Joseph Witriol’s Journal – Part 28: Heads and tales

Tuesday November 11th, 10.05 p.m.

The only comment I have to make on the significance of the date is, characteristically enough, I suppose, is* that I can’t get used to the idea of the two-minute silence being observed on the Sunday before the 11th and the poppies being on sale the Saturday before or earlier.

* E. [Edith Witriol] pointed out the tautology (23/11/56) – such a clever girl!

Changes at Hargrave [primary school]. Miss Hood retired at the end of last half-term. Replaced by Miss Price, a youngish efficient-looking woman with aggressive horn-rimmed specs and an elocutionary voice. Heppell sprang a surprise on us – he had put in for and got another headship, presumably of a larger school. Miss P. is applying for the headship here. Must get used to the idea of a woman head younger than myself. Excellent fodder for the masochism. Hale, too – who has a graded post with us – has got a deputy headship right on his doorstep in Finchley, after being beaten by Miss P. for the Hargrave deputy headship (Heppell played the dirty on him by leading him to believe he stood a fair chance, or rather-better-than-fair-chance. The advert in the L.C.C. Bulletin was for man or woman, with the man’s qualifications custom-built for Hale, but it seems obvious that with no woman holding a graded post on Hargrave’s staff – after Miss Hood’s retirement – the woman candidate would be preferred to a man of equal or even slightly higher ability).

What else. At the end of the Neila service, taking a cup of tea in the hall – took me four/five years to find out about this, quite by chance – I asked Zalkind Stalbow’s grandson (Sammy’s son) where his grandfather was. He had been knocked down by a lorry Erev [the day before]Yom Kippur. He 80+. He was unconscious for several days, I gather. Frankly, I looked in the J.C. [The Jewish Chronicle] obituary columns. However, he made what must have been a remarkable recovery and I visited him at Hornsey Hospital. He said it would be safer for me to write down what I had to say, as the accident had affected his hearing. What did I think of Ben Gurion’s saying to the Jews of the Diaspora we want your money but you mustn’t tell us how to run our State?

A Bar-Mitsva at Selby’s the other Sunday. Benny Miranda’s younger boy. Slightly nauseating. Champagne, liqueurs, cigars, cabaret – vulgar Jewish comedian (though I expect I shall not be above trying to retail [sic?] some of his jokes) and shrill songsters. I saw three photographers “shooting” the boy in his tallis [prayer shawl].

The occasion was memorable for a reconciliation with our long “lost” Balin cousins. I don’t know what our relationship is, or rather what the correct name for it is – second cousins, 1st cousins once removed? I append what I believe to be the tree, so that I may have it handy for reference purposes. Perhaps I may be able to get someone to state authoritatively how the relationship is described. The “rift” started long pre-1939. I don’t know the origin. My mother became broighess with Mrs B. – so Sam [Joseph Witriol’s brother] and I had to follow suit. We met at Simchas,Shivas, but never exchanged a word.

Who's related to who: Witriol and Balin

Who’s related to who: Witriol and Balin

What is the term to express a) the relationship between my mother and “Mr Balin” (Zalman) and b) Mick Balin and myself?

Sam Balin had been a grammar school master in the provinces for many years, had recently come to Hasmonean (I think that’s it – in Edgware [sic!]) school. He came up to mum and — communications were restored. More about all this if I have time later. It’s been a “good” evening – a leisurely meal, Edith quiet as a mouse writing letters — but, it’s 11pm and one doesn’t want to slog away at this.

Read H.E. Bates’ Darling Buds of May. Excellent short picaresque comedy. Practically read Waugh’s Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. Good short fantasy (I don’t blame these lads for preferring to write a 40,000 to a 80,000 book). Slight anti-Semitic touches one should note for the Jew-in-English-literature (Pinfold, echt-Englisch, has delusions in which his persecutors refer to him as a Jew, Peinfeld, who bought out an English farmer whose ancestors had worked the land for centuries).

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Lid Off Hasmonean

This article has already been referred to in connection with Journal entries relating to Hasmonean.

Lid off Hasmonean was published in The Jewish Chronicle, dated 4th November 1977 and under that date he added to his cuttings book:

Twelve years since the last feature article in the J.C; 5½ years since my last review in the J.C. In the meantime I had submitted an article – Jewish Forenames – which was accepted, but which I then asked them not to publish because, or rather unless, they printed G-d, which they declined to do.

I also submitted, unsuccessfully, two articles “lifted” from my (unpublished) book on Yiddish, and more recently an article on “Neologisms in Modern Hebrew” which, too, was rejected by the Features Editor Meir Persoff.

My title for the attached article was Hasmo, I wrote Hasmonean Secondary School (not Grammar) and the parenthesis about my retirement was added by the J.C. sub – good (I had mentioned the fact of my retirement in a covering letter).

Both this article and the one on Jewish forenames are mentioned in Part V of The Witriol Dairies as featured on melchettmike’s blog.

Hasmonean – the final chapter

The final part of the diary entries from my father’s journal as it relates to his time at Hasmonean is  here on the excellent melchettmike blog.

Post-retirement, the occasional reference to Hasmonean or contact with ex-colleagues came up. Here are two examples, transcribed from the hand-written entry with my additions in square brackets:

Sunday 28th January 1979, 1850

E J Frank came round on Wednesday. At 70+ he is fit, though constantly blinking. He knew nothing of my “Hasmo” article in the J.C., here , so that my fears that he might have been “broighiss” with me on a/c of it, were groundless….

…The story [E J Frank told] in the name of Mendel Block, who succeeded Rev. Rosenbaum at our  [i.e. dad’s family synagogue, when growing up]old Borough Synagogue, was of a discussion in the Hasmo staffroom, when MB was on the staff, as to whether a Jew could watch opera or ballet. “Certainly not ballet,” said MB, “Al tistakel lakankan (can-can)”. This was off the cuff, and as such first-rate, in my view. [my brother had to explain to me the wordplay – “Al tistakel bekankan” from Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Fathers, meaning “Don’t look at the container”(continuing with”…rather, (look) at what’s inside”.)]

Monday 21st May 1979, 1218

Y’day to reception to Moishe Ellman [pictured in this photo on melchettmike] at Page Street, Hasmo Girls’ School. Very enjoyable. Had been a little surprised to receive invite in 1st place – thought was persona non grata. However Mr Baddiel [see melchettmike’s hasmo-legends-xiv]  was cordiality itself. Cd it be that he had not read my JC article in which he was obviously the target of my criticism of the ultra-O elements at Hasmo? Doubt it. Probably had forgotten it, or just thought it was shtuss and not worth bothering with. WWS [“Willy” Stanton, headmaster], too, was very amiable, though he hadn’t emerged all that well from my article. Albert Myer came over ostentatiously to Sam Balin and ostentatiously ignored me. I don’t quite know what I did to him. He saw me once on the bus with bare head. It’s hardly worth the bother of commenting on.

The whole thing was very well done. Moishe was presented with an illuminated address by a distinguished OB, a Ph D mathematician and, of course, ex yeshiva bachur. Moishe spoke quite well, said he’d been setting himself a multiple choice question as to the reasons why he had gone on so long past retirement age. Of the five possible answers (loved teaching maths so much, couldn’t tear himself away from such a fine bunch of colleagues, needed the money, was dreading his retirement speech and wanted to put it off as long as possible, had come to the conclusion that the last was the right answer. (I have forgotten the fifth choice).

March 4 2018

Going through my dad’s papers recently, I found a letter and a postcard from pupils as well as his retirement card from 1977.

Pipped by Pepys

Having finally put up entries from my dad’s journal relating to Hasmonean here, here and here, I decided that if I ever have the time and perseverence, I would like to “blog” all his journal entries – censored where necessary –  spanning some forty years.

I particularly like the idea of adding entries in “real time”.  So, an entry for March 8th would enter the blogosphere on the same day, albeit decades apart.

Today, I came across this incredibly comprehensive site  http://www.pepysdiary.com/  which seems to use that principle.

In several brief comments, dad suggested that his entries could be of  some interest to others. I will put those remarks up in due course.

The Hasmo Journal: A Son’s Introduction

My father, Joseph Witriol (1912-2002, Hasmonean 1966-1977), kept a hand-written Journal from 1957 for around forty years, running to some 17 volumes.

Some of what he wrote is highly personal, but there is also the trivia of daily life; the detailed observations of people and places; the sometimes extraordinarily analytical retelling of events; the philosophical, religious, political, cultural, and linguistic insights and musings. And, of course, his wife Edith (1922-2006), children (myself, Philip, born 1959, Max, born 1960, and Susannah, born 1963), other family, friends and work all feature. All expressed with a deep sense of morality and humanity, lightened though by an urbane, self-deprecating, cynical, and occasionally, ahem, vitriolic style.

