About Philip Israel Witriol

I hope to preserve online as much of my father’s written output as possible, in particular his unpublished book Mumme Loohshen, An Anatomy of Yiddish.

Part 96: Whit Sunday 10th June 1962, 9 p.m.

Heat wave yesterday, to-day cool but fine.  Geoffrey & Hélène Stalbow picked us up and took us down to the old man – 84 – at Harpenden. We all stowed in  – Hélène & Geoffrey’s two girls, Ruth,12 and Judith, 9, and Philip & Max – in a four-seater car, but Geoffrey kept up a continuous patter which made the journeys there and back pass quickly. Max behaved unexpectedly well. They are a fine couple, Geoffrey squat, sturdy, bull-necked, like his old man; Hélène slim, trim, quiet, still pretty at – 36? She drove, Geoffrey apparently doesn’t drive. Strange, since he’s very much an aggressively – almost -virile type & was a captain in the R.A. The old man lives alone in his house with garden – he lives for Zionism and his garden…he’s an extraordinary character. He spends half the year in Rehovot & the summer at Harpenden…

Domestic trouble at Ambrose Avenue. Tension between Sam & Lily because Sam said some weeks ago, in front of Mum, that Lily hated/disliked/did not like us & the kids (the exact words are not certain…). Lily denies – what have the children done to me? Sam talks of leaving her, but I don’t see how he can….he’s nowhere to go to except Mum, and I told him he must try to imagine Mum’s in a single room & he can’t use Moresby Road as a bolt-hole. He says he’ll find somewhere else, but he can’t afford to keep up the house at Ambrose Avenue & pay £3-10-0 a week for a room. Basically the trouble is due to the fact that Lily, au fond, sticks to her conception of you-bring-in-the-money-and-I’ll-keep-a-nice home and is unwilling to recognise that to keep up her nice home…she needs a husband earning at least £1500 a year…I’m hoping…things will take a turn for the better. It seems all wrong, a more harmless, inoffensive chap than Sam it would be hard to find – a sod like me one can understand these things happening to – but he has to suffer because of his mother and brother…

Mum says she can no longer cope. Her geyser has conked out, it will cost £38 to replace. She will come round here for a bath to-morrow. Lily says Sam throws in her face that Mum lives alone…thousands of people live alone, thousands don’t so – more or less – what, Edith says I didn’t worry about Mum living alone before I married her. One can only hope, and this is of course my mother’s prayer, that she will be able to look after herself to the last. In any case, the spare bedroom at Ambrose Avenue is now used as an office/stock room… And — wait for it  — E. is pregnant once more. The safe period has not been so safe. Extraordinary thing about E. – one has only to breathe on her and she becomes pregnant. Extraordinary thing about J. – always feared he was impotent, and told the girls after he had more-or-less proposed to them that he was afraid he might be impotent. Ah well, sweet mystery of life. I hope Edith has an easier confinement than the previous two, and that No. 3 is as bonny as Max. “Bonny” is not an adjective one can apply to Philip, he’s too thin, but touch wood he is a healthy, if perhaps somewhat nervous and highly strung child.

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Part 95: Monday 28th May 1962, 9.15 p.m.

Injected last Monday, but no change in shoulder condition…the pain is not severe, but continuous and tends, I am afraid,  to make me even less easy to live with than I am normally (poor E. wants to natter about the fireplace she has painted, the kitchen walls she wants to paint in the summer holidays; I, after keeping the kids – bless ’em – company till 8.30 p.m., just want to read).

Went to a conference on language teaching, at Woodberry Down, last Tuesday. Opened my mouth -in folly – strange to think that nearly thirty years ago I talked on equal terms with [Abba] Eban and [Victor] Mishcon. I seem to be unable to string half a dozen mediocre sentences together off the cuff. A propos of a concluding remark by Mrs Cox, the formidably efficient (but carefully avoiding any “mannishness” – pearls, soignée) Head of Woodberry Down’s Language Dept., that in translating, elegance (or correctness? – it doesn’t affect the issue) of English should be sacrificed to accuracy, I referred – clumsily – to my professional experience as a translator and said that to an English publisher readability of English was the first consideration; I myself – and others – simply omitted any difficult or uncertain passages. MacGowan [school Inspector] said he thought this was damnable, on a level with the “Daily Express”.

