A groundbreaking portrait of contemporary Israel, revealing the polyphonic diversity of this extraordinary yet volatile nation by weaving together personal histories of ordinary citizens from all walks of life.
In Twelve Tribes, award-winning author Ethan Michaeli illuminates the complex dynamics within the country, a collective drama with global consequences far beyond the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. Framed by Michaeli’s travels across the country over four years and his conversations with Israeli family, friends, and everyday citizens, Twelve Tribes introduces readers to the aging revolutionaries who founded Israel's kibbutz movement and the brilliant young people working for the country’s booming Big Tech companies. They will join thousands of ultra-Orthodox Haredim at a joyous memorial for a long-dead Romanian Rebbe in
in a suburb of Tel Aviv, and hear the life stories of Ethiopian Jews who were incarcerated and tortured in their homeland as “Prisoners of Zion” before they were able to escape to Israel. And they will be challenged, in turn, by portraits of Israeli Arabs navigating between the opportunities in a prosperous, democratic state and the discrimination they suffer as a vilified minority, as by interviews with both the Palestinians striving to build the institutions of a nascent state and the Israeli settlers seeking to establish a Jewish presence on the same land.
Immersive and enlightening, Twelve Tribes is a vivid depiction of a modern state contending with ancient tensions and dangerous global forces at this crucial historic moment. Through extensive research and access to all sectors of Israeli society, Michaeli reveals Israel to be a land of paradoxical intersections and unlikely cohabitation—a place where all of the world’s struggles meet, and a microcosm for the challenges faced by all nations today.
“These illuminating conversations with a wide variety of ordinary people — ultra-Orthodox Jews, Holocaust survivors, aging kibbutzniks, Ethiopian and Russian immigrants, Arab citizens of Israel, Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank — fill the pages of this richly descriptive book. Michaeli allows his subjects to speak for themselves and largely eschews editorializing. … It is refreshing, therefore, to read a book about the lives of actual Israelis, which brings their cacophonous voices, rather than the author’s opinions, to the fore.”
"In his artfully crafted work, Michaeli deftly escorts the reader through the complexities and interactions of Israel’s populace; one rich in a diversity of opinion and practice. Read his book and you will come to understand modern day Israel as it is: a kaleidoscope of tribes."
— STEVE WENICK, The Times of Israel Book Review
"They say that if you really want to get to know a place, speak to the locals. This is the premise of author Ethan Michaeli’s new book Twelve Tribes: Promise and Peril in the New Israel, which takes readers beyond the news headlines and into the homes and workplaces of Jews and Arabs living in Israel and the West Bank."
— RENEE GHERT-ZAND, The Times of Israel
“In Twelve Tribes, Ethan Michaeli proves he is a master portraitist – of lives, places, and cultures. His rendering of contemporary Israel crackles with energy, fueled by a historian’s vision and a journalist’s unrelenting curiosity.”
— EVAN OSNOS, New York Times bestselling author of Age of Ambition, winner of the National Book Award
“Ethan Michaeli has a gimlet eye for the people, texture, and contradictions of modern Israel. I’m in awe of his powers of observation and his ability as a modern-day Tocqueville to take us inside one of the most complex and confounding countries in the world."
— JONATHAN ALTER, bestselling author of His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life
"Ethan Michaeli writes about Israel with the objectivity of a keen observer and the passion of an insider with a personal stake in the future of the country. In this delightful journey through Israel’s radical diversity, he cautions us against hasty judgments. Love for the Israeli story, and anxiety for its future, animate this book."
— YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI, New York Times bestselling author of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor and senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute
"Ethan Michaeli has accomplished something of great value with Twelve Tribes. With his observant street level reporting and vivid writing, he has broken through stereotypes to reveal the multiplicity of Israel and the promise of its diverse peoples. From these ground level observations, I learned more about Israel than anything I'd read before."
— DAVID MARANISS, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father
"Twelve Tribes is a masterful work of history and storytelling, one that cuts through the fog of politics by focusing on the people and feelings at the heart of the story of Israel. Ethan Michaeli takes the reader on an unforgettable, eye-opening journey."
— JONATHAN EIG, New York Times bestselling author of Ali: A Life
"Marshaling an extraordinarily extensive network—from Palestinians to Haredim, from teenagers to nonagenarians, from kibbutzniks to businesswomen, from organizers to bystanders—Ethan Michaeli here proves himself an insightful guide through the many facets of today’s Israel. Quietly and cheerfully nudging both his interviewees and his readers, he gets at the truth—not only that there are no easy answers, but also that there are so many complicated ones."
— YUVAL TAYLOR, author of Zora and Langston: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal
"A wide-ranging variety of on-the-ground reportage, uncovering a teeming world of Israelis and Palestinians working and living in uneasy proximity. Whether visiting the Tel Aviv suburbs, fashionable cafes in Jerusalem, the West Bank, or Ponevezh Yeshiva, 'one of the essential institutions of the Haredi world,' Michaeli reveals aspects of the country’s character that historians and journalists have been unable to capture."
"Israel is often seen as a place of intractable divisions. But author Ethan Michaeli, the son of Israelis who moved to the United States, grew weary of hearing the same old narratives. So he set out on a journey to paint a more nuanced portrait. In “Twelve Tribes: Promise and Peril in the New Israel,” he brings readers along for the ride, introducing them to the complexities – and humanity – of life in modern Israel."
— ERIKA PAGE, The Christian Science Monitor