Monthly Archives: July 2016

“The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel” by Uri Bar-Joseph— Ashraf Marwan, Egyptian Spy for Israel

fthe angel

Bar-Joseph, Uri. “The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel”, translated by David Hazony, Harper Collins, 2016.

Ashraf Marwan, Egyptian Spy for Israel

Amos Lassen

As the son-in-law of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and a close advisor to Anwar Sadat, Nasser’s successor, Ashraf Marwan had access to the deepest secrets Egypt’s government. Marwan also had a secret himself— he was a spy for the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service. Using the codename “The Angel,” Marwan gave Israel very important and classified material. By letting the Mossad know in advance about the joint Egyptian-Syrian attack on Yom Kippur, he saved Israel from a devastating defeat. Yet I find this a bit troubling. If the Mossad knew in advance that war was coming, why were the armed forces not alerted to this earlier?

Uri Bar Joseph has pieced together Marwan’s story by drawing on meticulous research and interviews with many key participants. We see some new facts about Middle Eastern history. We also see the discord within the Israeli government that brought down Prime Minister Golda Meir.

Marwan was able to elude Egypt’s secret services for many years, but then somebody talked and five years later, in 2007, his body was found in the garden of his London apartment building. Police suspected he had been thrown from his fifth-floor balcony and Bar-Joseph having discovered new evidence is able to reveal what really happened, why happened and who was responsible for Marwan’s death. His death was really no surprise but what lead to his death was quite a mystery for some time. Perhaps it was suicide, perhaps he was trying the two men that witnesses claimed to have seen on his balcony, and perhaps he was murdered. If indeed Marwan was murdered there were several ways to look at it.

Marwan was involved in many shady business deals. Then there were possibly hit men from Egypt, the country he had betrayed for thirty years as a spy for Israel. Scotland Yard investigated but was unable to solve the case and it is still unsolved. Bar-Joseph could not solve it yet he has put together many important facts and intimate details about Marwan’s life that it almost impossible to read and think that with all he knows, he is unable to solve the murder.

Marwan was perfectly placed to deliver information to the Israelis. In the years leading up to the Yom Kippur war of 1973, he gave them specific Egyptian war plans and material on Cairo’s weapons deals with the Soviet Union. He had numerous meetings in London over the years with his Mossad handler, a partnership that lasted until 1998.

Marwan had his reasons for committing treason—he was a narcissist, he was bored and he wanted to live a life filled with luxury something he was unable to do on his government salary from Egypt. He might also felt retribution for his father-in-law, Gamal Nasser who didn’t fully trust his son-in-law and often tried to cut him out of important decision-making. Here is where I find it difficult to understand how Israel could have been caught so unready when the Egyptians and Syrians launched a surprise attack on Yom Kippur? We want to know why so many soldiers were fasting and in synagogue that year, why all of Israel’s military reserves mobilized had not been mobilized. Bar-Joseph stares that this was because there were elements in Israel’s security apparatus that felt sure that “the Angel” was a double agent sent from Cairo to sell disinformation. There were also many who believed that Sadat would never attack until Egypt was able to close its military gap with Israel.

Bar-Joseph discounts the double-agent theory and claims that the  villain is Major General Eli Zeira, Israel’s director of military intelligence at the time of the 1973 war. Zeira never thought Marwan was credible, and Bar-Joseph says that it was this led to Israel’s military being so unprepared. Bar-Joseph has synthesized the voluminous Israeli government information about Marwan and searched for any kind of turn that would explain this better. Marwan’s funeral was attended by a host of Egyptian elite. President Hosni Mubarak, who was in Ghana at a summit, issued a statement that lauded Marwan “a true patriot of his country.” At that point, Marwan’s deceit was well known inside Egypt’s government, but it was a source of such deep national embarrassment that he was buried a hero. Not only was his life was a lie, but so was his death.

Marwan was an intelligence disaster that almost doomed Egypt. His story is a suspenseful tale of a dangerous life and a mysterious death. Marwan changed the course of history in the Middle East and we see how little we actually know about something we thought we understood. Ashraf Marwan was the most valuable source the Mossad had ever recruited and we are just leaning his story now.


“The 9/11 Generation: Youth, Rights, and Solidarity in the War on Terror” by Sunaina Marr Maira— Coming of Age with the Question of Political Engagement

the 911 generation

Maira, Sunaina Marr. “The 9/11 Generation: Youth, Rights, and Solidarity in the War on Terror”, NYU Press, 2016.

Coming of Age with the Question of Political Engagement

Amos Lassen

I am sure that we call agree that the world today is much different than it was before 9/11/01. National security has become more intense for Muslims and Arab Americans and those young people who have come of age at this time have done so when political engagement is urgent. To understand what is political subjecthood and mobilization for Arab, South Asian, and Afghan American youth, Sunaina Marr Maira uses ethnography to look at how young people from those communities who have been targeted in the War on Terror deal with the “political” by building coalitions based on new racial and ethnic categories at a time when they are under constant scrutiny and surveillance. These bonds have been organized around ideas of civil rights and human rights. We gat an intense look at the possibilities and problems of rights-based organizing at a time when the vocabulary of rights and democracy is being used to justify imperial interventions like, for example, the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maira explores political solidarity in cross-racial and interfaith alliances at a time when American nationalism is understood as not just multicultural but also post-racial.

Maira shares stories of post-9/11 youth activism through key debates dealing with neoliberal democracy, humanitarianism and the “radicalization” of Muslim youth, gender. Young people today do not accept contest the uncomplicated way the categories ‘Muslim’ and ‘youth’ are framed as dangerous. They use their activism to bridge race and faith by using what they know of the civil rights movement and they critique of empire and as they find ways to change the world. The book takes us through the impact of the Global War on Terror on Afghan American, Arab American and South Asian American youth and it is a very important book.

“Contemporary Israel: New Insights and Scholarship” edited by Frederick E. Greenspahn— Competition and Contradiction

contemporary Israel

Greenspahn, Frederick E. (editor) “Contemporary Israel: New Insights and Scholarship”, (Jewish Studies in the Twenty-First Century), NYU Press, 2016.

Competition and Contradiction

Amos Lassen

Israel gets a lot of attention simply because, it is bastion of democracy in an area of the world where there are no other democratic nations. Then there are those that see Israel as “a racist outpost of Western colonialism”. Looking back at Israel’s short history, we see that it was in 1967 when the rest of the world actually began paying attention to the country whose military prowess shocked both a Jewish and gentile world that was world still dealing with the sense of powerlessness that overtook everyone with the Holocaust. Israel, at that point, became a symbol of romanticism and she became the little country that could”. Today Israel’s supporters speak with great pride about her technological achievements while her opponents blame almost every problem in the region, if not beyond, on her imperialistic aspirations.

We see Israel as a place of contradiction and competition. This is what “Contemporary Israel” is all about. There is so much more to Israel than just the conflict in the Middle East and the country has changed drastically during he short life.

These views of modern Israel are the subject of this book.  There is much to consider about modern Israel besides the Middle East conflict. I moved to Israel before the country was fifteen years old and I can say with a sense of nostalgia (and sometimes great disappointment) that the Israel we have today is not the one I went to build. We have had a great deal of writing about the various aspects of the country, “including its approaches to citizenship and immigration, the arts, the women’s movement, religious fundamentalism, and language”. However, most of this has been academic and left to the academy to write about. Frederick Greenspahn has collected essay ten essays under four topics— history, society, religion and identity to give us insight to the contemporary nation that Israel has become and while these essays do not attempt to solve any of the problems that the nation faces, it indeed does present a sample of contemporary scholars’ discoveries and discussions about modern Israel in a very accessible way. In each of the areas discussed, we have competing narratives that shed light on the achievements and the problems that are part of the country.

Through the essays presented here, we are given a look at the both the myths and the realities of the State of Israel. Many of Israel’s images have been inherited from the past and have become part of the memories of those who pay attention to the country and these images do not fit the reality of the country today. Today, she is a country that must deal with the reality of the world around here as she copes new social challenges.

