Category Archives: Judaica

Books and movies of interest to the Jewish community

“American JewBu” by Emily Sigalow— The Jewish American Encounter with Buddhism

Sigalow, Emily. “American JewBu”, Princeton University Press, 2019.

The Jewish American Encounter with Buddhism

Amos Lassen

Many Jewish Americans today enjoy a dual religious identity in which they practice Buddhism while remaining connected to their Jewish roots. In “American JewBu”, Emily Sigalow shares the story of Judaism’s encounter with Buddhism in the United States and shows how it has given rise to new contemplative forms within American Judaism as well as have shaped the way Americans understand and practice Buddhism.

Sigalow begins back in the nineteenth century and brings us forward to today tracing the history of these two traditions in this country and shows how they came together. She maintains that the distinctive social position of American Jews led them to their engagement with Buddhism, and shows us how people incorporate aspects of both religions into their everyday lives. Through original in-depth interviews that she conducted across America, Sigalow looks at how Jewish American Buddhists experience both religious identities. Jewish Buddhists cause consternation about prevailing expectations of minority religions in America. Instead of just adapting to the majority religion, Jews and Buddhists borrow and integrate elements from each other. By doing so they have left a mark on the consciousness of this country.

We see the leading role that American Jews have played in the popularization of meditation and mindfulness in the United States, and the impact that the traditions have had on one another

“Jews in the United States have been engaged in religious, spiritual, and secularized paths toward creating a Jewish Buddhist sense of self.” Here we read why Buddhism is so popular among American Jews. Sigalow looks at the important factors of
history and sociology and we see  why Jews turned to Buddhism, how this coming together has changed both faiths, and how Jewish Buddhists or Buddhist Jews teach us about American religion.

JewBus are often commented upon on but rarely studied, probably because there has not been what to study.  To understand the multiple ways Jews influenced the development of Buddhism in America, this is the book to read. Sigalow combining ethnographic research with historical and cultural analysis gives us a brilliant portrait of Jewish Buddhists in America. She puts simplistic explanations of the JewBu to rest and replaces it with historical and social accounts of today.

“Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: A Biblical Tale Retold” by Stephen Mitchell— A New Look at a Classic

Mitchell, Stephen. “Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: A Biblical Tale Retold”, St. Martin’s Essentials, 2019.

A New Look at a Classic

Amos Lassen

I have always found beauty in the stories we read in the Five Books of Moses and I love that they can be read and reread yet always seem fresh and new. I also love that we can update and reinterpret them as we choose without losing the meaning of the originals. Stephen Mitchell does just that with the story of Joseph. “Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness” is his novelistic version of the Biblical tale where Joseph is sold into slavery and becomes viceroy of Egypt. Mitchell brings “lyrical, witty, vivid prose” and his own insight and wisdom into this 3000 year old tale and retells it like a postmodern novel. This is a story of betrayal and forgiveness in which Mitchell brings brief meditations to the narrative and adds Zen surprises “to expand the narrative and illuminate its main themes.”

We go into the minds of the characters (especially Joseph) and by doing so gain new perspectives on this ancient story that still challenges, delights, and astonishes. The prose is as gorgeous as the storytelling gives clear understanding that compassion and forgiveness are the responses to the relief of the pain and suffering that are part of human life. Mitchell uses midrash, a technique of ancient Hebrew commentary on the tales of the Torah to give fresh meaning to the story of Joseph.

Stephen Mitchell’s life’s work is the study of human transformation. With “Joseph”,  Mitchell takes us back in time to one of our oldest stories of grace and reimagines it. He gives us a simple version of the story of Joseph in a creative and heartfelt way. The narrative is transformative as we become engaged both mentally and spiritually with it.
We have found it hard to comprehend in the Bible but that changes here with this “incisive and moving account of the spiritual power of forgiveness.”

Leo Tolstoy saw the Biblical tale of Joseph and His Brothers as “the most beautiful story in the world” and it is also in the Qur’an, which narrates it in full after stating in the introduction to it that it is “the most beautiful of narrations.”

“NEVER AGAIN IS NOW”— Antisemitism Today

“NEVER AGAIN IS NOW”

Antisemitism Today

Amos Lassen

It is impossible for any thinking person not to realize that once again antisemitism has raised its ugly head both in the United States and in Europe. I am sure that other places are feeling it as well. “Never Again Is Now” shows us the present day influences of Right, Left and religious influences on rising antisemitism. Evelyn Markus, a Dutch lesbian Jew and co-founder of the non-profit “Network on Antisemitism”, came to the US with her partner Rosa Zeegers because they found pink star graffiti on their door at home. They were eager to get away from the present day rise of antisemitism. That escape became a journey during which Markus met with “globally renowned experts, Parliamentarians, religious leaders, authors, activists, playwrights and political commentators including Ben Shapiro, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and devout Muslim physician Qanta Ahmed.”

 Even here in Boston, where peace between Bostonians reigns supreme, we have felt the new rise antisemitism. I usually find out early about new films of interest to the LGBT and/or Jewish communities but I had no idea that this was coming and it is quite powerful. We see

archival films of Hitler and the war combined with films of life in Europe today. The term “Never Again” became mouthed and heard all over the world after the deaths of six millions Jews 1941-45 during the Holocaust. In my own naivete, like other Jews and those affected by the mass murders, I thought we had heard the last of “Never Again”.  We now know we were wrong.

We see that France has experienced a new wave of extremely hateful behaviors and antisemitism. There have been beatings, places where Jews congregate have been bombed Surprisingly enough, the Netherlands has also witnessed antisemitism and there has been a great deal of violence from the large numbers of Muslims that are now in Europe but there have also been problems from regular citizens who have allowed themselves to become caught up in today’s wave of hatred. There are far right politicians in Europe who are anti-Semites.

I have studied antisemitism for a good part of my life and I have never become hardened by it. Each time I hear about it, I become extremely upset and often become enraged. Watching “Never Again is Now” once again made me realize how much I am affected by racism and hatred for hatred’s sake especially when the Jews are targeted even though they have made such important and powerful contributions to the way we live today. Hannah Arendt stated, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” What me must add is that once ones tastes what it is to be evil, it is not difficult to remain that way.

Markus chroncles her personal journey to becoming heroic in the fight against the rise of antisemitism in the world.  Her parents were Holocaust survivors in Holland but because of her own personal experiences with antisemitism, she left Europe to come to America at a time when European Jews were being beaten, stabbed and even murdered and where it became necessary to have military protection for Jewish schools and synagogues. On a personal level, I attended three different sessions on security for the High Holidays in Boston and I have remained shocked since 9/11 that we mist have police both inside and outside of our synagogues during significant holiday celebrations.

 Yes, we have had antisemitic incidents and we can only wonder if history is repeating itself. Markus interviewed global thought leaders for her documentary that lets us see the situation as it is and presents a warning and a call to action.

There are those who feel that the creation of the State of Israel has led to a rise of hatred against the Jews. Markus interviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim born in Somalia who had left for Europe and ultimately the United States and asked him this very question to which he replied that “anti-Semitic sentiment lies buried in some people, with Israel serving merely as an excuse to demonstrate.” He reminds us that not  everything was good for the Jews before the creation of Israel. It seems to be human nature to need scapegoats and we are well-aware that these scapegoats have come from “minority groups like the Armenians in Turkey, the Rohinga in Myanmar, the Romani in Europe, the Coptic Christians in Egypt, the Hutus against the Tutsis in Rwanda,” many against the Jews and this is just to name a few.

Markus shares that she is not only Jewish but gay and she and her partner are often dismayed that often demonstrations against Jews (“not Zionists, necessarily, not Israelis, but diaspora Jews”) have caused the Netherlands to become unrecognizable because of demonstrations by Muslims who yell “Kill the Jews wherever they live.” Even non-Jews are marked for assassination if they are critical of Islam. But we also learn that most Muslims who live in Europe and the U.S. conduct regular businesses and are not political, and that a few share that violent demonstrators are not in the spirit of Islam and are caused by political Islamists.

Anti-Nazi Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil” thus letting us know that Markus wants us to speak out and up against evil. People are doing so but without much result in Europe. In the U.S. Jews can still walk with kipot on heads and draped in a prayer shawl yet the present political administration does not think that neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville are “fine people.” 

While we are called to action with this documentary, we are not informed about what we can do to end the divisions in our society that grow and grow since free speech allows for that. I do not think abolishing free speech is an answer but I am sure that there exists an answer that we must find together. By watching this incredible movie, you just might get an idea as to what you can do. Even if you do not, you certainly become more aware.

http://joinneveragainisnow.com/

“The Accusation: Blood Libel in an American Town” by Edward Berenson— The Only Allegation of Ritual Murder in the United States

Berenson, Edward. “The Accusation: Blood Libel in an American Town”,  W.W. Norton, 2019.

The Only Allegation of Ritual Murder in the United States

Amos Lassen

On Saturday, September 22, 1928, four-year-old Barbara Griffiths walked into the woods surrounding the village of Massena in upstate New York. People looked everywhere for her but she could not be found. Someone  actually suggested that Barbara had been kidnapped and killed by Jews, and as people continued to search, the police and townspeople began to believe the rapidly spreading rumors and the allegation of ritual murder, known to Jews as “blood libel,” was accepted. It certainly seems very strange to us that people believed this, especially since blood libel was essentially unknown in the United States. However, many of Massena’s residents including Christians and Jews, had recently come to this country from Central and Eastern Europe, where blood libel was all too common. Historian Edward Berenson,  who is a native of Massena exposes the cross-cultural forces that ignited America’s only known instance of blood libel, and he examines its roots in Old World prejudice, American homegrown antisemitism, and the resurgence and popularity of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. Today, we are aware that there are still residues of all three of these.

This is not just the story of how one town took on this very anti-Jewish bit of mythology but it is also an exploration of American and European responses to antisemitism. Should we be surprised to learn that in this country there has only been one major case of someone claiming blood libel? After all, this idea was widespread in Europe. Berenson looks at this singular incident here along some of the background of blood libel in general. Politics are heavily involved in this and it is important to know that.

Trump’s campaign and presidency (small “p” intentional) brought dormant hatred to the surface again. We must remember that Herbert Hoover ran against Al Smith for the presidency in ’28 and Smith was a son of immigrants and Catholic. While Hoover did not bash Catholics himself, other members of his party did. Those anti-Catholics became angry including the Jews who were over 10 percent of all Europeans who came here between 1880 and the early 1920s. They were prime for scapegoating. Henry Ford, America’s major anti-Semite, had been publishing the conspiracy pamphlet “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” for years in his newspaper. His editorials called Jews “the conscious enemies of all that Anglo-Saxons mean by civilization.” While the anti-Smith group could not couldn’t hold Jews responsible for the Catholic candidate, they could point out that Jews were part of “the incoming mob” the term that Berenson knows. The Klan was losing membership by 1928 and saw a chance to revive its fortunes in the Smith-Hoover race and joined.

It was then  that Barbara Griffiths walked into the woods but didn’t walk out and by dawn the next morning, town officials and many, many villagers concluded that blood libel had taken place. The day this happened was the day before Yom Kippur and the mayor and a state trooper called the local rabbi and asked him if his people in the old country offered human sacrifices on the holiday.

We see here that 800-year-old slander that still had the power to begin pogroms. “Jews were accused of killing Christian children and draining their blood, either to drink as wine or to bake into matzo”.

The belief in Jewish ritual infanticide had always been a European psychosis. American anti-Semitism was nasty but blood libel was never before a part of it. Berenson explains why the medieval practice rematerialized when it did and why in Massena,  unprepossessing village on the New York side of the St. Lawrence River. Berenson knew residents who still remembered the incident, and so he was able to give his research a personal touch.

Now almost a century later, antisemitism has resurfaced in other places, and it is still resurfacing. “So far in this century, the blood libel has unleashed no pogroms. But Berenson’s book reminds us that what seems inconceivable is nonetheless possible.”

“A Field Guide to the Jewish People: Who They Are, Where They Come From, What to Feed Them…and Much More. Maybe Too Much More” by Dave Barry, Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel— More Than You Need To Know… So What?

Barry, Dave, Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel. “A Field Guide to the Jewish People: Who They Are, Where They Come From, What to Feed Them…and Much More. Maybe Too Much More”, Flatiron, 2019.

More Than You Need to Know… So What?

Amos Lassen

I have always been a Jew and it is very important to me. I think one of the great things that Jews have is the ability to both take their faith seriously if they so choose while at the same time being able to laugh at themselves. Did you ever wonder why there are so many Jewish holidays or why you need to have ten Jews to be able to pray (don’t worry, you won’t find that answer here or anywhere else probably) or why Jews drink seltzer (you will find that here). Here is Jewish humor by the page full and this is a delightfully irreverent read about who we are.

