Minimalist Keret Reads


Etgar Keret is coming to Los Angeles, but fear not. This brilliant young Israeli writer of his generation, a skillful satirist who seems to have a knack for expressing the emotions, thoughts and language of his peers, has not gone completely Hollywood.

He has returned to fiction, despite spending more than a year working on several movies: “Wristcutters: A Love Story,” based on his novella, “Kneller’s Happy Campers,” which debuted at the 2006 Sundance Festival; “$9.99,” a stop-motion animated film starring Geoffrey Rush and Anthony LaPaglia, based on his story, “For Only 9.99 (Inc. Tax and Postage),” and “Jellyfish,” which he co-directed with his wife, actress Shira Geffen.

“I’m not mainstream,” insists Keret, who will read from his recently translated short story collection, “The Nimrod Flipout” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), at the Skirball Cultural Center’s fourth annual Stanley F. Chyet Literary Event on April 10.

The 39-year-old writer sits at his neighborhood Tel Aviv cafe, dressed in jeans and a plaid flannel shirt; his long hair is graying and mussed. He drinks a small cappuccino with soy milk served with a plate of flaky halvah cookies.
“Writing stories is the most natural thing to me, but what pulls me to movies is working with other people. I love people, and I love collaborating. I want the people who work with me to love the stories, to be a little bit crazy and committed themselves,” he says.

His 1996 film, “Skin Deep,” won the Israeli Oscar, as well as first prize at several international film festivals. More than 40 short films based on his stories have been produced, and one, “Crazy Glue,” received the 1998 American MTV prize for the best student animated film.

Keret has authored four short story collections in Hebrew, two in English, two children’s books, a handful of novellas, graphic novels, screenplays and collaborated on anthologies. His works have been translated into more than 20 languages, which have received critical acclaim around the world.
His writing has, at its core, a very offbeat, youthful sensibility. Keret writes a lot about men — mostly young men — the army, life in Israel’s secular center, where he was born, raised and still lives, and the friendships and sexual relationships of early adulthood.

Keret’s writing is focused on the characters and the plot rather than aesthetic and conflict. There’s little to no physical description of his characters, but it’s not hard to imagine skinny guys in jeans and T-shirts slumped in chairs or loping down the street.

It’s probably what Keret was like when he first began writing while stuck in a dead-end job in the army. But it was only once he was at Tel Aviv University that his writing took off.

The way Keret tells it, he was always late to class because he would stay up late writing. Finally, his adviser, a philosophy professor, said he would have to cancel Keret’s scholarship if he didn’t get his act together. Keret showed him the stories he had written, which helped kick-start his career.

He doesn’t like to over-intellectualize in his writing, but he does go for emotion, writing about things and events that move him.

Keret and his father, a bookkeeper, have always had an emotional relationship, he says. But the way his father displays love and affection is by means of the details that his father knows about his life from handling Keret’s bookkeeping.
“He’ll say, ‘You got home late that night,’ because of a taxi receipt, or “How was dinner at that restaurant?'” Keret says. “Emotion comes from where it comes from, from the way I live it.”

It’s an essence that is profusely displayed in his work.

In the collection’s title story, “Nimrod Flip-Out,” which was also printed in the summer 2004 edition of Francis Ford Coppola’s magazine, Zoetrope, Keret tells the tale of four friends, Miron, Uzi, Ron and Nimrod. When Nimrod’s girlfriend breaks up with him, he commits suicide while serving in the army.
Ron, the narrator, appears to be a singularly self-absorbed 20-something, smoking joints and mildly contemplating his future. But he is completely and utterly dedicated to his friendship with his buddies, even when Uzi goes and gets married.

“Me and Miron sat on the balcony drinking coffee. Miron had a new thing going now. Whenever he’d make us coffee, he’d always make one instant for Nimrod, too, in the séance glass, and he’d put it on the table, the way you leave out a glass of wine for Elijah on Passover, and after we were through drinking, he’d spill it in the sink.”

In his inimitable way, Keret gives meaning with each word, choosing carefully in order to imbue the sentence with as much understanding as possible.

“I love minimalistic writing,” he says. “I seek the abstract, and it’s the same in my movies. They say I’m like the captain of the Titanic, because I take sentences out, I throw stuff overboard.”

Etgar Keret will speak April 10, 7:30 p.m., at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. For more information, visit www.skirball.org or etgarkeret.com/.

It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts; Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran


It’s mayor meets mayor at Temple of the Arts
 
Mayor Yona Yahov of Haifa received a standing ovation after his Kol Nidre address at Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills Sunday night. A few minutes earlier, by way of introducing Yahov, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke candidly about the feeling of disorientation his famously frenetic schedule tends to induce.
 
“It’s almost like not knowing where I am at any given moment,” Villaraigosa confessed.
 
