L’Etat c’est Moi

The tendency to equate the state with one’s person (expressed in the phrase ‘l’Etat c’est Moi’ [I am the state]) was a feature of the monarchies of Europe in the period during and after the Middle Ages. With the passage of time, the introduction of republics, democracies and various forms of constitutional monarchy that equivalence became a thing of the past, and today is identified largely with the seventeenth century French king, Louis IV (and to a limited extent France’s post-WWII president Charles de Gaulle). The phrase epitomizes the arrogance and self-importance of the person uttering it.

I have not heard those words spoken by Benjamin Netanyahu, but his behaviour in the latter part of his twelve-year ‘reign’ as Israel’s prime minister, as well as in the manner of his leaving that position, indicates that he may well think and believe it.

Indications abound of his supercilious and condescending, or even downright destructive, attitude to those who have acted to oust him from power. It started with his campaign to discredit the new government and its members. That having failed, it was evident from the behaviour of the Likud members of the Knesset when the incoming prime minister was presenting the new government’s policy to the House that a highly-orchestrated chorus of heckling, disruption and just plain name-calling was under way. Naftali Bennet was not allowed to complete a single sentence or phrase. While the Knesset Speaker did his best to keep the Knesset members under control, the task was obviously beyond him. The behaviour of the Knesset members put Israel as a whole to shame in its own eyes and those of foreign observers.

But that wasn’t all. Before leaving the Prime Minister’s Office Netanyahu instructed the staff there to shred documents. The full extent of the damage thus caused is yet to be assessed, but that is something that no responsible public official should do. In addition, the entire handing-over procedure from the outgoing to the incoming prime minister took all of half an hour, which seems unlikely given that Netanyahu was in office for twelve consecutive years. The customary ceremony in which the departing official wishes the incoming one success and good fortune in his/her role was omitted completely.

To top the begrudging handing-over of power, Netanyahu and his family declined to leave the official residence at Balfour Street in Jerusalem. It’s as if the defeated prime minister of Britain refused to leave 10 Downing Street, or the outgoing President of the USA would not go out of the White House. Eventually, it seems, some kind of agreement was reached and the Netanyahu family has been given a date by which it must vacate the premises. Don’t worry, there’s no need to feel sorry for them, as they have at least one apartment in Jerusalem as well as a fine house in Caesarea.

Sadly, it all goes to show just who and what has been behind the formation of Israel’s domestic and foreign policy for a very long period, with consequences that are visible world-wide. Not for a very long time have Israel and the Jewish people been hated by so many people in so many places.

Only in Israel!

With its unique mix of people from all over the world, almost all of them with Jewish roots, Israel’s population comprises a wide range of cultures, traditions and even genetic composition.

The juxtaposition of so many people from so many different backgrounds has given rise to some unexpected friendships, relationships, combinations and unions. The idea that this could happen ‘only in Israel’ came to me as I was participating in an event to celebrate the fiftieth wedding anniversary of friends. The husband was brought from Yemen to Israel as an infant, the wife is a former ‘new immigrant’ from the USA. They met in Jerusalem, fell in love, got married and, lo and behold, their marriage has lasted for fifty years. Their drastically different cultural backgrounds weren’t an obstacle to their marriage and don’t seem to have got in the way of its endurance. I know that people from different ethnic backgrounds get married all the time all over the world, but this is the one I’m familiar with.

When new neighbors moved in to the house next door we wondered who and what they might be. On becoming acquainted with them we realized that these were in fact neighbours from heaven. Both husband and wife are translators, which is exactly the profession I have been working in most of my adult life. They are literate, well-read, cultured and pleasant (and don’t have a dog – unlike  the three neighbours opposite whose five hounds bark all day and most of the night). In additon their son, Ariel (same name as my son, but much younger), is a gifted pianist and did very well at the recent Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition. As inveterate music-lovers, we were happy to be able to hear him practicing on their Steinway grand piano at the other side of our shared wall. Having completed his studies in Israel and London, Ariel is now living in London and embarking on his professional career.

