‘The Impress of Heaven,’ and ‘A Dragon in the Ashes,’ both by Neal Roberts

Intrigued by the Shakespearean reference in the title, I came across the first book in this series, ‘A Second Daniel,’ some time ago. I enjoyed the well-written story set in Elizabethan England with a variety of characters, both real and fictitious, some of them members of the Jewish faith. By some miraculous turn of events, the second and third books also came into my possession recently. They continue to relate the adventures and actions of Neal Roberts’ main protagonist, Noah Ames, a Jewish barrister doing his best to serve his patron, Queen Elizabeth the First, who showed him particular favour when he was a boy, and ensured that he was given the best education England could provide.

The situation of Jews in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was extremely precarious as they had not been officially allowed to settle in the country following their expulsion in the thirteenth century. Nevertheless, some Jews were able to enter and reside there, one of them being the queen’s physician, Roderigo Lopez, who had converted to Christianity. After serving the queen for several years he was eventually executed on trumped-up charges, but his story runs through the first book in this series, and his name is mentioned in the succeeding two.

The author combines actual historic events and characters (e.g. the Earl of Essex, Lord Robert Cecil, Francis Bacon, and Walter Raleigh) with the fictitious characters of his own devising, embroiling them all in real events as well as incidents involving espionage, violence, drinking, sword fights, and action of every imaginable kind. In one book their objective is to regain a stolen map which could be of value to the queen’s enemies, while in another it is to obtain copies of correspondence sent by the (actual) amabassador to France, Lord Walsingham, at the time of the massacre of the Protestant Huguenots by the Catholic mob in Paris and elsewhere in France. The author weaves the actual and fictitious events together so well that the reader is almost convinced that the various deeds of evil, intrigue, and derring-do really happened.

Neal Roberts is obviously well acquainted with the period about which he writes, and is even able to introduce the occasional reference to Shakespeare and one or another of his works, regarding which he is considered something of an expert. The third volume in the series (I won’t call it a trilogy as there is a fourth book in the works) introduces additional Jewish characters, this time originating from Poland rather than the Iberian peninsula, embellishing this segment with a supernatural element. This rather jarred with me, I must admit, but I suppose if it was good enough for Shakespeare (in whose works ghosts, fairies and spirits abound) it must be good enough for Neal Roberts.

All in all, I can recommend these books to anyone who has an interest in Elizabethan England, the history of the Jews in Europe, and England in particular, and is not averse to a rattling good tale. My one criticism is the author’s use of the present tense throughout. This may be appropriate for a screenplay, but in my view it does not enable the narrative to flow smoothly or help the reader to suspend disbelief.

Leo Baeck and Jewish Liberalism

 

 

Tucked away in a quiet Jerusalem side-street is the Leo Baeck Institute, where activities associated with the man himself and various aspects of his heritage are held, its official purpose being ‘the study of German and Central European Jewry.’ Sister institutes are to be found in cities elsewhere in the world – Frankfurt, New York, London and Berlin. The Jerusalem institute hosts a wide range of lectures, symposia and seminars, whether at its official home or in universities, research institutes and sundry other venues throughout Israel.

Together with the Association of Former Residents of Central Europe and Beit Theresienstadt, the Theresienstadt Martyrs Remembrance Association (situated at Kibbutz Givat Haim Ihud and known in Hebrew as Beit Terezin), the Leo Baeck Institute recently held a symposium entitled ‘Liberal Judaism Then and Now, Sixty Years Since the Passing of Rabbi Doctor Leo Baeck.’

The turnout one cold, wet December evening at the end of 2016 was surprisingly large, and when I finally found the building (the invitation gave the wrong address) I was lucky to find an empty chair at the back of the hall. Some sixty persons, many of them not very young, were listening attentively to the introductory lecture given by the director of the Institute, Professor Samuel Feiner. After a few words of welcome from the Deputy German Ambassador to Israel, each member of the panel of five scholars, experts in aspects of Liberal Judaism as currently practised in Israel and elsewhere, gave a short lecture on an allied subject. Thus, for example, Professor Moshe Halbertal of the Hebrew University spoke about the importance of ethics and spiritualism in the USA today and how this features in the focus of Liberal Judaism there. Dr. Hillel Ben-Sasson, of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, spoke about the central position of the individual in Liberal Judaism in the USA and the heightened attention placed on the separation of religion and state in the political arena, the implication being that this is sadly lacking in modern Israel.

For me personally the talk by Rabbi Gabi Dagan, who heads the complex of educational institutions named for Leo Baeck in Haifa, was particularly interesting. The emphasis there, starting in the kindergarten and going all through the system to the high-school and vocational education classes, is on inculcating the values of Liberal Judaism as opposed to the rote learning and restricted intellectual scope of orthodox Jewish learning. He stressed the fact that this approach was that advocated by Rabbi Leo Baeck himself, and that pupils who go through the educational institutions that bear his name are equipped for life with an open mind, an enquiring approach, tolerance and acceptance of the other and recognition of the importance of self-realisation within the framework of the community.

Professor Ruhama Weiss of the Hebrew Union College spoke of the importance of giving a feminist interpretation to the Talmud, and in particular the Babylonian Talmud, which evolved in exile. She noted with satisfaction that an increasingly feminist approach to religion is evident throughout Judaism, including even the orthodox variety, and certainly in Liberal Judaism, which has adopted that stance from its very inception.

Finally, Dr. Margalit Shlein, who heads the Theresienstadt Martyrs Remembrance Association, gave an outline of Rabbi Dr. Leo Baeck’s activities in the two years he was incarcerated in the Theresienstadt Ghetto, 1943 – 1945. During this period, although given preferential treatment as a ‘Prominent,’ he devoted himself to endeavouring to bring succour to the other inmates, providing spiritual guidance as well as giving lectures on subjects connected with his religious philosophy and outlook.

Dr. Shlein was at pains to point out that although he was aware of the fate of the Jews who were sent to Auschwitz, Rabbi Baeck kept the information to himself, fearing that knowledge of this would serve to deter those being deported from cooperating, and thus causing them additional suffering. When the prisoners were finally released, in May 1945, Theresienstadt being the last concentration camp to be liberated, Rabbi Baeck refused to leave until the last prisoners had left.

The evening ended on a lighter note, with singers from the seminar held on music in Theresienstadt performing songs in English, German, Yiddish and Hebrew.

The Lebanese Restaurant in Abu Ghosh

 

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On a sunny Saturday morning, Israel’s official day of rest (the country has not yet officially adopted the two-day weekend) I got into my car and drove to the nearby Arab village of Abu Ghosh.

For the village, which is situated some fifteen kilometers outside Jerusalem, well within the Green Line, Saturday is possibly the busiest day of the week. The village is known for its hospitality, and its restaurants and cafés are frequented by Israelis of all kinds – both Jews and Arabs. In addition, its various stores and businesses seem to be flourishing.

Trying to find a place to park on a Saturday morning is far from easy, as the village is also a focus of attraction for Israelis who want to enjoy some of the traditional oriental fare that is on offer at the various restaurants – whether to eat on the spot or to take away.

And so it was that I found myself standing in line in the Lebanese restaurant there, together with several other Israelis. We were all waiting to get to the counter which fronts the kitchen where the food is being constantly prepared, to be served by the hard-working attendants. It was truly a remarkable sight. The staff consisted solely of men, all clad in black shirts and trousers, each and every one of them working as hard as he possibly could to satisfy the almost insatiable demand for their wares.

