A friend from my writing group honks outside. I cannot believe she’s here and almost wish she had cancelled. I’m shivering despite my layers: long-sleeve shirt, sweater, lightweight down vest, scarf and coat. The rain is pounding with intermittent hail, thunder and lightning. So unlike Israel.
“Are we really doing this?” I ask Nicole as soon as I get in her car. The front windows are so fogged we can’t even see outside. She punches every button she can, finally finding the de-humidifier.
“I don’t know. What do you think?” We hem and haw about whether she is comfortable driving 40 minutes north, if the literary event is worth it and ultimately decide to forgo.
We call a fellow writing group friend, Julie, who is coming from much further away and, hearing that she is on the road, makes us re-think it. We notice that the rain has quieted, the windows are clear and the heat is on. “I believe in signs,” Nicole says.
“So do I. As long as you’re OK,” I say. “WAZE is already programmed.”
The sky remains calm while we drive. We each notice there are less cars on the road than usual, most people probably opting to stay home due to the storm warnings the past few days.
Since Nicole and I don’t know each other well, we swap stories about where we’re from and why we’re in Israel, about our kids, our writing. The time passes quickly and our app guides us to our destination with relative ease.
As soon as we enter the house, I smile. Our host, Evan Fallenberg, greets us with warmth and ushers us into his abode.
“Come in, make yourselves at home and when you’re ready you can check in over there,” he says, pointing to a woman at a table near the kitchen. “Help yourselves to a hot drink and then find a seat.”
I scan the space: a circular living room/kitchen open floor plan, colorful paintings on almost every wall, rows of chairs in one side and rows of sofas in another with soft fleece blankets hanging over them. A low coffee table with glasses of water is perched in front of two chairs and an overhead light hanging from a wooden beam points right at it, a makeshift stage, I think to myself. A huge, man-made fire roars from a central fireplace, a rarity in this country.
Evan and I first met in the fall of 2007 when I participated in a writing retreat during our sabbatical year in Israel. A translator (from Hebrew to English) and novelist, he announced his plans to open a writing studio on a moshav called Bitan Aharon. By the time we moved back in 2011, he had to cut back teaching classes and hosting literary events in order to head the fiction track of the English language MFA in Creative Writing at Bar Ilan University. Since our return, I have seen him twice, once in conversation with Israeli fiction writer Etgar Keret and once with Nicole Krauss, author of The History of Love, visiting from the U.S.
My friend Nicole and I pour ourselves the last two cups of apple cider from an oversized pot on the stove and claim seats on a sofa next to Julie. After we sit, I unfold a blanket and spread it out across our laps. About two dozen people, both men and women, begin to fill the room. I put my cup to my nose and inhale the scent of cinnamon and sugar. It’s the smell of winter and reminds me of snow days in my former New York life. The fire hisses and a homey feeling spreads through my icy cold body.
Evan takes a seat near the large glass sliding door next to the guest of honor, Rachel Kadish, author of From a Sealed Room, Tolstoy Lied: a Love Story, as well as her forthcoming novella I Was Here. He introduces her and we learn she is many things: novelist, essayist, lecturer, woman, wife, mother and daughter of Holocaust survivors, a topic she wrestles with often in her writing.
Since I began my foray into the literary world, I have had the privilege of hearing many gifted writers such as Francine Prose, James McBride, Philip Lopate, William Zinsser, Anne Lamott, Kathryn Harrison, Mary Karr, Dani Shapiro and more. Each time feels like an opening, a glimpse into their heads, to learn when they write, what triggers their storytelling, their greatest challenges, who influences them, even their neuroses.
Rachel answers Evan’s questions about her work, and I listen, engaged, with a smile affixed to my face. An hour earlier I had had no desire to get dressed, leave the house and drive through the rain. But once there, sitting amidst a group of like-minded people, who speak and read and maybe even write in English in this mostly Hebrew speaking country, warms me the most. More than the fire on a frigid cold evening.