The young technician who came to our house a few weeks ago to attend to some disfunction equipment had to check something in our basement. When he saw our table-tennis table there he challenged my 81-year-old OH to a game, and was amazed and impressed at being thoroughly trounced. Upon completing his assignment he gave us his phone number and told us to call him directly whenever we had a technical problem and not to bother calling the company. The only reward he required would be a repeat game of table tennis. Only in Israel!

During the Corona pandemiv, when people were told not to go out and about, and before the vaccinations had been developed, we opted to order our groceries from the local grocery store. We would phone the owner with our shopping list, and half an hour later he would be at our door with the best-quality items as well as fruit and veg. (and priced somewhat higher than the supermarket). This friendly personal interaction lasted throughout those long, dreary months of isolation, but eventually we got our jabs and life began to return to its normal routine, where we could venture out and go to the supermarket once more. After a few weeks had passed, we had a phone call from the owner of the grocery store inquiring after our health and indicating that he would like to see us in his store from time to time. We got the hint, and now try to make a point of going there as well as going to the supermarket.

Most Thursday evenings my OH goes to one of Jerusalem’s major bakeries to buy freshly-baked Challot, the special bread Jews have for the Sabbath. He likes to be sure that the loaves are really fresh and that they have not been touched by the hands of other customers. So he has got into the habit of phoning the bakery ahead of time to make sure that the Challot are out of the oven and ready when he comes. By now the serving staff recognize his voice on the phone, tell him when to come, that they have put some aside for him, or that him he should go and get some groceries first. I doubt that one would find that level of intimacy and concern anywhere else in the world.

I might be wrong, but these and other examples give me hope for the future of the Jewish people and humankind in general.

Cautious Optimism

About three years ago my husband and I rescheduled our flight back to Israel from London, at considerable financial and personal cost, because Netanyahu had called a snap general election. We were determined to cast our votes in order to get rid of the party in power and especially the man at its head.

That election was won by Netanyahu and his party, despite all our efforts. But the coalition government he cobbled together did not last long, and so for the past three years Israel has had to go through another three general elections, in all of which we voted for rival parties and all of them resulting in political deadlock.

The cost to the country in political, financial and social terms has led to a downturn in general morale as well as in its international standing. During that period Israel has managed to weather the storm of the Covid 19 pandemic and the attack on its population by rockets fired from Gaza, but its ministries have been unable to take any positive action or initiate fresh policies because of the political stalemate and the inability (whether genuine or deliberate) to approve the budget.

Political gridlock is almost inherent in the nature of Israel’s electoral system, in which parties are elected on the basis of proportional representation rather than regional constituencies, thus making coalitions almost inevitable. This was the system that was used to elect delegates to the pre-State’s representative bodies, and so, although palpably unmanageable and inefficient, no government, once in power, has ever felt inclined to change it.

Thus, anyone who feels they have a cause worth fighting for sets up a party and tries to garner support. It was hoped that the introduction of a minimum threshold would improve the situation, but that does not appear to have been the case. Political parties have split and splintered. Personalities have sought to express themselves and their views. Ideas, interests and ideologies have emerged or become more entrenched than before. As the results of the latest (fourth) election show, the situation has remained much as it was.

But something has changed now, nonetheless. Yair Lapid, the leader of one of the parties that opposes Netanyahu and advocates more liberal, centrist ideas, has managed to bring together a disparate– and ostensibly impractical — collection of right, left, center and even Arab parties to form a coalition. As I write this it looks as if that two-headed coalition government known as ‘Bennet-Lapid’ will in fact be ratified by the Knesset and sworn in next Sunday (13th June).

This certainly gives rise to optimism among those who have had enough of Benjamin Netanyahu and his minions, and feel that he has run the country for far too long – twelve consecutive years at the last count. He has certainly chalked up several achievements, but no democracy should be expected to put up with the same leader – no matter how gifted – for so long.

The new government, if allowed to come to fruition, comprises both new and old faces, some who have been in previous governments and some who have not. The fact that so many politicians adhering to such differing views have been able to come together in order to achieve the objective of finally replacing the government and providing Israel with a leadership that is focused on new ideas and the good of the country as a whole, rather than being based primarily on the cult of personality, is certainly a cause for cautious optimism.

