Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy worked as an actress and writer in film and television in the United States and Israel. Night in Jerusalem is her debut novel, which she has adapted to film. She lives in Ojai California with her husband and daughter.
She writes, “I lived in Israel in the 1960s, a naive twenty-year-old, hoping to find myself and my place in the world. The possibility of war was remote to me. I imagined the tensions in the region would somehow be resolved peacefully. Then, the Six Day War erupted and I experienced it firsthand in Jerusalem.
I have drawn Night in Jerusalem from my experiences during that time. The historical events portrayed in the novel are accurate. The characters are based on people I knew in the city. Like me, they were struggling to make sense of their lives, responding to inherited challenges they could not escape that shaped their destiny in ways they and the entire Middle East could not have imagined.
I have always been intrigued by the miraculous. How and where the soul’s journey leads and how it reveals its destiny. How two people who are destined, even under the threat of war and extinction, can find one another.
Israel’s Six Day War is not a fiction; neither was the miracle of its victory. What better time to discover love through intrigue, passion, and the miraculous.
Writing this story was in part reliving my history in Israel, in part a mystical adventure. I am grateful that so many who have read Night In Jerusalem have experienced this as well.”
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It’s a pleasure to have you here today, Gaelle. Can you tell us what your new book is about?
I have always been intrigued by the miraculous: how and where the soul’s journey leads and how it reveals its destiny; how two people who are destined to love, even under the threat of war and extinction, can find one another. Night In Jerusalem is a love story set during Israel’s Six Day War in which passion, mystical encounters and the miraculous come together to change the lives of everyone caught up in it.
Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
David Bennett is a young British aristocrat who longs to find his place in the world. He is invited to Jerusalem by his cousin who, to the alarm of their family, has embraced Judaism. Unlike his cousin, David has no interest in religion and feels little affiliation with his Jewish heritage. Shortly after he arrives, we learn why David is unable to sustain relationships with women
Reb Eli came from an orthodox family in Germany. His father, a prominent rabbi, arranged for him to be evacuated to England through the Kindertransport. He was taken in by David’s family and developed a deep friendship with David’s father, Phillip, who was a young boy also. Learning after the war that his family had been lost in the holocaust, Eli found a new life in Israel where he became revered as a sage and spiritual leader of Jerusalem’s orthodox community.
Sarah, one of Reb Eli’s daughters, lost her husband to an early death. She had no children and was judged to be barren, leaving her utterly bereft. Without a sense of purpose, her sadness grieves Eli who can find no way to give her comfort. She is devoted to her father and their religious tradition, which she observes faithfully and sincerely.
Anat is fresh out of the army. She is a free-thinking Israeli beauty, confident in her sexuality and ready to embrace the world on her own terms. She is an archeologist, impatient with the shibboleths of Jewish tradition, insisting on a clear-eyed interpretation of the historical record based on the facts, not religious convention.
Your book is set in Jerusalem. Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?
The story takes place in Jerusalem, a city more redolent of mystery than anywhere else. It is not uncommon for visitors there to fall completely under the spell of its energy, having visions of the archetypes of religious faith as they wander the city streets. Psychiatrists call this experience the “Jerusalem Syndrome.” I have always been affected by the energy of place, and never more so than in Jerusalem. Its unseen, nighttime world is the wellspring of the book’s plot, even though the story is set against the backdrop of the Six Day War. I wanted the title “Night In Jerusalem” to evoke the mood of the city and point to the spiritual story that unfolds there.
Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
Sarah’s revelation that she is about to undertake something that can endanger as well as forever change her and the life she knows, severing the bonds to her family and community.
What has been the most pivotal point of your writing life?
I studied creative writing at Columbia and came to appreciate the astonishing virtuosity of our writers. But the pivotal shift for me came when I realized I am not at all interested in writing for its own sake, no matter how well-crafted it is. Sometimes, I find that writing can get in the way of the work. I love stories that are told simply, where the writer is unobtrusive and the characters and plot say it all. Einstein said it is easy to make something complicated, but it takes genius to make things simple. That’s a “simple” that takes mastery to achieve. It is hard to write stories that are so clear and transparent you can see right into the souls of the characters. That’s what works for me. The writing I love is where the writer becomes invisible. I found it hugely liberating to disappear into my characters and their world. I have never looked back.
What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors?
I would encourage aspiring authors to start writing today. I’d tell them the story doesn’t have to be completely worked out before they start writing it. They can start with the characters, let them come alive, and then stay with them - I write every day to make sure I stay in contact with mine. During the rest of the time, the characters are in the background, imagining alternative futures. I have a general idea of where I am heading with the story, but I am regularly surprised by turns of events. The book takes on a life of its own, once you get going.