A Face in the Crowd

Grossman is a clear person in a blurry world. His clarity is unassuming, focused and ongoing.

Every Israeli is familiar with this face in the crowd - the face of David Grossman. If his were not a familiar face, there would be little in this photograph to explain who he is. Fair-skinned, red-haired, bespectacled, in the middle of a dapper, nattily dressed, smartly coiffed crowd. These people are occupied with their own affairs. Grossman, in their midst, seems to be pondering something without losing his concentration, smiling politely, as though conscious of being looked at, but also stealing a moment with himself before having to be in the company of others.

Grossman -AFP - Oct 10, 2010
Johannes Eisele / AFP

This is an image in which the photographer, Johannes Eisele of AFP, recognized Grossman, focused the lens on him (maybe he was asked to photograph him specially, or maybe he knows him and decided to take his picture ), thereby blurring all the people in the immediate vicinity. In other words: Grossman is in focus, all the others are not.

On the day after this photo was taken, October 10, Grossman received the Peace Prize of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, which is awarded at the end of the International Book Fair in Frankfurt, in a ceremony in the city's Church of St. Paul. The photographs from the ceremony show the author sitting next to his wife in the audience, receiving the prize, addressing the audience and surrounded by well-wishers.

The upshot is that this picture, handsome as it is, explains nothing about the future, not even about what will happen the next day. It reveals only one private moment, in the present; it is up to the observer to be cognizant of everything the person in its center has undergone and all that is known about him.

This is the man who every week stands in a public garden in Sheikh Jarrah and protests against the removal of Palestinians from their homes, and against institutionalized injustice which makes their lives impossible. This is the man who, already a generation ago, saw that erasing the rights of the Palestinians in the territories is tantamount to erasing the humanity of the Israelis inside the Green Line. This is the man who wrote masterpieces of Israeli literature. This the man who, several times a year, stands on the stage in the Tel Aviv hall where the Israel Philharmonic is appearing - with the orchestra behind him and along with a tuxedo-clad Eli Gornstein, sporting long ears and a hairy button tail - and tells the children who pack the auditorium the story of how Itamar met a rabbit.

This is the person who, on August 10, 2006, together with Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, called on Ehud Olmert to begin a political process to bring about an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon - and 48 hours later lost his son in battle.

How is it possible to make all these things known in one photo? It's not. That's why this picture - taken not in his study, not in Sheikh Jarrah, not on the podium of honor and not with children, but precisely in the midst of a passing crowd of wealthy-looking Europeans, well-groomed and preoccupied - is one of the best taken of Grossman. He is a clear person in a blurry world. His clarity is unassuming, focused and ongoing. His clarity is a private matter, unique to him, but also public, to the extent that the public is ready to accept it. And his clarity enables anyone who is still capable of seeing anything to harbor a certain, very necessary type of hope.