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'Non-writer' Basch offers provocative views of Shakespeare
By Bonnie Graber (February 14, 1997)
David Basch's office is filled with blueprints scattered everywhere -- just what you would expect from someone with a master's degree in city planning from Harvard. A lone miniature portrait of William Shakespeare tacked to a bulletin board gives the only clue to his interests outside architecture.
Basch, a facilities planner at UConn for nine years, has self-published two books about the works of Shakespeare: The Hidden Shakespeare (1994) and Shakespeare's Judaica and Devices (1996). His books theorize that Shakespeare's works present material sympathetic to the Jewish people's plight and were rooted in their culture. Basch goes further to suggest and prove that Shakespeare himself was of Jewish descent, a Marrano who hid his religious background.
Since Basch himself says, in his preface to The Hidden Shakespeare, "I am not a writer, what, then, steers an accomplished architect from the drafting table to the writing table?
"A year and a half before (The Hidden Shakespeare) if someone had told me that I would write a book, I would have laughed in their face," he says. But this "nonwriter" did write two books that were years in the making.
Basch grew up in New York City in an Orthodox Jewish household. He admits he was less than impressed with Shakespeare in college.
"I was not mature enough to do the reading then," Basch says.
But years of exposure to Shakespeare's works melded Basch into a Shakespeare enthusiast. Influences such as the movie Julius Caesar, lectures, readings, and a production of The Merchant of Venice in Central Park in 1962 steered him toward the works.
This production was swirled in controversy because the character Shylock, the money-lending Jew, was criticized by the Jewish community as being portrayed in an anti-Semitic light.
The "real" Shakespeare
Since Basch had read many discussions of this play, including some by gentile critics, who insisted there were many positive Jewish elements in the play, he decided to see in detail what the play itself had to say to make up his own mind. It was in the process of this investigation that he believed he found "the real William Shakespeare, a man who wanted to be revealed."
According to Basch, Shakespeare revealed his ancestry through the frequent presence in his plays of material drawn from Jewish literature unknown to the people of his time in an England from which Jews had been expelled for almost 200 years. Some references were direct quotes, such as "Sin will pluck on sin," spoken by Richard III, but found more than 1,000 years earlier in the Talmud, the body of early Jewish law.
Besides looking for hidden meanings, Basch was attracted to the simple beauty of Shakespeare's works.
"These (interests) centered in the development of philosophical concepts of beauty ... so regularly absent in the work of our own period," Basch says in his preface to The Hidden Shakespeare. "When you see something so beautiful in nature like a sunset, you look for this level of emotion in the works of man. But today man psychologizes beauty only looking for its meaning, neglecting to be emotionally moved by its perception."
"Shakespeare has that beauty because he makes you feel with great depth," Basch says. "He allows you a great understanding of self."
Over the years, Basch has read many criticisms in favor of a sympathetic, not anti-Semitic, Shakespeare. The collection of these insights, along with analysis of his own, led Basch to put his thoughts down on paper. After a few failed attempts to get his articles published, he compiled, edited and published them in book form.
"At the time, I was working on architectural drawings so my mind was clear to write at night," Basch says.
Basch attributes his background in architecture and planning to his skills as a writer. He had had to write in the past for planning reports. Basch also wrote "Architect's Notebook," a regular column in The Hartford Courant.
He says it was hard to get published, and he eventually used his own money. "It was a labor of love to get my message out."
Shakespeare's Judaica and
Devices (regularly $22) and The Hidden Shakespeare
(normally $16) are available at a special price at the UConn Co-op
or by writing to: Revelatory Press, P.O. Box 370-577, West
Hartford, CT 06137-0577.
Drake preaches proper nutrition
By Bonnie Graber (February 14, 1997)
Her business card reads: Linda Drake, M.S., Nutritionist, Cooperative Extension Coordinator, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. Yet even her lengthy title doesnt begin to describe everything Drake does.
She trains Cooperative Extension staff to conduct nutrition education workshops and community programs. She writes brochures, booklets and video scripts. She also travels throughout Connecticut, presenting programs to the public so people can learn more about food and nutrition.
"I fell into the job," Drake says. "I started working for the extension nutrition specialist. I did mostly clerical tasks, and I was writing articles for her. Then I realized that maybe I should know more about nutrition. So I went on to get a masters degree in nutrition from UConn. I especially just like helping people."
The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), the Cooperative Extension program that Drake coordinates, is designed to improve the nutritional status of low-income families with young children and youth.
Recently, Drake has put together pamphlets on feeding newborn babies and six- to 12-month-olds, information on fat content in foods, and "Farmer Market Notes," about Connecticut-grown fruits and vegetables with recipes and food selection tips.
She also teaches writing skills to undergraduate nutrition students and will teach an adult education course called Hot Topics in Food Nutrition.
Drake, a Manchester native who also holds a bachelor's degree from UConn, often shares her wealth of knowledge. She serves on a number of committees and organizations, including the Connecticut Anti-Hunger Coalition, the American Cancer Society, the Connecticut Nutrition Council and the Connecticut Pathways to Poverty team, which works with the General Assembly to find ways to strengthen communities.
Although this involvement is part of her job, she also has personal reasons and interests.
"Every year I help promote World Food Day on campus. This is not really part of my job, but I know that it matters trying to help people learn more about the world's food issues," Drake says. "People should know that it's not all rosy and we're all part of the picture."
Drake has been recognized for her efforts. Last year she won the University's Award for Promoting Multiculturalism and Affirmative Action for structuring her program in a way that reflects diverse ethnic groups. She was part of a Cooperative Extension team that won a national award last year for its work on lead-poisoning information program.
Drake and her staff are developing a cookbook for low-income families which will be a basic guide to handling and preparing nutritious but simple foods.
"That's a challenge because you need affordable, not too complicated, yet tasty, low-fat, nutritious recipes and menus," Drake says.
Even Drake's hobbies coincide with her profession. She enjoys gardening and preparing bread-and-butter pickles, pesto and salsa.
Drake also loves to travel. Her journeys to such places as France, Mexico, Costa Rica and Martinique have inspired photography as another one of her hobbies. She decided to compile photographs that she took abroad into a slide show for nutrition classes.
"The slides illustrate that there is only a limited amount of land available on the earth for growing food, and what this thing we call 'progress' has done to the land and its people," she says.
What's next for Drake? She hopes to publish a book of her photos and essays about the food system and dreams of opening a restaurant featuring locally grown foods.