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The Teacher

Michal Ben-Naftali

No one knew the story of Elsa Weiss’s life. She was a respected English teacher at a Tel Aviv high school, but she remained aloof and never tried to be friendly with her students. She concentrated on teaching her students, but refused to educate them, or try to affect their futures, or to shape their consciences or their consciousness. No one ever encountered her outside of school hours.  She was a riddle, and yet the students sensed that they were all she had. When Elsa killed herself by jumping off the roof of her apartment building, she remained as unknown as she had been during her life.

Thirty years later, the narrator of the novel, one of her students, decides to solve the riddle of Elsa Weiss. In retrospect, she realizes that she had learned a fateful lesson from her, a lesson for life. But what was that lesson? What had her teacher taught her? This is where the dizzying journey at the heart of Ben-Naftali’s novel begins. Expertly dovetailing explosive historical material with flights of imagination, the novel traces the footprints of a Holocaust survivor who did her utmost to leave no footprints. The lesson she taught is revealed to be an intricate code, and by gradually deciphering it the narrator comes to some of the most tumultuous junctions in the history of the twentieth century.

The narrator invents a fictional biography for Elsa. She describes her childhood in Hungary, her journey to Paris, her marriage, her experiences after the German invasion of Hungary, how she was taken on the highly controversial “rescue train,” first to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and then to Switzerland; how she decided to remain silent and to leave no trace of who she had been. But the narrator hears her teacher’s wordless scream and creates a life for her. Writing it down is a way to save her from oblivion.



With a sure hand [Ben-Naftali] transforms her sad story into an exciting adventure, similar to the discovery of a new continent. Ben-Naftali handles her heroine, a survivor devoid of heroism, with reverence … Ben- Naftali touches in her book upon one of the open sores of Israeli society, without hitting her readers on the head with the hammer of victimhood and accusation.   
The Sapir Prize Committee

An unusual novel … Ben-Naftali achieves the impossible by choosing to give words to an ineffable reality, that of the Holocaust. She devises a non-language that goes right to the body and the soul, and combines with amusement, severe and slow scrutiny, tenderness and hardship, and intellect alongside a delicacy that is beyond words. Those who follow her path can grasp the immensity of the task she has undertaken and the miracle of its implementation … Writing, from Ben-Naftali’s point of view, is a gradual act of redeeming the other.

Hanna Herzig, Haaretz

This is a lovely, moving novel … Lovely and moving in a way that occurs as a profound change is taking place in the reader’s mind … There comes a moment, anticipated but sudden, at which the plot -- or the writer’s insights into it -- seizes the reader by the throat and brings them closer to themselves and to the other.

Yael Geller, Yedioth Ahronoth


With a discerning and empathetic eye Ben-Naftali builds a character and a story which are at their core a philosophical problem … The essay in the form of a novel by the essayist and psychoanalyst leaves her literature-reading audience a map of allusions and symbols. And much material to ponder. 

Tsur Ehrlich, Makor Rishon


The writing is responsible, meticulous and polished … This book enables its readers to reflect upon and challenge the teaching profession and the special relationship between a teacher and her students.

Esti Adivi-Shoshan, Haaretz

This is not a classical Holocaust novel, but rather one that actually tries to shed light on the marginal corners of the period. An important and interesting novel that dares to take on subjects that are liable to be forgotten.

Hadar Azran, Arutz 7

An intriguing crisscross of harsh and lacerating facts and fictional byways which connects critical historical events and a lone woman who was, and remains, an enigma … The author’s attempt to provide a testament to her life produces many chords.  

Israel Hayom

Title The Teacher
Author’s Last Name Ben-Naftali
Author's First Name Michal
Language(s) Hebrew
Genre novel
Publisher (Hebrew) Keter
Year of Publication (Hebrew) 2015
No. Pages 185 pp.
Book title - Hebrew (phonetic) Ha-Mora
Representation Represented by ITHL


English: Rochester, Open Letter, forthcoming 

French: Arles, Actes Sud, forthcoming

Italian: Milan, Mondadori, 2018

Russian: Moscow, Knizhniki, forthcoming


Residencies in Vienna and Salzburg
In co-operation with KulturKontakt Austria, the Austrian Federal Chancellery offers 50 residencies in Vienna and Salzburg for the year 2019. Applications can be submitted for literature, literature for children and young adults and literary translations. Please note the deadline of September 30th, 2018.
Call for applications English speakers: Stay culture in Paris (deadline: June 12th, 2018)
Details in the attached link
Congratulations to Sami Berdugo and Shoham Smith, recipients of the 2018 Bialik Prize, one of the most prestigious literary prizes in Israel!

The Ministry of Culture and Sport announced the names of the winners of the Arik Einstein Veterans Artists Prize.
A prize of 50,000 NIS was given to each of the 21 artists who worked and are still working to promote Israeli culture in various fields -Music, dance, theater, plastic arts, cinema and literature. In the literature category the winners were Ronny Someck, Jacob Buchan and Shlomit Cohen-Assif. Also, Anat Masiach is among the recipient of the prize for debut literary works. Congratulations!
The fourth German-Hebrew/Hebrew-German translation workshop November 4th to 10th, 2018 Beit Ben-Yehuda, Jerusalem
After workshops in Berlin, Jerusalem and Straelen, the workshop will return to Jerusalem this spring. This workshop will focus on the participants translations. These are unfinished translations that have not yet been published. These will be sent to all participants. The workshop is open to 10 participants and is intended for literary translators with experience and publications. Workshop facilitators: Anne Birkenhauer and Gadi Goldberg Prerequisites: At least one published translation Duration: November 4th 2018 until November 10th, 2018 Location: Beit Ben-Yehuda, 28 Ein Gedi St., 93383 Jerusalem Participation fee: Participation (Accommodation and meals) is free of charge. Travel / flight expenses will be refunded. For more details and for the documents required for submitting application: Anne Birkenhauer, and Gadi Goldberg,
Ayelet Gundar-Goshen's "Waking Lions" is one of the 100 notable books of 2017 of the "New York Times".

MHL - New webzine starting soon!