Comedy legends Dave Barry, Adam Mansbach, and Alan Zweibel (“two-thirds of whom are Jewish”) bring us” A Field Guide to the Jewish People” in which they look at Jews like a chicken at the beginning of Shabbat dinner and tear it down to its bare bones with loving humor. They “dissect every holiday, rite of passage, and tradition, unravel a long and complicated history, and tackle the tough questions that have plagued Jews and non-Jews alike for centuries.” They write with the sweetness of a Rosh Hashanah honey cake yet with great Jewish humor (even the gentile does). Nothing is too kosher to be touched and I can just imagine the number of flat sponge cakes we will have because the bakers were too busy laughing to pay attention.

Yes there is a lot of humor here but there is also a great deal of information. You might have to decide how much of this is true or just written for laughs but that is also great fun. Information is given to us in many different ways— through asides, via questions and answers, little chats and just facts and even though some of what I read is part of daily routine, I found myself not only laughing but laughing out loud….. and, at myself. I really never thought of how I look while doing morning prayers and wrapping myself in tefillin (a practice I reintroduced into my life many years ago after reclaiming the Judaism I lost while living in Israel). I just knew that if someone knocked on my door during my prayers that if I answered them, I would probably scare them away. I will say this, however— if you do not have a good sense of humor, this might not be the book for you but then it might help you develop one.

“Writing a book— like winning the Super Bowl, popping a zit, or getting Cher stage-ready— is a team effort” and what a team we have here. Do not wait—run and get a copy of this wonderful book and then spend a few days laughing at yourself.

 

“The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between” by Stephanie Butnick, Leil Leibowitz and Mark Oppenheimer— “An Unorthodox Guide to Everything Jewish”

Butnick, Stephanie, Liel Leibowitz and Mark Oppenheimer. “The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia: From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between”, Artisan, 2019.

“An Unorthodox Guide to Everything Jewish”

Amos Lassen

One of the best things about being Jewish is the ability we have to be able to laugh at ourselves. With the “Newish Jewish Encyclopedia”, you will be doing just that. It is filled with knowledge and is educative while being irreverent (but irreverent with class).  It covers such topics as culture, religion, history, habits, language, and more. We read about our forefathers and foremothers and Barbra Streisand as well as get definitions of Zionism, Kashrut and so much more. We learn a bissel Yiddish (the important terms) and we get explanations of the major and minor holidays. One of the things that really sold me is we are reminded to read Hannah Arendt (my hero) and we are told that we must listen to Leonard Cohen and rewatch reruns of “Seinfeld”. If you have ever wondered how the Jews invented Hollywood, you will find that out here. Since we love to eat, there is a great deal about our food and culinary customs. The encyclopedia has hundreds of photos, charts, infographics, and illustrations.

While this is a very funny read, it is also a historical look at Judaism as well as a look at Judaism as it is and thoroughly covers each topic. I found myself so into it that I read it straight through and then read it again. It is so interesting to see how Jewish culture is seen and observed today.  What we really have is a celebration of the Jewish religion and I am sure I will be referring to it often for classes that I teach all over Boston. I simply cannot give it a high enough recommendation.

“Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: A Biblical Tale Retold” by Stephen Mitchell— Another Look at Joseph

Mitchell, Stephen. “Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: A Biblical Tale Retold”, St. Martin’s Essentials, 2019.

Another Look at Joseph

Amos Lassen

Stephen Mitchell brings new life into the ancient story of Joseph in “Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness”.  He gives us a novelistic version of the Biblical tale in which Jacob’s favorite son is sold into slavery and eventually becomes viceroy of Egypt. Through lyrical, witty and vivid prose, we get new insight to this foundational legend of betrayal and forgiveness. Mitchell unites the narrative with brief meditations that and Zen surprises that expand the narrative and give new light to the main themes.

Mitchell enters the minds of Joseph and the other characters to reanimate one of the central stories of Western culture and shows that this ancient story continues to challenge, delight, and astonish.

 The Joseph story is one of the most profound and moving passages in the Bible. Stephen Mitchell makes it a deceptively simple version of the story of Joseph and his brothers through his glorious prose and wisdom. Many have had trouble understanding the relationship of the brothers and how they acted to Joseph. In a class I took years ago, the professor maintained that it was one of the most important Bible stories for it was Joseph who was responsible to bring the Israelites to where they were enslaved.

Mitchell interprets the dream sequence by dreaming it onwards and comparing it to how we read a story from the Bible— by telling it onwards, again and again, with imagination. Stephen Mitchell reimagined of the story of Joseph is an enhanced retelling in exquisite language with subtle insight and powerful lessons and the moral wisdom behind them. This modern Midrash adds metafiction and  style to the story that we have read and reread.

“Jewish Emancipation: A History Across Five Centuries” by David Sorkin— How Jews Became Citizens in the Modern World

Sorkin, David. “Jewish Emancipation: A History Across Five Centuries”, Princeton University Press, 2019.

How Jews Became Citizens in the Modern World

Amos Lassen

Many of us really do not seem to understand the importance of emancipation in the world today and that is probably because we have never had to fight for it. The Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel are monumental events in Jewish history and we all feel tied to both because we are so aware of the lives that were lost in both of these events. If there is one central event in Jewish history, it is emancipation. What writer David Sorkin attempts to do here is to look at Jewish history from a point of view of reorientation and he gives us a comprehensive look at how Jews became citizens with civil and political rights wherever in the modern world. He begins in the mid-sixteenth and takes us to the beginning of the twenty-first giving the  history of how Jews have “gained, kept, lost, and recovered rights in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, the United States, and Israel.”

We see that emancipation was not a one-time or linear event that began with the Enlightenment or  the French Revolution and ended with Jews’ acquisition of rights in Central Europe in 1867–71 or Russia in 1917.It is important to understand that emancipation “was and is a complex, multidirectional, and ambiguous process characterized by deflections and reversals, defeats and successes, triumphs and tragedies.” How many of us are aware that  American Jews mobilized twice for emancipation: the first time was in the nineteenth century for political rights, and  then again in the twentieth century for lost civil rights. Israel  has struggled from the start to institute equality among its many diverse citizens.

This history of emancipation seems to have been lost and Sorkin wants to bring it back. He gives us an accessible new interpretation of modern Jewish history that is pushed forward by arguments that cause us to rethink how we understand emancipation. Bringing together historical and research, we learn what so many of us either forgot about or never learned before. This is a global history that shows the real importance of emancipation as a main event in the history of the Jewish people.

“HEADING HOME: THE TALE OF TEAM ISRAEL”— Representing Israel

“HEADING HOME: THE TALE OF TEAM ISRAEL”

Representing Israel

Amos Lassen

After years of defeat, Israel’s national baseball team became eligible to compete in the World Baseball Classic, a prestigious international tournament held in Seoul, Korea in 2017. The team included several Jewish American Major League players. While the game was important, the team learned about representing Israel on the world stage but even more important was discovering the sense of pride they had for the country.

The documentary is the story of the underdog team that grabbed Jewish emotions and the all over the world.  t Team Israel was never expected to go as far as they did. When the team won the qualifier over Great Britain in 2016 and advanced to the 2017 World Baseball Classic, reporter Jonathan Mayo was instrumental in organizing a trip to Israel for the squad.  The large majority of the film focuses on the trip to Israel as seen through the eyes of Ike Davis, Josh Zeid, Sam Fuld, Ty Kelly, and Cody Decker. The hope of the producers is that the 2017 Team Israel squad will inspire Israelis to take up baseball so that in the future rosters won’t be filled by American Jews (who qualify under the heritage rule).

Co-directors Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger follow Team Israel as they made their trip to Israel but also as they sweep through Pool A in Korea and through their battle onto the next round.  When Team Israel swept Pool A play, they didn’t just shock the world, they shocked each other. Many of these players had never set foot in Israel.

Baseball is America’s pastime and with Israel as one of America’s closest allies—and an island of liberal democracy in a sea of intolerance, it would seem natural for Israelis to play baseball—but it wasn’t. When the two came together in 2017, the result was a rousing underdog story. The World Baseball Classic is very much like a FIFA World Cup for baseball, including its greater popularity in Latin American countries than here in the United States. Big contract Major Leaguers are discouraged from playing, so most of the Americans who agree to play are veterans looking to make a comeback. This is what presented an opportunity for Team Israel. According to the International Baseball Federation’s “Heritage” rules, any player who could qualify for citizenship in a country is allowed to play for their national team. In the case of Israel, that meant any player with a Jewish mother or grandparents was eligible for Team Israel. Prior to 2017, Team Israel was ranked 41st in the World, but their manager and scouts managed to recruit established MLB players. Indeed, there is a strong connection between Team Israel and the New York Mets, with Kelly and Davis being former Metropolitans and team owner Fred Wilpon serving as a producer of the documentary.

Team Israel arrived in Seoul for the first round of WBC competition and they shocked the world. Team Israel was as an all-hustle team. They also had a much more unified team spirit, thanks to the time they spent together in Israel. They had a greater perspective on the game, having helped dedicate an Israeli baseball field to a young athlete who was the victim of anti-Israeli terrorism.

The film captures every step of Team Israel’s journey, from recruitment, through training camp, the initial qualifier in Brooklyn, up to second round play in Tokyo. Along the way, the team scored several upset victories, over some countries well known for their baseball traditions. “Heading Home”  tells a terrific sports story. Many team-members obviously gained a deeper appreciation of the State of Israel after their time there.

“When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family’s Forgotten History” by Massoud Hayoun— Reclaiming Identity

Hayoun, Massoud. “When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family’s Forgotten History”, The New Press , 2019.

Reclaiming Identity

Amos Lassen

“When We Were Arabs” is Hayoun Massoud’s account of his grandparents’ lives in Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine, and Los Angeles and in it he reclaims his family’s Jewish Arab identity. I have often wondered why we consider all Arabs to be Muslims when they are not. We confuse ethnicity with religion and we must remember that there

was a time when being an “Arab” didn’t mean someone was necessarily Muslim. There was a time when Oscar Hayoun, a Jewish Arab, walked along the Nile in a fashionable suit, long before he and his father came to Haifa to join the Zionist state but to find themselves hosed down with DDT and then left unemployed on the margins of society. Then to be an Arab was a mark of cosmopolitanism, of intellectualism. Today, in the age of the Likud and ISIS, Oscar’s son, the Jewish Arab journalist Massoud Hayoun whom Oscar raised in Los Angeles, tells his family’s story in order to find his voice.

Hayoun wanted to reclaim his Arab identity as, part of a larger project to recall a time before ethnic identity was used for political ends. It is also a personal journey into a lost age of sophisticated innocence in the Arab world; an age that is now almost lost. He brings the words of his grandparents back to life by eschewing today’s contemporary understanding of what makes an Arab, what makes a Jew, and how battle lines over this have been drawn. He brings together his family history and politics that shaped their lives and presents further understanding of complex identities and mixed cultural heritages. To do this, he uses family lore, journals, and photographs to tell his grandparents’ story and shows a lost multicultural era in the Arab world.  This is a story of survival and success and an intriguing one at that. It is his goal “to obliterate our brittle understandings of what is Jewish, Arab, and radically loving.” We become very aware of the postcolonial foundations of contemporary Arab American identity.
We do not often hear the term Arab Jew without propaganda or prejudice. The book chronicles how the nuance that had been there in “Jewish Arab political identities disappeared under the onslaught of Zionism.” I would have preferred a different word to “onslaught” or even an explanation why Hayoun chose to use that term.

“When We Were Arabs” revolves around Hayoun’s own family’s painful experience of having to leave their homeland and it certainly is not a nostalgic look back at a better time.  Arabs/Muslims and Jews have not been at each other’s throats for thousands of years. Arab Jews were an integral and integrated part of their communities whose lives that were enmeshed with those of their Christian and Moslem neighbors. Arab Jews were at times oppressed by the mightier and more corrupt, but no more so than other poor, non-Jewish Arabs. Hayoun also exposes how the colonial powers, in partnership with European Jews, forced the Arab Jewish community to cuts its millennial old religious and cultural traditions. Traditional divide and conquer strategies were used to separate Arab Jews from their neighbors. The methods used were, so the writer says, first by the Zionist movement and then by a nascent Israel, to force mass migration of Arab Jews to Israel. There were strategies used to drive the mass emigration of Iraqis to Israel letting us see that this is not a new idea.

However, between the beautiful prose and the author’s ideas is his problem with the State of Israel. We cannot help but sense his very strong feelings against the country and it builds page by page. Some of his claims against Israel are unfounded (or it they are found, then the programs are totally secretive). I cannot believe that Zionists brought about attacks against Jews in the Middle East in order to frighten them into moving to Israel. Hayoun also writes about what he calls “peaceful protests in Gaza,” without writing about the flaming kites, condoms with IEDs, and Palestinian children sent to the front with weapons. The author’s biases are exaggerated to the point of disbelief. I say wanted to like this book but some of the statements make it impossible to do so. But then I am an Israeli/American and, of course, that colors my way of thinking.

I do, on the other hand, like the way that preconceived notions of what Arabness and Jewishness means is handled. This is a well-documented history of Arab Jews, and colonialism in the Arab world but I wanted to know more about Hayoun’s actual background, with his family.