Category Archives: Israel

“Cry, Angry Hills: A Novel of the Middle East” by Richard Reese— Two Families


Reese, Richard, “Cry, Angry Hills: A Novel of the Middle East”, Independently Published, 2019.

Two Families

Amos Lassen

“Cry, Angry Hills” by Richard Reese is the story of two families who struggle over one land once belonging to both people. Saul and Rachel Rabinowitz leave Revolutionary Russia to settle in the Hills of Judea to build a new life as Jews and a country for their children. Sheikh Ahmed Fawza is the proud descendant from a fierce warrior that was granted this land some thirteen centuries ago when Islam first swept into Palestine. Sheikh Ahmed will fight for the Judean Hills which belongs to him and is the very heart of the Palestinian nation. When the two patriarchs clash over a dry wadi, the confrontation between them begins a tragic 100 Years’ War which still consumes their descendants.

This is historical fiction novel with a Prologue set in 636 and going on to cover the period from 1917 through 1987, starting in Russian Poland with the pogroms and proceeding into Palestine, through the British Mandate, the Holocaust, World War II, the Partition of Palestine and birth of the State of Israel, wars in 1948, 1967, 1973, the PLO, suicide bombings and attacks, the 1982 Invasion of Lebanon through the academic and political wrangling between Zionists and anti-Zionists.
When the Rabinowitz family arrives in Israel they settle in farmland in the Judean hills, on land claimed by the Fawzas. The conflict over that land is the central theme of the novel, the now existential battle over competing claims whom the land belongs to. Reese avoids demonizing one side and glorify the other.

The novel is multi-layered and complex, like the overarching conflict of to whom these hills belong. The personal stories are interwoven with the religious, cultural, and political issues. It’s well researched with historical accuracy. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians are presented as all good or all evil. We read of the internal, factional conflicts within Israel and Palestine as well, ultra-orthodox vs. secular Jews and Israel hating vs. co-existing Palestinians. There are wars within wars and the conflicts carry on throughout all aspects of life.

“MAGIC MEN”— Tracing the Past to Mend a Relationship


Tracing the Past to Mend a Relationship

Amos Lassen

Avraham Coffins (Markram Khoury) is a 76 year-old father who is trying to trace his past with his son, Yehuda (Zohar Strauss) in the hopes of mending their relationship. The plot gives us simple and honest characters that each has a different belief system that gives him the confidence to turn his back on the other. This is a  comedic drama with talented and captivating performances.

Directed and written by Guy Nativ and Erez Tadmor, the film is set in Greece, a country struggling to save itself from economic ruin. Avraham Coffins is a Greek Holocaust survivor who was chosen to represent his city at a twin city ceremony held in his childhood state. Yehuda is a Hasidic rapper who has repented and has a years-long rift between his father, comes along to help his father. Avraham is annoyed by his son’s presence while at the same time is dealing with memories. He decides to take advantage of his visit to find the street boy who hid him in World War II. The same boy taught Avraham street tricks thanks through which he managed to survive and now he decides to locate and reward him.

The source of the film’s charm is in the honest and simple characters. In front of the poor and defeated state of Greece, we meet a father and a son who are each in their own way a simple and good person. What still makes their relationship interesting is that for each of them, the same belief or lack thereof, is the one from which derives his or her “simple” and clean conception of life. While Abraham survived the Holocaust, his son Judah finds the joy of his life in faith in God. Yehuda’s faith lies in love and happiness; for his father, it is the tricks he learned, what saved his life. In this way, two “good” characters were created in terms of values, which are easy to love and support, and there is still a sufficiently interesting conflict between them.

“COMRADE DOV”— A Portrait of the Only Jewish member of the Arab Hadash Party


A Portrait of the Only Jewish member of the Arab Hadash Party

Amos Lassen

For 13 years Dov Khenin served in the Knesset, imposing a speech favorable to the idea of ​​an intelligent dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. This was to the chagrin of other members of Parliament and a section of the population called him a communist , enemy to the nation and privileged Ashkenazi Jew. The Israeli Arabs are on his side and admire his banter, his restless yet controlled calm and an irreproachable sense of repartee.

