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Warsaw, August 2019

Saturday, August 10th a.m.

Arrived here yesterday, after long flight from Vancouver to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Warsaw, for the annual European Association of Biblical Studies meeting.  I finally finished my two papers on Thursday.  Cost me much tummy ache and gripe.  (not to speak of the effects on the family).

Went for early morning walk.

Warsaw is a strange city and I haven’t found my bearings, especially since I haven’t taken the trouble to learn a single word (in fact four words) and it looks so strange.  Everything is War Memorials, especially for the Warsaw uprising in 1944.  Everything is rebuilt and spooky.  It is a city that seems to live off mournful memory, like many of the Poles I knew in the distant past. I walked through the Saski Park (the Saxon Gardens), with the tomb of the unknown Soldier with soldiers guarding it, and a huge memorial, and got a little lost and found myself back at the hotel.

The hotel, the Europieski Raffles hotel, is one of the oldest in Europe, opened in 1857, and was always a landmark. Partially destroyed and gutted in the Second World War, it became a soldiers’ barracks after the war, and was then a rather rundown old hotel – had several reincarnations. In the Soviet era it was of course confiscated and the original owners eventually recovered ownership. (this is if I have understood correctly: it is not altogether clear to me. I asked the receptionist for a history this morning).  Then in 2004 Mrs. Hoffman (the owner) decide to renovate it, adding two floors and offices, plus two basement floors, and turn it into a luxury hotel, in partnership with the Raffles group. It opened finally last year, so everything seems entirely new – and not entirely functional!  I had to ask the concierge last night how to turn lights on and off, and it turned out to be impossible just to have the bedside light on. It is rather empty.

This morning I plan to go to synagogue, and then to the Polin museum this afternoon, and then to have dinner with Peter Sabo this evening. Last night I suddenly felt panicky and lonely.

The receptionist, Karoline, is really lovely  – we had a long conversation about the history of the hotel, of Warsaw, why she thinks Warsaw is one of the most interesting and underappreciated cities of Europe, about Iceland where she spent several years, and which she loves – especially in winter.


Sunday 3 a.m.

Can’t sleep. Very miserable. Woke up at 12.

Emailed. Went for walk. Much better!

Yesterday began with going to synagogue.  The Nozyk synagogue, built at the end of the 19th century by someone called Nozyk, survived the war, when it was one of the synagogues allowed to function in the ghetto.  I arrived fairly late, to my surprise.  It is only about ten minutes walk from the hotel, along a park.

The atmosphere was haredi (ultra-orthodox), boys in big black hats, Israeli, only about 20 men of disparate types.  The style of the morning service and Torah reading was sephardi, the additional service Ashkenazi.  Not so much brands left over from the burning as transplanted Israeli  ultra-orthodoxy, including a very nationalistic sermon, delivered in English (of sorts) with a running translation into Polish (I think).  A fair number of women up in the ladies’ gallery, including – I think – four non-Jewish visitors; or so I gathered when they were welcomed in the kiddush. I was very tired, and my stomach ached, and generally it was pretty dispiriting.

Then to the Polin Museum in the afternoon – the Museum of Polish Jewish history, from the Middle Ages to the present.  Fabulous. Huge. Everywhere there are groups of Israeli or Jewish kids, sitting in little circles with their leaders, presumably on educational or birthright tours. No wonder Poles hate them (if they do) – though I don’t know what the content of the discussion was.

The Museum is extraordinary. I got through about half of it, and would like to go back today.  Got up to about the 19th century and then tried skipping, and even that is difficult – there seem to be room after room on the Holocaust.

(Just down for breakfast)

Monday 12th August

My reluctance to write this diary is rather startling. I think because my senses are too overwhelmed by being here in Poland, in part by the weight of associations, the grief that seems to hover just round every corner.  But in part also because of tiredness, laziness, the impossibility of having anything to say that is adequate to a museum like Polin.  So let’s start there.

The Polin Museum of Jewish History and culture was opened in 2013 (I think) and is currently in dispute with the rightwing fascistic government here, who have not replaced the director, because of its refusing to gloss over the anti-Zionist campaign of 1968; because of complications over their wanting to make a conference celebrating the President’s (Kacszynski) brother – the late president killed in a plane crash in Smolensk in 2010 with most of his government – less hagiographic, and under the surface the whole Polish complex about its Jewish past.

I went to the Polin Museum twice, on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.  On Saturday afternoon I got half way, to the middle of the 19th century, and yesterday morning I went through the rest, though with my eyes and heart half closed at times.  It is an extraordinarily thorough museum, tough, honest, responsible and yet with a light touch.  I don’t know how they manage it. Inevitably one spends most time with the early rooms (the middle ages, the golden age of the pre-Chelmnitsky massacres) and then gets overwhelmed by the immense amount of stuff and testimony to a variegated and rich culture always in interaction with the complex, fraught, contested, tragic and splendid history of Poland. of which I knew something but not enough. I knew very little about the interwar period, for example, I realised. I did not know about Pilsudski’s coup in 1926, or the assassination of the first president five days after being elected, and I knew very little about the numerus clausus and the Jewish benches and the boycott of Jewish shops. I knew and did not know.

There are of course room after room on the Holocaust, focussing, nevertheless, almost entirely on Warsaw, though perhaps I missed the sections of Lodz etc (I can’t reproduce the “l” with a line through it) and there are sections too on the invasion of the soviet occupied parts of Poland in June 1941 and the work of the Einsatzgruppen.  Like all such exhibitions it makes you feel what is happening through eyewitness accounts, bits of film, and the sheer remorselessness and endlessness of it all.  Then you come out the other side, with the wreckage afterwards, the establishment of the Communist regime, the glorification of Stalin, the 1956 and 1968 protests, the expulsion of Jewish Communists in 1968 (ie. as part of the “anti-Zionist” campaign, itself a blatant attempt to deflect criticism, Jewish communists were expelled from the party and told they had no future in Poland. Most went to Israel, utterly disillusioned. I met many) and ending up with the reasonably bright present.

And on the way there is so much.  Yiddish theatre, the Bund, the revolutionary movements, secularism, emigration, painted synagogues – artifacts – imagination, attempts at self-identity.

One thing that seemed to be skipped but more likely I just missed it was the Hasidic movement. A lot on integration and the desire for integration.  A certain Michel Landy caught my attention for some reason.  A high school student (of the gymnasia) who was killed in the 1863 insurrection against the Russians trying to rescue the cross carried by a wounded Christian fellow rebel.  Their funerals were painted as signs of Jewish-Christian harmony.

After it in the heat walked back to the hotel (after haring off in the wrong direction) where I met our friend Kåre, from Bergen (see our trip to Norway), who is giving a paper in our deconstructive section on Messianic time, ordinary time and Benjamin, and  Exodus. I’m also doing Exodus.  In the end we decided to have lunch in the hotel, which was delicious – especially cold borscht (choldnik) with horseradish icecream. But expensive. And then a rest. i borrowed a USB stick from the hotel to put texts for papers on, tried to revise them a bit – I got some really good criticism from my friend Freema on the second, who thought that the ending was a little precious. And she was right.

(not sure what to do about breakfast. stomach not woken up yet. But I should go down because it is so nice and quiet in the breakfast room at 6.30).

By the way, this is the nicest hotel. When you come into reception, instead of lining up at a long counter you are ushered into a chair and sit down and chat a little. i have got to know the receptionists a little. They are very nice.  Monika who helped find restaurants for the evening.

Kåre might come with us on the Hurtigruten in February.

In the evening went for dinner with Peter, who finally arrived after missing his connection and spending eleven hours in Toronto airport, and Fiona. I was just going up in the elevator when I heard a voice saying “Francis” and it turned out to be Fiona.  We had dinner, eventually, after failing to meet, at  a vegetarian restaurant called Tel Aviv, with two plates of mezze.  I’m still feeling the effects.  And then back to the hotel for drinks in the famous Long Bar, which imitates that of the Singapore Raffles.  And that, I think, is it!

Except for pictures. Here is the royal palace in the early morning of yesterday’s walk:

The Royal Palance

Francis, Peter and Fiona


With Fiona and Andrew at dinner!

Tuesday, August 10th

Have to give my second paper this morning. I discovered yesterday that it is only a 20 minute paper, and I have written nearly 3000 words i.e. 30 minutes worth. So I’ll just do the second part and sketch the first.  It’s entitled The Face of God, a nice imposing title, and to look at it is to die. At least it almost killed me.  It is on Exodus 33, in which it says that Moses spoke to God face to face as a person talks to his or her friend, and then there is a long and weird dialogue between the two, which turns on the meaning of ‘face.’ The first part is about metaphor, literality, the meanings of “face” etc, and it could be summarized or skimmed over quite quickly.  That is at 9 this morning.

Yesterday was the first long plodding day of the conference.  In the morning I went to a session about text criticism, memory, performance, aurality, with Ehud, David Carr, Ray Person, whom I did not know -and whose beard is one of the most impressive ever seen, and Juha Pakkala from Helsinki. I thought it was really a very good session. Ehud talked about his scepticism that we can ever reconstruct the history of texts, and described his own experience as a teenager working in a notary’s office copying documents.  The odd things one learns about people after so many years.  He was remarkably unruffled seeing that his wife, Perla’s, wallet had been stolen in a restaurant the night before with her phone and everything, or maybe he wasn’t unruffled at all but only seemed so. He had a nice phrase about the inconsistency of inconsistency.  David Carr, whose written a lot on scribal memory, memory variants, partially responded to critics of his work and talked about the different ways memory variants work (Ehud did the same), Ray Person thought about scribal memory v. scribal performance (not sure what that means) and Juha gave a very good paper, I thought, defending the possibility of reconstruction of the development of texts in the last centuries BC.  Then I went outside and sat in the suppurating heat and waited for people to talk to me. Saw Danilo.  Danilo, as a gay man, said that he couldn’t wait to leave Poland, because of the campaigns against LGBTQ people – towns declaring themselves LGBTQ free – and it brought home to me the reality of antisemitism, that that’s how I would feel if there were an active antisemitic campaign (Norma Franklin, an Israeli archaeologist who was born in Winnington Road, round the corner from us, told Peter and myself that when she first came to Warsaw 20 years ago there were antisemitic slogans scrawled on walls, and she found it deeply depressing, and then she came 10 years and it was completely transformed, and now it is even more so. She cannot believe the extent  of reconstruction and how open it is. Obviously there are limits).

Kåre came along, and then Göran Eidevall, and we went off to have lunch (except I was still queasy and full from breakfast so I didn’t), with a fair amount of academic gossip – the IOSOT conference in Aberdeen – and then back for our Deconstructive Poetics section. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my laptop to take notes and only had a pad of paper to scrawl notes. Hugh Pyper gave a lovely paper as always – he cannot fail to do so – on Proverbs as play, the difficulties of translating the verse about Wisdom playing before God in his creation, the cross between ‘amon as craftsman and as artist, and as nursling – he had a lovely quotation from someone who condemned Lewis Carroll for not doing his duty in educating children properly instead of writing Alice in Wonderland and thought that Proverbs has more of the wisdom of Alice in Wonderland.  I gave my paper on Freedom and Responsibility, all about the two tablets of stone written with the finger of God and the rabbinic saying “Do not read ‘engraved’ (harut) but “freedom” (herut) on the tablets” as a mark of the freedom of interpretation.  I thought it was nice – I brought in Job,  James Harding’s subject at the end.  There was a woman (Tova Forti?) who asked a very long question – which didn’t leave time for Peter to ask his.  Peter gave his talk on Derrida’s fascination with secrecy and its relation to the sacrifice of Isaac, and its relation to the idea of Fake News (and the way that before 2015 it meant something completely different). In the end I’m not really sure what it is about – I should ask Peter – I still don’t really understand how Derrida reads the Binding of Isaac, and why it is something he always obsessively goes back to. I think it may be that he reads it through philosophers, like Kierkegaard and Kant, i.e. through the lens of philosophy.  And James Harding, who had travelled all the way from Dunedin, 17 hours, and cut down a 9,000 word paper on Job 42.6 to something that took just 17 minutes, but then one wants to read the real thing  – a paper on how ever word is ambiguous, and how the ambiguities combine to render it completely indeterminate.

There were quite a number of people at the session (20?).  Then I had a strawberry tart, fell asleep, took a taxi to the plenary session at the Jewish Museum on Jewish studies in Poland – four speakers from four universities (Wroclaw, Cracow, Warsaw, Poznan) about their institutes – it was very impressive, with pictures of publications and translations.

Then the drink with Peter and Fiona in the Long Bar here at the hotel – but I got too tired and nauseous.  Woke up with hideous nightmare. Long walk in the rain, got lost, completely turned round, then found a map and that I was only a short distance from the hotel. Cheered up.

I’ve looked at my notes and I fear I haven’t done justice to Hugh, Peter and James. I’m sorry.  I’ll try to catch up.


Wednesday 14th August

Didn’t sleep. Woke up 1.30.

