Category Archives: Israel

“OUR BOYS”— An Israeli-Palestinian True crime Story

“OUR BOYS”

An Israeli-Palestinian True crime Story

Amos Lassen

HBO brings us yet another series about a crises and this one, viewers might be all too familiar with: Israel and Palestine. But “Our Boys” has a true-crime story that may not be as well known, regarding the tensions that were created over kidnappings in the summer of 2014, which were in political reaction to each other.

 “Our Boys” is very much like a missing child epic with its first episode (of 10) starting with the disappearance of three Israeli boys in Jerusalem. By the end of episode one, their bodies have been discovered, and the police are trying to keep an eye out for any revenge plots, while at the same time controlling the public narrative. It was a given that people were going to be upset—and reactive—and even the media statements by the parents of the missing children have to be monitored so much as to not rile up angry crowds. 

But then “Our Boys” moves onto a revenge plot by episode two, and in its first big setback, it doesn’t give the opening kidnapping storyline a fulfilling conclusion. It instead focuses on the disappearance of an Arab boy named Muhammad (Ram Masarweh), whose fate leads to another political mess and PR disaster, especially while the outraged people in his East Jerusalem neighborhood scream for justice, and start to become destructive. We have a personal angle by following his grieving father, Hussein (Jony Arbid), who learns in due time that his son is no longer as private affair, but that of hundreds of thousands of people. He watches a wave of people forcefully claim his son (so to speak), and he realizes that he has a better chance at changing the literal direction of the angry crowd than in having a proper private sense of grief. 

 “Our Boys” becomes a kind of procedural into investigating the disappearance, as police collaborate with the Israel Security Agency (known as Shabak) to use expansive surveillance, hacked phones, and anything else they can use to hear or see to track possible suspects. The main investigator Simon (Shlomi Elkabetz) moves back and forth from a monitor-filled control room to the streets, sometimes wearing his yarmulke as a means to go under cover, investigating some Jewish men who could be related to the incident. But tensions are so high that arrests must be 100% certain, otherwise the turmoil across the land could get worse. We go through the step-by-step process. 

Even with a story like this, given all of its inherent conflicts, “Our Boys” is frustratingly slack. Part of that feels to be because of its length—it’s a series that runs for ten 55-minute episodes, and seemingly features every minor interaction that could possibly move the plot along. However, visual storytelling feels limited to handheld camerawork and cross-cutting between different narratives. Had the narrative been curated carefully with its investigative beats, the series would retain the necessary tension that causes the strong cast. to often wrestle with massive emotions in a time of personal and political strife becoming intertwined. The series wants to get into everyone’s head, and only sometimes conveys the urgency of a parent’s pain, or the anger of someone who feels attacked, wanting to retaliate. We spend a fair amount of time with a group of young Jewish men, including the meek Avishai (Adam Gabay) and his leader, Yosef (Ben Melech), himself the son of a revered rabbi. It’s in these long stretches, watching these men as they celebrate the Sabbath—and sneak away to break its rules that “Our Boys” wants to pull some truth out of the religious, conservative community but “Our Boys” can’t quite do so and this causes the pacing of the series to suffer.  

The series’ intrigue appears to be held together by Shlomi Elkabetz, whose performance as the investigator at the center is calming but weighed down. His constant slouch and cool nature shows him to be someone who is methodical and yet privately imperfect and this is certainly often more fascinating than the muted conversational scenes he’s always in. 

The biggest curiosity within “Our Boys” is in hearing both sides, while not casting judgment. It bounces around between different sides and always points out their neighborhoods, and every now and then you’ll see the distinction between how someone who is Jewish or Arabic feels about the injustice at hand. Everyone has an assumption about who could have done such unspeakable things, and it’s based on their biases. Effectively, “Our Boys” even plants these characters within news footage, and expands the scope of the story from the image of intimate conversations to massive, raucous crowd scenes, the latter provided by footage from the real events. 

One has to give HBO credit for bringing this project to life but “Our Boys” feels like a saga that desperately needs to be reined in, especially as it can’t even maintain the sense of nervous conflict that initially inspired it.

Five years ago, the murder of four teens sparked a 50-Beginning on June 12, 2014, when three Israeli Jewish adolescents hitchhiking home from an Israeli settlement in the West Bank went missing. Their disappearance led to a wide-ranging search for their abductors, called “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” which saw the arrest of hundreds of Palestinians.

The search efforts ended on June 30 when the teens’ bodies were discovered in a field near Hebron. (The suspects, Hamas members Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu-Isa, remained at large until they were killed by the IDF in a September 23 shootout.) On July 2, a day after the teens were buried, three Jewish settlers seeking revenge for their death abducted a 16-year-old Palestinian boy from the steps of his father’s store in Shuafat, East Jerusalem. The boy’s burned body was found in a forest on the outskirts of the city.

By July 8, in the midst of responding riots in Arab neighborhoods and rocket fire from the Gaza strip, Israel and Gaza were at war. These killings and the conflict that followed — codenamed “Operation Protective Edge” by the IDF are still vivid in the collective memory of Israelis and Palestinians, but accounts of precisely what happened often diverge. When filmmakers Hagai Levi, Joseph Cedar and Tawfik Abu Wael came together to make a fictional portrait of these events, they decided the best practice would be to allow for contradictions.

The audience will get two separate stories around the same event,” Cedar told The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren. To capture these dual narratives, Cedar, an Israeli Jew, wrote and directed the scenes that followed the Israeli Jewish narrative, and Abu Wael, the Palestinian thread of the story. In cases where the plots overlapped, both directors were on set. However, the point of view of the series was filmed in Israel by an Israeli studio and is predominantly Israeli.

Abu Wael has stated that “[Hamas] didn’t start [the conflict] with the kidnapping of the three boys” and “Palestinians are killed every week by Israeli soldiers, they have permission to do it because of the occupation.” But the first two episodes take an even-handed but at times evasive approach.

The show opens with real-world news footage about the missing hitchhikers, 16-year-old Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaer and 19-year-old Eyal Yifrah. Levi said that the filmmakers judged that a dramatization of the teenagers’ abduction would be too close to home. However, the parents of the murdered Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir gave their blessing for him to be included as a character and the final days of his life occupy much of the series’ first episode. His death is kept offscreen; the search for its perpetrators is what drives the early action.

“Our Boys” in its early episodes is a kind of crime procedural focused on the death of Abu Khdeir reflecting on the nature of Israeli “aggression,” rather than victimhood.

The series begins as the Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, tries to get ahead of any plans Jewish nationalists might have to retaliate against Palestinians for the murder of Fraenkel, Shaer and Yifrah. After Abu Khdeir is abducted, the nationalists the Shin Bet (known as the Hilltop Boys) serve as red herrings for the investigation. When the Shin Bet discover the burned body, few among them believe that Jews did it, and instead look into whether it was an honor killing.

However as disinformation mounts, the main agent, the fictional Simon (Elkabetz), insists when others don’t (or won’t)  that those responsible for Abu Khdeir’s murder are, in fact, Jews. If you remember the developments of 2014 closely, you know that Simon’s hunch is correct, and Abu Khdeir’s murderers were Jewish settlers. The slow unfolding of the murder investigation feels like a concession made to viewers outside of Israel and it doesn’t entirely work. Viewers are likely to see to whom the evidence is pointing well before the Shin Bet does.

The show does not, on the whole, feel like a watered-down explainer for those hazy on the details of the murders. It is also not didactic in explaining the realities on the ground in East and West Jerusalem. But it is specific enough in its inquiry to probe such a relatively local issue as the secondary status of Mizrahi Jews in Israel.

“Our Boys,” despite being made by two separate studios and directors, isn’t harmed by this and its split focus. The stories feel at odds only in that they feature characters whose ideas of the world rely on different narratives of who is aggressor and who is victim. The  stories are tied together by documentary footage: of thousands of Israeli Jews flooding the streets after the hitchhikers were found, shouting “Death to Arabs;” of protesting Palestinians, their faces covered by keffiyehs, setting fires in East Jerusalem after Abu Khdeir’s disappearance; of clashes between those Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces armed with guns and smoke grenades.

That seemingly charged footage is, in fact, neutral, because it’s documentary. The creators avoid the risk of playing into any one narrative by dramatizing the events. The video serves only as evidence that this all happened.

