Author: Tuvia Tenenbom
Publisher: Gefen Publishing House
Okay, lets face it, Tuvia Tenenbom's Catch the Jew may not be your usual travel guide book with regard to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, but after reading it, you will have to admit that it is nevertheless quite an eye-opener.
Tenenbom's bio in the introduction to his book states that he is a political dramatist and journalist. Perhaps, we should also add that he is a comedian with a very animated sense of humor. His articles and essays have appeared in various newspapers including Die Zeit of Germany, Corriere della Sera of Italy, and Yedioth Ahronoth of Israel. In addition, he is a columnist for Zeit Online and Forward and the artistic director of The Jewish Theater of New York.
In 2012 Tenenbom authored Allein unter Deutschen (I Sleep in Hitler's Room), which was a walking study of Germany today and became a Spiegel bestseller for four months. As a result of the success of this book, his publishers asked him to do a similar walking study of Israel and its people which would be over a period of six months, and thus Catch the Jew came into being.
Tenenbom, who was born in Israel and left many years ago, admits that he didn't have a clue as to how he would proceed but decided, “to let the winds carry me to wherever they blow,” and that is exactly what he does in the book. He lets the facts and realities expose themselves and tries to be as objective as possible applying the rules and principles of a true professional journalist, who at times has been described as a gadfly journalist-provocateur. As he mentions in the introduction, he reports what he sees not what he likes, but he does share with his readers his thoughts and feelings throughout the voyage. And I can assure you that although a great deal of his findings may have humorous undertones or as Tenenbom states,” it is the theater of the absurb,” nonetheless, it can at times be quite disturbing forcing the reader to question if this is actually happening in Israel or is it pure fantasy?
To pull it off, Tenenbom recreates himself as Tobi the German journalist. It should be noted that Tenenbom speaks Arabic, Hebrew, German, Yiddish and English, all of which come in very handy when he overhears some of the conversations among his interviewees. And these interviewees include monks, rabbis, Palestinian and Israeli politicians, tour guides, NGO apparatchiks, soldiers, settlers, self-hating Jews, Israeli Leftists who claim to love Palestinian culture but can't even speak Arabic, and whoever would be willing to talk to him.
One of the lessons that I took away from reading the book is that there exists enormous misinformation which is perpetuated by the media concerning the reality that exists in Israel today. How much is reported about the thievery that goes on committed by the leaders of Hamas and the PA? How many journalists have visited and reported about some of the more prosperous sections of Ramallah and Hebron? How about the Christians and their almost total disappearance from the West Bank? And then there is the question of over 300 NGOs on the West Bank which mainly are Europeans who seemed to be obsessed with the Palestinians and pour millions of dollars into various institutions, much of the money, according to Tenenbom is used to catch the Jew in doing something awful. It should be mentioned, that more foreign aid per capita is given to Palestinians than to anyone else. What is happening with the money and who is benefiting from the millions of dollars?
When I interviewed Tenenbom and asked if he ever got the feeling when talking to some of the Israelis and Palestinians that they could have been characters out of The Wise Men of Chelm as depicted in the literature of Y.L. Peretz or Isaac Bashevis Singer with their “bubba misehs” (Old wives tales) they were spinning, his reply was the characters he encountered are far superior to any work of fiction. And perhaps you will probably agree with him after reading the book.