"How can I marry this man?" Ziva Bakman Flamhaft asked herself one day as she walked down a street in Tel Aviv. Her wedding was four weeks away, and her fiance, Yigal, had just pointed out a woman he had slept with. Flamhaft knew then and there that her marriage would not be easy. But she was still in love with Yigal, so she went ahead with the ceremony.
Three years later, the unthinkable happened: her husband passed away from injuries incurred during the brutal Six-Day War. It was such a physical shock to see his horrific burns and to watch him die that Flamhaft miscarried their unborn child.
Somehow Flamhaft found the strength to carry on after the dual traumas of losing her husband and baby. Now, in War Widow, she writes about her activism on behalf of other childless widows, life as a widowed woman in Israel, and the many challenges she faced. She also reminisces about growing up in British-controlled Palestine with a severely depressed mother.
An inspiring story of resilience and self-empowerment, War Widow movingly demonstrates how it is possible to move forward in the face of tragedy and help others in the process.
Tradition, beliefs, religious values and accepting what is expected of you are part of what is at the heart of this memoir. Ziva Bakman Flamhaft takes us back in time to where it all began from the time she opened her eyes the day she was born, to the feelings she had growing up with a mother whose mood swings changed like the weather at times. Getting to know her soon to be husband Yigal she began questioning her decision to marry him. Not sure if this was the right man for her yet as he points out just four weeks from their wedding day someone he had slept with not very heartwarming and difficult to accept and grasp. Thinking it through she realized that she loved him and were married. Here is where the story changes course as she tells about her marriage and his demands from the start and his rigid rules that he inflicts on her. At times she wonders why she married him but then the author flashes back to the beginning and her heritage, her parents, family and the enduring changes they endured due to the world wars, the Nazi’s and the deaths of many of her family members at the hands of this demonic people. Take a trip back in time to Poland and Lithuania and understand what her grandmother endured as we meet her at the start of the memoir and how she demanded respect, had the courage to withstand her adversaries, how she championed for so many and managed to thrive by creating her own businesses and becoming an activist and advocate for so many people. Her mother managed to come to Palestine to help create the state of Israel and pretending to be married to someone for the sake of her passage and then hoping to rid herself of him when she arrived sets the tone for this memorable part of the memoir. Having to deal with her mother who belittled her from the start and then at times was jovial and happy suffering from depression and seemed from her description of her actions somewhat bipolar at times, her father would often resort to having to use physical force to contain and subdue her. Miriam her sister and Ziva were close and the chapter titled Miriam allows us to get to know them as children playing and doing sisterly pranks and more plus when Miriam is ill and terminal and how Ziva made sure she was there for her. The author relates it in such a way that you feel the emotional strain not only her dealing with her mother’s depression, their moves and living with different relatives in order to survive, but the anger, betrayals, fear and living with the unknown. As the story continues we learn more about her childhood, her family and her extended family and the rift caused when her female cousin comes to live with her family for two months. During this time the author sees a change in her father who seems to be too close to this young girl and his reaction to her unnatural. When she leaves he is too upset but her mother realizes that something about their relationship was wrong. The story continues with her grandmother and the incident about not using paper with Hebrew writing for toilet paper and then let’s move to what happens when Ziva becomes pregnant and Yigal’s reaction before the tragedy sets in. Stopping work and staying home she hoped would prevent the inevitable and then Yigal gets called up when the Six Day War Begins and the ending she hoped would bring him home. Calling his regiment and learning that he is okay the shock when someone knocked on her door and this time pregnant again, and taken to a hospital to see Yigal as he was burned over 90 percent of his body and the site was devastating to not only the author, her family and his. Things changed rapidly as you could feel the tension building up inside of her as she was denied pension benefits, denied a funeral for him and her goal to fight for what she believed she deserves. Like her grandmother she is relentless and does not give up when she knows that she is right and is fighting for a cause. Trying to enlist other War Widows in some respects was unsuccessful while in others she found some allies. To see Yigal and his burns and then lose her unborn child left a permanent mark on her that will never be removed. Her writing about her life, becoming an ardent activist for hers in the same position, she faced and still faces many challenges as a war widow. Relationships changed and you can feel her anger rise as she tries to make sense of her life and where she wants to go after losing her husband and child. Enduring a special ceremony that her parents insisted upon in order to not have to marry her husband’s brother and then allowed to marry someone else, is truly a tradition of orthodox Jewish people as I learned from my grandfather and grandmother. Her friend Lily seemed to be a catalyst in wanting her to move on with her life and meeting Henri and Major General Emanuel Castel would change the direction of her life teaching her many life long lessons that would alert her to what happens when dealing with one man that was obsessed with her and another who created more stress since he was married. Constantly calling and demanding her time Ziva finally did move on by leaving Israel and moving to New York finding a new life and a job in the Defense Mission and then finding herself the prey of a man who was supposed to be a close friend. Things got difficult and she enrolled in Visual Arts to pursue her painting and passion and then was blessed meeting Steven. Her romantic interlude with him and how they met really will bring smiles to the reader’s face and of course renew her faith in love while never forgetting Yigal and his family. What happened to her in the past when she had her first abortion that hindered her inside causing her many miscarriages was finally fixed and corrected with a miracle that you the reader will have to learn for yourself. Getting a Fulbright-Hays Scholarship allowed her to spend part of 1995 and 1996 in Israel and her experience as an interviewer of bereaved and aggrieved woman was mentioned but not elaborated. The photos at the end will show how she moved on and will definitely make you smile and admire the courage, the hope, will to survive and her strong personality and tenacity never giving up on life, herself or her beliefs. For those that feel that they need an inspirational memoir to read and want to learn about the courage, bravery and strength within Ziva and hope to gain some insight for yourself read War Widow: How the Six Day War Changed My Life. Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine