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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The title is an Israeli army term for a soldier, or one who "strikes, burns, and dies." Nathan Falk, an American-born Jew and the son of a Holocaust survivor, arrives in Israel seeking "for once, to be generally human, immersed in a kinky-haired majority"-and to do the three years of regular military service and subsequent one-month-a-year reserve duty required of every Israeli male. The narrative falls into 13 Israel Defense Forces patrol vignettes, centered by one novella-size chapter that follows Falk's affair with his best friend's alcoholic girlfriend, along with the honor killing of a 17-year-old Bedouin girl by a man in Falk's (very multi-culti) unit. Throughout, Kaufman (Jew Boy), an American Jew who did multiple IDF tours and now lives in San Francisco, sketches the fault lines of Israeli society as heightened by the highly charged, often violent patrols in the West Bank and Gaza: Sephardic vs. Ashkenazi; native vs. emigrE; Arab vs. Jew. The political turmoil, ruined relationships, coiled anger and psychological damage the patrols leave in their wake is made vivid-and personal-at every turn, as are IDF procedures and moments of unexpected cooperation across borders. As a novel, it's baggy, but the result gives readers a fascinating look at the story behind the numbing newspaper tallies. (Oct. 24) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Nathan Falk, an American fighting in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), faces many difficulties in battle and patrolling the streets of Gaza-in addition to the jeers of soldiers from his battalion who can't figure out why someone with an American passport would be willing to risk his life for a country not his own. A Zionist and a good soldier, Nathan narrates the vicissitudes of war with great intensity. In the process of repeated call-ups, he gains the support of his fighting unit. High stakes off the battlefield ensue as well, including games of Risk and love making to his best friend's wife. Along the way, Nathan learns much from the Bedouin tracker about cultural mores. In this finely wrought, visceral first novel, Kaufman (editor, The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry) offers a thinly veiled account of his experiences as an American serving tours of duty in the IDF; it is also a window into the current Israeli conflict. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, MD Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The experiences of an American Jew fighting as a reservist with the Israeli Defense Forces. The matches of the title are soldiers, in IDF lingo. For his first novel, Kaufman (Jew Boy, memoir) has drawn on his own tours of duty with the IDF. His protagonist, Nathan Falk, is a twenty-something New York Jew with Israeli citizenship who has completed two years of regular service and now serves at least a month each year in the reserves, mostly in the Gaza Strip or on the Israeli/Egyptian border. He details a scary encounter with an ultra-orthodox settler who predicts an eventual war between the Jews; a house-to-house search in which Falk makes an important arrest; the destruction of a house owned by the parents of a terrorist; and the nighttime killing of desert infiltrators, thanks to the fine work of Bachshi, the IDF's top Bedouin tracker. Kaufman's passages on Bedouin culture are the most interesting, even if Bachshi sounds like the generic Voice of the Desert. Meanwhile, what is Falk up to the rest of the year? Hard to say. He lives alone in a Jerusalem apartment and balls Maya, wife of his best friend Dotan, off fighting in Lebanon (Falk never claimed to be nice). All three are part of a "bohemian cultural elite," but we don't know how Falk supports himself. At one point he has a crisis of conscience and decides " I didn't want to hurt (Arabs) anymore in order to survive;" he rushes to Jerusalem to be comforted by Maya, who then disappears from the story, along with the guilty conscience. The chronology is hard to follow, and by the final third, which consists of snapshots of reservists dealing with Palestinian civilians, "all guilty until proven innocent," all novelistic coherence hasevaporated. This is a sloppily assembled work. What Kaufman does best is convey the brittle camaraderie of the reservists; a story collection or another memoir might have served his purposes better.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316106641
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 10/24/2005
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.68 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Matches


By Alan Kaufman

Little, Brown

Copyright © 2005 Alan Kaufman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-10664-X


Chapter One

THE JEWISH WARS

This was in the Gaza Strip: a long, secret, protracted agony of daily attack and counterattack that turned our days and nights into a flare-lit shadow dance with skulls, on head-nodding patrols in areas where even the wild pariah dogs shunned to go.

We were a reserve unit of combat-trained Israeli armored infantry but minus our big, boxy personnel carriers-long ago we left them buried to their hatches in scorpion-infested sand somewhere out in the camouflaging desert-and sent here to quell "unrest," some general's euphemism for armed Palestinian revolt.

In exchange for our TOW shoulder-held tank blasters and other sorts of dangerous toys that we took pride in handling well, we were issued rubber bullets, body armor, riot helmets, shatterproof shields, and nasty-looking crowd control batons, but the men never used that junk except for the bulletproof ceramic vests. They left the rest rattling in heaps in the corners of our fast-moving steel-plated patrol trucks, or Noon Noons, as they were called.

Because some of us yet thought of ourselves as soldiers. And some of us still thought that we just couldn't be down here forever, though by now the service had dragged on over years.

But again and again they sent us down to Gaza, and the more we operated down here, the more we hated the work, but also the better at it we got until counterinsurgency became our pet calling. It was an ugly little pet indeed, and we had to walk it every day and keep it fed on blood and tears.

We learned as we went, methods strictly unconventional, no big hardware set piece battles but dry, dirty games of small arms and concealable explosives, informers and smugglers, and suspects hauled in for attitude adjustment by the Sheen Bet Security Services. Some of us couldn't even remember how to load or shoot a TOW anymore, let alone recite the code for purity of arms, but we could blow a terrorist safe house sky high in nothing flat and unearth an arms factory where you thought you saw only a dress shop.

Tonight some sort of wide-scale action was in motion throughout the Khan Yunis sector. Other patrols had gone out in a big hurry, but since no one had summoned us-which as far as we were concerned was just fine-Brandt, Avi, and I had just stayed in the garrison club room, with its scarred Ping-Pong table with the shredded net and a battered TV set with reception so bad that the picture looked like transmissions from Mars.

This TV, by the way, had a wire clothing hanger antenna, and part of the ritual of watching it involved jumping up from your seat to fiddle with it in a futile quest for the exact invisible spot for good reception. There was a way, though, to get it good enough that you could watch the Jordanian broadcast of the American sitcom Three's Company, with its girls in tiny shorts and the emasculated male roommate bumbling around issuing bland punch lines.

It was the closest thing to sex we had, and we sat around staring at it numbly, our unshaven cheeks sagging in insomniacal frowns.

Brandt nodded at the blond TV star with the ponytail. "How sweet is that ass?"

Avi shrugged. "She looks like Goldie Hawn. Falk, here, he likes that-right, Falk? Falk eats that bony Goldie Hawn tail."

"Like lobster." I grinned.

"Lobster's not kosher," Avi said gravely.

"Bullshit," snapped Brandt. "Blondes are kosher. Besides, I eat lobster. With plenty of butter. Huh, Nathan? You like that butter sauce?"

I nodded happily. "You know it. I like it blond and buttery."

"Falk," said Avi. "What kind of Jewish name is that?" to which I replied, "It's New York City Yiddish for 'Go Falk Yourself,'" and we all burst out laughing.

We teamed well together, we three-liked each other a lot, got along. Which meant your back got watched when you went out there knocking on Arafat's door. It gave you something close to peace of mind.

Brandt, our handsome squad leader, was only a reservist corporal but was treated like an officer by the staff because looks-wise he was movie-star caliber; he worked as a ground maintenance supervisor for El Al airlines and so not only had unlimited access to a constantly replenishing supply of Israel's most beautiful stewardesses to fuck, but flew anywhere in the world he liked, cost-free.

And as if to etch our envy with hydrochloric acid on Sinai stone, God had also arranged that Brandt should happen to be a professional soccer referee as well, who was quite often seen on national broadcast, officiating in major league play. And while the rest of us in civilian life scrambled for bleacher seats to the playoff games, the lucky SOB saw any match he liked; just turned up at any stadium and walked right in.

Even Brandt's divorce was enviable. Not to go on too much about him, but this Brandt, you see, his ex-wife was a former Miss Israel, a ten named Mariana, the daughter of multimillionaire plastics manufacturers, the famed Borzoys of Haifa. She was Brandt's best friend and close confidante and had not only waived child support but even given Brandt full access to his kids, who could stay with him whenever he liked. She actually even entertained, I was told, some of the girlfriends he brought home.

He had a certain cynical charm, our corporal, a wry confidence that women found absolutely devastating. They fell for him like axed trees.

Some who had gone with him into Tel Aviv on twenty-four-hour leaves could attest to how he entered a club and ten minutes later left in the escort of not one but two bombshells. His secret? He regarded all things with a sneering curl of his upper lip, a disdainful gleam in his eye. He beheld alike, with equal contempt, generals, beauty queens, soccer stars, politicians, policemen, tax collectors, and terrorists. He had, as I said, this little smirk. Only a corporal, yet he wielded a captain's influence. When high-ranking officers glanced his way for approval, he smirked and it leveled their self-esteem.

Our unit commander was Lieutenant Yitzak, who strolled around in the freezing cold garrison in a wife-beater T-shirt and bling-bling gold chains, his spoiled, rich-boy voice whining in our ears. Here was an officer who stepped from his barrack each dawn with his hand thrust down the crotch of his bleached white BVDs, lovingly scratching his balls and yawning like a pimp on holiday in Cancun. So it was not exactly Yitzak we obeyed, but rather the hulking, begrizzled Sergeant Dedi, who implemented Yitzak's "orders," though only in his own way.

In action, this Sergeant Dedi, who was built like a wrestler, had the darkstaring focus of a Ninja tenth-degree black belt. He called clear shots when things got tough and he got you through in one piece. When Dedi spoke in his low, measured way, everybody listened up. We were all agreed, even Yitzak, on one thing: this Dedi was a good boy. Had a bright head too. In civilian life he was finishing up a graduate art history degree. Van Gogh's no help in a fight, but when the rocks and bullets flew, Dedi's the one you wanted in there, dropped to one knee with weapon cradled in his arm, his calm hand signals directing you to cover.

But also, as I had learned on one of my first times out with this unit, in a really tight spot often you needed a fast way out, and for that there was Avi, working the gas and the brake pedals of the steel-plated Noon Noons.

Avi had the deadpan reflexes of a mobbed-up getaway man; could spin-turn in a kasbah alley, under fire, a two-ton armoured car.

Bullets didn't even make him flinch. He drove with a kind of dour defiance. Avi even sort of looked gangland, with his swarthy, hard-boned face, lanky build, kinked nap, and laconic air.

A Fez-born Moroccan, he had smuggled himself to Israel as a teen and now owned and operated in civilian life a paid-up Mercedes Benz limo taxi that made shuttle runs between Tel Aviv and the Holy City of Jerusalem.

I was the anomalous American, to most Israelis something strange: a New York Jew who had actually acquired Israeli citizenship in return for the dubious privilege of getting called up to serve in the most dangerous army on earth, the Israel Defense Forces.

For in so doing I had bucked what had become, after years of ceaseless warfare and endless terrorism, the primo fantasy of so many sabras born behind the Green Line, Israel's traditional borderline: complete your army service, and then jet straight out for the fleshpots of Berlin, Amsterdam, New York, or L.A., there to live by your greencarded wits, make a killing in bucks, not blood, and, more so, to thrive immersed in Coppertone and Disney World, SUVs, Costco, and Cost Plus, neck-deep in fluffy towels, CDs, skateboards, laptops, wide-screen TVs, and Betty Crocker cake mix.

Most Israelis who fled the Jewish State wanted never ever to have to don a uniform again, or fire a .05 machine gun, or numbly roll through an Arab refugee camp exposed to hidden black-masked jihadists with shoulder-held RPG waiting to turn your jeep into a Jerry Bruckheimer fireball.

So all through my two years of regular army service and now as a reservist I was asked, again and again, by grinning, incredulous troops: "What brought you to this insane mess? Why join the army if you don't have to?"

The best I could come up with was that during my time in America I'd lived pretending to myself that the non-Jews didn't really think I was a Christ-killing, world-dominating, media-controlling kike-pretending to myself that they really didn't chide my Jewishness behind my back. But after all, they often did. And always, there was this ice-cold separateness. They never let you forget not so much that you were a Jew but that they, bless their Christmasy asses, were not.

I figured the one place on earth where I could really feel free of all that shit was in Israel. I wanted, for once, to be just generally human, immersed in a kinky-haired majority. To whatever soldier asked me about my strange presence I held up in my hands the assault rifle, the Colt automatic rifle, or CAR-15, that we carried: "See this?" I said. "Truth is, once I saw you Israeli soldiers, Clint Eastwood Jews with big guns in your hands, man, I couldn't even pretend that I didn't want to serve. Fuck my feminine side. Are you kidding? You know how proud you guys made me feel? It brought the man right out in me!" They always laughed and clapped my back for saying this.

But not Avi. Disposed to gloom, he didn't seem amused. He went right past my shtick, snorted, and said disdainfully: "You're full of shit. Majority? What majority? I ask you, Nathan: what majority? You know how many Arabs are out there? Do you?" His hand jabbed toward the "out there" of the whole Middle East, at Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, Algeria, Libya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and sheikdoms I didn't even know the names of. A couple hundred million Arabs, an ocean. "And now they hate you even more as an Israeli then they would have hated you as an American. You wanted to escape the difference and the hate? But now you are really hated. No one in the world is hated by Arabs more than us Israelis. We are the 'difference' that they are born to hate."

Now Udi, the radio man, leaned his bespectacled face in the club room door. "He himself wants to see you." Meaning: Yitzak. We groaned to our feet, trooped past Udi's insolent smile.

The lieutenant met us with his boots planted on a wall of the communication room; rocked back and forth on the chair's rear legs, headset on, his hand shooting out to adjust the transmitter's dials.

When he saw us he removed the headset and studied us with a weak smile as though we were his long-awaited salvation. "I have special work," he said, his free hand making a nervous adjustment to his gold chain. "And I want you three in there. To go to a settlement. But not just any settlement. These are true believers. There are known conspirators among them. They're not just playing. They kill Arabs. If they could, they'd blow up the Temple Mount. Several of them from this settlement have been in and out of jail for various serious activities. You can guess what those are. They are very to the right. Religious fanatics. Of all the groups, these are known to be the most extreme. They have had it hard, where they are. Many attacks against them. Also, they feel betrayed by us. After all, we let them in there in the first place. They know that when the time comes, the army will arrive and throw them out of there. It's just a matter of time before the government strikes some deal with the 'cousins.' And they have lived with constant hostilities. They are bitter, believe me. A number of them have lost family ... a few children, a couple of infants, newborns-you understand. A wife. A sister. A boy. All killed by the Palestinians. And so on. Not good. Not good."

"You're talking about Neve Parsha," said Brandt.

Yitzak nodded. "Yes. Go there and take a look. Just a look. Nothing special. See. Just see. That's all. Just have a look around."

"Tell me, Yitzak," said Brandt, "why is it every time there is something in Neve Parsha, you send us and you make this same fucked-up little speech as though we never heard of the place?"

Yitzak's face and ears reddened. His chair's front legs and then his boots struck the floor hard. "Because Falk here is still somewhat new to your squad and, uh, he, uh, he has not been there. Isn't that true, Falk?"

"I've been with the unit for two years. But I guess in a way it is."

"And so, I, uh, I want he should understand. He is not born here, remember. He should know."

"Know what?" I asked.

Yitzak looked at me disdainfully, using his eyes to transfer onto me the shame that Brandt had laid on him. I stared back coldly, deflecting the transfer. His eyes retreated, grew small, narrow, lonely. Yes, lonely. This surprised me.

"It's not a piece of Israel that you have maybe come across before. These are poor moshavniks, not wealthy. They are Yemenites. They came here in the Magic Carpet airlift. They were treated badly in Yemen. Persecuted. Killed. The Israeli Air Force flew them out, rescued them. So, these folks have no especial pity for the Arabs, the Palestinians, or for Yemenites for that matter, or any other kind of Arab whatsoever. To them, it is all the same. Because they had no country in Yemen, and they were not just treated there like second-class citizens but murdered. Then they came here and were safe, yes, but not much else. We gave them jobs as low-wage laborers and janitors. To improve their prospects, they volunteered to start their own farms. They were very poor and illiterate, these settlers. Right after the Six Days' War they established Neve Pasha. They have been on the front lines, so to speak, for many years. They are hard people, used to suffering. They have no illusions. They don't trust anyone, not even us. They know that in the name of some agreement with the Palestinians, even the very murderers of their children, we'd sell them out in a minute. I'm afraid they haven't got much use for us."

"And also we have to go protect them," said Avi sarcastically.

"Yes," said Yitzak. "The area commander is worried that because of the operations tonight there will be retaliation on their moshav. To be truthful, they don't want our help. But we are still responsible to put in an appearance. So, you three will go. This will not be a provocation. They know you, Brandt, and you, Avi. And they are big soccer fans. They will like that Brandt is there because Hapoel plays tonight and they'll be glued to their TVs and they've seen Brandt on television. You're the most famous soccer referee in Israel, Brandt."

"They never once recognize me," said Brandt. "Years now I'm going to this moshav for these 'emergencies' and they never recognize me. They don't know me. To them, I am just another Frank."

"A Frank?" I said.

"An Ashkenazi Jew. From Europe. They don't like us. They don't like the way we treated them when they came here."

"How was that?"

"Like shit," said Avi. And since he was himself a Sephardi, like the moshavniks, a Jew of Middle Eastern origin, we did not comment further or dispute his summary. We all knew, even I, that it was indisputably true.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Matches by Alan Kaufman Copyright © 2005 by Alan Kaufman.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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