Today is a double anniversary. Forty-seven years ago today, on the 29th of July 1974, I came on aliyah – that is to say, I came home to Israel. Thirty-two years later, on the 29th of July 2006, I started this blog. In other words, this is my 15th “blogoversary” 🙂 .
Some of you have been with me almost from the beginning. Others have started following this blog more recently, having arrived via my Cat blog (perhaps I should have said “my cats’ blog 😉 – as everyone who lives with cats knows who’s the real Boss).
We were a family in trauma then, still processing the untimely death of my mother, from cancer, the previous year. And we had come to a country also in trauma, still reeling in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, less than a year before.
In the years since, I have come to realise that the sense of trauma is more or less permanent. It merely changes form and immediate cause. Our People have been in a state of trauma since the destruction of the Second Temple and the resulting two thousand year loss of sovereignty over our homeland and our fate. The State of Israel rose like a phoenix from the ashes, but it, too, was born in trauma – the trauma of the Holocaust – and it has been living in trauma ever since, even though we have become so used to it that it has acquired a sense of normality.
Israel today is very different, in many ways, from the country I made my home in 1974. People in those days weren’t so materialistic, for one thing. There was far less to be materialistic about! Nowadays, everyone wants the latest smartphone and each family member has one. Back then, not every household had even a landline. I remember we had waited months for ours, and in the meantime, we had to walk out to the phone box on the main road if we wanted to make a call. Many households that did have a phone had to make do with a party line.
I remember there were basically only two types of bread available at the local makolet (מכולת – grocery shop) – white bread and “black” bread (which was merely a slightly darker white). I think the latter was made with whole-wheat flour. Both were much tastier than the stodgy white, square, packaged bread we used to buy in British supermarkets, which was really only good for making perfect triangular sandwiches, or toast. The price was strictly controlled by the government – and the grocery shop owner (even the supermarket) was happy to sell half loaves. Eggs were sold in cartons of twelve – but if you had no need for that many eggs, you could buy half a dozen, or even less. Milk was sold in plastic bags containing a litre or half a litre, and in order to pour it out, you had to buy a specially designed plastic jar in which you placed the bag, before carefully snipping off the corner.
All very strange for someone coming from a country where we were still used to the milkman doing his rounds every morning, leaving the glass bottles on the doorstep and coming back for the empties the following day.
If you wanted fruit cordial, I remember there were just two flavours available, made by the Assis company – orange and raspberry. This was a sweetened syrup which you diluted to get the desired concentration.
Nowadays, if the kids want something sweet and unhealthy to spread on their sandwiches, there is a wealth of choices, including the ever-popular Nutella. But many years before the launch of Nutella, there was השחר העולה (Hashachar Ha’Oleh – The Rising Dawn), an Israeli invention, which dominated the local market for years and which was, at the time of my aliyah, still the only chocolate spread available in Israel, unless my memory deceives me.
And, of course, there was Ama – a gooey, semi-liquid paste used for washing dishes. In hindsight, it must have been terribly unhygienic. You dipped the cleaning pad into the paste and then spread the paste on the dishes, and then dipped the pad back into the paste and so on and so forth. All those bacteria!!! Yukky!
Why am I thinking about all this now, as I await the delivery of my supermarket order, which I put in yesterday, online?
You know why it takes so long for me to fill out my order? It’s because there is so much choice! Shopping at the corner grocer’s also took time – but that was because the corner grocer’s was a neighbourhood meeting place where, even as late as the 1970s, people stopped to chat with fellow shoppers, or even, if the shop was relatively empty, with the shopkeeper. That hasn’t completely disappeared. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, I still used to go to the supermarket and people still chatted with their neighbours in the queue at the check-out tills. But now, I make my purchases on-line and haven’t set foot in a supermarket for a year and a half.
Well, I should have known it was too good to last, shouldn’t I? And it didn’t. Thanks to the Delta Variant, a lack of due diligence at Ben Gurion Airport and insufficient enforcement of isolation rules, the number of COVID-19 cases is climbing once more. The wearing of face-masks is again mandatory at indoor events with more than 100 participants, more and more countries are being put on the “No Travel List” (almost impossible to enforce if the “miscreants” use connecting flights), the Ministry of Health is again battling with the Ministries of Finance, Tourism, Education and others over the extent of the new/old restrictions to be imposed and the rumour is that we will again be in almost full lockdown by the High Holy Days in September.
On top of all that, there is now a question as to the extent to which the existing vaccines are effective against the Delta Variant, and whether there is a need for a third dose. Since most of the new cases appear to have fallen victim to the Delta Variant and since most of them have been vaccinated, it is my impression that people who have been vaccinated are actually MORE likely to be infected. So what is the point of a third dose??? And yet the Government, and the Health Establishment are urging us ever more strongly on the need to vaccinate children over 12!
In light of the possible “Fourth Wave” of the pandemic, it seems my choir held its end-of-year concerts in the nick of time. The Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir gave a sold-out concert on July 5th at Haparsa, a new Centre for Performing Arts in Jerusalem’s Industrial and Commercial Zone. Our programme, entitled: “Shakespeare and Co.”, included settings of Shakespeare sonnets and songs from his plays, Elizabethan madrigals by some of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, and settings of English folk-songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams (because our conductor likes Vaughan Williams, who is also one of my own favourite composers – and because it was a natural progression from the central item of the evening, RVW’s cantata “In Windsor Forest” based on “The Merry Wives of Windsor” via Vaughan William’s own opera, “Sir John in Love”). There were also some monologues taken from various Shakespeare plays – although, having been brought up on Shakespeare in his own country, I found it hard to adjust to the American accent of the actor.
So let’s start with Vaughan Williams’ arrangement of “The Dark-Eyed Sailor” – or part of it, at least…
My personal favourite (well, just about everybody’s, I think) was “Double Double, Toil and Trouble” from Four Shakespeare Songs by Jaakko Mäntyjärvi:
The following day, July 6th, our parent-body, the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir (to which the Chamber Choir belongs, together with four other smaller choirs) held its end-of-year concert and party at the Kol Haneshama Synagogue in Jerusalem. This was more of an internal celebration, to which we could bring guests. The constituent choirs sang to each other and the full choir performed two pieces, one each at the beginning and end of the evening.
We started off with “And it shall come to pass in the end of days” – a setting by Israeli composer Yehezkel Braun to verses from the Book of Isaiah:
And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more...
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of good tidings, that announceth peace…
After that, each of the smaller choirs showed off their repertoire and finally, at the end of the evening, the whole choir returned to the stage to perform sections of Haydn’s so-called “Nelson Mass“, or, to give it the name Haydn himself originally chose, Missa in Angustiis (Mass in Troubled Times). You have to admit, a more appropriate name it would have been hard to find for this work on which, thanks to a Chinese bat, we have been working for two years. We may not have been artistically on our best form, much rehearsal time having been lost because of lockdown. Nor were conditions at the concert venue ideal. In deference to the rising number of COVID cases and the resulting re-imposition of restrictions, the performance was held outdoors, in the synagogue courtyard, where the wind affected our voices and played havoc with the pianist’s and conductor’s sheet music, and where the gathering dusk and lack of lighting made it hard to see our notes. In fact, by the end of the evening, we were having to read them by the light of our mobile phones. Try holding a cellphone in one hand, a music folder in the other and turning pages at the same time! Still – the evening was a tribute to the fact that the Choir had survived a very difficult year and a half, while many other cultural institutions did not. We are still here, still singing – and although rehearsals are now on hold for the summer, we will be back in September with a new programme, come hell or high water!
Looking back at what I was posting on my blog a year ago, I see many similarities to what I should be writing about today – the continuing drop in the number of new COVID-19 cases, the opening up of the economy, especially the hospitality and entertainment industries, being able to go to the hairdresser for the first time in weeks/months (I went this morning, in fact), baking cakes for Shavuot etc.
That’s what I should have been writing about. What I would have liked to be writing about. Instead, I have to write about the thousands of Hamas rockets raining down on Israeli cities, on homes, schools, hospitals, kindergartens. Instead, I have to write about yet another entirely preventable tragedy, earlier this week (shockingly similar to the one at Mount Meron only two weeks previously) – the collapse of a tribune in a synagogue under construction in the Givat Ze’ev suburb of Jerusalem during eve of Shavuot prayers, in which 2 people, including a boy of 13, were killed and over 160 injured. Once again, the police and local authorities had warned against holding an event in the synagogue which, as I said, was still under construction and not yet authorised for use, but the Hassidic sect to which it belonged thought they knew better, and we see the tragic result. Once again, all those involved are trying to throw the blame elsewhere. Human nature, I suppose.
And instead, I have to write about Muslim Arab gangs running amok in mixed Jewish-Arab cities, carrying out pogroms against their Jewish neighbours, torching synagogues, shops, cars – even private homes.
Last week, a Jewish Israeli family, with young children, who had mistaken the way and entered the Israeli Arab town of Umm el-Fahm, were set upon by a violent Arab mob who attempted to lynch them. Fortunately, other local Arabs came to their aid and helped them escape and reach a hospital in Afula, where they were treated for their injuries.
Others were not so lucky. The day before yesterday saw the funeral of 56 year old Yigal Yehoshua, victim of a lynch (there is no other word) carried out by a violent Arab mob in Lod, in the course of which he was stoned by the rioters simply because he was a Jew who had had the misfortune to find himself in their path as he made his way home. He suffered severe injuries to his head, which was struck by a brick, and although doctors fought for several days to save him, he succumbed to his injuries. In what might seem like an act of tragic symbolism, one of his kidneys was donated to a Christian Arab woman from Jerusalem.
This particular riot was supposedly triggered by the fatal shooting earlier in the week of an Arab resident of Lod, Moussa Hassouna, during clashes with Jews. Four Jewish residents of Lod were arrested in connection with that shooting. That incident occurred last week, on the night between Monday and Tuesday (10 – 11 May), after Arabs went on the rampage, with rocks, Molotov cocktails, even guns, attacking Jewish residents and destroying property. The four Jewish suspects, all of whom were licensed to carry firearms, claimed that they were defending themselves against a group of Arabs who were attempting to attack them. In fact, after the Arab riots started, there were many complaints by Jewish residents that the police were nowhere to be seen and many Jewish Israelis rallied to Lod to defend its Jewish residents. It has also to be said that certain areas of Lod have, for years, been the strongholds of armed, criminal Arab gangs, against whom even the Arab residents have been complaining and demanding police action. At all events, the police investigation tends to confirm the suspects’ claims. The charges against them have been reduced from murder to reckless manslaughter and the court has ordered their release and rejected the police request at least to place them under house arrest.
As I mentioned in a previous post, there have also been Jewish attacks on innocent Arabs – not so many, but despicable, nonetheless. Still, things are not always as they seem. For example, over the weekend, the home of an Arab family in the Ajami neighbourhood in Yafo (Jaffa) was firebombed and two children were injured; one of them, a 12-year-old boy, was very severely burned. Naturally, the immediate assumption was that Jewish extremists were responsible. Yet the police investigation turned up leads in a completely different direction and it now seems possible that the crime was committed by a Jaffa Arab who may have mistaken the house for a Jewish home.
I could go on and on.
Last year, we were all lamenting the lockdown, we couldn’t wait for it to end. As 2020 gave way to 2021, jokes abounded about it having been the worst year ever. Now, residents in Lod and other mixed Jewish – Arab cities WELCOME the imposition of night curfews.
Now, I am fearful of what tomorrow may bring.
Yesterday – all our troubles seemed so far away. Yesterday – now I long for yesterday.
I have had reason, in the past, to take exception to the unfair and (usually deliberately) misleading treatment meted out to Israel by the mainstream media, and especially by once-respected newspapers such as The Times (of London).
Yesterday, my brother sent me a picture of an article from the printed version of The Times:
The relevant paragraph reads: A confrontation yesterday between a Jewish motorist and Palestinians captured on video quickly went viral. It showed Palestinians stoning the car on the eastern outskirts of the city and the driver swerving and accelerating into one of them. A scuffle ensued, with a gun-toting policeman eventually holding the two sides apart.
Let’s start off with the video documentation of the incident:
As you can clearly see in the video, the car is being attacked by stone-throwing thugs and tries desperately to get away. First he tries to reverse, but it is clear that he is surrounded, with nowhere to go. It is also clear that he lost control of the car. What next ensues is not “a scuffle”, but an attempted lynch perpetrated by stone-throwing terrorists – a lynch prevented only by the heroic actions of a lone policeman who saw what was happening and fired into the air to scare off the Arab attackers.
And that brings me to the “gun-toting policeman”. The expression “gun-toting”, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is usually applied to armed criminals. This is not merely the case in American English but in British English also, and as such, has been used frequently by the British Press. The British police, famously, do not carry guns (with the exception of special units), but the police of most countries, and that includes most European countries, do carry pistols (which is what the Israeli policeman was carrying). I have never heard the Danish, French, German, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish, or Swiss police described as “gun-toting” in the British Press, although police officers of these countries all carry handguns. I can only assume that The Times’ choice of words was dictated by their obsession with portraying Israel in general, and Israeli law-enforcement officers in particular, in a negative light.
