Tuesday, December 14, 2021

"The Magician" - short story

For years he sought to perform the ultimate illusion. An astounding feat that would captivate audiences. A magic trick like no other which would make them truly appreciate him and win their long overdue praise. The recognition he deserved. Just one fantastic stunt was all he needed. It had eluded him so far, but eventually it would come to him. Of this, he was certain.

He had been called to the world of magic as a young boy after seeing a television variety show. Glued to the screen, he was held spellbound. He recorded every movement in his mind so he could later recreate the tricks.

He started with “Abracadabra” performances for his family. He staged hocus pocus skits for classmates and performed at talent shows as Kid Magician—a stage name he would retain throughout his career. His first tricks were simple ones. Endless strings of colorful handkerchiefs, ropes with mysteriously disappearing knots. Taps of a magical wand and classic card tricks.

“There’s nothing up my sleeve,” he declared, his black cape swirling around him. But his classmates didn’t believe him.

Read the rest of the story on Mad Swirl.

Photo "Magic in the Air" by Tyler Malone

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Review of ‘More Than I Love My Life’ by David Grossman

Israeli author David Grossman’s new novel More Than I Love My Life, translated by Jessica Cohen (Knopf, August 2021), has been praised by critics as "captivating" and "powerful", a "delicately crafted novel" that is a "remarkable achievement to [his] long list". Yet despite all the praise, I can’t help but say that it left me a bit disappointed.

Goli Otok is a barren, uninhabited island off the coast of Croatia. In the early 1950s, it was home to a notorious political prison. The novel flashbacks to when the fictional ninety-year-old Vera was held on Goli Otok for refusing to denounce her husband as an enemy of Josip Broz Tito's communist state. These flashbacks are indeed powerful, but the novel is much more than a historical account of those tragic events.

Instead, it focuses on the intergenerational relations between Vera; her daughter, Nina; and her granddaughter, Gili. Along with her father, Gili sets out to make a documentary of Vera’s return to the island. Their unlikely journey reveals intertwined layers of familial love and betrayal that transcend the travel tale, emphasizing the novel’s emphasis on the ability of family members to remember, forgive, and to regain love across the generations.

The second half of the book, depicting the visit to the island and containing the most traumatic flashbacks, is definitely better than the first half, which makes one wonder why the story couldn’t have started with the family’s arrival in Croatia.

Much of the narrative is told as the four characters travel through rural Croatia. Anyone who has driven in Croatia knows that the roads are often not in the best condition. They wind through the countryside and there are speed traps in the picturesque villages. How could the characters navigate those unfamiliar roads at night, in the rain, for hours, while Gili films her documentary, turned around to face Vera and Nina in the backseat? That would be uncomfortable and reckless, to say the least.

While Vera and Gili, and even Raphael, Gili’s father, are believable characters, getting a grasp on Nina’s complex personality is difficult. She is unevenly portrayed—sometimes coming close to the others, sometimes hiding for years and years, sometimes being loving, sometimes running off by herself—making it hard to relate to her.

The family members keep secrets from each other, leading to feelings of betrayal, yet can one really say, at novel’s end, why those secrets were kept or what they are?

Readers will find it implausible that elderly Vera, in her nineties, is capable of climbing a steep mountain trail in the dark of night. That would be a challenging task in the daylight for anyone.

And finally, although Grossman is known for his creative and expressive literary style, and the translation of this novel is impeccable and faithful, one questions his use of archaic phrases like:

“From both those breasts I suckled.”

Trivial things, it’s true, but I couldn’t dismiss them from my mind as I read the book.

More Than I Love My Life was inspired by the true story of one of the author’s longtime confidantes who was imprisoned and tortured on the island. The novel, recognized in The Financial Times as one of the ‘Best books of 2021: Fiction in translation’, is bound to win other awards as well, but it failed to live up to my expectations. Having been disappointed with this book, as well as with his previous A Horse Walks into a Bar, I will be less likely to read the next David Grossman novel.

David Grossman is an acclaimed Israeli author of fiction, nonfiction, and children's literature. His works have been translated into more than forty languages. He is the recipient of many prizes including Israel’s Sapir Prize, the French Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Buxtehuder Bulle in Germany, and Rome's Premio per la Pace e l'Azione Umanitaria. In October 2021, Grossman was the first Berman Literature Prize in Sweden for his novel When Nina Knew/Life Plays With Me.

Jessica Cohen translates contemporary Israeli prose, poetry, and other creative work. She shared the 2017 Man Booker International Prize with David Grossman, for her translation of A Horse Walks into a Bar, and has translated works by major Israeli writers, including Amos Oz, Etgar Keret, Ronit Matalon and Nir Baram.

