30 November 2008

Jewish Women: early 19th century salons

Salons began in Italy in the C16th, before spreading to the rest of Europe. The purpose of the salon, often hosted by a woman, was to discuss ideas and to grow participants’ self-education. Salons were most popular in the French Enlightenment and reached their height during the C17th and C18ths.

Newly emancipated Jews in C19th Europe wanted to immerse themselves in Germany’s rich cultural life. Individual Jews were faced with a dilemma: they saw new opportunities, yet they may not have wanted to lose the comfort of the secure community they grew up in. In the end, even Moses Mendelssohn’s children seemed to prefer accommodation with the wider German Kulture.

Educated Jewish women suffered gender and anti-Semitic restrictions. So they adapted a new strategy: cultural salons where Jews and non-Jews met in equality, studying literature, art, philosophy or music.

Salons were not all Jewish; and they were spread around eg The Remy Family in Paris was already running a salon that combined music, supper and billiards in 1776. In fact we can speculate that from the Italian Renaissance on, the cultural salon was a European wide phenomenon. But from 1790s on, at a time when Jews hadn’t yet been granted complete civil rights, salons performed a specific political and social miracle for Jews.

This modernising trend increased in the C19th. With the unification of the German Reich in 1871, Jewish Emanci-pation was complete. Although anti Semitism continued, most LEGAL barriers to social/economic progress were removed; Jews moved to the cities and became part of the growing urban population.

The salon allowed them to establish a venue, in the privacy of their own homes, in which Jews and non-Jews could meet in equality. Like-minded people could study literature, art, philosophy or music together, plus they could support both talented artists and writers. Each saloniere chose her own theme and selected the night of the week in which she wanted the salon to be held. Her staff did not have to provide dinner for the salon guests - just drinks and desserts.

Reading to the salon

Henriette Mendelssohn and Dor­othea Schleg­el ran active salons in Paris, Berlin, Vienna and Frankfurt, focussing on literary themes. Another of the early famous salons was founded by Henriette de Lemos Herz, who was, like all the other Jewish Salonières, highly educated and multi lingual. She was totally devoted to literature, esp to Goethe, the Sturm-und-Drang cult and the German romantic theories of friendship and sociability. Her salon was a unique expression of enlightenment ideas on religion, philosophy and educational debates.

Other families were particularly interested in music, so their salons reflected their musical taste. The family of the Jewish banker Daniel Itzig held cultural gatherings which attracted brothers Wilhelm and Carl Philipp Bach. Daniel’s daughter Sara Itzig 1761-1854 was well educated, studying music with Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Sara married Samuel Levy, one of the important German bankers. So her own excellent musical knowledge and her husband’s income allowed Sara Itzig Levy to become Wilhelm Bach’s most significant patron. She also studied the music of Carl Phillip Bach, and, at his death, she became his widow’s patron.

So why did this 100 year period of Jewish dialogue with high culture come to a crushing end. The beginning of the C20th brought in the real end of salons in central Europe. War turmoil, new ways of spending free time like travel and mass media meant women of leisure spent their time diff­er­ently. And because by the end of the century, political intens­ity and commitment became more important that polite, witty conversation.

Thanks to: Bilski, Emily et al Jewish Women and Their Salons: The Power of Conversation, Jewish Museum New York, 2005. And Hertz, Deborah Jewish High Society in Old Regime Berlin, Syracuse UP, 1988.

29 November 2008

Who Knew My Words Would Rock Boise Idaho?

In the newspapers in 2006 there was a vigorous debate about whether the introduction of gay marriage/civil unions to Australia would lead to the undermining of regular heterosexual marriages.  So I wrote this short letter on civil unions to the Editor of The Age newspaper in Melbourne on June 9th 2006, before promptly forgetting about it.

"I investigated the reasons 473 married couples gave for separating and divorcing. Most often mentioned reasons were: adultery, drugs, alcohol, gambling, exhaustion, poverty, differing career paths, violence, lack of child care and interfering in-laws. 'The existence of civil unions for gay couples' was not given in a single case".

Signed Helen Webberley, North Caulfield

Imagine the surprise when this very same letter ended up on the USA's unOFFICIAL WORLDWIDE ADVENTIST FORUM on the topic of Undermining the institution of marriage?

There were dozens and dozens of responses.

