It was only 1 month after my father’s disappearance when I approached my mother about my upcoming 10th birthday.
“Ema, are you making me a party?” I innocently asked.
“No, not this year.”
This shocked me. All of my life I had the best parties. Why wouldn’t my mother make me a party this year?
“Because this is not a happy time.”
“Why?” I innocently asked.
“Michalli, your father is missing!”
“But he’ll be back. You told me so yourself. You said he’d be back.”
“I hope…” She began to say, but then stopped herself. “Of course he’ll be back, but until then, I can’t make you a party.”
I cried so hard that night. This was the first time I really started feeling the loss.
On the night of my birthday my sister and I were watching “Dirty Dancing” on video in the den with a couple of kids belonging to Izzy Landsman, a relatively new family friend. My mother walked in, with Rosalba and Izzy holding a chocolate cake, singing happy birthday. My sister and the kids were excited to delve into the cake. I put on a smile, but inside felt very sad. This could not take the place of a real birthday party.
I still remember that day that we were introduced to Izzy. He had a big long beard, a velvet Kippah, always wore black and white and looked very nice.
“Kids, meet Izzy. He’s a magician.”
“Really?” I asked, deeply impressed. I never met a real magician in person.
“Hi there.” He said with a smile. He had a very pleasant, energetic voice. “Is that your pet monkey?” He asked, pointing to Udi who was busy eating as usual, oblivious to everything that was happening.
“Yeah.” I said proudly.
“He’s real too.” My sister had to add.
“You know, I have a lot of animals too.”
“You do?” I asked.
“Yes, one day you guys will come to my house and see them.” He said. My mother gave him a small smile.
“I have 4 children.” He continued. “You girls will like them. I’m sure they would love to come over and play with you.”
“OK.” I shrugged.
When he left, I asked my mother why he was here. She told me that he is a nice man in the community who has offered to help us out. I didn’t understand then why my mother needed help.
That week my mother left the country for a few weeks with our Lawyer, Robert Harris, to continue the investigation. We did not understand why and we didn’t ask. We just assumed she was looking for Abba. Later I would learn that she was in Europe investigating the story she knew to be true about my father’s disappearance. My father had given her information months before and was afraid for his life. My mother was on a mission to prove to the investigators that his disappearance was connected to that story.
Once again, my sister and I stayed by our grandparents in Brooklyn and missed a week of school. We spent most of the days watching TV and fighting over who will sleep next to Aunt Tzippy who was only 20 years old then. My grandfather, who is one of the kindest men I know, treated us very well, but we missed Udi and our house. We didn’t like Brooklyn and the small cramped way our relatives lived there. We were accustomed to space, to a big backyard, a quiet street, blue skies. We always felt so fortunate after we’d visit our aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins and see how they lived. They loved coming to us. Our house was known in Far Rockaway as a very fun place, with our pet monkey and great toys. We wanted to go home.
The next week in Brooklyn, my uncle Pinchoo who was then 25, drove us to and from TAG every day. During our absence, Morah Hymen the class principal, decided it was time to tell the class about what happened. She told our classmates to be sensitive about the situation. It was probably very difficult for her, since she never had to deal with this kind of situation. When I heard that my principal addressed the class about it, I felt embarrassed, but somehow got over it.
The first day back after being away for so long was very difficult for me. I felt very self-conscious. One girl named Sheva approached me during recess.
“What happened to your father?” She asked. Suddenly I felt all eyes on me.
“He’s missing.” I answered.
“Why?” Sheva pushed.
“I don’t know why.” I answered. The teacher, having witnessed this exchange told the class that recess is over, and everyone must sit down. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I felt like everyone was staring at me.
During those early months not one teacher offered me any sympathy. They did not know how to react and what to say so they chose to ignore the situation and go on with their usual routine.
One day Mrs. Bloomgarden took out a box. In it were prizes. She had recently started a system where we would get tokens every day that we behaved and at the end of the day we could get prizes with them. One by one she lifted each prize. None of the prizes caught my eye. I also only had 3 tokens, so I knew I was limited.
Suddenly she pulled out a diary, but not just any diary. This diary, I thought, was meant to be mine. It was breathtaking. Pink, and covered with glittery stickers, it had my name written all over it. At least I fantasized it did. I knew then and there that I had to have it.
“…and this, girls, is 22 tokens.”
How can I get it?
Pumped with determination to get that diary, I quickly glanced around the room, hoping to find an answer. And I did.
My eyes focused on Hanna Bloom. Hanna Bloom, the class goody-goody. I knew she must have dozens of tokens by now. And she was such a nice, sweet girl, so easy to take advantage of.
I knew I needed her tokens. I passed her a note.
“Meet me in the bathroom.”
She was surprised. No one had ever passed her a note before. She nodded, paranoid that the teacher will see, and left the room.
“Hanns…” I started slowly once I had her in the bathroom. “I want to make a little deal with you.”
“Yeah?” She asked, not having a clue as to what I was about to ask of her.
I paused, trying to figure out the best way to do it.
“Can I borrow some tokens, please?”
“Why?” She Inquired.
I sighed. “You see, there is this prize that I want…” I didn’t want to tell her which one for fear that she might want it.
“Which one…” She pressed.
I groaned. What’s the difference?
“The diary.” I said, scared. I prayed she wouldn’t want it.
“Oh, that stupid thing.”
“Yes.” I answered, relieved. “Please?”
“I can’t.” She said.
“But why?” I begged.
“I’ll pay you back with tokens.” I said.
“I really can’t…”
“I’ll give you one extra…”I quickly added.
“I don’t know…” She said. I was getting to her.
“I know, I’ll give you 2 tokens a day for the rest of the year. You’ll end up with much, much more tokens then you gave me.”
“Well….” I knew I had her but she needed a little more pushing.
“Please!” I begged desperately. I never wanted something so badly in my life.
“OK.” She finally said. “But you better be good and give me all the tokens you promised me.”
“Thank you!” I was so happy. During recess I put down 22 tokens on Mrs. Bloomgarden’s desk.
“Excuse me?” I said shyly.
“Yes?” She looked up annoyed and then smiled when she saw it was me.
“I’d like to buy the diary.”
“You need 22 tokens for that.” She said.
“I know. I have that.”
“You do?” She asked with doubt.
“Yes, I borrowed it.”
“Well then, I guess you can have it.” She smiled and took out the diary.
I held it in my hands and felt myself glow. My diary, my very own diary. I forgot about all my problems at that moment. Nothing else seemed to matter, not my classmate’s stares, not my father being missing, not my mother being away. I couldn’t wait to go home and start to write. Although I was young, I knew that writing was the only thing that would help me through whatever was going to happen.
When I got home, I sat down in a room by myself. I chewed on my pen, trying to figure out what to write. I dated it May 20, 1986.
My name is Michal, as you might as well know. I’m in Fourth grade and I have 1 sister. Her name is Yaelly. My mother calls her baby. I also have a pet monkey. Yep! A real live one. His name is Udi, he is a squirrel monkey and he is the cutest monkey available. He is 1 ½ years old. My teachers are Morah Braun (Hebrew) and Mrs. Bloomgarden (English). Mrs. Bloomgarden gives out tokens so we can get stuff with them. She has this box where there are all different sorts of prizes and that’s the way I got you. You see, Chani Bressler was nice and she leant me somehow 20 tokens. But there is a little deal, for the rest of the year I will give her 2 tokens a day. It’s not that bad because we only have one more month of school. All this time, we have had a lot of homework and stuff and we missed a lot of TV. But for the past week, month and months, me and my sister have been missing a lot of school and I mean A LOT! Why? Because my father is missing. Two months ago my father was missing. We asked Rabbi’s who can tell us what happened, what happened? They said he is kidnapped but we will find him. On the other hand my mother is pure Shurlock Holmes. She finds clues every…well almost every day. I am looking forward to that. I miss him a lot. Well, it’s time to do my homework, so…bye”
Little did I know that that day was the start of a lifelong habit. In the future as the years went by and my collections of diaries grew from 1 to 31 (and still counting) these books would become my saviors, my best friends and proof of my incredible story. I would store them under my mattress and then later in bins when there were too many. Through the years I took great care to preserve them and the few times one would somehow disappear would feel as if I lost a true part of me. These diaries were a symbol of how I survived. They were in fact the tool I used to survive. When I had no one to talk to, no one to understand. When I felt alone and abandoned by everyone in my life. When events were occurring that were too big for my young mind to fully grasp, it was my diaries that heard me out and seemed to guide me.