January 07


Moshe Ron

Translated by Jessica Cohen

A note from the editor
S. Y. Agnon wrote: "Every book one opens, one finds in it things not found before." Beginning this month, Zeek will be translating some of the best Hebrew fiction you've never seen before, published in English in our pages for the first time anywhere. This new series couldn't come at a better time: Hebrew literature has undergone profound changes and reinventions during the last two decades. The voices of women, recent immigrants, postmodern experimentalists, Arab Israelis, and mizrahi writers have all revitalized Israeli literature in both form and theme.

All too often, however, English speakers are unaware of Israel's vibrant and varied literary scene. With this month's launch of our Hebrew literature in translation feature, we hope to call your attention to this rich body of work that deals with matters of faith, identity, political struggle, and the burdens of history. Writers in Israel have a long tradition of being viewed as prophets, and Zeek believes that the fiction we publish will comfort, rebuke, and inspire readers while bearing witness to national dreams and failures.

Jessica Cohen had this to say about her work with Moshe Ron's Protection: "In addition to the questions of how to convey the humor, local flavor, and colloquialisms of Israeli culture in the language of a very different culture, I faced an unusual challenge: the author of the story is not only fluent in English, but is himself a noted literary translator. While this meant that he would be able to see through any tricks of the trade, it also produced a fruitful collaboration and led to an end result that is true to the voice and spirit of the original work, if not always to each individual turn of phrase."

Zeek's Hebrew translations are made possible with a grant from the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, supported by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency. Please direct submissions and queries to arovner[at]zeek.net.


Adam Rovner, Hebrew Translations Editor

When I came in with my duffle bag and found his note Scotch-taped to the bathroom mirror, I really didn’t know what to do. I sat down in the living room opposite the TV’s glassy eye and wrung my hands, literally. And then Shimrit called. That’s how she ended up being the one I dumped this whole thing on. It may not have been the longest phone call we’ve ever had, but it certainly wasn’t the shortest one either. I couldn’t help but begin from the end, the bitter end, and then I went back to the beginning and tried to reconstruct the whole chain of events for her. Usually it’s me listening to her long, drawn-out descriptions of various crises, like with that violent cop she was dating for a while, or that miserable poseur she was even married to for six months or so.

It all started when I needed a mattress for those treatments I learned how to do in that course I took, a special mattress you couldn’t find in an ordinary store. After asking around, I found out there was a place in the south of town, somewhere in the lower end of Nahalat Binyamin, where they made this kind of stuff to order. South Tel Aviv is not exactly my stomping ground, so I asked Shaike – I was very sweet about it, I really don’t think I was bugging him – if he would go with me. And to my surprise on that very Friday, a day he doesn’t go to any of his jobs but is usually busy with all sorts of meetings, we did go.

We took a cab down to avoid traffic jams and parking hassles. He went into Goldbloom & Sons with me, waited patiently while I asked my questions at the counter, even climbed up a steep staircase with me to the gallery where I explained to the guy exactly what I needed. A price was settled, something like 270 shekels plus tax, and they promised the mattress would be ready in a week.

We were pretty pleased with how well the transaction had gone – I mean, I think it wasn’t just me who was pleased. We had some time left, so we took advantage of it to wander around Florentine and the old commercial center, a fascinating part of town. There are few things I like more than wandering around somewhere with Shaike, listening to all his philosophizing and his memories of old Tel Aviv. It was a bright sunny day, truly lovely. Shaike was wearing that straw hat we’d gotten for him in Greece, which I make him wear on days like that to protect his freckled complexion, and he looked elegant and hunky in that careless way of his. He showed me the synagogue his grandfather had helped build, where the old guy went on to spend most of his time during the last few decades of his life. We bought all sorts of spices and beans and dried fruit from interesting shops. We went into a delicatessen on Levinksy and came out loaded with bags. Shaike was in a cheerful mood and joked around with the clerk, teasing him about Maccabi’s recent loss to Hapoel, while unconsciously mimicking the man’s Bulgarian accent a bit. We topped it all off with a good, inexpensive lunch at a restaurant on Aliyah Street.

The following week he had some kind of deadline and I couldn’t possibly drag him there again. So he stayed home working at his computer and I hailed a cab on Ibn Gabirol Street and headed south. The cabbie wouldn’t turn the meter on, and you know how that drives me up a wall. “It won’t cost you any more than you want to pay,” he tells me. “And if I don’t want to pay anything?” I was already losing it. “Then don’t pay.”

As soon as he stopped for me, I thought he looked a bit scary. I was sure he was an Arab, kind of dark, with overgrown hair and a few days’ worth of very black stubble on his face. I needed to hear him speak normal Hebrew, to make sure he was an Israeli cabdriver. After our little argument he ended up turning the meter on, and I explained that I had to pick up this mattress from some store and asked if he’d mind waiting a couple minutes with the meter running while I was gone.

So I go into Goldbloom’s and show them the receipt and they send me to this warehouse at the other end of their lot. I went out to tell the driver I was just going next door, so he wouldn’t think I’d skipped out on him without paying. I even pulled out a twenty and almost forced it on him.

At the warehouse, I was in for a shock: instead of making the cut and the seam so you could fold the mattress widthwise, those morons had done it lengthwise. This thing they made was totally useless for my purpose, or for any other I could imagine. And on top of everything else, instead of blue, like I’d asked for, they’d made it pink, my least favorite color. Of course I refused to take the stupid mattress, which wasn’t what I’d ordered. An argument started, first with the warehouse guy, then with the manager, who was the one who had personally taken down my order the week before. They kicked up a big fuss, making it out like it was my fault, claiming I didn’t even know what I’d ordered. I told them I had nothing more to say to them; I left the mattress and walked out.

Bottom line, I get into the cab shamefaced—I think the expression is just right in this particular case. I shut the door, ask the driver to take me back home, and he starts driving. About thirty seconds later he looks in the rear-view mirror and asks me where the mattress is.

I don’t really feel like talking, but I tell him anyway. I explain how they made the opposite of what I'd ordered. But me, I'm so crazy, I paid them everything in advance, the whole sum. So now there’s nothing I can do, I’m thick, so goddamn thick. I believe I repeated those words several times over.

By now we’re already at Hamoshavot Square.

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