Sometimes, things fall apart. It's just bad luck, really. Or bad timing. Once, a few years ago, in the space of six weeks, I lost a friend to breast cancer, my brother to suicide, and my business to a very bad decision. It was too much loss, too fast. I couldn't cope.
So, in 2012, I “made aliyah”, which is to say, I moved to Israel and became a citizen. I had converted to Judaism twenty-six years earlier and had visited many times before. Moving to Israel seemed not really the sensible, but the interesting thing to do. Wouldn’t living in Israel be just like visiting? Besides, what other country would have me, as devastated as I was, and give me the time and opportunity – the luxury - to reinvent myself?
The heartfelt memoir I would write about my experiences would prove everybody wrong about my crazy decision and heal all of my wounds. Because Israel is arguably one of the world’s most intense, scrutinized, storied places, I knew there would be no shortage of lessons to learn and tales to tell. This was going to be my Year in Provence, my Under the Tuscan Sun, my Eat, Pray Love. I just had to wait for it all to make sense. But it didn’t exactly happen that way.
One day, in 2017, Gidon Lev arrived at a café near Tel Aviv with a clipboard neatly tucked under one arm. It was stuffed with scribbled notes and receipts. With his merry blue eyes, shock of white hair, and a mischievous grin, eighty-two-year-old Gidon did not fit my image of a Holocaust survivor. But then, he was the only Holocaust survivor I had ever met.
I suppose I was curious about Gidon and besides, I felt a bit obligated. With the number of Holocaust survivors, eye-witnesses to humanity’s greatest shame dwindling, ignorance about the Holocaust rife and anti-Semitism is showing its face again, I felt I owed Gidon at least a little bit of my time. It was the best decision I ever made, that cup of coffee.
To my surprise, what began to unfold was much, much more than the story of an elderly Holocaust survivor. Gidon thoroughly rejects the idea that the trauma of the Holocaust defines him. His lived experience proves that.
It’s not often that we look back at our lives critically, compassionately, and honestly, and even less often that we are able to do it well. But that is what Gidon wanted to do. With the exception of correcting spelling or punctuation, I preserved Gidon’s eye-witness testimony of his time in the concentration camp assiduously. This, I feel, is sacred ground. But Gidon allowed me to interrogate other memories, by asking him to take a deeper dive and to question his version of things. There is much between the lines; very often, it is what Gidon didn't say that is the most revealing to me.
I saw an opportunity, in The True Adventures of Gidon Lev, to contextualize Gidon’s story within the backdrop of the history that surrounded it, and to give readers both an idea of the cultural and physical beauty of Israel and also the challenges that it faces.
Reader, in the process of writing this book, I couldn’t help but fall in love with this man. Though thirty years, continents and culture separate Gidon and I, we are together, like dolphins swimming alongside the ship of life, just cruising together for a while. We’ve both had some hard knocks. In a sense, we are both survivors. We get that about each other.
Gidon Lev is so straightforward that he’s complicated. He is determined, persistent, loveable and yes sometimes a bit reckless – and he has made me a better person. He is, as he sometimes calls himself, “a ridiculous man.” I want to be Gidon Lev when I grow up.