Some Random Thoughts On The Race To The White House

It is not my habit to write about the internal politics of other countries, but, since the President of the United States is so often described as “The Leader of the Free World” (even  those Presidents in whom qualities of leadership have been conspicuously lacking – and I shall name no names), and since I can’t recall another election campaign so cut-throat in nature, I shall make an exception in this case.

Quite apart from the rather obvious comparison to “House of Cards” – or possibly, to “The Game of Thrones” – what has struck me most in this race between two of the worst contenders America has seen in many a long year (and certainly within my adult memory), is the fact that other than cutting down the other side, neither candidate seems to have very much to offer. It has been a campaign of slogans rather than substance.
And I have to say, some of those slogans have me quite baffled.

Take this one, for example: “Let’s Make America Great Again”.
What does that mean, exactly?

I posed precisely that question on my Facebook page and received the swift response from a Clinton supporter: “America is great already”.

An answer as meaningless as the original slogan.

How does one measure a nation’s greatness?  By its military might? The strength of its social fabric? Its wealth? Its determination to uphold its ideals? Its contribution to science? To the arts? To humanity in general?

The aforementioned Clinton supporter wrote: “I would say we have the most versatile culture in the world – we are a culture that regularly produces Nobel laureates and Olympic medalists; Americans are (or have been) behind most great advances in science and technology since WW1 or even before. America pioneered the concept of international law and global democracy with the League of Nations and the War Crimes court. At the heart of America’s greatness is the freedom of expression, which, while not an American invention, is still something that the American culture has adopted as sacred.”

For this Bostonian, then, America’s greatness lies in the versatility of her culture, her sporting prowess, her pre-eminence in science and technology.

Another of my friends, however, a New Yorker who supports Trump, sees America’s greatness in her military and industrial strength. She writes: “When an American soldier walked down the street anywhere in the world after WWII and Korea, they were respected. When we had factories in our country that were making American products, rather than send all our factories to other countries who can do it cheaper. Go along the whole of the North East on the train or a bus. See all the factories that are sitting there in ruins.”

A third friend, born in the United States (I know not where, precisely), but now living in Israel, came up with a more unusual definition: “A country, any country, is great when its citizens are proud of their country, are proud to be a part of that country’s process, and are proud to represent their country.”
I have to admit, I was tempted to adopt his suggestion. It certainly has its merits. But after I stopped and considered it more deeply, I realised that that statement could also have defined Nazi Germany!

I pressed my friends further. What about morality?

It was then that my Bostonian friend finally came up with the Jewish point-of-view (which was, in fact, what I had been waiting for).
“Judaism judges the greatness of society by how its laws treat the lowest societal rungs – the poor, the orphans, the immigrants and strangers. “
Well – almost. I would say that Judaism judges a society’s greatness not merely by how its laws treat its weakest members (de jure), but how that society treats the poor, the orphan, the widow and the stranger in deed. It is not so much the letter of the law that counts, as its spirit.

And all at once, I thought of a hymn that we used to sing in school, in England,when I was a young girl,  on Commonwealth Day.
“I Vow To Thee, My Country” was a favourite of both the late Margaret Thatcher, and the late Princess Diana, and was, in fact, sung at both the wedding and the funeral of the latter.


In these changed times, the ultra-nationalist nature of the first verse has aroused controversy in “progressive” circles:

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

Now, those are lyrics that could be encapsulated in the words of another American President – none other than John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

But take a look at the second verse:
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Not jingoistic at all. And the oddest thing is that last line, which strangely parallels the words sung in Jewish synagogues after the Torah reading, as the scrolls are being carried back to the Ark:
It (ie. the Torah) is a tree of life to them that grasp it…its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.”

So for the writer of that hymn, maybe a truly great nation is one based on God’s law, whose ways are ways of gentleness or pleasantness, and all of whose paths are peace?

Is there such a nation anywhere on this earth?

I leave it to you.
What do you think?





Posted in News, Philosophy, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

In England’s Green and Pleasant Land

It’s been five years since my last visit to London, where I was born and grew up. It’s one of those ironies of life that, while I was working, I used to “pop over” to England almost every year, but now that I am retired and with plenty of time on my hands, I have done most of my travelling within Israel.

Be that as it may, this year I decided – almost on the spur of the moment – that the time was ripe for a visit back to the land of my birth.
Actually, now that I come to think of it, nearly all my trips abroad (except for those connected with my choir) have been taken “on the spur of the moment”.

Robert Louis Stevenson famously said: “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” – a saying which has been widely misquoted and even transformed into the fake Buddhist axiom “to journey is better than to arrive”. I cannot say I agree. Foreign travel has become a nightmare in our modern world, what with the stringent security checks made necessary by the rise of (mostly) Islamist terrorism, the discomfort of sitting for several hours in a narrow seat in a metal tube (because, in the cause of increasing profits, airlines continue to cram ever more passengers onto fewer flights) and the short tempers provoked by such conditions. When I tried to use my magnetic card which, supposedly, allows me to pass through a fast track at Passport Control at Ben Gurion Airport, it didn’t work and a message appeared on the screen informing me that my card was out of date. Then, when I landed at Heathrow, the automatic passport scanners failed to read my biometric passport and when I presented it to a flesh-and-blood Immigration official, he looked at it, then at me, then again at the passport, before finally pronouncing: “You’ve changed your hairstyle”.

Duh! “Well, yes!” I admitted. “We ladies like to do that once in a while.”
Was that really the reason the scanner failed to identify me, I wanted to know. He assured me that it was. I had been under the impression that the purpose of biometric passports was to take note of those features which cannot be changed (at least, not without plastic surgery), such as the distance between my earlobes and the corners of my eyes, or the tip of my nose and my chin. Anything else would be, plainly, absurd!

But the worst was yet to come. I attempted to withdraw £200 from an ATM at the airport. The machine duly presented me with a receipt – but no cash! However, on returning to Israel, I found that I had, in fact, been debited for the entire amount. I am still trying to get my money back!

As you can imagine, by the time I reached my hotel, at least two hours later than expected, I was hot, tired and in a very bad temper.

I had heard much about the rise in antisemitism in the UK – as in the whole of Europe – so naturally, I made sure to take with me (and wear, all the time), my Magen David necklace, which I flaunted on every possible occasion, while casually dropping the information that I was Israeli.
I have to say, I did not encounter any negative reactions – whether because  the scare stories were greatly exaggerated or whether because the British are too polite, or whether simply because I exude an attitude of “Don’t mess with me!” In fact, the most helpful of the front-desk staff at the hotel, a trainee from Brazil by the name of Leticia, who went out of her way to make sure I had exactly the room I wanted, seemed delighted to meet someone from Israel.

My hotel was very central, right opposite one of the entrances to Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park. On my first night, I found myself in a well-appointed room, on the first floor, but facing a kind of inner courtyard, so that, while I was away from the noise of the street, the view was a particularly unlovely one of the huge pipes serving the hotel’s air-conditioning system. Since I was planning a longish stay (nine nights), the staff were very helpful in ensuring that I was able to transfer the following day to a room on the fourth floor, overlooking the park.

I had paid for a full English breakfast – worth every penny. It was lavish! I passed over the bacon and ham, of course, but that still left a wide choice of eggs – scrambled, sunny-side up, or poached (if I had expressed a wish for lightly-boiled eggs, I am sure that would have presented no difficulty), fried tomatoes and mushrooms, baked beans, hash browns (not to be confused with hash brownies 😉 ), several varieties of bread and rolls, including toast,  croissants and a delicious fruit bread, English and French cheeses, cakes, muesli and all manner of breakfast cereals, fresh and preserved fruits, at least four different kinds of fruit juice and of jam, yogurt in  various flavours, coffee and – of course – properly brewed English Breakfast Tea!
Ok – no salads and no  smoked or pickled fish, so it still didn’t match the traditional Israeli hotel breakfast, but it was pretty good all the same and made additional meals during the day (other than maybe a sandwich mid-afternoon and tea and malt-loaf in the evening) almost unnecessary.

Besides spending time with my brother, I visit London mainly for two things – the theatre and the parks. On my very first morning in London, the skies were partially cloudy but the sun was shining and it was quite warm (by British standards anyway 😉 ), although rain was forecast for the afternoon. That’s the trouble with British weather – one never knows how to dress, because when they say “possibility of some rain in places”, you can never know which places or how much rain, and so I never dared wear one of the summer dresses I had packed in my (very small) suitcase and I almost always felt the need to be cautious and carry an umbrella.

My brother and I arranged to meet in the Broadwalk of Kensington Gardens, right opposite the hotel. I got there early and so I walked over to the Round Pond and watched children feeding the gulls, ducks, geese and swans.



By the time David arrived, it was starting to cloud over. David has an application on his smartphone that notifies one in how many minutes it is going to start raining. Forewarned, we took refuge in an (outdoor) cafe near the children’s playground (had we waited for the rain to start, we would have been unable to find a table at which to sit), and “splurged” on a cappuchino apiece. We were exposed to the cold wind, but at least the giant sunshades provided some shelter from the drizzle.
And I had the opportunity to photograph some of the many starlings which congregate at the cafe (as I had noticed on my previous visit, five years ago).
At least, I think they were a kind of starling, but I may be wrong and if anyone knows better, please let me know!


When the sun came out again, we strolled through the park, popped over the road to the Royal Albert Hall to see if, by some miracle, they had any tickets available for the Last Night of the Proms the following weekend (they didn’t), then returned to the park to enjoy the lake, the Princess Diana Memorial, and the Serpentine Museum, which has a new and very modernistic, artsy cafe, within whose “walls”, any pigeon would be happy to perch 😉



Halfway through the afternoon, the rain started again – in earnest this time – and we again took refuge in one of the restaurants by the Serpentine, for a bowl of delicious tomato and basil soup, over which we lingered, in the hope the rain would stop. When it failed to do so, we walked back through the park  in the rain to the hotel.  I had forgotten, and needed to be reminded by my brother, but as children, we did quite a lot of walking through the park (not this one, but Regent’s Park) in the rain.


The following day we spent on the South Bank of the Thames – one of my brother’s favourite haunts and it was easy to see why. The River Thames is always fascinating and there is so much to see and do along its banks – much of it free. There was some kind of Africa festival going on, with African films being screened (some of them free, in the South Bank Centre lobby), a Pop Up Food Market featuring African foods (I had no idea they eat so well in Africa! I thought they were always suffering from famine – at least,, that’s what Oxfam was always telling us), and a class in African drumming in one of the spaces in the South Bank Centre.



Along the riverside promenade, we saw these locks affixed to the railings, with names inscribed upon them, but were unable to ascertain their significance. Google was no help. If any Londoners can help solve the mystery, please do so, in the comments section below.


Anchored in the middle of the river, was an installation by the Korean artist Ik-Joong Kang, Floating Dreams, consisting  of 500 individual drawings and illuminated from within – a kind of floating lantern, three storeys high, dedicated to the memory of the millions displaced and parted from their loved ones during the Korean War.


On a barge hard by the opposite bank, there was a giant wooden replica of the City of London skyline as it would have appeared on the eve of the Great Fire of London. Later that evening, it would be set on fire and burned, to mark the 350th anniversary of the conflagration that changed the face of the British capital forever.

The next day, Monday, I took my brother to see the National Theatre’s award-winning production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.  Based on Mark Haddon’s book of the same name, the play tells the story of 15-year old Christopher, a mathematical genius who suffers from Asperger Syndrome.

It is always a challenge to adapt, successfully, a book to the stage or screen, but I thought the way we were shown Christopher’s view of the terrors of the outside world – as a cacophony of loud noises and flashing lights – was brilliantly done.

My favourite of all the London parks is Regent’s Park, which, when I was a child and living nearby, no more than a fifteen minute walk away , served as our “back garden”. There were parts of the park which we favoured more – such as the Rose Garden – and other parts – such as the section we referred to as “Doggy Park”, because dogs were allowed to roam there unleashed – which we enjoyed less, as we were all afraid of dogs. It is a fear we have long since overcome, and so on Tuesday, we spent much of our time in these roads less-travelled. We returned to the Rose Garden, however, where I managed to snap up the last available ticket for that evening’s performance of “Pride and Prejudice” in the Open Air Theatre. I was hesitant at first about doing so, because the skies were still quite overcast and the theatre does not refund money for performances cancelled because of the weather. Instead, they exchange the tickets for another performance (on the basis of ticket availability) and I was due to return home in less than a week. However, I was glad I took the risk, because it did not rain – in fact, it was quite a warm, summery evening – and the adaptation of Jane Austen’s most popular work was most enjoyable. Most of the cast were very young – some, straight out of drama school, I gather – and I didn’t recognise any of the names, but it was great fun.


The Regent’s Park lake. Note the minaret of the Central London Mosque on the far side.


The Regent’s Park lake


The Regent’s Park lake


The Green Man in the Rose Garden


In the Rose Garden, Regent’s Park

The following day dawned bright and sunny and so I was emboldened to leave my umbrella back at the hotel, and enjoy a day at Hampstead Heath and Kenwood, unfettered by excess baggage.

Hampstead Heath is not one of the places we used to frequent as children, but it has since become one of my brother’s favourite outdoor spots.



However, I do remember visits to Kenwood House, once home to the great jurist Lord Mansfield, who, in 1772, delivered a ruling which is widely held to have abolished slavery in Britain.
The state of slavery is of such a nature, that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political; but only positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasion, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory: it is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from a decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged


I was almost unable to believe my good luck when the hot weather continued the next day also and we were able to travel by river to Greenwich.

A word to anyone planning a visit to London: if you have an Oyster Card (a smartcard which enables you to purchase various travelcards and upload them to the card, or to store money for Pay-As-You-Go), not only will you pay a lot less for travelling around London by bus and Underground (the Tube, as it’s known to Londoners), but you will also be entitled to a 33% reduction on some (not all) of the riverboats, which ply the Thames between Westminster and Greenwich (and also, possibly, Kew Gardens, Hampton Court and Richmond). Since not all of the riverboats have a running commentary about the sights you will see along the river, it’s worth asking about that, too. Ours did – not a professional guide, as he took pains to remind us, but simply a riverboat skipper who loves London and who does not get paid for his commentary and explanations, except for any tip you might feel inclined to give (they pass a top hat round, at the end of the trip) for an amusing and informative commentary, delivered in an inimitable Cockney accent and peppered with many in-jokes which you probably have to be British (or, at least, ex-British) to understand. A knowledge of the English language, however good, is not enough.

Along the river are many famous sights such as the London Eye (otherwise known as the Millenium Wheel), St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Obelisk (popularly known as “Cleopatra’s Needle”), the Shard (so called because the observation platform at the top resembles a broken shard of glass), a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s ship The Golden Hinde, in which he circumnavigated the world, Tower Bridge and many others.


The London Eye and the former County Hall


Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament


The Shard


The Tower of London


Passing under Tower Bridge

Disembarking at Greenwich, our first stop was at the Old Royal Naval Hospital and the Old Royal Naval College, before proceeding to the Park, which houses the Old Observatory and the Greenwich Meridian.


View of the Royal Naval Hospital and College from the river

Shortly after arriving, we were fortunate to catch the start of a free, guided tour of these historic buildings. The only parts of the the Royal Naval College open to the public are the Chapel and the Dining Hall, known as the Painted Hall and famous for its painted ceiling – which should not be missed by anyone keen on art, and Baroque art in particular.  At the time of our visit, the Hall was being used for filming a new feature film about Queen Victoria and so we could not go inside but we could see the celebrated ceiling.

From the hill where the Observatory is situated, there is a magnificent view of London, and of the river which made the city what it is.


We also found time for a brief visit to the National Maritime Museum, where there was a fascinating exhibition made up of sounds and pictures screened on a screen shaped like an ocean wave, and all around, videos were screened with ordinary people describing what the sea represented for them.

We spent the whole day at Greenwich, finishing up with supper (the traditional fish and chips) at a riverside pub, and returning to town by the Docklands Light Railway.

