A dutiful daughter and editor
Emunah Yaron puts it this way: "I don't like to see myself on film, and I also don't like hearing myself." She adds: "The people who came out good in this film are my husband, Haim, and my daughter, Yael."
Then why did you agree to take part in the film?
"At first I didn't know that this would be turned into a film, Ruth (Walk), the director, came to talk to me and filmed. I hate being photographed, but she came especially from Tel Aviv. Much later I realized she was making a film. In the end this calf came out." "This calf" is the pet name Yaron, the daughter of S.Y. Agnon and the editor of his literary estate, found for the documentary film about her life and work, "Prakim Mehayai" (Chapters from My Life). It will be aired on Saturday, 21.45, on Channel 8. It's the same title as her memoir, published three years ago by Schocken Publishers.
Director Ruth Walk and editor and producer Yael Perlov focus on Yaron and her life's work: publishing the remaining writings in Agnon's estate. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966 and died in 1970. Yaron dedicated herself to the estate project almost naturally, and over 30 years has published 15 books, nearly double the number Agnon published in his lifetime.
When your book "Prakim Mehayai" was published, didn't you prefer not to have your photo, in which you are shown sitting next to a typewriter, on the jacket?
"My daughter and Haim pressured me to use that picture, and there was also pressure from the editors, so I agreed."
You don't like to stand center stage?
"Once I went with Dad to town on the bus. Just that day I happened to dress nicely. I had gone to spend the morning with my good friend. I was 10. At one stop, this woman got on the bus and she said to my father, 'Mr. Agnon, you think your daughter is pretty?' Since then, I realized that I'm not pretty. Today I have a slightly better opinion of myself, but pictures of me don't come out well. I just can't manage to be photographed, that's all."
This is how Emunah Yaron speaks, with a certain endearing, childlike quality. She smiles a lot, is alert, pleasant and so is her husband, Haim Yaron, who stood by her side all these years, sharpened her pencils, was supportive and also learned how to read and analyze Agnon's impossible handwriting.
Their home is suffused with Agnon, the library is filled with his books. On the refrigerator, there are photographs of the family, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Haim Yaron reads a newspaper and occasionally joins in the conversation, adds a sentence, recalls a story. The Yarons maintain a religious lifestyle. For the last decade, they have lived in Nofei Gilo, an assisted living facility in Jerusalem. Not long ago, a Ray, a Filipino caretaker, moved in with them. "I call him our Canaanite," says Yaron.
In Dad's shadow
Emunah Yaron was born to S.Y. Agnon and his wife, Esther, in Koenigsberg, Germany in 1921. A year later, her brother, Shalom Mordechai, whose name was changed to Hemdat, was born. When the family immigrated to Israel and settled in Talpiot, their mother was given responsibility for the children's education. Emunah studied at the Hamizrahi Teachers Seminar and worked as a teacher for a few years in Safed. After she married Haim and their two children, Gad and Yael, were born, she devoted herself to raising them.
Yaron once also wrote herself. It wasn't easy. She always lived in the shadow of her father. But when she turned 40, she decided to write her own stories. Her first story, "Ayara Al Rosh Hahar (Ayala on the Mountain Top)," was published in the journal Amot, edited by Shlomo Grudzenskicz. Then she wrote "Sipur" (Story), which was published in the journal Moznayim. Her story "Behanuyot Gedolot" (In Big Stores) was published in Haaretz. She wrote and published a few other stories in the 1960s, but then her father became ill. She was already working on the manuscript of "Shira." Since their childhood, she and her brother had been used to reading their father's manuscripts and making a clean copy with his proofreading corrections.
"As kids, our mother taught us to touch type on a typewriter with 10 fingers and without looking at the keys," says Yaron. "So with no problem I would be able to continue her work. At first on a typewriter and then on a computer."
Before his death, Agnon asked his daughter to continue the proofreading work on "Shira" (in the film, she says her father at first didn't want to her work on the novel, because it dealt with an extramarital relationship and he felt it would "ruin" her).
"When he died, I decided to stop my writing and focus on his estate," she says.
Was it a difficult decision?
"No, it was clear to me that this was what needed to be done. I received a wonderful inheritance, and Dad said there were a lot more writings in the estate, even nicer than the ones he'd already published."
That took a lot of confidence in you on his part, for him to entrust you with such an inheritance.
"Why shouldn't he have confidence in me? I was a very good girl."
Yaron, asked why she gave up her own writing and devoted herself to her father's estate, says:
"When I was young, I didn't write because of Dad. After all, how can you sit in his shadow and write? When I turned 40, I thought, if not now, when, and I started writing stories, some of which were also published. Once we came to my parents on Friday night, my daughter Yael was still little, and I took my story with me because I wanted to show it to Dad. And then Yael, during the meal told him, 'Mom brought her story, she wants you to read it.' He read everything I wrote and encouraged me a lot."
Her brother Hemdat is a mechanical engineer and an underwater sports enthusiast who divides his time between Jerusalem and Eilat and was less involved in the literary estate. "He had other interests," says Yaron, "but once when Mom went away and Dad needed to have 'Tmol Shilshom' (Only Yesterday) copied, Hemdat typed the whole book. And he certainly has an appreciation of Hebrew."
Was he more rebellious?
"He rebelled, yes, but perhaps he might have done what I did, I simply didn't ask him. He is better at technical things, so it was obvious to me that this was for me."
You never wanted to rebel?
"Yes, when I was 16 and Mom went to the United States for a few months, Dad let us do more things, so I went to learn French in evening classes, and then I went with friends to sit in a cafe, and I came home very late. When Mom returned, she forbid this to be done anymore. She didn't like us leaving the house. For her peace of mind, we had to be at home.
"In the end we reached an agreement that I would continue learning French, but that I wouldn't go out to a cafe afterward."
In the film, Yaron talks about father and mother; both apparently were not easy to grow up with. Her mother, an educated and modern woman who nevertheless devoted her life to working alongside her husband, was away from home for long periods, vacationing with her sister or abroad. And there are many stories about her writer father having a critical nature, being tough and even stingy.
Yaron brushes off the stories: "I learned from him not to pay attention to what people say. At first, they were even angry at me. How dare I touch Agnon's archives, but Dad asked us to do it. He said there were a lot of manuscripts, and he hoped we wouldn't leave them in the estate."
In hindsight, what did your childhood look like?
"I loved Mom more. He was very good to us, always took us on outings, listened to everything we told him and chattered about, sometimes played with us. Mom tired quickly and traveled a lot, so sometimes we stayed with him alone."
How do you now remember those periods when your mother was away?
"On one hand, it was hard. On the other hand, during those times I got closer to Dad. When Mom went away, it was very hard for me.
"To this day, sometimes, when something happens or I have a question, I mistakenly think, 'I'll tell Dad, or Mom,' and then I remember that it's no longer possible."