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Ambivalence: Adventures in Israel and Palestine
     

Ambivalence: Adventures in Israel and Palestine

by Jonathan Garfinkel
 

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With lofty ideals, spectacular ambivalence, and endearing naiveté, Jonathan Garfinkel explores Israel and Palestine by talking to ordinary people.
Jonathan Garfinkel can’t make up his mind—not about his girlfriend, or Judaism, or Israel. After hearing about a house in Jerusalem where Jews and Arabs coexist in peace, he decides it’s time

Overview

With lofty ideals, spectacular ambivalence, and endearing naiveté, Jonathan Garfinkel explores Israel and Palestine by talking to ordinary people.
Jonathan Garfinkel can’t make up his mind—not about his girlfriend, or Judaism, or Israel. After hearing about a house in Jerusalem where Jews and Arabs coexist in peace, he decides it’s time to venture there. In Israel, nothing is as he imagined it, and nothing is as he was taught. Garfinkel gives us the people behind the headlines: from secret assignations with Palestinian activists and an uninvited visit at an Arab refugee camp to Passover with Orthodox Jewish friends and finding the truth about the mythic coexistence house, Ambivalence is the provocative, surreal, and often hilarious chronicle of his travels. In this part memoir and part quest, Garfinkel struggles with the growing divisions in a troubled region and with the divide in his soul. “Marvelous. Garfinkel deftly mines what it means to simultaneously belong, disavow, love, and loathe an identity, a culture, and a history.... A must-read.”—David Rakoff

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Questioning his Jewish faith, his friends and his semitraditional family, Canadian playwright Garfinkel (The Trials of John Demjanjuk) sets off on a stylized odyssey for meaning throughout contemporary Israel and Palestine. "It would be nice," he writes, "to stumble upon a burning bush... even a neon sign that says 'This way to revelation, idiot.' " What he does find-the story of a house near Jerusalem shared by an Arab and a Jew-challenges his Zionist school education and compels him to uncover the human, historical and political truths of the house and its occupants. His intent is to write a play possibly using this unusual living arrangement as a metaphor for peace. But along the way, as Garfinkel explores the West Bank, visits college buddies now Orthodox converts and tours the Qulandia refugee camp, his moral compass twirls, each adventure underscored by dramatized flashbacks of contradictory classroom lessons. Referring to thinkers like "new historian" Benny Morris and such cultural heroes as Ben-Gurion and Moses, Garfinkel creates a nuanced and engaging journey full of ethical inquiry and ethnic anxiety. Simply put, the Holy Land he experiences is not the land he studied. Readers looking for a grittier, more journalistic view of Jewish-Palestinian relations should look elsewhere; others, however, will empathize with his efforts to keep the faith. (Aug.)

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Library Journal

Garfinkel, a Toronto-based poet and playwright, slowly unfolds a story that might make a good play. The narrative's pace mirrors the author's ambivalent mind. What is he ambivalent about? His religious schooling, his faith, his girlfriend Judith, and traveling to Israel. The story takes off when Garfinkel meets an exotic Palestinian woman named Rana at a Toronto movie theater. This friendship compels him to travel to Israel to find a house Rana had mentioned where Jews and Palestinians supposedly live together in harmony. The shift of time and place, sometimes within the same paragraph, makes for confusing reading, even when the author connects what he learned in synagogue school with the realities and dangers encountered in Israel. Dissonant phrases abound (e.g., "stale herring," "neat-freak God"). This work is more of a scrapbook (including a letter about global warming that his grandfather wrote to Boris Yeltsin in 1998) than a memoir. A spiritual journey best suited to libraries that collect works about Jewish-Arab relations.
—Elizabeth Connor

Kirkus Reviews
Canadian playwright and poet Garfinkel (Glass Psalms, 2005, etc.) considers the quandary of Zionism in this account of his travels in Israel and Palestine. Planning a trip to Israel with his devout Jewish girlfriend, the author happened to meet a Palestinian immigrant whose descriptions of her harsh life in Jerusalem contradicted the rosy pictures painted by his teachers at Bialik Hebrew Day School. But she also told him of a house in Jerusalem shared by its original Palestinian owner and a Jewish couple who moved in after the Six Day War. The house suggested a model for coexistence to Garfinkel, who decided to write a play about it and headed for Israel alone; he felt he needed to find out the truth about the occupation for himself. That journey permanently changed his relationship to his religion and his past. Describing his two trips to the Holy Land in the mid-'90s, the author provides a stirring portrait of day-to-day life in modern Jerusalem. Garfinkel's courage and curiosity led him far beyond the typical tourist's itinerary, into adventures as exciting and heartbreaking as anything found in a work of fiction. Crossing back and forth through the checkpoints, he witnessed suffering, violence and acrimony intermixed with fierce friendship, generosity and the widespread thirst for normalcy. Intense ambivalence suffuses this aptly titled book. Garfinkel exhibits genuine respect for both sides of the conflict, but resists simplifying the notoriously intricate matrix of religion, property rights, violence and conflicting views of history that he encountered. Forced by his experiences to modify long-held beliefs about the Jewish state, he writes honestly and humorously about hisignorance, prejudices and discoveries. He effectively weaves in lively flashbacks starring the ever-present specter of Mrs. Blintzkrieg, the fieriest of Bialik Hebrew Day's Zionist teachers. Garfinkel's abilities as a playwright enrich the text, which is studded with brief, dramatic scenes distilling the emotional essence of each encounter or relationship. A creative, unusual mix of memoir and travel narrative. Agent: John Pearce/Westwood Creative Artists

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393066746
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
08/28/2008
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Garfinkel is a celebrated poet and play wright. He lives in Toronto. This is his first work of nonfiction.

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