The writers here are all leading researchers and they provide us with a great deal of information Israel’s diverse population, its national and sub-national identities, and how the country has transformed public and private spaces. There are no partisan polemics; instead we get a deep look into a society that is multifaceted and gain understanding of Israel’s relationship to herself and to the Jewish Diaspora.








“Siddur Nehalel” by Michael Haruni, Rabbi Daniel Landes and Rabbi Tzvi Grumet— Meeting the Modern Challenge

neha the best cover

Haruni, Michael, Rabbi Daniel Landes and Rabbi Tzvi Grumet. “Siddur Nehalel ”, Nevarech 2016.

Meeting the Modern Challenge

Amos Lassen

Prayer can be a challenging ideal as we are to pray while being focused on the act of prayer. This is experienced as much by people who pray regularly and devoutly as by those less familiar with a prayer book. The two-volume siddur “Nehalel” was created to assist meeting this challenge. It uses photographs that depict the meanings of the texts and directs our attention to what our prayers are about.


The power of photographs makes this a siddur for holding as it helps us achieve an awareness of the meanings in prayer. The liturgy celebrates the Creator of our spectacular environment, the cosmic, the universal human environment as well as the national. It recounts the catastrophes in our history, of destruction and exile, and then turns us to our redemptions and on almost every page we point to Jerusalem as the symbol of that complete redemption we desire to achieve.

The images in “Nehalel” reflect these different themes. The photos are contemporary and historical; of the natural order, and of human reality. Some have been taken out of the archives and include the darkest periods of our history as well as the triumphs and wonders of modern Zionism. Through the photographs, we see the relevance of the liturgy to our lives.

Extensive resources have gone into ensuring that the fully orthodox Hebrew text is reliable and accurate, keeping the dedication to tradition, The Hebrew font used is graceful and readable. It incorporates state-of-the-art unobtrusive pronunciation symbols.


The new English translation is literal and contemporary and faithful to the Hebrew. This is a prayer book that uses the power of visual connections to deepen the prayer experience. Thephotography is Zionist and boldly Jewish in ethos, reflecting values of learning, charity, family, awe of God, and the wonder of creation. A majority of the new siddur’s prayers and passages are accompanied by photographs.  For example, there is a sunlit view of earth’s atmosphere illustrates the Aleinu, the idea that God “stretches out the sky and establishes the world”; Psalm 27 is accompanied by a bald teen with cancer a plea not to be abandoned by God; the concept of deliverance found in “V’yatziv,” the prayer immediately following the Shema, is depicted with both death camp liberation scenes and photos from the Israeli airlift of Ethiopian Jews, Operation Solomon; the notion of God lifting up those who are bowed down in Psalm 146 is illustrated with a photo of Israel paraplegic tennis champion Genedi Kahanov.

There are some prayers that do not have photographs such as the Shema and the first pages of the Amidah. Michael Haruni, a Jerusalem-based editor and translator who developed the siddur feels that a photo’s content will create awareness within the reader, and merge with the act of prayer. “The photo should become part of a whole thought directed at God.”

Haruni, has said that this is the first set of siddurim that engages photography of this magnitude into the act of prayer and that uses spot color type in the text to connect photos with words in a prayer: The lines of text on the page that appear in color is are meant to signal a connection to the photos.


We are to let our imagination beyond the photographs. The siddur uses male personal pronouns of “Him” and “His” for God. There are no photos of men and women together in prayer or study.  The editors avoid the issue of women wearing tallit or tefillin by illustrating the third paragraph of the Shema with tallitot, but other photos of tefillin-in-use are exclusively male. While photographic inclusion of women is generally even-handed, in both content and interpretation of the prayers, this is an Orthodox siddur that should also appeal to traditionalists for prayer. It should also serve as an excellent companion in deepening an understanding of the traditional liturgy, no matter the individual’s denomination.

