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Aharon Appelfeld’s Jewish Values and His Literary Style

Jan. 19 2018

On January 4, the acclaimed Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld died at the age of eighty-five. Jeffrey M. Green, who translated several of Appelfeld’s works into English, reflects on the man and his work.

Many of Aharon’s characters are assimilated Jews of his parents’ generation who are unable to draw upon their Jewish roots but also unable to live comfortably in the Gentile world. Ironically (and Aharon was a master of irony), these people are often linked to their Judaism by Gentile women, servants in Jewish homes who have imbibed Jewish values. For Aharon, Jewish values are synonymous with human values. The only thoroughly Jewish characters in his fictional world are those of his grandparents’ generation, the pious parents of the confused assimilated Jews, observant old people living in villages high in the Carpathians, surrounded by forests, close to God and to nature, at peace with their Gentile neighbors, and silent. These mountain Jews no longer exist, and only through Aharon’s visions of them can we know them. . . .

His style is deceptively simple, and one must read him very closely to avoid overlooking its special flavor. He wrote short sentences and avoided unusual words. His Hebrew almost never resonates with biblical or rabbinical overtones. The only way in which his style might be called biblical is in its sparseness. He scrupulously avoided writing superfluous words. . . .

He was [also] a devoted husband and father, a man who lived in contemporary Israel, who traveled to Europe and the United States, and who had political opinions, none of which appear directly in his work. Shallow critics reproached him for that. He dismissed such criticism with impatient annoyance and continued to write exactly the way he wanted to write. As he said to me more than once, people who want literature to be journalism simply don’t understand what literature is.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Aharon Appelfeld, Arts & Culture, Hebrew literature, Israeli literature

Mahmoud Abbas Comes to the UN to Walk away from the Negotiating Table

Feb. 22 2018

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed the United Nations Security Council during one of its regular discussions of the “Palestine question.” He used the opportunity to elaborate on the Palestinians’ “5,000-year history” in the land of Israel, after which he moved on to demand—among other things—that the U.S. reverse its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The editors of the Weekly Standard comment:

It’s convenient for Abbas to suggest a condition to which he knows the United States won’t accede. It allows him to do what he does best—walk away from the table. Which is what he did on Tuesday, literally. After his speech, Abbas and his coterie of bureaucrats walked out of the council chamber, snubbing the next two speakers, the Israeli ambassador Danny Danon and the U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley, . . . [in order to have his] photograph taken with the Belgian foreign minister.

Abbas has neither the power nor the will to make peace. It’s the perennial problem afflicting Palestinian leadership. If he compromises on the alleged “right of return”—the chimerical idea that Palestinians can re-occupy the lands from which they [or their ancestors] fled, in effect obliterating the Israeli state—he will be deposed by political adversaries. Thus his contradictory strategy: to prolong his pageantry in international forums such as the UN, and to fashion himself a “moderate” even as he finances and incites terror. He seems to believe time is on his side. But it’s not. He’s eighty-two. While he continues his performative intransigence, he further immiserates the people he claims to represent.

In a sense, it was entirely appropriate that Abbas walked out. In that sullen act, he [exemplified] his own approach to peacemaking: when difficulties arise, vacate the premises and seek out photographers.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Mahmoud Abbas, Nikki Haley, Politics & Current Affairs, United Nations