Jonathan (“Jonny”) Isaacson z”l, 1958-1979

Today is the Yahrzeit (Jewish anniversary of death) of my late brother, and only sibling, Jonathan.

“Jonny” (as most people knew him) took his own life at the age of just 21. He would have been 50 last May.

We Jews, on a Yahrzeit, light a 24-hour candle and recite Kaddish (the memorial prayer), but – whilst I observe such traditions – they leave me rather cold. And, with the inexorable passing of time, memories of Jonny – who left us in December 1979 – have, inevitably, become fainter. So, I thought it would be nice to have a permanent e-memorial for him here . . .

Happy days: on Jonny's lap (circa 1968)

My parents adopted Jonny, as a three-week old baby, following eight childless years (I was a ‘mistake’, though thankfully not an unwelcome one, arriving on the scene some nine years later). Naturally, they loved Jonny as their own, and his adoption was never an issue for him – as he used to tell his friends, “My mother is the one who clothed and fed me.”

Jonny was, by all accounts, a lovely child, and – being the first grandchild on my mother’s side of the family – adored by all. Our grandfather, who was loathe to leave his East End menswear business for anything less than a funeral (and, even then, only in the most immediate family), once even took him to New York City on the QE2.

By the time of his Barmitzvah, however, Jonny’s behavior had become rather erratic, and he was soon playing truant from school. He had started taking drugs, and – Jonny being Jonny – not by halves. He, later, even stole a substantial amount of cash from our grandfather, in order to fund a trip (in both senses of the word) to South America.

Even if Jonny had a hereditary predisposition to it, medical research would now strongly indicate that his “schizophrenia” (that was the label given) was triggered by such early teenage consumption. Following a BBC documentary on the subject, while I was back in the UK in 2005, I determined with my then girlfriend that I would attempt to make contact with Jonny’s old school friends, in order to find out more about his life than the little I had managed to glean from my parents (and, likely, more than what they even knew).

Some three days later, in one of those weird twists of fate, I bumped into one of those friends, Ron, who had been living in Israel for nearly thirty years, but was visiting London following the death of his father. We were both moved, having not seen each other since I was a kid, and he related how, following the previous evening’s Shiva (mourning gathering), he and the two others – there were four in their group at Hasmonean Grammar School – had drunk a toast to Jonny.

I attended the Shiva on the following evening, where the three school mates related things about Jonny that I had simply never heard. My parents, having suffered terribly through Jonny’s teenage years, did not, naturally, have wonderful memories of the period. But now, from a thoroughly different perspective, I felt like I had discovered a new brother. Jonny’s charisma was such, they said, that a hush would descend when he spoke or entered a room. And it was apparent that (however foolhardily at the time) they had all looked up to Jonny for experimenting with everything, and to an extent, more than they had dared.

Awareness of drug abuse was very different in the early to mid-Seventies, and my parents, understandably, had no idea how to handle the situation (the only person who did was my then septuagenarian “Polish” grandmother). Another of Jonny’s school clique, Pete, recalls being in our home one Hannuka, and Jonny coming down to the family candle-lighting clutching a large lump of cannabis.

Jonny soon started frequenting a squat in Hampstead, where he became acquainted with Sex Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious (in October 1978, a friend of Jonny’s who happened to be in New York City rather naively attempted to visit Vicious in his Manhattan police station cell, following his arrest for the murder of girlfriend Nancy Spungen). Having Jonny as my big brother – and being exposed, even as a young child, to the music of, inter alia, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, and The Allman Brothers Band – meant that I could never get into the insipid crap enjoyed by my contemporaries. And I am eternally grateful to Jonny for that.

My parents considered that some time spent in Israel might help Jonny. Ever resourceful, however, he soon found his way to Kibbutz Gezer, which was by all accounts, in the mid-Seventies, precisely the kind of hippie hangout where they did not want him to be.

According to Dave, the other member of the gang of four, “Johnny was clear in his mind that he was following the correct course and wanted people around to share with him what he was experiencing.” With the cash stolen from our grandfather, Jonny offered to buy his pals tickets to Colombia (though this was one step too far for them).

“Jonny chose the destination,” Dave remembers, “by taking a large map of South America, blindfolding himself, and sticking a pin down at random. It landed on a place called Cochabamba in Colombia. Consequently, our adopted squat cat was given that name and Jonny was on a plane out there.”

