Transformative Writing

artThe power of narrative to help us cope with difficult feelings and to try to make sense of them is something that most of us know about. To relax into a good book or forget ourselves in a movie is an elixir during stressful times.

People who have experienced trauma in their lives, whether or not they consider themselves writers, can benefit from creating narratives out of their stories. It is helpful to write it down, in other words, in safety and in non-judgment. Trauma can be quite isolating. Those who have suffered need to understand how they feel and also to try to communicate that to others.

On this page, those writers willing to publish their writing share their thoughts and reflections. If you would like to contribute a short essay or piece of fiction (500 to 750 words only) about an experience you are struggling to understand, . All submissions can be anonymous if you wish.

Click on a writer: 

Dori Bisk, Rachel Mines, Oren Peleg, Lena Porat, Alon Rosenthal, Tom Livny

(Operation Protective Edge, July, 2014)

I feel nothing like I felt 17 years ago. I was a fresh faced bright eyed twenty year old just out of the army and I had just landed my first real job. A project manager at the Beit She’an Valley, Chamber of Commerce. I had no experience whatsoever and the only reason I got the job in the first place was because I was a native English speaker. Apparently back then, there was quite a shortage of those around.

Following the signing of the peace treaty with Jordan, Israel was engulfed by an air of optimism. Suddenly everyone wanted to do business across the border. It was close, it was convenient and most of all, it was cheap. We were bombarded with phone calls and emails from people wanting to do business with ‘them’, on the other side.  Initially it was locals but pretty soon word got out and people from all over the country were getting into their cars and making the long dusty drive to Beit She’an, a town so small it had no traffic lights let alone a mall to call its own.

Approximately every three weeks we crossed the border to meet with our partner on the other side. A local businessman educated in an IV league school, married to a beautiful blond blue eyed European and father to an adorable boy and girl. We would bring the people from the Israeli side and he would find the relevant partner in Jordan. So simple. So easy.

We always stayed at the same 4 star hotel in Amman. As soon as we arrived we would be greeted with warm cries of welcomes from the people at the front desk, the concierge, the waiters serving in the lobby.

“Hello! Welcome back!” they would wave from across the room beaming at us and I could tell they were genuinely happy to see us. One particular time, walking to the elevator after checking in, I was evoked with a distinct feeling of ‘coming home’. For those 18 months, in that time, that hotel, those people, became my second home. And it felt good.

One night after a late business dinner, I was invited by the only other girl at the table to go out to a club. I quizzically turned to my boss seeking his permission. Almost immediately he excused himself claiming he was too tired. “But you go ahead” he added hurriedly “Have fun with your friends!”
My friends. My first real live Jordanian friends. Wow. Who would have thought.

I cringed at the distant memory of my 13 year old self, made to study Arabic and not given the chance to choose French like the other classes in my grade, fuming to my mother in the kitchen “When am I ever going to need ARABIC in my life?” and my Yemenite mother, who was raised with that dialect in her immigrant parents home, wearily shaking her head at me.

What I wouldn’t have given to know Arabic right then, to be able to carry on a conversation with my new friends in their own language. It didn’t matter that they all spoke immaculate English. I felt like a jerk. An Israeli born and raised and I couldn’t speak to my own neighbors.

It was then that the absurdity of it all hit me. We were cousins. We look alike, we eat the same food, we listen to the same music as we dance in the same clubs. And yet we speak to each other in a language equally foreign to both of us.

I was a twenty year old fresh faced bright eyed kid straight out of the army.
I believed in harmony and equality and a better future. I believed love made the world go round. I believed if only the governments left it to the people, peace was just around the corner. Here we are, Jews in Jordan, Jordanians and Jews. If we could do it, everybody can. Just give us a chance to show you.
I feel nothing like I felt 17 years ago.

(Operation Protective Edge, July, 2014)

I feel … strangely attached for someone with no attachment. Strangely defensive for someone with no connection to this place.

