Perfect Family Tales And Other Trivia

The art of the short-story writer is that of the cartoonist. It is the magical craft of creating entire worlds with a few simple strokes of a pen. Tales told by an idiot? Maybe! But my tales are also a mix of reality and fantasy; truth and lies; some based on my own family; others, not. Readers must guess which characters are real; who are inventions - and who are an amalgam of both. Please draw the boundaries for yourself.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

‘A Witness to Israeli Racism Speaks Out’

Anna Grynhaus, Social Affairs Editor,

Liberal Israel and Modern Orthodox Rabbi René Bloch examine the tensions tearing the fabric of Israeli society.

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I was dashing through my office door, desperate to join our news team on Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, when René Bloch rushed past,  almost knocking me flat!

Ethiopians.01Apologies and explanations brief, Bloch suggested that we go together to observe the Ethiopian protests first-hand.

Soon we were dodging police stun grenades and water cannon as we  pushed our way          through  the huge and increasingly violent mob screaming for minority rights.

With little time to think, it barely occurred to me that the riots were happening  on the streets between Liberal Israel’s offices and the square named after the premier whose legacy is synonymous with peace.

Then Bloch shouted: “Protest? A rally against racism? It looks like another war zone!”

All this had begun when I  arranged to meet him to discuss his experiences fighting racism inside the IDF during last year’s war in Gaza.

We had been due to discuss minorities other than Ethiopians. But events overtook us when the protests erupted and Bloch arrived before I could postpone our date.

He is among veterans of Operation Protective Edge who feel some              personnel lost their sense of morality during the campaign and he came to this magazine, hoping that we’d offer him  a platform for his views.

Ethiopians.02

A French immigrant with experience of physical antisemitism in his home-country, he  found it ‘inexplicable’ that the Israeli police should brutalise anyone – let alone those from an ethnic minority.

How could they “even consider striking a uniformed soldier without provocation? Soldiers and police are like first cousins. After all, they both protect fellow citizens”, he said.

In civilian life, Bloch is an academic attached to Tel Aviv University. But he has also seen action in several wars and was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant during the campaign.

Below  is his verbatim view of how the  underlying schisms of Israeli society are cracking its democratic facade.

 



«Today’s events are just the sort of situation I predicted – and dreaded – when I argued with my military colleagues.

“Many times in the mess hall I found myself to be an appalled, powerless witness – a mere bystander - to the unashamed naked racism I met, even within my own unit.

I approached Liberal Israel to set the record straight when the magazine learnt – mistakenly - from my friend – your correspondent - Yotem Levi that I’d suffered racial abuse from other personnel.

“That’s not true. But what is undeniable is that there’s another war erupting on our streets and it’s a battle we must all join to repair the integrity of Israeli society.

‘hysterical’

“In France, yes, I was a victim. But here in Israel I am safe because I am white and European. Yet as an ordinary serving soldier, I felt ashamed -personally betrayed - by other men’s naked prejudices and their hate speech.

“My unit is formed mainly by people who come from middle to low socio-economic backgrounds. During the war, they made murderous remarks about whether or not to kill Arabs. Even genocide was justified. The talk became quite hysterical.

“Some people insisted that all Arabs were terrorists and then went on to make other hateful remarks.

“There are no Arabs in my unit. But there are Druze and they never make racist remarks. Instead, I heard extremist views expressed by both religious and very secular Jews – like Russians. Their views may sound different but the end result is the same.

‘apartheid’

“Undemocratic values go hand in hand with the views they express. They even talk about wanting to have an apartheid kind of system where Israeli Arabs don't have any rights; or accuse anyone who dissents from the mainstream of being a traitor. I was – still am - very frightened to think that these people may hold the majority view in Israeli society and that among them were those who recently helped to elect the new government.

“Did I punish them for their hate speech? Even with the rank of staff sergeant, I do not have that authority. I do not have a command. They are my peers.

“I have never tried to talk them out of what they say, because I have to continue living and working with them and want to avoid conflict. But how I did not scream out in rage, I don’t know.

“Their divisive talk is not about envy or only about poor education – although both play a part. The culprits are racist because they wish to differentiate between ethnic groups in society and want this difference to be enshrined in law, even to the point of Arab citizens losing the right to vote or having basic health care. They say Arab ‘lives are not important. It's O.K. to attack Arab citizens as a response to Palestinian violence against Jews’.

