David Grossman, Accept the Israel Prize

If there’s anything the great author should understand, it’s that the government is not supposed to interfere in art

FILE PHOTO:  Israeli author David Grossman

Avigdor Feldman has recommended that you, David Grossman, refuse to accept the Israel Prize for literature, because you will have to shake hands with the prime minister, the education minister and the culture minister. Feldman suggests that instead, or perhaps as a reason, you see the exhibition of Moshe Gershuni in Tel Aviv and then go to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, where you will hear about the refugees, the asylum seekers and the black American soldier.

I propose a different journey, two in fact. One is surely familiar to you; the second is a journey among words rather than memories. Afterward — and maybe, as with Feldman, because of them — go and accept the prize, in part for those you visited.

The first trip is a journey to love and loss — to your son Uri, whom you loved, and to Amir Meital, whom we loved, who was buried nearly 30 years ago in the military cemetery in Hadera. Between these two places you will find all the Uris and all the Amirs — all those who won’t be reading your books. Some of them surely read them already, and some may have left us without having read you at all.

Your books, David Grossman, won’t awaken the Uris and the Amirs. Nor will the books of others, but this time you head the list of writers. Your books are the voice heard in the silence of the Uris and Amirs. They are the voice in which the sounds of joy and sorrow are also heard in the total silence of the cemetery; they are the memory of all those Uris and Amirs who will no longer dream, but in the final dreams of some of them, the characters that you created sang and danced and celebrated the dream that preceded the endless silence.

It’s really superfluous to write this, but the Israel Prize is being granted to you, David Grossman, not in the name of the handshakers and not on their behalf. It is being granted to you in the name of those who are on this land, the readers and the silent ones. The hand that is doing the shaking is not even the frame of some painting by Gershuni, it is barely a small note in the corner. The prize is being awarded to you by those whom the painting depicts and those who are in it.

That is the first journey that I’m proposing to you, to some of those for whom you are receiving the prize. The second journey is a verbal one. After the ceremony and after you shake everyone’s hands, you will certainly be given the opportunity to say thank you for the prize. Here you will be able to roam among your own words and to thank those because of whom and on whose behalf you really received the prize.

If you allow me to sketch the “thank you journey” for you, Grossman, I propose a number of places for you: I suggest that you also thank the asylum seekers and their children for the prize. I imagine that some of them have read your children’s books and through them learned about this country, to which they arrived after a long period of wandering.

I would suggest that you thank Shmuel Maoz and his film “Foxtrot,” and author Dorit Rabinyan and her book “All the Rivers,” in whose name, too, you are being awarded the prize.

If there is anything that you, David Grossman, should understand well, and that Feldman apparently doesn’t understand, it’s that the government is not supposed to interfere in art. It was not the handshakers who decided to award you the prize, nor are you receiving it from their hands. But the refusal to shake hands is exactly the reverse side of the government’s boycotting of films, plays and books, since in such a refusal there is no distinction between art and politics.

The ceremony is not the essence of the prize, it is barely an extraneous part of it. It isn’t even a kind of faded book jacket. All the living and the dead of this land are written in your books, and for them and on their behalf you are receiving this prize. So Grossman, go and accept the prize.

Shachar Ben Meir is a lawyer.