Stories by Israeli authors are often naturally interwoven with politics as it is an inescapable part of their everyday lives. Some recent Israeli short stories have been able to show the world another view of the conflict – from inside individual’s minds.
This is the part that cannot be found in the news: what it is really like to experience hearing a siren notifying the area that a rocket has been launched and running for shelter or watching a bomb detonate. These fictional pieces give life to the words you might see scrolling across the bottom of a TV newscast about something entirely different.
One of these lines might be “July 8: Israel strikes more than 200 sites in Gaza; Hamas fires 150 rockets into Israel,” which also happens to be the first line of Strangers by Noa Silver.
An interesting perspective is brought by Silver’s main character, Molly, who wakes up to the screeching of a siren. She describes the sound that she wakes up to as one that demands panic and presses into the space around her as she goes through the motions of reacting to it. Silver carefully goes through each of Molly’s emotions in detail: surprise, anger, immediacy. Silver takes the words that are an afterthought of the daily news and allows her audience an insight directly into the situation.
The reader learns, a few paragraphs in, that Molly is actually nowhere near Israel, she’s in Connecticut. Her uncle is visiting her family’s home and keeps an app on his phone that shows each time a siren goes off in Israel, which he attaches to the loudspeaker so he can feel like he is really there. In this, she expertly brings out two well-known feelings of the North American Jew: the disconnect and the guilt.
Molly represents the disconnect: the school-age North American-born Jew who wrestles with an understanding of where she came from. Israel seems like a distant place that has nothing to do with her. Silver was born in Israel before moving to Scotland when she was three and then to the United States. She went back to Israel for one year when she was 18 and now continues to travel the world, allowing her the ability to clearly understand both sides of the story she tells.
Molly’s Uncle Adam is the guilt. He is safe and knows his people are not. The only way he is able to deal with that is by attempting to feel their pain in some way. Molly thinks he’s crazy, and maybe he is. Silver doesn’t offer any answers, she wants her reader to call the shots.
In other parts of the story, Molly’s life is largely made up of her life working in a stable. Silver chose this setting because it is in direct opposition to the way she thinks of her Uncle Adam’s life. It is tangible and real – the strong smells, the feel, there is nothing about it that can be questioned.
Silver explains that some questions she “was hoping to explore in this piece were about the ways in which we feel empathy, connection and a sense of responsibility for others.” She doesn’t know whether an app that tells when rockets fall can enable the connection to be deeper but leaves that to the reader to decide.
Whether in small mentions or as the main topics of the narratives, politics show up in many stories on Israel. In Stitches by Gadi Taub, the narrator speaks about the woman he begins seeing outside his marriage. She speaks about where she was stationed in the army, teaching a course for military drivers, and he connects it to her personality. Israelis’ time in the army, where they were stationed and what they did during the time, becomes linked with who they become, shown in the way Taub allows this information to flow naturally through the story.
The story told in Hunger – Ra’av by Ruth Knafo Setton is told by an American woman living in Israel. Often North American Jews hold the idea that Israelis are tough, and they are—because they have to be. But they are still human.
The narrator tells a story of being on a bus and watching a religious man sit down to study. Another man sits down beside him with a shoebox, then leaves it on the seat next to him and runs off. The religious man grabs it to follow him, the narrator presumes in order to return it to him. “He doesn’t go far. Three passerby on the street are slightly injured. Only one person is killed.”
On the news this man is called a hero but the narrator doesn’t think so, he was just trying to return the box. She can’t get the picture of him breaking apart out of her mind. “The Israelis are used to dealing with bodies that are in pieces, gluing them back together as if they were a jigsaw puzzle…. A hopeless, terrible puzzle in which the pieces never fit.” She spends months trying to find a way to continue her life until finally one day, she tells the reader, “I sink to the floor and finally cry—for Dad, Mom, the Jews, Israel, the Arabs, me.”
These stories can be found in English on the website Jewish Fiction ran by Canadian author Nora Gold. Much of the fiction found here tells more truth about the Arab-Israeli conflict than any non-fiction sources.