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I believe that for everything bad that happens to us, something good comes of it. Several months ago, I started a blog: It is all for the good http://www.itisallforthegood.wordpress.com with contributions from others. 

 I thought you might enjoy reading some of the entries there, the latest is called “Susan”. And maybe you would like to contribute your story to this blog.


My Article as Published in ESRA Magazine


by Joan Gross Category: Israel Issue No. 168

Returning from the grocery store, I spotted a bird. I paused in mid-step. This was not your ordinary, everyday bird, but an insanely bizarre bird. Regally perched on his head sat a cocky headdress, much more regal than a cardinal’s. His colors were subtle like a morning dove – halfway down his body that is; then a stark transformation to black and white circular stripes. Was this a joke? Did someone put him together with scraps from several bird-making kits? Was he squeezing out one more bird from his pile of rejects no matter how ridiculous it looked? The bird flew away and I suddenly remembered that there were three hungry children waiting for their breakfast.

This was the last day that Eliav (11), Eviatar (9) and Batli (7) were visiting with Mick and me. Since they had moved back to Israel two years ago, I had only seen them once last year for a brief weekend and the year before for three short visits. I had lived with them for close to two years in Brooklyn and helped them learn English and become “American”.

The three children had immersed themselves in Hebrew after their family had split in two, and their half (those three with their mother) had moved back to Israel. Their father, with his new wife and their two older brothers live in New York City. In the two years that Eliav, Eviatar and Batli have been back in Israel they have totally forgotten their English. After just a few days with us, Eliav’s English has miraculously been largely restored, although Eviatar and Batli could only manage to say a few words. Eviatar rejoiced in correcting our Hebrew in a very methodical, syllable-by-syllable manner. I smiled at his new skill while at the same time feeling the loss of the wonderful conversations I used to have with him.

That morning, the children decided that they all wanted eggs and chocolate milk. Mick had awakened and was at his computer, and I asked him about the bird I had just seen. “It is the national bird, the hoopoe,” he informed me. I said, “Wow – I thought it would have been the kippah bird.” I did not know the name of this brown bird with the black “skullcap” on its head that I referred to, but I thought it appropriate that it bear a name indicating that it covers its head in the sight of God—hence the kippah bird.

After breakfast, I rounded up the children to go for a walk on the beach to collect shells, ocean-rounded pebbles and water-polished glass, and to walk to the moshav next door.

Eliav said that he did not want to get his feet wet, but suddenly we were all in the water watching the ripples tickle our feet and enjoying the coolness of the waves. The air above was hot, heavy and humid. Each step I took felt like I was dragging 20 extra pounds with it.

Here, in Naharyia, the sea looks different every day. Today there were stripes of blues, aqua, cobalt and sapphire, interrupted only by rippling white foam. The children live inland, and my pleasure in watching the sea was heightened as I tried watching it through their eyes.

We walked further, past a canal that meandered through the moshav, past the beaches with their large umbrellas and cabanas where the more subtle waves better suited our non-immersion style of refreshment.

Batli stepped onto a slippery rock and suddenly it wasn’t only her feet in the water but her entire lower body.

As we headed back, the children discovered that there were stones by the canal. They splashed the stones and I thought again about the “jumble” bird: just like Israeli Jews who are also a jumble—we settled here from Morocco, Iraq, France, China, India and Ethiopia. We began with no common language or customs, some of us are religiously observant, some secular, some atheist, but all melded together to build up this land that G-d gave us. Anyone seeing our faces – black, brown, white, yellow and red, and listening to us speak Hindi, Arabic Farsi, and French and on and on, would definitely find us as bizarre as the bird.

A passerby expressed her disapproval of the children throwing stones, and I coaxed them back on the path home.

Batli, despite still being wet from her accidental immersion, was wilting until we came across a drinking fountain close to where the bandstand is set up on the beach. The fountain had five spigots, each spigot sprayed water in several directions at one time. Hardly any of the water reached their gaping mouths but splashed onto their bodies. The children shouted and ran back and forth to the fountain as they took turns maneuvering the water to spray each other. Their rush to get back to our apartment was forgotten.

The boardwalk had a raised lookout and the children stood there gazing at the waves, three little specks against the broad spectrum of the sea and sky, hugging every breeze that embraced them. For a while they made dog and rabbit shadows on the sand below, and questioned me about what looked like an abandoned fishing rod propped upright on the beach. I pointed at the owner. He was sitting beneath the lookout, drinking a beer, talking on the phone and casually watching the rod for any sign of success.

With their pockets full of seashells and their minds full of today’s memories, we walked back to the apartment. We were our own version of the jumble bird: three children who had lost half of their family, and myself, the only non-related constant in their life for the past seven years.

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Winners, losers and keepers

Life is full of winners, losers and keepers. Five years ago I decided to apply this test to my friends and relatives. The inspection and subsequent fallout was a revelation. The winners:

1. My children. I looked at them as people and decided yes, they’ed be keepers even if they weren’t mine. However, I decided that I had finished raising my 29-year-old daughter who was still living with me. So I moved. To another state.

2. Rosie. She was demanding, loved to do imitations of people we knew and generally engaged in outrageous behavior. During prayer services, she would look around to see whose eye she could catch and then blow them kisses. She flirted with everyone from 6 months to 99 and her humor and mirth were utterly irresistible. She has passed on and I learned from her to relate to people of all ages. It has enriched my life. When I think of her I smile and pray that God wasn’t looking while she flirted during prayer services.

3. My free range chicken supplier. While I decided the chickens were too expensive, her friendship was a bargain. She turned out to be a kindred creative soul and there was another bonus: her talented husband wrote the music to and sings the “Forty Days” song.

4. Everyone else that is not listed under losers.

The winners are also the keepers.

And, ta da the losers:

1. A bi-polar friend who usually refused to answer the phone when I called. He often called me, though. And his timing was impeccable.  The phone would ring just as I was slipping into bed and he demanded that I stay on the phone with him because he wanted to talk. I would try the bathroom routine – you know – I gotta pee. Gonna say good night. His answer, “I’ll hang on til you come back.”

2. Husband number 4. When we were geographically separated he would call constantly to find out what I was doing. Hello–I don’t think marriage is a jail house. (Husband number 5 lives in another country and he never calls and says, “Where are you?” He just keeps telling me I am beautiful, my writing is beautiful and my paintings are beautiful. He came later but he is definitely a keeper.)

3. The friend who was the co-author of an advice column for my local, monthly newspaper. One weird problem; two answers. But truthfully, I didn’t get rid of her. She decided I wasn’t worth keeping. After following her advise to always print reader letters, she was angry that I printed one that criticized her answer.

4. My newspaper. Too much work and not enough money. Now I deal with tenants instead and I have to decide which ones are losers and which ones are keepers. If I ever find out who was the person that required another tenant to put up this sign– that’s a loser.


5. The tenant who tells me he left for work at 5 in the morning and didn’t come home til 11pm demands that I pick up his rent check–he can’t get to the bank and refuses to use his bank bill payer. The mail? He can’t afford a stamp, he says. He ends every conversation by telling me I am his only friend in America because I went to court for him in a custody case with his ex-wife. I’ve decided to keep my sanity by picking up an old love that I haven’t engaged in since B.C. (before children). See my watercolors below:

FlowersFeb6A copy FlowersJanIs2 copy

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If You Don’t Want to Cry, Don’t Come to Atlit

I am back in the States, but will be writing about my experiences on this last trip to Israel for a while. One of my last excursions was to Atlit, a beautiful town on the Mediterranean, south of Haifa.

My friend Ruchel and I met at the train station as we came from opposite directions. We had no idea how to get to the Atlit Detention Camp but after questioning a few residents, Ruchel talked one of them into driving us there. Surprisingly, after the tour, which took over two hours, an employee there offered to drive us back into town and dropped us off minutes from the train station at Ben Ezra restaurant where we had a very appetizing salmon lunch accompanied by about 10 salads.

Now for the serious side of this trip: Jews who had foresight in 1935 were anxious to flee Europe. Jews in 1946, who survived the Holocaust, did not want to go back to their homes where the smell of the burning flesh of their families was still fresh in their nostrils. And the Jews during the Holocaust who were able to cross borders, escape the Nazis, and get on a ship, were determined to leave whether or not Britain gave them permission. The British, who had promised the Jews Palestine for fighting in World War I, suddenly back tracked and decided to allow only about 7,000 Jews a year into Palestine. Everyone else was declared an illegal.

This created an explosive situation. Especially for the Jews whose very life depended on getting out of Europe. Once on the seas they risked German ships blowing them out of the water, or English ships making them turn around even though they knew they would be returning to a place where they would certainly be murdered; unfortunately just as the S.S. St. Louis was refused entry by everyone, including the U.S., and 1000 Jews were returned to Europe to be fed to the gas chambers.

Those Jews who did make it to Palestine were interred at the Atlit Detention Camp.

I shuddered when I saw the showers that new detainees were told to strip and get into. Many of them had traveled in overcrowded ships and had not bathed for weeks and were infested by lice. However, they did not understand what the British were asking of them and too many of them were familiar with the “showers” that held no water but only poisonous gas. They were told to place their clothing in a revolving metal closet. From there their clothes were put into a dryer that held chemicals. The detainees’ pockets held the few mementos they clung to: photos, documents, and important papers. All were destroyed.
The British tried explaining to them and after the showers rewarded them with oranges and chocolate. Some, when they realized it was really only a hot shower, got back on the end of the line for the shower, the orange and the chocolate. However, right after the shower they were sprayed with DDT which shortened many of their lives.
The camp is surrounded by barbed wire. The women and children were housed behind the wire on the left side of the promenade and the men and older boys on the right side. The British knew that the Jews would not escape and leave part of their family behind. The symbols of imprisonment surrounded them, including the watch towers. If, in the middle of the night someone needed to relieve themselves in the holes in the ground outside, they were not allowed out at night and had to use the basins provided. With 40 cots cramped into small spaces, the stench of urine had to have been very powerful, especially in the summer.

These internment buildings had no heat or air conditioning and the tin roofs made it unbearably hot in the summer and intensified the cold in the winter.

Our tour guide, Gal, from Ashdod, was very thorough and knowledgeable. Aside from lectures, there were various presentations and films that made the place come alive.

One of the films depicted a Palmach rescue, under the command of Yitzhak Rabin, of a group of Iraqis who were caught crossing the border on foot. The British plan was to return them to Iraq even though they knew they would be killed. This daring rescue took place in October of 1945.

The end of the movie is incredibly moving and I will not spoil it for you. But the bravery of the Jewish families, men, women and children, in protecting these runaways is uplifting and stirring.

Now for the photos:



This photo depicts a son who was reunited with his father in the Detention Camp.


Our guide, Gal, in front of the machine that treated the prisoners’ clothing with chemicals.


The above ship was not a ship that took Jews to Palestine but was from the same time period. Ships that were supposed to carry 1000 people might carry 3800 people. This small ship is used for multi-media presentations about the conditions and fear that the passengers faced.