“SPIDER IN THE WEB”— Maintaining Relevance

“SPIDER IN THE WEB”

Maintaining Relevance

Amos Lassen

Israeli filmmaker Eran Riklis brings us a new spy drama starring Ben Kingsley as  an aging Mossad agent who is struggling to maintain his relevance. He bonds with a younger operative sent to monitor him while he’s on a secret mission in Europe and this is a reflection on human relationships as well as “on the Europe of today – fragile, troubled, under constant threats from the outside and in turmoil on the inside.”

Adereth (Sir Ben Kinsgley), is a once-lauded but now aging field agent of the Israeli Mossad and his superiors feel that he has past his prime. There are those above him that are sure that he’s been fabricating intelligence to maintain his relevance and so they send Daniel (Itay Tiran) a young operative to insure that Adereth does not deviate from his mission to deliver the crucial information regarding a chemical weapons sale to a Middle Eastern dictatorship that he claims is waiting for him. This isformation leads to the mysterious Angela (Monica Bellucci), who might be a target, a lover or an enemy. (or all of these or none of these). Lines of trust become and Adereth realizes the hunter may become the hunted. 

Seduction is involved and there are many double-crosses  as we move toward the end of the film. As you are on the edge of your seat, it all come together.

“Chutzpah: Why Israel Is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship” by Inbal Arieli— Fostering Entrepreneurship

 

 

Arieli, Inbal. “Chutzpah: Why Israel Is a Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship”, Harper Business, 2019.

Fostering Entrepreneurship

Amos Lassen

 

 Israel has the largest concentration of startups per capita worldwide in the world today, with more than one startup for every 2,000 people. A look at the long list of innovations that have come out of Israel includes everything from cherry tomatoes and drip irrigation to the USB flash drive and the Waze traffic app. While many claim that Israel’s outstanding economic achievements are because of its technologically advanced military, tech insider Inbal Arieli argues that it’s the way that Israelis raise their children (in absolute independence) that is responsible for building the resiliency and creativity that is needed for entrepreneurship. Arieli explains how Israeli childhood is shaped by challenges and risk in a tribal-like community, where they develop the courage to pursue unorthodox and often revolutionary approaches to change and innovation.

The root of this is what is known as Israeli chutzpah. This chutzpah includes a determinate approach to life, which might seem to some as rude and opinionated behavior, or more positively, to others, as preferring directness to political correctness for the sake of achieving one’s goals. (my own experience teaching in the Israeli school system showed this to me first hand and at first, it was quite jarring). I have since learned with the right amount of chutzpah, everything is possible.

Israeli children are used to expressing their opinions and we can compare this to an experienced business man framing a creative commercial transaction: he is “instilled with the chutzpah power – determined, courageous, and optimistic that anything can be achieved.” 

Arieli’s own experiences both as an Israeli entrepreneur and as a mother of three boys are the sources for her ideas here. 

Arieli shows how Israelis are driven toward experimentation, failure and learning, mental and physical risk-taking, and the positive belief that things will be all right. We embark on a journey through the typical Israeli childhood and see how it parallels with the lifecycle of a startup from discovery and exploration of the target market and value proposition, to the actual validation and scale.  Arieli says that there are five stages, Discovery, Validation, Efficiency, Scale and Sustainability, Renewal:

 

  • Stage 1:Discovery: in this stage, Israeli children don’t question and act intuitively. They live in a state where things don’t have a preordained order. In business, learn through own experiences rather than explicit teaching
  • Stage 2:Validation: Children are open up to criticism, test limits, resilience and experimentation and experience failure in this stage, discuss and learn from it, collect feedback and input from outside sources
  • Stage 3:Efficiency: Stage of Israeli teenage years when they use creativity muscles. Israelis live in a constant state of uncertainty and learn to cope with ambiguity. In business, they learn to use more from less while testing the boundaries, applying an agile mindset.
  • Stage 4:Scale and Sustainability: the phase when most Israelis join the military. Israeli children learn how to constantly improvise and keep challenging authority

In business, different elements come together to form a more robust organization, where information flows in all directions

  • Stage 5:Renewal: When Israeli youth are release from military service with an emphasizes that networks are key. In business, they take on new challenges, stepping out of routine and comfort zone.

 In sharing the unique ways in which Israelis parent, educate and acculturate their children, “Chutzpah” gives us invaluable insights and proven strategies for success as entrepreneurs, executives, innovators, parents and policymakers.

 

“AND THEN THERE WAS ISRAEL”— The Origins of the Creation of Israel’s Statehood

“AND THEN THERE WAS ISRAEL”

The Origins of the Creation of Israel’s Statehood

Amos Lassen

Director Romed Wyder takes us back in time to look at the origins of the creation of the State Of Israel. We lookat historical facts under the specific angle of the responsibility of the Western World. Via the analyses of internationally renowned scholars and cinematographic archives, we see that in adopting the Zionist project, Great Britain and other Western countries have been guided mainly by their own agenda. Therefore the West bears a heavy responsibility in terms of the fate of Jews in Europe at the time as well as in terms of the fate of the Palestinians today.

When it comes to Israel and Palestine, the current crisis is rooted choices made in response to 19th century geopolitics, colonial imperatives and the Holocaust. What makes this so complicated two sides entrenched and thousands of years of history and there seems to be no solution.

It’s so complicated. Thousands of years of history. Old hatreds. Both sides entrenched. No solution seems possible. There are common sentiments on both sides and the conflict goes way back in time. We are at a stalemate that is filled with rocket attacks, massacres, and uprisings. 

But the birth of the modern state of Israel was far from inevitable.  The 19th century was the era of the rise of the nation-state and this was a period filled with the invention of history. If every nation were to have its own state, what of the Jews? Early discussions of a Jewish state were not limited to placing it in Palestine. Argentina, Uganda and the United States were also considered as possible locales.

Not all Jews were Zionists, and not all early Zionists were Jews. Among Christian Zionists there was a split between those who welcomed a Jewish state as a precursor to the end of times and those who saw it as a way to decrease the Jewish population elsewhere. Even the partition of Palestine was not inevitable; many instead supported a single, federal state. In central and eastern Europe, working-class, Yiddish-speaking Jews were far less likely to support Zionism than those who were better off.

“And There was Israel” covers the history of Zionism from the writings of Theodore Herzl to the expulsion of Palestinians from hundreds of villages following the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. Political sociologist Riccardo Bocco maintains the seeds of later conflict were in part brought about by the contradictory commitments made by the British during the period of the Mandate: promising to recognize an independent Arab state in exchange for an alliance against the Ottomans while also committing to supporting a Jewish home in the Middle East, while at the same time secretly negotiating with France over carving up the region into spheres of influence. After the liberation of survivors in Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War II, calls for a Jewish homeland became ae moral urgency. But as we see here, even then, the outcome was far from certain. A proposal for a federal state including both Jews and Palestinians was never put to a vote at the United Nations, while behind-the-scenes machinations to ensure support for partition took place.

Our references to this fascinating history are seven academics from the fields of history, sociology, law, and political science and Middle Eastern studiess. Their narratives of the decades leading up to the formation of Israel include British, French, and American newsreels, along with rarely seen footage from within the early United Nations, as the question of partitioning Palestine into separate states comes to the floor.

This is an accessible, clearly argued essay on how Israel came to be and the far-reaching ramifications of colonial projects.

“BACK TO THE FATHERLAND”— The Past and the Present

“Back to the Fatherland”

The Past and the Present

Amos Lassen

Kat Rohrer and Gil Levanon’s documentary, “Back to the Fatherland” looks sympathetically, though superficially, to the past and present of Jewish families’ relationships to Germany and Austria. The focus is on the internal family dynamics for the third generation from the Holocaust and their survivor grandparents.

While more than 10,000 Israelis are estimated to have settled in the German capital during the past decade and established Hebrew-speaking enclaves, the directors were interested in the specific personal ramifications of those who were also grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.

In two families profiled, the grandparents were born into a German society that painfully turned on them, so they felt lucky to emigrate to Israel. Their Israeli grandchildren see a hopeful potential for work, art, and romance in these countries and have an affinity for a language they heard their grandparents speak at home, albeit they know they have the safety valve of returning to Israel if history repeats itself. Many on screen express unease with the rising anti-Semitism from the right and Muslim extremists.

Guy Shahar left Israel for a pragmatic reason, more job opportunities (like one of my young cousins), and he then fell in love with Austrian Katharina Maschek. They share an unresolved scene where they look up the regulations for civil marriage and changing names. In Israel, his grandfather Uri Ben Rehav has a large model train set that runs through a miniature Theresienstadt, the Nazi’s “model” concentration camp, where he was imprisoned for three years.

