Amnon Rubinstein is a unique Israeli phenomenon: an outstanding law professor, a solemn broad-minded journalist and, for quite a period of time, a practicing liberal politician. He was not born to be content with these unblemished intellectual achievements. An urge to explore the short story has produced a collection of 18 tales, some intriguing and blessed with creative narratives, and some not entirely ripe.
Rubinstein's extensive mental pursuits are clearly evident in his tales. And yet, most of the stories rely on classical themes - the irresistible erotic desire and its frustrations and jealousy in its various shades. But even while using traditional themes, Rubinstein has introduced some new landscapes, modern perceptions and terminology and several novel stylistic twists. Of the 18 tales, five or six are definitely absorbing.
Take for example "Separate Entrance" - the opening story - or "Art," "Forbidden Love" and "High Holy Days." The first, also published in English in The Jerusalem Post on April 14, appears to be based on Rubinstein's wide legal and liberal political experience; he could not have created a more authentic moral dilemma. We get to know a progressive liberal woman called Rosa who rents a room to an Arab medical student. She tells the Arab that she considers him first a human being, then an Israeli and only ultimately as an Arab. That sounds fair, at least in theory.
But as a welcoming gesture, she arranged a separate entrance to the student's room so that nobody would see him coming or going. At the beginning, she tells him to disregard the "neighbors." Then her sister comes to visit. The sister is also supposedly a liberal and a peace devotee, but that is hardly relevant in real life. All of Rosa's neighbors sooner or later begin boycotting her because she has let an Arab reside in the house. In the inevitable conflict between Rosa's principles and her neighbors, their constraints have the upper hand. The outcome is sad - the Arab student decides he has to leave his room, humiliated and despondent. Rosa feels dejected and mortified. How could she have committed such a disgraceful act of submission to this racist pressure?
Hurt and regretful, Rosa wants to regain the pleasant past, but the student won't come back. She feels she is the loser.
"Art," "Forbidden Love" and "High Holy Days" are evidence that Rubinstein is capable of writing modern love stories using the lavish potential of modern language and bold ideas. "Forbidden Love" presents a rather rare story of a 50-year-old professor of literature who finds herself drawn first into a literary dialogue with an odd young student and then into his arms. As things get more and more complicated, the rector of the university talks to the professor and makes it clear that her friendly student will have to stop attending her lectures. This idea, however, is totally rejected by the student, although his continued attendance would mean the lectures' cancellation altogether.
"Art" might have been constructed on the basis of the author's academic experience, but not necessarily so. Art was a brilliant lecturer on Hebrew literature at Tel Aviv University. His students were all hypnotized by his lectures, but a young student whose name was Clara and the student (who tells the story) had managed to establish special relations among the three of them. Admiring Art was the initial common ground for Clara and her colleague student. In the course of these relationships the two students were not only attracted by Art's literary proficiency but also by his power to intrigue Clara.
Rubinstein's portrayal of Art reveals how far he could be drawn to sophistication. Art, it seems, was not really in love with Clara. He was in love with the literary construction that the young student - Clara - prefers being in love with the old professor rather than falling in love with the young male student. Rubinstein's world is liberal and tolerant, though not bereft of dilemmas. This is reflected in his writing.
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