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November Mid-Month Report: All-Consuming

Dear friends,

I don’t usually send anything mid-month, but this war is all-consuming and I thought some of you might appreciate an update. I’ll share a few literary-related things (book recs, events, extra readings and resources) below this intro.


Wherever you go, the war and the hostages are the only topics of conversation. Some people think it will be over in a matter of weeks, others think it will go on for a long time, possibly a year.


Here’s a sample from the hundreds of whatsapp messages I receive daily: who/where needs help now or tomorrow or next week in the agricultural sector?…please come to a musical havdalah / run / vigil for the hostages…sign this petition or open letter…check out this compelling article or video…please amplify this post…help is needed to make food/watch children of families with husbands called up to the IDF reserves…here are pictures of my son/daughter/multiple children in the IDF who we got to see/or someone saw for a brief visit…who can help take a shift to do a security sweep at shul? (you do not need to be armed)…instead of the big wedding we hoped to throw for our son, we will be holding a more intimate ceremony close to his base…in the coming days we will be welcoming the guidance counselor for 9th grade back to school, a month after she lost her son, and we are ordering t-shirts for everyone in the grade to commemorate him…Ramat Gan/Givatayim - everyone okay?checking in after the sirens…this is the funeral route for the latest death, please come and line the streets with Israeli flags.


On and on it goes. As I wrote a few weeks ago, It’s Too Much. It’s still too much.


“This is our life now,” says my friend, who attended three different memorials last week to mark shloshim (30 days) since their funerals. Two for soldiers from her son’s Armored Corps battalion, which sustained heavy losses on October 7, and one for her cousin. All this while waiting for word that her son is okay, a brief message that only comes every week and a half. I have several friends in the same situation, one of whom has not heard from her son in nearly three weeks. Tonight when I checked in on that friend, she said she’s “hanging tight” and I replied that she is now the world’s greatest expert on hanging tight.


Depending on where your kids go to school, they may or may not have returned full-time. (Mine did, only this week). Depending on where you work, you may or may not have gone back into your office. (I’m back to going in twice a week, now that my office has taken temporary space in a newer building with a safe room). Depending on how much free time you can squeeze out of the week determines how often and how long you can devote to volunteer activities.


By far the best day I’ve had since October 7th was a week and a half ago, Sunday, November 5th. I took the day off of work, and together with my husband and daughters, we went to pick avocados on Kibbutz Sa’ad, located only a few kilometers from Gaza. It was backbreaking work (I’m still sore), and despite the thunderous artillery booms that had me jumping out of my skin for the first half hour, it was a profound experience. I found it both grounding and comforting to do this work, and I’m working on an essay about it. (I’m almost finished, so if you are an editor reading this, let me know if you’re interested). :-)




Yesterday was a tough day, with two more pieces of bitter news:

  • The first thing I saw, at 6 am while walking my dog, was that one of the women thought to be a hostage, Vivian Silver, was now listed among the dead. Brutally murdered on Oct 7 in her home in Kibbutz Be’eri. I’d just mentioned her in a Facebook post a few hours before, as we were both volunteers for the same organization (see below), though I did not know her personally.

  • A few hours later we heard that Cpl. Noa Marciano, 19, of Modiin, who was taken captive from her army base on Oct. 7, was declared dead by the IDF. From The Times of Israel: "On Monday evening, Hamas published a propaganda video of Marciano, showing her speaking to the camera four days after being taken hostage, identifying herself and reciting the names of her parents and her hometown. The video then cut to showing her dead body.”

We do not know the family, but this tragic news hits close to home: a 19-year-old from Modiin, serving in the same division - Combat Intelligence Collection - as our own 19-year-old. Just last Friday, we set extra places at our Shabbat table and printed out material about several hostages, Noa being one of them. I felt ill thinking about what this might mean for other hostages.



Tomorrow I will join with thousands of others to line the streets of Modiin in her honor.


Essay: Under One Sky

My essay, “Under One Sky,” was awarded first prize in the Creators of Justice Literary Awards, given out by the International Human Rights Art Movement. Normally I’d be thrilled to hear that a piece of my writing won an award but this news came on October 12, so the timing was…weird (to say the least). It’s about the (very) occasional volunteer driving I do for The Road to Recovery / בדרך להחלמה organization, which transports Palestinian patients to and from the border crossings for treatment in Israeli hospitals. I wrote about one particular day of volunteering, around the 50th anniversary of the Munich Olympics massacre. I was listening to Matti Friedman’s Who By Fire, so Leonard Cohen and the Yom Kippur War is mentioned as well. And, unbeknownst to me until this week, Leonard Cohen gave a large donation to The Road to Recovery when it was getting started. My gratitude to Kathy Fish, in whose workshop I wrote the first draft over a year ago, and to my dear writing friends from that workshop.


