The Arty Semite

Why Marco Koskas Abandoned France

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy Marco Koskas Myspace

Author of several novels, the French Jewish author Marco Koskas, born in Tunisia in 1951, has recently published what he calls a “récit” or narrative account. “My Paternal Heart: Diary from August 2010 to August 2011” appeared from Les éditions Fayard in January , a first-person story in journal form about his 16-year-old son embracing Orthodox Judaism and going to study in a yeshiva in Bnei Barak, east of Tel Aviv.

The younger Koskas, referred to here as Kiddo (Fiston) or by his Hebrew name Moshe, channels the usual adolescent moodiness into moralistic judgments of his parents and fellow students at shul. The latter take every opportunity to drink alcohol at strip clubs and visit prostitutes, he charges. Koskas, who in a checkered professional past has also worked as a private detective, seems intrigued by his son’s powers of deduction when noting that an Orthodox Jew drinking liquor from a flask at a Tel Aviv bus stop “must have been with whores.” Why? Because the Orthodox man in question did not recite the ritual prayer before drinking, meaning he is “impure and cannot say the name of God, and therefore has been with whores.”

From a decidedly assimilated background himself, Koskas finds the laws of kashrut to be “arbitrary, absurd, and superstitious too. Who was it that claimed the [Jews] were an ‘elite people?’” Despite this ironic reference to a notorious anti-Semitic speech by Charles de Gaulle, Koskas realizes that his son is merely looking for “unchanging law, invariable conditions of existence” in religion, compared to his divorced parents’ own often-haphazard lives. Indeed, three years after Moshe’s mother “abandoned him” at 9 years old, according to Koskas, the boy became obsessed with religion. One early disillusionment occurred at finding that Paris authorities in charge of conversion — Moshe’s mother was non-Jewish, making the boy’s conversion necessary for Orthodox worship — worked more quickly after receiving bribes.

Under evident tension, Moshe gets drunk on boukha, a Tunisian tipple made from distilling Mediterranean figs. Whereas his father, after frequent visits to the Holy Land during which he relishes Tunisian dishes such as Pkaïla, a stew of beef, spinach, and navy beans, decides that Tel Aviv suits him and decides to make Aliyah. “My Paternal Heart” thanks Moshe, without whose determination to study at Bnei Brak this choice would never have been made, yet Koskas recently told an interviewer: “In any case, for a Jewish writer, life has become untenable in France.”

Watch Marco Koskas in 1979 on the French TV program “Apostrophes.”

Watch a video in fervent homage to the Tunisian Jewish dish Pkaïla.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Moshe Koskas, Marco Koskas

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!
  • 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.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • 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.