Musical Associations

Of late I have been spending rather a lot (too much) of my time in dentists’ surgeries. Some of the time I have been too frazzled and stupefied (stupid?) to say anything, and have passively committed myself, body and soul, to the expert care of the professional in charge of first anaesthetizing then torturing me.

But now, after many months of supine acceptance, I have managed to gather up some courage, and on my latest visit to the dentist who is dealing with the latter stages of my treatment I actually asked him to change the channel playing the awful popular music that was in the background while I underwent a lengthy procedure. I must admit that I have never managed to be so bold while at the hairdresser, but that is another matter altogether.

Like me, this dentist is originally from England, though from a different (younger) generation. He told me that he, too, has to have some kind of music in the background while working, mainly to distract him from the noise of the drills he uses. I suggested that his assistant turn the dial on the radio to Israel’s classical music programme, and was even able to give her its exact location. For some unknown reason, she was unable to find it (I told her it was FM), but what she did find was Classic FM, straight from Blighty.

Relaxed and happy, I reclined in the patient’s seat as the strains of the second movement of Dvorak’s symphony no.9, ‘From the New World,’ wafted over me.

“This always reminds me of the Hovis advertisement,” the dentist said.

Hovis? Admittedly, Dvorak incorporated the strains of the spiritual ‘Going Home’ in that symphony, but luckily for me, I left the UK long before some bright advertising executive established that particular connection with industrialised bread, thereby ruining that particular piece of music forever for millions of people.

Or am I being too purist? Instead of regarding the music as something abstract and pristine in and of itself, perhaps using Dvorak’s music in a commercial has made it part and parcel of the British heritage, along with fish and chips and ‘Land of Hope and Glory.’.

And then it dawned on me that this has always been the case. Because my parents took my sisters and myself to see the Walt Disney film, ‘Fantasia’ at the Classic Cinema in Baker Street in the 1950s, whenever I hear Beethoven’s symphony no.6, known as the ‘Pastoral’ symphony, I have visions of little winged centaurs cavorting in a magical countryside, sheltering from the rain and the storm, and delighting in the rising sun at the end. The same goes for Ducas’s ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice,’ who was, of course, Mickey Mouse himself.

There is a segment of the music Tchaikovsky wrote for the ‘Nutcracker’ ballet that was used in a TV commercial for margarine many years ago, when I still lived in England. And although I have attended several performances of the ballet, I can never get the words ‘Treat yourself to bread and Magic/After all, you do deserve the best’ out of my head when I hear it.

There was also an advertisement for fish paste which used the March of the Toreadors from Bizet’s ‘Carmen.’ Was it sacrilege or benevolence? I still can’t decide.

To this day, whenever I hear Verdi’s Requiem, whether in live performance or on the radio, I cannot fail to remember the precise point at which the first side of the first LP had to be turned over on the record-player we had in my parents’ home, and to which my father liked to listen every Sunday while he worked at his desk in the next room. I can’t remember if the full set consisted of three or four records, but I do know that it was my job to ensure that the full recording was played to the end.

Who knows? Maybe those bright sparks devising TV commercials have done more to popularise classical music than they realise.

Infiltration (Hitganvut Yehidim) by Joshua Kenaz

The death a few months ago of Israeli author, Joshua Kenaz, led to renewed interest in his work, and impelled me to read this book (published by Am Oved in 1986). For me, reading a novel in Hebrew involves embarking on an enterprise that I know in advance will tax my patience and ability to persevere, especially as in this case the book comprises some six hundred pages of closely-printed Hebrew text. However, I decided to stick the course and acquaint myself with the writing of someone who is considered to be a bulwark of contemporary Israeli literature.

I was not disappointed. The book describes the lives and characters of a group of young conscripts, newly recruited to the Israeli army (IDF), the interaction between them, their conflicts, friendships and animosities, as well as the rigorous training regime they are obliged to undergo. In fact, the group of some thirty eighteen-year-old youngsters is a microcosm of Israeli society in the mid-1950s, the period in which the book is set, and reflects the various socio-political values and tensions that prevailed at the time (and in some respects still do).

