MEMORIES OF A SIX DAY WAR VOLUNTEER

May 30, 2017

VolunteersOn the 20th May 1967 I was at Wembley Stadium cheering on my beloved Spurs as they defeated Chelsea in the F.A. Cup Final.   Had anyone told me on that day, that just a couple of weeks later I would be in Israel working on a kibbutz close to the Golan Heights, I would have thought them crazy.

Two days later however, all the euphoria of that victory was dissipated when Egypt committed what was a clear act of war by closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.  Tension had been rising during the previous week as Egypt mobilized its troops and then moved into Sinai demanding that the U.N. peacekeepers be removed.  The blockade however, ratcheted up the tension considerably higher.

I was twenty-three when the crisis broke.  I was articled to a partner in a West End accountancy practice, and was due to take my finals in December of that year.  I was also very active in the Federation of Zionist Youth (FZY) and chairman of its Ilford group.

As the crisis heightened, FZY was called in to help with fund raising activities.  Every evening we would go from one shul to another helping to collect donations.  Sunday mornings we were out knocking on doors collecting more gifts.  No house with a mezzuzah on the door was safe from our attentions, nor did I ever leave a house without having received a donation.

There was an incredible atmosphere around at the time, for unlike today, as war became inevitable, the entire country was 100% behind Israel.  I had a “Support Israel” bumper sticker on my car and I remember to this day a garage attendant saying to me whilst he filled up my car, that he hoped we would really show those ***** a thing or two; that was how it was at that time.

On Monday morning 5th June war broke out.  As soon as I got to the office I asked my principal if I could go to the Zionist Federation offices in Lower Regent Street, to do whatever I could to help.  Luckily, my principal was Jewish, so he gladly gave his consent.   For those of you who may remember it, Rex House was an always chaotic place, but during that week, the chaos reached new heights.

The first thing I saw on my arrival was that outside, seemingly every Jewish cab driver in London was waiting ready to deliver messages, packages and people free of charge wherever they were needed.  Inside was bedlam.  Volunteers wanting to go to Israel and take over the jobs of the men and women now serving in the army, filled every bit of space in the building as they waited to be processed.

Fundraising was more urgent than ever and elsewhere blood donor centres were being set up.  All the while communiqués were coming in from Tel Aviv with war news.  I remember hearing the breaking news that the IDF had destroyed the Egyptian Air Force on the ground in the first few hours of the war.  BBC newsreaders initially did not believe it, but gradually it became quite clear that it really was true.  Then on the Wednesday came the news that the Old City of Jerusalem had been taken and there was not a dry eye in the whole of Rex House.  That was day also that the blockade was broken.

Later that day, together with about fifty fellow FZYniks I joined the ranks of the volunteers.  Once again I had to look to my principal’s goodwill and once again he came through for me.  The war ended on the Saturday and on the following Tuesday our FZY party was on an El Al plane to Tel Aviv. By the Friday, just ten days after it had been recaptured we were in Jerusalem, praying at the Western Wall.  I remember phoning home that evening  – no easy thing in those days – and the emotional call I had with my parents.

We were sent to Kibbutz HaGoshrim, a non – religious settlement in the north of Israel, some five miles beyond Kyriat Shemona in that spit of land between Lebanon and the Golan Heights.  We were fortunate in that the Kibbutz, as well as being an agricultural settlement also ran a guest house so we had decent accommodation and, joy of joys a swimming pool.  Our work routine was soon established.  Wake up was at 4:30am.  A quick wash, a mug of tea with some stale bread and then on to a tractor to work in the fields, picking fruit or cotton or building new paths around the Kibbutz.  At 8:00 it was back on the tractor to return to the dining hall for a proper breakfast followed by another stint of work until 11:30 when we would finish for the day and crash out round the pool.

The work was hard and not without its dangers. The fruit picking mostly involved placing rickety ladders against the acres and acres of apple trees and then reaching into the furthest branches of the tree to collect the fruit. None of us escaped from what became known as “flying ladders” as we tumbled to the ground, though thankfully no-one suffered anything more serious than a few bruises – and hurt pride.

