Integrity? Who Needs Integrity?

What kind of people do we want as our leaders? Is it unreasonable to expect the individuals who govern our country and determine our fate, at least to some extent, to be honest, righteous and upstanding? The sad reality seems to be that decent, honest individuals are not the sort of people who go into politics, or who succeed in the cut and thrust of that world.

Looking around at the characters who have come to prominence in various countries that are close to Israel in outlook and electoral system (i.e., democracies) is enough to make one tremble in fear. America happens to have someone who appears to be a fairly decent individual at its head at present, but as he is someone who has survived the cut and thrust of USA politics for many decades one cannot help wondering how much decency and honesty he has had to abandon on the way. Of course, the alternative to the current incumbent (and the one he replaced) is ten times worse when it comes to decency, honesty, integrity and all the other qualities one would hope to have in the leader of a great country. Worse, still, there is good reason to believe that that individual will return to the position of power at the next election.

And what about dear old England, the country of my birth, the country that gave refuge to my parents when they were at risk of losing their lives to a brutal regime some eighty years ago? England of today seems to be in a sorry state on many fronts, with large parts of the population suffering financial hardship, whether as a result of Brexit or the current global economic crisis following Covid and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The person at the head of the British government is currently being assailed by massive resignations of members of his government, as they demand his resignation and accuse him of lying, mismanagement, and a general lack of integrity. As I write this I’m informed he has indeed resigned, though it’s anyone’s guess what will happen next.

Here in Israel the public is currently being beset by revelations of what went on in the residence of the former prime minister as deliveries of top-grade cigars, jewellery, cosmetics and crates of the most expensive champagne arrived regularly from generous donors. Not to mention the fabulously expensive luxury airplane that that individual instructed Israel’s aircraft industry to construct in emulation of the USA’s Airforce One. In a country where much of the population is struggling to feed their family, pay the rent or mortgage and keep their head above water one would expect there to be some kind of outcry against conspicuous consumption by their leader. But there is no such commotion, and that leader is still more popular than any other.

What conclusion, if any, can be drawn from the persistent popularity of individuals who seem to lack any shred of human decency or sense of fellowship with the populace they purport to lead? To my naïve mind it would seem to be a deliberate decision on the part of the voting public to ignore the qualities that were once considered to be required in a leader. I’m not going as far back as Moses, who was the very epitome of humility, or Ben Gurion who, while not humble, did not demand luxuries that most people could only dream of. Even in my time, leaders like Eshkol and Begin did not engage in conspicuous consumption and were content to adopt a lifestyle not very far removed from that of the general public.

It seems that in this day and age we are condemned to endure leaders who don’t care about setting an example to others as long as they are able to live according to a standard and style that is as far removed from that of the public they supposedly serve as was that of mediaeval monarchs from their subjects.

But in those far-off days no one thought or talked about democracy. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

A Plethora of Poets

A few years ago, after I stopped being a translator, became a writer and had several novels under my belt, I finally allowed myself to apply for membership of the IAWE – the Israel Association of Writers in English. I was overjoyed when I was accepted and allowed to pay my membership dues.

But then Corona came along, and there were no more meetings, at least not in person, and it seemed a trifle daunting to confront my fellow-members through the medium of Zoom, so I remained cut off from my new community for two or three years.

When a call went out from the editor of the Association’s quarterly newsletter for material related to writing – no longer than 360 words —  I was ready, willing and able to jump in with a contribution about my effort to convert my first novel, ‘The Balancing Game,’ into an audiobook. It already existed in paperback and ebook form, and since the word on the publishing network was that audiobooks were the thing to go for, I went for it.

Easier said than done, and my travails in attaining that objective are still under way. But the subject of this blog post is the event that marked my entry into live IAWE events. It was advertised as ‘A Celebration in the Garden,’ and was due to be held in the Jerusalem garden of one of our fellow-members. The evening program would give members the opportunity to read from work that had appeared since Corona began.

Of course, I was eager to present myself and my work to my fellow-members, and spent some time deliberating and eventually deciding which passage of my latest book, ‘Rootless in Zion,’ to read. We were told to bring friends along, and also to bring books to sell to our colleagues.

At the set time on the appointed June evening, accompanied by husband, sister and grown-up granddaughter, I turned up toting books in the hopes of being able to sell some. The weather was balmy, our hosts had prepared seating around a lawn of artificial grass for some thirty participants and our kind hostess had baked brownies and other goodies.

As participants trickled in we introduced ourselves to one another, pleased to see so many kindred spirits. Finally, just as the light was beginning to fade, the compere (who was not the host) decided that it was time to begin. To my surprise and, I must confess dismay, he announced that the proceedings would focus at least at first on those participants who had contributed to ‘Arc,’ the Association’s annual journal. ‘Arc’ is a very professionally-produced and intelligent publication containing contributions from members. Most of the contents of the two editions I have seen (2021 and 2022) are impressive, but since I write neither poetry nor short stories, to date I have not sent in a contribution of my own. The brief contributions requested by the quarterly newsletter are a better fit to the kind of essay I write.

As the evening wore on and more contributors to ‘Arc’ read out poems they had written, the Jerusalem night descended, bringing cold air and darkness, as well as the distant sound of sirens from emergency vehicles. The patience of the other participants, myself included, was beginning to wear thin, and it was only after thinly-disguised grumbling was discerned that the compere’s attention turned towards ‘the others,’ namely, the relatively unknown members who had not contributed to ‘Arc,’ but had written and published work in the relevant period.

Finally, my turn came, and I was able to stand up and read out a passage from my recent novel. I did my best to project my voice so that everyone could hear me, and to make the part I had chosen sound interesting. I was given a polite reception when I stepped down, although my nearest and dearest had reservations about the passage I had selected, claiming that it was inappropriate for that particular audience.

More people read poems. No one other than me seemed to have written prose. The chill of the Jerusalem night induced our host to bring out blankets in which to wrap the shivering audience. As a grand finale our host recited by heart the fifty-two stanzas of the poem he had written that combined the obscure with the obtuse, displaying pyrotechnical linguistic ability and a breadth and depth of knowledge on subjects too numerous to mention.

No one showed much interest in any of the books on sale.

Here We Go Again

Oh, no! Not another election, I cried when I heard the news on the radio. Once again, after enjoying an uplifting symphony concert we get into the car, turn the radio on to catch up on the day’s news and are hit with the devastating information that since the government is in an untenable position, the decision has been made to dissolve the sitting parliament (Knesset) and set the country on course for another election just about one year after the previous one.

We all know what this means. We have been here five times in the past three years. It means endless discussions on the radio and the TV, as well as never-ending recriminations by commentators and politicians amid accusations of back-stabbing and failure to live up to promises and expectations. Above all it means the vision for some (and nightmare for others) of the return to power of a prime minister charged with grave criminal offences.

The one pleasant surprise in all this was the civilized, even friendly, way the two leaders of the outgoing government, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, summed up their year in office, took their leave of one another and reviewed the way they had managed the country. Even so, the collapse of the government cannot help leading to a long, painful and expensive election process.

One solution is to follow the advice of a friend and simply refrain from listening to or watching the news. Easier said than done. I agree that hiding one’s head in the sand could prove to be the one way of avoiding stress, but then one risks being ill-informed when the moment of truth arrives on election day.

Among my many sins, I managed to garner an M.A. in Communications from the Hebrew University at one stage of my life. Admittedly, the focus of my studies was not so much the content of the news but rather the linguistic style (register) of various (Hebrew) news programmes on television. I felt that my background as a translator and editor equipped me for this, and it undoubtedly was a fascinating exercise in language analysis for me. At least, as I thought at the time, I wasn’t devoting my thesis to analyzing the cultural impact on Israel of the American TV series ‘Dallas,’ as one of my  fellow-students did. At the time it seemed to me to be an extremely weak topic for a thesis, but I must have been wrong, as the student concerned went on to have a successcul academic career.

In those far-off days (the 1970s) there was only one TV channel in Israel, and each evening most people sat down to watch the fare provided. By now the plethora of channels, as well as access to foreign ones, means that the audience in Israel cannot be analysed quite so easily. Above all, it means that people are exposed more easily to differing views, though it seems that the viewing audience tends to choose channels and programmes that fit their world-view.

