When Pennies had a Hole in the Centre

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When Pennies Had a Hole in the Center

Last Free on: 29th Apr 15
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...Entertaining and educational, this first hand account of growing up in Palestina (now Israel) before the second world war is not just a useful resource it is a fascinating read....

As a history buff I found this fascinating, with an insight into a completely different culture and time. While the time frame jumps around and can be hard to follow, this less the story of one person’s life than a portrait of a now-vanished time before the Second World War and the founding of Israel.

Memories of growing up in what would become Israel before it became Israel: a cultural melting pot with influences from Russian, Germany, Morocco, France and more. In his younger days he recalls trading with their Arab neighbours in the settlements, farm work and schooling in a place where there might be only one child of the right age in a year. New technologies had dramatic effects on life – the combine harvester, doing work in just a few days that previously took the thresher months, a singer sewing machine matching patching clothes far more easily. There are many contrasts between modern life and then which the author details, not just technology but language and manners. While the views on gender and other attitudes are somewhat old-fashioned, the author does challenge certain beliefs that the time was idyllic, mentioning crimes and even murder occurring between settlers. It was a harsh time to grow up.

The last quarter covers the period of the second world war and the unrest between Arab and Jewish communities. Gunfire into the settlement, and buses pelted with stones by the same communities they had grown up travelling through. The good relations between Jews and Arabs sundering as even those with good relations moved out of the area to avoid being caught in the war. The British Mandate that governed the area at the time does not come off well. To modern eyes it is easy to see why there was resentment – banning publications, and failing to resolve tensions between groups that were likely to erupt into violence, even arming one side or the other.

It focuses on the local story and events, not the country-wide or international ones. Both sides are treated pretty even-handedly and when the conflict erupts  the style is very factual when it retells those events. While there is an issue of bias in its retelling of history, this is a personal memoir so it is expected.

While this book could be read for entertainment, and several of the anecdotes are funny, its real value is educational. This is a first hand account of day-to-day life in those times, the good and the bad, and as such it is a valuable resource for historians, or anyone who simply wants to know more about life in the Middle East before the Second World War. Translated from Yiddish, some of the phrases are a little unusual, but the author’s meaning comes across clearly. The translator has used American English, but there are no notable typos or spelling errors, and the formatting is clear.

Entertaining and educational, this first hand account of growing up in Palestina (now Israel) before the second world war is not just a useful resource it is a very good book. History readers, and anyone with an interest in the period should look this up.

Rating 4.

Rating: 4
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