Where the Streets Had a Name
Have you ever read a book and, years later, you can’t remember who the characters are or even what the plot is but you remember how it affected you? That’s the case with this book, Randa Abdel-Fattah’s Where the Streets Had a Name. So forget my usual review format. Let’s get personal.
When I read this book about 5 years ago, I was a busy lady. I had just wrapped up my children’s literature and library science degrees at Simmons College, was working two part-time library jobs, and was converting to Judaism. Among many other things in the year-long conversion process, I was expected to read books that would enrich my understanding of Judaism and the Jewish people. I read several books including The Chosen by Chaim Potok about an Orthodox boy growing up in New York and witnessing history, including the Zionist movement and the formation of Israel. Shortly after, I stumbled across Where the Streets Had a Name, about a modern Palestinian girl living in the West Bank, and through it might offer an interesting counterpoint to the other books I had been reading.
I remember really liking the book but also having so many questions. How could I, as a soon-to-be Jew, support Israel when they did the things described in the book? Did they really do these things? Why do I know next to nothing about Middle Eastern politics and history (thanks a lot, public school)?! This book affected me so much that I brought up these questions at my next conversion meeting with my rabbi. His answer is one of the reasons I love being Jewish. He said, it is important to ask hard questions of the institutions we associate ourselves with, whether religion or government or some tangle of both, as Israel is. We should be critical and thoughtful and hold those institutions that represent us accountable for their actions. Has Israel done some terrible things? Yes. Has Israel done some great things? Also yes. Can you hold all these contradicting ideas in your head at the same time, struggle with them, and come out on the other side supporting Israel and striving for peace? That’s up to you, my rabbi said, and we left it there.
It was a transformative conversation for me that, beyond the politics of it, taught me how to think about and discuss difficult, nuanced topics of all sorts, and all because of this children’s novel told from a point of view I had never considered before. Just another testimony to why everyone needs diverse books.