The Israeli writer Fania Oz-Salzberger came to Romania, on June 3, 5, 2016, at the International Book Fair Bookfest on the occasion of the launch in Romanian of the volume “Jews and words”, written together with her father, Amos Oz. The historian Fania Oz Salzberger, one of the most beloved personalities of the Israeli cultural space, professor at the University of Haifa and director of the European Institute for Jewish Studies PAIDEIA in Stockholm, confessed in a previous interview that her maternal grandparents came from Bessarabia and they often spoke Romanian. With a special warmth of soul, the book transmits to us the mystery, the sadness, the poetry of those who live only in memory.
Irina Airinei: What connects you to Romania?
Fania Oz Salzberger: First of all, my grandfather and grandmother, my mother’s parents, came from a small town called Ackermann, I don’t know what it’s called today, and my grandmother came from a small town called Tatar Bunar, where she grew up. And so they formed with a very Romanian identity. But they also grew up with a very patriotic Romanian feeling, and my grandmother’s brother was named Carol after the Romanian king, so for me there is a legacy of theirs from Romania, because they loved the language, they loved the culture, they were not surprised when I started to study Latin in university, they explained to me how close Romanian is to Latin. It seems strange to me that my grandparents were really Romanian by birth and by feelings, and now their city is no longer in Romania. And Bessarabia is no longer in Romania.
I.A .: And when did they come to Israel?
F.O .: My grandparents were among the pioneers, the first Zionists. They came in 1930, just before the rise of the Nazis… For me, first of all, Zionism was an idea that saved the lives of so many people. But, more precisely, Zionism was humanistic. It was about creating a state for the Jewish people. Israel has been a democracy and a humanist society from the beginning. And I, in this sense, consider myself a Zionist today for this reason. And Israel is a state for the Jewish people, for those who want to be part of the nation. This state is not for all Jews, because not everyone wants to be Israeli or choose to be part of the state of Israel. The state of Israel is not just for Jews, because every Arab living in Israel is a full-fledged citizen. And for me, the Israel I want is first of all democratic, secondly Jewish, culturally, not religiously, and living in peace, with the hope of a future Palestine. For me, all these goals are possible.
I.A .: From Israel, how do you see the rise of extremist parties in Europe?
FO: The rise of the far right in European countries is real, this is what is happening in Hungary, but we also have extremists in Israel, in the United States. I am not too worried about the future of Jews in Europe, I think Europe has the tools and strength to oppose extremism, neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism. I am not one of those who say that all Jews should come to Israel. There must also be a Jewish Europe. A Europe enriched by Jewish history and creativity.
I.A .: What is the role of the European Institute for Jewish Studies PAIDEIA in Stockholm that you lead?
F.O .: At Paideia we educate the next generation, leaders, intellectuals, artists, journalists, teachers, especially activists, who will be part of a Jewish identity of Europe, because Israel needs such friends. They may be critical, but they also understand that Israel is part of human history. We must fight to maintain a strong democracy.
I.A .: Can you quote an Israeli politician you like?
F.O .: Among the politicians I would mention Levi Eshkol, Prime Minister of Israel between 1963 and 1969, one of the fathers of the Israeli economy. Unlike Ben Gurion, he was not very charismatic, but a strong and honest man. He won the Six Day War, consolidating democracy in Israel.
I.A .: How do you see the future of Israeli culture and arts?
FO: The future of Israeli culture, of Jewish culture is much safer than the future of Israeli politics, because I believe that if we talk about literature, art, culture, theater, cinema, creativity, Israel is in a privileged place, there is a Renaissance of Jewish culture all over the world and a large part is created in Israel, from poetry to advanced technology. I am very optimistic about the culture and I believe that Hebrew is now one of the liveliest and most active languages in the world. The cultivation of the Hebrew language in modern times is a miracle. Culture is one of the great things happening in Israel right now.
I.A .: What projects do you have for the future?
F.O .: I am a university student and I am a historian, so I do research on the biblical origins of political philosophy in Western Europe. I hope to write another book with my father, after JEWS AND WORDS, but I will write about democracy and the Jewish specifics and I think that democracy and Judaism go together, and we learn from the Bible that Jews have always had a very democratic instinct, even before for the Greeks to invent the word Democracy.
For me, the best part of my job now is to be the director of the European Institute for Jewish Studies PAIDEIA. Explaining all that is universal about Jewish and Israeli culture, all that can be offered to all human beings, I think is an important part of my life, apart from the fact that I am a historian at the University of Haifa.
I.A .: When will there be peace under the olive trees?
FO: The war has been going on for too long and I can’t forget the innocent victims, soldiers and civilians. Israel can be a miracle, but unfortunately Palestine is not a miracle and neither is the rest of the Arab world, and if ten years ago I was more optimistic about peace , of a solid peace agreement, today the question is much more complicated, because around us we have factions, organizations, many disagreements. I am not optimistic in the short term, but I hope that the Palestinians will be able to choose a leadership that will sign an agreement with Israel. So we have to work on that. Even if it won’t be tomorrow or next year, this is our direction.
I.A .: As a conclusion…
F.O .: I will quote my father, who says: “Many clocks tick at the same time. We see some of them and we don’t see some of them “. And, therefore, we cannot be entirely optimistic or pessimistic…, because we never know what clock will ring today and we do not see the clock that will measure our future. When I look at Israel today, I see a lot of wonderful people, young people doing a great job for society and culture. I hope that the clock secretly ticking is the right one, which will change our future for the better. In Israel, as well as in Europe.
(Stockholm, February, 2017)