I counted at least six men preparing the food, and another six who were serving customers. The counter was too small for all six servers, so every now and again one of them would appear from the side and ask ‘Who’s next?’ careful not to bump into one or another of his colleagues. There was no sign of tiredness, impatience or slacking, everyone was focused to the fullest extent on taking the next order, getting the food packed and ready, and handed over to the customer who had requested it, all the time adding up the price of each item in their head. And all this was done at an amazing pace – an impressive feat of technical organization, mental arithmetic and physical agility. Not an instant was wasted on idle chit-chat or pleasantries, and so even the fairly long queue that I encountered when I entered did not mean that I had to wait very long to be served, though by the time I had paid there were quite a few people waiting behind me.

I was buying some of the traditional oriental delicacies to serve to my guests in the afternoon, other people appeared be to buying food to take on a picnic (they asked for sets of plastic cutlery), while yet others seemed intent on providing a meal for the family at home. Humus and Tehina were the obvious favourites, followed by all manner of salads, pickles, vegetables in various shapes and forms, and even the traditional fried vegetable balls known as falafel. Everything was fresh and ready to eat, and the end result in my case was delicious food, happy guests and an even happier hostess.

 

Moab is my Washpot, by Stephen Fry

 

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I have mixed feelings about the author whose avowed brilliance is tempered by strange behavior, apparently due to his being subject to bi-polar disorder, as well as his aversion to Israel and Zionism. His half-Jewish background may partly account for the latter, and possibly even the former, but it doesn’t make me like him any better.

On the other hand, to see him act and to read his book is to love and admire him, both for his vast talent and for his disarming honesty. I laughed and cried, alternately gasping in admiration and clutching my head in dismay, as I read the 430 pages of this book, and am looking forward to reading its sequel. Even more exhilarating is the news that the third volume in the series has just been published. But I think I’ll give my quest to acquire additional Fry reading matter a rest for the moment.

There is no doubt that Stephen Fry has a way with words, as well as having something akin to total recall with regard to the sometimes audacious, sometimes salacious, aspects of the first twenty years of his life. He was obviously a troubled teenager, but if you are sent away to boarding school at the age of seven that is hardly surprising. According to Fry’s account, there is a certain similarity between public school and Borstal (he has experienced both), and to be deprived at such an early age of what one would hope is the warmth and security of family life must affect the individual in some way, for better or for worse. But then the question that has to be asked is: why don’t all those children who are sent away to boarding school at an early age turn out to be disturbed? Perhaps they do in some way or another, but then they’re not Stephen Fry, who would habitually steal money from his fellow-pupils in order to buy sweets, as well as playing pranks of various kinds on teachers and fellow-pupils alike.

Admittedly, Stephen’s father was somewhat eccentric, apparently being something of a genius, totally devoted to his work as an independent inventor and developer of various kinds of scientific measuring equipment. He seems to have been reasonably successful at this, being able to live in an enormous house which also served as his physics laboratory, workshop and production floor. He was a very distant person, and it was on Stephen’s mother, whom he adored, that the burden of bringing up three children fell (though of course there were servants who helped around the house and with the children when they were small).

One of the most touching parts of the book is Fry’s long and detailed account of falling in love at school at the age of fourteen with a boy about a year younger than himself. The pre-pubescent boy evidently possessed an almost ethereal beauty, and Fry describes the feeling of being hopelessly in love with astonishing fidelity, managing to evoke emotions that most of us have felt at one time but have long forgotten. The memory of that love, which may or may not have been unrequited, haunts Fry almost throughout the book, and although his tone is for the most part flippant and conversational, when it comes to this topic he plumbs depths of emotion that are both terrifying and uplifting.

After an undistinguished school career, eventually being expelled from yet another school, having been caught red-handed by the matron from whose handbag he was trying to steal money, Stephen spent some time in a detention centre and was eventually given a two-year suspended  sentence and placed under probation. Once again, he failed to live up to his innate ability, but it was at this point that he decided to take himself in hand, managing to persuade the reluctant head of an external college to not only let him sit his A-levels again but also to sit for the Cambridge Entrance Exams.

By dint of his hard work, amazing memory and extraordinary intelligence, Stephen managed to excel in all his exams, and was offered a scholarship to Queens College, Cambridge, justifying his parents’ belief in him and serving to console them for all the trouble he had caused them till then.

A Dismal and Delightful Week

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My week began with the stranger who walked into the local hairdresser’s where I was sitting and asked if the car parked further along the road was mine. It was. “Well, I’ve caused some damage to the windscreen,” he informed me. In the process of cutting branches off a tree in his garden one of them had fallen right onto my windscreen, smashing it, then bounced onto the bonnet, causing further damage. The result: three days at the garage and several thousand shekels of damage.

I had a very full programme that week, with activities in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, so that it was necessary to resort to public transport, lifts from friends and my husband, and even the occasional taxi. Until recently, Mevasseret Zion, where I live, was on the route between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv but recent changes to the road system means that we are now cut off from the highway. The bus route that used to go directly to and from Tel-Aviv from Mevasseret is now limited to a couple of hours in the morning, and vice versa in the evening. Oh well, such is life. I managed to get the bus to Tel-Aviv, but wasn’t so lucky on the way back, which meant changing buses, catching the shuttle-bus and calling my husband to collect me from the distant bus-stop.

But the reward for all this inconvenience was being able to attend the conference of the Israel Translators Association, with its plethora of fascinating lectures and the chance to meet up with old friends and colleagues. After all, translators are generally ensconced in their homes with their computers, and in this day and age one doesn’t even need to venture outside to go to a library to consult a book or to go to the post office to send off a completed text. Thus,  an opportunity to meet up with other translators is very much appreciated.

The Conference had many interesting lectures on offer. I was particularly intrigued by the title of Dr. Basilius Bawardi’s talk, ‘How Did Sherlock Holmes Build a Nation? The Cultural Translation of Nasib al-Mashalani into Arabic at the Turn of the 20th Century,’ and found myself plunged into Egyptian society in the late 19th and early 20th century, when the aforementioned Nasib al-Mashalani (about whom very little is known) took it upon himself to translate works by Conan Doyle into Arabic. He did not always acknowledge his source, sometimes presenting the stories (when they did not involve Sherlock Holmes) as his own. According to Dr. Bawardi, the translator’s objective was to disseminate the concepts of law and order, adherence to norms of morality and respect for the police. Apparently, in his translations of the Sherlock Holmes stories the police are regarded as purveyors of justice rather than being the corrupt and bribable element they constituted in Egypt at that time (or the inept force depicted by Conan Doyle). In an aside at the end of the lecture Dr. Bawardi mentioned the mind-boggling fact that al-Mashalani had begun his career by translating the books of Enid Blyton.

Anothere fascinating lecture was given by Inbal Saggiv-Nakdimon and concerned the problems encountered by translators of science fiction and fantasy into Hebrew. As well as having to invent terms for concepts and objects which appear in these kinds of texts, there is the additional issue of consistency for such terminology within a series, for example when a later volume is published at a different time and is given to a different translator. In addition, across the genre different terms may be used by different translators for similar concepts or objects. The presence in the audience of other translators in that genre gave rise to a lively discussion about the different words used for the concept of ‘telekinesis,’ regarding which it transpired that there is as yet no accepted term in Hebrew.

The highlight of the conference was the final lecture, given by the acclaimed Israeli writer, Amos Oz, about the translation of his books. As well as writing novels which are known for the richness of their characterization and beautiful Hebrew prose, Oz possesses the gift of being able to speak clearly, concisely and in an engaging way. Thus, he held the audience captive with his account of the way he and Nicholas de Lange worked together on translating his first novel, My Michael, into English, some fifty years ago. He admitted that his ability to monitor translations of his work into Korean or Japanese is limited, but he asks those translators to read him a passage or a page out loud in order to gauge whether they have accurately captured the ‘music’ of his prose.

Amos Oz also spoke about his approach to the writing process. It was interesting and inspiring to hear how he starts each day at 4 a.m., when he goes out to walk in nature, and it is this communing with the natural world that gives him his perspective on life and the universe. He contends that this enables him to utilize his own natural empathy and curiosity about people to imagine himself in their place in various situations.

The insights, intellectual stimulation and social interaction that I experienced that day filled me with joy, providing a delightful contrast to the rather dismal beginning of the week.

Capturing the Enigma; the Unsung Heroes of HMS Bulldog

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In May 1941, at a time when the Second World War was in full swing and the British forces were doing their utmost to block Hitler’s rampage across Europe, the battle to control the ocean was of paramount importance. Convoys of ships transporting troops and bringing much-needed supplies and materiel to Britain from the USA and Canada were routinely hunted down and attacked by groups of German submarines, known as wolf packs, causing untold damage to the British navy and mainland, not to mention suffering and death to the sailors manning those ships.

The British war effort was conducted on a number of fronts, among them that of intelligence. Inter alia, the British were doing their utmost to decipher the codes used by the Germans to disseminate their military messages to their troops, whether on land or at sea, but their efforts were frustrated by their inability to gain access to the encoding machine used by the German for this purpose. The existence of the machine, known as Enigma, was known to the Allied forces, but without a working exemplar it was impossible to ascertain precisely how it was used. Although the Poles and the French had managed to work out some aspects of the code, they were still far from attaining perfect knowledge of the way the machine worked. The British had set up an extensive system for decoding and translating messages at Bletchley Park, and tremendously important espionage work was implemented there, including the development of what came to be known later as the first computer, by Alan Turing. As is well known, Turing played a seminal role in understanding the workings of the Enigma machine and deciphering the code.

How the actual machine came to be in the hands of British Intelligence is the subject of this book by Patrick Spencer which tells an exciting tale of the pursuit and capture of a German u-boat by a British destroyer. HMS Bulldog, commanded by Captain Joe Baker-Cresswell, as he shepherded a convoy of merchant ships across the North Atlantic. From being the hunter he became the hunted, but the depth charge he set off succeeded in hitting the German u-boat that was pursuing his vessel. The u-boat was listing, and its crew abandoned ship. At that point Captain Baker-Cresswell decided that instead of finally sinking the German vessel his men would board it and take whatever they could find, known as ‘doing a Magdeburg,’

The operation was complex and risky, as the u-boat was in the process of sinking, but the men of the boarding party were determined to remove anything they could find that looked as if it might be of value, whether papers or equipment. Thus it was that one of the men came across what looked like a peculiar typewriter which was bolted to a wooden surface. Using the screwdriver that he had included in his bag of tools before leaving the ship, the officer managed to release the machine. It was only with great difficulty and considerable dexterity that the men managed to haul the heavy machine up to HMS Bulldog, where it could finally be identified as an actual Enigma machine. Displaying great bravery, the boarding party returned to the u-boat several times to remove whatever they could find that might be of value to the war effort.

The commander began towing the captured u-boat back to Blighty behind his ship, but when it began to sink beneath the waves he cut the tow-rope and let it go to the bottom. The operation was later given the name ‘Operation Primrose,’ and every effort was made to ensure that the Germans did not realise that the British had managed to seize hold of an actual working Enigma machine. In fact, Winston Churchill kept the details secret for months even from his close ally, President Roosevelt. The decryption of the Enigma code enabled the British forces to anticipate the movements of the u-boat wolfpacks, significantly reducing the loss of ships and contributing significantly to the victory of the Allies

London, Paris, Jerusalem


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‘He who tires of London has tired of life,’ wrote Samuel Johnson, and I dare say he had a point. Even in the dead of winter, when the bone-chilling cold really does chill every inch of bone in your body, the place has its pleasures provided you are suitably attired with hat, coat, boots, etc., breathe only through your woolly scarf and try to limit your time outdoors to the absolute minimum.

After all, buses, trains, shops and the tube are reasonably well-heated, and the pub is usually full enough of human bodies to generate sufficient heat to enable one to remove at least one outer layer of clothing. It pains me, though, to see the homeless people (mainly men) huddled in doorways, and probably literally freezing to death. I’m told on good authority (taxi drivers) that these people could find shelter through one of the government or charitable agencies that are prepared to help them, but they prefer to be free to come and go as they please. And for that they have to pay a price.

