In the wake of the Six Day War, Aaron and Bonnie Leibel decided to emigrate to Israel, or, as Jews call it, “make aliyah.”
What followed were twenty tumultuous, frustrating, gratifying and productive years, raising their children, living on a Kibbutz, serving in the army and pursuing their careers.
In the voice of a natural storyteller, Aaron Leibel shares what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land where you expected to belong, and how, ultimately, he and his family do belong.
The Israel of the 1970s and 1980s comes alive in this balanced, personal account.
“[A] REMARKABLE INTRODUCTION TO A COMPLEX COUNTRY. An American recounts the years he spent living in Israel with his family and the evolution of the country in this memoir. When Leibel met his wife, Bonnie, a move to Israel seemed very unlikely. She hailed from a solidly Protestant family, and while he was Jewish, he was ‘completely detached from the Jewish people.’ But in the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967, Bonnie felt a wave of sympathy and solidarity for Israel, converted to Judaism, and decided—she had an ‘extremely adventurous soul’—that they should relocate there with their two daughters…. Leibel recalls his eventful experiences there — he lived in Jerusalem as well as on a kibbutz, where he worked at an apple orchard…. He served in the Israel Defense Forces for 14 years and … was recruited to become a spy by Israeli intelligence. The author leads readers on an astute tour of Israel’s metamorphosis from a ‘Third World country with a First World military establishment’ to a ‘start-up nation’ that was the ‘most important technological center in the Middle East.’ Leibel’s story is … brimming with historical drama. He lived in Israel during the Yom Kippur War, the nation’s peace with Egypt, and the first intifada. This is a remarkable introduction to a complex country, personally charming and historically edifying. A thoughtful and thorough explication of a turbulent nation.”
“Figs and Alligators is Leibel’s account of the 16 years that he, his wife Bonnie and their three daughters spent in Israel before sheer poverty drove them back to the States in 1988. Leibel, who became a widely-published journalist during his time in Israel, writes this personal history as if chatting informally to a friend. In simple terms he tells his story of living and struggling in the Israel of the 1970s and 1980s ‒ a story that will evoke many a smile or sigh of remembrance in anyone who went through the same experience…. And what an adventure it proved to be.”
— Neville Teller, The Jerusalem Post
“Aaron Leibel’s Figs and Alligators is a wonderful journey through the forgotten Israel of the 1970s and 80s — poorer, more tight-knit, rougher at the edges — and is spiced with just the right mix of nostalgia and irony.”
— Gershom Gorenberg, senior correspondent, The American Prospect, author, Shalom, Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin
“Aaron Leibel tells us in this fast-reading book about his decision to make Aliyah; his experiences learning Hebrew in an ulpan; living with his wife Bonnie and three daughters on a kibbutz near the Lebanese border; becoming a reserve soldier in the Israel Defense Forces; deciding to move to a poor section of Jerusalem; struggling through hyper-inflation; becoming a freelance writer, eventually being hired on the staff of the Jerusalem Post, and ultimately deciding for economic reasons to move back to the United States…. You can read this volume easily in a single day, perhaps sitting in your back yard, socially distanced, with your mask off. Try it; I bet you’ll enjoy it.”
— Donald H. Harrison, San Diego Jewish World
“A WARM AND CANDID MEMOIR…. One of the many who tried living in Israel but did not ultimately make it his permanent home, he seems reconciled to the choices he made, and proves capable of recalling his years here with compassion, some healthy self-deprecation, and no little wisdom.”
— David Horovitz, editor-in-chief, Times of Israel, author, A Little Too Close to God (2000) and Still Life with Bombers (2004)
“VIBRANT. The Leibels moved to Israel in 1972 (a process known in Jewish circles as ‘making aliyah’ or elevating oneself) and stayed until 1988, a span that is examined in a vibrant, tightly written work that animates history from the ground level. Deftly seasoned with humor, Figs and Alligators … charts the transformation of the Jewish State from a slow-moving, largely poor and mostly secular country to a prosperous, Western-oriented place, a ‘start-up nation’ known for its cutting-edge technology and world-class traffic jams, as well as its heightened religiosity.”
— Richard Greenberg, author of Pathways: Jews Who Return (Jason Aronson Books)
“DARKLY FUNNY. For western Jews who dream of living in Israel, Aaron Leibel’s darkly funny near day-to-day account serves as both warning and invitation…. Figs and Alligators makes abundantly clear that aliya is both nerve wracking and character building. From the peculiarities of employment to the almost masochistic joys of serving in the IDF, Leibel’s memoir of his metamorphosis into an Israeli is as otherworldly as it is a delight.”
— Hesh Kestin, author of The Wrong Jew and The Siege of Tel Aviv
“All the memories of my years in Israel came rushing back and I laughed and I wept as I read. Simply written and conversational in tone, I could have been sitting in the same room with author Leibel and comparing notes.” — Reviews by Amos Lassen