Collections of personal essays by famous people can often be a little like meringue pie — sweet, but ultimately weightless. At first glance, this new collection of essays about Israel by 80 mostly Jewish luminaries from all walks of public life, edited and introduced by Alan Dershowitz, may appear to fall into the same nutrient-free category; after all, what depth could a book have when it chooses to bind together the meditations of Republican Senator Norm Coleman alongside those of Stan Lee, the father of Spider- Man and the Incredible Hulk?
Yet, it is precisely this diversity that endows this collection with a heftiness uncommon in the genre. By giving a podium to a remarkable array of voices, the book comes close to transcending the personal nature of each essay, providing, when taken as a whole, a portrait of Israel’s place in the collective heart, mind and soul of Jewish America’s intelligentsia.
And what a portrait it is. While nearly all essays begin with the author recounting how he or she embarked on their lifelong engagement with Israel — diverse stories about an Orthodox home, a Labor Zionist summer camp, or even an accidental visit— most tend to end, almost uniformly, in discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The temperaments here are diverse as well. While some, like playwright David Mamet, use the podium to lambaste ideological opponents, others, like journalist Milton Viorst, make broad efforts at redefining the conflict’s political and historical roots.
With most factions in the contemporary debate about Israel’s policies and its place in American Jewish life reasonably represented, this volume might serve, to paraphrase one of its contributors, author and intellectual Douglas Rushkoff, to open up the constant conversation that is Judaism.