The Jerusalem Syndrome

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12722409-skyline-of-jerusalem-israel-at-the-old-city-viewed-from-mount-of-olives[1]

Psychologists and psychiatrists have defined the outburst of mystical ectasy and identification with our ancient city as a known phenomenon that sometimes even requires hospitalization or sedation of the person affected. It has a distant echo in the sense of awe that occasionally envelops visitors to Florence, but no other place on earth arouses so much and such intense emotional, religious and historic attachment as Jerusalem.

Throughout recorded history Jerusalem has been the subject of longing and reverence, first by the exiled Hebrews, then by the defeated Crusaders, and eventually by the entire Christian world. The Muslims also claim a stake in what they claim is their third holiest site. Jewish prayers repeatedly cite the sanctity of Jerusalem, the requiem mass of the Catholic faith mentions Jerusalem, the prayers of the Protestant religion refer to Jerusalem, musicians from Jesualdo to contemporary composers have written music extolling its beauty and bewailing its loss, and even the painters of the Renaissance tried to depict it (but actually painted Tuscan landscapes).

I have lived in or just outside Jerusalem for the best part of my life, namely, the last fifty years, and have seen it grow from a dusty backwater to a vibrant metropolis, incorporating religions, nationalities and ethnicities in a glorious and colourful mix. There is no denying that it has a magical beauty, whether because of its location amidst the Jerusalem hills, its limestone buildings that glow in the setting sun or its benign climate – not as hot and humid as Tel-Aviv in summer though somewhat colder in winter. But even in winter Jerusalem has a haunting beauty of its own, and the crisp days of cool sun are a true delight.

I still have a vivid memory of how, during the Six Day War of 1967, I heard shells falling and exploding around me, automatic fire not far from my home and planes roaring overhead. For a few days we did not know how it would all end, but luckily for me and mine, it ended well, when the barriers between the two halves of Jerusalem came tumbling down and the free flow of people and goods in both directions was the surprising outcome. The euphoria of those weeks and months exploded in the excitement of discovering a whole new world of sights, sounds, flavours and humanity on our very doorstep.

In recent years, however, Jerusalem Day, the day that commemorates that event has been hijacked by certain elements. It has become a festival in its own right, with prayers and ceremonies that leave much of the Jewish population unmoved and even hostile. Thus, the restrained pleasure in being able to stroll from one part of the city to the other that was once in evidence is no more, or at least not on that day. For the segment of the population that marks the unification of the city with prayers and ceremonies this also means doing everything in its power to show everyone who’s the boss now, to proclaim Israel’s predominance over every stone and piece of rubble where Palestinians live and to brandish flags and rub their noses into the new state of affairs.

How did it happen that what was once a place where it was a pleasure to live, where different cultures and civilizations, both old and new, could live side by side, tolerating one another’s religion and beliefs, respecting one another’s traditions, has become a place of enmity and hostility, with security a paramount consideration requiring almost unending resources and manpower? Would matters have been otherwise had the Jewish population of Jerusalem displayed greater consideration for the feelings of the other side? That is one of the great imponderables of our time. What is certain, however, is that demonstrating our sovereignty in a vociferous and provocative way hasn’t helped to foster cooperation and coexistence.

Throughout the ages innumerable victims have been slain in the battles to obtain control of Jerusalem, and that, perhaps, is what lies behind the current need to proclaim that it is now in Israeli hands. But perhaps that is what the Jerusalem Syndrome is all about. What is certain is that there can never be peace and harmony as long as one side aspires to grind the other one into the dust.

Skullduggery and Thuggery in the Vatican

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 book cover--The Lost Catacomb

‘The Lost Catacomb’ by Shifra Hochberg, Enigma Press, USA, 2014

 Machinations, mischief and skullduggery in the Vatican, both in modern times and in the past, constitute the main theme of this interesting first novel by Shifra Hochberg.

 By now it is common knowledge that the leaders of the Catholic church were somehow involved in helping Nazis escape from Europe after their defeat in WWII, but why and exactly how this was done remains something of a mystery. In this book Shifra Hochberg attempts to give an explanation for this.

