Thursday, 4 December 2008


From Real Life Horror at an African Murder Scene to Sheer Magic

Read Part One here

Eventually, the voices of his ancestors called out to him from Israel – were he eventually landed up via a circuitous root that saw him working as a juggler, a tightrope walker, a fire eater, a magician ... and even a snake charmer.

When he got to the Levant, much to Abelman’s chagrin after successfully avoiding the South African national military service conscription, he soon found himself drafted into Israeli Defense Force. After many years of active service, slipping in and out of Lebanon, both in the regular army and in the reserves, he was honorably discharged with the towering rank of private. His military memoir has been published as the short story, No Medals & No Mentions.

He said: “We were all Zionists in our family and supported Israel. There was no shortage of books on Judaism and related subjects in the house, both religious and secular.

“One of the first games I can remember playing was ‘Germans and Jews’. In a draped, darkened dining room, the table was covered with blankets skirting down to the floor. The ‘Jews’ would hide under the table with a little reading lamp. When they heard a sound outside, they had to turn the lamp
off and sit silently until a ‘German’ yanked up the blankets with a yell – ‘Juden raus!’ –giving a scare to the cowering ‘Jews’. I must have been three.

“Jews in the Diaspora live dual lives. Outside the house we were proud South Africans and Jews, inside the house we were proud Zionist Jews and South Africans. My father’s name was Abraham, and rather than contend with the split personality of Diaspora life, I decided to move to the land of Abraham, where you can be yourself both inside and out.

“My brother had made the move some years earlier so the way was paved for me. With a single suitcase, I
tary disciplinleft South Africa – ‘coincidentally’, a week before induction into the South African Defence Force – not to return until fifteen years later, by which time the military police had stopped inquiring as to my whereabouts.

e in Israel didn’t come as too much of a shock – I knew it existed. There are rules and regulations, but as long as you take your training seriously (and you’re stupid if you don’t because you can find yourself at war quicker than you expected over here) and do your job as directed, the Israeli Defence Force is a happy-go-lucky place to be; compared to other armies that is.”

At a loose end after his army service, Daniel soon found employment as a professional performing artist. As thrice winner, in successive years, of the Israeli National Magic Competition, it paved the way to success. His hat trick set him off, traveling the country, performing up north in the Golan Heights and as far as the southern resort town of Eilat.

“The performing arts can be a hot, sticky and, at times, filthy business,” he said. “A tight rope walker may make a living with three ten minute acts a day – but it’s not something I would recommend anyone trying. Artists spend more time waiting around for the show to begin then they actually do performing. It’s a boring, nerve racking and dangerous way to make a living.”

Daniel married a rabbi’s daughter, Joani, and after the birth of their third child, it dawned on him that seasonal work as a performer wasn’t the best way to provide for a growing family and that long periods away from home wasn’t the best way to enjoy it. So he hung up his wand when the Intifada that followed the Israeli Scud War (into which he was drafted for three months) discouraged tourists, and the performing arts job became even more precarious.

He became a licensed electrician, a competent plumber and, for a while, built wooden frame houses

But his beautiful wife’s outstanding success as a prenatal educator and childbirth assistant, a field in which she attained near guru status, decided Daniel to become the primary care-giver parent in the family, leaving Joani to spend more time on her career.

By the time Daniel became a house husband, there were four children. And between hectic breakfasts in the morning and brushing teeth before beddie-bies, was when he began to write in earnest. Mornings, with the young Abelmans at school, were his most productive hours. It was during these mini brakes from the bedlam of so many kids in a home of just sixty square yards, that ALLAKAZZAM! took shape.

“Contrary to popular belief,” said Daniel, “kids have to be fed on a regular basis and tucked into bed on a regular basis. Hungry and tired kids are ratty kids. The quickest cooked meal to prepare is corn-on-the-cob with a sliced tomato for salad. Being a ‘fun-father’ we would sometimes do the outrageous; breakfast for supper! ‘Cereal for supper tonight!’

“But kids aren’t stupid. They won’t put up with such dismal parenting for long. I really had to work hard at the job. It’s like tight rope walking, fire eating and juggling all in one ... and all sheer magic.

“Then, of course, there’s the eternal battle as to whose turn it is on the computer. Mostly I have to write things on scraps of paper and then transcribe them into the computer when the kids decide it’s my turn. Out of school time, if I managed two good paragraphs a day on ALLAKAZZAM!, I was happy with the output ... and don’t forget there’s a wife who appears at the most ungodly of hours and who demands to be fed and given some love and attention, too.”

When people ask Daniel how he ever got ALLAKAZZAM! finished, though, he doesn’t tell them about the late nights, the early mornings, the entire finished sentences and paragraphs carefully filed away in his head, the lifetime of research through experience, adventure, diversity and astute and compassionate people-watching, or the decades of practicing and mastering the writer’s skills to supplement an inborn talent -- and the years spent carefully polishing ALLAKAZZAM! to a perfect shine.

After all, it’s a poor magician who reveals all the secrets of his tricks.

Interview by Alexander James

Interview first appeared in Twisted Tongue Magazine

Read an excerpt from ALLAKAZZAM!

Click here for Daniel Abelman's biography


  1. Fascinating - what a life! I might just have to buy the book now :-)

  2. I hope you've got the book now, Andrea? And you're enjoying it.