And with that, it seemed, the spell of good weather had ended. The following day was cloudy and drizzly and we both had things to do, so I took the opportunity for a little shopping. But even there, London never ceases to surprise and delight. I found myself in one of the city’s most oldest and famous department stores, Selfridges. This huge and, arguably, over-the-top department store, opened in 1909, is famous, among other things, for its window displays, which are always based on a relevant theme. This year, the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s  death, that theme was the plays of William Shakespeare. Not only were the storefront windows devoted to the subject, but inside the store also, fashion displays recreated scenes from “Macbeth”, “Richard III”, “Romeo and Juliet” and other plays. And to complete the picture, the comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” was staged in the store’s own in-house theatre.

The following day the weather was even worse. It poured the whole day, putting paid to our plans to purchase tickets (at an exorbitant price of £40 apiece) to attend the Proms in the Park event that evening. There were tickets available within the Royal Albert Hall for the Last Night of the Proms, for those willing to spend £660 on a box, or, if that was a tad too pricey, a modest £192 in the Stalls, but even these were just a trifle over my budget 😉 so we decided instead, to content ourselves with watching the live TV broadcast on the BBC, up in my hotel room. But before that, for the day’s live entertainment, we went to a matinee performance of The Play That Goes Wrong:

It was so funny that I laughed until the tears ran down my cheeks and David said he almost fell off his seat, he laughed so much.

After that, we walked across Waterloo Bridge in the rain (it was too windy to attempt to open an umbrella) to the South Bank Centre, where we indulged ourselves with coffee and the most delicious carrot cake on the fifth floor terrace of the Royal Festival Hall, as we enjoyed the view of the Thames in the rain, under lowering grey skies.


Back at the hotel, since it was too rainy and windy to join the promenaders in Hyde Park with their picnic hampers, we switched on the TV, took out the remains of the fried chicken, egg and onions, tuna and sweetcorn salad and challah thoughtfully provided the evening before by my brother, and settled down to enjoy the Last Night of the Proms in the comfort of my hotel room.

When it was over, David said he thought he could see the fireworks lighting up the sky over Hyde Park from the window (as I said, my room did overlook the park), but I myself didn’t see anything.

I should mention that I did, in fact, take in a couple of live concerts during my ten days in London – both of them at the delightful Church of St. Martin’s in the Fields, a gem of the late Baroque era. Besides its regular programme of evening concerts, held by candlelight, St. Martin’s also has free lunchtime concerts three times a week. These generally feature young and upcoming musicians at the start of their musical career, and make an ideal midday break if you happen to be shopping in the West End, after which one can have a picnic lunch in Trafalgar Square, just across the road, before popping in for an hour or so to the National Gallery, which is right next door.
I enjoyed two concerts – one on Monday, featuring the Roth Guitar Duo, and another on Friday, with the mezzo-soprano Emma Stannard, who performed, amongst other things, De Falla’s “Seven Spanish Folk Songs”, which I know well, as I am working on it with my own vocal coach and therefore particularly enjoyed.

After each of these concerts, I took my own advice and, after a sandwich lunch in Trafalgar Square, visited the National Gallery. Those of you who may be planning a trip to London, do not fail to put the National Gallery on your “Must See” list. I make it a regular stop every trip – sometimes visiting it more than once. Like many of London’s great museums, entrance is free. There is a box for donations at the entrance, but no-one will press you to make one or look at you askance if you don’t.
Anyway, as I said – I visited the National Gallery after both concerts. In fact, I actually popped in there three times, so impressed was I with the annual “Take One Picture” exhibition. Each year, one picture serves as the inspiration for primary schools’ projects which encompass, not just art, but also geography, social history, textile design, and even current events. This year’s painting was “Mr and Mrs Andrews” by Thomas Gainsborough. Just to give an example, in one school, the children noted that Mr Andrews was carrying a gun. This led to a discussion by the third year students (aged 7-8) as to the possible reasons for him carrying a gun. They assumed, rightly, that it would have been used for hunting and this, in turn, led to a spirited discussion on the rights and wrongs of fox-hunting, in which framework, the children researched the laws of hunting in the British Isles. A recording of the debate could be heard on headphones by exhibition goers. The casual listener will be amazed at the maturity of some of the arguments put forward by these 7 and 8 year olds. Other  children researched fox habitats in the school grounds, drew foxes and prepared fox heads from clay, which they later painted. Thus, Gainsborough’s famous painting served as the kick-off point for studies in art, geography, natural history, law etc.

Another school used the picture in geography lessons, as an aid to understanding map work and symbols. The children, aged 7-8, drew a birds’ eye map of the Andrews estate, carefully marking the churches, hills, fields, rivers, hedgerows, lakes and woods. They then reproduced sections of the map and, using various modelling and marking techniques, they created clay tiles which were glazed in colours which reflected the colours in the painting, and were then fired in a kiln.


The 8-9 year olds at another primary school, in Brighton, felt that Gainsborough’s large canvas reminded them of a flat TV screen, which started them wondering what families of the Andrews’s social class would do in their leisure time in the evenings. They felt that a peepshow was the closest approximation of the modern television and so they set about creating one. Small groups of children created various scenes for inclusion in the peepshow. The school served children of many different backgrounds, and I found myself wondering what might have been the background of those responsible for this particular scene, with its Middle Eastern-style archway, the armed man in the background, and its graffiti on the wall saying “Let’s Win This War”.


