THE RABBIT HOLE: News and clues from the land of literature and culture

From Jabotinsky to Dafna Meir: What are the latest literary events sharing the spotlight?

A screenshot from the documentary ‘Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds,’ about the celebrated conductor Zubin Mehta (photo credit: COURTESY EPOS – THE INTERNATIONAL ART FILM FESTIVAL)
A screenshot from the documentary ‘Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds,’ about the celebrated conductor Zubin Mehta
Samson, a play, premiered on March 25 at the Jerusalem Theater (Hebrew).
Efim Rinenberg translated, adapted for the stage and directed Ze’ev Vladimir Jabotinsky’s novel Samson.
The historical novel – one of two penned by Jabotinsky – was written in Russian in 1927 after the Revisionist Zionist leader spent time in British Mandate Palestine. The plot shows the complexities and tensions Samson faced being part but not part both of the Jewish tribes and the Philistines, whom he admired. Samson is depicted as man ripped apart between poles – he is a Nazirite and a hedonist, warrior and artist, God-fearing and a martyr.
Even though the novel was translated from Russian into Hebrew many times before, the young director Rinenberg decided to take a stab at it as well. In a recent interview with Israel Hayom he explained that his gravitation towards Samson has to do with his own personal story of being torn between different worlds. Rinenberg immigrated to Israel from Georgia at a young age. In Israel, his parents became religious and made a home in the settlement of Ofra.
During high school he decided religiosity was not for him and switched schools to study in The High School for the Arts in Jerusalem.
“I became the bad lefty in Ofra and the bad settler in school,” he said in the interview, in which he also underlined that Jabotinsky is best known as a political leader and thinker, but that the novel is first and foremost a work of art dealing with pain, adolescence, betrayal, heroism and ethics.
The novel is far from being a masterpiece, but it has had some influence on Israeli literature and perhaps even on world literature. Peter Kriksonov, who published the most recent Hebrew translation of the novel in 2007 (Keter Publishing House) argues that Michael Bogakov was inspired by Samson when he described ancient Jerusalem in The Master and Margarita.
The internationally celebrated Italian novel My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante is coming to HBO and the Italian broadcaster RAI. The American and Italian production companies decided to adapt the four-volume “Neapolitan Novels” into a drama series in Italian.
HBO has committed so far only to the first season, however RAI assured commitment to a four-season engagement.
Despite the global fame of her books, there was a thick air of mystery about Ferrante, which is a pen name. Last year, an Italian investigative journalist identified Ferrante as Anita Raja, a literary translator from German to Italian, daughter of a Jewish Holocaust survivor.
Italian filmmaker Saverio Costanzo will direct the production. He said in a recent Variety interview that he corresponded with the author, but that he is more interested in Ferrante’s literary work than in focusing on who she is.
“Elena Ferrante has managed to tell in the first person things that are very intimate, risky, that we all feel but that you need plenty of courage to admit.”
The 41-year-old director became a worldwide sensation with his 2004 film Private, which was set in a Palestinian home in the West Bank. More recently he directed Hungry Hearts, a romantic drama set in New York, starring Adam Driver and Alba Rohrwacher.
The Dahlia Ravikovitch ACUM Prize for poets for this year will go to renowned poet and artist Hedva Harekhavi. Harekhavi was born in Kibbutz Deganya Bet some 76 years ago, but has lived most of her life in Jerusalem. According to the judges, Harekhavi is “one of the central poets of contemporary Israelis poetry. Her powerful poetry captivates the reader with its unique tempo and melody.
Her poems encapsulate potent emotions that tell an intimate and personal story… Harekhavi investigates topics like lament, love, desire, longing and disappointment… the language of this poetry is like breathing… and for this reason we found Hedva Harekhavi worthy of the prize.”
For the fifth year in a row, the city of Ashdod will host The Golden Age Festival from April 12 to 15 (Hebrew).
Inspired by the Spanish Golden Age, the festival aspires to deepen the connection between Jewish musical traditions from East and West alike. Festivities taking place throughout the city will feature the participation of more than 120 artists – Diklon and Sagiv Cohen, Gali Atari, Yishai Levy, Ester Rada and many more. Two shows will pay tribute to Sami Almagribli and Ahuva Ozeri, who died last year.
