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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



TESTAMENT: At the Creation of the State of Israel by Aaron Levin with an Introduction by Shirnon Peres, hardcover/jacketed $35.00 192 pages 175 duotone photos, ISBN: 1885183941)

TESTAMENT puts a human face on history: and on the eve of Israel’s 50th anniversary. It personalizes the political and social issues so close to the hearts of millions of Americans.

Author Aaron Levin, a photojournalist based in Baltimore, made it his mission to memorialize in words and pictures both Israel’s most prominent citizens and its everyday heroes. their tragedies and triumphs. In doing so he has created an invaluable testament to the men and women at the creation of the state. TESTAMENT continues the amazing journey of the Jewish people after the Holocaust. Sometimes in the excitement of celebration a big historical event like Israel’s 50th anniversary. it is easy to lose sight of those who sacrificed so much to make it happen.

The names and faces featured are synonymous with the founding of the state of Israel from novelist Amoz Oz to Jerusalem’s historic mayor Teddy Kolleck, who governed the city for 28 years. to the legendary Chaim Herzocy. who is pictured standing in front of the "Burma Road" he developed through the Judean Hills to break the siege of Jerusalem.

TESTAMENT is not just another commemorative book. TESTAMENT shows the complex human truth and incredible stories of people in their own words. Firsthand. for the first time.

On the occasion of Israel’s fiftieth anniversary, American photojournalist Aaron Levin interviewed eighty extraordinary men and women who struggled to bring the State of Israel into existence. Their firsthand accounts have been compiled into TESTAMENT. This is not simply a commemorative piece or another history book. This is a unique and personal testament to the determination, pride, and sacrifices of those survivors, in their own words.

Recollections of danger, deprivation, combat, arrest, terrorism, and raw emotion are illuminated by archival photographs of the subjects as young men and women, juxtaposed with Levin’s present-day black-and-white portraits of them at the very site at which their stories took place.

While many of the names are familiar, many are not. "Most belong to ordinary people whose lives encompassed an extraordinary moment in the 4,000 year history of the Jews...," says Levin in his introduction. "Their collective story is not one of unmitigated triumph. Israel’s creation in 1948 had as much to do with pain and loss as it did with victory. The difficulty of this birth is recalled by those who participated in it..."

With an introduction by Shimon Peres, these stories and portraits stand as eloquent witnesses to a most remarkable journey of freedom and self-realization.

ŸChaim Herzog is photographed on the "Burma Road" and recounts how his brigade broke the siege of Jerusalem by mapping a secret road to the city. Herzog was director of military intelligence and in 1967 was elected first military governor of the Occupied West Bank. He became ambassador to the United Nations in 1975 and was president of Israel from 1983 to 1993.

ŸShlomo Hillel is shown at the former location of an underground ammunition factory he built below a bakery and laundry in Rehovot. He flew underground charters to help smuggle Jews out of Baghdad.

ŸMaza Lomemberg worked for the central post office as a spy and decoded British telegrams for the Haganah. She is photographed at the post office in Jerusalem with the same decoding sheet she nearly lost 50 years ago in a knife point robbery. She recalls that the Haganah finally gave her a new purse with a hidden compartment.

ŸShalom Massvari, a stationery store owner, tells of his self-imposed starvation so he could be smuggled out of prison in a suitcase. He is pictured beside the train tracks he blew up as part of an underground operation against the British.

ŸAmos Oz (cover photo), Israeli novelist, recalls the evening of November 29, 1948, the date of the U.N. vote on partition. It was the first and only time he ever saw his father cry.

ŸShimon Peres, pictured in David Ben Gurion’s library, was director of manpower and later of arms procurement for the Haganah in 1947. During the War of Independence, he headed the naval department in the Ministry of Defense, became defense minister, foreign minister and finally prime minister. Instrumental in Israel’s struggle for autonomy, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in 1994.

ŸLeah Rabin, wife of the late Israeli prime minister, was a member of the Palmach in 1948 and recounts the story of how she and Yitzhak took advantage of a cease-fire to get married. Since the 1995 assassination of her husband, she has become a world ambassador for peace.

ŸYitzhak Shamir tells of his arrest by the British during their big sweep of Tel Aviv at the end of July 1946. He was disguised as a rabbi, but his eyebrows gave him away. He is pictured standing on the exact spot, at the comer of Ben Gurion Boulevard and Adam Ha Cohen Street. He served as foreign minister from 1980 through 1983 and was elected prime minister in 1983 and again in 1986.

Aaron Levin’s relationship with the landscape and people of Israel dates to 1969, when he lived and worked in a farming village while studying Hebrew. A professional photographer and writer who specializes in archaeological sites and artifacts, his work has appeared in several books about Southern European and Middle Eastern archaeology, and in such publications as The New York Times and Geo. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

KATSCHEN & THE BOOK OF JOSEPH by Yoel Hoffmann Translated from the Hebrew by David Kriss, Alan Treister, and Eddy Levenston ( $$17.95, hardcover, 160 pages, New Directions ISBN: 0811213730)

"Yoel Hoffmann is one of the most precious voices in Israel’s contemporary literature: his writing has about it the poetic, dreamlike quality of an ancient myth, combined with a fierce, ‘molecular’ precision. Reading Hoffmann’s subtle prose is like viewing the same universe, alternately and with the most skillful modulations, through a telescope and a microscope, only to find out, in awe, that the astral view and the infinitesimal view are actually one and the same." Amos Oz

Yoel Hoffmann makes his American debut with this volume of two novellas, KATSCHEN & THE BOOK OF JOSEPH. Technically of the same generation as realists like A.B. Yehoshua and Amoz Oz, Hoffmann’s work is infused with Buddhist sentiment combined with Israeli pragmatism.

KATSCHEN gives an orphaned child’s view of being "lost" in a modern day Israel:

"When they reached the police station the policeman said, ‘Sit down,’ and went away. ‘All I ever do,’ thought Katschen to himself, ‘ is come and go, and come and go.’ But as he was mulling this over he was uncertain again whether it was he who came and went, or other people came and went while he stayed in the same place."

THE BOOK OF JOSEPH is a heartbreaking story of a widowed Jewish tailor and his son in 1930s Berlin: "And Joseph understands what is in Yingele’s heart and tells jokes, at times, like Gurnisht did. But Joseph’s jokes are like Joseph’s face, and when he says things that Gurnisht used to say, there is, underneath, a certain sadness."

YOEL HOFFMANN (b. 1937) was born in Brasow, Romania. He studied at Tel Aviv University for an MA in Philosophy in 1969. In 1974 he received his Ph.D. from the University of Kyoto (with Tel Aviv University), where he studied Buddhism. In 1980 he published his dissertation "The Idea of Self: East and West" and has since published several studies on Zen and Japanese poetry. He has published five books of fiction (which have been translated into German, French, and Italian), including Bernhardt and The Christ of Fish, both forthcoming from New Directions. Mr. Hoffman currently teaches Eastern philosophy at the University of Haifa, Israel. His Japanese Death Poems: Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death compiled by Yoel Hoffman (paperback, 366 pages, Charles E Tuttle Co. ISBN: 0804831793) promises to be a classic collection of end-of-life reflections. See Zen

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