Ellis Shuman Reads

I read a lot and write reviews of the books that I read so that you can enjoy them as well.

When an Israeli Author Leaps into the Unknown

— feeling big smile

Last week I signed a contract with an American-based literary agent. My new book, a suspense novel set in both Israel and Bulgaria, is on submission.

I describe myself as an American-born, Israeli author who writes about Bulgaria. My first novel, the self-published Valley of Thracians, was set entirely in Bulgaria. InThe Burgas Affair, the action takes place in two countries I love - Israel and Bulgaria.

You probably have guessed why I write about, and love Israel. I was born in Sioux City, Iowa, and made aliyah with my family at the age of fifteen. I finished high school in Jerusalem, served for three years in the Israel Defense Forces, was a founding member of Kibbutz Yahel in the Arava Valley. I married Jodie, who had moved to Israel from Ithaca, New York, and together we began raising a family. We eventually moved to Moshav Neve Ilan, outside Jerusalem, where we continue to live today.

But why Bulgaria?

My wife and I received an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we made the most of it. My position at a Ramat Gan-based marketing company was relocated to Sofia, Bulgaria, on a two-year contract. My company markets online gaming websites and software – only in countries where it is legal to play these games. Our primary market is Europe, and therefore certain management positions needed to be physically located in Europe.

We immediately fell in love with Bulgaria. The food was different and very tasty. The culture was fascinating. The history, both the ancient glory of the Thracians that led me to mention them in my novel, and the more modern dark years of Bulgaria's communist regime – it was captivating. We traveled all over the country, from the Black Sea shores to the mountain villages. We made many Bulgarian friends. I could talk to you about Bulgaria for hours.

The one thing I must mention is the special role Bulgarians played in rescuing their Jewish citizens during World War Two. Although Bulgaria sided with the Nazis, its entire community of some 55,000 Jews survived the Holocaust. Because of the bravery of Bulgarian politicians, clergymen, and ordinary citizens, Bulgarian Jews survived. Unfortunately, this amazing story has a sad element – over 11,000 Jews from the Bulgarian-controlled territories of Macedonia and northern Greece were sent to the camps and died.

Most of Bulgaria's Jewish community made aliyah shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel. There is a small, active Jewish community in Sofia. The synagogue there is an amazing building. Bulgaria is a strong supporter and ally of Israel. Living there, we felt very comfortable and never hid the fact that we were Israelis or that we were Jews.

We visited Bulgaria this month. Our trip to Sofia was like going home. We saw our friends. I spoke a bit of broken Bulgarian that the locals understood – they appreciated my efforts to speak their language. And we drove into the Rhodopi Mountains, a beautiful area near the Greek border that I will be writing about for months to come.

I am not a travel guide – I am a writer. I love to write about Bulgaria in efforts to convince western tourists to visit that country. Bulgaria is stunning, different, and totally affordable. I wish I could show you the country personally. I love Bulgaria!

Coming back to Israel from our two years abroad, I became inspired to write, and in particular, I wanted to write about Bulgaria. But, I also love to write about Israel, the Jewish holidays, and I review books written by Israeli authors, especially those just translated into English for the first time.

I can proudly say that The Times of Israel became my first home for articles, book reviews, and even humorous pieces. My debut blog appeared on these virtual pages on July 12, 2012. This is my 77th article to be published at The Times of Israel.

I now write for the Huffington Post, the Jerusalem Post, the Oslo Times, and a number of other online media sites.

If you want to know more about my upcoming novel, or the identity of the agent who will help me find a home for that book, you can read the short announcement here on my personal blog. This article is not about that, and it's not an attempt to get you to buy my first book. (Although I won't complain if you do.)

This article is about the sky. This article is about how far someone who studied English in a Jerusalem school, and who served in the IDF, and who raised three young children on a very young kibbutz, and who continued to dream and dream for years and years – how far that person can go with his writing.

The sky's the limit.

Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il

Why I Write about Bulgaria

I was interviewed by Novinite.com - Sofia News Agency, the leading English language news source in all of Bulgaria.


No need for additional words. Read the interview, complete with beautiful pictures!

A Mossad Spy Thriller that's not a Mossad Spy Thriller


A Mossad Spy Thriller that's not a Mossad Spy Thriller

A blue-tinted Star of David features prominently on the cover, but although Eavesdrop by Ian Coates is described as a Mossad spy thriller, there is very little Mossad about it.

Instead, this is the story of James Winter, a former MI5 operative now chasing smugglers on the coast of England. After several of Winter's operations fail to produce results, he is accused of collaborating with a smuggling ring. With his wife hospitalized for cancer treatments, Winter finds it difficult to clear his name. Assuming that the smugglers have bugged communication devices, Winter teams up with Lynne Douglas, an executive at the firm which produced the radios.

Heading to Finland, where the second half of this novel takes place, Winter and Douglas discover a plan by terrorists to attack delegates at Israeli-Syrian peace talks. The Syrians have a hit team afoot in Helsinki, and there appears more to their plan than what initially meets the eye. The novel's lone Mossad agent, once assumed to be a bad guy, is killed, leaving only Winter to alert authorities and stop a major assassination.

An overwhelming amount of snow covers the ground, making the protagonist's surname quite appropriate for his wintry adventures. Miraculously, Winter escapes a severe case of frostbite despite all of his escapades in sub-zero temperatures. Yet despite his heroic, but somewhat foolhardy efforts in the snow, we cannot help but sympathize with Winter’s struggles to vindicate himself while tending to his ailing wife. However, we totally fail to connect with Douglas, who is described as having a whiff of alcohol on her breath most of the book.

