Bob Gold­farb has been blog­ging all week at the Writ­ers’ Fes­ti­val at Mishkenot Sha’ananim

More than a gen­er­a­tion sep­a­rates nov­el­ist Nicole Krauss, 36, from Aharon Appelfeld, who was born in 1932. The author of The His­to­ry of Love was born in the com­fort and secu­ri­ty of Amer­i­ca, while the Israeli man of let­ters spent his child­hood hid­ing from the Nazis among crim­i­nals. Yet they feel a deep admi­ra­tion for each oth­er, and not just for their writ­ing, as their pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion on the last night of the Writ­ers’ Fes­ti­val made clear.

We are used to Amer­i­can writ­ers writ­ing only about Amer­i­ca,” remarked the Israeli. Krauss’s The His­to­ry Love unfolds in East­ern Europe and Chile as well as Brook­lyn. So you can see Nicole is a very Jew­ish writer. Why are you a Jew­ish writer?” he asked her.

Krauss explained, When I was young it didn’t inter­est me to be Jew­ish. The com­mu­ni­ty wasn’t inspir­ing, it was not inter­est­ed in the larg­er world. At Oxford, where I was a grad­u­ate stu­dent, I felt out of my depth, but I felt an affin­i­ty with oth­er Jews, whether I liked them or not. There was a shared understanding.

When I start­ed the process of writ­ing nov­els, I start­ed to find out who I was,” she con­tin­ued. I hit this rock of being Jew­ish. It’s so pro­found­ly rich, with end­less ques­tions. It’s some­thing that could last for a life­time to understand.”

I come from a very assim­i­lat­ed Jew­ish fam­i­ly,” com­ment­ed Appelfeld. So assim­i­la­tion is part of me. My par­ents didn’t want to hear about Jew­ish­ness – it was an anachro­nism in our home. My grand­par­ents in the Carpathi­ans were still believ­ers. We used to come to them in vaca­tions — farm­ers, work­ing in the fields, com­ing home, sit­ting silent­ly, pray­ing silently.”

Krauss declared, As a writer some­times I feel I’m free, I don’t have to be respon­si­ble to any­thing. Now I’ll hear your voice echo­ing if I write some­thing not Jew­ish.” The old­er author replied, You speak of free­dom. Yes, every writer is a free man, but he has a fam­i­ly, and a tribe, and he is not so free. And grand­par­ents and uncles, and they are part of his mem­o­ry. I’ve lost my par­ents, grand­par­ents. But they are still with you.”

I have anoth­er ques­tion,” said Krauss. I once heard one of my favorite direc­tors, Krzysztof Kies­lows­ki, speak­ing after fall of Com­mu­nism. He didn’t want to make films any more, he want­ed to quit. Under Com­mu­nism he had a direct com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the audi­ence, they under­stood the sym­bols, every ges­ture. In Israel you have an audi­ence that under­stands your sub­text, the secrets with­in the lan­guage. I won­der what it’s like to write for an audi­ence like that?”

When I came to Israel,” Appelfeld recalled, I didn’t speak Hebrew. I began at the kib­butz, work­ing in the field, learn­ing Hebrew. I want­ed to cre­ate a home, a space for me, so I began to write. When I was 26 I came to a pub­lish­er with a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries about my com­ing to Israel, being alien in this hot coun­try, about not under­stand­ing what it is, about the long­ing to go back to the forests, even to the ghet­to. A pub­lish­er looked at me – you want to pub­lish these deca­dent sto­ries? What kind of fan­tasies are these? You should write about real life — kib­butz, army, not about peo­ple who have lost their homes.”

In the 1950s social­ist real­ism was very strong. It was a very ide­o­log­i­cal coun­try. You served the coun­try, so you should write social­ist real­ism, not about your expe­ri­ence. Indi­vid­u­al­i­ty was not a val­ue. But lit­er­a­ture is indi­vid­u­al­i­ty.” Ear­li­er in the con­ver­sa­tion Nicole Krauss had referred to her forth­com­ing nov­el, Great House, and to the kinds of Jew­ish ques­tions that most inter­est her: What holds us togeth­er? Who we are? With a tremen­dous sense of loss, how does one seize life, decide to go on liv­ing? To begin again, to cre­ate where there is nothing?”

Aharon Appelfeld, for his part, looked back to his ear­ly years and the impres­sions he retains of that world. I absorbed them in the deep­est way when I was a child. I think the eye of a child is the real eye of the writer. When I think I still have some­thing of a child­ish eye I am happy.”

Bob Gold­farb is pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Jew­ish Cul­ture and Cre­ativ­i­ty in Jerusalem and Los Ange­les. He also blogs for the Los Ange­les Jew­ish Jour­nal.