Remembering Jerusalem

I’m thrilled to be able to announce that my new novel, ‘Rootless in Zion,’ is now published and available for sale on Amazon, in both ebook and paperback form.

The book stems from an inner journey I have taken over the past year, as I delved into memories, as well as documents and texts, concerning the year 1966, soon after my arrival in Israel.

The narrative consists primarily of accounts of the lives, thoughts, actions and interactions of three students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1966. The three characters – Cynthia from England, Batsheva from the U.S.A. and Brian from Australia – are graduate students in the University’s History Department, each one of them trying to enjoy life and do whatever is necessary to attain a more fulfilling career.

My main reason for writing the book was an attempt to reconstruct life in the divided city of Jerusalem at that time. In 1966 there was a high wall separating the Israeli part from the section then controlled by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The idea of going to the Jordanian part of the city seemed totally alien to those of us who were recent arrivals in Israel. It was, however, customary to take tourists to one of the higher buildings in the Israeli part of the city in order to get a glimpse of the other side. To anyone living in Jerusalem today that idea is astonishing, but that was the situation then, just one year before the Six Day War and the reunification of the city.

Looking back at that period, it seems to have been a time of innocence, when both physical reality and the political scene were circumscribed and parochial. There is something to be said in favour of innocence, of a sense of acceptance of a limited arena in which events take their course. Thus, the issues that concern the three principal characters, as well as the student body as a whole, seem relatively simple and straightforward.

And so the search for academic success, romantic love or financial security are the principal concerns of the protagonists. Nonetheless, society in general is concerned with the pressing political issues of the day, as well as the ethnic divisions within Israeli society at a time when the struggle to absorb and integrate new immigrants was assuming increasing prominence.

And then there are the professors, who play a pivotal role in the lives of the graduate students. Some are more egocentric than others, seeking to ‘publish or perish’ at all costs, while others seem more interested in trying to bed young female students. And finally, there are the Israeli students who interact with the newcomers, using their relations with them for their own personal advantage or in order genuinely to help them. Whether it is in night-clubs or in the library, there are myriad ways in which contact is established between the two groups.

The story twists and turns around the events affecting the three main characters and the steps they take to achieve their various objectives. Why have they come to Israel? Will they ever learn Hebrew? Will Cynthia manage to find love and fend off Professor Zelinger’s advances? Will Batsheva and her husband succeed in their business venture? Will Brian manage to keep his family together?

Read the book and find the answers. The ebook is free to download from Amazon.com on 11th June.

Also available from my website: http://www.shefer-vanson.com

The Remarkable Life of David Sealtiel

This small book, ‘David Sealtiel,’ subtitled (in German) “I want to be a compatriot of the Jewish people,” describes the life of the man who rebelled against the bourgeois and orthodox way of life of his family in early twentieth-century Hamburg, and embarked on a life of almost unceasing adventures and escapades in Europe and the Middle East. Although the book is short, the content is amazingly dense and Sealtiel’s life was so eventful that this review will inevitably be long. What an astonishing life this man had!

The book was published in the framework of a series entitled ‘Jewish Miniatures,’ under the auspices of the Jewish Center, Leipzig. The author, historian Dr. Ina Lorenz, is the director of the Institute for the History of the Jews of Hamburg. I read the book in German, though in my opinion it deserves to be translated into English as well as Hebrew.

David Sealtiel was born in Berlin in 1903. His father, Benjamin, had been born in Hamburg, and in 1912 the family moved there, joining other members of the Sealtiel clan. David was given a traditional Jewish education, attending the Hamburg Jewish community’s ‘Talmud Torah’ high school. David was neither studious nor disciplined, preferring to spend his time roaming the streets of the city and mixing with individuals whom his parents considered to be undesirable elements. From an early age David displayed impatience with the rigid way of life of orthodox Judaism and was not prepared to fit in with the demands of the Jewish community and his family. His barmitzva was celebrated in the Bornplatz synagogue, though it is not certain that he actually graduated from school.

In 1923 David spent a year on a training farm (hachsharah) in Britissh Mandated Palestine, and this first encounter with the Zionist cause made a deep and lasting impression on him. He worked in various agricultural spheres, visiting newly-established kibbutzim as well as trying to sell holy water to Christian pilgrims and serving as a foreign correspondent for German and French newspapers.

In 1925 Sealtiel returned to Europe, travelling through Italy and France. He spent some time on the French Riviera, ending up in Marseille, where he joined the French Foreign Legion, possibly in reaction to the breakdown of his relationship with a young woman in Nice. In the Legion he served in North Africa, and even wrote articles about his impressions of the region and encounters with the Berbers for the Hamburg Jewish newspaper. He left the Legion in 1931 with the rank of Sergeant.

Sealtiel spent the following years in France, living with his mistress, Leony, in Paris, and then working for Royal Dutch Shell in the Alsace-Lorraine region. These were times of severe economic difficulties in Germany and the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazi party. While living in Metz, Sealtiel experienced his first encounter with Jewish refugees from Germany, and this coincided with his meeting with the Zionist pioneering movement in France (Hechalutz). Together with Zionist leader Peretz Leshem, Sealtiel established agricultural training farms in various regions of France, resigned from his position at Royal Dutch Shell and accepted employment by Hechalutz. He came into contact and worked with many leading figures in the Zionist movement, among them David Ben Gurion, Eliahu Golomb, Berl Katznelson, Israel Galili, Levi Eshkol, Gideon Rafael, to name but a few.

As head of the French Hechalutz movement, Sealtiel was involved in establishing the kibbutz known as Machar in the Correze region of central France. He spent some time there, and also married his first wife, Inge Goldberg, the daughter of a distinguished lawyer, and the young couple moved to Jerusalem in 1934. Sealtiel worked briefly as a gardener at the Hebrew University, though it is possible that this was merely camouflage. He engaged in clandestine activities on behalf of the Zionist movement and the Haganah, providing students with military training, and eventually working for Ta’as, the underground Jewish arms industry.

In 1935 Sealtiel was sent to Europe to purchase arms for the Haganah, and find ways to smuggle them into Palestine without being discovered by the British Mandate authorities. The comings and goings involved are described in great detail in the book, and eventually he was caught by the Gestapo, who tried him for arms smuggling and engaging in illegal financial activities. After lengthy interrogations and torture, Sealtiel was sent as a political prisoner first to Dachau and then Buchenwald concentration camps. In May 1939 he was released, possibly because a ransom was paid. He returned to Palestine that same year, resuming his activities on behalf of the Haganah and resuming his relationship with Judith Schonstadt, a young woman he had met while on the Machar kibbutz in France, and whom he subsequently married.

In Palestine Sealtiel was arrested by the British authorities, accused of having participated in an attack on an Arab village, imprisoned in Acre and condemned to death. However, on Rosh Hashana 1939, he was pardoned, together with other prisoners. Under cover of working for Tnuva Food Industries, he was able to acquire and distribute arms and ammunition, while operating to blow up bridges and engage in clashes with Arabs in the Haifa region. He was appointed chief of Haganah operations in Haifa in 1939 as the Second World War broke out.

In 1942 Rommel’s forces were approaching the borders of Palestine, where Arab forces led by the Mufti of Jerusalem were waiting to join them in slaughtering the Jewish population. The Jewissh population organized to defend itself in the case of invasion by Nazi troops, but Rommel’s defeat by the British force led by Montgomery enabled them to breathe freely once more.

When the armies of several Arab countries advanced on the newly-established State of Israel in 1948 Sealtiel was appointed commander of the forces defending Jerusalem, which was then under siege by the Arab forces. No food or supplies were able to reach the Jewish areas of the city, as the Arabs of the surrounding villages were able to destroy the convoys attempting to relieve the siege. When it became clear that the Old City of Jerusalem could not hold out, while the newer, mainly Jewish, neighbourhoods had been conquered by the Haganah, Sealtiel agreed to a ceasefire on condition the Jewish population of the Old City of Jerusalem was saved. A heavy price had to be paid, and the Old City, with the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall remained in Jordanian hands. When the Old City was reconquered in the Six Day War of 1967, Sealtiel took the first opportunity to go there, proclaiming it to be “the happiest day of my life.”

In the years that followed David Sealtiel rose to a senior position in the Israel Defence Force and eventually filled several ambassadorial positions in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba and the Netherlands. While serving in Amsterdam he tried to trace the fate of his family, only to find that no one had survived. He died suddenly in Jerusalem in February 1969 of a heart attack. In his eulogy, his friend Gershom Scholem said: “…he displayed the characteristics of his formative years, as well as the internal contradictions of his adventurous nature — love of danger combined with a sense of discipline and order.”

From the River to the Sea

  • 9 May 2021 Downing Street pro-Palestinian demonstration
  • The catchy slogan that is chanted so ardently by supposedly well-intentioned human beings in demonstrations being held around the world, ‘Palestine shall be free, from the river to the sea,’ is in effect a call for the destruction of Israel. And that, of course, is what the terrorist organization of Hamas wants to achieve.

    The ability to ignore reality and fabricate theories and fantasies, twisting historical facts and despising actual reality, may bring consolation to a few hot-headed individuals, but will do nothing to solve the problem that lies at the heart of the Israel-Palestinian problem. Until the Palestinians, including Hamas, are prepared to come to the negotiating table there can be no solution to the problem. So I feel it’s time to set the historical record straight.

    When the United Nations voted to partition British-mandated Palestine in 1948 the Jews accepted the decision while the Arabs did not. The Arab countries did not hesitate to mobilise armies in order to conquer the country and keep it in Arab hands. The heavily outnumbered Jewish population fought with its back to the wall to retain the land that had been its ancient home, knowing that any defeat would put an end to the dream of a Jewish homeland. Having been all-but annihilated by the Nazis not many years before, the Jewish people knew what defeat would mean for them..

    History has had many twists and turns regarding the Jews. They flourished in their homeland two thousand years ago until they were exiled by the Romans. They flourished in the diasporas of Spain, North Africa and Eastern Europe until they were once again persecuted, slaughtered or forcibly exiled. Throughout their history, the Jews have had to get up and leave their homes on numerous occasions until in the nineteenth century they started to make their way back to their ancient homeland in order to rebuild their lives there, establishing towns and settlements, buying land and developing agriculture.

    After fighting off superior forces in 1948 the nascent state of Israel was subject to attacks from its Arab neighbours in 1956 and 1967, when it managed to conquer the areas known today as the West Bank, Sinai and the Gaza Strip. The last two were handed back to Arab control in agreements reached with the Arab countries concerned, and much of the West Bank is under the autonomous Palestinian Authority. During the nineteen years that Jordan controlled the West Bank nobody gave a thought to the establishment of an independent Palestine.

    At the same time as thousands of Arabs left their homes in Israel as a result of the war of 1948 a similar number of Jews was expelled from the Moslem countries where they had lived for hundreds of years (thousands of years in some cases). While the Arab host countries kept ‘their’ refugees in abject misery in refugee camps, Israel shared what little resources it had with the newcomers, absorbing them and building homes for them as quickly as possible.

    The cynical abuse of their brethren by the Arab countries is echoed by the attitude of the Hamas rulers of Gaza towards the population of that unfortunate enclave. When Israel occupied it after 1967 it became the site of flourishing agricultural settlements. These were left in place when Israel pulled out in 2005, in the hope that the local population would make use of them. This did not happen, of course, and Israel’s departure was the signal for a rampage of destruction, pillage and devastation.

    There aren’t many Israelis who don’t feel sorry for the impoverished, beleaguered civilian population of Gaza. There can be no forgiveness for their leaders, who use them as human shields and deploy the funds sent to alleviate their distress in order to buy weapons, build attack tunnels, and waste their efforts on the pointless exercise of trying to eliminate Israel.

    Israel cannot possibly allow itself to be defeated in any military confrontation with those who seek to destroy it.

    • Public Domain
    • File:9 May 2021 Downing Street pro-Palestinian demonstration.jpg

    Here We Go Again

    The above was the heading of a post I wrote a few weeks ago about the general election, but heck, it works just as well for what I’m writing about today, the escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza.

