The exiled proud Polish princess from Praszka, our Mum, lived in a permanent ambivalence. How would she bring up her three boys to be genteel and not gentile? How would she set up a cultural heritage where norms of the West Riding and West Poland melded and did not clash? Honesty and compassion were given the highest echelon on the new Leeds Jewish totem pole. Christians, amongst us Leeds Jews were not generally considered out and out liars, as some of our co-religionists were. Do not make any mistakes. The most exacting holders of anti-Semitic concepts are the Jews themselves. Compassion was translated from the Yiddish ‘do not cause shame to another.’ The idea fits in neatly with, ‘Do unto others as you would do to yourself.’ We adopted their sense of fairness. After all, the Holocaust was unfairness in its extremes.
Mum’s generation was aware that the UK was the only place in Europe where Jews were free. There was a hidden belief that the British would not allow a Holocaust. Others would, the English would not.
Bearing all this in mind, it was more than legitimate for our parents to send us to the Leeds Grammar School. The fact it was a church school and the obligatory school caps had large yellow crosses was airbrushed out of any cognitive mapping.
So, off we went to be Jewish English Gentlemen. It was to be, in Yorkshire terminology, ‘neither owt nor summat.’ Oddly, you can express those sentiments in idiomatic English ‘neither here nor there,’ more accurately with the Yiddish. But that is of no importance, no one in LGS spoke colloquial Yorkshire.
That is not true; one teacher took delight in being a bluff Yorkshireman. Fritz Turner wore tweed Jackets and grey trousers, he did not affect BBC home- counties English. You had no doubt where he was from. Worst of all, Fritz was not High Church- he was out and out Presbyterian. Most of you are puzzled. If there are hard, inarguable ill-understood English traits look for Henry the Eighth. The man was a vain weakling, forever preoccupied with his own immediate needs and utterly unaware of his many failings and shortcomings. For us modern-day Israelis, this sounds all too familiar. Henry wanted to invade Europe; he unfailingly chose the wrong ally. Instead of controlling Europe the sceptred Ilse became insulated from the mainland. He married and repeatedly divorced not at his own behest, he was manipulated by those wishing to gain coin in the whirlwind collapse of Papism and the powers of the nascent Protestants. He ‘chose’ his brides and causes accordingly. The hollow King of England was an all-powerful shadow, a victim of circumstances and the moulder of none. The height of the absurdity was his idea of ‘High Church’ was Catholicism without the Pope. And Fritz Turner’s antecedents would have none of it. The LGS delivered the prayer before eating in Latin. Once Fritz led the prayer, it was in very plain English.
As we delved into our quasi English roots, we realised that there were two kinds of people. Those ‘meant to rule,’ and those who did their own thing and declare, ‘The King is naked.’
To my amazement, I see a replay in Israel. Once again, we have a King who blusters from crisis to crisis. Heads roll, his is to stay intact. From Corona to annexation, we set out one way, then go the opposite and then back. As with Henry, there are instant explanations – Kings are Teflon- nothing is their fault. It is treasonable to suggest differently.
And King Bibi leads us into unmitigated disasters with an impending plague and ill-thought-out annexation. The results will be ‘Henry-compatible;’ unintended, unexpected, and probably irreversible. As much as the barren Henry sought an heir, the feckless Bibi seeks redemption from his courts. Henry failed spectacularly, so will Bibi.
Both then and now, the courtiers and fawners stood back.
To them I address Fritz’s most famous adage, ‘Ee lad, if all your brains turned into gunpowder, you wouldn’t have enough to ruffle your hair,’
His other equally adept homily, uttered in similar fits of despair, was,’ Ye, Gods, this is like trying to convert the heathens.’