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Risa Miller's debut novel chronicles the life of a settlement town in Israel.
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ined the Jewish immi-
grant experience, setting
their novels and short
stories on the Lower East Side and
places like that, where newcomers can
forge their way to become Americans.
Risa Miller's debut novel, Welcome to
Heavenly Heights (St. Martin's Press;
$23.95), is a different version of that
story, with American Jews making new
homes in Israel, reversing the exile.
The transition can be more pressure
cooker than melting pot, mixing ideal-
ism, religion, bureaucracy, family com-
plexities, shifting expectations, love
and, never far away, violence.
In this graceful and engaging work,
Miller, winner of the PEN Discovery
Award, succeeds in creating a world
inhabited by religious Jews of different
backgrounds, mostly transplanted
Americans, living out the words of
their long-repeated prayers to be close
She explores the many meanings of
home, rootedness and community.
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any writers have imag-
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Just as the characters in those earlier
novels, set in tenements, had little pri-
vacy, so too the families of the newly
constructed Building Four in Heavenly
Heights — with its dishwashers, built-
in teak cabinets and balconies over-
looking the mountains
— know much about
each other's lives.
The stacked apart-
ments are like -a vertical
bungalow colony, with
shared ingredients and
stories, and the gang of
kids playing outside.
Every Friday night,
when their husbands go
off to synagogue, the
women of Building Four
gather on the largest
porch "to shake off the
weekday world," speak-
ing the way women do
when the men aren't around.
Heavenly Heights is "close enough to
Jordan that a combat tank starting out
in Amman when you boiled your water
for coffee would have you serving to its
corpsmen before you finished your own
first cup," she writes. The name has the
Special to the Jewish News
OTAL JIHAD by Eric L.
Publishing; $17.95 paper-
Those in the Jewish world may rec-
ognize the author's name as executive
editor of B'nai B'rith's International
Jewish Monthly magazine from 1997 to
2002. Currently, he is Washington
director for CAMERA: The
Committee for Accuracy in Middle
East Reporting in America.
All of this is by way of credentials
for a very fine first novel.
Without revealing too much of the
plot, the year is April 2007. From
1993 to 2003, there has been progres-
sive dismantling of Israel until the War
of Arab Unity, which leaves interna-
tional monitors in
Golan and the Islamic .
Republic of Greater
Palestine of which Israel
is a part.
The key players in this
adventure novel are U.S.
Rep. Jonathan Marcus,
who knows a lot of
things going on inside
Washington and wants
to save Israel; Rabbi Jeri
Levi, a Virginia Reform
rabbi fired for enrolling her children
in a day school and for inciting her
congregation to support Israel; and
Admiral Fogerty, the pro-Israel born-
ring of other suburbs where many Jews
live, like Shaker Heights.
A commuting neighborhood north
of Jerusalem — a "settlement if you
needed to be technical" — it is home
to many new immigrants whose mort-
gages are underwritten by
"an unidentified do-gooder
well-wisher godfather who
wanted Judea settled and
Welcome to Heavenly
Heights is a literary novel of
characters and place rather
than a story driven by plot.
It is unusual in its knowing
depiction of an Orthodox
community, from the inside,
with empathy and without
satire or ambivalence. "I
don't know of any from lit-
erary fiction that likes
itself," Miller says.
When she began the novel, she set it
in the '80s, and it seemed timely then,
but as the world was changing, she
shifted the time and updated it, shad-
ing in some of the violence and ten-
sion. It goes up to the edge of the lat-
est intifada, focusing mainly on Tova,
again Christian who sent the Sixth
Fleet against Arab ships in the "36
Hour War," when the Palestinians,
Jordanians, Iraqis, Saudis, Pakistanis,
Syrians, and Egyptians attack what is
left of Israel.
A string of other characters include
Prime Minister Meir Sarid, former
ambassador to Jordan; Mahmoul Terzi,
prime minister of Arab
Palestine, who wants to get all
the Jews out of the area; and
Aharon Tabor, kibbutznik and
If you're thinking this is the
21st century's answer to
Exodus, you might be right. I
wonder who's already trying to
buy the movie rights.
There is no question
Rozenman knows his subject
well. He spent six months in
Israel more than 20 years ago
and decided to write a novel on this
thought: What if the Israelis lost?
Before the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he
completed the novel — then waited