“So, yes. Whether we discuss Arabs or Jewish ethnic minorities, I think it's both about poor education and the type of upbringing that doesn't sanctify democratic values and equality under the Law. The remedy must lie with legislation that protects equality while punishing racism and racist activity. Even more important perhaps, we need education that teaches pluralistic and democratic values. But I worry that neither of these are presently possible under an administration that looks like becoming ever more right-wing and undemocratic.

“When we arranged to meet, you asked me about the controversy surrounding Arab Knesset member Hanin Zoabi because of her actions during the last war.

“Ideally, I support all Knesset members’ right to express their views, especially when they represent a section of the population that is not often heard. But there must be a limit to that freedom of expression should it endanger State security or is extremely offensive to some citizens (like justifying murder).

“Yet I’m unsure if such behaviour causes racism. It already exists. But certainly, it does nothing to help to combat it.» 

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Mark.UlyseasThis piece first appeared in the June 2015 edition of Live Encounters magazine (http://liveencounters.net/?p=10612) edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of Israel and all matters Jewish.

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 24 May 2015)

Saturday, 23 May 2015

‘On First Looking into Hitchcock’s Holocaust’

“Then felt I like some watcher of the skies”

(On First Looking into Chapman's Homer -

John Keats)

“I can’t believe my own eyes” gasped Yehuda Danzig, even as he dabbed away the tears. 

Yehuda.Danzig

“There’s me. Look – look – Michael – it’s us. Do you  recognise the picture  snapped at Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp in April 1945 soon after we were set free? We’re on the right – I’m in the dark cap - and you’re just behind me wearing a light cap.

“It’s brought it all back: how a fragment of our family somehow survived a nightmare labyrinthine journey from home in Czechoslovakia with stops at transit and labour camps and then  a death march,  only to arrive at Belsen in late summer 1944.

“You remember that Stepmother was there but that Dad had been separated from us and died at Berga concentration camp?

“Our other brother was there, too, but only one sister as the other, who was disabled, spent the war in an institution.

“I’m aged 82 now, Michael, but still I shiver uncontrollably when I think of the incessant, unrelenting outdoor roll calls that took place, no matter the weather. They were absolute murder during the winter.

“We had practically nothing to eat; no water and we were covered with lice from head to toe. We all had typhus and we all behaved like zombies.

“Then, when on a day in April 1945 we  were suddenly told ‘you are free!’, the words were meaningless. It was a British soldier who had spoken and it was only when his words were translated into German that we began to understand. But when we tried to go outside we discovered that the piles of dead bodies had not been collected and they were stacked so high we couldn’t get out of the barracks.

“Then the British sent us to a nearby displaced persons’ camp while they razed the Nazi camp to the ground. I guess the photograph was taken about two weeks after we were freed as we look quite clean and better fed. We didn’t stay with our liberators for long as we were anxious to return home.

“But when we arrived we almost wished we hadn’t bothered as the only other relative to have survived was an uncle who had lived out the war in hiding.

“Then about three years later, a British rabbi visited our town and took us three boys to the UK. Then you and I re-located here to Toronto, Canada but were separated again when we were fostered by different families.

“I went on to study electronics at technical school, became involved in the Habonim Zionist youth movement and lived in Israel during the 1950s. I came back here in 1958 where I married my darling Etty – a fellow Habonim member. We have two sons and four grandchildren.

“I have to tell you, Michael, that I never told my kids what happened to me until they were adults. Now, not only do they each have a copy of the testimony I’ve given to the Shoah (Holocaust) Foundation but also the wonderfully clear monochrome still image of us from  Alfred Hitchcock’s documentary film that he directed 70 years ago – just as we were freed.

“Don’t you think we look strangely happy – even carefree – although we’re grinning at the cameraman through slats in a barbed wire fence?

“Michael – you’ve been very quiet while I’ve babbled on. Michael? Mikey? Oh, no! I’ve  just remembered something else. You’re not here - are you? I’ve been chatting to myself. You’re were my dear, sweet kid brother. Three years my junior and you left me 18 months ago. This time, even with my wife’s help, I can’t start over again”. Yehuda.Danzig.-02jpg

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Author’s Note: Source: The Times of Israel :- http://www.timesofisrael.com/toronto-man-recognizes-himself-in-bergen-belsen-photo/

German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, a Holocaust documentary film made 70 years ago, was produced by Sidney Bernstein for the British Ministry of Information. Its original purpose had been to document the liberation of the German concentration camps in 1945 and to provide evidence of the atrocities to the German public.  Alfred Hitchcock was initially credited as "treatment adviser” to  the project.

