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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)

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Where Lovers, Lasses Count Their Losses!

Philip.RothI was more than half-way through Philip Roth’s American Pastoral when I realised that the location of the prizewinning novel and recent movie may be transferred easily to the U.K., with London and the leafy outer-suburbs of Greater Manchester in north-west England as neat substitutes for Newark, New Jersey and New York, U.S.A.

There must be at least one British equivalent for fictive Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov, based on an actual American Jewish athlete Seymour ‘Swede’ Masin.

Anna-Mendelson_thumb5But here I want to consider Levov’s lunatic daughter, Merry whose story is remarkably similar to that of real-life British Anna Mendelssohn (’Mendleson’). In 1972 she was convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions as a member of the anarchist Angry Brigade and served more than four years of a ten year prison sentence.

I am forever fascinated by Anna’s story as she and her younger sister, Judy were my contemporaries. Like me, they lived in Stockport, Cheshire during the mid-1960s and also like me and a string of present-day Anglo-Jewish celebrities, were then members of Habonim-Dror, a popular left-wing Zionist Jewish youth group.

Anna, the daughter of Maurice Mendleson, a market trader and local Labour councillor, seemed destined for success as a head girl of Stockport High School for Girls with great academic and artistic abilities.

But consistent with the time-frame of Roth’s story, in 1969 she dropped out of university without completing her degree, having joined the student political rising in Paris the previous May.

The Angry Brigade was campaigning against a range of perennially fashionable social ills, only one of which was the U.S. war in Vietnam. Members also fought against internment in Northern Ireland, governmental industrial-relations’ policies and sexism. They exploded 25 bombs, causing extensive damage to property; stole cheques and lived in abject squalor. But they did not intend to hurt anyone and only one person was ever slightly injured.

Unlike ‘Merry’, real-life Anna was simply emotionally very fragile and reportedly gave a remarkable trial speech in her own defence that spanned a day-and-a-half of court time.

After an early parole – that caused much public resentment – Anna returned to Stockport before moving to Sheffield where she started her own family. Later, she resumed her studies and then devoted herself to poetry and art, publishing pseudonymously as Grace Lake.

Her final years were led most reclusively and she died in 2009 of a brain tumour aged only 61.

In an obituary for The Guardian newspaper, Peter Riley noted that Anna’s legacy lay “…. in her unique artistic temperament, beholden to no cultural dictates, fiercely reclaiming her rights as a woman and a Jew, but partaking equally in art as a theatre of linguistic and visual delight.”

I enjoyed American Pastoral the movie very little – and the novel – despite some passages of marvelous writing - even less. They are both inordinately painful - and often painfully boring to boot.

So I can’t understand why no leading journals or their many Arts critics on either side of the Atlantic have not sought to find further real-life parallels with Roth’s fictional family in order to relieve the deadening gloom.

There must be many readers and viewers who have made an immediate connection between the people whom Roth invented and the reality of the late 1960s and early 1970s. As Roth forged the initial link between the two ‘Swedes’, only he can tell us whether he was aware of Anna Mendelssohn’s life story when he devised that of mirthless Merry. I think we should be told!

©  Natalie Wood (03 January 2017)

Sunday, 25 December 2016


This is a terrible way to end what has been one of the worst years in personal memory.

During the past half-week, not only have there been more terrible deaths, but two individuals, who I am sure wrote and spoke quite independently, tried to explain why so many liberal western governments seem over-keen on allowing Islamist barbarians to jump through their borders and terrorise their citizens.

Remarkably, both suggested it is because of the guilt felt about how their Jewish populations were treated when the Nazis were in power. Such wickedness ‘must not happen again’.

Yet it is recurring even as I write and as streams of new immigrants - who hate Jews – anyone who is not exactly like them - continue to flood western democracies, the old cycle of hatred that never really ended begins to turn again. But this time its direction is counter-clockwise.

Indeed, as I began attempting to solve this fiendish enigma, Britain’s top universities had just been marked as “no go zones’ for Jewish students.

Baroness Ruth Deech, a former senior proctor at Oxford University and Principal of St Anne's College, reportedly stated that U.K. universities are frightened of losing potential Arab sponsors.

If accurate, her remarks will not surprise Israel advocate Ilya Meyer who claims – partly for the same reason – that there are now 52 ‘no go zones’ in various parts of Sweden where ambulances making house calls must be accompanied by two police cars.

The first, he told an ESRA Karmiel audience on Thursday last week, protects the ambulance while the second guards the occupants of the first car!

But India-born Mayer, himself an immigrant to Sweden via the U.K., maintains that the situation there caused by open borders, societal segregation and terrorism is worse even than that in many large European countries. Because Sweden’s native population (currently 9,851,852) is so small, the ever-increasing influx of newcomers is difficult to absorb, he said.

First, the left-wing government’s pro-Muslim policies mean tax revenue is devoted to maintaining new immigrants to the detriment of the native-born sick and elderly.

Next, entire apartment blocks have been seized by the authorities to house the vast numbers of mainly middle-eastern male Muslim migrants claiming political and economic asylum, or entry simply for family reunion. Moreover, most are young, angry, virile adults who form gangs and terrorise neighbouring communities before attacking each other.

Meyer, who now splits his time between Sweden and Israel, discussed the worsening situation while promoting From the Shadows, ** the final volume of The Hart Trilogy, a fictional series that depicts the real-life threat posed by Islamism to the entire world. Often, said Mayer, his story-lines are overtaken by real events and several times he has been forced to rewrite more than a third of his manuscripts.

Does he envisage the Swedish situation evolving into full-scale civil unrest?

Presently, he suggests only a collision at the ballot box, where the right-wing nationalist Sweden Democrats (Swedish Democrats) would fight against the policies of the current pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel left-wing government.

What is behind this seemingly bizarre doctrine? Arab petro-dollars again? More naked antisemitism? Some Swedish Israel supporters insist that Sweden has been pro-Palestinian since the premiership of Olof Palme. 

But Mayer, like free-lance columnist, Abigail R. Esman, writing for The Project on Terrorism believes – as I outlined above - that it is due to guilt about and repentance for atrocities committed while the Nazis were in power.

Opening the doors to religious minorities escaping war and autocracy is a form of repentance. So, too, is a hands-off approach to religious figures who preach violent or misogynistic doctrines that violate our own”, she said.

“Such approaches may ease German consciences, but they too often go awry. What, after all, are jihadist attacks like the one at the Breitscheidplatz Market if not ‘crimes against humanity’? Germany is right not to forget its past. But in trying to set it right, the country has just gone tragically very wrong”.

.So when disentangled, the dismal scenario appears thus: The horrific Jewish experience of the twentieth century continues to be both denied and exploited to succour Jews’ and the State of Israel’s worst enemies in these, the opening years of the twenty-first.

How – where - will we be on December 25 2116?

I guess I won't be around to find out!

** All proceeds from the sales of Ilya Meyer’s books benefit the Alyn Paediatric Centre in Jerusalem.


© Natalie Wood (25 December 2016)

Saturday, 17 December 2016

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Why Islam Cannot Be Modernised

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Why Islam Cannot Be Modernised: Amid warnings that the fall of Aleppo may be just the start of “a bloodier phase” in Syria’s continuing civil war, I’d like to take time o...

Saturday, 3 December 2016

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Being Alone –Together!

PerfectlyWritePoetry: Being Alone –Together!: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was abroad when his predecessor Shimon Peres died. So  perhaps his visit and important speech to the Ukra...

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Winter Arrives – a Week Too Late

Winter is beginning to make its presence felt in Israel.

But only just and about seven days too late.


If only the  blistering winds had calmed to damp, sunless air this time last week,  most of the initially estimated 1,700 fires – many set by arsonists  – would not have destroyed homes and wrecked lives in a series of terrifying blazes that  were swiftly nicknamed ‘the fire intifada’.

As the final flames were extinguished, Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan thanked the international force of firefighters who had flown in to support local personnel.  Their efforts, he said during a ceremony on Tuesday at the Hatzor Air Force base, had helped to ensure that no-one was killed.

Today he confirmed during a speech at the Knesset that about 40 - 50 per cent of the fires  had been caused by arson but he cautioned that earlier estimates had been exaggerated, in part because many incidents were reported by dozens of people and also because unrelated events like car crash blazes had been included in the original  figures.


But whatever figures are correct, they cannot even start to illustrate the damage wreaked on so many thousands of lives countrywide.

I fear that worse suffering is yet to come and that families will be left languishing long in financial limbo while  government financiers and insurance company loss assessors haggle over who will pay reparations. Indeed, victims have already been warned that they will never recoup the entire value of  their ruined – obliterated - possessions.

Times like this produce both the best and worst in human nature:  While some of Israel’s foes cheered the blazes on,  her citizens across all cultural and religious divides offered one another practical help and emotional support. While one rabbi issued an absurd domestic ruling, another insisted that Heaven would withhold rain until the ‘threat of eviction’ was lifted from disputed  West Bank outposts like that at Amona.

We’ll see about that!

But here I conclude with a first–hand account  of living with the effects of the fires from well-known Israel advocate and Haifa resident, Sturt Palmer who wrote thus in the 500th issue of his Haifa Diary:

Over 1800 homes were damaged by the fire and of those 527 are uninhabitable.

“Travelling around the city at the beginning of the week we were able to see the severity of the fire in a number of neighbourhoods. Thankfully personal injuries were minimal, the majority of people requiring treatment suffered from smoke inhalation.

“At the end of our street, the fire swept up a wadi exiting on to the street between a Golden Age Home and a private home. The first was saved with no damage whilst the private home was devastated.

“The building next to this private home was also affected but with minimal damage. Here lives friends of ours, a 93 year old professor of the Technion with his wife. He told me …. he didn’t even have time to get his wheel chair (he has great difficulty walking) before he was helped out of his home and dumped on a bench on the other side of the road.

“With the kindness of motorists they were able to get to a point where they could contact their daughter to come and pick them up. Thankfully they have returned home already and all their prized family possessions were intact.

This cannot be said for other friends who lost all their possessions. They are now looking around to rent accommodation in order to bring a bit of stability to their lives. Our community is looking to help in whatever way they can. In this case treasured possessions have been lost. Can they ever be recreated? Unlikely”.

©  Natalie Wood (30 November 2016)

Saturday, 26 November 2016

As Great Men Leave The World ….

Among the flood of tributes to the late Cuban leader, Fidel Castro has been one at The Guardian newspaper where historian Richard Gott noted:

Jos-Julin-Mart-Prez6Cuba under Fidel was a country where indigenous nationalism was at least as significant as imported socialism, and where the legend of José Martí, the patriot poet and organiser of the 19th-century struggle against Spain, was always more influential than the philosophy of Karl Marx.”

Regarded as the symbol of Cuba's bid for independence from Spain in the late 1800s, José Julián Martí Pérez may also be viewed as being in the tradition of the valiant soldier poet. One must wonder how he would have reacted on learning that whereas his work to unite the Cuban émigré community, particularly in Florida, was crucial to the success of the Cuban War of Independence, many 20th century Cubans fled back there once Castro gained power in 1959.

Although Marti is now best remembered for the poem that became the lyrics to the Cuban anthem, Guantanamera, I pause below with a few simple lines that may be more appropriate for the day of Castro’s passing.

I Wish To Leave The World

I wish to leave the world
By its natural door;
In my tomb of green leaves
They are to carry me to die.
Do not put me in the dark
To die like a traitor;
I am good, and like a good thing
I will die with my face to the sun


But the past half-week has also been one of more semi-mourning for Israel where, The Times of Israel reports, the mix of terrorist-triggered arson and wildfire blazes have caused thirty per cent more land devastation than the Carmel Forest fire of 2010.

Ordinary Israelis – Arabs along with Jews - have reacted as ever with gestures of love, sympathy and practical support for those who have had homes and businesses wrecked – and memories destroyed.

At times like these even the non-religious seek comfort in the bible and among items posted on social media has been this wonderful version of Psalm 121, attributed to King David, one of the world’s first acclaimed soldier poets. The singer is Shelly Markalov, who was aged only eight at the time of recording. You have my permission to weep. I did!

© Natalie Wood (26 November 2016)