The Corona Chronicles – A Small Candle in the Darkness

Albert Schweitzer is reported to have said: “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: Music and Cats”. I am sure that many of us, forced to live in a bubble largely cut off from meaningful human contact by this wretched pandemic, can agree with him.

Music – and Cats. I feel myself inestimably blessed to be able to enjoy both.

As many of you no doubt know, I have three cats (I was going to say I own three cats, but, as anyone who has ever been privileged to share their lives with these magnificent creatures knows well, the boot is on the other foot – er, paw. They own us.) They have their own blog, where they graciously allow me to act as their editorial assistant, secretary and head typist. Nobody who shares their home with a cat can ever be truly alone, even in their most private moments (as anyone who has ever tried to shut one of them out of the bathroom or shower knows well) – but, on the other hand, I have known cats intensely sensitive to the emotions of their humans, and, on more than one occasion, when “the miseries of life” have brought me to tears, my cats have come and thrust their little faces up against mine as if to say: “It’s all right, Mummy. We are here for you”, or have snuggled up against me and soothed me with the comforting sound of their purrs.

The other candle in the darkness is my choir. True, we can only meet in small groups, and it often happens that one of the voices is missing (we currently have only one tenor), or that I find myself the only first soprano present – but it is still a vast improvement from having to make do with rehearsals online, useful as these may have been at the stage when we were still learning the music.

Recently, however, two projects came to fruition, which gave great satisfaction to all of us. The Jerusalem Oratorio Choir (the roof organisation for five choirs, of which the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir – my own choir – is one) released a “virtual choir” recording to YouTube. This was recorded during the summer, but the editing took quite a long time. And no wonder. I think it was very cleverly done, and I hope you will all agree:




The piece chosen – Dona Nobis Pacem, from Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis (Mass in Troubled Times), aka the Nelson Mass – means “Give us peace”. I think no prayer could be more suited in these very troubled times.

The Choir was supposed to perform the whole Nelson Mass at our annual gala concert in May of this year. Of course, the pandemic and ensuing lockdown put a stop to that, as it has put a stop to so many cultural activities, throwing thousands of artists and supporting workers such as sound and lighting technicians, stage managers, costumers etc. out of work. The concert has been officially postponed to late spring 2021 – but, of course, there’s no guarantee that it will happen then, either. In the meantime, however, we are not throwing in the towel because music is like a breath of air for us.

For the same reason, the organizers of the annual Pianos in Jerusalem festival decided not to give up either, and to hold the 8th annual festival, devoted this year to the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, without a live audience, online. The closing concert included the rarely performed Choral Fantasy, in which my chamber choir participated, together with two others. Not all members of my choir were happy about putting in so much effort for a mere four minutes or so of singing and one, at least, attempted to justify his refusal with the claim that “It isn’t even one of Beethoven’s best pieces. Anyone of us could do better”. His attitude angered many of us, not least Yours Truly. The pandemic has dampened our spirits more than enough as it is. Nobody was forced to take part – and there was no need to attempt to spoil things for those who did!

And for those of us who overcame our fears of venturing out into the public sphere – it paid dividends. To be with other singers, with an orchestra, after so long without live music! To be able to sit in an auditorium (suitably distanced from one another, I hasten to add) and to hear an entire concert and then to sing! The concert was also broadcast live on Israel Radio’s Kol Hamusica (Voice of Music) channel.
Even the rehearsals with the orchestra were uplifting. I have always particularly enjoyed the first orchestra rehearsal, every time we perform a large-scale work. You rehearse all year round with piano accompaniment and then, finally, you meet with the orchestra and the conductor (who is, frequently, not our own conductor) and you finally feel everything start to come together. Even the sound of a great orchestra tuning up sends a frisson of excitement running through every fibre of my being.

Here is the final part of the Choral Fantasy, performed by the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, the Capellatte Oratorio Choir, the Chamber Choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, the pianist Dorel Golan and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ziv Cojocaru. If you would like to hear the whole concert, which included also Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, and the Fifth Piano Concerto (the “Emperor”) here is the link.

Please note that the concert starts at 18:08 and is preceded by a couple of interviews, in Hebrew, with two of the festival organizers.

There is such power in music – power to comfort, power to heal. It allows us to escape, if only for a while, “the miseries of life”. Like the love of cats, it allows us to enjoy beauty and grace.


As the lyrics of the Choral Fantasy put it:



Großes, das ins Herz gedrungen,
blüht dann neu und schön empor.
Hat ein Geist sich aufgeschwungen,
hallt ihm stets ein Geisterchor.
Nehmt denn hin, ihr schönen Seelen,
froh die Gaben schöner Kunst
Wenn sich Lieb und Kraft vermählen,
lohnt den Menschen Göttergunst.



Or in English translation:

Something great, when it’s touched the heart,
Blooms anew in all its beauty.
When one spirit has taken flight,
A choir of spirits resounds in response.
Accept then, oh you gracious souls,
Joyously the gifts of art.
When love and strength are united,
The favour of the Gods rewards Man.

Enjoy the concert. May you all find your own candles in the darkness.

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The Corona Chronicles – Lockdown Library

A while back, I counted the number of books on my shelves which I haven’t yet read, and came to the astonishing total of 63 – almost evenly divided between Hebrew and English. The problem is, that I cannot resist book shops and I buy books at a much faster rate than I can read them.

I still read faster in English (my native language) than I do in Hebrew, mainly because I can “speed read” in English, whereas in Hebrew, I have to read each word. But the truth is, I enjoy doing so. And I am now doing so in English also, learning to savour every word, as if I am reading aloud to an audience, even when I am only reading to myself.

Of course, there are books that benefit more from this approach than others. A fast-paced action thriller by Dan Brown is not really suited to this method. But a beautiful, sweeping family saga, such as Catherine Banner’s “The House at the Edge of Night” (which had been waiting on my To Be Read shelf for over three years before I finally got round to it, this lockdown summer) was an ideal choice, brimming over, as it is, with beautiful passages such as this one:



…She had been gone two entire years. Sitting on the varnished wooden seat at the prow of Bepe’s boat, she felt worn thin, as though time had travelled twice as fast since she had left the island. Her skin was no longer well armoured; she had forgotten the way it stung you, this sun, the air that came over you in hot waves, the bare white to which all colours turned under its glare.