Pete recollects that, “on arrival in Bogota, Jonny tried to buy drugs off an undercover policeman and, as a result, spent a night in jail and was deported the next day” (though not, Dave adds, before Jonny’s travelling companions had to stump up 500 US Dollars in cash to obtain his release, “which in those days . . .”)

Pete recalls trying to “save” Jonny, at some point following his return from South America, but finding him, by that stage, “too far gone” (they played squash, but Jonny was seemingly oblivious to the ball). Jonny spent his last few years horribly drugged-up (only, this time, legally), in a psychiatric hospital in South London.

It is great to meet Jonny’s old mates – now a carpenter (Ron), architect (Pete), and company administrator (Dave) – for a curry whenever I am back in London, when we reminisce about him lovingly. Jonny clearly was (and his memory still is) very special to them. Jonny, too, obviously liked his friends “real”, and his choices, at so tender an age, prove him to have been extremely perceptive (Dave still goes to watch Hendon Football Club, and – as anyone who has had the misfortune will testify – it doesn’t get much more “real” than that).

I don’t think Jonny would have liked it too much down here in 2008, and – while there should be no romanticising his tragic demise (“Dad,” he asked towards the end, “why am I like this?”), or its probable cause – he, at least, in his short but eventful life, made an indelible mark on the consciousnesses and memories of those close to him. That is more than can be said for most of us.

Jonny, if you are reading this post Up There (where I am sure “it” is all legal), have one for us. God bless.

Sweet sixteens: (from left) David Rosen, Ron Dombey & Jonny (1974)

[If you happened to come across, or knew, Jonny, I would love to hear from you.]


49 responses to “Jonathan (“Jonny”) Isaacson z”l, 1958-1979

  1. Beautifully written. I can remember the Hendrix music eminating from his bedroom at a louder than normal volume, from next door! And I remember how you looked up to him. I always thought it was cool you had a cool older brother. So much cooler than you anyway! I wish you long life my friend.

  2. Michael Benjamin

    God bless

  3. Mike…..I never knew your brother as we only met 1979 but I am sure if he can see your eloquent words about him, he would be proud of having you as a brother too.
    Wishing you a long life and hopefully we can meet up again when I am in Tel Aviv for Pesach

  4. hey, don’t knock the insipid crap. we all need a bit of Britney oocasionally. i wish you a long life.

  5. Thank you for bringing this memories and stories to us. We love you and as was said before, long life to you.

  6. Michael, this is such a welcome testament, heartfelt, informative, generous and well-written. He loved his little brother, you realise that, don’t you? As you know, Jonathan (he was never “Jonny” to me, I cannot say why) was my favorite cousin. The fact that he was such a fucking gigantic problem to all the grown ups made him all the more compelling to me. He was kind (he lent me Rolling Stones bootlegs and let me read his copy of the infamous “Little Red Book”), beautiful (he was a very handsome kid), two years older than me and utterly fearless made him more alluring still. He was the archetypal black sheep, Michael. Neither your parents nor mine had the emotional or intellectual resources to understand the magnetic pull of the counter-culture that Jonathan embraced with such ferocity; they did not have the tools to deal with it. I have such fond memories of him. Being bigger, he was physical with me, playing football, but he was never a bully and the great sugar cube fight at his barmitzvah, when he organised all of his friends into a raiding party on the barmitzvah in the suite next door was, and will remain, my earliest memory of the joy of adolescent rebellion. Your father was not best pleased. He did things that I wanted to but never dared. Jonathan was like Brando in “The Wild One”: Girl: “What are you rebelling against?” Brando: “What have you got?” I was a near contemporary of Jonathan’s but was never able to explain my fondness for him to my parents, uncles and aunts after he became a problem for the family, a pariah. He had such a swagger, such charm and he was a very naughty boy. I hope he is having a spliff and a laugh up there as the rest of us lead lives of sensible compromise. Well done for providing such a worthwhile memorial to a troubled but free spirit.

  7. This has been my favourite entry so far. I want to know more. Wishing you and your mum a long life. C x

  8. Michael,

    I never knew about this.
    Kol Hakavod on being able to write so candidly on what is undoubtably one of the hardest things one could ever come to terms with.

    Your brother’s memory and legacy lives on in your words and memories. Beautifully written.

  9. Nussi (Norman) Feiner

    Many wonderful & happy memories of Jonny to go with the poignant….

    We were pretty good friends (if I remember correctly) thru Menorah primary school years & in Hasmo (same form)….

    Albeit he had his problems, he was a very good-hearted & friendly bloke.

    If you wish – please be in touch…

    Nussi F.

  10. Arnold deVries


    I was sent your blog by a friend who told me there was a Hasmo blogsite. So ofcourse I wanted to know more. I didn’t know what to expect – I read the article about ‘Cyril’ and of course also remember him well. (I didn’t at first realise that you are Norma’s son). But then I read on about your grandmother and Jonny – who until our Barmitzvot was one of my best friends. I was 50 last May. I was born in Vaughan Ave. and lived in Hendon till I was 12yrs. , our mothers were friends, we were friends as toddlers upto our Barmitzvahs. Anyway, Jonny used to come to my house almost every week, we went to Bnei Akiva together.In the early 70’s I lived in Cricklewood and Jonny would walk over every Shabbat and then usually your father would come after Shabbat to collect him. We had good times together and seeing a picture of him on the blog brought a tear to my eye. That’s exactly how I remember him – thank you.He was a lovely kid, and a very good friend.

    However we went our different ways and had different sets of friends – I was still involved in Bnei Akiva when in 1979 I was at a winter camp in Berkshire. One of the Madrichim from Hendon told me about Jonny – I still remember where I was when I heard the tragic news. Truth is I didn’t even know about the drugs etc., our lives had taken such seperate paths.

    Thank you again.

    Best wishes.


  11. Ellis Feigenbaum

    Both touched and moved by this memorial, after four days of reading this blog I finally realised who you are. I do remember you brother from school , he was a few years above us in Kandler`s year. As I seem to remember that was year that was probably as badly behaved as ours and provided much inspiration.

  12. Jonathan Black

    Hi Mike,

    I was in the same year as Johnny at school. I remember him well although I wasn’t friendly with him or particularly close to him.
    Johnny had enormous charisma and definitely had daring, presence and immense joi de vivre. It would not have surprised me at all if he would have succeeded in the music world. He was hip, cool daring original and brave.
    Best wishes to you and to Johnny too zichrono livracha


  13. I too was in Jonny’s year and likewise, I too remember his larger than life character and sense of fun. He was definitely the cool kid on the block.

    I also recall bunking off a couple of times with the ‘Gang of four’.

    Jonny had a very pretty girlfriend called Riuth (Ruti) who lived in Edgware. I believe she went to the Girls’ school, but I can’t remember her surname.

    I heard about Jonny’s passing at the dinner for Willy’s retirement in 1980 and was very saddened by the news.

    Fond memories…

  14. Adam Rabinowitz

    Dear Michael,

    Thank you for putting the ‘true’ story of my cousin Jonny up on this blog.
    I only really have vague memories of seeing him in our flat circa ’76 in Petach Tikva.

    Being adopted myself, I always felt I had a ‘link’ with him, just I didnt go quite down the path that he did . . . although my life has nevertheless been very eventful too! 😉

    I did in fact trace my real mum in the early nineties, and I’m actually truly grateful that my ‘real’ parents (Mavis and David) brought me up, even though we have had many ups and downs over the years.

    If you read this Michael, drop me a line, would appreciate a catch up!

  15. Perry Shapira

    Really good to hear your memories of Jonny, Arnold. I had forgotten you were friends. I was also in Jonny’s year, of course I remember him and his gang very well, although I wasnt close. Hasmonean didnt have the tools to deal with a Jonny Isaacson type of situation, and the sad fact is that conventional religous schools in Israel (where I live) are exactly the same. It must have been so challenging for your parents at the time. I wonder what kind of support they received.
    Nice to see you in print, Eli Perl. I hope your dad sends you my regards, cos as you probably know, I see him from time to time in Raanana. As to you JJ Black, well I never..its been so long. Pls send me a mail, I’d love to catch up:

  16. Just read this article. I remember Jonny from my Menorah School days. I heard he had died but not much else.

    RIP Jonny.

    Nice to see other names I have not seen for many a year on this blog.

