All I Love and Know, Judith Frank’s latest novel, combines the experience of being gay and Jewish with grief, and the political Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some of the best parts of the book are Frank’s depictions of how a gay Jewish couple copes with becoming guardians to children whose parents have died in a terrorist attack.
The novel skillfully pulls the reader into the story of Matthew Greene and Daniel Rosen, a gay couple who were enjoying a quiet domestic life in Massachusetts. Suddenly their life is turned upside-down when Daniel’s twin brother, Joel, and sister-in-law, Ilana, are murdered in a terrorist suicide bombing at an Israeli café. Tensions escalate when the grandparents on both sides learn that Daniel was willed to adopt the children, a six-year-old girl, Gal, and a baby boy, Noam.
Frank explores many questions: What is Matthew’s place in an extended family that does not completely accept him or the commitment he and Daniel have made? As Daniel questions his identity as a Jewish man, how does that affect his life as a gay American? What is it like for a Jew and a non-Jew to enter into a partnership and raise two children in the Jewish religion? How do people handle grief differently?
The most powerful part of the novel is when the author delves into how a single event can change someone’s life forever. The grief scenes were heart wrenching and potent. Any reader will feel for Daniel, Gal, Noam, and the parents of those who have died. Frank writes these scenes with an emphasis, not on being gay, but on how anyone would deal with such a tragic circumstance. She shows that Ilana’s parents, Holocaust survivors, must yet again go through great hardship and tragedy.
While readers can personalize the grief scenes, some will have a hard time coming to grips with the characters’ political statements. The Author frequently refers to the fact that the US media only shows the tragedy of the Israeli victims and never the Palestinian victims. Frank has Daniel saying, “So Palestinians produce the stone that’s designed to make Jerusalem Jewish forever, and get sick doing so.” Or Matt saying, “It sure sucked for those Palestinians to be driven from their homes, didn’t it?” Or the tradition in a Jewish wedding of breaking the glass, “to symbolize the shattering of their lives when Joel and Ilana died, and the continued shattering of Palestinian lives.”
Many of these political quotes are one sided, leaning heavily toward the Palestinian point of view and seem to be taken out of context, for example, an Israeli law that Daniel describes as stating “If a Palestinian living in Jerusalem marries someone from the West Bank, they can’t live legally together in either place.’s Even though the books is a novel, there is never any explanation that the Palestinians between 1967 and 1987 were allowed to travel relatively freely between the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel. The law came about once the Palestinians started killing many Israelis in terrorist attacks, during the Intifada.
The political discussion by the characters definitely distracted from the powerful storyline. However, All I Love And Know is a riveting book that captures the essence of a grieving family.