Mrs Hamlet’s Advice

Mr Hamlet Senior, formerly king of Denmark, has passed on. His son Hamlet Junior is sad, sulky, grumpy with Ophelia (who suicides), stabbish with Polonius lurking behind an arrass (who just happens to be Ophelia’s Dad, who dies incidentally of Hamlet’s stabbishness); obsessed, ruminative, haunted; angry, angryangry; refusing to be consoled, refusing to be reconciled.

His Mum, pragmatically re-queened to Hamlet’s uncle, offers some advice to  Hamlet Junior: ‘Tis common. Why seems it different with thee?

In other words, Get over it, son.

And in time we do. As a rule. ( If Hamlet fails to get over it’s because his uncle killed his Dad. And because Hamlet is, well, Hamlet.)


This week my sister and my surviving brother and I remember our father and our firstborn brother.  The anniversary of Dad’s death falls on the 13th day of the month of Ellul; Dennis died three years later, on Ellul 18.

Dad was 92, Dennis 63.

They died when they had to – Dad once his broken body began to break his iron will; Dennis, who lived for Mum, Dennis whose meaning was to be a son, Dennis constitutionally unable to live a motherless life. He died while Mum was alive. (Mum, most buoyant of my three lost ones, mourned Dennis, mourning lightly, living on, ever lightly.)


I think of them, all three. I wrestle with memories of the brother, he the first of his father’s strength, the brother who wrestled always with Dad. Two firstborn of firstborns, two men of fire who burned each other in their hot loving. I think of them, I remember their awful strife, I who knew, I who witnessed their mutual love, I, powerless to stop them hurting each other. Powerless in the end to stop the pain to myself.


I dream of them. The Dad dreams are never anything than pleasant. He smiles as we bump into each other in the lounge rooms of our lives. Dad prepares his enslaving coffee, I write, we smile, we know each other, we accept each other.

When I dream of Dennis the anxious need to rescue him clouds all. Not accepting, never reconciling to my brother’s pain, I strain against his self destruction. Aware always – in these dreams and when awake – aware of his love, his heavy tenderness towards me.

In my waking I recall Dad’s request, directed to me when I was twelve, Dennis fifteen: Some have a clear path in life. They are the lucky ones. You are one of those, one of the blessed. Your brother, your older brother, his path is not so easy. Help him, help Dennis when you can.

I tried, Dad. I never stopped trying.


The years pass.  ‘tis common. We get over it.


And yet, and yet, that Hamlet scene returns.

Hamlet’s Mum, Gertrude: “Thou knowest ‘tis common.

All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.”

Hamlet: “Ay Madam, ‘tis common.”

Gertrude: “If it be, why seems it so particular with thee?”

Hamlet: “I know not seems, Madam.”


I had a father. He passed through nature to eternity. I had an older brother, I lost him; I lost a limb. The phantom sensations do not end.


I write, a destiny. Until I have written the courageous, the impossible life of my brother, that hurt, hurting life, I will not earn dreamless rest.


Yitgadal ve’yitkaddash, shmei rabah.

Resting on a Hillside Near Jerusalem

A serious reader advised me today that he had decided to subscribe to this blog. Flattered, honoured, I dedicate this post to Jesse.

Our car flies down the highway, down the great hills from Jerusalem. Jerusalem, she is builded upon hills.
Beautiful city, too greatly beloved. O, beauteous vista, joy of all the earth.
The hills swoop down, around, down. Forests of green rise above us on our left, falling away beneath us on our right. These treetops are lower than we! Our car is an aeroplane.

Abruptly, we land. This is Beth Shemesh, House of the Sun, a town that might have tumbled off the edge of Jerusalem, falling halfway down, coming to rest on a hillside. For me, for my family, this is a town without shops, without noise or busyness, without time. We come here to visit the cemetery at Beth Shemesh.

This cemetery does not speak of sadness. Not a place of wrenching grief. A place of quiet, a place to feel the peace, to think and remember. In this place the dead lie beneath their uniform headstones, of cream – Jerusalem stone. No pretentious texts, no display: modest memorials only in the democracy of the dead.

Graves cluster on small levelled paved areas, discrete suburbs, each one looking over forest into the green and the blue. There are many of these minute suburbs, each out of sight of all the others. When you stand on one of these secreted spots, you cannot see or hear the world. The cemetery is called Beth Olamim, the house of eternity. A good place to spend eternity, especially if you like the countryside.

The narrow roadway within the cemetery climbs and twists. Spiralling up, up, our car stops above the small semi-circle of stone where Helen and Henry lie.

Helena emerged from Auschwitz, a great spirit within a pixie body, a witness to the worst, a stranger to hatred. Like an ancient mariner fired to teach us all, she lived to teach, to champion the forgotten and to fight racism.
Helena – to the end – formidable for the good.

Henry, previously a tall athlete and distinguished international jurist, weighed just six stone after Auschwitz. He never noised his role in the camps where his fellows elected him as their judge. He heard cases where the currency in dispute might be a crust of bread, quite literally death or life to the parties.

Engraved on the tables of stone in Hebrew text are brief epitomes of these people whom we knew and revered.
Helena Mann – “a branch plucked from the fire”, she revived the oppressed.
Henry Mann – “Justice, only Justice, shall you seek, that you may live.”

Their only son, a man now in his sixties, prays quietly at their gravesides. His wife lays a pebble of each of the graves. No haste, no noise as they honour two of the great, townspeople of eternity. Not lost, not forgotten.
Their son completes his unhurried praying.
He has not finished here. He spends patient minutes wiping away the dust that the wind has deposited on the graves. Every unwelcome speck removed, the son polishes with his sleeve the stones that guard his beloved ones.