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 Philh. concert

“Non!” Screamed the rather large and overdressed lady sitting in the row near me as the audience burst into spontaneous applause between two movements of the piece of baroque chamber music that had just been played.

Last summer we attended several concerts in the charming Romanesque church of the village of Boussac in central France. In the summer months four or five musicians from the Paris Symphony Orchestra come to the region to enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside and also to give a few chamber concerts for the benefit of the local populace. They are all excellent musicians, and it seems that one of them, a talented cellist who also gives explanations of the music before each piece, is originally from the region, and this partly explains their presence there each summer.

The rather large village of Boussac is unusual among the villages of the region. Like most of them, it has an ancient church, but it is distinguished by its imposing fourteenth century castle perched atop a steep rock overlooking the River Creuse that gives the region its name. It also seems to have a population that is particularly keen on classical music, and the village holds its own series of well-attended chamber concerts every summer.

The custom of clapping one’s hands to display approbation and appreciation of something seems to be very ancient, possibly even elemental, in human behavior. Little children do it spontaneously, and are happy when their actions result in the applause of others. I have noticed that in recent years, in the concerts I have attended in Israel, the applause at the end of a work is sometimes accompanied by shrieks and whistles, which apparently are a positive sign. This is something new to me, but seems to be considered a sign of approval. Well, so be it.

Now, what was surprising was the response of the musicians to the applause in between movements in Boussac – a behavior pattern that is not customary in major concert halls and might be considered by some concert-goers as demonstrating ignorance of the correct way to behave in that situation. That, indeed, was the case in the instance to which I’m referring, and obviously the lady in question wanted to show her superior knowledge of what is the right way to show one’s appreciation of a performance.

The cellist, who had by now established a genuine rapport with the audience, held up his hand and made the following announcement (in French, naturally): “Applauding is a sign of approval, so please feel free to show your approval even between the movements of the pieces of music we play.”

The audience was mollified, but the stout lady was mortified, and of course the applause burst out with renewed vigor subsequently.

It’s true, it is not considered de rigeur to applaud between the movements of a piece of music, but it seems to be happening ever more frequently. At last night’s concert given by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Jerusalem it could be heard between the movements of Schumann’s piano concerto, played brilliantly by Rudolf Buchbinder, and it was also in evidence at a concert we attended at St. Martin’s in the Fields in London last month.

Maybe concert-goers’ mores and manners are changing and spontaneous applause between movements is catching on to become a worldwide phenomenon. Or perhaps standards of audience behavior are dropping. And I certainly have a bone to pick with various aspects of audience behavior at concerts.

But that is another subject altogether.

Margaret Raphael

Margaret with her children Jaqueline and Georges

Margaret with her children Jaqueline and Georges

Three years ago, when I was looking for someone with whom I could converse in German, an acquaintance put me in touch with Margaret Raphael. After a brief telephone conversation I made my way to her home in one of Jerusalem’s established neighbourhoods, and we began a friendship that ended only last week, with her death at the age of 96.

Yes, it was hard to believe that the lively, intelligent woman whom I visited once a week was already 93 when we began our relationship. I feel I can permit myself to call it a relationship, friendship even, because despite the difference in our ages (I am about the same age as her children) we were able to discuss dozens of different subjects and she always had something interesting and insightful to say.

Margaret was a delightful, quick-witted and intelligent lady whose mind remained clear right until the end. She loved reading, and there were always several books on all kinds of subjects, mainly in German but also in English, at her side. Sometimes we would talk about a book she or I had been reading, and sometimes about various aspects of our families, the general situation, or any subject that came to mind. She always made sure to have some little delicacy – cake or biscuits or chocolate – for us to have with the coffee which always accompanied our meeting.

Margaret was born and brought up in Basle, Switzerland, and came to live in Israel in the wake of her three married children, Claude, Georges and Jaqueline, who were living in Israel. Together with their partners, children and grandchildren they formed a warm, loving family, making Margaret the materfamilias of a considerable tribe. Although she lived to a good age and had a pleasant life on the whole, her life was not without tragedy as her husband died suddenly at a relatively young age a few years before she moved to Israel. Nonetheless, Margaret persisted with the plan to ‘make Aliya,’ remained in her adopted country, and did what she could to adapt and make the best of the situation.

