A Damaged Mirror: A story of memory and redemptionby Yael Shahar, Ovadya Ben Malka
Now he's taking it back!
An embittered Holocaust survivor cannot speak of what he was forced to do to survive the horrors of Birkenau. A young girl in Texas is haunted by a memory of something she could not have lived. Together, they must unlock the gates of memory and face unspeakable horror, to find the hope that lies
He sold his soul to survive Auschwitz.
Now he's taking it back!
An embittered Holocaust survivor cannot speak of what he was forced to do to survive the horrors of Birkenau. A young girl in Texas is haunted by a memory of something she could not have lived. Together, they must unlock the gates of memory and face unspeakable horror, to find the hope that lies beyond despair.
Alex was seventeen years old when he was deported together with his family to Birkenau. His mother and younger sister were gassed on arrival. Selected to work in the Birkenau Sonderkommando, Alex lived on, his memory filled with the death of a people. He was left unable to speak of what he had done to survive, locked in the silent prison of his guilt.
Now, more than sixty years later, Alex is ready to face his memories in search of atonement. His spiritual struggle will lead him back into his past, and into the long and storied history of his people in search of an answer to the silence of God.
Yael, born and raised in Texas, has no connection with Alex, nor with the world he has lost. And yet her seemingly idyllic life is haunted by a dark memory of something she could not have lived. Her search for the source of the memory will lead her on a quest spanning three continents, and eventually to a new life in Israel. But her true journey will lead into memory itself, as she helps Alex to keep his promises to the dead.
A Damaged Mirror is an exploration of the boundaries between right and wrong, choices and choicelessness, and what happens when we cross those boundaries. It challenges notions of black and white, and calls into question the sovereignty of death itself.
- Kasva Press
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The author begins with a true statement: 'No punches will be pulled here. If you want to know the truth, this is it'. This book is powerful. The account is compelling. I experienced the dialogues, especially between Ovadya and his insightful Rav, as if I were present. I would read a few pages and then put it down to reflect, perhaps to avoid it for a time, and yet I was compelled to resume my reading, my taking in of its truth. There are innumerable reasons to read this book. While this is apparently a work fiction, the presence of a personal sojourn rings out on every page. If its not true, it should be and doubtless is at some level. Through Ovadya and Yael we discover mechanisms for coping with grief and loss, confusion and belonging, in a world that sometimes seems devoid of sanity. For those who enjoy a good adventure story, for those seeking evidence of abiding faith against insurmountable odds; this book addresses what it means to be truly human.
A Damaged Mirror takes the reader deeply into difficult questions of accountability, choice, judgement, forgiveness, humanity, worthiness, and faith. Through the weaving of detailed memory, spoken through letters, writing, and finally dialogue, ancient Jewish texts are called upon to answer questions that few have been able to even explore, let alone answer. This book is illuminating, boldly demonstrating the concept of a "living memory," and the eternal aspects of a soul powerfully affected by the most devastating of experiences, decades after the passing of the body that housed the soul. The detail in the writing captures a vivid picture of the workings of Birkenau concentration camp from an intimately personal perspective. Moving, thought-provoking, and haunting, the lessons this book brought me will remain with me always, imprinted in my consciousness like a number tattoo. Deep questions are explored in this book through the Jewish concepts of T'shuvah (steps to forgiveness), as well as what is or isn't a forgivable offense. Ovadaya's study sessions with Rav Ish-Shalom are complex as they are enriching for the reader who is already a scholar. They may be difficult for someone new to Jewish text study, however, well worth the effort and careful contemplation. The story challenges the reader to consider new perspectives on the eternal aspects of the soul, and the concept of inheriting a memory. I believe this book deserves the highest reward possible for Holocaust literature. It is truly exceptional. May the memories of all who perished in the Holocaust, and those who venture to tell their stories, serve for a blessing. ~Alice Langholt, author of the biblical fiction book First Family
A DAMAGED MIRROR: A story of memory and redemption By Ovadya ben Malka & Yael Shahar Kasva Press • $16.95 ISBN: 978-0-9910584-0-2 406 pages A window into the Jewish soul in the wake of trauma Chaya Rosen The Holocaust colors me, frames me, defines me. As a daughter of holocaust survivors, I’ve read everything I could get my hands on to try to understand, to try to come to terms with who my parents were, where they had been, what it was like . But nothing could bridge the gap, until my reading A Damaged Mirror. I found myself hardly breathing, as the words took me deeper and deeper into the intimate details of what it must have been like, there in that place. From the horrors of a world gone mad to the riveting dialogues of Talmudic debate, the authors reach back to the past, challenging us to examine ourselves as Jews, and our relation to God. A Damaged Mirror brings us face to face with the dilemmas that shaped my generation. It takes us beyond what we thought could ever be discussed—shame, victory, the need for resolution and absolution, the unremembered fears that we’ve never had words for. I found myself reading sentences over and over again, talking out loud to no one in the room. Who writes like this? Why have I never read this kind of book before? And why have I never asked these questions? The protagonist of A Damaged Mirror is Ovadya ben Malka, who was deported to Birkenau at the age of seventeen. Torn apart by guilt and the longing for the innocent faith of his youth, Ovadya relives the horrors on a nightly basis, but is unable to speak of the past: “ I remember, but nothing emerges into the light of day. It rattles around in the darkness of my soul, making a hollow sound. But outside, there is only silence. What is there to say?” We meet Ovadya long after the events, when his need for justice has finally overcome his fear of speaking of what he did to survive. But his story is bound up with that of Yael, born into a non-Jewish family in Texas—seemingly an unlikely candidate to bridge the gap between Ovadya and his dead. Eventually, with Yael as mediator, Ovadya takes his case to a rabbinic judge, Rav Ish Shalom. “I just need to face this and have it over,” Ovadya tells the rabbi. “According to our laws, what should I have done, and what must I do now to be clean of this?” The answer to his questions form the backbone of the book, as Rav Ish-Shalom draws on the wisdom of Jewish tradition to help Ovadya find meaning and faith. In confronting his past, Ovadya is forced to face some hard truths about the nature of human good and evil. “The fact that good people can be forced to do wrong doesn’t make them less good,” he says. “But it also doesn’t make the wrong less wrong.” This is a book about choices, but even more about how we rebuild in the aftermath of wrong choices. It is a book about healing and forgiveness earned the hard way, through working to make amends. And it is a book about regaining faith in a silent God. But for me, it is a glimpse into the events that formed me. I have never read a book that had more of an impact on me. Early on in the reading, I was tempted to reach for a highlighter, lest I lose this word, or that revelation. It was perhaps a good thing that I did not, for my copy would have ended up bleeding profusely by the end. Shahar and ben Malka’s writing echoes with the voices of Elie Wiesel, Viktor Frankl, and Primo Levi. It even reaches beyond, giving us a book of resounding impact that will surely continue to affect us for years to come. I have no doubt that I will read this book over and over again. I am not yet ready to let go of Ovadya ben Malka, Rav Ish-Shalom, and Yael Shahar.