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Obituary

Stuart Schoffman, a master and devotee of Hebrew culture, dies at 74

A journalist, screenwriter, thinker and translator of some of Israel’s greatest writers, Schoffman was known for his words and warmth; colleague recalls a ‘genius and a mensch’

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Writer Stuart Schoffman, a longtime journalist and translator in Jerusalem, died at 74 on November 7, 2021 (Courtesy Stuart Schoffman Facebook page)
Writer Stuart Schoffman, a longtime journalist and translator in Jerusalem, died at 74 on November 7, 2021 (Courtesy Stuart Schoffman Facebook page)

Stuart Schoffman, known as an elegant writer, brilliant translator and eloquent speaker, died Sunday in Jerusalem. He was 74.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Schoffman made his way to Israel in 1988, after working as a reporter for Fortune and Time magazines in New York, and as a Hollywood screenwriter for Israeli film producer Menachem Golan.

Among the community of American immigrants and writers in Israel and in Jerusalem in particular, Schoffman was known for his erudition, warmth and ease with people, be they colleagues, neighbors or students attending one of his lectures about film or life in Israel.

With a BA from Harvard College and a masters in philosophy from Yale University, Schoffman worked as a writer and columnist for The Jerusalem Report when it was first founded, and for Jewish newspapers in North America, combining his Jewish scholarship — he was a graduate of Brooklyn’s Yeshivah of Flatbush — with reportage and analysis of politics, religion and culture.

“Even among the extraordinary staff of the magazine’s early years, Stuart stood out, for his deep erudition and urbanity,” wrote Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, where Schoffman was also a research fellow, and a colleague at The Jerusalem Report, when Schoffman edited the magazine’s culture section. “It was a joy and a learning experience to be edited by him. In some ways he recalled a 19th century maskil, a devotee of Hebrew culture.”

In recent years, Schoffman regularly translated the works of some of Israel’s greatest writers, including David Grossman, A.B. Yehoshua and Meir Shalev.

He worked closely with literary agent Deborah Harris, a good friend who also represented Grossman and Shalev.

“Stuart was a brilliant man who not only translated literary texts, he mined history, culture and intellectual ideas and translated them through writing and dialogue to give our lives a deeper meaning,” said Harris.

Reviews of Schoffman’s translations, particularly of Yehoshua, with whom he became inextricably intertwined as the writer’s English-language voice, are invariably described as flawless, smooth and natural.

In a March 2020 interview about his translation of Yehoshua’s “The Tunnel,” Schoffman spoke about his approach to translation.

“There is an intrinsic tension between beautiful and faithful; often there is a tradeoff,” he said at the time. “How to walk that tightrope between being beautiful and faithful. You can’t always have both and when you have to make a choice, I would go for beautiful.”

Calev Ben-David, anchor at i24 News and Schoffman’s deputy editor at the Jerusalem Report, recalled in a bittersweet Facebook post that Yehoshua “couldn’t stop singing Stuart’s praises” during an interview Ben-David conducted with the writer earlier this year.

Ben-David also wrote about taking over for Schoffman at The Jerusalem Report during his first bouts with the cancer that he survived but continued to battle for the rest of his life.

“Stuart, simply put, was a genius & a mensch, a combination that doesn’t occur as often as it should in this world,” wrote Ben-David.

Micha Odenheimer, a rabbi and social entrepreneur who founded Tevel b’Tzedek, an Israeli organization that works with impoverished and marginalized communities in the developing world, spoke of Schoffman’s resources of knowledge and experience and his strong connection to his wife Roberta Schoffman, calling them “the ultimate power couple.”

Schoffman joined a Tevel b’Tzedek trip to Nepal a few years ago, said Odenheimer, pushing himself physically to get to distant villages.

“Roberta is super practical and gets things done, Stuart loved baroque stories, twists and turns,” said Odenheimer. “But there was a group of people around them that they always attracted, they were the center.”

Schoffman, said Odenheimer, was a master of both high and low culture, with a love and knowledge of Hollywood and movies, at ease playing folk rock on the guitar and conversant with Spinoza, Thoreau and Rebbe Nachman.

A soft leftist on political issues, Schoffman was critical of the State of Israel but always optimistic as well, said friends.

“Stuart combined the love of Zion with an acute and ironic awareness of our flaws,” wrote Klein Halevi. “In our community of American olim, Stuart Schoffman was a prince.”

In a column Schoffman wrote for the JUF Magazine in 2011, he wrote about the annual road trip he and his family, along with friends, would take to the Jacob’s Ladder folk music festival each year, summing up his longtime immigrant existence in Israel as follows:

I’m a citizen of two countries, but at bottom I’m an American Jew. I grew up playing folk guitar, learning to traverse-pick like Peter and Paul as they sang “Puff, the Magic Dragon” with Mary. As an idealistic teenager at a Hebrew-speaking Zionist summer camp, I translated “Puff” and a bunch of Dylan songs into the ancestral tongue. But instead of making aliyah after the Six-Day War, I tarried in New York and New England, then Texas and California, and by the time I landed in Jerusalem it was too late to be much of an Israeli. I never tried to adopt an Israeli accent in Hebrew—my “resh” is defiantly non-guttural—and am forever branded as a newcomer, an outsider, addressed by shopkeepers and waiters in broken English.

Schoffman is survived by his wife, Roberta Fahn-Schoffman, their children, Rafi Schoffman and Dani Schoffman, and their extended family.

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