"Should we continue to live here?"
David Grossman speaks about where Israel and his soul meet
Today is Commencement Day at Shalem College—Israel’s only liberal arts college, where I work. Due to Covid, we’re celebrating the graduation of both our 4th and 5th cohorts.
As our students prepare to move on, we meet with them, individually, to hear about their experience of the college. What did they like, what could be better, what will stay with them? From numerous students, this year and last, we heard that of all the moments that stand out, none was more impactful than a conversation that they had with Israel’s greatest living novelist, David Grossman.
It’s a program called HaSippur HaYisraeli, “The Israeli Story,” in which several times each year, the entire student body reads an Israeli novel and when possible, we bring the author to speak to them. If we can’t bring the author herself or himself, we invite someone who can engage them in a compelling conversation about the book.
In the winter of 2019, we asked David Grossman to come and to speak about his award-winning, best-selling novel, To the End of the Land. Here’s Amazon’s description of the novel:
In this stunning, bestselling novel—and an NBCC Award finalist—David Grossman tells the powerful story of a mother’s love for her son. Just before his release from service in the Israeli army, Ora’s son Ofer is sent back to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, so that no bad news can reach her, Ora sets out on an epic hike in the Galilee. She is joined by an unlikely companion—Avram, a former friend and lover with a troubled past—and as they sleep out in the hills, Ora begins to conjure her son. Ofer’s story, as told by Ora, becomes a surprising balm both for her and for Avram—and a mother’s haunting meditation on war and family.
What makes the novel all the more haunting is that Grossman himself lost a son in battle, in August 2006, at the very end of the Second Lebanon War. When Uri was killed, the war was only hours away from being over, and everyone knew it. But the battle still raged on, seemingly meaninglessly, with horrific costs.
As our student interviewed Grossman, she asked him, reflecting on a line in the book, if he thinks about the fact that had he not lived in Israel, Uri might still be alive.
There were hundreds of people in the room, but one could have heard a pin drop. As Grossman began to speak, there were students dabbing tears from their eyes. What he said, more than a few of our graduating seniors said, made for one of the most powerful moments of their lives.
Israelis speak abroad all the time (or at least used to, before Covid). But when they do, they know that they are speaking to Diaspora audiences, and nearly always tailor their comments accordingly. (They know what their audiences want to hear.) Yet what happens when Israelis speak to each other—about this country, about the pain of living here, about the hopes embedded in this little place?
That’s what David Grossman captured in a way that moves me every time I hear it, and as thanks to him for all he taught our students, I share this very brief clip, with English subtitles, with you.
Coming soon! New podcasts with the founders of 0202 - Points of View of Jerusalem (an organization that translates social media posts to and from Arabic, Hebrew and English, to link the disparate populations of the city), the leadership of Metiv, an organization that, among other extraordinary commitments, works with IDF veterans suffering from PTSD, an East Jeruslaem Palestinian Arab woman who describes what the violence between Jews and Arabs inside Israel was like for her community, and a young Israeli who describes the new, emerging pluralism in religious Zionism.
Israel from the Inside is about breaking out of the echo chamber, hearing views that might be different from our own, so that we get a sense of the mosaic of opinions that is Israeli life; these conversations will help us make that happen.
We’ll make all of those podcasts to subscribers, and as always, short excerpts will be accessible for all.
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