Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How Israel avoided its Grexit moment

30 years ago today, on June 30th 1985, Prime Minister Shimon Peres convened the Cabinet for a dramatic meeting. Israel had been living with monthly double-digit inflation for a number of years; now, less noticed by the populace but more dangerous, the money had run out. Within days the economy was expected to collapse. It was essentially the last possible moment to avert catastrophe. For weeks Labor PM Peres, and Likud Finance Minster Yitzchak Modai, had been overseeing the formulation of a complex package of measures, some of them quite harsh and most of them politically explosive or worse, and now the Cabinet was called to adopt them.

The meeting went on, almost unbroken, for 20 hours until the early morning of July 1st, at which point the ministers, most of them visibly exhausted, narrowly voted to adopt the plan.

On the anniversary of the event the Israel State Archives has declassified and published the transcript of the meeting (300-some pages). We have also put online recordings of some of the meeting, so you can hear the deliberations, not only read them. And we've asked two economic historians to write their impressions of the documents. If you know Hebrew it's worth your time to peruse some of this.

I've put all the links here.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Henryk Gorecki, Catholic

I don't write much on this blog anymore; when I do it tends to be about impersonal matters. Israel, books, stuff. This post is very personal, but it's important enough for to put somewhere.

Earlier today I stumbled upon a Youtube link to Henryk Gorecki's Symphony nr. 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs).

It is overpowering. Overwhelming.

While I think I've encountered parts of it in the past, this was the first time I ever listened to it. Now that I'm consciously aware of it, if it's ever played at a Jerusalem theater I won't go. Who could sit in a hall full of people and publicly listen to such a piece of music?  The danger of losing emotional control in the presence of all those strangers would be too great.

So I did a spot of googling, and came upon this website. And on the website I found this picture:

Where I grew up, Polish people were suspect of having been nasty to Jews. Crucifixes were not suspect, they were known with certainty to have been wielded with fury by pogromists or with hatred by inquisitionists. Poles with crucifixes were, at best, to be avoided.

That was half a century ago, but childhood rumours are generally more powerful and rooted than much of what we pick up later.

Yet listening to that soul-arresting music, looking at the Pole sitting in his room full of Catholicism was profoundly comforting. There's a connection between his religion and his soul and his ability to create music that touches my soul. In a world awash in rampant soulless secularism, arrogant ignorance, rabid relativism and all-conquering vacuity, here's a man who sat under a wall of crucifixes and achieved transcendent beauty which touches eternity.

Update: It turns out that Gorecki explicitly tied his symphony to the Polish history of the 20th century in general, but also to Auschwitz in particular; and that the three sorrowful songs are between a mother and her son and daughter, perishing in the maelstrom. Here's a recording of the symphony interspersed with takes of Gorecki himself, wearing a heavy homey sweater.