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An Israeli author was excited for his best friend’s wedding. After Oct. 7, it became a funeral.

(JTA) — Like other Israelis around the world, Iddo Gefen spent the hours of Oct. 7 rifling through various news reports and messages from friends and family about the terror attacks unfolding in southern Israel.

But from his apartment in New York City, Gefen was specifically focused on the news about his good friend from childhood, Sagi Golan. The reservist had left his home in Herzliya, a city just north of Tel Aviv, to help the military efforts in Kibbutz Be’eri, one of the enclaves under attack from Hamas. Golan hadn’t waited for a command to do so — he just grabbed his gear and hit the road.

“He gave me a kiss on the lips, and he said [he’d be back in] ‘Less than a week,’” said Omer Ohana — who was due to marry Golan on Oct. 20.

But Golan wouldn’t return. He died in the fighting at the kibbutz, after saving dozens of people from falling into Hamas’ hands, according to reports that Gefen has heard.

Just over two weeks later, Gefen found himself relaying this story Wednesday night at what was originally planned as a cheerful event to mark his winning this year’s Sami Rohr Prize, a prestigious $100,000 honor given to works that examine the “Jewish experience.” Gefen, 31, won for his short story collection “Jerusalem Beach,” which was first published in Israel in 2017. (The book became the first translated work to win the Sami Rohr Prize.)

In speaking with Gal Beckerman, a previous Sami Rohr winner, at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, Gefen also talked about how reality has begun to imitate the semi-surrealist stories in his book. In one, “The Geriatric Platoon,” an old man decides to leave his family and enlist in the army in Israel’s south, where he believes Israel’s security is being threatened.

In reality, a 95-year-old man suited up for the war effort in the days after the events of Oct. 7 — which mostly took place in southern Israel, including on some of the same kibbutzes named in the story.

Ezra Yachin, 95, suited up in his Israeli military uniform to join the effort to defeat Hamas in the days after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. (MyIsrael/X)

“I heard [Israeli novelist] David Grossman say once that you write sometimes in hopes of protecting the people around you, by creating realities that are far away from what’s really happening,” Gefen told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Thursday. “Sometimes we hope that literature and writing can be a way of shifting reality in a better way, but sometimes it just creates another angle on the reality we already live in.”

The Israel-Hamas war found its way into every question at Wednesday’s talk, even most of the ones that moderator Sandee Brawarsky — a former New York Jewish Week editor — asked about Gefen’s literary technique. Gefen opened up about his friendship with Golan and offered a specific portrait of what one Israeli deeply affected by the conflict has experienced over the past two weeks.

Since Golan’s wedding would instead be a funeral — which Jews traditionally hold as soon as possible after a person’s death — Gefen showed up at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport on Oct. 8, without a ticket in hand. Flights to Israel were scarce given the security situation, but with the help of volunteers aiding people in the airport, Gefen found himself on one of the few flights departing that day. He said El Al allowed 24 more people than there were seats on the plane; some sat on the ground, others sat in the cockpit or in the back with flight attendants.

He arrived in Israel around 4 p.m., with the funeral scheduled for 5 p.m., so he rushed to the cemetery. Golan’s family handed out flowers that were originally meant to be used in the wedding. Howling in tears, Ohana explained that the family had asked Ivri Lider, one of Israel’s biggest pop stars, to perform the song that Ohana and Golan had chosen for their first dance. Lider — who himself had lost a dear friend on Oct. 7 — showed up and played an acoustic version of the song “I Was Privileged to Love.”

סרן במיל׳ שגיא גולן ז״ל שנפל בעת קרב בקיבוץ בארי נגד מחבלי החמאס, היה מיועד להתחתן עם בן זוגו עומר בעוד שבוע לצלילי השיר ״זכיתי לאהוב״. הערב הזמר עברי לידר הגיע לבצע את השיר בהלוויתו. שגיא ירד ביום שבת, מבלי לחכות לקריאה לקיבוץ בארי כדי להציל חיים ומשפחות נצורות.

— האגודה למען הלהט”ב בישראל | The Aguda (@AgudaIsraelLGBT) October 12, 2023

Gefen had known Golan since childhood and described him as a funny, creative friend who was committed to volunteering and helping others. Gefen dedicated his recent novel to a slapstick character the pair had invented and embellished together.

After serving in an elite intelligence unit of the Israel Defense Forces — ironically one focused on saving hostages — Golan studied economics and political science, eventually finding himself at a high-paying job at a tech company that designed video games. But he left the job to work for TailorMed, which helps patients without health insurance get vital care and medications in emergency situations.

Gefen hasn’t quite fully come to terms with the enormous tragedy of the moment, and he was surprised that Wednesday’s event — which was introduced by George Rohr, son of the prize’s late namesake philanthropist Sami Rohr — went on as planned. But he said he was able to turn it into a kind of therapeutic experience.

