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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

An Interesting Discussion Among Authors On Twitter

This morning, curled up in bed, I took part in a discussion I wasn’t expecting. George Ivanoff, author of about 100 books for children, said innocently that during one of his Book Week sessions he had been praised by a child for his courage in admitting to still playing that out of date game Pokémon Go. It was a throwaway line about being old when you’re still playing something that was hugely popular only a few months ago, but it led to a complete change of subject when Gillian Polack, historian, teacher and author of a lot of fantasy fiction centred around middle-aged Jewish women like herself said that she had been complimented on her courage for admitting to being Jewish!

Oh, dear, said poor George.

And then the discussion was joined by Gili Bar-Hillel, a lady who recently translated(and published) Christina Rosetti’s poem Goblin Market into Hebrew(I’ve seen the cover, by the way. It looks gorgeous! If you can read any Hebrew, it looks worth getting. My Hebrew is limited, but I do know the poem and am tempted.) Gili said she had been asked, without any intended malice, by some idiot in the US how Jews managed to get a substitute for blood these days when making matzah for Passover! And Gillian replied that right here, in 21st century Canberra, our capital city, full of politicians and public servants, there were people who were refusing her offer of matzah because they were vegetarian! Gillian is a historian. She gives them a history lesson.

For those of you who are wondering what she was talking about, it goes back to the Middle Ages, when there was something called the Blood Libel. That was a ridiculous story that Jews kidnapped Christian children at Passover to use their blood for making matzah. Ridiculous or not, it got a lot of Jews murdered, and it persisted for centuries. Chaucer’s Prioress used it. There was a man in late Tsarist Russia who was arrested for doing it. His story was told in Bernard Malamud’s novel The Fixer. In it, the man protests that not only don’t Jews use any blood whatsoever but his wife would throw out even an egg with a blood spot on it, despite eggs being so expensive. I read that novel when I was in Year 12. They made a film of it with Alan Bates, which was M Rated, so my friend Harvey and I had to get my mother to come with us.

I wonder if these idiots realise that early Christians were accused of the same atrocity, due to the “body and blood of Christ” thing?

Anyway, back to the discussion. I admitted I hadn’t had much of this nonsense, with the possible exception of a devout Christian colleague asking me, while we were heading for town, if we still did animal sacrifices. I nearly fell off the tram laughing. She was terribly embarrassed. I asked her where she had got that idea and she said in the Bible. I suggested she find something more up to date to read...

I told my author friends that I’d worked in the very multicultural western suburbs of Melbourne, with a lot of Muslim kids who knew who and what I am, and got on just fine with them. Not once did any of them have a go at me for being Jewish. There were great kids among them and horrible ones, like any other kids, but any hassles I had with those ones were related to mucking around in the library or in class. I must have been the first Jew they had ever met, too. Some Arabic speakers asked me, “Miss, how do you say ‘Hi’ in your language?” and squealed with excitement when I told them. It was almost the same as in their language.

Gillian said that in Canberra there was not much of a Jewish community and most of them kept quiet about it. She, however, uses Jewish elements in her classes. She is getting rather fed up with the ignorance of some people who should know better.

I am beginning to be very glad that I turned down that job in The National Lubrary in Canberra.

We did get back to George’s original  comment, by the way. I told him that I suggested to any kids who told me my clothes were out of date that they woul$ laugh if I dressed like them - and that in my opinion, a good game would survive, and I bet that somewhere there is a Space Invaders app, which kids are playing!

I have to admit, though, I was cringing just a little when George leapt from the car  when we arrived at last year’s YABBA Awards and followed some Pokémon being only his app could see...


AJ Blythe said...

Being in Canberra, I will admit I don't think I know any local Jewish people, however, I don't actually care what people are so it's possible I do and don't realise. I do know the Jewish community here is growing and it looks like we'll be getting our first Jewish school next year (I think?). The thing about Canberra is we are such an incredibly diverse community, quite likely more so than Melbourne. At my kid's school of about 500 students last year, 35 difference nationalities and cultural backgrounds were represented (probably mostly thanks to the local embassies).

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi AJ! Well, Gillian’s point was that many Jews in Canberra don’t admit to it, so maybe you do. 🙂 She says that kosher food has only been available recently. Interesting to hear that the embassy kids are going to a regular school; usually there is an international school for kids who are from overseas delegations.