Jerusalem: A Fam­i­ly Portrait

Boaz Yakin; Nick Bertozzi, illus.

  • Review
By – March 21, 2013

This graph­ic nov­el ren­dered in black, white, and gray tells the sto­ry of three gen­er­a­tions of the fam­i­lies of Izak and Yakov Hal­a­by, two broth­ers liv­ing in Jerusalem from 1945 to 1948. It is based on sto­ries told to the author by his father, who lived in the Mahane Yehu­da neigh­bor­hood in Jerusalem dur­ing those dif­fi­cult years. The author, who is also a film­mak­er and direc­tor, and the illus­tra­tor take on the chal­lenge of depict­ing this crit­i­cal peri­od in Jew­ish his­to­ry, includ­ing the siege of Jerusalem, the Deir Yassin mas­sacre, the Bat­tle of Latrun, and the his­toric UN vote to estab­lish the State of Israel.

Waves of immi­grants have arrived in Jerusa­lem from East­ern Europe and the neigh­bor­ing Arab coun­tries. The British Man­date is in effect, despised by both Jews and Arabs, and while the Arab Revolt of 1936 was final­ly quashed by the British, the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion soon began its own. The rela­tion­ship between the Jews and the British was com­pli­cat­ed. The Arab Revolt caused the British to lim­it Jew­ish immi­gra­tion to Pales­tine dur­ing World War II, when it was most nec­es­sary. Although a large con­tin­gent of Jews from Pales­tine joined the British to fight against the Nazis in Europe, at the same time the Jews were orga­niz­ing their own under­ground revolt against British rule in Pales­tine, which was seen as a hos­tile occupy­ing force. This sto­ry shows some Jews tried to work with the Arab pop­u­la­tion against the British while most were arm­ing to fight both the Arabs and British. The mix of Jerusalem’s Jews includes social­ists and free­dom fight­ers, sec­u­lar and reli­gious­ly obser­vant, wealthy and poor.

Dif­fer­ing view­points are reflect­ed in mem­bers of the Hal­a­by clan. While Izak and Yakov inter­act neg­a­tive­ly, their chil­dren form their own, var­ied rela­tion­ships. Nation­al and inter­na­tion­al pol­i­tics, fam­i­ly loy­al­ties, and dai­ly life in wartime are the top­ics at hand. The pages are filled with vio­lent images and most­ly angry dia­logue between dif­fer­ent group­ings of fam­i­ly mem­bers. How­ev­er, there are a cou­ple of lov­ing moments and some space is made for cul­ture, as one of the Hal­a­by chil­dren works in a the­ater. Those scenes light­en this harsh tale some­what. It is nec­es­sary to absorb the short intro­duc­to­ry sum­ma­ry of Jerusalem’s recent his­to­ry and to rely on the fam­i­ly tree in order to bet­ter under­stand the events as they are told.

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams, mom, grand­mom, avid read­er, some­time writer, born in Havana, raised in Brook­lyn, resid­ing in Long Beach on Long Island. Long­time for­mer One Region One Book chair and JBC liai­son for Nas­sau Hadas­sah, cur­rent­ly pre­sent­ing Inci­dent at San Miguel with author AJ Sidran­sky who wrote the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion based on her Cuban Jew­ish refugee family’s expe­ri­ences dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. Flu­ent in Span­ish and Hebrew, cer­ti­fied hatha yoga instructor.

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