Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Happy Birthday Israel!

Nobody who knows me would accuse me of being overly sentimental (with the exception of Maor who makes me watch Cellcom commercials and waits for me to tear up).
But every year starting at Pesach I get emotional, and not because of the cleaning (well, not exclusively anyway).

First the flags start going up. I notice them first on the highway on my daily drive to work. Then when I drive to Kfar Saba I see Israeli flags and blue and white streamers gracing the streets. Finally, my own yishuv and inter-city roads join the fray, and it seems like I cannot go more than a few kilometers without viewing that proud blue and white flag blowing in the wind.

The whole country seems to be gearing up for the next few weeks, a time of introspection and reckoning. Articles about Holocaust survivors finishing their lives alone and in poverty, accusing the establishment of only caring at this time of year but not doing anything to help them, are printed. Articles about how the last of the survivors are dying and soon nobody will be left. And when Yom Hashoah finally arrives, the entire country takes note. Stores and restaurants close early. There are no cultural performances scheduled – no plays, no movies, no concerts. The music being broadcast on the radio changes to a somber playlist. The regular tv schedule is gone, replaced by official ceremonies, Holocaust movies, interviews with survivors. 

And at 10am the next morning, a two minute siren sounds. Throughout the country, cars stop, people stand, heads bowed, lost in their own thoughts. An entire country. Stops. Stands still. Remembers.

 And then a week later, it all happens AGAIN! The early closing of businesses, the somber playlist, the changed tv schedule. The cemeteries are visited by a nation of people who come to remember the 23,169 people who gave their lives while serving the country and the 2,495 citizens killed in terror attacks.

I began the Yom Hazikaron commemoration in Yerushalayim, at the Sultan’s Pool, at an event called זוכרים שרים ומספרים (Remembering, singing, and telling the story) which incorporates the stories of the fallen along with musical performances, including a choir of bereaved fathers. You cannot imagine the feeling of standing in Jerusalem with the walls of the old city to your right, listening to Rav Yisrael Meir Lau talk about the fallen, and say that he carries a prayer in his heart that we should be worthy of the 23,169 who gave their lives, worthy in our daily actions and in our relationships between man and his fellow man, before quoting Natan Alterman’s famous poem, מגש הכסף (A silver platter).

Those of us who do not participate in ceremonies at a cemetery go to work for half a day. This is the memorial stand that the director of operations in my company set up:

And at 11:00am the siren sounded, and again, the entire country stood still and remembered.

There are many bereaved families who have a hard time with the sharp transition from the sadness of Yom Hazikaron to the joy of Yom Haatzmaut, and while I certainly understand and respect them, it feels so fitting to segue from one to the other. I discovered, while working on my 66 question Israel trivia quiz to be debuted at our barbecue this afternoon, that in fact, Yom Hazikaron was instituted nine years before Yom Haatzmaut, and Rav Shlomo Goren, former Chief Rabbi of Tzahal and later of Israel said in a television interview in 1994 that it was only by chance that these two days are side by side.

At any rate, Yom Haatzmaut is THE day, with people visiting the many museums and sites open for free, hiking, or relaxing at home (but alas not sleeping late) before barbecuing with family or friends. You can read about why it’s great to live in Israel, including Benji Lovitt’s 66 things I love about Israel or watch the international Bible quiz. This follows the celebrations organized in almost all municipalities, large and small, beginning at the close of Yom Hazikaron and lasting until the early morning hours of Yom Haatzmaut.

I hope this post has convinced those of you living abroad to pack your bags and move to Israel before Israel celebrates her 67th birthday. I for one am both grateful and happy that I get to spend every day living here.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Remembering....Yom Hashoah 2014

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Robert Waisman

I am pretty sure that the smiling young man at the back right of the above photo is my father.It was taken at the OSE (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants) children's home in Ecouis, France in 1945.

I found this picture with the assistance of Professor Ken Waltzer, who contacted me after reading my blog post about visiting the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, and getting my father's records from Buchenwald.

Prof. Waltzer helped me understand the records (which are in German) and even provided information about my father's time in Buchenwald based on his extensive research and on something that Arthur said my father told him:  Just before the liberation the Germans were running through the camp looking for Jews.  As they got to the bunk where my father was the Nazi soldier asked the first person he saw - someone political - whether there were Jews there. The prisoner replied that there were no more Jews left in the bunk and the soldier left.  My father survived and was liberated by the Americans.

