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December Mid-Month Report: Pain and Joy

Dear friends,


Thanks to everyone who has been reaching out. There is nothing to sugarcoat in this mid-month report: the news is still bad, and the days and nights feel heavy. Most of us are walking around in a fog of depression, but there are also moments of joy. Scroll down to “10 Things…” if you want to get straight to the joy.


Since I last wrote on December 1st, another 49 soldiers have lost their lives and the families of at least nine or ten hostages have been informed of their deaths. Every morning we wake up to the terrible news of the IDF deaths cleared for publication. We skim the names and hometowns quickly, thinking - Is that the son of someone I used to work with? Is that the nephew or cousin of someone I know with that last name? Many of my friends whose kids are fighting in Gaza are still going weeks without hearing from them.


Tonight is the final night of Chanukah. Halevai (may it come to pass) that the remaining 135 hostages return home today, before the holiday is over, before Shabbat starts tomorrow. If you’re in the US, remember to visit oneminaday to call your reps in Congress.


Each day, still, Hamas fires rockets into civilian centers in Israel; as of this writing, the Homefront Command reports 887 alerts of missiles or hostile aircraft incursions in the last two weeks. To say nothing of the looming Hezbollah threat in the north (some of the aforementioned alerts are from Hezbollah). I’ve had to enter a safe room more times in the last two weeks than in the period from October 7 - December 1. And though I squarely place the blame on Hamas, it is a terrible feeling, too, to know that the war is causing untold suffering and thousands of deaths of innocent Palestinians in Gaza.



Spotted recently on Facebook. “I don’t know what I’m more afraid of: what has happened, what is happening, or what has yet to happen.”


And yet: People are finding ways of coping. Whether it is throwing oneself into work, avoiding the news, volunteering as much as possible, continuing to exercise or write or make music or art (usually some combination of all of the above), coupled with some good old-fashioned gin and tonic/wine/whiskey/beer/drink of choice, most of us are still getting up in the morning and putting one foot in front of the other.


With that being said, as an antidote to everything going on, I decided to follow my own (and Ayelet Tsabari’s) advice and write a list of 10 Things Bringing Me Joy, which you can find towards the bottom of this newsletter, together with my “joy” collage, (thank you, Canva).


But first: some literary announcements….


Readers’ Choice Survey


It’s that time of the year when everyone is publishing their “Best of” lists. Please fill out this quick, 2-minute Readers’ Choice survey and list your five favorite books of the year. Note: the books do not need to have been published in 2023, just your five favorite reads. Look for the results in my January newsletter.


Some end-of-year book lists I’ve enjoyed (and I’m adding many of these to my to-be-read pile): Book Nation by Jen and What Is Your Favorite Book of 2023? (a list from MidStory Magazine).


Events

Literary Modiin’s Third Israel Solidarity Event will take place this Sunday, December 17, at 20:00 IL time / 1 pm ET. This is a chance to hear short readings from writers inside Israel and abroad relevant to our current moment. Featuring readings by Erika Dreifus, Jonathan Dunsky, Diti Ronen, Sarah Sassoon, Elizabeth Edelglass, Rachel Neve-Midbar, and yours truly. Register here.



If you want to get a jump on the January events, we already have two on the calendar: January 7 (on Zoom) with Annie Kantar, Adam Mansbach and Nancy Ludmerer, and January 28 (in-person and on Zoom) with Janice Weizman, Jennifer Lang and Ruth Marks Eglash.


10 Things Bringing Me Joy

In no particular order, here are a few things that have brought me joy over the last few weeks. Some literary, some personal, some nation-wide, some tasty, and one sort of silly, but whatever.

  1. Reunion videos and pictures: Watching the videos of the returned hostages being reunited with their families. I think I’ve watched 9-year-old Ohad Munder run into his father’s arms at least a dozen times, and Emilia Aloni being welcomed back to gan at least a few. Also: Seeing pictures of soldier siblings seeing each other for the first time in a long time.