New Publications by Melbourne colleagues

Two of my old Melbourne friends and colleagues have published books recently, which is very exciting for me. I am gaining vicarious pride from their successes.

Art and Propaganda : Charles IV of Bohemia, 1346-1378 by Iva Rosario.

"Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia (1316-1378), was one of the most astute and cultivated monarchs of his time, and during his reign Prague became a major cultural centre and royal power base. In an age when royal portraits were a rarity, he showed an early understanding of their ability to project the power, wealth and cultural sophistication of the court. A number of royal portraits were commissioned within the decorative schemes of the buildings, altarpieces, manuscripts and reliquaries with which he endowed Prague and the royal castles. This is the first study in English to look at the phenomenon of Charles' early use of the arts to consolidate his power. It focuses particularly on some thirty portraits of Charles IV, to demonstrate how and why the court harnessed the visual arts to legitimise, glorify and sacralise the great medieval ruler. By placing each portrait in its historical context, the author gives a fascinating insight into the art of political propaganda in an important European court of the middle ages. Dr Iva Rosario is honorary Senior Fellow of the School of Fine Arts, Classical Studies and Archaeology, University of Melbourne".

Human Rights Overboard: Seeking Asylum in Australia by Linda Briskman et al.

“In 2005, in the wake of the Cornelia Rau scandal, a citizen's inquiry was established to bear witness to events in Australian immigration-detention facilities. Until then, the federal government had refused to conduct a broad-ranging investigation into immigration detention in Australia, and the operations within detention centres had been largely shrouded in official secrecy. The People's Inquiry into Detention heard heartbreaking evidence about asylum-seekers journeys to Australia, their detention process, life in detention and life after detention. In total around 200 people testified to the inquiry, and a similar number of written submissions were received.

Human Rights Overboard draws together, for the first time, the oral testimony and written submissions from the inquiry in a powerful and vital book that stands as an indelible record of one of Australia’s bleakest legacies. Clearly and comprehensively presented, the book is a haunting journey guided by voices from every side of the fence: former immigration detainees, refugee advocates, lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, and former detention and immigration staff. Together, their stories bear testimony to a humanitarian disaster that Austral­ia caused and that must be remembered so that it never happens again”

27 November 2008

Farewell to a handsome labrador friend

I imagine that no family in Australia wants to raise children without a big back yard and a dog. We bought their sons a spectacularly good-looking, pure-bred, black labrador called Emperor Rudolf II of Prague (or Rudes for short).

The dog was loyal, strong, affectionate, gentle with tots and had a superb, shiny coat. He may have been bouncy and infantile all his life, as labradors tend to be. Nonetheless there is no doubt that labradors (and their cousins, golden retrievers) are God's finest creatures.

The local coffee shop used to love having Rudy tied to the trees on the footpath outside. People walking past would stop to talk to the dog and order coffee to be brought outside into the sunshine :)

Rudes passed away in June 2008 and is still much missed.

Tower of David Days, Jerusalem: 1921-6

Tower of David galleries and courtyard

I was delighted to read Yigal Zalmona’s The Tower of David Days, the cat­alogue pub­lished for the Jerusalem exhibition of the same name in October 1991. While I have seen many of the individual paintings in public collections, I’ve never before seen the exhibitions analysed.

A few art exhibitions had already been mounted in British Palestine. Yaacov Pereman, an art collector from Odessa, organised an art ex­hibition in 1920, held in the Herzliya Gymnasia in Tel Aviv. Pereman displayed part of his own collection: 200 post impression­ist, semi cubist Rus­sian paintings he had brought with him to Pales­t­ine. The very next year he tried again, renting a Tel Aviv hall to disp­lay new and established modern artists. Also in 1920, the Hebrew Union of Art­is­ts was formed. They laun­ched themselves with an ex­hib­ition at a private Jerusalem home. Nothing much came of these exhibitions, but clearly the time was right.

British Governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, set two goals for the local art world. Firstly the Tower of David ci­t­adel was to be re­n­ovated. Secondly he established The Pro-Jerusalem Society, to fos­ter arts and crafts in the city. British town plan­ner, archit­ect and Arts and Crafts artist Charles Ashbee had already established artists’ and designers’ co-operatives in London. Now Ashbee tried opening an art school in Jerusalem. In the event, no school was built, but Ashbee did open the first Tower of David Exhibition in April 1921. The elite of Jerusalem’s British, Jew­ish, Muslim and Christ­ian com­munities were invited to the ex­hibition which was opened by Sir Rob­ert Baden Pow­ell! The Tower of David, still looking like a building site, was made suitable for this important cultural event, with speeches, music and very elegant clothing.

