Category Archives: Media

Calculated Moves

Magical Realism in the Time of Corona

My short story, Calculated Moves—the second-place winner of the 2021 ‘Moment-Karma’ short fiction contest—has been published in Moment Magazine (founded by Elie Wiesel in 1975), both in print and online. The story, “Calculated Moves,” is a timely exploration of aging, COVID, memory and loss

But first, below is what the contest’s final judge, the author Susan Coll, wrote about the story, and then my reflections on her verdict.

“Calculated Moves is the poignant, affecting story of aging in the time of COVID. The protagonist, an elderly occupant of a Jewish retirement center, believes he has become part tree. Resentful of his son and daughter-in-law for forcing him to move into this new living arrangement after observing his forgetfulness, as well as a recent fall, the narrator considers his new home an asylum, self-identifying as an inmate rather than a resident. His struggles with the onset of dementia blend lyrically into the realm of magical realism, creating a moving and memorable story.”

Naturally, I’m inclined to agree. I particularly like, and would explore here a little, the definition of ‘magical realism’ in the context of this story. Because ultimately, that’s what I’ve tried to do: inject some magic into the dreadful reality of the coronavirus pandemic we were—still are, to a degree—facing. Especially at the onset of this plague, it was so, before we had vaccinations and some norm of control over the spread of the disease. Indeed, it had turned our lives upside down in the most ruthless, unexpected ways. And that, in part, is what I’ve tried to convey in this story.

I’m a great admirer of the late, Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, specifically his novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, both of which I’ve read twice, in Hebrew and in English. And so, it’s a great honor and compliment for me to be attributed this praise, ‘Magical Realism,’ in the context of my short story. After all, it’s a definition and an art form that Márquez is widely regarded as the modern inventor of.

Throughout the process of writing, Love in the Time of Cholera was on my mind in particular, and for obvious reasons. Even those of you who haven’t read this magnificent novel yet can infer from its title the said connection. And so, whether as a young man you are consumed madly by love, or as an old man you are eaten away by regrets, depression, and the onset of dementia, the horror and seclusion of a global pandemic manage to highlight and heightened your ailments.

And yet… one has to find a way to keep going. To keep the struggle to the end. To not only stay the course, stay alive, but maybe find some extra meaning still, some pure magic in the heavy burden of reality. And in your own life, too. Which is what—without giving too much of the story details away here, since I hope you’ll read it, and would certainly like to hear your thought about it—I tried to do both in my life in the time of corona, and in the life of the hero of this story.


Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Literary, Media, Uncategorized

The Mysterious Texture Of Memory

Below is the final segment of ‘The Mysterious Texture of Memory,’ a new short story—based, however, on my award-winning short memoir, the ‘Sweet Life.’

But the need to find out the meaning of the words in the film’s title remained. And so was the need to learn the name of the actress I’d fallen in love with on the roof that night. It would take some years, though, before I would find that out. Not before graduating from high school; not before serving in the army’s paratroops brigade (jumping was my thing, I concluded); not even after returning to the kibbutz and working for a year in its grapefruit orchards. Where it so happened that driving a tractor on the summer road one hot day, I heard an inner voice calling on me, instructing me to leave the kibbutz, conquer the world and find that woman.

My first stop was the big city of Tel Aviv. And it was there, in a small art-house cinema theater that I joined an all-night retrospective and discussion of Fellini’s films. Among them, of course, La Dolce Vita: The Sweet Life. Starring Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg.

I never met her at the end. I never made it big enough as a filmmaker. And though I’d made some films and had met some film stars, our roads had never intersected. And then she died. Just like my two friends, both of them dead now. And even though when I’d left the kibbutz—a backpack with some clothes on me, some change jingling in my pocket, the rhythm of the wheels beating the open road piercing my heart—I hadn’t heard yet of the saying about the world being a book, about the need to travel if one wants to read more than one page; innately, I knew what I had to do.

