In “The Barren Wife” which takes place in Damascus, he studies the humiliation of a barren Jewish wife whose husband takes a second, younger wife to produce offspring. I “Flight” he traces the decline of an old man who is forced to move into a home for the aged in Jerusalem, thus losing his sense of dignity and self-respect. “Father and Daughters” and “Ransom” present a painfully realistic picture of the Sephardic Jewish communities of the time. While Shami might implicitly criticize an individual for his behavior or society for its attitudes, he does so as an experienced insider who considers himself an integral part of the community he portrays.
These stories are called Hebron Stories, not that they are mostly set in Hebron, but rather because Hebron focuses one’s attention on both the origins of the author and the fascinating problematics of his writing. Shami, in fact, contemplated writing a massive volume of stories on Hebron, the city of his most intimate imaginings. Hebron, nevertheless, looms as a bitter memory in modern Jewish history: though Jews had lived among Arabs in Hebron for centuries, the city was virtually emptied of its Jewish population after the 1929 massacres in which scores of Jews were killed and most of the synagogues were torched. The impact of these events on Shami was profound, as evidenced in his letters. And yet, though Shami could not have been unaware of the growing tension between Jews and Arabs, his stories reflect a world free of these hostilities.
This volume brings to the contemporary reader a unique and authentic impression of the Sephardic communities of Hebron and Damascus at the turn of the 20th century, telling the stories of Jewish world gone by.
About The Author
Yitzhaq Shami (1888-1949), was a contemporary of S.J. Agnon, the Nobel Prize Laureate, and a model for A.B. Yehoshua, like Shami of Sephardic descent. Born in Hebron in an religiously traditional Sephardic family, he spoke Ladino with his mother, nee Rivka Castel, and Arabic with his father, Eliyahu Sarwi, from childhood. Truly a product of the Hebron community, he adopted but modified his father’s Arabic nickname: Ash-Shami, i.e. the Damascene, first as his pen-name, then as his legal name. Like many of his contemporaries in Eastern Europe, he first studied traditional Hebrew texts in religious schools, but began to drift away from that life as a result of his reading modern Hebrew literature even in Hebron. His move to a wider world was marked by his studying for two years, 1905-1907 in the Ezra school in Jerusalem where he first donned Western garments and was certainly exposed to European literature.
What People are Saying About This
Looking back at a story like The Vengeance of the Fathers that portrays the Arabs of Palestine, one cannot escape the ironic conclusion that Shami may be one of the most significant Palestinian writers of this century.
Shami brought into the scene of modern Hebrew literature, some seventy years ago, a local, Palestinian validity that hasn’t been matched, or challenged, since. Vengeance of the Fathers is the only novel in modern Hebrew literature whose characters, landscapes and narrative voice are all Palestinian.
The wonderful stories of Yitzhaq Shami occupy a very special place within the complex relationships, both tragic and human, between Jews and Arabs who live and struggle for ownership and control of a common homeland. He knew how to penetrate, with deep empathy and a sharp keen eye, into the soul of the Arabs and record their stories without fake romanticism. This is a unique collection of stories in the history of Hebrew literature.