At meetings, quarrels are regular. In the demonstrations and assemblies of his party, he is at the forefront. He is fighting against the social inequalities experienced by a large part of the population, whether they are Jews or Arabs and this is true especially in Tel Aviv, the economic capital of the country and the nerve center of social and cultural movement.

Over the past few years he has received admonitions and even criticism from members of his party. He is reminded that he does not fully understand the Palestinian cause while as an Ashkenazi citizen, he enjoys the privileges that Israeli society affords him.

Dov Khenin is an educated man, a citizen responsible for what is happening inside an Israel where capitalism and individualism have swept aside the collective ideals of sharing and justice of a society; an egalitarian society eager to transform the dynamic with start-ups and other similarities of the genre.

Dov Khenin is in a way the black sheep of a country which is still seeking its true path. His career is filled with pitfalls and each time, he gets away like a wolf in the sheepfold. The film is witness to the various comings and goings of this citizen above all suspicion. Khenin decides to make the best decision of his life: to leave Parliament. By this gesture, he joins the common people in his fight for human rights.

This  Israeli documentary from Barak Heymann attempts to win the attention and sympathy of people with varying political views and sets out to, if not bring about concrete change, open the hearts and mind of an Israeli public that is increasingly moving further to the right.

To many Israelis, Khenin is probably more notoriously known for formerly being the only Jewish member of the Joint List, an alliance of the four major Arab political parties in Israel. Throughout the film, Heymann follows Khenin as he navigates two political spaces he understands well, the Knesset and the streets, showing us his tireless activism in action. One of the goals of the film is to encourage a view of common humanity by pointing out similar political struggles in the lives of Palestinians and Jews in Israel. In early scenes, we see some of the socioeconomic problems that working-class Jewish citizens deal with and then transitions to a scene of Bedouin residents in Umm al Hiran being evicted to make room for a Jewish neighborhood.

We see and feel the sense of urgency of the situation through the balanced presentation of the issues. In fact, it seems as though everyone is given a chance to speak about Khenin, from high ranking government officials to people on the streets and even fellow left-wing Palestinian activists who are critical of him despite his well-meaning efforts.

in one key scene in the Knesset where members are discussing a matter concerning a budget for the transfer of 7 billion NIS to the army’s expenses, we see clearly that Khenin can show chutzpah when it comes to the public interest.  “Mr. Chairman, this discussion is ridiculing the Knesset…it’s a bluff. Everything is a bluff…. The citizens of Israel need to see what is being done with their money. We can’t have a vote without allowing Knesset members to ask questions. We’re allowed to ask questions.” He is then asked to leave.

The film ends with Khenin’s retirement from Knesset after a very productive career. He emphasizes that he is not retiring from his efforts; he is merely shifting his focus. “The Knesset is very important,” he reassures fellow Hadash party members, “but the struggle for real change does not begin or end in the Knesset.” Khenin believes the source for real change must come from a grassroots movement. Despite his many accomplishments, he remains pessimistic and feels there have been many failures and that much remains to be done. What we learn from Khenin in the film that if we reach out to those who are different from us, there may be hope.

“Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth” by Now Tishby— Understanding Israel

Tishby, Noa. “Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth”, Free Press, 2021.

Understanding Israel

Amos Lassen

Having lived in Israel for many years and having been an active member of Israel politics and society, I am not embarrassed to admit that there is so much that I do not understand about the country. I have read countless books, watched many documentaries and engaged in conversations with other Israelis trying to figure out what I do not understand and to this day, I am still searching for answers. I must say that in “Israel”, Noa Tishby helped me understand things a bit better, opening the door on many questions I have. While there is still a lot that remains enigmatic, I have a clearer idea of the Israeli mind.

Tishby gives us apersonal and concise chronological timeline that goes from Biblical times to the present that explores Israel. Even with its tiny size, Israel is a hot issue that seems to be debated constantly. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about Israel but not many people actually know the facts. Through her irreverent voice, Tishby goes straight to the issues and gives us an accessible look at Israel. Shechronicles the  evolution of the country, looks at the establishment of the State and covers the issues that divide Israel and many of us. She examines popular misconceptions and presents facts and critical context about controversies  and provides an account of Israel. As another critic stated this is an “anti-textbook” and not the kind of history book that we usually get. We get a crash course on Israel in witty, straightforward and authentic prose. Through the personal story of her family, we get a different look at Israel as told by someone who knows how to tell a story.

