When I met you at the international conference of the Association for Jewish Theatre in Vienna two years ago, I was immediately struck by your passion for theatre, for the arts, for people. And when I saw you up on stage, bringing parts of the past into our own lives with Better Don't Talk: A Holocaust Story—“A daughter discovers her mother's hidden past. The uplifting musical theater tribute to comedienne Chayela Rosenthal, wunderkind of the Vilna Ghetto"—I was fighting tears. At the same time, you also made me laugh and feel empowered by your art, your work, your life.
And then, when you got one of the biggest rounds of applause at the international conference when Deborah Baer Mozes, artistic director of Theatre Ariel, the Jewish theatre here in Philadelphia, walked up to the stage at the famous monastic Piaristenkeller, together with Robin Hirsch and a birthday cake and a flame which shot high up on that stage.
I will never forget the way you held your hands up to your chin in utter surprise, radiating even more joy and energy than before—if that is possible.
I spoke to you afterwards, wanted to see more of your work, wanted theatre goers in the Philadelphia area to come and see you on stage. You gave me your card, we had a short correspondence, and then our communication seemed to disappear in the sand of time.
Naava, I did not know at the time that you were fighting cancer—just as I did not know that my only sister was struggling with breast cancer for four years. And by the time we knew, it was too late.
Frankly, I did not know what to do. Should I buy the book and send you a get-well card, even though you had made it quite clear that the end was near?
Naava, some people might visit with some chicken soup, others who live in your neighborhood might come by and hug you and listen to you.
I can’t cook and I could not visit, but I write plays. And strange as it may sound, I wanted to write a play for you, wanted you, like Alice in Wonderland, present extraordinary stories, except that the Holocaust, alas, is more than a string of strange adventures underground.
Naava, I was so moved by your joy, your energy which you kept to the very end, that I was determined to write a short play for you and about you by Hanukkah.
So, Naava, what did I do to find some solace? I went to the mother of all video sites and searched for some of the best versions of Ravel’s “Kaddisch”—music which brings tears to my eyes every single time. I know, men are not supposed to cry, but the images that this piece of music evokes are so strong that I don’t resist those “mélodies hébraïques.”
And while I listened to the various versions on YouTube, I came across a new version of the “Kaddish,” sung by your Israeli sister, Ofra Haza, who also passed away before her time. Her boundless energy and beauty reminded me of you. I found her “Kaddish” so engaging that I had to listen to it almost nonstop. Wherever you are, Naava, feel free to play it. This very special Kaddish is for you.
As you know, I come from Germany and my father, a young Third Reich propaganda officer and war correspondent, who, through his writing, contributed to the misery that silenced the voices of millions of people. A Molotov cocktail killed him and his driver in Russia in 1944. I wish I could write about my father the way you did.
However, I wanted the next generation to know what happens when one follows a persuasive, dangerous pied piper. It wasn't until my father witnessed a mass execution in Russia that he lost his voice, his will to live. That's why I wrote Metronome Ticking, the only Holocaust docudrama where the son of an Austrian Holocaust survivor and the son of a German war correspondent appear on stage together, even changing roles halfway through the play. We want to help audiences understand that it's a pure coincidence of nature that we were born into a specific family or a particular culture in history.
Dear Naava, until recently, I have never had the chance to visit a family who sat shiva with relatives and friends, but I imagine it to be a time rich in memory of you, Naava.
And so, I would like to send your family, especially your children, the link to the “Shluchim Song,” composed by Yossi Green, and sung by a young Israeli singer, Ohad Moskowitz, whose voice expresses better than anything I could say how I feel right now about you and all those who left us before their time.
Ave Vale, Naava, fare thee well, auf Wiedersehen, and as many SHALOMS as find space on each leaf of your tree, on each page of your book—your farewell gift to us.
Thank you, Naava, from the United States, and a special “ačiū” from Lithuania, a sunny “baie dankie” from South Africa, a grateful and pensive “Dankeschön” from Germany, and a welcoming “toda lach” from Israel, you wonderful mensch.
Naava, you will live on in all those who knew you, in all those who will discover your book, even 100 years from now, and in all those who, one day, will find shade under your tree in Israel—the Naava Piatka tree.
Shalom, Naava, Shalom, Shalom.