“I feel so old,” I said to Lilith. She, who is exactly my age, nodded vigorously in assent. This was at a José Feliciano concert. The very fact that I know who José Feliciano is is an age giveaway. As a teenager in the late 1960s, a parlor brat by default, I danced with soldiers to his songs on vinyl records at living-room parties. Among the thousands who came to Nokia Stadium in Tel Aviv, you could count on the fingers of two hands those who were under 50, and on the fingers of one hand those under 40 − and almost all of them were music reporters for radio stations or websites.
Feliciano, whose voice has not undergone any noticeable change in the past 40 years, looked exactly as he did the last time I saw him, on the cover of a 45 RPM record my older brother bought. In the concert, he appeared with the Ra’anana Symphonette and so, for a change, played classical guitar. “Listen to the rain, listen to it pour,” he sang, and I started to cry because I remembered Aviva Lori.
A few hours earlier, my friend was buried in the secular cemetery in Kfar Sava. All funerals are sad, but Aviva’s funeral was especially sad because of the restraint of the mourners. The same restraint Aviva possessed. Even though death always arrives suddenly and, as she herself wrote, constantly lurks around the corner in the case of cancer, Aviva’s death took everyone by surprise − maybe even her.
It looked as though she was fighting the disease without missing a day’s work at the paper and without missing even a week of her delightful column Relatively Speaking (Tree and Apple in Hebrew), which ran until recently. She triumphed over the cancer, vanquished it, celebrated her recovery and her restored health with a long trip to the United States with her partner, and afterward to France, to a good friend at whose home she intended to work on a book. But just when everything got back on track, when it became possible to start
planning for the future again, the disease returned and floored her with a knockout.
Those who only knew Aviva from her work at the paper, or as a lecturer on communications, were always amazed at her gentleness, her razor-sharp mind, the infinite empathy which made her an excellent interviewer and profiler, and her subtle sense of humor. Her noble, refined bearing was enhanced by her appearance: the perfect body of a woman who a few years ago, as a hobby, became a gym instructor, a wise face and immaculate attire.
Everyone knew she was highly educated, fluent in many languages, a woman of culture, a superb writer, an excellent researcher. But there were other sides to Aviva, for which I loved her no less than I loved her for her overt qualities. Within her resided the free, almost bohemian spirit of a woman who wanted to try almost everything, and in fact did so. If Aviva had a moment before her death when her life flashed before her as in a film, it would be a most interesting one, well worth viewing. Maybe, as people say, instead of lamenting how she died, we should remember how she lived, loving and loved, by her partner, her son, her brother, who was very close to her, her grandchildren and her many girlfriends. Sensitive and very vulnerable, she also craved life and was easily capable of enjoying herself.
Aviva, a constant tourist, wrote three travel books. The first great voyage of her life was forced on her when she was brought to Israel from a primary school in Poland at the time of the “Gomulka emigration” [when Jews were permitted to immigrate to Israel]. She rarely talked about that. I had known her for more than a year before she told me, offhandedly, that she wasn’t born here. She looked so Israeli that I was taken aback when she told me that she was already a schoolgirl in Poland when she and her brother were perforce brought to Israel by their parents. It was a very small
pleasure to be integrated into a new and very
different country, to morph from being Christina, a Polish girl from a very good home, to Aviva the Israeli girl.
Her other trips were not chosen for her − she chose them herself. Many of them were to her brother, who lives in Prague.
The books Aviva wrote are like well written guides, packed with original impressions; so much so, in fact, that they can be read just for pleasure. Aviva wrote very little about herself (though when she did, she did it well). But the first part of her book “The Pleasures of Prague” (in Hebrew), which describes her longtime love affair with the city (she also knew Czech, of course), reads like a novel and reveals, along with the charms of Prague, the writer’s distinctive point of view.
My first impulse on learning about the sudden death of the woman I liked best at Haaretz, and to whom I felt closest during my years of work at the paper, was to call Udi Asheri, her editor and mine at the now defunct Hadashot and at Haaretz. But then I remembered that Udi died a few years ago. I called Avner Avrahami, from my graduating class, who is a few years younger than Aviva and who, with Asheri, was our editor at Haaretz Magazine.
I had an urgent need to talk to someone who remembered Aviva across the years, someone who knows very well not only what a wonderful woman she was, but who belongs to Aviva’s generation of journalists, a generation that is vanishing as fast as cancer spreads; of people with wide horizons and a broad education, articulate people who crave knowledge in every field, whose insatiable intellectual curiosity is precisely what prompted them to go into print journalism, which once seemed the best and deepest way to utilize and give expression to that range of abilities. Journalists the likes of whom are no longer being born and who are irreplaceable − journalists like Aviva, whom I will miss so much.