Originally published on The Times of Israel.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

"Rakiya" Shortlisted for International Book Award

I am excited to share: Rakiya, my as-yet unpublished short story collection, has been listed as a finalist in the Eyelands Book Awards 2021 - an international contest for published/unpublished books based in Greece.

Rakiya is one of 4 finalists in the unpublished short story collection category. Winners will be announced on December 30th.

Full details of the awards and the finalists: https://eyelandsawards.com/

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Are These Writers Nuts? - #NaNoWriMo (from the archive)

Here’s the challenge: write a 50,000 word novel during November. That’s 1,667 words a day, every day, for thirty days. Don’t bother to edit now, just write. Who would take on this wild challenge? I have an excuse (I am currently in the advanced editing stages of an already written novel)*, but some 250,000 writers from all over the world are hitting their keyboards furiously every day this month. Some of them are published authors. Are they crazy?

Welcome to November, designated as the National Novel Writing Month. That’s NaNoWriMo for short, NaNo for even shorter…

According to the NaNo website, hundreds of thousands of writers around the world are expected to pledge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. “There are no judges, no prizes, and entries are deleted from the server before anyone reads them.” So, what’s the point?

“The 50,000 word challenge has a wonderful way of opening up your imagination and unleashing creativity,” says NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty. “When you write for quantity, instead of quality, you end up getting both. Also, it’s a great excuse for not doing any dishes for a month.”

According to the site, more than 90 novels begun during the annual November promotion have since been published, including Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, a New York Times #1 best seller.

This year, some of the writers started their NaNo project precisely at the stroke of midnight, November 1. Others hope for a fortuitous start if they begin writing at exactly 11:11 on November 11th. But by then, some of their fellow writers will have already written more than 16,000 words.

Maggie from "Maggie Madly Writing" says that she plans to “write precisely 1,667 words a day – sometimes a little more. On days when I know I’m not going to be around the computer, I’ll write two days’ worth of words in one day.”

Kim Wright, author of Love in Mid Air, which I previously reviewed, says that this is her first year for NaNo. “As a longtime writer, I’ve been vaguely familiar with the concept for years but I have the sense that it’s growing as a movement, building towards some sort of critical mass.”

Jeff, the self-described Doubting Writer, says he must be “nuts” to join the NaNo craze. “Whether I produce anything of value is an entirely different question.”

If you’re an aspiring writer, should you attempt NaNo this year? Here are 5 reasons to do it. As for advice how to get through the month, check out these NaNo Rules that Lead to Progress.

Good luck to all you NaNo writers! As I edit my previously written manuscript I'll be thinking of you. Let me know how you did when December comes around.

* This article was originally posted in November 2011. Ten years later, authors are still attempting to pen their novels during the month of November. Write on!

Photo by Thom Milkovic on Unsplash

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Review of ‘Angels & Tahina’ by Tzippi Moss

In the autumn of 2009, Tzippi Moss, her husband Allan, and their son Ezra, set out to hike the Israel Trail, a 1000-kilometer trek from Kibbutz Dan in the north, to the shores of the Red Sea in Israel’s south. Their goal was not only to experience the country’s beauty on foot, but also to raise funds to research cures for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the progressive nervous system disease commonly known as ALS that took the life of Allan's mother.

Angels & Tahina: 18 Lessons from Hiking the Israel Trail by Tzippi Moss (Goat Path Publications, September 2020) came 11 years later. The book is part travelogue, part memoir, and part a collection of life lessons.

“Each chapter is organized around a specific life lesson,” Moss writes in her introduction. These lessons, “inspired primarily by folks I met along the way … may zigzag between far-flung locations on the trail.”

One of the first non-chronological chapters is ‘Commit to the Journey’. While Tzippi and her husband had hiked frequently in the past, it wasn’t clear to her if she was capable of leaving her coaching practice and committing to two months on the trail. “I love starting something new,” she writes. “It’s just the follow-through I’m challenged by.”

She prepares for her trek meticulously, purchasing suitable hiking boots, packing sufficient food, and planning where to hide caches of it to be retrieved later. Yet nothing can adequately prepare her for handling the toll on her physical and mental health. She will have to acquire additional skills along the journey, and she shares the process with readers.

The family is buoyed by faith, and their love for Israel. “God, thank you for keeping our steps steady and secure so that we may continue walking for all those who are not able to do so,” they say each morning. “Help us to get to our destination.”

The tahina in the book’s title refers to the “ubiquitous tahina” they packed for sustenance, because “it stores well, provides protein, fat, and calcium.” Angels refers to a network of some 500 people from Dan to Eilat who regularly extend warm hospitality to Israel Trail hikers.

Tzippi and her family may have enjoyed warm showers, comfortable beds, and Shabbat meals in kibbutzim and development towns along their route, but the success of their trek depended entirely on them. By journey’s end they had not only raised funds to combat ALS, but had also learned the power of family and commitment to achieving the impossible.

Readers will admire both the author’s perseverance and her remarkable ability to share life lessons for both body and soul, lessons that will be valued by all, whether they hike or not.

Tzippi Moss, a resident of Jerusalem, is a holistic psychotherapist at Inner Alchemist Coaching who counsels individuals and couples. Her specialties include mediation, financial counseling, dream work, EMDR, brainspotting, EFT, life and business coaching, medical coaching, stress reduction and relaxation techniques. Angels & Tahina is her first book.

Originally published at The Times of Israel.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Hiking in Israel - the Chinese Hole

“Do one thing every day that scares you!”

The Chinese Hole is a deep, vertical cave set in a karst landscape in the settlement of Ofra, northeast of Jerusalem. When discovered by explorers from the Israel Cave Research Center in the 1980s, it wasn’t clear how deep the cave went, and they joked it must go all the way to China. Now it is known that it reaches a depth of 60 meters.

I joined a group of hikers and arrived at the site early Friday morning. We were outfitted with head lamps and helmets, prepared for our descent. The opening is about 1 meter x 1.5 meter, and entering the cave requires a bit of crawling. Hitting the low ceiling, I was glad I was wearing the helmet.

Amazingly, spelunkers from the Center have constructed a series of metal steps and ladders inside the cave, so no rappelling is involved. Still, parts of the descent, especially when hanging onto a rope ladder when passing through a narrow vertical crack in the rock, are quite challenging.

The final part of the descent is on iron ladders. The first ladder is about 20 meters high, and the second one is about 30 meters. In between the two there is a platform where you can observe a nearby crevice filled with stalactites.

At the bottom of the pit is a small, muddy area. There is one further pit a few meters deep, but it’s not equipped with a ladder. After a few minutes of rest, we began our climb back to the surface.

The ascent is done in the same manner. It requires time, effort, and patience, as you must wait for the person above you on the ladder to keep climbing.

I must admit, I hesitated about going into the Chinese Hole. It’s not that I’m claustrophobic or afraid of heights, but I didn’t know if I could handle the challenge. But, I entered the cave, descended to the bottom, and came back to the surface. I am happy that I did it!

Friday, October 22, 2021

"Nocturnal Animals" - short story

“They were here last night!”

“After all the work you’ve done. What did they do this time?”

“They dug up the grass! Again!”

I led my wife to the backyard where the damage was plain to see. Mounds of overturned soil, piles of kicked-up earth where a lawn of thick green grass used to be.

“It’s worse than last time,” she noted.

“Much worse.”

What more could I do? I had installed a chain-link fence around the perimeter, but this hadn’t served as a strong enough barrier. I had reinforced the fence, added additional metal stakes at regular intervals. This did not stop them. I weighted down the fencing and secured the stakes with solid bases.This effort had failed as well.

Boars. Wild boars determined to go on a rampage in my garden.

“Strange that they’re only trampling the grass. They never eat the flowers or the bushes.”

“They’re going for water,” I explained. The upturned earth ran in nearly parallel lines above the buried irrigation tubing. Grass destroyed in a surprisingly neat pattern.

“How many are there?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I have never actually seen them.”

Read the rest of the story on Across the Margin.

Stuffed boar as seen at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Hiking in Israel: Overlooking Jericho

I had never heard of the Dok Fortress until a few weeks ago. Dok (the name used in the Book of Maccabees, while Josephus called it Dagon) was the first Hasmonean fortress. According to tradition, Dok is where Simeon, the last of the Maccabean brothers, together with his wife and two sons, was murdered in 135 BCE by his son-in-law.

Centuries later, a Byzantine church was built inside the fortress, and much later, a medieval church. Nothing remains of that church except for an outline of its stone walls, and nothing at all remains of the fortress itself.

I joined a group including Ami, a good friend, for the hike. We travelled in a convoy of some 20 cars through a Border Police training base (everything we did was with IDF permission) and then several kilometers further into the desert. Finally, we parked and set off on foot for about 2 kilometers before climbing to a lookout point where we could see Dok. Then we made our way up to the fortress itself for an amazing view over the Palestinian city of Jericho – a very green oasis just north of the Dead Sea.

