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Israeli Bedtime Stories

My new immigrant mother and father didn’t read any bedtime stories. But, before putting out the light they recalled strange tales of Eastern Europe, where they were born. I could envision everything: a river frozen in the winter (I hadn’t ever seen snow), dark woods (I saw only pines planted by the Jewish National Fund), gray sky, so different from the sharp yellow light that surrounded me.

Strange words were whispered: “shtetl,” “Hasidic,” “Yiddish.” But we already loved In Hebrew and cursed in Hebrew, wearing short khaki pants and our bodies embraced by the unforgiving sun.

How could my parents replace their old lives? How did they find their way to this almost forgotten land? I remember myself cuddled in bed, trying to figure out the mystery. My mother never mentioned the Holocaust, yet I always knew about Auschwitz.

Under the fragile layer of new life was another story, not meant for young ears. An invisible page, burning with great pain and loss. I can see myself covering my head, threatened by this nightmare, letting my imagination run loose. Perhaps my mother and father had secret wings and flew to Israel? When I grew up I made this vision into my book, Flying Lessons.

Nava Semel was born in Israel and has published seven books and three plays. Two of her books are available in English, Becoming Gershona (Viking Penguin) and Flying Lessons (Simon & Schuster).