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Barbara The Ambassadress

Barbara with her ESRA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012

To meet Barbara Blum is to want to get to know her better - and the more you know the more there is to learn about this fascinating lady. That has got nothing to do with the fact that she is a nonagenarian and everything to do with the fact that she has made every day of her life meaningful and full. She has followed her dreams and acquired a worldly wisdom. She has immersed herself in crafts that interest her: gardening, painting, beading, rug work, stained glass and more. She has walked through every door of opportunity that has opened for her and to top it all, she has a wonderful sense of humor.

Life for Barbara has been an international adventure, taking her from her roots in England to years spent in Hong Kong, to aliyah to Israel and many overseas visits in between. There is a thread that connects all her adventures: one of creative interest and a generosity of social spirit and empathy that is clear as soon as you meet with her.

Barbara's name is familiar to many of us through her musical programs which she has generously shared with ESRA audiences over her years of research and hard work .She has created hours of entertainment for us by regaling interesting snippets from the lives of the artists that she shares with her audiences. I hope to do the same in sharing with you some random anecdotes from her life that I enjoyed when we met for a valuable morning of relaxing chatter and memories. I find Barbara unique. She is so quick off the mark with repartee - many times quite risqué - and always refreshing.

Overtaking all other positive facets of her personality is Barbara's great sense of humor. A small example: when I asked her about her siblings, she told me that she was one of three girls in their family, "the sandwich," she said, "not old enough for the privileges, or young enough for the love and care." When speaking of her schooling, Barbara said: "I attended a co-educational elementary school until the age of 11, and then just when things started getting interesting I was whisked away, removed from the opposite sex, and whipped off to a girls' school."

It must have been at this elementary school on the very first day of class that another of Barbara's snippets is recalled. The teacher came into the class where the first graders were seated, waiting for instructions. "Right", she said, "will all the Jewish children please stand up," and they did and she led them off for Jewish prayers. She came back into the class.

"Right, now will all the Christian children stand up," and they did too. She looked at Barbara sitting alone at the desk. "And Barbara, what about you?" " Please miss, I am a sheina Yiddishe meidel."

She was 14 when war broke out. The schools in London were relocated to the countryside for safety. She found herself at a top religious Church of England school with only four other Jewish girls - all relocated. The headmistress of the school was a very intelligent woman. She had one of the teachers learn the Shema phonetically and the Jewish girls had their separate prayer session daily. One occasion that Barbara recalls was when the class was chastised for some prank and the headmistress asked that the girls be sent to her office one by one. It was very frightening waiting your turn, but it was not to be avoided and in due course it was Barbara's turn to enter the formidable office. She learnt a lesson there that has guided her whole life. The headmistress addressed her: "You know, Barbara, you are a Jewish girl - the way you behave will reflect on all the Jewish people. You must regard yourself as an ambassadress for the Jews." She has never forgotten the wisdom of that lesson. And she has never forgotten that headmistress's name - Dorothy Frances Chatham Strode.

When Barbara was a little girl, she found great excitement in winding up the gramophone to listen to the records on the turntable. She used to search inside the speaker, looking for the little men that she was convinced were there. What a far way she has travelled since then, in tandem with modern technology, recording and taping and splicing and presenting her engrossing musical presentations for all our enjoyment

Her father fostered a love of the garden in his daughter. It was a family treat to accompany him over the weekend to the Shoreditch market when they would, in season, purchase half a box of pansy plants which would be lovingly planted in the small garden of the family's modest home, watered, nurtured and closely observed until reaching maturity. Today, many decades later, one can find Barbara at the end of winter lovingly pruning the rose creepers in the garden of the ESRA offices in Gan Rashel, with the pleasure of seeing them bloom so much brighter a few months later thanks to her care. She has acquired a garden room at Beth Protea, a retirement home, which allows her the advantage of being able to nurture her own little garden on the deck outside her apartment.

Barbara delights in telling the tale of her illustrious great-uncle, her grandmother's brother, Joseph Grizzard, a notorious thief. He had the distinction of having a book written about him which Barbara has in her possession. He once stole the most expensive pearl necklace while it was en route from Paris to London, in a heist that he masterminded with his gang of thieves. The police had great trouble finding any of the precious, genuine pearls of this necklace. The insurance company offered a tremendous reward for anyone guiding them to the jewels. By the time a few of these precious pearls surfaced some years later, Mitsubishi had learnt how to produce cultured pearls, and the value of the originals had dropped considerably. One of Joseph's stories which featured in the book was of a visit by the police one evening to his home to search for the necklace. He was having a dinner party at the time but he greeted the police amiably and told them they were welcome to search the house, which they did, finding nothing. They said goodnight to Mr Grizzard, who saw them out. He returned to the dining room to his guests and fish out the missing necklace from between the lokshen in his soup plate!

