Interview in Makor Rishon about Jewish Fiction .net By Galit Dahan Carlibach (February, 2013)
The online journal founded by Dr. Nora Gold, Jewish Fiction .net (www.jewishfiction.net), is filled with stories written by Jewish authors in many languages, including Yiddish, Ladino, Russian and Hebrew.
Jerusalem has a vibrant literary culture. This is the third time this city has hosted the Kisufim Conference, founded by the poet Hava Pinhas-Cohen. This conference brings together Jewish writers and poets from Israel and around the world, creating a fruitful dialogue between writers and their audience. In between a lecture and a panel, I found time to interview one of the participants at this conference, Dr. Nora Gold.
Almost everyone who works with people from abroad, using a language other than one’s mother tongue, knows the feeling of “almost.” Of going around or near something. Words transmit content, but it is the nuances that provide clear communication and transmit precision in meaning. But in an interview with Gold, a Jew from Canada with a PhD in social work, a writer, editor, and the founder of the online literary journal, Jewish Fiction .net, it turns out that her great love for Israel manages to overcome the linguistic difference between us and facilitate a very clear conversation.
A conversation with Nora Gold is highly recommended for those among us who are pessimistic about our current culture in Israel. Talking with Gold makes me fall in love with Israel again, to see things a little differently through the eyes of a visitor, and to possibly feel some hope, a commodity not generally in abundance among writers in Israel.
This is a publication that may help the alienated younger generation in the Diaspora relate positively to Israel.
For those who don’t know, Jewish Fiction .net publishes fiction by Jewish writers from around the world (fiction that is either written in, or translated into, English, but has not yet published in English). Gold is a busy woman and is very active in several different fields, all related to Israel. “Active” and “activism” are words that come up again and again in our conversation.
Galit Dahan Carlibach: I was happy to hear about your journal.
Nora Gold: The purpose of this journal is primarily to create a publishing space for first-rate contemporary Jewish writers who are not yet well-known. As a writer myself, the initial impetus to create this journal came from my awareness, as a writer, of the implications for Jewish fiction of the current crisis in the publishing industry, which was triggered by the advent of digital technology. It was clear to me that one result of this crisis was a dramatic reduction in the number of places available to talented contemporary Jewish writers for publishing their work. I became concerned that over the next decade these writers' excellent stories would not find ways to get published, and would therefore be lost. So at Jewish Fiction .net the emphasis is on contemporary Jewish fiction.
GDC: “Contemporary Jewish fiction” sounds like a topic so broad one could easily drown in it.
NG: That’s another reason I created this journal. I have been deeply concerned for some time about the divisions, divisiveness, and polarizations prevalent within the Jewish world: between the different streams of Judaism, between religious/secular, left/right, Ashkenazi/Mizrahi, and Israel/Diaspora, to name just a few. So I wanted there to be a journal that could help bring Jews together despite our differences. A place where all different kinds of Jewish voices could be heard.
GDC: When discussing Jewish food, one immediately thinks of gefilte fish. As a daughter of Moroccan parents, I obviously disagree with this association. How is this difference between Ashkenazim and Sepharadim expressed in your journal, if at all?
NG: Personally I am very aware of the ethnocentricity of some Ashkenazim, who perceive Ashkenazi traditions as being normative and Sephardi/Mizrachi ones as being “other.” I first encountered this when I first made aliya and worked as a social worker in Beit Shemesh, at that time a development town, in the late 1970s. This idea offended me deeply then and it still does now. As I mentioned regarding the second reason for my creating Jewish Fiction .net, this journal is committed to inclusiveness and diversity, and the belief that there is no one normative version of creativity, and that the stage should be open to everyone. This is evident in our journal, where we have published fiction by authors who are Ashkenazi and Mizrachi, secular and religious, economically advantaged and disadvantaged, male and female, old and young.
Another way we express our commitment to diversity in Jewish Fiction .net is by actively seeking fiction that is written in many languages, and not just English. Our goal is for this to be a journal of Jewish fiction from around the world, not just North America. So far we have published 120 stories or novel excerpts that have never before appeared in English, and these were written on five continents and in eleven languages: English, French, Spanish, Serbian, Russian, Romanian, Turkish, Croatian, Yiddish, Ladino, and of course Hebrew.
GDC: How do you explain the popularity of this journal?
NG: We have readers in 106 countries, and there have been over 33,000 visits to our website so far. In this way we hope to help Israeli writers receive the broad international exposure they deserve. It is also my hope that publishing Israeli stories will help the alienated younger generation in the Diaspora connect more positively and strongly to Israel. Finally, I’m proud that Jewish Fiction .net has Israeli representation on its Advisory Council, thanks to three prominent Israelis: Alice Shalvi, Nava Semel, and Michael Kramer.
DGC: As you know, Jerusalem is a very cosmopolitan city, and English is not rare here. How does Israel (as a geographical place and as a language) influence you as a citizen of Canada?
NG: Israel is a central part of my life. I am an Israeli citizen (as well as Canadian). I lived in Israel for six years, I speak and read Hebrew, I come to Israel 2-3 times a year, and I am involved with volunteer work in Israel. I am on the board of the Dafna Fund (founded by Prof. Dafna Izraeli, z”l, a feminist researcher and activist), which works to advance the position of women in Israel. My commitment to Israel also comes out in the academic work I do. In my academic research, I conducted studies on Canadian Jewish women and girls and their experiences of antisemitism and anti-Israelism, and sexism. And two years ago I (with others) founded an organization in Canada, JSpaceCanada, the goal of which is to counteract anti-Israelism on the Canadian left. Emotionally, even though I am living in Canada now (“in the west”), “my heart is in the east.”
DGC: Your fiction, as well, is very engaged with Israel.
NG: Yes. My love for Israel is reflected in everything I do, including of course in the fiction I write. My book of stories, Marrow and Other Stories, is full of references to Israel, and the title story, “Marrow,” is set in Jerusalem and concerns a woman who is the victim of a terrorist attack. My novel, Fields of Exile (the title of which is from a poem Lea Goldberg wrote as an adolescent) is about the anti-Israelism in the Canadian academe. And my second novel, The Dead Man, is set in Jerusalem and on a kibbutz.
DGC: Israel, like Canada, is a nation of immigrants. As a daughter of immigrants and a writer, I can attest that being a migrant is a catalyst for the imagination. Do you agree with this statement?
NG: I think that for imaginative people just about anything is a catalyst for the imagination. For example, I’ve always written, no matter where I was at a given moment or what was happening around me. When I made aliya and was a new immigrant in Israel, obviously I wrote about this; but I didn’t write because of this. That said, I do think that having to transfer between two different languages and cultures is a mind-broadening and stimulating experience, and this makes for some very interesting literature. Both Israel and Canada are very fortunate to have been enriched by the literature of their immigrants.
DGC: Can you identify, in the world, a thirst for Jewish culture and creativity, or does it remain just within the Jewish community?
NG: I think there is a thirst in the world now, as there always has been, for culture and creativity of all kinds. I don’t know if there is necessarily a thirst among non-Jews for Jewish culture in particular, but I know there is openness to it, just as we Jews are very interested in what is happening artistically and culturally around us, and not just in our own community. Jewish Fiction .net, for instance, has quite a few non-Jewish readers, some of whom have written us to say how much they are enjoying our journal.
DGC: What do you think about the sorry state of the short story?
NG: I do not think the short story nowadays is in a sorry state at all. I think, in fact, it is making something of a comeback due to its suitability for online reading. Many online journals prefer to publish short stories (and the shorter the better), rather than longer works. So the future may actually be very bright for the short story form. And I hope this is also the case for excellent literature in all its forms.