Tuesday, April 9, 2024

End of the Avocado Season

The past few months I have been volunteering once a week (when I can) - helping Israeli farmers in the south after their workers fled the country last October. Four times I picked avocados in an orchard near Ashkelon but this past visit was the last time. 50 workers from Sri Lanka were set to come to work in that orchard. I enjoyed picking avocados - and the avocado ice cream that came as a tasty result of my efforts!

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Review of 'West Jerusalem Noir' – short stories

Noir fiction can be defined as crime fiction with dark themes, often featuring 'a disturbing mixture of sex and violence'. The stories of West Jerusalem Noir (Akashic Books, November 2023) are somewhat tamer; their protagonists are confronted with the dark complexities of living in a city filled with national, religious, and socioeconomic tension.

West Jerusalem Noir of the Akashic Noir Series is published simultaneously with East Jerusalem Noir, a companion collection that tells of the unfulfilled hopes and dreams of Jerusalem's Arab residents, their lives vastly different from those living in the western half of the city.

In West Jerusalem Noir, the story 'You Can't See the Occupation from Here' by Ilana Bernstein takes place on the Israeli side of the city. The protagonist works in a secret lab on Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus, where she's filling in for a translator on maternity leave. Working in the lab 'involves quite a few sacrifices,' she thinks. 'Those who come in here don't leave so quickly'. A Palestinian woman, complete with a 'floral pink and cerulean hijab' is reportedly the CEO of the company. But what about national security? the protagonist wonders. Nothing is as it seems.

In the story 'Arson,' by Ilan Rubin Fields, police investigate whether someone set fire to the trees flanking the gardens of Peace Park, near Jerusalem's French Hill neighborhood. In possibly the best story in the anthology, 'Chrysanthemums' by Asaf Schurr, a father takes it upon himself to cover up his daughter Michal's crime. "You didn't kill anyone, you hear me?" he admonishes her. "I'll take care of everything, understood?"

The heroine of 'Murder at Sam Spiegel' by Liat Elkayam wakes up in a small room in the famed film and television school to find a student filmmaker 'on a swivel chair, his head hanging backward at a completely inhuman angle … a long river of blood snaking from his stomach'. This launches the protagonist into detective mode, but the investigation is more than she can handle.

In Elkayam's story, an entry ramp to the Jerusalem Cinematheque is sprayed with graffiti declaring 'Jerusalem – a city held together with masking tape'. The stories of the collection are taped together by their Jerusalem setting. While some readers may find the book disjointed, with unsatisfactory plots and endings, many of the stories are memorable and will leave much to think about.

The collection's editor, Maayan Eitan, says they take place in a 'concrete, contemporary, and complicated Jerusalem'. She is correct in stating that the 15 stories included in West Jerusalem Noir 'could not have taken place anywhere else'. Indeed, readers will have a 'chance to visit Jerusalem like they've never seen it before'.

Originally posted on The Times of Israel.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

I Run the Jerusalem Marathon 10K and Finish in 18th Place in My Age Category

Perfect weather for a run through the streets of Jerusalem and the alleyways of the Old City. I last ran the Jerusalem Marathon's 10K race in 2019 and I was excited to do it again. The course is challenging, with a number of steep inclines, but I finished with a time of 1 hour and 6 minutes. This ranked me in 18th place out of 87 men in the 65-69 age category.

Amazingly, this was the exact same result as I had in the 2019 race, when I was in a younger age category. Overall, I finished the 10K in 3596th place out of 9,044 racers. I am very happy with my result!

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Wednesday, March 6, 2024

My Short Story "Boxes" Published in 'Door Is A Jar' Literary Magazine

I'm proud to announce that my short story "Boxes" was published yesterday in the Spring 2024 edition of Door Is A Jar Literary Magazine.

Door Is A Jar Literary Magazine is a quarterly print and digital publication of poetry, short fiction, nonfiction, drama, artwork and book reviews. Issue 30, Spring 2024, of the magazine is now live.

