Save a Writer–Buy a Book

Haim Watzman “It’s a very ugly time in American publishing,” my agent wrote to me. I had just received my semiannual statement from my publisher, which informed me that a total of 716 paperback copies of Company C: An American’s Life as a Citizen-Soldier in Israel were sold in the year after that edition came … Read more Save a Writer–Buy a Book

The God We Don’t See–My Best Books of This Past Year

Haim Watzman

At the end of July I was privileged to attend the Sami Rohr Prize Literary Institute, where I spent three stimulating days with the other prize finalists and judges. We were each asked to offer a short presentation about our favorite book of all time. I panicked–I like too many books, and too many genres, to name just one. I offer here my presentation, as transcribed by the Institute staff (and spruced up just a bit by me).

Sefer Yermiyahu, the Collected Poems of Avraham Halfi, and Paradise Lost

I had a hard time coming up with a single most important book, so, to make the assignment easier, I limited myself to my most important reading experiences of the last year—and managed to get myself down to three books. All three share, I think, an effort to deal with the question of what do we do about God when we don’t see God in the world. That is, the empirical evidence that we see before us precludes God’s presence in the universe, even though we intuit that we need or should have, or have to have a God. The first book was Sefer Yermiyahu, the Book of Jeremiah, which I completed this year with my Friday morning study group. The second is the poetry of Avraham Halfi, who was a poet and actor, and whose Collected Poems I have been reading slowly for a couple years and am now close to completing. The third is Paradise Lost, by John Milton.

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Jewish Literature As It Ought To Be: Naomi Alderman’s “Disobedience”

Haim Watzman

Last month I published an essay in the Jewish Chronicle of London in which I asserted that something is missing from most of the literature being produced by and about Jews today: “What I seek are books that, without being bound by conventions of religion and history, nevertheless use familiarity with and respect for the past as an instrument for thinking about the future of the Jewish people and what it means to be part of that collective.”

Had I read Naomi Alderman’s Disobedience before I wrote that, I would have written: I’ve found it. This is exactly what I mean.

Disobedience presents us with the most intriguing, unusual, and complex love triangle I’ve seen in contemporary fiction for quite some time. Rabbi Krushka, the spiritual leader of a small, straight-laced, insular, and conventional Orthodox community in London’s Hendon neighborhood, has passed on. He groomed as his successor his nephew, Dovid, but Dovid lacks his uncle’s charisma and native wisdom. Even worse, Dovid is married to Esti, a woman known for her long silences. She doesn’t mix much with the community’s women, she’s born no children, and everyone thinks that she’s more than a tad weird.

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Watzman on Jewish Literature

Haim Watzman

What should Jewish literature try to achieve? My essay in the current issue of The Jewish Chronicle of London offers some thoughts on the subject:

A wistful passage from the final chapter of the Mishnah’s Sotah tractate states, in poetic Hebrew: Nifteru ziknei Yerushalayim ve-halchu lahen. In more prosaic English, it might be rendered: “The elders of Jerusalem got up and left.” The departure of the elders of Jerusalem, when examined in the context of this hauntingly literary tractate, signifies the relationship to past, present, and future that I seek in Jewish literature.

A nation with a past as rich and traumatic as ours, and with a present as complicated and diverse, offers the Jewish writer a plethora of material. And we have many talented and imaginative writers. Why is it, then, that I often feel something important is missing when I pick up the latest Holocaust fiction (say Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated) or novel of contemporary Tel Aviv (say Yael Hedaya’s Accidents)? What is the thing I seek but do not find in most Jewish memoirs (say Lucette Lagnado’s The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit), in the tales of Israeli encounters with Arabs, in the soldiers’ memoirs and war stories (say Yossi Cedar’s film Beaufort, based on Ron Leshem’s novel)?

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