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The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land [Paperback]

Donna Rosenthal
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 1, 2008 0743270355 978-0743270359 Reissue
Israel is smaller than New Jersey, with 0.11% of the world's population, yet captures a lion's share of headlines. It looks like one country on CNN, a very different one on al-Jazeera. The BBC has their version, The New York Times theirs. But how does Israel look to Israelis? The answers are varied, and they have been brought together here in one of the most original books about Israel in decades. From battlefields to bedrooms to boardrooms, discover the colliding worlds in which an astounding mix of 7.2 million devoutly traditional and radically modern people live. You'll meet "Arab Jews" who fled Islamic countries, dreadlock-wearing Ethiopian immigrants who sing reggae in Hebrew, Christians in Nazareth who publish an Arabic-style Cosmo, young Israeli Muslims who know more about Judaism than most Jews of the Diaspora, ultra-Orthodox Jews on "Modesty Patrols," and more. Interweaving hundreds of personal stories with intriguing new research, The Israelis is lively, irreverent, and always fascinating.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Today's headlines leave the impression there's little to know about Israel outside of its conflict with the Palestinians. Using Hedrick Smith's landmark The Russians as a model, journalist Rosenthal, with years of experience in and knowledge of the Middle East, defies that notion, giving an in-depth look at the rich variety of people in the Jewish state. Relying on dozens of interviews, she gives a lively, variegated portrait of all facets of Israeli life. Terrorism and relations with the Palestinians are covered, but so are secular-religious tensions, Ashkenazi-Sephardi divisions, Israeli Arabs and Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia and Russia. Throughout, Rosenthal stresses the contradictions in Israel: a country steeped in historical and religious tradition that is trying to develop a high-tech economic future; a democracy that many see as favoring its Jewish citizens above its Arab ones; a country ruled in some ways by a rigid religious establishment that also maintains thriving gay and lesbian communities. Rosenthal displays prodigious reporting and allows the people themselves-whether Jewish or Arab, men or women, religious or secular-to speak, and their voices are alternately despairing and hopeful, defiant and conciliatory. As a result, she captures an entire country, one full of flux and drama, in as vivid and nuanced a way as possible: a former male model turns Orthodox; an Ethiopian who "had never used electricity... until he was twelve" now designs computers. With the huge interest in Israel among the reading public, this is likely to find a sizable audience.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Depending upon the source of the report, Israelis are either portrayed to Americans as stalwart but beleaguered allies in the war against terror or frequently brutal colonizers determined to maintain control over justifiably resentful Palestinians. Of^B course, both images can be true, and both can be terrible distortions of reality. Rosenthal, a journalist, television news producer, and lecturer at Hebrew University, has written a broad portrait of a people and of individual Israeli citizens that is interesting, compelling, and often surprising. As revealed by Rosenthal, Israel is a vibrant and amazingly diverse nation. Ultra-Orthodox Jews wait for the Messiah and hunt down and abuse "immodestly" dressed women in Jerusalem streets. Nearby, twenty-first-century entrepreneurs break new ground in high-tech industries. Children of Bedouin families strive to carve a niche for themselves in a relentlessly modernizing society, while other Israeli Arabs struggle to define their identity in a Jewish state. This is a refreshing book that humanizes people and helps to counteract news reports that usually stress acts of savage inhumanity. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reissue edition (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743270355
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743270359
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,147 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Donna Rosenthal is the author of the 2008 updated THE ISRAELIS: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land.

She was inspired to write THE ISRAELIS when a CNN producer asked her: "Our viewers are confused. We have footage of Jews who look like Arabs, Arabs who look like Jews. We have black Jews, bearded 16th century Jews and sexy girls in tight jeans. Who are these people?" Despite the avalanche of news from Israel, few people know much about modern Israelis.

She can be reached at: or

THE ISRAELIS has more than 100 excellent reviews across the religious and political spectrums.

Donna was a news producer at Israel TV, reporter for Israel Radio and The Jerusalem Post, and a lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek and The Atlantic and many other publications.

Donna was the first journalist to travel to remote Ethiopian mountain villages and introduce Israeli radio audiences to black Jews praying in mud hut synagogues -- to go to the Promised Land.

A winner of three Lowell Thomas Journalism awards: Best Investigative Reporting, Best Foreign Travel (The New York Times) and Best Adventure Travel Writing, she's reported from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

She frequently is interviewed on tv and radio about modern Israel. In a Publishers Weekly national survey, Ms. Rosenthal placed in the TOP TEN most popular speakers -- and only female non-fiction author.

Ms. Rosenthal has taught journalism at three universities.

She holds a BA from University of California Berkeley (Political Science) and a Master of Science (International Relations/Middle East) from The London School of Economics.

THE ISRAELIS is dedicated to the cornea donor who died on a day when Passover, Easter, and Id al-Fatir coincided and gave Donna Rosenthal the gift of sight. A portion of the profits are donated to the Israel Organ Donor Society. Through it, Jewish, Muslim and Christian Israelis and Palestinians save each other's lives.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
58 of 62 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In The Land Of Israel May 27, 2004
A light, breezy entertaining bit of pop-ethnology, fit to put on the shelf with such classics as Hedrick Smith's _The Russians_, Dusko Doder's _The Yugoslavs_, and Luigi Barzini's _The Italians_. Rosenthal interviewed an impressive cross-section of Israeli society, from all backgrounds and viewpoints. It's especially affecting to read the interviews with the young people, whether Jewish, Muslim, or Christian, with their too-soon exposure to war's ugliness and their simultaneous brave hopes for the future. Caution: many if not most of the interviewees are pseudonymous.
It's a far-ranging book, with too many interesting foci to list completely: The decline of the collective ethic on Israel's kibbutzes. The insular nature of the ultra-Orthodox communities, and the painfully high human cost of leaving. The presence of ordinary vice and corruption, and how terrorists use the drug trade as a weapon of war. A potted history of Zionism, with many personal reminiscences of the 1948 war. Tours through the minority communities such as the Druze, the Bedouin, the Jews from Arab lands, and subcultures such as Russian prostitutes and gay Israelis.
Welcome inclusions are factual takedowns of widespread lies such as the Jenin "massacre". But polemics are not the meat of the book, the people are. It is very good to finally have some voices to put with the faces of this remarkable people. Let one of the interviewees have the last word:
"We're always in the headlines. _The New York Times_. CNN.
The BBC. We get more coverage than India. Than China. Than the entire continent of Africa. There's so much news about us, you'd think we're also a billion people, not six million. We're all the time on TV and front pages, so people think they know us. Unsmiling soldiers.
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new literay resource for the Israeli society October 30, 2003
By Abe
I teach a course on the middle east at the University. After reading this book, I realized that very few of us so called "experts" actually know abiut the State of Israel in depth. Many of my colleagues including myself really have no advanced knowledge about Israel even though we claim to be "knowledgeable" about the issues. This book opened up eyes and my head to an Israel that you don't hear about in the media. the book goes in depth to describe Israelis of every religon, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and class. It also describes the lives of the average Israeli, which is absent in all media outlets. I have decided to assign this book as required reading for the class I will be teaching about the Middle East in the coming spring semester.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book about Israel and the Israelis November 26, 2004
This is a very well written book about Israel. It consists of plenty of anecdotal information about a wide variety of aspects of Israeli life.

We see young adults, the army, and entrepreneurs. We see divisions among Jews into Ashkenazim, Mizrahim, Russians, Africans, Haredim, Orthodox, and Non-Orthodox. And we see the internal and external worries and problems they have. More than that, we see their reaction to "the situation," namely the war of annihilation being fought by extremist Arabs against the Jews of the region.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the description of non-Jewish Israelis: the Muslims, Bedouin, Druze, and Christians. I was amazed by the tolerance shown by the Israeli public for outright disloyalty to Israel in time of war shown by many non-Jews. I can't imagine acting so against a nation I happened to be visiting, let alone one I lived in and might even be a citizen of. These sections convinced me that there won't be any peace in the region for a long time.