Using the siddur for prayer will be a challenge for those who struggle with Zionism or prefer a more egalitarian volume. Yet everyone who loves Jewish prayer should study these prayers and photographs, learning from them and being inspired by them. We see the sanctity in individual creativity and what a thinking Jew is able to accomplish. There are currently two volumes, one for Shabbat and one for weekdays.


“Prince of the Sea” by Jon Michaelsen— Another Look

prince of the sea

Michaelsen, Jon. “Prince of the Sea” Lethe Press, 2015.

Another Look

Amos Lassen

Every so often I will read a book for review and think to myself that I will return to that book when there is no pressure to review it; to read it for the pure pleasure of reading. That is when I did “Prince of the Sea by Jon Michaelsen. I am glad I did because I found that I had not said all that I could. This is the story of Paul and Jonathan, a gay couple that has been together for ten years. It seems that the passion that the men once shared is not what it once was. Jonathan thought that a vacation together might put a little kick back into their relationship. Jonathan rented a cottage on the beach off of the Georgia coast on Tybee Island. Jonathan had grown up there and it was a very special place for him and he looked forward to sharing it with Paul.

However, Paul went to Chicago to deal with a client and left Jonathan alone and even more upset than he had been about where their relationship was going. He decides to go on to the cottage alone and there he had surprise meeting with a very mysterious stranger. While this helped to take his mind off of Paul, it gave him the chance to find love for while but it did not take long, Jonathan found himself in a dark place he that knew nothing about.

Jon Michaelsen excels at writing descriptions and the way he painted the island had me feeling that I was actually there. This is quite a contrast to what we know about the stranger who seems to be covered with a sense of mystery.

Combining mystery, romance, myth and well-developed characters, Michaelsen gives us a novel that is paced well and that keeps us interested and reading. Jonathan does not hear much from Paul aside from short phone calls and he has serious doubts about how Paul feels and that perhaps with the two had is headed now to an different place. Since he is alone, Jonathan decides to make the best of his vacation. He decides to spend time on the beach and there he meets Lucius who had once been the guy h had a crush on when they both were young. When he saw Lucius walking down the beach and realizes that he is still attracted to him. Jonathan does not want to acknowledge his feelings because of Paul and also because he knows that his vacation is short and does not want to be hurt nor did he does he want to hurt Lucius. However, he is also very aware that the longer Paul stays away, the more time he has to cultivate a friendship (if not more) with his old flame.

But then, one of the locals wants Lucius gone because he fears him. This puts Jonathan in a situation of having to make serious decisions. Jon wanted to try to work things out while Paul seemed to want hurt Jonathan. Michaelsen is a fine writer and this book attests to that.



scream queen poster


A Documentary Film

Amos Lassen

“Scream, Queen” is a documentary film that focuses on the gay experience in Hollywood horror. It explores how that experience has changed in the three decades since Mark Patton’s controversial portrayal of Jesse Walsh, the object of Freddy Krueger’s latent desire in Nightmare on Elm Street 2. It looks at the infamous homoerotic subtext and the special place the film holds in the Nightmare franchise as well as the gay film canon. When it was first released “Nightmare on Elm Street 2” was considered controversial yet today it is now being looked back upon with a new appreciation and fondness by horror aficionados and fans of the series. 

scream queen1

Now some thirty years later, Patton Mark asks what all the fuss was about “when teenager Jesse Walsh danced just a little too freely and screamed a little too loudly while running from everybody’s favorite crispy, wise-cracking villain”. “Scream, Queen!” features interviews with celebrities, film historians and fans so that we can get a deeper understanding of the social and political climate back when the film was released in 1985, as well as the positive and negative reactions it received – and how those reactions compare to the reactions of today’s audiences. 


Horror films, and slasher movies can either be empowering to women, or very misogynistic, depending on who you ask and how you perceive what is on the screen. (Personally, I’m in the empowering camp.) Slasher movies almost always, s center around a young female protagonist. Men are killed in these movies but they’re almost always disposed of quickly and then the killer spends the 90 minutes of the movie’s runtime in a slow, sexualized cat-and-mouse game with the heroine of the story.


There is one great exception to this slasher film rule and that came in 1985 in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge”, the only movie in the series with a male lead, teenager Jesse Walsh, who moves into 1428 Elm St and has to contend with Freddy Krueger. Jesse was played by Mark Patton, a young gay actor who was in the closet professionally, but found himself cast as the main character in a movie overflowing with gay subtext.


When the movie was released, Reagan’s America was not only homophobic, but the panic of AIDS was everywhere. When it was released, the gay references and subplot went right over almost everyone’s heads except the young queer fans who were excited to see themselves represented on screen in a mainstream genre film.


At one point in the film, Jesse is confronted by his homosexual gym teacher after winding up at Don’s Place, a gay S&M club. It is fairly certain, if not being explicitly stated, that Jesse was gay.


Patton recalls,” I wake up in the middle of the first movie that I’m the lead actor in, and realize there’s a gay subtext in it. In 1985, Hollywood was very homophobic and very AIDS-phobic. If you were gay, you were hiding.”

“Mutilations of History” by David Holly— Homosexuality Through the Ages, A Gay Perspective

mutilations in history cover

Holly, David. “Mutilations of History”, Create Space, 2015.

Homosexuality Through the Ages, A Gay Perspective

Amos Lassen

David Holly gives us his take on homosexuality through the ages but not just homosexuality as homosexuality but as bliss. In his not, he tells us that in “The Robin Club”, “Jolly Roger” and “Batkyn Brinks, he has maintained historical accuracy. He notes that to write these stories—sodomy among pirates in the West Indies, early Batman comic books, the Edwardian India court scene and when men began wearing briefs. I am, of course, assuming that this is true just because the information he looked for is very important.

We also learn that “A Gift to the Rising Dog Star” is based on a single mention in “The White Goddess” by Robert Graves about “dog priests” who engaged in doggy-style sodomy (isn’t that a great word? I can imagine the research that biblical scholars did to come up with it). Holly tells us that “The Valley of Salt” and “Naked to the Sun” both come from accepted mythologies and he states that he had to take some chronological alterations so that the stories would make sense.

Can we say that the stories here are an alternate take on history but it seems to me that I remember learning in graduate school that for there to be an alternate history, there must be a history to begin with and it was then that I realized that writer Holly was having fun with these stories.

In David Holly’s own words, “From the ancient near east to the Minoan civilization to the British Empire to the pirate-ridden West Indies to the America of World War II, young men down through history come of age through raptures of homosexual bliss. Just before World War II, a group of young men engage in sexual experimentation. A captured youth is sold to a cult that engages in orgies of sodomy at the rising of the Dog Star. A cabin boy embraces the pirate life and commits to a brotherhood sealed by sodomy. In the British Empire, homosexuality was a serious offense, but when a wealthy peer is accused, justice can turn against the accusers. From enlightened Gomorrah to the streets Sodom, a young man finds his bliss. A Cretan enjoys wild homosexual adventures across the Minoan Empire”. He says it so much better than I do (but then he also wrote it).

“How Christianity Sustains A Gay Man” by J.H. Hayes— Love and Strength

how christianity

Hayes, J.H. “How Christianity Sustains A Gay Man”, Club Lighthouse, 2016.

Love and Strength

Amos Lassen

J.H. Hayes tells is that the story of my life is “testament to enduring love and the strength of those who shared it with me”. His parents were Southern Baptist and their home was home near Houston, Hayes shares his personal struggles with acceptance, drugs, activism and spirituality. He came out in 1980 when he was 23 and within thirteen years he came an AIDS and Civil Rights activist. His mother, a hard-core Baptist grew to accept, understand and love her son through faith.

Hayes writes of his family and especially of his older brother who had Polio and taught him compassion. His grandfather was a role model through his actions and his parents were wonderful, loving people. All the elements of his future were in place by the time he was 10 and it was not until sex entered the picture that everything got complicated.

The sexual struggle began in middle school and continued through high school. Hayes shares his first feelings of infatuation with a boy in his gym class. From then on, he knew what he was looking for and so he set his standards. His romanticism was and still is based upon what might have been.

He struggled with Baptist guilt while he became popular at school but that popularity changed when he went to a high school where he did not know anyone. Music was his comfort. He was arrested because of mushrooms and his mother found a drug abuse program where he meet and marry a beautiful woman. In college he had an affair with a married man and finally came out and his wife stood with him.

He became an activist because he wanted to help his friends who were dying and shares the goals of the non-profit organization that he founded and we learn about the music he loved and the politics of AIDS.

Hayes looks at what fundamentalists want us to believe— that they control who can be a Christian. Hayes writes with honesty and tells is all we need to now but I have a feeling that this book might just slip into the pile of gay Christian memoirs and that would be too bad.

“The Storyteller: Tales Out of Loneliness”— Erotic Tensions

the storyteller

Benjamin, Walter. “The Storyteller: Tales Out of Loneliness” edited by Sam Dolbear, Esther Leslie and Sebastian Truskolaski, Verso Books, 2016.

Erotic Tensions

Amos Lassen

Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) was a German-Jewish Marxist literary critic, essayist, translator and philosopher. He was associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory. In 1940, he was in Spain, fleeing the Nazis and en route to the United States, when Franco’s government cancelled his visa. Expecting repatriation, he took his own life. I found this book to be particularly appealing because I am taking a seminar in Benjamin and a look at his fiction could open some new doors for me.

“The Storyteller” is a beautiful collection of Benjamin’s short stories. This is also the first collection of Benjamin’s fiction. He is not as well known for fiction as he is for his studies of culture and literature that include “Illuminations”, “One-Way Street” and “The Arcades Project”. In his stories, we read about the erotic tensions of city life as we move between rationality and hallucination. Benjamin also writes about games and their importance and of the relationship between gambling and fortune telling, as he explores the themes that defined him. Further, the book contains modern art from Paul Klee.

Reading these stories we see their importance as regards Benjamin’s experimental writings. As he sought to understand the ways we communicate with language, he tested his stories and how they would be understood. Benjamin’s world was one of the uncanny and sabotaged by that very force.

“Femme” by Marshall Thornton— In and Out


Thornton, Marshall. “Femme”, Kenmore Books, 2016.

In and Out

Amos Lassen

Lionel is somewhat feminine cocktail waiter who awakens one morning to discover that he is sharing his bed with Dog, a straight-acting softball player. Thus begins a strange romance with going into and coming out of the closet several times. Through it all both Lionel and Dog learn the meaning of being a man. Marshall Thornton gives us a new kind of gay romance and two fascinating characters.

At twenty-three years old, Lionel has yet to have a real relationship and Doug (Dog) is a twenty-seven year old guy who is still in the closet (but he does play on a gay softball team). Dog’s father suffered a heart attack and Dog is worried that coming out might just his father to have another one. On Sundays the team meet for a few drinks at a gay bar that just happens to be where Lionel works. Then there was that one Sunday when Lionel and Dog find themselves in bed with each other.

Dog had no plans to go home with Lionel but the alcohol went to his head. He really did not care for feminine men but waking up in his bed, he found that he could not stop thinking about him. He new he should just get out of there but he is also a gentleman and did want to cause Lionel any pain. Besides, he really likes Lionel. Just as Dog questions himself about Lionel, Lionel does the same about Dog. As they got to know each other, things became even more complicated.

While this could have been a sweet little read, writer Marshall Thornton chosen to write about acceptance and tolerance. Here we have two characters who find themselves having feelings for each other, two men that each finds something in the other regardless of physical appearance. Thornton unleashes humor and he also sends a message our way. We all know that what really matters in finding a soul mate is much more serious than outward appearances, etc. It is all about love and honesty (to ourselves and to each other). It is not always easy to do so but when we can do so the rewards are great. Happiness based on anything than honesty is really not happiness.