  17. Mike, I have wonderful memories of Johnny from just after our bar-mitzvot. What fun we had as teenagers going to and being kicked out of Bnei Akiva. Sure we were the “bad boys” but we had such fun. As you said Johnny did nothing by halves and unfortunately that is reflected in his short life, but knowing him back then, I’m sure that despite the consequences he wouldn’t and couldn’t have changed anything he did. We all lived for the moment and there were many of them. It’s wonderful to see the picture of the 2 of you. Thats almost how I remember Johnny with a big grin but with much longer hair. We cant turn back the clock but the great memories before the drugs really kicked in can’t be taken away.

  18. Michael, I heard this morning that you were wanting to write about Johnny’s life. It’s really strange how the past reconnects. I immediately thought of Ron, Pete and Dave who moved from Hasmo to Barnet College as I did but the boys and girls school were kept apart so it was at colege where I met them all – they were the close trio with Johnny . I’ve recently met an old friend from then, so my thoughts have very much been about then. I remember the squats (there was also one near Hendon I think) where everyone hung out with the search for an increasing buzz in every sense. There was a sense of awe and respect that Johnny pushed the boundaries of trying out which included the the pin in the map which I remember well. You’ve obviously been in contact with the trio but I’ll get in contact with others from then who may have something more to add and will forward the link. The picture really stirred up memories – Johnny’s appearance didn’t change in all the years – the fun and smile remained.

  19. Johnny Landsman

    Having just been shown this website, and read the article, brings back many memories. It is all very sad, but a wonderful memorial.
    As some of you may know I was at one time very close to Johnny, living quite close by, going to Hasmo, Bnei Akiva etc. I even babysat for Michael.
    I’ve been living in Edgware for over 25 years, with my wife and 4 children, having been on aliyah in the early 1980s and returning after 3 years.
    To all those who remember me I wish you all well.

  20. It is Jonny’s Yahrzeit today (started yesterday evening) – 30 years – so perhaps those of you who knew him could each say your own prayer for him . . . and perhaps even, as I am sure he would appreciate, roll one up in his memory!

  21. Long life

  22. I remember coming home from Hasmo after the first two or three days and telling my mum that “I think I’d made a mistake ” and had gone to the wrong school. After spending the previous seven years at a relativly orderly church of England primary school , I was not suited to my new enviroment, unlike most of the new guys who had come from Jewish schools. She encouraged me to try and stick with it and look up the son of an old school friend of hers who
    was also in my year. That bloke, was in my class, Cyril’s class, sat directly behind me and of course was Jon. He was the first friend I made there, into sports, running, football & swimming ,we went to swiss cottage pool every week for a couple of years. Jon made friends very easily was very eloquent and loved useing good English, actualy he also loved useing very bad English. Camping trips to the Isle of White when we were 14, and before we left getting a joint lecture from our mum’s about the dangers of being picked up by older women, (in our dreams) A couple of years later we were touring Israel together, with David Rosen , my close friend from St. Mary’s, three 16 year olds let loose. One of the first nights we were at a youth hostel in Tiberius, and went out late with a group of American girls (the types our mothers spoke of a couple of years earlier) got locked out and by the light of a silvery moon climbed three stories up a drain pipe to get back into our room. Memories of Jon live on in many of us, I believe Jon lives on in all who remember him.

  23. I really got to know Jon from our trip to Israel with Ron. I recall a happy, engaging, fearless free thinker and refreshingly different in a way I didn’t comprehend. We three teens had a marvelous time. Of course we sailed close to the wind. I recall we quickly found ourselves willingly lured deep into the midday sleepy dark back lanes of an Arab market where Jon skillfully negotiated purchase of illegal substances. Then, fearing a double cross, we three ran like hell down deserted lanes and finally, exhausted and high on our own adrenaline into bright Israeli sunlight. Then we tried to look inconspicuous. Later (and my memory is a bit hazy) the excitement of the day was replaced by an evening of intoxicated laughter. Many more followed on that trip. Jon’s capacity for fun and mischief knew no bounds.

    Soon after the trip we lost touch. I was very sad to learn of his death. I cannot recall who told me, it might even have been my mother, and was unaware of his mental illness until then. However for me I will always recall his unquenchable joie de vivre. In my mind he can never grow old, instead he is the eternal youth.

    “Into my heart an air that kills
    From yon far country blows:
    What are those blue remembered hills,
    What spires, what farms are those?