The ferry swung against the tide, water pooling under its left flank, and before her reared the island. And now she was down on the quay, and now climbing the old hill, and the island assaulted her with the force of memory: the sea’s hydraulic hiss, its familiar hot-dust smell. And yet she saw it through her mother’s eyes, too: saw how the streets she climbed were full of stale air, the pavements crusted with dog turds, the facades of the church and the shops peeling, and every inhabitant in some phase of advanced age. The kind of place one could not love without effort, and yet, she understood now, the only place on the face of the whole earth that she herself loved.

The House at the Edge of Night” is a the story of four generations of the Esposito family, set on the fictional island of Castellamare, off the coast of Sicily, and their cafe, the eponymous House at the Edge of Night. Covering the years 1914 – 2009, the story begins with the arrival of Amedeo Esposito, practically on the eve of World War I, to take up a position as the island’s doctor. Amedeo is a collector of stories . Each section of the book begins with one of Amedeo’s stories and they form a framework for the book. Indeed, the red leather-bound notebook in which Amedeo transcribes the stories he collects, is itself the subject of a bitter rivalry between his grandsons.




The story begins with Amedeo, but the plot is driven by women – Amedeo’s beautiful, strong-willed wife, Pina, their daughter, Maria-Grazia, her grand-daughter, Lena – and the island’s saint, Sant’ Agata, on whose feast day Amedeo first arrived on the island and on whose festival, 95 years later, the novel ends. In between, we follow the islanders through two world wars, the rise of fascism, the economic boom of the 1970s and 80s, the financial crisis of 2008 – until we are so heavily invested in their destinies, that we, too, are ready to say a little prayer to Sant’ Agata and to work with the islanders shoulder to shoulder when all seems lost, such as in this passage, near the end of the book, when the ferry breaks down, leaving scores of tourists who have heard of the saint’s miracles, stranded on the Sicilian shore, with no way to reach the island (I should add, that the money brought by those tourists is desperately needed to save the heavily-mortgaged House at the Edge of Night).

Now Agata-the-fisherwoman rose to a great height, hauling herself by the bar’s counter. “We’ll take the old boats,” she said. “We’ll launch the ones stored away in the tonnara. The old boats, painted, with the white stones, that we used before the war. There are ten or twelve in there.”

The islanders began to stir themselves. Down the road to the quay they hurried, in cars and vans, on bicycles, on foot, bearing lanterns like little white stars. Maria-Grazia seized Flavio’s Balilla binoculars, and together she and Lena took the three-wheeled van and followed them. In the dark that was all at once less storm-tossed, less rain-washed, the young men of the island launched the boats. On the waters of the harbour they rode again: the Sant’Agata Salvatrice, the Trust in God, the Santa Maria delle Luce. The Provvidenza, the Maria Concetta, and the Siracusa Star.

Lena and Maria-Grazia were left onshore with the rest of the islanders, watching the lights sail away from them. And here on the edge of the ocean, Maria-Grazia seemed to see the island as it looked to those ships leaving it, and must have looked to those Espositos who had left it: her son, her brothers, her granddaughter — a rock in a haze of water vapour, receding on the clouded surface of the water like a ship cast off. “Didn’t you want to go in the ships, too?” she asked Lena.

“I’m going to stay here,” said Lena, “and prepare the bar for when they get back.”

And, finishing the novel, the reader is left with the feeling that the bar is still there, waiting for them, warm and hospitable, and that you can return and it will seem as if you have never been away.

Another book that I have been reading during this seemingly never-ending, on again-off again lockdown, is “Rapid Eye Movement” by Amanda Sheridan.



Rapid Eye Movement by Amanda Sheridan




This one also stays with you long after you have finished reading it, but in a very different way to “The House at the Edge of Night“. This one is a fast-paced action thriller, but with a hint of something more, possibly the supernatural, possibly Sci-Fi. It, too, begins on an island – the island of Cyprus – but it begins with a flight in the dark and a bat out of hell car chase culminating in a devastating crash which lands Jennifer, one of the protagonists, in hospital, in a coma.
At the same time, Lucy, the second protagonist, is involved in an accident near her home in Yorkshire, putting her, too, in a coma.

And now things start to get very, very weird. Because Lucy begins to dream about Jennifer’s life, even as Jennifer dreams about Lucy’s.

Two ordinary women who have never met. And whom the doctors are unable to bring out of their respective comas.

Through their dreams, we learn about their respective (and very different) lives – Lucy’s with her building contractor husband Charlie and their two daughters, in the Yorkshire Dales, and Jennifer’s, by the side of her darkly handsome and somewhat mysterious Israeli lover, the enigmatic Ilan.

What the two women do seem to have in common is an artistic streak – Jennifer is an interior designer and Lucy is a photographer. The homes of both are described in loving detail, including the extensive renovations undertaken by Lucy and Charlie – in a way that makes it clear that the author is writing from personal experience.

But why are these two women dreaming about each other’s lives? And are they, in fact, doing so? Or is one of them real and the other merely a dream?

And most important of all – now that the lives of the two are so inextricably intertwined, what will happen if one of them wakes up? Will the other remain in a coma? Or will she cease to exist?

This book is not one to be read at your leisure, but rather, one where you reach the end of a chapter and tell yourself: “Just one chapter more” – and then again “Just one more” – until you realise it is nearly 2 o’clock in the morning and that, if you want to get any sleep at all, you are going to have to leave Lucy and Jennifer to their dreams for a few hours.
That’s if you dare to go to sleep. For who knows where your dreams may take you…


The book ends on a profoundly disturbing note, with many questions left deliberately unanswered. Yet a possible cause of the connection between the two women is hinted at and the epilogue leaves the way open for a sequel. In fact, I am happy to report that a sequel has just come out – and it goes without saying that I shall be reading it as soon as I finish the two books I am currently reading!


The Dreaming: The sequel to Rapid Eye Movement by [Amanda Sheridan]


Side by side with the new books on my TBR bookshelf, the recent four-part dramatisation of E.M. Forster’s “Howards End” induced me to reread a modern classic which I first encountered in the Lower Sixth. At the age of 16, I hated it. I haven’t looked at it again till now – but this time round, I found it so much more palatable.

Spoilers now follow.





The story revolves around three families – the wealthy, artistic, intellectual and determinedly liberal Schlegels, the equally wealthy, entirely worldly and unswervingly capitalistic Wilcoxes and the poverty-stricken, nominally lower middle-class (but practically working class) Basts. The latter impact the lives of both Schlegels and Wilcoxes, without even knowing it.

The Schlegel family consists of three siblings – Margaret, the eldest, and most practical of the three (although she constantly denies her own practicality), from whose point of view the story is mostly told, her passionately idealistic sister Helen (who, in many ways, reminded me of Marianne Dashwood in “Sense and Sensibility” and whom, like Marianne, I found rather tiresome) and their brother , Tibby – a very clever teenager, but, I thought, lacking in human warmth. A chance meeting in Germany, where both families were holidaying, has thrown them into a seemingly unlikely friendship with the Wilcoxes, who invite them to visit them at their country home, the eponymous Howards End – an invitation to which only Helen responds.

Disaster seems to follow Helen around wherever she goes. It is her thoughtless “theft” of his umbrella, some weeks later, which draws into their circle the young clerk, Leonard Bast – a boy of twenty with ambitions to “better himself” by means of literature and music, whom Margaret and, more particularly, the idealistic Helen, are anxious to “help”. Leonard is burdened with a wife, Jacky, “of whom it is simplest to say that she was not respectable” (to quote Forster). In fact, when we first meet her, Jacky, who is some thirteen years older than Leonard, is actually his mistress whom, for some inexplicable reason, he feels in honour bound to marry, as soon as he attains the age of twenty-one. I say “inexplicable”, because as the book progresses, it becomes clear that Jacky has been “not respectable” for many years before she and Leonard ever met and that he played no part in her degradation. It is later revealed that ten years previously, she had had a liaison with Mr. Wilcox, but it is by no means clear that he was the first and indeed, one suspects that he was not.

I stated earlier that the story is told, for the most part, from Margaret’s point of view – but it is Helen’s blundering attempts to “help” Leonard which drive much of the narrative and lead her to an act which, in the eyes of society at that time (the first decade of the 20th century), is unforgiveable – and to a tragic outcome.

I will say no more, as I don’t want to give everything away. I will just add that most reviews of the book, and of the media adaptations of it, stress its concern with the social, gender and class divisions in early 20th-century England, but to my mind, the novel is most interesting when it deals with personal relationships, which Helen reminds us time and time again, are the most important of all.

These are just three of the books I have been reading during this seemingly interminable lockdown and, no doubt, I shall be reading many more before it is done.
I see no danger of growing bored – and if I run out of books, there are many delights to be found on YouTube. In fact, I am currently indulging in “The Onedin Line” – all 91 episodes of it…

So, how about you? What have you been reading/watching these past few months?

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The Corona Chronicles – In Spite of All Terror (or: The Bright Side of Life)

I ended my previous post on a very dark note, I fear. And while subsequent events – for example, the spike in new COVID-19 cases in the Arab community, due to a large number of mass gatherings, such as weddings with hundreds of participants, every weekend (Friday to Sunday), and the complete chaos surrounding the reopening of (some) schools, and the refusal of certain large segments of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community to abide by the prohibition on opening yeshivot and talmudei torah – seem to have borne out my fears, I feel I should try to balance my pessimism with something more optimistic.

So – where, oh where, is that silver lining?

Well, the fact that synagogues were closed over the High Holy Days and that one was forced to pray at home, alone, did make me concentrate more on the meaning of the prayers. That, certainly, was an upside to the surrealistic situation imposed upon us – as was the initiative to have the shofar blown throughout the country at the same time, in order to promote unity (a commodity sorely lacking these days) throughout the country.
I listened to it standing at my living-room window, and I wept – not least at the almost certain knowledge that the fragile unity would be short-lived.

Then, too, there are the Open University courses which, instead of being held in various campuses throughout the country, are now being conducted via Zoom or on Facebook. This started earlier this year, during the First Lockdown and is set to continue during the Winter Semester which begins next week. It does have the advantage that, this year, I shall be able to participate in courses which are not usually held in Jerusalem. Moreover, when winter finally arrives, it will be nice to listen to a lecture ensconced in a comfortable armchair, a hot cup of coffee/tea/cocoa in my hand, rather than have to brave the elements to get to a lecture hall on the opposite side of town, or spend a fortune on taxi fares (because I am too scared of catching the virus to risk going by bus).

And then, there is choir practice. Zoom is far from ideal for this. It is impossible to sing together, because there is always a delay factor. And that makes it impossible to hear the harmony that is at the heart of choral singing. On the other hand, it makes it very easy to learn new pieces, especially because we have been going over the same half dozen songs again and again. But I think we have reached saturation point – and it was a relief to learn that this week, we are returning to face-to-face meetings, albeit in “capsules”. Instead of the whole choir meeting twice a week, each group of ten members will meet once a week. (If you think you have seen this movie before, you are right!) Even so, since the meetings will now be indoors rather than in the large synagogue courtyard, as they were during the summer, some of us are still afraid to attend, and so it has been decided that the rehearsals will also be streamed on Zoom. I have hesitated – but singing in the choir is like the breath of life to me, and so I shall take the risk. It’s hard enough that several members have left recently. Two have moved away from Jerusalem, one – who lives in a retirement home where the management has a stringent “non-mingling” lockdown policy – has decided to “take a break” till all this is over, and one has been struggling with recurrent laryngitis and has decided to leave, with the hope that one day, she will be able to return. One of our other members described it as “tearing bits off our mutual heart” and that’s how it feels. We did discuss pausing all activity “for the duration” (as they used to say in World War 2), but we all fear that once we stop, we may never get it going again.

So, I will take the risk and go to the live meetings – wearing a mask and keeping my distance and hoping that everyone else does likewise.

********

I have already mentioned some of the new skills I have been forced to acquire since the start of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Two more opportunities presented themselves earlier this month. First of all, whilst researching ways to help my 93-year-old father overcome difficulties with his computer, being unable to visit him myself due to the lockdown, I discovered that Windows 10 contains software which enables users to ask for, or extend, assistance from afar, by giving or taking temporary remote control over the affected computer. If you don’t believe me, try clicking on the Start icon in the bottom left hand corner of the computer, go to Windows Accessories and thence, to Quick Assist. Or just type Quick Assist in the search box next to the Start icon. Then follow the instructions.
Unfortunately, my Dad hasn’t yet allowed me to try this out on his computer.

At one point, I lost internet connectivity for a couple of days due to what the cable company which provides my internet infrastructure called “a regional problem”. They had no idea, they said, how long it would take to fix the problem, although they had technicians in situ working on repairs. That was all very well, but I had a Zoom meeting with my choir set for that evening. And then I remembered Dor, our musical director and conductor, suggesting to someone else who was experiencing problems from an unstable internet connection, that they use their mobile phone as a modem. So I thought, why not give it a try (although I had no idea how). Usually when I am at home, if I want to use my mobile phone to surf the internet, I use the computer’s Wi-Fi, so as not to eat into my cellular internet package, which I prefer to save for when I am out and about. But these were desperate times. I unplugged the modem/router from my computer, connected the cell-phone to one of the USB ports and, following the instructions on my phone, was able to connect the computer to the phone’s cellular internet service (which is provided by a different company). I daresay for many of you, more tech-savvy than I, this sounds like child’s play, but for me, it was like discovering Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (lol).

********

On Friday, October 9th, the eve of Simchat Torah, Rabbi David Refael ben Ami Feinshil, died of COVID-19. He was just 70 years old. In his youth, before he “found religion”, he was better known as the singer, Dedi ben Ami. I first heard of his death a couple of days later when the radio started playing one of his most famous songs (from when he had already become religious, and devoted himself to collecting the songs of the Breslov Hassidim, to which he belonged). It was a song I first heard thirty years ago, during the First Gulf War, crouched one night in my sealed room, as Saddam Hussein was making good his threat to rain down Scud missiles on Israel. The song is an adaptation of one of the sayings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov:

“Thus says Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: It is forbidden to despair. And even if hard times come, one must only rejoice.”

In my sealed room, that song gave me comfort. Listening to it again, earlier this month, I thought to myself that no song could be more suited to the present situation.


And I wept.

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The Corona Chronicles – Mad As Hell

When I was a child, one of my favourite radio shows was the BBC’s “Just a Minute” – in which participants were given a topic on which they then had to speak for one minute, without hesitation, repetition or deviation. Occasionally, they would also have to conform to special rules. For example, in a given round, a particular word might be banned – such as “is” or “very”.

Of late, I have found myself wondering what would happen if we were to apply this rule to everyday conversation. How would an ordinary chat between two neighbours meeting at the corner grocery sound, if the words “coronavirus”, “COVID-19” and “social distancing” were to be banned? Or, should it prove impossible to avoid completely any mention of these words, could the current pandemic be discussed “without hesitation, repetition or deviation”?

Somehow, I doubt it.

While we are on the subject of the pandemic – I bet I am not the only one to feel total despair at the inability of our “leaders” to actually lead. Decisions seem to be made on the basis of what can be done without offending this or that coalition partner. The Opposition insists on allowing anti-Netanyahu demonstrations to take place, even though this would involve mass gatherings consisting of hundreds, if not thousands, of participants. At the same time, they demand that synagogues and yeshivot (Jewish religious academies) remain closed to prevent the spread of infection, which is particularly high among close-knit ultra-Orthodox communities. The “experts” came up with the idea of quarantining “Red Cities” (in which the number of infected is highest), but that was opposed by the ultra-Orthodox Knesset members, because so many majority Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) towns fell into that category, and so the Government put us all into lockdown over the High Holy Days, so that the Haredim wouldn’t feel discriminated against. That lockdown was widely ignored by the latter, however – some of whose leaders “recommended” that their flock adhere as far as possible to social distancing rules and not hold hands while dancing round the Torah on Simchat Torah, or kiss the Torah scrolls, but refrained from issuing a clear-cut ruling to that effect. After the festivals, we saw on the news and social media just how seriously (not) the rank-and-file took those “recommendations”!

Moreover, now that the High Holy Days and festivals have passed and the government and “Corona Cabinet” are discussing partially opening up the country again, using the “Red Cities” model, the ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset are “negotiating” (ie. resorting to blackmail) for their support for this model in return for allowing the yeshivot to re-open immediately (many of these, of course, being in the “Red Cities”).

Meanwhile, the anti-Netanyahu demonstrators also continue openly to defy the lockdown measures. While they adhered, for the most part, to the sanction against travelling more than 1000 metres from one’s place of residence, they held mass gatherings where the participants did not observe the 2-metre distancing rule and many did not wear masks or wore them on their chins.

In addition, each day brings a new “scoop” about this or that Cabinet Minister, high-ranking army or police officer, or other “social influencer” breaking quarantine restrictions, even to the extent of confirmed COVID-19 carriers taking part in family or other gatherings outside their homes.

It is no wonder then, that ordinary people – those who are facing bankruptcy because they cannot earn a living – are choosing to open their businesses regardless, even at the cost of being heavily fined. They are angry, and who can blame them? Many commentators have attributed this to a loss of hope. During the “First Wave” of the pandemic, people were ready to endure hardship and weeks of lockdown, if only they could see a light at the end of the tunnel. If they knew there was an exit strategy. But instead, every such plan that is announced, is shot down by special interest groups before it has even got off the ground.

It makes me so angry, I could scream. Or perhaps I should adopt Howard Beale’s iconic rant, because I am, indeed, as mad as hell:



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The Corona Chronicles – Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Those of you who follow this blog know how much I enjoy touring the country and taking  part in archaeological field-trips and nature rambles organized by Yad Yitzchak Ben Zvi, many of which I have described over the past few years. It has been hard having to do without them, during the past six months of lockdown or partial lockdown. So you can imagine my joy when activities started up again, albeit in a limited format and subject to strict Social Distancing restrictions.

On Friday, August 28th, masked, armed with bottles of hand sanitizer, and equipped with mini walkie-talkies (I don’t know how else to describe them) so that we could adhere to the two-metre social distancing rule, yet still be able to hear our guide, we set out on a tour of the archaeological excavations under the Old City of Jerusalem police station, popularly known by its Ottoman Turkish name, the Kishleh.

We had the good fortune to be guided on this tour by Amit Re’em, the archaeologist in charge of the excavation.

Entrance is through the Museum of the History of Jerusalem, housed in the Citadel (anachronistically known as the Tower of David):

In fact, in King David’s time, Jerusalem had not spread so much to the west of what is now known as the Ophel, and the Temple Mount. That happened later. How much later, we do not know exactly, but excavations under the Kishleh have unearthed foundations dating back to the First Temple period, believed to be part of King Hezekiah’s fortifications (8th century BCE).

In fact, one of the beauties of the site is that you can see the layers of history – the walls of the Ottoman lock-up, later used by the British Mandatory authorities to imprison Jewish underground fighters, sitting on top of a Herodian wall, which in turn is built upon earlier Hasmonean fortifications, and beneath that, the original First Temple period defensive wall.

When you first enter the Citadel, you find yourself looking down on an impressive courtyard, where, in happier times (i.e. when not plagued by COVID-19), the Museum offers son-et-lumière presentations, narrating the three thousand year history of Jerusalem – as well as concerts.

Amit led us up to a roof overlooking today’s Old City police station, from where there is a panoramic view of Jerusalem and the surrounding hills:

From there, a heavy, locked door led us to an underground world, where Amit and his team of archaeologists are still stripping away the layers of history to lay bare the secrets of what was once Herod’s palace and was later the official Jerusalem residence of the Roman Procurator of Judaea (his main palace being in Caesarea).

