Catching up With Tuvia Tenenbom

Author Talks Books, Stereotypes and Trips to the Holy Land

Eight Eyes To Watch You: Tuvia Tenenbom and Adam Langer talk about Tenenbom’s next book project while seated in a booth in Jim Brady’s restaurant in lower Manhattan.
Isi Tenenbom
Eight Eyes To Watch You: Tuvia Tenenbom and Adam Langer talk about Tenenbom’s next book project while seated in a booth in Jim Brady’s restaurant in lower Manhattan.

By Adam Langer

Published August 24, 2013, issue of August 30, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Last year, journalist, playwright and critic Tuvia Tenenbom made quite an impression with the publication of “Allein Unter Deutschen” (“Alone Among Germans”; English-language title: “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room”). A frank and funny portrayal of modern-day Germany and the persistence of anti-Semitism there, the book rankled publishers, editors and journalists, while vaulting onto Der Spiegel’s best-seller list. Buoyed by his triumph, Tenenbom, perhaps best known in America as the founder of the Jewish Theater of New York, is now working on a new project for his German publisher. This time, he will be bringing his outsized personality and disarming interview techniques in order to create a portrait of a different country — Israel. He and his wife, Tisi Tenenbom, will be spending six months there, after which he will complete a book tentatively titled “Allein Unter Juden,” “Alone Among Jews.” As of yet, there is no American publisher or English-language title. “Maybe it will be, ‘I‘Il Sleep in Herzl’s Room,’” Tenenbom joked.

The Forward’s arts and culture editor, Adam Langer, caught up with the Tenenboms for lunch a few days before their trip to Israel, where Tuvia Tenenbom will be filing occasional reports with the Forward. He discussed his expectations and preconceptions for his Israeli sojourn.

ADAM LANGER: So, where will the trip start?

Tuvia Tenenbom: I’ll be based in Jerusalem. From there we’ll go everywhere — the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, everywhere.

When was the last time you were in Israel?

Four or five years ago. I was born there. But I was born to an anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox family. I’ve been in Israel since, but only for very short durations. I have been close by many times, because I go to the Arab world a lot, but I haven’t been in Israel for four or five years.

What will your approach to writing be?

The way I like to do it is very simple. When I go, I combine journalism and theater; I use the tricks of the actor. Sometimes I have to switch and become a different character. Sometimes I’m a kid or an angel or a UFO, whatever I need to be to let people tell me their stories. I try, as much as I can, to take all of my prejudices out and let the people teach me who they are. The idea is to get a portrait of a nation. In Germany I found out that they are obsessed with Jews. I didn’t know that before, but I was able to find out because I blocked my own thinking about Germany.

So, what preconceptions are you bringing into Israel?

It’s a huge challenge, because Israel is kind of the mecca of journalism. There are journalists of all kinds and shapes and colors and theologies. So many people are writing about it, and you have to write something new. You have Jews and Arabs and you have the religious and the nonreligious, and in the religious and the secular you have 10,000 variations. But by the end of the day, I’m just going to let people talk to me. Some places are not going to be easy; some places are not going to be safe. I am well aware of that.

Where will you go that won’t be safe?

Last time I was in Ramallah, it was not fun. People followed me on the street. And then when you go to see the extreme Israelis, the settlements, you have to be careful, too; you say the wrong word, and you’re out. You have to be careful that you don’t say anything that will make people stop talking to you.

So, what’s the character you’ll be playing? Will you be Jewish?

Depends who’s asking.

But people know you now. You have a profile. People can Google you in Ramallah.

They can Google me anywhere, but most people don’t because it’s immediate. I don’t make an appointment, I just meet people. And if you like people and you have a likable personality, people immediately respond to it no matter what. My idea is this: No matter what you think or who you are, we are human. I might dislike what you think, but that doesn’t mean I dislike you.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.