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Two Israeli books: one serious, one for fun

“Living Beyond Terrorism,” Zieva Dauber Konvisser, Gefen Publishing, May 2014

It was Aug. 9, 2001. I was in Jerusalem after a 19-year absence to attend a Hadassah national convention and do research to write a memoir, “Witness to History: Ten Years as a Woman Foreign Correspondent

in Israel” (still unpublished). I was staying at the Sheraton (now the Leonardo) and when I came out, I was to cross the street to the Kings Hotel and meet my good friend and personal guide, Pat (z”l). She and I were going to the Bible Lands Museum for a reunion with her former boss and a former friend of mine, Ruth Abileah. All the traffic from the hotel down King George into town was blocked.

We heard there had been a terrorist attack but decided to go on with our plans.

When we returned to the hotel, national board members were waiting for us and told us to go and call our families and tell them we were okay.

One by one, Hadassah women came in and told stories of being on Ben Yehudah, of having wanting to eat at Sbarro Pizza on the corner of King George and Jaffa Road, of hearing an explosion and ambulances.

It was the Sbarro Pizza restaurant terrorist attack.

Now fast forward. Dr. Zieva Dauber Konvisser is a fellow of the Institute for Social Innovation at Fielding Graduate University.

In 2003, she was at the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychodrama in Jerusalem, beginning research on the “possibility of post-traumatic growth coexisting with post-traumatic stress.” According to the founding director of this center, Professor Danny Brom, in the book’s foreword, Dr. Konvisser contributes to “the study of politically motivated violence by documenting many of the challenges that confront people who experience such violence and by elucidating the many ways people find to overcome the horrors of their encounter with deadly violence. Equally, this book contributes to the development of the concept of post-traumatic growth.”

Dr. Konvisser herself explains in the preface that the focus of this book is on “resilience or recovery and post-traumatic growth.”

Dr. Konvisser is a second-generation Holocaust survivor, having lost more than 30 relatives in Vilna. During a trip to Israel in 2002, she reflected how survivors of terrorist bombings moved beyond their traumas and subsequently visited Israel eight times between 2004 and 2010 to speak with such survivors.

She spoke with 24 survivors in 2004 who made up the research study sample for her doctoral dissertation then revisited them in 2007 and interviewed seven more plus 15 Arab Israelis. In 2013, she again asked them to reflect upon and describe changes in “their family, work, health and/or outlook in life” since the interviews.

The result is 36 stories as told by 48 survivors and family members with 33 incidents described.

The book is a tribute “to those who survived attacks with or without disability or loss, as well as family members of those who perished. … By telling and retelling their stories, we celebrate their lives as people — as human beings.”

Some of the incidents are more familiar, such as the Sbarro Pizza attack, the Café Hillel bombing with the bride-to-be and her doctor father, and the stoning of Koby Mandell. Others include shooting attacks on roads and suicide bombings on buses, in buildings and military operations.

Among the most amazing things is one of the three appendices which lists 58 organizations supporting terror survivors and families. There is also a glossary and a selected bibliography at the end.

This is a very difficult book to read. Every story is upsetting and painful. Whether one has personally experienced a terrorist attack in Israel, is related to someone or acquainted with a victim; whether one visits Israel on a regular basis or has never visited Israel and has only heard stories or read about terrorist attacks and their victims — this is a book to read in which to understand the 12 qualities one may “cultivate to master any crisis”:

• They struggle, confront and ultimately integrate painful thoughts and emotions.

• They adjust their future expectations to fit their new reality and focus on the important things in life.

• They call on their inner strength, core beliefs and values.

• They stay in control and do not fall apart.

• They are helped to move forward with strength gained from their past experiences and prior adversity.

• They are helped by spirituality or grappling with fundamental existential questions.

• They stay healthy and focus on their body image.

• They are creative, find the silver lining and give back, moving forward with action.

• They stay connected and seek outside resources to help them survive rough times.

• They tell their stories and make sense of their lives.

• They are hopeful, optimistic, and celebrate life.

• They discover who they are.

May we all learn from their misfortunes.

 

“Starstruck” by Yael Levy, Crimson Roman, June 2013

This is a cute, ditsy novel that is so well written, you can’t put it down although there are four simultaneous plots.

The heroine is 30-year-old Abby Miller, married to David, a medical resident, with three kids. Abby yearns to be a romance book novelist but is overwhelmed by constantly feeling unappreciated by her husband coupled with her mountain of home responsibilities and her love of a particular soap opera.

Plot two revolves around her girlfriend, Sara Oppenheimer, an Orthodox woman who lives with her grandmother and works as an assistant district attorney. She has a case regarding the Russian mafia. She is also being romantically pursued by Jeff Hammond, a non-Jewish police officer. She takes her dates to a kosher deli where she is also friendly with Boris, the kosher butcher/deli worker with whom she has no romantic interest but whose boss has some connection to the Russian mafia case.

Plot three concerns Abby’s girlfriend, Leah, a physical therapist in an abusive marriage.

Plot four is about Michael, the unhappy actor in the soap opera that Abby loves. She accidentally hits him in a car accident and bring him to her home to recuperate.

Without divulging how these all blend together, one can say this is an engrossing mystery, a romance with some comic aspects and a fun read. 

Yael Levy was raised in an Orthodox home in Brooklyn. She and her husband spent three years living in Jerusalem. They now live in Atlanta with their children, and she is studying for a master’s degree. She has written two other novels that deal with Orthodox Jewish women. She is also the sister-in-law of Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy teacher Edna Levy.