This memoir started with several aims: to look back and give some account of my life at age 60ish, to review and account for my many years abroad from an




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This memoir started with several aims: to look back and give some account of my life at age 60ish, to review and account for my many years abroad from an israeli perspective, and a from a jewish one in pursuit of the mitsva to write a sefer tora, to disburden myself of the long bibliographies I'd accumulated in a life lived very substantially with and through books, to justify and share some of the knowledge I'd acquired from several years studying european history.


TO WRITE A SEFER TORAH

one of the 613 mitzvot, detailed in torah, which observant orthodox jews and many even of the less observant fulfil in addition and as aids or adjuncts to the 10 commandments.

The usual response is to pay for a scribe to write a torah scroll in the approved manner, or to 'ransom' an old or damaged torah scroll and have it restored to use.

another is for the individual to 'write' a sefer torah in his/her life's deeds.

pirkei avot ( sayings of the rabbis of just after 2nd temple) tells us that "one whose deeds exceed his torah (learning)is firmly rooted, one whose torah exceeds his deeds is on shaky ground indeed'

my learning is relatively small,but deeds even fewer.i have done a lot of reading,(maybe hiding from life and reality). a considerable part of my life has been spent in universities and at home,wrestling with my inability to take a degree in history-or anything else.

this is an account what i think i learnt from all this time spent on history.maybe it will spark a more organized and useful interest in history,or related topic, if for someone else.that would be very nice.

an interest in history,even awareness of it,i owe to carmela, our class teacher at katzenelson junior school in mekor baruch,Jerusalem. in approved Zionist fashion we were taught tanakh,the book of joshua as history, our history.

nlcs(north london collegiate school for girls,canons,edgware) where i received my secondary education was/is a highly academic girls school much favoured by londons jewish bourgeoisie.i shall have more to say later about the problems of educational assimilation.what i remember of history there is teachers,mrs roberts,miss weaver and miss lederman ,and my total inability to grasp european political history of whatever era,mostly 17/18c,lack of fascination with english political history, but quite enjoying special subject english renaissance.

my favourite/most memorable history lesson in 2ndary school was in 1st year:a diagrammatic map illus/explanation of a medieval manor.i found this enclosed ordered world fascinating and this concept and a fresco of a meadow full of wildflowers on a mediterranean hillside (benozzo gozzoli,medici palace ,study)i think were the mainspring of my interest in medieval history.its possible that subconsciously I expected all history to conform to the book of joshua and provide equivalent religious and moral instruction ,sense of nation and identity.

i know I was entirely dissatisfied with historiography-historical philosophy or meaning of history,until I read d c knowles, a religious historian,of whom more later,who wrote medieval history from an accurate,scientific,and religious standpoint.later i came to n.f.cantor,whose brilliant summary of historiography',inventing the middle ages-the lives works and ideas of the great medievalists of the 20c' includes a penetrating essay on knowles and whose book 'sacred chain: a history of the jews' brought me to study of jewish history and torah.en route i also found john tosh 'the pursuit of history' a brilliant intro to historiography and a range of hist disciplines/subjects,with useful bibls. i owe this book the little i learnt of african history which is not as entirely irrelevant or nonexistent as is sometimes supposed.but this is to anticipate.

knowles approach wasnt usual in the 20c when Marxist, economic, political, sociological, administrative, or 'personality' explanations of historical events were more fashionable, or a great favourite,'we haven’t a clue why things happen, but here's what happened anyway' also known as narrative history.history is pre-eminently the study of past society from written records.thankfully today it also includes archaeology-evidence of material remains of all kinds and does not begin with herodetus,who recorded travellers tales, or thucydides,who wrote politics., but with torah, the history of the world and of the jewish people,at least from creation to the second temple.see bibliography .

I think on a subconscious level its also the case that the grandchildren of refugees and immigrants with have more time and distance to absorb and adjust to the events which made their ancestors refugees and want to explain and understand the foreigness and events of their grandparents lives if this hasn’t been explained sufficiently by the family already.hence an interest in the past, and in history.


