On Mon­day, Michael David Lukas shared a list of his top ten favorite Jews of all time. He will be blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings Author Blog. His first book, The Ora­cle of Stam­boul, is now available.

In my last post I men­tioned the lone­li­ness and alien­ation I felt dur­ing the first few months of the year I spent in Tunis. While my list of top ten favorite Jews of all time cheered me up, it wasn’t until I met Nomi Stone that I tru­ly got out of my funk. Nomi is a poet and a schol­ar who was in Tunisia on a Ful­bright. Her project was to research and write a book of poems about the Jews of Djer­ba (a desert island off the south­ern coast of Tunisia), which is exact­ly what she did. The fruits of her year in Tunisia, The Stranger’s Note­book, was pub­lished by Tri­Quar­ter­ly Press in 2008 and it is just amazing.

I may be biased, because Nomi is a dear friend, so I have includ­ed links to a few poems avail­able online. Through Nomi I had the plea­sure of eat­ing a Rosh Hashanah din­ner with one of the very few Jew­ish fam­i­lies still liv­ing in Tunis. (There are thou­sands of Tunisian Jews liv­ing on Djer­ba, but only a few dozen still in the cap­i­tal, Tunis). Din­ner was won­der­ful — a slight vari­a­tion on the clas­sic Tunisian cous­cous, fol­lowed by shots of fig liqueur, which had been dis­tilled by Tunisian Jews for cen­turies — but it was an encounter I had a few weeks lat­er that I will always remember.

I was wan­der­ing through the old city of Tunis, look­ing to buy a mix tape for a musi­cal­ly inclined friend, when I saw the son of the fam­i­ly I had eat­en din­ner with, a slight man in his ear­ly for­ties. When I saw him approach, I waved and called out his name, but he didn’t appear to see me. Soon he was lost in the crowd.

Strange, I thought. I wor­ried that maybe I had offend­ed him some­how. And then I thought that per­haps he was wor­ried about acknowl­edg­ing my pres­ence, because of where we had met, because he was scared of some­how being revealed. A para­noid thought, but still. That fear­ful uncer­tain­ty — being unsure whether I was snubbed, or not seen, or some­thing else more sin­is­ter — gets at the heart, I think, of what it means to be a Jew in a place with­out many Jews, or any such stranger for that matter.

Michael David Lukas has been a Ful­bright schol­ar in Turkey, a late-shift proof­read­er in Tel Aviv, and a Rotary schol­ar in Tunisia. His first book, The Ora­cle of Stam­boul, is now avail­able. Check back all week for more posts from him on the JBC/MJL Author Blog.

Author of The Last Watch­man of Old Cairo and The Ora­cle of Stam­boul, Michael David Lukas has been a Ful­bright Schol­ar in Turkey, a stu­dent at the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty of Cairo, and a night-shift proof­read­er in Tel Aviv. A recip­i­ent of the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award, the Sami Rohr Prize for Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture, the Sophie Brody Medal, and a Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts Fel­low­ship, his writ­ing has appeared in The New York Times and The Wall Street Jour­nal. He teach­es at San Fran­cis­co State Uni­ver­si­ty and lives in Oak­land, California.