Sunday, 19 September 2010

64. Synagogue readings

After several months, I'm resuming my blogs.
There is no particular order - this one is topical.

Judith allocates the readings of haftarot at her synagogue. I have asked her to allocate the reading to me, when the subject is rheumatological = the vision of the dry bones of Ezekiel 37 - one of my favourites.

To support her, I offer to step in when she cannot find a willing volunteer.
That happened for yesterday's service. Too many services in the week and nobody available. However, the Reform calendar have their own list, often different from the designated haftarot. So instead of the official listing for Shabbat Shuvah / Ha'azinu [David's prayer of thanksgiving from II Samuel XXII] they stipulated some verses from 3 prophets. Not very impressive.
So I decided that I would choose my own: 2 Samuel chapter 11, v.1-15. My reasons were -
# it is on the subject of planned sins and crime - to be atoned for on Yom Kippur;
# it's related to my forthcoming oneg on Bathsheva with some lovely slides,
# it's a brilliant literary episode.

Our rabbi is quite lenient, and he agreed to my suggested choice.
To save you the trouble of searching, I have included the passage [in italics] - I modified my translation to be as accurate as possible. The key words are, of course, 'hara anochi'. Judith said that my reading of it was very good. Ahh, I love this episode: but for the grace of God... If I was younger, and we had a flat roof, and there was a horny young neighbour whose husband was absent...

At the end of the year, when kings go forth to battle, David dispatched Joav [his army commander] to war, together with his servants, and with all
Israel. They destroyed the Ammonites and laid siege on Rabbah.
But David stayed in
Towards one evening David got up from his bed and strolled upon the roof of the king’s house.
And from the roof he saw a woman washing herself. And the woman was very beautiful. David sent to make enquiries about the woman. And someone said, ‘is this not Bat-sheva, daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’
And David sent messengers and fetched her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. She had been purified from her uncleanliness.
Then she returned to her house.
And the woman conceived; and she sent word to David and said 'I am pregnant' [hara anochi]
And David sent word to Joav [his commander] 'Send Uriah the Hittite to me'. And Joav sent Uriah to David.
And when Uriah came to him, David enquired how Joav was, and how the men were, and how the war was progressing. Then David said to Uriah, 'Go down to your house and wash
your feet’. And Uriah departed from the king’s house, followed by the king’s gifts.
But Uriah lay down at
the entrance of the king’s house, together with all his master’s servants, and did not go down to his own house. And they told David ‘Uriah has not gone down to his house'.
David said
to Uriah ‘Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not gone down to your house?’ Uriah said to David ‘The Holy Ark, and Israel, and Judah, all sit in tents, and my master Joav and my master’s servants are camped in an open field – shall I, then, go into my house to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? Upon your life, and upon your soul, I shall not do such a thing.’
said to Uriah: ‘Stay here today, and tomorrow I shall dispatch you.’ So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day and the following day. And David invited him, and he ate and drank before him, and he made him drunk. And in the evening he left – to lie on his bunk together with his master’s servants. But he did not go down to his own house.
the following morning David wrote a letter to Joav and sent it by the hand of Uriah. And he wrote in the letter as follows: ‘Place Uriah opposite the fiercest fighting, and then retreat from behind him, so that he shall be hit and he will die.'

When we toured Hittite sites in central Turkey, I entertained our fellow passengers on the coach with the story of this mercenary Hittite, whose wife had 'got a bun in her oven'. One of our fellow-travellers later checked his Bible and was impressed by my accuracy.

In my planned oneg, I'll elaborate some further points:
#' Bath-sheva' in Hebrew cynically refers to her marriage oath to Uriah, an oath which she broke.
# 'feet' in the Bible is often a euphemism for 'genitals'.
# I hope you'll agree that their adultery was initiated by the woman, and not by David.
# Uriah clearly knew of their adultery, and by staying away from his wife, he refused to accept paternity.
# Therefore he knew that he was now doomed to die - he did not have to read David's letter to Joav.
# It is interesting, that Uriah's wife did not come to see him during his visit to Jerusalem. I seem to remember some Talmudic law about such duplicate intercourse being forbidden.
# The Bible leaves out David's 2 obvious questions:
1. 'Are you sure that you're pregnant?' [-'My period is late, and I'm sick each morning'].
And 2. 'Are you sure your pregnancy is mine?' [-'I lay with nobody else, and you will see that the baby will have red hair'. Like Pricess Diana's second son?].
Nowadays there is science: a urine test detects pregnancy, and DNA will establish paternity.

But that's not the end of this particular Bible narrative. Read on!

