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Gila Green and Love in Israel

May 2013

kofc_fc_webBeit Shemesh is a city in the hills west of Jerusalem. Generations of irrigation have turned much of the countryside green, but it can’t hide the harsh dryness of a land made from limestone and dolomite nor the simmering religious politics that keeps Israelis at odds with themselves. This is where Ottawa writer Gila Green now lives and where her first full novel is set. King of the Class looks at love any bit as hardscrabble as the hills but through eyes that distinguish reality from fairy tale. In the following story, Green explains the context of her novel.





Love and Militancy

By Gila Green

In Israel, falling in love means there’s nowhere to hide. You must confront your value system, your essence, in a country that does not separate religion and state and that politicizes everything from what’s on your breakfast menu to what you’re wearing above and below the knee. This may sound unbelievable to many Ottawa ears: can you really make a political statement by choosing to wear white instead of black stockings to the corner store?

As a couple you will have to select a place to live where neighbourhoods are often segregated between left and right, religious and secular. You must also decide which restaurants you are willing to frequent and what your dress says about your value system. In other words, you are forced to grow up. In my debut novel King of the Class, the minutiae of day-to-day life and how it can take a toll on a relationship are magnified, but they are not fictionalized.

Gila Green. Photo by Eugene Weisberg.

Gila Green. Photo by Eugene Weisberg.

The novel is a love story between Ottawa native Eve Vee and her South African husband Manny Meretzky. It plays out against a backdrop of a futuristic, post-civil-war Israel divided into militant-secular and fundamentally religious states; the couple’s relationship is a microcosm of this tension, complete with militarized borders between Jews, kidnapping, terrorism and murder.

Since its April release I’ve received emails from readers worldwide. Without giving too much of the novel away, one thing that strikes me is how many readers note discomfort with, or appreciation of, my lack of self-consciousness that combines love and militancy. Ultimately, Eve chooses to remain in her relationship despite Manny’s astonishing and seemingly overnight transformation from unremarkable modern, liberal, romantic guy to fervent religious believer.

“Why didn’t you have Eve admit her true love? It’s obvious who she’s really in love with.”

“She couldn’t possibly be in love with a guy who talks like that,”

“Every time Manny speaks, I want to vomit. Who could love a guy like that? Why did you do that to her?”

“It’s obvious she barely tolerates Manny.”

Does she barely tolerate him or can the reader not stomach people with militant views? Maybe they can’t reconcile such people with our cultural ideas about love? We all love and marry decent, open-minded, even-handed people, don’t we? The ones who meet the Jewish definition of pareve (neutral, neither left nor right).

Even if this were true outside our imaginations, you’d be hard pressed to fall in love in the Middle East where there is ongoing tragedy, people tend to take sides and goalposts keep moving.

It seems there’s no other way some readers can accept one seemingly rational and thinking person’s love and stick-with-it-ness for someone who has a fixed view of God’s reward and punishment. It’s irreconcilable to them, yet they cannot seem to find it in their hearts to reject Eve, so they rationalize, condemn and justify. Poor thing. If Eve could just have a cup of reality.

Don’t get me wrong, Hollywood has penetrated just about everywhere, and its fairy tale version of love is also for sale in Israel. It’s often called “fish love;” we eat fish because we love it, two people fall in love because they see in each other someone who will meet all of their physical and emotional needs. This is self gratification.

This is also, of course, nonsensical. We eat fish because we love ourselves and fish tastes good to us. I didn’t make this up; it’s Jewish teaching. In cultures where there is no separation of religion and state, as well as ongoing threats to your very survival, fish love is, well, fishy. Many people see right through it.

In Israel people tend to aspire to a love relationship that is not about self gratification, and this is what Eve grapples with. What is her love really about: taking or giving? In my book, Eve gives Manny the son who she believes is truly designated for him, and she works on herself, her beliefs, her values, her essence. She asks herself over and over if she can keep her commitment to Manny, always wondering if she is simply too flimsy to handle someone who can no longer satisfy all of her needs?

She clings to her larger vision (OK, she’s helped out with  some magic in the novel) of expanding her own definition of herself in Manny, and that is why she is able to endure what some readers believe is unendurable. She weighs her situation and decides she can handle a man who believes he possesses the truth because she’s not in the relationship for what she can get out of it, but for what she can put into it.

Eve adapts, listens and focuses on Manny’s loyalty and passion for her, and she pays the price that we all pay in long-term relationships: struggle and the pain of growth coupled with the weight of responsibility to her commitments.

These are things that in Ottawa rarely need confronting or at the very least can be kept within arm’s reach of one’s own private thoughts. It’s a perk of authoring a novel: your characters are your servants who have characteristics you can only aspire to.

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