I was born in Britain, moved to Israel—like Israela‘s character Elisheva—just before the Israeli war of ’56, and grew to adulthood in Jerusalem. I have a BA in English literature and a masters and PhD in theater arts from UCLA. As a director and teacher of theater, I was trained to manipulate conflict for dramatic effect. What a glib endeavor that is, I tell myself, compared to the blood and tears of real life. Since childhood, I’ve watched friends and family struggle, question, and sacrifice their children to the Israel-Arab conflict. I watch as people live with war.
I moved to Israel eight years after the State of Israel was formed, and have lived there intermittently since childhood. I taught Hebrew literature and biblical studies in St. Louis and Hebrew language and culture in Boston. I also worked as an assistant to the Cultural Attache of Israel in Boston and as the coordinator of educational programs for exchange students between U.S. and Israel.
In Israela, you will go beyond race and ethnicity to the story of a land and people in conflict. I wrote Israela in an effort to counteract what I considered the black-and-white media coverage of the Israel-Arab conflict. More than anything, my intent was to portray the human face of Israel. A plethora of historical treatises and political works has been written about Israel, written, it seems to me, for those who are already familiar with—and invested in—the area. There are many powerful Israeli novelists whose stories provide us with background to the region’s conflicts, glimpses into Israeli-Arab tensions.
The aim of my novel is to describe life in Israel from the inside: to portray this country at war,and the everyday people who struggle with it, for people who, despite frequent news coverage, know little about what Israel or Israelis—Jews and Arabs—are like; much the way so many of us remained ignorant of Ireland’s centuries-old war between Catholics and Protestants.
What physical and ethical struggles do these people combat on a daily, often hourly basis? What is it like to live with unsolvable conflicts? To continue living like that? To sacrifice your children to a never-ending drama?
Experience—if only from a distance—the human face of this eternal Middle East conflict. Love and struggle with a family fragmented by war. I did not initially intend to write a novel. I began writing for my children, wanting to trace the trajectory of modern Israel in order to see how we’d arrived at our present reality. I also wrote it for the many people I meet who are ignorant of the complexity and the richness of Israeli life; ignorant of the temerity that all of its citizens demonstrate, and of the excruciating concerns that tear them apart on a constant basis. But, as I wrote, fictional characters and actions kept popping into my head, forcing me to follow them. Conflicts, secrets, lies, tender moments, and moments of betrayal grew into a story.
That story is the Israela I offer you now.
Why did you write Israela?
I wanted to portray the excruciating ethical and existential dilemmas that torment Israelis on a daily, even hourly, basis in the Middle East. People wage wars over perspectives. I wanted my readers to sit in Arab backyards and hear the dialogue; to sit on Jewish balconies and hear the dialogue. I wanted to bring my readers into Israeli homes to experience for themselves the hope, the joy, and the pain.
Why are the three main characters in Israela women?
Israel is surrounded by enemy countries, forced for its survival to rely on its necessary male reaction, the military. My book reflects an equally necessary female, nurturing response, one that accompanies and challenges the all-too-often, but essential, hard line. In my mind, only with a fusion of healthy masculine and feminine energies will Israel achieve stability in the area.
Do you think your book is one-sided?
I can only write what I know. My experience, and the extension of my knowledge, is all I have—and my imagination. Israela is a novel. I believe fiction has given me the freedom to describe, from the inside, cousin peoples torn by war. Israela might have been titled, Israela: A Perspective. As I say in the novel, “Wars are fought over perspectives.” Israela is a story of passionate people, people thirsty for peace, under the constant threat of war.
What, in your mind, is the major question raised by your book?
How can these two peoples overcome hostility while remaining loyal to their cultures?
What political solutions does the book come up with?
None. Israela is a work of fiction. It paints a picture. It raises questions. I am neither a politician nor a historian. However, my previous book (Electra: A Gender Sensitive Study of the Plays Based on the Myth, South Carolina, McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 1995) develops the same Jungian fusion of male and female principles that I emphasize here.
What are you working on now?
I have just completed Hidden, a work of fiction comprised of two novellas. That too deals with the complexities and pain of peace-loving people living with war.
Can you tell us something about Hidden?
Hidden is about three generations of a family shrouded in secrecy—’til change brings hope for repair.
Hanover Gardens (the second novella in Hidden) is about refugees, prejudice, terror, strangers taken into an English home during W.W.ll waiting for hostilities to end. It is about bravery and duty; about strangers learning together what it is to take a stand and protect their world, even as they pray to be reunited with those they have left behind.