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Sunday, 19 March 2017

Yes! She Had a Banana …

BANANA FRONT COVERWhat’s this?” shrieked something behind Aviva Brackman.

“I was here first!” it rasped, poking Miss Brackman’s back so hard, she almost keeled over.

Aviva Brackman and her foe, Mira Donner were pre-Sabbath shoppers at the Megazol Supermarket in Ashkelon. Both were at the check-out and desperate to get home.


“The basket you’ve just pushed away is mine - and this is my banana,” added Mrs Donner, still screaming. “I  left  it  to mark my  place in  the  queue.”                                                                                                       


The citizens who inhabit the world of The Importance of Having a Banana ** are quirky, snarky and think most darkly.  The pick of the crop will be on view soon.

It’s important to a have a banana.

Do YOU?  

** My collection of flash tales, The Importance of Having a Banana and other Bites of Bendy Flash will be available as an e-book soon.

© Natalie Wood (19 March 2017)

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Is This Why Amazon Loves Israel x Ten?

On Tuesday 28 February I was among those complaining that the US electronic commerce and cloud computing giant, Amazon was profiting “‘from the trade in titles promoting Holocaust denial and antisemitic conspiracy myths.”

The trouble was, I pointed out,  that the company wields the biggest clout possible in the international booktrade - probably more pro rata even than Facebook on social media. What's more, because so many founding and other senior Facebook personnel are Jewish, when questioned about online hate, the company falls back on the tame excuse of needing to be even-handed.

However, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos may offer no such reason; needs no such excuse. Too many people (including me) need Amazon much more than it needs individual customers. So for the present, until internet anti-hate laws are tightened, Bezos and his ilk may tell me to take a hike”.

But I now believe I may written too hastily and that Bezos has been forced to make a 180 degree turn.

Today I received an email message from the Israel Gives charity site advising me:

“ …today, March 16, Amazon will donate 5% (10 times the usual donation rate) of the price of your Amazon purchases to Israel!”

Israel Gives adds: “Make a purchase anytime today up to 11:59 p.m. as a donation from Amazon. We'll then allocate this donation to any non-profit organisation in Israel that you choose (just let us know by email after you've made your purchase).

“All the best,
Yonatan Ben-Dor, IsraelGives and America Gives, Inc.”

This has to be GENUINELY GOOD news!

© Natalie Wood (16 March 2017)

Monday, 13 March 2017

You Call This ‘Living’?

Just in time for the Jewish carnival festival of Purim, I received a comedy thriller with a wonderfully eccentric theme.

An Unexpected AfterlifeAn Unexpected Afterlife ** is based on the Jewish belief that as and when the Messiah arrives, the dead will be resurrected to live again.

So if the challenge was to make a gag out of serious, standard Jewish dogma, then the story succeeded in making me grin from the moment that protagonist Moshe Karlin awakes naked and alone in Jerusalem’s famed Mount of Olives Cemetery to when he and a group of fellow ‘resurrectees’ form a non-profit self-help charity named ‘The Dry Bones Society’. You don’t get more ‘Jewish’ than this!

The story, by South African immigrant to Israel, Dan Sofer (the pen name of software creator, Daniel J Miller) is well-paced, vivid, suffused with the sort of sweet, funny in-jokes that I first spied in his short story, Larry and Kate and helps to give non-Jewish readers a glimpse into the reality of Jewish and Israeli life.

If I were to start asking too many loaded questions – something frowned upon by the Talmudic rabbis – I’d start to reveal the plot. Suffice to say then, Sofer’s new book is the first in a planned series called The Dry Bones Society and I bet a certain well-known Israeli political cartoonist soon wishes he’d got the idea first!

** I received an advance reader’s copy of An Unexpected Afterlife by Dan Sofer in exchange for an honest review. It is available from Amazon in paperback @ $14.95 from Tuesday 28 March 2017.

© Natalie Wood (13 March 2017)

Sunday, 5 March 2017

‘Sincerest Laughter with Some Pain’

It must be about 45 years since I watched David Lean’s film version of Blithe Spirit on TV.

I was in my late teens and habitually devoured omnibus editions of writers ranging from Noel Coward to O. Henry and on to Chaim Potok (!) with one eye on the page and the other on the television screen, somehow swallowing everything at a gulp. How I managed that, I cannot now comprehend.

Never mind! Of course, my abiding memory of Coward’s dig at the supernatural is of the wildly wacky Margaret Rutherford as trance medium Madame Arcati who most definitely made the role – perhaps the entire play - her own.

Blithe Spirit ProgrammeWell, very nearly. It now also belongs at least in part to Bertha Cafrey, a long-serving Haifa English Theatre actor/director who has just helped to lead a highly polished cast through Coward’s much loved comedy. She achieved this  despite the murder in January of her and her husband, Igal’s son, Guy in a terrorist attack.

“Be yourself. Do your own thing. Have the courage of your convictions”, she advises in her biographical programme note.

I think Coward would have loved that; her professionalism and the way this show’s director, Betsy Lewis Yizraeli with the entire cast and backstage crew mastered such a lengthy, literate script, invoking, not simply the shade of a British upper middle-class era long past, but of a civilised world where matters of the spirit reigned supreme while everything was otherwise earthbound and ugly.

* The title for this piece, like that of the play, comes from Shelley’s  To a Skylark.

© Natalie Wood (03 March 2017)

Thursday, 2 March 2017

More Beautiful Losers

It’s eternally cold, wet and miserable in uptown Montreal where a ‘bereaved and lust-tormented narrator reconstructs his relations with the dead.’

While my quotation comes from the rear cover blurb for Leonard Cohen’s 1966 novel Beautiful Losers, it could serve also as the epigraph for Echo from Mount Royal ,** a story that captures in barely 190 pages all the repressive hypocrisies of the city and period in which the famed Canadian minstrel grew up. No wonder he fled to Hydra!

Joking apart, the new story is by first-time novelist Dave Riese who is not Jewish but relates with sympathetic relish the doomed romance of a gorgeous wealthy Jewish boy who’s forced to ditch his sassy, sparky girlfriend simply Echo from Mount Royalbecause she’s from the wrong side of the social, religious and financial tracks.

Riese says he’s a ‘compulsive’ writer. I believe him! Only a genuine wordsmith takes a nugget of truth as told by a friend and transforms it into a riveting page-turner, as he has, strongly supported by resolute research, revision and something much more than flair.

The story’s not perfect. Some characters and plotting devices are weak and a few references to Jewish practice and 1950s Israel don’t ring one hundred per cent true despite the author’s painstaking care. But I won’t cavil. It had been a long time since I’d read a ‘true romance’ and I loved every

line. Well done! 

** Echo from Mount Royal is available from Amazon on Kindle @ $0.99  and in paperback @ $16.95.

© Natalie Wood (02 March 2017)

Monday, 27 February 2017

Passing Strange!

MERCEDES SOSAWhen the Argentinian singer Mercedes Sosa died in October 2009 she was widely mourned in Israel.

She had performed with artistes like David Broza; appeared at the tenth anniversary celebration of the Peres Centre for Peace and with her compatriot and fellow singer, Teresa Parodi planted a tree in the Mamoriah Forest near the Ben Shemen Moshav. So it’s no wonder that when Parodi re-visited Israel soon after Sosa’s death, she planted another tree in her friend’s memory. It was the closing of a circle, she said.

Also unsurprising, that with both a large Latino population, many of whose relatives were lost among ‘the disappeared’ of Argentina’s Dirty War and a tradition of social ideals, that Israelis adored Sosa as ‘the voice of the voiceless’ and a champion of the rights of the oppressed.

So while allowing that the public memory is short, I find it odd that I received no reaction when I mentioned Sosa to an online group of Jewish and Israeli Latinos while reading Anette Christensen’s book about her.** ANETTE CHRISTENSEN

Even more peculiar to me – a self-styled ‘cynic’s cynic’ - is Christensen’s insistence that the deceased singer’s magnetism was – is  - great enough to help a total stranger like herself to self-heal from beyond the grave!

Christensen is Danish but she and her husband presently live in Turkey. She travelled widely after escaping a deeply troubled childhood home and her wide-ranging career veered from charity work to property sales and from running a travel agency to teaching. She now concentrates on ‘personal growth’ after her recovery from chronic fatigue syndrome with the help of techniques like ‘mindfulness’ and mind-body ‘dualism’.

Now Christensen, who too, has spent considerable time in Israel, has produced a suitably curious mixed bag of a book mingling the recent history of Latin American politics; a potted biography of Sosa written mostly in the present tense; a revealing personal memoir plus many photographs of the singer and her own simple pencil sketches.

Her book is of only passing interest to me because I previously knew nothing of Sosa. However, I guess it will appeal to all those, particularly in Israel and the United States, who are captivated by the sort of disciplines I cite above. If I scoff too harshly I’ll bring a ton of bricks tumbling about me. So this time, I’ll end here!

mercedes sosa book jscket** Mercedes Sosa - The Voice of Hope: My life-transforming discovery of the mother of Latin America is available from Amazon on Kindle @ $0.99. 


© Natalie Wood (27 February 2017)

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!


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!


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.


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


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


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”.


© Natalie Wood (23 February 2017)