Particularly disturbing are the frequent derogatory references to the Mossad operative as "the Jew", but on the other hand, the story's bad guys are referred to repeatedly as "the Syrians".

Eavesdrop (Bad Day Books, the suspense and thriller imprint of Assent Publishing, December 2014), is a fast-paced page-turner. It is not a Mossad thriller, but rather a novel of suspense circling round a disgraced Customs officer who will stop at nothing to prove his innocence.

Author Ian Coates has extensive experience in the high tech electronics industry, where he specialized in the design of radio communication equipment. Named one of the winners in the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook centenary novel writing competition, his debut novel was written largely on planes and in airport lounges as well as in snatched moments before starting work each morning. Coates lives and writes in Buckinghamshire, England, with his wife and two daughters.

Buy Eavesdrop and read it now.
Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2015/03/a-mossad-spy-thriller-thats-not-mossad.html

Comparisons of New York and Tel Aviv

The short stories in New York 1, Tel Aviv 0 by Shelly Oria, are unconventional in structure and in the relationships they portray.


The first impression you get while reading this collection is that the format is different from what you're accustomed to seeing in fiction. Stories are fragmented into moments and episodes, marked in separation by numbers, calendar dates, or even by how many times the characters have kissed. Dialogue is included, but built into the paragraphs, without the familiar presence of quotation marks to guide you during the conversations. Yet, the pieces fit together into a cohesive whole, making the stories extremely readable despite their avant-garde construction.


Just like the unconventional structural format of the stories, the relationships of the characters are also a bit unusual. Same-sex marriages, threesomes, prostitutes, estranged fathers, the elderly, and couples who can stop time—offbeat individuals, yet recognizably human. "A new relationship is nobody's business," says the widow Yolanda in the story "None the Wiser". Such a relationship "needs the attention of the people who are in it, not the people around it." The reader is drawn into the intimate lives of the lonely, occasionally fragile people that appear on these pages.


I was attracted to this book by its title, which comes from the opening story about a threesome—two Israelis and an American—who live in New York. The Israelis have an ongoing competition, comparing Tel Aviv with their new home. When you come from a bar in Tel Aviv, "you head straight to the shower and turn the faucet all the way to red until the small room fills with steam" to wash away all traces of cigarette smoke. In New York City, in comparison, one is "indebted to the non-yellow walls, the guarantee of nicotine-free air once you walk into a room." The water may turn gray in New York when you wash your clothes, but the score is now New York 1, Tel Aviv 0.


Although the majority of stories in this collection are set in America, traces of Israel can be found in many places. "I'm Israeli, aggressive by nature," announces a photographer in the story "Phonetic Masterpieces of Absurdity". Her name is Mia, formed by the initials, in Hebrew, of the Yom Kippur War in which her father was killed during her mother's pregnancy.

In the story, "This Way I Don't Have to Be", an Israeli working as a grief counselor in New York makes frequent trips home. "Every visit takes a few weeks to shake off, and this one isn't any different; skipping back and forth between my two worlds feels like some maniac kid keeps pushing Reset on a computer that controls my behavior," she thinks. Coming back from Tel Aviv, where free grief counseling "guarantees long lines of eager Israelis," she finds herself "more aggressive, more impatient" with her clients.


The grief counselor again compares New York with her former home. "There is rage and rudeness in Israel, but they move about confidently, knowing nothing is ever going to change," she thinks. "In New York, people run and run and run, because change is absolutely possible, if only they run fast enough to catch it."


Possibly my favorite story in the book is also one of its shortest. "When the sun comes down on Tel Aviv, it comes down hard," is the opening of "Tzfirah", the name of "the siren that reminds people to remember." In just three pages the unnamed protagonist manages to explain a unique, Israeli experience. "This is how a nation achieves collective remembrance: it freezes to the sound of a wailing siren for the duration of one minute, or two." Turning on the radio, "you hear nothing but the soundtrack of grief."

This experience is unlike anything in America. Perhaps with the inclusion of this short, short story, the score has changed and can be recalculated to: Tel Aviv 1, New York 1.


New York 1, Tel Aviv 0 by Shelly Oria was published by FSG Originals (November 2014). The author was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Israel. Her fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, McSweeney's, fivechapters, and Quarterly West. She has won a number of awards, including the Indiana Review Fiction Prize. She curates the series Sweet! Actors Reading Writers in the East Village, has a private practice as a creativity coach, and teaches fiction at Pratt Institute, where she also co-directs the Writers' Forum.

Buy New York 1, Tel Aviv 0 and read it now!

Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2015/01/comparisons-of-new-york-and-tel-aviv.html

Not supposed to happen in America

Hezbollah and Mossad agents battle it out on the streets of America in Doha 12, a novel inspired by the 2010 assassination in Dubai of Hamas commander Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh.

This time, Hezbollah terrorist Masoud Talhami has been murdered in Doha, Qatar. Twelve people are suspected of involvement in the hit. Their identities are known, yet, the names appearing on their passports actually belong to innocent people. Now Hezbollah seeks revenge for what it assumes to be a Mossad operation.

"If these people let Mossad use their identities, they're part of the same gang," charges Fadi Alayan, leader of the Hezbollah hit team.

One by one, the innocent included among the Doha 12 fall victim to very strange, tragic accidents. Soon there are only a few Americans left. Jake Eldar is a bookstore manager in Brooklyn and Miriam Schaffer is employed as a legal secretary in Philadelphia. United when they realize their lives are endangered, Jake and Miriam can't convince the police that the plot against them is real.

In what develops into breathtaking cat and mouse pursuit, Mossad agents chase Hezbollah operatives across the American urban landscape. "Mossad isn't supposed to operate in America," notes one, but nobody is following the rules. Telling the FBI that "a Hezbollah direct-action team is going to start killing American citizens because we used their names" is "crazy" says another.

Doha 12 (Wombat Group, January 2013) by Lance Charnes is an action-packed thriller in which one exciting climax follows another. Firefights shoot up crowded train stations, cemeteries, and even Temple Emanu-El in New York City. Agents may wear bullet-proof vests, but no one can escape injury in a powerful battle in which it is difficult to determine which side is good and which is evil.

The Mossad leans "heavily on its sayanim, the civilians who helped it around the world," writes the author. "It was the only way an organization with a mere 1200 members could maintain a global reach." The Israelis portrayed in the book ring true; everyone has a personal tragedy in his or her past, a reason to avenge Hezbollah terror.

Lead characters Jake and Miriam, drawn together by absurd, violent circumstances, are "two people screwed by the system, first in Israel, now in their adopted home." They swiftly realize that the only way they can stay alive is by personally fighting back against impending terror. It's a bit of a stretch to see how the two transform themselves into badass "I can save the world" heroes, yet as readers, we certainly understand their motives. Will Jake and Miriam succeed in escaping Hezbollah's revenge, or will they be the last of the Doha 12 to lose their lives as the thriller reaches its explosive conclusion?

Lance Charnes has been an Air Force intelligence officer, information technology manager, computer-game artist, set designer, Jeopardy! contestant, and is now an emergency management specialist. He has training in architectural rendering, terrorist incident response and maritime archaeology, although not all at the same time. Doha 12 is his first novel.

Buy Doha 12 and read it now!

Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2014/12/not-supposed-to-happen-in-america.html

The Brave New World of The Circle

It's a bit embarrassing to admit, but every day I check how many new followers I have on Twitter; how many Likes my Facebook posts received; and how many pageviews were registered on my blog. I'm not obsessed with being successful on social media, but the more re-tweets, the better. For me, this is just part of my efforts to build my platform as an author.

But imagine, if you will, a world where increasing one's following is more important than anything else. And imagine that in that world, success is measured by the number of Likes, Comments, Tweets, and Favorites you have received. In such a world, all social platforms are combined under one roof. One roof, one circle.

This vision of an all-encompassing social media platform is the future depicted in the novelThe Circle by Dave Eggers (Knopf, October 2013).

The Circle is the ultimate Internet company. The Circle's platform is comprehensive, simple, addictive. All of your Internet activity takes place in one easy, safe, and visible place. The company behind The Circle is the ultimate place to work; its campus is bigger and offers more perks than Microsoft or Apple.

When Mae Holland, a recent college graduate, lands a job at The Circle, she thinks her future is secure. She starts out in Customer Experience (CE), the firm's customer service department. In her job handling client inquiries, receiving a positive rating for each problem solved is the ultimate goal. Handling as many service tickets as possible, is also essential. And interacting with one's colleagues, and with their social media presence, is just as important.

Mae swiftly climbs the company ladder, even as The Circle continues to develop new technologies, some of them far-fetched but not entirely inconceivable. SeeChange is a network of light, portable cameras that provide real-time video from everywhere, monitoring our lives in a Big Brother sort of way. Hang a SeeChange camera around your neck and everything you do is shared with everyone else.

The walls of privacy and individual freedom are easily broken. There are no secrets; your life is transparent. As Mae states, "Sharing is caring," and "Privacy is theft." We realize that the world controlled by The Circle, is quite a scary place to live. The utopia of The Circle's campus is deceptive and dangerous.

Intentionally simplistic in places and making huge assumptions about the lemming-like nature of human beings, The Circle comes across like a modern, wired on steroids version of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

Is this the direction we're heading, when we are judged for the amount of social interaction we conduct on the Internet? Will our online presence one day be more important than what we do in real life?

These are the questions raised in The Circle, a novel that makes you think about the possible consequences of the time we spend liking and tweeting. It is a fascinating read, one that signals a clear warning sign against the dangers of the brave new world that technology has delivered into our lives.

Dave Eggers is an American writer, editor, and publisher. His books include the best-selling memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and Zeitoun, the nonfiction account of a Syrian-American who rides out Hurricane Katarina in his New Orleans home.

Buy The Circle and read it now!

Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2014/12/the-brave-new-world-of-circle.html

Touring the Dark Side of Tel Aviv

The short story collection Tel Aviv Noir, edited by Etgar Keret and Assaf Gavron, takes readers on a tour through the city's seedy neighborhoods.

A former police officer escorts visitors to the riverbank where a murdered girl was found in a suitcase; the building where an infamous rapist was caught; and a strip club where a former cop regularly performs in the nude. In "The Tour Guide", a short story by Yoav Katz, the bourgeois Israelis eager to see the grimier side of Tel Aviv are people with full-time jobs, children, and a bit of free time. They are looking for thrills and are willing to be shocked that such crimes take place in Israel. "Fear and sanctimoniousness are a profitable combination"; the tours attract large crowds.

Readers of Tel Aviv Noir, Akashic Books (September, 2014) will feel that they have joined one of these tours. The short stories included in this anthology explore prostitution, drugs, alcohol abuse, gambling, and murder. Like the rest of the series launched in 2004 with Brooklyn Noir, each of the stories here is set in a distinct Tel Aviv neighborhood. A map is provided at the beginning, showing Florentin, Rothschild Boulevard, Neve Sha'anan, Dizengoff Center, and the other locations where the stories take place.

The collection opens with "Sleeping Mask" by Gadi Taub, author of the novel Allenby Street, which was made into a popular Israeli television show. At age 49, Taub is the oldest of the 14 authors who contributed an original story specifically for the book. "Sleeping Mask" tells of a woman who descends into prostitution to pay off her father's gambling debts, and of the older man who falls in love with her.

While most of the book's 14 stories were originally written in Hebrew , one of the exceptions is "Swirl", by Norwegian journalist Silje Bekeng. This story, written from the perspective of a foreign diplomat's wife, tells of the ex-pat life in a luxury apartment on Rothschild at a time when social protesters have set up camp on the boulevard below. Paranoia of someone spying on the woman's life and fruit bats flying through the summer skies make this tale exceptionally enjoyable.

Tel Aviv Noir was edited by two of Israel's most well-known literary voices. Etgar Keret, author of five story collections; three children's books; and three graphic novels; contributed "Allergies", about a couple who adopt a dog and ends up doing increasingly strange things to take care of the pet. Assaf Gavron, author of the recently published novel The Hilltop, wrote the concluding story - "Center", about a murder at a high tech start-up with offices at Dizengoff Center, and the amateur detectives who are hired to solve the crime. The goal of the anthology, according to its editors, was to introduce a younger generation of Israeli writers to English-speaking audiences.

“In spite of its outwardly warm and polite exterior, Tel Aviv has quite a bit to hide," Keret says in the introduction to the book.  Keret assures readers that "Tel Aviv is a lovely, safe city. Most of the time, for most of its inhabitants. But the stories in this collection describe what happens the rest of the time, to the rest of its inhabitants."

Noir fiction can be defined as literature dealing with victims, suspects and perpetrators. Gavron says the stories of this book are not classic noir, but rather detail a dark element in the city. "I think Tel Aviv deserves its status as an interesting city, with culture and literature and with noir as well as everywhere in the world," he said in an interview with the Jewish Book Council.

Tel Aviv Noir reveals a side of the city that most residents and visitors never see. Readers interested in exploring the dark side of Tel Aviv will be fascinated by these short pieces of noir literature.

Buy Tel Aviv Noir and read it now!

Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2014/11/touring-dark-side-of-tel-aviv.html

Life in the Wild, Wild, West Bank

Life in the Wild, Wild, West Bank

In Assaf Gavron's novel The Hilltop, an illegal settlement in the West Bank is home to Jewish settlers safe from the threat of evacuation thanks to a "hodgepodge of laws and conflicting authorities."

The settlement is called Maale Hermesh C, an extension of Maale Hermesh A and Maale Hermesh B which doesn't appear on official maps. Considered by the government to be illegal, and a thorn in Israel's relations with the United States, the outpost has so far escaped evacuation because the required resources in the defense establishment are occupied elsewhere.

This hilltop outpost has attracted a handful of colorful, very believable characters. Bearded veteran Othniel Assis has established a vegetable farm that may, or may not be situated on privately owned Palestinian land. Gavriel Nehustan and Roni Kupper, orphaned brothers who grew up on a kibbutz, have arrived at the outpost for completely different reasons - one has experienced a religious awakening and the other has become penniless after pursuing a career in Tel Aviv nightlife and New York finance. There are women settlers as well, including right-wing patriot Neta Hirschson and Russian-born math teacher Jenia Freud.

The outpost's residents raise families, celebrate the Jewish holidays, bring baked goods to the Israeli soldiers who guard their homes, remodel part of their kindergarten to be used as a synagogue, fall in love, and protest the occasional visit of Israeli politicians. In short, they live normal lives in what can be best described as an absurd, off-the-map place to live.

This kind of life doesn't appeal to everyone; some families arrive only to end up searching for more established communities in the heart of Israel. Others consider themselves pioneers, yet even they occasionally voice longings for the necessities of life which have not made their way to their hilltop home. "Give me a grocery store," laments one resident. "Give me a bus into town.  Give me a kindergarten and a preschool and a school." The lack of air conditioners and hot water, and even electricity when the outpost's generator breaks down, are challenges faced on a daily basis.

Located near Maale Hermesh C is the Palestinian village of Kharmish. When the Israeli government moves to build the security fence between the two communities, an act that will encroach on both the outpost and the Palestinians' olive tree orchards, settlers and their Palestinian neighbors find themselves jointly protesting the IDF bulldozers, the strangest of bedfellows in a very strange, surreal reality.

There are no easy outcomes in this novel, but such is the reality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Incidents described in the book could easily be sprouting from today's newspaper headlines; the advantage of reading about them in a work of fiction is that the talented author can include Biblical rhythms, satire, humor, compassion, and even wisdom in the descriptions of those involved - settlers, soldiers, and Palestinians alike.

The Hilltop
is a fascinating read, a balanced portrayal of an often despised group of Israelis. Gavron, one of Israel's leading literary talents, successfully humanizes a charged, political situation, giving voice to all sides without polemics or bias. The story with all of its facets and subplots, is truly enjoyable, making one wonder what will happen next in the wild, wild West Bank after the novel ends.

The Hilltop
(Scribner, October 2014) has been described by Time Out Tel Aviv as "the great Israeli novel". Published now in English with a seamless, expert translation by Steven Cohen, the book has been praised by a star-studded list of literary talents including Khaled Hosseini, Colum McCann, Reza Aslan, Etgar Keret, and Amos Oz.

Assaf Gavron, born in 1968, is the author of five novels, a collection of short stories, and a non-fiction collection of falafel joint reviews. The Hilltop was awarded the Bernstein Prize for original Hebrew language novel. Gavron is also a highly regarded English-to-Hebrew translato, as well as the singer and main songwriter of the cult pop group The Foot and the Mouth.

Buy The Hilltop and read it now.
Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2014/11/life-in-wild-wild-west-bank.html

Searching for Identity Elsewhere

In his novel, Elsewhere, Israeli-Austrian writer Doron Rabinovici raises questions of identity and belonging, Europe and Israel.

Ethan Rosen, an Israeli-born lecturer at the Vienna Institute for Social Research, returns to Israel to attend the funeral of a long-time family friend, but declines an offer to write the friend's obituary. But when an obituary appears, written by Rudi Klausinger, a colleague up for the same professorship position at a prestigious Viennese university, Rosen is quick to compose an article disputing statements Klausinger included in the piece.

Except, the arguments to which Rosen objects are actually quotes from an article he had himself previously published. In essence, he engaged in a dispute with his own writing. And then a cassette arrives, stories and instructions from the dead friend relayed from beyond the grave. Rosen is called back to Israel once again when his father, an Auschwitz survivor, becomes ill, in desperate need for a kidney transplant. Klausinger shows up as well, in search for his biological father.

The revelation of long buried family secrets follows. Mixed in, almost to a humorous effect, is the strange arrival of Rabbi Yeshayahu Berkowitsch, a charismatic Hasid with a cult following who claims that the Rosens have the key to bringing the Messiah back to life. In the end, despite knowing the true nature of his family, Rosen discovers that "home can often be the place that feels most unfamiliar."

Elsewhere by Doron Rabinovici (Haus Publishing, August 2014), translated by Tess Lewis, is a compelling story, with believable characters and a twisting narrative that grabs the reader right from the first page. Although I wouldn't go so far, as did the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, to describe the book as being "as gripping as a crime novel and as hilarious as Woody Allen's best films," I did find it to be an enjoyable read.

Doron Rabinovici is an Israeli-Austrian writer, historian, and essayist. Born in Tel Aviv in 1961, he moved to Vienna at the age of three, where he still lives and works. Rabinovici has been active in efforts to combat anti-Semitism and extreme right politics in Austria. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Anton Wildgans Prize, the Jean Améry Prize, and the Clemens Brentano Prize.

Buy Elsewhere and read it now!

Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2014/10/searching-for-identity-elsewhere.html

The Radicalism That Threatens Israel

War on Women in IsraelIn The War on Women in Israel, Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman asks why Israel's government has constantly sided with an extreme version of Judaism.

An outsider reading this extensively researched review of the way women are treated in the modern Jewish State might think that the author was describing Alabama of the 1950s. With women segregated to the back of certain public bus lines; prevented from singing in the Knesset and banned from some official ceremonies; and forbidden to pray according to their beliefs at Judaism's holiest site; it would seem that Israeli society is suffering from a severe case of gender discrimination.

"The cold, hard reality facing woman in Israel today is that while Israel has made certain strides for women's rights, it has not achieved the mission for which it was created. It is not equal for all, regardless of gender," Sztokman says. But what is more alarming, in her opinion, is that "there is a growing faction of Israelis who are threatening not only equal rights for women, but also their fundamental freedoms and their presence in society."

What follows is a report from the battlefield, detailing the war against women in the Israeli army, on the buses, in the courts, and on the streets of the country. The combatants on one side of the conflict are, initially, religious feminists. Their enemy is not just the ultra-Orthodox extremists who abuse them verbally and physically; the problem, the author states, is much greater.  Sztokman's book sets out to tell how these feminists, and their allies, are "protecting the world from the spread of religious extremism."

The War on Women in Israel (Sourcebooks, September 2014), has a lot of ground to cover in its war reporting, and Sztokman lives up to the task. Her exhaustive study is based on extensive interviews and original research, quoting a wide range of activists, scholars, rabbis, and political leaders. Court cases and decisions are faithfully reported; footnotes and media sources are meticulously listed.

Israel's gender discrimination, according to the author, is due to "a system in which ultra-Orthodox groups are given free rein in politics and education, receive enormous public budgets for their institutions regardless of what is taught in them. The message is clear," the author says, "ultra-Orthodox groups have disproportionate power over Israeli society."

Sztokman is quick to lay the blame on successive secular governments that have gone too far in their acceptance of radical Haredi demands, demands not based at all on Halacha. "The story of these rising tensions between religion and gender in Israel has more to do with money and power than with God," she states.

There is hope, though, as the book correctly points out. This is when Orthodox women partner with secular feminist activists and proponents of religious pluralism. “The war on women in Israel is a war on women – and men – everywhere,” Sztokman stresses.

People everywhere should care about who wins this war, she argues, "because the whole world is threatened by religious extremism, and it will jeopardize our own freedoms too if we allow it to continue unchecked."

Headlines about cases of gender discrimination continue to appear in the Israeli media on a daily basis – the war is ongoing. Along with all the facts reported in this thorough study, Sztokman’s single-minded dedication to fight back against gender-based injustices in Israeli society is a battle cry, calling on citizens everywhere to demand that their leaders refuse to give in to religious extremism.

Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman is the former Executive Director of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, and a leading author and activist on the issue of religious feminism in Jewish life. Her first book The Men's Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World, won the 2012 National Jewish Book Council Award for Women's Studies. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, and a graduate of the Yeshiva of Flatbush, Sztokman moved to Israel in 1993 and today lives in Modi'in, Israel with her family.

Buy The War on Women in Israel and read it now!

Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2014/10/the-radicalism-that-threatens-israel.html

Israel is a mistake (not)

Eight years after suggesting that Israel was an "honest" mistake, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen's follow-up book shows that his love for Israel prevails.

Israel "is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable," Cohen wrote in a July, 2006, column. "The idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now."

Stating that there was no point in condemning the fetid anti-Semites of Hamas and Hezbollah, Cohen suggested that Israel "pull back to defensible -- but hardly impervious -- borders. That includes getting out of most of the West Bank -- and waiting (and hoping) that history will get distracted and move on to something else."