Dan Peled, a sculptor, moved to Berlin a few years ago for its lively arts scene, as did my theater artist cousin, and like her, he feels very uncomfortable with Israel’s position toward the Palestinians. He, too, has fallen in love with a local woman, Hannah Becker. Raised with divorced parents, he grew up very close to his painter grandmother Lea Ron Peled, and wants them to meet.

The most moving scenes are the Jewish grandparents’ return to their native lands and the interactions there with their grandchildren. With his grandfather’s interest in trains, Guy takes Uri on a tour of Vienna that includes a ride on a child-size train in a park where Jews were banned. This reminds the chuckling Uri of the time he removed his yellow star in order to see a public display of the German might that had just defeated France. While riding on a streetcar with his grandson, he recalls sitting across from a man who confronted him for being Jewish and wearing a plaid jacket that included the black, white, and red colors of the Nazi party that were forbidden to him. The man took out his Gestapo badge and arrested him. Uri covers his face and can’t speak.

Dan’s father, Gidi, is able to bring his 91-year-old mother to her former apartment in Vienna and the building that housed her school, where an anti-Semitic art teacher had challenged her talent. After her return to Israel, she doesn’t live to see her great-grandchild born in her home city.

It is confusing to keep straight the family relationships, interspersed is a discussion in a coffee shop among unidentified young adult Germans or Austrians and Israelis. It seems that enough time has gone by so that their grandparents’ experiences are too far in the past to influence the younger generations’ decisions. As one of my cousins said, “That was life in a different time zone.” As the directors fade out from that Nazi uniform in the attic, the Israelis want a break with the past that will lead to a different future.

What makes the movie special is not only the seeming absurdity of this plunge back into the darkness of history, but also because grandparents of the individuals were aghast at the decision of the young people, one saying “no way.” The young people determined to live in Germany and Austria are burdened with guilt for going against the wishes of their grandparents.

In the documentary’s opening lines, the theme is set with Gil Levanon ( the blond director, important because the story can get mighty confusing since three families’ lives are juxtaposed) tells Yochanan, her grandfather, that she intends to leave Israel for Germany. What could have sent the elderly man into cardiac arrest results only in shock, disbelief, and dismay. About the Germans, he states, “They were bad, they stayed bad, and they will always be bad.”

The question that is raised here is why would a young Israeli move to Germany or Austria? For their grandparents who experienced the atrocities of the Nazis first hand, the very idea is abhorrent. Not only did those countries give rise to Nazism, the people who lived there wholesale turned their backs on the Jewish community as they were being obliterated.

“TEL AVIV ON FIRE”— A Film About a TV Show

“TEL AVIV ON FIRE”

A Film About a TV Show

Amos Lassen

Director and co-writer Sameh Zoabi brings us a look at soap operas and an entrenched hardline political divide, on the West Bank of Israel. A thirtysomething slacker, Salam (Kais Nashef) gets a job as a production assistant and then stumbles into becoming the head writer on his uncle’s evening soap, “Tel Aviv on Fire”.

The TV show follows the romantic affairs of Palestinian spy Miral, who goes by the Israeli alias of Rachel (Lubna Azabal); her Palestinian comrade/lover; and the Israeli general she seduces to nab military plans right before the 1967 Six-Day War.

Salam lives in Jerusalem, but the show is taped in Ramallah. To get to work on the West Bank, he has to go through a check point, and he can only do so if he agrees to the demands of a military officer, Assi (Yaniv Biton), to make sure the TV Israeli officer becomes more assertive and winds up with Rachel and Salam discovers, everyone has an opinion about who Rachel should end up with.

The soap is based a telenovela set in 1967 on the cusp of the Six-Day War. It’s clear that Salam got the job because of his uncle. Cinematographer Laurent Brunet shows us Tel Aviv with heightened colors, gauzy lensing and deliberately sharp camera moves. This overblown look is perfect for the pro-Palestinian melodrama. When Salam steps in to help with a bit of pronunciation trouble, he finds himself in an argument about the word “explosive” in the script and then he is, because of that, moved to the writers crew.  –

Suddenly elevated to the scripting crew, the panicking Salam finds an unexpected ally when he is hauled in for questioning at one of his daily journeys through an Israeli checkpoint by army commander Assi. Assi‘s wife is a fan of the show, which noticeably has a following on both sides of the border and Assi wants to be able to show off by giving her juicy titbits of the plot. He takes a look at the script, only to be horrified by its content and quickly sets about advising Salam on how to make Yehuda a more dashing prospect and, while this initially gets the Palestinian out of a tight spot, he’s soon caught between the plot aspirations of the pro-Jewish Assi and the pro-Palestine backers.

Salam desperately tries to find a compromise, all the while showing how the script acrobatics and attitudes represent a microcosm of societal strife, where any show of empathy for either side might be branded “anti-Semitic” or “Zionist” or where a wrong word at a checkpoint can lead to a day’s lost work. The material is treated with a soft touch but finds time to offer comment on the way that attitudes and conflict can be passed down from generation to generation, letting neither side off the hook.

The story is multi-layered and crafty and Zoabi doesn’t forget the heart of the matter; a sort of odd couple bromance to brew between Salam and Assi. His real achievement is in capturing the people rather than simply the politics.

The director is conscious of and careful about the ongoing issues about the Israelis and the Palestinians, and balances the humor and the narrative perfectly well. Here Palestinians and Israelis must live together regardless of the past and it is not an easy thing to do. Salam tries to get his head above water and get his old flame back in the process but making a series is a hard thing to do and is a lot of work. Nobody seems to be on the same page. Salam tries make everybody happy and if you want to know if he succeeds, you will have to see the movie.

“Israel Denial: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism, & the Faculty Campaign Against the Jewish State” by Cary Nelson— Academia on BDS

Nelson, Cary. “Israel Denial: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism, & the Faculty Campaign Against the Jewish State”, Indiana University Press, 2019.

Academia on BDS

Amos Lassen

“Israel Denial” is the first book to offer detailed analyses of the work faculty members have published―individually and collectively–in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and it contrasts claims with options for promoting peace. The faculty here have devoted a significant part of their professional lives to delegitimizing the Jewish state. While there are beliefs they hold in common (including their belief that there is nothing good to say about Israel), they also develop unique arguments designed to recruit converts to their cause and do so both as writers and as teachers who pay substantial attention to anti-Zionist pedagogy. We look at the strategies and argumentation of the BDS movement, and on some of its leading proponents. Nelson offers his readers powerful dissections and refutations of many of the BDS’s talking points, as well as some thoughts about moving towards accommodations regarding –if not a solution to―the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After reading Nelson’s book, no one should be able to take the work of the BDS professors seriously, given their reliance on propagandistic lies. Cary Nelson’s Israel is not the mythic realm of demons fantasized by BDS advocates but an actual place that contains signs of hope.

“The campaign to boycott Israel wants to be seen as a symbolic marker of the true community of the good; it poses as the simple global resistance to the Israeli right.” The book disrupts this dishonest and menacing positioning and articulates opposition to both the BDS and the pro-settler adherent. It embraces a politics of peace and it consistently opposes both anti-Arab racism and antisemitism.

Nelson recognized the need to document the absolute loss of the values upholding academic standards  in which a complicated battle over land has been turned into a morality tale accusing Israel of the very crimes―genocide, ethnic cleansing–historically unleashed against Jews.  “Israel Denial” is dispiriting in shows how deeply politics can intrude on and compromise intellectual projects and demonstrates what can be achieved with traditional scholarly skills and honesty

 Nelson sets out “to take anti-Zionist faculty positions seriously and address them in detail” and he accomplishes that objective and much, much more. This is a wide-ranging and incisive analysis of the academic movement to delegitimize and demonize Israel. Nelson thoroughly exposes and refutes the arguments for boycotting the Jewish state as he explores  ways to actual peace and reconciliation.

“Tel Aviv: Food. People. Stories: A Culinary Journey With NENI” by Haya Molcho et.al.— Cosmopolitan City, Cosmopolitan Food and Stories

Molcho, Haya and Nuriel Molcho, et al. “Tel Aviv: Food. People. Stories: A Culinary Journey With NENI”,  Acc Art Books, 2019).

Cosmopolitan City, Cosmopolitan Food and Stories

Amos Lassen

Having lived in Israel for many years, I spent a lot of time in Tel Aviv and even lived there for a year but that was many years ago. The Tel Aviv that I knew was just beginning to become the colorful, diverse, cosmopolitan and modern city it is today. Tel Aviv grew with the rest of the state but it had an extra dimension of being something of an international city— a place where the world meets, where cultures, traditions and religion traditions merge. It is constantly changing and actually could be anywhere in the world and I believe that what distinguished it as an Israel city is that everyone speaks Hebrew. I remember that not many people used to go to restaurants for meals and Israeli cuisine was nothing special but that has all changed. As Tel Aviv came of age so did her menus. “Tel Aviv: Food. People. Stories: A Culinary Journey With NENI” is a look at today’s Tel Aviv through atmospheric photos, exciting stories and local recipes, Haya Molcho, founder of NENI restaurants, herself grown up in Tel Aviv, and her sons, Nuriel, Elior, Nadiv and Ilan, paint a living portrait of their vibrant and ever-changing hometown.

We get many NENI recipes that are “complemented by dishes prepared by local restaurateurs and connoisseurs” that reflect the Tel Aviv’s diverse cuisine. There are recipes for  foods that I have never heard of before and they are mouth-watering. Some come from Haya’s youth and all are prepared with local ingredients that are memories of the taste of Haya’s childhood. These include Sabick sandwich, green shakshuka, lamb with figs and grapes, cactus fruit sorbet among others so it is best to read this after you have already eaten something so you will not be hungry.  What I real love about this book are the stories that go along with the recipes and we all know that the best way to get to know someone is to have a meal with them. We get shared food, shared stories and shared fun reading this.

The stories we read here are those of local chefs and story-tellers (“from the epicures and the urban forager, to the magician and the survivor – capturing the special spirit of the city’s many cuisines and inhabitants. Haya revisits the recipes of her home town, re-creating the flavors of her childhood: knafeh, green shakshuka, sarma, Israeli paella, pickled lemons and much more”).

Physically, the book is beautiful and it is filled with gorgeous photographs and wonderful stories. When Haya opened the first NENI restaurant, it was a hit with its

traditional Israeli cuisine mixed with Mediterranean and Romanian influences. What we have is a book of recipes alongside of biographies and interviews with local people from all walks of life. For anyone who wants to prepare some new items, this book is great and for those who like good stories and photos, this is also a book for them.

“Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of Personal Transformation” edited by Carolyn L. Karcher— Stories from Diverse Backgrounds

Karcher, Carolyn L., editor.  “Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of Personal Transformation”, Olive Branch Press, 2019.

Stories from Diverse Backgrounds

Amos Lassen

I have never seen the American Jewish community so divided on Israel. When I was growing up through Zionist youth activities, there was never a question about the way we felt about Israel. We totally supported her and wept when there was pain and rejoiced when there was reason. I will never forget the exhilaration we felt with the Six-Day War, the very same war that is now the basis of so many problems.
Today Jews face a choice. We can be loyal to the ethical imperatives at the heart of Judaism—on one hand, we can love the stranger, pursue justice, and repair the world. On the other hand, we can give our unconditional support to the state of Israel. We face a choice between Judaism as a religion and the nationalist ideology of Zionism, which some feel is usurping that religion.

Carolyn Karcher brings us a powerful collection of personal narratives with entries from forty Jews of diverse backgrounds who share a wide range of stories about the roads they have traveled from a Zionist world view to activism in solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis striving to build an inclusive society founded on justice, equality, and peaceful coexistence. Naturally this
will be controversial. Those contributors here welcome the long overdue public debate. They want to tear down stereotypes of dissenting Jews as self-hating, traitorous, and anti-Semitic. They want  us to meet readers and writers  who are part of  the large and growing community of Jewish activists who have created organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, and Open Hillel. They want to form and strengthen alliances with progressives of all faiths. However, it seems that their mqin goal is  to nurture models of Jewish identity that replace ethnic exclusivity with solidarity, Zionism with a Judaism once again nourished by a transcendent ethical vision. Nothing  the actions of Jewish Voices of Peace, I was already prejudiced against what I read here and that has not changed. I lived in Israel for many years and served in the Israel Defense Forces. I saw firsthand how Israel was forced to exit day-to-day because she is surrounded by enemies.

One of the reviewers said that, “These powerful stories send a message about the resilience and passion of a courageous group of Jews who have come to the realization that the state of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians does not live up to the ethical standards Jewish tradition demands.” If that is the case, why is nothing mentioned about the way Palestinians have treated Israel and the terrorist tactic the non-nation has used?  The contributors  challenge the idea that Judaism and Zionism are inseparable. I totally disagree that “Their commitment to live a Jewish life without Zionism bodes well for the future of Judaism.” What it does is tear us apart even more that we already are.

