Jerusalem Grapevine: Only the messenger

News briefs from Jerusalem and the surrounding area.

January 5, 2017 17:51
4 minute read.
Ya'akov Neeman

Ya'akov Neeman . (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

• AT THE funeral of former justice minister and finance minister Yaakov Neeman, who was one of Israel’s leading jurists and a wellknown expert in devising compromise solutions to complex problems, his daughter Yael Bar-Shai, who is a partner in the prestigious law firm that Neeman co-founded with Chaim Herzog and Michael Fox, said that even in his feeble state, her father, in the last week of his life, had lit Hanukka candles with his family.

This week, the Neeman home in Jerusalem’s Talbiyeh neighborhood has been flooded with people paying condolence calls. Among his many attributes, Neeman was a generous philanthropist who gave of his money and his services in secret, but not all the help he provided could be given anonymously. Once, when he bumped into a woman whom he had helped some years earlier to set up in business, and she reminded him and thanked him profusely, his response was, “I was only the messenger.”

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President Reuven Rivlin, who was among those who eulogized Neeman, was a personal friend from their student days, the two having been born in the same year and having studied law at the Hebrew University at the same time on completion of army service. They had last spoken only a week earlier when Rivlin visited Neeman at his home, which is within easy walking distance of the President’s Residence and in the same street as the Hazvi Yisrael Congregation, where the two sometimes met at services.

In eulogizing his friend, Rivlin referred to that last meeting, saying that he had told Neeman that he was in need of advice, and Neeman had replied that they would meet again as soon as he was stronger. Unfortunately, that did not happen.

• THE STEREOTYPE image of the Jew crops up quite frequently in English literature. Seldom is the Jew depicted as a positive character. He’s usually mean, greedy, cruel, manipulative and a moneylender. The fact that many professions were closed to Jews was conveniently overlooked by centuries of British writers, with less than a handful of pre-20th century writers painting a sympathetic portrait of a Jew.

David Young will discuss “The Jew in English Literature” at the meeting of the Jerusalem branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England on Monday, January 9. The lecture will be preceded by the society’s annual general meeting, which will be held at 7:15 p.m. at Beit Avi Chai, 44 King George Street.

For those who may be interested in the subject of the lecture and are familiar only with the famous Shylock monologue from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, negative portraits of Jews date back to the time of Chaucer, although it is unlikely that Chaucer ever met a Jew on whom to model his character. Likewise, Christopher Marlowe, who authored The Jew of Malta, was unlikely to have personally known any Jews, and the same applies to Shakespeare.

There are mixed opinions about Shylock.

Those who believe The Merchant of Venice to be an antisemitic work focus on the pound of flesh, whereas those who believe that Shakespeare had some sympathy for the Jews focus on “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example?” Moving forward to Victorian fiction, the Jew was almost always the villain, the most famous of whom was the disgusting Fagin, the receiver of stolen goods in Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

Few descriptions of an Israeli political leader could have been more notoriously antisemitic than Time magazine’s May 1977 characterization of Menachem Begin, when it printed that Begin rhymes with Fagin. It wasn’t just a matter of getting the pronunciation right, because Americans to pronounced the surname of Shimon Peres as if it was the Spanish “Perez,” and Time didn’t bother to find a word that rhymed with the correct pronunciation.

Another evil Jewish character in Victorian literature is Svengali, who dominates and exploits the heroine of George du Maurier’s novel Trilby. But one Victorian-era novelist, Mary Ann Evans, who wrote under the pen name of George Eliot, in her last novel, Daniel Deronda, redeemed the Jew in English literature and created an admirable character.

Young will deal with this and more in his lecture.

• TELEVISION VIEWERS who were glued to their sets during the screening of the widely acclaimed series Shtisel, which provided a wonderful insight into haredi life in Mea She’arim and Geula, should circle Wednesday, February 1, in their calendars. This is the date on which Beit Avi Chai will provide a behindthe- scenes glimpse of what went into the production which was conceived and created by Ori Alon and Yehonatan Indursky. Director Alon Zingman will be present, along with two of the stars of the series, Neta Riskin and Zohar Strauss. Part of the series will also be screened on the night.

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