In his last post, Bob Gold­farb, a reg­u­lar review­er for Jew­ish Book World, wrote about the pan­el Ash­es and Ink: Con­tem­po­rary Holo­caust Writ­ing.” He is blog­ging here all week about the Inter­na­tion­al Writ­ers’ Fes­ti­val at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem.

An ami­able chat between his­to­ri­an Simon Sebag Mon­te­fiore and novelist/​essayist Amos Oz end­ed the first evening of the Mishkenot Sha’ananim Writ­ers’ Con­fer­ence. The pair would prob­a­bly have been just as genial and enter­tain­ing no mat­ter what they talked about, but their top­ics were the historian’s area of exper­tise and the novelist’s birth­place: Rus­sia and Jerusalem.

I love Jerusalem even when I don’t like it, even at times when I can­not stand it,” said Oz. That is the sit­u­a­tion right now. The Jerusalem of my child­hood was filled with fanat­ics, and Jerusalem now is filled with fanat­ics. Then every­one was obsessed with the future; now every­one is obsessed with the past.”

On today’s Jerusalem he elab­o­rat­ed, Every­one is obsessed with the idea of restor­ing some glo­ri­ous past or oth­er. It is in the nature of fanat­ics to view the future as a rep­e­ti­tion of some glo­ri­ous past – the past will come back, there will be a restora­tion of the glo­ri­ous past, and then there will be an ever­last­ing present, and no his­to­ry, one ever­last­ing plateau of hap­pi­ness.” He mused that it might help nor­mal­ize the city if the holy places could be sent to Scan­di­navia for 100 years.

Oz asked Mon­te­fiore, the author of two bio­graph­i­cal vol­umes about Stal­in, how he came to be inter­est­ed in his sub­ject. Stal­in is a fas­ci­nat­ing­ly com­plex fig­ure, which is why peo­ple are still inter­est­ed in him,” said the his­to­ri­an. He helped cre­at­ed the world we know today. He was the true vic­tor of World War II, the good war.’ He end­ed up with an empire greater than that of the tsars. In Rus­sia today he is no longer a Com­mu­nist fig­ure, he’s a tsar.”

How did Stal­in do it? There are two kinds of politi­cians,” he explained: those who write arti­cles, charm peo­ple, and kiss babies, and those who com­mit bank rob­beries and make peo­ple dis­ap­pear. Stal­in could do both.”

Mon­te­fiore asked Oz what he thought of Ben-Guri­on, since Oz had per­son­al mem­o­ries of the states­man. He was the sin­gle most impres­sive human being I have ever met in my life,” he answered. He was like a laser beam. With the years he grows on me. In Jew­ish his­to­ry he will go down as a greater fig­ure than King David.” Why? Com­pare what David received from Saul and gave to Solomon, and what Ben-Guri­on got from Weiz­mann and gave to Levi Eshkol.”

Simon Sebag Mon­te­fiore is a direct descen­dant of Moses Mon­te­fiore, who built a house in Jerusalem 150 years ago just a few steps away from where they were speak­ing. Amos Oz asked the British schol­ar about his forth­com­ing book on the city. Mon­te­fiore revealed, It’s about holi­ness. And holi­ness is com­pet­i­tive. Mt. Zion has been holy to every­body: first with a syn­a­gogue, then with the Chris­t­ian Coenac­u­lum. Lat­er it was revered as the tomb of David, found in Cru­sad­er times. After that the Mam­lukes took it as Mus­lim site, and when the Wail­ing Wall was under Jor­dan­ian rule Mt. Zion became a site of Jew­ish pil­grim­age.” And so they end­ed where they began, con­tem­plat­ing the city’s tur­bu­lent past and its com­pli­cat­ed present.

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.