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Israel: Many Voices

Israel: Many Voices

Sunday, May 21, 2017 - 3:30 pm

An entertaining afternoon of contemporary
Chicago-area storytellers

This event took place at:
DoubleTree by Hilton | Chicago-North Shore Conference Center 
9599 Skokie Blvd
Skokie, IL 60077

Israel: Many Voices
Stories from and of the Land

Israel: Many Voices was presented by the Adult Jewish Learning Initiative, a unique collaboration of 30+ Chicago-area Jewish organizations. It was spearheaded by Spertus Institute with funding from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. This program set the stage for Chicago’s commemoration of Israel’s 70th Anniversary in 2018.

The program, which took place on May 21, 2017, featured seven storytellers, selected through an open call for entries, sharing their personal experiences about Israel.

About the Event:
Sharing Stories of Israel and
Creating Opportunities to Learn

Dean P. Bell reports on this sold-out program: Illustrating the varied facets through which members of the Jewish community experience Israel, seven local storytellers took the stage in a remarkable program engineered by a community-wide initiative. MORE>

Interested in more? 

Enjoy this list of resources recommended by the librarians of the Asher Library at Spertus Institute.

Nonfiction Resources

Israel: A History by Anita Shapira. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2012. | With references to contemporary diaries, memoirs, and literature, Shapira creates a tapestry through which to understand the challenges Israel faced starting with its declaration of independence in 1948.

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2013. | Drawing on historical documents, interviews, diaries, and letters, Shavit examines the complexities and contradictions of the Israeli condition.

The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land by Donna Rosenthal. New York: Free Press, 2003. | A collage of portraits of Israelis.

Rescue: The Exodus of the Ethiopian Jews by Ruth Gruber. New York: Atheneum, 1987. | The story of Operation Moses through conversations, personal incidents, and individual and family struggles.

We Were the Future: A Memoir of the Kibbutz by Yael Neeman. New York: Overlook Press, 2016. | Intimate reflection of kibbutz life weaves together the history of the movement and the author’s own story.

The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2006. | Traces the intertwined lives of a Palestinian refugee and a Jewish settler connected through a stone home in Ramla.


Israel Story | English version of a bi-weekly Israeli podcast inspired by public radio’s This American Life. Available on Tablet>


Best Place on Earth: Stories by Ayelet Tsabari. New York: Random House, 2013. | Stories, often focusing on Israel’s Mizrahi Jews, feature mothers and children, soldiers and bohemians, lovers and best friends, all searching for their place in the world.

Suddenly, a Knock at the Door by Etgar Keret. London: Chatto & Windus, 2012. | Brief, intense, painfully funny, and shockingly honest, Keret’s stories are snapshots that illuminate the hidden truths of life.

To the End of the Land by David Grossman. New York: Vintage International, 2010. | Just before his release from service in the Israeli army, Ora’s son is sent back to the front for a major offensive. In a fit of preemptive grief and magical thinking, so that no bad news can reach her, Ora sets out on an epic hike in the Galilee.


The Band’s Visit | 2007 A fading Egyptian police band, stranded in a desolate Israeli village after taking the wrong bus, has no other option than to spend the night with the local townspeople.

James’ Journey to Jerusalem | 2003 A devout Christian making a pilgrimage from his African village to the Holy Land becomes part of the migrant labor workforce in Tel Aviv — until he gets a little taste of fortune by turning the tables on his employers.

Jelly Fish | 2007 Intersecting stories of three very different Tel Aviv women weave an unlikely portrait of modern Israeli life.

Zero Motivation | 2014 A sometimes dark, sometimes hilarious portrait of everyday life for a unit of young, female soldiers in a remote Israeli desert outpost.

At Israel: Many Voices, audience members had an opportunity to share their own stories of Israel by writing them on vintage postcards. Here are excerpts of those submissions.

Once in the Cardo in the Old City, our group of travelers — including ten Israelis — came upon a small group of Asians blowing a shofar and singing. With that, some new voices joined in and started singing. We looked up on the balcony to witness six young Israeli soldiers beaming and singing. We all had chills with this coming together of these three cultures.

