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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 380

The characters of A Beggar In Jerusalem are:

David ben Sarah: David is the first-person narrator of the novel. He often directs his rhetorical questions to the reader. In the book, David tells the story of his army friend Katriel, who did not survive the Six Day War. He tells...

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The characters of A Beggar In Jerusalem are:

David ben Sarah: David is the first-person narrator of the novel. He often directs his rhetorical questions to the reader. In the book, David tells the story of his army friend Katriel, who did not survive the Six Day War. He tells Katriel's story because of his promise to the latter and his belief that Katriel's indomitable spirit lives on in him. Throughout the book, David uses madmen and beggars as allegorical figures to support his main theme: that the Jews have an important role as the heralds of mankind. In the story, David is attracted to Malka, Katriel's widow. Through her, he understands that love is a double-edged sword: it is as much a hindrance as it is a solution.

Katriel: Katriel is David's former army friend. In the book, Katriel is said to be missing in action (MIA). We get glimpses of Katriel's character from David's stories. In the book, David portrays Katriel as an honorable, self-sacrificing man. He and his wife Malka endure the loss of their son Sasha with courage and dignity. Katriel was a loving husband and father throughout all twenty years of his married life. In fact, his primary focus was his family. In the book, we learn that Katriel signs up to fight in the Six Day War because of his father's expectations. David admits that he envies Katriel's intrinsic ability to "magnify the human element in a world without humanity."

Malka: Malka is Katriel's widow. In the book, she shadows David until he finally sees her. Malka represents the perfect woman, one who is virtuous, powerful, and beautiful. To the beggars, she is the epitome of grace and beauty, a divine inspiration. Meanwhile, to Katriel, she is his long-suffering wife, one who patiently endures the vicissitudes of life without flinching. Both share a transcending love until they are parted by tragedy.

Moshe, Itzik, Shlomo, Zadok, Velvel, and Dan(the beggars): In the book, the beggars invite David into their inner circle. They accept his vulnerability and see him as someone who understands the "madness" of the Jew. This "madness" is defined as the ability of the Jew to transcend suffering with defiant laughter. Fittingly, the beggars christen Malka the queen of madmen and beggars.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 590

David ben Sarah

David ben Sarah, a wanderer and first-person narrator of the novel. A survivor of the Holocaust, the forty-year-old David is rebellious and skeptical of any value in a world that has lost its innocence. He is filled with memories of his childhood and spends much of his time exchanging tales and testimonies with a group of beggars in Jerusalem. At the outbreak of the Six-Day War, he joins a tank unit commanded by an old friend. Soon after meeting Katriel, another member of the unit, David makes a pact with him that if one of them should survive the war, he will bear witness for the other. David’s tale, then, is a process of bearing witness for Katriel, a man whom he envies for his compulsion to magnify humanity in an inhuman world.


Katriel, a teacher who goes back into the army to fight in the Six-Day War at the insistence of his father, a blind rabbi from Safed. Tall, slim, and quiet, Katriel knows how to tell tales and how to listen to them. He loves life and the mystery of life, despite the death of his child Sasha. He is distinguished by his power to affirm the dearness of life, and in this lies his importance to David. At the time of the war, he has been married for twenty years. the one thing that most disturbs him during the war is that he has had to kill others. When the war is over, he is missing in action, leaving David to tell his story.


Malka, Katriel’s wife, a strong and beautiful woman. She met Katriel when both of them were serving in the army in their youth. An orphan and a widow, she seeks out David so that he may tell her about her husband’s last days. When the beggars see her, they take her for a divine apparition. To David, she represents every woman he has ever loved, and she stirs in him a hunger for love and forgiveness. She is very much attracted to him.

Lieutenant Colonel Gad

Lieutenant Colonel Gad, the head of David’s tank unit and a friend from David’s years in postwar Europe. As young men, he and David had long conversations about life and its meaning. He is a career soldier who refuses to believe in defeat. Aggressive and courageous, he leads his men to the Western Wall only to be killed shortly thereafter.


Gdalia, a Yeminite Jew in David’s tank unit who serves as a mediator between Katriel and the other soldiers. Talkative and jovial, he is schooled in philosophy and likes to interpret Katriel’s tales.

Dan the Prince

Dan the Prince, a beggar who constantly writes reports to politicians and journalists. Once a historian in Europe, he claims to be the emissary of a mysterious king. His friends know him to be dignified, melancholy, intelligent, and compassionate, yet they regard him at various times as a psychotic, a rogue, and an embezzler.


Velvel, a beggar, a dwarf with only one eye. He is a gambler who knows how to rejoice and how to mock authority, even—or especially—the authority of reason.


Anshel, a street hustler who sells postcards in the Old City of Jerusalem. Having served in three wars, he is ridden with guilt.

Yakov the Timid

Yakov the Timid, a beggar and former schoolteacher who plays war games with children, teaching them not to be afraid. He is known as a peacemaker.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 520

To an extent, David represents the author. They have a common birthplace, and both experienced the horrors of the Holocaust. Both are refugees; both are storytellers. David also resembles Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ancient mariner, a man obliged to tell his harrowing tale to anyone passing by, a man transformed by his experiences into a kind of specter. “Do his eyes disturb you?” Elie Wiesel asks. “They are not his, and he doesn’t know it.” They are not his because they belong to everyone. David has seen the Crusades, the Cossacks. “He who says ‘I,’ has said everything,” David comments. “Just as every man contains all men, this word contains all words.”

Most of all, David is Katriel. When people ask, “Still no trace of Katriel?” he replies, “His trace? I am his trace.” Having agreed with Katriel to bear witness for him, to remember and record his experiences, he guarantees Katriel’s immortality by becoming Katriel as well as David. Although in one sense Katriel’s blind father in Safed could never have met David, certainly never fathered him, as Katriel speaks of his childhood David wonders whether they have met; he even considers that Katriel’s parents may be his also. Later, Malka recognizes her husband in David and would take him home as her spouse. Finally, David cannot distinguish between the other man and himself: “What if I am dead and he is the survivor?” he wonders.

Reflecting this concept of the double is a story that Katriel tells shortly before the Six Day War. A man leaves his village to seek a magical city. At night, before he goes to sleep in the forest, he takes off his shoes and points them in the direction he is going, lest he become confused. While he sleeps, a practical joker happens by and turns the shoes to face the traveler’s hometown. The next day, when the pilgrim resumes his walk, he actually returns home. To him, though, everything is new as well as familiar. He finds a family that reminds him of his own, whose husband and father has embarked on a quest for a magical city. At the urging of the wife and children, he remains, never seeking to return to his native village. The wanderer remains himself but has now assumed a second identity, too, and when Death seeks him, the wanderer cannot be found.

Just as David is himself, Katriel, and the Jews murdered in the Crusades and pogroms, so the other beggars have many lives. Zalmen lives in twentieth century Jerusalem, but he also fought against the Syrians more than two thousand years ago and joined Bar Kokhba’s revolt against Rome in 135 c.e.. “The Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Moslems, all those wars they teach you about at school, remember that we took part in all of them,” he says. An air force pilot who listens to these improbable tales thinks that the beggars are all mad, and so in a way they are. Yet Wiesel would agree with Emily Dickinson that such “madness is divinest sense.”


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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 163

Suggested Readings

Abrahamson, Irving, ed. Against Silence: The Voice and Vision of Elie Wiesel, 1985 (three volumes).

Berenbaum, Michael. The Vision of the Void: Theological Reflections on the Works of Elie Wiesel, 1979.

Brown, Robert McAfee. Elie Wiesel: Messenger to All Humanity, 1983.

Cargas, Harry James. Harry James Cargas in Conversation with Elie Wiesel, 1976.

Estess, Ted L. Elie Wiesel. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1980.

Ezrahi, Sidra DeKoven. By Words Alone: The Holocaust in Literature, 1980.

Fine, Ellen S. Legacy of Night: The Literary Universe of Elie Wiesel, 1982.

Green, Mary Jean. “Witness to the Absurd: Elie Wiesel and the French Existentialists,” in Renascence. XXIX (1977), pp. 170-184.

Patterson, David. In Dialogue with Elie Wiesel. Wakefield, N.H.: Longwood Academic, 1991.

Rosenfeld, Alvin H., and Irving Greenberg, eds. Confronting the Holocaust: The Impact of Elie Wiesel, 1979.

Roth, John K. A Consuming Fire: Encounters with Elie Wiesel and the Holocaust, 1979.

Sibelman, Simon P. “The Mystical Union: A Re-Examination of Elie Wiesel’s Le Mendiant de Jérusalem.” Literature and Theology 7, no. 2 (June, 1993): 186-197.

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