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Yehudit Hendel: Writing on the Fringe

Yehudit Hendel: Writing on the Fringe

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Published by Dina Ripsman Eylon
A literary survey on the works of the Israeli author, Yehudit Hendel, who demonstrates a feminist/female voice in the her most recent publications.
A literary survey on the works of the Israeli author, Yehudit Hendel, who demonstrates a feminist/female voice in the her most recent publications.

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Published by: Dina Ripsman Eylon on Jun 24, 2011
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Yehudit Hendel: Writing on the Fringe
©
2011 Dina Ripsman Eylon and Sisterhood PressAll rights reserved. There is to be no reproduction or distribution of contents by any means without prior permission.
 1
YEHUDIT HENDEL: WRITING ON THE FRINGE
DINA RIPSMAN EYLON, PH.D. Yehudit Hendel was the first female Israeli writer to achieve acclaim in thedecade following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. However, very few of her works have been translated into English from the original Hebrew, and she is littleknown outside of Israel. Hendel’s body of work deals with themes of traumatic loss — of a homeland, mother tongue, community, family members and loved ones — in wars andother calamities. Hendel’s heartrending characters struggle with their ordeals usingvarious escape mechanisms: denial, amnesia and mental illness. Thematically, several of her early stories deal with the aftermath of the 1948 War of Independence and the socialconflicts of that era. As a member of 
 Dor Ha’Palmakh
, the first generation of Israeliwriters that composed literature that was distinctively Israeli, her initial writings followedthe conventions of the period. They ignored issues of gender equality and the lack of aneed for a specific female voice. Only in mid-career did Hendel find a voice of her ownand her work began to exhibit feminist characteristics.Yehudit Hendel was born in 1926 in Warsaw, Poland to a Hasidic family,descendents of Rabbi Yehezkiel of Kazmir. In 1925, Hendel’s grandfather sold his largeestate in Poland and along with his sons and daughters immigrated to pre-state Israel andsettled in Tivon. Afterward, her grandfather became one of the founders of Kfar Hasidim,a small religious farming community near Haifa. In 1930, Hendel’s family joined their relatives, settling in Tivon and later moving to the neighborhood
 
of Nesher on the slopesof Mount Carmel. When Hendel was a young girl, her mother died of typhoid fever. Theeffects of this devastating event were to resurface continually in her writings. (In "AStory with No Address" from her collection of short stories
Small Change
, the deadmother’s spirit hovers over the daughter’s fiction and reverberates in many of thedaughter’s protagonists.) Hendel’s family next moved to Haifa, where she attended the prestigious Reali High School. After graduating, she enrolled at the Levinsky College of Education in Tel Aviv.
 
Yehudit Hendel: Writing on the Fringe
©
2011 Dina Ripsman Eylon and Sisterhood PressAll rights reserved. There is to be no reproduction or distribution of contents by any means without prior permission.
 2In 1946, Hendel began publishing short stories in Hebrew dailies like “Ha’aretz”and “Davar.” Even in these modest efforts, notes Dan Miron, the notable literary scholar and critic, Hendel distinguished herself from her contemporaries by her inimitablewriting style and choice of subject matter. Miron suggests that whereas many of her contemporaries focused on the mainstream of Israeli society, Hendel preferred to showlife on its periphery. This divergence would forever be her hallmark as a writer. Onseveral occasions, Hendel indicated that she agreed with this assessment. In an interviewfor the weekly “Dvar Ha’Shavua” in January 29, 1988, she admitted:
I wrote about the people on the fringe [of society] and not the heroes of the wars. I wasalways attracted to the marginal aspects of life and to the people who lived on the fringe.I wrote about the iceman from Nesher, and I wrote about the redheaded paralyzed youngwoman, asking to be seated under a speck of sun, in the light.
In 1947, while seeking shelter from a heavy rain at a café in Haifa, she met theIsraeli modernist painter Zvi Mairovich. Fifteen years her senior, he became the mostinfluential figure in her life. They married the following year in front of strangers. Theyhad two children: Dorit (1950-2007) and Yehoshua (Shuki, 1962). From 1949 to 1950,the young couple lived in Paris. From 1950 until Mairovich’s death in 1974, Hendel livedin Haifa, where much of her fiction takes place.In 1950, Hendel published her first collection of short stories,
 Anashim Aherim Hem
(They Are Different)
.
The book went out of print quickly, but remarkably, fiftyyears later in 2000, was revised and re-printed. In the prologue of the enlarged secondedition, Hendel recalls her frustrating experience with the editing of the 1950 edition.Without consulting, her editor changed the ending of one of the stories, "Kever-Banim"(Unmarked Communal Grave), which deals with a father who loses his son in the War of Independence. In the original ending the grieving father visits his son’s communal graveon a stormy day. Upon leaving the cemetery, he numbly takes off his coat and places it,along with a small rock, on the grave to protect it from the torrential rain. The story wasinspired by Hendel’s aunt, Pesia, who lost her son in the war and kept watch for him ather window for two years until she died of a broken heart. Written just a year after thewar, this ending represented a radical notion that ran contrary to the norm where grievingfamilies endured and saw war casualties as heroic acts.
 
Yehudit Hendel: Writing on the Fringe
©
2011 Dina Ripsman Eylon and Sisterhood PressAll rights reserved. There is to be no reproduction or distribution of contents by any means without prior permission.
 3The first edition of 
 Anashim Aherim Hem
included seven short stories. Four dealtexclusively with the aftermath of the 1948 war. Loss of loved ones and the disabilitiesincurred during the various battles are themes frequently revisited. "
 Zikhrono nifga
,” (HeLost His Memory) one of the stories written in 1948 and added to the 2000 revisededition, is a delicate, touching narrative about a young man who suffers a head woundduring the war and consequently loses his memory. The story is told from the point of view of his live-in girlfriend, whose reality becomes completely shattered as a result of the young man’s injury. Although composed in the same year, this story differssignificantly in theme and style from the title story, “
 Anashim aherim hem
” (They AreDifferent) in which Hendel exposes the social inequality between new immigrants andnative-born Israelis. Told from the point of view of the immigrants, the underdogs,Hendel depicts the prejudice and stereotypical attitudes held by the native-born Israelistoward the newcomers, whom they regard as their social inferiors. In a similar fashion,the author sides with the victims of war, the disabled and the displaced, becoming their champion, even though Hendel herself was a member of the
 Palmakh
and performedmilitary related activities.In 1955, Hendel published her first novel,
 Rehov Ha-Madregot 
(translated as
Street of Steps
in 1963). Unlike
 Anashim Aherim Hem
, which went out of print quicklyand was essentially ignored by the critics,
 Rehov Ha-Madregot 
became an instant best-seller. It won the Asher Barash Award, saw several editions, and was adapted for thestage in 1958. A story of love in modern Israel, the novel portrays discrimination andalienation between Jews of different ethnic backgrounds in the early years of the State.Against the backdrop of the hills of Haifa, two young people, Avram "Ram" Bekhar, aSephardic Jew, and Erella "Ella" Dagan, from an Ashkenazi background, fall in love.From the outset it is obvious that their romance is ill-fated, largely due to strongopposition from Erella’s father. Hendel’s artistic talent intertwines a sophisticatednarrative using both dynamic and one-dimensional characters. The protagonists’ socialstatus is echoed in the ascending and descending of the hundreds of steps leading fromHaifa’s coast to the top of Mount Carmel.After a long period of silence, Hendel published her second novel,
 Ha-Hatzer Shel Momo Ha-Gdola
(The Yard of Momo the Great) in 1969. Also known in its revised

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