Amongst the things we saw, close to the entrance, on the upper level where the British Mandatory authorities had housed prisoners from the Jewish underground, was a map of Greater Israel (ie. the whole of the original British Mandate for Palestine, which included Transjordan), drawn on the wall by a prisoner belonging to Etzel (known to the British as the Irgun). I have no pictures of this, for reasons which will be explained later.

Further down were dye-vats, dating back to the Crusader era.  We know from the writings of the mediaeval Jewish traveller, Benjamin of Tudela,  of Jews employed in the occupation of dyeing, living near the palace of the Crusader rulers of Jerusalem and these two huge basins, still stained with red dye, confirm his words.

Descending still further into the bowels of the earth, we encountered the remains of Herodian walls built atop the foundations of Hasmonean-era fortifications.  Herod destroyed the walls built by his predecessors rather than use them as the foundations for his own edifices, in order to send a clear message to his subjects. The Hasmoneans are gone, it is Herod who is your master now. (My readers will, no doubt, recall, that Herod was a usurper who came to power with the help of the Romans and who murdered most of the remaining Hasmonean royal family.)

After we emerged once more into the sunlight and came out of the Citadel, Amit showed us the entrance to a tunnel through which, during the Mandate, Jewish underground fighters attempted to smuggle explosives to blow up part of the wall of the Kishleh lock-up and free Jewish prisoners.
The attempt was unsuccessful.

Now, you may be wondering why today’s virtual tour was so short (even taking into account that it was only a half-day tour) and included so few pictures. The answer is, alas, that while I was still engaged in writing this post (which I started about three weeks ago), my computer suffered a catastrophic failure which resulted in my having to take it in to be repaired (it was – and is – still under warranty). The damage proved to be just about as bad as could be – Murphy’s Law in spades. The hard disk had to be replaced and I lost almost all of my photos from the last three months which had not yet been backed up. Fortunately, I had already uploaded some to WordPress and others still remained on my camera. But those that I took on my mobile phone, from which they were erased as soon as I had transferred them to the computer, were lost 😦  .

Moreover, the timing of this disaster could not have been worse, as the COVID-19 infection rate spiralled out of control and the government, fearing an even greater spike over the High Holy Days, announced a two-week lockdown (later increased to three weeks), similar in character to the one we endured at Pessach (Passover), to take effect from Friday September 18th, the eve of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) until after Succot (Tabernacles).  When I took my computer in to the lab, I was told that under the circumstances – the impending lockdown coupled with the rapidly approaching holy days – they could not guarantee when I would get it back and I faced the prospect of spending the festival alone, and unable even to have resource to Zoom. I suspect that for that reason, they didn’t really try to retrieve the data on the corrupted hard disk but merely replaced it with a new one. At all events, I got my computer back the day before Rosh Hashana and since then, have been attempting to retrieve what I can from the Cloud and other places.

Now, to the lockdown. This morning, the government announced a further tightening of restrictions. I should explain that the Rosh Hashana lockdown was full of holes, with exceptions for synagogue services in a limited format and also to allow for the continuation of demonstrations against the government. But the anti-Netanyahu demonstrators, who claimed that the lockdown was all a ploy to put a stop to the demonstrations, ignored the social distancing rules, including the obligation to wear face-masks, tore down police barriers designed to keep the demonstrators in small groups (because in a pandemic, you do NOT want thousands of people all crammed together cheek by jowl, shouting and screaming in unison and filling the air with possibly infected droplets of saliva) and, while law-abiding citizens were huddled together in their homes, prevented from joining family members (other than those who lived with them) for the traditional festival meals, they held a “protest meal” outside the Prime Minister’s home, in complete contempt of all the social distancing rules.

The daily new infections count has soared, coming close on some days to 7000 new cases. Everyone is blaming everyone else. The religiously observant are angry at the restrictions imposed on gatherings for prayer when thousands of demonstrators were allowed to gather with impunity, the demonstrators claim that there isn’t a single documented case of anyone getting infected at a demonstration (this, after some of their organizers instructed them to leave their mobile phones at home so that their presence at demonstrations could not be traced – in other words, deliberately to impede the epidemiological research), owners of private businesses which do not involve contact with the public and who are on the verge of bankruptcy already since the first lockdown cannot understand why they are being “punished” for the sake of “equal treatment for everyone”, many people are claiming that the blanket lockdown is because the government is unable to stand up to all the different pressure groups demanding exceptions and finds it easier to impose a complete lockdown rather than explain why this branch of the economy is closed and that one is not…..

And all this on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the day when we are supposed to look within ourselves and pray for forgiveness for our own sins, but also for those of the community as a whole. That is why we say: “Our Father, our King, we have sinned before thee.”  That is why a basic tenet of Judaism is כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה (Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh – All the community of Israel are responsible for one another). But that sense of community seems to be gone. If it were there, we would all be scrupulously observing the social distancing rules, to protect one another. If it were there, we would be examining our own failures instead of blaming everybody else.

From the very start of this pandemic, I have said that God has sent it to test us. Not just the Jewish people, but all of humanity. Can we put aside our differences and work together to overcome this modern-day plague?
It seems we cannot.

Who is left for us to turn to?
I can only answer with the prayer which runs like a thread throughout the Yom Kippur services.

אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ
חָנֵּנוּ וַעֲנֵנוּ
כִּי אֵין בָּנוּ מַעֲשִׂים.

עֲשֵׂה עִמָּנוּ צְדָקָה וָחֶסֶד
וְהושִׁיעֵנוּ.

Our Father, our King, be thou gracious unto us and answer us; for lo! we are destitute of meritorious deeds; deal thou with us in charity and loving-kindness, and save us.

And because I cannot bring myself to end on a note of despair, I will leave you with the traditional Jewish greeting for Yom Kippur:

May you be signed and sealed in the book of life.
 G’mar Chatima Tova

גְּמַר חֲתִימָה טוֹבָה

Posted in Archaeology, Daily Life, News, Politics, Religion, Tourism, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

The Corona Chronicles – A Tiny Taste of Freedom (or: How to Go Shopping and Stay Sane)

I have mentioned in the past – more than once – how I hate shopping.  I know quite a few people for whom a morning spent in an upmarket shopping mall is their dream of heaven 😉  but I am not one of those people. I get tired and bored very easily, progressing from shop to shop and usually, getting all hot and bothered as I try things on, never completely satisfied with any of them.

It took a pandemic, and the ensuing lockdown, to change my mind.

Mind you, I don’t say I would have gone on last week’s shopping expedition if I had not been faced with the choice of using up all the points on a gift-card from my former place of work by the 1st of September, or losing them all, or if my newfound enthusiasm for bakery had not required me to stock up on cake tins, measuring cups, cookie-cutters and various other items of kitchen paraphernalia for which I had previously had little or no need.

Quite apart from my dislike of shopping, I am still afraid to go out anywhere where I am likely to come into close quarters with other people in any significant number, in view of the high rate of infection during this Second Wave of the Chinese Coronavirus and the rather cavalier attitude of  the general public towards the Social Distancing rules. But I had money that I had to spend and things that I had to buy. The gift-card was not one which can be utilised on-line and I was therefore going to have to take the plunge.
Clearly, a Plan of Action was required.

First of all, I made a list of what I needed/wanted to buy. Then, I made a list of all the shops where this particular gift card is accepted, cross-referencing the two lists.

The next step was to decide which shopping mall to favour with my patronage.  I ruled out the Malcha Shopping Mall, the country’s largest, precisely because of its size and popularity, and the likelihood of its being crowded.
My two favourite malls in Jerusalem are the Hadar Mall, in the Talpiot neighbourhood, and the Mamilla Mall, opposite the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. I know I have mentioned the latter before. It is extremely upmarket (ie. expensive) but the shops I had marked off as suitable for my requirements belong to retail chains which have branches in all  of the major shopping malls and their prices are the same in all of them. Mamilla had the added advantage of being an open air mall and, as we are constantly being told, there is less chance of being infected with COVID-19 in the open air.

Mamilla it was then.
I went by taxi as I still dare not risk travelling by public transport.  And as soon as I entered the avenue, lined on both sides by shops and restaurants, I knew I had made the right choice.  Mamilla is more than a shopping mall. It is also an outdoor art gallery with regularly changing displays of sculpture, all of which is for sale. Usually, there is a single theme running through each exhibition of artwork. Very often, this theme is somehow connected with music – as it was this time:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After so many weeks cooped up indoors, it was like being on holiday. There were even street musicians – such as these two enterprising young boys, who brought a touch of the exotic to a Jerusalem street, with an unusual combination of Spanish guitar and Azerbaijani kamancha,  to remind Israelis trapped by lockdown restrictions and travel bans, of foreign skies and distant horizons.

 

 

Sunshine, fresh air, art and music – what more could one ask?

Oh, of course! The shopping! I almost forgot…

Well, I was very methodical about it. First stop, SuperPharm – the only place where anyone bothered to take my temperature at the entrance – to stock up on essential toiletries, in anticipation of another possible lockdown.

Next, to American Eagle Outfitters. Having already checked out their online catalogue and decided exactly what I wanted, I was able to wrap this up fairly quickly. Of course, navigating the changing rooms without touching anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary proved a trifle awkward. Well, impossible, to be quite frank. Fortunately (and surprisingly), the very first outfit I tried on proved to be the right size and a perfect fit. I can’t remember when I last made such a speedy decision about clothes.
Queueing at the checkout point took longer, however and was fraught with anxiety because other people waiting in line seemed to be unaware of the purpose of those painstakingly marked-out circles on the floor, two metres apart, and many of them seemed to think that facemasks were designed to be worn low on the chin, rather than over the nose and mouth! Fortunately, a polite remark did not induce the kind of explosive reaction I have been reading about in American media (or, indeed, that one tends to expect, perhaps unfairly, from Israelis).

Having disposed of half the points on my gift-card, I proceeded to the next shop on my list – Fox Home, to purchase various items of kitchenware.  Ordinarily, I would not have considered much glamour to attach to the acquisition of such mundane items, but Fox Home has some really nice stuff,  colourful and guaranteed to make cooking a pleasure. Goodness! I’m beginning to sound like an advert, aren’t I?  No, Fox Home is not paying me to endorse their products.  Perhaps I should ask them to do so  😉 .
Anyway, besides the cake tins, cookie-cutters and measuring cups previously mentioned, I came away from there with a new bread bin, a set of brightly coloured tea-towels, and a couple of other things which I had never before imagined I would need.  Alas, I forgot to buy a new flower-shaped sponge in their bathroom section  😦  .

I assumed that by now, I had more than used up the points on my gift-card, but I had not taken into account the fact that almost every item in the shop was being sold at a 30 – 40% discount. As a result, I still had about 100 shekels to spare. I hadn’t intended to buy any more books at present as I already have about fifty as yet unread waiting on my library/study shelves – both in Hebrew and English.  But a couple more couldn’t do any harm, and I remembered there was a branch of Steimatzky (Israel’s largest bookshop chain) in Mamilla.
Except that there wasn’t. I walked the entire length of the mall but it was not there!

Oh, well! (I thought to myself). I can easily go into town next week and spend the last few shekels (as you can see, this shopping thing was beginning to grow on me, ha ha ha).  Holding that thought, I decided to head for home.

A couple of days later, I thought I would just check on-line to see exactly how much money was left on the gift-card. Imagine my consternation when I discovered that, in addition to the 102 shekels remaining from my foray to Mamilla,  a further 385 NIS had been added to the card (last year’s Rosh Hashana gift for which, until now, there had been no room on the card)!

So now, I really have no choice but to force myself to make a trip next week to the Hadar Shopping Mall, to spend the rest of the money.

It’s a hard life…

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The Corona Chronicles – The Anniversary Waltz

Today is a special day. It’s the 46th anniversary of my aliyah (ascent) to Israel  – aliyah being the term we use for immigration to Israel. The opposite term, the one we use for emigration from Israel, is yerida (descent).

The other anniversary I am celebrating today is the 14th anniversary of this blog!
It seems incredible, but I have been blogging for fourteen years!!! Looking back on my early posts, I see that they were highly political in nature – and today’s post will also be more political than has been my custom lately.

For some weeks now, there has been considerable unrest throughout the country, manifesting itself in demonstrations mostly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but in other towns also. Many of the demonstrators have been protesting about the economic hardship ensuing from the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – and, believe me, it is hard not to sympathise with them.

But there is another kind of demonstrator, those who are motivated solely by a desire to oust the Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. These people, known here as the Black Flag movement, have been agitating against the Prime Minister (allegedly because he has been indicted for corruption, but the trial has not yet taken place) since long before the Coronavirus Crisis. This movement is a development of the movement which initiated weekly demonstrations outside the private home of the Attorney-General, demanding that he press charges against the PM, and further demanding that the so-called evidence against the PM be interpreted and presented in such a way as to invoke the most serious charges possible. In other words, they demanded not only that the Prime Minister be indicted, but that they themselves should dictate the wording of the indictment!