The new issue features the creative works of 44 contributors from all around the world.

Door Is A Jar Literary Magazine can be found on the newsstand in Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and independent bookstores nationwide.

Copies of the magazine can be ordered directly from the website.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

"The Carpet Salesman" - short story

Business in the carpet department was slow; in fact, it was non-existent. Ziv sat behind his desk from the moment the store opened in the morning until it closed for the night, and looked out at the furniture displays with little to distract him.

Occasionally, shoppers walked into Ziv’s section of the floor and admired the classic handmade Persian carpets bearing certificates of authenticity, or the multi-colored Boho-chic area rugs with their handwoven geometric designs hanging from ceiling-high racks, but few expressed real interest. For long hours, Ziv remained motionless and undisturbed. His shift passed slowly, and he had to prevent himself from yawning and stay presentable at all times.

“It’s minimum wage, but you’ll earn substantial commissions,” the store manager had promised Ziv on his first day of work, three months earlier. “Our carpets are of the highest quality and sales will be good.”

But there were no sales. Ziv knew that the imported carpets were over-priced and apparently the customers were aware of this as well. Of all the departments in the store, Ziv’s was the least successful, yet Management insisted it was to be manned full time. As long as Ziv was available for shoppers, whenever they had questions to ask, and as long as Ziv didn’t complain, he would keep his job, and for this he was grateful.

When he finished work, Ziv boarded the bus for the journey to his small apartment in a quiet Ramat Gan neighborhood. He climbed three flights of stairs and unlocked his door. Immediately Charlie, his ginger-colored cat, rubbed against his legs, purring in eager anticipation of leftovers from the night before. Ziv couldn’t afford canned or packaged cat food, but Charlie didn’t seem to mind. Before feeding him, Ziv picked up the animal with affection, but Charlie had a mean streak and scratched Ziv’s cheek, drawing blood.

As Ziv stared into a mirror, holding a tissue to the wound, he wondered where his life had gone off track. He had grown up in a middle-class neighborhood with caring parents and three older siblings, but he had lost touch with them after his army service. They refused to support him when repeated failures in mathematics studies caused him to drop out of university. “Get a hold on yourself,” his father said to him the last time Ziv had visited home. “We love you, but it’s time for you to start your own life,” his mother said.

He hadn’t seen them since.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Introducing Max

When the cat died, we said that would be the last of our pets. Forty years of cats, and now it was time to start living. No responsibilities, no worries when out of the house, when traveling. Yet my heart called out for more. A dog.

In the past few months, my children sent me WhatsApp notices of puppies up for adoption. My granddaughters nudged me over and over – "When are you getting a dog? "Soon," I promised them. "Soon," I promised myself.

"We'll get a dog when the house renovations are finished," Jodie said to me. Three months behind schedule, but at last the majority of the work has been completed. It's time for a dog.

It's time for a dog

I joined a number of Facebook groups. Dogs for Adoption. Dog Lovers – For Adoption Only! Adopting Dogs Limited. Posts of available dogs were frequent, but, none of them were suitable. Jodie and I had made a few decisions. No puppies—we wouldn't be able to handle the training. We wouldn't pay for a dog. No pedigreed dogs. No dogs from shelter that could be suffering from traumas in their past. And, possibly most importantly for Jodie, the dog should not be a barker. In short, we wanted to adopt a dog from a family.

The first dog we interviewed for the position was a big, black, beautiful dog with white spots—Panda—who belonged to the brother of the person in charge of Neve Ilan's youth activities. Panda lived nearby. Panda was very friendly, jumping to lick your face when you first met him. But Panda was strong. Very strong. When we took him on a quick introductory walk, Jodie immediately realized she wouldn't be able to handle him.

How is Max with children?

I found a listing for Max on Yad2, the popular site where people sell, buy, give away, and search for everything from apartments for sale or rent, cars, furniture, and apparently, animals.

I called the phone listed with Max and a young male voice answered the phone. I asked a number of questions. "Does the dog bark?" "How is the dog with strangers?" "How is the dog with other dogs?" "With cats?" "How is the dog with children?"

