Search This Blog

Friday, 23 August 2019

Measure for Measure – and Us,Too!

In an Israel where one political party yearns to turn the state into a theocracy, another brazenly loathes homosexuals and innumerable public figures are quite egregiously corrupt, a production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure could not be more opportune.

Enter centre-stage Theatre in the Rough, whose current spare, moveable feast has audiences rushing round Jerusalem’s Bloomfield Gardens in the wake of an energetic cast as they strip bare an early 17th century European fantasy world cruelly redolent of events in modern boardrooms - and bedrooms – anywhere one may name.
Billed as ‘family friendly’, the show uses few props and is most wisely ‘played for laughs’, with much musical strumming and drumming to keep even the youngest playgoers alert.

But wait!

What is this we hear?

As we lose the last embers of one day’s burnished sun, Avital Sykora’s Duke Vincentio reminds us of Will’s real intent.
While the Duke makes his climactic speech against the backdrop of one lonely lamp, it is clear that the life-scarred playwright’s aim is not only to entertain or even educate, but to elevate us.

“Being criminal, in double violation

Of sacred chastity, and of promise-breach,

Thereon dependent, for your brother’s life,—

The very mercy of the law cries out

Most audible, even from his proper tongue,

‘An Angelo for Claudio, death for death!’

Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure,

Like doth quit like, and Measure still for Measure “.

How astounding then, that this speech, leaning so heavily on the Christian Gospels’ Sermon on the Mount, which in turn was filched so blithely from Jewish tradition is being replayed with gusto in a picturesque Jerusalem park. The rest is surely commentary!

Theatre in the Rough’s Measure for Measure: in Motion continues at Bloomfield Gardens  from Sunday – Tuesday August 25 – 27.

© Natalie Wood (23 August 2019)

Monday, 12 August 2019

Europe’s Mental Health Chiefs Have an Israel Rethink

It seems that ENMESH, the European Network for Mental Health Service Evaluation, may reverse a recent decision not to hold a planned conference in Jerusalem due to pressure from anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions lobbyists.

Making a unilateral decision, ENMESH immediate past chairman, Professor Mike Slade of Nottingham University, UK, had announced the cancellation of Jerusalem as the venue of the organisation’s biennial 2021 conference although it had been agreed upon only several weeks before.

But Professor Slade’s move caused outrage both from fellow academics and the public, causing ENMESH to receive more than 1,000 letters of protest. The British academic has now been replaced by Professor Bernd Puschner, at the Department of Psychiatry, Ulm University, Germany. He is said to be more sympathetic to Israel than his predecessor.

However, the pro-Israel Iron Lion Zion action group warns that BDS members may yet place further pressure on ENMESH and has urged supporters:

“We need your help to convince ENMESH to take a final decision to reinstate the conference to Israel“.

© Natalie Wood (12 August 2019)

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Between a Barrel and a Hard Place!

Meg Shelton - the ‘Fylde Hag’ – was crushed to death between a barrel and a wall and then buried as a witch.
But this was not good enough for her neighbours in Woodplumpton (Preston, Lancashire) who, convinced she twice dug herself from her grave at the local St Anne’s Church, just to spite them, then reinterred her head-first down a vertical shaft, placing a boulder over the spot to stop her ‘re-escaping’!
The above events may have happened in 1705 but I suggest that today, Shelton – really ‘Margery Hilton’ – would instead be publicly reprimanded for misperceived injuries to others, horribly humiliated and insulted and then ostracised by cyber-bullies on social media.
The legend of the Fylde Hag is well documented but is nonetheless among material used by former Cambridge University don Dr David Barrowclough in his paper The Wonderful Discovery of Witches Unearthing the Occult: Necromancy and Magic in Seventeenth Century England.
Barrowclough uses his paper that first appeared several years ago, to suggest that in order to confirm evidence of ancient occult practice, it would be better to “triangulate archaeological evidence with that from historic sources and folklore in order to construct the case for the occult”.
Most of Barrowclough’s work here concentrates on a once-remote site at Barway, Cambridgeshire but he concludes that his “triangular approach is potentially available for the study of all historic periods, although it is likely to be most appropriate to the study of periods from the seventeenth‐century onwards where the written record tends to be much richer than the preceding centuries”.
I feel duty-bound to note that Dr Barrowclough, also a former solicitor, may himself feel ‘demonised’ by extensive negative publicity throughout the popular and academic Press that accompanied two spells in prison for fraud and theft.
© Natalie Wood (10 August 2019)

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Loveless and Lonesome Among the Fiddlers on the Roof!

It is hard enough for any grandchild to edit and publish a brutally frank memoir by a cherished forebear.

But it must have been especially difficult for Hebrew University historian Dr Michael Beizer, who believes the writings of his grandmother Doba-Mera (Miriam) Medvedeva are unusual, not only for their valuable historic content but as an accurate record “of a Lithuanian-Belorussian Jewish shtetl at the turn of the twentieth century – “written by a poor, uneducated woman”.

Equally impressive, he says. “is the power of her writing. Seen through the eyes of this unfortunate girl, shtetl (small town) life loses the romantic aura ascribed to it by people who had good lives there, as well as by postwar scholars carried away by nostalgia. It is striking how a simple woman with no conception of feminism understood herself as a strong personality with things to say, whose experience could prove useful to her descendants. Her native intelligence and awareness are impressive”.
Beizer and his co-editor and translator, Alice Nakhimovsky have published Daughter of the Shtetl, The Memoirs of Doba-Mera Medvedeva, in a series, Jews of Russia & Eastern Europe and Their Legacy produced by The Academic Studies Press and sponsored by Boston College, USA.

In his introductory essay, Beizer explains that Doba-Mera’s father, Izrail´-Vel´ka, was an Enlightenment-influenced melamed (traditional children’s religious teacher), descended from famed 16th-17th century Talmudist Rabbi Yoel Sirkis.

But what could and should have been a relatively happy, fulfilling girlhood in a tiny town with a majority Jewish populace ‘on the edge of the earth’ turned sour when first her mother, Rokhl´-Leia Ben´iaminovna (née Medvedeva) died when she was aged only 11 and then her father, when she was aged 16.

Her father had meanwhile remarried and she was made to feel an ‘outcast’, forced into a Cinderella existence where she encountered “extreme need, illness, greed and wretchedness; very rarely, human kindness and sympathy”.

‘“I had no childhood, only years during which I was a child,”’ Doba-Mera later recalled.

Beizer makes us question how much his grandmother was a victim of circumstance and to what extent she was imprisoned by her own personality.

While like all natural writers, an innate compulsion may have sparked Doba-Mera’s scribblings, it was surely unalloyed fear that caused her to destroy the first draft.

“In 1939, at the age of forty-seven, Grandmother decided that she had seen enough of life to begin a memoir. When she finished, she destroyed her account of the interwar Soviet period, which is a great pity but hardly surprising, if one considers the terrifying nature of those years for all of Leningrad …

“In addition, why remind the children that Papa had been a lishenets (deprived of the right to vote in the Soviet Union) and had been ‘purged’ from the Party?

“‘That’s what all honorable people did then,” explained his son, “because if the writer was arrested, then everybody mentioned in the memoir would end up in the cross-hairs of the security police”’.

After the war, as a sign of gratitude for the safe home-coming of her sons and sons-in-law, Doba-Mera returned to traditional Judaism, observing Sabbath, Passover and the dietary laws.

In 1958 during the Khrushchev Thaw, she also resumed her diary, describing her golden wedding anniversary and her complicated relationships with her children and husband. Despite countless travails and disputes, the couple’s marriage survived an extraordinary 62 years!

Perhaps understandably, Beizer leaves for another book what lay beyond an ‘impenetrable green fence’ in the woods near his grandparents’ retirement home at Levashovo, outside Leningrad (St Petersburg): It surrounded a former execution and burial site for twenty-eight thousand ‘enemies of the people’.
* Dr Michael Beizer, born in St Petersburg in 1950, served from 1982 - 1987 as coordinator of the city’s ‘home refuseniks’' seminar on Jewish history and culture. He emigrated to Israel in 1987.
**Daughter of the Shtetl: The Memoirs of Doba-Mera Medvedeva is available from The Academic Studies Press in paperback and hardback formats from $ 21.95.

© Natalie Wood (27July 2019)

Friday, 12 July 2019

Galilee Songs at Sunset

A high summer, Sabbath eve, open-air concert in the amphitheatre at Amirim, Galilee - with a view of Lake Kinneret - the Sea of Galilee as back-drop.

You can't bottle it.

So at sundown we wended our way home for Sabbath dinner and opened our favourite red.

L'çhaim and  Shabbat shalom!

© Natalie Wood (12 July 2019)

Monday, 8 July 2019

Why Notts. Prof Sent Israel to Coventry

It comes to a pretty pass when a respected British professor of “mental health recovery and social inclusion” fronts the apparent deliberate exclusion of an intended host country from academic discourse simply because he is frightened of the bullies from the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
But this, as alleged by, was the response of Nottingham University’s Prof Mike Slade, who as chairman of the European Network for Mental Health Service Evaluation – ‘ENMESH’ - has notified colleagues of his unilateral decision not to hold the biennial 2021 conference in Jerusalem as had been decided at their most recent meeting, only last month.
Mine must have been among scores of hot protest letters received earlier today by Prof Slade, who in response has claimed the decision was neither unilateral nor political but because “the inadequate resources to handle the type of campaign to which some conferences held in Israel are subject, it was reluctantly concluded that it was not at present possible to host the ENMESH conference in Israel.
“The decision was a practical decision, not a political or permanent decision, and it is hoped that it will be possible to hold a future ENMESH conference in Israel. The decision also had nothing to do with individuals; members of the board, including the chair, regularly work with and publish with Israeli colleagues, many of whom are also valued members of the ENMESH network. ENMESH intends to improve future governance and decision-making processes so this situation does not arise in the future”.
I am infamously stupid so I am sure that Prof Slade and BDS personnel will argue that I have neither the moral justification nor indeed the basic native intelligence to understand what has happened here.
I await further reaction, both from ENMESH and the organisers of Palestine Expo 2019 that took place at Olympia, London by awkward coincidece only this past weekend.
© Natalie Wood (08 July 2019)

The Stuff of Legend!