Iddo Gefen, at right, speaks with Gal Beckerman and Sandee Brawarsky at a New York Jewish Week event at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, Oct. 25, 2023. (Philissa Cramer)

“I think one of the things that is important for me in this situation is to talk about Sagi. Having the chance for people to know about him and his story as much as possible — I think that’s one of the motivations of going up and speaking in this time,” he said.

Despite the fact that “Jerusalem Beach” was a hit in Israel and established Gefen as a rising star there, he chose to enroll in a neuroscience PhD program at Columbia University, which he is finishing soon. His research focuses on memory and decision-making, and many of his stories explore that terrain, including “Debbie’s Dream House,” told from the perspective of a man who gets a job manufacturing nightmares. The story, he said, has been optioned by Ryan Gosling’s film production company.

Gefen has already published another novel, “Mrs. Lilienblum’s Cloud Factory,” and an English translation will be out next year. Will he continue working in neuroscience while using the prize money to continue to work on books? He’s not sure. But he does know that his writing feels invigorated with a new sense of purpose.

“When I wrote the book [‘Jerusalem Beach’], if somebody would ask me, do I have any message with my writing, I would say, ‘no, everybody needs to find their own message.’ And today, I think from the last year and especially since the past few weeks, I think in the end, all these stories do talk about the importance of compassion and humanity and the fact that some humans can do horrible stuff, but they’re also there to comfort and help each other,” he said. “And I think literature at its best is also a place people can look to for comfort. It doesn’t always help, but sometimes it has value.”

The post An Israeli author was excited for his best friend’s wedding. After Oct. 7, it became a funeral. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Treasure Trove: How some sheet music in the Theresienstadt Ghetto became a symbol of hope

In 1941, the Nazis established the Theresienstadt Ghetto outside Prague. By the war’s end, 33,000 people died there and another 88,000 stayed there for months or years before being deported to extermination camps. Despite the tremendous overcrowding and very difficult conditions, the prisoners in Theresienstadt maintained a rich cultural life with lectures and performances. The […]

The post Treasure Trove: How some sheet music in the Theresienstadt Ghetto became a symbol of hope appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Protester Sets Self on Fire Outside Israeli Consulate in Atlanta

Illustrative. Anti-Israel protesters demonstrate outside AIPAC President Michael Tuchin’s vacation home in Los Angeles, Nov. 23, 2023. Photo: Screenshot

i24 NewsA protester was in critical condition on Friday after setting themself on fire outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. authorities said. A security guard who tried to intervene was also wounded.

A Palestinian flag found at the scene was part of the protest, Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said at a news conference. He added that investigators did not believe there was any connection to terrorism and none of the consular staff was ever in danger.

JUST IN: A pro-Palestine protester is in critical condition after they set themselves on fire in “political protest” outside of the Israeli Consulate office in Atlanta.

The protester was reportedly draped in a Palestine flag.

The protester has severe burns and unfortunately, a…

— Collin Rugg (@CollinRugg) December 1, 2023

“We do not see any threat here,” he said. “We believe it was an act of extreme political protest that occurred.” Everyone inside the consulate building was said to be safe.

Anat Sultan-Dadon, Consul General of Israel to the southeastern U.S., said: “We are saddened to learn of the self-immolation at the entrance to the office building. It is tragic to see the hate and incitement toward Israel expressed in such a horrific way.”

“The sanctity of life is our highest value. Our prayers are with the security officer who was injured while trying to prevent this tragic act. We are grateful to the city of Atlanta’s law enforcement and first responders for all they do to ensure safety.”

The post Protester Sets Self on Fire Outside Israeli Consulate in Atlanta first appeared on

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Released Israeli Hostages Call for Captives to Be Freed

Relatives and supporters of hostages kidnapped on the deadly October 7 attack by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, rally for their release, after a temporary truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas ended when the terrorist group broke it, in Tel Aviv, Israel, December 2, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Israeli hostages released in the past week by Hamas in Gaza called on Saturday for the immediate release of fellow captives left behind, a day after a temporary truce that had allowed scores to come home broke down.

Tens of thousands gathered at a rally in Tel Aviv outside Israel‘s defense headquarters, where they cheered Yelena Trupanov, 50, standing on a stage just two days after being freed.

“I came to thank you because without you I wouldn’t be here. Now we must bring back my (son) Sasha, and everyone. Now.”

Similar pleas from other released hostages were shown on video.

A seven-day truce, during which Hamas had released more than 100 hostages, collapsed on Friday after Hamas breached the ceasefire.

Israel said on Saturday it had recalled a Mossad intelligence agency team from Qatar, host of indirect negotiations with Hamas, accusing the Palestinian faction of reneging on a deal that would have freed all children and women held hostage.

More than 240 people – Israelis and foreign nationals – were abducted to Gaza on Oct 7. by Hamas terrorists who burst through the border with Israel and killed 1,200 people.

The post Released Israeli Hostages Call for Captives to Be Freed first appeared on

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