Have gone back to the hotel to have a break and write this.

Yesterday we had our metaphor session, in which I gave my paper on the Face of God.  Like the one on the tablets of God, it was on Exodus 33. I had to just summarize the first part – it was very easy – and I really had a wonderful time.  Don’t remember what I said just at the moment.  I kept on rewriting the ending.  Then there followed a paper by Bob Becking read by Karolien – he was unwell and advised not to come. He has had periodic heart problems, and it was on differences between Micah 1-5 and 6-7, with the former being on God’s actions and the other on emotions. Also differences in root metaphors. I thought that there were problems – which Karolien will send.  And then a truly dreadful paper, in my view, about the metaphor of God/Satan sending forth the hand in Job 1.11-12,  which the author thinks refers to a trial of faith. It was a very explicitly Protestant interpretation.  Finally, Pieter van der Zwaan, who couldn’t come, also on doctors’ instruction, and gave a paper by proxy on feet in Job, from a psychoanalytic perspective. OK, nice, but needed more, I thought – more of a sense of the interconnectedness of terms and of intertextuality (the things that James was doing).

With the “dreadful” paper we had a good conversation afterwards.  Together with James. He is a Hungarian Protestant, and very proud of the theological bent of his interpretation. Still I can’t see why “touching” should be a probing of faith. He answered a question by quoting a long passage from Karl Barth.

Karolien showed me pictures of her baby.

In the afternoon the highlight was a brilliant paper by Fiona, on Paul Celan’s Todesfuge and Anselm Kiefer’s series of paintings on the theme of the Shulamite. She had been spending weeks writing and revising it, and it is still not finished in a way, but it was lovely.  Also Peter talking about the animal in Gen 1-11 (taken from his MTSR paper).  In the evening went with Peter, Fiona, Hugh and James to a fish restaurant where Peter and I shared a large lemon sole (it  is called Der Elefant/The fish market, was recommended by the receptionist Karolina, I couldn’t find it at lunch time and went to the next door Italian restaurant instead), and then we retired to the Long Bar to drink… and then couldn’t sleep.

Been having digestive issues…

The receptionist (Karolina) kept calling me Mr. Francis. I said that I needn’t be called “Mr.” She got very embarrassed and started calling me “Sir.”  Eventually I talked to her about it and apparently it is polite in Poland to preface first names with ‘pane’ or “pana”. Bennett reminds me that Sally Kukla-Wilson (Ian’s wife) teaches her children to say “Miss Bennett” etc – that it is also a southern American thing.

I just met someone who said he travelled all the way from Tonga just to meet me.  There seems to be a contingent of Tongans. And yesterday I was just racing to the sessions, when a cyclist stopped me in the street and said his professor (from Moscow) was at the conference.  Then he told me that he had cycled all the way from Moscow to Warsaw, and was continuing on to Prague! It had taken 12 days so far.

This morning, after my miserable start, there was a session of a new group run by Danilo and Benedetta Rossi, whom you may remember from the Mantua diary, on – I forget the long title – but essentially on Gramsci and cultural hegemony in the Bible.  Danilo introduced, Benedetta gave a good talk on Deuteronomy and then there was a piece a Finnish scholar I don’t know on Deuteronomy 33 without a single spark of poetic sensibility.

After my paper in the morning, there was a question from someone from Toulouse (Corinne Bonnet) who directs a research centre on Ancient Polytheisms, who told me that in Phoenicia and also in Carthage the goddess Tanit is called the Face of Baal, and that there are hypostases of the Shem Baal (as in Elephantine) and that Astarte is the Name of Baal.  So there is a gendered dialectic of outside and inside – the appearance of Baal is female, the interior male – just like Kabbalah. I thought it wonderful that Baal’s real name should be Astarte, but she said that, no, the name is an intermediary between the worshipper and the deity, like Moses.

And a nun from Cracow approached me, saying that the cloud, as an image of God,  is very sensory. In a cloud one feels pure presence, all one’s senses are heightened. I thought that was a wonderful image.  I asked her if that was her spiritual experience. Yes.

I asked this morning whether I could have blankets rather than a quilt. Yes.


Thursday, 15th August 5.40

Woke up as usual at 1.40, got up eventually, had bath, went for walk. Stomach better. Strange weird drunk man who wanted me to wake him up before we reached the bridge, he said as he staggered along, and then said the question was a nuclear catastrophe.  It was lovely to walk through the old town, here and there, just following my long nose, and breathing the cool air and watching the dawn gradually get bright, street cleaners tumbling out of a van, music coming from a house, noises of people getting up or getting up to something.

Yesterday afternoon we had our last Deconstructive Poetics section. Kåre gave a paper on Walter Benjamin and the Exodus – the concept of messianic time and homogenous, continuous time (I wonder if there can be connections with the Cultural hegemony session this morning), and the role of laws and judgements when there are not any -thus Exodus as looking to the future.  John Ritzema, a PhD student in King’s College, London, gave a lovely paper on theophany in Psalms 18 and 24, and what Barbara Johnson calls warring patterns of signification (e.g. light and darkness), then Marika Pulkkinen, from Helsinki, on porneia, as a metaphor and reality, in Paul, and its function, like the abject in Kristeva, in founding the boundaries of the community.  And that’s it for another year. Peter, Hugh and I had a little meeting in a café to talk about the future, whether we want to renew the section when it expires next year (no), would we like a different incarnation (yes), what to talk about next year – I suggested sacrifice/purity – whether to do a book. (I remember I once thought of speciall issue of biblical interpretation).

Then Hugh and I talked about the Orkneys, (where he lives in a village called St. Margaret’s Hope), about Scots writers (W.S.Graham), about life and solitude.

Corinne Bonnet sent me her article on the goddess as face and name of Baal. it is fascinating. I had no idea.

There was a stunning concert in a church of piano music by Chopin, Debussy and Brahms. It was amazing to hear such richness and brilliance coming out of a piano. Afterwards talked to pianist.

Dinner with Fiona.

Enough.  Today a long day trip to Lublin.

Saturday, 17th August, at airport. 9.15

Been a bit too busy to write. Sorry.

The trip to Lublin was long, exhausting, and left people with the feeling that they didn’t want to do the second, to Torún and Chelmno. I didn’t like being shepherded with a group and having to listen to a commentary in an extremely crowded town, because it was the feast of the Assumption.  We began, after the very long bus journey, at Majdanek. I had been in two minds whether I wanted to go, and I was right.  Majdanek is right on the outskirts of Lublin, and went through many incarnations and improvisations, as the guide explained to us. It primarily gives the feeling of emptiness, just large barren fields. There is a monument and long rows of sheds, which were workshops and barracks, all reconstructed because they were largely destroyed by the Soviet airforce. The gas chambers were concealed.  In some of the sheds there are displays, with histories of the camp and the German occupation of Lublin. Everywhere too there are groups of birthright kids, or Israeli kids, with their guides, carrying their  Israeli flag.  I don’t like it, I don’t like the overt statement of nationalism, the cooption of catastrophe and horror to national agendas, the message that all that matters in Poland is the tragedy of the Holocaust.  If I were a Pole I would hate it too.  But our guide said that she saw many of the girls coming out in tears.


I seem to have lost quite a bit of my post.  I talked about how suddenly, to my surprise, I found myself in tears and unable to go on. So I went back, and caught the bus as it returned. I looked quietly at the sheds, with their displays about the German occupation, and how it looked in 1945 and at present.  It was musty, stuffy, a little bit frightening.

The rest of the day was spent in Lublin, traipsing around with our group, listening to the guide – who was quite good, but it wasn’t quite what we wanted, going through a park where the ghetto was, and now there are children, funfairs etc, the square where the Jewish quarter was, the old city of Lublin, everywhere very crowded, museums, churches, a rather poor meal, and then back to Warsaw, arriving about 10.30, exhausted, hesitant about going on the next days trip. But I’m glad I did, partially persuaded by the very nice waitress at breakfast, Rozanna, who said that Torún, in the north-east of Poland, was worth going to. And it was.  It was also nice to accompany Fiona (Black), my old postdoc from ever so long ago.  We separated from the group and wandered around – that is what I like best – through the main shopping street (I’ll put up pictures when I can), visiting churches, having a delicious lunch. I had been longing for herring ever since i came, and here I had chopped herring, disguised as herring tartare with pickled cabbage and beets and parsley, and Fiona had a kind of risotto with Israeli couscous and chanterelles.

Fiona with her delicious lunch:

Fiona and her delicious lunch

Me with my delicious lunch

My Delicious Lunch.JPG

A long conversation with Norma Franklin, an Israeli archaeologist who lived just a few minutes away from me in London.  We spent a great deal of time on nostalgia.

After Torún we went to Chelmno, where there are medieval frescos of the Song of Songs on the upper part of a Dominican convent.  Fiona is writing the Blackwell’s reception commentary on the Song of Songs, and especially wanted to see them. The message hadn’t got through and there were negotiations about letting us see them – maybe it was the presence of men? – and it was very hard to make out.

Later. Waiting at Harbour Air for my seaplane.


There was the sense of satisfaction of doing two good papers.  Also I really liked Poland.

Monday, 19th August

A hard landing back.  As usual.  Walks at 3 or 4 in the morning.

After looking at the frescos, high up on the walls, getting lost, we found our party at the restaurant booked for the tour – an extremely bad meal I did not eat, with an even worse attitude – and the long journey back to Warsaw.  I had had my eye on an expensive Calvados Boulard in the Long Bar in the hotel, and finally I had it. Have I talked about the Long Bar? In imitation of the Raffles Long Bar in Singapore, with every conceivable drink and cocktail.  Fiona, Peter, James and Hugh have made themselves at home here on several evenings.  Here is a picture of the Long Bar:

More Long Bar

The Calvados was intense, smooth, with an extraordinary apply aftertaste, but I found the conversation of the people next to me so utterly revolting that i moved away. The packing, sleep at last until 5, more packing.

Rozanna (the waiter/ess), at breakfast, had promised to go to the Old Town to look for pottery to buy for Bennett.  She went all over the city to look for the ones we chose, and did not find them –  apparently they only sell them at Easter. That was extraordinarily nice of her. She said it would be fun for her. Then when I checked out of the hotel the receptionist surprised me with a little gift – a book of the art collected in the hotel and some postcards. Again that  was so nice.

The journey.  Well, the journey.  I watched The Favourite again, which was much more mysterious than on first watching, and listened to Persuasion on audiobook.  Funny how time passes.  Then the seaplane from Vancouver:

View from Seaplane


And home. And sleep. And walk at 3 in the morning to Cattle Point. Dawn:


We have our first figs on the fig tree.

Memories of the conference and of the trips.  Norma Franklin talking about her theory that the etrog was imported from Assyria, where it was used for the enormous quantities of aromatic oil it produces and its purifying effect.  Talking to Lofi, the Tongan, and his wife Mary about the Tongan Islands.  He is working on a translation of the Psalms into Tongan and the Tongan tradition of praise poetry, trying to avoid or use the particular associations of images in Tongan culture e.g. the right arm in Psalm 110 associated with restraint as well as authority.  Conversing with Hugh and Peter about what to do with the Deconstructive Group.

I really liked Poland.








Israel 2019

Friday, 17th May 3 a.m.


Can’t sleep. Curse jetlag or bless it.  Moreover, whenever I try to go to sleep there is a phone call from Bell mobility which wakes me up. I’ve just asked them to stop.

Jerusalem, at least the centre of Jerusalem, is nothing like what I remember. It is all glitz and showmanship.  Not the quiet city I remember from my childhood. It is buzzing at 2.30 in the morning, but not nightlife, as in Berlin and Copenhagen and Leuven, at least not much of it or maybe I’m not looking. There is a 24 hour seven-eleven type store up the street where I just bought things for my trip tomorrow, and a chip shop still open, and a pizza bar, and a curry restaurant.  Many streets are pedestrian malls, with fancy pavement sunk into the ground. I don’t find my way around.  Suddenly I’m in King George and then I’m somewhere else I half remember, but not in its proper place. It’s as if everything has shifted round and it is a new fantastic kingdom

The hotel is very central, right in the middle, on Ben Yehuda, the original centre of the New City.  It is also very new, maybe opened a couple of months ago, and is called the Ibis Styles, part of an Ibis chain, itself part of the Accor group, and there is another Ibis hotel just a few minutes walk away.  The room is nice, nicer than in the Little House in Rehavia where I stayed with Alan, standard, like a standard hotel room anywhere. A little bit noisy from the street.  There were nice polite receptionists, whom I bothered at least seven times in the first half hour (I took the wrong person’s suitcase, the key to my room wouldn’t work, the internet wouldn’t work, I had left my  adaptors behind in my other rucksack & c.). One of them , at least, is Palestinian, and the other, on her first day, probably, since they spoke to each other in Arabic, but completely fluent in Hebrew and English.

The flight was not adventurous.  I flew business class from Vancouver to Frankfurt, which didn’t help greatly with tiredness and boredom. I watched half of Bohemian Rhapsody, desultorily read a couple of chapters of Il Giardino dei Finzi Contini, which I’m trying to read in Italian, pretended to write, stretched out like a corpse on the space capsule seat which turns into a bed, looked at views of West Greenland – in the far north – and also saw the Faroes, ate too much and too sickly – I didn’t need cheese AND dessert – but there it was.

Then on the flight from Frankfurt to Tel Aviv,  Economy class this time, but with a seat between us, and a flight full of very loud and excited Taglit (Birthright) kids – I had a lovely conversation with my neighbour across the vacant seat, in between spells of her sleeping.  Her name was Gai (valley”), she had just finished her degree in Mechanical Engineering in Oklahoma, was entering a Ph.D. program in Northwestern, hopes to be a professor.  Leftwing, more leftwing than myself, voted for the Arab Joint List in the last elections. She left Israel so as not to have to go into the army, at the time of the last Gaza war, and also because she felt estranged from her friends because of her decision in her small town.  Her parents are Meretz voters. She used to go to weekly demonstrations in Nabi Saleh near Hebron, but found it too dangerous.  A reservoir used by Palestinians was being stolen by settlers.

I was really anxious about passport control. Supposing they asked me awkward questions? supposing they wouldn’t let me into the country?  There was an absolutely enormous set of queues behind booths at Passport Control, unmoving, almost like the 600, 000 Israelites at passport control when they left Egypt.  I was standing at the end of one of the queues when someone picked me out, asked if I was alone, and directed me to the VIP Passport Control round the corner.  There there was also a yeshivah bocher (a young yeshivah student) from Montreal, who was delighted to find a fellow Canadian.  He was studying at a famous yeshivah in Jerusalem (the Mir yeshivah, which we passed in the taxi) and had splendid peyot.  Everyone there was absolutely bewildered that we had been directed to the VIP queue, but we patiently explained that we had been sent there. The passport control officer just asked if I had relatives in Israel (yes) and if I had been before (many times).  Then the luggage was waiting for us when we emerged.

In the taxi had a fairly nice conversation with a man from Paris in a medley of languages. I was very proud of my attempts to speak French.   Everywhere the landscape is scarred and battered with new housing projects, very shoddy, very ugly, some Jewish, some Arab, I suspect.  I keep on wondering what happened to the pristine world I knew as a child. It is the same with Cairo, I know, from Gabriel Josipovici’s account.  Perhaps everywhere.

Jerusalem isn’t pretty. At least many parts are not pretty, rundown, cluttered, stony, especially of course Mea Shearim and the orthodox areas.  But they have a deep vitality.

On leaving the shared taxi (sherut) I took someone else’s suitcase by mistake.  It was the same colour and texture, and I only noticed when I got to the hotel which is 100 metres away in a pedestrian mall.  Panic.  The (nice) receptionist assured me it happens all the time.  I went up to my room, leaving the other suitcase, and when I came back five minutes later, lo and behold the right suitcase was there! The taxi driver came back and exchanged them. A city of miracles.

Tomorrow i.e. today I go to the Jordan Valley with David Shulman and Ta’ayush, to accompany shepherds.  I am anxious about it because the temperature in the Jordan Valley is forecast to be 43 degrees.  David tells me that during Ramadan the shepherds tend to graze their sheep for only a short time and he hopes we can be back by midday.  I hope so too. I wouldn’t like to get heatstroke. And I wouldn’t mind sleeping.


A quiet day on the West Bank

Friday, 17th May, 5 p.m.

A quiet day on the West Bank.  Went to meet David Shulman and the others at the usual meeting place at 6 a.m., but went down the wrong road. Nonetheless found them.  There were only five of us, in a bouncy van, going down into the Jordan Valley.  David likes going there and started doing so three or so years ago, because it is so beautiful.  There are shepherds there who are continually harassed by settlers from a local outpost. But today all was quiet. A shepherd boy called Musa, the goats grazing happily, us sitting around waiting.  No one showed up, no soldiers, no settlers. Spent a long time talking to David about age, friends dying, we seemed to be remarkably similar.  I thought. The melancholy that approaches with old age. Though neither of us, I think, particularly melancholy persons.  There was Guy Hirschfeld, who drove us over roads of unbelievable roughness, and who spends his life documenting the occupation.  There is a documentary about him. He is universally hated by settlers and soldiers since he doesn’t mince words. He calls the soldiers marionettes.  Shaye, who is a rabbi and teaches JTS students at the Conservative rabbinical school here – we started to have deep discussions about religion, Judaism included, on the way home.  And Amir, with whom I didn’t really talk, to my regret.  There was a real language barrier – the three of us largely speaking English, Guy and Amir speaking Hebrew which I could only partially follow, and only David speaking Arabic.


This is Musa:


MusaLord of the Flock

And here is a goat, very proud of his horns

David is coming to Vancouver and Gabriola Island next April and I hope he will visit.

From al-Rashash we went to Humsa, which divided into Upper and Lower Humsa. Sounds like the wanderings of the Israelites or Midsommer Murders, but it is rather more sinister.  The scenery, however, as David promised, is unbelievably beautiful, deep cut valleys, the Jordan valley below, and everything shrouded in a heat haze, because we are in a hamsin  and were promised 43 degrees.  But this was still fairly early in the morning – we left about 9.30 – and the sun was beginning to be unpleasant as were the flies.  The goats were magnificent.  But about 9.30 or Musa started to drive the flock into the valley where the pasture is greener and they are safe from settlers.  When it is hot and especially in Ramadan they tend to stop grazing the flock early.

In Humsa the army has established some firing ranges, and issued the inhabitants with notices to evacuate their houses several times a week until June 5th, with hours like 2 -10 p.m. or 4 a.m-12. The times keep on changing.  So in the middle of Ramadan they with all their families and many children have to leave their homes and go into very makeshift shelters.  Amira Hass published an opinion piece on this in Haaretz today – just after coming back from Japan.  The case will come before the courts on Sunday – Taayush is seeking an injunction against the army using the firing range for practice in Ramadan. In any case, apparently it is one of the many ways the army/government is trying to force Palestinians out of their land, explicitly so, according to the testimony given to a Knesset committee in 2014 (source: Amira Hass).  We of course drank  extremely sweet tea.



Improvised tent at Upper Humsa

Then we drove through yet more rough back roads to the village of al-Hadadiyah -all this in the upper Jordan valley – and then a settlement, and then back with a break for a snack in a favourite place near Jericho, and up through the wadis and hills to a Jerusalem that seemed mercifully cool.

Still haven’t slept.  Have to go off.  More later. God bless.

David Shulman 2.JPG

David Shulman with Shaye Rothberg to the right and Amir just behind.  Guy had gone to shelter from the fierce sun in the truck.

For those who have a subscription to Haaretz, here is the link to Amira Hass’s opinion piece:


Saturday, 18th May 5.15 a.m.

Then went to my friends Alan and Diane Greenberg for dinner.  First calling at the egalitarian synagogue where they like to go, where I arrived extremely late.  It was windy, cool, bright evening sun, and it took longer to walk than I expected.  The service crowded, there were some celebrations, a rather long and silly sermon, but all in all aesthetically rather nice once they got onto what remained of the service. Diane left early, not feeling very well, and Alan and I walked back together in the twilight, and talked about God and other lesser things, such as people. I spouted my theory about God which I had spouted earlier in the car, God and the three bodies of the Buddha, but I’m not sure that that is what concerned Alan.  Diane had invited my very old friends, Laurence and Nanette Freedman (see Our Trip to Israel 2014), and there was much catching up, about  respective children, grandchildren, Nanette’s 98 year old mother who was a friend of mine, and from a visit to whom in London she had just returned.  Nanette and Laurence are off to a conference in Banff in early June, but I’m not sure we could make it.  I think talked too much, and was rather over-tired, but it was very exciting to see them.  But then we all live such tangled lives, especially with children, and it is strange to see the knots once in five years (well, in their case, Nanette visited us in Victoria in the meanwhile).  Diane also brought an invitation to a tea party tomorrow evening i.e. this evening, at the house of Barbara Gingold…

Finally slept for about three hours and woke with a headache at 2.30. Went for a walk round and round, especially north, by the Ethiopian church and to Mea Shearim, of course closed to traffic on Friday night.  Strangely, there were lots of family groups – husbands, wives, babies, children holding parents’ hands, strollers – at 3.30 in the morning.  I don’t know where they were coming from or going to. A group of yeshivah bocherim – or just young men? – in a circle in the middle of the street loudly discussing.  In general, I find Jerusalem  very spooky in the middle of the night.  It is also very messy.  Garbage overflows from cans everywhere. Very third worldy.

David talked about the threats to liberal democracy – the proposal to introduce a basic law that the Knesset can supersede any judgment of the Supreme Court it doesn’t like, and the packing of the court with right wing judges.  The threat to Human Rights organizations, and the New Israel Fund, and the possibility that they may be made illegal.   The erosion of liberal democracy, not only in Israel but everywhere, I find terrifying.


Sunday, May 19th 5.30 a.m.

Still didn’t sleep very well, waiting for my coffee, went for a rather short walk, down to the Independence Park, but not really in the mood – too much waste, garbage.

Yesterday walked to my friends Dalit and Amnon Rom-Shiloni in the Jewish Quarter in the Old City. It was beautiful, of course, and crowded to walk through the shuk, and then in the quiet streets of the Jewish Quarter – it seems much less brash than when I first saw it, as if it has grown into the landscape, which is not surprising.  Dalit had made a feast, with lots of pastida.  But we talked too much about politics, and I feel rather ashamed of myself. It is difficult to avoid though, in this country, as everyone knows.  We had differences; I tend to see Israel and the Palestinians equally responsible for the failure of negotiations (and in my heart of hearts, more responsible), and most Israelis don’t.  But at least I got to speak in Hebrew for three hours, and was proud of myself – though I had to ask for the right word sometimes.  Dalit is a biblical scholar,  who figures in the Copenhagen journal – she works on Jeremiah, the prophet, exile, is compiling a massive project on the flora and fauna of the Bible, Amnon is now working mostly as an organizer of tours in the different parts of the Old City.  Dalit also volunteers in an ambulance service as a driver in the Old City among all the communities.  I felt quite fluent, though Dalit can correct me.  Then in the evening I went to a little gathering in the apartment of Barbara Gingold, to inaugurate her new kitchen, which had been transposed piece by piece from that of the Greens, who were also guests.  Jeff Green is a translator, whom I met many years ago; his wife, Judith, is a professor of Classics, also a friend of David Shulman, who takes part in a Greek reading group with her. We had a lovely  conversation.  Also an old Suburbite, Mike Grodzinski, with whom I didn’t really talk, for no good reason, I think, but I would have liked to, just to find out about old times and people.  There are all sorts of interconnections.  Another visitor, Marsha, had come from Los Angeles to be with her children and grandchildren for four months; and ex-director of the Holocaust Museum in LA (not sure about this). We talked about the children and grandchildren and the spectrum of observance.  Alan and Diane came, and likewise Penina Beck (again see 2014), who has partially lost her voice, and finds it easier to speak in English.  It was distressing, because it is from Penina that I more or less learned to speak Hebrew.  And then at the end got to talk to Barbara, about my friend Anne’s Passover among other things, and her happiness.

And then got terribly lost on the way home, tangled up in the narrow streets.

David Shulman just made this report on our visit to Humsa, with all the details that I missed:

May 17, 2019 Khirbet Humsa. Report by David Shulman

Monday, 20th May, 7.20

Am getting tired.

This morning went for a fabulous walk, leaving at 4.30, wandering around aimlessly in the darkness, down through Yemin Moshe, up to the Old City, round the Armenian Quarter, passed Amnon and Dalit’s house but didn’t think I should call in at 5.30 in the morning – very quiet of course, but some young tourists – girls – talking and I wondered why there were up.  I thought I might go to the Kotel, the Western Wall, but thought better of it. Not a place for peace and quiet, even at 5.30 in the morning. So I went through the shuk to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre instead.  The competition.  Again it was very quiet, not as it is during the day, and there was a beautiful chanting service going on, in Armenian as it turned out, with incense, before the sepulchre itself. It was so beautiful I could almost cry, but didn’t. I had a little chat with a Spanish priest afterwards who explained that all there was at the heart of Christianity was an empty tomb.

Yesterday I went to Neve Landy, literally “the Landy pasture”, a home (or village?) for very disturbed boys who have to be removed from their family environment and given nurturing, either because they are out of control – on the streets, on drugs and so on – or from very dysfunctional families.  The worst of the worst.  There are 72 boys in all, ranging from 8 to 18, and if they come it is for a commitment of at least 3 or 4 years.  The staff are unbelievably dedicated, beginning with the principal, Yosefa.  A nice Winnicottian psychologist, called Pazit.  The assistants, Razi and Shoam. We talked quite a lot about outcomes, and hope, and what happens if they don’t succeed. The kids were at school, except for a few who study at the home. It is in a little village called Even Shmuel (Samuel’s Stone), near the town Kiryat Gat, about 60 kms, I would guess, from Jerusalem.  On the way we picked up Daphne Kaufman, 87 years old, from her senior citizens home on  a beautiful hilltop about 20 kms or so from Jerusalem, always cool and airy.  I went with Daphne last time.  The home is run by British Emunah – a women’s religious Zionist organization my mother chaired for many years, hence it is named after my parents and thus we feel a special connection to it.  Every time I come I visit. Daphne is an old friend – very bright, well-read, sparky, old of course – and we were met at the home by Deborah Nathan, who had been director of Emunah in England and has now become the world director, I would almost like to say director of the world, but alas no. She would do a much better job.  At any rate, she was very present and direct, a very nice person to be with, and we had mutual acquaintances, my old friend Vivian Wineman.

As we went around looking at the garden and so on we also visited their little petting zoo.  I got to hold a ferret – they only have two rats, a ferret, a rabbit, and a cat.  It was a highlight of my day.  Ferret in Hebrew is “chamus” – with a soft “ch” as in “loch”.  They also have a greenhouse, only greenhouses here have to be largely sheltered from the sun, and we picked a strawberry.  I took photographs. Then we drove to a new house in my mother’s name, about a km away, and I took a photograph of Yosefa.


Yosefa in front of a calendar of activities in Beit Tova (the house of Tova, my mother’s Hebrew name.

The safe room, where kids can go if they melt down. I’m not sure what is the black square in the middle.

Safe room.JPG

Then we went back to Jerusalem, where I met my cousin Judy with her husband Malcolm in the Israel Museum, where Judy is a docent.  They were taking some Glaswegian friends around.  We went to the Maimonides exhibition (Judy got two catalogues for me at half price) and then to a  modernist exhibition upstairs.  The Maimonides exhibition had extraordinary illuminated manuscripts.  I was a bit too tired to take in the modernist one, and had to sit down and let myself absorb it slowly.

I’m getting a great kick out of speaking Hebrew. A lot of credit to Dahlia. I find I can be reasonably fluent, though naturally with thousands of mistakes. Also I’m puzzled by the extraordinary atavistic tug i feel towards this land, despite everything. A passion.

Today the tour proper begins, but I feel as if I have lived half a lifetime here even beforehand.

Just had a lovely little conversation with the person who comes to clean the room, about how I liked the hotel and Jerusalem.  I told her it tears my heart.

IMG_2862Jerusalem early morning.JPG

Pictures from this morning.

Tuesday, May 21st, 5.30

Getting tired.  Went for my early morning walk, round and round the Old City, but found it spooky and claustrophobic. Went into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, again the service, but left after a moment or two.  Many people coming from the Haram esh-Sharif after early morning prayers.

The NIF tour started yesterday lunchtime. It is overwhelming. a) the participants have enormous and intimidating experience in advocacy, and social engagement; b) the task is so enormous. After lunch the director of the NIF, Micky Gitzlin, talked about the crisis facing Israel and Israeli democracy, such as has never been experienced before.  There are, he said, three elements: i) Netanyahu’s one goal is to avoid prosecution. ii) Betsalel Smotrich, of the New Right, wants annexation of the territories plus the destruction of the independence of the Supreme Court, through the passage of a law (still before knesset) that any judgement of the Supreme Court can be reversed by a vote in the Knesset.  iii) the absolute weakness of the opposition.  The devil’s compact is between Netanyahu and Smotrich.  In exchange for supporting Netanyahu (and other ministers) in the proposal to render members of the government immune from prosecution, Netanyahu will support Smotrich’s agenda, which he really doesn’t want.  This aligns with trends throughout the western world to replace democracy with authoritarianism (Orban’s “illiberal democracy”) and to increase the power of the executive branch.

The only way to resist this is through cooperation and building bridges between all the organizations and networks dedicated to civil society to change attitudes and to save democracy in Israel, including Jewish-Palestinian cooperation, and which will involve also cooperation with other civil rights resistance movements outside Israel (including the diaspora).  Micky thought that one advantage Israel has over, say, Turkey and Hungary, is that civil society is quite strong.

The NIF  has got two branches – the New Israel Fund proper, which raises money for  projects and groups – and Shatil, which provides not only seed money, but, essentially, training for new NGOs.  There is often the experience that people have bright ideas but no idea how to spend their money effectively.  This often happens on the micro-level e.g. two women in a Bedouin community who want to start a project for an essential service that is lacking but without the skills to do it.  In recent years NIF has been focusing, reducing the number of organizations it supports, but making grants bigger. Its budget is very small, about $4.

It sees itself very much as an umbrella organization.  As such it has become the focus of demonization by the right, especially by Netanyahu.  The right universally thrives on creating imaginary enemies – witness Trump.  Micky commented that Netanyahu’s PR  firm used to work for NIF, and are good friends, and the CEO had told him that the first thing Netanyahu had said to them was to make Benny Gantz – his rather weak opponent – into a giant.  One of the problems they were working with was that the Kehol-Lavan party, which is the main opposition, is divided and moreover has very little experience in the mechanisms of the political system. So Kehol-Lavan has reached out to them to help organize demonstrations (one taking part next week)

There were various other functionaries, though that sounds much too impersonal – Shira Ben-Sasson, Esther Sivan (both for Shatil), Yuval in charge of funds – it is all a bit of a blur – rather good at introducing themselves and their experience in women’s movements, disabilities, & c. And lots of questions.

Shira talked about the history of NIF, beginning in 1979, when the replacement of the Labour government by Likud in 1977 meant that suddenly the socialist regime in which social services were the province of the state and party, with its systems of patronage, was replaced by a capitalist one, with the progressive withdrawal of government from some of its responsibilities – hence the need for the creation of a civil society network outside government. In the last six or seven years the strategy has had to change, in part because civil society is essentially strong, but also because of the demonization of the NIF and the shrinking support for basic values.   In a paranoid situation, everyone becomes a traitor, which can be a good thing, since everyone is tarred with the same brush, but  it is also dangerous, because there is no public discourse. Education becomes simply acculturation to the values of the right.

All this sounds terrifying and I got more and more depressed.

There were questions about the non-normalization rejection of working together with Israelis by (some) Palestinians.  Answer: i) be loud and clear about your positions; ii) attract support in Israel for improving lives of Palestinians; iii) wait for willingness to talk.  Questions also about willy-nilly being compelled to become political, despite the necessity to be non-partisan (as an NGO).  This is very important in diaspora – where association with the NIF can attract hostility.  One blind person on the tour asked about why disability had been dropped from  the list of organizations supported (answer – budgetary limitations; and we will be visiting Bizhut, which does support disability).


Following the session with the NIF team we went on a walking tour with Gadi Something, from Tag Meir (the light-tag), a group formed to counter Jewish terrorists who would vandalise mosques and beat or murder Arab in revenge for terrorist actions – Tag Me’ir rhymes with Tag Mehir (price tag), the name adopted by the Jewish terrorists.  It was a walking tour of part of Jerusalem, past the municipality and our hotel, marking spots where Arabs had been beaten or murdered, simply for speaking Arabic.  There are lots of memorials to the Jewish victims of terror, but none to the Arab ones, so Gadi was being a living memorial.  I felt quieter and quieter and less and less willing to engage with others, partially because of shyness and wanting to absorb and think, but also out of sadness.  But I did have an animated conversation before we left for dinner in a fancy (Jerusalem’s No.1 restaurant) with Susie Sawicki, who is taking Ben’s place for the first couple of days [Ben having lost his passport] and is (I can’t quite remember) liaison person in NIF for all the other branches – and who knows David Shulman, Mordechai Beck (who is trying to arrange a time) and all the others.

Yesterday morning I found my parents’ graves, in Sanhedria cemetery, having walked there (I got side tracking along the cemetery wall).  Lots of notices to kohanim (hereditary priests) not to walk under the cemetery trees, because of the danger of impurity.And i also saw Yaakov Yedidiah, who owns Optika Yedidiah, the husband of my step-grandmother’s niece, who stayed in my parents’ house when I was a child. I hadn’t seen him for 50 years. I remember him saying to me in about 1970 something like “After all, what right have we to be in this land” and I thought he must be joking. It was the first time I had heard anything like that.  Despite not seeing them, I often think of them.  I was lucky to see him; he only comes into the shop a couple of times a week to see patients who really want to see him.  He must be over 80. graves

My parents’ graves.  Jews traditionally put pebbles on graves. It was rather hard to find any, as you might guess.  There is a rather nice inscription on my mother’s grave (to the right in the picture) – (but I’ll have to find it._


Yaakov and myself.


Wednesday, 22nd April, 6 a.m.


My friend Alan asks me, as is his wont, whether anyone talks about a one-state or two-state solution.  The short answer is no.  The situation has gone way beyond these easy alternatives.  The two-state solution will not happen until there is a Meretz government, speedily in our days, with enough will and capacity to evacuate the settlements, and though indeed a rightwing government may annex Area C or, better still, the settlements in it, they will not give the Palestinian inhabitants the vote, and it is very easy to see how they can avoid doing it.  Israel is not going to commit suicide as a Jewish state, at least according to the point of view of the vast majority of its inhabitants (even Palestinian Israelis). So we may be left with the prospect of an even more violent intifada, with consequences that are unpredictable, but one suspects that violence just breeds more violence, as in Syria.

We began yesterday with Naomi Chazan, a veteran politician and political scientist on the left, a former president of the NIF, a three term Meretz member of the Knesset,  who heads the school of government and social policy in Tel Aviv. Wonderfully thoughtful, dry, and warning us in advance that she would have nothing positive to say.   The utter bleakness astonishes.  She said that Israel was subtly, suddenly, sliding from a situation of conflict management to one of control. I’m not too sure what she meant; I should try to ask her.  What’s the difference? She described the present situation and crisis, resulting from a combination of neo-liberalism, the lack of checks and balances and accountability, and populism. The control is both through Israel’s effectively offloading security to its client state of the Palestinian Authority, and indirectly supporting Hamas through weakening the PA and subverting any attempt at reunification.

The present situation is that Netanyahu is desperate to avoid prosecution. In exchange for immunity he is prepared or may be prepared to offer the far right (the Union of Right Wing parties) what they want, namely annexation of Area C (the parts of the West Bank not yet under the authority of the PA), and even more important, the equivalent of a “notwithstanding” clause, whereby any vote of the Knesset and any ministerial action can override decisions of the Supreme Court. In the rhetoric of the right, the Supreme Court is a bastion of Ashkenazi liberalism and of leftist resistance to their domination. Unlike Canada or the US, there is no second chamber; there is no check on the government, since the Knesset is always run by the party of government.  With the introduction of a “notwithstanding” clause, Israel would lose all vestige of democracy, because there would be no one to whom to appeal.  Hence a managed authoritarianism.. One can add the weakness of the media (about which our third panel spoke), control over the education system and the curriculum, and Netanyahu’s mastery of creating false narratives.

She also spoke about Religion and the State (how the orthodox parties got 16 seats in the election, and hence there will be no progress on the pluralism front, and vast sums of money that Israel cannot afford will be given to the ultra-orthodox schools, where even the three R’s are often not taught, and students are left utterly unprepared for the job market).

This led to the economy. Israel prides itself on its economic success but it rests on very shaky foundations (in answer to a question from Janice, one of the partipants, she said it was a house of cards). Kahlon, the Finance Minister, head of the 4 seat Kulanu party, prides himself on fiscal responsibility and has run up the biggest deficit in Israel’s history.  Economic disparity between rich and poor is greater than in any OECD country. The coalition negotiations will cost money.

Naomi Chazan looks much older than her years, 72. She is articulate, brilliant, sad, old.


The trouble is that she said so much and that I took notes. e.g. that all one can do about Gaza is weep.

I’m feeling a bit ill.  Am at breakfast. Too much rich food. Every lunch and dinner we go to the best restaurants. Enough. Enough

After Naomi there was a panel of religious pluralism, with Noa, a reform rabbi who is director of the religious action centre, Orit, who works on women’s issues, especially the problem of agunot, “chained” women whose husbands refuse to give them divorces and cannot remarry, and Assaf, who represents what he calls the silent minority of moderate orthodoxy, or Open orthodoxy, Orit’s organization is called “Mebo’ satum” – or Dead End. Noa was director of first LBGT centre in Jerusalem.

The worst thing, as Assaf said, is that in the tradition there are numerous approaches to every problem, and the rabbinate sees its task as closing off options.  eg. with the question of the agunah.  They have tried to develop systems of alternative systems and rabbinical courts.

In the bus afterwards going to lunch I got into an argument with one of the group, Janice, who lives here, volunteers with NIF, and has been backwards and forwards to Canada (complicated story) on the sharia controversy in Ontario – about which we have absolutely opposite narratives – (but I just looked it up and I’m right).  And even more my discomfort with Israel being  a “Jewish” state.  I asked a question which needed more of an answer about support for non-Jewish religions.  I’m happy with its being a Jewish homeland and its having a Jewish majority, whatever that means, only not with its Jewish identity taking precedence over its Arab one.  i.e. the state of all its citizens. We also got into an argument about multiculturalism.

We had lunch in an old leper colony in Talbieh, now a nice restaurant with its own farm in the Arabah and all its own produce. I bought peaches and nectarines.  Lunch was the usual salads and things and after a bit I escaped and sat quietly under trees. I needed space.  Then we went to the NIF office, down in the industrial area of Talpiot, and heard a panel of two lovely people , Michal and Hobab, lovely names too, from the Centre for Policy Change, for example about lobbying for public housing policies (by the way, a catch-22 about the status of women is that a woman can’t get a divorce if she’s still living with her husband, but if she leaves she can’t get alimony because she is assumed to be financially independent).  It covered much the same ground – the present crisis – there will be a demonstration which they hope will be big in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, which we’ll attend.

Our program starts at 8 and it is nearly there so I’ll summarize a bit.  I had a lovely talk on the bus and afterwards with a blind constitutional lawyer, David Lopatsky, as bright as could be, who educates judges among other things.  Because of the heat our scheduled walk with a superb guide, Chava, was replaced by a  tour of the Israeli art exhibit in the Israel museum, talking about the ideology behind different pictures at different stages. She was so good both at analysing and also describing the pictures for David’s benefit. Then we had dinner at the Anna Ticho house (an artist of the 30s) as sumptuous as most of our dinners, with Hagai Elad, of Betselem, the famous human rights organization, who talked about the sense of frustration, of failure, changes in policy, how for example they no longer cooperate with the military, since it was clear that the only thing the military were interested in was whitewashing.

It is supposed to be 35 today, 38 the next two days.

More later.

Thursday, 23rd May, 7 a.m.

Our friend Akira Osawa died. That is the main news. He was a good man, a forest scientist.  We knew them from the time that they had a sabbatical in Edmonton, when our children were six.  He was such a nice man. It is difficult to know.

Today we leave Jerusalem for Wadi Ara and Tel, Aviv. I slept for the first time, waking up at 5.30.  I feel very far away and anxious, because of Akira’s death, in part, and maybe simply far away.

Yesterday we went to the Kalandia checkpoint in North Jerusalem, after a talk from Machsom Watch – checkpoint watch – an association of 150 or so women, mostly grandmotherly- who monitor checkpoints in the West Bank, and try to sort out people’s problems with permits.  It is often nightmarish for inhabitants of the West Bank, not to speak of Gaza, to get permits to enter Israel: it involves massive bureaucracy, and elementary skills in filling out forms, and often they are arbitrarily denied, or at least one never knows the reason.  The two women who presented to us, Daniella and Ida (but I never really quite caught her name, and was too embarrassed to ask), immensely articulate and friendly, talked about how widely diffused their work is – much more than just watching checkpoints – and also how they often have good relations with the army, who rely on them to make sure that things are working smoothly.  They call them in for consultations.  The checkpoints were and are a source of immense frustration and humiliation, as was stressed for instance by President Obama – as a result of whose intervention the number of checkpoints was reduced.  In my trips with Taayush to the South Hebron Hills and to the Jordan Valley I’ve never come across one.

The checkpoint at Kalandia, between Jerusalem and the West Bank at its northern end, has recently been completely transformed.  The old, dark miserable building, to which we were first taken, has been abandoned, and replaced, only in the last couple of months, by a shiny new one, almost fully automated, in which people zip through, with virtually no contact with soldiers.  The Palestinians love it, and we went through without incident though hesitation, and at first the Machsom Watch people were ecstatic. And yes, it is a huge improvement.  But it also has the effect of normalising the occupation.

There are different categories of permit holders.  For instance, over 55s don’t need a permit. Most people just have to scan a laminated blue card through a turnstile.  Every so often there are problems – for instance, if an employer has fired someone without bothering to tell them.  There is a point person for Machsom Watch, Sylvia, whom everyone in the West Bank knows, and who is an expert at sorting out problems. The universal grandmother.

Machsom Watch is feminist, non-hierarchical, entirely gendered organization.  Some men wanted to join (and yes, there are some in the background) but it turned out that they wanted to “organize” the women.

There may be more to say.

We had lunch back at NIF headquarters a delicious lunch, better than all the restaurant meals, prepared by a staff member whose name I forget (Kurdish background) with stuffed vine leaves, smoked baked eggplants stuffed with cheese, pashtida, a kind of spanish omelette or kugel with onions and things. Let’s say an oriental Kugel. and a moussaka, and fabulous salads.  One eats and eats. And then a panel discussion through the post-prandial stupor, with representatives of ACRI (Association for Civil Rights xxx), Yesh Din, the legal NGO, and Physicians for Human Rights, which speaks for itself.

The representative from ACRI was a Christian Arab from Nazareth, Tamir from Physicians etc. They were asked who they were and to tell one or two stories. Back to that later.

In the afternoon we went with Ir Amim, literally “City of Peoples”, a group dedicated to resistance to the Judaization of Jerusalem.  We went to two flashpoints, following a spectacular view of Jerusalem from the south, near the Armon Hanatsiv, the old British governor-general’s building, where the UN has its headquarters.  The two flashpoints are Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah.  We also drove through Jabal al-Mukabir, where settlers too have built complexes, heavily guarded gated communities. Eran, our guide, a closely head shaved Israeli in typical secular Israeli fashion, talked about the degree of corruption at all levels involved with the settler takeover. The scenery of course heartbreaking.  Silwan is the village underneath the Temple mount were the cursed Elad archaeological excavations are taking place. It is very poor, closely knit, one has to go up huge numbers of steep steps in the stifling heat.  There one of the worst, most disgusting of the settler groups, Ateret Cohanim, literally “the diadem of the priests”, what an ironic name, have appropriated houses which belonged to Yemenite Jews before the 1948 war. We were shown round by a local organizer of a community centre who is trying to fight the takeover (I forget his name).  Ateret Cohanim is an organization dedicated to rebuilding the Third Temple. There are all these pious young women with little children who scurry from house to house accompanied by security guards.  That cannot be a life. It reminded me of nothing less than the ghetto in Tuscany, in which Jews lived in one street with their Christian neighbours and for hundreds of years would not talk or make eye contact with each other.  Up, up, up the very steep stairs, to the very bright airy community centre, with the lovely young daughter of our guide.

And then in Sheikh Jarrah, a flashpoint for the last few years. Preparations were going on for the Lag B’omer celebrations at the tomb of Simon the Righteous, not I imagine very happily observing the festivities.  In Sheikh Jarrah there were houses owned by Jews before 1948, who were displaced by the conflict, and which were then occupied by Palestinian refugees from Arab areas in West Jerusalem, under Jordanian rule, while the refugees from Sheikh Jarrah were resettled by the Israeli government.  So things continued for decades after 1967, until one of the cursed settler organizations, aided by a revolting man named Arye King, son or grandson I suspect of someone I knew as a child (Neville King, son of Marcus King), bought up the rights to the houses from the original inhabitants and started taking them over.  Sheikh Jarrah was the scene of great demonstrations, and apparently they still continue.  There are huge ironies.  The son of one of the original owners, who himself was displaced from the house, Michael Ben Ari (I think), was Attorney General under Rabin, and deeply opposed to the takeover.  There is a family that refused to give over possession to the settler group, and the house became the object of a sale by auction, which the Palestinians won for absurdly tnflated costs, and then the deal was cancelled.  The settlers destroyed a communal garden.

I have to leave because we are checking out and going to Wadi Ara and Tel Aviv. Temperature forecast to be 37.

Had a drink with Mordechai Beck and then dinner with Alan and Diane in a restaurant called Piccolino, where we ate on the first day.  It was nice but I ate far too much!!!  They might visit. And then I heard about Akira.

Bless everybody.


Machsom Watch also take mother and children from the West Bank to the sea, to spend the day at the beach.

Had a somewhat dispirited sort of day, thinking about our friend Akira, and travelling around in the immense heat. It isn’t supposed to be as hot as this in May. We travelled to Wadi Ara, (Nahal Iron in hebrew) a mostly Arab area jutting onto the north-western end of the West Bank, if I have got it right.  There are also a number of Jewish settlements established on top of hilltops to watch over the densely populated Arab towns and villages.  Our first stop was Givat Haviva, an educational centre established in 1949 fro the development of a shared society.  We talked with Sama A-Thami, the director of education, who talked about his life story, growing up in a village, not meeting Jews of his own age until he went to university when he was 19, had a rather complex life and has been director since 2013 (?). They do amazing things.  The basic message was that coexistence is not enough, but that society has to change.  The interaction, and the challenges, happen at all levels from kindergarten to high school, with middle school being the crucial stages.  He also talked about the enormous changes that are now happening within Palestinian society.  For instance, that 54% of Palestinian graduates at universities are now women, whereas thirty years ago it was 15%.  For many Palestinians English is now their second language, not Hebrew, and they need to have Hebrew for the job market.  The intensive interaction between kids as the best way of learning, and of learning about specific Palestinian-Jewish issues. The Heart to Heart (or is it hand to hand program) in which Palestinian-Israeli and Jewish kids go to summer camp in Canada. The region as a microcosm of Israeli society, with 400,000 inhabitants.  Undercover support from the government (the Education minister of the time, Gid’on Saar, gave matching grants, but did not want it to be known).  The immense obstacles, especially with the current government in formation, in which an extreme religious rightist, Rabbi Peretz, is angling for the ministry of education.  Jewish kids, on average, receive nine times as much funding as Arab ones. Sami was hopeful, energetic, intense.  He spoke of the impossibility of working with the political system if Arab MKs are always in opposition.  yet there are the extraordinary initiatives.  We then went to the art gallery of Givat Haviva, (for the site see and an exhibition of Palestinian women’s art – especially a very young dramatic painter called Rahmi Hamzi, whose paintings are immense, sexual, abstract, scary and a an older artist whose series “The needle vanquished the tailor”, in which traditional shirts and sewing techniques are contorted in various ways, gradually opening and changing – and a rather nice ceramics workshop.

Picture by Rahmi Hamza

Then we went on to a house with a woman whose name I forget – in Kafr Qara – things are turning into a blur, a packed Arab town (maybe 7000 people) – who had made us yet another splendid meal even though it was Ramadan  – eggplant salad, vineleaves, salads, rice and vegetables etc – and talked about her life and struggles and courage in developing a life for herself, and her creating a cooperative movement for women in the region.  Her gratitude too to her husband who was supportive, and whom she asked to marry her!

It was so hot and I was so tired, and so bewildered by thoughts about Akira. I decided to sit outside in the heat and be alone.  It was immensely, oppressively hot, perhaps 41. All over Israel wild fires have been burning, perhaps also set off by Lag Baomer bonfires. One of the group, Janice, a volunteer with NIF who lives part time in Israel, said that she couldn’t sleep because of the acrid fumes of plastic covered laminated doors and things burnt at the bonfires.

In the afternoon, we drove with Dr. Hanna Swaid, the director of the Arab Centre for Alternative Planning, who also had experience as a Member of Knesset, and was eloquent in describing what it was like.  Dr. Swaid is an expert in urban planning,  a former mayor and politician.  A rare combination which got him involved in urban planning for the Arab communities.   Towns in this densely populated region grew up centuries ago without planning – hence the narrow streets, and the very high population density.  Population has grown exponentially. Yet they have little space into which to expand, because of massive land expropriations after the 1948 War, even for those Palestinians who remained within pre-1967 Israel.  Recently (2015) the government has allocated massive investment in planning in Arab towns and villages, but it isn’t matched by the allocation of space into which to grow, plus there are inadequacies in forming the planning committees to do the actual planning (Dr. Swaid also talked about how the Arab MKs are always caught in the middle between the expectations of their public and their limited capacity to do anything). Why did the government allocate the funding? Dr. Swaid thought it might be in part because Netanyahu wanted to offset the damage caused by his racist rhetoric.

We drove up to a look out point where we could see the entire valley, with West Bank and its wall behind us (incidentally, the Machsom Watch people told us that only 62% of the separation Wall has been built, and that it is estimated that there are 35-40,000 Palestinians from the West Bank living illegally in Israel – she (Ida from Machsom watch) herself had seen people scaling the wall with ladders and suitcases. Trump take note).

Then on to Tel Aviv.  I skipped the lecture on Bizhut – the Centre for disabilities – because I was too tired and spaced out.  I slept for three hours, went out, had a VERY MESSY falafel, went back to bed, woke at 1.30, lay awake or fell asleep, went for a walk at 4. Not very nice, and not in the nice part of the city where the Hotel Diaghilev, my favourite hotel in the world, is situated. it is close to the beach, very crowded at night. I walked to the sea.  Oppressively hot even at this time of the morning.  the beach with rows and rows of deckchairs, kitsch, so different from our sea back home.  Suddenly there seemed to be a wild animal growling by my side, but it was only a homeless man snoring under a blanket.

I don’t feel I know anyone here.   It is a kind of odd withdrawal, the others on the trip becoming blurred in my mind more than in the first days. I’m missing home, Bennett, Akira.  Perhaps Canada and the sea.  Going down to the beach and finally the oily tranquil Mediterranean was a shock.

Am now having breakfast. Coffee the great saviour.

Saturday morning, 6.30

Woke up at 2, hot and sweaty.  It is a really charmless hotel, with small rooms, not enough space for one’s things or to write, with air conditioning which is too loud and if one opens the window there is noise from a heating vent.   I think I’m getting tired and homesick. Last night we had a delicious Shabbat meal on a rooftop, (an enterprising young woman named Inbal, with her husband and two little children) with their Turkish chef, Sevim.


Shabbat table with Tel Aviv skyline.  David in red shirt in foreground, Ilan in corner in background, Barbara holding the baby.

Inbal and Sevim

Inbal and Sevim (with the apron)

Yesterday I decided not to go to Hebron.  I’d been before and I didn’t feel well enough.  As soon as I decided and the others left, I felt better.  Another member of the group, Ilan – from Australia with his partner Oscar – also did not go because he wasn’t feeling well.  Ilan is a native Tel Avivian who met his partner 48 years ago; they visit every year.  So he knows Tel Aviv intimately.  We went to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in the intense heat (according to the  weather records it was 42), looking at photographs by a Japanese photographer, Hiroshimo Sugimoto, mystical photographs of time, sea, air, space, and some wonderful photographs of recreations (from Madame Tussaud’s waxworks) of Henry VIII and his wives, and other figures, such as Yassir Arafat. We walked through some of the galleries, lots of lovely things, some of the artists familiar from our Israel museum tour, and Ilan pointing out to me famous ones.  After a bit Ilan started to feel ill again and we went back to the hotel. Ilan works (part time) as an inspector of prisons in Sydney,  after a life as a psychologist and social worker (also child psychology). He also has a Ph.D. in Russian literature.



A bougainvillia on the way to the museum

That was it until the others came back from their trip – very impressed with their tour guide from Breaking the Silence – a young woman called Murphy.  Then we went out to our Shabbat dinner.


Went for a wonderful walk round Jaffa with Yigal (something) of the Sadaka Reut group, a group dedicated to Palestinian-Jewish youth projects, especially in peripheral regions around Tel Aviv, to community action, and to the development of  binational communities at university level and beyond.  Yigal is a history student, and most of the tour was a kind of walking tour in time of Jaffa, from the Ottoman period to the present, showing how it developed – it was the second city in the Ottoman Syrian wilayat after Beirut. Yigal is a really sophisticated historian, and it focused both on the 1948 War, when the Palestinian population largely fled or were expelled, to the twists and turns of policy after the war, the gradual mixture of Jewish and Palestinian refugees, the gentrification of Jaffa.  We walked through a huge, incongruous and gorgeous gated community, built by a Canadian entrepreneur, which has never made a profit.

Then on through the main street, with its schools – Terra Sancta, the Freres, Tabitha – Catholic, French and Anglican private schools to which wealthy Palestinian children go, gaining French or British school qualifications, and eventually, like as not being lost to the community.  The schools are very beautiful, in soft Jaffa sandstone.  The gated community is in a district, Ajami, which is one of the poorest in the Tel Aviv area.  The old city of Jaffa, what is left of it, likewise used to be a centre of crime, drug addiction, and prostitution. We didn’t go to the Ajami district, because of time, to my regret, but instead found ourselves in a garden, called the Garden of the Gazans in Arabic, because until the first Intifada farmers from Gaza would have a market there, and the Garden of the Two in English and Hebrew, because in 1992 a Jewish woman was stabbed to death by a man from Nablus, and a Palestinian died trying to protect her.  The local street is named after him, one of eight with Arabic names.  We went there, I’m afraid, for shade, after a long walk in the sun, though the weather is much cooler after the last days. Yigal concluded by talking about how he was part of the post-Oslo generation, who, whatever Oslo’s faults, thought that what was important was living just for the sake of living, independent of national narratives, and to get beyond the idea of coexistence, to trouble the coupling of “the Jew, the Arab” – to quote the title of a book by Anidjar.

Tabitha school with Freres.jpg

Tabitha school with the Freres school just beyond it, and our little group in the foreground

Lunch followed in a café which doubles as a bookstore (in Arabic, Hebrew and English) and cultural centre.  Lunch was as usual, sumptuous. Hors d’oeuvres (mezze) – labneh, tehina, salad, smoked eggplant, pita – mejadra (but without the usual onion), yoghourt, saffron rice and vegetables, a sort of gently spicy pilau. I wondered what the spices were (cinnamon, a little nutmeg perhaps, coriander and a little cumin).

Enough. Home, a rest – didn’t sleep last night – tonight we hear a presentation on gender and the women’s action group, and then proceed to a demonstration organized by the opposition against the erosion of democracy in the current coalition negotiations.


Monday, 27th May

Last full day.  Catch 4.50 a.m. flight tomorrow.  Getting really homesick and anxious to get back.

Yesterday was a busy but cooler day.  We went to a presentation by Barbara Swirsky of the Adva Center for Equality and Social Justice.  It is funded by the Canadian NIF, and basically analyses data.  Israel still has considerable inequalities, particularly in the areas of gender and between the Jewish and Palestinian sectors. Barbara presented powerpoints contrasting four cities – Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Nazareth and Beersheba – with their respective incomes. It was spoiled somewhat by the powerpoints – it would have been much better if she had spoken freely from her own experience.  Then – with one of our presenters cancelling because her child was sick – we went to Florentin  – a poor but also hip district of South Tel Aviv. South Tel Aviv is the Mizrachi (Jews from Arabic and Persian speaking countries) part of Tel Aviv, in contrast to the Ashkenazic middle or uppr class northern part.  There in a café, rather nice, with lots of people working on computers, we met Danny Gigi, of the Public Housing cooperative, funded by Shatil – the seed  money and resource branch of the NIF – and Meytal, a woman activist who turned out to be a dynamo. Danny said that only 2% of Israeli housing is public housing, the lowest amount in the developed world – in contrast, say, to 31% in the Netherlands – and in contrast too to the 21% it was in the 1970s. Most public housing had been sold off to developers. That which was left was often in a deteriorated condition – there was an exhibition, entitled “Do not cast us off” – of old people in their public housing; there is a waiting list of 70,000 for public housing excluding many who are entitled to apply but haven’t managed the bureaucracy to do so.   There are arcane regulations which make it more difficult to apply.  For example, only unemployed people are qualified to apply, which discourages especially women from seeking jobs; mothers with three children are eligible but not mothers with two.  Often people move to thirty or fifty apartments because conditions are so dreadful.  There is very little maintenance or control. Mizrahi Jews were initially most in need of public housing – now Russians and Ethiopians take up much of it.

Recently things have improved because of their advocacy.  In particular, Aryeh Deri and (another minister?) of the Shas party have been instrumental in approving 3,000 more housing units.  Shas – the ultra-religious Sephardi party – has been very positive for them.

Danny Gigi introduced Meytal, who had been homeless, moved 55 times, married, divorced, had children and herself managed to confront the Housing Minister (Aryeh Deri) and bring about a change in policy. She now advises other women.

After Danny Gigi and the housing we went to the Levitsky market, nearby, guided by Leini from Winnipeg, very bouncy – with flashy eyebrows. The Levitsky market is essentially little ethnic food shops – hummus, borekas, mezze, some soda drink I could not drink – and I ran out of room.  i had suffered from nausea the previous night, all my own fault, and did not really recover.

My pen ran out of ink, so I have no notes for the afternoon.  We had an animated discussion since our first speaker had to cancel (this kept on happening). I don’t remember a thing about the discussion.  Ben introduced it. it was largely about the possibilities and difficulties of spreading the word in Canada and Australia, given the conservatism of many Jewish communities. But we cannot not be true to ourselves.  I’ll ask Ben  to fill in.

There is confusion because apparently I’m booked to check out today and I thought I was checking out tomorrow. It’s worrying because I didn’t sleep because of my stomach troubles.

We went to the Hotline for Refugees, with a very interesting woman called Segal. More later.

My checking out problem is solved, thanks to our wonderful organizer Adi.  She used ot work in the Prime Minister’s Office (under Olmert I believe) and I bet it was fabulously organized.

Segal talked about the situation of the Eritrean and Sudanese (from darfur) refugees and asylum seekers.  There are about 30,000 now, from a peak of about 60,000 in 2012 – many have voluntarily left and many also are getting refugee status in Canada. It is a pity, Segal says, because this replaces others who are languishing in torture camps in Libya.  She talked about the dreadful situations in Darfur and Eritrea, which is a bit like North Korea. She also talked of the successful campaign to prevent the refugees from being deported, and how Israel has prevented any new ones from coming. We then went through the African migrant area in South Tel Aviv – meeting an old friend of Segal who owns a restaurant (his name sounds something like Hagios) and saw also the beautiful schools that have been built for the children.

Tuesday, 28th May, 1 a.m.

Waiting for the taxi to the airport at 1.30. Am travelling with Ben Murane, the young (32 year old) executive director of NIF Canada – energetic, thoughtful, a nice companion. He is flying via Zurich to Toronto; I am going via Frankfurt to Vancouver, and then on.  This trip has been packed and difficult, and from Friday on I was periodically ill. Akira’s death meant that I wanted to be at home.

Yesterday was another full day, culminating with dinner in an Arab or Arab nouveau restaurant in Jaffa, Onza.  The dinners provided have been spectacular.  Dips – baba ghanoush, tzatziki, tehina, various salads (tomato, fennel, green) – breads. Fortunately extremely meaty, so that I didn’t have to eat too much, but some really nice polenta with mushrooms (polenta very creamy and with cheese, I think), and sea bass with a delicious sauce –  then to say goodbye to people, of whom I had become fond, though not as yet especially close. And why? maybe a certain guardedness? a certain distance?

Yesterday, too, a session with Micky Gitzlin, the head of NIF in Israel, about current trends. It covered much the same ground as his introduction – the crisis facing  Israeli democracy, the importance of focused messages. No one now speaks about the occupation; it has fallen completely out of public discourse.  The consensus is that there is no one to talk to.  NIF’s job is to keep the issue alive, through human rights organizations.Otherwise things will fall apart; Palestinians will get to the point of violence. The PA is falling apart, for lack of funds, with the 150,000 people it supports.

The good thing is that there is a new generation of activists, who do not belong to the old elites, who have never been in power. There is a missing generation, of the forty- and fifty years old, between the old guard leftists and the new ones.  They will think differently, and realise that all the issues are interconnections.  An example was the demonstration on Saturday evening where Aymeh Odeh shared a platform with Kehol-Lavan, only because of the pressure of activists. They have nothing to lose – the example is that of the right, who reorganized after the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

Am now in airport, having got through security, have lost Ben. Have found Ben.

I wrote a great deal more but I seem to have lost it.  I also lost my cell phone. It was an exhausting flight back.  I’ll try to catch up later.

Wednesday, 29th May.  3 a.m.


(Trying to reconstitute my comments)

Micky Gitzlin was followed by a session on social media, with two young people who have started organizations – one a twitter/facebook page with 150,000 members – one a Jewish-Arab movement, Tazim, with all materials in both languages. i was feeling ill, hence went  to rest, and only came back to the session for the last part.  The Tazim person (whose name I forget) said that his generation experienced things differently from previous ones, it was more isolated because of social media.  At the same time – and this startled me -it was more radical and more right.  Ben confirmed this to me in the airport – there are surveys that show that high school Israelis overwhelmingly support the right – because perhaps of indoctrination in school, the changes in education.  This (if I understood) was also an opportunity; one can take advantage of their radicality.  The difference in experience was also compounded by insecurity and perhaps a sense of betrayal. Whereas parents had a certain sense of stability, in jobs, housing etc, there was none of this for the young.  Hence Occupy Wall St., Rothschild.

As a Jewish-Arab movement they wanted to show that not only was it right, but also smart, to include Arabs in the Israeli political scene.

Ben made a comment that the older activists were strong on principles, the younger ones on techniques.  The older ones active with their heads, the younger ones with their feet. What was needed was a synthesis.

The other speaker (bright young woman in a small social media organization with an amazing reach) talked about the importance of success, riding a wave, as with the anti-deportation campaign, and the very quick turn around social media permit. They have a very small central core and an enormous periphery.  The importance also of focused campaigns on questions of self-interest. Micky talked about this also.  Democracy is often seen as an Ashkenazi elite luxury.  The average person doesn’t care a bean about democracy.  But if you talk about in terms of immediate concerns, like factories in one’s rundown development town in the Negev closing, it becomes much more relevant.

Amazingly, 60% of their budget comes from Israelis.

