How a Holocaust survivor helped me find love and hope during the pandemic – New York Post

Posted By on October 25, 2020

Lately, Ive been thinking about hope. Because Im fresh out.

The ills of humanity turmoil, strife, jealousy, hatred, sickness and death have flown out of Pandoras box all at once, it seems. Hope, The thing with feathers, as Emily Dickenson wrote, that perches in the soul, is the only thing that remains within.

Its hard to feel hopeful when there is a pandemic in its second deadly wave and winter is on the way, making a third wave probable. Worldwide, there have been more than 1 million deaths from COVID, and we are still months if not a year away from finding an effective vaccine.

My life partner does not share my sense of hopelessness. In fact, he is implacably optimistic. So much so that sometimes I wonder if we are watching the same news on TV. Thats not the only difference we have. He is 29 years older than me and is from the former Czechoslovakia. He is a Holocaust survivor, a former kibbutznik and dairy farmer and the father of six. I am from the 80s; I rode a Vespa, had bleach-blonde hair, went to photography school and loved The Cure.

I met Gidon Lev three years ago when he was looking for someone to help him write a book about his life. Although I found him very charming, I turned the project down. First of all, I had no experience working with life stories. Secondly, as an editor with an eye on the market, I doubted whether his story would grab the attention of readers during such tumultuous, gloomy times. Yet I knew that Gidons story was important maybe even imperative. I took a leap of faith and wrote The True Adventures of Gidon Lev: Rascal. Holocaust Survivor. Optimist, which came out this year. I had no idea what I was getting into; in the writing of the book, I fell in love with Gidon and I also found a master teacher of the practice of hope.

Gidon was born in Karlovy Vary (or Carlsbad) in 1935, about six months after Hitler was elected Fhrer in Germany. When Hitler annexed the Sudetenland in 1938, Gidon and his family fled to Prague. In 1941, the family was transported to the Theresienstadt ghetto and concentration camp. Gidon was 6 years old. The camp was liberated by the Red Army in May 1945. It took almost a year before Gidon and his mother, the only two surviving family members, discovered the fates of their loved ones. Gidons father was 45 years old when he died on a transport from Auschwitz to Buchenwald.

When Gidon was a child, the whole world was ending, over and over, every hour of every day. Hope was the only thing that could not be taken away from him.

As I worked on The True Adventures, I realized that it was an oversimplification to think that Gidons experience in a concentration camp is what makes him hopeful. Long after he was liberated at age 10, Gidon has gone through many difficult and heartbreaking experiences. His first marriage ended tragically, and he suffered from cancer twice. He lost his second wife after 40 years. Gidon has experienced loneliness, despair and hopelessness many times.

For Gidon, sadness, loss and suffering are unavoidable facts of life that are layered between other life facts like joy, adventure, laughter and change. Over his 85 years of living, he has pushed, pulled, worked, succeeded, failed and risked over and over again. Gidon sees what is in front of him, whatever set of circumstances, as a challenge that he might be able to overcome or a pleasure that he will probably enjoy. This, to me, is the essence, the real power of positive thinking.

Gidon isnt always cheerful nor does he overcome every challenge. But to him, hope, laughter and gratitude are old-fashioned good habits like exercising or brushing your teeth. In other words, hope takes practice and repetition. In Gidons life, hope has been the difference between living and dying.

You dont get the life that you want, Gidon once told me. You get the life that you get. Gidon understands, through lived experience, that the fact that we are alive at all is evidence of hope, realized, over and over again. Hope doesnt just grow on trees; it must be planted and nurtured regularly.

A native Californian living in Tel Aviv, Julie Gray has been published in The Times of Israel and the Jewish Journal among other publications.

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How a Holocaust survivor helped me find love and hope during the pandemic - New York Post

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