Barmitzvah speech, Woodside Park shul, with mum and dad
 
 
The overarching theme is the feeling of being a failure. Among the many things this ‘failure’ did was to write his memoirs, Also Lived – An Autobiography of a Failure, chronicling his life up to the time the Journal begins. His hope, often expressed in the Journal, was that his children (especially I, his first-born) would not repeat his mistakes and would make something of their lives.

However, had I not stumbled across the superb melchett mike blog (in true failure style, from Googling my brother’s name during an aimless, late night surfing session), I doubt whether I would have even thought of ‘uploading’ these Hasmonean-related entries.  Thanks to the diligence of Mike the entries have gone up on his blog, here, here, here, here and here. He also forestalled some significant transcribing errors made by me.

More typically for me, another ‘project’, to transcribe and eventually publish in some form the work probably closest to my father’s heart, Mumme Looshen – An Anatomy of Yiddish, still remains uncompleted more than four years after I began working on it. Again, I hope to eventually publish it – if only via this site. [2012 update – now online here].

A recurrent theme of dad’s school-related (both Hasmonean and previous schools) entries is the struggle to control his temper in the face of pupil indiscipline, and his more than occasional recourse to physical punishment. This may shock even the most non-PC of readers. In dad’s (partial) defence, I would point out that this was in the late Sixties/early Seventies, before the enlightened, student-centred attitude of our own day. It is also worth bearing in mind that his Hasmo entries formed only a small fraction of his Journal writings, no more than 10% as a guesstimate.

Entries have not been altered unless an error is obvious or the meaning completely obscured. Indeed, dad sometimes noted his misspellings and wondered if they were Freudian slips. The occasional solecism, for example, is, perhaps, natural in an entry usually compiled after a day’s work. There are also minor inconsistencies which may reflect changes of style over time (such as various spellings of compound words, such as “staff room”). He sometimes, as in writing about the induction, in Part I, inadvertently repeated himself. And dad was not given to short paragraphs. Or sentences.

I have overcome my mixed feelings about printing ‘juicier’ items. Given the passage of time and the nature of such revelations, I have opted for disclosure. However, where something is too sensitive, I omit. Sometimes, dad would use a person’s initials if a comment was derogatory. He may have foreseen the possibility of his entries reaching a wider audience. He did refer to his children and grandchildren reading it decades hence and in one passage stated we should be allowed to communicate or publish (my emphasis) their contents. Reading some passages (for example, the description of colleagues) I am also tempted to feel he was not just writing for himself.

I have tried to keep my comments [in square brackets, thus] to a minimum. I rarely explain words and expressions merely because they are dated or obscure. Against my own deepest waffling instincts, I avoid explanation or interpretation. Occasionally, dad imagined how a future Ph.D. student/editor of his Journal (and his Autobiography) would exhaustively footnote a minor point. I hope the reader will get a feel for my dad’s character through his words without any ‘prompting’ by me. Nevertheless, in addition to the general remark already made about corporal punishment, let me break my own rule and make one other: In public, and when speaking with us at home, dad was very modest (and not in a false way). In this medium, however, he did indulge in self-praise from time to time.

Dad in a retirement photo for the school mag
 
Dad was a polyglot, etymologist and linguist who, without affectation, frequently used foreign words and phrases in his writings. Above all, he was a lover of, and expert in, Classical and Modern Hebrew. As well as a superb academic knowledge of Yiddish, he had grown up with a mother whose first language it was. The aphorisms of mumme looshen were imprinted on him. I keep his transliteration of Hebrew and Yiddish words (italicised for ease), even though these may sometimes seem unusual to the modern reader. The accurate copying of foreign words and expressions – whether in French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Spanish or Yiddish – is limited by the original’s handwriting and my lack of knowledge of the languages. Rather than always labouring to decipher them myself, I hope the meaning is usually inferable(ish) or that research by the still-curious reader will yield results.

Philip Witriol (Hasmonean 1970-1977)

Joseph Witriol

The latest episode from my father’s diary entries about Hasmonean is up – includes a moving account of a trip to Israel

http://melchettmike.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/the-witriol-diaries-part-iii-hasmo-legends-xxii/

I have finished typing the text of his Yiddish manuscript apart from the extensive word list and index.

2012 update – the manuscript is now online here – without word lists and index.