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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Preview

It’s been exactly two-years since I created my blog. My first entry “Traditional or Self Publishing” spoke to the dilemma writers, new or established, face in the cutthroat industry of book publishing. While many writers are reluctant to self-publish because they want to be recognized by a traditional publishing house, the trend of self-publishing is growing.

It took me two years of agony to finally decide to self publish my book No Laughter in Winter (formerly titled War Widow), both in English and in Hebrew, the latter in Israel, where the publishing industry is even more restrictive than in the U.S.

“Liberating,” is the word some authors with whom I have spoken termed their decision to self-publish.

When a friend, to whom I was lamenting about the difficulties publishing my book in the traditional route, asked me why is it so important for me to publish my work, to which I dedicated six or seven years of writing, rewriting and translating, I answered: “Because I have an important story to tell.”  I have known for years that I’ll tell that story. Most importantly, it is a story I believe in.

It is a story about a young girl born in Tel Aviv, Israel. My childhood years were marked by my mother’s severe recurrent depression. Like other children I blamed myself for my mother’s illness. Nothing original about that.

Like many more children around the world, I grew up in times of war.

Like other  women, I fell madly in love with a man too popular among the opposite sex and got married young in spite of doubting my decision. Again, nothing unusual.

Like other women I suffered two miscarriages: a girl, who was too small to survive after twenty-two week of pregnancy, and a boy who lived for thirty-six hours after twenty-six weeks of pregnancy. Years later technology would have him survive. I went through a corrective procedure, and was "as good as new," planning another pregnancy.

Becoming a young war widow is not extraordinary either. But, seeing your husband burnt beyond recognition and hearing his deafening last breaths, your body succumbing because of the shock, suffering a near death experience, being medically abused in the hospital where you stay while trying desperately to save your pregnancy, loosing your unborn child after your husband's death and blaming yourself for depriving your in-laws of the grandchild they wanted so badly, is not an ordinary tale.

Having been “discovered” as a young widow by men for your “beauty”, is a story many young widows can probably tell. Stories about relationships with famous married men have too been portrayed. Having fled from a smothering love affair to a far away land may also be considered commonplace. Having been raped by your fallen husband’s best friend may not.

That all these things happened to one young woman, who persevered in spite of the dark fears she endured before healing, became an activist, and successfully rebuilt her life, is unique.

That is why I wrote my book. Not to be pitied or admired. But to inspire men and women who faced life’s most difficult challenges. To give voice to the women who influenced my life, to the severely depressed and their families and to young widows who face double standards in the societies in which they live.

Today I live in New York City with my American husband;  I am a mother of a special daughter who is married to a devoted son in law, a grandmother of two who fill my life with joy, a lecturer at Queens College/CUNY and a recipient of Fulbright scholarship. Currently I am working on a woman's novel in between re-editing my memoir. 

I hope you care to read my book once it’s published, for I am committed to tell my story.

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Letter to the Editor, NY Times.

On February 3rd I sent this letter to the New York Times, in response to an Op-Ed piece, but the paper didn’t print it. Here it is:

Omar Barghouti’s “Why Israel Fears the Boycott” (Op-Ed Feb 2nd) is full with slender and deliberate inaccuracies. Israel is neither more nor less “racist” or democratic than other democracies, but it is a thriving one, with a robust civil society, including Arab advocacy associations, free elections for all, a multiplicity of political parties, including Arab, and the right of all citizens to participate in government.

Mr. Barghouti neglects the fact that Israeli Arab citizens, Palestinians included, are Knesset members, who are allowed like everyone to publicly criticize the government, Supreme Court justices, college professors, lawyers, physicians and more. It is conceded, Israel still needs to achieve real social and economic equality for its Arab citizens, the Bedouins in particular, and it needs to end the construction of Jewish settlements in the land it occupies since the 1967 war. But to compare Israel to Saudi Arabia or the old South Africa is disingenuous.  

Barghouti does not appear to understand the difference between nation and state. That Jews are both adherents of a religion and a nation confuses him. Like other nations they achieved self-determination when they created their own nation-state, which is indeed threatened by the unrealistic Palestinians’ demands for the right of return.

The American Studies Association’s and other academic groups’ boycott of Israel is a shameful act, for it is mostly in Israeli academic institutions that the voices for both the end of the occupation and peace is heard.                                                                                                                     

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Chritmas

I wish the merriest Christmas to my Christian friends, students, followers, and every other member of the Christian denominations that celebrates Christmas today.

