Category Archives: Israel

“Uprooted: How 3000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight” by Lyn Julius— The Jews from Arab Countries

Julius, Lyn. “Uprooted: How 3000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight”, Vallentine Mitchell, 2018.

The Jews From Arab Countries

Amos Lassen

“Uprooted” is the result of ten years Lyn Julius’ studying Jews in Arab countries and why they left. There has been a Jewish presence in the Middle East and North Africa for some 3000 years and it is fascinating and quite sad to realize that over the course of just the last 50 years, indigenous Jewish communities have all but disappeared. Many were able to get to Europe, Australia and/or North and South America. It is estimated that 650,000 went to Israel and now over 50 percent of Israel’s Jews are refugees from Arab and Muslim countries, or their descendants. Today we se the same thing happening to non-Muslims living in Arab countries of the Middle East. Those Jews who went to Israel did not have an easy time integrating into Israeli society. Some are still fighting for recognition.

As most of you who are interested in this subject know, there has not been much written—in fact I believe we can even say that the whole mater has been overlooked. Yet to understand what happening sociologically in the Middle East, this is compulsory reading. Quite basically, this is the history of Jewish refugees from Muslim/Arab countries. Here is a history of the treatment of Jews who lived under the governance in countries where the overwhelming majority was Muslim. In effect, this is also the history of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world and the total disregard of the Jews who also lived there. Muslim Arabs regarded Jews as being unclean and we can just imagine the effect that had on the victims. When this is expressed publicly, Jews become vulnerable. As far as I know and could find out, this is one of the first books that dares to challenge the idea that Jews were treated well by their Arab neighbors. The text goes into the very difficult areas of the likes and dislikes of Arabs and Jews and this often becomes confusing. Therefore some readers might find the complexity of likes and dislikes dynamics a bit confusing. I have often wondered if this is due to the Muslim quest to dominate while Jews not only see themselves as a religion but also as a people while in most cases except perhaps for ancient Palestine, they have been in the minority. They have the desire and the, shall we say, need to have good lives in their own country and on their own land. There were times in history when the two peoples got along beautifully yet Arabs tend to forget the good times. Both sides need to maintain an effective interaction.

I can only wonder why Jews stayed in Islamic and Arab countries where they suffered humiliation for long periods of time. Yet we must remember that it was not easy to leave especially after spending generations in these countries. Then there is the natural fear of staying where they have a general idea of how life will be or going and risk losing what they once had and not knowing if they would be accepted. Jews want to be sure that by leaving they will be gaining better lives and there was always the treat of expulsion from the Arab lands in which they live. We know that it is a human trait to be around others that are like you and share some kind of heritage and when there is oppression, the oppressed tend to stick together. The creation of the State of Israel as a refuge for Jews from everywhere shows that it is indeed possible to build a society that is democratic and takes in all who want to come without respect to a different origin or culture. Let me take a sidestep for a moment. When I moved to Israel in 1967, I began my life there at a facility known as an “Ulpan” where we were totally immersed in the Hebrew language. There were about 50 of us and no two people spoke the same language. Here we were adapting to a new cultural tradition in a language that was not our own and we managed. I believe that Israel has succeeded in the “ingathering of the exile not because of a common religion but in spite of it. It was the common past experiences that Jews had in intolerant communities that allowed them to form a new community in a new place.

I admire not only the research and writing of Lyn Julius but also the fact that she remains unbiased as she writes about Arabs and Jews and that is not an easy thing to do. Just as she criticizes the governments of Arab nations, so she criticizes the social and political dynamics in modern Israel and she looks at the dynamics between Jews from Europe and those from the Arab countries. She does not lose her unbiased feelings at any place here and it would have been so easy to do so. Arabs tend to think of Israel as a Jewish community in total harmony and we know that it is far from that. Arabs seem to have a hard time with difficult social issues. Going back in time to the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites constantly questioned Moses about where they were going an why. Muslims on the other hand, submit completely to what prophet Mohammad teaches them and those who did not had to deal with the Jihad. The basis for Muslim anti-Semitism comes from long ago when Mohammed fought Jewish tribes.

So much of what Lyn Julius shares with us is new—these are topics that were not discussed around the table after a meal, for example. what we have not been told. This is a story of Jewish exile, Jewish marginalization and Jewish loss of freedom. Through personal stories, writer Julius gives us the history of the Jews from Arab countries alongside historical facts. We read of the chaos of Jewish communities and lives that were totally changed by these experiences and that are still felt today.

It is already seventy years since Israel’s War of Independence when she was attacked by the Muslim nations that surround her. Even though they lost the war, Arabs still celebrate the “Nabka” as it has come to be called. The Arab nations will not forfeit their claims on Israel and there were more Jews driven from Arab countries than Arabs from Israel.

It is interesting to note that today the Jews who left the Arab lands and their descendants comprise over half of the number of Jews living in Israel today. Is it not interesting that until this book was published, we did not know their stories? There are questions and more questions but rest assured that Lyn Julius will answer them to the best of her ability.

The book is available in paperback@ $19.95 and in hardback@$37.95 and it is worth every penny. There is a 20% discount off “Uprooted” for orders direct from the publisher’s website Order code JULIUS17, offer ends 29th June 2018.

“Jabotinsky’s Children: Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism” by David Kupfert Heller— The Shaping of an Ideology

Heller, Daniel Kupfert. “Jabotinsky’s Children: Polish Jews and the Rise of Right-Wing Zionism”, Princeton University Press, 2018.

The Shaping of Ideology

Amos Lassen

Note: Some of you might want to have a look at the definition of Revisionist Zionism before reading this review.

Having been a product of a Zionist youth movement, albeit not quite as radical as what was in Poland, I am quite aware of the power of the youth in shaping ideology. In Poland, between the two World Wars, both Jewish adults and youth were instrumental; in shaping the ideology of right-wing Zionism. By the end of the 30s, there were some 50,000 young Polish Jews who were members of Betar, the youth movement that grew out of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s revisionist Zionist ideology. Poland was home to Jabotinsky’s largest following as well as the place where right-wing Zionism developed. Writer David Heller through extensive archival material has found how the young people in Betar were instrumental in shaping right-wing Zionist attitudes about the roles that authoritarianism and military force could play in the quest to build and maintain a Jewish state.

I believe it is important to stress the importance of “to build and maintain a Jewish state.” This is what all Zionist youth groups shared and they differed on just how to do this, It was certainly not easy to be young and Jewish on the eve of the Holocaust and we see here through letters, diaries, and autobiographies, the turbulent lives that these young people lived. Jabotinsky has been called many names firebrand fascist to steadfast democrat, yet he deliberately delivered multiple and contradictory messages to his young followers, leaving it to them to interpret him as they saw fit. Betar had a surprising relationship with interwar Poland’s authoritarian government and in this book we popular misconceptions about Polish-Jewish relations between the two world wars overturned and we become very aware of the fervent efforts of Poland’s Jewish youth to determine, on their own terms, who they were, where they belonged, and what their future held in store. It is important to remember that we are dealing with young minds here but these young minds had every intention of staying alive and witnessing the birth of the Jewish nation.

This is a chapter in the history of Zionism that has been ignored and often we forget about the importance of our young people. Granted a lot of the Zionist education came from the home, the right-wing Zionist ideology came from the youth themselves. Much of what they developed still has a certain allure today.

Heller reclaims little-known events in Poland before the Holocaust and uses these to produce a highly original work that is a tremendous contribution to our understanding of the origins of the Zionist Right. What he has found are the stories of ordinary Betar members through their letters and diaries and autobiographies and uses these in an attempt to understand the distinctively Polish roots of right‐wing Zionism and how it developed between the two world wars in Poland under the leadership of its founder, Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

We read how Jewish youth in Poland actually understood their political and social options, and how they made sense of a world that was changing its course right in front of them. We forget that right-wing fundamentalism was on the rise throughout Europe and America as well. In effect, this book becomes the first social history of right-wing Zionism. The Revisionism that Heller shows us moves Jabotinsky from the center and we see that interwar Poland and Palestine were in constant negotiation between the leader and his base, and between youth and their elders. Heller analyzes the conditions under which Zionists come to embrace the authoritarian Right and this becomes very relevant to both contemporary life and history.

I was totally mesmerized by what I read and, in fact, I read the entire book in one sitting having been inspired by a group that I had been with earlier that day. I have always considered myself to be a knowledgeable Zionist but I suddenly realized how much I do not know and how much I have misunderstood.

Many thought that Jews were seeking a better world through Communism and were aware of the violence and repression that had accompanied the early years of Soviet rule. There were socialist Zionists who loved “the romance of the Communist revolution, with its promise to promote social justice, abolish unearned privilege, and fight anti-Semitism.”

Jews and Communism went beyond membership in the Communist Party itself. We learn that the apolitical Hashomer Hatzair movement redid itself in the cities of Warsaw, Bialystok, and Lodz and became quite radical. The youth movement’s leadership in central Poland, and soon after in Galicia, were drawing battle lines at their conferences between those who endorsed communism and called for class warfare and revolutionary struggle, and those who did not. This was already in 1925 and those who defended the youth movement’s original commitment to transcend party politics were outflanked by leaders who adopted a pro-Soviet position.

Jabotinsky reached out to the National Democrats, and expressed no concern when they praised him and referred to him as a “Jewish fascist.” There was an apparent symbiotic relationship between Betar and the Polish government. Some saw it as an expression of mutual affection but in reality it was a complex and sometimes-contradictory give-and-take between the Poles and Betar members had no intention of becoming “Poles” and they were above all else Zionists.

Toward the of the 1930’s, Jabotinsky met with the post-Pilsudski Polish officials to put into action his “Evacuation Plan”, which called for the emigration of 1.5 million eastern European Jews to Palestine in the next 10 years. He learned that Polish anti-Semitism was the byproduct of economic rivalry between Poles and Jews in a poor and overcrowded Poland. overcrowded poverty-stricken nation.

Many young Jews were politically promiscuous, frequently changing party affiliations and Poles thought of them as having ephemeral loyalties. By July 1944, Revisionists were meeting with Soviet officials in order to solicit Soviet support for the State of Israel. (p. 246).

When we speak of fascism we begin to understand that there is really no straightforward or objective definition of a fascist. It was said that the Revisionists are Jewish fascists and many Betar members agreed, but many did not. Some Betar leaders suggested that the Revisionist movement had a great deal to learn from Germany’s Nazi Party. Jabotinsky always maintained his belief in democracy, although he was known to say that “fascism has many good ideas”.

Heller maintains, in opposition to others that thought differently that Jabotinsky did not anticipate the Holocaust. Jabotinsky said that Jews needed to leave Europe because of the economic boycott of Jews and not because of the Nazi reign of terror.

I was a bit disappointed that Heller did not cover Jabotinsky’s views with those of fellow-Revisionist Jacob Gens, the eventual Judenrat leader of the Vilna Ghetto under the Nazi German occupation. Jacob Genes had that Jews, while seeking their own homeland, should be unswervingly loyal to the nations in which they live. They should not be separatists demanding special rights or deny patriotic bonds.

A definition of Revisionist Zionism:

Revisionist Zionism (Union of Zionists-Revisionists; abbr. Hebrew name, Ha-Ẓohar; later New Zionist Organization) was the movement of maximalist political Zionists founded and led by Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky in Poland. In the later 1920s and in the 1930s, the Revisionists became the principal Zionist opposition party to Chaim Weizmann’s leadership and to the methods and policy of the World Zionist Organization and the elected Jewish leadership in the Land of Israel. The initial nucleus of the Revisionist movement consisted of a group of Russian Zionists who had supported Jabotinsky during World War I in his campaign for the creation of a Jewish Legion.

the main instrument of economic activity, and to conduct a “political offensive” which would induce the British government to adapt its policy in Palestine to the original intention and spirit of the Declaration. The Revisionists based their ideology on Theodor Herzl’s concept of Zionism as essentially a political movement, defined by Jabotinsky as follows: “Ninety per cent of Zionism may consist of tangible settlement work, and only ten per cent of politics; but those ten percent are the precondition of success.” The basic assumption was that as long as the mandatory regime in Palestine was essentially anti-Zionist, no piecemeal economic achievements could lead to the realization of Zionism, i.e., the establishment of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority in the entire territory of Palestine, “on both sides of the Jordan.”

At its inception, the Revisionist program centered on the following demands: to reestablish the Jewish Legion as an integral part of the British garrison in Palestine, to develop the Jewish Colonial Trust as the main instrument of economic activity, and to conduct a “political offensive” which would induce the British government to adapt its policy in Palestine to the original intention and spirit of the Balfour Declaration.


“The Woman Who Fought an Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring” by Gregory J. Wallance— A Remarkable Life

Wallance, Gregory J. “The Woman Who Fought an Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring”, Potomac Books, 2018.

A Remarkable Life

Amos Lassen

Though she lived only to twenty-seven, Sarah Aaronsohn only lived to the age of twenty-five but those years contain a remarkable life. Gregory J. Wallance shows us just how remarkable that life was in “The Woman Who Fought an Empire”, the story of a heroic and  a bold young woman who was the daughter of Romanian-born Jewish settlers in Palestine and who became the daring leader of a Middle East spy ring.

Sarah learned that her brother Aaron had formed Nili, an anti-Turkish spy ring, to aid the British in their war against the Ottomans. He did so after the beginning of the first World War. Sarah, had seen the atrocities of the Armenian genocide by the Turks and she believed that only the defeat of the Ottoman Empire could save the Palestinian Jews from a similar fate. She joined Nili and eventually became the organization’s leader. As they worked behind enemy lines, she and her spies furnished vital information to British intelligence in Cairo about the Turkish military forces until she was caught and tortured by the Turks in the fall of 1917. In order to protect her secrets, Sarah shot herself.

Sarah Aaronsohn’s leadership of the Nili spy network during World War makes her one of the most fascinating personalities of the early Zionist era but somehow over the years she has slipped between the cracks. Unfortunately, this is a little known story about a truly impressive young woman who had been shocked by the atrocities she witnessed which were carried out by the Turks against Armenians. Sarah Aaronsohn and her brother stood up to several members of their Jewish community in Palestine and risked torture and death to provide information to the British.

We do not learn as much about Sarah’s personality as I hoped we would since I have been familiar with her story for years. (I had an aunt who was a member of Nili). We see that Sarah was a very intelligent and extremely tough woman who could easily become a feminist role model.

Wallance has done great research to bring us this story and while this is basically Sarah’s story, we also get insights into some of the key historical personalities and sociopolitical forces that helped shape the modern Middle East.

“The Story of Israel: From the Birth of a Nation to the Present Day” by Martin Gilbert— The Story of Israel’s Birth and Development as a Nation

Gilbert, Martin. “The Story of Israel: From the Birth of a Nation to the Present Day”, Andre Deutsch, 2018, reissue.

The Story of Israel’s Birth and Development as a Nation

Amos Lassen

 Seventy years ago and after the Holocaust, the State of Israel came into being, having been established so that Jews anywhere in the world could have a homeland. In the years since, five wars have tested Israel’s ability to survive. Emigrants from all over the world have added to Israel’s rich culture and social fabric enhanced the country’s cultural riches while at the same time this strained Israel’s social fabric, while Israel’s Arab neighbors sought to redress their own grievances through violence. Now, Israel is celebrating 70 years of independence and here is her story replete with images of important historical documents.

Some of you may have copies of or have seen this book in a different format. This is a reissue in honor of Israel’s 70th birthday. The main text and illustrations are identical to earlier editions but they have been reformatted to a different size and shape of the page. 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?

This is the story of Israel from the first settlers up to the present day. Each chapter is devoted to one segment of history and the photographs and illustrations interspersed through the text are fascinating and interesting. The content is succinct and factual and you must remember that this is not an in-depth account, but it does all the major facets of Israel’s history.

Photographs of original documents are included. We have a letter written by a young soldier to his family right before he was killed poignant, more so because he was killed shortly thereafter. Moshe Dayan’s personal letter of condolence to the parents of this soldier is likewise very moving and illustrates the huge sacrifices that Israelis have had to make.

This is not a history book but rather a very nice picture album with short summaries of Israel’s most important events.

“Not at Risk: Education as a Work of Heart” by Menachem Gottesmen and Leah Leslie Gottesman— A Special School in Israel

Menachem Gottesman, PhD. and Leah Leslie Gottesman, MA, “Not At Risk: Education as a Work of Heart”, Menorah Books, 2018.

A Special School in Israel

Amos Lassen

I have spent my entire adult life, some 55 years, in the field of education both in Israel and here in the United States. and even though I am semi-retired, I still teach several classes a year. It is a profession that is never boring and a profession that has kept me young. I love to read about new ways of educating others and so when I heard about “Not at Risk”, I was anxious to read it. Basically, this is the story of Jerusalem’s Meled School and Dr. Menachem Gottesman’s alternative education environment in response to the problem of high school dropouts hanging out, if not living, on the streets. One of the things that I learned when I lived and worked in Israel is that Israeli students are not like Jewish American students who come from homes where education is a top priority. Working with adolescents is a demanding job and it often takes a village to get a job done the way it should be done. Not every student can sit through six academic classes a day and not all-educational pedagogy is for everyone. It often takes open-minded educators, therapists, parents, and professionals to work with adolescents and those who do will find this book to be a wonderful tool.

Jerusalem’s Mercaz L’Mida Dati Learning Center or Meled has been responsible for transforming lives of youths and restoring families for over twenty years. This is no doubt because the people who work here care deeply about their jobs and the people they work with. This is the story of a educational work that is not only groundbreaking but also so very important. We hear the story of this program from its founders as they share the amazing work they have done and continue to do. We learn of personal experiences of faculty members and parents and we read personal stories of former students. “Not At Risk” tells its story through the words of its founders, and details groundbreaking educational work, sharing not only experiences and insights of faculty members and parents, but heartwarming, and at times deeply painful, personal stories of former students.

Dr. Menachem Gottesman has had years of work child development and when he sat down to find a way to deal with at risk youth, he went to three main sources for help—- A.S. Neill’s philosophy of education, the therapeutic method developed by Dr. Milton H. Erickson, and the spiritual outlook of Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik. I must say that these were quite a change from the educational philosophers that we studied when I was a graduate student in education. I think what is so important here, it that the education system seems to be constantly criticized yet without an alternative making that criticism almost useless. If you want to repair, there must be an alternative in place and not after the fact. Dr. Gottesman did his homework well and he was ready to implement a program after careful study. Meled has succeeded and it is a model for open-minded educators, professionals working with adolescents, and concerned parents.

In Hebrew Meled stands for Merkaz L’Mida Dati and it is the Alternative Religious High School, or Religious Learning Center in Jerusalem that was begun in September 1995 as a pilot project, and has since grown in reputation and effectiveness. Dr. Menachem Gottesman had been involved studying blind individuals and working on programming for them in the U.S. and Israel. He became interested in adolescents who did not seem to fit into not been able to fit into the formal structure of typical religious schools in Israel. Using the aforementioned three sources, Gottesman developed new educational principles for Meled. Reading here what students have to say, we see that this alternative school has been able to save children by helping them to turn their lives around.

Gottesman dealt with students who had been depressed, abused, without a sense of self-esteem and/or a lack of self-confidence, whose families had alienated them, that were uninterested in school or studies and who had experimented with alcohol and drugs.

Because he was willing to listen to what these students had to say, he was able to help control their educations and what they did on a daily basis. Dr. Gottesman was able to give them the emotional and academic support that these students needed. Those that graduated from Meled felt good about their lives and were optimistic about what the future holds. They were able to finish what was requited of them academically

Most graduates of “Meled” are described as optimistic about their futures, completing appropriate academic challenges, find their places and begin having families of their own. Of course what was going on with Meled as Dr. Gottesman got his program going was political but ultimately, the school received official recognition and financial support from the Israeli educational establishment.

In “Not at Risk”, we have testimonials from students, parents and staff members. Gottesman, himself, supplies anecdotes and additional stories and in these he describes what the children had to deal with and how their poor circumstances affected them.

The school’s rules are minimal. Students are not allowed to physically harm each other, drugs and alcohol are prohibited, as is theft. Otherwise, it is up to the students to behave. Students determine when they come to school a truism that Gottesman fondly and frequently invoked, and it is left to the student to determine when they will come to school, what subjects they will study, how many of the national matriculation exams they will prepare for, and in which extra‐curricular activities they wish to participate.

Both Gottesman and his wife are totally devoted to the student body and there have been times when they have taken students in as foster children to make sure that those who go to their school have a proper place to live. The school staff, including the secretaries are committed totally as well. Everyone is a resource. When it happens that students have to be committed outside institutions, or have problems with the justice system, Gottesman and members of the

Meled staff are there to support them even away from school. Students continue to maintain connections with their former principal, teachers, counselors, and tutors by inviting them to share in these occasions. Some who once were students at “Meled,” now work there and have become role models and inspirations for the members of the current student body.

Two of the unique aspects of Meled are smaller student load for teachers and doing away with homework and exams and replacing them with small group study sessions. This provides more time for l interactions (one‐on‐one discussions, tutoring, and soul‐searching). Openness is required and teachers are trained for that by going to hours of observations and acclimation.

Gottesman says emphatically that school is not only interested in instruction, but also in dispensing “therapy,” staff members are “therapists” in addition to being educators. This is a new concept in which the educational institution is conceptualized as existing in order to serve its student body and Gottesman has brought the theory into reality and we see how much work that this has taken.

“Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations” by Ronen Bergman— Israel’s Targeted Killing Programs

Bergman, Ronen. “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations”, Random House, 2018.

Israel’s Targeted Killing Programs

Amos Lassen

We learn from the Talmud that if someone comes to take a life, we have the responsibility to “rise up and kill him first.” Self-defense is an instinct that is part of most Israelis who will take every measure, even the most aggressive, to defend the Jewish people. We saw this in 1948 with the creation of the state and protecting the nation. The Israel intelligence community and the armed forces see this as the main priority. They have relied on targeted assassinations to stop the most serious threats and these have been used countless times, on enemies large and small, both in response to attacks against the Israeli people and preemptively.

Journalist and military analyst Ronen Bergman takes us inside the targeted killing programs and shares successes, failures, and the moral and political price we pay for the men and women who approved and carried out the missions. The stories are riveting and sometimes you have to remember that you are reading nonfiction here. Bergman has written this book with the cooperation of many current and former members of the Israeli government (including Prime Ministers Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as high-level figures in the country’s military and intelligence services: the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency), Caesarea (a “Mossad within the Mossad” that carries out attacks on the highest-value targets), and the Shin Bet (an internal security service that implemented the largest targeted assassination campaign ever, in order to stop suicide terrorism once thought to be unstoppable.

Much of what we read here has never been in print before and we get behind-the-scene accounts of key operations, that are based on hundreds of on-the-record interviews and thousands of files to which Bergman has received exclusive access. We go deep into the heart of Israel’s most secret activities. Bergman takes us from statehood to the present though the events and ethical questions underlying Israel’s targeted killing campaign, which has shaped not just Israel but also the Middle East and the world.

We have the details of the history and the largess of Israel’s use of killing as an instrument of defense and foreign policy. Bergman also debates the effectiveness and morality of his subject. Nearly eight years of research went into “the most secretive and impenetrable intelligence community in the world.” We also become aware of America’s difficult relationship with targeted killing and the dilemmas the world might face in the future especially with the rise of terrorism being what it is.

Bergman brings together history and investigative reporting while keeping the ethical questions that come into being when Israel, a nation that was founded as a place for those with no state, for those who had lived through genocide needs to murder in order to survive. “Since World War II, the Jewish state and its pre-state paramilitary organizations have assassinated more people than any other country in the Western world.

We meet the personalities and learn of the tactics of the various secret services and we see that Israel has used assassination instead of war. We also learn that President George W. Bush adopted many Israeli techniques after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and President Barack Obama launched several hundred targeted killings.

This book takes us behind the scenes and puts events in context that shows their relevance to the survival of Israel. The events are filled with the clarity of truth. Much of what we read here was never meant to be seen making it all the more exciting. The survival of Israel has been possible because of the improbable success of suspenseful operations that involved boldness, planning, and intelligence together with intense preparation that made it all possible.

We are pulled into the difficult tactical, strategic and moral dilemmas that the decision makers had to deal with along the way and there are some very big questions here about the moral and practical costs of a justifiable program of sabotage and assassination as an alternative to wider wars among nations.

Bergman explains why the Israelis found it necessary to use targeted assassinations for the safety of their people and as we read our emotions get a workout. On one hand we are very proud of what Israel has been able to do while on the other hand we are disappointed that Israel had to use murder in order to defend herself.

This is a big book at over 700 pages yet I could not stop reading and am halfway through my second read.

“The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland― Then, Now, Tomorrow” by Gil Troy— Updating Zionism

Troy,Gil. “The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland― Then, Now, Tomorrow”, with an introduction by Natan Sharansky, (JPS Anthologies of Jewish Thought), Jewish Publication Society, 2018.

Updating Zionism

Amos Lassen

Growing up, Arthur Hertzberg’s “The Zionist Idea” was part of my life as I am sure it was with many Young Judaeans. It was until the publishing of Gil Troy’s “The Zionist Ideas” the most comprehensive Zionist collection ever published. But as time marches on, so do ideologies and what was old had to be updated. “The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland—Then, Now, Tomorrow” is the definitive look at the diverse and shared visions for the realization of Israel as a democratic Jewish state. Troy builds on Arthur Hertzberg’s classic, “The Zionist Idea”, Gil and explores the back stories, dreams, and legacies of more than 170 passionate Jewish visionaries (four times the number in Hertzberg and that number includes women, mizrachim, and others.

Troy divides the thinkers into six Zionist schools of thought—Political, Revisionist, Labor, Religious, Cultural, and Diaspora Zionism and by doing so, he reveals “the breadth of the debate and surprising syntheses”. He also introduces these visionaries within three major stages of Zionist development that show the length and evolution of the conversation. Part 1 (pre-1948) introduces the pioneers who founded the Jewish state; those that many f us are so familiar with— Theodore Herzl, A. D. Gordon, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, HaRav Kook, Echad Ha’am, and Henrietta Szold. Part 2 (1948 to 2000) looks at the builders who actualized and modernized the Zionist blueprints, such as Ben-Gurion, Berlin, Meir, Begin, Soloveitchik, Uris, and Kaplan. Part 3 showcases today’s torchbearers, including Barak, Grossman, Shaked, Lau, Yehoshua, and Sacks.

With the addition of these new voices, we have diverse ideologies that reinvigorate the Zionist conversation with the development of the moral, social, and political character of the Jewish state of today and the future.

Troy presents an impressive range of thinkers, from the past and the present, from the left to the right, along with commentary, all of which affirm the enduring moral character of the Zionist idea: the fact that Zionism aside safeguarding the Jewish state, “is anchored in a humanistic ideology of universal resonance.”

Today we  live in a world of Zionist ideas with many different ways to help Israel flourish as a democratic Jewish state. We have a revived Zionist conversation, a renewed Zionist vision and these can help to give us a Jewish state that reaffirms meaning for those already committed to it, while at the same time, addressing the needs of Jews physically separated from their ancestral homeland, as well as those who feel spiritually detached from their people. I believe that a lot of conversation will come out of this book and as we talk about it, we will see, in the words of Natan Sharansky “How lucky we are to have this new book, filled with old-new ideas, Theodor Herzl style, to guide this important and timely conversation.”

Hertzberg gave us a great deal to think about just as Troy does here. It is as if we are bring asked to share a new vision for Jewish nationalism that is due to come into being. Theories of Zionism did not end with the creation of the State of Israel, they continue today. This new book expands our range of vision, as it looks at Zionism in its political, religious, and cultural dimensions as imagined by Zionists both in Israel and the Diaspora. 

Reading this is like being on a tour of Zionist thought that Troy is leading us through as he analyzes Zionism’s evolution from its early ideology as a national movement to its development of its own philosophy that underpins of its own manifestation to the miracle of statehood for the Jewish people.  We look at a diversity of views about an ideology that has actually come to life and we see the maturation of Zionism as part of a vibrant nation.

In 1959 JPS published Arthur Hertzberg’s “The Zionist Idea” and it became the foremost anthology of Zionist literature in the English language, and it was an inspiration for generations of young Jews throughout the Diaspora.

Zionism is also a way of launching ideas about what Judaism means, how Jewish nationalism can inspire us, and what Israel can mean to each of us. We can see Zionism as a framework for “learning more about our past, finding meaning in the present, and building a more inspiring future by working together as a people – and by seeing Israel as a living old-new laboratory for exciting new ideas and meaningful traditional values.”

We see here the power of liberal nationalism as a force for good in the world that galvanizes people to work together through the magic of democratic patriotism. Perhaps the biggest change that we immediately see is in the title of the book, We have moved from the Zionist idea to the Zionist ideas. Now we can attempt to answer the question of what Zionism means to each individual and what does Israel mean to me?” liberal nationalism mean to me?” Free download discussion guides can be found at

‪”SHELTER”— A New Identity


‪”SHELTER” (”Mistor”)

A New Identity

Amos Lassen‬‪ ‬

Mossad agent Naomi who had taken sick leave is called back from sick leave and assigned to a “babysitting” job. Now, under a new identity, she goes to Germany to protect Mona, a beautiful Lebanese informant, whom special agents have taken from her country and hidden her in a Hamburg safe house while she recovers from plastic surgery. Naomi soon learns that Mona is very close to a top Hezbollah leader, a man who she betrayed and who is now determined to revenge. During the two weeks the women spend together, they develop a bond that neither expected and it is based on the shared dangers, risks and understanding of loss. But in this high-stakes game of deception, questions of fate may be out of their control.

