Inter­nal Dia­logue is a Jew­ish Book Coun­cil blog series on lit­er­ary trends, ideas, and dis­cus­sions of inter­est to Jew­ish read­ers and com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ers, curat­ed by the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil edi­tors and staff. Post­ed by Nat Bern­stein.

Jew­ish Book Coun­cil kicked off its third sea­son of Unpack­ing the Book: Jew­ish Writ­ers in Con­ver­sa­tion this week with a dis­cus­sion between Daniel Gordis and Nir Baram, two of Israel’s most cel­e­brat­ed con­tem­po­rary writers.

Pre­sent­ed in part­ner­ship with The Paul E. Singer Foun­da­tion and mod­er­at­ed by Bari Weiss of The Wall Street Jour­nal, Israel: A Tale of Love & Dark­ness? opened an engag­ing and provoca­tive dis­cus­sion of the cur­rent polit­i­cal and social real­i­ties of the Mid­dle East today, prompt­ed by Daniel Gordis’s recent pub­li­ca­tion Israel: A Con­cise His­to­ry of a Nation Reborn, recip­i­ent of the 2016 Everett Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion Award for Jew­ish Book of the Year, and Nir Baram’s forth­com­ing report A Land With­out Bor­ders: My Jour­ney Around East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Fol­low­ing the audi­ence Q&A at the end of the live dis­cus­sion, series mod­er­a­tor Bari Weiss asked both authors to name three books they would each rec­om­mend to Amer­i­can read­ers look­ing to gain a nuanced, deep­er under­stand­ing of the region’s his­to­ry, future, and con­tend­ing narratives.

Nir Baram imme­di­ate­ly named the short sto­ries of A. B. Yehoshua, specif­i­cal­ly the works col­lect­ed in The Con­tin­u­ing Silence of a Poet. Though Yehoshua’s nov­els are bet­ter known among inter­na­tion­al audi­ences, Baram insists the Israeli Faulkn­ers short fic­tion is unques­tion­ably some of the best writ­ing to ever come out of Israel — indeed, he claims, it is prob­a­bly some of the best writ­ing from any­where, ever.

Baram also rec­om­mend­ed Ben­ny Morris’s The Birth of the Pales­tin­ian Refugee Prob­lem, 1947 – 1949as a cru­cial primer on the his­to­ry of the region. While world lead­ers and the old­er gen­er­a­tions of activists dis­cuss and nego­ti­ate res­o­lu­tions based on the 1967 bor­ders, Baram points to their Pales­tin­ian coun­ter­parts and the emerg­ing grass­roots-ini­ti­at­ed move­ment of younger Israeli Jews shift­ing the focus to back to 1948.

Daniel Gordis assert­ed that the Amos Oz auto­bi­og­ra­phy that inspired the title of Tues­day evening’s event per­haps best rep­re­sents the Israeli nar­ra­tive, both in terms of form — Oz’s writ­ing remains unsur­pass­ed­ly beau­ti­ful across gen­res — and its encap­su­la­tion of the Zion­ist his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. A Tale of Love and Dark­ness presents a lov­ing look at the coun­try with­out fail­ing to point out the problematic.”

Gordis also rec­om­mend­ed Eshkol Nevo’s Neu­land, a fic­tion­al response to Theodor Herzl’s Alt­neu­land imag­in­ing a move­ment to cre­ate an entire­ly new Jew­ish state among young, post-army Israelis trav­el­ing abroad. The sto­ry rais­es sear­ing ques­tions about the Zion­ist ide­al and its evolv­ing iden­ti­ty in the mod­ern world.

Both authors agreed that David Gross­mans work is sem­i­nal to the lit­er­ary expres­sion of Israel — Gordis high­light­ed To the End of the Land, a nov­el in which a woman runs away from home to pre­vent the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the Israel Defense Forces find­ing her to report the death of her son (there­by ensur­ing that he can’t” ever die): a beau­ti­ful look into the strug­gles and scars of the coun­try.” He also men­tioned S. Yizhar’s Khir­bet Khizeh—a novel­la cri­tiquing Israel’s cap­ture of an Arab vil­lage in 1948, exam­ined in A Land With­out Bor­ders—and the author’s curi­ous rise to promi­nence at the time of the book’s pub­li­ca­tion in 1949: the book became an imme­di­ate best­seller in Israel, and Yizhar was swift­ly elect­ed to the Knes­set and appoint­ed Min­is­ter of Edu­ca­tion, indi­cat­ing that Israel does not run away from self-cri­tique — or at least didn’t use to.”

Of course, books don’t have to be about a place, moment, or con­flict to con­vey the expe­ri­ence and ten­sions of the peo­ple liv­ing in them. Baram encour­aged the audi­ence to delve into con­tem­po­rary Israeli writ­ers across gen­res and explore works that pur­port­ed­ly con­cern the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of the human con­di­tion. Young writ­ers like D. A. Mis­hani, Asaff Gavron, Lea Aini, Etgar Keret, Sayed Kashua, are deft­ly express­ing the Israeli nar­ra­tive in the sub­text of their prose, which reach­es out­ward but nev­er ful­ly departs from the socio-polit­i­cal envi­ron­ment that bore them. And if you’re look­ing to fol­low his advice, Jew­ish Book Council’s edi­to­r­i­al team assem­bled a read­ing list to start you off…

A video record­ing of the full pro­gram will be post­ed online next week for read­ers who were unable to attend the live pro­gram, and dis­cus­sion ques­tions for the fea­tured titles are avail­able for free down­load here if your book club is inter­est­ed in read­ing these or oth­er books on the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian conflict.

Unpack­ing the Book: Jew­ish Writ­ers in Con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ues next month with Good Girls, Nasty Women: Gen­der and Amer­i­can Jew­ish His­to­ry on March 28, 2017 at The Jew­ish Muse­um. Sign up for free admission »

Good Girls, Nasty Women: Gen­der and Amer­i­can Jew­ish History

Tues­day, March 28, 2017 | The Jew­ish Muse­um, New York City

Dis­ap­point­ed Ama­zon’s Good Girls Revolt was can­celled after the first sea­son? Hear from award-win­ning jour­nal­ist Lynn Povich, the author of the mem­oir upon which the show was based, in con­ver­sa­tion with Ernes­tine Rose biog­ra­ph­er and wom­en’s his­to­ri­an Bon­nie S. Ander­son and Rebec­ca Trais­ter, jour­nal­ist and author of All the Sin­gle Ladies: Unmar­ried Women and the Rise of an Inde­pen­dent Nation. Dis­cov­er the Jew­ish women behind his­to­ry’s great rev­o­lu­tions and con­tem­po­rary move­ments, from the activists of Amer­i­ca’s Ante­bel­lum to the wom­en’s lib­er­a­tion stir­rings of the mid­cen­tu­ry — to today’s nasty” women — at Unpack­ing the Book: Jew­ish Writ­ers in Con­ver­sa­tion Tues­day, March 28, 2017 in New York City!

Relat­ed Content:

Nat Bern­stein is the for­mer Man­ag­er of Dig­i­tal Con­tent & Media, JBC Net­work Coor­di­na­tor, and Con­tribut­ing Edi­tor at the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and a grad­u­ate of Hamp­shire College.