An Unbeatable Experience

My family’s association with soprano Ilona Domnitch goes back many years, to the 1980s, when my parents moved to Israel and were active in the activities of Bnai Brith there. One of the projects which that organisation undertook at the time was to help new immigrants from Russia integrate into Israel. One of those recipients of aid was a teenager called Ilona who, as a new immigrant, was unable to pay for the books and equipment required by the music academy high school she attended.

To cut a long story short, when the aid from Bnai Brith came to an end my father, whose sole income was his pension from England, found ways of helping the young woman to further her career. Today, Ilona is an established singer, based in London and performing all over the world.

When we were in London a few weeks ago, at the height of the horrendous heatwave there, Ilona came to our hotel to see us and said that she would be singing the very demanding title role in Puccini’s opera Tosca. It transpired that one of the performances would be at a music festival in the Correze region of France, not far from where we would be spending part of the summer. France is a very large country so ‘not far’ involves driving more than two hours in either direction. But we decided to make the effort and undertake the journey in order to attend the performance, which was to take place in the grounds of the Chateau de Saillant.

On the appointed day we packed a picnic and set off in good time to get to the place, enjoy our food and attend the performance, having been forewarned by Ilona. To our surprise, we found that we were the only people who had brought their own picnic along, everyone else queued up at the very elegant stall providing drinks and finger food. The queue for service was very long, making us feel smug at having brought our own provisions.

The performance took place in a converted barn in the grounds of the Saillant chateau, with a central stage and seating on three sides of it. The production took the limitations of space into account, and the orchestral part was played by the very capable pianist Bryan Evans on a Steinway grand. Each and every one of the singers was outstanding, with powerful voices and a wealth of expression that would do justice to any major operatic performance.

And of course, Ilona was outstanding as Tosca, a real diva, using her silvery voice to maximum effect and displaying impressive acting ability into the bargain. When she sang her principal aria, seeking mercy from the Lord and invoking her piety and her devotion to art, she managed to display such conviction that it brought tears to many eyes in the audience (including mine).

The reaction of the audience, which included local resident and former President of France, Francois Hollande, at the conclusion of the evening was rapturous. The cast was called back to take a bow at least ten times, the audience stood and clapped, shouting‘ vo!’ for many minutes.

When we left the auditorium and started to leave the grounds, there was Ilona (still wearing her Tosca costume) coming towards us, eager to kiss and hug us as we congratulated her and shared our delight at having been able to hear and see her sing so well. And to crown it all, she made a point of saying that having us there in the audience that night was almost like having Manfred (my late father), to whom she owed so much, there.

What more could anyone ask? It was an unbeatable experience, and the memory of it will continue to delight us for a long time.

Home Sweet Home

Once again, we are spending some of our summer in France, savouring the niceties of life in la belle France. The countryside certainly is beautiful, with rolling green fields, meadows and hills as far as the eye can see, interrupted only by stately-looking trees and hedgerows serving to define where one farm ends and another begins.

After a rather hectic week in London, where the unusual heatwave had given rise to some form of mass hysteria with people too scared to get on a train or bus to get from A to B, it was quite a relief to find ourselves once again in the depths of rural France, where no one ever gets het up or excited about anything much. Life goes on at its usual stately pace, with cows ruminating in the fields, restaurants serving their usual meals to their usual customers and trucks trundling along the highway delivering goods from all over Europe to other parts of Europe.

Although I try to stay as quiet and still as possible, and even manage not to get annoyed by the church bells telling me the time every hour, I can’t avoid having to go shopping at the supermarket in the nearby town or visiting the adjacent pharmacy. But those occasional forays into the outside world are kept to a minimum as my kind-hearted OH has undertaken to get the morning baguette from the boulangerie in the nearby village, and also to bring me the Friday newspaper with all its coloured supplements, enabling me to keep abreast of French life, culture and language.

