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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"If Only..." A Book Review: "Letters to Talia" by Dov Indig

Considering the continued uncertainty in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition quest/negotiations, I see this as a good time to post my review of the English translation of the Israeli bestseller,  מכתבים לטליה Michtavim liTalya, Letters to Talia, by Dov Indig, HaYa"D.

I remember hearing about the book when it was first published in its original Hebrew, but as usual I let news of Hebrew books fly over my consciousness, since I don't expect to read them.  It's not that I don't read Hebrew at all.  My Hebrew is for labels, ads, my pay slip, letters and notices on the Shiloh email list, our weekly newsletter and the very occasional newspaper or magazine article.

I received Letters to Talia from Gefen Publishing House to review.  I don't remember if they mailed it to me or it was one of the books I picked up from them at the Jerusalem International Book Fair.  But it really doesn't matter how I got it, because it's a great book and I must tell you why.

First of all the translation by Yehuda Burdman is fantastic.  I have no idea how easily the original Hebrew read, but it was a true pleasure reading it in English.  I even carried the book around with me to take advantage of a few minutes' reading time here and there.  I don't normally do that.  My bags are always too full and my time too short for such a luxury.  But this book followed me around for the few days it took to complete reading it.

Now, what's it about?
Dear Dov,You must really be surprised to be receiving a letter from a girl you don’t know... Dov Indig was killed on October 7, 1973, in a holding action on the Golan Heights in Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Letters to Talia, published in his memory by family and friends, contains excerpts from an extensive correspondence Dov maintained with Talia, a girl from an irreligious kibbutz in northern Israel, in 1972 and ’73, the last two years of his life. At the time, Talia was a highschool student, and Dov was a student in the Hesder yeshiva Kerem B’Yavneh, which combines Torah study with military service. It was Talia’s father who suggested that
Talia correspond with Dov, and an intense dialogue developed between them on questions of Judaism and Zionism, values and education. Their correspondence continued right up to Dov’s death in the Yom Kippur War.  (Gefen)

While readying the book my mind was full of "if's."  The main "if" obviously is:
If only Dov Indig hadn't been killed in the 1973 Yom Kippur War...

Indig's analysis and predictions as to what would happen if Israel withdrew from our Land liberated in the 1967 Six Days War or what he expected would happen to the kibbutz movement, especially the secular ones, are so on target, that it's frightening.  We, Israel and the Jewish People, lost a great and brilliant talent.  There is no other way to describe him.  Yes, you must read the book to fully comprehend what a terrible loss it was to all of us as a People and Nation that he isn't with us today.

So many of the very best were killed in that terrible war in 1973.  My friends and I still mourn our Betar New York friends who were killed.  We get together every year at Mount Herzl to honor them.  From my perspective, having made aliyah with my husband in 1970, I can easily identify with Indig's friends who felt it vitally necessary to publish this correspondence.

I apologize for the fuzziness of the scan, but it is still worth trying to read this excerpt to get an idea of how perfectly Indig predicted the future:


Yes, everything Indig said about the secular kibbutz movement has happened.  That makes me even more curious about Talia, not her real name.  All that is revealed in the postscript is that after her National Service and subsequent army service, she returned to her kibbutz where she still lives.  In her letters, we discover that her best friend actually became religious, Talia is too attracted by the idea.  She's infatuated with Judaism and Dov.  In her last letter, which Dov most probably never read, she tells Dov that she will fast and go to a synagogue on Yom Kippur to pray for his safety.  It's too easy to imagine her disappointment even anger with G-d when she discovers that her prayers didn't protect Dov from death. 

Personally, I feel that Talia's decision to keep her identity a secret and not add a postscript to the book is the saddest thing of all.  We have no idea if Dov had a true positive influence on her.  It seems that she has rejected everything he stood for.  I hope I'm wrong.

I hope this has gotten you curious and highly recommend that you read the book.  It should be required reading by Jews of all ages, here in Israel and abroad.  It is perfect for book clubs and youth groups.

3 comments:

Joan Kahn said...

Thanks for the review of an important book. I hope many ENglish speakers will read it!

Joan Zia Kahn- Metar, Israel

goyisherebbe said...

If we are supposed to find out who Talia is, we will, and if not, not. Our itch for closure is secondary to the question of whether it will do anyone any good to know. If you have a good reason why she ought to go public, an open letter stating that in a reasoned form and published in Hebrew would be the way to go. But I think patience is better.

Batya said...

Joan, thanks
goyish, it's possible that she has been revealed, but I haven't had time to do the search in Hebrew.