What’s a nice, liberal Jewish boy from Chicago doing in a Merkava tank along Israel’s border as Lebanon sets up ambushes against Hezbollah guerillas?
Stand-up comedian Chasnoff is not the first or last American Jew to join the ranks of the Israel Defense Forces out of love for the Jewish homeland. But it’s certainly unusual for an American IDF veteran to pen an account of his disillusionment with Israel, with Israelis, with the war in Lebanon and with the way the IDF trains for and fights the war. Not that Chasnoff had become anti-Israel or anti-Zionist by the end of his experiment in military living. His idealism and faith—some might say, his naïveté—as his odyssey began were strong enough to withstand the blows of ordinary real-world experience. But his illusions about the IDF being the perfect fighting force and Israel being on a purely moral mission were slowly stripped away with each little humiliation, absurd policy and selfish act of a colleague he witnessed in training and in combat. Near the end of his tour, Chasnoff suffered the ultimate insult of being deemed insufficiently Jewish in the eyes of the Rabbinical Council of Tel Aviv. “[I]f I do die during these next thirty-nine days,” he writes, “they won’t even bury me in a goddamn Jewish cemetery.” The author often writes humorously—the physical examinations at the hands of very different authority figures that bookend the main narrative are horrifyingly hilarious. At times, as when he describes the landscapes in the Negev Desert and in Lebanon, the prose approaches the poetic. But often the writing comes across like a film treatment, with the laughs calibrated to a sitcom level. A little more poetry and a little less shtick might have served the story better.
Serviceable boot-camp comedy.