The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land

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9780743270359: The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land

Israel is smaller than New Jersey, with 0.11% of the world's population, yet captures a lion's share of headlines. It looks like one country on CNN, a very different one on al-Jazeera. The BBC has their version, The New York Times theirs. But how does Israel look to Israelis?

Israel is smaller than New Jersey, with 0.11% of the world's population, yet captures a lion's share of headlines. It looks like one country on CNN, a very different one on al-Jazeera. The BBC has their version, The New York Times theirs. But how does Israel look to Israelis? The answers are varied, and they have been brought together here in one of the most original books about Israel in decades. From battlefields to bedrooms to boardrooms, discover the colliding worlds in which an astounding mix of 7.2 million devoutly traditional and radically modern people live. You'll meet “Arab Jews” who fled Islamic countries, dreadlock-wearing Ethiopian immigrants who sing reggae in Hebrew, Christians in Nazareth who publish an Arabic-style Cosmo, young Israeli Muslims who know more about Judaism than most Jews of the Diaspora, ultra-Orthodox Jews on “Modesty Patrols,” and more. Interweaving hundreds of personal stories with intriguing new research, The Israelis is lively, irreverent, and always fascinating.

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About the Author:


Donna Rosenthal is the author of the award-winning The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land, new and updated in 2008. Called the best book about Israelis in decades, The Israelis has more than 100 excellent international reviews across the religious and political spectrums: from the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post to The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz to The Japan Times.

Ms. Rosenthal was a news producer at Israel Television, reporter for Israel Radio and The Jerusalem Post, and a lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times Newsweek and The Atlantic and many other publications. Ms. Rosenthal has reported from Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan and was the first journalist to travel to remote mountain villages of Ethiopia and introduce Israel Radio audiences to the Jews of Ethiopia.

A winner of three Lowell Thomas Journalism Awards: Best Investigative Reporting, Best Foreign Travel Reporting (The New York Times) and Best Adventure Travel Writing, she has reported from the Middle East, Asia and Africa and South America. An expert on contemporary Israelis, she frequently is interviewed on TV and radio about Israel—from CNN to ABC to National Public Radio. 

In a Publishers Weekly's national survey, Ms. Rosenthal placed in the TOP TEN most popular speakers about Israel—and only female author. She has spoken about modern Israelis at over 25 universities—from Harvard to UCLA to Georgetown. And to audiences from Silicon Valley to Japan and from Germany to Australia.

Ms. Rosenthal has taught journalism at three universities. She holds a BA from University of California Berkeley (Political Science) and a Masters of Science (International Relations/Middle East) from The London School of Economics.

 

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter Two: Dating and Mating Israeli-style

How many calories does an American man spend making love? Ten. English? Ten. An Israeli? One hundred -- ten to make love and ninety running to tell his friends.

-- Popular joke about Israeli machismo

Israelis tend to have a macho bravado in dating and everyday life and reassure themselves that everything will be fine even if it won't. This denial may also be a response to the uncertainty of life here. On a deeper level, it may be a response to our parents' or grandparents' helplessness in face of the Holocaust.

-- Family therapist Rachel Biale

"My parents let me go to clubs in Tel Aviv until three in the morning," says seventeen-year-old Ronit Heffetz. "They're afraid of terrorists, but at my age, my grandparents were running guns for the underground and soon I'm going in the army, so how can they say no? We have to go on living and not be afraid." Even though the second intifada has brought terrorism to the home front, it is still not uncommon to see fourteen-year-old girls hitchhiking to a beach, twelve-year-olds walking home from unsupervised parties at dawn, or an ten-year-old traveling alone on a public bus. Parents know that if their child gets lost, any adult will help her get to her destination. In 2002, Israel had far less street crime involving kids than almost any major American city.

That's one reason Israeli kids are fiercely independent and exhibit more than their share of youthful bravado. Many Israeli parents are reluctant to set limits and encourage their children to be self-sufficient and resourceful, partly as preparation for the army and adulthood. But it's just one way to understand how Israelis develop their unique mating habits. As the world's only Jewish nation, Israel reflects a huge range of mores developed in two millennia of diaspora Judaism. A country with a population half the size of greater Los Angeles, with a shared history shorter than that of the United Nations, is nonetheless home to cultures that were formed in St. Petersburg, Baghdad, Brooklyn, and Bombay -- with all the resulting chaos and richness in mating rituals.

