★★★★★ Portland Zionists Unite! By Eric Flamm is an electric array of stories that are largely informed by the author’s time spent as a draftee in the Israel Defense Forces and as a resident of Portland, Oregon, which is home to a vibrant Jewish community. The first story in the collection, “Mauser Karabiner,” features a team of young men, whose lives jump unpredictably between periods of extreme boredom and hand-wringing tension. From there, Flamm’s focus widens to include their relatives, neighbors, and, in some cases, inadvertent enemies.
This short story collection is at times, admittedly, a touch disorienting—though it is not the fault of the author. Rather, it seems to be a symptom of overseas conflicts, as seen from back home in the U.S. by people watching news updates on their televisions. As the narrator of “Mauser Karabiner” notes, wars and disagreements often drag on for so long that the people who step in to keep the peace are left feeling more like security guards than like rescuers. This disconnect is only magnified when young soldiers visit their families at home and try to describe what this feels like to them—an impossible task, to be sure. Flamm very effectively showcases the parallels between on-the-ground peacekeeping efforts along the West Bank and back home in Portland, as members of local synagogues and community organizations seek to throw in their support for Israel. In one memorable story, “Communist Party Crasher,” Flamm writes about an advisory board’s decision to blackball a notorious local from attending their meetings after it becomes clear he does not share their same views on Israel, which is in itself a parody and a distorted reflection of the very conflict they seek to resolve. Flamm’s work vibrates with a raw, vital energy.