The date for the election has not yet been set, but because of the need to allow political parties time to organize and possibly regroup, the prospective date has been set for some time in October or November this year. Thus, we face four or five months of some kind of legislative limbo, with the Knesset unable to pass new laws and the interim government unable or unwilling to introduce or pursue policies. In other words, the country will find itself in a stalemate which bodes ill for its economic and social stability.

Biblical-style visionaries are claiming that the good Lord promised the Land of Israel to the Jews, and this underlies the Zionist ethos. As is often the case, Jews argue among themselves as to how much of the Promised Land is concerned. And when it comes to defining Zionism it is difficult to pin it down. Others (mainly Moslems) point out that the First and Second Temples lasted only a few hundred years each while the El-Aksa Mosque has been sitting atop the Temple Mount for over a thousand years. Whether any of this proves anything is a moot point, and the argument tends to go in favour of whoever is in a physically and military stronger position.

So we will just have to sit and wait for the decision at the ballot-box, and somehow learn to live with the consequences. Because that’s democracy.

Silbermann

This novel by Jacques de Lacretelle, which I read in French, was first published in 1922 It describes the life of a French schoolboy and his relations with a Jewish classmate. The general atmosphere in the school is one of rigid discipline and, as is often the case with teenagers, the pupils tend to form friendships and cliques which exclude anyone who is different.

The boys are divided by religion, with some of the pupils residing in a Catholic institution, while others, including the narrator, are generally Protestant and live with their parents in a suburb of Paris.

The book begins as the youngsters return to school after the long summer vacation. The narrator’s friend, Philippe Robin, returns from the countryside where he has been instructed in the arts of hunting, fishing and shooting by his uncle, and has absorbed his relative’s anti-Semitic sentiments, complaining that the environment was tainted by ‘too many Jews.’

The arrival in their class of a Jewish pupil passes without undue attention until one of the teachers calls upon the Jewish pupil, Silbermann by name, to recite a passage from one of the books they have been required to read. The narrator is struck by the Jewish pupil’s ability to infuse meaning into the phrases, bringing him to a fresh understanding of the text.

A chance encounter with Silbermann when both are out walking in the woods near Paris brings the narrator to the realization that his new classmate, who is evidently endowed with superior intellectual abilities to the other boys, is subject to discrimination and isolation by the rest of the class. Entranced by the prospect of benefiting from the knowledge and intelligence of Silbermann, the narrator takes upon himself the mission of befriending him and redeeming him from his isolation.

The relations between the two boys grow stronger, with Silbermann imparting his wisdom and insights to the narrator, and the narrator happy at finding the intellectual stimulation that he has been unable to obtain from the other boys. As their friendship grows, the other boys in the class become increasingly aggressive and violent towards Silbermann, so that during the recess he is subjected to verbal and even physical taunts and attacks. While the narrator is unable to protect his friend from the attacks, he remains by his side and is himself eventually isolated and shunned by his schoolmates.

The visit by the narrator to Silbermann’s home reveals a luxurious apartment around which contains objets d’art (Silbermann’s father is an antique dealer), and he suddenly sees that his own home is not in the best of taste. His own father is a lawyer, and by chance it falls to him to adjudicate in a case where Silbermann’s father is accused of fraud. At his friend’s request, the narrator seeks to intercede on Silbermann senior’s behalf with his father, whereupon he is subjected to a lecture about the sanctity of the law, the pursuit of justice, and the absolute refusal of his father to take any personal relations into consideration.

The narrator’s parents advise their son to abstain from any further relations with Silbermann, and it is at their instigation that Silbermann’s father is asked to remove his son from the school. This leaves Silbermann with no option but to leave France and join his uncle in the USA where, instead of becoming a man of letters, as he had hoped, he will become a merchant in the jewelry trade.

Before Silbermann leaves France he and the narrator have one final meeting in the woods where they first met. Silbermann embarks on a lengthy tirade, telling his friend that Jews will always rise to the top wherever they are, that they are a superior race, that ‘the chosen people’ is not just an empty phrase but the true nature of Jews everywhere. Enumerating the wealthy Jewish families in Paris and their lavish homes, he derides the intellectural inferiority of the nations in which Jews find themselves, and the benefit those nations derive from having Jews in their midst. This speech, which combines brilliance with arrogance, leaves a lasting impression on the narrator (and on this reader).

Bearing in mind that this book was written in 1922, long before the Holocaust and all the horrors it conveyed, there us something almost visionary in the account of the behaviour of the boys in the class, in many cases even aided and abetted by their teachers, as well as in the account of Silbermann’s arrogance and sense of intellectural superiority.

At the end of the book the narrator finds that in order to curry favour with an important politician, his father has exonerated Silbermann’s father, and this realization causes his ultimate breach with his parents.

I found this well-written book both gripping, entertaining and enlightening, and would recommend it as a prescient account of life in pre-war France (and Europe) for anyone who is prepared to make the effort to read it in French.

Eichmann in Jerusalem Again

When the Nazi criminal, Adolf Eichmann, was put on trial in Jerusalem in 1961 I was nearing the end of my time at a high school for girls in London. There was a fairly strong Jewish contingent, but the overwhelming majority of pupils were Christian. In fact, several of the girls in my class stated that it was their ambition to go to Africa as missionaries, though whether they actually did so or not I never found out.

So, as well as trying to keep up with schoolwork and the impending A-level exams, I found myself suddenly confronted with a subject with which I had only a passing acquaintance. My parents had arrived in England as refugees from Germany just before the war, and they – and we, their children – devoted considerable energy to becoming as English as possible, learning to ‘fit in’ and be ‘just like everyone else.’ The subject of the Holocaust was never discussed in our household, although we children were aware of the losses our family had suffered (we had no grandparents).

I know now that for me becoming just like everyone else was mission impossible in England at that time, though I believe that the country as a whole is far more tolerant and accepting of others than it was then. And so the impact on me of the widespread publicity and coverage given to the Eichmann trial was little short of traumatic. Suddenly the Holocaust and all its horrors were brought to light and laid out in front of me in the newspapers as well as on the TV screen.

All these thoughts were brought back to the surface of my mind by the recent TV broadcast of the first of three programmes presenting the tape recordings made in 1960 by a Nazi sympathizer, a Dutch journalist called Sasser, who was living in Buenos Aires and was friendly with Eichmann there. He interviewed Eichmann over the course of several sessions, and so we hear Eichmann declaring how proud he was of his contribution to achieving the ‘final solution’ of the Jewish problem by sending six million of them to their deaths in concentration camps. Eichmann had been responsible for organizing the trains that criss-crossed Europe, collecting and transporting the masses of individuals in inhuman conditions to work as slave labourers and gassed in the concentration camps.

At his trial in Jerusalem Eichmann claimed to have been ignorant of the fate of the Jews, that he had been a lowly clerk, someone who had simply done his job. After hearing the tape recordings of his voice it is clear that he was no mere cypher. He was imbued with the Nazi ideology of the purity of the Aryan race and the threat of its contamination by alien blood, i.e., Jews. This incorporated a burning hatred of anything and everything Jewish – men, women and children, literature, music, art, society, religion and the very air they breathed.

I have a faint recollection of one of our teachers at school bringing the subject of the trial up in class and asking for our views about it. Some girls were incensed at the idea of the ‘poor chap’ being kidnapped from his home and family and made to stand trial in a foreign country. Most of us Jewish girls thought it only fitting that someone who had played such a pivotal role in so many murders should pay the price for it. When  Eichmann was finally executed and his ashes scattered over the sea some of us recoiled at this ‘barbaric’ treatment, but no one on any side seemed to be very distressed, and of course, those were times when our attention was focused more on Elvis Presley, Tommy Steele and similar teenage idols.

But hearing Eichmann extolling his achievements in his own voice must inevitably shut the mouths of those who claim that the Holocaust never happened.

Tel Aviv — the Nation’s Playground

To start with, there’s the Mediterranean Sea, with its long sandy beaches, kept relatively clean by the municipality, with designated areas for people to play games (ah, the dreaded ‘matkot’ with their constant noisy batting to and fro of a ball against wooden bats), another area for dogs off the leash (but they must be well-behaved) with a special shower for dogs, and the wonderful kilometer after kilometer of the promenade. Anyone venturing out early in the morning (say, 6 a.m., even on a Saturday, supposedly the day of rest), as I did, encounters throngs of other like-minded people, whether singly, in pairs, small groups or even large groups, walking, jogging or running along it. Some people even manage to conduct a conversation as they jog, which seems almost superhuman to me. There are couples or groups wear matching outfits bearing slogans or designs aimed at attracting attention, but most people wear modest sports gear, and of course the ubiquitous sports shoes. And of course, there are also people walking their dogs, though always on a leash. I didn’t notice any dog-poop on the promenade, so presumably their owners were dutiful about cleaning up after their pets.

Always accompanying us as we made our way past the enticing sandy beaches was the constant sound of the waves as they crashed onto the sand. Even if one just stands and looks at the sea, with the azure sky above and the occasional palm tree or scrubby bush breaking the monotony, we feel that the salty sea air is doing us good.

It all takes me back to the summer holidays of my childhood, when the family would decamp to a rented house in Bognor Regis, on England’s south coast, where the chilly waves of the Atlantic ocean would embrace us children as we bravely waded into it, trying to avoid getting entangled in the ubiquitous seaweed. I haven’t ventured into the sea in Tel Aviv, so don’t know if there’s seaweed there or not. What I did notice, however, is that at various points along the promenade Beach Libraries have been set up, where books may be borrowed (and users are requested to return the books after using them).

The city of Tel Aviv itself is awash with eateries, pubs and places of entertainment of all kinds, though we mustn’t forget that it is, after all, a city where real people live – and that house prices there are among the highest in the country.

Our long weekend there was occasioned by a concert of the Israel Philharmonic orchestra and a performance of Handel’s opera ‘Alcina’ within the space of three days. While on this occasion we didn’t use the opportunity to visit the impressive Tel Aviv Museum, we were able to enjoy the delights of the city in various other spheres. For example, as we ate breakfast in our hotel overlooking the sea we could witness people running and playing on the promenade and the beach, and nearby nets had been set up on the sand enabling people to play energetic games of volleyball. The sight was a veritable perpetuum mobile of active energy and sporting prowess.

The one jarring note was a notice at the side, indicating a path leading up towards the town bearing the message ‘Tsunami evacuation route.’ I wonder who thought of that contingency in the placid Mediterranean Sea.

Translating Science

The title of the lecture given by Yivsam Azgad under the auspices of the Israel Translators Association was billed as ‘Translating Science.’ Although I personally did not translate that kind of material when I worked as a translator, I have a passing interest in the subject due to my husband’s occupation as a physicist.

The lecture was held in the very pleasant conference venue adjacent to the Herzl Museum on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl, and was attended by some fifteen participants from all over Israel.

Mr. Azgad hegan his talk by stating that he had parted company with the Israeli school system at the age of fifteen, but that did not mean that he had not continued learning. This obviously marked him as a teenage rebel and, presumably, an autodidact. He did not say as much, but his appearance told us that his teenage years were long forgotten. What he did tell us was that he had gone on to forge a respectable career for himself as a scientific journalist.

Mr. Azgad proceeded to tell his audience that it was important when translating scientific material to understand the subject matter in the source language and, if possible, convey it as accurately as possible in the target language. That rule is good for any kind of translation, though it obviously might be more difficult to achieve when it comes to translating scientific subjects which are not universally accessible.

Mr. Azgad then tried to make us undertake a thought experiment (‘gedank experiment,’ as devised by Einstein) and transport us as physicists from the corridor of the physics department at the Hebrew University to a similar corridor at Princeton Univesrsity. Would we notice any difference, he asked. The answer he gave was no, we wouldn’t, because physicists the world over all speak the same language, use the same terms and equipment, and share a common bond. Any two physicists in a given group of people will always find one another and be able to communicate with one another, wherever they may hail from originally. Their identity as scientists is the paramount aspect of their being (over and above their national or individual identity).

Giving a few examples of abstruse scientific theses that he (or someone) had had to translate, the lecturer made it clear that translating science is phenomenally difficult. I can subscribe to that sentiment, being married to a physicist and having been involved in translating the title and English summary of his doctorate (“Excitation Processes in Organic Systems Under Irradiation with Vacuum Ultraviolet Radiation,” in case you’re interested).

