Writing, memory, vision
What shall we do with all our memories?
Better they should rest in peace, for our own good.
But let the silent arise and come
And the expelled and those who preside over exile, let them come.
And those who missed their chance, let them come too.
And the abandoned will be taken care of and the rejected remembered.
I am the witness, unfortunately. I and no one else.
Translated by Esther Cameron
The Fifth Kisufim Conference is a wonder. Despite the objective conditions, despite the obstacles that stood in our way, it takes place. What should be taken for granted, the gathering and meeting of Jewish intellectuals from various fields, from literature, theater, cinema and art, in Jerusalem to talk and write about the meaning of being Jewish writers at this time, is not yet obvious. Therefore, I see this gathering and the act that is shared today by Noam Semel as the conference chair, Michal Nakar and the Shazar center, Shai Lavi and the Van Leer Institute, members of the steering committee and the artistic committee, as partners in reflective and cultural avant-garde. Perhaps our difficulty in taking for granted is due to the fact that the message was not internalized. Israeli literature and Hebrew culture are rooted deep in the continuous and broken past of the Jewish people. And as the State of Israel and Israeli society cannot be seen without the Jewish people, Hebrew literature written here and now, without discourse and connection with the literature and works written by Jews, in their tongues, should not be seen as part of an ongoing discourse. Part of the incessant correspondence since the destruction of the Second Temple and the dispersal of the Jewish people in the Diaspora. Part of the Mishnaic, Talmudic, Rabbinical, Jewish occult and philosophical discourse of the generations.
The gathering for the fifth “Kisufim” conference is for a conversation around a subject undermining the writing of the last three generations. The need to write not the biographical, personal memory, but the memory of the silent or the dead. Silent due to that war, or because of the immigration wounds. The need to write as an act of resistance to denial and forgetfulness. The need to write to the historical depth of language, and from there to see beyond the horizon of human life, towards the horizon of our children and grandchildren with a sense of responsibility that the written word directs and protect.
The late Aharon Appelfeld was president of the Kissufim Conference three times, he was a source of inspiration, vision and a special connection to the world writers. I miss him very much in the preparations for the fifth conference, and I shall miss him in the future. In his book “A Life Story” he writes:
By the time we arrived in Israel, we had oblivion was already fortified in our souls. In this respect, the country was a kind of continuation of Italy. Oblivion has found fertile ground here. Certainly, the ideology of those years was useful for this entrenchment, but the order to entrench did not come from the outside. Occasionally, episodes of the war would infiltrate from the fortified basements, demanding a right of subsistence. They could not undermine the pillars of oblivion and the will of life, and life then said: Forget, assimilate. The kibbutzim and farms were wonderful greenhouses for oblivion. … I have been in a coma of oblivion for many years. My life flowed on the surface. I got used to the stuffy basements. True, I was always afraid of the eruption… Indeed, such eruptions sometimes occurred, but the forces of repression inhibited them, and the basements were put on lock and bolt. … The memory and forgetfulness, a sense of chaos and helplessness, and the desire for a meaningful life… These pages are a description of a struggle, to use Kafka’s language, and in this struggle all parts of the soul take part.
The struggle for memory and inheritance and continuity, for knowledge and interpretation, is the ancient motivation since the broken and second tablets of Moses, the words of the prophets, the written Torah that gave birth to the Oral Torah that never ceases to be written to this day. The concept of remembrance accompanies the Jewish people from the moment that they began to be aware that they are a people, and the people have a story starting with the command to “Remember” the Sabbath and keep it holy (Exodus 20: 8) and the decree to remember the time of being slaves in Egypt (Deut. 5: 14) for without the decree to remember the time of our slavery, it could have been considered an irrelevant time, a time before we were a people, before there was a story. The days of slavery could have been erased. But the memory and the moral message that follows, they who walk with us, are the imperative of the people of Israel, “And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt.” It turns out that for the people of Israel, memory has a binding meaning. And to write, it is to remember and bequeath.
After Auschwitz, we cannot continue to look as bystanders” (Ephraim Meir, Memoir, p. 18, Resling Publishing). We cannot forget how we got there, nor the silence of the world. Since then, we are commanded more than ever to remember, to testify and to write what we see as a decree: remember and write. Because writing is the responsibility of the witnesses for their time, and memory is the personal and collective subconscious responsible for the Jewish story to continue from the past into the future in a multitude of voices, languages and places. The fact that we meet here in Jerusalem for a conversation is in itself a testament to the need and responsibility that we took upon ourselves to continue the conversation and to include Moses and Jeremiah the prophet and Deborah the prophetess, Spinoza and Bialik and Tchernichovsky and Shai Agnon and Beshevis Singer and Hannah Arendt and Rachel Morfogo and Kafka and Rachel and Leah Goldberg and Haim Goury and Tuvia Rivner and Yona Wallach and Yehuda Amichai and Aaron Appelfeld and Amos Oz, a continuous conversation from a conception of succession.
