My favorite things Israel

1. Film: A rich and rapidly improving genre.  My favorites are Lebanon or Waltz with Bashir, with a sentimental nod to Yana’s Friends, which isn’t great but I saw it on my second date with Natasha.

2. Movie, set in (non-Israeli): I don’t like Exodus, so can I cite the Mel Gibson movie?  Are we totally sure that it is indeed set in Israel?  What else am I missing?  “Painting, set in” would be a fun category, but too hard to choose.

3. Actress: Natalie Portman is excellent in Closer.

4. Classical musician: Daniel Barenboim, Yefim Bronfman, Ivry Gitlis, and Eliahu Inbal would be at the top of a pretty long list.  Perlman has a style too aggressive for my taste, at least as it comes across on disc.

5. Fiction author: I very much admire and enjoy David Grossman’s To The End of the Land.

6. Philosopher: Joseph Raz, especially his The Morality of Freedom.

7. Non-fiction author: Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow is splendid.  Tom Segev could be a runner-up.

8. Co-author: Amihai Glazer, from UC Irvine.

9. Other economists: Donald Patinkin, Ariel Rubinstein, Ehud Kalai, Jacob Frenkel, Dan Ariely, Robert Aumann, Sergiu Hart, Elhanan Helpman, Reuven Brenner, Zvi Hercowitz, Oded Galor, Michael Bruno, and Stanley Fischer would be a few others.  Overall the country is strong in game theory and monetary economics, as well as economics more generally.

I strike a zero when it comes to popular music.  I don’t like Kiss/Gene Simmons, and Israeli popular music I don’t know well but from a distance I do not expect to like it much.  The visual arts are also not obviously strong, though perhaps you can enlighten me in the comments.


I've been waiting for this post. I don't think Gene Simmons and Natalie Portman should count; they were born in Israel and speak a tiny bit of Hebrew but they're American.

For actor, I'd nominate Lior Ashkenazi. Have you seen Footnote, Tyler? It was a pretty funny satire of academic politics with a lot of other interesting themes explored.

I agree that the music is pretty bad.

A serious musician once told me the safest way do decent music to do covers. So, with that in mind, enjoy the Hebrew version of LMFAO's arty rock anthem:

"the safest way do decent music to do covers"

Safe in what way? Reliability? Audience? In the same way piano students practice classical composers?

"For actor, I’d nominate Lior Ashkenazi."

He was really good in "Walk on Water:"

How about Noa for "pop" music?

I'll second that, but her Hebrew albums more than her English ones

daniel barenboim. was born & raised here in argentina. but yeah he lives in israel for a long time

Pop music is dire, but there is always Idan Raichel. Plus Chava Alberstein has to be on any 'favorite things Israel' list. Also, what about Ofra Haza and Yasmin Levy?

You seem to be in a bit of a time warp.

For indie-type rock there is Mika Karni and Eyfo Hayeled.

Etgar Keret writes very funny books.

Yes, in a wide range of genres. "Dad Runs Away With The Circus" is a very good children's book.

Wow... Anxiously awaiting your favorite things Lebanon.

"Anxiously awaiting your favorite things Lebanon"

Easy list. Hezbollah. Amal. Assassination via car bombing. Sectarian conflict.

In music, try Shalom Hanoch, Uzi Navon, and especially the Girafot, who are making fresh and interesting music reminiscent of Of Montreal and Midlake.

In visual arts I can't come up with anything besides Agam. Meir Shalev deserves a mention in both fiction and nonfiction.


Too many beautiful women to know which restaurants are good.

Possibly the funniest comment I have ever read on an economics blog

Music: Idan Raichel, Danny Sanderson

David Broza, David Broza, David Broza:

I'll second Idan Raichel in the music category. Closest new artist to Simon & Garfunkle that I've come across. They like to combine genre's cultures etc. Ethiopian israeli's, colombian singers, all around excellent artistry.

Israel has a pretty good electronic music scene, as I understand it. Both Infected Mushroom and Astral Projection are Israeli groups. There's also the progressive metal band Orphaned Land; while I don't think they're great, their style is unique and interesting.

I second Infected Mushroom.

"I second Infected Mushroom."

That belongs in an intro ESL course. Leave 'em guessing.

music: Aviv Geffen, sings also in hebrew but I prefer his collaboration with Steven Wilson.

Visual arts: Yaacov Agam.

I'm pretty sure Don Patinkin didn't go by Donald. Don is the English spelling of the Hebrew pronunciation of Dan (as in the tribe).

I'm not surprised Tyler didn't include a category for food. I've been living here for a pretty long time but I'm not sure there is any popular Israeli food that didn't originate somewhere else.

Probably reflects the fact that there aren't many Israelis that didn't originate somewhere else.......

3. My vote goes for Debra Winger. Not as artsy, but a solid commercial performer with stronger Israeli ties.

The movie Beaufort, while nominally set in Lebanon, was filmed in Israel. And it's a pretty good movie.

Paul Auster?

As for painters, check out Israel Hershberg. He and his entire family are wonderful painters.

Israel is a contemporary realist represented by the Marlborough gallery and is the Directector and founder of the Jerusalem Studio School.

I'm a bit surprised there wasn't a jazz musician category, given the many decent Israeli-born musicians now on the scene (including, somewhat confusingly, two entirely different -- but both fine! -- people named "Avishai Cohen.")

The bass player is far more notable than the trumpet player I think.

Also notable: Daniel Zamir - who had several releases on John Zorn's label and some more on Israeli labels.

Another Zorn-affiliated musician worth checking out is Koby Israelite, if you have any tolerance for that Zornesque, "put all genres in a blender" thing.

What about tv shows? I have been enjoying prisoners of war (available for free in US on hulu)

Since it's Israel I think you need a category "My favorite Military Generals"

jazz: Idan Raichel is a must!

Did you avoid mentioning Falafel just to avoid a mediterranean "we made it first" circular argument?

Nobody will agree but the original incarnation of Balkan Beat Box could get your motor running. Is there a category for Ben Hecht?

I'm going to throw in a plug for favorite (cook)book(s): Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and Jerusalem by Otttolenghi & Sami Tamimi.

Marc Chagall is not Israeli, but he has several famous works of art in Israel - the Jerusalem Windows and several pieces in the Knesset.

Suki Lahav anyone? (She played with the E Street Band for about a year.) Not just Israeli born, she is 100% Israeli.

I don't think Debra Winger is Israeli at all.

Turns out, Asher, that is an Internet myth. But I never would have looked it up if it weren't for your comment.

You forgot

1) my favorite disputed settlement
2) my favorite airstrike on Palestinian territory and
3) my favorite rabbi

Movie, set in (non-Israeli)

Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, and Monty Python's Life of Brian come to mind.

"My favorite things Israel"

1. Fences that really work to keep out illegals (and terrorists).
2. Tough immigration enforcement.including mass deportations
3. A strong national identity.
4. Pro-Israeli immigration policies
5. Unwanted foreigners are called "illegals infiltrators"

Yeah, but they had to do three years of compulsory military service. Did you?

If USA conscripted for three years you could probably cram the land border with a thousand guards a mile.

Re #5: Jews had a similar moniker in Germany at a not-so-distant point in history.

Sounds like you support the pogroms.

Yes, because controlling one's borders = pogroms.

Of course.

There are many Arabs in Israel. Funny, given it's their land. Some Israelis - the zionist land-grabber segment - want them gone.

Peter Schaeffer uses their language. So yes, he basically wants for the Arabs what the Germans wanted for the Jews: to have them removed from their sight.

I see that Godwin's law is still unknown in some parts. The "illegal infiltrators" in Israel aren't Arabs, much less Israeli Arabs. They are economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. See for a discussion.


Never heard of Godwin’s law? Fail. Deporting illegals back to their own countries is not exactly the same as exterminating people who had been living in Germany for over 1000 years. Of course, I am sure the Open Borders crowd regards it as worse.


Policies to encourage high fertility among the majority.

Weren't you just mocking Israelites for their anachronistic ambitions as "warriors and farmers"?

Re: music

Melechesh is worth mentioning for some values of 'popular' and 'israel'

Another film set in (disputedly) or near Israel: "West Bank Story", which won the Oscar for Best Live Short Film a few years ago. An opening scene with Israeli soldiers patrolling a village in the West Bank, and hostile Palestinian youths, and a familiar rhythmic soundtrack. Realize that it's a take-off on "West Side Story" and you can pretty much envision the rest of the film. Thus, predictable in many ways but still well done and worth seeing.

Thumbing through the comments, it's striking how little impact Israel has on 21st Century culture. There are similar numbers of Jews in Israel and in America, but American Jews appear to have a couple of orders of magnitude more impact on global culture.

Language is one reason, of course,

More fundamentally, as Berkeley historian Yuri Slezkine detailed in his brilliant 2004 book The Jewish Century, the founding Zionists always intended the Jewish State to be as un-Jewish in jobs as possible. While the modern economy has slowly made the rest of the world more like Jews -- "urban, mobile, literate, articulate, intellectually intricate, physically fastidious, and occupationally flexible," in Slezkine's words -- the early Israelis strove to become more like the warriors and farmers who then predominated among other peoples.

Participating in a larger culture (almost) always has a bigger effect than remaining in isolation. Compare the influence of Cajuns in the U.S. with Quebec. The former is large (Jazz, food, etc.) whereas the later is near zero. Not a criticism of Quebec. I love the place and have fond memories of visiting.

For a separate people to impact the world, their culture must be large and distinctive. Japan provides an example. Japan has successfully exported certain aspects of its national culture. However, Japan has well over 100 million people and several millennia to develop its unique society. Israel has neither.

Steve Sailer: Agree regarding American Jews, but you are setting the bar unreasonably high: American Jews have outperformed entire continents in the past century or so.

Jazz clarinetist (and sax player) Anat Cohen.

The release I'm familiar with: "Notes from the Village." Outstanding!

For visual artist, Israel Hershberg is well-known realist painter:

Other philosophers to include: the Margalits (Avishai and Edna Ullman-Margalit).

Warren young is a brilliant economist

Third! Infected Mushroom is truly excellent. I suspect Tyler isn't a fan of electronic music generally, but I think he might enjoy "Classical Mushroom" all the same.

*sigh* Reply fail. Should have been in reply to Nathan's comment.

The Israeli violinist Miri Ben-Ari has featured prominently in pop music (hip-hop) here in the U.S. over the last decade or so.

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