THE ISRAELIS by Donna Rosenthal


Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land
Email this review


An amiable portrait of the 6.7 million people—a population about the size of Baghdad’s—who live in a country smaller than New Jersey but that “captures the lion’s share of the world’s headlines.”

Chalk it up to the Bible and news formulas, perhaps, but many American readers might find it odd to imagine that for many an Israeli, there’s nothing quite so wonderful as a trip to a Tel Aviv shopping mall, a slice of pizza, and the new Eminem CD. Such people populate the pages of former Jerusalem Post reporter and Israeli TV producer Rosenthal’s lively take, which centers on ordinary citizens in what Rosenthal trusts are “abnormal times.” Many of these ordinary Israelis, Rosenthal writes, love to argue in cafes, offer unsolicited advice to strangers, participate in all-night raves on the Red Sea, hang out in Katmandu, and smoke a little weed or indulge in stronger pleasures; many others wrestle to preserve traditional practices in the face of the globalizing pressures that are changing the world. Consider headgear as a tribal badge, Rosenthal suggests: “Israelis wear army helmets, kippot (yarmulkes), kaffiyehs (headdresses), wigs, and veils. They also wear baseball caps backwards and earphones connected to MP3 players.” Some, despite the presence of Orthodox “modesty patrols,” are gay (though, says one such person, “In our world, being gay is like eating pork on Yom Kippur”); some, despite injunctions against it, live with members of the opposite sex outside marriage; some, quite apart from the Palestinian population, are not Jewish. By Rosenthal’s account, Israeli society adds up to “a large extended, sometimes dysfunctional, family,” made perhaps a little more dysfunctional by the constant threat of war and terrorism, which even peace activists seem to accept as an unhappy fact of life. Which, she quotes former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek as saying, explains why Israelis are such bad drivers: “When you have to fight a war every few years, safe driving becomes the farthest thing from your mind.”

A lively, cliché-popping account, sure to irritate fundamentalists and the humorless, but a treat for everyone else.

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 2003
ISBN: 0-684-86972-1
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2003