A Literary Glimpse at Orthodox Jerusalem on the Eve of Sukkot, from an Overlooked Hebrew Author

Sept. 26 2018

Haim Be’er, born in the ḥaredi G’ulah neighborhood of Jerusalem in 1945, is a prolific author of novels, personal essays, and literary criticism. (Most of his work has never been rendered into English, one notable exception being his novel Feathers, translated by Hillel Halkin.) In general,  notes Jeffrey Saks in a brief essay, Be’er’s writing is deeply informed by his religious upbringing. Much of it also bespeaks the influence of the great Hebrew author S.Y. Agnon, who appears briefly in this reminiscence by Be’er of his native city on the eve of the Sukkot festival. Herewith, the opening paragraphs:

One late afternoon between Yom Kippur and Sukkot 1963 I stood in the dark recesses of Jerusalem’s Ohr bookshop, a treasure house of old and antique holy texts. The delightful aroma that wafted off the etrogs, precisely as described in a story by S.Y. Agnon, obliterated the mustiness of the old books, most of which had come from the homes of poor folks. I inspected the recent acquisitions [by] the . . .bookseller, Rabbi Avrum Rubinstein, from the estate of a Torah scholar recently departed to eternal rest. That dead man’s sons, who had strayed from the traditions of their father and had no need for his library of rare and valuable volumes, sold them to the bookseller for a pittance.

The small shop, located at the end of Meah Shearim Street, had been well known to me since the time I had begun my hunting expeditions in search of coveted books. It was here that I once passed a test posed to me by the bookseller. He showed me a large stack of old tomes, including entire anthologies of Hebrew poetry from Yemen, and said that if I succeeded in identifying the most valuable book in the lot I would receive it as a gift.

It was also in this shop that I met Hebrew literature’s most famous author, Agnon, for the first and only time. To my embarrassment I did not recognize him, mistaking him for a retired Galician businessman who had taken up book collecting in old age. He asked what family I came from. As I offered up my family tree stretching back seven generations, like a peddler laying out his wares, Agnon suppressed a smile and said, “You only know that far back? A person ought to know who his ancestors are going back to Adam in Eden.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arts & Culture, Hebrew literature, Jerusalem, S. Y. Agnon, Sukkot

Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship