Amos, I’m here with a fist of tears in my throat and a knot of panic in my heart. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do now.
You wrote heart-stoppingly beautiful books. You, separately, made brave and thoughtful pleas for peace. You were overwhelmingly generous of heart, wisdom, and imagination. Your humanity was expansive and generous and leaked out of you and into all of us lucky enough to be close by.
The first time I met you, I had already fallen in love with your words. I had always loved your writing, but when I read A Tale of Love and Darkness, I saw images for a film in my mind. I came to Tel Aviv to ask you for the right to adapt and direct your memoir. I was maybe 26 or 27 at the time. After dinner with you and Nily, you turned to Nily and said (as if I wasn’t there but now I think that you meant for me to hear, right?): “She’s so young. But so was my mother.”
I was asking you, at that point a stranger, to take an enormous act of faith in me — to allow a first-time director, one only half-steeped in Israeli culture, the privilege of portraying your coming of age, as well as playing your mother, Fania, who took her own life when you were only 12 years old.
Of Fania’s suicide you wrote, “I was angry with her for leaving without saying goodbye, without a hug, without a word of explanation: after all, my mother had been incapable of parting even from a total stranger, a delivery man, or a peddler at the door, without offering him a glass of water, without a smile, without a little apology and two or three pleasant words… Is that the way to leave, rudely, in the middle of a sentence?”
Your writing about your mother combined the fragility of an abandoned child with the compassion and forgiveness of the man you had become, looking back at a woman who was young enough to be your daughter. Incredibly, you allowed me to tell your story and play your mother. I still don’t know why.
You only made two requests. The first was perhaps the most generous demand anyone has ever made of me professionally: “Make your own work. The book exists, make a film that is your own creation.” The second, you asked, was not to try to explain in any simple way why your mother committed suicide. There was no one answer, and trying to understand why was part of your life’s work. The practice of telling her story, of trying to understand your mother’s mind, in many ways turned you into the monumental writer you became. You gave me two simple commandments for creation that will forever be in my ear: Use your own voice. Allow for complication.