(Touching on Beckett, the Holocaust, the Irish dead of WWI, commemorating Ireland’s past, the Euro elections, the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land and a visit to Petra.)
If you were at the 10th Annual Tel Aviv University/Irish Embassy Samuel Beckett Lecture yesterday, I hope you enjoyed the evening and our conversations over refreshments afterwards. (If you were not, well there’s always next year.) I and my colleagues at the Embassy are delighted to continue this proud tradition, one began through the inspiration and commitment of the wonderful Professor Linda Ben-Zvi. I want to thank the Dean of the Arts Faculty Prof. Zvika Serper and Prof. Shulamith Lev-Aladgem, Chair, Dept. of Theatre Studies for their continued support.
As I noted in my welcoming remarks, Beckett is a central figure in Ireland and Israel but he is more favoured here I think than his mentor James Joyce. It is not too much of a guess to propose that this is because Beckett deals with catastrophe, stripping man’s condition down to its existential essence in response to the physical and moral ruins of WWII and the Holocaust.
Stripping art down to its essence was also the concern of Avigdor Arikha, a survivor of the Shoah and Beckett’s great friend in Paris for over four decades.
Our guest speaker was Alba Arkiha, Avignor’s daughter, who spoke eloquently and insightfully of her memories of the chiseled, blue-eyed man who regularly came to visit, to chat, to drink and to stay silent in company. Sam, as they called him, would become her godfather and occasional mentor, a benign even beatific figure in a noisy household that brimmed with art, literature and conversation from its many creative guests.
Alba’s memoir Major/Minor assembles her memories; what gives the book its beauty is the kaleidoscopic recall, poetically expressed, of someone making sense of life and of those around her, lived in Paris but threading through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, New York and London. I want to thank Alba for making the trip here and hope that she will be back for a future Beckett event.
As you know, I occasionally collect links from my Twitter account that collectively turn out to be less random that I think when I post them.
Three items regarding the Holocaust caught my eye.
The first was a paradoxically sobering and inspiring report on new avenues to catch and convict guards involved at the death camps even at this late hour; http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/10/opinion/germanys-pursuit-of-death-camp-guards.html
The second was simply inspiring, recounting the brave actions of one British man who saved 669 children while so many others stood idly by:
Third was a BBC story of the poignant and nightmarish voyage of the SS St Louis as it vainly criss-crossed the Atlantic in May 1939 with 900 hundred Jews fleeing the Nazis: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27373131
In terms of Ireland’s own human catastrophe, the Great Irish Famine, I tweeted a link to this article under the rubric ‘remembering one million dead’;http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/kenny-speaks-of-painful-slow-famine-deaths-1.1791348#.U2_iwkkwgkQ.twitter
Still on the subject of remembrance, the Irish Independent reported on the number of Irish who died in WWI;http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/world-war-1/ireland-during-world-war-1-the-facts-figures-30249108.html The magnitude of the losses were startling for such a small country at 49,000; counties Dublin and Antrim recorded the most fatalities with more than 10,000 between them.
These loses more than validate the recent respect accorded to their memory in Ireland, including at Glasnevin Cemetery and a RTE report covers developments there http://www.rte.ie/news/player/2014/0527/20586443-glasnevin-cemetery-honouring-the-irish-who-died-in-both-world-wars/#search=true&query=war&page=2
I tweeted a very interesting speech by my colleague, our Ambassador in London Dan Mulhall, on the subject of commemorating the past here https://www.dfa.ie/irish-embassy/great-britain/news-and-events/2014/ambassador-mulhall-lecture-liverpool-university/
More contemporaneously, good news from Ireland included the fact that our debt rating has been upgraded by two notches, reflecting our economy’s growth and I think a growing confidence that the Euro crisis is passing, even if structural issues still remain unresolved such as the overhang of bank debts imposed on unsuspecting taxpayers: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-27450300
Ireland as you know recently held local and European elections, as well as a number of by-elections. There has been extensive news coverage of the elections to the European parliament, notably for the results in a number of countries that showed a surge in Euro-critical, Euro-sceptical and frankly plainly right wing parties in some instances.
This has led to much scratching of heads in Euro-circles in Brussels and in capitals. The message from the Irish Government was that while we have performed exceptionally well in overcoming our financial crisis, and our economy has improved in terms of growth and employment, there is too much of a disconnect between the macro-economic picture of recovery and what ordinary people, who have borne the brunt of austerity most directly, feel in their household income and prospects.
You will be lost for choice in the coverage but I would recommend this link which I tweeted, a column by the NYT’s Roger Cohen that draws its inspiration from an unlikely source;
Closer to home, I tweeted some quotes and pictures from President Peres’ reception for the Diplomatic Community in honour of the visit of Pope Francis. Thanks to my front row perch I managed this picture pic.twitter.com/n27m2HH2Nc .
President Peres affirmed the Pontiff’s message saying that “I believe that your visit and call for peace will echo through the region and contribute to revitalizing the efforts to complete the peace process between us and the Palestinians, based on two states living in peace. A Jewish state – Israel. And an Arab state- Palestine.”
In his remarks, Pope Francis underlined the need for peace and its widespread benefits; the Pope said he prayed daily for peace, security, prosperity and fraternity, above all fraternity, the most beautiful of all. “I renew my plea for all parties not to do anything against their pleas for peace and a true settlement.”
Overall, I think it is fair to say that the Pope’s visit to the Holy Land touched all the vital reference points on both sides while delivering firm encouragement to resume the search for peace in a conflict that has universal relevance.
Finally, the visit of a friend occasioned a trip to Petra. I could not resist a blog on this fascinating place and its history;
After a long day trotting around the site, up and down its stone-hewn steps and across its sandy avenues, we were footsore but thrilled to have got a sense of this justly famous site.