At first I found it difficult to distinguish between the various individuals, whose differing mental and physical characteristics come to the fore only in the course of their time together as they undergo military training and the harassment, abuse and bullying they are forced to endure from one another and their officers. Gradually we become acquainted with two main groups: youngsters from established, Ashkenazi homes, some of them from Jerusalem though there is also one from a kibbutz in the north, and youngsters whose parents or they themselves have immigrated from one of the countries of North Africa and who are based in temporary housing designated for new immigrants. The efforts of each group to assert its cultural identity lead to clashes on an individual and collective basis, sometimes even deteriorating to violence.

But gradually ‘exceptions’ emerge, individuals who either by accident or design manage to bridge the gap between the two groups, forming alliances with one sub-group or another, whether on the basis of a love of classical music or an act of friendship or bravery during the training process. In some cases the reader gets a glimpse of the home environment and inner mental processes of certain individuals, while with regard to others the description is more remote (the ‘omniscient narrator’ device). At times this can be confusing, and because there is not always a typographical or textual indication of the switch from internal to external narration, I sometimes had to go back and reread a paragraph or two to get my bearing. The author also descends (ascends?) to a certain amount of general philosophizing in the course of the book, which I personally found unnecessary and less interesting. However, at various points in the book I found myself wondering whether my own children and/or grandchildren have had to endure similar experiences, and feeling pity and chagrin in case they had.

But apart from the frequent shifts in the narrative flow of the book, I found it interesting, insightful and illuminating. Kenaz has a keen ear for the speech patterns of young Israelis, whether newcomers or Sabras, and conveys them – grammatical errors and all —  in a convincing manner. I think the book would have benefited from having an editor to weed out unnecessary wordiness, but all in all I recommend it for the way it presents a portrait of Israeli society, its younger generation, their hopes and dreams, similarities and differences, while presaging the future development of that society.

Incidentally, after finishing the book, I found that it has been translated into English (by Dalia Bilu), which I’m sure was no easy task. Nevertheless, I’m glad I made the effort to read the Hebrew original, and think that it would be a good idea for all young Israelis to read it.


The sight of a crowd of people ascending the steps in front of the building and forcibly entering the American House of Representatives, as happened yesterday and was beamed live all around the world, must have sent shudders down the spine of every freedom-loving individual everywhere.

These things happen in less civilized parts of the world, in countries where democracy is not as deeply entrenched as it is – or purported to be – in the USA, such as countries of Latin America, Africa, and even Asia.

But the worst thing of all is that it was encouraged, if not actually instigated, by the person at the top, the person whose task it is to defend the American Constitution and uphold its institutions – the President of the USA.

Since well before the election was held, Donald Trump has been saying quite openly that if the election turned out not to be in his favor then it would evidently have been rigged by his opponents– the Democratic Party. For months, if not years, he has fabricated, cultivated, and sponsored a conspiracy theory regarding the blatant falsification of the election results. And of course, when the actual results came in, he pursued that line with renewed vigor.

Anyone with any acquaintance with modern history cannot fail to make the comparison with the – ultimately successful – attempt to overthrow democracy in Germany of the 1930s. Far be it from me to equate Trump with Hitler, but there can be no doubt that the level of demagoguery and lying is as blatant.

The strength of American democracy is being put to the test and so far it has held up powerfully. Representatives on both sides of the aisles have condemned the barefaced attempt to undermine and overthrow the democratic process. The tragedy is that large numbers of ordinary American citizens seem only too ready to pursue that line of thought and follow it through with action. It goes against the grain to give those people any credit for being loyal American citizens, and it is painful to realize that only a hair’s breadth stood between the current situation and their victory in the polls. Has half of the American nation become as unhinged as its president?

The analogy with Germany of the 1930s stops at this point, thankfully, because the representatives of the nation stood firm and pushed back at this deliberate attempt to overthrow the democratic process. Considering the value Americans attach to their Constitution, their democratic tradition, and the process by which this is achieved, it is hard to believe that people will so lightly toss all that aside.