Early one morning a group of us were in the cotton fields when we suddenly heard massive explosions from the nearby Golan Heights.  For one horrible moment, we thought fighting had broken out again but it turned out only to be the IDF destroying captured Syrian munitions, but it was a reminder that we were in a war zone.

Afternoons were filled with various leisure activities.  Courses in Ivrit were arranged as were soccer matches against volunteers from neighbouring kibbutzim.  I am still carrying the scars from one ferocious encounter with South Africans volunteers from Kibbutz Dan just up the road.  For the brave, the icy waters of the lake at nearby Horshat Tal was a refreshing alternative to the kibbutz pool.

Another example of the good fortune that befell our group is that amongst us were a few who were employed at Marks and Spencer’s head office in Baker Street and every couple of weeks they would each receive a large box of St. Michael foodstuffs which of course they shared around and provided a welcome break from the rather unimaginative kibbutz diet.

The kibbutz set aside one hut for us to use as our own communal meeting place.  Our group included people of all degrees of religious observance but we all agreed it would be nice to have a Friday evening service.  On that first Friday night, we gathered in our hut and began the service.  Suddenly, I was aware that we were being joined by some of the Kibbutzniks who were peering through the windows or standing by the open door, visibly moved by the sight of Shabbat candles and the sound of Sabbath songs that they probably had neither seen nor heard in years.

Another memory of that time is the music.  Within days of it ending, an LP was produced of songs of the Six Day War and it was constantly being played around the kibbutz.  One song in particular came to define that period, Naomi Shemer’s Yerushalayim shel Zahav.  Morning, noon and night, it seemed you could never go more than five minutes without hearing that haunting refrain.  The strange thing is, no matter how many times you heard it, it never seemed too much; even today, if my I-Pod is on shuffle, and that song comes up, I have to stop what I am doing and the memories come flooding back.

Because the war itself was mercifully short, before long the men and women who had been called up began returning home.  Whilst there was still plenty for us to do, the government decided that we should see as much of Israel as possible.

We were taken in an army jeep on to the Golan Heights.  There we saw captured Syrian tanks and the gun emplacements overlooking HaGoshrim.  We saw at once that they could probably have done enormous harm just by hurling rocks down on the kibbutz from that dominant position.

Then we went on a long trip to the south.  We stopped at Ein Gedi and bathed in the Dead Sea and then in the morning, before dawn, climbed the snake path to the summit of Masada where we witnessed the most glorious sunrise breaking over the fabled ruins.  From there we were taken through Beer Sheva and via the Negev to Eilat which was just a small village at that time. Other trips took us to the Galilee and of course in our free time we all explored Jerusalem and Haifa and Tel Aviv.

Suddenly it was October and it was time to return home after what were the most amazing three months of my life.  The nervous tension in the days before the war; the very real concern that Israel could be annihilated; the unbelievable excitement and relief as we learned of the recapture of the Old City and Israel’s subsequent victory. The tremendous camaraderie of like-minded young people working on the kibbutz, delighted at being able to do our bit for the country that we all cared about so deeply.

There is one other memory.  On a bus returning  to the kibbutz from Haifa where I had been visiting a cousin, I spoke to a young Israeli.  I will never forget his words.

“Surely now, after this massive defeat the Arabs will have to accept us. They have to, don’t they?”

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A Lifetime at White Hart Lane

April 29, 2017

 

There is an apocryphal story that my first words were not “Mamma” or “Dada” but “Come on you Spurs.” It is also said that my father took me to my first match as a treat on my fourth birthday sometime in March 1948.   Dad was first taken to Spurs, riding on the crossbar of his older brother’s bike from their home in Bow.   Bikes used to be stored in the front room of houses in Paxton Road for a couple of old pennies.   I am guessing this would have been just after the end of the First World War.  So, with my grandchildren all now firmly established as Spurs fans and all but the youngest having been to at least one game, my family are approaching 100 years of supporting Tottenham Hotspur.  I therefore have a host of wonderful memories of times at the famous old stadium.

