Well, after so many months: here it is: my memoir/travelogue/journalism piece on visiting my extended family in Israel and the Occupied Territories last October. This is by far the longest thing I’ve ever written, and while writing I experienced something new: panic. I got home from Israel in a dazed/confused state of mind, barely able to focus. The only thing that’s ever been really able to help me focus has been writing, so I started doing that. I cranked out about half of this piece in Draft in four or five days.
Suddenly, the panic set in. This was too personal. This would burn too many bridges with my family, it would changes things. I closed it and didn’t return to it for months, and even then only altering a sentence here or there.
Eventually, I forced myself to finish it: as a freelancer i couldn’t justify spending all this time on something this big just to let it languish on servers. The plan was to sell it to one of those niche left publications that I admire but regrettably don’t have a byline in : N+1 (in fact, a Keith Gessen piece on going to Russia had turned me onto the idea of a political/familial travelogue in the first place) , The New Inquiry, Harper’s, somewhere like that where it could be appreciated with nodding heads.
So I finish it and email it to David Samuels, who works both at Harper’s and Tablet, saying I was inquiring about the former. Within three he hours he’s rejected that idea but said it’d be a good fit for Tablet and offers me $800. I freak out, again: the idea of publishing a piece about being through with Zionism, in no uncertain terms, didn’t feel natural there. But Samuels convinced me that if I wanted to create and argument, I’d have to go to the people who disagreed with me. It made sense, and it still does. I accepted.
In terms of edits, I did something that I guess might be considered a bit unusual: I went to two of the people mentioned in the piece, my parents, and asked them to go over it with a fine tooth comb. Being the solid AIPAC-ers they are, they didn’t like it but happily conceded. They asked for four concessions: that i get rid of some inflammatory language about our family, that I withhold some familial information mentioned, and that I change the names of both my Grandma’s nursing home, which plays a large role in the piece, as well as the name of the town in the Occupied Territories where some of my family lives, Talmon. I readily agreed to the first three but refused on the fourth, as the Palestinian relationship to Talmon is crucial to the piece’s conclusion. To change the name would be disingenuous to them. I went through a standard round of fact-checking with Tablet, who offered pretty minimal edits, especially considering the piece’s length.
I hope you like it! I’ve read it about thirty times now, for the last few days I’ve dreamt about it. I try to convey that everything in Israel has a living and unavoidable relationship to the past. American Jews around my age who have read early drafts have told me it speaks to their experiences, which is pretty amazing.