In the summer of 1998, Daniel Gordis and his family moved to Israel from Los Angeles. They planned to be there for a year, during which time Daniel would be a Fellow at the Mandel Institute in Jerusalem. This was a euphoric time in Israel. The economy was booming, and peace seemed virtually guaranteed. A few months into their stay, Gordis and his wife decided to remain in Israel permanently, confident that their children would be among the first generation of Israelis to grow up in peace.Immediately after arriving in Israel, Daniel had started sending out e-mails about his and his family's life to friends and family abroad. These missives-passionate, thoughtful, beautifully written, and informative-began reaching a much broader readership than he'd ever envisioned, eventually being excerpted in The New York Times Magazine to much acclaim. An edited and finely crafted collection of his original e-mails, If a Place Can Make You Cry is a first-person, immediate account of Israel's post-Oslo meltdown that cuts through the rhetoric and stridency of most dispatches from that country or from the international media.
In 1998, Gordis, his wife and three children left their home in Los Angeles, where he was vice president of the University of Judaism, to spend a one-year sabbatical in Jerusalem. While in Israel, though, Gordis began to feel that it was not only his home, but "an experiment of cosmic significance," that he wished to be a permanent part of. This volume gathers e-mails-some excerpted previously in the New York Times Magazine-and private musings that record Gordis's impressions of his new home up through the current turmoil. Gordis, along with many other liberal and leftist sympathizers with the Palestinians, grows thoroughly disillusioned. With the gnawing sense that the Palestinians are not willing to abide a Jewish presence in their region, he comes to believe that there is no end in sight to the daily violence. Yet, he never contemplates returning to the comforts of L.A., even when questioning the ethics of placing his children in danger. But he is troubled primarily by the fate and possible future of the region's children-Israeli and Palestinian. Pondering God's call to Abraham to sacrifice Jacob, he wonders, "Could it be that there is something so subtle, so magical, so intoxicating-and so dangerous-about this land that it leads parents to willingly sacrifice their children " Gordis is a provocative and penetrating observer, and his writings perfectly capture the complex conundrum of a soul in the tense present, yearning for a state of eternity. Maps. (Oct.) Forecast: This will certainly have a strong Jewish market, but other readers trying to glimpse daily life in Israel in this turbulent time will also find much to appreciate here. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 14, 2002
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Excerpt from If a Place Can Make You Cry by Daniel Gordis
In the summer of 1998, my family and I embarked on what we thought would be a one-year sabbatical in Israel. We'd been living in Los Angeles for just about fifteen years, and it was time for a break. Our kids were growing up quickly, and we thought that a year away would be good for all of us. At work I'd been building a new school for the training of rabbis, the first such school to be founded in the United States in many decades. It was very exciting work; I enjoyed watching the students grow; I loved the teaching that I was doing. But it was also all-consuming work, as I crisscrossed the country recruiting faculty and students and doing the political work that getting our new school accepted in the "mainstream" required. It was exhilarating but exhausting, and -- as my wife constantly reminded me -- it was time to take a break and regroup. Otherwise, she said, the kids would be out of the house before I stopped to breathe.
Just as Beth and I were talking more and more about our need for some time away, I was invited by the Mandel Foundation to be a Fellow at the Mandel Institute in Jerusalem for the next academic year. The Foundation is an internationally respected organization that trains advanced Jewish professionals in a variety of programs, and they made me an offer I couldn't refuse: Come to Israel. We'll give you a stipend you can live on, assign you an office, a computer, and a secretary, and you can write anything you'd like, read anything you want to read, study with our faculty in any way that appeals to you, and use this year to think about how you'd like to develop the rabbinical school you're running. Then, after the year, you just pack up and go home. No strings attached.
It was a fantastic offer and the timing was perfect, so we jumped at the opportunity. We assumed that this year would give our kids a chance to learn some Hebrew and to experience a culture very different from the one they were growing up in in West Los Angeles. The year, I imagined, would give me a chance to think, to read, and to write a couple of books I'd been planning for a long time. And I'd get to study with a world-renowned faculty in an institute that had an international reputation for excellence. Then, we assumed, we'd go back to Los Angeles and get on with life.
We took that trip, and spent the year in Jerusalem. I wrote one of the books that I'd planned, and though I didn't get around to writing the other one, I wrote a lot. Jerusalem is a city that seems to overwhelm its inhabitants, and there are few places in the world more complex and interesting than Israel. So, as we lived through that year, I instinctively chronicled many of our experiences in e-mails to friends, some letters to my family, and many other little vignettes that I didn't actually send anywhere, but just wrote for the sake of making some sense of everything I was seeing and feeling.
Different people do different things to relax and to process their lives. I write. It's what I love to do, and throughout that sabbatical year in Jerusalem, I found myself writing about our experiences late at night, early in the morning, and once or twice even on the laptop as we drove in the car.
But early in our year, in ways that we certainly didn't expect, we found ourselves falling in love with life in Israel and thinking seriously about staying beyond the one year, and even for good. On many levels, Israel felt like home in ways that America never had. Living in Jerusalem afforded us a chance to be at center stage during one of the most dramatic episodes of Jewish history -- the creation of the first modern Jewish state. And perhaps most important, Israel seemed to us a virtually perfect place to raise our children.