You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus
—Mark Twain

ISRAEL, REVISITED by Avraham Azrieli

ISRAEL, REVISITED by Avraham Azrieli (Originally published in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, July 2013) A recent visit to Israel rekindled my affection for our Jewish State, while fueling my dread of its demise. Despite ominous warnings from our kids’ nanny and the State Department, we left for Israel with our three youngsters to attend my niece’s Orthodox wedding, which was unlike any nuptial celebration we have seen before. The groom’s friends, in white shirts, slacks and sandals, handguns stuffed in their belts, danced tirelessly to modern interpretations of old Hassidic tunes. Faces red, long dresses sodden with sweat, the bride’s girlfriends danced behind a see-through partition until their ankles showed. The groom himself had hired a tutor to help him rehearse the complicated steps of an old Sicilian piece, which he preformed without tripping before his betrothed. The parents’ friends, hair graying under knitted yarmulkes and colorful headdresses, sat around loaded tables with their abundant offspring and pointed out possible matches for their own brides-to-be, until the groom’s father pulled them into the ever-expanding rings of dancers. I had left Israel fourteen years ago to study in New York, planning to return and practice law. Like other Israelis, I stayed, intoxicated by the incredible lightness of good life in America—all you need is lots of hard work. The perspective of passing years and periodic pilgrimages has fostered a measure of objectivity. The phrase, “There is no place like home,” attains a fresh meaning when you pay infrequent visits to your terrorized homeland. We landed at Ben Gurion airport an hour before sundown on the eve of Shavuot. A young taxi driver put out his cigarette and quickly packed us into a tidy white van. My knees soon began to hurt as they repeatedly collided every time our driver threaded the van between other cars on the highway to Jerusalem. Road #1 was filled to capacity, cars breaking the speed limit in both directions, drivers tailgating, fencing each other with high beams and bemoaning horns, steering single handedly, while the other hand is used for talking. Our driver dialed his wife on the cell phone, while passing a small Fiat on the left shoulder, and reminded her to bring his white shirt to his parents’ house for the holiday dinner. He assured her he would be there soon; I believed him, and buckled up. As our jetlag subsided,...
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Book Review: “Girls Like You” (2015)

“Girls Like You” by Margot Douaihy (Clemson University Press, 2015) is a collection of poetry and poetry-styled short prose. It is deceptively lighthearted, or whimsically serious—or both, and full of surprises. What at first glance appears to the reader as an interesting collection of unrelated yet uniquely perceptive observations, gradually emerges as a wholesome work of integrity. Despite the variety of styles and modulations of voice, there is a theme here, distinguished by a keen eye and a sense of humor about the serious business of living. Take, for example, the welcoming piece (an initiation for the unwary reader), with “Maidservant.” It’s not until one is halfway down the poem when ominous words hint at danger. ‘His skin tore easily as he tangled the sheets,’ yet ending with ‘How I wish I could be as pure as darkness, taking whatever it wants.’ (Disclosure: A poster of Gustav Klimt’s ‘Judith’ has looked down for over two decades from the office wall of this reviewer.) As with all good poetry collections, the fun is in searching for the gems that glow most brightly for one’s eyes, or that most clearly reveal the poet’s mindset. The title poem, “Girls Like You,” perhaps gives away the store with one-half sentence: ‘—the danger of defining nature.’ Fittingly, this work explores timely human and social issue of today, such as relationships, passions, gender choices, homosexuality, and even marriage—as in the poem “Wife” that posits: ‘Wife means your, mine. Two lives find tune, like jasmine on one vine.’ Now, think about it. The writer’s style is not only approachable, word-playful and full of descriptive richness, but the presentation also adds an occasional visual catch. Take a look at the poems “Rock” and “Neither,” which are placed on the page with an added graphic twist. It is a contemporary creation, very much of out times, as in “Text me,” which is how the previous generation would have said: “Talk to me.” To fellow writers, “Wax” would speak volumes: ‘What if we never edited, revised?’ Yes, what if. And to philosophers, “My Money” would bring a pause: ‘My money is on Sisyphus. Sure, the hill is high & rock is heavy, but look at those arms.’ Yes, look! Especially intriguing are the writer’s observations about the physical aspects of a relationship and its natural flow from beginning to last base. ‘I went first; Your lips so cold; You didn’t...
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A Merry Jewish Christmas?

And we experience it through music, because songs are the common language of all people, Jews and Christians alike, as we wish each other, in the words of Irving Berlin: “May your days be merry and bright…and may all your Christmases be white.”

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Book Review: How I Gained My Vision By Losing It – by Charles Lee Sidi (2014)

This book’s intriguing title is an ingenious pun intended. The second visible hint that this is an extraordinary book is served by its brilliant cover: The letters of the title are arranged to resemble a vision test in a doctor’s office, set against a background that appears to be a distorted vision of the side of the building. Part memoir, part inspirational, and part business wisdom, “How I Gained My Vision By Losing It” by Charles Lee Sidi makes for a rare balancing act of honesty, humility and humor, certain to bring readers to tears and laughter, sometimes simultaneously. Furthermore, this truly is a suspenseful story, an unusual quality for books of this nature, primarily because of its unique structure as two stories that move on parallel lines until both threads reach a climactic conclusion that’s both heartwarming and wise. (The unusual structure and its storytelling success should not surprise us as we learn about the author’s professional skills and talents in the fields of design and construction). The story begins in California with a health crisis that threatens to deprive the author of what remains of the vision in his eyes. Under a cloud of impending tragedy, Charles and his wife, Sarah, get in the car, and she drives through the night across the Mojave Desert from California to Arizona. That journey, and the medical drama that follows, serves as the second rail to the main story–Charles’s life. Growing up in Manchester, England, Charles was clearly a precocious boy with a good measure of hearty curiosity and a bit of naughtiness. The family backgrounds provides a wonderful picture of what it was like in England in those last few decades of the 20th century for a Jewish immigrant family with a mix of economic challenges, cultural struggles, and tightknit familial bonds. An English boarding school, as well as boundless intellectual and artistic energy, form a launching pad for a unique career that combines design and construction, earning Charles a number of national awards and honors. Then, driven by an insatiable entrepreneurial sprit (“Go west young man…), the author relocates his family across the Atlantic and the continent all the way to Arizona. Launching a custom homebuilding company shorty before the Great Recession makes for a host of new trials and tribulations, followed by a dramatic pivot to an inventive new product and the challenges of an ambitious startup,...
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Talking to the neighbors: Israel in the Mideast

A 2006 New York Times / International Herald Tribune opinion piece by Avraham Azrieli. Read full article on The New York...
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