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 23 May 2015)

Saturday, 9 May 2015

The End of FridayFlash.org.?

John.StrotherIn announcement that could well be the opener for a micro-mystery, Jon Strother of  FridayFlash.org has announced the closure of the website.

But he insists that the community of flash writers will live on.

Strother says: “I am sorry to announce that after nearly seven years running our website, FridayFlash.org will be closing.

“However, Friday Flash is not going away.

“We have a great community here, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Thanks to all who have contributed to the site over the years”.

Writers will continue to use the site’s Facebook page to post links to their stories and I shall still pen  PerfectlyWriteFamilyTales  with a view to their Frdayflashappearing in ebook format.

Wishing all my fellow flashers well in their many endeavours.

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood –09 May 2015)

Sunday, 29 March 2015

‘The Best of the Rest –a Modern Fairy Tale’

Thou hast nor youth nor age,

But, as it were, an after-dinner's sleep,

Dreaming on both’ 

(Act 3, Scene 1, ‘Measure for Measure’,

William Shakespeare)

Sleeping Beauty woke up and rubbed her eyes but didn’t recognise where she was.

“I feel like I’ve slept for a hundred years”, she said.

“You have”, said the handsome prince who’d just kissed her on the hand. “There’s such a thing as too much kip. C’mon, kiddo. We’ve got work to do”.

And without a further word, he swept her off the bed, on to her feet and helped her skip down twenty flights of the castle’s ultra swish stairs so she could see what had happened to the people of her little kingdom while she had been snoozing.

Unlike Princess Aurora, as she was popularly known, everyone else in Kalachi, Kazakhstan was afraid to fall asleep.

Kalachi.Sleeping.Sickness

Almost every fourth person in the tiny, 600-strong community – including children and some animals –   had been affected by a sinister sleeping sickness.

One woman granted an audience said, “Please, forgive my impertinence Your Royal Highness but I have to say that you and I -  we’re just the same”.

“I don’t think so. Who might you be, my good woman?”

“I might be dead. But thankfully I am still alive – if only just. My name is Lyubov Bilkova and like many of your other subjects I’ve suffered a mystery illness that makes people fall asleep for no reason and then remain unconscious for days.

“This has happened to me eight times. One moment I’m talking, the next I’m asleep. Also, at other times I’m still awake and – oh, dear this is so embarrassing – but people start to think I’m drunk!”

“Are you?”

“Of course not,  Your Royal Highness! I’m tee-total. I’m also a highly-skilled fine seamstress and you were warned not to enter the sewing room while I was working, But as usual, you did not listen to your dear, late mother. A typical sixteen-year-old, if I may say so”.

“No, you may not – on pain of death. Otherwise, carry on. Do!”

“So, as we all say, one moment you can be talking normally to your friends and the next - you’re asleep …”

“What else happens?”, asked Princess Aurora, now more sympathetic as she realised this had also affected her.

 “Often, we feel weak, can’t talk properly or remember things well. Even when we don’t fall fully asleep, we feel sort of drowsy or even drugged.

“Sometimes I’ve slept twice round the clock and my best friend once slept for a whole week. When she did wake up, she was so confused she started seeing weird things and the doctor had to calm her down”.

“Goodness me! Anything else?” asked the princess, now genuinely agitated.

“Yes, one day several school kids in one class  all drifted off  together”.

“Are you sure it wasn’t simply a boring lesson?”

“No, Your Royal Highness. This is a really serious story; not a fairy tale, despite what comes next.

“In January this year, a woman claimed that her cat was struck by the disease. She said it fell into a sort of comMada following a bizarre outburst of hyperactivity in the early hours of one morning that saw it attack her dog and then bite her”.

Princess Aurora was now deeply upset and consulted the most learned medical team in the land. But they were baffled. All they knew was the same as everyone else:

The disease seemed to strike in ‘waves’. It appeared more common during a thaw than when the ground froze and was apparent also when the wind blew from a particular direction.

Then one royal adviser had the temerity to express the painful truth.

When Sleeping Beauty’s mum and dad were on the throne they had traded with the kingdom next door.

Kalachi, he pointed out, lay adjacent  to Krasnogorsk, an old mining town that had produced uranium ore for nuclear weapons until the late 1980s. Concentrations of radon at that particular place remained four or five times above normal. And there were still uranium ore mines nearby. Maybe,” he said, “the problem comes from there”.

