book1 copy.JPG

ISRAEL 75:
BEHIND THE HEADLINES

In March 2023, Joel Chasnoff and Benji Lovitt will release their new book,  ISRAEL 75: BEHIND THE HEADLINES.

Just in time for Israel's 75th birthday!

The book features 75 essays, interviews, and profiles about the people and phenomena that make modern Israel what it is today: chaotic, complicated, fascinating and even magical. 

In their blog, Joel and Benji share some of the lessons and insights they've learned while writing the book. 

For info about Joel and Benji's spring 2021 Israel book tour, send a note to joel@joelchasnoff.com.
Screenshot_20220301-160044_Drive_edited.jpg
Headshot-arms crossed.jpg

Israel's Olympic Teams: 13 Medals Since 1952

Yes! Israel started competing in the Olympics in 1952, when the country was only four years old.


Now, 70 years later, Israel has won 13 Olympic medals to date, including three Gold Medals in windsurfing (Gal Friedman, Athens 2004); rhythmic gymnastics (Linoy Ashram, Tokyo 2020/2021), and gymnastics (Artem Dolgopyat, Tokyo 2020/2021).


Linoy Ashram, Israeli Rhythmic Gymnast, Tokyo 2020/2022
Linoy Ashram, Israeli Rhythmic Gymnast, Tokyo 2020/2022


Israel's First Olympic Medal: July 1992

Where were you on July 31, 1992?


I'll never forget where I was, or what I was doing:


The staff lounge at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin with my fellow counselors, celebrating the news that Yael Arad, the 25-year-old judoka from Tel Aviv, had just won Israel's first ever Olympic medal (a silver) at the Barcelona Summer Games.



Yael Arad, Israeli Judoka and First Olympic Medal Winner, Barcelona 1992
Yael Arad

Much has changed since the summer of '92. Israel has won twelve more Olympic medals, including three golds.


And Yael Arad, now a mother, is now President of the Israel Olympic Committee.


Last month, I had the honor of interviewing Yael as part of the research for my upcoming book, "Israel 75: Behind the Headlines."


It was an incredible conversation. Despite her place in Israeli history, Yael was down to earth, honest about the challenges the country faces, and forthcoming about her vision for what's ahead.


I'll include the full transcript in next year's book, but for now, here are highlights:


"Barefoot Sports"

"There's a joke on the Olympic Committee that we Israelis only win medals in sport yachef --'barefoot sports' like judo, sailing, and gymnastics," Yael said.


One of her primary goals is that Israel will medal in sports like swimming and diving, and even a few where competitors wear shoes. "We have a lot of potential in track and field," Yael told me. "Soccer, too."


As for how to make that happen...


Arab-Israeli athletes. Several times in our conversation, Yael made a point that Israel needs to do a better job of integrating Arab-Israeli athletes onto its Olympic teams, particularly in soccer.


"Not just because it will make our teams stronger," she said, "but because it's better for society overall."


I was impressed that Yael's vision for the future of Israeli sport included this element of social good.


Silent promise. Before departing for Barcelona, Yael told me, she visited the families of the eleven slain Israeli athletes who'd been murdered at the '72 Munich Games. "I sat in their living rooms," she said. "I looked at their photo albums. Even though twenty years had passed, the pain for these families was still so raw."


Before she left, the families gave her a small tehilim -- a Book of Psalms -- to take with her.


"I made a silent promise to myself," Yael said, "that if I should be so blessed to win a medal, I would dedicate it to the athletes who fell."


And she did.


--------------------------


As a huge sports fan, there was no way I could write a book about Israel without exploring the world of Israeli athletics.


But I cover plenty of other topics, too!


If there's a particular subject you want to know more about, drop me a note at joel@joelchasnoff.com, or on the Contact page.


And if you remember where you were that summer of '92, when you found out Israel had finally won an Olympic medal, tell me. I'd love to hear your memory.

Why do wars happen?

What makes a marriage last?


What does inner peace -- real inner peace -- look like?


For the answers to these age-old questions, you could turn to the Bible, ancient philosophy, or schedule a few dozen sessions with a licensed therapist.


Or, you could simply examine Hebrew words.


Last week, as part of my research for the book I'm writing about Israel, I sat down with Dr. Gabi Shetrit, professor of Bible as Literature at Haifa University, to talk about Hebrew.


We discussed the origin story of the Hebrew Israelis speak today, and how modern Hebrew wouldn't exist at all were it not for an obsessive Russian lexicographer named Eliezer Ben Yehuda who singlehandedly revived ancient Hebrew from the dead.


Shetrit explained the role of the "Akademia" -- the committee at Hebrew University that meets once a year to decide which words to officially add to the Hebrew dictionary and which don't make the cut.


Finally, we discussed what I consider the most fascinating topic of all: the magic of Hebrew words.


"In Hebrew, words are more than just a collection of syllables and sounds, Shetrit told me. "They are lessons. Words, and even individual letters, contain messages about ethics, human nature, and how we're supposed to live."


In a moment I'll share three examples.


But first, an important concept about how Hebrew works:


In Hebrew, all words are based on what's known as a shoresh -- a root word. This shoresh points us toward the deeper essence within a particular word; likewise, when multiple words are derived from the same shoresh it's a hint that the words are related.


Some of my favorites:


War. The Hebrew word for war -- mil'chama -- is derived from a word that many of you are probably familiar with: lechem, which means "bread." The message is clear: at the end of the day, all human struggle is ultimately about the most basic of human needs -- bread.





Marriage. Hollywood would have us believe that marriage is about fireworks and long, moonlit walks on the beach. But Hebrew tells a more honest story: the shoresh of the word nisu'in (marriage) is naso, which means "to carry something heavy." It might not sound romantic, but if you've been married a long time like I have (almost 25 years!), you know it's true: marriage is a journey in which two people join together to carry something precious, and each other, forward -- a task that requires effort and which neither could do alone.


Peace. It's one of the first Hebrew words we ever learn: shalom, which means "peace." But where does the word come from? As Shetrit explains, shalom is derived from the root shalem, which means "wholeness" or "a sense of being complete." It's a profound idea: we tend to think of peace as the absence of conflict, but Hebrew would say that true peace comes from being complete with our current circumstances, whatever they may be. On a personal level, inner peace doesn't mean getting rid of our anxieties or forgetting past traumas, but, instead, accepting them as part of the wholeness of who we are.


--------------


Personally, I'm fascinated by the whole "magical Hebrew" idea. If you know other examples, please send them my way through the Contact page.


Perhaps I'll even include them in the book!


My family and I moved back to Israel six years ago.

Six years is a short period of time. Whether I want to or not, I still find myself comparing daily life in Israel to how things are back in the US. As a writer, I enjoy sharing these tidbits -- especially when the contrast is a big one.


This week presents a perfect example.


On Monday, America celebrated -- commemorated? -- Memorial Day. For most, Memorial Day marks the official start of summer -- a day off from work and school, a chance to go swimming at the neighborhood pool, maybe catch the newly-released blockbuster at the multiplex.



Now don't get me wrong -- I am not trying to put down America here. But to be completely honest, it always kinda bugged me that Memorial Day was more about bike rides and barbecues than remembering soldiers who died.


America's treatment of Memorial Day just felt, you know...perverse.


Israel, on the other hand...


Those of you who've lived in Israel know that Israel's Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, is pretty much the complete opposite.


No picnics. No parades. No "Jump Into Summer Memorial Day Sale, All Swing Sets 30% Off!"


Instead, it's a somber, solemn day for the entire country. Because the sad truth is, just about every Israeli knows someone – a family member, friend, the neighbor of a colleague from work – who was killed during his or her military service, or in a terror attack.


The focal point of the day is a two-minute siren that sounds at 11AM. When the siren wails, the country comes to a halt: Students stand next to their desks. Drivers get out of their cars and stand in the road.


In a moment I'll ask you to send me any Yom Hazikaron memories of your own. But first, two of mine:


DJ in tears. On Yom Hazikaron, radio stations typically play sad, downbeat songs. No rock ‘n roll or rap, just a slow classics by Evyatar Banai, Naomi Shemer, and other favorites. I’ll never forget how on Yom Hazikaron 2021, the DJ of the popular morning show Medinah B'derech ("A Nation On the Way") broke down crying as she remembered a childhood friend who, as a soldier, was killed in Gaza.


Makeshift Memorial in Lebanon. The first time I experienced Yom Hazikaron in Israel I wasn't technically in Israel, but just over the border in Lebanon, a tank soldier at a remote outpost called Esh'yeh. As the sun set, the Golani infantry soldiers serving with us built a makeshift memorial out of an empty tin ammunition box and a rifle-cleaning rag sprinkled with gasoline, which they then lit with a match. The "Golanchikim" – typically a loud, raucous bunch – took turns voluntarily standing guard over the flame for 24 hours.


In many ways, Yom Hazikaron epitomizes for me what makes Israel so complicated but also so special. Complicated because there's no way to separate everyday life from the realities of war.


And special because people don't take that lack of separation for granted.


In the book I'm writing about Israel now, I dedicate a full chapter to Yom Hazikaron. I want readers to appreciate the day the way I do.


-------


I'd love to hear your own Yom Hazikaron memories, either that you've experienced in Israel on wherever you live. You can email me on the Contact page.

1
2