Saul Bellow helps us prepare to go to Jerusalem and back.

Saul Bellow's 1976 journey to Jerusalem makes for memorable reading.

In almost exactly a month, Dunreith, Aidan and I are going to Israel for two weeks.

Thanks to the daughter of dear friend Ava Kadishson Schieber, we will have a place to stay in Tel Aviv, a car to drive and a cell phone to use.

Our plan is to use Tel Aviv as a base and to take a bunch of day trips to Haifa and Golan in the north, to Eilat for scuba diving in the south, and, of course, to Jerusalem.

Dunreith lived on a kibbutz for more than a year in the mid- to late-80s,  and has returned a number of times since then, with her most recent visit being to study at Yad Vashem in 2005.

I have been to Israel once, for just about a month, in the waning days of 1998 and bringing in 1999.  Like Dunreith, I also was studying at Yad Vashem through its relationship with Facing History.

I am very excited about the trip and will be concentrating in the next month on reading more about the country’s history, sights, politics and religion.

This part of my Israel education began yesterday with Chicago native and Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow.

Bellow spent about three months in Israel in 1976; To Jerusalem and Back is his account of his time, the people he met, and the thoughts it inspired in him.

Raised in an observant home, Bellow brings great familiarity with Orthodox life to his journey.  This is the first book of his that I have read-my brother Mike gave me The Adventures of Augie March several years ago, but I have yet to crack it-and his combination of acute observations, scene setting, and purposeful sentences hooked me from the book’s initial vignette that takes place on the plane from the United States to Israel.

In addition to enjoying individual scenes and the senses of powerful people to which Bellow has access-the reader meets Hubert Humphrey, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Teddy Kollek, among others-Bellow is supremely well read.  The book is filled with references to, and excerpts from, the works of other authors.  The detail of Bellow’s reading is demonstrated by his quoting from Jean-Paul Sartre’s introduction to Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, for example.  This combination of elements makes for a delightful stew and an effective rendering of Israel’s rich diversity, the horrors out of which it was founded, and the precarious position in which it found itself more than three decades.

From Jerusalem and Back is a brief book, and, when Bellows returns homes, one wishes the trip had been even longer.

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