Aharon Appelfeld

  • Choice of Language and the Quest for Israeli Identity in the Works of Tuvia Ruebner and Aharon Appelfeld

    Immigration highlights the question of language and raises the dilemma of the relationship between the mother tongue and the language of the new land. For writers this question is even more crucial: should they write in the language of the place and its readers? Immigration to Israel is not exceptional, of course. What choices are open to those writers, and how are they to convey the complexities inherent in the formation of an Israeli identity? This paper focuses on two writers who demonstrate the role played by the “chosen language” in the cultural construction and deconstruction of Israeli identity. Tuvia Ruebner emigrated from Bratislava, Aharon Appelfeld from Bukovina. Ruebner shifted from German to Hebrew and back to German; Appelfeld wrote only in Hebrew. In both cases, their arrival in Israel enabled them to survive. However, the loss of their families in Europe continued to haunt them. Inspired by Walter Benjamin’s concept of ‘translation’ and responding to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of ‘minor literature’, the paper shows how their work conveys a multilayered interrelation between national and foreign languages, and between images of exile and homeland, past, present and future – all of which shed light on contemporary issues of Israeli identity.

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