A Second Daniel; A Tudor Intrigue by Neal Roberts


I was drawn to the title of this book which appeared on a list of books that could be downloaded, and seized the opportunity to read it on my Kindle as I recognized the quote from The Merchant of Venice, and was intrigued to find out more about it. I had studied Tudor England at school as well as English literature, and was hoping to expand my knowledge of those subjects. To my surprise, when I began to read the first few pages I found that I was reading about secret Jews in England at the time of Queen Elizabeth the First.

The theme of Jews in sixteenth century England, after they had been expelled from the country two hundred years earlier and had not been officially allowed to return, recurs throughout the book. However, the main subject deals with the English legal system of the time and its relation to the Magna Carta, and this is presented in considerable detail. The (partly true) events surrounding the plot to accuse and convict the queen’s physician, a Jew by the name of Rodrigo Lopez, also feature prominently in the book, and the way the author weaves the various fictitious and real characters and events together is truly worthy of admiration.

As I found out on reading the afterword, the author is a professor of jurisprudence and an amateur historian, and in the novel he displays his admirable erudition on both subjects to the full. We also gain insights into the wider society and customs of the time as well as the machinations, conspiracies and deceptions that characterize the conduct of the aristocracy, the royal court, and the legal system. The picture that the reader gains is of a highly complex and necessarily unfair society in which some attempts are being made to introduce greater impartiality and equality before the law.

I’m not certain that the average reader will appreciate this book, which as well as imparting considerable knowledge also requires a modicum of intelligence in order to enjoy the references to contemporary literature and culture. On the other hand, the informed reader can derive a great deal of pleasure from recognizing these references. The violence and brutality that attended the legal and social system of the time also casts a shadow over the events described in the book, and the course of events leading to the execution of Dr. Lopez are documented and described in detail.

There are several parallels to the trial scene in The Merchant of Venice, and the events surrounding the actual trial and death of Dr. Lopez may well have served to inspire Shakespeare to write his play. The legal status of Jews in England at the time was precarious, to say the least, though the fact that Lopez was able to serve as the queen’s physician indicates that exceptions could be made. Fortunately, the author spares us a graphic description of Lopez’s death, although the mere knowledge of it is enough to give anyone nightmares.

Ravel’s Bolero



After a week of cultural delights in Vienna, we spent a week in France to recover from our exertions before returning to Israel a few days ago. And so it was that, as usual, on our first full day in the beautiful Limousin region we tuned our radio to the classical music programme. As the hours passed the realization gradually dawned that from seven in the morning throughout the day we were being subjected to the same piece of music played over and over again: Ravel’s Bolero.

That particular piece of music is popular all over the world, and has accompanied several films as well as being played on radio programmes and in numerous concert halls in variations and arrangements of all kinds. That day, on the French radio, we heard every possible combination of instruments and assorted ensembles, but always maintaining that consistent rat-a-tat-a-tat rhythm, sometimes augmented by additional syncopations. Hearing the Bolero once or twice or even thrice in succession, interspersed by chit-chat and commentary by various experts in the studio, is all well and good, but twelve straight hours of the same interminable tune eventually becomes tedious, annoying even, and eventually maddening. Yes, from seven in the morning until seven in the evening (and possibly even beyond, but I had switched the radio off by then) that was all we heard.

Like classical music programmes all over the world, the French one has its good and bad points. Fair enough, one hears a lot of music by French composers, there is a general aversion to playing an entire work, e.g., all four movements of a symphony by Beethoven, and the broadcasting day always ends (after eleven p.m.) with jazz, but on the whole there is variety and interest. That, however, was not the case on that day in early May.

The reason for the repetition was revealed a few days later when I read the Figaro newspaper of the following weekend. It turns out that from the first of May 2016 it is no longer necessary to pay royalties on performances of the Bolero to Evelyne Pen de Castel, the daughter of the second wife of the husband of the masseuse of Ravel’s brother’s wife. Get that? As the Figaro points out, the situation was ‘Ubuesque,’ but it meant that a great deal of money continued to pour into the coffers of the happy heiress. But no longer. Finito della Commedia.

And so, it would seem, the French radio took the opportunity to cock a collective snook at the unfortunate lady, who presumably – perhaps even hopefully – squirmed as she thought of all the royalties she would not be earning on that particular day. It’s consoling to think of those serious and respectable producers at the French classical music programme rubbing their hands in glee as they planned that day’s programming, their eyes lighting up with the joy of schadenfreude (no English equivalent exists for that particular emotion, and that is interesting in itself).

They say that revenge is a dish best eaten cold, and I can only hope that those faceless men and women behind the microphone enjoyed their meal.





Hoppe Hoppe Reiter

Hugo Regina

Now that we are well and truly entrenched in the digital age it comes as no surprise to find that this has been adopted and adapted to its own ends by the community of Jews originally from German-speaking lands, otherwise known as Yekkes.

Ever since I joined Facebook some time ago I am constantly bombarded by homilies about how best to conduct my life, pictures of kittens, puppies and babies, and occasionally also edifying information about world developments, ideas, and of course jokes. I do my best to keep up with this flood of data, but am starting to feel that I am increasingly being inundated with indigestible material

There are, however, one or two points of light in the barrage, and among them are two groups intended for Jews originally from German-speaking countries. The first such group, entitled ‘Hoppe Hoppe Reiter,’ is based in Israel and tends to display family photos and accounts of the life and times of the members of the group from before the war. And, of course, their descendants. One by-product of this virtual group has been the establishment of physical groups that meet in various places in Israel. I belong to the one here in Jerusalem which meets every two weeks to talk about a variety of subjects, but always only in German. The group meets in the offices of the Association of Jews from Central Europe, and is led by the ever-energetic Ilana Alroy-Brosh, who is considerably younger than most of the members. These are people (mainly women) who were born in Israel or abroad to German-speaking parents, heard and spoke German at home as children, but now no longer have anyone with whom to converse in German.

I personally do not fit into that category because in wartime England it was not considered appropriate to speak in German, and so I grew up hearing English spoken at home. Luckily, both of my parents spoke English well, and although in my childhood I was aware of their foreign accents I had no desire to speak any other language, and did not even take up the option of learning German at school. It was only much later in my life, in the last fifteen years or so, that I have been studying German in order to be able to read the documents and correspondence my parents brought out of Germany with them in 1938 as well as other material. My German isn’t as native as that of the other members of the group, but I manage to understand what’s going on and even add my little bit to the conversation from time to time.

In the group of German speakers we generally decide on a topic for discussion at the next meeting and are sometimes asked to prepare suitable material to illustrate our contribution. When the topic was children’s books we were treated to original editions of Struwwelpeter and I even found myself joining in when everyone sang Hänschen Klein, though I have no idea where or when I learned it. And no, we did not play Hoppe Hoppe Reiter with one another. At another meeting we were asked to talk about our childhood hobbies and were treated to impressive themed collections of stamps, paper serviettes, transfers, and even a couple of professional-looking puppets made entirely by one of the participants. One participant is an expert chocolatière, so you can imagine how we delighted in what she had brought along.

The other Facebook group is run by another energetic lady, this time in America. The group, known as JEWS, Jews Engaging Worldwide in Social Networking, is run by Vera Meyer, who hails from Boston, I believe. The group posts items of interest to the Yekke community as well as potted biographies of individuals and families. As is the case with the Hoppe Hoppe Reiter group, the posts are in a variety of languages, mainly English and German but also Hebrew and even occasionally Spanish, French or Italian. New members are welcomed and asked to send a small autobiography and account of their family. In this way people who are scattered all over the world are given a sense of community and are able to get in touch with their roots.

