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Monday, 17 September 2012

Rosen, Dhal – ‘Thanks for the Memories’

Michael.RosenAs a young woman I yearned to romance a tall, skinny poet with a great sense of humour. It’s a pity, I now add ruefully, that Michael Rosen doesn’t like Israel!

Having met the gifted former British children’s laureate, I must say he’s personally most affable while as a writer, I consider his work with and for children to be wholly irresistible

But then comes the ‘Jewish’ bit. Why is Rosen so relentlessly anti-Israel and how, most recently, can he appear so star-struck by an outrageously open, smug antisemite like Roald Dahl?

First, I suppose, it is because Rosen sees himself purely as culturally Jewish. Thus, like the hero of his teenage years, the theatre director, Dr Jonathan Miller, he would pronounce himself only as ‘Jew-ish’.

Second, his parents were less ‘Jewish’ than outlandishly devout Marxist Communists and it is clear from an interview he gave The Jewish Chronicle in 2009 that he was  given neither the religious nor tribal allegiances in childhood that customarily pull many Jews towards the community and to Israel. Indeed, he then said:

‘“As I got older and became interested in politics I found it disconcerting when I found out how Israel was founded. At the time I was going on demonstrations over South Africa. I was protesting about the dispossession of a people, about unequal rights, about how certain people were on the inside and others were on the outside. It seemed to me that Israel too was failing on some of these fundamental principles.”’

But feelings against Israel aside,  how can Rosen champion an antisemite? To be fair, I also support Dahl as an artiste and was appalled when some years ago, those governing Manchester’s largest Jewish day school forbade students from seeing a show based on one of his books.

That sort of attitude, I insist, is in itself a form of tyranny. The kids were not being prevented from seeing something which was inherently anti-Jewish like Richard Wagner’s opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Occasions like that, I insist, should be used to give life lessons; to explain and to illustrate how people who can create and achieve marvellous things may also otherwise behave quite vilely. Surely, this helps children to grow up?

Moreover, Rosen is captivated by Dahl’s memories of childhood. He remarked during another interview that to be a successful children’s writer, one had

“to have either a very close connection with your own childhood or somebody else's or lots of others. The electric connection has to be in place in your brain. How or why I don't know. Take Roald Dahl. He had a very strong memory - both the extremely pleasant and extremely unpleasant memories of his own childhood. He also had an extraordinarily powerful relationship with his own children. Somewhere within all that it enabled  him to be a marvellous children's writer." 

That may be true. Certainly memory is all to the successful writer and is very often the real source of their creativity.

It is well-documented also that Dahl had some horrendous experiences as a World War II fighter pilot which may have changed his personality and that he behaved very viciously towards many people – including his first wife, actress, Patricia Neal. However, it is this very ‘nastiness’ which helped to endear him to his young readers as  imaginative kids love pantomimic fear and ugliness. Roald.Dahl





Indeed, I find Rosen much more of a troubling enigma than Dahl as whether he wants to admit it or not, he strikes me as  ‘Jewish’ to his fingertips. Memory and loss are part of the Jewish collective consciousness – yet he appears fearful of settling inside it.

By way of illustration I conclude with his poem, For My Parents. I’m also posting a video clip of his reciting it as both the text and the polemical way he reads it seem proof of how he appears intent on seeing  his background only in political terms. Certainly, as the world knows,  Jews were pioneer wanderers and offered a shining example of ‘making over’ in a foreign land to later immigrants who have settled in London’s Whitechapel. But surely Rosen is keenly aware that they are also much more than that.


For My Parents: September 3, 2011 Anti-EDL demo, Whitechapel

You Connie Ruby Isakofsky
From Globe Road in Bethnal Green
You Harold Rosen
From Nelson street, Whitechapel
You Connie with your mother and father
From Romania and Poland
You Harold with your family from Poland
You Connie
You Harold
Your families working in the rag trade
Hats, caps, jackets and gowns
Hats, caps, jackets and gowns
You both saw Hitler on the Pathe News
You both saw Hitler Blaming the Jews
You both collected for Spain,
collecting for Spain
When Franco came
When round the tenements,
the whisper came
Mosley wants to march
Here, through the East End
So what should it be?
To Trafalgar Square to support Spain:
No pasaran
Or to Gardiners Corner to support Whitechapel
They shall not pass.
Round the tenements
The whisper came
Fight here in Whitechapel
The whisper came:
Winning here
We  support
Spain there.
These are the streets where we live
These are the streets where we go to school
These are the streets where we work
They shall not pass.
You Connie
You Harold
Went to Gardiner’s Corner
You went to Cable Street
You piled chairs on the barricades
The mounted police charged you
A stranger took you indoors
To escape a beating
And thousands
Hundreds of thousands came here
Fighting Mosley
Supporting Spain
Thinking of Germany
Mosley did not pass.
You Connie
You Harold
Said, today the bombs on Guernica in Spain
Tomorrow the bombs on London here.
And you were bombed
the same planes, the same bombs
landing in the same streets
where you had said
they shall not pass
And the bodies
piled up across the world
Million after million after million after million
You Connie, your cousins in Poland
Taken to camps
Wiped out
You Harold, your uncles and aunts in France and Poland
Taken to camps
Wiped out.
But you Connie, my mother
You Harold, my father
You survived
You lived
We were born
We grew
You mother
You father
told us these things
I write these things
And today,
I tell you these things
We remember here together
Thanks to you
And we say:

They shall not pass.


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