Posts Tagged ‘David Rakoff’

Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish

July 16, 2013

This piece was first published as “For writer David Rakoff, a posthumous debut” in The Times of Israel.

David Rakoff’s final Facebook profile picture. He died on August 9, 2012 at the age of 47. (photo credit: via Facebook)

David Rakoff’s final Facebook profile picture. He died on August 9, 2012 at the age of 47. (photo credit: via Facebook)

TORONTO — You wouldn’t know it from reading his incisive and humorous award-winning essays, but writing was always very hard forDavid Rakoff. Nothing compared, however, to the difficulties he faced and surmounted in completing his final work, a posthumously published novel, just weeks before he died of cancer at the age of 47 last August.

“Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish,” Rakoff’s, first and only novel, has been released by Doubleday today. Rakoff managed to write the book as he progressively weakened. He did it while in extreme pain and with one arm paralyzed. He recorded the book’s audio version literally days before he passed away.

“He recorded the thing with his last breath,” his father, Dr. Vivian Rakoff, a noted psychiatrist, said in an interview he and his wife Dr. Gina Shochat-Rakoff, a physician, gave The Times of Israel at their Toronto home.

“He was coughing his lungs out, but he was determined to get it done,” his mother said. She had gone to New York to be with her son and went with him to the four two-hour recording sessions at the Manhattan studios of “This American Life,” Ira Glass’ National Public Radio program on which Rakoff had appeared 25 times. “He said, ‘I’m so glad I did that,’ when he finished it.”

“Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish” stands out for a reason other than its posthumous publication. It is written in rhyming iambic pentameter, a fact that comes as a surprise to most people, but not to his parents.

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

The Life He Lived

January 2, 2013

This post was first published as “Memorializing a Friend in ‘The Lives They Lived'” on The Sisterhood blog at The Forward. An excerpt from it was reprinted in The New York Times on January 10, 2013.


I’ve always loved “The Lives They Lived,” the year-end issue of The New York Times Magazine profiling famous and not-so-famous people who made an impact on the world and died during the previous 12 months.

No, let me correct that. I should say that I’ve loved the issue until now.

This difference is not attributable to the design of this year’s issue (though I can undoubtedly say that it is not my favorite). Rather, it’s because reading “The Lives They Lived” is no longer an edifying coda to my year, a comforting annual tradition allowing me to deepen and broaden my knowledge about the influence of individuals on history.

This year, I knew someone personally in the magazine. And that changed everything.

To be sure, many of those profiled in this year’s issue touched my life in some way. Loops of Whitney Houston songs play in my head when I think of my college and grad school years. Neil Armstrong’s moon landing is my first memory of watching TV. I cannot read the name Vidal Sassoon without recalling the scent of the shampoo I used for years. A worn copy of Maurice Sendak’s “In The Night Kitchen” is one of the only books I made sure to save from my childhood and pass on to my kids.

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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

‘Keep Reminding Yourself You’re A Grown-Up’

August 13, 2012

This essay in remembrance of David Rakoff (1964-2012) was first published in The Forward.

“Since you contacted me, I’ve been thinking a lot more about Bialik,” David Rakoff told me when I interviewed him two years ago for a piece I was writing for The Jerusalem Report. He was referring to Bialik Hebrew Day School, the Labor Zionist day school in Toronto we both attended as children. It was the place that in many ways launched both of us on our professional trajectories—his as an identifiably Jewish writer, and mine as a Jewish educator. But his Jewish and Zionist identities ended up differing considerably from mine, and that’s why I had wanted to talk to him.

I hadn’t seen David in three decades. Back then, I was one of the tallest kids in the seventh grade and he was by far the shortest boy in the ninth. In my mind, I can still see the diminutive David in his class photo, dressed in a plaid flannel shirt and denim overalls seated cross-legged on the floor—the spot traditionally reserved for the shortest kids.

As much as David was ecstatic to have finally grown and put those years behind him, right now I prefer to picture him in my mind as the short and round-faced, but healthy, boy he was, rather than to look online at recent images of him as he became progressively sicker and thinner.

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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.