Introduction by Gilad Atzmon: The following is a very interesting review by Heidi Vogel. Heidi is a great writer and an incredible musician. It is particularly interesting for me to be reviewed by another artist who is also sensitive to identity politics complexities and subject to self reflection.
Gilad Atzmon's "The Wandering WHO?" provides a fascinating and complex look into the many facets of this subject Atzmon calls "Jewish identity politics".
The book gives a glimpse into Atzmon's early life in Israel as an aspiring jazz musician and how he became the inspiring thinker and, as Atzmon says, "Humanist", he is today.
Atzmon details much of the history of Jewish tribal existence and it's influence on todays Jewish identity politics.
There are more layers to this book than one may realize at first glance and it becomes more powerful as one lets it unravel.
As Atzmon delves deep into the roots and causes of Zionism and modern day Jewish Identity, he explores some biblical interpretations, as well as many other writers whom Atzmon refers to in great detail.
Atzmon's ideas may be controversial to some as he appears to be and states in the book that he is a "proud self hating Jew". This fundamental "obstacle" to Atzmon achieving what some may consider to be a balanced work, may leave one feeling that the ideas he puts forth are lopsided, wherein at times there is no polar opposite given, as in debate, it may appear that Atzmon's ideas are not there to let the reader find their own answers and balance. But it only appears to be so, for as one reads on, it raises so many questions that one does start to think for oneself and understands that this is exactly what Atzmon is trying to make one do.. in his own way.
It is rather obvious here that Atzmon has almost a "side" in that one could surmise and deduce that he is pro Palestinian and that is what is portrayed. This is not necessarily off-putting however, for the reader, as it is dynamic enough to implant knowledge and let ones own thoughts expand and take flight with some of the complex issues addressed.
Atmzon's journey of self discovery in chapter 11, sheds much light and is quite touching and enlightening. Here he talks of and gives a synopsis of a book by Otto Weininger.
Weininger was an anti semite misogynist, who was apparently a Jew himself, he wrote his book and later committed suicide.
"In my early days I believed myself to be an autonomous thinker, positing himself in a detached, Archimedean surveying position. Thanks to Weininger I realised how wrong I was - I was not detached from the reality about which I wrote, and I never shall be. I am not looking at the Jews, or at Jewish identity, I am not looking at Israelis. I am actually looking in the mirror. With contempt I am actually elaborating on the Jew in me."
At the end of the chapter Atzmon writes of Weininger:
"One may wonder how he knew so much about women. Why did he hate them so? How did he know so much about Jews and why did he hate them so? The answer can be elicited from Weininger's thoughts though not from his own words. He hated woman and Jews because he was a woman and a Jew.... This revelation probably led Weininger to kill himself, just a month after the publication of his book. Very likely, he had managed to grasp what his book was all about."
A criticism of the book, is that most of the history and stereo types refer to Western Jews; American, British, Israeli and European.
Atzmon refers to "matzo ball soup" and such stereo types. It seems to have been intentional and appears to be part of Atzmon's anti establishment views on the Western perspective of the Middle East conflict. It may seem relevant in this context to elaborate on the Jews from these European backgrounds. However in making some of these generalizations, it may appear to leave out 50% of world Jewry in terms of African and Eastern Jewry and the stereo types which they fall under and how they have become who they are and where they are today.
The views presented are intriguing, as he also takes a look into nomadic migration and it's waves into the many issues facing Jewish identity today and what has prevailed of these, politically, socially and more importantly in Zionism and war.
Atzmon's ideas regarding the Holocaust, which he explains has become a religion, are thought provoking and eye opening, it serves to challenge ones thoughts and yet again, makes one question.
A powerful book, if shocking at times. It reveals so much of the complexity of what it is to be a Jew, and who are the Jews. At times it raises more questions than answers and definitely inspires much thought.
In Gilad's final chapters, I can't help but feel that Gilad's cause becomes all the more relevant and powerful because of who he is.
I started to see why he felt so impelled to say the things he does, and to challenge in such a way. His desire to make people look.
At some points, I had felt an imbalance in the book with regards to injustices, meaning that injustices were not portrayed as coming from all humans, from all sides, Atzmon mainly highlighted the injustices perpetrated by the Jews.
However, seeing that Gilad's concern is and was only the injustice coming from his side, I realized that this book is about responsibility. It hit me, and the power of the book exceeded its apparency and expectations.
It made more sense to me rather than labelling him an anti semite. I came to realize, Atzmon is truly a Jew trying to elevate people and bring to light their downfalls, complexities, warped ideals, corrupted truths, and crimes. He truly cares.
I had thought that if I finished this book and agreed with everything Atzmon said, I would be converted into being an anti semite. I found myself carefully questioning every sentence.
However, it was quite the opposite, in the end. I came to agree with much of what was put forth to me to challenge, and I was made to question and think, and therein lies the key to enriching personal understanding as opposed to following in blindness.
As a well known Egyptian musician once said about Atzmon, when he was referred to as "Do you know that crazy Israeli Jazz sax player Atzmon? He is a pro Palestinian Israeli, now anti Israeli and writes a lot about how bad Israel and the Jews are...." His reply in a thick Egyptian accent was "Well someone has got to do it". Atzmon is that Jew.
It is clear that Atzmon is more than just passionate about the cause and as a self professed humanist, it is very clear that he has searched to bring about answers and understanding in his quest for peace.