Friday, 11 December 2009

60. Death

My first English teacher in primary school in Jerusalem was Miss Fraenkel - her father was a professor of mathematics at the university. She was a pleasant person. Later she developed pulmonary Tb and had to drop out. Once we understood some English,
at the end of each lesson Miss Fraenkel would read to us, as a treat, installments of a simplified version of 'Moonfleet' by John Falkner [1898]. After more than 60 years, I still remember the poem on the scrap of paper the boy found in the tomb:

man may live some Sixty years
his Feet walk Down a path of tears
use your life Well for death comes soon
from north or South at night or noon...

After some guessing they noticed the words written in capitals and
worked out that these revealed where the diamond was hidden: 'sixty feet down well south'. A clever idea!
I loved that story. Soon I bought the paperback and read ahead.

In recent years, a growing number of our relatives, friends and acquaintances have 'walked down' that path. Sometimes their path was medically fairly obvious to me, and sometimes treatments have been effective. Others were killed by their chemotherapy.
The BMJ obituaries [which I always read first] usually give the cause of death of former colleagues: mainly strokes, heart attacks, and cancers. My own current afflictions are somewhat disabling, but not lethal - so far. Nevertheless, I have obviously given some thought to my own death.

My own death may not be rapid but lingering. So if I start to suffer intolerably, I shall commit suicide. The religious ministers of Judaism and Christianity claim falsely, that they forbid it, but the Bible in fact does not criticize it: prior to explosives, Samson was a 'suicide killer' and king Saul tried to fall on his sword - although in the end his servant had to help him. And Judas, the disciple of Jesus who has betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver, hanged himself. Nobody complained - only the cock crowed...

I will have no need to travel to Switzerland to be helped to commit suicide: A choice of medicaments is available to me at home - as long as I am not discovered prematurely and saved. A recent BMJ issue pointed out the risks to someone who might assist me in any way - they can be accused of murder. So it will need some very careful planning in secret, on my own.

It may still come as a shock to Judith, to my daughters and to some of my close relatives. But by now at least I'm not too young to depart. And I am absolutely sure that there are no after-life or reincarnation: the end is final. The disposal of the dead body is not important. Quite possibly the only comment said during that activity will be that ''he did love cheese''.

For some years I have been fully paid up for cremation. Unlike David Hulbert, I am not worried about the pollution caused by the fumes of mercury from the amalgam in my fillings. The undertaker can extract them first - as the Nazis did for gold. And unlike the widow of king Mausolus, whose passion for him made her eat some of his ashes every day, my ashes can be dumped unceremoniously on the nearest tip. Ruth thought that I might fancy having them scattered on the sea of Galilee. But there may be security, customs and
public health obstacles. For me that would be a wasted journey: I'd rather visit once more, while I'm still alive. (*See end-note)

My father is buried in Jerusalem and my mother in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv. The distance between them after death is irrelevant, and I have not visited either grave in more than 35 years.
Yet I do not remember them less, just because I cannot touch a slab of stone. But one of my second cousins finds my attitude shocking.
When I ordered the grave stone for my mother, the stone mason asked what type I had in mind. I replied: 'the heaviest'. He did not comment. But he told me that his own occupation was actually based on a Jewish ritual deception: he was a Cohen, who was not allowed to enter cemeteries. So he had changed his surname - and nobody knew...

I regard the undertaking industry as profiteering from the bad conscience of the relatives. Embalming, elaborate coffins, funeral masses, family plots and matching tombstones are all a waste of money. By then it is too late for the deceased to benefit from their generosity.
Why not be kinder to them during life, or endow a memorial lecture instead?

When Daphne was little, we found a dead chick that had fallen out of the nest overnight. We put it in the dustbin. Daphne understood: ''When daddy dies, I'll also put him in the dustbin''.
I agreed.

*note (27.03.10): I've just had a comment from my cousin in Israel - in Hebrew, of course. Amos enjoyed reading this blog post but he doubts the possibility of scattering my ashes on the sea of Galilee. By that time, he remarks, there will no longer be water in the lake. That depends on my survival, and the survival of the lake.
I am sure that Israel is now trying to slow down the depletion of the water. Formerly, despite available technology and abundant sunshine,
for many years they neglected action to de-salinate sea water. It is my personal view that they preferred to keep up the pressure on Syria and Jordan, stopping them from using more of the water that they were obliged to pass to their Israeli enemies.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

59. Medical Gloom

This week's BMJ contains an excessive dose of sad or worrying news. And a lot of the problems are insoluble.

It begins with an editorial on obesity. Fat people suffer more anxiety and depression, and depressed or anxious people get fatter. Antidepressants cause weight gain - and the manufacturers do not warn of this, as it would reduce their sales.

We are all aware of cases of sudden infant death syndrome - SIDS. There have been some notorious cases, including the enigmatic statements in court by professor Meadows. Yet mothers remain ignorant: they continue to sleep together with the baby, especially on a sofa; they smoke, and they drink. Avoiding these factors would reduce SIDS by more than half. Furthermore, mothers' smoking during pregnancy increases stillbirths by 38% and infant deaths by 31%. Perhaps, at the funerals, the priests should tell the parents that it was their fault?

Fraud and greed in medical research is frightening. All journal editors have just agreed on a stricter honest and transparent disclosure of their competing interests'. But greed is likely to continue.
The bribes involved are enormous. For example, the US government compelled manufacturers of prosthetic hip and knee joints to declare all payments to doctors in 2007. They compared this with the payments from these manufacturers that were declared by orthopaedic surgeons at their annual meeting in the following year, when these products were discussed. Sixty doctors concealed payments of 12 million dollars in total !

In Germany, another scam is being used. Drug companies pay GPs up to £1,000 per patient for prescribing their new drug - and providing them with documentation of its effect. It is estimated that 25% of all
German GPs take part in such 'trials', on more than 200 drugs. The patients are not aware, that they are being used as guinea pigs without their consent; and that they are providing the GP with a lot of extra income. Furthermore, the patients, or their insurers, have to pay for these often expensive drugs - they are not donated by the manufacturers.

Corruption goes deeper still. Dr Hurlstone, an award-winning consultant gastro-enterologist at Sheffield university, has just been discovered falsifying results and forging the signatures of co-authors in 3 published papers since 2007. Such dishonesty does not emerge suddenly: How was he not unmasked during more than ten years of his career progression?

And inevitably, fraud by drug manufacturers continues. GlaxoSmithKline are being sued in Philadelphia. They appear to have concealed their research findings, that the antidepressant Seroxat caused serious birth defects in infants of mothers who took it during pregnancy. Remember Thalidomide?
Sometimes the fraud is discovered almost by chance.
GlaxoSmithKline (the same) manufacture 'ready-to-drink' Ribena in cartons. They boast that it contains 'four times as much vitamin C as oranges'. Two girls aged 14 in a school experiment found that Ribena in cartons contained almost no vitamin C. They received a 'brush-off ' from GSK but went to a newspaper and a TV company. They won, and in court GSK were fined a hefty sum. The two girls have now been voted New Zealanders of the Year.

