When I opened The Jerusalem Post on June 9 and saw the headline “Writer Yoram
Kaniuk succumbs to cancer at 83,” a memory came flooding back concerning this
iconoclastic, stubbornly individualistic winner of literature awards and honors
who has been measured against Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Fyodor Dostoyevsky;
whom Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat called one of the greatest authors
of our time, “helping with his books to create the Israeli ethos.”
in 1997, when I was the Post’s opinion editor, I received a letter in English
from Kaniuk which – its errors of spelling, grammar and syntax notwithstanding –
may deserve a place among his work.
What emerged from the letter –
passionately confirmed by the writer in a subsequent telephone conversation –
was his tremendous admiration for the English language, and for this newspaper
and its unique place in Israeli culture. He longed to appear in the Post
pages. Alas, his mastery of English was inadequate.
I was sufficiently
impressed, and touched, by Kaniuk’s letter to have kept it all these years, and
reproduce it here, intact, without correction.
I so wanted
to write for the Post, many reasons, hard to explain, I started not long ago to
get the Post in the morning, and yet, my efforts are in vain. I am not a writer
who can put his words together as the logic dictate. I must be free, run, go in
and out, invent while writing, get my juggling that are hidden inside before
putting them in a cage of order. I can’t do it in English.
“I did not
come to the Post for lack of opportunities. I have just written an article for
, for which I got an invitation to write another, and $2,000. The
editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
is here now, asked for two
articles, many more in Denmark and France and lots of money. However, it is not
the same; articles in your page are read here, are part of the Israeli scene
BECAUSE they are written in this damned English that has words for almost
everything while Hebrew is scorching ice, is sculpturing in sand, or at most
chiseling in stone.
Hebrew is short, cruel, evasive, one word between
love and hate, yet that what I know to do, to scorch my name on a soup [soap]
bubble for its eternity in my cursed Hebrew.
“So I am sitting for the
last few days, trying to write for you, get mingled in the web I have woven all
by myself, seeing only glimpse of light after crawling in the dark of word
searching, meaning alluding, ass paining and seeing no miracle.
doom to be a Hebrew writer, to hope that my translations can do better than what
I have written, and my dream of being one of your columnist, even for no money –
since I was never offered any – is not possible.
“In English, I see
between the words, I can’t emerge from them, or merge into them. It is very sad
for me since I like to be in a paper that is a foreign territory within this
culture, since I have always felt [myself] to be an outsider.
for the Post
, which doesn’t try, as Hebrew papers do, to be American but to be
HEBREW IN ENGLISH, which is just where I like myself to be. A stranger in my own
house, which is more the house than the houses which aimed at being like
Hollywood – which as you probably know, is a story of uprooted Jews from eastern
Europe who were not fitted for Anglo-America, went to the west, invented an
America of dreams, dreams of glory from Warsaw and Lvov, which later shaped
America in their vision.
“America today is a country invented by pipe
dreams of East European Jews and Israel is now trying to copy the choppy copy,
so I thought that you are nearer to the core, you are what a North African Jew
think Begin was – a Moroccan Jew born in Warsaw. You are the last Zionists,
which I still think was great, yet when writing in BIBILAND and in his American
Hebrew, I feel as if it was lost forever. In English the story of this culture
still sound like Hebrew culture, not yallah buy! “So I fail. I am so sorry. This
paper, I remember, The Palestine Post, which I am so proud that until today the
official name remain so: The Palestine Post. This paper has made it for many
years without me, so another 50 without me will not be too hard to take, but for
me is another dream shutter [shattered]. I can’t be a stranger writing in a
strange languish about the CHELM I was born in while thinking with the now
subversive Hebrew culture which you might be the last to be guarding, in
“Thank you for your patient, and all my best."