How Begin gave Galila perfect start as author

EARLY SUPPORTER: Galila Ron-Feder-Amit with Menachem Begin, whose advice changed Galila's life for ever


GALILA Ron-Feder-Amit may not be a spring chicken anymore, but she certainly keeps in touch with the younger generation.

I caught up with the prolific 65-year-old, Haifa-born, children's author and screenwriter, prior to a house move -although she is, naturally, staying in Jerusalem.

"I have been living in Talpiot for over 44 years," she said, "but everything around us has changed."

When Galila first set up home in what has now become a crowded suburb of Jerusalem, "we looked out onto apple orchards (of nearby Kibbutz Ramat Rahel), and we could see the Dead Sea," she recalled.

"The orchards inspired all of the books in the Gingi series. It was awful when they put up a wall and blocked our view of the Dead Sea."

She and second husband Meshulam Amit are looking forward to settling into the quieter environs of Beit Hakerem this summer.

The writer said her original move to the capital owes something to DNA.

"My father made aliya from Poland, and always wanted to live in Jerusalem," she recounted. "He and my mother lived here, but in those days, it was hard to make a living.

"They started building Haifa Port, so they moved north; my father always dreamed of coming back to Jerusalem, and he always related to living in Haifa as just a phase before going back to Jerusalem."

Galila's dad spent the last 10 years of his life in the capital - although his daughter made it to Jerusalem before him when she enrolled at Hebrew University for a degree in literature and Bible.

Besides her father's longing, one of Galila's initial Jerusalem associative discoveries was, suitably, of a literary nature.

"When I was 16, I encountered a short story by (Nobel Prize laureate) SY Agnon called From Enemy to Lover, in which he writes about the wind that blows through Talpiot.

"I fell in love with that story. He talks about the wind, but in my mind's eye I imagined that it was the spirit of creation," she laughed, referencing the Hebrew word ruach, which translates both as 'wind' and 'spirit'.

"I decided I had to live in Talpiot, as close as I could to that spirit, so I could enrich my muse," she added.

Although she is known for her children's books - she has written in the region of 400 books, which have been translated into 10 languages, including English and Chinese - she started out with a more adult readership in mind.

"I grew up in a [left-wing] Mapai household and environment, and I didn't know anything about the Irgun or [Revisionist leader Ze'ev] Jabotinsky.

"When I read stuff about what went on between the Hagana and Irgun, I felt terrible," she explained, with a historical reference to the so-called Saison struggle between the two pre-state paramilitary organisations.

After the then-16-year-old Galila got some of her sadness and frustration out of her system, by crying over the fact that two Jewish groups could be such bitter enemies, she got down to writing a book based on the Irgun.

This was after already filling numerous exercise books with other incipient works of literature, which she stashed away in her bedroom.

"My parents knew I wrote stories, but in those days it wasn't the kind of thing you shared with your friends and classmates," she recalled.

"If you spent your time writing, it was as if you didn't have a real life in the real world."

Galila's attempt to right the injustice she felt had been committed towards the right-wing pre-state group eventually produced a whole tome, but she didn't know whether it was any good, or accurately reflected the political zeitgeist of the era.

"I sent the book to Menachem Begin," she revealed.

Begin, a future prime minister, was then a minister in the National Unity Government. He contacted her parents, inviting her over to his home to discuss her work.

"That changed my life and my eventual career," she said. "He told me that I should write children's books, because children have an open heart. He said that if I wanted to write for the heart, I should write for children, because adults are too cerebral."

Despite her Haifa origins, Galila said: "I love Jerusalem and I feel blessed to be able to live in this city. I think I got that from my father.

"The Jews longed to return to Jerusalem for 2,000 years; that is something very deep. I often think about that when I am driving back to Jerusalem."

Galila spends much of her time travelling around the country to talk to schoolchildren. It is a good way of keeping tabs on her readership, and keeping pace with what the kids of today are into.

"I meet my raw material and also the target audience of my books," she noted. "I am very interested in what the kids say and think, and in the questions they raise."

This also informs her output. She said: "What I wrote 20 or 30 years ago is different from what I write about today."

Of her gargantuan body of work, Galila told me: "Yes, I do get a bit frazzled from writing so much, but I take breaks when I write for television or for the cinema.

"Writing scripts is very different, and I find that refreshing."

She also takes complete breaks from her creative endeavours.

"I go abroad a couple of times a year, to the Far East and other places," she revealed.

"I've visited India nine times and I never wrote a word there, but I find India very inspiring."

Does she take a laptop with her?

"No computer, and I don't even take a notebook with me; I don't need to jot things down. If I come across something interesting or inspiring, I remember it, and get it down when I get back home."

Producing books at such a frenetic pace, presumably, obviates the problem of writer's block.

Galila says she is not entirely immune to that professional malady, but manages to overcome it.

"Sometimes I feel run-down and tired of writing, but suddenly, the path ahead clears and the words come rushing out again," she said.

"There are books that are more challenging, and with some books it feels like the first book I have ever written. I don't generally feel weary of writing."

While many of her books are about kids' adventures, there is also a strong educational side.

She has frequently addressed painful subjects. One book in her Time Tunnel series, for example, was based on the 1974 Palestinian terrorist attack on a school in Ma'alot.

That subject matter requires a steady and sensitive hand on the tiller.

"I have written about the Holocaust, too," Galila noted. "That necessitates even more subtlety and delicacy."

So, how does she go about conveying such horrors to young children, who cannot possibly grasp the enormity of the violence and tragedy?

For that, the author was able to call on some professional experience.

"I was on the management of Yad Vashem for many years, and I understood that not allowing children under the age of 10 to visit the new museum was a wise move," she said. "Small children are incapable of accommodating or absorbing such things.

"I was in Hiroshima and I saw children aged eight or nine at the museum [which commemorates the dropping of the atom bomb on the city] making fun of the things there.

"They weren't to blame; they simply couldn't take it in. They were too young."

That Japanese experience left its mark on Galila's approach to child-sensitive areas.

"I decided there were things I wouldn't introduce to my Time Tunnel book series," she revealed. "I don't put in descriptions of gas chambers and such.

"I went in the direction of things like the partisans, Kristallnacht and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, without getting into descriptions of concentration camps.

"I have never received responses from children or their parents that my accounts of the Holocaust or the Ma'alot attack were too harsh. I try my best to be sensitive to what children of this age are capable of taking in."

In addition to meeting schoolchildren on a regular basis, Galila has had plenty of first-hand experience with junior members of society.

As a newly-wed, age 24, she contacted the welfare authorities about becoming a foster mother.

She and her first husband had just moved from a small apartment in Ramot Eshkol to a much more spacious abode in Talpiot.

Shortly after that initial application officials came round to the writer's home, checked out the surroundings and decided that, based on the room they had at their disposal, the young couple could take in no fewer than 15 foster children.

Galila wasn't fazed by the generous offer, but did mention the fact that the house only had one toilet.

"The man said that if we only had one toilet, we could have 10 children," she recounted. "I must have been a bit crazy; I was 24 years old, and didn't have any maternal experience. That wouldn't happen today."

Over a period of several months, she and her husband took in 10 children between the ages of three and nine, caring for them for a number of years.

Naturally, the sudden influx of children and the expansive familial dynamics provided the budding writer with plenty of ideas for her books.

Her first child - she has three of her own - was born into the already heavily populated family nest, and the foster children eventually all went their separate ways.

(Jerusalem Post)

© 2015 Jewish Telegraph