July 20, 2000
One Day at a Time
David Horovitzwrites about the roller-coaster ride of Israeli life.
The question at the heart of David Horovitz's provocative new book, "A Little Too Close to God: The Thrills and Panic of a Life in Israel" is whether to choose to live in Israel. When daily life overflows with difficulties, peace is elusive and young sons must mature into soldiers, the question looms large, as it does for the British-born Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Report, and his American-born wife, parents of three young children living in Jerusalem. Although the question is an ongoing one - which he recognizes is a luxury reserved for foreign-born Israelis who hold dual passports - his response is affirmative.
The short answer is, as he explains in an interview on a recent visit to New York: "I love Israel. It's addictive." As he writes, there's an opportunity to play a "unique role, however small, in shaping the first Jewish state in 2,000 years, completing a circle of history, bringing our modern Jewish family back to the land of its roots..."
The book is a memoir, but Israel is the main subject, not the author, who explains that he has "British reticence." Horovitz, 37, includes a few details about his "relatively unremarkable childhood" in England and warm stories about his wife, Lisa, and their family life, as he describes the mundane and extraordinary qualities of daily life in Israel.
He writes of a culture in which driving is a nightmare and car theft is commonplace; children know about exploding buses and flag-draped coffins; loaded diapers and stones have been thrown at less-observant Jews by their fervently Orthodox countrymen; bank overdrafts are repeatedly drawn upon to pay the bills; and a sound thought to be a noisy washing machine is actually an army helicopter hovering above. And he tells of bus drivers who stop en route to give blood samples for a bone marrow drive, neighbors who express boundless hospitality, how the whole nation mourns as one when citizens are killed, the spiritual dimensions of living in a Jewish state and the potential - now closer than before, under Prime Minister Ehud Barak, as he sees it - for peace, for breaking the cycle of violence.
Many distinguished journalists have written books about Israel after multiyear stints as Jerusalem bureau chiefs of major newspapers; some of the books have been first-rate portraits of the nation. But Horovitz's book is different: He's unabashedly connected and committed to his chosen homeland. He doesn't have the constraints of a foreign correspondent to remain distanced and neutral - and foreign correspondents don't have to do reserve duty. Horovitz is opinionated, passionate and engaging, sometimes funny, a very good writer with an ear for the telling anecdote.
Horovitz moved to Israel in 1983 at the age of 20 and soon found a job at the Jerusalem Post while attending Hebrew University. Promptly after arriving in Jerusalem, he stopped wearing a skullcap and replaced it with an earring. He describes his army training as an "overage recruit" in his late 20's, "drafted with other wheezing immigrants ... for a program known as Shlav Bet - best translated, I think, as The B Team - military training so perfunctory that if Israel really needed our services anywhere near the front lines, the existential writing would be on the wall."
One year, he did his month of reserve service as a guard at Ansar II, an Israeli prison "in the heavy heart of the Gaza Strip" where "Palestinian inmates and their Israeli guards learned to loathe each other with a new intensity hour by slow-passing hour." Returning as a journalist when the area was under control of the Palestinian authority, he saw that part of the complex housed police barracks and part served as a landing pad for Arafat's helicopter. He didn't tell his driver, who had been incarcerated there, that he too had been at Ansar II. Now, he does reserve duty in the education corps, lecturing about the peace process on bases around the country.
Horovitz includes a long conversation about the peace process with his American-born brother-in-law Natan, who lives on the West Bank. The families are close, although they don't see each other that often; the drive to Ofra is "40 minutes into another world, into the wild West Bank." Natan, who is Orthodox, is convinced that the Arabs are determined to rid the Middle East of the Jewish state, while Horovitz believes in the possibility of peaceful coexistence between Israel and Palestine, as well as with Syria and Lebanon. To his credit, Horovitz presents his brother-in-law as a clear-thinking, reasonable person who happens to be on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
The author comments, "I've got 300 pages to say what I believe. If I believe we need to be more tolerant, I could use the book to give them the opportunity to speak as well. I hope that we're learning after the assassination that arguments on both sides are really good, if honestly held. ... Everything is in the grays." He says that in writing the book, he gained "respect for opinions I don't share."
Similarly, Horovitz, who's not a secular Jew but someone who attends Kol Haneshama, a Reform synagogue in Jerusalem, and sends his children to non-Orthodox religious schools, includes an open conversation with an Orthodox cousin about the role of religion in Israel. The author also candidly discusses his own religious shift, from being a "lapsed Orthodox Jew who had always assumed that Orthodox Judaism was the only real Judaism" to someone who found a rabbi and community full of warmth and in tune with his sensibilities.
Editor of The Jerusalem Report's "Shalom Friend: The Life of Yitzhak Rabin," which won the National Jewish Book Award, Horovitz writes: "Here, I care about what's happening with a passion that simply doesn't apply anywhere else. I scream at this country. It exasperates me. It is deep under my skin. I have invested so much of myself in it. And my heart still lifts when I stand on the pedestrian bridge leading to Jerusalem's Cinematheque at night and gaze up to the Old City's 16th-century walls, bathed in soft golden illumination. I might forever be a slightly displaced former Brit in a slightly foreign land, but this is as close to home as it gets. I don't want to get off the roller coaster."
Lisa is less certain about remaining in Israel than her husband; she sees things differently after the Rabin assassination and feels strongly about not wanting her sons to enter the army. The boys are now 8 and 6; their daughter is 4. "There's much debate in the Horovitz household," he says, and it's clear that the issues in the book are part of a continuing conversation with his wife, his friends, with himself. They "take each day as it comes."