Avraham David Solomon does not like meanings getting lost in translation.
That’s too bad for those who aren’t fluent in Hebrew, as Solomon, 24, a Baltimore native who made aliyah with his parents in 2004, has just finished his first novel, which is written entirely in Hebrew.
“Bechi Tamrurim” is the story of Moshe Singer, a senior at a high school yeshiva who goes through the same growing pains many young men his age experience: stress from studies, embarrassment while learning to drive and confusion when dealing with crushes.
The title comes from a passage in the Torah that translates literally to “a bitter cry,” although in modern Hebrew, tamrur means “traffic sign.”
A modern interpretation of “Bechi Tamrurim” could mean “Crying at Traffic Signs,” which holds special meaning in the context of Solomon’s story, as one of Moshe’s pivotal character arcs occurs after he is humiliated by miserably failing his driving test. Solomon pointed out that an English adaptation of the title would lose the clever double entendre.
Solomon doesn’t have a preference as to which language to write in, but Hebrew has some unique attractions for someone who is religious.
“Postmodern literature and movies are based in references to older literature. So writing in Hebrew allows me to do that with the Talmud and the scripture in a hilarious, subversive yet deep way. It’s a postmodern way to invoke biblical jokes,” he said. “If I had an opportunity to write for a broader audience, I would definitely write in English.”
Solomon is also an aspiring screenwriter, but don’t expect to see a “Bechi Tamrurim” movie. Not unlike the lost meaning from translating the title to English, Solomon says losing Moshe’s inner-dialogue narration in a film adaptation would render plot points boring.
“What makes the story unique is that Moshe is kind of a rabbi figure in a lot of social circles,” said Solomon about his young protagonist, “therefore he has a kind of subjective, existential spirituality to everything he goes through. As mundane as what’s going on is, Moshe’s narration makes it compelling.”
To publish his novel, Solomon started a crowdfunding page where readers can purchase copies of the book before it is published in exchange for helping fund the initial publication costs. The effort, so far, has been fruitful, and will remain open for the remainder of the month.
Solomon lives with his wife and daughter at a hesder yeshiva called Birkat Moshe, in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim. Hesder is a five-year program that combines the standard Torah teaching from most yeshivas with designated time for army service in the middle of the program. Solomon has finished the five-year program and leads several study groups for younger students.
Solomon spent time in Gaza three years ago as part of his army service, and plans to draw from this experience for his next writing project. He feels confident this story will be suitable for a film adaptation, and might write the story in English. He even has an alliterative English-language working title for it: “Bibles, Bullets and Body Bags.”