Another of the lecturers took the micky out of the je-coupe-la-banane – type of lesson; one learnt a foreign language to  acquire its literary treasures, not to be able to buy shoelaces in the market. He quoted Ruskin on housemaids and queens. His lecture was brilliant entertainment, but I thought that if there were a hiatus in the discussion I would make some crack about the housewife of to-day preferring to converse with a housemaid, if she could get one, to a queen. However, the opportunity did not occur. The last lecture was by a chap who provided an effective contrast to the Ruskin-quoter; he (the last lecturer) had sec. mod. kids to teach and gave them, with plenty of his own duplicated material, stuff of the “Avez-vous dansé le twist” kind. He was a youngish chap, full of enthusiasm,imagination; obviously he just doesn’t potter around when he comes home. Reading The Small Room by one May Sarton, on womens’ college in States.

Part 94: Monday 7th May 1962 – 9 p.m.

Actually I concocted quite a tolerable review, I think, without having to go to the B.M. I also did a review for the Linguists’ Institute of a Hebrew text-book they sent me – Ivrit lemaaseh by one Ch. Rosenthal. To get the picture on current Hebrew text-books I went to Foyles. I was prepared to spend 25/- – 30/- on (a) Hebrew book(s) as an inspection fee, getting the money from flogging some review copies and the definitive edition of Kipling’s verse which I sold in the event to Foyle’s buying dept. for 25/-. As there was no one in charge of Foyle’s Hebrew dept. I took a free look-round – they don’t seem to care, why should I?

The pain in shoulder still a nuisance. How boring all this talk of pain. [Dr]Pallot has forwarded me  to the physiotherapy wallah at the local hospital for an injection which I hope will do the trick. I’m not flapping, really, but as always cannot avoid feeling that perhaps it’s here to stay, in that case one could live with it and in fact one would hope that this would be one’s lot, so to speak. (oopkimminish -semasiology?). First day at school to-day. Sorry – but if only I were quite pain-free I think I could get through the term reasonably happily.

Back to Sam & Lily’s with kids on Shabbos. They’re both working very hard evenings, Sundays – I hope they’ll be able to make something out of it. Mot, Chip & Helen, Charles & Trudie and Gertie & ? Shields came round for supper – it was Lily’s birthday (53rd? 54th?) – and Mot took us home. It would seem, then, that the morale at Ambrose Avenue is not too bad.

The kids in first-rate form but very taxing on E. – I haven’t been able to help her as much as I should have liked causa doloris mei, which is my pathetic attempt at elegant variation. I wish I had a cine-camera & tape recorder and could fix them screaming and fighting for possession of the bike, Maxy saying “Mummy” (when I point to E. & say “Who’s that?), “Daddy” (when I point to myself), “Pippik” when I point to Philip.

Part 93: 21st April 1962 – 9.25 p.m.

E. suggests my opening entry: To the strains of Edith’s trumpetings (she has had a shocking cold for over a week) I herald in my 50th birthday.” I see last year I made no entry on my 49th birthday, but the half-century seems to deserve some comment. But what is there to say? It’s unfair to E. to indulge in excessive self-flagellation, pretentious too – my aut Caesar aut nullus line. All I can do is to hope that dum spiro – however much longer that is to be – I shall be able to discharge my family responsibilities. Perhaps I have laid too much blame for my failures on the fact that I had no father to be guide, counsellor, friend.

Unless Philip and Max are exceptionally unlucky they will have at least E. to guide them (unobtrusively) till they are in their twenties, and E. will not make the mistakes with them that my mother made with me. She will not hold them back from studying/working abroad, away from London, so that she may relieve her loneliness, if she is widowed. She will not tell them she will scrub floors for them for their sakes (though she will deprive herself of domestic help she might otherwise have been able to employ, so that P. and M. can study in a proper way – able to supplement their State and/or Local Authority allowances, etc., with pocket money provided very, very tactfully by her – “your father left you this money so that you could build up a library or take out a girl in style occasionally” – though surely by then the girl will certainly go Dutch).

