Rockets in your back garden (Part 1 of 2)
By Simon Barget
He was one of those corpulent Manchester Jews; stern but jocular. Stern in the way he employed his truculent figure to pursue his needs as if they were naturally more important than those of his fellow countrymen, the unchosen many, and certainly anyone of lesser body mass, (after all wasn’t this the greatest boon of the obese?) Jocular, in that in light of this imposing attitude, he felt an ineluctable impulse to outmanoeuvre the ever-hanging label of overbearing Semite, by way of factitious sarcasm. This was effected with a smile of overcooked conceit, a wrenching of the face, where he would crease up the loose folds of skin around his eyes, and attempt a winning gleam, which promised success only for those not perceptive enough to know better i.e. clients from his erstwhile accountancy practice. He aspired to eloquence but often stumbled over his words and despite his shortly cropped beard he was unkempt and slovenly. He had the affliction of a goodly number of portly Jewish men; bulbous, bloody moist lips, almost blue in parts; swollen puffed-out thrombosis lips that looked ready to burst at any slight paroxysm of rage.
He lived in south Manchester where he’d grown up, and felt startlingly comfortable in Heathfields, his ultra-modern five-bedroom house, with its two lounges, brass light fittings, integrated multi-room sound system and sybaritic cream carpet, so thick and lush that it left discernible footprints. His comfort was all-embracing. Rarely was there a man who felt such a sense of homely bliss, rarely a man who felt so untouchable in his own home, free from threats either physical or aspersions cast by the chattering Manchester Jewish middle-classes.
There was one detraction. The house hugged the end of the close, claiming to occupy two plots with its expansive frontage, but when they bought it, it was eclipsed at the rear by the 14th and 15th holes of their suburban golf course, so that the whole plot was effectively funnel-shaped. Without this drawback, it would have been a magnificent affair, but with it, it seemed not quite right, disfigured, so that it left Leveson with a creeping sense of incompletion.
He put up with it for two years. He measured it one day with a measuring wheel at a miserly 800 square foot in all, abutting the 100 foot at the back of the house but running up to a small gate and a green wire fence just footsteps from the patio doors of the main lounge. Beyond this fence was a small clearing cleaved by a path which wound its way to one of the greenside bunkers of the par 5 14th. So Leveson decided to do something; since when something wasn’t right, he fixed it. He proposed an arrangement to remove the fence seeking to create the impression that the garden was three times its actual size, since the clearing was about twice the size of the existing garden. After protracted correspondence, the Management Committee conceded on the proviso that the four fence posts remain, that Leveson sign a waiver preventing him from claiming from the club for any damage to his property howsoever caused and, of course, pay a one-off sum of £10,000. The land didn’t become his, but he was free to use it as a licensee. During the process, the club emphasised security but Leveson was nonchalant that no one would bother wandering in to his garden from a sedate golf course, whereupon the club secretary pointed out there had been some trouble over the years. It fell on deaf ears; he had decided what he wanted so anything that could possibly jeopardise this was ignored.
In less than two months, the restrictive wire fence was banished and the Leveson’s back garden was an entire golf course. He revelled in the view from his office window. Yes, it was partly blocked by huge trees, but he looked down upon the newly-acquired land as a nobleman surveying his estate. How magisterial a Manchester back garden could be in early autumn! How he almost felt a sense of awe as he cast his glance into the midst of the foliage where the play of shade against light concealed the ground but kept the russets and auburns of the dead oak leaves visible. Such an unquestioned right it was to have this place, this grand almost beatific view, and his home was now complete.
This state of grace didn’t last long. A year later Jacqui bought a greenhouse from Wickes which filled the entire pre-land-grab garden. From the window of his study, the apparition infiltrated his consciousness as a second thought, as a bearable itch; only moments later would real irritation set in. Why had she insisted on such a large greenhouse when there was no space for it? Why had he allowed it? Why had he acquiesced? Now it was there, she wouldn’t let it go. In any case, his tomatoes were inside -- he liked to monitor the growth of his tomatoes -- and he had become somewhat attached. So it stayed, at least for the time being.
Leveson loved Israel in the typically impeccable way that love is felt for something not yet completely familiar. He loved Eilat and the beach heat on Passover; he loved some of the food which seemed a natural development on the cooking that he was used to back home, particularly the wholesome falafel sandwiches generously coated with houmous and tahina. But it went far, far deeper than just food. He was politically and ideologically minded, and he was a big giver so his donations entitled him to stiff opinions. He stood firm that Israel’s right to protect itself was paramount and that whatever action was necessary should be taken. An imaginary interlocutor might have asked him about settlements. Building on disputed territory wasn’t an issue. It had belonged to Jordan and what had they done for the Palestinians? Had the Palestinians made any meaningful effort to achieve sovereignty? It was widely ignored that most abuses in the West Bank had been committed either by Hamas or the Palestinian Authority. I had never heard this one before. Did it not follow then that Israel’s military presence in the West Bank was a minor issue?
And then he would go on. Israel was the most welcoming place to Arabs; how were Jews treated in all the Arab states? Then back to the issue of sovereignty. He didn’t believe that Palestinians could broker or keep a lasting peace. Why? Because there were so many opposing factions and none were trustworthy. ‘How would you like rockets in your back garden?’ he would exclaim with the assurance of a statesman rousing a people to their country’s defence. In fairness, he knew some modern Jewish history; he had the important dates committed to memory, ready to fire them off at will. He could even have spoken a little about Churchill’s lone support for the state set against the widespread antipathy of the other politicians -- he’d read a little Martin Gilbert recently but he wasn’t usually this intellectually perspicacious. And to cap it all off, his thirty-eight year old daughter was living in a small settlement, married to a real Israeli with three Israeli kids. His personal commitment to the state had been proved.
It was also partly his orthodox upbringing and dedication to the religious core -- the laws, the traditions, to the received behaviour for a man of his religious standing -- which gave him the conviction that Israel was his personal issue and not just a distant relative. His parents had been religious and straying from the path had never crossed his mind. After formative years at Jewish primary and secondary schools, he went on to spend a year in Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He then returned to England to pursue his Business Administration degree at Manchester Polytechnic but still continued to observe the primary rituals such as donning the phylacteries in morning prayer every day except Sabbath and the festivals. He had a good voice and often read from the scroll in synagogue, in fact he still remembered large chunks of the more memorable Torah portions from Yeshiva study. He was also on the Board of Members. He kept kosher to a high degree of exigency; he ensured that all food that came into the house was certified as having been produced under stringent supervision. He was less particular when he was on holiday, but this wasn’t to say that he would eat unclean meat, it just meant that he would eat, under sufferance, at restaurants and coffee shops where food and the preparation thereof was unsupervised by the appropriate person. But there was no other option. He was not the most orthodox of the orthodox and nor was he claiming to be. He still wore his black skull-cap at all times without introspection. He resisted urges to take it off on holiday, although it didn’t seem entirely unreasonable to relax certain customs when one wasn’t in one’s usual domain. He honestly couldn’t remember whether he removed it once or twice on the odd occasion.