Books graphic novel Reading Themes

Understanding Israel through a Reluctant Post-Birthright Glow in Sarah Glidden’s “How To Understand Israel in 60 Days Or Less”

Myra here.

To obtain a balanced perspective (I’ve read a lot of Joe Sacco’s graphic novels), I thought it would be best to also read up on how Israel is perceived from a Jewish person’s eyes through this graphic novel memoir created by Sarah Glidden.

How To Understand Israel In 60 Days Or Less

Writer and Artist: Sarah Glidden Letterer: Clem Robins
Published by: DC Comics, 2010 ISBN: 1401222331 (ISBN13: 9781401222338)
Borrowed a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me. 

Sarah Glidden is a Jewish-American born in Boston in 1980. This memoir is an account of her experience doing a free “birthright trip” to Israel with Melissa, another Jewish-American friend from New York. This turned out to be a good idea since Melissa seemed to provide a much-needed balance to Sarah’s over-eager intention to derive meaning from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The scene at the airport when Melissa was trying to calm herself after being questioned by Israeli immigration officials made me smile:

The birthright tour, in itself, is already an eye-opener for me since I didn’t know that there was such a free trip given to Jews from all parts of the world for them to know Israel and consider doing an “aliyah” and become an Israeli citizen.

From the beginning, there was something about Sarah’s unpopular and militant nature that appealed to me. Perhaps it’s because we share largely the same sentiments, and having her articulate my own reservations and outrage – validate some of the things I have always wondered about. I also like how she shared the ancient narratives built into the very foundation of the much-disputed holy land.

When I rated this book in Goodreads, I saw a few reviews that spoke about the insufferable narrator who was overly critical of her heritage. It didn’t really strike me as such while I was reading it.

More than anything, I felt that there was an existential crisis going on, as Sarah was trying to resist the affinity she can not help but feel with her own ancestry – all the while trying to understand it from within the lenses of the current atrocities that are going on with the Palestinian people. Her struggle for meaning is keenly felt as she gradually realizes that “it’s more complicated” than she originally thought it would be. Her conversations with their Israeli guide, Nadan, was quite illuminating.

The memoir may seem to end similar to how it started – but again, I thought differently. It was a trip that made the author question her seemingly-progressive beliefs, her resolute notions of what it means to be free, and her perceived clarity regarding what is wrong or right according to international laws and universal definitions of human rights and justice.

Fear does build walls, until they become insurmountable, fed by paranoia and funds provided by well-meaning individuals who thrive on war and discontent. Again, the more I read about this conflict, the more I realize I can never fully comprehend its magnitude.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

1 comment on “Understanding Israel through a Reluctant Post-Birthright Glow in Sarah Glidden’s “How To Understand Israel in 60 Days Or Less”

  1. Sounds interesting, Myra. I live in a community where I have heard about many young people going on Birthright trips (quite a few of my kids’ classmates did it in high school).


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