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.
Sam’s [brother] birthday today – 55. Eheu. A tragic story. An intelligent, studious boy, many sided – violin, chess, art, debating – has been donkey-ving tieing up parcels of bags since he left school. The family breadwinner when he was seventeen. Loves children; childless. I only hope he is spared to see joy from P. and M. who, as far as I am concerned, are as much his as mine ( to obviate misunderstanding I should perhaps explain that all I mean is that S. has as much right, if not more, to the joys of fatherhood as I have).
We took the kids – 38 of them – to Blois and Paris and brought them back alive. A feeling of satisfaction that in spite of all obstacles the operation was successfully accomplished. Blois is a pleasant city. The château country overrated. The picture I had formed was of châteaux nestling by the river bank. In point of fact the castle of Blois is set in the heart of the city traffic, though admittedly once inside the grounds you can then get out and have a view of the river. Accommodation in Blois was excellent, in the girls’ lycée; plentiful showers, wash basins, toilets, cupboards. I volunteered – bona fide altruistically – for the bed in the dormitory at Blois, a curtained-off affair from which I had the feeling I ought to emerge in a Pickwickian night-cap. My altruism paid off – it is pleasant to find virtue is sometimes rewarded here below – when we got to Charenton- Écoles, the dingy suburb of Paris in which we were accommodated, my moral claim to the only separate masters’ room available could not be contested. The Institution Jeanne d’Arc at which we stayed is a private girls’ boarding school, a decrepit place. We ate in the basement. Food was inadequate. It is possible that in term time conditions are better; obviously every inch of space is utilised to cash in on the holiday trade.
Our journey was, in point of fact, organised by the Comité d’Accueil de L’Education Nationale – as M. Chevalier, our guide, and M. Scaeffer, the Charenton directeur, pointed out, General Tours had merely acted as a channel for correspondence. I did have all the C. d’Acc. prices, and it is clear that the travel agencies make £1 to £2 on each boy or girl. If I could act as my own travel agency, I could easily make enough, with a party of 30-40 boys, to take E. and the kids (our kids) with me buckshee, but I can hardly see any head wearing this.
I received half-a-dozen copies of God’s Wilderness, £3-3-0 net. I can’t summon up any enthusiasm over it – Beno Rothenberg found the remains of a Canaanite “high place” (so what?), Yohanan Aharoni writes about the route of the Exodus and the site of Mount Sinai (conjectural), many of the photographs appear to be of no special significance. The Times printed one of a Beduin girl, but what is there so special about a Beduin girl?) The letterpress is printed on a not particularly pleasing brownish paper. However, I did my translating faithfully and Clark did a very skilful editorial job (though only printing one map of Sinai; the second Sinai map in the original, showing most of the places mentioned in the text, was not reproduced in the English version).
Thames & Hudson say they will need me for translating further texts by Beno Rothenberg – I suppose I must hope they will produce at least 50,000 words in English so that I can get the money.
Eichmann is being tried in Jerusalem with, inter alia, the murder of millions of Jews. I’m afraid all I can think of is possible translating work I might have been, be able to get out of it. Richard [Gabriel Richard Stern, a good friend who helped with Polish and Russian words in Mumme Loohshen] was duly married yesterday. A Russian orbited round the world yesterday. Writing this at my study desk, with pleasant view of pine trees, trees in blossom. E out shopping with P, an occasional plaintive cry from Max. Acute lumbago on Tuesday, still aches and pains, but birds twittering – Cohen, on the staff at school, is not perturbed at the idea of the world’s destruction, but I must say it seems a pity.
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.
The penultimate part of Journal entries relating to Hasmonean are here.
As well as his personal Journal, unpublished autobiography and Yiddish book, he also had two significant translations published. These are two sites which a quick and unacademic Google search brings up:
God’s Wilderness Discoveries in Sinai
Beno Rothenberg ; in collaboration with Yohanan Aharoni and Avia Hashimshoni ; [translated from the Hebrew by Joseph Witriol].
Heinrich Heine : the artist in revolt / by M.Brod. Trans. from the German by J.Witriol
Serendipitously I spotted the latter book in a Magg’s catalogue of books for sale from Yehudi Menuhin’s library – see also here. It’s worth a look at their site – they are one of the most renowned antiquarian booksellers in the world.