- Shoshana Shababo:The First Sephardic Female Writer in Israel Between Rejection and Acceptance
The 1930s and 1940s in Israel were characterized by a scarcity of Sephardic women writers. Women writing in Hebrew in those years included Shoshana Shababo, Dvora Baron, Elisheva, Nehama Pohatchevsky, Hemda Ben Yehuda, Shoshana Shrira, Pnina Kaspi, Batia Kahana, Sara Gluzman, Emma Levine, Rivka Alper, and Bracha Habas. Among them, Shababo (1910-1992) is the only one of Sephardic descent, and she remained the only known Sephardic woman writer in Israel until the early 1980s.1 Born in 1910 in Zichron Ya’acov, she published two novels: Maryah: Roman me-haye ha-nezirot ba-arets (Maria: A novel about the life of nuns in Eretz Israel) in 1932, when she was only twenty-two years old, and Ahavah bi-Tsefat (Love in Safed) a decade later. In addition, about forty of her short stories appeared in the literary sections of various newspapers of the time.
Shababo was a unique writer, a trailblazer, not only because she was Sephardic but also because her writing was founded on protofeminist, rebellious ideas. Her texts reflect her social views, which did not conform with those of the men who decided women’s place in literature. Her works received harsh criticism both from the public and from the literary establishment, which perceived her writing as lowbrow and lacking in literary value. Among the harsh reviews that Shababo received, perhaps the most significant was written by her literary teacher and former friend, Yehuda Burla.2 Burla attacked her in the Writers’ Association journal Moznayim immediately after the publication of Maryah, adopting in his review a sharp, severe, and humiliating tone: “For the first time we find here the infamous type of cheap romance novel whose entire essence is emptiness, all of its content is frivolity, all of its allure is the lack of truth and real life.”3 It is possible that Burla, one of the few Sephardic writers of the time who was cherished by the establishment, was concerned that Shababo would usurp his place of popularity; both authors incorporated romantic themes in their descriptions of Sephardic society. Burla’s critiques of Shababo therefore may reveal his writer’s envy and perhaps his fear that the student might surpass her teacher.
At the time, a few critics wrote in praise of Shababo and her works and rebuffed Burla’s criticism, attributing the problems he described to the [End Page 253] innocence of a young writer and defending her talent and literary ability.4 Burla tried to apologize, but Shababo, deeply hurt, replied,
Honorable Mr. Burla,
Perhaps emotional remorse began troubling you after publishing your article … and you wrote a letter of apology to me, to correct the wrong you have done, however I am very sorry to inform you, that your letter caused me great grief and repugnance. Here you have reached the summit of lies and falsity! … You, Mr. Burla, attempt to encourage me to continue writing so that you can continue to note my literary talent and ability? You, who contemptuously reproached the publishing company who was willing to publish my book, you who saw my book as a badge of shame to Hebrew writers and literature . … I pity you, miserable Mr. Burla, for displaying such envy toward your former student for whom you have foreseen greatness . … In spite of your harsh verdict on my book “Maria,” I hereby publicly inform you that I know the malice in your heart! You called to ostracize me from literature and thought that after [sic] your “honest” pearls of criticism, when you called for termination of my writing, and rushed to give me a sanctimonious letter of “condolences,” but I assure you that you are throwing your arrows in vain! Your article and your letter did not break my spirit and I will write further, a number of works large and small, with fervor. And the future will judge us. … Believe me, Mr. Burla, that writing this is difficult for me. You are my teacher and my educator . … My heart aches on the occasion of your moral decline, your coarse attack on me is conclusive evidence of this. Yes, my...