Coming down the mountain I was in for some unexpected surprises. First was seeing the Monastery of the Temptation built precariously on the opposite cliff walls. The temptation mentioned refers to Jesus spending forty days and forty nights fasting and meditating and fighting off the call of Satan. Qurantal, another name for the mountain, can be translated as 40, referring to those days and nights.

As we continued our descent, we reached a network of caves called ‘ma’arat ha’meraglim’ – Cave of the Spies. This is where traditionally Rahab from Jericho hid the two men sent to scout out the land before the arrival of the Israelites in the Book of Joshua. We walked through the caves including one where bats flew noisily over our heads.

We reached the bottom of the mountain and then followed the rocky path up a wadi until we reached the road where we had parked our cars.

Quite an amazing hike through unfamiliar territory, with many sites connected to Israel’s Biblical past.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

"Applesauce" - short story

My wife makes the best chocolate cake.

Moist. Rich. So chocolaty. I stood there daydreaming about the cake, my mouth watering, and then my phone buzzed.

“Where are you?”

“I’m in line.”

“At the front of the line, or at the back of the line?”

“Um, somewhere in the middle of the line.”

“Did you get applesauce?”


“I need it for the cake. You forgot! You’re always forgetting things!”

Chocolate cake—applesauce was one of the ingredients.

“Of course, I remember,” I said.

“Well, make sure to get it. I want to bake before dinner.”


I apologized to the others waiting in line at the cash register and spun my shopping cart around. With one hand holding down the toilet paper resting precariously atop a mountain of groceries, I set off in search of canned goods.


My tennis partner was lingering by the dairy refrigerators. Like me, Bill was pushing an overfilled cart. Like me, he didn’t seem pleased with the task.

“How are you?” I asked him. “We haven’t played in weeks.”

“My shoulder—it’s still bugging me. What’s up with you?”

“Oh, you know. The same.”

“We should get together, even if it’s not on the courts. Why don’t you come over on Saturday and we’ll watch the game? Have some beer?”

“Beer? Sounds good!” I said.

“You know what? Bring Janet as well. I can fire up the grill and we’ll make a meal out of it.”

“I don’t know what Janet’s planning,” I said. “If she’s up to it, what should we bring?”

“Why don’t you bring the beer?”

“Sure, I’ll bring the beer.”

“Well, I’ll see you then. Meanwhile, I need to find muesli. I won’t be allowed back in the house if I don’t buy muesli.”

“I hear you,” I said. I patted him on the shoulder and continued through the store.

Daily special! Marked-down prices. The red-bordered notices on the shelves drew my attention to discounted products, many of which I had missed on my first circuit. Onward through the store. Baking goods, dry goods, pet food. Frozen goods, fruits and vegetables. Finally, I arrived at the beverage aisle.

Beer, he said, but what kind? Pale amber, stout, or Belgian-style ale? Local beer, or the more expensive imported variety? If I get a cheap six-pack, I’ll appear to be stingy. But imported beer? I’m neither a regular drinker nor a beer connoisseur, but I didn’t want to be judged on what I would bring to Bill’s table. Okay, let’s just go with what’s on sale—American-style lager.

I waited at the checkout counter, smiling at the other customers. But wait! Janet had asked me to pick up something. What was it?

Applesauce for the chocolate cake!

“Excuse me,” I said, spinning my cart around to begin another trip around the store. Up one crowded aisle and down the next. Paper goods, cleaning supplies. I turned around the next corner and found myself back at the beverage aisle.

“Did you get the beer?”

“Bill! I thought you would be out of here by now.”

“I’m still looking for muesli. What is muesli anyway? Some kind of fancy granola? What’s wrong with good old cornflakes?”

“It’s probably with the other breakfast products,” I said, pointing toward the back of the store.

“Hmm. I see you got lager,” Michael said, regarding the pack balancing next to the toilet paper on top of my cart.

“You don’t like lager?”

“Oh, I do! I assumed you to be an ale guy. A pale ale guy,” he said with a laugh. I didn’t find his joke funny.

“Anything else you want me to get?” I asked, trying to humor him with a display of generosity.

“Let me see. We could use salted nuts to go with the beer. Cashews, almonds. I really like cashews, don’t you?”


“Listen, I’m just suggesting it. It’s not a problem if you can’t get any.”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll find something,” I assured him.

“Great! I really have to find that muesli and get the hell out of here. I hate grocery shopping!”

“Me, too!” I replied, but he had already wheeled his cart away.

I passed the bread and baked goods section, bypassed the coffees and tea, and headed to the candy and snack shelves. I hoped cashews were on sale.

