Thursday, 21 August 2014

Thursday’s Child – What a Disgrace!

Yesterday, Kevin.HigginsI started to write about an Irish poet who runs an online English language  workshop for aspiring poets. This is an edited version of my original post.

I was first  pleased that Kevin Higgins had been given free space to advertise his commercial course on the Voices Israel Group of Poets in English Facebook page as I reflected that those who run the page believe, like me, that they should support all writing. This is about the fraternity of artist(e)s, after all.

However, I believe further that Higgins, who also promotes new writers’ work, has abused our Israeli hospitality by penning a viciously anti-Israel diatribe on his blog, Mentioning the War.

Discussing the recent furore about the the Tricycle Theatre, London and the UK Jewish Film Festival’s funding from the Israel Embassy in London, Higgins writes, inter alia:

“ … it's a pity the State of Israel was ever set up. Surely it would have been better if a state containing both Arabs and Jews had emerged post-1948 in what had been the British run mandated territory of Palestine? Things could hardly have turned out very much worse than they have. The Holocaust may have made Israel inevitable; it was the decisive event in moving the Zionist dream of a Jewish state from the margins to the mainstream. Nevertheless, the Holocaust does not justify even one Arab family being ethnically cleansed, and forced into exile, though it is of course crucial to the context in which such things happened”. 

He continues in this vein on and off at some length, somehow comparing the Israel-Arab conflict, not only with the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland but also the recent attempts by barbaric ISIS terrorists to assume control of vast areas of the Middle East uncomfortably close to Israel.

Since I first wrote the above, Wendy Blumfield of Voices Israel has confirmed that the “Voices website is not a forum for any political material whatsoever”.

Whatever my views, perhaps senior V.I. members will debate the wisdom of offering free space to someone whose politics are wholly antithetical to those of its members.

Meanwhile, as I had sent Higgins a link to this post as it first appeared, he  responded, making light of the argument, writing that I “rather amusingly” accused him of “‘penning a viciously anti-Israel diatribe’. Hilarious world we live in”.

I don’t share his sense of humour and replied thus (slightly edited here):

Obviously, Mr Higgins, your idea of humour is different from mine. Today you've asked me to be your F.B. 'friend'. I don't think that's likely to happen as if it were down to you, I'd no longer be living where I do in Karmiel, Galilee, surrounded by middle-class Arab neighbours who use all the same facilities as me. Your humour extends even to expecting the Voices Israel group of English speaking poets to offer you free advertising for your online writing course. If you knew anything about Jewish culture you'd call that 'chutzpah' - the Yiddishised Hebrew word for brazen audacity. (How) would you feel if someone were to suggest wiping either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland off the map? Where, perchance, would you plan on going to settle?”

Higgins feels that I misinterpreted his purpose so I have re-read his original piece. O.K., he does not approve of cultural boycotts. Nor should any real artist(e). But this is insufficient to sway me of his righteous intent as the  gross bad-mouthing far outweighs anything that is good. There is nothing he has written there that could otherwise persuade me.

When I established PerfectlyWritePoetry some months ago, I had hoped to encourage other people to contribute either their own verse or essays about poetry. Politics were not supposed to intrude. Now they have and I feel very sad.

No wonder I have a pathological and fearful  hatred of Thursday. It has always been a horrible day.

So I conclude most wearily with David Bowie’s

"Thursday's Child

“All of my life I've tried so hard
Doing my best with what I had
Nothing much happened all the same
Something about me stood apart
A whisper of hope that seemed to fail
Maybe I'm born right out of my time
Breaking my life in two

”Throw me tomorrow
Now that I've really got a chance
Throw me tomorrow
Everything's falling into place
Throw me tomorrow
Seeing my past to let it go
Throw me tomorrow
Only for you I don't regret
That I was Thursday's child

“Monday Tuesday Wednesday born I was
Monday Tuesday Wednesday born I was
Thursday's child   David Bowie

“Sometimes I cried my heart to sleep
Shuffling days and lonesome nights
Sometimes my courage fell to my feet

“Lucky old sun is in my sky
Nothing prepared me for your smile
Lighting the darkness of my soul
Innocence in your arms”

© Natalie Wood (21 / 22 August 2014)

Monday, 18 August 2014

‘At Seventy For Grey Hairs’

The departure from Karmiel of Rabbi Michael Schultz and his wife, Rachel  and with it, the end of a four year cycle of  Torah study, coincided with my husband’s 70th birthday. Was a blessing appropriate, I asked.

The Schultzes, enjoying  nothing if not a marriage of true minds, decided after hurried consultation on a passage by Rabbi Judah ben Teima  from the Pirkei Avot – the ethical teachings and maxims of the rabbis of the Mishnaic period.

It runs thus:

“At five years old a person should study the Scriptures, at ten years for the Mishnah, at thirteen for the commandments, at fifteen for the Talmud, at eighteen for the bride chamber, at twenty for one's life pursuit, at thirty for authority, at forty for discernment, at fifty for counsel, at sixty to be an elder, at seventy for grey hairs, at eighty for special strength (Psalm 90:10), at ninety for decrepitude, and at a hundred a man is as one who has already died and has ceased from the affairs of this world”.

All the World's a StageIf it sounds familiar to non-Talmudists, that’s no surprise as it comes from a tradition that examines not only the phases of an individual’s life but the myth of the  ‘ages of the world where the past of the human race is seen to degenerate in the course of time from a ‘golden age’ to an ‘iron age’.

So it’s small wonder that Shakespeare’s famous contribution to the debate in As You Like It (Act II, Scene VII) should feature a sad Jacques who compares life and those who live it to a play and those who play in it.

Here, the speech is delivered by the Oscar-winning Morgan Freeman.

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace,
with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved,
a world too wide
For his shrunk shank;
and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”.

© Natalie Wood (18 August 2014)

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Poetic Twists On Child Sacrifice

The row about an advertisement condemning the Hamas terror group’s use of Gazan children as human shields shares a haunting echo with one of the great poems of World War I.


Jewish Nobel peace laureate, Elie Wiesel appears in the advertisement sponsored by The Values Network, founded by US  Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and which begins by referring to the near- sacrifice of Isaac by his father, Abraham. Its headline runs:  “Jews rejected child sacrifice 3,500 years ago. Now it’s Hamas’ turn”.  The advertisement appeared in several leading US newspapers but was rejected by The (U.K.) Times.

The scenario was immediately reminiscent of Wilfred Owen’s The Parable of the Old Man and the Young which is based on the same story. But where Wilfred.OwenJewish tradition views the episode as a test of Abraham’s faith in God, Christianity sees it also as a foretelling of Christ’s passion and crucifixion.

The poem was published after Owen’s death by his fellow poet, Siegfried Sassoon whose handwritten diaries and poetry notebooks have just been placed on public view.

“The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

“So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

”But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one”.

© Natalie Wood (07 August 2014)

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

How the Tragedies Continue on Jewry’s Saddest Day

As lights went out all over Europe to signal the start of World War I centenary events, Jewish citizens also began their annual 25 hour fast of Tisha B’Av.

The day is viewed as the saddest in the Jewish calendar as it recalls the destruction of both holy temples in Jerusalem and Jewry’s subsequent plunge into exile. This year it has seemed worse than ever because of the continuing war in Gaza and the attendant surge in anti-Jewish sentiment.

Perhaps in future, those observing the fast will add the events of 2014 (the Hebrew year of 5774) to the many other disasters of Jewish history recalled on this terrible day.

Along with abstinence from physical pleasure, the religious attend synagogue services where Eicha – The Biblical book of Lamentations is read. The author was once thought to be the prophet Jeremiah but the work is now ascribed to someone or several  people who remained in ancient Israel after the exile.

The work comprises five separate poems, corresponding to its five chapters. The first four are written as acrostics. I have never studied this exquisite work as literature and I hope someone reading this post may arrange for such an event next year.


 That aside, last night I heard it chanted most eloquently by Rabbi Ariella Graetz Bar Tuv, community director at Kibbutz Hannaton in Lower Galilee, during an event hosted by the Emet v’Shalom Reform Congregation in Nahariya.

I conclude here by sharing the opening  five verses of Eicha in an English translation provided by with a commentary by Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki (‘Rashi):

“1. O how has the city that was once so populous remained lonely! She has become like a widow! She that was great among the nations, a princess among the provinces, has become tributary.
א. אֵיכָה | יָשְׁבָה בָדָד הָעִיר רַבָּתִי עָם הָיְתָה כְּאַלְמָנָה רַבָּתִי בַגּוֹיִם שָׂרָתִי בַּמְּדִינוֹת הָיְתָה לָמַס:

2. She weeps, yea, she weeps in the night, and her tears are on her cheek; she has no comforter among all her lovers; all her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.
ב. בָּכוֹ תִבְכֶּה בַּלַּיְלָה וְדִמְעָתָהּ עַל לֶחֱיָהּ אֵין לָהּ מְנַחֵם מִכָּל אֹהֲבֶיהָ כָּל רֵעֶיהָ בָּגְדוּ בָהּ הָיוּ לָהּ לְאֹיְבִים:


3. Judah went into exile because of affliction and great servitude; she settled among the nations, [and] found no rest; all her pursuers overtook her between the boundaries.
ג. גָּלְתָה יְהוּדָה מֵעֹנִי וּמֵרֹב עֲבֹדָה הִיא יָשְׁבָה בַגּוֹיִם לֹא מָצְאָה מָנוֹחַ כָּל רֹדְפֶיהָ הִשִּׂיגוּהָ בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים:

4. The roads of Zion are mournful because no one comes to the appointed season; all her gates are desolate, her priests moan; her maidens grieve while she herself suffers bitterly.
ד. דַּרְכֵי צִיּוֹן אֲבֵלוֹת מִבְּלִי בָּאֵי מוֹעֵד כָּל שְׁעָרֶיהָ שׁוֹמֵמִין כֹּהֲנֶיהָ נֶאֱנָחִים בְּתוּלֹתֶיהָ נוּגוֹת וְהִיא מַר לָהּ:

5. Her adversaries have become the head, her enemies are at ease; for the Lord has afflicted her because of the multitude of her sins; her young children went into captivity before the enemy.
ה. הָיוּ צָרֶיהָ לְרֹאשׁ אֹיְבֶיהָ שָׁלוּ כִּי יְהֹוָה הוֹגָהּ”

 © Natalie Wood (05 August 2014)