Thursday, January 04, 2018

Suddenly Grief

For many years I went to the home I grew up in to spend Shabbos with my parents, and later just with my father. During that time I was an honorary member of the Shul community I grew up in.
One of the highlights of being in the Shul was talking with Rabbi Avraham Holtz. We would chat at Kiddush and in particular after davening on Friday night. More than once we stood outside at this time of year in the cold, talking for a long time. Or we'd talk in the summer as the hour got later and later. As his wife waited for him and my dad for me.
It was in one of those talks that he first mentioned his friend Aharon Appelfeld to me. Rabbi Holtz had just been to a conference on Appelfeld at U of P and he was thirsty to talk about it, he couldn't stop. He was taken by a presenter who said that Appelfeld's work was like science fiction. At first he couldn't imagine, and then it made sense to him. Appelfeld conjures a surrealistic reality that is so real and yet so unreal. He writes about the Holocaust without naming it by it's name, without naming the war, without naming the unnameable, which is so nameable.
After that talk I started reading Appelfeld and was captivated by his stories. And I'm not a fan of science fiction, but I got how there's an element of that to him, and I always thought of him in that realm. He writes a lot about losing home, and wanting to go home, and wanting to belong, and wanting to be separate. He writes about wounded ghosts, of survivors. His work is captivating. I even bought some of it in Hebrew and broke my teeth on it.
Rabbi Holtz told me that Appelfeld wrote every day at Beit Ticho. So I went once on a Friday and shyly asked a waiter if Aharon Apelfel wrote there . He said yes, said he's very open to talking to people - but he didn't come on Fridays. On another visit I was told that Beit Ticho was renovating and was temporarily relocated as part of another cafe'. I went to the other place and a waitress told me that he had come in the past, but he was presently old and frail and couldn't come anymore. In each case I felt like the wait staff liked Appelfeld, and that they liked that I came looking for him.
Something about Aharon Appelfeld and his writing resonated for me. Something about his honesty, sadness, alienation, ambivalence, longing, his whimsy, his romanticism. Something. Also, sadly, I related to is how he didn't remember the past, he experienced it together with the present, not just haunted by it, but in it.
I wish I would have found him writing at his table and that we would have chatted. I'm glad I discovered his writing even if I never found him in person. It comforted me to know he was alive. And it saddens me that he's no longer in this world.
I miss Aharon Appelfeld.


Post a Comment

<< Home