Tag Archives: Joe Paley

The Witriol Diaries, Part IV (Hasmo Legends XXIII)

CHICH, BOSOMS, AND A BEARDED COCKNEY: HASMO, THE NEXT GENERATION

Monday, 4th September 1972, 7.35 p.m.

Rentreé. Many new faces in staffroom; bearded rabbinical, mostly. I have no form this year. Rabbi R said I was being given a “respite”. Is this because Stanton is not sure that he can rely on my being available full-time this year, or because he thinks I was a lousy form-master? Ivan Marks said the latter inference was not necessarily drawable; he himself had not been given a form this year. Nor have I a Fifth Form this year. 5C has been given to a Miss Krollick, a dumpy, bosomy bespectacled girl who, I am told, took a degree in philosophy and Italian in U.C., has spent a year in Italy and a year teaching in a comprehensive school in Upminster. It may well be she will have them just where she wants them. All the same it seems wrong to give a young woman – and the only woman on the staff – a class with a high proportion of oafs in it. The only compensation for my ego, is that I have been given an “A” form, 2A.

In front of me at Mincha was David Marx [see 30th June 1972 in Part III]. I had a presentment, which proved correct, that he would say Kaddish. I wished him long life, for which he thanked me.

Monday, 2nd October 1972, 8.25 p.m.

School resumed to-day after a week’s Succos break, itself occurring after we’d been back only three weeks. One Peter Thomas, a local M.P. and a Cabinet Minister (“member of the cabinet” on the invitation cards – is there a difference?) spoke on Foreign Affairs to inaugurate the new hall. He was the typical Conservative Q.C.: well built, hair brushed back, plummy voice. However, he spoke well for half an hour, reading cleverly from his script. In spite of Schonfeld’s bumbling, there was a sense of occasion, and as usual Mitchell Taylor organised very competently.

Tuesday, 7th November 1972, 6.10 p.m.

I got up, if anything, a little earlier this morning, it being Rosh Chodesh. I arrived at school as usual, looking forward to my pre-Assembly siesta, only to find there was some marking I hadn’t done. I spent fifteen minutes on the marking, and had about five minutes shut-eye. I anticipated disastrous consequences, but the morning passed off peaceably. In the break, Chichios, the new P.E. man, a Cypriot, asked me if I would supervise the table-tennis club in the lunch hour. I agreed, and so forewent my lunch hour siesta. Again, the afternoon went off without incident, I was impressed by the fine fettle I was in. I was shouting of course, but in one of the lessons, at least, I had a distinct impression of possibly teaching someone something. When I came back [home] the reaction set in.

Saturday, 13th January 1973, 7.45 p.m.

Albert Meyer, a Yekke, who was in at the start of the Hasmonean Boys’ School and is in charge of the Modern Hebrew, Classical Hebrew and, jointly I believe with another Yekke, Leonard Cohen, of German (he does the A level literature), also music, after threatening a number of times to resign – all before my joining the school six years ago – “finally” resigned last term, only to turn up again on the first day of this term. I had been given his German O level and A level language class on the assumption that he would not be coming back. Having made the necessary emotional adjustment to giving up these classes, and having told myself that at my time of life I couldn’t care less whether I took the Upper Sixth or a second year C stream, so long as I got the money, I found myself retaining AM’s ex O and A level German classes. The latter consists of two lads, one a German boy, the other a Sabra who came over here when he was three, and who has no German background at all.

It is humiliating that I should have to owe any improvement in my teaching load to “Buggin’s turn”. Thirty years ago I would have enjoyed the “yichus” of a sixth form, but now, in my last year of full-time teaching . . .

AM’s case is peculiar. All right, as he once said, is it any wonder I’m “difficult” after all I’ve been through, but Cohn, presumably, and others, went through as much – and Cohn served in the forces and went on to get a degree at Birkbeck and yields nothing to AM in Orthodoxy. It appears that AM couldn’t stand certain things that went on in the school. I don’t know what things – he did start mentioning the subject to me in the last few weeks of last term, then had to go off to take a shiur. Apparently he complained about Stanton to Schonfeld, in a letter. The latter passed the letter to the former, who was understandably incensed.