We see the two women secluded in a lonely apartment for their protection and each is determined to survive. Writer/director Eran Riklis shows the intimacy and tension of the relationship between the two women. The film is both a psychological thriller and an action movie. Thee two women are separated by almost everything in their personal biographies and yet have a great deal to share with personal traumas. Women fighting in the secret wars have no easy time and it is interesting that Riklis chose that idea for a film.

While the intentions and premises are interesting, it took me a while to settle into the plot. Naomi (Neta Riskin) and Mona (Golshifteh Farahani) are fine actresses and their chemistry is excellent throughout. They fill their roles as victims of terror and power that come together in the middle of the great game of the world powers in a small apartment in Hamburg. For two weeks, Naomi must protect Mona against the Lebanese revenge; against the games of the Germans and the Americans ,and the Mossad.

Riklis plays with the rules of genre film and he varies them, plays with expectation and surprise, and above all keeps his film’s tension. Naomi who was already out, on-leave for two years, is reactivated for a small job and she does not even need a gun. Mona sits in Hamburg, having had cosmetic surgery to make at least outwardly another person. But the phone rings, even though nobody knows the number. On the balcony opposite is someone in a red jacket who just might be watching her. She is suspicious of the kiosk operator and of a new neighbor and the janitor. Over and over, the film jumps to the Mossad or to the headquarters of the Lebanese Liberation army, a terrorist organization.

There is a sense of mistrust between Naomi and Mon but there is also the compulsion to be together. Why did Mona betray Lebanon to the Israelis? Riklis gives us scraps of information creating suspense. When the viewer has to know something, when he needs to know more, when he shares the non-knowledge with the characters. Say: when he has to share the mistrust with the characters. This creates a great suspense not only from the characters with their different, often unclear goals, but also because at the same time this threatens the Middle East, where at any time everything can change, coalitions, appointments, diplomatic and intelligence missions.

Riklis cleverly uses the reality of world politics to underpin his thriller. Paranoia is always an excellent basis for a suspense film and if that paranoia is based on reality, then the cinematic thrill comes very close to real danger.

“SHELTER” will open in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre, Monica Film Center and Town Center 5 on April 6. Other cities will follow.‬

“Warriors, Witches, Whores: Women in Israeli Cinema” by Rachel S. Harris— A Feminist Study of Israel’s Film Industry

Harris, Rachel S. “Warriors, Witches, Whores: Women in Israeli Cinema”, (Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series), Wayne State University Press, 2017.

A Feminist Study of Israel’s Film Industry

Amos Lassen

Rachel Harris’s “Warriors, Witches, Whores: Women in Israeli Cinema” is a feminist study of Israel’s film industry and the changes that have occurred since the 1990s. Using a cultural studies approach, we look at the creation of a female-centered and thematically feminist film culture in terms of the structural and ideological shifts in Israeli society. Author Harris places these changes in dialogue with the cinematic history that preceded them and the ongoing social inequalities that keep women marginalized within Israeli society.

While no one can deny Israel’s Western women’s advancements, feminist filmmakers look at Israel’s less impressive underbelly as sources for their inspiration. These films have focused on sexism, the negative impact of militarism on women’s experience, rape culture, prostitution, and sexual abuse. These films also tend to include subjects from society’s geographical periphery and social margins, such as female foreign workers, women, and refugees. The book is divided into three major sections and each considers a different form of feminist engagement.

The first part explores films that situate women in traditionally male spheres of militarism and consider the impact of interjecting women within hegemonic spaces or reconceptualizing them in feminist ways. The second part recovers the narratives of women’s experience that were previously marginalized or silenced, thereby creating a distinct female space that offers new kinds of storytelling and cinematic aesthetics that are a reflection of feminist expressions of identity.

The third part offers examples of feminist activism that reach beyond the boundaries of the film and comment on social issues. Here we see how feminists use film (and work within the film industry) in order to position women in society. Of course, there are thematic overlaps between the chapters, each section marks structural differences in the views of feminist response.

We see the ways social and political power have affected the representation of women and how feminist filmmakers have fought against these inequities behind the camera and in the stories they tell.

Rachel Harris’s focus in our on the shifting representation of women in Israeli cinema post-1990. This is an academic study and not for the general reader or filmgoer. Harris asks whether a director’s gender necessarily determines the politics of a film, whether women’s stories are necessarily feminist ones, which women’s stories are represented on-screen, and how some depictions of sexual violence intended to critique rape culture are actually complicit with it. Harris provides an act of resistance to those who think that feminism can only position itself in opposition to all things Israeli.

