Author Jennifer Lang was on a six-week book tour in America on Oct. 7, when her adopted country, Israel, transformed overnight.
She’d just published “Places We Left Behind: a Memoir-in-Miniature” about her marriage to her French-Israeli husband Philippe and their journey living in different places. The conversation suddenly shifted after the attack on Israel.
“My story is all about my husband and I moving countries and continents, each in search of home, but really it’s about his knowing Israel is home up against my wrestling with a place that made me feel unsafe because of the nonstop cycle of violence,” Lang said. “Sadly, it almost reads like a prophecy. Sadly, the book was released on Sept. 5, 2023. Sadly, it is more relevant now than ever before. [It’s] about what it’s like to try and live and be human in a country where the personal and the political are enmeshed and inseparable.”
When Lang returned home on Oct. 31, it took her almost all of November to adjust to what she called a “shell-shocked, partially functioning society,” with “memorials and vigils and art installations in large open spaces like Dizengoff Fountain and Habima Plaza, and the Tel Aviv Museum area now called Hostage Square and days punctuated by occasional sirens.”
Like those around her, Lang has put aside her full-time job and volunteered. She showed up to sort men’s and women’s clothing donations for evacuees at TLV Expo, make sandwiches at a Modi’in factory, pit dates at a frozen fruit farm in Kadima, cook for soldiers at Citrus & Salt cooking school, lead writing sessions and teach yoga to moms whose husbands are serving.
“Anything to feel helpful,” Lang, who will be in Los Angeles from Feb. 11 to 15 speaking at Adat Ari El in Valley Village, the Chai Club at Temple Isaiah and Zibby’s Bookshop in Santa Monica, told the Journal.
The author, who was born in the Bay Area, fell in love with Philippe in Israel during the First Intifada, a time when Israel was also upended due to Palestinian attacks and riots. They were both 23-years-old and Jewish, but she was a secular tourist and he was an observant immigrant. When they got married, they raised their family in Westchester, New York, and moved to various places before going back to Israel.
In the book, she puts her marriage under a microscope, examining how she and her husband made their commitment work despite their differences. She has lessons for her various audiences.
“For women, [I hope they learn] how crucial it is to hold onto your voice whether in a marriage or in the workplace or in a relationship of any kind,” she said. “Many of us so easily yield and withhold our opinions in order to please others or keep the peace. For readers, how fun it is to read outside the box and norms of conventional reading. For writers, how refreshing and rewarding it is to play with form and content. For memoir connoisseurs, how vital it is for the narrator to turn the camera on his/herself, how humanity shines through writers who make themselves vulnerable.”
Lang isn’t afraid to be vulnerable about how the situation has affected her and her family. While she promoted her book as it was pre-Oct. 7, after that, she focused on passages about hearing air raid sirens, experiencing the First Gulf War, running for shelter and how she lost an argument with her husband that the U.S. was safer than Israel.
“Everybody needs light, especially now.” – Jennifer Lang
“Reading those passages was difficult,” she said. “It was never my intention to spotlight that aspect of life here. But I felt compelled to shine a light on what it’s like to try and be a woman, wife and mother here. Everybody needs light, especially now.”