“KISS ME KOSHER”— Unlikely Lesbian Lovers


Unlikely Lesbian Lovers

Amos Lassen

Writer-director Shirel Peleg’s “Kiss Me Kosher” is a vey funny romantic comedy about unlikely lesbian lovers.  Maria (Luise Wolfram) is a reserved German botanist whose earnest parents are about peace and love and  angry about the Holocaust. Shira (Moran Rosenblatt) is an extrovert Israeli with a  supportive but opinionated large family. The film takes place over a week or so in Israel as Maria is introduced to her fiancee’s family. Her parents also arrive.

Both families are completely supportive of their daughters being gay and wanting to marry. The issues come from the prejudices they carry outside of homophobia – whether the Israeli grandma Holocaust survivor (Rivka Michaeli) who wants her daughter to marry an Israeli (while at the same time hides her relationship with an Arab man) or the American Jewish father (John Carroll Lynch) who has the zeal of the convert and wants Maria to convert to Judaism so his grandchild will be Jewish. The German parents are upset about the fact that their soon to be daughter-in-law’s little sister is in the Israeli army because they believe in peace and the two-state solution.

The film never avoids the real prejudices and obstacles facing a young couple who are deeply in love. The fact is that when you marry you also marry the family and no matter how far Shira tries to shelter Maria from the complications, they will always be there and are captured for posterity by her aspiring film-maker kid brother. The question is whether Maria is willing to accept it all even though they are meant for each other.

Shira’s Israeli parents are stereotypes – a mother and a right wing racist father. Her grandmother seems fine on race since she’s having a hidden relationship with a Palestinian doctor after all  but she draws the line of her precious granddaughter having anything to do with a German.

Shira’s younger sister wears an army uniform because it gets her discounts at most museums and her brother is a bit of a joker who follows the couple around with a camera for a film project for school. He is delighted to make a film about lesbians, Jews and the Holocaust.

Maria’s family is liberal, apologetic, and make the mistake of wanting to visit a refugee camp on the second day of their visit. When Maria is able to begin a friendship with a local Palestinian shepherd boy, her parents are able to bring forth the unthinkable.

“Kiss me Kosher” tries to combine comedy with serious discussion, but it often gets the tone wrong. The film is not offensive but it often makes the same mistake of trying to be light hearted where there’s not much to laugh at.

Not everyone is delighted that Shira and Maria are gay, but aside from an Orthodox Jew in an early scene, everyone accepts that this is just how they are. There is also some critique of Israeli settlers, although it does seem that mentioning a Two State Solution may be a little bit too radical.

There is a happy ending. Three couples end up pledging their love despite having shown differently suspicious feelings about marriage earlier in the film. What starts off as a depiction of how difficult families can be ends up seeing no alternative to happy families.

Perhaps the queer romance is meant to enhance the comedic conventions or subvert them, but instead we get an uneasy mix of awkward dialogue consequences that don’t really matter. The film is at its best when exploring how generational differences interfere with modern relationships.

“If Anyone Calls, Tell Them I Died: A Memoir” by Emanuel Rosen— Loss, Strength and Triumph

Rosen, Emanuel. “If Anyone Calls, Tell Them I Died: A Memoir”, Amsterdam, 2021

Loss, Strength and Triumph

Amos Lassen

Dr. Hugo Mendel, a successful Jewish lawyer, managed to escape Germany in 1933. He and his family and moved to Tel Aviv. Twenty years later, he and his wife Lucie returned to Germany to take stock of all that was stolen from them including Hugo’s career and reputation, their country, their sense of belonging. Returning to Israel, a  Hugo jumped to his death.

Writer Emanuel Rosen is Hugo’s grandson and he retraces his grandparents’ European trip and what happened after in his memoir “If Anyone Calls, Tell them I Died”.  Here is his family’s story of their life in pre-war Germany, the new they built in Israel, their return visit to Europe, and Emanuel’s mother Mirjam’s legal fight to get the German government to accept responsibility for her father’s suicide (even though it happened years after the war ended). We get a look at a family who fled Europe just in time, the diaspora they became a part of (with all the evocative specificity of its culture and language and how they yearned for the place that did nothing to save them and was intent on destroying them. Rosen also gives a tribute to his mother and shares a personal look at the trauma of displacement, and a detective story.

As he was growing up, Rosen had no idea of the battle his mother was facing. Years later, he found a box with letters that his grandparents had sent from their trip to Germany in 1956 and he decided to retrace their journey.

Here are the stories of three generations–grandparents, daughter, and grandson in which we read about the devastating consequences of Nazi persecution, even for those who were able to flee Europe before WWII and did not experience the Holocaust. It reminds us that there was a heavy psychological toll of uprooting that is still experienced by refugees and exiles today.

This is the story of immigrant grandparents and what they faced in the State of Israel and their later search for their roots and identity in Germany and of a family whose lives were changed by Nazi restrictions, by immigrant life in Israel, and by a grandson’s search for the missing stories. We have the mystery of why Emanuel Rosen’s grandfather killed himself until we learn the secrets of the past.

Just five months after returning from the trip to Germany, Hugo jumped to his death from a building in Tel Aviv. After Rosen’s mother died in 1992, he found a box with letters that his grandparents had sent to his mother from that trip. He had the letters translated, and went to Germany to retrace their journey. When he visited his grandfather’s German law office, he was given a thick folder with information about the legal battle his mother began to prove that those who had forced her father out of his profession as a lawyer were responsible for his death.

Rosen, growing up in Israel, received little education about the Holocaustsince the country wasstriving to build the identity of the strong Israeli unlike the survivors who were often and wrongly perceived as weak.  Many survivors chose not to talk— they wanted to integrate into mainstream Israeli society were more focused on rebuilding their lives. Today, it is easier to research and talk about the Holocaust because many are somewhat removed from the trauma and want to understand what went on and to bring the stories forward.

Rosen shows that even those who could leave early suffered from uprooting, feelings of guilt, and broken dreams. His grandfather was taken from his profession and the new cultural environment eventually led to his suicide. Rosen’s grandmother was affected by his suicide and felt guilty about it and blamed herself. His mother felt guilty about her father’s suicide and about her grandmother’s return to Germany. Her legal battle to prove that the Nazis were responsible for his death was her way to finding closure.

Hugo didn’t feel he belonged in Israel and the trip to Germany made him realize that he didn’t belong in Germany either. He was never able to adapt to his new circumstances after leaving Germany and losing his career yet Lucie adapted to life in Israel.  She also had several cousins in Israel and found it easier to adapt. Hugo grew up with the idea of how things were supposed to be, and when he faced a new reality, it was difficult to become part of it. They both had to deal with losing their social status. Lucie accepted new situations and tried to make the best out of them. She focused on the family.

There is a lot to think about while reading this and it is quite a different view on the Holocaust and what it wrought. I found it hard to put down and was determined to read it all in one sitting. I am still pondering what I read.




“Contested Utopia: Jewish Dreams and Israeli Realities” by Marc J. Rosenstein— Israel through Utopian Thought



Rosenstein, Marc J. “Contested Utopia: Jewish Dreams and Israeli Realities”,  Jewish Publication Society, 2021.

Israel Though Utopian Thought

Amos Lassen

Marc J. Rosenstein’s “Contested Utopia: Jewish Dreams and Israeli Realities” is the first book to look at the Jewish state through the lens of Jewish utopian thought, from its biblical beginnings to modernity and it gives us a fresh perspective on the political, religious, and geopolitical life of the country. Rosenstein argues that the ideas of the Jewish people’s collective memories, desires, hopes, and faith have merged to give us an ideal life in the Land of Israel—but, in fact, “the legacy is a kaleidoscope of conflicting (and sometimes overlapping) visions.” After three millennia of imagining utopia, it is almost not possible for Jews to respond to Israel’s realities without being influenced (even unconsciously) by these images.

