The fourth International Writers Festival took place here, in Jerusalem, last week (May 18-23, 2014).
One of the sessions I attended was a conversation between Nicole Krauss and AB Yehoshua. I thought and hoped it would be a literary conversation, where the authors discuss their books with each other and share insights. I was worried. I had not yet read a word by AB Yehoshua.
AB Yehoshua immediately jumped into the water, answering the question the mediator had posed to him. The mediator (Shmuel Rosner) juxtaposed Yehoshua’s characters with those of Krauss’s. The former’s characters are Israeli, but have the need to hop abroad for a short visit. While Krauss’s characters live abroad but are influenced by Judaism and/or Israel.
Yehoshua spoke about a Judaism that requires a Jew to take a break from the Holy Land – to gain perspective and temporarily be relieved from the difficulties of this country. (I may be overstating this and perhaps he didn’t say it this way, but this is what I took away.) He expounded his belief that everything is political, that actions are more important than words and that being a Jew means acting morally towards Arabs, even at checkposts.
The gracious Nicole Krauss did not engage in conversation until she shared with Yehoshua and the audience how privileged she felt to be sharing a stage and a conversation with him.
The mediator (Shmuel Rosner) then juxtaposed Krauss’s “portable Judaism” as one critic coined it, with Yehoshua’s emphatic belief that the wholeness of the Jew is incumbent on their living in their land; said another way – if you don’t live in Israel you’re not a real Jew.
Krauss conceded that Israelis were very fortunate to be living on soil that belongs to them, speaking a language that belongs to them, but felt that she too was given a gift. Her gift being the English language, which she could play with to share her ideas, stories and thoughts. She felt that the gift of the English language gave her a massive platform in terms of the number of people she could reach with her writing and shared her belief that had she been born in Israel, she probably would not have become a writer.
At that point the level of the conversation plummeted.
It became apparent that Yehoshua had never read anything Krauss wrote. It also became apparent to me, that I no longer cared to read anything by Yehoshua.
A man who began his talk with the importance of actions went on to act so ungraciously. Perhaps he started out that way by not even bothering to read even one of Krauss’s books. It was ironic to me that though he spoke about the importance of actions and treating others with respect, he couldn’t display a minimal amount of respect to the author and human being with which he was sharing the stage.
I left the festival that evening with a tremendous amount of respect for Nicole Krauss. Never once did she raise her voice. She was calm and composed throughout, no doubt because she is so much smarter than the two men that sat at the table with her.