    The first time I realized that things were getting serious was when I was in my German lesson at the community centre near my house in Mevasseret Zion. “What’s that noise?” I asked the lady sitting next to me. “It’s the siren,” she said, whereupon we and the other participants (all elderly ladies like myself) got up and moved to the shelter, which happened also to house the toilets. We heard (and saw) fire trucks and ambulances racing past, and after hanging around for a while, we all packed up our things and went home to watch the news on TV. A rocket fired from Gaza had landed on a nearby hill, causing very little damage and no injuries, thank goodness.

    Since then matters have escalated most horribly, with rockets fired from Gaza raining down all over Israel, our forces retaliating in similar vein, and – most terrifying of all – violent clashes erupting in Israel between Jews and Arabs. To see and hear this happening after so many years in which both groups managed to live side by side in relative harmony is truly horrifying.

    Here in Mevasseret Zion we are near the Arab village of Abu Ghosh, and it is to restaurants, shops and bakeries there that we go for meals and all kinds of requirements. Our relations with the providers of those services there are and have always been civil, even amicable, and it is difficult to imagine their friendly attitude turning into enmity at the drop of a hat (or a rocket). Let’s hope that at least their business sense will prevail.

    Does this mean that we have been living in a fool’s paradise for the last 73 years (i.e., since Israel’s independence), or at least since 1967 (when Jerusalem was reunited and the West Bank and Sinai were conquered)? Since then there have been political developments that presaged movement towards some kind of settlement of the political situation. Sinai was handed back to the Egyptians in the framework of a peace treaty. Treaties were signed with Jordan and, more recently, Arab Gulf States. Gaza was handed over to Palestinian rule and Israel’s settlements there were disbanded. The Palestinian Authority was established in the West Bank (or Occupied Territories, if you prefer) and accorded considerable self-government rights.

    The situation in Jerusalem has had its ups and downs. The area of the Temple Mount where the Al-Aksa mosque is situated has been left in Moslem hands, while the area of the Western Wall is open to Jews. Arabs and Jews mingle on public transport, shopping malls, hospitals, and commercial establishments of every kind. Holy sites of each religion in Jerusalem and elsewhere are open to worshippers of all faiths, thus, Bethlehem, Nazareth and the sites around the Sea of Galilee are accessible to Christians, as are the churches and holy sites in Jerusalem, and the same applies to Moslem and Jewish holy sites all over the country.

    The history of this part of the world has always been fraught and full of conflict. The fate of all its occupants depends on their managing to live side by side peaceably. There have always been ups and downs in the extent to which this has been achieved, but rampaging around, rioting, attacking people and destroying property is no way to set about it.

    The bottom line is that war and aggression generally have dire (and unforeseen) consequences. When Arab armies sought to obliterate Israel in 1948 and 1967 they ended up paying a heavy price and achieving little if anything. No one can blame Israel for retaliating in view of the barrage of rockets being fired on its citizens today. After all, England did not sit back and accept the German attack on London known as the Blitz. The ruins of Berlin, Hamburg, Dresden and other German cities provide evidence of that.

    The Palestinians would do well to consider the lessons of the past. And the government of Israel would do well to bear in mind the sensitivities of all the segments of its population.

    The 16th Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition

    Some fifty years ago the International Piano Master Competition honouring pianist Arthur Rubinstein was established in Israel. Every three years (four years in 2021 due to the Coronavirus pandemic), young pianists from all over the world compete in front of audiences in Israel  for the prizes awarded by an international jury in the framework of the competition.

    Each competition enables young musicians to test their mettle against one another, as well as to thrill audiences with their talent and ability. This year, again because of the restrictions imposed as a result of Coronavirus, the competition was held in a ‘hybrid’ version, with the initial recitals being given in various countries and seen and heard all over the world by means of the internet.

    The final stages were held in Israel, with each of the six finalists playing a piano concerto by Beethoven (the year the Competition was due to be held, 2020, was the tricentennial anniversary of Beethoven’s birth), before going on to perform a piano quintet and concluding with a piano concerto from one of the great Romantic composers.