The festival, produced by the Israeli Center for Andalusian Culture and Piyyut and supported by the Culture Ministry, features a wide variety of voices. On the first day, there will be shows of classical Yemenite women’s songs led by Gila Bashari as well as a klezmer concert. On the second day, Persian singer Sarona Yahan Firuz will orchestrate an evening of three generations of female singers, and there will be a staging of Spanish Orchard, a play written by former president Yitzhak Navon. The festival also offers other activities, such as sheshbesh (backgammon) competitions, lectures and tours of the neighborhood synagogues.
The Little Prince Bookshop and Cafe in Tel Aviv cooperated with the Tel Aviv University Classics Department on March 25 in celebrating the 11th European Festival for Latin and Greek, marked in over 20 countries worldwide (Hebrew). The evening’s theme, Homer’s Odyssey, was led by Yelena Yaffa. The event started with a lecture by Avi Aruati, who translated the Greek masterpiece into a refreshingly new Hebrew version, continued with words from Prof. Irad Malkin, Israel Prize recipient of 2014 and author of a book on the Odyssey, and the highlight of the night was a joint reading of the Odyssey in Hebrew, Arabic and French.
On March 27, Jerusalem-based performing arts venue Hazira presented the show Joshua in Tel Aviv for the very first time (Hebrew). In the show, staged in the Habayit Theater, actress Florence Bloch performs a dramatic reading of the Book of Joshua. The creators of this show believe that 3,000 years after the Israelites, led by Joshua, conquered the Land of Israel, the Jewish people are facing similar ethical and political questions.
“On one hand,” says the creator of the show, “we sideline the fact that occupation is in our nation’s DNA, and on the other hand we ignore the fact that even then the occupation was never complete and that more nations remained to live by our side.”
The show is accompanied by original music composed by pop star Dikla, and is directed by Guy Biran. Biran told The Jerusalem Post Magazine that he was flicking through the Bible one day and the first chapter of the Book of Joshua caught his attention.
“The Book of Joshua is the most brutal text in the Torah. The focal issue is whose land it is and whether it belongs to the nation that was living there or to the tribes who left Egypt.
This issue is clearly still relevant today…” Biran, 52, lives in Jerusalem, is the director of Hazira and is married to musical artist Victoria Hanna. It took him a year to adapt the biblical text to the stage and reach what he describes as “a combo of storytelling and musical” elements, and added that it was difficult to find the appropriate way to tell it.
“The text didn’t want to go on the stage – we forced it.” The next performance is scheduled for April 25 in Jaffa.
Less than two weeks after its publication, What if I Die Tomorrow Morning (Hebrew), a memoir, became a bestseller. The book tells the story of Dafna Meir, who was murdered by a Palestinian stabber in her home in the settlement of Otniel as she was trying to protect her children.
Journalist Yifat Ehrlich, who covered for Yediot Ahronot what she described in a recent Walla interview as “dead settlers,” paid a shiva call to Meir’s family. Ehrlich was captivated by Dafna’s story and kept in touch with widower Natan Meir, who eventually agreed to let her write a book on his wife’s life. He gave her access to Dafna’s email account, friends and family that helped her piece together Dafna’s life.
Dafna experienced hardships from childhood. Her father was a Holocaust survivor who abandoned his wife and daughter. Later in life, Dafna became a nurse and fertility consultant who cultivated ties with a wide web of people and was considered “a loved and popular figure in the settlement where she lived.” The book made waves thanks to its political nature, and some critiques contested its literary merit.
Even though the book begins with a tragedy, there is also a happy ending to some degree – widower Natan recently remarried.
EPOS – The International Art Film Festival began its eighth year on this week in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and will last until April 8. The festival focuses on films that feature subjects related to the art world – from visual art to literature, with a special emphasis on local productions and artists. Among the famous names in the program as film subjects are Zubin Mehta, David Bowie, Anselm Kiefer, Zaha Hadid, Leonard Bernstein and many others. In addition to the screenings, the festival includes workshops and lectures.