Still pain in shoulder. Not acute; codein unnecessary, but twinges when lifting children. No use saying don’t lift’em – often most effective way of securing quiet is to lift them up on to window sill to survey passing scene.

J.C [Jewish Chronicle] sent me a book on Schnitzler, Kraus and a third Viennese-Jewish litterateur to review. [Karl Kraus, Arthur Schnitzler, Otto Weininger: Aus dem judischen Wien der Jahrhundertwende, Dr. Hans Kohn

They had previously sent me a book on German literature to review. They bungled one sentence – admittedly pretty convoluted in the original – completely in the printing, so that it reads incomprehensibly. Vienna is something, I suppose, on which one ought to be able to let oneself go – I read seinerzeit Schnitzler con amore, and ought to be able to drag in Czokor and his Dritte (?) Oktober 1918  – there’s a scene in which half-a-dozen Austrians lament the old Austria, and it is the Jew whose lament is the most heartfelt [sic: 3 November 1918] – but I’d have to go to the B.M. [i.e. to The Reading Room at The British Museum] to look up the play – and if I take a whole day off during my school holidays I develop a guilt complex.

Part 92: Monday 10th April 1962, 8.55 p.m.

A great relief –  Sam [brother] has got into the L.C.C. [London County Council] He’s starting at £715, rising by £35’s to £850. He started to-day and apparently everything is hunky-dory. He’s in an office with congenial, middle-aged/elderly types. After the nut-house of the Butts [Newington Butts, presumably referring to the handbag business that he had], this will be a rest cure for him, but he’s got to keep the business going — S. Witriol (Handbags) Ltd; in contrast to The Central Handbag Co.Ltd; did not go into liquidation — in order to find another £12-10-0 weekly before tax for Lily [his wife, neé Weingarten] and him to live on. If he can succeed in this, he may have turned the corner. In any case the L.C.C. job must be the sheet-anchor; if he has to chuck up the “business” (SWHL, etc., operating from Ambrose Avenue – apparently the neighbours are not objecting) Lily [wife] must get a £7 -£9 – £10 a week job and he must let a couple of rooms. Although having a miniature warehouse in her home is something Lily can’t find particularly pleasant, she seems to be taking a sensible, realistic view. When I phoned at 8pm she was busy pounding away at a typewriter. All I hope now is that they both keep reasonably fit, the rest will work out. It’s a relief to feel that if Sam does get a cold he can stay off for the odd day – or week – without doing his nut.

Edith has wax in ear, tummy-trouble. She popped into the doctor this evening and has to go in again to-morrow evening. I shall be going in myself to-morrow evening. Have developed pain in my right shoulder…

E. got no reply on ringing Boobbe Esther [her mother] on Friday night about 8.45pm. Eventually got policeman to call Uncle Morry and Auntie Rosie to get her out of bed – Boobbe E. had forgotten that Edith would be ringing her. Watch out for the next instalment in the thrilling Witriol saga.

Shanah Tovah U’metuka: St John Vianney Church Tottenham and #antisemitism 5779

This is an email exchange I had with “St John Vianney Parish Community” (emphasis added by me to their emails). “Liberal” antisemitism has been so embedded in the UK for the last 20 years or more as to virtually go unnoticed. Certainly its perpetrators would assume – rightly – that it would normally go unchallenged. At least the brave few now standing up to Labour and its antisemitic leader have managed to expose leftist “pro-Palestinians” for the racists they are.

4 Jun 2018 

Dear Sir/Madam

Yesterday I went by your parish hall and saw a Free Palestine poster on display. I remember this as being there several years ago and assume it has been displayed continuously. As a Jew, I am perturbed as to why your church would do this. It suggests, intentionally or by neglect,  a one-sided view of what is a complex geopolitical issue. And indeed, one that is used by anti-Semites of the left and Islamists, to promote hatred of Jews and murderous attacks on them in Israel and beyond. Given that your church is close to the Stamford Hill Orthodox Jewish community (and certainly on bus routes used by many of its members), this shows a blatant disregard for the integration and tolerance of which your mission statement speaks. I would ask you therefore to remove this poster, or alternatively  to display an equally large Zionist poster alongside it. Yours faithfully

Philip Israel Witriol

13 Jun 2018 

Dear Sir/Madam

I have not had a reply or even acknowledgement to my email below – I have therefore now sent my email to Jewish communal organisations dealing with antisemitism for their information.