I couldn’t understand how AM could afford money-wise to carry out his threat. He’s 58. I’d heard that he’d sought a post, unsuccessfully, at JFS. He hasn’t a car, so even if he’d got a job at JFS he’d have to face an irksome journey. As it is he’s always cadging, with scrupulous politeness, lifts to Golders Green. Rabbi Roberg said the financial side was not important, he’d got Wiedergutmachung, but Wiedergutmachung hier, Wiedergutmachung her, one doesn’t chuck up £2,700 a year or more. It should be said that although he is a man of fine culture, he has no English teaching qualification, so that I doubt whether he could get a job in a non-Jewish school.

Tuesday, 6th February 1973, 9 p.m.

Back to school today [dad’s beloved older brother, Sam, had passed away on 28th January].

Monday, 26th February 1973, 4.45 p.m.

First day of two-day mid-term holiday.

Letter from Stanton. He’s unable to commit himself to re-engaging me on the “39/55” basis I had requested. Sod. In many ways I’d like to teach elsewhere, but it would almost certainly be out of the frying pan into the fire. And I’ve got into the “observant” groove. I’ve tried to pin him down to offering me at least three full days, any days, but I doubt whether he’d even do that.

Tuesday, 8th May 1973, 7.10 p.m.

I had avoided making further entries till now [Max, my younger brother, had been in hospital for three weeks with peritonitis].

Stanton recommended Philip [me!] to do a reading at the Yom Atszmaut service at St. John’s Wood Synagogue on Sunday. Willy came into the Staff Room and said Philip had done very well, “nice boy”. Well, well, well. Anyway, as I told him, it’ll do him no harm to keep in with Willy. I can’t see him being Head Boy, I think this might go to a froom lad, but it will help with his UCCA form.

Am feeling generally virtuous. To-day was an easy day, it is true – only four periods teaching. Even so I spent the first of my two free periods marking, contributing to my feeling of virtue. I have three free periods to-morrow morning, with no marking to do, so that I could, and probably will, spend them preparing my afternoon lessons – whether the preparation will have any effect I don’t know.

Thursday, 13th September 1973, 8 p.m.

Started school last Friday. The rentreé was on Thursday [dad was now on a three and a half day week].

Thursday, 4th October 1973, 6.30 p.m.

Have been timetabled to do games with the 4th. I don’t think I’m really necessary. Chishios the P.E. man goes down together with Hacket, the one-day-a-week bloke, and Rabbi Schmall, ample staff for even eighty boys, which is the number who should attend. In point of fact, as a number of boys, including Philip, do art, we’ve only been having about sixty. When the sub-standard artists, including Philip, are weeded out, no doubt there will be 70-80 boys turning up.

Still, I have been joining in. Yesterday, I pulled a muscle? sprained? my thigh endeavouring to tackle Rabbi Schmall, who is quite an athlete – plays every Sunday at Stamford Hill. Actually your humble servant did not do too badly, for a sexagenarian; I managed to kick the ball well and truly at least twice, averted a dangerous situation by correctly kicking the ball to my own goalkeeper, and once charged nebbich, a dangerous forward, knocking him over. [Dad played for Birkbeck 3rd. Had it had a 4th, he always said, he would have played for it.]

Saturday, 27th October 1973, 9 p.m.

A Mrs Jones has taken over my fourth year French B group and I have been given a second year MH class and an Upper 6th MH group, consisting of Doron Segal, whom I took for German last year, Eli Joseph (the boy whom I invigilated in hospital [see 12th June 1972 in Part III], he’s a Revisionist, or Herutnik as I think they are these days) and Adrian Frei, a froomer, but whose MH is extremely good.

