Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Review of 'The Memory Monster' by Yishai Sarid

Holocaust studies have been mandatory in Israeli high schools since the 1980s and 11th graders are regularly taken on educational trips to the German extermination camps in Poland. According to a study of "Shoah Education in Israeli State Schools 2007-2009" presented by Bar Ilan University, "The journey to Poland is among the most important and effective aspects of Shoah education, highly valued by students, teachers and school principals."

But what about the long-term effects of these journeys on those who guide the students through the camps? Are they able to bear the emotional burden of walking under the iconic Arbeit macht frei sign at Auschwitz's gate time and time again? 

The subject of Holocaust education from the viewpoint of concentration camp tour guides is at the center of The Memory Monster by Yishai Sarid, translated by Yardenne Greenspan (Restless Books, September 2020). The short, but powerful novel raises the question of how far we let the horrors of the past infiltrate our present day lives.

The book's narrative is presented as a report by a nameless historian to the chairman of Yad Vashem, the official representative of Holocaust memory in Israel. The report details the historian's career, how he at first considered Holocaust studies a burden and thought himself immune to the emotional stress. The historian prepared his PhD dissertation on the process of Nazis' extermination techniques—a topic covering the details of mass murder, gas chambers, and crematoriums—while supporting himself and his family by guiding high school students in Poland.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Review of “The Tunnel” by A. B. Yehoshua

In the opening scene of The Tunnel by A. B. Yehoshua, translated by Stuart Schoffman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 2020), Zvi Luria, a retired road engineer, is diagnosed with an atrophy in the frontal lobe of his brain. One of the first symptoms of Zvi’s incipient dementia is that first names are escaping him. And then he can’t remember the ignition code for his car. And when asked to pick up his grandchild from kindergarten, he takes home the wrong child.

Luria’s wife Dina, a pediatrician with health problems of her own, encourages Zvi to volunteer as an unpaid assistant on an engineering project “so that he could, on the advice of the neurologist, fight better, with the help of roads, interchanges, and tunnels, against the atrophy gnawing away at his brain.” Luria joins Asael Maimoni, the son of a former colleague, and the two of take on a project of planning a “secret road in the desert.”

The Israeli army has asked for a road in Ramon Crater, but it is unclear where this road will lead to. The one thing that is clear is that a “hill resembling a flattened cone” is in the way. The engineers could suggest bulldozing their way through the hill, but there is a problem. An archaeological ruin sits atop the hill and a family has taken up residence there.

The squatters, it turns out, are “West Bank Palestinians whose identity became confused.” They have no home to return to, and no future awaits them. The solution for the engineering team? Dig a tunnel through the hill.

Monday, September 7, 2020

"At the Bank" - a short story in 101 words


Back in April, when we were only beginning to understand how far, and how fast the pandemic would spread, I discovered a website soliciting 101-word stories. I wondered if I was capable of writing a story that short that could in some way express what was happening all around us.

The result was "At the Bank". I submitted it to 101 Words in April and apparently they lost the submission. I only received a rejection note now, 5 months later, but I think the story is still valid today. Here is the story and what they said in the rejection letter. (It was quite unusual to get an on-the-spot critique, instead of an impersonal form letter!)


At the Bank

A masked man walked into a bank early Friday morning. He was not there to rob, or to take hostages. He had come to withdraw hard-earned savings. He had waited in line patiently, keeping his distance from those ahead. When the guard finally allowed him in, he hurried to the counter, his eyes slightly lowered in embarrassment. After he stated his request, the teller punched a few keys, looked at a screen, and opened a cash drawer. Bills were counted and handed over, the man bowed in wordless thanks, and left. The teller shook his head and adjusted his own mask.


The rejection letter:

Overall, the current environment makes a situation like a bank customer closing their account an out of the ordinary situation. However, the main issue that I have with this story is that this situation just seems like an ordinary task, even with the Covid-19 kicking around. These are situations that bank tellers deal with all the time. If there was something unique that a bank teller happened to be involved in, it would be a different story.

# # #

Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Journey into Bulgarian History and a Thrilling Crime Story

For many readers in United States, Bulgaria is a strange and mysterious land. A small European country with around 7 million population, most of them speak Bulgarian, a major Slavic language after Russian and Ukrainian. Only recently attain its democracy 20 years ago, joined the European Union at 2007. For most American readers, Bulgaria would probably perceived as just an insignificant country in Europe.

Yet, Mr. Shuman, former Editor in Chief of Israel Insider and About.com’s Israel Culture Guide, told us how false our perception can be. In “Valley of Thracians”, we are guided into a wonderful journey into ancient Bulgarian history, a thrilling crime story and a memorable adventure.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Review of 'Three' by D. A. Mishani

There are three women at the heart of Israeli crime writer D.A. Mishani’s new novel Three, translated by Jessica Cohen (Europa Editions, August 2020). Orna is a single mother raising a young son still traumatized by his parents’ divorce. Emilia is a live-in caregiver from Latvia who is trying to find herself after the elderly man she cared for died. And Ella is married, the mother of three, who is writing her university thesis. Three women with nothing in common, except for the same strange man who comes into their lives.

Orna meets Gil on a dating site for divorced singles. After online chats they meet up. Orna is surprised at how patient Gil is, at how he seems like he has all the time in the world to develop their connection. He doesn’t pressure her, and their phone conversations are so short that Orna wonders why they are talking on the phone at all. Still, they continue to talk and when they meet on a date it is Orna who suggests that they become intimate. Gil’s seeming reluctance to pursue their affair makes one curious as to why their relationship ends up the way it does.

Emilia needs to look for a job after 84-year-old Nachum dies. Nachum’s wife and children assure her that she can remain in her small room until she finds new work. A part-time position opens up, but Emilia would have to do it for cash, without permits. Nachum’s wife suggests that Emilia talk to her son Gil, a lawyer. Gil, she says, will make sure Emilia doesn’t get deported from Israel. Gil asks Emilia to clean his apartment and she agrees. In her free time, Emilia goes to church services, trying to find spiritual meaning to her life. She asks herself if she should go back to Latvia, but what she doesn’t ask herself is why she let herself fall under Gil’s spell.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Volcano - short story

“You need to come home. Now.”

“I hear you,” I reply, holding the phone at a distance. Maya’s voice comes across the line at a higher decibel level than usual. “Are you sure you’re feeling contractions?”

“Daniel!” It is nearly a shout. “I know what this is and I know that you have to be on the next flight.”

“Alright,” I say, wondering if this isn’t another case of false labor, like the symptoms that sent us to the hospital prematurely just two weeks ago. “I will order my ticket for tonight.”

“I don’t know if I can last that long!”

It is early afternoon so there’s plenty of time to make a reservation. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be an empty seat on the plane. Not many people fly from Sofia to Tel Aviv in the middle of the week.

Read the rest of the story on The Bookends Review.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Why I Run


I get up every morning at 5 am. Am I crazy? Although I’ve always been an early morning person, these days I am working from home and can get up whenever I want. Yet here I am, getting out of bed before the sun rises in the sky.

And the reason I get up so early is so that I can run.

Last year, I ran the 10-kilometer race in the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Marathons. I am not an athlete at all, nor a professional runner, but I ran those races.

At the time, daily visits to the gym and running, whether indoors on a treadmill or outdoors on weekends, were part of my routine. Unfortunately, a number of physical setbacks as well as the rising cost of gym membership threw me off course. It's only in recent weeks that I’ve begun running again.

So, why do I run? Here are a few of the reasons:

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Boar Meet


I ran into a pack of wild boars the other day. Wild boars? Is there any other kind?

It was on one of my 5am runs that I encountered an adult boar and six piglets. The smaller creatures quickly vanished into the brush, but the adult turned to me and moved steadily forward. It grunted as it approached.

I have written about boars before, and how they became uninvited visitors on my moshav. The last time I saw boars was in the middle of the night a year ago, when two huge creatures ran across my path. But I knew they were still around.

Overturned garbage bins. Garbage on the street. Hoofprints in the garden. Uprooted plants. More garbage.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Sorry Americans, But You Just Won’t Understand This Hilarious Movie


You can be excused if you saw the Netflix film “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” and found the plot to be totally ridiculous. How could there ever be an international song competition with singers who care more about their outlandish appearance than about performing memorable songs?

But Eurovision really exists and this movie accurately presents the glitzy fanfare. As silly as it looks and sounds, Eurovision is serious stuff. After all, the competition introduced the world to Abba and Celine Dion. Broadcast all across Europe and elsewhere around the world, Eurovision is one of the most watched non-sporting events and attracts hundreds of millions of viewers.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The New Normal?


Yesterday some 500 new cases of coronavirus were detected in Israel, the highest number since April. The number of cases keeps going up. Health Ministry officials warn us that we will soon have over a thousand new cases a day, higher than Israel’s peak in late March/early April.

The second wave of the disease seems to be a direct result of the re-opening of the Israeli economy. Life has returned to normal, but a new sort of normal. Things are different.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

I Am Looking for My Next Book to Read


Here’s the deal: Having self-published two novels and a collection of short stories, I know how difficult it is for new authors to find readers and get reviews for their books. I want to help!

I am looking for a novel/s to buy and read. I will endeavor to post an honest review (on my blog, on Amazon, on social media). Honest review. This means clearly stating if I like or don’t like the book; what works in the book and what doesn’t; and whether it’s well-written (no spelling and/or grammar errors).

I am interested in a Kindle digital book that I can purchase and download from Amazon.

If you’re looking for a buyer/reader/reviewer – quite possibly you’ve come to the right place!

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Hristo Botev Day


Today in Bulgaria is Hristo Botev Day, honoring the 19th century revolutionary and poet widely considered by Bulgarians to be a symbolic historical figure and national hero. The day also honors all those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom and independence of Bulgaria.(Hristo Botev statue in Vratsa, taken on our visit in April 2009.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Review of Apeirogon by Colum McCann

"An absorbing tale of hope and love against very great odds"

I recently finished reading an amazing novel by Irish author Colum McCann. Apeirogon is rooted in the unlikely real-life friendship born of tragedy between two fathers - one Israeli and one Palestinian. Together, through their painful stories, these two men seek to forge a path towards empathy, compassion, and hope for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

I never got around to writing a review of this very worthy book so I'll leave it to my good friend, Ranen Omer-Sherman. The following review is posted with his permission.

*-*-*

While there may never be a truly definitive study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the award-winning Irish writer Colum McCann’s astonishingly good Apeirogon surely succeeds more than most when it comes to creating an empathic, morally and aesthetically imaginative portrayal of the extent to which this tragedy has wreaked havoc on innocent human beings on both sides.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

RSVP Funeral


My mother-in-law died last week, but not from COVID-19. These days, that phrase needs to be added when talking about the death of an elderly person, especially one in frail health. Coronavirus has impacted all of our lives, especially the elderly, but this was not the case here.

As my family discovered last week, the pandemic also affects the ways we mourn.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Review of ‘The Drive’ by Yair Assulin

Service in the Israeli army is mandatory for all Israelis when they turn 18. Exemptions are given for religion (Arab Israelis, yeshiva students, observant women), pregnancy, or conscientious objection. In addition, as much as one-third of Israeli males and 44% of females avoid being drafted into the military for medical or psychological reasons, according to recent media reports.

In the novel The Drive by Yair Assulin, translated by Jessica Cohen (New Vessel Press, April 2020), the unnamed protagonist is in the middle of his compulsory military service but things are not going well. He feels that the army is suffocating him, that he is enduring three years of slow death.

His parents find their son’s depression difficult to understand. His father admits that army service is not easy, but everyone needs to get through it and there is no choice. Still, the young soldier has no desire to continue and after many arguments with his base commander, schedules an appointment with an IDF Mental Health Officer.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A Somewhat Unconventional Thriller


Valley of Thracians: A Novel of Bulgaria by Ellis Shuman is a somewhat unconventional thriller. Set in Bulgaria, it’s also part travelogue, and the “hero” is an elderly gentleman with a limp. Not your typical “noir” setting or private “I”! But that doesn’t make it any less suspenseful. From page one, I was hooked!

Shuman describes the cities and culture of Bulgaria with vivid detail– I wish I could describe settings that well! His main characters are fascinating and believable — a grandfather in search of his grandson who went missing after joining the Peace Corps and is presumed dead, and a mysterious female friend the grandfather meets in Bulgaria, who seems to good-naturedly want to help him. But does she have something to hide?

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Historically and Culturally Significant Adventure Thriller

If you are like me, I do a lot of my traveling via books! Certainly, the setting for many fiction novels takes us to exciting places; however, Ellis Shuman who has spent time there, has taken special care in including much more than the usual, in writing Valley of Thracians.

So if you are like myself, as an average American who had no real "perception" or knowledge of this country, then I highly recommend you consider this much more than an exciting adventure thriller--consider it a significant historical and cultural novel from which you will learn much... While enjoying the familial love of a grandfather who refuses to believe his grandson is dead...

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Political Leaders Behaving Badly


Our leaders have failed us at the time we need them most

During these difficult days, I no longer leave my home to go to work. I no longer shop, travel, go to movies, or eat out at restaurants. I am maintaining social distance from my grandchildren and have given up family dinners. I am staying in my house.

