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Two Jewish Writers, a Bottle of Whiskey, and a Put up–October 7 Actuality

Hamas’s assault on October 7 had the impact of stopping time. Many Israelis and anxious Jews I’ve spoken with describe a day that has not but ended for them—a steady nightmare from which they will’t wake, a actuality compounded by the data that so lots of the kidnapped are nonetheless in captivity. The fiercist critics of Israel’s actions over the previous three months don’t need to hear, not to mention acknowledge, these emotions, as a result of the weeks of ongoing loss of life and destruction in Gaza have erased for them the hours of rampant torture and rape and homicide that preeceded them. Comprehensible although this response may be, it ignores the sense of rupture that many Jews now really feel.

Within the weeks simply after the assault, this was the dilemma I confronted. Attuned to Palestinian struggling, I didn’t need to lose my potential to soak up what occurred that day—the ideas and sureties it shook unfastened, the troubling questions it prompted in regards to the Jewish situation. And so I did what I all the time do in moments when human complexity threatens to get flattened: I turned to the writers. I invited Joshua Cohen and Ruby Namdar, two outstanding novelists I drastically admire, to The Atlantic’s New York workplace after closing hours one night in late October. Cohen received the Pulitzer Prize for his most up-to-date novel, The Netanyahus, and Namdar received the Sapir Prize, Israel’s most prestigious literary award, for his second ebook, The Ruined Home.

Cohen and Namdar do what nice novelists should. They train an excessive type of empathy and comply with the place it leads them. If I wished to debate the Jewish situation, these had been the individuals to do it with. That they had every devoted many, many pages to obsessively circling questions of id and belonging, diaspora and residential. I knew they’d be feeling and pondering quite a bit, studying what had occurred via a literary sensibility, looking for a vocabulary to explain the horror of all of it.

We shared a bottle of whiskey, and we talked for greater than 4 hours—I recorded it, however wasn’t positive any of it will be publishable. The dialog was uncooked and painful, nevertheless it additionally felt cathartic (if additionally a bit of headache-inducing the subsequent day). The depth of that night produced insights nonetheless value listening to. What follows is a sequence of moments from our late-night speak, edited and condensed in locations.

Gal Beckerman: After October 7, individuals will need to have come to you and mentioned, “Write your response.”

Joshua Cohen: The individuals who write op-eds are the identical individuals who run for workplace—there’s no cash in both of these issues. They simply entice narcissists and psychopaths. My actual impulse was for a human or neighborhood connection, for being with my individuals.

Ruby Namdar: It’s humorous, I infrequently write op-eds. And all I’ve been doing the previous couple of weeks is writing them as a result of, like each one that’s traumatized, I’m in a narcissistic stage and am absolutely targeted by myself ache. The considered engaged on fiction, as an example, feels past absurd to me proper now. I would not have the bandwidth. Additionally, what might I presumably dream up as fiction that might high our actuality?

Beckerman: It appears unsuitable to ask such a tutorial query, however how did you learn what occurred on October 7, an occasion that felt nearly engineered to push all of the buttons of Jewish trauma?

Namdar: It was—I’m going to make use of a horrible phrase right here—fantastically orchestrated, not that there’s any magnificence in it. However there was a ugly aesthetic to this, just like the one among horror and snuff movies. And I really heard an attention-grabbing comparability to what the Mongols did within the Center Ages. The Mongols used to create artwork installations of horror. Like, pyramids of skulls, mounds of severed limbs, and so forth. The Cossacks did related issues to the Jews throughout the Khmelnytsky Rebellion within the seventeenth century. They created spectacles of horror that seared themselves into the collective reminiscence of the victims.

Beckerman: To terrify?

Namdar: They wished this to be a picture that shall be spoken about for generations, after which nobody would ever dare to face as much as them. What Hamas did on October 7 was not spontaneous barbarism. It was barbarous, nevertheless it was very fastidiously deliberate. All of them had physique cameras, as a result of this was meant to grow to be an set up of kinds. It wasn’t meant to be heroic; it was meant to get underneath our collective pores and skin. Heroic is while you stand face-to-face along with your enemy, you confront your nemesis. There are historic fashions of such bravery in Arab tradition, like Saladin, for instance, confronting the Crusaders, military to military, sword to sword, steel to steel. The October 7 atrocities weren’t based mostly on this mannequin, in no way.

Beckerman: Then what was the last word function?

Namdar: It was, I consider, to undo the Zionist fantasy of being a part of the land, of efficiency: It was meant to ship us again to the helplessness that Diaspora Jews felt in their very own dwelling when the Cossacks entered and destroyed their household. The rape aspect can’t be ignored. We have to speak in regards to the sexual aspect a bit of, the sexual violence right here, as a result of that can also be one thing that ISIS did not too long ago. Mass rape is a nicely know genocidal observe; we’ve seen it carried out within the ongoing civil battle in Syria as nicely, however selected to look the opposite approach as a result of intervention appeared inconvenient. It isn’t solely about killing an enemy; it’s about defiling and invading the sanctity of the autonomous collective physique.

Beckerman: And within the face of all of this, there was a whole lot of silence. The silence was this sort of cognitive dissonance.

Cohen: In that interval of silence, there was a recalibration. And in that recalibration, the left instantly created a contradiction. It had spent a whole lot of time throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and the George Floyd protests right here, telling everybody that speech was violence, that the way in which you employ phrases can create violence. After which instantly after October 7, they mentioned, “No, really violence is speech—what Hamas was doing right here was a protest motion. This was a protest of an unjust, unlawful occupation.” And so it took these on the left 24 hours to flip the script. And that matches in with the second factor they did, which is that they instantly plugged Israelis and Palestinians into their racial binaries of white and Black.

Namdar: That fantasy of Jews as white is so attention-grabbing to me. Like, so fascinating. I imply, go stroll on the street in Israel and inform us that we’re white—it’s so humorous. Put apart even the Yemeni, the Moroccans, the Persian Jews like myself, who by no means claimed to be white. However even Ashkenazim, the Ashkenazi Jews in Europe, had been by no means thought of to be white—they had been the untouchables, nearly just like the Roma. To name somebody a Jew was to say the N-word. The entire challenge of passing as white has really value the Jews a pricey worth. It enabled them to achieve sure social heights. However it’s now, in my view, one of many worst issues that occurred to the Jewish collective of America, that “whiteness,” as a result of youngsters who had been raised very liberal after which grew to become radical go to varsities the place whiteness is a slur. Whiteness is a cuss phrase. Whiteness is demonized. And now they’re white, all of a sudden, the little Yids from the shtetl; now they’re white and due to this fact their existence is just not legitimate. They usually can not help their historic ancestral homeland that their grandparents pined for and used to plant timber in, as a result of it’s thought of a “white nation.” And they’re instructed by their professors that they have to be in opposition to white individuals. The absurdity of it’s hanging. But it surely’s additionally a harmful fantasy. It’s a harmful fantasy, this whiteness enterprise.

Cohen: I believe amongst a whole lot of Jews, what you’re calling “this whiteness enterprise”  compels them to take the anti-Zionist place.

Beckerman: They should reject that a part of themselves?

Cohen: They should make themselves acceptable. “Good whites.”

Namdar: This self-loathing, which a whole lot of American Jews consider to be an genuine Jewish trait, is definitely a contemporary European Jewish trait. It isn’t a real Jewish trait. As a Persian Jew, I used to be not raised with it. It’s a really new factor, and it begins with the emancipation in Europe. The ticket to enter well mannered society was (a) you cease trying like a Jew and (b) you cease talking like a Jew. And a very powerful factor was that they needed to internalize the anti-Semitic gaze of their beneficiant hosts. In order that they needed to begin loathing all issues Jewish. They needed to chortle on the anti-Semitic jokes. And this self-loathing has grow to be like a sacrifice, just like the well-known pound of flesh. It’s such as you reduce a bit of your self. “A pound of flesh, to be by him reduce off / Nearest the service provider’s coronary heart.” You mainly reduce out your Jewish coronary heart, current it to your ungracious Gentile hosts and say, “I not see myself as lovely, as chosen. I see myself via your eyes, as an unwelcome visitor who’s tolerated within the salons so long as he’s amusing.”

Cohen: I’m reminded of Elias Canetti’s line the place he says the Jews won’t ever recover from the disgrace of the Shoah. As a result of they needed to cope with this propaganda in all places that they ran the world, they owned all the things, they had been omnipotent. And in a approach, when that’s all you hear, you possibly can start to consider it, however the query is, how do you go from this place of being a part of an omnipotent individuals who management all the things to being rounded up and exterminated? That fall is shaming—it’s shaming since you understand you had false self-knowledge; you had been laboring underneath a delusion.

Beckerman: How do you grapple with Palestinian loss of life?

Cohen: Each loss of life makes me cry. And I consider everybody’s ache. That, in a approach, is the issue. I acknowledge the novelistic urge for food I’ve to start empathizing with somebody’s ache, solely to finish up eager to channel it, eager to vocalize it—wanting to show a hurting human into one among my characters. Once I watch the scenes that come out of Gaza, I’m flattened. And I don’t simply see loss of life; I see the creation of the good Jew-haters of the longer term. In order that’s the place I’m: Each loss of life is the lack of a complete world, and but everybody who stays alive shall be a Jew-hater.

Beckerman: I additionally discover this specific side of all of the loss of life troublesome to bear. After which there’s the truth that main the battle is a person who’s a basically flawed character. Because you’ve thought of Netanyahu quite a bit, Josh, I ponder how you’ll write Bibi’s story proper now?

Cohen: You imply if I needed to write a sequel? Regardless of what individuals who know me would say, I’ve some capability for empathy. And after I take a look at him now, I see a person coming to phrases with the truth that he has misplaced all the things and defiled his legacy. He has gone from being the king protector, and the one man who believes he can safeguard not simply the state of Israel however the Jewish individuals, to being somebody who’s simply making an attempt to fend off the demons—a model of Lear. He’s realizing that his complete technique, his complete life, has been a failure, however he has to maintain up appearances for his spouse, whereas his depraved son’s dwelling it up in Margaritaville.

Beckerman: I see a sequel.

Cohen: Bear in mind, Bibi’s additionally an individual with a pacemaker, with a coronary heart that isn’t pumping sufficient blood. He’s had a current brush along with his personal mortality.

Namdar: A really Shakespearean character, however you already know, I even have one other ebook in my thoughts after I consider Bibi: The Image of Dorian Grey, by Oscar Wilde. As a author, I’m fascinated by individuals’s seems to be. Bibi was very, very good-looking and intensely seductive in his youth. There was one thing tremendous attractive, tremendous compelling about his seems to be, his voice, his physique language. He was very convincing, very charming. And take a look at him now! His face, his hair, his physique language—he doesn’t look actual; he seems to be like an inexpensive knockoff of his former self. I’ve watched this man transfer from being one of the good-looking, charismatic, seductive, persuasive males I’ve seen—

Cohen: To somebody with no presence in any respect.

Namdar: With no presence, and he seems to be monstrous. There’s a monstrosity to him, to his seems to be, his physique language and his speech mannerisms. It’s each stunning and engaging to see how the ethical and ideological corruption is manifested within the physique.

I’ll say, although, that even when it is rather nice, standard, and gratifying guilty Bibi for all the things—and I do suppose he ought to go down in infamy, and I believe he ought to resign at this time—that is larger than Bibi. And that is larger than Israel. This case considerations the West, which Israel so desperately needs to be or is part of. We had been making an attempt to create Hamas, and radical Islam, in our picture. We had been projecting ourselves, our personal worldview and values, on them. They taught us a lesson, and I ponder if we’ll study it. If I wished to be very provocative, which I by no means am, in fact, I might say that it’s a form of conceptual colonialism, the place you suppose you already know them, and also you suppose you personal them—their mindset and their actions. However Hamas taught all of us, all the Western world, a lesson in regards to the limits of how a lot we perceive them. And a lot of the Western world has accomplished precisely what one does when shell-shocked and having a cognitive dissonance: resort to full denial. Hamas all the time instructed us that they’re basically a terror group that’s set on destroying Israel and getting the Jews out of Palestine. We refused to consider them. We most popular to maintain fascinated with them in phrases that match our personal pragmatic worldview. We have to begin believing them. The projection sport should come to an finish.

Cohen: It’s obscure how Israel may be, once more, this omnipotent Jewish pressure—as omnipotent because the Jews of Europe had been omnipotent—and but not be in any approach capable of forestall the violence perpetrated in opposition to it. A lot of the rhetoric about Hamas is colonialist within the excessive: saying that Israel “fostered” Hamas, that Israel “supported” Hamas and so forth, as if Hamas itself has no company, as in the event that they’re simply wounded, misunderstood Arab boys. The reality is that Bibi used Hamas to keep away from a two-state resolution, which was prison. However Hamas wasn’t invented in some lab on the Technion.

Beckerman: Inform me what writing since October 7 has been useful for you, has supplied comfort or steerage.

Namdar: I’ve been having a whole lot of flashbacks. Verse flashbacks. I all the time liked the Bible. I’m very immersed in it. I’m of the Israeli era that was privileged sufficient to get the Bible straight into the vein. And with out the spiritual baggage. I get a ton of verse flashbacks, I didn’t even know they exist in me. Verses from the Guide of Lamentations, from Jeremiah, from Deuteronomy. “The sights you see will drive you mad” is a verse that retains popping into my head. I additionally take into consideration sections within the Talmud that describe the destruction of the primary temple, just like the puddle of boiling blood on the marble flooring of the holy temple. We have now loads of cultural and literary precedents to what occurred. And as we mentioned at first of this dialog, knowingly, semi-knowingly or unknowingly, these individuals learn into our deep collective unconscious and tried to make the most of our deep reminiscence, our deep collective trauma, in opposition to us.

Beckerman: Give us some particulars.

Namdar: A buddy simply shared an image of one of many victims. And once more, I’m very a lot into human magnificence; it’s one thing I reply to. And … I’m going to cry. Sorry. Okay, he’s a most angelically lovely younger man that was murdered on the Nova music pageant. His title was Keshet, which implies “rainbow” in Hebrew.

Cohen: His first title?

Namdar: Sure! And he was an Adonis, and on this image he’s half bare. He’s lovely, and he seems to be so harmless, and he was butchered there, on the desert music pageant. And I went to the Lamentations, and there’s a line through which they converse in regards to the lovely boys of Zion. They had been “as if gilded with gold.” After which how they grew to become like damaged earthen vessels. This, what we’re experiencing now, is Lamentations.

Cohen: I had to do that public studying, a few week after. And I felt I couldn’t again out, as a result of a detailed buddy had requested me to do it. So I received up and browse the story of Samson, which ends with Samson’s suicide, in fact, and the road “He killed extra in loss of life than he ever killed in life.” Some of the hanging facets of the Samson story is that Samson appears complicit in his personal destruction. Delilah asks him: What’s it that makes you so robust? 3 times she asks him, and thrice he doesn’t reply, till he lastly says, you already know, I’m a Nazirite; all it’s a must to do is reduce my hair. Which she does. And it seems …

Namdar: Are you saying he was asking for it?

Cohen: I’m saying it’s a parable. And the commentary saying that he was asking for it’s surprisingly skinny.

Namdar: That may be our era’s Midrash. So you place three Jews and a bottle of schnapps in a room and look what you get …

Cohen: The Guide of Judges, which tells us that it was ever thus. And to be sincere, there’s some solace in that. Although maybe it’s extra Jewish solace than Israeli, as a result of Israelis have had their fundamental actuality undermined. My spouse is Israeli, as secular as they arrive—or so I believed. On October 7, she “transformed” to Judaism. I needed to persuade her to let me break a glass at our marriage ceremony. However now she’s breaking each cup.

Namdar: They positively touched our deep construction. I’m going to sound like an annoying outdated rabbi now, however I’ll say it anyway: I’m devastated. I’m a multitude. However as a result of I do know the Guide of Lamentations and since I do know the story of Samson, the very fact that there have been precedents for this case is reassuring for me. Have a look at us: three middle-aged Jews with beards sitting right here ingesting schnapps in New York, many 1000’s of years in spite of everything these crises, and we’re trying again, and we’re making historic and textual connections, and we’re very invested on this. So I believe we’re one traumatized collective. However there’s additionally this bizarre superpower, some weird spiteful resilience that comes with the trauma. It’s ingrained in us. I consider Josh because the embodiment of spiteful resilience, for instance. That ought to be the title of your biography, Spiteful Resilience.

Cohen: The embodiment of spiteful resilience: a cockroach, Kafka’s Ungeziefer. I’ve to say that I wasn’t shocked on October 7 a lot as justified. I had a childhood that was all Shoah, on a regular basis. That was my education—that the Jews had been endangered in each place, in each time—and now lastly right here’s proof, right here’s proof in my very own era. Hamas has furnished proof for the accuracy and utility of my childhood schooling, which is one more factor I’d maintain in opposition to them.

Beckerman: Do you think about artwork that may come out of this second?

Cohen: Traditionally, moments like this produce poetry, prayers. Massacres are uncommon in Jewish fiction. Most likely Lamed Shapiro did them greatest, however in brief fiction, not in novels. Even the Shoah itself—there are so few nice novels by survivors. Give it some thought: a world-historical occasion of mass loss of life, 6 million individuals useless, and it produced possibly 5, possibly six good novels by writers who survived the camps: Adler, Hilsenrath, Kertesz, Wander, Wiesel. After all, I’m forgetting some. Lists are ugly.