In 2007, I made it back to Israel after a long absence. I was shocked at the changes I saw. The cattle call of the old airport was gone, replaced by a huge modern building without opportunities to see everyone else arriving from other airlines. I left the airport and saw the skies filled with buildings and cranes. . . I counted 12 once in one view! And roads smoother than the US! And technology for pay parking meters smarter and more convenient than the streets of Chicago. I missed my old primitive rough-it Israel, so I went to the old city of Jerusalem and felt at home.
— Ellisa Slonim

I value my sleep and my bed. My bed is so comfortable. When I travel on business it is not the same. I don’t sleep well. On vacation, I try to sleep in someone else’s bed. Not good. Then I went to Israel for the first time when I was 45. After three nights in hotels in Jerusalem and Tiberias, I realized that I had great night sleeps. Everywhere: Haifa, Tel Aviv, Eilat, wherever. I was home in my bed.
— Jerry Tatar

On one of my trips to Israel, I went to the Western Wall by myself. Suddenly, I heard the Muslim call to prayer, the Israelis davening at the Wall, and the Church bells ringing — all three major religions coming together!

In 1975, my wife showed me an article in the Sentinel. HIAS was looking for our family. My father’s aunt had come out of Russia and was living in Haifa with her three daughters. We thought that whole side of family had been killed by the Nazis. We went to Ashkleon for our son’s bar mitzvah. Her family was at the synagogue door when the Rabbi opened it. There were 17 of them. My great aunt gave me my great grandfather’s Kiddush cup which I still use.
— Howard Turner

The year was 1996 and while in Israel I had to find a daily minyan to say Kaddish for my father. I found a small Taimani minyan in a courtyard not far from the apartment my wife and I rented. We are all familiar with the 2000-year-old man from the Mel Brooks/Carl Reiner skit. It was the day of Tisha B’Av and while davening with the Taimani minyan, a strange phenomenon was unfolding. By 2 pm we had only completed half of the kinst (special lamentations) for the ninth of Av. In the corner of the shul was a man clothed completely in sack cloth, obviously blind because of cataracts. Yet this individual was correcting the mistakes of the readers. How was this possible? I was told he was Elijah, the harbinger of the Messiah, and had seen the destruction of Jerusalem with his own eyes and wrote most of the lamentations. He knew them by heart and therefore could correct the readers. When I returned to Jerusalem the following year, try as I could, I was unable to find that minyan.
— Ray Glass

Storytellers at left

Back row from left: Dr. Dean P. Bell, Bruce Ogron, Dan Tatar, Michael Simon, and Scott Whitehair.
Front row: Gili Sherman, Dina Elenbogen, Debi Lewis, Sarah Leibov, and Shaily Hakimian.
Photo by Dan Rest.

Watch video excerpts

Divisions Within and Without
Sarah Leibov

Birds of a Feather
Bruce Ogron

Israel Offline
Shaily Hakimian

Finding Osnat: Thirty Years After Operation Moses
Dina Elenbogen

Challah in Two Time Zones
Debi Lewis

Sisterhood in the Sinai
Gili Sherman

The Luckiest Guy in the World,
Israel Edition
Michael Simon

Watch the full program

Adult Jewish Learning Initiative

We believe it matters why, what, how, and certainly if, members of our community continue to learn about Judaism and topics of Jewish interest. It matters to Jewish involvement, to the interests we instill in our children, the strength of our organizations, and the health and vitality of Jewish life. That is why Spertus Institute, with funding from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, spearheads a community-wide initiative around this issue, bringing professionals together to learn from and with each other, and to plan collaborative opportunities to learn.

Learn about this initiative in an article written by Spertus President and CEO Dr. Dean Bell at the time of our community's first collaborative program. Read>

Do you plan programs for adults at an area synagogue, agency, or organization and aren't yet involved in this initiative? Contact Dr. Dean Bell at

Participating Organizations