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John Irving Expresses Support for Israel and Jewish Community in Jerusalem Visit

Celebrated Novelist Reaffirms Support for Israel in Heartfelt Talk.

“I don’t just wish you all the best,” legendary novelist John Irving declared at the close of his event at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem on Wednesday night. His talk was a fulfillment of a promise made in late May, when he couldn’t attend the Jerusalem Writers Festival due to COVID. The acclaimed author of modern classics like The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire had pledged to visit Israel as soon as possible, and he delivered.

“I sincerely believe you’re the bravest people I know. Keep doing this,” he proclaimed. Irving also expressed his unwavering support, “I’m pro-Israel, I’m pro-Jewish, and I’m for you. That may not necessarily mean that I’m in favor of your present leader,” a comment that drew thunderous applause.

Drawing a parallel with his own country, Irving said, “I never stopped loving the United States, but I hated Ronald Reagan. In the Reagan years, I didn’t stop loving my country, I just knew they’d made a wrong decision.”

Irving reminisced about living in Austria during the Vietnam War protests. “It really pissed me off when the Austrians expressed themselves on the minutiae of the war because they didn’t know enough. I was happy when they opposed the war – so was I – but when they spoke in detail, they didn’t know what they were talking about. Well, neither would I, speaking about your country.”

He continued, “I listen to my Israeli friends and my many Jewish friends. But I’m not qualified to talk about the small details here – it’s your country, it’s not my business. But I do think it’s my business to say I support you. I know who started the trouble,” he said, his words drowned out by applause. “But don’t expect me to know a third, a fourth, or a fifth of the small details that you know.”

Politics were only a small part of an enchanting evening. Irving shared insights into his inspiration, writing process, life, and tattoos—the first featuring a sperm whale and the last line of Moby Dick. In a particularly newsworthy moment, he revealed details about his current novel, which concludes in Jerusalem. His visit was partly motivated by the invitation from Mishkenot and his desire to conduct research for this new work.

Irving, who last visited Israel in 1981, noted that his new book revisits characters and settings from The Cider House Rules. “In the book that I’m writing, Dr. Larch and his nurses make an early appearance,” he said. “But Dr. Larch, Nurse Edna, and Nurse Angela are all much younger than you may remember them... It’s a different time, an earlier time. The cast of orphans is different, and this time everyone’s favorite unadopted orphan is a Jewish girl named Queen Esther, who ends up in Jerusalem in the last chapter.”

Reflecting on his previous visit, Irving said he wasn’t planning to write a book then but was there for the Jerusalem Book Fair. “What you lose in 43 years is the visual detail. So I always knew that when I wrote the last novel, I had to leave the landscape detail for when I came back.”

Amid the humor and stories, Irving’s humanity and compassion shone through. He shared memories of being a student in Vienna with an American Jewish roommate, learning about antisemitism firsthand. He recounted being circumcised at a time when it was uncommon in America, bonding over it with Jewish teammates on his wrestling squad.

Known for tackling complex issues like rape, incest, abortion, and transgender identity in his novels, Irving is also a contrarian who doesn’t shy away from supporting Israel and Jews, rejecting reductive “fascism of the imagination” wokism. The audience appreciated his warmth, wit, and contrarian spirit.

For many, the highlight of the evening was when Irving signed books for fans, engaging with each person as if he were a neophyte author at his first book signing. This interaction, as much as his words on stage, captured the essence of John Irving.

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