I’ve just returned from a week in Israel, as an editorial fellow at the International Book Fair in Jerusalem. This was an extraordinary (and exhausting) experience.
After such excitements and such stimulating company, it’s hard not to feel a slight sense of anticlimax as I get back to my desk and my manuscripts…the experiences we’ve shared will last us a lifetime.
The fellowship programme has been running for more than twenty years, and, as we were frequently reminded, many of its past alumni now head publishing houses and literary agencies all over the world (Yale included). Essentially, it’s an opportunity for forty or so editors and agents to meet the Israeli literary establishment, make deals and (perhaps most importantly) get to know each other during a packed schedule that includes everything from the traditional tourist outings to Masada and the Dead Sea to fiercely argued public debates about the Middle East peace process.
To describe everything I did and everyone I met would take many pages, but here are some of my personal highlights from the week:
- listening to Haruki Murakami, winner of the Jerusalem Prize, deliver a beautifully crafted speech about the dangers of allowing the system to gain too much power over the individual
- venturing up to the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, which is renowned for its enormously talented academics, totally baffling layout, and large population of cats that wander in and out of the buildings at will
- exploring the Old City, with its disorientating labyrinth of streets and its wealth of world-famous religious sites (the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, Temple Mount…. and many more too)
- staying up far too late drinking and talking in the lovely cellar bar at the American Colony Hotel (where Tony Blair stays when he’s in Jerusalem, as the locals kept telling me)
- being invited to a dinner party/literary salon at the house of Jerusalem literary agent Dorothy Harman, where fellow guests included Ruth Dayan, the redoubtable 91-year-old widow of the talented and controversial general Moshe Dayan (born under the Ottoman Empire to parents who were refugees from the Russian pogroms, she still works, teaching Palestinians traditional craft techniques)
- taking a trip to the West Bank; seeing the separation wall and the checkpoints dividing Israel and the Palestinian territories is an experience in itself, but it was also fascinating to visit Yasser Arafat’s tomb in Ramallah and the lovely oasis town of Jericho, the oldest continually inhabited city in the world.
After such excitements and such stimulating company, it’s hard not to feel a slight sense of anticlimax as I get back to my desk and my manuscripts – and, judging by the emails we’ve exchanged since our return, many of my fellow Jerusalemites feel the same. But the experiences we’ve shared will last us a lifetime… and we’ve already planned a reunion at the London Book Fair in April.
Phoebe Clapham, current affairs editor, Yale University Press London.