In various ways, we endeavored to include writers and poets in the conference who are part of the twenty-first century Jewish place, language, or story. One of the sessions is a tribute to Eli Wiesel, the Nobel laureate for literature, who is like Imre Kertész and Primo Levi and Paul Celan and Abba Kovner, Aaron Appelfeld and Dan Paggis. Elie Wiesel and survivor writers who left us clear and painful and accurate testimony more than a heart surgeon’s knife. About life in Europe under Nazi rule, in ghettos in trains and concentration camps until the mouths of gas chambers. They left us the scar that we shall bear to the end of human and Jewish history.
Nava Semel, a 1954-born novelist who passed away in December 2017, expressed in her book “The Glass Hat” 1985, her experience as a daughter of Holocaust survivors and formulated the term “Second Generation of Holocaust Survivors,” in which she well portrayed and phrased the experience of survivors’ children as partners in their parents’ conspiracy of silence and as suckling their experiences and anxieties from their parents’ experiences during the Holocaust. The 1950s generation shares the feeling that there was no language to describe what their parents heard or what happened at home. And sometimes our parents did not see themselves as Holocaust survivors, or did not define themselves as survivors because they were deported, though hungry, though they fled but were not in Auschwitz. If so, what were they? Perhaps the conversation will undermine the very existence of a common definition of the second generation, born in the 1940s and 1950s. Aya Elia, who runs the Nava Semel Archive, will discuss the issue of identity and writing, the memory undermining the memory with Noga Albalach who recently wrote a book about her father, an immigrant from Bulgaria, the only Balkan state whose Jews have survived and immigrated illegally. Does the second generation of Bulgarian Jews have a consciousness of survivors? Compared to the second generation of Hungarian Jews such as Prof. Yigal Schwartz researcher and author, editor and publisher Agi Meshul, poet, and Mirel Talosz writer and Romanian scholar.
A Mediterranean Serenade
The theme permeating the conference as a recurrent motif is the issue of the place of the East in Israeli culture. Our place in the Middle East between countries and culture and Arabic language. The repressed identity that has erupted in recent years from third generation members. Haviva Pedaya, a poet, writer and researcher is among the leaders of the movement, even formulating it, on a panel together with Yossi Sucary the philosopher and writer and native of Tripoli origin, whose book Amzeleg, creates a character defining itself as a Mediterranean and acts out of this identity. Valérie Zenatti, a writer and translator born in France of Algerian origin, in her book Jacob, Jacob, is searching for the roots of her father in Algeria and revealing a world that is gone. Rahamim Zini, the minstrel sings Algerian-style poems.
The Invisible Balkan
A topic that relates to these two issues is “The invisible Balkans”. This is a conversation with Balkan creators testifying about countries like Slovenia, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia or Bulgaria that since World War II, have been emptied from the Jews and those who remained were part of the Communist world and what followed. How do you make an absentee present? Because of the almost complete annihilation of Sephardy Judaism, and its relative absence from Israeli society, the conversation will be with the Israeli Ambassador to Macedonia and the Balkans, Dan Orian, with the historian Moshe Mosek, Bulgaria’s expert, Noga Elbalach, daughter of Shlomo Albalach, author of the Bulgarian-Hebrew dictionary, Barbara Pogačnik, the poet, Entela Kasi of Albania and Kari Klamela, publisher and translator from Finnish living in Slovenia.
The Polish Connection
You were spared not to live, your time is short, you should testify
Thanks to Noam Semel, chairman of the conference and head of the Hanoch Levin Hebrew Theater Institute, this time there is a theater presence, and he is chairing a special session attended by Tadeusz Słobodzianek, a playwright who heads the Teatr Dramatyczny, the Warsaw Theater and Playwriting Laboratory. His play “Our Class” comes out against the foundations of Polish society, the Catholic Church and the Polish society that conceals the horrible secret of burning Jews in a barn in a village, and is a test case for the role of the theater in raising moral issues. The play is based on an event that took place in the town of Jedwabna, eastern Poland, on July 10, 1941, when Polish catholic neighbors burst into the homes of the Jews, who grew up with them from childhood, carrying them with ropes to a grain barn and setting fire to 1,600 people. Słobodzianek raises the issue of Polish society’s cooperation with the Nazis and the Catholic Church’s part in the murder of Jews. Noam Semel will talk to Słobodzianek, Hanan Snir the director and commentator of the play, and historian Hannah Jablonka.
1939-2019 Eighty years have passed since the outbreak of World War II and the destruction of European Jewry, and Israeli and Jewish creation in various languages continues to deal with the past and with its ability to contain it without denying and asking what it requires of us.
“What’s going on behind this door? / The pages of the book are torn down / What is the story of the book? / Awakening to the cry”
Edmund Jabs, Question Book.