Category Archives: Israel

“ALL IN”— A Crime Comedy from Israel

“ALL IN”

A Crime Comedy from Israel

Amos Lassen

Four guys, best friends from high school, meet 20 years later.  Morad , a powerful union leader at the Ashdod Port, divorced and with a broken heart; Tzofi, tall, blue-eyed and an AA; Benson, a bar owner with bleached blond hair; and our hero, Yaki who is handsome and sweet as chocolate.

 All four receive invitations to take part in a secret  but prestigious poker game in the south of Israel. The only problem is that the game is organized by Oren Kleers, the arch-enemy of the high school friends who embarrassed them in front of TV cameras when they  were children.  

They took revenge on him in high school and now, 20 years later, he is challenging them with a high-stake poker game. “All In” stars Tzahi Grad, Shlomi Koriat, Yael Bar Zohar, Tzachi Halevi (Fauda), Dina Sanderson,  Dana Frider, Maor Cohen…

“SARA STEIN — FROM BERLIN TO TEL AVIV: THE COMPLETE SERIES”— A Force to Be Reckoned With

“SARA STEIN — FROM BERLIN TO TEL AVIV: THE COMPLETE SERIES” 

A Force to Be Reckoned With

Amos Lassen

 Sara Stein (Katherina Lorenz) is an Israeli criminal investigator and indeed, she is a force to be reckoned with. We finally get to meet her in a two DVD set from Omnibus that features four feature length mysteries. Sara comes from a Jewish family and had been working as an investigator in Berlin and she is proud to be independent. Her instincts are sharp and her judgement is sound and there enable her to solve cases. One recent case in which she investigated the murder of an Israeli DJ opened her mind to politics and religion and she was drawn to Tel Aviv where she works as a detective and facing new challenges. She works for truth and justice and she dreams about and hopes for peace.

The series goes by the name “Sara Stein – From Berlin to Tel Aviv” and is made up of four feature length movies:

  “Shalom Berlin, Shalom Tel Aviv” Sara goes to Berlin to investigate the murder of Tamar, an Israeli DJ and star of the Berlin club scene.  At first, suspicion is on Tamar’s Palestinian boyfriend Khalid and his family but Sara believes there could be more than just a religious or political motive at play.

 “Jewels in the Grave” is Sara’s first case in Tel Aviv and it appears that no one was awaiting her arrival. Her colleagues are Shimon Ben Godin and Ja’akov Blok.  She receives an assignment to investigate because her predecessor Noam Shavit, was found dead in his apartment suffocated with a plastic bag. Sara sees  parallels to a two-year old robbery. But was it the same perpetrator?

“Masada” is at the southern edge of the Dead Sea and it is a significant Israeli symbol. Following an explosion at the site, Chief archeologist Aaron Salzmann is found dead. When Stein and Blok investigate, they discover the deceased is the son of Avram Salzmann, a celebrated archaeologist who was also present at the blast but survived unhurt. Foul play is what it looks like but how many clues can Stein find in the rubble before it’s too late?

“Old Friends” begins with a severed hand discovered on the beach in Tel Aviv and it is the spark that links human trafficking, the special forces, and even Sara’s husband. Sara is has to investigate and unwind this vast criminal conspiracy.

“LOVE IN SUSPENDERS”— Love Has Its Own Rules

“LOVE IN SUSPENDERS”

Love Has Its Own Rules

 

The encounter between two people with such different personalities, such
as Tammy and Beno, has to result in a nightmare…but love has its own rules. So it happens that Tammy (Nitza Saul), a 64 year old widow who constantly deals with the memory of her loving late husband, meets Beno (Yehuda Barken), a 70 year old sarcastic lone wolf widower – and the two fall in love.

From their first unfortunate encounter, when Tammy  hits Beno with her car until they unite in front of the altar, Tammy and Beno experience all sorts of emotional, funny struggles. They get closer, break up, get back together  and fight again, until ultimately their love wins out.

Shlomo Bar-Aba gives a heartwarming performance as Tammy’s late husband, who refuses to let her go in a cinematic tribute to Jorge Amado’s Vadinho in  “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands”.

 

“The Tenth Plague” by Alan N. Levy— A Political Thriller

Levy, Alan N. “The Tenth Plague”, Chickadee Prince Books, 2019.

