Adieu Limousin

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Our summer in Limousin concluded with a short stay further south, at a Gite in the countryside near the picturesque village of Montcuq. Finding the place called Mondaunet put our GPS under a lot of pressure, as the name did not feature in its database, but eventually, after several phone calls to the owners, we got there while it was still daylight, knowing for sure that we’d never find it in the dark.

We were greeted by our host singing, ‘A blessing on your head, Mazal tov, Mazal tov,’ upon hearing that we were from Israel, and his patter, string of jokes, puns and songs kept up a constant flow during our two days there. Peter’s long suffering wife, the delightful Zoe, would occasionally mutter ‘I think that’s enough, Peter,’ but Peter was not to be deterred. And so we spent  our brief stay there in a constant state of hysterical laughter, other than when we were trying to counter with a joke of our own. It is quite an experience to be entertained by your host over a lavish continental breakfast in the charming dining room-cum-living room that Zoeand Peter have created themselves from what was once a tobacco-drying barn.

Judith, our friend in Montcuq, accompanied us on our last night to the neighboring village of Lauzerte, where a concert was to be given in the framework of the region’s Festival du Quercy Blanc in the medieval church of St. Barthélemy. Although the string trio does not have a name, the three musicians, Mark Drobinsky on cello, Anton Martynov on violin and Ralph Szigeti on viola, gave a stellar performance of works by Bach, Schubert, Dvorak and Beethoven.

What a wonderful way to end another magnificent summer in La Belle France, and no Brexit or Brexiteer is going to spoil our enjoyment of the good things of life, and the good things of life in France in particular.

 

The Creuse in WWII

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In this far-flung corner in the middle of France lies an agricultural region where villages and hamlets, and mainly isolated farms, nestle in the verdant hills and valleys. The area is not distinguished by being near to the sea or anywhere near any mountains, and this in fact is its distinguishing feature. Because of its geophysical characteristics it is subject to long cold winters and fairly long hot summers, sometimes interspersed by spring and autumn, though this is not always the case. In some respects it resembles the Mid-West of the USA and, as I have lived for some time there, too, I have found that in both places the local people are warm-hearted, honest and kind.

I have no statistical data to bear out my theories, though I do have some personal information, so I must try to avoid descending into sweeping generalizations. Consequently, I won’t venture to state that in this part of France the Resistance was at least as active as anywhere else, and that a relatively large number of Jews and others considered undesirable by the Nazis found refuge in one or another remote village or hamlet.

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The occupying Germans did their best to hunt down and capture any and every expression of resistance wherever they could find it, and even elsewhere. The nearby village of Oradour-sur-Glane paid a heavy price in 1944, when the entire population of the village (642 men, women and children) were massacred in a retaliatory action.

An exhibition of photographs taken by an amateur photographer in the Creuse during the Occupation is currently being held at the Departmental Archives in the town of Gueret. The photos were taken by Jacques Poudensam, a local pharmacist and dentist, and the grainy black-and-white pictures portray a period of hardship and determination, showing how the people of the Creuse coped with the situation, and also how they fought against the enemy.

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Thus we see tired housewives standing in line in May 1943 in order to buy their meagre ration of meat (anyone who has read Kristin Hannah’s novel, ‘The Nightingale,’ will have a pretty clear idea of the situation), as well as a German reconnaissance plane over the town in August 1944. Battles or skirmishes between the Germans and the local Resistance forces continued throughout the period of the Occupation, but intensified towards the end of the war, especially once news came through of the Allied landing in Normandy in June 1944.

A number of plaques can be found on the walls of buildings in the centre of Gueret commemorating members of the Resistance who fell there in 1944, such as the one commemorating Wolf Glicenztzein, aged 55, who was killed there on 7th June 1944. The exhibition contains photos showing the French flag hoisted aloft the church tower in June 1944, and members of the Maquis marching proudly through the Gueret market place in August 1944. Finally, in November 1944, we see troops (presumably of the Free French forces) massed in Place Bonnyaud (where the Gueret market is now held every week). Bear in mind the fact that Paris was liberated by the Free French forces, led by de Gaulle, in August 1944, not long after the Allied landing in Normandy.

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And so, a small, almost insignificant exhibition in an out-of-the-way French town reveals the heroism and fortitude of the local populace at a time when most of Europe was suffering under the yoke of the Nazi aspiration for world dominance. Only by the concerted effort and sacrifice of many millions of people, both civilian and military, was it possible for that dream to be crushed so that sanity could prevail once more.

