I was captivated when I read the back cover of Letters to Talia, since the concept of having an irreligious Jewish kibbutz girl writing corresponding letters to a soldier/ Yeshiva student about Judaism and learning more about her faith sounded almost too good to be true. But the book lived up to even the highest of standards I had set for it in my head. It’s an everlasting read that had me bouncing from one emotion to the next.
Dov Indig was killed on October 7, 1973, in a holding action on the Golan Heights in Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Letters to Talia, published in his memory by family and friends, contains excerpts from an extensive correspondence Dov maintained with Talia, a girl from an irreligious kibbutz in northern Israel , in 1972 and 73, the last two years of his life. At the time, Talia was a high-school student, and Dov was a student in the Hesder Yeshiva Kerem B Yavneh, which combines Torah study with military service.
Coming into this right after having had to tolerate the non-stop infidelities in This Is How You Lose Her was like a breath of fresh air. Not only does Dov Indig, an only child of Holocaust survivors, have practically the perfect answer on literally everything regarding God, Jews and our identity, people, and homeland. We’re left with lots of food for thought, and it was a real challenge trying not to write the whole book down into my notes so I wouldn’t forget even the tiniest thing uttered by him. There was this genuine fear inside me that I would forget a convincing argument of his, and it stemmed out of how utterly convincing his points were in their nature. Dov Indig kept on surprising me with his knowledge page by page. A real wunderkind. It is these kind of quiet stories that tell the moving account of someone’s words and actions that affect me the most.
I mean, there were times when Talia presented a case seemingly unfit to contradict (such as, the recruitment of Yeshiva students into the IDF, and civil marriage in Israel), but he always pulled through with pages and pages of wise words on the relevant topics and sources to support his statements. And not only that, but his responses came across as really balanced and well-thought-out. You could feel his calm and welcoming nature reverberate off the page when it came to answering questions about Judaism.
Usually, I would insert some quotes of his here to prove my statement, but since I read the Hebrew edition that option isn’t relevant at the time. But just know that there’s no denying the colossal wisdom and faithfulness behind Dov’s words. Knowing the end of his story, however, made every moment of his utterly melancholy and bittersweet. I’m thinking mainly about those parts when he got hopeful about what his future would entail as a believer. It’s impossible not to feel the weight of the words (and the world) in those pages.
Since this conversation is made up by two parts, I have to mention that I was displeased from the get-go with the way Talia handled the conversation. My annoyance stems from the fact that her personality relies heavily on not knowing really… anything. Talia tends to go for deep questions without inquiring first if what she’s asking is fact or something she heard from ear to ear, which leads to a lot of naïve and shortsighted comments on her side. Over the course of Letters to Talia it began to feel like one of those plot devices, where one side asks foolish questions just so that the hero can appear more educated. So it became difficult to enjoy the conversations circling Dov and Talia because I was dreading for her point of view to appear. I mean it’s pretty difficult to enjoy an educated conversation when one person isn’t adding anything remarkable to the table other than white noise.
The funny thing is that I then read this article that interviews Talia nowadays, and she seems to agree on her naïvety back in the day. So there was a tiny source of comfort knowing that she would somehow grow into her character over the years.
But luckily, Dov’s writing, that showcased just how well-read and enlightened he was, made up for the negatives of the other side. It was a true privilege to bask in the wisdom of his words through the letters shared in this book.
As a last side note, I do wish we would’ve gotten to see some pictures of the letters they sent one another just because I’m curious as to how his writing style looked like on paper. But overall Letters to Talia is a highly recommended story that I’m utterly grateful to have read.