Naomi Frankel: Award-Winning Novelist of Hebron

"The sunlight broke through the haze of the summer heat, and it was to me like a rainbow, like a token of covenant between Hebron and me."

18.10.18, 14:58
Naomi Frankel (1918 – 2009) was an award winning Israeli author. She lived in Hebron towards the end of her life and wrote two novels dealing with the city. 
Frankel received the Ruppin Prize in 1956 for her popular book Shaul and Johannah, which dealt with secular German-Jewish immigrants to the newly independent State of Israel, based on her own personal experiences. She received the Ussishkin Prize in 1962, the Prime Minister's Prize in 1970, the Walter Schwimmer Award for Journalism in 1972, and the Neumann Prize in 2005.
Born in Berlin, Frankel was orphaned as a young girl. She escaped the Holocaust with other German-Jewish children in 1933 and was repatriated to the Land of Israel, then under British rule. There she joined the Palmach, a militia that eventually morphed into the Israel Defense Forces and she moved to Kibbutz Beit Alfa, where she lived until 1970. 
Frankel's kibbutznik life fit in with her left-wing liberal ideology, having been a member of the Socialist-Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair. But by the 1980s her attitudes changed and she became an ardent supporter of repopulating Judea and Samaria. In 1982 she and her husband moved to Kiryat Arba and later to Hebron where she became more religiously observant.
In 1999 her novel Barkai (translated in English as Morning Star) was published which tells the history of a Sephardic family in Hebron prior to the 1929 massacre. The Sephardic roots of the city run deep with the community dating back to the Spanish Inquisition. 

In the novel, the father of the family was raised as a Christian, but returned to his Jewish roots. As the publisher explains, it is "the story of people torn between forced Christianity and persecuted Judaism, between hope of the renascence and faithfulness to their tradition, between adjusting to a new land and longing to the homeland that turned its back to them, and above all – their hope for salvation in Eretz Israel."
The word barkai has its connection in the Talmud where the watchmen in the times of the Holy Temple would cry out "barkai!" upon seeing the morning light arising from Hebron, and thus indicating the official beginning of the Yom Kippur service.
In 2003 she published Predah (translated into English as Farewell), a novel about Jerusalem in the 1950s, focusing on the relationship between Malkiel, a survivor of the 1929 pogrom in Hebron, and Yoske, his commander in the Palmah. The publisher's description explains, "Predah is the story of two very different friends. While Malchiel is a member of the old community of Eretz Israel, a survivor of the 1929 pogroms in Hebron, Yoske, his commander in the Palmach, is handsome, brave, and witty. Malchiel represents the Old Yishuv which existed in Hebron, and Yoske represents the modern Israeli."
Frankel often wrote about her feelings for Hebron and drew a comparison between the 1929 Hebron massacre and her own narrow escape from Nazi Germany. 
"I returned to stand facing the destroyed homes, everything was different and I was quiet. My spirit and soul ignited, and the spark that began to burn within me was stronger than any fear. In one pure moment, I was rewarded with something that would never fade. The sunlight broke through the haze of the summer heat, and it was to me like a rainbow, like a token of covenant between Hebron and me. Then suddenly I heard the drumming of the boots on the stones step by step, and a song that had long been forgotten uttered its words inside me: 'If the knife splashes the blood of Jews / Germany will be redeemed in blood!' The sounds of the song in my heart are the voices of the Jews who were killed here... I knew: Fear did not disappear, it exists and accompanies me from my childhood in Berlin to Hebron in Judea... without Hebron, my city, the Land of Israel is not the land of Israel." she wrote.

Regarding her move from the small kibbutz of Beit Alfa to the small community of Hebron she wrote,  "I felt I had found what I was looking for. I had found my place. I found what it means to be a Jew. I will never leave Hebron, under any circumstances."
After 10-month-old baby Shalhevet Pass was killed by a terrorist sniper in Hebron in 2001, Frankel wrote, "despite the murder, the flame [shalhevet] will never be extinguished. We have returned to our land, and we live now in the city of our forefathers."
Elyakim Haetzni, one of the original pioneers of Hebron following the Six Day War was quoted in an article about Frankel's passing as reminiscing, "I met Naomi in 1983. We met on a hilltop in Kiryat Arba... she explained to me that the source of her work had dried up in Tel Aviv, and that she had nothing to say there, that she had nothing to draw from there, that the only place where the atmosphere suited her was here. She looked for renewal and found it beyond the Green Line. It was in Hebron and Kiryat Arba. And since then she was ostracized by her former colleagues. The reviews and references of her famous works suddenly changed, and what she wrote after that, as if it was never published."
Liel Leibovitz in his obituary of Frankel for Tablet Magazine wrote, "Her last book, published in 2003, is a history of the Jewish community in Hebron, ending with the massacre of 67 Jews, in 1929, by vengeful Arab militants; researching the book, Frankel, by this point an octogenarian, interviewed survivors of the old community in Hebron and wove together a rich and artful tapestry of daily life in one of history’s most ancient Jewish towns. Subtle as it was, the book’s context was hard to escape: in Hebron, Frankel discovered a town that existed before Zionism and that, taking its strength from its adherence to the Bible and its covenants, would exist long after..."