Referring to that article repeatedly in his new book, Israel: Is It Good for the Jews? (Simon & Schuster, September 2014), Cohen explains that "the word 'mistake' was itself a mistake." The mistake, he simplifies, was the "belief that somehow the Arab Middle East would politely make way for European Jews."

How Israel went wrong

Cohen plunged into writing his book as a result of that article. He vowed to "tell the story of where Israel went wrong and how Israel went wrong." Yet, as one reads his intensely researched anecdotal essays on Jewish history, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust, one can't help but conclude that Cohen is arguing that Israel is a mistake that had to be made.

"Israel is the product of history's most murderous century," he writes. "As a nation, Israel is a battered child. It is therefore difficult to reproach Israelis for their occasional cruelty, for their wavering resolve to expel the Arabs from their land, for their determination to prevail no matter what."

Looking back at the tumultuous events of 1948, Cohen assigns blame to others as well. "Had the Palestinians and the nearby Arab states agreed to the United Nations partition plan, had they acceded to the creation of the State of Israel, the predicate for the nakba would have been avoided."

Considering the options at the time, Cohen says that Israel's birth "was midwife by the immense moral imperative to compensate, to express contrition and guilt and horror and shame at what had just been done to the Jews [in the Holocaust]."

Many nations had acted to solve problems of mixed populations at their birth, but not Israel, he writes. Israel's "refusal to engage in population transfer or ethnic cleansing so that Israel would be as free of Arabs as Hungary is of Romanians or Turkey is of Greeks has left Israel in mortal peril. It was a mistake."

As he grew up, Cohen believed in the Israel "that was not only a miracle, but a miracle that performed miracles." But years later, Israel's moral imperative had been "both forgotten and soiled." In Cohen's eyes, the soiled part, Israel's fault, was its occupation of the West Bank.

"The mistake of my long-ago column is becoming more and more apparent," Cohen says. "Israel has lost the sympathy of the West. It behaves like an abused dog: hit so many times that it bites for almost no reason at all."

The author's personal love for Israel

Yet, despite his repeated arguments, which fail to offer ways to correct this so-called 'mistake', Cohen can't help but express his own personal love for Israel, and for the Jewish People. "I love my own people," he stresses. His book is highly personal, detailing family roots in anti-Semitic Europe, a visit to the Polish town where his mother once lived, and experiences in Cairo, Beirut, and with his family, when he stood prepared, as a Jew, to defend his children from brutal terrorists.

"In writing this book, I fell in love - with Israel, yes, but mostly with Jews," Cohen concludes. Looking into the future, he is not entirely optimistic. He envisions Israel as a refuge for the "ultraorthodox, living in their own neighborhoods, keeping mostly to themselves - Judaism trapped in a time capsule."

"Does it matter if Israel survives?" Cohen asks. "In one sense, the answer is no. Jews survived and occasionally thrived in the Diaspora. They are a Diaspora people, at home without a home.

"But in another sense, the answer is yes. It is the Middle East's only democracy. It is the creation of other democracies. It represents the best of Western civilization - not its perfection, but it has handled itself pretty well under great stress," he says.

Concluding the collection of essays and personal anecdotes, Cohen states that Israel "is a nation much like any other nation. It sins. It is sometimes wrong. It was conceived in arrogant disregard of the indigenous people… It did nothing that other nations have not done, and yet their right to exist is not challenged. Israel is not evil. It is merely human."

A nation much like any other nation, one cannot help but conclude that Israel has held up pretty well despite the 'mistake' of its birth in a very cruel, inhospitable Middle Eastern neighborhood.

Buy Israel: Is It Good for the Jews? and read it now!


Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2014/09/israel-is-mistake-not.html

From Bulgaria to the Promised Land, Brazil

Escaping from internment in a Bulgarian labor camp during World War Two, a Jewish man makes a better life for his family in the Amazon.

One of the earliest memories that Licco Hazan retains from his childhood is the assassination attempt on Bulgarian ruler Tsar Boris III, a bombing which destroyed the Sveta Nedelya Cathedral in downtown Sofia in 1925. Licco, a member of a proud Jewish family, traced his origins to Toledo in Spain, five hundred years earlier. His grandfather was the cantor at the Sofia Synagogue, a profession which gave the family their name. Life was not easy for the Hazans at the beginning of the 20th century, nor was it an easy time for Bulgaria. Things would get much harder.

In 1941, Bulgaria joined the Axis and officially entered World War II. Under pressure from Germany, the fascists who took control of Bulgaria planned to deport the country's Jews to the concentration camps in Poland. Bulgarian citizens and clergy rose up in protest,thwarting these plans. Still, Licco Hazan and his brother were rounded up and interned in a labor camp, where they were given back-breaking tasks.

In the novel As Flowers Go by Ilko Minev, Licco escapes from the camp with help from quite an unusual source.  Albert Göring, brother of Luftwaffe commander and leading Nazi Party member Hermann Göring, was a businessman notable for helping Jews and dissidents survive in Germany.  Göring arranges transport to Istanbul, and it is during this journey that Licco meets Berta Michael, a young girl who would become his wife.

Licco first considers going to Palestine, where there was already a sizeable Bulgarian refugee population, but the British were restricting immigration to the country. Instead, learning that Brazil was expediting visas for engineers and other technicians, Licco and Berta decide to travel there.

What follows is the Hazans' introduction to the colorful nation of Brazil. Upon arrival in hot and muggy Belém, they naturally head to the Shaar Hashomayim synagogue, where their knowledge of Ladino helps to make friends among members of the community. It is there that Licco learns of the contribution of Moroccan Jews to the Amazon's development. The instability of life back in Morocco led them to consider Brazil as a new Promised Land.

