Author Archives: Michael David Lukas

This Storm is What We Call Progress

This entry was posted in History on by .

Earlier this week, Michael David Lukas shared a list of his top ten favorite Jews of all time and his connection to Nomi Stone. He has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

Histories of Jews in the Ottoman Empire (like histories of Jews in the Iberian Peninsula, Ancient Rome, and the Arab world) tend to fall into one of two camps: those that emphasize coexistence and those that emphasize strife. This seems a rather simplistic binary, I know, but pick up any book about the Jews of the Ottoman Empire—say Bernard Lewis’ The Jews of Islam or Avigdor Levy’s Jews, Turks, and Ottomans: A Shared History—and you will be able to tell in a page or two which camp the book falls into.

In writing The Oracle of Stamboul, a novel about a young Jewish girl who becomes an advisor to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, I tried my best to portray a sense of multiethnic coexistence without ignoring anti-Semitism, and the many other brands of ethnic strife rampant in the Ottoman Empire. Thinking about daily life in such a time caused me to think back on Walter Benjamin’s memoir Berlin Childhood around 1900 and Marcel Proust’s novel Remembrance of Things Past. Both these books look back on a period that we might now think of as a turning point for European Jews. Proust explicitly discusses the Dreyfus Affair while Benjamin is a bit more coy in his treatment of anti-Semitism in pre-WWI Germany. But in both books it is the business of daily life that predominates. Even at the very fulcrum of history, on the brink of the Great War and everything that followed, Benjamin’s and Proust’s narrators are caught up in their daily lives. One might argue that the power of both these books depends on a certain type of silence, an obscuring of events we all know will take place. That may be true. Still, I tend to think that most of us aren’t aware of the history we’re living through.

Michael David Lukas has been a Fulbright scholar in Turkey, a late-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and a Rotary scholar in Tunisia. His first book, The Oracle of Stamboul, is now available.

Posted on February 18, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Stranger’s Notebook

This entry was posted in History on by .

Michael David Lukas will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog. His first book, The Oracle of Stamboul, is now available.

In my last post I mentioned the loneliness and alienation I felt during the first few months of the year I spent in Tunis. While my list of top ten favorite Jews of all time cheered me up, it wasn’t until I met Nomi Stone that I truly got out of my funk. Nomi is a poet and a scholar who was in Tunisia on a Fulbright. Her project was to research and write a book of poems about the Jews of Djerba (a desert island off the southern coast of Tunisia), which is exactly what she did. The fruits of her year in Tunisia, The Stranger’s Notebook, was published by TriQuarterly Press in 2008 and it is just amazing.

I may be biased, because Nomi is a dear friend, so I have included links to a few poems available online.) Through Nomi I had the pleasure of eating a Rosh Hashanah dinner with one of the very few Jewish families still living in Tunis. (There are thousands of Tunisian Jews living on Djerba, but only a few dozen still in the capital, Tunis). Dinner was wonderful—a slight variation on the classic Tunisian couscous, followed by shots of fig liqueur, which had been distilled by Tunisian Jews for centuries—but it was an encounter I had a few weeks later that I will always remember.

I was wandering through the old city of Tunis, looking to buy a mix tape for a musically inclined friend, when I saw the son of the family I had eaten dinner with, a slight man in his early forties. When I saw him approach, I waved and called out his name, but he didn’t appear to see me. Soon he was lost in the crowd.

Strange, I thought. I worried that maybe I had offended him somehow. And then I thought that perhaps he was worried about acknowledging my presence, because of where we had met, because he was scared of somehow being revealed. A paranoid thought, but still. That fearful uncertainty — being unsure whether I was snubbed, or not seen, or something else more sinister — gets at the heart, I think, of what it means to be a Jew in a place without many Jews, or any such stranger for that matter.

Michael David Lukas has been a Fulbright scholar in Turkey, a late-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and a Rotary scholar in Tunisia. His first book, The Oracle of Stamboul, is now available. Check back all week for more posts from him on the JBC/MJL Author Blog.

Posted on February 16, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Whitesnake, Tunisia, and My Top Ten Favorite Jews of All Time

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Michael David Lukas’ first book, The Oracle of Stamboul, is now available. He will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning Author Blog.

I’ve been thinking a lot these past few months about the year I spent in Tunisia. It was 2003, I had just graduated college and was living on the outskirts of Tunis. Officially, I was there as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar and was supposed to be studying Arabic while bridging the gap of understanding between the United States and the Arab World. It was, by all accounts, a good year. I did my best to bridge the gap between the United States and the Arab World, I read a trunk full of classic literature, and towards the end of the year I started writing what would later become my first novel, The Oracle of Stamboul. Those first few months, however, were full of loneliness and alienation. I missed my family and my friends, I missed my girlfriend, I missed being in college, and I missed those small American comforts (peanut butter, dryers, wood floors) which seemed not to exist in Tunisia. I had a few Tunisian friends at the internet cafe around the corner, and my Eastern European roommates — Ozzie and Petr — were good guys, though I had difficulty connecting with them at first. One reason for this was that I got up early for Arabic class and they stayed up late partying, drinking cheap Tunisian beer, and playing hair metal at the highest volume Petr’s tinny laptop speakers could bear.

In those early months — before I met Nomi Stone, a Fulbright scholar/poet who will feature prominently in the next post — the only Jews I saw were those in the cemetery I passed on my way to school. I didn’t realize how much this absence of Jews bothered me until I found myself lying in bed one night with the pillow clutched over my head and the sounds of Whitesnake drifting through my door. “Here I go again on my own. Going down the only road I’ve ever known.” Those melancholy lyrics, accompanied by Ozzie’s warbled harmony, hit me like a sledge hammer, clarifying the alienation I had felt for months, the yawning distance between my current life and everything I knew myself to be. It wasn’t that I was living in a Muslim majority country with two uncircumcised Eastern Europeans. Rather, the absence of Jewishness in my life was like the absence of peanut butter. I never knew it existed until it wasn’t there.

And so, to cheer myself up, I decided to make a list of my top ten favorite Jews of all time. I slept on it, woke up that next morning, and wrote the list out on a small yellow piece of paper, which I still keep in my wallet. It is a very personal list and arbitrary by nature. In the past eight years, my list has changed quite a bit, but I share this 2003 version (in alphabetical order) because it speaks to where I was at the time.

My Top Ten Favorite Jews of All Time [2003 version]

Walter Benjamin
Martin Buber
Jacques Derrida
Albert Einstein
Emma Goldman
Jesus
Franz Kafka
Rosa Luxemburg
Moses Maimonides
Moses

Michael David Lukas has been a Fulbright scholar in Turkey, a late-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and a Rotary scholar in Tunisia. His first book, The Oracle of Stamboul, is now available. Check back all week for more posts from him on the JBC/MJL Author Blog.

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/ask_the_expert/at/Ask_the_Expert_Jesus.shtml

Posted on February 14, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Privacy Policy