Campfire (2004)

It’s the early 1980’s, and a single mother decides to move with her two daughters to a religious-Zionist settlement in the “occupied territories.” The movie casts a not always flattering lens on the passions and beliefs of the community, shown through the trials of the two teenage daughters and the way they are treated by a host of characters. Painful, sometimes funny, and always poignant.

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Yossi and Jagger (2002)

Many movies had dealt with the Israel Defense Forces. But this is the first, to my knowledge, to address the trials and tribulations of a gay couple serving in the IDF. It’s a haunting, beautiful and sad movie, and raises harrowing questions about the real costs of the “macho” environment of the IDF. A classic in Israel, and a wonderful window on yet another dimension of Israeli life that is not often part of our discourse about Israel and its challenges.

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Broken Wings (2002)

Israel is not all about war, army, immigration. Sometimes it’s just about regular people trying to live regular lives. This film, about a single mother raising her teenage children alone, isn’t at all critical of Israel. Indeed, it’s not “about” Israel. But because it takes place in Israel, it offers a window into parts of Israeli life, even while dealing with a subject much more universal.  Memorable and beautifully done.

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Foreign Sister (2000)

Foreign workers are a major dimension of Israeli life, and not a necessarily pleasant one. Israel has allowed thousands of people to enter to work here, but their status is often grey, and their conditions sometimes deplorable. This movie actually addresses the case of foreign workers in reasonable conditions, and even so, points to the underbelly of Israel’s underclass, an issues Israel is eventually going to have to confront.  See this movie, and you’ll understand the issue better than ever before.

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There are thousands of fabulous organizations in Israel, doing wonderful social justice work. One of the great ones, a small start up run by (my friend) Levi Lauer, addresses three important issues: victims of terror, righteous gentiles and human (sex) trafficking. Check out their web site. And if you want to make a contribution, there can’t be a better place than here.

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Bema'aglei Tzedek

Bema’aglei Tzedek is another great organization that focuses on social justice.  Some of the issues central to the organization include decreasing the number of Israeli families living under the poverty line; increasing the accessibility of public spaces to the disabled; and preventing the trafficking of women.  The organization awards a seal of approval to businesses and restaurants that respect the rights of their employees and are accessible to those with disabilities.

The Ma’aglei Tzedek Website

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A Tale of Love and Darkness / Amos Oz (2004)

Amos Oz’s autobiography captures the flavor of life in Palestine before Independence in ways that virtually nothing else I’ve read does. The passages that describe the events of November 29, 1947, the day of the UN vote on Israel’s creation, and his discussions with a Kibbutz member of whether the Arab “enemy” is really a “murderer,” are literally unforgettable. The entire book is a masterpiece. Read More »

Dancing Arabs / Sayed Kashua (2004)

Kashua is an Israeli Arab, who interestingly writes in Hebrew only. Funny and sad, he is far from an apologist for the “Zionist narrative.” He tells a story of a community that belongs nowhere, and exposes the complexity of Israeli Arab life. Watch also for his second book, “And It Was Morning,” not yet in English. Read More »

The Liberated Bride / A. B. Yehoshua (2003)

I read this book both in Hebrew and in English, and didn’t love it. But I’m a minority. Most people loved it. And it clearly reveals slices of Israeli academic, judicial, Arab and romantic life. It’s a good yarn, if a bit long, and gives a rich picture of dimensions of contemporary Israeli life.

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Six Days of War / Michael B. Oren (2002)

Universally lauded, this book has become a classic. A history of the Six Day War, it reads like a novel. Of particular interest to many will be the opening sections that discuss the period called the “hamtanah,” the weeks prior to the war when many Israelis really feared that the end was at hand. The fragility of the new Jewish State is brought to live in vivid detail. Read More »
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