The first game that I can definitely remember was a 3-3 draw at home to Manchester City.  It took place on 1 September 1952 so I was eight years old.  We were 3-1 down with only minutes to go and Dad wanted to leave.  I remember begging him to stay a little longer and we were awarded a penalty which Alf Ramsey scored; then George Robb equalised right at the death justifying my faith.   My first Spurs hero incidentally was Les Bennett who played in that match, and because he wore the number 8 shirt that became, and still is my lucky number.

Three years later, I passed my 11 plus and as a reward my parents gave me a season ticket.  It was in the “Old Stand,” Block L, Row B, seat 7 and cost eight guineas.  It was I think the last year of the plastic card type tickets before season ticket books were introduced.   Somehow, I managed to hang on to that season ticket for the next 50 plus years.

What a brilliant time it was to become a season ticket holder.  One of my first matches was the 10-4 win against Everton, Bill Nicholson’s first game as manager.  As he began assembling the double winning squad I remember another great night when we beat Crewe 13-2 in an FA cup replay. (10-1 at half time!)  It has become part of football legend how the Crewe team left Euston Station from platform 13 and arrived back at Crewe on platform 2.  I had incidentally, travelled up to Crewe for the first game when we were perhaps fortunate to escape with a 2-2 draw.

Then of course came the double winning season.   I remember those breath-taking performances from Blanchflower – who we called the king, MacKay, Jones and John White, indeed the entire team, as if it were yesterday.  A particular memory is the 6th round FA cup replay against Sunderland.  I don’t think I have ever seen so many people.  We were lucky to get into the ground and I am sure many ticket holders missed out on a classic performance that saw us run out 5-0 winners.

And then there was the night of 17 April 1961, when we clinched the title against Sheffield Wednesday with goals by Bobby smith and Les Allen.  I guess if I must pick one moment as the greatest moment of all that I have witnessed at White Hart Lane, that has to be the one.

The following season saw Jimmy Greaves announce his arrival as a Spurs player with a  hat trick in his debut game against Blackpool (we won 5-2) and we saw the beginning of the glory, glory  nights under the floodlights.  Oh, the heartache of that European cup semi-final defeat against Benfica though we more than made up for that with a Cup Winners Cup and those two UEFA cup triumphs.  Tony Parks’ miracle save against Anderlecht and his reaction after it will forever live in my memory.  I loved those midweek games under the lights.  The routine was always the same.  A dash from the office;  egg and chips at the sorely missed Hotspur Cafe opposite the ground and then the match itself.  White Hart Lane will always be remembered as one of the most atmospheric grounds in the country, but those floodlit  nights, especially in Europe were somehow even more special.

Another great night I remember was in April 1975 when we had to beat the then reigning champions Leeds United to avoid relegation. The sheer joy after our 4-2 triumph matched anything I have ever seen.

This was followed by the Burkinshaw years, the FA cup triumphs of 1981 and 1982 and players like Hoddle and Waddle, Ardiles and Villa and  then David Pleat’s magnificent 1986/87 team surely one of the best ever not to win a trophy.

On a personal level, taking each of my three children to their first game was naturally a very special occasion.  The first such occasion was in August 1977. We had been relegated at the end of the previous season and on this day, we were playing Sheffield United in the old Division 2.  I took my daughter, then aged 5 ½.  She was clearly a good luck charm as we ran out winners by 4-2.

Apart from the wonderful football and all the outstanding players, and there have been so many over the years that I have been privileged to watch, I have also witnessed  numerous changes to the famous old ground itself.  The introduction of floodlights in the early 1950s – I think my first floodlit game was against Hibs: the demolition of the Old Stand and my old wonderful seat with it; The new West Stand and the continual upgrading of every bit of the ground leading us to where we are today with the fantastic new stadium so swiftly taking shape.  Incidentally, it is not just the stadium that has changed.  For years, the programmes were a single folded sheet that used to cost two old pennies.  Half time scores from other games used to be put up by hand and the local Salvation Army band used to provide the half – time entertainment.  How times have changed!

