Monday, June 30, 2014

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Taking an Organized Tour in Europe

The bus stopped shortly after we crossed the border for a much needed coffee break. Actually, it was the second time we had crossed from Croatia into Bosnia and Herzegovina after landing in Dubrovnik early that morning. We had traveled a short distance up the Croatian coast only to find ourselves with a twenty-kilometer stretch of Bosnian coastline before entering Croatia once again. As our destination for the day was Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, we needed to cross the border one more time.

It sounds a bit confusing - so many border crossings in such a short distance. Luckily, I didn't have to worry about a thing. My wife and I were on an organized tour. Our guide handled the passports and border police, and our driver followed the planned route toward Sarajevo.

This was the first time that we had ever taken an organized tour, and we weren't sure what to expect. I love to plan our travel adventures - researching hotels, routes, and places to explore. But this time, we were visiting three countries, with three different currencies, and many border crossings. I decided to forego driving for one week and enjoy the ride. I would soon discover that there are advantages and disadvantages to taking an organized tour in Europe.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why I'm Going to Bosnia

Bosnia and Herzegovina - a tiny country in southeastern Europe. What do you know about the country? Would you ever think of traveling there?

I have traveled a lot over the years. I have been to Las Vegas, London, and Hong Kong. I lived for two years in Bulgaria, using that country as a base for excursions into Serbia, Romania, Macedonia, and Turkey. I have explored Amsterdam, Prague, Madrid, and Budapest. I have walked the streets of Macau, taken the subway in New York.

So, why I am I so keen on traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Monday, June 16, 2014

About that Missing Atomic Bomb…

Whatever happened to that extra atomic bomb manufactured by South Africa before it voluntarily dismantled its nuclear missile program? Why did the King and Prime Minister of Sweden go missing from a gala banquet at the Royal Castle in June 2007? And most importantly, what are the odds that an illiterate born in a Soweto shack would grow up and one day find herself in a potato truck with said atomic bomb, the missing monarch, and the prime minister?

The answer is one in 45,766,212,810.

This, according to the calculations of the aforementioned illiterate herself.

This is the premise for The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden (Ecco Press, April 2014) by Jonas Jonasson, the international bestselling author of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. The new novel is written in the same lighthearted satirical voice as the previous book.

Friday, June 13, 2014

How I Crashed Not One, But Three Eritrean Weddings

Rehov HaNevi'im (Prophets Street) is one of the most beautiful streets in Jerusalem, with historic buildings and cultural delights in an area often overlooked by visitors to the city. There's the Italian Hospital, built in 1914, which now houses offices of the Ministry of Education. There's the nearby Musrara neighborhood, once one of the city's slums sitting on the Jordanian border and now attracting artists and the middle class. There's the Russian Compound, with the beautiful Russian Orthodox Church built in 1860, and Jerusalem Police headquarters. And there is Ethiopia Street.

Ethiopia Street - a winding, picturesque lane that was once home to Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the man responsible for reviving the Hebrew language in the modern era. The main attraction on this lane is the Ethiopian Church, a walled compound built in stages between 1874 and 1901. At its center stands a round church, modeled on churches in Ethiopia.

My visit to the Ethiopian Church on a Saturday afternoon coincided with a wedding. No, not just one wedding, but three. And the wedding parties were not Ethiopian at all! The exquisitely attired brides and grooms were from Eritrea!

Where is Eritrea and what are throngs of young Eritreans wearing fancy clothing doing in an Ethiopian church in Jerusalem?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Read "Searching for Seinfeld" for Free

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld played a small, but crucial role in Israel's history. Like many other idealistic youth who later became well-known celebrities - including Bob Hoskins, Sacha Baron Cohen, Sigourney Weaver, and Helen Mirren - Seinfeld volunteered, age 17, on a kibbutz.

In the story "Searching for Seinfeld" from my book The Virtual Kibbutz, a reporter sets out on Seinfeld's trail, tracking down the days he spent on a kibbutz in Israel. How did Jerry like getting up early in the morning to work the fields? The answer, based on the real story, involves bananas!

Read "Searching for Seinfeld" absolutely for free on, an innovative startup with the dream of "allowing anybody, anywhere to create a professional book, digital or print - for free."

What this means is an online, visually pleasing, digital book that is an absolute pleasure to read. I am proud to offer my short story for your reading pleasure on the site. Share this with your friends!

Click to read "Searching for Seinfeld".

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Ellis Writers Club

Growing up, I never knew anyone else who had the same first name as I did. I thought that was kind of special. Some people asked me if I was named for the famous island where immigrants had arrived in the United States. I told them that Ellis Island was named after me.

After publishing my first books, starting a blog, and establishing a presence on Facebook and Twitter, I came into contact with a number of other authors who also had Ellis as their first name. A bigger surprise, though, was to find out that Ellis was also a common woman's name.

There is no doubt in my mind that having Ellis as a first name is a sign that you are a very creative person, capable of huge literary achievements. As members of the Ellis Writers Club, we are all dedicated authors and writers, constantly improving our craft. Each of us has our own writing style; our books are in different genres. Yet, as writers with Ellis as our name, our books are guaranteed to captivate readers all over the world.

Without further ado, I am proud to introduce Ellis Morning, Ellis Vidler, Ellis Nelson, and myself Ellis Shuman - the founding members of the Ellis Writers Club. Read our books!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

We Have to Talk about Nakba

In Contested Land, Contested Memory, Canadian writer Jo Roberts argues that Israelis and Palestinians must acknowledge each other's suffering for reconciliation to have a chance.

In the 1970s, I studied for two years at the Jerusalem Experimental High School, in a setting so picturesque that it was nearly impossible to concentrate on school work. The school was housed in an old Arab building on a slope behind the gas stations at the entrance to the city. At the time, the suburb of Ramot was still being constructed on the far hills. Modern highways had yet to cut through the deep valley.

The surreal beauty seen from the school included the abandoned stone houses of the village of Lifta. When walking to and from school, and when escaping from classes, my classmates and I would sit on the remnants of walls, hide in the shelled out remains, and some of us actually camped out in the former homes of the village. Little thought was given to the residents who had fled in 1948, to what their lives were like, or whether they had been dealt an unjust hand in the war that established the State of Israel.