I found this exhibition so enthralling – not to mention enlightening – that I actually went back for a third visit, to which, this time, I dragged my brother along.

Another one of the temporary exhibitions which I quite enjoyed on this third visit, was My Back to Nature”, by contemporary artist George Shaw. At first glance, some of the paintings seem to belong to what I call “the Emperor’s New Clothes School of Art” – meaning they are modern rubbish that pseudo-intellectuals will praise to the high heavens because they want to be thought clever. Other were genuinely compelling – beautiful, even.

Image result for national gallery george shaw

Image result for national gallery george shaw

Image result for national gallery george shaw

I don’t usually care for modern art. This exhibition, however, made me think twice – for which my brother’s enjoyment of it was, in no small measure, responsible.

I had planned to spend my last day in London at one of the great museums, but the day dawned so bright and sunny that David and I both agreed that Regent’s Park would be more suitable by far. We had planned to meet in the Rose Garden, but as I walked by the lake on my way from Baker Street Undergound Station (without catching even a glimpse of Sherlock Holmes, I might add 😉 ), my ear caught the sound of music and I was surprised also to see armed policemen and private security guards patrolling the paths, as well as tented kiosks on the lawn. In reply to my query, one of them informed me that it was a music festival – a Jewish music festival. Yes, on my last day in London, hours before I was due to fly home,  I found myself enjoying Klezmer in the Park – actually, a fusion of klezmer and sephardi/mizrahi music, in company with hundreds of my fellow Jews, eating kosher sandwiches on sale from the kiosks, dancing, singing along – and enjoying the open display of their Judaism.


The festivities went on for several hours, during which time, David and I also found time to visit the Rose Garden once more, and to enjoy the beauty of “The Island”, where many species of waterfowl make their nests and which, when we were children, seemed to be closed to visitors most of the time 😦  .

In those days, the Island seemed a mysterious, impenetrable sanctuary and we used to make up fantastic tales about what we imagined it must be like. Nowadays, there seem always to be crowds of visitors there. It quite spoils the Magic 😦 .





As we turned to make our way back to the hotel, this squirrel came to investigate us. I couldn’t persuade it to eat from my hand, but it condescended to accept three nuts from me, which it promptly buried in the soil.


It was hard to tear myself away from the park but I had a plane to catch. Here too, things did not go smoothly. The on-line check-in on the El Al website, which is supposed to save time, actually took the best part of two hours, as I was repeatedly bounced from the website (and the extremely unstable wi-fi connection in the hotel made matters worse. I eventually disconnected and used the cellular internet connection for which I had taken out an overpriced package with the phone company but that was not much better.) A few hours later, as I ate a sandwich in the park, I received not one but two SMS notifications from El Al to say that the flight would leave as scheduled but would be operated by a Portuguese charter company I had never heard of. I fly El Al, not only for security reasons but also for its safety record. El AL has never lost a passenger flight, with the exception of a plane that was deliberately shot down by the Bulgarians in 1955 at the height of the Cold War. Moreover, I had paid extra for a seat with more leg-room, but this flight did not have Economy Class Plus.
In fact, I was even considering switching to another flight. In the event, I did not do so. The flight took place as scheduled, landed on time (despite taking off nearly an hour late) and my seat was quite comfortable. The cabin crew, with one exception – and she tended to the Business Class passengers only – consisted entirely of young men, all of them rather good-looking. Too good to be true – I wouldn’t be surprised to learn they were all gay 😉 .

All in all, I enjoyed my vacation. But it’s good to be home.

Posted in Tourism, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Shana Tova

I had hoped to be able to post about my trip to England last month but it’s taking longer than expected to choose and edit the many photos and write about all that I managed to see and do in ten short days. Before I knew it, the High Holy Days were – are – upon us. Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year – starts this evening at sundown.

So this is a very brief post, just to wish all those of you who are celebrating Rosh Hashana – לשנה טובה תכתיבו ותחתימו – Leshana tova tichatevu vetichatevu – May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

By a curious coincidence – well, not really so curious, if you remember that both Jews and Muslims use a lunar calendar – today marks the start of a new Islamic year as well, so I would like also to offer New Year’s greetings to my Muslim friends (yes, I do have some!)

I will leave you with the traditional Jewish prayer for the High Holy Days, with the lyrics of which, I believe we can all of us, Jew, Christian and Muslim, identify.

Posted in Daily Life, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

HOT as Hell

A few months ago, I upgraded my TV and Internet package with HOT, formerly a cable TV company, whose client I have been since cable TV arrived in Jerusalem, but now, a communications giant whose tentacles encompass not just TV, but also the internet, mobile phones and heaven knows what else.

Their customer service is a byword for incompetence and has been the subject of more than one court case (which they have lost).

Lured by the promise of a much faster internet connection, access to all their TV channels except for the “adult” channels and their Premium sports channels (whatever that means, since, even with only “regular” sports channels, I have more than enough – at least half a dozen), a new Wi-Fi modem (I hadn’t had Wi-Fi before, and hadn’t really needed it, since I have only one computer, but it has proved useful, since I can now surf with my smartphone, without cutting into the limited internet package I have with the mobile phone company) and a free telephone attached to the modem, all for a monthly fee of 315 NIS (only 30 NIS more than I was paying already), I decided to take up their offer for “the Triple”.

Frankly, I haven’t felt any difference in the speed of the connection. Moreover, the Wi-Fi is very unstable. Most worrying of all, I felt the modem was getting very overheated. At least, it felt very hot (no pun intended) to me.

So I called HOT Customer Services.
They have one of those ghastly automatic call-routing services, which tell you your place in the queue and then suggest you leave your number (if it’s not the one from which you are calling) and they will call you back.

As my place in the queue was about seven or eight, I decided to let them call me back. Big mistake. I would have been able to speak to a Customer Service representative much faster if I had stayed on the line. It took about three hours before someone identifying himself as Abdullah called me back (HOT is, at least, an Equal Opportunity Employer, I will say that for them). Abdullah was from Customer Service and, after hearing what I had to say, put me through to someone called Adir, from Sales. Adir handed me over to David who claimed that he didn’t work for HOT, but for HOTNET, a subsidiary company and that I needed the Technical Service (I could have told him that!). I was then handed over to someone who identified himself as “Ronny from Hidra’s team”. Once again, I explained my problem(s) and he promised me that “someone from the Technical Department” would call me back.

I have to admit, he was as good as his word. Matan from the Technical Department did indeed call me back – at 6 pm the following day!
When I had explained my problems to Matan, he opined that the overheating of the modem was due to the fact that I turn it on and off too often. I switch it on first thing in the morning, and switch it off last thing at night and when I go out because (a) it is not needed at those times and (b) the Electricity Company advises switching off (and even unplugging) electrical devices which are not going to be used for a long time. Besides which, I have always been taught that leaving on electrical devices which are not in use increases the risk of fire.

Be that as it may, Matan promised to send a technician round the following week to install a new modem.  We settled on Monday, between 9 am and 12 noon.
Shortly after that, I received an email from HOT which I was unable to read, because the letters appeared as gibberish, as well as an SMS to my mobile phone, informing me that I would be visited the following Tuesday by a FedEx courier, who would bring me a new modem, which I was required to install myself!
Furious, I tried to message them back, but this proved to be impossible, so I dashed off an email pointing out that they had made a mistake – well, a number of mistakes, in fact. To my annoyance, I received a return email, thanking me for my email and informing me that someone would get back to me within 3 working days!

That would have been too late, so I phoned them again, and once again, went through seven gates of hell before getting hold of someone who could help me. This was Chaim (from Ghanim’s team). Chaim,  although he brought forward the visit of the technician, who would indeed bring and install a new HOTBOX modem, could not fit me in in the morning, so I was forced to settle for the early afternoon slot, between 1 – 3 pm.

Naturally, a confirmation email arrived shortly afterwards, at which point I discovered that my address was wrongly registered with HOT!

Once again, I dashed off an email and once again, I received a standard reply telling me that someone would contact me within three working days.

I decided not to rise to the bait and phone them, especially as the confirmation email had stressed that the technician would contact me by phone shortly before arriving, in order to make sure that someone was actually at home and I would then be able to explain that I actually lived next door to the address he had been given. In any case, the following day, I received yet another email from them, thanking me for my mail and informing me that the correct address had now been noted in the instructions to the technician.

At about 8.45 on Monday morning, just as I was sitting down to breakfast, the phone rang. It was the technician – the one who was supposed to be coming between 1-3 pm. He happened to be in the neighbourhood, he said, so would it be okay if he came round sometime within the next 10 minutes?!

Despite the fact that I now had to bolt down my breakfast, I said yes. And he came – with the new modem. And he installed it. And he, too, explained that I should leave the modem on all the time, even though, in his opinion, the modem was not overheating. The heat, he said, was quite normal. And he showed me how to properly check my internet connection speed. And he explained that the fluctuations in the Wi-Fi (which, as I said,  I use mostly for surfing with my smartphone) depend on where I am in the apartment and on how many walls and what kind, lie between my mobile device and the modem. And he also helped to set up my smart TV to receive Wi-Fi (I had already figured it out, but it went much faster with his help).

A few days later, I received an SMS from HOT, asking for customer feedback. There were only about four questions. Three of these related to the service provided by the HOT technician.
Let me re-phrase that 😉
Three questions related to the service provided by the technician from HOT – had he been punctual, etc.
One question alone called for me to give a general rating to the service I had received. Since, on a scale of 1 to 10, I would have awarded something like minus 7, and since there was no place for a detailed description of what exactly had been unsatisfactory – and I did not want them to think I had any complaints about the technician, who had been professional, friendly and courteous – I ignored the request for feedback.

I should just mention that, the evening before the technician’s visit, there had been a problem with the HOT television service. There was no signal whatsoever. When I phoned them, I got a recorded message to the effect that they had detected a general problem in my street, and that their technicians were working to fix it. If I wished, they would send an SMS as soon as the problem was solved. I did wish. A few hours later, and long after the programme I had wanted to watch had ended, I switched on the TV again – just in case. My instinct proved sound. Services had been restored. It was not until the following morning, however, that I received the promised SMS informing me of the fact!

And, just in case you were wondering – the modem is still overheating, the Wi-Fi connection is still unstable and the Internet download speed is still lower than promised.


Posted in Computers and Internet, Daily Life, Humour, Modern Living, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

Charms To Soothe A Savage Breast

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.”

William Congreve (1670-1729)
From The Mourning Bride (1697)

It has been a pretty horrible few weeks since my last post – what with massacres at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey, and  in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida and at the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France, and at the Olympia shopping mall in Munich, Germany – not to mention the knife and axe attacks carried out (by Afghan and Syrian “refugees”) in Würzburg and in Reutlingen, Germany, and, only the day before yesterday, the brutal murder of an 85-year-old priest as he was celebrating Mass in his own church in the French town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray  by Islamic terrorists.

I do not believe, for one moment, that music has the power to soothe the breasts of the savages who carried out these attacks. Indeed, in their case, the common misquotation, which substitutes the words “savage beast” for “savage breast”, would probably be more appropriate, but even then, I doubt the power of music to soothe (in fact, I believe the adherents of the Islamic State actually consider music to be “un-Islamic” – and I have written, in the past, about the attitude of Hamas to musicians).

It may, however, provide a brief respite for the troubled hearts of those  who have to suffer the malice of these fiends. To that end, I will (finally!) fulfil my promise and tell you all about my choir’s musical activities over the past couple of months, starting with a “Singalong” performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” at the beginning of June – not really a project of my choir, but rather of one of our members, baritone Louis Sachs, who took the role of Major-General Stanley and who recruited members of the choir, as well as other musical acquaintances, for a most enjoyable evening at a community centre in Jerusalem’s picturesque Nachlaot neighbourhood. This was by no means a staged performance, but the policemen were supplied with British police helmets (some of them, at least), the pirates donned various articles of pirate paraphernalia (plastic swords, eyepatches, ear-rings and bandanas, etc.) and we ladies were asked to wear flowery summer dresses and big straw hats. Yours truly, in the supporting role of Edith Stanley, added a fan – always useful for flirtation and for rapping saucy pirates over the knuckles 😉
Entrance was free – and so were the refreshments. Looking back, I think I can safely say that a good time was had by one and all.  Kudos to Louis, who initiated and produced the programme, and who also conducted.

One week later, our choir (the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, for newcomers to this blog) gave our end-of-the-season concert at Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. The programme, of music from the British Isles, was entitled “In Windsor Forest”, in deference to the central piece of the evening, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ cantata of that name, adapted from his own opera “Sir John in Love”.  This piece, being a setting of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, was, of course, admirably suited to the fact that this year, 2016, marks four hundred years since the death of the Bard of Avon.

Helping to translate the various works of the programme taught me a great deal. For example, one of the sections of “In Windsor Forest” is a drinking song for male chorus, entitled “Jolly Good Ale”. One of the verses reads:

I love no roast but a nutbrown toast,
And a crab laid in the fire;
A little bread shall do me stead,
Much bread I not desire.


Translation of this verse involved me in earnest debate with Liora, who was in charge overall of translating the various works for the printed programme, but who is not a native English-speaker. My researches had led me to the conclusion that “crab” referred here to the crab-apple, rather than to the shellfish. Liora did not feel comfortable with this, maintaining that it was hard to picture someone in an alehouse eating fruit, rather than seafood. I, on the other hand, was not at all certain that common folk in Elizabethan London were accustomed to eating seafood other than ordinary fish. This, in turn, led me to research diet in Tudor England – a fascinating subject in itself! In the end, we were both convinced – myself, of the wider-than-expected range of food available to Shakespeare’s contemporaries, and Liora, of the likelihood that, in this particular case, at least, the reference was, indeed, to the crab-apple.

Another section of this  cantata, the “Wedding Chorus”, contained a line referring to “the bee’s bag” and, while it was clear enough that the reference was to the honey sac, I had no idea how to translate this into Hebrew, because I have (or perhaps I should say, had) no knowledge of the proper zoological terminology. Thus, I went scuttling off to Wikipedia in Hebrew, to research the digestive process of bees. And I have to say, that too was fascinating. What amazing creatures they are!

Now, that’s enough talk. It’s time for music!

As I said, this was a programme of music from the British Isles, music of all kinds, and from all periods, ranging from the Renaissance to the 20th century, music for church and for the stage, folk songs and art music – and even an excerpt from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” which some of us had sung the previous week.

Let us start with a madrigal by the Elizabethan-Jacobean composer John Bennet, one of three madrigals we performed during the course of the evening:

Music for the church was represented by two pieces. One of them, “In Exitu Israel”, a motet by Samuel Wesley, was a setting for double choir (eight voices) of Psalm 114. I was surprised that the nephew of the founder of the Methodist Church should have composed a Latin psalm setting, but apparently, Samuel Wesley converted to Roman Catholicism, to the horror of his father and uncle!


The other was a setting of Psalm 119, v.1 – “Beati Quorum Via” –  by that stalwart of the Anglican Church tradition, Charles Villiers Stanford:


I have already mentioned Gilbert and Sullivan, who, together with Henry Purcell, represented the English stage in our concert.

The British folk tradition was represented by “Loch Lomond” (kudos to Liora for the polished way in which she dealt with the idiosyncrasies of the Scottish dialect, in translating the words for the programme), as well as by a setting by Stanford’s pupil Gustav Holst of the Cornish ballad “I Love My Love”, and by this beautiful setting of “The Londonderry Air” (at the piano, Rina Schechter, whom you can’t see, because of the camera angle):




Naturally, we also performed music by that giant of 19th-century British music, Sir Edward Elgar, but also by the 20th century Anglo-Jewish composer Gerald Finzi. The latter’s joyous setting of Robert Bridges’ poem “My Spirit Sang All Day”, with its repetition of the word “joy” and its triumphant final line – “Thou art my joy” –  is a love song to his own wife, Joyce, known as “Joy” to her friends and family.