At the age of 93 Margaret was still attending light exercise classes at ‘Delet Petuha,’ the cultural centre for retired people in Rehavia, and would stay on for a lesson in English. In previous years she was a keen participant in the oil-painting classes given there, producing many proficient paintings. Her favourite subject was flowers, but she also painted landscapes and still lifes, and had an excellent sense of colour and form. She told me with a smile that all her paintings were “genuine Raphaels.”

Until she was 92 Margaret (known as Gigi to her friends) lived on her own in her third-floor flat with no lift, volunteered for fifteen years at Yad Sarah and the Yad Lakashish gift shop and was completely independent. But then a fall left her with a broken hip and after surgery and a spell in hospital her mobility was limited. As is often the case here in Israel, she was obliged to take a live-in carer, and was fortunate to obtain the multi-talented Braian, who comes from the Philippines.

As time went by and our conversations ranged over ever-wider topics I came to know the various members of her family from her accounts. Thus, I followed the ups and downs of her son, Claude, who was suffering from cancer. No mother can look with equanimity on her child’s suffering, and it was obvious to me that Margaret felt great distress at her son’s illness, but she tried always to remain optimistic and positive. When he died about a year ago it was obviously terribly hard for her, but she did not allow herself to wallow in self-pity, and told me that she was glad he was not suffering any longer.

Even when she was well into her nineties Margaret would often look after some of her fourteen or more great-grandchildren. I met two of them who often visited the municipal library that was situated near her house. The two very well-behaved children, a boy aged about six and a girl of ten, would come into the house (the door was never locked), and occupy themselves with the books they had borrowed, or sit at the table to draw, and Margaret would exchange a few words with them in Hebrew. Although she claimed that she could not speak Hebrew, she did in fact speak it quite well and without very many grammatical errors.

Her funeral was attended by a great many people from all walks of life, and she was eulogized by her daughter and one of her grandsons. It was obvious that she was greatly loved by all those who knew her, myself included

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari



The book was published by Harper Collins in 2014 and translated from the Hebrew by the author, with the help of Haim Watsman and John Purcell.

First, kudos to the author for using the term ‘humankind’ rather than ‘mankind’ as used by Neil Armstrong when he stepped on the moon. Harari often uses ‘her’ and ‘she’ when referring to humans in general, and for that refusal to accede to stereotypical sexist usage he is to be congratulated.

Harari provides the reader with a stunning, all-encompassing birds-eye-view of the history of the world, displaying a breath-taking breadth of knowledge in any number of scientific and other areas while at the same time formulating his discourse in a language that is both accessible and peppered with humour – no easy task in a tome of this nature. In so doing he provides us with an overall perspective of human development and humankind’s place in the world in the past and the present.

Especially endearing are his throw-away asides and use of familiar and even irreverent language without ever descending to a level that is insulting to the reader’s intelligence, as well as inserting references to modern life when describing historical events. Thus, for example, in explaining the rationale for Captain Cook’s 18th century expedition to the Antipodes he considers whether it was intended for military or scientific purposes, then says “That’s like asking whether your petrol tank is half empty of half full. It was both.” This little departure from the dry academic tone gives the reader the  feeling that she is simply having a conversation with a knowledgeable friend or relative.

And the book abounds in similar examples, so that the bitter pill of abstract or abstruse factual knowledge is sweetened by a generous dose of humour and even irreverence.

In Part 3, The Unification of Humankind, Harari devotes a chapter to ‘The Scent of Money.’ Since it is impossible to review the book as a whole, I have chosen to focus on his treatment of economics as a seminal aspect of human development. Coins were minted and used as currency in ancient societies several millennia ago (Sumer, Rome, Judea, Greece, etc.) and money represented a crucial aspect of the transition from the barter system of the hunter-gatherer to the settled farming societies of the agricultural revolution. Nonetheless,  it did not constitute an important step in the development of modern society, Harari claims, asserting that it was a purely mental revolution, involving ‘the creation of a new inter-subjective reality that existed solely in people’s shared imagination.

Money does, however, enable people to ascribe a value to objects that previously could not be measured very easily. Harari points out that coins and banknotes are a rare form of money today, as more than 90 percent of all money exists only on computer servers, and most transactions are executed by electronic means. It is banks and financial institutions that enable these flows to take place, and behind Harari’s light-hearted account of the way money works lies a wealth (sorry about the pun) of complex economic theory and data.

In the segment entitled ‘How Does Money work?’ Harari points out that without trust the system would be unworkable. The concept of credit, which is based on trust, is the mechanism by which the economic system operates in the modern world, and it is only in the last five hundred years, the period during which the modern world emerged, that the economic system based on credit and trust, has developed.

Harari notes that trust was created in the course of a long and complex network of political, social and economic relations. When coins were first used they had a standardized weight and value, guaranteed as such by the ruler. This is not quite the case with modern paper money, which constitutes more of an i.o.u. whose value is guaranteed by the central bank.  Without trust in the power of the central financial authority the system wouldn’t work.  This concept enabled the Roman Empire to rule many different and distant lands, and in modern times allows different countries to trade with one another, and large political entities to function financially.

Money is based on two universal principles: universal convertibility and universal trust.  While this system has benefits it also serves to undermine local traditions, intimate relations and human values, replacing them with the laws of supply and demand. The trust system relates not to individuals but to money itself. Notwithstanding,  determined armed groups or nations can overthrow the rule of money and impose a different system of values (e.g., Marxism, Islam). The desire to rule others gave rise to imperial domination both in ancient Rome and in sixteenth century Europe.  But it is commerce, empire and universal religions that have led to the ‘global village’ we live in today (Chapter 13, ‘The Secret of Success’). The modern world of the last five hundred years is the product of intellectual curiosity (as exemplified by the Scientific Revolution), geographical exploration (Imperial Expansion) and their attendants – greed, or more nicely put, the profit motive.

In Chapter 16, ‘The Capitalist Creed,’ Harari uses a simple analogy to illustrate the role played by credit (and therefore trust) in the economic system, with the end-product being the financial credit that oils the wheels of the economy and enables economic progress. The idea of progress, of scientific discovery, has enabled our world to move forward at an astonishing pace in the last 500 years. This has brought people to place increasing trust in the future rather than looking back to and longing for an idealized past. Despite bumps in the road and setbacks along the way, there is ever-growing credit and economic growth, bringing greater prosperity to more and more people all over the world.

Capitalism involves the investment of money, goods and resources in production. Harari considers this relatively recent concept to be a new religion, one that is supported by governments and financial institutions. Keeping the economy growing has become the sine qua non of ruling bodies, and even led to wars in the nineteenth century in order to sustain the preservation of imperial (and hence economic) interests). Politics and economics are today inextricably interconnected, and a country’s credit rating is at least as important for its economic wellbeing as its natural resources.

However, belief in the free market can lead to the cynical exploitation of human beings, as it does of animals today. Harari gives all-too-graphic accounts of the way animals are treated as part of the process of food production. Human slavery, which was widespread in the past, was eventually overcome on ethical, not economic, grounds.

In Chapter 17, ‘The Wheels of Industry,’  Harari tackles the problem of the creation and conversion of energy. This was originally provided by muscle power, whether of humans or animals, until in the nineteenth century steam power, and later electricity, were discovered and harnessed, facilitating the Industrial Revolution that has made our modern world. Other forms of energy have emerged – oil, nuclear power and solar power – and there may well be others as yet unknown and untapped. As Harari points out, people invented and imagined many things, but no one foresaw the internet and the way it would revolutionise our lives.

All this progress has brought us to a point where a great many things are being produced and the main function of many industries is to produce more and more. In order to create a market for their goods an entire industry of advertising and marketing has arisen, with its ideology of consumerism, or what Harari calls ‘The Age of Shopping.’ We are all victims or subjects of this ideology and resist its wiles at our peril. Harari defines this as another religion, and the first one whose followers actually do what they are asked to do. “How do we know that we’ll really get paradise in return?” he asks, and answers: “We’ve seen it on television.”

According to Harari, the modern world is one of unparalleled peace and prosperity, especially in the last seven decades,  but over the last two centuries it has led to the collapse of family and community. Today there is far greater emphasis on the individual, and what has emerged alongside this approach are imagined communities (Facebook, for example). But that is more a sociological and psychological  issue than an economic one, and it is to this that Harari devotes the last portion of his book.



London Revisited


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As we all know, London has a lot to offer in the way of culture, amusement, entertainment and delights of all kinds. However, there is a very big but to enjoying London, and my latest visit has brought this into relief. So, I have made a series of notes to myself regarding points to avoid when in that fair city. I only hope that I remember to take note of my notes on my next visit.