So I really have no cause to complain. The only problem is my deteriorating brain and body. Travel isn’t good for people who can’t remember where they put things or even what they’re looking for. I lose things (what on earth happened to the navy-blue cardigan that went with everything?), misplace things and forget where I’m supposed to be. My poor, longsuffering OH is unvaryingly patient and forgiving, but I wonder how long he can keep it up. After all, saints aren’t supposed to wear jeans and T-shirts and roll up their sleeves to cope with plumbing disfunctions.

And as for my deteriorating body – the less said about that the better. That’s just another aspect of life that isn’t helped by being schlepped on and off trains, planes and buses and taken from one country to another. Gone are the days when I would happily cope with luggage, passports, handbags and the novel I was in the middle of reading as we moved from one destination to another. My days of Wanderlust and living the gypsy life are over, and it’s just about all I can do to tag along behind OH or sit docilely in the passenger seat of our rented hybrid car, admiring the view, as he forges ahead along yet another highway or byway.

So let me just sit in my comfortable armchair, enjoy the music on the radio and allow the general aura of peace and tranquillity that pervades this lovely area to enter my soul.

Never Say Never

Travel these days is not for the faint-hearted. If one is not deterred by reports of overcrowded airports, lost luggage or delayed or even cancelled flights, one can but summon up all one’s courage and venture out into the wide, wide world.

So that is what we did. Neither of us is young any more and although OH doesn’t seem to flag at the sight of endless corridors or station platforms along which our suitcases have to be rolled, I must admit that I found it all a bit too much to take. Call me a little old lady, if you want, because that’s after all what I am. And little old ladies should stay at home, sit in an armchair and keep as still as possible. The sight of this little old lady schlepping suitcases along the endless stretches at Paddington station in London was enough to make anyone cry.

And London was not as welcoming as it has been in the past. It started with the hotel room we were given by the hotel at which we have stayed almost yearly for the last fifteen years. Although we specified when booking that we wanted a room overlooking Russell Square (which I enjoy painting from the window), we were given a room overlooking the side street. This room was so small that we were unable to sit or even stand anywhere comfortably. When we protested and demanded a room in accordance with our request, we were moved to a better room the next day. Then we realised — the room they had given us originally was in fact a single room! A new definition of British Chutzpa!

Then there was the weather. Anyone would think the British spent their holidays at the North Pole, the way they were carrying on about the heat. People were warned not to travel anywhere any time in or around London. And the scare tactics caused many people to avoid leaving home for the week or so of the hot weather. In fact, people did still move around and use public transport, as we did, and nothing went amiss. The many Israelis who were holidaying in London didn’t seem to be bothered by the weather, and carried on enjoying themselves as usual (as we did, too). It’s true, our room did not have air-conditioning so got rather hot, but we were given a fan, and we could sit in the air-conditioned foyer (the Atrium), which was very pleasant.

London theatre is as enjoyable as ever. Not only did we see an interesting and original play (Life of Pi), but at our hotel we were able to participate in the ‘Faulty Towers Dining Experience,’ which combined a slap-up evening meal with actors portraying the characters we know and love from the TV series of many years ago. It was a lot of fun!

At the National Gallery they were showing an impressive exhibition of works by Raphael, and at the Courtauld Institute, with its amazing collection of Impressionist paintings, there was an intriguing exhibition of work by the Norweigian painter, Edward Munch.

We managed to meet some of our friends in person and speak to others on the phone, so we felt that our journey had not been wasted. But considering the physical, mental and financial effort involved I wonder if it’s such a good idea for people of our advanced age to go and travel again.

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Travel these days is not for the faint-hearted. If one is not deterred by reports of overcrowded airports, lost luggage or delayed or even cancelled flights, one can but summon up all one’s courage and venture out into the wide, wide world.

So that is what we did. Neither of us is young any more and although OH doesn’t seem to flag at the sight of endless corridors or station platforms along which our suitcases have to be rolled, I must admit that I found it all a bit too much to take. Call me a little old lady, if you want, because that’s after all what I am. And little old ladies should stay at home, sit in an armchair and keep as still as possible. The sight of this little old lady schlepping suitcases along the endless stretches at Paddington station in London was enough to make anyone cry.

And London was not as welcoming as it has been in the past. It started with the hotel room we were given by the hotel at which we have stayed almost yearly for the last fifteen years. Although we specified when booking that we wanted a room overlooking Russell Square (which I enjoy painting from the window), we were given a room overlooking the side street. This room was so small that we were unable to sit or even stand anywhere comfortably. When we protested and demanded a room in accordance with our request, we were moved to a better room the next day. Then we realised — the room they had given us originally was in fact a single room! A new definition of British Chutzpa!

Then there was the weather. Anyone would think the British spent their holidays at the North Pole, the way they were carrying on about the heat. People were warned not to travel anywhere any time in or around London. And the scare tactics caused many people to avoid leaving home for the week or so of the hot weather. In fact, people did still move around and use public transport, as we did, and nothing went amiss. The many Israelis who were holidaying in London didn’t seem to be bothered by the weather, and carried on enjoying themselves as usual (as we did, too). It’s true, our room did not have air-conditioning so got rather hot, but we were given a fan, and we could sit in the air-conditioned foyer (the Atrium), which was very pleasant.

London theatre is as enjoyable as ever. Not only did we see an interesting and original play (Life of Pi), but at our hotel we were able to participate in the ‘Faulty Towers Dining Experience,’ which combined a slap-up evening meal with actors portraying the characters we know and love from the TV series of many years ago. It was a lot of fun!

At the National Gallery they were showing an impressive exhibition of works by Raphael, and at the Courtauld Institute, with its amazing collection of Impressionist paintings, there was an intriguing exhibition of work by the Norweigian painter, Edward Munch.

We managed to meet some of our friends in person and speak to others on the phone, so we felt that our journey had not been wasted. But considering the physical, mental and financial effort involved I wonder if it’s such a good idea for people of our advanced age to go and travel again.

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Integrity? Who Needs Integrity?

What kind of people do we want as our leaders? Is it unreasonable to expect the individuals who govern our country and determine our fate, at least to some extent, to be honest, righteous and upstanding? The sad reality seems to be that decent, honest individuals are not the sort of people who go into politics, or who succeed in the cut and thrust of that world.

Looking around at the characters who have come to prominence in various countries that are close to Israel in outlook and electoral system (i.e., democracies) is enough to make one tremble in fear. America happens to have someone who appears to be a fairly decent individual at its head at present, but as he is someone who has survived the cut and thrust of USA politics for many decades one cannot help wondering how much decency and honesty he has had to abandon on the way. Of course, the alternative to the current incumbent (and the one he replaced) is ten times worse when it comes to decency, honesty, integrity and all the other qualities one would hope to have in the leader of a great country. Worse, still, there is good reason to believe that that individual will return to the position of power at the next election.

And what about dear old England, the country of my birth, the country that gave refuge to my parents when they were at risk of losing their lives to a brutal regime some eighty years ago? England of today seems to be in a sorry state on many fronts, with large parts of the population suffering financial hardship, whether as a result of Brexit or the current global economic crisis following Covid and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The person at the head of the British government is currently being assailed by massive resignations of members of his government, as they demand his resignation and accuse him of lying, mismanagement, and a general lack of integrity. As I write this I’m informed he has indeed resigned, though it’s anyone’s guess what will happen next.

Here in Israel the public is currently being beset by revelations of what went on in the residence of the former prime minister as deliveries of top-grade cigars, jewellery, cosmetics and crates of the most expensive champagne arrived regularly from generous donors. Not to mention the fabulously expensive luxury airplane that that individual instructed Israel’s aircraft industry to construct in emulation of the USA’s Airforce One. In a country where much of the population is struggling to feed their family, pay the rent or mortgage and keep their head above water one would expect there to be some kind of outcry against conspicuous consumption by their leader. But there is no such commotion, and that leader is still more popular than any other.

