I was buzzing along happily with my novel promotion – lots of events coming up, podcasts, interviews, lots more opportunities in the offing.
And then it was October 7.
My horror at what happened – and what continues to happen – in Israel and Gaza is present with me almost every moment of the day. I have friends and relatives in Israel who are directly affected by the war. The celebrations of the attack made me physically ill. And the resulting antisemitism throughout the world – the cries to kill the Jews, to shove them back in gas chambers, to discard them like so much trash, to establish a state of Palestine “from the river to the sea,” which translates directly into killing every Israeli who lives there – all of that grinds like glass in my stomach.
In fact, I, who have almost always avoided politics on social media, feel obliged to tell the world that I support Israel with every fiber in my being. I feel the need to speak up, to speak out.
I am thankful to those who have posted the idea that one can hold two ideas simultaneously in one’s heart and mind – that you can be opposed to the current Israeli government (which I am) AND still love Israel, that you can wish to completely demolish Hamas AND feel wretched about the Gazans who are just as much hostages to Hamas’ fundamentalist Islamic regime as the Israeli citizens they slaughtered and maimed and kidnapped.
And I am afraid. There have been studies about how trauma can be transmitted down the generations genetically, and I have always carried my mother’s fear that the Holocaust could reoccur. It is why she was such an avid Zionist and why I hold that affiliation so strongly inside myself, too.
The cries reverberating in every corner of the world to kill not just Israelis (which would be bad enough) but all Jews everywhere frightens me. The horrible misinformation circulating about the state of Israel – calling us colonists, occupiers, an apartheid nation, all of which couldn’t be further from the truth – makes me want to scream. The fact that simple logic will not change the hearts and minds that have been fed such warped hatred, sometimes inculcated from childhood or as part of imbibing a “progressive ideology,” makes me wonder if anything ever will.
All of this makes getting word out about my new novel feel trivial. It made me hesitate about holding my launch party. And it makes me pause before posting any social media about BABYLON.
And yet, there are lessons in BABYLON that directly relate to our current times. Before the war, when my largest Israeli concern was that a xenophobic, nationalistic, fundamentalist Jewish government had seized control of my beloved country, I started reading Daniel Gordis’ Israel from the Inside. Dr. Gordis, a Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem, is himself an observant Jew who was/is equally opposed to the current Israeli government. I subscribed to his substack because a lot of what he had to say was useful to the research I was doing for my next Jewish historical.
In his latest post, Dr. Gordis writes about comments he made during a briefing to some of the American leadership of Shalem College. And this bullet point is making me reconsider that my promotion of BABYLON might be valuable right now:
- Is Judaism also going to change? After all, most of the dramatic shifts in Jewish religious history emerged as a result of catastrophe (destruction of the Temples, or exile, for example). Will this be another example of that? What might change, not about Israel, but about Judaism?
I address this change explicitly in BABYLON, showing the shifts in Jewish practice due to our loss of the First Temple and our inability to sacrifice, which is how ancient peoples worshiped. Our exile in Babylon is where personal prayer – the prophet Daniel praying three times a day at his window facing Jerusalem – and the transcribing of the stories that eventually were included in the Tanach (what Gentiles call the Old Testament) first originated.
And, of course, the exile of the Jews themselves, being forced from Judea in chains, led to the same existential threat we Jews are facing today. It is the same existential threat we’ve survived for millennia, the very real possibility that we as a people and nation might be wiped from the earth. And yet, we have survived – and our ability to change the way we practiced our religion was an important part of that.
Am I saying that the answers to the current crisis are contained between the covers of BABYLON? Of course not. But, as many people have affirmed – those who responded to my hesitation about my launch party and even Dr. Gordis in this same post – creating art in times of crisis is important. Feeling as wretched and despairing as I do, I’ve been paralyzed, unable to write. It’s time to begin again.
And yet, I still feel awkward in our current dark times at “pushing” my novel, despite the obvious connections. I’m often irritated when I see other authors doing so – don’t they know that book promotion is the least of our concerns? And yet, art has never been more important, sustaining us as it does during such terrible and terrifying periods. And the connections I inadvertently made to our current crisis when I wrote BABYLON are relevant right now. Here, too, I hope to transcend my diffidence so that the novel finds its way to more readers, readers who might take some comfort from our redemption at the end of my ancient story.