    I learned to play the piano in my youth, and although I did not get very far with my studies then, every few years since then I have tried to resume my efforts, with varying degrees of success. But I feel that this gives me a clearer idea of how much skill and dedication, not to mention sheer talent, is involved in reaching the levels of virtuosity and musicality displayed by the various participants.

    This year there were thirty-two initial competitors, all of whom had attained a very high level of playing the piano. Ten of them were women, twenty-two men. All were between the ages of twenty and thirty, and came from all four corners of the globe, though the large proportion of competitors from the Far East was evident.

    At this point I must admit to having a personal interest in the competition this year. It may sound a little far-fetched, but one of the competitors, Ariel Lanyi, lives next door to us, and the walls of our two salons abut one another. Hence, even though our houses are solidly built, we are well aware of his practicing routine, as Ariel is able to produce a powerful (and wonderful) sound from the beautiful Steinway Grand which dominates their living area.

    Since we are delighted to have such a talented musician living next door to us (and are friendly with his parents), even though he spends much of the year in London and elsewhere, it is only natural that we favoured his candidacy for first prize. In addition, Ariel also writes a weekly blog about music, which I almost always share on Facebook. He writes very insightfully about a selected piece of music for the piano, which he then goes on to play. Although he is only twenty-three years old, his knowledge of music theory and his analytical ability far surpass his youth, and I always learn something from reading his thoughts.

    And so at the final stages of the Competition I was listening with bated breath to each performance. I might add that Ariel’s performance of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations at one of the early stages was a veritable tour de force, winning accolades from prominent musicians, among them Israeli pianist and composer, Gil Shohat. In the final stages, Ariel’s performance of Beethoven’s third piano concerto, which I heard over the radio, also marked a high point in the competition, seeming to bring Beethoven himself to life.

    In the final stage of the competition, Ariel played Brahms’ second piano concerto with great aplomb and maturity, gaining resounding applause from the audience in Tel Aviv. In the final event, however, Ariel was not awarded one of the first three prizes, though he did gain a well-deserved prize for his performance of a work by an Israeli composer. I don’t envy the judges who must decide which of the very talented young pianists should be awarded a prize, and at every stage they were at pains to point out that they were all very talented. The three final winners, Juan Perez Floristan from Greece, Shiori Kuwahara from Japan and Cunmo Yin from China, were undoubtedly talented, but in my opinion no more so than any of the other three finalists.

    For us music-lovers (the French have a word for it, melomane) the world of music moves on to the next concert, the next festival, or whatever the fates have in store for us. For Ariel Lanyi and the other competitors there is always another competition, another performance or another event to tackle. We wish them all the best of luck and the strength to continue bringing joy and harmony to our world.

    The Perils of Internet Purchasing

    Throughout the year of Coronavirus lockdown we were confined to our homes and could not venture out into stores, markets or shopping malls. Attending a performance at a theatre or a concert, or even the cinema was strictly forbidden, and even a café or restaurant was out of bounds.

    That was a difficult time for many people. After all, man — and especially woman – is a social animal. That was when the internet became our salvation. Quite apart from sending and receiving emails from all and sundry, there was also the consolation provided by Facebook, Whatsapp, Zoom and other social media, enabling us to interact – albeit via the computer, iPad or smartphone screen – with other human beings. Those so-called human beings might in some cases have been robots, but still, we were made to feel that we were not completely cut off from the outside world.

    Entertainment was also supplied by the television, Netflix, and other providers of programmes and films, so that our social and cultural desert was not totally devoid of interest.

    Another of the consolations provided by the internet was on-line shopping. I don’t know about everyone else, but my screen ‘feeds’ constantly contained images of desirable garments, books, items of furniture, gadgets and sundry items with which someone out there sought to entice me. Most of the time I managed to resist the temptation, but , I must confess that there were occasions on which I succumbed.

    For instance, how could I possibly resist a sweatshirt on which my name was emblazoned? My name isn’t a very common one, and so it seemed that this was providential. Using the very efficient Paypal scheme, I sent the money to the address provided and some months later was summoned to the local post office package delivery depot, to collect it.

