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April Mid-Month Report: It Keeps Getting More Surreal

For new subscribers: On the first of each month, I put out a newsletter with book recommendations, literary events and resources and more. Since October 7th, I’ve also been putting out mid-month updates with some reflections from life in Israel, as well as some literary things. (Scroll down for the literary things).

Dear friends,

Greetings after a somewhat sleepless night…A lot has happened in the last two weeks since I sent my regular newsletter…and I’m sending this mid-month report a day early in case you want to catch Literary Modiin’s fourth Israel solidarity event, happening today, Sunday, April 14, at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern / 10 am Pacific, etc. Join me to hear readings from Gili Haimovich, Rebecca Bardach, Maxim D. Shrayer, Shlomi Hatuka, Sarah Sassoon and Elissa Wald. Register here.

I can’t quite believe we’re already on Day 191. Pesach is in a little over a week, and the thought of so many families having to sit around the seder table with empty chairs is heartbreaking. Halavai - may it soon come to pass - that the hostages are released and will soon be back with their families.

I’ll start with some good news: for those who have been following this story from my last few newsletters or on Facebook, my friend Leah’s son has finally been able to come out of his induced coma and off the ventilator, and — after eight surgeries — can now begin the long, hard road of recovery. She herself is a hero, projecting unbelievable faith and positivity since he was injured. For the Hebrew readers among you, here is just one of many articles about her son Ari, who was severely injured at the end of February.

Given the threat from Iran, it was a weirdly normal Shabbat here yesterday. At shul we prayed for two young men just starting their IDF service. Afterwards I went to a small kiddush to celebrate the engagement of a young couple. Really, weddings and engagements are the best things these days. Mazal tov, Noam and Tova and families! Everyone was very chatty and happy, and not using electronics over Shabbat meant that we could indeed enjoy a day of rest and peace.

Of course, once Shabbat was over, we did have to contend with the new Homefront Command directives — educational institutions shuttered for today, flights cancelled, tiyulim cancelled, people told to stay close to their safe rooms. And so we did. My daughter and I settled in to watch a movie, and really, we were fine, but still there were people to check up on, family in America to calm down, lots of whatsapps coming in, so none of us got to sleep until around 3 am. I can’t say the same for everyone, but I was not freaking out. The whole thing just felt surreal, and reminded me of the first Gulf War, when we watched things unfold on live television. My office let everyone know last night that we could work remotely, so I didn’t set my alarm this morning, though occasionally I woke up from hearing the Air Force overhead…all I can say is thank God for our strong IDF and Air Force, thank God for the Iron Dome.

Back to Gaza - I have no special insights about what is going on there. A week ago the IDF announced they were pulling out all troops except one brigade, a temporary measure to give the troops some well-deserved R&R. I get that, and I was especially happy to see some of the soldiers I’ve been worrying about for six months back at home, but I didn’t understand the announcement. Not one other person I spoke to could understand it either.

A week before that, many people I know - inside and outside Israel - mourned the tragedy of the seven World Central Kitchen aid workers killed by an IDF strike. The IDF concluded that the strike was a “grave mistake stemming from a serious failure due to a mistaken identification, errors in decision-making, and an attack contrary to the Standard Operating Procedures” and several high-ranking IDF officers were dismissed. See my friend Glen’s open letter to the head of World Central Kitchen, in which he prays that “this tragedy will not weaken [WCK’s] resolve to continue your tremendous work in helping feed those in need, particularly in Gaza and other war zones around the world.” May the lives of these innocent and well-meaning aid workers be a blessing.

Another heart-wrenching story I came across and read recently was from a survivor of the Nova festival, Jenny Sividia, who lost her brother at the festival. Since Oct 7, she’s been “wearing three separate hats: psychologist, grieving sister, and survivor.” Give it a read here.

Pesach next week will undoubtedly be one of the most difficult we’ve had to celebrate, certainly much more painful than the Pesach of 2020, when we couldn’t believe we were all having tiny Covid seders with immediate family only. As Haim Watzman wrote in his annual d’var Torah in memory of his son Niot, z”l:

This year, many Israelis will have to celebrate the Seder far from home, physically and mentally. Some of them will still be hostages in Gaza, and some will gather around tables where a chair stands empty, waiting for one who has been abducted or in memory of one who has been killed. Some will still be evacuees from their homes. I pray that this will not come to pass, but it seems likely that each of us will still feel, each in his own home, from the shock of what we experienced on and since Shemini Atzeret, emotional distance from the security and serenity that home is meant to give us. As we take drops of wine from our glasses during the recitation of the Ten Plagues, we will ponder our justified battle to defend us, and the price we pay for uprooting so many people from their dwellings, their homes.

Given yesterday’s events, the number of people who were supposed to be at our seder has started to go down, but I will be grateful to those who can make it (all our guests this year are meant to be coming from abroad). I’m also looking forward to looking at - and being inspired by - what my husband has prepared for our seder this year - selections of early haggadot from the kibbutzim from the founding of the State.

I’ll leave you with a few pictures from my fifth straight week of picking oranges, which is definitely sustaining me. Last Friday, I went by myself; it was a few Thai workers, the farmer, and me. What an amazing smell to be in an orange grove. Each time I picked an orange, a spray of orange blossoms floated down on my head. It was heavenly.

Literary Matters

What I’m reading: Recently finished - and loved - Curtis Sittenfeld’s ROMANTIC COMEDY. Now reading and enjoying Lisa Ko’s THE LEAVERS. And Listening to THE BERRY PICKERS by Amanda Peters. Look for my upcoming reviews in my May newsletter.

Stories: A new issue of is out, just in time for Passover. I need to dive in and read these 13 new stories, originally written in five different languages.

My Pesach writings:

  • Nonfiction: In case you didn’t catch this when it came out two years ago, my own essay, “On Pesach, She” published by TC Jewfolk.

  • Fiction: And in case you haven’t read The Book of Jeremiah, the first story, “A Strong Hand and an Outstretched Arm” takes place partly at a seder. Hope you’ll give it (and the whole book!) a read. Follow the “Buy Me a Coffee” link below to get a signed copy.

Thanks for being with me here…Hope to see you at today’s solidarity event.

B’sorot tovot, my friends. By the time we sit down at our seders next week, may all our hostages be home. May our soldiers stay safe or heal quickly, and may there be less suffering all around.


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