Genius and mesch: remembering Stuart Schoffman

A month ago, when controversy broke out over Irish author Sally Rooney who refused to have her latest novel translated into Hebrew, the first person I thought would be able to comment on it for my i24NEWS The Rundown program was my friend and mentor, Stuart Schoffman, who recently years has become the best translator of Hebrew fiction into English.

He hadn’t seen Stuart in a while and knew he was having health problems, but hoped he could take a call from Zoom; Unfortunately, it didn’t sound very good on the phone and she begged, and this week she died at 73.

I met Stuart 31 years ago when he hired me to be his deputy editor while serving as senior art editor at The Jerusalem Report, and frankly, I was in awe of him.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, the son of a Hebrew teacher and a graduate of the famous Flatbush Yeshiva, he earned degrees at both Harvard (where he was roommates with Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones) and Yale, worked as a magazine writer Time and Fortune, as a Hollywood screenwriter and college history professor, before moving to Israel in 1988 after meeting and marrying Jerusalem-based communications strategist Roberta Fahn.

Stuart had an astonishing command of high and low culture, Jewish and general knowledge, all of which he used brilliantly in his brilliant columns for the Report for 17 years, the longest pieces he wrote for the Jewish Book Review and his career. as a lecturer at the Shalom Hartman Institute and at many other institutions, events, and venues.

Stuart Schoffman (credit: courtesy)

His knowledge was encyclopedic, with friends and family playing with his Hebrew name, Shmuel, referring to his ability to “shmoogle” on almost any subject that interested them.

But his was not just an understanding of the basic facts of Trivial Pursuit; Stuart thought deeply about most of the issues.

One of the reasons I asked him to speak on the Rooney affair was because he knew he could go beyond making easy political announcements and had the ability to approach the subject from multiple angles, be it literature, language, paper. and the responsibility of the artist. etc.

This complexity of thinking was especially so when it came to Israel. Although I knew more about the history of this country and spoke better (or more correctly) Hebrew than many of you will know, Stuart seemed to me to have a deep ambivalence towards the Jewish state.

He was as passionate in criticizing the shortcomings of his adopted homeland as he was in celebrating its achievements. Stuart had the ability to examine Israel within the context of the full extent of Jewish history, to truly gauge how it fell short of and exceeded the three millennia of Jewish dreams and aspirations that led to its creation.

When the Report’s staff combined to write a biography on Yitzhak Rabin’s life shortly after his death, Stuart contributed the final chapter of the book, placing Rabin’s murder within the context of internal violence within Jewish politics, which it ranges from the biblical assassination of Gedaliah Ben-Ahikam to the assassination of the accused Nazi collaborator Rudolf Kastner in the 1950s in Israel.

Stuart’s last words for the book were a coda of how he viewed the Zionist enterprise in its current state: “Only if all Israelis can intelligently and critically converse with their rich and troubled Jewish past will they be able to speak productively. and respectfully, one to the other. “

If, on the page, Stuart reached the depth, off the page he was a great storyteller, one of the funniest and most entertaining storytellers I’ve ever had the privilege of listening to, able to embellish his stories with a mastery of mimicry, accents and even music.

What he loved most were his unlikely anecdotes about his work in Hollywood, especially as an in-house screenwriter for the ’80s schlockmeister Menachem Golan. Enthusiastically imitating Golan’s thick English with an Israeli accent, Stuart recalled being once told to come up with a story for a pair of muscular twin professional wrestlers called The Barbarian Brothers whom Golan had just signed a contract with. When Stuart asked what movie Golan envisioned for the tag team, the effusive Israeli mogul replied, “Stuart, we must be hitting and hitting and hitting … but fun!”

As mentioned, in recent years Stuart became the go-to translator for virtual roll call of modern giants of Hebrew literature, including AB Yehoshua, David Grossman, Aharon Appelfeld, and Meir Shalev. Surely those great writers knew how lucky they were to have such a talented and sensitive collaborator.

Last year I interviewed Yehoshua about the release of the English version of his novel The Tunnel, and I couldn’t help but sing the praises of Stuart as a translator and as a person.

Even more impressive was Stuart’s work on Shalev’s Two She-Bears, delivering a translation masterpiece for a novel that draws heavily on the nuances of the Hebrew language to critique an Israeli macho spirit embedded even in the language of their characters.

I WAS only a few months in my job as Stuart’s assistant at the Report when he was diagnosed with his first life-threatening cancer attack. Stepping into his giant’s shoes at that time was daunting, and for me it would not have been possible without his support and encouragement, even when he had to fight the disease that started a lifelong battle to maintain his good health. It was one he fought with such tremendous courage, drive, and good humor that my admiration for him only grew over the years.

After undergoing intense experimental treatment, Stuart wrote an especially moving column for the Report on His Initial Recovery. In it, he noted the fortuitous juxtaposition of receiving news of his remission just when his daughter, Rafaela, was born, writing: “Jungians call these coincidences synchronicity; we Ashkenazim call them bashert, fated. In any case, it is a way to make sense of a life that might otherwise seem random and cruel. By learning to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary, we feel transported and empowered, which is what the religious and artistic experience has always been about. ”

Stuart Schoffman, simply put, was a genius and a mensch, a combination that doesn’t happen as often as it should in this world. Your memory will be a blessing.

The writer hosts the daily current affairs show The Rundown on i24NEWS.

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