One item I can't agree with is the subtitle: ordinary people in an extraordinary land. In fact, while the people are much the same as people everywhere, the land is also much the same as land everywhere. Israel is, after all, a small country that looms much larger than life due to the enormous amount of ink that is spent on it. Still, given some of the more outrageous things we sometimes see written about Israel and Israeli society from Israel's detractors, this book is a very refreshing change indeed.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read! October 18, 2005
By Evan G.
The Israelis tells the undistorted truth about the rich ethnic, cultural, etc. heritage of the Israeli people. It tells of the ups and downs of Israeli culture and the Israeli way of life. Is full of surprises and things that you never knew! A Must Read!

Sidenote: I personally saw the author speak in Cincinnati, OH at my High School and she is a wonderful woman with much to say. This book is amazing and I recommend it to anyone and everyone no matter who they are, what they believe in, or where they came from.


Evan G. from Cincinnati, OH
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
I first read The Israelis about a year ago, and I enjoyed it very much. With the recent events in and around the country (the Hamas election victory, Ariel Sharon's new political party, his incapacitation) I decided to read it again. I started by looking up a few facts for a discussion group, and became so involved that I read the book a second time from cover to cover. I've discussed the book with friends from Israel, and all but one of them feel that it is an accurate view of modern life. The one person who didn't agree said it was "skewed," with not enough weight given to the various Orthodox communities and beliefs (she is Orthodox). The impression I had of her comments, though, were that she wasn't unhappy with the boook per se, but rather with the current path being taken by Israelis, and that this boook is promoting this path. My feeling was that it wasn't promoting, just reporting it as accurately as possible.

If you plan to take a trip to Israel, read this book first. You'll enjoy your trip much more than you expected.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful
I have purchased 8 copies for friends...BEST book out there on Israel!
Published 9 days ago by Lin
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading for Isreal Visit
I just returned from Isreal and wished I had read this prior. While in Isreal I met Jewish secular and orthodox people, Druze, Arab Christians and Muslims, Bedouins, and Baha'i. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Susanivana
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommend especially if you plan to visit Israel.
This is an easy to pick up & read a chapter at a time book although I wanted to know more and more so I read it continuously. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Marilyn Muskatel
5.0 out of 5 stars a journalist describes a country by interviewing the people living...
this non-fiction book reads like an exciting novel. the journalist is a terrific story-teller and her "stories" are a perfect way to explain the diverse cultures enriching... Read more
Published 4 months ago by eunice denenberg
4.0 out of 5 stars Bought as a gift
I bought this as a gift for my son per his request so I know nothing about its content, etc.
Published 4 months ago by Louis Leppert
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed in the fear-mongering 1-sided argument thus far
I have only read Chapter 1 and am not yet sure whether I am willing to keep trying to read this book, as the first chapter has been one story after another of bombings depicting... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Lanafrank
4.0 out of 5 stars Good overview
Read this book to prepare for a month-long trip to Israel. Found it helpful in understanding the complexities of the different people groups there.
Published 10 months ago by Gary Combs
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
I have learned a lot about Israel, even that the book has been written years ago, its interesting and teaches you how Israelis have made from nothing a valuable country.
Published 10 months ago by rene silberstein
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome read!
This book was absolutely amazing. If it was a film it would be a documentary style film. I definitely say worth the money. Buy it! You will learn sooo much.
Published 11 months ago by Felecia M.
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Book....Interesting People......
Very interesting book about the different religions and people of Israel. Wonderful discriptions and wonderful reading! Read more
Published 13 months ago by Wendy1847
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