April 19, 2024
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Martin Bodek Discusses ‘Zaidy’s War’ at Lev L’Daas

“Zaidy” Benzion Malik.

Many readers are familiar with Martin Bodek’s popular brain teaser feature “The Cuff Link,” which appears each week in The Jewish Link. However, Bodek is also a prolific author of diverse literary genres and has a unique perspective. A service operations manager by day, he also comes from an unbroken chain of Hasidic lineage, tracing back to the Baal Shem Tov and other prominent rabbinic leaders and commentators.

“Zaidy’s War” represents his 11th contribution to the literary world, preceded by clever and humorous themed editions of the Haggadah, serious philosophical books and followed by a respectable trail of awards. There’s even a book about running. Did you read right: running? Yes. And if that’s not enough diversity, Bodek has also completed the famed and grueling New York City Marathon 20 consecutive times, reportedly the youngest person to do so.

Bodek learning Shas with his grandfather.

“Zaidy’s War” traces the harrowing journey of Bodek’s grandfather through conscription in four different armies including the German army, as European countries per force changed allegiance throughout World War II. Assigned to menial but dangerous tasks at the front lines, he was defenseless, mistreated, starved, exposed to extreme elements and ended up in northern Russia 1,600 miles from his home. The Russians abandoned him there to find his own way back. He walked … The full book review can be found in the November 2022 Jewish Link archives (jewishlink.news/martin-bodek-s-zaidy-s-war-honors-his-grandfather-s-memory.)

Bodek described his frequent childhood contact with his grandfather Benzion Malik as “… transcendent experiences. He was my giant. I knew even as a kid that I was learning from someone memorable and masterful. I still have some of the sefarim from which I learned with him. Those memories are precious. Finishing Shas with him, in his semi-lucid state at his advanced age, was our learning coming full circle.

Following his book talk, Bodek introduces his mother Chantze Wicentowsky, who served as AV tech for the slide presentation.

“Work, in all its forms, was most important to him,” he continued. “Every facet of life needs effort. Work for your living. Work for your learning. Work for your relationships. Everything is improved as a result. I quote him in the book as saying, ‘If you don’t work, you die.’ He really believed that.”

In a series of video interviews conducted nearly 21 years ago in May 2003, Bodek recorded his Zaidy’s life story. After years of deliberation and more years of writing and rewriting, he finally committed Zaidy’s testimony to the written page via “Zaidy’s War” and published it in 2022. Asked about whether his Zaidy left instructions about the interview or the book, Bodek was emphatic about fulfilling his Zaidy’s intentions and wishes.

“When my mom and I sat down with him to discuss his life, we expressed the intent of the book. Firstly, so that his descendants would know and be inspired by his life story. Secondly, so that the rest of the public could be inspired. He was more than happy to participate and I think he was rather proud of me for my initiative. Most offspring are happy just to hear stories and move on with their lives. He appreciated that I was making the story stick and live on. He gave me no special instructions for what to include or exclude. He trusted my judgment and left everything on the table.”

Bodek explained the risk of sleeping among hungry comrades in the dead of the wartime Russian winter.

Bodek continued, “There were parts of the book that as a writer with a healthy literary ego, I felt were very difficult to convey the precise imagery. There were passages that defy reality and description. How would a writer adequately describe the scene of attempted cannibalism, with all its terror and regret and desperation? How is it put into words? How does one describe the scene where his long-lost brother walks towards him, graduating from a ghost to a human? I did my best, and I hope I acquitted myself, but these passages were difficult to master.”

Remaining true to the roles of both a devoted grandson and an author on a mission, Bodek shared a few take-aways from his experience of writing this book. “My grandfather’s mantra was very much the mantra of the ‘Shawshank Redemption.’ ‘Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.’ This philosophy carried him through the war. He was always prepared to move, to think, to act, to decide, to take something on. This perspective carried forward after the war as well; always showing initiative, always being ahead of the game. He won the game of life with this primary directive.”

Bodek shows on a map the location in northern Russia from where his grandfather walked over 1,600 miles back to his home town after the war.

Bodek has won numerous awards for his books and literary contributions, including the “Outstanding Creator Award” for his quote: “The lives we live are so much bigger than the bodies we inhabit.”

To contact Bodek to schedule a book talk with an organization or to purchase books, contact Bodek at [email protected]. His books are also available for purchase online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other booksellers.

Bodek explains the legend of
the book cover.

Ellie Wolf is a staff writer at The Jewish Link.

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