‘Jerusalem, In the Footsteps of Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness’

Kroyanker’s latest Hebrew language offering feeds off all sorts of thematic strands and takes on life, architecture, urban ambiance and, in particular, literary content.

Jerusalem shows support to the entire people of Israel with the flag displayed on the Old City Walls on Thursday March 19 2020  (photo credit: ARNON BOSSANI)
Jerusalem shows support to the entire people of Israel with the flag displayed on the Old City Walls on Thursday March 19 2020
(photo credit: ARNON BOSSANI)
Aesthetics are important to David Kroyanker. No surprise there. That is a given for anyone who spent more than half a century as a top professional in architectural and town planning and who has authored umpteen tomes on those disciplines, particularly when the home base is Jerusalem.
Kroyanker’s latest Hebrew language offering feeds off all sorts of thematic strands and takes on life, architecture, urban ambiance and, in particular, literary content. The title of the book says it all – Jerusalem, In the Footsteps of Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness. The latter refers to Oz’s autobiographical masterpiece, which came out in 2002, more than 17 years before the Kroyanker work saw the light of day.
The author of the new release feels it was high time someone looked at the street level circumstances of, according to 80-year-old Kroyanker, the best-selling work of Israeli literature ever, which has been translated into more than 50 languages. “Everyone, all the time, relates to Oz’s personal and family tragedy, and all the rest that goes with that. And rightly so,” he notes.  “It is a biography of a tragedy. But, I say, the book is more than a biography of a tragedy. First of all, there is the urban, architectural backdrop of the place where the events took place. We need to ask: where did it take place? Where did it happen? – the sense of place and time. That is the most important thing.”
Then again, Kroyanker is not pushing the structural environs at all costs. “There is the townscape, but there is the period when it all happened – the time of the British Mandate, the beginning of the state, the financial straits and budgeting, and a country striving for independence. All that is a very important part of the book. It is as if all of that escaped the attention of the reviewers [of Oz’s book]. I am very surprised by that.”
Kroyanker has an almost umbilicate relationship with Jerusalem. He was born there and is one of its most illustrious sons. After studying architecture in London, he returned to Israel to take up a position with one of the country’s most prestigious architectural firms led by Israel Prize laureate architect David Resnick. In the 1970s, Kroyanker served on the team that planned a makeover for downtown Jerusalem, and subsequently worked with the Jerusalem Municipality.
Despite relocating to Tel Aviv eight years ago – primarily to be near his daughters and grandchildren – Jerusalem, its streets and buildings are clearly dear to Kroyanker’s heart. He has an intimate knowledge of the city’s high streets and alleyways, and a penchant for honing in on the finer architectural details. All of that patently comes across in the writing and, particularly, in the fetching illustrations dotted throughout the 300-plus pager.
The author uses his keen seasoned eye, professional upbringing and love of visual minutiae to convey cultural and sociopolitical subtexts that have sequined Jerusalem folklore for centuries. The first part of the book, along Highway 1, includes a sketch of a seemingly mundane iron shutter. The aesthetic interest factor is appreciably upped by the illustrative close-up of the shutter stopper, which appears to be a definitively unremarkable and downright functional piece of engineering. That, Kroyanker delightfully explains, is down to religious considerations.
“As far as I am concerned, God is to be found in the finer details, and the finer details say a lot. It explains why they don’t use the figure of the ‘mentschelach’ in religious neighborhoods [of Jerusalem],” he notes, referencing the classic French lady stopper, which has its roots in Normandy. “They don’t use the ‘mentschelach’ because that is a human figure, which is prohibited in Judaism.”
In the Footsteps of Amos Oz takes us along numerous trails around the city, based on five routes. The first follows Oz’s years in Jerusalem, from the modest two-room apartment he shared with his parents in Kerem Avraham, near the now haredi (ultra-Orthodox) district of Geula. Kroyanker takes us from the former British garrison Schneller compound through to Bikur Cholim Hospital, on Strauss Street in the city center.
We then proceed from the Jaffa Road-Strauss Street junction up King George Street to Ben Maimon Boulevard in leafy upper-middle class Rehavia. Herein lies one of several common denominators between the author and Oz. “My biography is similar to that of Amos Oz – not so much in the details, but in general,” Kroyanker explains. “I was also an orphan. My father died when I was around five and half-six years old.” Oz’s mother committed suicide when he was a child. “I also come from a similar educational-cultural background as Amos Oz’s parents – the central European culture, German, Western European education. And we were the same age. He was born in May 1939 and I was born a month later.
“We both grew up in Mandatory Palestine, and we were both only children. A lot of children born around that time did not have siblings, because of the war.” There is a complementary element to the Kroyanker-Oz equation. “I lived in Rehavia, and Oz’s parents, like many others from the lower-middle classes, aspired to that neighborhood.”
Common ground notwithstanding, there are also numerous oxymoronic juxtapositions between author and subject. “There are lots of contrasts in the book – between Rehavia and Kerem Avraham, and between the Jerusalem of pining and the reality of Jerusalem. Oz also compares Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. He says that people walk around Jerusalem as if they were attending a funeral while, in Tel Aviv, people dance and go to bars.”
As is his wont, Kroyanker has produced a fine looking offering, both in terms of its research-based literary content, and the many illuminating maps and eye-catching illustrations. He manages to provide an overview of Jerusalem, in geographic, historical and sociopolitical terms, while zooming into some of the charming visual gems to be found around the capital.
Kroyanker says that, even with his decades of intimate relationship with the city, his work on the Oz-based book brought him even closer to the urban raw material. “Today, when I see rust I understand something deeper. When I see a cypress I understand the tree’s symbolism better. It’s not that I didn’t understand that beforehand, but when you slot something into a frame it all becomes clearer.”
It is safe to say that perusing the contents of Jerusalem, In the Footsteps of Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness will provide the reader with some of that insight into the temporal and human innards of the city.
Hopefully, when the current pandemic eventually passes the Jerusalem Institute will continue running tours around Jerusalem that follow the five routes in the book. And there are also plans to have the book translated into English and German.
JERUSALEM, IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF AMOS OZ, A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS
By David Kroyanker
Keter Publishing
345 pages; NIS 168