Review: Yosl Rakover Talks to God by Zvi Kolitz

I stumbled across this tiny book among the shelves of my library and was drawn to it, mainly thanks to the title: Yosl Rakover Talks to God. I had never heard of story before and the history behind it, but I was in for a wild journey.

Warsaw, 28 April 1943

There are two stories here. One is the now legendary tale of a defiant Jew’s refusal to abandon God, even in the face of the greatest suffering the world has known, a testament of faith that has taken on an unpredictable and fascinating life of its own and has often been thought to be a direct testament from the Holocaust.

The parallel story is that of Zvi Kolitz, the true author, whose connection to Yosl Rakover has been obscured over the fifty years since its original appearance. German journalist Paul Badde tells how a young man came to write this classic response to evil, and then was nearly written out of its history.

What struck me almost immediately -and most noticeably- upon starting Yosl Rakover Talks to God was the unnerving honesty behind each sentence. There’s no purple prose or watering down the vocabulary; the author tells of the events as they are, and you feel it reverberating for pages to come. A simple passage made me contemplate as if I had just read a whole story. Take for example the one below:

“Rachel had said nothing to me about her plan to steal out of the ghetto — a crime that carried the death penalty. She went off on her dangerous journey with a friend, another girl of the same age.

In the dark of night she left home and at dawn she was discovered with her little friend outside the gates of the ghetto. The Nazi sentries and dozens of their Polish helpers immediately went in pursuit of the Jewish children who had dared to hunt in the garbage for a lump of bread so as not to die of hunger. People who had experienced this human hunt at first hand could not believe what they were seeing. Even for the ghetto this was new. You might have thought that dangerous escaped criminals were being chased as this terrifying pack ran amok after the two half-starved ten-year-old children. They couldn’t keep up this race for long before one of them, my daughter, having expended the last of her strength, collapsed on the ground in exhaustion. The Nazis drove holes through her skull. The other girl escaped their clutches, but she died two weeks later. She had lost her mind.”

The ending is what gets me every time because these two half-starved ten-year-old children were dying of hunger and are being chased as if they’re “dangerous escaped criminals.” Nothing makes my blood boil more than my hatred for Nazis. Nothing.

This is also why I don’t read the horror genre when you can just take a look at History, or even the news, and have pretty much the same feelings evoked.

But circling back to the story, the language created by Zvi Kolitz was rich in its attention paid to each deserving line, as every word takes part in delivering to the overarching theme.

“I am proud to be a Jew — not despite of the world’s relation to us, but precisely because of it.

I would be ashamed to belong to the peoples who have borne and raised the criminals responsible for the deeds that have been perpetrated against us.”

No author has consumed my world as much as Kolitz’s did with his short story. It’s my mission to get my hands on any of his remaining works. In the meantime, I will be sure to share Yosl Rakover Talks to God with anyone I can because it’s impossible to keep to myself.

Point proven, one last quote I want to share that talks about keeping quiet in the face of evil:

“The world will consume itself in its own evil, it will drown in its own blood.

The murderers have already pronounced judgment on themselves, and they will not escape it. But You, I beg You, pronounce Your guilty verdict, a doubly harsh verdict, on those who witness murder and remain silent!

On those who condemn murder with their lips while they rejoice over it in their hearts.

On those who say in their wicked hearts: Yes, it is true that the tyrant is evil, but he is also doing a job for which we will always be grateful to Him.”

The lengthy afterword offered necessary insight on Zvi Kolitz’s life before and after releasing Yosl Rakover Talks to God, his family history, the Yosl Rakover myth and  Kolitz’s fight to have his authorship be recognized. It was dynamic and all-consuming.

5/5 stars

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Review: The Realist by Asaf Hanuka

The Realist is a weekly comic strip collection, unfolding Israeli cartoonist Asaf Hanuka’s portrait of contemporary life, commenting on everything from marriage to technology to social activism through intimate moments of triumph and failure.

This year I’ve taken on the task of, slowly but surely, familiarizing my way through a number of Israeli authors. Hanuka’s comics looked like the perfect component. His work seemed at first glance like an illustrated version of Etgar Keret‘s short story style.