The central piece of the evening was,  as already mentioned, the cantata “In Windsor Forest” by Vaughan Williams. Here it is, all 20 minutes of it – conducted, as was the entire evening, by the inimitable Kate Belshé and with the soloist Shira Cohen, a former member of the choir who is now studying at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem and of whom we expect great things.





As I said, this concert was our end-of-season performance. However, we find it hard to part from each other, even for a two month summer vacation 😉   and so last week saw us all together again, in the same location, this time, to record  what will be our first disc under Kate’s baton.

Today, we received the first intimations of Kate’s plans for us in the coming season. I can hardly wait 🙂

Before I go, I will leave you with this thought. Today’s post marks a decade of blogging. I started “The View From the Palace” ten years ago tomorrow, July 29th 2006. Tomorrow is also the 42nd anniversary of my aliyah to Israel.

What a time it’s been!

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A Bloody Weekend

The brutal murder of 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel (HY’D) on Thursday morning was only the start of a particularly bloody weekend. Later that day, in Netanya, another “Palestinian” terrorist, this time from Tulkarm, stabbed two Israeli civilians in the vicinity of the seaside town’s central market, moderately wounding a man in his forties and a woman in her sixties. The terrorist was shot and killed by an armed civilian who was present at the scene.

The following day, Friday, a “Palestinian” terrorist gang armed with guns, carried out a drive-by shooting on Highway 60. They overtook a car in which the Mark family was driving, and opened fire on it. In the hail of bullets which followed, Rabbi Michael Mark, who was driving, suffered gunshot wounds and lost control of the car, which overturned. When paramedics arrived on the scene, there was nothing for them to do but declare him dead. His wife, Chava, was seriously wounded and is not yet out of danger. Their 14-year-old daughter sustained a gunshot wound to the stomach and was rushed to hospital in serious condition, but is now stable. Their 15-year-old son was moderately to lightly injured and has since been discharged from hospital.

Rabbi Mark, who was 48 years old at the time of his murder, was the director of the yeshiva (Torah seminary) in Otniel and the father of ten children. The murderers have not yet been caught.

How did the international media react to this outrage?

Well, the Daily Telegraph gave us:
“Israel stops Palestinian movement in parts of West Bank after rabbi killed in shooting attack”
Thus, the many casual readers who never get past the headline are not told that this was a terrorist attack. Indeed, the first piece of information they are given is that Israel is again limiting the movement of the poor, downtrodden “Palestinians”. The next few paragraphs are devoted to the number of “Palestinians” whose movements are going to be curtailed, while just one sentence is devoted to the actual murder. “An Israeli rabbi was shot dead in front of his children and his wife was badly injured on Friday…”
Only after criticising the “collective punishment” being supposedly imposed on the “Palestinians” does the reporter, Raf Sanchez, get round to describing the actual attack.

The BBC (no surprises here) also focussed on the Israeli response with:
“Israel seals off Hebron after surge of attacks”.
Only after describing Israel’s counter-terror measures  are we told the cause of these measures, in a single line: “It comes after an Israeli man was killed and his wife and two children wounded after their car was fired on near the Jewish settlement of Otniel.”
Nowhere is this described as a terrorist attack, nor does the BBC give any inkling of who carried it out.

The New York Times  headline also gives prominence to the Israeli response, with:
“Israel Imposes Restrictions in West Bank After Attacks”.
And, while it is true that the actual report begins with the words “After two deadly attacks by Palestinians against Israeli civilians in the occupied West Bank in two days…“, (thus subliminally implying that the “occupation” justifies attacks on civilians), the next few paragraphs detail the Israeli counter-terror measures and comments on their alleged harshness, before we finally get to a few lines describing the attack itself. Of course, nowhere is the word “terrorist” used. The New York Times prefers to call the murderers “gunmen”.

I can’t find anything on CNN yet.

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Jewish Child Murdered In Her Bed By “Palestinian” Terrorist Scumbag

This morning, a “Palestinian” terrorist  managed to infiltrate the Jewish town of Kiryat Arba near Hebron, broke into a house in the Ramat Mamre neighbourhood, and repeatedly stabbed 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel as she lay sleeping in her bed. When the town’s security team (which included Hallel’s father) arrived, they had to break into the house, which had been locked from the inside by the terrorist murderer. An armed struggle then developed, in the course of which the Spawn of Satan, who has been identified as Muhammed  Tararia, from the Arab village of Bani Naim, stabbed and seriously wounded one of the security team. The terrorist was killed by another member of the team.

Hallel Yaffa was evacuated to the Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem, where doctors attempted to resuscitate her, but were ultimately forced to declare her death.

At this stage (three hours since the event), I have not, as yet, managed to find any reference to it in foreign media. When the BBC, CNN, Sky News, The Guardian, The New York Times, etc, find time to mention it (if they find time to mention it), I’m ready to bet that they will headline the shooting of the 17-year-old terrorist by “Israeli Security Forces”, while stressing his youth, (but without mentioning that he was a terrorist and a murderer), and only then refer to his child victim, whom they will describe as “a teenage settler” – thus implying that she was, somehow, a legitimate target. And the terrorist-supporting Knesset Member Hanin Zuabi, who abuses her privileges as an MK to slander Israeli soldiers, will claim that the scumbag terrorist who butchered an innocent child in her bed was “murdered by the IDF”.

Would anyone care to bet against me on this?


Hallel Yaffa Ariel, aged 13. May God Avenge Her Blood.


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