Note to self no.1: Try to avoid visiting London over the August Bank Holiday weekend. It almost invariably rains (which means disaster for my hair). The city is even more crowded than usual. Hotels and shops are full to bursting, as is the Underground, while the buses are few and far between. A stroll along Oxford Street requires elbowing one’s way through crowds of shoppers of all shapes, sizes and nationalities (as well as an inordinate number of ladies in long black cloak-like coats that cover every part of their anatonomy, leaving only a slit for their eyes).

Note to self no.2: Don’t go to a pub to enjoy the traditional meal of fish and chips on a night when a football game is being played anywhere in England. These games are shown on enormous TV screens placed at strategic points throughout the pub, and the eyes of all the occupants of the arena are fixed on them. To the frantic babble of the commentator is added the roaring of the crowd in the stadium, and this is further supplemented by the shouts of the people in the pub. This makes for a noise level far above my comfort zone and quite ruins my appetite – even that for fish and chips.

Note to self no.3: Avoid the customary temples of delights, such as the British Museum, the National Gallery, and all the other tourist havens, as they are too crowded to be enjoyable. Hopefully, the current labour unrest at the National Gallery will soon be resolved as the innocent visitor from abroad finds him- or her-self barred from entering many of the best galleries, and the usually informative guided tours given daily at 11.30 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. are not available at present.

Note to self no.4: Be very careful when ordering food of any kind anywhere. The influx of ambitious young foreign workers, many of whom are to be found behind stalls and tills in cafes, restaurants and shops, are not always at one with the quaint English expressions with which some of us grew up many years ago. Thus, when I asked for ‘a cup of tea’ I was presented with a….cappucino. The two beverages sound almost the same, don’t they? I was almost tempted to ask for ‘a cuppa,’ but I’m glad I didn’t, because the good Lord only knows what I would have ended up with.

Note to self no.5: Pack your carry-on luggage with great care. I was among the several passengers whose carry-on luggage and handbag were thoroughly searched by the security personnel at Heathrow airport. It is no great pleasure to have your intimate possessions extracted from their place of rest, held up to the light and examined for any trace of suspicious matter. And of course, there is general interest in the medley of objects that are brought to light. The security officials’ suspicions were aroused, I think, by the very small bottle of liquid soap I always carry with me. But then came the other delights – my medications, my creams, a tiny bottle of perfume, all of which were examined, dissected and deposited in one zip-lock bag, thereby ruining any order I had put them in. “Ooh, pink macaroons!” exclaimed the young lady with delight as she extracted the cellophane bag from my hand luggage, where I had put ot to try and protect the contents from being crushed. They weren’t macaroons, actually, but raspberry-flavoured meringues that friends had given us, and very delicious they were, too when I finally got to eat them.

Note to self no.6: Don’t get carried away by the terms of endearment that English people tend to use to just anyone and everyone. The bus-driver said ‘this is your stop, love,’ and a handsome young security officer asked me “Are you travelling on your own, darling?” For a brief moment I imagined he was offering me a chance at a brief fling but then realised it was just his concern at seeing my possessions strewn all over the table and the struggle of a no-longer-young lady to get them all back into her suitcase. Ah well, one’s entitled to dream, isn’t one?







Picture: Government Press Office: Refugees from Sudan in Jerusalem’s Rose Garden



I know I’ve written about this subject before, but it’s one that simply isn’t going to go away, and in fact is getting worse every day, every hour, every minute.

Many of these unfortunates come from Africa, from countries where conflicts, poverty, corruption and hopelessness are endemic. Others come from Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Libya where orderly government has collapsed, wars are being fought and no one is safe from danger.

They are the refugees who, like the poor, are always with us.

Most people reading this know at first hand or at one or two removes what the word refugee means. It is a word that has defined an entire generation of Jews who were forced to flee their homes in Europe. And even though I was born in England, to this day I still proudly define myself as ‘the daughter of refugees.’

The Jews of Europe who tried to find shelter in the years following Hitler’s rise to power were subjected to rigorous restrictions. A sponsor or place of employment had to be found, a place of residence guaranteed or an affidavit provided, and to all this were added the exorbitant taxes that had to be paid in order to be allowed to leave Germany. The heartbreak arising from having to leave home and family was not confined solely to the children who were fortunate enough to get a place on one of the Kindertransport trains.

At that time no one thought of getting into a crowded rubber dinghy and throwing themselves on the mercy of some kind person out there. No one expected to be provided with food and accommodation after enduring a hazardous journey and being exposed to the elements. The nearest thing to that experience may have been that of the illegal immigrants to pre-State Israel, but that did not save very many Jews from the fate that the Nazis had prepared for them.

Mankind has always been on the move. Millions of years ago Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens migrated from one part of the African and European continents to another in search of food and shelter. Migration is an integral part of human nature and, as we all know, there have been more than a few battles for territory and booty in the course of human history. But unless one tribe was being threatened with extinction by another, the people involved in this kind of movement could not be defined as refugees. What we are witnessing today is a different kind of mass migration, but for roughly similar reasons.

Israel has its own refugee problem. First there are the Palestinians who left Israel in the course of the War of Independence in 1948, and who have been deliberately kept in that state of limbo ever since. Their children and grandchildren have the same refugee status and demands as the first generation. They continue to live in poverty and privation in UN-sponsored refugee camps and are not enabled to obtain citizenship in the Arab countries where those camps are situated.

The contrast with the Jewish refugees who left Europe and scattered all over the world in the 1930s and 1940s, rapidly becoming self-supporting, is striking. Furthermore, Jews who were expelled penniless and en masse from Muslim countries in 1948, after the establishment of the State of Israel, were taken in and absorbed by the nascent nation to the best of its ability, and on the whole have become an integral part of society, leaving their mark on its culture and economy.

In the last few years Israel has been forced to contend with the problem of people coming from Sudan and Eritrea, seeking refuge and a way out of the conflicts and poverty that afflict their countries. Faced with a constant flow of these refugees, Israel built a fence to prevent their entry from Egypt, and a special holding camp for those who nonetheless managed to enter. Some of them have found low-paid work, but many of them constitute an almost insoluble problem. Israel’s Supreme Court has recently ruled against their protracted imprisonment in camps, so that now the ball is in the hands of the politicians once more.

Many Israelis come from families that were themselves once refugees, and, as I do, find it difficult to harden their heart to the problem of today’s refugees.


Books and Brocantes


It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Every village in central France – and possibly elsewhere, for all I know – holds a brocante once a year, when locals and anyone interested can set up a stall and sell anything that they feel is superfluous to their needs.

In other words, it’s an opportunity to get rid of Stuff. And there’s an awful lot of it about, it seems. It may be their parents’ and grandparents’ discarded household goods, collections of interior design magazines, children’s clothes and toys, odds and ends that have accumulated in the house over the years, and anything and everything that comes to mind.

I’ve been a dedicated follower of brocantes ever since I first discovered them several years ago. The thing about brocantes is to go with an open mind, as you never know what you might find there. I did not go looking for crystal wine glasses, but over the years I have acquired more than a few, as well as a few crystal flutes— ideal for drinking champagne. So now I have also acquired the champagne habit, although I haven’t yet descended (or is it ascended?) to the level of my Australian neighbor who drinks only champagne when he’s on holiday.

So, when the local village announced it would be holding its annual brocante last week, I decided it would be a good opportunity to try and sell my latest book, ‘Levi Koenig, A Contemporary King Lear.’


As I also dabble in painting (in watercolors), I have developed the habit of using one or another of my paintings for the covers of my books. My first novel, ‘The Balancing Game; A Child Between Two Worlds, A Society Approaching War,’ was published in conjunction with an American publisher, and they prepared the cover, using one of my paintings. I thought that the cover was good enough as these things go, but was later told that it was not inviting, and would not attract readers. This may or may not have been why its sales were poor, but for this and other reasons I decided not to stay with that publisher.

My second novel, ‘Time Out of Joint, the Fate of a Family,’ was self-published on Amazon and itrs cover was based entirely on one of my own paintings. Lo and behold, it sold quite well initially, and has continued to sell at a fairly steady rate ever since.

So I went ahead and prepared a suitable painting for ‘Levi Koenig, A Contemporary King Lear.’ Since both Shakespeare’s play and my novel are about three sisters and their aged, ailing father, I painted three female figures embracing, and a gnarled, bare tree (ho, very symbolic!) at the side. The book appeared (on Amazon) a few weeks ago, and is not making as much of a splash as I would like, but I console myself by saying that it’s early days yet.

And that’s when I had my bright idea, what I thought was my masterful marketing ploy. I have the twenty-odd paperback copies I had sent to me, with their colorful covers. Why don’t I make a few copies of the painting on the cover, I thought, position myself at the brocante, and offer one to anyone who buys a copy of my book?

The appointed day came round. The weather looked bleak, but I persevered. A friend had kindly allowed me to occupy a corner of her stall, where I could put my books, and my notice offering a free original painting to anyone who bought a book.

Attendance at the brocante was weak, whether because of the inclement weather or the competition presented by rival brocantes at other villages. The few visitors who came looked, smiled, and moved on to the next stall. It was cold, and there was even some drizzly rain at times, but I stuck to my guns and remained at my post (why the military metaphors, I wonder?) for a full three hours. But no fish took the bait.

As lunch-time rolled round most of the stall-holders packed up and left, and so did I. Perhaps my brilliant marketing ploy had been somewhat misguided. After all, what had made me think that in the middle of rural France anyone would be interested in reading a book in English about life in another part of the world?

And so another bright idea bites the dust.

Hoppe Hoppe Reiter


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Not long ago I was invited to join a group on Facebook that goes by the name of ‘Yecke Yeckes, Hoppe Hoppe Reiter, Young Descendants of Yekkes Seeking to Preserve the Yecke Heritage.’

That’s more than a bit of a mouthful (and I had to have the site’s name up on my iPad in order to copy it out here), but still I joined, first as a proud descendant of the Yecke tribe, and second out of curiosity to see who the fellow-members of my tribe really are.

The thing is, I grew up in England, to parents who came originally from Germany, and most of whose friends were also from there. Those few Yecke relations who survived were scattered all over the world, including in Israel, and eventually I met them, too, and formed an instant bond with most of them.

But I’m an outsider even in that group of Israeli Yeckes. I’m envious of the fact that many of them seem to have grown up with grandparents (none of mine managed to get out of Germany in time), and remember sayings they heard from them and games they played with them. I do remember the game of ‘Hoppe Hoppe Reiter,’ but have no recollection of who it was who played it with me.

The members of the group are very enthusiastic when it comes to going down Memory Lane. One person remembers a certain dish his or her mother used to make, and that triggers a whole host of memories, and even recipes, that people remember or long for. Then someone else recalls a certain German phrase or expression and along comes a series of phrases, some more obscure than others, that people remember. The only phrase I heard my parents say in German was ‘Ach, die kinder!’ probably more in despair than admiration, as far as I can make out.

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Once again, I feel excluded from ‘my’ community. My parents managed to escape to England just before war broke out, and it was not advisable to speak German, the language of the enemy. As it happens, they both had a very good command of English, as did their social circle, and so that’s what I and my sisters heard when we were growing up. We were aware of the fact that our elders spoke English with a foreign accent, and found this either amusing or embarrassing or both, but accepted this as a fact of life.

Some members of the Facebook group have expressed a desire to meet fellow-members in order to conduct German conversation. I also felt that desire some time ago, and for the past fifteen years or so have been meeting with a German teacher once a week in order to learn the language (my ‘unknown mother-tongue’), and am now able to read German and even translate it into English.

As for the recipes, as it happens a few years ago my sisters and I embarked on a project to transcribe and translate our late mother’s recipes. This involved weekly meetings with a friend who could read and decipher Gothic handwriting, and then a lengthy process of translating the transcribed texts into English and Hebrew. The illustration at the top of the page shows the cover of the book we eventually published, with dozens of recipes in both languages, as well as the menus our mother worked out for feeding the children at the Sunshine Hostel, which she and my father ran during the war. I’m glad to see that we’re not the only ones, and other descendants of Yeckes have also produced collections of recipes from their parents and grandparents.

The members of the Yeckes’ descendants group tend to be moderate in their views and gently supportive of one another, as befits the tradition of our tribe. It’s a pity that instead of belittling the Yecke culture, as was the tendency in Israel in its early days, the attitude and approach of my compatriots did not gain wider acceptance. Who knows how much bloodshed and anguish might have been avoided had that been the case.

Sacred and Profane


 It’s not right and fair to engage in ‘old-timer’ nostalgia at any time, I know, but in view of recent events I can’t help comparing Israel as it was fifty years ago, when I first came to live here, and today.

Israel today is, if anything, even more vibrant, productive and creative than it was then. But it is also more hidebound, more xenophobic and far less attractive. Not only has Israel as a country changed, both for better and for worse, but the Jewish religion that I grew up with has also undergone a sea change. That seems a strange thing to say, after all, the Jewish religion has been immutable since time immemorial, and that is its strong point, or so we’re told.

