“Longing” was first published in Yiddish in the New York online magazine ‘Yiddish branzhe’. It is the epilogue of a novel in Yiddish that Ber Kotlerman, professor of Yiddish language and literature at Bar-Ilan University, will soon publish with the Swedish publisher Olniansky Tekst. Ber Kotlerman, who was born in Irkutsk in 1971, has the distinction of having grown up in Birobidzhan. The “autonomous Jewish region” founded in 1934 as part of the USSR is the backdrop to his book.

“The discordance between them, latent since her American years, became manifest when, the previous year, she published in a “Jewish magazine” – as he had said in a reproachful tone – her story “Mamie-louche” about her grandmother and her Marrano Jewishness. Since then, a fault line has opened up, gradually separating two people who believed in the eternity of their dance together.”

“I follow him inside the synagogue. Sit down on one of the wooden benches. My legs feel heavy as lead and my arms are moving strangely as I stand up. You have to do that from time to time. Get up, sing, pray, read and sit down. The synagogue is golden and pleasant.”

Last year, I was invited to speak with a class of pupils in a Parisian high school. They had studied La plus précieuse des marchandises [The most precious of all goods] (Seuil, 2019), this magnificent text by Jean-Claude Grumberg. As for me, I came afterwards to speak to them about my generation, the one born after the war of orphaned parents, around my two books Tout le monde n’a pas la chance d’être orphelin [Not everyone is lucky enough to be an orphan] (Verticales, 2002) and C’est maintenant du passé [It’s all in the past now] (Verticales, 2009).

“Liliane and I are going to welcome Ukrainian refugees. Jews. I had left my contact information with a Jewish association that is looking for places to house families who have fled the war. This morning I received a call from a certain Esther who wanted to know more about the accommodation we were offering. I gave a brief description: an independent studio, adjoining our apartment, of about 350 square feet, fully furnished. Esther’s first question was whether it was kosher. I answered that no, it was not kosher, “But is it could be koshered?” she insisted.”

“Those goddamn Jew scientists were right.
Sol gazed into the top right drawer of his desk. There, in a neat row, they lay: pen, pen, toothbrush, highlighter, pen. For as long as he could remember — ah — Sol had always thought in full sentences, often in lengthy dialogues, had frequently been amused to the point of laughing out loud by his internal banter. This time was no exception: Sol chuckled— goddamn Jew scientists indeed — even as moisture welled up on the itchy lower rims of his eyelids. Like dewdrops on a windbent sundried wheatstalk. Sounds almost like something Sammy would write”.  

“Rothenburg’s multiple roofs and towers, encircled by a wide serrated wall, presented an architectural ensemble of harmonious perfection, attractive even from a distance.  The first rays of the rising sun, illuminating the town from the east, blazed like a giant red bonfire from which exploded, here and there, long flaming tongues of cupolas and towers. The nearer the fire, the more intensely it blazed.  Occupying more and more space, it eventually permeated heaven and earth before suddenly breaking apart into distinct architectural elements – balconies, windows, cornices, eaves ….”

He said, “You remind me of someone.” “But you don’t know me,” she snapped, amused. “I just mean your face,” he said. “Ah! Well then maybe we’ve met before.” “That’s impossible,” he said. “The person you look like died before I was born.” The sentence fell on both of them like lead rain. As they walked up Cambridge’s main artery, now silent, she considered how to respond to this—to what seemed, then, like pretty much the worst seduction enterprise imaginable. She remained speechless. “She was my grandmother,” he added quickly. “She died in Auschwitz.”

First he heard a thud. Then he felt a dull blow and the handlebars crumpled into his ribs. He knew he’d hit someone—a male, fair-skinned, slightly curly-haired pedestrian. But he had absolutely no idea that the person he’d hit was a literary critic. He’d had the opportunity to run over all sorts of people with his electric bike on the sidewalks of Tel Aviv, but never a literary critic.

With the support of:

Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.