My first piece of creative writing, a poem based upon a theme from the Book of Job, was written in Jerusalem in 1951. My professor in the Terra Sancta building where our classes were held, Dr. Alexander Dushkin, was very impressed and recommended that I embellish it and add more verses. This was my very first published work.
While later, in France, studying comparative literature with an emphasis on Old Testament and New Testament writings, I wrote an imaginary psychoanalytic visit of Saul of Tarsus (later St. Paul) to his psychiatrist, Dr. Ananias. In it, Paul describes his conversion experience from Pharisaic Judaism to becoming a follower of Jesus of Nazareth. The lines of the final verse I wrote read:
“I shall not rest, Dr. Ananias…nay, nor lay my head upon a stone like Father Jacob,
Until His word is preached and taught in every home.
Until the heathen is no heathen, the Greek no Greek, the Jew no Jew
But all are One in Him in love and faith and grace,
Until the world shall work united for a holy Peace,
And little children gently lie asleep
Protected by His holy human race”.
One could hardly imagine an observant Jew writing these lines but in comparative literature it is essential to find elements of similarity in other sources.
The long prose poem was submitted to and published in the March 1958 edition of KAIROS, a journal of the Boston University School of Theology. And from that point, writing and teaching became my passion.
My first book of Hebrew literature in translation was published in 1967. More than 200 articles followed, including a weekly column in the op-ed section of a local newspaper. 52 years of lecturing to thousands of students in the university gave me additional inspiration and “food” for material in following writings.
To write is to open one’s heart, to appeal to readers to participate in the joys and sorrows, in the events of life which the author attempts to convey. Writing a book or a printed newspaper column or factual materials for a journal does not allow for anonymity unless one chooses to use a pseudonym, a nom de plume. Readers can respond, can comment, can criticize, can praise.
Writing for an online publication is very different. It lacks the human contact between the writer and the reader. It allows the writer to vent emotions which are not always understood. It frequently restrains him/her from expressing political opinions, defending or attacking.
The printed newspaper does not hesitate to incite the reader to join with those opinions. Political correctness, a modern term, is not a favorite form of current journalism. Political leaders are often described in defamatory terms, hurtful and spiteful.
There is frequent frustration for a writer. His spoken words and feelings are not always appropriate in print. He struggles with conscience in an effort to write words which will not be offensive to readers of race, creed, religion, culture or sexual persuasion.
I have tried to follow this path but many times I have stumbled and fallen. Yet I rise up with a silent prayer for strength and wisdom to guide my steps in ways that will never cause hurt or harm. Writing has been an important part of my life. I have kept boxes filled with my written works and collecting dust as a reminder that once upon a time I was successful in accomplishing tasks which I had set for myself. After my death, they will no doubt be tossed out into the rubbish of forgotten literary history, an end of my personal possessions.
I have very few material possessions left which I cherish for sentimental reasons.. One of them which is dearest to me is my Israeli passport. I recall the long ago years when this treasured document did not exist… only a dream and a hope.
Once, upon arrival at Budapest airport, the Hungarian immigration officer looked at my Israeli passport and asked me if I had any other passport. Although I did, I replied that the Israeli passport was the only one I have and I curiously asked her why she asked me that question.
She replied politely and with a smile that most Israelis who pass through the Budapest air terminal usually carry more than one passport in addition to the Israeli one. I assured her that I did not have nor ever had any connection with a European nation. Israel was my homeland. She stamped my passport and said nothing further, only “welcome to Budapest; enjoy your stay”.
I am exceedingly proud to present only my Israeli passport at foreign destinations. It reminds me of who I am, who I was, and it states to the immigration authorities the beloved land which I represent. And so I write and speak as an Israeli without shame or hesitation. It makes me feel very good. Joseph Trumpeldor’s dying words were alleged to be “tov lamut b’ad artzenu”… it is good to die for our country. My living words are, have been, and always will be “tov lichyot b’ad artzenu”… it is good to live for our country.
Now this, my 78th article published in TIMES OF ISRAEL, has given renewed meaning and purpose to my life as I approach my 83rd year.
Following a medical examination this week, my doctor was quite pleased as he remarked on the improvement in my health over the last three months. Diabetes under control. Blood pressure lowered, heart condition stable.
Knowing of my frequent writing for the TIMES OF ISRAEL, he remarked that it seems to have been good for my health. “Your writing is the best medicine”, he told me. “Keep writing as often as you can. It will keep you young. It appears that it has had a good effect on your overall health”.
(I can not know what effect it has upon those who read what I write).
He is a very fine doctor but his prophecy that writing will keep me young is more in the field of fantasy rather than in the field of modern medicine.
Nevertheless, if what my doctor has told me is true, I owe it to the kindness of three young ladies whom I have never met…. Anne Gordon, Miriam Herschlag and Hannah Fink, editors and co-editors of the op-ed columns of this newspaper. They hold me to the guidelines and correct me when I stray from them. Their encouragement has given me the energy to awake each day, rush to my computer, and type out these words. My gratitude to them has no bounds. And I look forward to writing for as long as God gives me physical strength and mental clarity.
As Koheleth (Ecclesiastes) commented, “…hizaher asot sefarim harbai ain ketz”… be careful, of making many books there is no end. “The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear God and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man…” So may it be !