A Political Thriller

Amos Lassen

Sometimes I just do not want to read political thrillers because we live in a world that it does not take much for fiction to become reality especially regarding the Middle East. Alan N. Levy’s “The Tenth Plague” looks at a world that is forced into almost nuclear war by  an Iranian plot to attack Israel and the United States. Set in 2028, we are in a world where there has been a brutal reprisal of the 9/11 attacks on America, non-ending unrest in the Middle East, and Russia that is still under the leadership of the ruthless Vladimir Putin. 

Because this is a thriller, I must be careful about what I can and cannot say since I want to keep the read thrilling for everyone. I do think that it is important to say that there is a sense of coming catastrophe throughout the read and even though we know that what we are reading is fiction, the author is that good that he can create a sense of unease in the reader.

What we have is a story of global conflict due to the cynicism that is felt from the feeling that a catastrophe is headed our way. I do believe that since 9/11, most of us feel that something like this could happen even though our guard is up. I do not think I am a pessimist but rather a realist.

 Col. Arshad Sassani is a high-ranking Iranian intelligence officer who  also is a valuable informant for Israel, a double agent, if you will. He’s been sharing details about Iran’s nuclear capabilities and ambitions with Israel’s Mossad. When he reveals that there is a plot to launch missiles against major cities in Israel (Tel Aviv) and the United States (Washington, D.C., and New York City) at the same time, the Israeli government dispatches Major Yaacov “Jake” Rafaeli, a top Mossad agent, to bring Sassani back. Israeli authorities who have access to the best espionage available believe that it will be impossible to prevent the planned by conventional military means, so they have made up a plan to use a deadly biological weapon to pre-emptively destroy Iran’s entire population. However, there is a problem and that is that the majority of the surrounding region, 14 nations in total, would be affected adversely. Scientists in Israel have developed an antidote to protect their own people, and the Israeli government tries to blackmail the United States into assisting in the operation by threatening to release the virus on American soil. (this gives is an idea as to how much the relationship between the two countries has broken down to the point that Israel threatens its best ally). Shannon Parks, the deputy director of the CIA, brokers a deal with the head of the Mossad, Shlomo Mizrahi to take out Iran’s nuclear missiles instead. At the same time, Iran rushes to find and silence Sassani and arrest and torture his family members in order to assess the damage he’s done.

As I read, the word “wow” kept on coming to mind. Sentence after sentence possessed the wow factor and I surprised myself by my reaction.  I am not much of a thriller reader; I find I get too excited by becoming caught up in the plot and I do just fine with romance and historical fiction. However, I might have just found what has been missing in my literary diet and I need to red more thrillers. Of course, not all thrillers will be as good as this is especially when we know that this is author Alan N. Levy’s debut novel. I read that a critic said that the novel is so “bombastic and cinematic” that it is no wonder that “it abandons any sense of political plausibility from the start.” I think that statement can only be interpreted by who you are and as one who logged many years in the Israel Defense Forces, nothing is implausible.

“THE ROAD TO WHERE”— A Film by Michal Bat-Adam and Starring Moshe Mizrahi

“THE ROAD TO WHERE”

A Film by Michal Bat-Adam and Starring Moshe Mizrahi

Israel 1948. A house by the sea in Jaffa, from which Palestinian families  have had to flee in haste, becomes the home of Jewish Holocaust survivors who managed to escape the inferno in Europe.

Out of the turmoil of their existence, under the shadow of the unresolved conflict between Jews and Arabs, rises a desperate cry for love.

“Michal Bat-Adam weaves an epic poem in which time moves back and forth between past and present and raises questions about the essence of our existence.”

“Daniel and Ismail” by Juan Pablo Iglesias and illustrations by Alex Paris— Coming Together

Iglesias, Juan Pablo. “Daniel and Ismail”, illustrations by Alex Paris, Restless Books,  2019.

Coming Together

Amos Lassen

“Daniel and Ismail” is a very special picture book about a Jewish boy and a Palestinian boy who bond on the soccer field and the story comes to us in three languages—English, Hebrew, and Arabic.

“Daniel and Ismail, one Jewish and the other Palestinian, don’t know each other yet, but they have more in common than they know. They live in the same city and have the same birthday, and this year they get the same presents: a traditional scarf—for Daniel a tallit and for Ismail a keffiyeh—and a soccer ball. Taking their gifts out for a spin, they meet by chance on a soccer field, and they soon begin to play together and show off the tricks they can do.”

“They get so absorbed in the fun that they lose track of time and mix up their gifts: Daniel picks up Ismail’s keffiyeh and Ismail takes Daniel’s tallit. When they get home and discover their mistake, their parents are shocked and angry, asking the boys if they realize who wears those things. That night, Daniel and Ismail have nightmares about what they have seen on the news and heard from adults about the other group. But the next day, they find each other in the park and get back to what really matters: having fun and playing the game they both love.”

“Daniel and Ismail is a remarkable multilingual picture book that confronts the very adult conflicts that kids around the world face, and shows us that different cultures, religions, societies, and languages can all share the same page.” However you won’t be able to get this book until May 14.

 

“Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth” by Jodi Magness— A New Look at an Old Story

Magness, Jodi. “Masada: From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth”, Princeton University Press, 2019.

A New Look at an Old Story

Amos Lassen

It seems that Masada has been part of my life since I was a teenager. Growing up in Young Judaea, a Jewish and Zionist youth group, I both studied about and learned from Masada. Not only as she great material to build stories , she had her own very special story that we would listened to whenever the chance came. It was never important whether it was true or not because the story was so beautiful,  During those years Yigal Yadin published his famous book about his famous findings at the Masada site and it seemed to be the definitive word until that beautiful new study from Jodi Magness came along. When her book came out recently, I took time to be alone with it for a while and things I had not thought about in many 60 years came back to me. I was determined to read every fascinating word of the text and to examine the photographs for as long as I was able to do so.

Jodi Magness brings us a new account of Masada and the story of the last stand of a group of Jewish rebels who held out against the Roman Empire. It was two thousand years ago, 967 Jewish men, women, and children (the last holdouts of the revolt against Rome following the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple) are said to have taken their own lives rather than surrender to the Roman army. This took place on top of Masada which was a barren and windswept mountain overlooking the Dead Sea. This powerful story of Jewish resistance became a symbol to the new nation of Israel beginning in 1948 with the physical creation of the state. (The story had been around long before that but Israel needed a heroic saga and so this became just that”. The first extensive archaeological excavations of Masada began in the 1960s, and today the site draws visitors from around the world. Only Josephus recorded the history of the mass suicide and because it is the only record we have, it is not totally accepted as fact. Some scholars question if the event ever took place).

Magness has excavated at Masada and here she explains what happened there, how we know it, and how recent developments might change understandings of the story. Incorporating the latest findings, she brings together literary and historical sources to show us what life was like for Jews under Roman rule during the reign of Herod and Jesus’s ministry and death. There are wonderful illustrations and photographs that add to the story that still keeps us fascinated.

The story goes like this, “In 74 CE, 967 Jews on top of the rock fortress of Masada purportedly took their own lives rather than surrender to a Roman army. Their defiant self-sacrifice became a modern, nationalist rallying cry: ‘Masada shall not fall again!’”. Magness, who directed excavations of the Roman siege works at Masada and is one of the preeminent archaeologists of the ancient Mediterranean world, and her book “Masada” describes its physical setting and development, the history of the site’s excavation, the story of the Roman siege, and the creation of Masada’s hotly contested modern myth. It is both  scholarly and accessible to all.

Writer Magness takes us into the story of the fall of Masada, elaborating on the dramatic tale as told by Josephus. She also shares the fascinating adventures and misadventures of the region’s explorers, from the nineteenth century through the 1960s. She describes the excavations that have taken place there including her own making the story personal.
Today Masada is the foremost archaeological site in Israel and is  the most spectacular and one of the most visited. The Israeli army inducts soldiers of special companies of the Israel Defense Forces on top of Masada  and they are reminded of the 967 who gave their lives for what they believed. Magness has done here what few archaeologists could have pulled off and she does so with  clarity and accessibility. 

“Working Woman”— A #MeToo Film from Israel

“Working Woman”

A #MeToo Film from Israel

Amos Lassen

“Working Woman”, a new Israeli film explores the problems surrounding a grey area of sexual harassment at work. Orna (Liron Ben Shlush) recently started working in the real estate business.  The work place seems to be good at first.  Unfortunately there’s more than meets the eye with her married realtor boss, Benny (Menashe Noy).  Instead of being a respectful person, Benny soon starts pressuring Orna into having sex. Like so many other men, he can’t see to keep his hands to himself.

As for Orna, her husband, (Ofer), has been working hard to start a restaurant business.  They have three children so they badly need the money if they want to live comfortably.  The restaurant struggles over the course of several months so Orna feels pressure to continue working for Benny.  It is because of the struggles, it’s Orna who must bring home the check.  All the while, she continues to pay the unwanted price in emotional

We see the film through Orna’s eyes and we see that director Michal  Aviad is not afraid to take a risk in telling this story.

There’s a few things going on for “Working Woman”.  One of which is the aforementioned issue of sexual harassment in the work place.  The other of which are these young families who are struggling to live financially.  If one does not have the money to afford a family, should they wait?  This seems to be another understated angle that director seeks to explore in the film.  It’s surely an issue affecting religious families more so than secular.

It was only a matter of time before we started to see the serious effects of the #MeToo movement be reflected on the big screen.  Female filmmakers are no longer afraid of having to keep their voices silent.  It’s in the best interest of the filmmaking industry, both Hollywood and foreign alike, to have this stories be told.  We are reminded that sexual harassment happens in the workplace, too.

With the current climate surrounding the #MeToo movement and women bravely telling their stories of harassment and assault, this fictionalized account (which feels all too real) is more than topical.  In fact, it could easily have been headlines.

Lead actor Shlush is well cast in her role as Orna and she is able to easily portray her character’s clear discomfort in her body language or even just a tense facial expression.  In contrast, Noy is introduced as a charismatic individual, likeable and charming until he begins to abuse his power.  Together this dynamic helps to bring this story to realistic life, and the seriousness of Orna’s emotional journey is well handled.

Orna becomes so traumatized and falls apart leaving her job,  eventually confessing to her husband why she is so distraught. The only weak part of this very compelling story comes now as  Orna fails to explain the circumstances properly to her husband and he therefore directs his anger at her and not Benny.

“The Mystery of the Kibbutz: Egalitarian Principles in a Capitalist World” by Ran Abramitzky— Thriving and Declining

Abramitzky, Ran. “ The Mystery of the Kibbutz: Egalitarian Principles in a Capitalist World”, (“The Princeton Economic History of the Western World), Princeton University Press, 2018.

Thriving and Declining

Amos Lassen

Ran Abramitzky’s “The Mystery of the Kibbutz” is a very special book for me in that a good part of my life was spent living on a kibbutz in Israel. Let’s look at Abramitzky’s definition of kibbutz— “The kibbutz is a social experiment in collective living that challenges traditional economic theory. By sharing all income and resources equally among its members, the kibbutz system created strong incentives to free ride or―as in the case of the most educated and skilled―to depart for the city. Yet for much of the twentieth century kibbutzim thrived, and kibbutz life was perceived as idyllic both by members and the outside world.” Abramitzky blends economic perspectives with personal insights to examine how kibbutzim successfully maintained equal sharing for so long despite their inherent incentive problems.

Abramitzky uses his own family’s experiences as kibbutz members with extensive economic and historical data, We look at the idealism and historic circumstances that helped kibbutzim overcome their economic contradictions. We see how the design of kibbutzim met the challenges of thriving as enclaves in a capitalist world and then evaluates kibbutzim’s success at sustaining economic equality. Through looking at extensive historical data and the stories of his pioneering grandmother who founded a kibbutz, his uncle who remained in a kibbutz his entire adult life, and his mother who was raised in and left the kibbutz, we see  the rise and fall of the kibbutz movement. The kibbutz as a unique social experiment extends far beyond the kibbutz itself and  serves as a guide to societies that strive to foster economic and social equality.

Extensive statistical data is used to analyze this paradox, along with many stories of the author’s relatives who forged, embraced and sometimes rejected the kibbutz way of life. We look at whether egalitarian and voluntary communities can thrive within a capitalist society. This is a fascinating, important book that was written with deep personal insight and incisive economic analysis. That analysis of how individuals’ equality in income and consumption in a collective-production society could survive but eventually collapse. We see economics come to life through the lens of a unique social experiment in communal living, teaching us how economic incentives and social contracts shape our society today.

We saw how individuals’ equality in income and consumption in a collective-production society could survive but eventually collapse. Ran Abramitzky uses unique data on almost the entire population of the kibbutzim from 1910 to 2000/

Enriching socio-economic theory combined with reader-friendly professional discourse and statistical analysis, along with personal reminiscence all come together here. The overall frame is economic, but other important factors such as identity, culture, politics, and social structure” are considered as well.

These Israeli collective settlements were built on idealistic commitment to Zionism combined with the Communist egalitarian principle “from each according to ability, to each according to his needs.” Also supplying members with many internal public goods, kibbutzim have successfully coped with brain drain, free-riding, and the tendency of less-productive individuals to join for many years. When Israeli political and economic transformations endangered their existence kibbutzim were able to adjust. Most provided more privacy and differential wages, thus contradicting their foundational values but still supplying a substantive safety net and significant public goods. And some of the richer Kibbutzim succeeded to maintain full equality while expanding their economic bases.

“Kibbutzim stood for many years as ‘proof’ that socialism and income equality can actually work,” but “opponents of socialism look at the shift away from income sharing and communal ownership of property is proof that any socialist society is doomed to fail”. Not taking a clear stand on the issue is fully justified: It depends on many dynamic variables that change non-linearly.

Writer Abramitzky’s grandparents left their homes in Poland to help found one of the first kibbutzim. The story here looks at the pros and cons of kibbutz life and a well-told story about determination, courage and just plain hard work. Even with all of the charts, graphs and research, this is a wonderfully written story that is readable for all. For today (the  21st century) this is both a cautionary tale and an optimistic look what a society based on cooperation and concern for fellow humans might look like. I do not personally like charts but those included here are totally explained and honestly so.

“Poetic Trespass: Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine” by Little Levy— Finding a Common Tongue

Levy, Lital. “Poetic Trespass: Writing between Hebrew and Arabic in Israel/Palestine”, Princeton University Press, 2014.

Finding a Common Tongue

Amos Lassen

Israel has always been and will always be problematic in terms of language. Much of that comes from the resurrection of Hebrew, a language that had been dead for thousands of years. In “Poetic Trespass”, Lital Levy brings us the first in-depth study of the relationship between Hebrew and Arabic in the literature and culture of Israel/Palestine. She gives us a captivating portrait of the literary imagination’s power to transgress political boundaries and transform ideas about language and belonging. For example, we meet a Palestinian-Israeli poet who declares a new state whose language, “Homelandic,” is a combination of Arabic and Hebrew. Then there is a Jewish-Israeli author who imagines a “language plague” that infects young Hebrew speakers with old world accents and sends the narrator in search of his Arabic heritage.

In order to present a study of this kind, Levy brings together history and literature and then traces the interwoven life of Arabic and Hebrew in Israel/Palestine from the turn of the twentieth century to the present thus bringing to light the two languages’ intimate entanglements in contemporary works of prose, poetry, film, and visual art by both Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel. This is done in a context where intense political and social pressures work to identify Jews with Hebrew and Palestinians with Arabic and she has found  writers who have boldly crossed over this divide to create literature in the language of their “other,” as well as writers who bring the two languages into dialogue to rewrite them from within. As she explores what she calls “poetic trespass”, she brings us new readings of canonical and lesser-known authors, including Emile Habiby, Hayyim Nahman Bialik, Anton Shammas, Saul Tchernichowsky, Samir Naqqash, Ronit Matalon, Salman Masalha, A. B. Yehoshua, and Almog Behar. By revealing uncommon visions of what it means to write in Arabic and Hebrew, Levy’s findings will change the way we understand literature and culture in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The topic, as it stands is of relevance to scholars but it is written so that it can be read by everyone. We see what it is to write in two languages about a condition of life that is, at once, both shared and separate. Levy’s critical speculations are wise, deliberate and courageous as her own beautiful prose goes back and forth across the borderline of Israel/Palestine while creating a way  of moving toward a solidarity built of pain and survival, failure and hope. Here is a new way to look at ethical and poetic possibilities of a translational dialogue in a war-torn region. Levy writes with elegance and by rethinking the Hebrew-Arabic nexus and positioning Modern Hebrew literature as a field of the study of the ways in which entangled languages affect one another, the book gives a new and an important perspective on the power of literature to  reimagine bilingualism.