[This article originally appeared in the May issue of AJR Journal]




Here it Comes Again


It came as something of a shock to me a few years to hear that there are some people who have mixed feelings about celebrating the Jewish festival known as Passover (Pesach). For someone like myself who quite likes eating matza this seems strange. But then I remember how things used to be.

In my childhood Pesach was always a time of excitement and renewal. Some time beforehand, my mother, my two younger sisters and I would undertake the long journey by underground from the London suburb where we lived into ‘town,’ i.e., Oxford Street, to buy new clothes for the festival. This invariably involved a lot of walking (Oxford Street itself is several miles long), gazing longingly into shop windows and eventually trying to find some garment (coat, dress) suitable in price, size and style to suit our various tastes. Sometimes this involved getting new shoes as well. All this must have represented a considerable financial burden for our parents, whose income was modest by any standard. But getting new clothes for the festival was considered essential.

Most important, at least for our parents, was the process of cleaning and preparing every nook and cranny of the house so that not a single speck of dust or crumb of food was left. Everything had to be pristine clean, so much so, in fact, that all our crockery and cooking utensils were packed up and put away so that different ones, which had themselves been packed up and put away at the end of the festival the previous year, could be brought out. As well as the interminable cleaning and scrubbing operations, this involved endless trips up and down the stairs to the attic where the Passover things were kept to bring them out and reinstall them. Equally, the everyday dishes and utensils had to be put away in the same fashion.

My poor parents hard to work long into the night to achieve all this. No sooner was all this done, however, than in something akin to a logistical nightmare my mother had to embark on a marathon of cooking and baking in preparation for the impending Seder meal, the massive family dinner that involved providing all the ritual dishes that symbolized aspects of the Exodus story (bitter herbs to remind us of the bitterness of slavery, haroseth, a mixture of apples, wine and nuts commemorating the cement used to bind the bricks together, a hard-boiled egg to symbolize mourning and the circle of life, etc., etc.). Incidentally, any pictorial depiction of Jesus’ Last Supper, i.e., the Seder, in which bread features is by definition a historical travesty as Jesus was an observant Jew and would not have dreamt of eating leavened bread on that occasion.

To make matters worse, ever since the Jews were sent into exile by the Romans, the custom in the diaspora was to hold the Seder twice, as there was no way of knowing which was the correct Hebrew date. Nowadays we know, but the custom has become entrenched nonetheless. That is at least one good reason for moving to Israel, where there has always been only one Seder.

On the actual evening, once all the preparations are over and the ritual reading of the Haggadah, which recounts the sequence of events interspersed by prayers of devotion and praise for the miracle of the escape from bondage by the Children of Israel and even some rabbinical exegesis, all present partake of the traditional unleavened bread (matza) and the other ritual foods, followed by a sumptuous meal, which taxes everyone’s digestive system to the utmost and whose preparation has generally left the long-suffering housewife close to a state of exhaustion.

As devout and observant Jews, my parents and their parents before them did not question the necessity of adhering to every jot and tittle of the traditions and requirements. But I was born into a time when the existence of Israel as an independent Jewish state gives me the option of being Jewish without having to be observant and incurring the displeasure of the community. I feel that I am truly fortunate.



Whatsapp Baby


Some twenty-five years ago our son and his wife presented us with our first grandchild. She was the centre of our life and our pride and joy, and over the subsequent fifteen years she was joined by another six grandchildren, three from the same couple and three from our daughter and her husband. It goes without saying that we adore and cherish each and every one of them.


Eventually our youngest son got married and life continued pretty much as before for all concerned. But a week ago that same son and his wife presented us with their first child, a little girl amid general rejoicing.


In the ten years since our previous last grandchild was born life and technology have changed. How did we manage to stay in touch with our offspring and other relatives before the days of email, Facebook and above all Whatsapp? How otherwise could we be apprised of every fleeting expression, mood and movement of our nearest and dearest without these essential elements of daily life.


