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Letters from Sister Mary Odile


30 October, 1996

Dear Andree Ada Aharoni,

What more compelling proof of Yahweh's love for each of us, that the fact that after a span of forty five years (yes forty five years), I am still here, joyously engaged in penning a nineteenth century type of letter to the now literary renowned Dr. Ada Aharoni, my cherished student of the unforgettable unforgotten Rainbow Days!

Now Andree, fond memories surface. Somewhere in Anthony and Cleopatra, Anthony refers to his "salad days, when I was green in judgment..." Having found you a literary peer in Shakespeare, let me now tell you that my true reaction to the sheer beauty of your verse brought me back to the sheer delights of a Shelley and Keats,

A thing of Beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness...
(John Keats)

Neither will yours Andree. Undoubtedly, Shelley's Skylark is a creature of cosmic dimension but lacks the human touch, the maternal grace so aptly expressed by your Mother Bird. Nor is there any "maiden with green eyes and dark lashes" introduced to be the harbinger "for songs and for laughter." On the contrary, Shelley's maiden is

In a palace tower
soothing her love-laden
Soul in secret hour...

And in your moving poem Israel:

To leave you now
would be an
amputation --
I would survive
but there would
of me

Why? Because as is said in "Songs of Songs": "Deep waters cannot quench love nor floods sweep it away." May I also add that this your briefest poem, blissfully binds into one: healer, healing, healed.

A poem of yours with which I feel the truest empathy - a truly nostalgic call, is that which does reverence in poetically traveling from Haifa to Near Faraway Cairo. As we say in Ireland: "It raises the cockles of my heart!" How I enjoy the mere joy of just writing and experiencing within myself the following:

The sunflower seeds
we cracked together
with jokes
echoing laughter in the sun.
How sweet the roasted sweet potatoes
were in those rainbow days
of pretty sugar dolls...


Ordered by Egypt
my Jewish wings to spread
to search for a new nest --
I have found it on Mount Carmel
and here I mean to stay.

Good for you Andree!

Incarnate, in verse three, of this beautiful poem, it seems to me, is the replica of "the constant love and deep devotion" bestowed on you by your mother, Fortunee Diday, that now becomes the enriching heritage of your soldier son. Even there, linger those unforgotten, unforgettable "near faraway rainbow days."

Other lines that touch me deeply within, are embodied in your noble empathy with the "Egyptian Soldier."

You see Egyptian Soldier,
You will always have your Nile and your Baled
To turn to,
but if we lose
There is only the sea...

Thank you Dr. Ada Aharoni, for having treated us to the vision rather than the actuality of seeing "Horses on Ennismore Gardens." With true Shakespearian éclat you have (to my mind), carried your theme beautifully from beginning to an unexpected rhetorical end: "But I never saw the horses on Ennismore Gardens." Bard, not of Avon, but of the Thames, would I proudly nominate you, Andree, ingenious student of mine!

Now back to your Magnificent Nile and the terra firma of "Alvernia English School, in Zamalek." You have expressed the truth yourself in your "Letter to Kadreya," that you were "a bunch of active, tenacious and bright kids." Yes, but so infinitely more were you! Forty five years later, I thank and commend yourself and Kadreya for your joint literary achievement as thirteen-year-olds. Even in the world of letters the saying: "coming events cast their shadows before," contains more than a grain of truth. Right there on the hard ground of Alvernia English School, you grasped, held, questioned those aspects of life accessible to you. Wisely yourself and Kadreya separated "the wheat from the chaff," thus laying the foundation of the development of the multi-faceted, humanistic warm-hearted peace-loving poet and ingenious author that you have become. Let us cling to the hope that indeed one day soon, as you yearn for in your poem: "Mimosa Equality" "the sun will shine on all mortals with equal golden rays."

To this I add a prayer - that the yet unborn citizens of the 21st century will be more accepting and kinder towards one another, than have been our confreres of the dwindling 20th. Within the realm of hope lies the possibility of East and West actualizing the significance of the "Olive Branch." Thereby Ghandi Mohandas Karamachand, Dr Martin Luther King, and Dr Ada Aharoni, would receive the honor of befitting them as Messengers of Peace unto their own people, place and time.

For unavoidable reasons, I had to lay this humble commentary on your impeccable masterpiece aside, for a while, so to quick up the dominant thread again is not easy. Your autobiographical "Letter to Kadreya," to use an American phrase, "is out of this world!" It is really worthy of great admiration, the well-balanced splendor of your English prose, the ingenuity of your arresting figures of speech, endowed as they are with the capacity to arouse empathy of any kind.

Oh! Andree, you poor little hurting child, how can you stand there as a bruised reed of Mother Nile and endure all of this insolence? Truth is, you didn't stand for long - you ran and ran. Out of sympathy for a creature in distress - the donkey, you identified with his pain. How true the old saying: "A fellow feeling makes us wondrous kind." In the arms of your loving Mama you desired consolation, peace, reassurance...

With the aptitude of a psychologist, you have given us a true-to-life and down-to-earth account of the effects of the Bab-El-Louk-Louk trauma on your later growth and development. Thankful am I Andree, that your days at Alvernia were "sunny" and above all else that "you fell so deeply in love with English Literature." That first true love of yours was not just an emotional alleviation then, but (in my unlicensed language), has since led you to the stars!

Other poems too I would like to delve into - Manna for a later day! While in the shower the other night, I heard myself humorously reciting:

Abdul's Children
will not know more
than Abdul does
for Abdul's children
are not taught more
than Abdul was...

I treasure your book as I do the Bible. Each in its way shares the relationship between God, Humanity, and Mother Earth... Of my future reactions to other of your poems, I shall keep you posted. The members of the Provincial Administration felt so proud that Alvernia School had produced a student of your caliber. They would appreciate a copy of "Poems from Israel," to be kept with worthwhile treasures in the Community Archives in Boston.

I too happen to have a treasure: a copy photograph of your sister Ginette, as cherub - when second grader, and the Ginette, 45 years later, who appeared in London in 1996, at their class reunion (thanks to Viviane Biriotti and Denise).

Very pleased am I, Andree, to know that among the green splendors of your beloved Mount Carmel, you have found peace, may it always remain this way. In the early 1940's, when Egypt was in danger of the German invasion, we, then sisters from St. Clare's, in Heliopolis, were evacuated to what was then called Palestine. We spent three months in a beautiful green area above Jerusalem, the name sounded something like "Qubebeh," which, if I remember properly, was somehow associated with "bread." The evacuation occurred in June, however, after having had a vacation, including pilgrimages to the sacred places, we were safely back in Heliopolis, in time for another school year in September.

Thank you Andree, for who you are, for what you have become, and for remembering me.

Sister Mary Odile who loves you


December 24, 1996

Dear Andree Ada,

For the literary wealth of the precious packet you mailed to me a few weeks ago "Thanks." From within the soul of the soul of the six letters conveniently comprising that conventional word (thanks), I wish to impart even in some infinitesimal way, the light, the life, the joy that your true Literature imparted to me.

I am sending you the picture of Wilfred Owen, the poet you so admire and who has so influenced you in your peace poems. His great poems of protest against the demonic War, and his powerful rhythms, touched deeply the hurting and conscientious spot in you Andree, while still at Avernia English School, almost half a century ago.

An as yet inexperienced emotion entered your being radiating light, joy and the worthiness of being alive. Something akin, maybe, to your own "Horses on Ennismore Gardens." I mean the moving sensation evoked by each of your poems. Mentally, you have been raised above the sordidness of the Souk, no reason to wallow there ever again... The healing process has long since begun, but as you have since experienced, Ada - It takes time!

For reasons I am about to tell you, I have not dealt with all the highly appreciated material you so generously sent me. I was glad to be able to share "Birth Pangs of Peace: In Memory of Yitzhak Rabin," with different kinds of people, and they all loved it. You are a true and powerful Peace Poet.

To me it seems that one of the influences on your life has been the River Nile. Literally, you grew up on its banks. While contributing to the formation of the Delta, with its lore-laden waters, the Nile must have had, in some mystic way, have brought enrichment to your spirit too. To the Creator, Giver of all gifts, I give thanks for your innate giftedness. May the hopes and prayers of those who truly "care" be realized in the bestowal of the Nobel Prize in Literature on you, Ada, true proponant of "Peace through Literature" - you truly deserve it.

Now for the not so good news. I am scheduled for Heart-Surgery at the Medical Center Hackensack on January 7. This will slow down things for a while, but with God's help, all will go well.

My Love to you and yours,
Sister Mary Odile

P.S. Often I have told students to avoid "P.S's" and then fall into the trap myself!

You write at the end of your "Letter to Kadreya" - "My son is due to go into the army next week, and if a Peace Treaty between our two countries is not signed soon, he may perhaps one day be facing yours, and they might both see death in each other's eyes! This is not the bright future we had planned for them in the Rainbow years and years ago, when we were younger than they are to-day."

Congratulations that the girlish dreams of "the Rainbow days," have been fulfilled in your son, Ariel, who was destined to look for LIFE not death, in the eyes of other human beings, and that is probably why he has chosen to become a gynecologist who helps to deliver life. Creditably, your Daughter, Talia, too is involved in cultural life-giving activities. What a boon for "Grandma" to have the pleasure of feeling herself, lovingly caressed by six different pairs of hands in one day! Probably the innocence of these little children is a richer contribution to your professional life than you could even dream of. The real task of the poet, I read lately, is to get you somewhere you haven't been before... You have done it Ada!

Thanks, and much Love,
Sister Mary Odile


Unfortunately, all did not go well during the heart-surgery, and brave Sister Mary Odile passed away on January 7, 1997. May she rest in peace. I owe to her and to Sister Mary Consuela, of Alvernia School, and all the brave Sisters who corrected our compositions every night, much of my love for humanity, for writing, for literature, and for peace. The publishing of these two letters is in a small way my warm thanks to Sister Odile, and to all my beloved teachers for having instilled in me deep values, and the recognition of the power of literature as a valuable vehicle that can help to create a world beyond war. May Sister Mary Odile's Memory be blessed.

With much love and sorrow,
Ada Aharoni

Copyright (c) Ada Aharoni