Ruth puts a positive side of Israel in the picture


MANCHESTER-born Ruth Corman, who spends a great deal of her time in Israel, is a woman on a mission.

Ruth, whose coffee table book, Unexpected Israel, will be launched next week, explained: "About five years ago I became absolutely fed up to the back teeth with the way the British media dealt with Israel in a negative light.

"We all know there are problems, but a lot of the stuff is quite outrageous. I decided I wanted to do something to redress the balance.

"I thought of writing stories and producing a book that would show people the real Israel. I decided not to write anything about politics or religion. I wanted to show how Israel is an inclusive country that embraces lots of other groups."

Ruth (nee Daniels) reckons that she was a fervent Zionist even before she was born.

She said: "My mother, Jean Daniels, was a member of Prestwich Women's WIZO as far back as I can remember.

"All I remember about my childhood is my mother organising endless bazaars. We made endless fancy coat hangers and peg bags. I remember the house being filled with stuff waiting for the next bazaar.

"In the early days we also sent clothes to Israel. On several occasions I remember sitting outside my home in Sedgley Park Road, Prestwich, Manchester, selling my old comics and toys to raise money for Israel.

"I was probably only about four or five."

After attending Sedgley Park Primary and Stand Grammar schools, Ruth left Manchester for the north-east and then London before returning to her home city to become the first director of the British-Israel Chamber of Commerce, based in the city.

Five years later, Ruth who is passionate about photography and other art forms, was head-hunted to be the director of the London-based British Israel Arts Foundation.

She explained: "My work has always been somehow connected with Israel, even when I set up my own arts consultancy.

"Most of my interests are arts-based. I am a photographer and have had lots of exhibitions, both in the UK and Israel."

Besides her passion for photography, Ruth has always dabbled in writing.

She told me: "I have always scribbled. Whenever I went on holiday, I would write a diary about what we had seen and done and have taken photos for the last 40 years of everywhere I went."

Some of her scribblings became magazine articles. Her first book, Israel Through My Lens, came about almost by accident.

In 2004, she opened a newspaper to read that the girlfriend of renowned Israel photographer David Rubinger had been murdered in Jerusalem.

Ruth had known the photographer - whose iconic picture of three paratroopers at the Western Wall in 1967 had become the symbol for the Six-Day War victory - for many years since she had brought his photography exhibition to England for the 40th anniversary of the state.

The two photographers had remained in touch.

Ruth was horror stricken to read that Rubinger's girlfriend, Ziona Spivak, had been murdered by her Arab gardener, who had been trying to extort money from her. When she refused, he took a knife from her kitchen drawer and stabbed her with it.

Ruth told me: "David found her bleeding to death on the kitchen floor. I read about it and immediately got in touch and went to visit him. He told me he was doing a new exhibition and asked me to curate it.

"I replied that I would do anything he wanted. I would do anything for someone who had been through such a tragedy.

"As we were working on the exhibition, I asked him why he had never written his life story. He said that he couldn't write, only take photos."

Ruth wrote it for him. Published in 2008, Israel Through My Lens sold 15,000 copies.

Ruth's latest book, Unexpected Israel, which is published by Gefen, began as an online blog.

She said: "I was asked to set up a blog by an Israeli organisation to promote the country.

"I didn't know what a blog was. But it is now being read in 65 countries with 15,000 readers from all over the world, including quite a number from Muslim countries. Each month I get about 100 replies after every story, everyone positive.

"I don't believe the majority of people are anti-Jewish or anti-Israel. They are not very well informed. I'm trying to inform them subtly that Israel is a normal country with very interesting people."

In order to compile interesting stories for her blog, Jerusalem Post articles and now the book, Ruth travelled Israel for five years, from north to south, with guide Alon Galili.

Ruth said: "I told him I wanted to see things few people knew about. He knew every inch of the country."

The book contains 86 stories and 160 photos, all except aerial and archival ones, taken by Ruth, an Israeli citizen who travels six times a year and has a home in Jerusalem.

The stories accentuate Israel's diversity of population, as well as its natural features which Ruth intriguingly links in with their biblical roots and stories.

It describes characters like nonagenarian Ethiopian nun Tsegue Mariam, living in a Jerusalem convent, who is a musical genius - and for whom Ruth sang.

Some of the stories, too, have Manchester connections, many of them musical ones.

Ruth's late father, Victor Daniels, was a jazz saxophonist who played with some of the 1930s big bands, including Billy Cotton.

She writes: "When I was a child, dad would let me hold his musical instruments as I tried to get a sound out of them.

"Of course, as they were reed instruments, despite a lot of huffing and puffing on my part, I could not raise a toot."

Victor's two brothers were also professional musicians. Ruth's uncle Bert, after careers as a wrestler and RAF instructor, became a top session bass player, performing with Johnny Dankworth and at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club. Her uncle Ivor was a wartime artillery gunner who later won the Melody Maker guitarist of the year award.

With her musical background, it is no wonder that Ruth was attracted to the story of Jaffa wind instrument repairer par excellence, Ran Altitzer, which she writes about in the story, The Joy of Sax, knowing that it would have pleased her father.

So how musical is Ruth? She told me that her singing ability was only recognised at the ripe of age of 68.

She told me: "When I was 11, I wanted to join the Stand Grammar School choir, but they turned me down. I thought they were crazy.

"After that I never opened my mouth to sing until I was 68. I never listened to music, never went to concerts."

It was at a Rivers of Babylon concert she met Egyptian singer Camille Maalawy, who offered to teach her.

Ruth has now passed all the London Guildhall School of Music exams and is working for her performance certificate -which is why she was able to sing for Tsegue Mariam.

Ruth said about writing her book: "One of the special things was the privilege of meeting some very extraordinary people. I had a tremendous amount of joy visiting extraordinary places.

"I have had all the fun and I want to share it with others. I love Israel with a passion and am very proud that I'm an Israeli.

"I wanted to tell others about the beautiful things, the caring people and the way they relate to each other, the side of Israel that has never been seen in the media."

Ruth will launch Unexpected Israel at Manchester Jewish Book Week on Monday (8pm).

© 2016 Jewish Telegraph