Ear­li­er this week, Haim Watz­man wrote about Super Tues­day, jour­nal­ism, and love. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Are you a pro­fes­sor?” asked the woman sit­ting next to me on the plane from Israel to New York. She’d been eye­ing my lap­top screen on and off for most of the flight, as I did a final pol­ish on my trans­la­tion of Israel and the Cold War, a punc­til­ious­ly-researched tome by Joseph Heller of the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty. Heller’s the pro­fes­sor, I’m the trans­la­tor. He spent years sift­ing through the dark cor­ners of archives around the world to gath­er the mate­r­i­al in his book. I get the glo­ry of being thought a his­to­ri­an with­out hav­ing looked at a sin­gle doc­u­ment.

Yes, I write my own books, but try buy­ing gro­ceries with that. My fam­i­ly gets fed thanks to books that oth­er peo­ple write, peo­ple who need my help to present their ideas to the pub­lic. Some­times I trans­late in the sim­ple sense of the word — that is, recast a Hebrew work in Eng­lish. But the spe­cif­ic niche I’ve devel­oped over the years is that of translator/​editor, or per­haps bilin­gual book doc­tor would be a bet­ter term. That means I don’t just trans­fer prose from one lan­guage to anoth­er but also help the author rewrite the book.

Of course, the sub­stance remains that of the schol­ar. But sub­stance needs pre­sen­ta­tion. I feel priv­i­leged to have helped bring the work of Israeli schol­ars before the Eng­lish-speak­ing world while mak­ing them more read­er-friend­ly books than they would oth­er­wise have been.

While it’s hard­ly ide­al, the pres­sures are such that I often work on two or three book trans­la­tions or edits at the same time, along­side my own writ­ing. Right now I’m trans­lat­ing a book on the Mossad by Ronen Bergman of the news­pa­per Yediot Aharonot, and a book about Eliez­er Gru­en­baum, a Jew­ish Com­mu­nist who became a kapo at Auschwitz, by the his­to­ri­an Tuvia Friling.

On top of that, I’m edit­ing the Eng­lish ver­sion of one of the Israeli pub­li­ca­tion phe­nom­e­na of the past year. Yuval Noah Harari’s his­to­ry of the world, from humankind’s evo­lu­tion in Africa to the present day, has been a best­seller in Hebrew. It’s based on the sur­vey course he teach­es, which has become one of the university’s most pop­u­lar class­es.

Harari’s book cov­ers a lot of ground that I’ve writ­ten about in my career as a jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing research and sci­ence, so as I edit I dis­agree, debate, and argue points with him. Like most of my clients, Harari appre­ci­ates this deep involve­ment in his work. I am, of course, an ama­teur schol­ar, not a real one, so it’s the client who makes the final deci­sions about the book’s ideas and argu­ments. But it’s a real plea­sure to engage in dis­pu­ta­tions with my authors.

And, of course, I learn a great deal in the process. Almost enough to be tak­en for a pro­fes­sor myself.

Vis­it Haim Watz­man’s offi­cial web­site here.

Haim Watz­man lives in Jerusalem and is the author of three books: Com­pa­ny C: An American’s Life as a Cit­i­zen-Sol­dier in Israel; A Crack in the Earth: A Jour­ney Up Israel’s Rift Val­ley; and a sto­ry col­lec­tion, Nec­es­sary Sto­ries, a selec­tion of the more than 150 he has writ­ten. His play The Chair won the 2021 The­ater Insti­tute Award of the Con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Dra­ma Inter­na­tion­al Com­pe­ti­tion spon­sored by the Estera Rachel and Ida Makin­skie Jew­ish The­ater in War­saw. He has trans­lat­ed more than 50 books from Hebrew into Eng­lish, among them works by Shlo­mo Avineri, David Gross­man, Hil­lel Cohen, Amos Oz, and Tom Segev. He edit­ed the Eng­lish-lan­guage ver­sion of Yuval Noah Harari’s world­wide best­seller, Sapi­ens. Sub­scribe to his Sub­stack newslet­ter here.