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How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or LessHaving grown up Catholic (I’m still in recovery), nothing works better than leftover Catholic guilt to get me to do something I’m whinge-ing about. The supreme irony about my former Catholicism is that going to Israel – especially (divided, chopped up, yours, mine, never ours-ancient holy city of ) Jerusalem – allowed me to shed any leftover vestiges of organized religion (except for the guilt part, of course) I had stuck to me.

Sarah Glidden, a young peripatetic comics artist already with major awards to her name (including the Ignatz Award for “Promising New Talent”) makes her graphic memoir debut with an ambitious topic: her own transformative journey to Israel. The result is a page-turning, deeply questioning, deft, moving account of what is certainly one of the most important experiences of Glidden’s young life.

Still in her 20s, Glidden grabs one of her oldest, closest friends (who is also one of her few Jewish friends) and the two embark on a “Birthright Israel” tour: “… the gift of first time, peer group, educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26,” so says the Birthright website. In preparation, Glidden “spent every spare moment reading about Israel, Palestine and the conflict. I wanted to fill in the gaps between what I already knew, trying to prepare myself.”

She’s obsessively thorough: “I started with the beginning of recorded history and worked my way forward, trying to figure out what happened. What went wrong over there …” Glidden is already wary of being fed “whatever propaganda they try and throw at me,” and is vocally critical of the Jewish treatment of Palestinians. On the day of departure, she calms her boyfriend’s fears that she won’t “come back a brainwashed, raging Zionist, ready to dump [her] ‘Goy’ boyfriend.”

Glidden’s research serves her well (even as it drives her travel buddy Melissa a bit crazy). But nothing could have prepared her for her emotional reactions. Even as she remains staunchly unwilling to overlook the Jewish responsibility in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – “Maybe in 1900 more years some 26-year-old girl will be absentmindedly regarding illegal settlement snow globes in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Remembrance Hall gift shop, wondering how such brutal violence could ever have existed,” she remarks while wandering the “gigantic” Masada gift shop – she finds herself sobbing at the most unexpected moments of connection with her Jewish heritage.

Her journey, so touchingly accounted between these pages, is to be experienced without someone else’s filter. [Although I just have to add that if the expressions of the ghost victims don’t make you cry a tear or two or three, your heart needs a major overhaul.] This is truly an intimate journey that needs to be personally discovered by every reader. Indeed, life – no matter what ‘side’ you’re on – has more questions than answers … in our ongoing, neverending search to know, sometimes sharing other people’s searching experiences might be the best way to find at least some of those elusive answers.

Tidbit: Check out Glidden’s current project, Stumbling Towards Damascus (working title), by clicking here. WOW again!

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2010


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