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    Saba, give me your phone

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple appeared in the Jerusalem Post on 12 July, 2023.

    In my childhood, the phone was a fitment attached to the wall of the corridor. We lived in Australia and phone calls were a historic experience. My father was the Australian agent for Coilettes, which saved people from getting their phone cords tangled up. Who invented Coilettes and who got my father involved I don’t remember, though my little brothers and I felt that our family was important because we were ahead of others and part of the cultural development of Melbourne suburbia.

    It was an event to hear the phone bell ring, and relatives sometimes misused the occasion. For example, one day the phone rang and a cultured voice on the other end said, “This is Rabbi Danglow speaking!” My mother, who had picked up the receiver, thought it was her brother playing games, and said, “Leslie, stop being silly!”

    Her rebuke achieved nothing because the voice kept saying, “Mrs. Apple, this is Rabbi Danglow!”

    After a few minutes my mother realised that it really was the rabbi and I guess she had to apologise. Eventually she told Leslie and he dined out on the episode for years afterwards.

    Making or receiving a call meant standing in the cold and concentrating on the phone and not allowing anyone else to make a competing noise. My family kept up with the development of the telephone service by getting a next-stage phone which sat on the sideboard in the dining room. Naturally we all had to run there when the phone rang; we couldn’t take the handset anywhere else in the house.

    International phone calls (and even local calls) cost a fortune. As a rabbinical student at Jews’ College in London I never phoned home – not even once – because calling overseas was so expensive. I recall needing two pounds a minute to make an international call, and like all the students, I was cash-strapped. If the phone rang in the corridor of the residential floor of the building, everyone came flocking and stood outside their bedroom door to share in the excitement.

    It is said (and I believe it!) that on the infrequent occasions when anyone called his parents, both parties spent the whole three-minute call crying. Some of the students told me that they got engaged because it was cheaper than making regular phone calls to one’s girlfriend.

    I got married soon after assuming office at the Bayswater Synagogue and we installed a phone in our apartment in order to keep contact with the congregation (and to phone the warden-president every morning). Later we moved to Hampstead where we had a strange phone number – HAM 5060 – and a shul secretary called Mrs Bacon. Despite the ham and bacon we kept kosher! We phoned a local kosher butcher with our meat order several times a week. As we had no car (yet) the butcher delivered our order and sometimes phoned first to say he was on the way.

    We moved back to Australia and spent 32 years at the Great Synagogue in Sydney where no-one had problems with us having a phone, sometimes several. We teased people by saying that the shule office number – MA 3950 – derived its MA call sign from my wife’s initials. Eventually our children made Aliyah but phones in Israel were not yet a standard item and if we visited Israel we could only call home by means of a public phone and a supply of asimonim.

    In due course people got cell phones. My first Australian cell phone was heavy and expensive. It was a gift from a congregant and cost him (or so I seem to remember) A$700. Later I had a series of pocket-size cell phones which I replaced every time the battery needed renewing.

    These days everyone has a multi-purpose cell phone and the best model is about NIS 500. My cell phone was smashed in my pocket when I tripped and fell at Patt Junction in Jerusalem on the way to Malcha, so I couldn’t phone my wife to tell her about my mishaps, and I had to get a new phone without delay.

    I am constantly learning about new apps (fancy! – I can take photos and pay my bills with my phone!) and am discovering that house phones are increasingly unnecessary. If only my fellow passengers on the bus didn’t speak so long and loudly on their phones! Because I have Waze and most of my grandchildren don’t, I am constantly asked, “Saba, give me your phone”. The drawback is that every now and then I fail to ask my children and grandchildren to give back my phone and as a sometimes forgetful senior citizen I don’t remember who I lent the phone to.

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