Google+ Badge

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Don’s Starry Israel Night

Don MacLeanHere’s a happy coincidence!

Israeli art house movie fans who have sat in rapt silence through the final credits of Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman’s masterly animated biographical drama, Loving Vincent, may now look forward to a personal appearance by the man behind the closing song.

It has been reported that US singer-songwriter Don Mclean who penned Starry, Starry Night will perform in concert at the Ra’anana Amphitheatre on Saturday June 16.

Perhaps even better known for his classic, American Pie than his homage to Vincent van Gogh, McLean is said to have a strong affinity with Israel, and wrote the song, Jerusalem in support of the Jewish state.

However the most interesting aspects of van Gogh’s life and work for Israelis and international Jewish audiences are those not covered by the film.

How many readers know that a descendent of the first Berlin art dealer to sell the artist’s work lives in Moshav Nahalal in the Galilee’s Jezreel Valley?

Further, I was wholly unaware before researching for this piece that the painter had any direct contact with Jews and I’ve been intrigued to discover that he “often bought prints from the Jewish dealer Jozef Blok (1832–1905) and called him – as well as his brother David – “Blok the book Jew(s)”!

As these lines are but a brief note about the film and its background, rather than a critique, I will close with McLean’s lush lyrics.



Starry, starry night.

Paint your palette blue and grey,

Look out on a summer's day,

With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.

Shadows on the hills,

Sketch the trees and the daffodils,

Catch the breeze and the winter chills,

In colors on the snowy linen land. Now I understand what you tried to say to me

how you suffered for your sanity

how you tried to set them free.

They would not listen

they did not know how

© Natalie Wood (14 March 2018’

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Would Sick Gloria Be in Court on Monday?

Gloria GrahameIt was a great team effort.

A couple of days ago, some of us in Karmiel’s tiny but lively Anglo seniors’ community were alarmed and angered at the thought of harbouring a paedophile in our midst.

So with a memory jolt here; a scroll through a club database there; not to mention an image of the alleged villain posted on social media, we are all convinced we helped the local social services and police to track him down within 24 hours.

But if, like me, you’re asking how he sidled past both the US and Israeli border authorities in order to settle here, the answer is vague - and mixed!


Meanwhile, amateur sleuthing aside, this past week, I’ve kindled a memorial light for my friend Julie. She died eight years ago on the brink of our emigration from Manchester after a valiant battle with leukaemia.

Anyone and everyone who knew her would agree that she was beautiful; poised, elegant and refined to a degree that did not escape the attention of our congregation’s rabbi who, several times during his funeral eulogy, described her as ‘gorgeous’.

But beauty may be a burden that carries a heavy price. Until she met her devoted final partner, Julie’s romantic life was conducted against a parade of ill-suited admirers who often treated her abominably. One, who sexually assaulted her, later threatened me when he realised that I knew what he had done.

The past eight years have seen the development of a new sexual revolution. This began with the exposés of celebrity and religious child abusers and continues with the escalating #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns led largely by women in the entertainment industry.

What concerns me most is that for all the vulnerable women and children who are routinely attacked by men, too little attention is focused on women who sexually molest, occasionally even murder the children in their care.

I started musing on this again after viewing Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, the superbly directed and performed biopic that documents the love affair of Hollywood femme fatale, Gloria Grahame and British actor, Peter Turner.

There was a 29 year age gap between them. But this is of little consequence compared to Grahame’s relationship with her fourth husband, Tony Ray. This began when she was still married to his father, director, Nicholas Ray,  when Tony, then her stepson, was aged only 13!

I am unsure when the movie was conceived. However, filming took place in the summer of 2016 and the finished product was first released in the USA in September 2017, a bare month before the Harvey Weinstein scandal first broke.

This makes me wonder what sort of film noir may have emerged if the idea for it had germinated in the autumn of last year. No affecting ‘May to December’ romance this.

Would film-goers instead have sat in bug-eyed thrall watching a child actor play Ray Junior between the sheets with Grahame, depicted as a real-life seductress and corrupter of youth?

I think not! I guess that such a film would never see the light of day on commercial release. Even on the ‘art house’ circuit.

What’s more, I bet a one shekel coin to a pinch of salt that it would be classed as ‘porn’ as these days, such behaviour would surely have Grahame before the courts, painted every bit as black as strictly Orthodox Jewish educationist Malka Leifer.

A former teacher and principal, this woman is an Israeli resident who allegedly faked mental illness to avoid being extradited to Melbourne, Australia where she faces 74 charges of sexual crimes against pupils at the Adass Israel School.

We women are entitled to conduct our daily lives without fear of harassment, debasement or maltreatment. We want and deserve power. So we must accept the consequences when we abuse it.

© Natalie Wood (21 February 2018)

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Rout a Racist by Phone!

Anat.HoffmanHere,  I repost a letter from Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Centre, discussing a video clip that contains fantastic ideas about how to document and therefore halt racist incidents on the spot.

It is a pity, however, that there appears to be no general web link available for the video clip that features Israeli actor and performance poet, Yossi Zabari and so the clip may be viewed now only on Facebook or IRAC’s own website. According to Hoffman, it has been viewed thousands of times on both the Hebrew language Walla News site and Arabic Bokra website.

The clip I’ve chosen featuring ‘DrDisrespect’ is solely for illustration.


Last time I was in New York I met with a long-time supporter of IRAC about our new Racism Crisis Centre. I mentioned that most Israelis are against racism and do not want to be by-standers. He turned to me and asked: "Do they know how to properly record a hate crime when it happens? Are the complaints you receive well documented?" In his characteristic way, he jumped out of his seat and shared with us names of organisations and links to YouTube videos on how to document racism using modern technology.

Our conversation sparked this video: How to Document Racism. The presenter, Yossi Zabari, actor and spoken word poet whose poetry deals a lot with racism and treatment of others, teaches in three minutes how to use your phone, the most powerful tool for social change on the planet, to fight racism.

In just over a week since its release, the video has received over 30,000 views. It was featured on Walla News (a popular Hebrew news site) and Bokra (a popular Arab website) last week. Originally in Hebrew, it has versions with subtitles in Arabic, English, Amharic and Russian.

Our supporter's advice gave us a better tool to fight racism. Using his experience in America, he was able to give IRAC a head start.

One of the unique features are the real-life examples of racism taken by cell phone. We find that victims that come with a video documenting the attack feel empowered and hopeful. We also found that victims are more likley to get results from the police and the legal system when the incident is well documented.

I believe that when we have a substantial body of documentation of the everyday racism that occurs in Israel, we will be able to awaken the Israeli public from its apathy to this scourge. Through this video, we are empowering Israelis and providing them with the tools to make a difference.


© Natalie Wood (20 February 2018)

Friday, 16 February 2018

A Beautiful Bug Has a Ball

AsEMPRESS Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne announce their defiant intention to visit Israel, I’m dropping by with news of how a chance meeting with ‘the King’ changes the life of a smart gal down Texas way …

But hang on: If you even half believe the yarn spun by the ‘Empress of Bug Tussle’, then you’re likely to fall for the one about how I’d host the Osbournes for a full British afternoon tea – if only they did ‘posh’.

I’m unsure why it takes two people to write one short story, but co-authors Philip C. Elrod and Linda J. Elrod have dedicated theirs to a ‘real’ queen bee whom they do not identify simply to preserve her privacy.

How sweet!

The Empress of Bug Tussle is available from Amazon

on Kindle @ $0.99.

© Natalie Wood (16 February 2018)

Friday, 9 February 2018

Historic Bills Worth Far Above Rubies

Bill.WilliamsBill Williams, Founder President of the Manchester Jewish Museum, has died barely four months after the museum was awarded a massive National Lottery grant. The £2.89M gift and other large donations will pay for a total renovation and extension planned to double it in size.

Those who knew the highly respected historian of Manchester Jewry must surely view this sad coincidence as a rousing finale to a terrific career that spanned a near half-century.

I was warmly acquainted with Williams from being a young adult and my earliest reporting days coincided with the initial research for his first book, The Making of Manchester Jewry, published in 1976.

As a Catholic reared in Nonconformist Wales, Bill empathised with the feeling of minority alienation sensed by many Jewish people. However, it was due largely to his dogged, often frustrated persistence that the museum exists as his ideas and those of his senior lay colleagues were first treated by many Jewish communal leaders with ill-concealed disdain.

The project’s first outline was drawn partly in response to the closures and dereliction of the Ashkenazi Great and New Synagogues on Cheetham Hill Road. Williams and his friends were anxiously determined that the nearby Sephardi Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue would not suffer the same fate.

Bill Williams will be equally well remembered for helping to develop work in recording ‘oral’ social history and for leading on-site walks in areas of historic Jewish interest in north Manchester. Here, he was a disciple of Professor Bill Fishman of Queen Mary College, University of London who pioneered the method.

I attended the first guided walk that Williams conducted and was also at the last Sabbath morning services of both the Great Synagogue and some years later, the Sephardi synagogue whose roof had so much deteriorated that those of us seated in the ladies’ gallery were drenched during a sudden rain storm!

Williams’s boundless enthusiasm for local Jewish history never waned. So even aged 81, he was excited when, in September 2015, a glass tube containing a parchment scroll with details of the development of education for local Jewish children, was discovered in the foundation stone on the site of the first purpose-built Jewish school in Manchester – also on Cheetham Hill Road.

"It is a crucially important historical document…this scroll includes information on those early arrangements which are not known from any source ”, he said.


Williams’s main work aside, he was always happy to discuss the museum’s background and activities. So at my request – from memory on the verge of the museum’s opening in March 1984 – he gave an address in lieu of the traditional sermon during a Sabbath morning service at Sha’arei Shalom North Manchester Reform Synagogue. He was again generous with his time for a couple of book club events I arranged.

