3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 2 June 2013
I had come across one or two of Brant Rosen's blogs and found them to be insightful and stimulating, and so when I found out about this book, I felt confident that it would be worth investing in. My hunch proved to be one worth following.
As someone who leads a hectic life balancing work and family commitments, having time to read continuously and uninterrupted is a luxury. So the format of this book was ideal for me. Each chapter stands alone, and in the most part (aside perhaps from chapter 7) the reader does not have to read an entire chapter in one go. Each chapter is themed, and begins with an introductory piece of narrative, setting the scene for the discrete pieces that follow. The introduction is then followed by a collection of writings from Rabbi Rosen's blog, Shalom Rav and in turn, these are followed by a short "discussion." These discussions are essentially a sample of responses to the piece contributed by various people who to varying degrees, agree or disagree with Brant Rosen's analysis.
In short, it is a book that can be enjoyed in bite-sized chunks though don't let that put you off. There were occasions when I had a little more time on my hands than at others, and so was able to consume two or three chapters in one sitting and would gladly have continued to read the book to the end had time allowed. It is certainly very engaging.
In publishing his writings (along with the ensuing discussions) the Rabbi is doing the whole world a favour. Anyone who dares to question the policies and actions of the Israeli government can become the target of those for whom Israel can do no wrong. Indeed, at time of writing this review one such individual on the American Amazon.com website has reacted to this book not by offering a critique (he would need to have read it to have done that!) but by impugning Brant Rosen and his denigrating his work. But clearly Brant Rosen is not afraid to speak out against oppression. In fact more than that, he clearly considers challenging injustice to be his duty. For him it is a big part of living his faith. But to be a critical friend to Israel especially as that often results in accusations of being an "Israel-hater" is a step that many are too timid to take and in that context, Rabbi Rosen is to be applauded.
He does not claim to have the answer to everything. Often he poses questions as well as attempting to answer them. In his chapter "Beyond Tribalism" he observes the irony that in a world where easy travel and the internet have facilitate the making of connections between people and countries, that Israel has become an "increasing militarized Jewish garrison state" resulting in a situation whereby even young Jews in America and elsewhere feel disconnected from the country. He poses the questions,
"Is this the kind of Judaism we seek to espouse? To pass to our children? Do we truly believe it points the way to a better Jewish future?"
I am sure these questions are uncomfortable for many. Indeed, some of the various correspondents reacting to the Rabbi's various blogs to seem to react in a defensive manner. But these are definitely questions worthy of consideration.
Brant Rosen admits within the same chapter that, "I don't believe that we as American Jews can even begin to understand how Israelis feel." This is a candid admission, but does this mean he is not qualified to comment simply because he is not living in Israel? Personally despite this admission, I would refute any suggestion that he "doesn't understand." He may not have personal experience of living his whole life inside Israel, but neither does he have personal experience of living under occupation on the West Bank or under siege in Gaza, but as a man clearly blessed with great empathy, he can appreciate something of the conditions of all people tied to that region and recognises and acknowledges all of their hopes and aspirations. He remains convinced that dialogue rather than fighting is part of the solution. That and the need for some kind of peace and reconciliation process in which the side with all of the power and military might takes the courageous steps needed to secure a peaceful and just future for all. As Lori, one of the participants in one of the discussions stimulated by Brant Rosen's words eloquently observes,
"To me, Zionism isn't about waving the flag and cursing the Arabs. It's about finding a practical way to ensure Israel's survival.....There is no way to win by force in this case."
The overall tone of all of the discussions presented in this book is that of constructive and respectful dialogue. Even where people do not agree with points being made, they are conducting their debates in a calm and civilised way. I found myself becoming very fond of many of the contributors, and not just those whose views chime with my own. It is a shining example of how to air differences, even when those differences are seemingly irreconcilable. For anyone who considers that the contents of this book are likely to be "one-sided" then allow me to illustrate how such prejudiced thinking would be wrong.
Chapter 7 is particularly interesting. It is a conversation conducted in public between the Rabbi and David, a close and longstanding friend of his. They have very different perspectives. One commentator, Israel Gershon clearly feels that David is right and Brant Rosen is wrong - not just on specifics, but on the situation in general. He writes,
"Bravo, David! And thank you, Rabbi, for allowing this exchange. I am one who finds your demonizing of Israel to be of disservice to Israel, the Jewish people and the cause of peace."
To me, the inclusion of opposing voices is what really makes this book a gem. You could hardly describe it as propaganda when considering that the author gives everyone a voice - including the people who disagree with him (though again, note the respectful tone of Israel Gershon's alternative view... including the polite note, "thank you, Rabbi....")
Whenever I write a review, I feel it is important to also highlight any perceived weakness, and I do have one criticism of this book. In chapter 8 ("The Freedom Flotilla and Gaza's Humanitarian Crisis") Rabbi Rosen turns his attention to the boarding of the Mavi Marmara on 31 May 2010 - the anniversary of which has just passed. In his introduction he makes reference to an on board "firefight". To me, describing what was very clearly a violent skirmish in which nine activists died as a firefight suggests a battle between two sides, both of which were in possession of guns and both of which were firing live rounds of ammunition. I have seen no evidence that those aboard the ship had guns. Indeed, as one of the commentators in this chapter has pointed out, recording devices including those belonging to accredited journalists were confiscated and have never been returned nor have the contents ever been made public. As Shirin goes onto ask, "Are the Israelis afraid of what those recordings will reveal?" So I do think that the use of this term is perhaps a little misleading. But this is the only criticism I would have of this book and it is certainly not enough for me to consider awarding it anything other than five stars.
In summary, this is a well written, balanced, thought provoking and above all, inspiring book and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone genuinely interested in the Israel Palestine conflict. I have no doubt I will be quoting from this book for many years to come and I have certainly signed up to Rabbi Brant Rosen's " Shalom Rav" blog. He is a man worth listening to.