There is ample documentation of the policy of discrimination against the Jewish communities of Italy by the Fascist regime, and their eventual arrest and deportation to concentration camps by the Nazis and their henchmen.

Similarly, there are some who believe that the treasures of the ancient Jewish Temple, which were carried off by the victorious Roman legionnaires after the sack of Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E., as depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome, are still to be found secreted somewhere in the possession of the Vatican.

These ideas, together with several others, form the essence of this novel, as its main protagonist, a beautiful young American archaeologist, endeavours together with her Italian associate to unravel the secrets of a newly discovered catacomb near the Vatican in Rome.

The contents of the catacomb provide clues to a clandestine love affair between an unnamed Pope and a young Jewish woman in pre-mediaeval Italy, as well as evidence of Jewish religious practices at the time.

But the plot keeps on thickening, with ever stranger and more hair-raising discoveries at every turn. The time-line shifts from the modern era to the period of the Second World War, and even further back to ancient times, with the author providing sufficient background information to stimulate the reader’s imagination and accept these leaps of faith. Christianity’s rejection of Judaism and antagonism towards the Jews lies behind many of the twists and turns in the history of humankind during the last two thousand years, and this fact, too, constitute a salient thread throughout the book.

What is particularly impressive is the intimate knowledge the author seems to have of the hierarchical structure of the Vatican and the way it is run, as well as with aspects of the archaeology, art and history of Rome. The characters, both good and evil, come alive, and the reader is treated to a roller-coaster ride of suspense mingled with murder and mayhem as the secrets of the past are unraveled before our eyes.

Many strands combine to bring this novel to a melodramatic conclusion worthy of any Hollywood action movie, and although some suspension of disbelief is required, the reader finds him- or her-self unable to stop reading this tale of one woman’s quest for the truth. If in the process of uncovering the secrets of the past our protagonist also happens to find true love, this only adds another interesting dimension to what is already an action-packed novel.

 

Armenians in Jerusalem

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 Whether by coincidence or design (probably the latter), Jerusalem’s YMCA building is currently showing an exhibition of exquisite Armenian ceramic work produced by one of the many workshops situated in the Old City. No mention is made of the slaughter of over a million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire exactly one hundred years ago, whether it is defined as genocide or not. Whatever term one uses, it was undoubtedly one of the major tragedies of the twentieth century, and there is enough documentary evidence to substantiate the accusations of the horrors that took place, presaging the mass murders that were perpetrated thirty years later during the Holocaust.

In 1933, after undertaking extensive research on the subject, the German-Austrian writer Franz Werfel published his novel, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, describing the efforts of a small community of Armenians in a village in what is now southern Turkey, to stave off their deportation. The book, which was translated into many languages, was instrumental in engendering widespread awareness of the events surrounding the massacre of the Armenians. Werfel is also distinguished for becoming Alma Mahler’s third husband.

More recently, in 2004 Louis de Bernières published his novel Birds Without Wings, which deals with the same subject, describing the harmonious coexistence of Muslims and Armenians in the far reaches of the Ottoman Empire prior to the expulsion and slaughter of the Armenians.

In a plaque alongside the YMCA exhibition the owner of the ceramics workshop, describes the age-old artistic tradition involving the intricate decoration of ceramic tiles and other objects by the Armenian community, a tradition that has been maintained and taken to Jerusalem and elsewhere by the Armenian diaspora.

Armenians have been living in Jerusalem since the fourth century, when they first adopted Christianity. Their brand of Christianity is akin to the Greek and Russian Orthodox versions, but separate from them, with its own church and patriarchate. The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian. The Armenian part is allied with the Christian one and is built around its central church, the Church of St. James. Some of their beautifully-decorated tiles even adorn my kitchen and bathrooms.

