Kisufim 2009: The Jerusalem Conference of Jewish Writers and Poets

The good news: Just yesterday, I found out about Kisufim 2009: The Jerusalem Conference of Jewish Writers and Poets (courtesy of the Foundation for Jewish Culture e-newsletter).

The bad news: Just yesterday, I just found out about Kisufim 2009: The Jerusalem Conference of Jewish Writers and Poets.

You see, this conference is slated for December 7-10, 2009. As in: next week. As in: way too late for me to arrange a trip to Israel around it. I have been very much focused on finding a literary-oriented event around which to plan my next trip to Israel, and this would have been fantastic.

Here’s a description of what I’ll be missing:

“The significance of Jewish creativity, in Israel and throughout the world, is increasing during a period characterized by a Jewish absence from post-Holocaust Europe. Also evident is the need for close, unmediated contact between contemporary Israeli and Jewish literature worldwide.

The conference provides a venue for an experiential encounter and for clarification of textual and cultural issues concerning the writer’s identity, focusing on questions such as the meaning of Exile today, the identity of text and place and the function of translation in a literary work with a Jewish identity and the change that Jewish literature has undergone from the Second World War and the establishment of the State of Israel to the present. It is no coincidence that the Hebrew acronym for this gathering is Kisufim (yearnings). Jerusalem has been the heart of yearning in Jewish literature for many generations. We have a special opportunity to continue the process that began in 2007 with the first Kisufim Conference by gathering for four days and nights at Mishkenot Sha’ananim and Beit Avi-Chai, with the participation of the best Jewish literary creators in today’s world, in various languages, to discuss literary works with a Jewish connection and identity.

This international meeting of Jewish creative writers encourages encounter between Israeli creativity – in Hebrew and other languages – and world Jewish creativity that is both multilingual and multicultural.

The Conference will include poetry and prose-reading evenings, workshops and meetings with poets and writers in various languages, as well as meetings among writers and poets who share a common language, such as Russian, English, French, Hungarian, Serbian and Spanish, from Israel and all over the world.

The Kisufim Conference seeks to elucidate and reinforce ties with various types of Jewish literature and increase public awareness of literary issues. By bringing together the creative and intellectual powers of Jewish writers, poets and publishers, wherever they may be, it reinforces mutual ties and increases translation efforts.

The international writers are: Miriam Anisimov (France), Jonathan Rosen (USA), Dara Horn (USA), Rodger Kamenetz (USA), Linda Grant (UK), Marcelo Birmajer (Argentina), Ilan Stavans (Mexico/USA), Emmanuel Moses (France) Robert Schindel (Austria), Esther Bendahan (Spain), Lucette Lagnado (Egypt/USA), Lisa Ginzburg (Italy), Geza Rohrig (Hungary/USA), Angel Wagenstein (Bulgaria), Alessandro Piperno (Italy) and Norman Manea (Romania/USA)

The list of Israeli writers include: Aharon Applefeld, Hava Pinhas-Cohen, Dov Elbaum, Nava Semel, Asaf Inbari, Michal Govrin, Yehoshua Sobol, Eli Amir, Rafi Veichert, Yoel Hoffman, Eshkol Nevo, Meron C. Izakson, Menachem Lorberbaum, Roni Somek, Yisrael Pincas, Itamar Yaoz-Kest, Tal Nitzan, Yisrael Eliraz, Haviva Pedaya, Admiel Kosman, Zeruya Shalev, Eyal Megged, Yochi Brandes, Hagit Grossman, Sabina Messig, Ori Bernstein, Anna Shomlo (Serbian), Linda Zisquit (English), David Markish (Russian), Peter Cole(English), Karen Alkalay-Gut (English)”

There’s a full program you can download at the site for further information.

Anyone going? Want to write a guest post for this blog? Please contact me if so.

How I’m Keeping My Love for Israel

I have been trying to come up with a coherent response to “How I’m Losing My Love for Israel,” Jay Michaelson’s provocative essay in The Forward, since shortly before the Holy Days. But I just can’t seem to do it.

It’s bad enough when I have to defend Israel to the sort of “progressive” people who populate so many of the writerly and academic circles of which I would, on paper, seem to be a natural citizen. It’s infinitely worse – so much more frustrating and painful – when I find among the Israel-bashers fellow Jews.

And the icing on this most distasteful cake is having someone expressing Michaelson’s views perceived, as certain comments in the essay’s wake might suggest, as a generational representative. Let’s be clear about this much at least: Michaelson – who is two years my junior – and the commenters who commend him for articulating their own experience do not represent this Generation X Jewish-American.

Here’s what perhaps most upsets me in Michaelson’s essay:

“I admit that my exhaustion is exacerbated because, in my social circles, supporting Israel is like supporting segregation, apartheid or worse. I know this is a sign of weakness of will on my part, and I hope that the Times-magazine-sanctioned rise of J Street changes things, but I don’t think advocates of Israel understand exactly how bad the situation is on college campuses, in Europe, and in liberal or leftist social-political circles. Supporting Israel in these contexts is like supporting repression, or the war in Iraq, or George W. Bush. It’s gotten so bad, I don’t mention Israel in certain conversations anymore, and no longer defend it when it’s lumped in with South Africa and China by my friends. This is wrong of me, I know, but I’ve been defending Israel for years, and it’s gotten harder and harder to do so.”

Yes, bubbeleh, this advocate of Israel does understand. It can be hard. Somehow, though, I can’t help thinking that the difficulty scarcely compares to how hard life is in Sderot, or for Uri Grossman’s parents, or for Asaf Ramon’s mother, or, for that matter, for anyone who had to flee (or, worse, was caught in) Nazi Europe. That’s hard.

In the end, what Michaelson seems to be saying is that his “circles” mean more to him than Israel does. Personally, I tend to reach the opposite conclusion. If one’s “friends” are sufficiently misguided (I’m being charitable) to “lump in” Israel with South Africa and China, and to believe that “supporting Israel is like supporting repression…,” and if they are going to ostracize or attack me (it has happened) because I disagree, then maybe they aren’t the best, smartest, most clear-sighted people to keep as friends.

Michaelson says that he knows it’s wrong to sit there silently while those in these “circles” condemn Israel. I feel the same way. And I, too, realize how hard it can be to try to change others’ minds, because, like Michaelson, I’ve tried.

But here’s where he and I seem to differ: Israel means more to me than the “social circles” do, I’ve chosen to leave those organizations and online communities which are ostensibly devoted to another purpose (let’s say, book reviewing, or poetry), but, sooner or later, reveal exactly the kind of sentiments that Michaelson says prevail among his peers. I’ve chosen to stop listening to the BBC and to stop giving financial support to National Public Radio (aka “National Palestinian Radio”). Maybe I should remain and keep arguing. Maybe it would be better not to leave. Maybe this, too, is a “sign of weakness.”

Somehow, though, it leaves me feeling less anguished and conflicted than Michaelson would appear to be.

Asaf Ramon, 1989-2009: "…every heart breaks today…."

That describes it. I know that I could feel a piece of my own heart breaking when I heard the terrible news that Asaf Ramon had been killed when his Israel Air Force F-16 jet crashed during a training flight.

Ramon was the eldest son of Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut who perished with his American colleagues on the Columbia. I recall that I was in London for a conference when the news broke about the Columbia. And as much as that tragedy shook me for its reminders of the Challenger and the loss of my own countrymen, I know that a big part of the reason that I spent all of my non-conference time glued to the television in my hotel room was, quite simply, Ilan Ramon. His story. His history. His significance to his country.

I pray for the Ramon family. As Israeli President Shimon Peres said at the funeral on Monday, “every heart breaks today because the son of the Ramon family was the son of us all – today we are all the Ramon family.”

For more coverage, please visit Haaretz and The New York Times.

New Program for Creative Writing Semester in Israel

Starting in February, Bar-Ilan University will run a fully-accredited creative writing semester in Israel in English for undergraduates. According to its Web site, the program “combines the nurturing of students’ creative talents with the intensive exploration of the relationships among writing, personal identity, Jewish Studies and the experience of living in Israel.” (via Judy Labensohn)