What are your Plans?

 

In my youth, that was the question that a beloved uncle would always ask the younger members of the family. The only problem was that his heavy German accent would make us laugh, quite apart from the fact that, frivolous young people that we were, we were not in the habit of making plans about our future. We were at school and were simply continuing along the path that had been laid out for us by society, never really thinking about the future.

Today that’s one question that is well-nigh impossible to answer. In the current situation of uncertainty it’s virtually out of the question to make any plans for either the near or the distant future. It’s a terrible blow for adults accustomed to being in charge of their lives, as well as for anyone wondering where to spend their next vacation, what to study at university, or which profession to pursue.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a devastating combination of turmoil and uncertainty to many lives. There can be very few people on the planet who are untouched by some aspect of it, even if by some lucky chance they are still able to earn a living, although this is not the case for most people since almost all economic activity has come to a stop. Older people like myself, especially those with underlying illnesses, began to avoid going outside even earlier. I, for example, haven’t left my house for a month other than to potter about a bit in my garden.

The change in lifestyle hasn’t been so radical for those of us who are in retirement, even a relatively active one. Attending classes and lectures is something that used to break the routine, since we no longer had a place of work to go to, but it was not a hard-and-fast duty, more of a social and intellectual diversion. The same goes for attending concerts, plays, or other cultural events. I personally miss the occasional thrill of putting on nice clothes and going out to attend a performance of some kind, but one soon learns to live without it. There are plenty of musical and dramatic performance on TV and the internet, as well as the constant musical background provided by the radio, so that we are not totally deprived of intellectual stimulation and the music we love. It goes without saying that the digital world is full of a wide range of entertainment and educational content. It also enables us to remain in contact with friends and family.

But the question remains – what lies ahead? How long will we remain cooped up in our houses (some of us less ‘cooped’ than others)? And what will the world look like when all ‘this’ is finally over? I don’t share the view of some people, namely, that things will go back to being just as they were before. In fact, that’s hardly likely to happen given the economic upheaval that most countries – Israel included – have undergone, and the heavy financial burden that governments and individuals are having to bear.

For a start, I’m convinced that the period of lockdown will lead to the breakdown of many marriages and relationships, that many people’s mental stability will be undermined, and that many features of the social fabric that bound our society beforehand will wither and die. People will have become more accustomed to the solitary life and feel less need of social interaction.

I imagine that the double whammy of the prolonged enforced closure of cafés and restaurants and financial hardship on all sides will prevent many such enterprises from opening their doors again. Not all those people who have lost their jobs will find employment again, and the general level of prosperity in society will be far lower than it has been in the recent past, leading to a lower standard of living for everyone.

Maybe, if we’re lucky, people will be kinder and gentler towards one another once the crisis is over. However, if human nature is anything to go by, the dog-eats-dog attitude will rise to the surface, competition for assets, jobs, even food, will be fierce and any return to the normality we once knew will be a long way down the road.

As for plans, it’s best to remind ourselves of the old adage ‘man proposes and God disposes.’ Whatever plans we had have probably gone awry (I know mine have), and there’s little point in wasting time and energy thinking about the future.

But we humans are social beings and our minds are adaptable. We will get used to the ‘new normal’ that lies ahead, and perhaps the best thing to do now is to prepare ourselves mentally and physically to confront a different world from the one we have known till now.

What Next?

  

There’s too much drama going on in my life. First there’s the coronavirus and all its ramifications – seclusion, isolation, alienation, claustrophobia, agorophobia, to name but a few.

And on top of all that, there’s the political situation in Israel. First there were three general elections in rapid succession, with none of them producing a clear-cut result. Then one party managed to get its act together and tried to form a government, but the party that was in power refused to step politely aside, so that a lot of time was wasted in political machinations, maneuvering and juggling. When some kind of resolution seemed to be just over the horizon, the Speaker of the Knesset, apparently in cahoots with the prime minister, conducted a series of blocking actions, culminating in his downright refusal to accept the ruling of the Supreme Court that he had to convene the Knesset so that a new Speaker could be appointed.

And all this was going on in the shadow of the pandemic which has left thousands of Israelis – and people all over the world – in inadequately equipped hospitals or at home in isolation, as well as a general lockdown which kept most of the populace confined to home. Now penalties have been introduced for leaving home without having a sufficiently good reason, namely, to get food or medicines.

