Op-Ed: A Novel of Ideas in the Era of Anti-Israelism
Rochel SylvetskyRochel Sylvetsky is op-ed and Judaism editor of Arutz Sheva's English site....
The need for courage can be totally unexpected, as when a person of integrity suddenly finds himself in a situation where he may be forced to pay a terrible price for remaining faithful to - let alone defending - what he knows to be true. If he is brave enough to stick to his principles, he will often react emotionally, impetuously or argumentatively, rather than engage in rational debate to convince others of the justice of his cause.
Arutz Sheva recently had an enlightening conversation with a courageous Jewish woman, courageous enough to write a most politically incorrect novel about on-campus anti-Semitism and whose main character is a contemporary Jewish woman of exemplary courage as well. The difference between the two women is that the first planned her book carefully, while her heroine has a tendency to leap before she looks.
Dr. Nora Gold, author of the new book "Fields of Exile", (Dundurn Press, 2014), is using fiction to fight what she calls "recycled" anti-Semitism. And she is fighting hard, pulling no punches. The game has changed, she says, and there is an intellectual sickness pervading the campus that must be addressed. Rational debate goes nowhere. Traditional anti-Semitism is out of the closet after a period when it was cloaked in anti-Zionist disguise.
But how can fiction affect the situation? Gold, a prize-winning author who is editor-in-chief of the literary journal Jewish Fiction.net and an associate scholar at the University of Toronto, answers by noting that one of her friends claimed that she didn't see the current campus situation as anti-Semitic, but after reading the book, admitted that her mindset had changed. A good novel can do that, has been known to do that during watershed periods in history.
Gold talks about readers connecting with a character, so that his experiences become something to which they relate and his personality one with which they empathize and identify. Good literature affects the reader naturally, thoughtfully, it doesn't argue with him as do opinion articles and speeches. At most, it makes him argue with himself.
Gold asserts that she, too, went through a process. She says that she started writing and then the main character became who she is. The two of them argued – but no matter what the outcome of the argument, Gold understood that she, the writer, is not in control of this person anymore. That may be the reason for the frequent scenes of explicit sex liberally (double entendre intended) sprinkled throughout the book.
But who except for the choir is going to read a book about Israel that doesn't vilify it, I wondered as I read it, although the book read really well - the plot was well developed, the story realistic and riveting, the characters real and the ideas thought-provoking.
Right leaning Jews don't need this book and the Orthodox among them would be offended by the sex scenes. Would non-Jews and left-liberal Jews want to read a book that exposes how the truth about Israel is perverted by academics who, like lemmings infected by an anti-Semitic virus, accept the lies of pro-Palestinian groups without ever examining the issues for themselves? That shows the futility of leftist ideology?
The answer to that question, in addition to the book's own merits, is in the inspired choice of the main character, Judith, a pro-Israel dyed-in-the wool-leftist, member of a genre unknown to many people, but still alive and kicking. She belongs to Peace Now, as do all the friends she made in Israel, wants to dismantle settlements, create a Palestinian state, took part in demonstrations for these causes - and loves the land of Israel and its people with a passion. Although the book was written well before the current Operation Protective Edge, many of the left of center kibbutz members who stick it out near Gaza are of the same stock.
She, the idealistic Peace Now activist, is an enemy of the Israel-haters, just because she is Zionist and wants the Jewish state to continue to exist.
Judith returns to Canada after ten years in the Israel she loves and feels a part of to be with her dying father. Although aliyah is what she craves , she keeps the promise he exacts from her to stay and finish her master's degree in Toronto. This is not a simple decision. An introspective person with a sense of self-awareness, her heart is totally in the east. Judith's Zionistic idealism is almost an obsession that takes hold of her life and enters every part of it, so that even a remembered relationship there with an Israeli farmer takes on symbolic national significance, her body becoming part of her unity with the country.
The fact that Judith is a leftist is what gives the book its power, the ultimate answer to the radical anti-Israel left and ultimately, on a practical level, to the entire left. She, the idealistic Peace Now activist, is an enemy of the Israel-haters, because she is Zionist, just because she wants the Jewish state to continue to exist. She stands up for Israel when she sees that "apartheid" lies are accepted as truth and that terror against Israeli civilians is not only condoned, but encouraged. She cannot stand for that. At first, it is almost as if she wants to tell them naively that she is one of the "good" Zionists, a leftist, so they should listen to her - but achingly like the assimilated Jews of Germany, she realizes that all Jews are the target. This shock also goes a long way towards explaining the unity in Israel during Operation Protective Edge.
There are some masterly scenes as the on-campus situation unfolds layer by layer, revealing the fact that social justice - or any justice -does not include Israel on any level and that the country's very existence is not a given.
It is almost preordained that she meet up with the violent and intolerant aspect of the anti-Israelism that has spread to American campuses, both in the USA and Canada. The fact that no other opinion is allowed to be voiced and the incitement fed by blatant lies about Israel make her see red. Everyone seems to be betraying her country, or staying on the sidelines when it counts, including the nice Jewish, typical upper middle class high school boyfriend with whom she reunites – and whom her parents wished she would have married, like a nice Jewish girl should, instead of going to a kibbutz.
Gold is on the mark – she succeeds in having the reader connect to the heroine of "Fields of Exile", rooting for her and suffering with her, cringing at her mistakes, disappointments and setbacks, swelling with pride as she goes on alone. I won't divulge what happens to Judith, but I strongly recommend you read this book, for its well-written content and in order to understand the process that is robbing the West of the integrity and intellectual honesty that made it unique in the history of civilization.
Editor's note, October 1, 2015: Fields of Exile has just been awarded the 2015 Canadian Jewish Literary Award