An emeritus professor of law at one of America’s most respected universities states “Carolyn L. Karcher has superbly edited a fascinating collection of autobiographical essays describing how devout American Jews disentangled themselves from the distortions of Zionism. In the process they recovered their authentic religiously and ethnically framed identities. Required reading for Jews, and engaging reading for everyone.”  I need to know the definition of devout here. I know members of some of these organizations and the only devout things about them are misinformed and radical views of the Jewish state.

Contributors include: Joel Beinin; Sami Shalom Chetrit; Ilise Benshushan Cohen; Marjorie Cohn; Rabbi Michael Davis; Hasia R. Diner; Marjorie N. Feld; Chris Godshall; Ariel Gold; Noah Habeeb; Claris Harbon; Linda Hess; Rabbi Linda Holtzman; Yael Horowitz; Carolyn L. Karcher; Mira Klein; Sydney Levy; Ben Lorber; Shoshana Madmoni-Gerber; Carly Manes; Moriah Ella Mason; Seth Morrison; Eliza Rose Moss-Horwitz; Hilton Obenzinger; Henri Picciotto; Ned Rosch; Rabbi Brant Rosen; Alice Rothchild; Tali Ruskin; Cathy Lisa Schneider; Natalia Dubno Shevin; Ella Shohat; Emily Siegel; Rebecca Subar; Cecilie Surasky; Rebecca Vilkomerson; Jordan Wilson-Dalzell; Rachel Winsberg; Rabbi Alissa Wise; Charlie Wood.

It is now time to hear from the other side.

 

 

“THE REPORTS ON SARAH AND SALEEM”— Power and Privilege

“The Reports on Sarah and Saleem”

Power and Privilege

Amos Lassen

Muayad Alayan’s Palestinian drama “The Reports on Sarah and Saleem” is, in his own words, about  “an extramarital affair in Jerusalem that ignites a dangerous game of deceit between those who hold power and those who don´t”).

Sarah (Sivane Kretchner) is a Jewish café owner in West Jerusalem and is married to David, a colonel in the Israel Defense Forces and have a young daughter.  She is known for  closing up her shop because of her husband´s relocations. Now David is waiting for a promotion and this means that they will be moving once it comes through.

Arab Saleem (Adeeb Safadi),  lives in East Jerusalem and works in West Jerusalem delivering bakeries. His low-paying job is a problem since his wife Bisan will soon give birth to their first child. Bisan´s brother is helping them make ends meet while Bisan hints she is studying. Saleem feels emasculated in  his conservatively-gender-stereotypical environment, and Sarah is frustrated with her distance husband and has too much work on her hands. These feelings from both of them lead them into the back of Saleem´s van for sessions of steamy sex at dusk. There are no deep emotions attached and the sex is purely therapeutic reasons. This sexual hook-up is supposed to be temporary and insignificant, and they develop a secure routine. Saleem’s attemps to raise more money leads him to accept his brother-in-law’s offer to smuggle items to Bethlehem late at night.

On one fateful night, Saleem cuts short the session with Sarah because of a delivery. Sarah decides to accompany him, and while being aware of the bad combination of Arab and Jew and Bethlehem, she tries to pose as a European tourist. A conflict with a local emerges after he adamantly hits on Sarah and Saleem loses his temper.

As soon as the secret affair crashes with the politics of the territory, the film becomes a political thriller and social drama about the history of the region and the current stereotypes controlling it, such as racism. A friend of Sarah´s, for example, does not care she is cheating on her husband, but on the fact she is cheating with an Arab.

Muayad and Rami Alayan are brothers who made the film. They unite  arthouse drama and a political thriller shrouded as an illicit affair. The dramatic plot, street action and a suspicion of treason included, builds up suspense and pulse-racing rhythm. Rami Alayan, who wrote the screenplay succeeds in weaving all the local particularities into the script without  trying to school the audience.

In the end, whatever the two of them may have felt, the weight of other people’s imagination is sufficient to do the damage. Because it’s not just about the fact that they’re married to other people – it’s about the fact that she’s Israeli and he’s Palestinian.