On Lovable Old Coots and “a kind of infection” Called Love

A Birthday Tribute to an Inquisitive Storyteller

Book cover "Juden und Worte" with a picture two armchairs

Book cover of the German edition of “Jews and Words”
© Jüdischer Verlag im Suhrkamp Verlag

On the occasion of his 75th birthday on 4 May, we wish to congratulate Amos Oz, a great writer who visited the Jewish Museum Berlin no less than twice last year. The award-winning Israeli author—he has received, inter alia, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (1992) and, more recently, the Franz Kafka Prize for Literature (2013)—and his daughter, the historian Fania Oz-Salzberger, presented their jointly written book Jews and Words (2012) here last October. In four highly entertaining chapters, “secular Jewish Israelis” draw on the genealogy of reading and writing to trace historical continuity in Jewish traditions. They ask which female poet may have penned the Song of Solomon, reflect on other “vocal women,” and philosophize on matters such as the importance of time and the interplay of collectivism and individuality.

A house between trees

Building in a real kibbutz, photo: Mirjam Bitter
Creative Commons License

In March 2013, Amos Oz paid a visit to the Museum wearing his literary author’s hat, so to speak, to present his latest publication Between Friends (2013, Hebr. original Be’in Khaverim 2012). The eight interconnected short stories in the volume are set in the fictitious Kibbutz Yekhat and immediately attest the author’s familiarity with kibbutz life. Oz left his intellectual father’s home for a kibbutz at the age of fourteen and a half, and lived and worked there for three decades. His descriptions of typical kibbutz settings—the communal laundry, kitchen, and dining room, the cowsheds and chicken coops, huge orchards and swimming pool—instantly made me feel at home, too, since I lived for a while on a kibbutz in the late 1990s. Discussions at Yekhat about the children’s house, on the other hand, situate the action specifically in the 1950s, the Golden Age of kibbutzim.

The stories deal with the universal constants of human nature: love, loneliness, and the struggle to make major decisions in life.  continue reading


Israeli Pop Culture in the Hessian Countryside

When German friends of mine choose to move from Darmstadt, in Hesse, into the surrounding countryside, I shake my head in disbelief. That an Israeli family would leave Tel Aviv not, as many Israelis do, to move to Berlin (see the German-language blog post offering ten tips for Israelis in Berlin), but rather to the tiny Hessian town of Niederbrechen, seems audacious, if not outright absurd. This scenario, however, is the starting point of Sarah Diehl’s debut novel Eskimo Limon 9. The novel depicts a “very particular kind of culture clash,” as the book’s flap announces.

Book cover © Atrium publishers

Book cover
© Atrium publishers

Some of the characters are Israelis, and they have little interest in discussing Germany’s past or the history of European Jews.

“The only thing in the Jewish Museum that will remind me of home will probably be the metal detector you have to go through at the entrance.”

The novel’s Israeli father Chen wishes Germans “would associate us with Eskimo Limon instead of six million dead.” The title of the book refers to a film series of the same name, which aired in Germany in the 1980s as Eis am Stil (Popsicle), “one of the few Israeli pop culture phenomena […] familiar to German audiences.” Many assume that the series is Italian, which—as the author of the novel argues—shows how selective Germans’ perception of Israel can be, and how limited their idea of Jewishness often is.

Other characters are natives of Niederbrechen.  continue reading


Only Linguistic Morons?

On Behind-the-scenes Labor in the Cultural Economy

A poster with the quotation of Saramago and a picture of a boat

“Translators create universal literature.” José Saramago, Nobel Prize Winner for Literature 1998
© VdÜ (Germany’s Union of Literary Translators), design: Christian Hoffmann

Today is Giornata mondiale della traduzione, Międzynarodowy Dzień Tłumacza, Journée mondiale de la traduction, Uluslararası Çeviri Günü or Día Internacional de la Traducción—which is to say, International Translation Day, an occasion established in 1991 by the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (FIT: International Federation of Translators) in order to raise public awareness of the cultural impact of the wordsmith’s trade. 30 September is the anniversary of the death in 420 CE of Hieronymus, who translated the Hebrew Bible into Latin. Since ancient times translation has influenced the target language in question, and in the globally networked world of today it is our constant companion. Germany’s Union of Literary Translators (VdÜ) puts it in a nutshell: “Wherever words have been spoken, written, read, or even sung, translators have had a finger in the pie, and indeed they still do; and it is thanks to them that the whole world is at home in its own language.”  continue reading