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Sunday, 19 August 2012

Israel’s ‘Perfect Place’

Hilsry.MantelOne of my  chums has whipped through Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall  not once, but twice at break-neck speed. I also think it’s a great read – and a highly unusual one.

It is so well written that readers may forget they are looking at a brilliantly fictionalised history of the English Reformation; that the terse, dry dialogue is largely undocumented and  therefore invented.

I love it especially for overturning  the popular, sanitised image of King Henry VIII’s  Lord Chancellor Sir (‘Saint’) Thomas More in favour of a thoroughly rounded portrait of the saturnine Sir Thomas Cromwell who later served as the king’s chief minister. Of course both More and Cromwell were beheaded on false charges of treason.  Sir.Thomas.More

Mantel and her husband once lived in Saudi Arabia but I have been unable to find anything she may have said or written personally about Jews or Israel. Even so, some of her ‘Wolf’ characters spout the customary, scabrous anti-Jewish rhetoric of the period.  Thomas.Cromwell

It is generally believed that several ‘Marrano’ (secret) Jews were musicians at Henry’s court and some modern scholars now claim that a generation later one of them may have become the dark lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Whatever the truth, when every other avenue had failed, the king used Italian Jewish expertise quite shamelessly in his quest to divorce Queen Katherine  in order to marry Anne Boleyn. I have just learned much on this side issue in a delightfully wry blog by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, previously of the U.K. who now lives and works in New York. I can’t recommend his piece too highly.

Aside from politics and theology, Thomas More was most famous for his book, Utopia – a perfect place -  and I was put in mind of all this l when I visited ‘Utopia Park’, a charming if eccentric idyll deep in Israel’s Sharon region where it skirts the ‘green line’,  parallel to the seaside resort of Netanya.

The vast  botanical ecological park -  a haven for families with young children – is at Kibbutz Bahan and boasts about 20,000 orchids along with many tropical plants, fish, animals and birds as well as pools and electrically operated waterfalls which are programmed to ‘dance’ to music. Simply enchanting!

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