"How do you become a writer?" I am often asked by people who feel they have a book, play, collection of poetry in them, but have no idea how to get it out. Accompanying this question is often an underlying feeling of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, of having to prove that they can deliver the goods. Comparisons with successful published works crowd the mind and dwarf the would-be writer into utter insignificance.
Author and poet Miriam Halahmi, who will be running a workshop on writing fiction from memoirs at this year's Jewish Book Week, is no stranger to the challenge.
It was during the summer of 2005 that 21-year-old Pinner resident Jonny Fraser drowned while trying to save a friend. The active Reform Synagogue Youth member had completed his second year of a politics, philosophy and economics degree at Oxford University when he embarked on the three-week lone trip around India.
For 10 years I have been working on a biography of the Anglo-Jewish philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885). He was one of the first global celebrities. Jews and gentiles alike celebrated his centenary with such enthusiasm that the post office near his home in Rasmgate laid on extra staff to cope with the flood of letters and telegrams from all over the world.
He is the darling of the French tabloids. Long before the earthquake he was campaigning for aid for Haiti. He is part of France’s most unusual family business — which almost got him blown up by neo-Nazis. He is a member of the French, New York and California Bars, and also served in the Israeli army. He works for the French Prime Minister as an adviser and he is a friend of President Sarkozy.
Six years ago, a small club from Galilee won the Israeli State Cup. It was the equivalent of Wimbledon beating Liverpool in the FA Cup Final at Wembley — except more so, because B’nei Sakhnin were the first Arab club ever to achieve this kind of success in Israeli football, and in winning the cup, surviving in the country’s Premier division and representing Israel in the Uefa Cup in Europe, Sakhnin became a focal point and a source of pride for all Arab Israelis.
More than 4 decades ago, a 20-year-old student took a trip which changed his life. He spent two months in the United States in 1968, meeting some of the leading thinkers of American Jewry. That student was Jonathan Sacks, now the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, who recalls how his formative experience in the US was made possible by a travel grant awarded by B’nai B’rith UK.
When Jackie Benjamin gave birth to her first son 18 years ago, the last thing she expected was a descent into manic depression. “I felt elated and euphoric, and so keen to write down all the details of Alex’s birth I didn’t feel like sleeping,” says the Birmingham-based lawyer.
But gradually she became more and more fraught trying to breastfeed, while the lack of sleep made her “so tired, I thought I was going to die. No-one mentioned they thought I was going mad, but when a social worker called, I did wonder if they wanted to section me or take my child away.”
Vienna, 25 July 1947: Anton Sauerwald looked very haggard for a man of 44. His doctor, Karl Szekely, had written many times to the court to explain that his patient was suffering from tuberculosis and the proceedings should be delayed. Sauerwald had spent a month in hospital. However, Judge Schachermayr would have no more delays.
For most of the war Sauerwald had been an officer in the Luftwaffe, not a pilot but a technical expert. In March 1945 he was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp at Bad Heilbrunn run by the Americans, but in June he was released and returned to Vienna.
For his November trip to London, Dr Norman Rosenthal has packed a very important piece of bedside equipment with his shaving kit and toothbrush. It is the size of a paperback, but it is not a book or even an alarm clock — it’s a portable lightbox.
“I don’t go anywhere without it,” says the man who learned the hard way that he needed a daily turbo-infusion of wattage to get him through the winter. For Rosenthal is the man who discovered that diminishing daylight brings on SAD — the seasonal affective disorder which translates to one in five of us as winter blues.
He made his name as the effortlessly cool, self-assured Arthur Fonzarelli, so it is a surprise to discover that Henry Winkler never felt that confident in real life. Instead, the American-Jewish actor, who is most famous for his leather-clad role as the Fonz in the sitcom Happy Days, grew up feeling stupid and unhappy. Even his barmitzvah — memorable day though it was — did not go exactly as he would have wished.