Shomeret's Reviews > The Debba

The Debba by Avner Mandelman
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's review
Dec 27, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: mystery-thriller, my-reviews
Read from December 27, 2011 to January 01, 2012

This is from the perspective of an American Jew who was brought up to believe that Israel is the Holy Land which is not like the other nations. My grandmother was born in Teveria (Tiberius) in 1905. She had a deep abiding love for Israel and kept in communication with her relatives who still lived there. When I went to Israel at the age of sixteen with my family, I kept a travel diary. I met some of my cousins. One was an actress who was part of the Israeli military's entertainment corps. I was impressed by her account of her experiences, but there were disillusioning incidents. I recorded all the political graffiti that I encountered there with increasing disappointment. The Israel of my fantasies wasn't supposed to have graffiti or political controversies. It was supposed to be some sort of utopian society for Jews. Well, it wasn't. I was sexually harassed on the street in Tel Aviv and discovered that Moroccan Jews weren't treated the same as Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin). Our tour bus was stoned in Hebron and when we were in Jaffa, our Arab taxi driver warned that there was social unrest in Jaffa and that we shouldn't get out of the taxi. This was after the Six Day War, but before the Yom Kippur War. Since that trip to Israel, I've read about a number of serious problems in Israeli society and have spoken to Israelis who had emigrated to the United States. I discovered that Israeli Jews had adopted some Arab customs and vocabulary. This interested me very much. The Debba certainly illustrates this cultural tendency.

I perceive the protagonist of this novel as very angst ridden due to the secrets that his family kept, and that he suffered from PTSD as a result of his experiences in the Israeli military. It was these experiences that drove him into exile in Canada. When his father was murdered, he had to return. The provision in his father's will to stage a production of a play that had caused a riot the only time it was performed, was what drew me to this book. Plays that cause riots are cultural linchpins. I read about Pierre de Beaumarchais because his play The Barber of Seville caused a riot in the theatre. The Debba is a fictional play. The reader only learns enough about The Debba to be intrigued, and very aware that it would definitely cause intense controversy in Israel if such a play actually existed. Yet the protagonist professes not to understand why there is so much opposition to the play. Given his military background, I can only think that he was in denial as a result of his PTSD.

This is a dark book in many ways, but it ends on a hopeful note. Can a play change Israeli society? It seems unlikely, but artistic creations have had tremendous impact throughout history. I am convinced that there is common ground between Jews and Arabs. It just needs to be publicly acknowledged.

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12/27/2011 page 144
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