’s what I demand!”

“Well, you’re welcome to go to the ticket office and get your money back!” the cellist retorted, not to be outdone.

This led to what can only be described as a slanging match between the portly gentleman and the cellist, something which obviously made the rest of the audience feel distinctly uncomfortable.

There were cries of “Silence!” “Enough already!” etc., directed at both of the protagonists, until eventually someone started to clap, whereupon everyone joined in, thereby silencing them both. The discussion concluded, the music began, and everyone settled down to enjoy the performance.

The trio played beautifully, but the cellist was obviously not content with the way matters had ended. And so, when the first part of the concert ended and the artists were leaving the stage for the interval, he stood up and indicated that he had something more to say.

Everyone fell silent, as he focused his gaze on the portly gentleman. “No one has the right to insult us even if he does buy a ticket,” he proclaimed. Everyone applauded and filed out for the well-earned break.

In the ladies toilet, where as usual there was a queue, the general consensus was that the portly gentleman had been rude beyond measure, however justified he may have been, and that it is extremely unwise to upset artists before a performance.

The second half of the concert proceeded without incident. But by then the portly gentleman and his wife were no longer in their seats.

 

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