A journey into the afterlife and a look at the ‘Polish James Dean’

Author Bernie Kastner maps out "the travels of the soul."

Portrait of Marek Hłasko by Zbigniew Kresowaty (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Portrait of Marek Hłasko by Zbigniew Kresowaty
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Like many parents who endure the tragedy of a child’s death, Jerusalem psychotherapist Bernie Kastner yearned to acquire an understanding of what happens after death.
He explored Jewish sources to find an answer to the all-important question: “Had I truly lost my son, or had he simply moved onto another dimension, a natural step along his infinite journey in the universe? Was he really looking down on me from a better place?” This inquiry led to his previous book, Understanding the Afterlife in This Life (Devora Press, 2007). Back to the Afterlife delves more deeply into “what specific steps we are destined to take in the next world and... what we can do in our current lives to help make that road a better one on which to travel.”
Kastner relies on the Zohar and other kabbalistic works; talmudic passages; modern works such as Michael Newton’s Journey of Souls, which deals with hypnotically induced recollections of past lives; and accounts of near-death experiences.
He has “mapped the travels of the soul” into 46 discrete steps, starting with an announcement 30 days before death, and ending with resurrection.
Modern minds will likely be skeptical of many of the details of the afterlife described here – though of course it is impossible to dismiss these descriptions, lacking proof to the contrary.
The author’s aim is to provide comfort and hope: “People who believe in olam habba [the world to come]... die with infinitely greater serenity than people who do not believe.”
THE 1960S classic Killing the Second Dog by Marek Hlasko is a work of fiction, with an uneasy feeling of truth. This dark, disturbing novella by the “Polish James Dean” was published in his native language in 1965, and is one of several notable works of foreign fiction now reaching an English-speaking audience through New Vessel Press.
Written in the first person, Killing the Second Dog revolves around the protagonist, a Polish ex-con and con artist named Jacob, and his handler, the equally seedy Robert. Staying in Tel Aviv flophouses in the 1960s, the two men scheme to bilk troubled American women tourists by tricking them into falling for Jacob. The script they follow includes buying, and then killing, a dog with the intention of proving to the unsuspecting woman how unhinged Jacob has become due to his difficult personal circumstances and his love for her.
British author Lesley Chamberlain writes in the introduction that Marek Hlasko’s works from his days in Israel between 1961 and 1966 “seemed to combine hard-boiled American crime with biblical simplicity. […] The condition of a relatively new Israel was a replica on a grand scale of his own disturbed life.”
Chamberlain refers to Jacob as Hlasko’s alter ego, and indeed the book has an uneasy biographical feel. Anger, self-loathing and alienation ooze from every word. The latest victim’s child – probably a young Hlasko – masks his loneliness and confusion with violent behavior. Jacob wins him over, too, prompting this last line before mother and son unknowingly take their final leave of the Polish felon: “When you come to the States, can I call you Daddy?”