Unless, of course, they have been fed a diet of racist lies and delusion, leading to a kind of mass madness that is akin to what happened in Germany.

My greatest fear is that others, particularly in Israel, will regard this unfortunate turn of events as an example to be followed.

File:Donald Trump August 19, 2015 …wikimedia

Education for Girls

My grandchildren, who have grown up in a secular environment in Israel, find it odd that I, their (hopefully) broad-minded grandmother, should have gone to a secondary school for girls. In Israel it is only those segments of the population which adhere to ancient tenets of gender identification that maintain gender-segregated schools for their offspring. In England, where I grew up, the situation was similar but the ideas behind it were different.

Those were different times when I began attending school, back in the 1940s and 1950s. England was recovering from the war and struggling to maintain its place in the world. To my generation of children it seemed the most natural thing in the world to take the eleven-plus exam and be sent according to one’s result to either a grammar school or a secondary-modern (comprehensive) school. Naturally, the aspiration of my refugee parents was that I should be accepted by one of the grammar schools, and that was what indeed happened. I passed the exam and was given a place at a nearby grammar school for girls, the Brondesbury and Kilhurn High School. Secondary-modern schools were mostly co-educational and were considered inferior.

Secondary education for girls had not been widely available for as long as it had been for boys. Even in secular England, for hundreds of years education had been considered suitable only for boys. If a girl could read and write that was fine, but more important was her ability to maintain a home, sew, cook, embroider and fulfil the requirements of the male-dominated society. That was the way society was run, and there were no religious associations involved, to the best of my knowledge.

After all, women were considered inferior intellectually and were not given the vote until 1918 in England, with most European countries following suit soon afterwards. Early in the twentieth century exceptional Englishwomen such as Henrietta Barnett and Philippa Fawcett campaigned for secondary education to be extended to girls, organized financial and moral support and established the first high schools for girls in London and elsewhere. They may have been influenced by the system prevailing in the USA, but they were certainly pioneers in the context of Britain.

Since Israel’s foundation – and even beforehand — the concept of segregation of the sexes was rejected, and most of the country’s institutions, including schools, were based on the principle of gender equality. Thus, the age-cohort that parallels mine took it quite for granted that secondary education should be co-educational. After all, the basic principle underlying society as a whole was that of equality, and only the educational institutions allied with the orthodox Jewish population maintained separation of the sexes. In the 1960s the British education system was radically overhauled, and many of the single-sex secondary schools were dissolved or converted into mixed-gender schools

The question remains whether either of the two systems yields better academic results and psychological benefits. Studies have shown that girls tend to perform better academically in single-sex schools, though it’s not clear what effect co-education has on boys.

Teenage years are difficult enough at the best of times, but it seems to me that restricting youngsters to an environment that bears no correspondence with general society deprives them of the ability to learn to cope with real life. So probably the sooner youngsters learn that the world consists of both boys and girls the healthier it is for all concerned.

‘The Kukotsky Enigma’ by Ludmilla Ulitskaya

In the grand tradition of Russian literature, this book (which has been translated from the Russian by Diane Nemec Ignashev) describes what befalls several generations of a Russian family under the shadow of political events and the sweep of history. It shows the ominousness of towering developments, the minutiae of daily life at different social levels, and the sll-pervading magnificence of the Russian soul.

Pavel Alekseevich Kukotsky is a talented physician, the scion of a long line of physicians, whose ancestors had come from Germany to settle in Peter the Great’s Russia. The period of the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution, caused massive disruption to Russian society. Pavel was already a medical student when his father was killed while serving as a physician in the Russian army.

Pavel’s medical career as a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology leads to his professional concern with treating women suffering from the after-effects of illegal abortions, his determination to legalise this procedure, and his marriage to Elena, one of his patients. Elena comes together with her two-year-old daughter, Tanya (Tanechka), and her devoted family servant, Vasilisa. These four individuals form the basic family unit, albeit united more by association than by blood, on which the entire narrative rests. Various friends, professional associates, neighbours and colleagues also people the pages of the book, and it is through their connections with one another, the vicissitudes of their lives, and the tides of political developments, that we see how events that occur on a larger stage affect the lives of individuals. Throughout the narrative the perils as well as the benefits of pregnancy and childbirth are in evidence.

