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.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Ambivalence: Adventures in Israel and Palestineby Jonathan Garfinkel
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/p>
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
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.
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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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