Not Another Holocaust Story

My Loving Life Buddy, or, as I call him, my LLB, Gidon Lev and I have been working on a book together for the past two years. I met Gidon in 2017, and he had written over 40,000 words about his life, beginning with his imprisonment at the Nazi concentration camp, Terezin, not far from Prague, and ending when he lost his beloved wife, Susan, in 2012. You can imagine that his writings covered a lot of territory. (The TOI recently ran a really good article about Terezin, by Matt Lebovic).

Initially, I told Gidon that I couldn’t help him; I had never worked with a life story as sprawling as his, and because his writing went into such detail, I really thought that it would be great for him to just get the manuscript copy-edited and then self-publish copies for his family. But Gidon would have none of that. He felt that there was more to his story than just memories for the family. He was right about that; between the details — or maybe in spite of them — Gidon had written not just of his experience in Terezin, where only he and his mother survived, but he’d also written about making aliyah in 1959, serving in the IDF and life on Kibbutz Hazorea and later, Kibbutz Zikim. He had written, in other words, about the life of an ordinary man in a fledgling country and more than that – a man who had suffered terrible childhood trauma and loss as one of his most formative experiences.

It was the job of the century to take so much material and whittle it down to a compelling narrative, especially given that Gidon insists and insisted that he was not defined by the Holocaust. He has lived a very full, loving, adventurous and hard-working life in Israel, for 60 years now.  Yet, his childhood experience is a valuable testimonial and bears lessons for all of us, not only in the horror of his recollections but in the life that came after that — one of moving on and building a family anew.

Eventually, Gidon and I decided to write the book together, with sections of his original writing complemented by essays by myself and others, to comment upon and contextualize the events in Gidon’s life. The book, it turned out, was a living thing even as we worked on it. It kept evolving. We had fallen for each other, you see.

I have written about my Loving Life Buddy before, here, on the Times of Israel, in 2018, and what was true then has become ever truer now. We are inseparable. Our convention-defying relationship became a part of the book we were writing, and to our delight, a different book began to emerge; one with two perspectives, Gidon’s and mine — a California writer and editor 30 years his junior. For me, the Shoah is an awful part of the past. Gidon was the first Holocaust survivor that I had ever met. I had so many questions for Gidon about the Shoah, but also about Israel in the 60s and 70s.

Partly for research but mostly for fun, we began touring around Israel; we went to Yad Mordechai, the Beit Theresienstadt Museum, we went to the Golan Heights where Gidon served in the IDF in 1967, and Kibbutz Zikim to have a look around and visit old friends; we made several trips to Yad Vashem to do more research on Gidon’s family. We went to New York, we went to California and in less than 10 days we are going to visit Prague, Carlsbad (the place of Gidon’s birth) and Terezin itself. I expect that will be a very meaningful journey for both of us.

We have also eaten more than our share of ice cream with chocolate syrup, binged on Netflix, gone camping, shopped, cooked and argued about the merits of potatoes (I lost that one!) Gidon helped me get my Israeli driver’s license, works with me on my Hebrew on a daily basis, builds shelves for my books and picks me up when it’s too hot to walk home from the bus. He is my Loving Life Buddy. The one I’ve been waiting for all my life.

This shabbat we plan to go swimming and then visit The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. I’m already thinking about what kind of ice cream will be the perfect end to this day.

Yes, people think we are a “cute” couple, probably because of our age difference; what is that mid-50s California blonde doing with that adorable, blue-eyed old man?! We are just being us, Loving Life Buddies and everyone should be so lucky. Oh and just so you know, we are a thoroughly modern couple and you can follow the adventures of me and my Loving Life Buddy on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Because that’s how we roll. #LLB

We have felt a sense of urgency about the book project; the rise of right-wing, nationalist political movements in Europe and the US, and the rise of antisemitic acts spurs us on. Holocaust deniers need to be beaten back with irrefutable information and testimonies.

Our hope is that our book will reach a wide audience of readers who may not know a lot about the Holocaust, or Israel for that matter, and who will be drawn in by what frames the book — our love for each other.

The proposal is written, the book is nearly finished, and we are preparing ourselves to approach publishers. But we needed a title. Gidon being Gidon, he wrote title ideas on pieces of white paper and taped them all over the house so we could consider them. Finally we found one that we liked: Not Another Holocaust Story: The True Adventures of Gidon Lev. We liked the double meaning, that Gidon’s story is an unusual one, but also that if the arc of the universe truly does bend toward justice, please, let there not be the need for another Holocaust story.

About the Author
Julie Gray is a writer and editor who made the leap from Los Angeles to Israel many years ago and has had many (mostly) humorous adventures ever since. She is the author of The True Adventures of Gidon Lev: Rascal. Holocaust Survivor. Optimist.
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