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March Mid-Month Report: Deeply Dismayed

Updated: May 5

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,

The war drags on. Nearly every conversation aside from work meetings circles back to our current situation and the fervent wish to extricate ourselves from this reality, with no clear path (or leadership) to get there. When we close our eyes at night, our minds swirl with the faces of the hostages and the agony of their families, now on day 164 of hell. We worry about the threat of a war in the north and Hezbollah’s capabilities, aware that many of our reservists will be called up - or already have been called up - again. We pray for an end to the suffering - on both sides - and for the healing of the wounded. We are appalled by writers and artists abroad who seek to erase Israeli and Jewish voices. Again, I write these words as one of the fortunate ones - my immediate family is safe, I have not had my home or community or livelihood destroyed - but these thoughts and conversations and worries have been playing, on repeat, in the minds of nearly everyone I know in Israel since October 7th.

Running Through Our Tears

On Friday, March 8th, I ran the 10K in the Jerusalem Marathon, donning my “Bring Them Home / Team Hersh” shirt. At least every third person was wearing a shirt in memory of someone who has been killed on or since October 7th, or a sign pinned onto their shirt with a picture of one of the 134 hostages remaining in Gaza, or a sign/shirt praying for the refuah shlema (full recovery) of someone who is wounded.

Most of my peeps wore the Team Hersh / Bring Them Home Now shirts. But many others pinned pictures of hostages on their backs.

As I mentioned in my March 1 newsletter, my former colleague and friend Leah’s son Ari was severely wounded on Feb 27. He is still fighting for his life. I’m now in a Whatsapp group in which Leah sends frequent updates, each one of which ends with a request to pray or do mitzvot like giving blood or other good deeds towards healing for her son. Since we stopped working together in 2015, the Jerusalem Marathon is usually the only day I bump into Leah; this year, she asked the runners to keep Ari in mind. And that is exactly what I did. With each step, I was praying for his healing, praying for Hersh and all the other hostages to be returned home. Please read Tova Kramer’s beautiful essay The Jerusalem Marathon 2024: Running Through Our Tears, which has more about Leah and Ari, and captured my feelings exactly. Please keep משה אהרון בן לאה בילה (Moshe Aharon ben Leah Beila) in your prayers.

Watching Leah being interviewed on numerous TV channels over the next few days –  has been mind blowing. “ Ari’s injuries are serious and he is still in an induced coma. Please pray, please do good deeds in Ari’s merit. Ari will live a long fulfilling life and he will go back to do shvil yisrael and we will help him do it and we will all dance at his wedding Please G-d.” That has been Leah’s mantra and message to all of us. Which, knowing Leah – is not surprising.As Jews we keep running. Step by step – one step at a time. Up hills, down hills, through life, through the ages – we don’t give up. That is why we are still here. We run for and with each other, we stop and rest with each other and we help each other get up and continue running. We do it together. Step by step- one step at a time.


I read many posts and essays, and it is always worthwhile to read Ilana Blumberg’s pieces, such as this one: Wartime Diary in the Jewish Review of Books.

As I write, negotiators are again in Doha, and I pray that this time they will come to a deal that sees the hostages returned. To quote Ilana again, from her poignant and heartfelt Facebook post from yesterday,

Every day is trauma. Every day is dark. It is impossible to envision a time after all this grief. So much is lost. Never returning. At least, at least, these hostages must be returned. It is the least and the most a state, this state, this post-Shoah Jewish state, can do.

A few things that are sustaining me these days:

Volunteering…due to the marathon (above), a trip to Eilat (which I mentioned in my March 1 newsletter), and the previous agricultural volunteering being cancelled when I was on my way, it had been several Fridays since I went to pick or sort or pack avocados/oranges/herbs/whatever. So I was especially excited this past Friday to be back in an orange grove, getting my hands a bit scratched up, picking oranges. This time I was there with three other writers, two of whom would have been on the literary mission, had it happened. This Friday I’ll be somewhere TBD with my cousin from Arizona. If you are coming to Israel, I invite you to join me any Friday….

Orange picking in Kfar Chabad

Never Alone - a new Substack by Elissa Wald that is intended for “progressive Jews who love Israel. I am addressing progressive Israel-loving Jews when I say that as of today – mid-February of 2024 – I have been watching you go mad in your attic for four straight months now. I have watched you be bullied out of your cherished progressive spaces. I have listened to you cry. I’ve heard you say you feel abandoned, betrayed, isolated, alone and politically homeless. I am writing this substack to show you that you’re not alone. As Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat told us, children of Israel are never alone.”

I appreciate Elissa’s daily posts so much that I became a paid subscriber to support her work. You can start with the most recent post or check out her full explanation of What is Never Alone? here. (Plus - Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat holds a special place in my heart for many reasons, so I love the name)!

Visitors from the States! Hooray for Barnard friends and camp friends and cousins and missions of all kinds…Looking forward to my parents, sister, and niece coming for Pesach next month.


I do also want to highlight some moments of joy. In the last two weeks, I was fortunate to attend four s’machot (happy events): a wedding, a bar mitzvah, and two bat mitzvahs. Each one gave me tremendous pleasure and chizuk (strength). The wedding, in particular, was very special. The groom is the son of our friends, someone we’ve known since he was a little boy when his family first made aliyah, and he is a friend of my older daughter, so there was a large group of “kids” (or should I say young adults) whom we have known since gan (nursery school). He is the first of her friends to get married. Many of the guys in this group have spent the last five and a half months serving in miluim, fighting Hamas; some have lost many friends, and at least one is a survivor of the Nova music festival. And yet their sole focus at the wedding was celebrating the bride and groom, celebrating life. It was the best night we’ve had in the last six months for sure, possibly longer. We would have stayed later and danced the night away but I had a plane to catch for a work trip. Mazal tov, Manu and Shirel and families!

And then this past Shabbat, I attended a wonderful bat mitzvah at my shul. The bat mitzvah girl gave a flawless reading of the entire parsha (weekly portion), her mother gave an exuberant d’var Torah, full of pride and love and wisdom. I felt great nachat (naches / pleasure) and gratitude to be part of this wonderful shul community. Mazal tov, Aluma and family! This fall we were meant to celebrate our shul’s 18 year anniversary. For obvious reasons this hasn’t happened yet, but eventually, when the timing is right, we will.

Am Yisrael Chai.

Literary Matters

L’Affaire Guernica

I mentioned the erasure of Israeli voices at the top of this missive. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in what Erika Dreifus has been calling “L’Affaire Guernica.” A little over a week ago, Guernica, a prominent literary magazine, decided to retract a beautiful essay by Joanna Chen about striving to find empathy on both sides. I’d clicked through to read the essay after many of my Israeli writer friends were reposting it, and at first I thought the message that the magazine had regretted publishing the essay had to be a mistake. Knowing Joanna and her writing personally, without even seeing the essay, I was certain it would - as my friends noted - try to “hold both sides” “even in these darkest of times.” I spoke to Joanna that morning, and I was livid all day, barely able to concentrate on my paying job. I sent off this angry letter to the editors at Guernica, and many others did as well. I’m sure it could have been stronger if I’d waited a bit, but I had to get it off my chest.

Someone found a web archived copy and now, due to the controversy, I’m sure it’s gotten much greater exposure than it would have. It’s been written about in the LA Times, NY Times, JTA, and thankfully writers like Phil Klay have weighed in on The Cowardice of Guernica in The Atlantic. The talk and worry among my writer friends all week has been this erasure of Jewish and Israeli voices, and aside from Jewish literary outlets, I do wonder if anyone will publish my stories simply based on the fact that I live in Israel. Then again, perseverance must be a writer’s middle name, and resilience is the story of the Jewish people, so I will continue to submit and persevere in the hopes that saner voices in the literary world will prevail.

As I was writing this update, I’ve just heard from Joanna that the Washington Monthly has republished her piece. Please have a read and share widely!

L’Affaire PEN America

Now I’m borrowing from Erika and calling this section L’Affaire PEN America. Erika’s mid-month report of The Practicing Writer discusses certain writers’ recent decision to pull out of the PEN World Voices conference. Why? Because they claim that PEN America’s response to the war has been inadequate. But Erika lays out the facts, exactly what PEN America has done, and concludes:

I can’t help thinking that it’s precisely PEN America’s adherence to its principles and commitments—including its willingness…to acknowledge suffering among both Palestinians AND Israelis—that’s what’s driving this anti-PEN animus.Why do I think this? Because it’s simply impossible to read the record (receipts in a moment) and claim that PEN has “betrayed the organization’s professed commitment to peace and equality for all.”Impossible—unless you exclude Israelis (who happen to include just about half of the world’s current Jewish population) from “all.”

She then goes on to link and screenshot PEN America’s activities…which is exactly aligned with their mission. I hope any other writer thinking of joining that protest will do the work and look at the facts (or read Erika’s post, since she’s already done the work for us).


The March Literary Modiin event with Nora Gold, Jay Michaelson, and Avi Shalev was held on the same day that Guernica retracted Joanna’s piece, and hearing the authors speak about their books and their journeys was a ray of light. You can catch the recording here.

The April Literary Modiin event will be another Israel solidarity event. April 14 at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern. More details to come, but you can already register here.

Another (free) event I’m excited for on April 2: “The Language of War: Lost in Translation?” sponsored by the National Library of Israel.Join Ambassador Michael Oren as he probes the experience of authors Elisa Albert, Iddo Gefen, and Aviya Kushner, and unpacks how their work is impacted by the current climate, what they see as their obligation to their readers, and how Jewish literature can be a point of connection in times of crisis.”

What I’m Reading

I recently finished Barbara Kingsolver’s THE LACUNA, and I’m now reading Valérie Perrin’s FRESH WATER FOR FLOWERS. Listening to Booker Prize winner PROPHET SONG by Paul Lynch. All excellent - look for my upcoming reviews in the April newsletter.

Thanks for bearing with me here…B’sorot tovot, my friends. By the time I send my “regular” newsletter on April 1, 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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