A burst of nostalgic interest on social media in an old-fashioned sweet treat named ‘stuffed monkey’ has had me looking at the life and work of Florence Greenberg.

The Jewish Chronicle’s stalwart food columnist for 40 years is said to have devised and home-tested on a tiny domestic cooker more recipes in her astoundingly long and varied career than mere mortals dish up complete hot dinners in an average lifetime.

The London-born daughter of well-heeled Dutch immigrants, the former Florence Oppenheimer is also remembered as the wife of JC editor, Leopold Jacob Greenberg, whom she credited with kick-starting her work as a professional Jewish food expert.

Many of her readers would have been unaware that despite her father’s misgivings, Greenberg first became a nurse aboard military hospital ships in the Middle East during the Great War and was mentioned in dispatches. Then, barely 20 years later, came a job as a Ministry of Food lecturer in rationing and dietetics for the duration of World War 2.

At her career’s height, only two percent of British people owned a fridge and Anglo-Jewish women routinely soaked and salted raw meat before cooking it, with the idea of pre-koshered, packaged, shrink-wrapped goods being mere fantasy.

But as most of her generation and class were home-based wives and mothers, Greenberg’s burgeoning fan club would never have considered that she was ‘L J’s‘ second wife and that Ivan Greenberg, his immediate successor as editor, was her step-son.

Further, it appears that she had no children herself. This, at a time of continuing social pressure to produce children, must have been due in part to her being aged in her 30s when she was introduced to ‘L J’ only after returning home from military nursing duties in 1919.

So, as has been written about the late Anglo-American Catholic journalist Brenda Maddox, who also reared step-children when it was still an unspoken topic, Greenberg “couldn’t have had a harder job”.

For sure, in the era of feeding ‘stuffed shirts’ large helpings of ‘stuffed monkey’ this was how another fairytale of an evil step-mother may have been born.

Instead, I end by giving you Florence Greenberg: not simply a traditional if expert Jewish cook and model wife, but five-star best-selling food writer, nurse, dietician – and step-mother.

** Jewish Cookery, by Florence Greenberg Paperback – July 1, 1967. First published in 1947 by The Jewish Chronicle is still available on Amazon.

© Natalie Wood (08 July 2019)

Friday, 28 June 2019

The Making of ‘Manchester House’

On Sunday 14 June 1964, Alderman Abraham Moss, among the greatest of the grand panjandrums of mid-20th century civic and Anglo-Jewish affairs, was elected as the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Bronze bust by Bruno Schotz
A week later, he was dead.

A textile merchant by trade, Moss’s extraordinary political and communal career had ridden the coattails of the age of deference and, similar to other leaders like Nathan Laski and Labour MP Sir Barnet Janner (Lord Janner), had wielded an eye-watering amount of personal power and prestige.

Fifty-five years later there is scant mention of him in public, save any reference to the Mancunian institutions that still bear his name. Indeed, even the Halle Concert Trust Fund established in his honour in 1976 was deregistered as a charity in 2004 as it had long ceased to exist.

However, there is renewed interest in the former Lord Mayor of Manchester and his contemporaries – not in Manchester but in Israel – where next week an event at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem  will mark the efforts he and many others made towards  the establishment of ‘Manchester House’, known formally as ‘The Einstein Institute of Mathematics’.

Suri (Barbara) Ordman, an immigrant from Manchester and a prime instigator of the event, explains that her interest was sparked after her son, Boaz, a PhD student at the university. noticed a sign to the building.

She says: “Curious, he went inside and there on the wall was a plaque with the names of the donors.  He forwarded a photo of the plaque to me.  It was like going down memory lane.  Most of the names conjured up well known Manchester faces from a generation ago.  It appears that Manchester House was inaugurated in 1957, four years after a plot of land near to the-then new Knesset (Israel Parliament), was designated for the construction of the second Hebrew University campus”.

The evening, to include a ceremony honoring the original donors, will be addressed by Professor Eli Lederhendler, a US-born modern historian at H U who will trace Manchester’s connection to the establishment of the State of Israel via figures like its founding president Dr Chaim Weizmann.

The event is on Sunday 7 July at Manchester House in the university’s Givat Ram campus (6.30-8.30. p.m.). Entrance is free.

The title of this piece deliberately echoes that of the best-known work by the late Bill Williams, the popular non-Jewish historian of Manchester Jewry.

© Natalie Wood (28 June 2019)