The Arty Semite

Yehuda Lancry’s Memoir Written in the 'Ink of his Tears'

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

The diplomatic career of Yehuda Lancry includes postings as Israel’s Ambassador to France in the 1990s, followed by service as a member of the 14th Knesset, and in 1999, as Israel’s representative to the United Nations. Yet before these lofty responsibilities, Lancry, who was born in Bujad, Morocco and emigrated to Israel in the 1960s, earned a masters degree in French literature, focusing on the works of 19th century French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, and then received a doctorate on the contemporary author Michel Butor.

This literary preparation became highly useful when Lancry decided to write a memoir, “The Wounded Envoy: Memoires of an Israeli Ambassador,” (Le messager Meurtri: Mémoires d’un ambassadeur d’Israël) which recently appeared from Les éditions Albin Michel. Interwoven with recollections of his professional duties is an account of his mourning for his businessman son Ran, who died in 2002 at age 27, after prolonged health difficulties (which had earlier necessitated Yehuda Lancry’s donating a kidney to his son).

Unlike Mallarmé who was inspired by the death of his own 8-year-old son Anatole to pen a hermetically cryptic poetic work, Lancry has written a movingly communicative document about how time does not heal all wounds. Lancry resolved to write his memoir after a 2005 lunch with Elie Wiesel during which Wiesel, whom Lancry calls the “master geographer of suffering,” proclaimed over the table at an Italian restaurant:

According to the Talmud, the death of a son is equivalent to the Destruction of the Temple.

Following the example of Butor, who advocated that authors should repeat past experiences as preparation for writing, Lancry makes a pilgrimage to Central Park, where he and his late son would stroll in happier times. Memorial inscriptions on some benches seem to transform the Park into a symbolic necropolis. Lancry, who prays every day using Ran’s tefillin and tzitzit, has produced what he accurately terms a “limitless love pact between a father and son, cemented with the ink of our tears.”

Lancry’s memoir is in a formal, elegiac style which nonetheless reveals how literature can advance practical political ends, as when Lancry presents France’s then-President François Mitterrand with a rare edition of Butor, and finds that the shortest path to that leader’s heart is through Mitterrand’s literary pretension and acquisitive bibliophilia. “The Wounded Envoy” is a noble addition to an outstanding Albin Michel series directed by Victor Malka of Jewish-themed books which also features authors such as Emanuel Levinas, Ami Bouganim, and Jean Baumgarten.

Watch Yehuda Lancry interviewed on Israeli TV in 2008.*

Listen to Yehuda Lancry speak on Radio France Internationale on November 24, 2010.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.