Tag Archives: Nachum Ordman

The Witriol Diaries, Part V (Hasmo Legends XXIV)

Goodbye Joe

Thursday, 11th December 1975, 9 p.m.

A peculiar development in the article on Jewish Forenames [submitted to the JC, for which dad was an occasional contributor]. I wrote later on asking Geoffrey D. Paul [Features/Deputy Editor] to print G-d, Israe-l, etc. because I wanted to avoid offending my Hasmo colleagues. I mention all this because at the “naming” ceremony at the School Rabbi Schonfeld mentioned en passant the “trefa Jewish Chronicle” (it has mildly criticised him in the past) and last Monday, I think, Philip happened to mention that a master had told him that boys ought to get their parents to subscribe to the Jewish Tribune because the Jewish Chronicle was “anti-Orthodox”. Anyway, the Monday night I kept on worrying about this and got into a panic. Could Schonfeld get me sacked for writing for the J.C.? (As a member of the staff of an Orthodox school he might be able to use my writing for an “anti-Orthodox” paper as an excuse. He might not give this as a reason, the story to me might be that he was re-deploying staff. First thing in the morning I wrote to Paul asking him not to publish the article.)

The fear of the sack may be far-fetched, and although both Ellman and Sam Balin are over 65 and employed part-time, the School has the power, as has the Borough Council, to retire me compulsorily anyway at 65 [dad was 63 at the time].

All this is probably grotesquely alarmist, but at the least, I think, Philip would have been exposed to anti-J.C. comments by certain members of the staff who take him, so that I still felt I did the right thing.

Sunday, 21st December 1975

Felt a bit off-colour on going into school on Friday morning, last day of term, but survived the morning. Daniel Rickman told to sit by the side of the HM in assembly, in honour of his having gained open scholarship to Oxford. Must plug this for Philip and Max, the latter is again “creating” about leaving Hasmo, but I hope I will manage to get him to stay for the last two years.

Monday, 18th January 1976, 2.30 p.m.

Spent about 5 hrs last night and this morning marking, mainly mock MH. Not more than six at the most of my boys stand a chance of a “C” – AM [Albert Meyer] has a class of about 35 at the moment. If he has six or more who he thinks don’t stand a chance of a “C”, it might give me an extra three free periods – my six could join his class. On verra.

Wednesday, 17th February 1976, 8.45 p.m.

Bad day at school. Clouted no one, but unseemly shouting: “How much does your father pay to keep you at the school?” – no wonder there’s so much scandal attached to the school.

Sunday, 21st March 1976, 8 p.m.

Have just returned from bunfight at Hasmo celebrating marriage of Dr Schonfeld’s son. He seems a charming boy, apparently left the school about a year before I came. Wished him mazal-tov, to which he responded something which I couldn’t quite catch. I asked him, and he said it was boorekh tihyeh – which I suppose is more sensible than saying “Thank you!” or “please G-d by you”.

I introduced myself to Dr Schonfeld, saying I taught at Hasmo. “Ah yes, you teach science”. “Not quite,” I replied, “modern languages, no doubt there is a connection”. Ugh! As E. [my mum] said afterwards, it would have been tolerable if I had said, at least, that I taught French scientifically.

Easter Monday, 19th April 1976, 4.30 p.m.

A fine day, have been doing nothing except reading Maariv. I have this idea that when we get back to school on the Monday, Meyer may ask me to give the Hebrew Yom Atzmaut speech. I should say the odds are about 33-1 that he won’t [sic, will], but just in case, I want to get into the feel of things.

Wednesday, 5th May 1976, 11 p.m.

Today, Yom Atzmaut, the school was closed by order of Dr Schonfeld. It has caused a bit of a scandal. The Israel Society at the school had invited the Chief Rabbi, and so I heard, suggested to Schonfeld, more or less, that perhaps he would care to come along too . . .

Monday, 12th July 1976, 8.45 p.m.

I do not want to drive everybody mad, but today has been better [pain in his left foot had persisted since mid-May]. Can only keep my fingers crossed. Symptoms still present, but milder, perhaps much milder. Anyway, although I hired a car to go to school this morning, and the morning itself was easy (first period cancelled for some reason; for my normal second period – Extra French, a difficult period – I was asked to take five visiting French Jewish boys, and I continued with them in the 3rd period, which I would normally have had free; period 4 I attempted to teach the 3rd year – needn’t have done, could just have said get on with something quietly, which is what in fact I did do period 5, 2nd year French) – although, as I say, the morning was easy, the fact remains that I carried out a normal programme afterwards.

Tuesday, 13th July 1976, 8.30 p.m.

Bad again. Sod. Although finished school at 4.15 today, in terms of physical exertion, or strain on foot/leg, yesterday was much worse.

Wednesday, 14th July 1976, 10.20 a.m.

Yesterday did a lot of standing, attempting to teach instead of telling the kids to do what they liked, quietly, as would have been legitimate at this stage of the term. Did not feel too uncomfortable while doing so – at any rate did not say I ought-not-to-be-in which I usually find myself unable to avoid saying when I’m under the weather.

Thursday, 15th July 1976, 7 p.m.

Very easy morning at school. Went by car, and sat in for two periods only, rest of morning paper work in staffroom.

Monday, 19th July 1976, 10.30 p.m.

A full Monday, no car. My impression is that there is rather a little less actual pain.

Wednesday, 21st July 1976, 11.30 p.m.

Usual programme. Caught bus outside Ashby’s in High Road, walked to school from bus stop outside Allandale Avenue. No teaching, except, ex gratia, last period, when I really did succeed, I think, in teaching some 23 boys Ah vous dirai-je maman (my excellent book of songs borrowed from the library explained that the tune went to “Twinkle, twinkle little star”. I had hoped I would be able to say to one of the [i.e. his] children, at any rate, “Play this for me on the piano [me]/violin [my brother, Max]/clarinet [my sister, Susannah] – but a nekhtiger took. If I had enough energy, I could browbeat Philip or Max into playing the music, but the result wouldn’t be worth the energy I’d have to expend).

Saturday, 24th July 1976, 10.45 p.m.

Well, I managed to get through the term. The big question is will I be able to get through a full winter/spring term. Summer term is always a cinch: the fifth form go on study leave at least six weeks before the end of term, which gives me three extra free periods, four weeks from end of term the exams start, which means that teaching practically finishes. There are examination questions to get banda’d [copied], scripts to mark, reports to do, but all this is sedentary and no problem.

Friday, 27th August 1976, 1 p.m.

Max’s “O” level results came this morning: AA Maths; A Eng Lit (!); B Eng, Phys, Chem; C French (B oral); C Brit Con, Art. The twit had put a 6½p stamp on the s.a.e., so his results arrived after his pals (who presumably had had the sense to frank their envelopes 1st class, with an 8½p stamp) had got theirs.

Anyway, it’s a bit of a weight off my mind, I had been preparing myself for his getting a D in French. This wouldn’t have been a disaster, as I told him, but it would have been a nuisance – I think it would have been advisable, had he failed, to re-enter him in Jan. He himself was quite ala keyfik (2nd world war army slang, Arabic – in case any of the children read this = couldn’t care less, indifferent), I brought him up the envelope while he was in bed, and he opened it with a comment “B in English” – my hands would have been trembling.

One of his pals Stephen Gerber, got 6 “A”s – somehow, I thought of his pals as being all nice lads but, shall we say, non-academic.

Monday, 20th September 1976, 9 p.m.

I can get through a week’s stint, meno male, but there is still some pain and discomfort. Lots of odd bods have appeared: Mrs P. who came along last year to take over some “C” French groups (leaving me with the “D”) seems now to have consolidated her position, she takes a small (3 boys) 6th form group; a Mr Lesser takes MH and Fr. and/or German, a Mr Pearce takes Fr. and Germ., and today a Mr Staiger [unclear] turned up wanting to teach MH and is being taken on – or consideration will be given to his being taken on – just like that. So I shall be expendable next year.

In the evening Jonathan Martin came. He was a contemporary of Philip at school. I remember him as being a particularly black bête noire when I had him in the 3rd form, then in the 5th he came into my C set, did no work at all, but sat as good as gold. If this was because he did not want to embarrass a friend (Philip) whose father taught at the school (or embarrass a teacher with whose son he was friendly) he showed more tact than any of Max’s pals did – or perhaps I should say rather more tact than most of Max’s pals did.

He got O levels only in Eng, Eng Lit and Biology (the last-named “fascinated” him, he said – he couldn’t “relate” to physics or chemistry). He wants to take up male nursing, a commendably off-beat choice as I told him. He’s quite a charming boy, well mannered – thanked E. for tea, said to Philip, as he went off to do something to his moped, he would be back to say good-night to Mrs Witriol. He is working pro-tem at a book shop in the West End.

Monday, 6th December 1976, 6.30 p.m.

A fairly strenuous day at school, but fortunately it didn’t go off too badly. Free till 1020, then four periods till lunch break, then did some marking after lunch (instead of my usual shloof), then three periods after lunch. Period 6, the period after lunch, was in “the Old Library” a room next to the staff marking room (with members of staff marking intently eavesdropping) and the office (to which WWS seems to betake himself these days). WWS came in: “A noisy class Mr Witriol.” Actually I had taken about 20 kids for French for a double period in the morning in the same room, and had flattered myself on having the situation under control. In the afternoon I had, I suppose, 35 kids for MH – the usual shlepping in of chairs. Anyway, WWS sat in and was privileged to take part in my MH lesson. At the end he said it was a great privilege to learn Hebrew – not “to learn Hebrew with Mr Witriol”, as he should have said of course. It was just as well that I had, by chance, the lesson well prepared – I had given the kids back a test they had done, which I had marked, sod it, and of course the lesson went like clockwork.

Saturday, 5th February 1977, 7.15 p.m.

It looks like the chopper is going to chop. About a fortnight ago Stanton showed me a letter from the office in connection with 2000 unemployed teachers in Barnet and suggesting Mr Witriol’s position be examined. W.S. said I had come (or was coming) to the end of the road. I said I hoped not, and that I had three children to put through University. He said I would be in a parlous (rather nice rococo touch) position financially if I could not carry on. I agreed. He will play on replaceability-only-with-difficulty, though in point of fact he can get plenty of teachers for MH, German and French.

Tuesday, 31st May 1977, 9.55 p.m.

Chadwick, who is about 62, has resigned. He hates Hasmo, though I think he was lucky to get a scale IV post. He is a good teacher – geography and maths – of the old school. He has a degree, but I do not believe he has ever taught the sixth, perhaps not even the fifth. He says he’s not worried about the financial side, says he’s had offers of jobs, but in any case can draw unemployment benefit. In his case he’s probably right, as he will probably get a pension of half his salary, whereas I got a pension of only about three eighths.

Meyer, too, is resigning. This time apparently for real. Seems he was befrunzelt because he was not invited to a meeting of senior staff, though as Nachum Ordman pointed out, he can’t be expected to receive an invitation to a senior staff meeting if he’s only on part-time. I had been thinking I would have to have two months’ notice, but it has been put to me that as a part-timer I am entitled to only one month’s. So I must assume that I cannot avoid the chop. Susannah [daughter] mentioned that one of her teachers [at Henrietta Barnet] had said that Barnet Council would not be replacing retired teachers (which makes sense, if staffing economics are to be effected). In that case who will take MH at Hasmo if Meyer, myself and Heckleman [unclear] (the shaliach, whom I have not seen this week, and whose tour of duty ends, I believe, at the end of term) go? There are other teachers who could “have a go”, but I doubt if they are as well qualified as AM or myself and, it only occurred to me some weeks ago, when AM put me in touch with an Israeli girl pupil whom I am coaching for A Level MH, that AM himself would not know how to start teaching A level MH literature.

Monday, 13th June 1977, 9.15 p.m.

