Tag: Israel


Apeirogon by Colum McCann

August 26th, 2020 — 9:43pm

Apeirogon By Colum McCann

The title of this book means “a shape with a countable infinite number of sides.”

The book is divided into a thousand different sections and they are not exactly in order. This personally made it somewhat difficult for me since every time I picked up the book, I was not quite sure where I left off (it did not help that my iPad did not always open exactly where I shut it down).

The essence of this book is that we are learning about the story of two men, an Israeli and a Palestinian, each of whom has lost his daughter as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Elhanan’s 13-year-old daughter Smadar was killed by a suicide bomber. Aramin’s 10-year-old daughter died by a rubber bullet shot by an Israeli soldier. The two bereaved fathers meet through an organization called The Parents Circle – Families Forum. They connect and have made it their life’s work to travel around the world sharing their experiences of losing their children and the pain and healing with which they are struggling.

The book is filled with flashbacks, which include everything from analysis of the migration of birds to the Crucifixion of Christ with homage to Albert Einstein and the Stern Gang included. The net result is an emotional experience which will intensify any hope, desire, and prayer that there could be peace in the Middle East (2020).

Comment » | FH - Fiction Historical, HI - History

Deadly Ties by Aaron Ben-Shahar

June 23rd, 2020 — 1:53pm

Deadly Ties By Aaron Ben-Shahar

The author of this novel, Aaron Ben-Shahar is an Israeli attorney-at-law who has served in highly sensitive positions in the Israeli Secret Service. When I read his first novel, A Minister in a Box (see review), I could not help but believe that his description of mystery, intrigue, murder, secret agents, etc., must have been based on his own real experiences. Now once again, he has produced another novel which takes the reader behind the scenes of the Mossad, the Israeli highly secret intelligence agency as well as an Iranian comparable secret agency. It has an unbelievable plot, which is actually believable because it rings true.

The story features Bonnie, a prominent minister in the Israeli government who after the death of his mother finds a letter for him in his mother’s desk. Early in the story, we have learned that his mother had a onetime sexual fling many years ago. Now the letter tells him that the man he always thought was his father was not actually his biological dad. This leads Bonnie on an adventure to find this man who turns out be an equally high placed Iranian minister. Needless to say, this novel, as was the first one, is filled with mystery, intrigue, and twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It was hard to put down this book; I highly recommend it.

In addition to the entertaining value of this excellent well-written novel, it also deals with an area, which as a psychiatrist and student of human behavior I have pondered over the years; that is the occasion where a person becomes obsessed with the desire to know the nature of their biological identity when it has previously been unknown or in question.

There have been several movies which have dealt with this subject one way or the other. The names of some these films were( see links to reviews): Philomena, The Kids Are All Right, People Like Us, and Stories We Tell. I have also written about this subject on my blog(see link) Psychiatrytalk.com.

At times in conversation, I have asked an acquaintance what they might do if they received communication from the hospital where they were born was computerizing their records and they found out that the person was actually accidentally “switched at birth.” Would you want to meet your biological parent?

What if the situation were that the hospital was notifying you that a child born to you was accidentally switched at birth? Would you want to meet that long lost child? Suppose you were told that the family with your biological child would like to meet you, would you agree to this meeting? Would you tell your child that they were switched at birth? How would you feel if your child was anxious to meet the biological parent? Different people respond differently to these questions. The urgency of meeting the biological parent varies from person to person. Some people feel it would not make a difference in their life. I actually have known people who have discovered a biological parent unknown to them previously and then become very close to them.

These issues are part of the central theme of this intriguing book. Whether or not you would have the same feelings of the main character, I am sure you will find this an interesting and fascinating book well worth reading.

Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FM - Fiction Mystery, FT- Fiction Thriller, Uncategorized

Defending Israel by Alan M. Dershowitz

February 5th, 2020 — 12:07am

Defending Israel by Alan M. Dershowitz

There is no one who can make the case for the existence, value and justification of Israel better than this author. He understands the history, politics and the essence of this country as well as anyone. He is in a position through his writings, speeches and interaction with world leaders to articulate his point of view.

