Everyday life


I read an article recently. I don’t have the link any more, but it was headed something like: I’m Jewish. Please wish me Merry Christmas. The article went on to explain that although in the author’s family Christmas wasn’t celebrated, the day was meaningful to him as a day off – a day when they, as a family, did joyful things together that were out or the ordinary.

I get it. I remember, all through my childhood, spending Christmas Day in the home of my aunt, uncle and cousins, eating different foods, doing different things. So when I changed schools at the age of eleven and was introduced to Christmas carols, drawing Christmas trees and exchanging Christmas cards, I joined in. In any case, my aim at school was always to fit in, even though I never succeeded.

The trend continued to university and work. Christmas was always a special time, so it seemed natural to exchange Christmas greetings with everyone.

Then I moved to Israel and, for the first time, Christmas didn’t exist, apart from a few cards I still sent to and received from friends abroad. Christmas Day was spent at work. That’s been the case for most of my time here. Recently, with social media and the ability to listen to BBC Radio 4, the prominence of Christmas has again increased, but it’s still not part of my life. That’s the difference between me and the author of that linkless article. He lives in the US while I live in Israel.  Like him, I’m not offended when someone wishes me Merry Christmas, but for me it’s meaningless.

“Yes, but even if you don’t celebrate it, you do something special on that day,” people say.

“Actually, no.”

However, this year, I will be celebrating Chanuka at the same time as Christmas, lighting candles and eating doughnuts at home and at folk dancing.

Chanuka2012Miriam

Celebrating the sixth night of Chanuka in 2012

But Chanuka isn’t time off, except for schoolchildren and teachers. And us, last year:

Chanuka and Christmas in Vietnam

David Drori celebrating the 7th night of Chanuka in Vietnam, 2018

Whatever you do, enjoy the next few days, the whole of 2020 and every other year. May whatever you wish for come to fruition.

Today, instead of Letters from Elsewhere, here’s a post about me, to catch up with some of the things I’ve done since… whenever.

The other day, I wrote two new verses to an old song. They’re inspired by a strange phenomenon: rain.

Look what they’ve done to my June, Ma

Look what they’ve done to my June, Ma.
Look what they’ve done to my June.
Well it’s the only thing they could do half right,
And it’s turning out all wrong, Ma.
Look what they’ve done to my June.

Look what they’ve done to my sun, Ma.
Look what they’ve done to my sun.
Well, they took some clouds and made them black
And covered up the sun, Ma.
Look what they’ve done to my sun.

Yes, it’s been raining heavily in various parts of the country, but not so heavily in Jerusalem. There has been flooding. One of the most afflicted towns was Sderot. You’d think they’ve had enough to contend with without the weather joining in.

It never rains in June in Israel. Don’t they know that?

If you don’t know the original song, I’m sure you can find it on Youtube. “Look what they’ve done to my song.”

I’ve appeared on a few other blogs:

Author

Topic

My Post

C.J. Sutton

Fear

A Fear of People

Carrie-Ann Schless

Diary Entry

Noname’s Diary

Megan Mayfair

Espresso Tales

Coffee with Miriam Drori

Val Penny

My Writing Story

If you’d told me I was going to be a writer

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I’ve hosted two authors on the social anxiety blog: Jo Fenton and Val Penny.

I hosted characters on this blog in Letters from Elsewhere:

Character

From

By

Tina

The Brotherhood

Jo Fenton

DI Hunter Wilson

Hunter’s Chase, Hunter’s Revenge

Val Penny

Joseph Flynn

Heart of Stone

John Jackson

Anne

The Road to Newgate

Kate Braithwaite

Harriet

Harriet of Hare Street

Angela Rigley

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And I was delighted to receive this from a grateful customer.

Me with Chasing the Case

Yes, I was the editor for this lovely novel: Chasing the Case by Joan Livingston.

And I have lots of new and exciting ideas for my writing. If I stop sleeping, I might be able to put them into practice. Who needs sleep, anyway?

Happy reading! See you next Friday for another Letter from Elsewhere!

I’m in the middle of writing and editing and preparing and more, but yesterday we had an opportunity to attend a public rehearsal of Don Giovanni and we took it.

Love SeatAfter the performance, we had a bite to eat at the nearby Sarona Market, where we saw this seat. It plays love songs. Well, there’s probably a loudspeaker hidden behind it, but you can sit on the bench and listen to love songs. Isn’t that sweet.

After that, we enjoyed an evening walk by the sea in un-sea-sonably warm weather.

But the strangest things happened during the performance. Really, they both happened. I’m not making this up.

Maybe because it was a rehearsal, a few members of the audience thought it was all right to talk to each other or to use their smart phones – silently. Some people up in the gallery were talking quite loudly. Eventually, the disturbance was dealt with somehow and the talking stopped. Just then the translated text of the opera, displayed above and next to the stage said:

We’ve finally got rid of that fool.

Later, the man directly in front of me was using his phone, holding it so that its light shone in my eyes. I put my hand up in front of me to block the light and again looked at the text of the opera. It said:

He dazzled me for a moment.

I kid you not.

It’s good to get out sometimes and experience life outside the computer.

Right, back to editing.

The Monster (Hebrew: Mifletzet) sculpted in 1971 by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle, is a well-known landmark in Jerusalem and one that is enjoyed by children, who love to slide down its three-pronged tongue.

The Monster

The Monster

Usually.

When I walked past it, yesterday evening, it looked different – a bit sad and funny.

MonsterClosedReducedI posted the picture on Instagram with the caption: What have they done to the monster? And to the English language?

Har Herzl (Mount Herzl) has been Israel’s official national cemetery since 1951. It is the final resting place of presidents, prime ministers and other leaders. It is also a military cemetery for many soldiers who gave their lives for the country.

Mount Herzl

Entrance to Mount Herzl

I’ve visited Har Herzl many times over the past forty years, but never on a guided tour, and there were many things I didn’t know about it. So when I saw a request by Tali Tarlow for “test drivers” of this chapter of the book she’s been writing, I jumped at the chance. Tali is well known for her fun and informative scavenger hunts. I’ve been on three of them, all in Jerusalem: the Old City, Nachlaot and Yemin Moshe.

HarHerzlCemetery30

Cemetery

“We know how to do memorials,” said Erika, who joined me on Friday for the visit. It’s true. Unfortunately, this small, young country has had plenty of experience. And designers have  created some innovative symbols. As well as the graves I mentioned above, we saw the memorials for passengers and crews of sunken ships and submarines, and for Ethiopian Jews who died trying to reach the Land of Israel. In Tali’s chapter, we read sad and uplifting stories, knowing that without the people buried in this place, we wouldn’t be living here.

HarHerzlMemorialToEthiopianJews30

Memorial to Ethiopian Jews

A-Z Challenge: H is for HerzlAt the top of a hill, we saw the tomb of Benjamin Ze’ev (Theodor) Herzl, the visionary of the State of Israel, after whom the place is named.

 

Har Herzl is also a lovely park, well laid out with trees, flowers and grass.

Although we enjoyed our morning on the mountain, Erika and I decided that next time we meet, it will be at a happier location.

 

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 you 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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Following on from my announcement of changes to my blog, this post links all three themes of my blog: writing, social anxiety and living in Israel.

I get it when women say they need to talk problems over with women friends. There’s something about the conversations that makes them different from conversations with men. Yet, for most of my life, I didn’t have any women I was close enough to to confide in. Social anxiety caused that. It told me to keep my distance from women… from everyone… because while I needed them, they didn’t need me or want my friendship and I shouldn’t cling to them.

RambamRambamI still don’t meet other women very often, but I’m getting better at it. There’s one I often meet. We write together and talk, too. And two days ago I met up with someone I haven’t seen for many years. I even initiated the meeting and travelled all the way to Haifa for it. Well, for this country it’s a long way. The bus journey from Jerusalem to Haifa takes all of two hours.

We had a pleasant and interesting chat together. She also gave me a brief but fascinating tour of Rambam Hospital, where she works. In particular, I saw how the underground carpark can be turned into a whole hospital in times of emergency. Amazing!

TechnionChurchill1

Sir Winston Churchill at the Churchill Building, Technion

As I was in Haifa anyway, I did a bit of research for a novel I began in November and plan to return to. I wandered around The Technion Institute of Technology and found some details to add or change in the novel. It was hot and humid and the paths of the campus, up there on the Carmel mountain, are very steep, but I’m glad I went.

The title of this post also has a different significance for me and connects to the exciting news I hinted at in my last post. Along with another author – the lovely Emma Rose Millar, who appears again at the end of this post – I have been working on two novellas based on the painting The Women Friends by Klimt. The first, which will be published early in 2017 by Crooked Cat, tells the story of Selina, a country girl, desperate to escape the demons of her past and searching for solace in the glittering city of Vienna. The second novella follows Janika, who is Jewish. It begins when the first novella finishes, in 1938, a time when Vienna wasn’t a good place for a Jew to be in, to say the least.

So that’s my big exciting news. If you’re interested, you can also read about how I’m spending the summer over on Nancy Jardine’s blog. How are you spending your summer? Or winter, if you’re in the other half of the world?

AnnouncementPicWithAuthors

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Author of the Day

Today, I highlight two authors – the two who appear in the post.

Emma Rose Millar writes historical fiction. Five Guns Blazing, set in the eighteenth century and written together with Kevin Allen, follows a convict’s daughter from London to Barbados. More information is on Emma’s blog.

Nancy Jardine is a multi-talented author, who writes historical romantic adventures, intriguing contemporary mystery thrillers and YA time travel historical adventures. Her published novels are too numerous to list here, but can be found on Nancy’s blog.