At literary events, when I’m asked to read something, I almost always choose a short story rather than a non-fiction piece. It’s not because I like my non-fiction writing less, it’s just that it feels very strange to read people a story about something that really happened. Unlike my made-up stories, when it comes to real anecdotes from my life, I not only write them down but I tell them to my neighbor in the stairwell or to my aunt when she comes to visit. And reading something you’ve already told spontaneously so many times feels rigid and slightly artificial. Still, there is a shortlist of non-fiction pieces that I’ve been reading aloud for years. And I admit that the urge to read them comes mostly from my desire to remember an especially significant moment. “Pastrami” is one of those pieces. Somehow, I find myself reading it during difficult times, perhaps to remind myself that existence is like a Russian doll: inside the enormous, violent, threatening sphere of the world, there hides a different sphere, called ‘family,’ which is no less wild and unpredictable, but also warm, funny and full of solace.
The air-raid siren catches us on the highway, driving to Grandpa Yonatan’s place, a few kilometers north of Tel Aviv. My wife, Shira, pulls over to the side of the road and we get out of the car, leaving the badminton rackets and feathered ball on the back seat. Lev holds my hand and says, “Daddy, I’m a little nervous.” He’s seven, and seven is the age when it’s not considered cool to talk about fear, so the word “nervous” is used instead. Following Home Front Command instructions, Shira lies down on the side of the road. I tell Lev that he has to lie down, too. But he keeps standing there, his small, sweaty hand clutching mine.