Monthly Archives: January 2012

New novel sounds a prophetic call for renewal of the Jewish state

Rise: A Novel of Contemporary Israel, by Yosef Gotlieb. ‘Atida Press. 386 pp. $14.99. Kindle eBook $4.99.

Rise is an astonishing tale, as true as the breaking news from Israel. Though it is easy to characterize it as promoting a leftist perspective on Israeli-Palestinian issues, it’s quite clear that the author and principal characters see themselves simply as practical. The new ingredient, for many readers, will be the increasing dimension of terrorism from within – meaning Jewish terrorism in particular. For Gotlieb, Israel’s own extreme right is as much a danger to the state as the terror born of Islamic fundamentalism. Its values and actions compromise the country not only politically, but also spiritually. They infect the country with a disease that cannot be cured even by Israel’s unparalleled medical institutions. 

In the novel, the governing Nationalist Party is headed by a self-perpetuating leadership cadre committed to satisfying the wealthy and powerful. Its policies promote unbridled materialism, increasing the distance between the rich and the poor, and its security stance pays more attention to real estate than to the values of justice, equality, and tolerance. For many, including Naftali Kedem, leader of the opposition forces, and Knesset member, the Nationalist Party is a dead end for Israel, destroying its nobility and essence without solving any of its problems. It implicitly perpetuates home-grown terror.

The story opens with the long-delayed homecoming of Lilah Kedem, a sabra in her mid-fifties who has spent three decades living in the United States. She has become an internationally-acclaimed photographer, long-separated from her husband and son, whose heart now tells her it is time to return.

The Israel Lilah returns to is changed in many ways. The divisiveness is ugly and bitter; variety has transformed into shades of “us and them.” Party lines are sharply drawn, and disagreement is felt and labeled as treachery. The country seems to have lost its soul.

Now reunited with her husband, son, and childhood friend Michal, Lilah inevitably befriends Michal’s husband, an Israeli Arab physician named Issam Halaby. In a short period of time, circumstances lead the two couples to bond and found a new movement. Na’aleh (rise) is not a political party but a loosely organized grassroots organization that fosters communication, cooperation, and mutual support to Israeli communities of all ethnic and religious stripes. It works to awaken the population to rise up against mindless hate and bigotry and the stranglehold that twenty wealthy families seem to have on government policy.

Unofficially allied with Naftali’s New Democratic Party, Na’aleh’s immediate concern is to counteract the Sons of Gideon, a right-wing terrorist group killing Arabs and conciliatory Jews by staging spectacular acts of murderous violence. Essentially, the Gideon group promotes ethnic cleansing of Israel’s Arab population and brooks no dissent from those striving toward fruitful accommodation and reconciliation.

A separate thread of the novel develops around the mission of Eli Zedek, a top-level Israeli security agent charged with investigating domestic terrorism. He, too, is on the trail of these home-grown terrorists, who gladly take credit for their atrocious deeds.

Before long, Eli and Lilah cross each other’s paths. Lilah, who is determined to fight with her camera, discovers an image of one of the perpetrators in a roll of film she shot in Jaffa while building her portfolio for a book on Women of the Ports. The image matches the description of the hulking figure many had witnessed at a terrorist attack by the Gideons.

The novel winds back and forth between the home lives of the key characters, the public rallies to topple the present government staged by the New Democratic Party / Na’aleh organizations, and the growing frequency of terrorist attacks. Lilah becomes the spokesperson for the movement to redeem her country from its social ills and spiritual ills, its debilitating hatreds and violence.

Embedded into the suspense-filled events and rich characterizations are compelling analyses of what must be done to correct Israel’s path and to release it from the stranglehold of a powerful minority. The issues are thoughtfully and clearly expressed, and the passions of the Kedem and Halaby families, along with the almost superhuman commitment of Eli, so often thwarted by government ineptitude or interference, make Yosef Gotlieb’s ideas and principles for a renewed and reawakened Israel come fully alive.

This review appears in the February 2012 issue of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County, FL) as well as its sister publications: L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties) and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee Counties).

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A taut thriller conjures huge neo-Nazi threat

“Hitler’s Silver Box,” by Allen Malnak. Two Harbors Press.  328 pages. $16.95.

“Every family has a secret, but Uncle Max’s could wreak havoc on the world.” Such is the official product description for this exciting thriller. Indeed, everything is at stake. What can an overworked young physician do about it?

 Dr. Bruce Starkman’s responsibilities as chief ER resident at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital are interrupted by the news of his uncle’s mysterious death. Uncle Max, the owner of a small book store, would seem to have died of natural causes, but there are some suggestions of foul play. Who would wish to murder this seemingly innocuous senior citizen? 

Readers know what’s up long before Bruce finds out, as the first chapter of the book lays out a situation in which Max is threatened and tortured by neo-Nazis who ask him for a special box. Max’s refusal to give them what they want or tell them where it is leads to his death.

What arouses Bruce’s suspicion? Well, that his Orthodox uncle is cremated (against Jewish law) and that something is not right about the funeral home paperwork. As Bruce attempts to settle his uncle’s affairs, more questions come up and there is always a difficult path to partial answers.

Is it a coincidence that Bruce’s ex-girlfriend dies suddenly, a woman who might be considered Max’s confidante and someone who shared his suspicions? And who is the mysterious man who seems to have unsuccessfully attempted to save her – a man who suggested to Bruce that it would be best not to involve the police? And why was Bruce’s friend on the police force suddenly called away and replaced by a subordinate?

And how does Bruce himself become a suspect?

The answers, as one might expect from the title, have to do with events from Max’s life as a teenager during the Holocaust.

More specifically, the answers involve records from the Theresianstadt concentration camp and the mind-blowing contents of the silver box that, we discover, had been crafted under duress by a young prisoner, Bruce’s Uncle Max, who had later escaped and hidden the box.

Bruce discovers Max’s journal and with that discovery he commits himself to following through on foiling the neo-Nazi plot that demands retrieval of the box and its contents – detailed plans for the resurgence of Nazi power and world-wide domination.

Along the way, Bruce meets an Israeli security official, Miriam, who is perhaps a bit too much of a brazen, brainy, martial, and sexually magnetic stereotype Israeli babe. I imagine a somewhat younger Angelica Jolie in the movie.  They join forces in an attempt to find the box ahead of the neo-Nazi leaders and their thugs. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the Naples Florida Weekly for January 12, 2012 and other Florida Weekly editions (including the March 1 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition), click here: Florida Weekly – Malnak pdf 1. For Dr. Malnak’s story about the writing of the book, click here: Florida Weekly – Malnak pdf 2

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What makes a Jewish photographer Jewish?

The question is explored in the following book, which I’ve reviewed for Jewish Book World.


Professor Morris provides significant insights into and detailed, provocative readings of the photographic art and documentary projects of the imposing photographers discussed in his ten essays. He is sure-handed in surveying their technical and thematic range, keeping his critical language accessible even while projecting an authoritative, scholarly voice. However, the effort of dealing with the Jewish factor is strained and oddly reductive.

Morris notes, over and over again, the social consciousness of these image makers and their concern with the human condition at the margins. The homeless, the dispossessed, the marginalized subjects of their documentary projects are relentlessly tied to the ostensible outsider identity of the photographers, a status that is a consequence of their Jewishness – by definition. (Annie Liebovitz’s celebrity gallery is an exception here, although the show business world her best-known work explores is also considered a Jewish cultural product.)

It could just as well be that people on one side of a camera are almost invariably outsiders to the subject communities they approach and record.

Morris’s study, then, succeeds best as a series of essays and not so well as a thesis-mongering whole. Aside from Liebovits, Arthur Fellig (Weegee), Bruce Davidson, Jim Goldberg, Mel Rosenthal, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Allen Ginsberg, Tyagan Miller, Marc Asnin, and Mary Ellen Mark are at the center of these passionately wrought essays.

 Illustrations, index, introduction, works cited. PKJ

NOTE: The Jewish Book Council has enhanced its web site and is now a most attractive and useful place to explore.  I’m attaching the link to my review, and you can find others by me by clicking on my name.  After Weegee


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A Manhattan garden of earthly delights

“The Common Garden,” by Martha Moffett.  Event Horizon Press. 200pp. $19.95.

More than three decades ago, while living and working in New York, Lake Worth resident Martha Moffett wrote a novel that was published by Berkley in 1977. Recently, she decided to give it a second life. “The Common Garden” holds up amazingly well in its smart portrayal of artists, intellectuals, and striving professionals during the hedonistic seventies. Here is the “Me decade” still wearing and exploiting the trappings (and perhaps the traps) of communalization that characterized the sixties. 

Without quite knowing what they’re getting into, Paul and Robin succeed in locating a summer rental to satisfy their desire to enjoy Manhattan while Paul continues building his career as a marketing professional. His wife Robin, a young woman without much experience of the world, is determined to use these few months to explore all that Manhattan has to offer: the museums and galleries, the theaters and recital halls, the distinctive neighborhoods. She is a naïf hankering after sophistication.  

The community of handsome brownstones in which they have found a temporary home is notable for its common garden, at once a protected plot for fruits and vegetables and flowers collectively grown and enjoyed, and another kind of garden – a garden of earthly delights and communally shared sexual partners. The couple has stumbled into a kind of collective farm or urban kibbutz of heightened sensuality, enhanced by hallucinogenic drugs, and safeguarded by a code of secrecy and a demand for loyalty. 

The novel’s focus is on Robin (Paul is often away on business or simply preoccupied with it), who has trouble reading the largely unarticulated code that governs behavior in this brave new world. At first hesitant – even fearful — about opening herself up to new intimate relationships, she gradually moves from the periphery toward the center of the group, enjoying along the way new and seductive knowledge of her body’s capacity for erotic pleasure.

