Day 241 Of The War: Few Moments Of Happiness

My photo Of John Irving  talking to us from his study in Toronto
My photo Of John Irving talking to us from his study in Toronto

One of the highlights of spring in Israel is the Writers Festival in Jerusalem, which takes place in Mishkenot Sha’ananim. It offers informal talks with authors and poets and other literary events. It is a delightful and festive occasion, and every year I try to go up to Jerusalem at least once, and I have never been disappointed. Five years ago, I got to hear one of my favorite writers, Joyce Carol Oates, and last year I joined a group of readers who gathered at the home of the poet Rivka Miriam, who was one of my admired poets when I was a girl. She was an especially gifted young poet and painter,  and has grown up to be a wonderful writer. It was quite unusual that she opened her home to complete strangers, but perhaps being a fellow book lover makes you less of a stranger.

This year is different, of course. After October 7, I was grateful to the organizers for not canceling the event, but it was naturally impossible to be carefree or happy. I was really interested in attending talks by two of my favorite writers, John Irving and Maya Arad. Although they are nothing alike, there is something similar in their biographies: they are both writers in exile. Irving is an American who has chosen to live in Toronto, Canada, but is very involved with, and writes about, “his birth country,” as he calls the US. Maya Arad has been in the US for 30 years, more than half her life, but she writes in Hebrew and is well-versed in everything happening in Israel. Some of her protagonists are Israelis living in the diaspora.

Somehow, I had a feeling that John Irving would not make it to Jerusalem this time. Unfortunately, my concerns materialized when he got Covid and stayed home . At first, I was very disappointed. I was really looking forward to meeting him in person in Jerusalem. But then I realized that, thanks to the big screen, seeing him on Zoom sitting comfortably in his beautiful study in Toronto allowed me a chance to see the objects he chose to have around him: the pictures on the wall, the exercise bike, the stand where he put his papers, and even his special huge lemonade mug. It was very gratifying to get a glimpse into the soul of the writer I so admire.

The interviewer was the film director and screenwriter Ari Folman, and two Israeli actors read from Irving’s novels. I was looking forward to this conversation, but sometimes when the interviewer’s interest is very specific, it can be disappointing. The title of the talk was “The World According to Irving,” paraphrasing Garp. But Folman was only interested in the art of screenwriting and the adaptations of the novels into films. When interviewing a giant like Irving, his questions seemed unimportant. Luckily, Irving could find something interesting and insightful to say about everything, and so it was. On the way out, I heard one of the people leaving the hall saying, “It’s a shame the interviewer missed a great opportunity to hear what Irving had to say about his work.” It was exactly how I felt.

The talk with Maya Arad and another Israeli writer, Ruby Namdar, moderated by Ruth Calderon, was excellent. It took place in a very small and intimate hall. Calderon asked thoughtful questions that brought about interesting answers, and she even left enough time for some questions from the audience.

The two days that I spent at the festival were a necessary and wonderful break from the war, the constant pain of knowing the hostages are still not back, and the anger at the Israeli government for being totally callous toward its people. It gave me the strength to be back on Kaplan last Saturday night.

About the Author
I hold a PhD in English Literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, specializing in writing about issues related to women, literature, culture, and society. Having lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994), I bring a diverse perspective to my work. As a widow, in March 2016, I initiated a support and growth-oriented Facebook group for widows named "Widows Move On." The group has now grown to over 2000 members, providing a valuable space for mutual support and understanding.
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