Israel: Books, Vision and Reality

by Dinah Berch, Program Coordinator, Jewish Federation of New Hampshire 


It should be easy to write another article about Israel, right? Haha.

It’s not that I’m not familiar with the country. I’ve been to Israel numerous times. I met my now-husband on a bus tour of Israel when we were fifteen. I rode a camel, slept in a Bedouin tent, hiked Masada, participated in a mock Knesset, rubbed Dead Sea mud on my skin. I’ve toured the archaeological digs in Caesarea, explored the Roman bathhouses in Ashkelon, marveled at the Crusader tunnels in Akko.

On my first trip to Israel, I had been confused and disoriented. Maybe even disappointed. I had been taught that Israel needed me. That kibbutzim were constantly under siege. That we needed to reclaim the desert. I dreamed of founding a Kibbutz and fighting alongside friends to defend what I believed in. What I found was a modern, thriving, vibrant country with excellent security and technology, not at all what was depicted in the books I had read. I went back when I was 23 and lived with my aunt in Jerusalem for several weeks. On this second trip I took my time and tried harder to see the country for what it is, with all the incredible sounds and smells and sights. I was more prepared to engage with the dichotomy of history alongside skyscrapers.

I’m pleased that through PJ Library my children have access to interesting and well written books that show Israel’s present, not just it’s past. A favorite in my house is The Cats of Carmel Market, with all the bustle of shopping for Shabbat. We also love Shalom Everybodeee! Grover’s Adventures in Israel by Tilda Balsley and Ellen Fischer – written in adorable emails from Grover to his friends back on Sesame Street. Other favorites include the Engineer Ari books by Deborah Bodin Cohen, First Rain by Charlotte Herman, A Zombie Vacation and Shmulik Paints the Town both by Lisa Rose, and, of course, And Shira Imagined by Giora Carmi – a favorite of mine when I was a little girl.

Israeli Snacks

For a special Israeli snack that’s kid-friendly try cubed watermelon with feta cheese, or try making your own hummus! If you prefer a more sensory experience, I recommend painting with Za’atar and Cumin and Sumac and other spices found in Israel. Bonus: Scan the QR code for PJ Our Way’s blog has 15 Fun Facts about Israel!


Still, it’s not always easy to know how to talk about Israel, especially with the current turbulence. Enter PJ Library’s Israel Hub in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut (April 25th-April 26th), Israel’s 75th year as a modern state. The hub includes printable resources such as the Israel Trail board game, a memory game for littler kids, a special podcast, virtual tours, music playlists, and a series of common questions children ask about Israel. Here’s a few: “How do you get to Israel? It’s a 10 ½ hour flight from New York to Tel Aviv.” “What’s Jewish about Israel? The Jewish people was born in Israel. The Torah (the first five books of the Bible) says that Israel — then called Canaan — is where Abraham and Sarah settled to start their Jewish journey. It's where the Jewish people built a home after escaping slavery in Egypt and wandering in the desert. For over a thousand years, Israel was where the Jewish people grew up, where farmers farmed and students learned, and where Jewish kings ruled and Jewish prophets imagined a better world….In 1948, a modern state was established in the ancient land of Israel. And because it was formed as a Jewish state, you'll find signs of Jewish life everywhere. Israel is a country in development, so there's a lot of growing still to do. But that, too, feels Jewish: tikkun olam — fixing our society and our world — is a never-ending challenge.”

I love that sentiment – that Israel is young, still in development, still growing. That the very existence of the state of Israel is an example of Tikkun Olam – the Jewish value of repairing the world. In a message from Habonim Dror, the youth movement my husband and I grew up within, the movement’s secretary-general wrote, “We have a long history of holding the vision and the reality of Israel side by side.” By engaging my children in discussions about Israel - and the world - as it is and how we wish it to be, I can empower them to be part of the shaping of the future for Israel and for their world. We can help merge vision and reality.

I hope we’ll see you on May 21st for a special “Walk the Land” community event, hosted by the federation, PJ Library, our Shaliach and many partner synagogues. Come celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut as we honor the vision and the reality of Israel together.


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