Israel 201: Your Next-Lev­el Guide to the Mag­ic, Mys­tery, and Chaos of Life in the Holy Land

By – November 16, 2023

This book paints a charm­ing yet com­plete­ly down-to-earth and real­is­tic pic­ture of what it is like to live in Israel in the year 2023. The authors are both immi­grants from the Unit­ed States, and through their eyes we see Israel’s strengths, weak­ness­es, foibles, and suc­cess­es. It is obvi­ous that they have a deep and abid­ing appre­ci­a­tion for their adopt­ed land — and their wry humor makes it clear that they enjoy the lives they have built in this com­plex, val­ue-laden country.

The book is divid­ed into sec­tions. The first, Israeli Psy­che,” uses Hebrew words to ana­lyze traits that are com­mon in Israeli soci­ety, as well as how they com­pare to Amer­i­cans’ expec­ta­tions of Israelis. Jew­ish Life in a Jew­ish State” inves­ti­gates the dif­fer­ence between an Israeli and a Jew and how Judaism affects Israeli soci­ety. In The Hebrew Lan­guage,” we learn about Eliez­er Ben Yehu­da and his suc­cess­ful efforts to revive a lan­guage that was not in use dur­ing mod­ern times. We also gain insight into the Israel Acad­e­my of Hebrew Lan­guage, which con­tin­ues to shape and mod­ern­ize Hebrew. A short, inter­est­ing sec­tion dis­cuss­es the devel­op­ment of Aravrit,” an amal­gam of Hebrew and Ara­bic that is unfa­mil­iar to most peo­ple but that has fas­ci­nat­ing poten­tial applications. 

Gov­ern­ment, Social Pol­i­cy, and Edu­ca­tion” looks close­ly at Israeli pol­i­tics, elec­tions, the edu­ca­tion sys­tem, and the famous Israeli states­men and stateswomen in Israel’s short but event­ful his­to­ry. Econ­o­my, Work, and Work-Life Bal­ance” dis­cuss­es real estate, shop­ping, bank­ing, and some of the rea­sons why Israeli busi­ness­es have become inter­na­tion­al­ly suc­cess­ful. Oth­er chap­ters pro­vide an overview of the Israeli Defense Forces as well as Israeli arts and cul­ture. In Mak­ing Aliyah,” we learn about the intri­ca­cies, dif­fi­cul­ties, and rewards of immi­gra­tion and accul­tur­a­tion. The authors point to some deeply fun­ny lan­guage faux pas that occur reg­u­lar­ly, as when the word for post­cards is mis­tak­en for birth con­trol pills,” or when a degree in eco­nom­ics is con­fused with a brand of bleach.

Although the Arab-Israeli con­flict is not with­out men­tion, the authors care­ful­ly avoid a pro­tract­ed dis­cus­sion of it. They note that much has already been writ­ten on the top­ic, and they point out the dan­ger of peo­ple equat­ing life in Israel with enmi­ty and war. Life in Israel, they remind us, is rich and sat­is­fy­ing. It is not only about the conflict.

Israel 201 is infor­mal, inclu­sive, and filled with humor — just like Israeli soci­ety itself. It is an enjoy­able and fas­ci­nat­ing look at life in Israel today, reflect­ing the expe­ri­ences of many res­i­dents. For those who have con­sid­ered mov­ing to Israel in the near or more dis­tant future, this is a must-read.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions

In Israel 201, coau­thors Joel Chas­noff and Ben­ji Lovitt con­vey their love for Israel in a way that is equal parts whim­si­cal, seri­ous, and pierc­ing. The authors don’t shy away from the com­plex­i­ties of Israel. They offer their thoughts on such top­ics as how Israelis are dif­fer­ent from oth­er Jews, and why Israeli soci­ety is so beloved and so bewil­der­ing at the same time. 

While this vol­ume does not set out to be a com­pre­hen­sive study of Israel, it is very well researched. For any­one seek­ing to under­stand what makes Israelis unique, Israel 201 pro­vides the authors’ per­son­al view of the country’s idio­syn­crasies, show­ing how its his­to­ry cre­at­ed the cir­cum­stances and forces that pro­duced a dis­tinc­tive society.

This eas­i­ly digestible book can serve as a guide for a num­ber of edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams but can also be enjoyed by gen­er­al read­ers. It cap­tures the nature and spir­it of Israel’s peo­ple and cel­e­brates them — some­thing all read­ers, espe­cial­ly Jew­ish edu­ca­tors, will appre­ci­ate dur­ing these try­ing times.