Wednesday, March 24, 2010

She Came from the Underground

My uncle Momo, whom you may have seen in the previous post's photo with his late aunt, Shoshana Raziel, was in New York today, en route to California with his wife, Bilha. I took the A train up to Washington Heights to meet them. They were staying with his sister Raichi, the one who left me a quavery voice mail about Shoshana two days ago.

We talked about Shoshana, of course. About how Momo got a call from the doctor at 5am saying that he should come now if he wanted to say goodbye, because she was almost gone. And about how he stayed at the hospital till 6pm, because that's how long she lasted. The doctors were amazed: "She didn’t want to die." About the 200-300 dignitaries who attended her funeral, many of whom were final remnants of the generation that helped Israel achieve independence. About how the Speaker of the Parliament, Reuven Rivlin, spoke. About the rousing, nostalgic way that the mourners all stood and sang an old anthem of the underground resistance, a song that my recumbent uncle started singing and wouldn’t stop singing, propped up on one elbow on the slip-covered couch.

Between internal and external pressures, it's a hard time for Israel now. Momo and Bilha were born around 1948, when the country declared its independence. Life was harder in many ways then, but also much easier: Israel won its wars but had yet to expand into disputed territory. Oil was cheap and didn't dictate global policy. Iran was a U.S. ally. Recent history made it hard to argue the need for a Jewish country. It was a time of intense idealism, of draining swamps and tilling fields and building cities. No wonder Momo looked happy singing. That was so long ago.

Speaking of happy memories, I asked if anyone had the recipe for Shoshana's delicious mandel brot cookies. Momo and Bilha agreed that as a baker and a cook, she was unexcelled in our family. He once asked my grandmother Yona why Shoshana's cookies were so tasty. "Shoshana uses six eggs," his mother snorted. "Big deal! It's easy when you use six eggs. I use two eggs, and mine are still good." They had a complex relationship, those sisters.

Alas, none of Shoshana's recipes survived her. "She had her secrets. She came from the Underground, and she stayed in the Underground," said Momo. Unable to stop myself, I added, "And now she's back underground." Sorry.

But in the digital world, she's more above-ground than ever. On Monday, Google turned up almost nothing on Shoshana, but by now a few articles have cropped up. I found this tribute and a couple photos of her memorial on an Israeli blog. Owing to the echo chamber effect, that brief post has popped up on a dozen or so other sites. The author was kind enough to link to my blog from his, so I'm adding to the feedback.