But now, as I keep staring bleary-eyed at the old picture of Anita Ekberg on my laptop’s home screen, I’m baffled still by the mysterious texture of memory. How it comes and how it goes. How hard it is sometimes to decipher its meaning. And yet, I’m thankful to her for tempting me to leave my birthplace. No regrets now, or almost none, in my old age. Because if life is but a fleeting moment, then that was my moment: Lying there on the roof under the bright stars, a sprinkler raining cold water on me, the people of my beloved village lying on the grass below while she—a woman of celluloid dreams—was having fun under the fountain.

So no regrets now, in my old age, for being tempted by her to leave my birthplace. Well… maybe some regrets. Especially on my walks by the river bank, where on the meandering horse trail, beneath my feet, I can still feel the ground of those narrow dirt paths of my home village. As if I never left.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Literary, Media

The Mysterious Texture Of Memory

Below is the seventh segment of ‘The Mysterious Texture of Memory,’ a new short story—based, however, on my award-winning short memoir, the ‘Sweet Life.’

I wished it were me down there, under the fountain with that mythical goddess. This fabulous creature from Rome, or elsewhere in Europe. Or from the moon, smiling on me knowingly from above. I didn’t know women like her, looking so unearthly, even existed. Or could exist. Blood was shooting madly through my body, from my heart to my head and down. I fell in love with her right then and there, not knowing her name, and forgetting all about Nechama, my elementary school teacher.

Maybe that was the reason why—a strong, sudden infatuation, feeling so very hot—I welcomed at first the shower of cold water raining hard on me. It made me feel as if I were down there with her, under the fountain. Problem was: though it was a hot early summer, the nights were still rather chilly. I was wet down to my bones soon, shivering madly, while up on the screen the man took the half-naked woman away from the fountain in his flashy sports car.

At the same time, my hold on the tin roof got slippery, and I felt myself sliding down despite all my efforts to hold on to my blanket. Not only I fell in love that night, but I fell from the roof as well, since the rope and carrots’ box had inexplicably disappeared. My coward friends, the schmucks, had taken with them all evidence when they fled.

Or the man who’d turned on the sprinklers had done that. Either way, I half jumped down, half fell from the roof, twisting my ankle badly when landing. And as I limped up to my class-house by the mountain, where King Saul and his son Jonathan spilled their blood fighting the Philistines, I left behind a trail of blood of my own, gushing down from my wounded chin. Worst of all: my wet winter blanket—my initials imprinted on it, sewed with a red thread—had remained at the scene of the crime.

From there, naturally, it all went downhill. Summer camp, with the promise of meeting boys and girls from different kibbutzim for fun in the sun, was fading out quickly. Fading in instead, threatening to bring with it only sweat and toil, was a long summer of working in the fields. Life as I knew it and loved it, was over for me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Literary, Media

The Absurd Regions

Below is the complete reportage — published here in English for the first time on my literary website — that was published originally years ago in Hebrew, on the pages of ‘Iton77;’ the literary, cultural Israeli magazine. It was titled ‘The Absurd Regions’ back then, and was comprised of twelve separate vignettes, reflecting my lyrical impressions of the ‘First Lebanon War’ of 1982-85, in which I participated. So here goes:

First Gathering
No smiles on the rough faces. The regular questions: How things? How’s life? The answers are heavy, occasionally harsh: shit, life’s in the dumpster. Ninety percent of our battalion’s command personnel identify with the ‘Peace Now’ movement. Objecting to the war. Objecting to the stay in Lebanon. Detesting what’s require of them to do next. One of the officers demonstrated yesterday in front of the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem. Before that, he marched from Rosh HaNikra up north to Tel Aviv. His wife advised him not to come this time. Refuse to go. But he is here—of course he is. Maybe because his friends are here. Who is he that he will allow them to be fucked with this shitty job without him. Maybe for the sake of democracy he came. The democracy Sharon and Raful crushed when they started this war. It’s been proven already before that there are more important things than this war: you, me, son, daughter. Life.

The visions passing by us reflect a mixture of the bizarre and the absurd. Beautiful countryside, on the one hand: the small villages are cuddled by the rolling hills, while the mountains merge so nicely with the scenery and don’t bite at it, like some of our mountains do back home. On the other hand, dirt and filth everywhere. Ecology is a nonexistent word in the local jargon. Here, one does as one pleases.

It’s harvest time now. The small fields in the bottom of the hills are harvested using sickles, and the sheaves are gathered by hands. An old combine then sorts the wheat grains apart and fill the air with golden dust, fog like. Peaceful cows are grazing in the meadows. The shoulders in the narrow roads are littered with potholes. And with old cars, scattered about here and there. One of them, you know that, is a death trap waiting for you.

Lawless Country
In Lebanon there are no taxes; no licenses; no one pays for electricity. Teenagers drive the cars on the roads. Kids drive the tractors, with dark covered women walking beside them, majestically balancing sacks of wheat grains and tobacco leaves on their heads. New, shiny vehicles zoom by, passing by old ones whose guts are exposed.

Muslims, Christians, Druzes, Shiites and Khomeini supporters coexist in this country side by side. Mixed multitude. And there are, of course, the Christian Militia and the Chadad Falangists. The latter are the road-robbers of this country. They reside under the shade of the Israeli Army’s camps and wear its uniform. “Tell me who your friend is, and I will tell you who you are.” So say the soldiers here, who play bad cops in this grotesque drama.
The circle is rounded and closed with the UN soldiers from Holland, France, Senegal, Ireland… you name it. Some are friendly to us; some hate our guts and look down on us. A black soldier wearing blue uniform and brown overcoat stands in attention in a remote, forgotten ravine. His rifle is erect in his arms. No enemy in sight, though. He belongs, like all of us, to a different world.

The Village Women
Before sunrise the women of the village go out into the small tobacco fields that close in on their houses. They pluck the green leaves and put them in their brown sacks. After that, in full morning light, they carry the sacks on their heads to the houses. There, with their children, they sort the leaves and hang them on thin ropes to dry them up in the hot sun. Later still, they will milk the cows, lead them out into the field to graze, feed the children and clean the houses. They shoulder their responsibilities with primeval dedication.

The husbands, meanwhile, will enter their Mercedeses late in the morning, and will drive to town to attend to their businesses. Maybe visit the coffee house in a nearby village. Play backgammon there with friends and smoke the narghile. In the evening they will return home and receive from their dutiful wives what they’re owed: food, love, and respect. The Bible, in certain terms, is alive and well here.

Yoel The Handsome
Dead. Was killed in an accident on a treacherous road in one of Lebanon’s regions. A meaningless Lebanese accident—just like that. Those demonstrating in front of the prime minister’s home can add him to the list of the fallen. We spent six months, the entire army’s ‘Combat Officers Course’ together. He was the handsomest among us. In his kibbutz, Ayelet HaShahar (Morning Star) he left behind four orphaned children and a pregnant wife. They too, are among the casualties of this useless war.

The “Status of the Logos”
On our daily patrol we pass by the spot where three soldiers from the reserved battalion that preceded us on duty here were killed. One short burst of gunfire slaughtered them all. Luckily, we are still alive. For how long, though, it’s hard to say.

Back at our base, from the radio blaring in our kitchen tent, comes the voice of a scholarly literary critic, talking about the “Status of the Logos,” the “Sacredness of Art,” and “Esthetic Beauty.” It sounds as if the voice comes from a faraway country, whose residents, so it seems, are unaware of what their sons are up to here. “Dust to his feet we are,” so says the critic in regard to the poet he is talking about. And so are we, in regard to our country, our elders. So we climb on our armored vehicles. Load our guns. And off we go.

A Hand for Peace
The local population, so the papers back home told their readers, received the Israeli soldiers with cherries, flowers, and kisses in the air. The other side of the story is a lot less celebratory, and a lot more depressing. We don’t even receive smiles anymore. Only the kids, inexperienced in war and in politics, sometimes raise a hesitating hand for a wave as we pass on the road. They stand on the roads’ shoulders, littered with burned armored vehicles. Above them, swarms of bloodsucking mosquitos constantly hover.