In this book, Dershowitz not only explains and defends Israel but he is able to clearly describe its poignant history and reason for being. So much of the anti-Israel sentiment is related to deep-seated, long-standing hatred originally coming from the Arab world but also coming from overt as well as covert anti-Semitism which not only resides in the Arab world but is often hidden in various segments of American society as well as throughout the world. Dershowitz understands and describes this long history of anti-Israel and antisemitic feelings He articulates some of the political differences and some debatable points of Israel policy and is able to describe his various points of disagreement and also present various ideas which he believes should be open for negotiation. Dershowitz describes the unfair criticism of modern-day Israel for defending itself from the unprovoked rocket attacks into Israel, as well as the vicious attacks on the Israeli population from tunnels originating in Arab countries. In this book, Dershowitz dissects out the BDS movement (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) in regard to Israel, which even some Jewish groups have supported, but is clearly built on the idea of destroying Israel.

This is the latest of many books written by Dershowitz. His style is clear, coherent and the reader feels that you are having a conversation with a friend who happens to have first-hand knowledge and acquaintance with many past and present world leaders as well as having an exquisite mastery of world history, which he magnificently articulates. Dershowitz seems to show a lack of modesty as he name drops various U.S. presidents, Israeli leaders as well as other important people with whom he has visited and dined over the years. He is also not shy about sharing his many accomplishments at one point enumerating the long list of top-rated universities that have offered him tenured professorships. His lack of  modesty aside, this book is an important one and should be read by everyone who is a friend, foe or who does not understand the importance of the existence of Israel.

Comment » | HI - History, P - Political

How To Fight Anti-Semitism by Bari Weiss

October 4th, 2019 — 9:53pm

How to Fght Anti-Semitism by Bari Weiss

I believe that this book was one of the most important books that I have read in a long time. Certainly, it is true because I am a Jew who has been aware of the historic and contemporary antisemitism. However, I think this book has equal relevance to both Jews and non-Jews who may not have thought about the subject but yet have concerns about some of the serious injustices which continue to exist in our world.

One of the critical lenses through which the author viewed this subject is in the discussion of the meaning and importance of the state of Israel. While she is aware that Israel may be far from perfect, she clearly exposes the anti-Israel views as expressed in in the BDS slogan (boycott, divest, and sanction)by people who want to eliminate the state of Israel This type of thinking is clearly the result of deep-rooted antisemitism even though some of it may come from Jews themselves when talking about Israel.

The author also examines the flawed and historic stereotyping of Jews and the dangerous way of thinking which has led to the pogroms, the holocausts, and other hideous events in human history.

Most fascinating is the author’s crystal-clear exposition how antisemitism can exist in the United States and throughout the world on the political left as it does on the political right. Once you are aware how it is expressed, you can see it all around you by “well-meaning” people who have had stereotyped views implanted deeply-rooted in their thinking and yet with the potential to so easily emerge.

We recently heard this young author speak at a local event and we were very impressed by her knowledge, insight, and empathy for the thought processes in the perpetuators as well as in the objects of antisemitism. Also, during the recent Jewish holiday, we were aware of at least two sermons by different rabbis who dealt with the subject of antisemitism in a similar manner as expressed in this book. Whether or not they had read this book, we strongly recommend that you should read it.

 

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A Minister in a Box by Aaron Ben-Shahar

March 30th, 2019 — 12:50pm

A Minister in a Box  by Aaron Ben-Shahar

This is an exciting adventure story that goes back and forth mostly between Jeronti, a small African nation, England and Israel. There are secret agents, some who had been very high up in the Mossad, as well a head Mafia guy, There is even an anesthesiologist who will keep the man in the box sedated as he is kidnapped in a most daring caper. At times I had difficulty keeping track of the characters, as their names were unfamiliar ones. But that did not stop this from being a page turner. (Yes, I actually read this in soft covered book.) Although this is touted as pure fiction, I could not help but wonder if some of the events may really have happened since the author has a history of having served in highly sensitive positions in Israel’s General Security Services.

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Comment » | FT- Fiction Thriller

Letters To My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi

November 8th, 2018 — 10:05pm

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi

I remember very clearly as a young boy, the great happiness among my family and friends on May 14, 1948 when there was the formal declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel. I also recall my first trip to Israel as a medical student with my wife in 1963 as part of a program for young Jews to better appreciate the meaning and the importance of the State of Israel. One more related memory for me to set the tone of my feelings about this book was nine years later, when I entered our synagogue with my family in 1973 on Yom Kipper and was shocked to learn of the surprise invasion of Israel by Syria and Egypt. Subsequently, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Israel a couple of times with my family over the years including one time as Visiting Professor at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

I have never been any type of scholar of the Israeli-Arab dispute and conflict. I understand that the Arabs have great animosity towards the Jews and feel that the land of Israel is also Palestine, their homeland. As I came to appreciate the persistence of the Arab’s feelings and entitlement about Israel, I began to side with the idea of the “two-state solution.” My reasoning was that the Israelis could live in peace and their families would be safe and there would not be any threats. I assumed that the Arabs should feel the same way. This book was to teach me that I was quite naive in my simple views of the situation.

The author of this book is an Israeli scholar, born in the United States, but moved to Israel when he was a young man. He not only knows the Jewish history but is also very knowledgeable and understanding of the history of the Arabs and the origin of their feeling towards Palestine. He reminds the reader of his book that both people had their origin as being descendants from the two sons of Abraham. He wrote this book as a series of letters to his Palestinian neighbor whose home he can see from his own house off in a distance on top of a hill. He traces the history of the Jewish people and their connection to the land of Israel in a very compelling manner. He fills in many of the gaps in my knowledge and provides a depth of understanding that adds to the stories we tell at Passover or during the various Jewish holidays and when we read and discuss parts of the Torah or when we do these things during Jewish holidays, Bar Mitzvahs or any services at the synagogue.

Halevi clearly makes the case that the Jews are not only a religion but a people and have a commitment and a connection to the land of Israel. He wants his Palestinian neighbors to appreciate this. At the same time, he presents a very measured understanding of the Palestinian’s attachment to the land. He reviews the situation of how Prime Minister Menachem Begin almost brought Israel to accept the compromised two-state solution, but the Arabs could not honestly agree to such an arrangement. This book doesn’t offer a solution for the seemingly intractable problem. However, he feels sure that the Israelis could eventually accept the two-state solution if they truly believe that the other side would support this and recognize their right to exist. Only then would there would be a chance for living in peace and harmony. What comes across in this book is that the author is empathic to the feelings of his neighbors and hopes that someday, they will reciprocate this feeling. His book is very well done and will be quite enlightening to most readers as it was for me.

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Waking Lions by Ayelet-Gundar-Gosher

October 15th, 2018 — 1:12pm

 Waking Lions  by Ayelet-Gundar-Gosher

 The setting is modern day Israel. A neurosurgeon in the early evening at the end of his shift at the hospital, takes his SUV out on an open road to release some of the tension built-up during the day. After speeding on what he thought was a deserted road, he hears a thud. Upon getting out of the car, he realizes that he has killed black Eritrean man. He uncharacteristically decides to leave the scene of the accident and vows to tell no one what happened. His wife, who is a homicide detective, is assigned the case.

Certainly, this has the makings of a great story, which it is. However, the author is intent on also making it a study of many aspects of human behavior including marital relationships, honesty, fidelity, blackmail, prejudice, discrimination, drugs, conscience and a lot more, perhaps too much. I can see that the author deserves the accolades that she has received for the book, as she has developed many wonderful skillful metaphors worked into the narrative. For me, however, these many deviations or sidetracks directed me away from my interest in the characters and the plot. I found myself reading faster and faster and flicking my finger more quickly on my iPad as I was not inclined to reflect as much as the author wanted me to do. This may have been my shortcoming as the book was very well received and recommended to me from people that I highly respect.

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And then All Hell Broke Loose by Richard Engel

March 17th, 2018 — 5:59pm

And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East by Richard Engel

I have always enjoyed Richard Engel’s television reports from the Middle East. He comes across as a brave, dedicated, knowledgeable reporter. More recently, I have seen him on NBC with a helmet and flak jacket reporting riots and in the middle of dangerous situations. Therefore, it was quite interesting to read about his determination as a young man to be a reporter and why he chose to specialize in the Middle East. He certainly was ambitious, but he was willing to put in hard work and to climb a ladder going from a freelancer to NBC’s go-to person in the Mid East. His adventures included a situation where he was captured and held prisoner. The book had the makings of a interesting movie or documentary.

