Sunday, April 29, 2012

My mother, Reviva Yoffe (Lederberg), 1924-2012

Rivka. Riva. Reviva.
            Three versions of her name, each reflecting the progress my mother made in her rich, events-filled, and creative life. She never stood still; there was always a development to the next stage. 
            You’ve all known my mother as an artist whose tiny brushes created magnificent concerts of colors, shapes, emotions and movements in paintings that often jumped at the viewer with stories crying to be told. She’s sold literary thousands of paintings in her life. She remembered each one of them as one remembers each child.
            But most people may not know that my mother’s life’s adventures began when, right out of high school, she was recruited into the first graduating class of Wingate Institute! There, she was trained not only as a gym teacher, but also as a Haganah commander. The latter included Kapap—krav panim el panim—and crossing a zip line over a wadi. Years later, when my family was a member of the Country Club, she still performed headstands on a high beam.
            When economic necessity and fashion conjoint in the 1950s, she wove hundreds of straw handbags and hats in one summer, making them the latest fashion in Tel-Aviv—the first manifestation of her artistic talent and incredible innate marketing savvy.

            At her time, the only acceptable office position for a woman was to be a secretary. Yet her efficiency and cut-to-the-chase approach vaulted her to become the de facto manager of a branch of Shell Oil and Appliances. Several years later, with entrepreneurial spirit, she left her job to open a collection agency for this same former employer. The Tel-Aviv courthouse became my mother’s oyster. She knew her way around dark, long corridors and dusty filerooms. Everyone, from judges to file clerks, was her friend. In the evenings, she handed papers for my attorney father to sign. 
            Some time in between those early careers, my mother and I went through a horrific trauma that sealed our bond and brought out my mother’s hidden talent as a detective: During her divorce from my biological father, he kidnapped me and my sister Odelia and hid us for a very long time. With resourcefulness and courage my mother scouted Israel from north to south, checking every second-grade classroom—until she found me. For the rest of her life my mother pursued detective work to face adversity. Street-smart, she was unafraid to take on the president of a bank who had made a mistake but refused to correct it, or to challenge the DMV for a speeding ticket was wrongfully attributed to my sister.
            She was strong and courageous, and was undeterred by either closed doors or bureaucracy or high fences hiding the leaves of a mulberry tree that provided nourishment to her growing colony of silk worms.
            When most Tel-Aviv apartments were painted beige or drab gray, my mother had our walls in Rothschild Blvd. painted in  bright red, pulsating blue, and lemon yellow.
            She was vain and sensuous when she danced around the house wearing wide, billowing skirts. She loved flowers, especially tulips, and in my youth took me on long nature walks to admire them, never forgetting the crickets or the frogs. A good story-teller, over a lifetime she regaled me with stories of her youth until our last days and hours together.
            My mother was unlike any woman I knew, her presence strong and ever-lasting. Luckily, what will remain for future generations are her many paintings to testify to the vibrant, resourceful, intelligent, engaging, and life-affirming woman that she had been.
            I was blessed to be the daughter of a multi-talented and energetic Riva.

Reviva Yoffe, 2002 


Saturday, April 21, 2012


On a highway, Israelis stop their cars and stand next to them in honor of the fallen soldiers in its many wars for survival

          Ernest Hemingway said that each person is a product of the landscape of both his native land and his adoptive land.
          I feel the power of the statement as I glance at the car-clock and register that it is almost eleven o'clock. I squeeze my rented Mazda into a parking space in front of a beauty parlor when the melancholic music playing on the national radio since yesterday’s evening is abruptly cut. A siren pierces the Tel-Aviv skies. A long, sharp, straight B Minor shrill joins the echo of dozens of others, and together they weave a thick, pulsating blanket that holds the city in its demanding urgency.
          The signal for the moment of silence in honor of the men and women killed in the battles of Israel marks Memorial Day.
          My car is still lopsided against the sidewalk like a novocained grin. I fling the door open and jump out and stand at attention. As if in a surreal Medieval fable, I am reminded of the sleep curse cast upon a kingdom, where the citizens all fall asleep at the same instant, wherever they are: at the cooking pot, on the milking bench, by the water well.
          Across the street in the schoolyard, a group of soccer players is frozen into stillness as the ball continues its slow roll. The boys' expressions are solemn. No snickering, no sneak elbowing. Up and down the street, cars have stopped. Their owners are standing still outside the open doors. Through the beauty shop window I see the hairdresser standing erect. Two customers have ejected themselves from the bubbles of hair dryers and are glued to the spots where their feet have landed.
          Strangers to one another, we stand united by the images floating on the projection screens of our minds. We see fresh faces, taut bodies, eager eyes, optimistic smiles--men who are no longer with us. Carved in time, the dead remain forever young.
          I lower my head and allow a wave of sorrow for the soldiers I once knew to wash over me. Amiram, my high school classmate, with a mischievous grin, was fearless. The first to go, he was my first devastating loss, and got more tears than I had imagined my eyes could store. Asher will forever remain the tall, blond, and freckled fifteen-year-old I was in love with, and who, across the classroom, shyly let me know that he shared those feelings. The last time I bumped into him, we were both riding the city bus in military uniform, his a paratrooper officer’s. Asher inquired whether I still had the same boyfriend, and after my nod, rushed off at the next stop. Uri, with laughing green eyes, at twenty-eight loved the theater and, in between piloting warplanes, dove into the lecture halls at the university, accumulating credits in literature. He waited patiently for my improbable marriage to dissolve. When I finally separated, I learned that he had been killed three weeks before.
          The sirens continue to reverberate in the endless, open Memorial Day
sky, where nothing stops their piercing sound. I don't want the moment to pass; I want to stay with the young men who populate my world of "what ifs."
          I look around at the contemporary high-rises with colorful awnings and the artistically paved sidewalks. The gardens in the front yards of the buildings and in the street islands are that of fire: Birds of Paradise encircled by roses in red, orange, pink, and yellow. Yet, the fragrance that reaches my nostrils is soft. Rosemary and lavender.
          The breeze strokes the tree tops, nudging us all back to life. Unlike the citizens of the cursed kingdom who wake up unchanged and instantaneously resume life, the citizens of Israel, although they unfreeze to keep on walking, driving cars, playing ball, and blow-drying hair, will never wake up from the curse of the cutouts left by the disappearance of young lives.
And young lives are continuing to be claimed. The men I once knew and loved are being replaced by the sons of my friends. It never stops, however much we want it to.
          Next week, across the ocean, I will be back at my other land, whose landscape is comforting, undemanding. Its soil never blackmailed me for the blood of such as Amiram, Asher, and Uri. In three weeks, when Memorial Day will be celebrated in my adoptive land, only those whose losses are direct will remember the cemeteries. For the others, the day will be marked by baton-twirling parades, super sales at Macy's, and barbeques at the beaches.

Talia Carner’s recent novel is JERUSALEM MAIDEN. Please check

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