For fine external images of the Tower of David now, see Jerusalem Hills daily photo blog.But why did British mandate authorities bother getting involved in a na­tional art exhibition in Jerusalem? Yigal Zalmona suggested Storrs really did want to preserve the city’s cultural heritage and improve the welfare of its citizens. And Ash­bee was working in the spirit of his mentors, Will­iam Morris and John Ruskin.

The wives of British Mandate officials may have had a different motive. Mrs Albina, wife of the deputy police commissioner, wanted to exhibit her own watercolours. Mrs Gordon and Mrs Drucker, whose good husbands encouraged their art work, wanted to display paintings they had created in a previous colonial posting in India.

And we have to ask why the British authorities waited until Boris Sc­hatz was out of the country, raising money for his beloved Bezalel Art School? As ex­pected, newspaper reviews noted that Bezalel was the main body that had been crucial for the visual arts in Jerusalem since it opened its doors in 1906. Furthermore most of the particip­ants in this first Tower of David Exhibition were in any case Bezalel teachers and students.

The exhibition was divided into sections: Islamic art, international art, Hebrew Union of Artists’ work, British officers wiv­es’ paintings and Be­d­o­uin textiles. And it was a great success, with thousands of adults and school children visit­ing, and quite a number of art ob­jects being sold. But there was a flaw. Ide­ol­ogical differences be­tween the Bezalel trad­itional­ists and the mod­ernists, many of them former Bezalel students, revealed a potent­ial clash.

Still, in 1921, only two Tower of David artists declared them­selves part of modern art move­ment, in opposition to Bezal­el­. The rest of the mod­er­n­ist artists were either still in Paris or did­n’t participate in the Exhibition. Gideon Ofrat (100 Years of Art in Israel, 1998) rightly stated that at this stage, Bezalel st­aff were still confident of their firm grip on the present and future.

British Mandate officials ran an art exhibition again in 1922 but from then on, the Tower of David Exhibitions had very little British involvement. In 1924, at the request of the Pro-Jerusalem Society and under the sp­onsorship of the Hebrew Union of Artists, the landscapist Reuven Rubin mounted a one-man exhibition at the Tower of David.

By 1925 the rebel artists had all returned from Eu­rope, and had for­­m­ally created the Modern Painters Group: Reuven Rubin, Ar­ie Lu­bin, Joseph Zaritsky, Ziona Tager, Israel Paldi and others. This doesn’t mean they shared a single artistic vision, of course, as Moshe Barasch noted (Quest for Roots, Artists of Israel 1920-80, Jewish Museum of New York, 1981). In fact Paldi actually asked to be hung separately from the Bezalel­ites.

Jerusalem, by Reuven Rubin

In 1925 Ziona Tager returned from Paris and joined the Modernist Group. She exhibited in the Ohel Theatre in Tel Aviv and at the Tower of David Exhibit­ions in Jerusalem. Tager used Fauvism, Cubism and Expressionism as required. She had an interesting placement of human activity in the natural land­scape that was not always utilised by the others eg Ein Kerem Vill­age 1927. It feels as if humans had a real influence on Tager’s landscape; they moulded it and made it grow.

In time, the modernists were in the majority and were well represent­ed on all selection committees. At the 5th Tower of David Exhibition in 1926, 200 works were displayed, the majority modernist. Only Raban and two other artists represented Bezalel and they stood out uncom­fortably. The politicising effect of all the Tower of David Exhibit­ions on the modernists was such that they now tackled Tel Aviv. In January 1926, the first modern art exhibition was held in the Ohel Theatre, under the auspices of the Labour Union. It was a great financial and critical success, especially as most of the artists returning from Paris moved straight to Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem.

How the art world had changed in Palestine since 1906. Bezalel's anachronistic, national-oriental nar­rative style was challenged by young rebels in Bezalel and by newly-returned artists. The definition of mod­ernist in Palestine was hard to pin down. But these artists, a gen­er­ation younger than Schatz, Pann and Raban were searching for an idiom appropriate to Middle Eastern art, not Euro­pean art. And they had found it.

