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Two Tales from Troubled Times
by Andrew Lee-Hart





Dear Ben


I am writing to you even though I have no idea of your address. Hopefully, somehow it will reach you, wherever you are.


I don’t remember ever writing to you before. Our marriage happened so quickly after we met that there was no opportunity for letters, and then once we were married we were rarely apart, so there was no need. After you left me, I was so full of grief that I could not write or do anything. So, this is my first letter to you, when I am in my seventies and letters have become as obsolete as our love.


When I got up this morning I realised that it is the third anniversary of Miriam’s death, so I wanted to wish you well and say how sorry I am.  What is the Jewish thing you say? “I wish you long life.”  Although it is not really appropriate. I was there at the funeral. I wonder if you knew. I stood with the others, in that windy cemetery, as we said something in Hebrew, and various people talked about her life; her kindness and her honesty….which could be quite brutal, as we both know, but at least she accepted me, your little shiksa, which many of your relatives didn’t.


You may not know but your mother and I continued to meet up after you left. I have many fond memories of eating out in Sheffield, in her favourite Greek café, or walking along the canal, arm in arm. She told me more about the past than she (or you for that matter) had ever previously told me. Her fleeing Germany alone at the last minute, and her few memories of her parents; fragments that were disappearing fast. Towards the end of her life she tried to do a family tree, she even wanted to go back to Koln to see if you could find where she had lived as a small child, but then she became ill and couldn’t. Perhaps it was for the best.


I am glad your mother isn’t alive to see the news of the pogroms in Israel. Few things upset her; she seemed to feel that she had seen that the worst humanity could do, but I think that this would have broken her heart. I thought of you and her when I heard about it on the News, and almost rang you, but then I realised that I couldn’t. That I had nowhere to ring….how I miss you sometimes.


Anyway Ben, here ends my first letter to you. I often think of you and of Miriam, particularly during this scary time.


Love (whether you want it or not) from Christine




Dear Ben


I realise that it is too late to be sending letters to you, but I need to talk, and really there is nobody who understands and sympathises. I could ring Aaron I suppose but I don’t want to upset him, and I might get that awful wife of his, with her self-absorption and stupidity. And anyway, I feel so apart from both of them these days, with their liberal virtues and their Amnesty subscriptions. If only I had your tolerance, or was it your lack of interest?


Perhaps it is trivial, with what has gone on and is continuing to go on in the Middle East, but I am frightened.  It happened three days ago, and I have not left the house since; my windows are closed and the curtains drawn, and I cannot even answer the telephone. Once I have written this I will try to go out and post it, but I doubt that I will have the courage.


I was in Sheffield on Sunday afternoon; driving through the city, although my doctor tells me that I shouldn’t drive anymore, that I could cause an accident, but I never did like walking, and so long as I am careful… anyway I never did as I was told, even as a child and I am not going to start now.


But anyway as I headed towards that cheap car park I always use, there were hordes of people in the centre, marching with banners and flags. At first I thought that there was a football match on, (remember when we used to host FA Cup semi-finals, and you would stop the car and ask someone who had won). It was similar, with chanting and that camaraderie that you often get amongst young men. And then I noticed that many of them had their faces covered, as if they had something to be scared of, and the flags were red, green, white and black, and that the banners were all about Gaza and Israel, not United or Wednesday.


Cars were slowing down as they tried to avoid the marchers who had spilt into the road, and then I realised that the protesters (or celebrators) were stopping cars; banging on windows and roofs. I was frightened, very frightened for a moment. And I desperately wanted to reverse out of there. But there was a car just behind me as well as one just in front, and if I tried swerve out of there, I would end up on the pavement and probably kill somebody.


And then they engulfed my car, and someone knocked hard on my window. Where were the police? Or ordinary people doing their shopping? There were bodies all around me, hemming my car in, and I felt suffocated, couldn’t breathe. The man who was knocking signalled me to lower my window, and when I did nothing, he started to hit it harder and harder, so that I was scared it would break.


I wound it down, and a bucket was thrust in my direction, and a young man in a mask and with a Yorkshire accent demanded money “for Palestine”. I tried to pretend that I was a teacher again with an unruly pupil.

“No thank you” I quaked, shaking with fear, and hoping it did not show.


He looked at me, and I could see hatred in his eyes.

“Why not? Haven’t you seen what the Israeli oppressors have done?”

I could smell the hatred and could not say anything.

“She is Jewish,” came a voice from beside him, and spit landed on my coat.

And then I thought of Miriam, and all she had suffered and all that her people had suffered and for a moment I felt her strength.

“Yes,” I told him, “I am Jewish, and I am going home.”