However, the role played by religion in Israel’s daily life has definitely changed. Most notably, the nature of the political parties representing the orthodox element of the population has altered drastically. The party that once represented the moderate and tolerant Judaism of Yosef Burg and his colleagues of the now-defunct Mafdal has been transmuted into one that purveys rampant racism (anti-everyone who isn’t Jewish, and even anti other Jewish groups), serving mainly to exacerbate mutual hatred and hostility within Israeli society, but also directed towards those sectors of the population that are not Jewish. The resulting internecine hostility is seen on our streets and features prominently in the media with sickening frequency.

The resurgence of religious fervor, and its volatile combination with the old-new ‘religion’ of nationalism, serves to create an atmosphere of enmity, fostering violence, malevolence, murder and mayhem. It is as if a juggernaut were making its slow and inexorable way towards Israeli society, destroying everything in its path.

Hatred and enmity within the Jewish camp are nothing new, and since the senseless murder of Emil Greenstein at a left-wing demonstration some thirty years ago they have continued to rear their ugly head from time to time.

Protestations about the failure of the Left to demonstrate when Arabs kill Jews do not wash. There is no justification for that either, but we don’t expect such visceral hatred to emanate from within our own ranks. The thought that there are some among us who aspire to attain the barbarism of Daish and other such groups is an abomination.

Is history about to repeat itself? If it hadn’t been for the internecine violence within Jewish society two thousand years ago, Jerusalem, the Temple and the independent existence of the Hebrew nation would not have been destroyed. Those who saw themselves as the upholders of what was sacred were the very ones who led to its being made profane.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in favour of rebuilding the Temple. Far from it. Whatever was the agent that was behind that event, call it God, fate, or whatever you like, he/she/it knew what they were doing when it was destroyed. Who in their right mind would want to reinstate the practice of animal sacrifice and various other distasteful antique rituals?

But the ensuing exile of the Jewish nation and its two thousand years of suffering could and should have been avoided. All that was needed was one clear, sane voice calling for unity and the mending of the internal ruptures in order to overcome enmity, envy and betrayal.

But no such voice was forthcoming, and the result was disaster. Today, too, no such voice is forthcoming, and this bodes ill for the future.

To me it seems clear that there is a strong possibility that contemporary Israeli society will disintegrate and implode, creating an untenable situation in which the forces of hyper-nationalism will prevail, causing the eventual annihilation of Israel as an independent state.

And that would be a terrible shame.

.A Village Wedding



The house where we are staying in rural France is opposite the village church, a not very imposing edifice dating from the late seventeenth century. Many of the other churches in the region are from the twelfth, thirteenth and even ninth centuries and seem to have stood the test of time quite well, though much of the original artwork has been eroded by time or removed by ungodly hands.

We had been informed in advance that a wedding was to be celebrated there one afternoon, and were asked to park our car elsewhere on that day, with which request we duly complied.

A wedding in an almost deserted French village is a rare event, to say the least. Most of the inhabitants of rural France are old-timers whose livelihoods were not dependent on the contemporary labour market. They live reasonably well on their pensions, but it is funerals that are a more common occurrence than weddings in this part of the world. This is partly due to the scarcity of employment for young people in the region, and also to the wholesale slaughter of many young men in the First World War. There isn’t a village in the area that doesn’t have a WW1 memorial at the centre with a long list of names of the fallen. Many houses are boarded up and deserted, falling into disrepair for lack of anyone to see to their upkeep,

So a wedding is an event to be savoured. The guests for this one started arriving in good time, and the usually deserted church square witnessed more activity than it had for many a day. The inhabitants of this part of the world are not what one might call smart dressers, so it was a pleasant surprise to see well-turned out ladies and gents, who had obviously made an effort to look their best (or come from elsewhere). At the appointed hour the church bells began to peal, and the bride and her entourage emerged from her home, at the other end of a small lane, known as ‘Lovers’ Lane,’ which leads straight to the church.

wedding dress

The weather was perfect, the sun was shining but not too hot, and everything seemed to be falling into place for the occasion. The bride looked very young and pretty as she approached, but had a worried look on her face, which made me wonder if her shoes weren’t hurting her or whether she wasn’t contemplating making a bolt for it. But there was no chance of that as she was surrounded by her large and evidently loving family.

As she approached the church the throng outside stood aside and the priest, who was also wearing a long white but less frilly gown, stood at the entrance to welcome her. After an hour or so while everyone was inside the church the bells began to peal again, the people gathered outside to await the emergence of the now-married young people. If anything, the bridegroom looked even younger than the bride, and my guess is that they were both teenagers or thereabouts.

But then came the surprise that pretty much knocked my socks off. An ensemble of eight musicians, all playing what looked like a highly-polished and antique version of the bugle (I would have expected a French horn), stood in formation in the church vestibule, four on each side, and played one fanfare after another, very harmoniously, as the bride and groom came out. They continued playing as the young couple embarked on the customary round of kissing and congratulations once the official ceremony was over and before everyone (presumably) trooped off for the festive meal.

The ensemble continued to play for about half an hour, though whether those were traditional French songs or special wedding fanfares they were playing I couldn’t say. All I can say is that both visually and audially it was an impressive performance. Even more impressive was the fact that two of the players were women (you need a lot of puff to play a valveless brass instrument). The bugles seemed to have larger horns than anything I’ve managed to find on the internet, and I noted with amusement that the players had to stand with their backs to the audience to enable the sound to reach them. Then they all raised their instruments up high above their heads to form an honour guard, as it were, or perhaps to show the objects on which they had displayed their proficiency.

Understandably enough, the bride seemed happier and more relaxed after the ceremony, and as she turned among the guests I was able to examine her dress more closely. She wore the traditional meringue-style puffy white dress, but the magenta trimming and draped segment that covered her posterior were not to my taste. But then, what do I know of what’s ‘in’ in French village weddings these days? The main thing is that they should only be happy and healthy and have lots of lovely little French babies.

(photos by Yigal Shefer)





C’est la Vie



photoTaking a few weeks off from our usual routine, ‘retiring from retirement,’ and our home in Israel means changing the pace at which we live, shifting to a different location and moving to an area where tranquillity prevails.

It has by now become our custom to spend the summer months in rural France, away from all the familiar sights and sounds of our usual routine. But lo and behold, it is hotter this year in France than it is in Israel, so that benefit is lost from the outset. Second of all, there are all kinds of attractions and activities that tempt us to venture out of our quiet village haven, so that we find we are recreating a semblance of our hectic lives in Israel.

The main charm of rural France is the natural beauty of the countryside and the relaxed tempo of life. Someone has said that it’s like going back in time to what England was like fifty years ago, and there is certainly something in that. At weekends, though, in addition to the charms of the countryside, there are brocantes, or flea-markets in villages, the equivalent of what is now known as a car-boot sale. These consist of stalls rented by individuals for a nominal sum and on which they display anything and everything that comes to hand and they want to get rid of. The brocantes are pre-arranged so that it is possible to buy a booklet containing the dates and locations of all the brocantes in the region throughout the summer months, making it possible to determine one’s weekend activities well in advance.

In many cases the objects on display are the residue of the lives of the exhibitors’ parents and grandparents. You can find elegant dinner services, crystal glassware and assorted pots, pans, soup tureens and cutlery, in short, anything that once served a household but is now superfluous, out of date and out of fashion.

Some stalls offer record collections, whole libraries of detective novels, assorted old clothes, children’s toys, lace doylies, linen tablecloths, handyman’s tools, and even items of furniture. It’s an education in the history and culture of the region to go around and see what’s on offer, and to mingle with the locals who are out doing the same thing, in an event that is a mixture of social event and general ‘happening.’

In addition to such harmless pursuits as inspecting the wares on display, together with all the other folk who have turned out for the same purpose, there are circuses and funfairs which do the rounds of the villages, set up their tent, and give a performance for one or two days, after which they move on elsewhere.

For people in search of more serious entertainment there are veritable concert series in and around the region, many of them performed in one or another of the local churches, most of which date from the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries and have excellent acoustics. Those that we have attended, given by vocal and instrumental groups from France and elsewhere, were well-attended, though we have learned from experience that it’s advisable to bring a cushion along as the hard wooden seats do not add to our enjoyment of the music.

But most of all it’s the relaxed attitude of the population that’s the main attraction in this part of the world. No one ever seems to be in a hurry – and this is most evident in the courteous and considerate driving. You have no choice but to be patient when a tractor is trundling along the road ahead of you or a huge truck transporting bales of hay swings out from a field at the side of the road. The pace of life is slower, the issues that are prominent in the news seem to be far away and the media don’t assume the same importance here as they do in Israel. Perhaps this temporary break from being incessantly bombarded by news, existentialist issues and the haranguing of politicians is the main attraction after all.


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