After a couple of days’ delay while the politicians discussed what to do next, we were suddenly confronted by a fait accompli in which Benny Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White party that had been challenging the Likud and Bibi Netanyahu for domination of the government, threw his lot in with the very man he had been denouncing as an indicted criminal. By accepting a post in his government Gantz caused a split in his party and its virtual disintegration. The compromise of a rotating premiership is supposedly the solution, but the general view is that Netanyahu’s undertaking to cede his position after eighteen months will never be met.

There are two schools of thought about Gantz. One says that he showed that he is inept and weak, and above all self-seeking, although he claims that he acted as he did in order to bring unity to the country and end the political deadlock. The other school claims that Gantz proved that he is a consummate politician in being able to break the promises he made during the election process and stab his colleagues in the back.

One way or another, it’s a conclusion of sorts to the political impasse in which Israel has been stuck for the last year or two, with some hope of a decent outcome somewhere in the future.

All that remains to be resolved is the issue of the coronavirus, and there’s no knowing how and when that will end. Meanwhile, we senior citizens continue to remain at home, trying to keep ourselves occupied and entertained with the various means at our disposal. Hurrah for the wonders of modern electronic communications.

Keeping Our Heads Above Water

The situation is going from bad to worse. Everywhere. In every country, every town and village, every house and every apartment. People who are lucky enough to have a home to stay in should be counting their blessings. I should be counting my blessings. But it’s getting harder with each passing day.

The nightly news programmes on TV here in Israel are full of gloom and doom, with predictions from health and financial experts of the awful fate awaiting many of us. The icing on the cake comes in the form of the almost-nightly harangue from our ‘beloved leader’ telling us of the latest restrictions and attendant penalties awaiting us on the morrow. Each such harangue is peppered with supposedly casual references to that person’s wonderful relations with foreign leaders, great achievements in Israel’s general situation and transparent digs at his political opponents.

The fact that Israel’s current political situation is a mess is due in no small measure to the manipulations and shenanigans of that particular leader. I’m reminded of Dickens’ Artful Dodger, who is both clever, sly and dishonest while presenting a front of being kind-hearted. Another fictional character who comes to mind is one from a satirical series on Israeli TV from several years ago, ‘Polishuk,’ which portrays a politician who is initially out of his depth in the murky waters of Israeli politics but eventually becomes as corrupt and self-seeking as the rest of the pack.

But enough of this Bibi-bashing. The sad fact of the matter is that after having held three general elections within a year Israel is still without a government, so that the acting prime minister is in a position to use his powers to manipulate the political situation, paralyse the parliament and the system of due legal process, control the air-waves and even introduce an emergency order permitting the government to snoop into citizen’s private phones. Hasn’t he ever read or at least heard of George Orwell (‘1984,’ ‘Animal Farm’), Aldous Huxley (‘Brave New World’), or even our own Arthur Koestler (‘Darkness at Noon’). Each one of those seminal works, not to mention many others, provides an object lesson in what happens when the democratic process is undermined or even overthrown because ruthless, ambitious politicians have set their minds to it. The situation they describe may be fictional, but the world has seen it happen more than once.

In Israel’s case, all those anti-democratic actions are compounded and in fact justified by the current coronavirus scare. It provides a convenient weapon for setting aside all the processes by which Israel’s democracy has been sustained throughout the seventy-two years of its existence.

As we watch the dissolution of due legal process and total disregard for democratic institutions we are obliged to remain confined to our homes, but it feels as if we are drowning and the lifeguard has taken leave of absence.

We can only hope that somehow, someone will come to our rescue and enable us at least to keep our heads above the water.

 

Splendid Isolation

I’m ready. I had no need to stock up on toilet paper, pasta, tins of food or any other staple, as I am always certain to have good supplies of those items. Anyone, like myself, who has lived in Israel, and especially Jerusalem, for over fifty years, has learned to always be well supplied with good stocks of foodstuffs.

It probably started with the siege of Jewish Jerusalem in the framework of the 1948 War of Independence, when the single road to Jerusalem was cut off from the coastal plain by the Arabs whose villages dominated the surrounding hillsides. Many young lives were lost when the armoured convoys bringing food to the beleaguered city were attacked and routed. The rusting wrecks of the burnt-out vehicles in which they died still stand along the side of the road, reminding us of the price that was paid to liberate the capital.