 

 

 

Bloody Barbarians

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I consider myself to be something of a purist when it comes to the English language, which is hardly surprising since I’ve spent most of my adult life working as a translator/editor/writer. I try to avoid profanities, and will rarely even press ‘Like’ for Facebook items that use them.

However, every rule has to have its exception, and the recent terrorist attacks that have been perpetrated in France, where I’m holidaying at the moment, have brought me to cast aside all my scruples about linguistic propriety and define the individuals who committed those outrages in the terms above (or worse).

Brought up in what seems in retrospect to have been the idyllic atmosphere of England in the 1950s, albeit in conditions of relative poverty and privation, I have imbibed the values and attitudes of a caring and egalitarian society, founded on the principles of justice and decency that stem from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

That may be why it is so difficult for me to understand what goes through the mind of a young man anywhere, anytime who takes a truck and ploughs through a crowd of people celebrating an evening of fireworks marking Bastille day, or wields a knife or gun to cold-bloodedly murder a middle-aged couple, an elderly priest, or a group of children together with their teacher.

I’m no psychologist, I admit, but it seems to me that there are too many people out there with criminal or psychopathic tendencies, and when those individuals are encouraged by a certain religion to go out and kill anyone who does not share their religious or political or national views the result is the kind of atrocity we have witnessed in the last few weeks.

Back in the Middle Ages it was considered acceptable to kill those who disagreed with you, and even Christianity, the religion of brotherly love, has engaged in activities of that kind in the past (think of the Crusades, the Huguenots, the Wars of Religion in Europe that ended with ‘cuius regio eius religio,’ whereby the ruler’s subjects follow his religion).

However, the generally accepted view till now has been that the defeat or collapse of the societies that perpetrated atrocities in Europe in recent years has put an end to modern acts of barbarity, with the establishment of the European Union constituting the cornerstone of the new era of international peace and cooperation.

Unfortunately, however, no one seems to have paid sufficient attention to what has been happening in distant corners of the Middle East and the Arabian peninsula, where the methods and mores of the Middle Ages still prevail. Now, it seems, those trends and attitudes have managed to spread their tentacles beyond that region, a process that is facilitated by the movement of people resulting from the barbarism of their own rulers.

Here, in rural France, where all is peaceful and the countryside a symphony in green, hearing and reading about those horrific incidents in another part of the country makes one shudder and wonder whether life can ever be the same again in the country of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. How can rampant barbarism exist in the country that has produced the highest expressions of human achievement in the arts, philosophy and science?

In an ‘Open letter to a Candidate for Jihad,’ Zineb el Rhazoui, a young journalist of Moroccan origin, writes in last week’s ‘Le Figaro’ magazine of her contempt for those young men who, unlike her, have grown up in France, benefited from that country’s free education and medical care, are more fluent in French than in Arabic, and don’t even know what the word Jihad means (effort, she says). They are so brainwashed by their religious leaders, she claims, that they are ready to abandon every shred of decency and respect for human life. She ends her article by pointing out that Muslims and Arab culture play a prominent part in modern France, and that it would be better for those young men and for society at large if they were to invest their energies in helping others and contributing to the wider society rather than indulging in a frenzy of destruction and murder that benefits no one, least of all themselves.

If only her voice would penetrate the thick skulls of those bloody barbarians.

 

 

 

 

 

Two Novels About Jews in England

 Conspiracy

 

A book entitled ‘A Conspiracy of Paper’ by David Liss (published by Ballantine Books, New York, 2000) recently came into my hands by chance. The main subject – intrigues, violence and even murder in connection with trading on the stock exchange in early eighteenth-century England – is not one that would normally attract my interest. However, the opening pages revealed that the main character, who is also the narrator, is a Jew, and this naturally aroused my curiosity.

As luck would have it, and again purely by chance, another book I read recently (‘A Second Daniel, A Tudor Intrigue’ by Neal Roberts), was also – albeit incidentally – about the situation of Jews in England, this time in the period of Elizabeth the First. At that time Jews had not yet been officially allowed to reside in England, yet nonetheless some did, and even the queen’s physician was a Jew, although he came to a bad end. Jews were officially allowed back into England during the rule of Oliver Cromwell in the seventeenth century, although they were subject to various restrictions as to where they could reside and in which occupations they could engage. Thus it was that, as was the case in most of Europe, Jews were not allowed to own land or engage in any profession other than certain kinds of commerce or usury.