  2. New books: My husband returned last Thursday from the States, bringing me a copy of Adam Mansbach’s The Golem of Brooklyn and 18: Jewish Stories Translated from 18 Languages, an anthology edited by Nora Gold of translated stories from Albanian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Ladino, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, and Yiddish. Both Adam and Nora will be appearing at future Literary Modiin events, Adam on January 7 and Nora in March, to discuss her new novellas and the anthology. And earlier this week, when my brother-in-law arrived to volunteer, he brought the signed copy of Shuly Xóchitl Cawood’s poetry volume, Something So Good It Can Never Be Enough (Press 53), which had been waiting at my parents’ house, along with several of Shuly’s gorgeous, colorful doodles.

  3. New bike: After 11 years, my old mountain bike was caput, so I’ve just acquired a gently-used Trek, with full suspension and various other bells and whistles that I was told will vastly improve my performance (not that performance improvements are something I care about). Giving myself a blessing to use it in good health (i.e. no accidents).

  4. Ami’s bar mitzvah and Nadav & Batya’s sheva brachot: Celebrating happy occasions with our group of close friends-who-are-like-family. First, I had the pleasure of attending a sheva brachot for a beautiful young couple, Nadav and Batya, and two weeks later, my whole family was able to attend Ami’s bar mitzvah Shabbat. Not only did Ami nail his Torah reading but he also delivered an amazing bar mitzvah speech. His infectious smile and sunny personality infused the entire Shabbat with joy and light. We’ve known Nadav and Ami since they were born, attended their parents’ weddings (before they were born, no worries), and celebrated many s’machot (happy occasions) with their extended families. Though our kids have grown up in separate cities, they all feel a special bond and even have their own kids’ whatsapp group. May the s’machot continue through the generations.

  5. Literary Modiin’s December author event: Hearing Tara Ison (AT THE HOUR BETWEEN DOG AND WOLF), Daniel Victor (THE EVIL INCLINATION) and Linda Kass (BESSIE) speak about their books and writing processes was a breath of fresh air. It felt so normal and wonderful to hold the event. (Watch a recording here).

  6. Cauliflower, persimmons, lemons, avocados, and more: Every Friday, I’ve been going out to help in the agricultural sector, joining the legions of Israelis of all ages and stripes who have taken to the fields. I plan to keep doing it as much as I can. I return muddy, tired, sometimes dehydrated, sometimes with a pulled muscle or scratches all over. It’s a balm for my soul. (My essay about picking avocados at Kibbutz Sa’ad will be coming out soon in Moment Magazine - yay).

  7. Chanukah: I didn’t think I’d feel like celebrating at all this year, but lighting the candles each night and singing Chanukah songs has been nice. Although my three kids serving in the IDF were home from Thursday to Sunday, due to everyone’s busy, busy schedules we were able to light candles together only once, on the first night, for a total of five minutes. But I was very grateful for those five minutes, knowing hundreds of thousands of families in Israel are not able to be together this year. We continue to pray for a Chanukah miracle, in fact 135 of them. #YouBeTheirLight.

  8. Work & Chanukah at Work: Chanukah in Israel is something special, even this year. I am immensely grateful to have started a new day job the week before Rosh Hashanah. (The company is called Xyte, pronounced “excite,” a startup in the Tel Aviv area). The schools are on vacation this week, and it is common practice for people to bring their kids to work. Yesterday, my office was a veritable kaytana (camp), with nearly the same number of people under the age of 15 as there were over. Our conference rooms were turned into art rooms and video rooms, the 6-year-old boys amused themselves by going up and down on the moveable standing desks, and a delicious lunch and sufganiyot from a caterer near Sderot was had by all.

  9. Blossom: The daily word game from Merriam-Webster. I used to be big on Spelling Bee and Quordle, but on discovering Blossom it’s become my go-to word game. I’m a bit obsessed and sometimes I’ll replay past games to get my average score up. Highest score: 456. Average score: 276.

  10. Joey: Our family dog is cute and cuddly, and though I don’t necessarily kiss him on the lips (like the male members of my family), he is a great comfort to all of us.

