Israel


Hello, lovely readers. I hope you’ve been happily occupied while I was away.

Yes, I’m back from a delightful nine-day trip to the UK, my almost-home. We visited friends and family, attended the book launch of The May Queen by fellow Crooked Cat author, Helen Irene Young, at Waterstones in Richmond, and did lots of walking.

TheMayQueenLaunch

The May Queen is a great story. I know – I edited it.

I also attended a meeting of Crooked Cat authors. Although we’re all in regular contact online, it’s always good to meet up for an informal chat.

I returned yesterday morning to two special annual days and something that, I believe, is unique to Israel. Today is Remembrance Day: ‘Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism’. Yesterday evening and this morning, the nation stood still to mourn, and ceremonies are being held throughout the day. And tomorrow, starting this evening, is Independence Day and a day for rejoicing. Tonight, we’ll stand on our balcony and watch the fireworks that mark the beginning of Independence Day.

IsabellaPlantation1

At Isabella Plantation with notebook and pen, naturally.

UPDATE (2 May): Here’s a photo from last night’s fireworks.

Fireworks1

Social media, especially Facebook, I’ve found, has enormous potential to distort reality. It probably contributes to our surprise at the way recent votes have gone. Our friends on Facebook tend to be those who have similar views to our own. If we discover views we disagree with, we tend to unfriend their propagators rather than engaging them in discussion or just ignoring offending posts.

The result becomes very one-sided. My friends were almost totally anti-Brexit and anti-Trump. Yet both Brexit and Trump came to pass, surprising many, including me.

Now, in my little country, an issue has come up in which the views of my friends do reflect reality, although I don’t understand why. Israelis are split over this and so are my friends. I won’t unfriend those I disagree with. I want to try and understand. And sometimes they post views I do agree with.

Contrary to the complicated issues connected with this country, this one seems very straightforward to me. A soldier was found guilty of killing a terrorist after the terrorist was restrained and no longer a threat. For all ethical reasons, religious ones included, it should be clear that he committed a crime and must be punished. This article explains why.

What do some of my Facebook friends (and friends of friends) say against the verdict? Mostly that they, as mothers, have told their sons that their safety comes first and they shouldn’t hesitate to shoot if they find themselves in danger. They – the mothers – would rather visit their sons in jail than in the graveyard. Absolutely – I understand that, but that wasn’t the case here.

It would be awful if this led to violence, which has been threatened.

Yemin Moshe - view along Malki Street

A lane in Yemin Moshe

So to another, much pleasanter, article. It shows the Jerusalem I know and love. I’ve never seen the one most people imagine.

What is Christmas for me, a Jew who lives in Israel and hails from the UK? What was it?

Up to age 11, I didn’t take a lot of notice of it. There were trees with lights behind lots of windows. Radio and TV were full of it. That was about all.

At age 11, I found myself suddenly immersed in a tradition I didn’t recognise. I soon learned the tunes of the carols we had to sing every day. I sent cards to friends because everyone did and my goal was always to fit in. And then there was that art lesson….

“Today, you can draw Christmas pictures.” The teacher (I think she was called Mrs Durell) seemed to think this would be fun for us. My heart sank. Fit in, said a voice from inside. “For the Jewish children, you can draw something from the festival you have at this time if you want, but I’m told there isn’t much to draw.” A general murmur of agreement arose. I kept quiet, although I knew this wasn’t true. We had drawn pictures of Chanuka at my old school. That’s how I learned to draw a cube.

chanukadrawings

Fit in, said the voice. But I don’t know what or how to draw for Christmas. Fit in. I looked over a girl’s shoulder and copied her tree.

At university, I remember singing carols, including one about beautiful feet.

Edit: I’ve been corrected by someone who remembers much more than I. I think I was confusing our “College Carol” with the aria from Handel’s Messiah. Here’s the right one. The only connection with feet is in the words stand forth on the floor, at which we would stamp our feet.

At work, there were drinks. There were always drinks. And the following conversation in the bar with one of the men:

“What are doing for Christmas?”

“I’m going to a conference in Oxford.”

“That’s an unusual thing to do for Christmas. Most people spend it with their families.”

“Oh, we don’t celebrate Christmas. We’re Jewish.” It had taken three months for them to find out.

Then I moved to Israel and Christmas was reduced to watching the evening service from Bethlehem on TV. That’s really all I saw of it.

Nowadays, with social media, Christmas has become much more visible to me – at least the commercial aspect of it has. Also, due to Internet connection, I am able to listen to the BBC. The other day, on Women’s Hour, there was a discussion about stories behind children’s nativity plays. Within those stories, at least two girls had been told they couldn’t be Mary because they were Jewish and didn’t have blond hair. In the podcast, after the live programme, there was mention of the fact that Mary was Jewish and also that, since she lived in the Middle East, she probably didn’t have blond hair.

I am bemused by the assumption that, while I might not take any part in the religious aspects of Christmas, I will celebrate in some way because everyone does. No. Here, work and everything else carries on as usual, even on Christmas day. This year, though, will be slightly different due to the fact that it coincides exactly with the minor festival of Chanuka. As always, schools will be open on the first day of Chanuka, which is also Christmas Day this year (and also Sunday – the first day of the week here) and they close for the rest of the festival. Work continues as usual.

By the way, as I’ve mentioned in previous years, there are about fifty ways of writing Chanuka in Latin letters, but only one in Hebrew:

חנוכה

And here’s a comedy sketch I enjoyed. Comedian Elon Gold explains why Jews are better off without Christmas Trees. https://www.facebook.com/StandWithUs/videos/10154184787887689/

Whatever festival you celebrate at this time, I hope it’s happy and enjoyable and all you wish for.

I try to write reviews for the books I read. As an author, I know how important reviews are. I don’t usually post them on this blog. I only do that for special books, and the book I just finished reading is special. It’s also very brave, as not everyone would want to reveal such details. I found it fascinating and disturbing. I identified with it and totally disagreed with it. How can I have such disconnected thoughts, and how do I connect them? My review is below.

connectingthedotsofadisconnectedlife

This book is one I would not normally have read. The true story of a woman who goes though many traumas in her life, moves from America to Israel and back and forth, and through it all never loses faith in Jesus? That last part would have put me off. Not my thing. No.

But I read it. I read it because I know the author. I met her when we were both technical writers. I knew her as someone incredibly gifted in verbal communication. I didn’t read her technical documents, but I knew she’d won prizes for them. And I plucked up the courage to email her at a time when I was only starting to realise the advantages of electronic communication. There was also a face-to-face conversation. She was extremely kind and understanding. And that’s when she shocked me by telling me about her faith in Jesus. Where had that come from? I couldn’t make it out.

dvoraelishevaNow that I’ve read her memoir, I understand. I don’t agree, but I understand. I suppose that was my main reason for wanting to read it.

Yet, there’s so much more in this book, including plenty I can agree with and even empathise with. There are the difficulties over her name, accepting the associations a particular form of the name brings up. There are the games that the mind plays, or rather that we play with our minds: “I had cordoned off my memories, my feelings, my emotions, and sometimes even my actions.”

But then I read, “If I had space to tell you the stories behind these accomplishments, you’d see that these, too, were all divinely orchestrated from above.” And my reaction was: no, I wouldn’t. As with the stories you did have space to tell, I’d see that things turned out surprisingly well. But God can’t be proved. In my mind, you might be right and you might not. For me, it doesn’t matter which.

I also had a more disturbing reaction to this book, not so much in what was written as in what was not written. Because space clearly was not the only reason to hold things back. I’m sure, as in most memoirs, facts were hidden in order to protect other people. And I felt there was another reason. The author describes a trip to China. For her, a very important part of the trip involved telling people about Jesus. Her message was that belief in the Buddha is bad and they should instead believe in Jesus. I understand her reasoning. Someone who has such a strong belief also believes that she can help others by encouraging them to share her belief.

I find that worrying. Firstly, who’s to say that one belief is better than another? And secondly, while no mention of missionary activity in Israel was made, if it happened on a short trip to China where language barriers made it difficult, surely it must happen in Israel, where there are no such barriers and the sojourn is permanent.

And so, I have a big problem awarding stars to this book. On what level am I judging it? As far as the writing goes, it is excellent, in both vocabulary and content. I am overawed at the way the book jumps forwards and backwards in time, and yet all the pieces hold together so well. I’m also disturbed by the content. For me, it doesn’t provide proof of what can’t be proved; it hints of something almost sinister. But I will go with my first impression and the fact that I read the second half in one day.

Well, this is a bit embarrassing.

You see, today is a very special anniversary. Forty years ago, I arrived in Israel and, although I wasn’t quite sure at the time, I ended up staying. I also got married and raised three children.

40YearsInIsrael

Blush

That part isn’t embarrassing at all. I’m very proud of it. The embarrassing part is this: I’m not there. Just for a few days, I’m away on another trip – one that’s also special. I’ll blog about it on my return.

Moving to Israel was definitely the right choice for me. I left a country where I never really fitted in – a fact that had been reinforced many times during my childhood. I came to a country where I felt accepted. And in the process, I learned to be proficient in another language.

It wasn’t all easy, but I crossed the bridge and remained on the other bank (except for short breaks).

I think such a momentous date deserves a competition. So I’m going to give away a signed copy of my romance, Neither Here Nor There. In the novel, set mostly in Jerusalem, the main character, who has just left the closed community in which she was brought up, meets a recent immigrant from England. Let me know, in the comments below, why you think you deserve to win it. You can be truthful or humorous. I’ll choose the commenter I think is the most deserving. The competition will end when I decide it’s time, so don’t dilly-dally! I’ll contact the winner privately and also announce the result on this blog.

Forty years! The Children of Israel wandered for forty years before arriving here (there). I came in five hours and was happy to stay put.

The story of Judith and Holofernes is told in the Apocryphal Book of Judith (a text not  included in the Jewish canon but preserved in the Christian tradition). The story’s plot develops in the context of Nebuchadnezzar’s military campaigns against his neighbours, including the nation of Israel. Under the command of Holofernes, the Assyrian army besieges  the Jewish city of Bethulia and cuts off its water supply. When the thirst becomes unbearable, the town elders decide to surrender to the enemy. At this critical point in the story, Judith, a wealthy widow famous for her beauty and wisdom, appears on the scene. Rebuking the town elders for their  lack of faith, she bravely sets out with her handmaiden for the enemy camp, plotting Holofernes’ downfall. The Assyrian commander is captivated by her beauty, and invites her to his tent. During a feast in her honour, Judith gets Holofernes drunk and, while he sleeps, takes his sword and decapitates him. Carrying the severed head, she returns victorious to Bethulia. Holofernes’ death horrifies the enemy camp and the Assyrians flee in terror with the Israelites at their heels.

klimtjudith1brochure1997reduced.

.

So says just one paragraph of a brochure I received from Esther, one of the members of my writing group. The brochure dates from 1997 and accompanied an exhibition in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem of Gustav Klimt’s masterpiece known as Judith I.

The brochure goes on to explain that Judith has been depicted in different ways over the centuries: as the the triumph of good over evil, of virtues over vices, of freedom over tyranny; and also as a sinful woman who dared to use her sexuality as a weapon.

.

.

.

In 1901, Klimt shocked the Viennese critics and public with the daring eroticism of his painting Judith I. Despite the title, viewers were unable to reconcile Klimt’s interpretation with that of the modest Jewish widow and courageous heroine from the Book of Judith. It was assumed that Klimt had really meant to depict Salome, a favourite femme fatale of turn-of-the-century artists such as Franz von Stuck, Gustave Moreau and Aubrey Beardsley (who illustrated Oscar Wilde’s play Salome). Aware of his departure from artistic tradition, Klimt modelled the rounded mountains and stylised date palms in the background after an Assyrian relief, in order to connect the figure to its Assyrian context. In addition, he inscribed the names Judith and Holofernes on the ornate picture frame made by his brother, Georg.

Klimt created the sensation of a direct encounter with a living and breathing femme fatale by realistically rendering Judith’s face, body and arm. This style contrasts with the geometric, two-dimensional decorations on Judith’s clothes and in the background. Judith’s destructive potential, reflected by Holofernes’ severed head, is encountered by Klimt’s powerful mutilation of Judith’s figure conveyed by the jewelled collar separating her head from her body, and the composition that cuts her off below the navel. Sexual ecstasy is expressed through Judith’s half-closed eyes, parted lips, semi-nudity and her hand that caresses Holofernes’ head. This ecstasy is particularly unsettling as it results from the assassination of her partner. The pairing of sexuality and death (Eros and Thanatos) fascinated not only Klimt, but Freud and many other members of European society at the end of the nineteenth century.

klimtjudith1brochureadeleblochbauerreduced.

.

Klimt’s model for Judith was probably Adele Bloch-Bauer, the Jewish wife of a wealthy Viennese banker, whose 1907 portrait by Klimt became the subject of the 2015 film, Woman in Gold.

.

.

.

.

.

(continued in Klimt and Judith II)

The Women Friends is a series of novellas written by Emma Rose Millar and Miriam Drori, and based on the painting of the same name by Gustav Klimt. The first in the series, The Women Friends: Selina, will be published by Crooked Cat on 1st December, 2016.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Author of the Day

Esther Rafaeli is an amazing woman with an amazing history. Spanning ninety years, it hovers between the Land of Israel and Australia before settling here in Israel and bringing her into contact with many special people. Esther is full of surprises, the last one (up to now) being that despite a horrible fall, a very short time after her ninetieth birthday, leaving her lying on the floor for 36 hours, she couldn’t wait to get back home and start writing again. Her latest piece doesn’t describe the fall in detail, but lists the fortunate coincidences connected with the fall. I am in awe.

Update: It wasn’t 36 hours. It was 56! Also, I failed to mention Esther’s books, available on Amazon US, Amazon UK and elsewhere.

We don’t travel around a lot when we’re at home. We tend to spend much of our time in our garden and leave touring for holidays. Unlike my friend, Lisa Isaacs, who travels regularly and writes fascinating blog posts about the places she goes to.

But there are a few places I’ve visited recently:

The Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art

FriederikeMariaBeerByKlimtPart of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, this pavilion provided us an interesting hour or two. Due to my forthcoming novel, written together with Emma Rose Millar, I was particularly pleased to see a painting by Gustav Klimt. This portrait was commissioned by the young Viennese socialite, Friederike Maria Beer. She arrived at the modelling session wearing a hand-painted silk dress and a fur jacket. Klimt was taken with the lining of the jacket and asked her to turn it inside out.

Sarona

As a place to eat, shop and wander around, Sarona, which is in Tel-Aviv, is still quite new. But its history goes back to 1871, when the German Templers established a colony there.

MigdalDavid19The Tower of David

.

Jerusalem’s Tower of David has a much longer history, which I won’t delve into here, but I plan to write about it very soon.

.

.

.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Author of the Day

Sue Barnard doesn’t parade her wide knowledge, but it accompanies her to quiz programmes and to wherever she write her novels. She’s had three published, two of those influenced by Shakespeare, and there’s another on the way. I met Sue, first online and then in person, four years ago and we’ve been friends ever since.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Update: It was while tweeting about this post that I realised I should have mentioned an event that links two of its themes: an excellent outdoor performance of Macbeth by Theater in the Rough.

Macbeth

 

Next Page »