I am adhering to these restrictions because I must trust the leadership of my country to get us through this crisis together to better times ahead.

Unfortunately, our leaders have not earned that trust.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Review of ‘Saving Israel’ by Boaz Dvir


In the years following World War II, leaders of the Yishuv in Palestine were tasked with two major challenges. Transporting displaced Jewish refugees to their new homeland was impeded by the British blockade and obtaining weaponry for the Haganah was restricted by international embargoes. As statehood approached, an imminent Arab invasion threatened the entire Jewish community.

Desperate to get around the British, clandestine operations were launched to airlift weapons and aircraft. The story of efforts to save the Jewish state before its birth is told in Saving Israel: The Unknown Story of Smuggling Weapons and Winning a Nation’s Independence by Boaz Dvir (Stackpole Books, January 2020).

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Review of ‘Exile: Portraits of the Jewish Diaspora’ by Annika Hernroth-Rothstein

After being confronted with anti-Semitism for the first time as a youth, and realizing this was from being an isolated incident, Swedish journalist Annika Hernroth-Rothstein began wondering how Jews manage to survive, and in many cases thrive, in the diaspora. She set forth on a personal mission “to show ... and highlight the history, culture, and lives of [her] brothers and sisters all across the world.”

The result of the author’s “journey into the radically unknown and comfortably familiar” is her richly detailed investigative memoir, Exile: Portraits of the Jewish Diaspora (Bombardier Books, January, 2020). For the author, and for readers who join her on her travels, the book is a profound, enlightening experience.

Hernroth-Rothstein’s first stop is the island of Djerba, off the coast of Tunisia. Isolated in its self-imposed ghetto, the Jewish community there is actually growing because the Tunisian Jews “understand the rules and limitations to which they must adhere.” They have survived because they “have created an impenetrable core the provides great comfort and relative safety.” The author wonders if this “might be the future of the Jewish diaspora: to refuse modernity, hide from the outside world, and plant your feet firmly in the past.”

Thursday, January 23, 2020

And Then My Phone Died


I knew it was coming even though there had been no warning signs. “It’s not going to live forever,” I was told, but I didn’t believe it. But when Jodie’s phone died suddenly a few months ago—working one moment and then totally uncommunicative the next—I began making preparations. I was ready but I never expected it to happen so soon.

One day last week I checked my phone in the office to see if I had any new messages. The screen was black. Maybe the phone was turned off? Maybe a restart was needed? Nothing worked.

Luckily there is a phone repair shop just outside my building. The salesman/technician began a careful investigation into the source of my phone’s failure to respond. “It’s the motherboard,” he concluded, when I returned to the shop an hour later.

Everything was in my phone. Calls, contacts, codes. Camera, social media, messaging—the necessities of life. Not to mention Waze and Maps to navigate; a clock to wake me up in the mornings; an app to track my running. Music, podcasts, ordering taxis and coffee, and reading the news—I use my phone for everything.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Taxi Politics - short story


“So, what do you say about our country? Staging elections for the third time this year! Where else in the world do you have a country like this? And we call ourselves a democracy! Is it a democracy when we can’t elect a stable government? What do you say about that?”

The man in the backseat looked up from his phone, surprised that the driver had spoken to him.

“What?”

“Elections! They’re coming around the corner again and I wondered what is your opinion?”

“My opinion?”

“Yes, your opinion. Every citizen is entitled to have an opinion. I meet many people every day and let me tell you. Everyone has an opinion. What’s yours?”

Monday, January 6, 2020

The Cave - short story


They say the cave offers a passage to the underworld. In ancient Greek mythology, a musician, poet, and prophet named Orpheus, son of the god Apollo, descended through the cave into the subterranean kingdom of Hades in search of his beloved, Eurydice. There are many versions of this legend and none of them have happy endings.

They say that an outcrop of rock deep inside the cave’s interior resembles the face of the devil. This oddly shaped formation gives the cave its name. Devil’s Throat Cave. I don’t see the resemblance and I go into the cave six times a day, every day of the week. Except for the occasional Sunday.

It’s not all fun and games, this summer job of mine. My initial enthusiasm for working in nature and guiding tours of the cave has faded. The work is not hard, physically, but repeating the same talk over and over is tiring. Sometimes I wonder if anyone in my tours appreciates what they’re seeing. And sometimes I just can’t wait until the last person exits the cave so that I can lock the door soundly behind me.

Read the rest of the story on The Write Launch.