Back in line at the cash register, I tried to think if there was anything else I was supposed to buy. Janet may have mentioned something, but it must not have been all that important. She would be pleased to hear we had been invited out. I knew she didn’t mind the occasional beer. We’d probably eat outside—the weather was certainly good enough. I wondered what Michael would be grilling. Hot dogs and burgers, or something more expensive?

“Will that be all, sir?” the cashier asked after the last of my goods had passed in front of her.

“Yes, that’s everything,” I said, pulling out my wallet. I handed her my credit card and arranged the shopping bags in the cart. “Thank you,” I said when she handed back the card along with my receipt.

 A short while later, I parked the car out front and made two trips carrying the groceries into the house. “I’m home,” I shouted, and Janet joined me in the kitchen.

“Did you get the applesauce?”


“For the cake. The chocolate cake you love so much!”

“Uh, no. I was at the supermarket, and...”

“You forgot, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t forget! They were all out! I even asked the stock clerk!”

She shook her head, not believing a word I said.

“What’s that smell? Is there something in the oven?”

“Yes. Devil’s Food Cake. I knew you’d forget the applesauce. You’re hopeless!”

My wife makes the best Devil’s Food Cake.

Originally published on Bright Flash Literary ReviewPhoto by pure julia on Unsplash

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Review of ‘Jerusalem Beach’ by Iddo Gefen

In the opening story of Jerusalem Beach by Iddo Gefen, translated by Daniella Zamir (Astra House, August 2021), an eighty-year-old man enlists in the Golani infantry brigade. His son is sure he has “lost his marbles.” Serving in the army at that age would “help death along.” The old man replies that he is “trying to outrun death.”

In this story, “The Geriatric Platoon,” the IDF has established “a unit for the elderly, mainly for show” and their service on the border is “just a game everyone’s playing.” But for the wayward, elderly soldier, service in the army is much more than a game. His worried son and grandson go into action to bring the old man home, and an incident on the border makes their mission more urgent than ever.

In the story’s subplot, the narrator is receiving a series of emails from his estranged mother. Will connections between family members be repaired by story’s end, or will tragedy drive them apart? This well-constructed story, partially epistolary in format, leaves readers eager to dive into the rest of the collection.

Thicket of dreams

Many of Gefen’s stories are otherworldly, although you wouldn’t classify them exactly as science fiction but rather narratives focused on memories and dreams. There is an interplanetary coming-of-age tale in “The Girl Who Lived Near the Sun”; dreams are monitored and built in “Debby’s Dream House”; and memories are shared in “How to Remember a Desert”; but two tender, very emotional stories make this collection a tour de force of new Israeli literature.

In “Exit,” a young girl wanders into the desert and “disappear[s] into the thicket of her dreams,” leading her mother to say, ‘’Something in her eyes has changed since we moved south."

The family’s move to the Negev has given the mother a chance to advance her career, while the father is stuck, working alone on developing an app for his start-up. Seeing how his wife was not relating to “her little girl falling apart before her very eyes,” the father realizes “she [had] shifted the responsibility for our daughter’s care over to me.”

As the young girl grows distant, withdrawing from the waking world while walking a fine line between memories and dreams, her anxious parents think that if they just understood what she was dreaming about, they could find a solution to her mysterious medical condition. Readers will sympathize with these helpless parents, hoping that the young girl will find a way out of her dreams and back into the arms of her caring family.

First memories

The dream-like title story, “The Jerusalem Beach,” is the most touching in the entire collection. An elderly woman is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Along with her caring husband, “they went looking for her first memory, snow on the beach in Jerusalem.” Her husband knows the memory, and the beach itself, are probably imaginary, but what wouldn’t one do to in hopes to help the woman you love?

The two arrive at the central bus station in Jerusalem, board the “miraculous” light rail train, and travel to the Machane Yehuda market. Jerusalem has changed immensely since his last visit decades before. Just like his wife, he, too, finds himself “lost in time and space.” Readers will be eager to learn if the snowy beach is a dream or a true memory “too precious to place in the hands of another, even of a loved one.”

When you read Gefen’s stories, with their diverse characters, and cross-genre themes of memories and dreams, you never know what you’re going to get. But one thing you do know. Each story is going to be very enjoyable to read.

Iddo Gefen is an author and neurocognitive researcher at the Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab at the Sagol Brain Institute. He leads an innovative study to diagnose aspects of Parkinson’s disease using storytelling and augmented reality. Jerusalem Beach, his first book, received the Israeli Minister of Culture’s Award in 2017, and he won the National Library of Israel “Pardes” Scholarship for young writers in 2019.


