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December 16, 1988 - Image 42

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-12-16

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Word War One

The first conference bringing Jewish
writers together from Israel and
North America for a dialogue
resulted in several explosive
exchanges over Mideast politics.


Special to The Jewish News

Art By Barbara Kiwak

ideast politics overshadowed
literature — dramatically, if
not surprisingly — at a recent
three-day conference bringing
together more than 30 promi-
nent North American Jewish and Israeli
writers in Berkeley, California to discuss
"The Writer In The Jewish Community."
The conference was sponsored by the
National Foundation for Jewish Culture
and was billed as an "Israeli-North
American dialogue" to address such ques-
tions as: What Does It Mean lb Be A Jew
in Israel and North America? What is the
writer's role in each society? What is, or
could be, the relationship between the Jews




— and the writers — of Israel and North
One people and yet two nationalities, the
group was strikingly divided by language.
The language barrier, however, was one-
sided: the Israelis were all fluent (and well-
read) in English, while few of the North
Americans could speak Hebrew and many
were unfamiliar with Hebrew literature,
even in translation. Such a gap has poten-
tially serious implications for Jewish life.
"Hebrew is again a living language, but
now it no longer unifies our people," lamen-
ted Israeli novelist Haim Be'er, speaking
in Hebrew on the only panel which sup-
plied simultaneous translation. "We are

children of the same father, but we may not
be fathers of the same children. In 50 years,
will we be able to speak with each other ?"
In the divergence of Diaspora and Israeli
Jewries, many of the Israelis foresaw the
imminent demise of the Diaspora. Novelist
and essayist Amos Oz, for example, dis-
missed Jewish culture in the Diaspora as
on its way to becoming a "museum — and
an empty one." Israel, he insisted, is the
central theater of Jewish life. lb participate
in the only "live drama" of Jewish life
today — or even to be able to see it clearly
— Diaspora Jews must learn Hebrew.
The centrality of Hebrew to Jewish life
(and even the marginality of American

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