Mitchell Lane’s Voices From Israel Set 2 joins the first set as a fine resource in the education of American children about a part of the world rife with misinformation, both purposeful and inadvertent. This well-researched series avoids many of the pitfalls common to books of this kind which often lean to one side or another of the political spectrum. This is a series that teachers and librarians can turn to with a sense of confidence that no one agenda is being served. The information is presented with clarity and it is clear that ease of use was of importance in the preparation of these five volumes.
The first volume is Americans in the Holy Land and it focuses on the relationship between the United States and Israel. Americans have been interacting with what is now the State of Israel since long before the State was declared and a succession of writers, explorers, archaeologists, missionaries, “visionaries”, idealists, Zionists, scholars, politicians, scientists, artists, and many others have been drawn to Israel for its biblical history or for adventure, spirituality, and a host of other reasons. A few notable Americans featured include Mark Twain, Golda Meir, John F. Kennedy, “Mickey” Marcus, and Dr. David Applebaum. American Jewish support for Israel and immigration to Israel from the U.S. are discussed as well as the ups and downs of attempting to bring some American passions such as baseball, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and Starbucks coffee to the Israeli scene.
Culture, Customs and Celebrations in Israel features the diversity of Israeli society which includes Jews whose families originally hailed from all over the world as well as covering the entire spectrum of religious observance from secular to ultra-Orthodox. Development of the Hebrew language, long considered dead but certainly now vibrantly alive and responsive to the modern world, holidays, and traditional foods (with one recipe included) are all addressed. The role of the army as a leveler and a common experience is highlighted.
Israel and the Arab World begins with historical background explaining the roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the evolution of events resulting in the situation as it presently stands. The differing narratives of the two sides are acknowledged as are political and historic issues relating to Arab and Jewish claims to disputed land.
Israel: Holy Land to Many focuses on the many religions that originated in or have important ties to Israel. It is not only the Jews, Christians and Muslims who are tied to the land; it is also the Samaritans, the Druze and the Bahai. Religious sites are discussed in historical context and photographed in color with captions providing additional detail. Passages from the Torah, the New Testament and the Koran are used to highlight the importance of such sites to each faith. Various unusual customs are described such as the Samaritan Passover ritual and a recipe for an Armenian Christmas pudding is included.
Israel: Stories of Conflict and Resolution, Love and Death is the most timely volume of the set and leads the reader up to today and on into the future. It addresses terror, an issue that all Israelis must live with and integrate into their daily lives; no one is untouched. The author makes a valiant effort to be fair to all sides in his analysis of the forces that brought the region to this point and, in a thoughtful introduction, expresses his hope for a more peaceful future. He addresses the rise in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among the citizens as well as the techniques and treatments being developed to minimize its effects. Issues related to misunderstandings between differing groups in society and examples of racism are complex amidst the Islamic terror which periodically recurs. Less dramatic but important to understand are cultural issues related to driving and the legal system. One item of interest to tourists who hope to visit Israel and of importance to the overall economy is whether visiting Israel is safe. The author takes pains to assure those concerned that it is and explains with care why this is so.
Each volume in the series includes many color and black and white photographs, maps (with the disputed territories delineated), chapter notes, works consulted, further reading suggestions, suggested websites, a glossary of terms and in one case a glossary of foreign terms, and an index.
The series is appealingly designed, filled with information and color, and does not favor one political agenda. It would be an excellent addition to home collections and especially valuable for classrooms and libraries. Recommended for ages 12 – 18.
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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.