Pavel Alekseevich is made vaguely aware of Stalin’s intention to discredit and murder Russia’s Jewish doctors and, as the reader may know, because of Stalin’s sudden demise this plan did not come to fruition. Through the characters in the book we are able to experience the general upheaval caused by Stalin’s death and the confusion surrounding the subsequent lying-in-state and funeral. However, life in Moscow for Kukotsky, an esteemed physician, is not disrupted, and the family is even granted a dacha where they can spend summers.

The book contains a middle section which deviates from the narrative flow, and seems to describe some philosophical-transcendental-symbolic process of birth-life-death. Among the figures encountered in this strange, surreal landscape is one known as ‘the Judean,’ which I take to symbolize the eternal Jew. The other figures are equally symbolic and confusing. I must say that I found this part extremely tedious and annoying, even pretentious, and after reading several pages I did something I very rarely do – I skipped it.

Subsequently, the book resumes its chronological course, introducing the reader to a wide range of interesting characters, among them a Jewish intellectual, a colleague of Pavel Kukotsky, whose theorizing about Russian society and its ethnological development gets him into trouble with the authorities, and he is sent yet again to Siberia for a period of exile. His twin sons also play a role in the life of the Kukotsky family, and of Tanya is particular, as does a whole gallery of strange and interesting characters, who wander in and out of the narrative.

The author is evidently familiar with the scientific subjects she describes, and reading the book constitutes an induction of a kind into a wide range of medical terminology and processes. The writing (and the translation) is dense and rich, and apart from one or two typos and malapropisms it reads well. When I finished the book I felt that I had been given a better idea of what it must have been like to live through that period of immense change and turmoil in Russia, and to come through it, if not unscathed, then at least still living, breathing, and kicking.


As Israel rolls inexorably towards its third lockdown (or whatever you want to call it), one cannot help feeling more than slightly peeved (British euphemism for bloody angry) as to how and why we have got to this point.

I personally have rarely left my house for the past nine months, and if I do I always wear a mask over my mouth and nose while trying to stay as far away as possible from other people. My hands are sore from constant washing. It’s true that various relatives have occasionally entered the house, but in most cases we have managed to keep our distance from one another, and we never hug and kiss one another. I fear that I have become an anti-social monster, and may never be able to engage in natural social interaction again.

It would seem, however, that despite constant reminders and prodding by so-called leaders to maintain those few basic rules, the general public is unable or unwilling to abide by them. The evening news on television shows scenes of crowds at Ben-Gurion airport boarding flights to Dubai or Abu Dabi (what for, for God’s sake?), as well as at ultra-orthodox weddings and funerals, and at celebrations in Arab villages. All the passengers on a recent flight that returned from Dubai had to go into quarantine because several of them were found to be infected with Coronavirus. Among those passengers were the head of Hadassah Hospital and several senior civil servants. How ironic. One or another of our political leaders, including our Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, are either getting infected or constantly having to go into quarantine because they have been in contact with infected persons. There seem to be a lot of them around in our ruling circles.

Binyamin Netanyahu doesn’t miss an opportunity to appear on prime time television to vaunt another of the diplomatic achievements for which he claims sole responsibility (together with his arch-ally Donald Trump), or the arrival in Israel of the first batch of anti-Coronavirus vaccines which, too, he claims as his personal success. But where is his leadership when it comes to restricting the increasing rate of infection that threatens to bring the country down economically, not to mention psychologically and socially?

Last night the CEO of a retail chain made a hearfelt and heart-rending appeal on television for shops and shopping malls to remain open in the approaching lockdown. He made the perfectly valid point that while they are not the principal source of the spread of infection, they are the most hard-hit when all or most retail trade is banned during a lockdown. Entry to shopping malls and shops is controlled and supervised, and guards ensure that orderly queues form outside stores when the limit on the number of customers inside has been reached. The sight of crowds of people at the airport and elsewhere give his argument added weight.