Martha Moffett

Through Robin’s progress, Ms. Moffett suggests that there is much to be gained through casting off one’s inhibitions, through experimentation, and through increased self-knowledge. However, in the environment of the common garden, liberation paradoxically pushes up against threatening group-think. It’s a kind of yuppy, East Coast “Hotel California” that is “programmed to receive. / You can check-out any time you like, / But you can never leave!” [Pardon me, Eagles.]

When Hannah, the woman who has taken on the role of being Robin’s confidante and mentor, expresses some disillusionment with the pattern her life has taken, the reader’s antennae are raised. When Hannah is found dead, the antennae vibrate. . . .

To read the full review, along with biographical information on the author, as it appears in the December 28, 2011 issue of Fort Myers Florida Weekly, as well as other editions of the paper, click here: Florida Weekly – Moffett pdf 1 and here: Florida Weekly – Moffett pdf 2

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The Arab Lobby: not a myth but a menace

The Arab Lobby, by Mitchell Bard. Harper. 432 pages. $27.99 hardback, $14.99 paperback.

This book fills an important need. Though it may at first seem that it was needed to counter outlandish claims about the power that Israeli and Jewish interests have over U. S. policy decisions, the real necessity goes far beyond such a rationale. American citizens are for the most part totally ignorant about the many-headed Arab lobby, its enormity, and its essentially subversive agenda. Dr. Bard’s 70-year history sets the record straight. 

One long-lived component of the Arab lobby is the partisan mind-set of our own Department of State. Arabists in high government positions have long promoted policies favoring supportive relationships with Arab/Muslim governments of the Middle East in spite of the sorry human rights records of these governments, none of which is a true democracy. Arabist motives range from an almost romantic attachment to the exotic east, to an ingrained anti-Semitism, to a recognition of America’s high priority need for access to petroleum resources in those lands.

A second component of the Arab lobby is made up of the national and international oil companies. Pressure on U. S. policy comes from, and is paid for by, petroleum corporations needing to do business with those energy-rich countries and ready to do their bidding in the halls of our congress and in the offices of our government agencies.

Of course, the countries themselves – through their diplomatic missions, gift-giving, and investment policies, form another component of the Arab lobby. Here, none is more forceful than Saudi Arabia. Writes Bard: “The United States has developed a pathological relationship with Saudi Arabia over the last seven decades. American’s political leaders have allowed themselves to be blackmailed by the Saudi Monarchy because of their belief that capitulation to Saudi demands is necessary to ensure the continued flow of oil on which the American economy depends.”

Unfortunately overlooked, according to Bard, is “the Saudi-Funded War on America.” Saudi money (and that of other Arab nations) regularly finds its way to Islamic terrorist groups, undermining American security. That same money supports, at U. S. universities, programs in Mid-Eastern Studies that are obvious vehicles for undermining U. S. values, rewriting the history of the Middle East, and demonizing Israel AND ITS SUPPORTERS. That is, for access to oil, we are allowing the countries that support terrorist violence to implant intellectual terrorism in our classrooms and conference halls.  

All this is worrisome enough, but Mitchell Bard also presents irrefutable evidence that materials for K-12 classroom use in our public (and private) schools are prepared by Arab lobby organizations with the goal of promoting “anti-Israel and propagandist views.” In short, brainwashing is going on in our grade schools, middle schools, and high schools as well as in our universities. Freedom of speech abuses are undermining our country. That’s the real cost of dependence on Arab oil.

Mitchell Bard

That same oil money supports supposedly nongovernment organizations whose main purpose is to spread extreme Islamic ideology wherever and however it can. Bard believes that as much as 80% of America’s 1,200 mosques are run by Wahhabi imams. Many Islamic cultural centers in the U. S.  promote intolerance of Judaism and Christianity.

In these ways, the oil money is busy shaping the outlook of another “head” in the hydra-headed Arab lobby: the Arab-American community!

Although the Saudi public relations machine announces how Saudis have fouled terrorist plots and paints a picture of Saudi Arabia as an ally in the war on terror, following Saudi money paints a very different and terrifying picture.

There is also a very large anti-Zionist array of Christian denominations that comprise a formidable dimension of the Arab lobby.  In fact, Bard argues, outside of the Evangelicals, most major (and minor) Christian church bodies are anti-Zionist.

After reading Mitchell Bard’s book (and checking his sources), one can no longer believe that the Arab lobby is a myth. Though it is not a unified entity and does not have a lead organization parallel to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), it is – in its totality – an imposing force with immense resources.

Bard concludes: “Now that it has been exposed, it is time to shake off the influence of the Arab lobby and to bolster ties with countries that do share our values and interests.”

This review appears in the January 2012 issues of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County, Florida), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee & Charlotte counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee counties).

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