BARUCH ATA ADONAI ASHER BACHAR BANU MIKOL HAAMIM VENATAN LANU ET TORATO.BARUCH ATA ADONAI NOTEN HATORAH.blessed art thou o g-d who chose us from all the nations and gave us his tora.blessed art thou o g-d who gives torah

in Australia

I cant remember learning to read.by age 3 I already found in books a refuge and an interest beyond ordinary life and people and one I thought I could understand better.for exactly what psychological reason this happened I don’t know.

my first books were by no means torah,or even tora-friendly:kay thompson's 'eloise', a book about a little girl who lives in the plaza hotel new york with an English nanny while her parents are elsewhere consulting their lawyers.the life it amusingly describes is that of an autonomous, imaginative, lonely child, largely dependent on dolls, pets, and adult hotel staff or servants for company.

tolstoy's 'goldilocks and the 3 bears' was in Russian, from the peoples publishing house, Moscow, one of the range of good quality, well illustrated, children's books that were one of the better products of soviet Russia – provided they were doctrinally acceptable. another book in Russian- moyddir – attempted to teach hygiene to Russian kids, in the story of a boy who didn’t wash, until he met mr krokodil- a real crocodile,but in a suit and spats,not as you might expect a wicked capitalist lackey, or evil bourgeois but the father of two nice neat well-dressed krokodil children, totosha and kokosha, who sent moyddir away to wash before they would play with him.after even the furniture ran away from him in horror moyddir discovered the joys of the peoples swimming pool- a nice lake- and they all lived happily and cleanly afterwards. I did get taken swimming a lot from a young age in Australia, this, like over-feeding babies in preparation for Russian winters which don’t happen elsewhere in the world, appears to be a Russian custom.Tolstoy was approved for his socialism in old age-actually Russian orthodox Christian anarchism,like Solzhenitsyn's. he renounced all his novels as godless, and retold fairy tales or simple moral stories to benefit the peasants, who were not always grateful, and often preferred tales of love,war, high life, and personal angst,that are in his novels.


a scottish academic couple, whom I always think of as hengist and horsa- because of '1066 and all that' – but actually hengist and megan, colleagues of my father eli kamenka, gave me a lovely child-friendly set of bright yellow-covered English/European fairy tales-retold by constance woodhead:'snow white', 'rumplestiltskin', and 'the little goose-girl', just the right size for small hands.

i also had lewis carrolls' alice in wonderland' and 'adventures through the looking glass'.which seemed to me from a young age much more rational ,normal, and sensible than real life; I think I remember feeling from quite young that here at last was someone who understood the irrationality of the adult world..maybe this has been its appeal.

i also had as part of my early years, 'australian wildflower fairies'- a botany book for children, and 'the boomerang book of legendary tales', which included aborigine and pacific island traditional tales.

'ant and bee: an alphabetical story for tiny tots' which is just that , again in small format and with simple clear illustrations and text.when my brother and later my daughter,cara, came to learning to read i made the aquaintance of the 'janet and john' first reading series, set in a rather unreal and bland very english suburban family.cara liked best a book of everyday photos of a childs day with a simple text.

from a torah point of view the russian stories are probably the nearest to providing an acceptable moral universe.goldilocks learns that even friendly bears with names (the russian bears were called misha and natalya,and had patronymics even,) will eventually send her back to her own home.cleanliness is sometimes close to godliness, in judaism too, and social consideration and motivation is also very much part of judaism. according to bruno bettelheim"the uses of enchantment" the english fairy tales are potentially immoral, or the morals of the nations not judaism.e.g.snow whites stepmother theme is possibly oedipal and incestuous,rumplestiltskin endorses breaking a contract,the little goosegirl is helped by a horse,which is the opposite of the psalmist, a vain hope is the horse etc much more could be said,and has been in analysing early books.i recommend bettelheim's book.


in Singapore

when i was 5 we moved to singapore i remember seeing danny kaye live on stage, visiting chinese fun fairs, the nature reserve in johore bahru, the market where live chickens were killed with great cruelty in boiling water, our chinese ama and cook, and later malay ama for my brother, school, where i learnt knitting, french and arithmetic,with enjoyment, and ballet and riding and swimming.

books were usa comic books from 'cold storage' a new-style supermarket with magic automatic doors.i read hg wells' 'the time machine', which i can see now probably marked me for life,' the wizard of oz' - which in bettelheim- style analysis is relatively moral- wizards and witches have no power, against love, heart, courage, friendship.the cowardly lion, the tin man and the scarecrow and dorothy learn this.(on the wizard of oz see also gore vidal 'collected essays' .His lit.crit.is usually interesting-his coverage of film is good too.)

'rupert bear'an extremely surreal comic strip set in lower middle class english suburbia I read but only as an adult revisiting the books did i appreciate quite how surreal the stories are and any message or moral deeply obscured.

i also read enid blyton's adventure stories of a middle class England that never quite existed, 'the mountain of adventure',' valley of adventure',' secret seven' 'famous five' etc.my younger brother came to enjoy her 'noddy' books once he began to read.she was widely deplored by parents, teachers, librarians, the guardian newspaper, in fact everyone, except children themselves. enid blyton's pageturners convinced many who later went on to 'real books' that they could read a big fat book with pleasure and ease but morally they may have been fairly nul or unpleasant.as a school prize I was given karel capek's 'fairy tales'which I liked, but are also puzzling.

the film 'oklahoma' frightened me-but 'south pacific' did not.

at home we had a gramophone and three coloured records for children: the 'mickey mouse club','tom sawyer' and roy rogers an american children's singer who dressed as a cowboy .and rosemary Clooney singing childrens songs. of these the moral landscape of mark twain's' tom sawyer' is probably nicest-tom learns that poor huck and the black slave jim may on occasion have moral lessons to teach his middle America and that he survives only with their help.it was fairly typical of twain's iconoclastic humanitarianism. he also happened to be a good story teller. we had a record of marlena dietrich in a live appearance at the café de paris in london,singing many classic popular songs of the war and post war era. my brother enjoyed rolling the records along the floor so they got rather bashed .

my parents were generally favourable to lee kuan yu who was to become leader of quasi-democratic independent s'pore.he was among many famous alumni of lse,which prided itself on teaching political sciences to many future leaders of newly independent colonies, not all of them british.singapore in those days was malay,chinese and british.but straits chinese,many of whom were refugees from communism,are not mainland chinese-like many emigrant cultures it was more old-fashioned and preserved elements of pre-communist china,plus the experience of being a british colony and an island state.


the jewish input to my childhood in singapore in addition to my parents, consisted of mrs nissim,and the old est jewish community there.see bibl.on 1950s aus and s'pore.i should imagine that by age 7, when we returned to israel, that i was already beginning to suffer from cultural overload, and maybe moral confusion with so many messages from all quarters.


SHMA ISRAEL ADONAI ELOHEINU ADONAI ECHAD.hear o israel the lord our god is one.

in Israel

we were at once engulfed in family,-mums many sephardi relatives as distinct from dads emotional russian nuclear family and aussie university colleagues, and also in israeli community, mostly in jerusalem, but also moshav and kibbutzim. I read the much superior in every way,yigal mosinzon's 'chasamba' books.

Where blyton's children are usually after the money,food,or personal success, mosinzon's far more adventurous children are usually engaged in saving the nation by some vital mission,politically relevant to kum hamdina,the establishment of the state of israel, and socially a lot more normal, without being quite naturalistic.

tanakh we read and were taught at school as mentioned earlier, moshe shamir's story of a boy a girl and a tractor,'hagalgal hachamishi'- the 5th wheel, and a comic strip about two characters mickimau and eliyahu, which was in rhyme in hebrew and quite fun.that was about the extent of my reading in hebrew.

in English, books were dickens,'tale of two cities','david copperfield',burton's 'arabian nights', charlotte bronte's 'jane eyre', poe's 'the pit and the pendulum',his or someone elses 'masque of the red death',rls stevensons'treasure island'-blind pugh gave me nightmares and poe was uncomfortable reading too.an aunt worked at the us consulate and got me entry to the english lang library there -.also my mother got me permission to use the university library,then in givat ram, and now far bigger collection of all books relevant to judaism and israel.at the old hebrew uni library i read 'the romance of writing',by Goodwin, a book about the invention of the alphabet and writing and started my lifelong interest in calligraphy. the dickens and burton were gifts from adults. i think I was impressed by dickens command of language ,the burton is more problematic. some of the stories are too openly erotic for children and would these days be dismissed as sexually exploitative even for adults.

my parents' attitude to sexual matters was scientific,factual and open,combined with sephardi reticence and modesty on the part of my mother. when i was a teenager my mother had a copy of the then controversial 'lady chatterley's lover 'by dh lawrence at home and i read it but completely failed to see what all the fuss was about. I still think, seriously,that Lawrence is more convincing writing on gardening than human sexuality. i don't know how much of dickens or burton I was able to understand or a bit later 'jane eyre'.this sort of precocious reading by children may not be too helpful compared to mastering social skills and relationships and furthering the all-round development of the child/teenager,something on which zionist education was very keen,and still is.: a conscious rejection of the stereotype of the 'torah jew' who studied torah and talmud but little else.there's a great deal to be said on all sides of this question but certainly while my reading skills were admired I was regarded as socially a bit backward.
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