Steve Wenick
Steve Wenick

Twelve Tribes (REVIEW)

Bound between the covers of Ethan Michaeli’s most recent book, TWELVE TRIBES, is an amalgamation of a guide to Israel, a chronicle of Judaism, and an Israel political journal. Michaeli traces the evolution of modern-day Israel, from the founding kibbutzim up to her present-day burgeoning high-tech industries. He steps the reader along the highly charged thoroughfares of Tel Aviv, then ascends the sacred hills of Jerusalem, and descends to the Negev’s barren wadis, ending his trek amidst the congested shuks of Jaffa’s ancient harbor. And if you are a foodie, Michaeli will whet your appetite with a smorgasbord of Israel’s best restaurants, eateries, bistros, falafel stands, and hummus joints – a fusion of gastronomic delicacies from the Middle East and throughout the galut – diaspora.

Michaeli uses the term ‘tribes’ as a metaphor for the fractious nature of relations within Israeli society. Because Israel accommodates all religions: Jews, Christians, Muslims, Baha’is, Buddhists, and Hindus, it is inevitable that her residents engage in religious tribalism. Paradoxically, Michaeli a self-proclaimed secularist, describes the positive impact of pilgrimages he made to the revered Shtefanisher Rebbe’s memorial celebrations.

Throughout the book, Michaeli also tackles simmering political differences and makes clear his disdain for Netanyahu and sympathy for those Palestinians held hostage by their corrupt and intransient leadership. Also, in what reads like a compendium of Jews worldwide, he illuminates the struggles Russian Jews, Romanian Jews, African American Hebrew Israelites, Yemeni Jews, and Ethiopian Jews have adjusting to life in Israel. In addition, he explains that the current political and religious clashes between the political left, political right, and the various tribes of Jews: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Hassidim, Mizrachi, and secularists, are the result of Israel being a multicultural free-wheeling society. Despite the differences among Israelis, their response to the constant barrage of genocidal threats and terrorist acts from their neighbors, unites them in making security their most important priority.

The author, who is an American with family in Israel, knows firsthand how the more cynical of Israel’s population regard their fellow Jews of America. They view Americans who make aliya as freirers – suckers – for uprooting themselves from their comfortable-to-lavish surroundings and chose to live in Israel with all of its hardships. But, at the same time, most Israelis are thankful that the government of those so-called American freirers, moved the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, brokered the Abraham Accords, and proposed other pro-Israel and pro-Jewish legislation, both domestic and foreign.

Michaeli takes on a serious note as he describes four major problems which Israel struggles with today: her battle against COVID-19, the apartheid and ethnic cleansing canards, the claim that the country is a war zone, and of course Iran. As for COVID-19, unfortunately too many Bedouins and Hassidim eschew vaccinations, so they represent a high percentage of COVID-19 cases as compared to other communities. Also problematic for Israel are the pernicious lies her enemies fabricate, namely that she is an apartheid state engaging in ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. As for the war zone characterization, those who actually live there, strongly disagree, pointing out that unlike Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit, in Israel no one is afraid to walk down the street late at night. Most concerning are the genocidal ambitions of Iran, whose centrifuges of death spin night and day.

In his artfully crafted work, Michaeli deftly escorts the reader through the complexities and interactions of Israel’s populace; one rich in a diversity of opinion and practice. Read his book and you will come to understand modern day Israel as it is: a kaleidoscope of tribes.

About the Author
Since retiring from IBM as an IT Systems Analyst Steve Wenick has served as a freelance book reviewer for HarperCollins Publishing. His reviews have appeared in The Algemeiner as well as The Jewish Voice of Southern New Jersey and The Jewish Voice of Philadelphia. His articles on Jewish, Holocaust and Israel topics also have appeared in The Jerusalem Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Attitudes Magazine and Varied Voices. Steve and his wife are residents of Voorhees, New Jersey.
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