Going to the Cinema

alsatian

Because both my husband and I tend to prefer going to a concert of an evening rather than attending the screening of a movie, our visits to the cinema are relatively few and far between. Due to a shortage of concerts we have, however, been to see a couple of movies recently, and I’m afraid that the experience has generally fallen short of our expectations.

Last week we saw ‘Suffragette,’ which portrayed the harsh life of a young woman in late 19th century or early 20th century London in the context of the struggle for women to obtain the right to vote, or suffrage as it was termed (hence the term ‘suffragettes’). The battle waged by women of all classes, led mainly by upper-class ladies in hats, was long and hard, ending only when the government of the time acceded to their demands towards the end of the First World War. The picture painted by the film was not a pretty one, giving prominence to the male prejudice and brutality that prevailed at the time, particularly among the working class. The high point of the film was the evident transformation undergone by the main character as she moved from being a downtrodden working housewife to an elegantly-dressed mature person. I wonder how much truth there was in that depiction of life at the time.

The film we saw this week, and which both the critics and the trailer that we had seen the previous week painted in glowing colours, was a very different kettle of fish. The main attraction, of course, was the actors, the once-gorgeous Charlotte Rampling and the less-gorgeous Tom Courtenay, both of them excellent thespians who once shone on stage and screen.

To be quite honest, it was no great pleasure to see close-ups of Rampling’s lined and aging face with its tired skin, sagging cheeks and bags under her eyes. Possibly it was all makeup, but I doubt it, though her figure is still pretty good. When I looked her up on the internet I was shocked to find that she is four years younger than I am. Tom Courtenay was never a great beauty, and the role he played in the film was that of a man who has experienced illness, and may perhaps even be a tiny bit confused, but that is beside the point.

My main criticism of the film is that it is achingly slow and thus verging on the boring. In fact, for the first half an hour I was convinced I was watching a film by Ingmar Bergman that happened to be in English, with minimal dialogue and barely-discernible undercurrents of emotion. Oh, how very British, I hear you cry, but still, who goes to the cinema for that?

The director of the film, Andrew Haigh, has taken pains to reconstruct the life and times of a very ordinary British couple living in a fairly ordinary cottage in the country and living a pretty ordinary life. The only ripple in their mundane existence (the discovery of the body of the husband’s former girlfriend) is nothing more than a minor storm in a very British teacup, and everything comes to an end, not with a bang but with an equally British whimper.

The real star of the film, however, is a huge alsation dog called Max. We see Rampling taking him for a walk across the fields every morning, we hear him panting happily on his return home and we both see and hear him whining anxiously when his mistress climbs the folding ladder to the loft. At times it seems as if he’s the only one in the film who shows some genuine emotion.

 

Inge Worth

Nebraska

A few days ago I received an unusual email. It came from someone I had never met, but whom I knew was the person who was looking after an old friend from long ago. In the mail I was informed that Inge was bedridden, near to death, unable to speak but still able to hear, and would appreciate it if I phoned her to say a few words of farewell, encouragement and appreciation. She had no relatives and she had expressed the wish not to leave this world attended only by paid attendants.

I first met Inge in 1983. Yigal was doing post-doctoral work in experimental physics at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. The physics professor who was considered a leader in the field had moved to that mid-western city because of his asthma and other allergies. And so, while other Israeli post-doctoral candidates were going to exciting places like California or Washington D.C., the Shefer family found itself in the geographical centre of America, in a place where the summers are tropical, the winters arctic and the interim seasons awash with tornadoes and thunderstorms.

But there were some consolations, mainly the kind and generous people we encountered there, and Inge was among them. She worked in the administrative office of the university’s Physics Department, and immediately took a shine to the young man from Israel who was trying to find his way through the labyrinthine formalities of the university’s bureaucracy. She immediately established contact with Yigal, and they soon found they had many interests in common.

Inge was born in the international city of Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland) in 1922 and managed to leave Europe with her mother before WWII to reach the USA. She lived and worked in New York for several years, but later moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where she met and married Peter Worth, who was Professor of Art and Art History at the university. She continued to return to New York several times a year in order to care for her mother, who refused to leave the city.

Working as a secretary in the Physics Department, Inge was able to exercise her mastery of several European languages, as well as her excellent command of English, which she spoke almost without any trace of an accent. She was a true intellectual, a voracious reader, a devotee of classical music as well as a connoisseur of art (hardly surprising considering her husband’s occupation). She was on the committee that was instrumental in establishing a series of chamber music concerts in Lincoln. We attended as many of these as possible, and I remember one extraordinary event, when Alicia de Larrocha played Albéniz’s “Iberia,” Granados’s “Goyescas” and de Falla’s “Nights in the Gardens of Spain.” Luckily for us, Lincoln was a convenient overnight stop for many world-class artists who were booked to play on both the West and East coasts.

After we returned to Israel we corresponded with Inge on a regular basis. She was a conscientious letter-writer, and her neatly-typed letters recounting events in Lincoln and describing her travels, were always a welcome sight in our mailbox. Many of them also contained newspaper cuttings that she felt would be of interest or relevance to us. In later years, with declining health, she could no longer type her letters but wrote them in her small, but very neat, clear handwriting.

Together with Peter, who died in 2010, Inge travelled extensively, both in the USA and abroad, acquiring friends all over the world. She visited us in Israel in 1988 and took as many tours as she could crowd into her short stay, not allowing her age or her failing health to hold her back. Eventually, the frequency with which her letters arrived became slower, and eventually she wrote to tell us that she had sold her home and moved into sheltered accommodation. Then there was silence for a few years, until a few days ago, when I received the mail from her carer, Mary George-Pruitt.

Almost immediately after receiving that request, I picked up the phone and called the number I’d been given, spoke into the receiver for about five minutes, reminiscing about our time in Lincoln, our subsequent meetings and our mutual love of books, art and music.

From Mary, the carer who had written to me, I received the following mail:

“She received your call from Israel, a call from Heidi in Guatemala, a call from her friends in Germany, a call from her friends in Brazil. And at least half of the states had someone calling reflecting a story, sharing a memory and letting her know she was loved. There was some love, laughter, reminiscing. You connected with her soul…”

And then the next day:

“Peace came, The day all of her friends spoke with her allowed her to pass from this life knowing she was well loved and thought of. She was very peaceful when she took her last breath at 5:05 on Sunday January 24, 2015.”

 

 

Verdi’s Requiem Again

 Requiem, Verdi

I know I’ve written before about Verdi’s Requiem, the role it played in my childhood and musical education in general, about the impression made on me when I read of its performance by prisoners in Theresienstadt and finally being privileged to attend a performance of the reconstruction of that event here in Jerusalem. But I can’t help going back to its splendour and magnificence after hearing yet another live performance a few days ago, once again in Jerusalem.

 The Henry Crown auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre isn’t the best venue for hearing the performance in terms of acoustics, but to enter the hall and find the greatly augmented Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and the two choirs sitting there, all arrayed in their uniforms (both women’s choirs all in black, both men’s choirs in white shirts, ties and dark trousers), waiting to start the performance, created a festive and inspiring atmosphere before even a single note was played.

 When maestro Frederic Chaslin strode onto the stage and raised his baton the atmosphere was electric. The men’s choir began to sing in muted, pianissimo tones, imploring the deity to have mercy, forgive the dead their sins and grant them eternal rest. The music then swells into a full-throated prayer for deliverance. People say that listening to classical music in the comfort of their home with a good sound system is as good as attending a live performance, but I couldn’t disagree with them more. Nothing beats being there in person, hearing all the nuances of the voices (provided they’re good, of course), and being physically and emotionally overwhelmed and swept away by the power of the music.

 The choirs sing out at the tops of their voices, the trumpets blare and the whole orchestra gives its maximum in the Dies Irae (which recurs several times in the piece), producing a fortissimo that sends a shiver down every spine in the auditorium and brought tears to many eyes, mine included. The impact was something immense and incomparable. It really inspired a sense of dread and awe and, as we’re all aware, old Verdi knew a thing or two about achieving dramatic effect.

 And that set my thoughts wandering. There’s a clear line that connects the Book of the Dead of ancient Egypt, the Jewish prayers and supplications of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and the Christian requiem prayer. The Latin words, liber scriptum proferetur (the book of words is open), which feature in the requiem, echo the Jewish concept of God deciding who shall live and who shall die and writing it down in a book which is signed and sealed on Yom Kippur. I sometimes irreverently refer to this idea as ‘the Great Accountant in the Sky,’ but the concept is obviously one that has occupied humankind since time immemorial.

 The Book of the Dead emerged in seventh century B.C.E. Egypt, when the culture of that country had already been in existence for several thousands of years. The concept underlying their religion was that life continued after death, and certain procedures, spells and rituals would ensure that this would indeed be the case. The Book of the Dead existed in many variations, but all were designed to ensure that the dead person would continue to enjoy the benefits of having lived an exemplary life.

 So it might just be possible to regard the Christian requiem and the Jewish Yom Kippur ritual as just another series of prayers, incantations and rituals designed to ensure a happy hereafter for the person whose soul has passed on to that ‘bourne from which no traveller returns.’

 Who knows, perhaps it might even help. But one thing is sure, the various requiems composed by such luminaries as Verdi, Berlioz, Mozart, Fauré and others continue to bring immense pleasure to the living.

 

Crowning Glory?

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What is it about women’s hair that preoccupies people so much? There was a time when it was considered unseemly for a woman to be seen with her hair uncovered. Still today Queen Elizabeth is never seen without a hat, and presumably for a similar reason it is customary for women to wear hats to weddings, giving them an opportunity to throw decorum to the winds and place all manner of odd arrangements on their heads, as happened at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

But the requirement that a woman cover her hair was abandoned early on in the twentieth century, except in extremely conservative, even repressive, male-dominated societies, as we see with orthodox Jews and Muslims, for example. But in those societies any inch of exposed female skin is considered anathema, almost blasphemous, or some kind of insult to the heavenly agent that presumably created it

As a girl grows up her preoccupation with her hair grows too. And as she gets older still, and ‘silver threads among the gold’ start to appear, she comes to regard this as a stark betrayal of her desire to remain forever young. And thus it is that large numbers of women, this writer included, spend many hours and considerable sums of money in an effort to conceal the passage of time as revealed by the colour of their hair. There are, of course, many women who decline to colour their hair and allow the grey to take over completely. I tried this at one point, but was subjected to complaints from my grandchildren (granddaughters) that it made me look old, so gave in and returned to the hairdresser.

It’s at this point that the dilemma begins. What colour should the hair be? Nature’s way of revealing our age is not confined to our hair. Our figure and face also show the passage of time. And loth though we are to admit it, our overall appearance cannot retain its youthful freshness.

It matters not that when we were young our skin was smooth and our hair a sleek dark helmet or a coronet of auburn curls, as we reach the mid-century point our appearance has changed, sometimes even beyond recognition. Why, then, do some ladies seek to preserve the crow-black hair or auburn curls of their youth? Do they not see, when they look in the mirror, that a youthful crop of hair atop an old face is incongruous, even ridiculous?

Some women go to the other extreme and colour their hair a fierce orange colour. I have seen a few instances of this and find it difficult to understand why anyone should do it, and tend to think that the hairdresser must have miscalculated when preparing the dye. After all, we all know that hairdressing is not an exact science. It has occurred to me, though, that those ladies might actually be making a statement, a very bold on
e, at that, and although I don’t share their taste I cannot help admiring their courage.

I remember seeing an elderly neighbour who had left to spend a year abroad as a brunette and returned a blonde. Not long after that she let her hair revert to its natural state of grey, which suited her general appearance perfectly.

Oh, if only I had the courage to go blonde!

 

 

 

The Situation in the World

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Paris

 

So now ‘radical Islamist’ terror has spread to Paris, the centre of culture, civilization and enlightenment. Last January Paris was subjected to a similar heinous attack, but that was confined to targets that could be – and were – dismissed or defined as ‘appropriate,’ i.e., the offices of a satirical magazine that had lampooned Muhammed, and a kosher Jewish supermarket.

Of course, if Jews are the object of Muslim opprobrium, that is understandable. Palestine and all that. Of course, that’s also why Sunni and Shia Muslims are killing one another.

But enjoying the pleasures of modern life – eating, drinking, listening to music – what can possibly be wrong with that? If you subscribe to a certain version of the Muslim religion, and I’m being very careful to define it as such and not to tar all the adherents of that religion with the same brush, the answer is – a lot.

Equality of women, for a start. How can you tell whether a man is Muslim or not? By looking at his womenfolk. They are the ones who display the outward signs of their religion – at the very least it consists of a carefully-arranged headscarf, followed by the all-encompassing hijabs and burqas. Muslim men, on the other hand, dress just like their modern Western counterparts, with short-sleeved shirts and any casual wear that takes their fancy. Many more, and more severe, restrictions are imposed on women, ranging from general suppression to ‘honour killing,’ but you get the general idea.

While reaping the benefit of life in the West, those people abhor the free and easy lifestyle of its native population, with its liberal values and mores that can be defined as hedonistic. And what’s wrong with hedonism, as long as you’re not inflicting harm on anyone else? Some might even go so far as to say that we’ve been put on earth in order to enjoy ourselves, which is as good a definition of hedonism as any. But that, of course, is anathema to orthodox Islam.

Here in Israel the reaction of the population to what happened in Paris is confused and confusing. There are those who are consumed by satisfaction, shadenfreude,’ even a sense of divine retribution, noting that the plague that has afflicted this country on and off ever since its inception has extended its tentacles to other, supposedly ‘untouched’ parts of the world. But many Israelis, myself included, mourned for those caught up in the tragedy in Paris, shedding tears for the young lives lost so suddenly to blind and senseless hatred.

In a televised interview with Fox News, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch-American author and political activist, declared that it was time the world learned from Israel about maintaining security and dealing with terrorists. In the light of recent terrorist ‘successes’ in Israel that statement seems slightly problematic, but at least mass terror attacks of the kind recently seen in Paris no longer occur here.

One thing is clear, the Europe that we once knew, with its open borders and freedom of movement, will have to change in order to survive. Israel has long pursued a policy that involves strict control of those who may and may not enter the country, with a powerful security presence, whether seen or unseen, and it seems that the countries of Europe will henceforth have to adopt a similar approach. Only the paranoid survive, as Andy Grove of Intel declared in a different context.

Welcome to the world of the paranoid, Europe!

(This article first appeared in the January 2016 edition of the AJR Journal)

 

 

Blogger’s Delight

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Displaying

Wordpress AR

The other day I received a delightful email from the people at WordPress, my blog server, giving me an ‘Annual Report’ for 2015 with statistics about this blog garnered by what they call their ‘stats helper monkeys.’

Immediately in my mind’s eye I could see those eager little creatures running here and there, collecting, collating, assembling and number-crunching to provide me with the valuable information regarding the number of people who read my blog each day, week, month and year, which blog posts were the most read, and where those avid readers were located.

It certainly was of interest to me, and it somehow reminded me of those heady days when I worked in the English section of the Bank of Israel’s Publications Unit. There, too, we produced an Annual Report each year, though that was a weighty tome containing chapters of great seriousness with headings such as ‘Output and Demand,’ ‘The Balance of Payments,’ and other similar titles.

They, too, were based on numbers collected, collated and crunched, upon which lengthy and profound analyses were based, though I doubt whether the people who worked on these subjects in the Research Department would have liked to be known as ‘monkeys.’

Still, I must confess that I personally found the data regarding my blog far more interesting than those pertaining to Israel’s macroeconomic situation. In fact, I was fascinated to find which post was most read during the year (it was ‘Why I Had to Write ‘Time Out of Joint, the Fate of a Family’), which day was the most popular (Monday) and which time of day was most frequently cited (10 a.m.).

In an evident effort to sugar the pill of a slight decline in traffic to my blog from 2014 to 2015, I was told: ‘Some of your most popular posts were written before 2015, Your writing has staying power! Consider writing about those topics again.’

Now that is complete nonsense, in my opinion. Who wants to read about the same things over and over again? I certainly don’t, and I think that I really do try and keep writing about different subjects, though I admit that that’s not always easy. The political situation in Israel and abroad provides plenty of ammunition for any number of blogs (which is essentially what newspapers contain), but I don’t want to be constantly harping on about politics. It’s true that there’s always something happening in that respect, but there are plenty of other sources of information and opinion on that topic elsewhere.

I started writing this blog some time in 2012, so I suppose one could say I do indeed have staying power. After I had been writing my monthly article for the AJR Journal (Association of Jewish Refugees) in England for some time (I started in late 2003), I found myself wanting to say something about various subjects on a far more frequent basis. One article a month was just not enough! So, after having failed to persuade that august publication to appear on a weekly rather than a monthly basis, I enlisted the help of one of my sons and set up this blog. Since then I have been writing a post on average once a week. Although it’s not always so easy to find something to write about, usually something does turn up.

Just like the email I got from WordPress the other day.

 

 

Taking it Easy

photo (41)

 

After some difficult weeks in which my OH was obliged to attend to structural damage to property of ours caused by an incompetent contractor working for a neighbor, I managed to persuade him to book us a weekend in a hotel by the Dead Sea, so that I could recover from that stressful time.

My ploy worked, and we were able to spend a couple of days on holiday from our hectic retirement schedule (courses given and attended). The hotels along the shore of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth, offer a myriad of relaxing and invigorating treatments and delights, ranging from salt- and fresh-water swimming pools, the sea itself, as well as spas that offer all kinds of pampering designed to make the individual feel relaxed and rejuvenated.

The waters and minerals of the Dead Sea supposedly have all kinds of medical benefits, and in the past tourists from all over the world would come to experience the special ambience and treatments. I encountered very few foreign tourists on this particular weekend, though that doesn’t mean that they weren’t there, perhaps in other hotels.

The region has undergone extensive development in recent years so that in addition to a great many hotels there are now beautiful promenades and beaches providing shade and amenities as well as readily accessible paths along which sporty types can be seen taking their early-morning exercise, or simply walking, whether singly or in twos or threes.

Another feature of life by the Dead Sea is the plentiful food on offer in the hotels. The staff attending to the guests in the dining room of the hotel where we were staying were in evidence wherever one turned, clearing plates away, cleaning the tables and the floors, and providing service with a smile at all times.

Our room was spacious, the bed comfortable and the hotel showered us with treats, ranging from a bowl of fruit to chocolates, a cake and a bottle of wine. The view of the Dead Sea and the Mountains of Moav on the other side was a fascinating backdrop to our brief vacation, and the ever-changing scenery of the mountains constituted a challenge to my attempts to paint them, ranging from an indistinct blur in the morning to a spectacular pink and gold glow for five minutes in the afternoon and reflected in the water as in a mirror. I tried to capture the effect in paint, but I fear that I failed miserably.

photo (37)

Nonetheless, it was a decidedly well-fed, rested and relaxed couple that drove back to Jerusalem on Sunday morning —  in stark contrast to the tense wretches who had made their way down to the sea on Thursday afternoon.

 

 

 

 

The Life and Times of ‘Call the Midwife’

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baby

 The TV series, ‘Call the Midwife,’ which is based on Jennifer Worth’s book of that name about her own experiences of working as a midwife in the impoverished East End of post-war London, has aroused widespread interest and enthusiasm, first in Britain and subsequently all over the world. Everybody has been born, of course, but not everyone has been privileged to take part in the miracle of birth. Most women have, probably, whether attended by a midwife or doctor, and some lucky ones even with their husband or partner at their side. But bringing this momentous yet mundane event before a mass audience is a major undertaking, which Heidi Thomas’ book attempts to portray.

Because of the time and place in which the series is set, the East End of London after WWII, the producers and directors placed particular emphasis on achieving the authentic feel of the time and place. This book provides some insight into the tremendous lengths that were gone to in order to ensure that this authenticity was attained. Thus, extensive research was undertaken, journals and magazines of the time were studied closely, and clothing, furnishings, household items, cosmetics and even baby clothes were sought in order to match the styles and materials available then. The midwives in the series are associated with a convent, and we are also given a glimpse into the lives of the nuns. The actors – mainly  actresses – come  across as very authentic characters, and the ‘interviews’ with their characters as that appear in the series indicate how very successfully they have entered into the mindset of the  individuals they portray.

In the 1950s, which I remember as a child, England was beginning to emerge from the general constraints and rationing imposed by the Second World War; at the same time the National Health was being introduced. This brought immense benefits, particularly to the poorer segments of the population, radically changing the way medical treatment was provided. The sight of a midwife on her bicycle on her way to attend a home delivery is no longer the norm, as it was then. Home deliveries, often without any form of pain alleviation, which characterized the process of delivery and birth until relatively recently, are now very much a thing of the past, and most babies (at least in the Western world) are born in hospitals.

Childbirth is fraught with many dangers, both to mother and child, and the progress that has been made in so many areas of  medical science means that infant mortality rates have dropped all over the world, as have fatalities among puerperal mothers. The TV series shows rigorous adherence to the medical procedures known at the time, with emphasis on maintaining hygiene – no easy matter in the circumstances in which many people lived in the East End.

As well as the advice and help given by the author of the book on which the series was based but who unfortunately died while filming was in progress, the series had the benefit of a resident midwifery consultant, and to this viewer’s unprofessional eye it all seemed very authentic. The book takes the reader behind the scenes, telling us where all those gorgeous newborns came from and how they were handled with the utmost care.

What affected me most was to read that just as I, together with many viewers, was moved to tears in front of the telly when watching each episode, the same emotion gripped the hardened (mostly male) crews working behind the scenes. The miracle of birth is something we take all very much for granted, but every safe delivery of a healthy baby is indeed a miracle, and the TV series has done a great service in reminding us of that.

 

A Memory to Treasure

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 Yeol Eum Son

Set apart from the usual concerts in the framework of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s subscription series was one entitled ‘First Prize,’ and dedicated to young musicians ‘from east and west’ who had succeeded in various international competitions.

So we bought tickets for a concert with Yeol Eum Son, a young pianist from South Korea. The programme was particularly attractive: Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto, followed by Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto. What a feast!

The conductor, Arie Vardi, who is also a professor at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien in Hannover, Germany, has taught many illustrious pianists, and it is with him that Yeol Eum Son is currently studying. As the two came onto the stage to start the performance it was obvious that there was a warm rapport between them.

Choosing to play any two classical concerti in one programme obviously represents a huge challenge for any soloist, and in this case this was particularly the case. Both concerti start with deceptively simple melodies which then go on to become ever-more complex. This is particularly so with the Rachmaninov concerto, which requires both physical endurance and power as well as sensitivity.

The second movement, Allegro Moderato, of Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto has always been one of my favourites, displaying a heart-warming dialogue between the aggressive ‘forte’ of the orchestra and the calm, moderate notes played by the piano. I always regard it as a conversation between one rather angry person and another who speaks consistently in a serene and unruffled way. Much to my satisfaction, it is the harsh, angry tones of the orchestra which eventually succumb to the moderate ones of the piano, so that in the end the two blend together and play a gentle tune to conclude the movement. I don’t believe that Beethoven had ever heard of the concepts of Yin and Yang, but in this case it is the Yin, or gentle, feminine aspect, that overcomes the gruff, masculine Yang, and that is something which I personally find particularly satisfying.

Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto places huge technical and physical demands on any soloist, let along one so young, and even more so one who has just played another demanding piano concerto. But Miss Eum Son sailed through it without any evident effort, playing all those crashing chords and rippling runs with verve and gusto, never seeming to flag.

At the end, acceding to the audience’s rapturous applause, the soloist played an encore (one of Chopin’s frothy impromptus). Maestro Vardi was obviously very proud of his talented student, and as the audience continued to applaud he gestured to indicate that she should play yet another encore. At this, however, his prize student balked, and an expression of something that looked like revulsion or distaste (or perhaps simple exhaustion) suffused her delicate features, and so the concert came to an end.

One more remark is in place with regard to the attire worn by the young soloist. The pattern was the same for both halves of the concert, but the colour of the fabric was black in the first half and gold in the second. The dress was reminiscent of something that jazz singer Shirley Bassey used to wear in performance – slinky, clinging and long, with an extremely low-cut back, exposing rather a lot of skin. I suppose it’s good to have a figure that can carry off something like that, but it’s a bit of a distraction for the members of the audience, and especially the men, as I gathered from the conversations I overheard during the interval.

Notwithstanding, it was a pleasure and a privilege to hear this gifted young pianist play. I’m sure we will be hearing about her for many years to come.

The Situation in Israel

 

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It always looks worse from the outside than the actual situation on the ground. Of course, wherever and whenever violent attacks occur there is mayhem, often with tragic consequences, but life in Israel goes on pretty much as normal everywhere else, though there is a noticeably greater police and military presence.

Walking through the centre of modern Jerusalem the other day the only remarkable feature was the lack of anything remarkable. People were sitting in outdoor cafes enjoying the sunshine and the delicacies on offer. Tourists were enjoying ice-creams as they strolled along the pedestrian mall, trying to decide which souvenirs to buy. Shops seemed to be doing good business and it was not always easy to find an attendant to take one’s money.

The question is, who gains from stirring up these attacks? The perpetrators are almost invariably shot and killed. The physical damage they inflict is not always as lethal as they had hoped, and the resulting security clampdown and destruction of family homes is scarcely beneficial to their community.

It would seem that those who suffer the most are the shopkeepers and stallholders of the Old City, as few Israelis are prepared to venture there today and tourists are less inclined to frequent the narrow alleys and streets. There are enough attractions and ancient sites in modern Jerusalem to keep any tourist busy for days on end.

What has been achieved, however, is a reinforcement of intransigence on the part of Israelis who might previously have been inclined to cede parts of Jerusalem and the Territories to Palestinian control. What hope is there for peaceful coexistence if murderous violence is apt to erupt whenever one Palestinian agency or another decides to incite its youngsters to take up knives and stab Jews whenever and wherever they can?

It’s no use telling us that ‘they just want their own country,’ as I heard when I was in London a few years ago. Is that why they did their utmost to destroy Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973? Is that why rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza ever since Israeli troops pulled out of the Strip and handed it over, lock stock and barrel, to the Palestinians? Why did they not seize the opportunity to create a flourishing state of their own instead of destroying everything in sight and launching murderous attacks on their neighbours? It might be worth recalling that in 1929, long before Israel’s establishment, the Moslem residents of Hebron rioted and killed Jews indiscriminately, completely annihilating the Jewish population of the town.

Yes, they have succeeded in creating an atmosphere of enmity and possibly even fear, but that too shall pass. Israel has experienced similar outbreaks of hostility from time to time and eventually these have abated, whether as a result of harshly repressive measures or through an effort to engage in dialogue with the other side.

While Israel’s Messianic Zionists, are doing their utmost to arouse feelings of anger among Moslems by organizing demonstrative outings to the Temple Mount there are pinpricks of light here and there where Palestinians and Israelis stand side by side and refuse to be drawn into the senseless cycle of aggression and enmity.

The sad fact remains, however, that the forces of reason, those segments of Israel’s Jewish population who once thought that coexistence alongside a Palestinian state was possible, are diminishing daily, as they are confronted by the all-pervasive intransigence. Given the current atmosphere on both sides, there does not seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel. But then again, life goes on, and is sometimes full of surprises.

 

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