A few years ago, family circumstances meant I had to give up my season ticket.   I believe now, I am sufficiently high up the waiting list to be sure of getting a new one at the new stadium and I cannot wait.  I may be in my seventies but my love for the club has not diminished.    As it was when I first obtained my season ticket, it is once again a great time to be a Spurs fan and with my children and grandchildren joining me, the family is ready to begin a second century of supporting the fabulous Spurs.

 

 


Carousel at the Arcola

June 27, 2014

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel has always been my favourite musical. Indeed I would argue that it is the greatest musical of all time. When I read that a new fringe production was coming to London in which the show was to be “re-imagined”, I had all sorts of nightmares. I envisaged something akin to the Rent / La Bohème scenario whereby Richard Rodgers’ glorious score would be belted out by rock singers accompanied by highly amplified electric guitars.

I need not have worried. What hits you from the opening moment of this marvellous revival at the Arcola Theatre in London’s East End, is the love and respect for the original material that permeates the entire production.

The re-imagining consists primarily of advancing the time of the play from 1873 to the depression years of the early1930s. This suits the mood of the piece very well although it does jar a little at Carrie’s line – “Mr Snow says a man that can’t find work these days is jest plain lazy.” Millions of Americans could not find work in those dark days. Apart from that minor blip it is I think a clever device. The time change also means that the show’s finale, the iconic Graduation Scene with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” now takes place at the time it was written, towards the end of the Second World War when so many people were facing the future without their loved ones.

From start to finish, Luke Fredericks’ direction, Stewart Charlesworth’s designs and Lee Proud’s choreography are all focussed on letting the power of Richard Rodgers’ music and the brilliance of Oscar Hammerstein’s book and lyrics shine through. The stage is small, the sets are simple, and yet as intimate as the production might be, none of the magic of the original has been lost. In a way, it might even have been enhanced and for that they deserve our heartfelt thanks, for this is a show that needs no stars, egos or special tricks.

Not that there are no stars in this production. Gemma Sutton is superb as Julie. Even standing quite still she has a magnetism that means you cannot take your eyes off her no matter what is going on elsewhere on stage. Coupled with a beautiful voice she is the best Julie I have seen since Joanna Riding’s Olivier winning performance in the 1992 Nicholas Hytner production for the RNT. Molnar’s original play Liliom might have been named for the leading male character but in this production at least, it is really all about Julie.

Tim Rogers as Billy succeeds in the difficult task of making us not totally hate him. This was the biggest problem Rodgers and Hammerstein faced when considering whether or not to adapt Molnar’s play into a musical. They solved it by coming up with the idea for the “Soliloquy” which shows that Billy does have a gentler side. It is not an easy number but Tim Rogers nails it. One particular moment in this scene demonstrated Lee Frederick’s skill. As Billy begins the “My Little Girl” section, unseen by him, Julie comes on stage and listens for a while. As unsympathetic a “hero” as Billy might be, we can understand why Julie has stayed with him.

Vicky Lee Taylor has tons of energy and comedic skills as Carrie and Joel Montague makes a fine Mr. Snow. Richard Kent was properly evil as the villain Jigger Craigin, dressed as a spiv rather than a seaman – a nice touch made possible by the time change. But all the cast deserve high praise. Their energy and exuberance make the whole evening a sheer joy.

When Carousel first opened at the Majestic Theatre in New York in April 1945, Richard Rodgers demanded 39 musicians in the orchestra, twice the Broadway norm. Obviously an orchestra of five cannot possibly sound like that but Mark Cumberland’s orchestrations cleverly evoke Don Walker’s originals and do full justice to the music.

My only disappointment in the entire evening was that the theatre was not full. This show, this production, deserves to be seen. The theatre really is easy to get to, so if you like musicals and you like talent, do make the effort. Get on your bikes; get in your cars; Get on the trains. You will find it very worth while.


SAVE OUR LANGUAGE

May 25, 2014

Michael Gove is a divisive figure and he has aroused the anger of many in the education establishmnent. I am not going to argue the rights and wrongs of his methods here. What is not in doubt however is the sincerity of his desire to improve the quality of education in this country, nor of the need for it to be improved.

This was borne out for me last night whilst watching the Champions League Final. When watching football on television I like to keep an eye on Twitter; the banter is often very witty and can liven up what otherwise might be a dull match. During the first half of last night’s game, one of Real Madrid’s players, Gareth Bale, missed an easy chance to score. Twitter at once came to life. That is when I saw this tweet. “Bale should of scored.”

From the author’s Twitter profile, I know this is the work of someone who has completed his education – someone who has been through years of schooling, and has completed the process without knowing the difference between “of” and “have.” Could there be a more obvious example of how our education system has failed our youngsters over the past several years?

We are the custodians of the greatest language in the world. It is the language of Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Hardy and Churchill; across the Atlantic, Lincoln, Kennedy and Martin Luther King used it beautifully and powerfully.

Many of the greatest thoughts expressed by mankind have been articulated in the English language and yet today we have young people leaving school unable to speak it or write it properly. That is a national disgrace and it is something which must be addressed without delay.


This Proves the hypocrisy of the BDS Movement

May 21, 2013

This Proves the hypocrisy of the BDS Movement.


This Proves the hypocrisy of the BDS Movement

May 21, 2013

There have been three Twitter stories that caught my eye today.

The first was a report out of Saudi Arabia about the beheading of five Yemenis. The men were found to have murdered a Saudi national and formed a gang that committed robberies across several towns in the kingdom. The bodies were then hung up on a crane outside a university for everyone to see. This takes the total number of executions in Saudi Arabia to 46 so far this year

The second story was also about Saudi Arabia, this time reporting that online access to an Israeli newspaper, The Jerusalem Post, was being blocked by the Saudi government.

The final story came from Israel. This reported that an Israeli Arab, a member of Israel’s Supreme Court, has been appointed to chair the country’s Central Elections Committee.

Two stories remind us that one country in the Middle East has no concept of human rights and remains a brutal tyranny.

The other story reminds us that one country in the Middle East is a thriving democracy that extends full human rights to all its citizens irrespective of race, gender or religion.

Yet against which of these countries does the BDS movement choose to campaign? Why, democratic Israel of course. If this does not prove them and their fellow travellers to be a bunch of hypocrites I do not know what will.


Has Stephen Hawking Done Israel A Favour?

May 13, 2013

Much has been written over the past few days about Professor Stephen Hawking’s decision to withdraw from the President’s Conference in Israel. His decision to pull out was taken in response to a request from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) an organisation which deems Israel to be the sole perpetrator of all the evil in the world.

The BDS has been active in the UK for a long time, particularly in the world of academia and has tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to organise cultural boycotts when Israeli artistic companies have visited Britain. These activities, whilst they have generated some publicity have mostly gone unnoticed by the British public at large.

This time however, because of Stephen Hawking’s name and reputation, his decision to acquiesce to BDS demands has received massive publicity. BDS of course consider this a triumph, but is it?

Every article I have read and every comment I have heard has been highly critical, not just of Hawking but of BDS too. Just today there has been another article in The Times, this time by Daniel Johnson of Standpoint. Johnson notes that Hawking has spoken in Iran and China, those bastions of liberal democracy; and he makes no bones about the ultimate objective of BDS, which is nothing less than the elimination of the State of Israel. All of these articles have exposed the hypocrisy of the BDS movement in singling out Israel alone for such treatment and raised the probability that behind it is plain old-fashioned anti-Semitism. They all properly point out that Hawking relies on Israeli designed microchip to enable him to communicate which makes him a hypocrite too.

These have been the common threads throughout the week since Hawking’s announcement. I have been waiting a long time to read such widespread denunciations of BDS in the mainstream media and how welcome it is to see it now. My hope is that more people than ever before in this country are aware of BDS and see it for what it is. People who thought it was there to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians now will know better. They will have read and heard that it is a nasty bunch of left-wing, hate filled hypocrites whose sole aim is to wipe the only democracy in the Middle East off the face of the planet.

Maybe, just maybe, BDS’s “triumph” will blow up in its face.