Wednesday, November 29, 2023

"Jerusalem Marathon" Nominated for the Pushcart Prize

I am excited to share that my short story "Jerusalem Marathon," published by the San Antonio Review on November 19th, has been nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize.

The Pushcart Prize is an American literary prize published by Pushcart Press that honors the best "poetry, short fiction, essays or literary whatnot" published in the small presses over the previous year. Small presses are allowed to submit up to six works that they have published. The San Antonio Review submitted five poems and one short story.

"Out of hundreds of publications and thousands of submissions, the most revered pieces by SAR contributors have been nominated for this year's Pushcart Prize!" the San Antonio Review said in its announcement.

You're invited to read "Jerusalem Marathon".

Monday, November 20, 2023

"Jerusalem Marathon" - short story

They gathered near the Knesset. High school girls in modest skirts color-matched with running tights, yeshiva students sporting brand-name running shoes. Soldiers in uniform and start-up employees before the start of their workday. Individuals, friends, youngsters and athletic adults, the experienced and those here for the first time, everyone wearing the same lime green dry-wear shirt. All waited for the announcement that would kick off the race.

The sky was blue and promising, the early morning air crisp and refreshing. A perfect day for the Jerusalem Marathon. The main event, 42.2 kilometers long, would take the runners through downtown Jerusalem and north all the way to Mt. Scopus. The race circuit snaked through the Old City’s Jaffa Gate and along the narrow alleyways of the Armenian Quarter. Out Zion Gate, around Mt. Zion, up a steep hill to the old train station and through German Colony. South to the Arnona neighborhood, back towards the city center, and down the home stretch to the finish line at Sacher Park.

A festive day, carnival-like, for both the runners and those who came to cheer them on. Municipality and national flags furled in the light breeze; colorful balloons with the Marathon logo rose into the sky. Loud music competed with the call of vendors at stalls selling sporting equipment and refreshments. Bottles of mineral water were handed out to all who asked. And of course, a platform awaited the medalists—the top three finalists in each race.

All of this Mordechai Hirschfeld saw on the small television screen hung on the back wall of the lobby. He leaned forward in his wheelchair with great anticipation for the race’s starting gun. The television camera scanned the anxious faces of the runners crowded next to the starting line, and Mordechai shifted his legs on their pedals, as if he, too, was waiting to run with them, to fight for position and push forward until he had a clear straightaway where he could pick up speed. He would show them, he thought.

“What are you doing, Mordie? Imagining you’re running in the Marathon?”

Mordechai looked over at Spiegel, his neighbor from across the hall in Beit Gilboa, the assisted living retirement home in southern Jerusalem. Spiegel was sitting on a hard chair, a silver-framed walker parked at his side. “I was a runner in my day,” Mordechai said proudly. “You should have seen me then. If it wasn’t for my legs, I would be there now,” he said, pointing at the television.

Read the rest of the story on San Antonio Review.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

War Diary: How Do You Cope?

Pictures of the hostages on a sign to buy local Israeli products
The television news is on. The news is always on. Rockets, sirens. A soldier's death. Scenes of destruction in Gaza. Scenes of destruction in the kibbutzim. The wounded. Unfathomable terror. The hostages.

Panelists discuss the issues. There are no answers.

Doomscrolling a Facebook news feed. Memes, links to articles. Descriptions of antisemitic marches and attacks on Jews worldwide. Fund-raising efforts and rallies of support. Tales of the victims. The hostages.

People ask me if I'm OK, but none of us are OK. My son and son-in-law are too old to serve in the army reserves and we don't personally know any of the victims, but with rockets flying overhead, and the bombings in Gaza as well as rocket interceptions over Tel Aviv audible from our home, this is all very personal.

So, how do you cope? How can you manage these unmanageable days? Everyone has their own survival guide. This is mine, in no particular order.

Exercise – start the day very early with a 5-kilometer run in the gym.

Work – carry on with a regular routine by working remotely and conducting meetings on Teams and Skype.

Read – buy countless books from Amazon. Lately I've read The Heaven & Earth Grocery Story by James McBride; The Searcher by Tana French; The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex; and The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece, a novel by Tom Hanks.

Write – while I haven't been able to write fiction, I have written occasional journal entries telling what it's like living through a war. And I recently wrote reviews of two short story collections – East Jerusalem Noir and West Jerusalem Noir.

Volunteer – I've joined the civil guard on Neve Ilan, serving shifts at the main gate. While I'm not guarding with a gun, I am stopping cars driving in, asking the identity of unfamiliar faces, and hopefully providing a deterrent to anyone suspicious coming into my community.

Guard duty at the moshav gate

Binge – Netflix plays a major role in our evenings, and we generally watch limited series, an episode every night. Recently we've seen 'Live to 100, Secrets of the Blue Zone'; 'Wellmania'; and 'Painkiller'. Currently we're watching 'All the Light We Cannot See'.

Laugh – Occasionally we'll watch a Stephen Colbert opening monologue, Saturday Night Live skits on YouTube, or a Taylor Tomlinson stand-up special.

Listen to music – at the gym, in the car. Loud music to drown out everything and quiet music to chill.

Listen to podcasts –True crime, science, Bulgarian history, and a weekly episode of 'Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me!'

Be thankful for family – babysitting when we're needed and a Friday night Shabbat dinner to keep us close to our loved ones.

Be thankful for our home – we were just days away from finishing the construction of the apartment above our house but now the contractor's workers can't cross into Israel. But how can we complain? There are so many Israelis who have been evacuated from their homes in the south and from their homes in the north. They are staying in hotels all over the country for an indefinite period of time. There are so many who have lost everything; their communities have been destroyed. We are thankful that our community is here for us and we have a safe roof over our heads.

Hike/Walk – get out of the house and into nature. On Shabbat I walked through unfamiliar Jerusalem neighborhoods and whenever I can, I hike into the forests near Neve Ilan.

Sympathize – with the victims, the families, the mourners. I can't imagine what it's like for them. The funerals. The hostages. Always that – the hostages.

Support – buy blue and white products, including cheese from the Beeri Dairy and vegetables from the kibbutzim near Gaza.

Cheese from the Beeri Dairy

Don't turn on the television - but, how can you not turn on the television? How can you not read the news? How can you not spend hour after hour doomscrolling? It's hard.

Survive – these are difficult days, but we'll make it. We survived COVID; we'll get past this. This is a war and we will win. We have no choice.

Related articles:

War Diary: What Terrifies Me More Than Anything Else

War Diary: Day 5

Israel at War. Again.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Review of 'East Jerusalem Noir' - short stories

The Six Day War in 1967 brought the reunification of the city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital but the reality on the ground is different, with the city clearly divided into East and West. Israelis rarely venture into East Jerusalem, its neighborhoods as foreign as those of a different country.

Israeli readers may be uncomfortable with the short stories of East Jerusalem Noir (Akashic Books, November 2023), for they are tales of house demolitions, separation walls, checkpoints, and destroyed villages. But they are also tales of heavenly faiths that call out to residents to fill the emptiness of their lives with prayer.

The protagonist of the opening story, 'The Ceiling of the City' by Nuzha Abu Ghosh is stopped by soldiers at Damascus Gate and is taken to prison because he doesn't have his ID. In 'The Scorpion' by Ibrahim Jouhar, a bulldozer disrupts an ordinary Jerusalem day, causing a homeowner to cry out "O wasted life, O lost dreams." Nothing is crueler, perhaps, than seeing your dream house torn to pieces.

In the story 'Between The Two Jerusalems' by Osama Alaysa we meet a gentle refugee from the destroyed village of Lifta who, despite his Downs syndrome, establishes himself as an unofficial traffic officer. He wanders around Jerusalem's old walls. The many vehicles in the streets make him feel free. He steps forward to direct traffic only to be detained by the police as a suspected terrorist.

For the residents of East Jerusalem, ordinary days in an extraordinary existence include waiting for a court decision that will determine the fate of one's home. In the story 'In an Extraordinary City' by Rahaf Al-Sa'ad, Abu wonders if the hopes he'd planted in the hearts of his wife and children had been a mirage. Was it unfair to hope for something that couldn't possibly come true?

Possibly the most heart-rending story in the book is 'Noble Sanctuary' by Muhammad Shuraim. We meet 75-year-old Hajja Aisha who, having just arrived from Amman, hopes to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque before her impending heart surgery. There is traffic on the roads and long lines at the checkpoints. Security inspections and gathering soldiers. Is Hajja's heart strong enough to bear the erupting violence and make it to Friday prayers?

The collection's editor, Rawya Jarjoura Burbara, says she asked the writers "to portray the city of Jerusalem as they live it, as they feel it, as they appreciate it, as they fear it, as they want it to be, and as they imagine it in the past, the present, and the future." The result is 13 stories translated from Arabic, often painful to read and some with abrupt endings. The stories tell of the unfulfilled hopes and dreams of East Jerusalem residents, their lives vastly different from those living in the western half of the city.

East Jerusalem Noir of the Akashic Noir Series is published simultaneously with West Jerusalem Noir, a companion collection that reflects an image of the national, religious, and socioeconomic tension in the western half of the complicated city of Jerusalem.

Originally posted on The Times of Israel.

Related article:

Touring the Dark Side of Tel Aviv

Thursday, November 2, 2023

"The Noise Above" - short story


A deafening hammering. A piercing drilling. Incessant, irregular, and irritating, to say the least. It stopped and started, continued for several minutes, and then, unexpectedly, there was a lull until it started up again. It seemed like it would never end. And it was all coming from the floor above her head.

She couldn’t begin to imagine what was happening up there. Were they tearing down walls, or building new ones? Were they tiling or wiring or installing or cementing or plastering or who knows what? What she did know was that the work was loud, so very loud, and there was dust everywhere.

“Imma, you need to move out,” Shelly insisted. “There’s no way you can stay in your house with all that construction work going on overhead.

“I’m fine,” she insisted. “It won’t go on forever.”

“Are you wearing those earphones I gave you?” Benny asked her. “Imma, you'll lose your hearing if you don’t take precautions!”

“I can hear just fine,” she replied, although there were times when she could literally not hear herself think.

“Live somewhere else for the duration,” Shelly said.

“You can stay with me,” Benny said, although she wasn’t sure he was sincere with his invitation.

“I’m not leaving my home. I refuse, even for this! I’ll manage, Benny. I’ll survive, Shelly. After all, it’s an annoyance only part of the day.”

Part of the day? It started at seven in the morning and lasted until four in the afternoon. It didn’t help if she turned the radio up to full volume. Occasionally she went outside, walked down the street, visited Esther next door, but no matter where she went, the noise followed her, ringing in her ears. Even at night, when the workers were long gone and their drills and hammers were silent, she could still hear the pounding and the banging in her head.


“I’ll manage,” she tried to convince herself as she lay in her bed. She knew Shelly and Benny had her best interests in mind when they said she should be move out for the duration of the building, but she was stubborn and insisted on staying. Maybe not moving out was a mistake, but she would never admit it. They may be right, but she refused to be wrong. Still, thoughts of how the mess of construction was interfering with her daily routine, along with the constant ringing in her ears, kept her awake for long hours.

Read the rest of the story on New English Review.