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Israeli Writer Discusses Effects of Recent War

November 16, 2006 By:
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Orly Castel-Bloom

The failure of peace to materialize and the omnipresent threat of war -- and worse -- has had a profoundly negative impact on the Israeli national consciousness, prompting many citizens of the Jewish state to "shrink into themselves," shunning both public life and discourse, according to a noted Israeli novelist and short-story writer.

Orly Castel-Bloom, who was born in Tel Aviv in 1960 and published her first book in 1987, delivered a lecture at the Gershman Y on Monday night that at times resembled a literary, stream-of-consciousness interior monologue, during which she occasionally switched to Hebrew before stopping herself.

She spent much of the hour-plus talk avoiding the evening's stated topic, "The Impact of a Continuous State of War on the Human Spirit in Israel," at one point saying that it was inappropriate to discuss such things with non-Israelis. Instead, she focused on how she overcame a severe case of writer's block to finish her sixth novel.

But at certain points during the talk, and especially during the question-and-answer session that followed, Bloom opened up and offered a clearer window into how Israelis -- or at least her circle of friends -- have personally dealt with the latest round of hostilities.

"People are fed up! These days nobody speaks about the conflict," said Castel-Bloom, adding that the Hebrew term matzav, literally, "the situation," arose because its sounds more normal.

"People say, 'I can't control the conflict, but I can control my blood pressure, the color of my hair,' " she said. "The Israeli person became very egoist. It's not like how we used to be -- all for one and one for all. There is a lot of escapism, and that is not a criticism."

Castel-Bloom -- whose fiction often introduces surrealist elements into everyday urban life -- noted that she had always assumed each of Israel's wars would be its last.

"The last war was the breaking point for me," she admitted. "All my life is passing, and there is no solution."

She recalled that about four years ago, during the height of the second intifada, each day she would hand her teenage daughter -- who has just completed army service -- money to take a taxi to and from school, so she she wouldn't ride public buses, which were the frequent targets of suicide bombers.

Castel-Bloom later discovered that her daughter had never taken a taxi, and instead had been making trips to central Tel Aviv to buy clothing. Ultimately, the mother couldn't begrudge the girl for wanting to enjoy her youth and ride the bus with her friends.

(Her most recent novel published in English, Human Parts, is set in the midst of the intifada and follows the lives of a diverse cast of Israeli characters, where the reality of terror pierces their attempts at normal living.)

The author, who also has a teenage son, has even wrestled with the thought that it was irresponsible of her to raise him in Israel.

"I am irresponsible. When he was born, I was sure there would be peace," she said, adding that during the darkest moments of her life, she often contemplates the horrors of the Holocaust.

"I would say to myself, 'Thank God, you are not in Auschwitz. There is worse. Continue, continue,' " she said.

During that Q&A, one audience member seemed to suggest that the solution for the Mideast conflict lay in the dissolution of the Jewish state and Palestinian territories in favor of a binational Jewish-Arab state.

"The existence of Israel in the Middle East is a necessity," replied Castel-Bloom.

Despite the doom and gloom, even "with all this despair, I want to go back home now. I want to speak Hebrew now."

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