Spare time? 10 books about Israel to read

Throughout the intense distress caused by this unprecedented global health crisis, quarantine has actually been something of a blessing. It’s given many of us the opportunity to connect with ourselves, our friends and family, and with the books on long-abandoned reading lists.
For those interested in utilizing their coronavirus-induced empty schedules to explore the story of Israel, below is a list of 10 books just for you! Each is a masterpiece in its own right and each taught me much about the country I love.
I hope you enjoy them as I have. Please feel free to reach out to offer me book recommendations or to ask for some in return at Happy reading and health for us all!
1) ‘Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn’ — Daniel Gordis
Daniel Gordis, Zionist author extraordinaire, is unparalleled in his ability to tell Israel’s story from a place of both nuance and love. His “Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn” is the single best book for anyone interested in learning about the miraculous history of the Jewish people’s reborn state. Succinct and stunning, Gordis’ prose reads, as always, like poetry.
2) ‘Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor’ — Yossi Klein Halevi
Whereas Daniel Gordis tells the story of Israel, Yossi Klein Halevi tells the story of Israelis. In a collection of letters written to his Palestinian neighbors across the valley, Halevi dissects the traumas that define the Israeli mentality — the horrors of exile and the Holocaust, the existential fear of war and terrorism, the pain of conflict and occupation. In 224 pages, he bares the soul of Israel in all its complexity for the world to see.
3) ‘Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life’ — Sari Nusseibeh
When I first approached books written from the Palestinian perspective, I was scared. I didn’t know if my Zionism would survive under attack from an opposing narrative and for a while I stalled with other books. But reading the stories of people with whom we disagree is essential for understanding their perspective, developing arguments for our cause, and fostering compassion within ourselves. In “Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life,” Sari Nusseibeh offers a glimpse into a world so few of us have seen. His story is true and heartbreaking, and it must be told.
4) ‘The Zionist Ideas: Visions for the Jewish Homeland — Then, Now, Tomorrow’ — Gil Troy
Israel is a country dominated by ideological rifts; each of its disparate communities has a vision for the kind of country Israel should be. In “The Zionist Ideas,” an expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s 1959 classic “The Zionist Idea,” Gil Troy skillfully compiles the quintessential writings of Zionism’s six major branches: Political, Revisionist, Labor, Religious, Cultural and Diaspora. The diversity of texts and the passion of their writers inspires readers to examine their own ideological allegiances and to take a stance on Israel’s most pressing issues in the process.
5) ‘The Promise of Israel’ — Daniel Gordis
Around the world today and especially in America’s left-wing academic circles, it’s not only Israel’s policies that are under attack, but Israel’s existence itself. The idea that Israel should exist as a Jewish state, that any country should be based on a single culture or nation, has been maligned for decades; in “The Promise of Israel,” Gordis makes the compelling case that Israel’s dual Jewish-democratic identity provides Israel the opportunity to serve a unique purpose in the world. A must read, as with the rest of Gordis’ collected works.
6) ‘Letters to an American Jewish Friend: A Zionist’s Polemic’ — Hillel Halkin
Hillel Halkin’s “Letters to an American Jewish Friend” is Zionism at its purest. In a series of thoughtful letters to a fictional friend, Halkin makes the case for aliyah to Israel. Whether or not every reader will end up making aliyah, each one is forced to ask essential questions about the role of Judaism in modern life.
7) “The War on Women in Israel” — Elana Maryles Sztokman
An infuriating read, “The War on Women in Israel” reveals the growing gender discrimination we hoped didn’t exist in Israel. Sztokman skillfully exposes not only the medieval policies of haredi communities (from removing women’s faces from all public signs to forcing women to sit in the back of buses), but the disgusting politicians supporting the patriarchy alongside them. It’s important reading for all those who pursue justice, in Israel and around the world.
8) “The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership” — Yehuda Avner
In “The Prime Ministers” author Yehuda Avner, of blessed memory, takes his readers on a thrilling journey that traverses continents and political parties. In the years he served as an English speechwriter and top adviser to Prime Ministers Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin, he was a witness to — and often participant in — Israel’s most defining moments. He tells the thrilling and beautiful story of our people as it deserves to be told.
9) ‘Out of Egypt,’ Andre Aciman
The State of Israel is a mosaic of Jewish immigrant groups and in his autobiography “Out of Egypt” Andre Aciman tells the story of Egypt’s Jews through the story of his own family. Aciman recalls the cosmopolitan Alexandria of his childhood with all the depth and sensuousness of his widely acclaimed “Call Me By Your Name.” It’s a delicious read.
10) ‘A Tale of Love And Darkness’ — Amos Oz
Amos Oz, of blessed memory, is the defining Israeli writer of his generation, and in his book “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” he tells the defining story of Israel. Constantly hovering the line between reality and imagination, dreams and nightmares, he indulges readers in the adventures of a youth marred by war on the front and war at home. At once nuanced and emotional, it’s not a tale to be missed.

Leave a Reply