14 Jun 2018 

Dear Mr Witriol

In response to your email of 13 June 2018, sorry, our inbox shows that we did not receive your email on 4 June 2018, having gone back and checked our inbox records. Yes, the poster has been on display for a number of years. Looking at the situation in Gaza and the taking over of Palestinian land in Israel doesn’t seem right, so we need to keep this message in the public domain, with a view that justice for all may be achieved in the future. We find the antisemitism ‘ticket’ is wearing very thin. I assure you that we at St John Vianney Church are concern with Human Rights and Justice for all.

Yours sincerely

St John Vianney Parish Community

PS: Sorry the key to display cabinet is currently missing.

14 Jun 2018 

Dear Church Community

Thank you for your unsigned response which I take to represent the views of all your congregation. Based on this answer, I am now much clearer as to your views and will forward your reply to appropriate organisations that focus on antisemitism.
Regards
Philip Israel Witriol

15 Jun 2018 

Dear Mr Witriol

Thank you for your email dated 14 June 2018. We are very impressed that you plan to send our reply to the appropriate organisations that focus on antisemitism. If we are to continue this discuss I would ask you to come to speak to us face to face and have a dialogue so that we can come to a better understanding of where we stand. If this dialogue is not possible, I would appreciate if no further emails are sent to this email. I thank you for your consideration. Yours sincerely

St John Vianney Parish Community

17 Jun 2018 

Dear St John Vianney Parish Community

I am replying to your previous email. Like the first email it switches between we and I, but based on the tone and content, I assume the author is the same individual, and that you (singular) are replying on behalf of the St John Vianney Parish Community – or claim to do so. For this reply, please regard it as addressed to the individual author. You first stated that you “find the antisemitism ‘ticket’ is wearing very thin” and now that you “are very impressed that [I] plan to send [your] reply to the appropriate organisations that focus on antisemitism”. Clearly this attitude and tone makes me feel that your church (as represented by you) is not a safe and welcoming space for a Jew concerned with your Free Palestine poster. I cannot consider a face to face dialogue when you have made your view on antisemitism and Israel so plain.You say that you would “appreciate[it] if no further emails are sent to this email“. I have no choice but to send this to reply.I certainly will now refrain from further email correspondence directly with you (and would also appreciate it if no further emails are sent to this email from you), while reserving the right to copy you in to any replies I get – from Jewish and other organisations – for your information.
With many thanks. Yours sincerely

Philip Israel Witriol

PS: I too am sorry “the key to the display cabinet is currently missing” –  I trust you will be able to find a local locksmith who can resolve this if the key is not found soon.

 

Part 91: Monday 26th March 1962, 9.10 p.m.

Poor Max fell and cut himself –  we presume –  on the fire guard on Saturday morning. Edith had been up with him since about 7a.m. I came down about 9.30, looked in the lounge and thought I would leave them both there while I made myself a cup of tea. Next thing I heard was howling, to which I didn’t pay too much attention, as howling is routine, but when I went in Maxie was bleeding profusely. Somme toute, the bleeding eventually stopped, but I did not suggest calling a doctor. Left to herself, Edith would probably have called the doctor in, but she knows I prefer to underclaim rather than overclaim on doctors’ time. Maxie will be left with a permanent scar on the bridge of his nose. This could have been avoided, the doctor told us, had he been treated immediately. We called the doctor last night. He came promptly and gave Max a conscientious going-over. This must be remembered when criticising the N.H.S. As usual, I blame myself and try to make excuses for myself – a chap’s entitled to pour himself out a cup of tea, etc. Max was poorly in the (Saturday) night, and E. was up 3-4-5 hours with him. On the Sunday (yesterday) we went to Boobe Esther’s [Edith’s mother] as usual. Max uttered hardly a sound the whole time. It was painful to watch. The doctor said he had an inflamed ear. It was this, and not the cut, which had been troubling him.

Kopul Rosen died. He was contemporary with me. My recollection of him is as one of the bhoys. [?group from same home town or thereabouts] Aubrey Eban used to tell how he (Kopul) wanted to enter the U.S [United Synagogue] ministry, but the Chief Rabbi told him to go and get his matric [school-leaving certificate]. He got a war-time Manchester M.A. (I could never understand this; I should have thought that to get even a war-time degree matriculation or exemption from matriculation was indispensable). I see also from the lengthy J.C. obituary that he got a London Ph.D. in 1960 – I don’t remember reading about this at the time. However, I still remember the impression he made on me when he spoke at the old B.B.Z. (Bow B’nai Zion) on his experiences at the Mir Yeshiva – this must have been – was – pre 1939. The chief thing I remember of this speech are two anecdotes he told in Yiddish – one of a dull-witted student laboriously working out the relationships among a group of people, and the other of a burly Jew heaving a cart out of a rut, saying voo denn, koiach darf men hobben, sechel miz men hobben! Which makes it all the more remarkable that he should have conceived and realised the idea of a Jewish public school on traditional English lines – Carmel College, which is resoundingly successful. I am impressed too, by his answer to the “anti-segregationists” – it is precisely the boy educated at a Jewish school who takes his Jewishness as something normal and who, because of his “segregation”, is subsequently more at ease with non-Jews. The whole thing is very reminiscent of Prince Hal – wasn’t it – who turned from playboy to sober responsibility. I remember too how in his talk about Mir he had said that the students would kiss each other on parting – which evoked titters. This was the first time I had any inkling of the new Kopul. Sam [brother] remembers him as  a scruffy East-ender to whom he once gave a lift and being told by him that he (Kopul) would have to take his matric a third time. The J.C. obituary photograph shows fine, ascetic features.

Update I emailed Kopul’s son, Jeremy, asking him, inter alia, if he could translate the Yiddish in the extract above. He kindly replied as follows

Thank you so much for sending me your father’s memories of mine….

The Yiddish you quote literally translates as ” So, then, a person needs to have strength, but a person must have intelligence!” I guess the joke was that the burley carter was using brute strength to free the cart from the mud when a little common sense might have been more productive. The fact is my father spoke Yiddish at home with his parents but refused to teach us, his children, on the grounds that he wanted us to master the English language. I think on that point he was mistaken and I wish he had taught us Yiddish. I picked it up later.

And yes he made no pretence of being a goody-goody as a youngster and he was friendly with Aubrey ( Abba ) Eban in those days.

All of it brings back wonderful memories of him.

I am so glad to have the link to your father’s memories.

If you are ever in New York please get in touch.

Warmest regards

Jeremy

 

Part 90: Thursday 15th March 1962, 9.45p.m.

Nat Teff has died. He was about 50 and had been very ill. Leaves a wife, schoolboy and schoolgirl. He was a (half?) brother of the late Mrs Sugarman, I think. The usual assortment of death-tags occur to one, but they offer no solace.

One can only pray – I mean hope – that one doesn’t become a burden to anyone before one goes. I suppose that’s all, for oneself – the fact that one was self-supporting would of itself ensure that one did not suffer excessive pain; if one did, one wouldn’t be able to work, hence one would become a burden, Q.E.D. And, for one’s loved ones younger than oneself one hopes for a good span of life on the same terms – for those older than oneself the same.

Incoherence partly due to Edith nattering on phone to Lily [sister-in-law], je constate tout simplement. (Purely for the record, I rang up – to speak to Sam [brother] – and was answered by Lily. E. had told me she wanted to speak to her. I called E. to the phone and then started this entry. It is now 9.55 by kitchen clock. E. finished about 10.10 – by the dining-room clock, which is ahead of the kitchen clock — oh…)

Part 89: Saturday 3rd March 1961, 8.45p.m.

Sam [brother] is giving up his business. He has been pouring money down the drain into it for the last three years. He will be 56 in April, Lily is 53. What will they do? I went round there this afternoon. Lily says she realises she has got to earn her living. I said Mum ought to live with them, thereby releasing her flat at Moresby Road [Hackney], from which £5 a week net before tax could be got, but she says no – they will manage. “Your mother is difficult to get on with.” As my mother says, one prays to God for old age…

[Sam] is eligible for employment as a clerical officer by the L.C.C; starting at £575 p.a; but I am not sanguine about his chances of getting in. He is also entering a Civil Service over-40 competition, but here again I am pessimistic.

It’s galling; he’s done everything for me – coached me for my Junior County Scholarship, kept the family going, let me live like a lord when I was demobbed…All I can do is to hope they keep in good health, or healthy enough to go out to work each of them.

S.B. has walked out on his wife M. after twenty-five years of what Mum always described as a model marriage. They were her tenants – men hat nischt geherrt kenokker vertt fin zey. They had adopted a girl, now 14. S apparently is impotent, or at any rate sterile – perhaps they’re not the same thing – his seed is like water, says Mum. Mum had a fenster hartz off zey because they adopted V. and brought her into the house without telling Mum…Sam says it is possible M. may go to live with her Mum…If she went, I suppose I ought to give serious consideration to the possibility of our moving in…

Meanwhile, my own situation is such that I have borrowed £50 from the bank…I suspect that in about three months’ time I shall again be insolvent, or rather unable to maintain this house. In that case should I try to force the issue by moving into Moresby Road – perhaps M & V could free one of the two rooms they now occupy?

My article appeared – cut – in the Jewish Chronicle but has aroused no comment in the correspondence columns as yet. One Dr Ruth Cohen wrote to me from the German Hospital to say that an Irish ward sister had assured her that “neebeech” was Gaelic for frail, puny person. Coincidence, pure coincidence, as I wrote to Dr. Cohen.

An unexpected commission from D.F.Long – an article on man-made fibres in Israel to translate. Will net me about £6. O.K., so I had about £5 pinched from me the other morning at Camden Road. Zoll zahn de kupoora. Half my report books missing on Friday, doing my nut (thinks: everybody must think this chap Witriol is just impossible, he can’t hold a thing — I could have sworn I’d left ’em all in the staff-room, with the work-sheet inside the top book – Anderson’s – at 5p.m. on Thursday, 1st March — I could have sworn, but would I have sworn? No, I wouldn’t, honest Joe). About 3.15 p.m. Mrs Read presents me with the missing books – Martin, the woodwork man, had taken them home and just returned them to her. I am reduced to !**!

Part 88: Sunday 31st December 1961, 9.45p.m.

The old year expiring in snow-drifts. Sam [brother] marooned. Unexpectedly received a new 4-vol English-Hebrew dictionary from Beno Rothenberg, together with a letter asking me if I would be interested in going to Israel if a “job”, house, etc; were waiting for me. Wrote saying could not consider settlement in Israel, even a two-year spell difficult. It is strange, considering how ardent – and, I like to think, sincere – a Young Zionist I was, that Israel per se has such little attraction for me. I suppose it’s the vis inertiae.

But there is the point that I have to consider E’s mum – as regards depriving her of the kids, Boobbe Yetta [mother] says she would go to Israel with me (living with whom?) – and Sam, who is now coming up for 56 and in whose not particularly happy life the kids are the only ray of sunshine. And although I have no illusions about the difficulties of Jewish living in England, I hanker after the idea that P. or M. or both of them will make the mark in the specifically English world that I failed to make.

All absurd, all confused, but in any case, the practical question remains: What job, what house has B.R. in mind? Though even here, there seems little point in asking. Presumably the house would contain E; the kids, myself and the books; we should be as warm as – warmer than – we are here, and I don’t see how E. could work harder. The kids’ clothes would have to be washed more often, but there would be fewer of them. I’m applying the same sort of criteria that I would to the possibility of settling in Italy or Argentina. Very strange, but there you are.