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Jews had been living in England since the time of William the Conqueror (eleventh century), but were increasingly subjected to restrictions, harassment and eventually persecution, murder, expropriation of their property and expulsion by Edward 1 in the thirteenth century.

In eighteenth-century England certain aspects of trading on the stock exchange seem to have been open to Jews, and the ins and outs of these transactions are described in considerable detail in the book, particularly in relation to the rivalry between the two major financial institutions: the South Sea Company and the Bank of England. The events described in the book take place a few years before the famous South Sea Bubble, in which shares in the South Sea Company suddenly lost most of their value, causing many investors to lose a great deal of money.

According to an interview with the author that appears at the end of the book, its main protagonist, Daniel Weaver, is based on a real person, Daniel Mendoza, a Jewish boxer who was well-known for his successes in the ring in his day. Like his fictitious counterpart, Mendoza eventually became a debt-collector and thief-taker at a time when London was without a police force, and crime and violence were everyday occurrences.

The plot of ‘A Second Daniel,’ contains several parallels to ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ and the events surrounding the actual trial and death of Dr. Lopez, Queen Elizabeth 1’s physician, may well have served to inspire Shakespeare to write his play. The legal status of Jews in England at the time was precarious, to say the least, though the fact that Lopez was able to serve as the queen’s physician indicates that exceptions could be made. Fortunately, the author spares us a graphic description of Lopez’s death, although the mere knowledge of it is enough to give anyone nightmares.

‘A Conspiracy of Silence’ contains lively descriptions of the London underworld at the time, as well as of the life of the Jewish inhabitants of the city. Particularly telling is the following statement made by the narrator’s uncle: ” …you would understand the dangers of being a rich Jew in this country. We cannot own property, we cannot engage in certain kinds of business. For centuries they have herded us into dealing with their money for them, and they have hated us for doing what they permitted.”

Daniel Weaver finds himself maligned for being a Jew, albeit not an observant one, and attacked for trying to find the person or persons responsible for the murder of his father. He is successful in his quest, but loses the woman he seeks to marry. His tale is typical of the fate that befell many Jews throughout the centuries and wherever in the world they happened to be living. Harried and harassed, chased from pillar to post, persecuted and subjected to indignities, insults and maltreatment for generations, their sad and tragic history culminated in the Holocaust that sought to eliminate them from the face of the earth.

And yet they have survived. Their situation today, with a State of their own, is one which can only be described as little short of miraculous.

 

French Country Life

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If you want to get up close and personal with the life of the population of rural France you must at least once in your life attend a Kermesse Paroissiale, a kind of parish fete, a function which is held once a year in order to raise funds for and support the local churches.

Today there are very few functioning churches in central France, although virtually every village has at least one such structure, many of them dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when religious belief and observance were more widespread than they are today. These churches serve more as venues for concerts, when these are organized by the regional authority. This year, apparently as a result of the restructuring of the region’s government, with the merging of several regions into one unit in order to reduce managerial and administrative costs, the usual series of seven or eight concerts given in local churches in the summer is not being held, apparently due to lack of funds.

A friend who is an active member of her local church and the wider parish (which incorporates several dozen otherwise-empty churches) invited us to attend the Kermesse this year, and even persuaded us to donate a prize (one of my paintings) for the tombola to be held to end the event.

The programme for the day was packed with activities, starting at 9.30 in the morning with a mass and a guided tour of the abbey, continuing with the release of doves, and games for adults and children and ending with a tombola draw at five in the evening. The high point of the day was the cold buffet midday meal, consisting of dishes prepared by the members of the parish.

This year the Kermesse was held in the grounds of an ancient, partly-ruined abbey, providing ample space for stands offering drinks, crepes, second-hand books, clothes, and home-made cakes and biscuits. For each drink, crepe, etc. one paid a symbolic amount, and much friendly banter and even earnest conversation was conducted alongside the transactions. The weather was fine and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

The only drawback, if it can be called one, was the fact that the number of participants far exceeded expectations, and whereas tables and benches for one hundred guests had been prepared inside what had apparently once been the abbey’s refectory, over one hundred and fifty people queued up to partake of the food. There was quite a crush, partly because some people were apparently unused to the principle of taking something to eat and moving away to let others approach. Nonetheless, everyone displayed admirable forbearance and waited patiently or simply jumped the queue and went round to the other side of the table in the elegant and jovial way that is unique to French country-folk.