So I began The Realist impressed by the author’s individualistic style, but then in the same breath felt disappointed at the depiction of Asaf Hanuka’s utterly mundane and commonplace life. It was mediocre at best and confusing at worst… Fighting with his wife, not feeling loved by his kid, which I want to note that it read like he, as a father, wasn’t doing the best at showcasing his love, either. Such as, constantly being on the phone when his son is trying to connect with him. It just brought to mind Ellen Fisher’s point about how spending “quality, consistent time where your face is not in the phone” will only benefit you both. You can’t expect the bond between father and son to be there without working on it…

Also, at certain times during my reading experience, I felt like the flow from strip to strip was hard to grasp, especially when the author talked about his marriage. His skips around in time just didn’t help the overarching theme.

Even though things didn’t really pan out the way I had planned or expected it to with The Realist, I fortunately still found some quiet little gems here and there that I’d like to share next:The Realist 1--bookspoils

 

The Realist 2--bookspoils

 

The Realist 3--bookspoils

 

The Realist 4--bookspoils

 

The Realist 5--bookspoils

I’ve never felt more seen as when I read the above touching comic.

The Realist 6--bookspoils

 

The Realist 7--bookspoils


3/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying The Realist, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: Letters to Talia by Dov Indig

I was captivated when I read the back cover of Letters to Talia, since the concept of having an irreligious Jewish kibbutz girl writing corresponding letters to a soldier/ Yeshiva student about Judaism and learning more about her faith sounded almost too good to be true. But the book lived up to even the highest of standards I had set for it in my head. It’s an everlasting read that had me bouncing from one emotion to the next.

Dov Indig was killed on October 7, 1973, in a holding action on the Golan Heights in Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Letters to Talia, published in his memory by family and friends, contains excerpts from an extensive correspondence Dov maintained with Talia, a girl from an irreligious kibbutz in northern Israel , in 1972 and 73, the last two years of his life. At the time, Talia was a high-school student, and Dov was a student in the Hesder Yeshiva Kerem B Yavneh, which combines Torah study with military service.

Coming into this right after having had to tolerate the non-stop infidelities in This Is How You Lose Her was like a breath of fresh air. Not only does Dov Indig, an only child of Holocaust survivors, have practically the perfect answer on literally everything regarding God, Jews and our identity, people, and homeland. We’re left with lots of food for thought, and it was a real challenge trying not to write the whole book down into my notes so I wouldn’t forget even the tiniest thing uttered by him. There was this genuine fear inside me that I would forget a convincing argument of his, and it stemmed out of how utterly convincing his points were in their nature. Dov Indig kept on surprising me with his knowledge page by page. A real wunderkind. It is these kind of quiet stories that tell the moving account of someone’s words and actions that affect me the most.

I mean, there were times when Talia presented a case seemingly unfit to contradict (such as, the recruitment of Yeshiva students into the IDF, and civil marriage in Israel), but he always pulled through with pages and pages of wise words on the relevant topics and sources to support his statements. And not only that, but his responses came across as really balanced and well-thought-out. You could feel his calm and welcoming nature reverberate off the page when it came to answering questions about Judaism.

Usually, I would insert some quotes of his here to prove my statement, but since I read the Hebrew edition that option isn’t relevant at the time. But just know that there’s no denying the colossal wisdom and faithfulness behind Dov’s words. Knowing the end of his story, however, made every moment of his utterly melancholy and bittersweet. I’m thinking mainly about those parts when he got hopeful about what his future would entail as a believer. It’s impossible not to feel the weight of the words (and the world) in those pages.

Since this conversation is made up by two parts, I have to mention that I was displeased from the get-go with the way Talia handled the conversation. My annoyance stems from the fact that her personality relies heavily on not knowing really… anything. Talia tends to go for deep questions without inquiring first if what she’s asking is fact or something she heard from ear to ear, which leads to a lot of naïve and shortsighted comments on her side. Over the course of Letters to Talia it began to feel like one of those plot devices, where one side asks foolish questions just so that the hero can appear more educated. So it became difficult to enjoy the conversations circling Dov and Talia because I was dreading for her point of view to appear. I mean it’s pretty difficult to enjoy an educated conversation when one person isn’t adding anything remarkable to the table other than white noise.

The funny thing is that I then read this article that interviews Talia nowadays, and she seems to agree on her naïvety back in the day. So there was a tiny source of comfort knowing that she would somehow grow into her character over the years.

But luckily, Dov’s writing, that showcased just how well-read and enlightened he was, made up for the negatives of the other side. It was a true privilege to bask in the wisdom of his words through the letters shared in this book.

As a last side note, I do wish we would’ve gotten to see some pictures of the letters they sent one another just because I’m curious as to how his writing style looked like on paper. But overall Letters to Talia is a highly recommended story that I’m utterly grateful to have read.

5/5 stars

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Letters to Talia, just click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!