A debut short fiction collection examines the relationship that modern Jews at home and abroad have to Israel.
A month after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, a Long Island-raised volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces confronts his disillusionment manning checkpoints and conducting house-to-house searches in Hebron, all in the name of protecting Zionist settlers in the West Bank city. In Portland in 2014, the self-identifying liberal chairwoman of a pro-Israel organization attempts to explain to that same IDF soldier why his use of the term “occupation” precludes him from being able to serve on the group’s committee, but has trouble elucidating—to him and to herself—why her progressive views do not extend to the treatment of Palestinians. The ambivalent executive director at a tony Portland synagogue is tasked with putting together a counterprotest to a boycott, divest, and sanction demonstration, but the division lines are not as clear as his rabbi thinks they are. Three IDF soldiers on vacation in Thailand look to decompress with sex, drugs, and spiritual exploration, but the specter of Israel dogs them wherever they go—whether in the form of Westerners’ opinions or the presence of other Israelis. Over the course of six interconnected stories, Flamm explores the myriad tensions that exist between Jews regarding their spiritual homeland. The author’s sharp and insightful prose molds the varying perspectives of his narrators, as here when the disillusioned soldier explains his reading of the fractured Jewish identity: “No longer were the Jews, Israelis, and IDF of the same body and mind, breathing the same air. These things had become nuanced and removed from one another, like three circles of a Venn diagram moving in opposition, where the point in common grew smaller each day.” More than simply analyzing the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Flamm shows what these complexities mean to contemporary (mostly male) Jews who find themselves at different points along the ideological spectrum. It’s a finely crafted and highly nuanced work that makes excellent use of the linked story format. What’s more, the author manages to speak effectively to a particular sociopolitical issue using the normally hermetic medium of short fiction.
A smart and empathetic look at the ways Zionism can manifest itself in modern Jewish life.