Bill Williams is seen here (L) with Professor Bryan Cheyette, now Chair in Modern Literature and Culture at the University of Reading (C) , Mike Colin ( R )  then chairman of the synagogue and me.

© Natalie Wood (09 February 2018)

Quiz Night of the Round Tables!

gift hamperThere are two good reasons to join the fun at this year’s annual ESRA Karmiel Quiz Night of the Round Tables!

Not only will proceeds benefit the local Kfar Yeladim Children’s Village for young people from difficult backgrounds, there’s a raffle draw for a star prize luxury food hamper.

· Date: Saturday evening 24 February at 19:30

· Venue: Kehilat Hakerem Synagogue, 4 Sheizaf, Karmiel

· Participants: Come with friends or on your own and make up tables of eight

· Please Note: Advance reservations only!

· Book early to help the organisers

· Email contact: Frankie Cronin:

· Admission: NIS 40; ESRA/KESC members NIS 30

© Natalie Wood (09 February 2018)

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The Music and Murder of Trees


As Israelis celebrate Tu B’Shevat - the biblical ‘birthday for trees’ - residents of the leafier suburbs of Sheffield, Yorkshire, England are fighting to stop the destruction of their neighbourhood elms.

So fierce is the war against the municipal tree felling programme that a couple accused of plying the officially appointed tree surgeons with tainted tea have been interviewed voluntarily by police.

I’m fascinated by this, not only because I once lived in Ecclesall, barely miles from the focus of the row; nor yet because of the childish link I harbour for trees and my surname or even because my own secular birthday often coincides with the Jewish festival.

What really engages me is the contrast in British and Israeli attitudes:

In Israel, the religious pray for rain while in Britain most folk yearn for sunshine.

In the U.K., clay-footed jobsworths kill off trees on a bureaucratic whim while in Israel for the past decade mature trees have been legally protected and anyone considering felling or relocating an adult tree, must gain approval from –– a very long list of officials!

But none of this was on my mind during Friday morning last week when amidst a ceaseless, black, freezing, torrential downpour all too reminiscent of a British winter, I nonetheless enjoyed a tour and tree planting expedition to the Jewish National Fund’s Lavi Forest deep in the north Lower Galilee.

IMG_20180126_111856The outing became a classic ‘only in Israel’ affair, when accompanied by Tzippy Oppenheimer, regional coordinator for the Go North Nefesh B’Nefesh Israel immigration organisation, the four of us remaining from a pre-registered crowd of 40 began, not with nasty tea but a  nourishing red fruit beverage that we sipped in the forest shelter before squelching our  way to the nursery.

There we glimpsed tiny embryo seedlings being incubated like hundreds of premature human babies before we were invited to choose pot plants from the greenhouse and then to plant Aleppo Pine saplings in the newest part of the forest. We also received a further gift of dried fruits and nuts.

But most appealing was to note how the professional foresters’ skill and knowledge is but part of a sincerely held love for their craft.

Indeed, our main guide, who on telling us of his mother’s constant struggle to keep him indoors as a child, endeared himself to us further by reading Trees, the celebrated lyric poem by early 20th century Catholic US poet Joyce Kilmer that has also been set many times to music.


I’ve chosen this version by Paul Robeson as my late mother told me it was cherished by my grandfather, whom I never met.



I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

© Natalie Wood (30 January 2018)

Friday, 19 January 2018

Change Form – and Die!

BUTTERFLIESjpgZeena Nackerdien, a scientist with dual South African-US citizenship, has recently forged a second career as a creative writer both in poetry and prose.

Her latest book, Butterflies**, is a collection of four conjoined short stories that attempt to capture the beautiful landscape of her Paarl, Western Cape childhood while revealing the petty ugliness of the lives of the coloured community who lived on the physical and figurative wrong side of the town’s rail tracks.

The plot of one of the stories is reminiscent of Guy de Maupassant’s The Necklace. But paying homage to the great Frenchman is not the author’s intent. Instead, she acknowledges ‘with gratitude’ Robert D Reed and colleagues at Cornell University, New York who used the gene-editing technique, CRISPR-Cas9 to repaint butterfly wings and whose work partly helped her to create her character Sarah/Zuleikha.

Nackerdien possibly has an excellent track-record in her original field. But she and others following the current fashion of moving from science and maths into creative writing must understand that penning academic essays is a quite different discipline from telling stories and that fiction is also distinct from creative non-fiction. In the first instance, I advise Nackerdien to ‘show’, not ‘tell’; to avoid devising a clumsy storyline that ill-fits a theory; to give her characters real depth and not to interpolate explanations of unusual terminology within the body of a story – those should be confined to a glossary.

** Butterflies is available from Amazon on Kindle @ $6.50.

© Natalie Wood (19 January 2018)