Neighborly Favors

A Story

by Ilana Sichel

Great story. It truly highlights the moral complexities of daily life in this godforsaken country.

Truly marvelous observation of the multi-layered complexity of guilt at revising one's moral code to the present, despite traditional shackles, yet having one's humanity overrule the rigidity of rules.

I join the club of ardent supporters of Ilana's first published story. She had good insight into the workings of the minds of the characters and of the troubles they all face in the difficult land.

There is a lovely and tender eye here. A well paced and generous voice. I wish you much success in the bright future ahead. So I will tell you I have to agree that the writer seems to have only a passing familiarity with who's who in Jerusalem and the settlements. The Anglo, American settlers rarely wear sheitals (that is what the wig is called) and do not don the black hats or coats either. That dress is mostly seen in the "Charadi" the settlers are religious Zionist--Mizrachi. Also the laws governing the what can be done on the Sabbath are either wrong out of ignorance of the practice or intentionally misrepresented for the sake of the plot. One problem is as the writer may find out is you can't assert authentic and then have glaring errors. Stuff that any religious 4th grader would know cold. What is sad and ironic is how very very American this story is in those mistakes. Only in America could so many mistakes about another culture (Orthodox Jews) pass as an insight. Which speaks to how little respect we offer other cultures. I highly doubt the writer will make mistakes like these again because she is too good and will care enough about characters and readers to get it right.

I enjoyed the tension between the different cultural groups in this story and the way the narrator is caught in the middle of their conflict. Unlike other readers, I didn't find the narrator particularly concerned with humanity. It seemed like his desire for money served as his main motivation for helping his neighbors. He also enjoyed the status of "being the local diplomat." Very interesting! Maybe this dynamic could be explored in a longer piece? This felt like the beginning of a novel. It would be interesting to see how the narrator's relationships to these different groups changed over the course of a few years. It also seems like if there are issues regarding authenticity (I'm not an expert on Arab and Israeli issues so I don't know if there are) they could be worked out in a novel.

Thanks for such thoughtful comments. To those concerned about authenticity, I'll mention that "Neighborly Favors" is based on my intimate knowledge of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem and, in particular, the area surrounding the tomb of Simeon the Just. The Jewish settlers in this neighborhood are not exclusively of the national Zionist variety generally associated with Anglo settlers, and instead represent a spectrum of affiliations, including black hat. Regarding the plausibility of certain plot points, the incident of the pregnancy and the Palestinian neighbor was in fact the real-life anecdote that inspired the story. (Though I'm tempted to just plead creative license!) Thanks again for reading!

Graceful. Lovely. Feels emotionally authentic because individuals making a compromise don't always understand their own motivations. I like the matter of fact sensibility of the protagonist.


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