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Sunday, 29 December 2013

Great Lives, Savage Deeds

Kitty.Kolker.FredaThis has been a sad day on which I awoke to a cheerless, freezing morning – with news that rockets had been fired on Kiryat Shemona  from Lebanon and that one of my new friends in Karmiel had died aged 87.

Kitty (Kathleen) Kolker, who passed away in the Ziv Hospital in Tzfat,    was an expat Brit and of the same generation as my parents. Like my mother, she was evacuated  to the nearby countryside on the outbreak of World War II. Again like Mum, Kitty was bright, loquacious – and loved to write.

I have a copy of Freda, her self-published fictional war memoir which she dedicated to her husband, Lipman who survives her. The couple had daughters, Sara and Anne and ten grandchildren. In an autobiographical note, Kitty explains that she sailed to Israel in 1951, spending ten months working on a pioneer kibbutz. Three years later  she returned to Israel and subsequently became “caught up in the Suez Campaign”. She returned to England in 1957 only to come back to Israel as a retiree so  she and Lipman could be near their family.

Kitty’s book was published in 2007 just before e-publishing became fashionable. Perhaps in the months to come, her loving family will consider republishing it on-line as a delightful and fitting memorial to a wonderful mother, grandmother and devoted Zionist.


What appear to be small lives can be great while those that are perceived as important can be cut savagely and unfairly short by small-minded, short-sighted pen-pushers.

Alan.TuringI had begun writing this piece on the day that the genius British mathematician, Alan Turing  received a formal posthumous royal pardon for homosexual activity. The notion that the father of modern computer science should  ever  have  been   punished,  let  alone  absolved  for  expressing his sexuality now seems as   grotesquely absurd as it was viciously cruel.  Those who convicted him also appear unconscionably stupid when we consider how much more he could have given humanity had he lived beyond the age of 41. But Turing died in 1954 and the subsequent sixty years have seen society’s values change as radically and as rapidly as the hi-tech world he helped to kick-start. Indeed, as writer V S Naipaul has observed, that when we reflect on the ancient world “we … need another kind of morality, where our contemporary ways of feeling are acknowledged”.


 Ten years after Turing died, Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, also almost lost his life to a gross miscarriage of justice. Instead, he forfeited a ‘mere’ 27 years  under often brutal prison conditions. How he and the others convicted at the Rivonia Trial ever led normal lives after their release is  a source for wonder. This personal achievement was every bit as miraculous as the way Mandela spearheaded the evolution of the new, free South Africa.

Nelson.MandelaI have not read his memoir, Long Walk To Freedom but sat bolt upright; utterly, tearfully absorbed in everyone of the 139 minutes of Justin Chadwick’s film when I viewed it last week. I found it  visually beautiful and emotionally compelling, a far cry from the disengaging mediocrity dismissed so haughtily by most professional critics. Their view can only be because whatever technical flaws it may bear, Long Walk To Freedom is mercilessly honest, highlighting black on black atrocities along with Nelson and Winnie’s huge failings as partners and human beings. 

But I’m partisan. So I did feel  miffed that the film did not give space to the massive support Mandela and the ANC received from their Jewish friends. However, for all the help they had from figures like  the lawyer, Lazar Sidelsky, Mandela’s first employer, and many activists including those who were tried with him at Rivonia there were other Jews who were apathetic if not downright hostile.

Indeed, even  as I considered what I’d viewed, Benjamin Pogrund, deputy editor of the Rand Daily Mail during apartheid, was telling a Limmud Educational Conference audience that South Africa’s first Jewish Attorney General, Percy Yutar,  who was Mandela’s prosecutor, had “created the climate in that court where the death penalty was a possibility. Nelson was only saved because throughout the world there were protests from governments”, Pogrund maintained.

Well, the world continues to change with eye-popping speed, so I conclude with an apt quote from the late and lovely Rabbi Cyril Harris, who lectured at Jewish Youth Study Group ‘schools’ before Limmud was invented and then went on to be Chief Rabbi in South Africa. On learning that Mandela suffered eye problems  from working in lime quarries while in prison, he said: “We are sorry you are having trouble with your eyes, but we want you to know that there is nothing wrong with your vision”.

It is in the same mischievous spirit that I re-post below, two pictures from an antisemitic website I found of Mandela with some of his most celebrated Jewish friends. Enjoy!



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