All well and good. I would very much have liked to hear more about the universality of scientific language, but beyond those initial statements the lecture deviated to focus on Mr. Azgad’s own experience as a journalist at various Israeli newspapers, where his chief aim was to popularize scientific subjects. He gave us a few examples of the dangers of deviating from the exact meaning of a scientific idea when trying to convey it in more simple terms. He claims that he thought up the idea of producing a comic strip (‘Nanocomics’) based on scientific topics, aimed at both adults and children. Posters with these comic strips have been put up in schools all over Israel. He was also, he claims, the originator of the idea of giving lectures on scientific subjects in bars in Rechovot and Tel Aviv, a project which enjoyed great popular success. Mr. Azgad now works in the publications department of the Weizmann Institute where, amongst his other activities, he continues to publicise and universalise science for the masses.

The Changing World of Books

After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the Jerusalem International Book Forum was held once more this year. The opening ceremony included a (virtual) presentation of the Jerusalem Prize to British author Julian Barnes by the mayor of Jerusalem (accepted by the representative of the British Council in Israel on his behalf), and a televised acceptance speech by Julian Barnes himself (who was prevented by il-health from making the journey).

It was good to be surrounded by people who, like myself, are in the business of reading, writing, editing, translating and even publishing books, in a variety of languages and from a wide range of countries.

However, the highlight of that first evening was the address by Stefan von Holtzbrinck, the head of the German Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. Speaking in perfect English, this distinguished guest started by stating the view that recent developments in the Russia-Ukraine war had brought us to a situation in which he personally felt safer in Jerusalem than in central Europe. He then went on to declare his love for the city, which he has been visiting almost yearly since 1988, to pronounce Israel a light to the world and to assert his and his company’s solidarity with the country. Of course, the audience applauded enthusiastically.

To hear these sentiments at a time when there have been almost constant disturbances, mainly in eastern Jerusalem, associated first with Ramadan, then with the death and funeral of the Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akla, was astounding. Like me, many of the Israelis in the audience could hardly believe their ears. And, like me, many people took advantage of von Holtzbrinck’s participation in subsequent events, to thank him for speaking so positively.

The next three days of the forum were full of interesting talks, open discussions and informal opportunities to strike up conversations with old and new acquaintances. A fascinating and entertaining talk entitled ‘Listen Up: Audiobooks, Podcasts, and New Opportunities’ given by David Rowan, Founding Editor of WIRED UK, began with a couple of video clips indicating where the world is headed. One showed a traffic cop in California stopping a driverless car for not having its lights on. Confounded when he realized the driving seat was empty, the cop returned to his police car to seek assistance, whereupon the driverless car sped away (it obviously had a mind of its own). As Mr. Rowan pointed out, the world – including the publishing world – is becoming increasingly digitized and democratized through AI (artificial intelligence), the all-pervasive Metaverse and the general interactivity of everything through smart phones.

Those few days of talks and discussions gave me plenty of new information as well as a great deal of food for thought as I continue to write and publish my work.

Connections

A few years ago an enterprising resident of the suburb where I live, just outside Jerusalem, initiated and organized an association providing social and cultural activities for the growing number of retired persons living here. Since then the association has reached over one thousand members and conducts a plethora of activities to suit every taste and inclination. There are outings to areas of interest or cultural events, lectures on all kinds of subjects, a choir, a reading group, a drama club, art classes, creative writing classes, exercise classes, and myriad other events. My own personal interest is in learning or improving my knowledge of foreign languages, and so each week I attend classes for the German and French languages.

The people attending the classes are all, like me, of pensionable age, and in those two classes most of us have similar backgrounds or interests (and we all live in the same area). In both groups we are fortunate in having interesting and enthusiastic teachers who invest time and energy in preparing their lessons and keeping us pupils interested and involved.

Our German teacher is an interesting character. She is a young non-Jewish woman from a remote part of southern Germany who is married (I haven’t investigated the story of how this came about) to an Israeli and has made her life here in Israel. Her classes focus on Germany, its language and its culture, and very occasionally the subject of the Holocaust comes up. The other pupils are, like me, from families which came originally from central Europe, with the ability to speak and understand German to a greater or lesser extent, but all eager to improve their command of the language.