"He's very good with children," the person said. "I'm a child."

"How old are you?" I asked.


That wasn't what I meant when I asked about children. Would the dog get along with my granddaughters? Would he be a good match for my four-year-old granddaughter?

Max was born and spent his puppyhood in Karnei Shomron. From there, two teenage boys traveled on a bus for 90 minutes with Max to their yeshiva in Jerusalem. The yeshiva informed the boys that they had 2 days to get rid of the dog. The boys were rushed to give Max away.

We planned to go to Jerusalem to meet Max on Friday morning at 11:00, with no commitment to take him. But then, the meeting with Panda was set up, so I informed the boys that we were considering other options, that we wouldn't be coming into Jerusalem after all. A few minutes later I received an SMS. "So, are you coming to Jerusalem?"

When the possibility of adopting Panda didn't work out, I sent another message to the boys asking them if we could still come. They happily agreed.

We immediately feel in love with him

We met Max in one of the boy's homes in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood. It was a religious household—their table was already set for Shabbat dinner at ten in the morning. Max was a little hesitant about approaching us, but he seemed like a friendly, healthy dog. We took him for an introductory walk and Jodie confirmed that she was strong enough to handle Max's strength. So, we took Max home with us.

To say that our family, especially our granddaughters, were excited about meeting Max, was the understatement of the year. They immediately fell in love with him, as did I. As did Jodie.

Max is beautiful. Friendly. He gets along with children. He likes other dogs (but not all male dogs like him). He has a healthy appetite. He is healthy, vaccinated, and has an identifying microchip embedded under his skin. He likes to take walks. He will soon be neutered. And, he also has a mind of his own.

"Max!" we call out. He races on.

Friday night dinner. Our entire family is enjoying our meal in Merav's new apartment above ours. Max stands to the side, sniffing at the good smells coming from the table. "No table scraps for you! Sit, Max!" And he obeys. Mostly.

The front door is left open a few seconds more than it should, and Max dashes out. He bounds down the steep steps and into the street. He runs into unknown territory. Maybe he's heading for his Jerusalem yeshiva? Or for his previous home in Karnei Shomron?

We all race after him. Reut and Gali run in one direction and then Erez and I spot Max up the street. He's fast! And, it's starting to rain. Max dashes into a garden. And the rain picks up. It's dark and we don't see Max. It's suddenly a downpour, and we are soaked to the core. We reach the street and follow Max into a four-inch-deep puddle. "Max!" we call out. He races on.

At last, Max turns into a fenced garden and I am able to slip on his leash. We head back to the house, where the entire family is waiting.

Max is back. Max is with his new family. Max is wonderful. Max is now part of our lives. And, we'll make sure to keep the front door closed for now.

(Two days after this story was written, Max escaped again. We really need to keep the door closed!)


# # #

Friday, January 26, 2024

Review of 'Bulgaria, the Jews, and the Holocaust' by Dr. Nadège Ragaru

The facts appear to be clear-cut. Despite Bulgaria's alliance with Germany during World War Two, its 48,000 Jewish citizens were not deported to the Nazi death camps. That said, 11,343 Jews from the Bulgarian-controlled territories of Macedonia, Serbia, and Thrace were 'cruelly loaded on trains bound for Treblinka, where they were murdered.' In the aftermath of these two parallel Holocaust storylines, many questions have been raised. Who rescued the Jews of Bulgaria? And, who is responsible for the deaths of the Jews from Bulgarian territories? The answers are not as simple as they may seem, and in fact, can be quite controversial.

These questions and more are raised in Bulgaria, the Jews, and the Holocaust: On the Origins of a Heroic Narrative by Nadège Ragaru, translated by Victoria Baena and David A. Rich (University of Rochester Press, October 2023). Originally published in French in 2020, this book is an exhaustive archival investigation into how the survival of Bulgarian Jewry emerged as the primary narrative of Bulgaria's Holocaust years, while the deportations and deaths of Macedonian, Serbian, and Greek Jews were blamed solely on Nazi Germany.

