Mitchell Lane Publishing has introduced Voices From Israel, a series of books designed to educate high school students about life in Israel: a challenging task in a world filled with media sources with particular slants and agendas and abundant misinformation thrust at young people from all sides. This is an extensive collection of short but pithy books, divided into two groups. The first set consists of the five titles listed above and will be addressed in this review. Set two will be addressed separately. Each volume in set one attempts to provide as complete a view as possible of its topic, considering the short format and the complexity of Israeli society, and each attempts to stray as little as possible into areas of major political controversy. The publisher and selected authors have done a good job of walking this tricky tightrope.
The first book in the set is a short picture biography of Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. It includes some personal biographical data and attempts to put his career into historical context. The text is accompanied by color photographs and includes a timeline, chapter notes, a list of works consulted, suggestions for further reading, a short list of works authored by Netanyahu himself, and a list of internet resources to consult. While well done, perhaps this volume might have been more effective later in the series when a greater understanding of the area’s background has been absorbed by the reader, although the books do not necessarily have to be read in order. The Experience of Israel: Sights and Cities is the next volume in set one. It introduces readers to basic geographic locations including major cities, rivers and lakes. The descriptions include historical and biblical references as well as current information and the author points out the importance of many of the sites to the major religions of today. The descriptions are accompanied by appealing color photographs which help bring the text to life and which give the reader a good sense of local atmosphere. The volume entitled I Am Israeli: The Children of Israel addresses Israeli life through the eyes of five children. Four are Jewish children and one is a Muslim child from who lives in East Jerusalem. Each child shares a bit of what life is like for his or her family and friends. Crafts projects and recipes are included along with many color photographs and the author includes an introduction written by her own son. Returning Home: Journeys To Israel documents the return of Jews from all over the world back to their ancient and historic homeland, Israel. Stories of Olim (immigrants to Israel) from the U.S. and elsewhere are featured in historical and social context and the role of the Israeli government in their absorption as well as other organizations such as Nefesh B’Nefesh are addressed. The concept of an immigrant and what it feels like to be an immigrant are discussed. The final volume in the set, Working Together: Economy, Technology and Careers in Israel starts with a historical approach, tracing the Israeli economy from its kibbutz oriented roots to the vibrant free market of today, It does not ignore workplace problems such as the tendency of some of the Ultra-Orthodox to pursue religious studies rather than join the workforce or the various workplace issues relating to the Arab communities but it also discusses attempts to address these issues and primarily focuses on the vibrancy of the economy due to cutting edge creativity, drive, and entrepreneurship. It also highlights the role that universal conscription into the army plays in the development of this percolating economy. This volume is also illustrated with numerous color photographs as well as a timeline, chapter notes, works consulted, further reading, internet resources, a glossary of terms and an index.
This series is a welcome addition to Israel education, spanning a wide variety of topics with extensive of backmatter helpful for further research. It gives a good sense of atmosphere and color in addition to many facts. The chosen authors are knowledgeable and the background and experience of each is noted in the individual volumes. The series is a good jumping off point for learning about a complex country and would be useful both at home and in the classroom.
Recommended for ages 8 – 14.
Additional Titles Featured in Review:
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. She has lectured on a variety of topics relating to children and books and her greatest joy is reading to her grandchildren on both sides of the ocean. Michal lives in Great Neck, NY and Efrat, Israel.