What conclusion, if any, can be drawn from the persistent popularity of individuals who seem to lack any shred of human decency or sense of fellowship with the populace they purport to lead? To my naïve mind it would seem to be a deliberate decision on the part of the voting public to ignore the qualities that were once considered to be required in a leader. I’m not going as far back as Moses, who was the very epitome of humility, or Ben Gurion who, while not humble, did not demand luxuries that most people could only dream of. Even in my time, leaders like Eshkol and Begin did not engage in conspicuous consumption and were content to adopt a lifestyle not very far removed from that of the general public.

It seems that in this day and age we are condemned to endure leaders who don’t care about setting an example to others as long as they are able to live according to a standard and style that is as far removed from that of the public they supposedly serve as was that of mediaeval monarchs from their subjects.

But in those far-off days no one thought or talked about democracy. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

A Plethora of Poets

A few years ago, after I stopped being a translator, became a writer and had several novels under my belt, I finally allowed myself to apply for membership of the IAWE – the Israel Association of Writers in English. I was overjoyed when I was accepted and allowed to pay my membership dues.

But then Corona came along, and there were no more meetings, at least not in person, and it seemed a trifle daunting to confront my fellow-members through the medium of Zoom, so I remained cut off from my new community for two or three years.

When a call went out from the editor of the Association’s quarterly newsletter for material related to writing – no longer than 360 words —  I was ready, willing and able to jump in with a contribution about my effort to convert my first novel, ‘The Balancing Game,’ into an audiobook. It already existed in paperback and ebook form, and since the word on the publishing network was that audiobooks were the thing to go for, I went for it.

Easier said than done, and my travails in attaining that objective are still under way. But the subject of this blog post is the event that marked my entry into live IAWE events. It was advertised as ‘A Celebration in the Garden,’ and was due to be held in the Jerusalem garden of one of our fellow-members. The evening program would give members the opportunity to read from work that had appeared since Corona began.

Of course, I was eager to present myself and my work to my fellow-members, and spent some time deliberating and eventually deciding which passage of my latest book, ‘Rootless in Zion,’ to read. We were told to bring friends along, and also to bring books to sell to our colleagues.

At the set time on the appointed June evening, accompanied by husband, sister and grown-up granddaughter, I turned up toting books in the hopes of being able to sell some. The weather was balmy, our hosts had prepared seating around a lawn of artificial grass for some thirty participants and our kind hostess had baked brownies and other goodies.

As participants trickled in we introduced ourselves to one another, pleased to see so many kindred spirits. Finally, just as the light was beginning to fade, the compere (who was not the host) decided that it was time to begin. To my surprise and, I must confess dismay, he announced that the proceedings would focus at least at first on those participants who had contributed to ‘Arc,’ the Association’s annual journal. ‘Arc’ is a very professionally-produced and intelligent publication containing contributions from members. Most of the contents of the two editions I have seen (2021 and 2022) are impressive, but since I write neither poetry nor short stories, to date I have not sent in a contribution of my own. The brief contributions requested by the quarterly newsletter are a better fit to the kind of essay I write.

As the evening wore on and more contributors to ‘Arc’ read out poems they had written, the Jerusalem night descended, bringing cold air and darkness, as well as the distant sound of sirens from emergency vehicles. The patience of the other participants, myself included, was beginning to wear thin, and it was only after thinly-disguised grumbling was discerned that the compere’s attention turned towards ‘the others,’ namely, the relatively unknown members who had not contributed to ‘Arc,’ but had written and published work in the relevant period.

Finally, my turn came, and I was able to stand up and read out a passage from my recent novel. I did my best to project my voice so that everyone could hear me, and to make the part I had chosen sound interesting. I was given a polite reception when I stepped down, although my nearest and dearest had reservations about the passage I had selected, claiming that it was inappropriate for that particular audience.

