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Thursday, 23 February 2017

Hockey: Doing What Comes Naturally!

A VIP visit from one of their two chief donors should have had students at the Nazareth Tigers Hockey School hitting the roof!

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But the junior-sized pitch is open-air, causing many rainy season training sessions and fixtures to be cancelled. The exorbitant cost of building a retractable roof makes such a solution impossible for an outfit like the Tigers, and one father I met at Sunday’s First Annual Sidney Greenberg Nazareth Hockey Tournament instead ruminated on more home-spun ideas to tackle the problem.   TIGERS.CARD_thumb14

Meanwhile, Sunday’s weather was intensely cold, but this did not prevent players and spectators from giving Mr Greenberg and his party a riotous welcome that included loud cheers, much lusty banging of hockey sticks on the pitch – followed by  music recitals by two boys wearing their team kit and shin pads!

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Sidney Greenberg, a highly respected Canadian philanthropist and former media magnate, is a co-equal sponsor of the Tigers along with the Green family, fellow Toronto philanthropists, whose own contribution is marked with a wall plaque by the pitch.

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Mr Greenberg addressed the crowd before opening the match by dropping the ceremonial ‘puck’ and then mingled with players and spectators.

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But even as events unfolded in Nazareth, those present were unaware that they were helping to throw the spotlight on local natural co-existence.

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Team coach Marc Milzman said: “There is absolutely no emphasis on religion and/or politics at the Tigers hockey school. It is open to everyone regardless of their religion. The only emphasis is on a mutual love of hockey. We never discuss religion. The doors are open to absolutely every family that wants their kids to learn about our wonderful sport”.

The school attracts youngsters of all backgrounds, from tots to teens and Milzman added:

“The brotherhood and sisterhood that these kids have for each other transcends religion. They are team-mates and will grow through the years as team-mates. We don't talk about coexistence, we simply live it.

“If any intolerance were ever shown, that would be the last time the kid or their family would be welcome at the school. It's just about hockey. The sport, the camaraderie, the family aspect. That's all. There is no "mission statement" describing this. It is simply a dynamic that all kids are wanted if they want to play.

“Nobody is turned away. That's what I mean by ‘living’ … The programme is not modelled on religious tolerance and coexistence. It exists on it. It is so natural, it is almost an afterthought. This is what appeals most to me. There is no forced acceptance of a politically correct dogma. It just ‘is’. The Canada Israel Hockey School is pretty much based on the same thing and the motto is ‘We Play Together’.

“It's a beautiful thing in this part of the world. But it's a product that developed naturally and shepherded by really good people”.

And as the Tigers prepare for a hockey weekend to include ‘inline’ games against teams from  Metula and Galil Elyon,  their development manager, Ramez Laham said: “I  don't like us, as a sports school, to be involved in political and religious issues. Our main aim is to look beyond such matters”.

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© Natalie Wood (23 February 2017)

Friday, 17 February 2017

The Grapes of Wrath Turned Into Wine

‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes

and the children's teeth are set on edge' (Ezekiel 18:2)

Geoff IsaacsGeoff Isaacs was living on an exquisitely pretty New Zealand isle when his comfortable life was shattered by a letter.

Aged 63 and so at a time of life when many people anticipate a well-earned retirement, Isaacs learned something that destroyed his identity and caused him to move to the far side of the world.

The letter was from a brother informing him that they were not genuine siblings; that Isaacs had been adopted in early infancy and worse - that he was the sole member of the family never to have been told about his true parentage.

Isaacs’s story has now been written in semi-fictionalised form by his cousin, Mimi Tanaman ** and it explains that as he traced his birth parents, he discovered that he is Jewish.

Indeed, Isaacs says that during research, he discovered also that he is the only person raised as a non-Jew in his paternal family in a lineage that extends to the 16th century.

Further, the discovery has made him appreciate why he had always felt somehow disconnected from his adoptive family and why he senses that he had always harboured greater ambition than any of them.

Lost and FoundAfter many tribulations outlined in the book, Geoff and his supportive wife, Jenny both underwent a full conversion to Judaism and were re-married in a widely publicised Jewish wedding ceremony in Tzfat, northern Israel. They now divide their time between Israel and Italy.

I feature Isaacs’s story here because I met him this week just as Steven Spielberg announced that his next movie would be based on the infamous 19th century case of Edgardo Mortara, an Italian Jewish child who was forcibly removed from his family by the Papal Police and raised as a Catholic because of a faux baptism administered by a teenage girl!

The boy was never returned home, became a priest and even tried to convert his family to Catholicism.

These two stories – along with Howard Shulman’s memoir, Running from the Mirror about being abandoned by his Jewish parents several days after birth when he developed a severe facial disfigurement – are all quite different yet have a horrid, haunting uniformity.

All are about one person’s entire identity and personality being stolen by others on a whim.

They also raise enormous questions; demand that we ponder why some people are pulled by a quite incomprehensible atavistic urge to seek and return to their heritage while others recoil in horror – and also renews the eternal debate about nature versus nurture.

** Lost & Found: The person I Was. The Discovery of Adoption. The Person I've Become is available from Amazon on Kindle @ $7.99 and in paperback @ $9.99.

© Natalie Wood (17 February 2017)

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Dishing the Book Marketing Dirt!

BookBaby, a leading self-publishing book company, claims almost 8,000 independent writers completed its 2017 Self-Publishing Survey and that most respondents agreed that being published was “only half the battle”.

The rest is the deep down dirty slog of marketing.

BB chief, Steven Spatz is due to unveil the full results at the San Francisco Writers’ Conference on Friday February 17 in a speech named Publish, Promote and Profit: How Top Self-Publishing Authors Promote Their Books.

His weekend blog post also included a very well designed pictorial graph outlining what may be termed the ‘ten commandments’ for promoting a self-published book.

 

These are:

 

1. Author website

2. Book launch

3. Email newsletter

4. Social media

5. Contests

6. Blog articles

7. Google alerts

8. Radio / press exposure

9. Book clubs / book signings / launches

10. Book shops

 

Book Marketing for AuthorsAll these ideas – and more – also feature in **Book Marketing for Authors by Paula Wynne, a best- selling thriller writer with a wealth of personal experience in book marketing as she has worked in the Public Relations Department of the Oxford University Press.

Some of her ideas and the information she provides are persuasive and instructive, especially advice she quotes about book cover design:

“…. the most important selling tool self-published authors have in their book marketing toolkit is the book cover.

“Your book cover represents your book to the world so you’ll want to be sure it is shown off in its best light with its most professional image. For most authors, this will mean that you must hire someone to create a good cover for your book”.

Wynne also recommends using companies like Canva (graphic design software), Gimp (image manipulation) and Pixabay (free photographs and clip art) all of which are excellent.

But there is much else in her book that I find troublesome or with which I profoundly disagree:

First, as her professional background is marketing, she probably knows more than many other independent writers about promotion sites like Rafflecopter and Gleam and she should explain what these are.

Next, I shrink from the thought of swapping or cross-posting author newsletters with other writers working in similar genres. To offer space for a short guest essay on a ‘blog tour’ can be useful.

But to promote other people’s newsletters will surely confuse readers to the point where they become unsure who’s written what and the whole will merge into a sticky grey morass of clueless unoriginality. I am desperate for my work to be quite different; why should I share my ideas with others?

Moreover, as a micro-fiction writer I am deeply affronted by the concept of producing short stories simply to promote a novel. The short story and the novel are two quite distinct art forms, each treasured in their own right. To use a short story as a marketing tool perpetuates the silly notion that this particular type of writing is a mere warm-up exercise; poorer, less worthy than a novel.

Then even as she emphasises the importance of accuracy and proofing work, Wynne’s book has been published with many inaccuracies - grammatical, stylistic and factual.

Two web links:

http://www.southpasadenawebdesign.com/allowed-html-tags-in-amazon-product-descriptions/

and

http://htmledit.squarefree.com/ do not work.

The section about using keywords twice refers to Kindle Samurai as ‘Samaria’(!) and further, Wynne describes herself as having worked for Oxford University ‘Publishing’. If she means the Oxford University Press, she should say so as I have been unable to find a reference to anything else.

So while I’ll use some of the material she provides, I will not bother with the other books in the series.

My feeling is that Book Marketing for Authors was cobbled together in haste – with backstage help from a lacklustre, overworked committee!

 ** Book Marketing for Authors: Essential Steps for Before, During and After Your Book Launch is available from Amazon on Kindle @ $0.99.

 

© Natalie Wood (05 February 2017)

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Keeping Israel”s Coolest Kids on Ice!

 

Nazareth Tigers.

I’m not a gambling woman. But the odds on a Jewish American healthcare insurance manager and an Israeli Christian Arab computer technician sharing both a love of ice hockey and art house cinema must be longer than the length of a sports stadium.

Yet this is what Karmiel resident Marc Milzman and Ramez Lahham from Nazareth discovered after Milzman emigrated to northern Israel in 2014.

In fact, at the heart of the pair’s unique union is not only a revolution in local school sports but a genuine meeting of minds brimming with exciting plans that are sure to foster great sport and excellent local inter-community relations.

Only this week, while members of the Nazareth Tigers team enjoyed ice practice at Metula’s Canadian Israel Hockey School, the two men debated several sizzling ideas that included the formation of a juniors’ programme like that in Canada where the kids could play where they attend school.

But let’s not get carried away.

This is a sports story, so as the virtual referee sounds the start whistle I’ll begin by asking Milzman how everything began.

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N.I.W.: Where were you born and educated?

Marc.Milman_thumb21M.M.: I was born in Washington DC and went to college at the University of Maryland, College Park.

N.I.W.: When and how did you and your wife, Carolyn meet?

M.M.: We met in 1993 after being “set up” by my landlord to play a game of hearts.

N.I.W.: Do you have any family in Israel?

M.M.: We have no kids but our dogs, Angus and Sadie made aliya with us and we have distant cousins in Jerusalem and Mikhmoret, central Israel. I always wanted to live here and after a visit in 2008 I was sure this is what I wanted to do.

N.I.W.: Have you always been a sportsman?

M.M.: Yes, since I was a wee lad. Not a great one though.

N.I.W.: Only hockey or do you play other sports?

M.M.: I’ve played baseball, participated in curling as well as Canada’s national game, box lacrosse. I’ve also embarrassed myself attempting to play soccer and basketball occasionally!

N.I.W.: How, when and where did you start teaching?

M.M.: I hurt my Achilles tendon badly playing hockey in Vancouver, British Columbia when I was aged only 25. So ice hockey - along with most other sports that rely on having strong feet - ended forever. Then in order to stay close to my favourite sport, I learned how to coach kids in Canada, first helping with ‘pee-wee’ and bantam hockey at the Arbutus Club in Vancouver and then adult teams in the Washington DC area and Los Angeles. I’ve done this for the past 34 years. It has always been officially ‘part time’ but often took up more time than my regular full time jobs!

N.I.W.: As you’ve also been to film school have you ever worked in the industry or just lectured about personalities like Alfred Hitchcock?

M.M.: Cinema was my minor course in college and I learned much from Joseph Miller, a man who, despite not being a professor, still teaches film at the university and has an amazing knowledge of the art of film and cinematography.

He opened my eyes to a world that I had previously no real clue about. So, no. I’ve never worked in the industry but I am fairly well read in the history of cinema and film auteurs and enjoy sharing what I have learned over the years and presenting films made by my favourite directors.

N.I.W.: You’ve had an otherwise wide ranging career yet you have suggested that coaching the Nazareth Tigers ice hockey team is the most personally fulfilling (volunteer) work you’ve accomplished. How and why did it all begin?

 

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R.Lahham_thumb12M.M.: My current employer, Dudi Shabi of Sportskills, suggested that I contact Ramez Lahham who was working with a hockey programme in Nazareth. Eventually, we met at the Canada Israel Hockey Centre in Metula where his teams were ice training and he invited me to his inline rink at the Abu Salma Centre in Nazareth. I was blown away by the programme that he had put together. He asked if I would assist him in building the programme and I jumped at the opportunity. I absolutely love the kids and I see improvement week to week.

Ramez - who by a fascinating coincidence once managed a cinema art house in Nazareth - is an amazing person - a force of nature - who is currently one hundred per cent responsible for building and maintaining the Nazareth Tigers hockey school. Because of his passion for hockey - as well as wanting somewhere for his son Neil to play! - he put together this astounding hockey school smack in the middle of Nazareth.

He visited North America to gain coaching certification from the USA Hockey and Hockey Canada organisations and now works with the Canada-Israel Hockey School in Metula where there are presently more than 60 kids at various stages of development whom he has taught from the ground up.

Ramez works tirelessly with the municipality to improve the rink; acquires donations for equipment from North America but is reluctant to admit that he has even paid for some items himself, refusing to turn away children from less privileged homes. In fact, Ramez sees the school as a haven for local kids; a means of keeping them off the streets, away from bad influence and he tries to build a family atmosphere, both on and off the ice.

I’m not convinced that the Nazareth Municipality realises what an exceptional individual they have in Ramez. He is a person who believes in coexistence and the school has Christian, Muslim and Jewish players. I see no distinction between any of them. They are what hockey and sports in general should be about.

Ramez is a tireless promoter of hockey in Israel. He meets hockey luminaries both here in Israel and North America to gain whatever he may, both for Nazareth and the general advance of the game countrywide. He arranges monthly busses to take the kids to Metula for ice training and games (a round trip of about 140 kilometers) and counsels kids with problems, always involving their parents.

He is the first person to arrive at the rink for Wednesday and Friday practice sessions and then the last to leave. When rain floods the rink, he is there to sweep out the water and mud. If there is a maintenance problem, he is there with a hammer and saw. Now he’s working hard to get a roof built over the rink. All this because of his twin loves for hockey – and the kids. It is truly my honour to work with such a man.

 

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The Nazareth Tigers currently boast three teams: one each for beginners, young children and older ‘veterans’ ranging from ages five – 17 and all are affiliated to the Canada-Israel Hockey School run by Levav Weinberg in Metula.

N.I.W.: I’m told that The Tigers moved from roller-blade hockey to ice hockey. Why? Aside from the obvious difference, what else changes? Is it because it’s a faster and so more popular form of the sport?

M.M.: The teams all learn rollerblading first. The main reason for the change is that there is no ice surface in Nazareth. Instead, the players hone their skills on inline skates and have a monthly trip to the Canada Centre for ice training. I’ve discovered that they ice skate amazingly well. So, yes. Ice is a faster game with different dynamics from those in a roller rink. But the concept is the same.

N.I.W.: How do you involve girls? Do you run separate girls’ teams or do they play alongside the boys?

M.M.: The gals play with the guys!

N.I.W.: Does the team just play against other local schools or take part in regional fixtures as part of a league?

M.M.: Finding competition is difficult. We are currently midway through a six-match roller hockey tournament against teams from Karmiel and Nahariya. Most of these towns’ players are Russian Israelis with life-long experience of the game but while they are very skilful, we have managed to hold our own. We also have some ice fixtures planned for later this winter.

None of our players is yet at national level but I believe that our job is to infuse the team with both Hebrew and Arabic-speaking Israelis. This task requires patience and commitment – not to mention money. But I see a day when a kid from Nazareth will play for the national team. Some have played in tournaments in North America and Europe with the Canada-Israel School and several are due to attend a training camp later this year in the Czech Republic.

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So as the final whistle blows I conclude with a thought from Mitch Miller, another volunteer hockey coach who says helping kids to play ice hockey is about much more than sport. The programme, he says of the CIHS, wasn’t started to create peace in the Middle East, but creates opportunities for people to talk. I bet neither Milzman nor Lahham would argue with that!

© Natalie Wood (24 January 2017)

Monday, 23 January 2017

More Half-Cut Than Deepcut!

Riffle through Google’s top pages and you may discover what really happens at the British Armed Forces’s Princess Royal Barracks in Deepcut, Surrey.

Or scan the daily newspapers and you will soon learn the truth of what evil may befall a serving soldier far from the battle field and the devastating consequences for his or her family.

Unlikely SoldiersBut this is largely airbrushed from Unlikely Soldiers Book One ** by Deb McEwan, a novel that examines the life of U.K. military recruits during the 1970s.

I am an ex-pat Brit living in Israel, a country of compulsory enlistment; where almost every family on all sides has been adversely affected by regular wars and almost incessant terrorism. So while everyone shows a brave face and tries to maintain a sense of humour, I’m unsure that I’m able to recommend this trivial black comedy which, in fewer than two hundred pages, reduces army service to a mix of verbal and physical fights, binge-drinking, sex romps and car crashes.

Deb.McEwanTo observe that many young (British) people join up to escape domestic misery is a platitude. But McEwan, herself a former soldier, is apparently unaware of love for monarch, flag or country and marches on regardless.

** Unlikely Soldiers Book One: (Civvy to Squaddie) is available from Amazon (Kindle, $0.99; Paperback, $7.99).

© Natalie Wood (23 January 2017)

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Catching Fallen Stars

When some years ago Queen Elizabeth remarked that “grief is the price we pay for love”, she did not merely popularise a truism but quoted the words of bereavement counsellor Dr Colin Murray Parkes, a psychiatrist based at St. Christopher’s Hospice, south London.

Now her grandsons, Princes William and Harry together with Princess Catherine have followed her lead by helping to launch the Heads Together mental health campaign that aims to remove the stigma associated with mental and emotional illness.

Dawn.LaJeunesseI reflected on this while reading Star Catching,** a novel by American Dawn Lajeunesse that describes how a family copes after three members are killed outright in a car crash and the sole surviving fourth is forced to live with her grandparents.

Her story, written in juxtaposed chapters from the alternate views of grandmother and granddaughter, is often most moving, Further, as Lajeunesse is a trained nurse, it is unsurprising that she writes the hospital and related medical scenes with accuracy and flair.

However, thin plotting, characterisation, repetitive dialogue and obvious textual padding, turn what could be an important contribution to the debate about mental and emotional welfare into something barely more than enjoyable chick lit.

** Star Catching is available from Amazon (Kindle $2.99, Paperback $11.99).

© Natalie Wood (19 January 2017)

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Of Biblical Secrets, Truths and Doubts

I am unaccustomed to reviewing books about Christian theology and many of this blog’s regular readers will be justified in thinking I’ve jumped in here way over my head.** But I became intrigued, not only by the subject but by the author’s name.

George Tyrrell (Jesuit)The first ‘George Tyrrellwas a celebrated but controversial 19th century Irish Jesuit priest and  modernist theologian who was excommunicated because of his radical views.

So I read this novel, thinking that not only was the apostle St Thomas the Doubter endowed with a healthy dose of Jewish scepticism, but that the modern George A Tyrrell, a retired Jungian psychologist,  may, like his namesake, have experienced more than a few religious reservations of his own!

It is therefore unsurprising that the idea and material for his book - written in literary picaresque mode -  was sparked by the Nag Hammadi Gnostic texts discovered in Egypt in 1945 and whose significance were largely championed by Jung.  Thomas The Doubter

The story, described as a biblical historical novel based on the Gospel of Thomas and Acts of Thomas uncovered in the Nag Hammadi texts, traces the apostle’s evangelical travels from ancient Israel, through the Middle East and on to India, where he was martyred.

In modern India, says Tyrrell, there are memorials to  Thomas and a sect named the Thomas Christians (the Syrian Nasrani), affirm him as their founder.

George A TyrrellTyrrell may in turn be intrigued to learn that I live barely an hour’s drive from many of the places associated with  Christ’s life and have visited the ancient towns of Korazin,  Bet Tzaida  and Kfar Nahum (‘Chorazim’, ‘Bethsaida’ and ‘Capernaum’) whose citizens were condemned  by him for their lack of faith and so, I fear,  where universal antisemitism was born.

While Tyrrell has a sympathetic understanding of much Jewish tradition  and practice, he makes some mistakes.  Christ  and the apostles, for example, would not have broken a loaf of bread at the Passover meal.  This is when Jews eat matza (unleavened bread)!

** The Book of Thomas the Doubter: Uncovering the Hidden Teachings is available from Amazon (Kindle, $4.99;   Hardback, $26.95; Paperback, $15.95).

©  Natalie Wood (15 January 2017)