Chapter One: Gidon Lev
Gidon Lev needed an editor. He’d written a book, you see, and he was, among other things, a Holocaust survivor and would I mind meeting him for a cup of coffee? He sounded very sweet on the phone with his slight, unidentifiable accent and impeccable English. I didn’t have any experience editing life stories but it was no skin off my teeth to keep an old man company for half an hour. It would be the nice thing to do. Plus, didn’t I owe a Holocaust survivor at least a little of my time?
Gidon made a spectacular arrival, a bit late, his phone dangling from a cord around his neck, and a red clipboard stuffed with papers, notes and receipts tucked neatly under one arm. I later learned he never goes anywhere without that clipboard. With his merry blue eyes, shock of white hair, and mischievous grin, Gidon Lev did not fit my image of a Holocaust survivor. But then, he was the only one I had ever met in person. He was energetic and cheerful - a force of nature. This was no lonely old man, this was a garrulous talker and inveterate charmer. Gidon ordered a cup of tea and launched into his story with gusto. I was a bit taken aback, I must admit, by how much he shared with me and how quickly.
Gidon told me about his experience in the Terezin concentration camp and then he kept right on talking. He told me that after he was liberated in 1945, he had been in a socialist Zionist youth group in Canada. (I had no idea what he was talking about.) Then, in 1959, he went on, he had come to Israel, where he became a devoted kibbutznik and taught folk dancing. He worked in a dairy. He had fought in the Israeli Army and had taken fire from Syrians; he lost his pants crossing the Jordan River, holding his rifle held up over his head. He had been stationed at an Israeli enclave on Mount Scopus in Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem.
Then, he added, mostly for the shock factor, I think, that two of his children had been kidnapped.
“Kidnapped?” I looked around for the waiter, a bit desperately. “How many children do you have?”
Gidon wasn’t done yet. He told me how he searched for his two children in California where their mother had taken them. Along the way, he said he had gone to a nude beach, gotten poison oak and worked on a farm. Then, he made a split-second decision in a California parking lot that changed the direction of many lives forever. He also had lived in Wales for a time, with his second wife.
Okay, I thought to myself – time’s up. This guy is crazy. “How many wives did you have?” I asked, just for the heck of it.
“Just two,” Gidon grinned. “That was enough.”
This man was really something else. I had heard stories about Holocaust survivors, lonely, isolated, depressed, or sometimes heroic activists. Gidon was neither of those things; he was more like a mischievous Peter Pan.