I feel his arms pull me close, the rays of a setting sun tug at his freckles, turning his once porcelain skin spotted.

“This doesn’t feel like war”, he sighs into my ear. I let my skin soak in the last of the sun’s rays, close my eyes, and embrace the spray of the few waves that gained enough momentum to crash into the rock we are perched on. A welcomed shock to my system. A spontaneous, unexpected relief that comes only with the most powerful lunges of waves.

We swim back to shore and let the salt water evaporate from our swimsuits on the sand.

Boom. Boom.

Our heads jerk into the sky and search for the streaks – puffy white clouds as if left by an airplane heading to Greece, Paris, New York, anywhere but a person’s home. That same night our dinner party would clear the room and head to the bunker as the sirens sound. The next morning my alarm clock would be replaced with the same siren. Boom. Boom.

It doesn’t bother me though. I barely pay it any heed. I walk to the bunker as a precaution – totally unfazed.

Below my apartment, patrons of the local cafes and bars watch the World Cup projected on a screen. Amidst their cheers, between their sips of coffee and beer, booms echo in the distance. No, this doesn’t feel like war.

Back home in New York, I watch virtual riots break out minute by minute. People who couldn’t tell you the first tenant of Judaism are the first to call for the destruction of its enemies. People who just learned of the occupation last week are suddenly adamant it end.

Our afternoon at the beach is coming to a close. His shift at the base starts soon. This war of religions – this war of ideologies – it is not fought by the religious or the ideological. It is fought by the youth – by the twenty-two year old whose freckles remind you of his humble upbringing on a farm so far removed from “the situation”.

I feel attached. I feel connected. Not for any religious convictions – for I have none. Not for any sense of nationalism – for I was not born here. Rather, for my generation. For the men and women the same age as myself perpetuating a cycle of violence, fighting a fight they didn’t start, spewing hatred they barely understand. I feel connected by the mere fact that I am a part of a new generation. One that has the means and capability for change but that has chosen to fall in their father’s footsteps, so to speak.

No, this doesn’t feel like war. Because I expected more from my generation.

(Operation Protective Edge, July, 2014)

I think of Israel, what it means to me, and I feel small. I feel like a child again and I think of summers on the kibbutz.

Israel to me is sweltering summer midday by the pool, mangos on the shaded picnic table and melted ice cream dripping down my leg. It is playing soccer on the dry grass fields with the kibbutz kids, begging them to pass me the ball in broken Hebrew.  It is learning to milk a cow, standing on rickety ladders to pick avocados and foraging for fallen pecans in the dirt. It is a rough but affectionate pinch and a wet kiss on the cheek from the old and gnarled women that have seen too much. It is the suppressed thrill of being paraded around the kibbutz like a prize by my grandparents. It is running my hands along the faded numbers tattooed on my grandmother’s arm. In my mind, it’s still fresh ink. It is a smile with a side of blazing hot soup at the cheder ochel. It is dancing in the courtyard after meals under silvery moonlight and then fleeing for the soccer field once more. I was small and so, my view of the world, narrow. Israel felt simple to me. I got bigger… maybe a little smarter. That’s debatable. I saw more than the kibbutz. One thing became very clear. Israel is anything but simple.

Things we like are simple. Peanut butter is simple. A nice pair of shoes is simple. Television is simple.

Things we love, that profoundly impact the way we think and feel, are complex. A great work of art is complex. Parents are complex. Israel is so damn complex.

I love Israel. It’s the love of a needy, but worth it, girlfriend. “Why do you love me? Why?” I love Israel. I just do. I can’t really explain why in a way that will ever satisfy, but I just do. I think that’s a good place to start. We all feel that way. We can all offer up some contrived, lousy spiel that details why we love Israel, like I did earlier with my own self indulgent, flowery passage. However, I really feel that we all love it in a way that’s difficult to define. I say that it’s a good place to start because it puts everyone (us and them) on equal footing. That’s where it all should begin.

Israel. There you find a maddening abundance of beauty, love, ugly and hate. It’s a sensitive, time ticking, rough, steady, pin drop quiet, rock concert loud, sensationally small, somehow large land of promise and premise. It is the embracing of this simple, yes simple, truth that will bring about stability someday in so unstable a land. There’s no one answer to solving its problems and blindly announcing knowledge of this answer does no one any favors. Understanding is what will save us all and allow everyone to appreciate and enjoy fully so complicated and precious a thing as the state of Israel. We have to remember that something this dear to us is worth risking it all. The biggest risk we can take is feeling something for the other side. It’s stepping back, outside of ourselves, and truly feeling something more strongly than we’ve ever felt before, but for them.

Imagine if at one of these emotionally charged rallies, one side dropped the signs and flags and instead simply held out their arms. Take a moment to look across and see that over there, they are just as fueled by what they feel as we are. These are valid, legitimate feelings that no one can take away from them. No matter how much we yell, no matter how many statistics or UN resolutions we bring up, they are going to feel how they want to feel. The easy thing to do is to just keep trying to tell them what they should feel. The hard part is feeling for them. What if we could do it?

My favorite scene in A League of Their Own is when Geena Davis, the star of the team, is quitting. She’s leaving on the eve of the World Series to begin a new life and settle down in the country with her husband. Tom Hanks, the manager of the team, confronts her as she’s leaving, and one of my favorite exchanges ensues.

Tom Hanks: …sneaking out like this, quitting, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up. You can’t deny that!

Geena Davis: It just got too hard.

Tom Hanks: It’s supposed to be hard. If wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

Think about it. Insert “Israel” for Baseball” and really think about. When it comes to Israel, there’s so much emotion. Everyone feels something very strongly about what’s happening. I know I do. That’s easy. That’s what gushes out like blood from a fresh wound. What’s hard is seeing what they feel and reaching out to them and letting them know their feelings are valid. That’s where it starts. Not many of us do that. Know why? It’s really goddam hard. Like Tom Hanks said, if it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The only way things will get better is if we all take a deep look inside of ourselves and stop taking the easy way out. Don’t quit on Israel. You’ll regret it for the rest of your life.

If we love Israel so much, it’s worth heading down this long, hard road that lies ahead. Make no mistake. This will be hard.  I read the news. I listen to what’s going on. I talk to my friends in Israel. What can I do? It makes me feel small. It makes me feel like I don’t count. It makes me feel helpless and hopeless. I truly feel small. I know I’m not alone. When we all look out at the other side and stop seeing them and start seeing us, maybe just maybe, that’s when we all won’t feel so small.

(Operation Protective Edge, July, 2014)

I heard the siren on Diezengoff Street on a Friday and ducked into an urban oasis of pools of water and potted palms, just as a patron escaped.

Why are you leaving?

Too much glass, she said, as I stared at the salon’s sheer windows.

There’s worse options, I thought, and I joined the assembled standing by a wall, except for a lone man reclining on a chair, his feet immersed, refusing to even shift his bored expression. Offered coffee, I decided to splurge on a manicure, thankful for the hospitality.

In the chair next to me sat a noisy patron who asked the pedicurist how many years in she was in Israel and where she was born.

A decade. Libya where life was good.

What about Muammar?

Son of a dog, the manicurist said.

Not a bitch, I wonder, mulling feminism, semantics and translation.

Heard Qadaffi had a Jewish mother. Seems his sons wanted to make aliyah.

I had not heard that bit of lore.

Yes. Good Jews and bad Jews. Just like good and bad everybody.

Exponent of the obvious, I think.

Are you scared now?

I am scared of nothing. I am Arab. I used to be a Muslin but not a believer, the manicurist said.

And I used to be a Jew, I laugh, thinking of Groucho Marx’s joke.


Married to a Christian with three.

What school do they go to? the patron asked.

Secular school. I want them to grow up with all kinds, and look around you lady, all are relaxing quietly here. Next time there’s a siren, walk right on by. Just joking.