While we are on the subject of media dishonesty, I am reminded that while zapping from channel to channel yesterday evening, I came across a report on Euronews, in which a young man from Gaza was telling viewers about his children and how they were traumatised by the “Israeli attacks”. On the other side of the split screen, we could see a barrage of incoming rockets lighting up the night sky. The unwary viewer would almost certainly take this to be film footage of Israeli attacks. Except that these were actually Hamas rockets fired in the direction of Israel! Today, also on Euronews, there was an interview with some “expert” from a British academic institution (whose name, unfortunately, I didn’t write down and have forgotten) who claimed that Israeli viewers aren’t hearing the full story of the attacks by Jews on Arabs in Israel, because the Arabs are denied a hearing on Israeli TV channels. Nothing could be further from the truth! Every time such an attack takes place, Israeli TV reporters rush to the bedside of the victim, to interview him or his family.
Returning to the “traumatised children” of Gaza, let us not forget that the reason for the “traumatising” Israeli air attacks is the need to put a stop to the incessant bombardment by Hamas rockets of Israeli civilian targets.
I will leave you with this picture of 5-year-old Ido Avigail, killed last night when one of the hundreds of rockets fired by Hamas into Israel, (1,750 at the last count) landed on his family’s home in Sderot.
Yesterday was Jerusalem Day, the 54th anniversary of the liberation of the eternal Jewish capital from the illegal Jordanian occupation, and of the city’s return to Jewish sovereignty for the first time in two thousand years.
It should have been a day of rejoicing. Instead, it was marred, not only by riots on the Temple Mount and in other places in Israel, stirred up by false rumours that “the Zionists are storming El Aqsa”, but also by attacks and near lynches on Jews throughout the country, especially in places where there are large concentrations of Arab “Palestinian” residents, and over 250 rocket attacks on Israeli communities, originating in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
If you get your news from the likes of CNN, or the virulently anti-Zionist Ha’aretz (the extreme left-wing Israeli newspaper which functions, these days, as a mouthpiece for every closet antisemite, who, when challenged for their lies, like to come back with “But I read it in an ISRAELI media source”), you will probably not even have heard the Israeli side of the story and even if you have, it will have been couched in terms which distort the truth in such a way as to make it clear that, for the media, Israel is always to blame.
Yesterday afternoon, around 5 pm, I lay down for a nap. I awoke round about 8.30 pm, to find my WhatsApp feed full of anxious messages from family members;
“They’re bombing Jerusalem!”
“Are you okay?”
“Where are you?”
“Why don’t you answer, what’s happening?”
“Has anyone heard from Shimmy?”
It turned out that Hamas had been firing scores of rockets at Israeli civilian targets – some of them in Jerusalem, where I live. And I had slept right through it. Not even the air raid sirens had awakened me.
Nor was that the end. Since yesterday afternoon, Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets at Israel, most of which, fortunately, were intercepted by our Iron Dome defence system. About a third of the rockets fell short and landed in the Gaza Strip and were very likely responsible for at least some of the “Palestinian” deaths attributed to Israel. A few did manage to evade Israel’s aerial defences and even score a few direct hits on Israeli homes and, within the past few minutes, it has been reported that in the merciless, unceasing barrage of rockets on the coastal town of Ashkelon, scores of Israelis have been injured and two women have been killed.
Naturally, what interests the world press is Israel’s reaction and the number of “Palestinian” casualties. Israeli casualties are mentioned only in passing. It’s never: Hamas rains rocket fire on Israel: Israel retaliates. No, that would impress on the reader the fact that HAMAS started the “spiral of violence”. Instead, the reader’s attention must be drawn first of all to the Israeli response, which is usually portrayed as being disproportionate, and only then, in passing, in such a way as to convey to the reader that it is a mere coincidence, are we told WHY Israel took the action she did:
Israel airstrikes kill 20 in Gaza, Palestinians say, after militants fire rockets at Jerusalem
So let me explain a few salient facts. The ostensible cause for the escalation is the Israeli “aggression” on the Temple Mount. It has always been easy for “Palestinian” leaders to rally the support of the masses by claiming that “the Zionists” or even simply “the Jews” are threatening El Aqsa (the Temple Mount) – just as, in days gone by, before Israel existed, they would stir up pogroms by false claims that “the Jews” had desecrated a mosque. In the past, Christian leaders often stirred up pogroms by similar claims that “the Jews have desecrated the Host” etc. And, indeed, in this digital age, it can often be made to seem as if this is true, when social media are awash with pictures of armed Israeli police racing across the Temple Mount. What they fail to show, however, is that the Israeli police actions were in response to rocks and Molotov cocktails being hurled at the police and even (from the vantage point of the Mount), on Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall down below. Indeed, this is a point to be noted by all those who say – “Let the Muslims have the Temple Mount. The Jewish holy place is the Western Wall.” I am not going to go into the question now, of the relative holiness of the Western Wall and the Temple Mount for Jews. I will just say this. Every time Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall are bombarded with blocks and bricks from above, it becomes obvious that he who controls the Temple Mount controls the Western Wall.
You may have heard that over the past few weeks, extreme right-wing Jewish groups have been marching through Jerusalem harassing and attacking Arabs. This is true, as far as it goes – and I am ashamed of that – but what you don’t hear is that this came about as a response to Arab attacks on Jews, particularly Jews who were easily identifiable as religious, which the perpetrators then gleefully posted on social media such as Tik Tok.
The other alleged cause of the escalating tensions in Jerusalem is the projected eviction of a number of Arab “Palestinian” families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Jerusalem, in order to replace them with “Jewish settlers”. Again, I am ready to bet most of you aren’t getting to hear the whole story. At best, you may be told that the “settlers” claim the buildings were Jewish-owned before 1948.
So, here is the history of the “Sheikh Jarrah” evictions. I put the name of the neighbourhood in quotation marks because what the “Palestinians” call “Sheikh Jarrah” actually comprises the original “Sheikh Jarrah” neighbourhood, an affluent Arab neighbourhood built in the 1860s, and the two adjacent Jewish neighbourhoods, Shimon Hatzaddik (built in 1890 on land purchased fifteen years earlier) and Nachlat Shimon (dating from the early 20th century). During Israel’s War of Independence, the Jewish residents were forced to leave and the Jewish neighbourhood was occupied by the Arab Legion. It remained under illegal Jordanian occupation from 1948 until the Six Day War in 1967.
