Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
The Schmooze

The Erotic Appeal of Israeli Literature

Jean Mattern, who is in charge of purchasing foreign rights for literature at Les éditions Gallimard, is a key player in introducing contemporary Israeli authors to French readers, including Amos Oz, Alona Kimhi, Eshkol Nevo, and Zeruya Shalev. A regular attendee at the Jerusalem International Book Fair, Mattern, who reads Hebrew fluently,, is also a novelist whose latest work is “Simon Weber.”

The eponymous hero of “Simon Weber” is a 19-year-old French medical student of remote Jewish ancestry, who is afflicted with a brain tumor. Simon and his father both fall into amorous friendship with a 28-year-old Israeli man, Amir Kummer. Simon meets Amir when the latter helps the stricken teenager in a Paris park. After undergoing chemotherapy, Simon moves to Jerusalem to share Amir’s apartment on Hovevei Tzion Street, declaring, “I didn’t want to die without making a trip to Israel.” Simon soon meets Rivka, a 35-year-old Swedish émigrée who lives on Emek Refaim in Jerusalem’s German Colony, one of whose leading romantic attractions is that she “speaks Hebrew like a Sabra.” Simon’s parallel infatuation continues for Amir, whose last name, he notes, is the same as Isaac Kummer, the hero of S. Y. Agnon’s 1945 novel “Only Yesterday” who faces linguistic challenges when first arriving in Jaffa. Amir himself is a paragon of cultural erudition, informing Simon about such obscure German Jewish composers as Friedrich Gernsheim, a now-forgotten friend of Johannes Brahms; yet Amir disses Mozart’s music for its “somewhat syrupy lightness.”

Neither syrupy nor light himself, Amir has published a novel recounting his tough upbringing by his Uncle Itzik, a survivor of Israel’s 1972 Munich Olympics team who lives in Yuvalim, a communal settlement in the Galilee. Simon expresses fears that he too may become fodder for a future roman à clef. Amir assures him that no such literary betrayal will occur, whereupon Simon, whose health is apparently failing, grants permission to use him as subject matter. This exquisite literary mutual consideration is accompanied by wistful homoeroticism. Simon and Amir glance longingly at each other as they emerge from their respective showers, scenes repeated at The Dead Sea with Simon’s father, a translator into French of Thomas Mann’s novel “The Magic Mountain” who joins them both under further showers for longing glances à trois. This kind of frustrated coyness apart, “Simon Weber” has value as an intriguingly restless, high-strung cultural homage to the erotics of the Hebrew language and modern-day Israel.

Listen to Friedrich Gernsheim’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in E Flat Major Op. 6 played by the Diogenes Quartet and Andreas Kirpal here.

And listen to The Atlantic Trio play part of Friedrich Gernsheim’s Piano Trio No 2 Opus 37 here.

Engage

  • SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK

  • UPCOMING EVENT

    SKY & SCULPTURE

    Hybrid: Online and at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

    Oct 2, 2022

    6:30 pm ET · 

    A Sukkah, IMKHA, created by artist Tobi Kahn, for the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan is an installation consisting of 13 interrelated sculpted painted wooden panels, constituting a single work of art. Join for a panel discussion with Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Chief Executive Director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan, Talya Zax, Innovation Editor of the Forward, and Tobi Kahn, Artist. Moderated by Mattie Kahn.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.