Where Have You Gone?

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In this day and age, it is quite common to google a name when you want to know who somebody is. Thus a few months ago, I googled our language assistant’s name and found lots of information about him before meeting him in real life.

Similarly people use the Internet to find old friends and acquaintance and have reconnected with folks they though they’d never hear of again.

I have been there too and have found former classmates, college friends and foreign colleagues. Some have become Facebook friends and it is lovely to read their updates every now and again and exchange news via private messages.

However there are also people who seem to have completely disappeared from this planet and whose name never crops up when googled – or rather when information crops up it points to a totally different person.

This is something that really puzzles me. I try to protect my data as much as I can but if you google my name, you’ll still find a few things about me. Yet there are people my age with a college degree who have no Facebook account, no visible professional email addresses which include their names, whose name is not registered in any way for their jobs; in other words people who have no Internet visibility whatsoever. Am I the only one who finds it strange not to say worrying?

Astrid & Veronika

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Astrid & Veronika by Linda Olsson– a Swedish author who lives in New Zealand – is a wonderful story about the unlikely friendship between two different women and how they share life stories and become friends told over a few months.

Veronika is in her early thirties. She rents a house in a small remote Swedish village to complete a book and recover from her recent past. Her nearest neighbor is Astrid, an 80-year-old recluse nicknamed the village witch.

While Veronika has traveled almost her entire life, Astrid has spent most of her life under the same roof. Yet both women are lonely and step by step they become friends.

As trust develops between them, each woman slowly starts sharing her own secrets and sorrows. The narrative focuses on Veronika and Astrid alternatively, thus inviting us to share the women’s feelings and perspectives. Eventually both characters come to terms with their pains and are able to move forward in their own ways.

The rhythm of the novel is slow reflecting the author’s love of poetry but it never becomes tedious. It is also deeply rooted in Swedish folk culture with frequent evocations of the country’s landscapes, flowers, berries as well as food.

Last but not least, the book contains numerous quotes from different poets and introduced me to the powerful poetry of Karin Boye.

Welcome to Heavenly Heights

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Since I didn’t feel like writing a traditional book review today, I decided to adopt a different format rather than not tell you about this book at all.

10 reasons why you should read Heavenly Heights by Risa Miller (some are much better than others):
– This novel is short.
– It was written by a woman and has a distinctively woman’s tone.
– The story is set in Israel.
– The main topic is alyiah.
– The plot focuses on one woman’s experience from the time her husband convinces her it is time for them to go and settle in Israel. It follows them as they move into a block of appartments and learn to adapt and adjust to their new life through their first year.
– The characters are olim and practically all live in the same building, which is why they get to know each other and interact.
– Through memorable portraits, the novel draws a picture of the characters’ new (and not so new) lives which is quite nuanced. To quote Wendy Shalit in The Observant Reader,”they have the same worries and petty jealousies as the rest of us”.
– This book is about relationships as much as it is about alyiah.
– It reminded me of Seven Blessings and The Outside World.
– It is well written.

If you have read this book and wish to add more reasons to this list, feel welcome to do so.

Teenagers and their Peers

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As a teenager I had a few close friends, not many but some I knew I could rely on. Today my students appear to have tons of friends but I often have the feeling they know virtually nothing about them outside school and seldom seem to care.

Thus they spend ample time on their cell phones textmessaging their peers, even during lessons when I have to battle to make them put the wretched thing in their bags and often have to fight again so that it actually stays there. They always seem to have a wonderful piece of news to share with someone. Similarly if I look at their Facebook page they have hundreds of so-called friends.

Yet whenever a kid is absent from school, nobody seems to know what has happened to them. During the day nobody takes the time to send a message so as to find out. If I hand out photocopies, they very rarely ask one for the absent student. Even after a few days the kid’s absence is often still a mystery. It is almost as if by being absent the student no longer existed.

One incident last week made me wonder about the sort of relationship they have with each other. Once a week, I help and supervise a class where the students work in pairs on a common project for half the year. It was snowing outside and a few kids hadn’t made it to school. As usual I went round and took down the names of the kids who were not in school for the administration. One boy was on his own and when I asked him if the girl he was working with was absent because she lived in the country, he answered he had no idea. Another boy has been missing since the beginning of the month and the guy who works with him still hasn’t contacted him to ask whether and when he was coming back.

Maybe I am embellishing the past but I seem to remember that in similar circumstances we contacted each other, inquired about our friends’ health and informed them about school work.

Goodbye My Friend

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How do you say goodbye to a collegue who was more than just a workmate?

I changed schools 16 years ago. After 7 years in a a junior high school I applied for a job in a nearby high school and got it. I was lucky to find a great team of English teachers.

My colleague also taught English and had been working in this lycée for quite some time. She was a respected and demanding teacher and her students knew they were in good hands. She was a keen linguist and was always striving for the most accurate word.

She fell ill about four years ago and left teaching one year early because of an operation and the chemotherapy treatment that followed. Last September she learnt that she was terminally ill. She died this morning surrounded by two very close friends of hers.

She was frank, sometimes even blunt, but also extremely generous. When I last phoned her, she asked me a lot of sensitive questions and did not wish to dwell on her own condition. A friend I phoned tonight told me she had given her a book for me, which deeply moved me.

Because of her generosity and strong personality she will be missed not only by her closest friends, but also by people like me who are proud and honored to have met her.

Baruch Dayan Emet