And so he lay there on the hard cot, his eyes closed, unable to know the time, whether it was day or night, how long he’d been there, what was going to happen to him, Sleep standing on the periphery, mocking: Look. See. Listen…And always this: Here is the sound of the blast, that moment that split your life in two. Before and After. Hear it again and again and again, the instant when you knew it was all a terrible mistake and there was nothing you could do about it. Absolutely nothing. Listen. Listen and listen and listen. (p. 205)
I have read books of religious violence before but not many of them from the Israeli perspective. There have been a tiresome amount, to me, of books regarding Islam. (The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns come immediately to mind.) Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant is a gripping account from several different perspectives on what it means to be Jewish, whether living in Israel or America.
Joan’s writing pierced me when I was faced with my own American point of view, especially from a Christian position:
Aaron stared out at the monochrome bleached-out yellow—yellow buildings, yellow fields, yellow sky—plumes of copper dust rising up from the rutted road. A peanut farmer. A lock-jawed Georgia peanut farmer. He couldn’t believe the guy was still alive. He hated Jimmy Carter and his phony Golden Rules, his smug Christian charity. They were so naive at home in America; they had no idea who they were dealing with. You didn’t make concessions here. You didn’t give back to play nice. The Americans, the Europeans, they thought it was like some giant sandbox argument. Now, children, you must learn to share. (p.39)
I’ve thought that! I have thought, “Please. For the love of God, just get along all you people in the Middle East.” As though it was easy. As though anyone can compromise on his belief system painlessly. But it is precisely for the ‘love of God’ that each side holds firm.
I’ve understood Yona, searching for forgiveness from her sister Dena, while at the same time trying to be understanding:
Yona pulled down the sleeves of her blouse, trying to keep them at her elbows, be respectful, meet Dena half-way: it wasn’t the time to raise the feminist flag, dredge up the old argument about who owns women’s bodies and why Middle Eastern female dress codes always seemed to operate on the assumption that men have no self-control. (p. 67)
And I understand Shroeder’s vehemence as I understand the Old Testament’s promises:
He had no doubt…that the land, all of it, from Litani in the north to Sharm in the south, would eventually be in the hands of the Jewish people. Because it had been covenanted to them by God. It was as simple as that, Shroeder said, his face ghostly in the flickering light, his beard ragged as a prophet’s, the jagged pink mountains looming behind him like Mars, and if anyone claimed otherwise, they were afraid of the truth…it was their inheritance. Their right. It was a privilege to fight, Shroeder told them in the flutter half-dark. For millennia Jews didn’t have that privilege, barred like Moses from entering the land. How lucky they were. How good are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel. (p. 83)
What Joan brings to our attention is how we live with our beliefs, our families, and our country. How is that we can we love our parents, friends or lovers, and fight against them at the same time? How can we balance what we consider to be our rights with the rights of those around us?
Like I find in every book I especially treasure, there is hope, there is redemption, there is a lesson of truth at the end of the story. In Wherever You Go, for me it is this: “Saving a soul. The highest value. It’s in the Talmud. Avot: Whoever saves one life, it’s as if he’s saved an entire world.” (p. 242)
p.s. Joan tells me that there is a read-along and discussion of Whever You Go hosted by she reads and reads. Click on the link to find more information; also look there for Joan’s guest post later in October and an interview in early November.