It is no consolation to see that lockdowns have been imposed in other countries just as their festive season begins. Israel’s government has had every opportunity to restrict or at least monitor the situation, and instead of doing so seems to be encouraging people to travel to the UAE, where the infection rate is not under control, wringing its hands and protesting that it is powerless to control the situation among the Arabs and the ultra-orthodox Jews.

That being the case, what right does it have to impose restrictions on the entire population and make us all pay for the crimes and misdemeanours of the selfish few?

‘Heretics and Heroes; How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World’ by Thomas Cahill

Although I studied a fair amount of history at school in England, and remember the concepts of Renaissance, Reformation and Counter-Reformation, they seem to have been lost in the mists of time, so when this book appeared on the list of Bibliophilebooks that I receive from time to time I seized the opportunity to refresh my memory of the subject.

Thomas Cahill has written a series of books entitled ‘The Hinges of History,’ dealing with the history of the human race, starting – amazingly enough – with ‘How the Irish Saved Civilization.’ The first of three volumes about ‘The Making of the Ancient World,’ is ‘The Gifts of the Jews,’ and describes ‘how a tribe of desert nomads changed the way everyone thinks and feels,’ while the two other volumes discuss the world before and after Jesus (‘Desire of the Everlasting Hills’) and the importance of the Greeks (‘Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea’). Another volume, ‘Mysteries of the Middle Ages,’ discusses ‘the rise of feminism, science, and art from the cults of Catholic Europe,’ culminating in the current volume, though another volume on ‘The Making of the Modern World,’ is planned.

So we can assume that the author takes an expansive view of history and – hopefully – knows what he’s talking about. He certainly displays a broad canvas in this volume, starting with what he whimsically calls a ‘philosophical tennis match’ between Plato and Aristotle or, more specifically, their different philosophical approaches.

Cahill chooses as the starting point for his exploration of the Renaissance the events that took place in 1282 in a church in Palermo and became known as the Sicilian Vespers. During the service the Italians revolted against their French overlords, with much bloodshed ensuing. The force behind the French control of Italian lands was the Pope and the concept of the Holy Roman Empire, with various European powers vying for hegemony in the region.

The importance of the invention of printing is noted, as is the seminal role played by Christopher Columbus, and his voyage of discovery. These and other events are discussed with humor and insight into the character of the individuals involved and the spirit of the time. Cahill writes with verve about the figures of Luther and other religious reformers, as well as analysing the work of numerous painters and sculptors, providing many color illustrations in doing so.

The complicated history of Europe’s interconnected royal houses, with their internecine vying for power and supremacy, overshadows the course of events throughout the region, eventually leading to the flowering of art, music and literature in what came to be known as the Renaissance, namely, the rebirth of culture inspired by the former glory of Ancient Greece. The rivalry between the Italian city-states, as well as between them and France, led, albeit indirectly, to the patronage extended by the flamboyant figure of Lorenzo de Medici, also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, to Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo in Florence, as well as to the commissioning of Michelangelo by Pope Sixtus to paint the Sistine Chapel in Rome, as well as many other rulers’ patronage of the artists of the day.

Even in distant England the Renaissance made its mark, and both Henry the Eighth and his daughter Elizabeth were instrumental in inter alia stimulating the flowering of the arts, drama and literature there. Although their reigns and those of Elizabeth’s Tudor siblings were riven by clashes over whether Catholicism or Protestantism should be preeminent, the arts continued to flourish. All this took place despite these conflicts, the Black Death, the Great Fire of London, the dissolution of the monasteries, and sundry other shocks and disasters that beset the realm.

Throughout the Middle Ages and subsequently, Europe was fraught by conflicts between states, some of them the result of longstanding rivalries, some even going back to the Crusades, and others being disputes over territory, religion, or supremacy. Thus, the Hundred Years War between England and France raged between 1337 and 1453. Similarly, the Thirty Years War was waged in central Europe between 1618 and 1648, mainly between rival dynasties seeking preeminence over the German lands. Other conflicts were fought between sundry Italian city-states, in Spain over the succession to the throne, etc., and in some of them the Pope was involved, either actively or behind the scenes. Some of the conflicts of religion in Mediaeval Europe were eventually resolved by the acceptance of the edict that each ruler should determine the religion of his subjects, ‘cuius regio eius religio.’ But conflict and war characterized Europe until the period of wretched reflection that followed WWII.

The book ends with a curious ‘Postlude,’ in which the author focuses on three figures he regards as giving hope to our modern world. One of these is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German cleric who preached love and was hanged by the Nazis. Another was Pope John XXIII, whose biography Cahill has written. And the third was an obscure American Christian woman, Muriel Moore.

This ending of the book is disquieting. It puts the writer in an uncomfortable light, and calls into question the veracity of everything he has written. This is a man with a hidden agenda, so that it is difficult to take anything he writes at face value. What a pity.

Children who were Saved

To mark the anniversary of the Kindertransport project, in which Britain agreed to accept ten thousand unaccompanied refugee children, the vast majority of whom were Jewish, from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939, the AJR (Association of Jewish Refugees) held a special zoom meeting. This was hosted by British celebrity Dame Esther Rantzen and one of the main speakers was Sir David Attenborough, whose family had hosted two girls from Germany.

Over seven hundred people participated in the zoom meeting, though on my screen I saw only twenty-five. The focus of the event was the role played by host families who took in children they had never met and gave them a home in the UK. Sir David Attenborough spoke affectionately about the two girls, Irena and Helga, who were taken in by his parents, and the way he and his two brothers suddenly acquired two teenage sisters. Neither of the girls could speak English and the Attenboroughs did not speak German, but they all seem to have quickly overcome the language barrier. The families have remained in touch to this day.

A particularly touching moment was when Sir David recollected the moment when his mother turned to the girls and said ‘Now we are one family’ after Chamberlain had announced over the radio that England was now at war with Germany.

Another speaker was taken in by the family of former British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, and spoke affectionately about them, too, though he was less enamoured of their habit of taking cold baths.

There are myriad stories of sad partings from parents, the experience of travelling alone on a train across Europe, the voyage by sea to England and then another train journey ending at Liverpool Street station in London. Today a beautifully-crafted statue, depicting children standing in a small, desolate group, stands just outside the station to commemorate the rescue, Each child had a label with his or her name, and the host families, who had also posted a guarantee of fifty pounds for each child, were at the station to collect ‘their’ child.

In some cases there was no one to collect a child, and it was incumbent on the various welfare organisations to arrange for their placement. The whole project was organized by Jewish and Quaker welfare organisations, with the cooperation of the British government. This display of British kindness, decency and generosity of spirit should never be forgotten.

My parents, who were refugees themselves, just slightly older than the children who came in the Kindertransport framework, were appointed house-parents at a hostel for these children in London, and remained in touch with many of them throughout their lives. The photo at the top of this post shows the children who were accommodated at the Sunshine Hostel which was run by my parents. I am the baby on the lap of one of the girls in the first row.

No More War

Image from front cover of ‘Three Births in September’ by Colonel Moshe Givati;
published by Ministry of Defence, 1990; painting by Ziv Bashan

‘Valley of Tears,’ the dramatic series currently being shown on Israeli TV about events in the Golan Heights at the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war, has had me and many others spellbound each week.

Although several of my friends and acquaintances have told me that they are unable to watch it as it brings back too many painful memories, I find myself compelled to watch. I quite understand their attitude, and am almost surprised at my own ability to persist through every graphic scene. I admit that I find it difficult to sleep afterwards, but some obsessive preoccupation with the events of that traumatic time brings me back to the screen every week.

I was living in Israel at the time, and in fact had just given birth to my third child when the war broke out. My stay in the maternity ward was cut short that Shabbat which also happened to be Yom Kippur when the silence of the day of rest, prayer and contemplation was shattered by the sound of the sirens echoing through the Jerusalem air. I managed to listen to the news on my portable radio, so knew that a war had broken out. All the mothers were told to leave the hospital with their babies, and that is what most of us managed to do somehow, as Israel’s population was being mobilized to deal with the crisis.