One of the chief delights of London is the theatre. I confess to being greatly irritated on the rare occasions when I go to the theatre in Israel. The actors do not speak clearly and, worst of all, have never learned to project their voices and rely instead on those odious little face-microphones. What do they think? That the actors in Shakespeare’s day used face-mikes? In England (and America, too, perhaps, but I’ve never been to a play there) part of the basic training of an actor is learning how to project their voice so that even the poor sods up in the gods (the highest, cheapest seats, often limited to standing only) can hear every word. Admittedly, our seats were quite near the stage and so we were in a particularly privileged position, but it was definitely possible to understand most if not all the dialogue on stage. And what a joy the two plays we saw (‘This House’ and ‘The Kite-Runner’) were, with clever dialogue, imaginative staging, competent acting and witty direction.

We left cold and rainy London for freezing central France and felt very sorry for ourselves as we huddled over log fires (me) or spent a lot of time and energy bringing logs into the house and getting fires going (him). The countryside was beautiful in its frozen state, but I’m afraid I didn’t see much of it as simply going outside required immense investment of mental and physical energy. We couldn’t even enjoy the view when we drove to Paris as almost the entire route was shrouded in fog. Can we call freezing fog frog? Let the froggies keep their frog, I say.db75f405-688f-4eec-97d4-780bc7ccb71e

Our few days in icy cold Paris enabled us to enjoy an enlightening visit to the Musée d’Orsay to see the special exhibition of works by Frederick Bazille, an early Impressionist painter who was killed at the age of 29 in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. What a waste! The few paintings he produced are extremely impressive, showing his ability to produce work of great sophistication and beauty.

The pinnacle of our stay in Paris was a stellar performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute opera, with first-rate singers and orchestra. The show ended late and we had to get up early the next morning to catch our plane, but it was worth it.

In Israel we were greeted by pouring rain, but consoled ourselves with the thought that at least it wasn’t freezing, foggy or froggy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia Woolf by Alexandra Harris

 

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Who needs yet another biography of Virginia Woolf? Not I certainly, who have been a VW aficionado for dozens of years, possibly ever since the day somewhere in the 1960s when I first came across one of the five volumes of Leonard Woolf’s autobiography, borrowed from the British Council Library in Jerusalem, in the days when it was still situated in Jerusalem’s wonderful Terra Sancta building.

That book led me to my obsession with Virginia Woolf, Leonard’s wife and one of the leading writers of the twentieth century. As ever more volumes about her came out, whether other people’s memoirs about her, her own collected letters, diaries, and essays, and the monumental biography and literary analysis by Hermione Lee, pretty much the entire English reading public was swept away by the conglomeration of artists, writers and intellectuals who constituted what came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group, because of the area of London where many of them lived. By now I have several bookshelves containing her books as well as other people’s books about her and the group of friends that coalesced around her and Leonard.

But it’s been some time now since I immersed myself in Bloomsburyana and eagerly consumed everything I could about Virginia, so that this relatively slim volume (only 187 pages), which I received as a gift, comes as a succinct and well-written reminder of all the things that so fascinated me in the past.

First of all, Virginia’s life in and of itself is fascinating. Born into an intellectual and relatively wealthy family in London, she and her siblings were subjected to the rigours of a Victorian household, with the manners and mores that pertained to their standing. While her brothers went to public school and Oxford university, Virginia and her sister Vanessa were kept at home, where they were taught by private tutors and their father, the writer Lesley Stephen, and were given the run of their parents’ extensive library. This obviously rankled with Virginia, whose book-length essay, A Room of One’s Own, written many years later, criticizes the discrimination against women implicit – and often explicit – in so many British institutions. The situation has changed since then, it’s true, but reading those lines today still stirs feelings of resentment at the many injustices inherent in the system of education and administration.

For most of her life Virginia was periodically afflicted by some kind of mental illness which has been post-factum defined as mania-depression. Whether or not this was indeed the case, the fact of the matter is that she suffered bouts of terrible depression when she was unable to function normally, let alone write. But it was writing that was her raison d’être, and had it not been for Leonard’s careful and caring stewardship it is not clear whether Virginia would ever have managed to overcome them. Thus, despite the crippling bouts of despair, she managed to produce a large body of work, each of her ten novels was a ground-breaking contribution to contemporary English literature, and her non-fiction reveals an active and brilliant mind combining insights and understanding with a polished literary style.

So it is good to have this new and comprehensive little book, written with clarity and understanding and also containing copious illustrations – photographs of people and places, and of Virginia in particular, as well as paintings and illustrations produced by her sister, Vanessa, who was a talented artist.

Fearing both the recurrence of her mental illness and the consequences of a possible German invasion of Britain, Virginia Woolf took her own life in 1941 at the age of 60. Admittedly, her end was tragic, but her life was full and creative, and that is her legacy to future generations.

A Dangerous Profession

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In order to spare the feelings of anyone who might happen to read this I am not posting a photo of my face. I look like something out of a horror movie. The sight would be too horrifying for most people. Especially anyone who knows what I look like normally. But just to give you a general idea – think of Charles Laughton in the classic film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. OK, I’ll grant the dentist this: he didn’t give me a hump on my back. But what has happened to my face is, in my opinion, even worse.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The dental X-rays showed that some of my teeth were in a bad shape. Treatment would be required. At first it looked as if a large old filling on a molar would have to come out and be replaced by a new one. Fine. I’m prepared to have fillings done, provided I get all the desensitizing injections that make the process tolerable.

The first dentist, supposedly an expert in his field, removed the said filling and then proceeded to give me a long explanation, most of which I didn’t understand, about the sorry state of what roots were left. I gathered that this meant that there was nothing for it but to extract the offending tooth. However, the state of the rotten roots was so grave that not even a crown could be considered. The only solution, in his view, would be to put in an implant – a procedure that is extremely long, tortuous and expensive. I could only gulp and nod in helpless acceptance of my fate.

But the hapless tooth would be extracted by another, even more expert dentist, a professor no less, whose proficiency in his field is acknowledged worldwide. The appointment was duly made, and I was taken like a lamb to the slaughter by my devoted husband. The extraction was to be implemented at the same time as another dental procedure, the preparation for a previously-ordained implant, and since the two teeth involved were fairly near one another, it seemed advisable to undertake the two together.

The process of preparing a mouth for an implant procedure is interesting. A surgeon’s hat is placed over the patient’s hair, the body is swaddled from the neck to the waist, the head, including the eyes and nose, is wrapped in material so that the only part visible is the mouth. The dentist and his assistant are also dressed in surgical gear, so one has the impression that this is going to be a very sterile and professional procedure.

Several painful injections later the dentist started to work on my mouth, drilling, digging, burrowing and screwing, exerting all his considerable energy on wrestling that darn tooth to the ground. In my head I was trying to sing Brahms’ German Requiem, a performance of which I had attended the previous night. I also wondered if what I was feeling was in any way akin to what my grandparents must have felt in the Auschwitz gas chambers (no, it never leaves me).

I suppose one could say the dentist was ultimately successful, as after an hour or so of vigorous activity he declared my mouth to be rid of the loathsome tooth.

The wrappings were removed from my face and body, and my slightly wobbly legs took me out of the surgery to where my husband was waiting, equipped with chocolate ice-cream and sympathy. The shocked look on his face and the uncharacteristic panic in his voice when he uttered the phrase ‘What’s this!’ told me that something was amiss.

