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Saturday, 29 August 2015

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Reigns in Spain – Mainly All the Same!

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Reigns in Spain – Mainly All the Same!:   “Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off, ....” ( Hamlet , Act 1 Scene 2 – Shakespeare) Yesterday, I posted  an item showing how the ...

Friday, 28 August 2015

Saturday, 22 August 2015

PerfectlyWritePoetry: At the Art Café, Tzfat

PerfectlyWritePoetry: At the Art Café, Tzfat: At the Art Café, Tzfat Last night I ate inside a painting.  The north light had long since fled, fearful of th...

Friday, 21 August 2015

The Love of Complete Contempt

To_Kill_a_Mockingbird“For thus hath the Lord said unto me: Go, set a watchman; let him declare what he seeth!” (Isaiah, 21:6)
“I have said what I wanted to say, and I will not say it again”. (Harper Lee).

Scene one: You’re reading a novel that is so compelling, its characters and what happens to them overtake reality. Then suddenly you’re finished; daily life resumes. You’re left bereft. It’s the end of a wonderful world and a fragment of your soul has gone with it.
Scene two: You’re not a natural writer; more someone who’s learnt to juggle words for a living. Still, you feel forced to pen the one genuine story you have to tell. It’s your own history. So, with a background in law and as a student of human nature with an uncanny ability to wrest the truth from anyone in reach, you rid it from your system before life’s vicissitudes overtake you.
This, I suggest, is the battleground on which the war of wills is being fought between Harper Lee and fans of her seminal novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. Those who read and viewed the beloved book and following film fifty years ago, simply do not want to know the author’s real intent; the veracity of which emerges in the newly-released sequel, Go Set a Watchman.
No-one denies that Mockingbird and Watchman are effectively the same story, each written from an infant and adult perspective. Nor does any review I’ve so far read of Watchman dispute that it’s a lesser work.
But it appears that far from betraying Mockingbird fans, Watchman give us a hard life lesson: that the greatest treason we all suffer, is when we discover our parents’ fallibility as we mature.
First, Atticus Finch is a court-appointed defence counsel and as a consummate professional, he acts in any client’s best interests, no matter their background.
Next, there’s the trial scene in which he removes his watch, loosens some clothing and removes his jacket. This is the fleeting moment when we glimpse Atticus ‘unbuttoned’; where he behaves in a manner previously unknown even to his children and so layer by uncovered layer becomes relaxed enough to reveal the murky underbelly of white southern US society in the 1930s.
But Finch senior is as much a product of pre-civil rights America as the children’s teacher, Miss Gates who during a Current Events lesson with a look at Nazi Europe, offers unstinting praise to Jews but is overheard saying as she leaves the court house that her black neighbours are becoming self-important and “’.. an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us’.”
Both of them, if only they could realise it, seek an ideal of justice in the tradition of the Hebrew bible just like Jewish  philanthropist Julius Rosenwald,who is said to have built 5,300 schools for black children in the 1900s Deep South.
Mockingbird was first published in 1960 and it can be no accident that the actor Gregory Peck was chosen to play Atticus in the 1962 film version as in 1947, only two years after the end of World War II, he had starred in an earlier Oscar-winning classic, Gentleman’s Agreement. In it he appeared as non-Jewish journalist, Philip Schuyler Green who poses undercover as a Jew in an exposé of middle-class US antisemitism. The movie was based on a novel by Laura Kean Zametkin (Hobson).
Less well-known is that antisemitism was also tackled in another 1947 film, Crossfire which was based on The Brick Foxhole, a thriller by Richard Brooks about the murder of a Jewish veteran by a rabidly anti-Jewish army sergeant.
Interestingly, the American Jewish Committee, fearing it would exacerbate anti-Jewish prejudice, tried to halt production and have the victim’s character changed into an African-American. The bid failed and the film won two Academy Award nominations.
When Adam Kirsch wrote in The Tablet that Watchman “undoes the hypocritical fantasies of benevolent white power in Mockingbird”, I think he made a bad error of judgement, caught up in the rhetoric of a fictional hero who declares, “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”.
The fantasies become those of the temporarily impassioned reader, not the author. Characters like Atticus and Miss Gates are purely well-bred, educated products of their environment. They may always admire Jews as a concept, but would not allow their children to marry one! Indeed, just as US President Franklin D. Roosevelt is now seen as having abandoned his adoring Jewish constituents just when they needed him most, so it was easy for Miss Gates to love Jews as there were so few in her neighbourhood.
Putting its own gloss on matters, the online BBC News Magazine has asked if people become more prejudiced as they grow older. I answer ‘no’. Go.Set.a.WatchmanTheir inherent leanings just become more apparent;  etched deeper by what happens to them.
But I conclude here, neither in the US Deep South nor in London, UK but in Trinidad, the birth-place of the Indian novelist V S Naipaul, who forever recalls a school Christmas show in 1941 and seeing a small black boy singing, ”Oh, I’m a happy little nigger and my name is John”.
Twenty-six years later, Naipaul had a character say “every educated black man is eaten away quietly by a memory like that”. The little boy and his song were loved, say Naipaul and his biographer, Patrick French, but within that love was complete contempt.
Mark.UlyseasThis piece first appeared in the September 2015 edition of Live Encounters magazine as ‘The Love of Complete Contempt’ ( edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of Israel and all matters Jewish.

© Natalie Wood (21 August 2015)

Thursday, 20 August 2015

A Glimpse of ‘The Threat Beneath’

Ilya Meyer

Swedish-born Israel advocate, Ilya Meyer returns to Karmiel next month to discuss the second book in his thriller series, The Hart Trilogy.

Mayer, who last visited Karmiel in March, will give fans a taste of The Threat Beneath, which like its predecessor, Bridges Going Nowhere veers between the political heat of the Middle East and the often ice-cold climes of Sweden set against the backdrop of the ongoing Israel-Arab conflict.

The event, on Wednesday 02 September is at Kehillat HaKerem Conservative Synagogue, Sheizaf 4 (behind Lev Karmiel mall) from 7.00 p.m.

Registration by email: or by phone: 054 799 6154.

* Israel – Reclaiming the Narrative by UK-born Israel advocate, Barry Shaw is available on Amazon Kindle deal until August 24 at £0.99.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Naughty – but Nice!

Warren.Lee.02“Never”, advised writer Warren Sanford Lee, stabbing a slab of darkly luscious cake, “eat chocolate before you talk in public. It alters your tone of voice”!

But nothing if not whimsically puckish, Brooklyn, New York-born Lee went on to take his audience at Monday’s Karmiel English Speakers Club Author’s Night through a career which has embraced a degree in Political Science and then three years with the US Army as a translator in Korea.

Next up was sports writing  for The New York Times, cabinet making, real estate (estate agency) but self-evidently most important to him has been writing poetry, plays, novels and almost sinfully funny micro-fiction. Indeed, to hear his short pieces for the first time is surely to laugh out loud.

Lee, who settled in Karmiel from the US with his wife, Carolyn some months ago, treated us to two favourites from  Harry and the Anderdonk , along with some fine free verse.  Warren.Lee.02

He also explained the background to Mala 19980, a play he has been commissioned to pen about a little known aspect of life at the Nazi Birkenau concentration camp and read a passage from a novel in  progress based on the cotton ‘famine’ in Lancashire, U.K. caused by the US civil war of the 1860s.

Warren Lee is seen below with event chairman,  Monte Mirbach.

Digital Camera

© Natalie Wood (11 August 2015)

Saturday, 1 August 2015

A Most Sacred Circle of Friends

About 155,000 people die around the world each day. But this crude figure seems like nothing when we’re faced with personal loss.

Even  horrific multiple  deaths from terrorism, in war or by negligence   recede into a dulled, numbed hinterland in the attempt  to struggle with the agony of one’s own bereavement.

All religions have developed universally-followed customs to help mourners cope with their loss and the noble rituals surrounding death in Judaism are as strong as any commandment delivered at Sinai.

Indeed, the ceremony of  purifying the deceased for burial is considered to be among the  most sacred acts in Jewish tradition and is performed by a community’s chevra kadisha (an Aramaic word best translated as ‘holy brotherhood’).

Diana.Bletter.02Now this esteemed rite and the volunteers who do it have been brought to the attention of a wide, cross-cultural and inter-religious audience with a novel by American-Israeli journalist and novelist, Diana Bletter, who  performs such work herself.

A Remarkable Kindness, set against the background of the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah, looks at the lives of four US-Israeli women who live in a northern coastal co-operative village similar to that in which the author lives today.

Her book has such an unusual theme, that I asked her in an  on-line interview how she would classify it:

My novel, A Remarkable Kindness, transcends genre because it touches on universal themes. It’s a celebration of the positive power of friendship; it explores the idea of finding inspiration and deeper meaning through ritual and spirituality; and it talks about appreciating each moment of life—sometimes against all odds.

To use the work of a chevra kadisha as the backbone of your plot is startling different; some may say ‘bold’. Why did you do this?

I happen to be a member of the burial circle in real life in the small beach village where I live in northern Israel. The chevra kadisha, what I have taken poetic licence to call a ‘burial circle’, encompasses a beautiful ceremony. I wanted to share my excitement about this ritual with readers, many of whom are unfamiliar with it. I thought the ritual would make a perfect counterpoint to the plot which moves at a fast pace, and a perfect way to delve into a variety of fascinating issues.

Please tell me a little about yourself and your family; why you decided to emigrate to Israel from the United States.

My parents were first-generation Americans whose parents came from Poland and Russia. They came from large families, some of whom had immigrated to Israel in the early 1900s. I was moved by my extended family’s courage and their dedication to building Israel. I wanted to be part of the country from an early age; it just took me a while to get there.

How long have you been in Israel? At the co-operative village of Shavei Zion? How have your reconciled your wanderlust with needing to stay in one place long enough to raise your family? Have any of your children inherited your trait?

I moved directly to Shavei Zion from New York in 1991. We had been living in a lovely suburb but I wanted my children to experience something different. And it was! At the time, there were about 800 people and cows, chickens, and horses. The village is right on the beach and its agricultural co-operative has orchards and field crops. Our children have all grown up; all are in Israel except one who is working in California. I am staying put but I still love to wander.

You appear to know Nahariya, Rosh Hanikra (although not named in the story) and the area very well. Why did you choose to live there as many ex-pats prefer central Israel or the larger cities?

A Remarkable Kindness Book Cover.02

I wanted to live in a pastoral environment. Our village is ten minutes away from Nahariya. My husband and I are avid runners and bike riders and I love being outdoors. In one day, I can see the sun rise in the fields and then set in the sea. Oftentimes, I get to see the moon rising above the hills as the sun sets. What a gift!

When did you start writing books as opposed to journalism? Do you now concentrate on this exclusively?

I have always worked as a freelance journalist while trying to write both fiction and non-fiction books. I think it’s helpful for me to write in both disciplines so that I stay in practice. Because writing is like any other exercise. We must work at it. We must practice. Each writer is the same when we face the blank page. It’s our job to fill it with words!

Do you have personal friendships with your Arab neighbours? Do you know anyone who has had an inter-community romance like that  in your story or even marriage? If so, did it work out?

I have many friends who live in the village of Mazra, across the road from where I live. I also belong to a women’s peace group based in Akko, Akko Vision, consisting of Muslim, Christian, Druze, Bahai and Jewish women. We have done a variety of community projects that have been successful. And yes, I know several intermarried couples and they are very happy. Love is always stronger than hate. 

What do you have planned next?

I am working on a novel set in New York City in the early 1900’s.

* A Remarkable Kindness by Diana Bletter is published by HarperCollins and is available on-line from Amazon and the Book Depository and also in Israel at Steimatzky.

© Natalie Wood (01 August 2015)