Armenians are scattered all over the world, and have made a marked contribution to the art and culture of their host countries. Thus, for example, famous Armenians include composer Aram Kachaturian, who was domiciled in Russia, American singer Kathy Berberian, the painter Arshile Gorky (born Vostanik Adoian) who had a seminal influence on Abstract Expressionism in America, to where he had emigrated, prominent American writer William Saroyan, not forgetting, of course, the contemporary ‘celebrities’ and media personalities, the three Kardashian sisters, Kim, Kourtney and Khloe, who are the subjects and objects of a TV series (which I don’t watch) focusing on their activities and relationships. In fact, they recently visited Israel in order to baptize their baby daughter in the Church of St. James in Jerusalem, occasioning the media stir that usually accompanies visits to this country by media personalities of one kind or another.

Israel’s government has dithered consistently between demonstrating sympathy for the suffering of the Armenians as a people and reluctance to define it as a genocide, largely for reasons of political prudence. What is to be gained by currying favour with the current Turkish leader, who does not display much sympathy for Israel or Jews, is not clear to me, but I suppose some Israeli diplomat or politician somewhere knows the reason why.

But then I suppose it’s only to be expected that diplomats and politicians will generally prefer to avoid calling a spade a spade, even – or even especially – when the question is a clear-cut one of displaying moral fibre.

 

 

What if…?

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 Niqab[2] 

The scenario seems quite feasible. A Muslim political party gains enough votes in the general election in a democratic European country to serve as the key element in the new government. At the same time massive Saudi-Arabian funding is channeled into the greatly depleted coffers of the country’s leading academic institutions. Et voila! The result is Muslim domination of society.

This is the premise behind Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel Soumission, published in France earlier this year. The title, meaning Submission, is the translation of the word Islam, but more of that later.

In the novel, which happened to be published in France on the same day as the murderous attacks by Muslim extremists on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo journal and the kosher supermarket in Paris, Houellebecq describes the rather dull life of a minor academic at the Sorbonne at a time somewhere in the not-too-distant future.

Alongside his descriptions of various locations in and around Paris and other parts of France, as well as his account of his vapid academic work, the narrator gives lurid accounts of his sporadic sexual encounters, whether with female colleagues, former students or paid sex workers. He seems to be unable to work up much enthusiasm for anything or anyone, is used to being told by former lovers that they have ‘met someone else,’ and is torn between his need for sexual congress and his inability to form a close bond with any woman.

Among the strategies to which he resorts in an attempt to dispel his general sense of alienation and unease is a period of retreat in a monastery, but that, too, does little to dispel his sense of general dissatisfaction.

Meanwhile, in the course of the general election the Muslim party gains the ascendancy, and its very capable leader is appointed Prime Minister. It transpires that the academic regime at the Sorbonne is now subject to the laws of Islam. No woman may occupy a teaching post, female students must be covered from head to toe, and male members of the teaching staff are required to convert to Islam and take at least one wife. Those men who are over-occupied with academic life or are unable to find a wife for themselves are helped by matchmakers to make their selection from among the nubile young students.

Although the protagonist has been dismissed from his post and awarded a generous pension, he is envious of the enormous salaries paid to those staff members who have agreed to meet the demands of the new authorities in order to remain in their position. He attends one or two academic receptions and is impressed by the Middle Eastern delicacies on offer, which is hardly surprising since he has been living on a diet of takeaway food or pre-cooked TV dinners from the supermarket. What also strikes him at these events is the total absence of women.

In fact, it finally hits him that short skirts and low necklines seem to have completely disappeared from the streets of Paris, a fact he notes with regret.

A meeting with a senior member of staff, at his luxurious home, during which he is apprised of the fact that the man has at least two wives, one a teenager and the other, older, one a superb cook, seems to constitute the tipping point. His friend expounds on the superiority of Muslim philosophy and the supremacy of family values in Islam, with women owing complete submission to men, and men owing submission only to Allah.

The idea sounds appealing to our rather inadequate male, and so it comes as no surprise to the reader to find that in order to be eligible for the generous salary and prestigious academic position that is offered to him, and to be provided with at least one wife, the nameless protagonist is prepared to undergo the simple ceremony marking his conversion to Islam.

The progression is logical, the ideas propounded convincing, and it would seem to be the author’s contention that it is only a matter of time before all Europe succumbs to the overwhelming logic of male supremacy and the unification of all countries (including those of the Middle East and North Africa) under one set of laws, one language and one religion.

Complete subservience of women to men? Somehow I don’t see that happening in this day and age. At least I fervently hope so.

 

 

Days of Remembrance

 

photo: Yaron Brener

photo: Yaron Brener

  Jewish and Israeli history is replete with both tragic and joyful events, and in fact the life of a Jew living in Israel is something of a roller-coaster existence, taking us from the depths of sorrow one day to the sublime heights of joy the next, whether it’s to celebrate one of the religious festivals or Independence Day, to mark the fallen in Israel’s wars or to remember those who perished in the Holocaust (not to mention other solemn days such as Yom Kippur).

 

Someone once said that those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them, and no one can accuse the Jews of not being aware of their history. In fact, they have erected an entire set of religious beliefs to commemorate their history. Pesach and the Seder denote the exodus from Egypt, Shavuot marks the giving of the ten commandments at Mount Sinai, and Succot reminds us of the booths the Children of Israel erected in their forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

 

Whether by coincidence or design – probably the latter – those festivals, as well as others, also coincide with salient points in the agricultural calendar. In the farming communities of ancient times the seasons and the times of sowing, planting, reaping and harvesting were the main events of the year. Whether they warrant being elevated to the status of religious events is questionable in this day and age, but Jews being what they are the agricultural festivals have remained embedded in daily life, no matter how urbanized and mechanized our lives have become.

 

By the nature of things, Holocaust Day, Remembrance Day and Independence Day are relatively recent inventions. To make matters still more complicated, the first two take place within one week of one another, and the third on the very next day. So that instead of having time to wind down from the sorrow and emotional depths of remembering personal and national tragedies we are almost immediately thrown into a state of euphoria as we celebrate the fact that after so many centuries of suffering the State of Israel exists.

 

The problem for the individual is how to combine, cope with and also separate all those conflicting emotions. And if this is the case with adults, how much more so must it be the case for children?

 

The outgoing Minister of Education introduced a ruling to the effect that preschool children should be taught about the Holocaust. I am not alone in finding this offensive and totally out of place. Who knows what effect learning about the subject – no matter how it is modulated – can have on a young child’s mind? In last week’s newspaper I read a report of one preschool teacher who sent the little ones home with a yellow star pinned to their clothing. This was roundly condemned by all concerned, but I doubt that there’s any ‘right’ way of teaching this subject to infants.

 

It’s hard even for adults and older children to cope with the emotional burden of what happened in the Holocaust. Recently I encountered a protest on Facebook complaining that the day of mourning for ‘a bunch of Ashkenazim’who were killed long ago and far away’ is being taken to undue lengths in preventing the average Joe from watching a football match on TV on that day.

 

The growing divide between the various segments of the population in Israel, as was demonstrated by the recent election results, seems to have given rise to a situation in which some people are unable to understand why the nation as a whole should commemorate something that happened to other Jews in a distant place.

I doubt that anyone has suggested it, but perhaps it’s time to introduce a day to commemorate the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Maybe then those people who object to commemorating the Holocaust will be appeased.

  

‘The King’s Curse’ by Philippa Gregory

 Henry

 Although I don’t share the enthusiasm that millions of viewers have for the TV fantasy series ‘Game of Thrones,’ I am fascinated by the lives and machinations of real-life monarchs. I recently learned that the idea for that series derives from the actual history of France in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and I realized that it also bears a resemblance to the history of England at the same time, the period of civil war known as the Wars of the Roses. This was brought to the small screen in the excellent BBC series ‘The White Queen,’ which itself was based on the book of that title by Philippa Gregory.

