(IN MEMORIAM, 1997)
Eighteen years ago, when Ben Zion Tomer from the Federation of Writers’ Associations invited me to organize an English Association of Writers, I received a phone call from a man with a Polish accent who claimed he was a novelist. “Like Joseph Conrad,” he said. He might be persuaded to join, he added, but he wanted to talk to me in person.
When I opened the door, there was a handsome, blue-eyed rough-looking man, wearing jeans I think and a brown leather jacket, looking very much like a retired sailor who’d taken to writing. And his reaction to a possible writers’ association was in character as well – he might agree to join, he said, but he certainly wouldn’t have time to take any active part. He was no good at organization, he claimed, and had no interest in it whatsoever. He understood that we were in need of ten people to establish the charter, so he would put his name to it, but again and again he reminded me that he belonged to no other form of organization – being a complete individualist – and I would probably not be seeing much of him. He was too busy having adventures and writing about them.
In those years, Zyggy Frankel would frequently remind us of his disinterest – usually during the planning of the organization and publicity of a complicated reading. His tone was always quiet, objective, and modest. Often he would begin his remarks with, “Now this is just one man’s opinion, but...” and in the end most of the time we would agree that his was the most reasonable opinion for all of us.
With all his declarations of independence and disinterest, it was almost not apparent that Zyggy Frankel slowly became the central moving figure in the Israel Association of Writers in English. From the moment we began to write the constitution (composed then in accordance with the rules established by the Turkish charter for non-profit organizations), from the moment we began to establish relations with Sonia at the local branch of the Income Tax Bureau, it was only Zyggy who could be relied upon to understand and carry through with all the agonizing details. The number of mornings I met with Zyggy in the corridors of public buildings, going over ridiculously complex rules for the most simple of procedures, were thankfully never counted.
When the little conflicts between editors of arc and contributors became painful, it was Zyggy who always volunteered to intervene, to speak politely to both parties and carefully explain the issues. Reluctant to become a single editor himself because of his unwillingness to turn someone away, it was Zyggy who in the last year of his life suggested the idea of an anthology of poetry to include all the members of the association, to make peace with all those who had been misunderstood or insufficiently praised in recent years.
The Anthology was not only Zyggy’s idea, it was his administration – careful correspondence with all the contributors, preparation for press, cover design – all these things were in his hands.
Zyggy chose to keep the seriousness of his illness a secret these last months. Although some of us suspected something worse than the back injury that kept him confined to his home, none of us knew that he was dying. I think now I should have known, that only a secret like this would make him so reticent, so removed when he knew how much we continued to need him.
But he was such an integral part of the organization, I thought all I had to do was wait.
So I’ve written a little poem for him:
The deliciously plump woman in World War II
dreaming of cream puffs and pleasures with men,
waits in the manuscript for fulfillment.
Red Riding Hood’s mother
reasons the injustice of her fate,
the bus passengers wonder
why others don’t learn control--
and the prisoner,
waiting his death sentence, prepares
to transform himself into a cat.
Only their creator, always filled
with infinite possibilities, rests now.
Zyggy, I will miss you,
the stories you haven’t told,
the amazing escapes your characters
never quite pulled off,
your cynical stoicism in the face of fates
that make me rage