Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 44: The first cut is a set-piece.

Monday 31st August, 1959, 9.0 p.m.

Rentreé des classes to-morrow. I did manage to get a day out, after all. Did the Great Missenden trek very successfully except for the last leg, where building-up has obscured Fieldfare’s tracks [Fieldfare was the pen-name for an Evening News columnist who wrote guides to walks in rural areas of the Home Counties].

More or less resigned to the 6¼% now; my revised calculation shows that I only lose about 4/- a week, I think, on the 5½% offered by the Temperance. I ought to hope that rates of interest on advances, including advances by local authorities, come down generally; but my human nature being what it is — and I doubt if it’s much worse than the average run of human nature —  I find myself hoping that Building Society rates will go up (the rate of the Friern Barnet U.D.C’s advance to me will remain constant).

Also, meno male, I succeeded in getting off a short story for the J.C. [Jewish Chronicle]. I am not at all sure, this time, whether it will even get printed (I would have been surprised had my “What is a Jew” effort not been printed, at least). Lacking imagination, I was forced to write up a chapter of biography —  the story is called “Service at a Circumcision.” It is a more or less straight account of the Briss — for fictional purposes I made it take place during term, at 1 p.m. (The historical event took place at 2 p.m. while I was on holiday). I have no plot-making ability, so I knew that whatever I wrote would have to be a set-piece description. Even so, I failed to rise to the heights of my theme, which was the awful responsibility of bringing a child into the world. I know I lost no sleep about the fate that might befall you, P.I., [Philip Israel] and that I am doing nothing to try to make the world safe for you to live in. That doesn’t mean, of course, my boy, that I don’t pray ( I can’t pray to anyone, unfortunately, but there’s nothing can be done about that now, but I do “pray that”) that you will have a long, happy life. I confess that my motives in begetting you were not entirely pure and lofty, but very few people, I venture to assert, do have children from wholly pure and lofty motives. Please believe me, though, – I don’t know what to say. I love you? But that raises again the question of whether I am capable of love. I don’t know. Admittedly you give me great happiness, now, when you’re seven months old, and I think you’re happy, too, for by far the greater part of the time. I suppose I want to have a built-in guarantee of your happiness. Forgive this pitiful meandering, Philip. Und das hat dichten wollen!  Nothing would give me greater pleasure than for you to show me up. But then, again, I suppose I mustn’t set too great hopes on you. Mustn’t drive you into making up for my failures. Be healthy, be reasonably successful – I think you have a reasonably happy disposition anyway. I think your old man has, too, really; but, without wishing to make too much of a song and dance, he rather had it taken out of him in his early, formative years – up to 20 – and I hope this won’t happen to you.

Saw Clark of Thames & Hudson today. Handed him completed typescript of God’s Wilderness, though I haven’t had B.R.‘s [Professor Beno Rothenberg] corrections back yet. He sounded me out about translating two other books by B.R. I suppose I ought to have said I would want 4 guineas a thou.; instead I just said I would need till September 30th 1960 to do a book equivalent to God’s Wilderness. But perhaps, in spite of my seemingly monopolistic position, I wouldn’t be able to get more. I think T. & H.’s reaction to an attempt by me to exploit my position might have been to say: thus far and no farther. B.R. told me they gave him £100 advance fee to retain the option over each book he wrote; but even so, they might have decided not to send good money after bad, or for 4 guineas a thou, say, they might have been able to get David Patterson [scholar of Modern Hebrew literature]. Or, if I were in their place, I would put an advt. in the J.C. – unusual, but then it’s unusual not to have translators on tap. And I’m pretty sure an advt. in the J.C. would produce some reasonable translators, even if Clark had to sub their text more heavily than he does mine.

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Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 20: Tribute to Zalkind Stalbow

Tuesday 27th May 1958 – 11am

On holiday. Yesterday (Whit Monday) Richard [Stern] and Joyce and Merton [Sandler] to tea. Edith and I busy-busy preparing for the distinguished guests, but we had a lie-in in the morning. I made the rain a pretext for not going to shool. Anyway, we had been on the Sunday morning (1st day Shavuot). Richard is working for 3 months at Cambridge, Merton delivered his paper at Dublin – only I seem to be destined to a life sentence in the Camden Road and its environs. Still, at this particular moment of time one mustn’t complain: one is fit ( no boils, no pruritus, no headache, no cold), one is rested (one got up at 8.35 am, nearly an hour after Edith, who went to work as usual; she likes the late night, or rather, early-morning, shmoozing-cuddling and, unlike me, is quite undeterred by the prospect of an early reveille for the following day’s work), there is no noise apart from the muted roar of traffic which, unlike piano-tinkling and wireless noises, does not drive me up the wall. One is conscious, true, of one’s failure, which it is now too late to redeem, but – oh hell! I used to kid myself I was a “lord of language” and find I can’t express the simplest thoughts. Worse, I have no thoughts.

Rebellion in Lebanon, France on the verge of civil war, the London bus strike in its fourth week, the Editor of the Jewish Chronicle hopes to use my Maftir article in due course (it was submitted to him in September, was man nicht alles erleben muss), I sent off recently my translation of an excerpt from a Hebrew book by one “Fuchu” to Commentary – will they accept. I thought the excerpt genuinely humorous, “universally” humorous, not parochially humorous – and “universal” humour is something I have not yet found in Hebrew writing.

Went to meeting with Edith, organised by “Barcai” [the Zionist society of Cricklewood and Willesden] in honour of Zalkind Stalbow’s 80th birthday. He’s a remarkable man: squat, sturdy, a furrier in London, a citriculturist in Rechovot, a Hebraist, an epikoires, [‘heretic’] a chess-player, a walker – his walk of 30 miles or so in 2 days with the armed forces and the Gadna to Jerusalem was publicised – with embroidery, his son Geoffrey told me – in the J.C. Leon Simon [English Zionist leader] spoke. I liked his story of the rabbi who was asked why there were two Yekum Purkonns in the Shabbes service. “In case one got lost,” said the rabbi. “Then why only one Mi-she-beyrach?” “Well, there were two at first, and one did get lost.”

The reference to Mi-she-beyrach arose from the chairman’s saying that before Mr Stalbow spoke he would call on Mr Landman (who spoke very well) to give a sort of Mi-she-beyrach. The guest speaker was one Grayson, a Conservative M.P. who apparently had walked from London to Brighton once. He ad libbed at a not particularly high level and gave a more or less straight Conservative pep talk.

Have got out Brian Glanville’s much discussed (by our people) The Bankrupts. He has his finger right on the pulse of Golders Green Jewry. The writing is undistinguished, but readable. I gather he’s only 25 and as well as having written 3 novels previously is an authority on soccer.

Witriol Unpublished

Joseph Witriol kept his articles, both published and unpublished. In some cases, I have to admit, it’s understandable that his submissions were rejected. Let’s Dabber Ivrit, from 1983, being a case in point.

Like the wonderful Julie Burchill, who was on Desert island Discs today, sharing with the audience her enthusiasm for Hebrew (this choice refers), my father was a lover of, and indeed an expert in, the language. But his opportunities to talk or listen to normal, conversational Modern Hebrew were very limited. I seem to remember one of his Israeli cousins described his spoken Hebrew as Ivrit shel Shabbat, presumably suggesting a punctilious formality and grammatical precision.

Acknowledging in its subtitle, Miles Kingston’s Let’s Parler Franglaisthe article was rejected by the Jewish Chronicle’s features editor:

 …I personally was greatly amused by it but I fear that it will be lost on the bulk of our readers…

My cynical interpretation of this being

I personally was able to understand the Hebrew, unlike the bulk of our readers…

The piece is a conversation, almost exclusively in Hebrew (albeit with “Heblish/Engrew(?) elements) between two fathers, one of whom is ruefully talking about his children. This character is clearly based on my dad. There is the odd line or two that can raise a chuckle, assuming you know Hebrew, but it lacks the wit and sparkle that much of his writing had.

But then, I struggle to see the humour of the Franglais pieces dans le premier place; C’est a un-truc poney, ÀMHA.

Joseph Witriol, the (Young) Zionist

My father, Joseph Witriol, “became” a Zionist when he was about nineteen. He recalls his early days as a member of the Brixton Young Zionist Society (He-Atid) in chapter 15 of his autobiography (scroll about halfway down) where he also name drops several prominent Anglo-Jewish personalities,  mentions a monthly column of his in the Young Zionist magazine under the nom-de-plume of Peloni Almoni and, perhaps most significantly, became a “slave for life to Hebrew”.

I have a few copies of the magazine, but none with articles by either Joseph Witriol or Peloni. I found one short letter of his in the Young Zionist and the file also has an anonymous piece of doggerel about the Annual Summer School of the Association of Young Zionist Societies which he went to in 1931 and 1932. These pictures from an old photo album of his capture the exuberance of these otherwise intense young Zionists at the Summer Schools.

The content of the magazine ranged from serious analysis of the situation in Palestine to the minutiae of organisational matters. This from the April 1932 issue is painful reading:

Eighteen million voters demonstrated that Germany disapproves of Jew-baiting…

Still, the Jews of Germany are not yet delivered from the fear of persecution. Hitler has a month of grace before the second ballot gives his hopes of election their quietus….An armed rising is not out of the question. Though it would have no chance against the …Army, no doubt Jewish heads would be broken and Jewish shops plundered – to anticipate nothing worse – before the outbreak could be suppressed….

At this stage, before Hitler’s career closes in the ignominy that awaits it…

The Young Tchernichovski

Published in The Jewish Chronicle of September 25, 1953, this article, on The Young Tchernichovski,  by my father is an example of his erudition and philological expertise.

The Israeli “hymn” referred to in the article is still part of the Israeli dancing repertoire usually, dafka, in an instrumental version. Just as dafkaesque, Rav Youtube’s seemingly unique video for this Zionist anthem (albeit with its “universalist aspirations”) features an Arab-Jewish choir. Dayan Google also led me to this version of the song which however schmaltzy is somewhat more appropriate.

As mentioned before, for technical reasons –  foremost of which being my technical inexpertise – the link is to a pdf file which may require some manipulation (zooming etc) in order to read satisfactorily.