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February Mid-Month Report: Yes, I miss 2017

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,

I hope you are holding up okay. Since I last wrote, we’ve had one big “up” and sadly, more “downs.”

I’ll start with the “up” - waking to the news this past Monday that the IDF had rescued two of the hostages, Louis Har (70) and Fernando Marman (61). Along with every other Israeli, I presume, I scoured the news for the first pictures and videos of the family reunion. Both men are from the same family - Louis is the partner of Fernando’s sister, Clara Marman, and together with their other sister, Gabriela Leimberg and her daughter Mia, all five were taken captive from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on October 7th. (The three women were released on November 28 along with Mia’s now-famous Shih Tzu, Bella). Since “hostages rescued” or “released” is literally the ONLY headline I’ve been waiting to see since October 7, it was very welcome news. And that both men appear to be in decent physical condition gives me hope for the fate of the other 134 hostages. Halavai (may it soon come to pass) that all others will soon be rescued or released.

If you’re in the US, remember to visit oneminaday to call your reps in Congress and fill out the White House contact form to keep the plight of the hostages on their radar.

Alas, together with the happy news that same morning the names of two more fallen soldiers were released for publication, and the next morning, three more. Yesterday, a barrage of rockets from Lebanon hit an army base in Safed (Tsfat) killing another soldier, a 20-year-old young woman in the same division as my son (though he doesn’t know her). Just now, as I was about to publish the newsletter, the name of another soldier killed in Gaza was released. Each story is heartbreaking.

Last Friday, I took a break from my usual agricultural volunteering to attend a community day through our school. Although I only have one kid left in school, we’ve been part of this wonderful community for over 22 years, since my oldest entered gan (nursery school) at age 3. A number of families experienced direct losses on October 7th, including Eden Nimri, z”l, the sister of one of my son’s classmates; Amir Lavi z”l, the son of my daughter’s 7th grade teacher, and others, and we gathered as a community for lectures, workshops, and dedications. For the first hour, my daughter and I attended an incredibly moving session with the Nimri family, in which Eden’s parents, sisters and boyfriend spoke of Eden’s life and her bravery that day. An officer in the Artillery Corps, Eden and her team were in the Nahal Oz base on October 7th, and she single-handedly fought off terrorists (in her pajamas), allowing 10 other (mostly-unarmed) female soldiers to reach safety. My Modiin neighbor Leora Eren-Frucht wrote about Eden’s bravery in this recent article in Hadassah Magazine. As Eden’s cousin played a few songs on the piano - including הילדה הכי יפה בגן (The Most Beautiful Girl in Gan) and Hopelessly Devoted to You, which Eden had dedicated the week before her death to her boyfriend - every adult in the room was wiping away tears. What a huge, huge loss. May her memory be a blessing.

Following a dedication of memorial benches in the schoolyard, I went to hear the incredible story of First Sgt. Mordechai Shenvald, a religious musician who went straight from Mea Shearim to his reserve duty on October 7th and was badly wounded a few weeks later. It’s a miracle he survived. He came out of his rehab hospital to speak with us. You can read a bit about the “wounded fiddler” in the middle of this article.

So the news is heavy, we are surrounded by it all the time, and no matter how much one tries to avoid the news and remain optimistic, the prevailing sentiment among adults is still one of despair.

And yet - we go to work, try to focus on our tasks, on our kids, grabbing hold of the happy moments. We take pictures of the gorgeous wildflowers in bloom all over Israel. The restaurants and bars are full. Concerts are sold out.

On Monday this week, I went to see Shlomo Artzi in concert. He’s a legend here, I equate his music to comfort food, especially now. I’ve seen him several times in concert but the vibe was different this time, of course. At the start of the concert the backdrop was a slideshow of paintings of the Gaza envelop kibbutzim and communities. Many of the paintings depicted “Darom Adom,” (Red South) when the wildflowers bloom like crazy around places like Kibbutz Beeri and Kibbutz Alumim. This is the season when people usually make pilgrimages from all of Israel to the south to see the flowers, but obviously no one is making picnics amid the places so badly destroyed this year, even if the flowers are out. As Shlomo Artzi sang, depending on the lyrics (eg אתמול היה טוב ויהיה גם מחר - “yesterday was good, and it will be good again tomorrow”) or the backdrop (panning the faces of the hostages), you could see people wiping away tears.

I too, had a moment, when they zoomed in on Hersh. It’s too much.

The day before the concert, my cousin from the States wrote to ask me about Israeli songs.

His friend was DJing an event with Jewish women in Westport and was looking for recommendations. Sure, I said, I’ll make you a playlist. So I set about making a playlist of a bunch of very uppity songs that you’d hear at a dance party. I must, say, it was a breath of fresh air to hear them again, and I’ve been listening to the playlist on my runs. My daughters, of course, rolled their eyes at my selections and told me the playlist was “sooo 2017” (even though not every song on the playlist had come out by then. In any case, I wouldn’t mind going back to 2017. Anyhow, I hereby share with you my happy Israeli song playlist, in case you, too, would like to DJ a party or use it during your workouts. For those familiar with Israeli music, let me know in the comments what else you’d add. (Need more women in here!)

Tomorrow, it will be raining again, so I’m off to package avocados from Kibbutz Beeri. It really is my therapy.

ICYMI: My recent essays since October 7th - Seeing Green in Southern Israel (Moment) and It’s Too Much (Midstory).

And now onto the literary things.

The Literary Section…

Literary/Writers’ Mission

In case you missed it in the Feb 1 newsletter - I’ve been involved in organizing a literary/writers’ mission! Witness: Writers Encounter Post Oct 7th Israel is a 4-night/5-day mission to bear witness to the Hamas atrocities on October 7th, to learn about the aftermath on Israeli society, and to lend support in words and deeds, including visits to southern communities and with hostage families, many opportunities to meet with Israeli writers, Shabbat in Jerusalem and more. We’re still short a few people to get to the minimum, so I hope you’ll consider joining this special trip, happening March 13 - 17. It’s part solidarity mission, part writer’s conference. All the details are in the graphic below, or let me know if you’d like a PDF version of this to share with others. Please let me know as soon as possible if you’d be interested in attending. Here’s the link to register.

A few things to note: 1) Participants are responsible for booking their own flights. It's possible to extend your trip. 2) There are no language requirements - the program will be in English. 3) The program on Shabbat will be slightly different than the other days (i.e. no writing sessions or travel). 4) Payment will be done separately through PayPal.

Literary Modiin February Event

Coming up, this Sunday, February 18, at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern - Literary Modiin’s February author event, featuring Dina Kraft (MY FRIEND ANNE FRANK), Courtney Sender (IN OTHER LIFETIMES ALL I’VE LOST COMES BACK TO ME), and Michelle Cameron (BABYLON). Register here.

What I’m Reading

I’m almost finished with Chris Cleave’s EVERYONE BRAVE IS FORGIVEN. I recently finished listening to the audio version of THE CURSE OF PIETRO HOUDINI by Derek B. Miller (author of HOW TO FIND YOUR WAY IN THE DARK, which I loved). And I’m now listening to - and loving - THE SEVEN MOONS OF MAALI ALMEIDA by Shehan Karunatilaka, which won the Booker Prize in 2022. Look for my recommendations/reviews in the next newsletter.

Beautiful Israel

For years (long before I was involved in planning a mission), I’ve been saying that February and March are the best months to visit Israel. Here’s a sample of pictures from my recent runs and bike rides near Modiin.

B’sorot tovot, my friends. May our soldiers stay safe, may all hostages be home by the time I sent my next newsletter, and may there be less suffering all around.


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