The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem Series One Part One Review

Family is complicated. Marriage is complicated. We can only do our best and hope that it is good enough.

The new Netflix series, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem, is based on the novel, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem: A Novel, by Sarit Yishai-Levi. The first half of the first series is set in the 1920s and 1930s. It follows the women of the Ermoza family, a Sephardi Jewish family living in Jerusalem. Gabriel (Michael Aloni) is in love with another woman but is forced to marry Roza (Hila Saada), by his mother Merkada (Irit Kaplan). He tries to be a good husband and father but is not exactly dedicated to his family. Almost twenty years later, their eldest daughter, Luna (Swell Ariel Or) is growing up in a time of political tension and struggle.

I don’t recall if I read the book, but the first series is fantastic. Set against the backdrop of British-controlled Palestine (i.e. pre-1948 Israel), the emotional conflicts within the Ermoza family collide with the heady and complicated world events of the era. It is fantastic, immediately grabs the viewer, and does not let go until the final credits roll. If nothing else, it reveals a side of history in this region that is not often talked about in the mainstream press.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The first season of The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem is available for streaming on Netflix.

P.S. The second season is scheduled to be released sometime in July. I eagerly await its arrival.

Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multi-Racial Jewish Family Book Review

The Passover story and the Exodus of the Hebrews from slavery to freedom is a potent one. In one way or another, we can all relate to the idea of breaking free from whatever is holding us back.

Laura Arnold Leibman‘s new book, Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multi-Racial Jewish Family was published back in August. The book traces the ancestry of Blanche Moses. Moses, whose Jewish-American ancestry goes back to the Revolutionary War, tells the story of her biracial ancestors. Both Jewish (mostly Sephardic with a handful of Ashkenazi) and black, her ancestors had to navigate a world in which they could be doubly ostracized while passing as Caucasian. Living in such different places as New York City, London, and the West Indies, it was akin to a game of chess, in which every move must be calculated before proceeding.

I wanted to like this book. The subject is one that is certainly of interest to me. The problem is that it is slow to read and void of the excitement that I should have had while answering the question that the book asks. While I appreciated this deep dive into a part of Jewish history that is not always in the spotlight, the promises laid out by the author are not met.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

RIP Shelley Morrison

For many TV fans, our favorite characters are more than fictional creations played by trained actors. They are akin to a loved one who comes into our homes week in and week out.

Last night, former Will & Grace alum Shelley Morrison passed away. She was 83.

Born in New York City to Sephardic Jewish parents, Morrison had a lengthy career before she played Rosario Salazar, Karen Walker’s (Megan Mullally) maid. Unlike other servants of color who remained silent or absent from the narrative, Rosario gave as good as she got it. She knew how to push the buttons of not just her boss, but her bosses’ friends.

But there was more to the relationship than put-downs and insults. There was a loving bond between Karen and Rosario that added a new layer to the relationship.

May her memory be a blessing to those who knew and loved her in person and those who loved her on screen.

Z”l.

Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel Book Review

Spying is rarely as glamorous or simple as it appears to be in film and on television. It is often dangerous, requiring those who take up the charge of spying to potentially put their lives on the line for their cause and their country.

In the new non-fiction book, Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel, author Matti Friedman tells the true story of four young men of Sephardi Jewish descent (Jews who come from the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa and the Middle East) who pretended to Muslim to spy for the newly born Israeli state in the late 1940’s.

Spy novels, whether they are fiction or based on fact are usually not my go to genre. However, this book is one heck of a read. It had the narrative of a James Bond movie combined with the true stories of four young men who put their own needs aside to protect their country and their people.

I recommend it.

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