Brief Review: "Coming Together, Coming Apart":

On a recent trip I read the second volume in Daniel Gordis's account of his life as a liberal American Jewish immigrant to Israel, Coming Together, Coming Apart. I read it reluctantly, because I found the first volume, Home to Stay, only mildly interesting. But my mom really enjoyed the latter book, so I bought her the new one, and when she finished it she gave it to me. I grabbed it on the way out the door for a plane trip, realizing I hadn't packed anything to read.

Anyway, Coming Together is a vast improvement over Home to Stay. The writing is absolutely beautiful, the ideas provocative. The heart of the book is Gordis's account of his family's adjustment to life in Israel, beginning at the tail end of the Second Intifada, when the Gordis family is kept awake in its Jerusalem home by gunfire at night, and terrified by suicide murders that take place in their favorite haunts, and ending with mild optimism when the evil Arafat finally passes.

In the pages in between, Gordis, a liberal but not a "leftist," manages to efficiently and eloquently take down those Jews who ignore Israel's obligations to preserve Jewish moral values in its conflict with the Palestinians, as well as those Jews who reflexively oppose the very existence of Israel, because they prefer perpetual Jewish victimhood and the accompanying moral high ground to the inevitable moral compromises and errors that come with power and statehood. He also conveyed to me, as a "serious Jew" who has never had any significant desire to live in Israel, why he would uproot his family from a comfortable upper middle class life in L.A. and expose them to danger to fulfill his Zionist dream. As he expresses it far more eloquently than I can, I won't try to summarize it here. [UPDATE: I should point out that while Gordis emphasizes the very palpable dangers faced by Jerusalemites durng the Second Intifada, raising one's teenagers in L.A. carries some very real, though perhaps less palpable dangers [much higher crime rates, drug use rates, auto accident risk, and likely suicide rates], such that I doubt that Jerusalem in 2002 was more actually more dangerous for kids than West L.A. at the same time.]

One important caveat about this book: Israel is a country composed primarily of first, second, and third generation immmigrants, so there is really no such thing as a "typical Israeli". But to the extent there sort of is, Gordis surely isn't it. In one scene in the book, an Orthodox Jewish American says that Gordis isn't living in the real Israel because he lives in an "Anglo-Saxon" (what Israelis call native English speakers) community, hangs out mostly with British, American, and South African Jews, and works for an American-funded foundation employing yet more Anglos. Gordis bristles at the suggestion, and he's right that having moved to Israel and with a child in the army, he has as much claim to Israeliness as anyone. But in reading the book, one must keep in mind that you are getting the perspective of a relatively well-to-do American Jewish liberal Conservative rabbi/philosopher who recently moved to Israel, lives and works in in Anglo enclaves, and that the outlook and experiences of such an individual is pretty far removed from that of the "typical" Israeli. It's hard, for example, to imagine Gordis expressing serious concern about the "evil eye," a superstition that this spouse-of-an-Israeli finds to be pervasive in Israel. (I used to think that Israelis complain a lot, but I've since learned that refusing to acknowledge good fortune is a way to ward off the evil eye!)

Another interesting aspect of the book is that though it virtually drips with concern about Israel's future, Hizbollah only makes the obliquest of appearances, and Iran is never mentioned at all, not once. Instead, the book is preoccupied with the Palestinian question. A good example, I think, of how Israelis were so preoccupied with the Second Intifada that they paid too little attention to the looming fundamentalist Shiite threat until Hizbollah missiles starting raining down on them in June.