The entire side of my face had swollen. My skin had turned bright red. It looked to him as if a big red balloon had been placed atop my neck. The dentist, who seemed to be similarly alarmed, took me back to the surgery and tried by force to depress the swollen cheek. He’s big and strong. It hurt. Nothing doing. “Well, at least it irons out the wrinkles,” he said with a playful smile. I did not appreciate the humour.

“Put ice on it,” the dentist called after us as my husband led me out of the surgery.

Yes, the swelling went down gradually over the next few days, though eating, talking and smiling are still difficult one week later. But worse was to come. My face turned all the colours of the rainbow. I have two big black eyes (just like the song), with purple, blue and wine-coloured bruises around my mouth, chin and neck.

I have not felt up to leaving the house for a week, and although the pain and discomfort have subsided I am still too embarrassed to be seen by anyone but my close family. Heavy makeup helps to some extent, but tends to wear off after a while.

So that’s it. I’ve had it with dentists. Until every single tooth in my head rots itself to death I’ll think twenty times before venturing into another dentist’s surgery.

A Visit to the Ballet

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Once a year Israel’s classical ballet comany puts on a performance of a traditional ballet. This is intended mainly for the entertainment of children during the Chanukah/Christmas holiday season. For me, however, this is a golden opportunity to enjoy a very special aesthetic and artistic treat.

When I was growing up my parents showed no interest in the ballet, and I don’t regard myself as a great connoisseur of that particular art form, but ever since I saw my first performance in Jerusalem some twenty years ago I have loved it and waited eagerly for the next opportunity to attend a performance. In addition, ever since the massive immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1980s the intake of dancers in the field of classical ballet in Israel has risen in both quantity and quality. The number of Russian-sounding names participating in the show each year is a clear indication of this. Until 2012 the Israel Ballet was headed by Bertha Yampolsky and Hillel Markman, who founded the company in 1967, directed and choreographed the performances and kept up a very high standard. Upon their retirement in 2012 they were replaced by Leah Lavi and Matte Morai, who have succeeded in maintaining the company’s excellence.

Over the years, accompanied by one or two of my granddaughters (the boys declined to join us), as well as the occasional daughter-in-law, I have been able to see some wonderful performances here in Jerusalem (though the company’s home is in Tel Aviv). It goes without saying that putting on a ballet is a highly complicated and complex undertaking, involving scenery-painters and movers, set designers, choreographers, costume designers and makers and lighting experts, not to mention male and female dancers (predominantly the latter), all of whom must demonstrate consummate skill and artistry as well as being lithe, athletic and beautiful. Amazingly, all the dancers in the one I saw last week fulfilled all those requirements, making for a breathtakingly beautiful performance.

This year the ballet chosen for the stage was ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ with the music of Tchaikovsky, and what a delight it was! So although my granddaughters and daughter-in-law and I are all fairly grown-up and no longer entranced by fairy-tales, we were all enchanted by the beauty of the dancing, the superior technical level, the beautiful costumes and the excellence of every aspect of the show.

It is customary in Israel to use recorded music rather than a full orchestra for a ballet performance (the cost would be prohibitive), but the professional sound system used dispelled all reservations about the quality of the sound. And Tchaikovsky’s music resonated throughout the Jerusalem Theatre, bringing joy and emotion to our hearts.

The costumes and dancing of the corps de ballet, as well as the soloists (the Good Fairy, the Wicked Fairy, the Prince, Sleeping Beauty herself) were outstanding, and each dancer managed to convey a gamut of emotions through movement and expression alone. I have never forgotten the question my granddaughter asked on her first visit to the ballet. Accustomed to seeing children’s plays, after half an hour of music and dance she turned to me and whispered “Why aren’t they talking?” Many dancers and wonderful music have entranced her since then, and now grown up she is quite the connoisseur, but I hope that my answer to her question then made it clear that in ballet there is no need for words.

Now that the season’s performances have ended all that remains is to wait eagerly for next year’s offering. We are truly blessed in Israel to be able to enjoy artistic performances of such a high standard and such variety. And for me to be able to share that pleasure with my grandchildren is an added bonus.