Photo Credit: Isi Tenenbom
Shimon Peres (L) and Tuvia Tenenbom (R), author of "Catch the Jew"

This book will blow your mind.

But do not read “Catch the Jew” if you are confident you know all about Israel and its Arab neighbors and citizens and refuse to change your mind. Those entrenched either on the “right” or on the “left” must be prepared to shake loose the moorings of long-held, often ossified, views. And who is in the middle if you care about the Middle East?

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If you are open to having your views altered and expanded, though, you must read this book. You’ll see what I mean about it being mind-blowing if you do. It will also tickle your funny bone, if you have one.

Tuvia Tenenbom, the merry prankster journalist who is fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, English and German, was born and spent his early years in a haredi family in B’nei Brak. He then fled to the United States for intellectual and ideological freedom, including freedom from religion. He was educated in the west, and is now a journalist, dramatist and author who lives at least half the year in Germany.

This book is a chronicle of Tenenbom’s journeys through Israel’s Jewish and Arab towns and the Arab and Jewish hubs in the territories.

I had heard that Tenenbom was prickly and iconoclastic. So, of course, I invited him for Shabbat dinner when I learned he would be in nearby Philadelphia.

He was an entertaining dinner guest – attacking me and my husband for claiming to love Israel so much but living in the luxurious suburbs of a large American city. Fair enough.

I then traveled with Tuvia for a day as he began his exploration of the United States for his upcoming book. I was able to watch his process firsthand, and it confirmed for me what I say about his process, below.

In truth, I did not fully understand what was the point of the book when I began reading it. What was everyone so excited about? The book is a huge bestseller in Israel and in Germany. But it seemed to meander, without a particular direction. Patience, please.

Tenenbom did not have a point in mind when he started, that is itself the point, or at least it reveals why the book is so valuable. He did not start with a thesis, something he was trying to prove.

The book is an exploration and he proceeds with no plan other than to make sure to meet up with as many different kinds of people, representing as many different viewpoints, as possible. If there was a goal, it was simply to find out what Israel is like and who inhabits it.

Tenenbom tags along with tour groups, wanders through the halls of the Knesset, journeys with Jews and Arabs for “peace conferences,” sits in on shiurim in Meah Shearim, and blunders about on the Temple Mount, all in search of people who will speak about the place in which they live.

As a German journalist (well, sort of, remember his brief biography, above), he is readily granted access to people such as Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, and Jibril Rajoub, the notorious Palestinian Arab terrorist leader and now sports minister.

The list of people who speak freely with Tenenbom  – albeit most don’t realize he understands their language when they shoots asides to aides – is fairly comprehensive. And what those people say to someone they think is a German (a blond, no less!) journalist allows readers to get about as close to the truth as most people will ever get.

This book provides invaluable insights through visits with well-known PLO legislator and activist Hanan Ashrawi, Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, Israeli novelist Amos Oz, Shimon Peres and Ayelet Shaked, as well as non-famous Druze, Arab Israelis, Jewish leftists, Syrian victims (in Israeli hospitals) and the foreign media. And that’s not even half of his subjects.

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Lori Lowenthal Marcus is a contributor to the JewishPress.com. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com

6 COMMENTS

  1. Why don't Hillel & Birthright want to give it to impressionable, uniformed Jewish "college kids"? you gave the answer: "Be forewarned: the book does not have a happy ending." Why should Hillel or any other national Jewish organization promote a doomsday book among collegiates who lack the “tools” to recognize its humor and pathos? — If this author wanted to expose the flip side of the coin, and demonstrate what is really going on behind the curtains, he should have stopped before the last chapter. His pessimistic "punch line" made the book unworthy of distribution to teens who lack the educational background to assess the book critically and analytically.

  2. Liberal? Are you high? This is the most important book since Joan Peters' "From Time Immemorial…"

    Everyone needs to read this to see exactly how the Europeans are funding the propaganda war against Israel.

  3. 90-78uThank you Lisa, my mistake was that I did not pay so much attention to the article, I just so him with The liberal of Peres, I do not like the former president who went around the world telling to the inept world leaders what they want to hear, and not the truth.

  4. Don't we already know that people of many backgrounds are obsesed with inventing hateful stories to defame Israel? What is needed is the antidote to the political poison. My suggestions is to read Deuteronomy Chapter 28 which no one ever seems to mention. It says in clear language that if Jews will observe our Torah then G-d will fight for us and we will defeat our enemeis. But conversely if we ignore the Torah G-d will abandaon us and we will suffer dire consequences at the hands of our enemies. Naturally most of our corrupt Jewish leaders take pride in ignoring the Torah and the result is what you see. We are in for a lot of terrible suffering because we keep choosing corrupt leaders.

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