After lunch – lunch (after a rest) a smoked salmon sandwich with Max and Kathy – (Max a Glaswegian, brought in New Zealand, spent much of his formative years in 60s and 70s as a journalist in South East Asia, lovely man, then in development think tanks and government initiatives in Ontario; Kathy, his partner for 15 years, with wide experience in social work, occupational therapy, policy analyst, and the community. It was Max’s first time in Israel.  They travel to Mexico every winter and learn Spanish)  – we had a session with Sharon Abraham-Weiss, the executive director of ACRI (the Association for Civil Rights in Israel), who talked also of the shrinking space of democracy. How once upon a time, in the 90s, everything seemed to be opening up – women’s rights, LBGT rights, disabilities rights etc  – and now, worldwide, civil rights are more and more on the defensive.  For example, the orthodox attack on women being equal partners in society. We talked also about our experiences with Abir, their lawyer dealing with the occupation, and Physicians for Human Rights.

Then a concluding session, conducted by Ben, on the importance of coming back with stories, particular things that we could bring to communities – people are programmed to wake up for stories and fall asleep during expositions – I couldn’t think of any stories.  We did a writing exercise (My story, their story, our story) and teamed up.  i teamed up with Lynne, wife of Michael, former president of the Reconstructionist movement, social worker, who talked about her block in learning Hebrew as a child, because she went to a Yiddish school in Winnipeg, and going with Michael to kibbutz when she was 20. And then… dinner…

Funny to be home, there are birds twittering.  And awfully long flight compounded by losing my cell phone on the first leg to Frankfurt – it must have slipped out of my back pack – beautiful views of Greenland, though.













Copenhagen, May 9th

I followed Bennett’s advice and went back to bed, after waking at 12.30 and 1.30 and 2 and getting up to go for a walk.  Didn’t sleep, but had started to feel thoroughly ill and disorientated, as if I might start behaving bizarrely – not for the first time.

Yesterday was largely a long series of papers at the conference:

Paul Joyce – on the mutual interaction and influences of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, which could be seen intertextually or else historically, and also on our ethical responsibility for the influence of biblical ideas of exile as the result of guilt on our current attitudes towards migrants and refugees – not an idea I buy at all (I should tell him, I was too tired to ask questions at that point), since I think inhospitality to the stranger has much simpler and cruder origins.

Martien – on how clusters of images in the “early” parts of Jeremiah get reused, amplified and feminised in the Book of Consolation in Jeremiah 30-33, for example how a person in pain becomes a woman in labour, the figure in mourning is transferred to Rachel, the injured warrior becomes a battered woman.  It was a lovely paper  and I was intrigued by the way the figures kept on intertwining.

Else Holt – on Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Jeremiah 29, advising them to settle down and have children, and pray for their city, because exile was going to last a long time, as a model (irrespective of when it was composed) for life in the Persian Empire, with its great mail service, unlike that of Denmark, and the importance of written prophecy as a way of maintaining identity and communication across the diaspora.  She supported it with a series of interwoven texts from Deuteronomy, Psalm 107, and Isaiah 65, which she, following Adele Berlin, thinks combine the same motif.  I disagreed, but we did have a nice conversation about it over lunch.

Sonja Ammann – on the narratives of Jeremiah’s movements in Jeremiah 39-44, in which he gets arrested for trying to leave the city, chooses to remain in Yehud in ch.40 after the fall of Jerusalem, and ends up being taken to Egypt.  Sonja argued a) for the importance of movement b) that Jeremiah’s actions were less motivated, less political, and more involuntary than most scholars make out.  For example, the wording in Jeremiah 40, which is very peculiar, suggests that Jeremiah can’t make up his mind, and the Babylonian general, Nebuzaradan, makes it up for him. The only guiding theme is that he stays “in the midst of the people” – a motif that links all three passages. He as it were drifts with them. It was very nice. Though I’m not sure about ch.43.  Sonja has been one of the treasures of the meeting. Just got a teaching job in Basel. Swiss. A second string on her bow is that she runs the Fan Fiction section of the European Association of Biblical Studies and is a good friend of Frauke (but then she says Frauke knows everybody).

That concluded the morning, and lunch was in the cafteria, a rather cafeteria style lunch. In the afternoon there was a) the hum of sleepiness

and Dalit Rom-Shiloni talked largely about the database she is compiling in Israel on metaphors for nature in the Bible (not sure whether metaphors is the right word – it is as it were an online dictionary, in which every entry is accompanied by a full analysis of its context and use and connotations). So she had very detailed charts of the number of times images of wild and tame animals and domestic and wild plants, and different kinds of metereological phenomena appear in the different prophetic books and parts of books, and how many times – in fact mostly – the metaphors are mixed.  It is rather an enormous project and there did seem to be patterns, though she didn’t elaborate on them much e.g. Trito-Isaiah seemed to be very different from Deutero-Isaiah, with no mixed metaphors connected to return.

Göran Eidevoll, from Uppsala, someone I’ve known on and off for some time, spoke of plant imagery for Israel and God (once only) and how metaphor works interactively, following Max Black.  The best bits were his readings of the ends of Hosea and Amos. Plants may stand for immobility, stability, but also vulnerability, and they stand for revival.

And finally, Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer on Jonah, as figure of exile, who never comes back home, and stands for a kind of existential inability to be at home, and who is left stranded, not answering God’s question. She then talked about allusions to the Garden of Eden story and to Cain and Abel and to the afterlives of Jonah, ending with some brilliant 20th century retelling – chilling ones – which I don’t recall. Lena has been another treasure, since I virtually didn’t know her before.  She described how her father would take her to Sunday school in order to get out of the house and have a snooze, and that’s how she got religion. She became evangelical, charismatic, and went to Israel and studied at the Hebrew University, with Ronnie among other people. That’s how she became a serious scholar. Her Hebrew is fluent. I envy her. She has 15 year old twins whose birthday is approaching, teaches at Aberdeen, speak English with her German husband. She loves Moomins.

That was the day.  Then there was the misadventure.  Here is how I described it to Bennett:

It might have been that you would never have seen me again. The elevator is very slow so a number of us thought we would climb the stairs. I am in room 418 on the top floor. There are two buildings. The stairs are very complicated and intricate and two of us, the two that were left, finally found the fourth floor. My companion was in room 412. I went on down the corridor to find that the last number was 416. I found a door that led to another staircase, so I thought I might go down and try again or ask at reception. The staircase grew more and more dusty and Hogwarts-like until I found myself in a courtyard with no exit. The door had locked itself behind me. I had no idea what to do. Finally I saw a button which said Press to Open the Automatic Door, and so I pressed, and the grille that led on to the street opened. I went back into the hotel and found another member of our group who was also on the fourth floor and said he would guide me. So we went round and round up the stairs again until we came to the same place that we were last time, and he showed me an unmarked door that led to another corridor, where indeed my room was.”

After dinner (in a vegetarian buffet) Frederik took us around the old town and guided us through the sights, but it was far too cold, with a biting wind, to do anything but want to hurry back as soon as possible.  And today a boat trip is scheduled. I am not sure if the boat will still sail if there are ice floes.

The Round Tower, Copenhagen. The riddle on top reads something like “O Lord, teach the king justice and wisdom”.  This is the street with the old college student accommodations, where Frederik lived in his undergraduate days.

Laura Feldt recovered enough from her flu to come, and Anne Gudme came after her birthday yesterday but still no Ulrich Berges. He missed his flight and couldn’t get another.


Copenhagen, May 8th

Copenhagen, May 8th.

VE day. I don’t know if anyone makes anything of it.  It is rainy and I had a pleasant early morning walk through very quiet streets for a change. Headache.

Yesterday was my lecture. OK. My title: “Metaphors of Death and Exile in Isaiah”.  The conference is on Exile in the Prophets, as I mentioned, and there are about 18 people presenting, from all over.  It is organized by Frederik Poulsen, a very nice young man, who lives in the country by the sea about an hour and half away with his young family, and is doing a postdoc at the University of Copenhagen to write an enormous book on exile in the prophets.  One of the things he applied for in his postdoc proposal was for funding for a conference. This is it – it is supported by the government.  Lots of people I know vaguely.  There are Elie Assis, Ronnie Goldstein, Dalit Rom-Shiloni  and her husband Amnon from Israel – Ronnie I didn’t know before – Sonja Ammann from Basel and Anja Klein from Germany – both giving the impression of being really lovely and open – Ulrich Berges booked his flight for the wrong day and e-mailed that he was arriving yesterday evening; Martien from Virginia, the only other person from the New World; Else Holt from Århus; Laura Feldt has flu and couldn’t come; Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme had her birthday and couldn’t come; it was a delight to see Thomas Thompson and his wife Ingrid, and we spent a long time talking; there was Göran Eidevall from Uppsala and his student Cian Power whom I hadn’t met – I don’t know if he is his student, maybe postdoc. Lena Tiemeyer from Aberdeen and Paul Joyce from London represent the UK while it still remains in one piece.

Anyway, there were all these people, and I felt terribly self-conscious giving the first lecture.  They all know so much.  Martien wrote her book on Enduring Exile, which I haven’t read.  Anja, I think, is writing on galah and galah, with which I end the talk. I felt so flustered that I (almost) began by thanking Paul Frederiksen.  Which reminds me that I forgot Paul Kim, also from the New World (and from the old world originally). There was a very nice introduction by Frederik (also a formal one from the Dean). The whole thing takes place in the Faculty of Theology, which has been moved out from its ancestral building in the centre of town to a sparkling brand-new glass-plated space shared with Law and something else, as if the Queen of the Arts had suddenly been moved to a condo.  Frederik said that he had been motivated by Martien’s book and by the first sentence of my exile article “Isaiah is all about exile, and not about exile at all” (something like that). So I needn’t have written anything else.

The lecture was fine, after I got over my initial self-consciousness. At least I succeeded in reading it, and preferred to do it without my glasses.  It seemed to make sense to me. There were some good questions: from Frederik about the relationship and differences of First and Second Isaiah (he seemed to think Second Isaiah was unstructured); from someone (can’t quite remember who) on the relationship of Zion and Jerusalem; one from Paul Joyce (so many Pauls around) on Lamentations and Isaiah and the lack of an acrostic; and a very good one, maybe from Anja, on the fact that the root GLH in the sense of “reveal” only appears once in the book, in 40.5.  Since I ended with the pun on GLH = exile and GLH = reveal, and their possible indistinguishability, it was a very good question, to which I had no answer. But it is something which fascinates her too.

Else said the nicest thing about the lecture. She said that she couldn’t ask any questions, because the lecture seemed to be a totality.  That was really a lovely thing to say, and it is maybe what I aim for. Martien asked afterwards whether Trito-Isaiah is different – again a very good question.

I’m sitting in a glass-covered passageway between two buildings with the raindrops on top. It is like being between two worlds.

Afterwards there was a reception but there wasn’t much for vegetarians and I wasn’t hungry anyway.  But I discovered what it means when Bennett says that talking is such hard work. I think I must have been a little drained, and really just wanted to go back to the hotel. But I did have a fascinating conversation with Elie Assis before the lecture. His family had come from Aleppo to England; he himself had been the rabbi in the Sephardic Holland Park synagogue when he was a student (many of the congregation, he said, had in fact come from Salonika and Istanbul/Constantinople); then his father became Professor of Jewish medieval history at the Hebrew University, third in line after Yitzhak Baer. Such yichus.  He is head of the department of Jewish Studies (or is it dean? is it a faculty?) at Bar-Ilan University, a job for which no one should be envied.

I also spent some time with Thomas Thompson, whom I have known since the 80s when he was destitute and desperate. He is now 78, and contributing to an enormous project on the history of Palestine from a Palestinian perspective. Always a gadfly.  He says he is going blind, and that of course my fears for my eyesight, but it did sound from the way he described it that his condition is stable.

I was awfully tired and then hungry, and went for a solitary (and fun) Indian meal; fun mostly because of the conversation in Hindi and English of the people on the table next to me.  So nice to be solitary.

Earlier in the day while waiting for my hotel room I went to the Geological Museum and saw the Wormianum, a reconstruction of the collection of curiosities by the Danish physician Ole Worm (by an American artist) in the 1640s, who was fascinated by the strangeness of the world. It was a rather ghoulish affair, with a stuffed great auk, and a kayak hanging from the sealing, and polar bear and a unicorn i.e. narwhal horn and on and on. There were also excerpts from his letters and notebooks, for example whether lemmings were mice that were spontaneously generated from the skies (he thought that they weren’t, but it is possible that they were swept up by storms and then dropped) and that Portuguese Jews were very good at forging bezoars.

the wormanium.jpg

The Wormianum.

I also went to the National Gallery. The National Gallery is FABULOUS.  There was a gorgeous exhibition of Daniel and Scandinavian painting from 1750-1900, with all the different periods, and styles. So much and I’ve forgotten names.   A picture of a dead queen in her finery with her distraught husband by her side – Queen Dagmar? – and the shocking thing is that the Queen is really, starkly dead. A picture of tenants being thrown out of their lodgings into the snow, and the husband arguing with the bailiff. An amazing picture of a ship in storm by Strindberg – what it is amazing is that it is purely expressionist, nothing whatever can be distinguished, it is utterly mad.  Turner beyond Turner.  Lovely romantic landscapes and classical portraits. And on and on. Some deeply mournful.  I also looked at the exhibition of French art from 1905-1930, all the classical Picassos and Braques etc, and Metzinger, whom I really like.  And very good explanations of the social networks of the artists, and the changes in fashion, for example how everyone abandoned Fauvism almost as soon as it started.


Copenhagen May 7th, 2017

I decided on my early morning walk this morning to keep a small diary of my trip to Copenhagen. I’m supposed to give a lecture on exile in Isaiah at a small conference this evening – the conference is on Exile in the Prophets.  I remembered how much I regretted not keeping a diary at the SBL Meeting in San Antonio.  It was a lovely early morning, despite all the drunks. Copenhagen is a city of canals and large brick churches and wide squares.

Yesterday was also a rather lovely day. Beautiful, warm, sunny,  after a cold and grey landing the previous one.  I went to the synagogue: ornate, typical Romantic German style, gigantic ark, everything leading the eye up, the pulpit again very high in Lutheran fashion, the rabbi and chazan in canonicals, large pews in which one felt imprisoned as if in a box. The service was a bit long and boring – especially because there was a double Torah portion. Or perhaps I was just jetlagged and tired.  The congregation fairly elderly. I think I’ll just copy what I wrote to Bennett and she posted on Facebook

Francis’ pre-conference adventures in Copenhagen, starting with synagogue this morning.

“I went to shul. On the way I was looking at signposts and someone asked me if I was going to the synagogue and gave me directions.
The street is blocked off and there is a security guard who lets you in and out. I brought my passport. I was early so there was almost no one there except for a noodnik. There was a terrorist incident in 2015 when a terrorist shot a film director at an event for a Swedish cartoonist and then went and shot a security guard at the synagogue – it was after midnight and there was a bat-mitzvah party. There are flowers by the railings in memory of him. The terrorist was tracked down and killed. I was thinking how awful for the rabbi to live through that and to have to respond. The rabbi is a young man – the son of the previous chief rabbi of Denmark who went on to become a leading orthodox peacenik in Israel and the founder of a left political party. He seemed very nice. He was dressed up in his canonicals, as was the chazan.
The shul is gorgeous. Unbelievable. Built in 1833, huge and glorious ark, massive gilded pillars, and gigantic pews. One sits in a pew and feels as if one is in the dock. The front of the pew was level with my eyes and one has to open a gate to get in. There must be pictures online. There is also an extremely high pulpit, as in a Lutheran church, so when the rabbi is speaking one does not quite know if he has ascended or descended from the ceiling. It is undergoing major renovations and is closed during the week. The service is Orthodox; the chazan does everything, is very traditional. The congregation seemed mostly elderly. There was a celebration for one man whose 80th birthday it was and another for a golden wedding. There was also a bat-mitzvah girl, who made a little speech. The service was a bit boring for me because there was an extremely long double Torah reading and because the people behind me talked incessantly which made it hard to hear. People like that should have their tongues cut. [Note: I am assuming Francis is not entirely serious about this.]
It is a glorious day and there was a kiddush outside in the courtyard. It was rather lovely but I didn’t stay. It was a nice walk home, same streets that I wandered in at night but obviously less spooky. Copenhagen is full of beautiful buildings, including the Radhus.
Last night i had dinner in a restaurant which I thought a bit pretentious, but today I had a nice lunch with a spiced herring smørrebrod. They have about six different kinds of herring including one in Bornholm-style. It didn’t come as a sandwich but as a plate with bread on the side, and you are supposed to put it on your bread. The bread was pumpernickel style, but much nicer than most pumpernickel and they make it themselves (with seeds) – usually I don’t like pumpernickel.
The Glyptotek is phenomenal. That man [Carl Jacobsen, who founded the Carlsberg brewery] must have done nothing except collect art and run his business. I think he saw it as his personal mission to establish and maintain Danish artists. There are about 50 rooms full of paintings and sculptures – ancient, Danish and French, mostly 19th century. They have a special exhibition of finds from ancient shipwrecks from around Sicily, though also a certain amount of material on mythology about the sea. There was a very moving sarcophagus of a child from about 300 CE with the Jonah story carved on the outside – I took picture of it. Also of an amphora with coral growing over it. There were also a number of rams from a battle between the Carthaginians and Romans with inscriptions on them.
It has beautiful gardens. I wandered feeling entranced.”

The indoor garden in the Glyptotek. There is also a fragrant outer one.  A detail from the sarcophagus

In the evening I went for a drink and a snack with Martien Halvorsen-Taylor, one of the other speakers at the conference. I’d been screwing up my courage all day to contact the other people who had arrived early.  Martien teaches at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, has three children, 15, 17, 19 if I remember – her eldest doing a gap year and worked for Hillary Clinton. She arrived early on Friday and we’ve both had to face the blank hours and the awfulness or at least utterly-without-redeeming-feature-ness of this hotel. We went to the cafe where I had a snack earlier, since it was quieter, and I had gravlaks, and she had herring with akvavit  (and I had a cognac). She comes from Dutch background and we talked of the Netherlands. And our mutual papers.  I haven’t read her book on exile in the prophets. (or is it just Isaiah?). She is going to talk about images of the exiled God as a defeated warrior and of Israel as a beaten woman.  She is now working on the Song of Songs and I wonder if that is related. I wonder if she knows Fiona?  I’m going to talk about the null point in the middle of the book (that’s what I did in my exile paper all those years ago), and then go on to talk about metaphor – metaphor as pointing to the ineffable, to mystery – and in particular to the ineffability of trauma, and all the words as an attempt to describe unimaginable grief, and then to go through the various images of exile (and death) as something other than the exile – as forgetfulness, as corruption, as estrangement etc – the fantasy of the mother who has forgotten her children at the end. Bennett likes it; Alan finds it beautiful but says he doesn’t understand it. I wonder if anyone else will. Martien will, I think. I really enjoyed our conversation and it made me feel lightheaded.


5th August. Schiphol.

Last day. Home. Cat. Joseph. Garden. Weariness, fever and fret.  Airport hotels seem like bubbles, interzones, airless, personality less, and oddly comforting therefore. But the Sheraton Amsterdam is undergoing renovations on its restaurant flow, and only the very busy, noisy, and expensive café was open. Still we slept and ate, and were going to see Steven, except that he is still ill.

Going from the island was rainy, and it had already begun to seem homelike.  We had come to like our little ten-room hotel too.  On the ferry we talked with a children’s theatre director and writer from Hamburg, Christiane.  She has a special connection with a family of Sinti (travelling gypsies), whose genocide by the Nazis has not been memorialized until recently as has been the Jewish one.  She also talked about a friend of hers in New York, a holocaust survivor, and the play she wrote about her. The meeting was moving for all of us. And then we go off in our different directions. We can trace the company on the net.

We were supposed to have one change on the train journey, at Lelystad, with a four minute gap, but it turned out to be the same train, so we got off only to get on again…

Schiermonnikoog, 4th August

Our last morning, and we start the long journey home.  To Amsterdam today, and back tomorrow.

Yesterday quite quiet.  I had another cycle ride, in bright sunshine this time, and a rather nice dinner, and a chapter of Dickens.  That’s all. And tried to think about “Isaiah”.

Schiermonnikoog would be lovely to come back to.

I feel a bit anxious about the return.  Bennett is quite keen to; she misses the cat; I think she feels a sense of displacement and homesickness, though she iikes traveling. For me, home is associated with a return to life and its problems, not that there are a huge amount of them.  It will be the first year without teaching.

One year nearer… next year I’ll be 70.  It is my brother’s birthday today. Next year, Berlin, the Bible Week perhaps, Copenhagen.  When will I stop?

There is a faint wind in the trees.  I was thinking over dinner about how hard life must have been before there were tourists, and hotels, and a sort of superficial gaiety, when the island, like Fedje, depended on fishing and farming.  .

Schiermonnikoog, 3rd August, Wednesday

Woken up both a bit grim and grumbly.  It is raining.  We wandered around disconsolately in the misty rain not knowing what to do.  Bennett wanted to find the candy store with its 40 kinds of licorice, but it was closed.  I have gone to have a cappucino and a croissant, Bennett’s gone back to rest, she is homesick. I spent ages wandering around looking for a bank machine. Steven is feeling sick with a bad sore throat and has lost his voice.  Last night we had a splendid meal in the one Michelin mentioned restaurant in Friesland (or is it starred?), a surprise menu, but I’m not sure if I like surprises.  There was a delicious dessert with a green apple ice cream, mint and berries in a red berry sauce which was the climax.  We talked about travel and countries we would like to go to, and about Beth, the Kenyan who had been with the Hijmans-Haagsmas since the children were born and who had come with them from Greece, and is going to buy a farm near Nairobi, and about food we absolutely cannot eat (grubs and snails for Bennett), and places we want to go back to. I love travelling and almost never feel homesick, but there is nowhere special I want to go to, and it is always a surprise when I get home how nice it is

Afterwards Steven and  I went to the Hotel van der Werff (the nice old hotel here) to have a cognac and in my case a Dutch gin.  We talked about families and about Steven’s rather isolated childhood, with a distant father. About always being open to discussion with our children.  It was intimate but Steven was already feeling ill. This afternoon he is supposed to go back to Groningen, where his mother lives, and join with his daughters Anna and Phoebe.

Joseph went to my parents’ synagogue, Norrice Lea synagogue, and was very disturbed at how unpleasant the security guards were (a young man with long hair and a backpack).  But eventually he was rescued by other people and the rabbi and Mayer Taub were very nice and the latter drove him back into the city (to his hotel?) He has had a wonderful adventure – seeing his various relations (Diana, David, Barry and Rosalind)


it was a delicious croissant – I had better take one back for Bennett


Tuesday, 2nd August, Schiermonnikoog


Horses on the walk with Steven/

What a day! Yesterday still cold-fogged, but went for a long walk with Steven in the clear afternoon, round through the dunes, past where his father’s ashes are scattered and then round back through the village. Nice views from the top of the dyke over to the mainland and the flats at low tide.

View to Village.JPGAnd view to the village from the walk.


We went on a lovely tractor and trailer trip along the beach to see seals, beach and sea. This is one of the longest, widest and emptiest beaches in Europe.  Through binoculars or the bus-driver’s telescope one could see large number of seals resting, looking like large slugs, on the island opposite, and others bobbing up and down in the water, and still others launching themselves on sandbanks. There is something very tempting in huge minimalist expanses.

Before lunch we rented bikes and Steven took us around the island. Apparently I was in first gear all the way, wondering why the bike would not go very fast.

Bennett thinks this is like the village in The Prisoner, from which one cannot escape,and has constant feelings of the Uncanny, déjà-vu, especially on the ride along the beach. It really was rather eery.

Monday, 1st August Schiermonnikoog

Didn’t sleep. Extremely grumpy.  Hideous cold.  Where did I get it?  Woke up at 2 and thought happily for a couple of hours while a tinny clock told the hours, and then continued thinking unhappily for a couple more hours and then gave up.  The ghost would be more like it.

Yesterday was goodbye to Haus Ohrbeck and the Jewish-Christian Bible Week and the long journey to Schiermonnikoog, this car free island off the Dutch coast where Steven Hijmans’ mother lives.  We had the Christian service in the morning. It was as always very moving and tears come to my eyes when they serve the Eucharist. Why? I’m a sentimental old coot, I suppose.  Then I chatted to a few people (Sister Sponsalis, Jonathan Magonet, Mark Solomon) and suddenly was whisked off into our taxi which had arrived early, without saying all my goodbyes.  It was like departing the stage before the applause.   It was wet and a bit cold.  The train journey was rendered more exciting and anxiety-producing by the first train (out of three) being extremely late and getting later and later, so that we feared missing our connections.  But the very nice conductor stopped the train especially at our stop, so we were able to make the connection to Groningen, where we had an hour and a half wait to catch the bus to the ferry to the island. While we were waiting a lady approached us, who was also going to Schiermonnikoog.  She was in her early seventies, a native of Schiermonnikoog, who had returned there 22 years ago.  We had coffee in Starbucks and shared the journey.  She wanted to share her love of the island (“I love my island”) and kept on pointing things out to us.  When she was a child all the land on which the bus was travelling was sea. She remembers the great floods of 1953, when they were all evacuated to a farmhouse far inland which she pointed out to us.  Anneke is her name.

Steven Hijmans was waiting for us when the bus on the island drew up at our hotel, Hotel de Tjattel.  It is small, quiet, has about ten rooms. We went to a different hotel, Hotel van der Werff, for dinner, a four course affair (for almost no money), but I was a bit too tired to do it justice. Then back, sleeplessness, and present grumpiness….