Debut author Sebban draws on her mother’s recently discovered diary in a series of stories that explore life in 1950s Israel from the perspective of a Jewish graduate student.
The author, a former journalist for the Australian Jewish News, explores her mother’s time in Israel in a series of tales that she calls “creative non-fiction.” Her mother, Naomi Moldofsky (née Gross), would later become an acclaimed economist at the University of Melbourne, but in these chapters, the author focuses exclusively on Moldofsky’s year’s as a 20-something, single, Jewish academic. Apart from family and friends, and economists interested in details pertaining to Moldofsky’s intellectual development at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, most readers will be interested in what these stories reveal about 1950s Israeli life and culture. Having spent most of her formative years in Australia, Moldofsky provides a perspective from the “Australian eyes” of a Jewish “outsider.” Her eyewitness account of “Arab terrorists…caught in the market,” her interactions with refugees from Yemen, and her grappling with moral quandaries associated with Zionism and ethnic violence will appeal to anyone interested in life in that country and era. Similarly, as a socially active, single woman who ran in Israeli intellectual circles, Moldofsky often crossed paths with well-known cultural, social, and political figures, such as theater director Shmuel Bunim. However, this brief book doesn’t provide much context about Moldofsky’s personal or family history, with the exception of sporadic anecdotes. Indeed, it’s not made clear why she left a stable job, security, and her family in Australia to go to Israel in the first place, as after her arrival there, she frequently laments her financial straits and expresses fears of violence. Although she’s revealed in these stories to have rejected 1950s-era expectations regarding women’s roles, and to have run in sophisticated circles, Sebban offers readers no clear sense of Moldofsky’s political ideology, her views on Zionism, her religious devotion, or her passions—factors that would have given readers a better idea of who she was as a person.
A sentimental but unfulfilling portrait.