The Great American Hebrew Novel

In her epistolary novel Shanim Tovot (“Good Years”), Maya Arad tells the story of Leah Zuckerman—an Israeli who, like herself, spends most of her adult life in northern California. Michael Weingrad reviews the book, which he finds “brilliant and moving.”

The great miracle of this novel is the way that slowly, naturally, over decades, it leads to the emergence of an older woman who can reflect with wisdom on her life and its failures and successes. Arad’s protagonist begins the book seeming shallow, flirtatious, and endlessly self-exculpatory, a little bit like an Israeli Lorelei Lee from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She certainly uses her sex appeal to get herself out of jams, jams that are often a result of that sex appeal in the first place.

But Arad brilliantly peels back layers of Leah’s character, showing her complexity and depth as well as the extent to which her reliance on the attention of men has been a means of defense and a response to trauma. By the end of the book, the details that we have accumulated along the way are reassembled and made clear for us by Leah herself, who now understands her own life: as a Holocaust survivor from Romania, an immigrant to Israel at the age of eight, a girl mocked for her foreign ways, a teenager preyed upon because of her looks, and, finally, as a would-be American trying to justify her existence to the Israeli schoolmates who may have been partly responsible for her exile in the first place.

Arad’s Leah Zuckerman is as American as Augie March or Huck Finn, repeatedly knocked down by life yet always confident that her fortune and happiness are around the corner. And she is deeply, richly Jewish, a wanderer and storyteller, who ultimately finds her life’s true meaning in her granddaughter. Shanim tovot is easily one of the best works of Jewish American fiction produced this century.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Hebrew literature, Israeli literature


Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy