Amos Oz and Stelios Charalampopoulos (the long and the short of it)

Charalamp, opoulos, a Greek director with a long name, has made an hour long movie about Oz, the Israeli writer/Ben-Gurion University professor/peace activist with a short name.  The movie had its North American premiere last night at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center.

Oz is a short story writer, novelist, memoirist, professor, and outspoken political activist who is both loved and mistrusted by large segments of the Israeli population.  He is an original thinker, and a charismatic and captivating speaker both in Hebrew and English.  I have had the pleasure (and that is the right word) or hearing him speak on a number of different occasions.

Oz’s family memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, published in Hebrew and English a few years ago, is a masterpiece of a family memoir.  His cultured, educated parents cut adrift from the Europe they loved, eeking out a difficult existence in Jerusalem; his mother’s depression and suicide when Oz was 12; his rebellion against his Euro-centered father and escape to a northern kibbutz when he was only 15; his participation in the wars of 1967 and 1973; his emergence as a writer and the development of his political conciousness; his belief that peace is possible and his allegiance to his labor-Zionist philosophy.  All are on display in this wonderful book.

The film catches a good deal of this, showing Oz, in conversation with the director, at his house in Arad where he has lived for twenty years, in front of the flat in Jerusalem where he grew up, and at Kibbutz Hulda where he lived for over 30 years.  You grasp the tragic story of Oz’s family, the manner in which Oz was able to reinvent himself (including changing his name to Oz from Klausner), his feelings about Israel, and about the Israeli-Palestinean conflict.

And you certain pick up Oz’ personality and his cleverness and humor.  Humor not just to tell a joke; humor to make a point.  An example at the end of the movie where Oz, where Oz is bemoaning some of the trends of life in today’s busy world:  people, he says, are working harder than they should, to make more money than they really need, to buy things that they don’t really want, in order to impress people that they don’t like.

And, when I saw him last speaking in June, he had just returned from a successful lecture trip to China, where he said he had been very impressed by the positive and extensive interest that the Chinese academic community had in Israel and Judaism.  He said that he suggested in a speech at Beijing University that the Chinese and the Israelis could create a wonderful partnership.  “Together”, he said, “we make up 25% of the world’s population”.

I thought that the evening was marred, however, by the presentation made after the film by Eric Zakim, who teaches Israeli studies at the University of Maryland.  His much too long remarks seemed to wander far off the topic of the night, he expressed his appreciation of Oz as a “character” but said he did not think much of his writing, and his concepts of the relationship of Oz and of Hebrew literature in general to Israel society seemed well off the mark.   He was unable to recommend a particular Oz book to a questioner, asking the audience for help, and showing me that he really did not know his subject.  Not only did I think that he added nothing to the evening, I think that his participation was a negative, leading me to leave after his second overly lengthy and not quite responsive answer to the second on-point audience question.

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