70 faces of Israel

The short stories in Ang-Lit. Press’s collection are a slice of life that will ring familiar to many new immigrants.

Boardwalk (photo credit: goisrael.com)
(photo credit: goisrael.com)
Beneath this stark, generic blue cover is a collection of 70 short stories set in Israel. The writers, more than 50 immigrants, hail mainly from North America and the United Kingdom. Many of them are products of the Shaindy Rudoff Creative Writing Program at Bar-Ilan University. A few are present or former Jerusalem Post contributors: Hannah Brown, Greer Fay Cashman, Michal Yudelman O’Dwyer.
Divided into the groupings “Jerusalem,” “Tel Aviv,“ “Haifa & The North,“ “Kibbutz & Moshav,“ and “Anywhere in Israel,“ these works of short fiction predictably run the gamut from mediocre to excellent. Presumably there were some duds and gems among the 700 or so other submissions rejected by the editor following her call for short stories about Israeli life written in English.
The appeal of any short-story collection is the ability to pick it up and finish a segment during down moments of busy lives – waiting for a bus, a doctor’s appointment, the water to boil, a phone call to be returned. An anthology is a good bedtime companion offering a little escapism, entertainment or wisdom at the end of the day without the sustained attention a novel demands.
The appeal of this particular collection goes a step further for Anglos in Israel. It speaks our language, literally and figuratively. We won’t identify with each character portrayed but we will certainly identify with some and recognize more. Whether it’s Sara Shamansky’s young religious woman awaiting her date in a Jerusalem hotel lobby or Karen Marron’s sleazy Tel Aviv beach hustler, Jeffrey Geri’s oily attorney or Sara Avitzour’s reluctant immigrant, we know these people or we are these people. (Geri, by the way, is the co-founder of Ang-Lit. Press.)
Two of my favorite stories are located smack in the middle of the volume. In “Security Line,” H. William Taeusch frames the dialogue between a sparring married couple within the confines of a long queue at Ben-Gurion Airport. This being Israel, no suspension of disbelief is required to accept the author’s depiction of fellow travelers butting into the argument with questions, comments and advice. Like the “white-haired woman with a matching set of whiskers sprouting from her chin,” who tugs on the wife’s sleeve and inquires, “You are so angry, why? He looks like a nice man.”
Daniel Weizmann’s “The Half-Brother” taps into the conflicts and insecurities of once-idealistic immigrants confronted with the material success of relatives back home. Baruch, disappointed in himself for having accepted a hefty check from his Connecticut half-brother to help pay for his daughter’s wedding, imagines accusing his sibling of throwing his weight around, and the possible response: “What do you want from me? That I should live in utopias, like you? And then be furious because they don’t happen? You want me to fail just so you can be right? Don’t hand me your Zionism, your weak sauce. You’re not even a real Israeli.”
Whereas some of the pieces have the feel of thinly disguised autobiography, Judith Colp Rubin demonstrates talented flexibility in two stories: “Shabbat,” convincingly portraying a formerly secular American living as a haredi mother in Jerusalem; and “Jumping Queues,” just as realistically describing the ambivalence of a secular pregnant Brit trying desperately to fit in with her Israeli husband’s Tel Aviv family.
When I read a short story – or any story, really – I want to be left with something besides admiration for the writer’s technical skill. Several seemingly pointless pieces in this collection get As for word choice and syntax, but Ds for take-home message. And maybe it is to be expected in a no-frills book, but it is nevertheless disconcerting to come across many instances of absent or misplaced punctuation marks and other errors a proofreader should have corrected.
To my mind, the book contains a few too many plotlines revolving around a dying/dead spouse/parent/child. Life in Israel is a tragicomic seesaw, yet this anthology seems weighted toward the sad side. I would have preferred a better balance.

The best aspect of Israel Short Stories is the myriad points of view and slices of life it offers up: profane stories, such as “Yossie’s Hummus Hotties” by Tim Bugansky, about an overweight Israeli fantasizing about humous-smeared Arab women; inspirational stories such as Allison’s Ofanansky’s “Tzedaka in a Rainstorm” set in Safed; Hemingway-esque pieces like Muriel K. Moulton’s first-person yarn about an immigrant grandmother serving on a Civil Guard team (“It’s an M1 rifle. World War II surplus from the US to Israel. Heavy. Wooden stock. Semiautomatic. I love it.”); classic kibbutz culture tales, such as Aaron Hecht’s depiction of laboring in a laundry and chick hatchery, or Ruth Knafo Setton’s intercultural love story blossoming in an orange grove.
Like the traditional “70 faces of the Torah,” this book shows us 70 faces of Israel. Some you’ll like, some you’ll skip and others will feel as familiar as your reflection in a mirror.