Archive for September, 2012

Publisher, poet and song writer


Living in Jerusalem for fifty years, I have known quite a few people with a lot more than average talent, but who remained largely unknown to the general public. During my years as the publisher of the monthly “Your Jerusalem,” it was part of my job to follow the endeavors of writers, musicians, actors, artists and people in sports, as they tried to win recognition … and remuneration.

Also, like most people I am familiar with scores and maybe hundreds of famous personalities who became household names, many despite mediocrity. Specifically, I think of those unkempt, quirkily-dressed and tattooed performers who can strum a few chords on a guitar while yelling or croaking crude inanities and shaking their bodies as though possessed by a dybbuk. A large number are hopelessly trapped in drug abuse or alcoholism. Yet many have become immensely rich due to millions of people adulating over their cacophony.

Watching a group of them on TV the other night, I got to thinking about David Herman also known as Ben Reuven. Formerly from England, he’s a song writer, singer, author, poet, publisher, entrepreneur and an activist for a number of causes, who has been living in Jerusalem since 1966.

Actually, the first time I heard David sing I was very dismayed, perhaps even disgusted. It was July or August 1973 and he was standing on the stage at the David Yellin Teachers’ Seminary in Jerusalem. In the audience were about a hundred English language teachers. There he was, a tall, nice-looking young fellow, strumming his guitar and going through a repertoire of songs. He had an unusually fine voice, with perfect timbre that one could imagine angels swooning over. The audience, especially the women, seemed delighted. Later, one of the women said to me, “Gosh, he has such a wonderful persona!”

So, why the dismay and disgust on my part? Well actually, that was my initial reaction. The last thing that David should have been doing was croon away at those teachers. He was my partner in a new publishing venture that was his brainchild – English News, which was a monthly newspaper produced especially for Israeli high school pupils of different grades, written in simplified English with a glossary on each page.

We were about to launch our first issue. I was to handle production and distribution and David looked after sales and promotion. We shared writing and editing duties. He was planning to go around the country and address English teachers at their annual seminars and try to persuade them to subscribe. This was his first such encounter.

However, there he was singing some songs. True, he put on a pretty good show. But I was wondering how on earth he expected to make any sales in this way. Actually, at first, when he had taken to the stage, he had talked briefly about the idea of providing pupils with learning material that would interest them, explaining that it included news, events and developments and articles of special interest to teenagers. His sales pitch was not bad, but instead of closing his presentation with a clinching, persuasive flourish like any decent sales rep, he had reached for his guitar and began that crooning. Then, after he finished singing, to my astonishment, dozens of the teachers crowded around him, some of them adoringly, to order subscriptions for their classes and in some cases entire schools.

By coincidence The Jerusalem Post had launched a similar publication for Israeli pupils at exactly the same time as us. Clearly, they had an enormous advantage over us, with their editorial and administrative staff, printing facilities and promotional infrastructure, while David and I were starting with a ridiculously low investment of about a $100 that was to cover printing of promotional materials, traveling expenses and phone and postage costs. We worked from our respective homes. Amazingly, we broke even with our first edition. It seemed that we would manage to survive even against the formidable opposition of an established publishing house.

However, the day after we picked up the second edition from the printer, disaster struck … for the entire country in the form of the Yom Kippur War. Both of us were enlisted. Hazel, my wife, in between looking after our two small children, kept up the clerical work, dispatch of orders and also typed out articles that I dictated to her from a foxhole in the desert over an army field telephone after midnight every night, and which she would send to the printing firm. (This was long before computers, desk-top publishing and cellular phones.)

I’ll never understand how we managed to survive that tumultuous first year. But somehow, with a tremendous struggle we did. By the end of the second year, David had drummed up over a whopping 25,000 subscriptions! The Jerusalem Post, as far as I know didn’t come close to that number of subscribers, and despite all its huge advantages over us, stopped their school publications for a few years.

David and I remained partners for over two years before I sold out my share. Over the years we have stayed in touch. David subsequently worked under the name of “Good Times,” publishing a set of simplified English newspapers for the lower grades. He also published a version in Arabic for Jewish students, which was probably the best way to make their Arabic studies more interesting.
Very few people realize that over the years, David reached hundreds of thousands of Israeli pupils all over the country and undoubtedly had an influence on their lives through his educational publications. He also published a series of ten Hebrew booklets by Dr. Adam Ackerman dealing with Jewish and Israel history.

Always on the lookout to promote new talent, in 1978 he discovered a 15-year-old kid, Uri Fink, and published the well-known Sabraman comics in Hebrew and English. He hopes that eventually the Sabraman stories will be produced as an animated film. Meanwhile, Uri Fink went on to become one of Israel’s premier cartoonists.