The history of this area of the world has always seemed quite complicated to me. As part of this book, Engel makes an effort to trace the history of this part of the world back to ancient times. He makes a professional attempt to describe the history dating back to Mohammed and even earlier. He explains the differences between various groups and sects, such as Shiites and Sunnis and goes into great detail about the various leaders (mostly not elected) who were strong in the various countries and describes how they have impacted the history of this region. He tells how each one came to power as well as why they were able to stay in power or were toppled by opponents, sometimes with or without the help of the United States or other outside countries. I wish I could say that I am greatly enlightened by these descriptions and that I now have a coherent understanding of the history and the various power of factions in the Mid East but unfortunately, that would not be true. While Engel is clearly a knowledgeable scholar of the history and of the intricacies, they still blend together in my mind although I have not given up on trying to master an understanding of them.

While I am sure Engel would disagree, I did feel that he was somewhat unsympathetic to Israel. He noted at one point when he and his young first wife lived in Jerusalem, most of the Americans that he met there “were deeply involved in their temple groups.” He went on to say that he was “never able to break into their close-knit communities.” Also, in describing the Israeli ministers at all level, he noted, “I never saw such a well-oiled public relations machine.” When describing life under the Oslo Agreement, for the Palestinians living in the West Bank, he emphasized how blatantly unfair it was to the Palestinians, “it was a strange system which Palestinians had different rights depending where they lived.” He made the statement that “Many Israelis then and now, scarcely saw the Palestinians as human.” During the confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians throwing rocks at them, he noted that the Israelis shot rubber bullets, which he then added, “could cause fatal hematomas” as if the rocks thrown at the soldiers were not dangerous. Furthermore, in his description of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict, I thought he was negative towards Israel. I have never doubted Engel’s attempts at being an objective reporter, but as noted, I did think he was unfairly unsympathetic to Israel.

Despite my feelings about his one-sided view of Israel and my own difficulty in grasping a substantial piece of the history lessons he tried to give, I found this book a very a interesting and worthwhile read from a familiar television reporter for whom I have great admiration.

 

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Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide by Michael B. Oren

September 18th, 2015 — 11:03pm

Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli DivideScreen Shot 2015-09-18 at 5.56.52 PM

By: Michael B. Oren

The author is the former Ambassador from Israel to the United States who served 2009-2013 and currently is a member of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.

Oren’s journey to this position as Israel’s representative to the United States and the man who was one of the key advisers to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began when he was growing up in a Jewish family in West Orange, New Jersey. He was bullied then as a child and experienced antisemitism at a young age. At the age of 15, in 1970, Oren visited Israel with a Zionist group where he met Yitzhak Rabin in an encounter which he describes as a life changing event.

He went on to complete college at Columbia and received a master’s degree. He then immigrated to Israel in 1979. He came back to the United States to get a PhD at Princeton. He was married in 1982 to an American woman who also made Aliyah. They went on to have three children.

Oren’s commitment to Israel was more than an intellectual and emotional one. He joined the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) and served as a paratrooper in the 1982 war and saw serious combat. He then worked with the underground in the Soviet Union and was arrested by the KGB. During the Persian Gulf War he was the Israeli liaison to the United States Sixth Fleet. In the 1980s and 1990s, he taught at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at the university in Tel Aviv. He served in various positions in the Israeli government, and in 2006, was a visiting professor at Harvard and at Yale.

Oren has written numerous articles and a few important books including New York Times listed best selling books titled Faith and Fantasy, the history of America’s involvement in the Middle East and Six Days of War, an historical account of the Six Day War. He also wrote two novels.

So in 2009, when Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister appointmented Oren as Ambassador, he was already a seasoned government advisor as well as a respected historian. He considered himself a dual citizen of Israel and the United States. If fact, he described a very painful moment when he had to give up his US citizenship in order to become Israeli Ambassador to the United States. He vividly described his emotions seeing his passport voided.

Mr. Oren obviously must have kept a very complete diary as he goes on to document his life for the next four years in great detail. The reader has the feeling that the author is reliving the experience moment to moment, telephone call to cellphone call, car ride to plane ride, and so many very personal meetings. He essentially takes the reader up to the door of the Oval Office in the White House as he steps back to sit with the other most senior advisers as President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu hold their personal meetings. There are so many stories of this four-year period which essentially chronicles the delicate situation in the Middle East and the interaction between Israel and the United States.