It’s two-thirty in the morning and I can’t sleep.  Later today my husband and I will pay tribute to Christmas together with other Londoners and tourists like us, when we take part in a special holiday meal in the charming English hotel we are staying at. It will be elegant and peaceful, fitting the spirit of this holiday. But right now my mind is not at peace. It’s unsettled. It’s racing from one topic to another. A mish-mash of thoughts, though they may be related.  

I nearly fell asleep after thirty-six hours of jet lag. But something woke me up. I am anxious and distressed, and I don’t know why. I panic. I jump out of bed careful not to wake up my husband.

“It’s so easy to lose one’s mind,” I tell myself with concern. “It ran in your family. Your mother suffered from severe depressions, and possibly schizophrenia.”

“Don’t be silly,” I try to calm myself. “It’s just too hot in the room.” I played with the thermostat.  I went back to bed. “It’s the blanket. It’s too heavy.”
I push it off but I’m still unsettled.

“Perhaps it’s the lack of sleep. It may play tricks on your mind,” I try to convince myself, but I am used to jet lag. I don’t recall that it made me feel so disconcerted before.

I think about young men and women who gave up their lives for an idea they believed in, after seeing earlier today yet again the musical Les Miserables. Young man and women around the world still do. Sometimes they fight for inherent rights, like Victor Hugo’s young revolutionaries; other time they are motivated by hatred.

My mind turns to various genocides, a subject I teach regularly at Queens College in a senior seminar that just ended. The most unique among these many genocides is the Holocaust that killed millions of my people.

“You are not supposed to think about these events today, a day of peace and fraternity. Even enemy soldiers who faced each other on the battlefield in WWI stopped fighting on Christmas day (only to resume the killing as soon as the holiday was over).

“May be it’s your writer mind,” I still try to calm myself. "Start writing. You owe you followers a blog.”

My mind takes me now to the lovely walk my husband and I took yesterday afternoon in the elegant Grosvenor area where many embassies are located. The perfect harmony of architecture and color did not represent the reality of the conflicts in many of the countries whose embassies we passed. I tried to guess the identity of the flags that are not obviously familiar to most people. As a pupil in grammar school I could identify every flag of every country; my geography notebooks covered with my hand painted flags of the countries of the world, then covered in turn with cellophane paper. They were my pride and joy until the day my mother threw them out when I was older.

“That’s Hungary’s”, I said to my husband. But it was Bulgaria’s flag. “What difference does it make?” I thought, “they both hate us.” I was thinking of the recent rise of anti-Semitism in both countries.

At night my mind finally took me back to New York, to the musical Spiderman, to which my husband and I took our six years old grandson this past Sunday.

“Is this show your Christmas present?” an elderly man seated next to him asked my grandchild.

Jacob looked at him and without hesitation said: “we don’t celebrate Christmas.”
“Me neither,” said the man. So what did you get for Hanukkah?”
Jacob smiled but didn’t bother to answer.

I was proud of my grandson for his identity, which he didn’t hesitate to announce.  In other countries he might have learned not to pronounce it so openly.

I was proud and yet concerned.

“Perhaps I should suggest to his parents to remind him to say, “We celebrate Hanukkah,” as they have taught him, instead of the negative form of “we don’t celebrate Christmas,” lest he aggravates someone.

I have been in the United States since the autumn of 1969. I am an American citizen. I have given my service back to the community where I live. I have fed the homeless in churches on Christmas days. I have gone to listen to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve on different occasions. The words struck me as almost identical to what Jews say in their places of worship during their high holidays.

But am I fully integrated in a society I love and admire if I am worried about my young grand child announcing to a stranger that he doesn’t celebrate Christmas? If the answer is 'no', it is not because of luck of respect to my surroundings. On the contrary. Rather, it is because of my People’s history of being hated and rejected, blood-libeled and slaughtered, and my concern that this hatred has not vanished, and that it may never will. I am worried for the future of my grandchildren and their children, and that of children of other ethnicities, tribes and religious groups who fight each other. Examples are ample.

It’s 4:30 AM. Perhaps I can go to sleep now.

Merry Christmas and a peaceful new year to us all.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

On Joan Rivers and Auschwitz

At 80, Joan Rivers is an inspiration to a lot of women, as well as men: she is energetic far beyond her age.  She is active writing, performing on stage, screen and on television. According to her website she also lectures, designs jewelry and creates cosmetics. Many people younger than her do not accomplish a fraction of what she does. And, she can be hilarious even if you do not like her coarse humor and vulgarity.

 On Friday, October 11, my husband and I saw her performing in Westbury Music Hall in Long Island. We actually went to hear one of our favorite singers and record producers Steve Tyrell, whom we follow when he appears in New York. That night he opened the Joan Rivers act.

