Meet Fellow Ilana Sichel

Ilana Sichel is working on a non-fiction project about the death of her brother and end-of-life-ethics. Her fiction and non-fiction has been published in a variety of outlets and has been honored with a Jentel Residency and a Henfield Prize, and her collaborative Israel-based guerrilla art/activism projects have garnered broad media coverage. Ilana received her MFA in Fiction from the University of Michigan, her AB in Literature from Harvard, and is currently working toward her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the City College of New York.

“The Last Rain” (Prairie Schooner, Summer 2014)
“Neighborly Favors” (Narrative, 2011)

Socially engaged art interventions:
Mourning Notices Project (2015)
Re-Facing Jerusalem: Arabic Street Sign Repair (2009)

Assorted Jewniverse Shorts (2012 – 2017)
“Questions of Genius: On ‘Salt of the Earth'” (LA Review of Books, 2015)
“The Good Fortune of the Ivy League Reject” (Chronicle of Higher Education Blog, 2013)
“The World Holds a Pistol to Your Head” (Fiction Writers Review, 2012)

For the past year and a half, I’ve been working on a book of nonfiction about losing my 34-year-old brother to cancer. Part memoir, part essayistic grappling with end-of-life ethics and the palliative care movement, the book, whose working title is “The Law of Suffering,” is both a personal/family story and is also part of the contemporary conversation around dying and death.

The book considers the ways my family’s experience diverged from the vision set forth by the Good Death movement, which prizes honest discussions around death and dying, and making informed decisions that often involve ceasing treatment when death seems imminent. For my brother, who was a scholarly and committed Orthodox Jew, the idea of an open discussion about his mortality and the virtue of accepting death was unthinkable. Aaron insisted on treatment even when it seemed hopeless, and he found meaning in those efforts, and the suffering it engendered.

While the current conversation is a necessary corrective to the idea that modern medicine can cure all ails, it can ignore the idiosyncratic messiness inside each of us, and even make the dying feel judged for failing to live up to the new cultural ideal of acceptance. These are the ideas and experiences I examine in the book.

LABA is a unique fellowship. What drew you to apply?
I’d been intrigued by LABA for years but decided to apply because of this year’s theme. Though I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Jewish text study, my brother’s was more one of love. Studying with the LABA fellows is the best opportunity I can think of to gain a better understanding of my brother’s analytical, theological mind while building a cross-genre artistic community.

What is your favorite East Village spot?
The amount of time I’ve spent trying to answer this question makes me think I need to spend more time there.

What would you want your tombstone to say?
“No stranger to feeling.”