On May 12th, thirteen members of the Regent community joined Rabbi Israel Zoberman for a discussion of In the Heart of the Seas, a modern fable by Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888-1970). In the Heart of the Seas is a modern fable about a group of Hassidim from Eastern Europe making aliyah (“ascent”), the return to Israel. Deceptively simple, In the Heart of the Seas is a retelling of the Exodus from Egypt. In Agnon’s story aliyah is both a physical and spiritual journey, and as with the ancient Israelites, the travelers must overcome many hardships and temptations to return to EgyptEurope.
Rabbi Zoberman, who speaks both Yiddish and Hebrew, was an ideal guide to Agnon. Dr. Zoberman explained that one of the purposes in Agnon’s works was to recreate the world of East European Jewry, which perished in the Holocaust. The conversation covered an exceptionally wide range of topics, including Hassidism, Zionism, Rabbinical interpretations of Scripture, the Holocaust, and contemporary Israeli culture. Rabbi Zoberman also said that, while he had read In the Heart of the Seas years before in Hebrew, the positive reception to the story by readers at Regent had given him a new appreciation for the work as being not just for Jews, but for all readers sensitive to the story’s spiritual message. Agnon would seem to agree, concluding the book with a verse from the Psalms for readers who have derived benefit from his story: “But those who wait for the Lord, they shall inherit the land” (Psalm 37:9).