In 1956, the Jordanian government and UNRWA settled a number of “Palestinian” refugee families in the former Jewish neighbourhood, under a 33 year lease. Ownership (under Jordanian law) remained in the hands of the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property. After the Six Day War, Israel was once again in control of the Shimon Hatzaddik and Nachlat Shimon neighbourhoods and property that had been held by the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property passed to the hands of his Israeli counterpart. In 1972, the latter transferred ownership to two Jewish organisations, who had documented proof that they had owned the land until the 1948 War of Independence. However, the Arab residents were allowed to continue living there until 1982, when the legal Jewish owners attempted to assert their ownership “on the ground” as it were. In the ensuing court case, the parties reached an agreement under which the Arab residents recognised the ownership rights of the two Jewish organisations and in return, they would continue to live in the disputed houses, as protected tenants under Israeli law, a status which would enable them to live there indefinitely, as long as they continued to pay their rent and see to the reasonable uptake of the houses. The court set its seal of approval on the agreement, giving it the validity of a court verdict.
In the years following, the Arab residents reneged on the agreement, claiming their lawyer had signed it without their consent, and refused to pay rent. This, of course, led to a series of court cases, which has continued to this day, although one of the two Jewish organisations involved has since sold its rights to an American Jewish organisation which does, indeed, have, as one of its aims, the settling of many more Jews in what was, already, Jewish-owned property. (And why not, I might add?)
It is very likely that if the “Palestinian” residents had not reneged on their agreement and continued to pay their rent (as, in any case, they were doing before the Six Day War), the new owners would not even have considered it worth their while to purchase the property, as “protected tenants” are notoriously difficult to dislodge under Israeli law. However, by refusing to fulfil their obligations, the “Palestinian” families lost their protected tenant status. In any normal country, if you don’t pay your rent, you get evicted, and nobody will lift an eyebrow. Except, of course, in Israel, if you happen to be “Palestinian” and therefore, by definition, a victim – and the property owner to whom you are refusing to pay the rent which you are legally obliged to pay happens to be Jewish and therefore, by definition, a land-grabbing villain. Such is the hypocrisy of the world in which we live.
Finally, in honour of Jerusalem Day, here is my prayer for my city – a prayer which seems unlikely to be answered in the near future – originally composed by King David, set in English by the Elizabethan composer Richard Nicholson and performed here by my own choir, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir:
It’s been a while since I last posted. Since then, we have had a General Election (with no clear-cut outcome), celebrated Pessach (Passover), Independence Day and Lag b’Omer, witnessed a national tragedy at the Lag b’Omer celebrations on Mount Meron, in which 45 people lost their lives, (for which nobody is ready to take responsibility except the Police Commander Northern District, who seems likely to become the scapegoat) and suffered a series of terrorist attacks culminating in the drive-by shooting of three yeshiva students – one of whom, sadly, died on Wednesday night, just a few hours before the vile, terrorist murderer was captured (alive, unfortunately), by Israeli security forces.
In other news, Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, who was elected for a four-year term but has continued to hold office illegally for the past FIFTEEN years, has – predictably – postponed the elections, blaming Israel (again, predictably), although the real reason for the “postponement” is that Abbas was almost certain to lose, as his Fatah party is divided, and his administration is widely regarded as being corrupt.
And now to the COVID-19 pandemic. As many of you will know, Israel’s vaccination rollout has been so successful, and the infection rate has dropped so drastically, that most of the economy has now opened up. The wearing of face-masks outdoors is no longer required, except in mass gatherings, cultural events can now take place (my own choir has a concert scheduled for the beginning of July, I have tickets for the opera later in the summer), the hospitality industry is getting back on its feet, etc. etc. There are some precautions still in place. For example, admission to the opera is only for holders of the “Green Pass” (certificate of vaccination, or of having recovered from COVID-19), but this requirement, too, might have been relaxed by the time I go – and probably will, since I heard yesterday morning of a whole slew of regulations having been altered/abolished. In fact, it’s becoming quite confusing!
So, is COVID a thing of the past for us here in Israel? The Ministry of Health keeps warning us that it is likely to return in the winter, possibly in variant forms that are resistant to the vaccine. I don’t know – but maybe it would be wise to make hay while the sun shines and take a holiday in one of the few countries to which it is possible to travel without risking quarantine on my return. Or, in the words of the poet – “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may”.
For those of you who are still in various stages of lockdown, let me recommend a couple of books to while away the time.
First up is the sequel to “Rapid Eye Movement” by Amanda Sheridan, which I reviewed a few months ago. (WARNING; If you have not yet read “Rapid Eye Movement“, this review of the sequel may, inevitably, contain spoilers.)
Ms. Sheridan’s second novel, “The Dreaming” revisits Jennifer and Ilan, now married and living in Tel Aviv. Ilan, an officer with Israel’s Mossad, has been away for several months, working undercover, embedded with a Jihadi terrorist organisation, and tasked with discovering and preventing their diabolical plot. It is when contact with Ilan is somehow lost that his boss conceives the idea of using Jennifer’s peculiar talents to locate him and complete the task for which Ilan is risking his life, even if that means sacrificing Ilan himself.
Like its predecessor, this book is one to set pulses racing and is best read when you have plenty of time to spare – preferably over the weekend when you don’t have to get up early the following morning, because it is, once again, one of those books where you are going to be telling yourself “just one more chapter” – and then another, and another … until, once again, you realise that Jennifer’s dreams are causing you sleepless nights!
For those of you who are bothered by such things, I should mention that this book contains some rather explicit sex scenes. On the other hand, it also has a lot more action than Ms. Sheridan’s previous novel, as, through Jennifer’s dreams, we are plunged into the terror and the danger of Ilan’s mission and get a taste of the moral dilemmas facing those who keep us safe from the horror which would be unleashed upon the world, should psychopathic terrorists like the sadistic Sayeed have their way.
Will Jennifer succeed in saving her husband? Can Ilan foil the Jihadis’ nefarious plans, which, if allowed to succeed, would bring about the deaths of thousands – if not millions – of people?
In the end, Jennifer is forced to make a dangerous promise – a promise which leaves the door open for a third book in the series, to delight Amanda Sheridan’s many fans.
The second book I want to recommend is for aficionados of what, for want of a better description, is described as “literary fiction”. Fans of the film “Chocolat” (starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp), or of the novel on which it is based, will enjoy Joanne Harris’s most recent book, (the fourth in the Chocolat series) – “The Strawberry Thief“. Although it is, in some sense, a sequel to “Chocolat” it can be read as a standalone novel (I, in fact, have not read any of the previous books in the series).
“The Strawberry Thief” of the title refers both to young Rosette, one of the narrators of the story (which is told from multiple points of view), who trespasses on land belonging to old Narcisse, owner of a florist shop in the village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, where she steals his strawberries, and to a repeating design made popular by William Morris and adapted by the mysterious tattooist Morgane, who arrives in the village as if brought by the wind, causing much disquiet amongst its inhabitants, including Rosette’s mother, Vianne (the character played by Juliette Binoche in the movie).
The language of the book is replete with passages calculated to arouse the senses, and couched in some of the most poetical prose I have ever read, which cry out to be read aloud.
Who, for example, could resist an opening passage such as this?
There’s always a moment before a storm when the wind seems to change its mind. It plays at domesticity; it flirts with the blossom on the trees; it teases the rain from the dull grey clouds. This moment of playfulness is when the wind is at its cruellest and most dangerous. Not later, when the trees fall and the blossom is just blotting-paper choking the drains and rivulets. Not when houses fall like cards, and walls that you thought were firm and secure are torn away like paper.
No, the cruellest moment is always the one in which you think you might be safe; that maybe the wind has moved on at last; that maybe you can start building again, something that can’t be blown away. That’s the moment at which the wind is at its most insidious. That’s the moment where grief begins. The moment of unexpected joy. The demon of hope in Pandora’s box. The moment when the cacao bean releases its scent into the air: a scent of burning, and spices, and salt; and blood; and vanilla; and heartache.
Old Narcisse, the florist, dies at the beginning of the novel, leaving a valuable parcel of land to Rosette (to the consternation of his only daughter, the grasping and hypocritical Michèle). Narcisse goes to his grave taking with him a secret which he shares with no-one, other than the priest, Reynaud, whom he despised in life but to whom he leaves his final, written, confession. Reynaud, another of the story’s narrators, is also burdened by a secret guilt. Secret guilt seems to be shared by many of the characters in the book and much of the story revolves around the way they help each other to free themselves from a guilt which is sometimes misplaced. Morgane does it by means of her tattoos. Vianne, the expert chocolate-maker, and later, her daughter, Anouk, do it with their seductive and sensuous chocolates:
It is my recipe, and yet it is not quite familiar. A little less sugar, a little more vanilla, or cardamon, or maybe turmeric. In any case, it is sweet and good, and it smells of other places, of wonderful things to discover. But it also smells of home; of the scent of fig leaves in the sun, and Armande’s peaches cooking. It smells of moonlight on the Tannes, and the scent of Roux’s tattooed skin against mine. It smells of the past and the future, and suddenly I realize that I am no longer afraid of anything that future may bring. The hole in the world has somehow been filled. I am whole again, and free.
In another sense, the book is about learning to let go – not only of guilt, but of those you love, and about understanding that only by letting go can you hold on to them.
Or, to quote Gibran Khalil Gibran: “If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.”
Two very different books – but I enjoyed both, as I hope you will.
And finally, another recipe. Since Shavuot (Pentecost) is almost upon us, and on Shavuot, it is traditional to eat dairy foods, this recipe is right on target. Not a cake, this time, but a savoury pie – (in Hebrew, pashtida – פשטידה – accent on the last syllable) – once again, adapted from a recipe (or rather, taking elements of several recipes) which I found on line and altered so much as to feel I am justified in calling it –
SHIMONA’S OWN CARROT AND ONIONDAIRY PIE.
2 large eggs 1 tbsp olive oil 1 tub (150 gr.) natural-flavoured yoghurt Salt and black pepper to taste 100 gr. grated yellow cheese (cheddar or parmesan) 1 tsp oregano 1 large onion 2 medium carrots 3/4 – 1 cup plain flour 1 tsp baking powder 1 large tomato (sliced) Optional – a fistful of chopped parsley
1. Chop the onion into small cubes.
2. Grate the carrots (or chop into small cubes).
3. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, oil, yoghurt, salt and pepper.
4. Add the oregano and, if so desired, the parsley.
5. Add the grated yellow cheese, carrots, onions, flour and baking powder.
6. Mix till the flour is absorbed into the mixture.
7. Grease an English cake tin (for a loaf shape) or a round pan (or else line with baking paper). Pour in the mixture and decorate with sliced tomato on top.
8. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees C. for 40 minutes or until the pie is golden in colour and stable.
What has the pandemic done to us? I had intended to devote this post to such weighty matters as the forthcoming elections to the Knesset (in less than three weeks), to the various fake news reports and outrageous conspiracy theories surrounding the vaccine rollout and to the iniquitous decision of the International Criminal Court at the Hague to open a war crimes investigation against Israel. Instead, I find myself unable to concentrate on depressing subjects such as these and will write, instead, of such trivialities as a long walk to a neighbourhood beauty spot, and the joys of going shopping or of getting a much-needed haircut in a rapidly opening (too rapidly?), post-lockdown economy.
Trivialities, did I say? I lied. After a year in which I have been denied the pleasure of my monthly field trips with Yad Yitzchak Ben Zvi, it was no small thing to discover the existence of a local beauty spot barely a half hour’s walk from my home. The fact that I only learned of its existence through a Facebook group dedicated to saving it from the Municipality’s plan to erect a Police Station on the spot, thereby destroying one of Jerusalem’s few “green lungs,” is a matter of acute embarrassment to me, not to say shame!
So, fearful that this might prove to be my last chance to see Givat Haturmussim (גבעת התורמוסים – Lupin Hill) in all its glory, I took a walk up there last week.
From the hilltop. there are marvellous views of the Old City of Jerusalem and of the surrounding Judaean Hills.
At the lookout post at the top of the hill, I met a former colleague who lives at the corner of the street that runs below the ridge where the lupins grow, who told me how, for the past few years, he has brought his family here on Shabbat afternoons, to enjoy the beauty of nature and how, during the lockdown(s), when it was impossible to travel more than one kilometre from one’s own home (or, as in the case of the first lockdown, last Pessach/Passover, more than one hundred metres from one’s own front door), it was a lifeline of sanity. And I had not known about it!!! And now it is in danger of destruction!
As I walked home, my eyes were once more opened to the beauty that surrounds us, sometimes right under our noses, if we would only take the time to open our eyes and look.
And here is the same picture after I tinkered with it a bit:
Nor is there anything trivial about going shopping – even though I have, on more than one occasion, written on this blog about how it is not one of my favourite pastimes. But when one has been obliged to make most of one’s purchases online for the past year, there is something pleasantly refreshing about being able to enter an actual shop and try on clothes. So I took advantage of the fact that I was in town for a doctor’s appointment, to walk down Jaffa Road – which was crowded and humming with life, in the first week of Israel’s return to normalcy after the latest lockdown, albeit a very strange “normalcy”, in which entry into many shops required queueing outside, until a vacancy became available inside – since Social Distancing regulations made it necessary to limit the number of people allowed inside at any given moment. The queue outside FOX was so long, I decided there was no point in waiting. I therefore proceeded to Steimatzky’s book shop a little further down the road. There was no queue there. I have to ask myself, what does this say about us – we, who are called “the People of the Book”? I went inside – but quickly remembered that I am capable of spending two hours in a book shop and coming away with nothing, or else with three or four books to add to the pile of seventy or so that I have bought since retiring and have yet to read. It isn’t that I don’t read. The problem is that book shops are always offering special deals, such as buy two and get one free and so on. Thus, for every book I read, I am acquiring two or three more. I am buying them faster than I can read them!
