Esther Ettinger’s work, an editor has remarked, “is infused with her own religious sensibility, drawing on associations from the world of Bible, Midrash, traditional liturgy and Talmud”. As may be seen here in the article ‘A Great Woman’, Admiel Kosman’s analysis of Ettinger’s poem ‘Elisha’, she is able to tell an “utterly new story” about the relations between women and men by drawing on a cryptic episode about the prophet in the second book of Kings.
Esther Ettinger (née Haftka) was born in Jerusalem and raised in Tel Aviv, where she was educated in religious schools. Upon completing high school, she worked in the National Service (an alternative to the Israeli army) and studied for her BA in Hebrew literature and the history of Jewish thought, and an MA in librarianship at Hebrew University. She edited the Kiryat Sefer journal at the National Library, and later served as a librarian in the Hebrew University Law Library; she now works part-time at the university’s Institute for Jewish Law. She is the author of five books of poetry, a novel (with another forthcoming in 2012) and a monograph on the Israeli poet Zelda. In addition, she is the mother of four and the grandmother of five.
In Dreaming the Actual, an anthology of Israeli women’s writing, Miriyam Glazer quotes Ettinger as saying “Most of my childhood and youth was spent in the shadow of war.”
Ettinger’s Polish parents, Glazer notes, immigrated to Mandatory Palestine before the Second World War. But the rest of their families stayed in Poland. “When I was born in Jerusalem,” Ettinger told her, “my parents named me ‘Esther’ after my father’s late grandmother, not knowing whether anyone else in the family was alive or dead”. Stories about her family’s experiences in the Holocaust “found their way”, Glazer says, into Ettinger’s first book of poems (Possible Green), which was awarded the Neuman Prize by the Jerusalem Writers House.
According to critic Rochelle Furstenberg, Ettinger’s novel Night Wonder also contains many autobiographical elements: “Ettinger’s parents . . . were part of the Yiddish-speaking business community in Tel Aviv in the 1950s. The line between Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox was not clearly drawn at that time, and she was sent to a Bais Yakov school [which now serves only the ultra-Orthodox population]. In her novel, Ettinger juxtaposes the Bais Yakov education of the protagonist Atara Henig with the girl’s attraction to the music, movies and fashion of Tel Aviv. Her teacher, Raizl, is a very pious survivor of Bergen-Belsen who espouses the teachings of the [real-life] founder of Bais Yakov, Sara Schneirer, in an attempt to cleanse the young women of what she terms ‘foreign influences.’”
Ettinger's history, fascinating as it is, is not her only subject. Her work looks at our lives from a lively, contemporary point of view enriched by her knowledge of Jewish sources.
Possible Green, Tel Aviv, Neuman/Tcherikover, 1981
Before the Music, Tel Aviv, Hakibbutz Hamuechad, 1986
Lent by the Artist, Jerusalem, Keter, 1991
A Perfectly Bourgeois Life, Tel Aviv, Am Oved, 1998
Night and Day, Tel Aviv, Hakibbutz Hamuechad, 2011
One poem in The Defiant Muse, NYC, Feminist Press, 1999
Five poems in Dreaming the Actual, Albany, NY, SUNY Press, 2000
A Perfect Lover (with Ruth Almog), Jerusalem, Keter, 1995 (in German translation: Munich, Goldmann, 1999)
Estelina My Love (with Ruth Almog), Jerusalem, Keter, 2002
Night Wonder, Tel Aviv, Am Oved, 2005
Zelda: Black Rose, Tel Aviv, Mapa, 2007
Complete bibliography in Hebrew, including links to reviews of Ettinger’s books
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