Saul Bellow’s Quest for Spirituality in Jerusalem

In 1976, the great novelist Saul Bellow wrote his sole book-length nonfiction work, a travelogue called To Jerusalem and Back. Bellow’s account is informed not only by several months in Israel but also by his reading of literary antecedents, including the decidedly anti-Semitic French writer Pierre Loti, who visited Jerusalem in 1894, and the great French conservative Catholic François-René de Chateaubriand, whose 1809 travelogue displays a bit of admiration for Jews mixed in with a great deal of contempt. Considering both Bellow’s work and the works of those who influenced him, Paul Berman writes:

In the single most remarkable passage of his To Jerusalem and Back, Bellow frets over his own ability to see and to appreciate miracles and supernatural astonishments. He wants to see and appreciate, but he worries that he does not have the capacity to do anything of the sort. In this one respect, he resembles Chateaubriand pretty closely, give or take every conceivable difference. Chateaubriand had an exciting experience in the Jewish Quarter, but that was only because of exceptional qualities that, in his view, adhered to Jerusalem and the Jews. Mostly Chateaubriand considered that, for an intelligent man like himself, attuned to the modern ideas of 1809, it was no longer possible to undergo supernatural astonishments.

The Jerusalem sky reminds [Bellow] of the psalmist who sings of “God’s garment of light.” He wonders if, in gazing upward at the sky, he isn’t seeing the garment.

But it was Mount Zion, which he could see from his quarters in Jerusalem, that struck the novelist the most. In Bellow’s own words:

Letting down the barriers of rationality, I feel that I can hear Mount Zion as well as see it. . . . There is no reason this hill should have a voice, emit a note audible only to a man facing it across the valley. What is there to communicate? It must be that a world from which mystery has been extirpated makes your modern heart ache and increases suggestibility. In poetry you welcome such suggestibility. When it erupts at the wrong time (in a rational context) you send for the police; these psychological police drive out your criminal “animism.” Your respectable aridity is restored. Nevertheless, I will not forget that I was communicated with.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish literature, Israel, Jerusalem, Judaism, Saul Bellow


As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas