We didn’t speak about my brother Moshe’s rebellion and rejection of religion, or his alcoholism, or his drugs. We didn’t talk about my brother Danny’s turn away from orthodoxy or his apparent homosexuality. We didn’t talk about Moshe’s cancer or his death when he was thirty-six. We didn’t talk about Danny’s AIDS or his death at the age of thirty-nine.
Instead, we wrote. In diaries and notebooks and on scraps of paper that we hid away in boxes and drawers.
As the youngest child, l learned what may be spoken and what not. And I learned, in wordless lessons, that I must make things right. I fortified myself by attending ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, marrying young and moving to Israel.
Decades after my brothers’ deaths, I divorced, moved out of the West Bank settlement that had been home for 17 years and left religion. It was as if an unseen force was upending my life.
Looking back, I began to understand the cost of silence. Alienation had inflamed my brothers' diseases. And the never-spoken, never-resolved conflict had robbed me of the simplicity of loss.
Seeking comprehension, I retrieved the diaries and notebooks and scraps of paper. My family archive. Our unspoken words. Surely I would uncover a secret, a missing fact, perhaps a betrayal, that would shed light on the darkness. Stumbling along, I established and then refuted one neat narrative after another.
Rather than order, I found contradiction and enigma, pain, suffering, confusion and humanity. The only constant, true for all of us, across all times, was the silence.
My writing is an act of speaking the unspoken and a call for unhiding.
Publications and Works in Progress
Curator’s Notes, hybrid mini-memoir, published in Spring, 2020 issue of Palaver Journal - The curator tells his story through family photos, short texts and scanned excerpts from the family archive—diary entries, letters and other scribblings.
My full-length memoir, (working title - Seeing Danny) is a work in progress
Eli Jacobs grew up in New York and moved to Israel at the age of 23. He is the joyous father of six, grandfather of two and loving partner of Becky Kook.
He holds an MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Bar Ilan University and an MS in Education from Johns Hopkins University. He is a reader for Witness magazine published by Black Mountain Institute. He writes about his family, loss, mourning and marginalization on the basis of religious or sexual identity. His work has been published in Palaver Journal, Snapdragon and Eastern Iowa Review and his essay, Long Hard Day was short-listed for Witness Magazine's 2020 literary awards in creative nonfiction.
Eli has authored and edited numerous text books for teaching reading comprehension and English grammar.
The working title for Eli's memoir is Dear Danny.