Israel’s thriving literary culture now encompasses a sizable number of talented expatriate writers, some of whom have made no secret of their lack of interest in returning to Israel. This phenomenon reanimates old questions about the meaning of Jewish culture, Beth Kissileff writes:
As Hillel Halkin—an American-born writer, translator, and critic who has been living in Israel for over 40 years—told me, the tradition of the literary expatriate is long and distinguished, including luminaries like James Joyce, Marguerite Yourcenar, and Samuel Beckett. The difference, however, is that “no one in France gets upset” because Yourcenar decamped from her native Belgium to live most of her life in Maine. But where a writer lives, Halkin noted, is still “an issue in Israel in a way it isn’t in other countries.”
It’s an issue because of a simple question: What is the revival of the Hebrew language for? Is it cultural or territorial? The resurrection of Hebrew as a living spoken and written language was essential to the Zionist movement; and since the establishment of the state of Israel, the majority of Hebrew literature has been written with the intention of contributing to the culture of the new Jewish state. Now, for many different reasons, a younger generation is choosing to live and write outside Israel while still making a contribution to Hebrew culture. What the ultimate outcome of these attempts will be, and whether it is good or bad for Israel, Zionism, and Hebrew literature in general, remains unknown.