THE JEWISH WAR by Tova Reich


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The earthy yet transcendent wit of Reich's previous efforts (Master of the Return, 1988; Mara, 1978) takes a grim, decidedly unfunny twist in this story of zealots and conflict in the heart of Israel. Everyone knew from the dynamic, red-bearded presence of Yehudi HaGoel that he was a force larger than life, even when as young Jerry Goldberg of the Bronx he was busily seducing boss Hy Kugel's daughter and championing the Jewish cause by outwitting anti-Semitic Ukrainian thugs who threatened Kugel's lake at his Borscht Belt resort. Transporting himself and faithful friend Hoshea (formerly Herbie) to Hebron in the middle of the Six-Day War (the two made the trip by hiding in coffins after displacing the original inhabitants), Yehudi quickly makes the most of their aliyah--their ascent to Zion. As leader of a settlement in the midst of Arab-inhabited Hebron, Yehudi assembles wives (three), children (numerous), and followers (ever-increasing) to promote Zionism, never failing to confront Israeli authorities, whether in Hebron, the Sinai, or Jerusalem. But when his most ardent supporter, daughter Golana, is gunned down at the head of a triumphal march home--this after Yehudi's early release from imprisonment for a terrorist attack on a local Arab leader--a turning point is reached. Anointed king of Judea and Sumaria by his supporters, he secedes from Israel, and, answered with a tight siege by the Israeli Army, he leads his people underground, to the necropolis beneath Hebron that they have prepared for this contingency. There, in the spirit of the besieged inhabitants of Masada centuries before, Yehudi persuades his followers at the end of Yom Kippur to commit mass suicide rather than surrender. An effectively unsettling mix of the satiric and tragic (and conceivably prophetic): Reich has lost none of her bite and insight, and may well have gained a new summit in her literary achievements.

Pub Date: July 25th, 1995
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Pantheon