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Saturday, 20 December 2014

Mandy - Still up for Sale!

Mandy Rice-Davies was still up for sale today  - barely 24 hours after she died.

An ‘historic image’ of the Birmingham-raised former model and show-girl  - a central figure in the infamous 1963 Profumo scandal -  was snapped up on E-Bay late on Saturday morning 20 December 2014 for the princely sum of US $12.00 (approx. £7.07 / NIS 47.10) plus US $4.99 (£3.19 / NIS 19.59).

The watermarked ‘Press Photo’ shows her after her 1966 marriage to Israeli businessman Rafael Shaul with whom she had a daughter, Dana. The couple stayed together for ten years.

MANDY.RICE.DAVIES.RAFAEL.SHAUL

 

Ms Rice-Davies, latterly known as Marilyn Foreman, began her life in Israel before the country acquired its modern pariah status – something, I’m sure, with which she would have empathised.

My searches on The Times of Israel, People.com and Spartacus Education.com have revealed variously:

In 1964 she began a career as a chanteuse, touring cabarets on the continent and eventually in Israel, where she met airline steward Rafael Shaul. Jettisoning the French count to whom she was engaged, she wed Shaul, then 26, took up Judaism and settled with him in Tel Aviv. The faith of Abraham soon fell by the wayside ("I just couldn't take all that business about the...baths," she once said … During that time the two collaborated on nearly everything from parenthood  … to a Hebrew magazine to a string of nightspots and restaurants that bore Mandy's name. Not content with her role as disco queen, she dabbled in a dress business and picked up acting jobs in Hebrew-language children's films and more mature movies such as The Rabbi and the Shiksa’.

Or perhaps you prefer :

While touring Israel Rice-Davies met Rafael Shaul, who owned the Whisky-A-Go-Go in Tel Aviv. The couple were married on 17th September 1966. Soon afterwards they established Mandy's Club. It was a great success: ‘Mandy's was a membership club: 500 official members and a waiting list which reached several thousands ... The club was the first of several. Our brand of expertise became extremely marketable’. Rice-Davies also joined forces with Monty Marks, a London-based fashion manufacturer, to open a dress factory aimed at the younger market. She later commented: "By the time I left Israel, it was a very big factory with a huge turnover”.

Many Rice-Davies parted from her husband in 1971 but they continued to be business partners. She also continued her acting career in Israel and appeared in several films includingKuni Leml B'Tel Aviv(1976), Hershele (1977) and Millioner Betzarot(1978).

In 1980 Mandy Rice-Davies published her autobiography, ‘Mandy. She continued to work as an actress and appeared in Nana (1982), The Seven Magnificent Gladiators’ (1983), Kuni Leml B'Kahir (1983), Black Venus (1983) and ‘Absolute Beginners (1986).

But what's the betting if she were still alive and able to enjoy the attention, the spirited and intelligent entrepreneur would best love reliving the moment surrounded by these heroes from the Israel Defence Forces.

If anyone recognise himself,  a dad – even a granddad -  please let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

 

MANDY.RICE.DAVIES.IDF

© Natalie Wood (20 December 2014)

Sunday, 14 December 2014

PerfectlyWriteFamilyTales: ‘Just a Snippet’

PerfectlyWriteFamilyTales: ‘Just a Snippet’: ‘Outcry over department store bras for two-year-olds’ (U.K. newspaper report) “Hey, sweetheart! Wake up!” Mel urged Angie. “I don’t want t...

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Witnesses to Nazism

The year is 2039, Jack Fisher is 100 years old and the final witness to the Nazi Holocaust.  Jack is especially close to his great-granddaughter, Christine, a history teacher and the two are desperate that mankind never forgets what happened to European Jewry during World War II. But a menacing  group of revisionist white supremacists have other ideas, and  while attempting to obliterate people’s memory of the truth, resort even to murder anyone in their way.

So much is the background to a  thriller by journalist-turned-novelist, Jerry Amernic, who claims his book is  “a commentary on what is already happening in the world today” as more and more people  appear ignorant of and complacent about the events of the Nazi Holocaust and World War II.

Amernic has worked incredibly hard to make his story work. He has researched in depth, interviewed real-life camp survivors and has been helped by noted British historian and Churchill biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert. The result is a petrifyingly real picture of Jewish ghetto life in Lodz, Poland followed by the horrors of travelling to and then trying to remain alive at Auschwitz concentration camp.

The Last Witness teems with its author’s commitment and integrity, makes compelling, even compulsive reading and so renders well-meant objective criticism difficult to pen. But here goes:

Jerry.AmernicAmernic says one publisher rejected his book as he felt forced to "’suspend belief’ (the correct phrase is ‘suspend disbelief’) that people would be so ignorant a mere generation from now”. But this is not the problem. The great mass of humanity always turns a blind eye to that it does not wish to see.

The issue is that despite its many wholly readable strengths, much of Amernic’s thesis is implausible.  First,  Jack and his family live as Catholics whereas in reality, many Jews fairly ache to return to their roots when they discover their true background. Indeed, it is proverbial that if ever a Jew forgets himself, there’s always a non-Jew anxious to remind him!

Second, Christine suffers late-onset Tay Sachs disease which  would be impossible unless both her parents carried the mutant gene. She would not contract it via her great-grandfather and as I am aware from a personal acquaintance,  her condition would not deteriorate as swiftly as the story makes us suppose.

Then there’s the revisionist history which dominates education and popular feeling in the imagined near-future – a mere 25 years - or only one generation hence. I do not believe this could happen, despite the odds stacked in favour of Amernic’s theory. The very fact that rich, raw, naked Jew-hatred has always and continues to reign supreme even to the furthest corner  of the public psyche should itself ensure that what happened in Nazi Europe will never be quite forgotten. The more the world tries to obliterate knowledge of Jews and the State of Israel, the more they will be discussed.

Moreover, during the short time that I read The Last Witness,  it was reported variously:

  • A museum and visitor centre is planned at the former Sobibor death camp in Poland and a team of strength athletes is rescuing the Jewish community’s tombstones.
  • France agreed to put $60 million into a fund managed by the United States to compensate Holocaust victims deported by the French state rail firm SNCF to the Nazi death camps.
  • Vienna, the Austrian capital, has set up a memorial and museum dedicated to the stories of the people behind the Kindertransport, the organized shipment of about 10,000 Jewish children saved from the Holocaust.
  • Israel’s  Raanana Symphonette Orchestra is to honour Italian Giorgio Perlasca, who saved 5,000 Hungarian Jews from the Nazis.
  • A memorial in the Jerusalem hills depicting the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel created by Holocaust survivor, Nathan Rapoport was found vandalised on Tuesday 09 December.
  • The next day,  British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Auschwitz for the first time - a trip designed to help him gain a deeper understanding of the Holocaust.
  • Finally, a major row has erupted following the news that mention of Israel has been banned at next month’s Irish national Holocaust Memorial Day event.

Amernic and I are both Jews. We’re also journalists and know that ‘Jewz is always newz’. For this reason alone, I’m convinced that  whatever future evil may beset us, it seems improbable that the Holocaust will ever be totally forgotten.

* The Last Witness by Jerry Amernic is available as an e-book and in print from Amazon.com and in print through Story Merchant Books.

----------------

The Woman in the PhotographNext I turn to a revelatory real-life Holocaust memoir in which a bewildered,  emotionally dislocated daughter discovers that her penurious, straight-laced mother had once  been accustomed to a life of great ease , luxury - and had indulged in youthful sexual abandonment.

The Woman in the Photograph by Mani Feniger is billed as the author’s search for her mother’s past. But it is as much  a highly-charged self-examination as it is an odyssey seeking evidence of her maternal family in pre-war Leipzig, eastern Germany.

I guess people like Feniger’s well-heeled grandparents and their ilk were the type of Jews whom the Nazis hated most. They were wealthy, cultured, owned a fine house in one of the city’s grandest suburbs and, judging by the picture, exuded an air of  ineffably relaxed grace.

