The Writer’s Festival – As A Fanatic

Simon Sabag Montefiore and Amos Oz/Photo: Sara Shamansky

“I love Jerusalem even when I can’t stand it…Jerusalem of then was full of fanatics, and Jerusalem of now is full of fanatics. Jerusalem is a magnet for fanatics”

So I’m a fanatic. Good to know.  I am indeed a religious, Ultra Orthodox, Jew. I wear a long skirt that falls below my knees, and a modest blouse that covers my elbows and my collarbones. Is it my clothing that brands me a fanatic? Or is it my belief in God that bothers them? What is the point where tolerance ends, and the mission against fanaticism begins?

I wish that questions were allowed. I want to ask Amos Oz and Simon Sabag-Montefiore if what they are saying is that they love Jerusalem despite its residents?

“This sort of fanaticism is not new to Jerusalem…There are many people in Jerusalem who came not to build it but to crucify it and be crucified by it…So many people in Jerusalem are past oriented..It is the nature of fanatics to view the future as a restoration of some glorious past… if the holy places of Jerusalem can be removed for a hundred years to Scandinavia, this place will recover.”

I look at the rows in front of me; I see a scattering of Kippahs; I see a woman with her head covered religiously. There are other Orthodox Jews here. The talk is taking place in Jerusalem, and many of its residents, as well as being Orthodox and hence ‘fanatics’, are also lovers of culture and literature. I wonder if they are feeling unwelcome here, like I am.

Oz and Simon Sabag-Montefiore are two very clever people; two very witty people. Their conversation is amusing to listen to. The audience laughs, at intervals. But this talk is about the writers, not the writing. The writers speak of their political views, their world views. Those who came, like me, to here of the process, of the craft, will leave disappointed.

Oz finishes by telling us of a comedy:
A man has an audition with God himself.
He asks God the classic Jerusalemite question. “What is the true religion?”
“I’m not even interested in religion.” God says.

Everyone claps and the talk ends.


Sara Shamansky writes a blog on her experiences as a young, single, woman in Israel’s Ultra Orthodox society. Her novel-in-progress on Shidduch dating is appearing there chapter by chapter.  She has been blogging about the writer’s festival for Midnight East.


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