How Country Music Helped Me to Make Aliya

What a great title for a book – intriguing, original, and accompanied by a built-in soundtrack!

The book is a new short autobiographical novel by Lois Michal Unger, mainly known for her sharp, moving poetry.   Lois is a member in good standing of the community of Israeli poets who write in English, and this is her first book of prose.  Apparently the impetus came from a series of short story fragments she placed on Facebook, and people both liked and asked for more.   And then there’s her son who said “mom, I don’t really understand your poetry”.

An earlier book of poetry by Lois Michal Unger

The book is dedicated to her family and to “the people who’ve been in my life”, so I guess it’s dedicated to me as well.

They’re really rocking in Tennessee, on down to Tel Aviv

Though Lois started out in New York, the whirlwind story takes us from a commune in Vermont to Brisbee, Arizona, via New Jersey, on through Oklahoma and Tennessee, one of the homes of country music, ending in Tel Aviv.   The plot has many personal twists and turns, and since yesterday we marked International Women’s Day, the story is told in a clear, unique female voice.

Today on the 88 FM they played an hour of songs with women’s names – Lucille, Gloria, Barbara Ann, etc., and now love songs, with Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” in the background right now.  And Lois herself was once an actress, and even a beauty queen.

From Moshe Shamir to Karen Alkalai-Gut

Lois’ writing has admirers in different camps – among them Hebrew writer Moshe Shamir from the Palmach generation, who after 67 moved to the Greater Israel right, and translated some of her poetry into Hebrew.   He said that “she demonstrates a rare mixture of stylistic simplicity and honesty of expression, both in intimate private and public national subjects”.  And from a very different camp, professor and poet Karen Alkalai-Gut, who says that “Lois Unger never blinks.  She tells truth as she sees it.”

Up in snow-bound Vermont, a traveling library used to deliver books every week to her rural mailbox.  .I will admit that when she reached the point of noting on page 15 that one of the books was “Never Again” by Meir Kahane,   “a book that changed my life”, she lost me.   I prefer the other book she refers to as having had a seminal influence – “The Diary of Ann Frank” – she even performed in the National Touring Company of the play.

However, despite Kahane, I stuck it out to the end, with no regrets.

Country roads, take me home

So how did country music help her to make aliya?  A note on the dedication page says that “aliya means ascent, to immigrate to Israel”. I’m not sure I have the answer – that’s left for the reader to decide.   Maybe it’s due to the third record I ever bought in my life, “I forgot to remember to forget” by Elvis, number one on the country charts, the last Sun record he did before jumping to RCA and “Heartbreak Hotel”.

Probably the answer lies in John Denver’s “Country Roads”.  Country roads/Take me home/To the place/ I belong…




About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv