The Hermit of Oliphant — Dvora Baron

Haim Watzman

From Nextbook:

In “The Thorny Path,” the first story I ever read by Dvora Baron, a paralyzed woman lies propped up in bed before the display window of her husband’s photography studio in their Eastern European village. I read the story in 1981, two years after I moved to Israel. My Hebrew was weak, and I struggled with the early-twentieth-century prose of novelists like Micha Yosef Berdischevsky, Uri Nisan Gnessin, Yosef Haim Brenner, and Shmuel Yosef Agnon. At the time, none of them left a particular impression, except Baron, who conjured a protagonist, trapped in bed, looking out on a world she cannot join. It made for a haunting image.

Mousha’s paralysis has doomed her to experience the circle—as she calls the small radius of her sight—as if it were one of Nahum’s photos. The story takes place during the summer:

The doors in the houses of the “circle” have been opened, and the daily activities . . . have been moved out to the doorsteps. In the tavern across the street, the proprietress, Lipsha, chopped sorrel leaves on the kitchen steps . . . and Heniah Levin, dark and delicate, peeked from time to time at the fabric store, where her handsome husband, the city boy, worked.

A quarter of a century ago, I did not know that Mousha’s creator observed the world in much the same way. The only woman to be accepted into the canon of early-twentieth-century Hebrew literature and a central figure in the modern Hebrew literary renaissance and the literary life of Tel Aviv, Baron spent her last thirty-three years as a recluse. Until her death in 1956, she observed life from the window of her tiny apartment on Oliphant Street, around the corner from then-fading (now café-lined) Shenkin Street.

Read the rest on Nextbook

Read “The Thorny Path” on Nextbook

More links:

Buy Intimations of Difference by Sheila Jelen

Buy Hebrew, Gender, and Modernity: Critical Responses to Dvora Baron’s Fiction (Studies & Texts in Jewish History & Culture), edited by Sheila Jelen and Shahar Pinsker, including Haim Watzman’s translation of Dvora Baron’s story “Transformations”

Hebrew, Gender, and Modernity: Critical Responses to Dvora Baron’s Fiction (Studies & Texts in Jewish History & Culture)