Category Archives: Israel

“Pay No Heed to the Rockets: Life in Contemporary Palestine” by Marcello Di Cintio— Looking at Palestine Through Literature

Di Cintio, Marcello. “Pay No Heed to the Rockets: Life in Contemporary Palestine”, Counterpoint Press, 2018.

Looking at Palestine Through Literature

Amos Lassen

Marcello Di Cintio first visited Palestine in 1999, and as with most outsiders and what he knew was a story of unending struggle, of stories of oppression, exile, and occupation. This is what he had learned from the media. However in “Pay No Heed to the Rockets”, he shares a story that is more complex and that is the Palestinian experience as seen through authors, books, and literature. He explores what literature means to modern Palestinians and how Palestinians make sense of the conflict between a life of imagination and the daily violence of survival. He traveled the long route through the West Bank, into Jerusalem, across Israel, and finally into Gaza and he met with poets, authors, librarians, and booksellers to learn about Palestine through their eyes, and through the stories of their stories.

Di Cintio travels through the rich cultural and literary heritage of Palestine. He uncovered a humanity, and a beauty, often ignored and/or unnoticed by news media. This is a fresh story about Palestine and it begins with art instead of war.

We read of a powerful and perceptive look at Palestinian culture in a memoir that is both travelogue and literary appreciation We learn about libraries and bookstores that are dedicated to preserving and promoting a cultural history threatened with elimination and novels that are being written in prison on cigarette wrappers. We see that on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian who wish to live their lives free of the hatred that is the result of the conflict. We know little about everyday Palestinians but journalist Di Cintio means to change that by sharing his nearly 20 years of visits to the West Bank and Gaza and the writings of Palestine’s many literary figures. We see literature, history, and politics come together and take us to the modern Palestinian literary scene while introducing us to the rich diversity of voices that make it up.

“Preventing Palestine: A Political History from Camp David to Oslo” by Seth Anziska— Ensuring Palestinian Statelessness

Anziska, Seth. “Preventing Palestine: A Political History from Camp David to Oslo”, Princeton University Press, 2018.

Ensuring Palestinian Statelessness

Amos Lassen

Those of you who know me know that I am not a political person and n fact, I really dislike politics except we are speaking about Israel. I become really upset when people who have never lived there are ready to criticize whatever Israel says or does. I spent more than half of my life there and while it was not always good for me, I completely understand why Israel must exist and that we must support her. Israel has been around now for seventy years Israel and she has done some amazing things. For forty years Israel has honored a peace treaty with Egypt that is widely viewed as a triumph of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. Yet the Palestinians who would-be beneficiaries of a vision for a comprehensive regional settlement that led to the Camp David Accords in 1978 still remain stateless. Seth Anziska’s credentials certainly qualify him to have his say on what has happened here and here he looks at how and why Palestinian statelessness persists. In “Preventing Palestine”, he examines the complex legacy of the agreement brokered by President Jimmy Carter.

Anziska bases what he has to say on newly declassified international sources and charts the emergence of the Middle East peace process, including the establishment of a separate track to deal with the issue of Palestine. From the very beginning of the peace process, Anziska tells us “Egyptian-Israeli peace came at the expense of the sovereignty of the Palestinians, whose aspirations for a homeland alongside Israel faced crippling challenges.” With the introduction of the idea of restrictive autonomy, Israeli settlement expansion, and Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the chances for Palestinian statehood narrowed even more. I was there during the first Intifada in 1987 and it, along with the end of the Cold War brought new opportunities for a Palestinian state, but many players, refused to see Palestinians as a nation or a people and continued to steer international diplomacy away from their cause.

“Preventing Palestine” brings together excellent political analysis, extensive original research, and interviews with diplomats, military veterans, and communal leaders to give us a new interpretation of the struggle for self-determination.

Politically in Israel, the Camp David Accords are acclaimed while the Oslo Accords are bitterly debated between Left and Right. Anziska shows us the strong connection between the two agreements and the extent to which Oslo drew on Camp David’s autonomy plan. Reality was obscured by hostile political agendas and unabashed bias. Seth Anziska reveals the complex forces that have prevented Palestinian statehood and contributed to the destructive dynamic on the ground. He looks at the failures of the so-called Palestinian-Israeli peace process and why they failed and resulted in injustices for the Palestinians. We see how the breakthrough peace agreement between Egypt and Israel created a roadblock to peace between Israel and the Palestinians and has done research to back this up. While reading this, it is clear why a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hasn’t been achieved. We see the objective political reality where a people’s rights are marginalized by a military power unchecked by international order and largely supported by the United States. This is a story of Israel’s success, but one that paradoxically leaves it facing an assertive existential enemy.

Anziska’s gives us a compelling analysis of the unexpected continuity that runs throughout the years of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and it is so important that we understand what we have here.

We already know the outcome of the contest at this point but that does not stop this from being a thrilling and gripping read. Anziska reveals the willingness of Americans and even Egyptians to go along with the Israeli campaign. I have read so much about this of late, but I can assure that this is a book that needs to be read if you are to understand.

“Lives of the Dead: Collected Poems” by Hanoch Levin and translated by Atar Hadari— Finally in English

Levin, Hanoch. “Lives of the Dead: Collected Poems”, (English and Multilingual Edition), translated by Atar Hadari, Art Productions, 2017.

Finally in English

Amos Lassen

Nineteen years after Hanoch Levin’s early death from bone cancer, the great Israeli playwright’s bleak, searing poetry is finally translated into English. Levin was a great Israeli playwright, an author, and a poet and above all else, he was a man who dared. He was born in born in 1943 and death was the one and only true muse, the great and bottomless well of inspiration. The cause of death was bone cancer and he was only 56-years-old. Death permeates, in some way or another, nearly every poem of this recently published collection which has been translated by British poet and playwright Atar Hadari. The volume, which received a prestigious PEN Translates award in England, is the first, and long overdue, book of Levin’s poetry to be released in English, and it is a cause for celebration.

Levin’s dramaturgical work had been formative for generations of Israelis. He was both revered and reviled for his radical left-wing politics, his iconic satire, obscenity and absurdism. He wrote 56 plays, and garnered numerous awards for them, but he only published six books of poetry, a genre, it seems, Levin reserved for his most intense, varied, and poignant thoughts about mortality. Levin’s work is the “profane, rude, unavoidably direct and modern answer to Ecclesiastes.

”Oh miserable dead, this isn’t California,

this is the dark grave and this is death!

So shall a son leave his father and mother

and man leave his wife and cleave unto his death”.

Here, Levin is giving generations of the dead a pep talk—lest they forget their predicament. The poet is playing with the well-known biblical verse, Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” But whereas Genesis optimistically points toward formation of new familial bonds—a chain of them—in Levin’s rendition, the true and final beloved, is the cessation of it all.

The volume is bilingual, and reading the original alongside Hadari’s translation, one notices that the opposite of sunny “California” is the musically resonant, dark grave. Reading this closely can make California no longer feel like California.

Despite Levin’s immense popularity, not a great deal is known about him. As Israeli scholar Freddie Rokem wrote in the introduction to The Labor of Life, a selection of Levin’s plays published in English translation in 2003: “In comparison with most of his contemporaries in literature and the arts, at least in Israel, who quite willingly expose themselves to the media, consciously creating a public persona and expressing their opinions about political and other issues, Levin fervently guarded his privacy throughout his career, giving only a few, rather angry interviews during his first steps as a writer.”

Igal Sarna’s essay, “The National Poet’s Mother,” has translated and included in abridged form in this volume. “Hanoch Levin spies on the neighborhood, I spy on Levin.” Sarna, who wrote this piece when he was just starting out as a writer, is now a renowned journalist and author. He describes his failed attempts to get through to Levin. It was worse than a failure: As Sarna put it, even “more surprising was the silence of his friends, even those he’d not seen for many years. … When I approached them, they sought his consent. Levin preferred them not to speak with me.” It was as if, in deference to the author’s desired privacy, those in his circle had taken a vow of silence.

At one point, however, Sarna found the South Tel Aviv building where Levin grew up. There, he found the poet’s mother, and something clicked: “In the abandoned buildings, used heroin syringes from the night before rolled on the floor; inside I also found Malka Levin, who spoke to me through the crack of the door. I was holding on to the door handle, she was pulling from the other side.”

Sarna says that it is “very Polish [i.e., Ashkenazi], to hide. … You care very much what other people think about you. It’s the shame. Especially when you’re poor, when you grow up with a weird mother.”

Levin’s parents immigrated to Palestine from Lodz in 1935, and Levin’s childhood was overshadowed by poverty and a keen awareness of all of his relatives who had perished in the Holocaust. On top of that, when Levin was only 13, his father died of a heart attack. The death of a father at a young age leaves one unprepared, and exposed. Poetry is a of hiding.

Levin’s first poetry collection, “Morning Prayers” (1965) which is, included in this volume, describes the life of an impoverished neighborhood and its inhabitants’ reaction to the death of one of their own. The opening poem “Sing to the Lord a New Song,” is both a satire on the well-known psalm and a literal attempt to compose a new kind of a mourning ritual, an elegy that is totally different from a kaddish. The narrator speaks directly to the dead body remembering:

… the smell of onion was wafting.

Then your wife leaned across,

then the neighbor came in a fright the way a neighbor does,

then the doctor came and certified the hour of your death

with his breath all toothpaste minty fresh.

The rain fell and fell on the synagogue.

At the first service they wondered where you went,

at the second service they already knew.

The tone is completely disaffected, detached, and almost disdainful. Levin’s attention to smell, particularly the unwanted and misplaced smells of onion and the doctor’s breath, brings home the sad smallness of the world surrounding the dead man.

This poem is the opposite of a prayer. Whereas prayer—on this occasion, kaddish—is a song of praise, this is a song of disdain. Prayer seeks connection but Levin’s poetry asserts loneliness and alienation. Prayer points to eternity, while Levin is bent on finality. Instead of piety and repentance, Levin uses humor and sarcasm. And yet, sublimity is here, too. A skeptic is entitled to a religious experience as much as a believer is.

Levin was really able to show that Israel is “a country of survivors, and it’s ugly.” Indeed, in his poetry, and in his plays, Levin depicts Israelis in less than flattering ways. Look at the character in “Morning Prayers”:

… Berta Levi’s already sitting by the window,

cracking nuts.

Her buttocks, two noble hefty weights of tender flesh

Bow to one another graciously as she walks,

now rest in their residue, the flowered cushion.

Her breasts, two curious good-fellows with swollen faces,

Rise up against the bra, belisha beacons to those who’ve

lost their way

There are no borders in Levin’s satire—women and men, Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, rich and poor, pious and secular. Some feel that the reason his poetry had not been translated is because Levin never exercised good taste or political correctness.

“Hebrew is a much more compact language than English, so a real difficulty was making the much longer sets of beats in English keep moving.” Moreover, Levin sporadically and unexpectedly uses rhyme; often for emphasis of a sarcastic remark. Translation itself is a problem as Levin’s poetry

is not merely Hebrew, but Hebrew pertaining specifically to the world of Jewish ritual practice and culture. Levin’s characters are old-world and closer to the characters one finds in the works of Isaac Babel, I. B. Singer, and even Shalom Aleichem.

His heaviest poems are those written by Levin in the final years and months of his life, and addressed to his wife. He was very aware of his spreading cancer and he referenced it in brutally honest, disturbing, and heartbreaking lines. In the poems from this cycle, in death’s proximity, Levin admits to fear, disappointment, visions of his beloved with another, and goes at length into details about decomposition and yet these are love poems. The sublime enters through a strange and unexpected backdoor and even though he was a cynic and a skeptic, he felt passion and love.

The poems here are profound, disturbing, and deeply affecting. In “Morning Prayers”, he depicts the scene of the resurrection of the dead (which he clearly did not believe in).

And all the dead will wonder

How tall the trees have grown and how grey their grave

And still they’ll look and wonder at themselves

And Messiah pass among them and laugh

Handing out to each of them a mint cough drop.

I have been something of a Hanoch Levin groupie and this began when I first saw “Yaakovi and Liedenthal” and then saw new productions of “The Bathroom Queen” and “You, Me and the Next War”. I remember totally “The Great Whore of Babylon” and “Rubber Merchants” and “The Trials of Job”. I could watch them over and over. There is one poem that appears in one of Levin’s plays that I have fallen in love with “Checkmate”. Below is my attempt at translation:

Checkmate

My child, where did you go? My good child where are you?

A knight that is black strikes a white knight.

My father won’t return, he is never coming back

A white knight rams a black knight

There are tears in the homes and silence in the streets,

As the king is playing with the queen.

My child will never wake, he sleeps, he will not grow.

Black knight downs the white knight

My father is in the darkness and will never again see light

White knight downs a black knight

There is weeping in homes and silence in the streets

as the king is jostling with the queen.

My son who was at my breast is now in the clouds

Black knight fells a white knight

My father is in my heart but his heart has stopped

White night fells a black

There are funeral wails in homes and silence in the streets and

the king keeps playing with the queen.

My son where are you now, my dear son, where have you gone and why?

The white knight and the black knight are dead.

My father won’t return, he’s never coming back

There are no knights— black or white.

There are screeches in the rooms and silence in the streets,

on the empty chessboard there are just the living king and queen.

“FLAWLESS” (“HANESHEF”)— Three Teens

“FLAWLESS” (“HANESHEF”)

Three Teens

Amos Lassen

“Flawless” is the story of three teenagers from Jerusalem who sell their kidneys to pay for cosmetic surgery and prom dresses. As a secret uncovers they realize nothing is as it seems. Tal Granit and Sharon Maimon co-directed. The film has been nominated for 12 Ophir Awards (Israel’s Oscar) and among them is a nomination for best actress. Stav Strashko is a 25-year-old trans actress who landed that nomination.

Strashko, who has made her name in recent years as a top international model, has scored another first as she is the first trans nominee in Israel. “I always saw myself in women’s roles.” “I’m proud to be the first trans [nominee] — it’s a milestone,” she said. Strashko grew up as a boy who identified as girl and this prepared her for a career in acting. “My whole life I played something that I wasn’t.”

In the film, she plays Eden, a transgender teen desperate to raise money for a breast enlargement operation ahead of the prom.“Strashko, who was born Stanislav in Ukraine, was discovered by a modeling agency after leaving her home in Tel Aviv at the age of 16, at first taking on androgynous roles and later modeling as a woman, including a campaign opposite musician Joe Jonas for Diesel.” In Israel, Strashko came to public attention when she took part in the “Big Brother VIP” TV show. She has since become a prominent figure in the LGBT community.

 

“RED COW” (“PARA ADUMA”)— Coming-of-Age Sexually, Religiously and Politically in Israel

“Red Cow” (“Para Aduma”)

Coming-of-Age Sexually, Religiously and Politically in Israel

Amos Lassen

“Red Cow is a coming-of-age film that takes place in Israel during the days leading up to the assassination of Rabin. Benny is a 16-year-old girl who was orphaned from mother at birth. She is the only child of Yehoshua, a religious, right wing extremist and she is at that critical juncture when she is forming her sexual, religious and political awareness. The film is set on one of Israel’s orthodox Jewish settlement where Benny has sexual awakening and ideological unraveling. This is a sensitive and assured first feature from Tsivia Barkai Yacov who also wrote the screenplay. We see a community that is rarely explored on screen. The film shows the difficulties of being a young woman in a devout patriarchal system. We also are taken into the complexity of burgeoning female desire and a complicated queer romance.

I can assure you that based upon my own experiences as an orthodox gay Jew that the film is disarmingly authentic. We have a female-centric window into the Middle East filled with intimate insights into a girl defying societal expectations. Benny’s (Avigail Kovari) outsider status is sealed from the outset, her androgynous name and blazing red hair stand out in her settlement home of Silwan in East Jerusalem. An introduction explains the significance of the feature’s title and its links to the Torah, so that we are aware of the importance of Benny’s task of caring for a newborn pure-red calf. We see the potential parallels between the girl and the animal in her care. Although Benny and her extremist father Yehoshua (Gal Toren) might not realize it at first, both are beacons of change.

According to his beliefs, Yehoshua is convinced that salvation is now imminent. When Benny searches for her own faith beyond strict religious instructional classes with the community’s other women and generally assisting her father, she finds it in a burning desire for newcomer to the settlement, Yael (Moran Rosenblatt). A fast friendship soon becomes nervous clandestine flirting, and then passionate secret trysts. The forbidden tenor of their romance is omnipresent throughout. She tells Yael even before things become physical that she is surprised by the intensity of her feelings..

It’s with naturalism and nuance that director Yacov who herself is a native of an orthodox Jewish settlement herself, conveys the teen’s emotional state. She experiences deeply-felt urges that threaten to overtake her entire life while also clashing with the teachings she’s increasingly beginning to abandon thus placing her in a precarious position should the affair be discovered. Benny’s growing distance from Yehoshua and everything he represents is also handled with subtlety— as a relationship fracturing with each passing moment, but with slow and ragged cuts. The film moves between the use of walls, fences and shadows to stress the boundaries surrounding Benny and these mirror her restless fervor.

Kovari gives a performance of internalized turmoil, and uncontainable longing. Her chemistry with Toren is palpable, their glances say everything their characters can’t.

“The Israel Bible” by Tuly Weisz— Honoring Israel’s First Seventy Years

Weisz, Tuly. “The Israel Bible” (Hebrew and English Edition), Menorah, 2018

Honoring Israel’s First Seventy Years

Amos Lassen

The Israel Bible is the world’s first Bible that truly focuses on the Land of Israel, the People of Israel, and the relationship between them. It is non-sectarian in that it was designed for both Jewish and non-Jewish readers alike. We get a new and unique commentary that explains why God was so focused on the Land of Israel. We have both the original Hebrew text and the New Jewish Publication Society translation. All 929 chapters of the Hebrew Bible highlight Israel and included are relevant quotes and perspectives from prime ministers, maps, charts and illustrations. With what is going on right now in Israel, it is important to know the background and here it is part of the commentary. As a way to understand the situation in Israel today, it is necessary to understand the background and this is what makes this bible so important (and such a pleasure).

Not only is “The Israel Bible” a wonderful translation but it contains beautiful illustrations and excellent study aids. There are charts, study notes and enlightening essays. I think that we often forget that the bible is the story of the connection of the Jewish people to the land that was promised to them by God thus making Israel the central focus and the object of forty years of wandering. Therefore it is important to have as much as possible about Israel in the commentaries and the notes.

Israel is the Torah’s main theme and we understand the major role that it plays by having a Bible that is all about the Land of Israel.

 

“Under My Window” by Michal Ronnen Safdie— Jerusalem From a Window

Safdie, Michal. “Under My Window”, with an introduction by Ari Shavit, Powerhouse Books, 2018.

Jerusalem From a Window

Amos Lassen

Jerusalem is a city where Jews, Muslims, Christians, believers, nonbelievers, residents, tourists, and so many others have come for millennia. It is one of the world’s greatest crossroads and is host to the diversity of humanity. Michal Ronnen Safdie’s home is on a hill in the Old City of Jerusalem, along the border between the Jewish and Muslim Quarters. To the East, it overlooks the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. To the north is the Muslim Quarter with Mount Scopus in the skyline and to the west is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Christian Quarter.

Directly under her window is a narrow alley that is a passageway for thousands of people every day. It is a passage for those entering the Old City through Dung Gate on the south side (mostly Palestinians who go to their workplaces, schools and markets. It is the route of Christians to the Holy Sepulcher and of Muslim pilgrims during Ramadan, and other holidays to the Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount. It is also the path that Jews residing in the Jewish Quarter and in the western part of the city us to get to the Western Wall. Most of us can only dream about what she sees from her window everyday.

Safdie has two contrasting perspectives from that window. Across toward the Western Wall precinct are vast ceremonial spaces and the silhouette of the Old City quarters. Directly below the window in the alley and terraces are a great variety of people who seek both the sacred and the morning and evening cycles of life’s routines. Safdie’s photographs capture personal moments alongside large-scale public events in the city of Jerusalem, where belief and ritual come together and shape life.

Michal Ronnen Safdie was born in Jerusalem and studied sociology and anthropology. Her photographs have unusual range. There are subjects from the natural world and there is Jerusalem. I find it difficult to express the emotions that we feel as we look at the photographs in this book and therefore I am better not describing them at all. For me, viewing them is a highly personal experience as it will be for many of you.

“Promised Land” by Martin Fletcher— “One Brother Builds Israel, the Other Protects it”

Fletcher. Martin. “Promised Land: A Novel of Israel”. Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

“One Brother Builds Israel, the Other Protects it”

Amos Lassen

Martin Fletcher was the head of NBC TV’s Tel Aviv News Bureau and her certainly knows Israel. He brings us “Promised Land”, a story of Israel that will no doubt compared to Leon Uris’ “Exodus”. It is a “story of triumph and tragedy, new love and historic hate” that is told by unforgettable characters. The story of the creation of the state of Israel is in itself epic and therefore demands an expert storyteller and that describers Fletcher perfectly. The prose is gorgeous and the story is exciting. We could not ask for more. “Promised Land” is the story of two brothers and the woman they love set against the founding of Israel.

The story begins when fourteen-year-old Peter is sent to America in order to escape what was happening in Nazi Germany. His younger brother Arie and their entire family are sent to the death camps and only Arie survives.

Years later, the brothers reunite in the new Jewish state, where Arie has become a businessman and one of the richest men in Israel. Peter becomes a top Mossad agent heading some of Israel’s most vital espionage operations. “One brother builds Israel, the other protects it.”

They both fall in love with the same woman, Tamara, a lonely Jewish refugee from Cairo. During the following twenty years as their new homeland faces tremendous obstacles and odds that could destroy it, the brothers face intrigues, jealousies and political strife that could tear their new lives apart.

We are reminded that the pioneers, settlers, immigrants and founders of Israel worked very hard to build a powerful country and a democratic presence in a hostile environment and paid heavily to do so. Fletcher explains the history and conflicts of the early years of Israel’s statehood never letting us forget that those pioneers and builders were reeling from the horrors and pain of the Holocaust. Many of our characters here are struggling to cope with their losses and create new lives and homes for themselves. Everybody has his/her burden to bear.

Fletcher not only gives us the history of the country but also a look at how people lived in Israel at that time in her history. We are more than aware of the military struggles the young nation faces and how it was to live at a time when war was always imminent. The addition of Tamara and the romance heightens the already tense atmosphere that Israelis were forced to live with.

The major problem I had with the book is that Leon Uris set the mark very high with “Exodus” and most authors that tried to give us something similar did not measure up. While the story of Tamara helped us to understand the unease that existed then in the country, I had trouble understanding her purpose in the story and I felt she intruded on the larger picture.

Aside from that I wanted a bit more character development and I longed for a hero to fill the shoes of an Ari Ben Canaan and his brother Barak. I also question the timing of the release of this novel since Israel is going through a really rough period now and I think we need more of a sense of reality than fiction right now.

Quite basically, this is the story of the first twenty years of Israel and I was there during the last five years of that period and I found much of the novel to be true to life descriptively. Using the two brothers is a clever way to bring in the story as seen through the eyes of the founding generation. While this is fiction, it also gives us an inside look at the passion of the people building a nation and this is what matters above all else.

“The Parting Gift” by Even Fallenberg— The Underside of Love

Fallenberg, Evan. “The Parting Gift”, Other Press, 2018.

The Underside of Love

Amos Lassen

There is something about a book by Evan Fallenberg that makes me realize what literature is all about. His two earlier books, “Light Fell” and “When We Danced on Water” mesmerized me and I knew that even before I opened the covers, the same would be true of “The Parting Gift”. I cleared my day, according to the advice of another reviewer and sat down and prepared to be lost in words and story and to be taken back to my second home in Israel.

“The Parting Gift” is an “erotic tale of jealousy, obsession, and revenge is suffused with the rich flavors and intoxicating scents of Israel’s Mediterranean coast.” The story is told by an unnamed narrator who writes to Adam, a friend from college. It so happens that Adam is sitting across the room from him as he writes. He has been staying at Adam’s since he abruptly came back to the States from Israel. He has decided that the time has come to move on and he shares with Adam how he came to get to him and that this was all the result of a coincidental encounter with Uzi, a spice merchant. His very first meeting with Uzi brought him to completely change his life and spend more time in the small village north of Tel Aviv. There was some kind of animal magnetism between the two men and as passion grew, the more the narrator became involved in not just Uzi’s life but also the life of Uzi’s ex-wife and children.

From his first meeting with Uzi, the narrator is overwhelmed by an animal attraction that will lead him to derail his life, withdraw from friends and extend his stay in a small town north of Tel Aviv. As he becomes increasingly entangled in Uzi’s life—and by extension the lives of Uzi’s ex-wife and children—his passion turns sinister, ultimately threatening all around him. 

Beneath the surface of the story, we explore how men assume or are forced to take on various roles and in this case we are speaking of the roles of lovers, fathers, Israelis, Palestinians. Just as these roles are often complex, so is our story. As we read, we look at ourselves and the roles we play and it should come as no surprise that there are roles that we would really rather not deal with but are forced into. Of course, there is lust and it should come as no surprise that the roles that sex and lust play in our daily lives is tremendous; they are both part of the human condition but it is man who decides how they are to be dealt with.

