With the notable exception of the contribution by the lovely Sue Schneider, Hasmo Legends and the comments thereon have – perhaps in keeping with some of the more unlovely interpretations of our religion – been rather male-dominated.
This may be some reflection of the fact that – as partially evidenced by the multitude of (invariably pasty) sprogs which they produced – most of Hasmonean’s Jewish Studies teachers viewed women as things to be fertilised and then (rather ironically, as they were the only ones who needed to be locked up) chained to the kitchen sink.
Indeed, Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld’s legendary school assembly addresses always seemed to contain a warning about the dangers of the opposite sex or of the prohibition against dressing up as one of their number (even on Purim). And, with the exception of a one-off upstairs (girls) downstairs (boys) Chanukah assembly at Kinloss – at which a request to turn over the page led to several minutes of paper rustling (demonstrating that Hasmo girls had the same wonderfully advanced sense of humour as ourselves) – any fraternising between Hasmo boys and girls was strictly forbidden.
Not that many of us showed any interest in Hasmo girls anyway . . . which was more than a little surprising when one considers the teenage male’s perpetual state of sexual arousal and the fact that Hasmonean Grammar School for Girls – representing the only Jewish “skirt” in the area – was little more than ten minutes’ walk away.
Our indifference was probably the result of a particularly unappealing school uniform – according to a reliable ex-Hasmo “sauce”, the girls were even required to wear maroon school knickers (not pictured right) during PE – or due to the fact that, whenever a Hasmo girl opened her mouth, she just sounded so Golders Green. Indeed, one can always spot an ex-Hasmo girl by the elongated vowel sounds and incorrect grammar – “Whoo are you eating/daaavening byyyy?” – not to mention the sad inability to escape (usually physically, but always psychologically) the ‘ghetto’.
Sex education at Hasmo Boys was virtually non-existent, with the school library and syllabi censored of any material hinting that human beings might perhaps copulate for purposes other than the purely reproductive. This made the teaching of English Literature and Human Biology at the institution particularly challenging. The first I heard about “the birds and the bees” was from my next-door neighbour, Graham, over a game of table tennis (see melchett mike’s Loss of Innocence), and it was not until well into my mid-teens that I first managed to tickle some tonsils, a sad fact that I still blame on Hasmonean.
So, it came as some surprise when, in the early eighties, the fairer (they could hardly have been unfairer) sex slowly started infiltrating Hasmo’s staffroom. The reasons for this sudden influx of female teachers remain shrouded in mystery, though one credible theory is that following the relocation of the male victims of Mrs. Thatcher’s Care in the Community policy – which entailed the closure of so many Victorian mental institutions – there were just no more suitable male candidates available.
Notwithstanding certain commenters’ lascivious references to the (mythical?) daughter of Mr. Tompkins, the school caretaker, Hasmo’s pin-up girl was undoubtedly Suzanne Stern. And the young, willowy Economics teacher (see photograph below) – who always left a refreshing trail of perfume in her wake in the otherwise fetid school corridors – succeeded in arousing in Hasmo boys a sudden, miraculous interest in the Law of Diminishing Returns.
Not surprisingly perhaps, Mrs. Stern was also the unwitting trigger of numerous teenage pranks. On one occasion, a particularly gullible Persian boy – who, together with his family, had escaped the Iranian Revolution, merely exchanging the tyranny of the Ayatollahs for that of Hasmo’s Rabbis – was informed that a Valentine’s card forged in his name had been placed on Mrs. Stern’s windscreen (which of course it hadn’t). The entire class rubbed (for once only) its hands with glee as the boy, in heavy Farsi, pleaded with the bewildered blonde: “Mrs. Stern! Mrs. Stern! It wasn’t me who wrote the Valentine’s card.”
Whilst not sharing culpability for the chronic tendonitis of so many middle-aged ex-Hasmos, French teacher Marion Rosenberg did at least have a ballad dedicated to her . . . though the lyrics of Rosey, Rosey (to the tune of Daisy Bell) are not printable even on these pages.
Mrs. Rosenberg would often exit our lessons in tears – I am sure that there will always be a part of her subconscious inhabited by her bête noir, Eric Elbaz – though her cause was not helped by a penchant for multiplying punishments in accordance with the Principle of Geometric Progression and for continually confiscating pupils’ belongings (her son, with whom I was in Bnei Akiva, would report to me on weekends on his newly-acquired secondhand goodies!)
One thing that I can certainly never claim is that Hasmonean failed to prepare me for my own current bêtes noires: Israeli women. No, the school’s humourless Modern Hebrew duo, Mesdames Moller and Moore, provided more than ample notice of all the trouble I would encounter in later life. The pair had all the charm of . . . well, of two religious Israeli women. And the only thing that makes me smile when recalling either of them is the information, again from my aforementioned “sauce”, that Chana Moore used to sign her name “ח.מור”. Anyhow, I am confident that they are both now more suitably employed by El Al at Heathrow, either in security – fully equipped with rubber gloves – or in providing a broomstick shuttle service to departure gates.
Another female who must have questioned her sanity in joining the “funny farm” that was Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys was French teacher, Shirley Samuels. Alan Hyam Bloomberg, aka Cyril, took such a violent dislike to her – merely because she had the temerity to set her own examination (incidentally, for her own class) – that, for the remainder of her time at the school, he only ever referred to her as “the wretched Mrs. Samuels” (which Cyril, in his own inimitable way, pronounced “Sam-u-els”).
Hasmonean’s Latin teacher, Mrs. Shapiro, is also best remembered for her examinations . . . not because she dared to defy Cyril, but because the results always rivalled Norwegian Eurovision Song Contest entries for most “nil points”. One such zero, my old mate Joey Garfinkel – never one for the convincing excuse – memorably attempted to explain away his total failure to “trouble the scorers” by claiming that he had suffered a problem with his contact lenses, a story no less feeble than Bernie Madoff telling his investors that he had only wanted enough to take his missus to the Hamptons for the weekend.
Hasmonean’s excellence in Latin was matched only by its preeminence at Geography. Following the departure of Jonny Denham in the late seventies, an escaped clown by the name of Joe Paley had been holding court, introducing overhead projections of African tribes with the insightful words: “These, my boys, are schvartzes.”
At some point in the early to mid eighties, however, Hasmo’s Headmaster Rabbi Roberg, never slow to miss a trick, burst into action, making the inspired decision that his school needed a Geography teacher who actually knew something about the subject. Alas, the overlong reign of King Joe had ensured that the arrival of Cynthia Toledano – Hasmo’s second full-time female teacher (after Sue Schneider), but about whom I only recall a couple of things – was far too late for any of our year to have a future in the subject.
The wonderfully named Mrs. Kadoo was the Asian lab assistant who appeared to model her hair on Basil Brush’s tail. Whilst I can still hear Mr. Joughin calling her name in his familiar drone, I don’t believe that I ever heard Mrs. Kadoo herself utter a word. Witnessing the daily antics in Hasmonean’s science laboratories – not least those of Flop and Steve Posen (never mind the ever delightful attitude of DJ) – she had probably lost the ability to speak (not to say the will to live). Either that, or the Hasmo powers that were had resolved that the best way of keeping lab assistants at the school for more than a fortnight was by only employing mutes (Flop’s miserable gimp, Michael, was the other).
It was with Hasmo’s little old Cockney dinner lady, Mrs. Bannister, however, that boys were most keen to ingratiate themselves. After all, it was Mrs. B who dished out the much-coveted Friday soya rolls (though also the retch-inducing meat loaf processed from offal which, submerged beneath its coagulated gravy, you wouldn’t fob off on your Lithuanian cleaner). Assuming the guise of Jewish Olivers, we would always request an extra roll . . . though in the full knowledge that it would be met with a shrill, apoplectic “You know you are only allowed two!” (indeed, with the daily wind-ups that Mrs. B was subjected to, the miracle was that she never let slip the odd East End “Now f*ck right orff!”)
The Hasmonean school office was staffed by the lovely Ruth Hepner and the slightly irascible (though who could blame her?) Mrs. Saul-David. And affably attempting to maintain a semblance of order, in the dinner hall especially, was School Officer Mrs. Koohl, a curious addition to Hasmo’s staff whose job description was no less shadowy than that of Harvey Keitel’s Wolf character in Pulp Fiction. Indeed, the title of Pushing-In Prevention Officer would have represented a far more accurate description of her seemingly limited duties.
Anyway, school kapels – if not knickers – off to all the female Hasmo staff who braved the nuthouse and who, for the most part, provided welcome relief from the excesses of the male loons who roamed its corridors and terrorised its classrooms.
[As with all Hasmo Legends, I welcome the memories and comments of ex-Hasmos of all generations. In relation to Hasmo ‘girls’, however, please be sure to keep them chaste . . . or, if not chaste, then at the very least true! And, should you wish to pen your own Hasmo Legend, be in touch.]
Next on Hasmo Legends, Part XIX: The Return of the Rotter-in-Chief