Hebrew Hear-Say: Stranger than fiction

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June 11, 2009 16:45
3 minute read.

 
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Israel is celebrating one of its best inventions: Hebrew Book Week (Shavua Hasefer Ha'ivri). Actually, the week has become 10 days in recent years, and I have heard it increasingly being referred to as Hag Hasefer Ha'ivri - Hebrew Book Holiday, the term in itself being something to celebrate. Whatever you call it, it is to Israel what apple pie is to America, and less fattening. Am hasefer - the People of the Book - are living proof that even in the age of Kindle, there is a place for the written word - and that place is on the bookshelf (madaf sfarim, sifriya). But even before that, it is in town squares (kikarot) and large public parks (ganim tzibori'im) across the country where huge stands are established and books sold at discounted prices. Publishing companies (hotza'a l'or) and bookstores (hanuyot sfarim) start preparing for the event months in advance. Apart from anything else, there is more to putting out books than writing (ktiva), editing (ariha), illustrating (iyur) and printing (hadpasa). Without public relations (yahasei tzibbur) a book won't even reach the shelf, let alone jump off it. Ahead of Book Week I heard one publisher estimate that a book is born here every hour. Mark my words, without a concerted PR effort, you don't get to hear of most of them, which is a pity. One Israeli writer who has himself this year been the object of the written word (mila ktuva) is Amos Oz, celebrating his 70th birthday with public events from his modest desert hometown of Arad (a voice in the wilderness?) to grander readings in the center of the country. You can read into his popularity what you will - he has certainly never hidden his leftist views between the lines (bayn hashurot) - but you cannot ignore him. Another benchmark in Hebrew publications this year, noted one Israel Radio interviewee (and the number of programs and articles dedicated to Book Week is a story in itself), is the Yediot Aharonot and Am Hasefer series dedicated to bringing Hebrew sources into the home of the average family. The wide-ranging project runs from The Book (Tanach) to the Zohar, prayer books for festivals, Talmud, books on philosophy and important Hebrew-languange writers such as S.Y. Agnon and Leah Goldberg. The welcome aim is to allow every family to buy the basics (the price is subsidized) because the soul still needs feeding, even in a recession. On Shavuot, I dipped into the Pirkei Avot by the Hebrew University's Avigdor Shinan (published in the series along with the Avi Chai foundation) which promises, and delivers, "a new Israeli commentary." It was a great reminder that the font/fount of Hebrew wisdom does not begin and end with Hillel's "Im ein ani li, mi li" (If I am not for myself, who is for me?") which seems to be the best-known saying, any more than "Israeli" literature starts and ends with the magic of Oz. It only goes to prove the enduring relevance of the advice: "Al tistaklu bakankan ela be'ma sheyesh bo" (don't look at the jug but at what's in it), or as we might say in English: "Don't judge a book by its cover." Another personal discovery this year was the Time Tunnel (Minheret Hazman) series by children's author Galila Ron-Feder-Amit. A phenomenon "in her own write," apart from producing a prolific number of books, Ron-Feder-Amit also spent several years as a foster mother to 10 children. She truly deserves the prizes she has received. The Time Tunnel has become a way of life for my second-grader who has traveled through it to relive events ranging from the Dreyfus Trial (Mishpat Dreyfus) to the UN vote on the partition plan on Kaf tet be'November (November 29), the siege on Jerusalem (Yerushalyim ba'matzor) and the arrest of the Nili spies (Hameraglim mekvutzat Nili). If you want to catch up on the major events of Jewish and Israeli history in easy Hebrew, you could do worse than take a trip along with the hero and heroine - although it is sometimes humbling to find events from your own lifetime considered as history, Operation Entebbe (Mivtza Entebbe) and Operation Spring of Youth (Mivtza Aviv Neurim), for example. Thanks to writers like Ron-Feder-Amit another generation is willing to leave the computer long enough to make sure the book market does not come crashing down. I love a sof tov - a happy ending. liat@jpost.com

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