The Left, having failed to oust the right-wing Likud government under the leadership of Netanyahu, realising that Netanyahu is the glue who holds the right-wing coalition together, have set their sights on removing that glue. Netanyahu has led the country for the past 11 years, winning in election after election. That is how our democracy works – but the Left claims that an eleven-year tenure under the leadership of one man – even though he has been democratically elected – is a danger to democracy. They have failed, again and again, to unseat him by democratic means (ie. through the ballot box) and now hope to unseat him by any other means possible. We have had three elections over the past year, and even with corruption charges hanging over his head, they failed to unseat him. The last round of elections was held days after he was indicted.  After the elections, they petitioned the Supreme Court for a ruling that a person who had been indicted, even if his trial had not yet taken place, could not be allowed to form a government. The Supreme Court, while making a few remarks about the moral stain, was unable to find a legal impediment to Netanyahu’s formation of a coalition government. STILL the Black Flag movement is keeping up the pressure. Now, they are jumping on board the bandwagon of those protesters who are (rightly) dissatisfied with the government’s mishandling of the Coronavirus Crisis.

Let me be clear. The government has mismanaged the crisis. I would go so far as to say grossly mismanaged it.  After presenting a plan for gradually easing lockdown  restrictions, and then waiting after each stage to see the effect on the spread of the disease, before proceeding to the next stage, they allowed themselves to be pressured by owners of all kinds of businesses, into almost abandoning the step-by-step strategy, drastically shortening the intervals between each stage and opening up the economy almost completely, far too soon – with the result that we had hardly left the First Wave of the pandemic behind us, before the Second Wave took hold.  The promised economic incentives don’t seem to have materialised – at least not for everyone to whom they were promised. There still doesn’t seem to be a long-term strategy for managing the pandemic without destroying the economy. We do now have a single person tasked with overall management of the pandemic, but it’s early days yet to see if this makes any difference.
In the meantime, we have a government and it seems to me that letting them get on with the business for which the coalition was formed (assuming they can stop squabbling over whether we need a one-year emergency budget or a two-year “long-term-strategy” budget) is a far better idea than holding elections again, for the fourth time within a year!

Since I am in Rant Mode, I would like to make plain that I have nothing but anger and contempt for the behaviour of some people on the extreme Right, as well – who have taken it upon themselves to physically attack anti-Netanyahu demonstrators, with stones and glass bottles. Some anti-Netanyahu demonstrators were even stabbed.  These thugs  have been condemned across the political spectrum – not that this has prevented the Left from accusing Netanyahu of inciting the attacks (which is, of course, nonsense).

I could go on and on, but it just makes me sick at  heart, especially when I remember that tomorrow is Tisha b’Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both the First and Second Temples – and that our Sages have stated that the reason for the fall of the Second Temple was Causeless Hatred between Jews.

There is plenty of Causeless Hatred in Israel today, and it is coming from both Left and Right.  This is not something for which we can blame the government. This is something which is within the control of each and every one of us.  If we cannot rein it in, then – for the first time in my 46 years here, which have seen wars, terrorist attacks and rampant inflation – I fear for our future.

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The Corona Chronicles – Looking For A Place To Vent

How much longer is this going to go on? First of all, we endured weeks – nay, months – of lockdown. Then the government began slowly (but, evidently, not slowly enough, as has now become clear) to ease up the restrictions designed to prevent the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, because of the too-rapid return to “normal”, as well as the widespread disregard by far too many people of the remaining social distancing restrictions, especially the requirement to wear face masks which cover the nose and mouth – including government ministers and even police officers, who are supposed to be enforcing the restrictions! – the daily increment to the number of COVID-19 carriers, as well as the numbers of actively sick, is rising by leaps and bounds. The economic situation is dire and businesses which were already in difficulty before the pandemic and which needed only a little push to send them over the edge, are facing possible bankruptcy.

In search of somewhere to vent my frustration, I find myself wasting more and more  time in fruitless arguments on Facebook, or on YouTube, merely as a way to let off steam!

As a result, I have found myself branded a “libtard” by followers of The Daily Wire and of Prager University’s YouTube channel, because I pointed out that people who identify as transgender might be suffering from chromosomal or hormonal anomalies, or have been born “intersex”. But when, in the course of a heated discussion on Facebook, I enquired what percentage of people identifying as transgender had actually been diagnosed with such an anomaly, I found myself abused as “a bigot”, because I refused to accept the subjective feelings of “transgender” people as sufficient cause to accept biological males as females or biological females as men and because I adhere to the belief that biology does determine gender. Note, I said Biology – not Anatomy.

Likewise, I have managed to arouse the wrath of both the “Pro-Choice” and the “Pro-Life” lobbies on the question of abortion, as I do not agree fully with either side.

And let’s not even get into the race riots in the United States!

However, unlike so many who cravenly cave to the bullying of the “Cancel Culture”, issuing pathetic apologies for things they might have said or done ten or twenty years ago, humbly begging for forgiveness in a manner reminiscent of the show trials of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, I will not grovel before bullies from either the Right or the Left. I will continue to think for myself, and will not be dictated to by anyone, “conservative” or “liberal”.

As long as I am managing to anger both sides, I feel I must have found the Golden Mean 😉 .

And now, having got that off my chest, I am going to relax on a cruise to the Greek islands – courtesy of YouTube 🙂 .

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The Corona Chronicles – The Second Wave

With 288 new cases over the past 24 hours, it seems safe to say that the expected “Second Wave”  has arrived.  In spite of that, the government continues to loosen the restrictions on movement and assembly. The railway is to be opened again, and cultural performances (theatre, etc.) are to be permitted although with an audience of no more than 250 (500, with a special dispensation from the Ministry of Health). I have tickets for the opera in two weeks time, but that just isn’t going to happen. Many theatres, concert halls and places of entertainment have said that opening to only partial capacity is simply not economically viable. I would say this is certainly true of the opera which is, in any case, one of the most expensive forms of entertainment there is. The auditorium of the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Centre, where the operas are staged, seats 1,644 when full – and it usually is full. I just checked their website and it says there that they are excited to be back and are currently working on a new performance schedule. However, I doubt that they will be ready for a full-scale performance in just a fortnight.

The death toll in Israel from COVID – 19 stands at 303. That includes a young man of 26 who died a few days ago – a man with no pre-existing medical conditions, who had previously been treated for the virus and was believed to have recovered. Unfortunately, the virus caused a rare complication leading to an inflammatory disease of the heart muscle which proved fatal.   It is frightening that there is still so much we don’t know about the coronavirus and the complications it can cause, even when the actual symptoms are apparently mild.

On Sunday, we resumed choir practice – sort of.  Instead of meeting twice a week, all together, those of us who were ready to risk meeting at all (about 18, out of 25) were divided up into groups, each group to meet once a week with the conductor. Those of us who preferred to meet out of doors, met on Sunday and the rest met indoors yesterday. There should have been nine of us with the conductor, but in the event, we were only seven – and I was the only soprano. Nevertheless, it was good to sing together with other voices after such a long hiatus.

As far as my field-trips with Yad Ben Zvi go, we were recently notified that they will be resumed next month (for the shorter, half-day trips), while for those of us who prefer to finish the course of archaeological field-trips (of which there are two left), these will take place in September.  It’s not an easy decision to make. It can be pretty hot in September – and these full-day trips involve a considerable amount of travel by coach with all the problems of social distancing and face-masks involved.  In addition to which, there is no telling whether the Second Wave will have passed by then, or got worse, or whether there will be a Third Wave.

As I was writing this post, news came in of the death of World War 2 icon Dame Vera Lynn, the “Sweetheart of the Forces”. I don’t know why this affected me so badly, but I sat and cried for an hour, then put on a playlist of her songs on YouTube – and cried some more. I was born quite a while after the war,  but she’s tied up in my mind with so many things I can’t even begin to express. And, of course, for many who did not know her in her heyday, she will now always be associated with the COVID -19 pandemic, the enforced social distancing and the longing that one day, hopefully not too far away, “We’ll Meet Again”.

I can do no better than to leave you with this, her signature song:

 

 

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The Corona Chronicles – We’re Not Yet Out Of The Woods

I hate it when people say “I told you so” but – I told you so.

A month since the government gradually started to ease the lockdown restrictions here in Israel, and a fortnight after they rashly allowed schools to reopen, the number of new COVID – 19 cases is climbing again. At the weekend, the graph spiked at 115 new cases in a single day. Yesterday, there were 98 new cases. Most of the new cases are centred on schools in the Jerusalem area (but not only) – and one school in particular. And this is attributable to the disdain shown by staff and students for the conditions set down by the government for the reopening of schools.

But the truth must be told. Since the relaxation of restrictions, there has been a widespread slackening off of “Corona Discipline”, not only amongst the general public, but also by ministers and parliamentarians. At the extended Shavuot weekend, the media were full of news items about how Israelis were celebrating “the end of the pandemic”, even though they had all been warned that it was not over and that a “Second Wave” was almost certain to strike before the end of the summer. People flocked to the parks and beaches, without face masks and without observing the social distancing rules which were still in effect. Even before that, pubs and nightclubs, which had been allowed to open as long as they observed certain rules, did not enforce them (claiming that they could not do so), and even a walk down the street to go shopping exposed the law-abiding citizen to dozens of others who were wearing their masks on their chins rather than over their noses and mouths!

The government says, however, that it is too soon to be sure if this is, indeed, the expected “Second Wave” or merely a localised outbreak and has therefore decided to wait and see, rather than re-impose restrictions which have already been lifted. Fortunately, though, they have at least reconsidered a further easing of restrictions which had been planned for the coming days.

Be that as it may, Yours Truly decided not to take unnecessary risks and, instead of going to my first singing lesson in three months, decided to take up my vocal coach’s offer of a lesson via Zoom.

Which, of course, brings me to my choir. We had a meeting on Sunday – also via Zoom – to discuss when, and in what format, we can venture to start meeting again in person for rehearsals, given the opinion of several experts that choral singing is one of the activities most likely to spread the virus. We have not yet reached a conclusion. Yours Truly was not the only one to think we should wait to see what happens with this latest outbreak of the disease.

It occurs to me that it’s been a while since I taught my non-Hebrew-speaking readers any new Hebrew words, so I shall make up for it now with a whole slew of them.  First of all, the Hebrew word for virus (not the kind that gets into your computer) is negif  (נגיף) – with the accent on the second syllable. COVID – 19 is simply called negif hacorona.  I have heard several suggestions for a proper Hebrew name for the virus, based on the Hebrew words for various kinds of crown or coronet, but so far, the Academy of the Hebrew Language  has not seen fit to adopt any of them.

Next up – Social Distancing is richuk chevrati (ריחוק חברתי), with the accent on the last syllable in each word. “Ch” is pronounced as something between Johann Sebastian Bach (of course, I would make the musical connection 😉 ) and  the Spanish name Juan. The expression comes from the same roots as rachok (רחוק), meaning “far” and chevra (חברה), meaning “society” or “company”.

Last, but not least, we have just celebrated Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), when it is customary to eat lots of milk products – and what would Shavuot be without Cheesecake (Ougat Gvina – עוגת גבינה), from the words Ouga (cake) and Gvina (cheese)?
Since my cheesecake turned out spectacularly well, I can’t possibly not  share the recipe with you.

 

SHIMONA’S CHEESECAKE

INGREDIENTS

1 tbsp kosher gelatine powder
125 ml (half a cup) boiling water
250 grams Petit Beurre/digestive biscuits
100 grams unsalted butter
750 grams soft white cream cheese (9% fat)
150 grams (2 thirds of a  cup) sugar plus 2 tbsp sugar
250 ml whipping cream (32% or 38% fat)
Juice of half a lemon (optional)
A handful of raisins and/or cranberries (also optional)

METHOD

1. Melt the gelatine in half a cup of boiling water and set aside to cool.
2. Crush the biscuits in a food processor or blender.
3. Melt the butter in small saucepan or a microwave till it turns to liquid, pour over the biscuits and mix well.
4. Pour the biscuit crumb and butter mixture into a round cake mould (26 or 28 cm diameter).
5. Mix the cream cheese with 150 grams of sugar.
6. Whip up the whipping cream together with 2 tbsp of sugar until it is stiff and then fold it into the cheese mixture.
7. Add the gelatine mixture which should have now cooled down.
8. At this point, you can add the lemon juice, but, as I said, it’s optional. You also have the option now to toss in a handful of raisins and/or cranberries into the cream-cheese mixture.
9. Pour the cream-cheese mixture over the biscuit crumb mixture.
10. Cover the whole with cling-wrap and refrigerate for several hours until the cake “sets”.

 

 

 

 

Bon appetit – or, as we say in Hebrew, b’te-avon (בתיאבון).

 

 

 

Posted in Cuisine, Daily Life, Modern Living, News, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments