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A Lamp for the Festival of Light

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Tomislav Osmanli

A Lamp for the Festival of Light

Stories and novellas

The book is consisted of 9 (nine) stories and novellas, texts of different characters, style, points of narration (focalization) and, accordingly, of different – size.
Each story for the nice-branched nine-branched menorah, or an eight or Nine flamed lamp for the Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of light. Still the stories have a unique theme: the holocaust of Jewish people from the Balkans, mainly of Sephardic (in couple of cases of Ashkenazi) cultural and linguistic identity.
The stories are taking place before, during and after the World War II, but always remembering and treating the WW II Nazi holocaust of over 6,000,000 people.
The stories re-tell the hopes, fears, reveries, the remembrance, the nostalgia, in final analysis – the tragedy of the victimized people, no matter if they were survivors or tragic victims of the ill idea of the “final decision”. This book of stories tends to be a new compassionate literary monument to the remembrance of the human tragedy of the Jewish people from the Balkans, written by a Balkan, non-Hebrew author.
It will be dedicated:
To all the victims of holocausts

Synopsis

The Sukkot Sky
Nina reminisces about a recent Sukkot celebration with her father, Moshe. She recalls a conversation she had with the frustrated middle-aged man, a modest tailor in Monastir (current day Bitola, Macedonia) who could not understand man’s tendency toward violence. Through the years, his family had gotten smaller – Nina’s mother had died and her father had recently sent her two younger brothers to live with their uncle in Salonika (Greece) in the hopes of eventually reaching Israel by boat. That Sukkot night, Moshe explains that, “in Israel, people greet each other with the words, ‘Shalom’ and ‘Selam’ – in both cases meaning ‘peace’ – yet there is no peace between them, nor worldwide.” Crying, he remembers other joyful Sukkot celebrations with the whole family in the sukkas in their yard. It is a short story of hope, disappointment and enduring expectations. We realize, finally, that Nina’s memory is visiting her during her first nights in Treblinka, the concentration camp where all of Macedonia’s Jews were mercilessly killed.

Aunt Rashela’s Photograph
We called her “aunt Rashela,” just as my father always had, though we’d never met her. We knew her only by a single photograph that survived the pre-war period. While growing up, we learnt the story of her life from my father. Rashela was a young girl who helped in my grandparents’ kitchen and to mind us children. Overtime, my grandmother became so attached to her that she became much like an adopted daughter, rather than an employee. Rashela was the daughter of a decent Jewish shoemaker, who’s modest shop was near my grandfather’s bookstore. When the Nazi occupation began, her father asked my grandparents to hide and protect Rashela, thus she was declared a member of my grandfather’s Gentile family to the authorities. Their plan worked until one sleepless night when the Bulgarian occupation police began gathering the Jews of the city. In quick-moving lines, they were brought to the railway station. That night, Rashela voluntarily joined her relatives, refusing to be saved in order to share a destiny with her loved ones. It is a story of the sacrifice of one young girl, as a symbol of the Jews’ quiet, proud and often tragic solidarity displayed during the Holocaust. Her story made Rashela, my father’s young nanny, a real member of our family.

The Swimming Pool
Constantine Z.(acharieff) suffers from debilitating migraines. He has a good career in a Ministry in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, a decent marriage – though regrettably not blessed with children – and well standing parents that never accepted his wife. When the war begins, he is detached to the newly occupied territories on his own, to an assignment of high importance. As time passes, his headaches worsen, especially since he is barely able talk to his wife over the phone, making him suspicious of her activities during his long absence. Still, his work progresses well and his assignment – preparing for the “final solution” for over 7,000 men, women and children in the occupied territories of Macedonia – is coming to a close. He accepts the invitation of a military commander to unwind at a new pool as soon as his work is complete. So, he travels to the pool to relax. In vane. He finds out his wife has left him for another man. At the end of the story, we find his body floating on the pool, the floor of which had been made of gravestones from a Jewish cemetery.

The hand of HeVHaJ
The Torah states that each year on Rosh Hashanah three books open in the sky: the book of the righteous, the one of the sinners and the third with the names of those who are in state of a moral hesitation. This is a story of Shabtay, a poor broom-maker from the Monastir bazaar who is hardworking, dedicated to his family and maintains a strong faith in the Lord. His son Jacob works with him in a tiny shop and is married to Rena, with whom he has one son. The four-member family lives quietly in the poor Jewish neighborhood, the “mahale La Kaluzha”, until Jacob becomes involved in a love affair with the lonely and passionate wife of a border guard. However, in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, Jacob remembers the harmony of his life before his affair and on the first day of the holiday, sees his young son staring at the sky “waiting for the heavenly books to open.” Jacob ends his sinful relationship, and when the city is attacked by the German and Bulgarian forces, he sees his former lover leave the city. Regardless of the new and difficult circumstances, Old Shabtay is happy. While sleeping one afternoon, he is visited by a miraculous voice that leads the poor broom-maker to the heavenly Yerushalayim, the First temple, the Tabernacle and to the Decalogue inside…while a holy hand inscribes the glowing word HeVHaJ in the air. He later realizes that the mighty hand had written the symbols of the unspeakable name of JaHVeH and he dies on the third day of Hanukah. While traveling in the deportation convoy for Treblinka together with Rena, their little son and other people, Jacob gazes at she skies between the boards of the cattle car, he feels as if Shabtay is smiling upon him as he had during their last Hanukah together.

The Rabbi and the Experience of Sacrifice
Rabbi Eleazar ben Zvi, an Ashkenazi Jew leading the Monastirli Sephardim synagogue in New York, travels to a religious conference on the theme, Sacrifices to the Supreme One, taking place in Jerusalem. The rabbi is a descendant of a Jewish family from central Europe, but is also a third generation American. During his flight over the dark Atlantic, he ponders the theme of the conference, bringing to mind the history of the Hebrew nation starting from the times of Moses, David and Solomon and Jehuda Maccabi, and the Pleiades legendary Sephardic rabbis both from Thessaloniki and Monastir…sacrifices with which he had no personal experience. In Jerusalem he gives a most notable speech of which he is very proud. Suddenly, a terrorist’s bomb goes off and the rabbi suddenly grasps the term “sacrifice” in his last seconds of consciousness; with his own flesh and life, the awkward and painful experience of becoming a victim becomes clear to him, as it had to generations before him.

Encounters in the Museums of Oblivion
A novella on the author’s visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. where he is given a “passport” contained the curriculum vitae of a Holocaust victim or survivor. Thus, three stories converge: one of the character in the “passport”, Hanna Munzer, a widowed German living in Warsaw with her daughter; the story of Samuel Kunio, a pharmacist from Skopje; and, finally, of the narrator and his museum experience. This dynamic and tense narrative climaxes when the reader learns of Hanna’s tragic death in her sitting room at the hands of her compatriot because she had loved and married a Jew, the certain destiny of Samuel Kunio and his family in Treblinka and other encounters with a contemporary history marked repeatedly by holocausts.

The Righteous Ones
A documentary novella about two people from the Greek island of Zakynthos that managed to save its 275 member Hebrew community. Mayor Lukas Carrer and Bishop Chrysostom risked their own lives by strongly opposing the German occupation officers that demanded the list of Jews living on the Ionian Sea isle. The two brave leaders – a Free Mason mayor and a Greek Orthodox Christian high priest – presented Nazi authorities with only their own names, stating, “Here are your Jews.” The Bishop even wrote a letter to Adolf Hitler to save island’s Hebrew population. Their brave gestures confused the German commander, while the two righteous leaders organized for all Jews to be safely housed among the Greek population of the island. Thus, they achieved something unique in the WW II – saving one hundred percent of the Jewish population in a certain place. After the war, the Zakynthos Jewish community emigrated to the new state of Israel. In 1953, following a catastrophic earthquake on Zakynthos, its emigrants to Israel rushed help to the island with a short message remembering Mayor Carrer and Bishop Chrysostom.

A Wedding in Dorćol
A “shadhan” or a “casamentera” in Sephardic is a matchmaker. This is a story re-told by Silvia, “the best shadhan in Belgrade and beyond.” It is a story of the love and passion of Yehuda Davidovich and Allegra, a modest couple living in Belgrade’s Jewish neighborhood, Dorćol. They had been brought together thanks to Silvia, but cannot be joined in matrimony until the customary one year of pre-marital engagement expires. Just before the passing of the year, the war breaks out. Allegra is shot and Yehuda is held in a Belgrade concentration camp together with his “casamentera” and the other Jews from Dorćol. Still, his marriage with Allegra occurs: in his imagination, hidden from the indiscreet gazes of the other prisoners while they await their collective destiny. Nothing can spoil Yehuda Davidovich’s marriage, including Allegra’s embraces and caresses experienced in his pristine inner world.

The Death of Jerusalem
A detailed and disturbing novella recounting both the dramatic biography of Salonika’s last Chief Rabbi, Tzvi Koretz, and the destruction of the Jewish community of Salonika, the world’s largest Sephardic city. The narration merges historical facts with the intimate and psychological struggle of the Rabbi and his wife, two Ashkenazim living as minorities in this Sephardic dominated city. It is a novella about WW II Salonika’s long-lasting drama shown through the characters’ different dreams, which range from apocalyptic to kitschy. Together, they create a phantasmagorical mural of collective nightmares dreamt until the destruction of 50,000 strong Israelite community.

The length of the book is 112 pages (5,417 lines). Its content is as follows:

Content

The Sukkot Sky 5
Aunt Rashela’s Photograph 11
The Swimming Pool 18
The Hand of HeWHaY 24
The Rabbi and the Experience of Sacrifice 32
Encounters in the Museums of Oblivion 40
The Righteous Ones 52
A Wedding in Dorćol 68
The Death of Jerusalem 80
Glossary 108
Author’s biography 110

Bio-bibliography

Tomislav Osmanli (1956, Bitola or Monastir) is author of 16 books of theater plays, screenplays, prose, media theory and essays. Author of the first theoretical books on the Seventh (Film) and the Ninth (Comics) in his country.
His plays were staged in different theatres in his country. Besides the numerous national ones, owns a number of international references.
In 1998 his play Two in Eden has been staged at the John W. Gainse Theater in Newport News, selected and presented at the Blue Ridge Festival in Richmond, Virginia, USA. The feature film Angels of the Dumps (1997) realized after his original screenplay has been selected for the official programs of the Sad Diego, Cairo and Belgrade international Festivals and had two-day special program of the American Film Institute, being presented at the National Film Theater in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
His book of theater plays Stars over Skopje, together with twelve different books of the Balkan literature was submitted at the 2001. Literary Yearbook of the prestigious Encyclopedia Britannica in London, England. He won number of awards for his playwright, film critic and journalist activity.
Osmanli’s theatre play Apocalyptic comedy was published both in a book in Greek language, and in the most notable Croatian literary periodical Knjievna revija. An excerpt from his story Aunt Rashela’s Photograph was published partially, in the New York weekly Forward, and integrally in the Polish arts and culture periodical Krasnogruda.
His works have been published in English, Polish, Croat, Slovenian, Serbian, Albanian and Greek languages.
Parts of his works are available on the Internet, where his name appears in a big number of internet pages.
Member of the Writers’ Association. Elected member of the Macedonian PEN presidency. Works as Head of the Arts and Culture Department an independent TV in Skopje, Macedonia.

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