Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me: By Harvey Pekar, 172 pgs. By Jim Woster

Mar 07, 2013

Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me is Harvey Pekar’s graphic memoir of growing up Jewish in mid-century America while the nation of Israel is born and grows. As the years pass, Pekar goes from being proud of Israel—he tries and fails to become an Israeli citizen—to criticizing it for its treatment of Palestinians.

Woven among Pekar’s personal history and his meditation on Israel is the history of Israel that I’ve long been waiting for: from Abraham to more-or-less the present day; when the First and SecondTemples were destroyed; when Israel fought which wars and what was gained from them, and all within 172 pages.

Unless you’re a fanatic, Israel is one of God’s koans: you think about reconciling the opposing sides, and soon your mind goes blank. (Abortion is another one.) When I think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I think of two quotes. The first one is from David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister:

“Sure, God promised [Israel] to us, but what does that matter to [the Palestinians]? ... There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: We have come here and stolen their country.”

I can’t find the other quote, but I think it was from Israeli novelist Amos Oz. Paraphrased from memory:

If a killer is chasing you down the street, you have the right to jump through the open window of a stranger’s house—the Holocaust was the killer and Israel was the window.

Pekar quotes another version of the Ben-Gurion quote. Within the chronology of his book, however, he makes only a glancing connection between the Holocaust and Israel. At an earlier point, he features an exchange between the book’s artist, J.T. Waldman, and a bookstore owner:

Waldman: [If] you don’t believe in God, what’s the basis for a modern Israeli state?

Owner: The Holocaust.

Waldman: That’s a cynical thought.

How is that a cynical thought? I have no idea. I think about it, and my mind goes blank.

Memoir, history, and meditation—the three elements that Pekar, who died in 2010, blended into his inimitable body of work are here. Even if Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me doesn’t interest you, Razorcake reader, you’re encouraged to go back and read American Splendor, Pekar’s self-published and -distributed comic book about his life as a Cleveland file clerk. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Pekar influenced as many comic book writers as the Ramones influenced bands. –Jim Woster (Hill and Wang, 18 West 18th St., NY, 10011,

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