Two Book Reviews

Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef (2010)

I was privileged last spring to hear Mosab Hassan Yousef speak about his evolution from an honored place in the “Palestinian” world as the eldest son of one of the founders of the terrorist organization Hamas to an agent of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service to Christian refugee in the United States. I chose to read his book because I hungered for more details and a better understanding of his role in helping Israel combat Hamas-inspired terrorism and to better understand the basis of his rejection of Islam and his conversion to Christianity.

No doubt many “Palestinians” since the decision 68 years ago by Arab religious and political leaders to attempt to destroy the nascent state of Israel have questioned the logic and efficaciousness of violence as a means to achieve their goals, but only someone in a protected position in that society, which as the eldest son of one of Hamas’ founders Mosab Yousef had––has a realistic opportunity to break with Islam and the way it has been employed against Israel.

I say that because the average Arab resident of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) or Gaza who deviates in the slightest from the dominant religious and political environment created by Hamas, the PLO and the other factions is inviting his or her death without trial. Many have been killed as collaborators based on unproven charges and a rival’s false testimony. Many have been killed for having a conversation with a Jew or doing business with Jews. Mosab, however, was above suspicion and therefore could choose a path of personal redemption while being true to his evolving religious beliefs.

I won’t try to summarize his story because every American who cares about the situation in the Holy Land, in Israel, in the Middle East—whatever name you want to apply to that part of the world should read this book. To do so will teach you a great deal about Islam and its application by the Arab population, about Arab culture, and about the ends to which Israel has gone at times to combat terrorism.

Above all this is a story of one man’s great devotion to family and friendship, of a commitment to a value system that rejects hate and killing, and of courage under incredible danger. Readers will find themselves inspired that such a person could accomplish what this young man has accomplished. You will want to share your copy of this book with friends and family.

Chanukah Guilt by Ilene Schneider (Second edition, 2014)

Chanukah Guilt is the title of Rabbi Illene Schneider’s first cozy mystery. The heroine is also a female rabbi whose persistence in seeking answers about the supposed suicide of a young woman leads to the discovery of a double murder.

The Chanukah connection is an artificial overlay to the story and other than being “cute” due to the fact that Guilt sounds like Gelt, the title has nothing to do with the story.

The main character is a twice-divorced female rabbi who heads up a small congregation in southern New Jersey. We learn a great deal about Rabbi Cohen’s likes and dislikes, about her relationship with her sister and her mother, and by an unlikely coincidence meet one of her ex-husbands when he’s appointed acting police chief of the town in which Cohen lives.

Introducing all these details makes for slow going at times. One wishes her editor had explained to Rabbi Schneider the downside of falling in love with one’s protagonist. Not only does it slow things down but it detracts from the main story. Case in point is the discovery of a video of someone visiting the suicide shortly before her death. Schneider introduces evidence that the visitor brought the vodka and pills that were the cause of death, but then fails to follow up on those facts.

I read the second edition of Chanukah Guilt, which Schneider promises has eliminated typos and other errors and for which she introduces an alternate ending and asks the readers which one we prefer. When an author isn’t confident how to end her story, why should we?

Despite the awards she has garnered, Chanukah Guilt didn’t make me want to try any of Schneider’s subsequent novels. However, if you are a fan of cozy mysteries and enjoy learning how 50-something female rabbis manage their congregations and solve crimes, you may want to give Schneider’s novels a try.

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