Two New Works of Hebrew Fiction Explore the Lives of Israelis in American Academia

Sept. 28 2018

Mining her recent experience at the highly prestigious International Workshop for Writers in Iowa, the Israeli novelist Galit Dahan Carlibach has written Zot ani, Iowa (“It’s Me, Iowa”), about a similar writer’s time at the same program. Michael Weingrad, describing the book as “a very dark comedy” filled with “politically incorrect humor,” states in his review:

From the beginning, Dahan Carlibach’s alter ego has irreverent fun with the political pecking order at the program, referring throughout to herself and the other participants by the names of their countries. . . .

There is an encounter described in a . . . wry and deadpan fashion between Israel and Palestine in an organic grocery store, where Palestine has forgotten his passport and so can’t use his credit card. Israel offers to pay, but Palestine storms off, insulted. “The other countries looked at Israel as if I had personally invaded the territories in ’67 and callously conquered each house and village myself.”

Israel’s literary agent encourages her to have affairs with enemy countries: a memoir about a tryst with Palestine or Iran would surely sell like hotcakes. . . . Book sales notwithstanding, [however], Israel has her eye on a local American musician named Dustin, on whom she projects all of her Middle Eastern fantasies about a wholesome life among the cornfields. Poor guy. In a reversal of Philip Roth’s Alexander Portnoy, the neurotic Jew in this book is an Israeli who has found her golden sheygets. Dustin expects their relationship to be over after a one-night stand, but Israel is not put off so easily.

The protagonist eventually undergoes “a complete mental breakdown, . . . murdering [Dustin] and dumping his body in the Mississippi.” By coincidence, Zot ani, Iowa, appeared within a few weeks of Ha-morah l’ivrit (“The Hebrew Teacher”) by the novelist Maya Arad—herself a resident of Palo Alto, California—a work similar in subject matter if very different in tone.

The three novellas that make up [Arad’s] new book all concern Israelis who live in the United States and make their living in connection with academia or high tech. If this sounds like a narrow sociological vein to mine, all the more credit to Arad, who is one of the most talented Hebrew novelists of her generation and who here offers profoundly moving and universal vistas of experience, sorrow, and humor. . . .

[T]here is nothing tendentious about Arad’s stories. She touches, gently, on a range of sociological patterns—the shaky status of Hebrew among the American children of her Israeli characters, for instance, and the looser, sometimes nonexistent family ties in America as compared with Israel—but her purpose is not to offer critique but to observe her characters in their all-too-human complexity.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Academia, Arts & Culture, Hebrew literature, Israeli culture, Yeridah

Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship