Israel Through the Eyes of Its Poets and Novelists

Israel at 75 offers a far richer culture than a visitor can grasp from just following its politics or visiting its tourist sites. One powerful way to plunge deeper is to read Israeli literature. Like the Talmud, though, it’s a vast sea. Where should you start?

In this five-session book series, co-sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and Moment Magazine, we’ll at least begin to scratch the surface. Over the next several months we’ll explore today’s Israel through the eyes of writers in a kaleidoscope of genres: novel, memoir, short stories, poems. For each work, we’ll offer a special guest: the author, the translator, or a scholar who will guide readers through the text as well as field readers’ questions. Moment book review editor Amy E. Schwartz will lead these conversations.

Even if you do not read the books in advance, you will still enjoy this series — and hopefully, be inspired to read the books after each program.

Readings will be in English translation — no Hebrew required. All books are available for purchase via the links below.

Past Recordings

A few lovingly chosen poems by Yehuda Amichai with Robert Alter

Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000) is widely beloved as Israel’s “national poet.” His iconic poems are read at public ceremonies and Memorial Day services, but many of his lesser-known poems equally evoke the land and its history. Born in Germany, Amichai emigrated to Mandate Palestine in 1936, witnessed the birth and growth of the state and fought in many of its wars. With eminent translator/critic Robert Alter, we’ll take an in-depth look at a few of Amichai’s poems and unlock the secrets of their lasting appeal.

Selected poems will be accessible to read online.

Purchase book: The Selected Poems of Yehuda Amichai

Author: Yehuda Amichai
Editor: Robert Alter

Suddenly, a Knock on the Door: Stories by Etgar Keret

Born in Israel to Polish Holocaust survivors, Etgar Keret is an award-winning writer who uses a deceptively casual style for his very short, absurd, often comical stories. His work is often described as postmodern and has been compared to that of Franz Kafka, Kurt Vonnegut, and Italo Calvino.

For a taste of Keret’s work, you can listen to the title story Suddenly, A Knock on the Doorrecorded by Ira Glass host of This American Life.

Purchase book: Suddenly, a Knock on the Door: Stories
Audio version: Suddenly, a Knock on the Door: Stories

Author: Etgar Keret
Translators: Nathan Englander, Sondra Silverston, Miriam Shlesinger


All the Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan

Dorit Rabinyan is a two-time awardee of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Hebrew Literary Works. She was born in Israel to a family that emigrated from Iran. All the Rivers is the story of a romance between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man, based on the author’s own experiences. This novel sparked an international furor when it was banned from the curriculum in Israeli high schools by then-education minister Naftali Bennett, who said it would encourage intermarriage between Israelis and Palestinians.

Read the 2017 Moment interview with Dorit Rabinyan.

Purchase book: All the Rivers
Audio version: All the Rivers

Author: Dorit Rabinyan
Translator: Jessica Cohen


If All the Seas Were Ink by Ilana Kurshan

If All the Seas Were Ink is a memoir of a young, pregnant, recently divorced American-Israeli, living in Jerusalem, whose personal struggles lead her to take on the practice of Daf Yomi, reading a page from the Talmud every day for seven years. Kurshan’s inspiring memoir about learning how to put one foot in front of the other is a winner of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.

Purchase book: If All the Seas Were Ink: A Memoir
Audio version: If All the Seas Were Ink: A Memoir

Author: Ilana Kurshan


And the Bride Closed the Door by Ronit Matalon

Born in Israel to Jewish immigrants from Egypt, Ronit Matalon was known for giving a voice to Mizrahi (Jews of Middle Eastern/North African decent) women. And the Bride Closed the Door is a broad comedy about a bride who refuses to go forward with her wedding ceremony, sowing havoc. The book captures a segment of Mizrahi society not often featured in Israeli fiction. Matalon won Israel’s prestigious Brenner Prize the day before her untimely death from cancer.

Read the 2019 Moment Book Review.

Purchase book: And the Bride Closed the Door
Audio version: And the Bride Closed the Door

Author: Ronit Matalon
Translator: Jessica Cohen