    That is the land of lost content,
    I see it shining plain,
    The happy highways where I went
    And cannot come again.”

    Mike I don’t think we met but I am most grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to contribute to his 30th Yahrzeit and for bringing Jon to life one more time. I feel your loss and that of your family. I sense by your vivid and poignant evocation of his life he was and is deeply loved.

    I have sent a picture to you via email. It was taken in a photo booth just before our departure for Israel in 1974. It is more evocative than anything I can say. It is the essence of us at the time. By all means post it on your blog.

    PS I recall clearly the Tiberius mischief Ron writes about. Years later one of those American girls became my first wife! And no I did not get the lecture from Ron’s Mum because I didn’t go to the Isle of Wight, and perhaps I wouldn’t have listened then anyway. But if Ron has a transcript or can remember any of it – it is never too late to learn!

  24. Really lovely, Ron and David. You sum the essence of Jonny up so well. Thank you so much.

    And that great photo – which is embedded somewhere in my consciousness – now has pride of place under the post (above).

    He is obviously a loss to us all.

    PS David, when you are next in Israel, or when I am in London (I guess that is where you are), it would be great to meet.

  25. Very good.

    Of course I would like to meet you. But in fact I left Hendon quite a while ago and now live in Sydney Australia.

    My parents are in London still – they migrated as far as Camden. Our paths are unlikely to cross there but if I come to Israel I will certainly look you up and please contact me if you are ever in Sydney.

  26. I am planning on visiting Aus’ for the first time next Xmas and New Year. In fact, I am about to check flights. 4th (Melbourne) & 5th (Sydney) Ashes Tests. So, all being well . . .

  27. Good. See you for the Ashes. And yes the photo looks good, finally out in public after years of languishing in a dusty box of old photos. It complements your photo very nicely.

  28. My very first memory of Jonny was during games in the spring term of our first year at Hasmonean. I was batting and this being Hasmonean, the bowling was generally delivered underarm or with insufficient pace to reach the batsman. Suddenly along comes Jonny complete with that angelic face you see above. He takes a few steps back and then hurtles the ball at me at such pace that I was absolutely terrified. He was a good bowler and it was clear from the broad grin on his face that he had been enjoying himself. Yet, I never saw him on the cricket field again. That was Jonny for you. He did something and then it was time to move on. He had a remarkable brain and was always searching. He had the most enormous influence on me and others, introducing me to bands I would never have thought to listen to before (John Martyn, Canned Heat and Grateful Dead etc) and always trying to push a book into my hand, maybe Stepenwolf, the I Ching or the Kama Sutra (I recommend the latter one). He got me to read books on Music, Drugs, Sex, Zen, Philosophy and more and to challenge and experiment with my own mind. Remember that Jonny was just 14 at the time. Playing catch with live fireworks, Saturday nights sprawled out on the floor as Jonny philosophised into the early hours, listening to him proudly reciting the Old Grey Whistle Test theme tune on recorder, Israel, Isle of White and Pink Floyd at Knebworth are just some of the happier memories. I also remember what a strong poker player he was and I guess that’s how he lived his life. Thanks Jonny for the memory and thanks Mike for giving us all the chance to keep that memory alive.

  29. Estelle Scott formerly King nee Dombey

    I am Ron’s elder sister. I remember meeting the boys on their first? trip to Israel when they were 16. I was on shnat sherut and went to Lod Airport to meet these 3 hippies! We went straight to Jonny’s aunt & family in Petach Tikva where we stayed over before the boys joined me at my kibbutz in the north. If my memory serves me right they outstayed their welcome and I was politely (or not) asked to let them go forth.. on their travels!!
    I will always remember Jonny for this.. Ron’s bedroom always had a strange smell which lingered for days after Jonny had been round!
    Long life to the family on this commemorative yahzeit.

  30. Mike,

    I have just brushed off a tear or two reading the above…

    I wish you (and your Mum) Long Life, and many happy years to enjoy the GOOD memories of your life with Jonny and the positive things he brought to this world.

    Hello, to Arnold DeVries, whom I havent seen for about the same 30 years but remember from when he came to live in Manchester…


  31. Thanks, Liz. Did you know Jonny?

  32. No Mike, I didnt, he was a few years older than me, but I was touched by what you wrote…….

  33. I never knew you had a brother, Mike.
    It is one of the most touching, beautifully written memorials I’ve ever read.
    You conjured him up in Technicolour, even though I never knew him.
    Wishing you and your mother a long life.

  34. H Mike, hope you are well and remember me. Shek told me about your site..its a really fun read.
    I never knew about your brother…but that was a lovely article.

  35. Ian who? 😉 Can’t believe that in all those hours ogling – I rarely plucked up the courage to approach any of them (nothing changed there, then!) – Anglo-Jewry’s finest, in the pubs and clubs of Manchester and North-West London, I never mentioned Jonny to you.

    Good to hear from you, matey, and pleased you are enjoying blog (take a look through back posts, too, using Posts by Month list). And, if you are ever in these parts, don’t forget to look me up!


  36. anthony davidson

    OMG, so many names from the past here. My Mum and Jonny’s Mum (Norma) were good friends so we ended up playing together a lot, especially when we were in Menorah. Mike I don’t really remember you even though I was at your house a lot and I think slept there quite often. Jonny was extremely bright and always outside the box. I was saddened when I heard of his passing not long after it happened. The postings are so right…nobody was equipped to handle that kind of situation back then and Hasmo was more likely to create one than to heal one (which is why I made it a point to attend school as infrequently as possible).

    Aggie Schwartz you bugger! Haven’t heard from you since you slept over at my place in NYC and we went skiing the next day.

  37. “My Mum and Jonny’s Mum (Norma) were good friends so we ended up playing together a lot . . . I was at your house a lot and I think slept there quite often.”

    I’ll be speaking to my mother about that, Anthony. 😉

  38. anthony davidson

    Whoa! Only because you guys had a better TV to watch the football on!

  39. I remember Jonny well – loads of freckles and massive grin. Though not obviously academic, Jonny was fiercely bright and enquiring. I recall going swimming with him to Swiss Cottage (when an indoor pool was pure luxury) when we were in the 1st year. He jumped off the highest diving boards, possibly a precursor to his all too brief life. Hasmo was definitely the wrong school for either of us. Why any moderately sane parent would send a child there is still, 42 years later, one of life’s great mysteries.

    I bumped into Ray Antian (formerly Hadjizade) at Eli Perl’s mum’s funeral today and we chatted about who we still were in touch with, and as you do at funerals, who was no longer about. Gary Price, Mark Ward and Jonny were the 3 names that came up and then Ray told me about this site. I’ve spent the last 3 hours laughing, till I cried, about a cast of characters (?), who if you put them in a sitcom, would be rejected as being too implausible to exist.

    Willie, Cyril, Sid, Curly, Mitch, Jurke, Chichios, Posen, DJ (BSc failed, BSc failed , BSc failed etc) Grandpa, Woody, Bert and more rabbis than you could gainfully employ at a brothel in Stamford Hill. An eclectic mix of the mad, sad and the bad with a few diamonds thrown in to balance it out (Mitch, Jurke & ……….)

    Strangely, I sent my kids elsewhere.

  40. Shmuel Birkan

    I am trying to contact Ron Dombey, I see he has posted here in the past – can anyone here put me in contact with him.
    Shmuel Birkan

  41. Hi Shmuel, I will forward Ron your email. Best, Mike

  42. It’s Jonny’s Yahrzeit this evening and tomorrow, so, if you had the pleasure of knowing him, perhaps drink a little l’chaim to his memory . . . or, better still, light a spliff! 😉

  43. Wish you and your Mum ‘Long Life’
    Estelle Scott & The Dombey Family

  44. Mike,
    Wishing you and your mum long life.
    I had a l’chaim… I’ve run out of spliffs!
    Best regards,
    Mike Hinden

  45. I had no idea that you had a brother. I can only add my sentiments to those above me who praise your eloquent and touching descriptions of him. That was truly beautiful writing.
    Wishing you a long life, and she’lo tida od tzaar.
    TM x

  46. Incredible post. Still stands today. And one “Barry” wrote a gorgeously eloquent entry, as well! I love how you Brits (seem to) bless each other w/the words “long life”. So simple; so elegant.

    Also: Having a 4-years older brother whose Hi Fi filled the house w/Jimi, early Stones/Beatles/Janis/Lighting Hopkins/Thelonious Monk/Mahavishnu Orchestra/Jeff Beck upon their release dates, I too never had the patience for ‘insipid crap’ my school contemporaries nor dating pool colleagues got & get off on. True sign of geekdom reveals itself instantly when a potential suitor rattles off his faves or plays crap in his auto. (and so it’s my older brother I have to thank for the fact that I’ll never be happy w/another, I guess. What a legacy!)

  47. Michael, thank you for sharing ! Wishing you ‘long life’ ..

  48. Hi Michael (that’s what we called you, you were too small to be Mike)

    I have just found your moving blog, 7 years late, when searching for some record of Jonathan (that’s what I called him) online. I had heard of drugs and suicide, while I was in the army, but nothing beyond that. We lost contact when I came on aliya in 1972, at the age of 14, and I met him once more, together with your Mum, on one of the concrete chess tables in Kikar Atarim in Tel Aviv, about a year later. By this time we had grown apart, in different countries, and our magical chemistry had gone.

    Jonathan and I were best friends throughout our childhood. We were always together on Shabbat afternoons, for hours at end. We built a secret den in the undergrowth in Malcolm Park. We picked and ate blackberries from the big bushes in Talbot Crescent, near where I lived. We bought illegal air pistols in a shop in Hendon Central after declaring that we were 17 (we were 12) and shot pellets at each other in a huge ruined and abandoned manor house and garden in the old part of Hendon. He was a much better shot than me, so I ended up with a pellet in my thigh and another ran through my hair scraping my scalp, so I was very close to losing an eye. We were the same age, but he was the older brother that I never had. He knew so much. He was so resourceful. He had so many electronic and mechanical toys, and I had none, just “educational” cardboard games. We always saw the football results together, usually at your house, because your house was more fun! You had central heating, which my Mum refused to install. And wall to wall carpets! We both adored Georgie Best. We did the wildest things together, some, even now, cannot be repeated here. Jonathan even taught me how to hyperventilate, hug and pass out! In many ways, young as we were, Jonathan prepared me for life.

    Our friendship was probably one of the two deepest I ever had, the other was in Jerusalem in my teens. It was very secret, because he want to Menorah and Hasmonean, while I went to Barclay House and JFS, so we had no common friends. Only we, and our families, knew about each other, which made it all the more intense. I used to count the minutes after Shabbat dinner until I could race off and meet Jonathan.

    He never told me that he was adopted. Such things were a big deal in those days. My parents told me, after we had been friends for years, and I was deeply shocked. It amazed me that Jonathan was adopted but you were not. It seems so strange to say such a thing today. I agonised over whether to ask him about it, but never did. My conservative parents obviously thought that this explained his wild behaviour, and were concerned that he was having a “bad influence” on me. Little did they know. I only wish that his influence could have lasted longer.

    After our barmitvas I was increasingly geared up for Aliya and Jonathan was in another place entirely. At 14 I found myself in an elitist, secular high school in Jerusalem, far from what I then believed to be the depressing mediocrity of 1970s England, and in the coming years the stories on the grapevine from the old country were that Jonathan had lost it, had gone wild, was on drugs and so on. Without today’s networking, I lost contact with my old English childhood friends, and in the summers, when I came to visit England, I never looked Jonathan up.

    In late 1979, after two years in the paratroopers, I had completed officer school and was serving as a platoon commander in the Jordan Valley. This was the time when Jonathan took his fateful decision. I remember my father telling me the news, but I do not recall being either shocked or even surprised, unlike my reaction to the news of Jonathan’s adoption a decade earlier. It was though this was pre-ordained, the tragic but logical end to the story of Jonathan Isaacson, the story which could not have ended any other way.

    To this day I have no knowledge of the circumstances of Jonathan’s suicide and have had no-one to ask.

    I was Leon and Jonathan Isaacson was my best and most intimate friend.


  49. Thank you so much, Leon (if you can call me “Michael” . . .), for your beautiful comment and reminiscence. I am so glad that you found the blog.

    You may be surprised to hear – I was at most five when you made Aliyah – that, whilst I can’t picture you, the names Leon, and also Richard and Joyce(?), Shtiebl are very much part of my memory of childhood.

    My mother z”l passed away two years ago (my father z”l in 2000), so, unfortunately, I can’t do what I would have done if she had still been with us: called her at once for an update on the history! 😉

    It would be lovely to meet . . .

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