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The Travels of Sheldon and Emmanuel in the Land of Imagination Israel today


Sheldon Teitelbaum secretly read science fiction pamphlets he found in his grandfather's synagogue. Aner for the establishment of the state • What sets Israeli writing apart in the field • and why it is wrong to think that most MDA writers are men

The first science fiction book that Sheldon Teitelbaum came across was revealed in a Talmud Torah in Montreal, Canada. It was in sixth grade, and a red-bound book about a subversive school located on Mars winked at it from the top of the shelves of the Talmud Torah library. He was not allowed to borrow the coveted book, which was intended for seventh-grade students and up, but at this point the passion for reading science fiction was sown in him. Today, 50 years later, he publishes a second anthology in English of Israeli science fiction stories, launched at a special conference of the "Icon" festival.

"I begged the librarian to lend me this Robert Heinlein book, but she did not agree," he recalled. "As you know, if you want to excite a child in a certain matter - you have to tell him that he can not accept it. I did not know at all what science fiction was at the time, but I knew I liked it. I did not understand it so much, "Literature about World War II with American science fiction literature soldiers, because of the helmets that soldiers had on their heads - I thought they were space helmets," he laughs.

The 1960s, when Teitelbaum discovered the genre, were the years when the second wave of science fiction erupted: the literature written then became more complex and profound;

The topics covered in the books expanded;

And significant writers such as Isaac Asimov and Philip K..

Dick introduced a new level of writing.

But in those years the genre was still considered inferior and underground, so much so that fans of the genre say they were then forced to sneak home booklets and read them under a blanket by a flashlight.

After the book that illuminated his world in Talmud Torah, he also came across intriguing writings in his grandfather's synagogue:

I took them all, and whenever I had to come to the synagogue I would run to the library, open the bag, and read the pamphlets.

There was then a breakthrough of the great writers in the genre.

I read them and thought I was named and reborn, specifically in the synagogue of the elders.

Gd smiled at me, "he recalls, rejoicing.

Refuse to take off

"More Zion's Fiction: Wondrous Tales from the Israeli ImagiNation" is the second volume that combines Israeli science fiction stories in English, which Teitelbaum co-edited with his project partner, Emanuel Lotem. The title of the collection includes a play on words that may be missed in Hebrew - the phrase "Zionist literature" also sounds in English like "science fiction", Science and Zion's. The idea for the first collection, which was published in 2018, arose in Teitelbaum after a wave of similar collections in English for MDA stories from different countries: Russia, China, Spain, Portugal, and even seven different collections of Filipino literature. Was the first thing that shone in his head and spilled his blood, but as a fan of the genre he finds the connection between the State of Israel and science fiction much deeper than we see: "The State of Israel is the only state established under the influence of two wonderful and imaginative science fiction worksAnd the science fiction novel by Benjamin Zeev Herzl, 'Altneuland'. Herzl's book was heavily influenced by Edward Balmy's book A Look Back, written in the 19th century as a proto-socialist utopian science fiction novel. Herzl's book had such an impact on Jewish society that it succeeded in establishing a political movement and leading to the establishment of the state. That was Herzl's goal, and he used science fiction to accomplish it. "

To make his dream come true, Teitelbaum turned to Emanuel Lotem, one of the founders of the Israeli Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and one of the most respected translators in the field. The two met about 30 years ago when they were part of the editorial board of "Fantasy 2000" magazine. They have not spoken since, but Teitelbaum knew that Lotem was the right partner for the project. The first collection was published in 2018 and included translations of stories by prominent writers such as Gil Haravan, Savyon Liebrecht, Shimon Adaf, Nava Semel, Keren Landsman and more. On the cover is the painted figure of the state contract Herzl, overlooking the earth from a spacecraft in space, standing in the same position from the famous balcony picture. The volume received rave reviews from around the world and was even translated into Japanese, and even there it received rave reviews that crowned the collection as a masterpiece.

What sets Israeli science fiction apart?

What characterizes it?

"Surprisingly, there is very little 'hard' science fiction. There are not many stories about galactic empires or space travel to the distant future, the so-called 'space opera'. The Israeli imagination does not sail far beyond the earth. In America or the UK, which affects most writers in the world. Something in the tension of the Israeli situation shrinks the imagination. Elena Gomel calls this situation 'limbotopia', a feeling of blasting in the eternal present. An alternative reality.

"The Israeli situation has created such a paralysis of the historical imagination, that it is no longer possible to think of an alternative. Israeli science fiction is much darker, deals much more with death, and compared to other places - discusses much more suicidal tendencies and suicides."

Teitelbaum and Lotem at the "Icon" Festival, 2018 \ Photo: Roni Sofer,

The present-absent

In the instructive introductions they wrote to the two volumes, the editors of the collections expand on Israeli history and the development of science fiction in the country.

They do not miss a single major event in the history of the country, and link the history of science fiction to time points such as the Holocaust, the Six Day War and the Lebanon Wars, and begin to examine the phenomenon as early as biblical times.

On the cover of the second volume stands the figure of Elijah the prophet, who instead of ascending to heaven in a storm watching the spaceship descending to earth. Why Israeli science fiction is so grounded is the question that bothers the editors. The answer they offer lies in the gap between dream and reality: imagination plays a significant role in the stage of vision, when a science fiction book is written to establish a state. But once it has been established there is a need for daily maintenance, continuous labor to sustain the big dream so that there is no time left to engage in dreams but only in their realization. Therefore, precisely in the later and more established years of the state, the marginal genre gained momentum in the young state.

Teitelbaum notes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also absent from the Hebrew genre.

"Israeli writers do not write about the 'elephant in the room' - Palestinians and other Arabs. Most of them write very personal, everyday and non-political writing. Some of the authors write on topics such as personal identity, lifestyle and social recognition. "Male, but that's not true, not around the world and certainly not in Israel - half of the writers are women."

Isaac Asimov / Photo: EP,

Life in Israel is no stranger to Teitelbaum. At the age of 18, he decided to immigrate to Israel from Canada and enlist in the Israeli army. For him, instead of donating money to the state - as most Canadian Jews do - he preferred to donate and serve the state. "In Montreal we were a community of secular and traditional people. I was sent to my grandfather's synagogue to pray, but after the bar mitzvah I left everything in revolt. This life dried me up. It was a synagogue of old people, without children. There was no content clear to me, there was nothing. I did not like that my family lived a secular life, and sent me to be their religious Jew. Every year the representatives of the Canadian Donation Federation would stand in a synagogue and ask for donations to Israel. Everyone donated thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars to Israel. I did not like it. I swore to myself that I would never get into a situation where I was required to make financial donations to Israel, so I decided to donate my time to Israel - I immigrated to Israel and enlisted in the army. I planned to enlist for a year and a half as a new immigrant,And in the end, I finished five years in the Nahal as an education officer.

Teitelbaum participated in the Galilee Peace War in 1982. After the service he continued to study political science and study Israel and strategy, and made his career as a journalist.

He wrote for the Jerusalem Post for four years, after which he left for California because he saw no future in the profession in Israel.

"It was the laughter of fate that sent me from California to be a military reporter in Lebanon," he laughs bitterly.

"I am married to an Israeli, all my children speak fluent Hebrew. Every year we go to a summer camp in Israel - Tel Aviv is like the backyard for them. Israeli television is on 24 hours a day."

Philip K.


A decade after the closure of the journal "Fantasy 2000", which operated for only six years, from 1978 to 1984, Lotem co-founded the Israeli Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, and served as chairman of the association. He recounts how such an association is set up: "We knew that there were science fiction lovers in the country. Since the 1970s, quite a few translated MDA stories have appeared in the country, some of which I translated. Fantasy 2000 at its peak had about 6,000 subscribers. People existed in the field, you just had to collect them and create an association. Thanks to a lady from the British Council in Israel, a body responsible for spreading British culture around the world, who also happens to be a science fiction fan. She asked him why he did not come to Israel. He replied: Because I was not invited. The same lady invited him to the country, so we had to form an association, so that there would be something to do with Brian Oldis,Indeed, he inaugurated the association's activities. "

The association operates to this day, and part of its activity is the production of two major conferences: the "Icon" Festival and the "Worlds" Conference which takes place on the Passover holiday.

The events are especially held during school holidays so that students can also attend.

The conferences are a mass celebration for fans of the genre, and they enjoy lectures, a gaming arena for role-playing games and more.

The association is also responsible for publishing the journal for speculative literature "there will be".

Crack the stigma

The combination of government bodies and science fiction turns out to be a recurring theme in Emanuel Lotem's life. In 1976, before pursuing a career in translation, Lotem worked at the State Department, Research and Planning Center. Surprisingly, the work at the center turned out to be critical in his work on the translation of the cult book "Dune," written by American author Frank Herbert. "The Center for Research and Planning was established as a conclusion of the Agranat Commission, which determined that there should be a civilian body, parallel to the Armed Forces, with access to all intelligence material and should provide an opinion that is not military," said Lotem. “The State Department has an image of a suit and tie, but it was more like a university campus in a tiny Anpin - young, enthusiastic guys, full of ideas. We were sitting in the cafeteria together for a break of ten and somehow the subject of science fiction came up, and suddenly it became clear that many of the employees also liked the genre. I was so happy. At the same time I also started translating books, as a supplement to income.I worked for Am Oved Publishing, and they just started the white series, their MDB book series. I turned to them and said I wanted to translate into a series, and they said 'Leave, it's not for you. It's for kids, for the disturbed. What serious person like you does such things? ' That was the attitude towards MDA at the time, and also in our time. "

One day in the office, Lotem received a call from an employee with an offer to translate Dune. "I agreed straight away. I read the book three times in English at the time, so obviously I was happy. I went down to the buffet and told the guys, and everyone was very enthusiastic. They immediately volunteered to help me - everyone was given a translation assignment. For example, So, one has to identify the verses and find the source, using concordances in English and Hebrew.

"Whoever later became ambassador to the Far East and was an expert on classical Arabic, took on the Arabic side of the book. Every chapter I translated - they went through it and commented, and even the office secretaries joined in and printed it for us. It was just Simcha and Sasson." And so the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has made its significant contribution to the development of Israeli science fiction.

They are now working on the third volume in the series.

"My dream is to push this bunch of science fiction writers," Teitelbaum declares.

"They are operating in a bubble. I think they deserve broader attention, not the disparaging treatment they received from critics of Hebrew literature, who have traditionally ridiculed science fiction."

For Israeli writers, the attitude of the two editors and their efforts for the genre around the world is a kind of redemption.

"I did not realize how important what we did to the writers, until one of them told me that for them we are heroes. I stood there stunned. I am not a hero, just very fond of science fiction." 

Source: israelhayom

All news articles on 2021-09-25

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