Having been privy (dead brother’s society) to every detail of the most widely anticipated reunion since Bucks Fizz – and with participants even creakier (though none, thankfully, who planned to rip off each others’ trousers) – it seemed logical to invite melchett mike disciple John Fisher, who to my surprise was flying to London just for the evening, to guest blog on it.
Now, previous guest bloggers here – even notorious troublemakers like Nick Kopaloff and Daniel Marks (see Hasmo Legends VII) – had been willing to accept the, admittedly finicky, requirements of their host. I knew that Fisher, however, would be a different proposition altogether. I have spent the worst part of the past decade striving to get him to use punctuation – I even gave him a secondhand but apparently functioning (apt, I thought) copy of Strunk and White – and to cut his sentences down to a maximum 400 words. And I have repeatedly proposed a joint writing venture – the equivalent, I felt, of Bob Dylan asking Rick Astley to let him co-produce his new album – to preclude Fisher’s, no doubt amusing, ideas ending up as Raanana coffee mats. All to no avail.
With that generous build-up out of the way, I give you Fisher Just Lightly (when some of those sentences had me recalling that point of Seder when it’s past your regular bedtime but you’re still 17 pages from food) Cut, with the odd aside from his blogging mentor and guru . . .
The omens were not best – I received the exploratory email from our Deputy Head Boy David Levenson on September 11 – but, with the Class of ’69 (to ’76 in many unfortunate cases) finding itself tottering either side of sixty, the proposal seemed irresistible. And so it proved.
Ex-Hasmos flew in from four continents for an evening in a dank NW4 restaurant cellar [mm: “the banqueting suite under the White House Express on Brent Street” – from the invitation email – can hardly be said to have misled] and to be catapulted back five decades, to a time when most had yet to meet either Triumph or Disaster (let alone to treat those two impostors just the same).
There was a genuine buzz of excitement in the room – which, to a stranger, would have looked like it was hosting a mass speed dating event for ageing Jewish males – as former classmates rolled up, inviting curious, penetrating stares that attempted to peel away the years of hard or soft living (if not hair) that concealed teenage faces (and heads).
Recognition invariably brought a hail-fellow-well-met response, even when the abiding memory of that person was somewhere on the ambivalence-to-contempt continuum and, in other circumstances, may have prompted the recogniser to cross the road more quickly than Willy once used to upon spotting a disgruntled mother. And secure perhaps in the knowledge that he carries the most famous Hasmo name of them all (see Hasmo Legends III and XXVIII), Joe Bloomberg, grinning innocently, turned up fashionably late, the wretched creature [mm: “that he is”].
There were those who hadn’t seen each other for 42 years, and those who hadn’t seen each other for 42 minutes (several “boys” came straight from a funeral, though Moshe Arieh Kiselstein had found time to change out of his black hat and suit into a pink shirt and puffer vest). [mm: There were also those you hadn’t known you had seen: to my continuing amusement and amazement, David Marx has somehow succeeded in living in blissful anonymity on Golders Green Road – a paving stone’s throw from Reb Chuna’s, no less – for the past 27 years without even having been recognised, never mind roped in for a minyan (David tells me he is happy to be on permanent tenth man duty from now on, whatever the time).]
The ‘reception’ Glenmorangie was a masterstroke: by the time everyone had sat down to dinner – in true Hasmo tradition, there was no seating or other plan for the evening (it would just flow, like the boys’ education, either out onto the high seas or down the nearest drain) – they were sufficiently uninhibited to make a nonsense of the organisers’ greatest fear, of a frum/non-frum divide. Indeed, Rabbi Baruch Davis did not so much as blink when the fellow – of redundant final “e” fame – sitting opposite him casually mentioned that his wife was not of the faith (fortunately, said fellow recalled enough of Jewish Studies to omit that he had tied the knot on Shabbos Shuva).
Another pair – who had been next-door neighbours, shared a classroom, and lived their entire lives in the same post code, but who (for no apparent reason) had never had a proper conversation – ‘discovered’ one other . . . though, as Ari “Pedro” Krieger will be permanently departing England’s shores next month, his newfound bromance with Alan “Hubert” Kahan will be cruelly short-lived.
The Israeli contingent, on the other hand, kept well apart . . . from each other, that is. A well-known addition to every ex-pat’s tefillas haderech is not to encounter another Israeli until check-in for the return flight. (Last, Shapira and yours truly suffered the ignominy of having to make that journey in cramped proximity to one another on a Hungarian 240 with wings, while Brazil, Citron and Head Boy Felsenstein larged it up on the national carrier.)
