Approaching Conflicts
Contexts, Perspectives, and Values in Israel Education

Exploring the Works of Etgar Keret

Toolkit Discussion Guide

Etgar Keret

  • Jewish Israeli writer, born in 1967 in a suburb of Tel Aviv. His parents were Holocaust survivors. He lives in Tel Aviv with his wife, Shira Geffen, and their son. He started writing during his army service, to combat his boredom and depression.
  • He is most popular for his short stories, sometimes very short. Many are 3-4 pages long, and some are less than a page long. He writes in informal, slangy Hebrew and focuses on the absurdities of daily life. His style is radically different than earlier Hebrew literature, which was often more formal and concerned with grand questions of Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also writes children’s books, graphic novels, and essays, and has worked in television and film.
  • Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything Is Illuminated and a close friend of Keret’s, feels that it is precisely Keret’s insistent lightheartedness that makes him so admirable. “Hebrew is a very hard language to not make sound difficult,” Safran Foer said. “I took a class with Amos Oz once, and he said that trying to write in Hebrew is like trying to whisper in a cathedral. Etgar has learned to whisper.”
  • Suggested video: Ira Glass and Etgar Keret in conversation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSdG3XNxYCA

What do we have in our pockets? http://genius.com/Etgar-keret-what-do-we-have-in-our-pockets-annotated? (story text) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qrwwM1Hgwk

  • A video adaptation of an Etgar Keret short story about the hope for love told via the objects in our pockets.
  • What is like to watch a youtube video animation of a short story? Is it similar to when a book is made into a movie? Different?  What does the video add, and what does it take away from your reading of the story?
  • Keret writes: “Sometimes I feel my story collections are just pockets bulging with stories.” What do you think he means by this?  What is the special potential of short stories? How is it different than novels, or plays?
  • How do objects relate to love? How does what we carry relate to our identity?
  • Why do you think Keret chose to focus on the stamp?
  • That’s what I have there, full and bulging, a tiny chance of saying yes and not being sorry.” Why do you think the story ends like this?

 

A Story About The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God http://stingingfly.org/content/story-about-bus-driver-who-wanted-be-god-etgar-keret

  • This is one of Keret’s most famous stories and serves as a great introduction to his work.
  • What effect does the length of the story have on your experience as a reader? What makes a story a story? You may want to bring the example of the six word novel, sometimes attributed to Hemingway:  “While lunching with friends at a restaurant (variously identified as Luchow's or The Algonquin), Hemingway bets the table ten dollars each that he can craft an entire story in six words. After the pot is assembled, Hemingway writes "For sale: baby shoes, never worn" on a napkin, passes this around the table, and collects his winnings.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_sale:_baby_shoes,_never_worn)
  • Discuss Eddie. Is he a hero? Anti-Hero? Something else?
  • What kind of God does the bus driver believe in? Is Keret’s God a Jewish God? Is this story Israeli? Jewish? Why or why not?
  • Is the bus symbolic? What do you think it symbolizes
  • What do you think the end of the story means? What role does love play?

 

Pastrami http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/pastrami

  • This essay is a  reflection on rockets and children, written in a form similar to his short stories. It is useful for further reflection on what life is like for Israelis under rocket fire, how war affects children, and the role of fantasy in the conflict
  • How do Etgar and Shira explain rockets to their son Lev?
  • What is the point of the game Pastrami Sandwich? Do you think this is the right approach to explain safety to seven year olds?  What would you have done?
  • Discuss these lines: I lie down for another minute, and say, “O.K., game’s over. We won.” “But it’s nice,” Lev says. “Let’s stay like this a little more.”  Is Keret talking about himself? The State of Israel? Both? Why do you think Lev wants to stay with his parents?
  • What about crisis brings people closer together?
  • Lev likes the game, perhaps a bit too much, and yearns to be closer to the action. Why do you think this is? Is this symbolic of any larger dynamic in the conflict? How do we balance competing
  • Keret comments that it’s not cool for his son to admit he’s scared, so he says he is nervous instead. What do you make of this assertion, and what role do fear and nervousness play in the story?  Do you think it applies to Israeli society in general?

My lamented sister http://tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/1476/my-lamented-sister

  • Etgar Keret talks about his sister’s decision to become Ultra Orthodox.  A reflection on family, religion, art, and what divides and unites Jewish Israelis.
  • What is the role of music and how it connects to religion?
  • Ask the students if they know anyone who has made a radical change in their life changing their identity in some way. Did they relate to this story?
  • Keret writes that his sister died when she got married. Why does he say this? Is this too harsh? Unfair?
  • The rabbi rejects the kosher version of Keret’s children’s book.Why? Is being reckless considered dangerous?
  • How does Keret’s own relationship with his wife mirror his sister’s marriage?  How are they different, and how are they similar?