Sarah Stricker – Writing in Israel

The German author has decided to live in Israel.

Maayan Haim

Sarah Stricker is in love – with Israel. “There is no place in the world I would rather live than Tel Aviv,” says Sarah Stricker. The 35-year old comes from Schwegenheim, a village near Speyer in Central Germany, and studied in Mannheim, the United States and France. She has always been interested in German-Jewish history and Israel, but not because of her own family biography: “My grandparents were small children during World War II so I don’t have that many skeletons in the cupboard.” Stricker attributes her interest more to sharing in the German “cultural collective memory”. Which is why in 2009 she applied for an exchange fellowship for journalists, travelled to Israel, and for two months wrote for an English language Israeli Internet magazine. Just two weeks after her arrival Stricker began to learn Hebrew, “and I knew that I wanted to stay in Israel.” As she soon fell in love with a local citizen she was granted right of residence in Israel, which does not see itself as a country for migrants. The fact that she has chosen as a non-Jew to live in Israel surprises and impresses many Israelis.

Stricker began reporting for German newspapers and magazines from Israel and also wrote her first novel, “Fünf Kopeken” (Five Kopeks) which was published in 2013. The debut promptly won the Martha-Saalfeld Award and tells the story of a close mother-daughter relationship. Suffering from terminal cancer, the mother tells her daughter stories about her life and above all about her great love. In spring 2015 Stricker’s story “Der neue Deutsche” (The New German) appeared in the anthology of German and Israeli authors “Wir vergessen nicht, wir gehen tanzen” (We don’t forget, we go dancing).

“I was really worried I would forget my German,” says Stricker. “But I have realised that the farther away you go the more clearly you see things. Many of the things about me that are typically German only struck me in Israel. Although Israel does not feature in my novel at all, it is also present in every sentence.”

Because Stricker was very grateful for the help many Israelis gave her in dealing with the bureaucracy and because she is very interested in the Shoah, she “adopted” a survivor via a charity for Holocaust survivors (FBHV), a woman she visits once a week. “I might have an Israeli boyfriend here, but no family of my own; nor does the 91-year old have any family. So for me she has become my ‘Israeli grandma’ and I am her ‘granddaughter’.”

Sarah Stricker now speaks Hebrew so well that she is sometimes a guest on Israeli radio broadcasts. Her favourite word in Hebrew is an apt description of an Israeli trait: ‘tschick tschack’ meaning fast as lightning. “Germans are extremely fearful, but Israelis, by contrast, often take the initiative. For example: Recently I was walking down Rothschild Boulevard when I saw someone fall off their bicycle. I responded like most Germans: Though shocked, I didn’t do anything for fear of doing something wrong or embarrassing someone. My Israeli friend, like all the other passers-by simply ran over without thinking and helped. ” What can Israelis learn from Germans? “To have a little hope. The Germans have altered a great deal in 70 years. But because of the Middle East conflict the Israelis are often apathetic and cynical. The Left in particular find it difficult to believe things will get better: People that try to change something politically are often branded as dreamers.”

Stricker is pleased that Israel is getting more attention in Germany through the events to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel. She says the country is no longer only seen from two perspectives: that of the Middle East conflict, and that of the Shoah. This restricted vision leads to stereotypes, as shown by the editor of a woman’s magazine for which Stricker wrote a story about female Israeli soldiers. The two protagonists were blond. The editor complained: “You can’t tell they are Israelis.”

Stricker “definitely” sees her future in Israel, the location of her second novel. The initial German angst she felt when writing has given way to the insight that for an author writing at 30° C in the shade it is easier “to conquer your weaker self”.