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In the land of Israel

Amazon.com

In the land of Israel—modern Israel, that is—never lived a finest man than Amos oz. As a writer; as a salt-of-the-earth farmer and warrior; as a peace-loving man and activist; as a man of his word and vision. And when he died unexpectedly from a sudden illness at the end of last year, at age 79, a voice whispered in my ear—it was him, I believe—that his optimistic outlook of Israel just couldn’t stand the disaster—cry for the ages, as we like to say in Hebrew—of the coming elections, and of what they might bring upon the country and people he so much loved.

About the latter I will write in the next month or two, just before the elections, but about the former—the man and his vision—allow me to add my humble voice to the many who spoke and wrote so appraisingly about him. To my sorrow, though he was one of the founders of the ‘Peace Now’ movement (and in a way, so was I), we never met. But that’s not exactly true, since I’d met him so often through his essays and books. One of which I’ve found in my library, in a section reserved—one shelf for fiction, one shelf for non-fiction—for the best works I ever read.

I reread ‘In the Land of Israel’ in his honor. And though his fiction was always more to my liking—The New Yorker just published his beautiful short story, “All Rivers,” from which you can learn so much about the man and his origins—I found plenty to admire, and to fear, in this book from 1982. In it, Amos Oz chronicled his interviews with everyday Israelis, which he had conducted throughout the land, and the occupied land, allowing them to speak their mind freely. It was first published in the Israeli morning paper ‘Davar,’ and later collected into this book.

He took a journey while writing it, becoming “a tourist in his own country in order to explore and record the cauldron of emotions, fears and prejudices” of Israelis. As he writes in his ‘Author’s notes:’ “Every place is an entire world and every man is a world in himself, and I reached only a few places and a few people, and even then I was able to see and to hear only a little of so much.”

In line with his words, I’ve chosen to highlight only two people who spoke to him, from two different “worlds,” though they lived so close to each other. The first person (he names no names, generally, in this book), it that of a resident of the development town of Bet Shemesh, whom he met at a Café in the center square, together with some others, all of them Mizrachim: Immigrants from Arab countries and North African countries. What used to be referred to back then as the “Second Israel.” Among so many other things, he’d said this:

“When you were on top (he meant Ashkenazim, kibbutzniks, the “First Israel,” H.D.), you hid us in holes, in moshavim and in development towns, so the tourists wouldn’t see us; so we wouldn’t stain your image; so they’d think this was a white country. But that’s all over now, because now we’ve come out of our holes. You still haven’t figured out what hit you, have you?”

And still more: “You guys, your time is past. Even after Begin (the Prime Minister then, H.D.) you won’t make a comeback in another hundred years. We are sick of you and your squabbles. Yes to the Palestinian state or no to the Palestinian state… To give back or not to give back, peace in the Galilee or not… Anything goes.”

Two things strike me here: First, the force of the hurt and resentment that existed back then; second, the prophecy ingrained in his simple words. It may be that, as to the former, the equilibrium had changed, but if so, just a bit. What used to be the “First Israel” is now centered in Tel Aviv and around it, no more just Ashkenazim but liberals, secular Israelis of all backgrounds, who emphasize democracy first and Jewish second.

The “Second Israel” is now centered in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the settlements of the West Bank, and it’s not only Mizrachim there now, but everybody who put the emphasis on Jewish first and democracy second. Moreover: As the second quote indicates, the “Second Israel” is still in power. It is actually the “First Israel” now. And the hell with the rest. The occupation is not occupation; the West Bank is Judah and Samaria; the rule of law is our law; the hell with the rest of Israel.

Here’s then is the second quote, from a veteran member of Amos Oz’s kibbutz, Hulda: “Ask them—hand on your heart, as they said to you in Bet Shemesh—whether now, when the power is in Begin’s hands, and in theirs, they really think it pays to settle accounts with us like this, the night of the long knives. And ask them another thing as well, hand on your heart: Was everything we did in this country in 50 years, or 80 years, so bad? Was it all malicious? Everything we built here at such great sacrifice, everything we created out of nothing, including the mistakes we surely made? What would the Land of Israel look like without the Labor movement?”

There would be no Land of Israel, if you ask me. Certainly not the “Land of Israel” where Amos Oz walked and wrote. He left us very poor, I’d say that, teetering on the edge of an abyss.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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The Jewish Cultural World: Best of 2018

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Say it ain’t so, but here we go again: The end of one year and the beginning of another. And since I just finished watching the second season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” I thought to myself, why not say something abut this most ‘Jewishly,’ most successful of television shows. Even more so: Why don’t I give you a short, selective list of the best artistic, cultural outputs I read or watched this year.

A few words in advance, though: I chose six outstanding works to recommend to you from six different fields—most but not all—artistic fields. Some of them, may have been published, or screened first in an earlier year, but I read or watched it this year. And so, it would be a selective list, with the caveat that it was created by Jews, and was mostly about the Jewish world, even if not entirely. One last thing: I’m not going to give you links to the works I write about, or information where to buy or watch them. It’s very easy to find that out with a click or two online.

First on my list is the Book of the Year: ‘A Horse Walks into a Bar,’ by the Israeli author David Grossman, which last year had won the ‘International Man Booker Prize.’ Now, even though I used the word ‘best’ at the top, I don’t really like to use that word in regard to literary works. Though this short work of fiction with its unique title, is indeed unique. And entertaining and innovative as hell. It takes place in only one night, in only one bar in the Israeli city of Netanya, and centered on a down-on-his-luck ‘standup comic,’ who is so painfully bad, just as he’s sometimes brilliantly mesmerizing. Through his comic routine, his endless stream of words—with a special invited childhood friend present there—and his tormenting flashbacks, we not only learn so much about his sad life—he actually swears he’s going to kill himself at the end of the night—but about human nature, our own childhood, and a no-holds-barred observations on the political situation in Israel. Truly a small masterpiece.

Second on my list is the Film of the Year: ‘The Angel,” directed by Arial Vromen. This film is an Israeli-American production, a spy-thriller-drama, based on the book ‘The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel,’ written by Uri bar-Joseph. It tells the true story of Ashraf Marwan (played wonderfully by Marwan Kenzari), who was the son-in-law of Gamal Nasser, the Egyptian president during the Six-Day War, and later became an assistant to Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, as well as a double-agent, working for the Israeli Mossad. This being a thriller, and a limited space here besides, I won’t go into the plot in details. What was so fascinating, and portrayed so masterfully by the star actor, was how this young man—who if to believe the story, and I tend to believe it—had saved Israel from even worse disaster in the Yom Kippur War. And all because, with great personal costs, he really was, well—believe it or not—an idealist at heart, who desired peace for both nations.

Third on my list is the Documentary film of the Year: ‘Forever Pure,’ directed by the Israeli filmmaker Maya Zinstein, which had won an Emmy in the ‘Outstanding Politics’ documentary category. The film centers on the ‘Beitar Jerusalem’ Football Club; the most popular, ardent, and controversial soccer team in Israel, long associated with the rightwing Likud political party. It was the only club in the Israeli Premier League without an Arab/Muslim player at the time. Its core fans are zealots, fanatics, and core supporters of both PM Netanyahu and President Rivlin; whom they carried—literally so—to power on their shoulders. And so, when the Russian owner of the club hired two players of muslin origin from Chechnya, all hell broke loose. So much so that their season, the team, the owner all collapsed. But the fans, with their ‘pure’ hatred of all Arabs—their favorite chant is: “Death to the Arabs!”—had won the day. If one want to understand the raw emotions fermenting the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, making it unsolvable, you’d do no better than watch this excellent film.

Fourth on my list is the TV Show of the Year: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” created by Amy Sherman-Palladino. As I mentioned above, I just finished watching its second season. And even though the quality is somewhat inferior comparing to the first season, it’s still ‘marvelous.” And so very Jewish, taking place in Manhattan in the late 1950s, and centered on Miriam “Midge” Maisel—Rachel Brosnahan, beautiful and fantastic—and her transformation from an Upper West Side housewife to a standup comedian (yes, a standup comedian again.) It had swept, well deserved, all the Emmys last year in all the major categories. I say this, even if dramatically, story-wise, the second season is somewhat lacking, the sheer beauty of it, the life of these two Jewish families, the entertainment business back then, with sometimes laugh-out funny Jewish humor is so charming that it’s simply hard to take your eyes off it.

Fifth on my list is Song of the Year: “Don’t Lie to Me,” by Barbara Streisand. Now, while I was never a particular big fan of her singing, acting and directing; and while this song, on her new album, is not a song for the ages; there’s something about its raw emotions, its timeliness, even its naiveté that is so very moving. She sings “You can build towers of bronze and gold. You can make castles in the sky. You can use smoke and mirrors and old clichés … don’t lie to me.” In the chorus, she brings it home: “How do you sleep when the world keeps turning? All that we built has come undone / How do you sleep when the world is burning?” It gives you chills when she blurts: “don’t lie to me!” Obviously, the appeal is for President Trump. Who of course, will never stop lying.

Sixth on my list is the Op-Ed piece of the Year: “Anti-Zionism Isn’t the Same as Anti-Semitism,” by Michelle Goldberg in the NY Times. I chose this piece, out of the many great articles and opinions I’ve read this year for the fact that it deals with the always important topic, acutely lately, of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and the chorus of lies it generates in the Jewish world and in Israel. And Michelle Goldberg deals with it with the precision of a brain surgeon, and with the bravery of a soldier going to a battle he believes in. Because the crowded forces on the Jewish right, marched on by AIPAC, are stuck against her. “Indeed, it’s increasingly absurd to treat the Israeli state as a stand-in for Jews writ large,” she writes, “given the way the current Israeli government has aligned itself with far-right European movements that have anti-Semitic roots.”
Amen to that, and to the many other artists, writers, journalists and bloggers, who stand—in America, in Israel, and the world at large—against the tyranny of criminal leader trying to become dictators.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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