It was Barbara's husband, Sid, who persuaded the family to come to Israel. After the 1967 war he declared: "For 2000 years we have been praying for our country. Now we have got it, in my lifetime, that is the miracle - and we are going to look after it."

"Who?" asked Barbara.

"Us and the boys," said Sid.

And so they planned their move and arrived in Israel in 1971 with their four young sons, in time for the Yom Kippur war. They stayed for three years and loved Israel, but it was a very difficult time for them. They returned to England, determined to go back to Israel when they had both retired. Barbara was a successful dentist and Sid a pharmacist who owned a number of pharmacies in London. The family lived in a beautiful home in Hampstead Garden Suburb.

There is the tale of their pet dog, Charlie. He often wandered onto the Heath for a ramble. A sociable animal, he befriended the hikers and adventurers on the Heath and often attached himself to one or other of them. On occasion, one of his new casual friends, thinking him abandoned, would take him to the nearby police station, seeking his owner. And the family would get a call to fetch Charlie. How to solve this problem? They had a disc printed which they attached to his collar, stating: "My name is Charlie - and I do know my way home"..

Sid was a freemason in London and in due course he took his chance to be "the Worshipful Master". During his tenure there was the usual Ladies' Night - the only time that ladies were invited to join the men. It is a night when the Worshipful Master and his lady are honored. There were 400 couples who were guests at the dinner that night at the Grosvenor Hotel. Barbara was the `lady' of the evening and was due to make a speech after being presented with the customary gift after dinner. She had prepared for months for this occasion, which terrified her. She had gone for public-speaking classes and had carefully chosen an elegant ensemble to wear for the occasion. She was so nervous she could hardly eat the food before her. The time came for her to accept the gift - a gorgeous blue pearl necklace - and to acknowledge the few words of appreciation addressed to her. As she leant forward for the necklace to be fastened around her neck, the world collapsed for Barbara when she fainted outright right across the main table. There was a deathly, stunned silence. She recovered immediately, highly embarrassed, but she presented her thank you speech with aplomb. She has a wry grin these days when she looks at the photo of her spread across the main table on that auspicious occasion. Barbara confesses that she is nervous at every performance she gives us of her musical presentations - it is just part of her nature.

The years passed and in due course Barbara was offered the opportunity to relocate to Hong Kong to assist with the establishment of a dental faculty at the university there. Sid had retired by then and thought it a splendid idea for them all. They were there for five very interesting years. She was appointed senior clinical dental surgeon to the newly-established Prince Philip Dental Hospital, a position she gave up only on her compulsory retirement.

The time had come to fulfill their intentions of living in Israel. Sid moved with them but sadly, died shortly afterwards in London en route back from a trip to America. The family lived and worked in Jerusalem for many years. They made friends who often got together to play music and to converse. When, some years later, Barbara relocated to Herzliya, she got roped into the start of a musical appreciation group through ESRA, volunteering to present the first evening to interested members on the understanding that each one on the committee would follow suit. Her presentation of Felix Mendelssohn attracted seventeen people and it was so enthusiastically received that she was chosen to be the presenter of the program forthwith - and that was the beginning of her magical presentations. We look forward to many more musical adventures with Barbara. It is her generous spirit that allows her to share her joy of music and research with interested audiences and to support ESRA and Israel in this way. She refuses any personal remuneration for her performances. She is fiercely independent and to date drives everywhere herself. She has presented her concerts all over - from Binyamina in the North to Eilat in the South, not forgetting Rehovot, Modiin and Jerusalem - wherever she is invited she goes. Her satisfaction comes from the knowledge that her research has opened up for her. It has introduced her to so many different worlds and to interesting performers of the past, as well as to many new friends. A few years ago, ESRA honored her with a special award for her contributions and loyalty to their amazing efforts. She was a popular choice of recipient and so deserving of this special honor.

Barbara has also written numerous articles on musicians, singers and composers, which have been published in this magazine. You can read them online:

Barbara has moved on to another chapter of her life by relocating to Beth Protea. Her cozy home allows space for all her interests. The walls are bedecked with her handwork; music fills the air around her and she rejoices in its glory. Her life is reflected in her surroundings, which include interesting pieces of ornate Chinese furniture and art. Her private garden is her very special joy.

She sees the success of her life in the fact that her sons are very concerned about her and very close and supportive of each other, and there are a number of loving grandchildren around - and all in Israel. Barbara feels very blessed. As for us, her many friends and enthusiastic followers, we, too, feel blessed at having Barbara in our lives. 



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Thursday, 29 February 2024

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