Among all this gloom, there is one column-inch of good news. Recently a kind and caring nurse exposed poor standards of care at the Brighton and Sussex university hospitals NHS trust. She was tricked by television to give some innocent particulars. For this, the nursing and midwifery council struck her off: she lost her income and her career. [Later addition: I have just watched this council's spokeswoman explain their verdict: the bitch was brazenly defending the cruelty and incompetence of the Brighton hospital management's mistreatment of these helpless old people!]
So I was delighted to read that after appealing to the high court, the nurse has been allowed to return to work.

I know what I think of
the nursing and midwifery council... and of the drug manufacturers... and of some academic researchers... and greedy German GPs... and of some members of our parliament...

Friday, 2 October 2009

58. Bible Names, Translations and Transliterations

Reading Hebrew is complicated by the fact that its basic spelling, as it appears in the Torah, and in modern books and newspapers, has no vowels. One has to decide from the context, for example, whether the word 'DG' should be understood and pronounced as 'dig', 'dog', or 'dug'.
The rabbis exploited this feature to create their midrashim - as I did in my post #52. Their midrash might claim, for example, that during repeated copying of the sacred text the letter 'N' got omitted by accident. The complete word was actually 'DGN' pronounced 'dagan' - wheat, or 'Da
gon' - the Philistine deity.

When I started to use an English translation of the Bible, a further obstacle appeared: translators misunderstood the Hebrew meaning. One classical example is the description of mining in Job chapter 28. The translators were quite ignorant of the technique of loosening by fire the quarried rock-face. But the earliest misleading translation originates from the Septuagint - see details of Jonah below.

Many of the personal names in the Old Testament have symbolic explanatory meanings, that are lost in translation. Thus we are told that
Adam was formed 'from dust of the ground' - because earth is adamah in Hebrew. Without knowledge of Hebrew, this will not be apparent. Moses is Moshe in Hebrew and originates from 'limshot' - to pull out of water - he was pulled from the Nile by Pharaoh's daughter.
Some names have a meaning that is not immediately obvious:
one has to search the background. The Hebrew meaning of Bathsheba is 'daughter of a vow'. She was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and her name reminds us that she broke her marriage vow to commit adultery with king David.
Sometimes the name's meaning was clearly derogatory, such as the son of king Saul:
Ish Boshet means man of shame, or man of genitals. That must be an editorial insertion by the opposition. Likewise the name Naval, which means villain. He was the miserly and wicked husband of the clever and beautiful Abigail - and she did explain his name to David.
Some women were never given a Biblical name at all: the
wife of Lot - who disobeyed instructions, looked back at Sodom and turned into a pillar of salt; Lot's two daughters, who each committed incest as well as rape with their drunken father; and the wife of Potiphar, who tried to seduce Joseph.

The names of places often also have Hebrew meaning: Babylon - Bavel in Hebrew - derives from balal - 'mixing' - which refers to the confusion of languages that stopped the builders of its tower. Bethlehem is named after its principal crop - Beit lechem means house of bread. The river Jordan - Yarden in Hebrew - derives from yored - to descend - referring to its descending course. Jezreel - Yizreel in Hebrew means 'God will sow'. Usually, none of these explanations are included in our translated Old Testament texts.

The earliest important translation of the Old Testament was into vernacular Greek. The Septuagint - the 'seventy' in Latin - was created in Alexandria from the 3rd to the 1st centuries BCE by seventy-two Jewish scholars. But these scholars were not botanists. In the book of Jonah we read that a plant grew to provide shade for Jonah: a
'KIKAYON'. The scholars decided to 'translate' this into a similar-sounding Greek word - 'colocynthis' - gourd.

So since the 3rd century BCE, Jonah's
kikayon is erroneously translated and illustrated as a gourd. But in fact, it is the castor-oil plant, Ricinus communis in Latin. Castor oil is a powerful remedy for constipation; and a protein extract of the castor bean is one of the most potent poisons known - Ricin. It was injected in Fulham in 1978 by a KGB agent as a pellet from a modified umbrella into the thigh of Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident. He died after 3 days.

The Septuagint has caused another major problem, that has also penetrates the English translation of the Old Testament: the Greek hardly uses the Hebrew consonants for 'V' and 'W'.
Avraham becomes Abraham - thus losing the meaning of 'father' for the 'Av'; Naval and his wife Avigayil (mentioned above) become Nabal and Abigail; Batsheva becomes Batsheba, and there are scores more examples.

But these distortions are aggravated further by arbitrary British mutilations of the Hebrew names and their pronunciations. So Biblical
'Yerushalayim' becomes 'Jerusalem' and king 'Shlomo' becomes 'Solomon'. The pronunciation of the town of Lachish has been changed by eminent British scholars to sound like 'Lake-ish'. I grew up in Palestine and I am fluent in the Hebrew Bible. During lectures and in texts, I find it difficult to follow these anglicised pronunciations.

Orthodox Jewish publications tend to avoid these English mutilations. They will refer correctly to the prophet Eliyahu, rather than the anglicised Elijah. And the Israeli post office are making an effort for correctness in their printed cancellations of place names: For some time now, they have been using the correct Hebrew-sounding 'Yerushalayim'.
But at other times the post office are still struggling. To sound like Hebrew, the anglicised
'Safed' should probably be spelled as 'Tsfat': but I have noticed three other versions in their handstamps: CFAT [1.8.51]; SAFAD [1.9.54]; and ZEFAT with underlined 'Z' [30.9.57] - and there may be more. They resort to a hook above the 's' to signify 'sh', and an underlined 'h' to signify 'ch' [as in loch]. The transliteration committee are aiming to design a race horse - but so far they have produced a camel.

The latest attempt at Hebrew transliteration appears in the new Reform prayer book, issued last year. It requires a detailed preliminary study of its rules of correct pronunciation. Once you have mastered this, you can struggle with these transliterated passages - while everybody else in the congregation follows the Hebrew prayers. And by providing this aid, the children do not have to learn to read Hebrew any longer. The consensus is that this is an expensive unnecessary edition - an ego trip for its editors, that was forced on some communities against their majority votes.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

57. Feline Tales

Judith's cousin Hugh and his wife Bernadette in Manchester have two cats: Myfanwy and Mimi. Recently Myfanwy disappeared for some days, causing her owners some anxiety. The police were notified, and neighbours were alerted. It turns out that she had just stayed for some time in a nearby garden. I had wondered whether, despite having been neutered, she was still in heat, seeking males. But when I researched the subject it became apparent that this was very unlikely. She was just disloyal.
Or maybe she was nursing an injury.

These exciting events reminded me of my own feline experiences.
Towards the end of my secondary education we had a new biology master. He suggested that we should watch the dissection of a cat. So a few of us set out to catch a cat. Large numbers of feral cats did swarm in the yards and around the dustbins in Jerusalem, where we lived, but it was quite impossible to catch them. Hardly anybody kept domesticated cats.

Then one day I found a dead cat lying in the road. I put it in a sack and took it to school. The biology master was delighted and arranged its dissection and
anatomical demonstration without delay, before the carcass would decompose.
We watched fascinated - and I haven't forgotten it.
My interest in biology certainly influenced my later trend toward medicine.

None of our family ever kept animals - except a tortoise, who died the first winter. Dogs do show genuine recognition, loyalty and affection - but not sufficient to induce us to acquire one. And I definitely do not like cats. They are only friendly toward people who feed them - they remind me of the classical description of prostitutes.

My next feline contact was in medical school, where the pharmacology course
included a series of practical experiments using cats. Groups of students were each allocated a living cat in a sack - ferals that had been caught somehow. The lab technician injected each cat through the sac with a barbiturate solution - aiming for the abdominal cavity. After an interval, the sleeping animal could be safely removed from the sac and fixed by its limbs to the work bench. More anaesthetic could be injected as required.

An artery in the groin was tied to the end of a glass cannula and connected to a
manometer filled with a solution of heparin to prevent clotting. The cat's blood pressure was recorded through a stylus onto a 'kymograph' - a slowly revolving
cylinder of smooth paper blackened with soot. At the conclusion of the experiment, the paper was carefully detached from the cylinder, drawn through a fixing solution of varnish and left to dry. The cat was killed - they called it 'sacrifice'.
The members of each of our groups shared sections of the kymograph paper record and we wrote our individual reports of the experiment.

On one occasion there was an unfortunate 'cat-astrophy': the wife of the medical school dean had lost her domesticated pet cat and she suspected foul play. At the time, we were the only course that used cats.
During the following experiment she stormed into the laboratory - and actually identified her cat on one of the tables. It was too damaged and could not be rescued. She was furious and there were embarrassing repercussion - out of our earshot.

So when we visit Hugh and Bernadette, we maintain our indifference towards the feigned affection of their cats. If the cats
persist, I just whisper: 'remember pharmacology'... and they soon give up.

Friday, 25 September 2009

56. Philately [Stamps]

I have been collecting stamps for most of my life. It starts in earnest in1948. We were under Arab siege in Jerusalem and the People's Directorate established a postal service and produced stamps - Jewish National Fund stock overprinted 'POST'. Here was a chance to start a collection of a new country from the very beginning.
The Jordanians were lobbing 3 inch mortars shells into the city, but at 15 years one is not fearful. So I hurried the 2 miles to the post office to buy the series of 3 values - on two different occasions [they changed the design] and to post the 'first day covers' to myself.
Various other Jewish sites issued their own stamps: Haifa, Safed, Rishon le-Zion - partly for postal service for
their isolated residents and partly as a source of income from local collectors. Some weeks later the State of Israel was declared and the regular stamps arrived in Jerusalem.

My father had been an employee of the Palestine Mandate administration - which ceased on 15th May. He was now unemployed, pending the establishment of the Israeli institutions. We had no income and the new stamps were expensive - so I did not buy them. Later I had to pay much more.

But soon I kept buying new issues as mint stamps and first day of issue covers. I became a member of the British Association of Palestine-Israel Philatelists [later the Holyland Philatelic Society] and I edited their Bulletin for a time. And later I added two other new stamp issues: the United Nations, and the Channel Islands. And as I resided in Britain, I also collected GB. When Britain started various devices for the mechanical cancellation and sorting of letters, I found it very interesting and joined the Postal Mechanization Study Circle.

It was clearly the thrill of collecting, and the possession of 'complete series', that motivated me. Judith was totally indifferent, and none of the children were interested. But time marched on. I stopped my subscriptions for new stamps. At the same time, the world scene of philately changed. First, excess stamp issues just milked collectors: Who is interested in 'space exploration' issued by Yemen?!? And the designs were becoming far less attractive. Second, e-mail cut out much of the use of the little colourful labels and the conveyancing of paper letters: the aggressive postal workers on strike are cutting off the branch on which they are sitting. And third, youngsters have shifted their time, interest and passion from philately to computers and ipods.

Judith has promised, that if I die before I have disposed of my collection[s], it will all end up as a spectacular bonfire. So I am going to sell the lot, while I keep swallowing my pills and taking care when crossing the road, until it is completed. I am very doubtful, if anybody among my readers is an interested collector. But if you are, do drop me an email.

55. Our shared punch lines

My late brother Michael loved good jokes. To aid his memory, he used to enter the punchline on his computer. Unfortunately, he would not always remember the rest of the joke later, and he might contact me to remind him: 'how does it go...'. But our youngest daughter, who has an excellent sense of humour, is young enough to remember the whole of the jokes. Over the years, between us, some of the best punch lines have acquired their own life. We no longer have to remind each other of the rest of the joke.

Here are a few old examples, that we allude to from time to time, when the punch line is appropriate. For your benefit I shall first outline the joke and then give you
IN ITALICS CAPITALS the punch line [or lines] that we would use.

The devoted son has
finally found a birthday present for his mother: an expensive talking parrot. A week later he phones her to ask: how is the bird? His mother says, 'IT WAS DELICIOUS!' The son is appalled: 'You ate the parrot?!? He spoke five languages!!!' 'SO WHY DID HE NOT SAY ANYTHING?'

A man went into a Catholic church and spoke to the priest. 'I'm 83 years old. Last night I picked up two girls and made love twice with each.' The priest finds out that he was Jewish. 'If you are Jewish, why do you come to the church to tell me all this?' The old Jew answers proudly: 'I AM TELLING EVERYBODY!' [It sounds best pronounced 'everybuddy']

Later, we heard a sequel to this event. One of the hookers tells the old man that she is now pregnant. He decides that he is honour bound to marry her, but naturally his family are quite appalled. Finally he agrees to consult his GP.
The doctor establishes that he is 83, and his intended wife is 22. 'You realize, Sir, that with such a difference in age, there is a risk that intercourse may be fatal?'
The old man thinks about it. 'Vell, doktor, IF SHE DIES - SHE DIES'.

For his birthday, the mother gives her son two beautiful silk ties.
when he next visits his mother, he wears one of the new ties. She takes one look at him and asks: 'WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE OTHER ONE?'

Thursday, 17 September 2009

54. Readers Digest: scam in installments

In mid-August, well after the Readers Digest stipulated deadline described in my blog #46, I described their prize draw. I considered that it was a scam. I had replied in the 'NO' envelope and I would hear no more - but I was wrong: in September they wrote to me again, to announce the 'Great News': 'shortly', they promised, I could be confirmed as the sole winner of their £5,000 Immediate Payout Draw.

Because £5,000 is a large sum to win, they also wrote to prepare me gently for the Big Event. They would post a large envelope, whose appearance they described. 'It contains everything you need to guarantee your chance to take delivery of the Prize Cheque'. Fancy that: delivery of the prize cheque! Another enclosure gave useful advice on what to do, on notifying relatives, and on being interviewed by the media.

I was very excited. I have never won anything, nor have I been
interviewed by the media. I also planned how to spend the money. I was just waiting to 'taking delivery of the prize cheque', as their letter said. Every day I waited for the postman, and I was worried about the postal strike, and thefts from the mail.

Four days later the large envelope arrived. Was it delivery of a cheque? No!
Was it an invitation to subscribe to Readers Digest? YES! But they wrote to assure me of my participation in the prize draw. There were more details: If I also subscribed to Readers Digest - at just over half price - I could use the 'YES' envelope, and I could also win a car. Otherwise I should use the 'NO' envelope, and I might win - - nothing.

So when would I know if I had won? I found it in the small print on another page: in February next year. But there was also a single prize of £5,000 (as promised) - to be drawn next month - October 2009. I did not want the Readers Digest. But could I win despite my 'NO' reply?

As for winning the grand prize in February 2010 - this was actually an installment plan: it will pay just over £1,000 per month for life, and that was taxable. At my age, I concluded, I must therefore pay more attention to my longevity: I should resume the Aspirin, that was not doing me any good
according to the BMJ; I must arrange to see my GP next week for another checkup; and I must think again about joining a synagogue (or a church, or a mosque - whichever is the most potent).
Which religious food restrictions should I follow: Yom Kippur, Ramadan, or Lent?
- Or should I just have lots of chicken soup and seek a second opinion?

But what if, despite everything, my epitaph just says : HE DIDN'T WIN ANY PRIZES
What would be the point?
In France, or Italy, the
epitaph might at least have mentioned 'mourned by his wife, his daughters, and his two most recent mistresses'.

Dream on... Life is certainly a lottery: but what about the Readers Digest draw?

Thursday, 10 September 2009

53. E-mail frauds

Further to my blog # 46, I should mention that Readers Digest did not contact me again, so their offer of prizes was presumably a fraud. Needless to say they do not publish the names of winners - not even fictitious invented ones. The actual winners of the scam are Readers Digest, of course.

I keep my internet security setting on 'medium' to avoid the blocking of incoming messages in other languages, such as Hebrew; as well as the blocking of the pictures of BBC news and of Lidl sales lists - they both come with pictures. As a result, scams
similar to the Readers Digest mailing do get through. I just delete them unopened - I understand that this is safe. But despite my urge to reply, giving misleading details - including fictitious age (I'm 124), fake bank account numbers and address (mine is in Downing Street) etc, I was advised not to do so. The scammers would get evidence that my email is 'active' and I might be inundated with enormous amounts of follow-up mail next.

For interest, I have logged the following fraudulent emails over the last week:

# Rose Perez (later signed 'Parez') - offer of 10 million euro. So what's your real name?

# Deborah Russell - offer of cheap drugs.

# Mr Edes Abebe from Nigeria (
African scammers usually use titles: 'I am Mr Edes Abebe') - 30 million pounds sterling are available for illegal transfer (of course), of which 30% are for me. Terrible grammar: use this money for English lessons, mister!

# Petra Newsome - offer of cheap sex drugs. That I find insulting - Petra should come and satisfy herself!

# Madam Jeanette from Ghana - offer of 2.7 million US dollars. It is signed by Mrs Jeanette Gideon Arab - presumably a rich hermaphrodite, or a two-faced bisexual freak.

# Mrs Angela Nkrumah from Accra, Ghana - 500,000 dollars. I forget whether the owner of the legacy had been a victim of his own body guard, or of a crocodile.

# Norris Milligan - cheap drugs.

# Fondazion di Vittirio - 500,000 dollars towards my education. They also need English lessons!

# Ferdinand Dotson - herbal drugs for slimming.

# Kelvin Snyder -
cheap sex pills 'for treating erectile men's erectile dysfunction'. I can assure you, Kelvin, that I've never met an 'erectile man'... - have you?

# Rosie Sloan - drugs to enhance your sexual life, fast-acting.

Potentially, I could be slim, healthy, virile - and stinking rich - - I can but dream...

Monday, 7 September 2009

52. A Brand new Midrash

Google explains that ''Midrash is a way of interpreting Biblical stories that goes beyond simple distillation of religious, legal or moral teachings. It fills in many gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at.''

I would like to report here a new midrash. It was discovered in one of the Judean desert caves near Qumran. The Essenes who lived there are regarded as physicians, and indeed this new midrash is of medical contents. Some rabbis have been famous physicians - Maimonides was one. So it is not surprising that medical topics entered the rabbinic midrashim. I am dedicating this brand-new Midrash to Rabbi Larry Becker of Judith's synagogue. Larry is particularly fond, and very knowledgeable, about this form of religious literature.

The newly discovered midrash concerns the Biblical story of the matriarch Sarah. The Bible tells us that Sarah could not have children. From this midrash we now learn the reason: she suffered from Chlamydia infection - a well-known cause of sterility. The midrash reported a heated dispute among the rabbis about the correct spelling of Chlamydia. Some of the rabbis claimed that it ended with a 'heh' - the word was 'Chlamyd-yah, short for Chlamyd-yahu - the Chlamyd of God'. But others claimed that the word ended with an Aramaic 'aleph' - in the same way that 'ha-gdi = THE lamb in Hebrew turns into 'gadya = THE lamb in Aramaic. These rabbis suggested that Chlamydia just meant 'THE Chlamyd' in Aramaic. But those rabbis were in the minority.

Next, the new midrash describes how the infected Sarah was given by Abraham to Avimelech, the local king of Gerar. As we would expect, very soon all the women in the palace of Gerar stop having babies - - until king Avimelech understood the source of the infection and returned Sarah to her husband. The rabbis do not say who made the diagnosis. The Bible reports that it was a private consultation by the Lord. Through Sarah, King Avimelech sent the consultant a fee of a thousand pieces of silver, plus sheep, cattle and slaves for Abraham.

As is usually the case in Chlamydia, Sarah's partner Abraham was also infected. The Lord was not sure how to help him. So He advised Abraham to eradicate the Chlamydia infection by undergoing circumcision - of himself and all the males in his clan. And then God sent a health visitor to visit them - the Bible calls him an 'angel' but the midrash calls him 'mashkivan' - a sex therapist. The midrash describes very detailed and explicit sexual advice to
the couple. There are descriptions on love making positions, and an interesting explanation why Sarah laughed, when the angel had actually instructed her to moan... But as I may have some delicate readers, I shall skip all these gripping details. You could try to phone me - particularly if you are old and barren yourself.

Following the angel's advice, the new midrash
vividly describes the circumstances of Sarah's conception. Apparently three of Abraham's sperm reached the egg simultaneously and they started a heated discussion: Which of them should fertilize the ovum. From the arguments it becomes clear, that each sperm represents one Jewish rabbinic discipline: orthodox, reform and liberal. It is a brilliant discussion, and I would strongly recommend that you take the time to read it.

But the outcome is quite unexpected, and some scholars suggest that this is a later edited addition to the midrash: the Moslem sperm wins.
Allah hu akbar - Allah is the greatest.

Friday, 4 September 2009

51. A French blog

When I worked in Casualty during my training, one of the senior medical registrars (one grade below consultant) was called 'Smithy'. I forget his first name. He was universally liked - for two reasons.
First, he was helpful and sensible. If you thought a casualty needed admission, most senior registrars who were 'bleeped' would promise to come to casualty to assess the patient themselves. If they were on their consultants' ward round, or in a busy out-patient session, it might take up to two hours or more before they would appear.
So in the meantime the patient, the relatives, and the casualty nurses all complained. - No limit of four hour in casualty existed in those days.

'Smithy' was different. If you described to him the medical situation over the phone, he would credit you with medical common sense, and he would tell you to admit the patient. At least, that was my personal experience. Possibly he trusted some other casualty officers less, but he certainly never kept me waiting to come to casualty and verify the situation.

Smithy's other attraction was his store of superb jokes. As the beer poured into him, so the jokes poured out. Many would cause this typeface to blush bright crimson red; and many I cannot remember. But
I think that the story of the adulterous wife will not be blocked, and it will not be forgotten.

It concerned an Englishman who had a passion for France and for everything French. He visited France whenever he could, and he started reading French novels. But, like most British, he only understood English. So he would mark his books and bring them to his regular bistro. Soon, the local 'patrons' knew him and they liked the liquid generosity of this foreigner. So they gladly helped him to translate difficult phrases. He was particularly puzzled, he told them, by the term 'sang froyd'. That's how he pronounced it.

'Sang froyd? sang froyd?' they repeated, and they rolled their eyes and shrugged their shoulders in true French style. Then one of the Frenchmen, who was
less drunk, guessed right: 'Ah, you mean sang froid [= cold blood]'. They all nodded.
'Well', said his new French friend, ''let me explain to you 'sang froid' with an example. Imaginez-vous a merchant in Paris, who travels to Lyon occasionally on business. But on one occasion, he returns home much earlier. His house is deserted - but as he enters the bedroom - mon Dieu! his wife is in bed with another man!! So the merchant drags the man from the bed, and throws him (naked) down the stairs, and then he does the same with his wife - also naked. That is sang froid, my friend.'

'No, no!' shout the other men in the bistro. 'That is not sang froid - that is savoir faire! [= know what to do]' And one of the others in the bistro now offers the correct explication: '
Imaginez-vous this merchant in Paris, who travels to Lyon occasionally. But on one occasion, he returns home much earlier. His house is deserted - but as he enters the bedroom - Mon Dieu! his wife is in bed with her lover!! So the merchant stops, turns round, leaves the bedroom, and shuts the door. That, my friend, is sang froid.'

'No, no!' shout all the other men in the bistro. 'That is not sang froid - that is laisser faire!! [= leave alone]'. But then another of his French friends offers the correct explanation. 'Listen to me. You have seen this merchant from Paris, who travelled to Lyon, but when he returned home and entered his bedroom - Mon Dieu! his wife is in bed with this other man!!'

The bistro is quiet - everybody is listening.
Many of them have been in that situation. '- So as you know, the husband finds his wife in bed with her lover. The wife glances at her husband the merchant, and then she turns to her lover and said: carry on, darling. Don't stop now! --and they DO carry on -'
- That is sang froid
, my friend.'

'Votre sante!
' 'Cheers!'

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

50. Death and burial

We have attended Laura Brody's tomb-stone dedication on Monday (bank holiday) - she had died of mesothelioma. So had Sandra Jacobs. That is curious, because asbestos dust that causes it is inhaled almost always by men - builders, electricians. But their female partners can get contaminated when they wash the dusty work clothes. It can take up to 20 years or more to develop; but once it is noticed and discovered, it is fatal within a year and there is no effective treatment.

When we buit our previous house extension, the building rules required an asbestos slab to line the garage ceiling. The carpenter, Dave Heeks, sawed the material without wearing a mask, and both Judith and our neighbour warned him and gave him a mask. We do not know whether he continued to use it, but some 30 years later we heard that Dave had died from mesothelioma.

At the cemetery we noticed the adjacent memorials of several other former friends: Jack Rosenberg, Lilian Goldsmith, Cecil Dalton, Rita and Stan Britain. All neat and polished slabs - a final payment for the dead relative. Sometimes I wonder whether a costly memorial suggests the survivors' worse conscience. With the passage of the years, we now attend the cemetery more often. My mother also used to complain: I have more friends in the cemetery than I have in town.

The jottings that now follow might upset reader[s]. Certainly Daphne should stop here. But there's no anger, Heather!

To begin with, I do not need the physical memorial as a reminders. I have not visited my parents' graves since their funerals decades ago: I can remember them vividly, and no slab of stone is required. In my irreverent humour in 1977 I deeply offended the stone mason in Israel when I ordered my mother's tomb stone. To his question, 'what sort of stone I had in mind', I replied 'the heaviest'. There is a tradition of resurrections in the holy land, of course. Why risk it?

In fact, if my wishes are fulfilled, I shall not be wasting good plant-growing ground for a grave. I am fully paid up for cremation. This also avoids the possible cold, rainy and mudy funeral at the cemetery. I mentioned this to
Rabbi Hulbert as we squelched our way towards one burial recently. But he objected: the vapours of my amalgam fillings will pollute the air with mercury vapours. Well, perhaps the undertakers can extract those teeth first - they do it for implanted pacemakers, and the Nazis did it for the gold crowns...

Nor do I wish my ashes to be preserved: they belong in the nearest dustbin. Death is the final end of a person -
perhaps the 'soul' persists in the DNA - but that DNA includes the bad as well as the good! The cremation ashes are waste. I was interested to learn the ideas of professor Isaiah Leibovitz on this topic. He was both highly intelligent and deeply orthodox. I knew the family - his eldest son was a colleague in medical school but died of cancer. Leibovitz said that after death there was 'nothing'. Absolutely true.

When I recently mentioned my ideas on cremation and 'no grave' to my relatives in Ein Gev, they were appalled at the thought, of not having a tomb to visit. Indeed, the cemetery at Ein Gev is lovingly tended and visited. But an annual Chinese meal sounds better.

Some time ago my cousin Amos and his wife showed me an interesting historical item: a simple metal box with a lid - about the size of one of those saccharin pill containers. It was to be hung around the neck and was used by my grandfather, when he was an artillery soldier in the first world war - on the austro-hungarian side. Inside the box was a small folded form. My grandfather had entered his name -Wilhelm Weis- and the following instruction if he were to be killed: 'WO GEFALLEN - RASH BEGRABEN' = where fallen - quickly buried. 'Quickly' was underlined. Ninety years later, I agree.
Wilhelm survived, and it is entirely thanks to him that we escaped from the Nazis. But that is another story.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

49.Behind the news

The Scottish Justice minister MacAskill included a perverse argument In his reasons for releasing Al Megrahi, the Lybian murderer of Lockerbie :

'Mr Al Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule.'

MacAskill is mistaken for two reasons. First, in my opinion the murderer should not have been released.
And second, that statement clearly suggests, that Megrahi's death sentence, from prostate cancer, is a divine punishment for his crime - from God or, in his case, from Allah.
MacAskill's false argument is based on the original Biblical doctrine, that life and death, and sickness and health, are all in the exclusive power and control of God, meted out as punishment or reward. That is why there are virtually no human doctors or treatments described in the Bible.
Moses, in his final speech, quotes God as saying: 'I put to death and I keep alive. I wound and I heal'
[Deuteronomy-32:39]. Likewise, God is in control of all illnesses and cures - and fertility, of course: 'I will remove all sickness out of your midst... I will grant you a full span of life'. [Exodus-23:25].
Furthermore, physical disabilities are also entirely within God's power, as punishment for sins, of course. God tells Moses: 'Who is it that gives man speech? Who makes him dumb, or deaf? Who makes him clear-sighted or blind?'
As the Scottish minister suggested, diseases, cancers and disabilities, are inflicted as divine punishment for sins - incapable of human influence. When we are afflicted, we ask: 'what have I done to deserve it?' The word 'pain' actually means punishment.

So the reverse applies as well: anyone who is sick or disabled must have sinned. Therefore, they deserve our scorn and rejection. Leprosy sufferers were shunned by Byzantine society - many centuries before their bacillus was discovered. They bore the hallmarks of sin! That is one of the most harmful legacies of the Bible. And it is still very much alive today. The clergy still use it to explain and justify the suffering of their parishioners: 'maybe you should increase your donation, my son?'
And when Glen Hoddle declared, that disabled people are former sinners, who are being punished, nobody objected. So if you see a cripple, you should wonder what sin he had committed.
If you are a Moslem, you do not have many crimes to commit. Certainly murder is permitted. Judaism and Christianity, in contrast, cunningly ensured that everybody would have a bad conscience. They defined a great deal of sexual activity as sinful, even within marriage -
even single persons masturbating. But that will have to be a separate blog.
Before that, in the mean time, Al Megrahi,
MacAskill, and myself, will all end up in hell - for different reasons.
- What about you??

Saturday, 22 August 2009

48.Our golden Lodgers

Hamid and Gita had moved into our former house further up the road and we have remained friends. As they pass our house, they very kindly drop in post that is still addressed for us at our former house - mainly begging letters from charities, that had bought cheap obsolete mailing lists. (The Moslem ones are quite moving).
We, in turn, keep a key of their house for them, for the odd occasions when one of their children locks themselves out. We have several such keys from various neighbours: we are mostly at home when needed, and we have honest faces. In case a burglar finds these keys, their labels are in code.
Some 3 weeks ago
Hamid and Gita were going on holiday abroad. On this occasion, Gita asked for two favours: to water their plants in the garden and in the house, and to look after their two goldfish. Judith agreed, and Gita delivered the large bowl plus a jar of their food.
The weather was mostly hot and dry, and Judith looked after the hydration of the plants. But for the first time ever, we were looking not just after our children, but also two live animals. The bowl stood on one of the work surfaces in the kitchen, visible constantly. It is said that goldfish have a memory of several seconds - which is probably true. They never showed any sign of recognition, or getting used to us. They still circle in panic whenever I passed nearby. Neither did they seem to recognize each other, react to one another, or play, or fight.
The two fish are identical, without any distinguishing marks. We certainly did not fancy naming them - we are not romantic that way. But I well remember that our niece Miriam also had two goldfish. As she was a child at the time, and with a father who loves Hebrew terms, they were given appropriate names, of course: DAGA [dag = fish] and SHOOTA [shoot = float]. The final 'a' converts each of these words into Aramaic: THE fish, and the imperative form of the verb.
I do not know how long they survived. But unlike the joke about the talking parrot that the man gave to his mother, I'm quite certain that they were not eaten as 'most delicious' - and there was no other resident animal in that house that could have consumed them. I think goldfish are of the carp family and edible.
Now Miriam has her own son - but no pets as yet, I think. But if Aaron were to have two goldfish, I know what they would be called.

Monday, 17 August 2009

47.What's behind the news

From time to time there are news items that cry out for comments. Here are a few:

A Puma helicopter crashed in Afghanistan. Two of the occupants were killed, and now the pilot has given evidence
, hidden from view [why?]. He said the following:-

1. Just before the crash, the radio failed. In a cloud of dust, the pilot lost his bearings and crashed. We were told that the radio on the Puma is 'notoriously unreliable'. [how long??]

2. The occupants had been unable to fasten the Puma's safety belts over their bulky equipment. This defect was also well known. It might have saved their lives.

So, to quote some labour minister or other, the Puma was clearly not 'fit for purpose', and this was well known. Now if I were their commanding officer, I would have refused to order that flight in a grossly faulty helicopter. However, stopping the flight would have blocked any future career prospects or promotion for that commander. Better to risk the lives of the helicopter occupants...

Next, Aung San Suu Kyi
and her dotty American visitor. Across the lake, an elderly American swims to visit her house, and knocks on her door to deliver a warning from God. Here is a highly intelligent woman, imprisoned and closely watched by Burmese soldiers. But instead of calling her guards to arrest the intruder - an obvious agent provocateur, she gives him hospitality overnight - for which she knew that she would receive an additional term of imprisonment.
Did her guards tell her at first that it was OK to admit the man, and then pretended otherwise? Or was it a desperate lonely woman's yearning for a one night stand? I do not think so! Why the hell did she let him in?

I suspect that the American man was found, briefed and advised by the Burmese. An elderly man and a religious nut, he might even have been assisted by the Burmese in his heroic swim. Once he had caused a legitimate prolongation of Suu Kyi's sentence, to prevent her from taking part in the next elections, the Burmese no longer needed him and they let the US senator take him home. He was checked in a hospital first: was it psychiatric?

Next - the alleged torture by MI5 of Binyam Mohamed. He is a British convert to Islam and I am convinced that he was flown around, interrogated and tortured as he claims - including by MI5. The relevant flight records of landings and re-fuelling have just been mysteriously 'lost'. Has anyone been disciplined?
So how could Milliband, a respected government minister, truthfully deny that British intelligence was involved? No, Milliband is not lying: it is the civil servants who have briefed him who are. They are anonymous and protected. They know exactly what the minister wants to hear - and so they tell him. Orally, no paperwork!
These are the same civil servants who briefed Tony Blair about the 30 minute threat of Iraqui weapons of mass destruction. Except that Blair swallowed this convenient lie, instead of asking questions. He was a barrister!

Lastly some questions: I do not believe that Princess Diana was murdered, as poor Fayed claims. The palace and the intelligence services are far too stupid and incompetent. Now if the Israeli Mossad had been involved - maybe...
But 3 questions have bothered me ever since - each could have easily saved her life:

- Why did Diana and Dodi not stay in the Ritz hotel that night?

- Why did none of the intelligent adults in that car instruct the speeding driver to slow down?

- Why did Diana, the mother of two young children, not wear her safety belt?

- I suspect that we shall never know.

Next time - corrupt MPs and the incompetent so-called parliamentary expense committee. Watch this space.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

46.Readers Digest - scam or offer?

Some weeks ago Readers Digest wrote to warn me that an important letter would arrive and I should not ignore it.
Sure enough, within days a large envelope arrives. It was marked 'important', and 'approved release'. A sticker saying
'Urgent',and 'time-sensitive' was stuck on it at an angle - except that it was part of the envelope's printing - as was the 'postage stamp' and its cancellation. All along the back flap it was stamped 'secured' . By that time I was getting really excited.
In his enclosed letter Jeremy Jacobs, the Readers Digest finance director, told me that if I should win, anything from £250,000 down to one thousand prizes of £10 each, the provisional payment date was 14th August 2009.
There was no cost involved to me: a reply-paid addressed return envelope was enclosed for my response. Except that there were two envelopes: one, the 'YES' envelope, if I agree to examine, on 7 days' approval and with no obligation to buy, a marvellous book, for which Readers Digest are anticipating a high demand - 'it will be a best-seller'. Furthermore, if I said 'YES', I could also win a car.

I could hardly contain my excitement. In fairness, if all I wanted was to win one of the cash prizes, without buying the book, Readers Digest offered a response using the other envelope, marked

Readers Digest are on to a winner here: every 'YES' response is a book sale of £14.99 [plus postage], whereas all the 'NO' envelope can go straight in the shredder - unopened. And although all the prize money has been 'deposited in the bank', it might not all be won. Also, I'm being kept in the dark about the method of the prize draw, and there is no way of enquiring afterwards.

I'll let you know in a few days.

Monday, 10 August 2009


The daily Israeli web programme 'Arutz sheva' [channel seven] published these charming pictures with the news that the Fatah party, which is meeting in Bethlehem, accused Israel of being responsible for the “assassination” of Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004.

Arafat, the terrorist and winner of the Nobel prize, died after his physical condition had deteriorated quite rapidly. He was hospitalized in isolation for two weeks and died while being treated in France. The shroud of security and secrecy at the time, and since, have prevented any medical facts from being known.

I had followed the story at the time and I was convinced that he had died from AIDS. Comments by many readers in
'channel seven' now confirm my diagnosis. Arafat was a paedophile, and one of these Arab 'rent boys' supplied by his entourage infected the old goat.

Significantly, his widow had avoided any physical contact with him towards the end. She and her daughter, [of questionable paternity], continue to live in luxury in France - financed by the vast wealth that Arafat stole from the Palestinian people.

One aspect of Arafat's cause of death has puzzled me. No Israeli spokesperson has given the true information, about Arafat's AIDS - although it is obviously correct. But this is in line with the chronic deficiency of Israeli counter-propaganda. For many years, their arrogant attitude seems to be that as long as Israel is in the right (in their opinion), they can ignore what other people think or say. But that is a great mistake: it corrupts world public opinion and the Arabs
cunningly exploit it all the time. After five years they have resurrected lies about Arafat's 'assasination' in the full knowledge that Israel will not bother to tell the truth.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

44.Israel Visit

It's high time that I wrote a blog again - for the benefit of my 2 readers!

Ruth has her vacation in July and she agreed to be the driver of our hire car.
Also in July the tenth season of archaeological excavations
took place on the Hellenistic-Byzantine city of Sussita [Hippos]. It is one of the Decapolis [look it up in Google] and the dig is led by Professor Arthur Segal who is a friend. Sussita is just behind Kibbutz Ein Gev, east of the sea of Galilee, and my 93 year old cousin and his family live in Ein Gev. Ruben is my favourite relative, but he is now frail and in the kibbutz's sheltered accommodation. It was time to visit him. So far he has retained his former 'house' - and towards the end of my blog the significance of this situation will become clearer. We stayed there for the duration.

The plane for our night flight including some 15 or 20 noisy teen age girls, stimulated by a couple of boys. Their shrill American accents persisted all night, and we got no sleep whatever.

En route to Ein Gev we visited Judith's cousin Yona in kibbutz Ramat David. When my late mother lay for many weeks in Affula hospital, having broken her femoral shaft on the road outside Ramat David, Yona visited her with devotion at least twice a week - by 2 buses each way. After almost 60 years of marriage, Yona's husband died last year. She still works in the kibbutz's disabled and dialysis unit.

Our next stop along the way was at moshav [seach in Google] Tel Adashim, to see Eva. Her father was a brother of my maternal grandfather - work it out. He was an ordained rabbi in Bohemia and escaped with his family to Palestine around 1940. But he was not orthodox enough for the bigoted Jerusalem rabbinic authorities and those bastards rejected him. To eke out a living he peddled chocolate, sweets and shoelaces from house to house.

Some two years ago Eva lost her husband, a farmer in Tel Adashim. She became very depressed. But by the time we visited she seems to have rallied a bit. She has a resident Phillipino help, whom she does not like - perhaps a good sign of her lessening depression.
One of their 2 sons manages his late father's farm. They have cattle and he has installed an automatic machine that entices cows
in sequence to enter a milking device. Very clever.

Then onward to Ein Gev. The haze spoilt our beloved view of the lake during the descent to the sea of Galilee. We were expected there and welcomed. Radio-controlled barriers have been installed on the internal roads to keep out unauthorized cars. In the afternoon we began to catch up on our sleep deficit - aided by the 2 hour time difference. The temperature was around 40 Celsius by day, and not much less at night. How did they cope [and work] before air conditioning?

There has been severe drought in the last five years. The level of the sea of Galilee has dropped disastrously and a wide dry shoreline is exposed. The single bonus is the archaeology of the many ancient anchorages that surround the lake. But the water no longer emerges into the Jordan. It has to be pumped up into the site of tourists' baptism ceremony! Beyond, only sewage flows down towards the dead sea - whose lower third is now dry. When we were in Jordan we were told of a project, agreed by the countries concerned, to pump sea water from the red sea down (!) to the dead sea, also generating electricity. But sea water is corrosive and they could not predict the project's time scale.

Israel ought to stop pumping the sea of Galilee dry for agricultural irrigation, but concentrate on technological industries. As someone said, if water is scarce, 'you cannot make the desert bloom'. At the same time, massive investment in de-salination of sea water should have been started years ago. Sea water and sunlight are abundant and the technology does exist. The problem lies in the myopic short-term policies of governments, that cannot think beyond their popularity for the next election. It needs a dictator: King Herod would have done it differently.

The next planned activity was to visit Sussita. Due to the heat the professor and his team work from 05.15 to 12.00, Sunday to Thursday. For some years now, Friday in Israel is like Saturday here.
We set off at 6.00, accompanied by Zvi. The road from the kibbutz to the start of the ascent to the site is less than 2 miles long, but on the way back he cheerfully revealed to us that this road had been constructed in 1948 by the Israel Army and not by the Public Works. Therefore it was unauthorized and is prohibited to all vehicles. I did see the large sign. Sometimes a police patrol waits around the corner to intercept motorists and fine them. We were lucky. Possibly the police stayed away while the excavation is in progress.

It was a cloudy morning. Obviously no rain was expected, but at least there was no direct sunshine. Lucky again. I have the feeling that the steep path from the road to the plateau is getting steeper every year.

Professor Segal was supervising a bulldozer that was clearing a large mound of rocks. For some mysterious reason, the Israel army had piled them there, ignoring the exciting presence of a semicircular structure - a small theatre or odeion. Only the lowest courses have survived, but they show remarkable precise dressing - as good as any at the time.
When Sussita was first conquered from the Syrians' occupation in 1948, the Israel army built defensive fortifications that caused a great deal of damage to the ancient structures. Normally, every Israeli is an amateur archaeologist - but not that lot, apparently.

Detailed reports of the excavations are published annually by Haifa University: they are models of clarity and punctuality. Five churches have been found and excavated, including some lovely mosaic floors that have been restored. A beautifully paved main street = cardo, runs east to west along the ridge. As usual, the paving slabs are laid diagonally, to prevent cart wheels from getting caught. There are several side roads [singular = decumanus], a forum with a monument [formerly erroneously thought to be a nymphaeum], with a water cistern below it with a vaulted barrell roof and steps leading down, and an agora. The sophisticated water supply to Sussita has been extensively researched and published. It reached the summit across the saddle and up the slope through a syphon of tubular collared basalt links. A major earthquke in 749 caused severe damage to it and 'flattened the town. The site had to be abandoned and was not resettled - invariably a boon for archaeologists.

There are three major obstacles to the development of the site as the major tourist attraction, that it deserves to be after 10 seasons of expert excavation and restoration:

a. The steep access to the plateau requires a funicular. That is an expensive project to construct and to run. A cable hoist was costructed by the
Israel army in 1948 for the hoisting of supplies [but not personnel] for their garrison at the top. At that time, the surrounding area of the side slopes, where the road now runs, was in Syrian hands.

b. No synagogue, or other Jewish remains have been found; and Jesus never climbed up to Sussita
from the seashore, where he expelled demons out of lunatics: his absence is a tragic oversight of the Gospels. So there is little attraction for religious tourists. Archaeologists are not likely to visit in sufficient numbers either.

c. At present there is still a risk that Sussita might be ceded to the Syrians in a final peace settlement.

And then there's the heat...

Ruth and I invited all our relatives to a meal in the famous fish restaurant. It's air conditioned but that Friday evening there were no other tourists. The food was excellent and I'm proud of having thought of it - particularly as it was very successful and enjoyable. But then our Ein Gev family are extremely nice. My cousin Ruben was one of the early settlers. He would have been classed as a founder except that he was a metal worker and it took time for his lathe and equipment to be transferred to the new 'stockade and tower site. He was in charge of the water pumps and other motors. Before the days of ear protection from acoustic trauma he tragically became profoundly deaf. I well remember my early visits, when the engines generated an explosive 'bang' once a second continuously, day and night. Of course, Ruben took part in the conquest of Sussita from the Syrians in 1948. Later he was also area security commander.

Ruben's wife died 10 years ago. It was a very hard blow. His 3 daughters and son and their families rallied round and they continue to support him lovingly.
This is the first occasion when we did not visit the kibbutz cemetery. It was too hot and he is quite frail. Also buried there are my aunt Martha - Ruben's mother, and one grandson who was killed in an accident while serving in the army.
It is beautifully maintained.

Ruben's son Danni came to see us. He is an ex-fighter pilot, now at El Al. On a previous visit he was captain of our plane and we were allowed in the cockpit to watch the landing. Lately he also has a part time government job to upgrade the airline's neglected security ratings - before El Al lose their landing rights in the US.

Oded, his wife Adi and their lovely three sons came at the weekend. It was an aftermath for Oded's birthday. As the father of 3 daughters, I had offered Oded some help if they wanted a daughter next. But he was not convinced.

Most kibbutzim are losing their traditional communal character - including Ein Gev. Food has been privatized. In the dining hall at each meal members and their guests register all their chosen items and their budget is debited. So nobody has to subsidized other members' guests. To economize, the dining hall is shut at times of poor attendance, such as weekend breakfast. There is a grocery store instead - for payment. At Ramat David the process has gone further: members have to pay if they want help with gardening or for mowing the grass around their house.

Traditionally, a member who leaves the kibbutz or dies can leave no real estate to their descendants or beneficiaries - it all reverts to kibbutz ownership. But just these very days Ein Gev is voting on approving the private ownership of their members' houses. It is likely to be agreed. - Thus Tel Katzir south of Ein Gev, for example, 'is no longer a kibbutz'. The important question in Ein Gev is the 'operational date' for this decision. The longer it is postponed, the more elderly members will die, depriving their descendants of their inheritance.

The last event of our visit was an invitation by Ruthi, one of Ruben's daughters, to a 'son et lumiere' performence in the archaeological site of Bet Shean = Scytopolis - another decapolis city [ I know - that's a tautology]. A 10 minute presentation projected onto the back wall of the theatre was followed by a guided tour around the large excavated and restored site. But I do have to criticize, and the guide agreed with me that to leave the unique public latrine unlit was a mistake. The performances are held every summer night since 2006.

Our visit to this event emphasizes the crucial help that Ruth gave me during our visit. My balance is getting deficient and I had brought my stick to Bet Shean. The ground was quite uneven and it was not well lit. Ruth always hovered by me, in case I stumbled or fell. She must have been anxious - even though nothing happened. My memory is getting patchy. Ruth remembered the times of arrangements and even one or two tricky parts of our route - even though I was the actual map reader and navigator. Ruth's driving - on the opposite side of the road to ours - was impeccable. In short - I could not have managed the visit without her.

By driving back straight to the airport on 'route 6', the toll road, one saves time and hassle. But there is not a single petrol station on that road, or at the airport. We did not have time to exit and search, and so we had to return the car 'unfilled' and they charge extra for this.

Still, we had no accidents, no collisions and no breakdowns. No swine flu or other upset. And it was not a night flight back. All in all it was a very successful visit.