First day back at school, without any “trouble”. It’s true I had only to teach for five periods, by kindness of the 5th form who are taking their “O” levels, but on the Friday before mid-term I had only one period to take but was unable to avoid – I can’t remember whether I actually clouted a boy or whether there was an unseemly fracas.

Sunday, 24th July 1977, 8.30 p.m.

I perhaps ought to have written out my retirement oration and memorised it. I have started on bits and pieces, but am just bearing in mind some brief heads and will trust to luck.

Will present R. Gothold, in charge of stock, with a jar of chalk “accumulated over a period of time” – “bit of a wag”, as Philip would say.

Friday, 29th July 1977, 4 p.m.? (watch stopped, can’t be bothered to go downstairs to check) [I cannot help but note the symbolism which, untypically, seems to have escaped dad’s eye for such things]

Well, I’m fully retired, as a schoolteacher anyway.

The retirement went off more or less ok. But neither Chadwick nor I were asked to sit on the platform, which I thought a bit much even for Hasmo. I followed Chadwick into the back of the hall, hardly believing it possible that we would not be asked to go on to the platform. Stanton mentioned from the platform that we were leaving, and David Solomons spoke about Chadwick, and Gerry Laver [Garry Lauer?] spoke very briefly about me. All I heard him say was that I was leaving a “deposit”, viz. Max – he meant pledge? hostage? I then told Chadwick we should go on to the platform. Chaddy said his career had been a sandwich (laughter, the younger kids are not familiar with the metaphor): Army – school (his previous school) – Hasmo. He told me in the staffroom he wanted to convey they’d both been traumatic experiences. As I had imagined, he spoke briefly – though I had been prepared for even a couple of sentences: good luck, thank you – which meant I couldn’t go to town. However, a few kids and members of staff said it was O.K., even D.J. quietly wished me shkoich and Baddiel said it was a change to hear someone saying something – a brokh tse de yoohren.


Postscript: Lid off Hasmonean

Sunday, 23rd October 1977

Hasmonean has been in the news in the J.C. recently, so concocted an article “Hasmo” this p.m. [for published article, click on link below to dad’s yellowing cuttings book]. About 1½ hours flat. Suppose it will be rejected, pathetic how every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to be able to get something in, but I can’t. However, it shows, I suppose, I’m still alive.

Sunday, 30th October 1977, 6.15 p.m.

Should I have written the article for the J.C.? Philip read out their “billing”, in their issue of 28/10, for November: the attractions for the issue of Nov 4 included “Hasmonean: A View from the Inside by a Teacher”. It is mildly critical of the school, I speak of the extreme Orthodox right wingers, but the only “hard” criticisms I make are of the attempt to get boys in the football team to have some form of covering on their heads and the abandonment of the attempt to get boys to shower because “Nudity is repellent to us” (as one mother had written).

Did I do it because I wanted cheap publicity, wanted to see my name in print at last? Yes. So what.

I suppose it will embarrass Max. Fortunately, Stanton has signed his UCCA form. Perhaps, in a way, it’s just as well this hadn’t occurred to me, or I probably wouldn’t have submitted the article, and I don’t see why I should refrain from allowing the J.C. to publish two articles which they would have been prepared to accept.

“Lid off Hasmonean” by Joseph Witriol (Jewish Chronicle, November 4, 1977)

[For The Witriol Diaries, Parts I – followed by A (Hasmo) Son’s IntroductionII, III and IV, click here, here, here and here. Thank you to Philip Witriol for transcribing the Diaries, and for his patience with my ever-so-slightly obsessive attention to detail!]


Hasmo Legends XII: Flops, Greater and Lesser

It is something of a truism that Hasmo boys fared far better in maths and sciences than in the arts and humanities.

This owed rather more, however, to factors extrinsic to Hasmonean – such as the greater emphasis placed on the former in most (especially more traditional) Jewish households – than to the pedagogical skills and talents of the school’s maths and science teachers.