So I left Steimatzky and walked back in the direction of King George V Street, stopping en route at Golf and Co. where I purchased a “smart-casual” sweatshirt and a new sweater with one of my gift-cards (which I have to use by April – I’m just not sure whether that means the beginning or the end of April).
Nor is a haircut – after living with “lockdown locks” for six months – in any way a trivial matter. The only downside was that I no longer had all that weight of curls to keep my head and neck warm in weather that turned wintry again the following day. Still, there I was in Derech Beit-Lehem (Bethlehem Road), feeling curiously light-headed as I wandered among the many delightful little shops lining the street, and popping into a boutique bread shop, where I stocked up on fancy cheeses, fancier bread and other delicacies, all of them expensive and none of them available at the local supermarket or grocery store.
All in all – a most satisfying week, culminating in Purim. The elections, the conspiracy theories and the disgraceful politicization of the International Criminal Court can wait.
In my previous post, if you remember, I wrote about the changing partners within the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party (aka the National Religious Party), and expressed the opinion that it was, as the airlines put it, “not final”. How right I was! The Ichud Le’umi (National Union) party has since entered into a joint list with the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) party, led by Itamar Ben-Gvir, a former Kahanist, and with Noam (Pleasantness). The latter has a very conservative policy against non-Orthodox Judaism, especially Reform Judaism, and an extremely anti-LGBTQ platform. The former (to get back to the Cotillion theme of my previous post) was founded in 2012 by breakaway members of the Ichud Leumi party. And what, meanwhile of the erstwhile National Religious Party, now known as Habayit Hayehudi? What, indeed? On February 4th 2021, the last day for the filing of party lists for the elections to be held next month, after all efforts to bring about a merger between her own party, the Ichud Le’umi and Otzma Yehudit failed (for reasons I will not go into here) and in the face of polls which indicated the probable complete disappearance of the party, the new leader of Habayit Hayehudi, Hagit Moshe, announced that The Jewish Home would not contest the elections this time, but would, instead, endorse Naftali Bennett’s Yemina party – in return for a written promise that if Bennett’s party joins the next government, she will receive a government ministry. That’s a big “if”.
If you think I have devoted an inordinate amount of time to the religious parties, be aware that the same sort of dance has taken place right across the board. I merely took the former National Religious Party as an example.
I will say one more thing about the forthcoming elections. For weeks now, I have been bombarded by SMS messages purporting to come from pollsters, wanting to know my electoral intentions. Many, if not most, are thinly disguised propaganda from one or other of the 39 (!) parties vying for a seat in the 24th Knesset. I refuse to participate in pre-election polls. I believe in the principle of the Secret Ballot and who I vote for is a matter between me and the Ballot Box. Most, if not all, of the so-called “polls” ask you to reply “0” or “Remove” if you want to be removed from the list of “the surveyed”. On every occasion when I attempted to do so, I received a message informing me that the number was “invalid”. I – am – very – angry!!!
Next, to the Pandemic. The vaccine is now available here for anyone over 16. With some 4 million Israelis having already received at least their first dose of the vaccine, and approximately 2 and a half million having completed both doses, the country is slowly opening up again – too slowly for some, too fast for others. Children are going back to school – but not all age groups. On the subject of schoolchildren, as is the case all over the world, the vaccine has not been authorised for use on under-16s. On the news earlier this week, it was reported that thirty children and infants are seriously ill in hospital with the disease, including a 14-year-old boy with no background illnesses who is in critical condition. It was also reported that a pregnant woman with COVID had apparently passed the virus to the foetus, which was stillborn. I hope all those who are still claiming that COVID is no worse than flu or a bad cold and is only dangerous to old people and those with background illnesses hear about this. Remember the early claims made about AIDS? That it only affected homosexuals, or drug addicts who shared needles? Some people will never learn!
And now for the bagpipes. 🙂 I have mentioned, in previous posts, that my choir has been holding meetings twice a week via Zoom. On Sundays, we rehearse – as well as we can considering the limitations of the medium. On Wednesdays, we have a talk/lecture on a subject connected with music. For example, our Musical Director gave a talk a couple of weeks ago on the composer Gesualdo. Before that, we had lectures on the sonatas and partitas for solo violin by J.S. Bach and on the composer, Sir Edward Elgar. I suggested that maybe members of the choir would also like to give talks about musical subjects. Sure enough, a few days later, the Musical Director called for volunteers. As it had been my idea at the outset, a sense of noblesse oblige prompted me to pick up the gauntlet. I chose, as my subject, the music of the bagpipes. Not surprisingly, I soon discovered that the subject was much more complex than I had imagined. I already knew, of course, that besides the Great Highland Bagpipe, which everyone immediately thinks of, there are also Uillean pipes (from Ireland) and that there is also a bagpipe tradition in regions where the population is descended from Celtic tribes – such as northern Spain (Galicia and Asturias) and northern France (Brittany). But, in researching the history of the bagpipes, and the bitter controversy over their place of origin, I discovered the rich fount of bagpipe music in such places as diverse as Azerbaijan, Libya, Malta, Sweden, Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Iran…in short, all over the world, from the Caucasus to the Baltic, from the Balkans to Africa. I learned of the different kinds of bagpipes – those that are played by blowing through a mouthpiece into the airbag, and those whose air supply is replenished by a small bellows held under, and operated by, the player’s elbow. I learned of bagpipes with one drone, bagpipes with two or three drones, and bagpipes with no drones at all. I learned of attempts to recreate bagpipes pictured in medieval manuscripts, such as theCantigas de Santa Maria, as well as the askaulos of ancient Greece.
As a musician, and as a person interested in history, it was a pleasure to learn so much myself, as well as to be able to pass on what I had learned to my fellow choristers. I even picked up a few words of Gaelic while I was about it, since I kept coming back to the Great Highland Bagpipe – not just terms connected with bagpipe music, but everyday terms. That’s what I like about doing these research projects and what makes it such fun – but also time-consuming. One is so often led off at a tangent. Anyway, here is an example of the classic music of the pipes – a pibroch (piobaireachd):
Speaking of Scotland, and Highland landscapes as compared to our Israeli landscapes – it snowed last night. For days now, the meteorologists had been warning us that a monumental storm was headed our way, with extremely strong winds, followed by torrential rains and, eventually, snow. But they warned that the snow probably would not last overnight and that by morning, would be mostly gone. That’s exactly what happened – in Jerusalem, at least. I understand that in other parts of the country, the storm damage was more severe, but in Jerusalem, apart from a few hours during which the Light Rail was unable to operate because of snow on the tracks, public transport seems to have been affected hardly at all. I have noticed damp patches on the ceiling of my study, due, according to my neighbour, who was kind enough to climb up on the roof and take a look, to cracks in the cladding (which can’t be fixed, obviously, until the weather calms down and dries out somewhat). But the snow was nothing much to write home about, as they say – at least in my own neighbourhood:
I was obliged to postpone my long-awaited and much-needed haircut to next week. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. The masses of hair at least keep my head and neck warm (LOL). I find myself looking back longingly to Monday. It was about 15 or 16 degrees C and we sat in the garden, soaking up the sunshine. Was that really only three days ago?
I can’t wait for the Spring to arrive! On a day like today, the best thing to do is to ensconce myself comfortably in front of the television, with a cup of hot cocoa and a slice or two (or three) of my homemade Peanut Butter and Banana Bread. This was yet another one of my culinary experiments, prompted by the fact that I had an almost full tub of peanut butter that was on the verge of its “use by” date, as well as a bunch of very over-ripe, mushy bananas. I had never made banana bread before, not had I ever cooked with peanut butter. I hadn’t originally intended to use the two ingredients in the same recipe but I didn’t want to waste either of them. My sister, to whom I usually go for recipes, was unavailable, so I consulted Dr. Google. 😉 Having found a recipe that included both items, I proceeded to adapt it to my needs (in other words – to ignore the instructions).
It didn’t turn out too badly for a first attempt, although I found it tasted even better when I treated it as bread, rather than as a cake, and spread the slices with jam – or with even more peanut butter!
So here is the recipe (mine, not Dr. Google’s):
SHIMONA’S OWN PEANUT BUTTER AND BANANA BREAD
1 and 1/2 cups plain flour 3 tsp baking powder 3 or 4 mashed brown, over-ripe bananas 3 or 4 dollops (ie.tbsp) of creamy peanut butter 75 grams margarine (the original recipe called for butter, but I wanted the cake to be parve) 1/2 cup light brown sugar 1/4 cup white sugar 1 large egg 1 tsp vanilla extract. A handful of walnuts, raisins, sultanas, dried cranberries (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. 2. Grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf tin. 3. In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Add the peanut butter and melted margarine and stir till all is combined. 4. Stir in the sugar, egg and vanilla extract. Stir until smooth. 5. Add the flour and baking powder. 6. Add the nuts and dried fruits (optional). 7. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and bake for 45 – 50 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck into the centre comes out clean. (Since every oven is slightly different, I would check after 40 minutes already.) 8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the baking tin.
It’s hard to know really, where we stand with regard to the pandemic. On the one hand, more than 2 million Israelis have already received the first dose of the much-vaunted Pfizer vaccine, administration of the second dose is well under way, and, as of this week, anyone over the age of 45 is now eligible for vaccination. This latter fact, we are told, is due to a slowdown in the number of applications by over-60s to receive the vaccine and the resulting surplus of vaccine, which is being made available to younger age groups rather than having to throw it away (because it has a limited “shelf life”). Actually, the decrease in the number of Senior Citizens making appointments to be vaccinated should come as no surprise, considering that the successful rollout in December has resulted in about 70% of them having already received the vaccine.
On the other hand, the past few weeks have seen the daily numbers of COVID-positive tests, and – even worse – the number of seriously sick COVID patients in Intensive Care, and the death toll, spiralling out of control. On the news this morning, I heard that we have the highest morbidity rate in the Middle East and the 14th highest in the world! Of course, it will take some weeks for the effect of the mass vaccination campaign to be felt – and it does not help that certain sections of the population seem to think they are above the law and that their right to keep their schools open, and to hold mass weddings, religious gatherings, and demonstrations, trumps the right of the citizens of Israel to Life and Health.
Meanwhile, law-abiding citizens (such as Yours Truly) are stuck in our third Lockdown, which has just been extended by ten days to the end of January.
And what does one do when one is stuck in the house for days on end? Well, for one thing, I have been watching a lot of stuff on YouTube. I have found so many old favourites, BBC historical drama series from fifty years ago, (such as The Onedin Line, my favourite historical drama series EVER), children’s programmes (who remembers the 1968 BBC TV series The Railway Children?), full-length operas, even radio plays – which are perfect for listening to tucked up in bed on a cold, rainy day when you don’t want to get up and don’t even want to open your eyes. 🙂
And sometimes, one comes across something, quite by chance, that sounds a chord because it just seems so apposite to something else that one is reading, or thinking about. For example, one of the Facebook groups with which I while away the time, is the Georgette Heyer Appreciation Group. A question/comment concerning one of her novels, Cotillion, was occupying my thoughts while I was idly surfing YouTube and stumbled across this – how to dance a Regency-style Cotillion:
The cotillion (also cotillon or “French country dance”) is a social dance, popular in the late 18th-century and early 19th-century in Europe and America. Originally for four couples in square formation, it was a courtly version of an English country dance, the forerunner of the quadrille and, in the United States, the square dance. Consisting of a main “figure” that varied from dance to dance, it was interspersed with “changes” – a number of different figures that broke out of the square formation, often decided spontaneously by the leading couple or by a caller or “conductor”. As you may have noticed, participants exchanged partners within the formation network of the dance. You may also notice that eventually, the dancers return to their original partners. Something similar seems to happen among Israeli political parties whenever a General Election approaches – and this time is no different. For example, the old National Religious Party (itself a party formed by merging two earlier religious Zionist parties, Hamizrachi and Hapoel Hamizrachi) became Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) under the leadership of Naftali Bennet, but Bennett and his sidekick Ayelet Shaked broke away in December 2018 to form Hayamin Hechadash (the New Right), which ran on a separate ticket in elections to the 21st Knesset in April 2019. However, they failed to receive the minimum percentage of the vote to win any seats in the Knesset. By the time the elections for the 22nd Knesset came round, a bare five months later (September 17th, 2019), Hayamin Hechadash had joined Ha’Ichud Ha’Leumi (the National Union) and Habayit Hayehudi to form Yemina (Rightwards). The Ichud Leumi – Tekuma party was formed by breakaway members of the National Religious Party and, as the name suggests, was itself formed by an amalgam of more than one party. (Confused? So am I 😉 ) At all events, in this round of elections, Yamina garnered seven Knesset seats, but then split up into Hayamin Hechadash and Habayit Hayehudi-Ha’Ichud HaLeumi. Six months later (March 2nd, 2020), the three parties were back together again to run for the elections to the 23rd Knesset (Is your head spinning yet? Wait – there’s more to come) and dropped to 6 Knesset seats. They did not join the ruling coalition, but the leader of Habayit Hayehudi, Rabbi Rafi Peretz, broke away and joined the government. Now we are in the throes of a campaign for the 24th Knesset, set to take place on March 23rd. (Seriously? FOUR General Elections in less than two years?) At the time of writing, the three parties are running on separate tickets. This, however, is – as they say at the airport – “not final”. The Bayit Yehudi party (formerly the National Religious Party, as you may recall), has just elected Hagit Moshe as its leader – the first time ever that a woman has been elected to head an Orthodox Jewish religious party. She is very keen to unify all the orthodox Zionist parties. Will this cotillion end with the reunification of the original partners? If you listen to Naftali Bennett – probably not. But Israeli politics being what they are – that’s really anybody’s guess!
