Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The End of Israel: A "Novel" Approach

In the well-trod tradition of Michael Chabon, a "conflicted" American Jew who, in a feat of wishful thinking, imagined away Israel (in his novel The Yiddish Policeman's Union) comes Jonathan Safran Foer, a somewhat less conflicted Jew. In his new novel, Here I Am, Foer appears to like Israel somewhat more than Chabon does (which, admittedly, is setting the bar awfully low), but Foer, too, uses Israel's non-existence as a plot point. His reason for doing so, apparently, is to show that American Jews don't need Israel; no, not at all.

At least, that's what I glean from this review in The Atlantic (my bolds):
In his first two novels, Foer turned unthinkable—but real—calamities into literary opportunities, illuminating the horrors of history with his own ingenuity and sensitivity. Here I Am does the opposite, using an invented disaster to shed light on the moods and muddles of people a lot like himself. The destruction of Israel feels like a distant abstraction compared with the upheavals of the Bloch household. While this may represent a failure of novelistic craft, it is consistent with the book’s conclusions about the place of the Jewish homeland in American Jewish life. The Promised Land is a shibboleth, a red herring, a monumental distraction.
Foer is so overtly sympathetic to the claims of Zionism—and, at least within the confines of this novel, so profoundly indifferent to the plight of the Palestinians and the schisms and snarls of Israeli politics—that Here I Am can’t be called, in any obvious sense, an anti-Zionist book. Rather, like Operation Shylock but even more insistently, it locates within the American Jewish experience a plausible counter-Zionism, a mode of Jewish identity that Foer refuses to regard as less authentic or heroic than the Israeli version. Jacob and Julia’s separation is not the only one enacted in this novel. We might end the Passover seder with “next year in Jerusalem,” but our horizons are fixed in Brooklyn and Brookline, in Bethesda and Berkeley, where we tend to our kids, our careers, and our libidos, and by means of these commitments sustain our beautiful Jewish souls.
I feel sorry for American Jews who have locked themselves into what can only be seen as an either-or construct. Who have persuaded themselves that either you can love and support Israel or you can "tend" to and "sustain" your Jewish soul solely in the U.S. Who, for their own personal reasons, are certain that the one (loving Israel) is somehow a negation of--and a threat to--the other (being Jewish in America).

All I can say is that their thinking is seriously askew, not to mention delusional, and they are missing out on something indescribably beautiful.

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