 So I was overjoyed when our good friends from the Netherlands brought me a copy of the novel entitled ‘The King’s Curse,’ by the same author. That book deals with the life and times of Henry VIII, the son of the Tudor King Henry VII, whose defeat of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth and subsequent marriage to Margaret of York, Richard’s niece, put an end to tha conflict. It is a large tome, comprising almost 600 pages, so I had to wait until I had a decent period of time in which to devote myself to the book, and I found that once I had started reading it I couldn’t put it down.

 It starts in the year 1499 in London, where Henry VII has just executed the brother of the heroine-narrator of the story, Lady Margaret Pole, another niece of King Richard III. Lady Margaret is cousin to the queen and also her trusted lady-in-waiting and confidante. As a girl, together with her late mother, Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York had pronounced a curse on whoever had murdered her two young brothers in the Tower of London, thus ending any hopes the Plantagenets may have had of providing a successor to Richard III. Under the curse, the culprit would be left without male issue – the sine qua non for succession to the throne of England. According to Shakespeare it was Richard who was responsible for the murder, but evidently Philippa Gregory does not subscribe to that view.

 From the viewpoint of Margaret Pole, who has been stripped of her royal rank but permitted to remain at court in the position of lady-in-waiting to the queen, we learn about the way the life of the court is conducted, the political maneouvering within the nobility, and the tyrannous hold King Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, has over her son and hence over everything that is decided at court and in the entire kingdom.

 After the death of her own husband, followed by that of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, Margaret Pole is banished from court and forced to seek refuge in a nunnery, together with her two youngest children, while the two oldest boys are sent to live with a relative and the third son is placed in a monastery while still a child. The vicissitudes of Margaret’s life are described in detail, and eventually she is restored to her former estate and brought back to court.

 English history comes to life through the account Margaret Pole gives of the marriage of the heir to the throne, Prince Arthur, to Princess Katherine of Aragon, the death of the young bridegroom followed by that of his father, Henry VII, and the accession to the throne and marriage to Katherine of the younger brother, who becomes Henry VIII. The vagaries of the relationship between the husband and wife, focusing on the latter’s failure to give birth to a boy, dominate the narrative at this point. Our narrator, Margaret, becomes lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine and develops a close friendship with her, to the extent that she is appointed governess of her daughter, Princess Mary.

 After Anne Boleyn’s entry onto the scene, first as Henry’s current love interest, later as his wife, the need for a male heir is the overriding subject that dominates that couple’s relations with one another and, eventually, Henry’s attitude to the accepted religion, the Pope and his own role as king. It is this which constitutes the motivation for the dissolution of the monasteries, the Reformation and the establishment of the Anglican church in England, revolutionizing the established social order and the relations between church and state in the kingdom.

 The rise and fall of Cardinal Wolsey, followed by the careers and fates of Henry VIII’s other advisors, Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell, also play a significant part in the book, and through them we gain a better understanding of how and why the various measures were introduced, steps taken and laws introduced, still affecting our world today.

 The reader gains insight into life in Tudor England at the level of the minutiae of individual life as well as at those of national politics and sociological developments. Never writing in a dry, academic way, Philippa Gregory reveals her deep and extensive knowledge of her subject, though her writing is never boring. This book provides the reader with a broad view of a time and place when people’s lives and motivations bore a clear resemblance to those of today, one that still reverberates throughout our current existence but one in which – thankfully – the English monarch no longer wields the power to execute subjects whom he or she regards as disobedient or menacing.

 In an author’s note at the end of the book Ms. Gregory mentions recent medical research which suggests that Henry VIII may have belonged to a rare blood type, inherited from his mother, which was incompatible with that of his wives, causing them to miscarry male babies, and also giving rise to his paranoia and physical degeneration in later life. This might explain some of Henry’s behavior, but I’m convinced that no imaginary TV series could ever come up with a better explanation.

 

Coffee, Cantatas and Bach

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 coffee cup

A Saturday morning all-Bach concert in the neighbouring village of Abu Ghosh was an occasion not to be missed, especially as it coincided with a special birthday. And what an occasion it was! It marked the conclusion of the Barrocade ensemble’s concert season, featured Finnish violinist and conductor Andres Mustonen, and the programme included Bach’s Cantata no. 140, Brandenburg concerto no. 5 and his concerto for oboe d’amore. A rich programme indeed, and one that ended on a particularly attractive note – a performance of Bach’s Coffee Cantata

 

The history of the spread of coffee in Europe in the seventeenth century is the subject of legend. According to some reports an Ethiopian farmer noted the lively behavior of his goats after they had chewed the berries of a certain bush. From there the coffee drink spread throughout the Arab world, was traded by the Ottomans with Venice, and entered Europe via that route.

 

According to another account, when the invading Ottoman army was routed by the troops of the Holy Roman Empire at the siege of Vienna in 1683, the Turks left large quantities of tents, pack animals, grain and gold as well as sacks filled with green coffee beans. When the booty was distributed it transpired that no one wanted the beans, which were unknown in Vienna at the time. A Polish resident of Vienna by the name of Kolschitsky who had lived in Istanbul and served as an interpreter, offered to take the sacks. He knew how to prepare coffee, and later established the first coffee house in Vienna, from where the institution spread to the rest of Europe.

 

Coffee houses became meeting places and the scene of social gatherings, the forerunner of the men’s club; women were banned from them in England and France, while in Germany they were permitted to enter. In Bach’s time in Leipzig (1723 until his death in 1750) the Zimmerman Café was well known as a meeting place for musicians, it housed the Collegium Musicum, an ensemble that was established there in 1702 by Telemann, and it was there that Bach’s Coffee Cantata was first performed.

 

We all know Bach as a serious, prolific and God-fearing composer, and the cantatas he composed for performance in the framework of the weekly church service are a mainstay of the musical repertoire, not to mention his many other orchestral, chamber and choral compositions.

 

We also know that Bach had a large family, and it would seem that – perhaps inevitably – he also had a sense of humour. At any rate, the Coffee Cantata begins with the narrator telling the audience (in German) to ‘Shut up, and stop chattering,’ which probably reflects what was happening in the coffee house at the time.

 

The two main characters in what is essentially a mini-opera, the father, Schlendrian (literally, ‘Stick in the Mud’) and Lieschen, his daughter, are in disagreement because the father objects to his daughter’s habit of drinking coffee. The two engage in an entertaining musical duel – the father trying every ruse he can think of to stop his daughter drinking coffee and the daughter happily accepting every restriction he seeks to impose in order to be able to continue indulging in the habit. In the performance we attended the singers donned period costume and acted their roles, using props such as coffee cups of various shapes and sizes. However, when the father threatens to prevent his daughter from marrying she finally agrees to stop drinking coffee and urges him to find her a husband, though secretly resolving that whoever he may be he will have to allow her to drink coffee.

 

At this point, much to the audience’s amusement, the father started to point to one or another member of the audience, indicating that they might be a suitable match. But Lieschen has a plan of her own and it turns out that her choice has fallen on the personable young tenor-narrator. The cantata ends with all three singing joyfully about the delights of coffee, a beverage that is enjoyed even by mothers and grandmothers. The message seems to be ‘if you can’t beat them, join them,’ and that is possibly a lesson that Bach himself had to learn in his long and productive life.

 

(In honour of Yigal’s 75th birthday)

 

 

More of the Same

 

knesset[1]

Like most – if not all – of my friends, I was disappointed by the outcome of Israel’s recent general election. Perhaps I was not quite as disappointed as some of them, as I had been expecting a result along the lines of what actually transpired. I still remember the night about ten years ago when ‘we went to bed with Peres and woke up with Netanyahu.’ It is not only the pre-election polls that are deceptive (has anyone ever told those pollsters about taking a representative random sample?), the actual results are not final until every last vote has been counted, and some of those are sent from abroad by diplomats and other service personnel and can have a significant effect on the result.

Some friends confess to being ‘clinically depressed’ by the result, and deeply worried for Israel’s future, and more pertinently, the future of our children and grandchildren. I grant that those are legitimate concerns, but at this stage, having cast our vote and fulfilled our democratic duty, there is little more we can do, and worrying isn’t going to help.

The bottom line seems to be that Israel is no longer the open, liberal country with a social conscience that it was intended to be, and essentially was to begin with. Both the sociological composition of the population and the geopolitical situation around us have changed, and it is impossible to remain stuck in the same mindset as we were over sixty years ago.

One radical change is embodied in the fact that the people who founded the State, the kibbutzniks who tilled the soil and worked day and night to make the desert flourish, were made pariahs by the hate-filled rhetoric of right-wing leaders, starting with the saintly Menahem Begin. In fact, the rhetoric of hatred has generally been the prime instrument of the leaders of Israel’s right-wing parties. It led to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and just now, as we went to vote in the recent election, it was used by Bibi Netanyahu to garner votes.

That approach, which is supported by what is evidently the majority of voters, is based on a combination of genuine security considerations and the sense of injustice felt by that segment of the population that regards itself as disadvantaged. The people who voted for Netanyahu may well be disadvantaged, but little has been done to improve their lot by the Likud party in the last ten years – and in many cases their situation is worse today than it ever was under a party with socialist leanings.

It has been posited that the situation in Israel today is akin to one of tribalism – there is the orthodox tribe, the disadvantaged tribe, the prosperous tribe, and the Arab tribe – and each one hates and either despises or envies the other. That is a view to which I prefer not to subscribe, though it cannot be denied that at election time the differences between the various segments of Israel’s populatio are cultivated and exploited by the political parties.

Security matters aside, the vision of egalitarianism and enlightenment that was the banner held aloft by Israel’s founding generation, and to achieve which they were prepared to endure privation and discomfort, has been trampled underfoot by the combination of economic policies that promote self-interest and an ideology that pays little heed to caring for those less fortunate. Many of those who voted for Netanyahu will continue to remain disadvantaged and will have no one to blame but themselves.

 

 

More of the Same

 knesset[1]

 Like most – if not all – of my friends, I was disappointed by the outcome of Israel’s recent general election. Perhaps I was not quite as disappointed as some of them, as I had been expecting a result along the lines of what actually transpired. I still remember the night about ten years ago when ‘we went to bed with Peres and woke up with Netanyahu.’ It is not only the pre-election polls that are deceptive (has anyone ever told those pollsters about taking a representative random sample?), the actual results are not final until every last vote has been counted, and some of those are sent from abroad by diplomats and other service personnel and can have a significant effect on the result.

Some friends confess to being ‘clinically depressed’ by the result, and deeply worried for Israel’s future, and more pertinently, the future of our children and grandchildren. I grant that those are legitimate concerns, but at this stage, having cast our vote and fulfilled our democratic duty, there is little more we can do, and worrying isn’t going to help.

The bottom line seems to be that Israel is no longer the open, liberal country with a social conscience that it was intended to be, and essentially was to begin with. Both the sociological composition of the population and the geopolitical situation around us have changed, and it is impossible to remain stuck in the same mindset as we were over sixty years ago.

One radical change is embodied in the fact that the people who founded the State, the kibbutzniks who tilled the soil and worked day and night to make the desert flourish, were made pariahs by the hate-filled rhetoric of right-wing leaders, starting with the saintly Menahem Begin. In fact, the rhetoric of hatred has generally been the prime instrument of the leaders of Israel’s right-wing parties. It led to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and just now, as we went to vote in the recent election, it was used by Bibi Netanyahu to garner votes.

That approach, which is supported by what is evidently the majority of voters, is based on a combination of genuine security considerations and the sense of injustice felt by that segment of the population that regards itself as disadvantaged. The people who voted for Netanyahu may well be disadvantaged, but little has been done to improve their lot by the Likud party in the last ten years – and in many cases their situation is worse today than it ever was under a party with socialist leanings.

It has been posited that the situation in Israel today is akin to one of tribalism – there is the orthodox tribe, the disadvantaged tribe, the prosperous tribe, and the Arab tribe – and each one hates and either despises or envies the other. That is a view to which I prefer not to subscribe, though it cannot be denied that at election time the differences between the various segments of Israel’s populatio are cultivated and exploited by the political parties.