She points out, early on, that while Hollywood in the U.S. had a women’s melodramatic film tradition to call upon, there was no such tradition in Israel. From the beginning of Israeli cinema, women were depicted on-screen as military and pioneering support staff. Their bodies were metaphors for the land and their sacrifices were for the nation. The war widow was a prominent figure, and Israeli film shows that the Zionist narrative of gender egalitarianism was really not sustained. As more leftist critiques of Israeli militarism became part of cinema, the possibility for raising feminist questions in war-related films developed. Changing modes of warfare also impacted cinema.

Harris also looks at the increasingly diverse representations of women in Israeli cinema. While religious women tended to be stereotypically viewed from a secular vantage point, including a fetishizing of their sexual oppression, now films such as “Ushpizin” (2004) and “Fill the Void” (2012) show the struggles of religious women from an insider’s perspective. Harris acknowledges that these films are sanctioned by religious authorities who define their feminist limits within the world of Orthodoxy.

For Jewish feminists interested in the intersections of film, feminism, and Israeli culture, this study asks valuable questions and gives valuable insights. It also provides a watch list and most of the films mentioned here can be streamed either through Amazon or the Israeli Film Center.

“THE JUDGE”— The First Female Sharia Judge



“The Judge”

The First Female Sharia Judge

Amos Lassen

Erika Cohn’s “The Judge” is a captivating documentary about the first female Sharia judge in the history of the Middle East, Kholoud Faqih. It’s particularly interesting that this documentary, which takes us into Palestinian life and culture is directed by an American Jewish filmmaker. This combination of cultural diversity and conspicuous female presence on both sides of the camera is exciting and we can hope that it will start a new trend. Once we see Faqih, we connect to her. She is a person with great charisma and intelligence who immediately pulls us into her. We also sense her confidence.

After studying law, Faqih had worked as an attorney until she decided to become a judge. When she informed the Chief Justice, Sheikh Tayseer Al-Tamimi about her decision to do so, he thought it was a joke. But Faqih was serious and supported her choice with lawful evidence and passed the exam with the highest honors.

Faqih was appointed a judge in the Sharia Court of Ramallah, the West Bank. In Palestine, people follow the Hanafi School of Islamic law, which allows women to be judges. In fact, Palestinian women have ruled in the country’s criminal courts since the 1980’s. However, Faqih is the first female judge to be appointed in the Sharia court, which deals primarily with domestic and family matters. She argues that it’s judicious to have a female judge in the Islamic court as domestic situations are incredibly important and pertinent to women. This changed the status quo and broke the deadlock of confining women to traditional roles. Faqih has numerous supporters, many of whom are women. She is a nonconformist and her perseverance embodies Palestine’s desire for change. Her story shows her country’s obstinacy against social reforms.

The media claims Faqih’s career move as “revolutionary,” yet some local authorities are not so ready to welcome her in this new position. While Sharia law permits female judges, a few Sharia scholars refuse to accept it. Dr. Husam Al-Deen Afanah is a recognized Palestinian professor and Islamic scholar. He is a conservative thinker and a strong believer in gender roles and argues that women are bound to limited vocations due to their biological susceptibilities. Afanah has also repeatedly criticized the expansion of women’s civil liberties, including Faqih’s advancement as a judge.

Afanah is representative of a substantial fraction of Palestinians and has a huge following online. While his interpretations of Islam might contradict some of the actual Sharia laws, he is highly respected by many. His way of thinking is a reflection of and conforms to the traditional ideas about women and femininity, which increases his high esteem in many peoples’ eyes. The Chief Justice says that in Palestine traditions are so strong that they overtake the actual Sharia laws. Nonetheless the entire documentary revolves around the Sharia courts and actual Islamic law is rarely mentioned here. Religion has little to do with the antagonistic reaction many have expressed against Faqih’s appointment. Gender roles are deeply entrenched in Palestinian culture. Women are repeatedly stereotyped, and femininity is often perceived as a threat.

According to Faqih, the problem is that society still views women as objects. This kind of mentality corrupts the justice system, even when it comes to the Islamic law. Islamic religious education is also shocking in the way it sees women. Even thoughthe film is culturally specific, its topic is globally ubiquitous. Its narrative quickly escalates beyond courtroom drama conventions, offering shocking and distressing revelations. As we watch the film, we begin to realize that it is a social critique of Palestinian prevalent chauvinism. We learn of the stories of horrific abuse perpetuated against Palestinian women and become aware of the juridical negligence concerning women’s issues. The film authenticates the need for women like Faqih in Palestine’s justice system. Aside from getting an overview of Sharia law and a brief look at Islamic feminism, the film also gives us an all-encompassing and uplifting portrayal of Palestine’s people and culture. We see the bustling streets of the West bank and the region’s traditions and atmosphere. There are several street interviews and we hear public political sentiments. Director Cohn takes us into the peaceful households of Faqih and Al-Tamimi and through everyday conversations and small court hearings, we learn about the country’s current political landscape and the on-going conflict with Israel.

Through the story of one woman, we are introduced to a world where modernity and tradition come together to produce a beautiful and yet incomplete creation. The film is a tribute to brave, intelligent and inspiring women like Faqih, “whose relentless dedication and humanity will help to shape a more inclusive future.”