A new novel examines the parallel dislocation in two Jewish refugee stories of 1956, and their resettlement in Israel: one from Egypt and one from Hungary. Adam Kirsch reviews Haim Sabato's novel, 'From the Four Winds', in The Tablet:
It is billed as a work of fiction, but for its first few chapters, From the Four Winds, the new book by the Israeli rabbi and novelist Haim Sabato, reads like a memoir. Sabato begins conversationally, recounting his early memories as a young immigrant to Jerusalem in the late 1950s. In a kind of modern-day Exodus, the Jews of Egypt were expelled after the 1956 Sinai War, and they made their way to Israel by roundabout stages, passing through Italy and Greece along the way. When the Sabatos arrived, they were assigned to a housing project in a new neighborhood in West Jerusalem, which the novelist refers to by its traditional name of Beit Mazmil, though by the time he lived there it had already been renamed Kiryat HaYovel.
The hardships of the Mizrahi immigrants to Israel are more widely known today than they once were, though for American Jews, who are mostly of Ashkenazi descent, the early history of the Jewish state is still more often viewed through the eyes of Eastern European pioneers. Sabato introduces us to this hardscrabble immigrants’ world through the eyes of the child he then was, never certain that he really understood the folkways of his new country. For instance, he is bewildered by the enthusiasm of his fellow second-graders, mostly native Israelis, who are planning their Purim costumes:
I did not understand what it meant to come in costume. I looked around me and saw that everyone was excited and smiling, but I could not understand why. In those days I was not accustomed to ask about something I did not understand. What I did not understand I filled in with my imagination. I tried to equate an unknown word to a word I knew form the prayers, or from Arabic, or from what my heart told me.