(New York Jewish Week) — There’s an old joke about Israel (we’ll spare you the too-long set up) that ends, “Before you were a tourist — now you’ve made aliyah.” In other words, whatever preconceptions you had about Israel, they will be shattered once you make the decision to live there.
Joel Chasnoff and Benji Lovitt are two Americans who live in Israel, and they understand the gap between perception and reality. They’ve rewritten what they consider an insider’s guide to the Jewish state, “Israel 201,” which sets out to explain the Israeli psyche when it comes to everything from vocabulary and cuisine to religion and military service. They don’t ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but write that “as impactful, significant and tragic as the conflict is, Israel is so much more that.”
They also understand jokes. Chasnoff, originally from Chicago, and Lovitt, who grew up in Dallas, both make their livings as professional comedians, mostly for Jewish audiences. But while often lighthearted, the book is a serious attempt to get past the cliches, good and bad, about a country that is both demonized and idealized, but too seldom seen as the real country it is.
Over email, the pair answered our questions on Yom Haatzmaut, during which Israel’s 75th year of independence was being celebrated amid national anxiety over the country’s far-right government. On Thursday evening, April 27, the two will appear at an “Israel 75” Comedy Night at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan (30 West 68th Street, 7:00 p.m. Get tickets here).
New York Jewish Week: I hate to say “too soon” after 75 years, but do you think readers are ready to laugh with Israel? What do two Jewish comics bring to readers’ understanding of the country?
Chasnoff and Lovitt: Absolutely! Comedy is all about finding the overlooked contradiction and this book, and Israel, are full of them. Throughout our comedy/book tour, we have found crowds who are eager to laugh at and with Israel, even during the current news cycle. Per the book itself, readers especially have told us that they like the 10-question quiz, “How Israeli are You?”, that kicks off the book. That said, there are plenty of serious sections of the book with no laughs at all, such as the power of Yom Hazikaron [Israel’s Memorial Day, marked this past Tuesday]. Comedy is a great tool for introducing complicated topics into a conversation, and it’s definitely an important one in our arsenal.
What’s the single biggest thing people get wrong about Israel?
For one thing, many assume that daily life is consumed by the Arab-Israeli conflict, worries of a nuclear Iran and other threats. One thing we tried to make clear is that daily life continues, even in the most difficult of times. For example, a standup comedian will take the stage just hours after a terror attack a few miles away, and acknowledge in a clever way the tragedy the country has just endured.
In addition to what they get wrong, there are also the aspects of life that people simply don’t know about but are hugely impactful on how Israelis think and live. In “Israel 201,” we wanted to show how Israeliness infuses every angle of daily life, from children who create their own recess games because their school lacks a playground to the Academy of the Hebrew Language, which debates and creates new words to the Israeli lexicon based on current trends of the country.
Books of Israel advocacy bring to mind the old joke, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the show?” — in the sense that no matter how Israel’s supporters attempt to “normalize” the country, the outside world will always associate the country with conflict, religious strife and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Who is the intended audience for your book, and were you expecting to change any minds?
Anyone in Israel advocacy knows to target the supporters and undecideds, not the “haters” who you’ll never convince. Though we don’t see this book as advocacy, most of our readers are Jewish. What makes “Israel 201” special however is that it’s equally entertaining for someone who’s only visited for a 10-day trip as for someone who made aliyah 30 years ago. It’s precisely because it’s a “next-level guide” that people of varying levels of Israel experience can learn from it. That said, we’ve heard from readers who’ve never visited that this was a great entry point due to its focus on daily life and what they might see firsthand.
I think your book came out too late to deal with or anticipate the current “constitutional” crisis in Israel, and the protests over the government’s judicial reforms. But what understandings does your book bring to the current showdown? Are you optimistic about Israel’s future?
Actually, despite the book’s release in March, we feel that the book is filled with examples of these existential questions that Israel grapples with. In the final chapter, we interviewed David Passig, a futurist who foresaw past world events such as 9/11 and the 2008 financial crash. We were actually surprised by how optimistic he was about the country’s future. He noted that it’s hard to have perspective or see the bigger picture when you’re smack in the middle of it. This isn’t the first time Israel has feared for its future. On the eve of the Six-Day War, the Jewish world believed that we were literally on the brink of extinction. All countries go through tremendous growing pains, but if the Zionist pioneers had been able to see what we’ve achieved in the last 75 years, they wouldn’t have believed it. During our five years of writing the book, we repeatedly encountered incredible resilience, from advocates for women’s rights to the rise of LGBTQ activism in the IDF. It is this resilience which makes us optimistic.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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