Israeli Cul­tures in Perspective

David Derovan
  • Review
By – March 30, 2015

Part of the publisher’s series on cul­tures around the world, this book intro­duces read­ers to Israeli life via a cross-sec­tion of young Israelis shar­ing infor­ma­tion about their land and their fam­i­ly his­to­ries and customs. 

Many books which pur­port to be fac­tu­al treat­ments of life in Israel fall prey to a com­mon mal­a­dy, an insid­i­ous form of polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness which, in the name of arti­fi­cial fair­ness, caus­es an author or edi­tor to skew the real­i­ties of Israeli life. Those books result in shal­low treat­ments of a com­plex real­i­ty, ulti­mate­ly pro­duc­ing works that bear lit­tle or no rela­tion to any­one’s actu­al life. This book takes a dif­fer­ent and refresh­ing approach. Of course, no one book can cov­er all pos­si­ble real­i­ties of life in Israel — for a com­plete pic­ture, a read­er needs a full array of mate­ri­als — but this book is a clear­ly writ­ten, engag­ing nar­ra­tive pre­sent­ing a pic­ture of Israeli life through the eyes of six teens, pro­vid­ing a good resource for learn­ing about the coun­try in an appeal­ing man­ner. The six kids who share their sto­ries comes from var­i­ous seg­ments of Israeli soci­ety; they meet by coin­ci­dence and become inter­est­ed in learn­ing about one anoth­er’s lifestyles and cul­tures. The char­ac­ters are fic­tion­al­ized but their descrip­tions con­tain abun­dant fact and pro­vide an appeal­ing learn­ing expe­ri­ence. His­tor­i­cal back­ground pro­vides con­text and col­or pho­tographs pro­vide visu­al detail. Boxed facts sum­ma­rize basic data. The teens rep­re­sent fam­i­lies who have vary­ing lev­els of reli­gious obser­vance, var­i­ous polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tions, are of both Sephar­di and Ashke­nazi extrac­tion, and include both an Ethiopi­an Jew and an Israeli Arab. One of the teens made Aliyah from the Unit­ed States with his fam­i­ly. They share their sto­ries with pride but are unfail­ing­ly respect­ful of one another. 

A map is includ­ed which will pro­vide a con­tro­ver­sial note; it iden­ti­fies as Israel only the areas that were con­trolled by Israel pre-1967 and notes that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are Israeli-occu­pied with cur­rent sta­tus sub­ject to the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian Inter­im Agree­ment— per­ma­nent sta­tus to be deter­mined through fur­ther nego­ti­a­tion.” A recipe and craft project is includ­ed along with chap­ter notes, sug­ges­tions for fur­ther read­ing, a glos­sary and an index. In today’s polit­i­cal cli­mate, it is dif­fi­cult to pub­lish a book about Israel that will present a bal­anced pic­ture with­out push­ing too many hot but­tons.” With the excep­tion of the con­tro­ver­sial map, which one hopes will at least spark debate, this book comes clos­er than most to success. 

Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 10 – 14

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions