Category Archives: Israel

“THE CAKEMAKER”— A Metaphor

“The Cakemaker”

A Metaphor

Amos Lassen

“The Cakemaker” is “a metaphor for the way the world views changing relationships and mores the film is affecting.” The film begins as a gay love story between Thomas (Tim Kalkhof), a young German pastry chef and cafe owner and Oren (Roy Miller), an Israeli businessman who drops by during his work-related visits to Berlin. The two men have built a friendship but at the end of each trip Oren returns to his wife and son in Jerusalem. When the young man finds out, after a long and worrying absence, that his lover has been killed in a car accident he decides to deal with his grief by going to Jerusalem to find out more about his relatively casual acquaintance.

He discovers the cafe owned by the man’s wife Anat (Sarah Adler) and gets into conversation and eventually lands himself a job and an apartment. Neither knows of the mutual connection yet both are trying to come to terms with Oren’s death. Since Thomas is non-Jewish and a German, he represents an awkward presence among the Orthodox locals – but his cakes do great business and he and Anat develop a friendly relationship.

The film explores the nature of love and how it is dealt with by characters across the divides.It starts off by dealing with the difficult subject of bereavement through the story of a man and woman both grieving the death of the same lover. Death and sexuality are handled in an understanding and subtle way by director Ofir Raul Grazier, with bereavement and love depicted in a manner of forms and always in a non-judgmental way. Love is shown as existing between two men, a husband and wife, a mother and child – and none is seen as purer or more important than another. Each transcends culture, religion and gender seamlessly. The performances are as understated and delicate throughout this beautifully fragile film. Tomas’ words are few as he finds himself in an unknown territory where he has to get to grips with Jewish traditions such as kosher cooking and Shabbat.

As he befriends his lover’s widow and son, and then begins to bake his famous cakes and biscuits, he begins to gain confidence and truly grieve his lost love. It is interesting that everyone seems unaware that this new visitor ever knew Oren, that is except for Oren’s mother, who seems to know a lot more than she ever lets on.

 

This is a delicate film that perfectly encapsulates love in its many forms at a time when both religion and LGBT rights are in constant discussion in the press and personal lives. The film manages to transcend all boundaries. When the film works best is in its ambiguities.  Does Tomas return Anat’s advances because he was always bisexual and is actually attracted to her, or is he gay but somehow wants to feel close to his ex-lover?  How much does Oren’s mother know about the men’s relationship? How will Anat and Thomas’ relationship resolve itself.  There are no clear-cut answers.

In an official statement, Graizer has said that this is his story; a story of characters that wish to put aside their definitions of nationality, sexuality and religion. “it is a story full of love for people, life, food and cinema.” The story moves between Berlin and Jerusalem, between east and west, between past and present. In this journey Thomas, who goes to find a cure for a private loss, encounters an inner-Israeli conflict of religion and secularism. “The subject of Kosher, the importance of Shabbat (Saturday), the place of tradition in secular society become a barrier in Thomas’s way to absolution, leads him to doubt every aspect of his own being, and provides him with a different perspective of his love memories.”

There is a sense of yearning and melancholy in every frame of “The Cakemaker” as it explores the struggles of mourning from two initially contrasting, yet intertwined perspectives: a married Israeli man’s secret Berlin-based lover, and that of his wife and the mother of his son, who owns a cafe in Jerusalem. Under this nuanced dual character study is a look at traditions and the divisions they inspire, be they national, sexual or religious. Graizer moves quickly through the abridged, clandestine romance of Thomas and Oren in a matter-of-fact manner, they meet;, a year later, they’re cozy and periodically cohabitating and their faces are filled with emotion. They’re close and comfortable, despite Oren’s other life back home and Thomas’ clear wish for something more permanent.

 

A spate of unreturned voicemail messages and an awkward trip to Oren’s Berlin office later, Thomas is bereaved learning that Oren was been killed in a car accident. Thomas travels to Jerusalem like a sad and lost puppy; he visits the cafe owned by Anat, asks for work. When she eventually gives him a job as a dishwasher, a new connection begins but this time, Graizer is in no hurry, keeping his focus intimate but happily giving his characters room to cope with their common source of sorrow, and to learn to trust and find solace in each other.

Of course, even when Thomas eventually, inevitably begins to bake and thus improve the cafe’s fortunes, much still conspires against their friendship, as well as the possibility of something more. Anat’s brother-in-law (Zohar Strauss) delivers stern reprimands about jeopardizing the café’s kosher status and Thomas’ unmentioned history with Oren lingers in the air.

Unspoken truths and realizations simmer for as long as possible. Graizer lets his protagonists’ actions and choices subvert the norm: charting a man’s pain for the relationship he can never talk about, embracing a German in a Jewish kitchen despite warnings to the contrary, and watching a bond bloom between two people who shared the same lover.

Our two main characters are as different as they are similar yet slowly move closer together. The film works a complex range of social and religious tensions into its tender narrative, without ever feeling sanctimonious. It is an unusual story of same-sex romance that acknowledges the fluidity of sexuality and desire, particularly with regard to emotional need with love taking a variety of shapes here, none more pure than any other.

“Our Israeli Diary, 1978: Of That Time, Of That Place” by Antonia Fraser— Back in Time

Fraser, Antonia. “Our Israeli Diary, 1978: Of That Time, Of That Place”, Counterpoint, 2017.

Back in Time

Amos Lassen

In May 1978 turned thirty years old and the national had two wonderful at the birthday party— Harold Pinter and Antonia Fraser. They had been living together for three years then and neither had ever visited Israel before. visited Israel at the time of the 30th Anniversary of Independence. It was three years after they first lived together; neither had set foot in Israel before. They visited many of the country’s historic sites: from Bethlehem to the fortress of Masada, met with then future Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek, Jackie Kennedy and a long-lost cousin of Pinter’s on a kibbutz. Pinter said that in Israel he began to have feelings about his Jewish heritage for the first time.

Antonia Fraser kept a diary filled with wonderful descriptions and a lot of humor but above all, this was a tender memory of an important trip for both of them. Her diary is also a special look at a special time and place. You can just imagine what happens when two intellectuals take a vacation together. We have a Jewish playwright and a Catholic biographer sharing fifteen days in the Holy Land and we see their devotion to the land and to each other.

Pinter was afraid that he would “dislike the place, the people.” But that changed soon. Fraser read biographies of major Israeli figures before they got there and because they were both well known, they had access to great privileges. They visited and stayed at an artists’ colony, made frequent trips to biblical and historical sites and they were often accompanied by the cream of the Israeli literary scene. writers, and they socialized with the cream of Israeli society as well as actors, journalists, and politicians. Pinter had not seen his cousin who was living on a kibbutz for 30 years and that was a beautiful reunion. They spent time with Shimon Peres and his wife in their apartment and encountered Jacqueline Kennedy at the Armenian Patriarchate. They “sweet as ever.” One evening they met Anthony Lewis who was finishing up a tour of the Middle East for the New York Times and disagreed a bit about how Lewis characterized Israelis as irritating and as unable to see how others see them. Fraser said that Israelis are insular but she found them “just wonderful” .

Fraser gives wonderful descriptions of people, ambience, architecture, and climate and Pinter himself. Pinter told Fraser that he is very definitely Jewish but he also states that he is also English. Fraser’s answer to this was that she felt she could live in Israel except that she is not Jewish. Not only is this a look at the Israel of forty years ago but also a tribute to a great English playwright.

“Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in America and Israel” by Eli Valley— A Collection

 

Valley, Eli with Peter Beinart. “Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in America and Israel”, Or, 2017.

A Collection

Amos Lassen

Eli Valley uses noir, horror, slapstick and science fiction to show us the outlandish hypocrisies at play in the American/Israeli relationship. Valley’s work is sometimes banned, often controversial and is always funny and in this graphic collection, he looks at American complicity in an Israeli occupation that is now beginning its fiftieth year. This, the first full-scale anthology of Valley’s art and it gives us an essential retrospective of America and Israel at a turning point. Valley’s artistry is meticulous (as you can see below) and his satire is strong.

 

We have “perseverating turtles, xenophobic Jedi knights, sputtering superheroes, mutating golems and zombie billionaires”. We also get the “historical background and contexts, insights into the creative process, selected reactions to the works, and behind-the-scenes tales of tensions over what was permissible for publication”. Brutally irreverent, the comics in this volume are a vital contribution to the centuries-old tradition of graphic protest and polemics.

“BOBBY JENE”— Ambition

“Bobbi Jene”

Ambition

Amos Lassen

Elvira Lind’s “Bobbi Jene ” is a love story in which we see the dilemmas and consequences of ambition. It is a film about a woman’s fight for independence by a woman trying to succeed with her own art in the competitive world of dance. The film profiles dancer/choreographer Bobbi Jene Smith as she leaves Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company and returns to America to advance her career. Smith just turns 30 when the film begins and she is at a crossroads that calls for tough decisions. She loves dancing in Ohad Naharin’s company and she is in love with a fellow dancer, Or Schraiber, who is ten years her junior. Dancing with Batsheva, however, meant relegating herself to the ensemble this making her simply a part of Naharin’s stage. As challenging and rewarding as Smith finds the dancing to be, she wants to establish herself in her own right and make the leap that will a secure a career for her as she ages.

 

Moving to New York brings its own challenges. One major hurdle is the choice to continue a long distance relationship. Schraiber doesn’t feel ready to leave Israel, so Smith and her beau stay connected through Skype. We see the passion of their relationship in Israel and when they reunite after being an ocean apart. Smith weighs love with her career and strives to have both.

Smith knows that the success of dance is fleeting and doesn’t bring financial security. “She supports her passion by teaching and mentoring. Having danced in Naharin’s company brings a measure of esteem to the New York dance scene that gives her an edge. We see that dancing has its own therapeutic rewards.We get a very intimate look at Smith’s personal and professional life. She first met choreographer Ohad Naharin  and his unique form of contemporary dance and she as able to gain a position with the Company and moved to Israel. She worked her way to the top of the Company’s ranks and even though she and Naharin were no longer lovers, they remained extremely close.

With her dancing days numbered because of her age, she wanted to fulfill a passion to develop her own work as a choreographer which meant that she had to leave the company. Aside from a six-month teaching residency at Stanford University, Smith had no plans. It was not only leaving Batsheva but also leaving fellow dancer Or Schraiber with who she was madly in love.  Schraiber was just at the very start of his career, and in fact in a similar situation as Smith was in when she came to Israel as a complete unknown. Despite his commitment to their relationship, Schraiber had no desire to settle in the U.S. or leave his extended family whom he was very close too.

Because she was a star at Batsheva, Smith had a credibility in NY but as work opportunities were not as plentiful as she may have hoped. We see her discuss the career/life limitations of being a contemporary dance professional and these make her absence from Schraiber very difficult. On the rare times the two are together, they can hardly take their hands off each other. We see a very impassioned performance piece that she has been commissioned by the Jewish Museum to do and this becomes the focal point of the documentary. It was certainly a big risk because of its eroticism. But with it, Smith has realizes that no amount of success however is worth it unless she can share it with Schraiber on a full time basis.

“OPERATION WEDDING”— An International Incident

“Operation Wedding”

An International Incident

Amos Lassen

By 1970, Anat Zalmanson-Kuznetsov’s parents had already tried to leave Leningrad several times but were always refused the right to do so. Now out of legal options, they decided to flee. They and some of their friends dreamed up “Operation Wedding” by which they’d fill a plane full of people supposedly on their way to a wedding, and once in the air, they’d have the pilot change course. However, they did not have the 200 conspirators necessary for this plan so they set their sights on a smaller plane, and their group of 16 bought up all the tickets. They planned to leave the regular pilots behind on the tarmac and would use their own pilot to cross the border which was just 15 minutes away. The only people on the plane were to be those wishing to escape and the plane would be empty save for those wishing to escape. However, Anat’s parents never made it onto the plane. They were caught by the KGB just a few steps from boarding. Her mother was sentenced to 10 years in the Gulag. Her father received a life sentence. “Operation Wedding” is their story.

Still today, Russia remembers the Zalmanson-Kuznetsovs as terrorists. They simply wanted to leave the USSR and they knew the risk they were taking and were prepared to pay the price if caught and, in fact, preferred death to punishment.. In court, they openly declared their wish to leave but refused to beg for mercy. Two of the sixteen were sentenced to be executed by shooting, the first time the death sentence was used in a hijacking case.

Israel held protests: the entire state stood still for those who may be put to death for a crime they didn’t even commit in the end. Jewish organizations in other countries joined in. Hunger strikes were held. And behind the scenes, Golda Meir was secretly pulling strings. The documentary uses archival footage and primary-source interviews, but it is Anat’s family connection that really brings the whole affair to life. When she visits the gulag cell where her mother did time, it is so overwhelming that it is impossible to watch without tearing up.

I the film we see that by the late 1960s trapped Russian Jews had reached a tipping point by which they were willing to risk death rather than continue living in a totalitarian state where they were forbidden to live Jewish lives openly. What is so interesting is that many of the Russian Jews had no idea about the most basic tenets of the faith they were forbidden to study yet willing to die for. I was living in Israel during the great influx of Jewish Russians into the country and was amazed that most of them had no idea about Judaism or even about the state of Israel which they were to call home. Because they had been deprived of any Jewish education, they sought out ways to teach themselves at least the basics, despite fear of being discovered by KGB investigators. From Leon Uris’ “Exodus”, the refuseniks learned about the founding of Israel and this which ignited sparks of Jewish pride and inspired masses of Soviet Jews to try to escape to freedom.)

This film is the first full-length historically accurate English language documentary account of what came to be called “the Dymshits-Kuznetsov Hijacking Affair.” It was the doomed escape attempt by fourteen refuseniks and two non-Jewish dissidents who bought every seat on a small plane, pretending they were traveling to a wedding inside Russia. The original plan was for the group to take control of the plane during a stopover at an airstrip near the Soviet-Finnish border, fly fifteen minutes to cross that boundary, which would put them out of danger, and then another ninety minutes or so to finally land in Sweden. Upon disembarking, they hoped to call a press conference and appeal to the conscience of the free world.

Ion the film, we get personal family accounts and Russian Jewish history juxtaposed as the film moves back and forth from black and white newsreels, film clips, and archival footage of the 1970s to present-day interviews with aging survivors, who recall the past in great detail.

Anat, the Jewish daughter who was born in freedom, revisits the past with her family by always returning to that one fateful day when they tried to escape but ended up imprisoned. We see how the KGB caught and arrested the would-be escapees before they even boarded the plane. Branded “criminals” by the Russians and hailed as “heroes” by the western press, the group included the late Major Mark Dymshits, a former Red Army pilot who was going to fly the plane. Among the passengers were Mark’s wife, Ella and his teenage daughters, Yulia and Liza; the group’s leader, Edward Kuznetsov and Edward’s wife, Sylva; Sylva’s brothers, Wolf and Israel; Yosef Mendelevich; and seven others.

After a trial in Leningrad in 1970, Kuznetsov and Dymshits were condemned to death by firing squad. The others received lengthy prison sentences in the Soviet Gulag. The film dramatically documents the outcry in Europe, the United States, and Israel, with twenty-four governments and the Vatican intervening on behalf of the defendants, demanding their freedom.

Because of the international protests, the Soviets modified the sentences, commuting the death sentences of Kuznetsov and Dymshits to 15 years in prison and reducing the incarceration time of several other defendants.

Zalmanson-Kuznetsov gives us a moving, deeply human telling of her parents’ story. Even though there were three non-Jews in the original group, this is a Jewish human rights story. It is uplifting and unlike any film on Russian Jewry that you have seen before.

“SIEGE”— Fear and Mourning

 “SIEGE”(“Matzor”)

Fear and Mourning

Amos Lassen

Tamar (Gila Almagor) lost her husband in the 1967 Six Day War, and now wants to put her pain behind her and find new love. However, her late husband’s friends and family expect that her to remain in mourning for the rest of her life in order to keep his memory alive. Unlike most films made in Israel shortly after the Six Day War 1967 war, “Siege” was not a look at the euphoria of victory, but rather captured feelings of fear and mourning.

“Siege” was originally released in 1969 and is, as far as I know, the first Israeli film to be digitally restored because it is such a unique film. “Siege should receive much more attention in Israeli culture. It was one of the first films to deal with war and mourning from a female perspective.”  

Shot in black and white, it tells the story of a young Israeli widow and her attempts to find some semblance of normalcy following the death of her husband during the Six-Day War. Gila Almagor as Tamar lends texture to the political dimension of this film by director Gilberto Tofano who examines women’s emancipation in a country stifled by social conventions.

The film was made two years after the Six-Day War, at a time when the country was riding high on a sense of euphoria. It served as a reminder to the entire country that even though Israel won the war, it lost lives, with women also sacrificed as collateral. “Siege” expresses the idea that there is no winner in war. There are victims on both sides of the conflict.

Wider Israeli society at the time put war widows under constant supervision. They were expected to submit to the rules of society. To fail to do so was to be very badly seen indeed. A war widow was required to live alone, carry sorrow in her heart, and take care of your children. Some were forced to leave the country in a bid to rebuild their lives and live without fear of reprisal. Today, women are freer, more independent. This film is an important testimony to how things once were.

Director Tofano decided to splice the film with documentary images and this was a first in the history of Israeli film. This narrative style is reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard and the New Wave directors. By calling into question the weight of convention that rests on widows’ shoulders in Israel, he took a bold chance.

The film also stars Yehoram Gaon as Tamar’s husband’s friend and Dan Ben Amotz as her lover. All three actors are icons of Israeli cinema. “Siege” had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, 1969 and at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival the restored film was shown. It was the Israeli entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 42nd Academy Awards. 

The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories” by Ilan Pappe— Living in Prisons?

Pappe, Ilan. “The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories”, Oneworld Publications,2016

Living in Prisons?

Amos Lassen

Ilan Pappe is a former Israeli who left his country and has yet to say anything good about it. He is a chronic complainer and every book he writes is basically the same book with a different title. He really seems to enjoy doing his dirty laundry in public and there are obviously those who enjoying helping him iron and fold it and putting it away. It would be nice if they closed the door after putting it in the closet but instead we hear it about over and over again. There will be a lot of people who will not like what he has to say here and I am one of them.

Pappe argues that we need to understand the occupied territories as the world’s “largest ever mega-prison” and he claims to support that with primary sources. What he forgets to mention are the number of suicide bombers that have emerged from the territories and the number of needless murders that have taken place at the hands of those that live in his “prisons”.

Pappe earlier investigated “the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in the 1940s” and is proud that this was so critically acclaimed by whom, I have no idea). Now he focuses on the annexation and occupation of Gaza and the West Bank thus telling us that he is bringing forth the first comprehensive critique of the Occupied Territories.

Pappe refers to the research he did as “bureaucracy of evil”. He explores the brutalizing effects of occupation, from the systematic abuse of human and civic rights, the IDF roadblocks, mass arrests, and house searches to the forced population transfer, the settlers, and the infamous wall that he claims is rapidly turning the West Bank into an open prison. We then gives us a look at life in Israel and shows us the contrasts between the two ways that people live.

Pappe begins by describing Israeli preparations made several years before 1967’s Six-Day War to control large portions of Palestine without formally annexing them and thereby granting civil rights to the Palestinians living there. He says that “the Palestinians living there were incarcerated for crimes they never committed and for offences that were never committed, confessed, or defined.” The Israelis offered an “open-air prison” when the Palestinians were compliant and a “maximum security prison” when they offered resistance. In both cases, Palestinians were left without basic human rights and with harsh punishments up to and including military attacks on civilians. Pappe cites violations of international law as well as “generally duplicitous behavior by Israeli leaders toward other nations and international bodies, particularly during the Oslo Accord negotiations”. According to a 2016 U.N. report, Israel’s actions toward the Gaza Strip will render life there “unsustainable” by 2020.

What he does not say is that none of the surrounding Arab nations have offered to take in the Palestinians from Israel and this says a great deal to me. Pappe even dares to write the word “Zionism” with a small “z”. He summarizes “the zionist policy in the Occupied Territories, settler colonialism, as well as the measurements towards and consequences for the indigenous population” in the way that he sees it from his new home that is far away from Israel. Israel, he claims is responsible for the dispossession and rightless position of the Palestinians.

“An Egyptian Novel” by Orly Castel-Bloom— History and Legend

Castel-Bloom, Orly. “An Egyptian Novel”, translated from the Hebrew by Todd Hasak Lowy, Dalkey Archive Press, 2017.

History and Legend

Amos Lassen

During the expulsion of the Jews of Spain in 1492, seven brothers of the Kastil family (from Castilla) landed on the Gaza coast. Her mother’s side goes back even further to Jews who said “No” to Moses and stayed in Egypt. The family later moved to Israel in the 1950s and settled on a kibbutz from which they were expelled for Stalinism and they moved to Tel Aviv. Writer Orly Castel-Bloom mixes fact with fiction, history with legend as she reimagines the lives of her ancestors.

Orly Castel-Bloom is one of the great writers of Israel whose literature dwells on the compassionate interrogation of human emotion. “An Egyptian Novel” loosely follows the Castel family whose oldest daughter, referred to simply as The Oldest Daughter, resembles the novelist herself. The family, Castel- “the only household not spoken of in the annals of the people of Israel—those who in the great exodus refused Moses and stayed behind in Egypt as slaves.”

When the family finally gets to Israel, they learn that every generation has some kind of affliction. The elder Castels are heartbroken and disillusioned by kibbutz life and the fighting over ideology tears them apart. the next generations who once found meaning in a socialized society find it moving in the direction of American style commercialism. The members of the family have to struggle to connect with each other and with the larger world and that is not only difficult but also sometimes quite dangerous.

While the book is filled with gloomy situations, nothing is ever without hope. is rarely gloomy and never hopeless. We read about lives that have dealt with shattered dreams and ideologies that have soured over time but we also read about finding grace and sweetness and real satisfaction in life in Israel in 2015.

I experienced many of the same situations when I moved to Israel way back when and then from city to kibbutz and back to city again. Ideologies, like people, change.

“Wrestling Jerusalem”— A Cinematic Journey

“Wrestling Jerusalem”

A Cinematic Journey

Amos Lassen

  Aaron Davidman takes us on cinematic journey into the heart of the Israeli – Palestinian story. He embodies seventeen different characters as he explores the universal questions of identity and human connection by taking on a multiplicity of conflicting viewpoints to chronicle the complex humanity at the heart of one of the world’s most troubling conflicts. Davidman who also wrote the script makes no generalizations and gives no easy answers as he gives is an experience that looks at the issues that we face regarding Israel/Palestine.

Most of us have an opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But not as many of us have listened to others’ perspectives and really considered and tried to understand them. In this 90-minute solo performance, Davidman begins with two words, “It’s complicated” and the rest of the show is an act of understanding as Davidman wraps himself in complications of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Deep sadness and wistful hope are emotions that come out of the portraits of Israelis and Palestinians that we see here. While there are no answers to the questions that we have neither are there solutions to the conflicts that we see and hear about in this performance. It does insists that peace is possible, that it’s “not a fantasy.”   By embodying all 17 of these human beings so deeply, Davidman allows us to fully experience that possibility. He respectfully represents views “that range to extreme points on either side of the messy debate and the act of doing so becomes its own trauma… Davidman manifests the inner and outer turmoil in a physical performance marked by often-anguished gestural passages, stirring liturgical verses, unexpected humor, and a series of neatly etched characters.”  

The film is a short and tightly structured piece that embodies the many different voices, points of view and opinions that Davidman encountered on several trips to Israel. He based “Wrestling Jerusalem” on real events and actual people he interviewed and recorded, plus composite and invented characters based on people he met and conversations he had.

Among them we meet a fervent, friendly Muslim who tells him we are all the same under God; the son of Holocaust survivors whose teenage son died in a bus bombing in Haifa, and who had attended a peace camp for Israeli and Palestinian children two weeks prior to his death; an Arab woman whose commute between East Jerusalem and Ramallah takes her hours to travel a short distance each day ; a lieutenant commander in the Special Forces who served in the West Bank (“You find yourself doing, for maybe the right purpose, or for your need, doing very bad things, very immoral things…”); an older Israeli-Arab woman; a religious Jew who declares, “We’ve been running for thousands of years. We’re not running anymore”; a Jewish activist (and former member of the Knesset) who laments that Jews have historically fought for human rights—but “It’s not the case in Israel”; a Palestinian who says there will be no two-state solution—“We will rule this land again”—and a Jewish-American medical student who supports Hamas and says, “I’m fighting for the underdog. Remember the Holocaust? Apparently not!”

Then there is Aaron Davidman himself, an open-minded visitor attempting to hold all the varying viewpoints involved. Among the various monologues and dialogues that comprise the text are singing, choreographed movement, gestural language and abstractions, humor and a Kabbalistic story (a story of creation told by the Jewish mystics, who say that it is the work of human beings to “repair,” or heal, the world).

It is true that there is no way to talk about the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian struggle that is not already worn almost to bits. Yet Davidman remains convinced that somehow something constructive can be done. “Wrestling Jerusalem” is certainly not the last word on the issue; but it opens the door so that others might put their thoughts into words and hold sane meaningful discussions on the issue of Israel/Palestine.

 

“City on a Hilltop: American Jews and the Israeli Settler Movement” by Sara Yael Hirschhorn— Life in the Territories 

Hirschhorn, Sara Yael. “City on a Hilltop: American Jews and the Israeli Settler Movement”, Harvard University Press, 2017.

Life in the Territories

Amos Lassen

Since 1967, more than 60,000 Jewish-Americans have settled in the territories captured by the State of Israel during the Six Day War. This is about 15 percent of the settler population today, and these immigrants have established major communities, transformed domestic politics and international relations, and been involved in and committed shocking acts of terrorism. They demand and command attention in both Israel and the United States, yet not much is known about who they are and why they chose to live at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sara Yael Hirschhorn destroys stereotypes, showing that the 1960s generation who moved to the occupied territories were not messianic zealots or right-wing extremists but idealists engaged in liberal causes who came to Israel to build a nation. I was one of those Americans however, I chose not to go into the settlements and wanted to work as an academic.

These Americans did not abandon their progressive heritage when they crossed the Green Line. They saw a historic opportunity to create new communities to serve as a beacon to Jews across the globe. This pioneering vision was seen in places such as Yamit in the Sinai and Efrat and Tekoa on the West Bank. This movement used the rhetoric of civil rights to rebrand itself, especially in the wake of the 1994 Hebron massacre.

Now some fifty years later, we see the changing face of the settlements and the clash between liberal values and political realities at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

These American Jews are often self-identified liberal progressives and products of the Americans 1960s became the earliest founders and residents of key Israeli settlements outside the infamous “green line.” “illiberal project.” They approached their cause with zeal and were the next pioneers who carried the legacy of generations of Jews who yearned to rebuild vibrant Jewish life in biblical Israel.

Hirschhorn acknowledges that it has been fifty years of “occupation,” of the Palestinian people and of Palestinian land. The settlements that were born in the years after the Six-Day War are now fully realized cities with generations of inhabitants and there are challenges.

Hirschhorn focuses on the development and residents of a few select settlements—primarily those in the West Bank, but also one notable short-lived settlement in the Sinai Peninsula. She explores the realities of the settler-turned-terrorist, and the dichotomy between the isolated but important stories of settler-terrorists. Hirschhorn has done incredible research and she provides us with detailed notes.