New Jersey Jewish News
Memoir traces authors quest for fathers hidden life and love
The Book of Telling: Tracing the Secrets of My Fathers Lives
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A black-and-white photo taken in 1948 drives Sharona Muirs desperate quest to reclaim her father in her compelling memoir, The Book of Telling: Tracing the Secrets of My Fathers Lives.
Following Itzhak Bentovs untimely death, Muir travels to Israel to uncover his past. Through exchanges with her fathers hevrei (close friends), Muir struggles to understand his world and ultimately to find proof of his unconditional love.
Counted among the founders of Israel in 1948 were Bentov and his coworkers in Hemmed (a Hebrew acronym for Science Corps). This ensemble of scientists was turned into an official army corps by David Ben-Gurion one month before declaration of Israels statehood. Its members came from a generation whose roots of belongings were erased in the old countries of origin. Muirs father had barely escaped a death camp in Prague. Behind them, their roots were gone. Before them, armies stood, as the fledgling Israel fought for its survival against the Arab nations.
After the British left in May of 1948, Egypt attacked from the north. Without blueprints or ample supplies, Hemmed rushed to invent experimental weapons to stop the tanks. They built the Loretta and the Hollow Charge. Mounted on a jeep, the Loretta (named in an improbable gesture for actress Loretta Young) was a gun made to shoot the Hollow Charge and stop military vehicles. During this dangerous and heroic time, Itzhak Bentov made another important contribution he created the first Israeli rocket.
Prior to Bentovs death, Muir knew nothing of her fathers military inventions. The author grew up in Boston as the only child of divorced parents. She cherished her fathers weekend visits, during which he engaged his daughter in academic discussions, often at a level uncharacteristic of a child her age. For her fathers questions on holograms and light waves, Muir had answers. Yet, she never gained her fathers approval. When Bentov died in a 1979 plane crash, Muir felt the gaps in her knowledge and understanding of her father and strove to fill them in by delving into his past.
She traveled to Bentovs first home in Israel, Kibbutz Shoval. Located in a remote part of the Negev, the kibbutz is still home to Bentovs first wife, Ziva. When Ziva confides that she still questions the existence of Bentovs love, Muir realizes that she is not alone in her search for proof of her fathers affections. Later, Aia, the mother of the kibbutz, identifies another of Muirs needs a desire to belong. Aias declaration that no one should be alone in the world, causes Muir to let go of a lifetime of loneliness and to embrace her fathers world as her own. What began as a search for her fathers identity now becomes a time of healing and self-discovery for Sharona Muir.
She continues to put together the pieces of her fathers life as she questions former Hemmed members. Gur, a former Hemmed leader, tells her, When I walked out of Russia with my friend and our dogs, we came to a clearing, a bald hill in the forest. The sky was overhead, the forest around. We had to choose, on that hilltop, what direction to take, any direction except back. Suddenly I was no one.
Muir thinks about her father: As a boy hed been outlawed, and had fled the fascist state. As a young man on the kibbutz, hed been the oddball . In Hemmed, hed been the bright mechanic without a college degree . The answer to Itzhak Bentovs identity becomes clear. Like so many of his generation, her father was a No One and so, she concludes, is his daughter.
While Muirs father lived most of his life as a No One, America was his land of opportunity, complete with weekends and a 1952 Plymouth. Only in America, with his ideas on spirituality and his understanding of the observable universe and other realities, did Itzhak Bentov become a Someone. He fit here, in the New Age, writes Muir, as her father gained celebrity status for his widely acclaimed ideas. Later, Bentov also invented medical equipment such as the cardiac catheter, which is still used today.
As a graduate of both Princeton and Stanford; the author of During Ceasefire, a collection of poems; and an associate professor of creative writing at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, Sharon Muir is an accomplished woman. Yet, only through her quest to become part of her fathers world and remembering the love in [his] voice [that is hers] to keep, does Sharona Muir also become a Someone. The Book of Telling is a brilliant and vivid tale of a man, a woman, and the history of a country.
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