Friday, 20 June 2014

Written Back Into History!

Written Out Of HistoryIt is fashionable among feminists – I write as a mere egalitarian – to insist that previous generations of women have been written out of history.

I think that’s self-deluding deceit and instead suggest that while many women have always been and continue to be kept subservient and often silenced, this has never stopped the literate actively writing about themselves.

Most people in many societies worldwide have come and disappeared without leaving much, bar a fading headstone or perhaps a tattered newspaper cutting. Even the hard work of  modern ‘oral’ historians cannot make the humdrum and their lives more interesting or important than they were in reality. This is the true reason for ‘anonymity’. Let’s be honest - most of us live little lives of no lasting consequence!

In earlier times Jewish women were often literate when many of their non-Jewish counterparts were not so fortunate. Such were sisters, Ella and Gella, two of the ten children of the Czech-born 17th-18th century Hebrew printer, Moses ben Abraham Avinu, who worked variously in Holland and Germany.

I insist that not only did the girls’ work for their father not go unrecognised, but that they actively ‘publicised’ themselves by their entries in the colophons (end notes) in several books they helped to typeset, where they asked to be forgiven any errors they may have made due to their young age!

I appreciate that my views are deeply heretical but I want to claim further that Moses ben Avraham was far more interesting than his children as, like his own father, Jacob, he was a convert to Judaism in a deeply antisemitic age. He was even imprisoned on one occasion for including allegedly anti-Christian passages in two books he printed.

The poem below, supposedly written by Gella aged eleven, was published in Written Out of History: Our Jewish Foremothers by Emily Taitz and Sondra Henry (1990). 

The piece was used as a study passage at last week’s Masorti Women’s National Study Day in Jerusalem, when I argued that its content and tone make it far likelier that Gella wrote it as an adult from the viewpoint of an eleven-year-old. I’d love to know what anyone else thinks.

“Gella, aged 11, 1713(?)

“Of this beautiful prayer book from beginning to end,

I set all the letters in type with my own hands.

I, Gella, the daughter of Moses the printer, and whose mother was Freide, the daughter of R. Israel Katz, may his memory be for a blessing.

She bore me among ten children:

I am a maiden still somewhat under twelve years.

Be not surprised that I must work;

The tender and delicate daughter of Israel has been in exile for a long time.

One year passes and another comes

And we have not yet heard of any redemption.

We cry and beg of God each year

That our prayers may come before Him Blessed Be He,

For I must be silent.

I am (in) my father’s house (and) may not speak much.

As will happen to all Israel,

So may it also happen to us                 

For the Biblical verse says

All people will rejoice

Who lamented over the destruction of JerusalemSefer Goralot

And those who endured great sufferings in exile

Will have great joy at their redemption”. 




  © Natalie Wood (20 June 2014)

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Voices Israel Reuben Rose Poetry Competition

Entries are open for this year’s Voices Israel Reuben Rose Poetry Competition.



Entry is not exclusive to members of Voices  Israel and entries need not have a solely Jewish or  Israeli theme.

Good luck!

© Natalie Wood (15 June 2014)

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A Poet’s Salad

Rev.Sydney.SmithEven ethereal poets have to eat. So when members of Voices Israel meet for a workshop later this month they’ll need to break for lunch.


Perhaps a little salad - with a splash of elegant dressing?

How about that devised by the Rev Sydney Smith? He was the 18th-19th century English  clergyman and litterateur now best remembered as the founder of the Edinburgh Review. Rev Smith’s enduring fame means many well-known epigrams are attributed to him and my favourite is about his friend, Henry Luttrell, whose idea of heaven, he was supposed to have remarked, was ‘eating pâté de foie gras to the sound of trumpets’.

Edinburgh.ReviewAs a mere earthbound vegetarian, here I post  Rev Smith’s poetic recipe for dressing which became popular among U.S. cooks after it was reproduced in Common Sense in The Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery by Marion Harland (Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune). Her book was the most successful U.S. recipe manual at the end of the 19th century, selling more than ten million copies.

Sydney Smith's Salad (Dressing)

“Two boiled potatoes strained through a kitchen sieve,
Softness and smoothness to the salad give;
Of mordant mustard take a single spoon,
Distrust the condiment that bites too soon!
Yet deem it not, thou man of taste, a fault
To add a double quantity of salt.
Four times the spoon with oil of Lucca crown,
And twice with vinegar procured from town;
True taste requires it and your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two well-boiled eggs.
Let onion's atoms lurk within the bowl
And, scarce suspected, animate the whole,
And lastly in the flavoured compound toss
A magic spoonful of anchovy sauce.
Oh, great and glorious! Oh, herbaceous treat!
'Twould tempt the dying Anchorite to eat,
Back to the world he'd turn his weary soul
And plunge his fingers in the salad bowl”.

© Natalie Wood (11 June 2014)

Thursday, 5 June 2014

‘That Cottage of Darkness’

Let's Talk TalmudMystical or practical, there are as many theories as there are scholars explaining why Jews stay up all night to study Torah on Shavuot.

This is the harvest festival that occurred this week and which also celebrates the giving of the Torah – the Jewish Written Law – on Mount Sinai.

There is no restriction on what is studied or how it is examined. So at Kehilat Hakerem Congregation in Karmiel, where there were two English language sessions, the first somehow  dovetailed an in-depth analysis of a passage from Talmud with a piece by non-Jewish American Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Mary Oliver. Mary.Oliver

Both the Talmud extract (Berachot 5b) and the poem, When Death Comes examine illness and impending death and different approaches to it. While the ancient sages concluded that “the prisoner cannot free himself from jail”, Oliver insists on looking at the next world as ‘another possibility,/ ….  I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world”.

Here is a link to a close examination of Oliver’s poem while I close this post by publishing it in full:


“When Death Comes

“When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

“to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

“when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

“I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

“And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

“and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

“and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

“and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

“When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

“I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world”.

© Natalie Wood (05 June 2014)

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

‘Granta Israel’ Is Launched

Granta. IsraelGranta Magazine, the prestigious publication founded by Cambridge University students in 1889, has just been launched in Israel as -  well  - Granta Israel!

Take-off happened during last month’s International Writers’ Festival in Jerusalem, and publication is being handled from the independent bookshop, Sipur Pashut in Tel Aviv’s Neve Tzedek district.

Those who know these things say Sipur Pashut is “the kind of place that editors and authors frequent, and which regularly hosts literary events”.

Shira Levy and Mira Rashty are down as  twin editrices. Levy comments: “We believe that Granta in Israel will influence the local literary scene in a very positive way” while an equally savvy Rashty broadcasts a regular segment on English language books for Tel Aviv 1 Radio.

Meanwhile, the Israeli writers booked to fill the glossy acres include  Shimon Adaf, Dror Burstein, Ona Coussin, Eli Eliyahu and Etgar Keret. Translated pieces include work by Nadine Gordimer, Roberto Bolano and Nicole Krauss.

Burstein has commented: “I think that the concept of a global literary community is wonderful.” He added, “if there is one good thing about globalism it is the possibility to easily cross cultural borders”.

© Natalie Wood (04 June 2014)

Monday, 2 June 2014

‘Poets Must Engage General Public’–Discuss!

British journalist Jeremy Paxman bears a personality which serves as a fine antonym for his name.

Jeremy.PaxmanSince the veteran BBC Two – Newsnight  presenter announced his resignation from the show, he has become increasingly outspoken about a wide range of issues. Now he’s attacked the state of modern poetry.

I think poetry has really rather connived at its own irrelevance and that shouldn't happen, because it's the most delightful thing”, he said. “It seems to me very often that poets now seem to be talking to other poets and that is not talking to people as a whole”.

Paxman made his observations as chairman of the judging panel for the 2014 Forward Prizes for Poetry whose previous recipients have included laureates Carol Ann Duffy and Ted Hughes.

As Paxman has been joined on the panel, inter alios  by the veteran Welsh poet, Dannie Abse, I’ll wrap up here with Abse’s Cats, which features on the Forward Poems website:


“One Saturday afternoon in Istanbul
on waste ground fit for a parking lot
not far from the Galata Bridge,
the hullabaloo of two cats copulating”.Dannie.Abse




© Natalie Wood (02 June 2014)