‘Who is Eshkol Nevo?’ most South African’s and Australians would ask. He’s an award winning Israeli author who was in South Africa last week, participating as an international author at the Franschoek book festival. If only I could have gone. However I was lucky enough to hear him speak about his latest book Neuland at the Cyril Harris Community Centre in Johannesburg with a friend. We both left his talk feeling intellectually stimulated to the point that we would have loved to step onto a street of vibrant coffee shops where people chat over cups of coffee, glasses of wine and mugs of beer. Discussing life, hopes, dreams, politics and words.

Eshkol is softly spoken and yet strong and passionate about his work. Going to Eshkol’s talk reminded me what a clever society Israel is. A place, as my New Yorker friend described to me in amazement, that has a public library van on the surfie Tel Aviv beach front. A country where books are not only read but valued. Where their authors are national treasures. As Eshkol Nevo is.

Reading Eshkol’s books such as Neuland (which I’m still in the middle of. I’ve read his World Cup Wishes eons ago as well) is a great way to learn about Israeli society. Every day Israelis, such as his main character Dori who treks through South America in search of his missing father, are described in skilful literary, realistic detail. So that we have access to a collective memory and experience that we don’t know much about as Diaspora Jews. Yet we can also relate to and see ourselves in them, as our shared Jewish memory is explored and hinted to through Dori’s journey.

Meanwhile I would have thought that such a well known author would be politely unreachable. I tried my luck anyhow and chatted with him whilst he signed my freshly bought Neuland book (which is translated from his original Hebrew version). ‘I’m making Aliyah in June and I’m a writer,’ I said. ‘Really,’ he said. And he gave me his email address and said he would help me, to my delight and surprise.

‘You’re making Aliyah? Welcome’, is the overwhelming response we have received from Israelis. That is, after the ‘Why? Why are you making Aliyah?’

This exuberant welcome is both humbling and exciting. It’s like realising that we’re part of a special club. The entrance into it requires a pair of wings of faith. Staying and thriving requires serious, first class elbow grease. But there are the coffee shops, open late at night. Where people drink milky coffee and glasses of giddy wine, and mugs of bubbling beer, and that is my romantic ideal where I hope to go and sit and write and speak about words. After I’ve finished washing all the dinner dishes of course.