For there is no eternal city
And there is no pity
And there is nothing underneath the sky
No rainbow and no guarantee –
There is no covenant between your God and me.
— James Fenton, ‘Jerusalem’
Alona Frankel is talking about ‘the most horrible event of my life’. A much-loved Israeli children’s writer, with a late-blooming career as an autobiographer, she survived the Lvov ghetto in Poland. One of a handful of Jews who escaped transportation to the death camps, Frankel came as a child to the new state in 1949. She sits, genial and youthful, in the conference hall at Mishkenot Sha’ananim just outside the old city of Jerusalem.
Here the postcard-perfect views run along the golden Ottoman walls from Mount Zion to the Jaffa Gate. Built with postwar West German funding (the hall carries the name of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer), the arts centre and writers’ retreat perches above the incongruous Victorian cottage-garden charm of Yemin Moshe. This suburb for local Jews was planted with the blessing of the Ottoman pasha outside the (then) squalid old city by the philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore in 1860. Suleiman the Magnificent’s walls and towers may stare at us from across the valley, but here it feels as if the Cotswolds have come to Judaea.