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Recommended Reading
  • The Bible is a collection of sacred texts or scriptures. Varying parts of the Bible are considered to be a product of divine inspiration and a record of the relationship between God and humans by Christians, Jews, Samaritans, and Rastafarians. What is regarded as canonical text differs depending on traditions and groups; a number of Bible canons have evolved, with overlapping and diverging contents. The Hebrew Bible overlaps with the Greek Septuagint and the Christian Old Testament. The Christian New Testament is a collection of writings by early Christians, believed to be mostly Jewish disciples of Christ, written in first-century Koine Greek. Among Christian denominations there is some disagreement about what should be included in the canon, primarily about the Apocrypha, a list of works that are regarded with varying levels of respect.
  • Israel – an introduction: An introduction to Israel, this book offers a definitive account of the nation’s past, its often controversial present, and much more. Written by Barry Rubin, a leading historian of the Middle East, the book is based around six major themes: land and people, history, society, politics, economics, and culture. You can’t go wrong with this book if you’re looking for the perfect intro to the Holy Land and what it’s all about. 
  • Mossad – The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service: This book is all about the most enigmatic, intelligence service in the world, which has long been shrouded in secrecy. It highlights the greatest missions of the Mossad, as well as some of the most noteworthy failures that have tarnished the agency’s image.
  • Six Days of War – June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East: The Six Day War in 1967 was a moment that defined this small nation, and in fact, the whole of the Middle East. What is chilling about this book (which details the war in detail in a highly readable and very gripping manner), is that over forty years later, not much has changed, as the author points out. An exciting historical documentary, and not your typical war book!
  • A History of the Jews: This amazing history of the Jewish people is a great read, written by renowned British historian Paul Johnson. If you are looking for a book to take you through through 4000 years of Jewish history, this has to be on your shopping list. The book is structured in such a way that the author makes this huge chunk of history understandable and extremely engaging. It also covers not only Jewish history but the impact of Jewish brains and imagination on the world.
  • Start-up Nation – The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle: This great book explains how Israel, which is a country of 7.1 million, only 60 years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, and with no natural resources, produces more start-up companies than almost anywhere else in the world. As a result, you might not be surprised to learn there is a huge amount of venture capital investment in Israel tech companies.
  • A History of Israel – From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time: A great book that does a fine job of supplying a detailed history of Israel. It’s a long read at well over 1000 pages long with well-researched information, covering the rise of Zionism from the 1880s up to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and is, despite its length, a great read. Quite possibly the definitive work of reference on the Palestinian – Israel issue.
  • To Be a Jew: A deep insight into Jewish life, philosophy, and law. The book begins with an overview of Judaism’s basic credo, and moves on to describe the laws governing Jews’ daily lives, the Jewish calendar, and “The Special Occasions of Life” from birth to death and mourning.
  • A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz: Arguably Israel’s greatest literary export, Amos Oz is most famous for this masterful autobiographical memoir/family history that has since been adapted into a hit movie featuring Natalie Portman. An epic tale set against the backdrop of the dramatic and tumultuous conditions in Palestine and the formation of the Israeli state, Oz presents a complex portrait of his teenage self and his attempts to redefine his identity following his mother’s suicide. A book of tragedy and triumph, on personal and historical levels, this should be number one on your reading list.
  • Suddenly, a Knock on the Door by Etgar Keret: Etgar Keret, praised as a “genius” by The New York Times, is Israel’s master of the short story. This book consists of a series of highly inventive and often absurd fantastical short stories, full of metaphors, symbolism, and humor. Focusing on the inner whims of Israeli society and everyday life, this book is thought-provoking and poignant in equal measure.
  • My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit: A New York Times bestseller, this book offers a captivating narrative of Israel’s history and the complexities of its society, making use of historical documents, diaries, and interviews. Shavit, whose love for his country is clear, does not shy away from uncomfortable truths and asks pertinent, existential questions about the Jewish state. The result is a powerful, highly nuanced portrait of this minuscule, deeply troubled yet miraculous nation.
  • Let It Be Morning by Sayed Kashua: Kashua is Israel’s most famous Arab-Israeli writer. In Let It Be Morning, an Arab journalist moves back to his hometown, a small Arab village in Israel, only to find himself plagued by a struggle for identity and belonging due to the turbulent situation he finds himself in. Kashua offers sharp insights into the condition and predicaments of Israel’s Arab population (who make up 20% of the country) in this intimate and often chilling novel.
  • A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman: Winner of the 2017 Man Booker International Prize, Grossman’s latest novel revolves around a comedian performing in a small Israeli town. It uses humor to dissect the protagonist’s incredibly dark and personal story, with the outcome widely considered to be a literary masterpiece.
  • The Hilltop by Assaf Gavron: This work of fiction earned Gavron international acclaim along with the prestigious Bernstein literary prize. The story revolves around the lives of inhabitants in a settlement in Israel’s West Bank, and in the process acutely uncovers the sharp contradictions that plague Israeli society.
  • The Red Tent by Anita Diamant: Deeply affecting, "The Red Tent" combines rich storytelling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical women's society. The book is a first-person narrative that tells the story of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and sister of Joseph. She is a minor character in the Bible, but the author has broadened her story, and the title refers to the tent in which women of Jacob's tribe must, according to the ancient law, take refuge while menstruating or giving birth, and in which they find mutual support and encouragement from their mothers, sisters and aunts.
  • The Holy Land: An Oxford Archeological Guide by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor: The geographic heart and soul of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, the Holy Land has immense significance for the millions of visitors it has attracted since as early as the fifth century BC. Now in an exciting new edition, this popular handbook once again offers an indispensable, illustrated guide to over 200 of the most important archeological and religious sites in the City of Jerusalem and the surrounding area. With entries including the Damascus Gate, the Via Dolorosa, Mount Sion, the Dead Sea, Hebron, and Jericho, it includes detailed maps, plans, and illustrations that further illuminate these spectacular locales. Each entry explains the history and topography of a site as well as its function and significance. In his introduction, Father Jerome Murphy-O'Connor provides a brief historical outline of the Holy Land, from the Stone Age to the Modern Period.
  • How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden: When Sarah Glidden took a “Birthright Israel” tour, she thought she knew what she was getting herself into. But when she got to Israel, she found that things weren’t quite so simple. This book is Sarah’s memoir not only of her Israeli government sponsored trip through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, Masada and other famous locations, but of the emotional journey she never expected to take while she was there. Her experience clashes with her preconceived notions again and again, particularly when she tries to take a non-chaperoned trip into the West Bank. Sarah is forced to question first her political beliefs and, ultimately, her own sense of identity, until she finds that to understand Israel she first must come to understand herself.
  • The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman: In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. Based on this tragic historical event, Hoffman weaves a spellbinding tale of four extraordinary, bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path. 
Recommended Viewing
  • Ben Hur (1959) by William Wyler: Judah Ben-Hur lives as a rich Jewish prince and merchant in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 1st century. Along with the new governor arrives his old friend Messala as commanding officer of the Roman legions. At first they are happy to meet after a long time but their different politic views separate them. During the welcome parade a roof tile falls down from Judah's house and injures the governor. Although Messala knows they are not guilty, he sends Judah to the galleys and throws his mother and sister into prison. But Judah swears to come back and take revenge. 
  • Exodus (1960) by Otto Preminger: Exodus has a massive political impact and it won an Oscar and a Golden Globe. A 1960s romantic epic, produced and directed by Otto Preminger, the film (and the bestselling book before it) became the foundation on which a generation of young Jews built their understanding of Middle Eastern politics. Exodus is a rose-tinted and heavily biased take on the founding of Israel that barely acknowledges those Palestinians who experienced an entirely different story, but its social impact is too great to ignore. Preminger hired the recently blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to adapt the book and cast an ensemble of leading Hollywood stars (Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint and Sal Mineo among others) to tell the story about the founding of the Jewish state. Today it may be difficult to comprehend the impact of the film and the novel. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, said of the book: “as a literary work it isn’t much, but as a piece of propaganda, it’s the best thing ever written about Israel”.
  • Fiddler on the Roof (1971) by Norman Jewison: Fiddler on the Roof is so well-known and so widely loved that only a martian would be surprised to find it on this list. Adapted from one of the greatest Broadway musicals, the film depicts the two of the defining Jewish experiences of the last 200 years: the breakdown of traditions and the mass migration of (mostly) Russian and Polish emmigrants to the new world. Israeli actor Topol was only 35 when he played the lead role of Tevye, but he gave the role a gravitas that it may otherwise have lacked if the producers had gone with the original Broadway lead, Zero Mostel. The Broadway musical is an art form developed almost exclusively by American Jews – the very descendants of those characters depicted in the film.
  • Jellyfish (2007) by Shira Geffen, Etgar Keret. Meduzot (the Hebrew word for Jellyfish) tells the story of three very different Israeli women living in Tel Aviv whose intersecting stories weave an unlikely portrait of modern Israeli life. Batya, a catering waitress, takes in a young child apparently abandoned at a local beach. Batya is one of the servers at the wedding reception of Keren, a young bride who breaks her leg in trying to escape from a locked toilet stall, which ruins her chance at a romantic honeymoon in the Caribbean. One of the guests is Joy, a Philippine chore woman attending the event with her employer, and who doesn't speak any Hebrew (she communicates mainly in English), and who is guilt-ridden after having left her young son behind in the Philippines.
  • Waltz with Bashir (2008) by Ari Folman: Waltz with Bashir is an animated documentary feature which, in some ways, acts as a reply to the idealism of Exodus. Director Ari Folman investigates the psychological impact of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon on the soldiers who came back home – and, by implication, the political impact these returning soldiers had on Israeli society, not dissimilar to the Vietnam vets returning to the US. By using an unusual form of animation (Adobe Flash cutouts combined with more traditional techniques), Folman navigates some of the most politically sensitive issues in modern Israeli and Jewish life. The film saves its biggest in-the-face punch for the last few minutes and forces a series of uncomfortable question on the audience, questions that go to the very heart of Jewish and Israeli identity.
  • Ajami (2009) by Scandar Copti, Yaron Shani: Ajami is an area of Jaffa where Arabs, Palestinians, Jews and Christians try to live together in an atmosphere that is -to say the least - electric. Omar, an Israeli Arab, struggles to save his family from elimination by a gang of extortionists. He also courts a beautiful Christian girl, Hadir, but marrying her is far from obvious. Malek, an illegal Palestinian worker, tries to collect enough money to pay for his mother's operation. Dando, an Israeli cop, does his utmost to trace his missing brother who may have been killed by Palestinians. Binj, Malek and Omar's Arab friend, suffers from being rejected by other members of his community for mixing with an Israeli girl.