MONTREAL — It’s not that often newspapers get a chance to blow their own horns these days.
But The CJN can.
Veteran CJN French-language staff writer Elias Levy has authored Comprendre Israël, the latest in a popular series of 126-page guidebooks released by Quebec-based Ulysse Inc., one of the best-known publishers of travel guides used in the French-speaking world.
Other countries in the Comprendre series include China, Cuba, Japan, Thailand, South Africa, Brazil, and of course the province of Quebec.
Ulysse released the book in September, and it’s being very positively received and selling well in French-speaking nations such as France, Belgium and Switzerland.
It’s also drawing attention on the World Wide Web and in Quebec, where it has been on prominent display in bookstores such as Olivieri and Renaud-Bray. As well, the book is available on major online sites, including Amazon, and as an e-book.
That suits the author fine. Levy noted in an interview that Comprendre Israël marks “the first time” a francophone Quebec publisher has released a book depicting Israel as being not just about politics, Palestinians or the peace process – although these topics are addressed in detail by Levy – but as a diverse, dynamic and pluralistic democracy rich in culture, history, creativity and, above all, overflowing with talent.
“It is one of the main reasons I was motivated to write this book,” Levy said. “I was given carte blanche, which is why I accepted.
“Among average Quebecers and within many academic, cultural, political and journalistic circles, there is a profound lack of understanding, a great ignorance, about what Israel is all about.
“Israel is not just a country about a conflict. It is also about literature, and the arts, and about a ‘start-up nation,’ one of the leading nations in the world in developing high-tech industry.
“This in a country that did not even have television until 1968. It is an economy built by the people of Israel.
“Too many people – including many important Quebecers – simply do not know about these things.”
Levy spent more than a year researching and working on Comprendre Israël, producing a book that is remarkably comprehensive for its slight size. It’s partly a guidebook, but also a detailed primer on all things related to Israel.
The first chapter, for example, devotes itself to “History and Israeli Civilization” and is divided into main categories – history, religion, geography and culture – and subdivided again within each. This chapter discusses the history of Zionism, the Israeli-Arab wars and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The second chapter, “Daily Life in Israel,” addresses the Israeli political system, the kibbutz, the Israel Defence Forces, national languages, education, Israel’s important francophone component, communications, transportation, health care and sports.
In the next chapter, about “Israeli Society in the 21st Century,” the focus is on the multi-ethnic character of Israel, Jewish holidays and rituals, Arab-Jewish relations, immigration, levels of Jewish religiosity, the treatment of gays, feminism, and Israeli cuisine and wines.
In the fourth (and last) chapter, Levy, a graduate of the Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC) business school, addresses the subject he is most knowledgeable about, namely the Israeli economy and its business climate.
It’s the chapter that shows Israel in all its high-tech and entrepreneurial glory.
“It is the first chapter I wrote, because it was the easiest one,” Levy said. “The history, the politics, the conflict – for me that that was more difficult, and I saved that for last. I am no ‘expert’ on Israel, and I was careful in every chapter to cite source material and to add a very useful bibliography that readers can use later to further their knowledge.”
Because of its anticipated francophone Quebec readership, the book includes sections on the important francophone presence in Israel – comprising some 20 per cent of its population – as well as its continuing “conspicuous absence” from the group of Francophonie nations.
Levy also addresses many “common points of interest” between Quebec and Israel. These include “ententes” signed between them, as well as Israel’s very successful system of integrating immigrants from dozens of countries, which could serve as a model for the Quebec.
Quebec and Israel also were a common presence at the 2008 Salon du Livre de Paris, which attracted many of Israel’s most illustrious literary figures.