Sunday 8 October 2023

What We're Scared Of - by Keren David

 In 2021 my book What We're Scared Of was published, a book about two Jewish girls living in London.

It was unusual in British children's literature for various reasons. First, it had Jewish characters who were central to the story, second they were contemporary, the setting was not the Holocaust. Third, it gave a positive view of the Jewish religion, and fourth it unpicked some of the forms of antisemitism that Jewish teenagers living in London might experience, including a (foiled) terrorist attack. 

But most of all it was unusual because it mentioned the only Jewish country in the world, the state of Israel. This is very rare in British children's books -  apart from the odd few which tell children about the  conflict in a somewhat one-sided fashion (and the side is never Israel's). 

 My character Noah, a boy who had grown up in France and suffered violent antisemitism wanted to go and live in Israel, Only there, he said, could he feel safe. And that has led some readers to ask me, was Noah right to feel that way? Would he really be safe? And -  more broadly -  what did I think of the situation in Israel/Palestine? Could there ever be peace?  Questions I welcomed, because I was able to suggest that these deep and difficult issues cannot be answered in a sentence or a blog post, or a meme, or a novel, but by reading and travelling and learning and trying to understand that complex questions need imaginative, generous solutions that are hard to find.

I thought of Noah today, after I'd thought of my sister, my brother-in-law, my niece, my cousin, his wife and baby daughter, my husband's cousins, my friends, my friends' children...and on and on and on. Selfishly, I felt glad that my daughter was home -  she spent two weeks in Israel this summer. She visited Sderot, where today civilians were murdered and kidnapped, their homes hit by a barrage of rockets. And one of the young men feared kidnapped from a party -  he went to my son's school. Israel is far away from my home in London. I've been there only once in 30 years. But yesterday it felt very close indeed. 

And I thought of the question I was asked: Would Noah be safe in Israel? And I thought of the answer I gave the schoolgirl who first asked me: 'I just don't know. But I hope  so. And I hope he'd be working to make it a safer and more peaceful place for everyone in the region.'  

Yesterday was also the Jewish festival of Shemini Artzeret -  a bit of an obscure festival, which comes at the end of a long month of more prominent festivals (in Israel it's bundled together with the festival of Simchat Torah, a happy day, in the diaspora that's today, although I don't think many of us will feel any happiness). It meant that a lot of Israelis were in synagogue when they found out they were at war. Last week I edited this article about Shemini Artzeret, and tonight I read it again in search of hope. 
 Shemini Atzeret is not a day with no agenda — the agenda is to be decisive, take initiative and make meaning.Embracing voices of wisdom and hope, we can escape from Nowhereland


Pippa Goodhart said...

I haven't the words, Keren, but with you in all that you say there.

Andrew Preston said...

These are the words of Humza Yousaf, First Minister of Scotland...

"My wife Nadia & I spent this morning on the phone to her family in Gaza. Many others in Scotland will be deeply worried about their families in Israel & Palestine. My thoughts and prayers are very much with those worried about loved ones caught up in this awful situation."

I noted the reference to families in both Palestine and Israel.

I'll say very little because it's a linguistic minefield trying to express views without generating the accusations of being anti-Semitic.

Anonymous said...

It's really not very difficult to look at what Hamas did yesterday and condemn it - and see the antisemitism that underpins their death cult.