Monday, 15 March 2010

63. A Weekend of celebrations and more

After a time in the doldrums, things were looking up. It started towards the end of February, when Heather began to celebrate her birthday/month: it's never just a day. Her friend Sally suggested secretly the creation of a book of contributions and photos - and it succeeded brilliantly. Heather had no idea until it was actually presented to her. This took place at the National Gallery. She had invited about 30 of her friends for an hour's guided tour of four paintings from different centuries - from ven der Weyden to Turner, followed by a meal in a reserved section of their restaurant. What her friends did not know was that Heather would be the guide.
A week before, we had gone to listen to a rehearsal and she did very well on the day. In fact some casual gallery visitors joined her guests to listen. The book organized by Sally is a brilliant summary of her life. You will not be surprised that I am quoting here just my own contribution:-

About Heather
Recording memories about Heather is hard - I'm getting old and do not remember a lot. And I'm also getting forgetful. She is my favourite youngest and tallest daughter, and now she is forty... kilograms - no, forty inches - no, forty something. Ah, years. I had been sure that our babies were going to be boys and therefore I would choose the name: William, in memory of my grandfather. So Judith chose Daphne for the first baby. And when we made the same agreement for our second child, Judith told me when I came to visit that she had chosen the name Ruth. For the third baby we agreed to choose the name together. Still no William. The Forsythe Saga was on television and the character of Irene was a lovely person. But we already had a close relative called Renee. At Westminster hospital one remarkable ward sister was called Heather, and Judith agreed. I cannot remember the conception or the pregnancy. Heather was born at Mile End Hospital. We refused a single room, because it was less safe for calling help in an emergency. The other 3 women in Judith's ward were all unmarried mothers. Judith's father was quite amused. Heather's birth was induced - we suspect that this was because the obstetrician was due to go on leave. With her first breath Heather inhaled a very keen cockney bargaining talent - unlike her elder sisters. From Judith, Heather inherited much tact and common sense. And an excellent talent for cooking. From me she inherited an overcrowded dentition that needed correction, but not the myopia - that went to Ruth. Her judgement and analysis of peoples' characters are superb. She has also inherited my sense of humour - and I'm telling everybody.

Alas, Sally herself herself was highly pregnant and could not come.

The next happy event was Jeffrey's upgrade of my computer. There were snags and setbacks, and required several visits, but with a new motherboard and a faster processor life now is certainly vastly less frustrating.

Lastly, the weekend just past. On Saturday we attended the Bat Mitzvah of Hannah, the daughter of David, the son of Judy's cousin
. It took place in an orthodox synagogue. Therefore, for a girl, the ceremony took place after the conclusion of the Sabbath service, without prayer shawls, and with the women now sitting (separately) down in the main hall. Hannah gave her dissertation in a clear loud voice, pausing brilliantly between paragraphs: she is a clever girl. The rabbi praised her and presented her with a prayer book, but gave no blessing. After hospitality in the synagogue hall, we walked to the nearby parental home for a lovely fish-based meal. Naturally there was grace after the meal and an entertaining poem written and recited by David. They really are a lovely family.

Then, on Sunday, we attended the celebration of Harold's 90th birthday - in the premises of our [former] reform synagogue. Another tasty fish-based meal, and some humourous speeches. No grace after the meal, of course. Unfortunately there was live music throughout, which made conversation almost impossible. But it facilitated the post-prandial dancing - at which point we thanked Harold and Betty and departed.

Later we discussed our impressions and agreed that we would certainly not wish to celebrate
our own possible event in that format. But there is still plenty of time.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


After some 65 years I have read again Moonfleet by J M Falkner, written in 1898. Although I still remembered all the main events, it was as exciting to read as the first time round and I finished the 250 pages in two days.

Young John Trenchard's peaceful life with his aunt in the Dorset fishing village of Moonfleet ends dramatically when he discovers an underground passage leading from some tombstones in the churchyard to the
burial vault of the Mohunes under the church. Soon he is drawn into a dangerous world of smugglers and contraband, and the mysterious legend of the Mohune's cursed diamond.

The plot and the narration are very well constructed, with a mixture of gripping descriptions and very touching emotions - all ending happily, of course, despite the killings and the tragic drownings. I agree with the blurb, that the story is 'as exciting to read today as it was when it first appeared in 1898'.

But I now realize that our primary school English teacher Miss Frankel actually read us a very simplified version [ see my post # 60 ]. So the verses which indicate the location of the diamond are much more cleverly compiled in the full text than the simple wording
that I remembered; and the language and nautical terms are those of Falkner's times of 1898. But then, my English has improved too. My intention was to give the book to the children of my niece in Seattle and my nephew in Israel - but I now realize that they are still far too young.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

61. Second Bar Mizvah

NOTE: I have been advised not to divulge names in my blogs. To quote captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army,
'Don't tell him, Pike!'. Some readers will still guess, presumably, who Z.G. and D.V. are.

We attended Mr.Z.G.'s party to celebrate his second bar mitzvah. The scriptures mention 70 years as a full life span - so if you add another 13, you've qualified for another bar mitzvah celebration when you're 83. It's an excuse for a meal and over the years more and more people live long enough to achieve it.

We did not plan to attend the synagogue service on the Saturday, when he would read his original Haftarah portion and receive the current rabbi's blessing. But we had been invited to the party on Monday evening - a cleverly lettered invitation to dinner at Me Tsu Yan restaurant [it means 'excellent' in Hebrew] in Golders Green. The web site confirmed that it serves strictly kosher Chinese food - and it's quite expensive.

It was purely and typically Chinese, a multitude of quite delicious dishes too numerous to list. The 'spare ribs' were of course not pork but sheep or lamb, and the final dish was sorbet, and not milky ice cream. And tea was without milk either. The waitresses were, what Prince Philip would call, genuine 'slit-eyed', and most efficient. The chopsticks on their porcelain rest configured a 'John the Baptist' type cross, but nobody commented.

Z had taken over the entire restaurant for the evening and we were 60 people. Judith and I knew absolute nobody: neither his relatives - he has 2 children, and a sister in law, all with their numerous families. Nor did we know any of his friends from Israel or in the UK. We were invited because of our long term friendship. Z and I both speak Hebrew, and we were active in the British Association of Palestine-Israel Philatelists (BAPIP). Z used to supply me with Israeli stamps, and I gave him some advice and support when his wife developed cancer and later died - about 7 years ago. Best of all, D.V. had not been invited. I was told at the time that he had blocked my nomination to honorary membership, at the conclusion of my editorship of the BAPIP Bulletin.

Z assured me that dinner jackets were not required - just shirt and tie. In the event, we could recognize the Israeli guests. Despite the bitter cold, they came without ties. I had brought my skullcap - but half the men did not wear one. So my worry about an orthodox separation of the genders for seating was unfounded, and I also guessed correctly that there would be no blessing before the meal nor grace afterwards.

When I wrote to accept Z's invitation, I had made one of my customary 'bad' jokes. I had suggested that Judith could tutor Z on his Torah reading - as she does for the bar-mitzvah children at her synagogue. Naturally I knew that there was no need. I also tried to frighten Z by offering to give a 'speech' at the dinner. That one, Z accepted in part - he suggested, '
could you tell a joke when there is a gap between courses?'

Z was wearing a splendid embroidered Bokharan gown and matching skull cap. In due course, he invited me to tell my 'story'

I chose the Catholic story that I had used some years ago, about Norman Leonard's imaginary 'audience' with the Pope in Rome. I converted it to an Israeli Jewish setting.
Stop me if you know it.

Visiting his barber, I began, Z told him of one of his planned regular trips to Israel.

On this occasion, Z told the barber, his friends had managed to get him to meet the President.
The barber was not impressed.
'You are flying El Al? - Oh dear, It's the worst air line. Never on time. Rude stewardesses.
And you are booked into the King Solomon hotel? -
Oh dear, It's a dump.
And your friends have arranged for you to meet the president? - Take binoculars, you won't get near him...
Still, enjoy your trip.'

At his next haircut, after Z had returned, the barber remembered his conversation about Z's journey. 'Well, how did it go?' asked the barber. Z had been quite annoyed by the pessimistic advice that he had received. But now he was able to get his revenge, as he reported: 'Not only was El Al on time, but there were some free seats, and they chose to upgrade me to first class. Very comfortable. And the king Solomon hotel has been renovated and raised one more star rating.'
'Yes, yes' asked the barber, 'but did you see the president?'
'There were only 5 people present. We had a very pleasant talk: he is a very nice man.'
'But what did the president say to you?'
Z imitated the president's Israeli accent: 'He took one look at me and said, ''Meester G, where did you get this awful haircut?'' '

They liked it. And Z had explained that in addition to the age of 70 (plus 13), also 80 years plus 13 can be celebrated - offering a third bar mitzvah at 93. So Z gave us notice of his intention, but I doubt whether anybody will invite me then as an after dinner speaker... if I'm still alive... and whatever the food.