And so it is that at our request a special Whatsapp group was formed for the new arrival in which the proud parents post pictures of the little one whenever the fancy takes them, which is quite often. And it also gives the proud grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, whether near or far, to have their say and make comments as to the cuteness, awesomeness, pulchritude and evident intelligence of the newest addition to the family.


The wonders of modern technology enable us, the happy entrants into the realm of second grandparenthood (akin to a second childhood), to enjoy the sight but not necessarily the sound of the baby crying, knowing that it isn’t us who’ll be woken up in the night by it, and to marvel at the glorious spectacle of her chubby cheeks and sparkling eyes.


So if you happen to meet one of us please don’t be alarmed if we take out our mobile phones to share this newest wonder of the world with you. It’s not our fault. We can’t help it. You can blame Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg if you like, but I personally will be eternally grateful to them.


A History Lesson


Babylon photo Haim Zach003

(photo by Haim Zach)

It was very gratifying to hear two of our grandsons (aged 22 and 18) express a desire to be taken on a tour of the exhibition entitled ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ concerning the exile of the Jews of Judea by Nebuchadnezzer II in 586 B.C.E. and currently being held at the Bible Lands Museum, where my husband is a guide.

The tour, in Yigal’s customary thorough fashion, began with a session in front of a large, illuminated wall-map showing the entire Ancient Near East at various stages in its history. Apart from Egypt, the first to establish cities and some form of writing (i.e., ‘civilisation’) were the Sumerians (situated in what is now southern Iraq). Their territory was invaded and conquered by the Akkadians from what was known then as Babylon or Akkad, followed by the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Muslims, the Turks, and finally the British, to name but a few. Finally, following the First World War and the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, the entire area was divvied up among the major European colonial nations, only to disintegrate into mutual enmity, chaos and mayhem in recent years.

The exhibition itself, about which I have written before, is well done, attempting to arouse interest and provide food for thought for visitors of all ages, with animated films that explain how and why the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzer II eventually decided he had had enough of the fractious Judeans and their rebellious kings (particularly Joakin, Joachim, and Zedekiah), who rebelled and refused to pay their tribute taxes. After laying siege to and conquering Jerusalem, the troops dealt with the defeated enemy in the manner customary at the time, namely, total destruction of everything in sight, including the (First) Temple, and forced ethnic cleansing by means of mass massacre and exile of the remaining population.

But, as the exhibition shows, the Israelites’ ability to adapt to changing circumstances came to the fore in Babylon. Exhorted by their leaders to display obedience to and cooperation with the authorities, the Jews farmed the land they were granted, established families, adhered to their religion and prospered. When the Persians under Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 B.C.E. all exiled nations were allowed to return to their lands. but not all the Jews undertook the journey back to Judea. The exhibition displays dozens of clay tablets from the Soffer collection recording transactions undertaken at the time by Jews, primarily in the Jewish settlement of El Yahudo in the region of Babylon.

Those Jews who remained in Babylon flourished for two thousand years, producing inter alia the renowned Babylonian Talmud. Those who returned merged with those who had managed to remain behind in Judea, and eventually built the (Second) Temple, and hung on to it for some five hundred years. Once again, however, internecine conflict and rebelliousness caused the all-powerful Romans to come down upon them with the full force of their might. As everyone knows, this led to the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. and the exile that lasted two thousand years and ended only 67 years ago. In a nice touch, the exhibition ends with the reggae song ‘By the Rivers of Babylon,’ recorded by Boney M and popular in the 1970s. The last Iraqi Jews were deprived of their property and expelled from Iraq shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel. Like the many thousands of other Jews who were turned overnight into refugees, they were absorbed into the general population.

No one knows whether the people currently inhabiting the various regions of what was once the Ancient Near East share the same genetic make-up as the original inhabitants of the region. What we do know, however, is that the tendency to engage in mutual warfare involving massacre and enmity on a gigantic scale has endured. Sadly, our newspapers and TV screens are filled on a daily basis with the tragic results of what appears to be a longstanding tradition of mutual intolerance and the desire to dominate others.