Alas Bezalel couldn’t stand the tension. A separate art movement emerged out of Bezalel, a movement that disassociated itself from the religious, Diaspora-oriented, tradition which was dictated by the Bezalel Academy. Known as the Rebels of Bezalel, this movement sought to pay homage to the Middle East and to the New Jew, by depicting the landscape and local people of the country. Its members sought to express their newfound ident­ity as Hebrew rather than Jewish artists. This movement was estab­lished by Avraham Zaritzky and Reuven Rubin.

Financial difficulties at Bezalel followed and the school closed in 1929. Yigal Zalmona’s conclusion is that the move towards modernity may well have happened post-1920 in any case. But the Tower of David Exhibitions pointed clearly to the inseparable links between ideology, historical exigency and art in British Palestine. With the searing conflicts of the mid-1920s, the norms supported by Bezalel Academy lost their charisma.

For a more complete treatment of the topic, see Webberley, Helen “The Tower of David Days”, AHCCA Postgraduate Association Conference, Melbourne University, Nov 2004.

24 November 2008

All-Time Favourite Films

Members of the #30plus MIRC channel were invited to consider their all-time favourite films and to submit a list of 10, in order of enjoyment. Thanks to the 31 people who spent many hours jotting notes, the process provoked many amazing discussions on line, but also around peoples' dining room tables.

The final list consists of films that were mentioned over and over again, with the most frequently nominated films having an asterisk attached.

This list does not seem to hang together cohesively. As some resp­ond­ents noted, there might have been a gender thing going on and perhaps an age thing as well. Since many of the respondents were North American, the preference for Hollywood might well have been a factor.

In the end people could use the list as a reference (both positive and negative) for their own film selections, and perhaps for some analysis as well.

*2001 A Space Odyssey
12 Angry Men
American Graffiti
African Queen
Angel Heart
Bull Durham
Citizen Kane
Chronicles Of Riddick
Dr Zhivago
Field of Dreams
Full Metal Jacket
*Gone With the Wind
Good Will Hunting
Good, The Bad and the Ugly
It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
LA Confidential
Last of the Mohicans
Lion in Winter
Lord of the Rings
On Golden Pond
Pitch Black
Pulp Fiction
Saving Private Ryan
Schindler's List
Shawshank Redemption
Sixth Sense Sound of Music
*Star Wars
Steel Magnolias
*To Kill a Mockingbird
West Side Story
*Wizard of Oz

Years later I created a list of my personal favourites that I will now add.
Tea With Mussolini
Ladies in Lavender
Late Bloomers
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Howard's End
Room with a View
The Shooting Party
My House In Umbria
The Lunchbox

Consider Every Novel You Have Ever Read

In an early channel literary event, 1995, #30plus channel members were invited to search their libraries and to send in their ten favourite books or authors of all times. Some of the excellent books suggested by channel members included:

*The Good Earth, Pearl Buck; The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (Sulu)

*I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (sinyk)

*The Kitchen God's Wife, Amy Tan (AKL and littlwing)

*Angel at my table, Janet Frame; Monkey Grip, Helen Garner (gb)

*Small World and Changing Places, David Lodge (Maggie-M)

*A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth; A Room With a View, E.M Forster.

* Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson (fauna).

After considering much loved novels, here's my final list:

1. Barchester Towers, Anthony Trollope, even if some think he is light weight.

2. The Women's Room, Marilyn French. When this book came out, it did change lives.

3. Cider House Rules; Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving. How is so much writing talent in one

4. Elmer Gantry and Rabbit, Sinclair Lewis. He KNOWS human beings.

5. Possession; Still Life, A.S. Byatt. Cuts to the quick. Booker winner.

6. Johnno, David Malouf. His first, slimmest and best novel.

7. The Elected Member; Brothers; Madame Sousatzka and esp Birds of Passage, by Bernice Rubens. Deserves her Booker prize.