I cannot imagine how anyone can read this in pieces; it is a book that demands to be read straight through and then thought about afterwards. It is not enough that each page leads us to the next page but in Fallenberg’s gorgeous prose, each word leads us to the next word. I must admit that there were times when I almost shook from the profundity of what I read.

Here we find love’s underside to be brute sex between two men that makes us them and us to be selfless and selfish. Love can often be stubborn and even evil and while in love we often feel fear. Some may find this to be a new idea but I believe everyone ultimately will agree that this is true.

I see three distinct themes in “The Parting Gift”—sexuality, acceptance, and Middle Eastern culture. Everything seems to come out in the very long letter that the narrator writes. He explains what led up to his arrival. He had been visiting Tel Aviv with his friends when he met Uzi and was taken in immediately. He decides to leave his friends and stay with Uzi and the two become involved in an animalistic sexual relationship. Uzi invites the narrator into his home, to the surprise of his family, namely his ex-wife, who lives across nearby. But homosexuality is not important to Uzi’s family—their main concern is why this happened at the time it did. Uzi and the narrator lead a typical life and the narrator helps with the expansion of Uzi’s spice business. Everything goes well until Ibrahim, the son of a friend of Uzi, arrives to undertake an apprenticeship and brings jealousy, mistrust and resentment into the relationship of the two men. Feeling these, the narrator loses his mind. So perhaps the underside of love is heartbreak and not lust. The characters here have to deal with guilt and inadequacy and these feelings bring about their downfalls.

There is something naughty about reading someone else’s mail and this novel is written in the form of Adam’s letter and it punches us hard with the very first sentence. The story becomes complicated as we read about codes of honor and familial expectation as they hit business and acceptance, family and lovers, and self-realization head-on.

“OPERATION FINALE”— Finding Eichmann

“Operation Finale”

Finding Eichmann

Amos Lassen

Fifteen years after World War II, a team of secret agents comes together to track down Adolf Eichmann, the infamous Nazi architect of the Holocaust. It was Eichmann who organized the transport of Jews from countries all over Europe to concentration camps where millions were murdered. After the war, he fled to his home country of Austria and then moved to Argentina. The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad uncovered the whereabouts of the infamous Nazi in 1960, and teams of Mossad and Shin Bet agents staged a raid to capture the war criminal and brought him to Israel to face crimes against humanity and the Jewish people. He was sentenced to hang and was executed in 1962 and remained unrepentant all the way to noose. This is the story of the manhunt for one of the most diabolical war criminals of the 20th century.

Ben Kingsley plays Eichmann and Oscar Isaac is Peter Malkin, the Mossad member and head of a group of Israeli spies who took him down. Eichmann had murdered Malkin’s sister and her children so he had his own personal interest in capturing the man. He was sentenced and executed by hanging. Writer, humanitarian and Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal was instrumental in finding the location of Eichmann. The reaction of the world to the entire affair was as different as can be imagined and debates took place about Israel’s right to extradite and try the man for crimes against humanity. Hannah Arendt’s “Eichmann in Jerusalem” and her theory of the banality of evil both hurt and helped her career as a political philosopher and perhaps even tarnished her reputation as one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century.

In the newly released trailer, we see Eichmann supervising the mass murder of hundreds of concentration camp prisoners, then defending his actions in a voiceover,  “You have no interest in what I have to say,” he says. “Unless it confirms what you think you already know. My job was simple: save the country I love from being destroyed. Is your job any different?”

Chris Weitz directed the drama from Matthew Orton’s screenplay about the capture of Eichmann, who organized the transport of Jews from all over Europe to concentration camps, where an estimated 6 million people were killed.

In the same trailer, Isaac’s Peter Malkin is warned,” If you succeed, for the first time in our history, we will judge our executioner… If you fail, he escapes justice, perhaps forever. I beg of you, do not fail.”

The film also stars Lior Raz, Melanie Laurent, Nick Kroll, Joe Alwyn, Haley Lu Richardson, Michael Aronov, Ohad Knoller, Greg Hill, Torben Liebrecht, Mike Hernandez, Greta Scacchi and Pêpê Rapazote. “Operation Finale” opens in theaters on August 24, 2018.