Ed: 38: November/2013
If the history in Exodus was largely accurate, the characters were all fictional. It is against this backdrop that Yossi Klein Halevi's achievement in Like Dreamers stands out, for he too tells the story of modern Israel - in his case, from 1967 to the present day - from the point of view of a small group of archetypal characters. But his book is fact, not fiction, and his dramatis personae are all real.
Although Iran's new President, the avuncular Hassan Rouhani, received sympathetic coverage following his star turn at the United Nations in late-September, there was a multiplicity of views on the significance of this new face of the Iranian regime.
In 1911, Mendel Beilis was arrested and charged with murdering a Christian child for the purpose of using the boy's blood in Jewish religious rituals.
Mendel Beilis fought the absurd allegation and, in 1913, one of the most important societal trials of the 20th century took place in the main courthouse of Kiev, now the capital of Ukraine.
It was not just Mendel on trial - but Judaism and the entire Jewish people.
The Philippines Government and the largest Islamic rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), edge ever closer to finalising a comprehensive peace agreement. Yet, as ever, smaller Islamic forces on the sidelines retain the power to ensure that peace in the southern Philippines remains an elusive dream.
In mid-October, a further round of talks began between Iran and the West. Unlike in earlier rounds, this time there have been direct negotiations between the United States and Iran, occurring behind the scenes of the talks between Iran and the P5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany). Although the telephone conversation between Obama and Rouhani, which transpired at the end of the Iranian President's visit to the UN General Assembly in late September, is still provoking anger in Iran, it has also aroused hopes that "this time" - ten years after the repeatedly failed negotiations began - there is room for success.
Washington and Jerusalem's initial assessments regarding Teheran's intentions were correct. The partial information coming in following the negotiations in Geneva on October 15 and 16 indicates that the current Iranian leadership is in fact proposing a valid deal on its nuclear program... Iran presented a pragmatic and supposedly fair outline for a deal that will be implemented quickly in three stages. The sanctions succeeded where diplomacy failed.
Sultana is 23 years old and very hungry. She grew up in the suburbs east of Damascus, but when her house was firebombed by an airplane belonging to the Syrian regime, she fled the city in the night along with her husband and their five children.
Together, the group trekked south toward safety across the Jordanian border, adding their numbers to the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have swarmed this remote, impoverished corner of the Hashemite Kingdom while Syrian President Bashar Assad's reign of terror shows no signs of abating.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, sage, rebel and kingmaker, left this world at age 93 the way he conquered power: with a tour de force.
Followed to his resting place by more than half-a-million people on Oct. 7, apparently the largest gathering Jerusalem had seen since antiquity, Rabbi Yosef's religious stature and social impact are undeniable. What is less clear, and in fact now looms as Israeli politics' most significant riddle, is the future of his political creation, the Shas party.
Religion, any religion, can be a source of spiritual fulfilment and guidance for ethical behaviour or a mandate for fanaticism, intolerance and violence. (That includes Judaism - followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane are a good example of the latter.) As Prof. Efraim Inbar, a religious man as well as a distinguished academic scholar, put it during his recent visit to Melbourne, all religious traditions have to "pick their verses."
There is a definite international diplomatic buzz over new proposals floated at October's P5+1 talks in Geneva aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program. The Islamic Republic's PR makeover, which began with the election of Hassan Rouhani in June and continued with a charm offensive at the UN General Assembly in September, appears to now be complete.
Whether the transformation is merely cosmetic - as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has emphatically and correctly warned it likely is - or heralds the improbable beginning of a major, genuine policy shift from a sanctions-weary regime is of course not yet entirely conclusive.