8. Anita Brookner, Lewis Percy; Hotel du Lac. Creamy writing. Deserves her Booker

9. Utz; Songlines, Bruce Chatwin. Brilliant talent; died tragically young

10. The Sportswriter, Richard Ford. Discovery of the 1980s.

#30plus: The Early Days in IRC

#Israel was the very first IRC channel that both Dabas (Daniel ben Sefer in Sydney) and Heloise (Helen Webberley in Melbourne) had been involved in. They met many fine people there, people who have remained close friends to this day - in particular Muet, Mer, Academy, Winky, Andygee and Peteyc. The first few months in early 1993 were novel, challenging and fun. But eventually the fun palled. The problems were twofold:

RACISM was by far the nastiest problem Dabas and Heloise had ever dealt with. The channel became open slather for every lunatic fringe element who had a gripe against Israel, Jews or friends of Jews:

1. Nazi sympathisers raided the channel daily, suggesting that they would take up where Hitler left off, rebuilding the gas chambers and reopening the concentration camps.
2. Christian fundamentalists raided the channel less often, concerned with allocating blame for the death of Christ.
3. Islamic militants intent on destroying the Jewish State of Israel were regular features of channel life.

JUVENILITY Given that the average age of #Israel was 19.2 years, and that 80% of the channel was male, it is not surprising that the topics of concern were army life, selecting subjects at university and finding a date for Saturday night. It got to the stage that if one more person said "what is your major?" one more time, Heloise was going to leave IRC and never come back again.

As with any site riddled with testosterone, the order of the day was kicking, banning and op wars. Part of this frenetic activity was a survival strategy to do with the constant invasion of Neo Nazis and militant Islamists. But part of it was just macho game playing.

From time to time, suggestions would be made about opening up the topics of discussion to things ADULTS would like to talk about eg literature or music. But this ended in uproar every time. Israeli boys of 19 years were only interested in surviving the army and establishing a social life for themselves. The end of Helen's IRCing days was near.

Dabas, Helen and Skeve starting the channel
Sydney Harbour Bridge
22nd Oct 1993.

Helen was going to Sydney one weekend in October 1993, and so Dabas (with beard) and his friend Skeve (with cap) arranged to meet her for lunch along the Sydney Harbour foreshore. A photo from that amazing meeting survives, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge hovering overhead.

It was a hot day, and by the end of the second icy beer, Heloise was telling them all the problems about #Israel. Dabas asked why Heloise didn't she start her own channel, but that seemed about as likely as flying to the moon. He very patiently explained that he could do the technical stuff if Heloise could establish and emphasise the ground rules for new members: no racism, no anti Semitism, no sexism and no adolescents. A channel that would maintain the Israeli connections and Australian values.

As they had hoped in #Israel, the discussions would be expanded to topics mature adults were interested in eg travel, music, literature, philosophy, world politics, family relationships and even sport. Op wars and kick bans would become a mere nightmare from the past.

They had never formally talked about starting a new channel before, but they were fairly confident that all the Anglo Saxon, academic, middle aged friends from #Israel would want to join them. Dabas, Winky, Academy, Muet and Heloise were all over 40, all Jewish and were all academics, so the channel might be called #40academic or #40marriedwithchildren or #40Jewish.

When Heloise logged on that night in the Sydney hotel room, Dabas frant­ically messaged her: "Come into #30plus: I HAVE CAPTURED A REAL LIVE CHANNEL MEMBER". This poor person was a man called Runaway whose wife had left home and had taken their three children with her. He just wanted some supportive adult company during his time of crisis. And so #30plus was born, the name being suggested by Skeve as more inclusive and less exclusive than #40academic.

Neither of them knew what they were doing. They thought a] permission was needed to open a new channel - from Finland, the home of IRC probably; and b] they needed to keep complete records of all people using the new channel. They did not even know how to keep the channel open 24 hours a day, so took it in 8 hour shifts to be there, around the clock. It was a very steep learning curve.

During those first days, me3, pdq, joshtree, bigjoe, toots, gazza, sirlunar, dugip, zurbaran, amarin, sna, tinytim, ruach, edu, drKB, kimba, shor, beamer, fuzed, friskykid, capt-peril, oldbear, panache, nurse, redgum, sulu, kate, lone, bish, hotsailor, flaccus, thalia, mfp, melsy, cty, fauna, peppr and others came into the channel, and stayed. Bless their hearts. Joshtree in Finland set up the twin bots, Castor and Pollux, so that Dabas and Heloise could finally get some sleep again.

The biggest reunion weekend
when 48 channel regulars met in Washington DC in 1994

The channel name started to appear, in computer magazines and books, as an interesting and non violent place to be. Dabas and Heloise were interviewed by journalists in Australia and elsewhere, and people popped in to say "I saw you in Article X and thought I would see what was happening". Lisabee, nutnhoney, daisee, rossma, birdbrain, prism, belladona, annette and others joined by late 1993.