In a recent class we talked about the Kindertransport, the acceptance by England of ten thousand unaccompanied children under the age of eighteen just before the Second World War broke out. One of the pupils, Zeev, who also grew up in England (the others all grew up in Israel) expressed particular interest in the subject, though he himself did not get to England under that scheme. To the next lesson I brought and lent him the book of essays about the experiences of Kindertransport children in England, ‘No Longer a Stranger,’ edited by Inge Sadan. Among the thirty-eight articles is one by my late father, Manfred Vanson, who, together with my mother, Frances, served as house-parents at the Sunshine Hostel in London from 1940 to 1945. At the end of the book are some photos, including one of the children (by then almost all teenagers) of the Sunshine Hostel. One of the girls is holding a baby on her lap, and as I proudly told Zeev, ‘that baby is me,’ aged about one year old.

Lo and behold, a few days later I received a message from Zeev telling me that he had found the name of his cousin on the list of those in Israel, but what had really touched him was to see his older brother Alfred in the photo of the Sunshine Hostel, the one with me as a child. Sadly, Alfred (second row from top, far left) has died since then, so we can’t ask him about his time at the Sunshine Hostel.

Who knows? Maybe Alfred even played with me back then, as many of the ‘hostel children’ did. But it is nice to have an additional connection with one of the pupils in the class I attend.

Watch Your Step!

I was recently made doubly aware of the importance of being careful to avoid falling by the incident in which a friend who is a little bit younger than myself fell in her home and broke her hip. This involved a trip to the emergency room of a local hospital followed by surgery and a lengthy recovery period during which she was unable to leave her house. Even today, several months later, she still walks with a stick to ensure stability. It served as a salutary lesson to me, and partly as a result of that I now wear closed sports shoes whenever I leave the house (except when I go to concerts).

But in my home I wear a kind of orthopaedic sandal, which is not closed, and that was my downfall the other day. It was Independence Day in Israel and we had been sitting in the garden with some friends, despite the weather – which was not as warm and sunny as we would have liked. In fact, it reminded some of us of our former homeland – England. Still, we managed to sit outside and enjoy our barbecued meat and the salads the guests had brought with them.

But for the next stage – coffee and cake – we decided to move indoors, and I began setting up the arrangements accordingly. Everything was going well until I decided to bring in some extra chairs from the garden. These were two rather ancient folding chairs, which have served us well for many years, and have not until now caused any untoward trouble.

But boy, how I wish I had taken my own advice as set out in the heading above before I tried to bring in those two danged folding chairs! Whether it was my shoe or the tip of the chair-leg, but something got caught on the step leading from the garden to our house. As a result I lost my balance and came crashing down onto the stone floor, banging my head in the process. As the afternoon progressed I found myself bring cossetted by concerned friends and family, switching from having been the capable (I hope) hostess to becoming an object of concern for others. The general advice was that I should rest and put ice on the spot, which I promptly did, and sat docilely while others brought me coffee and dealt with the arrangements of refreshments I had previously prepared. Conversation continued around me, even involving me from time to time, but it was obvious that I had sustained an injury which, while not life-threatening or even consisting of any broken bones, was evidently going to turn into something unpleasant.

As indeed it did. With each passing hour, the colour of the skin above and around my left eye changed dramatically, despite the ice pack I diligently pressed to the area for several hours. While I am not in any serious pain, anyone catching sight of me assumes an expression of horror and dismay. If I have to leave the house I’ll be wearing sunglasses, no matter if it’s sunny or not. I just don’t want to have to explain to people that the car-crash that is my face at present is not the result of a fight with my husband just a stupid fall.

And no, I’m not going to post a full-colour selfie of my face with its technicolour ‘shiner,’ just a picture of the offending chairs.

I hope this will cause others – as well as myself – to take note and be more careful when moving around in the home, as well as outside and everywhere. I thought I was one of those people who was aware of all the pitfalls that await us wherever we go, but it seems that even the most cautious among us are vulnerable.

If you enjoyed reading this, please consider reading one of my 8 novels, all available on Amazon, and from my website: www.shefer-vanson.com