As was evident from the applause Joan received when she appeared on stage, most of the audience came to see her, not necessarily the elegant Steve Tyrell.

Indeed, the crowd loved and adored her. They admired her outrageous outfit, and her jokes. No one could dispute that she was peppy and animated, enthusiastic and lively, and funny. She made fun of herself and her relationship with her beloved daughter, of every ethnic group, including her own, and she didn’t apologize for any of that. If you didn’t like it, you were too “stupid.” Everyone laughed, even me, for I am a tough audience when it comes to standup comedians.

She was gracious to some members of the audience, especially a gay couple that got engaged on stage, which was of course, part of her “shtick,” though, apparently the man whose hand was asked in marriage by his partner was surprised.

Watching Joan, I admired her energy and her wit, and allowed myself to enjoy a fellow Jew, and female, though, as you might have guessed, I do not appreciate her crudeness. Despite it all I thought that at eighty she was indeed inspirational.

Then she mad a joke about Auschwitz. To say that it was tasteless is an understatement. As a Jew, whose grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives perished in the Holocaust, I was utterly insulted by her. As every Jew in the audience should have been. I was even more insulted when I looked around me and saw the crowd laughing. There are subjects no one should joke about. Taboos. The Holocaust and other genocides are among them.

Shame of you Joan.

      Perhaps she never visited Auschwitz and its neighboring death camp, Birkenau. Or perhaps she did, but it might not have affected her the way it affected me. As I have written before, and don’t mind repeating, nothing I have studied, read, seen, not Yad Vashem, not even my previous visit to Terezienstadt, prepared me for Birkenau and Auschwitz—for their enormity and for the efficiency with which the Nazis ran their death-oiled industry.

What shocked me the most was that not even the minutest detail was left to chance: not the place where the trains would first stop, where victims would initially be "selected," where they first undressed, where they were first disinfected and shaved, their hair used by the Nazis to manufacture fabric; not where they were disinfected for the second time, where their clothing was first fumigated, where their clothing was fumigated for the second time, where their clothing and belongings were collected, sorted and stored, where they would die by Zyclon B poisoning gas, where their corpses would be burned.
It took merely 25 minutes from the time the human cargo arrived at Birkenau for those "selected" to become ash. Many of those who survived that selection were sent to the hell of Auschwitz. And Auschwitz and Birkenau were only two camps where Jews were slaughtered while the world kept silent.

Shame on you, Joan Rivers.


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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On Islan Nettles

It’s summer and writing doesn’t come easy.  First there was my trip to Israel in June, the beach in July, and a cruise on the Danube this month, visiting Serbia, where one can still see the remnants of NATO’s bombing in the 1999 Kosovo war, Croatia, Hungary and Austria.

From The Austrian Alps I meant to write about my meeting by chance with Sonja, a lovely teacher who I came across in the tiny town of Vordernberg, where we ate pizza in a small Turkish restaurant, and where Sonja talked to me about multi-culturalism in her beloved country.  But I procrastinated, then turned too busy to write anything as I was completely consumed with reviewing the Hebrew translation on my memoir, which I hope I can publish in Israel soon enough.

I could write about the carnage in Syria and the options the US and its allies have in punishing President Assad for his systematic murder of men, women and children, possibly with chemical weapons. But I decided to leave this subject for my Middle East class, which I will begin teaching this coming Thursday.

Then I saw the news today about the vigil in Harlem, New York, for Islan Nettles, the twenty-one year old transgender woman who died Thursday after being removed from her life support five days after she had been brutally attacked by a man who got furious after he realized that his female friend was actually born a male.

The attack on Islan was the latest in a series of disturbing hate crimes against members of the LGBT community in the city, which increased dramatically this year.

It is perhaps ironic that Islan’s vigil is taking place on the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech on freedom and equality, and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Ironic but not terribly surprising, given the progress the gay community has made in the US and in other countries with respect to same sex marriage, progress that must threaten those reactionaries who irrationally fear homosexuality and same sex marriage.

Like what I think is a response to the embracing of same sex marriage, history witnessed the surge of illiberal reactions to the progress minority groups had made in different parts of the world. It happened in Europe with the surge of anti Semitism after the emancipation of Jews in France and Germany in the eighteenth century, and England in the nineteenth century, when European Christians felt threatened by the granting of equal rights to Jews, like racists reacted to the emancipation of slaves in nineteenth century America, and even to the Civil Rights Movement of the twentieth century, culminating in the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Let the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement and the senseless death of Islan Nettles be a reminder of what we as a civilization deserve: freedom to grow in our own skin, gender, religion, nationality and sexual orientation.


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