The Canadian poet and playwright Jonathan Garfinkel is of two minds about a lot of things. He enjoys the songs at services but not what the prayers say. He feels deeply connected to Israel but is outraged at Zionists when he hears the Palestinian side of their shared history. When he learns of a house in Jerusalem owned by an Arab and rented by a Jew, he sees a tangible symbol for the hopes and challenges of coexistence. So he flies to Israel — for the first time— to learn its emblematic story. The resulting memoir, written in a highly personal and agreeable voice, describes Garfinkel’s journeys to Ramallah and Bethlehem, and to the Jerusalem of religious friends and relatives. But he never quite makes up his mind. For all his sincerity and good intentions, he can’t transcend the self that is his semi-comic point of departure: the dayschool student he once was who can’t stop arguing with his Zionist teachers. He feels most at ease when he can criticize and ask questions, and is least comfortable taking responsibility and making choices. Whereas Jonathan Garfinkel’s conflicting sympathies tell us a lot about him, his travels don’t reveal much that is new about Israel.
Ambivalence: Adventures in Israel and Palestine
Bob Goldfarb is president of Jewish Creativity International.
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