Mother Goose goes to Jerusalem
At the age of 93, retired professor Zvi Even-Paz decided to publish a children's book. And he is pleased about this.
"Mitamid Ume'az: Shirei Ima Avaza" (For Ever and Ever: Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes) is a delightful collection of poems for young children that Even-Paz has edited and translated. Naomi Geiger provided the delicately beautiful illustrations.
"'For ever and ever,' because these poems have always been there," he says in a marked British accent about the title he has chose. "I remember them from my childhood. I would recite them to my children at bedtime, and then to my grandchildren. I would translate as I read them."
He says that his family had been urging him for years to write them down in Hebrew, but until now - that is to say, the past 30 years - he just did not have the time. Even-Paz worked for many years as a dermatologist at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, some of the time at the leper hospital in the capital's German Colony, and quite simply did not have the leisure for nursery rhymes.
As everyone who grew up speaking English knows, the Mother Goose rhymes are an inalienable part of the culture and language, along with such classic fairy tales as "Little Red Riding Hood," "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty," which are also known as Mother Goose stories in English. The rhymes are folk songs that have been passed down from generation to generation, and even today many British children can recite them by heart, having having had them read aloud to them from infancy.
The name Mother Goose, and the origins of the rhymes and their authors are a mystery. What is known is that the first printed collection of them was published in the 17th century (though mentions of the rhymes and stories appear earlier). The title of the collection is attributed to a number of authors or anthologizers of rhymes and stories: various women with the surname of Goose who lived in England in the 17th century, as well as a woman named Elizabeth Goose from Boston in the British colony of Massachusetts.
Some of the rhymes are game chants - that is, rhymes that have associated hand gestures or clapping in accordance with the rhythm and rhyme, and others are songs whose melodies are well known. Their language value is considered to be high because of the rhyming and vocabulary, and they are therefore considered important for language development.
The Hebrew equivalents are ditties like "Ooga Ooga," which is like "Ring Around the Rosie" in that it involves singing while walking around in a circle and then sitting down, in accordance with the words, or poems by Fania Bergstein like "Parpar Nehmad" ("Nice Butterfly"), which is pantomimed along with the words. There are undoubtedly far fewer rhymes of this sort in Hebrew; a language that began to renew itself only a bit more than 100 years ago can't be expected to have accumulated a corpus of nursery rhymes that England or the U.S. have.
The uniqueness of this new anthology is that it presents the translation side by side with the original. Some of the rhymes are funny rhymes, whereas others are sarcastic and biting. Although the elegant verses survive the transition to Hebrew with honor, some of the beauty and the sharp wickedness does get lost. Nonetheless, we can be thankful that Even-Paz has not taken pity on innocent souls and has also included in the anthology rhymes in which there is a measure of cruelty, as well as some that could be considered "not educational," not to mention politically incorrect. For example, "There was an old woman,/ Who lived in a shoe; / She had so many children, / She didn't know what to do. / She gave them some broth, / Without any bread;/ She whipped them all soundly, /And sent them to bed," or "Georgie Porgie pudding and pie, / Kissed the girls and made them cry. / When the boys came out to play, / Georgie Porgie ran away." (In Hebrew, Georgie Porgie becomes Rafi Rafrafi.) Like Struwwelpeter, the 19th-century character invented by the German Heinrich Hoffmann, who became Yehoshua Parua here, and the Max and Moritz stories, which were also originally written in German but became classics of Hebrew children's literature (the former in a translation by Uriel Ofek and the latter in a series of translations by various hands beginning in 1898), these wild and sharp-tongued verses make one ponder just how much conventional wisdom has changed about children should and should not be allowed to hear and know.
Prof. Even-Paz lives on a quiet, winding street in a quiet neighborhood of Jerusalem lined with small, two-story houses. In conversation, he reveals himself to be a British gentleman with, of course, a dry sense of humor. We have tea in the Spartan living room of his ground-floor apartment, whose well-kept furniture has clearly not been replaced for many years. There is a large old-fashioned radio set in a wooden cabinet and the sofa is covered with handmade, crochet cushion covers. There are many books. A look at the library reveals almost only books with dark covers, most of them scientific and some of them written by Even-Paz himself. There is not a single children's book.
Even-Paz refers to lofty precedents when he is asked why he published the book. Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson), the author of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," was a professor of mathematics at Oxford, he says. Yet it would seem that for him the book that he has edited is very much a private work, a roots journey to the culture in which was raised.
Even-Paz was born in 1916 and grew up in Leeds, the son of immigrants from Poland and Russia who worked hard early on to earn a living, his father as a tailor, and mother as a button-sewer. However, by the time he, their seventh child, came into the world they had already established themselves and had opened cinemas in the city. Even-Paz relates that his father would read Mother Goose rhymes to him - his mother could not read English. He also learned the rhymes at school. By the time he was in high school the family already owned five cinemas where they screened Charlie Chaplin films and he would spend many hours watching the magic screen.
By the time Even-Paz was 17, he had begun to study medicine at the University of Leeds. It was when he completed his studies that the strand in his life that links the nursery rhymes and the professor began. In 1940, during World War II, Even-Paz was a member of the Halutz and Habonim labor Zionist movements. These established children's homes for Jewish children who had been sent away from the bombings in London to an area that was considered to be out of the reach of danger, the western edge of England. They were joined by a group of Kindertransport children from Nazi Germany whose parents had managed to smuggle them out at the very last minute. Even-Paz took part in establishing the homes and was the director of one in the small town of Exmouth in Devon.
At the age of 24, he was responsible for 50 children, ranging in age from 5 to 13. Influenced by the ideas of the renowned educator A. S. Neill, the father of progressive education - the founder of the Summerhill School that became a model of open education - Even-Paz created a children's society there based on democratic principles. "The children participated in decisions about the life of the school," he relates. "They organized a rotation of duties and divided among themselves the chores of cleaning and organizing the house."
During the day, the children attended the local school and in the evenings they put on plays and performances they had prepared. "His" children, most of whom immigrated to Israel, are in touch with him to this day, he relates. In 1943, Even-Paz enlisted in the British army and was posted to the Far East. At war's end, he returned to Leeds and joined a Habonim movement training farm that prepared its members for immigration to Palestine. His wife, whom he had married while he was still a soldier, was also a member of the movement. They immigrated together before the establishment of the state.
The couple were among the founders of Kibbutz Kfar Hanasi. Imbued with ideology, Even-Paz initially abandoned his profession and worked like any kibbutz member. It was only several years later that he went to do an internship at Hadassah, and began working as a doctor. In those years, he relates, he was the only dermatologist between Haifa and Tiberias. Several years later he felt a need to broaden his horizons, in medicine and in general, and moved to Jerusalem where he worked at Hadassah Hospital.
Even-Paz's wife passed away 11 years ago and since then he has been living alone with a foreign caregiver named Carmelita, who, he says, has become like family to him. A few years ago he stopped driving and he fills his life with books and words.
The work of editing the book was not simple. He decided that the translation would not be strict and he made stylistic choices in transferring sites and names to the Israeli experience. There were those who did not like the transformation. At one publishing house that considered bringing out the volume, they did not like these changes - for example his decision to change the destination of the pussycat in one of the rhymes from a visit to the queen in London to a visit to the President's Residence in Jerusalem - and in the end, he decided to publish the book himself.
Now, Even-Paz is thinking about a new book. At the same time, he has also returned to re-reading English literature for pleasure. The author he feels closest to, he says, is Jane Austen. Indeed from the heights of his lofty age he is discovering the new male inside him, as well as the child.