I came away from this book feeling that Oren was a very loyal Israeli who still loves America. I thought that despite at times his critical view of some of the actions of the United States, he sincerely believed that his first country would always have Israel’s back.

As Oren currently serves in the Knesset, it would not surprise me if he did not someday move up and become part of the top leadership in Israel. This could lead to another important book to allow historians and people like us to gain further insight into the relationship between these two great allies.

 

 

3 comments » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, HI - History, P - Political

My Promised Land by Ari Shavit

December 22nd, 2014 — 4:50pm

My Promised Land by Ari ShavitScreen Shot 2014-12-21 at 1.34.42 PM

If you have any familiarity with the politics of the Middle East and the establishment of the state of Israel you know it is a very complicated story. Ari Shavit is an Israeli who cares deeply about the future of his beloved homeland. He has written what appears to me to be a definitive comprehensive book about the history of modern Israel. In the course of writing this book, he has done extensive research and has interviewed hundreds of people, many who have been key players in the amazing story of Israel. Shavit is a well-established journalist who personally knows many of these people. Others agreed to meet with him apparently because of his good reputation. I am not in a position to judge if he has all his facts straight and if he has given a balanced view. I can only say that it appears that he has tried to understand and present numerous points of view, This has to be a painful book to anyone who has an affinity for Israel and what this country has meant to so many people.

Naturally, Shavit covers the story of the European Jews who escaped annihilation from the Holocaust and how many of them with literally the shirts on their back built kibbutzim, moshavim, new cities, orange groves and so much more. The transformation from scorched dessert into fertile farms while on the surface is a magical story but is one of tremendous work and dedication. Similarly the development of Tel Aviv into one of the great cities of the world seems like a fairy tale but in reality reflects the courage and the personality of the people who came to Israel.

The spirit and the work ethic of the people who made up the Zionist movement is not the only story of Israel. There is also a narrative of continued bloodshed, conflicts, ethical dilemmas and an uncertainty about the future. The 1948 declaration of a State of Israel by the United Nations was followed by an attack by the surrounding Arab countries, which is a well known important piece of history. As are the 1967 War and the 1973 Yom Kipper War. The details and the meanings behind these wars are discussed in great detail in this book. Shavit doesn’t stop there; he examines and discusses the displaced natives of Palestine and other parts of Israel where many Arabs have lost their homes. While many Arabs do live in harmony in what is now Israel, it clear that many live for the day that they can regain what they feel is rightfully their land. Then there is the situation of the Jewish settlements on the Palestine west bank. On one hand, this is viewed as undermining the one just possibility for a two state solution that might lead to long lasting peace. On the other hand, there is also the point of view of the settlers which they present as a moral and deep seated justification for what they are doing.

There is the story of the Sephardic Jews in Israel, many of whom have felt greatly discriminated against. As with each issue the author brings to life the point of view of the protagonists by not only reviewing factual historical events but also by telling compelling personal stories of the people involved.

Perhaps one of the most important subplots of the story of Israel is a secret chapter that cannot be officially told. On the other hand it is well known and documented by Shavit. In this case he does this by using mostly non-Israeli and certainly non-official sources. This is the fascinating tale but certainly true story of the development of the city of Dimona, which is where Israel mobilized it’s human resources, with some help from France, to develop nuclear weapons. While this unacknowledged fact is stated with great certainty, Israel has never overtly used this as a threat but it nevertheless has been essential for the survival of Israel.

If Dimona were the big secret that I heard about before reading this book, the discussion of the magnitude of threat to Israel from Iran was something that I never fully appreciated. The author in his meticulous style reviews the response of Israel to each step that Iran has made to develop their own nuclear weapon capacity. This includes a daring secret air attack by Israel in 1981 which demolished Iran’s nuclear plants, which were on the verge of producing weapon grade nuclear material. This leads us to the present and one of the major dilemmas that Israel faces today. Once again Iran, a country that has sworn to destroy Israel, is approaching the ability of developing nuclear weapons.

I hope I have made the point that Ari Shavit has written an amazing book that has vividly described in depth so many of the historical events that have allowed Israel to develop and flourish, as well as the issues that question Israel’s viability to survive in the future as it exists today.

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