Nora Gold’s debut novel “Fields of Exile” is set on the academic battleground, pitting Israeli supporters against Israel-haters. Will anyone fight back?

Judith Gallanter desperately wants to be in Israel. “Israel was the only real love of her life” and that love is unconditional. Because her father has taken ill, she has returned to Toronto to care for him. As his condition worsens, she agrees to stay in Canada and complete a master’s degree program in social work. After her father dies, she is committed to academic studies in Canada, but her heart is in Israel.

She enrolls in the Dunhill School of Social Work and “presto! she has a life. An instant life. Just add water and stir. People to be with. Things to do.” But when the lectures bore her, she fantasizes about life, and love, in Israel.  She can’t help but feeling that she is living in exile.

Living in Toronto, with a Jewish boyfriend who doesn’t share her passion for the Jewish State, is “comparatively easy.” She can’t but help find everything around her “so Diaspora, so not Israel.” She knows, deep in her heart, that she should be in Israel, not in her “relatively comfortable exile” in Canada. It’s only a matter of time before she returns to Israel, even if making aliyah means leaving her boyfriend behind.

Fields of ExileJudith’s period of exile coincides with the outbreak of suicide bombings on buses and in restaurants all over Israel. The IDF responds with a large-scale military operation in Palestinian towns and villages, but when viewed from afar, from the safety of Canadian television screens, Israel is seen as the aggressor. On campus, Judith finds herself part of a committee planning a rally against Zionist aggressions on Anti-Oppression Day.

“Every week there seem to be more people at Dunhill who hate Israel. It’s like a spreading plague.”

Faced with a dilemma, Judith doesn’t know if she has the power to speak up in Israel’s defense. “Yet someone has to take these people on…  Someone has to say to these people, ‘Stop. Stop right here. Not one inch more.'”

Fields of Exile (Dundurn Press, April 2014) is a novel that tackles some difficult questions. What exactly is terrorism? Does Israel have the right to defend itself against suicide bombers? Are those who attack Israel’s responses to terrorism anti-Semites? What can be done to properly and fairly state Israel’s case on Canadian campuses?

Even so, the novel is not political in nature. This gripping work of fiction is also the very touching story of a young woman faced with the challenges of life, both on campus and at home.  Judith struggles to stand up for her political beliefs, maintain a Jewish way of life in the Diaspora, and find the way to fulfill her lifelong dream of living in Israel.

As in real life, compromises must be made. But can those faced with the growing anti-Semitism on Canadian campuses afford to remain silent?

Nora Gold is a prize-winning author, activist and scholar. Her first book, Marrow and Other Stories, won a Canadian Jewish Book Award. Gold is editor-in-chief of the literary journal JewishFiction.net, and associate scholar at OLSE/University of Toronto’s Centre for Women’s Studies.