I have often wondered what a writer was reading themselves as they wrote a book, or what music they listened to. I wonder what the view out the window was or how often they stopped for coffee or tea. Books aren’t written in a vacuum. As I write this book, the world is on fire.
I start writing every day by 7 am. I am tired; my back aches, and Gidon reminds me that we need to go get some groceries but I send him on his own. Lately, he’s become a member of a major supermarket chain in Israel and while that doesn’t supplant our usual milk run routine that includes a number of smaller stores that sell only meat or only vegetables, Gidon is inordinately pleased about his new membership. I still haven’t been to that store with him. This book is eating into the time we have together as a couple.
Gidon is a very neat person. I am not. One of our daily rituals is Gidon offering to clean off my desk. I never let him but he has a point. There is a landslide of books to my right, that I am referring to as I write. Some New Yorkers slither between them since a girl needs her intellectual food for thought too. On my desk is usually a cat, a pile of knitting, and marked-up pages from this book. The detritus of a working day. Empty coffee cups. Highlighters, pens, pencils, a nail file. Several wooden puzzle toys that clack around in my hands in a satisfying way. An iPad sits neatly in a stand, a black mirror that I rarely use but that I like to know that I have. Sometimes I use it to play music, but mostly it’s just there, reflecting me back at myself. I look tired. My other desktop – my computer desktop, has nineteen tabs open as I write these words. Like an anthropology lesson, the tabs open show my process and my progress, my sources, my curiosity, my fears, and my desires. Pretty Swedish clothes. Hanks of colorful yarn. Lists of atrocities.
Every day, in the late afternoon, I share my progress with Gidon. He likes to pick things apart in minute detail. Sometimes I bristle and get impatient with him. Many times he makes great points. We get through it as a daily appointment. There isn’t a page of this book that Gidon has not had read to him aloud and had handed to him with a red pen. That doesn’t mean that I make every change Gidon requests. We are a team and he respects the fact that I am a writer. But it is his life, after all.
Sometimes Gidon criticizes writing that I’m reading aloud that he doesn’t realize is actually his writing; after all, most of what he wrote, he wrote years ago. We talk about the importance of preserving his voice and the authenticity of that. Yes, but he wants to go back and emphasis this or that point, to explain something better. Okay. But only to a point, I tell him, this writing is raw and there’s value in that. I am half right. There is value in Gidon’s authentic, unedited writing but as is his wont, Gidon is empowering himself by taking an active role in shaping his own narrative. There’s also something beautiful about how he embraces his own creativity in the now by adding sensory details to memories he had previously written more factually. Anyone who knows Gidon well knows that he can’t spell so well. It has pained me to correct Gidon’s spelling in this book but I have done so to make it easier to read. His misspells are an endearing view into a part of Gidon that is utterly charming to me, if not to a publisher. He also has a habit of all-capping proper nouns, which I noticed that his mother also did, in letters.
Gidon It is the winter of 1947 and bitterly cold, snow everywhere my eyes can see. It is so beautiful here, nothing but snow covered hills and thick pine forests all around us. I am 12 years old, and spending two weeks in the highest mountains in Bohemia, the KRKONOSE mountains on the Czech –Polish border. This is our winter camp, which we call “Machane Choref” , and by our, I mean DROR, the Zionist Youth Organization, that I and my friend Michael, another Holocaust survivor, joined about a year ago, in KARLOVY VARY. We are now both members, and we both love it. In Karlovy Vary, we get together mostly once a week for our Kabala Shabbat activity, we light the Shabbat Candles, say the blessings take a sip of the wine, sing some Hebrew songs , which for the most part I don’t know their meanings, and then we do some folk dancing, mostly the HORA a group circle dance which, after a few weeks, I have finally learned and love.
Then we split up into small groups of 4/5 , and talk about the latest news out of Israel and our people’s situation in general all over the world. I personally feel, I am learning so much, and wondering if ever I will end up in the “ Promised Land ?” Our councilor, ZEEV, a member of Kibbutz HACHOTRIM since 1941, a kibbutz near the northern town of Haifa on the Mediterranean sea, tells us what is happening back home and more ! He seems worried , the news he is getting is not good. The British with their armada of destroyers and other modern sea vessels, are preventing , ( for the most part) the surviving remnants of the holocaust them from landing on “ our” shores, and at times forcibly removing them from the old dilapidated hardly sea-worthy boats, and taking them one more time to refugee camps, mostly in Cyprus, as if it wasn’t enough that they had just been freed from Nazi concentration camps in Germany, Poland and other places in Europa ! Yes, of course, let us not forget, the British still were the master of this region, thanks to the British Mandate !
We also talked about the U.N. special committee that was deliberating about the proposed partition plan that was to divide the territory under the British mandate into two states, a Jewish state – Israel, and an Arab state.
A great deal of the proposed borders comprising the Jewish state, was based on the centers of the Jewish populations, and especially on those t existing Kibbutzim and moshavim., and that too was not that great, though this time he did sound hopeful. To me, it all sounded pretty precarious and frightening, even though I hardly knew or understood at the time what it really all meant ? Are we or are we not ever going to have our own country, and how large or small will it be? Then, one of our girls Mirka , asked, “ so what about US, what can we do ? “ When we got back to our central lodge skiing through the hills and valleys of this beautiful land, ,with fine snow flakes slowly wafting down on our heads , we quickly gathered around the open fireplace and continued our deliberations. And here, sitting around the pleasant heat giving ambers, Zeev gave Mirka and us the answer. And I remember it to this day, it stayed with me forever. We must prepare ourselves for two tasks, he said. One, to make our way to Israel, as soon as possible, the country really needs us, YOU ! and second , we must learn to fight to defend ourselves, even without real arms. We will learn KRAV MAGA using sticks as weapons. We will take broom sticks, cut them in half, and I will show you and teach you how a stick can become a lethal weapon, especially on defense. From 9 a.m. tomorrow, you will be here in the main hall, and we will start. Now go, and get some breakfast, you need to be strong. So , for the next ten days , we trained and learned and skied, and dreamed of one day arriving in Israel , and having and defending , even if it be just with sticks, our own country!
Our daily read-aloud done, Gidon and I settle in for the evening. He cooks, I wash dishes or sometimes I do both. Gidon is barred from washing dishes in our house. He can do many things but washing dishes is not one of them; sufficient hot water and soap is not implemented.
I knit while we watch the news together. I find myself sometimes feeling a bit ragged by the news of the day; the acrimonious politics and ominous rise of right-wing politics. Gidon watches sports which is usually my cue to return to my office and wrap up my work for the day.
Fearfully, I back up my writing; the spinning ball of death in my Word document appears more often than I would like. My Google Drive, once a source of organized pride now has folders within folders with labels like “most current” “MOST current”, “Latest version”, “September version”, “June version”, “MOST CURRENT”.
Like a person who gets too near the edge of a tall building and has the inexplicable urge to jump, might I accidentally delete the wrong file? Will any of this matter?
One day, I read an article in the BBC’s Future section, about The Memory of Mankind Project. It was started in 2012, by a man named Martin Kunze, and it struck him that veritably all information about humankind is disposable. Should a large scale disaster occur, and/or with the passing of a millennium or two, all of our books, history, stories – the entire record of us as human beings, will have been destroyed. Inspired by Sumerian clay tablets, Kunze thought about the fact that rock lasts.
The Memory of Mankind Project is an inward kind of Voyager I, the spacecraft launched from earth in 1977, that contained, among other things, a gold record of songs, speeches and a picture of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man. MOM, as it is known, is located in Austria, in an airtight, deep, dry salt mine. It is, in other words, a time capsule but here’s the thing that caught my attention – anyone can contribute to it and it’s free. Information is digitally engraved on ceramic tablets and there is a “Rosetta stone” for different languages. The MOM project already contains thousands of novels, letters, images, newspaper headlines, and personal stories. It contains the location of nuclear waste disposal sites and other information that might be helpful should aliens or future humans discover it. It could be one of the most important discoveries of all time – a really long time from now.
Naturally, my mind raced. What books would I wish to be there, to reflect the journey and the poetry of humankind? What would we like the future to remember us as? The story of Gidon came to mind, immediately. But then, it hit me. The story of Gidon is also the story of millions upon millions of others, in so many needless conflicts, in a story of epically brutal proportions. This is how we will be remembered? It can’t be. There has to be a postscript; a glorious, hopeful postscript written decades later, or maybe even five hundred years from now, about how humans saved the earth, saved each other, turned this ship around. Perhaps this postscript will be digitally engraved, using the 21st-century hieroglyphics of angry and sad emojis.