Eavesdropping conversations, one would have thought that not a single event worthy of mention had occurred since June 1976. Interesting, too, was the apparent total irrelevance of our former ‘teachers’ (there had been a suggestion that an invitation be extended to any still alive, but it was nipped in the bud). They were hardly mentioned, in fact, only popping up in supporting roles in tales of classmates’ derring-do. This made sense, as it was universally agreed that, while much was learnt at Hasmonean, none of it stemmed from formal education.
While the food was still as poor as in the days of Mrs. B (some achievement), the cost of dinner tickets had gone up a tad – 1/6d was now a hefty 35 quid – and there was no return to be made on your afters . . . because there were none! [mm: I am curious as to the veracity of reports, from later that week, of a silvery-long-haired fellow attempting to shift 44 parev chocolate Rice Krispies squares on Stanmore Broadway, all the while chortling under his breath: “It wasn’t my bloody year anyway!”] Moreover, the famished could not now assuage their hunger with the overpriced wares of illegal tuck-hustlers “over the bridge”, having to make do instead with the great self-deception of the middle-aged man: “Just one more chip.”
After four hours of camaraderie, animated tales, hilarity and general high spirits, and with not a chip left in sight, Oberführer Levenson decreed that every person state his name, abode and an incident for which he would be remembered. Tales of sand-dumpings, ear-boxings, canings and general anarchy abounded.
Poker was clearly so rife at the school in those days that it might as well have been on the syllabus. One favourite tale – featuring Aminoff, Giles Cohen, Davidson, Feiner and Gertler – was of a game under the hall stage being rudely interrupted by an unexpected school assembly. Fags had to be hastily stubbed out, with the miscreants spending the next hour in monastic silence. The contrasting ways in which religious and secular teachers dealt with these ‘illegal’ sessions best illustrated that well-documented divide (see Hasmo Legends II): while getting copped by Jerry Gerber and Co. brought wild threats of burning at the stake, the legendary Woody Harrison is alleged to have bust a game by nonchalantly walking up, picking a card at random and tearing it in two. Brilliant!
It was the soft-spoken, mild-mannered Arnold de Vries, however, who got one of the biggest laughs of the evening. As a 10-year old, he sat in the same row at Hendon Adass as Mr. Stanton. One Shabbos, having asked to squeeze past one too many times, Willy informed him coldly that “One more time and I won’t let you into my school.” So much for the Class of ’69 being the first Comprehensive intake (it was also, incidentally, the first with a Yeshiva Stream).
Rather than rounding off the evening with the traditional God Save The Queen and Hatikva, there was a spontaneous, raucous rendition of Ner Leragli (clip). While nobody in that room would have been able to recite more than a stanza of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (some might have struggled with the Shema), everyone remembered every word of the school song, which only goes to prove that if you make education fun . . . [mm: or choose a Psalm with “Sid” in it.]
On a sobering note, six of the 46 or so ex-Hasmos absent on the night were no longer with us at all. Eli Bowden, Zvi Davis, Jonny Isaacson, Gary Price, Abba Stein and Mark Ward, zichronam livracha, were all remembered fondly, and the plate went round for a charitable donation in their names. [mm: A Surviving Siblings Fund, perhaps? Just a suggestion . . . ]
Parting at the evening’s end was indeed sweet sorrow, and it came with promises that we would do it again at seventy. And the greatest testament to the wonderful time had by all is that we really meant it.
Wishing everyone a kosher, or at least enjoyable, Pesach!
1AB: Ray Antian, Robert Citron, David Druce, Norman “Nussi” Feiner, Andrew Frankel, John Gertler, Philip Glass, Malcolm Granat, Aaron Hammer, Michael Kleiman, Doron Korn, David Levenson, Paul Ogus, Benjy Schwab.
1BB: Gabriel Aminoff, Jonathan “Yoini” Apter, Joe Bloomberg, Giles Cohen, Stephen Cohen, Ahron Ebert, Kenneth Jason, David Jay, Moshe Arieh Kiselstein, David Marx, Jerry Schurder, Moshe Stimler, Danny Tannen.
1L: Avi Brazil, Anthony Davidson, Barry “Baruch” Davis, Arnold de Vries, Danny Felsenstein, John Fisher, Michael Greene, Allan Kahan, Ralph Kon, Victor Korman, Aryeh Krieger, Benny Last, Eli Perl, Alan Rubin, Perry Shapira, Eran Winkler.
Class of his own: Mike Hinden.
Original draft: John Fisher
Revised & edited: melchett mike
[Your observations and recollections are, as always, welcomed as comments below.]