    The items I ordered from Marks and Spencer’s almost always arrived promptly, were well-packed and delivered in an efficient and pleasant way. I’ve learnt from bitter experience not to buy any cheap toys from China, however attractive they may be. Friends have told me that Ali Express is also quick and efficient, but I don’t seem to be on their radar, and I’d rather keep it that way.

    Some other items were impossible to resist. So I ordered an illustrated book from a very inventive and ingenious company in the Netherlands which produced a tailor-made A-B-C book for my granddaughter, utilizing the letters of her name. The book was a great success, so I ordered another of their books, this time for her fifth birthday, once again tailor-made using the letters of her name. The idea was charming and the illustrations delightful. When the book hadn’t arrived in time for her birthday, as promised, I contacted the company and asked what had happened. They apologized and sent me the tracking number, telling me that the book was now in Mevasseret. I duly went to the post office package delivery depot, showed them the tracking number and there it was! Because the package didn’t have my phone number on it, the P.O. hadn’t been able to send me an SMS saying that it had arrived. So why do I have an address?

    Some items never arrived, and in those cases I notified the seller, and was able to get a refund. One lone company ignored my demand for a refund, and since I had bought the item through eBay, I asked eBay to deal with it. Their reply was that since more than 21 days had passed, the case was closed. But here Paypal came to my rescue. I spoke to their representative on the phone, they opened a dispute for me, and within a day or two informed me that I would be getting a full refund. Luckily, they take responsibility for purchases made via their service, and this period extends to several months.

    I would advise anyone buying anything via the internet to make a note of the name of the company, the date of purchase, and all relevant reference numbers when making the purchase. At my advanced age I can’t rely on my memory to keep track of that kind of thing any more. And the emails I kept did sterling service when it came to getting refunds.

    The Falling Sword

    As an aficionado of historical novels, I was eager to start reading this book by Ben Kane about the clash between Greece and Rome, especially since the cover blurb proclaimed ‘Can Greece resist the might of Rome?’ As I later found out after clarification from the author, this blurb was misleading.

    It was in fact a stupid question, as we all know the answer. However, the nitty-gritty of exactly how this came about intrigued me, and I was eager to learn more about that crucial period in the history of the world. Regrettably, by the time I finished the book I was more confused than when I started. I found I was reading about a world in which Greeks and Macedonians were separate (and possibly opposing) entities, but what precisely the difference was eluded me.

    Fortunately, the author had kindly provided his email address at the end of the book, and his reply helped clarify the matter for me. This is what he wrote: There was no Greek nation at the time. There was no sense of being ‘Greek’. Someone was an Athenian, or a Theban, or an Achaean, a Spartan, from Corinth, from Aetolia, from Thessaly etc. Macedon was not Greece, no. Macedon was a powerful city state that controlled much of ‘Greece’.

    So be it. The book consists of detailed accounts, written in a readable and interesting way, of the battles, tactics, fighting forces, weaponry and equipment of the armies concerned. The author is certainly very knowledgeable on the subject, and the extensive glossary and Writer’s Note at the end of the book contain a great deal of valuable information.

    The book starts in the autumn of 198 BCE with an account of the terrain, situation and movemeents of the Roman army led by Tinctus Quinctius Flamininus. Subsequent chapters describe the situation and movements of the Macedonian army, led by King Pbilip V.

    In the course of the novel the reader is introduced to several characters of varying ranks in both armies, and despite the author’s best efforts to give them distinguishing characteristics such as names and affiliations, they tended to get mixed up in my mind as I read on. The period described was one in which Rome was challenging the other powers of the ancient world for supremacy, and this involved vast masses of men at arms marching hither and yon and clashing with one another in various horrible and murderous ways. That is the price a nation pays for seeking to defeat its rivals and gain the upper hand. That grim reality is described in considerable and compelling detail, bringing to the fore the brutality of that way of life, quite aside from the promise of reward for participants on the winning side.

    In conclusion, I found the book constituted a veritable treasure trove of information about the weaponry, procedures and behavioural minutiae of the armies of the ancient world, giving the reader an insight into a way of life that was harsh but nonetheless the fate of a large part of humanity at that time.

    Cover design: blacksheep-uk.com