Originally published on The Times of Israel.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

From the Archive: What Reviewers Said About “The Virtual Kibbutz”

The Virtual Kibbutz – a collection of short stories – has been selected as a finalist in the Fiction – Short Stories category of the ForeWord Magazine 2003 Book of the Year Awards, honoring excellence in independent publishing.”

That press release was from April 2004, and while the book did not win the award, its nomination was yet another example of the positive response it received from readers, reviewers, and independent publishers.

Here is a small selection of what reviewers said about The Virtual Kibbutz, shortly after its publication:


“It is a lively collection of readable, imaginative short stories descriptive of kibbutz life … Shuman conveys both warmth and sadness in his stories, along with a sense of intimacy and a feeling of regret for the possible passing of a history of which he was a part. The stories are simple, but rich and informative, as they describe ordinary, individual, everyday living in a kibbutz.”  -- Akron Jewish News


“Shuman captures the realities of today’s kibbutz as members struggle to stay in sight of a rapidly changing society. What makes the book so engaging is that he treats it all with the language and imagery of an inspired storyteller.”  -- Hamilton Jewish News


The Virtual Kibbutz is … a must read for anyone interested in understanding the issues facing this uniquely Israeli institution. The underlying theme of the collection is change – as Israel evolves into a high tech capitalist economy, kibbutzim are struggling to stay true to their ideology while making social and economic changes to maintain their viability.” -- The Source, Israel Info-Access Magazine


“I recommend the book to anyone who has spent time on a kibbutz, anyone interested in learning more about the very unique society of the kibbutz, or anyone who enjoys reading about Israel in general. I found the stories fun and enlightening.” -- About.com Judaism site


“The Virtual Kibbutz gives one an insider’s look into the most personal aspects of kibbutz life. And one is left kvelling at the accomplishments of our fellow Jews in the face of nearly insurmountable odds … Each narrative is a distinct unit, with each story just the right length to read on a commute or before bedtime. If you like reading true yet Hamish stories which leave you with a smile in your heart, then this book should be on your ‘must read’ list.” – JewishIndy

Buy The Virtual Kibbutz here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Not all Israeli Netflix dramas are good. Case in point: Hit & Run

Israel has been very successful exporting television shows in recent years. Two shows that enjoyed huge success in their American adaptations are the HBO psychotherapy drama “In Treatment” (based on the Israeli series
BeTipul); and the Showtime counterterrorism thriller “Homeland” (based on the Israeli series Hatufim).

In the age of streaming services, Israel has seen trans-Atlantic transports of original content in Hebrew. The most surprisingly successful show has been “Shtisel”. The third season about a Haredi family living in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem is now available on Netflix.

Another Netflix success story is “Fauda”, which very realistically tells the story of “a top Israeli agent [who] comes out of retirement to hunt for a Palestinian fighter he thought he'd killed, setting a chaotic chain of events into motion.” In Israel, this series is possibly too close to home for comfort, but it has attracted a huge international audience.

One could assume that the creators of “Fauda”—Avi Issacharoff (Middle East commentator for The Times of Israel) and Lior Raz (who also stars in the series)—have a Midas touch, and anything with their name in the credits would be golden.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

“Hit & Run” premiered recently on Netflix and the 9-episode series is listed as one of the top 10 shows in Israel today. The show relates the story of a “man searching for the truth behind his wife's death” only to be “caught up in a dangerous web of secrets and intrigue stretching from New York to Tel Aviv.”

There are many problems with this show. Although Israeli viewers will enjoy identifying local Tel Aviv scenery, the plot has so many holes that one can’t help but be amazed that someone dared to write a script like this. (While Issacharoff and Raz are listed as creators, they only wrote the first episode).

The main problem with “Hit & Run” though, is its main character. Lior Raz may have been good, and believable, as the star of “Fauda” but here is grotesquely out of place. Looking like a terrorist on the hunt, we can’t help but cringe every time he appears. A man we are supposed to have sympathy for goes on a killing rage and seems to enjoy it. When this travel agent-turned-avenger gets locked up and beaten to the core, we can’t help but cheer. Keep him in jail and out of our living rooms!

No spoilers here. I won’t give away the ending because after a few episodes, you’ll wonder what’s the point? You might make it to end of the ninth episode, but this could be in hopes that the main character will be killed off, thereby preventing a second season.


Originally published on The Times of Israel

Photo credit: Netflix official site

Friday, August 20, 2021

Review of ‘Isaac's Beacon’ by David L. Robbins

The novel Isaac's Beacon by David L. Robbins (Wicked Son, August 2021) is a sweeping historical epic based on the actual events of Israel’s founding, but it doesn’t sugarcoat the tale in the tradition of Exodus and Cast a Giant Shadow. There are no striking, blue-eyed movie stars here, but rather complex, flawed protagonists forced to find their way amidst the challenges and struggles of pre-state Israel’s most tumultuous years.