Beckerman: Why is that?

Cohen: Why had been there so few survivor-writers? As a result of there have been so few survivors, interval, and since to prose that kind of struggling nearly all the time verges on kitsch.

Namdar: Do American readers even perceive the phrase kitsch?

Cohen: I like that Israelis suppose kitsch is a Hebrew phrase. I imply the public-mourning side is kitsch, and a novel is a product of public mourning. That’s not all a novel is, in fact, however that’s a part of what it’s.

Namdar: I believe that it may be, however it will be a really unhealthy novel. Demise and horror are a horrible kitsch entice, and we noticed this entice in motion with the few Holocaust novels that had been revealed in Hebrew within the ’50s and had a uncooked, overly graphic, nearly pornographic high quality to them. The extra delicate, deep response got here a lot later—with novels resembling David Grossman’s See Beneath: Love and Amir Gutfreund’s Our Holocaust. That’s when the actual literary response to the collective trauma and mourning started.

Cohen: Novels may be written about these terrorized communities, however the novels that matter can be set in these communities earlier than the phobia, earlier than the loss of life. As a result of books are about life. I do know this may come off as trite, nevertheless it’s true. Books are based on and in life. And loss of life comes with the top: the thought, which I discovered scandalous as a baby, that past the ultimate web page, these characters don’t exist; it’s throughout for them; there’s nothing.

Namdar: I believe there’s going to be quite a bit. Initially, I predict a sure silence. As a result of that is too loopy and too horrific. And too historical, and too up to date. There’s going to be a silence, after which I predict two waves. One wave of actually unhealthy writing, actually unhealthy, horrible kitsch, on steroids—like, unhealthy, embarrassing, reductive, clear writing. However then—and it is a loopy prediction, however I’m gonna say it—Israeli literature, which has been so-so for fairly some time, may all of a sudden grow to be very important, attention-grabbing, searing, biting, many issues that it hasn’t been for years. That second wave of creative response won’t contact instantly on the trauma of October 7 however shall be unconsciously fueled by it, and it might severely revitalize Jewish and Israeli artwork and literature. It stays to be seen.

Beckerman: Nicely, I used to be fascinated with 9/11. And simply how there was by no means an incredible novel.

Cohen: It’s troublesome to put in writing a novel about an occasion. As a result of nothing ever begins that morning. Nothing ever ends that night time. An occasion is just not a topic.

Namdar: What’s extra essential is the stuff that has been accomplished to the collective physique. From this sort of deep disruption, deep woundedness, any person’s reduce the stomach and pulled the newborn out, and raped and destroyed and mutilated, all this, it actually disrupts the physique. After which inventive, typically darkish supplies may movement via these gaping wounds.

Cohen: There’s this harmful lie, which Jews themselves have helped unfold, that accuses Jews of being the standard-bearers of some amorphous humanistic custom. “We” are those who, based on the appropriate, are consistently pushing leftist causes; we help freedom of expression and open borders and oppose discrimination universally. And but to push for that agenda nowadays is to push for “our” personal destruction—or so many Jews consider. As for what I consider: I believe if the noble causes you advance wind up branding you as illegitimate, then that’s nearly the top of the Enlightenment—while you advocate for an Enlightenment that denies your personal proper to exist.

Namdar: There’s something very, very unstable in regards to the Jewish existence that we really are doomed to be our personal destroyers and the world’s revivers. The Abrahamic journey is a tragic journey. It’s so a lot better to remain at dwelling. Lech Lecha, the injunction to Abraham to wander, means “You’re fucked.” What loopy particular person leaves their world and goes to a savage land known as Canaan after which to Egypt, after which to Europe, after which again to Palestine? What’s your downside? Keep at dwelling, have kids, drink wine with your mates. I believe that because of this chosenness is a curse, and a blessing, and a vocation. And you already know, it’s the primary time talking to you now, to each of you right here, the place I discover that tiny little bit of compassion for these completely unbearable youngsters who’re protesting Israel. As a result of these youngsters will not be going to be Jewish in a era, however they may be carrying the Abrahamic custom, in a approach, as a result of they’re making an attempt so arduous to be a blessing to the nations. It’s very unusual. It’s irregular, to the bone.

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