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This article is taken from PN Review 218, Volume 40 Number 6, July - August 2014.

In the Footsteps of Gabriel Levin Henry King
Since the destruction of the Second Temple and their subsequent dispersal, the Jews – so one version of their history goes – have lacked a homeland, forced to live among hostile, sometimes murderous, nations. But with the State of Israel’s transition from aspiration to actuality in 1948, perhaps the apogee of Jewish experience now is to return to the Promised Land and find oneself estranged even there.

Gabriel Levin laughed when I put this to him, over coffee at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem. As he had just told me (and I later read in the preface to his essay collection, The Dune’s Twisted Edge), Levin’s maternal grandparents converted to Catholicism in France (where Levin would himself be born), and brought up their daughter in their new faith; Levin’s mother, when she and her husband moved to Israel after the war, was thus known to the orthodox rabbinate as a ‘renegade’ Jew (DTE ix). Additionally, the Levins befriended many Palestinians at a time when most Israelis were happy to ignore the fact that their neighbours lived under martial law. After the Six-Day War, the Levins moved back to New York. Gabriel would return to Israel in 1972, and begin the complex business of constructing a sense of himself as an Israeli: when he took citizenship a decade later, the clerk insisted that Levin was not Jewish, and since he denied being a Christian or Muslim either, the functionary recorded his religion (leom, which in Hebrew also means nation) as ‘France’ (DTE xii).

So, a French American ...

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