Page 26 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 20

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tour through the bookshops of a city gives one a fairly accu-
rate idea of how much and what the public is reading. A
walk down some of the main streets of Tel Aviv might well lead
to the impression that it is a city in which people eat snacks,
drink Espresso coffee and read paperbacks of every color, lan-
guage and decoration. Inside the bookshops the picture is less
lurid. The paperbacks sort themselves into classics, fiction and
thrillers in a variety of languages, while hardbacks form the bulk
of the shop’s stock. Art books, new novels, biography and scien-
tific works in Hebrew, English, German, French and Russian
predominate. Published plays form a very minor and incidental
section on the shelves. The plays are mainly Shakespeare, Greek
and Roman classics, Goethe, Schiller, Shaw, and possibly a few
moderns such as Lorca, Kafka and Brecht. These can be found
in Hebrew translation as well as in the original, but the display
and sale of original Hebrew plays is practically non-existent.
The reason for this hiatus in the Hebrew book publishing
world is to be found in the history of the Hebrew theatre. Like
many other aspects of life in Israel and the pre-state Yishuv
(Jewish Community), the beginning and development of theatre
conformed to no pattern prevailing in any other part of the
world. Theatre was not a commercial enterprise promising re-
turns to backers, nor was it a state-planned cultural development
program. It followed the rule, or lack of rule, of improvisation
characteristic of most facets of Israel’s life be it military, fiscal or
In this respect the theatre is no different from other cultural
bodies in the country. They seemed to start from the top and
remained suspended in mid-air, until by some mysterious al-
chemy they struck roots and found themselves on a more or less
secure foundation. In this way a full-fledged Philharmonic Or-
chestra came into being some twenty-five years ago with the great
Toscanini conducting the first concerts to the cacophony of Arab
gunfire outside the improvised music hall. The Bezalel Jerusalem
art school and museum were founded in this way some fifty
years ago by Boris Schatz, before there was any reason to believe
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