In Committing “Heresy,” a Collection of New Hebrew Writing Plays Dumb

July 30, 2015 | Erika Dreifus
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In a recent issue, the magazine World Literature Today featured translations of fourteen pieces of new Hebrew writing. Introducing the collection, the guest editors explain their decision to avoid Israel’s grand political questions and instead to commit the “heresy of normalcy.” For Erika Dreifus, there’s something decidedly “un-heretical” about the entire collection:

Among the prose selections . . . I found that two pieces did, in fact, deal substantively with the matzav [i.e., Israel’s political and security situation]. And I couldn’t help concluding that they were utterly un-heretical in ways that I’m not sure the guest editors fully anticipated. . . .

If you perhaps thought it problematic that the only part of Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land most (non-synagogue/JCC members) would be likely to read was the guilt-infused “Lydda” chapter that ran in the New Yorker, and if you happened to read and find resonance in Matti Friedman’s recent Mosaic article on “Israel and the Moral Striptease,” you may also struggle with Tomer Gardi’s “Rock, Paper.” Suffice it to say that it’s not exactly a tribute to the Jewish state. Another powerful piece, Ayman Sikseck’s “To Jaffa,” depicts the anxiety of living with the anticipation of a Palestinian terror attack; the narrator, however, is an Arab Israeli, not a Jew.

Now, I’m not that naive. I hardly expect to find outright sympathy for, say, the residents of Sderot or the families of [the terror victims] Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach, let alone any remote appreciation for anything about the Jewish state, in the pages of a literary magazine published by an American university. . . .

But if they were, in fact, going to include writing about war and terrorism in their feature after all, would it have been so very difficult to include something to counterbalance Gardi’s “self-flagellation” (to borrow Friedman’s term)? Or to acknowledge that Palestinian terrorists are typically aiming to kill Jews? For that matter, wouldn’t it have been possible, perhaps, to contextualize the references to Jewish emigration from Arab countries between 1948 and the early 1970s, as alluded to in [two of the] pieces? The dismal truth is that for too many readers in the United States today—including, I’m sorry to say, many ostensibly well-educated readers among the American literati—that would be the most heretical reading of all.

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