A poet in his own right (see poem below), David published a collection of stories and poems by Israeli writers in English in Israel called Shalom We Are Here, giving an opportunity to many talented but unpublished writers to reach the general public. He also published a compilation of letters by Israeli pupils called Why I Love Israel and wrote two novels, Bestseller and The Golden Eggs of Sacramontes.

Concerned about historical justice, David founded the Raoul Wallenberg Jerusalem Committee in the 1980s, and organized demonstrations calling for his release from the Gulag and sending petitions to the Kremlin leaders. He also wrote a series of songs about Wallenberg and other Holocaust rescuers, which appears on the CD Beacons in the Dark. On the centennial of Wallenberg’s birth (4 August 1912), he organized a large event at the Jerusalem AACI, which included a moving message from his niece Louise von Dardel.

Here is a link to a song that David wrote and recorded in honor of Raoul Wallenberg in 1988.

Another prisoner for whom David has written a song is Jonathan Pollard.

Altogether David has put 37 of his songs on the Youtube, some together with an old friend and song-writer Mike Graff and almost all produced by Yaacov Goldman. Three years ago (2009) he appeared on Kochav Nolad (Israeli version of American Idol), with two of his songs Jerusalem Rock and Ciao Ciao Christopher Columbus. David was easily as good as any of the other contestants, but the judges, while full of praise and admiration, didn’t quite know how to relate to the elderly, bearded, kippa-wearing, fellow with a bright English smile, singing in his mother-tongue. So he didn’t make it to the finals. The judges apologized.

Not a man to readily submit to relegation, David organized his own song festival, especially for English speaking performers. The result of his efforts was the IsraPop Anglo Song Festival.

David Herman, who sings in Hebrew, English, French, Spanish and Ladino, describes his music style as “Afro-Hasidic,” because he mixes traditional Hasidic tunes with African beats. He has a wide range of styles in mind for the future, including rock, country, protest songs, blues, ballads and Broadway pieces.

David earned a degree in modern languages at Cambridge University and specialized in French and Spanish. He was chairman of the University Israel Society. Coming to Israel in 1966, shortly after marrying, he was one of the first residents in Jerusalem’s Abraham Stern Street, where he lived for the first few years and where we launched English News together. Today he makes a living through translating. Here is one of his poems.


Written a few days before the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia

You’ve had your fun with missile and gun
Since history began to pursue man
With a daily dose of death,
And now this game must end
Or life will.

Give us at least a prospect of peace
At the close of the twentieth century,
Give us nights that are nightmare-free
And days for being happy
Just to live.

Give us respite from the armory of death
From armies that disintegrate,
From the beast of conquest,
From the agony of the maimed,
From the threat to existence.
Give us the chance to know what life means
Far from the fear of dying;
Lead us not to annihilation.
Ban forever the sacrifice of man,
For you can.

If you do not, be warned:
The people will rise and unite.
In their will for peace
They’ll shatter the shadows of death.
Because they are sick to the quick
Of slaughter for causes
That cause greater conflict.
They are sick of the names
They are told do them good,
Of the “isms” that are schisms,
Of the slogans that end in mass murder.

Be warned. We do not need you
Unless you fight for peace.
We are not children to be led
Blindly to massacre. Victory is
An empty word except
When it means Humanity.
There is one side now- Mankind.
Be kind to Man
At the close of the twentieth century,
Or Man, the Mother, Father and Child,
Shall find a way to have his say
And impose Peace and depose Death.

Speak for us, leaders. You know
Where we stand, so understand.
Remove the blocs that block the path
And give us Peace today, not tomorrow
For we are tired of waiting.

Speak, leaders, speak in our name
For Mankind is one
In its cry for Peace
For peace on earth
At the close of the twentieth century.

Copyright David Herman, Jerusalem, August 1968

Postscriptum: 2012

The leaders have not learnt
Or heard the peoples’ ceaseless cry for Peace
Deaf to their pleas
Blind to the brutal lessons of recent history
And mankind’s blood-bespattered past
They still pursue power’s vainglory
They still amass death’s lethal weaponry
To better outgun their bitter foes
Oblivious to the welfare of mankind
And man’s future existence
On Planet Earth
Which their futile domination quests
May easily destroy
When will they learn, our leaders,
What their peoples so clearly see,
That in this our fragile earthly existence
There is but one ideology that really counts
The ideology of Humanity!

Oh Lord, Leader of Leaders,
When will the voice of the ordinary people
At last be heeded by the leaders
By the millions sick to the death of history’s carnage
Yearning to live lives of peace undisturbed
In Your world of the 21st century?
Completed August 2012

David Herman:


September 28, 2012 at 3:15 pm 1 comment