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Editors Shelley Goldman and Elana Shap have compiled an anthology of short stories that represent the English-speaking residents of Israel. Their stated hope is to demonstrate that contemporary Israeli fiction is not necessarily written in Hebrew and translated into English. Considering the county's youth and demographics, this is probably an accurate assumption.
Jane Doe Buys a Challah & Other Stories is notable for its breadth of subject matter and diverse writer backgrounds. While some authors are being published for the first time, others are prolific. The contributions of recent immigrants as well as those who have lived in the country their whole lives gives the collection a well-rounded appeal.
The most enjoyable pieces were those without forced sophistication or quirkiness. Ruth Abraham's "Smothering Love," about a son tempted to murder his mother (whose medical care is putting a financial strain on his marriage) stands out in quality. "Grave Doubts" by Goldman is also a thought-provoking read about how the death of a son, and a mother's inability to overcome her grief, can destroy the family that remains. Nancy McClure Galli's "The Pink Sofa" provides a chuckle over the not-so-funny subject of infidelity.
The final story in the collection, "Luxury & Necessity," is unique in that it doesn't take place in Israel but in India, where author Sophie Judah was born and raised. The writing is solid and the locale a welcome change.
Unfortunately, the inexperience of some of the writers is reflected in their work. Many stories are reminiscent of college writing classes. While some pieces seem to cry out for further development, others are loaded down by long-winded detail.
The rawness of the writing, however, is not always a bad thing. The writers' inexperience also gives their work a unique freshness. Their struggle for the perfect sentence mirrors their struggle to get by daily with Hebrew. Anyone who has lived in a foreign country understands the frustration of not being able to express him- or herself with terms beyond "good" and "bad." It is as though these authors are indulging in the luxury of being able to communicate with the rich vocabulary that is almost impossible to acquire in another language.
Despite the connecting thread of the writers' status as "Anglos" living in Israel, few of the stories focus on Israeli themes. Lost dogs, angsty teenagers, love, marriage and death are all fair game, and the authors approach them with zeal. With the assorted themes and wide-ranging backgrounds, however, male writers are noticeably absent. Twenty-nine of the 33 works are by females, giving the anthology a feminine perspective.
What comes to mind, as a non-sabra living in Israel, is how much more could have been said. Any outsider who ventures to a new land has a unique and often hilarious perspective on its culture that natives are not generally able to see (think Bill Bryson in England).
This collection lacks the tidbits that will cause readers to laugh to themselves, saying "so true!" Still, those who have spent time in Israel will appreciate many of the stories for their genuineness, and the universality of their themes will hit home with any reader. Jane Doe is a good start for the fledgling Ang-Lit Press, and those searching for Israeli literature in English will certainly look here for more.