Meir Shalev coming to Central Queens Y

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The establishing of Israel and the young nation’s subsequent conflicts with Palestine play a major role in the writings of Israeli author Meir Shalev, who will be traveling to Forest Hills for a Sunday afternoon talk about his new book, “My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner.”

It will be Shalev’s second time speaking at an event sponsored by the Central Queens Y, which spokeswoman Peggy Kurtz said is an opportunity to see one of Israel’s top authors.

“We’re thrilled to host this event with Meir Shalev,” Kurtz said. “This is a community with a very big Israeli population.”

Shalev’s new book centers around his grandmother, who settled in Palestine in the 1920s in a rural farming community and went to maddening lengths to keep her house clean in the dusty, frontier-like environment.

Shalev later grew up in that community, called Nahalal, and his childhood memories form the bulk of the book.

As in most stories, there is an underlying theme as well.

One of Shalev’s great uncles moves to America, much to the chagrin of Shalev’s grandfather, who acts as a foil to his brother.

One day a General Electric vacuum cleaner arrives at their door, and Shalev chronicles his grandmother’s interesting reaction to it. While she initially uses it as a welcome ally against the dirt and dust in her house, it then gets locked away in a closet.

“Getting the opportunity to hear an author like this in person, hearing his voice and meeting him, makes you read his work in a completely different way,” Kurtz said. “It brings his work to life.”

Shalev’s previous book, “A Pigeon and a Boy,” partially takes place during the 1948 war between a nascent Israel and Palestine.

The tumultuous year, which would see the formation of the Jewish state, was also the year Shalev was born.

Shalev has received some of the country’s highest literary honors and has been translated into more than 20 languages around the world.

But he also has an active political life, has criticized many of Israel’s military operations and participated in rallies for peace between Israel and Palestine.

Shalev himself served in the Six-Day War in 1967, and in an interview with the Los Angeles Times 40 years later said Israel had bitten off more than it could chew when it came to Palestine.

“The country is busy dealing with one matter: the occupation — the territories, the Palestinians, terror, holy sites, the establishment and evacuation of settlements. Forty years have passed, and Israel has neglected everything that the Israel of 1948 wished to occupy itself with: education, research, welfare, health,” Shalev said in the interview.

His talk in Forest Hills is part of the 16th annual Author’s Café of the Central Queens YM & YWHA. It will be held at 3 p.m. at the Forest Hills Jewish Center, at 106-06 Queens Blvd. Tickets are $18 in advance and $23 at the door. For more information, visit

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Updated 8:50 am, October 29, 2011
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