My first experience of having to stockpile food was in the run-up to the Six Day War in 1967, and I’m not sure I was fully aware of the potential gravity of the situation. In the event, the fighting was mercifully brief, and the resulting victory meant that the small grocery stores of the time (there were hardly any supermarkets then) could resume normal business fairly quickly.

But then came the massive, unexpected snowstorm that winter, and once again supplies were limited. The thrill of being snowbound soon wore off, and anyone, like me, who hadn’t learned her lesson in June was made to learn it in January.

There have been other wars and snowstorms since then, but by now I’m an old hand at the business of making sure I always have well-stocked kitchen cabinets, as well as plentiful supplies in my freezer and fridge.

So I was not among the masses who rushed to buy toilet paper and other necessities when the coronavirus scare hit us. However, I did venture out to the supermarket early one morning to make sure I had a sufficient supply of chocolate biscuits (imported from the UK), good chocolate (imported from Switzerland) and wine (both local and imported). As a matter of policy I did not take a trolley (handles full of germs), put the few items I had bought into my shopping bag and proceeded to the express checkout, where there were fewer customers.

So I’m not worried. Moreover, the idea of self-isolation is not totally alien to me. We Brits aren’t used to all the hugging and kissing that goes on in social interaction in the warm countries of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. We may go along with it in order not to stand out like a sore thumb, but it doesn’t really come naturally to us. After all, the term ‘splendid isolation’ originated in British diplomatic policy of the nineteenth century, and served the country very well at the time. Social interaciton in the UK is usually limited to a cool handshake, and it is no great sacrifice to forgo it.

In addition, anyone like myself who has spent many years working from home as a free-lance translator must have either a natural or an acquired inclination to working in isolation. So all in all, the idea of self-isolation suits me fine as long as I’m sure I’m well equipped with the basic necessities of life: chocolate and wine. If I’m left alone and have the things I need I can self-isolate for a year, if need be.

OH, AH, CORONA!

The Corona virus, also known as COVID 19, is spreading steadily throughout the world. At first it seemed to be confined to one region of China, then to other places in the Far East, but now it’s getting closer every day, appearing first in Italy and then in the rest of Europe, the Middle East and now even Israel.

The unfortunate Israelis who happened to be on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, commonly known in Israel as the Corona Ship, were first confined to their cabins for a fortnight, then isolated in Japan, and when finally allowed to return to Israel (not all of them though, as a few were found to be carriers before being able to board the plane bringing them to Israel, so had to remain behind), only to be subjected to another two weeks of isolation in a hospital in Israel. One sad result of this was that one couple had to be separated, the wife returning to Israel and the husband remaining in isolation in Japan. Those two happen to live quite near to me in Mevasseret, though I do not know them personally. I’ve read about them in the local paper, and my sympathies certainly go out to them.

Meanwhile, a group of tourists from South Korea who visited various holy places and sites in Israel were found to be infected with the virus on their return to Korea. Unfortunately, several classes of middle-school pupils happened to have been visiting the same sites just then, and several hundred of them are now in isolation in their own homes. Israelis returning from Italy and various countries of the Far East have been told to remain in self-imposed isolation in their homes for two weeks following their arrival, though no controls are imposed on how they are supposed to reach those homes. Obviously, they should not use public transport, but who can control that? Henceforth anyone returning from any of those countries will have to go into voluntary isolation for two weeks at home, and in fact flights to and from those countries have been banned. Many people have cancelled flights to anywhere and everywhere.

At the recent general election special isolation polling booths were set up in various parts of the country, manned by people in protective suits. These provided special double envelopes into which the unfortunate individuals were supposed to insert their ballot slips. How they could be removed without risk of infection beats me, but it appears to have been done, to everyone’s satisfaction.

Some twenty or so Israelis who have returned from Italy have been found to be infected, and some of them have already infected others, so there’s no knowing how far the disease will spread. We are assured that the disease is not much worse than influenza, but people over the age of sixty-five are apparently particularly vulnerable and are liable to die as a result of contracting the virus. Help! That’s me, and a lot of my friends. The remedy would seem to be to stay at home, but that’s rather a lot to ask of people who are anyway fairly cut off from the world.

Every now and again the radio broadcasts the news that another Israeli has been found to have caught the virus, and that he (or she) recently returned on a flight from Italy, and all the passengers who happened to be on flight XYZ are requested to remain at home for the next two weeks.

At a recent family celebration to mark the arrival of a new baby I declined to kiss and be kissed by any of my relatives. I felt terrible doing this, and explained it by pointing out that I’m in a high-risk group. Even shaking hands is supposed to be potentially dangerous, but I couldn’t bring myself to refrain from doing that.

We have attended a concert and a performance of an opera (Rossini’s ‘Barber of Seville’) in the last couple of weeks, and didn’t see anyone wearing a mask. In the ‘Barber of Seville’ one of the characters feigns illness, and in the Hebrew translation of the Italian libretto the reference to someone having been ill was changed to read that he should have been in isolation. That brought a smile to everyone’s lips, and even some very restrained laughter.

Someone I know was due to return to Israel from the USA with a stop-over in Italy. This would have meant staying home for two weeks with no ability to work, go shopping or see anyone. His friend, a relative of mine who is now based in the USA, spent over an hour on the phone with the airline to change the stop-over destination. Eventually he succeeded, though I’m not sure whether this incurred an extra cost.

One thing is sure, however, and that is that an increasing number of people are curtailing their visits to the cinema, sports events, and even going to the supermarket. I’ve been told to take disinfectant wipes with me wherever I go so that I can attempt to clean any surfaces, e.g., supermarket trolley handles, airplane armrests, hotel light switches and remote controls, etc.

All this is having a deleterious effect on the domestic and global economy, and it only remains to be seen how long this train of events will continue to batter us all.

 

‘My Grandfather’s Gallery’ by Anne Sinclair

 

Based on extensive research, the author describes what happened to the Paris art gallery that her grandfather, Paul Rosenberg, owned and directed in the first part of the twentieth century, until the invasion and occupation of France by the Germans in 1940. When France was taken over by the Germans all Jews, including the Rosenbergs, were deprived of their citizenship and property. In its heyday the Rosenberg Gallery exhibited the works of painters such as Matisse, Braque, Picasso and others, with whom Paul Rosenberg maintained warm relations and in some cases, especially that of Picasso, a close friendship. Many of these artists were defined as ‘degenrate’ by the Nazis, although that did not prevent them from using these works for their own ends, often selling them to museums and collectors who paid handsomely for them.

The imposing building at 21 Rue la Boétie which housed the gallery is still standing, and Anne Sinclair describes with pride the moment when she was honoured with the task of unveiling the white marble plaque on the façade of the building commemorating her grandfather and the artists with whom he had been associated. The plaque was the initiative of the present owner of the building, a certain M. Thélot, who had come across the author’s previous book,’21 Rue La Boétie,’ about the gallery and its association with the artists of the time.

While this book presents some material that is to be found in the previous one, it focuses to a greater extent on the character of the author’s grandfather, his relations with the painters he exhibited, and the spoliation and expropriation of his property and the contents of the gallery by the Nazis. On the basis of her research in both private and public archives, Anne Sinclair describes the process by which the Nazis seized works of art. She also names several of the French individuals who aided and abetted them in this process.

Anne Sinclair is pitiless in describing the actions of such individuals as the concierge of the building and the secretary of the art gallery, people whom the Rosenberg family – which lived above the gallery – considered to be friends, in enabling the Nazis to take over the building and seize its concents. What had once been an art gallery became the IEQJ (Institute d’Etude des Questions Juives, Institute for the Study of Jewish Questions), festooned with anti-Semitic posters and slogans and the centre of anti-Jewish propaganda in France. Individuals who had come into contact with the Rosenbergs after they fled from Paris and sought refuge in the vicinity of Bordeaux also participated willingly in the looting of what property—mainly art works—they had managed to take with them.

Ultimately, with the help of Alfred Barr, Paul Rosenberg’s friend and the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the family was able to enter the USA after making their way across Spain to Portugal. They spent the war years in New York, where Anne was born, and Paul managed to establish his gallery there. Once the war was over, however, they returned to France and Paul began his campaign of trying to obtain compensaton and reclaim the property that had been stolen from him. This involved going through courts in France, Germany and Switzerland, and Sinclair assesses that he managed to obtain about sixty of the four hundred valuable paintings that had been in his possession before the war.

In an ironic twist of history, it was Paul’s son, Alexandre Rosenberg, a lieutenant in the Free French army under General Leclerc, who was one of the Resistance members who stopped and liberated the last train of looted art that the Nazis were trying to send to Germany. Alexandre eventually took over the running of the gallery from his father, but for various reasons eventually decided to wind the business down. Many of the paintings recovered by Paul Rosenberg were donated to museums in the USA and France.

 

Music and Politics

 

Two politicians in Israel recently referred to music in one context or another. This made me prick up my ears and pay attention, which is not something I usually do when I come across statements by politicians, in Israel or anywhere else.

The first was the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. When asked why he preferred to stand trial for the crimes and misdemeanours of which he is accused, he replied (not his exact words, but the gist of them): “The judges in Jerusalem go to synagogue and the judges in Tel Aviv go to the Philharmonic.” What he was implying was that the judges in Jerusalem are honest, god-fearing people, while the ones in Tel Aviv are hedonistic heathen.

As someone who prefers attending a concert by the Philharmonic to going to a synagogue service, I find that statement and its implications inherently offensive, even barbaric, indicating what is to me an incomprehensible antipathy to the high culture embodied in classical music and a preference for chauvinistic traditionalism. I would hope, however, that members of Israel’s judicial system, even if observant Jews living in Jerusalem, would not allow their decisions to be swayed by religious considerations. But of course, there’s no way of knowing how things will turn out in the final event. On the other hand, what can one expect from a prime minister who appoints a Minister of Culture who makes no secret of her disdain for opera, classical music, world literature, and anything associated even vaguely with ‘Kulchur,’ to use Ezra Pound’s term.

The other, less senior, politician, one Yoaz Hendel, who is a member of the Blue-White party, referred to the differences in Israel’s population as being exemplified in the fact that some of them come from backgrounds that involve attending concerts in Vienna while others come from an environment where the beat of the ‘darbuka’ (a kind of drum used in music originating from North Africa) prevails. This statement, apparently made in an attempt to describe Israel’s cultural diversity, was pounced upon by interested parties and used as a political weapon to denigrate the supposed tenet of ‘cultural superiority’ held by Israelis of European origin.

How much truth there is in either statement is open to question. To condemn all judges who attend concerts of classical music, whether in Tel Aviv or anywhere else, seems to me to be the height (or perhaps depths) of prejudice and ignorance. Not only is that statement a sweeping and probably erroneous generalization, it is also irrelevant. But I suppose at a time when Netanyahu is standing with his back to the wall and facing a future criminal trial as well as possible humiliation in the upcoming general election, no statement can be regarded as too outrageous given the situation.

As for the cultural diversity of Israel’s population, making a contrast between western classical music and the music preferred by that segment of the population that originates from North Africa is too stark and simplistic. There are infinite variations and groupings regarding cultural and musical preferences between the two extremes, as well as some cross-over of preferences between and among groupings. But politicians are prone to speak in generalisations and over-simplifications, whether in order to gain attention, win votes or simply pander to their supposed electorate.

The bottom line is that as Israel’s ever-more-demoralized population prepares to go to the voting booth for the third time in a year, with no foreseeable realistic hope of avoiding a fourth round, its politicians are resorting to increasingly outrageous statements aimed at rousing the electorate from its inertia and possibly even changing its mind about whom to vote for.

I have never voted for Netanyahu, and his latest antics convince me that I never will. As for Yoaz Hendel, well, he’s still young and ambitious, probably eager for attention, no matter how it’s achieved. He has claimed that his words were taken out of context, but even in context politicians should be very careful about what they say. And even more so, about what they do.

 

The Pervasiveness of Anti-Semitism

By some strange coincidence – or perhaps not – in the same week as many world leaders gathered in Jerusalem to mark (celebrate?) the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I was in the middle of reading a book about one child’s experience of anti-Semitism. And that child’s experience reminded me of one of my own at a similar age.

The event described in the book ‘O Vous frères humains’ (O ye Human Brethren). by French author Albert Cohen took place in Marseille in 1905, on the author’s tenth birthday. As he was walking home from school he encountered a street vendor around whom a small crowd had gathered. Fascinated by the objects on sale, the child bought some trinkets with the money his mother had given him for his birthday. Noticing his dark curly hair and dark eyes, the vendor proceeded to hurl epithets at him, ‘Dirty Jewboy! We don’t like bloodsucking Yids here, Shove off.’ etc. Adding insult to injury, the people standing around him laughed or did nothing.

Anguished and stunned, the boy wandered away and the rest of the book consists of the thoughts that run through his head, his inability to reconcile the insults he has heard with the knowledge of his parents’ kindness, the history of the Jews, the biblical injunction to ‘love thy neighbour,’ compounded by Christianity’s teachings of kindness and love. Worse still, as he wanders along, the boy comes across slogans such as ‘Death to the Jews,’ and ‘Dirty Jews,’ scrawled on walls, and these only serve to intensify his confusion and desolation.

Of course, the emphasis at the gathering to mark the liberation of Auschwitz was on the wholesale massacre of the Jews of Europe, and justifiably so, but Albert Cohen points out that the anti-Semitism he encountered as a child, and which came not long after the Dreyfus trial in France, was endemic throughout most of Europe, and eventually led to the Holocaust, which is now known officially in France by the Hebrew word Shoah.

And the anti-Semitism that pervaded Christian Europe even found its way to my ten-year-old self, as I lay in hospital in London, with a suspected (but eventually unconfirmed) case of scarlet fever. No visitors were allowed, though I was able to receive parcels of sweets and chocolates, and even the occasional much-yearned-for reading material. The nurses, many of them Irish, were practical, generally getting on with the job in hand without bestowing great affection on their young patients. My one consolation was being able to listen to the ward radio, with the customary sequence of light music and talk programmes broadcast in those days on the BBC’s Light Programme

One day, the bed nearest the radio became vacant, and I asked Maureen, one of the nurses, whether I could move there. She helped me with what I thought was a good will. But when I found that my arm was just too short or the bed too far away for me to reach the radio to adjust the volume, I asked if it could be moved a bit nearer to me. At that she exploded. ‘You Jews,’ she said. ‘Next thing you’ll want to sit at the right hand of God!’

I had never heard that phrase, had no idea what it meant, but knew instinctively that it was an insult. I had never been slighted before for being Jewish (or not knowingly, as there were probably others I was too naïve to recognize as such), and felt totally crushed by what the nurse had said. Alone in my hospital bed I began to cry, and just could not stop. The separation from home had been long and hard, and this was just the last straw. I continued to cry, refusing to answer the doctors’ and nurses’ questions as to the reason for it, as that was in fact something I was unable to put into words. Screens were put round my bed and medical staff peered round them at me from time to time. Eventually it was decided that I should be discharged. And so it was that at last I was able to go home and be reunited with my family.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this little incident was nothing very grave, though how a nurse can bring herself to insult a ten-year-old child in hospital escapes me. The age-old spectre of religious and cultural hatred of Jews, of being castigated for being different, the myth of their supposedly grasping nature and sense of superiority can– and does – pop up unexpectedly anywhere at any time. It makes me wonder how many of those world leaders’ declarations of ‘never again’ and ‘we will never forget’ will stand the test of time.

‘O vous frères humains’ by Albert Cohen

Albert Cohen wrote this book jn 1972 when he was eighty years old and approaching death, as he states early on in the book. It describes his experiences and emotions when, on his tenth birthday, he encountered a street vendor in Marseille, where he was living at the time. A small crowd had gathered around, and the boy was fascinated by the colourful goods the vendor was selling, so bought some trinkets with the money his mother had given him for his birthday. The vendor noticed the boy’s dark hair and eyes and began insulting him for being Jewish, telling him to ‘shove off, scum,’ and ‘we don’t like dirty bloodsucking Jews here.’ The people around him either laughed or kept quiet, adding to the boy’s pain.

Stunned and anguished, the boy left the group and wandered through the streets, trying to understand what had happened, coming up with all kinds of fantasies, analysing the epithets that had been hurled at him, and wondering why it was his fate to be so accursed and reviled.

The remainder of the book consists of the whirlwind of thoughts and ideas that go through the mind of that ten-year-old boy, associations with biblical events and characters, the history of the persecution of Jews throughout the generations. Particularly prominent is the association with Christ and Christianity, whose principal teaching is ‘love for others,’ clearly taken from the biblical injunction to ‘love thy neighbour.’ The irony of this association recurs throughout the book, as the reviled Jewish child tries to reconcile the insults that have been hurled at him and his race with his affection for his mother and other people, whom he knows to be good and kind. All the time, as he wanders aimlessly through the streets of the city, seeing people talking and laughing as they sit in cafes, his mind is churning, trying to find ways to make non-Jews like him, thinking up all kinds of wild and unlikely strategies and strategems to achieve this.

Addng insult to injury, as he wanders along, in a turmoil of emotions, the child encounters the words ‘Death to the Jews,’ and ‘Dirty Jews,’ scrawled on walls. These slogans only add to his confusion and distress, and suddenly he seems to see them wherever he turns. He is a child, but his thoughts are expressed in the language of an adult, with repeated use of a rich and varied vocabulary. The phrases used to abuse him continue to reverberate in his head, alongside his understanding of Jewish and general history, his expression of patriotic love for France, and his aching desire to love non-Jews and be loved by them.

Acknowledging that he himself was spared the horrors of the Holocaust, yet able to describe the situation and the emotions it aroused in the victims, the author points out that there is a direct line between the germ of hatred of Jews that has persisted for thousands of years and the death camps of the Holocaust in the supposedly enlightened twentieth century.

At the conclusion of the book the child returns home, only to encounter his parents as they are on their way back from the police station, where they have gone to report his disappearance. At home he tells his parents what happened as they sit in his parents’ bedroom, and the three of them weep together. In the final chapter the author issues a plea to all humankind to be kind to one another and put an end to hatred.

 

The Paradox of Life in Israel

 

Whether the sun is shining or the blessed rain is falling, our life in Israel continues to provide us with interest and amusement as well as frustration and annoyance.

Our homes, or at least those of most people, are warm and dry. The roads are well-kept on the whole, buses and trains run more or less on time, cafes and restaurants provide nourishment and shelter and the daily routine of coming and going, shopping and cooking, looking after children and/or grandchildren, attending lectures, lessons, films, theatres and concerts goes on as usual. Life on the whole, provided one doesn’t live in the area near the Gaza Strip, is reasonably pleasant. It’s only when one opens a newspaper or watches the news on TV that the black mood descends.

Because somewhere, beneath the surface, out there in the sphere of political machinations and manoeuvring, dark currents are at work. I’m talking about Israel, but I know that in other countries similar or worse trends are at work, albeit of a different complexion and intensity. I’m not comparing events in Israel with the drastic developments in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Syria, even Iraq and Iran, where people turn out in mass demonstrations to voice their dissatisfaction with the ruling elite, are beaten, arrested and even shot for daring to do so, and in many cases are even forced to leave their homes for fear of bombardment. That situation has given rise to the refugee problem that is providing us all with harrowing examples of human suffering, reminding us of what happened to Jews in Europe not that long ago and preying on our minds and consciences.

But here in Israel all is not sweetness and light. Far from it. I have always tried to present the more pleasant side of life in Israel, and it certainly exists, political differences notwithstanding. But the grim state of public life at present cannot be ignored. After all, what sane country has to hold three general elections in the space of less than a year?

The fact that Israel’s electorate seems to be almost evenly divided between those on the right and those on the centre-left is creating a situation of near-deadlock every time an election is held. Coalitions coalesce and disintegrate according to the mood of the moment and the inclination of the politicians involved, and still no firm decision can be reached.

The truth is, that a coalition, even a broad, almost wall-to-wall coalition, could in fact be reached were it not for the intransigence of one man, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The sad fact is that he has been indicted on charges of corruption, bribery and similar unsavoury actions, but as long as he is prime minister he cannot be tried before a court of law. Until a week ago he was doing his utmost to evade justice by claiming immunity, and using every trick in the book to stymie due process. In this, sadly but also inevitably, he was aided and abetted by members of his party. The details of the offences with which he has been charged are enough to send any ordinary citizen to jail, and this is obviously a fate he and they would like to avoid. The sad conclusion that seems to emerge is that Israel is being run by a cabal of corrupt kleptocrats who do not care that there is no functioning government, no budget allocations and no stable rule.

So why are Israelis not turning out in their thousands to demand the removal of the ruling elite? If Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish and even Libyan citizens are prepared to put their lives on the line to gain justice, why not us? My personal feeling is that people are either too dispirited by what they see happening, too supportive of that same cabal, or too worn down by the routine grind of earning one’s daily bread and keeping one’s head above the waves that seem to be surging all around us.

Another, third, election looms ahead in a few weeks. We can only hope and pray that this time at least a resolution of some kind can be found. If we don’t all turn out and vote the prospect is that this stalemate will continue indefinitely, with a dreaded fourth round of elections in the offing.