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Author’s Note:  “Sleeping sickness traps Kazakh town in waking nightmare” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/kazakhstan/11497382/Sleeping-sickness-traps-Kazakh-town-in-waking-nightmare.html)

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Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 29 March 2015)

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

‘Sugar Cones and Salt Men’

“Dance ti' thy daddy, ti' thy mammy sing;
Thou shall hev a fishy on a little dishy,
Thou shall hev a salmon when the boat comes in.”

----------------

In those years, time ran so fast, it was like reliving the Creation:

 ‘And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day’.

Grimsby Fishing Docks 1890That’s how it was; over and done.  First the boat chugged in, spluttered to an asthmatic    halt and spat me out like phlegm onto Grimsby Docks.

There, I  – Azriel Selig ben Judah Arye Saltzberg the Lithuanian – was left to flounder, a skinny Yiddish-speaking fish, ready to be chopped,  fried, then swallowed whole by the rapacious currents of the merciless North Sea.

Yet I lived. Somehow. But it was always dark. Forever wet. Nightfall. Rainfall. A vicious, sodden, black, ever-tightening  circle. Back and forth. Round and round.

No sooner did a craven sun crawl timidly from behind a massive cloud, than it scuttled back inside, giving way to inundations hard and heavy enough to drown me.

But named as one whom God would help, I fast learnt that heaven aids those who shift for themselves.

“To think”, I told the family later, “I’d sailed from home to find the Goldener Medina – the ‘golden state’ of America - land of the free.

“But I’d been duped; snapped on a fisherman’s hook; reeled in on a three-ply yarn;  caught by a brazen liar who snatched my money and stole my trust”.

Huh! I shrugged it off. It was sink or swim. So I stayed here on this short stretch of blustered north-eastern coast; remained true to God but accepted British ways, suffering the tides to swirl their murky waters about me.

Still, the  bewildering ache of semi-bereavement lingered. I became sluggish; a stick-in-the-sea-mud, seemingly with nothing to do and no place to live. At last, for want of decent kosher food and a warm bed, I  turned inland to work as a glazier, with the world now reflected through the plaintive screech of wheeling seagulls and the mournful wail of foghorns.

“Finally”, I said, “the new became old; the foreign, familiar and together with the freezing damp, the whole  wrapped a peculiar coarse blanket of consolation around me”.  

The unceasing clash of metal on metal - the stench of fish - the unyielding ugliness - they all helped to form a backdrop to the  drudgery of a life  enlivened only by my trips to recite daily and Sabbath prayers at the synagogue where I was elected secretary.

At intervals, the days would lengthen; become brighter. But all too soon, the cycle of brooding twilights would  start to turn.

Then my walks were sad, my footsteps slow. I’d wander back to   the quayside where I’d first run aground to gaze at the battered trawlers bobbing on the spume, pleading silently for the return of something  I had never quite owned.

In my last years, my family said the untimely passing of my dear Esther Rivka had turned me funny; that I should have re-married. But I didn’t want to start with another woman. It would have meant too much change.

Then they announced as I grew older that I needed personal care. By then, I felt too weak to argue. 

So first I lived with my eldest son, Harry and then his youngest brother, Sammy. But their wives didn’t want me under their feet and both got rid of me. They complained that I’d become an old man with unpleasant habits; that it wasn’t fair; that it was one thing performing a family duty, but I was an inconvenience and my presence, an embarrassing imposition. Could I be placed in a hospital?

Instead, I struggled to get back to my own house; the one I’d rented all my married life and that had somehow remained vacant. Sometimes, I received polite invitations for Sabbath and holiday meals but still, I felt abandoned and looked for new friends.

SugarloafSo I bought a sugarloaf from the grocer, found the miniature hammer Esther had used to smash the sheets of kosher salt we used at Passover and broke the sugar into tidy lumps.

This is how and why Police Constable Colin Jennings found me  wandering  between Duke Street and Grafton Street handing out the sugar lumps to children who were playing  hopscotch outside their homes.

Hopscotch SilhouetteI didn’t mean to frighten them and on the day it happened, I’d popped the hammer inside my overcoat pocket at the last minute as I’d left my own house, just in case I’d needed it.   But one little mite ran indoors to tell her mammy about me. After that, everything became blurred; I felt dazed and never quite worked out where I was taken.

I didn’t like it there and was glad that soon after, I shut my eyes for the last time in the ‘real’ world and didn’t wake up again.

In one way I never did much after leaving my birthplace of Kruky in Lithuania. But I did father six children and so helped the continuation of the Jewish people. As a religious man, I like that idea and also how newer generations visit me now and then and read the inscription on my tombstone. This will always be a comfort.

-------------------

Mark.UlyseasThis piece first appeared in the April 2015 edition of Live Encounters magazine (http://liveencounters.net/?p=10276) edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of Israel and all matters Jewish.

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood – 25 March 2015)

Monday, 23 March 2015

‘The Regal Bones’

"Even the dead want to be loved for their own sake"                                    (Fleur Adcock, Grandma, Poems 1960-2000,  Bloodaxe).

King.Richard.III“Next time”, said Dickon, biting angrily on a fingernail, “I’ll have a decent manicure.

“And if there is a next time,” he added, scowling at the flickering shadows in the far corner of the laboratory, “I’ll employ the best groom money can buy. You can’t be too careful. I was thinking of enquiring after Zara Phillips, your present Queen’s granddaughter. She’s a great horsewoman and as her husband’s a Yorkshireman, her credentials are impeccable”.

“Is there anything else, Sire?”, asked Dr Jo, easing him back into bed for the last time.

“Indeed! If I did have my time over, I’d return as  a  defamation lawyer and sue my enemies rotten! You must know that during my reign, I hammered out a  legal aid system, lifted trade restrictions on book printing and used English rather than Latin both to swear my coronation oath and to record acts of parliament.  These moves were praised as great innovations.

“But when people hate you, want to blacken your character, they stop at nothing. I’ve long since warned Bolingbroke and his two-bit scrivener, Will Wotsit that they’re on borrowed time. First, they made me appear physically repellent; next accused me of usurping the throne and then of murdering my nephews. As if!

“And now, thanks to some new-fangled scientific hogwash, I’ve been told I may not be me. How ridiculous! All this after spending almost 530 years holed up under a dismal East Midlands car park with a load of gabbing, gawping women and no VIP  permit.

King Richard III Skeleton“I won’t put up with it, Jo. This goes to the heart, the very essence of my identity. The short stature, aching, twisted spine and uneven shoulder bones are all mine. Believe me, no-one in his right mind would muscle in on those!

“Everyone fears the worst but hopes for the  best during battle. Finally, I was outwitted by treason; a literal stab in the back of my head. It’s part of what criminally fought warfare is all about. No wonder it’s said that ‘all’s fair in love and war’. 

“But to question who I am – was - is different. I’ve suffered untold pain  in enforced silence for more years than I care to think and as soon as I’m back in the limelight, I face further unimaginable physical indignities to my kingly person. But even those have become almost insignificant against  having doubt cast on my selfhood”.

“But Your Majesty, I guarantee that it’ll be all right from now,” said Dr Jo. “Even as I attend to you, thousands of people - your descendants, members of the society named after you, the general public – are attending great events to honour you and to ensure an interment worthy of your great status – place in British history. Even the present Duke of Gloucester, patron of your society, has argued that 'truth is more powerful than lies'”.

“Very nice. He’s a decent fellow. A bit of regal pomp is very jolly – and most proper. After all, it’s something to which I was once well accustomed. But without wishing to appear ungracious, I feel it’s been spoilt by the inane and costly quarrel as to where I should be re-buried. Don’t you see? None of it really matters”, groaned Dickon, a sudden stab of pain making him desperate to go home.

“I’ve long since made peace with those truly important to me. But what grieves me still is that I have been horribly torn asunder from my soul, the most precious part of my personal inner sanctum; that is something that should never have been in question. So as I thank you for helping to retrieve my bones from ignominy, I have one last request. Don’t hate me. Instead, recall the best of me. But for  now, let me go. Please”.

 

Rolling Stones - Not fade away 1964

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood 24 March 2015)

Friday, 20 March 2015

‘Hello, Dolly!’

Once Loved – Always Loved

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Author’s Note: This piece first appeared as Goodbye, Dolly in The A3 Review, Issue 2, published by Writing Maps.com,  a literary magazine that folds out like a map.

Further details from: http://writingmaps.com/collections/writing-maps-courses/products/the-a3-review-issue-2)

Natalie Wood

(© Natalie Irene Wood 20 March 2015)