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The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land (Updated in 2008)

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  300 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Israel is smaller than New Jersey, with 0.11% of the world's population, yet captures a lion's share of headlines. It looks like one country on CNN, a very different one on al-Jazeera. The BBC has their version, related to the pro-Arab al-Jazeera one (although they tout it as 'objective') The New York Times theirs (also less than objective). But how does Israel look to Isr ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Free Press (first published 2003)
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Apr 28, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people with a die-hard fascination with Israel and Israeli life
I once had a long conversation with a Jewish colleague of mine who had flirted with becoming religious and then abandoned the idea. "You know," he said to me, "I just don't see that religion has made the world a better place." These are uncomfortable words for a religious person like myself to hear. As I read this book, his words kept coming back to me. If this book, which described a wide range of Israelis and aspects of Israeli life, had a theme, it might be the question of whether religiosity ...more
Patrick O'Connell
Aug 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
From the outside, it is tempting to view the inhabitants of another country as part of a monolithic culture, especially one that is founded upon a common ancestry and religion. This book helps dispell the myth that there is such a thing as an "Israeli" anymore than there is such a thing as an "American", and in the case of the former maybe even less so.

Israel is a country of peoples more disparate than Serbs and Albanians, held together (sometimes) by a distant common ancestry, occasionally a co
Howard Tobochnik
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book will teach you a lot about Israeli culture and history. It reads like fiction, but also includes many statistics and quotes from prominent people and books. here are some particularly memorable quotes:

Who are these Israelis who order Big Macs in the language of the Ten Commandments, believe that waiting in line is for sissies, and light up Marlboros under NO SMOKING signs? Their children, the world's biggest MTV fans, go to malls to get the latest Jennifer Lopez CDS … and gas masks. (1
Sep 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: alreadyread
As it travels through the many aspects of Israeli culture, the book The Israelis inspires, challenges and educates. It dives into the lives of a complicated region, exploring the cultures, the religions, the conflicts and the people. The best aspect of the book is that it does not only tell a story, it also allows the reader to live the events, as it includes personal and intimate stories, some funny, and some sad. Donna Rosenthal, the author, attempts to show that apart from the conflict, peopl ...more
Sep 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: israel
I began to read The Israelis right after our trip to Israel the fall of 2011, choosing to read slowly and over time in order to keep the people of Israel close to my heart. As we saw while there and clearly portrayed in the the book, the people are as varied in their dress as in their beliefs. The population includes Jews (orthodox, non-orthodox, ultra-orthodox), Muslims, Bedouins, Druze, Christians, and more, with different expressions of each. Rosenthal describes the differences well through h ...more
Willy C
Jul 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A short review I may add to later.

Comprehensive and explores:
-most of the major groups within Israeli society: Jews [Asheknazi, Ethiopian, Mizrachi, Sephardic etc.], Christians, Muslims, Druze, Bedouin,
-the successive waves of immigration, from Israel's origins as a state to the most recent waves of Russian and Ethiopian immigration
-the big divisions in Israeli society: Jews/Druze v.s. arab muslim; wealthy v.s. poor; everyone v.s. Charedi; settlers in West_Bank_and_Gaza/Judea_and_Samaria v
Oct 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
A decent book on the residents of Israel by a reporter. The following table of contents covers the testimonies and experiences of those living there.

I. Becoming Israeli
1. One of the World's Most Volatile Neighborhoods
2. Dating and Mating Israeli-style
3. A People's Army
4. Swords into Stock Shares

II. One Nation, Many Tribes
5. The Askenazim: Israel's "WASPS"
6. The Mizrahim: The Other Israelis
7. The Russians: The New Exodus
8. Out of Africa: Ethiopian Israelis in the Promised Land

III. Widening Fault
Jun 27, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've always wished that I had studied in Israel. This was a fascinating read to me--a lot of details about the complexities of a volatile region, and why it's only growing more complicated every year. The author has written for Newsweek and the book reads like a huge article from that magazine.
Jul 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
great interviews. interesting topic. good read. not recommend because sensational and a took angle that is not so positive
Feb 24, 2007 rated it really liked it
Details the lives of all facets of Israeli society from Prostitutes, to Orthodox, from Ethiopians to Russians.
Jan 05, 2009 rated it liked it
This is a very detailed and diverse portrayal of the people of a modern day Israel. The book is as complex as the situation in that part of the world.
Dec 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
My coworker from Israel recommended this book as a good example of insight into all the many factions at play in such a dense, historic land. Thanks, Sarit!
Maya Man
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
My bubi gave me this book before my trip to Israel and I just returned and just finished it. It does provide a really great look into all of the different ethnic and religious groups present in Israel and the struggles each one faces as the region is stuck between tradition and modernity. I learned A LOT and feel like I now have a much stronger understanding of the wide variety of people who makeup Israel's population (which maybe contrary to popular belief is not just white European seriously J ...more
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Jamila Fitzpatrick
Apr 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, well-researched, balanced look inside Israel. Originally published in 2003, but updated in 2008.
TR Peterson
Jul 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
This version of the book was published during the Second Intifada and naturally begins talking about the effect of it on Israel. As such the first bit of the book can appear to be a one-sided narrative of the country. However this is deceiving. In reality Rosenthal gives us an excellent inside look into the lives of Israelis. Anyone interested in the Middle East should read this book, if nothing more than to demystify the stereotypes that one has about the people of such an eclectic and diverse ...more
Oct 24, 2007 rated it liked it
Donna Rosenthal and her somewhat anthropologist approach
-yes, i'm a sucker for ethnographies- has beautifully compiled stories about people surviving in fascinating and odd situations (aren't we all?),using the Israeli context as a rich and colorful frame.

Some favorites:
A muslim family that keeps the keys to Jerusalem's sacred church of the holy sepulchre and the married Israeli christian arab who is trying to hide his homosexual affair from his family ('How can you? The bible forbids homosexu
Dec 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: israel
Almost all Americans see Israel as a collection of stereotypes. For Jews these might be of the 1960's "Exodus" variety, for Christians of Old Testament vintage. This is a recently updated view by a reporter on the ground. A long version of the kind of profile of a subject you might find in the New Yorker or in a book by John McPhee.

Even though I think of myself as far above average in my knowledge of Israel -- Israeli Mom, 16 years of Hebrew school, half my relatives live there, I've traveled th
May 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Pro-Israel, feel-good type book with a gloss-over of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Good background on differing Jewish cultures and groups as well as other ethnics such as Druse.

Does provide insight into several social issues confronting Israelis ...... racist attitudes towards Jews of color or from Arab cultures, illegal drug smuggling and use, prostitution and human trade, conflict between varying Jewish traditions, Christionization resulting from Russian immigrants and some of the extremism
Anoud Alammar
Apr 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
I've never really thought that occupiers themselves suffer from oppression. A large section of Rosenthal's book explains how Israeli minorities were treated back in the days when the so-called Israeli state was first established. Different minorities ranging from mizrachis, safhardis, and even ethiopian Jews, were maltreated and in some cases forced to come to Israel and leave their hometowns in order for the "state" to surpass Palestine racially.
Jul 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Rosenthal gives each major division in Israeli society (religious, secular, Muslims, Ashkenazim, Sephardim, the IDF, etc.) their own chapter and examines them in a way that is interesting, personal and thorough. I haven't read the updated edition, so I can't speak for that, but I'd assume it's just as good as the original edition published in 2003.
Apr 03, 2011 rated it liked it
It helps if you know something about Israel to start with. The book was written in 2003 so it definitely focuses on the 2nd intifada and terrorism more than it might if it had been written at a different time.
Apr 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An incredible overview of the eclectic tapestry of subcultures within the state of Israel. This is a terrific breakdown of the interesting mix of peoples representing the modern nation of delves into detail and paints life here quite accurately.
Dana Woodaman
Mar 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
A most interesting book about the complex people of Israel. What I liked about it most was that it was drawn from the words of ordinary citizens, so the statements rang true to my ears.
Frequently compelling reading, and I learned a lot, which to me is the mark of a good book.
Alicia Chavis mittleman
Jul 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was a really fascinating book. I learned so much about Israel that I never knew. Good read.
Apr 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very informative and eye opening. Have even a greater respect for the people of Israel.
Sep 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book gave me a much better understanding of how diverse and complex Israeli society is. Well written and thought provoking.
Amber Austen
Jan 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
interesting, riveting, insightful... and I'm on chapter 3
Jul 27, 2011 added it
Reading it again, after living here for almost two years. Interesting to revisit it, but from a totally different perspective
Apr 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A well-written journalistic look at Israeli society (ca. 2003, as Ayelet points out).
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