And that's not all. In addition to the cultural conflicts within Israel are the even more dangerous conflicts between the Jewish state and its neighbors. Because of Israel's never-ending state of war, it is the only country that requires most of its eighteen-year-olds to leave home and serve with members of the opposite and equally hormonally charged sex. It makes for behavior that Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, never dreamed of. Ronit's eldest brother Ori, a twenty-seven-year-old physics student, lives at home because there are few dorms at Tel Aviv University and renting an apartment is too expensive. He relates a typical Saturday morning scene: "I was in bed with a girlfriend. Ronit was in the army. My two brothers were on leave from the army and sleeping with their girlfriends. All three of our bedroom doors were closed. My mother's voice came over the intercom. 'I'm making brunch. Are you alone or do you have a guest?' Mom's realistic. She knows we're going to do it anyway. There's no game playing with Israeli parents, no bullshitting. They'd rather we do it here where it's safe, than sneaking off somewhere else."

Soon after Ori met his first serious girlfriend in high school, the 1991 Gulf War broke out. With Scuds hitting the Tel Aviv area, her family fled to a hotel in the Red Sea resort of Eilat. "We really missed each other. So she convinced her parents to let her stay with me and my family on weekends," he recounts. "Her mother made her promise she wouldn't sleep in my room. So each morning, she'd get out of bed and sleep in my sister's bedroom. One night we were coming very close to losing our virginity. At the most delicate time, we heard sirens. We grabbed our gas masks and ran down to the sealed room. We sat with my family, hearing the Scuds fall, guessing how close. When the radio announcer reported it was all clear, we returned to my bedroom and tried again. But we were too tense. The next time she slept over, we ignored the sirens. My mom pounded and pounded on the door. I told her we were coming down, but we didn't bother. And we didn't even bother putting on our gas masks. Six months later I went into the army. I wonder if the new improved [gas masks] are designed better to wear during sex?"

During a heightened alert period of the intifada, in August 2002, nearly two thousand mounted police, soldiers, and bomb disposal experts stood watch over Tel Aviv's Love March. No one expected the turnout: well over a quarter million revelers showed up for the weekend extravaganza. It resembled carnival in Rio, with nearly naked Israelis frolicking on the beaches, moving passionately to live music. At an all-night rave party, thousands were dancing away their despondency, kissing lovers, even strangers.

"We just want a sane life," explains Ori. "A few kilometers away in Gaza, Israeli soldiers and Palestinians are killing each other, but we let loose as if all that were continents away. We have what I call national Alzheimer's disease -- no one wants to remember the morning's news." After seeing too many friends killed or wounded, Israelis have adopted the motto "Life is uncertain, so eat your dessert first." As with foreign travel, carpe diem isn't irresponsible, it's an escape from the pressure cooker. In this crisis-a-day country, the mood changes constantly, a roller coaster that ascends with each cease-fire and plunges with each new attack. Israelis have learned that fun, sometimes reckless fun, helps them feel as if these times are normal.

In the upper Galilee village of Metulla, on the nervous border with Lebanon, at a club inside a converted shoe factory, 2 A.M. is peak hour. The DJ ups the amps so no one can hear the Katyusha rockets. More than five hundred factory workers, students, kibbutzniks, and male and female soldiers are dancing wildly, as if Hezballah, the radical Islamic Party of Allah, didn't have thousands more rockets and missiles across the barbed wire fence. Even during these uncertain times, patrons aren't drinking much alcohol. (A recent study shows that drinking rates in Israel are lower than in North America and twenty-four European countries. There's so little boozing that Israel has few liquor stores and only in 2002 enacted drinking laws.) It's expensive: a bottle of Scotch that goes for $14 in France or the United States costs $35 in Israel. "We party, flirt a lot. No one has a long-term vision anymore," a student from Tel Hai College shouts above the din. "There are politicians who make me want to tear my hair out, but then I remember that this is a young country, a work-in-progress." His girlfriend flashes an alluring look. He stops in mid-thought and heads toward her.

On the beaches, no less than in the clubs, eroticism is out in the open. Teasing touches and rampant flirting are part of the (usually harmless) mating game, Israeli-style. People gesture dramatically, interrupting and challenging each other. The verbal pyrotechnics are not unusual; Israel is a lively open-air theater, a place for animated disagreements, a place for good arguments. Women make approving comments as they admire a well-built windsurfer wearing a postage-stamp-size Speedo. Men visually undress a redhead in tight shorts sitting alone. As she pulls out a Parliament, a man with little round French sunglasses leaps up and flips open a gold lighter. A female alone is never alone for long.

Maya is fourth-generation Sabra -- Arabic and Hebrew for the local cactus fruit, a metaphor for native-born Israelis, who are said to have prickly exteriors but soft insides. Glancing at her watch, she notices that her boyfriend was due at this eating place at the Herzliya beach a half hour ago. According to Israeli time, he's not late. Many Israelis don't like being controlled by watches (as they are in the army) or planning too far in advance. Expressions like "lost time" or "saving time" rarely are heard outside the army. Maya's boyfriend, Noam, finally arrives and plants a kiss on her lips. He hands her an English-language version of The Lonely Planet guide to Peru. They discuss Ben-Gurion. Not Israel's white-maned founding father, but Ben-Gurion International Airport, where they'll head after her army discharge. Of course, they'll visit Machu Picchu, but thrill-seeking Israelis consider the lost Inca city tame. "We'll backpack in the Andes and visit tribes in the Amazon. Explore places not on a map. I want to have as many adventures as possible, taste everything," says Maya, glad to be out of the army, where she was a combat medic. "They say being around death teaches you to live. I don't know if it's true, but everyone in my unit wants to go to jungles in Laos or bungee jumping in New Zealand. My parents are less worried about me climbing the Andes than serving on the West Bank."

Noam, a twenty-six-year-old acupuncturist, says his parents convinced them not to go to Thailand. Since the day al-Qaeda bombed Israelis in a Mombassa, Kenya hotel and tried to take down an Israeli charter jet with two surface-to-air missiles, any place Israelis congregate abroad is not safe -- especially Bangkok. Traveling Israelis are cautioned not to carry books in Hebrew or speak Hebrew in public. "My parents warned me not to visit any synagogues in Lima or Buenos Aires," says Noam. "The last time they were in synagogue was their wedding. For them, the army was the place to meet and mate. Mom was twenty-one, Dad twenty-three. By my age, they owned an apartment, had two kids and one on the way. Maya and me? We can afford a rented room and a good stereo. No one I know is in any rush to the altar -- unless you want to have kids. You know why Seinfeld is popular? This is the scene here. It's about our lives. So is Friends, Sex and the City, and Ally McBeal. Only we lose the best years of our lives in the army. And if we don't start this trip soon, I'll be called to miluim [reserve duty]."

"So...

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Book Description Simon Schuster Ltd, United Kingdom, 2008. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reissue. 212 x 138 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Israel is smaller than New Jersey, with 0.11 of the world s population, yet captures a lion s share of headlines. It looks like one country on CNN, a very different one on al-Jazeera. The BBC has their version, The New York Times theirs. But how does Israel look to Israelis? Israel is smaller than New Jersey, with 0.11 of the world s population, yet captures a lion s share of headlines. It looks like one country on CNN, a very different one on al-Jazeera. The BBC has their version, The New York Times theirs. But how does Israel look to Israelis? The answers are varied, and they have been brought together here in one of the most original books about Israel in decades. From battlefields to bedrooms to boardrooms, discover the colliding worlds in which an astounding mix of 7.2 million devoutly traditional and radically modern people live. You ll meet Arab Jews who fled Islamic countries, dreadlock-wearing Ethiopian immigrants who sing reggae in Hebrew, Christians in Nazareth who publish an Arabic-style Cosmo, young Israeli Muslims who know more about Judaism than most Jews of the Diaspora, ultra-Orthodox Jews on Modesty Patrols, and more. Interweaving hundreds of personal stories with intriguing new research, The Israelis is lively, irreverent, and always fascinating. Bookseller Inventory # AAR9780743270359

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Book Description Simon Schuster Ltd, United Kingdom, 2008. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reissue. 212 x 138 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Israel is smaller than New Jersey, with 0.11 of the world s population, yet captures a lion s share of headlines. It looks like one country on CNN, a very different one on al-Jazeera. The BBC has their version, The New York Times theirs. But how does Israel look to Israelis? Israel is smaller than New Jersey, with 0.11 of the world s population, yet captures a lion s share of headlines. It looks like one country on CNN, a very different one on al-Jazeera. The BBC has their version, The New York Times theirs. But how does Israel look to Israelis? The answers are varied, and they have been brought together here in one of the most original books about Israel in decades. From battlefields to bedrooms to boardrooms, discover the colliding worlds in which an astounding mix of 7.2 million devoutly traditional and radically modern people live. You ll meet Arab Jews who fled Islamic countries, dreadlock-wearing Ethiopian immigrants who sing reggae in Hebrew, Christians in Nazareth who publish an Arabic-style Cosmo, young Israeli Muslims who know more about Judaism than most Jews of the Diaspora, ultra-Orthodox Jews on Modesty Patrols, and more. Interweaving hundreds of personal stories with intriguing new research, The Israelis is lively, irreverent, and always fascinating. Bookseller Inventory # AAR9780743270359

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