Part 97: Thursday July 10th 1962, 9.45 p.m.

A fine, cool evening. Returned from last class at Friern Barnet. There’s still another class to go, officially, but I decided to close down the class as I leave for Paris on the morning of the 18th, and I shall need the Tuesday evening, 17th, for packing.

The Ministry of Education placed me on its reserve list for the Paris course..and that which I hoped/feared came to pass – they offered me a place. I want to go because, primarily, I must have something to put down on an application form for a better job – especially in French. It may be that at 50 I stand no chance anyway, but I do not want to feel I have failed to do what I could have done towards a better job. I can’t deny that after fifteen months intense domesticity — pram and push-chair pushing, baby-minding, never stirring outside the Mayfield Avenue – Eden Grove/Camden Road – Southgate – Dinmore House – Moresby Road orbit — I welcome the break. On the other hand it will set me back £20 -£30 which may well have proved (the Hebrew phrase al keren ha’tsvi occurs to me – have I got it right? [yes – הניח כספו על קרן הצבי]) flung down the drain.

The shoulder still a nuisance; to-day feeling stiff generally, à la every-picture-tells-a-story (what has happened, by the way, to Kruschen salts, which used to show the story-picture of the crippled rheumatic leaping through the air “after”?) Maxie bashed his nose – Philip, apparently, pushed him off the bathroom stool when E. [wife, Edith Witriol, née Katz] rushed down to answer the door. His face is gradually assuming its normal colouring; a couple of days ago it was glorious technicolour. E. took him to the doctor and the hospital (she had to take Philip with).

Maxie’s birthday party went off well, except that I went off the very deep end – poor Mum again. If only she could keep Mum like Boobbe Esther [Edith’s mother]. Anyway, mea maxima culpa. The rift in the Sam and Lily [brother and his wife] lute seems to have blown over (awful mixed metaphors – who cares? I want to get back to my soma – La Cavalerie Lourde as of now; any French book with plenty of good colloquial French – not necessarily extreme argot.

 

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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.

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 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

 

The 23 Enigma by Max Witriol

Many years ago I seem to remember Ben Elton doing a comedy skit in which he lampooned young people who voted Conservative – he could forgive older people for voting Tory, but to do it when you’re young was to his mind unthinkably pathetic. Leaving aside the assumption that young people can’t think for themselves and choose to vote Conservative, I must admit I went along with this thinking and, to my shame, was a bit of a lefty – mainly due to the musical influence of Paul Weller, Billy Bragg and the other “anti-Fatcherites” of that era.  

However, I would flip Elton’s diatribe (especially now I’m all grown up) and say that while it’s one thing for a young person to vote Labour, for anyone over the age of 23 to do so is unforgivable – especially given the current state of the Labour Party and its appalling leader. We still see “older people” and, even worse, Jews among them, clinging to the view that the Labour Party is not infested with antisemitism. At best they say that Corbyn hasn’t done enough to address the problem  – they apparently still haven’t cottoned on to the fact that Corbyn is himself a vile antisemite.  And they are working to get him elected.

But unfortunately we live in a world where Conservatives  have also been totally influenced by left-wing thinking, especially in the realm of what might loosely be termed political correctness. Take Theresa May – as much as she is infinitely preferable to Corbyn, what is there to say about someone who allows hundreds of terrorists who have been fighting for Isis in Syria back into this country?  Or who oversees 23 thousand people on the MI5 terror suspect watchlist, but takes no action against any of them. Then when an attack happens we inevitably get told that one of the attackers was on the list  – like it’s an accolade, coz, hey, it’s been proven even more accurate than the weather forecast. A classic case of bolting the gate and then blowing it apart with dynamite.

But of course when anyone suggests that these 23,000 traitors should be locked up, let alone deported, they are instantly branded as a raving racist lunatic. Not only are they not locked up,  let alone deported, they are allowed to roam freely and, in many cases, claim housing and all other benefits so that they can carry on their treacherous plots against their host country. Future terrorists not only walking freely but being financed by the government – so effectively the nation is paying for its own destruction.

23 again. That was the number of Russian diplomats that Mrs. May expelled recently in the wake of the Russian nerve gas attack.  Yes, she overnight grew a spine and acted with decisiveness, strength and alacrity when it came to the aftermath of a single incident. I’m not criticising her for that action per se, but contrast that with her behaviour vis-a-vis the Islamist crisis in our midst and you see someone who is only prepared to take action when she feels the media and world leaders will go along with it (and yes, they largely climbed aboard).  A truly decisive and effective leader would tackle the would-be jihadists with absolute disregard for the politically correct lunatics who have taken over the asylum.

Small wonder then that she aligned herself with critics of Israel’s actions in protecting themselves from being invaded and massacred. “Show more restraint” she chastised the IDF for doing what they had to do to stop the bloodbath that the Palestinians were craving. I have to say, the excellent Michael Freeman showed far more restraint than I thought was humanly possible when interviewed on various TV programmes and asked why Israel acted like it did in the Gaza crisis.  I would have been tempted to say: “because we’re not mad, suicidal lunatics like you lot”. Then again, that’s why he’s the diplomat and I’m not.

Part 83: Thursday 7th September 1961, approx 11am

Overslept this morning, we awoke around 9.15 am. Dreamt a) Had received a bill for transport of books to Ireland, evidently – it seemed in the dream – the books I had sold to Sulzbacher. Clipped to the bills were miniature bottles of liquor. Dream. problem: How to get the bill to Sulzbacher (he had obviously sold the books to a customer in Ireland)? I could not send it through the post unless I packed it elaborately, to avoid the bottles getting smashed. I decided to give the bill to Sam [brother] when he next called, so that he could take it to Sulzbacher (whose house-and-business premises are near him) who, I took it, would stand Sam a drink from one of the bottles, b) I was worried about Philip and Max, I rushed into the shop (sic, at Newington Butts)…to find Philip tumbling down followed by Max. I grabbed hold of them and rushed with them to E. who was talking calmly to Minnie Blatt. E did not seem at all put out or in any way ashamed, her air was one of cool contempt. I remember thinking I must tick her off, but “correctly”, and saying: “Perhaps Mrs Blatt will excuse you now”, and waking to find Philip grizzling.

…It was not until yesterday that I manged to get down to a book on commerce; I am supposed to be teaching the subject to third-year kids next year…In the third year, I gather, it’s just waffle about various ways of retail distribution. Max now definitely walking. He’s a sturdy, happy boy. I can’t honestly say the same about Philip, who seems cantankerous. Philip, it seems to me, will be more emotional, more complex. Anyway, may they both make more of their lives than their old man has done. (And you pipe down, H.L. [ Baudelaire’s hypocrite lecteur])

Went to shool for yoortseit  [for his father] this morning. The new minister, Rabbi (?) Koschland, came up to me afterwards. Was I related to the Witriol who wrote for the J.C? It’s refreshing to find someone for whom the name rings the write-for-the-Jewish-Chronicle bell, and not the aren’t-you-related-to-Mrs-Witriol-of-the-Shabbos-bureau bell.

Part 82: Friday 1st September 1961, 2 pm

In the event [right charge for a translation job, see Part 81] I charged for 4000 Hebrew words at the Institute of Linguists top rate: £10-17-6 per 1000 words. No cheque has come as yet, but presumably this is just a question of office routine. Still, I shall be happier when the cheque does arrive, money seems to be poured into a bottomless barrel here.

Made a successful get-away yesterday, to Stoke Poges, following a Fieldfare ramble [Fieldfare was the pen-name for an Evening News columnist who wrote guides to walks in rural areas of the Home Counties]…

The church at S.P. seemed uninteresting. I didn’t inspect the inside as it was so dark, and I wanted to press on. A defect of this particular ramble is that there is nowhere to take tea en route. I suppose one ought to be thankful there is no “Elegy” tea-house, although I could have done with a cuppa.

Gray’s memorial is surrounded by a ditch; one gains access to it, presumably, via some gardens for which an entrance fee of one shilling is charged. I didn’t go in. Perhaps I ought to go again…spending an hour in the church and gardens and identifying, or trying to identify, the rugged elm and the yew tree’s shade. I have interrupted this entry for a moment – the train of thought will be obvious – to try to track down “joy cometh in the morning” – I got out a P.G.W. book with this title. My big Hoyt’s encyclopedia of quotations doesn’t seem to give it, but I find from Cruden that it’s Psalms 30:5 – I ought to have known. E. has dumped Maxy on me while I’m writing this, but he’s crawling around without giving any trouble.

The day before y., while Aunt Debby [Deborah Coltonoff, my mum’s Aunt] stayed with Max, we succeeded in getting to the Finchley swimming pool. Philip not a water-baby, but perhaps this will come. The pool is an admirable affair, really; a large children’s’ pool, cascades, refreshments, deckchairs. If one could get into it when it wasn’t overcrowded with schoolkids it would be very pleasant.

Part 81: Wednesday 23rd August 1961, 2.20 pm

Was going to say that I was writing this in peace, perfect p; when Alf [brother-in-law] rang, and now Max has awoken from his siesta. However, he is still at the stage of making giant-waking-refreshed-from-his-slumber noises and I may be able to get in a short entry before he demands attention. He now demands attention…resumed 9.20pm.

I suppose I ought to record that the buttock-ankle irritation seems more or less ok now…when I refer to my entry of 14 May, [Part 78] for example, I realise how well off I am.