Eva escapes wartime Vienna and crosses the Mediterranean on a refugee ship only to be interned in the Atlit detention camp, before rebuilding her life as Rivkah in Gush Etzion. Hugo lingers between living and dying in Buchenwald, where he is rescued by an American reporter named Vince. Upon their arrival in Palestine, Vince discovers it is more important to play a role in the historic events occurring around him than to report their story.

Told from the perspective of Irgun fighters, this is a candid account of bombings and hangings, of sitting on death row in a British prison, and navigating one’s way through minefields. The events are portrayed with careful adherence to historical accuracy, a sign of the author’s meticulous research.

While the bombing of the King David Hotel is well known, not everyone is familiar with the failed attempt to blow up British military headquarters at Citrus House in Tel Aviv. The sinking of the Patria refugee ship was a real, tragic event, as were the fierce attacks on convoys supplying the settlements of Gush Etzion. It will surprise readers to learn that American conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein performed with the Palestine Philharmonic at Ein Harod; this concert took place in May 1947.

Most troubling to read are the pages depicting the events at Deir Yassin in April 1948. Fighters from the Irgun and Lehi killed at least 100 Palestinian Arabs in what can be rightfully be called a massacre. The horror of what transpired in that village is described in precise, painful detail.

The title of the book is a bit strange. The Gush Etzion kibbutz where Rivkah makes her home, where Vince takes up arms in defense of the Jewish cause, and where Hugo finds refuge from Irgun violence, is Masu'ot Yitzhak, an actual kibbutz destroyed in the War of Independence (and later established as a moshav shitufi near Ashkelon). The name’s literal translation is Isaac’s Beacon, but that hardly sounds like something that would appear on a map of Israel.

“There is going to be a Jewish state,” says one of the Irgun leaders in the last days of the British Mandate. “It will be born in bitterness and battle.” The novel Isaac’s Beacon relates the tale of Israel’s birth in bitterness and battle without sparing the reader any of the blood, sweat, and tears of the brave fighters who made it possible.

New York Times best-selling author David L. Robbins is the author of 15 novels and four professionally produced plays. Many of his books are historical, depicting the battles and conflicts of World War Two. In 2018, Robbins was named one of two most influential literary artists in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Originally published on The Times of Israel.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

"After the War" - a short story in 101 words

The recent flare up of hostilities between Israel and Gaza in May saddened me. Actually it was more than a flare up - it was a war. More than 4,000 rockets fired into Israel, Israeli airstrikes at military targets in Gaza. At least 243 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children and 39 women. Twelve people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy and 16-year-old girl, were killed. And there was extensive property damage on both sides. All this in 11 days.

I imagined what the Gaza border looked like in the days after the fighting, the latest round in a never-ending conflict. I wrote about my feelings in a very short story totaling 101 words. The story was submitted to the 101 Words website, but it was rejected (as was a previous submission). 

"It would benefit from some action - apart from the bird soaring - some conflict - a problem," the rejection said.

I feel my very short story describes a very painful conflict, an ongoing problem. You be the judge.

After the War

The white bird rose from the rubble and caught the wind. It lifted above the debris, the widespread destruction. What was once a home was now fragments of cement, pulverized tiles, severed wires. Broken furniture, charred books, abandoned toys. From above, the ruins appeared miniature, unreal. The bird flew across open fields, dusty trails, and barbed wire. And then more wreckage, further devastation. Far below lay the remains of another family's house, their scattered possessions and damaged furnishings. Their shattered dreams. No lives were lost in these two homes, not this time, but painful memories would last forever on both sides.

Photo by sun hx on Unsplash.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Farewell Shaare Zion

Some of my strongest memories from growing up in Sioux City, Iowa, have their origin in one specific building. Shaare Zion Synagogue. The synagogue was torn down this week.

My parents were very active members of the synagogue, and that is where I celebrated my bar mitzvah. I was president of Junior Congregation in the months before my family made aliyah and moved to Israel.

I remember the balcony overlooking the pulpit and getting into trouble as a young boy for making noise up there while the congregation was praying down below. I remember Sunday school classes; there were only six of us in our class. I remember bringing Jodie and our one-year-old daughter to see the synagogue on our trip to the States in 1981. I gave a short talk about our lives on a kibbutz and we joined a small group for an Oneg Shabbat.

I remember fondly the congregation's spiritual leaders. Rabbi Hyman Rabinowitz (the synagogue's first rabbi in 1925!) made aliyah and we visited him frequently in Jerusalem. Rabbi Philip Silverstein was the rabbi after him. Rabbi David Zisenwine, who also made aliyah and was a close friend of my family in Israel, and Cantor Harry Sterling both played such an important part of my upbringing, especially as I prepared for my bar mitzvah.

Rabbi Rabinowitz officiated at my brit milah; Rabbis Rabinowitz and Zisenwine attended my wedding.

Shaare Zion's colorful history

My father wrote a book called A History of the Sioux City Jewish Community 1869-1969. The book, although listed on Amazon, is long out-of-print. Among other things in the community's storied past, the book relates part of Shaare Zion Synagogue's colorful history.

"New Synagogue to Be Erected" declared a headline in the Sioux City Journal on March 22, 1923. The article reported that plans for the erection of the synagogue, costing $125,000, had been announced by members of the Modern Orthodox Hebrew Church. The 60 founding members of the synagogue had struggled for nine years to get the building constructed, according to the article. It was only starting April 18, 1926, that the first funds were raised for the construction, and the cornerstone was ceremoniously laid on May 1, 1927.

In his book, my father quoted extensively from the newspaper's account of the synagogue's dedication on September 11, 1927. "The eight scrolls of Shaare Zion Temple were deposited in the new $100,000 edifice at 16th and Douglas Street, and the temple was dedicated late Sunday afternoon. The last rays of the sun's light filtering through the stained glass windows of the synagogue, illuminating the starred blue dome over the ark, made the significant rites deeply impressive to the crowd which had gathered for the occasion."

Unsafe for use and occupancy

Fast forward many, many decades. The Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church purchased the building in 1994, and it was later owned by Ciudad Cristiana Ministerio Nueva Jerusalem. According to the Sioux City Journal, "due to declining membership … the church could not afford to fix leaks in the roof and make necessary repairs."

In May 2021, the Sioux City Council determined that the structure was unsafe for use or occupancy.  The city put out bids for the demolition project, including removal of debris and site work.

As can be seen in these photographs, the demolition has taken place and Shaare Zion Synagogue is no more, except in my memories and in the history of Sioux City's Jewish community.

Shaare Zion Synagogue, as I remember it

Images shared by George Lindblade of Sioux City Gifts on Facebook.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

"Three Women in Sofia" - short story


I remember meeting Milena the day I rode on one of Sofia’s rusty orange trams for the first time. I remember boarding, searching for somewhere to validate my ticket. The ticket was a thin piece of paper, I recall, no bigger than the wrapper of a stick of gum. I turned it over, searching in vain for a barcode. Should I show it to the driver at the front of the carriage? Maybe it had been enough to purchase the ticket at the stand? Perhaps, but that didn’t make sense.

“There,” someone called out.

A middle-aged, slightly frumpy woman sitting near the door pointed to a small box on a metal pole. Confused, I approached the pole.

“You must to punch it,” she instructed me, making me grin at her broken English. “There to put!"

I inserted the ticket in a narrow slit, and applied pressure on the handle, looking at the woman for her approval. When I removed the ticket, I saw it was marked by a barely discernible indentation.

“Good,” the woman said.

How did she know to speak to me in English? Was it so obvious that I was a foreigner who didn’t speak her language? Was it my clothes? During those years I rarely changed out of faded jeans and a Spartans T-shirt. Was this the clue that gave me away?

Read the rest of this story on Literary Yard.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

"Sozopol" - short story

When she approached me in the hotel lobby, I was reviewing my notes for the presentation I would be giving the next day. My laptop was open on the glass-topped coffee table and twenty-three PowerPoint slides alternated on the screen as I clicked through them repeatedly. I had given this presentation before, many times, but now I was nervous for some inexplicable reason. I was prepared, but on the other hand, I was skeptical of how my talk would be received.

“I am a big fan of your books!”

I looked up to find a young woman standing at my side. She was tall, with a slim figure, and jet-black hair. She had a pleasant face; barely visible eyebrows topped her almond-shaped eyes; and her lips were curled into an inviting smile. Quite attractive, actually. Her English carried an Eastern European accent, a sign that she was a local woman. I had seen her before, somewhere, but no full recognition took hold. After a moment’s hesitation, I responded to her compliment with a simple, “Thank you. Have we met?”

“I attended this morning’s session!” she said excitedly.

Of course, she was an attendee of the seminar! I had spotted her in the mixed audience—Bulgarians and participants from outside the country, like me. “It was quite an interesting discussion,” I said. “And you are...?”

“Desislava,” she said, extending her hand and sitting down uninvited on a lounge chair. “But you can call me Desi.”

Read the rest of the story on The Write Launch.