As the group around fell silent for a moment as if deciding how they were going to kill me, I realised that the car in front of me was driving away and that there was a side street just in front of me and to the left, so I put my foot down accelerated, away from the mob, my window still open. I heard shouting and somebody kicked the back of my car, but I kept driving and turned into the side road which fortunately led away from the centre, and then I kept going, ignoring red lights and pedestrian crossings, until I reached home, my shopping forgotten.


As I sat in the drive I cried and thought of you and of your mother, and I wished I could be with you. But you left me for G-d knows where and then so did Miriam, and I am on my own and I don’t even have anywhere to send this, but I will write it and put your name on the envelope, and post it, and hopefully – somehow it will get to you and you will read it and think of me, your widow.


Love from Christine.



a slightly shorter line



“The Sound of Marching Feet”


Every town and city has its history; Holy buildings built and then torn down, the shouts of the mob, bodies left unburied in the street and the rhythm of marching feet….


They thought her mad as they watched her march up and down in front of the Town Hall, as if a soldier on parade. Forty paces one way, perfectly paced and then back again, whilst those with nothing better to do gawped, or mocked her. One of Nottingham’s homeless, rather the worse for wear, tried to join in, and for a few moments, he marched behind her in parody, before giving up and slumping back down onto his sleeping bag.


She was dressed like a respectable grandmother or mother out for a shopping trip, with an M and S blouse and trousers and a sensible haircut, perfectly sane and normal, but for her legs and arms moving to a beat only she could hear and forcing shoppers to step out of the way to avoid those swinging arms.


“Can you hear them marching?” she asked the young policeman when he stopped her to see if she was okay. “They must be round the corner. I don’t know what they are protesting about, but I can hear them, the shouting and the drums.”

“What’s your name madam?” he asked.

“Mrs Goldsmith, Rachel.”

Close to she looked pale and thin, and he wondered when she had last eaten.

“There are no protests today, Rachel,” he told her, gently guiding her to a bench, his arm lightly touching her shoulder. “It is only Tuesday. There is something to do with Palestine again on Saturday, but nothing before then, they are still tidying up after the last one.”


“But I can hear them; they are getting louder and louder. Perhaps they are by the castle. I might head towards the Victoria Centre; I don’t want to get mixed up with them.”

He listened intently, almost despite himself, but there was no sound above the usual noise of buses and trams and the buzz of conversation. Perhaps he should call someone; a doctor or a social worker, but before he could make a decision, she seemed to make up her mind, got up, said “thank you” in a very polite voice and by the time he realised what she was doing, she was on a tram heading towards Beeston.

“Just an eccentric old lady, perhaps a little confused” he thought, whereas if she had been heading towards a less respectable part of Nottingham, he might have felt compelled to do something.


They found Rachel dead on Friday morning, she had only been left for half an hour as the two nurses on duty dealt with a panicking patient, but when they checked on her, she had stopped breathing, and her eyes were wide open in what looked like shock.

“She was screaming all night” said Nurse Smythe, “in the end we moved her into a side ward, because there was nothing we could do that would make her stop.”

“She looks frightened to death” Dr Aziz told her, “scared stiff. What was she shouting?”

“I couldn’t understand it. Some foreign language.”

“She came in with someone from that Jewish organisation,” Nurse Jackson told them, “JSOC or something, so she must be Jewish. Perhaps she was shouting in Yiddish, or whatever it is they speak. I was given a number to ring in case anything happened, I will let them know in a bit.”


“If she is Jewish, she will be loaded, not that she looks it,” Nurse Smythe said smiling.

“Probably got it hidden under her mattress,” Nurse Jackson responded, equally amused.

Doctor Aziz felt she should probably challenge such behaviour, and a year or two ago she would have done so but things had changed, and she thought it best to ignore the nurses. She looked at the body in front of her and sighed; she hoped that wherever she was now, she would be somewhere safer. And then after a moment she left, leaving Rachel to the tender mercies of the two nurses, whilst all around monitors beeped and old ladies cried out in confusion and fear.


“Rachel has gone.”

“I didn’t know she was ill; I knew she was a bit confused and not eating so well, but nothing more.”

“She collapsed at home, fortunately Bracha found her and took her into the City Hospital, but they found her dead in the morning.  Apparently she looked very peaceful; she died in her sleep. She was never the same since she got caught in those awful riots in London over the summer….”

“She was lucky to be alive, unlike those other poor souls….”


They sat silently for a moment, as they ate pasta.

“I saw David last night; he and Ruth are thinking of moving to Israel.”

“Didn’t he say the same thing two years ago after that other unrest?”

“Yes, but this time he seems more determined, and Ruth agrees. He is going to the embassy next week. Have you ever thought that we might…..”

“But this is our home.”

“I know, I know. But after what happened to the Rabbi and his children….”

“Don’t, please….”

“I am sorry. It is okay, it will be okay.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”


But that Saturday in Nottingham and in many cities throughout Europe and North America, there was the rhythm of marching feet, banners raised and everywhere the sound of breaking glass.




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