Tuesday, 12th March 1974, 6 p.m.

Poor Max in trouble. Found him facing the wall this morning. As Meyer pointed out to me “facing the wall” has terrible associations for Jews. I have in the past told kids to do so, but won’t again. Apparently he has a detention to make up. He complains that two other boys were let off but his J.S. master, one Roston, who seems, I must say, a very decent sort of chap – no beard, no protruding tsitsitt – not that these are stigmata of course – you know what I mean – said he would see that Max did not get off. Unfortunately, too, at registration this morning, he piped up with some facetious remark and Cyril, the —, gave him an eight-page essay.

Wednesday, 16th October 1974, 8.35 p.m.

On Monday evening I felt queer, though never actually reaching the point of vomiting. Yesterday was a ghastly day. Fortunately I had only four periods of teaching. (On the Monday morning I genuinely, but conveniently, forgot I had a 3rd year German lesson to take; Stephen Posen stepped in and said he enjoyed himself!) To-day, however, I was in brilliant form, taking everything in my stride, paternal, benevolent all through seven periods straight off the reel (the last period I stood in for the master who should have taken the first year and “did” a passage in their history books with them).

Sunday, 3rd November 1974, 6.15 p.m.

I am beginning to doubt whether I shall find much consolation in [my] kids. Of course, of course, health for them above all, but I am becoming less sanguine about their “making good” conventionally. Neither of the boys strike me as Oxbridge, certainly not Oxbridge scholarship material. Philip natters about doing A levels at Barnet College, he’s not interested in the idea of becoming a prefect (which might count in his favour). Max has no ideas about a career. Perhaps the simplest answer might still be to turn Philip into a solicitor and Max into a Chartered Accountant, and bugger Harrison’s mickey-taking of our Philistine (from his viewpoint, they’re not interested in King’s College, Cambridge – from the Orthodox Jewish viewpoint this is the last thing the Yeshiva Stream Boys are) “Char-erd Ekuntant.”

Saturday, 11th January 1975, 11 p.m.

In the event [dad had had a tooth extracted at an evening surgery during the week, having been unable to get it seen to during school hours] I was glad; I went into school and didn’t miss any lessons. I did go into the office to see if they had any aspirin, but Klein, the school officer, kindly gave me some of his own “Panedeine”, which I found analgesically effective. Though, as I always do when I’m a bit under the weather, I find it impossible to avoid laying it on in the classroom (“Of course, I know I’m a fool to come in”). What is interesting is that on Wednesday morning I was a bit late, so I took my coffee with the Panadeine, into my German class and, in an endeavour to המחיש “concretise” the lesson I drank the coffee (ich trinke den Koffee was tue ich?) in front of the kids. I couldn’t remember whether I had taken the tablets.

Sunday, 9th February 1975, 7.50 p.m.

Walking home from school on Friday, I found Maxie seated on the bench by the bus stop near Kinloss. I assumed he’d “bunked” – I had left early – but he told me he’d fallen on to the concrete and bumped his head while playing football in the P/G.

Thursday, 27th February 1975, 4.20 p.m.

Boobba’s [dad’s mother’s, our grandmother’s] Y/Z to-day. I stayed on at school last night for maariv, and went to school today for mincha. On the way to school I noticed a boy getting on to a bus, one Lorrimer, in the second year. He lives with an elder brother, having lost both father and mother. While I was in the staffroom last night the caretaker came in and said the brother was worried because the boy hadn’t arrived home – this was at about 5.30 p.m. As he was getting on the bus today I asked him why he got home late, and he said it was just the usual delay.

