Posts Tagged Israel

Aliya Stories

So, the other day’s post about great immigration stories led me to think about some of my favorite stories about immigrating to Israel instead of America. There aren’t as many of them, but they are great.

First RainFirst Rain by Charlotte Herman is lovely. Abby and her parents have decided to move to Israel from North America, and they are really happy with their decision, it’s hard to leave behind Abby’s grandmother. First Rain tells the story of the correspondence between grandmother and grandchild as Abby learns more and more about her new home. What’s nice is that in addition to learning more, Abby teaches her grandmother all about Israel, including some Hebrew words. One of the things that Abby learns about Israel is how everyone waits for the first rain of the year after the long hot summer, much like she used to wait for the first snow. Guess who arrives for a visit on the same day that Abby hears the sounds of rain on the roof? I’ll admit, there’s something sad about this book — the grandmother sure does look unhappy to see Abby and her folks move away. But, it’s a lovely intergenerational story, and very applicable to many long distance grandparents, even if their grandchildren don’t live in Israel. (Great for 5-7 year olds.)

Yuvi's Candy TreeYuvi’s Candy Tree by Lesley Simpson is a fantastic new book. But it won’t be out until March 2011 (sorry!). The story of Yuvi’s trip from Ethiopia to Israel is captured in beautifully poetic language and simple artwork. The story is a little scary (appropriately), but does a great job of conveying the long, hard trip to Israel for many Ethiopian Jews. You can always pre-order… (I think it’ll work best for 7-10 year olds.)

Finally, All the Lights in the Night by Arthur Levine is a more typical “escape from Russia” story, except for instead of escaping to America, the two brothers are heading to Palestine. Israel doesn’t play heavily in the story, but it’s a nice Hanukkah story, and includes a slightly different destination than we usually see in these books. (Good for 8 & 9  year olds.)

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Light Years by Tammar Stein

Like many people, I’m thinking a lot about Israel these days. I think that this week, as I get back on track with blogging, I’ll focus on some great Israel books. I’ve already blogged about my new favorite YA Israel novel — Freefall by Anna Levine — now it’s time to go back a bit and blog about one of my other favorite YA Israel novels: Light Years by Tammar Stein.

Light Years

Light Years

Light Years tells the story of Maya, an Israeli young woman who is just finishing her army service when a suicide bombing blows up a restaurant where her boy friend was waiting for her. The trouble is: she was trying to figure out whether to tell him she was going to still go to the U.S. to go to college, even though he didn’t want her to go.  The story is wonderful — the way it carries you back and forth between Maya’s present, where she’s in college in Virginia, and her past, in Israel with Dov in the time leading up to and following the bombing. It’s a great love story — as Maya remembers what it was to be in love with Dov, and what it means to now be falling for someone else.

But more than anything else, it takes you right back to Israel. To the way it feels to be in Israel — not with the threat of bombings, but rather with the taste of the food, the smell of the air, the way people relate to one another. It’s one of those books you don’t put down once you start reading it, that captures you. It’s one of those books that even in the cold beginning of January, in the safety of America, you remember what it feels like to be back in Israel.

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Checkpoints by Marilyn Levy

I feel very mixed about Checkpoints by Marilyn Levy, a new middle-grade/ YA book that takes place in the midst of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Marilyn Levy

Marilyn Levy

I started out really wanting to like it. I’m always looking for good books that take place in Israel for teens. As someone who feels transported to another time and place when I read a good book, I feel like for some people, it’s the closest thing they are going to have to actually living or even visiting Israel. And then I started reading the book and I become really frustrated by how poorly edited it feels. Reading it is like reading a really good first draft when everything is just laid out there and it’s a great story but it doesn’t stick together well. So then I wanted to dislike it. But even then, I couldn’t do it. It’s not a perfect book, by any stretch, but it actually happens to be a really good story, if you can get passed the messiness and the short choppy chapters. It’s actually remarkably stirring and riveting, two things I look for in a good teen book.

So, what’s this great messy story about? Noa is a 17 year old teen living in Jerusalem who feels very sure about her political peacenik beliefs. She’s proud of her brother when he refuses to serve in the settlements and doesn’t understand her best friend’s anger at the pride she feels. She even befriends a Palestinian girl who lives in Abu Dis, an Arab neighborhood. And she has the usual crushes on boys, etc.

But all this changes when she and her family are the victims of a terrorist bombing in a hotel in Netanya. Suddenly all her assumptions about peace and the Arab-Israeli conflict are shaken up. It’s in this period, where she is no longer sure who she is and what she believes in, that we see a real picture of what it’s like to live in the reality of today’s Israel and we see the real brilliance of the novel.

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Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin Cohen

This year brings a new Rosh Hashanah story that will hit the mark with many young children, particularly those who have a fascination with train.

Engineer Ari
Engineer Ari

Engineer Ari and the Rosh Hashanah Ride by Deborah Bodin Cohen takes place against the backdrop of the first train ride across Israel — from Jaffa to Jerusalem — right before Rosh Hashanah. Ari is delighted to be chosen to be at the helm of this first trip across the country and doesn’t seem to notice/ care that his best friends, who were not chosen, are feeling upset. But as he travels across the country and picks up supplies for Rosh Hashanah (shofarot, round challahs, apples, honey), everything reminds him of his two friends and their sadness.

By the time Ari gets to Jerusalem, he can barely enjoy the festivities because he knows that he has to go back and say he’s sorry to his friends — for boasting and not being sensitive to their feelings. And yes, the play on words is made (a little too deliberately for my taste): Ari says he has to do teshuva (repentance), to turn himself around (the literal meeting of teshuva). While the book ends before he reaches his friends, it provides a great jumping off point to discuss how one says they are sorry. 

It’s a solid new book for Rosh Hashanah, filled with beautiful illustrations, an important message and, best of all, a train!

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Freefall by Anna Levine

I’m so excited about Freefall by Anna Levine for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s written by an author I love
  2. It’s a great YA read
  3. It takes place in modern day Israel


Freefall tells the story of Aggie, an 18 year old girl getting ready to start her compulsary military service. But while she’s at it, she’s also falling in love, discovering her personal strength and learning who she is.

Anna Levine does a great job of making this first and foremost a story about an 18 year old girl, with Israel, the 2nd Lebanon War and the issues it bring up in the background. When I was 18, I don’t think I could have made the choice Aggie is faced with. As much as I would have wanted to jump on a train to the North to help out while rockets were flying, I’m just not sure that I would have done it. And I certainly wouldn’t have been able to make the choice to become a soldier instead of doing national service, as girls like Aggie choose between. But that’s the difference between living in North America and living in Israel and that’s what makes this book such a good read: it’s easy to close your eyes and picture yourself right beside Aggie, making the same choices, falling in love.

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