HaRimon

Currently Reading: Sephardi Voices

Sephardi Voices: The Untold Expulsion of Jews from Arab Lands, by Henry Green and Richard Stursberg.

Book cover for Sephardi Voices, by Henry Green and Richard Stursberg

From the publisher…

In the years following the founding of the State of Israel, close to a million Jews became refugees fleeing their ancestral homelands in the Middle East, North Africa, and Iran. State-sanctioned discrimination, violence, and political unrest brought an abrupt end to these once vibrant communities, scattering their members to the four corners of the earth. Their stories are mostly untold.

Sephardi Voices is a window into the experiences of these communities and their stories of survival. Through gripping first-hand accounts and stunning portrait and documentary photography, we hear on-the-ground stories of pogroms in Libya and Egypt, the burning of synagogues in Syria, the terrible Farhud in Iraq, families escaping via the great airlifts of the Magic Carpet and Operations Ezra and Nehemiah, husbands smuggled in carpets into Iran in search of wives. The authors also provide crucial historical background for these events, as well as updates on the lives of some of these Sephardi Jews who have gone on to rebuild fortunes in London and New York, write novels, and win Nobel Prizes. Sephardi Voices is at once a wide-ranging and intimate story of a large-scale catastrophe and a portrait of the vulnerability of the passage of time.


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Currently Reading: Six Days of War

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Michael Oren.

Book cover for Six Days of War, by Michael Oren

From the publisher…

In 1967 the future of the state of Israel was far from certain. But with its swift and stunning military victory against an Arab coalition led by Egypt in the Six Day War, Israel not only preserved its existence but redrew the map of the region, with fateful consequences. The Camp David Accords, the assassinations of Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin, the intifada, and the current troubled peace negotiations — all of these trace their origins to the Six Day War.

Michael Oren’s Six Days of War is a gripping account of one of the most dramatic and important episodes in the history of the Middle East. With exhaustive research in primary sources — including Soviet, Jordanian, and Syrian files not previously available — he has reconstructed the tension-filled background and the dramatic military events of the conflict, drawing the threads together in a riveting narrative, enlivened by crisp characters sketches of major characters (many of whom, from Ariel Sharon to Yasser Arafat, are still leading figures today). Most important, Oren has unearthed some dramatic new findings. He has discovered that a top-secret Egyptian plan to invade Israel and wipe out its army and nuclear reactor came within hours of implementation. He also reveals how the superpowers narrowly avoided a nuclear showdown over the Eastern Mediterranean and how a military coup in Israel almost occurred on the eve of the war.


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Currently Reading: Like Dreamers

Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation, by Yossi Klein Halevi.

Book cover for Six Days of War, by Michael Oren

From the publisher…

In June 1967, Israel achieved the unimaginable — a decisive victory against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six-Day War. The most symbolic triumph for the young nation was the reunification of Israeli West Jerusalem and Jordanian East Jerusalem, achieved at great cost by a group of paratroopers from the 55th Paratroopers Reserve Brigade. In restoring Jewish sovereignty to the Holy City, these men fulfilled the dream of two millennia, changing the history of Israel and of the Middle East. And as veteran journalist Yossi Klein Halevi shows in Like Dreamers, they played pivotal roles in shaping Israel’s destiny long after their resounding military success.

A masterful storyteller, Halevi tracks down seven members of the 55th Brigade and traces their lives through the decades following the Six-Day War. But as his narrative reveals, despite the intensity of their shared experience protecting Israel, in their postwar paths they nurture drastically divergent visions for the country’s future. Yoel Bin-Nun emerges at the forefront of the religious Zionist West Bank settlement movement, but Arik Achmon — the chief intelligence officer of the 55th — becomes a spiritual father of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Achmon becomes a driving force in the growth of Israel’s capitalist economy, whereas Avital Geva, in addition to building a reputation as a leading conceptual artist, ardently defends the socialist kibbutzim. And while Geva is among the foremost activists in Peace Now, Udi Adiv helps create an anti-Zionist terror underground in Damascus, eventually serving twelve years in an Israeli prison.

Charting the ideological differences among this band of brothers, Halevi weaves a nuanced and insightful chronicle of modern Israel. His fascinating, diligently researched examination of each man’s motivations and actions — supported by extensive interviews with their friends, family members, and comrades-in-arms — humanizes the country’s complex political landscape, facilitating a deeper understanding of the forces that influence its evolution as a state.


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Currently Reading: The Story of Hebrew

The Story of Hebrew, by Lewis Glinert.

Book cover for The Story of Hebrew, by Lewis Glinert

From the publisher…

This book explores the extraordinary hold that Hebrew has had on Jews and Christians, who have invested it with a symbolic power far beyond that of any other language in history. Preserved by the Jews across two millennia, Hebrew endured long after it ceased to be a mother tongue, resulting in one of the most intense textual cultures ever known. It was a bridge to Greek and Arab science. It unlocked the biblical sources for Jerome and the Reformation. Kabbalists and humanists sought philosophical truth in it, and Colonial Americans used it to shape their own Israelite political identity. Today, it is the first language of millions of Israelis.

The Story of Hebrew takes readers from the opening verses of Genesis-which seemingly describe the creation of Hebrew itself-to the reincarnation of Hebrew as the everyday language of the Jewish state. Lewis Glinert explains the uses and meanings of Hebrew in ancient Israel and its role as a medium for wisdom and prayer. He describes the early rabbis’ preservation of Hebrew following the Babylonian exile, the challenges posed by Arabic, and the prolific use of Hebrew in Diaspora art, spirituality, and science. Glinert looks at the conflicted relationship Christians had with Hebrew from the Renaissance to the Counter-Reformation, the language’s fatal rivalry with Yiddish, the dreamers and schemers that made modern Hebrew a reality, and how a lost pre-Holocaust textual ethos is being renewed today by Orthodox Jews.

A major work of scholarship, The Story of Hebrew is an unforgettable account of what one language has meant to those possessing it.


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Currently Reading: The Beginnings of Jewishness

The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties, by Shaye J. D. Cohen.

From the publisher…

In modern times, various Jewish groups have argued whether Jewishness is a function of ethnicity, of nationality, of religion, or of all three. These fundamental conceptions were already in place in antiquity. The peculiar combination of ethnicity, nationality, and religion that would characterize Jewishness through the centuries first took shape in the second century B.C.E. This brilliantly argued, accessible book unravels one of the most complex issues of late antiquity by showing how these elements were understood and applied in the construction of Jewish identity—by Jews, by gentiles, and by the state.

Beginning with the intriguing case of Herod the Great’s Jewishness, Cohen moves on to discuss what made or did not make Jewish identity during the period, the question of conversion, the prohibition of intermarriage, matrilineal descent, and the place of the convert in the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds. His superb study is unique in that it draws on a wide range of sources: Jewish literature written in Greek, classical sources, and rabbinic texts, both ancient and medieval. It also features a detailed discussion of many of the central rabbinic texts dealing with conversion to Judaism.


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