Plus ça change…

[This article first appeared in the April 2016 edition of the AJR Journal/]



Time Passes


family for Nadav_3_09 024

When I was eighteen I had all the answers.

I knew where my political allegiance lay and which party I supported. I knew where I should go to live for my future wellbeing. I marched in favour of nuclear disarmament, in England and spoke out on behalf of my beliefs in friendly forums. I even knew what I wanted to study at university, who were my friends and who I preferred to avoid.

Then, in line with my conviction that all Jews should go and live in their national homeland, I went to live in Israel in 1964.

My first few years in Israel were not always easy. Like most immigrants, I struggled with the language and the culture, and found many things that grated on my delicate British sensibilities. But I persevered, weathered the various storms, wars, children and other obstacles to self-fulfillment, and now that all that is behind me I seem to suddenly find myself on the wrong side of seventy, falling into ‘the sere and yellow leaf,’ as Macbeth puts it, and far less sure of all the things I used to be certain about.

I was here before the Six Day War broke out and felt perfectly happy about living in Israel as it was then, its borders defined by ‘the green line.’ After the war, when the euphoria of our victory over three Arab armies had begun to wear off, I was all in favour of giving the territories back, and was quite horrified when religious right-wing extremists defied official government policy and insisted on establishing settlements in the territory that the IDF had conquered.

Then came Hebron, where even more extreme extremists insisted on settling, asserting some kind of ‘right of return’ to a place that had formerly seen Jewish habitation for centuries. The need to protect them placed an additional burden on the IDF and Israel’s limited resources, but gradually the government line shifted, first towards acceptance and then to encouragement, of this and other settlement activity.

Today Jewish settlements are to be found pretty much everywhere throughout the area that was either liberated, conquered or occupied, according to your political stance, and the facts established on the ground cannot be denied. I avoid going to those areas to the best of my ability, but judging by the results of the last few elections, I now find myself in an ever-shrinking minority of Israelis.

But today, when I look back over Israel’s sixty-eight years of existence, awkward questions arise in my mind. In 1947, when the UN Partition Plan was proposed, the Arab countries refused to accept this, and sought to annihilate the fledgling State of Israel before it came into existence, with considerable loss of life on all sides. Israel prevailed, but was subjected to continuous infiltrations and terrorist attacks by what were then known as Fedayeen, inflicting more loss of life.

Then came the Sinai Campaign of 1956, the Six Day War of 1967, the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the Lebanon War, the constant attacks, first within and then from the Gaza Strip, and devastating terrorist attacks inside Israel. The common thread that unites all those events was the desire to destroy Israel and, failing that, to cause as much physical and psychological damage as possible. Threats to Israel’s existence continue to emerge from various other quarters, causing us to live in a constant state of being ‘on guard.’

The belief that peace with our neighbours is possible is gradually being eroded by the actions of settlers, on the one hand, and Palestinians, on the other. Religious and nationalist radicalization seems to have taken hold on both sides, and the prospect of any peaceful settlement of the dispute appears to be moving ever further away.

The thought of living in a perpetual state of war is depressing, though a long-term view of European history gives some hope that in the very, very long term some solution will eventually emerge. How much war and bloodshed we will have to endure till then is not clear, and as Maynard Keynes pronounced ‘in the long term we are all dead.’

But let’s look on the bright side. Perhaps in less than the one thousand years it has taken for the major European countries to settle their differences some of our descendants will be able to live in peace.


Bach’s Passion

Bach score

I don’t write about every concert I attend, or even every book I read, for that matter. That would be boring and repetitive. However, there are some concerts (and some books) that I feel I really must share with anyone out there who might be slightly interested in what I have to say.

As you probably know by now, I am a great lover of the grand choral music composed by Bach, Handel and various others. I also love chamber music, but that’s another story. This love of choral music is something I acquired (or inherited) from my father, and he in turn inherited it from his father, so perhaps it’s in my DNA. I was taken to performances of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ from a very early age, and have endeavoured to pass on this tradition to my own children and, especially, my grandchildren, with varying degrees of success.

And so when the opportunity arose to hear a performance of Bach’s great St. Matthew Passion in Jerusalem, I was not going to let the opportunity go by and was able, through my husband’s quick reactions and equally dedicated love of music, to be assured of a ticket in one of the first rows in the YMCA auditorium.

The Passion was performed by the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra which was founded several years ago by the organist and harpsichordist David Shemer to play baroque music on original instruments. And so this year, 2016, over the course of five days, we were privileged to witness the first ‘Bach in Jerusalem Festival,’ to mark the composer’s birthday on 17th March, with several concerts performed both in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel.

The Passion was the first concert to be given in the framework of the festival, and was a very special event. The conductor was the American Joshua Rifkin, a world-renowned expert in baroque music, but most of the performers, with the exception of Richard Resch, the excellent German tenor who sang the part of the Evangelist, were from Israel. Rifkin’s conception of the music was based on his extensive research into Bach’s original performance of the work, and somewhat different from performances of the Passion to which modern audiences have become accustomed.

It is common knowledge by now that after Bach’s death in 1750 the Passion was forgotten and not performed for almost a hundred years. It was revived by young Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and performed in Berlin in 1829 after Felix had been given the score by his grandmother Bella Salomon. Bach scored the music for two choirs, two orchestras and two organs, but modern performances generally overlook those instructions, preferring to use an augmented choir and orchestra. Anyway, where are you going to find two organs?

In the performance conducted by Rifkin there was no augmented choir, just two quartets, one on either side of the stage. These comprised excellent singers, each one of them soloists in their own right, who were able to tackle the complex music and thus do double service as soloists and choir. Where the score creates a dialogue between the two choirs this dualism produced maximum effect, with each quartet playing its part in the evolving narrative. The ‘conversation’ thus created was felt, heard and seen to the utmost, and the absence of the large choral ensemble was hardly noticed at all.

In a small exhibition at the nearby Jerusalem Theatre one could see the original score, as copied by Mendelssohn from the one in Bach’s own hand, on loan from the exhibition in the town of Eisenach, Bach’s birthplace. What joy it was, a few days after the concert, to put on the headphones provided, listen to excerpts of the Passion and hear the instructive commentary about how and why Bach came to compose this immense, complex and inspiring music.

For many years there was general reluctance about performing the Passion in Israel because of the story it tells of the taking and crucifixion of Jesus, and it cannot be denied that the gospels accuse the Jews of responsibility for this. But it seems that the grandeur of the music has overcome these doubts, and even Jews like myself can leave the concert hall with a sense of having been spiritually uplifted. Such is the power of music.



Painfully Honest


I was given Elliot Jager’s book, ‘The Pater: My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness,’ as a gift, and must admit that it is not a book I would have chosen to read in the normal course of my reading experience.

This is a book that is full of pain. First of all, it is painfully honest. Second, it addresses an issue that is a major cause of pain – the fact that the author is unable to have children. The issue assumes additional prominence given the author’s Jewish roots and identity. This last is further aggravated by the writer’s ambivalent attitude to the orthodox Jewish observance with which he grew up and his intellectual and emotional departure from adherence to every minute feature of orthodox Judaism. And over and above all that is the fact that many years ago his ultra-orthodox father (the ‘Pater’ of the title) abandoned eight-year-old Elliot and his mother in New York and went to live in Israel.

I must admit that I felt distinctly uncomfortable reading this book. It is really unfair that most people seem to be able to beget children without so much as a second thought, and in many cases turn out to be unfit or inadequate parents. In this day and age many cases of infertility can be remedied by IVF, and the ‘tragedy’ of being childless averted. In the case of Elliot Jager and his wife, however, this was not the case.

Being unable to procreate raises many questions about God, Judaism and faith in general, and Elliot Jager goes into these subjects at great (some might say inordinate) length, while also interviewing other (mainly observant) Jewish men in a similar position, interspersing those segments with the account of his own experiences as an only child in a single-parent family and his feelings about his absent father. The story is complex, and after a period of thirty years in which there was no contact between the two, Elliot reached out to his aged father and was eventually reconciled with him to some extent.

That extent is limited by Elliot’s rejection of what he regards as his father’s irrational and superstitious version of fanatical adherence to every jot and tittle of Jewish observance, and he even goes so far as to mock it. But somehow their reconciliation also seems to give him some kind of consolation. In sum, the reader comes away with the sense that the author has achieved closure of a kind, or at least found a modicum of serenity and acceptance of his fate.

While, of course, I don’t envy him. i cannot help admiring his extensive research, wide-ranging knowledge on various allied subjects and his insuperable honesty in tackling subjects whether medical, Jewish or personal.

An exercise in coexistence

 Dead Sea2

 Spending a few days in a luxurious hotel by the Dead Sea induces a sense of well-being, of physical and mental peace. The air is still pleasantly warm, and has not yet reached the burning heat of summer. The décor of the hotel is aesthetic and comfortable, and the scenery round about impressive, with the mountains of Moab shimmering on the other side of the water. The food is plentiful, varied and of excellent quality, and if one can manage to restrain oneself it can even be beneficial, as all kinds of healthy options are provided.

Along the roadside trees and shrubs have been planted, providing shade and a visually pleasing vista to all those who, like me, like to start their day by setting out to walk for a kilometer or two or three. At seven a.m. the path is abuzz with people walking, some slowly some fast, in twos or singly, as they enjoy the imposing scenery and gain health benefits in the process.

The guests staying at the hotel while we were there could be heard speaking several languages, with Hebrew prevailing, of course, but English and French were also in evidence. In addition, several of the guests were Arabs, though whether they were Druze or Muslims I was unable to tell. The only way of knowing whether a family is Arab is by observing the attire of the women, as the men dress and behave much the same as any secular Israeli Jew.

Although the Arab families were identifiable there was no apparent animosity between them and the Jewish guests, just as Arabs and Jews travel side by side in buses and trains in Israel, tend to patients in hospitals as nurses and doctors and are attended to by them, and work and shop alongside one another in any and every public place.

I was witness to an interesting exchange between an Arab woman in traditional garb (long black embroidered dress and flimsy white head-covering) and various Jewish guests. The conversation was in Hebrew, so I could understand what was going on. The woman was sitting in the spacious lobby and occupied with knitting a colourful sweater. As I watched, one elderly Israeli woman after another went up to the woman and opened a conversation with her about what she was knitting, admiring her skill and complimenting her on her work. After a while a Jewish man sitting with his family also spoke to her, congratulating her and wishing her well. She seemed to take all this with perfect equanimity, answering their questions in fluent Hebrew.

On another occasion I was intrigued to see an Arab family of not-so-young husband, wife and grown-up son, the latter apparently having some kind of physical and possibly also mental disability being unable to use one of his arms. At breakfast I saw the son bring a plate of scrambled eggs to his father and I immediately assumed that this particular paterfamilias was used to being waited on by the other members of his family. How wrong I was! The father deftly cut up the food on the plate, mixed the eggs with tomatoes and other salad vegetables, then gently fed it to his son. For me this was an object lesson in the way that a caring father attends to his son’s needs.

On our last day the news of the stabbing spree by a Palestinian terrorist in Jaffa was all over the newspapers. I was in the lift on my way to our room, my eyes riveted to the headlines describing the event when a young Arab couple came in and we began our ascent to a higher floor. Coward that I am, I could not look them in the eye. I’m still wondering what would have happened if I had.


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