I am not so sure.

As the vociferous one exited, declaring Shabbat shalom, the rest of us stared at our water logged appendages.

That Friday night I prayed in Beit Daniel where the rabbi considers it her divine duty to improve the world, inviting all to celebrate. She led a prayer for peace and we said Kaddish for a congregant’s older brother, and a soldier cousin.

“My brother was a good man who led a good life, a grandfather, and my best friend, but my heart breaks for my young cousin who died in Gaza.”

There were dozens of people from Sderot staying in the Beit Daniel hotel that evening and all were invited to the roof for Kabbalat Shabbat (Sabbath welcome). The rabbi advised us that there are 90 seconds to get to the shelter, a floor below, after the siren, not 15 seconds like you get in Sderot.

Sometimes no warning at all, said Yael, a mother who has endured missiles in Sderot for 14 years. Thanks to the government, there are now fortified shelters in every home. But that does not help with all forms of aggression.

Seems a few people, not just one, claim to have heard noises below their homes in Sderot.. Imagine dear friends, the underworld where combatants burrow deep down and under the border and emerge….

This is the view from my side of the fence.

(Operation Protective Edge, July, 2014)

I am able to go about my day without too much direct thinking or feeling about the situation. Have been through various cycles of thoughts, feelings regarding Israel, Middle East over the years. So in a sense you could say I am used to it, have developed a variety of defenses.

If someone really insists, I could do some excavation work to reveal some of the structures of my thought and how it intertwines around current affairs. Use current affairs as a trigger to begin excavation work.

Siren goes off. I go and open the window to see how people on the street are reacting. A few people are sort of running for cover, basically people are reacting. Unlike myself, the most I do is to step away from the window. This acknowledges that I acknowledge that if a rocket hits nearby glass could fly in my direction. The siren is kind of exciting in a sort of Yom Kippur siren way.

The war like situation brings Israel and Israelis together into that old fashioned communal mindset. The cab driver tells me that three soldiers have died. He says it in a way which invokes many associations for me. My response is to him is to say Oy Yoy Yoy following which I stay quiet.

(Operation Protective Edge, July, 2014)

So much death. So much suffering. So much fear. But I don’t know how much exactly. I don’t know how many people have died. I don’t know how many people are demonstrating against this country around the world and I don’t know if they have a legitimate reason to be doing so. The reason I don’t know isn’t because I don’t care. I do care. I really do and I do feel it even though I haven’t taken the time to read about the exact details of that which I am feeling.

Eleven and a half years ago we were both seventeen. We had the most intimate conversation either of us had ever had and we told each other things that we had never told to anyone before. We hung up at four in the morning then I ate some soup that was sitting on the stove, left over from dinner. The next day she told me she had this crazy dream that she was feeding me from a giant pot of soup. It was eleven and a half years ago. We were both seventeen.

Death. Sometimes a bullet isn’t necessary for death to happen. Sometimes death can be gentle. The reason she didn’t respond to my email isn’t because she doesn’t care. She does want to help me get through this tough time, she really does. But she is working full time and taking classes for a Masters and I can’t expect her to respond to all of my emails the same day that I sent them. She didn’t mention that there is someone else who needs to get first dibs on her limited amount of free time. Since it was her 29th birthday according to the Hebrew calendar, she gave me a blessing. A blessing for love. That I will be able to love myself despite all of my transformations and that I will find love from and towards another woman. Sometimes a bullet isn’t necessary for death to happen. Sometimes death can be gentle.

The siren goes off. I sit next to my aunt on the floor of her apartment. It’s safer inside of her apartment than in the stairway because the stairway has windows. We hear a boom. Things shake. Dishes rattle. My aunt is freaking out so I put my arm around her.

2 responses to “Transformative Writing

  1. Pingback: FAQ about Julie Gray | Stories Without Borders

  2. Pingback: Transformative Writing | Stories Without Borders

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