More people read poems. No one other than me seemed to have written prose. The chill of the Jerusalem night induced our host to bring out blankets in which to wrap the shivering audience. As a grand finale our host recited by heart the fifty-two stanzas of the poem he had written that combined the obscure with the obtuse, displaying pyrotechnical linguistic ability and a breadth and depth of knowledge on subjects too numerous to mention.

No one showed much interest in any of the books on sale.

Here We Go Again

Oh, no! Not another election, I cried when I heard the news on the radio. Once again, after enjoying an uplifting symphony concert we get into the car, turn the radio on to catch up on the day’s news and are hit with the devastating information that since the government is in an untenable position, the decision has been made to dissolve the sitting parliament (Knesset) and set the country on course for another election just about one year after the previous one.

We all know what this means. We have been here five times in the past three years. It means endless discussions on the radio and the TV, as well as never-ending recriminations by commentators and politicians amid accusations of back-stabbing and failure to live up to promises and expectations. Above all it means the vision for some (and nightmare for others) of the return to power of a prime minister charged with grave criminal offences.

The one pleasant surprise in all this was the civilized, even friendly, way the two leaders of the outgoing government, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, summed up their year in office, took their leave of one another and reviewed the way they had managed the country. Even so, the collapse of the government cannot help leading to a long, painful and expensive election process.

One solution is to follow the advice of a friend and simply refrain from listening to or watching the news. Easier said than done. I agree that hiding one’s head in the sand could prove to be the one way of avoiding stress, but then one risks being ill-informed when the moment of truth arrives on election day.

Among my many sins, I managed to garner an M.A. in Communications from the Hebrew University at one stage of my life. Admittedly, the focus of my studies was not so much the content of the news but rather the linguistic style (register) of various (Hebrew) news programmes on television. I felt that my background as a translator and editor equipped me for this, and it undoubtedly was a fascinating exercise in language analysis for me. At least, as I thought at the time, I wasn’t devoting my thesis to analyzing the cultural impact on Israel of the American TV series ‘Dallas,’ as one of my  fellow-students did. At the time it seemed to me to be an extremely weak topic for a thesis, but I must have been wrong, as the student concerned went on to have a successcul academic career.

In those far-off days (the 1970s) there was only one TV channel in Israel, and each evening most people sat down to watch the fare provided. By now the plethora of channels, as well as access to foreign ones, means that the audience in Israel cannot be analysed quite so easily. Above all, it means that people are exposed more easily to differing views, though it seems that the viewing audience tends to choose channels and programmes that fit their world-view.

The date for the election has not yet been set, but because of the need to allow political parties time to organize and possibly regroup, the prospective date has been set for some time in October or November this year. Thus, we face four or five months of some kind of legislative limbo, with the Knesset unable to pass new laws and the interim government unable or unwilling to introduce or pursue policies. In other words, the country will find itself in a stalemate which bodes ill for its economic and social stability.

Biblical-style visionaries are claiming that the good Lord promised the Land of Israel to the Jews, and this underlies the Zionist ethos. As is often the case, Jews argue among themselves as to how much of the Promised Land is concerned. And when it comes to defining Zionism it is difficult to pin it down. Others (mainly Moslems) point out that the First and Second Temples lasted only a few hundred years each while the El-Aksa Mosque has been sitting atop the Temple Mount for over a thousand years. Whether any of this proves anything is a moot point, and the argument tends to go in favour of whoever is in a physically and military stronger position.

So we will just have to sit and wait for the decision at the ballot-box, and somehow learn to live with the consequences. Because that’s democracy.

Silbermann

This novel by Jacques de Lacretelle, which I read in French, was first published in 1922 It describes the life of a French schoolboy and his relations with a Jewish classmate. The general atmosphere in the school is one of rigid discipline and, as is often the case with teenagers, the pupils tend to form friendships and cliques which exclude anyone who is different.

The boys are divided by religion, with some of the pupils residing in a Catholic institution, while others, including the narrator, are generally Protestant and live with their parents in a suburb of Paris.