  11. Hey, I found one more! Poetry: I haven’t studied poetry since high school so I can’t really speak intelligently about it, but I’ve been finding comfort in poems these days. Poets I’ve heard of before and poems surfacing on Facebook. Poems read at the Literary Modiin solidarity events. To quote Aviya Kushner from her latest newsletter (see below for the link): “When the universe feels incomprehensible, I lose myself in a bilingual edition of poetry. It is my small effort to understand the many layers of the world…”



Top row (L-R): A few of the “Keturah kids” celebrating Ami; persimmon picking; new books; new bike, Chanukah spread at work. Middle row: Ami; Blossom; first night of Chanukah #YouBeTheirLight #BringHershHome; Joey bringing joy; kaytanat Xyte. Bottom row: Ami’s fan club; the 5 minutes all 6 of us were together; Joey visits my son on his base; fun with desks at my office.


From Nora Gold’s introduction to the anthology, written prior to Oct 7. May reading each others’ stories be the bridge that she describes, arching over fissures both in the Jewish community and in the our larger, broken world.


Additional Resources and Readings


The bridge between yesterday and tomorrow by Haim Watzman. Haim’s latest story.


My Machberet: Erika Dreifus’ weekly collection of links, drawn primarily from the world of Jewish books and writing. Also Erika’s long (and growing) list of readings and resources, which you can access here: After October 7: Readings, Recordings, and Resources.


On Being and Timelessness - Aviya Kushner’s substack. On Being and Timelessness is about literature, translation, and ideas. Topics include how the ancient and the present connect; Jewish poetry and prose; why translation matters; and people who are worth a closer look. (See #11 above…Aviya is helping me understand and appreciate poetry)…


The Little Things - Vivian Cohen’s Substack A daily diary of the war on the home front. Vivian’s project started on October 10th 2023 as a way of keeping track of daily life during Operation Iron Swords and sharing updates with friends and family abroad. (I’ll add that even though I only live across town from Vivian, I appreciate her daily updates and I’m learning things too, such as this interview of Ofri, a combat paramedic who graduated from my kids’ high school and is currently now the sole female fighter in her Nahal unit in Gaza. (Imperfect) Google translate version of the interview).


From Treating the Wounded in the Field to Camping with the Soldiers: The Story of the Female Doctors and Paramedics in Gaza. (A different article, about different soldiers, including the brave daughter of my close friends. Article is in Hebrew but email me if you’d like a translated copy in English as I can’t attach files here).


Jessica’s Substack In normal times, my friend Jessica Steinberg sends updates about her latest interviews and articles, exploring a new or favorite place, best-of lists, having to do with anything from musical performances and goat farms to gelato, Israeli TV and art in all forms. Since Oct 7, she has been covering a variety of aspects about the war, the home front, the hostage families and more, such as her recent post about an Tel Aviv exhibit that opened this week about the October 7 massacre at the Nova festival.


Ghost Stories - Ruth Franklin’s Substack Normally Ruth’s newsletter is “for people who love literature. Insider info on writing criticism and her book currently in production, a biography of Anne Frank.” And now, she’s begun a monthly group read, alternating between Israeli and Palestinian authors. First up is Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, which I know will be a tough read, but I’m committed to reading it. (Fun fact: Ruth and I both served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Columbia Daily Spectator, back in the day…a job I would not like now…we were four years apart so we only met each other this summer).


My Little League Team Has Gone to War by Jack Levy. I was never a Little League coach, but both my boys played in the league, and I can relate to Jack’s feelings about these boys who have grown up to be “the kindest, most considerate, most ethical people — the kind of men you want as sons-in-law...”


I'll sign off with "B'sorot tovot." May we soon hear good news. May the hostages and our brave soldiers all return home very soon, safe and sound.


B'sorot tovot, Chanukah sameach, and Shabbat shalom,

Julie


PS. I have a cold, which is definitely not bringing me joy. But with my patriotic tissues and my relatively new juicer (thanks again to Jessica and Adeena Sussman for the recommendation), I should be okay.

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