Israel ($12.95 paperback original; Oct. 1996; 256 pp.; 1- 883513-03-0): The latest in a new series whose recent volumes have portrayed, through representative contemporary stories, the cultures of Vietnam, Costa Rica, and Prague. The 16 pieces here, which are arranged by geographical area (for those who may want to carry a copy of the work along while visiting the country) and theme, include work of the 1980s and '90s (much of it previously untranslated) from such celebrated figures as Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, Shulamith Hareven, and David Grossman--and, most memorably, two terrific offerings by lesser-knowns: Yehudit Katzir's crisp, haunting ``Closing the Sea'' and Yosl Birstein's elegiac ``The Writer A.M. Fuchs Was Already Old.'' This is a good idea, done well.