A Different Kind of American Jewish Novelist, and His WASP Heaven

Now largely forgotten, Robert Nathan (1894–1985) was a prolific writer of fantasy novels who found commercial success in the 1920s and 30s. Michael Weingrad introduces him thus:

Nathan was a Jewish-American writer, but not in the way we tend to think of that category. He was not a product of the mass migration of Jews from Eastern Europe that took place during the last two decades of the 19th century and first two decades of the 20th, and that has so extensively shaped the very notions of Jewishness—and, for that matter, Americanness—in the United States to this day.

No, Nathan was born into one of the old, close-knit families of New York’s Sephardi Jewish aristocracy, with roots going back to the colonial period. He was a descendant of the eminent 18th-century rabbi Gershom Mendes Seixas, and related to both Emma Lazarus and Benjamin Cardozo. . . . Nathan attended private school in Switzerland and Philips Exeter Academy, and matriculated at Harvard, though he dropped out to get married—the first of seven marriages—and go to work in advertising.

Among his novels was Road of Ages, which Weingrad describes as a “Zionist allegorical fantasy.” Another, There Is Another Heaven, imagines Professor Wuthridge, a scholar of Semitics, and Mr. Lewis (né Samuel Levy), a convert to Christianity, arriving in a dystopian afterlife that exemplifies a sort of desiccated American Protestantism. Weingrad writes:

Wutheridge is curious as to why Lewis converted to Christianity. Lewis explains that it was largely out of a desire to escape exclusion and feel a sense of belonging, particularly given his sense of inferiority and shame about his family. “I was unhappy because nobody wanted me. Nobody, that is, except my family,” he says. “But who wanted my family? Nobody.” Christianity seemed a better option: “their religion gives them pleasure; while mine only keeps me out of things.” Yet his conversion did not give him the belonging he sought. In life he had acquaintances, but no friends. And in heaven he is all alone.

Lewis has a sweet vision of his family, on Friday evening with the Sabbath candles lighted. Memories of Jewish friends of his childhood are brought to him to show that valor and mystery were both part of his Jewish world, and not something he needed to seek elsewhere. There was a Jewish playmate who went on to die in the First World War: “he was a hero, Sammy,” Lewis hears. There was a “little girl who kissed you so sweetly.”

There Is Another Heaven is also a reminder that we often find among earlier generations of Sephardi writers in America a more intimate and comfortable relationship with Christianity than among the American Jewish mainstream with its East European origins.

Read more at Investigations and Fantasies

More about: Afterlife, American Jewish literature, American Jewry, Fantasy, Sephardim

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