“The Jerusalem Lover," a novella by Shira Dicker, is a prescient and courageous look at the ongoing battle between Israel's staunch defenders and her harsh critics. The work was actually written seven years ago, as Dicker struggled with the “casual anti-Semitism (she)…confronted nearly daily” while living in England during 2004.
As she says in her thought-provoking foreword, “From my perch outside of Oxford, it seemed there was a national belief that Israel (i.e. the Jews) was… responsible for everything wrong in the world while simultaneously controlling the media, international banking, etc.” (Full disclosure: Dicker is the wife of Ari Goldman, a Jewish Week columnist.)
The recent fraught weeks of the war in Gaza, along with the concomitant undercurrent of anti-Israel rhetoric and inevitable world condemnation, convinced its author to bypass traditional publishing channels in order to make this timely work accessible to all readers in an open format.
“The Jerusalem Lover” takes on the academic world, in the form of its central character and anti-hero, Elisha Rosensweig, a professor of Hebrew literature and language at Columbia University — a rabid anti-Zionist and self-hating if self-aggrandizing, virulent anti-Semite. If Rosensweig conjures up shades of Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and the late Tony Judt, among others, he should — since the author makes clear that they are indeed models for her character. Dicker never quite makes clear the impetus of this pivotal personality, whether he’s motivated by the acclaim he receives for his hateful rhetoric, or whether this is a more primal, paternal revenge.
The story interweaves the lives of an array of characters, all connected to its central persona. It's a compelling read and you'll want to keep scrolling through to reach the story's denouement. Dicker has spent many years as a close observer of the academic community and her description of that world is spot-on. If some of the characters feel a bit under-developed and less than convincing, such as Rachel, the professor's too-admirable wife or the anonymous narrator, that may have something to do with the novella format itself. The author does warn us in her foreword that this is a piece that "refused to stay short enough to be called a story and refused to grow long enough to be called a novel" and it may be that tension that prevents a more fleshed-out and deeper characterization.
Still, this is a must-read for anyone interested in and confused by the many views of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dicker is asking important questions and although she may not have the answers, her thoughtful and timely work at least tackles the issues.
"The Jerusalem Lover" is available online, for free.
Gloria Kestenbaum is corporate communications consultant and freelance writer.