There was some debate about when the first organised meetings of #30plus members took place. Since the channel was Australian based, the Australians had hoped the first channel reunion was here. But can be discovered from the early reunion photos, the first was in Boston (Jan 1994) and the second was in Canberra (April 1994).

It was understood from the beginning that the channel was really only available to Anglophones or people who could type and read English in a very busy channel. As it turns out, two thirds of the channel regulars live in the USA, while the others are mainly Australasian, British, South African and Canadian. Channel members are full of admiration for the Israelis and Europeans who use English as their second, or even third language. They add a breadth to the channel that would have been otherwise missing.

So language skills are critical to IRC. One of the early collective tasks of this new, adult-friendly channel was to collect lists of peoples' favourite books. People took hours and hours, going along their library shelves, reminding themselves of books they hadn't read since the 1960s. Not surpris­ingly the lists were diverse, es­ot­eric sometimes, but always fas­cin­ating. The level of convers­ation and of email letters was very high, and although those halcyon days could not, and did not last, they set a standard that the channel has hoped for, ever since.

Life was never going to be quite the same again. Pdq suggested nom­inating Dabas and Helen for the Nobel Peace Prize, given that they had revolutionised IRC and made it a pleasant place for adults to be. Australia had produced yet another really worthwhile contribution.

Helen Webberley,

Three significant events at the end of 2018 have changed #30plus, at least as far as the channel was originally designed. Firstly the Australian Trade Mark Registration ended in August 2018 and was not extended. The channel will no longer have intellectual property protection. Secondly #30plus started on 22/10/1993 and is thus celebrating its 25th birthday. While this is an unbelievable achievement in the mirc world, a new generation of channel members will be taking over; the older members will be be spending their spare time looking for retirement villages to move into. Thirdly Helen will be retiring from lecturing at the end of the 2018 academic year and will no longer benefit from tax deductibility and printing costs being met. The channel will of course continue.

21 November 2008

My reading habits in 2006

In March 2006, the Australian Jewish News published a column on my reading habits.

I am a lecturer in history and art history

On my bedside table:
A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz. After having read the book, I wanted to marry Oz and have his babies. His childhood and adolescence were depicted with love and great care.

A great recent read:
Love Me by Garrison Keillor. He travelled between his Midwest home and New York for another novel of midlife crisis, unstable sexual relationships, writers’ block and survival

A favourite from childhood:
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. My parents couldn’t buy enough Anne novels: I wanted to be that red-haired, high-spirited girl who lived on a farm in Canada’s least known province.

Two books that changed me:
The Women’s Room by Marilyn French. It is a gentle, feminist commentary about a woman’s emotional world that went silently amiss. So silently, the heroine almost missed it.

Jewish Women and Their Salons by Bilski and Braun radically changed the way I think about Berlin, the 19th century and powerful, intellectual Jewish women. The images are magnificent.

My favourite Bible story:
Queen Esther. The book’s feminism is ambivalent, but it still outshines all the other Biblical stories.

The Blue Mountain, by Meir Shalev. Published 1991

For a long plane trip:
Any novel by David Lodge, especially Nice Work. His writing is so lush, I forget the 25 sweaty, prickly, boring, smelly hours to London, cooped up in a flying sardine can. His novels Changing Places and Small World would also do the trick.

Where I like to read:
In the bath, along with aromatherapy, good coffee and no interruptions.

A Jewish book that speaks to me:
The Pity of It All: History of German Jews by Amos Elon was one of the best books EVER written on Jewish cultural history. I don’t need to avoid Salo Baron’s lachrymose versions of Jewish history; I just need uplifting.

A book I’ve always meant to read:
The Cultural Front by Michael Denning. A reassessment of the American culture that grew out of the labour movement, socialism, the Depression and Jewish migrants

Two all time favourites:
In The Blue Mountain by Meir Shalev, the relationships between a group of Russian pioneers powerfully influenced their children and grandchildren. The experiences of pre-1948 Israel, written richly, were highly evocative.

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach was also brilliant. A slim novel set in 1630s Amsterdam, it is about risk, art, illusion, tulips and love - my favourite subject