“Our Israeli Diary, 1978: Of That Time, Of That Place” by Antonia Fraser— Back in Time

Fraser, Antonia. “Our Israeli Diary, 1978: Of That Time, Of That Place”, Counterpoint, 2017.

Back in Time

Amos Lassen

In May 1978 turned thirty years old and the national had two wonderful at the birthday party— Harold Pinter and Antonia Fraser. They had been living together for three years then and neither had ever visited Israel before. visited Israel at the time of the 30th Anniversary of Independence. It was three years after they first lived together; neither had set foot in Israel before. They visited many of the country’s historic sites: from Bethlehem to the fortress of Masada, met with then future Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek, Jackie Kennedy and a long-lost cousin of Pinter’s on a kibbutz. Pinter said that in Israel he began to have feelings about his Jewish heritage for the first time.

Antonia Fraser kept a diary filled with wonderful descriptions and a lot of humor but above all, this was a tender memory of an important trip for both of them. Her diary is also a special look at a special time and place. You can just imagine what happens when two intellectuals take a vacation together. We have a Jewish playwright and a Catholic biographer sharing fifteen days in the Holy Land and we see their devotion to the land and to each other.

Pinter was afraid that he would “dislike the place, the people.” But that changed soon. Fraser read biographies of major Israeli figures before they got there and because they were both well known, they had access to great privileges. They visited and stayed at an artists’ colony, made frequent trips to biblical and historical sites and they were often accompanied by the cream of the Israeli literary scene. writers, and they socialized with the cream of Israeli society as well as actors, journalists, and politicians. Pinter had not seen his cousin who was living on a kibbutz for 30 years and that was a beautiful reunion. They spent time with Shimon Peres and his wife in their apartment and encountered Jacqueline Kennedy at the Armenian Patriarchate. They “sweet as ever.” One evening they met Anthony Lewis who was finishing up a tour of the Middle East for the New York Times and disagreed a bit about how Lewis characterized Israelis as irritating and as unable to see how others see them. Fraser said that Israelis are insular but she found them “just wonderful” .

Fraser gives wonderful descriptions of people, ambience, architecture, and climate and Pinter himself. Pinter told Fraser that he is very definitely Jewish but he also states that he is also English. Fraser’s answer to this was that she felt she could live in Israel except that she is not Jewish. Not only is this a look at the Israel of forty years ago but also a tribute to a great English playwright.

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