My father was one of eight children of Frimet (Weisel) and Avraham Fruchter. His parents and four of his siblings, including his twin sister, Charna, were killed at Auschwitz. His two oldest siblings as well as another older sister and he survived the war. None of them really spoke about the war or their experiences and none of them are here anymore to answer questions.Their history went to the grave with them. 

Tomorrow morning, when the siren sounds throughout Israel, I will think of my father and his family, those who survived the Nazis and those who did not.  

יהי זכרם ברוך.

Friday, March 21, 2014

I am grateful...

On Sunday, I will be starting a new job. Or to be more precise, I will be returning to my previous workplace after a year's absence.

After three years in a job which I mostly liked, working with people I mostly adored, I was feeling restless. An opportunity presented itself in a different field which I thought was interesting and believed was a good choice. And though there were many positives about the new job, somehow it never really felt like a good fit.

While I was thinking about how to proceed (make the best of things or look for a new job) the option of returning to my previous workplace came up. And I decided to take it.

Why am I telling you this mundane, boring saga? Because on the eve of starting again in a familiar place, I am feeling very grateful.

  • I am grateful for the chance I had to try something new, to learn different things, to stretch myself.
  • I am grateful for the people I met who welcomed me.
  • I am grateful for the people who are welcoming me back with open arms.
  • I am grateful for bosses who it is an honor and pleasure to work for (I've had the other kind so I can definitely tell the difference).
  • I am grateful for my family and friends who have listened to my endless contemplations and been supportive of every decision.
  • I am grateful for my family and friends who helped me reach my decisions.
  • I am grateful to God for bringing good people and good things to my life.
 Going back to my former job feels like going home in many ways. I am thankful and looking forward to beginning a new chapter in a comfortably familiar favorite book.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Eleven years...

This past Shabbat we had the privilege of hosting our friends from the Bay area on their first Shabbat in Israel after making Aliyah. Like all the other people we met when we spent three years in San Jose, they never knew Liam. To the many people who have entered or passed through my life in the last eleven years, Liam has always been a memory, not a real person. And since none of us are big talkers, and it’s very painful, we don’t say much about Liam so they don’t know much about her.

There are, of course, others, some I’m in touch with more closely, others occasionally or virtually, still others not at all, who knew Liam, played a part in her life. Family, friends (hers and ours), teachers, youth leaders, kids who bullied her or were mean to her, doctors, and nurses and other random people who I may not even be aware of shared pieces of Liam’s life. Some of them probably don’t even know she’s dead. Some of those people, like my parents, Arthur’s mother, my aunt and my cousin, Leah, are also gone and I wonder if they are all together, wherever they are.

I don’t know how often they think of Liam, if at all. Do they bring up memories of her when they get together? Do they have funny stories or feel guilt about the way they sometimes acted? Like me, do they wonder what she would be like today? 

I’m finding it a bit difficult to express myself but I wanted to share two things, written by Yair Lapid, which I find to be very true. The Hebrew is his, the English translation mine. 

החיים אינם נמשכים – יאיר לפיד
זה לא נכון שהחיים נמשכים.

תמיד אומרים את המשפט הזה והוא אף פעם לא נכון.
כשמת לך מישהו, החיים שלך, כמו שהכרת אותם, הסתיימו.
המשפחה שלך עדיין שלך, אבל היא אחרת.
ההורים שלך אחרים, הסדר שבו אתם יושבים סביב השולחן, הדרך שבה אתם זוכרים את הטיול ליוון, עם האלבום של התמונות המצחיקות שהפך לאלבום זיכרון.

זה לא נכון שהחיים נמשכים.

אנשים שואלים אותך שאלה פשוטה כמו "מה שלומך?" ואתה יודע שהם מתכוונים לומר "אנחנו יודעים" או "אנחנו כאן בשבילך".
וכל פעם שאתה עצוב כולם קופצים כדי לעודד אותך, ואין לך איך לומר להם שאתה לא רוצה קבוצת תמיכה, אלא להיות שעה בשקט מתחת לשמיכה.

זה לא נכון שהחיים נמשכים.

אפילו אתה לא ממשיך להיות כמו שהיית.
אתה ההוא שמתו לו.
אתה ההוא שרואה בטלוויזיה את "הטוב הרע והמכוער" וזוכר רק עם מי ראית אותו בפעם הראשונה, אז, בקולנוע אסתר הישן שנהרס בינתיים.
אתה ההוא שאם אתה צוחק, אומרים שהתגברת.
אם אתה עסוק, אומרים שהתבגרת.
אם אתה נוסע ליותר משבועיים אומרים שברחת.

זה לא נכון שהחיים נמשכים.

אפילו העבר שלך עובר עריכה, וכל פעם שאתה מספר איך לקחתם אוטובוס לבלומפילד לראות את הדרבי, אתה מתלבט אם לקרוא לו אחי, או אחי המנוח, או אחי זכרונו לברכה.
לפעמים אתה פשוט מוציא אותו מהסיפור, כדי למנוע מכולם מבוכה.
פה ושם פוגשים מישהו שלא היה בארץ הרבה זמן, והוא שואל מה שלומו ואתה אומר לו ששלומו כבר לא איתנו, ובסוף כמובן אתה צריך להרגיע אותו, אז אתה אומר לו שהחיים נמשכים.

זה לא נכון שהחיים נמשכים.
הם נפסקים, ומתחילים מחדש. אחרת.  

Life does not continue – Yair Lapid

It is not true that life continues.

They always say that but it is never true.
When you lose someone, your life, as you know it, is over.
Your family is still yours but it is different.
Your parents are different, the way you sit around the table, the way you remember the trip to Greece, with the photo album of the funny pictures that turned into a memorial album.

It is not true that life continues.

People ask you a simple question like "how are you?" and you know they mean to say "we know" or "we're here for you." And every time you're sad everybody stops by to cheer you up and you don't know how to tell them that you don't need a support group, but just to lie quietly under your blanket for an hour 
It is not true that life continues.

Even you are not the same.
You’re the one who someone died on.
You’re the one who watches “The good, the bad, and the ugly” on TV and remembers who you saw it with the first time, in the old Esther Cinema which has since been destroyed.
You're the one that when you laugh they say you got over it.
If you are busy, they say you got over it.
If you go away for more than two weeks, they say you ran away.

It is not true that life continues.

Even your past gets edited, and every time you tell how you took the bus together to Bloomfield to see the derby you debate whether to call him my brother or my late brother or my brother, may he rest in peace. Sometimes you just take him out of the story in order to prevent everyone’s embarrassment.
Every now and then you meet someone who’s been out of the country for a long time and they ask you how he’s feeling and you tell them he's not with us anymore, and in the end, you of course need to comfort them, so you say that life continues.

It is not true that life continues.
It stops and starts over. Differently. 

הבעיה עם המתים, היא שהם לא מנומסים.

הם כל הזמן קופצים לבקר בלי הודעה מוקדמת.

הם יכולים להופיע לך פתאום באמצע סרט, או שמישהו יגיד משהו בארוחת ערב או בעבודה, ופתאום אתה נחנק.

אתה נוסע במכונית, שיר מתחיל ברדיו ויחד איתו מתחילות לרוץ לך תמונות. זה מסוכן לנהוג כשהמת שלך יושב בינך לבין הדרך. עדיף לעצור בצד, לבכות להתרעננות.

אתה הולך ברחוב ואתה רואה מישהו מהגב, מרחוק, ואתה יודע שזה לא יכול להיות, אבל זה נראה ממש כמוהו. אותה צורה של הראש, והליכה כזאת יש רק לבן אדם אחד, שכבר איננו. ובסוף אתה רץ, ואחר כך אתה מתנצל, ואתה לא מצליח להסביר שזה לא אתה שלא מנומס, זה המת שלך, שעוד פעם נכנס.

כי המתים לא מנומסים, הם תמיד באים להרוס שמחות. במיוחד הם אוהבים בר מצוות וחתונות והופעות בקיסריה שהם לא קנו להם כרטיס. והם מסתתרים במגירה של סרטי הוידיאו שלך, בתוך הטיול ליוון שאתה לא מעיז לראות ולא מעיז לזרוק וכבר שלוש שנים אתה מתכנן להעביר אותם לדי.וי.די, אבל הם מתעקשים להשאר בפורמט הישן.

המתים לא זקוקים ליום הזכרון - הם במילא מגיעים מתי שבא להם – אנחנו אלה שצריכים אותו, כדי שפעם אחת בשנה נדע לקבל אותם. שלא נצטרך לחשוב אם זה בסדר או לא בסדר, ואם זה הזמן המתאים להתפרק, ואם מסתכלים עלינו, ושפעם אחת בשנה, הם יבואו עם הזמנה.

(נכתב ל"שרים בכיכר" 2006)
The problem with the dead is that they are not polite.

They’re always coming to visit without any advance notice.

They can turn up suddenly in the middle of a movie, or when someone says something at dinner or at work, and all of a sudden, you choke up.

You’re riding in the car, a song starts playing on the radio and along with it, pictures start running in front of you. It’s dangerous to drive when your dead person is sitting between you and your route. It’s better to pull over to the side, to cry to get ahold of yourself.

You walk in the street and you see someone from behind, from far away, and you know that it’s not possible, but it looks just like him. The same shape of head, and that way of walking that only one person, who is no longer here, has. And in the end you run, and then you apologize, and you aren’t able to explain that it’s not you who is impolite; it’s your dead person that arrived again.

Because the dead are not polite, they always come to ruin happy occasions. They especially like bar mitzvahs and weddings and performances at Caesariya that they didn’t buy a ticket for. And they hide in the drawer of your video films, in the trip to Greece that you can’t bear to watch and can’t bear to throw out and for three years already you’ve meant to transfer it to DVD but they insist on staying in the old format.

The dead don’t need a memorial day – they arrive whenever they want anyway – we need it, so that once a year we can receive them. So we don’t need to think if it’s okay or not okay, and if this is an appropriate time to fall apart, and if people are looking at us, and so at least, once a year, they’ll come with an invitation.

(Written for singing in the square, 2006)


Saturday, January 4, 2014

2013 Reading Roundup

2013 has come to an end and so it’s time for my yearly reading wrap up.

This year I read 65 books, which is a little bit less than my yearly average based on the past seven years. 


Here is the list of books in the order I read them with a link to their Amazon page:

1.    Velva Jean Learns to Drive: A Novel by Jennifer Niven
2.    The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
3.    Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner
4.    The Middlesteins: A Novel by Jami Attenberg
5.    Shelter Me by Juliette Fay
6.    Heft: A Novel by Liz Moore
7.    Stolen Prey by John Sandford
8.    Me Before You: A Novel by Jojo Moyes
9.    The Elephant Keepers' Children by Peter Hoeg
10.  Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos
11.  After Eli by Rebecca Rupp
12.  When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin
13.  The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
14.  Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
15.  The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
16.  Tell the Wolves I'm Home: A Novel by Carol Rifka Brunt
17.  Truth in Advertising: A Novel by John Kenney
18.  The Drop (A Harry Bosch Novel) by Michael Connelly
20.  One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper
21.  When It Happens to You: A Novel in Stories by Molly Ringwald
22.  The Magicians: A Novel by Lev Grossman
23.  I'd Know You Anywhere LP: A Novel by Laura Lippman
24.  The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon
25.  The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore
27.  The Orphan Master's Son: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) by Adam Johnson
28.  The Fallen Angels Book Club by R. Franklin James
29.  A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
30.  Ghostman by Roger Hobbs
31.  Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
32.  To Be Sung Underwater: A Novel by Tom McNeal
33.  The House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni
34.  The Burgess Boys: A Novel by Elizabeth Strout
35.  The Painted Girls: A Novel by Cathy Marie Buchanan
36.  The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel by Helene Wecker
37.  The Homecoming of Samuel Lake: A Novel by Jenny Wingfield
38.  Silken Prey by John Sandford
39.  The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern
40.  The English Girl: A Novel (Gabriel Allon) by Daniel Silva
41.  The Last Summer of the Camperdowns: A Novel by Elizabeth Kelly
43.  The Beast: A Decker/Lazarus Novel  by Faye Kellerman
44.  Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick
45.  Noah's Compass: A Novel by Anne Tyler
46.  The Four Corners of the Sky: A Novel by Michael Malone
47.  American Dervish: A Novel by Ayad Akhtar
48.  Never Go Back: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child
49.  W is for Wasted (Kinsey Millhone Mystery) by Sue Grafton
50.  Woke Up Lonely: A Novel by Fiona Maazel
51.  What We've Lost Is Nothing: A Novel by Rachel Louise Snyder
53.  The Enemy (Jack Reacher, No. 8) by Lee Child
54.  Good Kids: A Novel by Benjamin Nugent
55.  Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan
56.  My Abandonment by Peter Rock
57.  Beauty: A Novel by Frederick Dillen
58.  The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris
59.  A Thousand Pardons: A Novel by Jonathan Dee
60.  In One Person: A Novel by John Irving
61.  Burial Rites: A Novel by Hannah Kent
62.  The Interestings: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer
63.  And the Dark Sacred Night: A Novel by Julia Glass
64.  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
65.  There Will Come a Time by Carrie Arcos

The biggest change for me this past year is that I got a car radio with an auxiliary outlet so I am once again able to listen to audiobooks. So of the 65 books I “read” in 2013, 25 were audiobooks I listened to, 25 were e-books I read on my Kindle, and 15 were either paperbacks or hardcovers. 


Another change for me was that thanks to my enabling friend, CK, I discovered the world of digital advanced reader copies. An advanced reader copy (ARC) is a copy of a book released by its publisher before the book’s publication date. The two sites I use are Netgalley and Edelweiss. In 2013 I read five ARCs but I already have many more waiting for me on my Kindle. 

Of the 65 books I read, six were Young adult books and only one was non-fiction. One of my goals for 2014 is to read more non-fiction. I find it much more difficult to read non-fiction but I have several books that I’d really like to read. These are the non-fiction books which are already waiting for me on my Kindle and that I am hoping to read in 2014: 

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward
The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership by Yehuda Avner
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

In 2013 I read 13,950 pages altogether and I listened to 287 hours of audio. The longest book I read was Wolf Hall at 650 pages (In One Person was a close second with 624 pages) and the shortest book was The Middlesteins, at 201 pages. The longest book I listened to was The Magicians, at 17 hours and 24 minutes and the shortest book was My Abandonment, at six hours and one minute (narrowly beating When It Happens to You, which is six hours and 18 minutes).

Some of my favorite books this year were Velva Jean Learns to Drive, The Fault in Our Stars, Me Before You, The Elephant Keepers' Children, When Crickets Cry, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, The Story of Beautiful Girl, A Tale for the Time Being, Orange is the New Black, My Abandonment, and The Interestings.

I went through a spell this year where I was reading books I really disliked. Why do I not abandon books I don’t like despite all the lip service I’ve paid to it (most notably here)? I don’t have an answer. The book I most despised was The Frozen Rabbi. Sometimes, I’ll read a book which I don’t like but then in the end it somehow redeems itself and I think, okay, that ending saved it a bit (Noah’s Compass, for example). The Frozen Rabbi was the opposite. I disliked the book the entire way through but the ending made it even more awful. And the reason I kept up with this book was because I felt guilted into it by my friend, CK, who wound up paying a lot for this hardcover edition she forgot to return to the public library when she made Aliyah and consoled herself by saying, well Fern will read it. So how could I not?

Another book I really disliked was Woke Up Lonely which I listened to on audio. It was very convoluted and strange, and again, the ending did not help its cause at all. A book which I can’t say I enjoyed exactly but I’m not sorry I read is The Orphan Master's Son, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. This book takes place in North Korea and offers a fascinating view into the lives of a citizenry of a country that we know little about. 

I’ve already started my first 3 books of 2014 (an audiobook, an e-book for during the week, and a paperback on Shabbat) and if you’d like to follow what I’m reading in real time, you can find me on Goodreads or Librarything

“We don’t need to have just one favorite. We keep adding favorites. Our favorite book is always the book that speaks most directly to us at a particular stage in our lives. And our lives change. We have other favorites that give us what we most need at that particular time. But we never lose the old favorites. They’re always with us. We just sort of accumulate them.” ~ Lloyd Alexander