But Feniger discovers a sinister aura of domestic oppression lurking behind the glamorous facade that ended only when her grandfather died from a sudden heart-attack followed by  her grandmother committing suicide by throwing herself from a window. Moreover, it appears that such self-harm was not uncommon among the women in that milieu.

So while the war brought untold terror to millions and Feniger’s mother and aunt first lost their parents, then their home and most of their possessions to the Nazis, it also gave them a fantastic freedom that they would never have otherwise enjoyed. It also cut a swathe through the other intangible unpleasantness that neither Feniger nor her readers may ever quite define.

That aside, the sisters fled Nazi Europe, first to  pre-state Palestine and then to the United States, where they lived out their lives in markedly reduced circumstances. It is due largely to Feniger’s tenacity that a tiny fraction of what the family lost has been retrieved.Mani.Feniger

* Towards the end of her exceptional story, Feniger several times mentions  the Ephraim Carlebach Foundation in Leipzig. This was created  in 1992 in memory of a famous Leipzig rabbi to foster an understanding of Jewish history and culture.

Rabbi.Felix.CarlebachAs an American, she may be interested to learn that the Carlebach family’s influence extends to the U.K. as well as to Israel and the U.S.A. One of Ephraim’s nephews,  the late Rabbi Felix Carlebach, was the grand presiding presence at South Manchester Synagogue for 37 years until his retirement in 1984.

* The Woman  in the Photograph is available from several outlets including Amazon.com.

© Natalie Wood (13 December 2014)

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Brian’s Personal ‘Oscar’

A former Mancunian who immigrated to Israel almost five years ago has received an award for his volunteer work here.

BRIAN.FINK.ESRA.AWARDWhen Brian Fink ‘made aliya’, he carried on from where he left off in the U.K. by devoting his spare time to communal service. His years of endeavour were rewarded  last week when he was among 14 people honoured at a biennial ceremony hosted by national ESRA – the English Speaking Residents Association.

When he arrived in March 2010, Brian swiftly became involved in the-then new Karmiel branch of ESRA, whose members enjoy a range of social, fund-raising and volunteer activities, so helping the community while having fun.

His many successes include devising popular fundraisers like a quiz that first  became an annual local fixture and now a national event. He also works as a volunteer mentor for high school students working towards their English Bagrut (matriculation) finals.

Brian was nominated for his award by ESRA Karmiel’s founder-chairman, Frankie Cronin, who photographed him with his certificate. Frankie (née Linda Franks) and her husband, Mike, are also  British olim (immigrants) of very long-standing.

Back in Manchester, Brian is remembered best as a former chairman, vice chairman and treasurer of Sha’arei Shalom Reform Synagogue in North Manchester where none of his friends will be surprised about his success in Israel.

© Natalie Wood (11 December 2014)

Monday, 1 December 2014

How the Holocaust is Sacrificed to Ignorance

When a Canadian journalist and novelist asked local university students what they knew about the Holocaust, the answer was acutely embarrassing.

It turned out that most interviewees knew little or nothing about either the greatest tragedy of the 20th century or its two World Wars, although The Canadian Encyclopaedia describes World War II as a ‘defining moment’ in the country’s history, and cites two major battles as well as the number of Canadian personnel sent to fight in western Europe.

Jerry.AmernicMoreover, Jerry Amernic, a P.R. man, newspaper columnist and novelist, has discovered that knowledge of the Holocaust is best in Sweden and worst in the United States.

What does he believe is the reason for this astounding situation, I asked during an online interview based on his new Holocaust thriller, The Last Witness.

He said: I’m not familiar with the Swedish educational system. However, I do know that in my own country and in the U.S. the schools are letting the kids down. And it goes beyond the teaching, or non-teaching, of history. How about something like English and language? Back in the 1990s I taught college courses in writing and journalism. I taught kids who were right out of high school and I also taught courses for graduate students. That means they needed a university degree to take the course. And what I found was that the kids who had their entire education in Canada generally possessed little or no basic knowledge of common grammar. How ridiculous was that? Here you have someone who wants to be a journalist and they never even learned basic grammar”!

‘So what exactly was the Holocaust and ‘D-Day’’?

Amernic, who has an Israeli publisher and distributor interested in his book, insisted many times during our interview that ignorance was the root cause of much of the problem and says his story

“  … is about ignorance and complacency. I figured that one day there will be one last living survivor of the Holocaust. What will the world be like then? I chose the year 2039 which makes my protagonist 100 years old. One publisher who turned down the book – there were many – said he had to ‘suspend belief’ with the notion that people one generation into the future would know so little about the Holocaust. Well, he was wrong. That’s why I produced that video interviewing university students to see what they know. Never mind the future, the ignorance out there right now is very disturbing”.

Does he agree that we’re now suffering  the worst surge in global antisemitism – or anti-Jewish hatred - since the end of World War II?

“It’s hard to say, but one thing I do know is that rampant prejudice against any identified group is usually fuelled by ignorance. And when economic deprivation joins forces with ignorance, you have ‘a perfect storm’ for racism. These days many young people in Europe are unemployed and in several countries we are seeing the rise of far-right political parties. Also, the cauldron in the Middle East shows no sign of abating. Put all this together and for some people that is a recipe for antisemitism”.

Was it directly caused by this past summer’s IDF campaign in Gaza or was it triggered by something else?

“It’s amazing the conclusions some people jumped to during that conflict, and deep down I think that too many people out there inevitably believe what they want to believe, no matter the facts. If they harbour an element of antisemitism in their gut, it will rise to the surface when the opportunity presents itself”.

Amernic, a member of a Jewish family and whose sister-in-law was born in Bergen-Belsen shortly after the war, was stirred in part to write his book after recalling a childhood meeting with a tattooed camp survivor.  But, he told me, there was much more:

“I’m a journalist, but one who likes to write historical fiction. For many years I’ve been absorbed with the whole idea of the Holocaust. I say absorbed in terms of trying to come to grips with how a country like Germany, which you wouldn’t consider an intellectual backwoods in the global scheme of things, could perpetrate this horror. But … you have the seed of antisemitism, which is always there, and then when the opportunity presents itself, it rises to the surface. The Holocaust is the most extreme example of this that human history has ever seen”.

So it wasn’t purely research for this book that made him ponder total unawareness about Holocaust matters in Canada?

“It’s not only the Holocaust, but history per se. Do you know the (board) game Trivial Pursuit? Play that with a young person, someone under the age of 30 or 35, and choose the history category. Here in North America young people have limited knowledge of what is very basic history. And that’s because they didn’t learn it in school. A friend of mine, a journalist who now teaches journalism at college, told me about a survey done in the state of Texas in the United States. A lot of people apparently didn’t know who fought in the U.S. Civil War or who won it! That is pretty sad”.

Amernic added later:

 It’s largely the school system. When I went to school we had history and geography – social studies it was called in the lower grades – throughout public school and also into high school. Today, certainly in Canada and I think in a number of other Western countries as well, the schools no longer stress this. In the province of Ontario – about 40 per cent of Canadians live in Ontario – you can take one credit in history in your first year of high school and never touch a history book again. Young people are abysmally ignorant of World War I, World War II, the Holocaust, and other major world events. And it’s not their fault. I consider them innocent victims of a school system that has let them down. It has let down an entire generation”.

It appears that the system has also failed the previous generation. When Amernic confirmed that the period was not taught to pre-university matriculation  students, he added:

“Think how a war veteran who stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944 would feel when he sees a university student say she doesn’t know who fought who at Normandy or what happened there? You can also ask these kids how they get their news today. They don’t read newspapers, that’s for sure. So do they get it online? Maybe. But an awful lot of them are just not informed. And that may stem from the fact that when they went to elementary school and middle school and high school, they didn’t learn basic history in the first place. And let’s not only dwell on Canada …”

Our interview then moved to the current story of Amernic’s countryman and fellow Jew, Ezra Levant, a right-wing political commentator who has just lost a libel case against Muslim fellow lawyer Khurrum Awan. If he were able to comment in view of Levant’s decision to appeal against the judicial ruling, what was his opinion about the present outcome? Amernic said:

“ …  As far as Levant is concerned, a number of people including those in the media are sometimes quick to jump to conclusions. Journalists should know better. You don’t accuse someone of being antisemitic, or homophobic, or whatever just because you feel like it. I find, and I speak as a journalist myself here, that too many people in the media sometimes allow opinion to cloud the facts. In tabloid journalism there’s an old saying about never letting the facts get in the way of a good story. I think there is too much of that going on today”.

Finally I  asked Amernic what was the most important thing he had learnt from his project? His answer was blunt.

“… we shouldn’t sacrifice the education of future generations. And we’re doing that”.

 

My father used to take me to the local Jewish bakery where this kindly woman behind the counter would serve us. I remember seeing numbers on her arm, but I was just a boy and didn’t know what those numbers meant. Later I found out. One day in the not-too-distant future there is going to be one person left. One survivor. This is what my novel The Last Witness is about.

“I’m like many writers in that an idea for a book may germinate over time before any writing begins. That’s what happened with The Last Witness which is set in the year 2039 when the world is abysmally ignorant and complacent about events of the last century. Jack Fisher is a 100-year-old man whose worst memories took place before he was 5. His story hearkens back to the Jewish ghetto of his birth and to Auschwitz where he had to fend for himself to survive as a little boy after losing all his family. Jack becomes the central figure in a missing-person investigation when his granddaughter suddenly disappears. While assisting police, he finds himself in danger and must reach into the darkest corners of his memory to come out alive.

“I did a lot of research to write this book. Even though it’s a novel, I wanted things to be accurate. That meant interviewing such people as noted Holocaust historian Sir Martin Gilbert, meeting real-life survivors who were just children when they were liberated in 1945, and looking into the current state of Holocaust awareness which is not a pretty picture.

Then there is Elly Gotz who spent three years as a boy in a Jewish ghetto in Lithuania. Elly, a remarkable man, was a great help to me with the flashbacks of my novel. Only Elly could tell me that I couldn’t have oranges in the ghetto because there were no oranges in Poland during the German occupation. Only Elly could tell me that German soldiers had rifles, not machine guns, in the ghetto. He could tell me this because he knew first-hand”.

* The Last Witness is being released as an e-book and in print through Story Merchant Books, and is now available at Amazon. A review will appear soon on Alwayswriteagain.

© Natalie Wood (02 December 2014)

Monday, 24 November 2014

PerfectlyWriteFamilyTales: ‘Aunt Lucy’s Last Stand’

PerfectlyWriteFamilyTales: ‘Aunt Lucy’s Last Stand’: (With apologies to Michael Bond and friends!) Aunt Lucy snapped back the brim of her  favourite black hat, then looked very hard and cross ...

Thursday, 20 November 2014

‘Who by Sword and Who by Beast’?

There are days when even the best wordsmiths are reluctant to write.

“Really”, confessed David Horovitz soon after the slaughter at the Bnai Torah Yeshiva Synagogue in  Har Nof, Jerusalem, “the last thing any of us wants to do on a day like this is write. All we want to do is grieve  …. We want to mourn for the families, the worlds torn apart”.

Zidan.SaifBut the editor of a large, international news site like The Times of Israel could not indulge  his  dysgraphia for long and went on to craft 863 words of quietly agonised thought that were still being read  by scores of people 24 hours later, even as his colleagues described the funeral of Druze traffic policeman, Zidan Saif  and the throngs of ultra-Orthodox mourners who travelled to the northern town of Yanuh-Jat to pay him homage.

The ceremony was also attended by Israel’s new president, Reuven Rivlin. He believes, contrary to other public figures, that the current violence marks the start of a third intifada (Arab uprising) with a religious dimension. However, he insisted during a television interview:

“We have no dispute with Islam, we did not have, we will not have, and today, too, we don’t have … We need to make it clear to everyone”.

Meanwhile, the death of Saif, an engaging son, husband, father and now national hero will indisputably strengthen the existing bonds of friendship between Israel’s Jewish and Druze communities.

No wonder Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telephoned Saif’s father, Sheikh Nuhad Seif, saying: "Your son's brave action prevented many casualties. On behalf of the citizens of Israel, I would like to express condolences over his falling in the line of duty”. 

He then wrote separately to the dead man’s wife, Rinal, telling her that she and Zidan had “established a splendid Israeli family … go forward, develop and always contribute to society and the state”.

But what a shame that there are already divisions as how best to prevent something similar happening again. Even – and especially – the state’s two chief rabbis are arguing as to whether security should be enhanced at synagogues.

Ashkenazi Chief  Rabbi, David Lau said: “We cannot allow for the spectacle we see overseas -- armed guards in every synagogue -- to happen here, in our country”.

But his Sephardi counterpart, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef argued: "Until such time as the situation changes, we cannot pray in synagogues that do not have guards”.

Rarely do I agree with opinions emanating from any Orthodox source. But I also suggest that all Israeli synagogues, no matter their location or size, should have some form of security. Less wealthy communities could organise volunteer rotas, where congregants take turns to man a locked door to ensure no unwanted intruders enter during services. It’s a precaution most people would surely view as plain common-sense.

That aside, the way and the speed with which the tightly-knit, inordinately strict community began to recover from the massacre, says as much about local culture as it does of  those who form the community.

In the same time-frame that I mentioned above,  the synagogue building must have been cleansed, because people  soon returned there to pray and study while a young couple used it to celebrate the brit mila – Jewish circumcision – of their infant son. It was vital, they said,  that the boy’s covenant with Jewish tradition be bound as soon as possible.

How different from the U.K., where too many untimely deaths are mourned with drifting, decaying piles of  bouquets, cuddly toys and in the recent case of Jewish-born actress Lynda Bellingham – a church funeral with a fireworks finale!

I’ve often observed that events happen very fast in Israel and most  do not last for long. Wars are usually brief and so  this past summer’s 50-day IDF campaign, Operation Protective Edge seemed to last forever.

But what never goes away is the endless round of arguments, counter-claims and the sympathy that too many in the outside world have for mindless terrorism. I am sure they will laugh like drains at this animated clip - Hamas’s new hit song in Hebrew - Zionist, You Are About To Be Killed by a Car – a jolly homage to the men who have killed and maimed one baby and several adults in what is currently described as ‘the car intifada’.

 

But I’m not supposed to be bitter. Better that I imitate the attitude of the  widows and families of those butchered at the Kehillat Bnai Torah Yeshiva in  Har Nof.

They won’t use their computers again until the conclusion of this Sabbath day, but they have asked that it be “dedicated to 'ahavat chinam' – ‘love for no good reason’.

So I conclude with their letter of ‘love’- and another video clip. This  features the Manchester-born Portnoy Brothers, Sruli and Mendy, now in Jerusalem, singing Learn to Love the Ones Who Love You Less.

A very difficult lesson indeed.

“A PLEA FROM THE WIVES AND CHILDREN OF THE FOUR HAR NOF VICTIMS

“With broken hearts, drenched in tears shed over the spilt blood of holy men – the heads of our families.

“We call on our brethren wherever they are – let us come together so that we may merit mercy from Heaven, and let’s accept upon ourselves to increase love and comradery, between each individual and each community.

“We ask that every person accept upon himself …. to set aside the day of Shabbat as a day of unconditional love, a day during which we will refrain from words of disagreement and division, from words of gossip and slander.

“May this serve to elevate the souls of our husbands and fathers who were slaughtered while sanctifying God’s name.

“God will look down from the heavens, see our suffering, wipe away our tears and put an end to our tribulations.

“May we merit seeing the coming of our Messiah speedily in our days. Amen.

“Signed with a torn heart.

Mrs Chaya Levin and family
Mrs Bryna Goldberg and family
Mrs Yaacova Kupensky and family
Mrs Bashy Twersky and family”

*(The title of this post is drawn from the Unetanah Tokef prayer, read during Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement services).

© Natalie Wood (22 November 2014)