Luckily, the sound of Hebrew prayers and his recollection of a Yom Kippur appointment at a temple in Northridge earlier in the evening helped Villaraigosa get his bearings. During his brief remarks he praised his counterpart from Haifa as a man of peace.
 
In his sermon on the seed of resiliency, Rabbi David Barron spoke more pointedly about Yahov’s aptness as a speaker at Sunday’s service. Citing Yahov’s ongoing efforts to create understanding between Arabs and Jews, Barron called Yahov “a man who is practicing forgiveness, which we are here to reflect on.”
 
“This has been an awkward, unprecedented war,” Yahov said at the beginning of his speech. “It has not been soldiers against soldiers or ships against ships.”Yahov said that when a rocket struck the Carmelite monastery above Haifa at the onset of the conflict, a local investigator at the scene was puzzled to find tiny ball-bearings scattered about the area.
 
“We learned these are often packed into the belts of suicide bombers,” Yahov said, “to widen the effect of the blast.”
 
When it become clear that civilians were to be the targets of Hezbollah’s missile campaign, Yahov said one of his first concerns was to keep life as normal as possible for Haifa’s children, even under the city’s constant curfew.Soft laughter rippled through the audience when Yahov, a big silver-haired bear of a man, asked, “Can you imagine what to do with your kids if they were stuck in your house for a month?”
 
Yahov’s solution was to place his city’s youngest citizens in a very familiar environment. Each day of the conflict, from early morning until late afternoon, thousands of Haifa’s children were sheltered on the lower levels of underground parking garages at the city’s shopping malls.
 
“No enemy can destroy our life,” Yahov said.
 
After he thanked the congregation for its support, he concluded his remarks by saying, “We showed the whole world that the Jewish people are one people.”
 
— Nick Street, Contributing Writer

Women of vision see Jews’ future in Iran
 
Amidst growing tensions between Iran and the United States in recent months, the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization (IJWO) in Los Angeles is planning a seminar at the Museum of Tolerance focusing on the future security of Jews living in Iran today.
 
The event, scheduled for Oct. 10 and organized by the Women of Vision chapter of IJWO, will include prominent Persian Jewish activists, leaders and intellectuals from Europe and Israel, as well as Los Angeles, and aims to shed light on the political, social, and psychological challenges faced by the approximately 20,000 Jews in Iran.
 
“We didn’t really select this seminar or its topic because we wanted to make a statement about ourselves as women, rather because it is an important topic that has not been addressed by the Iranian Jewish community nor the larger American Jewish community,” said Sharon Baradaran, one of the volunteer organizers of the IJWO seminar.
 
Baradaran said the seminar is particularly significant for opening new dialogue between the various factions within the Persian Jewish community that for years have often been at odds with one another on how to best address the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric of Iran’s fundamentalist regime without jeopardizing the lives of Jews still living in Iran.
 
“While every panel member has been very sensitive to safeguarding the best interest of the Jewish community, to address difficult questions about the future of the community in Iran is critical and if that means certain disagreements, then they should be discussed,” Baradaran said.
 
Local Persian Jews have expressed concern for the security of Iran’s Jews in recent months, following false media reports in May that the Iranian government had approved legislation requiring Jews to wear yellow bands on their clothing.In July, Iranian state-run television aired a pro-Hezbollah rally held by Jews living in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, in what many local Persian Jewish activists believe was a propaganda stunt organized by the regime to show national solidarity for Hezbollah.
 
Maurice Motamed, the Jewish representative to the Iranian parliament, had been slated as a panelist for the seminar but withdrew, saying he will not be arriving in Los Angeles until after the seminar, Baradaran said. Some local Persian Jewish activists have expressed concern over public comments from Motamed during the past year, including his praise for Iran’s uranium enrichment program and his opposition to Israeli military actions against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and Hezbollah terrorists in Southern Lebanon.
 
In January, Parviz Yeshaya, the former national chairman of the Jewish Council in Iran, issued a rare public statement questioning the logic of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had called the Holocaust a “myth”.
 
The Iranian Jewish Women’s organization was originally set up in 1947 in Iran and later re-established in 1976 in Los Angeles with the objective of recognizing the impact of Iranian Jewish women in the community. In 2002, the Women of Vision chapter and other chapters were added to the organization in an effort to reach out to younger generations of Iranian Jewish women.
 
The IWJO seminar will be held at the Museum of Tolerance on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. For ticket information contact the IWJO at (818) 929-5936 or visit www.ijwo.org.
 
— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer
 
Captured soldier’s brother addresses students
 
Gadi Goldwasser — brother of Ehud Goldwasser, one of two Israeli soldiers captured on July 12 and still held by Hezbollah — spoke recently to students at UCLA and USC during a brief visit to Los Angeles. He addressed the business and law schools at USC, as well as Hillel and Chabad student groups during their Shabbat dinners.