The book begins as the youngsters return to school after the long summer vacation. The narrator’s friend, Philippe Robin, returns from the countryside where he has been instructed in the arts of hunting, fishing and shooting by his uncle, and has absorbed his relative’s anti-Semitic sentiments, complaining that the environment was tainted by ‘too many Jews.’

The arrival in their class of a Jewish pupil passes without undue attention until one of the teachers calls upon the Jewish pupil, Silbermann by name, to recite a passage from one of the books they have been required to read. The narrator is struck by the Jewish pupil’s ability to infuse meaning into the phrases, bringing him to a fresh understanding of the text.

A chance encounter with Silbermann when both are out walking in the woods near Paris brings the narrator to the realization that his new classmate, who is evidently endowed with superior intellectual abilities to the other boys, is subject to discrimination and isolation by the rest of the class. Entranced by the prospect of benefiting from the knowledge and intelligence of Silbermann, the narrator takes upon himself the mission of befriending him and redeeming him from his isolation.

The relations between the two boys grow stronger, with Silbermann imparting his wisdom and insights to the narrator, and the narrator happy at finding the intellectual stimulation that he has been unable to obtain from the other boys. As their friendship grows, the other boys in the class become increasingly aggressive and violent towards Silbermann, so that during the recess he is subjected to verbal and even physical taunts and attacks. While the narrator is unable to protect his friend from the attacks, he remains by his side and is himself eventually isolated and shunned by his schoolmates.

The visit by the narrator to Silbermann’s home reveals a luxurious apartment around which contains objets d’art (Silbermann’s father is an antique dealer), and he suddenly sees that his own home is not in the best of taste. His own father is a lawyer, and by chance it falls to him to adjudicate in a case where Silbermann’s father is accused of fraud. At his friend’s request, the narrator seeks to intercede on Silbermann senior’s behalf with his father, whereupon he is subjected to a lecture about the sanctity of the law, the pursuit of justice, and the absolute refusal of his father to take any personal relations into consideration.

The narrator’s parents advise their son to abstain from any further relations with Silbermann, and it is at their instigation that Silbermann’s father is asked to remove his son from the school. This leaves Silbermann with no option but to leave France and join his uncle in the USA where, instead of becoming a man of letters, as he had hoped, he will become a merchant in the jewelry trade.

Before Silbermann leaves France he and the narrator have one final meeting in the woods where they first met. Silbermann embarks on a lengthy tirade, telling his friend that Jews will always rise to the top wherever they are, that they are a superior race, that ‘the chosen people’ is not just an empty phrase but the true nature of Jews everywhere. Enumerating the wealthy Jewish families in Paris and their lavish homes, he derides the intellectural inferiority of the nations in which Jews find themselves, and the benefit those nations derive from having Jews in their midst. This speech, which combines brilliance with arrogance, leaves a lasting impression on the narrator (and on this reader).

Bearing in mind that this book was written in 1922, long before the Holocaust and all the horrors it conveyed, there us something almost visionary in the account of the behaviour of the boys in the class, in many cases even aided and abetted by their teachers, as well as in the account of Silbermann’s arrogance and sense of intellectural superiority.

At the end of the book the narrator finds that in order to curry favour with an important politician, his father has exonerated Silbermann’s father, and this realization causes his ultimate breach with his parents.

I found this well-written book both gripping, entertaining and enlightening, and would recommend it as a prescient account of life in pre-war France (and Europe) for anyone who is prepared to make the effort to read it in French.

Eichmann in Jerusalem Again

When the Nazi criminal, Adolf Eichmann, was put on trial in Jerusalem in 1961 I was nearing the end of my time at a high school for girls in London. There was a fairly strong Jewish contingent, but the overwhelming majority of pupils were Christian. In fact, several of the girls in my class stated that it was their ambition to go to Africa as missionaries, though whether they actually did so or not I never found out.

So, as well as trying to keep up with schoolwork and the impending A-level exams, I found myself suddenly confronted with a subject with which I had only a passing acquaintance. My parents had arrived in England as refugees from Germany just before the war, and they – and we, their children – devoted considerable energy to becoming as English as possible, learning to ‘fit in’ and be ‘just like everyone else.’ The subject of the Holocaust was never discussed in our household, although we children were aware of the losses our family had suffered (we had no grandparents).

I know now that for me becoming just like everyone else was mission impossible in England at that time, though I believe that the country as a whole is far more tolerant and accepting of others than it was then. And so the impact on me of the widespread publicity and coverage given to the Eichmann trial was little short of traumatic. Suddenly the Holocaust and all its horrors were brought to light and laid out in front of me in the newspapers as well as on the TV screen.

All these thoughts were brought back to the surface of my mind by the recent TV broadcast of the first of three programmes presenting the tape recordings made in 1960 by a Nazi sympathizer, a Dutch journalist called Sasser, who was living in Buenos Aires and was friendly with Eichmann there. He interviewed Eichmann over the course of several sessions, and so we hear Eichmann declaring how proud he was of his contribution to achieving the ‘final solution’ of the Jewish problem by sending six million of them to their deaths in concentration camps. Eichmann had been responsible for organizing the trains that criss-crossed Europe, collecting and transporting the masses of individuals in inhuman conditions to work as slave labourers and gassed in the concentration camps.

At his trial in Jerusalem Eichmann claimed to have been ignorant of the fate of the Jews, that he had been a lowly clerk, someone who had simply done his job. After hearing the tape recordings of his voice it is clear that he was no mere cypher. He was imbued with the Nazi ideology of the purity of the Aryan race and the threat of its contamination by alien blood, i.e., Jews. This incorporated a burning hatred of anything and everything Jewish – men, women and children, literature, music, art, society, religion and the very air they breathed.

I have a faint recollection of one of our teachers at school bringing the subject of the trial up in class and asking for our views about it. Some girls were incensed at the idea of the ‘poor chap’ being kidnapped from his home and family and made to stand trial in a foreign country. Most of us Jewish girls thought it only fitting that someone who had played such a pivotal role in so many murders should pay the price for it. When  Eichmann was finally executed and his ashes scattered over the sea some of us recoiled at this ‘barbaric’ treatment, but no one on any side seemed to be very distressed, and of course, those were times when our attention was focused more on Elvis Presley, Tommy Steele and similar teenage idols.

But hearing Eichmann extolling his achievements in his own voice must inevitably shut the mouths of those who claim that the Holocaust never happened.

Tel Aviv — the Nation’s Playground

To start with, there’s the Mediterranean Sea, with its long sandy beaches, kept relatively clean by the municipality, with designated areas for people to play games (ah, the dreaded ‘matkot’ with their constant noisy batting to and fro of a ball against wooden bats), another area for dogs off the leash (but they must be well-behaved) with a special shower for dogs, and the wonderful kilometer after kilometer of the promenade. Anyone venturing out early in the morning (say, 6 a.m., even on a Saturday, supposedly the day of rest), as I did, encounters throngs of other like-minded people, whether singly, in pairs, small groups or even large groups, walking, jogging or running along it. Some people even manage to conduct a conversation as they jog, which seems almost superhuman to me. There are couples or groups wear matching outfits bearing slogans or designs aimed at attracting attention, but most people wear modest sports gear, and of course the ubiquitous sports shoes. And of course, there are also people walking their dogs, though always on a leash. I didn’t notice any dog-poop on the promenade, so presumably their owners were dutiful about cleaning up after their pets.

Always accompanying us as we made our way past the enticing sandy beaches was the constant sound of the waves as they crashed onto the sand. Even if one just stands and looks at the sea, with the azure sky above and the occasional palm tree or scrubby bush breaking the monotony, we feel that the salty sea air is doing us good.

It all takes me back to the summer holidays of my childhood, when the family would decamp to a rented house in Bognor Regis, on England’s south coast, where the chilly waves of the Atlantic ocean would embrace us children as we bravely waded into it, trying to avoid getting entangled in the ubiquitous seaweed. I haven’t ventured into the sea in Tel Aviv, so don’t know if there’s seaweed there or not. What I did notice, however, is that at various points along the promenade Beach Libraries have been set up, where books may be borrowed (and users are requested to return the books after using them).

The city of Tel Aviv itself is awash with eateries, pubs and places of entertainment of all kinds, though we mustn’t forget that it is, after all, a city where real people live – and that house prices there are among the highest in the country.

Our long weekend there was occasioned by a concert of the Israel Philharmonic orchestra and a performance of Handel’s opera ‘Alcina’ within the space of three days. While on this occasion we didn’t use the opportunity to visit the impressive Tel Aviv Museum, we were able to enjoy the delights of the city in various other spheres. For example, as we ate breakfast in our hotel overlooking the sea we could witness people running and playing on the promenade and the beach, and nearby nets had been set up on the sand enabling people to play energetic games of volleyball. The sight was a veritable perpetuum mobile of active energy and sporting prowess.

The one jarring note was a notice at the side, indicating a path leading up towards the town bearing the message ‘Tsunami evacuation route.’ I wonder who thought of that contingency in the placid Mediterranean Sea.

Translating Science

The title of the lecture given by Yivsam Azgad under the auspices of the Israel Translators Association was billed as ‘Translating Science.’ Although I personally did not translate that kind of material when I worked as a translator, I have a passing interest in the subject due to my husband’s occupation as a physicist.

The lecture was held in the very pleasant conference venue adjacent to the Herzl Museum on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl, and was attended by some fifteen participants from all over Israel.

Mr. Azgad hegan his talk by stating that he had parted company with the Israeli school system at the age of fifteen, but that did not mean that he had not continued learning. This obviously marked him as a teenage rebel and, presumably, an autodidact. He did not say as much, but his appearance told us that his teenage years were long forgotten. What he did tell us was that he had gone on to forge a respectable career for himself as a scientific journalist.

Mr. Azgad proceeded to tell his audience that it was important when translating scientific material to understand the subject matter in the source language and, if possible, convey it as accurately as possible in the target language. That rule is good for any kind of translation, though it obviously might be more difficult to achieve when it comes to translating scientific subjects which are not universally accessible.

Mr. Azgad then tried to make us undertake a thought experiment (‘gedank experiment,’ as devised by Einstein) and transport us as physicists from the corridor of the physics department at the Hebrew University to a similar corridor at Princeton Univesrsity. Would we notice any difference, he asked. The answer he gave was no, we wouldn’t, because physicists the world over all speak the same language, use the same terms and equipment, and share a common bond. Any two physicists in a given group of people will always find one another and be able to communicate with one another, wherever they may hail from originally. Their identity as scientists is the paramount aspect of their being (over and above their national or individual identity).

Giving a few examples of abstruse scientific theses that he (or someone) had had to translate, the lecturer made it clear that translating science is phenomenally difficult. I can subscribe to that sentiment, being married to a physicist and having been involved in translating the title and English summary of his doctorate (“Excitation Processes in Organic Systems Under Irradiation with Vacuum Ultraviolet Radiation,” in case you’re interested).

All well and good. I would very much have liked to hear more about the universality of scientific language, but beyond those initial statements the lecture deviated to focus on Mr. Azgad’s own experience as a journalist at various Israeli newspapers, where his chief aim was to popularize scientific subjects. He gave us a few examples of the dangers of deviating from the exact meaning of a scientific idea when trying to convey it in more simple terms. He claims that he thought up the idea of producing a comic strip (‘Nanocomics’) based on scientific topics, aimed at both adults and children. Posters with these comic strips have been put up in schools all over Israel. He was also, he claims, the originator of the idea of giving lectures on scientific subjects in bars in Rechovot and Tel Aviv, a project which enjoyed great popular success. Mr. Azgad now works in the publications department of the Weizmann Institute where, amongst his other activities, he continues to publicise and universalise science for the masses.