Remembering Daniella

I thought of her over the years and did nothing to reach out, but my cousin Daniella  was uniquely talented. Her vision of the world would always provoke smiles. Her wit was wise. She was a professional writer, so I had no expectation of receiving letters from her. I was right not to expect correspondence, but I too stopped sending any at one point. I sent greetings to her through her sons via FB. Daniella was also a humorist, but she was generous with that gift, and over the years often made me laugh.

Her last visit to New York was probably about 6 or 7 years ago, maybe more. (Actually, it was less, it was after Aharon died (2010) and she was passing through New York on her way to her friend Elaine’s funeral.) When we sat in my office and chatted, I thought it would be the last time I would see her, my favorite cousin. A premonition, I guess, you’d call it. Daniella was smoking– always with a cigarette in her hand– in my office and I kept looking nervously at the ceiling, expecting the smoke alarm.

Daniella surprised us when she showed up at our wedding. Her presence was unexpected and very welcome. She stood with me as I took my vows, and we had to beg her to refraim from lighting up a cigarette in the synogogue.

Daniella Shemi, died in Israel. at the too young age of 72; her 73rd birthday would have been this June. I am devastated at what the world has lost in this witty, charming, clever woman. She is remembered in a Jerusalem Post obituary for all her many accomplishments There were mentions in the Israeli press, of which she was a member.

My memories of her are all fond and personal. Oddly, I am bothered that I have no photos of her.

On one of my visits to Israel, Daniella and Aharon went out to a party; because I spoke no Hebrew, it was agreed that I stay home. Two terrorists landed in Tel Aviv and were firing from a beachside hotel that night, and I was terrified. Aharon came home to check on me, and found me deep asleep but still very scared. The next day, with the two terrorists still at large, Daniella proceeded with business as usual, hanging out with friends at outdoor cafes. She was intrepid, and I stayed doggedly by her side.

In the ’80s when the Shemis came to America for a 6 months sabbatical, Daniella and I made midnight runs to the local supermarket in the Berkshires. I was living within a few miles of them, and we spent lots of time together, celebrating the boys’ birthdays. Assaf and I baked a carrot cake for Guy’s 2nd or 3rd birthday, I remember. The boys probably do not.

When I first met her, Daniella was a young El Al employee, with a glamorous life and easy-going attitude. Daniella was a sophisticate.  Our fathers were first cousins (I think) and her family had emigrated to Israel right after the war, while mine returned to Beograd. My mother and I had briefly stayed in Israel– Jerusalem with my paternal grandfather, on a farm with my mother’s aunt– but I was 4 and have little memory of any family we encountered. In my early twenties, I went to Israel for a few months, and Daniella took me in. She always had a way with words– even in English– and an ease around people.

These were the skills that she used as a popular journalist for some 25 years.

“Dear Daniella” you are remembered lovingly. You always made me laugh, and now for the first time you have made me cry.





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