I was thinking, in my capacity of vigilant schoolmaster, of reporting the matter so that the kids could know that Big Brother is always watching (he may have had a legitimate excuse, of course). But Big Brother was watching. B.B. was Stephen Posen who caught Maxie bunking. The kid panicked and said he had a dental appointment and wants me to cover up, but I don’t see how I can really. Agreed, some kids can omit some lessons with advantage. Agreed the two periods of J.S. he missed are counter productive, but I have always stood for the principle that kids cannot just take time off when they feel like it. In Maxie’s case, no harm would have been done, as it’s unlikely he would have derived any benefit from the missed lessons, and he was productively or at any rate harmlessly occupied at home, but one can’t run the risk of hordes of schoolkids roaming all over the place between the hours of 9 and 4 p.m.

A few days ago Maxie fell on his nut again – he came home early then, too, whether with or without permission, I don’t know. It’s all a shame, I received complimentary remarks from Dr Gerber, who takes him for maths – he said Maxie was the only one who could answer a question he put to the class, and it’s a good class – and from Ivan Marks on his English.

I saved the cigar we received [at a wedding] and, ministered to by Philip, took one or two puffs at it, whereupon I was told enough! Philip was violently sick in the night. He too bunked on Monday last, but he wasn’t caught.

Wednesday, 30th April 1975, 9.30 p.m.

Yesterday went with 70 3rd year boys to Leith Hill on Lag B’Omer outing. In charge was one Paley, a bearded Cockney character who is froom. Strange combination. He is obviously an experienced orienteerer, if that’s the word I want [footnoted correction, over a year later, to “orienteer”]. He had prepared a number of neat route-maps. His intention was to send the boys off in groups, each group to find its own way cross country with the aid of the “drawrin”, a procedure which to me seemed very insouciant. He did in fact do some to-and-fro-ing getting everybody together. We did a fairly stiff scramble up a slope at one time in the course of which one boy, very much overweight, panicked and was unable to dodge some stones dislodged by boys in front. He was bleeding a little and was generally in a bad way. However, I told Paley he was “covered” as – he said – he had told the boys there was an easy way up (though I hadn’t heard him). Moreover, he was to have had Chishios (the P.E. man) with him, as well as Rabbi Angel and myself, but Chishios was unable to come as he had sprained his back. Incidentally, full marks to Rabbi Angel. I saw him gallantly worming his way up the slope. He is a tall, saintly-looking man, and I’ve no doubt he could have avoided going with us had he wished – but perhaps he didn’t envisage the terrain being so difficult. As I said, Paley is rather a curious combination. He had all the boys up by the tower at Leith Hill and said that “in our religion we attach great importance to nature” and that “God is redeemed from the ground over which a Hebrew prayer is spoken” and so perhaps God might be redeemed from this spot where perhaps for the first time the sounds of Hebrew had been heard. We benshed, led by a bruiser called Brown who I fortunately don’t take but whose reputation had preceded him – he benshed excellently. A very enjoyable day, it was gratifying to find that the jaunt seemed quite mild to me [dad was a keen rambler]. On the way back a boy, Solomon Cohen, engaged me in fluent French conversation. His accent is impeccable, but other boys in his group are better at the written work he tells me.

Wednesday, 25th June 1975, 10 p.m.

A somewhat heartening incident yesterday. I take 3C for French. There are about 35 boys on the register of whom about 32 – eventually – turn up. I should say at least ten boys are without text-books, as I am (if one asks Sam Balin to do something about it he will discourse on the iniquities of Roger Gothold who “looks after” stock, on his (S.B.’s) multifarious responsibilities – so I don’t approach S.B. on the subject). Ten chairs, at least, have to be brought in. One or two of the kids have behavioural problems, a dozen are completely uninterested and natter, fidget with complete indifference to the teacher. Some of the boys, it is true, are very keen and exemplary in behaviour, though very, very weak. To cap all, we have been minus a door. The last few days an elderly carpenter has been fixing up a new one for us.

At the end of yesterday’s lesson, he said: “I’d like to be one of your pupils.” Why? Because I had spoken interestingly about French deriving from slang Latin (tête < testa, cheval < caballos, etc.). “Of course,” he said, “I shall soon be 79, but that’s no reason why I shouldn’t carry on learning.”

This morning I tried to exploit the tale in class, without much success (“If he’d been doing his job, he wouldn’t have heard what you said”). You can’t win.

[For The Witriol Diaries, Parts I – followed by A (Hasmo) Son’s IntroductionII and III (of V), click here, here and here. Coming soon on melchett mike . . . The Witriol Diaries, Part V: Goodbye Joe.]

I’m forever blogging on bubbles . . .

So detached is life in Tel Aviv from that in the rest of Israel and the Middle East that this city is often (most famously in the 2006 film of the same name) referred to as “the bubble.”

For much of last month, however, I exchanged this bubble for my former Anglo-Jewish one – a bubble no less – giving me the opportunity to redirect my blogging eye and (more so) ear from the Israeli to the British Jew (Jews in general being such a wonderful source of material for observational bloggers), and to consider in which bubble I best now fit . . .

The couple (who had been visiting Israel for a wedding) seated next to me on the easyJet flight to Luton provide the perfect reacquaintance with the harsh daily realities of Anglo-Jewish life: After sharing with me their disappointment that their fancy Stanmore development didn’t work out quite as they might have hoped – “Our entire floor is Asian,” declares the wife in unapologetic disgust, not caring how many other passengers can hear – they rejoice in the savings afforded by easyJet over El Al. “It was three hundred more pounds to spend in Israel,” cackles the husband, as I ponder, cynically, where the cuts might have had to come had they flown instead with Israel’s national carrier. And I afford myself a wry smile an hour or so later as the wife kvetches, Beattie-like, about the paucity of easyJet’s leg room: “Sitting’s no good. Standing’s no good . . .”

I spend that Saturday night at an old friend’s house in London, and – before catching my lunchtime flight to Inverness – join him and his kids for their Sunday morning outing to Tesco. And just when I am thinking how well-mannered English children are compared to their Israeli counterparts, my friend’s seven-year old yells at him from the back of the brat carrier, “You’re going the wrong way, you shmock!”

I haven’t yet decided which part of the Highlands I will be exploring over the next four days. Reading in my Rough Guide, on the flight, that Ullapool was “founded at the height of the herring boom,” I am happily reminded of my late grandfather – who would return from shul with his opinion not of the Rabbi’s sermon . . . but of the herring – and of my all-time favourite quote, “A kind word is no substitute for a piece of herring” (Shalom Aleichem). On this fishy whim, I resolve, on this trip (I try to visit the Highlands once a year), to cover the north-west and north coasts. And, whilst not a patch on the west coast, I enjoy four serene (the reason I tend not to take women) days, before returning to London to join my 39 fellow Norwood cyclists (there were eighty on the first ride, the week before) for the Thursday night flight to Nairobi.

On hearing that I have come from Tel Aviv, I am greeted by the Norwood representative – on my arrival at Heathrow Terminal 4 – in eerily similar fashion to the way that I had been in Saigon on my last bike ride for the charity, three years ago: “I’ve got a flat in Herzliya Pituach.” Unfortunately, I have left my medals at home, but it becomes apparent – during the course of the next week and a half – that a number of the riders have purchased holiday homes in Israel (South Netanya and Poleg appear to be the current “in” locations), with many of them blaming their other halves (“If it was up to me . . .”) for their continuing sojourn in the UK. But even after witnessing our group spontaneously respond to a rendition, by local schoolchildren, of the Kenyan national anthem with one of Hatikva (as opposed to God Save the Queen) – extremely weird, and interesting, I thought – I still don’t buy it.

There is mutual delight a few minutes into the flight when my neighbour, an ex-Hasmo (who had left the school before I joined), discovers that I am melchett mike (my delight, however, turns to under-my-breath muttering when Peter states that he “prefers the Hasmo stuff”). Overhearing our conversation, another rider then declares himself the nephew of Mitch Taylor, no less (whom, he informs me, passed away in 2000). This results, quite naturally, in Paul being hounded for the next week and a half for any snippet of inside information on the Legend (some memorabilia, he says, may be forthcoming). And when, on the Friday evening, Masai warriors enter the lounge of our safari lodge to perform their tribal dance – pogoing and yelping may be a more accurate description – I cannot help but recollect another fine Holders Hill Road pedagogue, Joe Paley, who, on displaying a photograph of African tribesman to our 2AB geography class, announced, “These, my boys, are schwarzes.”

Norwooders are a fine bunch who, for their generosity and selflessness, can be forgiven their occasional preoccupation with boxes at football, home swimming pools and private yachts – the irony being, of course, that, when they really need them, their 4x4s are parked outside Waitrose Brent Cross – and for their dependence on their iPhones: After passing a herd of elephants, one afternoon, one incredulous rider exclaimed to me, “Here we are, on safari in Africa, and they’re checking share prices and the results from Chepstow!” There is also more, and pricier, cycling paraphernalia on show than at your average Tour de France, with some riders – and I jest thee not – even providing Kenyan game parks with their first exposure to “sat nav.”

The ride, however, is a huge success, and – for anyone contemplating a Norwood Challenge – it really is a fantastic way to get/stay fit and to experience a new country, both while raising money for a wonderful cause. And witnessing the joy that participants with learning difficulties, riding on the back of tandems, get from these rides is always extremely special.

Observing every type of Anglo-Jew enter Luton Airport Departures on Tuesday morning, I am given more pause to consider where (if at all) I now fit in: From the family of pasty, young Stamford Hill hassidim – with the wife who might as well be a travelling childminder for all the attention her husband gives her – to the Bushey (formerly Edgware) 2010 Edition becks, chewing gum as if their jaws are on a spring, and everything in-between, I watch them all as if on a safari of the British Diaspora. And I am only drawn out of my study by the unforgettable sight of the NW11 (at an educated guess) twenty-something who, in attempting to persuade the check-in commandant that her hand luggage really is within the maximum size, forces it into the easyJet test-frame by bringing down to bear upon it her not inconsiderable toches.

While there are flights to numerous destinations, a mere two to Tel Aviv (there is also an El Al one) is enough to guarantee that the Luton Duty Free might just as easily be Golders Green Road on a Friday morning . . .

In WHSmith, a middle-aged gentleman – clearly overcome with naches that a fellow Anglo-Jew has made it onto the front shelf – feels it incumbent upon him to announce to the entire store that Howard Jacobson’s new novel has “just won the Booker Prize.” My panic, however, that he is about to recite aloud the full list of Jewish Nobel Prize winners since 1901, proves unfounded as his wife whisks him off to find the latest Elton John CD.

Taking a break from Anglo-Jew Watch, I inquisitively, though furtively, on my haunches, explore the nether shelves of Boots’ disingenuously-named Family Planning section – fruit-flavoured condoms, lubes and vibrating rings (“to stimulate both partners”) – before glancing up in horror to find a black-hatted, bearded sixty-something (above) standing over me. For a second, I expect to be pulled up by my ear lobes or sideburns and dragged off to see Rabbi Roberg. In spite of my relief that this doesn’t happen, I refrain from asking him what the vibrating rings are for, or whether – under certain circumstances – one would have to say a bracha on the fruity prophylactics.

While feeling further alienated from the Anglo-Jew with each passing visit to Blighty, my continuing interest in him would suggest that we still have a lot more in common than I may sometimes care to admit. Nonetheless, I am relieved, eventually, to make small talk – in the queue for boarding – with a religious Israeli kibbutznik.

The uncomfortable truth for me, and, I suspect, other olim, is that we no longer neatly fit into any one bubble, finding ourselves somewhere in that narrow corridor between bubbles that – like those blown by children – are separating . . . but have not quite, yet, split.