My thoughts, however, are with the fellow Road to Recovery volunteers (or family members of volunteers) who are still, at this moment, being held hostage in Gaza: Oded Lifshitz (83) Chaim Peri (79), Amiram Cooper (84). #BringThemHome #BringThemHomeNow. My thoughts are also with the families of fellow volunteers who were murdered on that Black Sabbath: Vivian Silver of Kibbutz Be’eri, Adi Dagan of Kibbutz Be’eri, Tammy Suchman of Kibbutz Be’eri, Eliyahu Orgad (Goldberg) of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, and the half a dozen other volunteers who lost family members.


Events

Literary Modiin’s Second Israel Solidarity Event, featuring readings by Yonatan Berg, Joanna Chen, Vivian Cohen, Haim Watzman, Sherri Mandell, Joan Leegant, and Aviya Kushner, will take place this coming Sunday, November 19, at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern. Please join us for another special evening.




A “normal” thing I’m looking forward to: getting back to our regular Literary Modiin events to hear about recently published books. Due to the war, these events were all rescheduled from their original dates. Please visit the Literary Modiin page on my website to register for these events, which will resume on December 3).



Recommended Reads

Beautiful books for devastating times: In my Nov 1 newsletter, I reviewed Still Life by Sarah Winman, which my local book club is reading. We haven’t met to discuss it yet, but from informal discussions I know many of us were grateful to read a book that takes place in a beautiful setting (Florence, mostly), with likeable characters, content matter completed removed from our present moment, and perhaps most importantly, no triggering or particularly evil events. It was just the thing for me to read in the early weeks of the war, and it got me thinking of other books that fit in this category.


In other words, if you’re looking to sink your teeth into a beautiful book to distract yourself, here are a few recommendations. My brief reviews of each of these can be found in earlier newsletters, by the date in parentheses: The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese (reviewed in Oct 2023), Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen (reviewed in Jun 2023), Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano (reviewed in May 2023), Tom Lake and These Precious Days both by Anne Patchett (reviewed in Sept 2023), Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (reviewed in Dec. 2022), The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (reviewed in Jan 2022).

What books have read that you would add to this list? Please add your recommendations in the comments.


Additional Resources, Readings and Classes

A few additional readings, classes and resources I’d like to highlight:

  • Reminder that Erika Dreifus is curating a long (and growing) list of readings and resources, which you can access here: After October 7: Readings, Recordings, and Resources.

  • An Open Letter on Antisemitism, Israel and the Literary Community. Whether you are a reader, writer, editor, educator, journalist, etc. please sign.

  • Gila Sacks speech - A wise, inspiring speech by the daughter of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, z”l, which she concludes with: “Do not accept. Cry out. Protest. Do not despair. Have the courage to hope. Do not lose sight of why you are a Jew, and why now, more than ever, the world needs Judaism and the State of Israel to be a blessing to others and a model of hope, so that we can begin to heal some of this oh so fractured world.”

  • When Hamas Tried to Kill My Children on October 7 They Knew What Would Happen Next in Gaza by Amir Tibon - (available to Ha’aretz subscribers or through this thread on X (Twitter)

  • One Month After the Black Shabbat – Hineni! - excellent post by our friend Mike Hollander.

  • Nature Offers Us a Glimmer of Hope - my dear friend Jo Maissel reminding us to look for our own glimmers of hope.

  • ESRA is offering 3 sessions for English-speaking residents of Israel with award-winning author Ayelet Tsabari on Writing When Words Fail. The first session was this week and it was terrific. There are two more sessions next week, so still time to register. Unfortunately one conflicts with our solidarity event so I can’t make it.

  • Beit Agnon is offering 4 sessions starting this Thursday at 19:00 Israel time / 12 pm ET with Rabbi Jeffrey Saks on War, Writing & Remembrance: Jewish Literature and Our Current Crisis. Sessions are in English, and the cost is minimal (20 NIS per session or 70 NIS for all four). Register here. I attended a class on Agnon with Rabbi Saks this summer and it was excellent.

I'll sign off with "B'sorot tovot," something we now say here at the end of every conversation, which means: may we soon hear good news. May the hostages and our brave soldiers all return home very soon, safe and sound.

B'sorot tovot,

Julie

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