Security matters aside, the vision of egalitarianism and enlightenment that was the banner held aloft by Israel’s founding generation, and to achieve which they were prepared to endure privation and discomfort, has been trampled underfoot by the combination of economic policies that promote self-interest and an ideology that pays little heed to caring for those less fortunate. Many of those who voted for Netanyahu will continue to remain disadvantaged and will have no one to blame but themselves.

 

 

Memories

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Dry Rot

 

Presumably I’m not the only person who finds it difficult to dispose of theatre programmes (or ‘theater programs’ as it’s spelled in the US). In recent years, as my attendance at performances has increased I’ve become more ruthless in my attitude to these mementos. Thus, I have been able to dispose of them and put them in the recycling bin, even though it’s with a heavy heart and only after I’ve done my best to read almost every word before I do so.

 However, over the years the box containing the programmes I collected in my childhood and teenage years of concerts and plays I was taken to see has survived somehow. Until this year, that is, when exigencies of space in our overcrowded basement have forced me to face up to cruel reality and get rid of those precious – and by now ancient – objects.

 But not without a last, lingering look, I said, and so I have just spent an interesting few hours with those remnants of my lost youth, dredging up memories and in some cases wondering where on earth they came from. In some instances, to my shame, I have absolutely no recollection whatsoever of the event, while others have occasioned a glow of happiness.

 How come that I have no memory whatsoever of what must have been a stellar performance of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear,’ with Charles Laughton and Albert Finney, amongst others? The play was given at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon, so presumably I was taken there in the framework of a school outing, and that admittedly was a long time ago (1959). There were other such school outings, mainly of Shakespeare’s plays or something else of a ‘classical’ nature, and I do remember our total puzzlement when we were taken to a performance of ‘The Antigone of Sophocles’ given at the Cambridge Arts Theatre in the original Greek, of all things – a language we did not study at school. In the programme, beside each student-actor’s name, stands the college to which he or she belonged, which I’m sure must have been very gratifying for the performers.

 As a teenager one of my boyfriends was interested mainly in musicals, and so I was fortunate enough to attend early performances of ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Oliver,’ and ‘My Fair Lady.’ I can credit my acquaintance with the light operas of Gilbert and Sullivan to another past flame, as my parents’ taste was restricted to performances of serious choral music (Handel’s ‘Messiah,’ Verdi’s ‘Requiem,’ etc.). We also went on an annual family outing to something lighter, generally of a humourous nature. Among the crumbling programmes are those for something called ‘Share My Lettuce,’ featuring the now-forgotten British comedian Kenneth Williams, and a review entitled ‘At the Drop of a Hat,’ in which Michael Flanders and Donald Swann starred in what is described as an ‘After-Dinner Farrago.’ I can’t remember much about it and I still don’t know what a Farrago is, but the main thing was that we all enjoyed ourselves. Being taken to a performance by a boyfriend or one’s parents doesn’t give one much choice as to what to see, however.

 My own personal preference was for anything that would make me laugh, and so I remember trying to persuade unwilling schoolfriends to join me for the phenomenon known at the time (late 1950s and 1960s) as ‘a Whitehall Farce.’ These were light-hearted romps, often based on French bedroom farces, performed at London’s Whitehall Theatre (which no longer exists), in which a troupe of actors directed by and starring one Brian Rix performed on a more or less regular basis. The plays were all slightly racy and very entertaining, though I presumably missed half the innuendos. But the highlight for me came after the performance, when I would drag my friend round to the stage door and get the actors to sign our programmes as they left the building. I remember that they all seemed perfectly happy to do so, and this seemed to give me some kind of intimacy with the magical world of the theatre.

 Now all those memories are going to be deposited in the recycling receptacle, unless I manage to find an individual or institution which is interested in matters theatrical and would be prepared to take the dozens of programmes off my hands.

 

 

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