We look at the place of utopian thought in Judaism with Rosenstein showing with original texts, the diverse utopian visions of the Jewish state. We have Torah state (Yavetz), holy community (based on nostalgic memories of the medieval community), national-cultural home (Lewinsky), “normal” state (Herzl), socialist paradise (Syrkin), anarchy (Jabotinsky), and reality that is defined by Israel’s historic or heavenly ordained borders. The book shows how these “very different utopian visions collide in Israel’s attempts to chart policy and practice regarding the Sabbath, social welfare, immigration, developing versus conserving the land, and the Israel-Diaspora relationship yields novel perspectives on contemporary flashpoints.” Rosenstein’s own utopian vision presents us with a further way for both Israelis and Diaspora Jews to become more informed through nuanced conversations about Israel. We gain a look at
 some of the identity struggles of Israel and it is fascinating.

The juxtaposition of the competing versions of what Israel might be together  with the realities of what is gives us a great deal to think about.

Table of Contents

List of Maps    
Preface: Envisioning a Jewish State    
Introduction: The Jewish State as Utopia    
How to Use This Book for Discussion    

Part 1. Lands of Milk and Honey: Jewish Utopian Visions
1. The Eternal Quest for Utopia    
2. Paradise Lost, Remembered, and Promised    
3. Utopia, Apocalypse, Messiah    

Part 2. A Jewish State: Zionist Utopian Visions
4. A Torah Society    
5. Holy Community    
6. A National Home    
7. Statehood and Power    
8. Enlightenment and Normalization    
9. Promised Borders    
10. A Model of Social Justice    

Part 3. The Modern State of Israel: Reality Meets Utopia
11. Visions in Collision    
12. A Utopian Travel Blog    



A New Film from Israel

Amos Lassen 

A thought-provoking account of Jewish-Polish immigrant and mathematician Stan Ulam, who fled to the USA in the 1930s. Stan deals with the difficult losses of family and friends all while helping to create the hydrogen bomb.
     San Francisco JFF                               Atlanta JFF            
Stan Ulam is a 30-year-old talented Polish Jewish mathematician, a good-looking bon vivant who is quick with a joke. Stan’s life becomes complicated when he loses his fellowship at Harvard but his best friend, the Hungarian genius Johnny von Neumann quickly offers him a mysterious job which takes him to New Mexico.

Stan moves to Los Alamos with Françoise, a French woman he meets and marries after a whirlwind romance. Surrounded by young, eccentric, charismatic immigrant scientists Stan begins top secret work on a nuclear bomb that could potentially blow up the entire world.

While desperately trying to help his sister flee Nazi occupied Poland, Stan teams up with Johnny to create the first computer giving birth to the digital age as Europe bursts into flames.

‘ “TIL KINGDOM COME” — Jews and Evangelical Christians


Jews and Evangelical Christians

Amos Lassen

Associate Pastor William Boyd Bingham IV, is a reflective soft spoken man, the third generation of preachers to serve in the Binghamtown Baptist Church, an Evangelical congregation in Middlesboro county, one of the poorest in this yet it manages to be a major contributor to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. This organization, founded by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and now headed by his daughter Yael, is now the largest welfare charity in Israel with a budget of $118m in 2018. In addition to helping the needy, it encourages Jewish immigration into Israel and rallies Churches abroad to support the country. American Evangelists now rival Jewish organizations like AIPAC in their fundraising for Israel.

The Evangelists believe in the Rapture, a prophecy that foretells the return of the Jews to Israel will be followed by a period of violent tribulations and will culminate with Armageddon, a terrible final war that will mark the beginning of the return of Christ. Most Jews will perish and those that survive will convert to Christianity. The protests following the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem led to 58 deaths and thousands injured. Recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and cutting UNWRA funding for Palestinian welfare are part of the plan. Because two key members of Trump’s cabinet were evangelical– Pence and Pompeo— this agenda was being vigorously advanced.

Bingham leads a group of evangelist pilgrims to Israel where they visit and volunteer at a food distribution center. He takes time, alone and away from his group, to politely listen to a Palestinian Catholic cleric complain about the negative influence of evangelists on the prospects for peaceful co-existence between Arabs and Jews. He claims to be unconvinced, but is he secretly rooting for more confrontation and bloodshed? The Ecksteins go on fundraising trips to the United States. Yael visits the Binghamtown church and then pledges $5m of her charity’s money at an IDF fundraiser. We witness the efforts of Israeli settlers who are now engaging directly with evangelist US congressmen to advance their cause.

On WMIK, a radio station owned by the Binghamtown Baptist Church, a news presenter seems to be overjoyed by reports of bombings in Israel, and this gives her hope that redemption is closer. Director Maya Zinshtein allows her protagonists to do the talking and relies on Israeli television presenters to explain the Rapture prophecy for the benefit of Israeli audiences. The film is haunting, beautifully shot by cinematographer Abraham Troen. It is an explosive blend of fanaticism, hypocrisy and cynicism and it shook me to my core.

“Til Kingdom Come” is a documentary that shows why evangelicals and right-wing are sleeping with each other.Spotlighting rural communities in Kentucky it makes you uncomfortable and so it does what it sets out to do.  There are a number of Orthodox Jews in America and Israel that welcome evangelical support for Israel.  However, we see that evangelicals are not supporting Israel for the same reason as Jews.  They want to bring about the end of days.

Part of the film looks at moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Even though there is Jewish support for having the embassy in the Israeli capital of Jerusalem, many presidents held off because of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  For something that is supposed to be a secular event, we can only wonder why were there so many Christian clergy on hand?  At the opening of the embassy, John Hagee spoke with rhetoric that makes Jews feel uncomfortable and evangelicals looked at the move as a Christian prophecy.  Palestinians looked at it as an act of war.  As a matter of fact, there were 58 Palestinians killed and over 2,700 injured during mass protests over the move.

Evangelicals don’t even bother to look at the overall conflict.  They focus on getting all Jews back to Israel than have any discussion about human rights. It gets even worse when we realize  that hardline extremist settlers are meeting with members of Congress. 

When asked about Pastor William Bingham’s comments in a church, Yael Eckstein mentions being triggered whenever Jesus  is intertwined into Hebrew Bible teachings.  William Bingham is asked about what will happen to Jews when the end times come and we clearly see that evangelicals and Jews have two very different viewpoints.  There is really no way to reconcile these views and so we should be really ill at-ease here.

Bingham speaks of Trump’s appeal in his community.  He mentions feeling looked down upon by people in larger cities and affluent areas.

Right before the film’s end,it becomes completely uncomfortable. Bingham is asked, off-camera, if there is a degree of hypocrisy between  Jews and evangelical Christians has a certain level of hypocrisy and he replies with “you blind stupid Jewish people.” After that statement, it no longer matters what he says, he clearly is an anti-Semite.

Jews must reject evangelical support because of their obsession with prophecy.  After watching this film, it’s very scary knowing that there are Jews who accept evangelical support.  The film examines how this powerful coalition came together and how its apocalyptic theology poses a lasting threat to the region in its design.

The International Fellowship for Christians and Jews was founded in 1983 by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who is interviewed in this film, along with his daughter and successor. He was mocked and dismissed by Jewish Israelis, and when his ideas became a tremendous multi-million dollar success, he was scorned for inviting his Christian partners to the table.

What Zinshtein shows us is a matrix of interest groups in an uneasy alliance for a common cause. Evangelicals welcome the vision of Armageddon that welcomes death, wars, pestilence and natural disaster in Israel as signs of prophecy. By its nature this is antisemitic and is counter to peace, the former Trump administration which prided itself on its evangelical base, and Netanyahu’s own government, relying on the votes of the settler movement yet its terms have been accepted. Not only am I uncomfortable after seeing “Til Kingdom Come”, I am very, very angry.

 “FORGIVENESS”— A Love-Hate Relationship


A Love-Hate Relationship

Amos Lassen

Israeli  and actors and directors Guy Amir and Hannan Savyon bring us a comedy set in the south of Israel near the Gaza border, in  a place where the beleaguered citizens live with incoming rocket fire. Longtime pals Shaul (Amir) and Nissan (Savyon) attempt to rob a postal bank but the mismanaged job results in Shaul being  arrested and sent to prison.

     Years later, upon his release from prison, Shaul is less than pleased to be greeted by the newly religious Nissan who seeks his forgiveness. Shaul has served  his sentence but his skill set hasn’t expanded in any way that will enable him to support his family, so he needs Nissan to remember where he buried their loot. 

This is a modern take on old-style Israeli comedies.