As recently as January 2023, 80 years after those deportations and murders, the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture issued a statement praising 'the significant role of the Bulgarian state, its institutions, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and the Bulgarian people for this unprecedented act in Europe in one of the darkest years of our continent, when the Bulgarian people and state demonstrated tolerance, empathy, but also will and courage to save their Jewish fellow citizens.'

Yes, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, many brave politicians, and the Bulgarian people in general can claim credit for saving Bulgarian Jews, but, as the author points out, the Bulgarian state and its institutions were directly responsible for policing the occupied territories, for rounding up the Jews living there, and for sending them to their deaths in the concentration camps.

To prove this argument, the author presents an eclectic mix of rarely considered evidence. She first explores the Bulgarian People's Courts, set up following the war's end to prosecute representatives of the pro-Nazi governing elite responsible for anti-Jewish persecutions. Then the author turns to the Cold War partnership of Bulgaria and East Germany within the framework of a film coproduction.

The author next considers just 'a few minutes of documentary footage that contains the only recorded images of Jewish deportation from the occupied territories.' These images play into the story promoted by the Bulgarian socialist regime in the 1960s and 1970s, which glorified the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews. The following chapter focuses on the 1990s and the changing memory of the Holocaust in the post-Communist period. In a chapter devoted to the years between 2000 and 2010, the author explores the 'Jews' engagement in memory politics, and their contribution to greater awareness of how timely a discussion of Bulgaria's co-responsibility in Jewish persecution in the 'new' and 'old' kingdoms may be.'

This is not easy reading, and to be clear, this is not a history of Bulgaria during World War Two. Bulgaria, the Jews, and the Holocaust uniquely presents the Jewish wartime experience with a consideration of the political, legal, historical, artistic and memorial aspects from the changing decades of post-war Bulgaria. Ultimately, as noted by the publisher, the author 'restores Jewish voices to the story of their own wartime suffering'.

The book, exhaustive in depth and scope, annotated with sources in multiple languages showing the meticulousness of the author's research, will appeal primarily to historians interested in the varied archival materials presented on its pages.

Dr. Nadège Ragaru is a Research Professor at the Centres d'études internationales (CERI), in Paris, France.

Bulgaria, the Jews, and the Holocaust: On the Origins of a Heroic Narrative is available in Open access.

Originally posted on The Times of Israel.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

"Pomelos" - short story

The war had been raging for 40 days when Eli reported to the orchards. Seven in the morning and he was the first one. The only one. Was he in the right place? Was he in his right mind to have driven an hour and a half from his relatively safe home in Tel Aviv to this remote orchard in the relatively unsafe south? All was quiet at this hour—no rockets, artillery, or jets overhead—but everything could change without a moment’s notice, and he was a bit nervous.

“It’s completely safe there,” he had reassured Batya the previous night when he announced his intention to volunteer at the kibbutz. “There have been no rocket alerts or incidents in that area.”

“Still, you’ll be very close to Gaza,” she replied, a worried look on her face. “You should go to some farm near Netanya instead.”

“I’m going where I’m most needed,” he insisted.

And that was that. He woke up before his alarm rang, put on the hiking boots he hadn’t worn since his hiking trip in the Bulgarian mountains ten years earlier. He took two pitot out of the freezer and made cheese sandwiches for his lunch. After packing a bottle of mineral water in his bag, he was ready to go.

“I should be back in the early afternoon,” he whispered to Batya as he kissed her on the forehead.

“As long as you come back in one piece,” she replied without opening her eyes.

They needed him; he told himself repeatedly as he drove south. Thai and Nepalese workers had fled from the country in the aftermath of that horrific Saturday the previous month. Who would work in the fields? Who would pick the crops? Volunteers, that’s who! And he had stepped up to the plate. He was sixty-five years old, but damn if he couldn’t help save Israeli agriculture.