An Arab Jew searches for the meaning of home.
From the time her father died when she was 10, Tsabari (The Best Place on Earth: Stories, 2016) felt out of place in Israel, where she and her family had long lived in a community of Yemeni Jews. “Grief shakes the foundations of your home,” she writes in her candid, affecting memoir, “unsettles and banishes you.” In addition to the loss of her father—whom the author evokes in loving detail—she felt excluded from Israeli culture, where Arab Jews were treated like second-class citizens, even those, like her and her parents, who were born in Israel. “In a country riddled with cultural prejudice,” she writes, “the stereotypes associated with Yemenis over the years have ranged from romanticizing to fetishizing to patronizing.” In 1935, when her grandparents arrived, Yemeni immigrants were considered “savage and primitive”; even today, “Yemenis are often the butt of racial jokes and the subject of mockery.” As in her impressive collection of short stories, which won the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, Tsabari examines the cultural and personal forces that result in alienation and “self-inflicted exile.” For nearly a decade after completing mandatory service in the Israeli army, she traveled to Canada, New York, Mexico, India, and Thailand, with few possessions. “Home, essentially, was the act of leaving,” she writes, “not a physical place, but the pattern of walking away from it.” She married, briefly; had affairs; spent years drinking cheap whiskey and smoking dope; and periodically returned to her family home before leaving once more. “Leaving is the only thing I know how to do,” she reflects. “That seemed to be the one stable thing in my life, the ritual of picking up, throwing out or giving away the little I have, packing up and taking off.” It must be lonely, a friend remarks, “needing to be free all the time.” Now in her 40s, grounded by her husband and daughter, she redefines home: an emotional commitment to a place “where love resides.”
Linked essays cohere into a tender, moving memoir.