And from elections to computers – and to another skill acquired/problem solved by Yours Truly who was, once again, forced to rely on herself because of the lockdown. I believe I mentioned in one of my previous posts that my father made me a present of his old laptop, after buying a brand new one. And that it was so slow as to be of no practical value. Well – I have fixed it. At first, I thought I would have to re-format it, so I googled how to do that and, in the course of my search, came across the suggestion that I try first simply to re-set it to the factory default and reinstall Windows. I tried that – but it got stuck before I even reached “Reset”. My brother thought that it might be infected with Malware which was taking over the computer every time I connected to the internet and was using my laptop as part of a network to carry out DDoS attacks. So I disconnected it from the internet and made another attempt. This time, it seems to have worked. I am very proud of myself! 😉
And finally, to cakes. I find that baking is wonderfully relaxing – and since everyone seems to be doing it, YouTube is full of wonderful recipes, all of which, it is claimed, are so easy and so quick, that you will wonder why you never tried them before. So here is my take on one of the recipes I have already tried. I think it was originally a lemon cake, if I remember rightly and then it evolved into a chocolate cake and here it is in its latest reincarnation:
SHIMONA’S OWN RUM AND COCONUT CHOCOLATE CAKE
1 tub plain yoghurt (150g) – save the tub to use as a measuring cup 2 eggs 1/2 – 2/3 tub of sugar (depending on how sweet your tooth is) 4 tbsp vegetable oil 1 1/2 tubs of plain flour 1 tsp baking powder 1 heaped tbsp sweetened Chocolite (or you can use unsweetened cocoa powder but then you really need to use 2/3 tub of sugar and not just 1/2) 1 tsp instant coffee dissolved in a little boiling water 2 tsp rum essence
75 grams unsalted butter Heaped tbsp Chocolite Caster sugar (to taste) Ground coconut A few drops more of rum essence
Whisk the yoghurt and eggs together
Add the vegetable oil
Add the sugar
Add the flour and baking powder
Add the sweetened Chocolite
Add the dissolved coffee and the rum essence and mix well.
Bake in a small Angel Cake tin or a small English Cake tin for 30 – 40 minutes in an oven preheated to 180 degrees C.
To make the frosting, melt the butter in the microwave till it is runny. Add the powdered Chocolite, caster sugar and rum essence and mix well. Drizzle it over the cooled cake and sprinkle ground coconut over the whole.
Chiaroscuro – an Italian term meaning “Light and Dark”, used in Art (according to Wikipedia) to describe “the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition.” The term originated during the Renaissance, and the reason the word came to my mind was because, amongst other activities designed to bring a little light into the cultural darkness brought about by the current pandemic, I am taking a course on Renaissance Art (together with the Bible and Music courses I have been taking for several years now, and which I have mentioned in previous posts).
There has been a lot of debate about “distance learning”, and whether it can sufficiently fill the vacuum left by the closing of schools during the present lockdown, as well as previous lockdowns. I mentioned in my last post, that we are again in lockdown – although that was a lockdown with so many holes, it is debatable whether the word was even applicable. As of midnight last Thursday, we are supposed to be in a “complete” lockdown – this time, including schools. But it is unclear how widespread it will be in some sectors (such as the ultra-Orthodox religious sector), besides which, an unknown number of businesses have declared they will remain open, preferring the fear of substantial fines to that of bankruptcy. My personal opinion about these lectures on Zoom is that their efficacy greatly depends (as does any educational venture) on the quality of the lecturer. It is hard to sit for hours in front of a computer screen and listen to a lecture, especially if the lecture is pre-recorded. The Bible and Music courses I am taking are fascinating, even if the Music lecture is pre-recorded. That’s because the lecturers are involved with their listeners. But the lecturer in the Art course (also pre-recorded) appears to be reading a prepared script and she does so in a very dry tone which I find quite soporific.
As I mentioned in previous posts, we have managed to keep choir activity going. As there is a limit to how effective an online rehearsal can be, the Choir committee decided to add some variety, by inviting the Choir’s artistic team (the conductors) and others, (professional musicians and academics) to lecture to the Choir on various subjects, such as The Dimension of Time in Music, Hebrew Cantillation of the Bible, Music of the Livorno Synagogue etc. Last Wednesday, instead of a rehearsal, we had an interesting, short lecture on the composer Olivier Messiaen.
In short, I have been keeping myself busy. I had a rehearsal, or a lecture, every day last week so far and on Thursday, I even had TWO lectures!
Last Wednesday, I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine against the coronavirus – one of the almost 1.9 million Israelis (over 20% of the population) to have been vaccinated so far. At the end of the month, I shall have the second dose – and then we shall see if it works. Meanwhile, I can still see my reflection in the mirror and my canine teeth have not grown any longer, or sharper. I suffer no ill-effects from exposure to sunlight (such as bursting into flame and disintegrating,) nor have I noticed any aversion to garlic 😉 .
But beside these little rays of light, there is still a great deal of darkness abroad. I worry about my brother in England, where the new variant of the virus seems to be rampaging unchecked. I worry about friends in Europe, where there seems to be no let-up in the pandemic. Quite the contrary, in fact. And as for the drama unfolding in what I fear I must henceforth call the Disunited States of America… I shall refrain from commenting, for the time being, if only out of consideration for my own, and my readers’, blood pressure levels. (Remember what I wrote in my last post about Anger.)
Curiously enough, my YouTube feed last week “recommended” a couple of pieces from a concert we (that is, the combined choirs of Jerusalem Oratorio) gave a couple of years ago, under the title “From Darkness to Light”. The name seems peculiarly fitting for these times, and so, to end this week’s post, I bring you the two main items from the concert. The first, representing, I suppose, the Darkness, is Requiem by the Canadian-Israeli composer, Aharon Harlap. It is not the full Roman Catholic Requiem Mass, but a version tailored for a Jewish-Israeli choir and audience, without the Credo, Pie Jesu or Agnus Dei sections. In many aspects though, I found it reminiscent of the Fauré Requiem, especially in the opening section.
I will end my first post of 2021 with the “Light” section of that concert – selections from Haydn’s Creation – and with the traditional Priestly Blessing:
May the Lord bless you and guard you. May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up His countenance unto you, and give you Peace.