When Dostoevsky Came to Jerusalem

When Dostoevsky Came To Jerusalem


When I was in college, I took a class on Dostoevsky. I don’t remember much about the course.  But one night, when I was writing a paper at 3 o’clock in the morning, running on two hours of sleep and four cups of coffee, I caught a glimpse of my flushed cheeks in the  mirror and thought to myself, “Shayna, you have consumption.”

It took me a few minutes to figure out that in my tired, over-caffeinated state, I had simply transposed the novel onto my own life. Reading Dostoevsky is a bit like watching a good Brazilian telenovela: Once you figure out the tropes, you just have to read the signs, and you can figure out the plot for the next two episodes.

On Wednesday night, I was brought back to that moment, as I took in the performance by “GZHEL” at the Jerusalem Theater. The performance took place as part of “Days of Moscow in Israel”, which brings some of Russia’s best cultural offerings to the Holy Land. The GZHEL dance group specializes in traditional Russian folk dances, with a contemporary twist. The intricate artistry of the choreography, the precise movements of the dancers’ bodies, and the dazzling costumes, made for a   fun and entertaining evening. One of the dancers in the group’s repertoire is a Hassidic folk dancer, which brought smiles and laughs to the audience.

If that evening was characterized by its success at bringing Russia to Jerusalem, Thursday night’s “The Bio Library”, produced by Musrara, the Naggar School of Arts and Society, in partnership with Hebrew University, was unique for the way that it created a work so rooted in a sense of space and so connected to Jerusalem’s urban landscape. The Bio Library brought different Jerusalemites, from a variety of backgrounds, to tell their stories. Instead of taking out a book from a library, you could “take out” conversations with a local resident. The Bio Library included residents who represented the city’s diverse population. I spoke to a young Arab woman from Ramleh who is currently studying at Hebrew University. Another visitor spoke to someone at the forefront of German-Israeli dialogue. The event also featured a panel with Hebrew University professors on the nature of identity, always a salient topic in Jerusalem.

Friday morning is a treat when “Creative Mornings” is on tap at Hansen House. Creative Mornings bring different creative figures to give free lectures to the general public and the project celebrated its one-year anniversary at Hansen House.  I was late due to a leak in my neighbor’s apartment, and, to make a long story short, I arrived at the event just in time for a poetry slam and a bit of cake – which I promptly topped off with a scoop of ice cream, because what’s the point of good weather if I’m not going to stuff my face full of calories while feeling the sunshine on my back?

As I ate, my husband read me the latest news headlines; I imagined us as characters in a Dostoevsky novel, caught in an existential tragedy we could not understand.

“Tell me dear”, I said, slipping my arm into his, “Have you ever had consumption?”