In fact, Hasmonean should have churned out ambitious would-be physicians, scientists and mathematicians “for fun”. But, for all the geniuses that we all knew from our Hasmo days – the four and five As maths and science A-Level students – how many went onto careers (never mind distinguished ones) in those fields? With the raw talent at their disposal, Jack, DJ, Steve, Flop and crew should have produced numerous top academics and professionals, but these ‘educators’ did not foster love of their subjects, merely high levels of competence in them.

HopelessIn spite of my late father having been a brilliant mathematician and physician, I was hopeless at both maths and the sciences. Indeed, Hasmo’s science labs were as uninviting to me as its gym was for some of the more pasty NW11 and N16 frummers (the sensitively-named, by Chich, “spastics”). I hated the places (my only enjoyment being to poke a sharpened pencil through the inviting – what other purpose did it serve? – slit  in my neighbour’s high stool).

So, if you have been eagerly anticipating a warm melchett mike reminiscence about Hasmo’s maths and science teachers, stop reading now – revisit, instead, my posts on Cyril, Chich, Sid, and Big Al – because, with the exception of DJ, I was utterly indifferent to nearly all of them. (As always on melchett mike, however, if you have warmer recollections of these individuals – or tales of those I have failed to mention in detail, or at all – please post them as comments below.)

As well as the absence of truly unforgettable characters (such as the aforementioned), my indifference was also due to the attitude and/or incompetence of Hasmo’s teaching staff in those, my weaker, subjects. Like the advice on how to make a million dollars in Israel – make Aliyah with ten – it is oft said about Hasmonean (correctly in my view) that, if you came with ability, you did well; if not, they would let you rot.

I have received more “When are you going to do Flop?” queries, since my first Hasmo Legends post, than I can recall. I have been rather reticent to write about Lionel Finkelstein (middle row, extreme right [ignoring the little fella], in the staff photograph in Hasmo Legends I), not out of any sense of loyalty to him, but because he is still apparently squawking and spluttering his way through the physics syllabus on Holders Hill Road. I was even contacted by someone senior at today’s Hasmonean, specifically requesting that I let him off the hook for that very reason. And the truth is that I originally agreed . . . though I am no longer quite sure “Whyyyyy”.

No Nobel Prizes in Physics for guessing how Dr Flop earned his nickname. I vividly recall even the (what should be) perfectly straightforward Ticker Tape Timer experiment – for measuring velocity – going horribly and repeatedly wrong. And it was often Hasmo’s poor, meek lab assistants, Mrs. Kadoo, though more usually the hapless Michael (I don’t think he had a surname) – neither of whom were ever heard to utter a word – who would have to shoulder the blame for this incompetence. Indeed the oft-heard bellow, from the physics laboratory, of “Miiii-ccchael” usually bore all the reasonableness of Stalin’s scolding of his mistress, Getya Keksov, for the relative failure of his Second (1933-1937) Five-Year Plan.

BissliFlop, in appearance a kind of Semitic Brian Blessed, was a strange bloke to say the least. His behaviour could vacillate between the genial and the almost cruel (sideburn yanking being his punishment of choice), and his fondness for Bissli snacks (barbecue flavour) usually resulted in more finding their way into his unkempt beard – nestling there for the remainder of the school day – than into his not insubstantial stomach. And those squawking noises – “Urrrggh, Isaacson . . .” – have not been heard outside the Star Wars movies or Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Inadvertent followers of Nachum of Golders

Inadvertent followers of Reb Nachum of Golders

Hasmo’s other physics teacher was the unassuming Nachum Ordman (middle row, seventh from left, in the aforementioned staff photograph), the younger, more reserved sibling of Jack, head of maths. It is a little known fact that the ubiquitous Na Nach mantra and stickers, visible all over Israel, relate to Nachum’s slight stutter rather than – as believed by those loony, pogoing Chassidim – Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Nachum always seemed the most gentle of men, so it would be a shame to waste any more melchett mike inches on him.

Another oddity of Flop-like proportions was Hasmo’s biology teacher, Steve Posen (middle row, third from left). Apparently, Steve can still be seen belting along Bell Lane (Hendon), destination unknown (even to him), sporting his bright red shirt on Rosh Chodesh. Steve’s behaviour also spanned the full gamut, one minute warm and approachable, the next wielding his favourite slipper as if he had shares in Dunlop. Even his attitude towards the biology lab’s living creatures – and I don’t mean Hasmo boys – could suddenly swing, with no apparent warning, from the gentle to the brutal.

Steve’s straight-man sidekick in Hasmo’s biology department, Liam Joughin (back row, fourth from right), would observe his colleague’s oddball performances with a deadpan expression, never betraying the absolute incredulity he must have experienced on a near daily basis. A man neither loved nor loathed, Joughin was best known for his dry sense of humour and expressions such as “leave it a-lone” (despairing at Hasmo boys’ insistence on fiddling with apparatus before experiments had even begun) and “minkerisation” (Joughin for mincha, the afternoon prayer).

In fact, so remarkably normal, by Hasmo standards, was Joughin – and a good teacher to boot – that one had to wonder what he was doing at the nuthouse, when he could so easily have been enjoying a position amongst “his own” at a decent English grammar school.

At one stage, Joughin shared the role of Deputy Headmaster of Hasmonean with chemistry teacher, David Jacobson (front row, third from left), known to all merely as DJ. My opinion of this man is well known to readers of melchett mike, and I don’t intend to darken my summer mood by expanding on it here (though, again, readers’ comments and stories will be gratefully received).

Whilst Hasmo’s other chemistry teacher, Kevin O’Connor, seemed a genuinely nice bloke, even the Dalai Lama could not have tempted me to spend a second more in DJ’s classroom than I absolutely had to, and I “dropped” the subject as soon as I could.

Find x.For five long, unforgiving years, I sat in the maths B group of Simon Lesser (back row, fifth from left). If he had explained his algebra and geometry in some obscure dialect of Urdu, I would have had no less idea of what he was on about. And, for half a decade, my end of year maths results always hovered around 30 to 35 percent.

Less than six months before the O-Level examination, one of my mother’s bridge four, Wendy Lederman, who taught maths at Hasmonean Girls’, offered to “have a go”. I got an A. What that says about Mr. Lesser’s teaching (as well as Mrs. Lederman’s) I leave to you, the reader.

At some point, we stopped being deterred by the lines Lesser would dish out like an overzealous Nigerian traffic warden slapping out parking tickets in Central London,  and – unsentimental teenagers that we were (how sentimental could we be about a man who would make us write “Homework must be done and submitted on time” two hundred times and more?) – started taking advantage of his failing eyesight and hearing. Our class even formed an instrument-less jazz rhythm section, employing mouths, hands, heels and desks to perform improvised compositions, as Lesser – in an attempt to decipher figures – pressed his nose against textbook or whiteboard.

In cricketing terms, Jack Ordman (front row, second from left) was Hasmonean’s Geoffrey Boycott or Graeme Hick: one of the finest maths teachers of his generation, but – like Boycott and Hick, batsmen who didn’t quite fancy it against the very toughest of bowlers – Ordman only took on the ‘challenge’ of the A group. This was the kind of perverse arrangement typical of Hasmonean, allowing Ordman to preserve a very fine, but somewhat misleading, average.

“Uncle” Jack did, however, teach Gemara to our delinquent Yeshiva Stream group after school, displaying that very same caution and/or fear that prevents him from going down as a true great: for the last fifteen minutes of every class – in an attempt to wake us up with some actual interaction before our journeys home – he would conduct a question and answer session on halacha; but, whenever we would pose even the most slightly problematic of questions, he would proclaim “Boys, I am not a rabbi. The school has got a very good one. Ask Rabbi Cooper.”

This seemed to defeat the very purpose of the session . . . though, couldn’t that be said of nearly everything that went on at Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys?!

[REMINDER: In keeping with Hasmo Legends ‘rules’, comments must be truthful, with true identity of commenter provided.]

Next on Hasmo Legends, Part XIII: A Legend (Osher) Strikes Back [followed by The Background]