Brazil was built upon "the principle of a free and unsuppressed miscegenation, the complete equalization of black and white, brown and yellow people". Licco and Berta choose to be part of this "colorful chaos", and they joined the "streams of humanity [who] desperately sought to better their lives in the promising Amazon."

Reading almost like a memoir, As Flowers Go is a family drama which blends true facts with a bit of fiction. The saga of Brazilian author Minev's own family was the inspiration behind the story. Originally written in Portuguese, and recently published in Bulgaria, As Flowers Go will soon be available in English as well, translated expertly by Diane Grosklaus Whitty.


Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2014/09/from-bulgaria-to-promised-land-brazil.html

Bringing Gilad Shalit home

The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas - Gershon Baskin

The Negotiator by Gershon Baskin offers a behind the scenes look at the negotiations that brought Israel's soldier home from Hamas captivity.

On June 25, 2006, Palestinian terrorists made their way through a tunnel from the Gaza Strip and attacked an IDF post near the border. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and another two were wounded; two of the Palestinians were also killed. Gilad Shalit*, lightly injured in the attack, was dragged back into Gaza through the tunnel.

This scenario sounds eerily familiar, after the recent attempts by Hamas terrorists to penetrate into Israel and strike at army posts and kibbutzim, actions which led to the loss of several Israeli lives. During Operation Protective Edge, it was believed Hamas was striving to achieve a "quality" attack, in which they could kidnap Israeli soldiers for use as future bargaining chips.

When Gilad was captured, Dr. Gershon Baskin, founder of an Israeli-Palestinian think tank and veteran of peace process talks, immediately launched informal talks with Hamas officials. In particular, Baskin communicated with Ghazi Hamad - initially the spokesperson for the Hamas government and its prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh. With Israel and Hamas refusing to openly negotiate with each other, the two believed that they could help compose the principles that would lead to a prisoner exchange between the sides.

The success of this secret back channel, Baskin explains, was due to "the trust that had developed between Ghazi Hamad and myself, based on hundreds of hours of communications focused on the prisoner exchange."

The Negotiator (The Toby Press, November 2013) relates the story of the informal communications between Baskin and his Palestinian counterpart, as well as with others involved in efforts to bring Gilad Shalit home. Lacking an official appointment and the ability to deal with Hamad on a face to face basis, Baskin's efforts are detailed as an account of "emails, text messages, faxes, and notes during five years of continuous activity."

Bring Gilad Shalit home

Gilad's captivity touched an entire nation. With an encampment of family members and supporters outside the prime minister's Jerusalem residence, and yellow ribbons tied to car antennas, there was "no doubt that the hearts and minds of every Israeli family were with the Shalits."

The framework of the deal that would even eventually bring Gilad home was already known a few months after his capture. "Why Gilad Shalit had to spend nearly five more years in captivity, not to mention the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners who got their freedom in exchange, is a troublesome question that only Hamas and the Israeli leadership can answer in full," Baskin states.

Baskin blames both Israel and Hamas for the stalemate that delayed the exchange, but it seems that most of the blame falls on Israel's leaders. "Israel's government ministers and security officials continued telling the public and the Shalit family that they were leaving no stone unturned to bring Gilad home. As I heard their statements, all I could think was: lies, lies, lies."

Yet, Baskin was pleasantly surprised by Prime Minister Netanyahu's willingness to cross his predecessor's 'red lines' and make the deal, one that was acceptable for Israel's security as judged at the time.

"Very few people know of your role and contribution to advancing the deal," Netanyahu wrote Baskin, in a short note after Gilad's release. "In the name of the government of Israel, and in my name, I thank you for the time and effort you devoted to this important cause."

Baskin's tale, as described in the text messages and emails included in The Negotiator, is one "full of hope and intrigue, of passionate dedication to a mission, and of the naïve, wildly optimistic belief that one citizen can make a difference."

Gershon Baskin, Ph.D., is the Israeli Co-Director and founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) - a joint Israeli-Palestinian public policy think and “do”-tank located in Jerusalem. He is currently the Co-Chairman of IPCRI's Board of Directors. Previously he served as an advisor on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Baskin is a member of the steering committee of the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum as well as a member of the Israeli Council for Peace and Security.

*Shalit is the common spelling of Gilad's last name. The spelling used throughout The Negotiator is Schalit.

Buy The Negotiator and read it now!

Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2014/08/bringing-gilad-shalit-home.html

Murder in the Invisible City

Invisible City by Julia Dahl


The Hasidic Jewish community of Brooklyn is a closed society, but the brutal murder there of a pregnant woman is a story that must be told.

Rebekah Roberts, a stringer for one of New York's daily newspapers, is assigned to report from the scrap yard where the woman's body has been found. Immediately she confronts religious residents who refuse to talk. She realizes that it may prove difficult to uncover what happened to the victim.

Although Jewish by birth, Rebekah is not observant and knows little about the Hasidim or their customs. Teamed up with a NYPD detective, who wears a yarmulke in order to fit in with the community, yet drives on the Sabbath, Rebekah also begins to track down her mother, who she hasn't seen since the woman abandoned her when she was a child.

The murder investigation seems to have stalled; it isn't following "normal avenues". Could it be that there is a cover-up and people know more than what they are saying? Is it possible that the Shomrim, the community's self-appointed "guardians" have taken matters into their own hands?

Invisible City (Minotaur Books, May 2014) by Julia Dahl is a gripping crime story told from the angle of an investigating reporter. It is a suspenseful, well-paced read. But more fascinating than that is the glimpses the story offers into the reclusive Hasidic society. The author masterfully portrays the community with sympathy and understanding. 

"We know intimately how quickly our goyish neighbors can turn on us," one of the religious women says to Rebekah, explaining their need for privacy. "We know that to survive we must rely on one another, we must support and protect our fellow Jews."

The woman gives Rebekah insights into the warm and loving family lives in the neighborhood. "You look at us and you see black hats and wigs and you think we are to be pitied… But you do not see more than you see… You don't see the tenderness, or passion, with which a husband touches his wife after she is niddah" (menstruating).

Not every person is capable of observing the strict ultra-Orthodox way of life. Rebekah comes across Jews who are in the process of "questioning" their faith, exploring ways to break out from the closed community. The further Rebekah investigates the murder, the closer she comes to understanding the motives of her long gone mother.

"You have to be honest with yourself about why you're doing this," Rebekah's best friend says to her. "This is it. This is your story. It's about your people. It's about what you care about."

Invisible City has well drawn characters, believable dialogue, surprising twists, and an honest depiction of an insular society, a society that appears to outsiders as an "invisible city", except when murder is involved.

Julia Dahl is a crime reporter for CBSNews.com; she writes and edits for the network's "Crimesider" program. A native of California, Dahl ives in Brooklyn with her husband and her cat. Invisible City is her first novel.


Buy Invisible City and read it now!

Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2014/08/murder-in-invisible-city.html

The Very Real Question Asked in "The Lie"

The Lie: A Novel - Hesh Kestin

If you are morally opposed to the use of torture during interrogations, how far would you go if a loved one's life was at stake?

Cigarettes abound on the pages of The Lie, the new suspense novel by Hesh Kestin. There are cigars as well, and a trail of butts left by Hezbollah terrorists. Almost all of the characters in this book smoke, and those who don’t, get smoke blown in their faces. Or lit butts held to their chests.

Dahlia Barr, a controversial human rights attorney who regularly defends Palestinians in Israeli courtrooms is offered a position she finds hard to refuse. She transfers to the police force to serve as Special Adviser for Extraordinary Measures, where she will be able to prevent the torturing of suspects during interrogations.

"I could make a difference," Dahlia says. But she never gets a chance because her 20-year-old son, Ari, a lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces, is kidnapped by Hezbollah and whisked over the border to Lebanon. Hezbollah offers to release Ari and a second Israeli soldier in exchange for Edward Al-Masri, a Canadian professor and Palestinian rights activist with whom Dahlia has a long, tortuous history.

Al-Masri is apparently key to the prisoner exchange, but he's not talking. Not yet, anyways. Perhaps if extraordinary measures are applied, valuable, life-saving information could help Israel fight Hezbollah. It's up to Dahlia, with her son's life at stake, to decide how to act in these most unusual circumstances.

The Lie (Scribner, March 2014) is a suspenseful read, with short chapters that keep the action moving at an incredibly fast pace. In her starring role, Dahlia Barr comes across as a multifaceted character, struggling with both a pending divorce and a troublesome relationship with her mother. Unfortunately, Al-Masri and Ari, in their supporting roles, are not as fleshed out or as credible.

Hesh Kestin, an eighteen-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, was for two decades a foreign correspondent reporting from the Middle East on war, international security, terrorism, arms dealing, espionage, and global business. The father of five, Kestin lives on Long Island in New York. 

Buy The Lie and read it now!

Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2014/08/the-very-real-question-asked-in-lie.html

There's 'A Possibility of Violence' in Holon

possibility of violence

Inspector Avraham Avraham is back. Following the trauma and failure of his previous case, Avraham took some time away from the Holon Police department to be with his girlfriend in Belgium. Upon his return to the interrogations room, chills go through his body. He feels like he is "leaping from a cliff into a stormy sea, with no preparations."

An explosive device has been found in a suitcase next to a day care center in a quiet neighborhood. A suspect is being held, but not enough evidence connects the man to the crime, and he is released. Avraham learns that threats have been made to the woman in charge of the center, but she never reported them and doesn't admit to them now. Avraham feels that there is more to this case than what meets the eye.

He begins to suspect an older man, a father of two whose wife is apparently overseas. This man is making travel plans; Avraham fears that the suspect is not only escaping from the scene of his crime, but that he has very dangerous intentions once he gets to his destination. Acting on his gut instincts, Avraham pursues this lead, convinced that he has uncovered something far more serious than the suitcase found near the day care center.

"In the darkness a new point of light suddenly turns on, and it illuminates the others as well," Avraham thinks, going over the evidence he has uncovered. "What looked strange turns out to be familiar," he thinks. "In the end, all the points will connect."

A Possibility of Violence is the follow-up novel to The Missing File by D.A. Mishani. Actually, it is the sequel of the first book, in that it continues the story and develops Avraham's character, all in the context of his previous case. You can read this book without having read The Missing File, however, there are many references to that book, and you should definitely not read them out of order.

The detective we meet this time around is much more mature, more confident, and more likely to act on his instincts than the man we previously knew. He is growing into his position, developing his skills and establishing a career that we, as readers, will wish to follow.

A Possibility of Violence is a suspenseful mystery, one in which we follow the clues along with Inspector Avraham. At the story's conclusion, we are left eagerly anticipating his next case.

D.A. Mishani is the editor of Israeli fiction and crime literature at Keter Books. He is also a literary scholar who specializes in the history of detective literature. Mishani lives with his wife and two children in Tel Aviv.

Originally published on The Times of Israel.

Source: http://ellisshuman.blogspot.co.il/2014/07/theres-possibility-of-violence-in-holon.html