I've read several books on Israel at this point, and this is the one I've enjoyed most. Hands down. I wish I could writAbsolutely fabulous. Ten stars.
I've read several books on Israel at this point, and this is the one I've enjoyed most. Hands down. I wish I could write a review that would do it justice.
Yossi Klein Halevi traces the lives of several paratroopers from the Six Day War, and through introducing us to their stories, offers a great deal of insight into the development of right-wing and left-wing Israeli politics. The characters are interesting not only for their distinct personalities, achievements, and life trajectories, but for their impact on Israel, Israel's impact on them, and as a microcosm of the various divisions in Israeli society -- right-left, hawk-dove, religious-secular, communist-capitalist, etc.
The paratroopers meet in 1967 in the 55th Brigade. Arik Achmon is an astoundingly capable individual, kibbutz-born but coming to embrace capitalism and to foster its growth in Israeli society. Udi Adiv, also kibbutz-born, is disenchanted with the Six Day War and takes up the Palestinian cause, eventually imprisoned for his role in creating an anti-Zionist terrorist underground. Meir Ariel becomes a poet-singer, critically acclaimed but never commercially successful, going through a variety of bohemian phases including a quasi-religious one. Avital Geva, a devoted kibbutznik and leftist, becomes an artist and peace activist. Yoel Bin-Nun, a religious soldier, helps found a strong settlement movement but comes to reject their staunch messianism and extreme, intransigent views. Yisrael Harel and Hanan Porat, in contrast, are religious soldiers who also embrace the settlement movement and criticize Yoel bitterly for his more moderate stance.
This book reminded me of זכרונות אחרי מותי, using the readable and fascinating story of an important individual as a lens through which to begin to understand Israeli history. But Like Dreamers: The Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, and the Divided Israel They Created was even better. We watch seven individuals, not just one, diverge and converge to offer a multidimensional and nuanced view of Israeli society and the political scene. I cried when I read about Rabin's death, because I had a new understanding of the man himself and of what his life and death meant. The disengagement from Gaza, which happened a few months after I moved to Israel when I was bleary-eyed and trying to get my children adjusted to a new language and culture, suddenly took on a whole new meaning for me.
I don't know whether you'll feel as passionately about this book as I did if you don't feel as passionately as I do about the topic, or the land itself. But if you do, this book is highly recommended.
Jeffrey Goldberg, an acclaimed journalist, writes a stirring memoir describing how he, an unaffiliated Jew, came to embrace Zionist ideals as an adoleJeffrey Goldberg, an acclaimed journalist, writes a stirring memoir describing how he, an unaffiliated Jew, came to embrace Zionist ideals as an adolescent and make Aliyah as a young adult, work on a kibbutz, and then serve a stint in the Israeli army as an increasingly conflicted and disillusioned prison guard overseeing Palestinian prisoners. Jeff writes eloquently and incisively about people he meets and how they flesh out his three-dimensional views of Israel and its problems:
“Gadi, in his normalcy, symbolized a paradox of the kibbutz experiment, and of the entire Zionist experiment. His grandparents came to Palestine with an idea, to make whole the Jewish people, to build ‘New Jews,’ strong and competent and close to the land, like all the other peoples of the world. For them there would be no more hand-wringing and cringing self-doubt. Well, they made Gadi and his generation normal, so normal that they wanted nothing to do with Jews. They were indifferent to the idea that Israel was meant to serve some sort of cosmic purpose, either a universal purpose, as a light unto the nations, or a tribal purpose, as an ark of refuge for lost and suffering Jews…
“The parents, and grandparents, of these young Israelis weren’t much interested in Judaism either, but with one difference: The grandparents were in revolt against texts, parched rituals, and superstitious beliefs of their parents, against the shtetl, against the Diaspora itself. But they at least knew the texts, and knew the rituals. They understood the thing they were rejecting. The grandchildren believed themselves to be in revolt, but they were revolting against nothing. They were rebels in a vacuum created by their own ignorance.” (p. 102)
Although Jeff, as an agnostic Jew with limited interest in his religion, is coming from a very different place than I am, I found these words highly insightful and reflective of the emptiness of a Zionism devoid of religious knowledge and belief.
Most of the story focuses on Jeff’s friendship with Rafiq, a Palestinian prisoner he guards and then arranges to meet up with later when both have finished doing their time in the prison. Not surprisingly, this experience of Jeff’s, together with many others he describes, serves as a microcosm of the greater Arab-Israeli conflict and of many of the internal and external challenges Israel faces.
“…I proposed a scenario to Rafiq: Imagine that it is five years from now and you are a free man, working in Jerusalem, on a building site. You see me walking down the street. I’m in civilian clothing, but you remember me as a soldier of the Israeli army, the army that occupies your land and oppresses your people. Would you kill me if you had the chance?
“To which Rafiq replied, in Hebrew, ‘Come on.’
“No, I’m serious, I said.
“Jeff, this is stupid, he said.
“Listen, I told him, I’m not going to drag you to solitary confinement if you give me the wrong answer.
“I was desperate for an answer. I was desperate, though, for the right answer – it was surpassingly important to me. He could, with the wrong answer, tear down the scaffolding of my beliefs, the belief in the power of friendship to bridge the abyss between our two tribes, the belief that I could make him my friend. I believed, with morbid sincerity, that if I could make him my friend, we would together, in some small but consequential way, defy the wicked logic of hate and war, that we, together, would stand as a rebuke to the grotesque idea that our problem was without a solution.
“Finally, he said, ‘Look, it wouldn’t be personal.’” (pp. 35-36)
Jeff’s friendship with Rafiq undergoes many transitions but ultimately appears to develop past this early point; Rafiq later reveals to Jeff that he worries when he hears about a bombing in Jerusalem and knows Jeff is there. Does this mean there is hope for the Arab-Israeli conflict? By the end of the book, Jeff and Rafiq both seem to express tentative optimism on this score, although Jeff doesn’t shy away from exploring the full complexity of this question throughout the book.
Although the narrative dragged occasionally, the book overall was beautifully written and powerful, definitely a worthwhile reading experience. I also give Jeff a great deal of credit for his evenhandedness and honesty. Jeff’s Israeli and Palestinian acquaintances alike earn his admiration and sympathy, or dislike and antipathy, or most often, ambivalence. Neither side is painted one-dimensionally.
Highly recommended, especially to people interested in valuable and personal insights into the Arab-Israeli conflict....more
Anyone who's thinking of going into kiruv, or doing other work with teenagers (especially disadvantaged ones), should read this book, especially if thAnyone who's thinking of going into kiruv, or doing other work with teenagers (especially disadvantaged ones), should read this book, especially if they have the capacity for honest self-reflection.
This highly readable memoir describes a successful graduate of a teen homeless shelter who goes back to the shelter twenty years later to volunteer, ostensibly for altruistic reasons, but is actually propelled by a subconscious desire to find a teen who reminds her of her former self and be a hero to this teen, changing the teen's life for the better. Erlbaum is brutally honest about her mixed motives and describes how they caused her to rationalize breaking all kinds of rules and boundaries in her interactions with the girls. Her ego-investment eventually led her to become unhealthily preoccupied with one girl in particular at the expense of her judgment and personal life, and ultimately blinded her to seeing the truth about the girl she thought she was helping.
I took off one star because it got a little repetitive at one point (Sam has a crisis, Janice helps her, Janice feels good, Sam seems to be doing well, Sam has another crisis, and the cycle continues). However, I still enjoyed the book a lot and would encourage people to read it. I got a lot out of it; it validated a lot of my theories about the "Pygmalion" complex in people who do kiruv.
Ok -- I finally finished it. There's not much I can say that wasn't already discussed in our dialogue, but overall I definitely enjoyed the book. As aOk -- I finally finished it. There's not much I can say that wasn't already discussed in our dialogue, but overall I definitely enjoyed the book. As a religious person, I can definitely relate to a memoir which explores spiritual ups and downs, and the fact that it wasn't written from a Jewish perspective made it more interesting for me. I'm wondering -- are she and Felipe still together? Just a little trivial aside there. Some parts were better than others, but I definitely thought it was worth reading....more
This was great fun, and thought-provoking as well. Religion from a whole new perspective. The problems of being a Karaite have become a whole lot cleaThis was great fun, and thought-provoking as well. Religion from a whole new perspective. The problems of being a Karaite have become a whole lot clearer! The latter section on following the New Testament seemed a bit weaker to me; I'm not sure whether that reflects my personal bias or perhaps the author's lesser engagement with the New Testament. But overall, a truly enjoyable read....more
Another recommendation on loan from Margueya -- her book club is reading this one.
I thought this was a great book. Its deceptively simple style and imAnother recommendation on loan from Margueya -- her book club is reading this one.
I thought this was a great book. Its deceptively simple style and immediate accessibility belies a deep, provocative story. I loved the subtlety, and the complex look at human relationships. This would be a great choice for a book club! There's a great deal to discuss. Not for the fainthearted, though -- I also found the book to be terribly sad....more
Wow -- very interesting examination of beauty vs. ugliness, and how unforgiving life can be if you're stuck being ugly. It made me contemplate a lot oWow -- very interesting examination of beauty vs. ugliness, and how unforgiving life can be if you're stuck being ugly. It made me contemplate a lot of issues, some of which she didn't delve into as much -- for example, the difficulty of enjoying genuine friendships with "normal" people when there's something obviously different about you, especially during adolescence. It was very well-written and powerful, but I also found it pretty sad and intense at times, especially the description of what her illness was like as a child....more
I'm giving this five stars, even though in truth I'm really not sufficiently knowledgeable to critique the thesis of the book and should perhaps be moI'm giving this five stars, even though in truth I'm really not sufficiently knowledgeable to critique the thesis of the book and should perhaps be more conservative in my praise. I found it readable, interesting, and thought-provoking; similar genre to Freakonomics but more solid, it seemed to me. Highly recommended. ...more
Some interesting insights and a relatively fast read, but overall didn't do much for me. Maybe it's because I've already read Angry Conversations withSome interesting insights and a relatively fast read, but overall didn't do much for me. Maybe it's because I've already read Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir which had a similar theme. Sarah writes about her life, some drifting and emotional angst, and her decision to become a priest followed by her rescinding that decision because of a loss of faith. Like I said, some interesting points to ponder and I can't complain about the length. Kind of forgettable, though, unfortunately and I suspect not only because I read it on a transatlantic flight....more
Beautiful writing, kind of an interesting and ambiguous story. I'm not sure I really got it. Having read "Through the Narrow Gate," though, it was intBeautiful writing, kind of an interesting and ambiguous story. I'm not sure I really got it. Having read "Through the Narrow Gate," though, it was interesting to read a fictional story that took place in a pre-Vatican II convent....more
I wavered between three and four stars on this one. The topic was compelling; the book somewhat less so. I found it kind of slow and verReview, Part 1
I wavered between three and four stars on this one. The topic was compelling; the book somewhat less so. I found it kind of slow and verbose, although it certainly was interesting and gave me a lot of food for thought (as you will see if you have the patience to read another long, rambling review). I got a little annoyed when she kept emphasizing how a mother can provide a clean home, home-cooked meals, adequate clothing, structure and supervision, etc. for her kid and that child can still grow up feeling shortchanged emotionally -- it almost felt as if she was minimizing the amount of effort and yes, LOVE, that goes into doing those things. I'm not trying to invalidate the pain of a child who grows up with these things and feels unloved, but as someone who works hard to provide those things for her children (and I'm fortunate to be a stay-at-home mom; working mothers have to work much harder than I do to provide these things), I can tell you firsthand that it's a very demanding job and one that I could only do, or certainly only do well and consistently, for people to whom I really felt commitment and love. Providing these things generously and graciously is definitely a statement of love, even if children don't appreciate that until they grow older. Of course, emotional needs should be tended to as well; however, I wonder if perhaps our generation expects too much in that sense? I remember reading P.D. James's memoir where she wrote about how, when she was younger (she wrote the memoir several years ago when she was in her late 70s), there were a lot fewer divorces. She acknowledged that this probably means there were more unhappy marriages, but as she says, in those days "we did not view happiness as an entitlement." She commented that today's generation appears to feel more entitled to happiness and anxious to pursue it as a goal, but is not necessarily happier for it. Anyway, getting back to the book at hand, I often wonder how much of my generation's general dissatisfaction with their upbringing and efforts to improve on it stems from increased psychological awareness and is based in reality, versus how much of it reflects a perceived "entitlement to happiness" as P.D. James would have it, and a lack of appreciation of the things we did have and the efforts that went into providing them. The book doesn't raise this question, much less attempt to answer it, but I did wonder how much of these "undermothered" women's deprivation was in their minds, and a sign of the times, as opposed to actual emotional deprivation.
[They told me my review was too long, so I'm going to attempt to paste it in two parts; let's see if I succeed. Part 2, hopefully, will follow...]...more
Disclaimer: This book deserves a more thoughtful review than the one I'm going to write (I highly recommend Lena's review, http://www.goodreads.com/reDisclaimer: This book deserves a more thoughtful review than the one I'm going to write (I highly recommend Lena's review, http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...). I listened to this book as I frantically cooked for a 3-day holiday for 16 people and, as such, did not give it enough attention. But I'll try.
Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America challenges prevailing American optimism and the notion that positive thinking has the power to alter outcomes. Ehrenreich begins by describing her experience with breast cancer, where she was encouraged to stay positive about her diagnosis. She points out that the militant emphasis on positive thinking with regard to the real trauma of a cancer diagnosis gives rise to denial, losing touch with one's feelings, and victim-blaming when failure to recover is presumed to be a function of failure of attitude. These effects of unsupported optimism pervade additional areas of life as well.
In an interesting historical review, Ehrenreich traces the roots of our assumptions about positive mental attitude and its influence on one's fate, showing that these beliefs are far from well-founded. Ehrenreich also traces the impact of these pervasive assumptions on business (are motivational speakers truly a worthy expense for a business? should a worker be fired for a less-than-Pollyannish response to the company's developments, or should they perhaps be listened to?), on the economy (one word: mortgages), on religion and self-help, and even on my field of psychology (ouch) where the positive psychology movement is sadly lacking in scientific backing.
This was a very interesting meditation on what religion has to offer even to committed nonbelievers. Some original insights and creative ideas about wThis was a very interesting meditation on what religion has to offer even to committed nonbelievers. Some original insights and creative ideas about what religion gives the world and how that might be incorporated by the atheists among us. I found it very enjoyable to read, even if some of the arguments worked better for me than others....more