Have done some translating of press-cuttings (Hebrew) on Orde Charles Wingate. D.F. Long got me the commission – said he wasn’t interested in these “casual” jobs…Perhaps he didn’t realise the extent of the job. I find it comes to 5100 Hebrew words and the Institute of Linguists’ recommended standard rates are from £7-7-0 to £10-10-0 upwards per 1000 words. I have been wrestling with the problems a) what number of words to charge (I can’t count individually 4-5000 words), b) what rate to charge…It’s all very, very sordid. Perhaps I’ll charge @£6-6-0 per 1000 English words, which may seem psychologically less devastating, but as I understand from Alf the English text will run to at least 700 wds, this may be the better bet for me. Ten o’clock, time to retire on this sordid note.

Chazonus v. Punk by Max Witriol

I’ll put my cards on the table – I was never a big fan of chazanus [cantorial singing].  It was basically something you put up with, accepting it as part of shul [synagogue] going – itself an activity I never participated in very willingly.  

But as  Rabbi Lerer [Rabbi at Barnet synagogue] is fond of quoting from Joni Mitchell: “ Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”.   And now that chazonim [cantors] are all but extinct in London shuls, I’ve belatedly come to realise how important and undervalued they were.

Synagogue services have to a large extent gone the way of music in general.  As a reaction to the age of the big rock gods of the seventies, punk came along and said anyone can be in a band.  Rock music  was purveyed by self-indulgent and OLD musicians while punk proclaimed that three chords and loads of  youthful attitude was all you needed.

Shuls also took up the  “Breaking down the barriers” war cry and lay-members started to daven, [lead the service] bypassing the need to spend many long hard years studying nusach [melodic style of services] and voice production, melodies, pronunciation etc. Unsurprisingly, shuls were quite amenable to the idea of drastically reducing their wage bill by dispensing with the services of a paid officiant and replacing him with able volunteers.  The congregants weren’t too fussed either.  A lot of them, like me, were focused on reaching Adon Olam [a hymn sung at the close of the Sabbath service], which in turn signalled the kiddush [a small repast held after the prayer services] – and  a chazan often delayed that ultimate goal.  In any case shul was never the place to go for music – after all it never played any T. Rex or Slade. (Yes, I’m that old). But  now I can see the hugely detrimental effect this has had.

Whereas people of my generation can remember competent and decent services and all the grand pieces that chazanim effortlessly delivered, today there’s no importance given to trained and impressive voices being put to the service of God.  And it’s getting worse year by year, as a whole generation has grown up going to shul and hearing services that have no splendour, no grandeur and that can, frankly, be somewhat amateurish. Lay members do a very good job on a regular and voluntary basis, but there aren’t enough of them to go round and, understandably,  they’re not normally in the same league as a trained professional, even if they do have pleasant voices.  

But the real tragedy is that today’s congregants don’t know or expect any different. Yes, it is great and important to have audience involvement and good singable melodic tunes that everyone can join in with.  But that doesn’t mean to say you can’t also have someone with an excellent voice leading the sing-along and producing the notes your average Joe Rabinowitz can’t reach.

Unfortunately, the situation could soon get even worse.  The Chief Rabbi has proposed radically reforming the barmitzvah criteria by encouraging boys to lead a service,  i.e.  karaoke Judaism.  Now I realise there’s a reason why karaoke is popular.  It has stayed the course  and since initially bursting on the scene and being all the rage, it remains a standard and cheap alternative to having a band of talented musicians playing in a pub or party. It kills two birds with one stone. It engages larger numbers of people who aren’t very talented, and because anyone can do it there’s no shortage of people who are desperate to get on stage/ the bimah [platform in synagogue] and are more than happy to do so for nil remuneration.

But while some people might find it highly entertaining to see their drunken, tone-deaf  mates belting out  ‘Angels’ or ‘Mustang Sally’ or whatever , one has to question whether that’s the right road to go down for our shul services.  We now face the prospect of young boys being encouraged to lead our services, regardless of whether they have particularly pleasant voices or not.  As long as the boys get more involved, that is, apparently, all that matters – never mind that the congregation has to endure an ever-worsening quality of service.

As I said at the top of this article I wasn’t, and indeed still am not, a fan of chazanus.  I’ve never gone to a chazanus concert other than first night selichos services and don’t see myself doing so any time soon.  Nevertheless in a shul service that I’m attending anyway it would be nice to hear some very high quality singing even just a few times a year, and I think this would upgrade the status of a synagogue service in the eyes of  congregants.  For me it’s extremely embarrassing and rather a disgrace when there’s a big captive audience such as at a big barmitzvah – many of whom would not often come to shul – being treated to a shabby out-of-tune performance from someone who hasn’t got the self-awareness to realise he’s not up to the job.  

After twenty years of interactive Carlebach services I think it’s time the pendulum swung the other way.  Come back chazanim, all is forgiven.