A Dog Burial
A puppy was killed on the road. For the whole day he was lying dead on the roadside, and was beginning to stink. At the end, we were the ones to bury him. After a short hour, his mother found his burial place. She burrowed and excavated her dead puppy; exposing him again to the beams of the sun and the eyes of the world.

One of our soldiers committed suicide in a checkpoint. Those who knew him claimed he brought his troubles from home. Another soldier was sent to the “soul-health’s officer.” Those in the know said he brought his “mantel-sickness” from home. Last night, a soldier in the Border Brigade was killed in an ambush. Those who knew him said he loved the army more than he loved his home. His funeral service and burial followed the required Army protocol.

Settlement Number One
One of our provisional bases has turned into a settlement. The details, of course, are secret. But in principle, what has begun as a temporary position on the sideroad meant to protect soldiers from guerillas, turned into a permanent basis. They took possession of an olive orchard despite the local owner strong objections. Tents were raised and stakes were hammered into the ground; a fence was stretched and a flag was raised; showers were installed and latrines were dug; armed positions were built and weapons were placed in them. The commander of this new base, who comes from a left-leaning kibbutz, found it difficult to acquiesce. But his superior commander has decided so. And the silent objector, though his conscience has kept bothering him, hasn’t refused the order. That the way he was brought up in his kibbutz.

To See and To Live
A roadside munition exploded not far from here. Two soldiers were killed and sixteen were injured. Two of them critical. The mother of Amir from kibbutz Shamir—who was killed in that attack—was also killed by terrorists. Amir hated this war. He sensed it would kill him. But he didn’t refuse to come. He enlisted and died. On his bed, in his small room, he left his guitar…
A respected journalist from a very popular newspaper arrived at the sensational terrorist attack’s location, where the 70-killograms roadside explosion threw a truckload of soldiers 20-meters away. She came to see the charred remains of the truck. There was hardly a word about the dead in her report. She now sips cafe au lait at a breezy, trendy coffee place on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv. Maybe noshing on a cold watermelon.

My Commander
My commander is 50-year-old. His head is balding, his eyes are in need of glasses constantly. His reserve duty service is voluntary. In his civil life he is a high-school principal. He leads by personal example: stands on duty-guard at nights with his soldiers, goes out on patrols, sweeps the yard, and washes the dishes. He never raises his voice. Sometimes he is on the point of losing control of his nerves, but quickly regains control and resumes his duty. My commander is truly an exceptional person. He hates the war in Lebanon. He even said that much to a governmental security committee inquiring about the war. He stated that what’s being done to us here is equal to the Biblical story of “Uriah the Hittite.” Generally, he hates army life and wars. So why the hell is he here?

Finale Party
Darkness. True darkness. Our replacement soldiers are here with us already. The night is full of stars. The skewers are on the fire. The coffee is on the coals. The dog is yelling. She senses that we are leaving. The Georgian and the Bedouin are brothers; the Persian and the Yemenite are brothers; the American and the Moroccan are brothers; the Ashkenazy and the Sephardic are brothers. It is a true situation—believe it or not.

The jokes and the laughter fly with the burning sparks into the night. We sing “How beautiful the nights in Canaan,” and “Hey to the South,” and “My flak-jacket is my Lover.” Since the war-songwriters didn’t write any war-songs this year, only the wrath-poets wrote wrathful-poems, the soldiers are forced to write their own songs. So we sing the most known soldiers’ song of this war, with one additional stanza of mine:

Go down on us airplane, take us fast to Lebanon; we will fight for general Sharon, and come back home in a coffin.
How it happened that the conquest, suddenly turned into defeat; you should ask the pawn, deep in the king’s carton.

At the ‘Finale Party’ of the previous company they didn’t sing. They didn’t tell jokes and didn’t roll laughter into the air. At their ‘Finale Party’ they stood in attention. A moment of silence for three of their comrades who got killed.

We were lucky so far, but for how long…

The next day, late at night, we passed the Rosh HaNikra checkpoint at the border, crossing from north to south, from Lebanon to Israel.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Literary, Media