The scene in our home was one of confusion, with our two young children eager to meet their new sibling, my husband and I trying to find the best place to put the baby’s cot and keep us all away from any falling bombs (he and I had experienced the Six Day war in Jerusalem and expected to hear planes, bombs and artillery again) and our need to try to gain what information we could from our recently-acquired television set.

Our experience of the Six Day War led us (and most other people, too, I suppose) to expect the war to be over soon, but as we all know now, that was far from the case. As the days dragged on and grim news came from the various fronts (and we at the rear were not given all the facts until much later), the idea that matters were not going well eventually sank in.

With two young children and a newborn baby to look after our attention was soon focused on getting through the day and the night. Our apartment on the top storey left us feeling exposed, but there was no shelter nearby other than our downstairs neighbour, who was away. Although the absence of bombing and artillery surprised us at first, we knew that there was heavy fighting in both the north and the south of Israel, and hoped that the border with Jordan would remain quiet.

Now, when I watch the dramatic and graphic reenactment of what went on at the time in the Golan Heights, I realise that I was completely unaware of the tragedy that was unfolding not so very far from my home. The threat to Israel’s continued existence was more real than we could imagine, and it is only because of the courage and sacrifice of our soldiers that we are still here today.

The price that was paid in life and limb was heavy beyond all imagination, and there are those among us who still today bear the mental and physical scars of that war. Since then I have translated memoirs written by senior officers who fought in the war, and they left a deep impression on me.

I have seen various criticism of the way the TV series depicts what happened then, but in my view, if it serves any purpose it is to drive home the message that no matter how bad things are here, how rotten our politicians, how decadent our society, how irrelevant our daily concerns, anything, and I mean anything, yes anything is better than war.

‘The Dark Circle’ by Linda Grant

I ordered this book (from Bibliophile Books) because it was described as being set in 1950s England – a time when I was beginning to be aware of the world around me, growing up into teenagerhood and going through my school years. Those were my formative years, in fact.

The main theme of the book is the battle with TB (tuberculosis) of the characters depicted in it, just as the miracle medicine of antibiotics, known then as Streptomycin, is beginning to appear on the world stage, bringing with it the promise of salvation from diseases formerly considered incurable, even fatal. While the wider context of the book is 1950s Britain, with its entrenched class differences, prejudices and post-war restrictions, the immediate environment in which the narrative develops is a custom-built sanatorium intended to cure its inmates, or residents.

The two principal characters are Lenny and Miriam Lynskey, teenage twins from the East End of London and, yes, Jewish. There are references to the various kinds of food their mother brings them on visiting days (kichelach, chopped liver, potato latkes), and the occasional Yiddish expression is thrown in for good measure. Because of the recently established National Health system, which had made the benefits of medical care universally available in England, they find themselves in a milieu which consists mainly of genteel, middle- or upper-class individuals, such as former officers, university graduates, or business people, but all with TB. The author also reveals the attitudes held by the other inmates towards the new arrivals, and Jews in general, especially refugees, with references to widely-held anti-Semitic or philo-Semitic views.

As I was reading I could hear echoes of Thomas Mann’s ‘The Magic Mountain’ in the accounts of the monotony, boredom and gloom of life in a sanatorium, despite the good-intentions the various members of staff. The treatments are sometimes inexpressibly harsh, involving endless bed-rest on outside verandas, in all weathers, on the assumption that freezing cold air is somehow good for the lungs. Meanwhile, friendships are established, sexual adventures are experienced and a panoply of characters from vastly different backgrounds are presented. Lenny and Miriam are introduced to English literature by one of the inmates, and as the book progresses, describing the year that they spend in the sanatorium, we follow the development of their personalities.

The conclusion of the book brings us into contemporary England and we see how the lives of the various inmates developed over time, revealing the forces that have made England into the country and society it is today.

The book is written in an interesting and insightful way, and provides the all-encompassing experience one seeks in a book, namely, entering into a world of imagination that is not our own but with which the reader can identify.