When we managed to find a place to sit together with our French friends we were surprised to find an elderly couple sitting quietly at our table with nothing to eat. They both appeared to be handicapped to varying degrees, and told us that they were waiting for the crush at the buffet to abate before they could approach it. They looked wistfully at our plates laden with food, and after a while, seeing that there was no progress, Yigal simply took the elderly gentleman by the hand, led him to the buffet, and steered him past the people standing there to the other side, where he could prepare plates for himself and his wife. The couple’s gratitude was touching, but it struck us as rather odd that the locals did not seem to have any concern for those among them who were weaker or incapacitated.

Feeling exhausted by our efforts and the need to speak in French, we went to the cake stand and bought something to have with our coffee when we got home. The stand seemed to be manned (womanned) mainly by English-speaking ladies, and the main topic of conversation was of course Brexit and its implications. We left the abbey just as the musical interlude (an accordionist playing French tunes) was beginning. On the drive home through the verdant countryside we felt glad that we had made our own small contribution to cordial international relations.

 

 

Ex-Mex-Brex

 

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The border official at Marseille airport laughed heartily when I expressed regret for the result of the Brexit referendum upon presenting my British passport for inspection. On the cover of the passport, in addition to the words ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ (I wonder how long that will still be relevant), and the pretty emblem of the crown protected by the lion and the unicorn, are emblazoned the words ‘European Union.’ Are they now going to have to replace all the British passports? That should keep the two and a half officials who deal with such matters busy for a while. But it makes me wonder whether other British passport-holders share my sense of embarrassment whenever they have to show their passports while travelling around Europe now.

Since I’m currently in France I decided to undertake my own private non-random and non-objective survey of opinions among British expats living here and, as expected, opinions were divided. One person said he would have voted to leave because England was never wholly in Europe anyway. How come? It hadn’t adopted the Euro and wasn’t in Shengen. But it was a fully paid-up member, I protested. That didn’t really signify, was the answer, and come to think of it, the result of the referendum seems to bear this out.

“The vote reflects class differences,” was the reasoning proffered by another ex-pat friend. She went on to expound the theory that the British working class is totally fed up with the system that provides benefits to all and sundry (themselves included), but especially to migrants. These benefits include housing, child-support (even for children resident in another country), unemployment benefit, and various others. They, too, have a point, it seems, but perhaps they are at fault themselves for maintaining the system that allocates these goodies on such a widespread scale.

“All politicians are liars anyway,” another expat told me, “and that’s why I never vote in elections. I don’t believe a single thing any one of them says.” On reflection and in view of recent events and revelations, it would seem that he has a point.

For the moment life goes on pretty much as before for the British expats in France, just as it probably does for the French expats living in England, though both are adversely affected by the depreciation of sterling. It has been suggested that since the numbers of expats on both sides are more or less balanced it will not really serve anyone’s interests to make any major changes.

One French newspaper put a picture of Boris Johnson on the cover of its weekly magazine with the French equivalent of ‘Bloody English!’ as the caption. Some Brits in France are contemplating applying for French citizenship, or at least residency, which is relatively easily obtained (at least five years as a resident and some proficiency in the French language), and that, of course, would resolve many of the problems now starting to be associated with British citizenship. But all that is part of the black hole that is the future.

But most French people don’t seem to be greatly exercised by the whole saga. Their attention has been focused almost entirely on the European football contest that has just ended in the defeat of the home team (Les Blues) by Portugal. But they had a good run for their money and the whole affair served to boost public morale and divert attention from the troubles at home (revolutionary labour laws, unemployment, strikes, go-slows, etc.), and soon we’ll have the Olympic games, and so it goes (the concept of bread and circuses has been around for a very long time). The ancient Chinese curse, ‘may you live in interesting times,’ seems to be coming home to roost, with a vengeance.

 

What happens next?

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It was inevitable, yet no-one saw it coming. Everyone was in denial, hoping against hope that common sense would prevail. But it didn’t, and here we are, over a week after the referendum, trying to work out what’s going to happen now that Brexit’s here.

At an informal get-together of expat Brits and Americans now living in Israel a couple of days after the result had become clear there was a general consensus. The British public is too stupid for its own good. The overriding motivation leading the average Britisher to vote to leave the EU was mainly resentment of those better-off than themselves, of foreigners in general and of a pace and way of life that seems to have left them behind. What they dislike most in the world are all those ‘experts’ who cautioned against leaving the EU. The bottom line here, in my opinion, is that this reflects the massive failure of the British education system.

The arguments against leaving the EU had been clearly set out by the Remain campaign, only to be derided as ‘scaremongering’ by those who opposed it. Of course, if there was any scaremongering afoot it was coming from the other side, with dire predictions of the UK being inundated by influxes of Polish plumbers and Czech waitresses. And that’s before the hordes of Syrian, Afghan and Sudanese migrants start absailing up the White Cliffs of Dover.

“There’s too many people here now,” I heard one interviewee complain on TV, standing outside a row of neat semi-detached homes, one of which was presumably his: “Now we can’t afford to buy housing and we have to wait a week to see a doctor.” He omitted to mention the thousands of medical personnel who now man England’s severely understaffed and underfunded National Health system. In the same programme an offended Polish carpenter declared: “I qualified in my profession in Poland, came to England to work, not to live on benefits, take home the same pay as my English-born colleagues, and still they won’t even speak to me on the factory floor.”

The sad fact is that as soon as the result of the referendum became known, the value of the pound plummeted, setting off turmoil in currencies and stock markets all over the world. It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good, as the saying goes, so anyone who had bet against sterling made a tidy profit. But what about all the poor sods, like the average British punter, who is left with a severely devalued pound in his or her pocket? It spells a bleak prospect for everyone, and especially for British expats living abroad and relying on a pension from the UK, of whom there are over one million.

The most telling image conveying the probable effect of Brexit on life in Britain was the picture I saw on Facebook displaying French wines and cheeses and all kinds of other delicacies stacked at one end of a table with a lone tin of baked bins at the other end. The message was clear – food and other products from abroad are going to become more expensive in England. The same goes for the holidays that British people have become accustomed to spending abroad, in search of the sun that somehow seems to avoid Britain in the summer. A wag pointed out gleefully that this means that there will be fewer British yobs on the beaches of Benidorm, and that is some consolation for those who can still afford to go. Thank goodness we still have music to soothe our spirits in this time of doom and gloom.

Scotland is talking about seceding from the UK in order to remain in the EU, while the Irish Republic, which is in the EU, may well benefit by becoming the location of choice for financial firms currently in London and seeking to continue to gain preferred access to the EU. The repercussions, implications and reverberations of all the changes arising from this momentous decision are too many and too complex to contemplate, and one can only hope that someone, somewhere is working hard to prepare plans that will help to make the process as smooth as possible.

Nevertheless, I’m very much afraid that dear old England, the country of my birth and the country which gave shelter to my parents when they were refugees back in 1938, the country which I love and to which I bear an immense debt of gratitude, is in for a rocky ride.

 

Terror and Empathy

Whether it was by coincidence or not, the supplement that came with the Ha’aretz newspaper last weekend contained a long article about – and interview with – Professor Telma Handler, a psychiatrist, psychologist and international expert on the brain whose most recent research has focused on the mechanism of empathy.

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The terrorist attack by two Palestinians the previous evening on Israelis enjoying the evening in the Sarona area of Tel Aviv was too fresh to have triggered the interview, and then the violent attacks, in different parts of the world, came thick and fast.

The killing and wounding by a lone gunman of almost one hundred people enjoying an evening at an LGTB club in Orlando, Florida was the first event of a week of violence, followed by the stabbing murder of a police officer and his partner in France and culminating (if that’s the right term) in the savage assassination of British MP Jo Cox in her Yorkshire constituency of Birstall. Three events, each of which was shocking in its own right, combined to cast a pall of gloom over the lives of many millions of individuals, and certainly over mine.

What causes someone to take a knife and brutally butcher another human being, or fire round after round from an assault rifle at people who are dancing, enjoying a meal or returning home after a day at work? The explanation can’t be as simple as the fact that you don’t agree with their politics, sexual preferences or religion. It is true that violence has always been part of human history, with the male of the species having a greater tendency to engage in violent than women. And yet, it’s a far cry from throwing a punch or two or charging at the enemy in the framework of a military conflict to calmly mowing down people you have never even seen before.

In the article in Ha’aretz we read that the lynching by members of the public in Beersheva of a migrant worker who was mistakenly thought to have been involved in a terrorist attack was what stimulated Professor Handler to study what causes us to feel empathy for one person and animosity towards another. There is, it seems, a specific part of the human brain that responds to situations of stress, anger or trauma and in so doing suppresses our sense of empathy towards the ‘other.’ In addition, the individual on his or her own reacts differently to situations than do groups, and therein lies part of the explanation. Obviously, it is easier – both physically and psychologically – to harm someone if you are in a group than if you are on your own.

But that is not the whole story. The hatred for Jews and revulsion from them as a group was cultivated assiduously by the Nazis from the moment they came to power, ultimately enabling individuals and groups to engage in the wholesale murder of six million of them. By the time that action was required the Jews were no longer regarded as human beings but rather as something sub-human, as vermin that had to be ‘exterminated.’ Killing Jews was defined as ‘cleansing’ (making Germany Judenrein) and not as murder – an action that implies a human object. Demonising and dehumanizing an individual or group tends to precede the capacity to harm them, and it is a regrettable fact that certain groups of people are taught to perceive others in that light.

Evidently education, or indoctrination, plays a key role in human behaviour, and it would be fair to say that in three of the four murderous attacks mentioned above came from Muslims of one kind or another. People say that ‘true Islam’ is a religion of peace, but the facts on the ground don’t seem to bear this out. In fact, as I sit here writing this Muslims who follow one form of that religion are busy killing other Muslims who follow another form of it, not to mention anyone who doesn’t subscribe to that religion at all. The fourth attack, which took place in a rural backwater in England, seems to have been inspired more by rabid right-wing views than religion, though perhaps they can also be regarded as a kind of religion, or at least a creed.

Calling on people to be kind to one another and make love not war isn’t going to solve anything. Nor is the banning of violence in movies and computer games. What is needed is for nations and religions to accept the concept of tolerance of different views and outlooks and incorporate it into their education system, political structure and general tenor of behaviour.

What is most badly needed is more empathy, or just simply the readiness to  ‘live and let live,’ as the English tradition has it. Until this approach is accepted and promoted by every religion, creed and political view it seems we are condemned to live in an ever-more violent world.

 

 

Dr. Annemarie

 

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The sudden collapse of bookshelves in Yigal’s study, fortunately without injury to life or limb, set in train a course of events (new bookcases in every room) that enabled a thorough sifting-through of books and other items collected in the course of some fifty years.

One of the most interesting objects that came to light was an envelope dating from 1987 containing several pages (typed in Hebrew by Annemarie née Oettinger) describing the events around her arrival in 1935 in the Land of Israel, then Mandatory Palestine. Annemarie was my father’s cousin, and the nine pages describe her subsequent career and life.

Although the Nazis were already in power, she was able to complete her medical studies in Hamburg in 1935 and obtain permission to leave for Palestine on board the S.S.Galilee, known as the Ship of Doctors, because there were over one hundred physicians among its passengers.

There was little work for doctors in pre-State Israel, which was beset by poverty and privation. Unable to find employment in her profession for the first four years after her arrival, Annemarie was obliged to accept all kinds of para-medical jobs, assisting in gathering and analyzing medical statistics, helping midwives and undertaking other volunteer work at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and the Old City, as well as doing other occasional work in Haifa and Tel-Aviv.

Annemarie 1946 in Elyashiv

Annemarie (who was later known by her Hebrew name, Miriam) finally found work as an independent physician in 1940, attending to the needs of Yemenite immigrants in the tiny village of Pardesiya. The place was no more than a dot on the map, surrounded by desert, whose inhabitants spoke only Arabic and a few words of Hebrew. She spoke German, English, French and a little Hebrew, so that any communication between them had to be conducted in Hebrew. For those immigrants Annemarie served as the sole link with the wider society, to the extent that it was incumbent upon her to go to the rabbi to obtain permission for the immigrants to use birth-control.

Annemarie-Miriam had brought her textbooks and some basic laboratory equipment with her from Germany, and it was on these she relied when it came to solving medical problems. Not only was there no hospital anywhere near, neither was there a paved road, any means of transportation other than a donkey, no public transport, no electricity, running water, radio, newspaper, or any other accoutrement of modern civilization.

For a young woman on her own coming from the modern German metropolis of Hamburg this must have been a culture shock of the most extreme kind. And yet she stuck out that lonely life for two years, with an occasional trip to visit her brother and his family in the Haifa region. Just reading her account of what daily life was like at that time fills one with admiration for the resilience and dedication that she displayed. But considering what was happening in those years in Germany, and afterwards in all of Europe, these hardships were still preferable.

Every now and again Annemarie-Miriam would walk the six kilometers to the nearest place of settlement to read the newspaper and borrow books from the library. That was how she met her future husband, Werner Cohn, whose father was the librarian and who also hailed originally from Germany.

Subsequently Annemarie-Miriam worked for Kupat Holim in various places, once again working primarily with Yemenite and other immigrants in the Hadera region, and retiring in 1986 at the age of 76. Annemarie proudly refers to the couple’s three sons as university graduates in technical subjects who are all employed in good jobs.

By today, thirty years after she wrote her memoir, Annemarie-Miriam is no longer with us, and her three sons have all married and produced children and grandchildren. My own contact with the family is mainly virtual, but from the various social media I know that some of them are involved in promoting social causes and coexistence (among them the Hand-in-Hand schools which were the subject of a previous post), evidently continuing the tradition of social involvement and service to the community displayed by their parents. Like many other descendants of ‘Yekkes,’ their contribution to Israeli society is an admirable credit to their forebears.

My Israel

Joshua Bell

 

Over ten years ago I was asked by the then editor of the AJR Journal to write a monthly column about life in Israel. There was no reference to my political views or any of the many current events which overtake us on a weekly, daily and even hourly basis. Any attempt on my part to keep up with all or any of these in my monthly column would be futile, particularly in view of the fact that the printed format of the AJR Journal requires that copy be submitted well in advance of its publication. Hence I feel somewhat hurt by being accused in a letter to the editor of writing columns that are unduly bland and do not accurately represent ‘the real’ Israel.

It’s true, I write about the more mundane and less controversial events and happenings that I encounter. And I must admit that I live a very pleasant and relatively uneventful life at the heart of one of the must turbulent regions of the world at a particularly chaotic time in its pretty chaotic history.

I apologise in advance if what comes next sounds complacent and anodyne, but that is the nature of bourgeois life anywhere in the world. When I graduated from a rather left-wing university in England some fifty years ago the last thing in the world that I wanted was to join the ranks of those who had undergone what we dismissively called ‘embourgeoisiment,’ and so I emigrated to Israel. But becoming bourgeois, sadly, is generally what tends to happen to anyone who marries and has children. Acquiring property is necessary in order to put a roof over your child’s head, gaining an education is necessary in order to get a job and put food in your child’s mouth, and the process is more or less inevitable.

In the initial stages of our life as a family my husband and I worked and studied, brought up three children and struggled to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. Gradually, however, the economic situation in Israel improved, and so did our own. Today, as a retired couple, we enjoy the benefits of the national health system, private and state pensions and an extensive circle of relatives, friends and acquaintances, most of whom enjoy material circumstances that are more or less like our own. At last night’s sold-out concert of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra we heard Joshua Bell playing Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole on the Stradivarius violin once owned by the orchestra’s founder, Bronislav Huberman. The entire experience was heavenly.

The Israel I live in is one in which people enjoy a comfortable standard of living, consume cultural events, enjoy an active social life and on the whole are not beset by financial worries. We have almost all lived through wars, have children and grandchildren and are not unaware of what is happening around us. Many of my Sabra contemporaries have served in the army, though I myself have not, and my children and grandchildren have and still do. We tend to avoid discussing politics when we meet as the subject is either too boring and depressing or might arouse tension (not good for our blood pressure). Politicians all over the world, including in Israel, tend not to be models of probity, and it is disingenuous to expect anything else.

I know there are problems in Israel, but I accept my inability to do anything about them. I’m still waiting for someone to show me a country that has no problems. We vote when the elections come round but have stopped going to political demonstrations, which anyway tend to be futile. Those demonstrations in which I participated in my youth achieved either nothing or the opposite of what I desired. The overall situation in Israel and the Middle East is too complex for me to determine what is the best solution. Once I thought that a two-state solution would resolve matters, but today that does not seem to be feasible. In order for that to be a viable solution a great many things would have to change on all sides.

That’s my two-pennies’ worth, for what it’s worth, and I would suggest that anyone seeking a more sensationalist text and rabid opinions should look elsewhere. I feel that by living and writing in Israel I am making my own small contribution to the present and future of the Jewish people. My Israel is a place where life is pleasant and the sunshine is plentiful. That probably explains why my mood is sanguine and my opinions bland.

This article first appeared as ‘Letter from Israel’ in the AJR Journal.

 

 

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