Sunday, November 6, 2011

What I've Been Reading to Educate Myself about Israel

For the past two days I have engaged in the sin of gluttony. Namely, video gluttony. Comcast hasn't made Season Four of "Mad Men" available on their On Demand series yet, and we missed it when we were living in the Southwest. But last week, my stepmother gave me the brilliant idea of checking out the Season Four DVD set of "Mad Men" from my local library.

I have struggled with "Mad Men Deprivation Syndrome" for many months. This syndrome manifests itself in vague yearnings to smoke cigarettes at work, tease my hair,  and wear a nosecone-shaped bra--er, "foundation garment"-- under a twinset with pearls. Ironically, I was reminded a few months ago of the actual technique of hair teasing by watching an HBO special on Gloria Steinem!

Anyway, back to "Mad Men." The DVD set arrived at the library early last week, and we picked it up. After putting up a weak pretense of self-control, our willpower faded into nothing. Following services on Friday night, we spent all of Shabbat watching the entire thirteen episodes of Season Four. We are looking forward to watching the special features later this week, including "Don Draper's 10- Point Blueprint for Success." Oh, Don Draper, you dashing anti-hero! Given that my father-in-law (of blessed memory) worked in the garment industry in New York during the Fifties and Sixties, Elul has found "Mad Men" to be particularly fascinating.

Reading books about Israel may not be quite as titillating as watching "Mad Men," but they too can be extremely entertaining as well as informative. There are literally thousands upon thousands of books about Judaism--how to be a better Jew, how people came to be Jews, what does it mean to be a Jew, who is or is not a Jew, and so on. But I had a very specific interest in learning about modern Israel, and by modern, I mean from the run up to statehood in 1948 until today.

I have always enjoyed reading history in a sociological context. Rather than memorizing dates and players in battles (boring!), I was always interested in what factors brought people to the battlefield in the first place. When teaching American history to teenagers, I developed a particular interest in the American Revolution when I took a closer look at the complexity and remarkable nature of how America came to be a republic. So when I reflected on the establishment of the State of Israel, I realized that because of Israel's young age (in terms of formal statehood), it was as if the Israeli equivalent of John Quincy Adams were alive today. The descendants of these amazing people--David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, for example--were not only still around, but they were writing books, giving television interviews, and showing up on YouTube. You can even get footage of Golda Meir herself talking to Barbra Streisand on YouTube! How cool is that?

My baby-steps self-education in Israeli history were not--by definition--guided by a college reading list. I have skimmed some early works on Zionism, and frankly, I have found some of David Ben-Gurion's writings a bit stiff and heavy going. But I have also found some highly readable and very entertaining books that I can sincerely recommend. Some are historical fiction, some are actual accounts, and one "autobiography" was actually ghost-written by a friend of the author!

So here are some highlights of what you might find interesting to read. Of course, you can get them on (I've added a handy widget on the side of this blog for this purpose, so you can research the book without leaving the blog), but don't forget to support your local public library, either!

"My Life," by Golda Meir. A fascinating and highly readable account of Meir's early life in Pinsk, Russia, to her youth in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and her amazing journey to Palestine, all the way to the birth of the State of Israel and beyond. (This is the one that was ghostwritten, and it does leave out the stories of her various affairs with powerful men along the way, but it's still a great read!)

"Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation," by Ruth Gruber. The only foreign correspondent given permission to cover the conditions in the Displaced Persons camps following the end of WWII, Gruber documents the true story of one of the "illegal immigrant" ships filled with Jews trying to get to Palestine after the war. A shocking, but ultimately very inspiring, true story of hope, courage, and incredible determination.

"Raquela: A Woman of Israel," also by Ruth Gruber. Biography of a ninth-generation Jerusalemite woman named Raquela, born in the 1920's and lived and worked as a midwifery nurse for Hadassah, in the DP camps in Athlit and Cyprus, and later in the Israeli Defense Force. Her encounter with Henrietta Szold (one of the original honchos of Hadassah) at the end of Szold's life is poignant.

"Rescue: The Exodus of the Ethiopian Jews," yet again by Ruth Gruber. I didn't know that the Ethiopian Jews who came to Israel primarily got there because of a secret Mossad airlift operation, did you? Fascinating stuff! I have a particular interest in this group of people because there are a large number of Ethiopian Jews who live in Nahariya.

"The Hope," by Herman Wouk. Skillful weaving of fact and fiction that uses men and women in the Haganah and, later, IDF, to interact with the giants of David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir from the establishment of the Israeli state to the Yom Kippur War. I have Wouk's sequel, "The Glory," waiting for pickup at my local library!

Finally, everyone raves about any Daniel Silva book that features the "retired" Mossad operative/art restorer Gabriel Allon in it. Based on our temple librarian's recommendation, I checked it out and have just started it. So far, I can say that this spy is one cool cucumber!

What about you? Any suggestions for further reading, while I'm still here and can't read Hebrew very well yet? I can already tell by the comments that I'm attracting an audience of pretty smart cookies!

Shavua tov, chaverim! (A good week to you, friends!)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for reading my blog. I am interested in your comments, but I will delete anything that is either spam or just plain nasty. Please do not use the comments forum as a political or religious soapbox--there are SO many other online forums for those kinds of tedious arguments!