Book 123: In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist by Ruchama King Feuerman

Icover42672-mediumn the Courtyard of the Kabbalist by Ruchama King Feuerman

Finished reading March 29, 2014

Rating:  8/10

Jerusalem. Isaac Markovitch has left behind his life in the US and moved to Jerusalem and has started to work as the assistant to a rebbe (according to rebbe – a teacher in a Jewish school or a title of respect for the leader of a Hasidic group), who’s purpose is to help the Jewish people who come to him searching for advice. They might be there because of an illness, or trying to find a good way to find a husband.

Mustafa is an Arab who works on the Temple Mount as a janitor. He has lived his whole life with a crooked neck that pains him. His mother has driven him out of his home village and doesn’t allow him to return. Mustafa meets Isaac, and a relationship develops, Mustafa is hoping that maybe Rabbi Isaac as he calls him, can fix his neck.

Temple Mount

Temple Mount. Credit: Andrew Shiva

The Temple Mount has been used by several religions as a holy place and hence is seen as one even now. According to the Bible, there have been two Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount. For the Sunni Muslims it is the Noble Sanctuary, where the prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven. It has also been used by Christianity and Roman religion.

One day Mustafa sees something in the rubble that the workers are digging up on the Temple Mount – something that looks like a ball.  He takes it to Isaac as a gift.

The novel is about the relationship between Mustafa and Isaac, but also about Isaac “finding himself”, but there is also the arising question of the relics that are unearthed on the Temple Mount that Isaac thinks are of Jewish heritage, but the Muslim workers are digging there with shovels not paying any attention to the pieces of vases, etc. except for Mustafa, who decides to take care of them, despite them not having any worth for the Muslims.

“In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist” is an interesting book, with curious characters, and a thought-provoking premise, containing also themes of Arab-Jew relations.

I found it a good read, although I think I might enjoy it more second time around, knowing what the book is about. There were quite a lot of religion specific words that I had to look up in a dictionary. I don’t think that any previous knowledge of Judaism or Islam would be essential for understanding the plot, as the author explains the necessary concepts and ideas (like what is the importance of the Temple Mount and the relics, etc.

For other books about Jewish-Muslim relations, Israel, etc., see these:

Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist by Emile Habiby

I got a chance to have this title as an e-book for review via

Book 45: The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan


The  Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

Finished reading May 27, 2013

It is easy to show the history through the eyes of the victors, it’s a lot more difficult to give all parties in a violent conflict equal voices.

“The Lemon Tree” Is about the conflict between Jews living in Israel and Palestinian Arabs who were driven out of their homes. The story starts  with two families in focus – one Jewish family living in Bulgaria and an Arab family in the village of Al-Ramla.

In 1948 there was a new state born – State of Israel. One day after it’s declaration of independence it was attacked by Arab forces. More than half a century of wars and peace-treaties and terrorism ensued.

Israel invited all the Jews from around the world, to come there, while driving out the Arabs who had lived on that land for generations. The Jews ended up taking the Arab houses and Arabs living in camps in exile.

Tolan’s book gives an overview of some of the events in and around Israel mostly through the eyes of Dalia, who had arrived in Israel with her family as a child and moved to a house that had a lemon tree in the yard. The house had belonged to a family by the name of Khairi, whose part is mostly constricted to a man named Bashir.

Dalia is trying to understand what the former inhabitants of the house were like and why did they escape, only to learn later that the Khairis were forced out. About two decades after the Kairis left, Bashir comes to see the house and meets Dalia. The narrative continues with arguments between those two, and historical events between the Jews and the Arabs. No-one seems to be on the right side by the end – Israel has occupied Palestine, forced the Palestinian Arabs to live in refugee camps on the West Bank not letting them return to their homes. For some of the Palestinians the way forward is through to terrorism.

It’s a really complicated book about an even more complicated conflict, it sheds some light to what’s happening between Israel and Palestine by going to the beginning of the struggle.

It’s rather educational and worth a read or two.

Book 35: Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa

PIMG_7950“Mornings in Jenin” by Susan Abulhawa

Finished reading February 14th, 2013

Rating 10/10

I wish this was a book that everyone would read.  It’s difficult to describe why.

It’s about everything in my view, although it’s mostly death and destruction followed by a moment to catch your breath and then death again. It feels somehow universal, as if the book would have encompassed the whole humanity. It might sound out of proportion though…

“Mornings in Jenin” is about several generations of a Palestinian family whose lives have been affected by the emergence of Israel, having to leave their ancestors land and house to stay in a refugee camp, live out their lives under military curfew, lose their parents and children and what could be seen as a “normal life”.

It is rather fast-paced and every time you’re hoping for a happy ending, it fails to come and instead there’s something worse and the constant though or underestimation that “it’s unfair”.