"This and more the Czech girl carried with her, quietly for the most part. And it carried us through the Promised Land, from the Golan Heights to the Gulf of Aqaba, where we sat one morning after breakfast, 14 miles from the Saudi Arabian border, on the beach in Eilat, looking out at the Red Sea. I knew then that I was finally far from Flapbush." —from Bobby in Naziland
In Bobby in Naziland's epilogue, "Far From Flapbush," I tell the story of meeting up with my girlfriend—I call her "Naomi"—in Israel in the summer of 1972. She was the daughter of a man who, along with his mother, fled Czechoslovakia as the Nazis overran the country. The rest of her father's family was wiped out in the Holocaust.
Naomi spoke fluent Yiddish, which she'd learned to communicate with her grandmother, who spoke only Yiddish. In the book, she serves as a living symbol of the Holocaust's inescapable shadow. Though a generation removed, she was obligated to carry its memory, and it was a heavy burden. But she was also a guitar-strumming hippie, a young American woman determined to enjoy her life as she balanced the horrors of the past with the pleasures of the present.
For me, that trip, my first time abroad, was an extraordinary odyssey through Europe and Israel. I flew and hitchhiked more than 6,000 miles to rendezvous with Naomi. But my camera broke before I got there, and I had no photos of my time in Israel.
Several months ago, in what turned out to be one of my last social engagements before the onset of the pandemic, I had dinner with an old friend whom I'd first met that summer in Israel. He gave me the above photo, which he'd taken in early August, soon after I turned 20. That's me on the left.
That day, I was on a glass-bottom boat in the Red Sea with Naomi and a group of people she was touring the country with. (They'd let me join them on their tour bus.) The fellow standing next to me is one of the tour leaders, Avnir, an Israeli. (My friend the artist Daniel Jay said we look like Peter Frampton and Elvis Costello.) That's "Naomi" on my right, her face outside the frame.
So now I have one photo to remind me of my time in Israel—and how amazing it was to be young, to feel immortal, to look (a little) like Peter Frampton, and to always remember the reason that that country, the land of survivors, exists.