Rosenthal, Donna. “The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land”, New Press, revised and updated, 2008.
Americans have no idea who the Israelis are. The stories we get in the American media by and large depends on the source of the report. We see them here as soldiers fighting for their freedom and we see them as aggressive colonizers who determined to stay in control over Palestinians who resent them. We know that there is truth to both depictions and at the same time they depictions are distortions of who the Israeli really is. Donna Rosenthal looks at the Israeli across the broad spectrum and she gives very interesting insight as to the nature of the modern Israeli in two aspects—an individual and as a group.
Many Americans are simply not aware of the vibrancy and diversity of Israel and as the nation is such so are the citizens. There are the very Orthodox who constantly study and await the Messianic age. They are against those that dress immodestly and violate the Sabbath. There are the modern Israelis who excel in business and industry and do not bother with their religious heritage. There are the Bedouin Arabs who still live primitively carrying everything they own with them to wherever they go. There are prostitutes and mailmen and waiters and there are farmers and fishermen and gays, lesbians and those that are transgender.
Rosenthal entered Israeli society and interviewed many people and she gives us their backgrounds and their viewpoints. She discusses the decline of the kibbutz movement which was once vital to the country and shows how the ethic of collectively is no longer relevant. She shows how the Orthodox remain a community unto itself and stays isolated from mainstream Israeli culture and society. She shows the vice and corruption with Israel and the presence of the drug trade and she gives us a history of Zionism as we hear the reminiscences of the way it was. We hear from the man on the street, from the leaders, from Arabs and from Druze, from the Russian mafia and from the subcultures of sex and gambling.
Rosenthal has a wonderfully readable style and she manages to weave interviews, anecdotes and vignettes to give us a picture of a people that most of us know little about. But let me tell you that you must be prepared to have your preconceptions become misconceptions. In giving us the information on whom the Israeli is, Rosenthal sheds light on the shadows. It is absolutely amazing when we realize that Israel is a nation that has “ingathered the exiles”—Jews from all over the world who have not much in common except a history of persecution and the desire to live free in their own land.